This past month saw the celebration of our annual Mimosa Festival here in La Napoule, the little town on the south coast of France, where I have made my home for over a score of years. To my surprise, given the international upset provoked by the reigning president of the USA, the theme was "The American Dream".
Our town is not without significant US influence. Our most impressive piece of architecture is a medieval castle on the shoreline rebuilt by an New England artist, Henry Clews and his wife Marie, which today is both a tourist attraction and houses a foundation for the advancement of the arts among young people. The Clews family engaged with and contributed generously to the community, to the point where the main thoroughfare bears their name.
La Napoule, besides being a place of inspiration for renowned European writers such as Prosper Mérimée, Guy de Maupassant and Oscar Wilde, welcomed Ernest Hemingway, who, living in a local pension, used the area as a setting for his posthumously published novel, The Garden of Eden. Today the town square is dedicated to Papa Hem.
Our tiny neighborhood beach, where I take my daily swim (Please, warmer weather, come soon!), is bounded on one end by the remains of a World War II German pillbox, which looms face-to-face across the sand from a monumental plaque dedicated to US aviators whose bomber was downed in its blue waters.
The Mimosa spectacle seemed apolitical, almost matter-of-fact, though displaying the emblems familiar to Fourth of July parades in the States. In any case, it asked me to reflect on who I was living here, as well as challenge any stereotypes that I, perhaps rather than my neighbors, held about my native land. I found myself less accepting of the US symbolism, despite my repeated contention that I am an expatriate and not an ex-patriot. My perceptions, long stressed by my aversion to many facets of capitalism, are, at the moment, dominated by the political machinations of the current administration that threaten to my sense of democracy. Perhaps my French neighbors have a better perspective on how to separate politicians' behaviors from the larger task of how to protect and respect a nation and its values. There may be a mutual perception of arrogance on the part of US Americans and French, a phenomenon well examined by my colleague Natalie Lutz, but it did not appear to play a part in this annual parade.
I'm thoroughly at home here. The village atmosphere, even when heavily infested by summertime tourists, reminds me in many ways of the small Ohio town I grew up, a hamlet where everybody knows everyone else and buying a loaf of bread is a mini-social occasion. Is the American Dream still alive or was this a fantasy parade? What role does imagined attraction continue to play both in US patriotism and perceptions of the USA abroad? As US expats and émigrés, how does our current realistic perception affect our patriotism and dampen our attachment to our nation of origin? All of these are both intercultural and personal questions on my part, and, I have to admit to a weird combination of sadness and Schadenfreude at the fact that this year's celebration took place in pelting rain!