Quatorze Juillet – French Burnt Peanuts, Fraternite, Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles

Oh brother how are thou?

A lot of disparate elements to pull together on today, July 14th, Bastille Day, the French national day.

My only Bastille Day actually spent in France was in Nice at age 8.  Its most memorable element was not the fireworks over the Mediterranean (although I can still picture one beautiful arc of flash) but the French burnt peanuts bought from a street vendor on the nighttime beach.  It was the first time I’d ever tasted French burnt peanuts and they were like fireworks in my mouth–hot, sweet, crinkly, crunchy, touched so delicately with salt that it might have just been the taste of the sea air on my tongue.   The nuts were, despite several prior days in France, my first real evidence of the deliciousness of French food–my parents, traveling on a strict budget, made us eat a lot of ham sandwiches put together by my mother in the car.

My next most important memory of Bastille Day is not actually my personal memory, but one recounted to me by members of my husband’s family—a patriotic group who’d lived through and/or fought in World War II, serving with the U.S. forces.  On one July 14th, during the height of DeGaulle’s France First approach (and U.S. furor at his perceived ingratitude), my in-laws and some friends celebrated  by lying down on the floor to sing the Marseillaise.  This (the floor part) was deemed to show the highest disrespect, although, for my part, I was always impressed that they cared enough about France to actually know all the words.  (Also reflecting a longstanding U.S. love-hate relationship with the French, a/k/a Freedom Fries!)

I personally never learned the full Marseillaise, but was taught the slogan words of the French Revolution – Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité.   Liberté and egalité were expected (except for the “g”) but “fraternité”  – brotherhood  – always took me aback (and not only because I was a girl.)   The American Revolution talked of freedom and justice for all (except for slaves), but did not (at least in my limited understanding) give the same emphasis to this kind of connection among people.  (My off-the-cuff, uninformed, explanation is that the American colonies were already already somewhat united against a common “foreign” enemy, while the French Revolution, more akin to a civil war, needed to emphasize alliance.)

But I don’t want to write today about the French Revolution; what I want to write about are sea turtles.  There is a very sad, if interesting, video piece in the New York Times today about forensic efforts to uncover the exact cause of the huge rise in turtle deaths in the Gulf since the BP oil spill.   (Brent McDonald, Kassie Bracken, and Shaila Diwan.) The oil is an obvious culprit, but deaths also seem to result from sea turtles drowning in shrimping nets, particularly in Louisiana which apparently does not enforce Federal law regarding escape hatches in the nets for turtles.   One thought is that, in addition to poisoning the turtles, the oil may drive them into areas that are inhospitable and unfamiliar;  the spill may have also changed the conduct of fishermen.

Many of the turtles dying are the endangered Kemp’s Ridley turtles; their life span would otherwise go into the decades.   They are beautiful, their faces seemingly embued with a thoughtful intelligence.

Which brings me back to Bastille Day—not because of Louisiana’s French roots – but because of the French Revolutionary tenet of fraternity.  It seems to me increasingly unlikely that much will be done to save turtles or any non-human species, the environment, or even the planet itself, unless and until people feel a meaningful connection with creatures other than themselves.  I don’t mean simply the sentimental connection of how endearing the creatures are (although that’s a start).  I mean a connection that be real enough to inspire actual care and sacrifice.

I don’t mean to diminish people’s concerns about their jobs, what they eat and the temperature at which they keep their dwellings.   But at the moment, there is another kind of love/hate relationship going on here (more serious than the one with the French.)  We love the idea of saving wildlife, the environment;  we hate to actually do anything about it, to change our lives.  Some kind of better balance needs to be reached between short-term, individual concerns, and longer-term, world-wide needs, an understanding that humans may not do very well in a world in which sea turtles are dying in droves, that these creatures deserve lives free from molestation and torture, that the death of a sea turtle is a death in the family.

Explore posts in the same categories: Environment, news, Uncategorized, Vicissitudes of Life

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

You can comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.

I'd love to hear from you!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: