Anatomy of a Scandal

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.

I googled “How to talk about sex”. This is part of what I got.

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.

The movie Peyton Place was soon followed by a three year evening soap opera that introduced the world to Mia Farrow

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.

Probably not the original book cover

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.

A bientôt,

Sara

The Cats of Bagatelle

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.

Véronique est l’une des quatre bénévoles à s’occuper 365 jours sur 365 des 150 chats du bois de Boulogne, répartis notamment au parc de Bagatelle et à la Cascade. LP/Eric Le Mitouard.



“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.”

Photo: Eric Le Mitouard.

“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.

photo: Martine Combes

A bientôt,

Sara

It’s never too late and you’re never too old

About half a mile south walking distance on La Petite Ceinture, is one of those “free libraries” boxes that seem to be popping up all over the world. It’s a box with a two door glass front up on stilts where people leave books and are encouraged to take a book. This wonderful invention is just becoming popular in France. I find them in the most remarkable places. “My” free library has both French and English language books. I’ve found a 1937 beautifully printed book of Baudelaire poems and, in the same trip, a Harry Bosch detective thriller.

My little “free library” with buildings from Blvd de Montmorency reflected off the glass doors.

I walk down there two or three times a week and just peruse through the offerings as if I were at a regular library. I never expect much but am sometimes refreshingly surprised. As I was last week when I found Stones for Ibarra by Harriet Doerr. Ms. Doerr was seventy-four years old when Stones was published in 1984. I know this because someone I knew well back then had been in a writing class with her. When I complained that I was getting too old to write a book (I was thirty-seven at the time), Ms. Doerr was held up as an example to me that you can never be too old. I immediately bought the book and read it. As I said I was thirty-seven years old. Since I don’t remember much of the story except that it took place in a small village in Mexico, I’m hypothesising that I didn’t read books the same way I do now. Of course, I still read so fast that I often worry that I don’t retain anything. I think that back then, and especially with Ms. Doerr’s book, I read it competitively and negatively. ‘What does she have that I don’t have?’ Well, for one thing, she knew how to put a sentence together using a spare amount of words but had a big punch.

I wrote about La Petite Ceinture four and a half years ago when I first moved to the 16ème.

When I saw Stones for Ibarra in that little free library on La Petite Ceinture in the 16ème, it was like being struck in the head with a 2 x 4. A wake up call? Maybe. Of course, I grabbed it as if it were a precious jewel. As soon as I got home, I started to read it. It’s a beautiful little novel. Her language is sparse, engaging, and poetic. I immediately googled her and learned that she’d thought about writing as a young girl (she was born in 1910). She met her husband to be in her teens and eventually left Stanford University to marry him. It was after his death, when she was in her mid-60s, that one of her sons encouraged her to go back to college and get her Bachelors degree. She graduated from Stanford in 1977. She began writing while at Stanford, earned a Stegner Fellowship in 1979, and soon began publishing short stories. One of her writing professors got her into the Post-Graduate Writing program. And at the age of 74, she published her first book.

Three days ago, I got an e-mail from the Stanford Continuing Education Writing Certificate program. I was being invited to an informational Zoom meeting about their two-year writing program. I’m seventy-four.

I wrote a first book. It was published when I was seventy-two. I wasn’t writing the great American novel though I did hope it would sell better than it did. I wrote the book to let people suffering with a debilitating eating disorder know that there was hope and that I’d found a solution that worked long-term for me and many others.

Writing a book is hard work. And they say that writing a second book is even harder than writing a first book. I decided I wouldn’t do it. That I was too old. That I didn’t have the energy. But I couldn’t help writing chapters anyway and telling myself it was just for me because I like to write.

Then I found Stones for Ibarra. Then I get the e-mail from Stanford. Nobody I know believes in coincidences. It’s just what you do with them. I have an idea. That’s always a good start! I also have limited energy. So…. well, between writing the first paragraph of this blog and this last sentence, I accepted the invitation to go to the informational meeting. That’s called one step at a time and also called no commitments. I can always change my mind—about everything! But, it is true that I, and you, are never too old.

In case anyone is wondering how very cold it is here in Paris, here is a photo I took of the snow outside my window on Saturday.

We had no summer last year, it was so cold and everyone is crossing fingers for a warmer summer this year. This is not a good start!

