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 16Ăšme, 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 BientĂŽt,

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 bientĂŽt,

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 bientĂŽt,

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-ChĂȘne, 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-ChĂȘne. 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 MarchĂȘ Ancienne. It is teeny for a marchĂȘ!! 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 marchĂȘ 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 bientĂŽt,

Sara

Photo journaling in Normandy

Bijou looking out on the Normandy countryside
Monday MarchĂ© — Saint-Pierre-sur-Dive: late in the morning .
Sara and Thais in Dives sur Mer after an 8 mile walk
Hanging out with Marcel Proust in Cabourg
Upper area of Calvados region in Normandy
Young fouls playing at Haras de Marancourt
The Boardwalk in Cabourg
Looking out at the sea in Cabourg
Beuvron-en-Auge
Dives-sur-Mer Port-Guillaume
Store in Beuvron-en-Auge
Town Hall in Lessard-et-le-ChĂȘne
ApĂ©ro/DinĂ©toire Lessard-et-le-ChĂȘne
My new friend, Toto
Sunset from the bathroom window

Vive la Liberté

France and the US have always had a strong friendship – most of the time. The Marquis de Lafayette came to fight in the American Revolution when he couldn’t find a suitable job for his aristocratic rank in France. The story is that he became like a son to George Washington. Even fifty years after the American Revolution was over, when Lafayette made one final visit to the growing USA, people cheered him wherever he went. Wikipedia says that there is a city or town named after him in every state.

Benjamin Franklin, who lived much of his adult life in Paris, was adored by Parisian society. A statue of him sits in a small garden park near the Trocadero. He also was friends with the young Lafayette. There are books that say that Lafayette and Jefferson were very close–first during the American Revolution and after when Jefferson had moved to Paris as the first American Ambassador of the brand new republic.

The Americans were not nearly as helpful to the French during the French Revolution. The ones living here either went back to the US or stayed clear of what was going on. Lafayette, himself, never supported a complete break with the King and for awhile, played both sides of the fence. He eventually had to flee France, surrendered in Belgium, and was held in a miserable prison for a number of years.

Today, both Lafayette and his wife, are buried at Picpus Cemetery along with many outliers. Starting in the early 1800s, the land was used for mass graves of those guillotined during the Revolution and after. Lafayette’s wife lost her mother and other family members during the Revolution. She became a founding member of the Picpus Society which is why they are buried in Picpus Cemetery. “In permanent recognition of his role in aiding the American cause, an American flag has flown over Lafayette’s grave ever since the end of WWI. The flag is changed every year on July 4 in a highly orchestrated ceremony attended by French and American dignitaries, including representatives of the U.S. Embassy, the French Senate, the Mayor’s Office, the Office of the Mayor of the 12th Arrondissement, the Society of American Friends of Lafayette, the Sons of the American Revolution in France, and the Society of the Cincinnati in France.” –Francerevisited.com The friendship between France and the US has managed to survive many obstacles through the years.

One of the largest chapters of Democrats Abroad is in France, and Sunday evening, the Paris contingent celebrated on the banks of the Seine at a funky bar called Les Nautes. It was the first live get-together in 2021. Plus, for many people, it was the first “night out” since the curfew was lifted. The larger part of the bar is outside seating: perhaps ten picnic tables that the staff of the Paris Chapter decorated in red, white, and blue and a Pride Flag proudly flew over one of the tables.

Waiting patiently for food

I heard a few lovely Biden stories. Our newly elected National Chair of France DA is about to leave Paris and return to the US with his fiancĂ©e. When I asked him why he ran if he was leaving, he told me that while Trump was president, getting Visas was a hard and long process. He was told it would probably be a minimum of two years. So he ran for office–and won. Then Biden was elected President. One of Biden’s first moves was to reverse that Visa policy and fiancĂ©s went to the top of the list. So Jonathon and his french love are headed to Texas in August and the very capable Dani F, National Vice Chair, will become our new Chair in France. This is a story I might not have heard unless I had known someone trying to get a Visa to the States. I, once again, thanked whomever above that we have a new President and one that has been around Washington so long, knows every in and out, and can address this kind of thing. It doesn’t hurt to have good advisors also!!!

The capable Vice Chair, Dani Folett, who will be the Chair starting August 15

Most of us didn’t talk politics. We all expressed gratitude for Independence from Trump. Then we reminesced to the French amongst us about the tradional 4th of July food that gets served at these picnics: Hot dogs on buns–the hot dogs were there but not the buns; Potato salad–Someone kindly brought potato salad and it went quickly; Cole slaw–not present although it is now sold in french markets; Corn on the cob–Corn is only eaten by animals in France. If you live in a district that has many Americans, you might find one of two cobs wrapped up in cellophane but they usually end up on the day old pile to be sold for one or two euros; Fruit salad–someone remembered that in many parts of the US, the fruit salad was stirred up in mayonnaise. Tune up huge groans of disbelief.

Paris has been having record-breaking rain–in my opinion. Every day threatens at least a small shower and we haven’t had more than three or four really warm days in a row all Spring. On Sunday evening, my iPhone said 90% rain all day. It said that for 6 days prior. I was bound and determined to go party anyway and, it seems, so were a lot of others. The gods smiled on us ex-Pats. There was a small shower just before the event started then sun. Then a threat but it never materialised.

Need we say more???

One question I had for Dems Abroad and did not get a 100% confirmed answer is: Do I need to register this year to vote in California’s special election. As most of you know, unhappy Republicans are trying to remove Governor Newsom from office. So Californians are going to the polls this November 2. There are some other elections occasioned by vacancies after the Presidential election of 2020. Here in Europe, I have to re-register every year there is an election to make sure I get my absentee ballot. However, that might not be true for a special election. The assumption among those I asked is that California is good about absentee ballots and, if I voted in 2020 (I did), I will automatically receive my absentee ballot in September. It’s never smart for a Democrat to assume anything so you can be sure I will be calling the Registrar of Voters soon.

It stays light this time of year until 11pm. I didn’t want to go home while it was light so though people were leaving at 9:30pm, I asked my friends if we could slowly walk to the metro ( they live in the Marais but dropped me off at #1). I pulled out my phone to take a photo of the Seine and the light–something I don’t get where I live in the 16th. Here is my parting gift to you. This is the Paris I love.

On the Quai des CĂ©lestins. The light is like a Turner painting.

A bientĂŽt,

Sara

Flying in the time of Covid-19–Part 2

Thanks to all who responded so helpfully to my last post. My three weeks in California were hectic and, unfortunately, I didn’t see some of the responses and I wish I had. With all the guidelines and country requirements for entrance being so fluid, it was difficult to know how to prepare and what to do for my return flight. The one thing I was sure of was that I needed a negative Covid test to board the plane back to France. That involved many of the same hoops to jump through as I’d had in preparation to coming to the USA. Again, I had to stop in Frankfurt, Germany. Germany and Ireland seem to be the strictest countries over here in terms of who can enter and how long before entering the country the Covid test must be done. Notice I said “entering” the country. At the time that I was scheduling my test, France required a 72-hour window before boarding a flight. Germany required a 48-hour window before entering the country. even the small print made it difficult to understand what would happen if one was just passing through Germany but entering another Schengen country.

On June 4, I did the best I could with the information I had and made a reservation to get a test from Kaiser Richmond on Sunday, June 20 at 3pm–70 hours before boarding the flight from SFO. I hoped to forget about it for awhile.

The next week, June 9, France opened up to American tourists. The USA was classified as an “Orange” country. What did that mean? In order to enter France (as opposed to boarding the plane, one needed proof of vaccination – two jabs – and a negative Covid test). Then exactly one week later, France upgraded USA to a “Green” country meaning, that to enter France, one only needed proof of vaccination. There was no rhyme or reason for the change. In many states, the numbers are rising again. One in every five cases is now the Delta variant. Biden has not reached his goal of 70% vaccination by July 4th although the media says the goal will probably be reached sometime in July. However, a large percentage of the southern states’ population is refusing any vaccination. From what I hear, this is all political. Any argument of the vaccine having been developed too soon without enough time to really test its efficacy has been erased. Most people know now these vaccines have been in developmental research stages for years. This is not the first Covid. Ergo the number 19. The trick a year ago was to target this exact virus and add the variable to the vaccines already under development.

By the this time, almost two weeks of my time in California had passed (more of that later), and it really was time to start paying attention. Every day, I checked both the UAL (United Airlines) website and the French government website. The real anxiety was going to be Kaiser. As of this writing, Kaiser will not guarantee a test result by boarding time. I hadn’t really thought of alternatives until I didn’t get the result 48 hours after I’d had the test, had already turned my rental car in, and thought I might actually have to turn around at SFO, come home, and fly out the next day. EXCEPT the result then would be past the 72 hour window. So I managed to find a mobile test center that would come to the house, give me the test, and guarantee the results within 6-8 hours for a mere $499. Ain’t the US health care system grand??? I didn’t think I had a choice so I made a reservation. And just like the old adage “if you want the bus to come, light a cigarette”, my Kaiser result arrived in my e-mail box one hour later.

Not ready to totally let go of anxiety (!), the printed out version of the test result looked so unofficial. You had to search to find the words Kaiser Permanente. So I spent an hour cutting and pasting to make it look really official.

At the airport seventeen hours later: While checking in, the lovely woman asked me if I had filled out the form required by the French government. I said No, that I was a resident. So she checked my residency card but then decided I needed it anyway (I didn’t). She took my phone and took a photo of the website, sent me to the domestic terminal to have the form printed then told me to fill it out. After a 20 minute walk to the domestic terminal, I learned there was no printer to be had and, that maybe, possibly, there was a printer at the travel agency next to the United counter at the International airport. I sat down, had a coffee, and told myself the check-in person was wrong. I had read the French website backwards and forwards many times and I was willing to take my chances. So I called two friends to say goodbye and sat peacefully until boarding time.

At the gate, and this was a gate of every possible definition, there were two people asking to see one’s passport and one’s boarding card. My boarding card did not have an OK with a circle around it. So one of the gatekeepers had to ask a superior who had to ask another superior if I could come into the boarding area. I suspected that I was supposed to return to the United Check-in with my printed out form, that I didn’t need, filled out and then she would ok me. But I kept my mouth shut. The third superior decided that the person had just forgotten to put the OK on and they let me in.

The circled red OK saying I’m allowed to enter the boarding area

Then we were all called to order by a power-hungry United staff member who was going to whip us into line if it cost him everything. People were going to board in the order he said and he didn’t care what Group your boarding pass said. AND no one was to stand in HIS boarding area if they weren’t boarding. Which no one paid attention to. I had gotten that far and I was not going to get more anxious, so I just giggled inside as he tried to “herd cats”!!! I made it onto the plane without further ado.

Waiting to board at SFO, the arm of our “little dictator” trying to herd cats

We landed in Frankfurt eleven hours later. After the two hour connection stop-over wait, I got in-line to board my flight to CDG Paris. First we had to show our boarding ticket, our passport, and our negative test result. Mine caused another flap but by this time, I was just too tired to get overly anxious. She asked me where I had come from four or five times, what time and day I’d had my test which I answered four or five times, and seemed on the verge of not letting me on the plane. I finally said that I had my vaccine certificates with me, would she like to see them? Well, yes she would. I showed them to her and that did the trick. She smiled and showed me another line to stand in and soon I was ushered towards the aiport shuttle bus that traveled the entire length of the Frankfurt airport (I swear it went around a couple of times. It took almost ten minutes to get to our plane) and dropped us off. It was raining. There were two entrances, front and back, to get on the plane. The majority of people ran towards the front and stood in the rain to board. So, even though I was in the first eight rows, I ran to the back, didn’t get too wet and, like a salmon swimming upstream, pushed my way to my seat.

A little over one hour later, we landed in Paris. And just as always, CDG is a breeze to get through. My passport was stamped, I waited all of five minutes for my luggage, walked through customs without a question, and was in line for the taxi twenty minutes after leaving the plane. My Cambodian taxi driver thought I was the nicest, sweetest person because I chatted with him all the way to my apartment. I was willing to give him cash instead of my Carte Bancaire and I was his best friend for life. He was willing to give me a receipt so he was ok in my book.

I opened my apartment door, called for Bijou, and waited. She came trotting up lazily and if she could have smiled, I think she did. I was home.

Bijou on her new bed

A bientĂŽt,

Sara

Flying on a jet plane—in the time of Covid-19

Last Wednesday, June 2nd, I flew from Paris to San Francisco. From the time I got both my vaccination shots, I counted out the three weeks it would take for the vaccine to be effective and started thinking about flying overseas. Just the thought of it made me tired. It had been seventeen months since I visited Oakland where I lived before moving to Paris. I have traveled by train within France but that is as much as common sense said it was wise to do.

The first thing to do was book the flight and try to figure out all the ins and outs once I had committed to traveling. Anyone who collects airline miles knows that once you have a significant number of miles, you are held hostage by that company. Mine is United. If I can, I like to upgrade for these flights of eleven hours or longer. Sometime in Spring of 2020, United stopped direct flights San Francisco to Paris and return. So I had to book a trip that took me first to Frankfurt (flying East) in order to fly to SFO (flying West). In theory, it didn’t seem too bad. In reality, it is a lot of trouble.

The next thing was to try and get the information about what the airlines were requiring as far as certificates for vaccines and negative Covid tests. It became clear quite quickly that no one was sure and information was hard to come by. The one thing everyone agreed on was that a Negative Covid test was required within 72 hours of leaving CDG airport. I worried about how I would show I was vaccinated. As it turned out, I wasn’t asked once about being vaccinated. I was the only who cared. I had to show my negative test when I checked in and again in Frankfurt even though I never left the no-man’s land part of the airport. France is very efficient about the test. I had it done first thing Monday morning, May 31, and had the results in an e-mail Monday late afternoon. Here in California, I have made an appointment to get the test and they cannot promise that I will get the results in time. The best they say is 1-3 days. I’m so tired of worrying and having anxiety about travel that I am just saying that I will get the result in time or I won’t. Maybe I’ll have to fly out the following day.

Two days before I was about to leave, I received an e-mail from Lufthansa telling me they had changed my seat and they hoped it wasn’t causing me too much inconvenience. In reading the e-mail, I noticed that the flight was leaving from Terminal 2B. United is in Terminal 1. It is a long distance one to the other. In the US, one checks in with the airline that the reservation was made with. But I had a niggling memory that it is not the same in France. In trying to find out which Terminal to go to to check in, I learned how incredibly under staffed United and probably most airlines are. The France number for United was no longer working. Lufthansa kept me on hold for 4o minutes then hung up on me before giving me the info. I called a friend and together we decided that I should go to Terminal 2B because it was not just a flight operated by Lufthansa but also a Lufthansa plane.

So to be safe, I went as early as I could tolerate. Terminal 2B is a brand new terminal. June 2, the day I flew, was the first day it was open. There was more “help” available than there were passengers in the Terminal. It was so smooth and easy, it was dreamlike. I found an area that had comfortable armchairs and couches to wile away the time. Everyone was masked and was friendly. Much was closed and will probably open up June 9th when international travelers will be welcomed into France.

