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Dear Garrison, As a French

February 14, 2006 |

Dear Garrison,
As a French woman living in US, I wanted to thank you for your review of Bernard-Henri Levy's book. (NY Times Sunday Book Review, Feb. 5). Most French cannot stand him – his writing style as well as his general attitude!
He is usually described as arrogant, pretentious, self important and intolerable.
I hope most Americans understand he is not representative of the French. Some of his remarks about America did seem appropriate (yes, it is surprising coming from Europe to see so many flags everywhere and to hear prayers in public places), but I agree with you that he missed a lot, did not provide context or any kind of analysis: in other words, his “remarks” are not worth reading!

As for the fact that he called you a “populist Francophobe,” I must say that I couldn’t disagree more with him. I have lived for 5 years in US and since I arrived, Prairie Home Companion has been my “home-away-from home”. I love your show: to me, it sounds familiar, friendly and reassuring – much closer to France that you could ever imagine. I don’t think you could be Francophobe – I surely hope not!

Thank you again, for making me feel better - through your show - when I first came here, without family and only a few friends.

Cecile Chalifour
Los Angeles

Thanks, Cecile, and I hope that my country is treating you with respect and giving you interesting experiences. A distinct honor to think of a young French gentlewoman in southern California tuned in to a Minnesota radio show. Yes, the display of flags here may be interesting, but it is far from being a national obsession or cult, just as the Danes aren't flag-obsessed because they hang tiny Danish flags on their Christmas trees, which seems odd to an American but only a dolt would try to make it into a cultural phenomenon indicative of enormous truths. The Danish flag is a pretty flag, red and white, and they use it for a decoration. So what? Big deal. Mr Levy wrote a big blustery blathery book with a lot of nonsense in it and he deserved to have someone stick a pin in him. It's odd to be called a "populist Francophobe" ---- why, if he is going to be so arrogant as to confuse himself with France, didn't he call me anti-Semitic? Anyway, it's water over the dam, and don't give it a second thought. I look forward to my next trip to France, when I hope to go to Nantes and meet some old musician friends there, Georges and Patrick. They visited me in Minnesota twenty-five years ago and now it's my turn to go see them. Georges sang the most beautiful version of "Tennessee Waltz" that I ever heard. And then he came to my house, rustled around in the refrigerator, and out of odd things he found there, he created a very elegant supper. We sat drinking wine afterward and he was explaining some complicated thing to me and then he burst out with, "We French are too clever. That is our problem." This tickled him enormously and he fell over on the floor laughing. I would love to see them again. I have fond memories of Paris, sitting in a cafe with my French editor and translator, both of them chain-smoking, the air blue, a stylish crowd drinking coffee, and they were asking me pointed questions about Lake Wobegon ----- what is a church key? (A bottle opener, for beer.) Why do people say "Goodbye now" and "Okay then"? What does "brass monkey" refer to? My editor had worked with Albert Camus, but she was a true editor, curious about small details, and these things intrigued her. I have never had a bad experience in France, so if I am a Francophobe, it would be a mistake on my part.

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