hope

I chose beauty

People more articulate than me have expressed their shock and sadness at the results of Tuesday’s elections. I wasn’t shocked, I saw it coming a mile away – Brexit turned my dread into conviction. Go me, I get to say “I told you so” to no one.

Grief. My overwhelming feeling is grief. Grief that the glass ceiling remains unshattered. Grief for the end of all hope that Obama’s presidency gave me; Brexit, Trump, Le Pen, Putin, Turkey… worldwide, the trend is towards explicit bigotry and isolationism. The liberal in me despairs. Grief for the wave of hate crimes that have started, and will turn into tsunamis before long. We might be a (not so) ways off from the socio-econo-political circumstances that contributed to WWII, but it definitely feels as though Trump was the latest in a long string of steps backwards. Grief for the inevitable hard times and suffering ahead. The stage has been set, and as an idiotic species that can never learn its lesson, we continue our inexorable march towards our next self-imposed horror.

My father, and many others like him, has said this is a test of his faith. That makes me laugh – I do not see anything about these times to make me doubt in His existence (more than I already do – but that is the topic of another post). Surely God, looking down at us, shakes His head in despair, “My children WHYYYYYYYY? I understand you are part animal and so do not have the same concept of eternity as I, but I promise you, WWII was really not that long ago. Europe barely freed itself of totalitarian regimes in the late 90s and early 2000s, and yet is sliding right back into them. I would have expected y’all to have a BIT longer memories than that!! I am too used to you repeating the same mistakes over and over again, just like fashion, to be surprised at your lack of wisdom, but really, this is exhausting to watch from up here in Heaven. I need a vacation. Next time, try wait at least 100 years before your next f*ck up!” (yes, my God says y’all and thou and uses swear words. My God is hip and ratchet when he is irritated.)

I joined in the collective hand-wringing on social media, and almost got myself into a few arguments with friends and family who do not share my point of view. Yup, I participated in all the noise. I shared some articles that had no value, and some that did. I looked at all of the memes of Obama and Biden. I read everything I could get my hands on. I laughed, was sarcastic, morally superior and smug. I listened to Dave Chappelle on SNL tell us white folks that we are freaking out because we might be at risk of witnessing and/or being subject to some injustices, whereas it is pretty much status quo for everyone else. Our hysteria is rather quaint.

Then I read this editorial.

Eugène Ionesco was French-Romanian. He wrote “Rhinoceros” in 1958 as a response to totalitarian movements in Europe, but he was influenced specifically by his experience of fascism in Romania in the 1930s. Ionesco wanted to know why so many people give in to these poisonous ideologies. How could so many get it so wrong? The play, an absurd farce, was one way he grappled with this problem.

(…)

Evil settles into everyday life when people are unable or unwilling to recognize it. It makes its home among us when we are keen to minimize it or describe it as something else.

I grieve, therefore, because of a loss of innocence: I can no longer hide from the evil around me. It has manifested itself, and the time will come where I, as we all, will be judged on how I respond to it. I grieve for the inevitable cowardice I will display, despite my best intentions.


It was a beautiful fall day today. I took a long walk, after my ballet class. Ballet’s history, its music and its dancers are steeped in suffering and horrors. Rudolph Nureyev, George Balanchine, Baryshnikov…to name but a few. The music for Cinderella as well as Romeo and Juliet was composed by Prokofiev who, along with Shostakovitch, suffered greatly because of the Soviet regime. The former chose to sell out and write commercially acceptable works and struggled terribly with his conscience whereas the latter was frequently imprisoned, exiled or blacklisted for refusing to submit to the Soviet’s propaganda requirements. Romeo and Juliet was written by Shakespeare, who did not exactly live in a democratic society, yet whose words still transport us today, 4 centuries later.

It occurred to me that every beautiful piece of music I can think of, and most works of art, is anchored in a place of suffering. Chopin, the king of slit-your-wrists music. Sibelius’ 5th symphony, a work of hope if there ever was one, was written in 1916. Elgar’s cello concerto, a tribute to WWI. Gorecki’s third symphony, the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, has an entire movement dedicated to an inscription found in a Gestapo cell. All these written close 100-200 years ago. All testament to the fact that even in times of great suffering, we are capable as a species of producing and recognizing great beauty. These moments do not wipe out the evil of those times, but they shine brightly against it. They remind that even as we are capable of pushing the boundary of unspeakable actions, we are capable of making the gods themselves weep with joy.


My defense against becoming a rhinoceros is to seek out examples of beauty.

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Bliss and bombs

Paradise is sitting on a bench in a cobblestone plaza, eating French pastry and sipping a café au lait, next to one of the most historic sites in France, la Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims.

Nutritious!

Ugly scaffolding


The scaffolding is an eyesore, yes? I was disappointed when I saw it, but having learned a bit more about the place, I think it is perfect.

The Cathedral is the site where all of France’s kings, dating back to the fifth century, were crowned in a sacred ceremony. Its cultural importance was so great that it was spared during the French Revolution, albeit temporarily repurposed as a hospital. It is embedded in the French collective identity.

Reims, being close to the German border, was bombed continuously throughout the 4 years of WWI. The Germans specifically targeted the Cathedral, attempting to grind it to dust, so as to break French moral. And they very nearly succeeded. The lead roof melted in fires, parts of the church collapsed, and 80% of the city core was levelled. My tour guide said that only 60 houses were still inhabitable after WWI; the others had been destroyed or needed to be demolished out of safety. That is why most of Reims has a modern (ugly) Art Deco look: despite being one of the oldest cities in France (existing before the Roman Empire), most of the city was rebuilt after the first war, in the 20s.

Which brings us back to the scaffolding on the Cathedral. The damage was so extensive, the restoration is still ongoing today. That’s right. 100 years later, the scars of that First World War are still visible in everyday French life.

That is why I love France so much. With every step I take, I feel the ghosts of the past walking with me. Every site is pregnant with joy and sorrow, beauty and horrors I can’t even imagine. 

France’s history is both glorious and ugly. That duality is what is so endearing, so very human. The ability to accept such complexity is what I miss the most, when I’m in North America: everything is black and white, good or bad, partisan and never non-partisan. We feel like immature spoiled children; something my grandfather (a WWII survivor) always said about locals, that our innocence and naivety sprang from a lack of suffering – life was too good in North America.

When I’m in France, my heart aches with joyful sorrow. I also feel hope, because here, in this country that has seen absolutely everything for 15 centuries, the best and the worst humanity has to offer, here I can believe in the resilience of mankind. More importantly, this country is proof that although as a species we are capable of great harm, destruction and hatred, and although the consequences of that behaviour lasts for generations, our capacity for beauty and love is greater and stands the test of time. 

100 years’ worth of restoration to heal the wounds of war… On a church that is 1500 years old and is still standing.

Vive la France!!!

Gargoyle removed from the Cathedral during restorations. The melted lead from the roof (due to the fires caused by the German bombs) flowed through all of the gargoyles, instead of rain drops. If y’all notice in the pic of the Cathedral, most of it is blackened? Those are the burns from the bombs. Most of the cathedral is black now.