Although it is August and I, like many of the French, take August off, I had to jump in and write a post. I woke up to the news that the Senate had passed, 51-50, the sweeping bill now called the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 addressing climate change, health care, the national debt, and many more things. Every morning, I get an e-mail entitled ‘Letters from an American‘ written by Heather Cox Richardson. (Anyone can subscribe free to her posts on Substack: https://heathercoxrichardson.substack.com/p/august-7-2022 ). Ms Richardson describes herself this way: “I’m a history professor interested in the contrast between image and reality in American politics. I believe in American democracy, despite its frequent failures.”
I have been mystified by the consistent reporting that Biden’s popularity is so low, in the 38% range. Democrat Nation loved him when he won the election. He inherited a horror show (my words) from the former president. Senator Tim Kaine visited Paris and Democrats Abroad and told us how Biden managed to get Europe to join America in preparing for the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. At the time, Europe was hedging bets that Russia was just bluffing. Biden’s administration was sure he was not. He got European countries to listen to him by saying that he hoped they were right but, just in case, wouldn’t it be nice (my words) if there was a plan in place that could be executed immediately upon an invasion. All agreed to that – even Turkey who probably would not have agreed if the invasion had already taken place. Brilliant, I thought to myself. Had I read about this in the papers? No? It must not be exciting enough news.
Ms Richardson writes this about Biden and Democracy: “In the past 18 months, Democrats have rebuilt the economy after the pandemic shattered it, invested in technology and science, expanded the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to stand against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, eliminated al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, pulled troops out of Afghanistan, passed the first gun safety law in almost 30 years, put a Black woman on the Supreme Court, reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, addressed the needs of veterans exposed to toxic burn pits, and invested in our roads, bridges, and manufacturing. And for much of this program, they have managed to attract Republican votes.
Now they are turning to lowering the cost of prescription drugs—long a priority—and tackling climate change, all while lowering the deficit.
Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne noted accurately today that what these measures do is far more than the sum of their parts. They show Americans that democracy is messy and slow but that it works, and it works for them. Since he took office, this has been President Joe Biden’s argument: he would head off the global drive toward authoritarianism by showing that democracy is still the best system of government out there.
At a time when authoritarians are trying to demonstrate that democracies cannot function nearly as effectively as the rule of an elite few, he is proving them wrong.”
The passing of this bill in the Senate is exciting. All expect that the bill will have no trouble in the House. It is inspiring to other countries, like France, who want Democracy.
I’ve been reading these ‘Letters from an American ‘for quite awhile. If you would like to read about day to day goings on without the hysterics, the hyperbole, without the ‘screaming at you’ from much of the media, I refer you to Heather Cox Richardson. If you don’t like it, you can always unsubscribe.
Trying to save money, I borrowed a car, actually a van, from a friend in Paris. As has happened in the US, car rental prices have doubled, even tripled in some areas, and it can be very difficult to find a car. The van gets great mileage she told me and it certainly seemed to. I drove from my apartment in Paris to Lessard-et-le Chêne, a distance of 200 km/125 miles, this past Monday on less than a quarter tank of gas. The van drives well and I was comfortable. I had left Paris at 9am in an attempt to beat the heat. All of France was suffering a second heatwave of the summer, and predictions said that Paris would top out at 102o and Lessard at 105o. When I arrived at 1pm, it was a mere 92o.
Tuesday morning, I thought I’d fill up the tank before it got too hot and be ready to go anywhere. So off I went, sure of where I was going, but got lost. Not having anywhere to be, it was ok to get lost, and I had my phone with me. Soon I saw a familiar landmark, the LeClerc supermarket that also has a large gas station. I pulled in and filled up the tank. Then off I went again headed to the Intermarché for a few groceries. I was inside for thirty minutes.
Back in the car, I turned the key and nothing happened. Well, something happened. The van made that sputtering noise telling me it was trying very hard to start but it wasn’t turning over. I tried three times. Then I sat there and a familiar anxiety settled over me like a heavy blanket. I had no idea where to go or who to call. My friends had not yet left for the airport but they were packing and I didn’t want to disturb them if at all possible. I felt like the ugly American who doesn’t know how to cope in a foreign country and resorts to panic out of habit. I saw a well dressed adult male pull up in front of me. I jumped out of the van, crossed over to him, and as he opened his door, I told him in my best french that my car wouldn’t start, I had checked everything, and could he help me. He followed me to the van. I turned the key but again the van would not start. After checking the obvious, he asked me who put the gas in the car. I told him that I had. He motioned me to step out of the car and we walked to the gas tank. He pulled open the cover and there in nice big letters was the word DIESEL. I must have looked like a cartoon character as I slapped my forehead, groaned, and my anxiety turned quickly into deep embarrassment if not shame.
I immediately wanted someone to blame. Why hadn’t my friend told me it only took diesel? Yes, dummy, and why hadn’t I checked to see what kind of gas the van took especially as someone was so kind as to write in large letters….. Even I, who knows little about the inner workings of cars and vans, knows that you don’t put gas in a diesel van. Even I know that the damage can be extensive. I thanked the man and he went on his way.
I had to call my friends–who rightly were annoyed with me. Not nearly as annoyed as I was with myself but, hey, who’s measuring. The husband came and got me. Did I mention they were leaving for the airport in less than three hours? On the way home, M reminded me that it is July, and could be very hard to find a mechanic, and it could be very expensive, and it could be in the garage three weeks. Leave it to the French to come up with the worst case scenario. All I could sputter out was that it never once occurred to me that the van took diesel. In the US, very few cars take diesel. Here in France, I don’t know anyone who owns a diesel car and I’ve never rented one. It’s just not on my radar. It should have been. Ninety-five percent of cars in France are diesel. It used to be far cheaper than gasoline. Farm workers and low income people were encouraged to buy diesel cars. Then Macron decided that diesel was damaging to the environment and told everyone to buy regular gas cars. The price of diesel went up. Incentives were given for buying gas cars. I have no idea how many sold their diesels. It’s asking a lot of a worker who is 100% dependent on her car for her living especially if she lives in the south of France.
Le marché des véhicules de loisirs va prendre un tournant majeur dans les prochaines décennies. L’interdiction de la vente de véhicules thermiques est prévue dans les calendriers d’ici 2040. Alors qu’aujourd’hui 95 % des véhicules vendus roulent à l’essence ou au diesel, quel avenir pour nos vans et fourgons aménagés ? Quelles alternatives possibles face à l’interdiction du diesel en France ?
Back at the house, I texted my friend who owns the van. She happens to be in the US at the moment which is why she was kind enough to make the loan. She is six hours behind me. She received my information and contacted her insurance agency immediately. She let me know that a tow truck would meet me at the van at 10 the next morning. Meanwhile, everyone in the house was talking about solutions for me. My head was swirling. I still felt both helpless and ashamed. Like an old record player, I replayed me at the gas station hundreds of times, seeing the word DIESEL, and putting it in the gas tank. It’s like waking up from a nightmare. The ending is always the same. I’d made a mistake and I had no idea what the consequences would be. I was at the point where I wasn’t sure if it would be ready when I had to go back to Paris. I went on the internet and rented the last car in Lisieux from an obscure place with the original name of Rent A Car.
The afternoon and evening passed. My friends left for Charles de Gaulle to fly to California the next morning. The not so friendly voices were whirling around in my head having a good time with my sanity. I asked a friend of theirs, John, for a ride and promptly at 9:40am he showed up and we went to Intermarché. The tow truck was already there. I watched as this skilled man pulled down the ramp on his truck, moved my van that wouldn’t start into a perfect position to roll up the ramp, attach one cable, and pulling a lever, up the van went. All of this with a friendly smile. Then he looked at me and asked me where he should take it? Huh? I didn’t know and said so. Kindly, he said, he’d take it to his garage and await further instructions.
John came out of the store just at that point and off we went to Rent A Car. I drove home and texted all this info to my friend in the US. By that evening, I knew it would be repaired at the garage it was at and possibly could be ready by Friday! Really!! That meant that little or no damage had been done to the motor. I had also talked to quite a few people, all lending support to help me feel better. One person actually said that everyone she knew who has owned or rented a diesel has done the same thing. I don’t think any French person would do it so she must have meant Americans.
Noon the next day, Thursday, US called and told me the van was ready for pick-up AND it would cost one hundred and fifty euros. Forty of that was filling the van with twenty liters of diesel. The fact that I couldn’t get a ride until this morning (Friday) meant little. This unintended but ultimately huge mistake I made was turning out to be ok. That means it didn’t break my piggy bank and the motor wasn’t damaged, all the affected parts just had a bath, and I have the van back in forty-eight hours. And probably/hopefully, I didn’t lose the friendship which was on my mind the whole time.
So here’s the final thing. I’m a good student. I do my homework and learn my lessons. But there are some lessons that I only seem to learn the hard way–by making a mistake. This one I thought was going to be a dilly. It was hard enough though it had a happier ending than I expected. I will ALWAYS look to see what kind of gas or diesel or otherwise a car takes (by the time I ever own a car again, they’ll all be electric!) All the cliché inspirations, that many of us are inundated with, remind us how important mistakes are and how to learn from them. They forget to mention that sometimes you want the world to stop, that the feelings can often be overwhelming. But…life ticks on and the consequences show themselves. And infuriatingly, the clichés are all true. Mistakes are the greatest teacher of all.
My sister is a prolific reader. She recommends wonderful books I might not have stumbled on had she not alerted me. A couple of weeks ago, she suggested I read Deborah Cohen’s Last Call at The Hotel Imperial: The Reporters who took on a World at War (Random House, 2022). It is so new that I had to recommend it to the American Library in Paris. I have found it to be one of those non-fiction books that is so well-written, it is easy to forget that it is not a novel. Cohen tells the story of the foreign correspondents who went to Europe, Asia, Russia (I know Russian is considered Asia but….) and chased down any emerging story. Some went to great lengths to get an interview before their friends, who were also competitors, got there first. This is definitely not Fox News where those guys sit in comfy chairs telling the world how it should think, what their truths are, and haven’t moved an inch to talk to anyone except those who 100% agree with them.
On page 110, Ms. Cohen was describing “the so-called Lost Generation“. “Eventually the term “Lost Generation” came specifically to denote the American writers and expatriates who, in the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald, had ‘grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken.’ Disillusioned by the Great War, alienated by American materialism, they’d moved to Europe in the 1920s, embracing what the critic Malcolm Cowley called ‘salvation by exile.’ ” “In using the term “lost,” psychologists were referring to the “disoriented, wandering, directionless” feelings that haunted many survivors of what had been one of the most horrific wars in modern history.”–Robert Longley at ThoughtCo
This doesn’t sound so different from today. So many Americans, disillusioned by the state of affairs in the US that have followed one war after another that the US can’t win, are moving over here (Europe). Some say it’s worse now than it was then. But how does one gauge how bad something is. Many of those correspondents saw and wrote about Germany and the threat of Hitler. Maybe it’s only worse now because we are in the middle of it, day by excruciating day, waiting for the next body blow. I’ve read the above paragraph by Cohen many times. I have found some solace in it. I didn’t move here because of the politics but I have stayed here because it seems like a nicer, kinder place to live. I’m sure many French people would disagree with me. Their politics hit them the way American politics hits me. Cohen goes on to say that by 1930, “the dividends had evaporated, adult life beckoned, the half-finished novel would be put away. The “exiles” were returning, sobered-up and broke, newly conscious (perhaps) of the ties that bound them to other Americans.” p. 111.
I’m writing this because I often feel torn. There is a very good chance that democracy won’t survive what’s happening in the US. From over here, it seems the Democrats are whimpering along not doing much about the everyday decisions coming out of a very biased Supreme Court. My own opinion about the war in Ukraine is that the more Europe and US gets involved, the more likely a war on a much larger scale will break out. How can it not? And will it take violence, death, and hostile killings to find out if Democracy can still survive? It is only through a few flukes that the “good guys” won WWII.
I can’t imagine what I can do if I were living in the US that I can’t do here. Democrats Abroad is a vibrant organisation and very active. I feel much closer to the ‘action’ by going to DA meetings and meeting interesting people and politicians who travel and stop in Paris to talk to us. The amount of e-mails I get on a daily basis from so many organisations who want to crush Republicans but are loud, hostile, nasty, and sound just like the Republicans they say they want to get rid of is extraordinary. I unsubscribe to at least three a day but, just like Medusa, six more come the next day. They consider themselves completely entitled to access my e-mail then scream at me in order to shame me into giving my life savings to something that is probably not working. I even wrote one person running for Congress in California. I asked that he tell me what he stands FOR; that I was tired of hearing how awful his opponents are. I never heard back.
I wrote last week that many bloggers like me, non-professional opinionators, feel numb, unable to write. Thoughts like the ones that have been swirling around my brain, I believe, occur to try and break us out of sleep-walking, out of an overwhelm that is crushing. People get involved in world activities for many reasons. One of the main ones is an attempt to feel some power in a powerless world. “I’m doing something, I have a voice. Where can my voice best be heard?”
All of this has been going on in my head and reading Last Call at the Hotel Imperial has gotten me writing. If only to put down on paper the hard questions. Where can I be useful? How can I be useful? Am I doing enough already? Can writing words be a tool that I can use to make a difference? If 300 people read what I write, does that make a difference?
There aren’t any answers. But it is good to ask the questions. If I, and others like me, keep asking the questions, individual answers may get clearer.
Why did I title this blog The Silent Generation? I wanted to know if any research showed similarities to the Lost Generation and today. The Silent Generation is about to outnumber the Baby Boomers of which I’m a part of. The Silent Generation is the most materialistic and tech savvy generation. The Silent Generation feels let down by adults and politicians (who don’t always act like adults). The Lost Generation was undereducated and the Silent Generation is overeducated but both ended up feeling ill-prepared for the world they have been let loose in. In France, they don’t vote. In the US, their passion lies mostly with Climate Change. This generation has “…the highest level of stress than any other generation, suggesting a need for more conversation surrounding mental health and the pressures facing recent graduates.”–Evan Brown, The Warped Similarities Between Millennials and the Lost Generation (2020). This only underscores the questions I ask myself. What do I owe this generation? I often look at the future as I see it in my head and I’m grateful I may not be alive to see the worst of it.
It’s July 7, I have not yet heard from Stanford. I’m not holding my breath. I’m not anxious or letting the world pass by. In fact, the news of the world seems to be coming in fast and furious. Some bloggers I know are writing that their brains have gone on tilt-too much, too fast, too sad, too awful–and how hard it is to write at the moment. I absolutely concur. So I give you the things I’m focused on.
Today, Boris Johnson stepped down as Prime Minister. “It is clearly now the will of the parliamentary Conservative Party that there should be a new leader of that party and therefore, a new prime minister,” said Johnson. Ya think???? This morning I woke up to news that he was going to stick to it come hell or high water (my words). Four hours later, everyone who gets notifications on their phone got the same message as I did. CNN reported that Johnson is not planning to leave office immediately, however. “I’ve today appointed a Cabinet to serve, as I will, until a new leader is in place,” he said, in a televised speech outside 10 Downing Street. Hmmm. How much damage can he do between now and then?
Everyone I know is getting Covid. Two friends came over, vaccinated and boostered, got Covid here (Europe) and I spent time on the phone with them helping them figure out what to do. Three friends were over here and tested positive after their return to the US. This virus will keep mutating and figure out how to get around all the vaccines. The great saving point is that it does make one sick but not so sick as to go into the hospital or die.
Covid Rears Its Ugly Head Again The seventh wave of new Covid cases in France is getting worse by the day, over 125k cases confirmed on July 1st, with the Ile-de-France (Paris) and Brittany leading the pack, and the Atlantic and Mediterranean coastal towns not far behind. The government recommends wearing masks, and encourages anyone over 60 or at high risk to get a fourth dose of the vaccine, but the government is too gridlocked to pass even the smallest of restrictions, so at the moment there’s no “risk” of the Pass Sanitaire or lockdowns making a comeback.
From ‘Secrets of Paris’ blog
In French Politics, Macron was forced to shuffle his cabinet around. “France has entered a new political era; or has reverted to an old one. Parliament is divided and therefore parliament rules. The President can no longer treat the National Assembly as his rubber-stamp or echo chamber. We have returned to the France of the 1950s or the 1930s, before Charles de Gaulle invented the supposedly all-powerful presidency (but left the ultimate power in parliament).”–John Litchfield in The Local. For more of his analysis, go to: https://www.thelocal.fr/20220706/opinion-france-begins-a-new-political-era-and-its-going-to-get-messy/?tpcc=newsletter_member
And on a sweet note, on a walk in the Parc de Bagatelle this past Sunday, I learned about two of the sweetest cats there. Their names are Zoe and Gaston. They come from a circus. Once the pandemic hit 28 months ago, the circus approached the non-profit that feeds and cares for the cats in Bagatelle and asked if Zoe and Gaston could stay there. The volunteer assured me that there was no abuse, nothing like that. The circus felt strongly they would be better cared for by the wonderful volunteers who come everyday to feed the cats. I went over and petted Zoe who rolled over on her back to get her belly rubbed. No wonder I see the two of them sitting on benches with people reading or just hanging out in the sun.
There is supposition that France is in for a long heatwave. Last summer, we had rain all summer and no canicules (heatwave). So far, we have had two that have been called a canicule and more is yet to come. Depending on where you are in France, it can be fine. In Paris, where the pollution is terrible, heatwaves are awful to bear. In the south of France where many people live in stone houses, one keeps the shutters closed, the lights off, and one stays inside cool as a cucumber until evening. As long as there is no humidity, these heatwaves cannot be compared to NYC or Philly in summer. However, if you have porcelain, British skin, it is hard to get through a french summer. I have dark olive skin inherited from my Russian grandparents and I love the heat of summer.
My first foray out into commenting on French politics and I got some of it wrong. How embarrassing. So here’s the deal. The second round of Parliamentory voting was Sunday the 19th not the 26th. Macron’s party won 255 seats, the NUPES won 131 seats with other leftist parties winning 22 seats, and Marine Le Pen’s party, the far right, won an unprecedented 90 seats.
The question on everyone’s mind is ‘Can Macron dissolve Parliament and call for another election?” He is scheduled to speak on TV tonight.
Two Sundays ago, June 12, the citizens of France voted in the first of two elections for seats in Parliament (Assemblée Nationale). For the past five years, President Macron has held a majority and been able to lead top down. Macron won his second election for President but is not enjoying the popularity he had in 2017. The parties on the left, who have a long history of fighting with each other, felt a resurgence of hope when Jean-Luc Mélenchon came in a very close third in the first Presidential elections. Now Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s party, LFI (La France Insoumise) has created along with three other leftist parties a new coalition known as the NUPES (Nouvelle Union Populaire Écologique et Sociale). On June 12th, the NUPES won a tenth of a percentage point more than Macron’s party, En Marche. Who are the NUPES why is this not good news for Macron?
Mélenchon has not been a popular candidate (He also ran for President in 2017). They call him the Bernie Sanders of the French, but he doesn’t have Sanders’s personality. You mention his name and people used to say, “oh Mélenchon, he’s crazy’. But he is a leftist and with his high percentage of votes during the first round of Presidential elections, people on the left are looking to him for guidance to create obstacles for Macron. He has become the defacto leader of NUPES. As Macron has been leaning more and more right in an effort to appease conservatives, he has neglected what has been happening on the left. The four parties that have allied together to become a new left alliance are Mélenchon’s LFI, the Greens, the Communists, and the Socialists. The Nouvelle Union Populaire Ecologique et Sociale. NUPES (pronounced Newps or New Pays). If this alliance won a majority in the National Assembly on the 26th of June, Macron would be forced to reckon with this block and probably Mélenchon would become Prime Minister. The few times this has happened in the past, the president would deal with foreign policy and the Prime Minister with domestic. All 577 seats are up for grabs. Macron needs a majority, 289, to maintain the power he has enjoyed his first five years as President. En Marche, soon to be renamed Renaissance, could win 255 seats. NUPES is projected to win 150-190 seats. Marine Le Pen’s party could win as many as 40 up from 8 in 2017.
There is one other block of voters that made themselves known Sunday, the 12th. The no-shows or abstainers. According to the media, this is the largest no-show of voters – 52% — ever in France. It is made up mainly of young people who have stopped caring, who feel powerless to do anything about their circumstances. There is a chance that these people could be motivated to vote for NUPES. Followers of NUPES are out on the streets campaigning in every arrondissement of Paris urging these people to go to the polls on Sunday. Although the chance of NUPES gaining the majority of seats this Sunday is very low, this group of people if motivated to get to the polls, could make all the difference.
“Perhaps the most notable loser on Sunday was far-right pundit Eric Zemmour, who attracted vast media attention in the presidential race but has so far flopped as a candidate. Zemmour failed to advance to the second round on Sunday in his bid for a seat representing Saint Tropez. Nationally, his Reconquest party won just 4.24 percent of the vote, and did not send a single candidate to the run-offs.”—France24.
To keep leftist voters away from the polls or to convince them not to votes for NUPES, Macron and his buddies have reverted to some bizarre scare tactics. In a guest essay in the New York Times, Cole Stangler, (an American journalist based in France), wrote, “Amid tight polling and mounting anxiety, Mr. Macron and his allies have sought to tap into fears of this very scenario, reverting to red-baiting. The finance minister has likened Mr. Mélenchon to a “Gallic Chavez” who would “collectivize” the economy and bankrupt France, while a leading lawmaker from Mr. Macron’s party has warned of a “return to the Soviet era.” The chief of France’s top business lobby has said Mr. Mélenchon risks pushing the country “to the brink.”
In fact, the coalition’s actual platform is far from revolutionary. It’s inspired more by the golden days of European social democracy than by the Bolsheviks. The coalition’s two signature economic policy proposals — a hike in the minimum wage to 1,500 euros, or about $1,560, a month and a cap on the prices of essential goods — are modest measures at a time of rapidly rising inflation.
Plans to raise taxes on the superrich and boost investment in schools, hospitals and transport networks contrast with Mr. Macron’s embrace of the private sector, it’s true. Yet these are popular, standard-fare progressive policies in Europe. The alliance’s bold climate proposals — a five-year €200 billion, or nearly $209 billion, green investment plan driven by the principle of “ecological planning” — have led the ecology minister to accuse NUPES of “playing on young people’s fears.” But it’s hard to see the plans as anything other than an attempt to tackle the climate crisis head-on. The costs of inaction would be much greater, anyhow.” June 16, 2022
One thing is sure, since Macron will not gain a majority in Parliament, he has to stop governing top down. He and his ministers (some of whom may not even make it back to their seats in Parliament), will have to compromise with both the left and the right. The right is a solid unit that has actually spread from the southeast of France up North and northeast. The question will be – can those four entities on the left, the NUPES, who have vehemently disagreed with each other over the years stick together with an overall plan or will they fall in to in-fighting? I may be projecting my own fears of the US Democratic party which seems to shoot itself in the foot whenever possible.
My take on French politics has never been very clear. However I have found the rise of NUPES to be very interesting and I’ve caught the excitement that this alliance has incited. I hope I’ve been able to explain, albeit very simply, what is happening here in France and what the results on Sunday may look like.
Watch the voting news on Sunday, June 26, to see how all this plays out.
It is rare, if ever, that I write about something before it happens. When I wrote my post on Anatomy of a Scandal, it was more a review of a book and a series that I was encouraging readers to be aware of. Then last week, the media publicised the result of the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial. A travesty. Real life mimicking art. For those that don’t read this kind of stuff, Johnny Depp was awarded at least ten million euros to be paid to him by Amber Heard, his ex-wife. He had sued her because she had tattled on him publicly about domestic violence. Although witness after witness testified about horrible things he said and did, the media liked him better. The jury liked him better. And he won. Just like in the book and series, Ms Heard was made to say things no woman should have to say to defend herself. It didn’t help. One can’t help but wonder whether this will put back by many decades what woman are willing to report and/or say when it comes to sexual assault, rape, etc. If any any of you want to correct my perceptions of this, please do. I didn’t watch any of the trial, had no interest in it. However, after I wrote the earlier blog, I was interested in all the Op Eds that came out the next couple of days. Without exception, the writers, both male and female, were aghast at the results.
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With the support of many of you–Thank you, you know who your are–I got my application in to Stanford University for the writing program. The wait is not long – mid July. I believe I have a fifty-fifty chance of getting in. One cheerleader sent me a wonderful book called Dreyer’s English–An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style. Written by a copy editor, the book is laugh-out-loud funny and helpful. What does a copy editor do? S/he takes a finished piece of writing and makes it … cleaner. Example from p. 245: “There is a world of difference between turning in to a driveway, which is a natural thing to do with one’s car, and turning into a driveway, which is a Merlin trick.” Since I often jump to the back of a book (I don’t know why), I read that within my first hour of reading the book. I laughed so hard, I had tears. Now I pause every time I write ‘in to’ or ‘into’. I have to say that line over and over to myself. Have I been writing it wrong all these years? No one has said anything but it does seem like a mistake I might make. I urge any writer amongst you to get a hold of this gem of a book even if you write perfectly. We all need a good laugh and true wit these days.
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The Parc de Bagatelle is in rose heaven. Since I returned from Normandy mid-May, the roses have been in bloom. There is a formal rose garden, Roseraie Classique, at the far east end of the park and a natural rose garden, called Rosiers du Paysage, at the other end. I took a tour of Parc de Bagatelle on Tuesday and learned that the modern rose can bloom from May through Christmas. The Antique rose, which went out of favor for a long time, blooms only once during the season. These roses were moved to the very back of the formal garden and most people just pass by them in their attempt to get in the middle of the rainbow of color from rose bushes, rose trees, and trellises with climbing roses. There is a contest every year. Roses are brought in by different growers and watched over a two or three year period depending if they are in the formal garden or paysage garden. The judges come every week for six months before and during the season. They look for disease, hardiness, how the bush covers a piece of ground, the color of the leaves, smell, and how the petals fall off once the flower has died. It seems very complicated. Our tour guide, one of the judges, says she often has to give high marks to a rose she wouldn’t have in her own garden because of the criteria. Today, Thursday, June 16th, the winners are announced. The formal rose garden is closed for half the day while a huge ceremony is produced. While walking around on Tuesday, we saw flags from fifteen different countries.
I also learned that the beautiful peacocks that i have photographed and often shown in this blog are all male. The female peacock has no color except on her face. Her back is a huge grey blob. Our guide says this is so that she can hide from the males and also protect her babies.
Once during the past two weeks, I happened upon the wonderful volunteers who feed the cats of Bagatelle. Peacocks, the males, it really is very rare to see a female, will sit quietly by and watch. There is always the hope that some of the kibble will find its way to the other side of the path which is peacock country.
Because I live in Paris and because I love the American Library in Paris, I get to meet some great writers. I’m fairly sure this wouldn’t happen to me anywhere else. Paris is small for a world class city. Everyone comes to Paris. When Audrey Chapuis, Director of the American Library, introduced Ann Patchett at the Yearly ALP Gala last Thursday evening, she told us that Ann had sworn off traveling after the pandemic. Wasn’t going to do much anymore. But when offered the opportunity to speak at the largest fund raiser the Library has every year, she was easily persuaded. And I got to meet her. When I told her I was a budding author at 74 years old, she looked at me and said “Good for you!” Then she wrote ‘Write often, read everything, love in Paris’ on the title page of her latest book of essays These Precious Days.
Maybe it doesn’t mean much to the average person but it certainly does to me. I got to meet Ann Patchett! She wrote to me personally in my book. I’ve read the inscription every day. It makes me smile. Then comes the problem: when one’s favorite writers are people like Ann Patchett and George Saunders, it is hard not to compare my written words to their written words. They are great writers (in my humble opinion). Not only that, they are great speakers. It is not every author who is also someone who can captivate an audience. You can hear Ann’s talk on YouTube on the Library Channel. And if you haven’t already done so, listen to Saunders’ commencement speech on Kindness. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ruJWd_m-LgY
I’ve been writing creative non-fiction for over six years and a journal forever. I write this blog. I wrote a memoir of my eating disorder Saving Sara My Memoir of Food Addiction. I wrote another book with five women on the practicalities of abstaining from addictive binge foods. I’ve definitely honed my skills and learned the craft of writing non-fiction. Now I want to try my hand at fiction. I am a beginner. I love words. It shouldn’t be so hard to put a sentence together. Right? Wrong. With fiction, I first have to choose a Point of View (POV). In non-fiction, that’s a done deal, it’s my POV. Choosing the POV in novel writing is huge. Is it one of the main characters with all their baggage flavoring their thoughts? Is it a distant third person and the story is told from some unnamed observer?
I have an idea for a novel. I’ve had it for awhile now. It’s why I felt able to entertain the possibility of applying to the Stanford Writing Certificate program in novel writing. But to get into the program, as part of the application process, I have to submit 3000-6000 words of fiction. The application letter kindly says that it is ok to send in published work. They just want to know how the applicant writes. I not only don’t have published work, I don’t even have finished works. I have had to hire an editor to help me so that I don’t completely embarrass myself. She is the one who has stressed my need to pick a POV. I am a quick learner and I’m smart enough to know that if I were actually to write this novel, I need a structured environment with teaching and feedback to proceed. I just have to get in to the program.
Steven King started writing when he was nine years old. He started submitting his fiction to many different places when he was fourteen. Ann Patchett wrote as a teenager, published her first book when she was twenty-seven. George Saunders‘ story is more like mine. He wandered around doing many things in many different countries. I think he majored in a science in university. Since he started writing, he has won many awards including the Man Booker prize for his debut novel, Lincoln in the Bardo. And these are the people I find myself, hopelessly, comparing myself to. I told my editor. She said “That’s good. It means you will keep improving yourself.” I didn’t expect that.
So who else have I had the great good fortune to listen to while residing in Paris. Colsen Whitehead before he won the Pulitzer Prize; Richard Russo; Ta-Nehesi Coates was a visiting fellow and wrote most of his award winning book, Between the World and Me, down in a small cubicle reserved for Fellows; Lauren Collins, who writes for the New Yorker, married a frenchman and lives in Paris. She comes to the Library often to interview other writers. I subscribe to her newsletter and wonder if I ever could put together a sentence as she does.
Just a few days, I went to hear Colm Tóibín talk on James Joyce’s Ulysses. I’ve not yet been able to get through more than a few pages of Ulysses at a time. I went because it was Colm Tóibín. He wrote Brooklyn, made into a wonderful movie; The Magician about Thomas Mann another writer I tried to read but couldn’t get more than a few pages. (Colm told me to read Buddenbrooks. He said that was an easy book to read). Maybe it’s because he’s Irish! Mr. Tóibín makes anything sound fascinating. I loved The Magician and am now part way into The Master, his 2004 book on Henry James.
I think you get the idea. I’m in Writing Mecca. If I can restrain the part of me that loves to say “You aren’t good enough,” I can listen and learn. I can say “Pay attention. Maybe one day you will be good enough.”
During the winter, Netflix had a plethora of programs to choose from. It was a veritable paradise. Then the Award Shows came and went. Netflix and Amazon Prime slowed down their productions. (Netflix is having other problems but that is another post). One night three weeks ago, I decided to take a chance on a limited series called “Anatomy of a Scandal” starring Lady Mary. Her name is actually Michelle Dockery but who remembers that? It seemed to be just another British courtroom drama. I can’t tell you if it is a good production but it was/is a surprising show. With all the news about #MeToo and #Weinstein and all the women who have come forward, not one thing I’ve read has addressed the theme of ‘consent’ in the way this series does.
The plot involves a charismatic junior member of Parliament, married with two children, who has been accused of rape. He has allegedly raped a woman that he’d been having an affair with but had ended the relationship. The rape happened a week later. The man, James Whitehouse, is on trial but really on trial is the question of what does consent mean? We, the readers, are treated to the thinking of a number of women who aren’t sure how to say ‘no’. Who question their own sanity when a boy/man says “I’m just kidding”. Who don’t know their own mind when it comes to sex. Who aren’t sure whether going along with a boy’s wishes will help the relationship to continue. In other words, about 90% of us women.
When I was growing up, we had to take Sex Ed courses. It was embarrassing. No one wanted to take the classes and if we did, we didn’t know how to take them seriously. No classes were given to just us girls on how to make decisions about sex. We were only told ‘don’t have sex.’ Peyton Place was popular on TV and that was our sex education. I remember hearing boys talking about how when ‘no really means yes.’ I never knew how to think about any of this stuff.
This show tackles all this. It defines rape within a marriage. I’ve always said that I have never been raped. In fact, I was. By a boyfriend who would not hear No when I kept saying it. We were on a vacation and had had an argument. I’m sure that he never for a moment gave it a second thought, that that time might have been problematic for me. And I’m sure that when we broke up months later, it never occurred to him that what had happened on vacation had had a huge impact on my feelings towards him. I didn’t say anything, I was too confused myself.
After I finished watching the show, I discovered that I had the original book by Sarah Vaughn on my Kindle. I have no idea how long it has been there. At least two weeks had gone by since I finished the show so I started to read the book. Again, I can’t tell you if it’s good literature. It’s very compelling. It’s a best seller according to the latest cover. The series changed aspects of the story as so many do when going from book to TV but the basic premise is the same. When does ‘No’ mean ‘No’ no matter if one is in a relationship or not. And in both the book and the series, the horror of what the ‘victim’ has to reveal in front of who knows how many people and still she may not be believed. The man is always right unless proved otherwise beyond any reasonable doubt.
Right now in the US, white men, with the aid of one woman, who call themselves Judges are in the process of taking choice away from women. Most of my grown up life has been with Roe vs Wade. But now that may disappear. It is okay for men to rape their girlfriends (and others) but the women have no say in whether to end a pregnancy that may result. From the vantage point of France, the US keeps looking more and more insane. Backward and very, very mean. I don’t want to get into discussing Roe vs Wade and what’s going on because of the Supreme Court leak. There are so many places to read opinions on that. But how it relates to men and rape….well, I think that is huge.
I think more books are going to be published on this subject. I saw a review of one that will be published in the Fall. However, Anatomy of a Scandal is one I really recommend because of the treatment. There are two rapes in the book both by the same person but different in nature. We are flies on the wall to courtroom scenes where a woman is torn to shreds to reveal her experience. We are privy to thoughts of the wife and one of the rape victims. And there is the whole issue of white male entitlement. This probably sounds like yet another angry woman but these things are real. People are fighting and lying and doing dirty deeds to keep these things in place. Women may have the vote (maybe that will be taken away also), women may be able to work outside the house though it will be a rare day when the average woman can earn the same salary as the average man in the same position.
There is a movie. I don’t know how old it is. The title is What Do Women Want? I never saw it and have no right to discuss it. But the title…..I remember thinking back when it came out that I hated the title. Who was this film maker to make a joke of this. But the truth was, I had very little idea what I wanted. Not just sexually but professionally, with friendships. I’ve been extraordinarily lucky. I have good friends though I’ve had to drop a few a long the way as they belonged to another life. I literally fell into work that I loved and had the same career for thirty-four years. I retired while I still could do other things. I worked for the Mayor of Oakland and had a three year course in civics. I couldn’t have bought that in a university. And now I live in Paris, am learning French in my 70s, and applying to Stanford University!
But none of the above is any indication of the chatter of questions that go on in my mind. Wondering, always wondering if I’m good enough, kind enough, thoughtful enough, have I done enough, am I lazy, on and on. Nothing I’m sure that the rest of us aren’t asking ourselves on a daily basis.
I’m curious. Who of my readers has seen the series or read the book? Did it inspire any ruminating within you as it did with me? Please leave a comment so I know how others around the world are thinking presently about this topic.
Parc de Bagatelle is one of the many gardens that graces the Bois de Boulogne, the large park on the west end of Paris. Paris is, in fact, sandwiched in between two huge wooded parks. Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes. Living in the 16th arrondissement, I am ten minutes walk from the Bois de Boulogne. Last summer, during a phone call with a friend, I learned about a formal rose garden within the boundaries of the Bois. The search for this rose garden led me to and introduced me to Parc de Bagatelle. This beautiful garden spans 59 acres (24 hectares) in the north-western part of the Bois. Hidden away, it is an idyllic and quiet place to discover, away from the noise and the crowd. Not only does it have a formal rose garden but an informal rose garden, an iris garden, a potager, and fields that are planted with bulbs and bloom with daffodils, tulips, hyacinths and most other bulbs from early February thru the end of April. May is the month of the Iris. You probably can get the idea that this garden shows off seasonal flowers. Something is blooming all year long.
There are also sentient beings in the parc. Cats. At last count I’ve found thirty of them. Depending on the day of the week and how many people are wandering around, one can see many of them…. or not. There are peacocks that talk all day long, are curious, and will walk right up to you. There are mallards that mostly stay in the ponds but on days when there aren’t many people, they wander the parc and plop themselves down wherever and make sure you understand that this is their parc and you are the guest.
I wanted to know more about the cats. There had to be a reason for all the cats–mousers, maybe? Grandchildren of a famous cat–think Hemingway’s cats. I googled and found one reference to an association “l’association La Féline Du Chlojolie” that feeds and cares for all the cats in the Bois de Boulogne. According to the association, there are about fifty in Bagatelle, another thirty at La Cascade, and the rest wander the trails and hide in the woods of the Bois.
“In 2008, Marie-France created her association La Féline du Chlojolie which has about thirty members, a few donors and four volunteers who don’t count their time devoted to these kitties.
“Every day, we prepare 10 kg of croquettes and 40 boxes of pâtés”. Véronique (Photo above) is one of them. “Our paths have crossed. And for seven years I have been totally involved in this action”, assures this inhabitant of Clichy who comes three to four times a week to Bagatelle park, without any remuneration other than the affection of the cats that surround her. Two other people share the task at the Cascade or in the different sites of the wood.”
“Not only do we feed them, but we also monitor their health. All the cats are castrated, tattooed and followed by a veterinarian”, specifies Marie-France who herself adopted four cats, “desperate cases”, who came back to life. “It’s a colossal job,” she adds.” –le Parisien.
Marie-Claire’s personal adventure began with a walk with one of her granddaughters in Bagatelle park. “I then met Madame Dorfmann, the wife of the producer (Jacques, editor’s note), who had been taking care of the Bagatelle cats for years. Eight months before her death, she made me promise to take care of the cats in her place”… And the the rest is history.
And that’s it. That is all I found about the cats of Bagatelle. I really wanted a story, something folksy that’s passed down through families. But no, these cats are strays and if it weren’t for the good will of Marie-Claire and her volunteers, they’d be scrawny, mangy things carrying all sort of insects on them. The peacocks, mallards, and people would be keeping a great distance. As it is, people smile when they see the cats. They stop and watch them. Sometimes, they will walk up and pet them. I’ve walked by and seen a cat fast asleep on the lap of someone reading and relaxing. Something fascinating is that these beings seem to have territories. When I am walking towards the east end of the park, the cats all stay on the path or in the brush to the right. The peacocks all stay to the left of the path. Very few exceptions.