"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."  --William Shakespeare

Entries in immigration (3)


After the Paris Massacres: Following the Clew



As I approach my writing café tonight, a lone clarinetist stands on the sidewalk, blowing a melancholy tune.

Inside, I savor coquilles St. Jacques, and listen. At the tables around me, everyone is French: three women; a couple; two men; a young couple with her parents. All are doing what the French do so well: fine dining and fervent debate. The words I hear are familiar: Charlie. Vincennes. Fear. Murder. Brothers. March. Terrorists. Muslims. Jews. Security. Police. France. Hollande. Obama. U.S.A. Iraq.

This chorus of voices is too multi-phonic to catch more than isolated words, plus, every conversation, though animated, is modulated, as the French do, only for the ears of those at each table. But they are all grappling with the same tangle of threads that Richard and I have been for the past week. What is the larger dimension? If we step back for a broader view, what larger stories, what myths, are being summoned?


Impromptu shrine outside Charlie Hebdo offices, 9 January 2015

There are so many threads, I feel like Ariadne in the labyrinth circling the Minotaur, the monster, trying to untangle the ball of many-colored threads—the clew!—to find the way to the core of the monstrous events of January 7, and January 9 in Paris. On January 7, two hooded men (cobras!) entered the office of a French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, and killed twelve staff members, including four noted cartoonists, and two police officers, with Kalashnikov rifles, shocking the western world as only September 11, 2001, did in recent times.

For the next two days, police in riot gear swarmed France, looking for the trail of the two murderers, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi. On Friday, the eleventh, the two jihadist brothers were found hiding in a printing house in Dammartin en Goële, near Charles de Gaulle airport. At the same time, another terrorist had taken hostages in a kosher supermarket near Porte de Vincennes. When the Kouachi brothers came out of the warehouse firing, they were killed by return fire from the police. Twenty minutes later, Amedy Coulibaly, the hostage taker, was shot, having earlier killed four of his hostages.


Spontaneous demonstration at République, 7 January 2015

On Sunday, January 11, Richard and I headed north from our home in the Latin Quarter to the Unity March at Place de la République. We passed l’Institut du Monde Arabe (the Arab World Institute), and gasped to see on the silver panels (like eyes!) of the Jean Nouvel-designed building, in giant red letters, "Nous Sommes Tous" in Arabic, “Charlie.”

That set the tone for a most moving day. An hour before the march was scheduled to start, the crowd was already thick crossing the Pont Henri IV, on foot and by bicycle. The streets were closed to vehicle traffic for blocks around.

We approached the Bastille, where we intended to meet a group of street artist friends. But a solid wall of policemen and policewomen were diverting everyone in a clockwise direction away from the Bastille, up Boulevard Beaumarchais. We spoke to a few policemen and were struck by the humanity in their faces, the complete absence of aggression in tone, expression and body language. The police in France are in the right relationship to their role, protecting the public, defending, not attacking, as is too often the case in the U.S.


By the time we’d marched three blocks up Blvd. Beaumarchais, there were so many people in the street that when Richard and I let go of each other’s hands so he could snap a few photos, and I glanced away for one second, I lost him in the crowd. In front of us we’d admired the banner carried by two men that said, “Je pense donc je suis Charlie.” I tapped the man on the left on his shoulder and gave him a thumbs up and a “Magnifique.” He grinned, and exclaimed, “C’etait mon idee!” (“It was my idea!”)



Richard called me on my cell: “Where are you?”

“Right behind 'I think therefore I am Charlie.'” He quickly found me.

Everywhere you looked there were “Je suis Charlie" signs, but other signs too: "Islam is innocent of terrorism," "I am Muslim, Terrorism Does Not Represent Me," "Blame Terrorists, Not Muslims," "I am Jewish," "I am a cop," "Respect differences and stand united," "liberté, fraternité, egalité," all implying the same thing: we are all connected, we are all united in empathy with the victims, against violence.

Aside from one sign that pointed a finger of blame—“Quatar finances terrorists”—not a single sign we saw was divisive. There was no shouting, no pushing (well, a little), and from the politicians, no speeches. Just silence, arms interlocked, dignified, a mood of gravitas.


Everyone there was aware of the potential for violence, and most of us were grateful for the dense presence of police and the helicopters overhead. The terrorist alert was at maximum, so the more than 40 political leaders from Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, were filmed on a roped-off side street, TV images of which moved me to tears later that night.

As block by block we surged closer to La Place de la République, it began to feel like a cattle yard. Richard, who has claustrophobia in crowds, needed to peel away onto a side street. I pressed forward for another 30 minutes, until I could no longer move. Enough. I turned onto a side street, rue Charlot, and passed a couple who live in our building, she American, he French, the ones who give the annual Christmas party for everyone in the building. (American warmth, bien sûr.) We greeted each other going in opposite directions.

Turning onto rue de Turenne, I passed a phalanx of police vans, and stopped to phone Richard. Surprise—he was right down the street taking photos. He’d just run into Sylvia Whitman and David Delannet of Shakespeare and Company. Richard waited for me in front of a small church, and we ambled to the Marais for galettes and conversation, returning to the question posed in “A Day of Mourning in Paris,” What turns a young man into a deadly cobra?


Impromptu shrine on Boulevard Richard Lenoir for Ahmed Merabet, a French police officer shot and killed near Charlie Hebdo offices, 9 January 2015

How to approach the question? At La Maison de la Poesie the other night, a friend and I heard Russell Banks (the author of Affliction, the best novel I know about the wounds inflicted on children by an alcoholic, abusive father) talk about what being a storyteller entails. When he’s telling a story, he’s trying to penetrate the mystery of what it is to be human. And he begins with one character. No one act depends on a single motive. A writer knows that no one does anything for just one reason; as humans we’d like to reduce acts to one reason, but it’s impossible.

And so, it might be illuminating to examine the roots of terrorism by looking at the character of just one of the three men who murdered 12 journalists and staff (cartoonists!) and four Jewish shoppers (marketing for Sabbath, their holy day!), the one about whom we have the most information: Chérif Kouachi.


What do we know about him? Thanks to a fine piece of reporting by the New York Times, we learned a great deal quickly. 

That he was the younger of two brothers whose father had died early, and whose mother died in 2004, when Chérif was 12 and Saïd was 14. They were sent to live in a boarding school for orphans and troubled children in the village of Treignac in central France. According to Mohamed Badaoui, a classmate of Saïd’s, Chérif was the more outgoing. Both brothers played soccer. Neither seemed to be religious.

They were Algerian-French in descent, with all that that colonial history implies. The Algerian War of Independence from France was fought relatively recently, from 1954 to 1962. The war was prolonged and bloody, with atrocities on both sides, and left psychic wounds that remain to this day.

(It seems intuitively obvious that the memories of one’s ancestors are in our DNA, and this is now being proven scientifically.)

According to Badaoui, their dream was to move to Paris, and this they did, when Saïd was 20 and Chérif was 18. 

The two brothers were raised in France, a country whose values are to some extent foreign to, antagonistic to those in Algeria: colonial vs. colonized; predominantly Christian vs. Muslim; democratic vs. older, more tribal North African.

In France, they were marginalized, lived in block housing on the Périphérique, the edge of Paris, in the Nineteenth Arrondissement, a working-class neighborhood full of Muslim immigrants from former French colonies in North Africa. Muslims make up seven-and-a-half percent of the population of France.

They lived in poverty, where the education provided did not seem to lead to the same job opportunities as more privileged and well-connected Frenchmen, where jobs were hard to find, in a setting and an atmosphere where hope was in short supply.

They encountered open or subtle discrimination, as lower-class, lower-income immigrants tend to do in France, and in most other western countries.


Impromptu shrine outside Charlie Hebdo offices, 9 January 2015

In 2003, after the start of the American Invasion of Iraq, Saïd and Chérif Koachi began attending prayers at a Mosque that no longer exists on rue de Tanger. It was here that the brothers met Farid Benyettou, a 22-year-old Muslim of Algerian descent.

Mr. Benyettou’s sister had been expelled from a Paris secondary school for refusing to remove her niqab. The banning of veils for women in France, which is an aggressively secular society, seemed to many Muslims nothing more than a sign of disrespect for their religion.

Mr. Benyettou taught a group of young men daily for two hours, inviting them to join jihad. Chérif Kouachi was among those, according to the New York Times, “sickened by images of American soldiers humiliating Muslims at the Abu Ghraib prison.” After Abu Ghraib, his doubts vanished, and he began training with assault weapons, gathering with other jihadist young men in  Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, and planned a trip in 2005 to fight in Iraq. He was stopped at the border and arrested, with his teacher, Benyettou, and both were sentenced to prison.


Graffiti at impromptu shrine outside Charlie Hebdo offices, 9 January 2015

In this prison, Fleury-Mérogis, 15 miles south of Paris and notorious for its bad conditions and Muslim resentment, Chérif met a radical jihadist, Djamel Beghal, who had trained in one of Osama bin Laden’s camps in Afghanistan. In prison, his radical convictions hardened.

Imagine this as the apex of your ambition, your desire in life: to die a martyr by killing others and yourself so that you can become a bird soul in paradise surrounded by 72 virgins. (And how exactly would that benefit you unless these virgins happened to be female birds?)

This is male heroism completely untethered from the aims of life, the feminine, wisdom, Sophia. It is a loss of tender-hearted humanity, a descent into savagery.

The last time we saw such terrible extremism in the West was in World War II. The German vaterland (father-land) took male efficiency and testosterone-fueled aggression so far from Sophia, the wisdom of life, that perhaps it is no accident that Germans elected Angela Merkel as Chancellor of Germany in 2005, the first woman to hold the office. Women are needed to balance such primitive male warring impulses. It does not seem incidental to me that from the ages of 12 and 14, these brothers lacked a mother. Nor that both brothers kept their jihadist plans secret from their wives, who, apparently, were shocked by the savagery of their husbands’ acts. Nor that these deadly plans were hatched in mosques and prisons without women around to point out the insanity of this perversion of religion.


We need female heads of government around the world. The world is terribly out of balance. Without the feminine aspect given equal power with the male, men lose guidance towards life. If women headed more countries, there would be less war. (Of course, there are exceptions to this perspective among women, but not many.)

And looking beyond the tangled threads in France:

The record of the U.S.A. in Afghanistan. Russia understood the wisdom of withdrawal long before America did.

After 9/11/2001, there was a rush to war in the U.S.A. and Britain, fueled by a cynical stoking of fear for the purpose of greed. The invasion of Iraq was accomplished based on lies about “weapons of mass destruction” to cover the baser motive of greed for oil and money. Cheney and cronies gained billions from nepotistic contracts in Iraq.

Other imperialist western countries, France and Britain among them, rushed to join the U.S. at war in a country on another continent.

U.S. diplomacy failed spectacularly. Neither political leaders at the time, nor military leaders and soldiers, were trained to understand the culture they invaded, neither its tribal allegiances nor its complex religion.

Modern drone warfare wreaks collateral damage on a country’s inhabitants, killing innocent women, children, and men who are not affiliated with jihadism.


American torture, humiliation, and wrongful, illegal imprisonment further inflamed Muslim jihadist rage. Waterboarding, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib.

War creates an endless tribal cycle of vengeance. Of attack and counter-attack. If a man’s relatives, home, village, country are devastated by a foreign power, and he lacks money, power, artillery, but is filled with the rage to revenge himself, jihadist extremism might seem to be the only path.

If that path is legitimized by so-called religious leaders, their teachings provide a purpose for testosterone-driven lost young men, and an outlet for resentment at being treated as second-class citizens by the western world.

And then there is the anti-Semitic element in all this. Chérif Kouachi talked obsessively about attacking Jewish shops and Jews in the street. Targeting a kosher market was no accident. Was Israel’s war on Palestinians an element in this anti-Semitism?

The rage of jihadists seems to be aimed at the countries that are most imperialistic at the present: the U.S.A., France, Britain, and Israel. How swiftly the victims of one vast crime—Germany attempting to eradicate the Jews—become the bullies of another—Israel crushing Palestine. The terrorists demolishing the twin towers, followed by the U.S. invading Iraq. Where is the pause for reflection, for understanding, for action born of wisdom?


Finally, free speech. How far can it go when it involves mocking what is sacred to between twenty and twenty-five percent of the people on earth?

And where, you might ask, in all this discussion of the jihadist terrorists is my empathy for the seventeen murdered victims? It is deep and ongoing. In every conversation we’ve heard or read about in Paris, the sympathy for the victims is huge.

The central issue of our times is the monster in the center of the labyrinth. It is tempting to see him as a jihadist terrorist. But perhaps he is any religious fundamentalist, whether he appears as a Muslim terrorist in Paris or NYC; Christian fundamentalists in the U.S.A; American right-wing politicians lying about their reasons for going to war; Jewish fundamentalists in Israel, and Muslim terrorists in Palestine, murdering each other; Christian and Muslim fundamentalists in Nigeria terrorizing each other; Buddhist terrorists in Myanmar murdering Muslims. He is the one we need to try to understand. He is the least educated, the most medieval in his thinking, the most resentful, rageful and dangerous, the most violent in his actions.


Impromptu shrine outside Charlie Hebdo offices, 9 January 2015

In the myth of Ariadne and the Minotaur, it bears remembering that the bull man, Asterius, is Ariadne’s half-brother, no stranger. She must follow the clew to the core of the mystery, to free both the Minotaur and his sacrificial victims. Only wisdom, understanding can take us there.

In a sense, the Arab world is Sleeping Beauty. If we go back centuries—what learning, what intellectual genius and innovation!—in art, in science, in mathematics.

During the Crusades, when Christianity dominated in Europe, what happened to Arabic learning? What happened to the lively intellect, the scientific questioning, the wisdom? How did the intellectual tradition harden into reactionary dogma?

And what is the story between Christianity and Judaism? The myth of warring brothers; an antagonistic relationship of 2,000 years. You have only to look at caricatures of Jews, from low-level bigotry to literature, from the ghettos of Europe, the banning of Jews from many professions to the demonizing during the rise of Nazism, which culminated in the horror of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen.


French street artist C215 gives away hundreds of stencils outside the 13th Arrondissement city hall, 11 January 2015

In the drama which unfolded in Paris during the last week, we saw three marginalized groups, the so-called “Muslim” French-Algerian jihadists, the Kouachi brothers; the four Jewish victims in the supermarket at Vincennes; and the African-French hostage taker, Amedy Coulibaly, born in France to parents from Mali.

Many of France’s Catholic majority of between fifty-one and eighty-eight percent of the population, and its ever-growing number of agnostics and atheists, along with Muslims, Jews, French-Africans, and many from other continents and countries, between one and two million people strong, all marched in Paris on Sunday, January 11, to the Place de la République. The overwhelming spirit was one of unity; another two million people marched in other French cities.

I’ll go out on a fragile limb and say, to me it looks like a new paradigm, a realization that we are lost if we continue to slaughter one another in the name of religion, fanaticism, revenge, greed for money and oil. The planet will not survive.

What is out of balance is the balance between masculine and feminine values. And the root of this is spiritual vision. If God is pictured as a man, solely a male, it doesn’t matter how far you go from that primary vision: you can go as far as doubting, or denying, agnosticism or atheism, but you’re still on the masculine track.

If your vision, spiritual and/or secular, can imagine a world where female and male values share space, that means a world in which war is a last resort. A world which cannot move too far beyond what’s healthy for humans, animals, the earth itself. A world in which we pay attention to visible signs like increasing cancer rates, and the increasingly alarming weather, disappearing animal species, and invisible signs like dreams, anxiety and dread.

If more women were allowed to lead or at least participate equally in governance, the sanctity of life would be the first consideration, not power. 


To clarify, all of us humans are androgynous creatures, with feminine sides (life and relationships) and masculine sides (power and work). Just as women are robbed of half of life if they are prevented from working, from circulating freely and independently, from self-governance, by their fathers, brothers, husbands, culture or religion, so men rob others of life if they blindly follow the will to power and war, as Cheney and Bush did in 2003 in invading Iraq, as the two Kouachi brothers did in murdering twelve staff and policemen at Charlie Hebdo, and as Amedy Coulibaly did in murdering four Jewish men in a supermarket in Paris. They are two sides of the same phenomenon, the will to power divorced from the feminine sense of the sanctity of life.

