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Posts Tagged ‘French culture’

Yesterday, in response to the picture I posted of my grandfather on the farm, Jeff asked,

When you have time, could you tell us more of the story of your grandfather and his family? Where in France was the picture taken? What did he farm? What would he have thought about all this climate change problem that we’ve created?

I lost my grandfather when I was 5. To this day, ‘Pepe Marcel‘ still looms tall in my memory. I realize I owe it to him to care so much for nature, and what’s happening currently. Times on the farm with my him are some of the most precious items in my green memory bank. Like my French blogging sister, Nadine, much of what I write is informed by these early moments.

I started writing a sappy response to Jeff’s question. A romantic interpretation of what I thought ‘Pepe Marcel‘ would be telling me now. Imbued with nostalgia about the old days, without cars, and planes, and supermarkets. Times when his old village was still very much a real community, and seasons dictated the rhythm of people’s daily lives. When organic was a word that did not exist, and yet everything we ate was organic. When tractors had not yet replaced the horse led ploughs in the fields, and the plots were still small and not cultivated to excess. When the bread we ate tasted like the real thing, and was not whitened artificially to make it ‘more enticing’.

Soon, my grandfather’s real voice came through, and it whispered a very different message. If I was living now, you can be sure I would be living just like you and your friends. I would drive a car and shop to Neuville at the supermarket. I would ride a tractor, so I could be home sooner. Actually, I am not even sure I would be a farmer still. Life on the farm is hard. May work instead as a cook in a restaurant  in Poitiers, and drive the 50 kilometers commute every day. I would have upgraded the farm, so that we have all the modern conveniences and your grandmother did not have to do laundry in the big old boiler, and hang it on the lines. I am sure we would have a TV. We may still have a vegetable garden and fruit orchard in the back, but I am not even sure. It’s so convenient getting that stuff at the store. For vacations, we would go on cruises, or fly to America, like all the neighbors. 

That’s when I realized there is no stopping ‘progress’, whether here, or in China, or India, or anywhere else. Moving forward means imagining new ways to live sustainably again, that may appear almost similar to the old. But the motivations, and the awareness are on a different level. Jungian analyst Aldo Carotenuto‘ s image of ‘The Spiral Way‘ comes to mind:

Book Cover for The Spiral Way

Book Cover for The Spiral Way

This time applied to healing not just one woman, but the whole world. 

PS- Jeff, to finish answering your question. My grandfather came from a long line of farmers in the Poitou region of France. The farm is in Champigny, a small village where I spent every summer when I was a child. Pepe Marcel cultivated about 40 acres, most of it in wheat and vineyards. After he died, we farmed it out to other farmers. Now there are only three farmers left in the whole village, and their farms are more akin to industrial enterprises. 

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On my way to the airport. Last time, was exactly a year ago, with three teenage girls. Same destination. We had a blast, and I will treasure forever all those moments spent discovering Paris with my daughter and her friends.

When we got there, I felt ‘Too Tired to be Green‘, and wanting to take a ‘Vacation’ from my nascent green-ness. My fellow Parisians impressed me with their ability to turn eco-correctness into ‘Green Fun‘. I became enamored with all French things, even the ‘Modern Appliances‘ in our apartment. Squeezing into my friends’ ‘Cars‘ became a riot. And last, I was reminded of the virtue of living life ‘In Moderation‘. 

Who knows what I will discover this time? 

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Americans are clean freaks, that’s a well known fact. I want to address this part of the American culture specifically, because it goes contrary to some of the behavioral changes that will become necessary as the climate and water crisis worsen. Health magazine just published an article on ‘The Germiest Places in America’ . I am not going anywhere after reading the article. In fact, I am not even going  in my kitchen, or my bathroom for that matter. The world is a scary place they say, with germs lurking everywhere, about to ambush you, and we are told, ‘wash up people, and get ready to wage a bit of germ warfare of your own’.

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To reduce the risk of germs form wet dirty laundry, we are told, 1) ‘Run your washer and dryer at 150 degrees . . .’, 2) ‘Transfer wet laundry to the dryer quickly so germs don’t multiply, and dry for at least 45 minutes’, 3) ‘ wash underwear separately’. Forget all the green tips about running washer warm or cold, minimizing number of loads, and air drying your laundry.

To combat germs in the bathtub, ‘Once a week, apply a disinfecting cleaner to the tub.”You need to actually scrub, then you need to wash the germs down the drain with water and dry the tub with a clean towel. ‘ How about showering instead of taking a bath?

This American habit of washing, cleaning, sanitizing, germ killing, is costing beaucoup precious water and energy. Other, just as civilized countries are not so concerned, and they seem to do just as well. Of course this is coming from someone who used to let her little children explore floor surfaces to their hearts’ content. I am French, after all.

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It is one thing to deliver content, and another to organize it in a way that is consumable by readers. I had been so busy writing, that I had lost track of the most important person, you, the reader of this blog. Something had to be done. I just went through my entire blog, reassigning tags and categories, to better help sort through all the information. The main challenge was deciding on which categories and how many? Looking at other green blogs, people are all over the place. Some are using tags as categories. Some have short lists, others super long ones. Some category names make sense, others don’t. I decided to do my own thing, and think first of the main topics I like to cover in this blog.

  1. Blogging: I did not plan on writing on my experience as a blogger, but it is turning out to be an important part of my life as a Green Girl Wannabe
  2. Ecopsychology: The main focus and raison d’ etre for the La Marguerite blog. A little talked about part of the solution to the climate crisis. Basically, the study of how personal psychology affects human behavior towards the environment. Including strategies to induce positive behavioral changes.
  3. French life: Because I am French, and references to my French experiences permeate this blog. I find it interesting to compare the two cultures, French and American. And of course, I am a bit biased . . . the French always end up looking good!
  4. Green domesticity: Mostly my interactions with Green Guru, my husband, and in residence green conscience. A narrative has been developing, at times funny, and always a source of insights into the dynamics of families, and how these impact environmental choices.
  5. Green solutions: An emerging category, and one I want to spend more time on in the future. Separately from this blog, I am working on a locally based green initiative. I will keep you posted.
  6. Internet: Living in Silicon Valley, I cannot ignore this most incredible tool, without which this blog would not exist in the first place. Things I love: social networks, wikis, blogs, green Internet solutions, anything new under the cybersun.
  7. Thoughts on society: The place for deeper articles on the macro problems, global solutions, comparisons between cultures, modern thinkers. An opportunity to cross-pollinate and tap into my multidisciplinary background as an engineer, marketer, advertiser, shrink, and artist.
  8. Zen moments: To capture all those times when I become zen, and go down, down, to that still place, where things just are.

That’s eight categories total. A good, manageable number. For other bloggers, interested in going through this same exercise, I would like to share a resource I just found through Daily Blog Tips, an article from Engtech, Climbing out of Category Hell”. I wish I had read it earlier. There are a number of things I did not do, did not know to do, and should have done, to minimize fallouts from my ambitious reorganization. I will only mention one, ‘to turn trackbacks off before you start reorganizing your categories or you’re going to spam the crap out of yourself as you resave all of your posts’. Ouch . . . I ask all to forgive me. This may explain the mysterious fall in Technorati ranking from the last few days.

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We are social beings

Prad has been gone a little less than two days. I thought I would enjoy this weekend alone, and purposely did not schedule any social activities with my girlfriends. Fourty eight uninterrupted hours, that I could spend doing all the things I love most! Blogging, swimming, taking long walks, reading, vegging. With only a few interruptions from Catherine, on the rare occasions when she still needs something from me. The truth is, being alone sucks. And virtual connections are no substitute for flesh encounters with good friends, family, and even strangers. Every day, my eighty five year old mother goes out for grocery shopping. She does not need to go that often, but she ventures out, still, for the human interaction with the shopkeepers. “Otherwise, I would go crazy.” She lives alone, with only one neighbor she can visit. All her friends have died, and she lives far away from me and my brother. My mother has never been very good at making social connections outside of our immediate family. Over the years, her active social network has diminished to practically nothing. Her life is hell.

Socialization, the way it used to be

Being in the house, alone, I was thinking about all the ways that people socialize nowadays, versus, let say, fifty, a hundred years ago. And I went right back to my days on the farm, with my mother and my grandparents. Socialization was embedded in the fabric of our lives, then. Sunday was going to the market on the horse carriage to the nearby town. The market was a social event, where you got to meet all your friends from other villages. It took us forever to make our way through the whole square, so busy my grandfather was talking to one or the other. Then there was Sunday mass right after. The best part was sitting in the church, and feeling surrounded by the whole community, our community. Of course, the whole village was out and about during the day. Everybody knew everybody, and would stop at each other’s houses. At night, during winter, there were stories told around the fire. My favorite sitting spot was way in the far corner of the fireplace, real close to the flames. I had a little chair that barely fit. If I got too close, my face started to burn. Too far, I started feeling cold. I would spend my time, trying to find the right distance, while listening to the adults’ conversations. The highlight of the year was the batterie, a day of celebration for the whole village signaling the completion of a successful harvest for the wheat crop. Each year, the batterie took place in a different house, and I still remember the time whey we were the hosts. The women had prepared a feast and I had helped. The men, all sweaty from a day in the fields, were laughing and drinking wine, and everybody had something to say to me, la petite. We were pretty happy on the whole, back then. Our basic need for socialization was taken care of.

Estimated score on the collective happiness index: an 8. Total carbon footprint: zero, with the exception of the wood burning.

Socialization now, and why it’s not working

Things are different now. In Silicon Valley where I live, there is a lot of socialization, but you’ve got to plan it. I am fortunate enough to live in a great neighborhood, with neighbors who actually talk to and help each other. But the bulk of our socialization centers around driving from place to place, from activity to activity. For parents, it often means chauffeuring a bunch of kids in SUVs, to sports events. I live very close to the Stanford campus. The other day, I was walking at night, and noticed the soccer field, brimming with activity. There was a night game, and parents had come cheering. What got to me were the bright lights, and the amount of electricity that’s required for that type of social event. Shopping is another big pet peeve of mine. Shopping is a social outlet for many women, and men, and teenagers. All driving to the mall, often without any real need for anything. Only the need to shop. And to go to a place filled with people, with guaranteed opportunities for social transactions. These are just two examples. I keep reading reports that our happiness is way down. Our lives nowadays tend to be fragmented between various networks, that are geographically dipersed. This requires more work on our part, and results in more superficial social ties.

Estimated score on the collective happiness index: 4. Total carbon footprint: it’s going to kill us, unless we change our ways.

Socialization, as part of the green solution

In the search for a green solution, maybe we ought to consider strategies that address this fundamental need we have as social beings, for relatedness and community? It may not be all of the solution, but in my opinion, it ought to be a main part. Looking for ways to rebuild local communities, around non carbon producing activities, or even better, around carbon reducing initiatives. Recognizing that the deeper human need is not about consuming, but socializing instead. The emergence of virtual green social networks is a step in the right direction. It is only one step, however. Virtual connections can only go so far. Eventually, people need to meet, and feel physically connected to each other, around a common activity. The churches, the villages are gone. We need to find a substitute for the mall culture. To do with community, neighborhoods, nature, stories, rituals, work, play, and celebration.

Anticipated score on the collective happiness index: 8. Anticipated total carbon footprint: negative. What do you think?

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‘La petite reine‘ is the French’s nickname for bicycle. When will we start referring to bikes as ‘little queens’?

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American Positivism, French Authenticity

One of the hallmarks of the American culture is its unflinching belief in the value of positivism at all costs. Everything is fabulous, mothers congratulate their kids for blowing their nose, and God forbid, any hint of negativism is frowned upon. Coming from France, a country where we are taught to practice the art of the litote, from a very young age, this has always felt like fake and forced communication to me. The French are more into subtleties, and minimizing their appreciation. If they think something is really good, they will say, ‘Not bad’. French are also more free about voicing their opinions, whether good or bad.

Is positivism good for green?

I am noticing a lot of positivism in the green American media. Another blogger told me once that I would do well to be less negative. Couldn’t I talk about all the good things I am doing, rather than focusing on what is not going so well? Of course, I could. My question is, how relevant is it to the current problem that is facing us all? This admission of ‘sins’ is the first step in all life changing programs. Major religions have it in one form or another. Twelve steps program have made it their foundation. And good old logic says, identify the problem first, the solution will come next.

