We’ll always have Paris

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

The Eiffel Tower at sunrise

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

Peacock at Parc de Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulogne

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

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

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

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

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

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

End of the canal trail in Le Vésinet

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

Wild primroses near the home of Mme Du Barry in Louveciennes

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

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

A Bientôt,

Sara

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

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

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

Along Av. de La Bourdonnais

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paris in Autumn

A Bientôt,

Sara

Bois de Boulogne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of the walking entrances to Le Pré Catelan

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

Walking roads found all over Bois de Boulogne

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

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

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

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

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

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

A bientôt,

Christmas in Paris

The weather is chilly here in Paris, very cold (37oF)in the morning, rising as high as 43oF in the mid-afternoon. Sunday, the wind was so strong that TV and internet were advising people not to drive but, if you had to, to take special care. Yesterday, snow fell in Normandy where my friends live and here in Paris, we were supposed to get a glimpse of white stuff but no such luck. Snow is no longer a frequent visitor to Paris. When I was young, snow fell and stayed for weeks. Men selling chestnuts wrapped in newspaper would stand on the bridges and anywhere else that tourists would frequent. They were delicious and warmed your hands as you munched.

Covid-19 has changed most lives here in Paris. Fearing another French Revolution (my opinion), Macron lifted the second lockdown on December 15th. The idea that Parisians could not spend Christmas with their friends and family was unthinkable. At the same time, we had new curfew hours: 8pm-6am. The curfew would be lifted for Christmas Eve but not New Years Eve. The roads leaving Paris were parking lots for miles. I had plans to go to Brittany to spend Christmas and New Years in the tiny hamlet of Kerprouet where my friend, Roland, has property. Ninety minutes before the train was to leave, the news from the night before went through my head. A new strain of the virus had shut down most of the UK. It seemed like russian roulette to think it hadn’t made it to Paris. It had broken out in spain and in South Africa. I didn’t want to be one of those people who thinks I’m the exception, that when we are advised not to travel, those suggestions applied to others not to me. So I canceled out of prudence and had a very sad day–one of the saddest since the Pandemic started.

Champs Elysees

It didn’t seem like anyone was going to rescue me so I settled in for two weeks of reading, Netflix and other streaming stations, and a bit of purging. My cutlery drawer in the kitchen is sparkling and has far less things to choose from. I found some very interesting movies from 1947, the year I was born, on YouTube. One was Christmas Eve starring George Raft, George Brent, Joan Blondell. I consider myself a movie buff but I’d never heard of that movie. It is terrific. Maybe they line up the 1947 movies one after the other because, without my doing anything, the original Heaven Only Knows, that has inspired many remakes (or is that Here Comes Mr Jordan?), came on. This one stars Bob Cummings as Michael the archangel who comes down to set straight one soul. It is also terrific, easily as good as the Warren Beatty remake Heaven Can Wait. So if I have all these angel movies mixed up, I do apologise. Then there is the Christmas ritual with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Read from 1946: It’s A Wonderful Life on Amazon Prime, the yearly opportunity to review our own lives. It is also showing today on Arte in France.

Bijou, the cat.

I think many families must have left Paris. It’s quiet in the 16th, but stores are open for food and holiday “cheer’. On Tuesday, the powers that be met to decide if we would be going into a third lockdown. It was announced yesterday that No, we wouldn’t be. However, much of Eastern and Northeastern France will be starting a 6pm curfew. They also announced new groupings to get the vaccine. I am now in Group 2 whereas I was in Group 5 known as “Everybody Else.” They are predicting that Group 2 will be vaccinated end of February and March. I know that many people are hoping and praying that things will change in 2021 but the truth is that no one has informed the virus that things are to change on January 1. I fear a long, dark winter of things getting worse before they get better. What’s surprising to me–and much of French culture surprises me–is that 60% of the French do not want to get vaccinated. They are quite suspicious. All the more reason for me to get the vaccine so I feel safe walking amongst my neighbors.

So today ends 2020, the strangest year of my life. Someone in my writing group, said the cleanest joke she heard this season was: ‘Picture Snoopy at his computer typing a goodbye letter to 2020: “I just want you to know that I am typing this with my middle finger.”‘ It got a good laugh out of me. Most of the people I know will have dinner and go to bed before midnight–something we’ve done for years. But it is also a time of reflection. How did you survive 2020? Much to my surprise, I can honestly say that I mostly lived in acceptance and carefulness. I never questioned what the experts told us. I anticipated a lot of what would happen, I think, because I read my history. Pandemics don’t seem to change that much. How people deal with them changes.

