Facebook, I Love You

© - yes, I know!

A few years ago, my son Swee’ Pea asked me to become his ‘friend’ on Facebook. I was resting in Brittany after a long fight with cancer. I was tickled to death (well, this is a very inappropriate expression as far as I’m concerned) . Anyway... his ‘friend’ on ‘Facebook’! Wow.

I opened my account and started using it, as well as I knew at the time... which means not well at all. I loved finding ‘friends’, most of them being my son’s friends. I loved adding my very witty ‘comments’. But more than anything else, I loved to create pictures albums.

I really enjoyed every minute I spent working on my computer, adding stuff to Facebook.

Adding stuff? Well, adding pictures all the time. Flower pictures, summer pictures and... Swee’ Pea’s and friends’ pictures.

Very bad, I was told. This was a very bad breach of trust and etiquette because I had not asked prior permission to put the pictures on line.

I did not know there was some kind of etiquette on Facebook concerning pictures, especially since those pictures were very nice, I thought and since they were mine too.

I am very uncomprimising and since I was asked to take those pictures off from my account, I decided to quit. Just like that.

I desactivated my account, which was quite interesting at the time. ‘Facebook’ didn’t take it very easy.

I did though and I resumed my life without Facebook. Detox wasn’t too painful. Real life friends were still there. And some ‘Facebook friends’ kept in touch.

Then Swee’ Pea left France to go to work in faraway places. He asked me to open a new account so that we’d feel closer. Please notice that he asked me to. He didn’t beg me to reconsider my position. Too happy to comply!   Detox, did I say detox?

For a while though, I did wonder how close Facebook could make me feel to my own son. Skype could do the trick. Phone calls and mails would be nice too.

He convinced me. I opened a new account. I got my ‘friends’ back (most of them - the ones I cared about anyway). And then I started to make new ‘friends’. I found through Facebook old ‘real life friends’. Very easy... But then some of them turned out to be only ‘Facebook friends’ after all.

I’m glad to say that most of ‘my friends’ are real friends and that I only share half of them with Swee’ Pea. Of course, my ‘friends’ are not as numerous as his, because whenever I travel to and from Brittany or Belgium by train, whenever I meet someone, I do not ask: ‘Do you have a ‘Facebook’ account? Do you want to become my friend?’

I guess I am too old for this or maybe too French - old and French - French and old.

I no longer post pictures with or without permission. Because I have discovered ‘Mobile Me’ which is very convenient and quite private too. Gee, I’m really getting old. Not true. I've discovered the blogger's world too.

I enjoy looking at my Facebook friends’ pictures and even my Facebook friends’ friends if they are careless enough not to secure them.

Am I turning into a Peeping Tom? Thank you so much, Facebook, for revealing the dark sides of my nature.

Well, anyway, I probably enjoy Facebook very much because my life is not very exciting most of the time and rather lonely... and so your pictures, my ‘friends’, help me travel around the world, live vicariously your happy moments. Thank you so much for enlightening an otherwise very dreary life.

Please, keep posting pictures. Don’t let my candor stress you out. I love your pictures! I do! And I never gossip about them!

Another thing I love about Facebook is the background ‘diversity’ of my ‘friends’.

(By the way, the quotation marks are not at all derogatory. They help make a difference between my real life friends who are getting fewer and fewer due to age and sickness, and my Facebook ‘friends’, who mostly thanx to Swee’ Pea, are young and healthy! End of digression.)

My ‘friends’ background is most interesting. Sometimes it gets very frustrating though.

Let me explain. On my ‘News Feed’, I get messages written in French, English from GB, Ireland and India, American English (well it’s all English since you can’t talk on Facebook or can you? Anyway it looks impressive.).

I'll add Spanish, Portuguese (from Brazil), Russian, Azeri (probably), Tamil and what else. Well, of course, Arabic - classical, Lebanese and Syrian. Let’s not forget Chinese (Mandarin).

Amazing when you realize I’ve been living most of my life (half of it, I’d say) in a world when picking up ‘Voice of America’ through the shortwave of my transistor was a remarkable feat! A totally split and paranoid world!

Imagine my frustration when one of my ‘friends‘ writes a long message in his/hers native language and gets like fifty answers to it while I’m home, scratching my head, a little bit bewildered but mainly amazed! This is the real world out there on my computer screen and I’m part of it. Thank you, Facebook.

Thank goodness, most of you, my ‘friends’, speak and write English... which means that sometimes, I do send you a very shy ‘I Like’ sign... Wow, I love being part of such a world!

One last thing I love about Facebook besides keeping in touch so easily, with you, my ‘friends’...
(Another digression or rambling about my ‘friends’. You wouldn’t be on my list if I did not like you a lot - there are a few exceptions though because I am so polite. Ah, ah, got you there... ‘Who is she talking about?’ Don’t even worry about that. You’ve got hundreds of other ‘friends’ and besides, I was just joking. ‘I Like’ you all.)

Back to the last thing I love, bla bla bla...

Facebook helps me keep track of global time. Let me explain. I do not spend all my life on Facebook but when I do, let’s say, it’s noon in Belgium. Some of you have been awake for a long time while some of you are still asleep. It’s so much fun to watch the first American messages coming in... I’m moving along with the earth. Well, I always do, of course! I’m not that dumb. But Facebook has a nice way to make it very tangible.

One last, last thing: Thanx to you, my ‘friends’, I no longer loose a lot of time on the web. Most of the time, you provide extremely interesting posts or links. It does save me a lot of time and I feel like I’m forever learning. This is extremely enjoyable.

The universe is expanding! Thank you so much my dear friends/‘friends’. Real ones and virtual ones as well!

Thank you so much, Facebook. Swell idea after all!

But watch out, you guys. Remember Aesop's fable about the tongue!!! What’s great can also be very bad! (I’m also a George  Orwell’s fan, sorry. Can’t help it! 'Big Brother' is always looming in!)

Remember - shortwave transistor and paranoid world!

*Good Night, and Good Luck*


My Travel Book - Brittany - The day Popeye and Olive Oyl never made it to Saint-Malo

Last May, Popeye and his beloved Olive Oyl spent a few days in Brittany. The weather was beautiful. Sunny and crisp, maybe a little bit chilly once you were at sea.

‘A perfect day to reach Saint-Malo by sea’, said Popeye.

Olive Oyl thought that maybe it would be better to go by car. There are days when she likes boating but the weather has to be perfect, sunny and warm.

When Popeye gets his mind set on putting out to sea, there is no way to have him change his mind.

So out to sea, they went.

Saint-Malo is a very famous harbor in Brittany. It is an ancient fortified town as well as a modern sea and sailing resort. It’s also a ferry terminal to go England.

Its ramparts were built by Vauban, King Louis XIV’s military architect.

Jacques Cartier sailed from there on his way to discover Canada. It also was a haven for many privateers and pirates.

Saint-Malo is surrounded by several military forts, no longer in use, all of them built by Vauban, to protect the privateers and the riches they brought to France.

So back to Popeye and Olive Oyl.

They decided to go to Saint-Malo along the coastline.

Great sandy beaches
Dinard and its huge old mansions
Popeye had forgotten one thing. Very surprising but he did. They left their port of registry without even realizing it was low tide.

That’s what you get for being moored in a deep-water port. You're no longer in  touch with reality.
Saint-Malo has the most important tidal range in Brittany, if you consider that Saint Michael’s Mount (Mont Saint-Michel) is in Normandy: a 46 feet difference from high tide to low tide. Impressive.

Of course, Popeye and Olive Oyl did not get stuck on the sand bar which sprang up very suddenly in front of the boat, quite an obstacle to their trip to Saint-Malo.

They could have turned round and resumed their journey by using the ferries path.

‘Too risky', said Olive. Popeye agreed. Besides it really was chilly. They would try it again during the summer. There would be plenty of time and beautiful warm sunny days ahead.

(How wrong they were! About the warm sunny days, that is.)

So they turned back and enjoyed the many islands, rocks and forts around Saint-Malo and along the way back to Saint-Cast.

