By guest columnist Carla Chanel, an American actress and writer who recently returned to Ventura, California, after living in Paris for the last four years.
I asked friend Carla Chanel to report on what it has been like for her to return home to the USA after her expat life in Paris. Here's what she said:
My friend's email written a day after the Presidential election was short and to the point. "It's safe to come home now."
A touch of bleeding heart liberal humor but nevertheless fitting.
As expatriates living in France for several years, we had seen Barack Obama become a sign of change not just for our nation but for the international community as well. The shops along the tourist-driven streets of Paris were filled with Obama tee-shirts. His face was on the cover of every magazine. His name was part of every café conversation.
And while it was the rhetoric of change that had filled American conversation and political posturing, something had actually happened. In the masses of people who came out to see and hear Barack Obama, a sense of long forgotten hope had been recognized. And through him, Americans embraced the voice we once had and stepped out of the ether of these past dark years. American democracy had rallied to elect Obama president. It was indeed a good time to come home.
Over the months preceding the move, my husband and I had discussed the different aspects of transition that would face us as we relocated back in the United States and to Ventura County, California. Naively, the one transition we hadn't considered was the rather extreme change in the political atmosphere. When we left the U.S., the media was filled with the likes of Bill "The Luffa" O'Reilly and Ann "The Venomous Vixen" Coulter. We were aware of the loud shrieking voice of Fox News and the fervor of the Far Right. But I hadn't prepared myself for how voluminous that voice had become, how far that fervor had erupted.
After the presidential election, I naively imagined (or hoped) that Sarah Palin would disappear into the tundra. To my amazement, she is still up front, still drawing in the crowds, maintaining her bizarre Barbie-with-a-gun personae in the Republican leadership.
And as incredible as it seems, the Discovery Channel has chosen to give her a television series. It has given a platform to "Drill Baby Drill," man-has-not-influenced-global-warming, polar-bears are-not-endangered, let's-expand-aerial-predator-control-program Sarah Palin. It is both offensive and ludicrous at the same time. And how in the world could anyone have prepared me for Glenn Beck--a commentator/entertainer whose totally absurd outbursts are colored with a talent for crying on cue equal only to the tears of a young Margaret O'Brien.
I would be less than truthful if I told you that I understood the Tea Party. According to their site, they define themselves as "a user-driven group of like-minded people who desire our God given Individual Freedoms which were written out by the Founding Fathers."
I suspect Benjamin Franklin amongst others is turning over in his grave.
So these are the people and the issues that I now find myself confronted with in the media. I like to think it is my intellectual motor that deals with all that, but it was not until what I describe as THE SEIGE OF THE THOUSAND OAKS POST OFFICE that matters became more personal.
Lyndon LaRouche was a fanatic that I heard of many years ago. While his accusers regard him as an anti-Semite and homophobe, let it not be forgotten that he is the man whose myriad of conspiracy theories include the The Beatles having been a pawn in British Psychological Warfare and Queen Elizabeth masterminding the international drug trade. Frankly, I would have thought him dead by now. But he is apparently alive and well and invigorated by his new-found hatred for Barack Obama.
And as I arrived at my local post office, his henchmen were strategically situated behind a table in the parking lot and at the front door. The LaRouche table was filled with pamphlets insisting the president 's behavior be changed immediately so that "your sister might not end up in somebody's gas oven."
It is one thing to watch the evening news and see the antics of the LaRouche people, to read the paper and see their photograph of President Obama sullied with a Hitler mustache. It is a different matter entirely to be physically confronted with one of those posters and asked what you think of the President's new mustache and hear him disparaged.
Words like "fascist" and "socialist" spewed from the mouth of the post office's self elected new doorman. It was at that moment--that exact moment--that my intellectual motor went to hell and back, and I went "postal" (with apologies for the pun, however appropriate it might be). I raced into the post office, ignoring all protocol of lines, and screamed "You have to do something. There is a man out there confronting people with a photograph of the President of the United States with a Hitler mustache! And this is Government Property!" (If I have neglected to mention it, we unintentionally managed to relocate to a bucolic area home to ducks, herons, Republicans and more Republicans.)
No one rallied to my side or even mustered a "Yeah, do SOMETHING!"
The postal workers were far more supportive. They desperately wanted the LaRouche bandwagon to move on to a different location but alas there was little if anything they could do. The LaRouche men indeed had the right to be there sayeth the First Amendment even if it was government property.
But to add insult to injury, postal workers are apparently not allowed to call the police to intervene in a situation like this. (The rationale of that escapes me.) And it was their fervent request that I be the one to call the police. Newly returned to the United States, the one thing I did not have in my possession was a cell phone. My request to use a post office phone was denied and I reluctantly faced defeat and made an exit much less dramatic than my entrance.
As we drove past the LaRouche table, a Cadillac passed between us. The elderly gentleman behind the wheel was shaking his head in disbelief. He and I lowered our windows to console each other, or so I thought. He looked directly into my eyes and said, "Don't listen to them. I spoke to them. They aren't what they appear. They are really liberals."
As my mouth dropped open, the Cadillac drove off to return to the nearest Far Right Retirement Home in the area. And as I sat exchanging bewildered glares with the man behind the LaRouche table, I shouted "He is actually crazier than you are," the parting words of a livid liberal who felt she had unequivocally entered the Twilight Zone.
I was not ready for this altercation. Didn't they know I had come home to the land of promise? I spent many a sleepless night after this event.
I stood behind the First Amendment, and the LaRouche people were due their little corner of the parking lot. But surely there must be a way to protect the public from being accosted by hate mongers. My right to walk the streets of this nation without being approached by fanatics is certainly protected by law--but how?
Somewhere around three o'clock in the morning, I had an epiphany. It was called the California State Civil Code, and the LaRouche people definitely met the definition of a Public Nuisance, which is a delightfully inadequate term. I now carry a copy of that code in my bag. Accosted again, I am armed and ready to draw.
Now as I look back at that email beckoning us home, I regret that there hadn't been a second email saying," Fasten your seat belt. It's going to be a bumpy ride. And for Pete's sake, get a cell phone."
Beth Arnold lives and writes in Paris. To see more of her work, go to www.betharnold.com. =She misses her fabulous friend Carla Chanel.