Why I’m not excited

Everyone keeps asking me if I’m excited to leave for Paris. I’m in Paris for a day between flights en route to Djibouti. It makes me chuckle because I’m not really traveling to Paris, I’m traveling to Djibouti. But the average American is much more familiar with the idea of Paris and I suppose Paris is easier to understand.

Last week when my traveling companion and I received our visas, I felt a thrill.

And when I check the weather… It’s 90 degrees in Djibouti with an 18 mph wind and 62 percent humidity that creates a heat index of 100 degrees. That’s a tad scary.

But no. Now, I’m not excited.

Three weeks ago today I broke the fifth metacarpal of my right (dominant) hand. This has provided some challenges and some frustrations. Many of these challenges I believe I conquered but certainly the manual can opener still stands between me and that tuna fish sandwich.

So what makes me excited is the fact that tomorrow the doctor’s staff will remove my rockin’ red cast.

I did attempt to pack yesterday and I’d like to review my choices today, but the cast makes folding near impossible. I may just save that until tomorrow. I also broke the camera I planned to take with me so that lead to some scrambling. I will practice my hijab today. I have booked a haircut for Wednesday.

When I know the status of my broken hand, then my attention will shift to the trip.

Then I shall be excited.

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Excerpt: Orphans and French Masculinity in the Interwar Era

This is an excerpt/introduction from a paper written for a seminar at Lafayette College, taught by Joshua Sanborn, inspired by a class taken at Moravian College, taught by Jean-Pierre Lalande.

EXAMINING FRENCH MASCULINITY & THE GREAT WAR:
DID LES PETITS POUSSINS OF THE INTERWAR PERIOD BECOME
LES COQS GAULOIS?

Angel Ackerman
History 353 Gender and Sexuality in Modern Europe
May 12, 2009

When researching French masculinity, it quickly becomes apparent that on some level every stereotype—the seducer, the adulterer, the drinker, the connoisseur, the philosopher, the artist, the swordsman, the braggart—bears truth.  (1) In fact, various scholars have agreed that Cyrano de Bergerac, “…swashbuckler, poet, unsophisticated lover and universal character; the most accomplished expression of gallantry for Frenchwomen,” serves as an icon of nineteenth century
French maleness on the cusp of modern martial masculinity. (2)

But manhood, and many social institutions, would undergo great change throughout Europe as science—beacon of hope at the end of the 1800s, a great force to improve the quality of life— created weapons that would decimate many parts of France and inflict upon all European nations a brutal loss of life previously unimaginable.  The devastation permanently altered the social, political and economic landscape in Europe.  The battles of World War I slaughtered nine million
men, with one-third of them leaving a widow and average of two children.  In France, the Great War robbed 700,000 children of their fathers and more than a million “wards of the state,” a term that could mean either orphan, child without father or child of a permanently disabled man.  With about 1.5 million men dead, an entire generation in France grew up without a father (3)(which would make them orphans as the French orphelin means simply “child without father” unlike its
English equivalent).

In the midst of this fatherless phenomenon, French masculinity shifted shying farther from traditional martial masculinity even as the country sought to restore its former paternalistic glory. Literary themes of the early twentieth century and interwar era discuss the societal struggles caused by absent father figures, floundering government and the threat posed by neighboring Germany, but how does the generation of fatherless boys contribute to France’s changing expectations for men?  Did French war orphans fit the traditional male gender roles or did they become “a pampered bunch of wimps” from single-parent households led by women? (4)

With this in mind, one potential answer to whether or not single mothers reared a generation of wimps is this:  It was neither the absence of paternal role models nor the actions of French mothers that created a generation of men who would not subscribe to martial masculinity of the previous age.  A societal backlash against the sufferings of the Great War caused this shift, potentially exaggerated in war orphans because of their familial loss.  The orphan’s experience
served as an allegory for France as a whole as it dealt with altered masculine roles; fatherless orphans did not cause the change.

To examine this idea, one must establish a selection of men who lost their fathers in World War I.  This seems simple enough.  Search some prominent historical figures and politicians, seeking those born between 1905 to 1910.  I skimmed hundreds of biographies in encyclopedias, academic databases and even, in quasi-desperation, Wikipédia (French Wikipedia).  Articles in French yielded the best results, as could be expected, especially when searching terms like
“pupilles de la nation” (wards of the state) and “mères de deuil” (mothers in mourning).  But, with a limited time frame for this particular project, I could only locate two orphans to use as my case studies:  author Albert Camus and playwright/ actor Jean-Louis Barrault.

For Camus and Barrault, their status as orphans altered their interior attitudes regarding masculinity, not the behaviors that would define them.  War orphans cannot be blamed for the wimpish state of French manhood after the Great War, because the war had changed French maleness for the entire nation.  War orphans were one voice among many reacting to the loss of traditional masculine honor codes.  Barrault and Camus, like their artistic peers, lamented this
lack of masculine definition.

Of course, the experiences of two men do not lead to firm conclusions.  But these two men, thanks to their creative sensibilities, have contemplated these questions of what it means to have a father and what makes someone a man.  Raised in different family environments on different continents, these two men came to many of the same conclusions.  If coupled with the observations of significant playwrights of the Interwar era, the experiences of Camus and Barrault verify the cultural context of the 1920s and 1930s.  Orphans articulated the dilemma of shifting masculinity which continued into World War II with the French surrender.

ENDNOTES
(1) My title plays tribute to one of the World War I postcards featured in Marie-Monique Huss’ book, Histoires de Famille 1914-1918. (Paris: Noesis, 2000) Le petit poussin is the little chick on one postcard expressing his hope that he will one day become a great rooster of Gaul. (213)  Why the rooster?  According to the French president’s official web site (www.elysee.fr) The rooster is one of the symbols of the French republic because of its appearance on the coins of the Gauls. It is often used by foreigners today to represent the French in sporting events.  “Le coq apparaît dès l’Antiquité sur des monnaies gauloises…Il est surtout utilisé à l’étranger pour évoquer la France, notamment comme emblème sportif.”

(2) The quotes comes from Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac (Paris: Bookking International, 1993). This quote comes from the back cover of an edition purchased in Paris in 1995: “Cyrano de Bergerac, héros au grand nez et coeur d’enfant, bretteur et poète, amoureux ingénu, est un personnage universel; c’est l’expression la plus accomplie du panache à la française.” Scholars who have cited him include Robert A. Nye, Masculinity and Male Codes of Honor in Modern France (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993) labeling Cyrano de Bergerac as an example of French panache, modesty, and swordsmanship (226) and Huss in Histoires de Famille calls him moral, elegant and displaying the appropriate war scars to be a proper French male (117).

(3) Olivier Faron, Les enfants du deuil: orphelins et pupilles de la nation de la Première Guerre mondiale, 1914-1941 (Paris: Éditions la Découverte, 2001), 13.

(4) The idea for this paper came from Jean-Pierre Lalande’s Twentieth Century French Theatre class at Moravian College in fall 2008. From my notes on Jean Anouilh’s Antigone, 22 October 2008: “Hémon- represente les hommes pragmatiques… ‘je ne vive pas sans elle [sic]’ ‘that’s totally stupid.’ stereotype of a spoiled young man. a né [sic] après la première guerre. 1920- pampered bunch of wimps- Hémon. No 45-year-olds in 1942. lost generation, les jeunes ne sont pas capable.”

Photography: My favorite shots of Paris

Paris Rendez-Vous

Quartier Gare de Nord
October 2010 (my photo)

Paris Rendez-Vous

(A poem from my 2010 trip to Paris)

In the initial flurry of dark coats and

Clunking baggage wheels, my harsh accent that

Does not sing gets lost on the platform. The

Acclimated crowds ravage my coveted Gauloise

While I hesitate.

Emerging, damp silk and cotton clinging to

My skin, my body threatens to fail as I

Pray for her acceptance. The station

Breathes mechanical three-tone chimes

Delineating each train.

Simplicity of metal, glass and concrete,

The station does not yield to the sway

Of engines and cars. This canopy

Protects me from the elements and her gaze.

My reluctant shove opens the door.

I cascade into a surreal apertif of

Flowers, perspiration and urine,

Cigarette smoke and inexpensive red wine

Skimming her flesh. The olfactory assault awakens me

And mocks my freshness.

Redolent of yeast, her warm body embraces

Me. My mouth lusts for her breads and her

Sweets, grime overshadowed, but my first

Need is revival brought by strong coffee

In tiny cups.

At the hotel, I climb a vivid pink and

Worn brown spiral of 85 stairs to a

Corner chamber where imperfect sheets

Remain suspiciously mussed from the

Bodies preceding us.

I step to the balcony, fingers of wrought iron

Restraining me as I stand with no destination

Sandwiched between opposing stations.

In this space, I taste her earnest

Poignancy on the breeze.

From this narrow ledge, she dances

Mesmerizing me with her softness, her angles;

Her age versus her timelessness.

Her caress reaches me and transforms the American

Tension that defines me.

Transfixed, I freeze. Every murmur against

Neighboring tracks rocks my core, screaming of my

Transience. Every siren from the streets below

Thrills me, a tremor for each pin-pon that pierces

My overconstructed fugue.

The passersby below my balcony continue their

Departure, trajectory focused on a shortcut to the

Train. Their nonchalance boggles me. Her touch

Forces amnesia, the mundane discarded in her kisses.

We descend into her streets of rapture.

She leads me through her neighborhoods

Into her flavors. She is not the girl I once knew

But nor am I the same. I desire more than I did in youth

So I chase her as I will chase her for days

Begging for our merger.

The ideologists mandate her purity, concocting paltry laws

While she feigns aloofness. The natives ignore her

Everyday charms but bristle when she shares

Her ardor with Africans, Muslims, and other dark faces

As readily as white skins.

She absorbs the choppy resonance of the Arabic

Laid at her feet and stares at the strange letters

She cannot read, because language constantly

Mutates. She can only preserve her heart and not what the

Populace layers upon her.

My feet blister keeping pace, just the endorphins

Propel me. My mood turns uneasy as she continues beneath

Me, urging me onward into her pleasures. With fats from

Her table and easy-flowing wine, she satiates, sullies

And corrupts me.

Under the haze of alcohol with a belly full of frog,

Snails and rabbit, she lures me to the river Seine,

Tourist-laden boats driving its currents,

Its banks flooded with the silhouettes

Of lovers entwined.

When exhaustion lands me in my bed, I never

Close the window. The bugs nip my soiled flesh

But I continue to expose myself to her.

How else could I monitor her nocturnal movements?

Never have I felt so dirty and free.

But finally, I return to that station, with more

Song in my voice. I laugh and weep as the

RER dashes into the suburbs. Tunnels ascend

Into daylight, sun falling on graffiti, the message too real,

Disconcerting.

My tears draw attention from a tall

Black man with dreads whose soft French comforts

My sorrow. I can only pray that he will

Care for her, as I do, and stay with her

With a permanence I cannot.