logé, nourri, blanchi & Max is coming to Portland!
Le dechet, la poubelle and how France has taught me to go green!

Se battre, Freedom of Speech and Je suis Charlie

Je suis Charlie

Photo taken in Aix-en-Provence yesterday, by my son Max. Thank you for your help, the other day. Your notes led to three good housing possibilities!

se battre

    : to fight

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc read the following quote
Download MP3 or wav

Je ne suis pas d'accord avec ce que vous dites, mais je me battrai jusqu'à la mort pour que vous ayez le droit de le dire. (translation and attribution at the end of this post)

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse

Un Peu Perdue

Forgive me if the following essay is chaotic, but my mind is all over the place--which may explain why I got lost last night, on the way to pick up my 17-year-old from school... along a road I've traveled dozens of times before.

The unexpected foray into la nuit left me as anxious as I am now, typing these words to you. My thoughts chatter on just as they did while circling the unfamilar neighborhood: what if I'm losing my mind? What if I can't form thoughtful sentences? What if I annoy, offend, or bore somebody with my words, words that may be ignorant, hasty, indulgent, or simply come across the wrong way, perpetuating an even greater misunderstanding? Therein lies the risk in self-expression: le malentendu: misunderstanding.

(And now, a long and apprehensive pause at my keyboard. What to say next?)

I found my daughter. Sitting on a darkend curb across from the closed gates of her lycée.  She must have been waiting an hour after her bus never came ("The roads are blocked. People are gathering all the way from the town of Six Fours to Toulon, " Jackie explained). After 10 journalists and at least 4 police were killed yesterday, in Paris, French President Holland had declaired it a day of deuil

*    *    *

I first learned about Wednesday's tragedy on Facebook, via the now iconic placard: Je suis Charlie. The words were creepy at the time (was is some new horror film?), but I had not yet learned of the horrible attack at Charlie Hebdo.

Je suis charlie

As my husband, friends, and family began changing their Facebook profiles and banners to the black-n-white pancarte JE SUIS CHARLIE, news of the killings filtered into my head.

What began to worry me was the numbness: while everyone else was beating their chests in outrage, or dissolving into an ocean of tears at vigils all over the world, I was staring at my computer screen, taking in all the images and their meaning.

Just what did this all mean? And what was wrong with me? Where were my tears? Had I become a press zombie? So accustomed to reading all the horrific headlines that this one did not surprise me?

Or was I no more than an ignorant whiff of dust--naive at the very least! (or "at most"? I'm losing the sense of words, even as I type them!)

Stick together: solidarity

Soon, others' words helped me to process any locked up emotions. Ed Klinenberg's thoughts in particular:

This cowardly, horrible attack on a team of very creative French writers and artists is an attack on everyone in the world who values freedoms of all kinds, including freedom of speech, freedom to express one's thoughts, freedom to criticize society, freedom to publish, freedom to debate, freedom to associate with everyone, and other freedoms that I am too shaken up to think of at this moment! Je Suis Charlie! Vous Etes Charlie Aussi si vous etes une personne qui pense! Nous sommes tous Charlie! I strongly protest this dastardly attack on civilization. I stand with everyone who understands that we must all stand in solidarity for democracy and freedom and against demagogues who would all too gladly prefer to tell us what to think, how to act, and what to fear. The men who brought machine guns into this magazine office and slaughtered an entire team of thoughtful social critics are thugs pure and simple, and I eagerly wait for the announcement that the French police have caught them and any accomplices they may have so that all of them may be held accountable under French law for their horrible actions today in Paris.

While Ed's post helped me to process my emotions, another friend's Facebook post got my feelings so awakened they came kicking and screaming to life!

It was 6 a.m. Thursday morning when I saw that my friend--a gentle and enthusiastic supporter of my blog--posted an article on the top of my Facebook page. The article's subtitle stated that Muslims supported the attack at Charlie Hebdo.

But this was not so! Not the Muslims that I know!

I hurried to delete the update that was now the titre de séjour of my own FB page--only to learn the post was undeletable! Something about the link (to the original article) being broken meant that FB was unable to delete it. Undeterred, I hit the delete button until by index finger went raw.

Next I discovered the "Hide this post" button and began pounding that one.

But it was too late now. One hour later and another of my FB friends was now awake in France. A fifteen-year-old Muslim girl, a generous supporter of mine on Facebook. I knew she would be checking her friends' updates at this very moment, before school started--ready to encourage all her amies.

I am one such lucky amie. Every time I post a photo my young friend "likes" it.  I have been deeply touched by her attention, when she must have better things to do than to support a woman three times her age--from a completely different background and faith! 

Only, faith had never been an issue between us until this fateful day! What if she thinks that I endorse the article that was posted on my FB page?! And even if she knows me well enough, it hurt knowing she would see the images associated with the article. For just as it hurts me to see caricatures of Jesus--pictures of my savior holding a can of soda pop or wearing a political suit--it must hurt her to see the Muhammad cartoons.

"But you are naive! "A doctor once told me, at once belittling my faith and trying to bed me during a consultation for la grippe.  As I looked away in disbelief, my eyes caught on a volume in his medical library: Kama Sutra. The book was as displaced as his comment, which has bothered me to this day:

"Faith was created for the little people. Les ignorants." he said, handing me my bill dismissively, after I'd dismissed him. I ran right home to my ailing husband (who was being treated for exhaustion and depression by the same doctor)... and I never said a word.

Never say a word. It is easier, safer, and less complicated to be silent than to journal or blog or express one's feelings. See, I told you at the opening of this essay that it might be chaotic, as all over the place as my thoughts. Just how we ended up in the doctor's office together is beyond me. But so was the FB post I was trying so desperately to hide from my young friend. More than beyond me, it was out of my control.

All that was left was to have faith (and you didn't need to be a Christian or a Muslim for that). Have faith in humanity. Have faith that a misunderstanding will lead to conversation -- to a greater understanding of one another.

I may be "a little people" as my ex-doctor said--or prude or slow-witted or scared enough to tremble like a leaf at the thought of who might be unhappily reading. But none of this will shake my faith. And no journalist will have died in vain! Because no matter what it is I have to say--how little, how trite, how banal, how bright!, I have the right to say it in France today. 

And chances are, if you are reading this, you too have the gift of free speech. With this comes a great responsibility: may we all choose our words with kindness and sensitivity. And if we choose them flippantly, as we are apt to do--because we are tired or lonely or scared or dissatisfied or bored or hurting--may we take the time to slow down and reconsider the truth in our hearts.



P.S. I have left out so many things: The part about how I never cared for satire (but have since opened my heart and am trying to understand it in relation to FREE SPEECH),  and,  most important, how one unwanted comment (that post I'd tried so desperately to delete), led me to the following understanding: in trying to erase another's words, I was inadvertantly erasing one's freedom of speech. The following quote thoughtfully expresses this idea: 

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it

(words attributed to Voltaire, and belonging to Evelyn Beatrice Hall.)


  Biker in Italy
"Self expression in Italy" to end this post on a light note. Thank you very much for reading my journal. Without you, my own self-expression would be all bottled up. I am grateful and so thankful to be able to write in this journal and to share my perspective via photos.

If know of someone who might like to read today's post, thank you very much for forwarding it.

A Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check
2. Paypal or credit card
3. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety