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The aggression will not stand

R Kent Archive

R Kent

American Politics: Confusing in Any Language

April 30th, 2008
by R Kent


It was a perfect spring Saturday, and the lovely Isabelle and I were enjoying lunch at a sidewalk café in Montparnasse with our friends Jennifer, Christophe and Marianne.

The Pennsylvania primary had been contested a few days before, and my French friends all had questions.

Not so much “Who do you like: Hillary or Barack?”

More along the lines of “Why is your electoral system so messed up?”

Now, I come from Washington, DC, the uber-center of politics in the United States.

I grew up hearing about primaries and caucuses, House sub-committees and Senate filibusters.

I could not escape it. (more…)

R Kent

Just in Case You Were Looking for That Perfect Little Parisian Apartment…

April 16th, 2008
by R Kent


The ad usually states something like “Apartment offered in exchange for services,” a banal phrase that for students and young professionals here in Paris might seem attractive.

After all, lodging anywhere in this city is expensive.

Why not do a little cleaning or errand-running, and receive a free place to stay?

But it turns out that a lot of unscrupulous landlords aren’t looking for someone to mop the floors.

According to recent news reports, young women are being asked to prostitute themselves for a place to stay.

Sadly, women have answered these ads in droves. (more…)

R Kent

The Olympic Flame: a Dying Flicker of What it Was Meant to Be

April 8th, 2008
by R Kent


The Olympic Flame passed me by, and I didn’t even see it.

I was waiting outside Stade Charléty, not far from Paris’ Chinatown section in the 13th.

As the Olympic torch makes its second-ever global tour of the world before the Beijing Games this August, it swooped into Paris on a cold April day.

Already plagued by protests, starting with its lighting ceremony on Mount Olympus a few weeks ago, the Olympic Torch Relay (OTR) ran into continual hassles along its Parisian stretch, which caused organizers to stash the torch in a bus and keep it rolling through the city, the flame sadly reduced to a few licks of fire in specially-designed lanterns.

At Stade Charléty it seemed like the cop to spectator ratio was about 1:1. (more…)

R Kent

Just In Case You Were Thinking to Yourself, “I wish R Kent Would Update Us on the Wacky Political Happenings in France,” Your Wait is Over

March 20th, 2008
by R Kent


Nicolas Sarkozy has been president of France for nearly a year, and in that time he has gone from enormously popular to a running joke.

Maybe that’s just the nature of politics: elect someone, then rail against him until he’s no longer there to kick around.

Or maybe, just maybe, the election of Nicolas Sarkozy was a huge mistake.

As words like “controversy,” “scandal” and “farce” continue to share sentences with his name, one must look back for a moment and try to understand how the French missed all the warning signs and elected the man.

Never known as a particularly warm and friendly guy, he was looked at pre-election as a break from the stodgy politics of his predecessor Jacques Chirac, a bright mind who would shake up the sagging French economy. (more…)

R Kent

R Kent’s French Movie Reviews IX: Klapisch Proves Paris is One Great Ensemble Cast

March 11th, 2008
by R Kent


Three-quarters of the way through Cédric Klapisch’s Paris, a young African man who has already traveled a great distance from his home looks over the choppy sea from the Moroccan side of the Strait of Gibraltar and asks the ferryman who will sneak him into Europe if it’s all worth the trouble.

The ferryman, perhaps just eager for payment, replies that it is definitely worth it.

The young man, who is seen only in snippets during his long journey, carries with him a post card sent by a relative.

The black and white image is that of Notre Dame Cathedral, in Paris.

Klapisch, and his mighty ensemble cast, bring that piece of photo paper to vibrant life in a wonderful movie that lives up to the gamble that is its name.

If you’re going to write and direct a film and call it Paris, it had better be worth the trouble. (more…)

R Kent

Return to Paris: Searching for the Right Words

March 4th, 2008
by R Kent


It is so hard to talk about Paris.

Not for a lack of things to be said.

That’s easy.

But what makes it hard is being original about it.

How do you frame it?

What can you call the city that’s already been called by every name imaginable?

You try to come up with some never before thought of angle, some new twist on the old city, and how long is it before you realize it just can’t be done?

Even writing what I just wrote has already been written thousands of times.

It’s quite discouraging.

So, there.

Paris, the city of everlasting discouragement. (more…)

R Kent

One Day of Happyness: Closing Thoughts on Life in Africa

February 8th, 2008
by R Kent


Happyness is a fifteen year-old girl.

She is the daughter of a woman named Janet, our housekeeper for the first two months we spent in Tanzania.

Happyness likes to read Danielle Steele novels.

She enjoys movies like “Barber Shop.”

She wears jeans and eats too much.

She might never have set foot out of Tanzania, but she could probably be dropped right into any suburban mall in America and feel right at home.

Over lunch a few weeks ago, with her mom and her younger sister Vicki, she did most of the talking with me and the lovely Isabelle, as of the three of them, she spoke by far the best English.

We ate in the courtyard restaurant of the Impala Hotel, a celebrated landmark in Arusha, one where Isabelle and I had eaten countless times.

By Arusha’s standards, it is a luxury hotel, one populated by the wealthier safari tourists.

Happyness had never set foot in the place. (more…)

R Kent

Keep Going: Lessons from Kilimanjaro, part III of III

January 30th, 2008
by R Kent


At 11:30 on the fourth night, we heard Gabriel calling.

He was outside our tent, telling us it was time.

We had had a handful of hours to sleep after our early dinner, but I mostly tossed and turned.

We were 4,600 meters above sea level, our sleeping bags warm but constantly sliding downwards, as our tent was stapled down to a rocky incline.

The lovely Isabelle and I quickly dressed, shimmying into Spiderman-tight long underwear, fleeces and rain gear.

We stuffed toe warmers between sock layers and laced up our boots.

We pulled on balaclavas and strapped headlamps to our foreheads.

And we unzipped the tent and stepped out into the cold.

Seven minutes before midnight, we started our climb. (more…)

R Kent

Keep Going: Lessons from Kilimanjaro, part II of III

January 29th, 2008
by R Kent

By R Kent


It gets boring.

You climb six, seven, hours each day, and it’s steep and hard, and you soon lose interest in conversation.

Your guide doesn’t speak great English, and you don’t really feel like making the effort to be understood.

Your mouth is occupied by breathing (by the third day you’re already huffing and puffing too much to breathe through your nose), so you can’t physically talk much anyway.

So, though you’re climbing with your lovely wife by your side, you find yourself drawn more and more inwards.

You talk to yourself.

You make mental notes of all the wonderfully different and unique observations about mountain climbing that you will make once you’re back down.

You want to write a treatise on how life is like climbing a mountain, how you can only get to the top one step at a time, that the best part of the trip is the journey itself and not the destination, but then you realize all these things have been said before.

You keep climbing, up, up, up.

And sometimes it’s down, down, down. (more…)

R Kent

Keep Going: Lessons from Kilimanjaro, part I of III

January 28th, 2008
by R Kent


Je ne me souviens que d’un mur immense,

Mais nous étions ensemble,

Ensemble, nous l’avons franchi.

-Jean Jacques Goldman

We were unprepared.

Despite our fleece-lined jackets and our hand warmers.

Despite our diligent reading about Kilimanjaro and its various summit routes.

Despite all the training we did in the foothills of Arusha’s Mount Meru, marching up steep and dusty inclines on weekends.

Looking back on our time on the mountain, I don’t know, though, if there was really anything we could have done differently to ready us for our trek on Kilimanjaro.

Some things you just can’t know about beforehand. (more…)

R Kent

From the Land of the Ch’tis to Alsatian Fairytale Villages, France is a Place Whose Parts Are As Great As Its Sum

January 26th, 2008
by R Kent


Go to any movie theater in France right now, and the longest line will be for a fish-out-of-water comedy called Bienvenue Chez les Ch’tis (Welcome to the Land of the Ch’tis).

The movie tells the story of Philippe, a post office manager who gets reassigned from a sunny town in Provence to cold Bergues, a small village in Nord Pas-de-Calais, in the extreme north of France, home to a weird people who call themselves Ch’tis.

Philippe’s new friend Antoine, along with a cast of wacky locals, welcome the newbie, teaching him how to speak Ch’ti (which to my American ears sounds like drunk French, the ‘s’ sound becoming ‘sh’, the end of each sentence punctuated with a sound somewhat like an angry duck’s quack).

Philippe, at first utterly aghast at the prospect of having to spend two years in this strange land where torrential rains start at the border and the residents breakfast on bread first slathered in pungent cheese, then dipped in chicory-flavored coffee, eventually learns to speak Ch’ti like a local and ends up loving the place.

When it’s time for Philippe to return home to the south of France, he is predictably sad to go.

Antoine explains to him the local adage that “People only cry twice in Nord Pas-de-Calais. When they arrive, and when they leave.” (more…)

R Kent

Climbing Kilimanjaro: A Matter of Life and Death

January 17th, 2008
by R Kent


Hemingway wrote a short story called “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.”

He barely mentions the mountain.

The story mostly revolves around human beings dealing with human problems.

The mountain, as the reader learns at the end of the story, is something more than just rock and snow.

It is life and death, the only two things every human being on the planet has in common.

The lovely Isabelle and I will climb the mountain in a couple days, leaving from its base at the Machame Gate on the morning of January 19th, and hopefully returning after a successful summit on the 24th.

Over the last four months that we have spent in Africa, I have spoken often of life and death.

Africa seems to bring that out. (more…)

R Kent

Craving Blood in the Serengeti: Humans and Nature

January 8th, 2008
by R Kent

By R Kent


We wanted blood.

We wanted to see a lioness chase down a wildebeest, leap onto its prey’s back, drag it down to the ground, and dig its teeth into the animal’s neck.

We wanted to see the creature’s back legs kick spasmodically as its heart pounded out its last desperate beats.

We wanted to see the pride gather about the fresh kill.

We wanted to watch as the lions rent the flesh from the wildebeest, gorging on its muscles and entrails.

Still reading? (more…)

R Kent

R Kent and the Lovely Isabelle: an Undersea Love Story?

January 1st, 2008
by R Kent

By R Kent


Irony is often cruel.

In my case, I love to travel.

So naturally I am stricken with horrible motion sickness.

Though I have been nauseous countless times in cars and on the occasional small Russian plane, my bête noire is the boat.

Whether in a canoe off the coast of Santa Barbara or an ocean liner in the Mediterranean, I know the slightest chop in the water, the merest ripple on the sea, will set churning my insides like a milkshake maker at Baskin-Robbins.

When traveling by boat, I have two options: knock myself out with pills, or vomit to the point of physical exhaustion.

Since neither of these actions interests me much, I usually do all I can to avoid boat rides altogether.

But as luck would have it, the last three Decembers have found me on islands, most recently that of Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania’s mainland. (more…)

R Kent

Tanzanian Trumpets and the Dance That Never Ends

December 28th, 2007
by R Kent

By R Kent


*A writer’s warning: most of my postings from Africa have been only peripherally about Isabelle and me. I’ve mentioned our adventures in stories about Nile River rafting and safaris, but I haven’t written much about Isabelle and me as a couple since leaving Paris. If you’ll indulge me…

First anniversaries are supposed to be paper.

I went for brass.

The lovely Isabelle and I don’t seem to do much by the book, so why start now?

In a way, though, our first anniversary, celebrated this December 9, was quite traditional.

After all, trumpet bands are de rigueur at Tanzanian weddings. (more…)

R Kent

Serving Justice: the Trials and Tribulations of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

December 11th, 2007
by R Kent

By R Kent


The United Nations is a great idea.

In theory.

It’s the “in practice” part that messes everything up.

Here in Arusha, the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) is a good example.

The Tribunal, in existence since 1996, has been plagued by slow trials that take years to finish, and as a result, has a paltry number of convictions to its credit.

Defense lawyers routinely cry foul, accusing the ICTR of being a puppet of the government of Rwanda, as well as a tool for rich western nations to purge themselves of guilt over having not reacted when the genocide was taking place.

Resources are scanty.

Employees scrape for scrap paper and work on computers that would look more comfortable in a previous century.

Interns, like the lovely Isabelle, arrive fresh and ready for work, only to discover the team they’re assigned to is on a three-week mission in Rwanda. (more…)

R Kent

Stop Thinking and Try Not to Drown: Twenty-Five Kilometers on the White Nile, Uganda

November 15th, 2007
by R Kent

By R Kent


As my body flailed about under the water, like a crushed bug flushed down a toilet, I did not have the chance to think.

I could not hope nor pray, nor did my life flash before my eyes.

I simply waited.

Waited for daylight, which eventually came as my head broke the surface and I discovered I was still in the middle of the rapid.

Instincts took over, and I got onto my back, stuck my legs out in front of me and gasped for air before the next wave knocked me back under.

Just seconds earlier, I had been in the raft, along with the others, but now I was just so much flotsam at the mercy of the White Nile. (more…)

R Kent

How to Live in a Dangerous World

October 17th, 2007
by R Kent

by R Kent


Five of them sat around two small tables in the Italian-themed cafe on a Monday afternoon, nibbling on salads and bruschetta.

They could have been the wealthy wives of doctors, businessmen, lawyers… They could have been holding their little lunchtime gathering in any city or town in America, but here they were in Arusha.

They were expat wives.

I eavesdropped from my corner spot, working my way through a panini.

Their topic of conversation was one that in my limited time here I have already encountered countless times.

“Are we safe here?” (more…)

R Kent

Ngorongoro: Living Dangerously in the Crater, Pt III of III

October 8th, 2007
by R Kent

by R Kent


The bathroom was cold and smelly.

The lovely Isabelle was shaking with fear, and I tried to calm her down, rubbing her arms and back, my whispers reverberating off chilly tile.

I tried to explain that there was only one hyena, that I had seen it run off, that it probably wasn’t even a hyena.

She was dead sure of what she saw, and she was not about to go back out and find out there were more.

I did not want to wait all night for the sun to come up and save us, or for the stupid guard to guide us out of harm’s way.

I wanted to take the game to the hyena.

I wished I had brought the spear with me.

That would have evened the odds a bit.

But the spear’s cold blade was tucked away, next to my sleeping bag in the tent fifty yards away. (more…)

R Kent

Ngorongoro: Living Dangerously in the Crater, Pt II of III

October 1st, 2007
by R Kent

by R Kent


A series of unfortunate errors put our lives in jeopardy:

A pair of glasses left in a car.

A decision not to go to the bathroom after dinner.

The thought that five minutes in the cold didn’t warrant putting on warm clothes.

The refusal to heed warning signs written in the earth, and screamed into the air.

And not taking the spear.

We should have taken the spear. (more…)