Joint French-Canadian statement in support of Hossein Derakhshan

Joint Declaration by Canada and France

(No. 341 – October 20, 2010 – 1:15 p.m. ET) The Honourable Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada, and Bernard Kouchner (pictured), Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of France, made the following statement today concerning Canadian-Iranian blogger Hossein Derakhshan, who is detained in Iran. Mr. Derakhshan is a Canadian citizen and his companion is a French national.

“We are jointly requesting that the Iranian authorities release Canadian-Iranian blogger Hossein Derakhshan, who may have been condemned by a lower court to 19.5 years in prison.

“The governments of Canada and France are very concerned that Hossein Derakhshan continues to be detained in solitary confinement in Iran, in violation of fundamental rights. His case, which constitutes an affront to freedom of expression and information, is a priority for both our governments.

“We are also asking Iran to recognize Mr. Derakhshan’s dual citizenship, in particular by guaranteeing consular access, in accordance with the Vienna conventions.”

July 15: Cyrus on PRI’s The World

Dear Friends,

I’ve been informed that my radio piece on the rise of the Pirate Party in Europe (including France, Switzerland, and yes, Estonia) is airing today.

It will be available on any of these stations (and their Internet streams):

NYC – 3 pm Eastern – WNYC – 820 AM –
Washington, DC – 8 pm Eastern – WAMU – 88.5 FM –
Los Angeles – 12 pm Pacific – KPCC – 89.3 FM – www.kpcc.opg
Boston – 4 pm Eastern – WGBH – 89.7 FM –
San Francisco – 2 pm Pacific – KQED – 88.5 FM –

You can also find it on The World’s site later in the day and on my site if you miss the broadcast.

Also, don’t forget about The World’s Tech Podcast, hosted by my boss, Clark Boyd. It comes out every Friday.

Lemme know if you hear it!

A weekend visit to a French goat farm

The highlight of my weekend was a visit to the Verrollet goat farm in Preslette, a tiny village in Haute-Savoie (Eastern France, near the Swiss border). Turns out fresh goat milk is pretty flippin’ awesome — and not as creamy as I expected.

Thanks to Lucy for inviting us along, and taking awesome photos, like this one:

Obama + Roquefort = Crazy Ridiculous (and Delicious)

With Obama in the White House, France is hoping to have a much better relationship — at least culturally and culinarily — with the US.

However, shortly before leaving office, the Bush Administration approved a 100 percent import duty on a bunch of EU items. France is upset because one of its main cheeses, roquefort, is being hit with a 300 percent tariff. Many read this as one of the Bush Administration’s flipping the bird against France, who still have a US beef ban, and of course, antagonized the administration in early 2003. (Freedom fries, anyone?)

The US currently imports about two percent of the annual production of roquefort, but with the new tariff, it may make the cheese a luxury product. The tariff is due to take effect on March 23.

Philippe Folliot, a French MP who represents the region where roquefort is produced, has gone so far as to call for a “symbol against symbol” retaliation by imposing a tariff on Coca-Cola. (Um, huh?)

As a goodwill gesture, Martin Malvy, the the president of the Midi-Pyrenees sent the White House a box of roquefort. (Awesome!)

Better yet, this week, French anti-globalization protestor Jose Bové (yes, that Jose Bové) led a delegation to deliver seven kilos of roquefort to the US Embassy in Paris.

Man, I could really go for some moules roquefort right about now.

[via FP Passport | Photo: AFP]

Christmas vacation begins!

While walking around the European Parliament building last week, I invented a new gang sign. EU in da house, y’allz!

We spent a great three days putzing around the Marché de Noël in Strasbourg. We’re now in Paris until Sunday, then Lyon for a night. Then Nate comes and we’ll all head to Lucy’s châlet in Pontcharra for two nights, then back to Lyon for New Year’s and then my birthday on the 2nd. I start teaching again on the 5th.

You’ll forgive me if I’m largely offline until then.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to All!

