The Frogmarch

"I've got to pull up my stakes and roll, man." --Jean-Jacques Libris de Kerouac

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

In 21st Century France...

...general strikes have their own websites (link en francais) with Google Maps providing directions to the nearest manifestation.

[photo: control station for the St. Just and Fourviere funiculaires, unattended, as usual. There's a giant red "emergency stop" button in the center of the board, and the CRT at right tracks meters/second and distance from platform in real time. But there's never anyone in the booth.]

The one-day strike, which the organizers are calling "Black Thursday", will supposedly be the largest of the Sarkozy administration. What's it about? Well, the usual: "pour l'emploi, les salaries et la defense du service public," as well as the all-important pouvoir d'achat ("buying power", or what we would call cost-of-living). The real purpose, if I'm correctly reading between the lines, is for the unions to flex their muscle at a time when Sarko is pushing reform aimed at addressing the financial crisis.

What's it mean for me? Simply that I must remember to wear good walking shoes for my Thursday commute, and not plan to leave town.

[photo: Tongue-in-cheek (I think) graffiti next to Arabic (I think) graffiti in a Vieux-Lyon alleyway. "Fortunately, even the most complete adherence to The System doesn't prevent subversion! This man never speaks out except when necessary, only makes love at the prescribed times, and for all that, his eyes burn like two rebellious coals! Take a lesson from him, and stop boring the crap out of everybody!"]

Update: Black Thursday passed without too much disruption; there were minor scuffles with police in Paris, but all in all things were peaceful and orderly. Video from the Lyon manif can be seen here (interviews en francais).

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Photo Haibun

A haibun, a form developed in the classical period of Japanese literature, is essentially a prose haiku: a short essay often followed by an actual haiku in the more familiar 17-syllable form. Matsuo Basho is the poet most associated with the form, advancing its use in his travel-related writings (such as The Narrow Road to the Far North) in the late 17th century.

[Photo: Passarelle St. Georges, Saone River]

I happen to have been reading Basho recently as my slim volume of his work (found by chance in a rental-house basement in Chapel Hill) is the only book in English I have that fits in the pocket of my overcoat, and as such is useful for reading in fits and starts while riding the Metro to work or waiting for the laundromat dryer to finish.

[Photo: Light snow on my little terrace]

Classical haiku are of course strongly associated with nature, in particular the seasons, so the coincidence of a brutal, hobo-killing cold snap across Europe (dig the pix of people skiing in Marseilles) providing beautiful-but-bleak photo opportunities while I read Basho's ruminations on cold, journeying and solitude led to this ungainly mashing together of photos of 21st-century France and 17th-century Japanese poetics. [Click photos to enlarge; some of 'em are pretty good.]

[Photo: frozen tree out my window]

"Anyone can write that on such and such a day it was rainy in the morning and cleared in the afternoon, that a pine tree stood in such and such a place, or that such and such a river flowed through such and such district. Indeed, it is not worthwhile writing a journal unless there is something new to say, as in the poems of Huang Shan-Ku or Su Tung-P'o. Nevertheless I must say that the scenes I came upon during the journey and the hardships I encountered still provide me with topics of conversation today... I hope my readers will forgive me doing this, considering it nothing more than a drunkard's raving or a sleeper's muttering."
--Matsuo Basho, Records of a Travel-Worn Satchel, 1687

[photo: Terraces at the Berges du Rhone with lonely seagull over reflecting pool; nobody wading today]

On New Year's Day
each thought a loneliness

as winter dusk

Awake at night--
the sound of the water jar
cracking in the cold.

[Photo: skating rink and Grande Roue in Place Bellecour]

First snow
on the half-finished bridge

When the winter chrysanthemums go,
there's nothing to write about

but radishes.

Through frozen rice fields,
moving slowly on horseback,
my shadow creeps by

[photo: Pont de la Guillotiere and Hotel-Dieu; cathedral nearly invisible in mist]

Winter seclusion –

sitting propped
the same worn post.

[all haiku by Basho; photos by me]

[Photo: cold dawn in Clos Vendome; on my way to work]

Friday, January 09, 2009

Bonne Annee, et Bonne Sante

Odd French cultural tidbit: It is customary, after the new year, to wish everyone you know a Happy New Year (an additional wish for good health is optional); men shake hands as well, and women bisou.

Not so strange, you say, in the US I wish everyone a Happy New Year on New Year's Day, and when I go back to work a couple of days later?

Well, what's odd is the extent to which the French take this. The wishing-Happy-New-Year time window extends all the way through January, and wishes must be expressed to absolutely everyone you know; last night I had a hearty handshake and exchange of wishes with the little guy from Maintenance who comes in to empty my recycling bin when I'm working late. Protocol also demands that you do this the very first time you see that person in the new calendar year, regardless of the circumstances at the time, whether you are on opposing Metro platforms, across the street, or two urinals away. So at that first departmental meeting of the year, as each new person enters the room, there is a scene something like this.

[unrelated photos added purely for color: Christmas light display in the Grotemarkt, Brussels. Very similar to Lyon's Fete des Lumieres, but on a much smaller scale]

Unrelated Things

In the window of a T-shirt shop in Brussels.

Gotta admit, I don't see the connection. But I suppose that means there's hope for my upcoming line of "Sarkozy Delaware" t-shirts and Bundeskanzler Angela Merkel-themed barbecue grill covers.

By the way, the US presidential inauguration is being broadcast live and in its entirety on France1.