I took some wonderful photos of lights in Paris but for some reason, WordPress won’t let me upload them–for reasons of security!!! So you are getting some recycled photos from last year!!!

Have a safe, a healthy, and hopefully a happy New Year. My very best to all of you. Thank you for being readers of this blog! I appreciate each and every one of you.

A bientôt,

Sara

Confinement Redux

A friend back in Oakland, Ca wrote to me this morning asking me if I was ok. He included a photo from the Associated Press that was titled: “Parisians flee, sidewalks empty, as France enters lockdown.” The photo showed a solitary figure walking an empty street and everything was grey. My friend said “Frightening to see this–hope you’re holding out ok.”

Photo my friend sent. It turns out this street is in Bayonne not Paris.

It has been an adventure of sorts. Wednesday evening, 8pm CET, President Macron announced that France was going back into lockdown. Although he claims that it will be slightly different than the last time, I haven’t seen what the difference is. I was still in Normandie and knew I had to get home. The lockdown started at midnight on Friday. I was able to get a train reservation for Saturday morning and began a whirlwind, frenetic packing generated by my sense of urgency. But as each hour went by, the urgency subsided. I was told that the shelves were sparse and so I packed a full bag of my groceries that I hadn’t yet used. By the time I left on Saturday morning, I had my one fairly large suitcase, my cat inside her carrier which is soft and can be worn over the shoulder, my ‘market’ bag in which I carry things I might need during the day, the full bag of groceries and another bag that held all the overflow.

I turned my car in at the train station and loaded myself up with all my ‘stuff’. I got about five feet and I knew it was all too much and too heavy. I started to do something I hate in myself and hadn’t done in a long time. I sighed very, very loudly, tried to look as miserable and helpless as I felt, tilted to the left with the weight of the grocery bag, sighed a little louder, all in hopes that someone would come rushing to my rescue. I must have looked a bit lunatic if not homeless, and I’m sure anyone who passed me gave me a wide berth. I made very slow progress. I realized I would have to go up and over the bridge to get to the quai where the train to Paris was. I was close to tears. Someone did say there was an elevator but didn’t offer to help. I was halfway across the bridge still doing my Sarah Bernhardt act when an employee of SNCF asked where I was headed, grabbed two of my bags, and, asking which car I was in, deposited me in Voiture 5. The train left within 30 seconds of my being inside.

Of course, I pulled the same stunt walking to the taxi queue in Paris. This time, a young woman stopped and helped me. I was home in my apartment three hours after leaving my friends’ home in Normandie. Ultimately I was glad for all the groceries as I had no energy to shop for food on Saturday.

Sunday morning, Day 3 of Confinement Deux, I went for my usual morning walk at 10:30am. On my walk, I pass a parcours with exercise machines in the Jardin du Ranelagh. My habit is to stop for about fifteen minutes, and every other day work out my arms and, on alternate days, my legs. The parcours was packed with people. I’m not sure if the area would be considered a space for gathering but there were well over thirty people. Three-quarters were not wearing masks. I got on one machine, felt scared, got off and went on my way to finish my walk. This morning, it was the same thing on a much smaller level, probably twelve people total, all the men not wearing masks.

Current Covid-19 numbers in France, according to the Health Minister: 1 new positive every 2 seconds; 1 hospitalisation every 30 seconds; 1 death every 4 minutes

When I left Paris on October 14th, everyone was wearing a mask. Was this a rebellion? I noticed a number of people not wearing masks just walking or wearing the mask under their nose. Not only did my neighbourhood NOT look like the photo my friend sent, it seemed teeming with life. Av. Mozart, my shopping street, had more people than usual. Only stores that sold necessities were open so my little clothing store was closed but the florists were open. They were not open the first time around. I was able to purchase my weekly bunch of flowers and that made me happy.

Around Europe, the numbers are devastating.

Macron said that the confinement would last one month but everything would be reviewed in fifteen days. If the cases of Covid-19 had stopped rising and looked to be diminishing, there was the possibility of some of the restrictions being relaxed. That is not likely to happen. Countries around France are following suit. The UK isn’t calling it a lockdown but much the same rules are in place. Germany is in lockdown. Spain and Italy had cities in lockdown for weeks already. Macron has said that this second wave is and will continue to be much more devastating.

Wearing masks in Paris on Friday, October 30.

Last Spring, the days were getting longer. It was a novel experience and people all over the world went out on their balconies to sing and clap for the healthcare workers. Now the days are getting shorter, the wind howls at night and no one is celebrating anything. And, for US citizens, tomorrow is a day that almost everyone has been awaiting for four years, many of us have been working at getting out the vote, making sure everyone over here knows they must register anew every year, and that it is an honour to be able to vote. So Please Vote. Now we, and the rest of the world, are holding our collective breath both hoping and fearing the results.

So, to my friend in Oakland, I will respond, “Yes, I’m holding up. My Paris doesn’t look like that photo and I’m not sure if that is good or bad. Both politically and health wise, I think we are in for a long, cold winter. Je t’embrasse.”

A bientôt,

Sara

Atelier des Lumières

I arrived at Atelier des Lumières an hour early on Sunday. My friend, Barbara, and I had originally planned this outing to celebrate her birthday March 24th. Then life intervened. The Atelier kindly reimbursed me and, just short of, four months later, here we were: 38 rue St. Maur in the 11th. It was a glorious sunny day. People often say that Paris is grey. Certainly not these past five months.

I rode the #9 metro with my mask on. From my stop in the 16th to St. Ambroise in the 11th is approximately 40 minutes. Everyone wears masks on public transportation. We are encouraged by the 130 euro fine to be paid if we are caught unmasked. The wearing of masks seems to sober people up. There isn’t much talking, frivolity and no buskers in any of the cars. We get on, hope to find a seat which are marked so that, ideally, one would not sit next to another person, then get off.

Since I was early, I walked for awhile in the 11th. The streets are just as wide as in the 16th but the two arrondissements couldn’t look more different. In the 11th, there are no trees shading the sidewalks. Graffiti, much of it fun and artistic, grace many of the walls of buildings and store fronts. Whereas the 16th feels upscale, the 11th feels very working class. In both arrondissements, however, to support social distancing, resaurants, bistros, and cafes have taken over the parking on the streets. Some have thrown down green carpeting to simulate grass. Many have brought in small trees and plants and put them next to the tables to give the air of outside comfort. It works. It is a welcome addition to all the streets in this writer’s opinion.

Walking in the 11th arrondissement

We met at noon as planned and got ready to enter the Atelier. As with every other space in Paris, wearing a mask is obligatory to enter. Then we pass the sanitising liquid that everyone dollops on their hands before passing any of the staff. Our bags are checked, they make sure we actually have tickets, and finally our tickets are scanned and we are in. There are free lockers where we can deposit everything that might be cumbersome. Then we pass through two doors into the remarkable space. As we entered, the show was half-way through. Since it runs all day long, we knew we would see the beginning later.

The projections are accompanied by music, carefully picked from classical, modern, rock and roll, blues, whatever fits the creators’ idea of intent. Nobody speaks. At the end, everyone claps. In times other than a pandemic, the floor would be barely visible. Throngs of people, especially tourists, enter all day long and stay for hours. The lack of tourists is certainly fortunate for us as viewers but not so good for the museum, vendors and cafes that are outside on the street.

Video of Chagall projections with music

I’m sure a better writer than I could describe the awe with which one watches these astounding projections.  The paint work is so large and real that you can see the layers of oil, one on top of the other.  When projecting one of Chagall’s works, the plethora of colour that surrounded us filled me with a big inner grin, gave me reason to appreciate the minds and hearts that create these kinds of expos and helped me forget what is going on in the word. Thank goodness for videos that can give you a gllimpse of what we spent almost two hours watching!

After a boxed lunch in the park, we went to find a cup of coffee. Barbara had done me a huge favor the day before and I promised her a coffee. We sat down at a bright pink table across from the Atelier: L’Atelier de Lili. Lili turned out to be our waitress. She heard our accents and asked us where we were from. Both Barbara and I being social talkers, we had quite a conversation with Lili who is adorable, funny and entertaining. She took our photo for her collection and sent it to us.

Sara and Barbara having a birthday coffee across from Atelier des Lumières.

I told Lili that we were so happy because we were finally celebrating Barbara’s birthday–four months late. Five minutes later, out came a macaroon with a little candle in it. Lili sang Happy Birthday with all her heart.

No words needed.

I know that the serendipitous nature of the whole day felt very celebratory to Barbara. As I rode home on the metro, I was thinking how like a normal day in Paris this felt. I actually had not spent this much time out being social in Paris, only in Brittany. I felt happy, in love with Paris and all it offers. I had to literally tap my head to remind myself that there is nothing normal about any part of the world today. In the words of Charles Blow of the NYTimes, “I think I echo many Americans, and people of the world in general, when I say that I’m having a hard time fully grappling with the gravity of this moment. It is still hard to absorb that a virus has reshaped world behavior, halted or altered travel, strained the economy and completely reshaped the nature of public spaces and human interaction. It is also hard to absorb that this may not be a quickly passing phase, an inconvenience for a season, but something that the world is forced to live with for years, even assuming that a vaccine is soon found.” July 12 Op Ed.

A bientôt,

Sara

Brave, new World

Four weeks have passed since the beginning of ‘Deconfinement’ – the lifting of restrictions in France. Last week, June 2nd began the second phase—the most exciting being that we can now travel anywhere within France. Many services are open. Restaurants can open but only their terraces. Table must be 2 meters apart and everyone, servers and clients alike, are to wear masks. In many ways, when one goes outside, it is as if the Confinement never happened. On May 11, the first day of Deconfinement, workers descended upon the only house in this area. They built scaffolding to the roof of the four story home. Translated that means, there has been LOUD noise every single day since, starting at 7:30am and going to 1pm when they break for lunch. Afternoons are quieter.

Parisians enjoying sunshine at Bois de Boulogne. Very few masks and definitely more than 10 people in groups all over the grass.

In my arrondissement, the majority of people are wearing masks. Very few people are making an effort to move the required 2 mètres when passing each other on the street. The queues at Hyperstores and Supermarkets have disappeared and delivery is fast and efficient. I went into a Galleries Lafayette in the 15th a week ago and at noon on a Wednesday, it was practically empty.

I’ve spent some time being judgmental about people not following the suggested guidelines but lately it seems like a waste of energy. The guideline for the over the 65 year group is not to change much, stay at home, stay healthy. Today, the statistics in France are 153,977 cases. 30,000 dead. And, as I was reminded yesterday, the published deaths are hospitals and clinics only. It’s not known how many more deaths happened at home. But one can assume the numbers would be much higher.

Brave souls wearing masks at the Ranelagh metro

Thirteen days ago, I woke up to photos of Minneapolis on fire. I thought to myself “and so it starts”, having no idea how right I was. That morning, what struck me was the pentup energy of two months in lockdown. Fairly quickly, I got the backstory of George Floyd, his murder and it being the final straw for so many Americans of decades of Having frightened gown white men treating anyone who doesn’t look like them, as if they were vermin to stomp out or worse ‘invisible’. The anger has galvanized people in a way that I haven’t seen since the 60’s when I was in university. Here in Paris, people are willing to risk the fines of not social distancing and maybe risking their lives to join in solidarity with protesters around the world. I feel so proud of my fellow Americans. Yesterday, I read in the Times that a few Republican politicians are standing up and saying no more psychopath bully in the White House. They have committed to vote for Joe Biden. It hardly seems real. Four months ago, there was nothing of substance left of the Republican Party. Today, some brave souls are willing to go on record saying “He does not speak for me.”

Protests in support of George Floyd and police brutality in Paris.

My little struggles in the 16eme seem so minuscule and unimportant. But considering I’m a writer and most of my day is spent churning out three blogs a week, writing requested articles in support of my book Saving Sara: A Memoir of Food Addiction, and my volunteer work for various organizations, the fact that I have been pecking and poling away on an iPad for 5 weeks while waiting for my new computer seems huge. My new computer that I had ordered with an American keyboard arrived last Wednesday, June 3. I was so excited. As I was setting it up, I realized it had a french keyboard. I’m not sure I’m eloquent enough to describe how I felt at that moment. Horror, anger, frustration. All those words work. It took me hours to get a hold of the sales department in Europe to deal with this mistake. The upshot is that I had to re-order the computer, wait for UPS to deliver a label to me to put on the return box. However, they were not allowed to pick up the box itself. After finding two different UPS pick up points closed until who knows when, I was successful this morning at handing it in to a UPS point at an Office Depot. Now I have to wait until the end of the month for my new (again) laptop to arrive. I must have been praying for patience in my life. How else can one explain two months on an iPad.

One day at a time, we move out into this new world of ours, wearing masks, social distancing and fighting with every ounce of our beings for a better and fairer world.

A bientôt

Sara

Week 2 of ‘le deconfinement’

The weather in Paris is glorious. I LOVE summer. It’s hot enough to be summer and, at 6:30pm, when it’s starting to cool, it’s the kind of night one dreams of all year long. A night when the air just whispers on your skin, the light is just starting to mellow into a golden hue and, inspite of no bars or restaurants open, people are out on the street—some with masks, some without. There is that magic feelIng in the air—summer, the magic of summer.

Unfortunately, it’s probably a dangerous feeling, at least in Paris. It’s so easy to forget that very little has changed in the world. In many places, the curve has flattened but people are still getting sick and people are still dying. In France, 181,826 people have gotten the virus. 28,215 people have died. Summ63,858 people have recovered. As the restrictions have lifted, Parisians have hit the streets like dogs kept in a kennel for way too long. Last Thursday, I walked up to M&S to buy some food and go next door for my peonies. It seemed clear to me that people were acting as if the virus and pandemic had completely passed us by, and not just a few restrictions lifted. 200,000 people have been stopped driving away from Paris. The new restriction is that any of us can go 100 kilometres but not further unless for work or family. And then we must carry a new “passport” for travel. 9,500 fines had been given out before the long weekend started. (Yesterday was a bank holiday in France-Ascension Day. As in America, they often work in a four day holiday). The police were out in droves yesterday. I’m not clear whether they don’t want assymptomatic Parisians carrying the virus out of Paris or whether they fear Parisians picking it up and bringing it back in.

I personally didn’t venture out until last Thursday (except my daily excursion to Carrefour City on the corner to get daily produce etc). Walking up and back to M&S, one thing jumped out at me. THE NOISE. More buses were running. Many more cars were out. People were yelling into their mobile phones trying to hear themselves over the traffic. I had forgotten how awful the noise is. I will miss the quiet. Outside my building, off my terrace, work has started up on the outside of the only house in the area. There are hammers hammering, the dropping of huge steel girders, banging and banging from 8am until 6pm with a break for lunch. I’m trying to be very circumspect and telling myself to rise above the noise, don’t let it throw me off my day.

At the hair salon: not quite a hazmat suit but specially bought for clients!

Monday, I went to get my hair cut. I was too frightened by the prospect of crowds so I walked there and walked home-6 mile round trip. I was told to wear my mask, that the changing room would not be available so wear something light and be on time. I wouldn’t be let in before my scheduled time and maybe not after. Everyone wore gloves. I’m impressed that with these kinds of services where feel is very important, they are able to give just as lovely a haircut wearing gloves. Three inches later, I felt like the weight of the past ten weeks had been shorn off.

Pont Alexandre III et Le Seine

Tuesday, I met a friend at the American Library to go for a walk. She was the first friend I’d seen in person in 10 weeks. The Library had worked out “curbside lending”. Any member can request 20 books, make an appt with the Library and arrive at the scheduled time to pick up five of those books nicely wrapped like a Christmas present. My friend had made the appointment. I was just returning books—no appt needed, but the books would go into quaranteen. I saw two more friends who work at the Library behind the barriers and poof! the ten weeks evaporated. It was as if no time had passed. These friends also had relieved themselves of hair and beards and mustaches and looked just as I’d seen them ten weeks ago. Time is a strange and elusive thing. If I think of a specific incident on a specific day, pre-confinement, it seems eons ago—another age which, of course, it was. But seeing someone I know and care about, it feels like yesterday I just saw them (maybe seeing them on Zoom has something to do with it).

At the nail salon-masks and screens all around.

Wednesday, I took the next big social step and went to get a mani/pedi. My neighborhood nail salon is two blocks away. They were well prepared for us to keep us and them safe. See through screens had been installed on the bench for pedicures so if all three seats were taken, we couldn’t accidentally touch each other or sneeze or cough on anyone. The girls all wore gloves and, as at the hair salon, I was impressed with the job they did with gloves on. At the table for manicures, screens were up on the sides separating people and also in front between client and manicurist with a large hole to put one’s hands through. It was well thought out and very clean. I left wondering ‘is this the new normal? Similar to how TSA has been part of our lives since 9-11?’ Watching an old movie without TSA screening seems bizarre now. Ten, Twenty years from now will we be looking at photos of no gloves, no social distancing, no masks and say ‘Remember when’?

Following success with my hair and nails, I went after an appointment to get my teeth cleaned. My dentist has not opened up shop. There is no indication when he will. That must be a very tricky thing indeed to make both Doctor and patient feel completely safe. So I will wait.

I haven’t gone in any other stores. I see that many clothing stores are open. They have signs on the window saying only three people inside at a time and the wearing of masks is a must. Some of these little boutiques are just that—little! If three people tried to go inside the women’s clothing store on Av. Mozart, there would be no social distance between them. And what about trying on clothes? I’m sure they have worked something out in order to open and create a sense of safety for someone but……would I try something on if told I wasn’t the first person? I don’t think so. Even if time had passed.

I am still plucking away on my iPad. No one has been able to figure out a fix for my MacBook Air. Since Apple stores are not yet open, I ordered a refurbished laptop to tide me over. Then an American friend pointed out that if I bought a new laptop at an Apple store, it would have a french keyboard so I’d end up ordering one anyway. If I had ordered one two weeks ago, it would have been arriving this week! Which seemed so far away, too far away, two weeks ago. Today, I got a text saying they (Amazon) could not locate the refurbished one and if I wanted to “annuler” the order, I could. That one would have had a french keyboard also. So in a way, that is good news. Today, I’m doing what I should have done two weeks ago. Except…..I wanted to do research. So for someone who spends at least half her day, often more, in front of the computer, this has been a trying time. I will order my new computer today and pray that all is well in Apple land and in delivery land.

Summer blooming on my terrace

In the hopes that I’m keeping up with some consistency, I’m sending this blog to the Cloud. I’m learning more how to publish using an iPad but very grateful I don’t have to do long term.

Wherever you are, have a wonderful holiday weekend. In the US, it’s the celebration of Memorial Day. A day to honor military men and women going back as far as the Civil War. Different kinds of war than a pandemic. Ones that all passed but not without a great price. Here in France, it’s Ascension Day. For a country that is sometimes Catholic, and sometimes Socialist, this is a Catholic holiday that all are happy to celebrate and take long weekends.

A bientôt,

Sara

Bonjour de Paris vide

Last Friday, my computer and my Wi-Fi stopped talking to each other. I have reached out to savvy techy friends and to Apple support. A bit like taking two entities to a therapy session in hopes they will start to get along again. No dice. They refuse. As frustration built—I know nothing about how these things work internally, but am completely dependent on my computer for my work—I hit a wall and just had to laugh. It was one thing after another. By Tuesday evening, I was ready to impulsively buy a new laptop from Apple and have it delivered—even though it wouldn’t be delivered until the end of May. Meanwhile, through extensive searching through way too much stuff, I found an itty bitty keyboard that works with my mini-iPad. Wednesday morning, I woke up and thought “Just use your iPad Sara, make do. Take the time to do some research. Apple stores will probably open up by end of May.” So that’s what I’m doing. This is doing for me what the virus did not do: slowing me down. I can’t get to many of my files. Security for sites like Dropbox is so good, it is next to impossible to jump through the hoops to get to your own work when using a different device. Each time I say a Grrrrrrrr, this is so frustrating, I remind myself that I’m choosing the iPad. No one is doing this to me.

The Louvre and the pyramid. Photo: Brigid Blanco

Having most of my time taken up with problem solving, I haven’t written a blog. Now for the first time, I’m using my what seems to me to be giant finger tips, to type on this itty bitty keyboard. And I’m going to make it easier on myself by showing something no one in my life time has ever seen before two months ago. An empty Paris. A Paris with no tourists bustling around. A Paris without the busyness of cars frantic to get from one side to the other. A Paris where ducks and geese are swimming in the Seine, a river without boats and bateaux mouches.

Walking along the Quai, right bank, towards The Louvre photo: Brigid Blanco

Another gorgeous, sunny Spring day is unfolding in Paris. The irony to me is that this is the earliest Spring we’ve had in many years and most of us are respecting the Confinement guidelines by only being outside for short periods at a time. I read an article in the Guardian that said the change in ocean noise since the lockdown began, is so profound that whales are calling out to each other more. The Belin whale, who are always stressed by the ocean noise, are now destressing. Another reminder of the overwhelming impact, not just the virus is having on us, but our response is having on the planet.

Walking bridge over the Seine looking towards The Louvre, photo: Brigid Blanco

D-Day (J-Jour) is coming on Monday. I wonder if I will have a chance to get into the center of Paris before people hit the streets. I walked up to M&S yesterday and the sidewalks in the 16th were full of people, about 3/4s wearing the recommended face masks. The shoe store near the Passy Poste was open with no one inside. The e-cigarette store on Av Mozart was open. I couldn’t see inside. Two florists near M&S were open for the first time. I bought a bouquet of peonies. The florist made me wait outside while he wrapped the flowers for me to carry home.