The Baguette Theory of Europe

It’s a quiet, early Sunday morning in Lyon. I probably should head down to the baker, buy a couple of perfectly balanced crust and crumb baguettes and get my day started. I looked outside my window and all I see is fog. I didn’t even know fog existed this far inland. I take in a pasty white ambling mass of fuzziness and cold just hovering above and beyond the houses a short distance from my window. I can’t see towards Lyon’s downtown like I usually can.

I got up early this morning to make sure that our new friends, Amber and Michael, got out ok. They’re roaming Europe for a few months before they take over running the Pastorius Haus in Bad Windsheim, Bavaria (Southern Germany). They’re a 29-year-old married couple from Ohio and Iowa (although they’ve spent the last four years in Arkansas) who uprooted themselves at the opportunity to become houseparents (read: managers) of a small, non-profit 50-bed house named for Francis Daniel Pastorius, a 17th-18th century German immigrant to America who founded Germantown, Pennsylvania. They take over in January 2009 and will be there “for at least a year.”

There’s this strange romanticism that even we are guilty of having about Europe, which in some ways is sort of the reverse of the romanticism that probably Pastorius and other European immigrants to the US had back in the day. Europe is a land that’s largely figured it out. Everyone gets high-quality quasi-free health care and education. There are bike-sharing programs, and trains that run across entire nations in mere hours, and when they don’t, they connect right to the airport. Sure, there are problems, but overall, there’s this idea that things just make sense here, and that there’s an unparalleled joie de vivre fueled by French wine, German bread, Polish sausage, Dutch cheese, Belgian beer, Italian olives, Greek beaches, Austrian pastries, British music, Croatian coastline, Estonian forests and Finnish vodka.

When we actually come here, and see for ourselves, the surface cracks a little bit. How is it that our students have studied English for eight years and can’t string a sentence together? What’s up with the constant strikes? Why is every shop closed on Sunday, and 2-3 hours in the middle of the day? And why does every bureaucratic office require half a dozen photos to fill out any form?

I’m sure the reverse is true. Why don’t Americans get more vacation? Why does our bread suck so bad? Why does it take 12 hours to ride a train 400 miles between Los Angeles and San Francisco? Why are Americans so fat and gun-crazy?

To Europeans, it’s shocking that we had slavery until the 1860s and racist laws until well into the 20th century. To us, it’s astonishing that Europe doesn’t know how to apply the lessons of multiculturalism and Obama’s campaign to its own societies. French magazines couldn’t believe it: “Could he lose because he’s black?” To Europeans, America represents creativity, inventiveness, openness, popular culture and at the same time, atrocious poverty and racism bubble to the surface during and after events like Hurricane Katrina of 2005 or the Los Angeles Riots of 1992. Meanwhile, Americans are slowly learning how Europe brushes its inter-ethnic and inter-religious problems with a broad veneer of secularism and the theory that everyone is all the same, or at least should be. Oh, and don’t pay any attention to those Muslims.

But those baguettes. Dude, those baguettes.

From Marseille to Corsica

Written: November 3 2008

As I type this, we’re on the slow train back to Lyon. We opted to take an earlier, but slower train, instead of braving the rain here in Marseille. It’s been raining on and off here for the last couple days, as was the same in Corsica. But overall, we had a great first vacation — after having only worked a couple of weeks! (God bless the French!) And we’re very much looking forward to getting back to our temporary French home. After all, we’ve spent less than a week in the apartment, as we were in Paris the weekend before we left on vacation.

On Friday, October 24, we took an early morning TGV from Lyon down to Marseille — it’s a quick two-hour jaunt (versus 3.5 hours on the slow train). This was our first stop en route to Corsica. We got off the train, with a crude map drawn in my notebook to get us to Joanna‘s house, the couchsurfer girl who generously offered to host us. After asking a couple of people to point us in the right direction, we finally did find it, just adjacent to the Veille Charité cathedral and art museum. We were greeted by Kim, one of Joanna’s two roommates (she’s also from Belgium) and Kim’s boyfriend François, from Annecy.

