Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Mary Johnson and Jean Nicaise in Room 202 at D-B


Memories of a Caroloregian: the Kingsport pages
Jean Nicaise

Translator's note: Square brackets [ ] enclose clarifications or explanations.  [Sic] means the previous word appears as per the original. Italics show when Nicaise himself uses English.

A New World … of school (continued)

          The teachers also had a schedule of five classes a day, with a free period expected to be spent at school. This twenty-five hour week was indeed a considerable enough load for a native. For the exchange teacher it came as a shock at the beginning, made worse by having to be there for the six or seven half-days generated by twenty or twenty-two periods of fifty minutes each, meaning effectively seventeen or eighteen hours at both ends of the day; not to mention, obviously, the hours for research, preparation, and grading at home. Every teacher also had to expect numerous out-of-class activities: leading a debate, cooking, drama, or photography "club;" putting out the school newspaper, Indian Tribune; editing the school annual; sponsoring the cheer leaders, the Future Business Leaders of America club, the Amateur Radio club, etc. During the forty minute lunch break some teachers could be seen sitting sandwich in hand having a lively discussion with a group of their students.
          I was in charge of the French club. I showed my movies and my slides. Since the school had several pianos, I sang and led the singing of not only "A la claire Fontaine," [By the Clear Fountain, a traditional French song] but also -- why not? -- "Douce France" [Sweet France] and "Boum, quand notre coeur fait boum" [Boom, when our heart goes boom] by the incomparable Charles Trenet [French singer-songwriter, 1913-2001, nicknamed "The Singing Fool."]
          [Here a picture shows two female students looking at a pull-down map of France. Its caption reads, "it's understandable that hearts would go boom at the sight of such attractive club members."]
          In Europe there is an excessive number of holidays. At Dobyns Bennett, in the first trimester we had a sum total of two days at Thanksgiving! In the second, after two weeks for Christmas, not a single "break" until Easter, for which the so-called "vacation" went from Good Friday to Monday, that is, two days in addition to the usual weekend. In the third trimester there was not a single day, neither Ascension, nor Pentecost, nor May First [International Workers' Day], nor May Eighth [VE Day]. Here you celebrated Workers' Day by working and did the same by way of commemorating the great Christian, civic, and military events.
          The night school would like to have added to my heavy duties that of French teacher for adults. I refused. I just was unable to add anything to my principal assignment. [In a footnote Nicaise says, "The Indian Tribune, a monthly with photos and advertising to pay for it, and published like a real newspaper by a student club with a lot of help from a teacher, featured me in its October issue: 'Teaching French and Latin (and deciphering our slang) keeps Mr. Nicaise busy.'"] My refusal was not appreciated.
          Every teacher obviously had, all week long, the same students at the same times in the same room. Thus it was Room 202 that I decorated with French maps and posters and where I am with Mary [Johnson] in this picture. [Photo follows.]
          I had to face the same Latin class every day for last period, a pooped teacher facing pooped and excitable students. On Friday, fatigue and excitability reached the breaking point. Fifteen minutes before the end of the last class, the loud-speaker installed in every room called musicians in the school Band out of the room to rehearse the school song. Also leaving were the cheer leaders so that they could practice the routines whose purpose was to guide the cheers of the supporters of the school football team, the only one in town.
          A panel of teachers chose fourteen girls from among twenty-five candidates. They had to be good students with a good reputation and, obviously, the ability to do the routines with sufficient spirit and grace. Their fellow students then chose seven from the fourteen selected by the teachers.
          What was I supposed to do with a class shorn of five or six students? The ones who remained  were as if they were on starting blocks, ready to dash for the door at the first sound of the bell for the end of the class and the end of the week. As it was, the bell at the end of every period served as a blade that cut me off mid-sentence and as a spring that launched the boys and girls toward the exit, whereas my little Belgians knew that they should wait for a signal from me before running out to recess.
          One day a student in the last period Friday class, less in a hurry than the others, came up to me and said:
          - You've had a tough day, Mr. Nicaise …
          What a good kid!
          Such gestures of friendship and even of familiarity weren't rare and sometimes, I have to say, were quite unexpected. One student, Judy Noel, while leaving the classroom tugged my tie with no malice at all. I was likable to her, that's all, and she let me know in her own way. One evening, Renée and I went to a basketball game, because we wanted to join in a maximum number of school activities. From the bleacher just above, in this magnificent and huge gym, one of my students tousled my hair:
          - Hi, Mr. Nicaise! Hello M'am!
          It was one of my best French students, Jo Royall, and I knew she was very interested in the class.

