Paris is starting to look a lot like…… Paris!

This has nothing to do with the blog writing today! Just thought it is so cute!!

After a summer to forget — cold, lots and lots of rain, waiting, always waiting for warm weather, Paris and France have had the most glorious Autumn. Many days in a row of sunshine and warm days. And it lasted. Starting from the beginning of September until now. We are supposed to be in for a week of rain but 80% chance of rain on the iPhone usually means an hour or two and then it will be dry or a few sprinkles. At least so far this week.

Along Av. de La Bourdonnais

Since the finish of the first lockdown at the end of May 2020, I’ve taken to walking more and more. I started requesting audiobooks from my library and listening as I walked and, as one does with a really good book, it’s hard to stop reading so my three miles turned into four miles turned into five miles a day. Not everyday but many days. So I’m not sure when it actually hit me how many people were out on the streets. Walking to the American Library requires crossing the Pont d’Iena which takes me almost to the foot of the Eiffel Tower. When Paris is full of tourists, walking is a bit like slalom skiing. Trying not to walk into people who are only looking at their iPhones as they take photos or are standing at the very edge of the sidewalk trying to take a photo of the girlfriend who is posing at the edge of the bridge. Someone like me either walks through them, waits, or steps into the road to get around the boyfriend. After a number of these opportunities to be polite, it gets old, and I just want to barrel through not caring if I show up in the photo 🙂

Across the street from the Eiffel Tower where the crowds are getting larger and larger

Here in the 16ème, it’s a lovely bustle of people. No tourists, plenty of Parisians going from small store to small store doing their daily shopping. The light is different. The air is different. It’s autumn and there is a sense of pulling in for the winter. Electric lights turn on earlier in the late afternoon and, if it has rained, it gives everything a sense of magic, a sparkle, a pause for a deep breath. I don’t care how long one has lived here, there are just moments of wonder, at the specialness of waking up in Paris and it always being beautiful, especially after everything has been washed clean by a good rain.

The Bateaux Mouches are full again (this is a different company but Bateau Mouche is now a generic word as well the name of one of the companies giving tours on the Seine)

Eighteen months ago, we were sending photos back to the US of ‘Paris Vide’ – a Paris so empty of everything that it was easy to think that no one in any generation of us living sentient beings had seen anything like it. Slowly as the lockdowns became less strict, as people emerged from their homes, and younger braver people started walking the streets, ‘Paris Vide’ disappeared forever. The rules have changed over the last year as more is known about Covid and social distancing and the efficacy of wearing masks. Here in France, the majority of people still take the virus seriously although every week, there is a protest somewhere in France against the Passe Sanitaire, against masks, against protecting one’s neighbor from dying. But for the most part, everyone wears a mask in a store, on the metro, on a bus, and anywhere that it is impossible to socially distance.

Anyone who has ever visited Paris knows that this is a cafĂ© society, a sidewalk culture. Paris is not Paris without people on the street, having a coffee next to the sidewalk, arguing with your friends so that anyone passing by sighs a sound of relief–Paris is being Paris. I don’t believe that we will go back to anything but, until this morning, when I read the French news, I did think we were emerging, as a city, with everyone’s health and best interests in mind and let’s get back to being Paris.

This morning, however, the news said that Covid hospitalisations has risen 15% in the past week. France is declaring it an epidemic again and masks will be required on the street. “The French public health body SantĂ© Publique France says that the epidemic has returned with the increase in Covid cases and hospitalisations in France.” The Local. I shouldn’t be surprised. We were told that there would probably be a rise in winter as there has been in the past two winters. Yet, there was excitement getting the Booster shot and all my friends getting the Booster and, lest there be any doubt whether the vaccine works: “Among those who are admitted to intensive care, 13.8 per million are unvaccinated, 1.3 per million are vaccinated.” The Local.

I don’t want to end on a down note. The truth is that everything is much better than it was a year ago. The French government has done a great job of getting people vaccinated. We’ve all been told that a year ago 48% of the French said they wouldn’t take the vaccine. Today, over 90% of the French population has been vaccinated. Vive La France!

Paris in Autumn

A BientĂ´t,

Sara

Bois de Boulogne

When I first moved to the 16th arrondissement (which is the most western part of Paris before one crosses the PĂ©riphĂ©rique), I wrote about the Bois de Boulogne. What I didn’t know about this amazing park would fill a book. “It is the second-largest park in Paris, slightly smaller than the Bois de Vincennes on the eastern side of the city. It covers an area of 845 hectares (2088 acres),[2] which is about two and a half times the area of Central Park in New York, slightly larger than Phoenix Park in Dublin,[3] and slightly smaller than Richmond Park in London.”–Wikipedia. The 16th arrondissement is the largest arrondissement in Paris and goes from north to south on the west side of the Seine across from the Eiffel Tower. The Bois de Boulogne runs almost the same length but on the other side of the PĂ©riphĂ©riqe which is the ring road that circles Paris  and is made up of the busiest 35 kilometers in Europe, with around one and a half million vehicles per day.. From my apartment, I walk due west and after crossing over the PĂ©riphĂ©rique, I am in the Bois at the Porte de Passy.

