Roland Garros

When I was in my early teens, my mother signed me up for tennis lessons. She loved tennis; had played it all her life, and couldn’t image a growing girl not including tennis in her daily routines (along with French and poetry). She also probably didn’t imagine a slightly overweight girl who, at that point in her life, lumbered along like a limping bull in a china shop, as her eldest daughter. I had no interest in anything my mother suggested and exercise of any sort scared me as I was no good at it.

So tennis has never been much on my radar. Those who know me know I love baseball. Living in France, I’ve come to appreciate, enjoy, and want to learn more about futbol/soccer. And not just from Ted Lasso. Of course, one can’t live in Paris without being hyper aware of the French Open known in France as Roland Garros. My friend, Barbara, bought tickets for my birthday in 2020. Ah, 2020 when all life was cancelled.

Court Philippe-Chatrier

Yesterday, after living in Paris for 9.5 years, I went to my first Roland Garros experience. You can have a ticket to a match but that is only part of the fun. And it is FUN! I went with three friends. They’d bought two tickets to the day matches at Court Phillippe-Chatrier and two tickets to the day matches at Court Suzanne-Lenglen. We agreed that we would switch back and forth seeing as many of the matches as possible. The four of us met up at a café at Auteuil. We walked into the Roland Garros complex at 11 am. I’m not sure how one can live so close to RG (I live a 20-minute walk away) and not realize how large and grand it is. “The 13.5-hectare (34-acre) complex contains twenty courts, including three large-capacity stadiums; Les Jardins de Roland Garros, a large restaurant and bar complex; Le Village, the press and VIP area; France’s National Training Centre (CNE); and the Tenniseum, a bilingual, multimedia museum of the history of tennis.”-Wikipedia.

Sara at Philippe-Chatrier before it filled up.

Pete and Mike headed for the match at S. Lenglen. Meg and I walked around. Meg knows the complex like the back of her hand. She showed me everything including where we were going to go sit, Philippe-Chatrier, to watch the match between fan favorite, Caroline Garcia and no.56 seeded Anna Blinkova (whose country wasn’t listed. This is the only way the Russian and Belarus players are allowed to play). Before we went in, we sat on the green watching a match between Greek Tsitsipas and Spaniard Baena. Large orange folding chairs were set up for comfort.

These games were the second round for both the men and the women. It was only four days into Roland Garros with another week and a half to go. But the atmosphere was electric. It reminded me of Play-off games in baseball. Plus, Paris was experiencing glorious weather. Not a cloud in the sky. 78o/24C. Even though I didn’t play tennis, it would have been impossible to get through my childhood without learning something. I knew most of the rules; game, set, match. Best of three for the women, best of five for the men. For singles games, outside the inner white line was out. For doubles, outside the outer white line was out. What I didn’t know was that there are three line judges at each end for the vertical lines, two line judges in the middle for the horizontal lines, and the judge who sits up above just like a lifeguard who rules over everything. I turned to Mike at one point and asked “Is this like baseball? Whatever the judge says is what it is? Whether it is or isn’t?” Yes,…however starting next year, it will all be digitalized. No more human judges, no more human error. Human error is part of baseball. I was once told by another baseball fan when I was outraged by an umpire’s bad call that lost a pitcher a ‘perfect game’, that it isn’t just perfect for the pitcher. It also has to also be perfect for the umpires. Oh! (and just for the record, I wasn’t satisfied. That explanation did not make up for the dramatic letdown for both pitcher and fans).

Fan favorite, French player Caroline Garcia who lost in the second round.

Another surprise was the noise. I had always been told that tennis games were played in absolute silence. If you talked to your neighbor, it was a whisper. Not so at Roland Garros. the fans cheered their favorite. They clapped loudly when they wanted to encourage a player. Musical instruments appeared in the crowds like whales jumping out of the sea and played the Marseillaise or something that the fans could smile at, rout with, and encouraged the players. Mike, who is British, assured me this was not done at Wimbledon. 

Pete and Meg

Truthfully, I thought that since I didn’t know most of the players and wasn’t a tennis fan, I would want to leave after a couple of hours. Wrong. Oh, how wrong! Tennis is a wonderful game. Do you hear that Mom? I’m so sorry I didn’t listen to you. I watched every hit. Both Mike and Meg told me that if you didn’t have a favorite in the game, one cheers for the underdog. My father always said the same. Garcia, the French fan favorite seeded at #5, lost to the underdog. The fans weren’t happy. But other than a French player losing, it was the underdog all the way!

Mike and his son who came over from the UK.
Caroline Garcia

I guess I’m now a tennis fan! The next day I watched and listened to a couple of matches—one between the Italian Sinner and the German Altmaier which lasted five hours and twenty-nine minutes!! Both were exhausted. When the German won, he started to cry. The entire stadium stood up and cheered him on.

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A bientôt,

Sara

An Evening with Jami Attenberg

When I was in Oakland this winter, I had a computer crash. Not a real computer. The one in my brain that, on a daily basis works just fine, usually brings up the right things at the right time, shuts down to ‘sleep’ at night, wakes up at the appointed time ready to hit the day running. In January, it just burned to a crisp—nothing left to make it work. Sissssssssssssss! It’s called Burn Out. I don’t remember how I stumbled onto Jami Attenberg’s Substack newsletter. I had first discovered Substack when my sister wrote me about George Saunders’ Story Club with George Saunders. I immediately became a paying member. Comments were invited and I loved reading them. Wanting to know what that person read on Substack, I soon realized how many writers I respected had Substacks, and found ones that I didn’t know who wrote about the craft of writing. I found Jami and her #1000 Words of Summer Challenge.

https://www.pw.org/content/1000_words_of_summer_how_an_accountability_project_opened_up_my_writing_life

At the bottom of her Substack, she mentioned she’d written a memoir. I took the memoir, I Came all this way to meet you- Writing Myself Home, out of the library. First I read it. To say I loved it would be an understatement. I felt like she had me in mind when she wrote it. I, then, got the audio version and listened. Feeling exactly the same way as I had after the first reading, I bought the book and added All Grown Up (2017 First Mariner Books). What spoke to me? Jami writes in an intimate, conversationally (is that a word?) way that feels as if she is talking to ME. Writer to writer. She throws in comments about writing, about the craft of writing, about the love of writing, and how to grapple with certain problems, and many things that authors think about and only other writers and authors really relate to. This all while she is telling us about her life in often funny, self-deprecating ways. She is wise and knows herself well. She said eloquently what I felt but had not yet found words for. Writers, both ones she knows and ones she has yet to meet, are her friends. She roots for us. The memoir is one of those books that expands your world, makes you want to create because you can, and she is your cheerleader.