[Translated from the French by Jud Barry]

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Dutch Coward - D-B's legendary school resource officer - in 1958

Memories of a Caroloregian: the Kingsport pages
Jean Nicaise

Translator's note: Square brackets [ ] enclose clarifications or explanations.  [Sic] means the previous word appears as per the original. Italics show when Nicaise himself uses English.

A New World … of school (continued)

          As for me, I was never really heckled. I think that American students are more mischievous, used to being a well-disciplined "good kid" at home, than they were drawn to mean-spirited heckling. [A footnote here says: A student wrote this to me: We sometimes are fussy but, honestly, all of us do love ya (=you!). Such a declaration of friendship would be inconceivable in Belgium!] Although there can be naughty heckling. My students were very surprised when I -- following standard Belgian practice -- made them stand up front at the board to recite the lesson! I had to give that up.
          My French classes went a whole lot better than my Latin ones: I only spoke French in them, as is appropriate. I have to say that I was understood almost better by my first year students than by my second year ones, who'd been taught a pronunciation by Mary that had a very distant connection to French, even that of my own ineradicable Walloon inflection.
          As for Latin, I had to conform to the pronunciation that Mary had used, since I only had second year students. I've already said elsewhere that Latin pronunciation is a reflection of your native language, although of course it presupposes a basic knowledge of the original language. Well, it's obvious that my students knew the nuances of English much better than their poor Latin teacher. This inverted the balance of power. Despite my long evenings of preparation, after exhausting days, I sometimes was legitimately called out by one or the other of my students, without hostility or mockery, but those times bewildered and dispirited me. Besides, I think that my Latin classes were somewhat less motivated than my French ones.

          An anecdote will show the kind of communication problem that could slow down the teaching process. The subject matter was [Latin] demonstrative and indefinite pronouns. I wrote on the blackboard the three genders of the pronoun "idem, eadem, idem," which means "the same." Then I spoke aloud the English translation, the same (pronounced séme, as I had learned.)
          - What do you say? (What d'ye saï)
          - The same (séme, with emphasis)
          - What d'ye saï?
          I finally decided to write out "the same" on the board.
          - Ah yah, the saïme, I got it, 'sciouse me seuh (sir)!

