In short, I found France had become – not the political entity “The United States of America”, and part of neither of the two continents by the name, but rather America – the occidental culture (or lack thereof) that has each person pulling what he or she can out of as many other people’s pockets as possible while trying to outyell those others in a quest for attention – the culture of multinational firms that have far more power in the world than presidents and kings – the anticulture that has blanketed much of the world in strip malls, superhighways and fast-food restaurants, and infected billions with the economics-based æsthetic of everpresent cacophony of garbage television, mind-rotting electronic foolishness, and talentless little singers who all sound, look, and behave alike: badly.
My home was an old country farmhouse, with exterior walls in exquisite disrepair, the stucco in places furred with ivy and elsewhere cracked away to expose the underlying brick or stone, and within an astonishing number of dark, cold, humid rooms in deeply stained and shellaced wood. The house, with attached barn, was set in the midst of pastures in which I enjoyed strolling and visiting with the horses, looking up at the vast snow-covered Pyrénée Mountains looming to the south. Often I went south into the mountain villages, and sometimes played my guitar at outdoor farmers’ markets. For a few euros I bought a used bicycle and rode around among the farms and forests to see the fields and forests and meet the neighbors. These were delightful, especially Marie-Christine, who often popped by with delicious tarts that somehow she’d made to spare, and old Monsieur Plonchon, a veteran of war whose stories were fascinating accounts of living history. And I was thrilled to join a group in Toulouse, headed by Bertran de la Farge, one of the most brilliant scholars on the Cathar movement and a delightful human being; the group was striving to recover and strengthen the region’s ancient Occitán culture. I developed some wonderful friendships, especially among the African Muslim commuity, including two transplanted African couples each with a brace of adorable and delightful little daughters.
Yet France as a whole, even in this relatively rural region far from the Paris megalopolis, was superhighways and gigantic malls selling overpriced trash. There were pockets and nodes of genuinely French culture, but they were being squeezed down to nothing. And the often disturbingly racist French frequently blamed those new resident African Muslims, who were determined to fit in and contribute to their new homeland, rather than the real culprit, the ultra-rich executives seeking to make another fortune at the expense of the plebians. What would the great French revolutionaries have said to see this débâcle?
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