Monday, March 27, 2006

two totally unrelated posts for the price of one

Être une femme, c'est déjà être militante. Je milite à ma façon. Je suis fière d'être une femme, parfois en guerre. Nina Bouraoui, interview, La Dixiéme Muse, No. 16 Sept/Oct 2005

To be a woman is to be militant. I'm militant in my own way. I'm proud to be a woman at war.
Have I mentioned how much I love Nina Bouraoui? And that she's stunningly beautiful on top of being politically poetic? I'm a quarter of the way through Mes mauvaises pensées and I could just...I don't know...cry from happiness. That sounds hyperbolic, and I guess it is, but she's done what even Colette couldn't: she broke through The Wall and gave me French literature. Her style is deceptively simple, flowing stream-of-conciousness, gathering me up and sweeping me along in a rush of sounds and images. In one of her essays Jeanette Winterson talks about how literature, to be Art, must bring back visions, how the novel must evolve beyond plot into poetry, how it should open up new realities. I never, never thought I'd be able to experience that with French books. I thought at best I'd be able to hack through a Maigret mystery or a translation of Harry Potter. But I wandered around the bookstore downtown yesterday and realized I had a whole new library of words to play in. I want to write her a thank you note or something.

Dear Globe Theater Company,
Could you possibly start your theatrical season a bit earlier? Like, late April? PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE? Pretty please? With a cherry on top? Cause my guide book says you don't start giving performances till mid-May and I hope to be somewhere in Scotland by that point. I studied literature, I eat and sleep literature, you can't possibly expect me to go to London and NOT see a performance of the Bard at The Globe. I went there for a high school trip once, and couldn't even take a tour of it, there was performance on and I just stood outside, wistfully trying to catch some stray dialogue. You can't do that to me again, okay? Have a heart. I don't care what you put on, I'll sit in the cheap nosebleed section and watch Henry the Umpteenth, Part 45, I'll even watch Troilus and Cressida (which, after all, does have that bit where Patroclus is accused of being Achilles' "man-whore"), anything at all, just do me this one teensy favor and I'll sell you my soul and sign the contract in blood, if you want. Deal?

Friday, March 24, 2006

vocabulary lessons

So yesterday I was actually looking forward to teaching at Problem School. Things have been going well there, lately. I had a new lesson plan prepared for the older students and couldn't wait to try it out; because if I had to talk about American high schools and football games and cheerleading and homecoming one more time I was going to put my head in, well, the microwave, because we don't have an oven. The problem with the American High School Lesson Plan is that the kids like it, it's something they're interested in, which means I've been doing this song-and-dance number, regurgitating all that heteronormative mythology, like 20,000 times.

Plus, the kids all laugh riotously at my freshman year photo; I always end up showing it, they don't have yearbooks in France. I shake my head at that little girl now, my lank hair and huge glasses and steel braces and flannel shirt.

Anyway, I had a new lesson plan: The Academy Awards. Movies ought to hold their interest, by golly. I put together a transparency with pictures of the winners and posters of the nominated films, asked them to describe what they saw. Who is this? How is he dressed? How does he feel? Why? What's in this poster? What do you think it's about? Which award did it win? It was good because the only movie they'd heard of was Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, so they had to do a lot of speaking and speculation and guessing. They knew George Clooney but not Reese Witherspoon or Ang Lee.
Next was Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and that's when I learned that capote in French is slang for condom.
Picture me standing at the overhead, wondering why a room full of 15 year olds are suddenly snickering at me.
"Well," I snapped, "in English Capote is a name and it means 'really great writer', okay? So who can describe how he's dressed?"

Still, not as bad as the time I inadvertently drew a rather phallic depiction of the Great Lakes. Hormones. The atmosphere's soaked with them; I'm gonna catch their acne if I don't get out soon. Baby Dyke has taken to blushing a vivid shade of crimson when she talks to me, poor thing.

Friday, March 17, 2006

deux ou trois choses qui me plaisent

plaisir being the opposite of s'enerver, of course. I didn't get homesick for Thanksgiving or Christmas, but St. Patrick's Day is giving me the blues. My folks run in the annual marathon, my sister dances in the parade, and me, when I wasn't playing Handel or Bach I was scraping out "Toss the Feathers" or "Gary Owen" (though I will say that my personal vision of Hell is to be trapped in a crowded, smoky gym forced to dance three-hands I can't remember while the Clancy Brothers play "The Sweets of May" on an endless loop). And my family's not even Irish (as far as we know, which isn't very far).

So I thought I'd cheer things up around here a bit. Some stuff that makes me happy:
  • Les Calamités. I found them in the Verdun library and promptly burned myself a copy. Kind of a French version of the Go-Gos or the Bangles.
  • Celtic Hangover. Irish dudes in France. The lead singer sounds like he's been smoking a pack a day since he was four.
  • The Fugee's cover of "No Woman, No Cry"
  • my friend Kevin, who sends me links to rockin' feminist song lyrics (Hi Kevin!)
  • drinking on the job. Yesterday we had a St. Patrick's Day party in the salle de professeurs during lunch. Three kinds of cake, Guinness, and Killian's. And the month before we celebrated a birthday with champagne. It's the school with problem students and unhelpful teachers, but they make up for it with free booze.
  • old French ladies in skirts, heels, and stockings who zoom around town on their motorbikes while wearing neon green crash helmets
  • snuggled up in bed with a cup of tea and a copy of Pride and Promiscuity: The Lost Sex Scenes of Jane Austen. I found this on the small bookshelf of English books at Leclerc (the French version of a Super Walmart, though hopefully less evil). I decided it was fate. Who else in the entire town of Verdun would have the interest, much less the ability to read such a book? It was Meant To Be.
  • dancing lessons with Laurent. He got roped into dancing lessons at a nearby village and dragged me along to be his partner. The boy has no rhythm, but we learned the Fox Trot. The salsa totally bamboozled us though.
  • Patti Smith's cover of "Gloria". Good golly miss molly. Patti Smith can make me hers any day of the week.
  • French dyke bars. Despite the Parisian attitude and their complete inability to make a decent vodka tonic. It's 100% dyke space, and I can't get enough of it. Plus, one-armed butch bartenders so hot they make me forget my French. "Je...euh...voudrais...erm..."
  • after endless months of rain, the sun has come out
  • chocolate mousse Pims
  • my friend JJ, who, in addition to being a hot, intelligent, funny, kick-ass feminist, actually delivers when she says she'll make you a CD of pictures.
  • Nina Bouraoui, Les mauvaises pensées. French lesbian novelist who's won the Prix Renaudot (whatever that is). A little Jeanette Winterson laced with Virginia Woolf. It's beautiful, intricate and deceptively simple, and I get it. Not just the sense, but the poetry. The rhythm, the feel, the imagery of the language. I have broken through The Wall. It's still tough going (I'm only 30 pages into it), but the work is finally paying off. It's like learning to read all over again, and just as exciting.
  • Jeanette Winterson. I'd resisted Winterson for awhile, out of sheer orneryness, convinced she was probably too stuffy and faux literary for my tastes. But these last months she's been stalking me--I found her for cheap my first visit to Shakespeare and Co, where the salesgirl proceeded to tell me I have to read The Passion, I've been running into her on blogs, people emailing me, "Oh, you should really give Winterson a try", and now I'm totally eating crow. I'm in love. She's brilliant, and beautiful, and passionate, and funny. I'm gonna have to do some book blogging soon.
  • Even though I don't go to Mass anymore, my parents still send me Easter care packages.
  • The track "A Postcard to Henry Purcell," on the Pride and Prejudice soundtrack, which makes me wish I had my violin with me.
  • watching John Wayne movies in French. Cowboy movies are my guilty pleasure, but I figure it mitigates the inherent racist and sexist underpinnings if he's speaking faggoty French, right?
  • Il pleut de gouines!/It's raining dykes!, a bilingual French dyke 'zine I found in Paris, full of hilarious cartoons, cake recipes ("gateau lesbienne!"), and new vocabulary words, such as goudu, the French version of lezzie.
  • and last but not least, bad-ass feminist moms.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

for maija, from finland, country of continuous

sunshine lovely she is
brilliant i-n-t-o-x-i-c-a-t-i-n-g breeze
from another world entirely un-
important are love poems?
when all around us global death death death
suffering dollars dictators struck down
infants shrunken to bone
are any notions of love not idle
with all this?
brilliant and sensitive she has
wonderful hands her mouth when she speaks
is oh...
how important i mean
is one woman's embarrassed frenzy for another?
concealed, nurtured in private
considering iraq, love poems important?
life nearly crushed out of an entire people
warfare raging, people paying with their blood?
their blood?
romance is bourgeois product of
consumer culture love irrelevant?
wonderful eyes and witty witty witty wow how she
drops her definite articles accents odd syllables smiles
her prepositions off in? at? how you say?
her words her voice so lush
and her mouth when she speaks
is oh!
Giovanna Janet Capone

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

we don't need no education

I'm sitting in the salle de professeurs yesterday, checking email etc, during break. All the teachers are there, talking and laughing together about something. I don't usually pay any attention.
Break ends and they all leave, and I hear the door slam shut. I turn around to see one of the English professors I work with, Michele; she's my favorite, young and friendly. We get along great. But right now she looks furious.
"Michele, ça va?" I ask her.
"Do you know what just happened here?!" she demands. All the professors were discussing a particular student, she explains. He's slow, and a little out of it. His behavior is often erratic and bizarre. The other kids bully him. Apparently his behavior today was stranger than usual, they were all laughing about it.
"They were making fun of him," she fumes. "Everybody knows his dad beats him, and they're laughing at him. I'm so sick of this place. They're all like a pack of dogs, hunting."
Florian must have got hit harder than normal today, he was so out of it. M. Lerouge, the principal, commented on how big his father's hands are. Florian lives all alone with his dad, and according to M. Lerouge, men just aren't as patient as women. But a little discipline never hurt anyone.
There's nothing Michele can do; she's not Florian's teacher, she doesn't see him everyday, she doesn't think Social Services would listen to her. She's tried talking to the assistant principal and got nowhere. M. Lerouge, obviously, is useless.
"There must be a hotline or something you could call for advice," I said.
Another teacher joins the conversation. There's nothing we can do, he says. We must wait.
"Wait? Wait for what?? Wait for his dad to kill him? He already has bruises!" Michele sputters.
But it's quarter-after now, she has an appointment, and I have to catch the bus.

I'm no longer surprised that the number one cause of death for European women is domestic violence.

This morning I set the homepages of all the computers at school to the helpline section of the Children's Rights webpage.

names not changed to protect the guilty.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Deux ou trois choses qui m'enervent...

It's a regular column in SCUMgrrrls: "Two or Three Things that Piss Me Off". I woke up with a rant in my head, and though the universe keeps trying to cheer me up today, I refuse to do so. I have a Vesuvian temper; centuries of quiet and then BOOM you are Pompeii going "Holy Shit!!" as I incinerate you with the pyroclastic flow of my wrath.

So let's begin, shall we?

  • Street Harrassment. I have not been hassled at all wandering alone around Paris at all hours of the night (probably because I'm a white girl in the rich part of town). Verdun, however, provides so little entertainment that apparently annoying the foreign chick has become the new sport of choice. Yesterday I was walking to a friend's house, trying to find his street, and I passed a group of teenage boys. How they knew I was American I don't know (must be the faux hawk, it hasn't really caught on with French girls), but as soon as I accidentally caught their eye (fatal mistake) I was hounded with catcalls: " ell-ooooo!USA! I love you! Beautiful!" I pretended I didn't speak English. When they failed to elicit a reaction they changed tactics: "BITCH! Motherfucker! Bitch!"
    What I did: Nothing. Four strapping teenage boys against one 98 pound weakling are lousy odds.
    What I should have done: Taken up a martial art like I keep saying I will so I wouldn't be afraid to tell them to fuck off in three languages.
    This experience, however, was not as bad as the previous one, where three teenagers, two girls and a guy, with a toddler in a stroller (???) followed me several blocks, crossing the streets even, all the way home, throwing bread at me. I still don't know what the fuck that was all about, but they found it hilarious.
  • Puberty. I've decided that adolescence is a highly contagious crowd disease and those afflicted with it should be quarantined until they make a full recovery. I fucking hate teenagers (with notable exceptions). I hated them when I was a kid, I hated being one, and I still hate them now. Working at a collège, I miss the worst of it, but I still have to deal with them far too often. I wouldn't mind having children as long as I could pack them off to boarding school for about 7 years once they hit age 13. Give me a squawling infant any day.
  • Men. I fucking hate men today, individually and as a class. Thank Sappho and Artemis I am not in the least sexually attracted to them. I shall explicate les chose qui m'enervent:
    Matt. We were all hanging out yesterday, I was paging through my already well read copy of Bitch. After inquiring about the magazine, he sniffs "I'm not a feminist", in that tone that implies that clearly feminism is an embarrassing 70s anachronism, like macramé wall hangings and bell-bottoms.
    What I did: "Yeah, well, you don't have to be, do you?" Trying to get across his priviledge as a white guy, but I think I only implied that Feminism Is Girl Stuff and Not For Men.
    What I should have done: Grabbed him by the shoulders and shouted "WHERE THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU'D BE WITHOUT FEMINISM, YOU SELF-SATISFIED, SMUG GAY DOUCHEBAG?? I bet you think Queer Eye for the Straight Guy is revolutionary, don't you? Or that the whole point of gay rights is to shack up behind marriage certificates and white picket fences like straight people? Don't you know the gay rights movement couldn't have got off the ground without feminism first?!?!" I swear to god, sometimes gay men piss me off more than straight men. At least some straight men actually know and love women. Gay men wear their misogyny like some fashion statement, and it's so painfully ironic. They have nothing in common with lesbians other than being homos.
    Ricardo: Latino macho culture at its most insidious. Totally nice decent person who nevertheless thinks women exist for his pleasure and entertainment. Too many stories to relate, but no wonder he was dumbfounded when I came out to him. A woman whose entire life does not revolve around her relationship to men? Error! Does not compute! Brain exploding! Oh wait, lesbianism, like two chicks getting it on in porn, yeah, that's hot!
    What I've done about it: nothing. Bad feminist. I suck.
    What I should do: channel Hot-Headed Paisan and bash him in the head with a two-by-four.
    Laurent: again, nice guy, only when I explained how I have a minor in Women's Studies he retorted, "Do they have Men's Studies?" Oh god! We're not kissing male ass for two seconds! The Apocalypse is coming!
    What I did: "Actually, there's a whole field of Gender Studies that includes Masculinities..."
    What I should have done: "Fucking EVERYTHING is Men's Studies, you moron. See this? It's The Second Sex. Read it, because you can."
  • And that's another thing: Disney. As if their patriarchal propaganda masquerading as movies wasn't insult enough, their corporate greed has fucked with the U.S. copyright law, which means we won't get an actual decent translation of La deuxiéme sexe until I'm in my 70s. And my French just isn't up to it. I cry uncle. It has defeated me.
  • Straight people. Shut the fuck up. You don't know what you're talking about. We live in completely different worlds. If you want to hear my thoughts and my experience, I don't mind, but you have to actually listen. Don't tell me what to feel or what you think I really experience, because you don't know. You have no fucking idea what the closet is like. So don't you dare dismiss my words. Of course you can't see what I see, it's called heterosexual priviledge and priviledge of any kind blinds you to the realities of others. Go watch Brokeback Mountain and read Zami and pay fucking attention, and then we'll talk.
  • the Catholic Church. Just because. Also, I'll use them as a stand-in for everything that taught me to be self-effacing, quiet, placating, Nice: religion, tv, movies, my parents. I grew up as the peacemaker in an angry household (it was loving, but very tempestous). So I learned not to make waves, don't make trouble, make nice, swallow your opinion, don't speak your mind. Which is why I'm so bad at confrontation. Why I don't call bullshit when I see it. I'm the fucking Neville Chamberlin of feminism: appeasement! appeasement! What I didn't manage to express in my post on stealth feminism is that I'm trying to overcome that, to put a face on feminism. Just like people tend to be more gay friendly when they know that they know gay people. But I tend to err too much on the side of Niceness and let comments slide and whitewash my opinions. I don't want to be That Shrill Self-Righteous Harpy. Which is stupid, because you can never win the popularity contest anyway. You're either the Ugly Man Hating Bitch, just like they say, or you're failing to challenge to their fascist expectations of feminity anyway. I have button that says "I'm so sorry if I'm alienating some of you, YOUR WHOLE FUCKING CULTURE ALIENATES ME." I should pay more attention to its message. I'm so, so fucking tired of adapting to them, accomodating their expectations, speaking their language.

Sigh. See, this is what blogs are for. The cathartic airing of grievances.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Pictures of perfection

([John Cleese] And now for something completely different.[/John Cleese])

Saturday night on the Champs-Elysees, at Le Balzac, a swank three screen theater. The line for Orgueil et Préjugés stretched out the theater and down the street, but I must see this movie again, and somehow I squeak in. The only free seat left is right in the front row, between an elderly couple and a pair of young boys, geeks, bad haircuts and big glasses, probably not more than eleven years old.
The lights go down, the music starts up, and I'm swept away once again, twittering Mrs. Bennet and giggling Lydia and Kitty, the locals at the Meryton assembly twirling and bowing and curtseying.
"Do you dance, Mr. Darcy?" the sparkling Elizabeth Bennet asks him.
"Not if I can help it," he snaps, and I laugh in satisfaction. Perfect.
I feel a tap on my shoulder. It's the little boy next to me.
"Qu'est-ce qu'il a dit à-t-elle?"
"He said he doesn't like to dance," I answer. Little boy leans over and whispers in his friend's ear.
I didn't think Keira Knightley's Elizabeth could get anymore luminous, but she does, she's got pearls in her hair, and lord knows a woman can never be too fine when she's all in white, at the Netherfield Ball, and oh no, Tom Hollander's weasely Mr. Collins is asking her to dance. It's odd, being the only one in the theater who gets the joke about his "lightness of foot." It doesn't really translate into French.
Tap, tap.
"Qui est Monsieur Collins?"
"Il est le cousin de la," I stumble a bit, not really having the vocab to explain an entailed estate. But he seems to get it, leans over and whispers to his friend again.
The lights come up and there's me, sitting in a warm glow of Austenitis (n. Nervous condition or emotional state induced by prolonged exposure to Jane Austen novels or cinematic adaptations thereof. Symptoms include unfocuzed gaze, deep sighing, increased clarity of diction, a tendency to speak in elaborate, archaic grammatical constructions, and the desire for muslin dresses. No known cure but with proper attention and care it can be managed, patients living an otherwise normal life).
Tap, tap.
"Excuse me. We are here for English class. I can ask you questions?"
I smile. "Yes, you can!"
"Is book old-fashioned?"
"Yes, it's a very old book."
"You read novel?" miming with his hands.
"Yes, many times."
Pointing to the screen. "Is same?"
"Well, yes, it's the same as the book."
"You like?"
"Yes, I like it very much! Did you like it?"
"Oh yes! Very funny!" And I don't think he was being polite, either; they both laughed at all the comic bits in the movie.
It was so cute, watching them discover Austen for the first time. And feeling like I'd discovered her for the first time, all over again. It is a truth universally acknowledged (come on, you know I gotta) that film adaptations of Jane Austen inevitably fail to satisfy the Janeites (n. pl. Person whose devotion to Austen and her writings border on religious fervor. See also fanatic.) How ever little known this view may be to a filmmaker upon his first embarking on an adaptation, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the Janeites that Austen is considered as the rightful property of her own admirers. Which is one of the reasons that I consider myself a "renegade Janeite"; I've never met an adaptation I didn't like. Or at least find something to enjoy, even if it was only to revel in the it's-so-awful-it's-hilarious quality (I'm thinking of the only adaptation of Northanger Abbey, which missed the point by so many miles it's in a different universe). I'm one of the few Janeites who loves Rozema's '98 adaptation of Mansfield Park (and no, not because of the wildly inappropriate lesbian subtext).
And I love this movie. I'm in complete accord with Mary-Ann Johansen's review : this adaptation is alive. It dances and laughs, to the point that I don't even mind that they cut out the best lines. It made me fall in love with Pride and Prejudice all over again. I've never been much of a purist. If I want a historical documentary, I'll turn on the History Channel. Austen chronicles emotion and the human heart like no other, and if a film manages to capture that, I'll give it a lot of leeway in terms of historical accuracy and faithfulness even to the plot. So, yeah, Lizzie wouldn't be wandering around without gloves and a hat, and no, Donald Sutherland's Mr. Bennet isn't really the character from the book, though he is delightful, but that's just nit-picking for me. It always puzzles me how defensive and outraged Janeites get over the film versions. Like Karen Joy Fowler said, everyone has their personal Austen, and everyone feels like JA is theirs, speaking intimately to them, so we're very protective of her. Especially with P&P (oh no! I used an ampersand! Grab the smelling salts!): Darcy and Lizzie are like our "personal representatives in the field of shagging, or rather, courtship", to quote Bridget Jones. We take it personally when people misunderstand her or somehow threaten our ideas of what Austen is. And Janeites show their devotion by memorizing biographical munitae and historical details and whole paragraphs of her writing; it's the test of a True Janeite. I do the same; I get a kick out of reading film critics reviewing Austen adaptations, as if they actually know what they're talking about (and they almost never do). It's fun, obsessing over all that, snarking on the mistakes and nitpicking the details, but it's not the point. Films are interpretations, necessarily, much like literary criticism; but Janeites take Austen so personally that we get offended when someone's opinion contradicts our own. Which I think is a shame. I once read an essay by Eve Sedgewick, "Jane Austen and the Masturbating Girl" (yes, you read that correctly), a provocative piece suggesting that Marianne's over-the-top Romanticism in Sense and Sensibility was an expression of auto-eroticism, among other things. She made some interesting points, but I spent most of the time laughing over the ridiculous academicese (at one point she describes Elinor's pupils as "twin sphincters of the soul"). My point is that no amount of wierd criticism or lousy adaptations is going to damage Austen. That's all just opinion; she is Art. She doesn't need defending. So relax already.
I'm glad I didn't let my qualms about Keira Knightley scare me away from the film. At first I thought, "Ugh, Rising Starlet as my Lizzie? I.think.not." But she really impressed me. She's no Jennifer Ehle (who could be?), but her Lizzie is just as bright and lovely. So what if she doesn't wear a fichu (or comb her hair, for that matter). Knightley gets Lizzie's vivacity and spirit. As for Matthew MacFayden, I'm going to be totally stripped of my Janeite credentials when I say he is the Darciest of Darcys. Or as Mags put it, "What a very fine, strapping, juicy hunk of British woof on the hoof." This is the Darcy I find when I read the novel. I like Colin Firth's version, but I never really bought him being Majorily In Luv. When Lizzie tells him at the end that she does love him and will marry him, it falls so incredibly flat, because he's just standing there. I guess he's trying to show that Darcy's emotions are too strong for words or something, but he looks for all the world as if someone merely remarked that they found Bath very congenial. MacFayden's stammering declarations of passion are perfect. And look, if you can accept Firth's Darcy jumping into ponds and running around Pemberley in his skivvies dripping wet, then having Darcy and Lizzie meet on a mist-covered field shouldn't be too much of a stretch either. The secondary characters, like Mrs. Bennet, are a bit more lifelike and less cartoony than they are in the BBC version. Needless to say, I loved Charlotte's speech to Lizzie, I don't care if it's kosher or not. Judi Dench was impeccable as Lady Catharine, as I knew she would be. Caroline Bingley got short shrift, but oh well. I loved the ending. I got the European version, so no smooch, which fits, but god was I rooting for a kiss at that point. I just hope the alternate ending isn't too mushy; you got to have a delicate balance with these things. I'd rather have no kiss than have them slobbering over each other.
And now, as if I wasn't missing my books enough as it is, I'm dreaming of my Everyman Library hardback editions of Austen, hunter green cloth covers with cream woven paper (acid-free, bien sur), gorgeous black and white dustjackets, sigh. P&P is definitely up in the Austen Rotation this year (I read one Austen novel every year).
Well. That should have got the worst of Austenitis out of my system, hopefully. I only have the soundtrack to console me until I can get home.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

An army of me

I was listening to that song on the way here (the internet café); old-school Björk in one of her less esoteric moods. I think it fits where I am in life right now, politics-wise. Here I am, a feminist, in a foreign country, on International Women's Day, I gotta write something thought-provoking and interesting! No pressure!
(That's why I didn't post anything on Nov. 11; I was in freaking Verdun on freaking Armistice Day, it was too much, I wasn't up to the challenge)
I haven't reflected too much on how living in Europe has influenced my politics. I haven't had the chance, really, to catch my breath; too busy adjusting and cramming as much French into my head as possible. But, in addition to the usual culture shock, it's been disorienting to be cut off from my feminist grrrls back home, the vets of Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance. We keep in touch via email, etc, but it's not the same. I've been trying to suss out the feminists here in France, and it's been a challenge, being in a small rural town (a university would really, really help), but, after several months of trying, I've made some headway. France isn't much different from the States in that respect, at least my neck of the woods; a sweltering mass of heterosexist bourgeouis capitalism, but the feminists are there, and the queers and the punks too, you just have to know where to look. Back home I know where to find them; here I've been hampered by a different culture (and a LOUSY, PATHETIC excuse for a library system) and a language barrier. Paris is where it's at, of course; Strasbourg and I think Lille aren't too shabby either, from what I gather.
Toute la journée, je travaille sous-payée
Tous les soirs, je travaille au foyer
Quel bonheur d'être libérée!
Le 8 mars, pas assez!
Féminisme toute l'année!
This is one of the chants of the Parisian version of the Radical Cheerleaders, les Pom Pom Queers. Roughly translated:
I work all day, underpaid
Every evening I keep house
It's so great to be free!
March 8 is not enough!
Feminism all year round!
(Thanks, SCUMgrrrls!)
That's kind of become my philosophy, here in France. Feminism every day. I'm the only self-identified feminist in town, or at least that's what it feels like. Being a foreigner, it's tough to break into the progressive scene, if you can even find it, and being an American, I bring all kinds of cultural baggage with me, whether I like it or not. Before France my feminism was of the activist academic variety: I'd go to my Women's Studies classes during the day, FMLA meetings at night, go on marches and protests and conferences with my professors on the weekends and school breaks. My identity as a feminist was very much tied up with being in an organization, and having older mentors in my professors. It was exhilarating, learning new theory and strategies in class and then going out and putting them into practice. And, all the internet access I could wish for. I didn't realize it at the time, but I had a huge support group. But it was exhausting too. I was discovering feminism and progressive politics and learning about activism and figuring out group dynamics and leadership and coming-out and lobbying my congressmen in their offices and traveling to DC and generally burning myself out. So here in France, I'm all alone, which is difficult, but it's also something of a respite. Back home everything felt so immediate, my country is being taken over by theocratic fascists and nobody seems to notice, I have to do something now! I've kind of had that burden lifted from me for the time being, given a chance to recharge my batteries.
I've found my feminism, here in Europe, has become more personal. I like Winter's term: stealth feminism. In France, I'm a stealth feminist. My activism is not about waving signs and marching in the streets and generally making a public nuisance of myself. It's small, daily acts of resistance, of disruption. Today I'm decked out in my feminist regalia: blood red V-Day shirt ("Saving the World One Vagina at a Time"), buttons aplenty, "dyke" wristband (which I knit myself), my Doc Martens. Le Tigre on the headphones ("Feminists we're calling you!/Please report to the front desk!/Let's name this phenomenon/It's too dumb to bring us down!") Living among the incredibly high-maintenance hetero French femininity, I've gotten more butch. I teach my classes with my hair spiked into a faux hawk, wearing a tie. It's an unconcious reaction, I didn't realize it at first. And yet I still wear my skirts all the time; sometimes with pants and a tie, just to mix it up. I don't shave. I pick the least hetero-centric Valentine's Day activities for my kids. I don't eat meat (vegetarianism is a political act, for me), which is fucking tough to do here. I come out. I honor the earth, every day. I use alternative menstrual products. I don't wear make-up. I'm not good at confrontation, so most people don't realize that a) I'm gay and b) I'm a radical feminist. But I don't hide my opinions, or try not to, once I'm asked. Stealth feminism. People get to know me, I'm a polite Midwestern girl, I'm nice and sweet, and are always shocked when they find I hold SCARY SCARY opinions like abortion should be free and on demand. I'm a radical dyke feminist. I'm not threatening. I'm a nice person, you like me, we're friends, we hang out all the time. So maybe feminsim isn't as freaky as you think it is. Yeah, I'm hairy dyke, and yes, I'm friends with you, even though you're male! I don't mind!
An army of me. I'm hoping that by just being myself, honest, unapologetic, I might make people think, just a little bit. I'm certainly not what people here think of as an American. I'm not what they imagine when they think of a feminist, or a lesbian. Just being exposed to people who are different, interesting, themselves, helped push me toward feminism, to becoming more myself. And hopefully I'm achieving the same thing here, with my students, with my roommates and friends. Maybe it will make them that much more open-minded, more receptive to new ideas. It's not much, but it's something.
Of course, once I go home, watch out. Missouri needs it's own chapter of the Lesbian Avengers!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

yo te quiero y finito

Yo te querda, oh mi corazon. That's about all the Spanish I got, a few lines from Clash songs, and I'm not even sure what it means. So you can imagine how the trip went, me and JJ wandering haplessly around Spain with our Sesame Street Spanish and some Mexican slang; we don't know how to ask for the bill, but we can say "Fuck your bitch mother." Which we were tempted to do, on occaision. JJ and I developed a ritual for restaurants called The Elaborate Putting on of the Coat, in order to conjure the waiter with the reciept. Also there was much pointing and gesturing. We managed.
I was worried that Spain wouldn't live up to Greece, and I was right; not that it was a bad trip, really, just very different. My trip to Greece was very much a Henry James novel: Idealistic American Young Lady travels among the Faded Glories of Europe, Expanding Her Horizons and Growing into Mature Womanhood (but luckily, being a dyke, I get to avoid Making a Bad Marriage and the resulting Tragic Consequences). I did feel very Isabel Archer. But happily I only met goofy Canadians instead of scheming Madame Merles.
So, if Greece was Henry James, Spain was more like National Lampoon's Iberian Vacation. Without Chevy Chase, thankfully. Like I said, it wasn't a bad trip, necessarily, but it was one long comedy of errors. Starting with meeting JJ in Paris, where my heretofore latent smoke allergy made a surprise appearance; so I spent the whole time fending off a sinus infection. It's partly my fault, for not bringing my medication; but I didn't think I'd need it, my life-long allergy had mysteriously gone into remission over the last several months. Or so I'd thought. But Europeans also seem to have some inalienable right to self-medicate with carcinogens in every possible public and private space. I'm real glad the French have universal health care because I'd sure hate to see your lung cancer rates in 30 years, that's all I got to say.
We fly into Madrid, which, as far as I can tell, is ugly and covered in dog shit (oh Europe. I never get to admire your centuries of beautiful architecture because I'm too busy watching where I step). According to my Damron traveler, there are scads of dyke bars in Madrid, and at least two queer bookstores, but I don't get to visit any of them because I feel too crappy. I don't even go to the art museum to view Velazques or Goya, and I'm big fans of them. Dammit. But on Sunday morning we manage to head out to the flea market, an impossibly huge, utterly mad chaotic thing that goes on for blocks and blocks and blocks. It was amazing, and would have been fun if it hadn't been so fucking cold (NB: just because it's Spain doesn't mean it's not still February). I did discover the one thing I liked about Madrid: anarchist punks. They had their own corner of the flea market and were selling buttons and pirated CDs and Marxist and Anarchist literature, and zines. And t-shirts! I snagged me two: a huge gray one that says MUERTA AL PATRIARCADO (even I can understand that one), with some Spanish anarchist version of Hot-headed Paisan on it, and a smaller red shirt with more incomprehensible Spanish and an anarchist dyke stomping around. It says Mujeres libres, which is also pretty self-explanatory. I got buttons too. It cheered me up considerably.
After Madrid was Cordoba. Cordoba was a vast improvement. We got there after a four and half hour bus ride, tired, hungry, getting lost and rained upon, discovering our hostel was temporarily shut down, and all we could do was exclaim over how beautiful it was. Narrow white-washed alleyways and rolling hills. We managed to find a great hostel in the old city that was decorated in the Spanish style that Pottery Barn likes to rip off. Family run establishment; their two little boys played in the entrance hall.
Cordoba used to be one of the most advanced cities in Europe, back when it was part of the Moorish empire, so we went to see the old palatial city Madina Al-Zahra. Except we almost didn't see it; we were eating breakfast and realized we were going to be late for the bus if we didn't book it. So we started running all over the place, in no particular direction, no idea where we were or where we were going. I guess just running gave us a pro-active feeling. But we made it, somehow, at the last minute. Because we rock.
And it was pretty damn incredible. This ancient ruined city on the outskirts of Cordoba, with the fog rolling in from the green hills. It was beautiful, and slightly mysterious (which didn't stop us from taking silly videos). I really can't do it justice, you just have to see it.
The next day was the Mezquita and the Alcazar. The Mezquita is a huge, gorgeous mosque that was converted into a church in the 13th century. We went during mass (free entry), and the place is so huge, we could hear the priest singing in Spanish, but we couldn't actually find him. So we wandered around the endless red columns, listening to the bells ringing and gazing at the 99 names of Allah inscribed on the walls. It was so fascinating I didn't even break out in hives, as I usually do when exposed to patriarchal religions.
But the Alcazar. The Alcazar was definitely the highlight of Cordoba for me. It's the medieval castle of the Spanish monarchs; Ferdinand and Isabella lived there. It's in wonderful condition; we went there at dusk, and it was like every fairy tale I had ever read in childhood come to life. Towers and turrets and dungeons in warm red stone. I stood in a marble courtyard with fountains and orange trees as white doves flew above me and sunlight streamed over the battlements. And then there are the gardens. More fountains and terraces and orange trees and hedges. Maybe it was the quality of the light, because the sun was setting and the sky was all purple, but it had an otherworldly quality to it. I felt underdressed. I wanted to put on a long brocaded gown and grab a book of sonnets. I hated to leave it, but they were closing.
Then another bus ride, and Granada. For some reason I thought Granada was on the coast, but it's in the Sierra Nevadas. Cold and rainy. But Granada was all about the Alhambra, the huge sprawling collection of Moorish palaces and Spanish castles. If the Alcazar was like a fairy tale, the Alhambra was more so, to the power of 10. Better preserved than the Madina Al-Zahra as well. I won't even bother to describe it, I've used up all my hyperbolic adjectives, but it's everything a resplendant palace in the mountains should be. They say if you die without seeing the Alhambra, you haven't lived, and I'd have to agree.
And then back to Madrid, to visit the market again and catch my flight back to Paris. Some parts (well, quite alot) of this trip would have sucked if I hadn't been with JJ. We kept each other sane with running jokes and irrelevant Eddie Izzard quotes. I didn't realize how much I missed hanging out with fellow feminists like her (we both lamented the fact that two girls from rural Missouri know more about French feminism than the French do. de Beauvoir? C'est qui? )
So, that was Spain. I'm glad I went, for Cordoba and Granada. But I'm glad to back in France, which smells of human piss and dog shit only part of the time, and where at least I can make myself understood (it's not like we didn't try, for the record. JJ and I are both language geeks, we hit an internet café and looked up every key word we could think of).
Will try to whip up something for tomorrow, since it's International Women's Day. But really, all I want to do at the moment is geek out on Jane Austen, so I guess I'll reserve Friday for that.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

