The Big Apple Family

I have already confessed being a dinosaur when it comes to technology. It’s not that I dislike technology. Not at all. But if I never consider myself being stingy, I admit reluctance when it comes to purchasing an updated high tech. My behavior has often surprised sales persons who consider a two-year-old cell phone antique even if it works perfectly.
Since my husband is a techie husband, computers have been part of our home way before most people had a computer. Actually in the very early 90s we had more computers than members in the family. A good thing when you live with a techie person is that you get lots of hand-me-downs. Who knows why I became the hand-me- downs favorite?
When our children were little, it was easy to pass for a pro, even with a second hand computer. Soon, alas, they all surpassed me, developing skills only kids born with high tech tools organically absorb.
In no time, I was left behind with my “old” computer, my “old” cell phone, my absent iPod and of course my blank Facebook page. Meanwhile, one by one the five people I know the best acquired a Mac.
I told them that I didn’t need one. My “old” computer gave me plenty of satisfaction. Why would I buy a new one? Besides, I knew what a Mac was. After all, I lived the arrival of the Macintosh on the market in the 80s. Not that I had one myself but I knew enough people who bought one to remember the bulky but friendly computers (that’s what the enthusiasts said, that it was friendly). I was still embracing the movement. Even the cat my husband and I got at the animal market in Paris was named Catmintosh after the beloved computer.
So despite my husband’s insistence that I got a Mac, I remained the last one in our family to give a second chance to computers that would have ended in junkyards without me. But everything has an end and the Dell I was still using until yesterday gave signs of poor health. It shut down without any warning and I became obsessed with the Save button. It was indeed time to think of a new computer if I didn’t want to spend more time charging its weak battery than writing.
So yesterday, I joined the big Apple family for the first time of my life. I am now the proud owner of a Mac Book Air. It looks nothing like the bulky Mac of the 80s. The packaging is sleek and minimalist when I remember last century massive colorful box. It is in fact so slim that it fits in my favorite bag.
Next to my box of pencils, pens and my collection of notebooks.

Encore for Enid Blyton!

When I was a little girl, my mom told me that children couldn’t live on their own and my dad forbade camping when the weather was stormy. As most children, I lived in a word full of nos.

Fortunately, I had Le Club des Cinq or in English the Famous Five.
Claude, François, Annie, Michel or Mick and Dagobert lived in a world where kids could live on their own and camped regardless of the weather. Actually the more challenging the weather was, the better it was. At least for the reader.
Enid Blyton was as popular in France than she was in the UK and anywhere else in the world. Her characters had personalities that satisfied every reader and their adventures empowered any kid.
Since her books were so well liked, it was almost impossible to get them at my local public library. They were always checked out. So I saved every French franc I could put my hand on to buy one of the Club des Cinq. Since I had no allowance and that my parents never bought books, I bet everything on birthday and Christmas money. A challenge for someone whose birthday is a month before Christmas and whose only source of income came from her grandparents. I learned to be patient but as soon as the money was there, I rushed to the bookstore. I was a fast reader so I was finished sooner than I wished, yet the hours spent with the fives summon some of my best childhood memories.

So this afternoon when I caught the name Enid Blyton in the news, I was instantly transported back to my childhood.
An original manuscript written by the prolific British author has been found among other writing pieces that belonged to the author’s eldest daughter. The 180 pages are typed and have been authenticated by the Enid Blyton Society. It had been bought a few months ago by the Seven Stories, a British Center for children’s literature located in Newcastle. Although the story had been published in a cartoon version after Second World War, nobody knew about the novel. The Seven Stories is planning a retrospective exhibit around Enid Blyton’s work in 2014.
Enid Blyton who died in 1968 remains the fifth most translated writer in the world. More than 400 millions copies of her novels have been sold.

Claude, François, Mick, Annie and Dagobert have been part of so many children’s lives that whenever I mention them to my husband, we forget they are the protagonists of a fiction series. It feels like we are talking about good old friends. And we are kids again.
Kids who despite adults’ opinions could live for the time of a book on our own, could camp under the stormiest weather, and still be safe.

A Different Eye on the Revolt in North Africa

My knee injury has imposed its quiet regimented routine. Instead of a daily hour at the gym, twice a day I do a series of exercises designed to regain knee mobility. In addition, up to six times a day I ice my knee to decrease the swelling.
As exciting as it looks, this rather sedentary life allows me permanent access to my number one addiction: reading.
Since I have now read every unread book I could put my hands on, I’ve started to read every American and French newspaper I can find online.

