Stefania Rousselle

Where was the love? I couldn’t see any. I couldn’t feel any. I was paralyzed with sadness and I needed to find a way out. So I decided to give myself one last chance. I was going to get into my car and drive. I was going to see for myself if there was any love to find out there. I was going to ask people: What is love?
Imagining France as the land of love has a powerful pull on us; popular culture has used Paris as a shorthand for romance for what feels like an eternity. This myth impedes our understanding of what love is. Love in France is not always romantic. It is not always forever. It is just sincere, human. It is pain, and it is joy. It is sadness and it is healing.

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  1. shinichi Post author

    What the French know about love

    by Stefania Rousselle

    https://edition.cnn.com/2020/02/13/opinions/valentines-day-what-love-means-in-france-rousselle/index.html

    For years, I had felt the lack of love. I was working as an independent video journalist, covering European news for the American media. I was going from one story to the next, from one deadline to another, from one country to another.

    Sometimes I was reporting on things like fashion and wine, but more often I was covering sex trafficking, youth unemployment and welfare cuts. The economic collapse of a continent and its families’ struggles. It was despair, distress and anguish, on repeat.

    And when I would come home seeking comfort and reassurance, there was none. My boyfriend would just look at me and say: “Stefania, you’re not doing enough.” He left. Depression started creeping up on me.

    Then the Paris terrorist attacks happened. November 13, 2015. I was home alone, watching a documentary, when an alert popped up on my phone: “Hostages taken at the Bataclan.”

    At a concert hall just five minutes away from where I lived, three terrorists had opened fire on the crowd. I rushed into the street, without even stopping to change out of my PJs, and started working. That night 130 people died and 430 were injured. A network of terrorists attacked restaurants, bars and a football stadium. Places that represented joy and sharing. We all knew someone who was caught up in the events of that night.

    I thought I was strong. I wasn’t. For weeks after that, I would wake up in the middle of the night every time I heard a siren and start grabbing my equipment, thinking I had to go work. I collapsed.

    Where was the love? I couldn’t see any. I couldn’t feel any. I was paralyzed with sadness and I needed to find a way out. So I decided to give myself one last chance. I was going to get into my car and drive. I was going to see for myself if there was any love to find out there. I was going to ask people: What is love?

    Imagining France as the land of love has a powerful pull on us; popular culture has used Paris as a shorthand for romance for what feels like an eternity. This myth impedes our understanding of what love is. Love in France is not always romantic. It is not always forever. It is just sincere, human. It is pain, and it is joy. It is sadness and it is healing. It is Julie and Jean-Pierre, who have been together for 14 years. She has cancer and could die at any minute but she told me: “I have lived it — I have lived that love. That emotion with the person you love, that butterfly feeling in your stomach.”

    And at the end of the journey, Love won. These people gave me more than hope, they brought me back to life. I saw the beauty in all the chaos. And most importantly they taught me to love myself again. I am happier today, happier than I’ve been in a very long time.

    When I began, I had no plan, no agenda. I just wanted to wander. I slept in villages, I slept in the suburbs, I slept on farms. I talked to teachers, managers, and cleaners. I went from heart to heart. I needed to know.

    Like Patrick, a 53-year-old farmer, who told me about his wife: “I don’t want to let go of Claire because I love her anyway, despite the routine.” But don’t be fooled. Patrick also asked Claire if he could have sex with other women and she accepted, saying: “I’ll cope with the jealousy, even if it means I have to suffer.”

    The people I met were raw, honest. For each moment of healing, there was one of despair. I think people have a fantasy about French love being eternal, ideal, romantic, but the truth is that France is a country of working-class people trying to make ends meet. They struggle to pay their bills, just like you. And they have fears and doubts about their ability to love and be loved, again, just like you.

    Take Pascal, a man who wakes up every morning at 3 a.m. to go to a factory where he prepares sauces for frozen meals, who told me how lonely he felt in his marriage: “I am not quite sure what love is because I’ve never really lived it.” Or Frédérique, an HR manager I met in Perpignan in the South of France: “I feel that when I meet someone, I breathe new life into them, and then they leave me. Man or woman. […] Sometimes I wonder: Who will take care of me?”

    One person after another told me how much they were suffering or had suffered because of Love. Or how lonely they felt, whether they were single or in a relationship. But also how, finally, maybe Love had saved them. Like Odile, who told me: “When I was with my ex-husband, sex was brutal. With Vincent, we make love.” Or Patrick, who was kicked out of his house and ended up sleeping on the building sites where he worked before he met Emmanuel on the internet. They now have a three-year old son together.

    And the same was true for Marcel, the shepherd in the Pyrenees who carved this name above the door of his mountain cabin: “The Villa of Those Deprived of Love.” When I asked him to tell me where the name came from, he said finally: “…because I was the least favorite child in my family. It used to be that in farmer’s families, there were maybe six children. They would send the one they loved the least into the mountains to herd sheep. And that was me.” I can see in my mind his skin, his deep wrinkles, his hand-rolled cigarettes. He too had been hurt by life as an adult: “I don’t like humans. They are twisted. When I see what they are capable of, I am ashamed. I would have rather been a dog.” But up there, in the mountains, he wasn’t alone anymore. He had married Katia: “Do I love her? I don’t know. Love is a weird word. I care about Katia. That must be love.”

    Everyone I met was fragile, like me — I think like we all are. I slept in many of their homes, walked with them, milked their cows and their goats. I danced with their kids. We cooked dinner together. Our conversations were intense. We had eyes that were puffy from crying and ribs that ached from laughing so much. And then next morning, we would wake up, have some baguettes and coffee and laugh again. Or just sit in silence.

    The connections I made were about the mundaneness of everyday life. That was the answer to the question: what is love? I see you, you see me.

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