The White House in a certain country may have become a laughing stock but white houses have undeniable decorative cachet.
Warning: personal content follows. Skip if you expect a book review or pictures of houses.
I grew up in a culture with no Valentine’s Day, no Mothers’ Day, no Fathers’ Day… We celebrated the start of spring on the 1st of March with Mărțișor and Women’s Day on the 8th of March (recognising that women are seldom given the credit they deserve, so they need an extra day to boost awareness of all that they do). The former was somewhat commercial, the latter somewhat state-sponsored, but all in all it was a rather nice way to leave winter behind and look forward to spring. Nobody needed to feel left out.
Am I the only one who feels these Western holidays, that are supposed to focus on celebration of lovers, mothers and fathers, manage to make some people feel quite excluded? What if I don’t have a lover – or would rather they were thoughtful and considerate all year round instead of giving me garage flowers, chocolates or tacky underwear once a year? What if you have lost your parents and it’s a painful reminder of that on those days? What if you have been trying desperately to conceive? What if my children are confused by the proliferation of different mothers’ days (UK, Swiss, French, US) and so don’t bother to treat me on any?
Above all, based on personal experience, I’m getting more and more upset about Fathers’ Day. About all the advertisements bombarding me about how wonderful dads are and how to spoil them on their day, when I know for a fact the father of my children was spoilt every single day of his existence and only cares about himself. Oh, of course he plays the Super-Dad, and of course the children lap it up! Easy enough to do when you only have them for weekends and holidays and keep taking them to theme parks and feeding them KFC. When it is the mother who is doing all the feeding and washing, pre-exam nerve soothing, panic attack calming, sensible eating monitoring, school liaison form filling, chauffering around to events, nagging about homework, making sure they have the stationery and uniforms for school and equipment for expeditions, thinking about the future and researching universities etc. etc. etc.
Meanwhile, Super-Dad only cares about living a good life in the present (and, to a lesser extent, about punishing me for disrupting his pleasant family life where he had to put in nearly zero effort). To hell with the children’s home or schooling or funding possible university studies.
And you know what? He’s probably right. Come the time when our sons graduate from university or get married, they will invite both of us to the ceremony. Do you think they will give differentiated speeches for the mother who sacrificed far too much for them and the father who sacrificed next to nothing? But the reason he is right, the reason he gets away with it, the reason his mantra can be ‘don’t expect us to be grateful’ is because somebody else is putting in all the hard work.
Yes, I know, not all fathers are like that, some genuinely care, some deserve to be celebrated, some have raised their children single-handedly etc. etc. But my solicitor can tell you that far, far more have avoided the burden of fatherhood in pretty much any way they could. So forgive me if I feel more than somewhat ambiguous about Fathers’ Day. I actually actively hate it – or rather hate the commercial and media fuss associated with it.
What about my own father? That is a complicated story for another day. He too behaved occasionally like a rotter, but he has done repentance for his sins. He supports my mother and takes care of her even when she doesn’t deserve it. He has been more encouraging of my feminist tendencies than my mother ever was. He hasn’t understood all of my life choices, but he hasn’t complained about them every single time we spoke on the phone. He doesn’t care about Fathers’ Day, but he is happy that I never, ever forget his name day and his birthday, and that we speak on average once a week. Here is an old poem I wrote about him.
And why wouldn’t you, with porches like these?
This week, a group of women writers whom I am honoured to call friends, L’Atelier Writers, are having their annual retreat in a French chateau. I joined them one year and it was magical. You bet that I am extremely envious. So I’ve found some additional chateaux to make them envious too!
Yes, a majority of them are French, but I am including a few from other countries as well. This time round, small and compact are the keywords. Well, for chateau standards at least.
I have always failed miserably at initiatives such as the Twenty Books of Summer, but this year I’m going to try something different. I really enjoyed focusing on French history and on the Paris Commune in May, so I think I will attempt more of this country focus. A different country every month (while still allowing some breathing room with other reads in-between). I am tentatively selecting some books for each country, but will allow myself the freedom to suddenly swerve in a different direction (although still of the same country).
Honestly, it’s not Trump’s visit this month that inspired me, but I suddenly realised that I so seldom read any American authors (other than perhaps crime fiction). So I will make a more concerted effort to look at some of them in June: I have my eye on Ron Rash, David Vann, Sam Shepard, Laura Kasischke and Meg Wolitzer.
After so much Americana, I have no doubt I will be tempted to swing the other way and get a sudden craving for all things Russian, so July will be my month of Russian authors. Two Olgas, a Yuri and the diaries and letters of Bulgakov are on my list. I also really want to catch up with the TV series Chernobyl, as I still remember the events of that year (we were pretty close to the Ukraine and panicked at the time).
August is Women in Translation Month and I have already decided I want to dedicate it to Brazilian women this year. Clarice Lispector (a re-read of Agua Viva and a more detailed read of her complete short stories), Patricia Melo’s Lost World and Socorro Acioli’s The Head of the Saint. By the by, I might also dip that month into some Brazilian male writers, such as Chico Buarque and Milton Hatoum, or some of my new acquisitions in May.
If this initiative goes well, I might keep it up beyond the summer and venture further afield, to countries I have hitherto left unexplored. Of course, I still have a few countries to contend with on my #EU27Project…
Although some (OK, most) of these home offices don’t have nearly enough books stored in them, I could easily remedy that.
Everyone knows by now that I am not a gardener, but I do enjoy sitting and reading in an immaculate and large garden, watching the bees buzzing, listening to the birds singing, hoping for a glimpse of a hedgehog…