          It's important to know that all the courses of the three years of high school are electives. The school week is five days long, from Monday to Friday, without the midweek afternoon break [standard in France and Belgium] Each day consists of six periods of sixty minutes each, equally divided between morning and afternoon. There are no recesses such as we have. The students are only required to devote five periods to classes. They choose four subjects. The fifth, English, is the only required course. Thus, whether they choose chorus, geometry, algebra (the two of which are never taken together), biology, chemistry, "band," Spanish, etc., they have five hours per week in each subject all year long. But they aren't required to continue with a second year in any subject. Thus it is acceptable to take first year French as a "sophomore," first year Latin as a "junior," and as as "senior" -- the last year -- take biology without having had chemistry. They can quite easily finish their secondary education without taking any high school course in math, science, or history, with the exception of the "senior" year American history, a requirement just as is rhetoric in Belgium. Speaking of which, when Belgium later reformed its curriculum and introduced electives, it kept a lot more required subjects at the high school level, beginning with religion or ethics.
          There was not even a physical education class, properly speaking, in the daily schedule. Extracurricular sports took its place. There was no religion class, which was reserved for Sunday School. There was no daily prayer, unlike the situation in other schools, and which conservatives campaigned to bring back at the beginning of the 21st century! The intrusion of religion was limited to the half hour of preaching, on Monday, by one of a number of the city's "reverends," who took turns. The assembly took place in the gym. The thousand students and their teachers were required to sit in the bleachers, without exception.
          I admired the talent of these "preachers" -- all of them Protestant -- who had to deal with an unreceptive audience. Generally they'd start out in a folksy style by commenting on the latest football or basketball game and then cleverly draw from it a religious, moral lesson such as they had a mission to impart.
          The only period not given over to a class is spent either studying or fulfilling tasks auxiliary to the administration of the school. The study hall, always supervised by some teacher sitting way up front behind a big desk, adjoins a magnificent library directed by a professional, full time librarian, who has a number of assistants. The students come and go from their seats to the open stacks. This dream of a library and a librarian is present in all American schools and scandalously absent in almost all Belgian ones.
          There's no supervision -- outside that big tough teacher in charge of the classroom. No one is allowed on the premises before the designated hour, which is preceded by a salute to the flag, raised by two young boys. At the end of each class, the students spread out noisily in the hallways, which are walled with cabinets called "lockers." [In a footnote, Nicaise writes: These are individual metal clothes lockers that shut with a combination lock. Between classes, the students take from it the textbook for the next class. At the end of the day, eight out of ten of them keep their books and notebooks there and do no coursework at home. The satchel is an unknown accessory.] Couples meet up and go around hand-in-hand.
          The absence of general supervision is made up to some extent by the semi-permanent presence of a policeman assigned by the city, Mr. Coward, nicknamed Dutch. Besides making rounds of the outside of the building, he is he driving instructor for kids who are as young as fourteen years old. Normally the driving permit is given as soon as someone turns sixteen, but sometimes, in the cases of those without a father, it is given at fourteen! And in that situation only for the trip from home to either school or the supermarket! There were therefore not a few students who came to school by car. When they drove away, if Dutch wasn't around, like this, [a photograph shows a uniformed Mr. Coward] they would accelerate noisily and make their tires squeal to impress their buddies. Non-drivers all benefited from the service of the perfectly-organized school bus. All across America and even Canada, these buses are all the same, easily-seen yellow color. A federal law prohibits passing them when they are stopped, which is a wise provision. They pick up students from near their homes and return them there. The State of Tennessee, by statute, exempts from compulsory schooling those children who have to walk more than two miles to reach either the school bus or other public transportation. And yet out in the countryside that happens frequently enough. The mountain folk were quite often illiterate: the word designating them, Hillbillies -- for which a rough translation might be "good-for-nothings from the hills"-- is clearly pejorative.
         
         
         



[Translated from the French by Jud Barry]

Tuesday, June 26, 2018


Memories of a Caroloregian: the Kingsport pages
Jean Nicaise

Translator's note: Square brackets [ ] enclose clarifications or explanations.  [Sic] means the previous word appears as per the original. Italics show when Nicaise himself uses English.

A New World … of school

          A New World … of school

          The start of my teaching was extremely hard. I lived in agony, slept poorly, and had nightmares. People had told me ahead of time that the European style of teaching was unsuitable for America. To begin with, rather than address students with their last name, you used the first name, and for lots of them their nickname: Joe, Phil, Dottie (for Dorothy), Kate, etc. This should not have been surprising when it was already well-known that Americans called their President Ike and later on he'd be Jimmy (Carter), then Ron (Reagan) or even Bill (Clinton).
          With regard to their teacher, the students lacked the respectful attitude of their European counterparts. Remember, this is 1958. Back then, our [European] students didn't taunt their teachers in the corridors or in the street! They still wore a jacket and tie, and the girls still wore a smock over their dresses. The boys, in Kingsport, were fine with wearing a shirt and khaki trousers, while the girls tried to outdo one another in elegance. The fashion of the time required that they wear flared skirts puffed out by three or four starched petticoats. It was amusing to watch the rhythmic swinging of the skirts when the girls skipped up the front steps to the school! It really was too bad that a later fashion dictated unisex dress that, with jeans torn on purpose, might as well have been borrowed from bums who weren't even waiting for Godot. [A reference to a famous play by Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot, in which the two main characters are often portrayed as tramps.] This elegance in dress, however, was not accompanied by smooth sophistication. Besides the fact that students chewed gum in class, they'd slam the door in your face. At first, as any well-bred person from our country would do, I held the door open for the student following me. Then I just did like everybody else.
          As for chewing gum, I tried to forbid it, because I can't stand this practice, which I find vulgar. In French class I was able to justify this by saying that you couldn't articulate well with a wad of gum in your mouth, and that French courtesy prohibited constant chewing (that has definitely changed!) But my kids argued back that the speech teacher, Miss Nancy Necessary, chewed gum while she taught. At least I succeeded in reducing the amplitude of the jaw movements of those who tried break the rules on the sly.
          In Latin I didn't have such arguments, what with the fact that the study of this dead language doesn't have much of an oral character, not to mention that the invention of chewing gum came after the age of Caesar and even after Augustus! But when "a dime for crippled children" week came along -- during which a collection box was put in every classroom to help handicapped children (a great social endeavor!) -- I made every gum-chewer put ten cents in the box. The rule wasn't badly accepted since it was for a good cause. The cheap ones took out their wads but some of the generous ones came in the room, threw their "dime" in the box, and said to me with a smile:
          - Now it's OK for me to chew …
          What's a disarmed teacher to do? Let him smile!
          [An uncaptioned photo follows showing a smiling NIcaise sitting behind desk.]
          When students met me in the street, they either ignored me or -- especially the girls -- they gave me a great big wave and shouted "Hi Mr. NIcaise," even if they were walking on the sidewalk on the other side of Broad Street. They gave me the same oversized gestures and the joyous "hi"  (pronounced haï) if they noticed me from one of the cars that, every Saturday evening, went up and down the main street in a strange and uninterrupted coming and going: passeggiata, American-style. [The passeggiata is the traditional evening stroll in the piazzas of Italian cities and towns.]
          I mentioned earlier that the teacher who is sure of himself naturally establishes his authority. In Belgium I know exactly how to do this. I know both student and Walloon [Belgian French] jargon. My sharp ear takes in every passing comment my students make in whatever jargon they use to express it. After all, raised in the street, I'm wise to its ways. [Nicaise uses an expression from French classical dramatist Jean Racine--the way an American might quote Shakespeare--that literally translates "raised in the harem."] I know its codes and the boundaries that mustn't be crossed.
          In Kingsport it wasn't at all the same situation. I wasn't even sure of understanding my students well even when they spoke English correctly. What's more, did I even know if it was correct or not? I didn't know any of the student jargon, the language of the younger generation, the regional slang, not to mention those words and syllables better left unsaid because they had a double meaning. You're not taught in language class that cock isn't only a word for rooster but is one of the expressions that designates the phallus, or should I say the "zob," to choose a similar-sounding word from the long list of popular words used in French for the sex organ of which males are often prouder to talk about than they are to use. Even the innocent baby has a double meaning, and no English teacher ever teaches his students that to screw means not only to use a screwdriver but also to copulate! [For "copulate"Nicaise uses two popular French expressions for the sex act, the second of which is considered vulgar.] A wrongly-placed stress accent can change the meaning of a word, the way it can (though less so) in Italian. More than once I didn't understand the cause of an abrupt outburst of laughter that I had unknowingly provoked. I must say that it was especially during this kind of painful experience that I figured out why some of my fellow teachers were heckled: they were conscious of a weakness, and, right or wrong, were not sure of themselves.
           An anecdote will show the kind of communication problem that could slow down the teaching process. The subject matter was [Latin] demonstrative and indefinite pronouns. I wrote on the blackboard the three genders of the pronoun "idem, eadem, idem," which means "the same." Then I spoke aloud the English translation, the same (pronounced séme, as I had learned.)
          - What do you say? (What d'ye saï)
          - The same (séme, with emphasis)
          - What d'ye saï?
          I finally decided to write out "the same" on the board.
          - Ah yah, the saïme, I got it, 'sciouse me seuh (sir)!

[Translated from the French by Jud Barry]

Tuesday, June 19, 2018


Memories of a Caroloregian: the Kingsport pages
Jean Nicaise

Translator's note: Square brackets [ ] enclose clarifications or explanations.  [Sic] means the previous word appears as per the original. Italics show when Nicaise himself uses English.

Spoken English: The real thing [Nicaise's French title for this section, "L'anglais tel qu'on le parle," is the name of a popular, much-revived vaudeville play by French playwright Tristan Bernard]

          I was on the best of terms with one of my neighbors, a friendly retiree and former mechanic named Hubert Quillen. He was a straightforward fellow who peppered his speech with grammatical errors that even a foreigner could easily detect. When we first met, he asked me what church I went to; I think that he, like Mary, didn't go to one himself. Shaking my hand, he said to me:
          - Call me Hubert, Mr. Nicaise. By the way, what's your first name?
          - John!
          The French name "Jean" is unpronounceable for the average American. Moreover in America it's a female first name with the same pronunciation as the one universally given to the cowboy pants so many men and women wear today.
          - Well, John, there're two things you must know. Never say "a Yankee," say "a damn Yankee."  [In a footnote Nicaise writes that contrary to the European practice of lumping all Americans into the single word Yankee, Americans use it only for Northerners, and Southerners give it a pejorative connotation.] And never say "a Negro," say "a big fat nigger." [Having given these sentences in English, Nicaise then translates them into French.]
          He added:
          "Those damn Yankees don't speak the same language as we do! Anyway, how do you expect to get along with people that put sugar on their cantaloupe?"
          I've never tried eating this juicy fruit with salt, the way they do in the South.
          Hubert helped me find and buy a used car, a 1955 Plymouth, for four hundred dollars, which was 20% less than what I'd sold my Opel for.
          [Here an uncaptioned photo shows Nicaise behind the wheel of his 1955 Plymouth.]
          In the light of Hubert's linguistic advice, I wasn't surprised at the problems I encountered understanding the people I spoke with. A French-speaking Belgian visiting France will find that the French don't speak the language the same way as at home: the French have lunch when a Belgian has dinner; they have dinner when we have supper. Our chicory is their endive, our pots are their casseroles, our casseroles then become their deep-dish. At the [French] butcher shop, a Belgian faces all kinds of unknown cuts. At the grocer's, if I have the misfortune to order a score of grams of something, they look at you funny until you correct yourself and say twenty.
          As for the American language, the humorist Frank Loxley Griffin has written a pamphlet called Learn English Before You Go that gives advice to Americans planning to go to England. Admittedly, Griffin and Hubert exaggerate, and everyone speaks more or less the same language everywhere but with accents as different as someone from Toulouse [the south of France] compared with someone from Dunkerque [extreme northern France]. Here the natives always seem to have an accent that drags like the blades of their ceiling fans. They use expressions that are purely Southern and litter their speech with idiomatic expressions, or slang, that aren't taught in schools or in language methods like Assimil. The youth, like youth everywhere, have their own jargon and speak more "slang" than the adults.
          Most of you have learned that in right, bright, night (sometimes written nite in the US), the "i" is pronounced "aïe." Not in Tennessee! What you hear is closer to râte, brât, and nât. To render the sound of the personal pronoun "I," Margaret Mitchell writes it as "Ah" in Gone with the Wind.
          At the beginning of September, Mary left for Belgium. She had introduced Renee to her acquaintances, most importantly to her old friend and our neighbor Rose Quillen, a former schoolteacher who now worked at the post office. She was to be our mentor -- our nanny -- throughout our stay. Mary had also made Renee familiar with the city and its shops, especially the supermarket, a novelty for a Belgian in 1958. She'd taken her around the surrounding area and up into Virginia. Gate City is the nearby town where she went to buy her whisky.
          The French spoken by this teacher of French was really quite elementary. I needn't have been embarrassed at my English, which after all was not the language that I taught. We only conversed in English. I did fine and was at ease everywhere. But Renee had only studied the Assimil method for three months, and without the records, which were too expensive! Of course those were three months during which she applied herself with her usual perseverance. But I would always regret that the short learning period, together with her timidity and lack of confidence in her ability, did not seem to me to prepare her to be thrown into a foreign language, especially when there was somebody right there who taught French. Indeed, even when the ladies were by themselves, they spoke English to one another! It was all for the best, as it turned out, because it gave my wife the assurance she needed to get through the overwhelming change in her very tranquil life provoked by her adventurous husband.
          Very sorry to see Mary go -- because she was delightful and we had gotten attached to her -- we then found ourselves alone in the house. We had rented it from her at an attractive price, but it lacked the comfort that we expected to find in the United States, and even that of our home in Chatelet. We didn't bother to look for an apartment that might have been more comfortable but more expensive. With just one salary, particularly the modest one in Tennessee compared to that of other states, we wanted to save as much as possible so as to be able to visit other parts of the United States.
          As it was, we made do with the bare minimum: two bedrooms, one bathroom, a big kitchen. The living room was poorly furnished: a worn-out couch and the indispensable rocking chair. There was no television even though in 1958 most homes had them. The radio was shabby.
          There was also a study where Mary had so much stuff that it was unusable. I can't recall if that's where her library was. Anyway, I never borrowed a single book.
          The old steam boiler for the natural gas central heating system didn't like us very much. When the thermostat, set at night to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, decided it was time to get going, the too-abruptly-expanded cast-iron radiators protested with such a loud clanging that it woke us up.