tales of the city

Got an email from my friend Kevin, inquiring into the state of my existence. yes, i'm still alive. I'm just channeling Briget Jones the morning after. I believe this is my first official hangover. uuuuuuuuuuugh. Going to diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeeee. Brain objecting strenously to this typing nonsense. Not that said indisposition prevented me from hitting the Virgin Megastore this morning and seriously depleting my credit card (hate self now).

I should back up a bit. In Paris. Got back to France Monday evening and have been burning the candle at both ends all week. it's been a fairly bipolar experience. here's the condensed version:
Spending my days at the Louvre, Monet museum, Cluny museum, Shakespeare and Co. Goya's la femme a l'eventail, an exposition of Ingres, Waterlilies, Camille Claudel's la veille helene, The lady and the Unicorn. Falling truly, madly, deeply in love with Jeanette Winterson and her essays in Art objects. Thursday went to a performance of Bach in Eglise St Germain de pres (oldest church in Paris, for the record). Feeling very intellectual and sophisticated.
Spent my evenings in a blur of selfish hedonism. last night hit a bar and two clubs, all lesbian of course, with a cute, terribly sweet Tunisian woman i met Tuesday night. Danced with a cute girl who said my unshaved pits were gross (look, i do trim, for christ's sake. Should have cussed her out.) Didn't get in till quarter to five in the morning, hence the hangover and erratic capitalization. Tuesday was a crazy night, took my Spanish hostel roommate to my favorite dyke bar, where I was propositioned by a creepy old Frenchman and his 20-something concubine wife. unfortunately i had already made out with the wife before realizing she and the hubby were looking for company. "You are very beautiful together. You have only taste her! i make you gift. i take care of you" Which creeped me the fuck out. needless to say, i wasn't that desperate. Fortunately my 6 on the Kinsey scale bulldagger vibes are so powerful my Spanish roommate decided she was a bit queer after all, and oh my god. Wow. Thwarted from going any further by the fact that we're in a hostel.
Wednesday, we all go out to the aptly named Queen, the gay club on the Champs-Elysees. it was ladies night and we got in free. The DJ was fantastic, and good thing too, because i was subjected to watching Spanish Roommate, with whom i had fallen massively in lust, make out with a skinny-ass, acne prone, badly dressed French dweeb, which, combined with the alchohol, was traumatic. Also saw my first strip tease, dude in a sailor suit, and my personal biases notwithstanding, I think strip teasing is not only vastly overrated, it's stupid and silly too. Sheesh.
God. What else. Found a lesbian bookstore, Violette and Co, and bought every copy of SCUMgrrrls they had. And a French dyke zine. And a postcard. Saw pride and prejudice in English last night, finally, Keira Knightley in historically inaccurate Regency dress, oh i could eat that up with a spoon. And if matthew MacFayden showed up on my doorstep with a dozen roses, well, i'd totally think about it. Bought the soundtrack and i'm going back again tonight.

oh, yeah, Spain. That's a whole nother story. must go now. head collapsing.