Giverny Revisited

A short drive of one hour (or a train ride of 50 minutes from Gare Saint-Lazare) takes one to the small village of Giverny whose main attraction is the Monet Gardens and Home. Two summers ago, I spent a week in the hills just above Giverny. I had the great good fortune to visit Monet’s gardens every morning before tourists arrived, and in the early evening after the tourists had left. As far as beauty went, it was a breathtaking week that has lingered in my mind.

In the hills looking down on Giverny and the Seine

I went with an art group even though I was hoping for writing inspiration. I was half-way through my book that was published in May. We stayed at La Réserve, a maison d’hôtes (bed and breakfast), that is hosted by Valerie and Francois Jouyet (www.giverny-lareserve.com). The group leaders stayed in a separate cottage, called a gîte, that has a spacious living room/dining room, well-equipped kitchen and, I was sure, some very nice bedrooms. I stored all this in the back of my mind and vowed that I would return someday and rent the cottage.

Monet’s water lily pond

Not wanting to get on a plane, this summer, to go anywhere, I decided to make all my summer travels close to Paris, easy to get to, and a place of both beauty and rest. In June, I went to Brittany. In July, I went to Normandie. And last week, as a birthday treat to myself, I, and two friends, rented the cottage at La Réserve and stayed for a whole week.

Map of Monet’s home, gardens, water lily pond

I have written about Giverny and the gardens before and won’t repeat myself. This year, being the strange and extraordinary year it has been, going to Monet’s gardens in August didn’t seem like a silly idea. There would probably be no Americans, no Japanese and no Chinese. That group alone makes up for 75% of the visitors on any given day in July or August pre-pandemic. We didn’t know what to expect but this whole time since February 7 has been an adventure of not knowing, so we were game for anything.

Water lily pond

After an hour’s drive from the suburbs of Paris, we arrived at La Réserve on a Wednesday. We were greeted by Valerie who was kind enough to say she remembered me. She walked us over to the cottage. I was delighted. It was better than I remembered. Large bedrooms with double beds, an en-suite bathroom in each bedroom; and a grill outside the back door. We had a private garden with a picnic table for evening dining. I remembered strong Wi-Fi but this time it wasn’t to be. No one ever figured out what was wrong but for most of the week, we were without internet. Once I accepted that, the week took on a even calmer atmosphere: disconnected from the world of Zoom but seeing people everyday in the form of my two friends, and whoever we met on our many walks traipsing up and down the hills surrounding Giverny.

View of the side of La Réserve

As with most museums in Paris and France, during the time of Covid-19, one has to make a reservation to get into Monet’s gardens. I was told that they were letting in 350 people an hour which is about 4000 less people a day than earlier summers. We were to come on time and queue up at a door that I had no idea existed. As we showed our tickets, a young woman asked us to hold out our hands for the sanitising spray of disinfectant. The path from the door opened onto the steps going down to the small tunnel that leads to the water-lily pond. Large green arrows marked the way, and there was no doubt that one followed the arrows, no exceptions. So, like a long snake winding it’s body around the entire pond, we walked slowly, single and double file, with no distance between us and the people ahead. If we stopped to look at anything and talk about it, it was easy. No jumping up and down to see over someone’s head or ducking under an armpit to get closer to a view of the beautiful water-lilies that were open and happy to be seen. It seemed like a lot of people but it really wasn’t.

Some Fall color creeping in

One round of the pond was all that was allowed, and then we were escorted across the road to the house gardens. The colors were just starting to turn an orange and a brown. The nasturtiums in the Allée des Roses had all been cut back and the allée was now a large pathway. It was blocked off as was much of those paths that meander around the house gardens. Again we followed the green arrows and ended up in another queue to enter the home. It’s been years since I had been in the house. Crowds make me very uncomfortable and every other time I’d been there, people packed the house like sardines. Not this time. This time, I got to appreciate how spacious the house is and how fortunate Monet was to have become so well-known long before his death. He had the means to create what so many of us are enjoying 120 years later. He loved and was inspired by Japanese art. Part of his upstairs art collection is a large selection of Japanese paintings and prints that hang on many of the walls. The upstairs consists of three bedrooms, two ‘bathrooms” (I’m not sure what they were called back then), two staircases, windows in every room opening onto the gardens and, also, many paintings done by his friends: Cezanne, Pissaro, Renoir, Sisley and others. The yellow and blue dining room and the blue-tiled kitchen are spectacular and one can only dream of dining there in such company.

