Victoria Jelinek


Covid-19, May 4, 2020

“All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” Blaise Pascal

France decided to open up the schools in phases starting May 11th. The first to go back are elementary school kids. Our son is in the equivalent to third grade.

We received a form from our son’s teacher to fill out on Friday stating whether we’d return our child to school or not so that they could submit it to the Mayor’s office on Monday – today – to begin making plans for the rentrée. I opted to speak to the teacher about it to see what she thought (she rose exponentially in my estimation since quarantine). She said that not only are spaces limited, the same principles of the confinement remain: the objective is still to keep infection down in order to permit hospitals to tend to those who need help. That there are small children being left at home because they have a single parent who needs to work, or both parents work, or there are children whose parents can’t, or won’t, help the kids with their schoolwork. Reopening the school for little ones is an effort to help these kids and their parents. This sealed the deal for me. Yes, I’m anxious about working with a precocious single child at home. I’m worried about being able to work, and I also need time alone to replenish myself. With a small child at home, who doesn’t seem to be able to be autonomous unless he’s on a screen (watching TV, or a film, or playing an electronic game), which is, perhaps, normal, I don’t know, it’s incredibly disruptive for both my husband and me. We consequently argue about who does what and who has done more. (I often end up working after the boy and the man are in bed, going to bed very late, then waking up early when they wake up – I’m very tired…zzz…).

‘Kvetch’ aside, I feel relieved with our decision to keep our son home for the ‘bigger picture’ (in addition to what seems to be an unnecessary risk for the moment). I think the interesting element to this corona experience – the whole social phenomena’s we’re witnessing will be, I believe, written about sociologically for a long time to come (or until we humans make ourselves extinct), is that at the same time we’re isolated from each other, forced to distance physically from each other, we’re thinking about each other now more than ever. Or MUST think about each other now more than ever. We must work together to ensure the survival of our species, and the way to do that is to distance ourselves from others when possible. It’s not just ourselves and our own interests we’re thinking about for the first time in a long time. We’re being asked to consider everyone when limiting contacts, our potential exposure to the virus (with outings, errands, plans, etc.), washing hands. Even wearing a mask is a sign of consideration, a, “I’m helping YOU keep safe” sort-of-thing. It’s quite lovely, actually, when you think of it this way. It makes one feel less alone, more purposeful, and, arguably, reinforces the argument that humans are worth saving (perhaps).

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“Toutes les misères des hommes dérivent de ne pas pouvoir s’asseoir seuls dans une pièce calme.” Blaise Pascal

La France a décidé d’ouvrir les écoles par phases à partir du 11 mai. Les premiers à y retourner sont les enfants des écoles élémentaires. Notre fils est dans l’équivalent de la troisième année.

Vendredi, nous avons reçu un formulaire de l’enseignant de notre fils indiquant si nous devions retourner notre enfant à l’école ou non afin qu’il puisse le soumettre au bureau du maire lundi – aujourd’hui – pour commencer à planifier la rentrée. J’ai choisi d’en parler au enseignante pour voir ce qu’elle en pensait (elle a augmenté de façon exponentielle à mon avis depuis la confinement). Elle a dit que non seulement les espaces sont limités, mais les mêmes principes de confinement demeurent: l’objectif est toujours de limiter l’infection afin de permettre aux hôpitaux de soigner ceux qui ont besoin d’aide. Qu’il y a des petits enfants à la maison parce qu’ils ont un parent seul qui doit travailler, ou les deux parents travaillent, ou qu’il y a des enfants dont les parents ne peuvent pas, où ne vont pas, aider les enfants dans leurs devoirs. La réouverture de l’école pour les tout-petits est un effort pour aider ces enfants et leurs parents. Cela a scellé l’accord pour moi. Oui, je suis impatient de travailler avec un enfant célibataire précoce à la maison. Je suis inquiet de pouvoir travailler et j’ai aussi besoin des temps tout seul pour me reconstituer. Avec un petit enfant à la maison, qui ne semble pas capable d’être autonome à moins d’être sur un écran (regarder la télévision, un film ou jouer à un jeu électronique), ce qui est peut-être normal, je ne sais pas , c’est incroyablement perturbant pour mon mari et moi. Par conséquent, nous discutons de qui fait quoi et qui a fait plus. (Je finis souvent par travailler après que le garçon et l’homme soient au lit, se couchant très tard, puis se réveillant tôt quand ils se réveillent – je suis très fatigué … zzz …).

«Kvetch» ​​mis à part, je me sens soulagé de notre décision de garder notre fils à la maison pour la «vue d’ensemble» (en plus de ce qui semble être un risque inutile pour le moment). Je pense que l’élément intéressant de cette expérience corona – l’ensemble des phénomènes sociaux auxquels nous assistons sera, je crois, écrit sur le plan sociologique pendant longtemps à venir (ou jusqu’à ce que nous, les humains, nous nous éteignions), c’est qu’en même temps nous ‘nous sommes isolés les uns des autres, forcés de s’éloigner physiquement les uns des autres, nous pensons plus que jamais les uns aux autres. Ou DOIT penser les uns aux autres maintenant plus que jamais. Nous devons travailler ensemble pour assurer la survie de notre espèce, et la façon de le faire est de nous éloigner des autres lorsque cela est possible. Ce n’est pas seulement nous-mêmes et nos propres intérêts auxquels nous pensons pour la première fois depuis longtemps. On nous demande de tenir compte de tout le monde lors de la limitation des contacts, de notre exposition potentielle au virus (avec sorties, courses, projets, etc.), du lavage des mains. Même le port d’un masque est un signe de considération, une sorte de chose «je t’aide à rester en sécurité». C’est plutôt joli, en fait, quand on y pense de cette façon. Cela fait que l’on se sent moins seul, plus résolu et, sans doute, renforce l’argument selon lequel les humains valent la peine d’être sauvés (peut-être).

 



37°2 le matin: Version Integral (Betty Blue: Director’s Cut)

Zorg, a handyman, is living a peaceful life in rural France, working diligently and writing in his spare time. Then Betty, a vivacious and unpredictable woman, walks into his life. Initially, her wild ways are fun and spontaneous and Zorg falls in love with her, but Betty’s behavior slowly gets out of control as she spirals into insanity.

indexThe film opens on a shot that creeps up on a couple making love on a bed – their sweating intimacy is contrasted by a voiceover telling us that they’ve only known each other a week. Every moment of Jean-Jacques Beineix’s film carries the seal of its country of origin as well as the era in which it was made. Only in the 1980’s could such a tragic film be created with such a visually-gorgeous-but-empty style. Only in France could a story of passionate love open so erotically. Only in France could a film’s tone be misogynist, seeming to blame Betty’s insanity on the inherent ‘madness’ of the female of the species, and yet seem authentic.

Betty’s descent into insanity and destruction is well paced and compelling. Beatrice Dalle (Betty) didn’t make another film worth noting again, but this film alone was enough to make her an icon of late 20th century cinema – this fact, as well as the insight into the French psyche this film gives the viewer, makes this film one to see even years after it was first released.

 



Arrested Development

The third season of Netflix’s series Ozark was recently released and everyone is talking about it and whether a fourth season will be greenlit. I’m keen because Jason Bateman executive produced it, is directing and starring in the series, and he’s fantastic and talented. An extra boon is that the brilliant and wry Laura Linney co-stars. I always liked Bateman, but he won my admiration through the TV series Arrested Development, so I thought to revisit this work of genius in case you’ve already binge watched season three of Ozark.

arrested devpt

Arrested Development is based on the radically dysfunctional family Bluth (fictional of course). It’s more subversive than Modern Family (btw, I like Modern Family very much). Each season of this brilliant sit-com was always in danger of cancellation despite numerous awards, including several Emmy’s. But this didn’t stop creator Mitchell Hurwitz and the rest of the team (inclusive of Ron Howard, who is its narrator) from defying the usual crowd-pleasing antics of the genre. It made them more satirical and absurd as though they had nothing to lose. The show flouts political correctness as it takes clever and humorous swipes at everything in contemporary society: the comfort of family; the general incompetence of businessmen, inclusive of the television and movie industries (the narrator critiques the art of narration during an episode); war, via “mama’s boy” Buster Bluth’s progression in the US army; and the flawed things we all do to get through our day. One of my favorite episodes includes the montaged intervention for alcoholic mother Lucille Bluth, which turns into “one of the Bluth family’s better parties.” There are running gags about self-absorption, repressed sexually, physical shame, fecklessness, and naiveté. At the center of it all is Michael Bluth, played by Jason Bateman, whose dry, self-effacing wit and deadpan comic delivery, are ideally displayed here.

Watching Arrested Development is time well spent any way you look at it, but especially during our period of confinement.

 

 

 

 

 



British Writer Pens The Best Description Of Trump I’ve Read

This post was published by Michael Stevenson*, aka Dai Bando, Johnny Foreigner, Monsieur Pas De Merde, a blogger of French and British culture. It was some time ago, but I feel that as Trump becomes increasingly dangerous and cruel, and the world – a veritable mess – longs for (reasonable) American leadership, it’s worth looking at this piece again in order to both appreciate great writing as well as to consider, yet again, how fundamentally distasteful Trump is as a human being.

 

British Writer Pens The Best Description Of Trump I’ve Read

 

Someone on Quora asked “Why do some British people not like Donald Trump?” Nate White, an articulate and witty writer from England wrote the following response:

A few things spring to mind.   Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem. For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed. So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.

Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever. I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility – for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman.

But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

Trump is a troll. And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs; he only crows or jeers.   And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults – he actually thinks in them. His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness.

There is never any under-layer of irony, complexity, nuance or depth. It’s all surface.   Some Americans might see this as refreshingly upfront. Well, we don’t. We see it as having no inner world, no soul.   And in Britain we traditionally side with David, not Goliath. All our heroes are plucky underdogs: Robin Hood, Dick Whittington, Oliver Twist. Trump is neither plucky, nor an underdog. He is the exact opposite of that. He’s not even a spoiled rich-boy, or a greedy fat-cat.   He’s more a fat white slug. A Jabba the Hutt of privilege.


And worse, he is that most unforgivable of all things to the British: a bully. That is, except when he is among bullies; then he suddenly transforms into a snivelling sidekick instead.   There are unspoken rules to this stuff – the Queensberry rules of basic decency – and he breaks them all. He punches downwards – which a gentleman should, would, could never do – and every blow he aims is below the belt. He particularly likes to kick the vulnerable or voiceless – and he kicks them when they are down.

So the fact that a significant minority – perhaps a third – of Americans look at what he does, listen to what he says, and then think ‘Yeah, he seems like my kind of guy’ is a matter of some confusion and no little distress to British people, given that:
• Americans are supposed to be nicer than us, and mostly are.
• You don’t need a particularly keen eye for detail to spot a few flaws in the man.

This last point is what especially confuses and dismays British people, and many other people too; his faults seem pretty bloody hard to miss. After all, it’s impossible to read a single tweet, or hear him speak a sentence or two, without staring deep into the abyss. He turns being artless into an art form; he is a Picasso of pettiness; a Shakespeare of shit. His faults are fractal: even his flaws have flaws, and so on ad infinitum. God knows there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid.   He makes Nixon look trustworthy and George W look smart. In fact, if Frankenstein decided to make a monster assembled entirely from human flaws – he would make a Trump.

And a remorseful Doctor Frankenstein would clutch out big clumpfuls of hair and scream in anguish: ‘My God… what… have… I… created? If being a twat was a TV show, Trump would be the boxed set.

 

* https://pasdemerde.com/2019/10/18/british-writer-pens-the-best-description-of-trump-ive-read/



Rentrée scolaire…

Une lettre a un ami concernant l’ouverture d’ecoles en France dans quelque semaines…

unnamedMerci pour le «heads up» de Facebook sur le retour des enfants à l’école (dates, groupes annuels, etc.). Je dois dire que je suis d’accord avec mon mari ici (quelle surprise!): nous allons attendre les notes officielles et voir quels sont leurs plans concrets et quelles mesures tangibles pour protéger les enfants contre le virus seront dès le premier jour, et faire un décision éclairée à ce stade.

Pour moi, me sentir bien à l’idée de retourner mon tout-petit à l’école, un plan pour déplacer les enfants à l’extérieur – à la “Forest School” et au danois – comme le note le mari, serait un très bon début pour améliorer mon niveau de confort.

Et / ou il y a des tests pour chaque enfant, enseignant et membre du personnel de l’école pour vérifier s’ils sont infectés (pas uniquement  lorsqu’ils présentent des symptômes et / ou se rendent à l’hôpital pour obtenir de l’aide, comme l’a dit Macron dans son discours – et , aussi, pour l’instant, les tests sont défectueux). OU, peut-etre, quelqu’un prend la température de chaque enfant et membre du personnel tous les jours quand ils entrent dans les portes (comme le fait l’Asie du Sud-Est pour entrer dans les lieux publics), puis les interdire de l’école, appliquer cela serait essentiel, mettre en quarantaine ceux qui sont malades et retrouver leurs contacts — il peut s’agir d’une application facultative, comme le font les Allemands, les Autrichiens et les Suisses, par opposition à obligatoire, comme les Coréens et les Singapouriens pour protéger les idéaux de la liberté civile. (Cependant, je ne vois pas cela se produire parce que je connais parents qui envoient régulièrement leurs enfants à l’école et qui soulèveraient l’enfer sacré s’ils perdaient leur droit de faire ce qui leur convient le mieux).

Et, comme le dit le chef du syndicat des enseignants en France, en alliance avec le chef des services de santé et des services médicaux en France, ALORS ils doivent embaucher des personnes supplémentaires pour surveiller les enfants dans leurs petits groupes (éloignement social, apprentissage du matériel, lavage des mains – etc. et afin d’aider les enseignants respectifs). Encore une fois, je ne vois pas cela se produire parce que c’est trop cher et que dieu sait que l’éducation publique connaît des difficultés exponentielles. (Les gens – in general – ne réalisent pas que c’est un investissement collectif dans la société de l’avenir et une assurance pour la survie de la démocratie). ET, enfin, ils doivent distribuer des masques à chaque personne (puis imposer le port de ceux-ci).

À l’exception de ces mesures de sécurité, que je pense que ce serait un miracle de voir se produire dans ce délai, SI du tout, j’aimerais qu’il y ait quelques mois au cours desquels le taux d’infections se soit stabilisé, du moins pas augmenté. En l’état, il y a encore beaucoup de nouvelles infections chaque jour en France (ainsi qu’une nouvelle résurgence à Singapour et en Chine, et les dieux savent que le Royaume-Uni et les États-Unis n’ont pas encore atteint leur “crest”) et cela malgré un confinement strict.

De plus, pour qu’une «immunité collective» se produise, il faudrait laisser beaucoup plus de gens tomber malades (ce qui est peut-être POURQUOI ils veulent envoyer nos enfants en premier – des cobayes au nom du plus grand bien) et puis testez l’hypothèse que cela fonctionnera pour créer une sorte d’immunité, comme nous l’espérons / comme il l’a fait avec d’autres virus …il y a un certain sens a cela. Et, nous devons sortire a un moment donne…

Hmmm.

Mon fils me dérange, nous sommes en hémorragie d’argent (la saison de mon mari a été perdue, je n’ai pas travaillé l’année dernière, donc je ne peux pas réclamer d’aide malgré les années de taxes payées) et j’ai une tonne de travail pour me préparer à entrer dans le à nouveau à plein temps en septembre (pour essayer de «keeping the wolves at bay»). MAIS, je ne veux pas prendre un “risque inutile” (comme l’a dit le chef de l’association médicale France) en ce moment. (Mais, c’est encore dans quelques semaines…).

Je comprends les raisons de l’ouverture des écoles. Lancez l’économie. Cela va être une sacrée récession telle qu’elle est (en particulier si les gens continuent de résister à une augmentation de l’âge de la retraite pour aider à payer les avantages que beaucoup reçoivent!). Et beaucoup – y compris nous, comme mentionné – sont hémorragiques et n’ont pas d’épargne, je comprends donc le désir de continuer. Je lève mon chapeau à ceux qui envoient leurs petits courageux (ou inconscients) à l’école, malgré les risques. And, maybe, we will also send our beloved junior to school shortly…

(Je suppose que cela doit être similaire à la façon dont les parents se sentent envoyer leurs enfants à l’école aux États-Unis? Mon enfant ou mes enfants iront probablement bien. Les statistiques soutiennent que tel est le cas. Cependant, avec la prolifération des armes à feu et la violence armée dans les écoles et les espaces publics, il y a toujours une chance qu’ils soient blessés…).

De plus, des articles paraissent soudainement dans les journaux français et anglais sur un enfant de neuf ans (peut-être le même enfant) qui a eu Covid-19, de nombreux contacts et n’a infecté personne. L’hypothèse est qu’ils ne «shed» pas beaucoup de virus et sont moins susceptibles d’être infectés or to infect.

Cependant, je soupçonne qu’il y a des machinations en place (publicite, propaganda?) pour nous mettre à l’aise d’envoyer nos juniors à l’école, parce que ce que j’ai lu dans une variété de journaux – viables aussi – est qu’il est “probable” que les enfants iront bien, et le taux d’infection augmentera, mais il sera «gérable» pour les hôpitaux, etc. Les mots clés étant «probable» et «gérable». (Mais, imaginez si tous les enseignants et educateurs tombent malades! J’ai aimé chacun des professeurs de mon fils des ans, et j’apprécie excessivement son professeur actuel! Perdre l’un d’eux serait une vraie perte.).

Donc, nous allons attendre et voir ce que les fonctionnaires proposent sous peu, et prendre alors une decision eclairee…

 



The Book of Dust – La Belle Sauvage

Book of DustMany years ago, I remember working at a film school and talking to a colleague about the wonderful J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. My then-colleague said, “You’ve not read Philip Pullman, then, have you?” I hadn’t. Later that day, I found my way to a bookstore and bought the His Dark Materials trilogy (written by Pullman) and gulped them down. Once read, I realized there was no comparison: His Dark Materials is, in my opinion (as well as my respected colleague’s), the better series. It’s complex and imaginative as it combines magical creatures and alternative worlds in an uncompromising story about religion, authority, and individual freedom. Topical themes in any age, really.

It has been nearly two decades since Philip Pullman completed his renowned trilogy. In its first installment, The Northern Lights (or The Golden Compass, depending on where you’re geographically located in the world), he introduces readers to Lyra Belacqua, a girl from a parallel world, who sets off on an epic mission to rescue a missing friend. In the His Dark Materials trilogy, Pullman depicts a world ruled by an oppressive church, known as the Magisterium, that dictates the rules and mores of society. The worlds created in both His Dark Materials and his latest series, The Book of Dust, are almost like our own world, but just slightly changed. A primary difference is that every human is linked to their own daemon, an animal-shaped manifestation of their soul. (I love this idea!).

In Pullman’s long-awaited follow up, The Book of Dust, and its first volume, La Belle Sauvage, we’re introduced to the prequel (to the original trilogy) set ten years before the first adventure, when Lyra is just an infant in need of protection from the burgeoning powers of the Magisterium. In Lyra’s place as ‘hero’ is Malcolm Polstead. He’s a bright, curious, and capable eleven-year-old who helps his parents at their Oxford pub and also spends a lot of time helping out the nuns at a local priory. In his free time, he’s out on the river in his canoe, which he named “La Belle Sauvage.” One day at the pub, he overhears the news that the local nuns have taken in an infant – Lyra – who is the daughter of two powerful figures — a man named Lord Asriel and a woman named Marisa Coulter. At around the same time, he sees a man arrested by agents of the Magisterium, and later discovers that the man has mysteriously drowned in the river. Going over the area where he first saw the now-deceased man, he finds an item that the man lost — a brass acorn with a hidden message inside. He discovers that the acorn is used as a means to covertly deliver messages to a local scholar who belongs to a secret anti-Magisterium society, and who has access to an alethiometer, which is a truth-divining tool that figured prominently in Pullman’s original trilogy. When a massive flood overtakes Oxford, Malcolm and a teenager, Alice, spirit Lyra away in Malcolm’s canoe in order to avoid a murderous scientist and agents of the Magisterium who are keenly interested in kidnapping the infant.

As this is a prequel to the original trilogy, the Magisterium has not yet established its oppressive control on society, but it’s well on its way to this kind of power. In The Book of Dust-La Belle Sauvage, Pullman illustrates how the Magisterium is infiltrating the very core of society and tightening its grip on every aspect of daily life. Its security force assassinates, assaults, and makes dissidents vanish, while it introduces a youth-oriented group to Malcolm’s school that encourages his classmates to report to the Magisterium the “heretical actions” of their peers, teachers, and parents. Teachers who object are reprimanded or fired. Tension and suspicion escalate. This League and its fascistic movements are similar to the Inquisitorial Squad in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, but the anxiety and fear that Pullman creates with the onset and actions of this League, believably conveys the insidious and hypocritical rot fascist tendencies have on democracy.

In the interest of being judicious, there are a couple of storylines presented and dropped, and the concept of “dust” is really underdeveloped. However, the character of Malcolm holds the narrative together. He’s different from Lyra as the central hero, but he’s vibrant and compelling in his own right. Throughout the course of the novel, he transforms from a quiet, stout child to a hero willing to take radical steps to keep Lyra safe in the name of justice.

Ultimately, Pullman is a master storyteller, and La Belle Sauvage is worth the 17-year wait. Moreover, a tale about battling a rising tide of fascism as authoritarian ‘strongmen’ claim political power and alt-right groups spring up across the world, is timely. This is a tense, thrilling, and magical book that feels like a natural part of the saga that began with His Dark Materials.

 



Jack Goes Boating

(Rendez-vous l’été prochain)

indexA limo driver’s blind date ignites a humorous and poignant tale of love, friendship and betrayal focused around two working-class New York City couples.

Jack (the late, great, Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a limo driver with vague hopes of getting a job with the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). He has an obsession for reggae that has inspired him to attempt to grow his hair into dreadlocks, and he spends most of his time hanging out with his best friend and fellow driver Clyde and Clyde’s wife, Lucy. Clyde and Lucy introduce him to Connie and they like each other. Being with Connie inspires Jack to learn to cook, to take swimming lessons in order to take Connie on a romantic boat ride, and to pursue a new career. Meanwhile, Lucy and Clyde’s marriage begins to disintegrate.

Hoffman’s directorial debut is a very independently spirited and produced film. Hoffman made a career doing interesting, indie films such as Magnolia, Boogie Nights, Capote, and The Boat That Rocked, among many others. During his career, he was the Artistic Director for an off-Broadway theatre company in NYC for ten years, which is where this play originated. In putting together this film, he gathered around him wonderful talent, both on-screen and off-screen, from both the theatrical and the cinematic world, both independently financed and studio financed. And, the result is a small, gently paced, gem of a film, perfect viewing during our days of confinement.