Why France? – D. Hamilton

So how does a self-styled revolutionary anarchist justify squandering thousands of dollars to spend a month in Paris? Is this not solid evidence of his being a dilettante and poseur? (only French words fit) Wouldn’t sending money to Darfur relief or stockpiling provisions for future barricades be more righteous?

There are infinite easy justifications that don’t address the question. French wines and goat cheese are about half as expensive here. Our favorite local commercial radio station plays Billie Holliday and Django Reinhart. Paris doesn’t have mosquitoes. We like buildings more than 50 years old. Etc, etc.

My France obsession is entirely mainstream. France is the world’s most visited country. It has a population of about 60 million and 75 million foreign visitors a year. The USA has a population of 290 million and 45 million foreign visitors a year. Central Paris has less than 3 million residents and 25 million annual foreign visitors, more than 5 times New York.

Try to imagine the USA with 350 million annual tourists. In August, tourists here may outnumber Parisians who ritually flee the onslaught on their month-long annual paid vacations. (5 weeks a year plus national holidays are mandated by law)

My personal explanations for francophilia are entirely subjective, though deeply rooted. It began when I had the extreme good fortune to be assigned to serve my time in the US Army in Orleans 60 miles south of Paris in the mid-60’s. But much of the motivation is push from the other side. Especially under Bush II, whenever I am in the USA, alienation is my constant companion, if not anger. I grind my teeth going to the grocery store. Living on the outskirts of Austin, I feel surrounded by bloated houses, gas-guzzling SUV’s and their owners flaunting a completely undeserved attitudes of self-righteous superiority. Capitalism reigns unchallenged and dictates a disposable culture where everything is made to wear out or become unfashionable, necessitating the purchase of another bigger and more expensive one. Most people, believing he who dies with the most toys wins, love the idea of the system if not the results. Our Paris apartment, with rough beam ceiling and parquet floors, is in a building built in 1700. Essentially, the world’s most capitalist dominated culture perpetually offends me.

France; of course; is not without it’s faults, e.g., Chirac’s current efforts to placate Bush by helping challenge Iran’s legal nuclear program. But even the right of center Gaullists would be considered socialists in the American political context, far left of the Democratic Party. When the Gaullists recently proposed a minor labor law revision considered favorable to employers, it brought a million people into the streets who forced them to back down and probably wrecked the presidential chances of Prime Minister de Villepin.

French history since 1789 has featured a continual series of popular uprisings. They are like a normal rite of passage for students. The French now have arguably the most deeply ingrained socialist consciousness of any developed country in the world. In the first round of the last presidential election, about a quarter of the voters chose parties to the left of the Socialists. And Paris is more left than the rest of the country. When I arrive and walk down its crowded streets, I feel relatively among comrades, that alienation and anger melting quickly away.

Conversely, in the USA, I feel the embodiment of sedition, typically surrounded by ideological enemies. This attitude makes me next to worthless as an organizer. My sympathies don’t lead to saving the USA from the consequences of its crimes or perserving its dominant culture. In the current disgusting excuse for a debate over immigration, Congress just flung an English-only bone to the nativists. Wonder why Americans are so insistent on not learning more than one language?

So why France? It’s therapy. It lowers my blood pressure and I plan to claim much of the trip expenses as a medical deduction on my taxes. A bientot.

David Hamilton

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