[Translated from the French by Jud Barry]

Tuesday, June 12, 2018


Memories of a Caroloregian: the Kingsport pages
Jean Nicaise

Nicaise was a Belgian exchange teacher who taught at Dobyns-Bennett during the 1958-1959 school year. 

Translator's note: Square brackets [ ] enclose clarifications or explanations.  [Sic] means the previous word appears as per the original. Italics show when Nicaise himself uses English.

Segregation

          I tried to understand the attitude of white Americans who did everything they could to prevent a middle-class black from moving into a "white" neighborhood. They said it was because the day after tomorrow their property value would diminish by half. How could you put up with being ruined?
          Truth be told, the newspaper of my little adopted city reported racist excesses so as to deplore them. Industries such as Eastman Kodak, among others, with numerous workers and management from the North, had inspired a more broadminded attitude. In addition, French and Belgian engineers worked at Blue Ridge Glass Corporation, whose majority stockholders are the French Saint-Gobain and the Belgian Saint-Roch.
          Blacks made up hardly five percent of the population, since historically agricultural property was too small to use slaves as laborers, compared with the cotton states. Rather, they came from Georgia and worked as domestics for the local bourgeoisie. It wasn't until 1959-60 that the timid beginnings school integration began. The colored students were admitted gradually, beginning with the first grade. It wasn't even done this soon in many cities in the South. Thus, in October, 1962, encouraged by Ross Barnett, the racist governor of Mississippi, rioters occupied the campus of the university of that state to prevent access to the premises by James Meredith, the first Black to be registered there. Two people were killed and 20,000 federal troops were sent to restore order!
          Georgia became famous a bit later in the rear-guard struggle against integration. In 1964 a certain Lester Maddox, the owner of a fried chicken restaurant in Atlanta, armed some of his customers with pickaxe handles to hit any "nigger" who tried to eat at his establishment. It was the same year (only 30 years in advance of the widely-condemned South Africa) when, finally, the Civil Rights Act, signed by President Johnson, made official segregation illegal! In 1966 Maddox, despite his political inexperience, succeeded in being elected governor! His speeches, both before and after his election, bore the stamp of segregationist rhetoric; they fortunately were not followed up with action and did nothing to slow integration. Blackballed during the following election, he opened a tourist shop in an Atlanta suburb where he sold, among other things, miniature autographed pickaxe handles.
          [In a footnote to this paragraph, Nicaise writes: Reported by John Shelton Reed and Dale Volberg Reed, two of my former Kingsport students, in 1000 Things Everyone should know about the South, ed. Baltam [sic] Dell Publishing Group, Inc, New York, 1996. Their idyll, ended by marriage, had begun in school …]
          Before the Civil Rights Act, playing fields, sports teams, nurseries, schools of all levels, and libraries throughout the South rigorously separated the "races."
          [Nicaise adds a note: I use quotation marks here because the word "races" is unacceptable. There is "the human race," within which several groups are differentiated.]
          I went to teach Whites at Dobyns-Bennett High School. For their high school, Blacks attended Douglas High School, which was clearly substandard, as we will soon see.
          Three days before back-to-school, set for September 1, the teachers all meet to prepare. The new ones get acquainted. Speakers come to share their experience. One of them describes to us in great detail the proper way to use the blackboard; another tells us how to cut little people out of paper. Have I somehow come to the wrong school? Have I come to the elementary section by mistake? No, I am actually at a High school, the upper level of secondary school.
          There wasn't any segregation at this initial school year get-together. The "colored" teachers were also invited to Dobyns-Bennett. During our entire stay, this was the only time that I ever saw such a mix. A black colleague, Oscar Gill, asked me if I could help him with a new assignment, teaching French. He already taught music and math, even though his white colleagues were assigned one or rarely two subjects, as is the case in Europe. He had studied French for a few months in the course of his own education. I invited him to my house the following Sunday. He came with his wife, a delightful woman who was also a music teacher in a colored school. In the meantime I had read into the microphone of a tape recorder, borrowed from Dobyns-Bennett, all the content from the textbook we would both use, French for a Modern World. I wonder how the poor teacher made out because I only saw him again once. I met him on Broad Street, stopped, shook his hand and asked how the French lessons were going. He seemed to me to be embarrassed; he very quickly went on his way. Nevertheless he sent me some examples from his "six week test." The title was "An exam in French (the sixth week." "Part I : The vocabulary [misspelled]: give the English." There followed a list of 30 words (chair, pen, etc.) among which was breakfast [misspelled]. Such spelling!

