Sunday, 23 April 2017

Voting in France - the first time

What an auspicious day! Got up, showered and accompanied JC to the local mairie. Today was the first round of voting in the French elections and of special significance to me. Today was the first time I had had the right to vote in France as a freshly minted citizen. Today I would be voting for the President of France. Further down the track would be voting for the representatives in the senate.
The system is quite different to that of New Zealand. You receive your voting card in the mail. This is later followed by all the candidate bumpf and the voting slips. Yes, you receive a piece of paper with the name of each presidential candidate. Individual pieces of paper are sent, not a list where you tick the candidate of your choice. JC ended up with two packs. Thank goodness he checked both as his preferred candidate did not have a voting slip in one of them. That's a bit dodgy. Fortunately the second pack did contain one.
When I got to the local mairie on election day, today, there was no queue at all. All was calm, quiet. I shook hands with the officials administering the voting and gave les bises (kisses) to the woman in charge of the electoral roll because I know her. She's the wife of one of JC's hunting buddies and an organiser of the Chartres Business Women's Network.

My electoral card was stamped to show I had participated. Along a side table were stacks of candidate slips, in case you hadn't brought your own (I had). JC explained you could just take one from the pile of your preferred candidate but everyone would then know who you were voting for, or you could do as some voters did and take one from each pile before heading into the screened booth.

In I went, took out my preferred candidates name slip, popped it in the envelope provided, slid it into the voting box on the main desk, signed the electoral roll with my current name (even though I am obliged to vote in my maiden name - no it doesn't make sense but that's the French way), received back my voting card for the future voting rounds and off we headed into the chilly sunshine.

In two weeks time I will have to vote again, this time between the two most successful candidates. Who will they be? We won't really know for sure until tomorrow night but it's a very important election this time. Will France stay in the EU? Will it decide to continue the socialist policies of Holland? Would it prefer a communist at the head? I really can't understand why anyone would want to live in a communist country but many French traditionally have these leanings. There are candidates with the charisma of a gnat, candidates who look like they should just put their slippers on and play with the grandkids, candidates who have little experience but powerful and rich friends, candidates who are now famous for immoral behaviour which has been encouraged by corrupt French systems, candidates who want to lock France into it's already very stagnant past.

The choice is scary. Voters tend not to educate themselves on the issues ( as is the case in many democracies) and just listen to the left-wing media. The campaign this time has been turgid and dirty. Rather a baptism of fire for me. I did watch the slots allotted to each candidate on TV but didn't watch most of the debates as they were too difficult for me to understand, language-wise. I did look over the candidates' publicity. The countdown has started. Whatever the outcome, it could change France and Europe. No, I'm not telling you who I voted for today.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Tate Britain - free to explore

Tate Britain is London's art gallery dedicated to British art from 1500 AD. It is completely different to the Tate Modern which is part of the Tate network of galleries. It's located at Millbank in the City of Westminister, not far from the Lambeth Bridge and is the oldest of the art galleries. It's particularly known for the works of  J.M.W Turner who bequeathed all his own work to the nation and is one of the largest museums in the country.
I was there to see some of the earliest artwork from Tudor times and beyond but principally for the Turner works.

Responses to art are very individual and personal. I like to understand what I am seeing and appreciate the technical mastery. I find it very difficult to do that with modern art so I prefer the older works which look like they take a bit more skill than flicking a brush randomly or sticking a square of paper on a piece of card and calling that art.

I can appreciate some sculptures but there were some exhibits I really couldn't see the point of. I really don't understand how a few manequins and some old tatty sheets should be considered worthy of space in an art gallery. Even if it's some sort of statement (lost on me) it doesn't fullfil my two requirements: understanding and technical brilliance. If it's not technically great and better than most people could do why bother putting it in a prestigious art gallery? No doubt I'm an art philistine.

I enjoyed seeing some very famous works such as The Lady of Shalott, painted by John William Waterhouse, inspired by the equally famous poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. In 1888, Waterhouse painted the Lady setting out for Camelot in her boat. There are other paintings in this medieval series elsewhere.

On a cold, rainy day in London this gallery is a great place to spend time. The gift shop is interesting with some good quality stock such as scarves, unbrellas, art books and supplies, prints.

William Turner is considered as probably the greatest (and most famous) British painter. He had several different styles which became more and more impressionist and ephemeral in terms of recognisable detail. He was a witness when in 1834 parliament burned to the ground (except for the historic hall, thank goodness) and quickly made several sketches of the horrific event as it unfolded. He had a passion for shipwrecks and naval battles and landscapes.

He loved to travel. Turner studied at the Louvre in Paris and enjoyed Venice, Italy. The emperor of France Louis Philippe gave him a beautiful snuff box in recognition of his talent. The impressionists, notably Claude Monet, studied his works closely.

As the film Mr Turner shows, the artist became more and more eccentric as he aged and ended up living a double life.
He virtually estranged himself from this 'wife' and daughters but lived as Mr Booth with another woman.

The gallery is open every day and has lots of additional exhibitions. For more information visit

Monday, 10 April 2017

French women behaving 'badly' - 1st April

I was in the countryside, accompanying JC at an annual hunters' lunch. This was a new experience for me. I knew almost no-one as it was not JC's usual club but social activities are rare for me so... why not.
I recognised a couple of women from a birthday party we'd attended a week earlier. On that occasion, the president of JC's hunt club had his party at home and I met some friendly people. There was an interesting experience with an 86 year old DJ who played saxophone, and a guest who had drummed for Joe Cocker. At one point the drummer was playing spoons on empty wine bottles and the DJ was really getting into the swing of his music. Quite a character, he would disappear from time to time and come back in fancy dress. At one point he was a witch with a broom, another a Spaniard, another a sheik. And they say we older folks don't know how to have fun.

I was expected to do some bellydance moves and ended up giving an impromptu lesson to some of the ladies while we were up and dancing on the deck. It was more interesting for me than sitting on my own excluded by the speed of conversation and my deteriorating hearing.

Now, however, we were in a different environment, inside an illegal cabin on a hunter's property where he had created a lake for ducks to breed. There were two long sets of trestle tables for diners and the guys were well organised. Women had done much of the cooking.

Suddenly it was announced that the women should go inside and sit at the table designated for them. You what? Why can't we all sit together? Because it's not done like that. But why not? This is France, land of equality (choke).
A guy came over and mumbled to the other guys to let me sit with my boyfriend if I wanted but tradition won out. I was on the women's table.
Food was passed around, to the men's table first! The women were not impressed and there was some vocal grumbling. One of the guys called out that the women would be on diswashing duty. A swelling wave of discontent began to build.

"This is NOT acceptable," I said. "This is the 21st century. Marianne is the symbol of the French Republic. In case you haven't noticed she's a woman."
 I felt surprisingly confident in stirring up already rising spirits.

The women began to bang the tables. The surge grew and grew and a rebellion began. No to the dishes the women chanted and clanged. I joined in enthusiastically and taught a few women how to give the fingers in the right manner. They learnt quickly and applied their knowledge.

The men were, at first, bemused, then confused, then amused.
The noise in the cabin was now deafening and it seemed the men may have lost control of the women.

One woman started a conga line and the rest of us rose as one and headed outdoors. French women were punching the air in rebellion and chanting something about 'no way dishes' that I couldn't understand. They all seemed to know this shared song and formed a circle. I think they may have tweaked the lyrics to an old traditional chant. One woman was in the middle urging the others on as we circled and chanted, holding hands. Then the one in the middle knelt down. Another supplied a scarf to kneel on and another woman knelt down. The two embraced as in a choreography. It was fascinating. So this is real French countryside women's solidarity?

The chanting and rebellious comments continued for a long time and one of the men was so taken with it he filmed it. The video is too long and large to embed in this blog, alas.

We women ended up doing the enormous pile of dishes though for a while one of the hunters did help wash but the women declared him incompetent and consequently unemployed. There were constant references to this unacceptable situation but the women good-naturedly and efficiently got the job done. Quite some time later we finished up. It was worth noting that none of the other guys offered to help.

It remains surprising to me that during social events in my age group in the countryside there is social segregation. You can't change it but I had had my revenge at the birthday party by insisting the birthday boy dance with me. A reluctant hunt president couldn't refuse a woman's request for that and I do believe he enjoyed himself.

April had got off to a good social start and for much of it the weather had been kind. I'd just experienced something new in France where other French women had accepted me. It was a new feeling, and I liked it. But the men think our little uprising was just an April Fools' Day entertainment.