Pray for Peace

Recently Paris was hit with a multitude of unspeakable attacks of terror. Unspeakable acts that have left me, and I’m sure many other people around the world reeling. Many of us were left not knowing where to turn for answers while others are left to mourn dead relatives and friends.

On Friday 13th I was babysitting for a French family in Billancourt-Boulogne, safely outside of Paris. That morning I had accepted a last minute request to babysit and cancelled my plans to visit a friend for drinks, who lives on the street leading off from Place de la Republique. It is easy to lose myself in ‘what ifs’; what if I had not been asked to babysit that night, what if one of my other friends had decided to join my friend near Place de la Republique and had got caught up in the shootings? What if one of the ugly threats from the extremists are true and Paris is hit with another attacks? It’s easy to lose one self in ridiculous what ifs and eventually I have to settle with the present reality. My friends and I are all safe. The increased police presence in Paris is for our safety and they can be regarded as a symbol of security and assurance rather than a sign for continued fear.

The following Monday I spent the minute’s silence with friends and fellow students at the Paris-Sorbonne University which was also attended by a couple Ministers and President Hollande. The sound of the French joining in union to sing the Marseillaise and applaud while shouting ‘Vive France!’ was extremely touching.

I can not help but feel that instead of turning to further acts of war in times such as these we need to dig deeper and respond with something more than reflexive acts of violence. I can’t agree with President Hollande’s response to bomb Syria and David Cameron’s demands for Brits to invoke the spirit of the Blitz so that the UK can ‘protect themselves’ by joining the war in Syria with military aggression.

Since Friday 13th, there have been similar acts of terror in Mali and Nigeria and prejudiced acts of backlash against Muslims.  Therefore I found myself, at the Place de la Republique memorial praying for Paris and for peace. As many have pointed out, the awful attacks in Paris occurred at a similar time of bombings in Beirut and multiple other tragedies around the world. As one of the victim’s husbands put so well in a heart breaking open letter to his wife’s killers, “I will not give you the gift of hating you” and by continuing on with our lives we defy those who seek to instill constant fear and paranoia into our worlds.

And go on we shall.

WP_20151116_12_57_51_Pro

When thinking of the attackers I immediately thought of a poem an anonymous Dutch writer placed on the gates of the Concentration Camp Vught. The poet was writing to some hateful Nazi enthusiasts who had attempted to ruin a memorial wall at the museum by splashing tar on the names of those who had died at the camp. He or she is writing about a different kind of hateful attack on innocents and yet I think his words ring true for Friday 13th victims too.

Kon je teer smeren

Over steen, namen, verleden?

Dwaze stumper, zulke namen

Zijn nooit uit te wissen!

Ze staan gegrift in talloze

Mensenzielen, onaantastbaar

Voor jouw verziekte haat.

Ze staan met vuur geschreven

Aan de hemel, welks licht

Jou ondraaglijk is

 

Je hebt niets bereikt

Teerling

Je hebt voor alles alleen

Je eigen naam besmeurd

Niet die van hen:

Zij glimlach om jouw woede

Badend in het licht,

Wiegend op Gods adem

En zingen heel zacht en stil

Voor wie het wil horen:

Vrede.

 

*National Momument outside Concentratie Kamp Vught, The Netherlands

 

See below my rough translation of the poem in English:

Could you smear tar

Over stone, names, and the past?

Foolish idiot, such names

Can never be erased!

They are engraved in countless

Of people’s souls, untouchable

For your sick hatred.

They are written with fire

In the sky, whose light

Is unbearable for you.

 

You have achieved nothing

You have only

Smeared your own name

Not theirs:

They smile at your rage

Bathed in light,

Swaying on the breath of God

And singing very softly and quietly

For those who want to hear it:

Peace.

WP_20151116_19_53_05_Rich

One Month in and I’m Learning

It is 14:20 on a Friday, the last of my first week of classes and we’re starting late because half of the class struggled to find the room in the Latin area of Paris-Sorbonne University. Nevertheless it’s a beautiful room and a reminder that we’re in a university that is hundreds of years old. The back wall is made up almost entirely of large square windows that look out to the rooftops of the Sorbonne and central Paris. It’s a warm day so the classroom is filled with bright sunlight that filters in through the windows. The tutor begins the session with a hopeful smile on her face but is quickly interrupted by a loud SKREEEECCH that goes on and on. All of the students’ head swivel to the windows that once seemed so great as windows of light that have now become windows of noise to some building works that is going on nearby.

