I’m learning Arabic. My teacher, a very patient and kind young man, is a PhD student in Archeology in Paris. He comes from the Golan Heights. (The history of his birthplace would require a full blog entry and maybe two. There is also Wikipedia.)
T., my teacher, has many brothers and sisters. One of his brothers, Fahed, slightly older than him, is a painter. He used to live in Tel Aviv where he has exhibited his work many times.
Artists sometimes need to travel around for inspiration through other cultures.
Fahed left Israel a couple of years ago to go to Bilbao, an extremely creative place and now he is in Paris, which I will refrain from praising of course. His papers are in order so he’s fully entitled to live and work in France.
What kind of work can a penniless painter do in Paris? Well, lots of jobs... But you see, Fahed is a painter so he got this idea of painting famous places in Paris and sell those paintings to tourists...
So far so good. To survive financially, he does what he likes best in life and gets enough free time to work on his own projects. Many art students do that. They sell their «touristy» paintings to tourists who are delighted to hang over their fireplace this beautiful Eiffel Tower or whatever they bought in Paris. IN PARIS, OH-MY-GOD!
Ok, let’s go back to Fahed. The other day, he thought he had enough paintings done and since the weather was getting milder, he went up to Trocadero and started selling his paintings.
It went very well. His paintings are good. The tourists were attracted by his work and bought some of it.
It went very well for a while at least.
Where did I say this story takes place? In Paris? Paris, France?
When I was much younger (a century ago), I loved a Renaissance French poet by the name of Joachim du Bellay.
He’s still very famous (is he?) because he wrote a poem: «France, mère des arts, des armes et des lois»... "France, mother of arts, mother of soldiery and mother of laws." (At his time, armies played a great part since France was still in the making.)
So we are in France, mother of arts...
Fahed is selling his paintings.
Two cops who are leisurely trying to pin down petty thiefs and/or maybe a couple of people without papers in order, enter the scene.
They spot Fahed and go straight to him. They ask him in French what he’s doing there or something like that. You see, Fahed has just started to study French and therefore he’s not yet fluent.
He answers in English. Not in Arabic, good for him... Well, he may have tried Hebrew but would the cops have made the difference?
But they know English is not French and they start getting pissed off. (Excuse my French.)
What do they do since they are soooooo pissed off? (Excuse my French again.)
They grab the paintings. A big trash can is close by and they throw the paintings in it.
«France, mother of arts...»
Fahed gets a little bit upset (no kidding!) and keeps on talking to them in English, trying to explain to them who he is, etc.
All of a sudden, one cop remembers that he understands and speaks English a little bit (leftover from school probably) and yells at Fayed:
«YOU SPEAK FRENCH. YOU IN FRANCE. NO ENGLISH IN FRANCE. FRENCH.»
And another point: Unless you speak French, do not try to sell your art in Paris.
After the cops left, Fahed called T. who came and took pictures of his brother’s work in the trash can... Yesterday T. showed them to me and told me the story.
I was not surprised considering what’s going on in France right now, pretentiously called «our major debate about national identity» i.e. What makes you French? Wide-ranging debate but quite irritating to many people like me.
This will be the subject of another blog. I’m already working on it...
Right now, I’ll let Joachim du Bellay express his feelings about France (and you’ll get a bonus... the English version)
France, mère des arts, des armes et des lois
France, mère des arts, des armes et des lois,
Tu m'as nourri longtemps du lait de ta mamelle :
Ores, comme un agneau qui sa nourrice appelle,
Je remplis de ton nom les antres et les bois.
Si tu m'as pour enfant avoué quelquefois,
Que ne me réponds-tu maintenant, ô cruelle ?
France, France, réponds à ma triste querelle.
Mais nul, sinon Écho, ne répond à ma voix.
Entre les loups cruels j'erre parmi la plaine,
Je sens venir l'hiver, de qui la froide haleine
D'une tremblante horreur fait hérisser ma peau.
Las, tes autres agneaux n'ont faute de pâture,
Ils ne craignent le loup, le vent ni la froidure :
Si ne suis-je pourtant le pire du troupeau.
France, mother of arts, of laws, of soldiery,
Long did your bossom suckle me; now I,
Like lamb ripped from the teat, do vainly cry
Your name through woods and glens: come succor me!
If once I was your child, suddenly,
Must you, grown heartless now, make no reply?
France, France, give ear: hear, hear my plaintive sigh.
Alas, Echo alone answers my plea.
Over the plain, midst vicious wolves I go;
I feel the winters’s breath: soon will it blow
Its gusts, and I will shudder, terror-cursed.
But why? Your other lambs browse, graze their fill,
And fear nor wolf, nor wind, nor winter’s chill.
Yet am I not, of all your flock, the worst.
© University of Chicago Press
Good Luck, and Good Night*