⪧ We left our life in New York City to make a new one in Provence ⪦

June 22, 2008

Les Tuileries



On a Saturday afternoon in Les Tuileries with Marguerite and Xavier.



Vintage boats. By vintage - I mean they have been sailing these waters since the people of France were permitted access to these gardens circa 1789.



Marguerite and her obsession with caillous (pebbles). At every park, regardless of anything else, she finds pebbles and collects them, stores them in her pockets, or generously distributes them to everyone around, including park benches. Here, she liberally donated her entire collection to the fountain waters. (Then spent a moment indulging in regrets).



Deciding to abandon her doubts, she danced.

Le Pharmacien



I am featured here at last night's soirée, adoring a small dog who is sitting on my lap (the part below you can't see). Michel and Franck were our hosts; Michel is Xavier's god-father. We had a lovely time sitting around chatting away, with blue skies above and breezy air to commemorate summer's opening.

At some point, the conversation turned to work and Franck discussed the challenges of being a pharmacist in modern France. After les Brasseries, pharmacies are the second biggest business for banks. The pharmacy is an interesting business in France. Each pharmacist has a very specific set of clients. There is customer loyalty. Franck has clients walk into his pharmacy and if he is not there, they will turn around and walk out and visit a pharmacy where they know the pharmacist and can speak to him personally. It is not as if you just walk into your closest Duane Reade or CVS and assume that every employee there will do the same job as the next one.

According to Franck, there are far too many pharmacies in Paris. The classic green cross signifying 'pharmacy' is on every corner. And the situation becomes complicated by the fact that pharmacists spend their careers building up their pharmacy (there is a real ownership in this sense) and then when they want to eventually sell their business to another pharmacist, their clients resist. It is very difficult to pass on the business because clients don't want to see a new face after years of trusting one specific individual.

I asked Franck if it was simply a question of proximity - don't most people just go to the closest pharmacy and get what they need? He insisted that there is a very personal element to an individual's choice of pharmacy. It is in this sense and in many others that a city like Paris (and its surrounding suburbs) manages to preserve the feeling of a small town.

Bon Anniversaire Louise



Lovely Louise (my niece in-law) turned 9 years old this week. Here she is as she-Merlin.

June 20, 2008

New Apartment



So, Xavier has decided that owning something big is a vital part of his being above 30. To this aim, we've chosen an apartment in the 10th arrondissement - very close to Canal St. Martin (featured above) and a lovely park in Paris with green grass that you can actually sit on (which pleases me immensely). We won't move for a while...between closing on the apartment and the work that needs to be done, we are looking at moving in sometime in early autumn.

The apartment itself is extremely charming, in a similar way the apartment I lived in with Stephen and Meredith in Hell's Kitchen was: it has an Alice in Wonderland sort-of appeal. The floors slope - the walls don't align exactly and you get the feeling of being in another (disproportionate) world. (To be fair, there wasn't really that much charm in the apartment in Hell's Kitchen, except that the black-and-white checked floor in that kitchen was so slanted that a yellow pages had to be positioned under the stove to make it level. Maybe that doesn't even count as charm).

This apartment is a duplex with a wooden ladder staircase leading up to the second level - which will include a small bedroom and the master bedroom, complete with a wooden square window cut out of the ceiling ("a skylight," I suppose) directly above the bed. Rain, rain, drops of rain. How romantic to hear the sound of rain from directly above.



The main level will be one, big, open space (after demolition) - of the loft tradition. On one wall, there are four full-length windows that open out onto a balcony (almost big enough for a miniature chair). But they open out onto a view that is really phenomenal, according to me. According to Xavier, the cathedral in view is in total disrepair. I think the difference in opinion may be due to the fact that all things centuries old are pretty much astounding in my book. Here is the view from two angles:





And there are even Hens and Chicks planted in the little balcony urns! (Perhaps my favorite plant).



A further enticing aspect of living in this area of Paris is the opportunity to see weirdos all the time. Xavier calls them "les bobos" (bourgeois bohemians) disparagingly. In actuality, some people enjoy being categorized in this way. It indicates that one is open and free and hippyish - and rich enough to be all of these things. I like them. They always wear big, baggy, whimsical, free-trade clothing and often look really put-out for no reason. And they do whimsical things with their free time, which seems to be abundant.

Take these bubble blowers along the Canal St. Martin, for instance. They created these contraptions to blow the biggest bubbles I've ever seen. Fanciful.

June 19, 2008

Obama for the French



The reception of our historical candidate, Mr. Barack Obama, is a fascinating phenomenon in the United States. The vantage point from France is also noteworthy. In yesterday's New York Times there was an article entitled, "For Blacks in France, Obama’s Rise Is Reason to Rejoice, and to Hope."

In my classes, we often have political discussions and Obama is often a preferred topic. My students have expressed surprise at Obama's speech on race because it so blatantly addresses the topic. The United States is rife with racial tension and racism continues in political, educational and commercial spheres. The fabric of racism is different in France though.

The Times article expresses this idea when quoting a French author, originally from Cameroon: “French universalism, the whole French republican ideal, proposes that if you embrace French values, the French language, French culture, then race doesn’t exist and it won’t matter if you’re black. But of course it does. So we need to have a conversation, and slowly it is coming: not a conversation about guilt or history, but about now.” Perhaps this is why Obama's speech on race is surprsing to many French people.

Race does matter. In the US, and in France. The numbers of black representation in politics are pitiful in both countries, but in France there is "only one black member representing continental France in the National Assembly among 555 members; no continental French senators out of some 300; only a handful of mayors out of some 36,000, and none from the poor Paris suburbs" (numbers from the Times article).

The discussion is absorbing though. All of my students, race aside, are convinced that John McCain is a clone of Bush - that there are no differences between these two men. (Now, regardless of whose team you are on, McCain's record and history in the Senate prove otherwise. Furthermore, even if John McCain has toned down his maverick image and now embraces traditional party ideals as the Republican Candidate, I remain unconvinced that his term in office would be a replication of Bush's).

My students are also persuaded that there is no chance that Obama can win - or even fight in this election - that it is literally already won by McCain. Post-Iraq French pessimism is evident here.

One student said to me, "Every time France likes and supports an American candidate, John Kerry, for example, he is not elected." (I smiled at her connection, as if French favor of a candidate has something to do with his defeat in the US).

In one conversation class specifically devoted to Obama, we read his profile from his own campaign website. At the end of his bio, he says, "But above all his accomplishments and experiences, Barack Obama is most proud and grateful for his family." When this was read aloud, the students around the room laughed out loud. I looked up in surprise, not realizing how cultural this statement was. Of course, there is political posturing implicit in a statement like this (although I don't doubt his sincerity therein). But I asked them why were laughing. One student replied, "Oh, it is like how he talks about faith in politics. Who cares about his family or religion?" The answer is 98% of Americans. Politics is certainly a different world in these two nations.

June 15, 2008

My Dad



My Dad loves a good challenge. Commuting to work (31 miles each direction) on bicycle regularly and racing himself by keeping track of his time each day; running 15-20 marathons (keeping track is a challenge); keeping himself on ‘no sweets’ diets for extended periods of time (years, it seemed, when I was a child); summiting various mountains across the globe; reading an average of 3 enormous books weekly; flawlessly planning a yearly vacation for a family of 8 children (which usually involves crossing an ocean) – complete with an hour by hour itinerary; literally never missing an answer in Trivial Pursuit (unless it is the pink category: MTV is not worth knowing about); holding himself to a higher standard in almost everything he does than the average person around him: he is an ambitious variety of extraordinary.



So, I often felt challenged by my Dad. From grades to exercise to my personal integrity, my Dad was there to challenge me for more. He made a most convincing argument: he was all of the things he expected from me. I think many parents in their claims and expectations for children fail on their end – their kids look at them and see that even they have not lived what they want their children to live. I never had the luxury of dismissing some of what my Dad said because he lacked the gumption to be what he himself required.

Since I moved to France, my Dad has been my biggest supporter. I didn’t expect this, necessarily. My choices have not always aligned with what my Dad would have been after. My Dad went to France on his LDS mission (2-years) when he was 19 years old. About 6-months into my stay in France, when I was really despondent and wanted to leave, he shared how difficult being in France had been for him initially and how much he had gained through perseverance. Perhaps it was at this time that he began to enjoy a good challenge. Knowing that even my Dad, the toughest and most resolved person I know, was challenged in this was heartening in a significant way for me.



Happy Father’s Day to a remarkable Dad. I love you.

June 6, 2008

I'm Very Lucky

Some recent English teaching encounters:

When asked to think about her body and write a short paragraph about her thoughts, Isabelle wrote, "I'm very lucky about my body because he is composed of all the main members." I wasn't sure what to do with it.

When asked what he thought about traveling by train, Pierre-Emmanuel responded, "I think traveling by train is romantic. You can look out and see the paysage and you can meet lovely ladies."

When introducing herself at the beginning of a class, one of my students announced that she intended to be a 'public writer.' I was curious. What exactly is a public writer? She explained that this vocation originated in the middle ages in France when people could not write for themselves. Enter the public writer, who would correspond on legal matters, or write an account of a wedding or family history for other people. So, she intends to take this line of work up for modern French folks. A fascinating idea.

I had two veiled sisters in my class, evidently young Muslim women. There was another woman sitting across from them, facing them. She was 'French' - in the classic, original sense (as she would put it, I am sure). Each student introduced herself and good old Marie-France had her way with the veils.
'Where are you from?' she interrogated.
'France,' came calmly.
'Yes, but where are you from actually?' she repeated.
'France.'
'Yes, but you are not originally from France...' insisting.
'Oh, well our parents are from Pakistan.'
'Ah, well then why do you not speak English better?' accusingly.
'Well, we have always lived in France. We always speak French.'
'Do your parents speak French?' she demanded.
'Of course. They live here also.'
'Huh,' haughtily.

There is so much underneath that conversation. Obviously. But when I have conversations about immigration in France with the 'French' (in the 'proper' sense of the term), the discussion is always framed in 'ours' and 'us' and 'them' and 'theirs.' 'When they come to our country, they must integrate into our ways and culture.' This is similar to many other places; similar statements can be heard in the US regarding immigration from the southern border, to be sure. However, the French have an interesting twist on this. If someone is 'French' - they are not an immigrant, nor have they been an immigrant ancestrally. This produces real feelings of ownership. I think most Americans (except maybe Native ones) think of themselves as immigrants on some level. Anyway, the two cultures are significantly influenced by this factor.

And as a random, delightful tid bit, the ultimate insult Xavier throws out there is calling someone a 'shampooingneuse pour les chiens': this is the one who washes the dog's hair before it is styled.

June 5, 2008

Maman



Set amid the peaceful Jardins des Tuileries (the gardens of the Louvre), where little boys and girls float wooden boats in the grandiose fountain and adults lounge about on metal reclining chairs, is a 30-foot spider.



The spider's name, according to the artist, Louise Bourgeois, is Maman. This tribute to her mother is among a whole series of arachnid pieces dedicated to the same.

To say the least, her piece is shocking. Visceral. Strolling along, it is alarming to come upon such a spider, planted ever so naturally, as if she herself just showed up. Such a reaction is not uncommon to the artwork of Louise Bourgeois. But, as an interesting piece on her in Le Figaro emphasizes: Entrer chez Louise Bourgeois, c'est accepter le rêve éveillé, l'effroi et le merveilleux, la répugnance et la douceur, la conscience de soi et l'étrangeté de la vie. To enter into her work is to accept the awoken dream, terror and the sublime, repugnance and gentleness, self-awareness and the strangeness of life.

Other macabre pieces of hers are entitled things like "The Lair" and, below, "Le Regard" (The Stare):



And here she is encircled. The stirring, 97-year-old, Louise Bourgeois.

June 2, 2008

Grandpa Johnson



My Grandpa Johnson died this week. I flew to Utah on Thursday to be with my family for the funeral. It was aching to hear my Dad on the phone - the mourning and anguish in his voice when he told me the news. And then it was painful to understand that this wonderful, jovial man, my Grandfather, was gone from the earth - with his booming voice and laugh and ceaseless smile.

My Grandpa loved to tell stories and his funeral was a joyous account of his life and his tales. His 8 children, and most of his 55 grandchildren and 46 great-grandchildren were there to express their love and memory of his life. His positivity, his endless ability to laugh and spread his humor were there - we basked in it and celebrated him.

I remember being a little girl (like the picture above) and being teased endlessly by my Grandpa. Not in a torturing way - just in a way that made me feel like I was really important to him - like all that attention was mine because he loved me. He made up a game for me, where his fingers would be stuck together with 'us glue' - I was the only one who could get them apart for him. That is what I am doing up there - unsticking his fingers.

This weekend, we spent time sitting around enjoying each other as a large extended family and soaking up the places where my Grandparents had created so many memories for each of us. We drove to my Grandpa's horse farm in Nibley, Utah where he raised Arabian horses for most of his life. My Dad and his siblings sorted through all of the things my Grandpa had collected and saved - books, trunks, cowboy hats and boots. He was there in all of the remnants. In the funny way that he put thick rings of masking tape around big fat files that were falling apart. In the way he rigged up his couch to be raised just to the right height for sitting on. In the way he kept and continued to drive a big old Lincoln Towncar from 1988 as if it were a gem. In the way he had endlessly documented and recounted my Grandma's life and memory after she died. In the way every person there had a specific story about my Grandpa that made them smile and laugh to themselves.

Johnsons

Voila. My phenomenal family in various forms and arrangements:


My Mom and Dad up on their land in Paradise, Utah - where they will retire someday (they both grew up here).


My Grandpa Miller and sister, Julie.


Brothers 4. Marc, Paul, Stephen, Andrew.


My sister, Rebekah.


Brothers, Marc, Stephen and my Mom.


My sister Melanie.


My brother Paul and my Dad.


My brother, Andrew.


My brother-in-law, John, Julie, Joyce, Marc and me.


Stephen and me.


My Grandma and Grandpa Miller with Joyce...

Marc



I have this brother Marc. He is 21. He is an art student at BYU studying sculpture. He is the bomb. Look.



These little critters are Marc's latest concept for a piece of spontaneous art in the public domain - guerilla art - free access, if you will. Like graffiti, except the material is much more confusing. He plans to litter these guys all around. What will people do with sculpture treated like trash, or as Marc calls it, fungus?



He recently did a show featuring these people, which he made out of railroad spikes and other such materials. He loves to hang out along the railroad tracks. A great find for him is an old car filled with an inordinate amount of spikes.



These are Marc's photos of time spent along the railroad tracks.





Spiral Jetty



On Saturday my brother Marc decided that we should venture out to see Spiral Jetty, the great work of natural art on the northern shore of the Great Salt Lake by Robert Smithson. Only a few of us were up for it - Stephen, my mom and I, but it was absolutely worth the trek.

The terrain surrounding us was otherworldly. Salty. Crusty. Flaky. Like those rock candies that you used to form on strings as a kid.



Spiral Jetty itself was built by Smithson in 1970. He used mud, salt crystals, basalt rocks, earth, and water to create this huge spiral out into the water of the Great Salt Lake. It is about 1500 feet long.





Here is Marc standing in the middle.



We romped all around. I found a lot of mud. Mud that was green-blue - almost the color of jade. I rubbed it all over me. And then we decided to swim. The Great Salt Lake is 27% salinity - much saltier than sea water. You float. That is all. It is also extremely shallow and we waded out forever before there was room to swim underneath us.



My gorgeous mother.





Stephen posing.
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