Category Archives: france

the agony of disconnection

This draft has been sitting in my box for so long, wordpress thought it was written in 1999. It wasn’t, but it was written well before President Obama was elected. I shudder to think of the examples of how people thrive on demonization now, but think most of what’s here is still the core of the problem we’re facing as people.

This is in memory of all we lost that day, including the opportunity to be better connected as a people. Rest in peace, Fred.

A while back, I wrote about the exceptionally personal experience I had 8 years ago, as someone one degree of separation from the tragedy of September 11. But rather than go on a rant – I do enough of that, and others have already expressed sentiments in ways more articulate and moving than I could – I’m reflecting on a result I would call the agony of separation.

Some thoughtful writers have already talked about the distance they felt from the day’s events, and from the aftermath. After all, there were no calls to reduce consumption of any sort, only to trust that people in the government would act in our best interests, as long as we trusted them. The contrary, that any question or exploration of their actions would be the equivalent of treason, kept many people quiet. Too many people.

From the start, then, we take the tragic events, the loss of lives, and decide that grieving is too much, unless met with unreflective aggression, not just in retaliatory action, but also in words, in thoughts, and what we allow people to talk about publicly. This is more then than the loss one never stops grieving. We move from the commons into a bunker.

But it’s more than applying bunker mentality to communication. It’s also who’s doing the fighting. Economic factors (extra income, the only possible path to college) have put our most vulnerable people into military service. When they return, they’re both damaged and denied the resources they need to recover – not unlike the denial of resources and information they faced on the ground, in harm’s way.

In this bunker culture, there isn’t a lot of encouragement to substantively connect – yellow ribbon magnets repel question authority bumperstickers, and vice versa. I see one of those magnets in the parking lot of my child’s daycare center, and wonder how I would talk to the mom who drives the car. We would talk about our children, I suppose, and I would ask when her family member is coming home, and wish a safe and healthy return. Anymore than that, and there is a serious potential for bunker communications, shutting down, dropping connections. Or would we not even talk at all, as the wrinkled John Kerry sticker (not exactly question authority, but close enough in our media and politically illiterate culture) would serve as an effective deterrent to even the most surface greetings.

Broadband bunker communciations fully support the agony of separation. Information sources that sides rely upon are often suspect, and the louder suspect sources tend to come from one side. You know how it goes; “You’re with us, or you’re with the terrorists.” Who is this “us,” anyway? It is not the citizenry. How do you listen to someone who parrots Fox entertainers? Who has the interest, never mind the time, to read comparatively? Who would raise their hand and claim to be a media illiterate?

At the same time how does that person listen to me about the state of our nation in real time across the table, words at a breathtaking clip, all citations, disdain and by most standards, obscene privilege? How does that person communicate the realities they face

Where do we find the encouragement to stop, listen, connect? Is it even possible? Blogs certainly foster communities of interest, but my limited experience shows the only tangible evidence of crosspollination being the troll. I admit it, I don’t need to read another Clinton-bashing site as long as I live. Not because I think he was perfect – far from it – but because what they say is born of hatred of him, and while the hatred is real, the accusations range from overdone to truly bizarre.

And it is that unwillingness to ask and listen that stops connections from happening, that makes for gaps, for misinformed assumptions, for danger, for a strange sort of agony – one of a nation, unable to look at itself in the altogether.

Unlike the majority of my fellow Americans, I flew within two weeks, across country. And again the following week. And then in a ping-pong trip across central and western Europe. I can’t tell you what a mess I found – a tangled mess of ideas presented to me at every turn by colleagues from all parts of the globe. It wasn’t a bad mess, though many of the ideas were unpleasant, theories from the thoughtful to just shy of deranged, and a lot of anti-American sentiments. But the best part of that tangle was the chance to acknowledge it, and to listen. Not to agree, but to listen. To connect.

Whether it was at home or overseas (I lost count of the number of times I flew to Europe in the last 4 months of 2001), it became even more important to connect. To listen. To not dismiss. To understand, if only a little, and to consider and act on solutions. To untangle misunderstandings, while seeing some snarls were beyond my abilities to know at the time.

In my own way, because of my work and its very nature (I was a Communications Director of an international technical organization at the time), I was serving as an ambassador through listening, responding, asking.

I have to say, I wasn’t afraid of ideas, of people presenting them. I was glad to have the chance to hear it directly. To give a response if I had one, to simply say “I don’t know about that” if I didn’t, and to offer my own views if it seemed as though there was any interest.

Watching some television yesterday, I noticed how tender the wounds still are for people not separated from the events of the day. Whether it was by location, or personal loss, or identification.

Back to that tragic week in 2001 – I was loading the trunk of my rental car in Downtown Boston on the way to my own bridal shower, when my friend handed me a copy of Time she had saved for me. I remember seeing for the first time photos of people jumping from buildings – the scenes broadcast in every other country around the world.  I literally screamed, dropping the magazine into the trunk, and extending my arms, my hands palms up. What I wouldn’t have given to be able to catch even one person – an irrational, impractical, emotional, visceral, true response. It wouldn’t have mattered what they believed, who they voted for, what they watched. When faced directly with the loss of a human being, with suffering, only connect.


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Filed under Complexity, exploitation, france, Grieving, loss, Opportunism, Politics, September 11th, Wars

mandelieu dreaming

Waddling slowly through the house to my desk, I sat down to find photos of my former colleagues from a favorite part of the world. My work frequently took me to the south of France, and this particular meeting was on the Cote d’Azur, in a town called Mandelieu-La-Napoule. There were photos of the small stony beach by the hotel, the palms readying themselves for wintery rains, the smeared sunlight that rainier seasons bring.

I remembered three meetings there, and the careless pleasure of sleeping in a hotel room with the balcony door ajar, courting February’s cold for the chance of a mediterranean lullaby. I remembered my first dinner, then my second, at a Michelin two-star. And of course, the delight of noisette after noisette, where even hotel millefeuille pastries put many high-end treatmakers stateside to shame, effortlessly.

Culinary indulgences aside, there is the wonderful smell of the sea, the alternating perfumes of mist and pinewood smoke (not to mention the relief of the first shower after 19+ hours of airline travel). Sure, the Gauloise and Export A’s are unpleasant and a bit of a shock, but it can be headed off with a quick walk to the terrazzo.

This time, though, the meeting came in October, when one wouldn’t need to be a polar bear in order to dive or at least splash into the soft waves. Old friends and new faces mixed around in the water (surf seems a little too vigorous a term, even if it was the sea).

Little vignettes delivered in photos, and in the occasional email from the scene, left me dreaming of the best of the work experience, which can best be described as the right people in the right place – with those in place, anytime can be the right time.

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Filed under Food, france, pleasure, work

the flight to Sophia-Antipolis

About 20 minutes from the Nice Airport is Sophia-Antipolis, more of a technology/industrial park complex than a village, and where I have spent many weeks (or fragments thereof) over the past 8 years for work.

Trips here, however much anticipated on my part, come with a price: a 5-8 hour layover at Schipol in Amsterdam. It’s a big enough chunk of time to completely throw off even a well-rested person, never mind someone who watched “The Departed” multiple times on a screen the size of a postcard.

Schipol was the first mega-mall airport I encountered, back in 2000. In addition to food areas and dutyfree emporia, it has casinos throughout the terminals and a hotel within the secured passenger area. I flew out with perfume, MiuMiu sunglasses, and hope for a walk in the sunshine. I landed in Nice with a migraine.


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Filed under clean air, cote d'Azur, Duty free, duty-free shopping, flight, france, layover, Nice, Northwest Airlines, Schipol Airport, sophia-antipolis, travel

jetlag D’oh!

I know better, I knew better, but I was weak. Instead of toughing out the end of my trip upright, I gave in to the migraine and fatigue and collapsed on the hotel bed, BBCWorld in the  background. Sometime between midnight and one, I woke, not to return to sleep.

I’m now having my second transition day, and barely getting through it, though the caffeine and colleagues are helping.

Please, readers, remember to get onto local time as soon as possible, no whining, no matter what.


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Filed under france, jetlag, Nice, travel

off to France

I’ll be flying to Nice tomorrow. Food reports to follow.


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Filed under cuisine, Food, france, mediterranean, travel

Stone fruit’s Ms September, raw and baked (recipe)

One of my favorite fruits awaited me in my csa crate this week, tucked into a crumpled brown bag. The farm has one Italian prune plum tree, and my halfshare resulted in a pound of the humble beauty.

I can, and have, eaten a pound of ripe prune plums in one sitting, to dramatic and not altogether pleasant after-effect. Their tart-sweetness, and hearty flesh make them more of a cousin than sister to the californian stone fruits of summer, but also make them a dream for baking. I make at least three clafoutis each year with whatever good IPPs I can find. Here is my recipe.


Clafouti is one of those dishes that is easy to make and yet can be utterly gorgeous in presentation, especially if you use pie plates for the baking instead of casserole dishes. Any stone fruit works, but when the IPPs bloom with wine/magenta color in contrast with the buttery pudding, it’s tough to beat for looks and substance. If stone fruits are out of season, try with sliced firm apples (cortland is my preference, if you have them where you are), sliced thin. Maybe macerated in a little calvados… oh, you can do whatever you want. It will be delicious.

My first recipe came from Monet’s Table by Claire Joyes, but you can find plenty of variations at epicurious.

1 cup flour
3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
2 eggs
1/8 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups milk (soy milk if dairy is a problem)
2 tbsp unsalted butter (shortening again if dairy prob)
5 cups pitted prune plums, sliced

Preheat the oven to 375F. Make a batter with flour, 2 tbsp of sugar, eggs, salt, and milk, beating the mixture until smooth. (Instructions say it should not be too liquid, but given the proportions, that’s tough. Batter will have similar consistency to pancake batter.) Use the butter to grease a 9 inch pie pan – deep dish is ok. Put the plums into the pie pan – the fruit should be firmly packed. Pour the batter over the fruit and sprinkle the top with the remaining sugar. Bake for 45 minutes or until the batter is golden brown.


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Filed under autumn food, Baked Desserts, clafouti, community supported agriculture, Cooking and Baking, csa, dessert, Desserts, france, fruit, italian prune plums, Love, prune plums, Recipes, stone fruits