31 August 2014

Three years ago I was much taken by a book called The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard Morais. It wasn't that it was particularly literary, but that the sub-plot involved problems when new immigrants to France integrated with the locals.  Clearly Steven Spielberg liked it too, culminating in a new film, called Les Recettes du Bonheur in France, released here next week.  Especially interesting is that some scenes were filmed locally in Saint Antonin Noble Val in Tarn et Garonne, near here.  Film producers always head for this mediaeval village, it being also the setting for the haunting WW2 film Charlotte Grey. But this new film is also attractive to the French food industry, especially those 'fait maison' chefs looking to attract more clientele to what real French cuisine is all about. It stars Helen Mirren as an autocratic French Michelin-starred restaurant owner confronted with, of all things, an Indian restaurant right opposite, run by Indian immigrants. Quel catastrophe! It's an ideal opportunity for different cultures, beliefs and taste-buds to come crashing together.  The French, who in my experience don't take easily to foreigners, are probably saying right now: come back German U-boats; all is forgiven...

24 August 2014

Tomorrow sees the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Paris. Fast-forward to today's world. What might people in the '40s have made of Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr and Google? No-one could possibly have imagined how all this technology has changed the world for individual citizens. I remember, post-war, reading futuristic comics of flying cars and supermen, but nobody foretold of how in the future ordinary people would be empowered to learn and liaise via amazing instant technology, within the reach of everyone from Alaska to Africa to China. Hillary Clinton says the internet has become the world's town square, classroom, marketplace and coffeehouse. You'd think that wars would no longer be with us, now that individuals can talk things through so easily. Back in 1916 a Frenchman called Francois Georges-Picot tried to bring order to a chaotic world by re-drawing the Ottoman empire. But now? Yet another faction has emerged, vowing to restore and extend all these lands under its supreme domination. They have all the modern benefits of i-technology to liaise and consult freely with the people, but do they? No. Ancient barbarism reigns, yet again. Where is Superman when you need him?

17 August 2014

It was over 50 years ago when I first fell in love with France. It was a school exchange and I was a shy, gawky14. Jacqueline Brient was a surprising 21 and very chic. She shared a bohemian flat, with its ornate tiny balcony overlooking the Left Bank. Across the street was a noisy, eclectic marketplace so redolent of Paris.  Strong French cigarette smoke trails into my memory, together with that first meal. Haricot verts sizzled alone on the plate. I looked down and waited - surely there must be more? But no, so I ate and was amazed. The most delicious thing I'd ever eaten, mixed with what I now realise were baked garlic and onion. And then the train journey to the countryside around Blois where her parents lived. Walking through waist-high fields, golden with yellow daises, wild blue sage, cow-parsley and marguerites.  Ah, such memories. But now? After nearly 10 years of living in France, have I fallen out of love?  Certainly, the old loves still remain:  le bien manger, le soleil, la qualite de la lumiere, coupled with the amazingly efficient health service. But, c'est bien evident: I have fallen out of love with les francaises. Just too cold and reserved, making me feel unloved, miserable and dejected. For the future?  On verra.

10 August 2014

Biggest flaw with what the US provides for its citizens? I'd always considered the US to be the best for customer care, but I was surprised. US health provision, despite tinkering around the edges by the new Obamacare, is still appalling. In France there are many things that fall short, but its health care provision is rightly the best in the world. I'm disappointed in Obama. As leader of the richest nation, he had every opportunity to bring French-style health care to US residents, but clearly he's failed. Here's what I found in one aspect. When immigrant seniors become US residents, it's impossible to find 100% health coverage. The system assumes that all seniors are automatically entitled to Medicare from life-time working in the US. So, both the immigrant senior plus the family-sponsor soon become bankrupt - one single treatment like radiation therapy can cost as much as $50,000! And if immigrant seniors have pre-existing health conditions, forget it. I know the US is founded on commercialisation but you can't run a health service with profit-seeking insurance companies - that runs completely counter to the patient's best interests. Come on Obama:  send Ms. Burwell, new US Health Secretary, to France and see how a health service should be run! And Him indoors: I've come to barack Obama not to praise him...

3 August 2014

The bells of Notre Dame were pealing on Friday. Not only did they commemorate 100 years since the start of WW1 in Paris but also the assassination of anti-war socialist Jean Jaures in a Paris cafe just before the war. What would he think of the world today? So many people losing their lives. But, things are murky. Historically, countries went to war to get rid of a tyrant, innocent civilians and soldiers being the inevitable casualties. Everyone accepted that, with no modern blow by blow analysis by incessant media intrusions. Just imagine if the world had told Churchill to stop fighting the madman Hitler because of innocent German casualties. But now? How on earth are we to get rid of insane terrorist organisations, whose sole purpose is to proselytise the whole world to their way of thinking, if everyone complains (however understandably) when there are casualties displayed in the media every waking moment? Neville Chamberlain would tell you. You can't negotiate with terrorism in any form. They'll just grow stronger and stronger, eventually taking over the whole world. The only way is to eliminate them completely. Netanyahu knows this from centuries and centuries of his people being attacked. Jaures had the best intentions, but the best way to deal with a festering boil is to lance it quickly and let the poison out.