French Friday: Alien with Preexisting Condition

I was surprised the first time I heard an American dad call his child “pumpkin.” But after all, an American would be surprised, too, hearing French parents call their child “ma puce,” which would be “my flea” in English. More pumpkins will illustrate this post, to honor babies, young children and the season. 

 

As heated debate about health care in America is once again raging and dividing people, I bumped into one post that I wrote seven years ago. I revisited the post and slightly modified it for my weekly French Friday. Si vous préfèrez me lire en français c’est ici. Une version plus courte et aussi plus récente puisque le billet remonte à 2013.

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Our second child was due only five months after our arrival in the States. Most recent immigrants wouldn’t have bothered with health insurance, but we were French and it didn’t occur to us that we could raise a toddler and give birth without some health coverage. So we searched for our plan.

We found an agent, accustomed to people like us, young foreigners who spoke funny but armed with unlimited optimism. When we left his office, we had health insurance and I had become an Alien with Preexisting Condition.

I could now search for a pediatrician and found one in our neighborhood. One morning, my one-year-old woke up crying, her cheeks red and her small hands stuck to her ears.

Bobo, Maman, bobo, Maman,” she said.

I had no doubt she was in pain and took her temperature: 38.6. I called the clinic and rushed her in as soon as they gave me an appointment.

Colorful bulky chairs and a climbing structure for the children – there was even a matching one in a small yard outside – replaced the “Louis XVI style” chairs at my Parisian doctor’s office. The nurses wore tunics printed with teddy bears above pink cotton loose pants and they walked in rubber clogs. Nametags like the checkout clerks at Safeway were pinned on their pocket-chest. My little girl’s pediatrician was dressed in a crisp, long white coat above his polo shirt and khaki pants. In Paris, her doctor wore elegant suits and ties.

“Are you running a fever, sweetie?” The nurse sat my daughter on the exam table.

“She has 38.6,” I said.

The nurse gently slid a thermometer in my daughter’s mouth, less invasive than the barbaric French kind. “101.4,” she read.

“Oh non!” I exclaimed instinctively in French.

“Fahrenheit,” the nurse said, kindly patting my arm.

For a while I panicked when nurses announced that my children were not ill because their temperature was only 99F. And I would also feel much warmer when outdoor temperatures reached 100 F and not 37.7 Celsius.

“Nothing too serious,” the pediatrician said after he had fully examined my little girl. “Regular BM?” he asked

“BM?” I repeated, parrot-like.

French aren’t embarrassed when it comes to body functions, so it took me a while to refer to the contents of my daughter’s diaper as a BM. After many years in America, I would also say UTI, PMS and IBS, and learn that stomach for Americans covers a much larger territory than the organ used in the human digestive system.

“Here you go, sweetie,” the nurse said, presenting my daughter with a small basket overflowing with colorful stickers. “You can have one.”

My daughter picked a sticker that the nurse applied onto her T-shirt while the pediatrician scribbled a few words on a prescription pad.

“Antibiotics for a few days will do,” he said with a gentle pat on his young patient’s head.

“Do you do house visits?” I asked. “And do you take new patients?”

“I don’t do house visits. Unless your child is too ill to be taken to my office – then you dial 911 – you must book an appointment for checkups and immunizations. But yes, I take new patients and I would be very happy to meet your new baby after she’s born.”

“What about my daughter’s diet?” I asked when he slipped his pen in his pocket and handed me the prescription.

He smiled warmly. “She’s healthy. She can eat anything. Just avoid too much fat and sugar. Frozen yogurt is better than ice cream.”

I remembered the detailed instructions related to food that our Parisian pediatrician provided. He would have come to our apartment to check on my daughter, but he also expected his patients’ parents to obey his rules.

This new pediatrician, I thought, is cool. Like all doctors I’ve met here, actually. Way less intimidating than their French counterparts.

I had also immediately noticed how being pregnant in the States had nothing to do with the special status I received in France. With my first pregnancy, I entered the magic world of pregnant women. Perfect strangers of all age and gender would open the door for me and offer their seat on the bus or subway. I could cut in line since French pregnant women receive a priority card. After my daughter’s birth, I was entitled to free postnatal workout at a physical therapy office. No excuse for not having a six-pack after giving birth in France.

Far from my native country I became aware that French pregnant women had advantages and I missed the extra attention, yet I also questioned the rationale behind. Was it, for example, the role of a government to decide of its female citizens’ appropriate waistline?

In France, I had also read alarming articles about the high rate of Caesarian births in the US. My French obstetrician admitted that my chances of having a C-section were much higher than in France. I convinced myself that a Caesarian wouldn’t be the end of the world.

Being pregnant in the US turned to be a totally different business than expecting a baby in France. At my first American prenatal checkup I had, à la française, fully undressed. With an embarrassed smile, the nurse handed me the strange-looking paper gown she had left neatly folded on the exam table before leaving the room. I had dismissed it but now slipped on the thin material. In my haste, I mistook the back for the front, which offered limited body coverage.

In France, nobody cared about me being naked, but I was weighed every single month during my pregnancy, and sternly reminded to gain only a reasonable amount. Once my OB scolded me for two extra kilos. In the States, I couldn’t fully undress, but it didn’t matter if I got fat. My American physician, unlike my French one, didn’t obsess about my weight, but he urged me to take prenatal vitamins and seemed a little obsessed with my due date.

“Vitamins are very important,” he argued when I said I was eating lots of fruit and vegetables. “Also we cannot go beyond early May,” he insisted. I asked him if he had any specific concern.

“No. But we cannot wait indefinitely.” I reminded him that the baby was not late, not even due yet. “Still,” he said.

I had noticed that Americans ran on a faster clock than the French. Was it why American babies, unlike the French, couldn’t be late at their first rendezvous with earth?

Although it felt less theatrical to be pregnant the American way, one aspect worried me. My parents and in-laws had told us that they wouldn’t be able to take any days off at the time of the delivery. We had to find a babysitter who would take care of our daughter while I would be at the hospital. We were a few years away from the arrival of the Internet, so the Bay Area still relied on good old phonebooks. After many unsuccessful calls, I found Laura, a young woman who worked in Oakland with newborns whose mothers were crack addicts. Laura was also a masseuse and a babysitter. All positions fully accredited. Through Laura I discovered that many Americans worked two, three, or even more jobs. Laura was also kind and smart, and we immediately got along well.

Relieved to have secured someone, who could stay with our daughter when needed, lifted a weight from our shoulders. I spent the next two months soaking up California sun either in our backyard or at the playground, which had become our second home. This pregnancy seemed likely to end on a more relaxed note than it had started in France.

Still, on my way to the San Francisco Children’s Hospital, on a busy Saturday night, I wondered if delivering a baby in America would be as surprisingly different as the prenatal visits had been.

“Please, hurry up, it’s an emergency!” my husband begged the front gate attendant when we showed up at the Emergency Room entrance.

He wasn’t a first time father, yet he acted like one. He had zoomed through a red light, honking across the intersection while cars and buses pulled over. I suspected that he was living one of his secret dream moments: being Dirty Harry roaming San Francisco. Now that we were at the hospital, he was as anxious as I was to welcome our baby safely.

“Can we see your insurance card?” was the guard’s reply.

“Can’t you see it’s an emergency?” repeated my husband.

“I’m okay,” I said, breathing in and out like a pro as a young man pushed my wheelchair to the maternity wing of the hospital. In France you walk to your delivery room, unless you really can’t walk.

Our new baby took only a few minutes to travel from the dark cocoon of my womb to the brightly lit American world. It was such a fast delivery that the doctor didn’t even make it. I had delivered the year before in Paris, surrounded by my obstetrician, an anesthetist, the midwife who had taught me the tricks of the sans- douleur accouchement or the painless delivery, and two nurses.

In my San Francisco room, the word “delivery” was different. Only a nurse and a resident assisted me, giving to the event an intimate atmosphere I had missed in Paris. Yet it would have been somehow reassuring to see the obstetrician. Also since I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast I was starving. A vision of a delicious tray came to my mind and my mouth watered. A warm vegetable soup, then a tomato and mozzarella salad, a piece of crusty baguette and a slice of brie, and to end on a sweet note a mousse au chocolat would have been perfect. I envisioned a sparkling Perrier with lemon zest to appease my thirst. After all, last year in France, the food had been close to that in a four-star restaurant.

The nurse read my mind. “You must be hungry,” she said kindly. “But the kitchens are closed now. Let me see what I can do.” She returned with a huge grin. “I have something for you!” she announced cheerfully, handing me a can of freezing cold Coca-Cola.

That’s how my husband and I toasted our newborn. If the Coca-Cola didn’t taste like the Perrier I dreamed of, it was, however, cold and sparkling, and I polished off the can with the ferocity of a marathon runner.

“Congratulations and Happy Mother’s Day!” the nurse said. Our baby was born less than an hour before Mother’s Day. The nurse smiled and peeked at her. “She’s gorgeous and healthy. You can go home,” she added.

“In the morning, yes,” my husband said.

The nurse looked puzzled. “Now,” she said.

“Now?” my husband repeated. “You’re kidding, right?”

“Your wife and baby are doing well. You can return to the comfort of your home,” the nurse said with another warm smile.

I was tempted. I had done my grocery shopping the day before and I pictured the loaded fridge and stocked cupboards.

“No way,” said my husband.

I felt fine now that I was wrapped as tightly as a mummy in warm blankets and my baby had already returned to sleep, but my husband with his pale face and red rimmed eyes didn’t seem ready for another ride on the One-O-One at two in the morning, with a newborn and her mother in tow.

So, that’s how I spent my first American Mother’s Day in the company of my satiated baby and my roaring stomach.

The morning cereal, whole milk, and weak coffee were close to the French first class service after the forced diet I endured until breakfast. Calliope was healthy and I was well, but I wondered why the only edible thing I had been offered had been a can of Coca-Cola when a French hospital had fed me for a week with gourmet meals. Yet I slurped my soggy Raisin Bran in a few spoonfuls as I had savored my grapefruit juice, yogurt with granola, croissants, and fancy tea across the Atlantic. Nothing better than a nap for a new mother, but I wasn’t allowed this small luxury.

“You are good to go!” the doctor decided cheerfully.

I expected some kind of French checkup but I only received a maternity bag filled with lots of goodies for baby and mom in place of the long list of recommendations the French doctors and nurses handed me when I left the maternity.

About an hour after I got home, my mother called.

“What are you doing here?” she said, expecting my husband to pick up the phone.

I told her that I had returned home after being instructed to leave in the middle of the night, a couple of hours after giving birth.

“I know that you like it over there,” she said. “Over there” sounded like a bad word. “But do you think it’s the proof of a great country to treat new mothers like that?”

I skipped the Alien with Preexisting Condition status and the Coca-Cola episode; she would have called the French embassy to require an emergency rapatriement.

My mother-in-law was as shocked. “What in the world are those American doctors thinking?”

It would have been a complete lack of etiquette to mention the Coca-Cola toasting to my mother-in-law having been born in Champagne, and her mother living in Epernay, the capital of the most renowned French Champagne brands.

I listened to both of them, sitting at my kitchen table as the fragrant scent of the eucalyptuses wafted through the open windows. France was so far. How could I tell my family that I was now living in a country where the cost of health care was so expensive that new mothers are sent home – escorted in a wheelchair to their cars – as soon as possible?

How could I also tell, without hurting them, that if I had only stayed for a few hours at the hospital, everybody had been supportive and kind, and that I had felt much more in charge than I had in Paris, where the medical staff had decided for me what was good or not?

The French social security system was only a word to me anymore. My mother and mother-in-law had lived for too long with the reassuring feeling of being taken care of to understand my new life.

I reflected on the paradox: in France being pregnant is not a pre existing condition but a pregnant woman receives extra attention and care while in the US expecting a baby is not a big deal yet health insurers providers are allowed to tag pregnancy as a preexisting condition.

In 1991 nobody would have thought that the American health care system would some day go through significant changes, the most important regarding the impossibility for health care insurers to deny treatment to anyone with preexisting condition. In 2017 nobody with a heart would want to go back to those days.

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P.S. I couldn’t miss the single Like I received on the original version of this post 🙂

I was new to blogging and started as an exercise to improve my English, but someone stopped by.

Wow, Mona, my blogger friend, we’ve known each other for seven years! Thank you for your visit and your Like.

 

 

Monthly Monday Miam-Miam: Halloween Books to Devour

Pumpkins, pumpkins everywhere

We had been in the USA for less than a year when our first Halloween arrived. With a toddler and a baby at home we hadn’t even thought of Halloween until we couldn’t avoid the decorated front lawns, the store windows and the pumpkin patches all over the Bay Area. At the office, my husband overheard big party plans. On my side I read horrific stories about poisoned candies. We deducted that Halloween was a wild affair, probably not recommended for a family like ours. At that time we lived at the end of a country road, still within walking distance from a small downtown, but away from the more lively Peninsula’s towns. On Halloween night, we agreed to turn the porch lights off to avoid wild visitors 🙂

 

And witches…

Sounds weird and extreme?

We were born and raised in France where Halloween was not celebrated back then.

In France, we celebrate the dead on La Toussaint, a day where people flower cemeteries in memory of their loved one. The chosen potted plants are mums. Years later, while visiting us in California, my mother described my porch as morbid when she saw my beautiful colorful potted chrysanthemums.

Traditions can be quite different from one place to another.

Nowadays Halloween is celebrated in France, but mostly with costumed dance parties and some organized events in big cities such as Paris. Our childish trick or treat doesn’t have its equivalent in France. And pumpkins are not the stars of the season. The French use potiron, fleshier and sweeter fruit than the pumpkin to make soups or even jams, but the pumpkin-flavored month of October, is very American.

One of my kids’ original trick or treat “cauldron”

In memory of our first no-Halloween, a rather old picture book since it was published in 2000 that illustrates how newcomers to a foreign land can fear a cultural event, only because they know nothing about it. The book doesn’t have the same resonance now as more countries celebrate some sort of Halloween, but the story still illustrates how cultural differences can seem scary when discovered.

Shy Mama’s Halloween written by Anne Broyles and illustrated by Leane Morin

A moving story on the impact of a simple holiday on a family newly arrived to the USA. For the four children Halloween seems maybe strange but mostly fun and exciting. For their mama, though, it is a much greater step out into a new world. And as it is always with immigrants, the children become the teachers.

There are countless Halloween-themed children’s picture books. All are adorably spooky and will delight children as young as two.

For the little ones in your life:

Llama, Llama Trick or Treat written and illustrated by Anne Dewdney.

Told with only a few words the story describes little llama’s struggles as he searches for the perfect Halloween costume. Perfect book for the very young children and anyone who loves the other great books in the Series Llama Llama.

Spooky Pookie written and illustrated by Sandra Boynton.

I spotted the hardcover book while in line at Whole Foods. Like little llama, Pookie cannot decide what to wear for Halloween. Very young children will totally understand the piglet’s dilemma. Adorably cute.

Bonaparte Falls Apart written by Margery Cuyler and illustrated by Will Terry.

A French-native couldn’t miss the title 🙂

Although the book is not about Halloween, Bonaparte the skeleton losing its bones on the day before school starts will delight school-aged kids and make a perfect read-aloud story for Halloween night.

More pumpkins

For Teenagers:

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks written by E. Lockhart, one of the biggest names in American contemporary literature for teenagers. The novel has been widely acclaimed upon publication, and won the prestigious Michael Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult literature and was a National Book Award Finalist.

Although the book is not about Halloween the pranks that Frankie, the high school sophomore protagonist, elaborates as a revolt against the school all-male secret society take place on Halloween Day. The novel will satisfy every teen girl who’s tired to be labeled adorable and harmless instead of smart and capable.

Told in the third person, unlike most novels for teens, and from a narrator addressing directly the reader, this is one of the most original books I read recently and I highly recommend it beyond Halloween to empower any teenage girl in your life.

My mini Halloween counter corner

For adults:

Cold Iron. Ghost Stories from the 21st Century.

