Wednesday, 9 November 2005

France is on fire!

It's beautiful here; I'm up at dawn to drop my daughter off for school bus. At that time it's cold but the light is amazing, red hillsides, ochre farmsteads and golden vineyards. You can see why Cezanne et al were inspired to paint here. Then I go to the local tabac/bar and down an expresso whilst breathing in other peoples unfiltered tobacco.
Everybody smokes and eats meat. My daughter is the only vegetarian in her school (1,200 pupils) not just now but ever. All the mums dress to the nines, teetering on kitten heels towards the school bus, are rail-thin (elles font attention, bien sur, à ce qu'elles mangent, French women don't get fat) and smoke like chimneys. Which means, girls, that along with the sun they've got faces like leather handbags. Dark brown lip-liner is a makeup must!
Around 10ish, the sea mist clears and it heats up, enough to swim and wear a thin t-shirt even in November.
Dark drops suddenly at 5.30. the air is filled with wood smoke and you can see the stars and even the planets- no light pollution.
The markets are full of amazing produce and need I mention the inexpensive wine, olive oil, tapenade and cheeses wrapped in leaves or volcanic ash.
But, but, I miss London. I don't know anyone here so I feel pretty isolated. Work is hard to find in winter. I'm doing my motherly duty, school run four days a week then helping my daughter with her homework of which she has tons. French school is tough, strict and very academic. My daughter has got mates now although it was hard for her at first. Her French is good but it's frustrating for her not to be able to communicate as quickly as she can in English and it seems that French secondary school communication between pupils is all about being cool and putting others down just like it is in English school. But it gives her an insight on what it's like to be foreign and trying to fit in.
I've found her a drum teacher, first lesson last night in the little hillside village of La Garde-Freinet (apparently the heroin capital of the Cote D'Azur). The teacher, Francois, has two kits set up in his garage amongst the drying washing. I've managed to set up her kit in my parents' garage. (This is a major achievement on my part, I mean, have you ever tried to put together a hi-hat? maybe I could get a job as a mum/roadie...)

As you have all probably heard, France is on fire! The suburbs are in revolt. It's the inverse to Britain, the poor live outside the town in the suburbs and the posh people live intra-muros. The suburbs are not leafy estates with 1930s semi- detached houses and gardens. No, its cheap post-war housing, huge blocks.
It doesn't surprise me that the children of immigrants are pissed off. You never see an Arab face on TV, there is no integration represented in the media. France has had a policy of low wages and high unemployment for at least 20 years ( I lived here last between 1989 and 1996 and it was impossible to find work even in Paris). It's hard to start your own business because of all the bureaucracy, taxes and regulations.
The social policies of France are great if you are in the system. Fantastic health care, roads, schools. But if you never manage to enter the system you are fucked.
In Britain at least there is a youth culture, you can start your own projects without too much interference from the State, and actually pretty good racial integration. I know Rhythms is an activist band and dedicated to fighting the system but I believe that France is way more oppressive. Especially if you aren't French. Even our press is more lively and there is actual debate going on. French newspapers don't even have a readers letters page.
Now French cities are in a state of emergency with a curfew. Unbelievable response to the situation! Maybe the revolts will push the French government into change despite their draconian initial response.
Vive l'esprit de mai 68! (you know when I was at university here, I was told that the architecture of all universities built after May '68 was expressly designed not to have any gathering points for students, to prevent student solidarity occurring again).

love et bises

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