Geopolitics

The Communist Woman And Jewish Shrink In Pope's Past

Pope Francis in Vatican City on Aug. 30
Pope Francis in Vatican City on Aug. 30

Pope Francis is not afraid of speaking freely, with his sermons and writings — and a fair share of press interviews — stirring up the Catholic establishment since his election in 2013. Yet a new book based on transcripts of 12 separate conversations with a French sociologist is particularly rich in revelations.

The 432-page Politique et société, du pape François - Rencontres avec Dominique Wolton ("Pope Francis: Politics and Society. Conversations with Dominique Walton") will be out on Wednesday.

The Paris-based daily Le Figaro has published exclusive extracts, in which the Pope ponders the purpose of religion and offers some fascinating details of his own life and views, from his going to see a Jewish psychoanalyst to his relationships with women, his take on both Islam and Communism. Here are 10 best bits, translated exclusively into English by Worldcrunch:

THE SHRINK

Pope Francis explains that, at age 42, he "consulted a Jewish psychoanalyst. For six months, I visited her once a week to clarify certain things. She was very good. ... And then one day, as she was about to die, she called me. Not for the last rites, since she was Jewish, but for a spiritual dialogue. A very fine person."

FEARFUL EUROPE

Describing a "scared" Europe that "closes, closes, closes," he says: "I believe that Europe has become a ‘grandma." Whereas I'd like to see a motherly Europe." He goes on to denounce the Old Continent's low demographics and warns that it can "lose sense of its culture, its tradition. When you think that it's the only continent to have given us such a great cultural wealth, and I want to stress that. Europe must find itself again by returning to its roots. And by not being scared. Not being scared of becoming Mother Europe."

SICK PRIESTS

On pedophilia: "If a priest is a child molester, he's sick."

NO GAY MARRIAGE

"‘Marriage" is a historical word. It's always been between a man and a woman, in human history, not just in the Church. You cannot change it haphazardly. ... It's the nature of things. They are this way. ... Let's not play around with truths. It's true that there is the gender ideology behind it. In books too, children learn that they can choose their own sex. Because one's gender, being a woman or a man, would be a choice and not a fact of nature? This favors this mistake. But let's say things the way they are: Marriage is a man and a woman. This is the exact term. Let's call same-sex union ‘civil union.""

KORAN CRITIQUE

Speaking of the absence of reciprocity with some Muslim countries, he says the problem with Saudi Arabia is their "mentality." He goes on to talk about a future Cairo meeting with the imam of the al-Azhar mosque, and says that Muslims "could benefit from a critical study of the Koran, as we did with our Scriptures. The historical-critical method of interpretation will allow them to evolve."

WOMEN IN HIS LIFE

Francis reflects on his relationships with females through his life, including teenage girlfriends. "Always being in contact with women has enriched me. I learned, even in adulthood, that women see things differently than men. When faced with a decision, with a problem, it's important to listen to both."

A COMMUNIST FRIEND

"There was one woman, Esther Balestrino de Careaga who taught me to analyze political reality. She was a Communist ... from Paraguay. ... She gave me books, all communist, but she taught me to analyze politics. I owe this woman so much. ... I was once told: "But, you're a Communist!" No. Christians are the real Communists. The others just stole our banner."

HIS CAGE

"I feel free. It doesn't mean I do everything I want, no. But I don't feel imprisoned, in a cage. I am in a cage here, in the Vatican, but not spiritually. ... Nothing scares me. Maybe it's madness or immaturity!"

MAMMA

"I thank God for having met real women in my lifetime. ... I saw my mother in pain after her last delivery — there were five — when she contracted an infection that left her unable to walk for a year. I saw her suffer. And I saw how she found ways to never waste anything. My father had a good job, he was an accountant, but his salary was just enough for us to see through the end of the month. And I saw this mother, the way she would face problems one after the other… ... She was a real woman, a real mother."

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Society

The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation

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Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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