Return to Paris Day One

Monday April 1

After spending two weeks in Dublin, feeling at home didn’t happen as easily as last year.  An outsider.  The language deserted me and my fears of offending the French took hold. 

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Napoleon’s Hat at Le Procope, Paris

France even Paris was Mecca to my family.  My arriere grand pere was a doctor, kicked out of France or was it Switzerland because he used forceps, perhaps code for abortion.  An earlier relative had an argument with the king of France, not sure which one, about a naval tactic and was demoted from what to what?  Supposedly, we descended from aristocracy as our family name, de Jorna, begins with a small “de” denoting nobility.  

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And my grand mere came from France as did my great Aunts and older cousins.   The de Jorna’s did come from France and some did live in Paris, but my branch had lived in the French West Indies for more than 300 years.  Once that truth was uncovered, a second emerged.  My arrriere grandmere’s death certificate listed her as “colored.”  On a ship’s manifest from Barbados to New York, my great aunt was listed as colored.

All their lives in the states and perhaps in France, this branch of the de Jorna’s from the lates 1800’s when Armand de Jorna, my great grandfather,  married  the “colored” Noelline Noel, were passé blanc, passing for white.

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My grandmother, Germaine de Jorna, daughter of Armand de Jorna and Noelline Noel

This time in Paris, I return not as an descendent of an ennobled de Jorna, but as a passé blanc, the daughter of a man who resembled Louie Armstrong and who cautioned me to stay out of the sun lest my skin expose me and him.

Instead of looking for women artists outside the norm, Margureitte Duras, Agnes Varda, or Sophie Calle, I will look for those who pass and don’t pass, those from the colonies, Mayotte Capecia from Martinique who wrote The White Negress, Jean Rhys a beke, that is a white creole, born and bred in the Carribbean, and others who supposedly are French but are they?

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