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Le Weekend 4/29/22: Macron, Paws of War & Kiki de Montparnasse 🇫🇷 🇺🇦

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April 29, 2022

Dear Frenchly Readers,

Much of the democratic world breathed a huge sigh of relief last Sunday night when Macron was reelected. Avoiding a right wing, pro-Putin Le Pen presidency at the heart of Europe is certainly something to celebrate, particularly in such divisive and turbulent times.

But the task now before Macron is not an easy one: 41.5% of France voted  for Le Pen and 28% didn’t vote at all. Maps show a France divided along similar lines as those that delineate the blue and red states here in the U.S.

When President Obama was leaving office, he said something really important, something I often think about. Trump had won and, if you looked at Michelle Obama’s face during the hand off, it said what so much of the blue and purple parts of the country were feeling. And yet, ever graceful, Obama invoked Atticus Finch, the great moral voice who, over forty years later, still speaks to us from the pages of that indelible Harper Lee novel, To Kill a Mockingbird: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

And then Obama went on to say that, “For blacks and other minority groups, it means tying our own very real struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face — not only the refugee, or the immigrant, or the rural poor, or the transgender American, but also the middle-aged white guy who, from the outside, may seem like he’s got advantages, but has seen his world upended by economic and cultural and technological change. We have to pay attention and listen.” I’ve always remembered that.

I’ve had to think about it in my own life: Since Covid began, in particular, there’s been what I consider a disturbing trend of more and more people moving to my home state of Maine and more wild land being eaten up by development. Sometimes it’s hard for me not to judge someone by their license plate, not to want to protect what I believe is, essentially, the Maine I know and love, and also what, I believe, makes Maine vulnerable.

My guess is that a portion of that 41.5% in France wasn’t necessarily voting against Muslims and immigrants, but, instead, saw themselves as trying to protect some essential quality of what they believe is French. What makes a person not only who he is, but who his child is, and also what his terroir is? What makes those birds and bees on that land all distinctively French? It’s a complicated and emotional journey to learn how to include and open doors and also to guard what truly needs protecting.

The sad thing is, if history is any lesson, in this country, we went on, for four divisive years with Trump, to do just the opposite of what Obama was asking our country to do. Now we are trying to reunify in fractured fits and starts.

But I have hope for France. And here’s why: If we believe the news, there are ominous undercurrents that we are on the brink of what could be another devastating world war. Brinkmanship has escalated: Russia has cut off gas lines to Poland and Bulgaria, Germany has committed military to the struggle, and Biden has asked for 33 billion dollars more to help support Ukraine. Boots on the ground is looking more and more likely.

In all this, France is central to a liberal, democratic Western Europe—the literal heart of it. Only about 1,500 miles away in Ukraine are the devastating human, animal and environmental terrors of war, which will have long reaching humanitarian and environmental consequences.

So, France will play a very important role in the coming days and weeks. France may indeed need to be the moral center as the world decides, human to human, how to fight for everything we believe in without setting the entire planet on fire, killing more children, more grandmothers, more animals. This, it turns out, is the question for the age: climate change and war are the problems of now. It’s now or never.

Macron will need to reach into the left ventricle of his heart to make progress in the areas of social and environmental change the left candidate Mélenchon promised to that 28% that didn’t vote; and he will also need to walk around in the berets of that 41.5 % and have compassion. It will be balancing act. But one I do believe he can do with grace and aplomb. After all, the entire world is watching.

Cook, watch & read ce weekend  (Cuisinier, Regarder et Lire): 

Ok, before I get too far, we have a new Rue du Soleil!!! What is happening with Karen and Jerrod now with that ugly little house they bought (or are trying to buy) on France’s most beautiful street? Find out here. I love this new essay: there’s a banker who loves cheese, a bed salesman with a ‘tude and an overly excited hubby with a tool belt (believe me, I can sympathize—someday I will regale you with stories of Dan with clippers—he’s no longer allowed to touch them!) I just love Karen’s writing—this column twice a month is truly a ray of sunshine in bleak times. Karen brings us back to those sweet halcyon days when the pandemic was just beginning and, by comparison, the world seemed innocent.