I start with this story because I think it pretty much sums up how my first two weeks at the Sorbonne have gone. This Monday marks my first month in Paris and while I continue to settle into my new home there have been many obstacles and challenges. And when I say obstacles and challenges I mean dealing with French administrative matters!

I knew it was going to be difficult leaving one university in one country and transferring temporarily to another in France and I had heard the stories about French bureaucracy. Nevertheless after having two weeks of practically a mini extra holiday in Paris, the first week of classes was a sharp contrast of intense paper-work drama.

Some things that I have learnt:

  • The French love their queues.
  • Check and check again forms that you send off because when filling in pages of paperwork you’re apparently almost always guaranteed to miss a section or two and have to start again.
  • If there’s something you want to get straight in French, numbers is definitely a good way to start so as to avoid any mistakes when making appointments.
  • While the Sorbonne is a beautiful building it is a MAZE inside.
  • No matter how much you try and prepare for things sometimes the best thing you can prepare for is to expect for things to go wrong.

Looking back on the ups and downs I know that no difficulty was really worth stressing over and when I say that sometimes you have to prepare for things to go wrong, I mean it in the best way. Saying goodbye to my average six hour schedule at home to change it for the 20 hour schedule I have in Paris has been hard but also an opportunity to try out new academic experiences which I’m already beginning to enjoy.

I like the French system of having the choice to be graded for sports. I love LOVE being able to stop at a boulangerie in between classes and pick up a croissant or baguette for later. I love walking through the streets and goggling the beautiful Parisian apartment buildings. In addition, while I spend much more of my time travelling on the metro than I’m used to, I love the fact that every arrondissement in Paris is different. There is almost always something going on and twice now I have stumbled out of the metro to find myself in the midst of some exuberant parade.

When I was younger the image I had of Paris was of city full of romantic, chic people and painters wearing berets and black and white striped shirts or musicians playing melancholy tunes on the corner of every boulevard. In some ways it is like that. My friends and I can’t help but comment on Top Ten Things you’ll never see Parisian Girls Doing, and walking down Rue du Faubourg Saint Honore in the 8th quarter with all of the high end fashion shops does make me feel a bit like I’m in one of the later episodes of ‘Sex and the City’. However for the most part Paris is a city just like any other with its grit and noise and angry drivers.

The most ‘real’ experience I’ve had so far was when attending a party for a new-born baby in Vincenne. In one of my first weeks I found myself in a house, (which was strange as Paris seems to be full of apartment buildings) amongst many French people. We drank champagne and ate some strong cheese that I wasn’t sure if I was in love with or if it was going to make me sick. It was intimidating but for some strange reason it made me feel more settled and less of an outsider/tourist than when my friends and I had taken selfies eating macarons in front of the Eiffel Tower. Instead it was being surrounded by French people and understanding only around fifty percent of what was going on, but in knowing that one day I might be just as fluent and chic, made me think; yes, I can do this!

 

*Site à voir: Mussée de L’Orangerie*

Famous for showcasing Monet’s ‘Waterlilies’, which are amazing. What I didn’t expect was the other numerous collection of paintings from other French impressionists such as Henry Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Auguste Renoir and Marie Laurencin downstairs! Definitely a great art museum.

Impressionists

Pictures: ‘Nympheas’, Claude Monet; ‘Femmes au chien’, Marie Laurencin; ‘Paul Guillaume, Novo Pilota’, Amedeo Modigliani

Touring the Tourist Traps of Paris

It has now almost been a week since I moved into Paris and passed a traumatic night of driving blindly around the Arc d’Triomphe and carrying all my luggage up seven flights of stairs. The change from being a slightly clueless tourist to an actual resident happened so quickly, or not at all depending on how you look at it, (I still get lost on the metro!).

But there are some changes. Now when I walk past the Eiffel Tower I like to look at the funny faces people pull when trying to get the perfect selfie. The Tower itself will never cease to amaze me but now that it is officially my neighbour I feel myself slowly moving further from the frantic crowds. And it’s a lovely reassuring feeling to know that the new city panic won’t remain forever.

Only a month ago I was in Paris for a week, very much part of those bustling crowds and very much a tourist trying to fit in all the major sites within the five days my family and I were in town. I think we did quite well.

