Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Contrasts in Provence

Hello there. Just to give you a head's up, today's post is also on the current political situation in France regarding the rise of the extreme right Front National party in the municipal elections that will have their final round of voting this Sunday. I realize that this is not everyone's cup of tea, so feel free to come back next week (although I am not planning a political post for Friday but who knows). This blog is about all of the things that are of meaning to me and this subject most certainly qualifies. I was incredibly moved by the courageous and heartfelt response by my friend Silke, who is German, to my previous post. I think that it is important to share what she has to say and with her permission have reprinted it below:

"Dear Heather, I am so busy right now I hardly find the time to write a sentence on your blog!

And yes, me too I am in rage, I am sad, speechless and badly disappointed of my dear French neighbours!

Especially as I am German and EVERYBODY knows the German History and the History of the Second World War. And therefore everybody SHOULD really know certain relations of the FN contents and the German National Socialism Party during the Second World War!

This is not "just" politics this is about about avoiding a human catastrophy. And trust me, this is not just another Hollywood Production, this is real life. And the latter is sometimes not funny in France for people who think different.

As a German it was a weird feeling to have extreme right wing advertising in the mailbox on a daily basis when we were in Arles!

Also, La Provence is not only "belle" it was also one of the centers of "La Résistance" (against German atrocities) during the Second World War who's leader was Jean Moulin.
The beautiful "Alpilles" that we were so happy so see on this blog are crossed by a road called "Route de la Liberté" because Jean Moulin took a shelter there for one night. Every third beach on the Côte Azur is called: "Plage du Débarquemet"! On those beaches landed the Allies to free Europe from the horrors of the National Socialism.
Yes, in the South of France they are proud of their Résistance and for good reasons. But that does not stop them to vote for a party that is Anti-Semitic, Racist and Homophobic! France has a lot of problems but they won't get solved with the FN.

Of course one cannot completely compare the time of the German National Socialism with the FN Party in France. But there are obvious tendencies and similarites in their "values". And their gains of power with a program that is based on Anti-Semitism and Racism is already a political catastrophy.

And the politics of Racism concerns us all wether live in America, Europe, Australia etc, whether we are interested in politics or not, we should be interested in Humanity!

To say something positive finally, the responsables of the Avignon Festival will resist and cancel the whole Festival under a FN Government!"

Personally, I don't feel that Silke is exaggerating. It was only while in the midst of preparing these photos that I noticed the swastika on the right hand side of the image above. 

And so while I see everyday...

...that there is beauty great and small...

...and a living scale of time here in Provence...

...there are also barriers to come up against and - hopefully - breathe through.

There is the landscape that the tourists see...

...graced with goodness...

...and a splendid solidity...

...but there are also the contrasts of the human kind, stark and striking...

...from a history not always seen straight on but peeked at sideways or dismissed with a nod.

From the outside in, we don't always know all...

...and there are many who turn a blind eye to the challenges in front of them...

...just as they can walk by our living monuments without seeing them anymore.

These contrasts are woven together in a pattern so complex that it can be tough to unravel and they scratch up against each other, side by side by side. At least that is how I feel after having lived in the South of France for nearly ten years. I agree with Silke. This is not about politics, it is about Humanity. In our own way, we each make a difference in shaping the future. Eyes open, hearts wide.

Thank you for reading and for your respectful consideration of all that is presented here...


  1. Thank you for reporting on this. I have forwarded it to my husband, who is always on top of the news and able to read between the lines of how things are reported in our press here. Yes, Silke's comment bears reading and repeating as does this post, which I will share in every way I can.

    Although the subject is hard truth, your words and photos are poetic.

  2. Beautiful photos & such a stressful time, thanks for sharing the political realities right now and showing how history is still present -- around us every day, especially in Europe. This is strangely apropos because I just went to a screening two nights ago on a WWII film set in Hungary. I'd like to share on FB & tweet. Your photos are indeed so poetic! I am going to bookmark so glad I found you again!

  3. Thanks for sharing this. Humanity is far more important than politics. Silke's thoughts and words ring true.

  4. 'barriers to come up against and - hopefully - breathe through.'

    Tremendous wisdom, Heather. Feel ill-educated to say much more but that rang true like a clarion bell.

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  6. This is deeply saddening. If we ignore the lessons of history, it repeats itself as was more recently seen in Yugoslavia. Some members of the human race are hell bent on destroying it. Ignorance, fear, selfishness, greed and apathy make a destructive cocktail. The power of one, be it positive or negative, is mammoth when it is multiplied by millions.
    The contrast between your beautiful images of Arles and its current political undertones is stark.
    Thank you Heather and Silke for this post. It needs to be said and spread. xxx

  7. Such a smart, powerful post Heather. Made even more so with your photos. Silke's comment is very thoughtful and well said, too, and I'm so glad you shared it. I think the most important question that each of us can ask is what can we do in the way we live our lives every day - both in the big statements and in the smaller actions - that can help root out this kind of hate and ignorance that seems to be able take hold in every corner of the world, no matter what the history.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post. XOXO

  8. Great post with very wise words to share
    Thank you Heather and Silke
    I feel the world is closing freedom's doors with hatred pushing those doors shut. With such a violent horror marked on its history, I have a difficult time grasping anyone in Europe would chose to join a party that embraces prejudice. One can only love France so much before the reality of the FN sinks in, and pushes the love away.

  9. Beautifully written………….Perhaps pass out SILKEs words in mailboxes!!I had no idea…………..

  10. Thank you for this post! It is, indeed, shocking and most alarming to see how things are progressing in many parts of the world these days. Many ordinary people are deeply disappointed in their rulers and some of us are unfortunately uninformed enough to be drawn to populist or extremist groups forgetting all about what it means to be a human. In my view, mankind has been going so badly to the wrong direction for such a long time now raising greed and selfishness as the highest values that I dread we may have to face a major catastrophe of some sort to turn the tide one day. I hope I am wrong as we can witness social awareness growing every day. The rulers will have to bend and the rules will have to be changed towards less inequality when enough of us demand a fairer world. At the moment, however, I feel the signs of history repeating itself are terrifying. Just look at our eastern neighbour.

    1. My husband says the same as you have stated.We need a major catastrophe to change.

  11. Horrifyingly true; beautifully said and illustrated. I write from a country where we're lucky if even 40 % bother to even vote for our President. 3rd world poverty and lack of infrastructure? High rate of illiteracy? Too little news of election day? Ignorance? no transportation to get to polling place? What does it matter; nothing happens in such a country? No life and death issues ?

    After years abroad as a diplomat, promoting democracy, I'm home knocking myself out trying to get people to vote. No not Bulgaria, Rwanda or Nepal. USA.

  12. "In our own way, we each make a difference in shaping the future."
    Yes. Wholeheartedly.

  13. Hello, I had intended a different comment, but will say this first, and save my intended comment for later. I only know France a very little through my solo bicycle tours, but over the past 5 years I have met many people and had many, frequently political, discussions. In the end, my French hosts (and sometimes friends) and I often think that the French FNP and the US Tea Party are very similar. This is not limited to Europe, or France. The Tea Party is dangerous, not to be dismissed lightly, probably more right-wing religious, and the US public does not have the sense of history that the French sometimes have. Not only the Alpilles, but the Cévennes and the Basque Pyrenées were centers of resistance, with not only historic markers but family remaining. On this side of the Atlantic our lack of historic knowledge and understanding of the world is frightening.

  14. Good one Heather. Good one, Silke. And especially beautiful photos today.

  15. Good morning Heather, thanks for sharing this article. I wait with anticipation for the outcome this Sunday. .............and on a lighter note I totally agree with Julie; your photos are very beautiful and atmospheric. Would you allow me to pin one or two images onto Pinterest ( Please let me know if that is possible? Greetings from an 'English/German' Francophile in Vers Pont du Gard, Britta

  16. "Yes, in the South of France they are proud of their Résistance and for good reasons. But that does not stop them to vote for a party that is Anti-Semitic, Racist and Homophobic!..."

    I read that and recalled the number of times (many, to be precise) my French in-laws, Herve, or the sort-of-people-they're-friends-with have reminded me (only half-jokingly) that, in March of 1945, there were approximately 500 active members of The Resistance, but that, as of May 1945, there suddenly were something over 5 million, highly-vocal, and self-congratulatory former "Resistance fighters". Thus, recent developments don't seem so very surprising.

    You might, by the way, enjoy (or at least profit by) reading the historian Frederick Brown's "For the Soul of France: Culture Wars in the Age of Dreyfuss" (published 2010). It provides a carefully researched rebuttal to the notion that caustic, far-right, xenophobic, French conservatism was, somehow, just a mid-20th-century German import.

    Did I ever tell you that Herve's maternal grandfather spent three years in Auschwitz?.... a glaringly unavoidable irony, given that he was the only member of the immediate family who WASN'T Jewish. I'm not entirely familiar with the story's details, but the basic-story is that he'd spent the previous two years hiding Jewish children (up to 30 at a time) in the basement of the schoolhouse (he was the principal) until they could be ferried across the Vichy line and into the Free (for a while, at least) Zone.

    A "pariotic", Vichy-Regime supporting neighbor turned him in. He got a medal after the war; the neighbor emigrated to South America (no kidding).

    On another, inevitably more amusing (how could it NOT be?) note?....I was recently re-reading some Elizabeth David (a woman who'd had plenty of experience with the war, most of which she spent in aninternment camp or an Alexandrian exile) essays and came across a passage in which she wondered why in the world 1950's English folks thought that slapping a French name on some menu-item automatically rendered it more "romantic" and, presumably, infinitely desirable.

    Her typically acerbic and terse question (in regards to "Carrots a la Vichy" was "What is so 'romantic' about Vichy?".

    I recall that comment every time, having decided to sacrifice vitamin-content for color, I'm blanching peeled carrots and throw in a teaspoon of baking soda.
    Level Best as Ever,

    David Terry (web-land of the relentelessly apolitical; I was recently quizzed by a silly interviewer as to why, since I TALKED so much about politics, I never drew or painted anything about it/them. I unedifiyingly said "Because I don't have to pay my bills by selling what I say". The critic asked me to "explain that, but I just changed the subject.)

  17. Oh Heather, your words together with the photographs have sent an inspiring shiver down my spine. So poetic, as already mentioned here.

    And isn't this the way Artists resist? To be aware of, but not too impressed by that ugly business in order to continue creating and showing beauty? "To breath through", as you beautifully expressed it.
    I think so.

    And it was pretty courageous of you to make my emotional comment a part of your post! (:

    I thank everybody here getting involved with it! Really! The emotional side of my comment shows my helplessness concerning the whole topic. Therefore I hope you apologize that it may not have been too eloquently or rather subtly put together!
    Merci à tous

  18. Your beautiful images of the details of your world remind me of how deeply connected and mixed together life is, the old and the past, the thoughtful and the haphazard, the perfectly chiseled ancient stone purloined from a temple for the doorstep of a house with a door patched up with 'modern' nails and paint, the sacred with the profane.

  19. What a contrast between environment and prevailing politics. It's deeply, deeply disturbing. Breathe through, Bebe. That's the best approach. And fight against the darkness.

  20. Hello Heather. Thank you to Judith for connecting us. It truly saddens me to see the similarities in two very separate parts of the world. Although this is reminiscent of times of the past there are many differences. One of those differences is our ability to join together virtually and voice our opinions in forums such as this. I have no doubt that our collective voices and love for all will shine through. There's no room for hate.

  21. There is most definitely a 'hidden' Provence, that tourists don't see. It's hard to explain what living in 'real' Provence was like to people. It's not all lavender, rosé and sunshine. x.


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