Monet’s dining room

Down the pedestrian walkway is the Musée d’Impressionisms. It used to be a museum for American painters that came to Giverny but sometime in the last ten years, it switched over to the museum it is today. Expositions, that are often fascinating, are installed once or twice a year. Two years ago, the expo was of the Japanese influence on many of the Impressionist painters. Paintings, Japanese and French, hung side by side to demonstrate what words on the walls were explaining to us. This time, it was Impressionists along the rivers and beach heads of Normandie. Two rooms were devoted to Hiramatsu Reiji, a Japanese painter who is clearly influenced by Monet. From his work, one can tell that he loves the gardens and Monet’s prolific work. He has produced some very beautiful pieces that included painting on canvas and on screens. I don’t believe he would be considered an Impressionist so it was a bit puzzling why he was there. I wasn’t complaining. His work is breathtaking.

Painted screen – Hiramatsu Reiji

One evening, we attended a chamber concert held in the museum. We were very lucky. We had been told that we could buy tickets at the entrance on the same evening. When we arrived, the women checking off names, laughed saying the concerts had been sold out months ago. With social distancing, an auditorium that was built to sit 270 people, was now sitting 78 or so. She said we could wait if we wanted to take our chances. I was positive we would get in. There are always some people who are no-shows. Indeed, we did get in, and heard two pianos play dance music from Westside Story (Leonard Bernstein), music for strings and piano playing Porgy and Bess and Rhapsody in Blue (George Gershwin). There was also Samuel Barber and Prokofiev but if it had only been the first three pieces, I would have been extremely happy. It was a highlight of my week.

Our last night at La Reserve. Sunset over the main house.

Every evening, we walked back to our cottage at La Réserve and grilled fish, meat, veggie burgers, corgettes, bell peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant. We ate outside watching the light of August slowly eep away as the days were getting shorter. Our last evening, we witnessed a remarkable sunset. I had been reading about the many California fires and, to me, it seemed the sky was on fire. It was that dramatic. The reds, oranges, whites, yellows and purples danced and flew as if they were on stage. One minute it would get darker then, suddenly, it was lighter again. The clouds swirled. As they moved further away from the sun, the white clouds appeared as mountains with red caps or orange at their feet. We stood watching for a good fifteen minutes. It was our final art expo of the week, gratis via nature.

Sara, well and truly masked, enjoying Monet’s water lily pond
Terrace at Hotel Baudy
Saturday marché in Vernon (4 km from Giverny)

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

Jardin du Luxembourg

I want to thank so many of you who have bought my book, read it and sent me feedback. I am deeply appreciative. I wonder if some of you would also post on Amazon. Especially those of you who are not compulsive eaters/food addicts and learned about it from the book. That’s an audience I hope to reach and the posts will help people decide whether to get it or not.

Paris has been in deconfinement for one month. On the surface of things, a walk outside seems much like it was 6 months ago but with masks. I don’t see any effort at social distancing. Yet…..the TV screen in the upper right hand corner says ‘Restez prudent’ Stay prudent’. Wise words. I read in the US news that a number of states are seeing a rise in cases of the virus. And certainly Brazil is right behind the US for most deaths in the world. The protest marchs all over the world have taken over front page news.

Walking into the gardens from Blvd St. Michel

In my small world, I rode the RER C to St Michel/Notre Dame and walked up St. Michel to the Luxembourg gardens. I met nine other people who are members of a tour group that I love. We meet during the academic year and go on 17 or 18 tours of places in Paris (also outside). Some are well known but the majority are not well known and we are treated to little vignettes of Parisian life both past and present. We are led by a wonderful art historian, Dr. Kelly Spearman. Yesterday, a beautiful, warm day, we spent the morning in the gardens. They are situated on the border between St Germain-des-Pres and the Latin Quarter. They cover 25 hectares of land. They are inspired by the Boboli Gardens in Florence. Dr. Kelly (yes, we call her that) regaled us with stories of Queen Marie de Medici who initiated the installation of the gardens in 1612.

Luxembourg Palace; photo by Jeff Waters

I again felt the illusiveness of time. I hadn’t been to this part of Paris in months, since long before the lockdown started. These gardens are usually packed with runners, mother’s and their children, little boys pushing wooden boats around in the fountain, and by noon, every chair would be full of readers and talkers. The gardens were not empty but certainly not what we are used to. Is this a lack of tourists? Perhaps being prudent? Or, perhaps, like me, many Parisians have lockdown fatigue and are getting out of Paris now that we can travel anywhere within the french boundaries.

Taking with masks.

I walked with my group and listened to the vibrant, living stories told by Dr. Kelly. But my mind kept being pulled away by a memory or something I needed to do. I was definitely not zen. (Did I happen to mention that a second laptop was delivered to me and…yes, it too had a french keyboard!). I have had a string of bad luck. I wasn’t aware of holding my breath wondering what would happen next but the truth is the bad luck and the time it takes to deal with each thing steals the present from me.

Little cafes like this are open on the outside. This one is in the eastern part of the gardens.

For three weeks, I have been looking forward to a trip to Bretagne. I have friends who live in Perros Guirec on the Cote de Granit Rose. Look it up. Look at photos. It is a wonderful area of Bretagne. Truthfully, all of Bretagne is wonderful. I will see the Atlantic ocean, walk trails, maybe go sailing,—all things many of you have been able to do as you don’t live in a city. Thanks to the bad luck, I also decided that I would take a vacation from commitments and responsibilities. I’m going to put myself in the hands of my hosts and when they say “let’s go to to X”, I will follow!

One wooden boat in the fountain. Boys hold long sticks and as the boats come close to the concrete sides of the water, they will reach out and guide their boats this way and that. They can play an entire afternoon.
The oldest carousel in Paris, active daily. It was the first carousel to have a ‘gold ring’. The young ones on the outside circle could hold a long stick and try to capture the ring as they went by. Photo: Jeff Waters
Pantheon in the background. Photo: Jeff Waters.

I wish you all a wonderful rest of June. I will see you in three weeks.

A bientôt

Sara

What to do during a Pandemic or how I spent my Lockdown being happy!

The sun is out in Paris. It’s quite cold. It’s very quiet-except at 8 (20:00)H in the evening. Then we are all out on our balconies clapping and cheering. Day 7 of lockdown. People have been sending me wonderful videos that make me laugh out loud. Others are sending ideas of what to do with my time. I keeping a list of everything because I think that once I do all the cleaning and organizing that I haven’t down since…forever, I will want these pieces of advice.

Here are 450 Ivy League courses you can take online right now for free. https://www.freecodecamp.org/news/ivy-league-free-online-courses-a0d7ae675869/ I grew up in Princeton. When I went to university, Princeton was still boys only. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have gotten in anyway. But now I have a chance to get that Ivy League Diploma I’ve always wished I had!!!

My friend, Nancy, back in Oakland (and who faithfully reads this blog! Thank you, Nancy) sent an e-mail with many idea to while away the time. The one that jumped out at me was: “Take this time to declutter and reorganize your home or apartment!” I’m already doing that but if I can get advice that will help me get it down faster and make it less complicated, I will use it. Some of these require shopping and I do hate to make Jeff Bezos richer but Amazon is delivering: https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/tips/g2610/best-organizing-tips/?slide=3&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=5e727c0952ce250001ce37cc&utm_source=5bb3df034c091406e33e1941&agent_id=5bb3df034c091406e33e1941

Then, whether we are inside or out, the weather is going to get warmer so here’s how to prepare your clothes for winter storage: https://www.apartmenttherapy.com/storing-winter-clothes-36717824?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=5e727c0952ce250001ce37cc&utm_source=5bb3df034c091406e33e1941&agent_id=5bb3df034c091406e33e1941

My friend, Marjorie, who also is a devoted fan of this blog sent along a couple of real winners. First resources for free virtual museum tours: http://mcn.edu/a-guide-to-virtual-museum-resources/ She says the Vatican virtual tours are spectacular: http://www.museivaticani.va/content/museivaticani/en/collezioni/musei/tour-virtuali-elenco.1.html Do you want to see Giselle at the Paris Opera: https://www.operadeparis.fr/en/magazine/giselle-in-replay The Guardian has links to the best theatre and dance to watch on-line: https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2020/mar/17/hottest-front-room-seats-the-best-theatre-and-dance-to-watch-online as well as opera and music: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2020/mar/16/classical-music-opera-livestream-at-home-coronavirus

Movies….don’t have or want Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hulu, here are hundreds of free movies on-line: Classics, Noir, Westerns and Indies: http://www.openculture.com/freemoviesonline And while you are there, look at the thousands of other interesting and challenging things you can do.

But Sara, I do have Netflix and Amazon Prime. The New York Times updates its list of Best Of every day: https://www.nytimes.com/article/coronavirus-quarantine-what-to-watch.html I took one suggestion and binge watched “The Stranger” by Harlan Coben while I cleaned out a closet, re-organized my filing system, did filing and then re-organized the closet. The Guardian loves lists. The Best Books of 2020. The top 50 movies of the past decade.

I have to stop here. Everyone in the world must be on their computer. Mine is slower than a turltle in hot weather. So here’s your final tip. The Metropolitan Opera is streaming free every until it runs out of operas. And Neil Young will soon be streaming from his fireside. How cool is that: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2020/mar/22/standup-sistine-chapel-best-online-culture-self-isolation-coronavirus-live-streaming

Now turn the news off and enjoy this time!

