Art in Paris: digital and natural

Monday, I was sitting on a platform in the back of an old foundry in Paris overlooking what is now known as Atelier des Lumières. The Atelier is the first digital art museum in Paris. I have gone five times since it opened its doors in April of 2018. All the shows are a combination of Art and Technology. Using 120 projectors, images are thrown up on walls and the floor. They are in constant motion and accompanied by music.

After watching a show of Cezanne, Kandinsky, and Van Gogh, I decided I wanted to know more about the origins of the Atelier des Lumières. As each of the shows ended and the credits were projected on the walls, eight cities (including Paris) now house these light shows: Bordeaux, Les Baux-de-Province, Amsterdam, New York, Dubai, Seoul, and Jeju. That is six more than the last time I was there during the summer of 2020. My sister had told me she had tickets to see the Van Gogh show in Detroit (for five times the price we pay here in Paris!). I had assumed it was the Paris show that was traveling but I’m not so sure. There is a permanent installation in New York.

The first of these art and technology shows, Carrières des Lumières, started in les Baux-de-Province. There the art is projected onto the walls of caves. It is part of a much larger organization called Cultural Spaces. Bruno Monnier, the president of Cultural Spaces, wanted to bring the idea to Paris. He found an unused foundry from the 19th century called Chemin-Vert located in the 11th arrondissement. It was created in 1835 to meet the needs of the Navy and railways for high-quality castings. It closed in 1929 due to the International crisis. Monnier has taken the space, left it intact, and cleaned it up while fitting it for all the projectors. It opened in 2018 with a show of Klimpt’s famous paintings. It is hard to describe the show if you haven’t seen one. My photos are static but the images are constantly moving like a giant slide show. Music is chosen specifically for certain periods in an artist’s life. The result is captivating. It’s not a stretch to call it a completely immersive experience. Children often run around chasing the images on the floor and become part of the fun of the show.

Kandinsky

After writing the above, I walked to Parc de Bagatelle to check on the peacocks and the cats. I couldn’t go on Sunday. I saw how fast the peacock tails were growing in. I thought of sitting in the Atelier watching these famous artists’ depictions of nature dancing on the walls. And, of being in Bagatelle week after week, looking at the trees turn colors, the roses die away, a few defying nature and hanging on to their stems, the peacocks strutting around, their tails growing so fast it just might be a slide show. There is no sign of the females. There aren’t even that many people even though it was a lovely autumn day. The cats were all out enjoying the warmth of the sun.

Gaston and Zoe (the cats from the circus) are lying on the bench.

The regular volunteer was just finishing up feeding time for the cats. I asked him how long it took the peacock tails to complete the circle to full growth. He said April. They molt in August. Four months is the short time they are full and probably the equivalent of mating season.

Two months worth of growth, the eyes are now clearly visible

I asked him about kittens. He said most are born between September and December. We never see them because the mothers hide them in the thick bushes on the periphery of the park. I had visions of bushwacking my way through those bushes until I found a litter. Then I’d steal one and raise it—much to the chagrin of Bijou who is the true Lady and Mistress of my small apartment. A girl can dream.

One rose, with a strong perfume, is hanging on. Because it is an entrant into the competition of 2023, it is not named.

Being at Bagatelle week after week is as immersive an experience as the digital art show at the Atelier. One shouldn’t compare apples and oranges but, if I were forced to choose…..

Van Gogh’s Starry Night

Thanks for reading Out My Window! Subscribe to receive new posts and support my work. This post is public so feel free to share it.

A bientôt,

Sara

Hooked on Food

Michael Moss, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who wrote Salt, Sugar, Fat and his latest book, Hooked, was the speaker at the American Library in Paris author event. I wrote a review of the book Hooked: How we became addicted to Processed Food a year and a half ago and encouraged all my readers interested in both Addictions and Food, to read it. I learned he was coming to Paris to be a guest speaker at a writing retreat this week. Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible for me to attend the retreat. When I learned last weekend, that he would be speaking at the Library, I was very excited. This man had thanked me on Instagram for the review and I got an image of an author that was totally approachable.

Not only did I want to hear him in person, I decided I would give him a copy of my book Saving Sara, A Memoir of Food Addiction. I could tell from his writing that he did not have addiction issues himself, at least as far as food is concerned, that his aim was to expose Nestlé, for the pimps they are (my words not his), to alert the world that these companies WANT you to get addicted to their products as it is excellent for the financial bottom line. I’ve long wanted to correspond with him but hadn’t found a way. When I met him walking in the door of the Library, after we all greeted him, I asked him if he would be willing to read my book. He said he would be honored. So I inscribed it and handed it to him.

He was interviewed by the Library’s excellent Alice McCrumb who provided an air of excitement about the book. He told us about the research presently going: on taking ‘Photos’ of people’s brains right after eating chocolate, for instance, and how the researcher can see the corresponding parts of the brain light up within seconds. Most damningly, it seems industries don’t try to hide the fact that they are working hard to find products that are convenient, cheap, and addictive. The CEOs of these industries would never eat their own food, Moss told us.

I found myself very uncomfortable during the whole talk. Looking back I realize that I had come with the intention of making his acquaintance, giving him my book to read if he was willing, and maybe forming some kind of bond with him. That didn’t happen. I appreciate the science and the research that is now going into the huge subject of food addiction. He told us that in his first book, he danced around using the ‘A’ word, In Hooked, he didn’t. He even went so far as to say that for some people this addiction is like drug addiction and that people have to look at what drug addicts do to overcome their addictions for help with food. What I finally came up with by the time I got home was that I’m so used to being with like-minded people when talking of this subject, that I’m not often in the position of learning the more scientific aspects of it. In Michael’s talk, he was talking about Big Pharma (known as the food industry), not the addicts themselves. People had come to hear the dasterdly deeds of Nestlé (which makes $63.8bn a year) and the nine other huge food companies that control the majority of what you buy from the food and beverage brands, not to hear from people like me. I was definitely the odd man out.

Near the end, one woman asked “What is the solution?’ Two days later, I’m not actually sure if she was asking about the solution to stopping production of these addictive products or the solution to helping people stay away from them. I heard it as the second. I raised my hand and outed myself as a food addict in recovery for over 17 years, and that each of us has to take some responsibility for ending the abuse on our bodies. The topic before had been that so many families couldn’t afford good food, they had to buy this cheap excuse for food in order to feed their families. I didn’t respond to that but I know plenty of food addicts who live hand to mouth who have found a way to feed their families with real food. In 12 step rooms, we’re told you have to want it bad enough. 

The thing is: I agree with every one of his findings, and I applaud him for calling this problem what it is: Food Addiction. But I don’t agree that the industry has to take 100% responsibility for our health. If I had waited until that happened, I’d probably be dead by my own hand today. I think each one of us has to take 100% responsibility for what we put in our bodies and, people like me who have lost the power to act in healthy ways, we should get ourselves surrounded by like-minded people who will hold our hands through the withdrawal part, explain to us in no uncertain terms that this disease is one of Obsession—obsessing about those foods/substances that are supposed to make us happy, find Prince Charming, etc, etc and one of Compulsion—once the substance we are allergic to, in my case sugar and grains, is in my body, I don’t know what will happen next. I’m at the mercy of my compulsion.

I felt very alone at the end of his talk. I think I brought it on myself. I know what he writes about and I’m a huge cheerleader. But I forgot what it’s like to be in the company of people just learning what is going on in the food industry and how people like me are already dying from addiction. Here is the kicker: It is easy to think “well this happened in the tobacco industry, maybe things will change.” Guess who owns some of the largest industry companies?? The tobacco companies. Tobacco stopped making the billions it was making, so they found the next best thing. Philip Morris owns Kraft. RJ Reynolds owns Nabisco. Does the average person have a chance?

Michael Moss is an investigative journalist and author. In 2010, he won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on contaminated hamburgers. His previous book Salt, Sugar, Fat, was a New York Times best seller.  Hooked (2021) explores our complex relationship with processed food. It explains why certain foods leave us wanting more, and reveals how our brain chemistry and our evolutionary biology are exploited by the fast-food industry.

Sara Somers is an author, blogger, and retired Psychotherapist living in Paris, France. Saving Sara: For nearly fifty years, Sara Somers suffered from untreated food addiction. In this brutally honest and intimate memoir, Somers offers readers an inside view of a food addict’s mind, showcasing her experiences of obsessive cravings, compulsivity, and powerlessness regarding food.

*** ***

For those of you following the growth of my peacocks’ tails, here are the latest photos. The feathers of the tail are at least two inches longer than last week and I could see an eye or two. On his back, the brown and white feathers are beginning to turn into blue and green shell-shaped feathers that will eventually take up most of his back.

A bientôt

Sara

There is a time for building, and a time for living and for generation-T.S. Eliot

I was sitting on my couch yesterday talking with a good friend who was visiting Paris from California. She asked me if it was smarter to rent something here or to buy. I said that it depends. Why was she asking? She said that the general atmosphere in the US has become unbearable for her and her husband because of politics. She had visited with another group of friends two days ago and that had been the focus of their conversation. Selling and moving to Paris (these were all people who love Paris). I was a bit stunned. She lives in California and I saw California as a refuge from all the insanity. I guess not. You can’t not know what’s going on all over the country if you own a computer or a TV or both. Maybe with the mid-terms coming up, the volume has risen so high that the desire to run away from it all must seem so attractive. 

I left in 2013. Before there was Trump (although we were going through the Tea Party mess). I wasn’t making myself crazy by trying to decide to leave my country because of principles. I left because I could. I had retired. I wanted to experience another culture, really experience it, and came to Paris for a year. That was one month short of nine years ago. I haven’t gone back. To be considering a permanent move without knowing anything about what the future holds seems very brave to me. 

That was the other thing we talked about. The future. We are both at the age where one has to be thinking “where do I want to get old?” “Where do I want to be old?” The US has wonderful Continuing Care Retirement Communities. France does not. France has a wonderful medical system. The US does not. If I can no longer live independently, if I have to depend on someone or someones, what country do I want to be in?

These are huge questions. Honestly, I try not to think about them very often though I should. Yet, it was a pleasure discussing it all with my friend yesterday. A pleasure because we are like-minded and putting it all out on the table. I recently put an offer on a house in Normandy. I had an inspection done by a wonderful Scotsman and I told him my age and asked if he could look at the house with that in mind. He was happy to. He told me the house wasn’t suitable for someone my age, meaning if I had to redo a room or a bathroom to make it more handicap accessible, it wasn’t possible in that house. I patted myself on the back for having the foresight to even think of that question much less ask it.

To me, thinking about leaving the country feels like a little death. It’s great to move if you are going towards something, have excitement about new things, having a chance to start over again somewhere else. But that isn’t what people are saying when they are talking about leaving. They say it with sadness, that it is so scary to live in the US right now. I don’t envy them. 

Meanwhile here in Paris….. I was down near Notre Dame last week. Before the fire in March of 2019, my favorite view of Notre Dame was looking at it from behind; the roof held up by flying buttresses. I’d stand about half a kilometer east on the left bank and take deep breaths looking at the extraordinary beauty of that cathedral against a blue sky. Now all you can see is scaffolding. And cranes. And more scaffolding. 

Two years ago, there was talk that Macron wanted the rebuilding finished by the 2024 Summer Olympics which are being held in Paris. No one believes that can happen. According to the Smithsonian website, the clean up was finished this past August and the rebuilding started in September. The government is still hoping to finish it in 2024 and has actually announced that it will be open to the public in the Spring of 2024. 

There was a contest, at one point, to design a new roof for the cathedral. There was even one with a swimming pool, I’m told. Now the new Notre Dame will look exactly like the old Notre Dame. Which makes me glad. “The French Senate rejected calls to replace the spire with a modern design, ultimately voting to restore it to its “last known visual state.” But France’s National Heritage and Architecture Commission did approve proposals to modernize Notre-Dame’s interior with new additions like contemporary artworks—a plan that some critics described as a “woke Disney revamp.” “A parallel initiative to invigorate Notre-Dame’s surroundings is also underway. Funded by Paris City Hall, the redesign includes planting more vegetation in the area and installing a cooling system, the New York Times’ Aurelien Breeden reported in June. Per the Times, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said that Notre-Dame “had to be left in its beauty and have everything around it be a showcase for that beauty.”—smithsonianmag.com

This is what Notre Dame will look when finished.

And finally, I’ll end with a word about the peacocks in Parc de Bagatelle. I took my Sunday walk to the park four days ago. The first thing I do when I arrive is check up on the cats. If there is a volunteer there feeding them, I have a chat. That’s how I learn the stories about them. And now that I know that peacock tail feathers have a life cycle, I’m watching the male peacock carefully. I saw a peacock before a cat. He was looking in the opposite direction. It looked as if some pine needles had gotten caught under his back feathers. As I got closer, I realized what I thought were pine needles was the very beginnings of the new feathers.

Scattered on his back are what look like tufts of cotton. When the tail is completely grown out and he makes a fan to attract a female, it’s possible to see all the white fluff. This seemed unusual to me – to be able to see so much fluff even when both back wings were flat on his back. But I’m just learning and watching. I have no idea what the norm is.

It seems that today has been about cycles. The life cycle of the peacock tail of feathers, the cycle of a beautiful cathedral that has had parts destroyed by fires in the past, and the lifecycle of a political movement. With nature, it is truly a cycle. I lost my home in California to fire and built a lovely home from the ashes. With what’s happening in the US, one can only pray it cycles out and get into action to give it a big shove. That means Go Vote!

A bientôt,

Sara

“Reading is an act of resistance”

Last Friday, I had the pleasure of meeting Jennifer Egan, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of A Visit from the Goon Squad. She was in Paris to celebrate the launching of her latest book The Candy House in French, as well as participating in Festival America. I belong to a writing group through AAWE (Association of American Women in Europe). Through a unique partnership of AAWE, Editions Robert Laffont, and AAWE, Jennifer spoke at the beautiful American Center for Art and Culture in the 16ème. My writing group had the honor of being volunteers at the event on Friday.

Lorie Lichtlen, interviewer. Jennifer Egan, author, Margueritee Cappelle, translator

I’m embarrassed to admit that before this summer I had not read any of her books. When I learned she was making a special appearance at ACAC, I read three of her books backwards! First the Candy House (2022), then Manhattan Beach (2016), and finally A Visit from the Goon Squad (2011). My overall impression was that this was one brilliant woman who had an ultra creative mind and was also very complex. I wasn’t sure I understood The Candy House very well and resorted to reading reviews in the NYTimes and New Yorker. I was a bit afraid that I wouldn’t be able to follow her thinking.

Signing both French and English language books

I had absolutely nothing to be afraid of. Jennifer walked into the venue with a backpack slung over her shoulder, a simple black top, a short skirt, and knee high boots. She greeted everyone with a huge smile. The room filled up with a large Franco-American crowd of at least one hundred people. Answering questions posed by the interviewer, she gave generous, thoughtful answers and captured everyones’ hearts. When someone asked her “Do you think young people are still reading?” her response got a rocking spontaneous applause. “Reading is the only way that someone can step into someone else’s head. The world now is full of devices. My sons have told me that apps are built to be addictive, but looking at the phone keeps you on the outside. I say put your device in another room and read for pleasure. Nobody is selling you anything when you read a book. Reading is an act of resistance!”

When asked about her favorite books, she responded, House of Mirth by Edith Warton and The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. “To me, they describe America.” When she signed the book I bought, she was as generous with her dedication as she was with her responses. It was clear to me that Jennifer was having fun. She used that word multiple times in describing her writing, how she wrote, what inspired her, how her thought processes went.

Opening Night Ceremony of Festival America

I mentioned that she was here as a part of Festival America. FA was founded twenty years ago by a Frenchman who wanted to shine a light on American writers who were under-represented by the media. African American authors, indigenous authors, Asian-American authors. It has evolved into an every other year celebration of American authors. “An unparalleled event, the AMERICA festival (invites), every two years in Vincennes (Val-de-Marne, France), around 70 authors from North America (United States, Canada, Quebec, Mexico, Cuba, Haiti). Since 2002, it has set itself the goal of celebrating diversity on the other side of the Atlantic – a cultural mosaic that is Indian, Hispanic, African, Anglo-Saxon, French and Francophone – and giving the public the opportunity to better understand their cultural realities.”-actes-sud.fr

Leila Mottley

I had read recently that a nineteen year old young woman from Oakland, Leila Mottley, was long-listed for the Man Booker prize. Her book, Nightcrawling, has been applauded everywhere, translated into French, and won the Festival America prize at the end of the festival. I was so surprised to see her on the stage with the other authors. Afterwards, I saw her and told her that I was probably the only other person in the building from Oakland. She didn’t seem particularly impressed!

“A news item inspired Leila Mottley to write her novel, the first manuscript that she dared to intend for publication” writes Le Point, a french magazine, “In 2016, the media talked a lot about the rape of a young girl by the police and I was struck to see that we knew nothing about it. (Yet) they kept showing how the police lived the case. Women of color are particularly the target of violence because the law does not protect them in the same way. By imagining Kiara, I wanted to give the visibility she didn’t have at the time to this young black woman, to her world. And, to follow her into the night of prostitution, she had herself reread by a sex worker.”

I haven’t read the book yet but am so proud of her, a follow Oakland resident. A friend told me that the Bay Area Book Festival, in conjunction with the Oakland Museum, is planning an event for her in April, on the launch date of the paperback. Leila was asked to say something at the Opening Ceremony and she giggled like the teenager she is and spoke eloquently about what matters to her. She is something.

To finish this blog, I’m including a video of the Native Americans who performed a drumming concert for us.

A bientôt,

Sara

Once more with feeling

Before I go any further, I have to eat a little crow. The tone of my blog last week made it sound like I thought Spain was ugly and disappointing. By the time the week was over, I thought the area we were in was quite lovely (with the exception of the A7). I have a bad habit of seeing things in the negative when I’m new at something. A class, a group, first day on a trip. Any discomfort I feel translates into something wrong with the person, place, or thing. I left Paris in a state of exhaustion and overwhelm. I took it out on the Costa del Sol which had never done anything to me! So any Spain lovers out there, I apologize.

View from the balcony off my bedroom

One reader wrote me to say that a reason that Spain and France are so different is that Spain was governed by the Moors for a very long time and historically Islam has had the greatest influence on Spain. Today, Islam is growing again, especially in younger people, and is the second largest religion after Catholicism. Whereas France, since the time of Charlemagne, has been the most Catholic country in the area we know as Europe until the 16th century when Protestantism began to appear. Even then, Protestantism flourished in Germany, Switzerland, and other parts of Europe, more so than in France. When one adds the weather and the proximity of the Mediterranean sea, it can be expected that the two countries will appear very different. That is what I saw and felt when I first arrived.

Looking out on the sea from the timeshare (photo: Susan Johnson)

Andalusia, which includes the Costa del Sol, is the second largest of the eight communes of Spain. High in the mountains behind Marbella are a circle of villages known as the White Towns because of their white-washed walls and houses. On Thursday last week, we drove to Ronda, the largest and most popular of these towns. Although only 40 km from flat land to town, the road is so curvy through the National Park, that it takes over an hour to get there. Susan did the driving and I was the navigator. I had the help of my Apple map on my iPhone and a voice I called Fred. Fred is terrific. He gives plenty of warning when a turn is coming up or having to take an off-ramp. He even told us when we were approaching a radar for speed. We discussed all the radar and decided that, unlike the US, they were not out to trap us and make money, but trying to regulate traffic. Even so people whooshed by us at top speeds. We never saw much traffic anywhere except on the A7. Nor did we see any police or traffic cops deterring these drivers. Everything is being done on-line these days.

The white washed houses of Ronda (photo: Susan Johnson)

Ronda is famous for the bridge that traverses over a 380 foot ravine connecting the old town with the new as well as its cliff side location. It is the largest of the White Towns with a population of 35,000. From our one afternoon there, I’d say 34,950 live in the new town. There was a large and well-organized carpark where we left the car, and a lengthy pedestrian street from the carpark to Plaza de Toros de Ronda, the oldest bullring in Spain. “American artists Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles spent many summers in Ronda as part-time residents of Ronda’s old-town quarter called La Ciudad. Both wrote about Ronda’s beauty and famous bullfighting traditions. Their collective accounts have contributed to Ronda’s popularity over time.”-Wikipedia

The drama of the bridge connecting the two parts of Ronda

We had lunch on a balcony overlooking the bridge and wondered how the it was built (I had visions of the movie, Ben Hur and the slaves pulling huge boulders to build Pyramids). Known as Puente Nuevo, it is the youngest of the three bridges that cross the river that separates the two parts of town. It was finished in 1793, 42 years after construction began. Looking over the cliff edge, one can see the Guadalevin river and the other two bridges much lower down. There is a large archeological site (around the city are prehistoric settlements dating to the Neolithic Age, including the rock paintings of Cueva de la Pileta) and Arab baths (dating from the 13th and 14th centuries), both requiring a walk down into the ravine and a walk back up. We chose to pass that up! Once past the bridge, it was quiet. Only tourists walking the town, learning about old Ronda. Even the touristy shops selling linen dresses, brand new tiles, and leather goods petered out as we moved deeper into the old town. Without a map from the Tourist Office, it would have been impossible to know what was what. The overall feeling was one of huge expanse in all directions from the top of a hill well fortified for just in case. We walked the length of the old town and back towards the bullring, the pedestrian street and to our car. We arrived ‘home’ at 7:30pm wanting nothing more than a quick salad and bed!

One of the smaller bridges traversing the chasm-(Photo: Susan Johnson

Susan and I decided that we should return to Estepona and find the old town and the narrow streets that the guidebooks gushed over. This time, I asked Fred to take us to the Centro Historico and he got us pretty close. We even found parking two blocks away. What made the old town so lovely was more than the narrow streets, there were flowers and plants everywhere. Pots hanging off walls, flower bushes on either side of doors, and large tall decorations of flowers on the shopping streets. There was also tile. Most entryways had the regular what I call ‘Mexican tiles’. Thoughtfully placed were smaller tiles of animals, angels, and symbols. I wanted to buy masses of the artisan tiles and bring them home with me but where would I put them in my rented apartment?

Walking in the old town of Estepona
Looking in a door at tiling and iron work door

This part of Spain takes a siesta from 2:30pm-5:30pm–at least that is when all the stores close, even the small vegetable markets on the corners. Without people, old Estepona gave off a feeling of a Hollywood set, perfectly assembled and just waiting for some life to happen. It was an eery feeling. We didn’t have too far to walk when one of the streets opened up onto the Plaza des Flores. We found seats at a café and, along with a number of other tourists, had a drink before attempting the walk back to find our car.

Aerial view of Plaza des Flores–photo in the bathroom of a café

One interesting fact: in the 1990s, the Walt Disney Corporation chose Estepona as the site for its EuroDisney project. However, Paris ended up with the installation.

Another use for the beautiful tiles

As we walked, and I was walking with my head down, I was thinking about the fact that I had written that there was no town planning along this part of the Costa del Sol. At my feet were brown and grey stepping stones surrounded by smaller grey stones all placed in a pleasing pattern for the length of a block. The next block over would have a similar pattern. Clearly this town had given a lot of thought to planning. And the flowers and plants were all thriving. Most of Europe has suffered terrible heatwaves this summer. Someone was taking care, watering these plants. And those someones were probably paid by the city. I was far off base. Lesson learned.

Seen on the wall of one of the narrow streets we walked down.

I write this from Paris thinking back on the week. The absolute best part of the week was the rest I got. They say that mediterranean countries move slower and are more laid back. Perhaps the three of us caught the southern bug. We moved slowly, only went places we really wanted to see, and made simple dinners every evening. That felt like a luxury. And what a vacation is supposed to be.

A bientôt,

Sara

Toto, we aren’t in France anymore

Spain is so close yet so far away. It is a short plane ride or train ride but the culture is so different. Feelings about color are different, the art is different, the cities are different. Paris is considered the most beautiful city in the world. I don’t think any city in Spain would be on a list of the top ten. Going to Spain feels like a journey of a much greater distance.

I flew to Seville from Charles de Gaulle airport last Saturday in two hours. I am with two friends who have rented a timeshare in Marbella on the Costa del Sol. A quick exit through the airport and finding the rental car, off we went south-east to find the ocean. For the first hour, the landscape was not inviting. Arid land populated with what we think are olive trees and not much else. About two thirds of the way to our destination, the landscape became hilly with deep arroyos. This was much more interesting. There was nothing on this land. Nada. No people, no other roads, no structures. We made a mistake with our directions and had to go back the way we came for 30 minutes. There were no off-ramps, nowhere to go in this landscape of hills and ravines except forward. We finally were able to turn around and head back towards the ocean.

We are staying in Mijas, close to Marbella. The A7, a four lane highway, runs along the coast from Malaga to Algeciras. It is busy at all times of the day. There is no demarcation between towns (or cities–it’s confusing as to what they are) and reminds me of Route 1 on the East Coast where one city runs into another.

I can think of many words to describe the villages of France: quaint, piccaresque, charming, etc. None of these words apply to this part of Spain that you can see from the A7. No thought has been given to town-planning. Monstrous timeshares litter the sides of the large hills looking like cruise ships plastered against the golden brown background. Billboards of all sizes line the A7 giving a sense of a very large population. One has to know where to find the good walking beaches as many have stones galore and hurt your feet as you test the temperature of the water.

Homes high up in the hills of Mijas or Marbella

However, following streets upwards into the hills, one can see what attracted people to this part of the world before it became so popular. The houses are white, large, gated, with flowers everywhere. The hibiscus is the most popular this time of year. Views of the ocean pop up at many turns and there is no sign of the A7 or the hundreds of billboards,

Promenade along the beach at Estapona

On Sunday, we drove to the town of Estepona south of Mijas. My apple map on my iPhone took us to the port where we found a parking place. Our intention was to find the old town and wander the small streets where no present day car could possibly go. We stumbled on the closing of the Sunday outdoor market and my friend bought a skirt. We then asked directions to the old town. We strolled along a promenade that clearly had been thought out, had flowers planted along the side closest to the road and an overhang that balanced out the railing on the beach side. The beach, not crowded, was wide as a football field and people were lying under umbrellas. There were par courses along the way. Children were taking advantage of them, climbing on walls, swinging on foot machines. We never did make it to the Old Town so we have yet to see the tiny streets of old Spain.

South of Spain, a short ferry ride of 40 minutes from the town of Tarifa, lies Tangiers, a city that seems mystical. A city beloved by Kerouac and Matisse and many artists of the 20s through the 50s who spent time there. We couldn’t miss a trip to Tangiers! So we left the timeshare at 6am in order to catch the 9am ferry. After standing in a line to get tickets, a line for passport control, a line to go through security, we lined up to get on the ferry where we stood in another line to have our passports stamped by the Moroccon police. Only after every passenger had done that, did the ferry start to move and make the trip out of Europe towards Africa.

Getting ready to go to Africa

Every guide book will warn you of every thing that can go wrong in Morocco. I remember visiting the old city of Jerusalem my first year out of university. The Arab world is a culture shock. I wasn’t wise enough to be scared but I felt lost. I couldn’t speak the language, women were not encouraged to be traveling on their own, and small children begged constantly. Yet, I was mesmerized. Everything was colorful, I’d never seen goods hanging on doors, from the ceilings, baskets and baskets of spices or eggs or jewelry. I imagined Tangiers, the old city, would be much the same. Leaving the taxi that took us to a gate to enter the old city, we immediately came to a market. We wandered around not sure what we were doing, grown men begging to be our guide stopping us every ten minutes. We finally found our way into the Medina, the most interesting part of the old city and found a very old man, Salam, had attached himself to us. He spoke French. The streets were like a maze leading us deeper and deeper into a warren. The open air shops turned into regular shops where we would step inside and see beautiful tile work or men weaving rugs. The dirty streets changed into lovely white streets with houses surrounded by bougainvillia. We were headed to the Kasbah and were climbing. Salam pointed everything out to me, where a famous American lived and died and later the garage where he kept his Rolls Royce. After hundreds of steps, we arrived at a wall with an arch. Walking through the arch, we got a view of the port, new Tangiers and a huge expanse of ocean. It is breathtaking.

The Kasbah is a large living area with a mosque that is now a museum, shops and little alley ways that reminded me of Santorini. We had been on our feet for five hours at that point and we were all feeling it. We were planning on a 4pm ferry ride back to Spain but thought we’d go early in case of an earlier time. There wasn’t. We descended into the lower market areas that reek of poverty. It seems a small thing to give some man or student a couple of euros to guide us around and tell stories. But Americans are warned off.

selling chickens on the street.

We made it back to our car by 6:30pm CET (Morocco is an hour behind Spain) and drove the hour and a half back to the timeshare. All three of us made a salad, ate it silently, and went to bed.

One thing I haven’t mentioned is the cats of Tangiers. They are everywhere. They are gentle, clean, friendly, have no fear of people. Almost every store had a cat near it. The parks had cats, the cats took naps in the middle of sidewalks, the cats looked longingly at you if you held out a finger and said “Cou cou.” I asked one of our guides if people had cats as pets. He said yes some families do. Mostly the cats hung out in the Medina.

Cats, it seems, have been revered for centuries in Muslim culture. So much so, that one of Prophet Muhammad’s companions was known as Abu Hurairah (Father of the Kittens) for his attachment to cats. The Prophet himself was a great cat-lover– Muezza was the name of his favourite cat.–The Guardian.

As the days have gone by, the area around the timeshare seems to have gotten prettier! I think I am so spoiled by living in Paris that I’m far too hard on other areas in Europe. Next week, I’ll share about the white hill towns of Andalucia.

A bientôt,

Sara

La Rentrée

Most of us know there are four seasons in the year. In France, there is a minimum of five seasons. The one we are in presently is known as La Rentrée. Literally the word mean ‘The Return’. It’s the time when all Parisians come home from wherever they spent August, and in some cases, July and August. Children prepare for school, and, even though the weather may still feel like summer, it’s the beginning of Autumn.

To understand “La Rentrée”, one has to understand the month of August. During August, almost everything stops. More than half of stores shut down. Restaurants, that are not in the tourist center, close for the month. The trains all do whatever repair work needs to be done. Many of the lines do not run. In August, the government is not to be found. As friends part for the summer, you can hear them say “A la rentrée” which loosely translates to “See you in September.” In other words, every single person in France knows that if you include ‘la rentrée’ in a sentence, you are referring to that season beginning September 1 when everything starts anew. Clothing stores have fresh stock. Children are back in school. The government gets back to work. And every supermarket has huge sections of space dedicated to schoolwork, creative work, and office work. If you have a favorite pen and haven’t been able to find another just like it, chances are very good, you will find it at the Carrefour or Monoprix during La Rentrée. It is a time of celebration and many parents will hang around their children’s school catching up with a drink or two in their hands.

I love it when every store stocks up on notebooks, paper products, pens of all different sizes, tips, and comfort. I will stand far too long in front of these aisles telling myself I don’t need anything (I have enough journaling notebooks to last me well into the next decade), and still end up at the cash register with a new pen and perhaps a folder. I love to write on paper. The computer is fine but pen to paper…there is nothing like it.

And … Writing. I did not make it into the Stanford Certificate Program. When I received the e-mail, my first feeling was of disappointment. My second was relief. I had started a summer course at Stanford Continuing Education in Short Story writing. I was beginning to get an idea of how much time just one course requires. I had no trouble finding the time. I was like a human vacuum cleaner sucking up all the knowledge that was available. So, along with reading published short stories and commenting on them, we each wrote a short story, had a workshop and every student commented on every other students writing. It was terrifying and glorious. When I magnified the work out two years, I wasn’t at all sure. Did I have it in me to write this novel I want to write. Or perhaps I should be sticking to what I do well, non-fiction writing. Since it was August and no one thinks in August, I put off any contemplation until September. I’ve signed up for another Stanford course and cannot wait for it to begin. And, by the way, I got an A+ in my class. I believe it is the first A+ I’ve ever gotten in my life!!!

Female and male peacock after mating season has ended. The male has shed his tail.

Lastly, and I’m taking huge license with this one, even Parc de Bagatelle and some of its creatures are starting anew. The male peacocks are molting which means they are shedding their gorgeous tail feathers!! I had no idea. After mating season ends, since tail feathers are not regenerating, they slowly fall out. When I was there this past Sunday, there were only a few colorful feathers on the backs of the males I saw. Here is some fascinating information from a website called: peacocksuk.com

Male peacock last week in August

“The peacock has around 150 to 175 long tail feathers or long covers which sit over shorter strong tail feathers. These shorter feathers  support the weight of the long tail covers which grow to three to four feet long. As the peacock matures to five or six years old, the peacocks tail feathers grow in size and the number. As the peafowl reaches maturity the eyes on the tail feathers become larger. At maturity the peacocks tail will be constant each year as long as the peacock is in good health. If several males are kept together we have found that the subservient males will not grow or develop a tail as striking or large as the dominant peacock.  If these birds are removed from the pen with the dominant male the upper tail feathers then develop! After the peacocks long tail covers have moulted the new tail begins to grow in the autumn, reaching maturity in time for the next mating season in the spring.”

A bientôt,

Sara

“Letters from an American”

Although it is August and I, like many of the French, take August off, I had to jump in and write a post. I woke up to the news that the Senate had passed, 51-50, the sweeping bill now called the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 addressing climate change, health care, the national debt, and many more things. Every morning, I get an e-mail entitled ‘Letters from an American‘ written by Heather Cox Richardson. (Anyone can subscribe free to her posts on Substack: https://heathercoxrichardson.substack.com/p/august-7-2022 ). Ms Richardson describes herself this way: “I’m a history professor interested in the contrast between image and reality in American politics. I believe in American democracy, despite its frequent failures.”

Senator Majority Leader Chuck Schumer after the passage of the bill

I have been mystified by the consistent reporting that Biden’s popularity is so low, in the 38% range. Democrat Nation loved him when he won the election. He inherited a horror show (my words) from the former president. Senator Tim Kaine visited Paris and Democrats Abroad and told us how Biden managed to get Europe to join America in preparing for the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. At the time, Europe was hedging bets that Russia was just bluffing. Biden’s administration was sure he was not. He got European countries to listen to him by saying that he hoped they were right but, just in case, wouldn’t it be nice (my words) if there was a plan in place that could be executed immediately upon an invasion. All agreed to that – even Turkey who probably would not have agreed if the invasion had already taken place. Brilliant, I thought to myself. Had I read about this in the papers? No? It must not be exciting enough news.

Ms Richardson writes this about Biden and Democracy: “In the past 18 months, Democrats have rebuilt the economy after the pandemic shattered it, invested in technology and science, expanded the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to stand against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, eliminated al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, pulled troops out of Afghanistan, passed the first gun safety law in almost 30 years, put a Black woman on the Supreme Court, reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, addressed the needs of veterans exposed to toxic burn pits, and invested in our roads, bridges, and manufacturing. And for much of this program, they have managed to attract Republican votes.

Now they are turning to lowering the cost of prescription drugs—long a priority—and tackling climate change, all while lowering the deficit. 

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne noted accurately today that what these measures do is far more than the sum of their parts. They show Americans that democracy is messy and slow but that it works, and it works for them. Since he took office, this has been President Joe Biden’s argument: he would head off the global drive toward authoritarianism by showing that democracy is still the best system of government out there.

At a time when authoritarians are trying to demonstrate that democracies cannot function nearly as effectively as the rule of an elite few, he is proving them wrong.”

The passing of this bill in the Senate is exciting. All expect that the bill will have no trouble in the House. It is inspiring to other countries, like France, who want Democracy.