The red line that goes between the two lakes is the Porte de Passy where I can enter the Bois de Boulogne.

When I first started walking in the Bois in 2017, I’d come in and walk around one of the lakes or both of the lakes. The upper lake, Lac Interior, has an island that sits in the center and houses a small Chalet. A small shuttle boat will take one over for tea or snacks. Further up, during the summer months, one can rent a row boat and leisurely row the length of the lake watching all the promenaders meander the dirt path that rings the lake, the loungers sitting by the shores having picnics, and the periodic wildlife depending on the season.

Rental of boats at the top of Lac Interior
Chateau in the Parc de Bagatelle

At the most western part of the Bois is the Parc Bagatelle which I just discovered this summer. I was on the phone with a friend talking about some of the gardens I’ve come to love and she asked me if I’d visited the formal rose garden in the Bois de Boulogne. Not only had I not visited it, I didn’t know it existed. So the next day, I set off to find this rose garden. “Bagatelle Park, located in the heart of the Bois de Boulogne, is one of the four poles of the botanical garden of the City of Paris. Created in 1775, the park and its castle were built in 64 days following a bet between Queen Marie-Antoinette and her brother-in-law the Comte d’Artois. Bagatelle Park is a place to walk and relax. In addition to gigantic trees and varied flora, small bridges, rocks, caves, mirrors and man-made waterfalls add charm and romance to the place. The 19th century Chinese pagoda is one of the park’s curiosities. The visitor especially admires a magnificent rose garden of 10,000 roses from 1,200 different species. The park regularly hosts exhibitions and events, and organizes classical music concerts in summer.“–official site of Tourism.

Peacock walking in Bagatelle, so friendly that s/he will just walk right up to you almost as if waiting to be petted!

Also during the summer, I received an invitation to attend a Gala at Le PrĂ© Catalan, a very upscale restaurant (three michelin!)also in the Bois. The invite said it was next to the Shakespeare Garden. Again, another garden close to me that I’d never heard of. In my defence, two of the years I’ve lived here, we have been in some form of lockdown and when we weren’t, the motivation to go wandering wasn’t great. Now that France is leading the world in vaccination rates (over 90%), I feel safe to wander as I please, especially in areas that aren’t so crowded. So I set off to find the garden and the restaurant. Both are a thirty minute walk from my apartment.

One of the walking entrances to Le Pré Catelan

The Jardin de Shakespeare abuts the area that the PrĂ© Catelan sits on. If one is sitting in the terrace area of the restaurant, it is easy to peek over the hedge and see parts of the large garden. I’m told that in non-pandemic times there is actually Shakespeare in the Park every summer. I found a ticket booth for the performances but was unable to find the stage itself.

Walking roads found all over Bois de Boulogne

Once I realised what a treasure trove of small parks, gems, lakes, waterfalls, and hiking areas was located so close to where I lived, I began to spend afternoons exploring, what to me, seemed like hidden gardens from classic old English children’s stories. I took endless photos. As reported in my blog from last week, the majority have refused to be uploaded. I keep getting a dialogue box saying there is no content. So I have borrowed from various sources to try and show the variety and possibilities found in this amazing park. I think my photos are far better.

Botanical gardens at the far south end of Bois de Boulogne
Roland Garros, which hosts the French Open every summer, is located near the Parc de Princes on the southern end of the Bois
La Grand Cascade in the Bois de Bologne in the suburbs of Paris, France.
The Chalet du Cycle in the Bois de Boulogne. Break of the cyclists in the wood, Belle Epoque. Painting by Jean Beraud (1849-1935), 1900. Carnavalet Museum, Paris (Photo by Leemage/Corbis via Getty Images)

One can’t leave a discussion of the Bois without mentioning the Fondation Louis Vuitton. FLV, opened in 2014, in a building designed by the architect Frank Gehry. In order to promote artistic creation …….

I have visited LVF many times. At first, the building itself far acceded the curated expositions as the piece of art to ponder and contemplate. Then curious installations were placed in various parts of the building. Then the bi-yearly shows got more interesting. But always, it was the wandering in the bowels of the building which looked like the innards of a ship that caught my attention. At first, I couldn’t understand why something so modern would be placed in one of the oldest parts of Paris. From only one spot, can one see the Eiffel Tower. It is much easier to see the modern buildings of La DĂ©fense. I would emerge from these early trips onto the Mahatma Gandhi road and have to shake my head, get my bearings, and remember that I was in Paris, France. I have fallen in love with the structure. It is fascinating in its endless ways of coming and going, its areas of pure light to deep, deep dark. It comfortably embraces and houses installations that one can stand and look at for hours. They mean nothing in the historical sense of representation. But the fact of their existence, the curiosity pulled out of every visitor to learn more, and more often than not, just to stand and let one’s senses take over and appreciate, that is the point.

Fondation Louis Vuitton which opened Fall of 2014 sits in the middle upper half of the Bois de Boulogne.

I’m sure I will return to various areas of this piece of heaven as the seasons pass. For the time being, it’s enough that I got a blog up and am accepting that I had to use photos from others sources. And you, dear reader, I hope acceptance is in your vocabulary as we continue to battle the many questions and often answers we don’t like of Covid-19. I get my Booster shot tomorrow. Fingers crossed for no side-effects.

A bientĂ´t,

Powerlessness

I have sat down and written numerous blogs in the past six weeks. Most of them in my head. When I actually put pen to paper or start typing on the computer, in a very short time I run into an obstacle that I can’t seem to overcome. At first, I treat it as a challenge and struggle with it. So far, I have gotten discouraged, felt exhausted from pushing the proverbial rock up the hill and abandoned whatever I was working on.

This all led me to thinking about powerlessness not a topic often discussed in this kind of blog. With the latest blog that I tried writing, I got stumped by trying to upload my photos. I would click ‘upload’ for a photo (or six of them before I gave up), and get a message saying that whatever I was trying to upload was empty–no nothing to upload, nada, rien. For an hour, I tried countless ways to make sure each photo was a .jpeg and ‘uploadable’. In the end, I was staring at the screen, out of ideas, mystified (to put it lightly), and completely discouraged. It always seems better to stop before I start my rant at inanimate objects.

This week, I received an e-mail from my credit card – Chase- travel agency informing me that half of my round trip reservation to San Francisco had been cancelled by the airline. I was to call them: the travel agency, please, to re-book something. I made my first call on Monday morning ten days ago. They told me it wasn’t the entire trip but the second leg from London to SFO that had been cancelled. I had been re-booked on an earlier flight which gave me twenty minutes to get to the gate after landing from Paris. I informed the woman that I was talking to that that wasn’t enough time and she needed to come up with another option. She seemed completely at a loss of what to do. I suggested an earlier flight out of Paris. She told me there wasn’t one. So I suggested the night before and I would stay in a Heathrow airport. That was fine and would only cost me $6000 more. I thought she was joking and laughed. She wasn’t joking. I can’t print what I was thinking and wished to say to her. In the end, two and a half hours later, I asked her to keep my two booked flights and would she please confirm with the airline, Virgin Atlantic, that I would make the second flight in the short time they were giving me. Her superior documented all this and said I would hear back within 72 hours.

When I hadn’t heard back by Thursday, I called again and had to go through everything all over again. This woman was slightly more competent. She said it was simple. I just had to take the earlier flight out of Paris. WHATTTTT??? I had been told there wasn’t one. She was so sorry for the inconvenience. Then there was a problem. Even though I had asked the first woman to keep the rebooked reservation, she had not. So the new person told me there was no longer a seat in my class on the second leg. After a couple of minutes, she said they would contact the airline and ask for an upgrade since it was the airline that cancelled. Twenty-five minutes of trying to contact the airline (we were both on hold, I assume), she told me they couldn’t get a representative and it would be documented and I would hear back in forty-eight hours.

That was seven days ago, many hours of haggling, screaming, trying to be patient, being told “I’m so sorry for the inconvenience”, and I still don’t have a reservation. No one seems to have any power except the airline and the people at the Credit Card travel agency can’t seem to get in touch with the airline–in ten days!! And because I did this through a third party, I’m not allowed to do it on my own behalf.

As I write, I’m on hold. I’ve been on hold for over an hour after thirty minutes of trying to get another incompetent woman (just try asking to speak to someone in the US–it’s impossible) to fix my problem. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know if I will get a flight. No one has said “don’t worry, we’ll get you there.” They are just so sorry for the inconvenience. They each sound just like the other, like robots that have been trained in certain sentences, and I wonder do they really think they sound empathic. It’s hard to believe.

I just tried adding up the hours I’ve spent on the phone. It has to be at least eight hours. I’ve thought about how much peace of mind I’ve allowed those people to steal from me because I can’t keep my frustration and total anguish at my powerlessness at bay. And I still don’t have a flight.

And the worst part is: I’m not alone. I’m sure what is happening to me has happened or is happening to many others. One friend says it’s because service people don’t get paid enough so they don’t really care. Another says it’s because of Covid, airlines haven’t hired help. Travel Agencies are just getting back on their feet. I say it’s because organisations can get away with it. They can pay people as little as possible because everyone is looking for work. And they export out these jobs. It used to be to India but I think India wised up as it got more savvy in technology. Now it’s the Philippines. So no matter about making America great again, Americans lose to countries whose people will accept much less money for a lot more work. Everyone pays the price.

Countdown: twenty-five days until my flights are supposed to leave for the US. I’m breathing. I hate the feeling of powerlessness but what can I do? More will be revealed as they say in twelve-step programs.

A bientĂ´t,

Sara