A bientôt,

Sara

Vaux-le-Vicomte

South face of Vaux in the evening with 2000 candles lit in the formal gardens

I had never heard of the Chateau, south of Paris, Vaux-le-Vicomte until one day when I was complaining to my friend Barbara how much I dislike visiting Versailles with all the crowds. She mentioned that there was a precursor to Versailles designed by the same architect, Louis Le Vau; the same landscape garden designer, Andre Le Notre; and the same painter, Charles Le Brun; all of whom were unknown when Nicolas Fouquet hired them to build his masterpiece. She added that on Saturday evenings the whole place is lit up with candles. That was four years ago and I’ve been contemplating a visit there ever since.

North facing entrance to Vaux-le-Vicomte

Vaux is not easy to get to so I was easily put off. It’s best to drive, there is ample free parking. There is the R train that leaves Gare de l’Est and arrives in Melun about 15 minutes away. One has to take a bus, or a taxi or a very expensive shuttlebus. When Barbara asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday, I said I’d really like to go to the Chateau. So with another friend of ours, she organised a Saturday evening visit this past Saturday.

Looking out on the gardens from the entry hall

We entered the Chateau and were given audio guides. As we walked through the rooms, we were entertained by a 3D recording telling us the extremely sad story of Nicolas Fouquet, Superintendent of Finances for King Louis XIV. When Louis’s Prime Minister, Cardinal Mazarin died in 1661, the same year work on Vaux was finished, a conspiracy was hatched to remove Fouquet from office forever. Colbert, who had aided Mazarin in a huge embezzlement of the King’s money, decided to ruin Fouquet so the King would never learn of the theft. He planted suspicions and lies in the ear of the King until the King decided to arrest Fouquet. But before that happened, Fouquet invited the King and everyone of nobility to an enormous feast at the Chateau as it was almost finished. King Louis, 23 years old at the time, was full of jealousy at the beauty of Vaux and arrested Fouquet three weeks later. Fouquet never lived in his chateau or saw it again.

The Salon

All the above characters had their own voices. We could hear Nicolas Fouquet naively thinking how happy the King would be at the Feast. We heard the King calling Nicolas arrogant for thinking he could have a more beautiful place than the King. Learning the story and seeing the harmony of architecture, gardens and paintings made one very sad.

Gobelin copies of the original tapestries that hung in the Chateau

King Louis XIV took many of the furnishings for his own and hired the three artists to build Versailles and its gardens. The three went on to become hugely famous designing and painting many buildings, chateaux and gardens that are known around the world.

Fouquet’s wife held on to the estate but after some time had to sell it. It went through two more owners who changed the name and, after some time, the Chateau and gardens fell into disuse. In 1875, it was in such disrepair that it was auctioned off to whoever would pay anything. It was bought by Alfred Sommier, a 40 year old man, who had fallen in love with Vaux. He changed the name back to Vaux-le-Vicomte and slowly restored the Chateau back to it’s original beauty. The estate has stayed in that family to the present day. The gardens have been fully restored and there was a search for wonderful art to decorate the walls. In 1968, Patrice and Cristina de Vogué, children of Sommier’s nephew, opened the Chateau and gardens to the public on a permanent basis.

One of four 17th Century cabinets at Vaux-le-Vicomte
The dining room

After we had completely walked the Chateau, visited the dome for a 360o view of the gardens and estate, we walked out into the gardens just as the sun was setting. Two thousand candles were lighted. They sat in the windows and lined the garden walkways. It was fairy tale beautiful. If someone visiting me asked ‘Should I go to Versailles?’ I would do my best to discourage them and help them find a way down to the extraordinary Chateau and gardens known as Vaux-le-Vicomte.

https://vaux-le-vicomte.com/en/

A bientôt,

Sara

Maya, une voix

If you are in Paris between now and July 27, run don’t walk to see Maya, une voix, at the Théatre Essaion in the 4th arrondissement. Until the 15th of June, it plays every Friday and Saturday night at 19:45H and from June 28 through July 27, every Friday and Saturday at 21:30H. Anyone who knows anything about Maya Angelou will recognise the story of a young girl sent north with her brother at a young age to live and get an education.. She is raped and, as a result of the trauma, little Maya doesn’t speak a word for five years. This 70 minute production begins with the adult Maya’s awe at being asked to write and then read a poem at Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1992; goes back in time to her childhood trauma and how she begins to speak again through writing words; and ends as she opens her mouth to read her poem at the Inauguration.

I learned about the production because Ursuline Kairson, who plays both the adult and young Maya, is a friend. Ursuline came to Paris many years ago as a blues and jazz singer and has never gone back to the US. I got to know her when I first moved here and love following this incredibly talented woman as she takes on so many different kinds of projects. http://www.ursulinekairson.com/en/

Ursuline Kairson

The singing is in English and the speaking is in French. If you have a medium grasp of French, you will follow the story. There are four other talented women in the show. Each one wears many hats and, with each change of an apron to suspenders to a sheriff’s hat, the new character is absolutely convincing. We were not allowed to take photos or I would put up many photos of the variety of characters in this vibrant and moving spectacle. After the show, some of us stood around the door outside talking and when the actors came out, we learned that two of the women are pregnant!!

Besides Ursuline, whose voice still jumps and twirls out to the audience, I was especially struck by Julie Delaurentiou. Julie is French but speaks English fluently. She did almost all the translations. She morphed from woman to man and back again with an ease and conviction that I found stunning. I said to someone after the show was over “That woman is going to be a star”. I then learned she is a trained Shakespearian actor. It’s not really fair to say one of them is better than the others. All five woman were extraordinary and for a mere 15euros, I saw a first-rate production in an intimate setting and got to meet all the actors after. What more could a theatre goer want?

Please watch this trailer to get an idea of these women, Eric Bouvron who did the staging and even hear a the real Maya speaking. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=96&v=p0G0KMnu5G4

Théatre Essaion

  • 6, rue Pierre au lard 
    (à l’angle du 24 rue du Renard) 
    75004 Paris
  • 01 42 78 46 42
  • Métro 1–Arrêt Hôtel de Ville
  • 11–Arrêt Rambuteau
  • 1 4 7 11 14–Arrêt Châtelet
  • Bus38 47 75 29–Arrêt Centre Georges Pompidou
  • for reduced priced tickets, go to http://www.billetreduc.com

A bientôt,

Sara

David Milch

I think everyone in the world has seen David Milch’s name somewhere on TV. Maybe it’s never registered with you. I’ve been seeing it a lot lately because I’ve been watching reruns of NYPD Blue, in order, here in Paris. I never saw it when it first came out on TV in 1993. I was busy rebuilding my house that had burned down in the 1991 Oakland Firestorm, busy watching the Oakland A’s in the evening and just busy. Together with Steven Bochco, Milch created a new kind of prime-time police drama. It ran for 12 seasons. Here in Paris, there are two episodes every weekday night. We’re just starting Season 9.

I love NYPD Blue. I love the flawed characters, I love the characterisation of New York and I love the writing. Imagine my shock when I returned from vacation, picked up my New Yorker and learned that David Milch has Alzheimers. He is 74 years old and was diagnosed in early 2015. He knows he has Alzheimer’s and has a whole list of things he wants to do. The article “Hello Darkness” was written by Mark Singer, a long time contributor to The New Yorker. Singer first met Milch in 2004 when Milch was writing the second season of “Deadwood”–which I have not seen but intend to having read this New Yorker article.

Milch is a complicated man. He is very smart and educated. He is a surviver of many addictions and many relapses. He also has bipolarity. As Singer says, somehow through it all, “he remained in command of prodigious gifts.” He was a writing professor at Yale and Robert Penn Warren was his mentor when he was an undergraduate there. While I’m reading a long list of academic achievement, I’m picturing Sipowicz muttering obscenities under his breath just loud enough so that Danny and Diane can hear. They roll their eyes. Sipowicz is one of a kind. Wikipedia says that Milch was inspired by his relationship with Bill Clark, a former member of the New York City Police Department who eventually became one of the show’s producers. But still…..I know how academics talk, I was raised by two of them and my sister is one. They do not talk like Sipowicz.

Photograph by Ryan Pfluger for The New Yorker

The more I read (New Yorker May 27, 2019), the more admiration I felt for Milch, for his talent, for his journey, for surviving addictions (among other things he made a fortune and lost it all to a gambling habit), for his family that has stuck by him. When Singer quotes him, he sounds like a gentlemen’s gentlemen. And how unfair this diagnosis of Alzheimer’s seems. “More than anything else, one would like to think of oneself as being capable as a human being. The sad truth, imposed with increasing rigor, is you aren’t. You aren’t normal anymore. You’re not capable of thinking in the fashion you would hope to as an artist and as a person. Things as pedestrian as not being able to remember the day. Sometimes where you’ve been. There have been a couple of times when I haven’t been able to remember where I live. And then there are compensatory adjustments that you make in anticipation of those rigors, so that you can conceal the fact of what you can’t do. It’s a constriction that becomes increasingly vicious. And then you go on.” p. 28 New Yorker.

