I get by with a little help from my friends

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.

A meme depicting the Paris metro in the heat this past week!

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.

The end of the day, the end of the story

A bientôt,

Sara

The Silent Generation

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

Actress Betty Field Dances in Party Scene From “The Great Gatsby”. Bettmann Archive/Getty Images 

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.

Taking a selfie

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.

And the questions just keep coming?

A bientôt,

Sara

While I’m waiting

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?

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks at Downing Street in London, Britain July 6, 2022. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

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.

France Covid 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

French Parliament

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.

Zoe (or Gaston) waiting for company to sit on the bench with them

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.

A bientôt,

Sara

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