This week was an exciting week at Frenchly—we published so much good stuff! I kind of couldn’t believe it when I looked back this morning: We have this curious and wonderful piece by Catherine Rickman about weird public art in Paris. And this one also by Catherine about eating well for under 30 Euros in Lyon (I was particularly excited about this since I will be going to Lyon with my family in July). Catherine is currently traveling around France for us, bringing us a series of 48 Hours pieces that will always attempt to tell us something unexpected and off the beaten path for our own travels –or just travel dreams! (Her last one was about 48 Hours in Lille, the Flemish French city.)

We also published a piece by Andrea Meyer on the Cannes Film Festival’s efforts to balance some scales and make good on their promise to include more women filmmakers—there are some exciting movies on that list! And we published an election aftermath piece here, and this terrific piece about traveling to and around Gers—our writer, Sue Aran, says it’s the least populated and most wonderfully pristine place in France.

And today we also published this piece by a new contributor for us, Jana Misho, about Kiki de Montparnasse. I had seen Man Ray’s photos of Kiki but didn’t know anything about her, or that there was a famous Modigliani painting of her (I knew the painting but not who it was of!) and that Soutine also painted her. I loved what I learned about Alice Prin, aka Kiki de Montparnasse, in the process of the editing Jana’s piece. Check Queen Kiki out!

Which brings me full circle the way art can do so beautifully: Remember this wonderful piece Debra Spark wrote for us about Soutine and Modigliani sharing a studio space in Paris that was infested with bedbugs? All they had was candles, books and their love of art to sustain them. It’s worth a read if you missed it the week we published it–which was, after all, the week the war in Ukraine began.

Andrea Meyer has also given us some new movies to watch! She interviewed the director of Anais in Love, who says that the title character was based on herself and her own life and the movie is, in fact, “autofiction.” It opens tonight. And two more movies open this weekend, as well—one from Gaspar Noé and another from Céline Sciamma, who made Portrait of a Lady on FireHere is Andrea’s review of both. We are so lucky to have Andrea reviewing and writing about movies for us—she spends so many hours each week watching, interviewing and reading about French movies. Thanks to her, we don’t have to do the hard work — she does it for us!

Ok, to cook—if you didn’t make it last week, that chamomile cake was terrific. I might make it again with Earl Grey tea as some of the people in comments did.

Here’s a recipe for a delicious and springy-sounding chicken avocado burger I am going to try on Sunday night. Let me know if you try it, too?

Speaking of writing back: I got one response that I particularly loved last week to my query about what you are doing for the planet. Karla wrote, “Here in SoCal we always have a water shortage, so Earth Day is often focused on conserving water.  My hot water heater is in the garage, three rooms away from my bathroom.  So when I turn on the hot water tap, it takes a long time for the water to get hot.  So, to do my part for conservation, I learned to put a gallon pitcher in the sink (or shower, depending) to capture the cold water.  I have to fill three (3!) one-gallon pitchers of water before it is suitably hot enough to wash up for the day.  What do I do with the collected pitchers of water?  I water the vegetable plants in my little potager in the back yard!  And, in a wonderful coincidence, – in case the plants aren’t thirsty – a gallon of water is the exact amount needed to flush the toilet.”

And the more I read about Ukrainian pets that are being left behind at borders the more I want to weep. Here’s an organization called Paws of War  that’s trying to help.

Last thing, before I go: Next week we are doing a virtual tour and webinar on the Nouvelle Aquitaine region in France. We will visit two really amazing places—La Cité du Vin and the Lascaux Caves. I will be hosting. Sign up, grab a glass of Bordeaux and a chicken burger, and come hang with me as we go—live—and do some web-touring of this exciting and heartbreakingly beautiful southwestern region of France. Should make for a fun Thursday lunchtime: 12 noon, EST! Here’s the link.

À bientôt,

Caitlin.

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