I was tired by the time I arrived in Frankfurt, too tired to get upset about much. So it seemed seamless making the trip from A13 where the first flight came in and Z25 where the United flight was to leave. I boarded and, for the first time in memory, I slept the entire way.

My last hurdle was Customs at SFO. When asked it I had any food with me, I honestly said that I had my dinner with me. I think my flight was the only flight that arrived at that time because the airport was empty. But I was escorted to Customs A whereas everyone else went through Customs B meaning they had nothing to declare. There were no cute little beagles running around sniffing luggage. Yet I was treated quite nastily about having my dinner. They threw everything out and wanted to throw out my fancy container. I begged and they made a big show of sanitizing it about six times before giving it back to me.

Then I got to leave the airport. I had arrived in California.

They only thing left to say is that it seems no one is prepared for travel to be picking up this fast. Uber has doubled in price because there aren’t enough drivers. Rental car agencies sold off much of their fleet in the past year to keep afloat and don’t have enough cars. So they, too, have upped their prices by about 40% and, what used to be a quick “pick up your car and get going”, now takes over an hour.

And that’s the story from California where the sun is shining, everything is green and beautiful, and the fires have not yet started. I had three days of jet lag and can write today keeping a focus and even have a baseball game on in the background (The A’s are losing to the Rockies in the bottom of the 5th. While proofreading, Murphy, the catcher, hit a homerun, so it is now 2-1. The A’s may yet pull it off!).

A bientĂŽt,

Sara

The Intention of Kindness

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Tom Hanks has been around as long as I can remember. I first saw him in the movie Splash (1984). He’d been in a TV sitcom for two years before but that was back in the days when I never watched TV so I wasn’t aware of him. Then he was a leading man with women like Meg Ryan. I wasn’t sure I understood, but the movies were always good, and I didn’t question casting choices. I remember when he suddenly became ‘a son of Oakland, Ca ‘because he had lived in Oakland and, for a brief time in his young life, gone to Skyline High School. Then he played a washed-up, hard drinking baseball legend coaching a girl’s team in A League of Their Own (1992). Loving baseball as I did, I fell in love with him and, from then on, if Tom Hanks was in a movie, I went to see it.

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Then I was middle-aged and Hanks was middle aged. He’d been married to Rita Wilson since 1988 (they have 2 children), and there had never once been a scandal associated with him. At some point, we both had graying hair and I realized that I had watched the rise and staying power of a true Hollywood giant. Last year, he and wife, Rita, caught Covid-19 on a visit to Australia. They went public with it, they were honest about how horrible it was, and I’m sure the rest of the world besides myself were praying for their recovery.

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(L-R): Tom Hanks, wife Rita Wilson, and Julia Roberts stand on Wilson’s newly unveiled star after she was honored on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Hollywood,, California on March 29, 2019. (Photo by Mark RALSTON / AFP) (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images)

Today, needing an escape from the chatter in my head, I went looking for a movie to watch, and up popped A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019), a movie I’d wanted to see but it hadn’t come to Paris as far as I know. Within ten minutes, I was once again thinking with awe about Hanks, his acting, and his amazing career. But mostly what appears to me to be his humility. Mr. Rogers wasn’t around when I was growing up and I don’t believe I have ever seen a single episode. I’ve seen enough paradies to know that there is a chunk of America that is too cynical to think he was for real. As the movie started, I was one of those people. I thought to myself, “only Tom Hanks could pull this off.” Twenty minutes later, I was a Mr. Rogers cheerleader (Fred Rogers died in 2004 at the age of 74).

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The movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is based on the friendship of Fred Rogers and journalist, Tom Junod . Mr. Junod wrote a wonderful essay for Esquire magazine, published in 1998. If you are interested, I encourage you to see the movie first, then read the article. It was re-published in 2017. It is a remarkable piece of writing.

People like Mr. Rogers are unique and exceedingly rare. People who want the world to be a better place. They are people who remember what it is like to be a child. Usually these people who know that it all starts with how one treats children, your own and everyone else’s, become therapists, buddhist monks, writers of children’s books, but to create and sustain a TV show that lasted from 1968-2001 and never veered off-course is an amazing feat. And that the great Tom Hanks can bring him to life for someone like me shows the talent of a truly gifted actor.

Tom Hanks and wife Rita Wilson in Australia, after surviving Coronavirus

Usually someone has to do something bad, create a scandal, be a Republican, to have one’s name in the papers and become famous or infamous. But Mr. Rogers and Tom Hanks share in common being famous for being kind. They are quiet presences in our lives. They go about doing their jobs. They don’t seem to need to create buzz and bring attention to themselves. I don’t know how they do it. At one point in the movie, the protaganist, Lloyd Vogel (based on Tom Junod) asks Mrs Rogers what it is like being married to a saint. She looks at him and says “I hate it when people call him that. He is human. He gets angry, sometimes really angry. He practices at being (the man you see). He swims. Every morning.” So, in fact, I do know how they do it, they practice. I have learned late in life that doing the right thing does take practice. It certainly doesn’t come naturally to me. I have a rock in the back yard of my home in Oakland that says ‘May I be the person my dog thinks I am.’ There was a time I thought that was unattainable. Now I think ‘May I be the person I know I’m capable of being….if I practice at it every day.’

Mr. Rogers, left, and Tom Hanks

Every once in a while, something passes in front of each one of us that reminds us that there are still people out there trying their best to make the world a little bit kinder. They aren’t praying for World Peace. They are putting into action small steps that will impact their “neighborhood”. Many of us hope that the Hundreth Monkey theory really exists and that one day…. Meanwhile, this author is forever grateful for the inspiration of Fred Rogers and Tom Hanks to remind me that one little action today, an intention of kindness, will make a difference …. to someone.

A bientĂŽt,

Sara

PS–a small Tom Hanks movie that may have gotten lost in this year of the amazing availability of streaming shows is News of the World on Netflix. I watched it in February and was glad to see that it received a number of Oscar nominations. But I heard no buzz. So I’m buzzing now!

https://time.com/5733017/a-beautiful-day-in-the-neighborhood-true-story/

What is happening in Paris today?

As many of you know, (and if you love and miss Paris, you are probably paying attention), today, May 19th begins the second phase of the ‘dĂ©confinement’ that began for some establishments last October. For Parisians, the most important thing happening is that terraces will open for cafĂ©s and restaurants. The minute it was announced, I noticed chairs and tables being moved outside in preparation. Some two weeks ago. One cafĂ© that I pass every day on my walk built a new terrace. Everyone will need umbrellas. It has been raining on and off almost every day for two weeks. And it’s chilly. I’m actually getting used to this. People talk about Springtime in Paris but in the eight springtimes that I have lived here, there may be a burst of warm weather in February, March or April, but nothing permanent until early June. Then we’ll have three days of Spring and voilĂ , it will be summer with the canacules (heatwaves) just around the corner.

Preparation for May 19

Our 7pm curfew will become a 9pm curfew starting tonight. It has been tough. Unless one has an extremely urgent reason for being out on the streets after 7pm, we were to be at home. Last night, it wasn’t dark until just after 10pm. I am fortunate, I have a large lovely terrace with some wonderful plants on it. So I can be outside in nice weather. But there is something glorious about walking in Paris, along the Seine, in the evening. Especially as the lights turn on and are reflected in the water. Not that any of us have seen that scenario much in the past 15 months but we can dream! And there is the possibility that it lies in our future.

Just before 7pm during the semi-Confinement

All stores will open today. Clothing stores have been closed as have been everything considered non-essential. Hair salons are essential, nail salons are not. There will probably be a queue around the block at my nail salon. According to The Local in France, there will be strict limitations of how many people inside a store at one time so we are advised to also expect queues at popular small stores. I have received e-mails from every department store including Monoprix Hyper and Carrefour to let me know that many of my favorite things will be at a 30-40% discount. Especially linen clothing which is so popular here in the summer.

