It was raining, France was on strike and my back ached - I've got guts or I am totally insane

Popeye was coming home (to Les Tertres) last evening. At least this was the plan. I spent the day on the SNCF website to check whether or not his train would be leaving Paris at 5:30 p.m.

In the morning, it was o.k. At noon, the train was not scheduled any more. At 4:00 p.m., it came back, said to leave on schedule.

Popeye went to the station. The train was there allright. There would be two stops before arriving to Lamballe, on time: Laval and Rennes.

He called me to give me the scheduled arrival time: 8:30 p.m. at Lamballe. Great!

Alas! An hour later, they made an announcement on the train. It would stop in Rennes and that was it. Bye bye Lamballe, Saint-Brieuc and Brest. No other trains available until, until... well, they didn’t know for sure. Probably on Friday morning (today).

At 6:45, I got a phone call: ‘I’ll be stuck in Rennes at 8:00. What can I do?’

‘Take a cab’, I said, knowing that he would never do that. He hates cabs. The fare would be quite expensive of course, double actually since it is a one way trip but we could manage. So I called cab companies in Rennes. No cabs available. I made a few phone calls to check on our friends... Nobody was home yet.

So I called Popeye and said: ‘Wait for me at the station. I’m coming to pick you up.’ It would be a 55 miles trip on the freeway. Yuck!

Since May 2001, when the doctors diagnosed a brutal onset of wet macular degeneration, I have lost, among other things, the ability to drive. I started driving again two years ago around Pléneuf (but not too much) but it’s not really my thing. A lot of lack of spatialization, especially on the road.

American research about macular degeneration (the wet type) is very developed because this disease is extremely widespread in the States. It even affects very young kids and teenagers. In Europe, this type of MD is considered as an orphan disease. I spent one month going from hospital to hospital in Paris, looking for help. At one point, I even considered flying to John Hopkins, the Mecca of WDM.

All the specialists agreed on one point. The onset had been very brutal. Both eyes were affected. Diagnosis: Blindness within 2 months. All of them but one who had heard about a new medicine approved by the FDA, just one month before I got sick.

JC was studying in the States at the time. He got the medicine and sent it to me. We were afraid it would be blocked by the French customs but the medicine got through thanx to a big lie on the Customs slip.

I remember our happiness and hope when we got the first tablets. I do remember how sick they made me at first. But I was very brave or reckless. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

A few months later, I started to read again (quite painfully at first). I quit bumping into people on the sidewalks. I was able to cross a street and to go shopping. One year later, I started taking pictures again with my... left eye which by then had become quite healthy again. (Which meant that I had to train my brain to get used to my new ‘photographic eye’).

Life was beautiful again... 4 tablets a day! A strong will to recover. I’ve always been stubborn.

Cancer was a problem though besides being cancer because I could not take some medicines that would have made my life easier but would have deteriorated my vision. But I managed.

Actually, I’m very surprised how easy it is to adapt. For example, I can use our alarm system once Popeye explained the keyboard to me. It’s very easy for me now. But he needs glasses to use it! Funny, isn’t it?

Now, nine years later, I’m kind of fine and still on the American medicine.
I manage to do a lot of things with one ‘good’ eye. There are many things I still can’t do, of course, like finding a book on a shelf that is lower than me. Try to explain to a salesclerk that you can’t find the book you want because you are very partially sighted. Life can be very funny sometimes!

I always have to wear sunglasses, even at night. Light (from the sun or electric sources) really hurts me. And I get potentially blind when night falls.

I’m getting very good at using a computer and I’m so glad this happened to me at a time when computers can be adapted to deficiencies.

Well, back to Popeye stuck in Rennes.

When I told him that I was coming to pick him up after spending so many years without driving on a freeway, I hung up quickly because I knew he’d be going out of his mind. He tried to call me. I didn’t answer the phone.

And off I went. We have a great car. Safe, comfortable and fast.

It still was raining cats and dogs, of course and it was getting late. I knew I had to get to Rennes before nightfall. I had less than one hour to drive those 55 miles. And this was the worst time of the day because lots of people were driving home due to the SNCF strike.

When I got to Lamballe, I was panic-stricken. Lamballe was the beginning of the freeway for me. I stopped on the side of the road for a few minutes. I had to do it and I would do it. All I had to do was being extra-careful and relaxed at the same time. I could do it.

If at some point, I was getting too tired, Popeye would find a way to meet me somewhere. I only had to get as close to Rennes as I could.

So off I went. I felt the adrenaline flowing in my blood. I passed my first truck and that was it... I kept driving. I’m pretty sure I was sometimes going over the speed limit because I couldn’t check the cars behind me and in front of me, I couldn’t pass the many, many trucks while checking the speedometer.

All I knew was that I had to hit Rennes before nightfall hit me!

Nightfall hit at the very minute I was entering Rennes. Lots of cars all around me. No idea whatsoever where the station was. This was really hard. I was feeling very, very tired. The city lights were getting very blurred. I almost run a couple of red lights or maybe I did run them. I was so intent on not hitting anyone. I did use my warning lights  a lotand drove very slowly. Thank goodness for my Belgian license plates.

I don’t know how I managed to do it but after a while I found myself entering an underground parking lot which said: ‘Southern Train Station’.

I called Popeye who arrived a few minutes later, completely stressed out.

I was dead beat but I had done it!

This is my life, filled with unexpected challenges I have to meet to feel alive and well. I’m probably completely and totally insane.

It was raining, France was on strike and my back ached!

It’s still raining. France is trying to get back to normal and my back still aches a lot!

*Good Night, and Good Luck*


It's raining, France is on strike and my back aches.

It’s often difficult to relate the cause to the effect, I know.

My back aches - ‘J’ai mal au dos.’ Which may mean: ‘J’en ai plein le dos’, in a psychoanalytical way of seeing things. Just too bad the English translation does not fit so well: ‘I am fed up!’  I know my back aches because I’m fed up but it’s not as funny/interesting as it is in French.

Why does my back ache besides being poor ol’ me being fed up? Mainly because the other day, I got so mad at everything including my landlady in Brussels that I took my anger out on the window panes.

Bad move! Very bad move for someone whose dorsal muscles are down to nothing due to Popeye’s vicious attack on her ankle, last May. (Which meant no exercising whatsoever during the last three months. No swimming either.)

Actually I’m pretty sure my back aches because I am fed up, oh so fed up. ‘J’en ai plein le dos.’

Raining is good. It’s good for our new lawn. It’s good for the new colza in our fields. It’s good for the wild animals and birds. You should see the blackbirds having the time of their life in the puddles... The grass is shooting up. i can hear thousands of tiny blades singin’ in the rain. (They do, you know. It’s just that we usually don’t take the time to listen to them.)

Since it’s raining and my back aches, I have a lot of free time to listen to the grass growing. And my back aches even more because I hate not to be able to move around the way I want to.

My back aches because France is on strike for the umpteenths times in many months. Well, there are good reasons to go on strike. Why should we go into retirement at 62 instead of 55/60 (the way it is now) when all our European neighbours retire at 65/69? Let’s ask for retirement at 69. Oh, this is not the point, I hear. People want to retire at 55. Excellent!

Go on strike, demonstrate as much as you want but please, let people travel freely. My Popeye is planning to come back to Brittany tonite - by train. He probably won’t make it. How selfish one can be! How selfish I am! I’ve got excuses. You see, my back aches.

This morning, I read an article about how to measure the number of demonstrators. It was not meant to be funny. It was hilarious.

The police gives one number and the trade unions give another with a huge difference most of the time. I was pretty sure that their way of counting demonstrators was totally different.

