Victoria Jelinek


I Am Not An Easy Man (Je Ne Suis Pas Un Homme Facile) (2018)
July 15, 2018, 11:17 am
Filed under: Film reviews | Tags: , , , , , , ,

I Am Not An Easy Man movie poster USADamien (Vincent Elbaz) is a ‘player’ in modern Paris. He develops content for an apps company by day, and seduces women when not at his job. Alexandra (Marie-Sophie Ferdane) is Damien’s best friend’s assistant. Damien tries to pick her up at a book-signing event to no avail, then leaves and bumps his head on a pole he runs into while ogling women passing by on the other side of the road. When he wakes up, he finds himself in a world where women hold the societal position that men have held historically to present day. While there is much in this film directed and co-written by Eleonore Pourriat that is arguably cliché and flat-footedly drives home a point, it’s ultimately a diverting film that one considers after watching it.

A hackneyed element is the idea that men in the alterative world who are not married at a certain point are sad and likely to live with a cat. I also found it rather wearisome that men in their role of stereotypical women in the alternate world are effeminate in their mannerisms, actions, and behaviors, such as swinging one’s hips, flipping one’s wrists, using ‘up talk’, etc. Would this actually happen with testosterone flowing through their veins? Is this type of behavior truly just environmental influence rather than biology? Conversely, women in the alternate world strut and burp, have their babies holding on to a hanging exercise bar, then turn the care of the babe over to the male nurse or their husband – would this happen with all the hormones raging through our bodies that (generally) work to bond us to the process of pregnancy, birth, and infant

Fundamentally, however, I found the concept good and was rather unsettled by how the reversal of gender is depicted, which prompted me to consider my own attitudes to roles men and women have in modern life. For example, women don’t shave their legs or armpits in the alternate world, but men must shave all of their body hair or risk being seen as disgusting hippy apes by potential seducers; women bare their chests while running or walking around, whereas men attempt to accentuate any cleavage and play coy with their titties; professional women wear dark suits, and men wear something colorful that, ideally, displays their legs; men are dismissed when they proffer a serious opinion, while women are respected and listened to; and men are the objects of lust in films; when Damien is ‘picked up’ by a woman and they have sex – they struggle for dominance and when she’s finished, she rolls over and leaves.

Even as I didn’t find this to be a comedic film, which has, perhaps, a cultural element to it, I did find it droll (derived from the French “drôle” meaning humorous or peculiar). For example, classic literature and philosophy has been re considered, with books written by George Sand (a woman in fact) becoming Georgia Sand. Additionally, I closely considered both my uncomfortable response to what was being shown as gender behavior in the alternative society, as well as why (exactly) it might be that men have dominated the cultural, political, economic, and personal lives of everyone since the beginning of time…has it all been so arbitrary?

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It Can Happen Here
July 13, 2018, 8:37 am
Filed under: From the Soap Box | Tags: , , , , , ,

Dear V,

OMG the Orange Man is reversing the time space continuum.  We will soon be conducting inquiries and the stake burning and impaling is on the melting horizon.

I suppose I always knew this was coming, as we are seriously stupid here. We are a nation of dummies.  And weak.  I had a period of sobriety and ran a 10k, but then I turned on MSNBC and listened to Maddow and grew distraught.  At least Macron shamed him.  They won’t discuss it here, but it was plain to see.

If those Catholic ass fucks overturn Roe v. Wade I will know it is time to go.

I think I will build a deck and a redwood hot tub to grow old in with my pot in the meantime.

M

2016_hope-1030x686

Dear M,

Don’t despair. Get active and fight it. Vote. If for no other reason than to stand up and be counted – to show that there are good Americans that are not going to normalize this horrid regime.

All nations are full of ‘dummies.’ The Italian Renaissance was, like, four men, no? The rest of the population was shitting, eating and fornicating – surviving, not thriving. All great movements/thoughts are never the majority. Most people are concerned with their own small lives/perspective. That’s why fascists get rid of artists, teachers, etc., first. In general, the French hate Macron, btw. They are not informed about the changes he’s proposing, but they see him as a “banker” who is only interested in helping the rich. They spout off about communism, socialism, the collective, but they’re only concerned with themselves, not the overall health of the country – the worst kind of individualists. I fear that in a few years they’ll vote the National Front in, so…I worry about the future for my son. He’s only seven and with the calamity about to happen/happening – war, refugees, climactic devastation, nationalism, xenophobia, income inequality to the point of feudal systems, destruction of public education and consequent opportunity, compromised universal healthcare – what will his future be like? I’d thought to purchase a nice piece of land somewhere near a water supply, maybe in Scandinavia, and just have it for him in case he needs a place to literally camp and grow his own food, but who knows if that land will remain/be ours/his in the future? Perhaps international law will be struck in future years? I.e., you own it now and have protections, but perhaps they’re scrapped in the future? (Trump’s working hard on destroying alliances that ensure citizen’s rights uniformly throughout the world!). And then the land will be taken by some despot…horrible prospects.

Did you ever read Lewis’s “It Can’t Happen Here”? It’s amazingly prescient and terrifying, but also, oddly, assuring that there are writers and observers such as this who wrote about what they were seeing, the true threats to humanity, in the 1930’s onward, if only we would listen…these people give one hope, I think…if for no other reason than the assurance that you are not alone. And today, the fact that there are nurses, lawyers (like you!), and observers who are going to the US border to help these poor children and their families if they can, if only to bear witness, is hopeful…

By-the-way, these people trying to strip Roe v Wade, environmental law, civil protections for natives and immigrants in the USA, are not Catholic! They’re evangelicals. The Catholic Church – namely Pope Frances – has disavowed them as truly Christian or religious.
Take heart. Look for the voices and stories and people who are fighting the good fight “under the shadow of the wings of war.” Get active in your community. Model the life you want to live/want others to live. If you need focus, I think the most worrying concern is the environment these days–if that goes ‘tits up’, there will be a whole shit storm that will make Trump look like child’s play…



The Story of the Map That Gave America Its Name
July 6, 2018, 9:59 am
Filed under: From the Soap Box | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20180702-the-epic-story-of-the-map-that-gave-america-its-name

Yet another way France and America are historically connected…

Fr townIronic, however, how few of the French I meet everyday understand this affinity. The French (in general) view the English and the Americans as “the same thing” (the next one who says this to me directly will get the question as to whether they regard themselves to be the ‘same’ as the Swiss-French, given that they speak the same language, which they will most emphatically deny).

What’s worse, is that an anti “Anglais” is spreading throughout France. For example, the little French boy that is my son’s dear friend, told him the other day at school that he “hates the English.” My son’s response was to say that he isn’t English, he’s American. The boy responded, “They’re the same thing.” This did not stop the boy later that day and the next morning from coming to ours hoping to play with my son. I understand it’s the influence of the grandma – she’s a provincial person – but one sees how quickly the kids pick up these ignorant statements, even as they don’t understand what it means (much like those who propagate these types of ideas). I joined a field trip with my son’s class the other week, too, and a teacher had a ‘go’ at me for speaking English with a group of little boys (who are Swedish, Danish, English, and American) when it is a French speaking school. I gently admonished her not to be so parochial, that the children speak two or three languages and easily switch between them depending on their audience – “what a gift! So international!” Later, I heard her gossiping about me to a few of the other teachers, which I chose to ignore.

It also irritates me that the local, everyday French (in general) loathe Macron. Don’t get me started on their flawed “logic” when they  ‘explain’ why he’s so “terrible.” They also refuse to answer my question as to whether they prefer the Front National – and I do ask. Their lack of a response is an implicit response. These people remind me of Trumpsters in the USA with their bandwagon statements, hypocrisy, misinformation, and incomplete information/ideology.

It makes me so sad how the general populace of any place is ignorant of context, history, theory…so limited in critical and logical thinking and reasoning…and so naturally disposed to tribalism (lending itself to xenophobia) and aggression…

 



Bottle Shock

bottle_shock_ver3_xlgIn 1976 there was a blind wine taste-testing held in France, where all the judges were French. The result of the contest? The wines of California’s Napa Valley defeated the best wines France had to offer – mon dieu! Bottle Shock is the fictionalized version of this true event, with the added story of the underdog winery deeply in debt, and a problematic relationship between a father and his slacker son who run the winery together.

Even as the outcome of the story is predictable, it is a charming film. The direction is solid, the cinematography picturesque, and the cast is good. Bill Pullman is believable as the tough and angry man who runs Chateau Montelena. Chris Pine is sympathetic as his lazy, long-haired son, Bo. And Alan Rickman as the British wine lover living in Paris who instigates the contest in the first place (thinking the French wines would win!) is quietly and wonderfully comic. “But did you know that it’s the struggling, thirsty vines that make the best wines? They can’t just sit there sipping water.” They must labor to thrive. These lines from the film sum up what makes this movie engaging – it’s about people who love their work and do it well. People who talk about it with passion and with knowledge. And people who are motivated to continue despite seemingly insurmountable odds.

 

 



Open Letter to the English regarding “Brexit”
June 14, 2016, 11:17 am
Filed under: From the Soap Box | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

imagesMy love affair with England began in 1990. I was an undergraduate student in London. I loved the particular energy of the city. The diversity of shoes on display in shop windows and on people’s feet. The apartments over ground floor shops. The double-decker red buses. The black cabs. The deep, smelly, hole-in-the-wall pubs. The trains. The humor – which is everywhere – from the people you meet casually or in passing, to radio and TV broadcasts, to one’s friends. The literature. Oh, the great literature. The libraries. The music. The history. The architecture. The pride. The Indian food. The bacon sandwiches and brown sauce. The pastoral countryside. The rivers. In fact, returning to the USA, I moved to New York City because it was the closest approximation of London that I could find in America. In the years since, I have repeatedly returned to London to live – for graduate school and, later, for work. It’s the only place I’ve lived – of several – which I continually and almost religiously, return to. Livings as I do now in an unnatural habitat for me (and at the risk of sounding dramatic) my regular visits to London are the lifeline that sustains me. Without that vibrant, majestic, complicated, dirty city and my community of friends – honed over 25 years through school and work – I would be bereft.

That said, for the first time my beloved adopted country precariously sits in my heart and mind due to its likely vote to exit Europe. This makes me terribly sad, troubled and confused. Over the course of the last month or so, in London and with the English expatriates who populate the region I currently live and work in, I have been surprised to hear that they mostly favour an exit. Their reasoning? That it’s “better for England.” When I ask exactly how it’s “better for England,” their arguments are thin, though impassioned – “It’s not right that England is ruled by unelected foreign officials!” It’s been “co-opted” by people they can’t see and who are not English. Ultimately, however, it comes down to this: “We are full and can’t accept anymore.” To paraphrase a dear friend who is truly English, the motivation to exit doesn’t seem to be just from fear (tribal basics of ‘in-group’ and ‘out-group’ – see Social Psychology), but from the very real difficulty in getting a GP appointment. From meeting droves of Polish and Asian people waiting in the doctor’s surgery, who are often waiting for translators for their appointment, which is an additional burden on the NHS. The desire to exit is because locals find that their kids are unable to get school places. The parents chat in a multitude of languages in the playground, which promotes fear in the English-speaking parents that their kids are being held back ‘cause they have twenty-four languages in a middle-class white school in Surrey, for example. It’s folks seeing foreign food aisles in supermarkets. British folks looking for a builder and struggling to find one that isn’t Polish, or having carers who can’t speak to them because they’re foreigners without the ability to talk competently in English. It’s black cab drivers that are losing work ‘cause there are flocks of mini cabs being driven by foreigners offering cheaper rates. It’s the fear that unwanted hordes of migrants and refugees will be granted citizenship in France or Germany and then move to England with their fresh passports. The thing is, England needs these workers. Without them, who will do the work that the average English man doesn’t want to do, certainly for a lower wage?

The ‘un-elected foreign officials’ making laws are in Belgium. They’re an amalgamation of Europeans, including the English. Moreover, it’s a miniscule fraction of the laws in England that have their origin in Europe. And likely less so with the recent concessions Cameron has received. On top of that, the laws that have been enacted in England from Europe are about the environment – housing is built to an environmental standard and there are incentives to make one’s homes more environmentally sustainable. The waterways of England have been greatly cleaned up and are protected by EU laws regarding dumping and waste. The EU protects workers rights in an environment of vicious capitalism. For example, the right to ask for overtime pay if your employer requires that you work more than 48 hours a week is protected by an EU law. And if you’re into vicious capitalism (or simply growth and invention), the EU allows English companies to trade and expand more easily, thereby creating jobs and revenue for the country. The EU protects human rights laws –the ability to have a safe place to live subsidized by the state for example. The lack of wars and infighting between countries within the EU has ceased since the 1950’s, when the EU was just a good idea – one that took decades to create and enact and which has consequently ensured peace between the nations of Europe since the (that’s only just over 60 years of peace!). What about the sharing of information? If England secedes, there will not be the same level of cooperation between countries to find a given ‘bad guy’ (and there are already problems given language and bureaucratic realities). Freedom of movement for the English and their children is a product of the EU. The ability to buy houses in warmer countries outside the UK. The ability to work and live out your retirement on the continent with protection for health and welfare as you age, are products of the EU. Low airfares to/from the continent for holidays are a product of the EU. Protection during your package holiday such as travel insurance and charlatan deals are a product of the EU. The ability to buy loads of wine and cheese ‘cheaply’ with a mere crossing of the channel is the result of the EU. The hordes being held on distant shores are the product of the EU – without the EU, the reception will be in Dover, not Calais. Lack of roaming charges on mobile phones is a EU invention (and hasn’t even gone into effect yet). If England exits, it will be the end to the welfare state most English people know. Certainly those under fifty years of age. And one still won’t get a school place or go to a GP appointment without incident or have more material possibilities outside the EU because it’s lack of good management and long term planning that are the problem as well as inequitable distribution of wealth.

I do understand those desiring a frustrated exit from the EU, even as I disagree. I, too, worry about practical and material possibilities for my child in the future. I worry about the influx of migrants – the Trojan horse theory that there will be ‘bad ones’ mixed in with the ‘good ones’ simply seeking a safe haven for their families has entered my construct of reality, too. I am troubled by the prospective entry of Turkey into the EU. I appreciate the country, its beauty, history and music, but it’s not a culture that shares the same values as other European nations – which includes England – about gender roles, education, religion, marriage, work, freedom of speech, and penalties to criminal offenders. Why then would they be a part of the EU? Well, that’s a larger argument about global tactics, side deals, and corruption. The Brexiters are right to complain about the EU’s endless hassles, choices, and its bureaucratic administration, but one does not change things from without. One changes them from within.

Referring to the primal fear in England that the country is losing its national identity, it begs the following questions: despite being a country of immigrants, when you think of Americans, do they not share a common identity in your mind? (For better or for worse). In an increasingly global world, where increased knowledge of other cultures – namely languages – is a practical benefit, why would one want to eliminate that exposure for your children? (Also, look at the neuroscience regarding bilingual abilities and the positive effect on a child’s brain). Does it make sense to break the bonds with your neighbours in such troubled times?

In my opinion, the finest qualities of the English are their language, their humour, their resourceful stoicism, and their generosity. Would not the best way to ‘fight’ the feeling of losing one’s identity be to uphold these values despite the seemingly fierce opposition to them? Figure out ways to teach foreigners the native language and bring ‘em over to the English POV. Find the ways to solve the real problems of mismanagement, poor bureaucratic processes, and lack of material possibilities and wealth (starting with the NHS, the Inland Revenue, namely tax evaders, and foreign home ownership would be a good start). Dearest England, despite your fears and frustration, act in solidarity for what is essentially a good idea for everyone, including you. The European Union is a positive force, not a negative one. Personally, I fear that I’m going to lose friends over this vote…I might find it hard to look those opposed to the EU in the eye because to me a vote to exit is on par with a vote for Trump (who supports Brexit btw) — it’s yielding to the lowest common denominator in each of us.

A few resources for information on Brexit:

http://www.theguardian.com/global/video/2016/may/31/eu-referendum-brexit-for-non-brits-video-explainer?CMP=share_btn_link

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/comment/what-would-brexit-mean-for-travellers/

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-32810887



The Baby Diaries 26

Being an only child is a disease in itself. G. Stanley Hall

Only child TIME coverThe other day I was surprised to hear from a long-lost friend that she’d given birth to her third child. I never would have taken her for a mother in the first place. When I told my husband about my old friend, much to my surprise he suggested that we have a second child. I find myself astonished that he wants a second child and seems to have kept his mouth shut due to my own opinion on the matter. And now I’m confused, particularly as there is a lot of social pressure to have more than one child in France…likely due to the amazing programs available to help you care for them. On the one hand, despite my flawed relationship with my own siblings, I’m grateful they exist and feel bad that my son will not have this ‘record’ of his early life at home, or camaraderie on holidays or later in life, particularly as my husband and I will likely be dead by the time he has his own family. Moreover, I’ve bought into the stigma around only children as lonely, indulged, and neurotic creatures. On the other hand, the single children I know tend to be rather independent and strong-willed, traits I admire. And, also, there are too many people in this world already. I didn’t have a maternal instinct until I had my own child. In fact, I was skeptical of the whole motherhood route for a variety of reasons. I also had a very problematic pregnancy, and am not too keen to repeat the experience. If I were to try to get pregnant again, and to have a child, I would be doing it for my child and my husband only…I don’t want to be selfish, however, so I started talking to friends here in Chamonix and abroad, and doing a bit of research on the subject.

My friends in Chamonix told me that if there is even a seed of doubt in my mind, and if there is any chance that if the circumstances were different and I COULD have a baby in five years, once I’ve rested from the previous pregnancies, then I SHOULD try to have another baby now and just ‘grin and bear it.’ Two of these friends were only children themselves, and they went on to have three kids precisely because they were only children. Two other friends who were only children told me that they never knew any differently while growing up. Reassuring, except that they have two kids each.

Two close friends in the US who are also only children had a different take on the matter. Both of them say that they love and value their time alone. That they were raised to make the best of their ‘alone’ time or go crazy. Both say that they are self-reliable and self-entertaining. Both say that if there were any ‘problems,’ then it would be that it was harder for them to make friends, be outgoing. Both also admitted that they often wished that they’d had a brother or sister to share things with as they grew older, especially as their parents aged, but both remark that it’s likely that my child will a great spouse and/or loads of friends to share the burden and joy of life with, as they do. Both said that it’s arguable that being an only child results in various traits and issues, such as being headstrong, but who doesn’t have something ‘wrong’? It’s what makes us all special. They advised me to teach kindness and a desire to understand and learn from others, which will counter any negative aspects commonly associated with single children. Interestingly, both posed a question to me: “The real question is, would you be willing to go through all that you did to have another child?”

After much thought, I’m not willing to go through the stress of trying-to-get-pregnant sex, likely more miscarriages, and another difficult pregnancy. Whether my son (and husband) know it or not, this would hinder our relationship now and in the foreseeable future, and I feel it’s primarily motivated by the fear that our kid MAY be lonely and spoiled. I found an interesting article in The Guardian by an only child named Emma Kennedy entitled “Who Needs Siblings?”

She writes: A friend of mine recently sat down with me and asked me in all seriousness whether I was happy about being an only child. It was if she were asking me what it was like to cope with a disability. But she had an agenda. She has got an only child and she is concerned that if she doesn’t have another one, her currently happy and well balanced three year old is somehow going to mutate into a gorgon of bitterness and despair.

My experience of being an only child has been unequivocally positive, and I was happy to put my friend’s mind at rest. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have a sibling, of course, but rather than wondering what he or she would have been like, I find myself wondering if I would have turned out to be a fundamentally different person. There is no way of knowing. But there are several things I know about myself and I am convinced they stem directly from being an only child. First, I love my friends beyond words. I have a huge circle of acquaintances, I am an incredibly social beast, but there are a handful of people to whom I am devoted to the point of madness…. Second, because I grew up with no experience of sibling rivalry, I have no professional jealousy. I have never, not once, looked at one of my peers and begrudged them their success…The only negative I can ever come up with when I am quizzed about the downside of being an only child is that, when the time comes, I shall bear the burden of my parents’ old age and inevitable decline on my own. While this will be difficult and stressful and heartbreaking, I can think of no greater privilege than being asked to look after the two people to whom I owe everything… I like being an only child. I am guessing that other only children like being the way they are, too. So, please, stop treating us as if we are birds with broken wings…There is a reason China is now the most successful country in the world. It is because it is run by an entire generation of only children. Coincidence? I think not. Let the world take note.

In a review of 141 studies examining the personality traits associated with only children, the spoiled, selfish, lonely stereotype had no basis in fact. Only children also rate significantly higher in achievement and motivation, due to increased parental scrutiny. Studies also indicate that only children score higher in adjusting to new environments, exerting self-control, and interpersonal skills – all skills I hold dear. But, it was my mother who both made me laugh and made me realize that for-better-or for-worse, my dear boy will be an only child; she told me that my siblings and me always wanted to be only children. Indeed. So, I will pull up my socks, get on with life as I have it, and simply love my single, and certainly singular, child.

 

 



The Winter Sea

The Winter Sea book reviewIn 1708, a fleet of French and Scottish soldiers almost succeeded in landing the exiled Stuart prince in Scotland to reclaim his crown. In the present day, author Carrie McClelland wants to turn this story into her next bestselling novel. Settling into the shadows of an ancient castle in the highlands of Scotland, she creates a heroine named after one of her own Scottish ancestors, and begins to write the tale. Soon after, she finds that the details she’s intuitively including in the book are factual, and she ponders whether she’s dealing with ancestral memory, making her the only person alive who knows the truth about what happened over 300 years ago.

I was skeptical about reading what looked like a tome of historical fiction, but my doubt was quickly allayed. The concept is great – a writer has characters and their actions, circumstances, and dialogues, coming to her as memories, blurring the lines between fact and fiction. The locale is vividly, but not overly described, and the Scottish landscape is romantic. The characters – both in the present day and during the 18th century – are compelling. The story is suspenseful (and there’s a twist at the end that I didn’t see coming). Finally, without being drawn into tedious text-book-type writing, I learned a great deal about the Jacobites, the feuds between Scotland and England, and the alliance between France and Scotland, which is immensely interesting and explains a lot about the social politics between these three countries today.