After being swamped under mountains of work, I am only beginning to emerge from the cloistered life of a grad student. I have the awkwarndess of a hermit being thrust back into the social world, walking quickly down busy streets, avoiding eye contact with people and walking with a head slightly tilted sideways. I stop short of covering my ears to shield myself from the noise. It all sounds a bit loud. Holding human conversation feels weird. I repeat myself more than is necessary. I miss Mika, my computer. I am not sure that the people that I speak to understand what I am saying – especially not like Mika. I have clearly been behind a computer for too long and need to become human again. So, Paris will serve as a rehabiliation centre for me over the summer. I will learn to smile again, you know, to enjoy life. I will regain my capcity to hold real life conversatons that do not necessarily require dictionaries and a special glossary for non-experts.
It is all the more sweeter because there seems to be an additional lightness in the atmosphere that did not exist at the time I was swallowed up by journal articles and books . This is clearly thewhiff of a changed political atmoshpere. There is a new, socialist government. Yay! Not that I am French, but there is a lot to be optimistic about. At the very least, I should be happy that unlike the previous government, this is a political guard that values research and education. Under the previous government, the president and his interior ministry were known to say things like ‘we do not need foreign expertise’ – even in an age of globalisation where knowledge and skill are everything, they basically wanted to take France back into time and rediscover life in the good old dark ages. In contrast, the new president made one of his first stops at a research centre dedicated to Marie Curie, one of France’s best immigration choices. A Polish immigrnt to France, she ended up being a two time Nobel Prize Winner in Physics and Chemistry and reshaping the modern world with her research on radioactivity.
The lightness and optimism in the air is also qute tangible in the Gay and Lesbian communities. The current president has been unequivocal about his support for gay marriage. At the moment, it is possible for same sex couples to receive a solidarity pact (PACS). If you are asking yourself what a solidarity pasct is – join the club. It is something like a civil union, but not really. Technically, a PACS can be entered into by any two entities – siblings, grandparents and their grandkids, because it is essentially more of a pact. Not too didimilar from playground pacts between very good friends. It is a contract with none of the responsibilities and benefits of marriage. That is not to say that it is to be frowned upon but it holds none of the weight that marriages possess and is unsurprisingly a popular option for anyone seeking an arrangement with easy exit options. The new president promises to put an end to this – and it was about time.
What I appreciate the most, though, is the new President’s tone with regard to responding to the global economic crisis. He seems to be saying that we need to look beyond the reductionist view (there goes my meaningless jargon again) that it is only through austerity that an economic recovery can be realised. François seems (note that I will use the President’s first name as a sign of adoration:-) to be saying, if I understand him correctly, there is a need to also provide stimulus. There needs to be a focus on stimulating growth. What is encouiraging about that is that he seems to be saying that the responsibility and burden for redressing the global economy’s current woes should not be achieved by shielding wealthy corporations and individuals but by rather empowering everyday folk to be economically active. Yes, austerity is required but the burden of rehabilitating the global economy cannot rest primarily upon the figurative man on the street. That is what I understand François’ message to be – and it is a compelling one.
Then there is the replacement of the previous interior minister by Manuel Valls. He has struck very progressive notes on immigration in the past and has vowed not to stoke the stigmatisation of groups and to build a more inclusive approach to managing France’s home affairs. This is quite a departure from his predecessor who seemed to purposefully try to inspire public animosity against muslims in particular.
Oh, and there is the whole gender parity in the cabinet – equal responsibility to men and women in running government. What more can I say without exposing my shameless bias and lack of critical perspective of the new administration?
It is a new day and a fantastic time to be emerging from my desk onto the sun lit streets of this city whose heritage is intricately tied to that of the world in which we all live.