Unlike this picture could let you think, no visit to any Far Eastern country on this week-end programme. No thank you, I have had my lot of long haul flights recently. This picture was shot at the Victoria and Albert Museum were the curators have prepared some exciting activities for children ahead of the upcoming Chinese New Year: crafts, opera, music instruments... and caligraphy.
"Forget all the rules. Forget about being published. Write for yourself and celebrate writing." Melinda Haynes (1955-)
So let me shamelessly celebrate that attempt to follow Haynes' path: here is a sneak peek at that short story I wrote not so long ago (in French), in case these few pages entice you enough to put your hands on a copy.
You could call that edition the French paradox...
This Saturday, I was reading this graphic novel about the adventures of Asterix. It is a pun-packed French classic within a vast series of books following the Gaul and his best friend Obelix in their resistance against the Roman oppression. Accordingly to the preliminary note, at that time, in 50BC, the whole French territory was occupied by Julius Caesar's troops, but a small Gaulish village who would fulfil their feisty nature with the help of a magic potions brewed by a druid. The two heroes go through various adventures, here, there, everywhere.
This specific edition is a ticket to schizophrenia for anyone like me, a French in England. It is indeed an originally French story, translated in English, about two of my French ancestors visiting England to give a hand to their English cousins. You still follow me? Well, it has been offered to us by some English friends, and guess what? These friends are called Mr. and Mrs. French. No joke.
Warning: this blog post should be rated PG18... Look away if you are underage!
OK, now that I have your attention, you dirty little minds, I wanted to confess something. Having been caught in some aerial mayhem in the recent months (in fact I realised that in 2010 I have been stranded 13 days due to flight cancellations, snow storms and other volcanic ashes!), I have also been forced to deal with the in-flight entertainment and its depleting content quality. But, hey, when you are stuck in a plane for way too long, you have an alibi to catch up on the latest romantic comedies and other so-called blockbusters: there is not much else to do... especially if you have been graciously flanked with some over-weighted fellow travelers who block your escape route.
Having rapidly exhausted the movies I really wanted to watch, and not being a great fan of the Turkish film scene in original version and without subtitles, I had to make a concession: watching one (or two) of the latest features for teenagers. I am not talking about sanitised movies like Anna Montana or the High School Musical series, no, I am referencing to the underbelly catalogue, films a la American Pie for instance.
The revelation of these screening was a bit weird... and you will certainly concur that I must be a crooked mind myself to watch such a movie and draw cultural/societal conclusions. These films however remain in my eyes a magnifying glass of cultural trends happening on the other side of the pond. And one thing that struck me was the vulgarisation of some sexual practices.
"voulez-vous couchez avec moi?"
I will not enter in the discussion around pre-marriage lust, you can make your own decisions. What I would like to call out are cultural discrepancies between Western societies around oral sex.
It seems that girls (and boys) on the west side of the Atlantic are more likely to perform such stunts rather than having regular intercourse. It seems less committal. I let you digest that first fact and reflect on the fact that for some societies ingurgitating something is absorbing its essence, its soul, its power... Think a moment of Toreros and the post corrida feast of bull ears and tail, or even cannibals.
Putting something in your mouth does not seem to be that trivial a practice for some. And so, let's put this into the perspective of a European culture. Let's say the French (as I can make generalisation about my own culture, without being taxed of racism). If you agree on today's legend about French girls, it would seem that they are quite easy to get laid.
Let me first demystify that cliche largely echoed in the above-mentioned films... Twenty years or so struggling with female gender allow me to clearly confirm: this IS a legend. Nevertheless, assuming that this myth was somehow based on some statistical truth (and that I must have been exposed to the placebo group when I was young), it appears that girls in France would be more prone to open their legs than their mouth.
Taste the difference.
The dichotomy between both countries seems to be articulated around, on the one hand, fear of pregnancy/lack of understanding or rejection of contraception, and on the other hand, a different conception of intimacy.