I’ve been reading these ‘Letters from an American ‘for quite awhile. If you would like to read about day to day goings on without the hysterics, the hyperbole, without the ‘screaming at you’ from much of the media, I refer you to Heather Cox Richardson. If you don’t like it, you can always unsubscribe.

A bientôt,

Sara

I get by with a little help from my friends

Trying to save money, I borrowed a car, actually a van, from a friend in Paris. As has happened in the US, car rental prices have doubled, even tripled in some areas, and it can be very difficult to find a car. The van gets great mileage she told me and it certainly seemed to. I drove from my apartment in Paris to Lessard-et-le Chêne, a distance of 200 km/125 miles, this past Monday on less than a quarter tank of gas. The van drives well and I was comfortable. I had left Paris at 9am in an attempt to beat the heat. All of France was suffering a second heatwave of the summer, and predictions said that Paris would top out at 102o and Lessard at 105o. When I arrived at 1pm, it was a mere 92o.

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

Tuesday morning, I thought I’d fill up the tank before it got too hot and be ready to go anywhere. So off I went, sure of where I was going, but got lost. Not having anywhere to be, it was ok to get lost, and I had my phone with me. Soon I saw a familiar landmark, the LeClerc supermarket that also has a large gas station. I pulled in and filled up the tank. Then off I went again headed to the Intermarché for a few groceries. I was inside for thirty minutes.

Back in the car, I turned the key and nothing happened. Well, something happened. The van made that sputtering noise telling me it was trying very hard to start but it wasn’t turning over. I tried three times. Then I sat there and a familiar anxiety settled over me like a heavy blanket. I had no idea where to go or who to call. My friends had not yet left for the airport but they were packing and I didn’t want to disturb them if at all possible. I felt like the ugly American who doesn’t know how to cope in a foreign country and resorts to panic out of habit. I saw a well dressed adult male pull up in front of me. I jumped out of the van, crossed over to him, and as he opened his door, I told him in my best french that my car wouldn’t start, I had checked everything, and could he help me. He followed me to the van. I turned the key but again the van would not start. After checking the obvious, he asked me who put the gas in the car. I told him that I had. He motioned me to step out of the car and we walked to the gas tank. He pulled open the cover and there in nice big letters was the word DIESEL. I must have looked like a cartoon character as I slapped my forehead, groaned, and my anxiety turned quickly into deep embarrassment if not shame.

I immediately wanted someone to blame. Why hadn’t my friend told me it only took diesel? Yes, dummy, and why hadn’t I checked to see what kind of gas the van took especially as someone was so kind as to write in large letters….. Even I, who knows little about the inner workings of cars and vans, knows that you don’t put gas in a diesel van. Even I know that the damage can be extensive. I thanked the man and he went on his way.

I had to call my friends–who rightly were annoyed with me. Not nearly as annoyed as I was with myself but, hey, who’s measuring. The husband came and got me. Did I mention they were leaving for the airport in less than three hours? On the way home, M reminded me that it is July, and could be very hard to find a mechanic, and it could be very expensive, and it could be in the garage three weeks. Leave it to the French to come up with the worst case scenario. All I could sputter out was that it never once occurred to me that the van took diesel. In the US, very few cars take diesel. Here in France, I don’t know anyone who owns a diesel car and I’ve never rented one. It’s just not on my radar. It should have been. Ninety-five percent of cars in France are diesel. It used to be far cheaper than gasoline. Farm workers and low income people were encouraged to buy diesel cars. Then Macron decided that diesel was damaging to the environment and told everyone to buy regular gas cars. The price of diesel went up. Incentives were given for buying gas cars. I have no idea how many sold their diesels. It’s asking a lot of a worker who is 100% dependent on her car for her living especially if she lives in the south of France.

Le marché des véhicules de loisirs va prendre un tournant majeur dans les prochaines décennies. L’interdiction de la vente de véhicules thermiques est prévue dans les calendriers d’ici 2040. Alors qu’aujourd’hui 95 % des véhicules vendus roulent à l’essence ou au diesel, quel avenir pour nos vans et fourgons aménagés ? Quelles alternatives possibles face à l’interdiction du diesel en France ?

Back at the house, I texted my friend who owns the van. She happens to be in the US at the moment which is why she was kind enough to make the loan. She is six hours behind me. She received my information and contacted her insurance agency immediately. She let me know that a tow truck would meet me at the van at 10 the next morning. Meanwhile, everyone in the house was talking about solutions for me. My head was swirling. I still felt both helpless and ashamed. Like an old record player, I replayed me at the gas station hundreds of times, seeing the word DIESEL, and putting it in the gas tank. It’s like waking up from a nightmare. The ending is always the same. I’d made a mistake and I had no idea what the consequences would be. I was at the point where I wasn’t sure if it would be ready when I had to go back to Paris. I went on the internet and rented the last car in Lisieux from an obscure place with the original name of Rent A Car.

The afternoon and evening passed. My friends left for Charles de Gaulle to fly to California the next morning. The not so friendly voices were whirling around in my head having a good time with my sanity. I asked a friend of theirs, John, for a ride and promptly at 9:40am he showed up and we went to Intermarché. The tow truck was already there. I watched as this skilled man pulled down the ramp on his truck, moved my van that wouldn’t start into a perfect position to roll up the ramp, attach one cable, and pulling a lever, up the van went. All of this with a friendly smile. Then he looked at me and asked me where he should take it? Huh? I didn’t know and said so. Kindly, he said, he’d take it to his garage and await further instructions.

John came out of the store just at that point and off we went to Rent A Car. I drove home and texted all this info to my friend in the US. By that evening, I knew it would be repaired at the garage it was at and possibly could be ready by Friday! Really!! That meant that little or no damage had been done to the motor. I had also talked to quite a few people, all lending support to help me feel better. One person actually said that everyone she knew who has owned or rented a diesel has done the same thing. I don’t think any French person would do it so she must have meant Americans.

Noon the next day, Thursday, US called and told me the van was ready for pick-up AND it would cost one hundred and fifty euros. Forty of that was filling the van with twenty liters of diesel. The fact that I couldn’t get a ride until this morning (Friday) meant little. This unintended but ultimately huge mistake I made was turning out to be ok. That means it didn’t break my piggy bank and the motor wasn’t damaged, all the affected parts just had a bath, and I have the van back in forty-eight hours. And probably/hopefully, I didn’t lose the friendship which was on my mind the whole time.

So here’s the final thing. I’m a good student. I do my homework and learn my lessons. But there are some lessons that I only seem to learn the hard way–by making a mistake. This one I thought was going to be a dilly. It was hard enough though it had a happier ending than I expected. I will ALWAYS look to see what kind of gas or diesel or otherwise a car takes (by the time I ever own a car again, they’ll all be electric!) All the cliché inspirations, that many of us are inundated with, remind us how important mistakes are and how to learn from them. They forget to mention that sometimes you want the world to stop, that the feelings can often be overwhelming. But…life ticks on and the consequences show themselves. And infuriatingly, the clichés are all true. Mistakes are the greatest teacher of all.

The end of the day, the end of the story

A bientôt,

Sara

The Silent Generation

My sister is a prolific reader. She recommends wonderful books I might not have stumbled on had she not alerted me. A couple of weeks ago, she suggested I read Deborah Cohen’s Last Call at The Hotel Imperial: The Reporters who took on a World at War (Random House, 2022). It is so new that I had to recommend it to the American Library in Paris. I have found it to be one of those non-fiction books that is so well-written, it is easy to forget that it is not a novel. Cohen tells the story of the foreign correspondents who went to Europe, Asia, Russia (I know Russian is considered Asia but….) and chased down any emerging story. Some went to great lengths to get an interview before their friends, who were also competitors, got there first. This is definitely not Fox News where those guys sit in comfy chairs telling the world how it should think, what their truths are, and haven’t moved an inch to talk to anyone except those who 100% agree with them.

On page 110, Ms. Cohen was describing “the so-called Lost Generation“. “Eventually the term “Lost Generation” came specifically to denote the American writers and expatriates who, in the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald, had ‘grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken.’ Disillusioned by the Great War, alienated by American materialism, they’d moved to Europe in the 1920s, embracing what the critic Malcolm Cowley called ‘salvation by exile.’ ” “In using the term “lost,” psychologists were referring to the “disoriented, wandering, directionless” feelings that haunted many survivors of what had been one of the most horrific wars in modern history.”–Robert Longley at ThoughtCo

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

This doesn’t sound so different from today. So many Americans, disillusioned by the state of affairs in the US that have followed one war after another that the US can’t win, are moving over here (Europe). Some say it’s worse now than it was then. But how does one gauge how bad something is. Many of those correspondents saw and wrote about Germany and the threat of Hitler. Maybe it’s only worse now because we are in the middle of it, day by excruciating day, waiting for the next body blow. I’ve read the above paragraph by Cohen many times. I have found some solace in it. I didn’t move here because of the politics but I have stayed here because it seems like a nicer, kinder place to live. I’m sure many French people would disagree with me. Their politics hit them the way American politics hits me. Cohen goes on to say that by 1930, “the dividends had evaporated, adult life beckoned, the half-finished novel would be put away. The “exiles” were returning, sobered-up and broke, newly conscious (perhaps) of the ties that bound them to other Americans.” p. 111.

I’m writing this because I often feel torn. There is a very good chance that democracy won’t survive what’s happening in the US. From over here, it seems the Democrats are whimpering along not doing much about the everyday decisions coming out of a very biased Supreme Court. My own opinion about the war in Ukraine is that the more Europe and US gets involved, the more likely a war on a much larger scale will break out. How can it not? And will it take violence, death, and hostile killings to find out if Democracy can still survive? It is only through a few flukes that the “good guys” won WWII.

I can’t imagine what I can do if I were living in the US that I can’t do here. Democrats Abroad is a vibrant organisation and very active. I feel much closer to the ‘action’ by going to DA meetings and meeting interesting people and politicians who travel and stop in Paris to talk to us. The amount of e-mails I get on a daily basis from so many organisations who want to crush Republicans but are loud, hostile, nasty, and sound just like the Republicans they say they want to get rid of is extraordinary. I unsubscribe to at least three a day but, just like Medusa, six more come the next day. They consider themselves completely entitled to access my e-mail then scream at me in order to shame me into giving my life savings to something that is probably not working. I even wrote one person running for Congress in California. I asked that he tell me what he stands FOR; that I was tired of hearing how awful his opponents are. I never heard back.

I wrote last week that many bloggers like me, non-professional opinionators, feel numb, unable to write. Thoughts like the ones that have been swirling around my brain, I believe, occur to try and break us out of sleep-walking, out of an overwhelm that is crushing. People get involved in world activities for many reasons. One of the main ones is an attempt to feel some power in a powerless world. “I’m doing something, I have a voice. Where can my voice best be heard?”

All of this has been going on in my head and reading Last Call at the Hotel Imperial has gotten me writing. If only to put down on paper the hard questions. Where can I be useful? How can I be useful? Am I doing enough already? Can writing words be a tool that I can use to make a difference? If 300 people read what I write, does that make a difference?

There aren’t any answers. But it is good to ask the questions. If I, and others like me, keep asking the questions, individual answers may get clearer.

Taking a selfie

Why did I title this blog The Silent Generation? I wanted to know if any research showed similarities to the Lost Generation and today. The Silent Generation is about to outnumber the Baby Boomers of which I’m a part of. The Silent Generation is the most materialistic and tech savvy generation. The Silent Generation feels let down by adults and politicians (who don’t always act like adults). The Lost Generation was undereducated and the Silent Generation is overeducated but both ended up feeling ill-prepared for the world they have been let loose in. In France, they don’t vote. In the US, their passion lies mostly with Climate Change. This generation has “…the highest level of stress than any other generation, suggesting a need for more conversation surrounding mental health and the pressures facing recent graduates.”–Evan Brown, The Warped Similarities Between Millennials and the Lost Generation (2020). This only underscores the questions I ask myself. What do I owe this generation? I often look at the future as I see it in my head and I’m grateful I may not be alive to see the worst of it.

And the questions just keep coming?

A bientôt,

Sara

%d bloggers like this: