Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Other Roman

News came down earlier this week that after 30+ years living like a lawless legend, Roman Polanski was arrested in Switzerland and extradited to the USA related to charges of having sex with a 13 year old.

While having sex with a minor is clearly despicable, and in another life might I call him an a-hole for otherwise narcissistic and misogynistic behavior, I have a real soft spot for Roman Polanski both for his creative genius (Rosemary's Baby remains one of the most haunting and gorgeously shot films- the best way to see The Dakota if you don't have the fortune of a guest pass) and for the serious hard knocks he's endured (as a young child he fled the Nazis in Poland where his mother was killed in Auschwitz, and 25+ years later, his 2-weeks-from-delivering pregnant wife Sharon Tate was brutally murdered).

While my own little guy Roman wasn't expressly named after Polanski, I did like the association, and frequently reference it for clarification to distinguish "Roman" from the more French "Romain." Any of Polanski's crimes and misdeeds didn't deter me from embracing the name in the way that the associations of a loaded "Napoleon" or even a "Claus" (van Bulow) would. Besides, I couldn't name my son after a type of lettuce.

Indeed, before (my) Roman was born, we had a binder to file all his important things like ultrasound images and insurance papers. Camille has a similar binder, as do my husband and I. Our photos grace their bindings for easy recognition of whose is who. In lieu of any photos of Romie (the above reference ultrasound image being one notable exception), we had one of a young, always short, Polanski, and only upon my son's birth did we change it. But I didn't part with the image entirely, it persists in the inside of the binder.  

I'll be curious to see what happens with Polanski, its hard to rally behind a guy who doped and raped a 13 year old, but for my part, if he were to be sent back to Paris, he'd make a helluva celebrity sighting.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Socialist Shmocialist

All of this asinine talk about Obama being a socialist (no wait! he's a Nazi! a Fascist! an Extremist on the left or right but we don't even know our political ideology!) has really got me down. Strangely, its put him in a situation where he needs to defend himself against something he is not, and in so doing gives credence to the notion that, in this case, being a Socialist is necessarily a bad thing. (In the same way he had to 'defend' himself as not being Muslim).

The truth is, since moving to France, I found that I'm much less left than I thought I was, especially as it relates to free enterprise. That's because the political spectrum in the states has narrowed so much, that to be on the left means you are centrist, and to be on the right now means you are a deeply socially conservative yahoo. And while I abhor extremism of most any kind, its refreshing to live in a place where radically different ideas for governing can have some foothold. During elections here, one can readily find candidates from the left and the right, and party names include (as translated) the Revolutionary Communist party, Green Party, Workers Party, Socialist Party, Democratic Movement Party, and UMP (Union for the People's Movement). Francois Mitterand, most famous in the States for having both his widow and his mistress attend his state funeral, was a Socialist who was in power for 14 years- that's two terms- and has had some major lasting effects, some good, some not so much. With some serious exception (say the National Front Party), many of these party's ideas have (at least) some merit.

In the last French election, while chatting with a friend about Nicolas Sarkozy vs. Ségolène Royal and expressing my preference (of the two) for Sarko, my friend (who himself is 1/2 French) had an immediate and almost prophetic response, "...but I think that citizens should be entitled to healthcare" (the implication being that only a Socialist candidate would support a national healthcare system). "Yes," I said, "but nobody is even talking about that." "True," he says. End of conversation. The French health system is by all accounts the best in the world, and what's more, it's socialist and is barely disputed.

While kicking around the 1st arrondissement the other day, I stumbled across a Socialist Party office. It looks a little like a hippie hangout, with its logo and color flags. Two thoughts came to mind: One, no way-no how could I imagine a place like that existing in any meaningful way in the USA. Two, despite the mid-afternoon hour, it was closed. ;)

Friday, September 4, 2009

You've got to keep 'em separated.

Granted. Going back to school in the States is a big deal; everyone gets a new pair of shoes for the year (in my day, from Thom McCann), and a bunch of Mead notebooks. Still, it is no comparison to the veritable national holiday they have for it here. It's called, simply, la rentrée, or The Return. Camille made her "return" yesterday. 

We learned in advance from la maitresse (who was, by the way, rather sexily clad in a light white cotton dress with some questionable decollete and high black heels
) that the kids are allowed to bring one doudou: a doll or stuffed animal. Camille isn't particularly attached to any single one, but rather has a chorus of favorites that she swaps in and out depending on her fancy. When I invited her to pick one for school, it was also at the moment I was clearing out some rogue stuffed animals, and had in my hand a "new" pink rabbit that a friend of my fathers kindly sent to us (a woman whom I've never even met). The bunny is as soft and fluffy and cute as the next, but its distinguishing feature is the embroidered "Jesus Loves Me" emblazoned on its belly. Moreover, if you press its left paw, it will tune to the "Jesus Loves Me" song.

Oh the irony. We are not religious and she doesn't even know who Jesus is.

More significantly, however, is the major (I'm gonna say it) faux pax I risked by sending her to school with it. You see, stuff like this is interdit, prohibited thanks to something called laïcité. Its the French concept of a secular society, which can be roughly translated into a very serious separation of church and state. Ostensibly, we have this in the States, too, as outlined in our constitution, but we still have time-consuming and rigorous debates over school prayer and if we should display words like "In God We Trust" on public buildings and greenbacks. The French take this concept verrrrry seriously, and literally. On balance, I think its a good thing, but the very thing that is intended to promote tolerance can feel restrictive and discriminatory. The French government got a lot of heat for it back in 2004 when a muslim girl was prohibited from wearing a head scarf to school.

In sum, it means that things like necklaces with crosses or Stars of David are strictly verboten. And so, I'd imagine, is a pink fluffy rabbit with Jesus Loves Me burning a hole through its belly, even if its an unsuspecting and unschooled 3-year old who is carrying it.

photo courtesy of Laïcité of Seine Saint Denis