For those of you who are visiting France soon or entertaining a visit, here is a blog by David Lebovitz. He usually writes about food but this has a lot of information about requirements and what’s happening here. https://davidlebovitz.substack.com/p/covid-update-for-visiting-france?s=r

A bientôt,

Sara

The limits of my language are the limits of my world:   À vaillant coeur rien d’impossible. -Jacques Cœur

On arriving in California last November, one of my first thoughts that entered my jet-lagged brain was to do something that would keep me from forgetting the French I have learned. Or, at least not forgetting it at a faster rate than I ever learned it. The first week I was in Oakland, I got an e-mail from Alliance Française Berkeley offering anyone who wanted to join a class a huge discount. So I went on-line and found a conversation class and another class discussing French cinema. I was too advanced for the conversation one and way out of my depth for the French Ciné course. But I love films and, since Jean-Paul Belmondo had died last September, the teacher had chosen eight of his films for the class to discuss. I decided to hang in there.

Breathless with Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg

I find it hard to believe but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a JPB film. Not even Breathless. He is a beloved icon and treasure here in France. I believe there was a national day of mourning in September. His photo was certainly everywhere and documentaries were playing all the time on TV. What a surprise it was for me to realize what a great actor he is/was. And especially a comedian. His mouth seems to always be just about to break into a laugh or mischievous smile. His face winks. Some of the films were better than others. I became a fan.

Look at that mischievous face!!!!

The problem was I couldn’t express why I liked a film or didn’t like it. I’d listen to the other class members, who all spoke better french than me, have lively discussions with the professor and each other. I looked forward to Sunday evenings when I would watch the film and dread Monday mornings at 11am PT when the class met on Zoom.

Agnès Varda, the first female on the New Wave movement in France

I signed up for a second two-month class. When I returned to Paris, the class would meet at 7pm CET. It wasn’t too late for me and I could say that I was keeping up French lessons. Only… I did the exact same thing: loved watching the wonderful films that our professor chose (The theme for those two months was French women directors) and dreaded Mondays.

I told myself I wasn’t going to sign up again. Why was I making myself so miserable. For some reason, I decided to discuss it with Barbara. I told her this whole language thing was really impacting how I viewed living in Paris, living in France. I wasn’t a tourist anymore. I’m a bonafide resident. I wanted to tuck my tail between my legs and run home to California. She told me that, after living here thirty-four years, she still prepares for difficult talks and discussions even though she speaks fluently. She uses the popular translation app DeepL as a helper tool and spends time in preparation. I can’t remember how the next thirty minutes of discussion went but I felt smacked upside the head–I hadn’t really taken the class seriously as a tool for learning French. I wasn’t going to improve just by showing up. Yes, I was watching the films–with English subtitles. But I needed to spend time preparing for the class — I could write out my feedback of each movie. I could practice saying it in French. It really didn’t matter what I did, as long as I did it. I have a good head on my shoulders. I have decent ideas about film but I wasn’t letting anyone in the class know me. About the best I offered was “I really liked the film but….” and I would shake my head, “I can’t really express why.” I would genuinely feel blank in both English and French.

This is where I have rested my brain for a very long time. I think it’s time to move on.

So I signed up for another course of two months. I have been preparing in the afternoon before the class begins. So far, the class members are fine with me reading my writing and ad libbing a bit. What a change for me. I’m part of the class. They seem to like my ideas. The two hours go quickly and I’m not dreading Mondays anymore.

And here is a novel idea. Would life in Paris be like my class? If I prepared more and let people know me, would I feel a part of? Yes, I’m in my 70s and it is quite courageous to live in a new culture at my age but, if I’m going to do it, it’s worth putting time into making everything about it enjoyable.

A bientôt,

Sara

We’ll always have Paris

When I hear the word Paris, my brain always goes in one direction before it hits a fork in the road. That first direction, the knee-jerk response to the word ‘Paris’ is romance. Not romance in the sense of falling in love with a person–although Paris is certainly famous for being the ‘City of Love.’ Pull up photos of Paris on the internet and you will find the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and a couple kissing, arms wrapped tightly around each other, with an iconic Parisian structure in the background. No, for me the romance is the feeling the city instills in one almost immediately. I remember when I first moved here, I would walk the cobbled streets and the quais along the Seine, and my heart would feel so full, it often felt like it would burst open. Uncontainable. The beauty of the Haussmann buildings with their iron terrace railings, the light, the fact that no building is allowed to be over six stories high so one can always see plenty of sky. From almost anywhere, it’s possible to see Sacre Coeur and Montmartre sitting on its hill over looking Paris. There is life lived out on the streets. There is a heartbeat, a bustle to the daily activity. It literally pulses around me–even now two years after the start of the Pandemic, the streets and the sidewalks of Paris are alive.

The Eiffel Tower at sunrise

The fork in the road?: I live in the 16th arrondissement. I am ten minutes from the Bois de Boulogne with its many gardens, Parc de Bagatelle, the two lakes near the Porte de Passy. The Bois is not the first thing people think of when they hear the word ‘Paris’. My shopping area is Avenue Mozart. I walk one direction and come to the neighborhood of Auteuil where my hyperCarrefour is. I walk the other direction and come to rue de Passy with the fancy stores that have migrated over from the Champs Elysées which no longer has any designer shops. If I’m lucky, on a clear day as I get close to Passy, I can see the top of the Eiffel Tower down a side street. The 16th arrondissement is not touristic. There are no iconic buildings that shout Paris. Only on walking down to the Seine and looking north and east, do I remember on a visceral level where I am.

Peacock at Parc de Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulogne

Then there is the Pandemic. For two years, almost all my ‘networking’, getting together with friends and book clubs has been on Zoom. People my age have been very cautious about going out especially in crowded places. I was at a wonderful expo ,”The Morozov Collection” at the Fondation Louis Vuitton, a couple of weeks ago. I was listening to a guide give a short talk on the paintings on the first floor. We were packed around each other, leaning in with one ear closer to her than the other. I suddenly remembered reading an article on the risk of catching Covid in Paris. The article said that in a room, a closed space, that contained fifty people or more, the likely hood that someone had Covid was 98%. In a space with thirty people, the likely hood was 65%. I jumped back from the crowd listening attentively to the guide as if I’d been burned. I walked to a place where I could be six feet away from others. I felt angry. I knew there were other options for getting information about this expo but Covid was stealing this particular option from me.

I spend 75% of my day inside my apartment, I can stand on my terrace and look out over the courtyard. At night, on the hour, the lights from the twinkly Eiffel Tower bounce off the windows of the apartment building across the courtyard from me. I remember I’m in Paris. Paris is opening up but, after two years, it feels like it takes a cattle prod to unearth me and push me out to go Paris Centre and see all those sites that once made my heart swell to bursting. Fear of being around too many people has become ingrained in me. I’ve not kept track of how many tourists are here and whether the centre is crowded the way it once was. Walking near Notre Dame was like doing slalom skiing, a curly queue road to getting anywhere. I used to love it.

Plum tree blossoming on the corner of rue de l’Assomption, 16ème

Having returned from Oakland, California where there is so much space, where I live in a home with a backyard, where neighbors walk together all the time, I’m struck by the contrast. They follow the rule of two out of three. A mask, social distancing, outside. One tries always to do two out of the three. It is easy to walk or hike in the many parks mask-free. Free being the operative word. Such a freedom to not be afraid all the time. Cautious yes, but not afraid. And iconic?: my bedroom window looks out over the San Francisco Bay. I can see the Golden Gate bridge, the pyramid building, the fireworks from Crissy Field on the fourth of July and New Year’s Eve.

Mallards begging for bread crumbs–just like anywhere in the world. Only here it is in Le Vésinet

Would I move back to California? To the US with its insane politics, mean and cruel treatment of “others”, a polarity that has caused people not to entertain interesting discussions in fear of distressing someone? Would I leave Paris? And immediately the Paris of romance jumps into my head. It sets off a longing that is physical. And I’m right here in Paris! I long for the pre-Covid Paris. In truth, for the foreseeable future, there will only be ‘Paris in the time of Covid’. Until everyone is vaccinated, and I mean most everyone in the world, this is our lives. I read recently that Fauci was quoted saying that by the end of this thing, most of us will have had Covid. More and more people that I know are getting it–breakthrough cases.

End of the canal trail in Le Vésinet

For almost two years, I’ve woken up accepting life in the time of Covid. That was before three months in California with all that space, the ease of getting together with others, speaking the native language, the wonder of the state that I have lived in (excepting the past eight years) since 1971 and re-experienced the beauty of that area. So what is troubling me? What would stop me from fantasizing about a permanent move back to California? Two days ago, Sunday, I met my friend, Barbara, out in the western suburbs. She took me to a park in Le Vésinet that she had just discovered. It was a beautiful sunny day, still cold. It is February in northern France after all! We meandered around the park, a wide open space with an island in the middle of the river that ran through it. Then we walked over to a canal with a trail that changed names three times as it crossed over streets and other walking paths. I couldn’t help comparing it to my Friday hikes with Jeanni and Rocky while in Oakland. It compared very nicely. I turned to Barbara at one point and said “this is the happiest I’ve felt since I returned a month ago.” It’s not the same as California and Oakland but Paris and France has plenty of wonderful spaces to walk and to hike.

Wild primroses near the home of Mme Du Barry in Louveciennes

No, it’s the language. I took French as a middle schooler. I flunked it. My french teacher would preach to me, “stop thinking in english, you must think in french.” I could barely think an interesting sentence in english much less in french. I stared at her sullenly as I had no idea how to respond. I took French again in college and even won a place to spend 4 months in Dijon during my junior year. I lived with a french family who told the college administrator that I was far too “timide” and refused to speak french with them. That timidité has never gone away. I’ve taken immersion french, I took weekly classes and I have improved. I understand street french, meaning I can converse with shop owners where no more than a couple of sentences is required. I can follow a conversation with about 75% understanding. But I couldn’t go to a dinner party and give my normally quite opinionated views on the world. I’ve conquered so many things here: french administration, getting a bank account, getting the Carte Vitale so I have health coverage, apply for and renewing my residency card every year, having to declare monies to two countries every year. But unless one learns the language well or one is completely inconsiderate of living in a country that speaks a different language, only learning the language will make one completely comfortable. It is said if you move here and want to speak fluently, get a french lover or work in a french business or both! I’ve done neither. I’m trying to push this 74 year old brain to “keep at it” on will-power and an on-and-off desire to be a good citizen.

More on France/Paris vs California/Oakland next week!!!

A Bientôt,

Sara

California Dreamin’

I spent three months of this winter in Oakland, California. I have been back in Paris over a week and, until today, suffering my usual jet lag. Before I moved to Paris, I had lived in Oakland since 1971. I still own a home there. Since I thought I was moving for only one year eight years ago, I thought it was high time to spend some energy on my house and do needed repairs. I also had a very large project in mind–to clean out and organise my garage, my attic, and a storage area under my living room. In the end, I only did the garage but how wonderful it felt to purge, give away, sell STUFF that has been sitting there for years.

A third of the way through the project, starting to make some progress in my garage. One can now walk to the back!!!!

Some readers noticed that my blog wasn’t arriving in their mailboxes and wrote to ask me if they had missed something. I wrote them back and said I was taking a break for the winter. I should have written that here before I left but I don’t think I’d really realised how deeply I would get into my “home projects” and that there wouldn’t be much energy for anything else.

The beach at Asilomar, Pacific Grove, California

When I first arrived in early November, the weather was lovely as only the Bay Area can be. I visited my friends in Pacific Grove and we walked on the beach and enjoyed sun on our faces. I had left Paris just as it was starting to get cold. So it felt heavenly to be able to go outside in just jackets. Then it started to rain, and rain some more, and rain even more. It rained for almost four weeks straight, to the point that people like me were wondering if it was making a dent in the worst drought that California has known in a very long time. A couple of weeks into the rain, the temperature plummeted. I would wake up in the morning to 38 degree weather and, if we were lucky, it went as high as 48 degrees. Every morning, I would check my iPhone: weather in Oakland vs. weather in Paris. Paris was consistently 20 degrees higher. What am I doing in Oakland, I would think to myself, shivering my butt off? (The rainfall did nothing to make the drought better. As anyone who saw the photos of the Big Sur fire knows, there was no ground wetness/saturation. Fire just spread like…..well, like wild fire).

Hiking in Joaquin Miller Park, Oakland, California

Most of my work kept me inside. I hired a wonderful woman who organises professionally and she took over how my garage would turn into a garage again. She said “you might even get a car in here!” She turned an odious job that I had resisted doing for years into something that was achievable, something satisfying, and dare I say it–Fun! By the time I left Oakland to return to Paris, STUFF had gone to the Salvation Army, Creative Arts Depot which resells arts and crafts and office supplies to people who can’t pay high prices, to consignment stores, and too much of it into the trash bins. Two auction houses came to look at the myriad of things I’d bought over the years that I no longer needed. I got excited that someone else might enjoy things that had given me pleasure.

Sara, Rocky, Jeanni hiking in Briones Reserve, California

Fridays were my reward day. I found a book that I’ve owned forever called “East Bay Hikes.” My friends, Jeanni and Rocky, joined me in walking. Each Friday, we found somewhere to hike for three to four hours. I grew up hiking–mostly in Vermont and New England. When I moved to California in the 70s, I hiked the Sierras and the Rockies in Colorado. Then I went back to graduate school and life took over. I don’t remember it happening. What I know is that I was hiking places within 15 miles of my home that I’d never been to. Easy to get to, open every day of the year. It was glorious, it was exhilarating. It was fun. As my weeks wound down, Jeanni and I started a list of places to go on Fridays the next time I go back to Oakland.

Sun setting over San Francisco and the Bay from my bedroom window

By the end of December, the rain stopped, the temperature rose slowly and, according to my not very trusty iPhone, it was colder in Paris than it was in Oakland. The days were beautiful. I could work outside, clean up the garden areas. And the sunsets…. I was told that something happens in January, the longitude or latitude of where the sun is setting (way past what my brain cells can integrate) and the sun puts on a show of dazzling reds, oranges, deep purples for at least thirty minutes. The sight gives complete meaning to the word ‘breathtaking’. Every evening I would take a photo from my bedroom window thinking that it couldn’t get better. Then it would get better.

A couple of nights later. The Golden Gate bridge is on the right connecting Marin County to San Francisco

The month of January was so wonderful that I hardly got anxious at all about getting the PCR test for entry onto a plane, entry back into France. I didn’t worry too much about whether the flights would be cancelled even though thousands of flights were being cancelled because Omicron was taking out the staff of airplanes, hospitals, and numerous other places. I was full of whatever will be, will be because I would have been happy to stay in Oakland another couple of weeks.

My baseball family at Cheesecake Factory in Walnut Creek

I hadn’t really visited with many friends. I still have a baseball family (Go A’s) and we manage to stay in touch. Between Christmas and New Year’s, we met in Walnut Creek for a very long luncheon. I was able to listen to baseball chatter and gossip that was so familiar but hadn’t heard in a long time. My friends still adore the Oakland Athletics but there isn’t much love for the Front Office or the baseball strike. Ticket prices have doubled in less than four years and no one knows whether they will be going to Spring Training games when they get to Arizona at the end of this month.

Point Isabel, Richmond, California. Doggie all dressed up and getting a free ride to the best dog park in the country.

Once “Project Garage” was winding down, I was able to meet and walk with more friends. The Bay Area boasts of one of the best dog parks in the country. Point Isabel. With or without one’s dog, friends can meet up and walk a short stretch throwing balls to our canine babies or walk four or five miles north along the coast. And there too, if one timed their walk correctly, it’s possible to watch the sun set over “my city by the bay (Lights by Journey).

Watching the sun set over San Francisco from Point Isabel.

Now I’m sitting at my dining room table in Paris, remembering California and how quickly the three months flew by. I could do this every year if I wanted: live in both places. And how lucky would one girl get?– to live in two of the most beautiful cities in the world!!!

A bientôt,

Sara

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 café 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 Santé 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 Bientôt,

Sara

Bois de Boulogne

When I first moved to the 16th arrondissement (which is the most western part of Paris before one crosses the Périphérique), 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 Périphériqe 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 Périphérique, 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 Pré 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 Pré 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 Défense. 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 bientôt,

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 bientôt,

Sara

Cambremer, Pays d’Auge

Tucked in a valley, approximately half-way between Lisieux and the seaside resorts of Cabourg and Houlgate, Cambremer is another beautiful small village of four blocks and lots of horses. Like Lessard-et-le-Chêne, it is situated in the Pays d’Auge and the larger district of Calvados.

The center square of Cambremer

I have come here for two weeks. As my American readers will probably remember, wealthier Parisians leave Paris for the month of August. It is a “right of summer.” I was negligent in what usually is very good planning this year and, by the time I got around to trying to find a place to stay, most everything was booked. No Americans this year again. No Japanese or Chinese. Plenty of Germans, English, and, of course, French. I was lucky. I found a B&B not far from where my friends live in Lessard called Le Pressoir. As it turns out, I am the only guest so Bijou and I have an entire wing of a house to ourselves. Our host’s name is Claude. She lives here with her two dachshunds, five horses, one rabbit, and two goldfish. She is my age and could not be nicer. I explained before my arrival about my food allergies and she has given me full use of her kitchen and refrigerator. From the dining room table, I can look out on a huge lawn with mature trees which, like so many of the Normandy homes, lends an air of calmness and serenity.

My home in Cambremer “Le Pressoir”

This area is not just famous for its horses and stud farms but also “The Cider Trail.” The Pays d’Auge is replete with apples, every form, size and taste. The Cider Trail of forty kilometers is a loop that takes an interested traveler by a minimum of twelve showrooms. Normandy cider has a golden yellow to amber color characterised by a light foam and fine bubbles. It has a buttery aroma. Since I don’t drink alcohol, I am quoting from the Normandy website!

Chapelle de Clermont

I am interested in the walking and hiking. I returned to Beuvron-en-Auge and picked up some hiking pamphlets and on Thursday I hiked uphill to a small Chapel called L’Eglise St. Michel. It was not open for visitors but one could walk around the narrow dirt path that surrounded the small building. From the front of the chapel, one can get an extraordinary view of the Norman countryside as far south as Saint Pierre-sur-Dives. The trail from Beuvron started out on concrete but quickly became a wide dirt trail that progressively grew smaller the higher I climbed. On the way back down, I passed some huge and elegant looking Stud Farms. One rented out rooms but also was available for large events like weddings.

The next day, I met my friend who lives in Dives-sur-Mer which is sandwiched by Cabourg and Houlgate, at a fascinating place called La Maison Bleue.

La Maison Bleue

La Maison Bleue is not well known even to residents of Calvados. It was created by a man who worked as a day laborer all his life. After Laika, the dog whom the Russians sent up in their sputnik in 1957, died, M. Costas, the architect of LMB, created a memorial to her. He took pottery shards he found on the street or at brocantes and set them in cement. He placed a rocket at the top and a photo of a dog near an opening. From there, he began to tile, with shards, every inch of his and his wife’s living space. He became more more religious, found icons at cheap stores, and by the time he finished his chef d’oeuvre, twenty years had passed.

Memorial to Laika

La Maison Bleue is open only three days a week and only for two hours on each of those days. It is run by volunteers who are devoted to the artwork.

A short walk of less than a mile from Le Pressoir is Les Jardins du Pays d’Auge, another privately run enterprise for people visiting the area. My friend, Marjorie, told me that it used to be a large nursery serving the entire area. She and her husband bought many of the plants, trees, and bushes that now bloom in abundance at their home in Lessard-et-le-Chêne. At some point, the nursery closed and some people had the idea of creating a large garden with about thirty different “rooms.” There is a water garden, a romance garden, a moon garden, a sun garden, and many more. There are also replicas of a forge, a shoe-maker’s hut, and a variety of different needs and talents that keep a farm running. It is well done and quite popular. On the day I went, there had to be fifty or sixty people, including children, visiting. Also on the site is a popular restaurant La Creperie.

During the months of July and August, Cambremer has its own outside market every Saturday morning: La Marchê Ancienne. It is teeny for a marchê!! There was one vendor selling chickens, two vendors selling fruits and vegetables, and four different artisinal vendors: wooden pens and bowls; children’s clothing; crocheted key rings; and specialty jams and conserves. What made the marchê exceptional was a live band and singer who entertained with great confidence marching around the square and making everyone smile.

This may look hokey but it was a lot of fun to be there!!!!

And that concluded my first week in this delightful village in the green and abundant Pays d’Auge area of Normandy France.

Evening descends on Le Pressoir

A bientôt,

Sara