Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Course Contracts

This week has been crazy.  I knew it'd be that way but somehow homework just isn't mattering at the moment. I've been talking to professors this week, trying to get Course Contracts in order.  I've got my primary mentor Dr. Rowan which is glorious, and he is a professor I very much enjoy working with, which is even greater.  He has got me interested in urban studies, which perhaps I'll have to look into a little more for the future.

I wish I were a historian.

So my class with my mentor will be a urban studies class, something about how to write about music in the city, something to get me out into the city.  Dr. Matthews suggested something like a Cultural Geography, and the tracing of ideas, which I really like.  We'll see how that works out.  He sent me a lot of syllabi to look at to see what I'm interested in.  He's flexible, fair, but also I know he'll push me to think in certain ways, which I like.

I'm thinking about doing an Intro to Jazz course or Jazz something course with another professor and got a few names from Dr. Matthews, which I'll be working on.  But I still feel relieved for having one down and one to go.  Though I'm fairly worried about my living situation, which still isn't figured out.

But there's an update on life right now, which frankly is all I have time for.

Signing off.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Methods Practice #3

Interview with a Professor:

Urban sympathy
I wish I had a recorder
who looks at it, dramatists, sociologists, journalists, novelists
how they see it
urban sympathy, shared space

Expanded Notes:
I went in to talk with a professor, who I've taken two classes from now, and who recently agreed to be my primary mentor.  I'm glad I'll be working with him this Spring/Summer but before asking him to embark on primary mentor-ship I wanted to know a little about his research and what he's been working on lately.

After living in several cities, but particularly Boston where he studied, he moved to North Carolina.  He described to me the feeling of walking down a street in Boston, where people surround you constantly, at all times of the day and night, compared to walking down a street in the town where he stayed in North Carolina, which were sometimes empty.  He mentioned that while cities are usually pinned for being dangerous, distant, cold, and lonely, he actually felt these things more often in North Carolina.  It's creepy walking down a street that no one shares with you, he said.  Building off of the feeling that one can feel more alone and distant from others in a rural-scape rather than a city-scape, he became interested in the stories people tell themselves, and others, about the city.

This is where he came across the idea of the city as a place where people share a space, and therefore have interactions based on that space.  Although different from the meaningful interactions we attribute to small-towns where people know intimate details about each other, he expresses these city interactions as valid and meaningful, and seeks to re-evaluate how these interactions can be interpreted as valid.  Curious about what stories politicians would tell to others about a city in order to encourage the passing of housing projects in congress, he began following how those stories and ideas spread.  The idea he found he coined 'Urban Sympathy'--the idea of the sympathy that exist between individuals and the connections that can be built around and in these housing projects that are necessary to urban life, compared to those necessary in rural life.  After researching the idea how politicians go about representing the building of housing projects in congress, he's been following the idea of 'urban sympathy' elsewhere.

Among those who the idea has touched: sociologists, dramatists, journalists, novelists, and back to politicians, etc.  I liked these ideas, though I need to continue asking him about it.  He did mention that each group of people did something new with the idea of urban sympathy, and that it then was shared with others of a similar field, or with the public, and then often went back to those who had shared the idea with that field in the first place, allowing an idea to spill over, so to speak, and be interpreted in many different ways.
Another interesting idea about this method that he's been following is that of course each field interprets the idea so differently, so its not just how an idea influences a field, but how the field influences the idea.  And I think in the end, the idea of there being a valid and meaningful mode of operation in cities that are different, but not inferior to those communications that take place in small, rural towns is an important idea to discuss.  For people in cities believe it, but people outside of cities oftentimes don't.  Whereas the city is considered the den of evil, in many cases, all interaction that goes on in a city is also considered 'lesser.'


As I'm interested in living in a city probably for the rest of my life after Provo if I can help it, I am very invested in this idea.  But on a smaller scale, living in Paris, I think there is a very specific city culture, and a specific Paris city culture which can have interactions and communication that are meaningful if I only look at them that way.  I think my primary mentor will aid me in seeing those interactions and help me interpret them down the line so I might better understand the culture and how it influenced African-American expatriates.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

When you're talking to yourself, who are you talking to?

I want to talk about my father.  Not for any particular reason, I suppose, just who he is.

My father was born in Washington State, of New England stock, the fourth--and last--child of Richard and Marjorie Plaisted, who are individually their own stories.  From his mother, my father inherited abounding generosity, or at least I imagine it was from his mother because that is mostly what I remember about her.  From her he inherited a love of mystery, a love of movies, a love of reading, a love of cooking.  From his father I imagine he inherited a stoic and admirable work ethic which dictates that his family always comes first.  I remember little of my grandfather, but this I imagine to be true above all else.

I think I am more like my father than I am my mother, which it took a long time for me to figure out.  I think perhaps I have more of him in me.  Not necessarily his good qualities, though if I can live up to those some day, I most certainly will, but a lot of his interests, a lot of his tendencies, a lot of his ideas.  My father got me hooked on hauntings, on mysteries that can never be solved--I always imagine his favorite is Stonehenge.  Because of my father I sit through the credits of every movie.  I love cities.  I love art and museums.  I don't like camping.  I write.  And I don't think these are things I necessarily chose.  In some ways I think they were born into me.  Because I never thought, "I want to be like him, so I will do A. B. and C."  I never thought that at all.  I'm just becoming who I am, and that happens to be a whole lot like him.

My mother would probably disagree with me, but I can't recall either of my parents ever telling me I was beautiful.  My father doesn't say things like this.  My mother said once, "How did I get three such beautiful girls?" I nearly cried for thinking that maybe she really did think I was beautiful.  But on two occasions my father has said to me in public and in private that he thinks I look like his mother.  I have never heard him say that he thinks his mother was beautiful, but it's in his voice that he thinks she was one of the best women that ever existed.  I think he knows I think that too.  So when someone said to my father in public, "Your daughters all look like your wife," which was most certainly meant as a compliment because my mother is beautiful, he said, "Well, I think Jennifer looks more like my mother."  And though I do think my mother and I looked quite similar at certain points in our lives, this comment wasn't just observational, but meant something more, it meant he thought I was beautiful.  Funnily enough, I think if he'd said, "Yes, I think my daughters do look like Paula," I would have interpreted it the same way--that he thought we were beautiful.  It was the comment he made on my looks at all that made me think--maybe he really does think this about me.

I want to tell you something else about my father.  He learned French when he was in grade school, which he attended in New England.  He also, I believe, took French classes in High School.  He never spoke french, except for every once and a while we'd ask him to recite some french literature he'd memorized as a kid, which he did gladly.  When I decided I'd be taking French, he started saying things to me like 'Allons-y' when he wanted us to leave the church building after church.  Or 'Je ne sais pas' (said: J'une say pah) when he didn't have an answer to things.  When I'd try to say things in a french accent, he'd correct me.  He'd say words over and over and over again until I heard the difference between the way I was saying it and the way it was mean to be pronounced.  The word 'beouf' (beef) comes to mind.  When I came back from my first few semester of taking french, my father started buying French films.  Oh, dozens of them!  When he'd never owned a french film before.  He spoke to me in french when I came back for breaks, and he watched french films with me in the evenings when everyone else was out of the house.  He'd done this before, when I started listening to Frank Sinatra, he suddenly bought a hundred Sinatra albums he didn't own before, which he still buys and listens to, and gives to me when I come home so I can load them onto my computer.  No one else in my family has ever done that for me and I don't ask it of them, but he did it on his own, and that's something that still impresses me.

Now, why is beauty so important?  Why is sharing collective interests so important?  Or why is what we say and how we say it so important?  I feel something I've been fighting against in this class is this idea that other cultures are so different from ours.  And I keep screaming from the rooftops, "Ours isn't so easy to figure out either!" and I just need someone to say, "Yes, you're right."  I guess what I'm saying is, I'm not sure if I believe in hegemony.  Because I think about my family and how many different types of people I've had to learn how to communicate with--people who consider themselves American through-and-through, who have put me through the wringer!  I mean, how often have you tried conversing with a New Englander?  It's freaking hard!  But I grew up around that, and there are ways my father communicates that remind me of Hemingway's iceberg (so I call it--where he discusses in his writing that only the bare essentials need to be said to get across a larger meaning) and I find more comfort in one word from my father than I do in twenty sentences from a friend across the hall.  Because I understand what he means, and who he is, and what he's saying.

My mother's communication is not so easy for me to navigate, and yet I've been living with her for just as long, and have been communicating with her effectively for longer.  But as I change, and as my culture changes, she and I have a harder time understanding one another.  Well what does that mean?  For me, it means culture changes.  It means that we can't go in to another culture thinking that "These people are French so they will act this way, this way and that way."  No.  Because if someone said, "Oh, Jennifer is American, which means she think this, this and that," chances are they'd be dead wrong about me.  Because they're communicating with someone who has created their own culture, who comes from two cultures that are worlds apart even if both American.

But, something I find great interest in is the ideas of values.  I think you can make more general blanket statements about cultural values.  As an American, I am bound to value certain things.  It doesn't mean that other cultures don't value those same things, but that there are some I can pick out for certain.  If the French value eloquence, and grandeur, and family then I can safely say that as an American I value independence, individuality and simple pragmatism.  The interesting thing about values is that one need not embody the values they hold dear.  Not every American is pragmatic, just like not ever Frenchman is eloquent, however we sometimes value things we do not embody ourselves.  And this is an extremely interesting idea to me.

My father is not a particularly mysterious man.  But he values the unexplained and the uncertainties of life and of other people.  Furthermore if we talk about politics in the house, he's rarely in favor of propositions that will make him pay more in taxes--he believes in independence, he believes in sustainability--and I think he believes others should be able to support themselves.  And yet I know no one more generous than my father.  Without me perhaps my father would have never bought those french films, and we'd be 24 french films poorer in the Playstead household, but my father seems to value shared experiences.  And though my father values the time he spends on his own, no one else in the family thinks of as many things as he does for things we can do together.  Watching movies, going to plays, driving up the coast for the weekend, seeing museum exhibits.  The rest of us would sit in separate rooms of the house if he didn't pull us together to sortir.  Where do these values come from?  They could be American, they could be values of the Pacific Coast, or of Los Angeles, or of New England.  But more likely--as any good American would believe--they're the values of an individual, who is all of those things, and is also himself.

That's culture.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Methods Practice #2

Interview with Dr. Roberts:

Expatriates in Paris
Pratice of Diaspora by Brent Hayes Edwards
New Negro Era - Harlem Renaissance (french context)
Langston Hughes
Claude McKay - Banjo
Pan-African Conferences 1919 in France (also 1921, 1923 - French session)
W.E.B. DuBois - Biography of Race (David Lewis)
     Fight for Equality & Am. Century
Ida Gibbs Hunt - secretary for DuBois, lived in France
     Parallel worlds by Adele Logan Alexander
Josephine Baker

Expanded Notes:
Went in and told Dr. Roberts about some of my project ideas then asked him what he knew about Af.Am. expatriates in Paris.  He commenced to list off the books I should look into about African American expatriates in Paris, and also mentioned the Pan-African Conferences that took place soon after the Great War ended.  I asked him what he knew about the African American musicians, but he said he didn't know much, and then mentioned Josephine Baker, of whom I was already aware.  He went back to discussing some other African American women in Paris at the time, like Ida Gibbs Hunt who he seemed rather enamored with, and I'm pretty set on looking her up and finding out what she was involved in.

Claude McKay was a pretty big deal in his mind, and so I read a bit of Banjo, which oddly enough has more to do with music than one might expect, as the main character is a musician who seems to be wandering around France looking for work.  Particularly Marsailles (?).  Anyway, I know McKay also spent some time in Paris.

He emailed me a few hours later with a PDF "Negroes in France"  An interesting document which has changed my topic a bit.  It got me interested in the idea of looking at how French culture has changed and influence American expatriates, since we claim to hold many of the same values as the French, and yet these African Americans argue that the French define them differently, and that the American influence on France in the 50s was changing how they were treated as African-Americans.  I do want to see how France has changed these people, and how these people perhaps changed France (including how Anglo-American values changed France, but particularly in the 1920s-30s.  He's interested in my project which is great, but I feel that perhaps he's more interested in the literature side of things than the music, which is why I'm not sure how he'll feel about possibly mentoring me.

I'd like to do a follow-up interview with him on how he feels about those things written about the city, the music, and the musicians soon.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Inquiry Conference #2

I happened to be attending Inquiry Conference today during rem's presentation, and I felt it was one of the best presentations that I've listened to so far, and I've seen/listened to about seven or eight.  The reason why I felt it surpassed some of the others was because he wasn't just sharing what he did while abroad, or what he "learned" per say, but what he learned in relation to application, and how we should rethink international development.

One of my favorite points  he made was that of using a developing world's solution to a developing world's problem, rather than using a first-world solution to a developing world issue.  His example was of the siolet Kweku Anno developed in Ghana that were also used in India, point being that a man who knew about the experiences of rural Ghana created a solution to a problem of rural Ghana.  rem made the point that we often go places thinking we know the answers, or thinking that something that will work in one area, will automatically work in another, when this is not the case.  I actually feel like a speaker earlier today at Inquiry Conference was making a similar point: cultural differences, national differences, ethnic differences, land differences all contribute to the fact that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution.

I like this.  I like this because it's true, and I also like this because I feel like it's ridiculous for anyone to think they know what they're doing better than someone else.

I remember as a kid/adolescent/teenager/young adult wondering why people assume that age makes them 'right.'  This is rarely the case.  People with experience can be right, I'm not saying they can't, but the operative word is experience, not age.  I've met a lot of 50 year old's who are certain they have the right advice for me, when in fact they don't know me, and so they can't give any advice worth using.  Similarly, we don't know India the way an Indian would, so why would we assume we have the answers to how to fix their problems?  I think it's all well and good to go to India and give advice if they ask for it, but not before you ask them about the land they're living in, first.

I think in a broader sense we can apply this to most cultures.  We usually judge other countries with our value system, just like we judge other people with our reasoning.  In fact, people think so very differently from each other and it's not advisable to assume others think the way you do.  If you think badly of people, it doesn't mean others think badly of people; to assume they do, is to assume their culture, their personality, who they are, without asking.  Similarly, we think that just because we can communicate with someone literally, that we're on the same page.  This is rarely/never the case.  Words are only a small part of communication.  I think what I'm saying is that we can't assume we're right, and we have to realize what we can learn from others before we have any desire to teach the little we know ourselves.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Inquiry Conference

I've been helping at Inquiry Conference--being a Field Study employee and all--and though it's only been one day, attending Inquiry Conference has been a good experience.  It's helped me think about what kind of knowledge I could come away from my Field Study with, and what kind of things I might be able to present to people about the study I do.  A lot of people have field studies that require they ask questions of others.  So far, I haven't gotten around this aspect of my field study.  I honestly want to experience French culture for the purpose of finding out what kind of influence it would have on African American expatriates, but also just expatriates in general.  I'd love to interview people about music, and about their heritage and their history--especially if they're African-American.  But I don't know that I can count on finding expatriates who are interested in the music scene.  I'll be very curious to see if I kind find any french musicians who play jazz to know what they think about the history of the music they play.  But I just don't want to count on finding anyone, and honestly I'm more interested in the history anyway.  I'm interested in Paris, the culture of the city and the French culture in general, and really seeing where it all fits in to my understanding of the expatriate experience.  I feel like a lot of the reading I've been doing lately is giving me a really good idea of what it would have been like.  But I guess what I've been coming to lately is an understanding that no culture operates in a vacuum.  Of course I knew this before, but putting words to it makes it a lot easier to contextualize: we can't teach U.S. History the way we do, because it's ridiculous to think we became what we did all on our own.  We also can't keep teaching a white-washed U.S. History because it's simply not a true history.  I know that if I was really interested in studying black creative history I'd be in New Orleans, or Harlem or something.  I've honestly asked myself why I chose Paris.  But then I have to remember that I'm a multi-dimensional person, too.  And I have interests outside of black creative history.  French, France, writing especially.  And these are things I want to work on while I'm there studying what I'll be studying.

Which is where I'm coming to.  I want to write something.  I didn't want to admit it, because that puts a lot of expectations on me.  But I want to write something while I'm there--something creative, but true.  And why not Paris, honestly?  Why not go to the creative capitol of the world?  Why not listen to the best music ever made? Why not?  Why not?

When I think about writing, I really start to get excited about France.  Honestly, going out and interviewing people is going to keep me locked up inside, afraid.  But going out to experience things for the sake of writing will oddly enough get me talking.  So I need to stop feeling bullied by these anthropologist ethnographers and just be myself.

I love you anthropologists, by the way.  I'm just not one.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Proposal: Background & Significance; Literature Review

“So here we stand, on the edge of hell, in Harlem, and wonder what we will do, in the face of all that we remember.” – Langston Hughes

            I’ll be studying in Paris and with the help of Anderson and Wells’ Paris Reflections will be able to walk through Paris with some understanding of where African Americans lived, worked, and socialized in Paris (Anderson and Wells).

