Category Archives: The Nitty Gritty of my life

My life and all the “je ne sais quoi” about it.

MY RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE


A Franciscan Friar, Rembrandt, 17th century oi...

A Franciscan friar, Rembrandt

As a child I went to religious schools.  Schools named after Saints such as Saint Francois Xavier and Saint Sulpice in Paris.  

Some of my courses were taught by friars, the one wearing brown robe and sandals in all seasons or seen on the labels of box of camembert or bottle of fine liquors.

I remember one friar, who taught religion, because he always rubbed the palm of his hand on the corner of his desk, the palm of the hand with a missing finger. He had a goatee and permanent red cheeks.

His class was not easy for me, being the only Black kid in the class; I always thought that looking at me reminded him of his purpose to join a religious order. Maybe, I was his version of the savage whose soul had to be saved.

I kept away from him after one of his kind slapped me in church for talking to my school mate.

I never said that France is color blind, especially in the late fifties when seeing a Black person walking down the streets was considered exotic or an oddity to the mass.

Actually, almost all my teachers had a round at slapping my blackness and I never retaliated. During exam times I had at least one to two slapping bout a week.

I knew I was different but I was reminded of my blackness around 10 years of age when a class mate called me nigger (nègre in French) during recreation.
I cried and told the director and his reaction was to go away laughing.

Two teachers never slapped me.  I remember the name of only one, Monsieur Piat, and the other was a physical education teacher. Their specialty was psychological torture with a racial tone.

These were fine Catholic schools with a crucified Jesus as main decoration in all classes. I hated school.

We were, class by class, obligated to go to church, the confessional and swallow the ostie on a weekly basis.

We all were good certified Catholics and could prove it with a baptismal certificate and confirmation and first communion pictures.

During the holidays we were given cards to be signed and date stamped by the priest wherever we attended mass.

Once the indoctrination process completed I felt liberated and never went back to church.

Then with ages, I thought that I was wrong and that I should know the meaning of life and have an adventure like Siddhartha, Narcissus and Goldmund, Santiago in the Alchemist, and the Little Prince.

Believers told me they felt illuminated, uplifted and full of hope after a church service and I wanted to have such experience.

So, again, but free willing I went back to church and felt absolutely nothing.  I changed faith, thinking that my soul was trapped in the wrong religion and again felt nothing.

I went back to Catholicism, the Christian religion which spent years brainwashing me by telling me that we are God’s children.

I, again, did all the rituals by standing up, sitting down and bruising my knees on the pews and listening to sermons about allegoric and unseen forces affecting my tangible and imperfect world.

Again, I felt nothing and the sermons interfered with my human logic, unsettled my intellect and raged me with its bias.

At no time did I see the path leading to the nirvana state that others experienced.

I do not know if religion is a good panacea.  Africa is among one of the most religious continents of the universe but then it is also the one with the most wars and conflicts.

Africans are spiritual and yet they make potions from albino’s body parts or kill twins which are a sign of bad omen and have large praying rally for the people coming back from The Hague after being heard for crime which they may have committed against humanity.

I gave up on the idea of being religious and spiritual and to date I have never experienced any Holy Ghost type of activity in my soul.

I seriously tried but there is nothing within me, not even a tinge or a twitch, announcing a trance, shaking me or making me speak in tongue like the one I see on TV.

I am not an atheist; it takes too much strength to prove that something supreme does not exist so I straddle in the agnostic world.

That’s easy for me; I respect what other people think as long as they don’t take me for crazy or an idiot because I do not share their ideas of the beyond.

It does not mean that religion is bad.  I think some religious buildings are great work of architectural arts. Religion provides a CV for prisoners requesting parole. The church bells are good to adjust time. Commercial religion has worldwide tax-free benefit. Religion is an alibi for corrupt African big men.

But then, my paradox is that I like religious music.  I like gospels, I like Black American gospels with a lone singer stomping, moving, and jumping in front of a large choir and the haunting Gregorian chants.

Gospel music is beautiful.  I don’t agree with the meaning of most songs but I rely on the expression of the singers. I like their happiness, joyful exuberances and energy.  I like the way they improvise.

It does not mean that I make it a purpose to listen to it but when it comes to my ears, I pause and take time to enjoy. I can enjoy for hours.

Gregorian chants are solemn, mysterious and sublime to listen. The voices make me close my eyes while listening. Gregorian chants offer a pure calming, transcending and soul enhancing bliss.

Warning: To listen in small doses. Gregorian chant may be hazardous to your health. When feeling low it can drive you to abysmal depression leading to dementia. In the event it occur switch to Gospel music.

That’s my true Black experience shaped by Christianity.

Patrick-Bernard

IMAGINE


In front of the Veteran Administration Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, I see a white van unloading a man in a wheelchair.

He has two helpers, a nurse and a man carrying an oxygen tank.  The front of his wheelchair is full of electronic gadgets and sensors. The back, between the wheels, has a monitor with tubes neatly tied to one side. His wheelchair is his portable mean to live on the go. 

He is a young, good-looking, clean-cut Black man in his late twenties or early thirties and his skinny frail body does not show muscle mass under his clothes.

He does not wear shoes, why should he?

He is a quadriplegic moving his wheelchair with the help of a joystick under his chin. He has a tracheotomy tube, for him to breathe, cut in the center of his neck.

He smiles at his helpers but he does not utter a word.

The only noticeable working part of his body is his face. A face hung on a head with a bobbing weak neck holding a strong chin steering the wheelchair. His lips stretch a large glowing smile for being outside.

His face and his brain are the only things giving him an existence. Maybe he was smiling with his thoughts, memories of before and now.

Everyone, I mean everyone who goes to the VA was at one time fit and healthy. They got disabled for a flag, a territory, political ideas, and lots of because.

His lips were smiling and I am glad he never saw me looking at him. If our eyes had met,   I am sure I would have smiled back but I would fear for him to construe my smile as a sign of anything to ruin his day. His being shatters  me and makes me insecure.

He does not need my thoughts, his are bigger than mine. I feel but he senses feelings and I cannot allow him to make mistakes.

I cannot comprehend people liking songs for which they never take time to listen and understand the words.  They are pseudo intellectual tourists thinking that seeing the Tour Eiffel or the Empire State Building is to know France or the USA. Sheeps liking because others like.

After, the man disappeared in the entrance of the hospital a song came to mind. Imagine by John Lennon. The lyrics are a statement to our human kind. We listen to the song but have lost the know how to materialize what we should and can imagine.

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for…

Patrick-Bernard

PRINCE – WELCOME 2 AMERICA CONCERT


Prince playing at Coachella 2008.

PRINCE

I am back in the US and my mother invited me to see Prince, Welcome 2 America concert, at the RBC Center in Durham, North Carolina.
My mother is 80 years old and we both like Prince. She invited me together with her husband.
I always lived an oddball life so I am back at it again, this time to see Prince with my octogenarian fan base.

It’s not an intimate tête-à-tête with an artist but a concert in an arena holding almost 20,000 people and it was full.

A line of massive speakers, strobe lights, and four giant screens dangled from the ceiling above the stage designed in the form of his logo. His logo from the days he decided to forgo a name to something visual with no known pronunciation in any recognized language.

Chaka Khan, the opening artist, wore a black and gold sequins top and knee-high boots to match. She was coiffed with thick shoulder length auburn hair.

Her band was a drummer, lead guitar, bass guitar, keyboard and 3 back up singers all dressed in black. The woman can sing, she has a breaking-champagne-glass voice.

She rocked the audience with a medley of her songs, my favorite was “Tell me something good”, and finished half an hour later with “I’m Every Women”.  All the women in the audience stood, even my mother who clapped in tune and hummed the words with a French accent. 

After a 5 minutes intermission the audience cheered to ear piecing decibel and Prince, Prince the star, rose from a platform to the stage with a red loose-fitting blouse, black flair pants, high heels red shoes, ears studded with a row of diamond glitters, and an oversized ethnic necklace.

Prince is breakable thin with a charismatic and seductive androgynous look. He is energetic, pauses with mannerism and his voice renders notes higher than a rainbow.

His band is a three back up female singers in their forties and early fifties. That’s my guess and I apologize if they are not in this age group.

The rests are 3 keyboards, a drummer and a bass guitar. His group has more women than men. It is amazing how a small band can envelope with such good quality sound a large arena.

His concert lasted almost two hours with only a break for a change to a white outfit and matching high heels.  Also, he performed an encore, after his show, dressed in black with shiny silver flat rubber sole shoes. I think that I should feel special to have seen Prince in flat shoes.

Prince cannot be defined in one musical genre.  It is a mixture of Rock heavily dependant on R&B or vice versa and his guitar playing his divine.

The closing song was “Purple Rain”. This song is over 25 years old and the lyrics are obscure unless you have seen the movie. The song is a link among a story. Yes, Prince made a movie called Purple Rain based on his life.

“Purple Rain” is an ageless hair rising and emotional undefined appealing tune which acquire another dimension when Prince sings it. Prince is a musical genius.

The wet road on the way home looked purple. My ears were still muffled by the concert noise and loud music.  Nice concert, really, really nice.

Patrick-Bernard

MY TREE AND THE IBIS


One of the ibis in my tree

My tree is mine and mine alone since I planted it.  We have known each other since it is a baby.  Some people have dogs or cats as pets, I have a tree.

It is easier to care than animals and it does not bite, minimum mess, no training required, it provides shades and no medical bill when it gets hurts. It is quiet and listens when I talk, it makes a shaky noise when the wind blows and that’s about it.

I call it “Mytree”, a simple name which fits it and I don’t care the weird looks people give me when I talk about it. Believe me, it has life.

 Mytree has grown and now reaches above the house.  Really nice chap and I got sad when one of its branches broke. I still blame a house-help which strangled its branch with a cloth line.  The poor branch could not breathe and with time and heavy loads it came crashing, one morning, on the ground. Mytree was shaken but is fine now.

 Mytree has saved the life of a pussy cat that climbed on it for refuge while chased by my neighbor’s Chihuahua. But for a while now it has allowed a couple to move in with it.

A couple of ibises, birds with an oversized long pointy beak with a bright red line on it. They are twice the size of the Chihuahua and announce their presence with the loudest prehistoric stringent noise you can think of.

Ibis mess on my bird of paradise

I don’t mind for Mytree to have friends but these birds have no social etiquettes.  They nest right above my bird of paradise, the flower not the bird, and like revenge poop white blobs all over it.  They have not figured it out that it is a flower and not a bird.

The Ibises during their morning walk like to pock holes in my garden. I understand they eat worms and other small animals.

I hope they don’t eat the baby geckos. I know, geckos are ugly but they are good at controlling the insect population.  I am not fond of insects, their brain is too small to be trained and they never understand when to leave me alone. But with geckos around I feel safe.

I tolerate the ibises because they give character to my garden, but they frighten easily. I don’t walk anymore to Mytree. I tip toe like a thief to check on it.  When they see me they flap these long wide wings then fly away.

I feel bad, I don’t mean to bother, I only want to talk to Mytree.  I am told that plants are happy when you talk to them. So, I assume that it likes the sound of my voice and it does deserve attention for all the peace it has given me.

But with the ibises I can’t talk to it anymore.

Patrick-Bernard

MARTINIQUE


I noticed that lot of people, especially on my side of the world, have no idea where Martinique is. 

Martinique is a small island, so small that you may miss it if you blink while travelling on a jet plane.  It is sandwiched between Dominica and St Lucia, right across Venezuela.

The land has jagged edges diving into the sea with breaches of many beaches of pure white fine sand and in front of the volcano Montagne Pelée which erupted in 1902 you have black or gray beaches.

The air is hot, humid and fragranced with the sweet aroma of rum. The foliage is a deep green tickled with exotic bright colour flowers where greenish silver wings humming birds refueled with nectar.

Martiniquais are 400, 000 people of diverse ethnicity and a melting pot of culture from many continents. A mixture of former African slaves, French, Tamil Indian, Amerindian

The official language of Martinique is French and to further foment a unifying identity, over the centuries, we developed a picturesque language called Creole.

Everyone fits quite nicely on the island. Around noon the aroma of each kitchen flows from window to window.  The dishes are a mixed culinary paradise for the epicurean taste buds.

The rum … well what can I say? The best!

Fort-de-France, the capital, has monuments like the Schoelcher library with a collection of over 130,000 books. The Cathedral of Saint Louis originally built in 1671, destroyed many times by fire, hurricane and earthquake and built again. Fort Saint Louis was built in 1638 and still stands looking out toward the sea.

This small island gave birth to many famous people like Aimé Césaire, Frantz Fanon, Edouard Glissant, Patrick Chamoiseau and Joséphine the wife of Napoléon Bonaparte.

Martinique has towns with exotic names likes Ajoupa Bouillon, Bellefontaine, Marigot, Morne rouge, Lorrain, Le Carbet and Le Diamand.

Our carnivals rocks the month of February with costumes adding more colors to the beauty of the islands. People zouk, biguine and mazurka and go down streets with bands and dancers dressed in costume wilder than imaginations or living little to the imagination.

Music, gastronomy, dance, art, literature, rant, politic, philosophy is in our DNA

I could have said that Martinique geographic coördinates are 14 degrees 40’north 61 degrees 00’west.

Too complicated and I think that pictures can say the rest.

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Patrick-Bernard

MY PINKY RING – PART 2


Sometimes it is easy to forecast a person behavior in certain circumstances. In this situation I am absolutely puzzled. Well,  I have to make you believe that I am.

It is time for me to go and acquaint again with family. Before leaving I picked up a few documents in my safe.  Also, my wife looked for some things which she needed to remove.
Time to go to the airport, the safe is open and I leave the key on and tell her to lock it when she is done.

I come back two months later on Christmas Eve. Take one day to unwind, sleep and catch up with my jet lag.

Go to the safe, notice the door ajar, the key still on the lock and inside the bright red jewelry pouch is gone. Worry a little and wait for my wife to come in the evening.
Out of curiosity, in the TV room, I notice that a DVD movie which I had on top of the VCR is not there. Interesting, but after two months it must be in some other places.  So let me wait for the wife when she comes.
I go back in the bedroom, look under the mattress and see things which I have never seen before.  Let me wait for that wife, I am sure there is a plausible explanation for these occurrences.

I open the door with a broad smile which I let down right away and tell her
“The safe was left open and the jewelry is gone.”
“Oh, the safe was opened.” She answers with her action-then-forget look.
“You mean that in two months you never noticed the open safe and the key attached to a big brown key chain on it.”
“You know I never look there.”
“And where is the movie which I left on top of the VCR?”
“I don’t know.”
“How could you not know, you go in that room everyday to watch TV.”
“Yes, I have seen it but I do know where it is.”
“No one comes to this house except the hous- help. Sometimes, I leave the key for her when I travel.”
“Ok, but then when you come home you never noticed anything missing, rearranged or out of place.”
I get a how-dare-you-asking-me-such-question stare.
“And what is that stuff under the mattress.  I threw it away, check  … it is still in the dust bin now.”
She does not look into to the bin, total lack of interest, and has no idea how it got there.
“Who do you think took the jewelry bag?” I ask
“No one comes here except the hous- girl, then my sisters and my mother spent a couple of days, then my friends came to visit me and no one else.” All in one sentence with an expression of – why are you bothering me with a red jewelry bag.
“In two months you never noticed anything odd in this house. I don’t understand, I am here for one day and can see all these things but you can’t. If it is the house-help then we should call the police.”
“Things do not work like that here. We can only call a police officer that we know or bribe one.” (The police are corrupt, third world style here!)
“I don’t care, call the police and since she may be the one I don’t want to see her in the house. She is not coming in as long as I am here.”

My wife is brooding about me wanting to call the police and requesting the house-help to go because it is so difficult to get another one as she says.

She makes a couple of phone calls in a language which I do not understand. Leaves the house and goes see a friend in the neighborhood. Comes back and tells me that she will see what she can do.

Soon it will be almost a month now. The house-help is still here and she must stay until a police officer’s friend set up a trap (the word used). I was slightly demonized to suspect that any members of her family could do that. I never received an answer about the DVD movie and she never bother to look for it. The items under the mattress are no longer news and I will not ask again, I hate twilight zone answers.

I am left with my pinky ring.  That’s the only piece of jewelry which I travelled with. Together we may travel again soon.

Strange … the house-help eats her cookies. She noticed right away, it did not take her two months to found out.

Lately, she tells me that she needs moral support. I am buying crutches.

Patrick-Bernard

link to MY PINKY RING

MY BROTHER’S OYSTERS


It is 6pm and, again, it is snowing on Paris. The snow flakes are thick and melt as soon as they hit the pavement. I cross the street and the wind hits my chest like a heart attack and yet I have on a thick sweater covered by a leather jacket. My face no longer exists, I know it is there but I cannot feel it to the touch. My finger tips have a life of their own, they tingle.
No, I am not crying, that’s the look I have when I meet the cold. I just find it difficult to smile.

I head to the drug store for my brother.  He tried, he did his best to hold it for the past two days but this morning he woke up with a fever. The cold is pernicious and anchored his body to the stage that only medicine can free him. He already acquired cold habits; he blows his nose in tissues, coughs with a deep cavernous sound and pronounces words with mainly the consonant B and some distorted vowels.
“I hab a bold.”
“And you do, I can tell.”  

Though, while walking, my head rings from his words when I was about to leave the house. “Id woub be bood to eat oysters.  It is bull of bitamin and bood for bold.”
“I didn’t know oysters have good vitamins to fight cold but I know that we shouldn’t go out this evening if you’re sick.”

Yesterday, my brother’s friends ask us to join them this evening to eat oysters. My brother doesn’t like oysters he looooves them.
I am not too sure of the reason for my brother to get well so quick. I think it is foremost to eat oysters this evening. He wants to feel better for the moment, eat oysters and then go back to bed to cure his left over cold.
“Is it raining?”
“No! It’s snowing.”
“Again!”
“Yes! And could I have some Actifed and some Fervex.”
“Is it for a child or an adult?”
“Adult, please.”

I am back home and give the magic potion together with a spoon, water and a glass to my brother who is now in bed.  Don’t be confused, Fervex comes in powder form and drunk with water. The spoon is to twirl the Fervex powder with the water in a glass so it dissolves uniformly.  Don’t feel bad, I did not know about Fervex until my brother asks for it.

Anyway, it is 7:30pm and my brother has taken a shower.  He has a robe on and from the bathroom’s door looks at me in the kitchen. “We are leabing in hab an hour.”

The car is covered with a layer of three inches snow, the tires water-sky on slush and lucky, Paris is almost deserted on a Saturday night.

“La Criée” is a nice restaurant, they have more than one with the same name, and their specialty is sea food.  My brother’s friends Pascal, Alain, José and Jean-Paul are seated at the back waiting for us. I introduce myself and we carry on a nice conversation.

We order four plates of oysters and two others something else as a starter.  Before the food is served my brother excuse himself to go to the restroom.

The oysters are on the table served on a bed of crushed ices and designed half lemons and under the large plate stand; special sauces, two types of bread and butter.

These slimy odd-looking mollusks are eaten live from their shells.
I take one, squeeze a dash of lemon and with a small fork remove it from its nacre housing and put it in my mouth then swallow a sip of the lemony sea water from its shell.  No, I will not tell you if I chewed the oyster or not but that stuff is good.

We finish our oysters and my brother comes back from his emergency. He eats the first one and complains;
“Dib you libe your oysters.”
 “Oooh yes!” was the reply in unison.
“Hmm, ok …. Dib you finb dem kinb of bat?”
“Oooh no, not fat at all!” Then he eats his last one and takes back his sick look.

The lad is so sick that he does not order anything else and seats quietly the evening.
The rest of us follow-up with a main course and I select moule marinière and we drink a fantastic crisp and light German white wine.

I really hope that my brother enjoyed his oysters as much as I enjoyed my evening.  My brother wants to go home.  The lad is really sick.

Patrick-Bernard