Thursday, October 21, 2010


In the Middle Ages, when you were mad at God (which happened), you would take your frustration out on His representatives, the saints.  There is an entire set of stories involving the Humiliations of the Saints: statues overturned, rituals denied, upkeep neglected.  There is even a subset of those (and they seemed to be mostly women) who dared take on the Virgin Mary herself: a woman whose son was being held captive took the Christ Child from a Virgin and Child statue group and declared that she would return the statue when the BVM had done what was necessary to return her own son.  Mary complied, the woman's son was returned, and the Christ Child was returned to his statuary Mary mother. 

What do you do when those entities that were meant to look out for you, protect you, take care of you, fail in their duties?  In France, they're blockading oil refineries, airports, and highways; they're burning tires; marching in the streets; shouting (a lot of shouting) and demanding.  The strikes in France are on the brink of some pretty massive economic and social disorder, and the government is "fighting back" (I'm not sure what that means) in dogged determination to pass pension reform and raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 (and access to full benefits from 65 to 67).  I had been ready to mock this slight rise in age when rumblings began in the spring, but I had to rethink my smug stance when José talked about it in terms of rights to a better life that had been hard-won by a past generation of activists and politicians.  And then yesterday, I learned from Mac that it's the French who instituted the paid vacation (back in the 1930s, I believe he said), and it's them that we need to thank for even the little breathing room that we get in American work culture.  What makes me squirm is the paralysis of the country through the strike (and there's a harrowing tale that awaits the telling from David who made it out of France most improbably). What I can't help but admire is the position, the core belief, that a government should take care of its people. That there is enough to go around, and that it's the government's job to spread the wealth so that you can sit under a tree and have tea, read all of Baudelaire, travel hither and yon, and actually talk to your grandchildren.  There's a simple logic to this that I know is scoffed at by some economists, but, it's the one the protesters are holding to.  Now, things are complicated (bien sûr) and there are dastardly hoodlum elements at work, and the unions have to read the public (which in the last poll was 71% behind them), and the government has to do the same, and somehow this all has to make sense within the global economy, but for now, I watch the tires burn on the news and think of overturned statues and everybody holding their breath for their justice.

1 comment:

  1. Watching these past weeks of unrest here in France from up close, and watching the spectacle of the Tea Party in the US.... it's really much of the same thing. Drop the labels of left and right: what you have are two groups of people with unrealizable longings for a past that never was and a future that never will be; unable/unwilling to find any good in the other side and therefore unable/unwilling to find common ground; determined that their specific grievances are sacred (and even the most secular can regard their beliefs as sacred); oblivious to facts, figures, statistics, details, nuances; prone to conspiracy theories of every sort; intent on creating as much havoc as necessary in order to prove how ineffective are their opponents; incapable of devoting an iota of their collective ire towards addressing REAL issues of social injustice....

    As absurd as it is to listen to a Beck or a Palin or a Limbaugh spit out the word "socialism" like a 4-letter invective, it's just as absurd to listen to the labor unions here masticating "capitalism," and getting the same idiotic gut response from their minions. Who is out there burning tires and blocking highways to protest the deportation of the Rom or the appaling inegality of opportunity for France's substantial minority population? The battle cry-- what really makes the blood boil-- is Business, Enterprise, Industry, and most ridiculously, Genetically Modified Corn and if there were any corn and soybeans native to France that might be contaminated by evil pollen.

    If the strikers that blocked the Nantes airport last week had been protesting anything even remotely of value or interest, I would have left my car on the highway and joined them. As it was, I left my car on the highway, walked the rest of the way to the airport, got on my airplane which miraculously took off despite the air-controllers slowdown, had a delightful week with my daughter and grandchildren, and came back yesterday to a calmer France waiting for something else to erupt over. Also miraculously, the strikers didn't set my car afire along with the piles of tires they were burning (evidently, air pollution is only evil when the smoke is pouring out of capitalist chimneys), and nor did any distraught motorists drain my gas tank since all the service stations were out of fuel for the week, and nor did the gendarmes tow my little Clio away. In fact, the strike saved me €70 in parking fees. Vive la Gauche!

    That the French are capable of making enormous sacrifice-- and have done so for good cause-- to assure the social values which define this nation.... bravo! That's one of the huge reasons for loving it here. THESE strikes, however, were just Tea Party, and the agendas of Tea Parties wherever they may be are cause for concern. The only tea party I would like to have is with you and your family, here on my little island (which just won first prize for all the Morbihan in the category of eco-jardin!!) with some really good chocolate cookies. Ah!