After taking a breather (Becks took a quick nap, while I did my blogging for Salon), we headed out to visit the city.

Although I’ve been in the vicinity of Marseille before — my parents did a house exchange in Martigues when I was a kid — I haven’t spent any time at all in the city itself. From there, I had done day trips to Arles, Nîmes, Aix-en-Provence and even Cassis. But Marseille, to me, remained a big urban unknown. Getting off the train, and having to walk down a hill near some construction site fencing and braving traffic careening around Marseille’s own Arc de Triomphe, it seems pretty easy to understand Marseille in terms of gritty, work-a-day, “real” city.

After all, it’s the second largest city in France and it’s, in many ways, the antithesis to Paris. Marseille is the city of Ousmane Sembène, of IAM and Akenaton. It’s the city of one of my favorite French movies, Taxi. It’s a city of immigrants, of dockworkers, of free-flowing pastis and an accent that I can’t help but smile at every time I hear it.

The Lonely Planet France guidebook will tell you that Marseille doesn’t have much in the way of monuments or museums — there’s a couple cathedrals, a fashion museum, a santon museum, and another museum on the history of Marseille itself — and it seems that Marseillais take pride in that. You don’t come to Marseille to see stuff, you come to Marseille to live, to take in the sea air, to buy seafood by the kilo, to eat real bouillabaisse, and to drink more pastis. Heck, you can take ferrys from here to Algeria! It’s France’s periphery, it’s gateway to the Mediterranean, for better or worse.

We headed out for the Vieux Port, which I assume was, at one time, the central location for maritime activity in Marseille, with ferrys and fisherman navigating around one another. Before we rounded the corner off of Rue de la République, this Santa Monican could smell the sea water from a block away. There wasn’t much going on that Friday around lunchtime, save a few lingering fishmongers and tourists like us, who came down to the water’s edge, unsure of what exactly we expected to find.

Like most ports that have since changed location, Marseille’s Vieux Port less resembles a functioning port — say, the Port of Oakland — than it does San Francisco’s Marina district. It’s full of fancy boats tied up, and the waterfront cafés are full of folks who’ve got too much time on their hands, tourists, or both. It’s pretty, sure, but I’m sure that it’s not at all like the port where Sembène once worked as a dockworker. The ferry terminal has since moved out of the bay, perhaps a 20-30 minute walk away. The Algeria, Corsica and Italy-bound ferries loom large poised to head over the horizon. The functioning commercial port has moved north, and the dock cranes all well out of view of the tourists like us.

After tiptoeing around fancy seafood restaurants, we settled for lunch at a decent Lebanese restaurant for a quick bite, and made our way up into the hills south of the Vieux Port — walking around, of all things, a mini-festival sponsored by the Pages Jaunes, the French yellow pages. After passing by a Corsican restaurant, we stopped for a quick coffee served on a plate of slate (only one euro per coffee before 16h00!) at Les Pêcheurs, a semi-trendy café near the water.

A short walk further down the Vieux Port, we climbed up the hill atop which Fort St. Nicolas sits, one of two forts that used to guard the city against all invaders. There’s not tons to see in the fort, except the great view of the city and the port and the adjacent ferry terminal across the water below. From here, it’s easy to see the beauty in what’s left of this increasingly touristic and gentrified part of the city, even in an autumn haze. After the fort, we hit the waterside park nearby where we took it easy, overlooking the Mediterranean.

It was here that I actually bothered to read about Corsica, courtesy of our Lonely Planet book. So before I read the few pages that LP has to offer, I’d never met anyone who’d been to Corsica — a few of my students in Lyon described Corsicans as “terrorists” and as an “aggresive” people — largely based on incidents of terrorism that happened in the 20th century (they’re long over now, thanks to an autonomy deal struck with Paris in the 1990s) and the proud sense of Corsican independence and identity. So what’s their deal?

