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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The Baby Diaries 19
December 25, 2013, 2:43 pm
Filed under: The Baby Diaries | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

“There’s nothing sadder in this world than to awake Christmas morning and not be a child.” Erma Bombeck

vin chaudWhen my first nephew was a child, I remember thinking that Christmas was definitely for children. He “oohed” and “aahed” at the Christmas lights, the decorations, the colourfully wrapped packages, and his excitement for everything was so palpable that it became infectious for us grownups, making our Christmas truly joyous and warm-hearted.

Now I have a child of my own. And I’m in the French Alps, which is an idyllic setting for the holidays. It’s snowing here as I write, and the chalets everywhere are emitting tufts of smoke from their chimneys. There are Christmas lights along the streets, and a huge Christmas tree in the village square. Moreover, there are all sorts of activities in honour of the Christmas season: Pere Noel (Santa Claus), will pass through the village on a sleigh Christmas Eve and Christmas day; the local community centre hosts animated Christmas films most evenings; there are carollers and little musical concerts with flutes and violins and even accordions; snow “sprites” will ski down the slopes all day Christmas Eve; there is a torchlight ski with the children from the local school skiing in decorative formations down the slopes; there are Christmas story readings at the local bibliotheque (library); and, of course, Midnight Masses in every chapel and church that dots the countryside. Additionally, each of these celebrations provides the additional luxury of vin chaud (hot wine) and chocolat chaud (hot cocoa), courtesy of our local mairie’s office (and our various habitation taxes – fees we pay to live in the province). I intend to take my son to most of these events, even if he can’t quite grasp what is happening. My hope is that some part of his brain will register the festivities, the gathering of people in song, music and celebration, and it will begin his love affair with this season of the heart. At home, I find myself singing the classic Christmas songs to him, such as “Jingle Bells” and “White Christmas” in anticipation for his understanding the pleasure of this season.

But I may be optimistic. Just short of nine-months-old, my wee one is able to pick up a toy and throw it, but not to crawl over and grab it, so I’m not sure if his sensory register is sophisticated enough to make any connections between the specific time of year and the celebration. He’s also eating a mushed up version of Christmas dinner, that doesn’t quite give the same pleasure as loading one’s plate full of gorgeous, especially tasty offerings…ah well, it’s an excuse to attend the festivities and to eat to my heart’s content!

 

 



The Baby Diaries – 8

I like children – fried. W.C. Fields

deep fryerIt may be difficult to get a place in the crèche for your child, but it’s even harder to find an assistante maternelle, literally translated as a mother’s assistant, or nanny.

The way the assistante maternelle system works is that she can take from one to three children between the ages of one and three into her home for childcare. At three, the child will ostensibly go to the local ‘maternelle,’ or public nursery school. The assistante maternelle is a person who has been certified and registered by the government to tend to children. The cost of an assistante maternelle is generally about six to ten times more expensive than a place in the local crèche. Being rather enlightened in the way of childcare, however, the French government subsidises the expense of an assistante maternelle for those who pay their taxes. At the end of each month, the employer of the assistante maternelle (that’s the parent of a given child) registers all of the hours, days and ‘indemnities’ the assistante maternelle has charged, on an online system for the entity Paje.fr (the entity that takes care of the subsidies). Shortly thereafter, the Paje partially reimburses the employer based on their taxable earnings and the cost of the given assistante maternelle.

The tricky bit is to find an assistante maternelle. There are ‘x’ amounts of them in a given area, and it is likely that a given child will be in the care of a given assistante maternelle from infancy until they are able to go to the local school. Because the law states an assistante maternelle can only have a few children being cared for in their home at a given time, there is little movement and timing is everything. My husband and I went down to the mairie (mayor’s office) and asked for a list of the registered assistante maternelles in the area. There were about 40. We then marked the nearest to us and called each of them to enquire about a spot for our son in the autumn. Not one had a place. We ended up calling every single assistante maternelle on the list – near and far- and only one had a space available in the autumn or, indeed, at any time over the next year. We went over to her house to meet her. She was French and nice enough, very patient with us as she explained her hours, her holidays, her rights and the time in which one must drop off and collect one’s child. Unlike the stereotype that French women are fit and slender, this one was rather heavy set. I noticed that there was a deep fryer on the counter, which probably meant lots of fatty foods. The assistante maternelle’s husband came in while we were there and he greeted my husband but did not meet my eyes or acknowledge me. I am a mere woman. Later, my husband and I discussed it and to be honest, we didn’t feel the house was very comfortable, and we both felt a little bad that our boy might spend days on end there, but we didn’t know what else was available or what the French households are really like, and we have to work sometimes without our boy and we can’t afford a private nanny. In the end, we rationalised that we liked that the household was French because it would be good for our baby’s assimilation into the culture…and perhaps in a year a place in the crèche would open up? Ultimately, ‘beggars can’t be choosers.’