Sanctity: the sacred. Life doesn’t care what you believe in: whether it’s Mohammed, Christ, Jehovah, Shiva, Buddha, No One, or You-don’t-know-Who. Life is sacred no matter what you believe in, or don’t. And it has its male spirits and its female spirits.

When I did my own vision quest, I took apart all the parts of my psyche. And I discovered that there were twelve parts, and I gave them names. Later I discovered that these twelve parts had already been named long ago by the ancient Greeks, the names of their gods and goddesses. These re-emerging male and female divinities represent to me  the beginning of a crumbling of monotheism, a reawakening to the ancient truth that polytheism is what is needed for harmony and balance.


Impromptu shrine outside Charlie Hebdo offices, 9 January 2015

The gods and goddesses are no longer “out there,” up in the sky, beyond us, separate from us. Instead, they are the very structure of our psyches, the archetypes that make up our deep souls, and who speak to us in dreams. If we listen, we can begin to live in harmony. If we deny or ignore them, we are troubled by addictions, disturbed sleep, raging anger or greed or depression or loneliness and all the other maladies of modern life out of balance. We can heal ourselves, and the world, by listening to these innate sacred voices in ourselves, which are part of all of us.

We’re entering into Nietzsche territory here: What did this profoundly spiritual philosopher mean by "God is dead?" His sense of the old Homeric Greek gods and goddesses was vivid. He clearly meant the punitive monotheistic god, not the array of spirits Homer dramatizes as present in all human activity. Jung territory: all the archetypes of the unconscious are alive, and they are sacred. The gods are reawakening.

It will, of course, take hundreds of years. But it’s beginning. There is a way out of the labyrinth.





We Live In a Political World

Although this is an election year in France, our Dylan-inspired headline doesn't just refer to electoral politics.

Everywhere we turn in Paris, someone's making a statement about something, on sidewalks, walls, fence posts, Metro stations, parked and moving cars, etc.



We've collected some of the socio-political comments we've seen in the last year, which we present below without much comment, only simple translations. Given the fact that it would be rude and presumptuous for us, as immigrants to a new county, to pretend we're au courant on all the nuances, and capable of trenchant commentary, we'll let you simply see what we see.

We see that Parisians live and breathe in a climate where rights--of women, immigrants, minorities, corporations, animals, babies, etc.--are constantly being discussed, debated and argued.



France is reeling, as is the world, from the current economic crisis, and European radicalism being what it is, there's more anti-American and anti-capitalist sentiment on display. And, as we know from American politics, when the economy is bad, demagogues turn against immigrants and against internationalism. Environmental safeguards also take a turn for the worse.


Dechets: waste (toxic, nuclear). OMG: agribusiness, Monsanto. Marées noires: oil spills. 

We can report a few facts about French electoral politics:  Center-right incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy is running for a second five-year term as president, but he is running behind the Socialist challenger, François Hollande, by as much as fifteen points in some opinion polls. The first round of elections is April 22, with the second round on May 6, if no candidate gets a majority. No candidate ever has. The far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen, whose father led the National Front party for years, ranks third in the polls with around seventeen percent, but she does not yet have the required number of signatures from local mayors around the country (yes, that's how you qualify) to get on the national ballot.




Please remove your brain before entering.



Notre corps nous appartient: Our body belongs to us. Autonomy, abortion and contraception, free and without charge.


Couples, parenthood, stays, change of civil state. Lesbians, gays, bis, transexual and intersexes want equal rights.


Abas, Nazis, Zionists, fascists, racists! Palestine will live! Will conquer!




Progress in the USA. (An electric chair)



Profits are big in order to pay for your health.


Advertising two days of anti-capitalism demonstrations.


To preserve our health and the future of the planet, leave behind nuclear power.


Get involved. Kick him out.


Do something for liberty at Place Stalingrad on May 28th.


You have to get tough, but without losing your tenderness.


No on the government's proposed austerity plan.



Solidarity with the revolt of immigrants against the borders.


"Banlieues" are the suburbs just outside Paris, many of which are heavily immigrant, and in which major protests and riots occurred in the last decade.




The financial sector is killing us.




Le Génie de la Liberté; Le Petit Napoléon

A Story in Forty Stanzas


1. C’est l’aube, dawn in Paris.

We have our Immigration appointment.

From our corner, the metal eyes of L’Institute du Monde Arabe[1],

that close on shadow, open to light,

are watching us, and we are watching them.


2. All across North Africa,

people are throwing off chains,

emerging from the shadows.

Across the Pont de Sully, light

is rising in the east. Light is rising in us.


3. Wide Boulevard Henri IV to the Place Bastille. The gold Génie

de la Liberté[2] balances on a golden globe atop a green column.

He’s a naked winged figure, a star on his forehead,

in one hand, the torch of civilization,

in the other, broken chains.


4. A black couple with two children block the sidewalk.

Unhappiness between the parents, misery in the kids.

The father walks far ahead with one child.

The mother struggles to control a younger child

crying behind her. We hurry by.


5. At Immigration, already a long line,

like the visa line outside the L.A. French Consulate

where we waited in the rain.

Wouldn’t it be more respectful to let people wait inside?

The black family gets in line behind us, the father stands separate.


6. The doors of Immigration open.

They weren’t keeping us outside—

they were closed and we were early.

We’re ushered in, passports checked,

shown upstairs, papers examined, told to sit down.


7. The father can’t get change

from the soft drink machine.

The mother sits behind us,

trying to comfort her child so half-heartedly

that the child’s crying increases.


8. They call out my name: “Kaaren Beban.”

A woman leads me to the waiting room, two rows of plastic chairs

back to back, facing doors to examination rooms.

Richard joins me: “Do they have your name wrong?”

“I wondered the same thing.”


9. We ask a woman at the information booth.

“In France a woman takes her husband’s surname.”

“But my surname isn’t Beban,” I say.

“I’m a feminist,” my husband says lightly, in his rudimentary French,

“and I object.” The woman smiles. Ah, ces Américains fous[3]! 


10. Everyone around us is quiet. Too much at stake

to attract attention. A big African man comes in,

asks a question in a baritone with an undertone, Do not dream

of treating me with anything less than respect.

And who would dare? And why should they?


11. Names are called. Doctors open the exam room

and usher people in, only partially closing the door.

A medical exam as entertainment?

Richard and I joke, Let’s just poke our heads in

and ask if we can watch.


12. It’s my turn. The doctor is tall and ruddy, looks English

more than French. A merry air, as if he’s playing

a favorite game, Red Rover. He invites me

onto the scale with a flourish, then measures my height.

He shows me the eye chart, asks me to read the bottom line.


13. With my glasses on, I can’t see a thing.

I take them off and can easily read every line.

"My eyesight’s improved,” I say.

A smaller red-haired female doctor comes dancing up

and we banter in French.


14. The male doctor asks me to hold out my finger.

He pricks it and captures the blood.

The red-haired doctor gazes out the window at the sun

and does a skipping dance: “Vent couvert,” she says.

“Covered wind?” I ask. “Vent couvert,” she sings.  


15. We talk about the first sun in days,

the first glimpse of spring.

They both seem giddy.

If these French doctors were a drink,

they’d be champagne.


16. The tall doctor leads me to a dressing room, says strip

to the waist. I wait until a lab technician escorts me

to a chest x-ray machine, shows me where to stand.

Her partner puts a clip at the back of my hair

to keep it off my neck. “Hold your breath.”


17. Back in the waiting room, I study the wall posters.

One advises condoms to control the spread of SIDA,

one urges women to report domestic abuse,

a third condemns clitoral mutilation.

Everyone around us is quiet. Still too much at stake.



18. A short female doctor calls my name.

I follow her into the exam room.

She has an air of the Grim Reaper.

On the wall above her desk, the x-ray of my lungs.

There are several tiny stitches on the right side.


19. But what alarms me is the white spot

at the bottom of the left lung.

Grimly, she begins her questions in French.

I answer, pause, and ask her what the white spot is.

“We’ll get to that later,” she snaps.


20. She asks me about my health history.

I hand her a letter I worked on for hours.

She waves it away. “I’m asking you.”

Why is she so hostile?

“I had breast cancer in 2001. Caught early,” I said.


21. “Yes,” she says, “I see the stitches.”

She asks about my treatment.

“A combination of Western and Eastern medicine,” I say.

“I had radiation, but not chemotherapy.”

A frown. “You did not have the traitement classique?”


22. She shakes her head.

I start to tell her about the friend who died on chemo.

She interrupts.

She won’t permit a single word

that’s not a response to her questions.


23. She tells me to sit on the edge

of the examination table.

With dry, impatient hands she paws my chest.

I stare down at her shoes.

Her sad, homely shoes.


24. “Are you depressed?

“No,” I reply, “I’m happy.”

“No one is happy all the time,” she says.

“But why shouldn’t I be happy?” I say,

“I’m in Paris, writing, and in love.”


25. She continues to ask me questions,

sourly. Is she anti-American?

Is she from Tunisia or Algeria,

some colony mistreated by the French?

Is she taking out her resentment on me?


26. Or maybe, it’s my French. I try switching to English.

She answers in English no better than my French.

I switch back to French. The interview over,

she puts aside her notes, and turns to the x-ray on display.

“That,” she says, pointing to the white hole, “is air.” 


27. “It’s normal?” I ask.

“Yes,” she says.

It is now 30 minutes after I first asked the question.

Mystery solved.

She’s a sadist, a killjoy.


28. There’s one in every workplace,

one in every social group, one in most families.

Always someone who chooses petty control

over compassion. She hands me my x-ray.

I’m to take this to my doctor in France, for my files. 


29. I go to the front desk.

A cheerful woman with the wide eyes of a flounder,

asks me for my photograph. I find it at the back of a folder,

We chat in her office. “Your French is good,” she says.

“Thank you,” I say, grateful.


30. Richard appears at the door of our office, upset.

He was hoping for the 500 free hours of French lessons

the government supplies, so we could assimilate.

“But the consulate gave us cartes de visiteurs[4],

not cartes de résidents[5].”


31. The immigration woman reassures us,

we can go to our local Préfecture de Police and change that status.

“If that doesn’t work, I have a friend

who would trade French lessons

for English lessons from you.’


32. She tells me of her two years in Vietnam.

How she lived with a family who spoke no French.

The children used to say, ‘She’s stupid,

she can’t even speak Vietnamese.’

But I learned. It’s not that hard.”


33. Richard and I dart into a café for cafés crèmes

and chocolate croissants. We’ve given up sugar,

but not today. We trade stories about our doctors. I’m more upset

by the mean spirit of mine. His wasn’t much better,

but what bothers him is not assimilating.


34. We tell our friend, V., our immigration tale.

She refers me to a friend who works in Immigration.

I call her. She says,

“Are you going to earn a living in France?”

“We can’t," I say, "our income has to come from the States.”


35. “That’s all a visiteur is.

You can change it later to a carte de résident.

If you do intend to make money here,

remember, 70% of your income

goes to the government.”


36. And the French lessons?

"You wouldn’t want to learn French that way.

The classes are held at ungodly hours

way out of town.

Just post an ad at the American Church.” 


37. She asks if I was upset at having to disrobe

for the x-ray. “Not at all,” I say.

“Many Americans get upset by that.”

“No, what bothered me was using a hair clip

that others used, the possibility of lice.”


38. “You know why we make women

take off their tops?

We need to see

if they’re being beaten at home.

Some come in covered with bruises.”


39. “Some men from Africa and the Middle East

have to be told that they can have

only one wife in France,

and that she must be permitted

to leave the house."


40. My doctor, who daily examines women who are mutilated

so that they cannot experience pleasure,

who are beaten, and forbidden to leave the house,

perhaps she’s unhappy at what she must witness.

Perhaps, she is depressed.

[1] The Arab World Institute, is a museum for Arabic art, designed in the 1980s by the architect, Jean Nouvel and his Architecture Studio. On the south side, the wall is covered with what seems to be moucharabieh, the kind of latticed screens found on patios and balconies in Arab countries. The screens are actually grids of automated lenses used to control light.

[2] Genius of Liberty

[3] Oh, those crazy Americans!

[4] visitors cards

[5] residents cards