A complicated tale of money, violence, crime, racism, lies, traffickers, a story of misery, tragedy, heartbreak and death: Immigrants on the Italian- French border.
There are similarities to the dreadful situation on the Mexican-US border. Thousands and thousands risking their lives to escape conflict, persecution, famine, death. The journeys are dangerous, often plagued with violence, theft, and hunger. They only want a chance at life, to have food and shelter, to work, to live in peace. They deserve that chance. Will they get it?
I live in France just 20 auto minutes from the French-Italian border. I recently started volunteering with a French organization, Relier, offering assistance to the homeless immigrants in Ventimiglia, the Italian border town. The majority are young, black males from dozens of different African countries . Most want to enter France, perhaps proceed to other European countries. In this part of France, they are not welcome.
It is a complex topic. I plan to write a more extensive article/blog soon. I need more time and research. Watch this space.
Another topic I am very involved with is Alzheimer. For four plus years I have watched this cruel disease slowly destroy my husband. I will write more on that too, with a focus on the dedicated caregivers devoted to the lost and confused.
I had hoped to post a blog on one of the above sooner, but since that has not been possible, and it’s been so long since I have posted, I wanted to give a preview of what’s on my agenda. And, an update on husband Bob since my last post: Christmas without the Merry.
The helpers I mentioned in that post, Kyle and Paola, were fabulous, although Paola quit after three days. Apparently, it was too much for her. I could not have survived without Kyle. He managed Bob with perfection and helped me keep my sanity. It was not easy for either of us. The accident (fall and broken pelvis in several places) greatly accelerated the Alzheimer. Bob was confined to a hospital bed in the living room. He was difficult, especially at night when he was very agitated and slept little.
After three weeks, Kyle and I, both exhausted, came to the same conclusion. We could not continue. Fortunately, I found a place for Bob in a near-by EHPAD, a type of French medicalized senior citizen home. He is in the Alzheimer unit with 14 others. The staff are patient, caring. The food is good, very French with four-course meals and a gouter (snack) in the afternoon. The ambience is pleasant– bright, clean and spacious. He has never asked to leave, to come home. I don’t think he remembers our apartment nor realizes where he is and why. That is sad, but probably a blessing. I visit daily.
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It was the perfect place for R&R. A small hotel (11 rooms). Splendid views of mountains and a lake. A pool amidst greenery and blossoms. A comfortable room, nice staff, good breakfast – and a menagerie of sorts. Plus, and most important, tranquility.
I loved it all. For my recent “cure” at Aix les Bains in eastern France, I booked two weeks at Suites du Lac, a hotel outside of the town. I traveled to Aix by train. On the down side, the hotel was not convenient to the spa center without a car. I took a taxi then bus to reach the spa for my treatments each day.
Never mind. I had time, enjoyed conversing with my regular taxi driver Eric, as well as bus passengers.
During my second day at the hotel, I heard peculiar sounds while lounging on my balcony. Maa… Maa A goat? Clucking. Crackling. Chickens? No way. I was not on a farm nor in the country. Perhaps too much spa water had seeped into my brain. Later I noticed guests looking over a railing on the terrace at the end of the property. I must investigate.
Aha. Below at a lower level there they were: The creatures responsible for the sounds. Two goats and a bevy of chickens. I was fascinated. The chickens were beauties, all different and exotic. The goats were small and cute. I took photos.
The Suites du Lac was built in 2007 by partners Jose and Emanuel. They share responsibilities for the hotel management. Emanuel is in charge of administration and everything indoors. Jose takes care of the animals and the grounds.
I learned lots about chickens from Jose who is an animal lover and passionate about poultry. He had chickens as a child, he explained, and now likes different races. His flock consists of 20 different breeds. He knows the characteristics of each. “This one is South American. That one lays white eggs like American chickens…” European chickens lay marron-colored eggs.
The life span of commercial chickens is just 1 ½ years due to their diet, he told me. But his special fowl can reach the age of 10, unless they fall victim to a fox. Several years ago, he lost 20 birds to a fox. “A fox kills anything that moves,” he said. The fox ate only one of the chickens it had killed. Jose’s chicken/goat pen is fenced, but a fox can jump the fence. He has constructed an enclosure under the terrace with an automatic door that closes at 10 pm. Every evening he goes out to rescue the chickens which have chosen a tree instead of the enclosed hen house for safety. They fly up and nestle into the branches to hide out.
I was surprised to see how easily he captured the chickens – no resistance. “They know me,” he said.
He has only hens which lay about 20 eggs per day. He did have a rooster, but neighbors complained about the too early wake-up call.
Two 16-year-old miniature Pinschers and a cat also live at Suites du Lac. And, for a brief period of time during my stay, a young injured pigeon. Jose rescued it from a bakery where it cowered in a corner. After a few days of TLC, he released it.
Since I too am an animal lover, the animals were a bonus for me.
Unfortunately, it was hot, very hot during my June stay in Aix-les-Bains. Temperatures were in the upper 90s F every day. The town tourist office offers a variety of interesting walking tours, but there was no way I could enjoy a walking tour in that heat. I hung out at the hotel pool every afternoon after my treatments. Even that was hot, but I swam my laps and took shelter under an umbrella. I read. I napped. I relaxed. I was alone. No responsibilities. It was bliss.
When I needed a stretch, I walked over to look down at the critters. The chickens huddled under oleander branches to escape the sun. The goats found shade along the periphery of the enclosure.
The ambience at dusk when everyone had left the pool was especially soothing. I watched the sky change colors and mountain silhouettes grow darker. It was all so quiet, peaceful and beautiful.
Suites du Lac does not have a regular restaurant offering full meals. After my treatments I usually stopped in town and had lunch at a restaurant. I tried many and savored some delicious meals. In the evening I often joined other guests on the terrace and ordered one of the hotel’s offerings: Omelets, pizza, salads.
I had some tasty lunches in Aix les Bains, including above, a French version of Surf and Turf: Salmon and Chicken smothered in a lobster sauce
Unfortunately my spa treatments did not do much for my bodily ailments. However, Suites du Lac therapy was the best for the spirit.
Les Suites du Lac: www.lessuitesdulac.fr
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I amworried 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.
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.
“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.”
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.”
“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.
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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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
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
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.”
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
Please, 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.
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.”
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,
Need exercise? Watch above. I am not recommending…