Third greatest Frenchman after Charles de Gaulle and Louis Pasteur + Charlie Chaplin's big French heart
After I began watching Invisible People (homeless interviews) a series of unusual things happened here in the sunny south of France. Our heater broke. Then it snowed. Then our water heater broke. Then our car would not start. And then our daughter's car broke down! And then I ended up all alone for two weeks.
This is not to say that you will have bad luck if you focus on the homeless. But if some of these things happen to you (if your usual comforts suddenly disappear), it is much easier to relate to the down-and-out...and to the lonely. More about the latter in the next post. For now, I want to share about another of France's bright stars.
Abbé Pierre's "holy anger" drove him to fight for the rights of the sans-toit, those without a roof over their head. Read about this fiery Frenchman, below, and thank you for sharing this post with a friend.
le (la) sans-abri (sahns-ahbree) noun, masculine & feminine
: homeless person
"Sans-abri" means, literally, "without shelter"; les sans-abri = the homeless.
=> SDF (Sans Domicile Fixe) is also a term used for the homeless. Les SDF = The homeless
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE...
by Kristi Espinasse
The following post was written in 2007...
Day before yesterday, I watched and listened as the French mourned the death of their favorite personnage: l'Abbé Pierre, voted third greatest Frenchman after Charles de Gaulle and Louis Pasteur.
"Abbot Peter" was the short priest with the long beard, the white-haired legend in the black beret, the former Resistance fighter in a dark cape who now clutched a bleached wood cane.
Like his appearance, Abbé Pierre, who once broke his vow of chastity, yielding to the force of desire, was a man of contrasts. Humble and soft-spoken, he was driven by a "holy anger" and known for his passionate outbursts when speaking for the homeless. He once told Jean-Marie Le Pen to "shut up!" (Ta gueule!) after the president of the National Front implied that all of France's ills stemmed from immigration.
His beliefs were sometimes unorthodox, as he felt that priests should be able to marry, that gays should be able to adopt, and that women should be able to be ordained. Above all, Abbé Pierre believed in the homeless and their unspeakable living conditions; caring for the sans-abri would be his life's mission.
While [ex] President Chirac was said to be bouleversé* by Abbé Pierre's death, it was the thoughtful words of a homeless man that touched me the most as I listened to the midday news: "Sa mort, ça me fait plus mal que la morsure du froid," his death, it hurts me more than frostbite."
Frostbite and hunger were on Abbé Pierre's agenda, made famous in 1954 when he stole into a radio station and demanded the microphone during a live broadcast. It was a murderous winter for the homeless in Paris and an old woman had just been found frozen to death on the Boulevard de Sebastopol, an eviction notice still in her hand. Reaction to Abbé Pierre's outcry was overwhelming and the French, both rich and poor, responded with blankets, coats, heaters and money as well as with rice, pasta, bread, chocolate and canned food. Charlie Chaplin (exiled in Paris at the time and made famous for his character the "Little Tramp") handed over many thousands of francs, with the explanation "the money belongs to the vagabond I portrayed".
(book available here)
It was in 1949 that Abbé Pierre founded the Emmaus Society with the idea to "travailler avec des pauvres pour des pauvres" to work with the poor for the poor. The poor that were to become his followers were also known as the "Ragpickers" by reason of the junk that they collected, organized and now sold in open-to-the-public warehouses throughout France. For this, Abbé Pierre was sometimes referred to as the "ragpickers' saint".
Activist for the poor for more than five decades, at 5:25 a.m. on January 22nd, at the age of 94, Abbe Pierre's light went out, when he died in Paris after being hospitalized for a lung infection. The feisty yet humble Frenchman had requested that the following words be written on his tomb:
"Il a essayé d'aimer." ("He Tried to Love.")
References: les sans-abri (mf) = the homeless; boulversé(e) = deeply upset
Listen to my daughter, Jackie (soundfile recoreded when she was 10 years old), pronounce today's word and read the French headlines -- from the journal "l'Orient Le Jour":
La mort de l'abbé Pierre, apôtre des sans-abri, bouleverse la France
The death of Abbot Pierre, apostle of the homeless, shatters France
Download wav or Download mp3
Meet Jean-Marc and our son Max in Texas and in Portland!
SABLET HOME- for high quality vacation rentals in the heart of Provence. Recommended by readers. Click here for photos.
Other gift ideas: Wish everyone Merry Christmas with this Joyeux Noel T-shirt or this one...
French Christmas music here and also here is a popular one
Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue doing what I love most: sharing these missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is fast and easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi