Letter From Paris: Yes, We Ca(e)n! In Normandy

The Obamas are in France -- a land that loves and admires them, individually and as a couple, for their intelligence, philosophies, and, let's not forget, potent style. Barack and Michelle and the First Couple of France Nicolas and Carla (Bruni) Sarkozy are walking the streets of Normandy, where a good portion of the history of western civilization was formed more than 1,000 years ago. Where William the "Bastard," later known as William the Conqueror, was born, whose Norman Conquest brought Norman-French culture to England, and had an impact on the subsequent course of England in the Middle Ages. The details of that impact and the enormity of the changes have been debated by scholars for over a century.

Sixty-five years ago today, along this Norman English Channel, the liberating drama of D-Day shook ravaged France and emboldened the hopes of all Allies. Normandy is a lush bucolic region north of Paris where, today, wheat fields brush the wind and pheasant families quietly parade. Where sheer bluffs drop to the turbulent sea and German bunkers still pepper haunted green hillsides. It is where, every weekend, the roads are lined with the cars of Parsians, who are making their way to country homes -- not to mention a fair share of Americans and British who have chosen to make Normandy their own home.

Today, surviving veterans are showing family members the paths their lives as soldiers took. Is there any way to express the adrenaline, fear, and horror they must have felt, the number of deaths of their friends and comrades they surely saw? Their grief of how they survived when others didn't? The gratitude of the French is being repeated over and over again. The first French woman to be liberated says it firmly for the TV cameras. Laughs are shared among old friends.

Residents in Normandy towns decked their streets in U.S. and French flags in preparation for Obama's visit and posters welcoming Obama read "Yes, we ca(e)n," a cross between Obama's campaign slogan and the name of a local city, Caen.


Yes, We Caen! is a patented phrase of Alexia de St. John's, a young French woman originally from Martinique who has now lived in Paris for many years. St. John's has allowed the city of Caen to use her phrase this year as a token of good will to the city as well as a show of her support for Obama's visit. She personally found inspiration and solace in the Obama candidacy and election. She says that before Obama she would've said, "no" to many things in her life. Obama's message of hope opened her mind and perspective. She began to say, "yes." No more excuses about why she can't do something. She's going with her flow, and she's finding the world has opened up to her.


Alexia de St. John's at the Palais Royal in Paris

St. John's goal today is to create "O Belovely Day," a universal day when people can come together in whatever way we feel -- and celebrate the Obama message, "Yes, We Can!" She sees this as the way she can give back to what she and others have gotten from it. The date will be August 4th, which happens to be President Obama's birthday and the anniversary of the abolition of feudalism (4 August 1789) in France, which swept away both the seigneurial rights of the Second Estate (the nobility) and the tithes gathered by the First Estate (the Roman Catholic clergy), and, basically, kicked off the French Revolution.

St. John's sees this as no coincidence. "We're all in the Universe to create something together," St. John's said, when I interviewed her. To spread her message, she created the "Yes, We Caen!" t-shirts, which she's selling to help fund O Belovely Day. Her logo contains the solar system, which shows we're a tiny part of the Universe; a butterfly because, like humans, no two are alike, and they are symbols of love; and fire, because we come from fire -- the Big Bang, and it's one of the Five Elements. Her motto is "hope, love, and happyness."

Alexia de St. John's and most of the French see Obama's visit to France on this historic D-Day as a celebration of all of the above.


Alexia de St. John's at the Place Colette in Paris

Beth Arnold lives and writes in Paris. To see more of her work, including Obamarific in Normandy, go to www.betharnold.com.