Health Insurance: USA vs France

I came to Paris, in 2014, for one year. My intention was to better my french then to return to Oakland, go to baseball games and continue learning civics. It didn’t happen that way. Within six months, I knew I wanted to stay; one year was not enough. Not only was Paris beautiful, inspiring and exhilarating, I’d never lived in a city before. Cities, I learned, pulse with life. In Paris, no matter the time of day or night, life was happening. People were out on the street, having a drink in cafes, walking for pleasure or transportation, going to a myriad of events available every evening. For me, it was intoxicating. I loved it.

Then we had an election in the US. I found it hard to be there but not be living there. All my friends were in various stages of depression. At the time, no one thought it could get as bad as it has, that democracy is actually at stake. Some friends are inured. It’s impossible to watch from over here in France and not be shocked and outraged. The US, always somewhat imperialist, is now cruel and verging on terrorism. That is as extreme as I’m willing to state. In the back of my mind was always the question ‘What would it take to move here, to cut ties to California?’ Two things always jumped up. The first was health insurance. The second was home ownership. The wisdom says don’t sell your home in California unless you are 100% sure you never want to move back. I couldn’t afford my own home if I had to buy it.

Health Insurance: I’m 72 years old. I have Medicare and also a secondary insurance. Until recently I didn’t know if I was eligible to get French insurance. The french system may be the envy of the world. It is a single payer plan. A citizen gets a social security number and then applies for the Carte Vitale. With the carte vitale, every time one goes to the doctor, any kind of doctor, at the end of the visit, you hand your card to the doctor. Then you pay your co-pay. The doctor is paid the rest by the government. Some of my friends have a secondary insurance, which is not expensive in US terms, so as to cover any unforeseen problems. And french medicine is NOT expensive compared to the US. When I had my right hip replaced in February of 2017, I received a statement telling me how much the operation, lead-up appointments and post-op appts cost and what percentage of that Medicare paid. The grand total was $65,000. For the sake of personal information, I googled the price of hip replacement in Paris and the average cost was $8,000-$10,000. Same operation, same skill set, same medicine. It’s one thing to know that there is something very wrong with the American system, it’s another to have the numbers. I once ran out of an over-the-counter stomach aid while in Oakland. It had to be prescribed and my co-payment was higher than I paid over the counter here in Paris.

For five of the six years that I have been in Paris, not knowing what to do about health insurance has kept me from committing to moving here. Last fall, I learned that Macron had decreed that anyone who has lived here more than three months is eligible to apply for french health insurance. As with many things that require dealing with the french administration, I felt paralyzed to take action. Friends offered to help. One sent me the web address to get more info. Another actually translated into English what I needed to do and what I needed to produce, document wise, to get my social security #. Then I finally found someone who would go with me to the office. I needed my hand held. We set up a date and ….. the office had moved two years before. There was no longer an office in my arrondissement. My friend is married to a frenchman who writes beautiful french just the way administrators like. He wrote a letter to be signed by me applying for both the number and the Carte Vitale. Yesterday morning, I sent it registered mail. So now I wait.

https://www.expatica.com/fr/healthcare/healthcare-basics/guide-to-health-insurance-in-france-108848

This is not a political post. All the above raises all sorts of questions (that most of us already know the answers to) about why certain American politicians don’t want to make insurance affordable to 50% of the country. That’s not my fight this week. My fight is to grow old with insurance and the best quality of life I can have. I think the quality of my life is far better here in France. I would like to take the actions necessary to commit to living here. I may not hear anything for a year. Such is the snail’s pace of french administration (especially now when they are stepping up their efforts to help the British who live here, get residency cards, get their drivers license, etc). I have taken the action and it is very satisfying.

My next action is to get a French Driver’s License. Much, much harder than in the US.

A bientôt,

Sara

Saving Sara

“Read Saving Sara to see how bad it can get before it gets great–and find out just how she did it, so you can do it too. What a great read.” –Judy Collins, New York Times best-selling author of Cravings and Grammy-nominated singer

Yes, I have written a book. Yes, that Judy Collins, the one who sang Both Sides Now and who we listened to for hours. She read it and told me how much she loved it. I have decided to announce the book on this blog, but Saving Sara and Food Addiction/Compulsive Eating will have it’s own blog starting mid-February.

From the time I was a young teenager, I always wanted to write a book. For all the wrong reasons. My father gave me a diary after we saw The Diary of Anne Frank together, and I was obviously deeply moved by her story. I was ten years old. I even read the book but, though I was inspired to write, I didn’t learn anything about writing and observing and sorting through my thoughts. I used my diary, that had a key and a lock, to complain about my parents and the world in general. Then there were long gaps of three or four months before I took up the cry of the teenage victim once again. It didn’t make for very interesting reading when I found that diary at forty years of age. However, I was impacted by the pain that my young self lived with. Sometimes, I thought I’d made it all up.

I had romantic notions of writing. I thought of starving artists living in garrets in Paris, writing by candlelight and thought how romantic. That would be one way to lose weight. As the years came and went, I set my goal of writing a great novel ten or fifteen years ahead of whatever era I was in. The truth was that I had nothing to say. I was still complaining which no matter how you twist and turn it is boring.

Then I moved to Paris in 2014. I joined a couple of organisations that taught french classes and, it turned out, they also had writing classes. With a push from a friend, I signed up for a writing class in the Fall of 2015. The only class I could find (at the late date I finally made up my mind to do it) was a class on Memoir writing. The teacher thought I was a good writer, that I had a ‘voice’. So I signed up for more writing classes. If you live in Paris and have a creative bone in your body, you take writing or art classes. There is an abundance of them. It is Paris after all. In the summer of 2016, I took a week-long writing workshop given by WICE, the same organization I had taken my first course with. I found I had something to say especially if I was prompted. The thing I had most to say about was my eating disorder that I have lived with all my life. At the workshop, I met an agent who read ten pages of my writing. She asked me if I thought I could write a book. Of course I said Yes! She said, ‘write it and then send it to me.’

It turns out that one needs more than a story-telling voice in order to be a good writer. I had to learn the Craft of Writing. I started this blog in order to practice writing. I hired a coach and learned how to set a scene, how many scenes in a chapter, how to write good dialogue, how long should an average book be. All things I’d never thought about, or was even aware of, although I read voraciously. Almost four years later, I have a finished product. The launch date is May 12, 2020. Amazon put it up on the website for pre-order last August. I have no idea why they do that but they do. Now people are calling me a writer, an author.

I have to say I’m amazed. I actually did it. Not in my forties or fifties but starting in my sixties and the book will be published in my early seventies. It’s possible to find inspiring cliches to give a person confidence and now I’m my own example of why you don’t give up and it’s never too late, you’re never too old. My parents used to say that I never finished anything. If only they could see me now. It was hard work. I almost gave up three times. My editor had great faith in me. She kept telling me I am a good writer and this was a story that needed to be told. Thank goodness for cheerleaders.

I will say more about the book itself in the next blog

For more information on WICE: https://wice-paris.org

I am a champion of independent bookstores. Of course, one can always order off Amazon but go to this website to see where the independent bookstore closest to you is: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781631528460

A bientôt,

Sara

Happy New Year 2020

Bijou, the cat.

The French in general, do not send out Christmas cards. They send New Years cards and have until January 31st to get them all sent. This is my New Year’s card for all you.

I spent New Years in Pacific Grove, California. I had come to Oakland to address issues in my home and various other problems. My oldest friend in the world–we went to High School together and have been close friends most of our lives since then–lives in Pacific Grove, as does her eldest daughter, one of my goddaughters, her husband and eighteen month old William.

Pacific Grove, California

I’m never excited to go to Oakland. It’s a long plane flight and often takes days for me to recover from jet lag. I am so spoiled in France having access to some of the best transportation in the world (except when there is a strike–more on that later). I do not like driving in the Bay Area–if sitting in rush hour traffic and listening to horns honking and people screaming at each other can be called driving. I planned my trip to Pacific Grove so that I’d leave with the least amount of traffic and arrive with the least amount. The drive takes about 2 hours and starts on I880, one of the ugliest, messiest freeways in California, winds its way through groves of trees as it gets further away from Oakland and ends up merging with Rte 1 right along the Pacific Ocean. The views of the Ocean have brought millions of people to California and it never disappoints. I could feel my heart skip a beat. Whatever anxiety I had brought down with me, vanished with my deep intact of breath. It was December 31, 2019, a beautiful, sunny day and for the 20 minutes that I drove along the ocean, nothing seemed problematic.

I arrived at Darcy’s door just in time for her to take me to my AirBnB, brighten up a little and go the Fishwife Restaurant where we were celebrating our New Years. We spent the rest of the evening sorting through all the presents and treasures I’d brought from Paris and from my jewellery box. Some was a walk down memory lane, some was just fun. My goddaughter, Elizabeth, was born in Paris when her parents lived there in the 1980s. Darcy has never recovered and longs for the day she can spend more extended time in Paris. As Audrey Hepburn said for all of us “Paris is always a good idea.”

Driving back up to Oakland on January 2, 2020, I listened to an interview with Christine Pelosi talking about her new book, The Nancy Pelosi Way; Skyhorse Publishing. Over the past two months, my respect for Nancy Pelosi has soared. In my daily life, I try hard not to let others provoke me when they disagree with me, but I’ve never had the barrage of tweets and attacks that have been aimed at her daily since September. She somehow manages to rise about it all. She’s clearly not white-knuckling the appropriate affect as her time and good sense seem impeccable to me. Many of the new House Democrats did not want her to be the House Speaker but, love her or hate her, she is a leader, she is smart and she knows how the game of Politics works. I look forward to reading the book.

Christine is remarkable in her own right. As she was being interviewed, I wondered if she would ever run for Congress. No sooner had I thought it, than the interviewer asked her exactly that. She didn’t say No but seemed clear that as long as she had children at home, the answer is Not Yet.

This was the worst of the strike, 5 deep waiting to get on one metro that came every twenty minutes. It is much better now.

As I head home to Paris, I’m wondering what the taxi situation will be like at CDG. Everyone who would normally take the RER B will be taking taxis. I’ve been trying to keep up with the news of the Strike but it is badly reported in the US. I’ve heard of people cancelling their trips because they were told nothing was running. Untrue. The buses were always running. The rest of us went onto RATP.fr every morning and learned what metros and trains were running and when. My metro #9, for instance, ran for 3 hours in the morning and three hours in the late afternoon. Starting Friday, Jan. 17, it is running all day long just 1 out 2 trains. The #1 and the #14 have been running full time all day long as they are electric. The #11 has been added to the all day long, full schedule. Getting around, definitely, takes more planning but not too much time is added unless you live outside in the suburbs. And anyway, isn’t one of the main attractions of coming to Paris is the Walking!!! It’s usually at the top of everyone’s to do list.

I did find a taxi at the airport after waiting all of five minutes. That gave me the experience of the worst part of the strike. The traffic. Until we reached the peripherique, it was bumper to bumper. So Parisians aren’t depending on the news–too bad, the transport does seem to be working.

Last night, I read that Macron was willing to keep the retirement age as is–IF the other side was willing to make some concessions. The problem as I see it is that this strike and the Gilets Jaunes are as much about Macron as the pension plans. At some point, there will be an end, the strikers are making no income. They would feel very satisfied if this whole thing resulted in making Macron look very bad.

https://www.ft.com/content/7092edb0-2c0a-11ea-a126-99756bd8f45e French unions vow to push on with strikes despite Macron plea

The View from Paris–a political opinion

Last week, as I wrote here, I visited the D-Day Museum in Caen and also went to two of the Normandy beaches. At the same time, I was reading The Flight Portfolio by Julie Orringer: the story of one of many little known heroes who did daring feats and risked their lives to resist the Nazis and the Vichy. It’s 75 years since D-Day, June 6, 1945 and new stories of resistance in WWII are still being written. To me, the most distressing stories are the ones of human blindness and ignorance as Germany became proudly anti-Semitic and built up to war.

So why, I wonder, aren’t we learning from past mistakes? “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.“(George Santayana). From my perspective here in Paris, the US Constitution is being trampled on in ways that were unimaginable three years ago. I remember November 9, 2016: I had gone to bed early the night before having seen the writing on the wall. I woke up praying. The computer and TV told me that Donald Trump would be POTUS come Jan. 20, 2017. As shocked and stunned as I was, I did think “we’ve gotten through bad times before, we can do it again.” Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the environment in the White House, a man with absolutely no moral compass being declared the leader of the Free World.

I do get it: People were fed up with the status quo. They wanted change at any price. Isn’t this similar to Germany in the early 1930s when Hitler came to power. Both men got into an office of tremendous power by instigating an atmosphere of fear and hatred. I wasn’t alive during WWII. I was raised by two parents who had lived through the war and tried to teach me the meaning of freedom. I was a slow learner. It wasn’t until I was well into my 30s that I grasped the huge price in human life that the Allies paid to win that war. And it was sometime in my 60s that I realized it’s not a given that the good guys win. I couldn’t actually grasp how people lived through the Hitler years, the Dark Ages, Spain under Franco. It scared me.

My generation rebelled against the Vietnam War. This younger generation has thrown all it’s protesting energy behind the emergency warning cry for Climate Change. Even Jane Fonda, the anti-Vietnam voice of my generation, is getting arrested for Climate Change each week.

Jane Fonda, center, being arrested on Friday along with other activists like Jodie Evans, right. The actress spent the night in jail. Credit…Jared Soares for The New York Times

What about the rest of us? Have we gotten so cynical that we can’t do anything. I have a friend who says “I’ll go to the ballot box but don’t talk to me about politics.” In some ways, I don’t blame her. When I visit the US, TVs blare 24/7. I don’t know if anyone actually listens. Here in Paris, I read my news. President Trump acts as if he does not believe in democracy. I think he really believes he didn’t do anything wrong on the July 25th Ukranian call. I’m told that the far-right Republicans say we are in Civil War and anything is fair game in war. Trump thinks of himself as Emperor and “off with your head” if you aren’t 100% with him.

I’m still watching the Democrats squabble among themselves and I don’t have any clear idea of the path ahead for them. Do they? I feel discouraged by my party. It’s not who is the best person to be POTUS, it’s who can beat Trump. When we get together, we don’t talk about a candidate’s pros and cons, we talk about whether a woman can beat Trump, whether a gay man can beat Trump, will the US elect another African-American president? Democrats Abroad is hosting Zoom meetings and inviting every candidate to present their platform to those of us who sign up. I think it is the only place where I hear what they stand for.

One month before the mid-term elections, Malcolm Nance spoke to an audience at the American Library in Paris. He told us, “Get everyone you know to get out the vote. This could possibly be the end of the great American experiment.” I feel that way today. But I don’t have time to get active with Dems Abroad. How many people say that and look back and wish they hadn’t believed their own voices? So I will get active. There is always time.

I pray a lot and end up saying the Serenity Prayer. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
–Reinhold Niebuhr

I don’t often write political opinion and probably won’t again for awhile but these things I had to ask. Thank you for bearing with me.

A bientôt,

Sara

Don’t Give Up Before The Miracle

I am in Normandy with two friends for the week. I seem to be the only person I know who, until Wednesday, had not made a visit to the WWII beaches, the American Cemetery, and the Memorial Museum in Caen. Even though they’d already been, my friends insisted we had to spend one day visiting these memorial sites. So, on Wednesday, with the skies threatening rain, we set off. First stop: Caen.

Memorial for History and Peace in Caen

Once you hit the outskirts of Caen, there are numerous signs guiding you to the Memorial. It is a large rectangular building fronted by the flags of the many Allies and surrounded by green.

Inside the front doors is a huge entry way with a Boutique on the left and a Bistro for light snacking in front on the mezzanine. Below that is the ticket counter and on the right is a restaurant for a sit-down lunch and the auditorium that runs a film “1944: Sauver l’Europe (Saving Europe)” every 30 minutes.

We bought out our tickets, tucked all our belongings into a locker and set out for a journey through history that began with 1918 and how Europe and Germany were set up for the totalitarian take-over of Germany and the next World War.

The museum is designed so that the spaces are chronological. The exhibits take on the form of newspapers, photos, uniforms behind glass; short videos remastered from the 1930s and 40s; detailed explanations in English, French, German and Spanish on the walls. There are photos of Hitler that I’d never seen before and ordinary soldiers that have survived the years and give illustration to the explanatory words.

Map of HItler’s land conquests by the 1st of Sept, 1939.

I began by reading everything, looking at everything, soaking in old and new information. When I got to the area that detailed the extermination of the Jews, I had to skip those rooms. It’s the part of WWII I know most about. With the world once again on the precipice of vanquishing huge populations of non-white people, I can barely stand to voluntarily look at the past and it’s horrendous consequences. As I looked at the horrifying map of the trains that led to the death camps, I found it ironic that I loved a similar map of the paths of all the pilgrims walking to Compostale in Spain.

I moved on to the next rooms and realized I’d been in the museum for almost 90 minutes, reading, looking, absorbing history. I was exhausted. My brain went on strike and even though I had sat down at almost every video, my feet ached. For me, this museum would be better experienced as a two day venture. Being lucky enough to live in Paris, I could return.

A still from one of the videos

I walked to the end of the exhibit on the bottom floor and found that my friend, Susan, had come to the same conclusion. So we found our way to the Bistro – a large space with many tables that seemed to be able to accommodate everyone. Her husband joined us for a light snack: he had lasagne and salad and she had the most gorgeous bruschetta I’ve ever seen. At the Bookstore/Boutique, I bought The Longest Day, a film my mother had taken me to see when I was fifteen years old and had never seen again. I plan to watch it and “Band of Brothers”, the TV series that I’ve seen three times and never gets old.

We piled back into our rented Peugeot and headed for Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery. There are five landing beaches on this part of the Normandy coast. Omaha and Utah beaches are the two where the Americans landed. Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches are where the English and the Canadians landed. In between Omaha and Utah is Pointe du Hoc.

As the rain came down harder, we told each other how great this was. “We are having the true 3D experience. When the troops landed on June 6th, it was raining hard.” Once we arrived at Omaha beach, stepped out of the car and into the cold, biting, stinging rain, we were miserable. The only way to get some respite was to stand on the side of the large monument memorialising the beach.

The side of the monument behind which we escaped temporarily from the fierce wind and biting rain.

Within five minutes, the strength of the wind and the sleet-like stinging of the rain caused us to re-access what we were planning to do. To see anything, we had to step back into the unkind weather. Susan’s husband, Dewey, suggested we give up on Omaha and head to Pointe du Hoc. “Anything that will get us back in the car.”

Omaha Beach
Ode to the Americans who risked their lives to land at Omaha Beach. English translation in the middle.

We drove about 8km along the coast and arrived at Pointe du Hoc at 4pm. Here, on June 6th, 1944, parts of the 2nd Ranger Battilion scaled the cliffs seizing German artillery hazardous to the landings on Omaha and Utah beaches. They surprised the Germans who never thought they’d attempt the cliffs. They held on against fierce counterattacks. The French government transferred the area to the American Battle Monuments Commission on January 11, 1979 for perpetual care and maintenance.

After going through TSA-like security check, we entered a small building called The Sacrifice Gallery and watched a video with personal stories of the “sacrifices that made the Allied victory possible. Of the initial attacking force of 225 men that participated in the Pointe du Hoc mission on June 6, only 90 were still able to bear arms when relieved on June 8”–Brochure of the American Battle Monuments Commission.

You can imagine the scale of the cliffs by the shadows and the cliffs in the front view.

We began the walk along the point. We came to a bunker that was taken from the Germans and became the command post of the Rangers, medical aid station and morgue. We could see, 75 years later, the huge holes in the ground that cannon balls had made. These provided some shelter for the Americans. Because of the rain and wind, we didn’t make it far enough to actually see the scale of the cliffs. Photos showed the rope ladders that had been thrown up and the soldiers climbing to get to the top. It is breathtaking and heart pounding to see what was done by the Allied Forces to save the world from totalitarianism. 

I called this blog Don’t Stop Before the Miracle because so often in my attempts to break a bad habit or do something that seemed beyond my skill level, people would say to me: Don’t stop before the miracle. I took that to mean that I should just keep trying with the belief that I could succeed. As I walked through the Memorial in Caen and the beaches on the coast, I couldn’t help thinking what an example, at such a terrible cost, of continued efforts to do the right thing. At one point, all hope of the Allies winning the war seemed lost but, in the end, they prevailed. It was a miracle. And today I pray for our world and that a second miracle is in the offing. I will do my part.

A bientôt

Sara

http://www.abmc.gov

Parisian Dreams

I’ve written about the American Library in Paris in an earlier blog. Since that time, we have a new Director, Audrey Chapuis. I say “we” because I’m a volunteer there and am made to feel like an integral part of the library and how it’s run. Audrey started out as a volunteer just as I did. Now she is the Director, the first librarian ever to be Director of the library. She is out-going, charming and has become a friend.

I found an essay she wrote for the Literary Hub and asked her if I could share it with you:

The Timeless Appeal of an American (Library) in Paris

On the Literary Romance of the City of Lights

By Audrey Chapuis


April 15, 2019

Literary pilgrims to Paris, however ardent, tend toward crises of faith. A whole genre has flowed from the deflated hopes of writers who once believed the muse to be Gallic, living in a garret, and partial to Americans abroad. Of course, American writers don’t have a monopoly on disappointment about Paris. Tourists from around the world complain about the rude shock—now dubbed “Paris Syndrome”—of their fantasies crashing into the city’s prosaic reality. It’s a lesson in the perils of idealization.

For those of us who live in the French capital, it’s more complicated, as are most long-term relationships. I regularly cycle through devotion and disillusionment, witnessing how the city’s beauty and the ugly commodification of that beauty coexist, how its idyllic myths mingle with its sometimes bloody history. I’ve also come to see how the city is like any other, with the same simmering cultural tensions and socioeconomic issues as any metropolis.

Looking back, I’m sheepish to admit just how fervent my own Parisian dreams once were. As a girl growing up in Texas, I became—quite mysteriously to the Texans around me—a Francophile. I ate up stories of the Lost Generation and swooned thinking about bohemians lounging on café banquettes, waving cigarettes, and arguing about ideas. I read everything by Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin, believing their entwined literary and romantic relationship to be the apotheosis of seduction. Teenage years in Texas seemed painfully banal in comparison. Bygone writers had Parisian bacchanals; we got keg parties in the woods. The injustice tasted more bitter than the flat Shiner Bock on tap.

When I finally traveled to Paris on my own, I sought to right the wrong, not that I expected to find any modern bacchanals. I was content to chase the ghosts of the writers I loved against a picturesque backdrop. I checked into a dank hotel as close as I could get to Shakespeare and Company and mapped out my course to all the famous cafés where writers had once gathered. On my first night, I wandered shyly into a café and ordered a glass of white wine, blushing furiously at being alone and mumbling in a language I had only practiced in an air-conditioned classroom. The harried waitress in shirtsleeves and black suspenders set down my glass with such force that it shattered, sending wine and tiny shards of glass across the tabletop and into my lap. She blithely mopped up the mess without apology. I imagined she was disgusted with me and my Americanness and my solitude. Gertrude Stein wouldn’t have giggled nervously and then left a large tip.

By the time I moved to Paris, many years later, most of my romantic notions of the city had been swept away like those shards onto the sidewalk. The move, for my husband’s job, was practical rather than whimsical. And my status as “trailing spouse” threatened to extinguish any remaining flicker of glamour. The ugly term encapsulates the privileges and limitations inherent in the status: according to the state, the partner who follows is legitimate but secondary. Another applicable but contentious word, “expat”, so evocative of Americans in Paris, loses its sheen when one examines the difference between an expatriate and an immigrant. The gap is filled with questions of agency, means, and access to resources in one’s host country.

After a few months acclimating to life in Paris as a resident, I found a job as a reference librarian at the American Library in Paris, an institution established in 1920 which serves a diverse population hailing from over 60 countries. As part of my training, my coworkers joyfully produced artifacts and anecdotes from the library’s long history. I was shown Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein’s book reviews in the library’s newsletter and heard about Stein arguing with Alice B. Toklas in the stacks. Pulling volume after volume down from the shelves in the special collection, I saw books donated to the library from Sylvia Beach, Willa Cather, Janet Flanner, and Irwin Shaw. One colleague opened a cream folder to show me a letter from Henry Miller, dated November 21st, 1938, asking if the library had The Secret Doctrine by Madame Blavatsky, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, an English translation of Seraphina, Walt Whitman’s prose works, and “any book on Zen Buddhism.” Holding the piece of stationery with its jaunty Art Deco letterhead—“Henry Miller 18 Villa Seurat Paris”—I felt a jolt of exultation for my younger, more idealistic self.

Over time, as I learned more about the American Library and its place in the history of literary Paris, I recovered some long-repudiated belief in the city’s magnetic pull and inspirational force. Conjuring scenes of my old heroes in the library’s reading rooms made me swoon all over again, decades after their work first moved me. However, the most thrilling thing was not the library’s function as a monument to the past. Rather, it was the lively thrum of its present activity. Clearly not only ghosts walked here. Writers, readers, students, and scholars converged daily upon the place.

Writers don’t need smoky cafés or any other clichés of the writerly life, but they do need a comfortable space to write. They need access to books. They need quiet. And, perhaps surprisingly, they need community, just like the rest of us who might be floundering in a new city.

I recently became the director of the American Library, and I hear stories from people all over the world—“trailing spouses”, “expats”, immigrants, and Parisians alike—about what the library means to them. Again and again, the need for sanctuary in this beautiful but sometimes alienating city emerges. I hear familiar tales of disillusionment, and then reconciliation, with Paris after people discover the library. Some speak of forging deep friendships in book groups. Others remember carrying home teetering stacks of books to read to their children who are now grown. Many tell me about the experience of writing books here, comforted by the silence of the reading room and the company of others.

These stories remind me of the potential of any library to be a refuge for its public. Romantic notions of artistic communion pale in comparison to what libraries regularly do. Yes, libraries protect history, but they also safeguard the future by providing spaces dedicated to people learning and creating. Stalwart, they serve communities unbeholden to any fleeting cultural moment.

At the American Library, the rate of book borrowing is up, across genres and in every age group. The children’s area fills up during every Story Time. Literature-loving teenagers flock to Friday night festivities. Crowds congregate for evening author talks. Lapsed readers fall in love with books again as they wander the stacks, reminded, in a very tangible way, of the breadth of human knowledge.

And that’s more exhilarating than any bohemian bacchanal.

A bientôt,

Sara