Tag Archives: france

Defending Burqas In Adulthood

For those of you who live in Europe – and even those who don’t – you’ll know that headscarves – and now burqas – have been a hot-button political issue in France for awhile now.

Today, a colleague of mine over on PoliticsDaily.com – Bonnie Erbé – wrote a post suggesting why she thinks France should go ahead and ban the burqa…and why The United States should do the same thing.

As with so many issues, my feelings on burqas and headscarves have changed dramatically since living in a country where they are a part of everyday life.

Please come visit me over on PoliticsDaily.com today where I find myself in the unexpected position of…defending the burqa.

Image: Burqa a Meta by fotorita via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

This Friday I point you to some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

1. I liked Jacob Weisberg’s thoughtful piece in Slate on the demise of intellectually serious Conservatism and why that’s bad for the Right and the Left.

2. I absolutely loved this story in the Washington Post about a world-class violinist who tries to get people to stop and – literally – hear the music in a subway station. Be sure you look at the videos and read the piece.

3. Here’s a great essay that all writers should read about that eternal tension between writing and “the day job.” (Hat Tip: Practicing Writing.)

4. This is a great article by Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir about why he and his wife chose to home school their children and the judgments they faced from other parents. It’s a must-read for anyone who’s a parent.

5. Finally, in case you thought we were done with sex scandals, here’s my take on the latest one to emerge…from France.

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Nostalgia for a Place: When Time Forces Us To Move On

Nostalgia is most frequently defined as a “longing for the past.” This melancholy, sentimental feeling might be triggered by any number of events:  we stumble upon a journal from our childhood…we watch a documentary about the Kennedy family…someone dies. Or it might happen when we re-visit a location that has a very specific, evocative meaning for our lives – a first home, our elementary school.

This sort of deep attachment to a place – and the bittersweet emotions it evokes – was the subject of an essay by Judith Warner in her NYTimes.com blog, Domestic Disturbances, on Friday. Entitled “Summer’s End,” the essay talks about Warner’s most recent trip back to her family’s second home in France following the death of a close friend over there. It’s a wonderful and far-ranging piece, encompassing themes of aging, mortality, friendship and nostalgia all in one go. But what I found most moving was the “irrational” (her word) attachment she feels towards this house as a sort of alternate anchor to her “real life” in Washington, D.C., even as she recognizes that time itself has changed the house’s meaning irrevocably.

As she writes: “I used to feel that our life in France was as solid, as permanent and unchanging as our little house. Like our identities there, built in the moment, always in the present tense, it existed outside of time. That has changed. Nothing can be taken for granted anymore.”

This sort of nostalgia rooted in place is also the subject of a small, lovely movie that came out last year called “Summer Hours” (L’heure d’été). It’s also set in France and is about a group of (grown) siblings who must come to terms with selling the large country home their family has held for generations. The two younger children – who clearly symbolize modern France  – wish to be done with the burden of keeping up the house and move on. It’s the eldest brother who- while realizing that it would be most practical to sell the house and use the proceeds to finance various family expenditures – can’t quite bear to part with it emotionally. But he, too, is forced to acknowledge that times have changed, his kids have grown up, and the house no longer has the same meaning or use that it once did.

I felt this way myself this summer, when I went to Cape Cod on holiday. Our family vacationed there every August throughout my entire childhood, but I hadn’t been back in nearly 20 years. And this time it felt very different, because for the first time in memory, my father wasn’t there.

My father worked a lot when I was a child, so we didn’t see all that much of him during the school year. But those three weeks in August were a special time for us, because – among other things – he was around. And so when I went back this time with my own children, I felt his absence all the more. I saw him at the beach, plunging into the freezing cold Atlantic Ocean and screaming “It’s toasty warm!” at the top of his lungs. I saw him at the corner store where he used to purchase his signature diet of coffee, cigarettes and newspapers (and comic books for us). The big treat were the days when he’d stuff all four of us into the trunk of the car – sometimes with a cousin or two in tow – and we’d drive the 1-2 miles to the store in complete, exhilarating darkness. And I saw his craggy, time-worn face embedded a thousand times in the stones that line Rock Harbor.

But because he wasn’t there this time, I now saw the Cape as I imagine others do: beautiful and rustic, yes. But also kitschy and tourist-y: a jumble of roadside clam bakes and miniature golf venues. That doesn’t make it any less appealing to me. But it does make it – inevitably – something else.

And I guess that’s what it means to grow up.

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Image: Las Dunas de Cape Cod by Copepodo via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Sibling Relationships: Are They Still Crucial in Adulthood?

I was in a bookstore the other day and told my kids that they could each purchase a small book. My eight year-old son came back with a book containing a 1000-question quiz about J.R.R. Tolkien. My five year-old daughter came back with a book about sea creatures.

“It’s a non-fiction book, Mama,” she said proudly, “non-fiction” being a term recently incorporated into her vernacular.

“Great! Why did you choose it?” I asked.

“Because I want to learn lots of facts,” she answered. “So I can be like Isaac when I grow up.”

Her comment went through me like a knife. It was one more sign – like her cross-dressing – of just how much she idolizes her big brother. Whereas he could quite happily live without her.

My husband and I keep hoping that this will change as they grow older. We often tell our son how we both fought a lot with our siblings when we were young, but are now good friends with them. But inside I’m not so certain.

Much of the literature on sibling relationships seems to focus on childhood. Things like birth order get championed as crucial determinants of personality type, and there are loads of books and advice out there for managing sibling rivalry.

But what about sibling relationships in adulthood? Do those matter, too?

The evidence would suggest that they do. A recent study of Harvard grads found that being close to one’s siblings at college age was a crucial determinant of emotional well-being at 65.

Which isn’t surprising, of course. For many people, sibling relationships are the longest ones they’ll have over the course of a lifetime. And in America, at least, 96% of all people have at least one sibling.

Anecdotally, we all also know that sibling relationships continue to matter in adulthood. I was quite taken with this article by Emmet Rosenfeld in the Washington Post last month. It tells the story of twin brothers, one of whom (the author) is struggling to make ends meet as an educator (married to an educator) living outside Washington DC, while his brother (a lawyer married to a psychiatrist) lives a rather high-pressured, high-priced lifestyle in New York City.

It’s a very frank account of how the brothers – who grew up in the same family and had very similar undergraduate educations – diverged so markedly once they hit adulthood. And in it, you feel all that familiar mix of jealousy, competition, regret and admiration that so often characterizes adult sibling relationships. (Truth in advertising: I know the brothers in question, though only in passing).

Twins, of course, present a very special case of everything. I’ll never forget one twin friend – a successful businessman, whose brother was a doorman. When asked whether they ever competed as children he answered, “Of course.” Then he paused and added: “And I won.” Ouch.

But if these sentiments sound harsh, it’s because they’re also very real.

And so when I look at my daughter painstakingly copying down the names of all the sea creatures in her little book so that she can one day recite them from memory – as her brother now does with the characters who populate the Lord of the Rings trilogy – I do feel a pang. And I wonder if she, too, will one day feel the need to write a personal essay dissecting the early competitive/imitative dynamic with her brother and how it’s shaped her as a grown-up.

Undoubtedly, she will. I can only hope that they’ll be best friends by then.

*****

If you’re interested in the whole head scarf/women’s rights debate in France, have a look at my piece in PoliticsDaily today.

Image: Sibling Rivalry by Ucumari via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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