I am moving back to France. Not an easy decision, but in the end, the need for change won out. It was time, as my friends at 826 Valencia put it, for a new adventure. There are other reasons, of course. The high cost of living in San Francisco becomes a greater burden as I age and my ability to make money diminishes. The result of a lifetime of decisions made for reasons that did not enhance my bank account may just be that I cannot continue to live in this city I still love. So it goes. I can live with that.

The ascendance of the abominable Trump had something to do with it, but not very much, and, after all, I may very well be faced with President Le Pen, another malignant nightmare.

I was able to overcome election despair because volunteering at 826 gave me hope. The people who run this program are doing something terribly important by helping the children learn to think independently and inspiring them to express their thoughts. Teaching a child that what he thinks and feels really matters is an important step in countering the growing racism and misogyny that threatens us all, and the cynicism that allows it to happen. If I had even the smallest hand in helping a child find her voice, I will have done something worthwhile.

The booklet in the photo is indeed a treasure chest for me but the treasure is not in the memories, it is in the future of these bright and beautiful children who can create a world better than the one they will inherit. When Barack Obama was elected I thought we had achieved a significant milestone in our achingly slow climb out of the slough of genocide and slavery in which this country was born. Certainly the last election was a major setback but it doesn’t have to be fatal. I look at these children and realize their gift to me was a belief in the cyclical nature of progress. They can take back the future and we can help.

So I leave here with very mixed emotions. I do believe it is the best thing for me but I’m saddened to leave my very good friends and the extraordinary effort of hope that is 826 Valencia. I will, I must, find another way to contribute.

Resist. Persist. Act.

©2017 Ron Scherl

The Day After

The kids are frightened. So am I. This election brought fear and despair, a violent anxiety took root in my gut and remains. It was a struggle just to summon the will to leave my apartment and when I did it seemed odd that people were going about their daily business and the sun had risen. I’m scheduled to volunteer at 826 Valencia on Wednesdays but I felt drained and hopeless, not certain I wanted to live in a country that could elect that man. But I went, not making a decision with purpose, just walking to the bus and then the Tenderloin Center on auto-pilot, propelled by a sub-conscious desire to do something. I expected to find like-minded people at 826 and, of course, I did. But I didn’t want to try to put a happy face on a cataclysmic tragedy: these kids: African-American, Muslim, Hispanic—at the beginning of their lives—were going to suffer much more than me. They will have to grow up under a government elected on a platform of ignorance, racism, and misogyny. They can look forward to a Supreme Court dedicated to limiting their freedom in order to protect wealthy white men. I am closer to the end of my life than the beginning and I can choose to leave this country. They are so young and already faced with the significant obstacles of “otherness”. Now what?

Well, 826 is a special place. Kona encouraged us to talk to the kids about the election, let them express their feelings and encourage them to write about them; help them to develop their voices, let them know someone is listening. I had been thinking of my task as helping them unlock their imaginations but this was a more important job. They need to know their feelings are valid and they must be heard.

I was working with two Hispanic kids and a young Muslim girl. They began by feeling me out. “Who did you vote for?” I told them I had voted for Clinton and they said they did too, or they would have if they could vote. They said their parents voted for Clinton and they were afraid of Trump. He doesn’t like Mexicans. He’s a racist. He’s going to build a wall so no more Mexicans can come here. One kid looked at me and asked if he could write about anything he wanted. I smiled for the first time that day. “Of course.” He wanted to know if he could just call him Trump, not President. I said that was fine and he wrote about the wall and all the Mexicans stuck on the other side. He wondered if Trump would build a wall around the whole country and what that would mean. It frightened him.

Another child said she didn’t want to talk or write about it because the election made her parents angry and she was frightened when they got angry. She just wanted it go away and wanted to finish her story about a very small banana split. The third child arrived late and began by asking me how I felt about the election. I said I was very, very unhappy and she said she was too. She said her parents were worried but they didn’t want to talk about it.

I said this was a difficult time and we were all a little scared but we were there to help and support them and that would continue. My voice broke and for a second I thought I would not be able to stop the tears that were imminent all day. I got through it, had to because I had to push my lazy problem child to start writing.

I didn’t expect to finish this piece on an optimistic note—it’s not my usual inclination—but I have to search for sanity in a world I see as dangerously unbalanced. On the ground level, programs like 826 can often feel like entering a battle naked and unarmed. It can seem impossible to do enough to make a difference. But it’s not. The ability to communicate is power and if we can help these children learn to express themselves, if we can foster their confidence and support their ambitions, their time will come and they will be equipped with the tools they need to succeed. They need to know now that their voices matter and surrounding them with adults who listen and take them seriously is a beginning.

Baby Wine

I took a walk in the vineyards this evening to record the state of the fruit. I like to go the same vineyard at least once a month to see the changes and understand the process. It’s hot now and we have very young, small green berries with opaque skin. It’s baby wine and it made me think about all the things Maury does for its children. OK, I know that’s a stretch, the truth is there have been all these events for kids lately so I couldn’t help but think about them and then I went for a walk in the vineyards and it all got tossed together in the salad of my brain. I’ve warned you about this before: this blog doesn’t have an editor.

Athletes ©2012 Ron Scherl

The children are everywhere; if you invite friends to dinner, expect the kids to come too. Parents tell me the school is excellent and they love the teachers. The library (http://www.maury-village.com/biblio/) serves everyone, but Cati has a special emphasis on children and if you go there on a Wednesday when school is all athletics, some of the kids who are not sports minded will be in there reading. She also has a Saturday morning meeting for parents to read to their preschoolers and even hosted a seminar for regional librarians on sexism in children’s books, featuring a prominent expert in the field.

Music ©2012 Ron Scherl

Children are included in everything, they begin the Mass by bringing candles to the altar, Voix de Femmes included several theatrical presentations for kids; they carry the torches for the Fête de St. Jean (accompanied by firefighters). Even the large winter bingo parties set aside some of the games for kids only, with appropriate prizes.

Fete de St. Jean ©2012 Ron Scherl

This is one of the nice things about small town life and it’s important that it still exists here. Many small rural towns are dying because there is no economic opportunity, but Maury has the wine and so far, that has kept many of the younger generation and their young children here working in the independent wineries or growing for the cooperative. When I first came here I feared this generational continuity would be lost for two reasons: winemaking is a very difficult way to make a living, and the influx of foreign investment would buy up the best vineyards and drive the locals out of the business.

It hasn’t worked out that way. For one thing, it’s difficult to earn a living anywhere right now and the scarcity of employment may very well have kept some people in the vineyards. Also, much of the acreage that changed hands was scheduled to be torn out because the farmers had retired, and many of the best vineyards remain in the hands of the locals, who continue to make wine and feel they will prosper because of the new attention being focused on the region. And it’s this generation, in their twenties and thirties whose children are filling the school.

Meanwhile, the mayor works for managed growth and a balance between the new investment and family traditions and I have to think that if anyone can make this work, it’s Charley.

The Mayor ©2012 Ron Scherl

Voix de Femmes


Last weekend was the annual Voix de Femmes music festival, which for me was a bit of time-travel, for a little while. Like a number of other photographers who started working professionally in San Francisco in the late 60’s, I began shooting rock concerts. There wasn’t much money in it but there was plenty of music, lots of dope and the feeling that this was the best time in the best place in the world. A lot of great photographers came out of that scene, many stayed in it – none better than Jim Marshall who defied all expectations by dying in his sleep two years ago – but my life took a different turn and most of the next 20 years were spent in San Francisco’s Opera House, a very different scene, but one with numerous similarities: a diva is a diva after all, whether she’s singing Verdi or the blues.

After many more turns, here I was last weekend shooting a rock concert for the first time in about 40 years.

Voix de Femmes is a big deal in Maury, two days of diverse musical events plus theatrical events for the children, now in its twelfth year. Things got under way Friday night with Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside, a band from Portland Oregon that cultivates an idiosyncratic retro image – actually Sallie has the image, the guys just have jeans and t-shirts – but rides on the strength of Sallie’s voice. Comparisons some have made to Billie Holiday or Bessie Smith are a bit out of line, but she can sing.

Sallie Ford
©2012 Ron Scherl

They were followed by Amadou and Mariam, two musicians from Mali with a kickass band that had the audience up and dancing. I’m up in front of the speakers, ears ringing, losing the rest of my hearing.

Amadou ©2012 Ron Scherl

Saturday had four free afternoon events, two performances for the kids, an early music concert and a public chorale featuring a manic comedienne and the good citizens of Maury cajoled into singing in the Place de la Mairie.

Cie Label Z: Babeth Joinet ©2012 Ron Scherl

Les Troubadours are part of a roving festival funded by the Regional Council that celebrates early music and Occitane and Catalan culture in Romanesque architectural sites. The Maury concert was held in the Chappelle de St. Roch, a Romanesque design built in the mid 19th century to honor St. Roch, to whom the commune had appealed to halt a cholera epidemic. This was a wonderful concert, great voices, early instruments, love songs dedicated to the female troubadours of the past.

Troubadours in the Chapel of St. Roch: Carole Matras ©2012 Ron Scherl

The evening shows featured two young women: L, a poetic storyteller who reminded me a bit of Madeleine Peyroux, but still needs to grow into performance, and Anaïs, a versatile chanteuse with an amusing rap, accompanied by a DJ along with the band. It struck me that both might be much more interesting in a small venue.

L ©2012 Ron Scherl
Anaïs © 2012 Ron Scherl

My back was aching, my recaptured youth all but gone. I managed to get home, raised a glass to Jimmy Marshall, took four ibuprophen and three days to recover.

“I ache in the places where I used to play”, L. Cohen, Tower of Song.

The Social Scene


Dear Diary,

The holiday social scene in Maury is heating up and getting to be more hectic than fashion week in Paris. The bisous are flying and it’s all I can do to keep up.

Tuesday I dropped in on the Club du Troisième Age to get a few pix of a hot bingo session. It was crowded and intense, maybe 75 people in the club HQ competing for bags of groceries. And they come prepared. They have sets of markers, usually with metal rings and a magnetic bar to collect them and keep them at hand. The moderator keeps a crisp pace going while adding a little cultural reference to each number; e.g., 51 is pastis, 89 is Mammie, 90 is Pappi. And they just keep going. I was there two hours and there wasn’t even a break for coffee.

Bingo ©2011 Ron Scherl


Bingo ©2011 Ron Scherl

Thursday was outdoor activity day, mushroom hunting which is a competitive sport around here. Ben was my guide and as we were heading to his car a neighbor stopped us to ask where we going. Ben coyly answered that we were just out for a walk but no one was fooled. “Everyone goes to the same places, you just try to get there before they’re all picked,” he told me when we got in the car. There wasn’t exactly a traffic jam in the forest but several cars and a fair number of people with plastic bags, walking sticks and sturdy shoes. But Ben got us into the woods and started my education, pointing out the desired variety barely visible under mounds of pine needles and condition, not too soft or with worm holes and showing me how to ease it out of the ground and trim the stem. When I pointed out the bright orange color staining my hands, he told me that tomorrow I’d also be peeing orange and not to worry. I made one attempt to point out a prize specimen that he had seemed to miss but when it turned out to be a rock I decided to just follow Ben’s lead.


Mushroom ©2011 Ron Scherl

Back in town, we saw Bardot was painting the café kitchen and stopped in for the latest update on the expected reopening. I’ve never seen Bardot without a cigarette in his mouth which was now adding a cool gray ash to the white paint, and his southern accent is nearly impossible to understand but I managed to get “next weekend” accompanied by an expressive shrug which no doubt indicated that one should add “more or less” to that estimate. Since the first rumored grand reopening was November 1, I’ll wait and see.


Friday night Michel and Angelique had a small gathering of neighbors for aperitifs, which around here means sweet muscat and enough food to make dinner impossible. After a delightful couple of hours I went out to photograph the Christmas lights and was almost run down by Richard and Sarah and family on their way to the Grand Rifle, another even bigger bingo fest. This town is getting to be the Las Vegas of the Roussillon. Walking down to the Centre Loisirs, I ran into Vartak who was heading to a concert in Planèzes and invited me along. Sounded good, but I was on assignment in Maury and couldn’t miss the Rifle.


Le Grand Rifle ©2011 Ron Scherl

This was a very big bingo event, drawing at least 300 of the town’s 900 citizens and the prizes went up a notch including some very good local wines and fois gras. This was serious business. After numerous bisous, I bought a card making sure it had number 23 on it and found a seat at the expat table. Lady Luck never dropped by.


Gabriel and Michel ©2011Ron Scherl

This morning wrapped up the week with the annual Marché de Noel, a gathering of producers of wine, honey, chocolates and more, along with artisans and sellers of jewelry, DVD’s, clothing, knick knacks and gifts. The Mayor dropped by to shake hands, give a few bisous and spread the seasonal cheer. He manages to be open, friendly and dignified and people are happy to see him. For the kids there was an inflatable castle, face painting and an appearance by Père Noel, everything needed to inspire the magic of Christmas.


A bientôt,

Your faithful, exhausted correspondent

Sasha and Amy ©2011 Ron Scherl


The Festival of Saint Brice

This weekend marked the festival of Saint Brice, the patron saint of Maury. Brice was born in 370 and raised by St. Martin in Marmoutiers, near Strasbourg in Alsace.

According to the Catholic.org web site, he was a “vain, overly ambitious cleric”, who “neglected his duties, was several times accused of lackness and immorality.” He was exiled from his See and after seven years in Rome, “he returned and ruled with such humility, holiness and ability, he was venerated as a saint by the time of his death.”

He died in 444. It is unclear how he became the patron saint of Maury, but I like a town that will give a guy a second chance.

The form of the festival changes each year with the makeup of the organizing committee. A couple of years ago there was a Mexican theme, complete with a parade and mariachis marching up to the town square. This year we had a schedule of events that would not be out of place in any small town in America.

There was a mini carnival with bumper cars, a merry-go-round, a booth where you try to snag a prize from a bin, and cotton candy.

Carnival photo
Carnival ©2011 Ron Scherl

There was a dance last night with a band named Système sans Interdit, which roughly translates to a system without prohibitions, or total freedom, which is why, I suppose they chose to play in their underwear. Looking at their web site, it seems they do this quite often and it works with their self description: “French and Kitsch Music.” The crowd was mixed: older women who left early, young families with little girls dancing and little boys running in circles, and teenaged girls ignoring teenaged boys. It never quite reached the critical mass necessary for ignition but that didn’t seem to bother the band who played without a break for longer than I could take.

Photo of Rock Concert
Systeme sans Interdit ©2011 Ron Scherl

There was music at the mass too, a special event for St. Brice’s feast day. Cobla Nova Germanor is a Catalan band from Perpignan whose motto is “Long live the Sardana”. I was thinking of the guitar playing folk singers now an integral part of contemporary Jewish services, but this was different, here they provided some quiet background music to the procession, communion and collection. The mass began with an almost orderly procession of children to the altar and included readings by four of the more prominent women in town. It concluded with a short and warmly received speech by the mayor.

Photo of Mass
Before the Mass ©2011 Ron Scherl
Photo of mass
The Mass ©2011 Ron Scherl

After the mass everyone went over to the Mairie for an aperitif and potato chips. The mayor poured wine, the band had a little more freedom and several women found just enough room to dance a Sardana while the men talked business.

Photo of the mayor
Mayor Charles Chivilo Serving an Aperitif ©2011 Ron Scherl

The weekend concluded with a tea dance but worn out from all the unusual activity, I slept right through it.   (No Photo)

A Familiar Tale

Things are a bit different here but I was ready. I had to battle through intense skepticism from my partners who would not believe the French could carry out this mission. I knew better. My contact at the Ecole Primaire, a beautiful, long legged blonde with a checkered past and a sexy accent assured me the operation would go off as scheduled, nightfall tonight, October 31. I was to leave the lights on, a signal that would not seem out of place to a casual observer.


As the afternoon wore on, I began to worry. Could I really trust her? I wanted to call, but knew she wouldn’t answer, not today. I tried to nap but couldn’t sleep, checked and re-checked my gear and finally got up to begin my preparations. I have a certain ritual about these things. It’s not superstition but I figure why mess with it when it works. There are a lot of faces I don’t see at the café anymore, but I’m still here.


Shower, shave, manly deodorant. My housekeeper, a beautiful petite brunette with Hungarian and Canadian passports and a husband for each had made sure everything was clean and neatly folded: black jeans, Giants T-shirt, Giants cap. The real stuff, traditional and black. My mitt wasn’t where it should be but I wouldn’t need it tonight.


I got out the Nikons and went to the locked drawer for the memory cards. I always keep them separate to prevent an accident in case I have children. It’s worked so far. Knowing I needed to be fast and agile and might have to quickly flee if things went sour, I decided on the D7000, 16-85 and SB900 with a small softbox. The softbox was a gamble but I thought I might have to cover a large area and knew it would put the odds on my side.


I went downstairs, turned the lights on, lit a candle to be sure and sat down to wait. It was a long night and I began to get sleepy. I knew if I fell asleep in this weather I would never wake up. I was thinking of calling it a night and watching a movie on my IPad when things started to turn around. First my partners returned from the station with a mysterious Brit and a pitcher of muscat. I was distracted for a moment by a tale of a beautiful French cellist playing Bach on the Eurostar and it almost cost me, but I was back on my game when the operation began.


Halloween Photo
Advance Scout ©2011 Ron Scherl

They started slowly, sending the young ones out alone and in pairs. Despite all my preparations, the SB 900 let me down. I checked and re-checked the settings but something was amiss. I was able to hold them off with bonbons, but I knew my supply would not last the night. I finally got a breather, and was able to adjust the 900. I knew it might only work for one shot and I could hear the carriages coming down the hill; if they split off and tried to outflank me I was doomed. As my batteries were recharging and my eyes adjusted to the dark, I couldn’t believe my good fortune: they had decided on a standard formation and big smiles.


I held my breath and pressed the button.

Halloween Photo
Happy Halloween ©2011 Ron Scherl