'Ile Harbour'
'Fort de la Conchée'
'Fort National'

How lucky they were. At low tide, most of the rocks rise out of the water. At high tide (all the time actually), sailors are advised to focus their attention on the beacons and buoys. No rocks to be seen any longer.

It is absolutely essential to know that you have to sail to port (on the right side) when the beacon/buoy is red which means that you have to see it on your left.

When it is green, you do the opposite and sail to starboard (on the left side). And of course you have to see it on your right.

What happens when the sailor is color blind?

Very easy... The red beacon is cylindrical while the green one is topped with a cone.

If you fail to follow the rules, it will be your problem. You'll probably hit a rock and sink.

But no problem for the other 'landlubbers', outstanding sailors and fishermen. They will see this buoy.

They will know that your boat is lying there, at the bottom of the water.

Easy to understand why poor Olive Oyl never got her boating licence...

*Good Night, and Good Luck*


My Travel Book - Brittany - 'Cap Fréhel' and Wave Shoaling


In Brittany, not very far from Les Tertres, there is a very beautiful place, called ‘Cap Fréhel’.

It is the biggest and highest headland in the area. Very impressive. It boasts two lighthouses (one from the XVIIth century and the new one which was built in 1950).
At night, we see its revolving beacon from our living-room picture windows and it feels very safe.

Whenever we can, we go boating there because it really is breathtaking. The cliffs are 70 meters high in the air and plunge 60 meters down into the sea. The water there is so clear that you see the cliff almost down to the bottom of the sea.

It also is a famous bird sanctuary.

It’s a lot of fun to go boating as close as we can to the cliff but it’s impossible to berth there. At some time, we have to make a decision... go back where we came from or round the cape.

This can be very tricky because the deep waters become quite choppy even on a very nice day. Of course, going round a cape means strong currents. But ‘Cap Fréhel’ is also surrounded by rocky shoals which leave a very narrow way to round it.

Either you round it quite far away from it or you have to get as close to the cliff as you can, which is an easy thing to do when the sea is calm because close to the cliff, the sea looks like a lake. It gets absolutely crazy when the sea is rough.

This summer, the sea was allright, even for me, Olive Oyl. So we went many times to ‘Cap Fréhel’. As I said, it is breathtaking.

One day, we went there during a spring tide with an impressive range.

It was a first but we did not regret the experience.

Because we witnessed some great  wave shoaling.

As usual, we were boating very close to the cliff because there are always birds to be spotted. Popeye loves boating. I love watching birds.

It was low tide time. If we stuck to the cliff, the depth there was still about 30 meters. If we moved away to the right, a mere 100 meters away, the sea was only five meters deep. And very quickly, it became worse. Rocks were emerging, some of them quite impressive. The sea was coming out in goose pimples. Seamen will know what I’m talking about...

We decided to stick to the cliff after all.

On our side, the sea was very calm. We were watching the cape when I kind of glimpsed a huge wave on our right. It flattened and disappeared before Popeye could see it.

A huge wave. This had to be a joke. The sea was as calm as it could be. The goose pimples were still there of course...

We turned the boat around, facing the open sea. Another big wave broke out. I was right. Out of nowhere, there were waves. The goose pimples were turning into waves but only at the edge of the shoal.

It was so amazing. Waves from nowhere breaking out on a very calm sea.

I had to take pictures. Enjoy.

A wave from nowhere?
Another one that didn't seem to bother the fishermen
This one was quite a surprise for those kids!
They decided to move away but...
Yes, the first boat disappeared completely behind the wave!

This really was an amazing experience. Very beautiful too.

Something that we'll still talk about on long winter evenings.

During that afternoon we spent boating along 'Cap Fréhel', I almost loved being at sea. Well, not almost. I did enjoy thoroughly being on a boat. 

Quite a feat for Olive Oyl!

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


WWI - 1915, June 20th - A 'Letter' from Bon-Papa Mathieu to his Adeline, Bonne-Maman Ménine

At war - Be happy when you read my letter - I love you with all my heart   

‘Sunday, June 20th, 1915

My dearest Adeline,

As usual, I do not want you to worry about me. I am well and alive. I do hope you will be feeling good too when you’ll get this letter.

