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

Entries in women's rights (3)


Crow and Gull Attack the Pope's Doves



Crow and Gull Attack the Pope's Doves
(Aquarius Sun Square Saturn in Scorpio)


The wind howls all around the house tonight

while images flicker on the screen—everyone is rebelling!

Orthodox Jews, refusing to serve in the Israeli army,

dance like black-garbed crows,

waving hands in the air like gleeful children,

as state thugs on horseback beat them to the ground;


Chechens saying nyet to Putin,

willing to burn down their cities for freedom;

Bosnian workers fed up—

not enough bread to feed their families;

Tunisia’s constitution includes

protection of the earth.


The UN blasts the Vatican

for shielding predatory priests,

for failing to protect children;

social media explodes with women

speaking out against the men

who stole their innocence.


I open a window, marvel at the fierce wind

blowing in from the sea, where, to the west,

waves are flooding Brittany and England,

the air so warm you could float on it.

Freedom is in the air

and it is thrilling.


Even high above and beyond, the planets

are doing the same dance—take back your authority!

Claim the power stolen by the priests,

the pedophiles, thugs, tyrants, users,

warmongers, thieves, despoilers of the earth—

it never did belong to them. It is yours.


February 7, 2014 






Queen Margot

Henri IV and Margot de Valois, adapted from Wikipedia

I spent the weekend editing the memoir/novel of a friend named Margo, then met her Tuesday night for dinner to discuss the book. It’s called Vagrant, and it will be published soon. It’s the lusty version of Eat, Pray, Love. Do not buy it—I repeat—do not buy it, if you are a puritan. But if you are drawn to Paris, Hawaii, the quest for love and the quest for God, loneliness, beauty, poetry, sex, this is the book for you.

The sun and moon are in Taurus and that made me think of the goddess Aphrodite and lusty women. I’ve heard comments about how decadent the royal wedding of William and Kate was last week, but perhaps these commentators don’t know about the Renaissance Queen Margot, a truly lusty woman. (Again, you puritans can stop reading right now.)

Marguerite de Valois was born May 14, 1553. At the age of 19, she had an affair with Henri de Lorraine, Duc de Guise and wanted to marry him. But her mother, Catherine of Medici, had other plans for Margot.

This was an era of violent wars between Catholics and Protestants, and Catherine thought her daughter’s marriage ought to serve some practical political purpose, such as uniting the two warring religious factions.



On August 18, 1572, Margot was married off to Henri de Navarre, a Protestant Huguenot in Notre Dame Cathedral. Because Henri was not Catholic, he was kept out of the cathedral for most of the ceremony. (And so was his mother, Jeanne, who had just died, probably from putting on a pair of poisoned gloves that Catherine of Medici had given her as a wedding gift.)

Henri and Margot were both passionate people, just not about each other. Soon after their wedding, they took other lovers. But Margot protected Henri from being murdered six days later when Catherine of Medici called on her Catholic supporters to massacre the Huguenots gathered in Paris from all over France for the wedding. This is now known as the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. Mothers-in-law can be difficult.



The two royals continued to protect and support each other, while enjoying busy love lives. But after some years, they grew apart, and Henri wanted to marry Marie de Medici. Queen Margot refused to divorce him, until the king gave her some money and allowed her to keep the title of Queen.

Reconciled to her former husband and his second wife, Marie de Medici, Queen Margaret became a patron of the arts and benefactress of the poor. She often helped plan events at court and nurtured the children of Henry IV and Marie. Rather like Bruce Willis and Demi Moore after their divorce.

Margot was known for her dazzling sense of style and fashion, and was a gifted poet and writer. Her memoir was published after her death in 1615. It was considered absolutely scandalous, and that is no easy thing to do, to scandalize the French.

Since I love outrageous people and lusty women (though you could say that Margot took it too far), some years ago, I wrote this persona poem, in her voice:


L'Hôtel de Sens, in the Marais




The French call me Chère Margot.

The doors of L'Hôtel de Sens


had grown too narrow

by the time they released me from prison.


Doorway, L'Hôtel de Sens

At 52, I’d grown stout

and bald, though it hardly mattered,


the declining power of skin balanced

by shapelier soul.


I had blond wigs fashioned

from the locks of my valets’ hair,


had the doors of the palace widened.

Though 18 years, it wasn’t so bad at Usson.


The jailer in my bed each night;

by day my memoir


about my lovers,

and prayers to Saint Jacob for release.         


I’d never had illusions about                        

fairness between women and men.


I “knew love” at age 11,

courtesy of my brother,


the very one who incited the king

to imprison me for “insatiable desire,”


my husband, Henri IV—that’s right,

the one with 52 mistresses.


Life was full again. I built

a little chateau,


Henri remarried, left me alone

with my 20-year-old Count—


but then the 18-year-old carpenter’s son        

arrived from Usson.


I returned from church one day,

my head full of songs for Saint Jacob,


when the Count shot my carpenter                 

before my very eyes.               


Strangle him with my garters! I cried.

They removed his head. He’s the only dead lover          


whose bit of heart is missing from the girdle

strung with lockets round my waist.



I moved to the chateau, finished

the garden convent I’d promised Jacob,


hired 14 Augustine fathers to sing

his praises round the clock.                                        


I wrote all the lyrics and music myself. Jacob

was the only one who stayed with me to the end. 



Richard and I began spending time in Paris every spring after our honeymoon here in 1997. We usually stayed in the apartment of friends, an apartment we now own. From here, we often walked across the Pont des Tournelles to the Marais. And just as you emerge from the Île St. Louis onto the Right Bank, there was a little chateau that intrigued me. I didn’t know why, but I slowed down and lingered in front of it each time we passed it.

A few years later, I finally stopped to read the plaque in front of it. L'Hôtel de Sens, it said. This was the chateau that Henri had provided for Margot when she was released from prison in Usson. Isn’t that strange? A place has a fascination for you and you later discover its connection to someone you’ve written about.

Even later, I was doing research on family names. My father’s middle name was Farrand. I traced it back to the Auvergne region in southern France, Ferrand, which later became the town of Clermont-Ferrand. In the volcanic mountains close by was the chateau Usson, where Margot spent 18 years writing her memoir. Is it possible that places and historical figures have resonance for us because the thread has come down in our DNA from our own ancestors? I think I read that a Ferrand lived in this castle, but I’m not sure. I’ve been looking for this genealogical information today and cannot find it. It may not be much of a link at all.

But the connection keeps coming up. I’ve just read that my new literary paramour, essayist Michel de Montaigne, was friends with Henri IV and Queen Margot. What an intricate web connects us all to one another, all of us, through all time, through books, imagination, DNA, kindred spirits.

(You can learn more about Queen Margot by reading Alexandre Dumas, pere’s 1845 novel, La Reine Margot, or see the 1994 French film La Reine Margot. And Shakespeare’s comedy, Love’s Labour’s Lost (1594-5) dramatizes an attempt at reconciliation in 1578 between Margaret and Henri. And Margot is played by Constance Talmadge in D. W. Griffiths’ 1916 film, Intolerance.

 But you'll have to wait until 2012 to read Margo Berdeshevsky's Vagrant.) 





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