Tuesday, September 30, 2014

carte de séjour "Compétences et Talents" - stop #2: the préfecture in Marseille

Because every post looks better with pictures, I'll start with this one - after your visit to the préfecture, whether to nurse your success or your not-done-yet-ness you should check out this nearby coffeehouse/café/salon de thé: Coogee. I have no idea what the name means, but it's a really great place to wile away some hours.

Okay, on to business. Again, this little series of posts (see the label "Compétences et Talents" for the rest of the related posts) is to provide a helpful account to future seekers of a carte de séjour "compétences et talents" - if that's not you, you should go to the coffeehouse link and ignore the rest of this episode in the new tragicomic series "You Can't Buy Dossiers Like this in America."

After being counseled by one American friend that one should arrive very early at the préfecture to get a place in line before it opened and by another that she never arrives before 8 or 9 am--the préfecture opens at 8:15 am--I split the difference and arrived with a friend around 7:45 last Friday morning. A line had already formed outside the building, but it was nothing atrocious and extended only in front of the building - no wrapping around the block or anything. Now, I've also been told that this part of town seems somewhat sketchy, but again, I had no problems there. The friend who accompanied me said she's seen a fight in line (fighting over spots in line) nearly every time she's gone, but everyone behaved themselves on Friday. By the time I left the building around 10:15 am-ish, there was no line, and it looked like you could just walk right in at that point.

Once the doors opened, we eventually entered the ground floor, told a woman at the door what I was there for, and waited in a short line for the first set of windows (see photo). Once it was my turn, I told the man what kind of visa I was seeking. At first he said there were no more appointments for that until Monday, but he worked it out somehow and gave me a numbered ticket anyway.

Then we climbed to the first floor (in French terms, second floor for the Americans) where we took seats in a large waiting area. I waited a pretty long time for my turn at one of the windows. I had to watch the big screens (photo below) that flashed your number when it was your turn and told you which window to go to. What's tricky is that the numbers do not appear in chronological order at all, so you have to watch the whole time because you have no idea when your number will show up. No reading books while you wait. But don't worry, there's plenty of people-watching to do.

When my number finally flashed on the lucky game show screen (my friend and I concocted an entire game show scenario while we waited, by the way - I let you know when it reaches syndication :-) ), I was greeted by a nice woman at my window. I handed her my initial paperwork (application, etc.) and explained which visa I was there for. She asked me to describe my project - which surprised me, as I'd just expected to hand over the dossier in which the project was fully described. So, be prepared with a brief verbal explanation (in French :-) ).

She took my dossier, flipped through it, and seemed to like what she saw. At this point, I thought maybe SHE was the one making a decision about whether I would get the visa or not - I hadn't expected that (I'd expected a lot more waiting for approval or denial), but her initial actions made that seem possible. I had just been expecting to hand over the dossier, not to have someone look at it and ask me questions at this stage in the process.

Well, it turns out that the woman at the window seems to be the person who checks to make sure all the basic components of the dossier are present. In my case, while I had included a written description of the project's financing, I did not include an actual budget. So I have to add that and return. She was very nice and very apologetic that she couldn't accept the dossier yet.

However, I did learn that apparently once she accepts the dossier for consideration and registers it in the system, she/someone will print out a récépissée that day that will extend my current carte de séjour by 3-6 months during which time they will make a decision about the new carte de séjour.

So there you go, an exciting up-to-the-minute report on what I know so far about this process works!

Blurry photo of the first set of windows (on the ground floor) where you're awarded your winning lottery ticket number, aka number to determine when you get to go to the next window upstairs.

Waiting room on the next floor up, with their fancy game show boards that proclaim when you're the next contestant on "See Who Will Win a Visa Today!"

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

seeking the carte de séjour "compétences et talents" - stop #1: the sous-préfecture

I'm in the process of applying for a new visa, hoping to transition from my student visa to the "skills and talents" visa. Finding much info about the process has been difficult, and I've been pretty dependent on the Jennyphoria blog for the most complete info. However, she applied for this visa in Paris, which didn't tell me how things would work way down here in the south of France. Other info I found related the process of getting the visa through a consular office outside of France, which still left me in the dark.

