HauteLit from HotLanta: French Caribbean Crave

“And in this inert town, this squabbling crowd so strangely swayed from its own cry as the town is swayed from its only true cry, the only cry one would have liked to hear because one senses that only this cry alone is its own; because one senses that it is alive in some deep shelter of darkness and pride, in this inert town, this town swayed from its cry of hunger, of poverty, of rebellion, of hate, in this crowd so strangely chattering and dumb.”

Aime Cesaire, “Notebook of a Return to My Native Land in the 1990s.”

            There were intentions to write about French culture this week.  Yes, there were very clear intentions to write so much.  Things got in the way, but those things are always less important than writing.  With much ado here I sit, on the clock, an hour before I need to be at a wedding rehearsal, furiously typing this post out, not because I have to but because I must write about what I’ve learned this week.   The coffee brewed and poured flows through my veins.  It caffeinates the cells in my bloodstream.  Ideas are carried in warmth to the grey matter and no one can see it, but I can feel it.

What did I want to say about French culture all week?  What have I been researching and gathering in the spare seconds of sanity where I can delve into the waters of a culture crave?   Oh yes, I had a long diatribe prepared comparing the chic and cultural Paris to America and how everything is so much better in Paris.  How strolling up and down the steps of Monmartre quoting poets and singing off key with a bottle of wine is truly living.   How it is so amazing that Franch has a council that purely governs and protects the French language. I was going to speak to the passion that on the outside appears inert and yet, those people meandering through town, sitting in cafes and putzing about by the Seine are likely thinking great things and are deeply driven by some sort of artistic endeavor of a lifetime.  Yes, in my many travels to France, this is what I naively gathered.  It’s so easy, though, to forget that there are many perspectives and often we go about life so blindly forgetting that our lens is shaped and scraped by ancestors before us, by culture, by people we surround ourselves with and by the ideas we choose to listen to.

This morning, I came across Aime Cesaire and my perception shifted.  I found a real passion in Aime and a now lifelong role model that very easily could have been forgotten after high school French class were it not for my research.  I might have even read some of his poetry in French, but then I wasn’t learning to learn, I was meeting deadlines and turning in poorly constructed papers done at 2am the previous night.  Now that I’ve seceeded from the hamster wheel, I can savor knowledge.  I can devour it in secret between projects, between the hours when I need to be responsible.  To put it plainly, Cesaire is a total rockstar.  Born in Martinique, he was schooled in Paris and began a literary review.  Being an insightful student, he soon realized that the culture of the French Caribbean was not included in the French curriculum, instead, they were taught to accept French culture as their own.  When I heard this, I instantly thought of how the many curriculums I saw when teaching lacked multicultural diversity and I could relate to how some of my students probably felt as a result through reading Aime’s poetry.  With edgy articulation and with a passion for sharing his culture, he also founded the Negritude movement which sought to embrace, accept and celebrate the culture and history of black people.

A contrast emerged in my mind as I began to read Cesaire’s work.  As a tourist, and as a sheltered young person, I experienced a few weeks in Paris aspired for this lackadaisical artistic lifestyle of smoking cigarettes outside of coffee shops reading, “L’Etranger,” or “The Stranger,” by Albert Camus in black and white striped shirts.  What Cesaire has shown is a true passion for knowledge, for appreciating and celebrating for one’s culture, but most importantly sharing and championing it to the outside world who had either not yet heard this perspective, or had chosen not to listen.  From THIS passion came art and not the other way around.  So often I get caught up in my art for art’s sake.  That, “I don’t have enough time to just write (just take photographs, just create things, or just paint…etc).”  But, art that truly speaks to people comes from a place of living, from a place of experience and not the other way around.  My best pieces have happened when I was speaking from a place I KNEW and not from some sort of imaginary art world.  That imaginary world is wonderfully creative.  It guides my spirit, my writing and my art, but it is not something that can be art on its own because other’s can’t relate or understand such a private corner of my mind.  Plus, what does it MEAN if it’s all my own, all in my head?

So, I started off this week reading the much acclaimed, “L’Etranger,” and ended up becoming fascinated in the work of a poet I heard about in passing in a French class over eight years ago.  Why?  Because his passion was real and his experience shared something with me that I could relate to without ever having had experienced it myself.  His work is like a drip of truth through an IV sustaining me after an overdose of my naïve touristy impression of France and the things I forgot to see or didn’t see well enough when I was there.  I plan to look a little harder at the world around me to see from other perspectives because I feel a lot of the richness of my world has been lost to a consistent stream of media and accepted norms of “what is what,” impressed upon me by society.  There’s so much more to life than my own experience and I have no problem living vicariously through the likely much more exciting perspectives than my own.

LITERATURE

Aime Cesaire, “Solar Throat Slashed”

Leopold Senghor, “Night in Sine”

Edwidge Danticat, “Ghosts”

STUDY GUIDE ON CESAIRE

ART

Victor Anicet

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