Cruising through the waters of the Seine…

On our first day we decided that instead of walking around gaping at the grand buildings lining Paris’ beautiful river we could gape at them from the comfortable seats of one of Paris’ many boats. It’s a good idea to buy a day ticket and use the boat as your mode of transport for the day, or as we did spend the hour and a half travelling the full circuit without getting on and off.

WP_20150810_14_46_37_Pro WP_20150810_14_45_08_Pro

Exploring the Louvre…

I knew the Louvre was popular and yet I couldn’t help wondering if we were overdoing it by waking up extra early to get into this museum. Turns out we were right. Fifteen minutes before opening and the Louvre had already attracted a half hour queue.

Inside, the famous art museum did not disappoint with room after room of beautiful paintings, ancient artefacts and stunning statues. Just as grand as the beautiful exterior, the interior of the museum is magnificent with high ceilings often covered in beautiful paintings and marble columns.

WP_20150814_08_39_49_Pro

The Notre Dame

Located in the historic heart of Paris at ‘Pont Neuf’, the Cathedral of our Lady of Paris the Notre Dame is a beautiful old church. We finally got caught out though by the long queue to climb the towers which was just a bit too much for us.

 WP_20150813_10_26_39_Pro

Le Musée Rodin

All of Auguste Rodin’s sculptures are worth seeing and it was great to see the practice sculptures in his workshop and discover how some of the more well-known sculptures came to be. My favourite bit of trivia was finding out that Rodin’s famous ‘Le Penseur’ (The Thinker) was originally going to be called ‘The Poet’, as it symbolises a figure in poetic philosophical thought!

WP_20150811_12_34_04_Pro

Shakespeare and Co.

As an English Literature student and book worm we had to visit this well-known bookshop in the Latin quartier, not far from the Notre Dame. Though you do not have to be any of those things to be charmed by this unique bookshop which has made a name for itself by visits from greats in the past such as Ernest Hemingway and appearances in films such as ‘Before Sunset’ and ‘Midnight in Paris’.

 WP_20150628_12_58_49_Pro

Arc d’Triomphe and Champs-Elysées

 WP_20150815_09_59_07_Pro

(Disneyland Paris)

Even though Disney Land Paris is located just outside of Paris at a forty minutes’ drive away, we had to leave a day free to visit the park!

WP_20150812_10_35_03_Pro

I generally like to keep my holidays balanced with some time for relaxing and some time for energetic cultural exploration. This trip was much more focused on the latter and yet we managed not to ruin any of our trips to the extent that we rushed the experiences. Even now that I am living in Paris its hard not to try and rush off to visit the Catacombs and the Sacre-Coeur. I have to remind myself that my time can now be spent by doing a more relaxed touring of the city; browsing the local shops, practicing my french, comparing supermarket prices and so on – much smaller and yet equally necessary and interesting activities.

 

How do you like to spend your holidays?

Countdown to Pah-ree!

It has been a couple months now since I found out that I was going to be spending the next year studying at the Sorbonne in Paris and the news is barely sinking in. I feel as if I have gone through most stages of excitement; first the simple euphoria at finding out the news, then the frenzied worry and stress as I went through the exhausting process of finding accommodation and finally, a more practical excitement as I began to make administrative preparations.

For many of my peers the decision to do a year abroad seemed like a difficult one and I’m not denying it is. Even as I tell my family and friends that I will be living in Paris next year and they ask the inevitable question, ‘What will you be doing in Paris?’ I find myself going ‘Aarrgh’ because that proves to be a surprisingly difficult question.

As a student of English literature and Creative Writing, a year in Paris is more of a year for new experiences, learning the language and trying ‘escargots’ instead of a year focused on exams and grades. No, the year does not count towards my final degree and yes, it does add an extra year onto my three year course. But hey, as a former student from the Erasmus program said, ‘When will there ever be a time in your life when you get paid to live in Paris?’ – thanks to the Erasmus programme that is exactly what I hope to do, seize this opportunity even though it was awful saying goodbye to friends that will graduate a year early.

As the start date at the Sorbonne looms closer I enter my final phase of excitement; nervous anticipation for the fresh start that Paris will be. It will almost be like being a fresher all over again, making new friends, getting used to a completely new environment.

Then there’s the question of how to prepare. I’m trying to suck up all the babble and ‘Collins easy learning French’ guides as quickly as I can. But there’s more than the language. I’ve tried to dive into the most famous, accessible literature and films about and set in Paris as possible, ‘Midnight in Paris’, ‘Before Sunset’, ‘Paris J’taime’, The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford…

I’m aware that the list above includes Americans and British perspectives on Paris. Which led me to wonder if an outsider perspective is something one can ever get past if you were not born into the country. After living in the Netherlands for eleven years I still wouldn’t call myself Dutch but I am definitely no longer a foreigner.

What is the right way to experience a city? Are you just a ‘tourist’ – whatever that means, when you stop to take to a snap of the Eiffel tower, or is it really a crime to visit Paris and not climb the Eiffel tower? Can I visit the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe… walk the less well known streets and still advance from status of British tourist to a true Parisian?

I imagine the answer is different to everyone, that we all experience foreign countries and cultures in our own way. And my approach will e to try and do as much as possible in the time I have and in the words of Christopher Isherwood, become, “a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.” ( – through the noble art of blogging instead of by diary of course).

Photo: Wikimedia

‘The Bunker Diary’: Where do we draw the line for children’s books?

Have you ever read a book or watched a film that has already generated a massive hype amongst film critics and readers? So that before you have even turned the page you know that the political dystopian novel you’re about to embark on is supposed to be the best thing ever written since Orwell’s 1984, or a movie is supposed to be the funniest high school drama since Mean Girls?

This was kind of how I felt turning the first pages of The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks. I was told that the ending was sad and that the novel had generated horror amongst certain critics when it won the Carnegie medal for the UK’s top prize in Children’s Literature. Apparently some critics found that the content of The Bunker Diary was too horrific for children. With this in mind I began reading the novel with the expectation for a horrible ending. Two hours later I hurriedly turned the last page of the novel expecting to read more only to find blank pages. Turning that page was like a brutal slap to the face. Horror didn’t seem to cover it.

Author, Kevin Brooks with the Carnegie medal. Photo: The Independent

Author, Kevin Brooks with the Carnegie medal. Photo: The Independent

I must confess that having read the novel in two hours straight and late at night might have added to my shock at the ending. Having stayed with the characters in their monthly stint in the bunker that serves as their prison, without any breaks added to the reading experience. Later, after some time had passed I calmed down somewhat and took some time to assess the book as a whole.

The novel is about six random people who are kidnapped by a man and imprisoned in a bunker. Why they are kidnapped or by whom they do not know. They each have six separate rooms, a bathroom and a dining room. One by one the characters find themselves in a lift controlled by their kidnapper that leads to the bunker. What they do know is that they are being watched through cameras. As the tale ensues, things get worse in the bunker, with incidents of torture, starvation, murder and rape.

The story is told by Linus, a seventeen year-old teenager who has a remarkable background story of abuse and time spent living on the streets that makes you wonder why this young boy deserves to end up in his situation. Yet one might argue that life is exactly that – unfair and it sometimes moves us randomly into the situations we find ourselves. The Bunker Diary is exemplary of that fact, it teaches its readers about the unjust reality of life. Not everyone who is kidnapped in the world is rescued or treated fairly. Why should Brooks’ characters fair any differently just because it is a fictional story?

Aside from the devastating ending, The Bunker Diary, is a beautifully written and well-crafted novel that I would recommend to anyone. Brooks knows that sometimes less is more, and often it is the information he withholds from his readers that adds to the magic of the novel. The reader is only told of the beautiful harrowing poems and passages in Russel’s diary and of the letter that Russel addresses to Linus. In addition, Brooks withholds information about the novels’ kidnapper which only adds to his allure and scare-factory as their mysterious assailant. Much of Linus’ diary is taken up with Linus considering the difficult fact that his attacker has provided him with his diary and could be reading what he has written. In one poetic passage he writes: 

 “You see, you are the unknown. You are you, and sometimes you’re me, but you’re also Him. The Man Upstairs. Or at least you could be Him. I’m not saying you are, but I have to bear that possibility in mind.” (105)

Despite the limited setting I was always fully engaged as a reader and kept on tenterhooks throughout the narrative as to what would happen next. Criticism that Brooks’ novel won on, “shock value rather than merit”, is unfounded for in my opinion. Notwithstanding the ending, the characters are realistic and easy to empathise with. I would argue that the full force of the brutal nature of the story does not hit the reader until the very end.

It is the fact that the ending leaves you with so many questions as a reader that bothered me the most. I have read many novels which end with unanswered questions. In this case I felt like these questions needed to be answered. I also couldn’t stop thinking about all of the children and adults around the world who have been kidnapped around the world as I was reading.

The Bunker Diary is about real world issues, such as the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, or the 276 Nigerian schoolgirls who are still missing. However, these are issues that young people have access to hearing about on the news. Perhaps the subject matter is not as X-rated as some might expect.

In defence of the novel, a children’s librarian told The Guardian, “our year nine girls loved it and did not then come to me to complain about content or the unsuitability of it. They were more concerned about letting me know how much it had moved them and how powerfully frustrated and moved they were by the ending.”

I agree with librarian Beth Khalil that sometimes children can surprise us with their reactions. I can even understand why parents might be more horrified reading The Bunker as they follow the story of nine-year old Jenny who is taken from her parents. Indeed, Jenny is a perfect example of this in the novel. Unlike some of the adults, Jenny and Linus are the few characters who manage panic less in the bunker and think rationally about potential escape plans.

I do agree, however that the inclusion of scenes of torture and rape call for at least a young adult specification warning for some adult content. On the other hand does the The Bunker Diary, deserve to be labelled, “vile or dangerous”? – I think not. I believe it is far from vile and highly deserving of its literary award.

Have you read any children’s literature that made you question the author’s chosen target audience?

Beyond Bob Geldof’s Ebola Christmas

livelytwist

charity

The debate and backlash that surrounded Bob Geldof’s resurrection of Band Aid’s 1984-charity single, Do They Know It’s Christmas, to raise funds for Ebola held my attention for many days. While some questioned the rich celebrities’ motives, others were appalled by the patronizing lyrics, which they claimed cast West Africans as people who cannot solve their problems and so were always in need of foreign aid. In between were a thousand other pros and cons. I capture selected sentiments (edited), below:

They need all the money they can get. What have the people complaining done?

My parents gave money when I was two. Now I’m thirty-two, I have to give money—hang on, my daughter is two. Is this a generational thing?

Well at least they’re changing the lyrics.

How about new lyrics: cure the world, yes they know it’s Christmas time, doesn’t quite have the same ring to it…

View original post 1,130 more words

‘Tender’, Says Lawrence

There in the world of the mechnical greedy, greedy mechanism and mechanised greed, sparkling with lights and gushing hot metal and roaring with traffic, there lay the vast evil thing, ready to destroy whatever did not conform. Soon it would destroy the wood, and the bluebells would spring no more. All the vulnerable things must perish under the rolling and running of iron. (142)

I first fell in love with D. H. Lawrence reading his novel Women in Love, the sequel to The Rainbow.

The sequel features four unique protagonists: Gundrun, Ursula, Birkin, and Gerald. The characters regularly engage in profound, philosophical discussions that occur so often and are so profound that many scenes are rather surreal. Lawrence provides no comic relief for his readers and after reading Women in Love I instantly read further about the novel to discover that it is generally criticised for being too dogmatic.

I found the novel extremely readable and engaging. It feels as if each character is a puzzle that Lawrence challenges his readers to desire. Ultimately all of the characters have a tragic inevitability which is evident throughout the novel, and yet as a reader you still hope they will be successful with their goals. I would definitely recommend it as an enthralling read.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover is perhaps a slightly lighter novel than Women in Love. I think many readers are drawn to the novel for its descriptive sexual passages that shocked Lawrence’s 1920’s audience. However I was drawn to Lawrence’s depiction of the idea of ‘tenderness’ against the harsh, cold world. In 1928 the image of a ‘harsh, cold’ world was based on the growing industrialism and increasing urbanisation. Today, in the face of riots, civil wars and ongoing war conflicts around the world, I think we could still do with some more of Lawrence’s special tenderness towards one another. 

 

‘TENDER,’ SAYS LAWRENCE

This act
llllis soft
seeping, weeping
lllllllllllllllllllllllllquiet
from the thunder.

Let it
swallow
llllthe sureness,
surrender your arms
lllll to a flowering secret
to the warmth

llllof another

touch.

 

April Roach

Lawrence, D. H. Lady Chatterley’s Lover. London: Harper Press, 2013.