Indochic— Target’s New Home Line celebrates colonization or as they call it, “French-Vietnamese fusion.”

My husband and I started brainstorming our weekly household needs and while he worked on meal planning and a grocery list, I opened the Target app on my phone to see if they had any amazing deals on things we needed. We all know a trip to Target is dangerous and needs to be carefully and cautiously plotted.

Otherwise, the money can disappear.

I immediately found myself drawn to this luscious teal blue chair.

I mean, I seriously see this chair as part of the renovations to our master bedroom here.

But then I read the description: “Indochic: Think French-Vietnamese fusion, full of elegant shapes and sophisticated jewel tones.”

Now, this is my version of when people cry sexism when parents put little girls in clothes that focus on cuteness or certain traits our society sees as feminine. Like the t-shirts that say “I’m too pretty to do homework” or something like that.

“Indochic” is the exploitation and the ignorant perpetuation of the stereotypes that allowed colonialism and the “civilizing mission” to destroy cultures. If you understand my outrage… Well, may the sun shine upon you. We are kindred spirits. If not, let me see if I can calm down and rationally explain the root of my indignation.

First, let me start with the term “Indochic.” It’s a play off of the term “Indochina,” a strongly European word describing the region between India and China. The term became prevalently used in the 19th century and eventually referred strictly to the French colony of what is now Vietnam.

The French called its colony in the region “Indochine” so already Target has managed to make a playful pun, and a French pun at that by combining the French term “chic” with the prefix “Indo.” It’s Indo-great! Indo-cool!

Now, let me rant about the idea of “French-Vietnamese fusion.” The mix of French and Asian style occurred when the French colonized this region. I am no expert on French colonization in Asia, so I can’t address this in depth. But let me offer a few ideas.

Any fusion between the French and the Vietnamese was not voluntary. So should we celebrate it?

Is a pun like “Indochic” okay because the reference dates to the late nineteenth through mid-twentieth century? Is it a forgotten pain? Can it be compared to referring as certain styles as “urban” as opposed to African-American? Would people feel differently about this type of style if the ad featured an Asian woman and a French man?

What I also find interesting about the concept of Indochic, French-Vietnamese fusion connects to my interest in miscegenation. The French developed strict plans for breeding between the civilized French man and the indigenous woman. In French Indochina, French men in the colony were encouraged to make local women their concubines specifically to purify and civilize by producing children with Frenchness.

But remember, the women in these unions would come from poverty by French standards and would be servants or laundresses to their colonial master before they caught his eye. Young native women and older French men, the women unable to say no because of the power exchange.

In colonialism, native cultures lose their land and their resources to the more powerful nation. Their men lose the chance to earn their own living. People who had independent lives become dependent on a foreign system. Tradesmen become servants. Women become housekeepers and sex objects. Native traditions and languages bend, twist and often break or are forced broken by the more powerful, dominant presence.

So when we advertise a sophisticated, elegant French-Vietnamese fusion and give it a cutesy name, we are perpetuating the idea that the cultures on the peninsula between India and China did not have anything to contribute to the world before the French came along and subjugated them.

It’s not Indochic. It’s not cool. It’s contemporary Orientalism.

If anything it’s Asian-influenced French design. Influenced. Because fusion implies an intentional attempt to blend two strong styles.

Goodbye, Paris. Hello, Moscow.

Our traveling companion M took us on a walk through Barbès where my daughter made some French/Algerian friends in one of the shops. The people there tried to get her to speech French and Arabic and gave her a piece of candy. She noted the difference between standard touristy Paris and the so-called immigrant presence in the outer districts, seeing Africans and Arabs. I use the term so-called immigrants because of how the French consider even second generation citizens “immigrants.”

We walked up to Sacre Ceour. Lil Miss didn’t realize it was on the top of a hill. She just thought it was tall. But she was a trooper walking up the hill. And M showed her the Eiffel Tower in the distance.We wandered half way down the hill and she spotted the funicular. We had a metro ticket for the day so we actually walked back UP to Sacre Ceour and rode the funicular down.

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Funicular to Sacre Couer

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View from Sacre Coeur

Dinner was at Le Magenta, another place where I have eaten before. I ordered a two course meal for each of us, with Lil Miss trying to overcome her fear of using French words. I suggested the restaurant based on past experience and as soon as she saw they served escargot she was in.  She ordered six escargot in a bourgogne sauce. In the photo, she looks a tad intimidated but in reality she was merely focused on getting those snails out of their shells. I asked her why she liked them and she said it was because she loved getting them out of their shells. I suppose she’s like a cat and needs to play with her food.

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She also had a duck thigh which came artfully arranged on potato wedges and slivers of tomatoes that resembled flower petals.

The walk back to the hotel was exhausting, not because it was far but because of the jet lag and the nine miles we had walked. Lil Miss showered, collapsed into bed. In the morning, we were on the RER early returning to CDG-Roissy.

In the Air France lounge, Lil Miss made an amazing discovery. 1. She LIKES croissants. She has insisted for years that she doesn’t like plain croissant. I have countered, for years, that it’s because she hasn’t tasted one in France.

She ate five or six plain croissants and two pain au chocolat. She also learned how to read French jam labels, though she thought the “orange” was orange marmalade and it turned out to be bitter orange. An adjective makes a big difference.

IMG_3928.JPGThe plane from Paris to Moscow was on an Airbus A318, a big change from the Boeing 777. I discovered this morning a lovely note from the TSA that apparently gave my bag a check before it left the States. Not that I noticed.

We navigated the Moscow airport with no problem and child kept trying to compliment the female customs agent on her pretty eye makeup. Overall, she’s a good kid but we’re working on NOT spurting out every thought in her head to the entire universe.

We even navigated the Moscow subway. The majestic tunnels, architecture and details in the stations. Every train looks completely different. Some old, some new. Very colorful.

We had Russian-style beef dumplings with a butter and sour cream sauce for dinner in a little restaurant off Red Square where to Lil Miss’s delight they had American music videos playing. Calvin Harris and the Disciples: “How Deep is Your Love?”

Child compared Moscow to an urban New York feel. Paris seems smaller and offers more recreation. She thought Moscow was more exotic while Paris felt more like an American town.

And the best so far–

“All I know about Russia is what I see on CNN and they don’t have nice things to say.”

That’s my baby. Now when you go back to school, set them straight.

 

 

Seeking perspective: the story behind my travels

This is the rough draft of a presentation I have been asked to give to a class of my graduate school peers at West Chester University next week. My faculty advisor asked me to give a talk about my recent travels in Somalia. We’re all working on master’s degrees in history or genocide/holocaust studies. 

In my case, I’ve recently discovered I’m not the European History MA candidate I thought I was but apparently I’ll be studying World History, with an emphasis with Africa, followed by minor fields in the Middle East and China. 
My true interest is post colonial Francophone Africa, and how the ramifications of European colonialism have an impact on contemporary issues regarding the overlap of Africa, the Middle East, and terrorism. Islam has become the new communism as the dangerous ideology the West must destroy.

Life circumstances have forced me to move away from a successful 15-year career in local print journalism. But my interest in information, sharing information and researching perspectives on the world has led me toward an eventual Ph.D. 

My career in journalism featured a variety of restructurings and lay-offs. When perpetually faced with a shifting marketplace you are forced to face your fears and your complacency. Every small event in life can lead to an unforeseen path. For me, I turned my focus toward my daughter and part-time professional work. A friend steered me toward hosting a French exchange student which led to me enrolling in an undergraduate French class to see if I still had the language I once majored in rolling around in my head.

I did.

That class opened my eyes to my love of academia. It also exposed me to the “Muslim problem” in France. And I made new friends. 

Although I had a bachelor’s degree in English/French from Moravian College, I enrolled for a second bachelor’s in International Affairs from Lafayette College. It would be the perfect way to see if I could balance life, school, work and child. Plus it would give me academic credentials in fields I knew about from my journalism experience: politics and economics. I just never anticipated that I would develop an affinity for history.

Up until this point, I was a total French whore. I visited France for a month in 1995 and fantasized about a return to Paris. It was 2010.

My part-time professional job imploded. I developed severe anemia that left me lying on the living room floor at three in the afternoon until my five-year-old could make a cup of coffee for Mommy. I got a job in retail, because I didn’t have the strength for professional work. I wanted to punch a time clock and go home.

Around this time an old friend from college the first time reconnected with me via Facebook. He offered to take me to Paris. He felt sorry for the rough patch I had hit in life and he had the ability to make my return-to-Paris dream a reality. We went to Paris for the weekend between my orientation for my new job and my first day of training. There were twelve of us in that group at orientation, and we had to introduce ourselves. We were asked to share something random about ourselves. I remember saying, “I’m Angel and I leave for Paris tomorrow.”

M and I had a great time on that trip. I was in a history seminar on 20th Century French Identity and the Muslim problem and religious history in France was a key component. My travels in Paris had included a visit to public Muslim prayer in the streets. I went to ethnically diverse neighborhoods where the European Paris I remembered did not exist. What I found was a multicultural Paris swimming with Africans, Asians, Indians, gypsies and Arabs. I recently had a poem published in StepAway magazine about this revelation.

My studies kept leading me to Algeria, and I became convinced that the complex issue of religion in France should not be one of the French against Islam, but the French addressing their stereotypes of Muslims created during the colonization of Algeria. The no headscarves in schools law and later the anti-niqab law focused on visible Islam, but the issue was French perpetuation of the 19th century prejudice that Muslims were inferior people. These stereotypes came from the Algerian colonial project. This became my honors project.

I am typically afraid of my own shadow. But it was around this time that M suggested a research trip to Algeria. His visa never came through. Mine did. 

  
So we did an immigrant’s journey instead. We started in Paris, fly to Tunis (visited the ancient ruins of Carthage) and finished the voyage with a few days in Marseille soI could see the Arab influence. It opened my eyes. 

I will always have a soft spot in my heart for France, after all I have read the 1905 law on the separation of church and state and the constitution of the Fifth Republic in the original French. But setting foot in North Africa changed me. There was such a crazy blend of European influence and African beauty. From fresh baguettes covered with flies and soup made of lamb sausage and harissa (known as ojja) to the diversity of the architecture… We had arrived in Tunisia on the one-year-anniversary of the abdication of President Ben Ali and the initiation of the Arab Spring. And we had done that by accident. The streets were teaming with people, citizens shot fireworks off balconies, and a random North African guy grabbed my ass.

I had certainly gone beyond my comfort zone. And I started to realize that sometimes the thing that scares you most is the thing you most need to do.

My next academic interest became Djibouti. After the Algerian War for Independence (which ended in 1952, an abrupt and tragic decolonization that led to the more-or-less overnight displacement of a million French people and caused, in my opinion, the psychological issue that has further exploded into the contemporary “Muslim problem” in France), the French moved their primary military presence in Africa to the horn, to the small colony of Djibouti, a strategic point between Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia.

France had a conscript army until 1999. This means that when the French left Algeria, a multitude of the next couple generations of men served their military service in Djibouti. M had visited Djibouti just prior to the original trip to Paris he and I took. I begged him to take me to Djibouti. He did. In April 2014. During the beginning of the hot season. When I had a broken right hand in a brace. For a side trip, we did Yemen. Old Sana’a. Where I discovered they love to climb to roofs.

I loved it. We went to Moscow and Siberia in 2015. The Siberia trip was a one day visit for pizza. (Stories about all these trips can be found on this web site.) I have literally walked through what felt like good-block, bad-block, reminiscent of communist era Russia. And ridden some amazing old subways that are more than 100 years old. 

This year we returned to Djibouti. A war has since broke out in Yemen so while the State Department may frown upon my visit there, I am so glad I saw it when I could. (And for the record, I technically did an internship for the State Department. I worked in communications at USAID.)

Somewhere along the line, I said I would visit Somalia. So we did Mogadishu during our January trip. It’s strange to visit places where you become the one who doesn’t speak the language or have no ability to read. It’s surreal to be escorted everywhere by men with machine guns. But it also teaches you how much of the world lives and why knowing what happens around us— knowing our history— is so important.

The plane on which we traveled between Djibouti and Mogadishu was the same exact plane where a suicide bomber killed himself and blew a hole in the plane. That happened less than two weeks after we left. A week after we left there was a hostage situation at Lido Beach, our first destination when we arrived in Mogadishu. 

But look at what’s happened recently in Paris, Turkey, Brussels. A house caught fire in the middle of my block and took out three neighboring homes. The weekend before I left for Africa, I rescued someone from a heroin overdose in my own house. I broke my ankle in August walking down the street to buy a salad. Safety is an illusion. 

M handles the arrangements for our trips. He’s headed to Syria next week and while he invited me to join him, I declined. Safety is one of the reasons, but not the most important to me. I have faith in his research and contacts. He’s been doing this a long time. You can’t be careless, but “adventure tourism” is a real thing. As historians and academics, we have to remember where our perspective comes from and that we can’t rely on the media for our viewpoints. If you aren’t sure of your sources, sometimes you need to tackle it yourself.

Tarts and bonnets

The afternoon passed quickly. Any piece of Parisian real estate needs to capitalize on space, so you experience many spiral staircases. I’ve already had at least one friend picture me falling down them. And breaking something. Or many things.

We headed up to Barbès and out the metro to Couronnes. I am looking for a more effective way to prepare my hijab. There’s a lot of Muslim shops in that neighborhood, but before we even got too far I noticed a bakery that suited my fancy.

This bakery had a raspberry tart that looked appealing. As I perused the case, the contents just got better. I decided on a chocolate bread and impulse bought a raspberry and also a pistachio scone. They were 50 cents each. And they were scrumptious. I spent 3.50 Euros for a Diet Coke, the bread and the macaroons. It was all truly delectable.

Then we stopped in a women’s Muslim dress shop. I wanted some sort of secure underscarf so if my scarf moved I would still be covered. In Africa, I want to find some kind of niqab/dress. M encouraged me to converse with the shop owner in French.

She had some lovely scarfs and even walked me through her dress selection. But when I mentioned I wanted a head covering that didn’t move, she showed me the bonnet.I fell in love with the pink one because it matches the color scheme of clothes I packed for the Horn of Africa. Two Euros fifty. And right now the dollar is darn near equal to the Euro.

We went to Leader Prix on the way home to get envelopes for M and I snapped a photo of the pink sky.

Arrival in CDG

I have a love-hate relationship with flying. I love packing my suitcase. I love airplanes. I love the airport lounges. I love the physics of take-off. I love the first four hours in the air. Then, my ears clog. My butt hurts. I realize I can’t sleep. I have slime on my face. The plane always seems cold and the dinner gross.

That’s me at 12:30 a.m. my local time, after 6+ hours on the plane and only a one-hour nap after rising at 4 a.m. to start my traveling. And the other photo is my first plate of croissants in the CDG arrivals lounge. I grabbed the last pain au chocolat.

My travel companionIMG_7487, M, and I spent yesterday in his apartment in D.C., catching up while he packed. We had lunch at the nearby Cava. My pita had braised lamb.

We headed to Dulles Airport by bus-metro-bus and flew out on a Boeing 777-330 in premium economy.

Despite a rather disappointing dinner, only getting to watch one-third of the Little Prince movie and an episode where I nearly took out a flight attendant with projectile applesauce, I suppose it was a nice flight.

I normally have issues with my ears when flying and this time was no exception. My left ear is clogged severely and both ears gave me pain and discomfort during landing and even while on the ground. Let’s hope it clears up quickly.

It’s 9:15 a.m. Paris time, 3:15 a.m. Pennsylvania time. We hope our hotel will let us into our room early. M booked a room for the day so we can nap. Our flight to Djibouti leaves at 12:30 a.m. tonight and we have no plans for Paris other than to relax and run errands.

The illiterate have reached Moscow

Before I begin with our adventures in Russia, let me summarize a few things from our last hours in France. I have a habit of following eateries from around the world on Instagram. It usually begins because I make an ethnic dish and post a picture on Instagram. Then, I check photos of other people’s versions of the same dish. On an African food kick recently, I discovered La Riziere in Paris.

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I had a hard time sorting out the menu, but I decided, with much assistance, to have a beef dish in peanut sauce.

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My companion got chicken.

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I had a great night’s sleep and in the morning we quasi-enjoyed our final Paris breakfast. It had started to rain (we had great weather while there) and had decided that the coffee kept getting worse every day. I did enjoy the rattle and hum of the metro train as it passed beneath the building. I have mixed feelings about our hotel room on the sixth floor that was at the top of a spiral staircase. With all the miles we walked yesterday, the stairs were tiring.

We flew from CDG to Moscow. The flight was uneventful. My scarf, MacBook Air and toiletries were pulled aside for a security check. Which is funny when you consider I’m not a big toiletries girl and I don’t wear make-up. Then in Moscow, customs pulled me to the side. Again, a seemingly random check.

We almost thought we broke Russia like we broke France. Oh, wait, France was broken. We didn’t do it. They had technical issues getting the bags off the plane.

And then we decided to use public transport into town. First, we withdrew rubles from the ATM. M forgot their was a terminal-to-terminal shuttle that we could have taken from where we landed to the other side of the airport where the train departed. He had me jogging for about 1/2 to 2/3 of a mile. He has a longer stride than I do. He used the machine to purchase tickets.

And we were fine coming into Moscow. The outskirts of Moscow looked very industrial and full of identical highrise apartment buildings. The initial views of Moscow were basic. We followed the crowd to the subway. We even got tickets. When the seller heard M speak English she even held up a calculator so he could read the price.

But we realized, as we went down this fast and clunky escalator in this gorgeously clean and gleaming tunnel, that we can’t read or speak Russian. I thought I had learned to speak some. He had tried to learn to read some. Our grown up boring lives intervened and we have realized our Russian language skills are useless.

But we did it! We did ask for some help, but I think we could have done it on our own. We also think we’ve determined how the system works. I suppose tomorrow will tell.

We also asked for help finding our street. But we got here!

And the hotel is way fancier than anything M usually stays in, only because of the falling value of the ruble when he booked it. When we turned the corner from a side street into the main area of downtown Moscow, I could not believe how visually stunning Moscow is. Prettier than Paris.

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We’re a tad concerned because it looks like Red Square might be closed for next week’s parade. This was as close as we can get:
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But hey, thank goodness for zoom function on the old iPhone 5c:
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After a brief walk, we went for dinner at an Italian cafe. They did feature Russian food so I had pelmeni (Russian ravioli with meat filling, in a butter sauce with sour cream) and redberry mors (a very tart and sweet homemade juice). It was extremely yummy.

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