Here is France, the name of the Director is always put above the name of the stars on a movie advertisement. Sometimes the stars names aren’t there at all. But the director always is. He’s the smart one. If you ask a french person about a movie and now, more and more, a good TV show, s/he’ll tell you who the director is. I’ve always sat through all the credits at a movie. I sit through all the credits for TV shows. I like knowing who did what even though I don’t know any of these people. After a while, you start recognising names. Like Danny Elfman composes a lot of movie music. So I knew the name David Milch very well. To me it was always Milch and Bochco. Which isn’t correct. Milch has gone on to do a lot of excellent work without Bochco. Things I’ve seen and not seen. So strange as it seems, reading this article was almost like reading about a friend who had become very, very ill. Only I don’t know where to send flowers. So I’m writing this tribute to a man who has entertained me for years, who turns out to be a complex, brilliant, interesting man who has struggled with some of the same demons I have. I pray he gets everything done he wants to get done.

BEVERLY HILLS, CA – FEBRUARY 15: Creator David Milch at the “Luck” Press Conference at Four Seasons Hotel on February 15, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Vera Anderson/WireImage)

I’m told that the movie Deadwood will air on HBO this week. Having not seen the first two seasons, I’ll probably wait but if you are a fan and I hear there are many of them……

A bientôt,

Sara

The Fire at Notre Dame

I had just arrived at the American Library when I was told there was a fire at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. I envisioned a small fire–not to worry about. I didn’t respond with much drama. We were walking on the sidewalk of rue General Camou in search of our two speakers for the evening. She stopped me and said ‘Look’. She had her iPhone in her hand and after a bit of a wait–it turned out everyone in Paris was on Wifi at that moment–showed me a photo of the fire at the back of the Cathedrale. NOT a small fire. As I often do at moments like that, I freeze a bit. I could tell by her face that she was very upset. I had yet to get there.

I was volunteering at an author event at the Library. I often get the job of greeting people as they walk in the door, asking them to sign in and showing them the donation box. All the events are open to the public and there is no charge. The library is completely dependent on donations so, with a big smile on my face, I ask them for their 10 euro donation. For a few minutes, I completely forgot about the drama taking place in the 4th arrondissement. Then I turned around and saw one of the other volunteers who was manning the drinks table in tears. She also had her phone in her hand. I walked over and she showed me a live BBC broadcast that she was watching. The fire had doubled in size in the 25 minutes since I’d been out walking to get our speakers. The 13th century spire was engulfed in flames.

I realize most of you know all of this already. I wanted to write about it but it’s not new news. This is my perspective on losing a friend. For two and a half years, I lived on the Quai des Grands Augustins. I had only to open my living room window, and look right and there was that magnificent lady that has/had stood there for over 800 years gracing Paris and being her symbol to the world. She had survived a Revolution and two World Wars. In the mornings, I could see the sun rising behind her and in the evenings, when the sun was setting over the Pont Neuf, the rays would bounce, red and purple, off the round stain glass window between the two towers. One afternoon, after a rain storm, I saw a double rainbow dome the towers. It was a magical moment. I have been to Christmas Eve mass there. I have walked up the left tower to see the gargoyles and the famous bell. The first time I took that walk I was 20 years old and a student at Lake Forest College. The last time was two years ago when my friend Barbara and I climbed it on what turned out to be one of the coldest days of the year. Never in my wildest imagination did I think I would ever lose her.

The Spire in flames and about to collapse

Then I moved to the 16th arrondissement in August of 2017. I don’t see Notre Dame on a daily basis anymore. Which makes her all the more stunning when I have to cross the parvis to get to the right bank or am standing on one of the bridges further down the river just gazing at her simple beauty and steadfastness. In history classes or in historical novels that sweep through the centuries, one reads about the destruction of a famous structure and then its rebuilding which takes over 200 hundred years. That will all be told in a couple of pages. As I walked home from the Library last night, I thought “I am part of history. I will never in my lifetime be able to climb the stairs in that tower or walk up the Quai behind Notre Dame, my favourite view, and see the flying buttresses holding up and holding down her flaring skirts.” Notre Dame will be rebuilt but I probably won’t see it.

Sara in 2016. My favorite view – coming up behind the Cathedral, seeing the Spire and the flying buttresses. Photo: Mike Weintraub

At home, I watched the news until it wasn’t news. As with all huge dramas, the newscasters start interviewing bystanders to get their reaction while showing the fire in a corner of the screen. When I went to bed, it wasn’t clear if any part of the Cathedral would be saved. The Fire Chief was optimistic. I had spent an hour responding, in very short sentences, to all my American friends who had written to me expressing their grief in general and their grief for me. I was extremely touched. Paris has become my home and my friends know that. One e-mail just said “So sad”. Another “I grieve with you”. They didn’t need to say more.

Watching the news at 10:30pm. The Spire is gone, the roof is gone. The Cathedral had started renovations which were badly needed and you can see the steel structure that had been holding the spire in place. The renovation was to take 20 years.

This morning, I didn’t want to get out of bed. I felt as if a great good friend had died and I was miserable. Bijou stood by my bed and cried and cried. She was hungry and didn’t care about something 3 kms away. So I was forced out of bed. After giving her her very favourite food, I got on the computer and learned that the main structure had been saved and some of the most valuable art work had been rescued. No one was injured or killed. Macron warned that little fires were still burning and they expected that for the next couple of days. I plan to walk down there this afternoon and pay my respects. I’m pretty sure that I am not at all prepared for what I’ll see. After the twin towers came down, I flew to New York. I wanted to make it real. Watching some news on TV is not so different from watching an action movie. I have to see it with my own eyes to know it happened and have my own private experience.

Photo: Julien Mattia/Le Pictorium
Crowds gather opposite the cathedral on the bank of the Seine to watch the fire
Photograph: Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images
The cathedral’s steeple collapses
Photograph: Geoffroy van der Hasselt/AFP/Getty Images
IF you’ve been to Paris, this one will make you cry. Flames and smoke are seen billowing from the roof at Notre-Dame Cathedral
Photograph: Veronique de Viguerie/Getty Images

I hope these photos are helpful for you to grasp what Paris, the citizens of Paris, the country went through last night. The country is already devastated by billions of euros loss because of the Gilets Jaunes protests. Now this. I believe Macron is hoping to appeal to the International world to raise funds to rebuild this beautiful Cathedral.

A bientôt,

Sara

London: Eurostar, Brexit and Theatre

Since March 4, the French Border Control have been “on strike” to protest the upcoming Brexit. Work was not stopped 100% but slowed down 90%. They feared much more work if Brexit actually happened saying they would have to treat UK citizens as any non-EU country therefore requiring more work, extended hours, etc. “The customs agents are demanding an increase in overnight pay, a danger allowance, and more staff and resources to help with greater controls that will be put in place once Britain breaks away from the European Union, currently scheduled in just over two weeks.” The Local/France. People traveling to London on the Eurostar were queued up four to six hours for the trains. By last week, when I was due to go to London, Eurostar had managed to organise the lines somewhat but also had to cancel three or four trains a day. So last Friday, I arrived at Gare du Nord, lengthy book in hand, ready to sit on the floor and wait whatever time it took to get through all the security, passport checking, etc. This process usually takes about 50-60 minutes in Paris and 30 minutes in London.

Passengers wait in front a British flag depiction near the entrance of the Eurostar terminal at the Gare du Nord railway station in Paris on March 15, 2019 a day after British MPs voted massively in favour of asking the EU to delay Brexit. – The British Parliament on March 14, 2019 voted by 412 in favour and 202 against on the government’s proposal — a rare respite for British Prime Minister following a chaotic week. (Photo by Philippe LOPEZ / AFP)

I arrived at Gare du Nord at 10am on Friday and…..voila, no queue at all. I had arrived 130 minutes early and it still took 90 minutes to get through all the hoops but so much better than 5 hours. People were calm, no big upsets, very accepting. Eurostar even held the train back 30 minutes to make sure that everyone ticketed for the train actually was on the train. Then everything ran smoothly as it usually does with Eurostar. I’ve heard interviews from tourists saying they will never take Eurostar again as if this was Eurostar’s fault. So sad. Eurostar did an amazing job of trying to manage an extremely difficult situation. Brexit has been extended three weeks so for a short time, things are back to normal.

Queue on the left wrapping around Gare du Nord before going up escalator to Eurostar

Saturday morning, I took the Northern line to Bond St. A huge protest against Brexit had been planned. Over a million people coming from all over the UK, met at Hyde Park, marched through Picadilly Circus and other tourists highlights and ended at Parliament. It was called “Put it to the People” march as these protestors and many more people vehemently want a second referendum. According to Reuters, it was the second largest protest since a march against the Iraq war in 2003.

Protesters taking a break.

Everywhere I went, I saw protesters. Little kids carried wonderful placards begging “No Exit”. I saw no violence, people seemed happy to live in a place that allowed freedom of speech–more and more a threat these days. The crowds were massive and one had to plan extra time to get anywhere. I didn’t mind, I’m a supporter of these people. Brexit, to my mind, is not only a stupid plan, but a dangerous one for a wonderful people. I love living so close to London. I love having the Eurostar available and to be able to jump over here for a long weekend of theatre and seeing friends. What will happen is as much a mystery to me as all the shenanigins going on in the US.

Jonty Graham with daughter PoppyAnna Stewart, CNNAnna Stewart, CNN

I’m in London to celebrate my friend, Barbara’s, birthday! For the first time in three years, I found tickets to HAMILTON and grabbed them immediately. We will see it tonight. We made a long weekend of it and Saturday night went to see a musical I had never heard of (I think I’m one of the few people in the world who hadn’t) called COME FROM AWAY. A lovely, uplifting, brilliant story of the friendships that grew out of the forced landings of thirty four planes in Gander, Newfoundland on Sept 11, 2001.

From humble beginnings at the La Jolla Playhouse in California in 2015, COME FROM AWAY has taken theatre goers in the US by storm, won a couple of awards along the way and arrived at the Phoenix Theatre in London in February after spending Christmas in Dublin. The writers Irene Sankoff and David Hein, a Canadian couple, decided to spend a month in Gander on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. A large percentage of the original people were celebrating in Gander the amazing kindness, friendship and love that were extended both ways during that week in September 2011. The writers experienced the same kindness, generosity and love that the 7000 people stranded in September 2001 experienced.

The characters in Come From Away are based on real people – including Beverley Bass, American Airlines’ first female captain (Credit: West End Production Photography)

Though it has been dubbed the 9/11 musical, Sankoff and Hein prefer to call it the 9/12 musical. Most of the passengers on the diverted planes were not allowed to leave the planes for 12-24 hours. Can you imagine being held on a plane not knowing what was going on, why you were in God knows Where and hearing all sorts of rumours. It’s about time these people were celebrated.

The people of Gander offered comfort, hospitality and friendship in a time of crisis (Credit: West End Production Photography)

At the end of the show, something happened that I have never before witnessed. The entire audience jumped to their feet, en masse, as if it had been pre-planned. They cheered and yelled for five minutes while all the musicians came on stage and played until finally everyone left the theatre.

If you live anywhere near a production of COME FROM AWAY: https://comefromaway.com I urge you to go see it. As a reviewer wisely said it is an uplifting story of art for our times. A celebration of the best of humankind. – Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast.

A bientôt,

Sara

Princess Diana

Is there anyone alive who doesn’t know that Princess Diana died in a horrendous auto accident entering a tunnel near the Pont de l’Alma?  It happened 21 years ago this past August.  Emerging from the Alma-Marceau metro and walking towards the bridge (Pont de l’Alma), you have to pass a large flame that to this day is always covered with flowers and photos of  Princess Di.

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Several times a week, I cross Pont de l’Alma coming from the American Library headed to the metro and home.  I’m often with someone else and I always ask, pointing at the site, “Do you know what that is?”  Usually I get back “A memorial to Princess Diana?” or “I’m not sure, what?”  Having come to Paris many times over the last 50 years, I knew that that monument had been there before Princess Di died.  But I didn’t know what it was.  So I asked someone.

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It is the flame that our Lady of Liberty, given to the US by the French, holds for all peoples, immigrants and others, to see as they enter the Port of New York.  “Erected in 1986, the 12 foot metal fire is a made of copper covered in actual gold leaf. Donated to the city by the International Herald Tribune, the flame officially commemorates not only the paper’s hundredth year of business as well as acting as a token of thanks to France itself for some restorative metalwork which the country had provided to the actual Statue of Liberty. Even with the air of global familiarity emanating from the sculpture like heat from a flame, the site has taken on a grimmer association in recent years.”   AtlasObscura.com

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Princess Dianna had her tragic accident just under the monument and not knowing where to express grief, people began putting flowers, photos and expressions of love at the base of the flame.  The younger generations have no idea why it was originally constructed.IMG_1983.jpg      Almost every day and, certainly on the anniversary of her death, something new is added.  I’ve passed the flame when flowers were six inches deep.  There is always a crowd around the Flame, always there for Diana and not Lady Liberty.  Today, many people think the Flame was built for Diana.IMG_1701 2.jpg

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Thirty-two years after the Flame was built, relations between France and the US are not very good.  President Trump has refused to meet with President Macron when he arrives in France Sunday to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the end of WWI.  Vigils are being planned for Saturday night and all day Sunday protesting Trump’s behaviour and the lack of liberty in the US at the moment.

The Flame now seems to represent tragedy.  On a smaller scale–that a Princess died underneath on the roads of Paris and on a much grander scale–Liberty being exchanged for Autocratic rule and Dictatorship.  Trite as it sounds, one can only hope that the flame of liberty never goes out and there is always hope.

A bientôt,

Sara