Monthly Archives: January 2013

Still taboo? Homosexuality in France

Florence had been talking about her broken relationship for an hour before she mentioned, reluctantly, that her ex was female. She had nothing to fear from her audience, which happened to be all-gay. “I’m not open about my homosexuality,” Florence explained.

On January 13 hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Paris to show their discontent with the government’s plans to give gay couples in France the right to marry and adopt children. A remarkable achievement in a country where sexual escapades by the former IMF director Strauss-Kahn and filmmaker Polanski pass as “gallantry”. Yet homosexuality seems to be a bit of a taboo in France – and not just among the catholics and muslims that marched against gay marriage.

Florence is a well-educated, fifty-something woman from Lyon. She has been in relationships with women for almost three decades. Her family is totally at ease with it. But Florence herself is not: she’s not out at work and prides herself on not having many gay friends. “I’m always afraid of what other people might think,” she explains. She reminds me of Viviane, another fifty-something lesbian who is living a closeted life in Paris. At work Viviane told she is a relationship with a “monsieur” – a lie she sustained with difficulty when her partner for years met a tragic end. Another friend, Alain, often says that he would like the French to be more tolerant towards homosexuality and in favor of marriage equality. Yet during the last elections he, a gay man himself, voted for the UMP, the centre-right party that is vehemently against gay marriage.

A recent issue of a French studies journal argues that the republican universalism of the country has prevented gay citizens from asserting their difference and, eventually, rights. I’ve met many French, gay and straight, who have absolutely no issue with homosexuality – but many seem to belong to the younger generations. If the Florences and Alains of France keep thinking they have a reason to be ashamed about their homosexuality, convincing opponents that gay couples deserve the same rights as straight ones might be a challenge.

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The death of a barn owl

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The first fox, badger, wild boar and owl I’ve seen in my life were French roadkill. This beautiful barn owl that I found today on the side of a départemantale was ringed in Sempach, Switzerland. He must have flown 200 km before he met his death.

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Appreciating popular music (at 36)

At age 33 Zadie Smith had an epiphany about Joni Mitchell, she tells in The New Yorker. Smith went from finding Mitchell’s music “a sort of wailing” to getting from it an emotional overcoming “like joy – if joy is the recognition of an almost intolerable beauty.”

I have almost exclusively listened to classical music for as long as I can remember. Beethoven was the reason I wanted to play the harp at the age of six and as a teenager I dramatically declared Bach’s cantatas as the sole reason of my existence. There were brief episodes of popular music (ranging from Ani Difranco to Bob Marley) when I had a crush and interested to know the favorite music of the object of my desire. When I married someone who grew up during the seventies and eighties and came with a hifi and a pile of vinyl, I mercilessly banned her music to the attic.

Last Christmas, to make amends with Spouse for spending a day with my family, I tuned the radio to the Dutch Top2000, the best songs of all time selected by pop music aficionados. I watched, in amazement, how Spouse became instantaneously delirious, appraising the positions of a song in the list and singing along loudly (and occasionally out of tune). It was contagious. I started tapping my foot and humming along. Occasionally I was struck by a song that I had heard and liked before but had never bothered to look up (often, it seems, by Pink Floyd). Spouse and I continued listening to the Top2000 the next few days. By the time we reached position ten I shared her delirium.

In her article Zadie Smith described how browsing records makes her melancholic: “There goes my other life. Is it too late to get into Talking Heads? Do I have the time? What kind of person would I be if I knew this album at all, or well?” I don’t share her sadness. After reinstalling Spouse’s hifi I bought records to contribute to what is now our mutual vinyl collection. I still love classical music but have little time for it, with all the catching-up-with-pop to do. I foresee one epiphany after the other.

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Stitch ‘n Bitch Geneva

photoStitch ‘n Bitch Geneva, every wednesday night in Starbucks at Quai Bergues, is a great way to meet fellow knit and crochet addicts, chat and enjoy hot chocolate. But you can also just take a nap, as my dog shows.

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