Random stuff about France

As I wrote in my last post, Sweetie and I recently spent a week and a half in France: eight days in Paris, with a day trip to Rouen and a much-of-day trip to Versailles, a weekend in La Rochelle, and then one night in a rather nice airport hotel. Not gonna travelogue here, just make a few observations.

Little Dancer Aged Fourteen
by Edgar Degas
We toured the Louvre, went to Versailles, and took a selfie at the Eiffel Tower, but these are the three Paris sites that turned out to be most interesting for me: the Musée d'Orsay, Père Lachaise Cemetery, and Mundolingua.
  • At the d'Orsay, I learned how much I love the work of Claude Monet and many other Impressionist painters. As always, seeing famous works such as Monet's haystacks or Degas' young ballerina in person has much more impact than all those years of looking at photos.
  • Père Lachaise was great not only for Jim Morrison's tomb, obligatory for old rockers like us, but those of so many others, such as Edith Piaf, Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde, and Collette. There are heart-piercing memorials to victims of the Holocaust and other mass murders. And the grounds are beautiful.
  • Sweetie found Mundolingua, a small museum tucked into a very old building near Saint-Germain-des-Prés. It's an interactive museum of language, and if you're a language nerd, it's astounding. We had only about an hour and a half to spend there, and we could easily have spent twice as long.
We visited some of my ancestral churches in Paris, Rouen, and La Rochelle, churches where people from whom I am descended were baptized situated in neighbourhoods where they grew up. Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Saint-Sulpice, Notre-Dame-de-Rouen, and Saint-Saveur in La Rochelle. I'm a faithless ex-Catholic who still loves old churches, and these had particularly good vibes in them.

L'Église-de-la-Madeleine was only a few blocks from where we stayed in Paris. It's all Roman columns on the front, but inside it's a church. We went there for a free performance of Mozart's requiem that was wonderful.

Walks of Italy says that Paris restaurants open at 8 pm. Maybe some do, but mostly we saw 7 o'clock (one place opened at 7:30).

Coronation of Napoleon
Finding a restaurant for dinner on a Sunday, however, can be a challenge. You might find yourself eating pizza (at least it was good). A lot of things are closed or run differently on Sundays.

If you're not in a hurry, some buses get you where you're going in a more pleasant way than the Métro. It's nice to be on the surface when you don't know the city. The Métro is very good and useful, but it's like New York—not many elevators, some escalators, a lot of stairs, and sometimes very long passageways to connect lines.

Security is a visible reality in Paris and at all train stations. First it was because of a planned gilets jaunes march. Then there was the state funeral for Jacques Chirac. We got used to police cordoning off our corner of the neighbourhood, I think because of the nearby British Consulate General, and having to tell them that indeed we were staying there and not meeting anyone.

Grand Horloge, Rouen
Trains rule. We took a commuter train to Versailles and back. We took a regional train to Rouen. We went to La Rochelle and back on high-speed rail.

If you find yourself in Rouen on a Tuesday when most of the museums are closed, go to the Musée départemental des antiquités. The museum has a fabulous collection of artifacts mostly from the area of France, from pre-Roman on, and there's no fee.

I put La Rochelle in the trip because it was a major departure point for people who went to Nouvelle-France, including a lot of my ancestors, and I thought a small seaside city would be a nice change from Paris. As it turned out, we were completely charmed by the old port and the many walking streets, and the aquarium is first-rate. La Rochelle tugs at us a bit.

Old Port, La Rochelle
Charles De Gaulle Airport is one of the worst, but having learned a few things, getting there was much smoother than getting to Paris from there. There are three train stations at CDG connected by a shuttle, and trains from each station go to different Paris stations. If we had sussed out the shuttle and train systems (a lot to ask from jet-lagged tourists), we could have taken a train from a station that would have gone to a station closer to our abode. On the way back, it didn't cost much to take a bus from Gare de Lyon to the airport.

European washer-dryers are not much fun for North Americans. I still don't know how to make the thing not wash or rinse but only dry.

If you have a lot of time to kill at Pierre Trudeau Airport in Montreal and you eat meat, go to the Pork and Pickle. Not just a cute name but good food.


Land and belonging

Plaque in Saint-Saveur, La Rochelle
I was born on the land of the Pennacook, the Abenaki, and the nations of the Wabanaki Confederacy. I grew up on the land of the Pennacook and Wabanaki, and came of age on Mohican land. I went to university and lived for many years following on the land of the Massa-adchu-es-et.

In pursuit of opportunity, I moved to land used by several nations, including Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish, Sto:lo, Stz'uminus, Musqueam, Katzie, Kwantlen, Kwikwetlem, Tsawwassen, and Qayqayt. It's a beautiful land on the west coast of Turtle Island, hemmed in between mountains and sea. But like so much of Turtle Island, the land was never ceded. In popular parlance, it's stolen land.

The title my spouse and I hold on our land was granted by the provincial authority, the descendant of the colonial state imposed upon the land and its inhabitants. The original title holder either claimed the land or purchased it, but not from any of the First Nations whose land it was. They never granted title to anyone, and they never received recompense.

I was born on Turtle Island. My ancestors for the previous 300 years had been born on Turtle Island. But before that, most of them had come from Europe. Only one ninth-great-grandmother*, with others possible but undetermined, belonged to the land already. I am mainly the descendant of people who came and stayed and imposed their colony and state upon the land.

Do I belong on this land? Do I belong on any of the land on this continent? Do 10 generations of ancestors born here make me belong to the land?

When someone asks Lee Maracle if Indigenous people want settlers to go back home, she answers with a wry "Maybe." I can't disagree with any native person who says we should leave. We perpetrated some terrible atrocities and in general did a shitty job of being colonizers. There might be nothing we can do now to make things better. So maybe there is nothing I can do to belong to this continent.

It's not that it was wrong to sail to Turtle Island or even to settle here. But it was wrong to push the Indigenous people out. It was wrong to try to convert and assimilate Indigenous people. It was wrong to kidnap them and bring them to Europe, or make them servants or slaves. It was wrong to think of them as less and to treat them as less. An early melding of cultures did not continue as settlers mostly retained their own ways.

If an edifice was constructed by enslaved people or if people were executed so their blood could be part of the foundation, can the edifice ever be simply magnificent and beautiful and glorious? Or is it forever tainted by its origins? Is there a road forward on Turtle Island? Or is the damage too deep and too messy?

Saint-Sulpice, Paris
If I don't belong on this land, where do I belong? France hasn't been "home" since the time of the Bourbon monarchy. And yet our recent visit to Paris, Rouen, and La Rochelle, left me with strong feelings that won't let go.

It wasn't that I found the culture familiar. There is no magical connection between me and the descendants of people who said goodbye to those who went across the ocean more than 300 years ago. But I found France comfortable. It fit me, somehow. Not all the time, of course, but more often than I had imagined it would. I was walking where my ancestors walked.

I might well belong on that land. Some kind of human beings were in the area of France all the way back to the original migration into Europe by both Homo neanderthalis and H. sapiens. The Romans found Celtic Gauls, related to much of the population of Europe. Frankish and other invaders did not cause the Celtic culture to vanish, but it lies somewhere between the margins and assimilation. For the most part, the French people have been the French people for a long time.

I might live out my remaining days on the shore of the Salish Sea. I might never do more than visit my ancient homeland. But I take some comfort in knowing that I might belong somewhere, even if it's not here.

[Information on whose land I lived and live on came from Native Land, an excellent interactive map project.]

* I originally wrote "eighth." "Ninth" is correct.