Authenticity and Green

Denial and lies will not get us anywhere. In psychotherapy, one way to facilitate authenticity, is to give the patient the permission to be completely him or herself. To that end, the therapist will sometimes engage in self-disclosure, revealing uncomfortable part of him or herself, and indirectly modeling a more authentic behavior for the patient. Being positive is good. Being authentic is even better.

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I just finished separating the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle into two piles of equal height. The sections I read, and the other stuff, what I will not read. In the ‘will not read pile’ are mostly ad booklets for various advertisers. In France, the Sunday papers are a tenth of the size of their American counterparts. As far as I know, French newspapers are still making money. My question to the American newspapers is this: why do you need to use so much paper? why do you need to have so many sections? why do advertisers need to take so much space? can’t you start working with advertisers to reduce all that waste of paper? I know we live in the land of ‘bigger is better’, but in this case, bigger is clearly worse. And I am a passive accomplice, as long as I keep on subscribing to the stuff.

 

To-do-list: 1) stop subscribing to paper version of newspaper; 2) even better, start public dialog on issue, boycott.

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The Art of Navy Showers

Navy Shower anyone? I just found this post in TreeHugger, where the writer advocates that we all take abbreviated showers, just like those guys in the Navy. There is even a method to it. And since we are in America, even the simplest things come with an instruction manual . . . You may go to Wikipedia and find complete instructions for how to take a Navy Shower. In short, you just turn the shower on, just enough to get yourself wet, turn it off, soap yourself, and then turn it back on to quickly rinse.

The Farm Showers of my grandfather

This reminds me of my days back in my grandparents’ farm, when we did not have a shower. My grandfather was the only one to take a full ‘shower’ once a week. I still remember him stripping down to his underwear, and getting into the ‘abreuvoir’, what looked like a big cement bath tub, and was really meant as a drinking station for the cattle. The sight of him almost naked in the cold morning air used to make me shiver. The ‘Farm Shower’ – I just made up that word – consisted of one bucket of cold water poured over his head, quick soaping, and rinsing with a few more buckets of cold water. The women, my grandmother, my mother, and I, were content enough with occasional hand baths, using our ‘gant de toilette’, the French version of washcloth, which literally means toilet mitten. According to American standards of hygiene, we may have been dirty, but our lives did not suffer, and the clean country air did its share to minimize our natural body odors.

I love American Showers

Fast forward fourty years. While I look back on these years on the farm with great nostalgia, I certainly do not miss those hand baths. And I regard the long, hot American showers as a hard won indulgence that I am not willing to give up. I love the gushing of water, the washing away of the impurities of the day, the warm cocoon of the shower, where for a few minutes I can let my body relax. It is my daily version of a cheap massage. A luxury I am taking for granted. Of course, I am well aware it may not last. Water is going to become the new oil, a resource so precious that people may wage wars because of it. For now, I am not hearing, or seeing anywhere in my radar screen, that I am to stop taking long, hot showers.

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Last night was Back to School night at my daughter’s high school. I got a chance to be impressed by all her teachers. Her dad and I thought of skipping the Living Skills presentation. It is not a ‘serious’ class. Not like Maths or Humanities, or Social Studies. It turns out I was very happy we went. Living Skills is the class where kids learn about ethics, and civics, and values, in addition to other important stuff like what it’s like to have a baby, how to say no to drugs, how to have safe sex, how to balance a checkbook, . . . This is a class that teaches them how to think about what it means to be a good citizen.

I am not sure what Catherine will take out of the class, but it surely made me think. Citizen is an old fashioned word, a remnant of the French revolution. Being a good citizen has never been something I cultivated consciously. I strive to be a good person, but a good citizen? ‘Instruction Civique’ was on the curriculum in my eigth grade class, back in France. My father was teaching it, and he was very bad at it. Boring . . .

What I need: Now that Robert Reich has put some new life into the word, I am looking at being a good citizen, as a moral duty of the highest order. Green citizen that is. And it strikes me that I could benefit from green living skills education. Not in the form of a lecture, but rather a structure for thinking about my role as consumer, and green citizen. And making informed choices about who I really want to be, a consumer, a green citizen, something else?

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