By Marguerite Jill Dye
We welcomed our friends from Avignon, France, Colette and Jean-Paul Pascal, with a fête. We explored our region on “Very Vermont” excursions and hikes. One lovely day at Silver Lake, Judy took Colette on her first kayak trip. We hiked Bear Mountain, Pico Peak, and the Appalachian Trail alongside Kent Pond. We listened to geese fly overhead and coyotes howl in the nearby woods; we thrilled at views from the Mountaintop Inn, and at sighting deer, geese, and ducks. While scouting out our own backyard, Jean-Paul encountered a wild turkey flock! The only thing missing was a black bear encounter.
We feasted on lobster and vegetarian fare at friends’ homes and diners where locals gather. I strove to prepare cuisine they would like, and we frequently shopped in our favorite stores, including Home Depot’s appliance sale. Colette won $40 at the Saratoga Race Track (minus her $20 initial investment), and when we were pooped out we watched Netflix: “Anne with an E” and “When the Heart Calls.” (The guys watched “Frontier” because men are from Mars.)
Colette and I learned to stitch books by hand at a bookmaking workshop with Pen Women. The Woodstock Historical Society taught us about early Vermont at King Farm. The Clark Art Institute show in Williamstown, Massachusetts, Women Artists in Paris—1850-1900, inspired us with fabulous, little-known art. Colette also noticed their recent addition resembled a museum in the south of France which was also designed by the same architect.
The Bennington Museum’s current exhibit, Crash to Creativity, demonstrated the creative and innovative culture fostered by the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration in Vermont among artists, writers, and civil workers. The WPA art represented typical rural people, the landscapes, and the need for better working and living conditions. (The exhibit runs through Nov. 4)
At the Labor Day Rally in Middlebury the next day, Sen. Bernie Sanders and fellow Vermont candidates also advocated for a living wage, an agricultural economy for American food producers, health care for all, affordable education, and against discrimination.
Gubernatorial candidate Christine Hallquist (who rose from a factory job to Vermont Electric Coop CEO) said if the minimum wage in the late 1960s were adjusted with the increase in the cost of living, it would be now $22 per hour.
U.S. Rep. Peter Welch said it’s now a crime for those seeking asylum to ask for help. “If you want to reconsider who you elected president you have an opportunity every two years to change the House of Representatives. The Republicans went AWOL.”
Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman said, “Don’t take Vermont for granted. Help elect the people you think should be in office. No more complacency.”
“This is the most divisive and reactionary president in the history of America,” U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders said. “Today we tell Mr. Trump that we are not going backward. We are going forwards. All across the USA challengers are running and winning.”
We discussed French health care with Jean-Paul and Colette, who said their government manages and provides for all through a single-payer (wage-based, sliding-fee) subsidized system. We know that every other industrialized nation has better care, at a lower cost, and provides a longer life expectancy. What is the difference? They don’t pay a middle man—health insurance companies. That is key to providing universal primary care for all Vermonters, an important step forward.
In France, public education and public higher education is free (other than a university registration fee of a few hundred euros). We said American education is free through public high school, but most jobs now require a higher degree. America has fallen behind in the global workforce, in part because indebted students can’t afford health care, housing, or security. Unlike all other developed nations, America’s failure to provide for students of modest means sets up our society for injustice and failure. Bernie and others advocate free college tuition because it’s out of reach for many and causes overwhelming debt.
Through the crowd of 500, determined, Colette approached and shook Bernie’s hand. She said, “I am French. Please sign this book on the ‘Best of Vermont’ because that’s what you are.”
Marguerite Jill Dye is an artist and writer who divides her time between the Green Mountains of Vermont and Florida’s Gulf Coast.