So, in the interest of helping other future visa seekers living in France but not in Paris, I'm adding this little record of my experience to the internet's grand collection of helpful facts.

Here's the link to the official French info about the carte de séjour "compétences et talents." With a quick Google search, you can find the same info in English on the web sites of the French consular offices in the States.

My situation: I've been living in Aix-en-Provence for two years now studying French. So I've been here on a student visa that I first received through the French consulate in Atlanta and then renewed twice, once via the sous-préfecture in Aix and once via the student renewal office set up at CROUS on the Aix-Marseille University campus at the beginning of each school year.

So my attempt at this new visa is a visa renewal but also a change of type of visa. I've been busily preparing my dossier for the past couple weeks, mostly using the two links above to guide me in what to include in presenting my project. I'm not going to get into what my project is in this post, as for now I'm just documenting the process.

You're supposed to apply for renewal for all visas, including this one, two months before your current visa expires. I'm down to about 5.5 weeks due to traveling lots this summer and not being able to work on the dossier sooner. Here's hoping it all works out!

What I did: According to all the info I could find, I was supposed to go to the sous-prefecture in Aix for this renewal. So I showed up there this morning 30 minutes before they closed, with my dossier but without any idea how this process would work.

I entered the waiting room, took my number, and waited my turn. The room was nearly empty, so I didn't wait long. The woman at the window told me that for this visa I have to go to the préfecture in Marseille. They don't process this visa at the sous-préfecture (despite the info I'd found online). However, she looked at my current carte de séjour and gave me the application form for the new visa with a couple administrative notes filled in. She also took my fingerprints and had me sign one of the forms that is part of the carte de séjour process. So in my mind, it does seem to be that the process begins at the sous-prefecture, though I couldn't actually submit my dossier and application there. If you don't go there, I don't know how else you're supposed to get the application you need. I never found it available online anywhere.

The application includes the full list of what's need to apply, which is really nice to have finally. It's mostly all the same things listed on the website EXCEPT you have to give proof of residence, either through bills or a lease if you're living on your own or through statements from the person housing you if you're living with people.

Also, the website says you need 3 I.D. photos, but the application says you need 4. The photos normally come in fours anyway, so just plan to submit all four photos with your application in order to be on the safe side.

So, here's the list of needed documents as noted on the application form for people like me who are changing their visa category (versus this being a new visa or a renewal of this same type of visa):

1 - copy of both sides of your carte de séjour (or a passport with the visa in it and the OFII stamp plus an original birth certificate that's less than 6 months old and a notarized translation - you don't need the birth certificate if you already have a carte de séjour)

2 - photocopy of the info pages of your passport

3 - description of the project you're proposing and an explanation of how it supports the interests of France and of your home country

4 - all the documents needed to prove that you have the capacity to carry out the project

5  - photocopy of your livret de famille if you have one

6 - proof of residence

7 - four I.D. photos

So there you go. I think that's all I can tell you for now. I'll try to keep posting as I go through the process.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

fluency

Seven years exactly after my first sojourn in sub-Saharan Africa began, I'm finally back in West Africa. In Togo this time, a neighbor to Ghana, the country that first welcomed me to this part of the world.

Togo, unlike Ghana, is a francophone country, and it has gifted me with the chance to use the French I've been poring over the past two years in southern France for just such a time as this - I've been studying French to aid in my international reporting work.

I've been here with a small group of people observing the impact of a particular model for poverty reduction (more on that in the future). I loved working with the members of our visiting team as well as our Togolese hosts. But this has also been a reminder of parts of my past sub-Saharan Africa reporting experiences: You will often not be able to perfect or control your reporting experience - you'll have to just go with the flow and really test your journalist muscles.

Many of our "interviews" have taken place in group settings - more like the White House press corps posing questions than a Barbara Walters in-depth one-on-one with someone. I prefer the one-on-ones. I didn't travel all the way here for sound bites.

With the dearth of it on this trip, I'm realizing how much I depend on connecting with interviewees to aid me in my work. It's also part of why I do this work. I'm not a hardened reporter simply out for a good story. I do this work because I love people and find them fascinating. For me, much of the pay-off of interviewing (which is hard work, mind you) comes in the opportunity to connect with a person, to really SEE them, and to receive the gift they offer of letting themselves be seen. In return, I try to share a bit of myself too.

Here, though, that's been hard to do in the genial-though-it-is press conference environment we've been working in.

My favorite experience of this trip so far came on Sunday afternoon when our visiting team arrived to hear the stories of a large group of gathered facilitators in Kpalimé, a city near the Ghana border. The facilitators were divided into three groups, and our team was dispersed between them. But with only two translators aiding our team, I was left to fend for myself with my group. :-) Really, it was an honor that the organizing Togolese pastor and his wife trusted my French enough to leave me unattended. Some group members spoke French, and for the rest, one of the members--a teacher--translated between French and the local language. Left alone as the sole foreigner in their midst, I finally felt like I was able to have the connections with the group that I depend on to give spark to my work. I really enjoyed hearing the insights and experience of that group of people. We got beyond sound bites.

And this was partly possible because we could speak mostly the same language.

Fast forward to this morning when I and the local fixer-new friend headed out for me to do a few more interviews. I've come down with a travel cold and am tired. My French is working less well today. So again, the interviews I'd hoped for didn't play out quite like I'd planned. And I realized part of the reason is that just by nature of having the fixer present--helping with a bit of translating here and there--my usual interview dynamics are changed, no matter how nice and unobtrusive the fixer is. The press conference effect was gone today, but the interviews still weren't one-on-ones.

So, the moral of this little story (that I need to finish so I can go sleep off this cold before tomorrow morning's interviews!) is that it's nearly impossible to have the same interview through an interpreter than you can have on your own with a source. And that's why I needed to learn French and need to keep working toward better fluency. It's an invaluable tool for my work.

Okay, off to sleep. :-)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

through my friend's lens

Until I can add my own Albania-visit post, here's a link to an overview of our visit from the blog of my friend in Albania. She's a great photographer!

Waggoner News & World Report: Weekend Re-cap


Friday, July 25, 2014

j'adore les balkans

Senj, Croatia
I've just returned from nearly two weeks in the Balkans, and somehow I feel older than when I left. My friend Olivier and I traveled by car, and I now think that's the only way to make such a trip. Any other form of transportation would have left us missing important things.

The trip came together in bits and pieces, and the end result was a really good overview of life in the Balkans and most of the former Yugoslav republics, a region I mostly know only from news reports of war 20 years ago. But at its start the impetus was simply to visit friends who have taken up residence in Sarajevo, Bosnia, and Tirana, Albania, and to have an interesting roadtrip. Reaching the friends happened to mean traversing four out of six former Yugoslav republics plus Albania.

As we made the return drive to France through the coastal mountains of each country--from northern Albania to Montenegro to Bosnia to Croatia to Slovenia--I felt an odd pang of longing and homesickness. Part of me wants to live in the Balkans because there's something honest about people and places who have lived out their suffering and their sins on the world's stage--especially in comparison to the glitz of southern France where I currently live on the eastern edge of the Côte d'Azur, the French Riviera.

Another part of me feels at home in nearly any mountains anywhere. Growing up in the warm embrace of the Appalachians put mountains in my blood, including their melancholy--so astutely remarked on by Olivier as we traversed northern Croatia on Monday. On the backside, the eastern side, of the mountains that could see the Mediterranean Sea from their front side, we found a landscape that made me want to write, one that brought to mind sad but beautiful and haunting Appalachian mountain ballads like those my friend Vanessa introduced me to years ago with her music.

Anyway, stay tuned for posts from each country on our Balkans tour, if only for the photos alone -- it's such a beautiful landscape. (A country by country post is the goal, anyway!) If you are the traveling type, you should put this region on your travel list. And if you're a history and current events nerd, make sure you haven't missed adding this region's story to all the facts you store in your encyclopedic head.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

the economics of freelancing – 101

If you’re not a freelance writer and maybe even if you are, you probably have no idea what the pay rates are these days. And for those of you who’ve reached this post because you know I’m raising money, it might not make any sense to you why I raise money if I’ve also got a job.

First, as you may know, the media industry has been in a bit of a freefall since at least the 2008 financial crash. That, combined with the onset of the digital age, has left media entities scrambling to figure out how to finance the information they disseminate. The good part of this scrambling is that it’s launched a new season of innovation. [The Nieman Journalism Lab offers some good coverage of models people are trying out.] The question isn’t whether we still want to have news and reportage in some form – the question is what form we want it in and how to pay for it.

All the scrambling has definitely affected freelance writers and reporters. Our wages have stagnated or dropped. [This article’s a bit dated but is a pretty good summary of what’s happened to the industry.] Everyone wants content these days, but they need so much of it that they don’t want to/can’t pay real wages for it. Well, that and other problems.

Thus, similar to larger media entities that are testing out various not-for-profit journalism models, in the current phase of my Big Grand Ideological Idea, I’m trying out a nonprofit model of freelancing. One that says there are important stories to be told but acknowledges that it’s not cost-effective to tell them according to present business models. Thus, I’m seeking out people who agree that these stories need to be told (and told well) and who will make donations that supplement the gap between what media entities pay for my work and what comprises a reasonable, living wage for that work.

So, let’s get some real, hard numbers on the table:

Scenario #1: For several months now, I’ve been researching a story here in France. From interviews to web research, most of my research is in French, which means it takes even longer than it normally would. Before beginning the formal interviews, I spent hours in background research online and informal interviews trying to gain a baseline understanding of the question I was investigating and an initial list of sources – to help inform the formal questions I would ask. Very conservative estimate of time spent: 7 hours.

Next, I spent time contacting prospective sources, prepping for interviews, traveling to and from interviews, and conducting at least 7 interviews. Then, because most of these interviews were in French, I had to record them and then transcribe/take notes afterwards.  Very conservative estimate: 50 hours.

In addition to all this, there’s some ancillary research to do to verify information, to track down some stats, etc. Because I’m the thorough type and I want to get it right and report accurately, this will take me a very long time.  Very conservative estimate: 7 hours.

Finally, it will be time to write the 700-1000 word article that will not nearly hold all the things I’ve learned. Thus, all this good information will have to be distilled down into much less space than I’ll feel like the story warrants. And it will be a feat to tell the story accurately in short-form. Very conservative estimate of writing time: 10 hours.

Very conservative grand total of hours spent on this article: 74 hours (roughly 2 weeks of work time if it could be done straight through)

Guess what I’ll get paid for all of that work?

$300

Yep, that’s right. $300. Before taxes and business expenses.

Taking the time regularly to research stories at this depth means I’d be living on $600 a month before expenses and taxes. And over here in Europe that’s only about 438 €, which doesn’t get you very far toward covering living expenses.

This is why I’ve invited you to help me get these stories told.

Scenario #2: This summer I’m going to Togo, in West Africa, on a reporting trip. The cost of my flights alone is $1600 (and I’m already halfway to Togo, coming as I am from Europe). Add on-the-ground expenses, and the rough estimate climbs to $2000-plus. There aren’t many media outlets I’m presently connected with for whom I could hope to be paid enough to cover the expenses of this reporting trip, let alone make enough extra to count as income. In this scenario, most of the expenses of the trip will be covered by the sponsoring organization, but it would be preferable, for the sake of objectivity, to cover them myself. I’m a minimalist traveler, but even the costs of cheap travel in the service of reporting a story are hard to make back, when most stories pay in the range of $300-600.

This is why I’ve invited you to help me get these stories told.


And contact me if you would like to be involved in helping important stories be told!

Friday, June 27, 2014

what my work is about: mission statement and core values

Mission Statement:

To connect with people and places around the world in order to tell their stories with truth and authenticity.


Core Values:

I hold the following convictions and seek to partner with those who identify with these core beliefs: 
  • People have potential. All people have value, and their potential can be discovered and known.
  • The world is a place of wonder that should be explored and shared. Sharing experiences and observations with others helps to preserve our child-like curiosity about our world.
  • The truth matters. Whether the truth appears to be pretty or ugly, it carries beauty for being the truth. Though life is messy and relationships can be hard, honesty and authenticity honor people and their deep desire to be known. Care for nuance and subtlety can result in truth that is life-giving rather than harsh.
a few of the people I've met while reporting around the world











Thursday, June 26, 2014

hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to work I go

A week ago I strutted happily out into the sun. It was later than I'd planned, but still early enough to count as morning.

I was happy because I was heading to work. In a way all the world could understand. I had donned nice clothes, packed my computer tote with the day's tasks, and was commuting by foot to my office building where I would climb the curving stairs and spread the tools of my trade across a desk surface larger than any available flat spaces in my tiny home. And later, I could even take a real lunch break. Delightful.

I love it when a plan comes together.

I've had this plan before, but it never worked out. So I wasn't very hopeful this time when the plan wandered back into my brain a couple weeks ago.

The plan: to have an office somewhere outside my home.

You see, freelancing has lots of perks, including working from home. Except that sometimes working from home loses its perkiness.

And lately, that's exactly what had happened. I was not being productive at home. There always seemed to be dishes to wash. And taking work to some sunny café or other isn't really an option here most of the time. The café culture in Aix is not the pretend-this-is-your-office culture of Starbucks. And besides, even when Starbucks is just down the road, sometimes you just really need a real office for the task at hand.

I've been working from home for a long time now - in the U.S., in London, in France. And now that my formal French classes have ended (I do not yet speak perfect French, lest you be fooled by that phrase) and my excuse for leaving my house multiple times per week to interact with other human beings in person has evaporated, I was beginning to feel the tension of needing to be around people while also needing to get work done. Chatting with friends in sunny cafés every afternoon wasn't an option.

So I searched. And I found. It was one little ad listed two months prior on leboncoin.fr, the French equivalent of Craigslist. The proprietor is a super nice French woman. The other office-mate is a bilingual South African. The space feeds my creative soul. So I decided it's worth the financial risk (the part where I don't really make enough extra to pay for this space - YET) to invest in a little corner of the world that I can refer to as "my office."

Thus, two days per week now, I get to go to work. And it leaves me feeling immensely grown up and professional.

The building entrance.
Heading upstairs!
A note welcoming me to the two-room office digs on my first day.
The mother of the pigeon family that lives across the street.
If one must have a view of a wall, this wall works.
#poetryinstone

Friday, June 13, 2014

even welcomed intruders can be scary

Bordeaux by lamplight. May 2014
Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Three months shy of marking two years here in France, I’ve been noticing a new sentiment creeping into my psyche: some sort of emotion that seems important, but it’s lurked in the shadows just enough to avoid being identified. Tonight, though, as I ambled back to my centre ville apartment with my Tuesday-night-carry-out-special pizza from Dominos, I finally got a clearer view.

So here I am, ready to describe this little perp to the police sketch artist.

For so much of the time since I arrived in France, I’ve been very impatient, wanting desperately to really absorb this language. For me, language isn’t just a binary code of on and off switches. It’s soul. And I’ve wanted desperately to enter into all the places that accessing that soul can take me.

There have been glimmering, hopeful moments along the language-learning way, but it wasn’t until the past six months that something really changed. First, I just didn’t feel so tired anymore after days spent in French. Then, I began to understand without translating. Then, I began to be able to speak more and more spontaneously (on good days, anyway) and even crack the occasional joke.

And now, as I head into summer and mark two years of immersion and language study, I understand why people moving abroad often do two years of language study. My language skills still vary by the day, but mostly they’re solid enough now that they provide a hefty core mass for the snowball that’s rolling down the hill (or up the hill, since that sounds like more of an accomplishment :-) ) and constantly adding new words and expressions to its dictionary. I have a solid enough base now that this language thing is starting to improve exponentially.

But there’s another thing happening, and that’s the thing that surprised me as it stepped into the light tonight: A different kind of fear has replaced my impatient fear that I’d never master this language. You see, French is in me now. The on-off switch I kept trying to switch on is now permanently on. I can no longer turn it off. I can no longer choose not to understand French. Oh, I still don’t understand EVERYTHING, but I pretty much always understand something.

And the scary part is that I’m not in control of this anymore. Really, in truth, I never was; I realized months ago that I couldn’t make myself understand even though I desperately wanted to. I just had to wait until the words worked themselves into me.

