France is Moving Forward, And Canada?

French feministsEvery once in a while something happens that makes me take stock and question why I’m living in Canada.  Every once in a while a government somewhere else does something simple yet important that for whatever reason I can’t see Canada’s government ever doing.  Our country is fine with commissions, and panels, and high-minded policy statements, and broad gestures like Trudeau’s “Because it’s 2018,” but terribly weak when it comes to actually doing the kind of simple, attainable, and obvious things that will  actually improve people’s lives.

An obvious example is the longstanding promise to provide First Nations communities with safe drinking water and housing that is equal to what we find in the suburbs of any city in Canada.  Both problems could have been solved in months if the will had been there to do it.   There are companies – Canadian companies – that build portable water processing plants.  You just haul it in by truck or helicopter, add a generator, and bang – clean drinking water.  It really is that simple.

There are companies that build pre-fab homes. Everything is assembled in a factory, and then the house is delivered by truck in three or four house-trailer sized chunks.   It’s fairly affordable, the build quality is excellent, and it would be dead simple to do this for most First Nation communities.  So why don’t we do it?  Seriously, why don’t we?

What got me on this tangent was the news last week that France had made cat-calling illegal.  The law had been in the works for a while, but after one particularly nasty and widely YouTubed incident the Macron government was able to pass this into law almost immediately.  They didn’t spend years studying it, they didn’t appoint a panel, they didn’t try to find a mild and inoffensive (to assholes) compromise.  They just did it.

Conde Naste Traveler has a nice article about this, but a quick search will find any number of other stories.  I quote from that article:

Only a few days after a shocking video surfaced (and quickly went viral) showing a Parisian woman getting hit in the face by the catcaller she had reportedly just shut down, France has officially made catcalling and other street harassment punishable by law. Under the new law passed on Wednesday, sexual harassment on the country’s streets will now result in on-the-spot fines of up to €750 (about $871), according to Reuters.

“Harassment in the street has previously not been punished. From now on, it will be,” Marlène Schiappa, France’s secretary for gender equality and a primary architect of the bill, told Europe 1 radio on Thursday. “What’s key is…that the laws of the French republic forbid insulting, intimidating, threatening, and following women in public spaces,” she said.

I sincerely doubt that Canada will ever pass a law like this, even though a large part of our population would support it.  Actions like this take courage, and that seems to something that Canadian politicians lack.

So why are we moving to France?  A lot of it comes down to staying in a country that can’t even be bothered to provide safe drinking water, or moving to one that takes a serious stance in the battle to eliminate sexual harassment.

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Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité and Immigration

libegafra-c228eThe words Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité were written into the 1958 French Constitution and are considered part of the French national heritage.   This week France’s Constitutional Court ruled that the “principle of fraternity” protected farmer Cédric Herrou from prosecution for aiding dozens of migrants who had entered the country illegally. (Story here)

As we work on planning our move from North Vancouver to France, we necessarily are also looking at visas and immigration.  I know too well that the reality of crossing a border is only known fully when you reach the boundary, and that the best laid plans can run afoul of unanticipated bureaucracy, but at this point it really does seem that France welcomes immigrants as long as they can support themselves.

This feels much different from Canada, a country which sells itself as being a welcoming place for refugees and immigrants while actually keeping the doors pretty firmly closed.

At the same time that France was enshrining protections for citizens who aid immigrants (legal or not), the Globe and Mail reported on Canada’s appalling and labyrinthine visa system, which is refusing visas to a larger percentage of applicants every year.  It has reached the point where these Harper era policies are blocking scholars trying to attend academic conferences, even when the Canadian government is paying them to attend.

From the Globe and Mail story by Geoffrey York and Michelle Zilio:

Last year alone, Canada refused entry to nearly 600,000 people who wanted to come for a short stay for tourism, school, business, academic conferences or simply to see their families. And the refusals have skyrocketed: The number has more than doubled since 2012, according to data obtained by The Globe and Mail.

and

The World Economic Forum, which conducts an annual study of travel and tourism competitiveness around the world, puts Canada’s visa requirements among the most complex and opaque in the world. In a 2017 survey that ranks 136 countries from best to worst when it comes to the difficulty of their visa rules, Canada placed a dismal 120th – a drop of 14 places from an earlier survey in 2013.

Where Canada is ranked 120th, France manages 73. (Also of interest is the “Health and Hygiene” index, which has France at 14th, and Canada at a dismal 59th, including 38th for “Access to Improved Drinking Water.”)

What fascinates me, and gives me some sense of hope when I look at France, is how the latter reacts to the current political climate.  Both countries have seen a rise in right-wing racism and xenophobia, with endless unfounded (yet well-reported) claims that immigrants are stealing our jobs, draining our resources, and causing an alarming jump in violent crime.   In Canada it seems as if both the media and politicians have been drawn into this vortex, and are afraid to challenge the dishonesty and orthodoxy that it represents.  In this country politicians of all stripes will chime in about the necessity to protect our borders, to justify the years it takes to examine even the most blatantly genuine of refugee claims,  or to subtly acknowledge that Those People are not like Us.

I cannot recall the last time that I saw a Canadian politician actually stand up in support of increased immigration, with the exception of the Trudeau flash-in-the-pan that was Syrian refugees.

Aside from Marine Le Pen and the Rassemblement national (formerly known as the Front national) it feels as if the French body politic has maintained a much more humane and reasonable approach to those entering their country.

I quite think that I’ll like living in a country whose courts decide that “the principle of fraternity confers the freedom to help others, for humanitarian purposes, regardless of the legality of their presence on national territory.”

Addendum:  An interesting analysis on French attitudes towards immigration by Harvard University’s Arthur Goldhammer.

The president’s room for maneuver is limited. He must fortify himself against Wauquiez’s Republicans and the Front National, who lie in wait for him on this issue. But he cannot afford to alienate the center-left support that put him in office, and for the center-left this is an issue where the heart tends to outweigh reason, not to say silence it. Striking the proper balance will likely prove to be the ultimate test of Macron’s political skills.

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Planning our Cheese Purchases while still in North Van

The dream lives on, and we’re still poring over property listings. We’ve expanded our search to include Burgundy, which is also insanely cheap.  Check out this property, which is listed for €220,000.

I imagine a day that goes something like this….

Wake up late. Maybe 10 am, although if past experience is anything to judge by there will be animals that will make sure it’s earlier than that.

Coffee, breakfast, maybe a newspaper or something similar.  Putter in the yard. Maybe go for a long walk.  If needed, head into the closest town or village for shopping.

Lunch, which feels a lot like wine and cheese with some good bread on the patio.

Reading, writing, maybe a nap at some point.

Dinner, something that takes a long time to cook, with the absolute freshest and most delicious local ingredients, maybe some fish or chicken.  More wine.

And cheese, from these guys – seriously, you need to go look at a their web site! Talk about a farmer out standing in his field!

But still, leave aside my smart comments and chuckles, and look at how these people showcase their products. Look at how there are three generations of farmers and cheesemakers carrying on a tradition.

Imagine any of the cheeses you find in Safeway or Save-On describing themselves like this:

Nous fabriquons des fromages depuis 1895, nos recettes n’ont pas changé mais notre savoir-faire s’est amélioré et nos méthodes se sont modernisées. Notre seul but : la recherche de l’excellence pour un plaisir intact.

Nous sommes fiers de fabriquer chaque jour des fromages authentiques, qui s’affinent avec le temps et dont les goûts et les arômes peuvent varier suivant la période de l’année.
Nous souhaitons décrire leur goût, retranscrire leur histoire et vous initier à leur fabrication afin de vous faire plonger au cœur de notre univers…

Admittedly there are some fine cheesemakers in British Columbia, and in Quebec especially, but overall cheese in Canada is the province of multinational cheese factories turning out tons of cheddar, mozzarella, Monterey Jack, and Velveeta each day.  Bread is something manufactured in equally large factories, sliced, and packed in plastic bags before being shipped by the truckload to your local store.  Eggs come from nasty. overcrowded factory farms, and need refrigeration because they’re scrubbed of their natural protection before packaging and shipping.

The best eggs that I ever tasted were actually from West Vancouver, from a family with a chicken coop on their property. This was forty years ago, and presumably was at a time when such things weren’t heavily regulated.  The eggs that I was given were the result of a couple of days of chickens being fed with broccoli scraps.  They were nothing short of divine, with yolks that were like something out of a van Gogh painting.

All of this leads me to believe strongly that having good, honest, unadulterated food around us will make our lives longer, happier, and more satisfying.

Back to the Land

Mirare
Mirare, a sculpture by Cheryl Hamilton and Michael Vandermeer, was first placed in Deep Cove, but after outrage by people there was moved across town to Princess Park

Two events are convincing me that leaving North Vancouver for France is our best choice.  The first, part of the research for a newspaper article, is that the District of North Vancouver’s funding for public art is a meagre 57¢ per capita.  The neighbouring City of North Vancouver spends nearly five times as much – $2.40 for each resident.

The second sign that Canada is a place to leave is the election in Ontario of right-wing nutcase Doug Ford. (Brother of the late, crack smoking Rob Ford.)  If Canada continues to elect Trump clones it’s a place that I want nothing to do with.

All of this madness and outrage leads me to think that it’s time to take a step back from the wild and crazy social media driven, all electronic lifestyle for something simpler and more satisfying.

Already we’re abandoning a lot of on-line content for actual, physical books, and printed newspapers.  I’m reminded yet again that a Sunday New York Times is a much more engrossing and wide ranging way of becoming informed than any Facebook or Google algorithm will ever deliver.  Somehow having that big page of newsprint encourages you to read entire long articles, and turning the pages leads you to topics and ideas that never would have grabbed me on-line.  A strong lede will always beat click-bait.

Perhaps because the quality of food shopping is so low around here, and because living in a strata means you can’t grow carrots, I’m looking forward to doing some small scale gardening.  Vegetables, maybe some fruit trees… who knows.  Maybe we’ll grow wheat and make our own bread.  Chickens for eggs for sure, and who knows what else. A cow?  Fresh milk? A goat? Cheese?

Eturntablenough of MP3s. I want CDs at least, and preferably honest to god vinyl.   Just last month I hauled the stereo downstairs and started working through the big box of CDs.  Listening to an entire album, as the artist intended it, really is a lot more enjoyable and (here’s that word again) satisfying.   Now I find that I’m really craving the sound and feel of good old fashioned record albums. (And not just because I wasted a half hour on the Third Man Records web site.  Jack White not only sells records, he built an actual record pressing plant! On the Cass Corridor in Detroit!)

I would love to make live music, galleries, and movies part of our lives again – things that are always in short supply in the suburbs, especially in Canada where almost all governments consider art and culture to be silly frills that really don’t deserve funding.  And I would love to have the time to really stretch out with friends and visitors and just enjoy reconnecting and rediscovering each other without feeling the need to rush off back to work or to prep for the next morning’s grind.  One of my fondest memories of Kentucky were the afternoons and evenings spent doing nothing except, as my mother puts it),”visiting.”

Ultimately what all of this is telling me is that I want to take back all of the hours spent on the Internet and spend them doing real things, in real time, with real people.  I want to sit in front of a fire with a glass of vin ordinaire and a good book.  I want to slow down enough to actually enjoy the world around me, go for long walks, and have enough time to do all of those little things – cleaning the car, making small household repairs, tidying the yard and garage – that tend to get lost in the great rush of life.

It’s very important to understand that living in a place like North Vancouver is a lot harder than living in other places.  Just worrying about the amount of income needed for housing can become all consuming, and one of the hard truths about living in Canada is that a lot of everyday tasks seem to be much more difficult than should be the case.

So, as the song says:

Green Acres is the place to be.
Farm livin’ is the life for me.
Land spreadin’ out so far and wide
Keep Manhattan North Vancouver, just give me that countryside.

 

 

Stumbling towards Normandy… ou peut-être Provence?

ProvencePerhaps inevitably our thoughts have turned to Provence.  As Normandy is to the north-west of France, Provence is to the south-east.  More sun, less rain, and of course the locale for no end of books and movies.

One one hand, the improved climate, especially near the Mediterranean,  is surely tempting, as is the proximity to the Côte d’Azur, Cannes, and Marseille.  On the other hand property prices are half again what they would be in Normandy.  We would likely be investing something like €300,000 or about $450,000 Canadian right now.
You can still get a farm with outbuildings, (priced at €199,000) although one that needs lot of work, but it is a property with “good bones,” and has room to expand to have space for guests (paying or not.)

Saint Trinit – Big Provençal farm to be renovated, in the Lavender Fields of the Plateau d’Albion, between Luberon and Ventoux.

With a current habitable space of 51m2, an old farm to be renovated of more than 300m2 on the main building plus 155m2 of cellars and 115m2 of barns, this rural property layed-out around an inside yard offers great potential for a gites or B&B project. The ensemble is located on 3250m2 plot of land in a small rural hamlet surrounded by lavender fields.

Provenceweb.fr tells us that:

Saint Trinit is a minuscule village located on the boundary of the Vaucluse with the Alpes in Haute Provence in the heart of the magnificent landscapes of the Sault area.

Lavender fields surround you and extend as far as the eye can see and if you are lucky enough to visit in the month of July when the lavender is in full bloom you can enjoy the fabulous spectacle with the mauve fields set against the gold of the cereal crops… It’s truly magnificent.

The village of Saint Trinit and its houses clustered around the classified Sainte Trinité church from the XIIth century offers a simple and kind welcome to visitors.

Far from the main roads and isolated amongst authentic and generous countryside you’ll get the impression that time has stood still.

It certainly has that isolated feel that we seem to want.  And weather wise?

Rain days in North Vancouver: 155
Rain days in Vaucluse: 65

Average Temperatures in Vaucluse are roughly between  5°C and 23°.  Freezing temperatures are unheard of.  North Vancouver averages are almost the same.  And of course, Vaucluse has lots more sun!

PS: Complete France has nifty guide to buying a whole chateau for the price of a North Vancouver condo. “You could buy a stunning French château for less than you think”

Normandy – More than just Bryan Adams

cabourg-mon-amour-2017-jpg

Admittedly the North Shore has been home to at least a handful of well known and/or respected musicians, not the least of which are Bryan Adams, Sook-Yin Lee, and of course the legendary Al Neil.  Still though it’s hardly a hotbed of music thrills.

North Vancouver has one big theatre (the Centennial Theatre in all of its 1967 charm), one medium theater at Capilano College University, and a couple of bars that sometimes have some bands.  Really, music and the Arts just aren’t that big here.  If you want serious music you drive over to Vancouver.  Or galleries. Or anything “avant garde.”

Which I guess is fine if you’re more into hockey and soccer.

There are a few pages which claim to list famous people from Normandy.  I’d certainly include Jean Luc Ponty, and used to have a couple of his albums back in the seventies.

There seems to be a reasonably lively jazz, chamber music, and classical music scene in Normandy, including the Festival Des Nouveaux Talents  – Musique De Chambre.  I’m not sure that the picture that accompanied their listing tells me much, but it looks good.

FMANOR014V500NM8_1

Evènement phare de la musique de chambre sur la Côte Fleurie, le festival des Nouveaux Talents dessine sur sa portée un programme éclectique à l’originalité toujours renouvelée.
Autour de 7 concerts donnés par des musiciens de grande renommée, le festival rend encore et toujours la « Grande musique » accessible à tous. Venez assouvir vos envies d’œuvres à découvrir et à redécouvrir grâce à des interprètes d’exception dans le cadre unique de Villers-sur-Mer !

At the other end of the spectrum is the Pete The Monkey Festival, which seems be one of those hippy influenced, eco-friendly, three day camping, dancing, chilling kind of events.  Sort of a Shambala meets Vancouver Folk Fest.

Screenshot from 2018-05-14 23-09-31

Jazz En Baie looks interesting, or at least has an amusing poster.

jazz-en-baie

For serious music it looks as if the Opéra de Rouen Normandie is the hub in Normandy for orchestral music, Opera, and other “serious” music.  At a glance their programming looks like a good mix of old favorites and lesser known (to me) works.

(Metropolitan Rouen has a population of 655,013; Vancouver 603,502.  It’s striking to compare the programming and the overall attitude towards music between the two cities.  As mentioned before, it really does come down to funding, which in turn depends on a population that considers Art to be an essential, not a frill.)

Once again I harken back to Kentucky.  When living there I felt surrounded on all sides by a rich, vibrant, and very well entrenched culture. That sort of culture permeates everything from music, to art, to food.  I just don’t find that in Canada, but I do feel that I need it.

Postscript : the other striking thing about all of these organizations and events is the refreshing lack of corporate branding.  In Canada  the “Vancouver International Jazz Festival” is now the “TD Canada Trust  Vancouver International Jazz Festival,” the theatre at Capilano College is now the “Blueshore Financial Centre for the Performing Arts ,” and the “Presentation House Gallery” is now renamed after a real estate development company called Polygon.

All of this inevitably debases the organization, the work being done, and undercuts community support.  Plus you’ll often find that marketing money offered for naming rights us usually pretty paltry.