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Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Young Frenchman Reflects

As published at Smirking Chimp, OpEd News, Unz Review, CounterCurrents and Intrepid Report, 11/19/15:

I gave a reading, slide talk in Leipzig. You can’t count on too many people coming to such an event. It is said that a favorite line at any poetry reading is, “And this is my last poem.” Around 40 people actually showed up, however, with some even having to sit on the floor. They were students, academics, American expats and at least one man who had seen me on Iran’s Press TV. Filmmaker Elisa Kotmair came down from Berlin.

Afterwards, there was a wine reception, and among the people I talked to was Léo Jarzabek, a French student. Just twenty-one, he’s traveled to nine countries and speaks English and German fluently. “Good enough to pick up girls!” Léo’s also studying Chinese. Not majoring in anything yet, Léo is interested in the visual arts, literature, music and economics.

“You’re all over, man,” I needled him. “Is economics your parents’ idea?”

“No, no, I’m really interested in economics.”

“But what is your love, really?”

“Probably music.”

“What kind?”

“Rock, pop.”

“You write lyrics?”


“In French?”

“And also in English.”

“You should stake your ground, man. You can become relevant by focusing on a place. A while ago, I was in Illinois. I didn’t know where I was. I walked into a bar, and a guy told me I had to see Hugh Deneal. There was a show that night. I had never heard of Deneal, but he’s huge in Southern Illinois because he writes about ordinary peoples’ lives. He was good too. Maybe you should write about Leipzig?”

“But I probably won’t stay very long in Leipzig.”

“Where will you go?”

“I don’t know.”

“You’re like a nowhere man, a new type of European!”


“Here today, gone tomorrow!”


Since I was more than twice his age, and a professor at his university to boot, I felt compelled to give some relevant advice. Abetted by pinot noir, I launched, “If you’re going to do music, then you should be deadly serious with it. I have too many friends who started out as artists, but are now just artsy. Give music ten, fifteen years. Show the world that you’re a genius and not an asshole!”

“Maybe I’m just an asshole!”

“Yeah, but at least you will know in fifteen years. You don’t want to be half-assed all along. It’s perfectly fine to be an asshole, most of us are, but an asshole shouldn’t think he’s a genius. In fifteen years, you will know for sure what you are.”

A few days later, Léo emailed me after reading my “Germany Against Itself,” “This self loathing anti patriotism is pretty weird given that Germany is an amazing country to grow up in. But one thing you didn’t take into account is the fact that most of my generation have grown up as Europeans, without border patrols, tolls, just being able to circulate freely all around.

Do I feel very French? I do when I get home, try to bribe you with French wine [to get into my class, now closed], read, laugh at stupid jokes you can’t translate, but overall I don’t think there’s that much patriotism inside me, and when I see where France seems to be heading, I just want to pack my stuff and leave.

Maybe it’s because I’m young and my wanderlust, stamina, and language skills are above average. Notice the bit of bragging here, typically French!

Overall, as a human being I don’t think nations have that much meaning. If you wanna wank in the forest or on the ocean, you’ll probably wank anyway.”

A young man should be full of confidence and optimism. Until he's permanently maimed, psychologically and/or physically, he should see world as a catalogof endless possibilities, wondrous freak shows and equivocal rewards. Since Léo had a car, we planned on exploring a couple of places together. I suggested a town in the National befreite Zone, ill defined areas that are dominated by self-declared xenophobes, “If we go to one, we might both get killed, but they'll undoubtedly kill me first, so at least you will have something interesting to watch before you die.” This sounded terrific to Léo. He also proposed “a goddamn Confederate bar full of good ol boyz. Not something for pussy-licking-cocksuckers.”

The next day, Léo drove back to France to spend the weekend with his parents. That night, 136 people were killed and 352 wounded in Paris. "My parents had prepared a nice feast for me, lots of tasty French food, some wonderful 2001 Cahors red wine, pastries. My cats were purring loudly, lazily lying before the fireplace.

My dad started to talk about the stupid new regulations, taxes on garden sheds, cuts in benefits for the disabled, students, widows, culture. Everything.

The fine wine turned sour. I was so happy to be back home. I cracked dick jokes with my hairdresser, bought some fresh baguettes, listened to the radio, read magazines. It was too much! But it was nothing compared to the sheer horror that was on its way...

Around 10 I learned about the attacks. I called my best friend who lives in the 10th arrondissment and got in touch with my big sister, a regular at the Bataclan bar.

Luckily, all my Parisian friends were safe and sound. Others weren't so lucky.

I cried over my keyboard. Soon enough a surge of feelings ranging from love and support to hate, fear and racist bullshit emerged all over the social networks. A  massive amount of fake information was uploaded too. I couldn’t sleep.

When the French flag filter for profile pictures appeared I started thinking about patriotism for the first time in my life.

I was born 21 years ago on a continent without borders, without patrols, with a single currency. I was living without a care, taking all I can from Mother Europe, scholarships, freedom, taking borders as nothing but obsolete man-made lines on the map. Still, I haven’t really changed my mind. I just started thinking of myself, and of my identity in a different way.

I put the French flag on my profile pic when I saw my friends from L.A. to Tokyo do so. That sounds silly but I had gotten used to seeing mostly Fascists using our flag over the years. This time I wouldn’t let them use my flag for their stinking propaganda. Simply because it is mine too, it’s my wonderful country, where gay couples can marry, where you get health care regardless of your financial situation, where studying is almost free, where women have control over their bodies, and where you can make fun of anybody, any religion, at any time.

In spite of the shitstorm that’s coming our way, we’re still out laughing loudly in front of cafés. Right now our flag is a symbol of international unity, unity against hate, extremism, racism in all its forms. I hope it will stay that way. So please don't cancel your concert tours, business trips, holidays, or honeymoons.  We need your laughter in the City of Lights...

I went back to Germany and took the usual tram to my university class on a sunny morning. I was in a good mood, the exhaustion of sleepless nights had started to wane. The hangover was almost gone. I was about to meet a good friend for coffee at Starbucks and have a nice talk about books while listening to bebop.

On the tram, a stupid moron started screaming at a group of Mexican students who were speaking Spanish together. He said, 'IN GERMANY YOU SPEAK GERMAN,' and started venting all the furious racist nonsense he had stockpiled in his Neo-Nazi motormouth.

The Mexican students stayed calm. My blood was boiling. I couldn't take it any more and got straight at him, screaming back some of my anger. I'm not sure it made much sense, but it was something. A German lady backed me up, and somehow we managed to dispel the hatred aimed at the students before I walked out of the tram with my heart beating way too fast.

The only thing I should have said was simple,  'When you, German Asshole N1 go to Mallorca to get drunk on its golden sand, do you speak Spanish to your ugly wife and friends?'

Anyway that cunt was probably just upset because the previous day's football match between Germany and the Netherlands was cancelled because of terrorist threats.

All that happens here shouldn’t make us forget about Africa and the Middle East where ISIS' countless casualties are hardly ever mentioned in the West. Don't give in to Islamophobia,  because these assholes kill other Muslims too. Those Muslims are just normal peaceful people, who love their mothers and children, study, create, play football, prepare great food and amazing mint-tea.

We are all targets. That's a fact, so why live in fear ? A car crash is more likely to kill you than a mad terrorist. You might point out that I'm away from France, in a safe place writing this, but is there anywhere safe anymore? No, there's a shadow hanging over all of us. And you know what? Fuck it. I won't be afraid because fear, terror is what THEY are craving for. They are ISIS, they are our own Western Fascists. Same thing, different flags.

So please, be kind to your neighbors, spread love not hatred, and keep on drinking beer, go to rock n roll shows, and smile at this wonderful world. Because, to quote the Smiths, 'There is a light that never goes out. And this light is within you.'"

There is a long history of the US and its allies backing Muslim extremists while pretending to fight them. Meat and flesh puppets, though, have their own agendas and sometimes will strike back at their masters. There are indications that this may be purely a false flag event, however, and it is only moral and responsible to consider this possibility. With its found passports, instant conclusions about the terrorists then immediate retaliatory bombing against Syria, the official narrative of the Paris attacks is moving briskly along, with no deviation or question allowed in the mainstream media. The consequences, then, are an escalation of war against Syria, increased tension with Russia, more suppression of civil liberties against Europeans, antagonism against Muslims and other immigrants, rising nationalism in all European countries and anger at pro European Union politicians. The end of the European Union is near. A global war seems inevitable.

I finish this article in Brighton, England. Even past the tourist season, the streets here are filled with foreign tourists and frollicking Londoners. Its hip bars, restaurants and shops are thriving, but I also notice many more homeless than in 2012, the last time I was here. Europe will never be this prosperous, open and carefree again.


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About Me

Born in Vietnam in 1963, I came to the US in 1975, and have also lived in Italy, England and Germany. I'm the author of two books of stories, Fake House (2000) and Blood and Soap (2004), five of poems, All Around What Empties Out (2003), American Tatts (2005), Borderless Bodies (2006), Jam Alerts (2007) and Some Kind of Cheese Orgy (2009), and a novel, Love Like Hate (2010). I've been anthologized in Best American Poetry 2000, 2004, 2007, Great American Prose Poems from Poe to the Present, Postmodern American Poetry: a Norton Anthology (vol. 2) and Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories From Around the World, etc. I'm also editor of Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam (1996) and The Deluge: New Vietnamese Poetry (2013). Blood and Soap was chosen by Village Voice as one of the best books of 2004. My writing has been translated into Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Icelandic and Finnish, and I've been invited to read in London, Cambridge, Brighton, Paris, Berlin, Leipzig, Halle, Reykjavik, Toronto, Singapore and all over the US. I've also published widely in Vietnamese.