The woman who sold it to me was a treasure. Her shop’s in Paris, but I could swear she sounded just like a Brooklyn girl, so I asked her if she was an ex-pat. She said “I suppose so, but I was born an American, and I’ll die an American.” Turns out she and her husband moved to France 40 years ago because they were both in the theatre and “the discrimination here was just so bad – but in Paris, they loved us.” As soon as she said that I realized she was African-American; before that moment I thought vaguely that she reminded of my grandmother, who has always reminded me of Lena Horne (it's that silver screen diva thing) and so maybe somewhere I registered her heritage – as a small tile within a much larger mosaic of this remarkable woman who was unfolding before me.
And it struck me that something that mattered so little to the encounter we were having just then, mattered enough 40 years ago that it drove her out of the country.
Racism is another one of those things that as a white girl in a white world I can never quite get my arms around; it leaves me angry and frustrated to try. It grieved me to meet someone who loves America and couldn’t live here because America didn’t love her. I want to think that it’s different today – but is it? There’s too much bad news that would seem to indicate otherwise. And I’m too far removed, by accident of my own skin tone, to ever really know what other people go through.
Regrettably that's one more big problem that I can’t solve in a hurry -- but I *can* recommend a great poster shop in Paris. I've never been there, but I’m a big fan of the proprietress. No web site, no email, this girl’s old school – you’ll just have to stop by:
Maria Carmen Salis
The Tree of Art
68, rue Georges Lardennois