Note for the male teenagers who discarded my introductory warning and read all the way to this sentence: if you were planning a trip to France to "enlarge your horizon" and practice my mother tongue, it seems that you may have to get into a serious relationship before you can get a taste of home from a local. Yet I could understand your misunderstandings, after all, the inventors of French Kiss should be skilled at this tongue twisting oral drill. To boot aren't the German referring to oral sex as "Franzosisch" (i.e. French sex).
Too bad, guys, France is also the country of romance and seduction... You will still learn a lot from that trip. Unless you end up in the placebo group.
To read further:
The streets of London looked like a cemetery this week-end. At each intersection, former Christmas trees are lying on the pavement, abandonned to what is promised to be a gloomy fate. They fulfilled their duty, and are now discarded by the same people who cherished them, embellished them... just a couple weeks ago. How cynical life can be!
"All theory, dear friend, is gray, but the golden tree of life springs ever green."Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)
Houston, we have a problem... too.
I was traveling to U.S. for work, I have again been stranded on the other side of the Atlantic. No Icelandic ash cloud this time, but a so-called snow storm that would have hit Western Europe instead... Seriously, how can we still be surprised by snowfalls in December? My departure was initially planned from Seattle on Friday 17th in the evening. I got hot by a treatorous SMS in mid-afternoon informing me that my British Airways flight would be canceled due to possible flight restrictions over Europe. And indeed a couple hours later Heathrow closed its doors.
I then spent the afternoon on the phone with my travel agency emergency hotline, since the main line was long closed due to the time difference and the promising weekend. Well, when I say spend the afternoon on the phone you will have corrected by yourself: I meant "spent the afternoon listening to a pre-recorded message reassuring me of my importance and the immediacy of the hotline response"...
Three hours later, someone finally picked up the phone... to confirm that my flight was canceled - thank you for the news, miss, but that I knew first hand otherwise I'd be in the air rather than over the phone with you! The real new news was that a Continental flight may be leaving the next night from Houston to London. I was thus rerouted to Texas the next morning to make sure I catch my connecting flight. In parallel I learned that fellow Londoners were trying their luck via NY or Dallas... If all roads lead to Rome, it seems that they also make stop-overs in London.
Saturday morning, at dawn, I was leaving Washington State, in the Northwestern part of the U.S., for Houston, Texas in the Southern part of the U.S.. At least I was migrates eastwards, and it was looking promising... My flight to London may be over than 5 hour late it was still scheduled. In fact we even boarded. My eyes soon closed under the weigh of accumulated fatigue, the time differences, flight foods served at any time... "Crrrrr ..." The microphone crackled and woke me up. A glance by the window tells me it is still dark outside and we're still airborn, however my ears were to capture some bad news. "Crrrr... back to terminal 3... crrrr door 15."
What? Did I hear that correctly, we were returning to Houston? After two hours, our plane made a U-turn, having been denied access to European airspace. So it was three o'clock in the morning when we got back on the ground, in the baggage room, waiting for our suitcases. 5 by 5 we made our wayto a suburban hotel, presumably to rest. But for me no time to sleep: I needed to use the Wi-Fi in the lobby to join either the airline or my travel agent to my being placed on the first flight to London. The perspective of spending Christmas amongst Long Horns rather than stuffed turkeys did little to charm me.
Back to square 2.
Since the pre-recorded messages started to make me sick, I never went to bed, and rather jumped in the first shuttle to the airport and do what French people do best: snake my way through the queue to get a precious pass to home. Luckily a ground hostess opened up a patch of blue sky in my so far gloomy horizon. She was French (Yeah!), in her late fifties... and more importantly had access to a terminal which informed her that a flight would leave that same Sunday evening from New York City. And off I go to NYC. Good fortune seemed to be with me that Sunday: a shortcut through the Personel lane, a breathless race through the airport corridors I had extensively visited the day before and here I was boarding a plane to... Newark. "Sorry, what did the hostess say? New York or Newark... that sounds a bit similar to my tired French ears... but I cannot cope with such a misunderstanding at this point!"
