welcome news…from across the “pond”

The Arc de Triomphe (Arch of Triumph), at the ...

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Sometime in the 80’s my husband and I toured Paris. It amazes me to think back to how I called long distance, 2 or 3 times, and spoke with the hotel clerk, reserving a room for a couple of nights. There was no Expedia or Travelocity to compare rates and accomodation details, or even Trip Advisor to guide me through the myriad of pros and cons about an establishment. Chock it up to youth. I didn’t know better, so I plunged ahead, uncaring if the woman at the other end of the phone was rolling her eyes at my obvious lack of sophistication or inability to speak French.

Thank goodness the next time we venture back to the City of Light, the internet will pave the way. This time there’ll be 3 adults whose needs will have to be met, including one 25-year-old who’ll want to do as Cyndi Lauper wails in her song,”Girls just want to have fu-un!”

I’ll have to enlist my French blogging buddy, My English Thoughts, for some help there. Maybe she’ll drag my daughter along to some of Paris’ hot spots, after her elderly parents totter off to bed long before midnight.

I’m hoping when our family does make it back to France’s capital of haute couture and irrepressible charm, the Parisians will be as amenable to us as they were to the author of the following article. I’ve come to love Joe Queenan‘s irreverent sense of humor, which always seems to be “on point.” He publicly admits to things about which most of us probably “bite our tongues.” I guess he’s allowed to get away with it since he writes a column for the formidable Wall Street Journal.

Needless to say when I was in Paris decades ago, the French were as reserved as I’d heard they would be. They weren’t rude, but they weren’t falling all over themselves to be nice either. Being raised to be invisible, an Asian thing, my husband and I had no trouble blending into the background wherever we went . So we were most accommodating of the Parisians then-disdain for American tourists. Hopefully this time my old-age crankiness won’t get me, and the locals, into a battle of the wills, the ill-wills, that is. They’ll have no issues with my always-calm spouse and sweet-tempered off-spring. I’m both, unless I see an injustice about to happen. Then…get out of my way! This 5’2 senior will make you rue the day God gave you 2 ears to hear what spews forth like venom from a cobra!

Okay, well…now according to Queenan, I’ll have no need for any of that. I’ll just have a wonderful, heady touristy time in “gay Paree!”

French Twist: Meet Monsieur Nice Guy

 If you’re a seasoned inhospitality buff like me, the very worst has happened: The French have stopped being mean and surly.

I started to notice this two years ago when I spent two weeks in Paris, and an equally unexpected aura of congeniality was certainly evident when I visited southern France last fall. But now the restraining walls of condescension and nastiness have utterly collapsed and a wave of warmth and courtesy have flooded in. Sacre bleu.

Plaque rue mouffetard

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During my four-day stay in Paris last month, waiters,Paris Cafe, Paris, France concierges, museum guards and even cabdrivers all treated me with jaw-dropping affability. The ticket-taker at the Pantheon did not scream at me when I asked where Emile Zola was buried. The woman in the chocolate shop did not sneer when I asked for directions to the Rue Mouffetard (it was directly around the corner.)

The garcon in the posh restaurant did not treat me like the prototypical Ugly American when I asked what a “cocotte” was. The clerk at my two-star hotel asked if I would like to use her computer to print out my boarding pass, and went out of her way to get the broken elevator fixed so that I wouldn’t have to climb three flights of stairs on my gimpy legs.

The Eiffel tower at sunrise, taken from the Pl...

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Wherever I went–the Louvre and Orangerie, the Comedie Francaise, Honore de Balzac’s house, even the Eiffel Tower–everyone went our of their way to be charming and helpful. For a minute there I thought I was at Epcot.

What happened? What triggered this explosion of courtesy and warmth? Well, for starters, the recession, which would motivate even the most chauvinistic French to tone it down a notch when dealing with tourists. But France has had recessions before, and that never took the edge off those legendary brusque, haughty people.

No, my suspicion is that much of the coarseness and incivility toward foreigners–and particularly toward Americans–stemmed from embarrassment about having collaborated with the Nazis. Anti-americanism was practically an official state policy under Charles de Gaulle, but now the war is no longer an issue. Most of the World War II generation has died out and been replaced by young people who do not have a chip on their shoulder.

