e's wheeling blog

I am experimenting with using blog technology - so this is also at over-blog.com. I have decided to continue there because other people can post comments etc.

November, 2004

A visit to the lawyer and others!

Sunday, 7th

One of the reasons for coming back to Strasbourg is to sort out my divorce. Any legal process is complicated to the layman but when it is in a foreign language and country, the learning curve is even steeper. Complications on complications arise when one is not ordinarily a resident of the country and when one's spouse works for an organisation such as the Council of Europe My lawyer, Maitre Louisadat ( lawyers are addressed as Maitre in French), has a very efficient, down to earth manner that I like and trusted instinctively. She specializes in family and women issues and is sympathetic but matter of fact. However, her office is not accessible. Why did I choose a lawyer whose office is not accessible? Because I do not think there are many lawyers whose offices are accessible. In this case she was recommended to me by a friendly social worker as somebody who is "correct" who will do what is right and charge accordingly. I like the fact that she is specifically an advocate for women in the courts. We had a compromise and that is that we had been having our meetings over cups of coffee in a cafe downstairs from her office. And we did it once under the rain. I like the fact that she did it without a fuss but it is getting colder and I mentioned that it would not prove to be a good solution later on in the autumn when winter is approaching. She agreed to come to my apartment for future meetings.

I've also been back to the ANPE for my appointment with a counselor. It looks like I do not fit into any of their categories - interdisciplinary courses are not the norm in France, I have to choose what type of a job I would be focusing on getting - I decided I would be a documentalist - information specialist do not exist here and my particular brand of web accessibility/ usability specialist is not well known. We decided that I need an "accompagnator" to help me write a better cv in French and to research for jobs. We also decided that I need intensive French course in written French - she was surprised about that, she thought I was managing quite well in the language. I told her that my spoken French was fine but I have had never had a formal lesson, I learnt my French on the park bench with other mums when I used to take the kids ever afternoon to the citadelle park.

I stopped at Petite France to have a coffee and met, and started chatting to Phillipe, an architect, about his motorised trike. I am not sure what chronic ailment he has but it affects his nerves. We introduced ourselves, he said he lived in the area and that he finds his disability affected his career but he doesn't do much any more. The one remark that caused me reflection is that he said he has a problem with travelling and it is a mental issue. I have decided to get myself a frequent traveller card for Strasbourg/ Paris. It costs 138 euros and will lasts for 3 months. It means that I can have any train ticket for half the price and it should be worth it even if I only do 3 trips. I will be going almost every week between now and Christmas so I hope it will prove its good value.

Sunday, 14th

café-philo at the place de la Bastille and a talk on women and disability in France

This has been a busy week. I set off for Paris on Monday to attend the first café-philo hosted by Cathy Kudlick (UCDavis), Lucie Fontaine et Jean-Baptiste Nanta, authors of the guide Paris en fauteuil held at “Les associés”, 50 boulevard de la Bastille. There were nearly 20 of us cramped into a small corner of the cafe. The theme was: Une personne handicapée est-elle une personne diminuée ? "Is a disabled person a lesser person?"

It was a nice ambiance but it was rather noisy. We had about three vision impaired 'malvoyante' , three of us in wheelchairs and a couple had other disabilities and friends and family members. Oh yes, there was even a journalist from a local radio station. There is at least one who came from Cathy's class at the CNAM.

It was fascinating for me as this was my first ever experience of a philosophy cafe. Jean-Baptiste lead the discussion by beginning with his thoughts on the subject. It would be logical that as a philosopher, his discussion would have a philosophical bent. I struggled to keep up as I am not familiar with that type of discourse in French. (The French have philosophy as a compulsory subject at school.) We questioned on the norm for disability, 'singularity 'vs 'difference', is legality the general principle, we spoke about the republican and that before French law, we are all (supposedly) served the "liberty, fraternity, and equality" by jurisdiction. How is that translated in reality? What is the role of the school system? Is it a political question? One spoke of the need to be an activist and another talked of the French state taking control of any initiatives by subsuming it.

Of course I may have missed an awful lot or even misunderstood some of it. When we closed the discussion at 8.30pm some of us stayed to have dinner together. It was totally an interesting evening. I cannot say the same for the hotel. I took a room from the Internet - the Eden Magenta Hotel, 52 bis rue des Vinaigriers, 75010 PARIS. It had supposedly facilities for the disabled and internet access. However, there was a big step to get into the hotel and I couldn't quite get my chair into the bathroom in my room. It was too late at near midnight to do much about it. I tried to go to an internet cafe along the same street to check my email the next morning. Again there was a step and when I signal to the guy in the shop - he told me there was not enough space for me in an empty shop! This is the first time I've been refused access in France so blatantly and I've lived here on and off for about 14 years. I didn't insist, not a battle on which to spend my energy. When I told the taxi driver who picked me up later in the day, he said he didn't think it was legal.

Tuesday was a beautiful sunny day in Paris. I decided to go to the Pompidou center, not knowing that it was closed on a Tuesday. I wandered around it. I found a cheap Chinese/ Vietnamese restaurant where I had pho soup for 3 euros and went window shopping. There were certainly some fascinating shops and stalls, postcards, touristic items and around there. I ended up in rue Rivoli which is a very busy street with the Hotel de Ville and an enormous BHV store. I was getting tired and was glad that it was time to go to the CNAM.

Delphine Siegrist was the speaker for the group that afternoon. She is a journalist based near Lyons and is the author of a few books - Oser être femme among one of them. She started by giving us an exercise in thinking up word associations with the word "femme" (woman) chalked and encircled on the blackboard and then moving to "femme handicapé" (disabled woman). It was an interesting exercise. She gave us some background on disability history in France and how there is a slight conflict between feminism in regard to women with disabilities. ( Feminists are trying to disassociate themselves from the traditional feminine roles while women with disabilities are fighting for acceptance of being in those tradional roles: mother, wife and sexual object.) She said she got her initiation into the women and disability issue from being abroad, notably Canada and the United States. She also touched on how women with disabilities are doubly disadvantaged and the state of maternity care for women with disabilities in France. (not good). This does not give full justice to her talk but it gives a gist. One thing she mentioned is that she had difficulties in getting statistics about women with disabilities because there is not much interest in covering research about people with disabilities.

I got home to Strasbourg just before midnight. It was bitterly cold. I had a meeting with the consultant at 9 am the next morning that ANPE is sending me to help me in my search for jobs. She doesn't seem too hopeful. She suggested that I might consider going to Brussels (with the type of cv and the work I am qualified for) or Paris. She also thought I should take up French citizenship if I want a public service job. I am getting a sense of deja vu - this is what they told me in the USA - the good news is that I have already been living in France for a long time and - I could hold dual nationality. Besides I have decided to make my home in France. I have my own philosophical and ethical doubts about doing that. Am I being too scrupulous? Can one not be a citizen of the world? Would that be shirking responsibility? Are my loyalties not always with my place of birth where I spent my formative years in my youth?

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