Well, you can learn a lot simply by looking at the Corsican flag: the head of a black man (a Moor, to be specific) in profile, with a white headband looking longingly to the sea, or possibly to the future. The story goes that the headband used to be covering his eyes, but with Corsican enlightenment and independence, he now can see. The Moors, of course, at one point, were neighbors to the Corsicans, and at some point, likely tried to raid or invade this mountainous island that only houses 200,000 people today. In other words, the head now says: stay the fuck out.

You can see this symbol in lots of places — Corsica Ferries has it proudly painted, writ large, on the side of its boats, while many cars use it as a symbol of Corsican pride on the back of their cars. My favorite though, is how some cars in Corsica use a small sticker of the Moor’s head to replace the “F” for France on their license plate.

Corsicans don’t really consider themselves French, much in the same way that Quebecois have allegiance to the province first, and the country second. In Corsica, people refer to the mainland as “the continent,” giving it another degree of remoteness — even though Nice and Bastia are linked by a mere five-hour ferry ride (Livorno, Italy is even closer, at two hours). Better yet, a lot of the road signs in the mountainous interior, which point to town names in both Corsican and French, often have the French (always written above) scratched out in large black marker.

The Moor’s Head flag first appeared in Corsica way back in 1297, but wasn’t adopted as an official symbol until 1755. That was when Pasquale Paoli, the founder of modern Corsica, led a movement to formally establish independence from the Genoese crown, which had controlled the island since the 13th century. Before that, the city-state of Pisa had run the island’s affairs.

Paoli is considered to be the enlightened father of Corsica, as he outlawed blood vendettas, wrote a constitution (the most democratic in all of Europe at the time), established schools and a university in the new inland capital city, Corte — a university that still bears his name and remains the seat of Corsican language education. However, I guess the Genoese didn’t really recognize the independence of the island, as they ended up ceding the island to the French, after being defeated by King Louis XV in 1769. (I wonder though, why after the French Revolution, twenty years later, the Corsican independence movement didn’t come back stronger.) Corsica has, as Lonely Planet puts it, “remained part of France’s rich mix of cultures ever since.” That is to say, it’s been forcibly incorporated as a part of France, and had its language and culture suppressed for about two centuries, until the late 20th century when Paris realized that letting local regions speak their own language (Breton, Occitan, Provençal, or Corsican) isn’t such a disastrous thing to national unity after all. But whatever.

The more I read about Corsica, the more I wanted to figure out what made this island “nation” actually tick. And about 30 hours later, we stepped off the boat, having taken a 2.5 hour train ride from Marseille to Nice, and then a five-hour ferry ride to Bastia.

Greetings from Corsica

It’s the All Saint’s Day holiday week this week in French public schools — we get a week and a half off from teaching — and so Becky and I are on a working vacation in Corsica working on this pig and chestnut farm (last post on that page) in Lustina, Corsica (about one hour’s drive south of Bastia).

So far we’ve met Jean-Mathieu, the 3rd generation Corsican charcutier (he speaks the language, too), his friendly Colombian buddy Felipe (who’s lived here for seven years), and the four other WWOOFers that are here with us in this tiny 10-person village.

JP: A nurse from Brisbane, Australia who is effectively taking some time off from his work at home and is bouncing around France and then is headed on to Senegal for a couple of months to learn French and to volunteer at a clinic in my old stomping grounds of Saint-Louis.

Zach: He’s been here a month and sadly is leaving tomorrow to head back to meet up with his girlfriend in Bordeaux before flying back to the US on Friday. He’s from Columbus, Ohio, and is currently applying to med school. Used to work at Murky Coffee in Washington, DC.

Pierre and Laure: Don’t know much about these two just yet, other than the fact that they’re both from Brittany (Pierre speaks fluent Breton) and Pierre has done WWOOFing before in Ticino, Switzerland.

Pics coming tomorrow!