French Immersion: My Happy Place

Sometimes when my anxiety is a little too much to handle, I take a moment to close my eyes and go back to my happy place. A place of sweet grass, mosquito spray, and deep blue waters. A place of growth, frustration, and empathy. A place of culture, education, and silliness. A place of tears from laughter, singing, and always dancing. A place of being free. A place of being 100% myself. A place of finding the sun in the hearts of children. A place I never ever want to leave. Lac du Bois.

The main building of Lac du Bois, "Paris", photo by Jean François

The main building of Lac du Bois, “Paris”, photo by Jean François

Lac du Bois is a summer camp in Bemidji, Minnesota. It’s part of Concordia Language Villages, which is a larger program that has 15 villages (campsites) set up around the lakes of Minnesota. Each village has its own language and the buildings within each site are designed with authentic architecture from countries that predominantly speak that language.

Concordia Language Villages sign, photo from google.com

Concordia Language Villages sign, photo from google.com

The goal of these camps is to teach language through immersion as well as prepare young people for responsible citizenship in global communities.

Each summer, all of the camps come together to interact at an event called “International Day.” At International Day, each camp sets up a booth serving foods from countries of their language or has games set up for others to play that are native to countries that speak their language. They even have a “World Cup,” where each camp forms a soccer team and they all compete.

International Day 2014, photo by Julia Schaller

International Day 2014, photo by Julia Schaller

Lac du Bois is the French language village, and is one of the greatest places on Earth.

I first went to Lac du Bois when I was 11 years old. My family heard about the camp through friends of my parents, and my parents both decided it would be a good opportunity for my sister and I. My parents enrolled my sister and I up for a two week, overnight session. We all drove up to Minnesota together and when we pulled our car up to the camp, a counselor greeted us at the window of the car and spoke exclusively in French.

It was terrifying! My dad had taught me some french when I was really young, and my parents put my sister and I in French classes when we were growing up, but I was not ready for complete sentences or even answering questions.

After my parents left, I was hopeless. I had nothing to hide behind and there was no longer someone to speak to the counselors for me. I felt naked and embarrassed. The first night was rough.

Throughout the second day, I bonded with girls in my cabin and from around camp and from then on, I was in my happy place. I learned more about french language and culture in those two weeks than I had ever before in my life. I made lasting friendships. I laughed until I cried, and I cried on the last night with my cabin-mates wrapped in my arms.

Extremely embarrassing photo of my cabin, Lac du Bois 2008

Extremely embarrassing photo of my cabin, Lac du Bois 2008

I then went back to camp for the next four summers. My fifth summer, I went to Lac du Bois for a month as part of their “Credit” program, which earned me high school French credit. They say that one will learn more French in one month at Lac du Bois than potentially a whole year in school (hence why they offer the credit program). They were right.

Language immersion is said to be the best way to learn a language and culture, and it is 100% true. I spoke more French at Lac du Bois than a full year of French class in public school. I was forced to use the language to communicate, since the camp was total immersion.

The counselors are only allowed to speak in the target language, and even the food is francophone authentic. Counselors and villagers come from all over the world. There are always counselors and villagers from the United States, Europe, Africa, Asia, Canada, and India, as well as other countries.

Villagers are put into classic summer camp activities like canoeing or soccer, but they are also put into language learning groups. These language learning groups focus on a francophone region or time period and are more education based (but always include crafting, dancing, and interactive games).

Activité Canoé, Lac du Bois 2012

Activité Canoé, Lac du Bois 2012

The entire camp is sort of one big simulation. The counselors put on a show for the villagers, and it’s the most fun show I’ve ever been a part of. There is continuous dancing, multiple skits every day, and songs about everything (even about baguettes at dinner!).

Last year I applied to be a counselor, and I got the job. I went back to my favorite place in the world for my 6th summer, and had the time of my life. This time, I was the one required to speak exclusively in French and I was the one teaching others about francophone cultures and about the language. I was the one helping villagers cope with their frustration and homesickness. I was the one teaching the songs and dances. And, the amount I learned about other countries and French language, was way more than I ever thought.

Journée Sénégal, Lac du Bois 2014

Journée Sénégal, Lac du Bois 2014

In an article posted in the New York Times, author Sindya N. Bhanoo discussed how language immersion is more beneficial than learning through a formal classroom setting. In a study in the journal PloS One, scientists tested the brain patterns of subjects who learned a language through immersion vs. in a classroom. The tests showed that the subjects who learned the language through immersion had the full brain patterns of a native speaker, while the subjects who learned the language in a formal classroom setting did not.

The camps of Concordia Language Villages are hands-down the best way to learn a language. Being fully immersed in anything is the best way to learn, empathize, and adapt to it. Even a two week program makes a difference.

The lake of Lac du Bois, photo by Alyson Kriz

The lake of Lac du Bois, photo by Alyson Kriz

In the middle of the woods by the lakes of Minnesota lies little villages that change the way people see the world. These programs really do cultivate global leaders, global thinkers, and peaceful communities.

Learning French through Ballet

From age four through seventeen, my world revolved around ballet. Through it, I developed my interest in the French language and my appreciation for culture expressed through performed art. Interestingly, much of the terminology for ballet is rooted in common French verbs. For example, tendu, French for stretched, is arguably the most basic of ballet steps and involves the dancer stretching the foot and leg to a pointed position. Below, I have provided a short glossary of both common and unique ballet terminology. Several of the terms are quite literal; are there any that you’ve heard outside of the ballet context?

Assemblé: assembled – This is a jump that lands on two feet.

Sketch of dancer in croisé position via michaelminn.net

Sketch of dancer in croisé position via michaelminn.net

Croisé: cross – Instead of facing the audience directly, the dancer will turn slightly toward the corner of the stage.

Battement: beat – A step involving a beating action of the extended leg such as stretching, lifting or striking.

Changement: change – A dancer jumps, landing with the opposite foot in front.

Croisé: cross – Instead of facing the audience directly, the dancer will turn slightly toward the corner of the stage.

Développé: developed – The toe is drawn up the standing leg before bringing the working leg out to the front, side or behind the dancer.

Moving through the steps of a developpé via ballethub.org

Moving through the steps of a developpé via ballethub.org

Échappé: escaped – A dancer moves both feet from a closed to an open position.

Pas: step. A movement where a dancer transfers weight. In ballet terminology, there are several pas…

Pas de deux: dance for two – A duet between two dancers.

Pas de chat: step of the cat – Named for the similarity of the dance step to a cat’s leap.

Plié via pixshark.com

Plié via pixshark.com

Pas de poisson: step of the fish (a lot more graceful than it sounds).

Plié: bent – Known as the mother step of ballet, a dancer simply bends her knees.

Port de bras: way of the arms – Made by passing the arms through various positions.

Relevé: raised – A dancer lifts her body from a standing position to putting all weight on either the toes or ball of the foot.

Sauté: sprung – The same meaning as carried by the popular cooking technique. In ballet terminology, this means simply a jump.

Tombé: fell – Normally not taken literally. The dancer will step from a straight-legged position to a bent position on one leg. This step is generally done as a link between other steps.

Sauté via abt.org

Sauté via abt.org

Bring ’em back home – French retreat early


This week, France began pulling approximately 2,100 combat troops out of Afghanistan in a surprising early retreat. NATO expected France’s full commitment until 2014. “Today is the end of our forward operations. By the end of the year, we will have 1,500 French troops remaining in Afghanistan in non-combat operations,” said Lt. Col Guillaume Leroy (Reuters Nov. 20, 2012). Those non-combat jobs include supply logistics as well as training operations for Afghanistan’s army, which is scheduled to take control of its country’s situation in 2014, after NATO troops make their way out.

Francois Hollande defeated French President Nicolas Sarkozy in a presidential runoff in 2012 and promised to help dig France, and Europe, out of a weak economy (CNN Wire May 6, 2012). Exiting the fight is a solution for a floundering French economy, not to mention a classically defeatist French military move.

But perhaps the United States under President Obama should follow suit. It might help the US economy.

Here are some compelling comments from a Baltimore Sun talk forum thread (posted Dec. 9th, 2012):

 Today, 04:47 PM
Omaha BeachMember Join Date: Jan 2009Posts: 2,744
 Enough


Quote:

Originally Posted by demopublicanBush and Powell’s wars have been a huge drain on the world’s economy and have cost far too many lives.

Ah Bush has not been President for four years. Obama has not only continued the US presence there but drastically increased troop numbers. How long does he, have to be President before Afghanistan becomes, his war?

 

 Today, 05:46 PM
AttackPlanRMember Join Date: Jul 2004Location: CRM114Posts: 17,563

Now if we could just follow the French’s lead.

Taliban government gone? Check
Osamma bin Laden gone? Check.

Though I suppose we’ll be out of there just like were out of Germany, Japan, Korea and Iraq.

The announcement of early French withdrawal from combat operations in Afghanistan brings to my mind another United States initiative that needs closure due to serious moral and financial questionability: Gitmo.  President Obama, now in his fifth year as Commander in Chief, still has not closed Guantanamo Bay Prison – an issue he campaigned on in 2008. Why not? No doubt the politics of fear are complex and shadowy, but a careful plan for evacuating all of the prisoners was never completed by the bureaucratic task force established to review such a process.

“…Obama’s executive order to close Guantánamo was undone by the burdensome bureaucracy of the task force, which sought to sort each captive’s Bush-era file. Each detainee’s case file contained competing and often contradictory assessments from the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s Office of Military Commissions, the Department of Justice, and myriad other offices, bogging down the review process. Time ran out before the task force could settle on a master plan to move the detainees out of Guantánamo in time for Obama’s one-year deadline….  Meanwhile, the detention center enters its eleventh year on January 11 [2012]. Guantánamo is arguably the most expensive prison camp on earth, with a staff of 1,850 U.S. troops and civilians managing a compound that contains 171 captives, at a cost of $800,000 a year per detainee. Of those 171 prisoners, just six are facing Pentagon tribunals that may start a year from now after pretrial hearings and discovery. Guantánamo today is the place that Obama cannot close. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Carol Rosenberg, a reporter for The Miami Herald who covers the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.”

Even though President Obama does not want to be seen as being soft on terrorism he should still close Guantanamo Bay Prison. It would be a major step and graceful beginning to winding down wartime activity in Afghanistan. Furthermore, if President Obama takes the cue from its NATO counterpart France to withdraw sooner, I might be the first time an American President has taken political cues from France since the US’s founding fathers did so in the late 1700s.

Demystifying French: Strikes, L’Exception Culturelle, and Patriotism

My last blog, France surrenders to Neo-classicism, was written in a tone which mocked the stuffy resistance many French citizens have against an increasingly modern style which is encroaching upon art and architecture in French cities. A pervasive notion, the average Frenchman is a staunch supporter of defending a distinctly French cultural identity that conveys only the most classic elements. To this end, the French are willing to constantly revolt, often taking to the streets en masse to protest unpatriotic top-down political decisions and business decisions, as well as any undesirable international influence. In this blog I aim to connect some major (and very French) concepts –  l’exception culturelle, the emphasis on France’s social model, their views on what public services should be, and their sense of entitlement to irrevocable benefits – which underlie the average Frenchman’s motivation to demonstrate against change in the way they do. In the process, I hope to demystify some things that Americans find odd about French politics and culture.

