Saturday, 26 July 2014

Saturday Photo: The Longest Day of the Year in the Bois de Vincennes Bis

Looks like a very bucolic setting but this was taken five minutes walk from the Porte d'Or and the Péripherique highway in Paris.  As I noted last Saturday, we had the pleasure of spending the afternoon of the longest day of this year picnicking  in the Bois de Vincennes with friends a few weeks ago.

The park, which once upon a time was the hunting ground of French kings, was set aside along with the Bois de Boulogne on the other side of Paris in the middle of the 19th century.  Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann, architect of the great rejigging of Paris under Napoléon III, wasn't as convinced of the usefulness of big parks as was the Emperor, but nonetheless the parks were established in the hopes that through "a process of slow seduction they would lead these offspring of the city’s working poor to better habits.  and (to) the gradual amelioration of the morals of the working classes."

In the Baron's lifetime, the parks were not used much because of “the distance, the time needed to go and come and the cost of even the most economical  of transports which ended up being too much to be done very often." But he added in his memoirs:   "It is a pleasure to see that on each holiday the popular masses invade the two woods, spread out all over  the parks and enjoy themselves, feeling that they are at home there.”

Today it's easy to get to the parks, with Metro stops close by, and thousands of people living within walking distance.  They are used well and seemingly respectfully:  despite the crowds that Saturday, groups didn't interfere with each other, and enjoying one's place in the sun (or the shade) seemed everyone's goal. 


Tuesday, 22 July 2014

What the World Needs Now Is Love: If Only It Were This Simple

This showed up on my Facebook feed this morning.  It's a lyrical video compilation (I think I recognize clips from Apocalypse Now, Shingler's List and perhaps more) put together to make a point about how the world might be better.

Of course, the premise is simplistic, and love isn't enough, but as Jack Layton said, love is better than hate, hope is better than fear.  So I keep hoping....

Monday, 21 July 2014

More on Language Changing: Would That Things Be As Easy As Kids Make It Seem

A few weeks ago I posted about the inclusion of words from Arabic in Montreal French.  Wallah Wallah has become non-perjorative term for  someone of Arabic descent among Grench speaking teens in parts of the city, it seems.

Then, as hate surges through the Middle East, I was delighted to hear our Jeanne (not quite 4) encouraging her cousin Thomas (not quite 2) to take of his tricycle.  "Yalla, habibi," she said, "t'es capable."  The last part I understood straight off--"you can do it." 

The first part took a little interpretation.  Yalla means "let's go" or "come on," and "habibi" in this context is "my friend." Just the thing for a big cousin to say to a little cousin.

But just where Jeanne got the phrase is not clear.  There are a number of kids in her day care who have Arabic as their mother tongue, while a catchy popular song called "Yalla habibi" made the charts around here a while ago in its North American version.  However it happened, it's fun to see how easily a useful phrase can slip into everyday usage.

And given the horrible situation in Gaza where a number of Arabic-speaking children have been killed recently, one wishes that this kind of healthy meeting of language and culture were more widespread.  Here's an additional irony: habibi in Hebrew means the same as it does in Arabic.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Saturday Photo: Hanging out Paris-style

This picture was taken four weeks ago, Saturday June 21, the longest day in the year at Lac Dumesnil in le Parc du Bois de Vincennes.  Situated just outside the Péripherique, this the park is the largest in Paris, accessible by Métro and close to dense neighborhoods.

We went there to picnic with friends and had a wonderful time.  There is a punt to take you across to one of the two islands in the lake, big old trees and the good feeling that comes from people prepared to enjoy a bit of nature in a big, big city.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Show Down: The Latest in Millenia of Conflict

While the world watches the debris of the Malaysia Airlines 737 smolder in the Eastern Urkrainian, I'm reminded of my recent reading.

Item:  Tolstoy--and I'm three-quarters of the way through Anna Karenina and read several of his short stories last winter--served in the Russian Caucasian wars.  That conflict saw Tsarist Russia impose its will on the territory which is now Ukraine and further south in the high country between the Black and the Caspian seas.

Item:  In The Horse, The Wheel and Language, historian and anthropologist David Anthony argues that wheeled chariots and tamed horses by the residents of the grasslands north of the Black and Caspian seas were major advances in warfare that set the stage for the advance of Indo-European languages throughout Eurasia and Europe. 

Item: the Sinashta Culture, unearthed in the Ural mountains of southern Russia, appears to offer evidence of this kind of warring as early as 2100 BCE.  This incredibly rich archeological site includes many maces--a weapon has not other use than bashing people's heads in. 

Moral: like the mountains of Afghanistan and the waters of the Jordan Valley, this region has known conflict for millenia, and maybe we ought not to be surprised. 

Monday, 14 July 2014

Drought: How Can We Live without Water in the Golden State

Growing up in Southern California, the spector of not enough water seemed frequently present.  Not enough rain falls to support a population a tenth as big as it was then, so water was imported from hundreds of miles away.  This year those sources are suffering from a three year drought, and it looks like some drastic measures should be taken to conserve what is there.
But according to the New York Times, not everyone in the Golden State has gotten on the band wagon.  In San Diego where I spent most of my childhood, water consumption has actually gone up since 2013.  Much of this goes to food production (and the choice of crops bears some re-evaluation), but apparently you're still allowed to use water to clean concrete surfaces in some parts of the state.  Seventy percent of water districts "have not imposed reasonable mandatory restrictions on watering lawns and keeping backyard pools filled," the story says.  Tomorrow the State Water Resources Control Board will finally get around to "placing restrictions on some outdoor water uses like washing paved surfaces."
We'll be paying more for fruits and vegetables from California this year, it's clear.  But that's not the big concern.  In a time when disaster and droughts due at least in part of climate change are more and more prevalent, how can people act to turn things around, when in many cases they seem unable to take steps to mitigate the mess we've made?

The photo by the way was taken in Eastern Washington last year, which, interestingly, seems to have had good rainfall this year.



Thursday, 10 July 2014

Back from Holiday, Tired but Pleased with It All

The photo was taken at one of the high points of our three weeks in Paris and Portugal--the countryside around Conínbriga in the center of that country.

I'll have more posts later about what we saw and did, but before I succumb to jet lag (it's been less than 24 hours since we got back) I must comment on the pleasure we got from not keeping up with world events.  For the first two weeks, Lee checked out the headlines on a friend's iPad, but after that the only news was what we saw in the ubiquitous TVs found in Portuguese restaurants.

The result?  Well, not much has changed in the world since we left home, and what we didn't know (immediately) appears not to have hurt us.  Strange conclusion from a news junkie like me.  But sometimes detox is good for the soul....