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Ruminating on Ruminating


So we've been feeling a little pressure.

Self-imposed deadlines, but still, they should be honored. We had a Paris Play due today, but we'd also had an apartment full of flu.

But more importantly, we've been thinking about what to write and how to put it, and that takes time, too.



The world looks too often only at the final results, and ignores the fact that the incubation process, the rumination stage of creativity, is probably the longest and deepest stage. As artists, we do go into the creative trance, and we love to talk about "the flow" when we're in it, but that romanticizes those later stages, to the detriment of the rumination.

So, to regain perspective, and to test our post-flu stamina, we popped into the Metro and popped out at the 50th Annual Salon International de l'Agriculture, the Paris Agriculture Fair, specifically to visit some of our favorite animals, the ruminants--cows, sheep, goats--cud-chewers all.


We also found probably a hundred-and-fifty-thousand Parisians (the four-day fair drew six-hundred-and-fifty-thousand people last year), wall-to-wall with their children and their strollers, since it was Sunday, and the last day of the fair, and because the French are still quite deeply connected to agriculture. Have we mentioned they are foodies? And where does food come from? Voila!

More than 1.1 million people work in agriculture in France, about six percent of the population. France is second only to the U.S as the world's largest agricultural exporter, and is the Eurozone's breadbasket, its top cereals producer.



There were various livestock pavilions, with lots of pigs, and even dogs and cats in abundance (the latter were non-food items). Horses were segregated in their own pavilion, which probably happens all the time, but it made us think of the recent Eurozone scandal involving the lack of horseflesh segregation, an embarrassing glitch in the system. Not that people don't want to eat horse meat here, they just want it labeled. (And, no small favor, the French don't stupidly append the suffix "-gate" to every scandal here, so we haven't had to sit through news reports about Horsemeat-gate.)

There were vast halls full of wine, the 365 different varieties of cheese that DeGaulle famously noted, sausages enough to string to la lune and back, Breton dancers, Basque horsemen, Provence donkeys--and everybody was eating something, since samples were abundant.


And the ruminants? In stalls or paddocks, standing around or lying down, calmly tolerating the massive number of humans uniformly ignoring the massive number of "please don't touch the animals" signs, they had their usual message for us: Hey, chill out. Remember that rumination precedes the fever-heat of productivity. All in good time. All in good time.



As we headed back to the Metro, reminded again of the order of things, we came across the usual demonstration. At the Auto Show, it was Greenpeace; today, it was the good folks from L124, an animal rights organization dedicated to the welfare of farm animals here in France. The name comes from rural law 124, which states (in our rough translation): "Every animal is a sentient being and must be placed by the owner in a manner consistent with the biological requirements of the species."

We don't do the "eat-me-or-don't-eat-me" debate with animals, since we know they return the favor with pleasure when given the chance, but we respect our friends of all stripes who respect animals, and we welcome their nuanced debate. We're just glad that our ruminant advisers were in town, and we were allowed their counsel.


And as a grace note, our Berkeley food critic friend John Harris told us about a fine documentary by the director Judith Lit featuring the family farmers of the Périgord region of southwest France, a rural community faced with the economic and cultural changes that have come in the world's shift to agribusiness. John saw it, and raved, at the last Mill Valley Film Festival.




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Reader Comments (17)

Another celebratory think-piece....thank you, Kaaren and Richard! Wonderful to notice, remember, and honor that we too "chew the cud", before and while we make what we make in any medium......and that we too strive to make something delcious...that will feed.....

Sunday, March 3, 2013 at 22:35 | Unregistered CommenterJudyth Hill

Dear Judyth,

Thank you so much! You especially are one who strives to make delicious things, and succeeds. We learn so much from the animales, don't we?


Kaaren & Richard

Monday, March 4, 2013 at 0:04 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

Ah, my Parisian Periscopes:

I wish I had a poem as wet and slurpy as the mouth of that cow... Again, Richard, vivid and so sweet.


One day a sheep got wind of the fact
that the end of its life is mutton

He tried to keep it from the others

The glorious days of spring and summer passed
as they grazed and idled grazed and grew
woollier and woollier

But he couldn’t dismiss the awful fact from his mind

Though sheepish as always he tried to figure a way
out of the ultimate dilemma

Make a run for it over that hill?

Catch a bus to a distant city where he might
blend in unnoticed in his sheepskin coat?

Hunker down behind a bush until somehow the
cold fact blew over?

He was nonplussed distraught torn between
docility and rebellion


The others munched and dozed munched and wandered

He found himself doing all the normal sheepish things

He fathered some lambs some ewelets and ramlets

Was thought thoughtful by other thoughtful sheep

Was consulted by other members of the herd on
ticklish sheep matters

But the vision of ultimate mutton never left his mind

Then one day it all made sense

He awoke on a hillside covered in tiny red poppies and
golden daisies lavender and yellow yarrow under a
blazing sky the color of topaz

It was all perfect all hilly and daley all up and
down in gullies and valleys bright everywhere at once

And he noticed for the first time in the eyes of the other sheep
a something in their rectangular pupils that could only be called


only be possible with
fears of mortality abated

And he blinked and it still remained

Lowered his muzzle and munched

And it was sweet
from Underwater Galaxies, 2004, pub. The Ecstatic Exchange, 2007

Monday, March 4, 2013 at 2:28 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Abdal-Hayy Moore


May we say, without ewe-bris, that we found a touch of delightful baaaa-thos in this work.


R and K

Monday, March 4, 2013 at 7:50 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

We would all be better off chewing our cud a little more (some just gulp and don't chew at all!) and ruminate on life a bit more deeply. Actually, I think I'm an over-ruminator which is probably the cause of my insomnia....

Thoughtfully and with glee,


What a wonderful and fun poem Daniel. I'm smiling <;-) and looking for contentment...and to forget a few things.

Monday, March 4, 2013 at 8:03 | Unregistered CommenterJoanne

Oh, there must be some possible repurposing of scanning technology for enriching the Eurozone breadbasket's productivity..

Much love to you trois,

- David

Monday, March 4, 2013 at 9:11 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Coons

How delighted I am to visit your Paris, after being away for so long. The animals are soulful in your photos Richard. Kaaren, thank you for your insights into the "writing life" it is always a joy and an inspiration to read your words. Thank you both for keeping Paris Play alive and well, you have always, always enriched my creative life in so many ways for so many years now. Love Jon

Monday, March 4, 2013 at 16:40 | Unregistered CommenterJon Hess

Dear Joanne,

Thanks for that insight into insomnia. You're right, ruminating does not help with sleep. But deep breathing does!

Isn't Daniel's poem a delight?

Much love, and happy birthday to you on March 7!

Kaaren & Richard

Monday, March 4, 2013 at 19:22 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban


We are certain that you can come up with an irresistible reason why you MUST get over to Paris. How about this one: Marley asked today when he could next see you, and how many American cats you might bring on over to visit. A good enough reason? We think so. He's still talking about how good you were to him in that last week before the dreaded ride in cargo to France. Oh, le cauchemar!

Much love,

Kaaren (& Richard)

Monday, March 4, 2013 at 19:27 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban


I was JUST wondering how you are doing, how the writing is going, and film? Richard says he saw a notice that you're reading a poem soon at Beyond Baroque. Great! I'll be there in spirit.

Thank you for your appreciation. It's returned in full.

Much love,

Kaaren (& Richard)

Monday, March 4, 2013 at 19:29 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

Loved this piece, text and photos. Of course what we don't get much of these days is the experience of animals in the shared environment of the farm. Pavilions at agricultural fairs are a little like zoos, a product of the Industrial Revolution and the still-creeping urbanization of rural land. Judith Lit's lovely film, "After Winter, Spring" shows the shared environment of small farms in the Perigord where surviving farmers and their livestock live, essentially, together. The relationship between farm animals and their keepers is deep and poignant, as the film reveals, especially when the animals are harvested for food. Thank you for mentioning this wonderful film. A must see for all eaters.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 23:10 | Unregistered CommenterL. John Harris

Dear John,

We're so glad you enjoyed this piece. You're right, a farm is a better place for animals than an agricultural fair. But for Parisian city dwellers, it is so wonderful to see these animal faces up close. Look at that little row of pearly teeth in the last photo of the sheep, the magnificent horns in the second photo, the Buddha calm of the cows. It warmed our hearts.

We look forward to seeing "After Winter, Spring." And to seeing you back in Paris later this year!

Thank you and much love,

Kaaren (& Richard)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 0:48 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

What a happy break — and did I ever need it! I'm on a wicked deadline (what else is new?) and feel sometimes like I'm making widgets instead of 'creating.'

So.....breathe. Ruminate.

That last reminds me of 'The Glass Menagerie' where the mother tells her son, '...chew your food and give your salivary glands a chance to function!' As you implied, not flashy but certainly essential!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 18:47 | Unregistered CommenterAnna


No one works harder than you do. And yes, you do deserve to slow down, to ruminate a bit.

I passed a poster on a bus stop on Blvd. St. Germain the other day that made me think of you: a TV series about the Borgias. The ad was of Christ on the cross and implied that God couldn't stop them any more than he could have stopped the crucifixion. (I'll check on it again to see if that's correct.--just glanced at it.) That's pretty tacky for a country of mostly Catholics. Which made me think this wlll be a sensationalistic version of their story. I'm waiting to read your novel in full, which is what we WANT from literature. The real deal.

Much love,

Kaaren (& Richard)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 23:22 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

Dear Kaaren and Richard,

So sorry to "hear" you've been down with the nasty flu. I'll keep a good thought for you both. In fact, I'll keep many good thoughts.

This documentary looks real compelling. I watched the trailer. I host a foreign and independent movie night for a women's group once a month --or when I'm up to it-- and this film is something in which a lot of my friends would be interested. I'm going to try and get a hold of it and show it to my group, to be preceded by a pot luck, which, of course, must have a French food theme.

Thank you for sharing.

Best to you both!


Sunday, March 10, 2013 at 2:35 | Unregistered CommenterWendy Pippin

Dear Wendy,

Thank you so much for your good wishes.

Doesn't this documentary sound good? It hasn't been theatrically released yet, is making the rounds of film festivals. Sounds like a good film to watch with friends over some home-cooked French food.

Thank you for taking the time to comment.

Love to you from both of us,

Kaaren (& Richard)

Monday, March 11, 2013 at 19:01 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

thank you! wonderful photos. some beautiful, some humourous, some with a touch of arbus. i love the Sheep Story.

Friday, May 10, 2013 at 3:17 | Unregistered Commentersusi

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