Archive for June, 2020

Déconfinement continued…

Basket of Cherries, Merci, Morgane! Photo by Phineas Rueckert

I guess I could start by saying I’ve found it hard to know what to say about anything recently. The words of the poet W. B. Yeats come frequently to my mind about “the center not holding…” It does feel like the world as we have known it is coming apart at the seams, which is unsettling (to say the least).

But also, in some ways this is a good thing. Because I think most of us would be ready to admit that the world could be better managed than we (that is, we humans) have done so far. And while not everyone admits it yet, the young people of the world are urging us, with ever-increasing urgency, to wake up and realize that if we don’t do something pretty fast about dismantling our current way of doing things, and work together to safeguard our ability to live on this planet, we are doomed. (I know: that sounds melodramatic. Unfortunately, it is also true.)

So, although I had thought my next post would be about Macron’s speech to the nation on June 14, in which he announced the next steps toward a resumption of “normal” life in France–normal life lived with “the virus” that is–just as he found it necessary to address other concerns as well in his speech, things he had not anticipated talking about, I am finding it hard to know which overwhelming concern to comment on. And (an even bigger problem), what to say about it.

I did find much of what Macron had to say on June 14 somewhat comforting, and as usual his (for the most part) calm and intelligent way of expressing himself, as well as his clear concern for the common good are reassuring. France has done a pretty good job of flattening the COVID curve. Lots of people (though not enough) are wearing masks. People have stopped shaking hands, and there is no more faireing la bise (I find the latter sad, but also necessary). The numbers of cases are going down, and the government is working hard to figure out what to do next to avoid a resurgence of the disease.

But Macron was not able to focus only on the coronovirus in his speech this time, because the rising tide of (very justifiable) anger about police brutality that started in my hometown in Minnesota has swept the world, including France. And that has brought about a whole new set of concerns.

Of course it is not just contemporary racism and police brutality that is the problem. It’s the whole ugly history of colonialism, imperialism, that is being confronted.

I guess it is about time, isn’t it?

France has plenty of guilt when it comes to the ugly legacy of colonialism, that is for sure, and much of it has not yet been fully acknowledged. But the thing is, every country has racism; and the particular shape and form it takes is different in each country. These local differences seem to give people an opportunity (well, an excuse, really) to point fingers at other countries and say how much worse they are “there” than “here” (wherever “here” is).

The problem is, pointing fingers at others doesn’t solve anything. (Also, it isn’t really true. Racism is just plain bad. Let’s not lose sight of that central fact, in arguing about the details…)

What is needed is not more finger-pointing, but less avoiding the truth. “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced,” James Baldwin said, and he begged (and begged and begged) his countrymen to face the truth about our ugly racism, before it destroys us. (He always emphasized that racism hurts everyone: the innocent, and the guilty; blacks and whites; those who see the ugliness, and those who are blind to it.) And he was right about all that

So. I don’t know what to say about the state of the world. It is not good. (How’s that for concision and indisputability?)

I am deeply sad about what happened to George Floyd, and of course to all the literally thousands (no, millions) of black men and women who have suffered similar fates due to the racial hatred that to me is among other things, really just so damn hard to understand. 😦

I feel worried about the state of things in my hometown, and in my country. And I am aware that there are very big problems in France also, and in all the rest of the world too.

But since I stubbornly always prefer to “keep on the sunny side” of life: no matter what, as much as possible…

And because I believe it is important to be grateful for the blessings of one’s life no matter how distressing things may be in the world at large.

For those reasons, I will end this post on a note of gratitude anyway…

For the church bells that ring out in Essoyes, lately much more often, and often more joyfully, for some reason. (Not sure why yet, stay tuned for more on that…)

For the presence of my two wonderful sons, who have been here with me so much in recent weeks (and months), and who have been such a comfort and a joy to have here with me.

For the abundant (and deliciously sweet) basket of cherries that our friend Morgane surprised us with the other day. (Shown at the top of this page 🙂 )

And for my wonderful group of women friends with whom I spent a delightful few hours last night sitting in the shade of a garden, enjoying an apéro that stretched into a wonderful, light summertime dinner, and especially for the rich and stimulating discussion we had about all manner of things…

Most of all for the fact that we are all still well, and so are our families.

We are lucky indeed, we are blessed.

Prenez-soin de vous, everybody. Pensez aux autres.

Find something to care about, and don’t just “look for the helpers” (as Mr. Rogers so kindly and thoughtfully always urged little American kids to do).

Try to be one too.

Janet Hulstrand
 is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, a literary memoir entitled “
A Long Way from Iowa.”

June 25, 2020 at 9:33 am 1 comment

Minneapolis, City of Lakes…and Police Brutality

Minneapolis, Minnesota. My hometown.

I am from a city in Minnesota called Minneapolis.

It is a place that, until recently, was not very well known outside of the United States, and even, to some degree, within the United States.

Minneapolis is a beautiful city of lakes and parks. It is a city that is rich in cultural activities and the arts. It is very cold there in the winter, and the winter is long. And it is my beloved hometown. That is how I have always thought of it, until now.

But now everyone in the world knows that Minneapolis is also the place where last week a horrific act of murder was committed, by a police officer, as three other police officers stood by and did nothing, or actively aided and abetted the murderer.

And that the outrage over that murder–combined with the cumulative weight of so many many many terrible murders before it–has rocked our nation and spread a cry of fury, anguish, and vigorous protest around the world.

It’s about time.

I am filled with both grief and shame over the treatment of this man, George Floyd. I grieve for his family, and for the families of so many other African Americans, and others, who have suffered for not just decades but centuries from this horrific kind of hatred, this unspeakable, unfathomable, unforgivable violence.

I don’t, and can’t, understand it. It sickens me. And I don’t really know what to say about it except that this murder–captured on camera so that anyone who can bear to watch can see it–does seem to perhaps be the last straw.

I hope it is.

Yesterday I saw a news clip of George Floyd’s six-year-old daughter, whose mother has not yet told her exactly what happened to him. All she knows is that her father is gone, that he died “because he couldn’t breathe,” and that huge crowds of people are calling out his name. “My Daddy changed the world,” this innocent child has said. It is heartbreaking.

Will his unnecessary, terrible death change the world?

Right now, nothing is certain, and things are not good in the not-very-United States of America. In many cities, the police are acting out violently, out of control. The president is completely incompetent (to say the least). The Republican leadership (still, unbelievably) stands by and does nothing.

It’s hard not to despair.

But that is not a choice. It’s not a choice.

Americans tend to feel that “failure is not an option.” But when it comes to humane treatment of our black brothers and sisters, the truth is, we’ve been failing for far too long. Failing, and failing, and failing again.

Our president promised to bring “winning” back to our nation. Somehow I don’t think he defines winning in the same way I do.

But I trust–and fervently hope–that we can start winning the only game that counts.

That we can find a way to love, and support, and help each other through this terrible terrible mess we’re in.

Janet Hulstrand
 is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, a literary memoir entitled “
A Long Way from Iowa.”

June 4, 2020 at 5:52 pm 1 comment

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