|The Poem of a Colloque--Bar Harbor
Cultural Identity in French America: Legacy, Evolution
and the Challenges of Renewal
By Rhea Côté Robbins
May 17, 1996--Friday
I'm looking for a different voice from the one I have.
It seems. Stretching the expressions. People all have their
signature talk. I find my remarks to be something other than what
Writing is a slow^ process--a reflecting surface--reflecting
surfaces slow life down to a pace of stop and look. Writing is a
mirror held up to living and reflecting back the surfaces. Studying
a reflection takes time. To create a reflection takes time.
Time is of the essence. The essence of living. We are made
up of time not bone, blood or flesh--Our spirits are time travelers.
Writing is like childrening--reflecting the self and the world
beyond the self. The lack of reflecting surfaces dulls a world.
The lack of reflecting time dulls the person. Prayer is a mirror
held up to heaven. The dualities, two-by-two, in life are previous.
May 19, 1996--Sunday
I guess living is a state of mind. Do I live less when
I'm poorer and the resources are not what I would like? I feel my
life is at odds with my surroundings. Unhappy with the outcome.
Dissatisfied. But that is me not seeing what can be seen.
Nervous. Taking the French woman, Yvonne Buchmann, on a
tour of the coast. She talks about her lost opportunities in life.
Her gains. Her sons. Her house. The compression factor--the
diamond formed under glass--the creativity plus she manages besides.
I think the trip is OK. There's too much to show.
The Farnsworth Museum. I don't exactly know how I feel about museums
anymore. Or, art shows. Because of the comfort of formulas-in-behavior.
Writing is a matter of words following a trial of clothes up the stairs.
He took her dancing. Friends, divorced, now dating, called.
After the coastal tour, she, I, were tired and thinking too hard about the
things undone, or undoable and she thought she might die. Right there
or soon. She, I, think about her own mother dead--and what that feels
like. She'd hate to leave the kids. She went to the church
lobster salad supper. Translating for the French and English husband--she
relates the day--Searsport, Camden, lunch, Peyton Place, Rockland, Farnsworth...The
women across from us exclaim! They were in Peyton Place...as
children. I'm flabbergasted. In the parade as extras the mother/aunt
tells me. My breast is sore. Too sore. Something feels
like it's gone haywire again. At the church supper I'm highly satisfied--the
surroundings are that we belong. Easy enough. Those moments
feel so rare in my life at present. I would describe most days as
gout dérangé--tastebuds are off. Nothing fits.
I don't fit and it don't fit. I try to weigh what of my life that
goes the distance and satisfies--hits center--and what of my life that leaves
I went dancing with him. I want to dance in a sea of anonymous.
My thoughts. Yes. I think my thoughts and not in relation of
subjugation to another's standards. Maybe that's what bothers me
about being watched on the dance floor--my thoughts are being recalibrated
to another set of standards. I resent the assessment. I don't
want to know what anyone thinks so I don't have to think back. I
dance the electric slide and someone is too close. It's hard to concentrate
on being free of encumbrance so I can be anonymous. Home.
May 21, 1996
Are we embarrassed. Well. I'm not sure. The
air is warm and holds you like the cold throws you away. They've
got a grill going next door. In Presque Isle we used to share charcoals
with Ron and Mary until they divorced. Then nobody shared anything.
I'm searching out the quiet. There are birds out here that no one
would expect. If you are screaming through life at a billion miles
an hour who's to know the difference between the swoosh and the swish!
Sitting in the grasses and the dandelions, I feel unchallenged. There
are strange disparities in my life. At the beck and call of odd events.
Something to the tune of a funeral and its unraveling. Except this
is Spring--time of opening time of renewal. I'm cooking spare ribs
and fiddleheads. My husband has become a private banker. I
see him for less hours in a day. We are both tired by the day's end.
No wonder I stopped dusting. If enough raindrops fall I suppose everything
is wet eventually. Or gets wet.
I guess the biggest mystery to me is spending time with people
or being in places that resemble sandpaper. When I think about a
friend's son's suicide--I wonder about meanings. Or depths of what
matters. After awhile you don't even register the rejections.
Except my dream--nightmare--the other night was about the base of terrorizing
elements. The house on Water St. and the terror the place embodies
for me and goes back and forth between glimpses of deathly uncomfortableness.
Hold that disrespect. I'm amazed at how it's done. A small
drop of a phrase and all of a sudden--it's not comfortable to be someone.
What commits the crime of impersonal?
May 23, 1996, Thursday
Sitting by the Atlantic makes it easy. I had dreamed of
this only I was on a lawn in an Adirondack chair, but a patio facing a
bay--Frenchman's Bay--does not hurt. Bar Harbor, land of riches--houses
of clean lines and careful nailing. The hills are bluer than the
water--They compete and win--blue or green. Green can be as blue as
it likes. The sun is reflecting on the water the water is not less
water as a result. The water's properties are easy to believe or
to see. The sun so remote needs something to help it shine its lights.
Or, the sun helps the water expose its qualities. The sizes of universes
and the difference it makes. The quality of the reflection is almost
mutual introspection. One not so light-giving and the other without
shadow. Echo and light. A sound of light--weight replayed of
dark--heaviness. I wonder how Water St. shines here or is reflected
or echoed back? The mutuality of give and take. Same geography
modernly called a State. Easily I could sit here for hours to ease
the tiredness of my body and to elevate my mind beyond the Easter of my
heart. Raising from the dead is not good enough. Not if you
plan on dying better the second time around. The storyteller of that
has to have the market on metaphors. Contemplating coffee and my
being mingling such as water and land attending. A way to awaken
the easy-led senses off shore.
What do we do about the great silent parts of living or what
we assume are silent parts. In the gaps are said what imperfect manner
of things. In the senses are there any imperfect bodies? Only
body soul & difference between life and death. Reflecting must
be a solitary duty. Something of the way candles burn. Singularly.
The handicaps. ah. yes. the handicaps. Where do we fit in the
world of non-reflecting surfaces. How are we to know ourselves without
community to reflect us back? The community-at-large in a movement
of engagement of deciding myself. I guess I had a gift--a grey hummingbird.
First Encounters and the Invention of History
Jacques Cartier kept jrnls. of measurements of his voyages
Two realities separated by space & time
different prose strategy needed
France, the yardstick against which the new world is measured
plant life--même comme France
the new world a variant of France
comme en France
comparison defines the new world
--Thing "seen" given epistemic/lexiconic reality by giving it a name
--A discursive space where real and unreal meet and create a new discourse
Cartier = Storyteller
Consumers of his journal: map measurements/exploration patrons
in the light of their agendas
Old world models not adequate to define the new world
"bond" created between signifier and signified and breaking down the
forest seemed outside God's rule
(me: rather reflects God's wildness)
misplaced sense of order
visual still criterion of the real
cannot get the Micmac to see things through his Jesuit eyes
Why did they see it necessary to wipe out one system to institute another?
Micmac wanted their own culture.
criteria of civilization:
Not kinship (like Micmacs) to show relationship
but ordered like "towns" that reflected urban values
Jesuits were looking for signs of authority and order
Shamans were the ones allowed to speak
Micmacs lived kinship with responsibilities
Kinship world: Kin or stranger
hierarchy not recognized
extension of social responsibilities
alliances = political kinfolk
objects embodied spirit for Micmacs
Animals had a role in kinship
wide web to be woven
wove in Christian figures
baptism: sign of alliance rather than radical change
Entering History ...and the Story of Québec
québécois had no real history
enter or exit history?
if you don't have a history, how do you get a history?
what do you do when you get one?
who has a history and who doesn't?
astonished with the familiarity
unexpected Frenchness of the place
canadien unplagued by revolutions, etc.
Tocqueville viewed them as a conquered people
inability to enter history through inability to self-govern
If you don't have a history, do you have a future?
Garneau, French Canadian identity separating from France--fight with
the English, but also are distant from the French of France
Disappearance of France 1759 in narratives
l'homme de metropole = antagonistic
l'homme de colonie = unstated conflict
Lewiston Songbook Tradition
shed our identity as we progress
Keepers of the Song/Culture
Inheritances which have been guarded
songs about life
a^ worker that Somebody bothered to ask what they were doing
contemporising the archives
an exercise in nostalgia
moving out from the family toward the community
family story and work
share my songs
my own handwriting of her songs
handwriting, nuns, and women
bringing out local culture
bringing in others from outside the culture
rencontage = retelling
It took someone to ask her for her songs
Sings thousands of songs and does not read music.
every song has a story--not only the text, but also the memories attached
notes cannot tell the story
a performance of a song is a transcription
I wonder why some families sing or sang
question of alive or dead.
Antonine Maillet spoke--about the words
the words of the reflection of question and réponse.
As she expresses it. In French. Not an easy question or a ready
answer. My life as it seems must look not what it seems. I
feel the challenge of dusting to come and fix--the need for attending to
the basics. The tying down of my life to the known or the way of
being myself. Just the easy self. But it seems my focus of
promoting women has made it to the mainstream. That is an odd thought.
Claire Quintal made a remark--not to publish a book which Rhéa would
not approve--she included a section on women. Everybody laughed.