Jami Attenberg, American writer, Milano, Italy, 8th September 2016. (Photo by Leonardo Cendamo/Getty Images)

Recently, her weekly newsletter led off with dates that she would be reading or would be interviewed in various cities. There was the word PARIS. She was going to speak at the American Library. I immediately wrote her (you can do that on Substack. Write a comment). Jami responds to almost every comment. I told her I’d bring as many of my writer friends and book club friends as possible. She was up against some big competition. The American Library has had a pledge that would probably bring in quite a bit of money. For the first time, they can have two events on the same night. So, the next day, I learned that the second event was the San Francisco Theatre group, Word for Word, putting on George Saunders’ play HOME. This did not feel at all fair. I wanted to complain (I think I did). But the dates were set and I really really wanted to support Jami. So I put the play out of my mind.

Tuesday evening, I went early to the Library to listen to Jami being interviewed by the wonderful Lauren Collins (staff writer, New Yorker). I brought both of her books hoping to get them autographed. The reading room in the library was packed and it was on Zoom. She told us that she was far enough away from the memoir – it was published January 2022 – that she could discuss it without too much emotion. She told us how she wrote and wrote until she knew what her focus was: being a writer. She explained how she structured the chapters in the book.

Jami and Lauren, reading room of the American Library in Paris

Structure is something that is often a stumbling block for me. It feels like the AP class in creative writing. Jami chose ten of the most important periods of her life for chapters. These events didn’t necessarily happen consecutively. So she didn’t write them that way. In my stories, I’m still learning the architecture of a really good story. What do you say when? When do you bring in backstory? What do you start with? And those last two sentences where in a short story, as my Stanford professor told us, they’d better be a knock-out punch.

I’m not the only one grateful to her and the way she writes, the way she tells us about her writing life. She manages to be be inclusive, her challenges are so often our challenges. Her #1000 Words of Summer, in its sixth year, has almost 30,000 subscribers. Most of these people she’ll never meet. Yet, she has had the experience of finding herself mentioned in the acknowledgments of a book as both the inspiration and the kick in the pants push the author needed to get going. I can just barely imagine what that must be like—a thought, an idea she has had and put into action, growing to such a degree that authors around the world express their gratitude in black and white on the acknowedgment page for getting them to the finish line.

Part of my writing group: Gwen, Sara, Pamela, Kit, Lori, out for drinks after listening to Jami at the American Library

Thank you, Jami Attenberg. May you enjoy your Italian vacation!!

For more information on #1000 Words of Summer, go to Jami’s substack Craft Talk

A bientôt,

Sara

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To London from Paris

Although I don’t take advantage of it nearly enough, London is practically next door. The Eurostar, the high-speed train that goes from Gare du Nord to St. Pancras International, takes two hours and fifteen minutes. In this day and age, one has to tack on the time to get to the station and the probable queue to get through Border Control and Security. The last time I went to London, I nearly missed the train. I thought I was very safe by getting to Gare du Nord one hour before the train left. I don’t remember why, it was definitely before the pandemic, but taking the Eurostar from Paris was a horror show.

I traveled to London this past weekend. My trip had nothing to do with the Coronation of King Charles. However, I had no idea how the Coronation would affect travel. Not much as it turned it. I got to Gare du Nord two hours ahead of departure and discovered that Paris has streamlined getting to the Eurostar waiting room by 1000% (if that is possible). It was so efficient that I was through in ten minutes and sat comfortably answering e-mails and listening to my audiobook until it was time to board. My car was more than half empty. Not too many people from France going to the Coronation—at least by train.

An almost empty car on Eurostar: Paris to London

Losing one hour in time, I got to St. Pancras at 2:30 pm. I was greeted by my friend, Andrew, who had come in from Chelmsford, in Essex. What a treat! I am a map reader. I hate to get lost. I hate even more feeling like I have no idea where I am or where to turn to. I memorize everything so that I feel as much in control as possible when I’m traveling. I also print out maps in case my memory decides to go belly up, and I have directions printed out on my phone. All for “JIC”. Last week, all I had to do was follow Andrew to the Underground, to Liverpool St. Station, and then take the train to Chelmsford. From the station, we walked through the grounds of Chelmsford Cathedral, a beautiful, calm space right in the middle of town where one can contemplate inside and outside. The Bishop of CC, Revd Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, would be carrying the King’s Chalice in the Coronation procession and administering the Chalice to the King and Queen during the Eucharist on May 6th.

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Cards at Chelmsford Cathedral encouraged sharing a message to the new King. Watercolor of the Cathedral

My knowledge of Essex is mostly from mysteries written by authors like Elly Griffiths whose heroine, Ruth Galloway, lives near the marshes in Norfolk, in northern Essex. Andrew took me to the Salt Marsh near Bradwell-on-Sea, due East where two rivers converge at the North Sea. He calls it A Thin Place: where heaven and earth practically touch. The huge expanse of the sky comes almost to the water and one can see the barest of outlines of another shore somewhere. A simple stone church, St. Peter on the Wall was built by St. Cedd in 654ad on the grounds of a Roman ruin. From there, one can walk on a public footpath along the shore. The path isn’t wide and the part in trees is littered with bluebells and white bells, such tiny little flowers that instill a huge sense of peace and comfort. 

Public path with bluebells and white bells.

There is a bird sanctuary and a community known as Othona that welcomes visitors for a day or more to reside and work side by side with the members. With a grey sky that hinted at the rain that would fall later in the day, the beauty of this region is haunting (not quite Wuthering Heights but a close relation). You feel that you have to embrace aloneness and solitude to be comfortable for any length of time. I am sure that planes leaving Paris and flying west towards Ireland and the USA fly right over this area. I have photos taken from a plane window and could see the convergence of water but had no idea of the beauty and remarkable people living in that area.

Salt Marsh on the Eastern coast of Essex

In London, one had to be aware that something huge was going on. There were Union Jack flags flying everywhere, banners spanning the streets, and people in costumes made out of flags for hats, coats, and dresses. Photos of soon-to-be King Charles looked out of store windows, and regular folk had hung bunting along fences or out their windows. But other than that, I had to look at the news or pull up the Guardian on my phone to see photos of King Charles weighted down in a gold cape and wearing a five-pound crown. Where I was, there was little traffic and nothing else. Not even noise. At the end of the coronation, there was a fly-over of the RAF that went on for some time. I heard no noise and had to watch that on my phone. Truthfully, every photo I saw of Charles had his mouth grimacing. He looked miserable. How long he has waited for this day just to have photos of him looking so unhappy.

Flag hanging in a store window.
crowds waiting on the Mall..

I had come to London for a small retreat of a community I belong to. I attended one day and, after traveling in and out of London from Chelmsford three days in a row, I felt weary. So on Sunday, Andrew provided a real treat for me. He took me to the Maldon Quaker Meeting House for meeting for worship. I was raised a Quaker outside of Philadelphia and, though I’m not particularly religious, have always felt closest to Quaker beliefs and actions. When I was younger, I would seek out the Quaker meeting house closest to me. For a while in my twenties, I belonged to the Princeton Quaker community. After moving to Berkeley, California, I stopped going as the meeting seemed to be hijacked by political talk and opinions. I have nothing against talk and opinion but it is provocative, and meeting for worship is supposed to be just that—a place to contemplate larger issues, and please leave your politics at the door, thank you very much.

Maldon Quaker Meeting House

So for the first time, in perhaps thirty years, I sat in a meeting for worship. It felt like putting on an old comfortable shoe. There were mostly older people there which said to me that the contemplative Quakers aren’t attracting younger members. One time is not a good measure for research. On returning to Paris, I went on a search to see if meeting for worship exists here. Yes, it does—n a rented space in the 14th. So, this coming Sunday, I plan to go to my second meeting in as many weeks! 

Here in Paris, the weather is warming up and we are having Spring showers. I look forward to the sun and walking to Parc de Bagatelle.

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A Bientôt,

Sara

May is Mental Health month in the US

During this past week, I read two pieces of writing, a substack essay by Mary Gaitskill and a novel by Abraham Verghese.Both hit the same place in my gut for very different reasons. I finished the novel a day before I read the substack so I had time to meditate on one of the messages the book held for me. Verghese’s novel, The Covenant of Water (due May 2), spans seventy-five years, revolving around a family living in what is now Kerala, in southwestern India. The family is not poor but not wealthy by any means. Most of it takes place while India was under the rule of the British Empire. Without going into too much of the story, the family suffers a lot of death, many of the characters suffer misfortune, and there is an air of sorrow throughout the book. As I was reaching the end of the book, I was struck by the sense of “Shit Happens” and “We Move On”. How best to describe that? In my life, a child of 1950s optimism and Father Knows Best TV, I believed that if bad things were happening to me, there was something wrong with me. I almost always saw the glass half empty and found ways to escape my reality as I was hurting all the time. In Verghese’s book, ‘reality’ was that ‘bad’ things happen – to everyone. It’s normal. Those that moved forward accepted life on life’s terms. Those that didn’t, go through some very tough times. No one had to like the hand they were dealt. They mourned but they didn’t end up in therapy wondering what was wrong with ‘them’. They weren’t the center of the universe. Love wasn’t bartered on how good a person was or was not. Hardship befalling one was not a moral issue. The matriarch of this family loved everyone in her family and everyone who became part of the family. They knew they were loved. Yet shit still happened. Many of the characters found purpose in their suffering and found a way to turn their sorrow and grief into something that was of use to the larger world. This is a very simplistic summary and I recommend reading the book.

Gaitskill’s essay, entitled The Despair of the Young…. and the madness of academia, (search on the substack search engine) is a heartbreaking look, from a creative writing teacher’s experience, at the nihilism that so many between the ages of ten and thirty suffer from today. In her writing classes, students wrote about suicide, murder, serial killing, rape, and violence of the most extreme sorts. Often from the first-person point of view. She has taught long enough to see the trend get worse over the years. Political correctness, lawsuits, and lack of “safety” have seemingly tied Academia’s hands to handle this trend in a way that might actually be helpful to a student. I am in my 70s. I felt despair in my teens and early twenties. Nothing I felt compares to what I was reading in her essay. Though I often contemplated suicide, I never would have followed through. It was a way out that I always had in the back of my mind that kept me from believing I was in a prison of misery with no exit doors. And there was a revolving circle of adults (not my immediate family) who listened to me, empathized, and allowed me to be seen no matter how self-centered my despair was. 

I have little first-hand knowledge of what Gaitskill was writing about. The closest I’ve come is my reading the news of mentally unstable young people being allowed to buy guns, and taking their despair out on schoolmates and whoever was near them. I would never doubt Gaitskill. She is a brilliant writer, able to translate much of her life experience into very readable, though not always pleasant, short stories. I’ve also watched many of my friends go into therapy since White Supremacy and Hatred have crawled out from under the carpet in the years leading up to Trump’s election and the seven years since. Most of my friends are adults and know ways of trying to cope. Some have fallen sick. None that I know of have resorted to self-violence or other violence. I, myself, have chosen to distance myself from the insanity of what’s going on in the US by living much of the year in France. 

Where am I going with this writing? The contrast between the fictional story of a family that managed to convey that things do pass and there was no belief that whatever was happening was so acute that the only way to stop the pain was suicide or homocide, and in the USA of today, where violence is a reasonable option to deal with despair. It is an option supported by the very same people that say killing a fetus is a crime. 

Gaitskill further says that her students are being let down by their schools. She gave some examples of times when she, the professor, or another staff member could be available to talk to a student. She was told not to. “The only thing I can say for sure is that the young deserve better.  It has become standard to complain about how inept and spoiled the young are but—my students were in some ways pretty great.  Their stories confronted not only suicide and violence but also dilemmas of artificial intelligence, gender animus, caring for a sick parent and sibling during the pandemic, the tenderness of asexual love, the awfulness of age, the timelessness of war—they were ambitious, humorous and bright in the face of everything.”

When I finished reading The Covenant of Water, I didn’t want it to end. I felt so satisfied and full from having read about generations of people coping with life. When I finished Gaitskill’s substack, I felt so powerless over this despair that is spreading amongst young people like the black plague. Covid didn’t help but it’s not an excuse for why adults are letting young people down, why treating the mental health of our young isn’t available everywhere. It’s needed now more than ever.

According to the Suicide and Crisis Center of North Texas, suicide is the third leading cause of death of young people between the ages of 15 and 24.

  • 5,000 young people complete suicide in the U.S. each year.
  • Each year, there are approximately 10 youth suicides for every 100,000 youth.
  • Each day, there are approximately 12 youth suicides.
  • Every 2 hours and 11 minutes, a person under the age of 25 completes suicide.
  • In the past 60 years, the suicide rate has quadrupled for males 15 to 24 years old, and has doubled for females of the same age.
  • For every completed suicide by youth, it is estimated that 100 to 200 attempts are made.
  • Firearms remain the most commonly used suicide method among youth, accounting for 49% of all completed suicides.

There’s not much more to say except to hope that mental health counseling in schools, universities, and everywhere gets better and becomes more accessible. What is happening today should be unacceptable.

A bientôt

Sara

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What’s going on in France?

As an exPat for the last nine and a half years, I encourage any of my readers and friends to chime in on this subject. It takes living in France a long time to understand the French.

One would have to be living in a bunker to not know what is going on in France. Transport strikes, garbage strikes, street protests, all in resistance to President Macron’s raising of the retirement age from 62 to 64 (at least that is the purported excuse though the french often don’t need much of an excuse to say they don’t like something).

Macron no longer has a majority in the Assemblée Nationale, so he enacted the new law by special powers under Article 49.3 of the constitution. Last Friday, the Constitutional Council met to decide whether he was correct to do so and had France’s best interests at heart. As the sun set Friday, word came out that it was constitutional and the committee agreed with Macron 100%. He signed it into law within twenty-four hours.

People protest with a poster referring to the visit of Britain’s King Charles III – cancelled due to unrest in France – in Nantes, western France. [Jeremias Gonzalez/AP Photo]

People took to the streets in more protests. Monday night, Macron gave a pre-recorded speech meant to calm down the masses and urge everyone to move on. John Litchfield, who writes Opinion for The Local, an English language newsletter, had this to say on Tuesday:

“Yes, the pension reform is painful. But it was necessary. It’s all over now. Dry those tears. End the tantrums.  We can move on to things you will enjoy.

Higher wages. Sharing of profits. Better schools. No queues in emergency wards.  Expulsion of failed asylum seekers. Something for the Left of you and something for the Right.

Will it work? Probably not. The nationwide fit of shrieking and toy-throwing, some sincere, some synthetic and hypocritical, will continue for quite a while.

It is unlikely that President Macron will have much to show his wailing child at the end of the 100-day recovery period, ending on July 14th, that he promised on Monday night.

Superficially, this is just French politics as usual. France demands “change”. It opposes all changes.

France complains that it is slipping down the global league table of prosperity, influence and functioning public services. It refuses to accept that it should work longer or tax itself less to compete with its rivals and neighbours.

Superficially, we have been here before. All presidents for the last three decades have faced strikes and street protests against modest social reforms.

Some were withdrawn. Others such at retirement at 62 instead of 60 are now the “acquis” (status quo) which the new generation of protesters defend.

Others, such as the simplification of hiring and firing and reduction in pay-roll taxes, help to explain why joblessness in France has plunged from 9 percent to 7 percent in the last six years. Those reforms, started by François Hollande and continued by Macron, were opposed at the time by strikes, marches and scattered violence.

Surprise, surprise, no-one mentions unemployment much anymore.   

But there has been something qualitatively different – almost existentially different – about the pensions reform protests of the last three months. The language is different. There is an edge of hysteria in the allegations that the modest move in the pension age from 62 to 64 is “brutal”, “unjust” and “autocratic”.

The government’s use of its special powers under Article 49.3 of the constitution to push through the reform was predictable and widely predicted. It has happened 100 times before in the last 65 years.

This time 49.3 was presented as “an assault on democracy , “a trampling of the will of the people”, an act of “violence which called for a violent response”.

Close to my village in Normandy someone has erected a cardboard sign with the scrawled message in felt-tip pen: “49.3 = 1789”.  Revolution is in the air again, in the Gilets Jaunes rural heartlands, not just among the self-pleased, black-clad, young bourgeois anti-capitalists who smash shop windows and burn cars in Rennes or Lyon or Paris.

Compare and contrast this hysteria (I believe that the word is justified) with the unemotional language of the Constitutional Council’s ruling last week. The nine “sages” declared that the pension reform was reasonable and constitutional – and so was the manner of its enactment.  

The Council said that the increase in the official retirement age to 64 by 2030  would “assure the financial balance of the (state pension system) and guarantee its survival in the light of the increase in life expectancy”. The government’s use of several special powers to hurry and then force a decision was “inhabitual” but not contrary to the Constitution.

Normally the pronouncements of The Sages are accepted without much comment. On this occasion, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of the radical Left, said that it was a “violent” decision which would encourage a violent response.

Macron’s decision to sign the pension reform within hours of the Council’s decision was presented, even by moderate union leaders, as a “denial of democracy” and an “autocratic” refusal to listen to the voice of the people.

All of this can be dismissed as the sour grapes of bad losers. Mélenchon, who has been stirring violence for weeks, has little right to talk of democracy.

But those who believe – like me – that the pension reform is modest and justified must also now accept that something is happening here which goes beyond the recent French cycle of reform and protest. It is something that also goes beyond rampant Macronphobia of many French people.

Solenn de Royer in a column in Le Monde said that this has become a revolt not just against pension reform, but against the technocratic, top-down, diluted democracy instituted by Charles de Gaulle 60 years ago. There is much truth in that.

Emmanuel Macron claimed in 2017 to be a suited revolutionary. He was an impatient young man with many good ideas but he was no revolutionary. He was – and he was seen by many to be – the epitome of the kind of technocrat who used to stand behind presidents. Now HE was the president.

The father-knows-best tone of his 15 minute address last night – “dry your tears; lets move on” – placed Macron firmly in the Fifth Republic tradition of paternalistic semi-democracy. In the age of social media and the collapse of old political allegiances, that no longer works very well.

The Gilets Jaunes movement of 2018-9 already revealed a formless hunger for a new, more direct kind of popular control of decision-making. It also exposed how dangerous that desire can be.

If the French people want to have more direct control of their lives, they also need to move on. They need to grow out of the child, or teenage-like, modes of thinking which the top-down Fifth Republic has encouraged.

“The state (like mummy and daddy) is all-responsible and usually wrong. The state should do more but we should pay less taxes.”

In sum, the crisis over pension reform is both absurd and profound. It is both Macron’s failure and France’s failure.

A drum-beat is already starting suggesting that Marine Le Pe and the Far Right will reap the benefits in 2027.  That is the subject for another column.

But I believe that, in four years’ time, the country may be  more likely to revert to the unthreatening immobilism of the Chirac years: someone who promises to “listen” and then delivers little.”—-The Local

A bientôt,

Sara

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After three months in stormy, wet, miserable California, I am now back in Paris. Question marks hovered over my head for days wondering what would greet me. I read that the garbage strike was over but….how many days does it take to clean up ten days worth of a strike that left streets unpassable and people holding their noses? Many as it turns out. By the time I was taxing from CDG to my apartment, garbage bags were off the street but still in piles on sidewalks. The news says the outer arrondissements are taking longer to clean than the inner.

Garbage waiting to be picked up on April 1, in the 16ème near Parc du Ranelagh

I wondered about the airport itself. Everything I read said only Orly and Marseille airport workers were striking. In France, it is mandatory to tell the police ahead of time where, when, and who is striking. But I was raised in the US where surprise is part of the strike so I expect things to happen that aren’t known. The worst thing that happened, the day of my return, was that there was no place for the plane to taxi to. We waited thirty minutes on the plane in Frankfurt until the pilot was assured of a gate and then waited another ten minutes upon arrival in Paris for the gate to free up. After that, it was easy peasy. The unplanned wait allowed morning rush hour traffic to disappear and I was in my apartment less than two hours after we finally got to the gate.

I stepped into my apartment and it seemed as if I’d never been away. Time is something I don’t understand. I find it fascinating that some hours seem like days and some days pass by so fast, it feels like just a few breaths. Here I was, back in Paris, after what had felt like a decade of horrendous storms and now it all felt like a dream. It wasn’t raining and, though the sun wasn’t out, it was clear.

Parc du Ranelagh April 2, 2023

I suffer terrible jet lag and the common sense wisdom says jet lag is always worse going west to east. I had cut out three hours (or three days) by stopping in Michigan to visit my sister. I decided not to try and plan the jet lag or outsmart it or any of the other attempts at controlling what I can’t contol. I would sleep if I felt like sleeping and take everything else easy. So I made a few commitments and had to apologize for most of them when I was too tired to follow through. I did get outside and walk my neighborhood. The world was green, young green, shoots of baby plants green, that light green that says it can only be Spring. After a winter of so much rain (yes, I was grateful for California rain and that the Bay Area is no longer in drought conditions, but that didn’t make it fun), grey in the sky, grey on people’s faces, carrying an umbrella and warm clothes everywhere, I was experiencing a literal ‘light at the end of the tunnel.’ 

Rue de l’Assomption April 2, 2023

I managed to make it out to Parc de Bagatelle in my first days back. I knew I had missed the fields of golden daffodils that had taken my breath away last year. But Spring was here and I wanted to see the peacocks and the cats. I could hear the peacocks ‘crowing’ before I even entered the parc. Mating season was officially open. The first peacock I saw had his fan tail completely open and was doing a cat walk for a number of people with cameras and phones, and for two females who were playing hide and seek with him. It was a wonderful show. I kept wondering where all the feathers go when the tails start to molt. All the times I went to watch the progress of the new tail growth, I never saw a single feather.

Male peacock putting on a show for people and females alike. You can see one of the females vehind him at about 2 O’Clock.

And though I missed the daffodils, the tulips were on display, tiny flowers of yellow and purple, red and orange, magnolia trees with purple flowers at its base, all sang of Spring. I was so happy to be back in Paris.

Fields of orange tulips replacing the plethera of daffodils
The albino peacock
One of two magnolias at Bagatelle

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A bientôt,

Sara

Reflections on AWP 23

After finishing my summer Stanford course in Short Stories, five of us decided to form a writing group and continue to share our writings with each other. Until last Wednesday, none of us had met in person. That changed when three of us attended AWP 23 (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) in Seattle, Wash. Angela had been a number of times before. Tracy and I signed up based on her recommendation.

Angela, Tracy, Sara at AWP

AWP meets once a year, always in a different city. It attracts writers, poets, students in MFA programs, teachers of Creative Writing, MFA programs, small publishers, and independent bookstores.

The Seattle Convention Center at Pine and Ninth St. is brand new or so I was told. There were 10,000 attendees (again so I was told.) The convention center has five floors and every meeting room and ballroom on every floor was full of presenters and an audience. The basement level was a Book Fair the size of a Costco store.

One floor, 4th, of the Seattle Convention Center

I had no expectations. It felt like an adventure. I was so glad not to be sick, to meet my Zoom writing friends, and to be surrounded by WORDS. With a few exceptions, the writers at AWP won’t be found on the NYTimes bestseller lists. These are writers pouring their hearts and passions out in manuscripts, so grateful to find a publisher and see their book in print. I’m guessing 99% of them will always need another job.

Many of these writers spoke on panels. One morning, I went to a presentation called “The Sentence is the Story” with five panelists, all teaching creative writing courses. Four panelists had fiction books published, and one, Matt Bell, has written a How-To called Refuse to be Done. My friend, Angela, had the book with her. She told me it has been so helpful and got it signed by the author who, like George Saunders, turns out to be a generous person, teacher, and colleague.

I went to another Presentation of five writers, all who had left the former Soviet Union: Totalitarian Traumas: A reading. Each woman read from published poetry or prose. Two of the women were of Ukrainian origin. I attended because my grandparents had fled Ukraine in 1909—long before the stories these women were telling but still….I found myself wanting to know more and more about Ukraine’s history. One of the women guided me to the stories of  Sholem Aleichem and his book Tevya and his Daughters. Those stories became the Broadway Show Fiddler on the Roof. The beauty and sadness of these poems and stories were deeply moving.

Five women from the former Soviet Union: Anna Fridlis, Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry, Anna Halberstadt, Sasha Vasilyuk, Julia Dasbach (not in order)

Four teachers who teach both weeklong writing workshops and semester-long courses in MFA programs were asked to list the pros and cons of each in another event. I was struck by the thoughtfulness and care with which each of them considers a student or participant’s needs. On the panel was Samantha Chang, author of the  The Family Chao(2022), who I had met in Paris last summer when she came to the American Library to talk about her book. She is director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Charlotte Wyatt, Lan Samantha Chang, Mitchell S. Johnson

Each day, I attended three presentations. I then wandered the aisles of the Book Fair talking with the editors of various Journals and Reviews to learn what kind of submissions they are each looking for. By the end of the second day, my eyes felt like those colorful spinwheely things that we used to play with on the fourth of July. Every table was giving out pens, buttons, bags, or bookmarks. All were carefully labeled so that we’d remember the name of the booth we had stopped at. Me, with my need to accept any gift that is free, was laden down with all sorts of “stuff”. I was saved from buying many books because there is only so much I can carry back to Paris with me. On the last day, I bought two slim books on baseball published by Invisible Press. They were very happy to meet a baseball fan!

Sara playing mini-Ping Pong (is there such a thing?) with one of the editors of The Under Review

Poor (rainy and windy) weather was predicted for Seattle but we lucked out. It was cold but we managed to avoid rain when we were outside. Our AirBnB, which the three of us rented, was a quick fifteen-minute walk from the Convention Center. A great way to start the day and somewhere to run to when in complete overload.

Angela, Tracy, Sara

What is the likelihood that three women, thirty-eight, forty-nine, and seventy-five, who’ve met on Zoom, shared unpublished writings and poetry, and exchanged feedback meant to encourage better writing, would get along in person for four days? Pretty good it turns out. No high-maintenance personalities, lots of laughter, and much cheerleading to be braver in our writing and in our sharing of writings. They kindly let me control the kitchen in exchange for making delicious simple meals. Angela brought a storytelling game that prompted us to remember and share stories from the past. Always a good way to get a good story going and then put on paper. I was so enamored of this game that Angela gave it to me so that I could show it to my Paris writing group.

One of the Book Fair tables—courtesy of Writers.com

And now I’m back in Oakland, California with wonderful memories of being with writing group members whom I completely trust to give me honest and critical feedback on my writing. And of being a part of a gathering of writers, would-be authors, and everything associated with getting a piece of writing from paper (or computer) to crossing the finish line – a book we can hold and cherish.

Collage made by Tracy summing up our four days.

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A bientôt,

Sara

Spring Training, Arizona

After being mostly housebound and sick for about 5 weeks, suffering in the coldest and wettest Bay Area winter in a long time, I have made it to Scottsdale, Arizona. I am staying with two wonderful friends that I met in Paris! The sun is out and the temperature is pure heaven: 70o Saturday, 71o yesterday, and 72o today. I cannot remember when I last saw those numbers on the weather app of my phone.

I flew Southwest Airlines from Oakland Airport Saturday morning. Somehow I’ve lost my TSA pre-flight status and had to stand in line for 45 minutes to get through security. When you are in a line for that long a time, you eventually start talking to people around you. No one could figure out why the long line on a Saturday morning. It seemed to me to be too early for Spring Break but who knows. People who fly SWA more than I do said it was unusual. People behind me were going to miss their flight and I urged them to walk ahead as if they knew what they were doing and get to their gate. They felt a bit bad. I asked ‘Would you let someone in your position through?’ They said ‘yes, of course.’ So off they went. At that point, I thought I had plenty of time. As it turned out I didn’t, and I also had to cut in front of some people to make it to the gate. Ah, the joys of flying.

I was with two baseball buddies that I have known from pre-Paris years when I was a season ticket holder for the Oakland Athletics. In those days, my ‘baseball family’, made up of people who sat in similar sections at the Ballpark, would go down to Phoenix for 4 days, a week, sometimes 2 weeks. We’d see baseball in the sunshine, meet many of the players, hike in the hills around Phoenix and Scottsdale, and have a glorious time. In 2015, the Oakland A’s moved from their Phoenix home at Papago Park to Hohokam park in Mesa. The Chicago Cubs had played there for years and been the most sold-out ballpark during Spring Training. They built themselves a beautiful new ballpark up the road still in Mesa.

Sara and Jeanni

My friends and I landed in Phoenix, picked up their rental car, and drove to Hohokam. My first Spring Training game in nine years. In those days, I would have brought many baseballs and baseball paraphenalia that I hoped to have autographed by the players. As I sat down in my seat, I looked over at the autograph seekers and couldn’t remember why the urgency to get the autographs. From my spot in section 107, it seemed too much energy to get up and fight my way to the front of a small crowd of people that included children, to get an autograph. Maybe I’d grown up a bit and was going to leave that stuff to the children. It was fun I must admit.

Stretching out at Spring Training

That game was my chance to watch the new rules that MLB has regulated for the majors so that the game will go faster, more runs will be scored, and the hope that it will bring fans back to Baseball. I’m not sure why it hasn’t occured to them to lower prices and that might bring fans back. My Spring Training ticket cost $35. For a family of four to go to a regular season game, it would cost $200 or more for good seats and that is without buying any food. Baseball used to be America’s pasttime. According to The SportingNews Blog:  The Most popular Sports in the United States 

  • American Football – 74.5% American football takes the crown when it comes to popularity, and this is the most-watched sport in the US. …
  • Basketball- 56.6% …
  • Baseball- 50.5% …
  • Boxing- 23.4% …
  • Ice Hockey- 22.1% …
  • Soccer- 21.6% …
  • Golf- 19.7%

So back to the new rules.  The time clock. Just as in basketball, baseball now has a digital clock that players and fans can see that counts down the seconds that the pitcher holds the ball. He has 15 seconds to throw the ball if the bases are empty, 20 seconds if a player is on base. If he goes over that number, the batter is given a ball. If the batter takes longer than 15 seconds to get himself ready, he gets a strike. The game did seem to go faster. The first three innings were over in thirty minutes. Then it slowed down.

No more shift. At all times, two players have to be on either side of second base. This is so the batting team has a chance for more runs.

Bases are bigger. From 15’“ across, they are now 18” and they are lower to the ground.

Pick offs. If a pitcher doesn’t pick off the player on first base (or any base) on his third try, the player is awarded an extra base. Pitchers used to attempt pick offs to stall the game for whatever reason. No more.

These games were clearly spring training for the umpires as well as the ballplayers. I saw an ump go up to a brand new pitcher and check his ball for substances. I asked my seatmate why he would do that at ST game. The answer was that the umps are doing everything they will need to do at a regular season game.

new seating area in the grassy area behind the outfield at Hohokam.

The game tied at 4-4 at the bottom of the ninth. Game over. Spring Training knows how to keep games shorter! What heaven sitting in sunshine for almost three hours. But being the first sun of the year for me, it was hard on my skin. I started itching and scratching. I had to wear a long sleeve blouse but still…..Sun and baseball!

A bientôt,

Sara

Extraordinary Attorney Woo

Extraordinary Attorney Woo is a South Korean series of sixteen episodes that is currently showing on Netflix. I have scrolled past it many times in the past four months but nothing about it made me think “I must watch this.” Then, when I was walking with a friend last week, she told me that I had to watch it. That it is a remarkable series. Without giving away too much, she just said that the heroine has Autistic Spectrum Disorder. She and her husband watched it and her husband had remarked on how perfect the actress’s movements are.

Poster for the show

I have the greatest respect for my friend’s recommendations so I watched the first episode that evening after dinner. I was just blown away and, as I am wont to do when I love something literary or on film, I did research. The main actress, Park Eun-bin, is a well-known and very popular actress in South Korea. She does not have Autism. My research said that the director, Yoo In-shik, wanted her and only her to play Attorney Woo. She was in production of another series, The Kings Affection, which just showed up on Netflix today, and so the filming of Extraordinary Attorney Woo was put off for one year!!!

Park Eun-bin who plays Wow Young-Woo

If you go looking for a short synopsis of this program, you will likely find this description: “Woo Young Woo is a young lawyer with Asperger’s syndrome. She boasts a high IQ, an impressive memory and a wonderfully creative thought process, but she struggles with everyday interactions.” Asperger’s is never mentioned in the show (I have watched nine episodes as of this writing). One article said that Woo Young Woo is a savant as well as autistic and that is very rare for autistic spectrum diagnoses. Perhaps 5% have both. 

The main cast of Extraordinary Attorney Woo.

Whatever!! The show is delightful, so well acted, and Koreans are the most gorgeous people on earth unless this is a very rare sample of the population. However, what has been so impactful for me is the direct way the show addresses Autism. How people treat autistic people, address discrimination in general. How people just assume that if you are handicapped, you are a second-class citizen. Each episode’s story line has someone who makes this assumption. So each episode not only has a story with a trial but also has a teaching element about it so that, after nine episodes, I’m very much aware of what it must be like to be autistic and move about in the regular world. 

To be clear this series is not about autism but about a young autistic woman trying to navigate a world that isn’t particularly kind to her. There are on-going stories of her parentage, another of a colleague who is determined to get rid of her, and there is a love interest. They all show that autistic people have a hard time not telling the truth, and they tend to be innocent. It’s fascinating watching her responses as these stories unfold while she is also a trial lawyer who works for a very large firm that may have its own moral problems. 

Too many pictures!!! But I love this drawing.

Yet, with all this information, I know that I can’t guarantee empathy when I next meet an autistic person. I was in a plane a couple of years ago flying from London or Paris to San Francisco. There was a couple with an autistic boy, who was on the extreme end of the spectrum, seated to my left. The boy, whose age I could never figure out, groaned, yelled, and banged the window at his seat throughout the entire flight. I was beside myself. I kept looking to the parents to do something but they did nothing. At one point, I got up and told the boy he had to be quiet, the people on the plane were trying to sleep. The parents got angry at me for interfering. By the time we’d landed and were standing in line for customs, I had had some rest and I was able to empathasize with the parents. I went up to them and apologised. They apologised to me. I realized they also must have been beside themselves and my interference only shone a light on it.

Will this show educate us on autism, on being kinder to people with disabilities? When writing about this show, the New York Times asked some autistic people, mostly Koreans, what they thought of the show. They got a mixed reaction. In other words, not all autistic people found it helpful. And the feel good element about it distressed some of them. They also noted the small percentage that also has savant abilities. Korean TV does seem to be on the forefront of trying to address discrimination. In 2012, there was a show called The Good Doctor addressing autism. It was dropped, but then picked up by a US company. With the same name, and starring an autistic doctor, it is now going into its 6th season.

I would love to know how many of you have seen Extraordinary Attorney Woo. And what you think about it? I always love your comments and read them all.

A bientôt,

Sara

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Housebound due to…..Nature.

I thought, silly me, that being in Oakland for the winter would be warmer than another Paris winter. Who knew? Cyclones, windstorms, endless rain, and flooding. Oh my!!! Storm drains that have had so little to do in the worst California drought ever turned out to be stuffed with leaves and debris. Water just circulates and then floods the intersections. ‘Fountains’ have appeared on the sides of many roads. Monday, Highway 13, which is close to me, had a tree fall across the southern driving direction and a multi-car accident in the northern direction. It was only one of seven road closures that day.

Needless to say, the advice on TV, on the radio, and in e-mails from the city, all advise ‘Stay at Home’. For those of us that actually follow directions, well, what does one do? You’d think we’d be well practiced in ‘sheltering at home’ after how many years of Covid? But I was under the illusion that it was easier here in Oakland than in a small Paris apartment. I never took into account RAIN! Not to be able to sit outside in the backyard or walk around my neighborhood where it is easy to put six feet between me and the nearest person. This has been extraordinary. I will say that I still am very lucky. I have not lost electricity or Wi-Fi and there have been no mudslides near me. We learned that Kevin Costner could not be at the Golden Globes Tuesday night to pick up his best actor award because of the severity of the weather in Santa Barbara/Montecito. The presenter was joking around about it but many people have had to evacuate from very expensive houses down there. So I’m sort of complaining but when compared to what could be….I’m actually happy that it has not been worse.

Mudslide near Santa Barbara

So what does one do in this new ‘Sheltering in Place’? It turns out there are a number of streaming services available in the US that we don’t get in France. One of them is Hulu. And one of the best shows on Hulu is called Only Murders in the Building with the wonderful Steve Martin and the hilarious Martin Short. They are joined by a young singer/actress I knew nothing about: Selena Gomez.  OMITM is a great show. Martin and Martin are seniors who love a True Crime Podcast. They meet each other in a café during a false fire alarm in their building in NYC. Into the café wanders Selena Gomez, hears them talking about the Podcast, and it turns out she is a huge fan also. During the false alarm, someone in the building is murdered and they quickly whip up the idea of having their own podcast called, you guessed it, Only Murders in the Building. Wonderful mayhem ensues. This is not slapstick. This is a witty vehicle that shows off the best of the two comedians. They work so well with each other or as I’ve heard actors say recently: They are wonderful dance partners. And anyone who has seen their Saturday Nite Live hostings in the month of December can tell that they are fond of each other. Hulu has two seasons of ten episodes each. Giving us the opportunity to watch two masters of comedy solving murders and making it thrilling.  Selena Gomez isn’t bad either and it is fun to see the generations mix. She claims these two ‘old men’ are her only friends.

I just recently discovered the author Richard Osman, a British screenwriter among his many talents, who has turned his attention to writing mysteries. The first book, The Thursday Murder Club, introduced the world to four seniors, known as pensioners in the UK, who solve murders! They started with cold cases, but by the third book in the series, things have escalated. These books are fun! They are exciting, addictive, and just plain fun! In a time when the world seems to be falling apart, this seems reminiscent of the 40s screwball comedies that were made during WWII when everyone needed a laugh, a smile, and a distraction from what was happening around them. That is what OMITB and the Thursday Murder Club members are doing for me. It’s not quite so bad staying at home with these folk as company.

Is watching streaming services on a TV called watching TV? Other than watching The Golden Globes last night, I haven’t seen any mainstream channels. It’s good to have a large Smart TV that downloads apps and, for a hefty fee, one can be entertained around the clock. Here is another channel not available to me in France even with a good VPN. Turner Classic Movies (TCM—there is a version on French TV but it is not this wonderful classic channel where movies are presented by hosts who know their film history and can relate fascinating details that one would never know otherwise). I watched the 1974 That’s Entertainment, The Sting (1973)The Philadelphia Story (1940) , and the brilliant Inherit the Wind (1960) with Spencer Tracy over the four days of New Year’s weekend. Inherit the Wind is the story of the 1925 Scopes trial where the teaching of evolution by John Scopes was being prosecuted. It could be made today. Do we have a Clarence Darrow available who can go mano a mano with our present-day fundamentalists? All these classic movies hold up. They could have been made yesterday.

Tuesday night was the 80th Golden Globe ceremony. Until last year, when it didn’t air because it was learned there were no black members, it was always everyone’s favorite award ceremony. It is much more laid back, and fun with lots of faux pas that no one really cared about. Then George Floyd was killed and the US started to examine itself on racism. Some entities anyway. Tonight’s show tried to make up ground. The host, Jarrod Carmichael, opened with the line “You know why they asked me to host this show? Because I’m black.” He went on to talk about the elephant in the room in a low-key folksy way. I thought he was excellent. I haven’t read any reviews. Last night’s winners were a diverse group of people many of which would probably not have been honored if not for George Floyd. The two best movies were directed by white men. The Irish movie The Banshees of Inisherin won in the category of best musical or comedy. I haven’t seen the movie but I hear it is not uplifting at all so I’m wondering…. The story of Steven Spielberg’s childhood and his wild wonderful mother, The Fabelmans, won for best Drama. I haven’t seen that either. I can watch both of Apple TV + if I choose not to go to a theatre.

Swollen river near Santa Cruz

According to my iPhone, this California freak of nature will continue for six more days and maybe beyond. The average temperature is 52o. Much the same as in Paris though the temperature seems to be dropping there. So, to all you brilliant people who developed streaming services, and produce these amazing shows that distract from reality, I say thank you. I will survive yet another housebound adventure.

It’s not what or how you plan but how you respond to what actually happens. That’s what they tell me.

For more photos of the damage: https://ktla.com/news/california/california-storm-damage-in-photos/

Thanks for reading Out My Window! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.

A bientôt,

Sara

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