Background:  Participants in the 1789 French Revolution violently discarded the long-standing and often-abusive French monarchy, and made liberty something to proclaim from the rooftops.

This set the precedent which encourages the French today to be coup d’etat-crazy, capturing the state when necessary to defend human rights. The social and political commentator Montesquieu precipitated the Frech Revolution in the mid-1700s after he articulated “separation of powers” and insisted on a careful balance that would not threaten the freedom of the people. James Madison and the United States Constitution’s founding fathers adopted this principle, so Americans relate to it as it is an inherent part of effective democracy.

L’exception culturelle francaise, the French cultural exception, was developed through democratic France’s formative years to describe “resistance to the perceived effacement of French culture and criticism of supposedly foreign intrusions within that culture” (definition from a 2006 UCLA conference that was held about the topic). Some examples of outrage over public defiance of this cultural principle in modern art and architecture are detailed in my earlier blog post, entitled “France surrenders to Neo-classicism.” L’exception culturelle francaise of has pervaded French cultural output since the 1789 Revolution, as witnessed in numerous episodes of loud public outcry and subsequent government policymaking that effectively “kept it in the family” whenever concerns arose pertaining to dilution of the French arts by foreign influence. But how strongly the concept influences French business output is apparent in the high degree of sensitivity to nationalism displayed by French businesses in making trans-national decisions in today’s increasingly globalized market, so that the Frenchness of production is not diminished.

The concept of l’exception culturelle francaise is thus deeply patriotic, and is relatable to Americans’ outrage over things like corporate outsourcing of labor, and to the government bailout of financially irresponsible institutions. In France, players who don’t keep it French risk domestic backlash and revolutionary peril, the threat of which is apparently greater than that leveraged in America, as with the recent and failed Occupy Wall Street movement. It should be noted here that one source of anti-American sentiment originates from the general French disapproval of American hegemony (where Federal Law trumps State Law). That being said, Americans should appreciate the regularity of French riots and strikes as they preserve ideals of nationalism and democracy, like in the history of America, and they prevent the phasing out and replacement of quality domestic market goods and services with cheaper foreign ones.

Lastly, it is important to recognize the idyllic motivation with which the protesting Frenchman goes about exercising their voice. To illustrate the motivations on an individual level, I present three related concepts which are not as prevalent in America as in France – 1) the French social model, 2) the French view on public services, and 3) their idea of irrevocable benefits.

1)     The “modèle social français” is such that basically everybody on the political Left as well as many on the political Right are accustomed to free or moderately-priced public services like healthcare, education, a higher compensation for unemployed people, a minimum income for all, and some prices depending on income, as with utilities, school, public transport, swimming pools, and others. The French generally think it is more important to protect the weakest than to encourage the strongest, which sets them apart from the often isolating American concept of self-sufficiency, individualism, and the American Dream.

“Although very questionable now, this issue was decisive in the 2005 referendum on Europe: millions [in France] voted NO to protect the French society against what they considered a threat to the ‘modèle social’ by ‘the heartless Anglo-Saxon market economy’” (understandfrance.org). It is notable that the French pay significantly higher taxes than Americans so that public services are maintained.

2)     French who defend public services believe that state-owned or state-run services should not try to maximize profits but should maximize the quantity or quality of service provided.

This is unlike the American corporation which, defined as a person, displays characteristics of a psychopath. French service standards are largely upheld according to the satisfaction of end-users, not just by beneficiaries of monetary investment.

3)     The concept of avantages acquis, irrevocable benefits, maintains that once any kind of advantage has been granted, it is considered unthinkable to suppress it, whatever the circumstances and the situation. “Reducing salaries or increasing labor time may happen but is extremely rare in France and it raises huge controversies; there is almost no example of workers accepting cuts in wages and unions refuse to sign any agreement of this kind: they prefer unemployment and the protection of the State” (understandfrance.org).

The powerful leverage of a workers strike is thus more immediately acknowledged and workers are not expected to make concessions. Ergo, labor unions are not as strategically necessary to resolving labor issues in France as they are in the United States.

 

The effect of these prevailing concepts is this: the French conduct labor strikes out of conservative principles and the voice of the people is usually acknowledged by the government or the respective French business. Resolution or revolution is the French way, as opposed to common coercion and placation practiced by American businesses. French people commonly support their fellow citizens in protest, and they are not led to immediate opposition from polarizing political parties, like in America. The most common illustration of French support and fellowship is seen during frequent transportation strikes in France, when average people have to walk to their workplaces yet still genuinely support the labor strikes.

Resolution of issues has to maintain a distinct Frenchness in style, not subjugate citizens or dilute the culture, and at a minimum maintain the status quo…or else there will be a riot. When national pride causes French workers to forego formal negotiation processes, the democratic voice of the people is best exercised by force. Understanding these ideas at the core of French culture can help to demystify many French cultural and political viewpoints which may differ from America.

The joke is found in the French paradox in business: “How do they manage to be the fourth or fifth economy in the world given the way they work and strike?” When French people are on the job, they’re really on it.

“It’s Houdini, not Thatcher,” wrote The Economist magazine in May, 1989, in reference to early attempts at a joint-European market. “France is spectacularly good at saying NON…. but behind the scene, more quietly and with no discernible romance, France can and does say OUI. In Germany and Scandinavia, change happens after considerable debate and lengthy analysis. In France by contrast, it tends to be convulsive and born of conflict: one violent leap backward followed by two surreptitious steps forward.”

France surrenders to Neo-Classicism

French architectural firm Atelier Zündel Cristea (AZC), has proposed formal plans to build an inflatable trampoline bridge across the Seine River in Paris. AZC claims, “the bridge in Paris, allows us to locate an architectural reflection within the same realm of contemporary urban enjoyment.” And despite protests that the audacious modern design would be a blemish on classically-styled Paris, AZC’s bridge won an award in a 2012 design competition hosted by the progressive ArchTriumph competition series. The bridge is obviously unsafe and completely gaudy, but to award such bold new style is to evoke the essence of the revolutionary Frenchman.

Paris trampoline bridge – full-time lifeguards needed

To quote the chief argument against the audacious bridge proposal: A writer for BuzzPatrol says, “One wonders where the on-call paramedic will be located, because as anyone who has used a trampoline regularly will know, there is going to be lots of bloody noses, busted elbows, twisted ankles and sore brainpans!” (via Newsy.com)

In support of the trampoline bridge, designer AZC says: “The sides of each [of three] section[s] flip up to keep people from falling over… the design is more sustainable and environmentally friendly than building a new bridge.(via Newsy.com)

But to the French, there’s a bigger issue than public safety at stake. French citizens who support the classically-styled projection of their culture claim that allowing the construction of such modern-style architecture is offensive to the visage, or “face,” of France. Meanwhile, artists who are progressive and modern in their style continue to encroach upon the refined classicism of Paris. A closer look at the proposed architecture reveals that even some of the new designs are indeed respectful of the classic style’s definitions, parameters, and values.

Oh! The French cultural identity! Viva la France!!

For a perspective crash-course, classicism is defined by worldly ideas originating from antiquity which “primarily express and set standards for taste which the classicists seek to emulate”, that is “formal balance, clarity, manliness, and vigor in art”. Yes, manliness. Today, arts and sciences are still considered “Classical,” while modern movements overlap, which still see themselves as “aligned with light, space, sparseness of texture, and formal coherence.” (Wikipedia, Classicism).

Refer to a related case, where the French have gone ham on matters of cultural identity: The French have formed prominent committees to investigate, regulate, define, and refine language and art as representations of their distinguished culture. They’re all about refinement in enrichment. The Académie française (French Academy), which is part of the French government, arose in 1635 during the height of classicism. The French Academy still wields the same authority today as it did upon its inception. Its members are known as “immortals.” As a statement, an ex officio member of the Academy is The French Association for Standardization. Also notably, the French Academy has a Law Commission permanently assigned to the Academy of Sciences.

Contextually, it is important to credit Cardinal Richelieu with all of this, under French King Louis XIV, a.k.a. the Sun King. Louis XIV was the epitome of the absolute ruler, Hobbes’s Leviathan, and a great patron of the art. His most famous achievement was the building of the grand Versailles Palace, and, according to french philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859), is responsible for the French Revolution. Big time.

So, by the 1970s the French Academy was tasked with ensuring that terminology within France, such as is found on labeling, in advertising, and in broadcasting, was Academy-approved French terminology. No new slang. But a complete overhaul of French language law in the 1990s brought about the creation of Paris’s General Commission of Terminology and Neologisms as a prominent new major player on the cultural enrichment scene. The Commission is tasked, in every department and profession in France, with the responsibility for keeping current the new day’s words, that is to say, “to establish an inventory of cases where it is desirable to complete the French vocabulary, taking into account the needs expressed.” So it’s the old Academy dueling with the new Commission. It’s a big job to “ensure harmonization and relevance” of your cultural legacy.

There was a big fuss when the modern technological term “cloud computing“ arrived on the Commission’s agenda in October 2009.

Sacré bleu! Revolution is as French as baguettes and Louis Vuitton.  The French take pride in their people’s repertoire for fighting for a cause. The defiant spirit exists in today’s neo-classic artists. Revolution is in keeping with French heritage. Although pride likely doesn’t stem from how many wars France has won, the people pride themselves on acknowledging, defining, understanding, and appreciating the human person and their existence. This notion has been popular since Pascal’s provocative Pensees in the 1600s. Since then, existentialism has been an undeniably pervasive quality of modern French culture. As culture is dynamic, to describe the surge in audaciously modern proposals by architects in Paris today, one might allude to the spirit of the cultural Renaissance, or “rebirth.”

I’m saying, “Hey, Frenchies,” if language is making slow progress, go big through architecture. And they had best get to it! After all, one mustn’t forget how the French were slighted during the London 2012 Olympics, when The International Olympic Committee defended the sparse use of French, even though it was the official language of the Games.  Ouch.  What else is new?

Returning commentary to the realm of architecture, recall there was a fit when the glass pyramid was added to the Louvre museum in Paris. The striking contrast of architectural styles speaks volumes, in itself, about the depth of the controversy surrounding it. Opponents claim it is too modern while proponents explain its classic virtue.

1989 Controversial modern pyramid addition to classical Louvre Museum, Paris

The same arguments were made surrounding the construction of the Eiffel Tower in 1887. It is difficult to accurately gauge the existing support for the emergence of such audacious modern-classical architecture in a classically-dominated France, although news media coverage of new defiant art and architecture proposals has increased considerably in recent years.

A recent example of efforts to preserve French influential progressive architecture comes from an American Atlantic Cities article, “France should Honor Le Corbusier like we honor Frank Lloyd Wright” (Oct 11, 2012. Atlantic Cities).

Frank Lloyd Wright vis-à-vis Le Corbusier architecture

 

Le Corbusier’s work should be in (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) UNESCO’s World Heritage status so its influence on modern art and architecture is preserved.

It’s that little bit of… “Je ne sais quoi?” the French selectively imbibe and exude which we are attracted to. The concern of the citizens in maintaining quality control over their established cultural benchmarks is as admirable a characteristic as the importance today placed on continuing to introduce new French ideas to the gauntlet today. It’s all about enrichment. The people will fight to ensure it. This influence is reflected on to architecture as an outlet of cultural expression in which the people have a vote, and is also the source of controversy surrounding progressive neo-classic artists. I love to see bold designs defining a new era in France while strict classicists squirm at the sight and toil over antiquated perspectives.

Louvre Islamic Art Exhibit: Perfect Timing?

The Mona Lisa recently got some new company at the Louvre in Paris. In September the Islamic Art wing of the world-famous museum opened in a time when racial tension in France is high.

The aim of the wing is to “showcase the radiant face of a civilization,” according to museum director Henri Loyrette. It also aims to heighten a cross-cultural understanding at a time when tensions are high in France, especially after a French weekly publication published lewd caricatures of the prophet Mohammed.

The wing, which cost about 130 million euro and took ten years to complete, is the museum’s largest development since the completion of I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid 20 years ago, according to an article from CBS News. The exhibit  features works from 632 A.D. all the way up to 1800.

Before this new addition, Islamic art was only displayed in the museum sporadically, according to an article from Al-Ahram Weekly. In the new gallery “the pieces have been inserted into a chronological and thematic display.” The article criticizes this organization because although its size and permanence is significant, the gallery does not give visitors proper context for the pieces.

Obviously the gallery has a high cultural significance because of its showcasing of Islamic art, but the political significance was emphasized when French president Francois Hollande paid a visit to the exhibit before its opening last month. Hollande was joined by the presidents of Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan.

Hollande called the gallery a “political gesture in the service of respect for peace,” according to the CBS News article. “The best weapons for fighting fanaticism that claims to be coming from Islam are found in Islam itself,” he said. “What more beautiful message than that demonstrated here by these works?”

I agree with the president. I think the gallery is an excellent way to educate Europe about the rich Islamic culture, and I think it’s great that the French president is supportive of the new wing. France has the largest Muslim population in Europe and tensions are high recently after the burqa bill and the cartoons in the French newspaper. This exhibition could serve as a way to unite the western world with the Muslim world through creating tolerance and an understanding of Muslim culture.

The Al-Ahram article points out that the Louvre is a perfect venue for a large Islamic art display because of its fame and prestige. The article states that the Louvre will attract a long list of donors and a lot of attention from the public. I agree with this statement. Visitors will come for the pyramid and the Mona Lisa, stick around for the new exhibition and will hopefully leave with a greater understanding and respect for a culture that has faced quite a bit of adversity in France and throughout other parts of the western world.

Voulez-Vous Coucher Avec…: A French Director’s Question to Israel

The idea is simple.  Take a camera around Tel Aviv and ask people a very intimate question.  If you were an Israeli Jew it is, “Would you have sex with an Arab?” and if you are Palestinian the question is the opposite.  Then you wait for the response…

Tel Aviv

 

Yolande Zauberman, a French director popular for her eye-opening documentaries, asks the unthinkable in a country where disdain for the “other” ethnicity is seemingly genetic in her recent film, Would You Have Sex with an Arab?  Zauberman, sauntering around bars and nightclubs in Israel’s most populated city, asks Tel Aviv the daunting question that makes people think about their personal opinions and reservations.  As a spectator the range of responses seem confusing, sinister, even backwards perhaps.  From, “If I find some Palestinian girl beautiful, why not?” to “It’s almost a crime to be a mixed couple.”  Sarah Rashidian, a French speaking blogger, comments on the phenomenon that occurs with those who answer in the negative to the title question:  “the viewers face an awkward moment where the interlocutor is torn between the obviousness in which he gives his answer and, at the same time, the lack of suitable explanation or logic that c(h)aracterizes it!”  This film a huge conflict and breaking it down to the individual level, asking a very intimate question, and exploring the root on the answers given.

 

But perhaps latent meanings become overlooked when watching a film in an area reigned by political conflict.  Alongside the Israeli-Palestinian conflict there exists, in my opinion, a more universal message: “Could you love someone you aren’t supposed to love?”  Deep into the upbringing of the individual, this question asks a very difficult idea for someone to think about, and essentially Zauberman does it in an area laden with prejudice.  But I honestly believe that a similar question can be posed to any of us and for a lot it would be a question too easily answered.  I do, however, agree with Pierre Haski from Rue89, an online French media website, when he points out that the film isn’t about the “make love, not war” movement of the hippies, but instead is trying to stir up prejudices within individuals that transcend upon the world.  It’s these prejudices that make loving, let alone liking, someone so difficult.

 

But perhaps this question is just over many of our heads because our situation is a bit different for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and therefore the question should only pertain to this area.

 

What do you think?  Should evaluate similar questions in ourselves if we are removed from such an ethnically-contentious environment?  Or do you believe that there are still strong ethnic boundaries to who we love?

My final question is, based off your knowledge of the documentary what is Zauberman trying to accomplish?

 

 

Across Borders: A Parkour Generation

MontrealPK-Oct02-2005033

Human motion need not be delimited by carefully-set sidewalks nor inhibited by obstacles. Leap over walls, swing from the rafters to get to your next destination via le method naturelle. The spectacle often leaves average pedestrians awestruck in the dust. Parkour enthusiasts, called traceurs, draw unique lines of approach to this sport of urban free-running and develop their philosophies from the spirit of it. The movements evoke practitioners’ primitive sides while the discipline places them vis-à-vis with moments of fear and truth about the psychological and physical limits. The conceptualization of parkour breaks down ideas of spatial and social confinement, which have restricted our harmony with our environment. As one enthusiast put it, “The idea that the only way to get to the second floor is from the inside of a building is preposterous.”

Nicola

The community’s consensus is that this adrenaline-pumped martial art was born in Lisses, France, where modern legends-in-the-making like Sébastien Foucan and Jérôme Ben Aoues expressed their free-flow style by jumping, flipping, scaling, leaping along their own paths with exceptionally acrobatic, and distinctly defiant, French flair since the 1990s. Here, skateboarding was not allowed and public playgrounds had rules against this type of play. They developed a sport that complemented surrounding architecture in creating alternate, and often impressive, routes of transit for the nonconformist traveler. The style quickly spread throughout the United Kingdom, Europe, and the Americas. Parkour Generations America started in 2005 with a runabout rendezvous – here is their showreel: http://youtu.be/lD3_Fn0erPw

 

The most spectacular stunts are done among rooftops, but fundamentals should be learned at ground level. Today, online organizations like ParkourGenerations.com and Monkeyspirit.org seek to inspire young French traceurs by providing tips, tricks, and testimonials from those who have become proficient in the art of creative movement. The masters teach use of fundamental and natural motions, mental rehearsal, and hard work to become fluid in the art of manipulating your horizon, because after all, “the art of moving is about hard training.” Exercise regimes challenge cardiovascular systems, build core strength and improve muscular endurance. The essence is in the footwork, the hand placement, the unique flow of the individual in their route and how they assess obstacles. Uncontested sensei Sébastien Foucan explains that, in his experience, “practice is best done alone…to be focused in yourself. When you are alone you’re a little bit afraid and you need to find why and the solution.” And Monkeyspirit.org urges hopefuls in its introduction not to put the cart before the horse. “The flow comes from years of hard work. Even apes and monkeys practice all the day long during their childhood learning from their parents.”
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Groups like UrbanFreeFlow and Freemouv display skill at international competitions, most recently this July in the French Alps and in August in Wisconsin, USA. Their talents have also been displayed in such recent films as 007 James Bond: Casino Royale and Jump Britain. Foucan recently helped K-Swiss develop the Ariake, the first freerunning and parkour shoe. Nikon and GoPro have contests to sponsor amateurs in creating parkour videos for the web.

To date, the writer has personally adopted many movements of Animal Planet in conquest of free-running basics. Visualize me at 25, meditating at dawn and practicing throughout Missouri’s karst landscape during my frequent hiking trips. I still get the urge to climb to the top of the playground tower and every other imposing structure I come across. As a novice, I hurt my ankle while leaping between platforms last month and haven’t been as spry since. I should have been wary of encouraging instructions that included the phrase, “various opportunities to jump off the roof.”

 

Ultimately, parkour is for hard-chargers, fast runners, young kung fu masters, trapeze artists, and those kids who grew up having the most fun on the school playground. It continues to be rapidly embraced by a generation of unprecedented physicality and philosophy: a parkour generation.

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Priority Security Zones in France lead to increased ethnic conflict

The night between August 13th and 14th was neither quiet nor peaceful for the residents of Amiens, a town located just north or Paris, France. Riots broke out in the streets, reportedly started by a group of approximately 100 youth of North African origin. The violence that erupted in the area left dozens of cars torched, two buildings burnt and ransacked, and 16 injured police officers. This resulted in an estimated 1.23 million US dollars in damage.

 

The aggressive response of youth in Amiens toward police has been speculatively related to the recent designation of Amiens as one of 15 Priority Security Zones (ZSP) in France, areas in which crime rates are the highest. These so-called “no-go” zones are described as Muslim dominated areas of immigrant populations that are largely off-limits to non-Muslims. French law enforcement hopes to regain its authority and make things safer in these closed off neighborhoods by increasing its presence within them. According to the French government, there are 751 of these no-go zones that have popped up all over in areas of French cities.

 

As you can imagine, some think that the policy to increase security in these areas is a good idea and that stricter laws should be enforced, while others strongly disagree with this attitude toward the situation. Nonetheless, this is a topic of controversy in France and most people have an opinion about it, especially in light of the recent election of socialist party president, Francois Hollande, who identified Amiens as a Priority Security Zone.

 

VENITISM says, “The city is infamous for high unemployment, racial tension, and brutal police force” and believes that Hollande’s government is not equipped to handle the current climate of violence and that it would best be handled by the right-wing politician, Marine LePen, who is known for her French nationalism and “continues to fight against the subversion of the country at the hands of Muslims.” VENITISM critiques Hollande as being too hesitant with his actions in the ZSPs despite his pledge to be tough.

 

Conversely, Walter Russell Mead of Via Meadia calls into question the way in which the French government has been both vague about what exactly broke out in Amiens, and who was involved. His criticism is that the blame is being both ambiguously and unfairly placed on the shoulders of Muslim, North African immigrant youth as a sort of cop-out to the many social issues taking place in France right now. “If the ‘community’ happened to be of North African origin, that would not make us think that all immigrants in France of Muslim faith and North African origin share these attitudes. We have met far too many thoughtful, educated, well-integrated French citizens with this background to smear a whole ethnicity with the actions of some.”

 

On one hand, I see the need for the French government to pay attention to no-go zones with increased police presence in order to keep peace and protect the safety of citizens. Whenever there is an environment conducive to crime and destructive riots that injure people their property, it should be investigated.  On the other hand, I also disagree with the way in which Priority Security Zones have been pigeon holed as “Muslim,”  “immigrant,” and “North African,”  implying that all people that fit into these categories are  violent, dangerous and inferior to “French” citizens and thus require increased surveillance and fewer social freedoms.  The story of Amiens has been told from the side of the French government and media only, however it would be valuable to hear the story of the riot told by those youth who were actually involved, in order to even out the bias and understand the conflict better.

 

Personally, I would like to see the investigation of  no-go zones extend beyond the surface description of what is happening in order to figure out why it is happening. Is it a strong sense of French nationalism and perhaps even racism that drives clumps of North African immigrant populations into segregated communities, giving rise to hostile relations? Or, could is be the opposite, a North African nationalism that drives the segregation and violence? Or, more likely, is it a combination of nationalism on both ends? Furthermore, how does the complicated history of France and North Africa still affecting relations today? And is there a solution for moving past these social conflicts, without denying citizens their rights to freely express themselves both religiously and culturally? It seems in this case, that there is much more going on than meets the eye.

Elle Me Dit (She Tells Me)

The energetic British music artist, Mika, plans to release his new album, “L’Origine d’Amour” in 2012. What’s different about this album is that most of the songs are in French. Mika’s two previous albums were in English despite the fact that he grew up in Paris. This album is also more sophisticated but also encompasses Mika’s happy, upbeat melody. The twelve songs on this album are all about love. The single for this album, “Elle Me Dit,” was released in July. Here’s the music video!

The video kind of surprised me. I thought there would be more dancing considering the chorus of the song is, “Elle me dit danse,” which means “she tells me to dance.” I love the song and the energy that it possesses. Even if you don’t speak French, it’s fun to dance to. I’m definitely looking forward to the rest of Mika’s new album.

Mika’s previous album, “The Boy Who Knew Too Much,” was released in English, but Mika performed a French version of his song “Grace Kelly” while performing in Paris. I think that it’s really great, maybe even better than the English version. You can watch his live performance in Paris of the French version below.

The date for the release of the album has not been determined yet but it will be sometime in 2012. “Elle Me Dit” is still not available in U.S. iTunes stores. If you would like to download the song, you can find it here: Elle Me Dit – Mika

SLAM

In brief, far from all of these uncertain certainties, Slam is before all the mouth that gives and the ears that take. It is the way that is easiest to share a text, to share emotions and the desire to play with words. Slam is perhaps an art, Slam is perhaps a movement, Slam is surely a Moment… A moment of listening, a moment of tolerance, a moment of meeting, a moment of sharing. Finally, good, I said it…” – Grand Corps Malade

Slam. You’ve probably already heard of it.

Slam originated in the United States during the 1980s with Marc Smith as a way to redefine poetry and encourage the search for personal identity, and it still remains a popular form of poetry today. Type “slam poetry” into the YouTube search bar – you’ll likely come across American slam artist, Taylor Mali, and my personal favorite video:

by Jaclyn

But what does Slam have to do with France?  Would a country home to such legendary poets as Baudelaire, Hugo, Verlaine (to name a few) accept this new phenomenon of poetry? The answer: an overwhelming yes – the slam movement seems to have taken France by storm.

It is necessary to emphasize that Slam, considered a positive and educational movement, is especially influential on the French youth. According to 129H Productions, Slam is a means to face the civic disempowerment of French youth – notably within the banlieues,which have reputations for violence, poverty, and poor education. With the use of Slam, participants learn to reflect on themselves, on the society they live in, and on their sens de vie (sense of life or role) in society through artistic and literary practice. It also gives participants the opportunity to voice their opinions, and to address conflicts that the community is currently facing. This encourages the search for personal cultural identity as well as strengthens the community as a whole.

While Slam poetry itself has enough power to spread the slam movement throughout France, it helps to have an ambassador. Grand Corps Malade, currently known as the the “Le Maître” or “master” of Slam, is the stage name of successful poetry artist, Fabien Marsaud. His contributions have escalated the slam movement’s popularity not only in France, but throughout Europe as well.

Check out Grand Corps Malade’s new single, “Roméo kiffe Juliette,” which gives a fresh take on the classic Shakespeare tragedy by conveying some of France’s current racial and religious conflicts. In this version, Roméo is Muslim, and Juliet, Jewish:

*NOTE: The word “kiffe” is French urban slang for “like” or “love”

Like it? Grand Corps Malade’s next album, 3ème temps, will be released in France on October 18, 2010.

Versailles: The Manga Invasion

Photo by Jaclyn


The Château de Versailles, arguably the most beautiful castle in France, was and still remains a symbol of France at the height of its monarchical power and cultural splendor. Not only did Louis XIV move the political center of France from Paris to Versailles, but he brought some of the best architects and artists of the era (le Vaut, le Nôtre and le Brun, to name a few) to develop a palace fit for a god.

So, what would the Sun King say if he knew there were sculptures of gaudy mushrooms and dreamy blondes being displayed amongst all of his prized possessions?

Since the opening of Japanese artist Takashi Murakami’s exposition at Versailles on September 14, 2010, there has been a lot of outrage. Many art and high culture critics are upset about Murakami’s use of manga, a popular type of Japanese comics.

According to Le Figaro, the idea of putting contemporary art inspired by mangas alongside the historical and royal finery of Versailles is sacrilegious. Not only is it considered by many a disgrace to the historic and artistic value of its era, but also to France’s current culture and pride.

