Sunday, July 1, 2007

From Toast to Freedom, Things that might be owed to the french

This post stems out of a conversation I had a few weeks back about a distaste (somewhat joking) for things and people French. Or at least slightly. Once, some years back, and in a drunken fit of homesickness, I left a party and was overtaken in the street by a band of French rogues who threw me to the ground and repeatedly raked my face across the concrete. This was in Pittsburgh, mind you. That being the truth as I told it.

The "truth" aside, I like french toast on occasion and enjoy a plate of french fries accompanied by the loveliest of American cuisine, the cheeseburger. Mmm, get all dribbly just thinking about it. And today I spent a portion of the day wandering around the city of New York with a friend who I've known since those days in Pittsburgh and a friend of hers who had just arrived back in the states from a 6 year stint in Russia (Volgograd and Moscow) teaching English. He is originally from Canada. So being that we were with a tourist, we were viewing things that tourists view (which if you've spent time living in new york, you don't view unless people come to visit from elsewhere--something about self-involvement and mythology could fit here but I'm tired).

Walking across the Brooklyn bridge, we caught a few glimpses of the statue of liberty. Stopped to take pictures of the architecture and the crushing of Miss. Freedom between two Canadian fingers. There was a fender bender on the bridge and everyone walking gawked for a minute. Drivers were cursing and flailing and beeping. The man whose car was hit almost had his driver side door ripped off by opening it into oncoming traffic. The weather was beautiful. High reaching cumulus and just enough sun. Being the front of July, it was unseasonably mild.

The statue of liberty, however iconic and possibly overblown, still maintains a resonance that very few national symbols can hold a flame to. Yes, I know the turn of phrase is cliche and too cute, but there's something to it. The statue is not commemorating our dead founders, it is not a testament to any religion, it is not simply a feat of architectural ingenuity, or a large timepiece--it embodies an idea that, however hollow and not entirely withheld throughout our nation's short years, people can truly aspire to. And the french might hold to this ideal better than we do, but the statue they gave us is not their nation's welcoming mat.

While I was traveling from what is possibly the most powerful part of this city (this city that is known around the world from representations on screens that make it seem almost as large as it is) across dirty water to another part of the city that receives enough waste to build acreage out of that same dirty water, there she was. The green lady with her skirt and her tablet and torch set against a backdrop of white pillows on a pale blue bed of sky. The lady whose name has been whored out on the tongues of many politicians, whose image and meaning supposedly make foreigners hate the people who populate our nation. And she is beautiful. But it's not her fault. It's the fault of the French. With their damn ideals and grace. This is the truth.

And I will not proselytize about my politics, as they're shifty to begin with. I just know that this nation can be better than it is, and this has always been the case. But I would not want to be anywhere else for too long. At least for now.

Happy Canada Day.


Lisa said...


I've spent a fair amount of time in France, and although it's quite dear to me, I'm not so certain they harbor their tired, their poor, and their hungry -- specifically their newly arrived tired and poor and hungry -- with so much more aplomb or délicatesse than we do.

Warm hellos to my beloved New York -- Lisa

tmancus said...

You're probably more right than I'd like to admit--there's been all kinds of class/race based upheaval there over the past few years and historically. I've never really spent any time in France aside from a 12 hour stop en route to Florence--so it's mainly just half tongue-in-cheek speculation. But it does seem (being the active verb--and this seeming could be very illusory) that people in Europe and in France in particular enjoy their lives a bit more heartily than we do.
thanks for the comment.

Lisa said...

Now that I'm down with! In France, I love the olives and the cheese and the wine and the laughing before a meal, on couches, no rush. I love how people stare at me like I'm a crazy American when I eat while I'm walking down the street.

Does this heartiness stem from the same thing that can make it hard to welcome people who are different -- an old and comfortable culture and way of doing things? I really don't know.

Come to think of it, though, I think I've seen a similar conviviality in parts of New York -- at a block party in East New York or Brownsville, for example ...

Having lost my taste for smoke and mirrors: this is Lisa from Pitt who emailed so, so many moons ago.

I'm glad you're in New York, as I'm glad for anyone there; I left it last year after four years living and working there. I love and miss it fiercely. Now I live on a vegetable farm in Virginia with my fella and my dog and am making a whole new kind of life for myself here.

tmancus said...

i don't know if you'll come back to this or not, but it's good to hear from you. where in VA are you? that really sounds like a fine life to be leading! new york is wonderful and draining. don't really know how much longer i'll be hanging around but...hope that everything's well with you. take good care of youself (and from your note, it sounds like you're doing just that).

Lisa said...

Well, hello!

We live an hour northwest of DC, our backs to the worst of the sprawl and just barely brushing the Shenandoah Valley with our fingertips. It's lovely country. And there's good food, good music, good people. Sometimes it feels very small, which I'm getting used to. Just back from a whirlwind New York trip which'll do me for a while.

Lisa said...

Thank you, I meant to include, for your well-wishes.