Street market in nearby Rue Mouffetard

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Friendly young people. Helpful young people. I know this will come as a shock to those who have not visited France for a while, but the French are now friendlier than the Italians, than the Irish, than the girls who greet you at Hooters. This unanticipated onslaught of goodwill totally floored me.

As a globe-trotting malingerer, I have always enjoyed returning from a jaunt abroad with fresh support for popular American stereotypes about foreigners. Yes, Belgium really is boring. Yes, the Swedes really are laconic. Yes, the Scots really do like a dram or two.

But now these stereotypes are collapsing like wisps of straw. Though most Americans still associate England with bad food–fish and chips, bangers and mash–the truth is that dining out in London is now an absolute joy, with top-flight restaurants everywhere. You can get a good meal even in the provinces, which was certainly not the case before Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair dragged the U.K. into the modern world. So there goes another beloved, hoary stereotype.

As a world-class spoilsport and curmudgeon, I now have less and less anecdotal material to fall back on when I want to blast another society. Luckily, when last I checked, the Germans were still arrogant, the Italians were still incompetent, and the Canadians were still reliably unexciting.

Still, if I go to Berlin this fall and find out that the Germans are no longer bossy and overbearing, I’m going to throw in the towel and turn into an American who doesn’t overeat, overspend or take the first five minutes of every conversation trying to figure out how much everybody else in the room paid for their house. I’m warning you frogs, you Teutons, you Russkies: Two can play this game. Columnist's name

the guy makes me laugh…even though much of what he says is not meant to be funny…hugmamma.

twice in one lifetime, memories of hiroshima

 

Atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.

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Weighing heavily upon the minds of elderly Japanese are memories of that infamous day when the atom bomb was dropped on their country, in the hopes of bringing an end to World War II. Success in achieving that goal, brought agony beyond words for countless Japanese. 

Today’s Wall Street Journal articleHiroshima‘s Legacy Heightens Fears” by Mariko Sanchanta makes the case for one who has now known the unbelievable devastation of his country, not once but twice.

Mikiso Iwasa was 16 years old when the atomic bomb struck Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. He was in the backyard of his house, a little less than a mile away from ground zero. He was smashed onto the ground by the force of the bomb.

Mr. Iwasa escaped, but the effects of radiation caught up with him later. He suffered from skin cancer twice as well as prostate cancer. He lost his hair. His nose and gums bled. He developed rashes all over his body.

Victim of Atomic Bomb 003

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For the only country ever to have experienced the atomic bomb and the horrific effects of concentrated radiation exposure, the nuclear crisis escalating in Japan has had a crippling effect on the nation’s collective psyche. 

Panic and confusion swept through Japan on Tuesday after a fresh explosion at one reactor and a fire at another at a damaged plant in Fukushima.

In Tokyo, 150 miles away, people lined up waiting for bullet train tickets to Osaka, Kyoto, Kyushu–anywhere to get as far away as possible from the northeastern coast of Japan.

The crisis comes on the heels of last year’s 65th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, in which the U.S.–in a poignant move–for the first time sent a representative to attend the annual memorial.

In a country famed for stoicism, there is a quiet, mounting sense of anger toward Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the nuclear-power plant. Mr. Iwasa, now 82 years old, accuses the government of playing down the risks. “They’re saying there was a leakage, but that it won’t affect the human body. They’re just fooling us.”

Even for a generation that didn’t experience World War II–two-thirds of the country’s people were born after 1945–Tuesday’s events were enough to send young people scurrying for cover. Reina Kudo, 19, a college student in Tokyo, said her parents have been imploring her to come home to Kansai. “Now I really want to go home,” said Ms. Kudo, at bustling Tokyo station

Japan’s confidence had already been on a decline during a decade of economic malaise. More recent blows have exacerbated this sense of despair: China this year eclipsed Japan as the world’s second-biggest economy; political infighting has resulted in five prime ministers in as many years; a record proportion of college graduates can’t find full-time jobs.

The devastation from the earthquake and the tsunami, and rising nuclear fears are now deepening the gloom as businesses close plants, foreign nationals leave and rescue efforts have only just begun in earnest.

Hiroshima in ruins, October 1945, two months a...

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Despite the latest setbacks, some say the Japanese will persevere, as always. This catastrophe is “showing the resilience of the Japanese people,” says Jon Tanaka, a real-estate investor in Japan. “This is not so palpable to the outside world until you see it.” 

I cannot imagine another people, except maybe the Israelis, more resigned to their fate and yet never relinquishing the hope that they will overcome. The only part of the Japanese culturethat gives me pause is their code of honor. In the days of the Samurai, dying to “save face” was a given. I hope the traditional practice of “hara kiri” is left to the history books, and the movies, and tales handed down from one generation to the next. Except for that ancient commitment to suicide “if all else fails,” I feel a kinship with the Japanese in many ways.  

hoping the “other shoe doesn’t drop”…hugmamma.

(note: for results from a Japanese study about the practice of hara-kiri in contemporary society, visit http://www.nci.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20427155. )

“thanks,” northwest harvest

Arriving in the mail today, was a newsletter from Northwest Harvest. I thought it a perfect time to share its contents, as I’m sure it reflects what’s occurring in most of the country these days. What better time to give thanks to an organization dedicated to helping the less fortunate survive, than during the month of Thanksgiving. Entitled “Where We Stand,” it’s written by Executive Director, Shelley Rotondo.

Northwest Harvest has seen Washington suffer more than one economic crisis during our 43-year fight against hunger. Many more people are now hungry and in need, pushed over the edge by the recent recession. If any good has come from these troubled times, it is that every community has gained a heightened awareness of hunger. Sadly, for far too many people, this new understanding is informed by firsthand experience.

News that the recession ended months ago makes little difference to those who still face the daily stress of struggling to provide for their families. Many of our clients and their families are newcomers to food banks, or former donors now turning to us for food. Across the state, people have lost their jobs or had their hours or benefits reduced. And we see so many young people unable to compete for work in a state where unemployment currently hovers around 9 percent.

Statewide, Northwest Harvest and the partners of our network are now providing over 634,000 services every month–a 35 percent increase since the start of the recession. A recent U.S. Census Report showed that 43.6 million Americans were living in poverty in 2009. This number, which includes over 800,000 Washingtonians, is the largest in the 51 years that estimates have been published.

More than half of those served by Northwest Harvest and our partners are children and the elderly. They are the most susceptible to health problems related to hunger and malnutrition, and have the least control over their circumstances. Children make up only 25 percent of the U.S. population, but 36 percent of those living in poverty. More than 224,000 of Washington’s children live below the federal poverty level, and roughly half of Washington infants are recipients of WIC (Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children).

Nearly all state basic service agencies have faced severe budget cuts and expect their resources to dwindle further in the coming year. With more than 1 in 7 Washingtonians relying on food stamps–a 21 percent increase from just one year ago–we know that deeper service reductions could have a devastating impact our clients. As the only Washington-based food bank distributor operating statewide, we are being called on more than ever before and in all corners of the state.

For all of these reasons, Northwest Harvest has grown rapidly, securing more than 24 million pounds of food for both of the last two years, a 33 percent increase over years before the recession. We can feed a family of three a nutritious meal for 67 cents, and as the state’s first food bank distributor to focus on nutrition, we have decades of experience promoting health while fighting hunger. Additionally, 93 cents of every dollar donated to Northwest Harvest goes directly to help those we serve.

But we need your help more than ever. In the first three months of our fiscal year, we did not meet budget goals for food or fund-raising. Meanwhile, many of the underlying causes of hunger are getting worse, bringing more and more people to their community hunger programs.

Northwest Harvest was founded because of those who would not stand idly by while their neighbors suffered. We have been able to continue expanding our services in response to the growing need because of the support of communities all across the state.

We are grateful to all who support us with gifts of any size. Whether you can give money, food or volunteer time, you are strengthening the safety net so many of our neighbors now need.

Thank you.

Among the many who donate their time, Holland America Lines provides its employees bus transportation to Northwest Harvest’s  warehouse,  to volunteer a few hours during their workday. It’s an annual event, occurring over 4 or 5 days. Family members are invited to join in the donation of time and effort.

for humanitarian efforts, huge hugs…hugmamma.