Friday, February 08, 2008

The American Primaries: As Seen Down There by Someone from Up Here

Pierre Foglia is a character among French-Canadian journalism. Born in France from Italian parents, he first came to Canada "by accident" while on his way to Australia, after his military service in Algeria. Moving to Canada, he became, among other things, a sports journalist, a satirist, a journalism teacher, an international reporter who went to Iraq (before and after the fall of Saddam, he got in by the backdoor at least once...) and plenty of other hot spots. He covered a shitload of Tour de France, usually by reporting more about the life around it than the Tour itself, despite being a cyclism afficionado.

Not politically-correct, agree or disagree with him, the guy makes you think, makes you feel and live his journalistic adventures. His employer, La Presse, just sent him to cover the American Primaries. Here's a homemade translation (it was an interesting exercise, I tried to stay as faithful as I could to the original text and I think I was decently successful into bringing Foglia's colourful prose) of his first column on the subject, released on Saturday:

Obama, Omama, Olabama

Auburn, AlabamaI like his name : Obama. Three short syllables rolling like smooth, hard pebbles. And starting with this “O”, inviting extasy: Oh-bama. I think it would be great on me as well: Oh-foglia.

I know what you think: When he starts a paper with this tone, it’s because he has nothing to say. It’s not false, but follow me and don’t worry, we’ll find plenty of things to say. Little ones, but hey, that's some! Let’s start with this one, at the US Air desk in Burlington Airport (Note: Pierre Foglia’s is living close to Québec-Vermont border), the lady punches her keyboard: You don’t have a reservation for today, sir…

Come on!

But you have one for tomorrow! She didn’t add: Hey grandpa, a little confused? But it was in full letters in her compassionate smile. My fiancée brought me back to St-Armand. Next morning, the coyotes showed themselves at the end of the field, it seemed to me that they were waving handkerchiefs to say goodbye. It was one of those beautiful mornings where the frost crystallize the head of trees in a delicate rustle, one of those mornings when there’s absolutely no reasons to go somewhere else. Even the U.S. customs officer was in a good mood, you have friends in Alabama?

I have friends everywhere, sir.

We were eight in the plane that got full in Philadelphia. In Atlanta, I was fucked in the ass, again, by the car rental company, Hertz this time, but they all are rascals; It’s never the model we reserved, there’s always an extra for this, one for that and a third to laugh at you, what to do? You’re there, entangled in your luggage, your bike box…you want a car or not? No choice. For those people, I support the death penalty, the one by injection that the Supreme Court just suspended because it hurts too much.

Atlanta is the biggest airport in the world., you need to take the subway to go get your luggage, like if landing in Dorval (Note: Montreal’s international airport), you need to go get your stuff in Longueuil (Note: a Montreal suburb on the other shore of the St.Lawrence river), I don’t even exaggerate. I know the Atlanta airport very well, I was sent there against my will to cover the 1996 Olympics Games. Every time a plane would lift off, I would a little too, it was taking me 3 hours and 12 minutes to get to the trampoline finale; I want my epitaph to read that I had a passionate life, sometimes even a skippy one.

So, I somewhat got the bike in the trunk, left the Atlanta airport on the 85 South (the same one I was taking when driving to the trampoline finale) and I drove towards Oh-labama,.

I like his name, Obama. I don’t like his first name as much, Barack, barrack like a shack, it’s African I know, African first names suck, Mamoud or Kipchongué, I ask you…But then, I had a friend who was named Léontin. Léontin Obama, that would be good, but you know what would be great for an American president: Léontin Trampoline.

Seriously, I like Obama. But he does fuck the outlooks. Take as an example when he says: Between Hillary and me, it’s not a racial choice, and if I become the Democratic candidate, it wont be a racial election. A white guy couldn’t say that. More Obama is defending himself from campaigning on the race issue, more he’s placing the race issue straight in the middle of his campaign. There was, in yesterday’s Atlanta Journal, a sharp analysis of his discourse, particularly one of his favourite expressions, Cousin Pookie, as in: I need you to grab Cousin Pookie to vote. A Pookie, in ghetto language, is a dumbass, a retard, the brother-in-law. A racial election or not, Obama does send negro-insiders-only messages, saying: Hey, can you help me? Bring the idiot brother-in-law to the voting station.

For the last 10 years, African-Americans almost totally disappeared from the important American issues – example, there was no “black” position on Iraq, 9/11 – but here they are now, really visible through Obama. Now Americans worry every fifth minute about what they think, what they want, how they vote, to the point to think they are more numerous than they are, 12.8% of the US population. Ah you see, you too, you thought African-Americans were more numerous.

I came to Alabama with this idea of civic rights and of Rosa Parks, of Luther King’s march, which started here. I didn’t even check, for me Alabama, like Mississippi and Georgia are all-black states. I told myself: I’ll walk around, people will tell me about Obama with huge smiles, here we are…

So, Thurdsay, I was in that little college town, Auburn. I went to bike in the morning under heavy rain. Wet, cold, the rain doubling in intensity, I found shelter in a café inside a little shopping mall by the campus. A students’ café, like in the seventies, same communal tables, old couches, except now the students have their laptops on their laps. I ordered an espresso at the counter, with some apple thing. I bothered practically everyone with my questions, the Blacks here, the Blacks there, and first, how come Blacks are voting in vast majority for the Democrats and yet Alabama has been Republican for the last 40 years?

How many African-Americans do you think there is in Alabama? asked, with a little impatience, an employee of the neighbouring contemporary arts museum, who was having breakfast while reading his paper. And he went to answer himself: 5 million people in Alabama, 75% Whites who vote Republican in the same huge majorities as the Blacks vote Democrat, this is why Alabama will be Republican again come the next election, Obama or not.

Now this old lady (white), at the entrance of a huge park (Callaway Gardens) where I biked Wednesday: Beware of primaries. Primaries are about emotions. We want emotions so badly…When the real deal will begin, will come those who will say that security is not a question of emotions, economy is not about emotions. Then, we’ll vote against our emotions. Because we’re afraid of our emotions.

The Crossroad Store guy (white) where I had my first granola bar break of the season, the bike resting on the bench: Anyone but Hillary, I hate her and her whole family.

My TV was not working. I’ll send you someone right away, said the woman at the front desk. An African-American came in, sixty-something. Excerpts of our conversation:

-Nice guy, okay, but does Obama have the qualities required of a president?

-You think Mrs. Clinton has those qualities?

-I hate that woman

-You think Bush has those qualities?

-This Bush, no, but his dad was a great president.

Phenix City, border town, twin of Columbus (Georgia), I was searching for a restaurant to eat Black, I mean by this deep-fried, breadcrumbs, baked beans, catfish (I didn’t find happiness). Two Black kids in the street, amused by my accent and my questions on Obama: Hehehe, hahahaha, hohohoho, Obama Obama. And they start to dance, Oh mama, Obama, Oh mama, Oh daddy, I’m the nigger in the alley, want some weed?

Sure. Been a while.

I'll translate the next column tomorrow.

Time to go enjoy my non-sick day off!

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