Thursday, November 14, 2019

Becoming French

So here I am, facing my condition since April.

The thing that I realized through all this months is that holding a French passport and traveling regularly to France did not make me French.  Living here in a non vacation frame of mind is something else. There are French quirks that surprised me, or revealed things.

I suppose it all started when Notre Dame went up in flames. This has been a truly national tragedy. I had myself to contain my tears watching on TV Notre Dame burning down. I stopped at Notre Dame at every trip to Paris I ever took. Every one, even for a trip a few hours long. Subway leads you to the "Cité" convenient stop and there you are good for a half hour wonderment, even for the total agnostic as I am.  If time allows I step inside to the rosace, if not I stand in front, gawking in wonder for a few minutes before I go on my errand.

The thing is all of us, from the hard left to the hard right were struck by this disaster, a truly national drama, a drama not ending any time soon as the debate on its reconstruction goes ahead.  It is not just that Notre Dame is Paris Cathedral, or mile 0 for all French roads, or a particularly beautiful and striking example of Gothic architecture. Notre Dame is the crucible that made France, and I suppose us French. From the kings who built it to the Revolution that almost tore it down, Notre Dame has been the unwilling witness of our history. Notre Dame knows all about us.

And, well, Notre Dame is one of the cornerstones of Western Civilization. Like it or not.

Thus my long medical stay here started reminding me how French I am.

Since my post about exile last May I kept dealing with my condition.  French medical care is top notch. My government insurance covers pretty much everything; no complaint whatsoever. Sorry for US readers that Obamacare was not given a chance to prove it is possible, even though there always be problems. But note that even transportation is provided for free as I have no car and live far from the hospital.

Yet, living in France is not as easy as I thought. One thing is to be on vacation, and people knowing you are on vacation, another to live the daily quirks of the French in their day to day. Foreigners that live for a while remain dazzled by French bread, or wine, or something. But when you have tasted everything to satiety the shine wears off a little.  I yearn for simpler food (amen of having lost taste for a couple of months).

Another thing are people in a hurry where they should not. For example one day I am reaching the cashier's walking with a stick (yes, I need, for now, a stick to walk outside) and some people rush to cut in front of me, without being annoyed a bit about me staring them down. I am looking at things at grocery shelves and people push me aside, go under me, whatever, to reach what they want without a mere "excuse me". In Caracas and the US when I lived there, people always excused themselves when they needed you to move aside (even as they push you). French people seem to be always in a rush, in particular at lunch time.

But there are the good things, the more so when you come from savage Venezuela. If you live in a semi rural area like I do, trust is a commodity. I do not need to pay my bills on time, for example, an important thing for me as it took me a couple of months to fully deal with the paper work of transferring from my overseas French insurance to the status of insured in France as a normal French citizen (getting my little green card"carte vitale" which allows me to pay nothing at the pharmacy/hospital since my condition allows for 100% reimbursement on what is related to my condition).  The lab I go for my numerous analysis allows me to pay whenever (and even collects samples at home) when  I finally can drive close by. No problem, no penalty, they know I live half an hour away, it is noted in their system, they wait.

Trust also exists at the farmer's market. Now that summer and tourists are gone it is held only twice a week. Most remember me from early summer when I could still go. Now, I returned bald headed and got a warm welcome from my usual stands. With less people we can even chat a couple of minutes. And if I forget my wallet, they will not write down what I owe, trusting me to remember the amount and pay at my next visit.  Also I get special recommendations as an habitué about how fresh is that new cheese or that I should rather get pears than apples today.

Life in a French village is soft after summer, wonderful sometimes. Even the fall rain has a charm. I am using again the winter clothes that I used 20 years ago when I lived in the States. Not all of them, they were for much harsher climate (and I was thinner). But I admit that wearing again those that I kept in France has been a surprising pleasure, in particular certain sweaters and a beloved cardigan .

There is also another source of wonderment. In all my travels I have never seen a country with so many magazines.  The ones I like, history and science, are at plenty. Usually monthly but often with added special issues that read like a book.  In the last 20 years in Venezuela I realize know, I lost track of many advances in sciences and history. Archaeology now has advanced to a status somewhere between science and true history and thus pages of history need to be rewritten. I just add a pic of the cover of a magazine that I just finished yesterday, about the Aztecs on a scientific magazine. I thought I was pretty well versed in meso-american story (I must have a couple of dozen books on the Maya, e.g., and none about prophecies) but I am too embarrassed to tell you how much I learned from that magazine.

I still have several months before being able to go back to Caracas. But I am in recovery now and it takes a while, amen of some additional treatments and close monitoring for 4 months. I want to return to Caracas. I miss my home, my books, my music, my yard, my tropical sun. I am still Venezuelan, no matter how much I revived my Frenchness.

But most I miss the constant reminders there of my beloved S.O. Here I only have a framed pic on my night stand, our shared life stayed all in Caracas. I need to finish my grieving there.


  1. Roger2:58 AM

    AIDS is such a bitch ...

    1. I have cancer asshole. Not all fags are HIV. You dumb homophobic Trump supporter. Truly deplorable.

    2. I think it was pretty evident... wtf. Anyway, wonderfully written, you should write a book or three! It seems you are in a good place for rehabilitation and rest. I hope you can return to strength, health, and Caracas!

  2. so what happened to the dog?

  3. true to form you couldn't write a whole post without a dig at the US.... Obozocare is a disaster.... France has you now...stay there

    1. Yes, medical care and food are better in France. I shall stay there.

  4. Daniel,

    Get stronger. Chemo does not last forever. It just seems that way during the process. Realize that the chemo dosage is set just below what will kill you.
    My suggestion, based upon experience, is to surround yourself with friends who can boost your spirits during low periods.

    Do not return to Venezuela. Stay in France. You cannot fix VZ. Enjoy life n France.


Comments policy:

1) Comments are moderated after the sixth day of publication. It may take up to a day or two for your note to appear then.

2) Your post will appear if you follow the basic polite rules of discourse. I will be ruthless in erasing, as well as those who replied to any off rule comment.