Thursday, March 18, 2010

Congratulations, Simone Veil!

Today, at 2 p.m. in Paris, France Simone Veil became the 6th woman to join the Académie Française. She now numbers amongst those humbly known as "les immortels" and pursues the tradition (of women in the Académie) begun thirty years ago by Marguerite Yourcenar. Wonder if Richelieu (who founded the Académie in 1635) saw this coming! They gave her the seat once occupied by Racine! Her Wikipedia entry describes her as "une femme politique française" and she is that and so much more. When you join the Académie Française, you get a sword - Simone Veil had her concentration camp deportation number engraved upon it. Her family was separated before she was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau: she never saw her father or brother after they were sent to Lithuania; she and her sister survived Bergen-Belsen - her mother did not. She's been in French politics forever, and is best known for her work as Minister of Health from 1974-79, during which she won the hard fight for women of procuring safe and legal abortions. As I understand it, it was under her administration that the term IVG (Interruption Volontaire de Grossesse), (Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy) was introduced - to this day, French women can receive counseling, medical advice and medical attention, and, above all, dignity during a time of difficult decisions. In 1979, Veil became the President of the European Parliament - but I will confess to you that I have no idea what that means in 1979 (I know what it would mean after the creation of the European Union, which I think of as being created in 1992 - but I could use help on this one!). So you might be asking yourself, "What does it take to be inducted into the Académie Française?" Well, there are 40 members at any given time, and any new member is elected by the current peers. What you have to do is have used the French language well. This is such a beautiful idea, because it can mean so much: used to persuade, to convince, to change the world, to improve its aesthetic, to reveal a truth, to explain a mystery, to alter a thought, to memorialize an event, to create history. An induction into the Acadmémie is about as solemn a ceremony as you can possibly imagine - these images from Le Monde give you just a hint of the pomp and circumstance - there were no less than three past and current French presidents there today - magnifique! Simone Veil was recently voted the "favorite woman" of the French - that makes me love the French and Simone Veil all the more! You can see why in this in-depth profile (filled with lots of videos!) presented by (who else?) Le Monde. In it, she talks about the necessity of representing and discussing the Holocaust, about politics, about Sarajevo, and much much more. Her inauguration into the Académie, in my humble opinion, marks another very important day in the history of human ideas!

Things here at home proceeded on a much less grand scale. As you can see by the drawing of the hatching chick, Oliver has entered his Easter phase in full force - he is going to love May here, as I remember there being a holiday (and a day off) every three minutes in may in France. I read a lot (too much, several articles and they're all swimming in my head aimlessly) and tomorrow am planning on tackling a history book on the French Renaissance court (very satisfying, a book). The kids had great days in school: Oliver says that he's participating more (although Iris reports that he is still "reading [I should say, re-reading] Harry Potter in the shed during recess" - argh! but he's happy, so that's good) and he had homework today which he did very well (verb conjugations). I don't think that I mentioned this the other day, but the nurse that was examining Iris has a daughter in CE1 and she said that it's the toughest grade in the elementary education cycle because it's the one where the fun stops and the work begins - my poor Oliver! Born for Montessori, taught by Dickens. (I exaggerate, but the contrast is what I'm after). But he loves language so much, and is actually fascinated that French verbs "do more" (all those different endings) than English verbs. We talked today about how there are only six types of voices that our verbs can accommodate (first, second and third person singular, first, second and third person plural) and that kind of blew both of our minds. Iris and Eleanor had a blast today, too - motricity came a day early in the form of an obstacle course.

Otherwise, we read Asterix in Switzerland, which is very funny and is getting the kids in touch with their Swiss roots. The joke here is that the Swiss are an extremely neat and tidy people, thus the shiny quality of their road sign (declaring the beginning of the Helvetian (Swiss) Roman Empire), as opposed to the French side of the divide. Ting! (sound of shiny sign). :-) Iris really likes this book. My little girl just shone this afternoon: we were driving back and I was inspired by a scene I had witnessed at the boulangerie the day before, of a little girl in Oliver's class getting the baguette while her mom waited in the car. I asked Oliver if he wanted to hop out and get us a baguette - he said no (sigh), but Iris immediately jumped up and said "Moi! Moi! Moi!" - so up she hopped with a 2Euro piece and within minutes she came back with a baguette (which just looked huge in her arms) and a little bag of candy - crafty girl! She calculated how much she needed for both! She loved the whole exchange (and said her "s'il-vous-plait"s and "merci"s just fine, she told me) and so wants to go get croissants with Oliver and Eleanor (who have enthusiastically agreed - yea!) tomorrow morning. Don't worry, Mac, I'll be five steps behind - but I'm not allowed to enter the boulangerie. So, speaking of Mac (who is getting great work done in Germany according to a lovely phone call last night) - the kids really miss him! It's not like when a parent takes off for a conference or a research trip in America - I think there, there's so much going on that, well, it's not that the kids don't notice, but so much of what makes their lives their lives is still all around them. It makes me realize how lucky we are to have such great friends in Greencastle, how "surrounded" we are (great French idea of being "entourrés" by your friends) by our dear friends. We miss you, comrades of Château Vert!

And finally, two tiny forays into "history in film" - tonight, I watched Henry IV sign the Edict of Nantes (an Edict that I find down right moving, and let me tell you, when the Château here in town opens up, I will be making a beeline for the table upon which the Edict was signed, which is purportedly housed in said château!), and do good things, and then be assassinated. Sigh.

Teaser Henri IV - Ma-Tvideo France3
Henri IV, avec Julien Boisselier et Armelle Deutsch

I've always had a soft spot for Henry IV, and not just for the "Paris is well worth a mass" quote of legend which he said before converting back to Catholicism in order to become the king of France. No, no, it's that phenomenal Rubens cycle at the Louvre (wow, that is a fantastic Wikipedia article!) that did it (the one commissioned by his wife, Marie de Medici who may or may not have had something to do with his assassination) - he just looks so dear checking out her portrait, and he actually looks quite, well, regal in his apotheosis. Turns out he's France's favorite king, too - almost a populist, certainly courageous on the battlefield, true lover of Gabrielle d'Estrée, and oh yes, that Edict.

Last tiny bit: the new Robin Hood movie looks promising indeed - oh my, yes. I can't quite believe I'm going to miss the opening - it should be in Paris in July when we're there, though - oh joy!


  1. So I can't help but want to help you with a little EU history since I happen to be taking a class specifically centered on that very idea right now! I will give you just a little history, take it or leave it if you care...

    You are not wrong to think that the EU as it exists today was really born in 1992 with the Treaty of Maastricht in which was born the concept the European citizen "Citoyenneté", when the idea for the euro was created (instituted in 2000) and the borders disappeared (so to speak, people and capital move freely) etc. It also established the supremacy of European law over its individual state laws which was sort of a big deal.

    But actually the European Union itself was created in 1950, still in the wake of the second world war. The original six countries were: France, (West)Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy and the Netherlands. In 1973 Great Britian, Denmark and Ireland joined, in 1981 Greece and in 1986 Spain and Portugal. These were, what is considered today the original 12 (twelve stars still on the EU flag) and they are now what is called "old Europe" and the 15 other countries now a part of the EU are more or less considered new Europe. 16 of the 27 countries in the EU use the Euro now, and several more are well on their way of proving themselves worthy economically of changing to the Euro.

    The question of expansion plagues the EU today: as several more countries want to join (Croatia, Macedonia and Turkey, and Iceland since the economic crisis hit in 2008.) So the ever burning question is: Where will the borders of Europe eventually end? Is Turkey really part of Europe? Can they ever expect to join the EU if they refuse to recognize Cyprus (a soveriegn EU member state) as a country? There are many more questions surrounding the issue of Turkey's admittance to the EU (population size-60 million new citizens would increase the population of europe by almost 15 percent- cutlure, human rights abuses against the Kurds, refusal to acknowledge the Armenian genocide etc.) so it is a big debate needless to say.

    So now you know a little bit more about the EU, its birth and current situation and challenges (although the economic crisis in Greece is really challenging everybody if you haven't really been following it) and if you have any more questions feel free to ask. Or maybe you are sorry you asked... as always i am sure that wikipedia could tell you all of this..., but it might be interesting to copare the English entry and the French entry for biases opinions etc... but maybe that just proves i am a huge nerd!

    I think Matt and I are going to the salon du tourisme on Sunday, if everything works out and we make it back from Bayeux in time. This weekend also starts the Spring Cinema Festival in which all movies at all theaters at all times are only 3.50 so I am sure we will be partaking in that little endeavour as well! Talk to you soon!


  2. Hoorah! Many thanks for answering my call for help - my hero! So it _was_ kind of a big deal for her to be the President of the European Parliament in 1979 - wonder what they were talking about then? Aren't there also norms about things like the death penalty for joining the EU? I'm thrilled to know you're "next door" in Normandy - will you be seeing the beaches as well? Teaching the Bayeux Tapestry is one of my favorite moments - looking forward to knowing what you thought of it all (the museum is something else!) (oo, and the gift shop is pretty swell - lots of Bayeux Tapestry kitsch!).
    love and admiration,