Warm greetings to all for a fulfilling and inclusive 2020 and the beginning of a new decade. As this past eventful decade and its closing year of 2019 come to an end, we are all hopeful that 2020 will be a turning point for more than the beginning of a new decade. We are talking about a turning point in politics, of course, but also a more fundamental turning point in the political will to make a difference in support of human rights, healthy and sustainable livelihoods, freedom, dignity, and a clean and safe environment for generations to come.
Living in France has been a growth experience, not only in terms of absorbing bit by bit the nuances of French and local community culture but also in terms of coming to grips with the different practical applications of the concept of inclusiveness. This has most recently drawn me to realize the growing complexity of the French approach to secularism, also known as “laîcité”.
On the occasion of my visit to the US in April, three powerfully moving experiences illustrated the marvel of the struggle to strengthen and refine the interplay of civil and human rights in the American culture that continues to give me hope that a democracy of inclusiveness is not lost there. They were disparate experiences – in Richmond, Atlanta and Washington, DC – but they all combined to renew my hope in the American culture – and in inclusiveness as a fundamental value of cultures generally.
First, I attended an event on 23 April 2019 to honor the second annual Barbara Johns Day in Virginia. She was a leading figure in the Brown v. Board of Education decision issued by the US Supreme Court in 1954, but the impact of what she did reverberated throughout the State of Virginia and the country at large over the decades that followed – and even today almost 70 years from the fateful 23 April of 1951 when she became that leading figure.
Second, I happened upon a new Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, where I was attending a regional conference for the White House Fellows program at the Carter Presidential Library and Center. The conference was great, but the Center was a revelation for the penetrating linkages between the civil rights movement and the global scope of human rights.
And third, I was back in the capital of Washington, DC where family visitors suggested a visit to something called the “Newseum”, a serendipitous venture into the history, current state and future dilemmas of the role that freedom of the press has to play in the promotion of those same civil and human rights. Continue reading “The Interplay of Civil and Human Rights”
The Comte de Grasse, the one born in 1722 with the given names of François Joseph Paul, was an admiral in the French navy prior to the French Revolution. In fact, this Admiral de Grasse (in French the “Amiral” de Grasse) was the commander of a French naval fleet that played an instrumental role in the victorious ending of the American Revolutionary War against the British. It is by happenstance that a statue in his memory, located in a somewhat isolated part of a plaza in the town of Grasse, France, where we live, has triggered an adventure in search of discovering how his role has been memorialized where it actually was played out – that is, in and around the Chesapeake Bay and the town of Yorktown in the State of Virginia. I recently had the opportunity to engage in this search, largely motivated by what one might do to memorialize more respectable war heroes, like this one, in stark contrast to the disturbing array of the Confederate generals whose statues permeate that very same State, including the especially infamous Monument Avenue of the State’s capital of Richmond (to say nothing about the controversy over the statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia).
French “laicité” has been around for over 100 years – or more. The current legal framework, dating from 1905, was inspired by a reaction to the Alfred Dreyfus affair that exposed the prevalence of anti-Semitism in the French military, Catholic Church and conservative political elites of the late nineteenth century. In this reflection, I share my thoughts about applying the idea of “absorptive” immigration (as opposed to “integrative” immigration) to the challenges of applying “laicité” today, involving a significantly more diverse population than existed back in 1905. Continue reading ““Laicité” and Islam”
International Women’s Day is celebrated each year on 8 March. This year’s theme was chosen to be “Balance for Better”. As a feminist who has supported gender equality in various settings throughout my career, I have found it a useful segue into semi-retirement life to investigate how my local community chooses to celebrate this day. Last year, I was drawn to the artistic rendering of the day in the nearby village of Peymeinade, where I was deeply moved by the impressive exhibit of the paintings of three generations of women artists whose portraits captured the personalities of a representative sampling of women pioneers in history. (See my report of this event here, and a translation into French by the lead artist, Leila Zarif, here.)
This year, I was intrigued by a rather different event hosted by the Soroptimist Club of the Pays de Grasse on “Les Femmes en parfumérie”. How timely that this colloquium would tackle the challenges and opportunities for women in the perfume industry – just when the Pays de Grasse has been blessed by the UNESCO designation of its unique heritage for perfume. As reported in my commentary about the role of past and future in the work of UNESCO (available here), this designation was only recently approved in November 2018 under the UNESCO convention for protecting intangible heritages around the world. Continue reading “Perfumerie and Parasols on International Women’s Day 2019 in Grasse, France”
I was recently at UNESCO headquarters in Paris for the 13th Internet Governance Forum (IGF 13). Little did I know, while wandering the conference rooms and lobby displays devoted to the transformative path of the Internet into the high-tech world of the 21st century, that this same organization UNESCO was hosting a review of applications for the “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” list. One thing looking to the future and one thing looking to the past! Continue reading “Patrimoine and Reggae at UNESCO”
Warm greetings to you for a happy and peaceful holiday season and a fulfilling and inclusive 2019. As this eventful year of 2018 comes to an end, we share happy memories of family and friends at Villa Ndio and in our explorations with them of so many “new” sites (for us) near and far from our home base. Politically, too, we reflect on the “blue wave” in our home of citizenship and on “the yellow vests” in our home of retirement as ex pats here in France. Where will we be after the many turning point events of 2019 have brought us to this same time next year? Continue reading “Holiday Greetings 2018”
Discovering the unique character of Lyon in the world of food was an eye-opening experience for us. Well, a mouth-watering experience, too. And a tasting trip of refined simplicity, although much of it was so elegantly presented that the simplicity of the ingredients could easily have been missed. And we discovered, too, the strange and somewhat deceptive history of the famed “Mères de Lyon” (Mothers of Lyon). Continue reading “Food and Gender in Lyon”
Learning can come through reminders about what you knew in the past but had long forgotten. This happened to me the other day as I followed my curiosity to see why a memorial exhibit for Martin Luther King, Junior entitled “MLK Après 50” was being featured at the Palais de Congrès in Grasse. Why would the City of Grasse be hosting such an exhibit on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of his death? It was odd, too, for this to happen in October since MLK’s birthday was in month of January and he had been assassinated in the month of April,. But maybe there was something more to this exhibit than an MLK memorial. Could this mean something about the crosscutting and broader impact of MLK’s legacy for today’s world of racial and ethnic divisions? Even in Grasse?