Thursday, March 25, 2010

"My France Life"

This wonderful phrase was spoken tonight by Iris as she and Oliver were involved in heavy pre-Easter chocolate trade negotiations. She had just agreed to give him a significant part of her white chocolate egg shell and in return, was asking that he always give her the first choice of Kinder Egg "for the rest of my France life." She drives a hard bargain (Oliver took the deal). I love that: "my France life." This life that is mine that is France. This France that is my life. This little incarnation of myself for six months - France Iris. Well, here is France Iris about to relish her pre-Easter white chocolate egg. And here...

... is what was inside the white chocolate egg shell. Two little candy eggs, a white chocolate cow, and two adorable little kids (what is the little boy doing?). What a lovely surprise! Rebirth, renewal all the way!

And here is what was inside the chocolate frog. The kids could hardly get over it - bonus chocolates! Yes, bonus chocolates for your France life.

So here are a few random images from my France life. Before I launch in, I'd like to say thank you for all of the comforting, wise, and loving comments I received on e-mail after last night's post. I have so enjoyed thinking of the friends and family members who might be reading these posts - to have your presence and your beautiful thoughts on my dad's birthday meant the world to me.

Let us, then, begin. This wonderful arrangement of zebras currently hangs in Eleanor's classroom. This is still part of the Africa unit and the striking graphic quality of the zebra parade is just terrific. Eleanor is very proud of her zebra - hers is in the second row from the bottom, the second one from the right. It's the one whose stripes have been painted with great (and thick) gusto.

Her teacher said "It's a zebra at night." Ha ha!

Here is a package of Raclette cheese (when I said random, I meant random!). But there are several things to love here. The packaging for instance - nothing fancy (in fact, it's the store brand and I feel my poor Swiss relatives groaning at the very idea of buying store brand Raclette - sorry, Mom!), but I've consistently loved how Carrefour adds these little descriptive vignettes of the food they package. Here, the cheese is described as "fondante et généreuse" (melting and generous) - just what you want in a cheese. The other thing to love, of course, is just how delicious this tastes melted over froment bread. I absolutely did not prepare it the way you're supposed to (with a special machine, and with boiled potatoes and smoked meats) - but the kids loved their "grilled cheese sandwiches." The grilled cheese sandwiches of my France life.

This is just a joyful image of Oliver and Iris running yesterday at the Lists. You can see that the weather is truly warming up. Colder today, and with this crazy rain-hail shower that hit right as I was leaving to get the kids from school. When I got there (not 5 minutes later), it was gorgeous sun and puffy clouds. Amazing. Iris was worried, though, about our friends on the island. Every time it rains, now, she worries. Sweetheart. Well, at least this picture demonstrates that no matter the danger, she could at the very least run from it in style - look at that form! They were playing "Pollen!" which is tag except that you're bees.

This really rather excellent princess by Iris brings up a random thought about Henry IV and la Reine Margot - and here I'm referring to the movie versions of both of their lives. Both historical figures are made sympathetic through their sufferings in love. It is not Henry's moral struggle with the tensions between Protestantism and Catholicism that make him sympathetic (and tragic when he's assassinated) - it's his love for Gabrielle d'Estrée and her death and his wrenching grief that make him sympathetic. It is not Marguerite de France's agonizing life in the midst of a French court gone arguably quite mad that makes her sympathetic - it's her love for de la Môle that makes her sympathetic. So what are we looking at here? Modern cinematic conventions (calling Laura Mulvey) for protagonists that require a personal struggle (usually in the arena of love) for viewer identification? Or were these emotions really the driving and formative factors of these fascinating people's characters? Never mind, "really" - were these emotions, these tensions between the private and the public personas, the tensions within which these people lived?

Here is where Corneille's Horace (first performed in 1640, so about 75 years before our events) really comes in handy. Camille (whom I've always taken to the be the figure in white to the right of David's Oath of the Horatii 1784 painting) is engaged to one of the three Curatii which her three Horatii brothers must fight (think, Combat of the Three instead of Combat of the Thirty). She, like her Curati sister-in-law, can't win: she will either lose a brother, or her lover. Well, the Horati win, the Curati lose (die), and Camille, instead of cheering on Rome and her brother and expressing her filial duties of pride in her family as representatives of the State of Rome, launches into one of the most memorable tirades against public obligations to the State ever (ever) spoken.


Rome, l'unique objet de mon ressentiment !
Rome, à qui vient ton bras d'immoler mon amant !
Rome qui t'a vu naître et que ton cœur adore !
Rome enfin que je hais, parce qu'elle t'honore !
Puissent tous ses voisins, ensemble conjurés,
Saper ses fondements encor mal assurés !
Et si ce n'est assez de toute l'Italie,
Que l'Orient, contre elle, à l'Occident s'allie !
Que cent peuples unis des bouts de l'univers
Passent pour la détruire et les monts et les mers !
Qu'elle-même sur soi renverse ses murailles,
Et de ses propres mains déchire ses entrailles !
Que le courroux du ciel allumé par mes vœux,
Fasse tomber sur elle un déluge de feux !
Puissé-je de mes yeux y voir tomber ce foudre,
Voir ses maisons en cendres, et tes lauriers en poudre !
Voir le dernier Romain à son dernier soupir,
Moi seule en être cause, et mourir de plaisir.

CORNEILLE, Horace, Acte IV, scène 5

I wouldn't even know how to begin translating that without butchering it. Funny - I've looked on-line for translations and there aren't any (that just can't be!). "Rome enfin que je hais parce qu'elle t'honore" might be the crux of the matter, though: "Rome, which I loathe because she honors you" (her brother, Horace). Camilla is filled with fury at Rome, at the State, at its obligations, its sacrifices. All she wants is her lover back and she wishes to see the entire State crumble into ash and powder for his death in fiery and final ways. "Voir le dernier Roman à son dernier soupir" (to see the last Roman exhaling his last sigh) "Moi seule en être la cause, et mourir de plaisir" (For me alone to be the cause [of his demise], and to die of pleasure." Chilling, isn't it? A "vrai cri de coeur" (cry from the heart) - my first experience of a grieving individual self calling for the complete destruction of the State that had required the sacrifice of individual happiness and love. (The starkest contrast would be the way that, in Virgil's Aeneid (29-19 B.C.E.), Aeneas does not protest his having to leave Dido to fulfill his destiny - Dido does not protest the obligations of Fate for the creation of the State of Rome - she just kills herself). (Or, how Lancelot and Guinevere accept that their love has brought about the downfall of Camelot, not by staying together and claiming their happiness, but by each going to a nunnery and monastery to die).

In case you're wondering, things don't go so well for Camilla: her brother kills her and (and this always totally gets my students) is acquitted of the murder by the king. State: 1; Individual: 0. There is much, much more to say here (about the beauty of the French language for one thing; about the lasting resonance of this speech - if I'm remembering correctly, my mom had to memorize this speech in her literature class as a school girl; about how much my students in "Art and Revolution" debate whether Corneille was himself leveling a critique at the sacrifices called for by the State, or whether he "really" believed that Camilla deserved to die; and actually, there's something to say about that line in which Camilla wishes for the Orient to join with the Occident in crushing Rome). But what I walk away with is the lasting power of the expression of that tension between private desires and public obligations. I don't know if Henry IV and la Reine Margot felt as Camilla did, but for some reason, we need to think they did.

Well, here is Eleanor whose sense of private vs. public isn't very developed (believe me, I could cite evidence) enjoying a Barbapapa adventure - Barbotine has lost her tire-lire (piggy bank) by getting it confused with an actual pig. Ah, the cartoons of my France life.

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