This slim volume includes a collection of seventeen stories that pay homage to the ghost story tradition, while being very contemporary.

I bought it from Iron Press, the editor based in the UK, when I found out that my talented blogger friend Andrea Stephenson had written one story for this collection.

The Last Bus Home is set on a late night service bus and told by the bus driver. It’s a classic ghost story involving the mysterious disappearance of a young girl, now rooming the exact place where she was last seen.

From her blog, Harvesting Hecate, Andrea writes about the intimate relationship between nature and human beings and how seasons and landscapes influence our creativity and mood in general. In her short story the setting and weather play significant roles too.

Because something, somewhere is always on sale on any given American holiday

Special time of the year calls for special tea

My most favorite moment on Halloween night is to open my door onto costumed children. The youngest ones are of course the most adorable, sometimes led by older siblings, but most often by their parents or adults who watch from a safe distance their little trick-or-treaters pronouncing these simple and yet very strange words to any newcomer to America,

“Trick or treat?”

We are more than a week away from Halloween, so as you wait for candies and other sugary treats, I hope you’ll devour a book or two.

As for me, as you can see through this post’s photos, I want to enjoy every day of the fall,

my most favorite season of all.

 

From my front porch to yours

P.S. Pour mes lecteurs français plus récents j’ai retrouvé ce billet écrit dans notre belle langue à propos de cette fête d’Halloween vécue aux Etats Unis. Si vous fêtez en France cette année amusez-vous bien!

French Friday: A Moment to Cherish

I don’t think women support each other as much as they could and should. Also, women don’t always give credit to the ones who support them, sometimes only because they are too young to realize that these older women who support them have been once young, too.

It happened to me, decades ago.

I was fresh out of school, a Master in French literature in my pocket, and had decided that I would no teach but work in the publishing industry. Unemployment was high in France, and I wasn’t naïve enough to believe that I could find the ideal job right away. My hope was to search while keeping a pretty much full-time babysitting job, which I never really considered a job since the three-year-old I was watching over was an adorable, smart little kid. Unfortunately, due to big changes in his parents’ lives, I was no longer needed. Overnight my plans shifted. I had to find a job. Now.

I left my résumé everywhere but was told to garder les pieds sur terre or to live in the real world: hiring was low, especially since I had no professional experience. I figured anyone had to start somewhere, so I kept going. Two weeks passed and one day I found a message on my answering machine. I had to call back one of the largest French publishing houses as soon as possible.

The HR department wasn’t located in the Parisian editorial buildings but in the nearby suburbs, only three metro stations away and an additional ten-minute walk, also at the other end of my metro line, almost an hour from my apartment. But I couldn’t care less as I got ready for the meeting.

Though I had always worked as a student, I had never held a clerical job that would have required owning a business suit or at least a professional-looking outfit. To be frank, I didn’t really think about it. So I showed up in my best pair of pants, which basically were jeans, only a shade darker than my regular faded ones, a blouse, also retrospectively too casual, and my leather satchel that already looked vintage. I was not yet 22-years-old and spent most of my free time reading and listening to music, going to concerts and to the movies rather than shopping for clothes and makeup.

On that early June morning as I waited in the lobby for my appointment, I observed several men going in and out from the building. I understood they were employees considering how the receptionist welcomed them. They seemed so comfortable in their well-cut suits and expensive shoes. One day, I thought, I will also be known by my name. I will also wear a smart suit and nice heels and carry a briefcase. My blooming dreams were cut short when a young woman appeared and asked me to follow her. She knocked at a large door at the end of a long hallway and stepped aside, leaving me facing the closed door.

A confident female booming voice replied, “Come on in!”

“Go ahead,” said the young woman. “They are waiting for you.”

Two women stood in a vast office, their backs turned to large windows letting in the pale Parisian light. One was statuesque in her knee-length, long-sleeved stylish dress, and about then years younger than my mother. The other one clad in a conservative belted dress that accentuated the fact that she was slightly overweight was older than my mother. The tall one intimidated me right away, but I wasn’t fooled by her colleague’s grandmotherly look. As they scanned me from head to toe I was fully aware that they meant business. I also came to realize that everything about me was wrong or at least appeared as such.