Newark was indeed the final destination of the aircraft in which I was buckled up, but Newark was also printed on my ticket and the passenger next to me informed me that it was the third airport in NY (actually it is in New Jersey but it broadly speaking it sounds better to pretend it is "New York" for most tour operators).
Do I really want to be a part of it?
It was 11am when we landed in Newark, my connecting flight to heaven was scheduled on time, but 8 hours later. Fair enough, I was not going to complain, even if the airport was indeed much, much smaller than JFK or La Guardia, I had never been that much East and therefore close to my final destination. I just had to to kill some time: I toured the few shops clockwise, and then anti-clockwise. I stopped in front of the electronic displays in order to assess the situation: some delayed flights from Europe, nothing alarming. A few pages of reading, a little surfing on my Windows Phone 7, and I resumed my walk. A small burger, one for the road as they say.
Soon enough it is 4pm, and even if the displays remain positive, I am less and less. My wife hqd just pinged me a weather report from London and a notice regarding further airspace restrictions which reminded me of many bad memories. Customer Service was as usual not aware of any cancelation, or at least they did not receive any official guidance to confirm or deny the rumors which had begun to spread amongst some seasoned travelers like me. The signs were unmistakable, so were the sidelong glances of ground staff. And for good reasons, few minutes later the two evening flights to London were canceled.
Taking advantage of my earlier wanderings, I headed up straight to the customer service and booked myself on the first flight to... Paris. As a matter of fact, due to the backlog and new weather predictions, the first seats for the Old Europe were not before Wednesday. Yet on the Tuesday I was due to fly to our holiday destination with wife and son. I would never get that plane, but a detour by the French capital and a possible connection by train or car should enable me to spend the Holidays with my family. The Holy Grail at this stage.
Some will say that I'm lucky in my misfortune because NYC is still a nice destination. Except that the constant time difference between the UK, the West Coast and East Coast, uncertainty, a remnant of bronchitis and the stress of the last few days have got rid of my last strengths. I was exhasuted and had no taste for tourism. I wanted to see only one thing: the light at the end of the tunnel. And I was not alone since my colleague who had gone directly to NYC from Seattle there was still stranded there too. There will be no blog post entitled A Mountain Dweller in the Hudson Valley this time, it will take a more favorable opportunity to report on the inspiring cultural disparities to be experienced in the Big Apple.
Wednesday came. The plane was scheduled to depart at 6:30pm but I was already on site at 1pm. I must have missed Newark Airport... In any case, I was not to miss this opportunity to go home. My first three attempts had failed... The fourth should not. And the overweighted couple who would travels with me, will not indent my anticipation. The seat was too small for the woman who was spreading over her husbands who in turn was crushing me against the cold window of the aircraft. I did not care, I was flying home and no smelly armpit would make me lose my smile.
Because this time it was true, the plane took off and did not turn around. It was en route to France, home sweet home. I peeped over and over again through the window to see if a change of scenery would announce a change of course. To no avail. Despite the fatigue, I did not close my eyes, the experience in Houston left marks. Besides, my neighbor's elbows tucked in my rib cage helped me stay awake.
Land, I see land.
What a joy to see the Irish coast at dawn! Not to mention the frosted English back country... But what a joke to see the Parisian airport Roissy Charles de Gaulle. I expected to see six-feet-high snow drifts, employees shoveling snow with flamethrowers... Think again. Only a few inches of snow were scattered around. You could still see here and there some patches of grass. Seriously if there was a snowstorm a few days before, it must have been followed by a tropical one that melted down the evidence!
But again I did not care, I was in France, only a few hours from my family and day ahead of Christmas Eve. I did not care either about the announcement on the loudspeaker letting passengers from Orlando know that they would have to wait for their luggage another two hours due to a "sudden strike from the ground staff"... It had to be France. A Warm Welcome Home!