It is not. They use the same method. It’s based on the evaluation of one group of 100 demonstrators. From there, you start from a fixed point. You count groups of 100 demonstrators between two banderoles (using them as a marker). Of course, the best method would be using an aerial view when the demonstration is huge. But who would use a very expensive helicopter to do so? Not the police, just imagine - we are in France, people. Not the trade unions who are fighting to get people richer/less poor.

Last year, some 'non-political' newsmen climbed aboard a crane and started counting, using the method explained above. They came up with numbers 20% higher than those given by the police and 40% lower than those given by the trade unions. Interesting, isn’t it?

The counting can also be different from some areas to others. Sometimes the trade unions and the police come roughly to the same numbers like they usually do in Brittany (I’m not biased there). In other areas like Paris, the differences get closer to 50%. In Marseille, it’s even worse - from one to ten!

It’s raining, France is on strike and my back aches, just in case you want to know.

*Good Night, and Good Luck*


Summertime or Fall? - What did you do today?

Piegu Beach - Val André
The weather was so summery today that I went crazy... This morning, Pléneuf (our village). This afternoon, Val André, its very posh sea resort.

The beach looks deserted. Well, all the children are back to school. Their parents are working. The tourists are gone.

I took a long walk... and many, many pictures. I very rarely go down to Val André. As I said, it's very posh and quite congested in August. The right kind of people. Val André and Pléneuf don't mix. We are from Pléneuf so we keep to our Vallées beach, much less sophisticated.

I was taking a long walk because I wanted to take pictures of an old hotel which will be pulled down in October. I feel sorry because I do not like to see things change too much and they are bound to replace it with something outrageously modern, I'm sure.

Before getting to the hotel, I took a lot of pictures of the sea resort itself. It's very nice. Old houses from the 1900s. Val André is a charming place. It's posh but charming in an old-fashioned way.

There will be a blog about Pléneuf and Val André, I promise. Pretty soon!

While I was walking and taking pictures, I started noticing people. I'm not too much into taking pictures of strangers but today was different. Not many people on the beach even though it was one of the warmest days since June. Interesting people though... I couldn't resist.

You'd think this guy is just sitting on the beach and admiring the Verdelet... Well not exactly. He belongs to the fishermen tribe.

I saw quite a few today.

Some of them are wearing shorts while others knowing Fall is coming have decided to wear the whole gear. You never know in Brittany.

Then there is this man dancing like mad on the beach... New Chinese exercises?

Until I find out he is flying a kite... probably stolen or borrowed from one of his grandchildren.

People walking - lots of them...
Some above the beach on the promenade.

Others on the sand or in the sea...

Some went to warmer places this summer and they have to flaunt their tan.

There are people pretty sure it really is summertime and others thinking: 'Today is the first day of Fall, isn't it?' Bathing suit and/or sweater? Stop making fun of her!

Bathing suit after all. Let's go swimming. The sea is not really warm but some people are brave or crazy.

In Brittany, would a beach be a beach without a parasol to protect you from... the wind and people playing bowls on dry sand.

There he is again, our angler (and undecided tourists. Summer or Fall again?) The man doesn't care. He's smoking a cigarette while waiting for fish he'll never catch after all. Who cares? The sun is shining and it's warm out there.

It was such a nice day after all, wasn't it, dear?

*Good Night, and Good Luck*


"Men are born and remain free and equal in rights" - Wrong - Not in France

When we were much younger, we were told again and again: ‘Beware of the Gypsies’.

They were evil personified. They didn’t work, not regularly anyway. They travelled around in horse-drawn caravans (at the time) and never settled down long enough to send their children to school. They looked dark and  dirty. They stole from people. They even stole children, hence the ‘Beware of the gypsies’.

I remember though how happy everybody was whenever Gypsies were going through our village, once the doors and windows and henhouses were secured.

Happy? Yes. Who else but Gypsies would rebottom the chairs with straw? Who else would  sharpen knives and scythes this well? Who else would sell those fine and indispensable wicker baskets made by the women so nimble with their fingers? Who else would sell those buttons and ribbons we all were so fond of? Who else would bring and manage the carousel during the village fair?

Happy? Yes. But once all those tasks had been performed, they had to depart. Were there hens missing? Maybe. Children? Never.

We would call them ‘gitans’, ‘bohémiens’ or ‘romanichels’ depending on the area we were living in. Anyway, they were ‘travellers’.

Almost nobody knew that they were French, that they had been French ever since the birth of France.

They embodied all our fears. They did not respect our conventions and we were too narrow minded to realize that they stuck to their own traditions which included laws and conventions just as good as ours. They were different but not lawless.

My first and only experience with Gypsies was when a young girl insisted on coming to school while her family was camping in the outskirts of the village. She was 12 and didn’t read fluently yet. But she wanted so much to go to school. My mother accepted her.

I’m afraid her life among us was not a bed of roses. I’m still wondering what happened to her, this girl who in the late 50s, was claiming her right to learn and study. We weren’t friendly at all. I’m sure this is an understatement.

I remember that she did look dirty even though she probably was wearing her best clothes. But some of the village girls who were going to school weren’t too clean either. Those were times of dire poverty after the war. Running water wasn’t this common if not scarce. Some of the pupils were living in hovels. And my mother would ask them every morning to go wash their hands before school started.

Now that I’m writing about this girl, I remember that she was smelling of wood fire. This was strange. We used coal, you see.

She left and this was the end of my experience with Gypsies (in real life).

I think I started being aware of what could be a Gypsy’s life when I moved down south and went to high school.

One of my history teachers while telling us about Shoah (it was mandatory in France), mentioned that over 400.000 Gypsies had been annihilated by the Nazis. (‘Samudaripen’ means ‘Shoah’ in Romi.)

Since it was so obvious that there were no Gypsies in our high school (at the time, we had a very elitist state education), we asked a lot of questions.

We learnt that Gypsies did not have the right to vote. They had to have special papers with the mention of ‘traveller’ which forbade them to cross borders. The family members had to remain together at all times. School was not mandatory for them which meant no access to regular jobs. But... There is always a ‘but’ in France. The men were all fit for military service. Many of them died while fighting for France, a country that was denying them a lot of fundamental rights. They had one right though : they could stop their caravans  and set camp wherever they wanted.

In the 70s, they were refused this freedom of setting camp unless it was in an official area approved by the city halls. Many of them started to settle. No longer ‘travellers’ but still third-rate citizens.

It became more politically correct to call them ‘travellers’ instead of ‘Gypsies’ even though most of them had stopped their travelling around except for family reunions or fairs.

By the end of the XXth century, Brussels (the European Government) accepted some Eastern European countries.

And the ‘Roms’ came from all over Eastern Europe since they were not very well treated in their native countries. They were free to travel because by then, Europe had made it possible for them to cross borders, in all fairness.

And French people, still fearing and distrusting the Gypsies, their fellow citizens, started hating the ‘Roms’ who were essentially coming from Rumania.

Mainly because they were beggars and lived in shanty towns.

Now I do not want to sound righteous.

I’ve witnessed the picking up of women and children who had been begging in the subway by men who were waiting for them in their Mercedes. End of a working day for them. But then, were they ‘Roms’ or were they working for the Romanian or Bulgarian Mafia? Which is another problem in France.

Anyway, the beggars’ constant whining in the subway irritates me. I do not like to hear those ‘ siteplémaaaaam’ while some young girl is tugging at my sleeve. I do not like to see men beg, limping with a crutch and I do not like to see them throw their crutch on their shoulder and walk away, taking long and agile strides when their ‘workday’ is over.

I’m probably and hopelessly part of a system where you have to try to find a job after all. Even basket weaving.

Then why am I suddenly so understanding when the ‘homeless’ men who live under tents close to my son’s appartment come to me and ask for a coin or two?

Am I still very steeped in the prejudices of my parents’ generation? ‘Beware of the Gypsies’, they said all the time.

This summer, a 17 year old young man from a very French settled family was killed by a gendarme. ‘Self-defense,’ the policeman said. Except that the boy was unarmed and was the passenger of, well yes, a stolen car driven by his unarmed cousin.

The whole Gypsy community in the village was so enraged by this murder that people did what’s not to be done. Ever. They took justice in their hands, attacked the Gendarmerie (police station) and burnt it down. Bad, bad, bad. They had their reasons after the life we had forced upon them for generations and generations. You probably don’t really end up trusting your country’s judicial authority.

There were about 80 culprits. Too many to be judged. Besides the fact that all over France, settled Gypsies or ‘travellers’ started to let know quite forcibly that they were getting real mad too since the system was completely rotten, etc., etc.

We then had the perfect guilty party. The ‘Roms’, of course. The foreigners who are begging and stealing and living in unauthorized shanty towns.

‘Let’s deport them to their native country,’ the government said. And they started rounding them up, driving them to the airport in buses... Wait a minute. Rounding them up... Deporting them... Really? In France, the-France-of-the-Declaration-of-the-Rights-of-Man?

Are you sure this is true?

It started at the very beginning of the summer. Flight after flight filled with ‘Roms’. The governement said that they were being sent back with some money, wealth to them. Great!

It was summertime. Usually, France goes to sleep during the summer. Well, not this time, apparently. Well, not this time because we are members of the European Community. Well, not this time because all over Europe and all over the world, voices were heard.

You see, it’s forbidden to send a European citizen back to his country because of the right of free movement throughout Europe.

Our right-wing government who is in a real bad shape right now for many reasons, is trying to keep afloat by winning voters over the main subject that pleases them: Security!

This is a very old far right thesis. The foreigner ie the immigrant is dangerous. Therefore, get rid of the foreigner and you’ll be safe and sound.

Our national anthem claims: ‘Arise you, children of the fatherland... These foreign cohorts... They are coming into your midst To slit the throats of your sons, your wives’. Sweet and friendly words, aren’t they?

The problem is that ‘Roms’ are not immigrants. They are European citizens. The planes chartered by the Ministry of Interior and the Immigration Department are totally unlawful. (It’s too bad they are lawful concerning African or Afghan immigrants.)

Today, France is in a difficult position, very difficult. Shameful. So shameful.
The government won't give in, will never give in. No respect whatsoever  for democratic principles and human rights.

Last week, one of our newspapers published a copy of a very official decree from the President to the ‘préfets’ in France (they represent the government in every French ‘département’). This letter orders them to organize  quickly and efficiently the deportation of the Roms in their department. The Roms. The ethnic deportation of Roms.

This really stinks.

The European Union authorities are getting really mad.
But our government won’t renege on its promise to potential far right voters.

I have been talking to a lot of people lately. I have yet to find someone biased in favor of this ethnic deportation. Thank goodness. Of course, I’m well aware that the people I am talking to are friends.

What's going on is really tragic but guess what? French people are upset by the fact that the European Commissioner (from Luxemburg) in charge of Justice expressed herself in English and not in French to expose the unlawful actions of the French government.

Beware, English-speaking people living in France right now, it will be your turn pretty soon. Remember the story of Fahed.

In 2008, Emir Kusturica produced the first 'punk opera' at Bastille Opera House in Paris. It was based on his award winning movie: ‘Time of the Gypsies’. Great story and great opera. By the way, all the singers and dancers were 'Roms' from former Yugoslavia. A huge success.

Of course, we all know that our President does not like Opera at all. This may explain that.

My real name is Don Quixote.

*Good Night, and Good Luck*

My Travel Book - Hitting the Road in Penthièvre - Discovering Brittany

From Les Tertres (Saint-Mathurin) to Lamballe

When it gets too lonely at Les Tertres and despite all my good resolutions like studying Arabic or working on my website, I hit the road...

It does not mean I go very far. There are so many places around Les Tertres I’ve been to without really taking the time to discover them.

Our interests are more sea-oriented when Popeye is around. I love the countryside. Brittany is a beautiful place to travel around.

Today, I was feeling really down. Lots of clouds in the sky. Good books to read. I couldn’t get myself to get dressed until quite late in the afternoon. Yes, I was feeling depressed.

Then on the spur of the moment, after a long shower, I jumped into my photographer disguise... Jeans, sturdy shoes and my lumberjack shirt (which I discovered this summer hidden in a trunk in the attic).

And off I went.

First stop: Lamballe.

I’ve been there thousands of times because the train station is there but I had never roamed its medieval streets. There are quite a few medieval cities in Brittany, a lot of churches and castles. So why care about Lamballe, the ‘station city’.

When you keep to the streets on your way to the station, Lamballe is very ugly. Not modern. Unfriendly. A very small provincial town. And yet...

It only took a short walk through the center of the city in very narrow and winding streets and I totally fell in love with Lamballe.

I walked up to the collegiate church, once the chapel of the castle of the Dukes of Penthièvre. It’s a magnificent Gothic building.

From it, you go down a small street and there it is. The medieval heart of Lamballe, well hidden from the main streets.

The weather was lovely by then with a crisp fall air. Lovely.

I walked around. Delightful, it was so delightful. So quiet too. Funny it took me so many years to get there.

I fell in love with the chimney-tree
The executioner's house (1609) - a pun about the name of the owner. Now a museum.
Now a lovely store
It's fun to imagine what it's like inside!
She obviously survived the French Revolution.
Another funny flowerpot

And now a beautiful view of the steeple of Saint-Martin, built in 1083, at the heart of the medieval city.

People still live in those houses. All of them are beautifully maintained. Some of them are 1000 years old. Most of them are from 800 to 500 years old.
Amazing Brittany...

Well, that's all for tonight. (To be continued)

*Good luck, and Good night*


They called him 'Cap de Fer'

My grandmother’s grandfather was quite a character.

A gentleman farmer from Arfons in la Montagne Noire. He loved horses and owned a caleche which was very exceptional in the area.

I imagine he loved his wife, Mélanie, who looks very shy and diminutive close to him, on the one and only picture I have. I know he loved his children.

He had one daughter (my grandmother’s mother) and one son. He sent them to school because he was a learned man himself but with very little official schooling.

He married Antoine, his son, to a rich spinster since all he liked to do in life was to read. We all called him ‘The Uncle’. I don’t know why. He was very good-looking and dashing in his uniform (from the Great War). So his life was mostly one of leisure and contented well-being. His wife took care of everything. Their servants did. He still is dashing in my memory even though he was then a very old man (younger than Bon Papa though).

Adeline, my great-grandmother was allowed to marry Bon Papa Matthieu because he looked very promising as a young man. Actually he was a hard worker all his life long, so was my great-grandmother who died when I was three. She taught school during the Great War and then went back to farming and raising her children when the men came back.

We heard many tales about our great-great-grandfather. He was called ‘Cap de Fer’ which can be translated as ‘Stubborn as a mule’. This was his name and I’ve never heard anyone talk about him using his real name.

‘Cap de Fer’ loved one of his grandsons (Martial, Bon Papa’s younger son) to distraction.

When Martial turned 12, he was sent to a boarding school in Carcassonne since he wanted to become a teacher. ‘Cap de Fer’ could not stand to be apart from him. Every Sunday, he hitched up his best horse to his caleche and went down to Carcassonne to spend the day with the boy.

Hard to imagine but it must have been quite a ride. In all, 65 miles in one day. Down to Carcassonne and back to Arfons. No roads. Trails down from the mountain to the city. He left before dawn and came back during the night. He did it every Sunday.

My uncle Martial was moved to tears whenever he was talking about his grandfather’s weekly visits - besides the fact that he would bring him food to make up for the school hard regulations. He never left him without reminding him to study hard.

I don’t remember what ‘Cap de Fer’ did during the winter months, so cold and snowy in the mountain. I imagine he found a way though. Probably walked down to the plains. His name was ‘Cap de Fer’, wasn’t it?

He was a legend in the family. He was a legend in the village too, long after his death.

One day, I was to learn that he had been a legend in the surrounding area as well.

I was sixteen and living in Béziers, 75 miles from Arfons.

One day, I went shopping with my mother. I remember I needed a skirt. So we went from shop to shop. Too expensive. Then we remembered a new shop had opened by the cathedral. We decided to give it a try.

Going through the door, I noticed a very old woman, all in black, huddled on a chair in one corner of the shop. I was following my mother. The old woman stood up as soon as she saw me.

She was gaping at me. I was starting to feel embarrassed. The shop owner introduced her to us. She had been her mother’s old servant. Since she didn’t have any family left, she was staying in her old room, above their family apartment. From time to time, she’d come down and spend a few hours at the store.

The woman was still gaping at me. And what followed is quite unbelievable, still is now... how many years later?

‘Do you know ‘Cap de Fer’?’
‘Excuse me?’
‘Do you know ‘Cap de Fer’? You look so much like him.’

My mother got it right at once probably because of the accent.

‘Where are you from?’ she asked.
‘From Les Escudiès.’

It made sense. Les Escudiès are very close to Arfons.
So the woman did know ‘Cap de Fer’.

‘I remember him well. I was a young girl then. He laughed a lot with us. He was so handsome. We were in love with him.’

She looked at me again:

‘You look just like him. So much like him. You are related to him, I’m sure.’

I didn’t know what to do with myself. Sixteen years old. Gawky and uneasy. Being told that I looked just like my great-great-grandfather, a man to boot, an old man departed such a long time ago. A man young girls had been in love with.

My mother guffawed.

‘He was my mother’s grandfather.’

I wanted to run away but I was a nice girl, I think. I smiled back to the old lady who then asked my mother:

‘Is she as stubborn as ‘Cap de Fer’?'

This is what you get for being related to a legend and for being too nice to old ladies in black.

After my son’s birth, my uncle Martial looked at him and said: ‘He’s my grandfather’s spitting image.’

Great, the baby was a couple of months old... And Martial had never told me I was ‘Cap de Fer’ spitting image. (Maybe they had been talking behind my back all those years, Martial and his sister, my Bonne-Maman.)

I don’t want to think I am the spitting image of a handsome man but I’m stubborn, I know that for sure. So is my son... Well, he's handsome too!

So it is all about genetics then. Keep being stubborn, Swee' Pea. I'll do my best never to change either! Shouldn't be too hard.

*Good luck, and Good night*


'To get rid of the walls of fear and hatred'... (from 'Face2Face' in Geneva)

©JR - Face2Face

The other day, I read an ad on Facebook. It was about casting in a movie set in Bible times. It said something like this: ‘If you look Jewish or Middle Eastern... please apply for casting.’

I couldn’t help having a good laugh not about the ad because it is obvious you need to hire Jewish and/or Middle Eastern looking people if you are planning on shooting a movie set in Bible times.

I laughed because I know the young man who put up the ad. He’s my nephew. He is a very nice and sweet person and felt kind of apologetic about his ad on Facebook.

Why should he feel apologetic? Because it is not politically correct to mention how people may look because it will make them different from others? It only was a matter of looks though.

Being a photographer, I’m very interested by other photographers’ works. A few years ago I discovered a great photographer. His name is JR. Yes, plain JR.

I hope you’ve heard his name because his work is extremely humanist and committed. He is a photographer but could also be called a street artist. Most of his projects are made of huge pictures he glues on walls.

The project the ad brought to my mind is called ‘Face2Face’.

JR went to Palestine and Israel and took pictures of people with a 28mm lens (which allows the photographer to be very close to his subject). People with the same trade and paired. A rabbi, an imam and a priest. Two actors, one Jewish and one Palestinian, etc. His point was that Jews and Palestinian look alike and therefore are not this different and should be living peacefully. Well, it sounds a little bit simplistic there. But it really is a very humanist project.

The pictures are indeed surprising but you feel JR’s unconditional love for those people, Palestinians and Israelis alike.

Then he enlarged the pictures quite a lot and he went back to Israel and Palestine and very illegally pasted them on walls in 7 cities. People ended up loving his manifesto. Leaders may not have liked them but who cares? Palestinians and Israelis loved the project. All over the world, people loved 'Face2Face'.

Didn't the great Abraham Lincoln declare: 'Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish'?

Here are links to videos about this particular work. Incredibly interesting. (They are in French but with English subtitles.)

'Face2Face' trailer  and 'Face2Face' à Genève

Now I’ll tell you why my nephew’s note really made me laugh.

While I was growing up, my mother repeatedly said that I looked negroid with my big mouth (no pun intended), etc.

Well, believe it or not, I loved it. I loved thinking I was looking different. Not many people walked up to me and said: ‘Which part of Africa are you from?’ Actually nobody ever asked me so I guessed it wasn’t true after all. But I sure thought my friend Lucie from Cameroon was extremely beautiful. I even was a little bit envious!

Then I met Popeye. When I first saw him, I thought he was Spanish which he's not but one of his grandmothers had distant Italian roots.

We got married and made lots of friends. Some of them were Jewish.

This is when it all started. We were invited to parties at their homes. There would be always be someone coming up to Popeye: ‘You are Jewish, aren’t you?’ Well, no. ‘But you look Jewish.’

So we got used to his Jewish side.

Then we went to Morocco. Things started being really, really weird as soon as we landed in Marrakesh. There were two lines: tourists and Moroccans. We were in the tourist line when the customs guy yelled something in Arabic at Popeye, showing him the Moroccan line.

Popeye had to produce his very Frenchy-French passport to get the right to come back to the tourist line. (Same thing happened when we left Morocco. By then we were used to it.)

The taxi drivers would always end up telling him: ‘You don’t speak Arabic and you married a French woman...’ (with a ‘Shame on you’ innuendo.)

To be fair to my dubious African ancestry, I have to add that while he was working with some Indian businessmen, he was asked: ‘You are Indian, aren’t you?’

Our son, Swee’ Pea, better known as JC, has been going through life with the same advantages over people who do not exhibit characteristic features. Characteristic features? What am I talking about?

He was 12 when he was asked by his music teacher: ‘You’re so much like me. Who’s black in your family? Your mom or your dad?’ (My mother was probably right after all.)

It happened to him again and again, in Paris. ‘You are of mixed race, aren’t you?’

Then one night, we did have fun together even though it was a very sobering experience.

He’d been studying very hard, so hard that he didn’t even find time to shave. Then time for the entrance examinations he was taking. Time to shave.

So I started with a very tired bearded 19 years old boy. You'll notice his curly hair - a sure sign he's got African roots.

Then we decided to go to a yeshiva to meet a very serious scholar.   

And we finished the trip through our multiple faces experience in the 'subway' with a face most people wouldn't like to meet late at night... A frightening Arabic immigrant living in a run-down suburban area.

There were other faces but they are not relevant here!

A few years later though, he came back from Austin, Texas as a real cowboy. (Not too real after all.)

Amazing how a beard, one hat or a hood made all the difference in the world!

All human beings look alike in some ways and we have more things in common than we realize.

Of course, we are also different. This is what makes life thrilling if... if we accept our differences, respect them and even end up liking them. Life will be a lot easier as soon as the 'walls of fear and hatred' will be down for good.

Then my dear nephew won't feel bad about casting 'jewish and middle eastern looking' people!

All my deepest gratitude to JR for the incredible work he's been carrying on in a world so filled with violence.

And a thousand thanx to my son for his ever enduring patience. It's not easy to live around a photographer.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*