America between the wars
            In 1918 about 1 million American troops had been deployed to Europe to aid the Allied forces in their fight against Germany in the Great War.  13% of those drafted were African American who served in segregated units.  American history dictates the Great War as a conflict started by the old world and ended by the new, with Americans as the heroes and saviors of a long, bloody and “total” war.
            Apart from the brief and fatal Spanish Influenza brought back to the United States in 1918 by troops who had served in Europe, the years just following the war are regarded in the United States as a time of great prosperity, or the “party” decade of American history.  This decade was coined “The Jazz Age”: the age of flappers, alcohol, pushing social boundaries, speakeasies, mob control, the Charleston; the age of plenty, of luxury, of free expression, and of scandal.  The young were in charge, changing the way Americans dressed, the way they consumed, the way they spoke, and the way they spent their time.  The music was loud, boisterous, got people moving; youth started buying race records on the corners, listening to jazz, and the blues; they went to the pictures every weekend, spent late nights dancing and drinking—involved in rampant law-breaking.  The war which many Americans had just returned from was largely ignored as an influence on the lifestyle many Americans turned to. (Britten and Mathless)
            In actuality, the 20s were an Age of Uncertainty, particularly for the facet of Americans who were racially marginalized.  In the early 1900s, African Americans began moving north into cities with greater employment opportunities.  The Great Migration changed the demographic of northern cities, and during America’s short involvement in the Great War, many African Americans filled those job openings left by white volunteers and draftees.  The summer race riots of 1919 which took place in Chicago, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington D.C., and Nebraska, among many other places, evidenced the great uncertainty about race relations in the United States after the war.  There are two primary reasons recognized for these riots, first that many white veterans returned to the States to find their jobs taken by black workers, or returned to homes much changed by black presence and felt a need to restore order; second, that many black veterans assumed equal treatment would be afforded them in homecoming celebrations, or assumed they would be treated with respect as veterans of the United States Army after having been treated with respect by white Frenchmen (Stovall 26-27).  Lashing out in uncertainty and hatred, white mobs killed and lynched men without trial, accused men of rapes, harassment and murders they did not commit, destroyed African American housing districts which left many dead or homeless, and burned down entire sections of cities (Gates 262-265).  The Chicago Race Riots alone left 38 dead and over 500 injured[1]; that summer 10 of those lynched in the south in 1919 were black veterans (Stovall 27).
            Having wrongly assumed that perhaps they, as veterans, had earned the respect of their fellow Americans, many African Americans who had served in Europe during the Great War returned to France as musicians, performers, writers, artists, and intellectuals, to a place where they felt appreciated and valued.  Thought the racial freedom many African Americans reported having experienced in Europe was not entirely the case (Schmeisser 109-110), the French ideal of an élite (Barlow and Nadeau 47-59) allowed these cultural contributors the chance to give of their talent without apparent racial discrimination (Whalan).
            Meanwhile, those who stayed behind were the predecessors to the civil rights movement that would take full effect thirty years later.  (“We return.  We return from fighting. We return fighting.” – W.E.B. DuBois)

France entre-deux-guerres
            France was not America entre-deux-guerres.  In many ways, France was aware of the anxiety that riddled the twenty years between the two wars.  By the war’s finish, everyone knew someone who had died in the war because 6000 men were killed every day of the duration of World War I; out of 38,000 communes in France, only one did not lose someone to the war.  Furthermore, 5 million acres of French farmland had been destroyed, and by the beginning of WWII the number of cities with populations over a million had doubled in France as it became harder to sustain a lifestyle in the country. (History of France)
            Before the war, Europe had had high hopes for its future, but instead “European civilization had managed to produce the most destructive, bloody war in human history. . . . This lost self-confidence lay at the heart of the Roaring Twenties in Paris, leading many thoughtful Parisians to look toward other traditions as a way of restoring their shattered faith.”  Lifestyles drastically changed, many of which influenced American culture as well.
The feminist movement reigned during the period, and a new fashion of women (called les garçons) cut their hair short and began wearing men’s clothes.  They discarded their corsets and started showing their legs, they smoked in public, and began working to fill the need caused by all the loss of men in France. (History of France)  After the trauma of war, “Paris seemed bent on having a good time; the war was over, and young people now had the freedom to experience life to the fullest. . . . One result was a new interest in Africa and blacks as a whole” (31).

Jazz and African Americans in France
Though “race music” as it might have been called by Americans, was introduced in Europe before the Great War, and records of bands which toured through Germany, France and Britain were found years later, it didn’t have much of an influence on Europe until after the First World War (Lotz).  However, because some black music got into Europe before the war, Lotz argues that its influence in Europe needs to be reassessed because it shaped how African American artists were received in Europe later.
            Most attribute the inextricable introduction of Jazz to France to the African American soldiers who served in France during the Great War.  Though American units were segregated, undoubtedly soldiers played the blues and jazz while they were in Europe.  Immediately following the war, there was a high demand for revues and black musicians in Paris to play Jazz for the French.  Such revues was how Josephine Baker came to Paris; her overnight success in Paris kept Baker in the city, singing, dancing, and performing in shows until she returned to New York for a short stay.  She was not received well (Read: the Reception of Jazz in America) and returned to Paris.  Other African American expatriates gathered in Montmartre, where their musical expertise was enjoyed by the French.  In truth, the French demanded black musicians for their clubs, preferring them to white musicians. “ ‘ If there was any racism it was our people that used to give preference to the colored musician,’” one French musician said; he performed in blackface so he would have the chance to play with a black band (Stovall 38-39).
            (Include: (Archer-Straw), (Jackson “Making Jazz French”) & Django Reinhart)

Influence on America
Alexandre Dumas (Martone),

            I’m interested in studying African American expatriates in Paris simply because when one learns about the “Jazz Age” of American history, not only is the French perspective of the War, and France’s influence on American society often ignored, but more important the African-American perspective is disregarded.  Little, if anything, is ever taught of the Summer Race Riots which took place after the First World War, or how the freedoms blacks experienced abroad played an influential part in the civil rights movement of the 1950s-70s.
            If we do mention Paris or France during the Jazz Age, it is always in reference to the Anglo-American expatriates: F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.  Though worthy of mention, these white writers only represent a fraction of the American expatriates in Paris at the time, and are only a fraction of contributors to the American-Parisian culture that influenced America.  This is one of many examples of a “white-washed” history.  As the entire “Jazz” Age, it can be argued, was the gift of black America to the United States, and for that matter, to France, why the story of the history of Jazz is not told in an American History context is entirely beyond me (Beregot and Merlin).
            Though what I primarily want to study is how French culture influenced the black expatriate musicians in Paris and what they perhaps brought back to the United States because of their experience in France, ultimately, I think the significance of studying this facet of American culture is to treat it as main-stream American history, rather than marginalize it as “African-American History.”