Rue de Rivoli – May 5,2020 Photo: Brigid
Pont Alexandre III. Photo: Jeff Waters
side street looking towards Pantheon. Photo: Jeff Waters
Metro station at St. Michel/Notre Dame. Photo: Jeff Waters

Stay strong, stay safe and use your head when deciding whether or not to stay at home.

A bientôt,

Sara

Personal Update from Paris

A lot of you in the US are writing me and asking “How is it in our beloved Paris?” Somewhat different and somewhat the same as what you are reading in the papers. Last Thursday, President Macron spent 26 minutes on national tv outlining what has happened so far and what will happen. He was very serious and didn’t try to make this pandemic sound less than it is. At that point, only four days ago, he urged all people seventy and over to stay home unless absolutely necessary. He said transportation would stay the same but hoped that work and people would work from home. As of Monday, he closed all schools and universities. He said this was up to each and every one of us. The virus knew no borders and didn’t carry a passport. That was Thursday.

I’m discovering that the French are very stubborn and obstinent people. They proclaimed that nothing was going to stop them from living their lives. So they were out and about. The metros were a bit less crowded but not by much. So on Saturday, the French administration announced that as of Saturday at midnight, all public places that weren’t necessary for our survival were to be shut down, closed, fermé. That got some people’s attention. By Sunday noon, the markets caught up with the US and all the toilet paper and such were gone. However, the municipal elections were not postponed. On websites, times were posted when best to go vote. A friend went back and forth about whether she would vote or not. Finally she decided to. She went at the last moment, waited till everyone was gone then went in to vote. Everyone was wearing masks and keeping all the voting paraphenalia as antiseptically clean as possible. I went out for about forty-five minutes just to walk, and the streets in the 16th arrondissement were full of people walking with children, with dogs and, since it was a lovely day, filling up the parks and green spaces. That was yesterday.

This morning at 8:45am, I received a notice from the administration that since the French were not doing as asked, we had forty-eight hours to decide where we wanted to spend the next forty-five days. As of tomorrow, there will be a 6pm curfew and the police will be in the streets urging people to go home. I dropped everything and headed out. I was prepared to be homebound for two weeks but not for forty-five days. I first went to the grocery store. Still no toilet paper. Then I headed for Picard which only sells frozen food, absolutely delicious frozen food. They were almost out of food and not taking any loyalty cards for discounts. I then headed for Marks and Spencer who sells my favourite yogurt. They looked like they had plenty of food though the yogurt was in short supply. When I asked, I was told they would be staying open. Picard, on the other hand, said they had no idea. On the way to M&S, I passed a florist. It wasn’t really open but the door was open. I asked if I could buy. They gave me 3 beautiful bouquets for about a third of the normal price. That will be the last of my fresh flowers I’m afraid. Finally, I went to the pharmacy. Not my normal pharmacy on Av. Mozart which had a long line snaking out the door and winding to the corner. I stopped at the one near M&S. I was the third person in line. We’ve been told pharmacies will stay open but…. I had no trouble getting what I needed.

Forty-Eight hours to decide where I want to spend the next 45 days. I knew my friends in Normandy and in Brittany would probably love to have me and my crazy cat come join them. I would love to go to Le Gers where I think my heart resides. But…..I have here, in my small apartment in Paris, everything I need to survive the next 45 days if I never go out. I have Netflix, I have enough books to read for at least a year. I have the expanded tv that has HBO series, Showtime and Canal+. I have the wonderful Zoom. Which allows me to have video conversations one on one or in large groups. I have my work which I do at home anyway. I just learned yesterday that ten of the world’s best museum’s are totally on-line and I can tour it visually. I was even given a jig-saw puzzle with 1000 pieces. That would take some time!

Yesterday, I defrosted my freezer. Something I should have done months ago And thank goodness I did. After shopping at what was left in Picard, I was able to fit for more things in the freezer. I have plenty of ‘projects’ to do. So as long as I talk to friends at least three or four times a day, I think I can do this! And that’s whats happening in Paris.

A bientôt,

Sara

PS As I was about to hit ‘publish’, I received an e-mail saying all non-essential travel to EU is to be banned for 30 days.