In agreement. I guess that says a few things about the women and
Sitting by the water is a luxury of riches beyond compare.
Sitting by the ocean is as close to the riches of nature that expresses
Very strange to be in places where you are blamed. Or divined.
If you try to imagine this bay when the "explorers" came--you'd
know them by their wardrobe. I would envision you have to be satisfied
somewhere in your existence to stay home. Or somewhere you have to
be content. Contented. In French the word is so much nicer.
Content. The frustrations are not something you don't know anything
about. Maillet said yesterday the search was the thing, but what
do you do about the strangeness of the new lands you are exploring?
In yourself and around you? As the day dawns; I am also dawning.
I can see the wind move across the water. We talk a long time about
the other woman's husband showing up.
I had planned on doing an artistic, creative response to these
presentations. I'm satisfied in my sense of searching for the spiritual.
I wonder about me. OR others who are (not) hurting or who are hurting
out loud. After talking to Kristin, I don't feel like such a whimp.
I also told myself before I came here this place had a beginning and an
end. For some reason I knew it was going to be a challenge.
But it is easier. Small craft advisory. For me and the weather.
I can say I miss my familiar surroundings. Without shame. Now.
I feel crazy because it is like a menu of too much human emotion on a scale
of seriousness. Nothing realizing. I write amiss.
Lanette Landry Petrie
Her Mother's Walls
merges academic and community
list of traits
huge amounts of variability
myth: firmly held belief
collision course with academy
dialogue with community/academy
frame a conversational terrain
between the community
and the academy
leave your "weapons at the door"
"communities in resistance"
Baggage and all
issues of ownership
what profit to be made?
speech in social behavior
speaking between familiars
minimum attention being paid to what is being said
most systematic [speech]
most natural [speech]
spoken written permission?
public vs. private space
access to the materials?
giving back to the community
don't help in the way it doesn't appreciate it
abandoning the language
because they want to
linguistic consequence with contact
I work "at the border" between Vermont and Québec
*long term relationship
language an important part of self image
mobilized in resistances
give voice to someone who already has voice
think in terms of relationships between people
feminist community based research
how to get in the Kitchen?
Into Lanette's Kitchen?
do not have the right to do this
[but she does].
Vermont Franco Network
began with conversation between
Martha Pellerin Drury and her husband
husband felt his identity crushed.
Where/When does my Franco-American identity have that value.
Needs to be that kind of space for "his" kind of identity
"Pat on the Head" keep trying, you'll be a better Franco
Birth of Vermont Franco Network.
very encouraging very affirming
There comes a time when that mental thing does not satisfy.
met in the bakery
French teachers only French speakers in their community
boite aux lettres
Martha heart of the group
twenty years of silence
which destiny made me play
Simon of Vermont was a liaison between the Americans and the French
Underground during WWII
families came to the dance
we don't have any money
I think I'm the only Franco-American female in town
Claire--(claims senior member)
If I lost my language I would lose my identity
despite the odds
children who learn the language are a cause of pride for the parents
a happiness for the parents
My mother speaks a sophisticated patois
*Anything that had French in it I was going to investigate
Ad in the paper
Martha the driving force
Without her none of this would of happened.
Union de Franco-Américain de CT.
Evelyn made friends with Connie Magnan Albrizio
because of Le FORUM
1899 Union started
bringing people together
entire month of October
something Franco going on
even a bake sale
making it visible
increase the awareness
Bristol, Ct--large Franco-American population
a "skipped" generation
video the clubs
french spaghetti supper
spotlight events from FRANCE
include anything Francophone
1885 St. Anne's parish in Hartford/Park St.
making a video (30 minutes)
reclaiming the inner city
photo exhibit of school/church 100 years
Exchange between Connecticut and the St. John Valley
Towns where the Francos are
The French of Connection
Wedding gowns on display
everyone borrows everyone's wedding dress
[mine was borrowed three times]
Francos skirting violence
How I came to be a Franco-American
grandmother died in childbirth (9th)
as a son, he tells his parents' story
frustrated by the lack of opportunity
to build my Franco-American identity
France as being the Center
Fringe everywhere else
May 25, 1996 Saturday
Retaining the Core: The Voice of the Community
To corrupt Churchill's phrase
museum: temple of the muses
17th century was the beginning of museums
sheik/chic = other [academic]
Maine: from away
establishment of canon
local Franco museum
museum causes a fracture
between the artifacts & community
museum objects from an orthodox canon
don't speak to the community
cease to exist as objects of the community
[according to his definition your mother's walls
are more in context with the community]
understand rather than experience
reducible meaning assumed by the museum
change become the hubris
challenging the museum model
what do museums accomplish?
controlling the critical language
call for a rich web of histories
manipulate and subvert
The Prison House of Language
while promoting also closing down
no authoritative code
must not isolate it from change
Amy Morin/home art(s)
what happens to it when taken out of the context of "home"
but what is the relationship
of women's decorating/art
for consumption by the family
felt like silk (soft)
The art makes the body
"It took about a month of evenings"
altar clothes/church art
Influence on the furniture of St. John Valley
furniture still on the shore
from the deportation
spirit of the material culture
Compare St. John Valley and Louisiana
hand forged nails before 1840
Egyptians invented the screw
similar to LA--red paint
"eat the paint off the wall"
more of the cabinet style traditions
medieval tradition of cabinet makers
mortise and tendon
St. John Valley: All in pine
Lizotte armoire from Québec
made for specific place in the house
built for accommodating the floor
light the smoking pipe on the cupboard door
Carmen Lizotte, before 1840, 17 years old wrote in the cupboard:
"Where will I be in one year?"
Some women made furniture
do genealogy of family to find
out where the piece came from
male part, dry wood would go into female, green wood
Lisa Ornstein/Florence Rose Martin
song support group meeting
17 years old interested in folk music
je mange le misière
ethics of research aspect of removing the artifacts
Who is doing the removal
What are the vulnerabilities
Florence Rose Martin
In Ste-Agathe, everybody sang
the singing town
if she's awake, we can hear her
never learned to print
7-8-9-10 years-old copied her own songbook
I don't know how many acres you'd call that
At night, we'd swing and sing
neighbors bring chairs to the
road to listen to them
no street lights
everybody sitting in the dark
song/chanson à responds
[reflecting by singing back or listening]
who owns the information
mocqué un curé
Old Town History Project
Identity issues of language/culture
focus of the lens
Skin Island = Natives drying pelts
flowergirl for a lot of people
all of us have our war stories
we actually have voices
France discovered them [Franco-Americans] here
In [highschool] America you are allowed only one identity crisis
Maine is racist
Talking circle is broken
learning Penobscot and that will probably take us the rest of our lives
Calling across the sea
White people taking the way away
To do the appropriation is dangerous
Culture Clash because of this misunderstanding of what a talking circle
recording everything in journals
all the common elements recorded.
followed the postman for 1/2 hour
shame about the language
Go back to the Quebec
have the encounter between
the old or young
can't go back to the fields
conveniently located to assimilate us.
New family values
discovery of self through the other
a bridge connects and separates
Where have we heard the voices
of the mothers/mamans?
Identity as mother
take a piece
what does that mean
learn old and new all at the same time
She can afford to say that
a long time ago
Women who Read:
men who take over in poetry reading over done son
May 26, 1996 Sunday
I can still sit in view of the ocean. For a short while--une
It's like excavating literature in a culture. Funny how
I am questioned for authenticity. What price a cultural value would
I bring on the open market of belonging. I would be misinterpreted
by the too soon scrutiny. Better to know myself in the open waters.
Today I am 43. I was supposed to have a book written by now.
Publishing feels like it's for the beauty queens. I've read the writing
books. I know about the desperations. I also know about the
self-possessions and the centeredness.
Freedoms are those around you--knowing those around you are the
freedoms. Them sharing. Settled in yourself. Writing
besides the water...sometimes off-base, outfield, pitching.
Wanting growth spurts.
Employing the tensions of Moses.
Moses the deliberator in deliverance.
The reflecting back to ourselves ourself leading ourselves out
of bondage. Parting the Red Sea of Servitude. I'm looking at
you looking back at me. Making love is a reflective surface.
Shining a light against the mirror of God. Depravation is shadow
making. The darkness of no light of response.
The judgments of june will be on us soon. I'm not sure
of my summer self. I start a new year amongst the debris of possibilities.
Dust and winter's cobwebs in my being. La poussière.
My future eternal companion.
We live in the company of our judges. Those who would shape
us--"our small stone rubbed by many cut by a few rubbed many others and cut
Land and Sea reflect to each other. My sand is too fine
and too sifted. Some men are looking for other shores to moor their
bateaus. My rocky shore. My sheltered cove. My cry to
the waters for use. Use my shores. Make me a reflection of
your love ocean. Lap. lap. lap. up against the shoals of land cunt.
The land undulates its shivers.
Responds, recalls, resounding.
How can you miss the particular references of memory. Cataloging
the air currents change in velocity, the spirit world's acknowledgment
of temporal body travel across its paths. You keep track. Family
behaviors. Signatures of existence. You hope someone will be
there to receive you.
On the eve of my forgotten birthday--I forgot it was my birthday--earth
bound for 43 years, I read from my book and the crowd roared. Well,
they clapped at least.
Reading what I read there's a certain verve or nerve I need to
do that. A je ne sais pas of shy or stupid or sad or anything of
destruction. I am building an image of the mind. My life reconstituted
in print. Mind pictures released, flung on the open air between the
mind and the mind--magic weavings. Contact! Publishing is also
The boat to Nova Scotia is leaving without me this time--the Bluenose
Ferry. I would like to go on it sometimes.
I'm going to show you French Island
How can he tell me I can't teach anymore? This is my university.
babies and babies and babies
Burt Hatlen: Going to Norway understood himself
Intensely a closed world
a classist in order to have all of history
Meditations = writing
worlds call Nouvelle
focus of franco-american
English overlay-something preceding
claiming and reclaiming
subsumed into preexisting Academic form
She wants to be careful what she does with those hands
Scottish cousins we visit
congenial in their worship
mennonites became quakers
coming home to roost
hesitation and leaping
keeping the dialogue going between
community and academy
Have enough voice in pluralism
competition between ethnicities on campus
not used to the silence
some parts of the academy affirming the human spirit
Interest of the community with itself
notion of limitation
process of freedom
reciprocal if respected
willing to be marginal to a process
ways we in the academy are
willing to be marginal
Practicing and recovering myself
tensions on campus
by working in communities
A moment that has been a privilege
cross the tensions
significant "health" in the communities
Catering to the French
discovering one's past
Most of us had not had the luxury
of losing it in order to find it
blocks of culture
that you can fall or plug into
what comprises Franconess
--That far along to
try to question who we are
This question of rediscovering ourself
What one does with this history?
Françoise Bourdon: Develop new ways to approach scientific world
less hung up on objectivity
by observing the world you change it
way culture is observed between the academy and community
the bad heirlooms
used vs. not used things
In 1971 not thinkable to have a colloque
took a sabbatical (10 years) from my culture
a whole gang of us writers are out there
reflected very well on the university
Forge a relationship with more traditional aspects of the university
feel good units should feel good
what is the real cultural intersection
traditions filled with deadheads
dept. gone through a revolution
by associating with feel good units
not only a relevance and intelligence
afraid of our being too academic
food, clothing, shelter
question: what do we do with those aspects of the culture which
traditional aspects of the university ignores
1860. Secular history of the university.
feel good units
create new models
in a process that is very
process to bring woman into sacred academic spaces
The question is what are intelligences or smarts.
Take the objects out or away
from the culture
respectful of one another
What about the gap?
doesn't always feel good
not engaging the truth
as academics reinforce ourselves
men as leadership? for women
just feeling good
pick a strength
publicize the hell out of it
Maine and France are integral
field day for the francos
What about community?
How to integrate?
ground in traditional to provide
Value of Voice
How to discover
ends in divisiveness
language of dialogue
asks the question
Still coming "off" the conference. I asked everyone to
sign my birthday card Lanette gave me. All the women at breakfast.
Yvon asks to sign it too. There are 12 women on the face of the card.
I say well...the men are the trees he tells me--okay, you justify it to
me. Walking through the forest of the male, I say.
We hug Yvonne Buchmann goodbye. She is leaving today.
Amy to follow soon to go to France.
The journaling helped me to get through the conference.
Clark Blaise is at the conference and remembers me from meeting
him in Portland. He comes over to talk to me. I'm so fucking
Steven Riel and I get along. We talk at breakfast.
He is a gay man. Brave. He leaves and he says: "kisses."
Just like in the movies. I'm thrilled again.
Yvonne Ross is a force.
Lanette and Alicia, roommates and pleasant dreams. Thanks
for the song.
Don Cyr does a presentation that evokes art class.
Président Jallet is present.
Kristin Langellier presents on the breast cancer work.
It makes some people uncomfortable, but it works out.
Janet Shideler, Claire Quintal and Elizabeth Aubé are
Grégoire Chabot an (okay!) guy, from Waterville.
Ludger Duplessis a charmer. Waterville, too.
Evelyn Sirois, OKAY!
Colette Fournier, music, music, music. Plus earrings.
Françoise Bourdon an underground river--that cries.
Yvonne Buchmann--no longer virginal, a joy.
Severin--always appreciative, on the count of three.
Connie Albrizio is the real pretty lady and bravest.
Florence Rose Martin, songs and friendship.
Other. Forces. Belonging.
I seem to make sense in places at times.
I curse life's limitations, but praise my life's avenues of opportunity.