For the last weeks, their headlines are similar. All are related to the protests that shake the Middle East and North Africa.
What is very different though is the treatment of information, whether the newspaper is American or French.

Here, in the USA, we embrace with no reserve the sudden revolt against autocracy and the legitimate people’s fight to obtain democracy. After all, the USA rhymes with democracy. President Obama is now busy negotiating with Egypt which had, until now, acted as a peace keeper in the Middle East.
In France, the coverage of the wave of protests is slightly different. Although the French and its government applaud democracy as much as Americans do, they are concerned with the consequences of turmoil, especially in Algeria and Tunisia, two former French colonies who won their independence in the late 50s for Tunisia and early 60s for Algeria.

Last week, Lampedusa, a small Italian island located mid-way between Tunisia and Sicily, saw thousands of clandestine Tunisians flooding its streets. These immigrants are all unemployed men between 20 and 30 years old, hoping to find a job in a continent already dealing with high unemployment.
They left Tunisia after the fall of Ben Ali last month to seek new opportunities. Often paying for their journey, they hid aboard ships. They’ve heard of work in Germany and France and hope that Europe will welcome them with a job. Used to police violence, they praise the Italian police for their kindness. Italy and Tunisia are working together to stop this flow of clandestine immigrants.
It is impossible to ignore the hardship of North Africa, and Europe has certainly contributed to its unsuccessful economic growth but it is also unrealistic to believe that Italy, Spain, France, and even Germany can absorb a new wave of immigration.

France has always praised itself for being a land of acceptance and welcoming policy. Yet if more people decide to leave their homeland for Europe, France would rather not be their number one destination. Even the liberal paper Liberation talks of the French malaise when it comes to deal with the recent revolts in the Arab world and its consequences.

In the early 70s, my little town in Normandy was challenged by the arrival of North Africans. It was unusual to see people moving in, so locals quickly complained about the new immigrants. The assimilation of the young Algerians or Tunisians went well in my school. We were mostly curious and soon we all played soccer and tag together. The adults, on the other hand, had a harder time to accept the new comers who arrived with foreign customs and ignored the French lifestyle rules.

Forty years later, the entire world is turned toward the changing Arab world. Depending where you live the media coverage is different but the outcome will also definitely be very different.

Top Historical Fiction for Young Readers

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day but I didn’t go dancing. I still nurse my injured knee and although I can walk without a crutch, I still wear a leg brace. Not really easy to dress up with this kind of contraption.
Instead, I read the book supplement of the New York Times. It remains my main source of reference before buying a book for adults.
This week, however, this is the children section that caught my eye. Besides The Steps Across the Water from Adam Gopnik (I prefer his work for adults)and The Boy in the Garden from the unique writer/artist Allen Say, there was a review about Forge.
Written by Laurie Halse Anderson, one of my favorite writers for children, Forge is the sequel to Chains, the award winning book that was published last year and a must read for historical fiction fans.
I remember reading on Ms. Anderson’s blog how she walked in thin shoes in deep snow to experience the suffering of the soldiers during the Civil War. The praising article is proof that she has succeeded and wrote a remarkable book.
I have read and loved each and every book written by Laurie Halse Anderson and if Speak remains with me in a very personal way and will forever be on my list of must read books, Ms. Anderson’s talent as a historical fiction writer was evident in 1793 and has grown to be immense.
Looks like it’s now time to visit Amazon.com and add Forge to my must read list.

European Immigration

Again, one of the highlights (very few other highlights, believe me) of being less mobile is that I get to read the newspaper before anyone else. Today, I have read most sections of the New York Times before 5:00 pm.

An interesting article about the alarming growth of Islamic militants in Great Britain has caught my attention.
The British Prime Minister blames Britain for having encouraged Muslim and other immigrant groups to live together, without little or no contact with their new country.

It reminded me of a conversation I had, two years ago in Paris, with a taxi driver born in France but from Moroccan origins. His grandfather had worked in France after World War Two to help rebuild the ravaged country. He only left to marry a young girl in his native Morocco, but returned to France and spent the rest of his life in a Parisian suburb with other men and their families, all coming from North Africa.
We had this conversation a few months after the violent riots that took place in the Parisian suburbs and on the outskirts of the major French cities in the fall 2009. I had then a hard time to understand the reasons that pushed young people, and especially men born in France, to destroy cars and stores and terrorize residents.

After all, I am also an immigrant who left my native country for an unknown land, and culture. My kids, first generation Americans, have never been exposed to discrimination or prejudice. So why is it so hard for the second or even third generation French-born kids to fit in?
For the taxi driver, the difficulty came from the concentration of immigrants in densely polluted neighborhoods.
“People settle where others have established roots based on the old country lifestyle and before long it’s too late to go anywhere else.” He paused as he drove along busy streets. “The younger people end up stuck between two cultures they know little about. The country their parents and grandparents talk with nostalgia is only a name for them and France a place they don’t know better.”
I listened to his comments, wondering how it could be so different in the United States where we celebrate diversity and yet share a common identity.
“But,” he added. “People have also choices. I left the banlieue (suburbs) for Paris. For my kids, I knew it was important so they wouldn’t go to school only with kids whose grandparents or great-grandparents came from North Africa.”

The British Prime Minister blames Britain for allowing values that have nothing to do with the values of human rights, democracy, social integration, and equality for all before the law. He talks of passive tolerance and it is certainly something that is happening in France as well.

My family leaves in a quiet part of Normandy. They see less of the immigration issues that affect other parts of France on a regular basis. No cars are burnt every Saturday night in their little town. However, it is happening elsewhere. But it is difficult to talk with them about it, as if avoiding the subject would make it vanish, or more importantly as if keeping the trouble makers together, isolated from the real French was the best thing to do.

As the taxi driver told me, people have choices. You can blame a country for failing to help immigrants to feel at home but immigrants must also be fair and work toward assimilation.
I can only imagine what my life would be if I had stayed in the same neighborhood with the company of other French immigrants for the last twenty years. Maybe I would have enjoyed great cuisine, but I would have missed everything about my adoptive country.
Discovering a foreign culture, mastering another language, meeting new people take time and energy but also guarantee assimilation. It can be successful if both immigrants and natives play their role.

Good and Bad News from the Land of the Homebound

Being homebound since early January because of a bad ski decision (who knows if I had turned on the right instead of the left what would have happened), has its share of good and bad news.
Here they are without any order of preference:

The good news is that for the second week in a row, I finished the New York Times Sunday Edition before anyone else.
The bad news is that I have to wait for Sunday to be entertained.
The good news is that I have approached agents and editors for several of my manuscripts.
The bad news is that they aren’t probably stuck home like me and that I will have to wait before I hear from them.
The good news is that my husband has turned into a gourmet chef.
The bad news is that someday I will have to match his skills.
The good news is that I will be able to take a shower on Friday when my dressing, cast, icing pad, stitches, and who knows what else, are removed.
The bad news is that I won’t have a personal hair stylist to shampoo my hair (aka my husband, the gourmet chef).
The good news is that my friend Julie is no longer an exclusive expert on Ken Follett.
The bad news is that I have to wait for the second volume of his new trilogy, knowing that the first one was published only a couple of months ago.
The good news is that my nails are longer and stronger, thanks to no dish washing, no cleaning, no laundry, no gardening, no nothing.
The bad news is that I can’t show them off.
The good news is that today I have left my bed around 10:00 am instead of noon.
The bad news is that I have elected the sofa as my new bed.
The good news is that I do my left straight leg raise exercises.
The bad news is that I used to never think there were exercises.
The good news is to receive cards and e-mails from my friends telling me all about their lives.
The bad news is that life goes on even when someone has quit being a full part of it.
The good news is that I appreciate the little pleasures of life such as a square of chocolate after lunch or a cookie in the afternoon.
The bad news is that it is how my parents who are eighty years old live.
The good news is that my beloved Yosemite is still somewhere behind my window.
The bad news is that I won’t be able to join my hiking buddies on our annual spring hike.
The good news is that I eat now like a real American around the coffee table (easier for me to sit on the sofa than a chair) as I watch Anderson Cooper.
The bad news is that I can’t pretend anymore that I’m not a couch potato and a TV addict.
The good news is that for once I am grateful to someone I don’t know and won’t ever meet: the donor who gave me his knee ligament.
The good news is that I am a donor too.
But the best news is that we are Tuesday night and that in two days I will be a free woman.
The bad news? Weeks of therapy ahead of me.
The good news? Physical therapy is like a gym with personal trainers.
The bad news? Like personal trainers, they expect results.
The good news? For the word lover I am, I’ve learned the true meaning of the word and adjective PATIENT
The bad news? I hate it.
The good news is that tomorrow is another day bringing, I’m sure, plenty of good news.

%d bloggers like this: