First Nations

les animaux de compagne

The trouble with having the flu on vacation is feeling guilty for staying home and ignoring any potential sight-seeing. After a few days of watching Firefly with French subs you think.. ‘hey I think I’m feeling better, I better go out and see that thing that is this weekend only!‘ A good idea if you’re actually feeling better, but the more I push the more the stupid flu pushes back. That being said, even though I feel like shit today I did see some cool things last week.

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We took a trip out to the west end of town, quite near the Eiffel Tower, to the house of Honoré de Balzac, French playwright and author. We were able to both tour his house and also view an exhibit of a selection of Daumier’s lithographs. Daumier is best known from his social and political satire in caricatures, paintings, print and sculptures. The collection displayed at Maison Balzac was a series of lithographs, printed in La Charivari, depicting the antics of Parisians bathing and swimming by the banks of the river. “Daumier, could not help but to caricature these innocent occupations and point out the comedy of some situations ridiculing those Parisians of all ages and from all walks, frolicking in the Seine” 1.

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« Le pècheur à la ligne est l’homme indépendent, perseverent et résigné, l’adversité ne le décourage pas, il combat tous les embarras qui l’entortillent; philosophe, il subit les orages et ne murmure jamais. »

« The fisherman is an independent man, perseverant and resigned, adversity does not discourage him, he fights against all difficulties; philosophical, he suffered storms and tempest in silence. »

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« Oui Madame, c’est comme j’ai l’honneur de vous le dire, je l’ai porté onze mois, qu’on croyait que j’étais hydropique; Dirait-on que ça n’a que six ans, il tient de son père, Tambour major de la 6ème Légion, chantant la Marseillaise par cœur et buvant la goutte le matin comme un petit pompier. Oh! n’amour, baisez vot’mère tout de suite. »

« Yes, my dear, it is just the way I have the honour of telling you. I was pregnant with him for eleven months and people thought I was dropsical. Would you believe that this is already six years ago? He takes after his father, drum-major of the 6th legion. sings the Marseillaise (national anthem) by heart and has a drink in the morning like a real fire-fighter. Oh, my little darling, come here and give your mother a kiss! »

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« Excusez, regard’ donc la grosse Fifine qu’on aurait juré que c’était Vénus…
ah ben en v’là un déchet! »

« Hey, now look at that huge Fifine! You’d swear she was a Venus –
what a disappointment! »

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Afterwards we took a stroll down to Bois de Boulogne and sat by pond a while to rest. The weather in Paris is pretty temperate considering the talk of snow-storms back home that keep popping up on my facebook feed. The warm sunlight and gentle breeze made for a nice afternoon of napping in the grass or practicing how to whistle really loud. We watched row boats make their way along the pond, with men rowing women around with pond scrub clinging to the oars. We found some vélos and biked around the park passing a carnival. I love carnivals, but somehow when you have the flu, the smell of hot sugar and diesel doesn’t do much good. However, what does do good is fresh bread.. especially when it’s covered in melted cheese and floating on top of onion soup. That’s the best. Also, flan. I really need to learn how to make that.

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We also attended an IHP shindig on the 24th floor of a Paris U building. Not only were there stellar panoramic views of the whole city at sunset, but free champagne, nibbles, and of course, pleasant conversation.

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There were a lot of things going on this weekend, and I tried to go see a piece of them all. Of course I’m glad I went but it was probably a bad idea. Nuit Blanche was happening this weekend all over Paris. I have gone to the Toronto version a few times and it has ranged from somewhat interesting to horrible and useless, though I had some hope for Paris since you know.. everything in Toronto is pretty horrible and useless. The only thing I went out to see what the piece at Hotel de Ville (City Hall) which was a grid of glowing balloons contained in a mesh sheet being controlled like a kite by two guys. The piece is lighthearted and fun, lending itself well to the crowds of kids drinking vodka out of gatorade bottles and eating overpriced churros. Parisians already don’t seem to have a problem having fun in public spaces so the balloons, I thought, were a bit of silly overkill. Seems you can’t go two blocks without seeing a couple of young Parisians lollygagging around the canal sharing a bottle of wine.. or three.

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Instead of checking out any other Nuit Blanche things I went to attend an Idle No More : France Solidarity vigil at Notre Dame. I was surprised to hear there was INM support in France but there is a small group who put the vigil together to raise awareness and show support for the thousands of missing and murdered women, not only in Canada but worldwide. It was great to smudge and to hear the drum again and sing along. Plus a lot of people stopped by to check out what was going on and learn a little bit.

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We also went to check out Animal Expo which showcases different companion animal breeds and check out some cool vendors. TBH it wasn’t really all that enlightening, although we did get to see some cool European breeds we hadn’t encountered before, like Czechoslovakian Wolf Hound, Cane Corso, and Scottish Fold. However we spent most of our time with the Newfs, the Beagles and the Bassets because they’re the best.

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The Cat’s Prayer :

o my master , do not take me for a slave, because I have in me the taste of freedom
do not try to guess my secret , for I have in me the taste of mystery .
do not compel me to caress as I have in me the taste of modesty.
do not humiliate me, because I have in me the taste of pride.
do not forsake me, because I have within me the taste of fidelity
know how to love me and I will love you as I have in me the taste of friendship

1 http://parismusees.paris.fr/fr/exposition/plages-paris-selon-daumier

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signification manquant

The Buttes Chaumont park, which I have mentioned previously has a man-made waterfall and mountainous feature, and yesterday we decided to brave the newly cold temperatures to climb to the top for a picnic. The top is a popular spot for two things : lingering around while chatting and/or snuggling, or strenuous exercise. Being a steep climb many people use it to run to the top, do situps or pushup on the benches then run away. We chose to instead sit on said benches drinking beer and eating bread, cheese, olives and other yummy picnic items while watching the sun set over the tops of the apartment buildings. From the Temple de la Sibylle, which is an italian-inspired open-air temple at the very tip-top, you can see sprawling views of the arrondisement, including Montmartre in the distance.

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I also made a solo trek to the musée du quai Branly, which exhibits indigenous art of non-European cultures. The museum itself is very dark inside, with rounded brown walls and fake rock formations and windows tinted with fake jungle print. I guess you should feel like you’re transported to an-“other” place, specifically non-modern European. The interior architecture has been called “the revival of the myth of the noble savage,” a primitivist myth which is at the ideological base of colonization” 1.The museum is strangely set up, grouping ethnicities into areas with no semblance of order, timeline or significance. There are meandering dark passageways showing a mish-mash of artifacts without context or cultural significance, which is a true shame. “It is clear that the aesthetic approach won out over the more ethnographic approach, and the fact that only 3,500 of 300,000 objects in the collection are displayed underlines this point” 2. I went to the museum because I heard that they have a collection of native-Canadian artifacts, and I was curious to see the representation of North America in a French setting. The museum website mentioned that they had a few buckskin clothing items and painted bison hides, however I found that they also had a very beautiful collection of northern Alaskan masks, totem poles, and wampum belts. I’ve also mentioned Wampum belts here before, and never have I seen such a collection, even anywhere in Canada. Wampum belts are created to tell a story and it’s too bad they are hidden under glass without the living messages they convey being shared.

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Why show artifacts with no care for their purpose, significance and historical context? Is the point to just display items that are “different” from a European perspective? In which case what is being said : is it participation or objectification? “The roots of these collections also show that the museum is closely tied to France’s colonial past. […] The strengths of its collections lie in the former colonies and because most of these objects are in fact colonial heirlooms and booty obtained through such means as pillage, seizures, military conquest, and ethnographic expedition” 3. Colonial nations have a long history of bringing home foreign treasures, often to the objection of its original owners, and the musée de quay Branly has created a great deal of controversy over the ownership of it’s collection. There were a number of artifacts that were eventually returned to their parent country after their foreign exhibition caused a stir. Similarly, in 2013, Hopi and Apache artifacts were being auctioned in Paris and the tribes had tried unsuccessfully to block their sale. “The auctioneers argue that blocking such sales would have implications for the trade in indigenous art, and could potentially force French museums to hand back collections they had bought” 4. The artifacts were then bought by the Annenberg Foundation who returned the artifacts to their respectful tribes, saying “our hope is that this act sets an example for others that items of significant cultural and religious value can only be properly cared for by those vested with the proper knowledge and responsibility” 6.

There were a great number of artifacts that I passed by without care, not because I don’t think it is worth looking at but because I don’t understand. Especially artifacts from cultures which I am unfamiliar I cannot invent cultural significance, I can only interpret the items from my own perspective, and frankly my perspective is insufficient because it lacks the pertinent information. There were plenty of objects which seemed in some particular way interesting to me but without any guidance they just become ‘neat, different-y looking things’. A great number of these are visual depictions ie) masks or tapestries that use visual cues to tell a story, but without the author’s voice the story is mediated by my interpretation. “Many have argued that the displays emphasize the universal beauty of the objects and in doing so elicit positive reactions from visitors, just like at the Louvre.  Many anthropologists, on the other hand, view the lack of contextualization as deeply problematic. […] Emmanuelle Saada is careful to point out that the museum is not trying to frame art (and peoples) in hierarchical terms, but still frames them in differential terms, assuming a sort of essentialized difference as if there were two clashing civilizations” 5. Part of coming from a country which prides itself on it’s multiculturality is embracing not a labelled static categorization of the “other”, but fluid cultures allowed to breathe and more importantly, to share. To look a culture, its history and its values without listening to its voice, we force it to fit into our own version of the world, and to amputate function from form destroys any chance of cross-cultural understanding. “In some ways, it’s part of living in a multi-cultural world; that’s why you don’t have to be Inuit to paddle a kayak, or First Nations to wear moccasins” 7. But it is dangerous to participate in cultural emblems without understanding or giving respect to their function and purpose. Is it destructive to exhibit a culture other than your own? At what point does appropriation become misappropriation, does exemplify become objectify, does share become dictate? I don’t necessarily want to suggest that these artifacts not be displayed at all. But I find uninformed exhibition troubling and potentially dangerous. If a particular culture is exhibited in a foreign place and their icons and aesthetics displayed without context or accompanied by the vision of the peoples who created it, does it not follow that the entire culture becomes reduced to meaningless iconography?

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For example, the First Nations peoples in Canada have been so isolated from non-FNs, and their culture so boiled down or forgotten from memory that what Canadians understand to be FN are token signifiers or racist caricatures. We know what a headdress looks like, and know it’s some kind of Native thing, but when it’s just presented behind glass in some museum without any first person cultural input the object gets divorced from its cultural heritage.. and even though we admire its we end up buying cheap replicas manufactured offshore (read: H&M) because all we know is we think it looks cool and we don’t understand the significance of the object. “It’s not that non-native people shouldn’t be inspired by native art, […] The main thing there is to treat those designs with respect … and respect is acknowledging the original artist and acknowledging the original use of that work” 8.

I think it comes down to cooperative sharing, as opposed to cultural theft. If there existed a forum for each culture to describe the significance of the artifacts, why they were made, who made them, how they were used, and how they fit into the cultural in both a historical and modern sense, museum-goers would come away from the experience with a greater and truer understanding of different cultures. I think everyone is naturally curious about thing to which they are not familiar, but collecting artifacts and fitting them to a different context steals an opportunity for different peoples to understand each other, and steals the chance to respect each other on a genuine level.

1, 2, 3, 6 http://www.humanityinaction.org/knowledgebase/200-the-opening-of-the-musee-du-quai-branly-valuing-displaying-the-other-in-post-colonial-france

4, 5 http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-25331975

7, 8 http://uphere.ca/post/87528245278/inappropriation

les tâches ménagères

You know those days when you don’t feel like putting on pants or leaving the house? Yep. I’m going to blame it on my new loungewear. Normally I have to get dressed in the morning because it’s so damn cold in my flat. But not anymore! Anyway, I elected to have a quiet day at home and got some housework done. After all, I’m more living in a new city than I am visiting a new city so it was time to catch up on things.

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Apart from laundry and house cleaning I spent some time hemming my new slacks. Turns out in Paris I’m too tall for regular pants, but not tall enough for “tall” pants. C’est la vie. Though hemming things by hand requires more time than with a machine, but it both relaxing and rewarding work.

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I also managed to spend some quality time on my drawing/painting inspired by the two-row wampum. For a quick summary, the two-row wampum is an agreement made between the Haudenosaunee1 and Dutch representatives in the early 1600s. It is considered to be the groundwork for many treaties to follow. It, like all other wampum belts, gives visual depiction that correspond to a verbal tale that is passed down through generations. The two-row wampum is the declaration of peace between the Haudenosaunee and dutch settlers in what is now New York state. The following is an excerpt explaining the meaning of the two rows :

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“We will not be like father and son, but like sisters and brothers. These two rows will symbolize vessels, traveling down the same river together. One will be for the canoe of the Onkwehonwe2 and their laws, their customs. The other will be for the sailing ship of the European people and their laws and customs. We will each travel the river together, side by side, but each in our own boat. Neither of us will make compulsory laws nor interfere in the internal affairs of the other. Neither of us will try to steer the others vessel.” 3

The two-row wampum has a very important meaning and I cherish it dearly. I strive to understand First Nations peoples, their culture, heritage, plight, and enduring spirit. I strive to be their friend and ally, and through my personal interactions I’m gaining some insight into the lives of people I consider to be nothing other than equals. So I’ve been working on this piece to honour this developing relationship. I recently came back from a visit to a remote reservation in Northern Ontario and spent a lot of one-on-one time with the residents. So to be quickly thrown into a different country I was worried about how my perspective would change, however the separation from home only makes me think about it all the more, and makes me miss my friends back home. As far as I can tell Native Canadians/Americans are still referred to as Indians here, and often in a past-tense kindof way. Through my own interaction with First Nations people of Canada I can tell you they are not just an echo of the past. Native culture is vibrant and ever evolving, absorbing new ideas and values while honouring traditions and teachings. So for example, when I see a headdress in a flea market in Paris, it makes me sad to think that this proud and sacred object found its way overseas to be hawked as an objet d’art in some musty corridor.

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When I needed a break from work I spent some time trying to peel labels off my empty wine bottles so I can stick them in my wine journal when I get home, while trying to remember and jot down some likeable qualities so I know whether or not to buy that wine again. Though, I could just give everything an A+. I havn’t found a wine yet I didn’t like and I am having some doubts that I will. Oh well, I must press on and do my due diligence with wine tasting. That journal isn’t going to complete itself!

IMG_6433malso, is it at all possible to remove a label without destroying it? dreadful business, really..

I also spent some time with Duolingo, trying to do some language homework. It’s not exactly easy not being able to speak the language for the country in which you are residing. I really am doing my best and everyone I’ve come across has been so kind to me, but I do find it embarrassing when the conversation reaches an impasse when I just reach the limit of my knowledge and have to backtrack or look helpless enough to warrant an dumbed-down or translated explanation. So for now, I’ll have to retreat back to my flat at night to scribble type conjugations by the light of the moon laptop screen.
Also, remember those cute shoes I bought yesterday? Well after a couple of afternoon strolls today I managed to break the heel on the left shoe. So now one shoe has sole and one just metal staples, so instead of a nice “clip clop” sound, I go “TIK clop TIK clop”. This won’t do. Tomorrow I need to find a cobbler to fix me up. Sigh!

IMG_6433rFlâner : to stroll, or “to walk the city in order to experience it” 4

“The terms of flânerie date to the 16th or 17th century, denoting strolling, idling, often with the connotation of wasting time. […]  The flâneur concept is not limited to someone committing the physical act of a peripatetic stroll in the Baudelairian sense, but can also include a complete philosophical way of living and thinking”. 5

1 Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy
2 Indigenous people of North America
3 http://books.google.fr/books?id=OT_7AgAAQBAJ&lpg=PP1&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
4 http://www.cntraveler.com/stories/2010-03-01/ten-things-not-to-do-in-paris
5 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fl%C3%A2neur