My dear Adeline, I imagine that this week, you’ve been busy since I know that you were making hay. I feel so unhappy I was not by your side because I want so much to protect you. Even though I am so far away from you, I am always thinking about you and the family.
How I’d like to be close to you. This work is mine to do and it’s a great deal of trouble for you.

Nobody thought that we’d still be at war this summer.

Oh well, my darling Adeline, we have to put up with it and that’s it. It is very harsh for those who are at war. Some are even much more unhappy than we are - those who are risking their lives every day. Let’s hope that we’ll see the end to all this.

They [the Germans] won’t be able to hold out much longer. Every time the French army wants to capture a position, even though there are many enemy soldiers, we get it.

24 hours ago, we sent them 30.000 [shells] over Arras [a city in Northern France]. Just imagine. It truly was a downpour.

I cannot talk too much about it. But we are preparing something they won’t be able to run away from. All those [Germans] who are in France won’t be able to get out. A lot of them are hidden in trenches and they won’t get out of them. They will be buried alive there. Guillaume [Wilhem II, the German Kaiser] was the first one to be a barbarian. We shall get our revenge.

I hope that this week, the weather was beautiful. Alfafa should be growing well.

Give a kiss to the children from me.

Your loving husband who never stops thinking about you.
Pech Mathieu

I wrote you another letter on the 18th.’

I was sixteen when I stole this card (and many others). I found it at the bottom of a trunk in my grandmother’s attic. Nobody else was interested though. I loved history. And I loved my great-grandparents, Bon-Papa Mathieu and his Adeline, a.k.a. Bonne-Maman Ménine.

1949 - Adeline and Mathieu (and me)

My great-grandfather, Bon-Papa Mathieu, had made history by fighting during World War I. He never was what the world calls a war hero  but he did survive which in itself was a heroic deed. And he survived while working on a global view of things to come: peace and nature.

I found his army papers. He belonged to a special corps. He was a «chasseur forestier».

Before the war, he had been a forester besides running his farm. He belonged to the National Forest Service.

Since he was a very good horseman, he became a cavalryman in a ranger unit. Those rangers were in charge of seeing to the forests around the battlefields. It sounds a little bit amazing that right in the middle of such a bloody war, there were men trying to protect nature.

At the beginning of the war and because they were working very close to the action, those units were decimated until they started being protected for one good reason. The trenches needed wood but one day, peace would prevail and there would be generations to come. Those rangers kept on working as if there was no war. There were trees to be felled and trees to be protected. This was their job.

Then they would bring the wood from the chosen felled trees to the trenches where the entrenched soldiers were in dire need of supporting structures.

The first time I read this letter, I was shocked by the hatred he was expressing against the Germans. He had been such a kind and peaceful figure in my life.

I now realize that from time to time, enough was enough even for someone who was still taking care of woods and forests at the very heart of a slaughter.

I was very moved to read that he was pretty sure the war would end very quickly... in 1915. It took three more long years and a lot of lives on both sides.

I only found a handful of those cards and letters, all of them written in 1915. So I have no idea what he had been thinking about during those last terrible years.

He expresses a lot of concern about the soldiers in the trenches. Most of his cousins and friends from the village were entrenched. Many died.

He was keeping a clear mind though. He was alive at the end of the war probably because he had been luckier than others but also because all along, he had been able to keep his mind on nature.

Isn’t it wonderful that a man who thinks briefly of revenge after witnessing daily so much suffering, loves life enough to write: ‘I hope that this week, the weather was beautiful. Alfafa should be growing well.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


'The Man with Many Faces' - Part III - The end

From a picture? Or real life?

End of 1944.

The day my uncle Claude arrived at his future in-laws’ house to ask for his beloved Mony’s hand in marriage to Grand-Père, they run into each other on the doorstep.

Grand-Père was handcuffed and leaving his house surrounded by cops.

‘Don’t worry, Claude,’ he said. ‘I’ll be back in less than one hour. Wait for me, please.’

I’ve heard this story many, many times. It was hilarious because Oncle Claude was a very important man at the time and it was hilarious to those of us (in the family) who were old enough to remember Grand-Père’s arrogance.

He was back in less than one hour and he gave Mony’s hand in marriage to Claude who was still very much in love with my aunt.

You see, Grand-Père had been given away to the police by ‘nice’ neighbors who believed or chose to believe he had been a collaborationist during the war.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Grand-Père was a hero. This is the part where my heart goes to him even though he never was a very good husband, father or grandfather. Not because he became a hero but because of the path he chose to follow, which must have been a very hard choice to make.

In 1939, he could have carried on with his career in France even though the country was briefly at war with the Germans. Instead he enlisted in the Air Force again. (He was a fighter pilot this time.)

When France was defeated and invaded, when Paris became German, he could have stayed in France to carry on with his career again like so many French actors did at that time.

He could also have flown back to Hollywood and spent the war peacefully  there like some of his friends did.

He did get back to the States and... enlisted in the American Army and then in the OSS (Office of Strategic Services). He became a spy, was flown over to France several times.

There he organized units to fight the Germans and prepare the Normandy landings. And he went to war with his men.
How do I know all those things about him, who never talked?

Well, I do not know the detailed story. None of us ever did. I imagine I could do some research about him though.

But as I said before, there were old unopened boxes in my basement. I went through them a couple of weeks ago.

There were pictures, lots of pictures. Here is one of them.

And then there were family papers too. How I got them, I do not remember.

One of them was a citation -  it says that he was made ‘commandeur’ of the ‘Légion d’Honneur’ on the 19th of January, 1946.

Because since 1941, he had been a Resistance fighter. He had gone underground to train, equip and lead more than 3.000 men to battle. Awesome. Simply awesome.

Then they talk about his powerful influence as an officer and his exceptional talent of leadership.

So he was made ‘commandeur de la Légion d’Honneur’ and awarded the Military Cross with a bar.

The reason why I’m telling all this is not because he got so many prestigious medals (he got a few more from the American Government). The reason I’m telling this is because it helped me understand him a little bit better.

I’ve said before that he was a hard man, humiliating his family and his close relations. I now believe he was deeply suffering from what happened after the war.

France had been collaborationist. He had chosen to fight along the American army. He didn’t cross the Channel to fight with Général de Gaulle. He was a free spirit, maybe a little bit lost and driven by the many heroic parts he had played all his life long.

After the war, France tried very hard to forget its horrifying recent past. Four years spent to make friends and more with the Nazis.

People like him did not belong anywhere. They could no longer fit into the French society which was bent to forget the past very easily, too easily.

So he quit acting. Oncle Claude hired him in his company. And he became a very lonely man. Which in turn brought anger and harshness.

When he died, we did not cry very much. Grand-Père was gone, so what?

We never grasped his human qualities nor his fortitude. Someone in the family started calling him: ‘The screen giant’. And a ‘screen giant’ he had been. Too bad we never started to think about the man himself.

When he died in 1971, he left 8 grandchildren. I was the third one. But I was the only one who received something personal from him: a notebook in which he wrote quotes from the books he used to read when I was a young girl. Because he knew I loved to read so much and that I was always filling notebooks with quotes too.

It is dedicated - ‘To Marie-Christine Normand, my granddaughter’.

There is a Marcus Aurelius quote as an epigraph:

‘The time is not far when you will have forgotten everything. The time is not far either when everyone will have forgotten you.’

Believe it or not, it took me forty years to realize that he had been so right to have written this quote when he did (shortly after leaving his old life behind him).

I was standing in my basement and I started to cry while holding this notebook filled with his writing, steady hand at first, wobbly hand in the end.

Grand-Père was a hero. But we never understood what kind of a hero he was. We never understood his suffering and his deep wounds. He was a man in pain which we mistook for anger and harshness. Maybe because he really was harsh and angry from time to time though.

September 1949
Why didn't we ever talk, Grand-Père?

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


'The Man with Many Faces' - Part II (1919-1939)

End of World War I.

My grandfather was still alive, still handsome and a war hero bedecked with medals and ribbons.

He resumed his acting career. Silent movies, of course.

In 1919, he met my grandmother whose sisters were also actresses. They got married after a whirlwind wooing and one year later, their first child was born. A son, my father.

There will be two other children, two girls. But I’ll talk later about his family life.

In 1924, he was offered the leading (male) part in a movie called ‘Salammbô’. The première took place in 1925 at the Opéra Garnier, in Paris.
(Grand-Père top left, just in case)

Why a silent movie at the Opéra?

Music played a great part in silent movies. The score of ‘Salammbô’ was written by Florent Schmitt, a very talented French classical composer, hence the Opéra Garnier.

The score was very beautiful. But the movie will disappear after its fifth performance. Too bad. You couldn’t win them all, Grand-Père.

But wait! In the 1990s, someone rediscovered the movie by accident. Should I say: ‘by chance’. Long story made short. The movie came to life again with its score - a two hours long symphony requiring 90 musicians and 80 singers in the chorus. First in Avignon and then back to Paris in October 1991, at the Palais Garnier... 66 years almost to the day after its  opening there.

We were lucky to get tickets (believe me, Rolla Norman did not open the doors of Garnier... Poor Mathô). Our son was almost 12 at the time and I thought it would be quite an experience for him to see his great-grandfather on screen. (Good excuse too because I had never seen my grandfather on screen either.)

The Opéra Garnier was beautiful, impressive as ever. The score was very interesting too, a true symphony. After all, Florent Schmitt has been compared to Richard Strauss...

The movie was so kitsch I felt like crying... It was utterly ridiculous. Not dated. Simply ridiculous. As ridiculous in 1991 as it had been in 1925. Hence its sinking into oblivion so easily.

My grandfather was gorgeous. Handsome. Dashing. Young. Much younger than me actually. Which is a strange experience! Swee'Pea was gaping at his great-grandfather except that we could see that he had a hard time grasping Mathô really was his great-grandfather. That they were sharing some genes.

Nowadays he claims he does not remember this experience at all. I understand... Who would want to be descended from a very kitsch and silent Mathô after all?

Well, me. Because Mathô looked and was a hundred times better than the Grand-Père I knew because he was... well, you’ll see. I’m not talking about age there.

So back to real-life Grand-Père.

The talkies were born in the States at last. Grand-Père being used to the stage survived this radical transformation.

Circa 1930, he went to Hollywood.

No kidding! He spent quite a few years there and then he decided to leave California to come back to France. Of course, I’m only giving you facts. He never talked about his past. Never ever.

When he came back, he went back to the stage, usually in great plays. Maybe this is what he was missing in Hollywood. I’m not sure he was missing his family.

He gave me this picture of him in one of my favorite plays. When you were famous, you got your own postcards made and sold whenever the movie or the play was popular. Nicer than downloads from the web! More real, I guess.

He added a note at the back just in case I’d forget who he was. Or this may have been a message to my posterity. It's hard to read but on the picture, he wrote an autograph exactly as if I had been a fan, not his granddaughter, I mean!

I’ve read that besides being on stage, he was making from two to four films every year. I know he was quite famous because I’ve seen some of my parents’ friends literally swoon when learning we were his grandchildren.

I guess this is when I truly understood that ‘all that glitters is not gold.’
Rising to fame doesn’t make you a better human being. This is not a universal law, of course. But it was quite true about my grandfather.

Of course, I was born a couple of years before he left the stage (willingly or not). He died when I was in my early twenties. I remember him as a very angry and bitter man. He was very arrogant and humiliating with his family. Had he always been like this, I don’t know. I’ve heard stories that tend to prove that it really was in his nature. Too bad.

The end of the thirties is coming and with it, the beginning of a new war, bloodier and more horrendous than the last one.

Grand-Père loved wars. (Hopefully, it’s just a figure of speech.) But give him a war and there comes our hero, a little bit older but so dashing again!

(to be continued)

*Good Luck, and Good Night*