A member of staff serves a customer at a cafe in Paris on May 19, 2021, as cafes, restaurants and other businesses re-opened after closures during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. – Parisians have returned to their beloved cafe terraces and museums after a six-month Covid-forced hiatus, a glimmer of normal life resuming but India grappled with a record daily number of coronavirus deaths. (Photo by GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP)

Museums, theatres, and cinemas will also open today, and also be under strict guidelines of the number of people allowed inside. As was true last summer, everyone is advised to buy tickets in advance especially at popular museums. With France open to tourists of many countries starting June 6, Parisians are well advised to get to museums now while there is still a chance of not getting lost in a crowd even a small crowd.

More from the Local: “Outdoor sporting activities will again be allowed (also on the condition that they respect specific health rules). Sports stadiums can reopen with a limit of 800 spectators in indoor spaces and 1,000 in outdoor venues.

Gatherings of up to 10 people will be allowed in public spaces (up from six currently). There is no actual rule on gatherings in indoor private spaces such as homes, but the guidance is to keep groups limited to six adults.

Spas can also reopen for cures thermales â€“ spa treatments prescribed by a doctor (yes, that is a thing in France and sometimes the State will even pay for it) but not for the general public.”

A member of staff serves a customer at a cafe in Paris on May 19, 2021, as cafes, rest0rants and other businesses re-opened after closures during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. – Parisians have returned to their beloved cafe terraces and museums after a six-month Covid-forced hiatus, a glimmer of normal life resuming but India grappled with a record daily number of coronavirus deaths. (Photo by Lucas BARIOULET / AFP)

The UK opened up from lockdown Monday. Johnson has been greatly criticised for allowing flights and travel from India. Health officials are warning people to still be very cautious. France has not allowed flights from India but starting today, travel between the UK and France is opening up. So I’m guessing the same warnings would apply to us. The Indian variant of Covid is said to be very dangerous. On the other hand, health officials are saying that those who have the Phizer vaccine and the AstraZenica vaccine have had a 99% anti-body build up after 14 days and the second vaccine. That is better than advertised.

A medical worker wearing protective equipment uses a swab to do a PCR test for Covid-19 on a woman wearing a face mask in front of the city hall of Paris on August 31, 2020. (Photo by ALAIN JOCARD / AFP)

OK, and here is the very best thing for all of you thinking of traveling over here this summer. Again, according the Local.fr “France is one of the only countries to offer free PCR tests – which can cost up to €120 in Spain, ÂŁ100 in the UK and €300 in Sweden – to residents for all purposes, including travel. But now that is being extended to tourists who visit the country over the summer. The French government hopes the free testing will make the country an attractive tourist destination, and will also allow it to welcome back tourists while staying safe.  Announcing the new policy, Europe Minister ClĂ©ment Beaune told radio station Europe 1: “We need and we want to continue to be the first tourist destination in Europe and the world, in safe conditions.” https://www.thelocal.fr/20210517/france-to-offer-free-pcr-tests-to-tourists-and-visitors-this-summer/

What is still to come in this multi-phased ‘dĂ©confinement’? June 9th The curfew is pushed back further, to 11pm. Gyms reopen (with health rules and limits on the number of people allowed in at the same time). Cultural or sporting events with up to 5,000 people will be allowed, but on the condition that participants provide a health pass proving that recently tested negative for Covid-19 or have been vaccinated for the virus.

And sad news: The square in front of Cathedrale de Notre Dame has been closed due to fears of lead poisoning. The best place to glimpse the front of Notre Dame is on the bridge that is closest. However, if you want to see all of Notre Dame, where the work is happening recontructing the spire and everything that was not destroyed by the fire, it is best to walk eastward along the Quai on the left bank. You will have better and better views of the side and the back. Breathtaking views.

A bientĂŽt,

Sara