Catching Up in Paris with Somers and MacLean.

A month has passed since I last wrote. Since then my sister, Dr. Margaret Somers, and our friend, Dr. Nancy MacLean came to Paris to visit. They gave a joint talk at the American Library in Paris–which I moderated–and the next evening answered questions on American politics and political economics at The Red Wheelbarrow bookstore.

The Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore: Nancy MacLean; Margaret Somers; Nita Wiggens; Penelope Fletcher.

We then made a whirlwind visit to Bretagne and la Côte de Granît Rose visiting with my friend, Roland, who kindly lent us his three-bedroom home while he slept in his boat–which he loves. He insisted we weren’t putting him out in any way. He even took them on a boat ride around L’ile de Brehat. On the way home, the engine fell off the boat–not down into the murky depths but was dragging along while the men, Roland and Nancy’s husband, worked at pulling it up. Nothing like coming to France on vacation and having a big adventure on the water!

Nancy, Bruce, Sara and Margaret in Pontrieux, Brittany

Because of the very difficult situation in the US, I’ve been doing a lot more reading about how US government works, the forces that do not want Democracy because it gets in the way of making mega-billions (numbers I can’t even imagine), the huge efforts to end all social programs–which help our neighbor who may not be as lucky as we are in life circumstances. It has been eye-opening and appalling–if only at how much I’ve taken for granted–that others want a Democratic system that works for all us as much as I do.

My sister is an academic and has written a wonderful book along with a colleague, Fred Block, The Power of Market Fundamentalism: Karl Polanyi’s Critique. Nancy has written a best seller Democracy In Chains; the deep history of the radical right’s stealth plan for America. They were invited to the American Library in Paris July 2nd for an Author event.

Sara, moderator; Nancy MacLean and Margaret Somers at ALP

It was quite an honor to moderate and ask both of them questions. The two books actually address a similar topic: the growth of the free market as something that promotes financial equality for all. Somers’ book lays the historical background and MacLean’s book goes from 1958 with the fall-out of the Brown vs the Board of Education supreme court case to the present day and the Koch brothers.

Dr. Margaret Somers, Dr. Nancy MacLean, Sara Somers, blogger

It is beyond the scope of this blog to tell in more detail the specifics of Somers’ and MacLean’s talks or to review their books. I do encourage anyone interested in learning more about political economics to read these books. It’s one thing to listen to either sides’ rantings. It’s another to get educated information and form an opinion based on facts–even though facts seem to be going extinct.

Dr. Margaret Somers, Amy Sulkies Below, Dr. Nancy MacLean at The Red Wheelbarrow

The next evening, at the Red Wheelbarrow, there was lively back and forth of questions and answers. It was a beautiful Parisian evening and when the gathering finally left the bookstore, it was still light out, the energy was high and it was hard to contemplate going home and to bed. There is something about Parisian nights and the the sky still being light at 10:30pm that makes one just want to stay out and join the bustling sidewalk culture that is at the heart of Parisian life.

Bruce, Margaret, Sara near Lezardrieux.

The next morning, we all got on the TGV fast train to Brittany. What a pleasure it is to show friends some of the most beautiful places in France outside of Paris. All too soon, both women were on the way to Potsdam, Germany where they gave keynote speeches at an International Conference: The Condition of Democracy and the Fate of Citizenship.

Happy Bastille Day, July 14th,

A bientôt,

Sara

Maya, une voix

If you are in Paris between now and July 27, run don’t walk to see Maya, une voix, at the Théatre Essaion in the 4th arrondissement. Until the 15th of June, it plays every Friday and Saturday night at 19:45H and from June 28 through July 27, every Friday and Saturday at 21:30H. Anyone who knows anything about Maya Angelou will recognise the story of a young girl sent north with her brother at a young age to live and get an education.. She is raped and, as a result of the trauma, little Maya doesn’t speak a word for five years. This 70 minute production begins with the adult Maya’s awe at being asked to write and then read a poem at Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1992; goes back in time to her childhood trauma and how she begins to speak again through writing words; and ends as she opens her mouth to read her poem at the Inauguration.

I learned about the production because Ursuline Kairson, who plays both the adult and young Maya, is a friend. Ursuline came to Paris many years ago as a blues and jazz singer and has never gone back to the US. I got to know her when I first moved here and love following this incredibly talented woman as she takes on so many different kinds of projects. http://www.ursulinekairson.com/en/

Ursuline Kairson

The singing is in English and the speaking is in French. If you have a medium grasp of French, you will follow the story. There are four other talented women in the show. Each one wears many hats and, with each change of an apron to suspenders to a sheriff’s hat, the new character is absolutely convincing. We were not allowed to take photos or I would put up many photos of the variety of characters in this vibrant and moving spectacle. After the show, some of us stood around the door outside talking and when the actors came out, we learned that two of the women are pregnant!!

Besides Ursuline, whose voice still jumps and twirls out to the audience, I was especially struck by Julie Delaurentiou. Julie is French but speaks English fluently. She did almost all the translations. She morphed from woman to man and back again with an ease and conviction that I found stunning. I said to someone after the show was over “That woman is going to be a star”. I then learned she is a trained Shakespearian actor. It’s not really fair to say one of them is better than the others. All five woman were extraordinary and for a mere 15euros, I saw a first-rate production in an intimate setting and got to meet all the actors after. What more could a theatre goer want?

Please watch this trailer to get an idea of these women, Eric Bouvron who did the staging and even hear a the real Maya speaking. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=96&v=p0G0KMnu5G4

Théatre Essaion

  • 6, rue Pierre au lard 
    (à l’angle du 24 rue du Renard) 
    75004 Paris
  • 01 42 78 46 42
  • Métro 1–Arrêt Hôtel de Ville
  • 11–Arrêt Rambuteau
  • 1 4 7 11 14–Arrêt Châtelet
  • Bus38 47 75 29–Arrêt Centre Georges Pompidou
  • for reduced priced tickets, go to http://www.billetreduc.com

A bientôt,

Sara

David Milch

I think everyone in the world has seen David Milch’s name somewhere on TV. Maybe it’s never registered with you. I’ve been seeing it a lot lately because I’ve been watching reruns of NYPD Blue, in order, here in Paris. I never saw it when it first came out on TV in 1993. I was busy rebuilding my house that had burned down in the 1991 Oakland Firestorm, busy watching the Oakland A’s in the evening and just busy. Together with Steven Bochco, Milch created a new kind of prime-time police drama. It ran for 12 seasons. Here in Paris, there are two episodes every weekday night. We’re just starting Season 9.

I love NYPD Blue. I love the flawed characters, I love the characterisation of New York and I love the writing. Imagine my shock when I returned from vacation, picked up my New Yorker and learned that David Milch has Alzheimers. He is 74 years old and was diagnosed in early 2015. He knows he has Alzheimer’s and has a whole list of things he wants to do. The article “Hello Darkness” was written by Mark Singer, a long time contributor to The New Yorker. Singer first met Milch in 2004 when Milch was writing the second season of “Deadwood”–which I have not seen but intend to having read this New Yorker article.

Milch is a complicated man. He is very smart and educated. He is a surviver of many addictions and many relapses. He also has bipolarity. As Singer says, somehow through it all, “he remained in command of prodigious gifts.” He was a writing professor at Yale and Robert Penn Warren was his mentor when he was an undergraduate there. While I’m reading a long list of academic achievement, I’m picturing Sipowicz muttering obscenities under his breath just loud enough so that Danny and Diane can hear. They roll their eyes. Sipowicz is one of a kind. Wikipedia says that Milch was inspired by his relationship with Bill Clark, a former member of the New York City Police Department who eventually became one of the show’s producers. But still…..I know how academics talk, I was raised by two of them and my sister is one. They do not talk like Sipowicz.

Photograph by Ryan Pfluger for The New Yorker

The more I read (New Yorker May 27, 2019), the more admiration I felt for Milch, for his talent, for his journey, for surviving addictions (among other things he made a fortune and lost it all to a gambling habit), for his family that has stuck by him. When Singer quotes him, he sounds like a gentlemen’s gentlemen. And how unfair this diagnosis of Alzheimer’s seems. “More than anything else, one would like to think of oneself as being capable as a human being. The sad truth, imposed with increasing rigor, is you aren’t. You aren’t normal anymore. You’re not capable of thinking in the fashion you would hope to as an artist and as a person. Things as pedestrian as not being able to remember the day. Sometimes where you’ve been. There have been a couple of times when I haven’t been able to remember where I live. And then there are compensatory adjustments that you make in anticipation of those rigors, so that you can conceal the fact of what you can’t do. It’s a constriction that becomes increasingly vicious. And then you go on.” p. 28 New Yorker.

Here is France, the name of the Director is always put above the name of the stars on a movie advertisement. Sometimes the stars names aren’t there at all. But the director always is. He’s the smart one. If you ask a french person about a movie and now, more and more, a good TV show, s/he’ll tell you who the director is. I’ve always sat through all the credits at a movie. I sit through all the credits for TV shows. I like knowing who did what even though I don’t know any of these people. After a while, you start recognising names. Like Danny Elfman composes a lot of movie music. So I knew the name David Milch very well. To me it was always Milch and Bochco. Which isn’t correct. Milch has gone on to do a lot of excellent work without Bochco. Things I’ve seen and not seen. So strange as it seems, reading this article was almost like reading about a friend who had become very, very ill. Only I don’t know where to send flowers. So I’m writing this tribute to a man who has entertained me for years, who turns out to be a complex, brilliant, interesting man who has struggled with some of the same demons I have. I pray he gets everything done he wants to get done.

BEVERLY HILLS, CA – FEBRUARY 15: Creator David Milch at the “Luck” Press Conference at Four Seasons Hotel on February 15, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Vera Anderson/WireImage)

I’m told that the movie Deadwood will air on HBO this week. Having not seen the first two seasons, I’ll probably wait but if you are a fan and I hear there are many of them……

A bientôt,

Sara

Le Gers in Spring

I spent last week down in Le Gers, the tiny village of Pouy-Roquelaure, where I spent most of last summer. I wrote about my time there in a number of blogs. It seemed magical to me with the music, the kindness of the people, the freshness of the food, the multitude of sunflowers surrounding me everywhere and the heat which I love but is not everyone’s friend.

Le Gers in southwest France

I have spent most of the winter dreaming up ways to return. People who live there don’t want to leave in the summer so home exchanges are difficult. The British will buy up large country houses, fix them up and then rent them for Parisian prices. I didn’t want that. I ended up renting a smallish place near the town of Nerac for a month starting in mid-July. But first I did an exchange with my friends: Paris-Pouy for one week.

Le Romieu

Two things interested me. Learning the history of the area starting with the Gauls. Is this where Julius Caesar came and started unnecessary wars so he could abscond with a lot of stolen loot? There are three exquisite areas, one near Montreal and two near Eauze, that show a village and probably village life.

The European elections were this past weekend and I wondered how Le Gers would vote. I asked a British friend and she thought the majority of Gascognians were still of a socialist bent which surprised me. The Gilets Jaunes were born out of poor countrysides and I would have thought that Le Gers might be part of that. But if my friend was correct, Le Gers would be the colors of the rainbow when all the winning parties were put on the map.

Condom

The area I love is in the northern-most part of Le Gers. I arrive by train from Paris to the Agen Station which is in Lot-et-Garonne. Twenty five minutes south is the tiny village of Pouy and forty-five minutes south is the the town of Condom–both in Le Gers. The Compostale of Saint-Jacques, that starts near Paris in Le Puy, comes down south to Lectour which is east of Condom, winds its way slightly north again to the beautiful village of La Romieu then southwest to Condom before making its way west to Eauze. This is a land of pilgrims as well as agriculture. There have always been pilgrims and always been foreigners.

Eauze

Visiting Eauze last Friday, I learned that I was right. Centuries ago, Eauze was called ‘Elusa’ being the ancient capitol of the Elusates who were the last to surrender to the Roman army of Julius Caesar. Nowadays, Eauze is the capitol of the Armagnac region, situated in Le Gers on the border of the Bas-Armagnac and the Ténarèze, home of the best Armagnacs.

Eauze is a small town with a friendly old historical heart and calm character. The architecture looked a lot like Strasbourg with the half-timbered houses. We did a self-guided walking tour and visited the lovely simple cathedrale of Saint-Luperc that had a chapel dedicated to Saint Jacques. We ended up at the Elusa historical sites that we didn’t have time to visit on this trip. We had been to Séviac last summer so we had a good idea what would be seen. We did see many pilgrims wander into the centre of town looking weary, dusty and slow. They all headed to the Tourist Office to have their Compostale book stamped.

Elusa: Eauze during the Roman Empire

During the era of the Roman Empire, Eauze was called ´Elusa´ and acted as the capitol of Novempopulania. Novempopulania is Latin for ´land of the 9 peoples´ where it was a Roman Province in today’s ´Aquitaine´, formed after the successful conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar. Elusa became the capitol of Novempopulania by the end of the 3rd century and developed into an important administrative and religious center. But after the downfall of the Roman Empire, Elusa lost her important position and slided into decay.–Tourism in Le Gers website.

Elusa: Eauze during the Roman Empire...

So what did Le Gers look like when the French woke up Monday morning after the European Elections:

Results for Condom

Taux d’abstention : 45.41% People not voting.

Jordan BARDELLA PRENEZ LE POUVOIR, LISTE SOUTENUE PAR MARINE LE PEN–25.56%

Nathalie LOISEAU RENAISSANCE SOUTENUE PAR LA RÉPUBLIQUE EN MARCHE, LE MODEM ET SES PARTENAIRES–22.05%

Raphaël GLUCKSMANNEN VIE D’EUROPE ÉCOLOGIQUE ET SOCIALE–9.40%

Yannick JADOT EUROPE ÉCOLOGIE–9.27%

François-Xavier BELLAMY UNION DE LA DROITE ET DU CENTRE–8.29%

Manon AUBRYLA FRANCE INSOUMISE–5.94%

Nicolas DUPONT-AIGNANLE COURAGE DE DÉFENDRE LES FRANÇAIS AVEC NICOLAS DUPONT-AIGNAN. DEBOUT LA FRANCE ! – CNIP–4.12%

Benoît HAMON LISTE CITOYENNE DU PRINTEMPS EUROPÉEN AVEC BENOÎT HAMON SOUTENUE PAR GÉNÉRATION.S ET DÈME-DIEM 25–3.59%

Fourcès

In Fourcès, next door, a village I would live in easily, En Marche was easily the winner with only 30% of the village not voting!!!

Taux d’abstention : 30.6%

Nathalie LOISEAU RENAISSANCE SOUTENUE PAR LA RÉPUBLIQUE EN MARCHE, LE MODEM ET SES PARTENAIRES – 29.25%

Jordan BARDELLA PRENEZ LE POUVOIR, LISTE SOUTENUE PAR MARINE LE PEN – 18.37%

The rest of Le Gers seems pretty much the same. Marine Le Pen did not take all of Le Gers. In fact, if the colors are accurate, it looks pretty even between Le Pen and Macron.

So what is the take away? Twenty-one hundred years ago, Le Gers (Gaul) fell to a Trump like dictator only wanting money and power and not much caring how he got it. Today, France is in a battle that is not so dissimilar. If Le Pen were to win in the next elections, she would fight tooth and nail to have France leave the EU (we’ll see what happens in Brussels between now and then). If France left the EU, there might not be a EU left. Macron wants power, wants to lead the EU. Perhaps if he settled for working out his France issues, relating to the French people, he might make more strides. But I’m only an American with not a lot of knowledge of French politics so you must take what I say with a few grains of salt!!!

A bientôt,

Sara

The Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore

Penelope Fletcher at the door of her bookstore, The Red Wheelbarrow

Before I moved to Paris in 2013/14, one of the most popular English language bookstores closed in 2009. Penelope Fletcher assures friends that it was for personal reasons and had nothing to do with Internet competition. Now that it has reopened nine years later, the outpouring of love and gratitude for the return of the Red Wheelbarrow got me investigating Penelope and her bookstore.

The name comes from a sixteen word poem by William Carlos Williams entitled The Red Wheel Barrow. I have yet to learn what the significance is. I sense it is important. When Penelope and her associates first opened the bookstore, it was located in the Marais. It has now re-opened at 9, Rue de Medicis across from the Luxembourg Gardens in the 6th arrondissement. “People like Umberto Eco lived here,” says Fletcher. “There’s this very rich community of writers and characters here. I didn’t realize it still exists.” This location is poignant in Paris’s bookstore canon; the store’s building has been a bookshop since 1930, and before Fletcher and her associates acquired it last year it was the last remaining secondhand science bookshop in France.–Paris Update, Nov. 6, 2018

Tash Aw, Edouard Louis signing books at the American Library with Penelope and a volunteer selling the books.

I first learned about TRW because, from the minute it re-opened, it became the partner bookstore for the evening events at the American Library in Paris. One or two times a week, Penelope shows up on her bicycle with bags full of books to be sold and signed by the spotlighted author of the evening. The respect and admiration that surrounds Penelope and the many articles that have been written about the re-opening have made me extremely curious. I thought the most well-known Anglophone bookstore in Paris was Shakespeare and Company. It has resided in one form or another in Paris since 1919. I had stopped by a couple of times when I lived close to it but found the used books to be so expensive that I stopped going. After reading a lovely book about the Tumbleweeds (students and travellers with no where to spend the night and stay at Shakespeare in exchange for work) that have stayed there over the years, I returned about two years ago. I walked through the space which is a delight but was not greeted by anyone and when I tried to talk to the owner Sylvia Whitman, daughter of 2nd owner, George Whitman, and someone manning the cash register, I was greeted with total silence as if I was invisible. I haven’t returned since. My Anglophone bookstore of choice became San Francisco Book Co. I could buy and sell used books there and have a lively discussion with one of the two owners if I had the time.

David Downie signing books on a Sunday morning in April.

In April, I went for the first time to The Red Wheelbarrow for a book signing by an author I like: David Downie. My sister and Nancy MacLean will be doing an event there on July 3 and I wanted to see the space and how it might work. Peggy and Nancy are speaking at the Library the night before and I wanted to make sure that the 3rd would be low-key and very casual. I needn’t have worried at all. David was seated at a table and signing books and I knew almost everyone who walked in. I also ran into Michael Ondaatje which got my ‘groupie gene’ activated. There were ladders next to the walls and Michael was climbing up one checking out books that were very high, close to the ceiling. The bookstore is small and filled with books. The windows in front tell an immediate story of who Penelope and her associates are and what the bookstore is.

Penelope in the window still organising the windows in the first months of the re-opening.

At the old bookstore in the Marais, Penelope had created a ‘neighborhood’ of book lovers. Visitors to the bookstore became friends and Penelope would introduce new visitors to old. When this bookstore opened last Fall, the ‘neighborhood’ moved with her. Penelope has a dream of community. She wants to serve as a refuge of positivity in uncertain times. According to the Paris Update article I read: “The shop window makes the store’s politics clear: on display are Innosanto Nagara’s A is for Activist and Jason Stanley’s How Fascism Works. An upcoming event with James Baldwin’s nephew Tejan Karefa-Smart will promote the reissue of his uncle’s book Little Man, Little Man: A Story of Childhood. These choices are especially relevant, and perhaps brave, as right next door to the Red Wheelbarrow is an extreme-right bookstore.

“You never know what’s going to happen with a bookshop,” says Fletcher. “You have to roll with the haywire. Because we have the extreme-right bookstore next door, we have to be extremely attentive to what we’re doing and be an opposition, and be more powerful, and be more positive, and be cleverer than them. Which is a challenge, because they’re very clever.”

She feels a responsibility to oppose the kind of hatred represented by the shop near her peaceful little store. “One of our co-owners survived the Holocaust, so of course her whole life has been dictated by this. Another one is African American – we are all directly impacted by what their intention is.”

Michael Ondaatje

Paris Update article: https://www.parisupdate.com/red-wheelbarrow/

Artwork hanging in the re-opened bookstore

I urge residents and visitors alike to support this wonderful bookstore that is more than a bookstore.

The Red Wheel Barrow

so much depends

upon 

a red wheel

barrow 

glazed with rain

water 

beside the white

chickens. –William Carlos Williams

Canadian Penelope Fletcher, the founder of the English bookstore, has found new partners and is again dedicated to providing one of the best English literary experiences in Paris. The location is pure Paris postcard with large, bright blue picture windows overlooking the park. Afterwards, head to the park to spend the afternoon reading.

  • 9, Rue de Médici
  • 6th Arrondissement
  • Metro – Saint Sulpice
  • Website

A bientôt,

Sara

Grabbed my journal, rushed for the C train (Notre-Dame part 2)

Only it didn’t happen that way. My plan had been to go to ground zero, Notre-Dame de Paris, Tuesday. I needed to see the devastation, the people, the burned debris on the ground. The day was cold, the sky was grey, Paris was in mourning. My body, exhausted from lack of sleep and anxiety, refused to move.

The final little fires were put out early Wednesday morning. Five hundred firefighters fought through Monday night into Tuesday morning containing the flames. One hundred of them made a long relay line and carried out precious art pieces. Tourists and Parisians alike came down in the morning hours, in the light of day, to see the devastation and saw that the main structure had been saved. The news told us that there was about an hour in the early morning when it could have gone either way. Thanks to the work and determination of five hundred pompiers (firefighters), we still have our Notre-Dame albeit in a very wounded state.

That morning, I made up my mind to join the throng of people. But every god conspired against me. I couldn’t find my walking shoes. My apartment is small enough that things get hidden away when I have company. Well hidden it turns out. My jeans didn’t fit, my lunch carrots had gone slimy bad. I didn’t even know that carrots could get slimy. One thing after another for forty-five minutes challenging my desire to get down there.

Finally I was on my way to RER C. I slide my Navigo over the turnstile and ran down the stairs. The electric billboard said the next train was coming in twenty-six minutes. “No, not another obstacle?” I muttered in English. A few elderly ladies turned to look at me. I made the walk to metro 9, got on, changed to metro 1 and got off at Pont Neuf.

I crossed the Pont St. Michel and got my first glimpse of Notre Dame: the right bell tower. I burst into tears. It looked exactly the same as before the fire from that angle but eighteen hours of holding back my ‘tristesse‘ opened the flood gates. I couldn’t stop crying. I walked by tourists who seemed unaware of the drama that had unfolded there Monday night. I turned left on Quai St. Michel and, as I approached le Petit Pont, more and more people were gathered gazing at the cathedral. Everyone seemed solemn, no one was pushy or aggressive. Some could see well, others couldn’t. The police had cordoned off everything from Pont St. Michel down as far as Pont de l’Archeveche. Firehoses snaked over the ground in front of us. The Gendarmes stood like sentries at the plastic red and white tape that separated us from them. The Station St Michel/Notre Dame was closed for both the RER C and M4. Cité must have been closed because no one was allowed entry to the parvis in front of the Prefecture.

I wanted to walk to Pont de l’Archeveche. I was hoping to take a photo at the exact same spot as the one that was taken of me three or four years ago. Some of the bouquinistes were open. I bought two sepia postcards of the view of the back of Notre-Dame. When I got to the bridge, it, too, was cordoned off. Patiently I waited for a spot to open up and I was able to get close enough to get my photo.

I stood there for awhile, just looking and my tears came and went. I was listening to Joan Baez on Spotify and she started singing ‘Amazing Grace‘. As I was listening and gazing at this beautiful structure that has stood on Ile de la Cité for 850 years, I realized just how much of it was still standing. The firemen DID save her. The sadness started to transform into hope. A friend of mine wrote me and said “it’s like she’s been horrendously wounded and stands suffering for all to see.” Wounds heal, suffering passes.

Almost the same spot as a photo of me (in the last blog) was taken 3 years ago.

Yesterday, Thursday, Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo invited all citizens and ex-Pats to Hotel de Ville (City Hall) for a ceremony to thank the Pompiers for risking their lives, working through the night and saving Notre-Dame. After she told us that she would be requesting that the pompiers be accorded honorary citizenship of the city of Paris, the actor, Nicolas Lormeaux, read an excerpt from Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

Mayor Hidalgo and signer for the deaf

In the novel, Hugo, one of France’s most acclaimed writers, describes, in 1831, flames in the Cathedral when Quasimodo uses fire and stones to attack Truands in order to save Esmerelda.

“All eyes were raised to the top of the church. They beheld there an extraordinary sight. On the crest of the highest gallery, higher than the central rose window, there was a great flame rising between the two towers with whirlwinds of sparks, a vast, disordered, and furious flame, a tongue of which was borne into the smoke by the wind, from time to time. Below that fire, below the gloomy balustrade with its trefoils showing darkly against its glare, two spouts with monster throats were vomiting forth unceasingly that burning rain, whose silvery stream stood out against the shadows of the lower façade.

As they approached the earth, these two jets of liquid lead spread out in sheaves, like water springing from the thousand holes of a watering-pot. Above the flame, the enormous towers, two sides of each of which were visible in sharp outline, the one wholly black, the other wholly red, seemed still more vast with all the immensity of the shadow which they cast even to the sky.

Their innumerable sculptures of demons and dragons assumed a lugubrious aspect. The restless light of the flame made them move to the eye. There were griffins which had the air of laughing, gargoyles which one fancied one heard yelping, salamanders which puffed at the fire, tarasques which sneezed in the smoke. And among the monsters thus roused from their sleep of stone by this flame, by this noise, there was one who walked about, and who was seen, from time to time, to pass across the glowing face of the pile, like a bat in front of a candle.

Without doubt, this strange beacon light would awaken far away, the woodcutter of the hills of Bicêtre, terrified to behold the gigantic shadow of the towers of Notre-Dame quivering over his heaths.”

Translation by Isabel F. Hapsgood

If you wish to donate to the rebuilding of the Cathedrale de Notre-Dame, Please go to this site: https://don.fondation-patrimoine.org/SauvonsNotreDame/~mon-don

A bientôt,

Sara

The Fire at Notre Dame

I had just arrived at the American Library when I was told there was a fire at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. I envisioned a small fire–not to worry about. I didn’t respond with much drama. We were walking on the sidewalk of rue General Camou in search of our two speakers for the evening. She stopped me and said ‘Look’. She had her iPhone in her hand and after a bit of a wait–it turned out everyone in Paris was on Wifi at that moment–showed me a photo of the fire at the back of the Cathedrale. NOT a small fire. As I often do at moments like that, I freeze a bit. I could tell by her face that she was very upset. I had yet to get there.

I was volunteering at an author event at the Library. I often get the job of greeting people as they walk in the door, asking them to sign in and showing them the donation box. All the events are open to the public and there is no charge. The library is completely dependent on donations so, with a big smile on my face, I ask them for their 10 euro donation. For a few minutes, I completely forgot about the drama taking place in the 4th arrondissement. Then I turned around and saw one of the other volunteers who was manning the drinks table in tears. She also had her phone in her hand. I walked over and she showed me a live BBC broadcast that she was watching. The fire had doubled in size in the 25 minutes since I’d been out walking to get our speakers. The 13th century spire was engulfed in flames.

I realize most of you know all of this already. I wanted to write about it but it’s not new news. This is my perspective on losing a friend. For two and a half years, I lived on the Quai des Grands Augustins. I had only to open my living room window, and look right and there was that magnificent lady that has/had stood there for over 800 years gracing Paris and being her symbol to the world. She had survived a Revolution and two World Wars. In the mornings, I could see the sun rising behind her and in the evenings, when the sun was setting over the Pont Neuf, the rays would bounce, red and purple, off the round stain glass window between the two towers. One afternoon, after a rain storm, I saw a double rainbow dome the towers. It was a magical moment. I have been to Christmas Eve mass there. I have walked up the left tower to see the gargoyles and the famous bell. The first time I took that walk I was 20 years old and a student at Lake Forest College. The last time was two years ago when my friend Barbara and I climbed it on what turned out to be one of the coldest days of the year. Never in my wildest imagination did I think I would ever lose her.

The Spire in flames and about to collapse

Then I moved to the 16th arrondissement in August of 2017. I don’t see Notre Dame on a daily basis anymore. Which makes her all the more stunning when I have to cross the parvis to get to the right bank or am standing on one of the bridges further down the river just gazing at her simple beauty and steadfastness. In history classes or in historical novels that sweep through the centuries, one reads about the destruction of a famous structure and then its rebuilding which takes over 200 hundred years. That will all be told in a couple of pages. As I walked home from the Library last night, I thought “I am part of history. I will never in my lifetime be able to climb the stairs in that tower or walk up the Quai behind Notre Dame, my favourite view, and see the flying buttresses holding up and holding down her flaring skirts.” Notre Dame will be rebuilt but I probably won’t see it.

Sara in 2016. My favorite view – coming up behind the Cathedral, seeing the Spire and the flying buttresses. Photo: Mike Weintraub

At home, I watched the news until it wasn’t news. As with all huge dramas, the newscasters start interviewing bystanders to get their reaction while showing the fire in a corner of the screen. When I went to bed, it wasn’t clear if any part of the Cathedral would be saved. The Fire Chief was optimistic. I had spent an hour responding, in very short sentences, to all my American friends who had written to me expressing their grief in general and their grief for me. I was extremely touched. Paris has become my home and my friends know that. One e-mail just said “So sad”. Another “I grieve with you”. They didn’t need to say more.

Watching the news at 10:30pm. The Spire is gone, the roof is gone. The Cathedral had started renovations which were badly needed and you can see the steel structure that had been holding the spire in place. The renovation was to take 20 years.

This morning, I didn’t want to get out of bed. I felt as if a great good friend had died and I was miserable. Bijou stood by my bed and cried and cried. She was hungry and didn’t care about something 3 kms away. So I was forced out of bed. After giving her her very favourite food, I got on the computer and learned that the main structure had been saved and some of the most valuable art work had been rescued. No one was injured or killed. Macron warned that little fires were still burning and they expected that for the next couple of days. I plan to walk down there this afternoon and pay my respects. I’m pretty sure that I am not at all prepared for what I’ll see. After the twin towers came down, I flew to New York. I wanted to make it real. Watching some news on TV is not so different from watching an action movie. I have to see it with my own eyes to know it happened and have my own private experience.

Photo: Julien Mattia/Le Pictorium
Crowds gather opposite the cathedral on the bank of the Seine to watch the fire
Photograph: Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images
The cathedral’s steeple collapses
Photograph: Geoffroy van der Hasselt/AFP/Getty Images
IF you’ve been to Paris, this one will make you cry. Flames and smoke are seen billowing from the roof at Notre-Dame Cathedral
Photograph: Veronique de Viguerie/Getty Images

I hope these photos are helpful for you to grasp what Paris, the citizens of Paris, the country went through last night. The country is already devastated by billions of euros loss because of the Gilets Jaunes protests. Now this. I believe Macron is hoping to appeal to the International world to raise funds to rebuild this beautiful Cathedral.

A bientôt,

Sara