Jean-Jacques Aillagon, museum director at Versailles, defends Murakami’s exposition on French 2 television show On s’est pas couché by explaining that contemporary art rarely ceases to have a controversial first reaction. The Louvre’s glass pyramids and the Centre Pompidou were originally critiqued with indignation – Now, they are structures with universal success; that have become symbols of French culture and art around the world.

Photos by Jaclyn (1&2) and Baptiste Lafontaine (3)

Aillagon also argues that exhibiting contemporary art along with historical and “high culture” art is stimulating. The art of the old complements the art of the new.

So, what would Louis XIV have to say about Murakami’s exposition at Versailles? Would he be offended by this intrusion of popular culture? Aillagon disagrees. Versailles was intended to be a place for happiness and good living, he says. At the end of his life, Louis XIV believed his palace to be too serious. He told his architects, “Mettez de l’enfance partout” (roughly meaning, put childhood throughout).

Photo by Charles Nouÿrit

NOTE: This isn’t the first time that Versailles has held a controversial exhibition. Be sure to check out contemporary art expositions by Jeff Koons (2008) and Xavier Veilhan (2009).

Jackass à la française?

Ever since Johnny Knoxville created MTV’s Jackass, a television show featuring a group of guys trying to pull off a bunch of dangerous stunts and ridiculous pranks, Americans throughout the nation became obsessed with this popular culture phenomenon.

Little do Americans know, pulling outlandish stunts and making embarrassing video footage is also a sensation in France. Thirty-five year old Rémi Gaillard of Montpelier has been circulating his less dangerous but equally entertaining videos via the internet.

This Frenchman, often referred to as the “French Johnny Knoxville,” claims that, “C’est en faisant n’importe quoi qu’on devient n’importe qui” – It’s by doing whatever, that you become whoever. But this “whoever” has quickly become one of the best-known pranksters online.

After launching N’importe qui in 2001, a website documenting a series of pranks, jokes, and soccer tricks, Rémi continues to show the influence of the Internet on popular culture – and how it is possible for any ordinary schmuck to become a celebrity.

According to L’Édition Spéciale (Canal Plus), it is Gaillard’s goal to “declare war on television.” He wants to show that popular culture is no longer predominately determined by the television business and the celebrities within. Instead, the internet has given a stronger voice to the majority – the public.

One of the hilarious acts that launched Gaillard into celebrity stardom was when he snuck into the victory celebrations of the Lorient soccer team after winning the Coupe de France tournament in 2002:

Nearly eight years later, Rémi’s website, nimportequi.com is thriving off of millions of views – as are his Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, YouTube, and Dailymotion accounts.

This year roughly marks the 10th anniversary of the N’importe qui website. Be sure to check out his most popular videos, highlighted at the bottom of the homepage.

France’s Workout Plan

Just before writing this post, I was driving in my car and Lo! – a radio advertisement about a new and practically pain-free way to shed unwanted pounds pulsed through the speakers. A woman’s voice repeatedly said something along the lines of, “Call 1-800-588-SLIM today to get the body you’ve always wanted!”

Image courtesy of dreamstime.com

Image courtesy of dreamstime.com

After a silent laugh, I wondered if you’d hear an advertisement like this while driving through French cities and towns. My intuitive answer? Probably not. “Probably” being the key word…

Anywho… whether it’s diets, diet books, diet pills, protein shakes, exercise regiments, personal trainers or the like, Americans seem to have an obsession with fitness in a way that is foreign to the French.

In an article on FindArticles.com the author writes, “The French don’t need to don lycra bike shorts or join a gym — exercise is a way of life. And because it is, it seems they can pass the beurre (butter) and secretly laugh at our American obsession.”

(Note: This “obsession” probably has something to do with the popularity of Barbie, GI Joe, Michelle Obama’s arms, and the $33 billion Americans spend every year on diet books.)

So, what seems to be different about the French fitness attitude?

Some call the secret to the naturally healthy French way of life the French Paradox – an idea comprised of about four key cultural differences from the American way of life: a varied diet, portion control, red wine consumption and daily exercise (i.e. riding a bike or walking instead of driving – but no gym)

In a Salon.com article, Claude Fischler, a nutritional sociologist at INSERM (the French equivalent of America’s National Institutes of Health) says some of the paradox is myth. Nonetheless, he says the French eat “Comme il faut”“As it should be.” He adds that unlike American women, French women eat exactly what they want and don’t spend hours at the gym trying to get in or stay in shape.

However, from one French blog I came across, this American diet/fitness obsession seems to be infiltrating the non-chalante attitude of the French…

Valerie Orsoni, French fitness guru, CEO and Founder of MyPrivateCoach.com and LeBootCamp.com said on her blog: “Votre coach et vous – blog minceur – maigrir vite et bien” : translation :Your coach and you – slimness blog – lose weight fast and well,” Orsoni discusses her life, companies and most recently, a new television fitness program based on her last book, “Secrets de Coach.”

One of the subheads of this book, as well as her blog is “…sans régime stricte.”

Translation : “…without a strict diet.”

Hmm…sounds a bit like the “practically pain-free” weight loss radio advertisement I heard in my car earlier.

So, to all American women (and men) bombarded with “how to get fit” books, diets, pills and media in hopes to achieve the perfect body, or to perhaps unlock the secret to French attractiveness, internalize the words of one young, French, Marie Claire intern:

I’ll tell you the secret of the French sexy way of being: Everybody thinks that we are. We call it an idée recue, an accepted notion. No matter if we are blonde, brown, tall, or small, from the moment we start to speak with the accent, we become the natural daughter of Catherine Deneuve and Coco Chanel. We aren’t. Really.”