Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Olympic Winter Games

Being a couch potato means, it seems, relaxing in front of the telly while others run around. Well, right now, I am potatoing quite a lot, looking at sports activities I rarely see in real life.

The vast majority of the athletes have friendly, open faces, a pleasure to look at. In this they differ markedly from other people in show business like singers, artists, celebs or fashion workers who feature several layers of paint to hide wrinkle inducing life style......

The time lag between Vancouver and here is terrible. When they start to get going, let's say around 10 a.m. it is 7 o'clock over here, supper time. Thus I record the events on tape and look at it next day.

I am German though living in France and this gives me a split personality, these days. I like to see the French win against anyone except against the Germans. When my wife feels differently I have to make a mental effort to understand. That's particularly strong and irritating like in Biathlon/Nordic skiing where athletes from the two countries compete against each other.

Unlike F1 car racing or professional football (soccer) where the players feature brazenly brand names like Samsung, Siemens, Toyota etc. etc. on their clothes, the olympic athletes are probably forbidden to do so. But all is not lost. Their gloves come from somewhere, someone made them and thus I see with pleasure the camera dwelling for some seconds on those gloves to show the manufacturer's name printed on them in huge black letters. Same for the shoes and helmets, the lower parts of skate boards the riders insist on showing.

Downhill racing is one of my favorites. Maria Riesch and Lindsay Vonn. You need tremendous courage to do this at over 100 km/h (70 miles/h), especially when the slope is partially iced over. Normal people hesitate even to hit the side walk when some snow is falling.............

I wonder if the winter games are being shown in Muslim countries like Egypt, Yemen, Iran or Pakistan. I'll try to find out. In these hot countries women are frequently dressed in black curtain stuff (obituary quality) with a piece of cloth hanging over her nose. There is a slit for the eyes: they must have a vision similar to a tank driver or a submarine operator in WWII, looking through the snorkel.....

As the days pass by I come to dislike journalists more and more. They talk and talk and talk, say what I see anyway, make corny jokes and have a marked tendency to fake turning hysterical with high-speed talking when a beloved national approaches the finishing line.

Sometimes, assisting those know-everything-journalists, there is a person who has done the activity herself or himself. What a difference: more facts, more humility, no digressions, no lame-brain language.

When the Games started, there was a lot of talking about the "First Nation" people, meaning those Indians who lived in the Americas before Christobal Columbo (ha, ha, ha) hit the place five hundred years ago. Well, I don't like this First Nation word. Must have been coined by some communications wizard because it sounds like a publicity stunt.

Anyway, looking at some of these FN-people being interviewed is was somehow flabbergasted; they look like people over here in Central France, like you and me. I remember well those black and white photos made in the second part of the 19th Century showing Indians in North America. They looked like Mongols, people from Central Asia. Nothing to do with those Sally this and Johnny that, McDo-fed European looking people. Maybe there is some relation to the US habit who call everyone black who is not rosy-white. Or the Chinese, Koreans, Japanese who are called yellow though they have exactly the same skin color as I have. Another interesting riddle to humanity to find out. Some explaining comments from my readers would be welcome.

Friday, 5 February 2010


Last weekend we have been invited for dinner by a couple living in a nearby village. He is a farmer and his wife works as a medical secretary in the next town. Three children under ten.

I don't really remember what we were eating but what he told me left his mark. Pierre's wife is a city girl but his family were peasants in this area since the end of the 16th Century.

That's a huge span of time. In AD 1588 Queen Elisabeth I defeated the Spanish Armada and Pierre's ancestor was the first to make his mark in the local church at his wedding.

Pierre is a dairy farmer, meaning he has around 50 cows and he makes his living by selling the milk to the local processing plant at a price fixed by the Agricultural department of European Union.

The cows over here, Salers breed, look splendid. See this website in English

When Pierre's father retired his elder brother took over the farm, the cows and the fields. He told me "you must have the farming job in your blood, working with animals. Otherwise you do something else".

Pierre has the professional qualifications, he had been at a farmer's college, but this job needs a lot of land, some cows to start with, machinery, a barn. When he started "peasenting" in 1981 the price of milk was such that he considered to be able to make a decent living.

So he rented the land and bought some fields whenever he make some extra profit. There are no lazy farmers. They get up at dawn and come back from work after sunset. And in Summer they work frequently late at night, to make hay or cut the corn.

Sometimes, during glorious warm Summer evenings, I see the headlights of their tractors and hear the distant rumble of the machinery. Sometimes till 11 pm! A lazy farmer becomes a has-been in no time. And they always work alone, sometimes with their wife, but never, never, I have seen a peasant here employing a paid farm hand.

Over the years the price of milk decreased, slowly but steadily. For a year now he sells his milk for less money than he needs to produce it.

He is covered in debt, about 20,000 Euro (about 30,000 US Dollar). Last year, we had a splendid Spring and Summer but for him that meant not enough rain. The maize (corn) was withering on the stem and he had to buy additional food.

This year 2010 might be his last one as a farmer. The price of milk does not and will not go up, he can work 18 hours per day, this would not clean up his debt, only add to it. His wife has to work, it has become vital.

Quitting farming means the debts have to be serviced and he dreads that moment of truth. He fears that their house - not yet fully paid - might get lost, too.

It should be said Pierre's situation is in no way extraordinary. There are thousands of farmers in many UE countries facing the same situation. They work and work and it is not good enough. And they produce food, there is not enough of it worldwide, but they cannot meet ends and many of them will go under.

When the earth quake hit Haiti, hours after it the governments worldwide sent airplanes with all sorts of help. And hundreds of NGO's and other professional do-gooders were crowding the place. But in this case I am talking about, nobody seems to be concerned. They face silent death.