Or can they? It turns out that there is a woman in my book club who was an assistante maternalle. She’s Welsh and married to a Frenchman who is a fourth generation local. She’s taken three years out to tend to her youngest child, utilising the French system of famille garder, which is a very civilised scheme that allows a woman who has worked and paid her taxes to take up to three years off of work after having a baby and still receive monies from the government. Apparently, her son will be going to school in the autumn and she may then resume her assistante maternelle activities. We phoned her and set up a meeting at her house. She has two little boys, a friendly three-legged dog, chickens, a huge garden, and the parents, grandparents, and cousins all live on plots neighbouring her house and land. She cooks from the garden, believes in organic food and creative compositions, and she speaks both English and French fluently…which is a help, to be honest, as we can then discuss in nitty gritty detail, what happens with our child each day…she’s not sure that she will resume her previous profession, but she’s thinking about it and we’re to contact her shortly. Oh dear, I hope that she decides to return to being an assistante maternalle and, moreover, that she decides to accept our little boy. I know everyone would be happy with that placement…I’ll cross my fingers and hope for the best…



The Baby Diaries 3

“I learn by going where I have to go.” Theodore Roethke

Plant in the sunshineI ran into a woman at the hospital whom I’d met in a café last summer. It turns out her husband is a friend of my husband’s. She suffered pre-eclampsia with her baby, who is, consequently, down the hall in urgent care. I went to look at her new daughter through the window – she’s tiny, and my new friend says that she’s not been able to hold her yet, as she is so vulnerable and must stay inside the oxygen tent. Apparently, however, the little girl is developing and will eventually be fine. I told her that’s great, as we’ll be able to have play dates with our new babies. Makes me realise that having a little jaundice is not a big problem.

After vacillating the last few days, the doctors told me that we’d be able to go home from the hospital. I actually involuntarily clapped my hands and cried with joy at this news. I am, however, to seat Sebastian naked in the window every day for a ½ hour as you might a plant, and the rest of the jaundice will consequently go away in a few weeks. I packed my bags and nervously my husband and I walked down to the check out area with our new, precious, little cargo. It’s amazing how easy it is to walk out of the hospital with a baby. We literally took the child out of the paediatric ward unchallenged, went down the lift, noticed the check out desk of our own volition, put the wee man on the floor there, got his birth certificate and paid (only 220e for ten days in the hospital, the c section, the paediatric care, the phototherapy, all the sage femmes and nurses…it’s cheaper per night than a hotel in New Delhi) then walked out to the parking lot with no one noticing. Mark and I also feel like frauds because we aren’t quite sure about what to do with the baby once we get home.

We put S in our trusty old VW van, and carefully drove home. Upon our arrival, we put the sleeping tot on the floor for our beloved cat to get used to. He walked around the seat, and then began tentatively sniffing and batting it. It’s a good job my husband had regularly brought things S had worn from the hospital so that the cat could get used to his smell, because Oscar took to him pretty quickly after the first few moments. Breathing deeply of my home, I went upstairs to take a nap in my bed while my husband looked after our new charge. I marvelled at the fact that it felt as though a part of me was physically missing…as if I now have a phantom limb. The distance from our bedroom to the living room is the farthest I’d been from S for nine months. It was anxious, lonely, and poignant. Even so, I fell asleep pretty immediately.

What is anxiety provoking now is that no one at the hospital, or our good doctor, had told us what we do now. I’ve been given ordinances (prescriptions) for several sessions with a sage femme and a physiotherapist, respectively. This is very civilised in terms of postnatal care and adopting alternative therapies into recovery, but I trust conventional medicine. I know the sage femme is the one who will remove my stitches in the days to come, but no one has mentioned what to do for any health issue S may have – even a check-up on the jaundice he’s had to make sure it goes away. Do we go to our regular doctor? Is a different doctor assigned to S by mail or something? Do we go back to the hospital? When are we meant to go for a check up on the wee tot? Maybe the sage femme, or even the physio, will know the answer to these questions…



The Baby Diaries 1

“A very small degree of hope is sufficient to cause the birth of love.” Stendhal

newborn-feetI had my baby. His name is Sebastian Leo and he weighed 4 kilos. He’s healthy (passed some post birth test with flying colours which measures and grades signs of health, such as number of fingers, toes, lungs, breathing, organ functions, on a scale of 1-10).

For my caesarean, they wheeled me on a gurney through a maze of hospital halls and left me outside the operating theatre for a bit. Then I went in, and nurses spoke to me from above as I lay on my back, like a David Lee Roth video, which was disorienting, especially as everyone spoke French and I was having trouble concentrating. They gave me an epidural then laid me back down and pinned my arms to my sides like Jesus on the cross. That freaked me out. I could feel the surgeon performing the c section, which was bizarre: a sponge across my belly, cutting slowly and surely, pulling the baby out of my uterus and through the small incision as though pulling a sleeping bag from its storage sack. But it didn’t hurt. When Sebastian was born, one of the nurses held him to my face (I was still pinned) and he was mewling. I didn’t feel that love at first sight thing that many have said they feel. Instead, I kind of distractedly looked at the little baby and spoke softly to him, telling him it was okay and not to be afraid. I remember being charmed that he immediately responded to my voice by quieting. Then they took him away to my husband and wheeled me into a recovery area. The French strongly believe in skin-on-skin after birth, so when the mother has had surgery they give the baby to the father (or grandmother, or sister, or brother, or whomever is there to support the mother), have him take off his shirt, and instruct him to hold the baby close to his chest, speaking softly and caressing him. It’s really quite a beautiful and sane idea. That said, when my husband took Sebastian into his arms, the little one immediately tried to suckle him (“Not gonna find anything there mate!” my husband quipped). Meanwhile, I was lying prostrate in an area in which I was separated by other patients by a provisional curtain, and slowly feeling my body come back to a sensation other than complete numbness. My good doctor told me I wouldn’t be hungry for about 24 hours after I had the surgery, but I was starving! After an hour or two in the recovery area, I started asking if it was possible to have some food. The nurses got exasperated with me and I could hear one of them place a call and I heard her saying to the person on the other end “The American is hungry! I know…should we move her up to her room?”

Being given Sebastian once I was ensconced in my private room (maybe 25 euro per night, the rest is covered by the Carte Vitale – so civilised) was marvellous and scary. I didn’t think he was mine ‘cause his eyes were slits and he looked Chinese. I actually entertained the idea that I’d been given the wrong baby. Luckily, after a day or two his eyes opened and then he was the spitting image of my husband. Apparently, newborns look like their fathers so that the father will have empathy towards them, own them and protect them, rather than leave them in the woods or discard them as they might have in ages of old. I think that newborn babies are akin to vampires in the sense that they are designed to attract: they look adorable and they smell good, for example. It was very strange to nurse him. Particularly as I had 3 sage-femmes (midwives) instructing me at the same time on how to do it, standing very close to my breasts, and intermittently squeezing my nipple or massaging my breast rather abruptly and roughly! I thought it was strange how this little creature cannot move, yet to get to my breast he’ll wiggle and move like a wee worm to get there.

OMG, the C-section hurts! I can’t believe that I actually wanted one and said I’d opt for it electively if my doctor didn’t already order it (as 25% of women in the UK and USA do). I can’t move. I have to have a bedpan and it hurts to get on and off the pot. There’s a bandage and goo on the cut and they come and clean and change the dressing. I take 2 pills every few hours for pain and infection. I have to raise my bed all the way up and the back rest straight up in order to get to the top of the baby’s hospital crib (which rolls and is like a plastic bubble square), then sort of reach into him and roll him/move him onto me and then up to my chest. I have no stomach muscles. Never quite realised how much I used them now that I don’t have them to use. I dread going to the toilet or walking, but apparently that’s in the cards for me tomorrow!



The Pregnancy Diaries – 5
June 7, 2012, 12:31 pm
Filed under: The Pregnancy Diaries | Tags: , , , , ,

‘Laziness is nothing more than the habit of resting before you get tired.’ Jules Renard

I went to the specialist in Grenoble this week. The good news is that I do not have uteri (two uterus’), just, simply, a larger womb that’s growing. So, with that bit of good news, I’m not facing the high chance of a miscarriage in the second trimester or the elevated odds that my cervix will open and deliver the baby too soon in the third trimester. The bleeding that I’ve been experiencing is because I have weak veins in the lining of my womb that are stressed as everything grows. The specialist said that this is nothing to worry about and this will stop within the next few weeks.

He did tell me that as with every woman who’s pregnant, I should expect to have some nasal congestion due to increased hormones – which surprises me as I feel as though I could get a job at the airport as a sniffer dog, my sense of smell is so keen. I first suspected I was pregnant when I walked into a restaurant that was cooking a big batch of pot au feu and thought that I would vomir ungracefully on the floor. The specialist also told me that due to my ‘mature’ age, I have a higher chance of thrombosis, high blood pressure, and gestational diabetes. These realities, as well as back and knee problems, are compelling reasons to have children while young…or younger, anyway.

Upon return to Chamonix I went to my regular doctor. After looking at the report from the specialist in Grenoble (tres vite), he prescribed tights that are like armour that I must wear throughout my pregnancy. Luckily, they come in black. The ‘neutral’ colour looks like the brown pantyhose my grandmother used to wear that bagged around the ankles. And, while these tights are a hefty pain to get on and off, they do feel really good on the legs…like flight socks, only all the way up over the bottom. They’re almost 80e per pair! Luckily, once prescribed, the carte vitale picks up the bill. I asked my good doctor many questions about the general issues with pregnancy, such as the hormonal smell thing, the high blood pressure and the gestational diabetes potential that the specialist in Grenoble had mentioned. My doctor said to me, “A French woman simply accepts what the doctor tells them to do at any given time, then says ‘merci bien,’ and leaves. It does not matter whether the woman is English, American, Scottish, Scandinavian, or South African… if she’s not French, she asks too many questions!’ This lack of female query explains a lot – pauvres les petits chou. The good doctor tells me that for us to be on the ‘safe side,’ he will write an ‘arret de travaille’ for me. I asked him what this is. He said that it means that I can present it to my employer and I’m immediately able to leave work and they must pay me the remainder of my employment contract. ‘Doesn’t seem fair to them’, I said. ‘It’s not as though my work is physically taxing.’ The good doctor replied, ‘But why work when you’ve paid the taxes not to?’ This, too, explains a lot about the French.