Saturday, 26 September 2015

25th September

The war memorial in Cormatin
We popped into the village of Cormatin on Friday to get a newspaper and noticed that the war memorial had flags on it. These flags only come out on special occasions, they are not there all the time otherwise someone would probably pinch them. So what was the occasion? It certainly wasn’t one of our wreath-laying days, the last one was 14th July and the next one is 11th November.

Names of those killed from our village, engraved on the memorial
A knowledgeable friend was coming out of the baker’s shop next to the church, kiss, kiss and a little chat. Then I asked why the flags were out. She couldn’t tell me, her solution was to go and ask at the town hall - they would know. Well I have had many confusing conversations at the town hall about just such subjects and as it was such a beautiful day, I didn’t want to spoil my or their mood by getting the whole staff into a confused mess.

The flags are out
Back home and after quite a bit of Googling I came across a government site that gave a list of all days of commemoration in France and how they could/should be honoured. and the 25th September was there.

The 25th September is the day of remembrance for the “Harkis” and other auxiliaries. That didn’t get me a lot further, but at least it was a start.

Googling further I found out that the Harkis were Algerian volunteers who aided the French forces in the Algerian war of independence. Obviously these people were considered as traitors and not heroes by their nationalist brothers and when independence came in 1962, it was felt that they should be protected in some way. Instead of repatriating them to France (which was officially and actively blocked) they were specifically mentioned in the treaty of independence and they were protected by law from persecution. That must have been reassuring for them…..

A hummingbird hawk moth feeds on the beautiful flowers
About 90,000 of them managed to get to France, but most did not and there are estimates of up to 150,000 of them being killed in reprisals after independence. It took until Jaques Chirac was president (somewhere between 1995 and 2007) for the Harkis to be recognised and a day to be dedicated to these French people who are "Français par le sang versé" - "French by spilled blood”. But they are not really assimilated into French society, also they are not allowed to return to their native country, they are floating in a social no-man’s land and even though they have their own day, no one here seems to know anything abut it. Only the guy who has control of the flags knows. Not much of a recognition for so many who gave their lives for France, is it?

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Guitares en Cormatinois

Chazelle church - the concert venue
The concert season is well and truly over and now is the time to look back, reflect on the concerts we worked so hard to get up and running, try and learn from what happened this year to make next year’s series a success. To that end, we have just had our end of season meeting and dinner at the president of our association’s house.

During the series of concerts I rather despaired at the lack of audience numbers for the better concerts. Jérémy Jouve was absolutely magnificent, but he played to a house half full. Franceries Sound Connection (strange name) was the same story, excellent quality, but not many people to enjoy it. The two other concerts were not as inspiring to my taste, but still well worth the ticket price at only 15 Euros, again few takers.

Jérémy Jouve - a real talent
Then we had the last concert. It was a band called Irish Kind Of (where do the French get these names from?) and this one was more than a sell-out, it was a pack them in, squeeze them in, use Japanese rush-hour pushers, then leave the doors open so they can breath, kind of concert. The church is full when we have 120 people in it, but for this concert we managed to squeeze in 145. I have heard better Irish bands to be honest, but the audience was thrilled and to be fair that concert saved the whole series. The financial figures, presented at the meeting, showed that because of that one concert we had not made a loss, which is quite an achievement in this day and age of reduced subsidies and less money in the common man’s pocket.

Franceries Sound Connection - an excellent concert
So our association and concert series lives to see another year and after last year’s losses of 2.5 thousand Euros, I was not convinced that 2016 would see any concerts at all.

But here is the conundrum: We are an association that is dedicated to bringing a concert series of quality guitar music to the local public, but the really excellent guitar concerts had virtually no takers and the one concert that performed music that is currently in vogue, was a sell-out. For me that is disappointing to say the least. Should we go back to filling the series with more popular music and be just like anyone else, bend with the current trends or should be stick with quality and have it reach just a handful of people?

The public arrive - selling tickets
Last night we had a long discussion on just this subject and we have come up with a compromise. Thankfully we are going to stick with quality, but also have some obvious crowd-pullers to fill the coffers. Listening to the CDs of the potential performers for next year, I think the balance will be good. Now we will have to wait and see if any of them is willing to come to our small festival for a price we can afford.

Fingers crossed.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Listening to Radical Nuns

Nuns on the bus
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I went to see Sister Simone give her talk “A Nun on a bus” in Taizé. The organisation of which she is a part (Network) had been pilloried by the Catholic bishops in the US, what on earth had they done that was so terrible?

Network is a group (mainly nuns) that lobby government on issues facing the poorer elements of society. For instance, those people in America who cannot afford any healthcare, those who live at the margins of society. Amongst other things, Network believe that they should have access to healthcare. Now that is shocking isn’t it? Just imagine how radical it is, in one of the richest societies in the world, to dare to suggest that everyone should benefit from such a basic need. Network promoted the signing of a letter addressed to congress supporting the Obama healthcare bill. Very radical indeed.

The nuns themselves - very radical looking!
To me what is really shocking in this story is that the Catholic bishops in America opposed the bill! How can anyone who calls themselves a Christian, but particularly the church itself, oppose helping the poorer elements of society and then accuse those who do, of going against the church’s teaching? If we are gracious we could say that the bishops were badly advised, but none-the-less, they made Nework's life a misery and Network were censured by the Vatican in 2012, something that has only recently been rescinded by Pope Francis.

This must have been an enormous emotional weight to carry and many would have shut up and hidden away, but these nuns regrouped and fought through. As Simone so eloquently said, they could not and did not fight against the injustice, because fighting against something will only reinforce it, you have to fight for a vision that you have. Instead of being intimidated by the media attention that all this row provoked, they used that attention to get their own vision seen and heard. To that end these nuns got on a bus and toured the US giving their message, hearing the stories of the people they met on the way and bringing those stories back to congress to reinforce their battle against the injustice of the poor. Their vision – care for those who are left out and to deliberately misquote a phrase I grew up with – they wanted to “mend the gap” in America, enable everyone to live with dignity in a wealthy society. Simple and clear.

Mind and mend that gap
We were invited to split into small groups to discuss way that politics, faith and the needs of people that struggle intersect, what happens to the marginalised in our countries, what should happen and what can or could we, the church and politicians do to help. We had English, German, French and Dutch people in our group and there was some lively discussion about what actually goes on and whilst we came to no conclusions, we all agreed that everyone could and should do more.

At the end of the afternoon, Simone summed up her experiences and I was impressed with the way that she and her collaborators were able to shrug their hurt, heartache and injustice off. But at the end of the day, to them, it was nothing compared to the injustice inflicted daily on those they were dedicated to helping.

How many could do that?

For more information about the work that the nuns on the bus do click here.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Return to School

Cormatin school
There is a very French phenomenon called “La Rentrée” – literally translated as “the return to school” but it means so much more than that. It marks the end of summer and summer life and back to the grindstone and for us back into winter mode.

But with all the talk of the rentrée I started thinking about how different schools are in France and in England. No uniforms, academic subjects on only fours days week just to mention a couple of  things, but passing the school a few days ago I saw on the school notice board what must be the biggest cultural difference.

School is all about preparing you for life and part of that preparation is cultural and what is more ingrained in French culture than food?

UK's idea of a balanced meal for kids
Everything centres around food. No decent meeting or gathering of any nature is complete without some good food and for the adults a glass of wine. Yet as I look around I don’t see a nation of overweight adults and that is because they learn from a young age to eat correctly and appreciate good food. Check out UK school dinners, these days kids can stuff themselves with burgers and chips every day and when they get home they are fed factory-made ready meals, this is no preparation for life as a food connoisseur.

French school dinners
So let’s look at the offerings for the coming weeks at Cormatin’s infant and Junior school. The menus are designed by a dietician to give a balanced diet but more importantly they include all the elements of a “proper” meal, a starter, meat or fish, vegetables (which includes rice, potatoes and pasta in the French definition), cheese and dessert. No wine, but they are only 5 years old!

These kids will be well prepared for their lives as little French citizens, not only will they learn to read and write, but they will learn to eat properly as well.

Maybe the UK could learn a thing or two from this approach, teach them young and they will take it with them through life.

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