Beki Grinter

Updates from France

In European Union, France on September 13, 2009 at 8:12 am

The amount of postings to the blog has definitely gone down in the last few weeks, I think there are several reasons for it.

France is beginning to take on an air of familiarity. I don’t think my French has improved any, but I’m finding the rhythms of what to expect here easier. I have gotten better about making sure, for example, that I do a complete set of greetings with the lady at the supermarket checkout. A greeting, an exchange of information (in which she discovers that I don’t have a chip and pin based credit card, sigh… it appears that the rest of the world has gone that way, but as AMEX “the traveller’s card” told me, we’re American express, so we don’t do that, wow, thank you Amex how globally oriented of you, how thoughtful in your treatment of foreign relations… )… but back to that supermarket transaction: a greeting, an exchange of cards and information and then the goodbyes.

Work is also beginning to build up. It’s important to note that while Metz is a wonderful change of pace, it’s not quite the same as a complete escape. You make up for some of the escape by going far away, it’s more of an escape because you’re six time zones away, a continent away, etc… but it’s not like sabbatical, and so teaching remains in place (and all the preparation that that requires) and connections to Atlanta remain in place. And then of course, there’s a sense that if one is going to come back after only being away for a semester then it’s going to be hard to retain the production that’s required for moving the old Associate to Full case. So you stay connected anyway. And of course there are your students, the one thing I would have elected to stay close to being away. My students are all very independent, which is good for them as well as me, …

I think that explains why there have been less updates.

So recently what has happened.

1) I’ve been enjoying the fact that when people discuss socialism here they actually mean a discussion of socialism. Socialism is used in the U.S. as a catch all term. It’s most frequently evoked by people who use it to potentially mean a whole variety of political possibilities, only some of which Socialists would likely identify with. In France there is more care in the discussion of socialism and not all things that are not socialist are right wing. I like the nuance. More generally, I like politics that’s argued by people who talk in detail about a particular policy, and how it meets or fails to meet the goals of a party. I’m so tired of discussions that involve ludicrous analogies and examples (like Stephen Hawking who would have died in the UK, and the death panels of the NHS). I increasingly think that political discussions are a reflection of a country’s values, I don’t mean the sides, I mean the rhetoric of the debates themselves, and well it says a lot doesn’t it.

2) Reims, say “Rance” with a hard a, is home to many champaign houses. It is also home to St Remi, who crowned some of the early Kings, including Clovis, in Reims cathedral. Reims is an ancient city that was sadly largely flattened during the Second World War. So it has an amazing old cathedral, a old Basilica, and then not so much else. It reminds me of Ely a bit, seems to be about the same size, with the Cathedral dominating the view. (It’s bigger actually, there’s few places quite as strange as Ely in terms of the size of the cathedral and the size of the city).

3) We visited Auchan. Auchan is a different hypermarket store, although I think it and Cora are owned by the Auchan company. Auchan was doing a special, 500 good wines. So Keith and I went to broaden our horizons. We’ve developed an interest in Lussac St Emilion, which is an appellation in the Bordeaux region. We’re now working on the appellations a cote (next to) it to see whether we like their wines too. To help us we have purchased a Hachette, which is the French guide to French wine (they have a section on foreign wine, but that appears to only include wines from countries, and parts of countries very close to France).

4) We went to St Avold, home of the largest WWII American cemetery in France. On the way there we saw a small fort in the Maignot Line. I can’t help thinking that the Maignot line was an example of just how much war changed between WWI and WWII. It might have protected against a war that was like the first, but built after it, it had little imagination for the tanks, weaponry, and so forth that would be a product of WWII. And St Avold is the result of a different set of causalities, those of the American allies as they slowly retook France and ultimately Germany. While those who died during the D-Day battles are buried in Normandy (a cemetery which sees 1.5 million visitors per year), St. Avold where those who fought for the Rhine (another very significant battle) are buried. It is larger than the cemetery in Normandy, but only 70,000 people come per year.

5) More generally, it’s impossible to escape from the two wars, not to mention the war of 1870, around here. Metz changed hands multiple times. For example, Robert Schuman, who grew up around here, was born French, became German (not by moving, but by this area changing hands), and then later became French again. No wonder he was such an advocate for the European Coal and Steel Community. I’m glad to be here, glad for Robert Schuman, and for his vision. Without him, who knows what would have happened, and all I know is that I like being European. I am glad for its citizenship.


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