But now I can’t make myself not understand.

So the scary part of all that—other than the not-being-in-control part--is that now that French has taken up residence in me, I can’t kick it out (kind of like the way French landlords can’t easily kick out their protected-by-law tenants :-) ). My new tenant won’t ever leave and has already done and will necessarily do more remodeling in me. And I don’t know what the result is going to be. So that’s the scary part. I can’t undo what’s been done during these past two years. And I can’t stave off what French will do as I keep using it and giving it an ever homier home in me.

We’re always changed by new experiences, and any travel or living abroad will always change us. So I’d anticipated that. But somehow this infiltration by this language, that I pursued and welcomed, feels like a deeper change than that wrought by trying new foods and meeting people who are different from me.


Because language is more than the right letters and words and punctuation marks. Because it’s more than words correctly combined and uttered at the right time. It’s soul. And the French soul has infiltrated my English-speaking American soul. And there’s no going back now. Scary or not, on y va! (Let’s go!)

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

famous people gather in Cannes

Saturday, May 24, 2014

I don't love literal crowds, and I don't love doing what all the cool kids are doing. But I have been living in southern France for almost two years, and if ever I'm going to go to Cannes, I might as well just visit the famed Côte d'Azur city during its important little film festival. I tried to go with a friend last year, but our attempts were foiled by transportation challenges and not enough incentive. This year, though? Success!

Let's just get this out of the way from the
start - Here's the most famous person I saw that day. Unfortunately, he was a
little too one-dimensional to sign an autograph for me.
Just to prove it really is Cannes I'm showing you photos of.
Reporting live from the middle of star-gazers.
Apparently, if you're at the right place at the right time, you will see real, live famous people.
At least I think that's why unfamous people stake out their spots with much intensity near the red carpets.

This guy was all dressed up for the big event Saturday night, kindly requesting that someone, anyone
 would give him tickets. I really wanted to follow him around all day and see how it worked out for him.
Did he get in? or not?
Look! RED CARPET!!!!
A small crowd was gathered outside this hotel. We don't know whether there was really something
 to see or whether it was an experiment to see how quickly the sheep would follow
 once a few people formed a crowd. Burning life question that will never be solved.
The scene of the nightly movie on the beach for the commoners.
We didn't go, but I bet it was cool.
The hat seller guys appeared to share a fun camaraderie.
A little break from the sun. Cafés are always appreciated.

Monday, May 26, 2014

inspiration

Photo credit AFP, taken from this BBC
website: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-27400896
May 23, 2014

Half listening to French radio news one day recently while I did other work, I kept hearing the French name that sounds like mine (call me sometime, and I’ll pronounce it for you :-) ). Someone named Camille was being mentioned a lot. At first, I thought she was a reporter doing lots of reports on the radio that day.

Then I learned the real story: Camille Lepage was a 26-year-old French freelance photojournalist who had been covering conflicts in Africa. She made the news because her body had just been found in the Central African Republic where she’d been reporting. [And another article here.]

At this point, I pulled away from my work and dug into her story a bit farther. And discovered this compelling quote from Camille:  “I can’t accept that people’s tragedies are silenced simply because no one can make money out of them. I decided to do it myself, and bring some light to them no matter what.”

I don’t think I’m as brave as her, but I think I would have liked her. We care about some of the same things.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

stories in stone and glass

In late February, visiting friends and I spotted pictures of the Abbaye de Sénanque in one of my guidebooks and decided to sojourn to the ever-picturesque Luberon to visit it-- even if it wasn't the season for the lavender blooms that feature prominently in the Abbaye's lovely promo shots. With their two small boys in tow, my friends settled on the self-guided tour option while I opted for some language practice and joined the French tour of the abbey.  

Since arriving in France and moving in down the street from a cathedral built between the 5th and 15th centuries, I've become a bit enamored by these sacred spaces. But I'm no architect, and I never took enough art appreciation/history classes to prepare me for living in Europe where suddenly architectural terms and eras matter.

I've mostly viewed these spaces without any tools for understanding them. But at the Abbaye de Sénanque, I was struck by the way a tour of the building, with explanations of its features and their symbolism, couldn't help but present the gospel. Thus, people with no interest in religion, just in old buildings, couldn't help but be exposed to an embodied rendering of the beliefs held by those of us who worship in churches. I find this to be a brilliant form of evangelism. In a post-Enlightenment culture that often doesn't respect the role of art, few of our modern churches--most built to be practical, inexpensive, and multi-functional--could claim to have the gospel worked into their masonry.

So I was happy when a friend recently sent me a link to a podcast that expounded on these very things I've been intermittently pondering: "The Spirituality of Europe's Great Cathedrals." It's long but worth a listen! I ended up buying the book Heaven in Stone and Glass by Robert Barron, the podcast guest. Haven't had time to read it yet, though I'm eager to.

Toulouse, France
Les Baux-de-Provence, France
Saint-Esprit - Aix-en-Provence, France

Saint-Émilion, France
Brussels, Belgium
Abbaye de Sénanque - near Gordes, France
Île Saint Honorat, France

Monday, March 31, 2014

haiku-ing 2



Lauds: Spring

All along the rue
Shutters bang, curtains fly in
Southwesterly wind.

Friday, March 28, 2014

i fought the cliché and the cliché won

Aix-en-Provence
vendredi, 28 mars 2014

The topic of the homework assignment was right up my alley: "What kind of reader are you?" I frenched my way through a description of my preferred reading habits: what, when, where, why. That kind of thing.

And then I waited eagerly to discover how badly I had mangled the grammar. The day our professor returned the graded essays I discovered a squiggly line under the phrase "la littérature non romanesque," along with the question "c'est à dire?"

I had carefully consulted my various dictionaries to discover the French words for "nonfiction literature," but I hadn't been certain of the result, so I wasn't completely surprised to see the squiggly line indicating what I'd written wasn't clear enough for her to offer a correction.

Class ended, and I accosted the professor, eager to solve a mystery that has real bearing on my life, given that nonfiction literature is the genre I work in, dreaming as I am of one day being a real purveyor of long-form narrative journalism, of narrative nonfiction, of creative nonfiction...pick your term, they're all used in the writing circles I run in.

But apparently not in my professor's writing circles. (though I'm not sure she has any writing circles at all)

Voicing my question was that step you take when you're happily ambling down a quaint Aixois sidewalk and suddenly find you've stepped into one of the piles of dog sh.../poo that polka-dot the narrow walkways. As much as you try to focus on all the ancient beauty that surrounds you in this lovely town, the reality is that dog poo is a true part of life here too. And it's not even a hidden reality.

My innocent vocabulary question dropped me into one of the cross-cultural clichés whose existence I try so desperately to deny. Mme. Professeur essentially told me, as we walked down one of the bland corridors of the Fac de Lettre's main building, that nonfiction and literature are mutually exclusive terms. When she asked what kind of writing I was talking about, I explained that the term encompasses things like essays and memoir, but tried to explain that it's really more than that, that it's a genre of literature. But she would have none of it. She was adamant that these things of which I speak are not literature.

My first response was a moment of internal panic. I HAD to make her understand. Surely, she just wasn't understanding my French explanation. That's all this was: a language problem.

But in slow milliseconds, during which all of France's proud literary history crashed in a haughty, foaming wave over the top of me, I realized that I had to admit defeat at the hands of cliché.

Painful as it is for me to write it, sometimes clichés are true. Sometimes some French people can be inordinately rigid about definitions and structures and all things anti-creativity and innovation and bohemian fluidity. This was one of those times.

But this morning I've just finished reading a redemptive interview with the French writer Emmanuel Carrère. I'd never heard of him before, but I've immediately claimed him as my new French soulmate. He's a journalist and writer who, get this, writes what he calls "nonfiction novels." Take that, Madame le Professeur!

In the way of, well, anyone who is out for revenge over insults real or imagined, I want to deliver my find to her covered in some sort of ironic giftwrap, maybe with a French chocolate on top and an Eiffel tower Christmas tree ornament.

Instead, I'm just writing a nonfiction blog post about my imagined vengeance. So much less clichéd, right?