African-American Expatriates
Short Visits
Langston Hughes
W.E.B. DuBois

Long Visits/Stays
Josephine Baker – Complete Record Works, 1926-27
Ada “Bricktop” Smith

Claude McKay - Banjo


So I need a post to go over some project changes.  If there was one thing I could alter about this course, I'd be much clearer about it's intentions and purposes.  I feel perhaps I've just gotten an idea for what the purpose of this proposal is, and it might sound obvious once I state it, but it wasn't obvious in the beginning of the course--not for me.  Perhaps because I'm an over-achiever.  I believe the purpose of the proposal is to propose what it is you want to learn, not necessarily what it is you want to produce.  This makes everything about 100% easier than it was about half an hour ago when I was preparing to write my Literature Review and had NO idea how to even begin.  I didn't even know what my project was!

So I've changed my project question:

What was the influence of French culture on African-american expatriate musicians?

Simple.  Bahh.  Which means all this agonizing over what I was going to do was totally unnecessary.  You know--not everything has to be learned the hard way.  Some people will learn not by being told the answer, but by being explained the purpose.  I can find my own answers, but when it comes down to a class and grade, I really don't need anyone to make my life harder.

Now that that vent is out of the way...

I'm going to recreate the damn Literature Review web/map.  Excuse the french, as Dave would say.  It'll be a lot more helpful now.  I've decided to focus a little more on the history, and all the separate elements that would go into answering the new question and have organized it like such:

So now I'm working on looking for some books and articles that backtrack a little.  I need to fill in more about French culture, though that's kind of what I hope to look at in the field.  Also I need to fill in more people.  But I think this is a good start which indicates some of the influences on the music, but also influences on the expatriates themselves, why they went to Paris, why they stayed in Paris, and perhaps a beginning of what kind of an influence French culture eventually had on them.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


I first fell in love with French when I was learning the phrase, 'Je suis enchantée de faire votre connaissance.'  I had been back at home in Los Angeles for six months from a study abroad in London and had another two months to go until I returned to Provo.  Learning is all that has ever made me particularly happy, and after six months of not being in school, I was reeling with dissatisfaction.  Perhaps sensing my displeasure with life, and aware I'd be taking French in the Fall, my parents gifted me one of those CD-ROM 'Learn a Language' programs for my birthday to get me started.

I worked about four to six hours every day at a Law Office, and when I came home, I'd practice French for hours, lying across my parents bed repeating words and phrases.  I loved it.  My roommate collects stories I tell her of my prayers with God; her favorite is the story of the week I prayed every night for God to help me get the pronunciation of the French 'r' down.  I can still remember the first time I said 'rouge.'

Fairly quickly, I familiarized myself with most of the disks of the program, and swapped them out depending on whether I wanted to learn phrases, 'Au secours!' (Help!) which is another great direct-translation, or vocabulary, 'souris' (mouse).

It was a phrase day when I found, 'Je suis enchantée de faire votre connaissance.'  I had NO idea what this meant.  I knew it was supposed to mean something about being enchanted, and maybe meeting someone, but I hardly understood the sentence syntax or meaning of the individual words.  I looked it up online.  It means "I'm pleased to meet you," but more literally, "I am enchanted to make your knowledge/acquaintance."  I was smitten.  Someone could tell me I was wrong now, and I'd probably agree with them, but at the time this phrase meant something a lot more than "I'm glad to meet you."  It was saying something more like, "I'm enchanted to know you exist."  What a glorious idea.  Because if Descartes is right, and 'Je pense donc je suis,' that means that I am my knowledge.  I'm only as good as my knowledge, and they're pleased they know about it.

French wasn't about learning another language that day, it was about learning a new way of thinking, a new way of seeing people, and a new way of seeing the world.  How could you ever have a bad day with people being pleased to know you exist and other such grandiose phrases?  Granted, I've now been studying French for almost two years and I don't know that I could make the same argument about this phrase, knowing what I know about the meaning of french words.  But it doesn't really matter that my direct translation was a little off, because I believed it, and it carried me through two years of learning a language that more often than not frustrates me, and makes me feel ridiculously incapable and inept.  I hate it.  I mean, I hate it.  I hate the homework, and I hate that I never know how to say what I want quickly enough.  I hate that I can't understand most people speaking the same language I've been studying for two years, and I hate that I understand concepts I can't put into practice.  I hate getting up in front of people and fumbling with the words and the grammar.  I really hate it.

But then--I'll accidentally forget time.  I'll forget the other homework I've got looming over my head, and I'll get stuck in my grammar book, and I'll marvel over this language that makes no sense some days, and all the sense in the world others.  I'll find a book written in french about the history of jazz, and I'll read seven pages of it before I realize I didn't once look up the definition of a word, or wonder what the hell a series of words in a particular order meant.  I'll forget about what needs doing and realize how long its been since I had to get the direct translation for "I'm glad to meet you," and I'm back lying across my parents' bed, pronouncing rouge for the very first time.

Monday, February 13, 2012


The French close their shutters every night so no one can see into their homes.  They don't talk about money, they don't talk to people on the metro, they don't give out their names, and it doesn't matter what they do for a living.  But they'll invite you in to their dining room, feed you, have a conversation with you about their children, their house in the country, and give you a jar of fig jam if you show interest.  This is the gist of the chapter I read today.  And I love it.

It's privacy.  It's a different notion of what is private, and what isn't private.  The home, the family, personal decisions--those are all private, to the extent that 'scandals' aren't really scandals at all but simply not your business.  And yet arguing, disagreeing, eating are not private matters, but in fact more public than we as Americans would think.

