France:  Macron vs. Le Pen

The world is watching

I am worried for France, for Europe, for the world.   Could Macron vs. Le Pen 2022 be a Clinton vs.Trump 2016 scenario? I was convinced Hillary would win.  The polls said so.  How could intelligent people vote for Trump?  The polls were wrong, although Clinton did win the popular vote.  French polls are predicting a Macron victory, but many detest the country’s president, just as many detested Hillary.  This is Le Pen’s third bid for the presidency.  In 2017 Macron triumphed with 66% of the vote.  It will be much, much closer this time.  And, the similarities between Le Pen and Trump are frightening.

 I am now a French citizen. I voted for the first time in France in round one of the country’s presidential election, and will vote in round two on April 24.  Much like the U.S., France is very divided. Macron, a centrist, is considered a president of the rich by many.  Too many feel left out, ignored by the political elite. They blame Macron for inflation just as so many Americans blame Biden for inflation.  They are against immigration and want to reclaim France for the French.

There was a mind boggling field of 12 candidates in round one. Macron and Le Pen beat out all others.

The French are also disillusioned with politics.  In the first round, 26% of voters abstained, the lowest turnout since the 2002 election.  This could be higher in the second round as many voters dislike both candidates. 

Le Pen, representing the far-right National Rally party, has softened her extreme right image. She is a die-hard cat lover and has appeared on television at-home interviews cuddling her felines. Her campaign is all about pocket-book issues, appealing to those suffering the pain of inflation. Her supporters believe she cares more about them than Macron does. She has gained mega points on the likeability chart.

Town hall in Roquebrune Cap Martin, France, where I vote.

“I’ll be the president of real life and above all of your purchasing power,”  she told a cheering crowd at a rally.  Although she has toned down her anti-immigration rhetoric, she is still a racist at heart. She wants to ban the hijab in public places and curb immigration.   She blames immigration for “feeding crime and ruining our social services.”  At the rally, her attacks on “anarchic immigration” drew the loudest applause.   She wants to withdraw France from NATO.  She has had close ties with Russia. 

While many dislike Macron, he has been given high marks for his handling of the economy, the pandemic and European affairs. He has been actively involved in diplomatic efforts to end the Ukraine war. He met with Putin. But, as the cost of living soars, all this takes a back seat.

In a guest essay which appeared in the New York Times, Dominique Moisi of the Institut Montaigne, a Paris-based think tank, had this assessment: “What is at stake on April 24 is nothing less than the future of democracy in France and in Europe.” 

Voting in r0und one of the French presidential election

I asked several friends and acquaintances whom they would vote for and why.  This is by no means an accurate sample of all French voters.  Nonetheless, here are their views:

Michele, caregiver for the elderly

“I am very disappointed in Macron.  He is for the rich.  I will vote for Le Pen.  She cares about inflation and the average person. But, it’s very difficult.  We don’t really have a choice.  I am not convinced one is better than the other.”

Thomas, retired American designer with dual citizenship

“I don’t’ like Macron.  I don’t like his style, his story. He is like an actor. It’s a shame the choice is so limited…Le Pen is a hard-working, dedicated politician. I like her.  I listen to her speeches.  She makes sense.  She is bright, intelligent.  We need change.  I will be forced to vote for her.  I think she will win.  A lot of people feel l like I do.”

Nicole, retired admin assistant

“I am not entirely in agreement with everything Macron has done, but in any case, I will not vote for Le Pen.  Macron is a positive image for France.  He is intelligent. He speaks English.  He has been good for foreign trade, but not for internal trade.”

Christophe, physical therapist, osteopath.

“I was against Le Pen and the extreme right for many years.  I am among those who think politics is under the control of world power… Macron was elected with the assistance of banks and powerful people… He thinks of Europe, not France.  I think many people will vote for Le Pen even if they don’t like her.  They want to block Macron. “

Christophe is an anti-vaxxer. Macron imposed strict vaccination controls, requiring medical personnel to be vaccinated to continue to work. Many refused and lost their jobs.  “Le Pen is against the vaccinations,” he said.  “She will assure that those who lost their jobs are rehired and repaid for their lost salary.”

 “I will vote for Le Pen.  I want to breathe.  I want change… Le Pen is not as bad as Macron… If we had another choice, I would vote for someone else.  We have a choice between la peste et le cholera (the plague and cholera).

Christine, retired teacher

“I will vote for Macron.  I am not against all he has done.  I agree with his program for Europe… He has not done badly for the economy.  During the pandemic he gave money to businesses and workers.  Inflation is 4 % in France, but 8% in Germany and 10% in Spain…. Le Pen is a racist.  She wants to withdraw from NATO.  She is against Europe.  She is an ally of Putin…. She wants to change the constitution…” Christine likens Le Pen to Viktor Orban, the anti-European nationalist prime minister of Hungary. 

Evelyne, retired veterinarian

“I will vote for Le Pen. I would like to see a woman president.  I cannot support Macon because of his vaccination policies.”

Arnaud, pharmacist

“It’s very close, but I will probably vote for Macron. Le Pen is too dangerous”

Veronique, caregiver for the elderly

She will vote blanc. In France voters are given an envelope at the polling stations. There is a table with separate stacks of the names of the candidates, each on a separate paper. And, one stack with blank papers.  Voters take a paper with the name of their candidate, or a blank piece of paper, go into a voting booth, and insert the paper naming their choice into the envelope which is then deposited into a transparent plastic box.

Depositing the envelope in the plastic box.

After casting their vote, they sign a register to confirm that they have voted. Several officials oversee the process. This is distinct from abstention. A blank vote shows the citizen has an interest in participating in the process, but refuses to make a choice.

“I suffered too much because I was not vaccinated. I lost my job.”  Veronique said.  However, she calls herself a “woman of the left,” She could not vote for Le Pen, hence she votes blanc.

The results of my poll give three votes to Macron, four to Le Pen, and 1 blank. If you add my vote for Macron, he gets four. A tie. Fortunately he is ahead in national polls, yet a Le Pen win is not impossible. Polls are not infallible.

The televised debate between Macron and Le Pen on April 20 could help Macron, who is known to be a skillful debater. He took Le Pen, who was poorly prepared, to the cleaners in the 2017 presidential debate. However, she learned her lesson and will be prepared this time

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My Turf in Photos

It has been too long since my last post. The lockdown prevented exciting excursions to new places which I like to discover and write about. But, all is looking much brighter. Restaurant dining is back – outdoors and indoors at 50% capacity. All stores, cinemas, gyms etc. are back in operation. Our curfew has been bumped up to 11 pm. It will vanish on June 30.

During many months of “confinement,” we were only permitted to explore and wander within 10 kilometers of our residence. We did. I took photos. Recently we were given liberty to travel within France, as well as nearby Italy with our vaccination certificate. And, soon we will be able to travel within the European Union. Eureka!

Basilica of Saint Michael Archangel in Menton

Following are random photos, mostly of our surroundings. The beauty around helped ease the pain of the lockdown.

Le Jardin Exotique (exotic garden) in Eze.

Market in Bordighera, Italy –our first visit to Italy after lockdown lifted.

More Eze Jardin Exotique, above and below.

First meal post lockdown in Italy: fabulous tuna

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A wee bit of travel on the horizon: a week at a spa (terme) in Abano, Italy. This promises an interesting tale for sure. Don’t miss it. If not a Tales and Travel follower, sign up. Your address is kept private –not shared

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Covid-19: France and the U.S.

These are trying, troubled times, especially in the United States where Covid -19 seems out of control. As an American living in France, I found the  article, “Do Americans Understand How Badly They’re Doing,”  which appeared in The Atlantic on July 5, pathetically pertinent.  The author of the article, Thomas Williams Chatterton, is an American who … Continue reading “Covid-19: France and the U.S.”

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We were happy when our neighborhood park reopened,  These ancient olive trees are magnificent,

These are trying, troubled times, especially in the United States where Covid -19 seems out of control. As an American living in France, I found the  article, “Do Americans Understand How Badly They’re Doing,”  which appeared in The Atlantic on July 5, pathetically pertinent.  The author of the article, Thomas Williams Chatterton, is an American who lives in France.

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/07/america-land-pathetic/613747/

Williams relates his experience of returning with his family to Paris after having spent the lockdown, “one of the world’s most aggressive quarantines,” in a rural village. Paris was bustling, minus tourists but with lots of locals enjoying their new freedom. This worried him.  Many seemed indifferent to the discipline that was required– masks, social distancing.

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Restaurants in France have reopened,  Above, Beaulieu-sur-Mer

 “I couldn’t shake the feeling that France was also opening up recklessly early. But I was wrong to worry. As Donald Trump’s America continues to shatter records for daily infections, France, like most other developed nations and even some undeveloped ones, seems to have beat back the virus,” he wrote. He cited Texas, Florida, and Arizona where the virus appears out of control. He wrote of a tweet by musician Rosanne Cash stating that her daughter had been called a “liberal pussy!” in Nashville for wearing a mask to buy groceries.

‘That insult succinctly conveys the crux of the problem. American leadership has politicized the pandemic instead of trying to fight it. I see no preparedness, no coordinated top-down leadership of the sort we’ve enjoyed in Europe. I see only empty posturing, the sad spectacle of the president refusing to wear a mask, just to own the libs. What an astonishing self-inflicted wound,” he wrote.

Chatterton also wrote of the EU travel ban on visitors from the U.S.and other hot-spot nations.  “The EU believes that the United States is no better than Russia and Brazil—autocrat-run public-health disasters—and that American tourists would pose a dire threat to the hard-won stability our lockdown has earned us. So much for the myth that the American political system and way of life are a model for the world.”

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Enjoying the Mediterranean — before the crowds.
 

Chatterton worries about his parents in the U.S., in their ’70s and ’80s  and “at the mercy of a society that is failing extravagantly to protect them… from a tough and dangerous foe that many other societies have wrestled into submission.” — Thomas Chatterton Williams, author of “Self Portrait in Black and White”

 

I too am worried — about friends and family in the U.S., about the state of the country where I was born.  The virus  is not the only woe plaguing the U.S. The world watched in horror as George Floyd was despicably murdered. We have witnessed police brutality, raw racism. Gun violence is increasing. The country is being torn apart with hatred, lies, dangerous conspiracies – plus the virus. It’s all hard to fanthom. Yet, despite all the gloom, on one front I remain optimistic.  At last it seems to be sinking in. Black Lives do Matter. More and more are waking up to the reality, the cruelty and injustice of systemic racism in the country. Change will be slow, but it’s underway. That gives me hope.

POST LOCKDOWN CHEZ NOUS

I feel guilty writing about our lives in France now. With the exception of masks and social distancing,  all seems normal. Maybe too normal. As we see hot spots emerging in places where all was under control — Australia, for example — I have to worry and wonder about the dangers that may lie ahead.  It is especially troubling when I see large groups of maskless folk. Nonetheless, since our strict lockdown ended on May 11, we have enjoyed returning to beloved Italy to see a friend and shop. We have been to restaurants, but always dining outside. We visited friend Karen in Beaulieu- sur -Mer and walked along the coast together.

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Sainte Agnes

We explored Sainte Agnes, a nearby hillside town. I have been to the beach, but it is crowded and chaotic. We are lucky. Our apartment building has a beautiful pool – crowd free. I’d prefer to swim in the Med, but the pool is serene, soothing and safe. We are fortunate to be here.

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No crowds at the pool.

img_7918_compressedPlease, wherever you are, wear a mask. Social Distance. Stay home if possible. Read. The following two articles, both recommended by friend Trina who has survived lockdown in Italy, are enlightening. They are part of the New York Times 1619 Project which examines the legacy of slavery in America.

 You Want a Confederate Monument? My Body Is a Confederate Monument
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/26/opinion/confederate-monuments-racism.html?referringSource=articleShare

If you want to understand the brutality of American capitalism, you have to start on the plantation. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/slavery-capitalism.html

On the topic of slavery and racism, two brilliant novels I can recommend, both by Colson Whitehead: “The Underground Railroad” and “The Nickel Boys.”

This following Washington Post article is heartbreaking, tragic, and yet another example of the inhumanity of DT : “Clint Lorance had been in charge of his platoon for only three days when he ordered his men to kill three Afghans stopped on a dirt road. A second-degree murder conviction and pardon followed. Today, Lorance is hailed as a hero by President Trump. His troops have suffered a very different fate.”

https://s2.washingtonpost.com/2a3bebc/5efdc500fe1ff6482db2578b/598779019bbc0f6826f2bcdf/9/62/5a5741db5c3042f128b758adc4dd8420

Scroll down for some happy scenes.  And, feel free to add your thoughts.  See Leave a Reply below, then scroll to bottom. Comments welcome. If not a talesndtravel follower, sign up, upper right.  Your address is kept private, not shared,

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Sunrise on the Mediterranean.

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Along the coast
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Karen, Bob and Cindy on the beach in Camporoso. — our first outing to Italy after lockdown ended.

 

Loosening the Lockdown in Southern France

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Social distancing — on the shore, in the water..

In the United States folks are celebrating the long Memorial Day weekend. In France, it’s a long holiday weekend, too. Thursday was a religious holiday, the Ascension, celebrated 40 days after Easter when Christians believe the body of Christ ascended into heaven.  Many take Friday off as well and enjoy a four-day break at the beginning of summer.

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Menton beach on Ascension Thursday,

This year they can’t venture far – only 100 kilometers from home. But, that’s better than just one kilometer which is what it was up until May 11 when the Covid lockdown restrictions began to ease. Stores have opened.  It is mandatory to  wear masks on public transportation and in shops, offices and places of worship which opened this weekend. Primary schools have reopened. However, these eased restrictions apply to green zones only – where we are. Parts of northern France are in a red zone where the virus still rages. There strict restrictions still prevail.

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Chinese mask for me.  Gov’t issue mask for Bob,.

Citizens were issued two free masks. I am sure our freebies will stop all germs, but they may suffocate us. They are large and made of two layers of unbleached muslin. One set of strings loops above the ear.  The other ties behind the head. I wore it once, but I could not get it untied. I have never been a whiz at knots, and had obviously overdone it.  I had a mask around my neck until I got home and cut if off.

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Filippo sports the Chinese mask.

We are still waiting for masks sent from the U.S. Friend Bev, a talented seamstress, sent some at least two months ago. My sister-in-law made masks, too, and sent us some. My step -daughter sent some. None have arrived. I assume it is because there are few planes flying between France and the U.S. Not to worry. You can now buy masks here, although that was not the case prior to May 11 when none were available. And, I ordered some which arrived in my mailbox two weeks ago. They appear to be Chinese..a label in Chinese. We can get Chinese masks but none from the U.S. ???

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Boule is back.

Now that we have some freedom, social distancing is supposed to be de rigeur at all times when out. As I observed, that is not always the case. The French, especially here in the south, are obsessed with the game of boule. The boulodrome near us has reopened to record numbers. All seem to be overjoyed to be back at their favorite pastime and not worried about social distancing.

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Beach where I swam last Wednesday — almost deserted.

Beaches – it’s up to local mayors to decide to open or not. I was thrilled to learn the beach closest to us had opened, but only for walks and swimming. No lounging and sunbathing. OK by me. So, on Wednesday I ventured down the big hill to the Mediterranean, placed a folded up towel on the edge of the water, put on my beach shoes (ours is a pebble beach, not sand) and took the plunge. Cold. Water temperature was 17º C, about 63º F. It did not matter. I felt invigorated, revived, elated.

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Our favorite spot.  Sit on the wall and enjoy a snack. Umbrellas offer shade.

I had the beach almost to myself that day.  There were very few swimmers. Some kids splashed at water’s edge watched over by parents sitting on the shore.

I loved the water and the solitude. It is no longer that way. The holiday brought more to the beach, but no sunbathers and all observing social distancing. It was also a welcome surprise to find the kiosks near the water open for business, selling drinks, snacks, sandwiches, even burgers. However, no tables and chairs.  Find a wall or bench to sit on. We did just that at our “happy place,” our favorite kiosk above a rocky shore with a view I cherish – the sea with the Maritime Alps in the background.

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Bob at our happy place.  Later he had a Flipper burger (salmon).  Yes, we were happy.

On Thursday, the holiday, we drove to nearby Menton and its beach. There were lots more people on this beach, as well as many sauntering along the beach promenade. There was only one entrance to the beach, and it was controlled by police. I did see a few sunbathers stretched out on beach towels, but only a few.

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Police at Menton beach,

We have been taking longer walks. I estimate 97 percent of people outdoors are without masks (us included). Masks are only required indoors. However, I was a bit surprised yesterday when I went to our neighborhood mini-supermarket. Several customers were not wearing masks. The cashier did not wear a mask. As this is a small store, social distancing is impossible. I proceeded  to the butcher shop. It is tiny. Only three customers are admitted at a time. Yet, the staff behind the counter did not wear masks. Another customer was also mask-less. However, walking home I spotted a foursome sitting on a bench – all wearing masks.IMG_7804

What is happening in France is probably no different than what is happening in the U.S. and elsewhere as the new normal – masks and social distancing – takes hold. Not all obey. But, at least here there are no armed protesters.

Hopefully more freedom is around the corner. Restaurants are slated to open on June 2. Most restaurants around here have sizable outdoor areas, but it will be interesting to see how they cope with social distancing. We hope we will be able to travel for more than the 100 kilometer limit. We hope the border with neighbor Italy will open on June 15 as predicted. We miss Italy where we love to shop and soak in the joyous ambiance.

Mostly we hope that Covid cases and deaths will continue to decline, that the new freedoms will not reverse this trend, and that all will obey the restrictions and guidelines to keep us all safe.

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Beautiful view.  Beautiful water.

 

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Simba refused to wear a mask. Her sister, Oprah, went into hiding,

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Who am I?

Who am I? Leah Larkin. Carol Larkin. Leah Koester. Leah Kulton Koester. Leah Carol Koester. Carol Koester.

I have been all. It’s a crazy, complicated tale. Read on.


If not interested in my name saga, scroll down for photos of my neighborhood in southern France.


The press interviewing the press, Leah Koester, at my recent naturalization ceremony.

Ever since my first marriage to Dennis Larkin, ions ago, I have been Leah Larkin. No more – at least not in France where I am now a citizen and Leah Koester. I am, however, still an American citizen, and still Leah Larkin for US purposes.

At the time I married Dennis, I was embarking on my career as a journalist. My first job as a reporter was at the Louisville Courier-Journal. Up until then, I had gone by my middle name, Carol. Carol Koester (my maiden name) became Carol Larkin. My boss at the newspaper was Carol. There was another “Carol” reporter. And, I now had a sister-in-law, also called Carol Larkin. Too many Carols.

Leah Larkin, Courier-Journal reporter.

Carol Sutton, my boss at the C-J declared, “You will be Leah Larkin.” Not a bad byline. I liked it.

Once during a telephone interview, after introducing myself as “Leah Larkin,” my interview subject responded: “Give me a break, lady. Why not tell me you are Lois Lane.”

At the time of my divorce from Dennis, I asked for nothing, just his name. He was happy to oblige. When I married Bob Kulton, I did not become Leah Kulton. I remained Leah Larkin. It is the official name on my US passport, with Social Security, on all credit cards, membership cards etc.

Married Bob Kulton, but remained Leah Larkin

We moved from Germany to France 14 years ago. No name problems in Germany since all documents were through the US military. I was Leah Larkin at the newspaper Stars and Stripes where I worked, and Leah Larkin  on the initial French documents – residency permit, health insurance card etc. But then, I decided to apply for citizenship. Little did I know what lies ahead.

Lots of paperwork and patience required. I persisted,  and after several years, it worked. I got a letter – you are French. However, more time and paperwork before I could get the official documents, a French passport and ID card. That is when the Merde  hit the fan.

Stars and Stripes reporter Leah Larkin interviewing Vidal Sasson – long. long ago..

My name is Leah Larkin. I assumed I could continue to be Leah Larkin. Wrong. In France a woman is legally known by her maiden name all her life. She can have a second name, “nom d’usage,” (user name), but it cannot be any name. It must be the name of her current spouse. It is illegal to use the name of a previous spouse. Now I had a French passport and French ID card with the name “Leah Koester,” and “nom d’usage, Kulton.”

How will anyone know that Leah Larkin and Leah Koester are the same person? I was worried. This looks suspicious. I could be a spy, a terrorist.

If I go to use a credit card, or carry out a transaction at the French bank where I am still Leah Larkin, and then I show a French ID card with the name Leah Koester, problems could arise. I envisioned other scenarios where this could be a catastrophe.

Why couldn’t I get a legal document certifying that Leah Larkin and Leah Koester are one and the same, that I am not a spy, nor a terrorist? I checked with a lawyer. No way.

The only path to legally be Leah Larkin in France requires hiring a lawyer and going to court. My identity fate would be up to a judge. I envision hefty legal fees, lots and lots more paperwork, and then perhaps the judge would not rule in my favor. And, if he did, yet again  more paperwork to apply for a new passport and ID card.

Just getting this far has required  ample time and energy. I am burned out. I am happy to have dual citizenship. I will live with dual identity. Maybe it could be an advantage. Am I too old to become a spy? How about heading to Russia to get the real dirt on you know who?

Leah Carol Koester singing in the rain.

Name confusion and change started in my childhood. My mother insisted I be called “Leah Carol.” Double names were the thing back then. In the 8thgrade, a boy said I had queer name. He made fun of it. That was a different era – what boys thought was important. I went home, crying to my mother. We can fix that, she said. You can be “Carol.” Throughout high school and university and Peace Corps, I was Carol Koester. Some folks who knew me back then still call me Carol, including one of my three brothers.

Confused?  Me too.

Carol Koester, second from left, at Northwestern University with fellow members of our dorm French corridor where we were all supposed to speak French at all times. Whoever thought I would become French?

 

 

For the record, Leah Larkin and Leah Koester are one and the same. Leah Koester is proud and honored to be French. Leah Larkin would be even prouder.

Scroll down to see photos of Leah Larkin’s — no, Leah Koester’s –new neighborhood on the Riviera.

Beach at Roquebrune Cap Martin — before the tourist season.

Back in the Luberon, I photographed lavender. Here it is bougainvillea. Both are exquisite.

Bust of Le Corbusier along the seaside trail named for the architect.

Mt. view from our apartment.

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