I would never get that job. I was too young. That was something I could not change. I looked too young. And that was something I could have altered. With different clothes, with other shoes, with my long hair tied and not loose on my back, with a little bit of makeup, with…

But I was there and the interview started.

After the standard questions about my academic and “professional” background the two women who had sat across from me the whole time stood up. I jumped up, too, which brought a first smile to their red-lipstick mouths. I blushed. Should I have remained seated? I decided against.

Now that the two women had turned their backs to me, facing the windows, my thoughts matched my heartbeats. I felt like leaving, fleeing even. They were of course deciding against hiring me. They could only find me unfit. It just took them an excruciating time to tell me.

This is when I overheard this brief conversation:

“Don’t you think she looks awfully young?”

“She is very young.”

“Do you believe that someone so young can…”

I will never know if they suddenly remembered me, but they lowered their voices. Their whispering voices didn’t make me feel better. The verdict had been given: I was too young.

As it is the case in other situations in life – I would of course learn that many, many years later- we don’t always read people very well when we are directly concerned.

I got the job.

You’re filled with energy, said the grandmotherly-looking woman, and God knows how badly we need new blood.

I was temporarily hired to fulfill the position of a woman on early maternity leave. There was the allusion to the possibility of a full time job and later to professional fully paid training in the publishing industry. Another appointment was booked in the next few days. A contract would be signed. It was crucial that I could start working immediately.

By then my legs couldn’t resist a crazy dance. My arms couldn’t stay calm along my sides. I climbed down the stairs, not as elegantly as I planned to do when I had dreamed of my future, but in such a quick way that the receptionist nodded in my direction. She had obviously seen many people go up to the same office and leave in different states of mood.

When outside, I trailed my fingers along the letters carved into the plaque that read the name of the prestigious company. A little bit mine now. Then I threw my fists in the air. In 2017, I imagine I would shout, “YES!” I would take selfies and post on Facebook and Instagram, letting the whole world or at least my social friends know about this YES moment. Back then, my small solitary jig on this grey piece of sidewalk was solely mine and it felt bold enough.

I would work closely with the two women who hired me, particularly the grandmother-looking one who would slowly warm up to me. I loved listening to the stories of her early professional career in an almost exclusive male environment. She kicked ass and thus wasn’t very well liked. The HR lady was single and people imagined all kind of reasons for her singlehood. After all, it was still a man’s world.

Patricia Kass singing James Brown. In English with a French accent.

Later, at work but also in other circumstances, I will learn that many men and as many women need to tag whoever doesn’t exactly fit any box. For their own comfort because difference feels so unsafe to them.

Despite everything I heard about my bosses they held their promises. One day, after a fully paid year of training, I entered the editorial building. I would see them on rare occasions now, but when we bumped into each other we spoke. About my job mostly, but a little more as years passed. Based on my co-workers’ comments, both were opinionated to the point of being unflexible. I could understand their point of view.

But these women had been trailblazers, too. And they had believed in me and gave me my proudest, most jubilant professional moment.

One I now cherish, so many years later and so many miles away.

 

This post is part of the Cherished Blogfest. The blogfest is hosted by Damyanti Biswas, Dan AntionCheryl PenningtonPeter NenaSharukh Bamboat, Mary Giese, Kate Powell, and Paul Ruddock. It is open to anyone who wants to tell the world about something or someone they cherish. If you want to join, click here. The window of posting for the Blogfest has been extended and is open until Midnight October 22.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

French Friday: Speak up

If there is one single thing I know about me is that I am a half-full glass kind of person.

Call me naïve but….

I refuse to believe that the news is only dark.

I refuse to believe that there are more bad people than good.

As devastating as 2017 has been on so many different levels so far across our planet, I refuse to fall into despair. Which has meant choosing to stay away from blogging about politics or topics leading to heated controversy, and thus contributing to the divide that’s killing the world.

However, earlier this week, I came to realize that being guarded edges too closely cowardice or at least a desire to remain in my comfort zone. Since my blog represents my French-American dual identities I couldn’t remind silent on two topics that are currently making the news in both France and the USA.

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You would have to live without TV, a phone, and newspapers and to be very isolated to ignore the recent sexual assault and rape accusations against the movie producer Harvey Weinstein. No need to go into details. No need to name the women, mostly Hollywood actresses, who accuse the godly man. Some had accepted financial settlements in exchange for their silence. Others kept quiet for reasons most women can understand, particularly in an industry where fame can be built in one movie and destroyed with another, when success is almost always related to looks and age and almost always between the hands of powerful older men, but also simply because when sexual assault and rape happen girls, young women, and boys, too are convinced that they did something wrong. However, since the first accusations surfaced, more women are speaking up. Years later. Often as much as twenty years later.

Statements and declarations are also made. Some people, women and a few men, pretend not knowing what was happening. Others admit that they kind of knew but never suspected the extent of the despicable business Weinstein was running. Many, many more are still opting for silence.

The French Cannes Festival has issued its own statement denouncing the producer’s inacceptable behavior. Looks like, however, they still glorify Roman Polanski and Woody Allen, both accused of rape and sexual assault on minor girls who spoke up. Immediately.

****

Only a few weeks before the Hollywood scandal, a 28-year-old man sexually assaulted and then raped an 11-year-old girl in the Parisian suburbs. The sixth-grader who was on her way from school when she was coerced was in such shock that she froze and didn’t fight back. However, she told her mother. Immediately. Not twenty-years later, obviously. Yet the trial, postponed until February, will be hold in a French court that handles infractions and not crimes. The girl’s rapist is likely to be incarcerated for five years maximum.

The young woman looks older and more sexually precocious than an 11-year-old girl, has said the lawyer who defends the accused. On the other side, he added, my client looks younger than a 28-year-old man.

Please.

I suppose that by now most of you who assume that France is an advanced country on so many levels are getting uncomfortable. Read furthermore:

In 2017 the victims of sexual assaults or rapes must prove that their aggressor or rapist used force, violence, threat or total surprise. Otherwise, mutual consent from both parties is implied. The victims and aggressors’ age doesn’t count, unless the victim is younger than five. Only these children are automatically considered too young to consent.

This is the current law in France. Which lags behind most other European countries on sexual assault and rape.

Fortunately many French people are outraged and want the law to change. I suspect that most had just discovered this law. If you want to read more about the topic of sexual age consent in contemporary France, I recommended this article in the Opinion section of the New York Times. I back up the French journalist on all points.

****

In the end, it’s always a matter of power. Whether using physical force or not, age almost always matters when one human being dominates another.

It outrages me that no one, whether in France or in the U.S. is mentioning that in the first place an adult should never approach a much younger person, regardless of the gender, to obtain sexual favors. In fact, an adult should never even think of approaching a much younger person for sexual reasons.

I want to believe that real adults don’t.

That’s the note of hope I want to hold on as these two separate events have distressed me more than I first realized.

Real adults don’t see younger human beings as objects placed in their way for their sexual pleasure.

Real adults remember being young and eager girls and boys, full of hope and big dreams. Real adults see the future of our world in the girls and boys they meet. Not sex.

Shame on anyone who disagrees.

I spoke up once. I was 21. I knew the French law perfectly well, and although I could prove myself I also knew that the police but also some of the very, very few people who knew would question my clothes, my hair, my looks, me. I knew I would not win anything and I didn’t.

Yet I spoke up.

Because I would have lost myself if I had remained silent.

****

For a whole week, until this morning, I’ve debated whether or not I would hit the Publish button. Because in fact, despite everything I want to believe, I still deal with that eternal thought: What did I do wrong?

I owe the courage to speak up again, decades later, to my brave, loving daughter who told me that this was way too important to shut up about.

Sometimes, I dream that all of us would stand up together and that our number would be so overwhelmingly big that we would shame everyone who didn’t believe us, turned their head the other way, urged us to remain quiet for their own peace of mind.

Girls and young women but also boys and young men don’t win ANYTHING when they speak up about being sexually assaulted and raped, but we ALL lose when they don’t.

Speak up.

Tulips that my husband chose for me. A real adult. A great man.

P.S. Although I didn’t remove the Comments option, I’d rather not receive comments on this post. Your Like (don’t we wish for other icons sometimes?) will mean that you read and much, much more importantly that you believe the ones who speak up.

French Friday: Marcel Proust in my American Kitchen

Before giving birth to my first child I seldom cooked. My husband and I worked full-time and lived in Paris where we could easily buy our dinner on the way home from the office.

Our daughter didn’t transform us into accomplished chefs, but we could no longer ignore our kitchen. Feeding a baby is serious business in France. When our child was ready for solid food, her Parisian pediatrician wrote down menu ideas. They went something like this:

30 grams of green vegetables

40 grams of other vegetables

10 grams of fish or poultry, carefully deboned and very finely cut

Add a pinch of salt and a dollop of butter

We became experts at weighing and making purees and fruit compotes.

Moving to California, where I immediately noticed the abundance of packaged food, including for babies, could have reversed these skills. I must confess that I was tempted to buy baby food instead of making everything from scratch. But my daughter, already a true gourmet, had not only refused to eat cold puree on our long flight from Paris to San Francisco but also said no to store-bought baby food. This is why the first appliance we bought in America turned out to be a food processor. This is also why the kitchen scale my mother offered me when she hoped to transform me into a perfect housewife, came in handy.

In California, alone in my kitchen, lost among cups, spoons, ounces, and pounds, while I had known only the metric system, and owned one French cookbook I had almost never opened, I had little guidance. Even the oven acted weirdly. In France, my oven had three settings: Thermostat One, Two, Three. Preheating at 375F hinted at disaster.

My First Set of Measuring Cups and Spoons

When I realized that from now on I would have to feed not only my little girl but also soon another child, my husband and incidentally me, I improvised. In the end, I did like anyone else. I tried with more or less success. But no one starved.

I had always enjoyed baking more than cooking. But I found most American desserts too sweet. So I asked my mother for recipes of my favorite childhood treats. Over the phone but more often by snail mail, she gave me her recipes. I first used my French kitchen scale and one by one, often upon request from new American friends, I converted these recipes in cups and spoons.

My kids’ French favorites were (are) Crepes, Clafoutis, Pear Cake and Madeleines.

Madeleines remain the small French sweet treat most of my American friends mention at some point. When macaroons are all the rage in the U.S. and France gets gaga over cupcakes and mug cakes, madeleines remain timeless. Thanks to Marcel Proust who transformed this French familiar mini cake into an international literary classic.

So now, when I invite someone new at my home for coffee or when I’m invited to meet new people I almost always serve or bring madeleines.

Here is my recipe, specially dedicated to my blogger friend Kimberly who told me that her young son is a fan of madeleines and that she’d love to bake some with him. Let me know how it goes, Kimberly!

Getting Started

 

Ingredients for about 15 madeleines:

2 large eggs

½ cup sugar

5 Tablespoons unsalted and melted butter

¾ cup of flour

1 Teaspoon of baking powder

Zest of ½ lemon

¼ Teaspoon of vanilla extract

Note: Since a mold holds only 12 madeleines, you either need two molds or when the first batch is done you wait until the mold is no longer burning hot and butter and flour three of the tin shells. Et voilà!

Ready to Be Baked

In a bowl, whisk or blend the eggs and the sugar. I use an electric mixer on low speed until the mixture is frothy. Add the melted slightly cooled butter and blend. With the mixer still on low speed incorporate the flour, baking powder, zest, and vanilla until blended. Cover the bowl with a towel and let the batter rest for 1 hour.

Meanwhile butter and flour the mold. After 1 hour whisk the batter a little bit, then spoon gently in the mold, filling each shell ¾ full. Bake at 375F on the middle rack until the madeleines are risen and gold, about 10 to 11 minutes.

In the Oven

When the madeleines are ready, gently lift them from the mold. Serve immediately or cool them and store them in an airtight box.

Hot From the Oven

 

I don’t remember having once kept them for more than a day 🙂

This One is for the Baker

 

 

 

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