[Translated from the French by Jud Barry]

Wednesday, June 06, 2018


Memories of a Caroloregian: the Kingsport pages
Jean Nicaise

Translator's note: Square brackets [ ] enclose clarifications or explanations.  [Sic] means the previous word appears as per the original. Italics show when Nicaise himself uses English.

Bible Belt

          Churches play a leading role in the social life of the United States. They provide insurance, make loans at low interest, and help out families with financial or emotional problems. Atheists are lumped together with communists as the worst of the worst. Even though it comes at the end of the century [when Nicaise was composing the memoir] the following anecdote applies. In his famous TV broadcast Inside the actors' studio, James Lipton interviews famous personalities of stage and screen. On the show he goes for the real stuff, so that one star might admit to him his alcoholism, or another his homosexuality. At the end of his interview with the "famous" (according to him) Bernard Pivot, James Lipton's last question is one that everyone has heard before: "If God existed, what would you like to tell him when you die?" Such a doubt as to the existence of God is not something that would be said on the air in front of millions of Americans. Instead the question would be, "If heaven exists, what would you like God to tell you when you get there?"
          The people living in the region where we are staying are particularly devout. We are in the Bible Belt. In Tennessee, the Butler Law of 1921 made it illegal to teach Darwinism in the public schools! A young teacher who broke the law, Thomas Scopes, was fined 100 dollars, which was half his monthly salary. During our stay, the Tennessee section of the [American] Association of University Professors tried to get the backward law repealed, not because science demanded it but because it was "opposed to the freedom of thought and speech guaranteed by the Constitution." Their request was rejected, even in 1959! The Court's reasoning affirmed in writing that "the theory of evolution is contrary to the teachings of the Holy Bible and to our Christian way of life." The Butler Law was finally repealed in 1967. But in 1981, still, a powerful fundamentalist lobby in Arkansas succeeded in passing a law imposing the teaching of Creationism together with evolution. Thus, in spite of the latest findings in cosmology, paleontology, and biology, the public schools would have to teach that God created the universe in six days and all living things in their current form. All mankind is descended from the one Adam, thus the name Adamism that is given to this idea. Fortunately, the law was rejected on Jan. 5, 1982, as being contrary to the Constitution's first amendment clause regarding the Establishement [sic] of religion.
          A poll of the Southern Focus Poll reported, in 1996, that 66 percent of Southerners still believe that the Bible is "scientifically, historically, and literally true."
          [Here, in a note, Nicaise writes, "Distinguished Israeli archeologists Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman support the contrary idea that such events as the flight from Egypt and the conquest of Canaan are legends compiled in the 7th century B.C. Their 432-page book The Bible Unearthed: Archeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel was translated from English and published in 2002 by Editions Bayard."]
          Even more surprising is that some university settings profess the same opinion, if one is to believe Guy Sorman, who reports that "at Cornell, a leading university, opinion polls regularly conducted among students in biology show that three-fourths of them believe either in a strict Creationism as per the Bible, or that evolution has a goal.
          In addition to Darwinism, race-mixing is also contrary to the way of life in Tennessee.
          [Here an uncaptioned photo shows two men walking past two bathroom doors, one marked "MEN" and the other "COLORED."]
