The Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore

Penelope Fletcher at the door of her bookstore, The Red Wheelbarrow

Before I moved to Paris in 2013/14, one of the most popular English language bookstores closed in 2009. Penelope Fletcher assures friends that it was for personal reasons and had nothing to do with Internet competition. Now that it has reopened nine years later, the outpouring of love and gratitude for the return of the Red Wheelbarrow got me investigating Penelope and her bookstore.

The name comes from a sixteen word poem by William Carlos Williams entitled The Red Wheel Barrow. I have yet to learn what the significance is. I sense it is important. When Penelope and her associates first opened the bookstore, it was located in the Marais. It has now re-opened at 9, Rue de Medicis across from the Luxembourg Gardens in the 6th arrondissement. “People like Umberto Eco lived here,” says Fletcher. “There’s this very rich community of writers and characters here. I didn’t realize it still exists.” This location is poignant in Paris’s bookstore canon; the store’s building has been a bookshop since 1930, and before Fletcher and her associates acquired it last year it was the last remaining secondhand science bookshop in France.–Paris Update, Nov. 6, 2018

Tash Aw, Edouard Louis signing books at the American Library with Penelope and a volunteer selling the books.

I first learned about TRW because, from the minute it re-opened, it became the partner bookstore for the evening events at the American Library in Paris. One or two times a week, Penelope shows up on her bicycle with bags full of books to be sold and signed by the spotlighted author of the evening. The respect and admiration that surrounds Penelope and the many articles that have been written about the re-opening have made me extremely curious. I thought the most well-known Anglophone bookstore in Paris was Shakespeare and Company. It has resided in one form or another in Paris since 1919. I had stopped by a couple of times when I lived close to it but found the used books to be so expensive that I stopped going. After reading a lovely book about the Tumbleweeds (students and travellers with no where to spend the night and stay at Shakespeare in exchange for work) that have stayed there over the years, I returned about two years ago. I walked through the space which is a delight but was not greeted by anyone and when I tried to talk to the owner Sylvia Whitman, daughter of 2nd owner, George Whitman, and someone manning the cash register, I was greeted with total silence as if I was invisible. I haven’t returned since. My Anglophone bookstore of choice became San Francisco Book Co. I could buy and sell used books there and have a lively discussion with one of the two owners if I had the time.

David Downie signing books on a Sunday morning in April.

In April, I went for the first time to The Red Wheelbarrow for a book signing by an author I like: David Downie. My sister and Nancy MacLean will be doing an event there on July 3 and I wanted to see the space and how it might work. Peggy and Nancy are speaking at the Library the night before and I wanted to make sure that the 3rd would be low-key and very casual. I needn’t have worried at all. David was seated at a table and signing books and I knew almost everyone who walked in. I also ran into Michael Ondaatje which got my ‘groupie gene’ activated. There were ladders next to the walls and Michael was climbing up one checking out books that were very high, close to the ceiling. The bookstore is small and filled with books. The windows in front tell an immediate story of who Penelope and her associates are and what the bookstore is.

Penelope in the window still organising the windows in the first months of the re-opening.

At the old bookstore in the Marais, Penelope had created a ‘neighborhood’ of book lovers. Visitors to the bookstore became friends and Penelope would introduce new visitors to old. When this bookstore opened last Fall, the ‘neighborhood’ moved with her. Penelope has a dream of community. She wants to serve as a refuge of positivity in uncertain times. According to the Paris Update article I read: “The shop window makes the store’s politics clear: on display are Innosanto Nagara’s A is for Activist and Jason Stanley’s How Fascism Works. An upcoming event with James Baldwin’s nephew Tejan Karefa-Smart will promote the reissue of his uncle’s book Little Man, Little Man: A Story of Childhood. These choices are especially relevant, and perhaps brave, as right next door to the Red Wheelbarrow is an extreme-right bookstore.

“You never know what’s going to happen with a bookshop,” says Fletcher. “You have to roll with the haywire. Because we have the extreme-right bookstore next door, we have to be extremely attentive to what we’re doing and be an opposition, and be more powerful, and be more positive, and be cleverer than them. Which is a challenge, because they’re very clever.”

She feels a responsibility to oppose the kind of hatred represented by the shop near her peaceful little store. “One of our co-owners survived the Holocaust, so of course her whole life has been dictated by this. Another one is African American – we are all directly impacted by what their intention is.”

Michael Ondaatje

Paris Update article: https://www.parisupdate.com/red-wheelbarrow/

Artwork hanging in the re-opened bookstore

I urge residents and visitors alike to support this wonderful bookstore that is more than a bookstore.

The Red Wheel Barrow

so much depends

upon 

a red wheel

barrow 

glazed with rain

water 

beside the white

chickens. –William Carlos Williams

Canadian Penelope Fletcher, the founder of the English bookstore, has found new partners and is again dedicated to providing one of the best English literary experiences in Paris. The location is pure Paris postcard with large, bright blue picture windows overlooking the park. Afterwards, head to the park to spend the afternoon reading.

  • 9, Rue de Médici
  • 6th Arrondissement
  • Metro – Saint Sulpice
  • Website

A bientôt,

Sara

Gloria in Paris

Fabienne Gondrand (translator), Gloria Steinem, Lauren Bastide (Interviewer)


In honour of Women’s History Month (is there a Men’s history month or is that just called history?), Gloria Steinem was invited to speak at the Mona Bismarck American Center for the Arts in Paris. I was one of the lucky few invited to hear her be interviewed. In spite of the fact that I wrote my dissertation on a particular organization in the Bay Area of women helping women, I realized on Tuesday night that I knew very little about her.

First of all, she is eighty-five years old! Or about to be the day after next. Yes, that woman you see in the photo is eighty-five years old. She doesn’t look it and her voice certainly doesn’t sound it. She has a strong voice, not a shake in it and she is just as clear a thinker as I remember her back in the 70s when she started MS magazine.

She wrote her book, My Life on the Road, in 2016. The french translation (Harper Collins) arrived in time to celebrate Women’s History Month. The book is riveting (I’m reading the English version) and centres around the fact that she is always traveling and cannot see her life any other way. She grew up on a farm in Michigan and her family would probably have been called gypsies if they had lived over here. Her father made his living by going to flea markets, trying to find good jewellery and then selling it to stores. They never had a dime to their name. Gloria didn’t go to school until her teens but instead wandered around with her father. She says her traveling to India, ending up as a journalist, much of her twenties were what she considered “things I was doing before I settled down, got married and had children” As she turned thirty, she began to realize that she was her father’s daughter. She liked life on the road. She wasn’t waiting to start her life. This was her life and she loved it. To this day, she spends more days each year traveling than she does in her apartment in New York.

Gloria Steinem and Lauren Bastide

So with traveling as the theme, she tells her story and what a story it is. How she became the symbol of feminism even though black women were far more active in the beginning of the feminist movement than white women. How she dealt with being “pretty”; how she learned to overcome her fear of public speaking and how the Lakota Indian women became so important to her.

English version

Towards the end of the interview, Lauren said she had to ask her a personal question. She had mentioned many times that Gloria was a heroine to her. She prefaced her question by saying her heart breaks when she sees the pain and cruelty in the word, she never sees her children because she works so much, she is getting a divorce and that she has only been a journalist for three years. With tears, she imploringly looked at Gloria “How did you do it, how do you still do it?” Many of us leaned forward to hear the answer. Gloria is the epitome of equanimity. There is a quietness and humility about her. I’m sure we were all wondering how she stays so calm when she deals with so much injustice every day. She shook off the question as unanswerable. She seemed to be saying “It’s just what I do, who I am.”

I left the evening having had my eyes prodded open one more time. Someone in the audience asked her about being a privileged white woman and yet she was the perceived head of the feminist cause. She took a breath and said “yes, privilege is an interesting concept. White women have the privilege to be dominated by men” which took me aback. And yet when I think about it, how many of my friends and I spent years and years of our lives looking for a man we could marry and who would take care of us.

A bientôt,

Sara

Demystifying the French

As I told you in my last blog about la politesse, while finishing it up, my friend, Janet Hulstrand, asked me if I would read and review her latest book: Demystifying the French. How to Love Them and Make them Love You (What you’ve heard about them is not entirely true….).  I love reading most anything and, as it turned out, this was a very special read. I learned a lot. The book is small and can be read quickly. You can earmark pages you want to return to and give more thought to it. I highly recommend that anyone visiting France for the first or the twentieth time, read this book. I think that means I give it five stars!

The book is broken down into two parts. The first part is made up of what she calls: Essential Tips for Even Very Brief Encounters. Saying Bonjour is Tip #1!! Only five of them but five that will make a huge difference in how you perceive the French while you are here. The second part: Understanding the French Mentality solved some real issues for me. Ah ha moments, oh that’s why so and so did that.

The following is an interview that I did with Janet. Warning: this is longer than a four minute read. If you have the time, it is well worth it.

When I think of you, Janet, and your writing, writing a “primer” for us étrangers is not the first thing that comes to mind.  Why did you write Demystifying the French, and when did you start? 

I wrote this book because it really makes me sad to hear people from the U.S. and other countries talk about the bad experiences they have had in France, with its “unfriendly” people. The students who come from New York to study literature in Paris with me each summer are often warned by friends and family that the French are “rude, arrogant, and they hate Americans.” This is just sonot true! But it is true that Americans (and other foreigners) often get off to a bad start in their interactions with French people because there are a few simple rules of etiquette that they simply don’t know about; and knowing them can make all the difference in the world. 

I wanted to write a book that would explain what those rules are, and show how easy they are to follow, so that the experience of traveling (or living) in France can be a really good one, even if you don’t speak a lot of French. 

I actually started the book a few years ago, as a few posts on my blog, though I wasn’t thinking of it as a book then. I was teaching a class at Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington DC, called “Demystifying the French.” Last year I realized that this topic could be expanded into a very useful and fun book, and have a wider audience. And so now here it is! 

I love the subtitle of your book (“What you’ve heard about them is not entirely true”).  I love the French, and I have discarded so many preconceived notions that I had before moving here.  How much damage do we inflict on ourselves by not making French culture as important as sightseeing when we are planning a visit?

For me the richest part of a travel experience is always human interaction, much more than sightseeing. I added that second subtitle because as I was working on the book and I told friends and family the subtitle (“How to Love Them and Make Them Love You”), a few people said, “Why should I want to love them, and why do I care if they love me?” I realized these people were a bit resistant to my main message, and were not necessarily natural francophiles. So the added subtitle was an attempt to intrigue those people who weren’t necessarily inclined to care about pleasing the French, and to let them know that I do realize that sometimes the French can “require special handling.” This is NOT the same thing saying that they are rude, or arrogant, nor is it an indication that someone is unfriendly. It’s just that they’re operating according to a different code of behavior. We alloperate according to a particular code of behavior. Often we’re not really aware of this until our code of behavior collides with someone else’s. Which often happens when Americans find themselves in France.

When I finished reading Part 1: Essential Tips for Even Very Brief Encounters, I thought to myself “If everyone read this, they’d have a course in Basic Diplomacy 101!!”  We Americans get away with so much these days, but the French don’t let us slide at all.  How did you pick these five basic tips?

I tried to pick five things that seem to me to be of truly fundamental importance to the French, and also things that, if you don’t know them it can cause unpleasant misunderstandings, or at least uncomfortable interactions. The first tip is one that almost everyone who writes about this topic stresses: that is, the importance of remembering to greet someone properly before launching into conversation. This is really hard for Americans to remember, because we have a tendency to go straight to the business at hand, and we don’t necessarily give a lot of thought to social niceties like saying “Bonjour” first. But in France, you can’t skip over that without being considered rude. So it’s important to know! 

Part 2 is a deeper, more complex look into how, as you say, the French “tick.”  I found it rich and thorough.  You must be quite pleased with how you have presented the French as interesting human beings worthy of being known as they are, not as we think they are. Are you getting a favourable response from expats and from your French friends?

The book has just been released so I haven’t had a chance to get very much feedback yet. The few expat friends I have heard from have been very favorable in their responses, and that makes me happy. I am anxious to hear what my French friends think too, because of course they are coming from an entirely different perspective. I hope they will like the book, though it’s not really written for them; and I hope that it will indirectly help them understand Americans a bit better too, though that is not the purpose of the book. 

I think they will probably be intrigued. The French tend to be very interested in analysis, and in human psychology; and I think they will be interested to see themselves from a different point of view. I hope it will be clear to them how much I love French people and their culture, even though I make a few jokes at their expense. I make plenty of jokes about myself and about Americans in general too, though. Hopefully it’s pretty well balanced in that way. 

When I finished your book, I found myself wishing someone had either handed me a book like this or taken me aside to explain to me the really important social aspects of living here in France before I came. Do you have any suggestions that might encourage prospective visitors to pick up a book like this as well as their sightseeing books on France and Paris?

I actually require the American students in my literature classes who come here each summer to read up on this topic before they come, and I tell them there will be a quiz! And the reason I do this is because I reallywant them to have the best possible chance to have a good time while they’re here, and to have not only positive experiences with the French people they encounter, but experiences that will show them that all the negative things they’ve heard about the French are just simply not true. I guess from now on I will require them to read my book! J

After five and a half years of living here, I have learned much of what is in your book —usually by trial and error and much embarrassment.  Chapter 4 was an eye opener: “The Importance of Stability, Order and Being Correct.” As your friend, Ellen Hampton says, “Because the French are so socially progressive and liberal about relationships, they are often mistaken for liberals.”  I now understand much better why the French administration drove me crazy in the first couple of years I was here.  Do you think there is any way around the frustration of that emphasis on “correctness?” Or is that one of the important parts of our education of living here?

Well I think one of the most important things that can be learned in living in any foreign environment is patience for the fact that things are often not done the way you feel instinctively they should be. This is in the nature of experiencing a different culture. And I think that patience is probably the best cure for frustration with those other ways we encounter when we’re not living in our own culture. It’s certainly better, and more effective, than wishing others were more like us, or trying to change them. 

Your chapter on “The Importance of Food” is so true.  Because I follow a strict medical regime that excludes alcohol and bread, the French have a hard time relating to me and how I eat.  I’ve been invited to four French dinner parties and never invited back a second time!  Your chapter helped me understand them better, and not make it personal to me.  But I constantly wonder if there is a way to explain my regime that would allow me to have more encounters of eating with the French.  Do you think it’s possible? 

Well, I think things are slowly changing in France in this regard. I was surprised to read just the other day about the number of vegan restaurants in Paris, which was apparently one of the factors that pushed it to the top of someone’s “healthiest cities” list. I think I also just heard something about a Meatless Monday effort in France, which is aimed at improving planetary health. So I think things are slowly but surely changing. It’s certainly a lot different now than when I was first bringing student groups here back in the 1990s and asking if they could make some accommodation for vegetarian students. “Oh, yes, we have a lovely quiche lorraine,” my contact at one restaurant said, very enthusiastically and kindly. When I gently reminded her that quiche lorraine does have meat in it, she said, “Well, just a little bit! They won’t mind that,will they?” And when I said, mmm, yes, they probably will, she sighed and said. “Well, okay…We can make it without meat, but that will be so sad!!!”  

I think today things are getting better for people who have particular dietary restrictions, whatever the reasons may be. If you can find a way to explain briefly what your restrictions are, and assure them that this situation is not “sad” for you, maybe that will help. Because the French really do want you to enjoy your meals! 

Is there anything else you want to add? 

Well, maybe just one thing. I hope people will read the glossary of Demystifying the French through from beginning to end. Unlike most glossaries, it’s really part of the book, and it’s one of my favorite parts.

When will your book be available for purchase? In the US? in France? The book is available for purchase now, and this link to my blog will let readers know where they can purchase it.  Thank you so much, Sara, for letting people know about it! 

If by any chance, the above link did not work, try this: https://wingedword.wordpress.com/demystifying-the-french/

Let both Janet and I know how you like the book. Welcome to enjoying the French!!!

A bientôt,

Sara

Go out and Vote–Democracy depends on you.

I hope the New York Times will forgive me for posting a part of Saturday’s editorial.  It is too long to put the whole thing here but it is good.

“It’s also true that when more people vote, the electorate becomes more liberal. If Americans voted in proportion to their actual numbers, a majority would most likely support a vision for the country far different from that of Mr. Trump and the Republicans in Congress. This includes broader access to health care, higher taxes on the wealthy, more aggressive action against climate change and more racial equality in the criminal justice system.

Republicans are aware of this, which is why the party has gone to such lengths to drive down turnout among Democratic-leaning groups. A recent example: In North Dakota, the Republican-led Legislature changed the law to make it harder for Native Americans to cast a ballot.

It comes down to this: Democracy isn’t self-activating. It depends on citizens getting involved and making themselves heard. So if you haven’t yet cast a ballot, get out and do it on Tuesday, or earlier if your state allows early voting. Help your family, friends and neighbors do the same. Help a stranger. Vote as if the future of the country depends on it. Because it does.”    NYTimes Editorial, Nov. 3, 2018

Unknown-3.jpegI have had quite an education in the last two months.  Thanks to my sister, Margaret Somers, University of Michigan; Nancy MacLean Duke University and Malcom Nance a retired Intelligence Officer, my eyes have been opened to what I’m sure many others have seen but I hadn’t.  The rise of market fundamentalism and, perhaps, the end of Democracy as we know it.  Or as Malcolm Nance said when I heard him speak at the American Library “It’s possible that Tuesday will be the end of the American Experiment”

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This isn’t a political blog but tomorrow everyone in the United States has the right to vote.  Many who want to vote are being prevented from doing so.  Many who can vote don’t.  Because they are lazy?  I’m old enough that I remember being taught about women dying  working to get the right to vote.  We were taught that voting is a privilege and not to ever abuse it.  People who don’t vote are actually voting.  The NYTimes says that the more people that vote, the electorate becomes more liberal.  So not voting is a vote for conservative.

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We live in a crazy, crazy world.  France fought off Marine Le Pen.  I heard she was one of the first, along with Donald Trump to congratulate the new President of Brazil.  The papers were asking how could someone like him win when he was so vilified a decade ago?  I think there is an answer.  It means reading and educating ourselves about the Far Right, Extremism and Russia.  It means having to stretch our brain cells to comprehend things that, to me, seem unimaginable.

So go vote tomorrow.  Then read and read some more.  Don’t get distracted by tweets and  stories that rise up and flame away.

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A Bientôt,

Sara

The Washington Decree

Jussi Adler-Olsen, author of The Washington Decree–a stand alone book, has written seven books in the Department Q series ‘starring’ lead detective Carl Morck (in Danish, that o has a line through it!).  I reviewed one of them last Fall.  They are definitely Danish Noir, gripping and full of social commentary.  Often they are laugh out-loud funny which makes them real page turners in spite of the sometimes shocking murders.  If you haven’t read them, I highly encourage you to read them in order but read them!!

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Jussi Adler-Olsen

The Washington Decree is Adler-Olsen’s latest social commentary and he takes on the United States and it’s government.  In fact, it is an American horror story.  Although the way things are going in the US, it sometimes felt too close for comfort.

In the Epilogue, he explains some of his motives for writing the book.  FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) was created during the Nixon administration primarily to deal with the effects of a nuclear war but also meant to be useful in the event of any natural catastrophe.  When I lost my home in the Oakland Firestorm of 1991, FEMA was the government agency that came in and created different organisations to help us survivors out.  Included were three months of support groups for those that wished to attend. At three months, we were told the money had run out and we were on our own.

According to Adler-Olsen, FEMA  has a huge amount of funds, enough to build underground facilities, internment camps, train personnel to take over duties of elected officials and, it seems, an entire non-elected governing system could be established with a shadow cabinet and a shadow president.

The Washing Decree is Adler-Olsen’s attempt to describe the quick journey from Democracy to Autocrocy should such an event happen.  In this book, the event was the murder of the incoming President’s wife.  If it weren’t for the fact that he describes in detail all that FEMA can do and the Executive Orders at FEMA’s disposal, this book would seem fantastical, thrilling and a wonderful read but fantastical.

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The book opens with a trip to China that brings five very different people together and then-Senator Bruce Jansen. After the murder of Jansen’s wife, the book jumps sixteen years and Jansen is the Democratic contender for President.  All five of the people on the China trip have stayed close and stayed loyal to Jansen. One of them, Doggie Rogers, arranges for Jansen’s victory party to be celebrated at her father’s upscale hotel.  Jansen is re-married to a beautiful and very pregnant wife who has charmed the American public.  During the  party, Jansen’s second wife is murdered.  Doggie’s father is arrested and awaits sentencing.  Shortly thereafter, President Jansen goes on TV and issues a Law and Order Decree that becomes known as the Washington Decree. It takes away civilian rights and installs a police state.  From there, life in America descends into chaos.  The vice-president resigns in protest and the chief-of-staff becomes VP. Militia groups start hoarding guns and ammunition. People in Jansen’s cabinet are being murdered.  With each new event, another executive order is declared.  America shuts down, no one knows who is friend and who is foe.

This is a thriller with a very bad guy.  There is also a love story.  One at a time, the five friends from China start getting suspicious and wonder if Doggie’s father is really guilty and if not him, who?  It is a huge jig-saw puzzle to put together and each one of them starts fearing for his or her life.

I found the book slow going in the beginning.  But this is Jussi Adler-Olsen!  I was very willing to hang in there.  And after the scenes were set, the pace picked up and things moved rapidly as I turned the pages.  And always in the back of mind was the question “Could this really happen with a bad guy in charge?” It is all the more upsetting now that we have an unstable man in charge of the country.

I have looked up several websites to learn when Adler-Olsen began writing this book or if there was a particular purpose or statement he wanted to make.  I couldn’t find anything.   Having read all his Department Q series and one other stand alone, it is no stretch of the imagination to write that Adler-Olsen has a lot to say about the state of affairs in the world today.  I find him an acute observer, an elegant writer and possessed of an amazing ability to make up stories that go right to the heart of what is happening in the world today.  I am already looking forward to his next book.

A bientot,

Sara

Two Books

Two books have come to my attention lately.  Both are about a boy growing up below the poverty line and getting far enough away to write about it.  Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance is his chronicle of being raised by an alcoholic mother and his grandparents in Appalachia. The blurb on the front of the book says it is a ‘must read’ in order to understand Trump’s America.  The End of Eddy (En finir avec Eddy Belleguele) by Edouard Louis is the memoir/novel of a young man growing up gay in Hallencourt, France and “has sparked debate on social inequality, sexuality and violence.” Quote from the back of the English translation.

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My book group chose Hillbilly Elegy as the January book.  I don’t think anyone in the group accused it of being good writing.  However, most of us thought of it as extremely educational.  I, personally, am one of those people who has been going around confused and baffled as to how Trump won the presidency.  Russian collusion aside, what was his appeal?  He was clearly a liar, a womaniser and a supremicist.  Yet, when those who voted for him were asked why, they said “We know he is all of those things but he speaks for us and we are willing to overlook those details”  Vance’s book helped me to understand who those people are and why they hated Obama not to mention liberal white people like me.  Trump’s way of talking and being wasn’t offensive because that is the way most everyone in Appalachia and working class White American talks.

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Reading Hillbilly Elegy was an easy read.  I never felt brought into his world but I got to know the people in his world.  He described it–one in which the violence of his grandmother and the Marines in which he enlisted  between HS and College made a man of him, gave him the strength to leave Kentucky and Ohio and make something of himself.  He loved his violent Grandma.  I cringed when he described incidents with her.

I discovered The End of Eddy because I went to a talk at the Mona Bismarck Centre on Quai New York.  Mr. Louis was interviewed by a Princeton PhD as to who he was/is and how this book came to be written.  Louis is a very appealing young man and a treat to listen to.  His English is excellent–not only his command of words but his ability to express his deeper thoughts.  I wished so much my french was good enough to read this book in French but feel grateful that I can read it in English.

Louis has nothing good to say about his childhood.  The violence he suffered was also supposed to make a man out of him.  But he was gay and effeminate from a very young age.  He was beaten and spat on as a matter of course almost every day of his young life.  His suffering was such that it has become the nugget that his books revolve around.  The writing is so eloquent that the reader suffers with Eddy, feels the spit running down his face and cringes when the father or older brother are near.  Yet, there is no self-pity, no recriminations.  In fact, listening to Louis, I was struck by his generosity of spirit toward everyone.  Although there is no excuse for violence he said, he understands that everyone is suffering.

I’ve never met J.D. Vance.  Maybe he would touch me in the way that Louis did.  But I suspect not.  But that is not his intention for his readers.  He wanted to tell us, the rest of America “This is the America you don’t see and don’t understand.”  In 2016, Vance quit his job as investment banker, moved back to Ohio and is considering a run for Senate as a Republican.  He is quite conservative.  Louis’ intention is to get a conversation going.  We live in such a violent world that we don’t even recognise it.  Talk about it, tell your story, educate yourself.

Vance’s childhood home voted for Trump.  Louis’s town of Hallencourt voted overwhelmingly for Marine Le Pen.  Vance has gone right.  Louis has gone left.  Two boys, two prisons almost impossible to get out of and two very different directions. ‘For Louis, the tide of populism sweeping Europe and the United States is a consequence of what he, citing the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, calls “the principle of the conservation of violence.” “When you’re subjected to endless violence, in every situation, every moment of your life,” Louis told an interviewer, referring to the indignities of poverty, “you end up reproducing it against others, in other situations, by other means.”’  (Garth Greenwell, The New Yorker, May 8, 2017)

Read them both.  Leave me a comment.  I’d love to hear what readers are touched by and think of both books.

A bientôt,

Sara

 

Edouard Louis:    https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/feb/01/the-end-of-eddy-by-edouard-louis-review

JD Vance:  https://www.nbcnews.com/megyn-kelly/video/going-home-best-selling-author-j-d-vance-opens-up-about-his-painful-childhood-and-the-future-ahead-975925827899

Quality of Life

A number of people responded to my blog about my Uncle Stan.  My friend, Darcy, has been caring for her mom who lives in the same place as Stan.  Her mom has dementia and has a small studio in the Assisted Living side of the Retirement Community.  She wrote this in response to another of her friend’s whose mother is just entering the dementia stage: “that you don’t know who you are when you are taking care of your mom. This made my whole world make sense, finally. Those simple words I don’t know who I am brought everything into perspective for me. Not that I understand all the emotions I went through here in Princeton and all of the emotions I continue to feel now that I have left. This will take years. But coming back, returning to Stonebridge, threw me into the old feelings of emotional chaos and I didn’t expect this. I was quite floored by it all. I felt guilty not spending more time with my mom and yet my body simply gave out on Friday. All I wanted to do was sleep.

I think it’s impossible to know who I am when I’m taking care of her because there are so many different people involved. Internally, there is my little girl, my childhood, adulthood. I am my mother’s daughter, friend, care taker. Added to this is the great unknown, the day to day step to step into aging, the uncertainties that come with this. How will my mother be today? How and where will her mind be? When will she fall again? This alone creates a myriad of emotions. Then throw in siblings and all of their emotions, their uncertainties, the family dynamic surfacing over and over again making us all crazy at times because there isn’t one truth yet we must be looking for that one stability. But it doesn’t exist because we never know what is coming next. The same way we don’t know what our siblings will do next. It’s a constant confrontation of the complexities of the past, present and whatever may be in the future.

It’s not like when we were growing up and we had parental guidelines already established for us. Friendships had their own boundaries, too, ones we navigated on our own. When it came to those friends and the twists and turns in life, we felt we knew what mattered most, even if only at that moment in time. Now there are no guidelines, only the heart. I wonder if peoples’ best and worst qualities come out when caring for an elderly parent.”

Darcy also recommended I read a book which another friend had already suggested I read.  BEING MORTAL by Atul Gawande. Gawande is a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, a staff writer for The New Yorker and teaches at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health.  In his free time!! he writes books.  Gawande poses a question that I’ve never heard said by a doctor–“Do we try to do too much?  Are we just trying to fix the next thing or are we thinking about the ill person in what may be their last years and asking them what they want?”  He calls these the Hard Questions or the Hard Talk.  It is a very provocative and thoughtful book.  He even gives the example of his own father who developed a cancer in his spine.  It is a book all of us should read, to prepare ourselves for the future and to help our elders get what they really want–which may contradict what a specialist doctor wants for them.  We are all going to die but we have choices, up to a point,  where that will be and how it will happen.

I’ve thought of Stan ever since I returned to Paris.  He did not want to be in that bed up on the Skilled Nursing floor.  He didn’t want to be poked and prodded all day long having his blood drawn, helping him sit up or lie down.  What he wanted was to be sitting in front of his computer and doing whatever he enjoys doing.  He doesn’t have to walk to do that.  He has now got an aid 24/7 to help him get his breakfast, shower etc.  But I don’t know if he is back in his apartment or still up in Skilled Nursing.  Being Mortal has given me a whole new way to think about what happens next, what to ask Stan and then to listen.  It’s allowed me to be really honest and say that this fall is probably the beginning of the end.  Gawande says that if he can live the way he’d like to live, in his apartment, surrounded by photos of Enid and all his Princeton Basketball paraphernalia, the end may be further away.  But the Stan that is up in Skilled Nursing doesn’t want to live the way he is living up there.  Neither would I.  A specimen under the light of nurses and doctors and aides none of whom knew him until about 2 1/2 weeks ago.

I recommend this book.  Darcy calls it The bible for caregivers.  Yup, it is the only one I know of that has the questions that we should be addressing now.

And in Paris….Life is cold but at the same time full of activities.  I’m feeling grateful to be here right now, with good friends and activities I love.  Christmas Parties bringing a lot of people all together in the same room maybe the only time all year!!  And the lights!!!! The Champs Elysees is lit up and the Ave Montaigne looks absolutely elegant with lights in all the trees and little tiny blue sparkly lights flashing on and off inside the the white lights.  It’s a wonder to behold.

A bientôt,

Sara