Hospitality is expected on many accounts, but only if you do it the right way--the French way.  Saying bonjour and au revoir as you enter and leave a shop, for example, will get you good service.  What has this to do with privacy?  Well, you're coming into someone else's private domain, and in doing so, it is only polite to greet and give farewells to the person whose home or business you enter.  However, asking someone outright what their name is will create immediate barriers.  Why?  Because whether they want to be contacted by you again should be their decision--not yours.

Also, it seems to me, the French are not worried about finding and keeping people they like to share company with, or converse with, because they figure that those people will find and gravitate toward each other.  And they seem less worried about wasting time with the wrong sort of people, because I don't think there's a worry about wasting time, or a worry about "wrong people."

Nadeau and Barlow point out one interesting difference I really enjoy: that is, the conversation between couples.  "They typical American couple seeks to display harmony. . . . The French expect exactly the opposite: . . . a relationship should be strong enough to withstand differences" (43-44).  It's not that American relationships aren't strong enough to withstand differences, because in fact they withstand all sorts of differences all the time, but that arguments in public seem distasteful to them.  And thus the French seem to value idea-oriented discussion rather than relationship-oriented discussion.  Meaning, they attack ideas, not the person.  And in doing so, a little arguing is hardly anything to bat an eye over.

This is an interesting cultural difference to me and it reveals how to go about talking to people in different ways.  Knowing and remembering someone's name in our culture is not only a sign of respect, but engenders trust.  Not so in France, where asking for someone's name is a breach of privacy.  Eating in our culture is our business, we eat what we want when we want it.  Not in France.  Eating is important, and therefore is something you do a particular way, something you allot time for, something you do communally with others.  I don't think either is inherently wrong or right, but different for explainable reasons.  So I better master bonjour and au revoir if I want to make people in France happy, which I do.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Terrien: french ideals in application

Still reading Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong.  This chapter was about the tie the French feel to their land.  Wherever they are, where they are from means more--they are never from 'France' but from a region of France, as if the region they are from is really the country they are from.  The equivalent would be to say, Mon pays est de Los Angeles.  And yet I've been thinking about this a lot in the last few years of my life: being an American means very little.

The book quotes an instance when Charles de Gaulle said in an interview, "'How can anyone govern a country that has 246 kinds of cheese?'  What he meant was, 'How can anyone be expected to govern 246 different kinds of French?'" (21).  We don't think of Americanness in these terms, though we really ought to.  Because there are 50 states, about 300 cities of a population of more than 100,000, and between 30,000 and 35,000 cities and towns, depending on how interested you are in population, whether its "incorporated" etc.  And there are 196 countries in the world (give or take a few, depending on the year, who is deciding, who is at war, and whether or not we're being politically correct), and at least one person from every country is most likely represented in the United States whether they have been here a day or their family has been in here for generations.  An American can be any, and several of all of these elements mixed into ONE person.  Point being, in what way can we say "I'm American" with an meaning at all?

I'm not even a complex example of this, but see what I mean: I'm not just an American, I'm an American from Los Angeles, born of a Californian and a New Englander, a Westerner and an Easterner, a Mormon and a Congregationalist.  My ancestors come from Massachusetts, Maine, Utah, Canada, and before that England, Denmark, France, probably a thousand other places.  And we could try to narrow it down by saying I'm an American from Los Angeles.  But I was born in Culver City, and I grew up in West LA, and I went to school in Santa Monica, and I commuted the 405 for years, and I lived in the San Fernando Valley.  I went to church in Van Nuys, and the movies in Winnetka, Northridge, and Burbank.  I went shopping in Glendale, and I spent time with my friends in Reseda, or Lake Balboa, or Granada Hills.  We went to Downtown LA or Hollywood for shows, and Westwood for day-trips.  And we're still in Los Angeles.  But I have to tell you--those kids from Granada Hills were not my favorite, and we had dances with the kids from Canoga Park, but whenever I meet someone from there I don't particularly like them, I never went to Beverly Hills on my days off, and the Sherman Oaks people were always a little snooty.  North Hollywood was kind of a sketchy place to go, and I never got to know Studio City.  Yeah.  We're still in Los Angeles.  It also matters where you go to school in Los Angeles--Did you go to your homeschool?  Because that's odd.  I went to Elementary school in Culver City and Sherman Oaks, and Middle School was in Northridge and High School was in Lake Balboa/Van Nuys/Reseda--you could put any of those names on the envelope and it'd get sent.  And did you go to a public school or a private school? Was it a magnet or a charter?  Did it have an honors program?  What about a swim team, or a football team?  A robotics team or a Humanities magnet?  I mean WHAT KIND OF AN ANGELENO WERE YOU!?  How long did it take to get to school, or to your best friends place?  Yes--including traffic.  Do you like Mexicans?  What about Armenians?  Blacks?  Did you have all white people at your school?  Or all sorts of people?  Did you mistake the Salvadorans for Mexicans?  Did that get you in trouble?--Hope so.  I'm even going to get started on food.  And every person from Los Angeles who could possibly be reading this post right now would tell me about the hundred things I missed that makes people from Los Angeles different.  AND I KNOW.


Maybe there's one thing we agree on: How do you feel about LAUSD?


Point being, I'm hardly an American, and maybe the French have it right.  Because I don't know what the heck I am.  But if we're going to start somewhere, 'American' just doesn't cut it.  What does it tell you?  About some national loyalty?  Patriotism?  And I don't know if you can tell but I love mon pays.  I particularly love the part of it I know really well--the part of it I'm from, Los Angeles.  And I don't love all parts of America equally.  Because they're not mine.  And so I can understand that while this desert I live in is far more beautiful that most of what I saw every day in Los Angeles, it still can't win and it never will.  But because Los Angeles resides in the United States of America--I love America too.  It's just that . . . it doesn't mean as much.
I keep thinking: How am I going to do this three times a week for another month and a half?  It's not that there aren't things to talk about, but that I really don't want to.  It's dragging something out too long, when I don't really know what it is I'm dragging out.  The room light is too bright, and there aren't enough hours in the day, and this hangs over my head, and the question that it keeps asking me is: is it worth it?  Apart from the fact that I'm not turning back.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

un bonheur ordinaire, est-il possible?

Je sais que je ne comprendrai tous les chose.  Mais je peux essayer.

Elle me dit, qu'elle aimerait changer d'air
C'est vrai que par ici, les vies prennent la poussière

Elle me dit, qu'elle voudrait voir la mer
D'autres pays, un bonheur ordinaire

Elle me dit, qu'on pourrait se défaire
De ces utopies, qui rendent nos nuits amères

Elle me dit, ses doutes et ses colères
Comme aujourd'hui, lassée de toucher Terre

Même si notre histoire peine à s'écrire, j'ai le scénario
Même si l'on s'égare dans l'intro
J'ai, tu as tout ce qui me faut, j'ai tout ce qu'il te faut

Elle me dit, le pire et le meilleur
Le bleu et le gris, mes poches vide à toute heure

Elle me dit, que l'issue lui fait peur
Que je m'appuie sur trop d'apesenteur

"Elle Me Dit" - Ben L'oncle

God made this man for me.  A black, french, blues/soul chanteur.  Il n'y a rien de mieux.

I've been studying this song for a while now.  Je l'aime parce qu'elle lui disais "ses doutes et ses colères" mais il ne demande rien d'elle.  Within the first two lines he validates her doubts, her need for a change of scenery, "It's true, that here life gathers dust."  And with the rest of the song, he need not validate her, because you know he's listening, he respects her views, and is free to go along with them, because he believes she's right.  And why not?  For she has some beautiful ideas.  "She tells me, we could get rid of these utopias that make our nights bitter."  Une belle idée, n'est-ce pas?  Se défaire de ces utopies--les utopies qui n'existent pas--qui rendent les nuits amères.  Parce que c'est alors seulement qu'ils écrire leur propre scénario, et trouver "un bonheure ordinaire."

And I love her worries, her "doubts."  Tired of touching the ground.  Relying too much on weightlessness.  And he's going along with it.  Je l'aime parce qu'elle sait qui sait qu'elle peut lui dire ces choses, sans de jugement.  She's not holding anything back, you know?  And he, he's just telling us.

I think we fear that quite often--that when we tell others what we want out of something--life, maybe--that we will be judged for it.  I can't remember the last time I told anyone what I really wanted out of life, or why.  But the more no one asks, the less I care what my answer is.  The more I do what I can, what I want, without worrying that I'm pleasing anyone but myself, and God maybe.  I think that's an important part of this learning process.  That maybe it's not so much about the project I want to do but just being.  Finding that raison d'être as we would say the french would say.  Or maybe finding les raisons d'être pour les autres.

Isn't that what I really want? C'est la musique, non?  Pour tout le monde.  It's a big part of everything, I think.  And I take a long time to realize what its for.  Healing, maybe?  I'm just thinking now.  But what I mean to say, is that what I really want is to come back to the things that keep me sane.  Music.  Writing.  Curiosity.  Fairness.  Learning.  Exploration.  People.  And so maybe what I need to do is leave this "project" alone for a little while, and focus on what I want to get out of this experience, sans le projet.

Monday, February 6, 2012

"Feeling Bad for No Reason"

I know nothing about music apart from what I like.  I don't even think I could tell you what (and if there is anything) I don't like.  But lately I've been wondering maybe how I can be a little more specific in my work here, studying African-American expatriates in Paris and I've been giving some thought to what got me interested in African-American culture in the first place.

As a kid who grew up in Los Angeles I spent a good amount of my childhood in a car--in traffic.  You know, I'm sure my parents would report different, but I don't really remember minding, and as a child who grew up in a car--in traffic--my favorite pastime of traveling is still listening to music.  I would lie in the back of the van with my ear next to the car speaker while we were in bumper to bumper traffic listening to my dad's mix tapes and the oldies station.  I never got to choose what to listen to, and I don't think I ever expressed preference--except when I complained that the Classical music made my stomach hurt, which by the way is still the case, and my parents would change the radio station.  But there was one song in particular that was played often on KEARTH 101.1 which I have loved and never tired of.  "What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye.  I cried if my father tried to change it.  Alas, when I had no knowledge of skin color, no understanding of race, no preference for one or the other, Marvin Gaye was my first love.

It was years later, probably High School when I found a Marvin Gaye album on my father's shelf and found this song again, and never let it go after that.  My family can vouch for how often Gaye's "What's Going On" album was played in our house that year.  I followed Marvin Gaye straight into the history of Motown, into the legacy that was black music.  It didn't take long to find Big Band from there, and Swing, and Jazz, and for a little while I lost myself in Frank Sinatra, and Benny Goodman, and Artie Shaw.  This, by the way, is a nice place to loose oneself.  But I soon returned to what really got me going.  Duke Ellington and Count Basie emerged.  Then, I continued to pry into the music of African-American culture.  And I was in love again with these voices.  Lena Horne, Billie Holiday, oh, Louis Armstrong, and then I found Fats Waller, Bessie Smith--and I just kept going. Robert Johnson, Josephine Baker.

My sister caught on to the whole thing.  She started listening to some Soul, to some Gospel, and so my family were plunged into the world of African-American music.  I started studying French, and found through a professor here at BYU Ben L'Oncle, a French-Blues singer who I fell in love with.  I came home and stopped listening to anything else, other than this soulful, bluesy stuff that was melancholy and imperfect.  And I was thinking, why is this something I can't let go of?  Why is this something that is so much a part of me that I can't say "I'm going to study African American expatriates" without saying, "You know?  Josephine Baker... Ada "Bricktop" Smith.  And what I want to want is to study the writers, and the intellectuals, but I think I'm going to have to admit to myself sometime that its the collision of France which has always appreciated the melancholic with old African American blues and jazz which has rarely had reason to be anything other than melancholic, that really gets me.

Maybe that gives me a place to start.  I've been wondering--why France?  What's the point in going there?  Who will I talk to?  What will I study?  I don't know anything about music, but could I?  Could I do something right by Marvin Gaye?  Pay  him back for this gift he's given me.  And keeps giving me.

Friday, February 3, 2012

I am white and white is black and black is white and black is black

I need a post to do some thinking, or else the thinking just won't get done.  Lately I've been asking myself what I'm doing this for.  What's the point of doing all this work?  How does it apply to me when I'm looking at history and not necessarily interviewing people?  And who will I talk to, and what will I spend my time doing?  And what do I want to come out of this field study with?  What do I want to know?  Why do I have to go to France to know it?

People have written all sorts of things on the blacks in France, especially those who went there after the Great War.  And I think most of the people who have written biographies or histories of appreciating these people have far more authority and understanding than I do.  I'm not really trying to compete with them on any publishing level, and I'm aware that next to no one will read whatever it is I come up with in the end, but I have to do something that I find worthwhile.

What got me interested in this idea is that I haven't met a whole lot of people who know about the blacks in Paris the way they know about the whites in Paris.  The elephant in the room is Midnight in Paris in which no black expatriates are present apart from Josephine Baker in the back of the room.  Sure you see F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Zelda, Gertrude Stein, and Hemingway--all important American players in Paris at the time, but why the hell didn't he talk to Josephine Baker, and where were Ada "Bricktop" Smith, James Reese Europe and Gene Bullard?  Why wasn't he having conversations with intellectuals like Langston Hughes?  Or at the very least, why weren't they present the way they should have been?

This is what American Studies is about for me--why are we so certain that American=white when it doesn't?  What I want for myself is to put these people in an American context as Americans and I don't want the most famous of these people--Josephine Baker--to be a "who's that?" anymore.  Now I guess I can't change anything, and I'm more than aware of that.  So what's the point then?  What do I want out of this given that I can't make a difference?  If this is just a jumping off point, a place where I can learn how to develop some important skills.

More and more I'm thinking maybe I do want to find an African-American community in Paris and talk to the people I find.  In English, in French.  But whose to assume they'll let me if I do find them?  And that's why I want a backup plan.  What I would want to interview these people for is to put the people I'm currently interested in, in context.

Why I have to go to France is a harder question to answer because I could theoretically just study African-Americans in Paris and Paris itself and the 1920s and black history and then apply all the things I want to about American Studies to my book-learned understanding.  The reason I want to go to France is purely selfish.  I want to be an American in Paris.  I want to know what it's like, and I want to know how it differs from the things I read about these people going through.  I want to walk the streets they walked, and I want to learn they language they had to learn.  I want to live in the city that is well-known for racial equality, and I want to know if that's true.  I want to meet people, especially black Americans, and I want to know what life has been like for them in Paris.  Is it like the Paris of the 1920s in any way?  But most of all--what is it about France and Paris in particular that attracted these people?  Is it just the romance of the place, or is it something else?

I never believe that romance jazz about Paris.  Then I went there, and somehow I understood what people meant.  That's why I think I need to go for a longer period of time.  Because you can be told a lot of things about a place, but can you really put yourself in the context of it without experiencing it?  I don't think you can.

Why are we so set on not including the African-American experience in with the study of "America."  We talk about how slavery affected the black American population, but always with the intention of switching back to "white mode" and how it affects whites now.  Who the hell cares how it affects whites now when it's still something that's present in this country for blacks now?

I loved Midnight in Paris, but I remember thinking at the end of that movie, after thinking about how much I thoroughly enjoyed it, that it was still a white-washed American history, even if it was in Paris.  And I KNOW you can't tell every story at once, but I don't understand why it has to be a white story OR a black story, when we've been together, whites and blacks, all this time.  It's the 21st century.  Isn't it about time we started talking about how separate our histories are?  Isn't it about time we started melding them?  After all, I, a white girl from Los Angeles couldn't be American without the African presence, and a black girl from Virginia certainly couldn't be American without the Anglo presence.  That's kind of what makes us uniquely American.  Is anyone else willing to admit that?

This project idea still needs a lot of work, I guess that much is obvious.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Ah, Socialism. Or is that--what?--history?

I'm loving Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong by Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow.  It's helping me recognize some aspects of French culture that I might not have been aware of before reading.  In reading just a couple of chapters, I'd like to report that I'm fairly certain that at least outside of the business place, if not within the business place, too, the French operate on P-time unless otherwise directed.  This may explain what North Americans tend to categorize as "bad service" because the French take their time.  It may explain why they work only 35 hour weeks, or why they take entire months off of work.  Because working every second of every day is unimportant, is unproductive, in the end.

But what I really want to discuss is something French businesses do that the book discusses called Les soldes or "the sales."  Twice a year, once from the middle of January to the middle of February and once from the middle of June to the middle of July, the French have their "sales."  Anything can go on sale at this point in time from clothing to furniture.  "To hold a sale outside that period, merchants have to obtain special approval from the police.  The rest of the year, smalls hops and big retailers can't so much as offer a rebate without facing the wrath of the law" (11).  Honestly, when I read this, I thought of socialism.  Of bureaucracy.  The state decides when stores have sales for goodness' sake!  But then I continued reading.

"It dates back to practices of the merchants' guilds in the Middle Ages," the book reads (11).  Um...before socialism existed.  "At that time, guilds had two functions: they settled disputes among tradesmen of one town and protected the tradesmen against competition from other towns" (11).  Such a rule explains why France still has what we call "Ma-and-Pa" shops.  Because quality and pricing is protected and managed, allowing small stores the chance at survival.  And thus, in France, sales are regulated.

It's not socialism, which is easy to accuse a country of, but not so easy to prove.  It's history.  I like this little addition in the book, "The practice of regulating sales predates the discovery of America by at least three hundred years" (11, emphasis added).  I.e. before we feared socialism, before we worshiped capitalism, before we even existed, France had a system in place to protect its business men and women, by way of guilds, regulation, and police.

And that's why its important to know history, because politics, government, and therefore culture are innately connected to it!