          Erskine Caldwell's novel The Weather Shelter effectively describes the hatred that the "Brave Men of Tennessee" (the ironic title of the French translation) have for a white man, Grover Danford, who has a child, Jeff, by a "negress," Kathlee. She is in fact a mixed-race schoolteacher who is almost white. "The Bible does not allow a White to lie down with a Black," proclaims the village preacher, who must've had a hard time reading the Holy Bible. He rouses members of the Ku Klux Klan to hunt down the teenager in order to lynch him. Black racism appears as well in the reaction of Kathlee's father: he refuses to shelter his fleeing grandson.
          The reality matches the fiction, as was shown in 1959 by another court action, this time in Nashville, the state capital, which is well-known for its full-sized concrete replica of the Parthenon, and which has become famous for its country music and the number and quality of its recording studios. Myles Horton, the founder-director of a public school, was prosecuted following the complaints of scandalized witnesses. A photographer projected before the Court a film showing -- as reported by the newspaper whose clipping I have right now in front of me -- "different activities of the school, near Monteagle, notably Negroes and Whites swimming together in the school's lake." Oddly, the photographer was an agent of the Education Commission of Georgia, a neighboring state.
          In his testimony, the same spy recounted a litany of attitudes "disastrous for the country." For example: whites and Negroes having a group discussion in the library. He added, "Southern tradition has taught me that it is necessary to separate the races at school, church, and Sunday school." Another witness expressed "his belief that the director of the school was intimately associated with people who advocated the destruction of the United States as we know it." The ideas of McCarthy are still very much alive, even though the famous and malevolent Catholic senator who persecuted numerous artists accused of being Communist sympathizers was disavowed by his own party and censured in 1954 by the Senate. Too late for someone like Charlie Chaplin, who had already left America for good.
          Another farcical example comes not from Tennessee but from Alabama. A children's comic strip for children under five told the story of the marriage of a rabbit with white fur to a rabbit with black fur. The state ordered the public libraries to remove the book from their open stacks because the simple tale violated the principle of segregation!
          It's easy to be derisive about these attitudes when someone is from a country that is all one race. Racism and xenophobia lie at the deepest levels of human nature. It's the animal concept of "territory."
          In 1950, while looking for a place to live in Chatelet, I was looking through the ads and saw a few offering apartments for rent that specified "Italians stay away." Of course, I stayed away as well! Then, starting in the 1980's, when African immigrants or Turks moved into those parts of our cities where unemployment was widespread, violent racist demonstrations were widespread throughout Europe. In the beautiful Mediterranean region that attracts so many tourists, a fourth of all voters chose a party whose only platform was "France for the French! Immigrants leave!" We Belgians have little reason for complacency when a similar proportion of the people in Anvers were seduced by the slogan of the neo-fascist party Vlams Belang [Dutch for "Flemish Interest"]: "Flanders for the Flemish." In Germany fanatics have set fire to homes occupied by Turks, their gangs operating on the same model as the hateful Ku Klux Klan!
          Yes, we are racist, too. Too often do you hear someone say, "I'm not racist, but …" This is hypocrisy! I prefer to say, "I'm racist, like the rest of the world, but I realize it and I'm healing myself." Thus, when I see a couple made up of an ebony-colored Black man and a White woman, a certain something shocks me. The thought occurs -- quickly suppressed -- that the woman has chosen her companion poorly, that she hasn't found someone of her own color. Has such a thought never occurred to you, O Reader? Or, as Baudelaie wrote, "My reader, my fellow hypocrite!" Come on now, let's be frank. I just confessed, didn't I?

[Translated from the French by Jud Barry]