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

Two Frances

Most of us come to Paris for the beauty. We’ve heard many say it is the most beautiful city in the world. For those of us who love to flâner (walk with no purpose in mind), it is heaven. The rest of France connotes lavender, sunflowers, paté, little villages high on hillsides that have been there since the Romans attacked the Gauls and the advantage lay with whoever was highest. Though it didn’t work out well for the Gauls in the end.

But there is another France. One that is easy to ignore if you are a tourist. Ex-pats that live in the western suburbs and the lower numbered arrondissements can also turn a blind eye. It’s not difficult to do. Last Thursday, I went to see the French entry for best foreign film: Les Miserables directed by Ladj li. On Friday, it won the Cesar for best Film (the cesars are the french equivalent of the Oscars). This Les Miserables, which loosely takes it’s theme from Victor Huge, takes place in a suburb to the east of Paris. The only white person was a corrupt and brutal policeman. The film showed us two days in the lives of the police who drive the streets of the Banlieu, the blacks who live in hovels, and the Muslim Brotherhood who attract many of the young people to them. The film was a thriller paced so perfectly that I thought my heart would jump out of my body. Although I knew intellectually about many of these banlieus, it was a completely different experience seeing it visually.

On Tuesday of the week before, I went to the American Library to hear a journalist I admire speak about his book: Hate: The Rising Tide of Anti-Semitism in France. The author, Marc Weitzmann, won the American Library book award last November. I was present at the ceremony and was disappointed that he only spoke for ten minutes. I was anxious to hear more. It took him over five years to write this book and in that time, the terrorist attacks on the Charlie Hebdo magazine and the Bataclan theatre took place. Weitzmann told us that there are two or three incidents of hatred on Jews a day in France. As he talked, I thought ‘I don’t like the France he is telling us about.’

Mireille Knoll, an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, was stabbed and her body was burned when her apartment was set on fire in what the French authorities said was an anti-Semitic crime. from the NYTImes

When I first moved to France, people would ask (they still do) why I’m choosing to live in France over the US. It is not an easy question to answer. Often I will throw in that the US had an election and it seemed smarter for me to stay here. Inevitably someone will say ‘well, what about French politics?’ And I, truthfully, can answer that I don’t know much thought I’m learning. My grasp of the french language that involves discussing politics, isn’t strong. Living in the part of Paris that I live in, I could probably spend the rest of my life here and never know much about the banlieu of Les Misérables and be shocked at the seemingly unconnected events of 2015. By going to hear Weitzmann, I’m no longer able to do that. He strongly believes that the extremist and hate-filled muslim brotherhood and the deep rooted French conservative far-right both have their roots in the same populism that is growing in Europe. It’s not the same ‘ism’ as in the States but it is far-right, it is a growing trend that is on the rise around the globe and supported by the US.

So I’ve found myself reflecting on my choice to live here. There is no doubt that the quality of my life is much higher here in France: I don’t need to own a car, I’m close to many cultural events–so many that I’m forced to choose on many an evening. But I can no longer tell people that it’s nicer here. So far, France doesn’t have a supremacist President but it’s not unthinkable any more. Weitzmann told us, in response to a question from the floor, that Norman Mailer predicted in the 1950s that by the end of the 20th century, insanity would be the norm. And so, two decades into the 21st century, political madness and lunacy clearly are the norm. When I or my friends remark “that is unbelievable,” we are confessing to being way out of step with what is considered normal today.

I think that I am rather normal when I say I want to be comfortable. Both the movie and the talk made me very uncomfortable. So much so, that I left both just before they finished. I like my rose-colored France. I want this country to be a better place than the US is today. I can’t really compare. It’s different but she shares the same extreme hatred and native terrorism that has been brewing in the US.

There is no way to end this post. I am staying in France. I love Paris, I love France. However, just as I had to strip away my naiveté of America, I’m now having to do that with my adopted country. I can choose to be educated or choose to keep my head in the sand. I don’t think there is a turning back at this point. French municipal elections are coming up very soon. Let’s see what the French have to say.

A bientôt,

Sara PS–there are spelling errors in the second paragraph. I know, you don’t have to tell me. But, for whatever reason, WordPress is not letting me do edits. I tried once and lost two paragraphs. So some things we just have to accept!

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

JANE

Monday evening, my friend, Erica, and I went to see the documentary JANE.  It’s been awhile since I have talked about a movie.  This incredibly well edited, well documented film that uses footage that has sat unseen in the National Geographic library for over 60 years, chronicles Jane Goodall’s life and love with the Chimpanzees of Tanzania.

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I don’t think there is a person alive who hasn’t heard of Jane Goodall but most, like me, know the bare basics.  That she was English, that she was the first person to ever get close to chimpanzees in order to record observations that had never been known prior.  I had seen photos of her up close with a chimp and both looked lovingly at each other.

What documentarian, Brett Morgan, has done in bringing Jane’s story to life is nothing next to extraordinary.  The film is narrated by Jane herself and set to the  emotional music of Philip Glass.  We see her as a young 26 year old woman who goes to Africa with no science degrees or education, chosen because she would be objective about what she sees.  We follow her as she attempts and finally succeeds to get closer to the Chimpanzees that live near to her.

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/jane-the-movie/

I learned on the website that “Morgen took veteran indie cinematographer Ellen Kuras to Tanzania to spend two days filming a wide-ranging interview with Goodall, now in her early eighties and a subject of great candor, humor and warmth.”  The opening shots of the smaller beings in nature were clearly filmed in the present.  Yet, the footage from the 60s, shot by the great filmographer, Hugo van Lawick, who later becomes Goodall’s husband, hold up well next to the present footage.

Watching this film was a peek of such intimacy into the life of the young Goodall, the growing romance between her and van Lawick, the birth of her son and the birth of the first chimpanzee baby that she knew and all the challenges that followed.  One would be absent a heart to not be deeply moved when looking into the eyes of David Greybeard, the first chimpanzee that she named.  Chimpanzees make tools, think through actions, suffer grief and have war-like tendencies just as humans.  In fact, the one thing that differentiates the chimpanzee from the human is language.

Many much better written reviews of Jane have been written and I urge you to read them so that you will be convinced to go see this remarkable film.

Production company: National Geographic Studios, in association with Public Road Productions
Distributor: Abramorama
Director-screenwriter: Brett Morgen
Producers: Brett Morgen, Bryan Burk, James Smith, Tony Gerber
Executive producers: Tim Pastore, Jeff Hassler
Director of photography: Ellen Kuras
Archival photography: Hugo van Lawick
Music: Philip Glass
Editor: Joe Beshenkovsky
Animation: Stefan Nadelman

A bientôt,

Sara

 

Network, the movie

Until Saturday evening, I had never seen the movie “Network” that won four Oscars in 1976.  Turner Classic Movies is probably my favorite TV channel in the US and, as usual, leading up to Oscar Sunday, TCM is showing 31 Days of Oscar…..in alphabetical order!

I don’t know how I missed this movie.  I was recently out of Graduate School, wanted to stay in the Bay Area where jobs were scarce and was probably working around the clock to make ends meet.  I remember the iconic line “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore”.  I also remember that Peter Finch, who starred in the movie and won the Oscar for Best Actor, died before he could pick up his Oscar.  The belief is that his heart was already weak and some of the long impassioned speeches compromised his heart even more and he died of a heart attack months after the release of the movie.

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What was stunning to me as I watched Saturday evening, was how prescient the movie was.  Although supposed to be a “outrageous satire”(Leonard Maltin) , it predicted the news as entertainment and the hero worship of men who express their anger on TV and therefore relate and identify with the supposed mass majority of the American public. The movie opened forty-one years ago and predicted the rise of Donald Trump: a figure that TV made.

In a review that the great Roger Ebert wrote in 1976, he said “we may doubt that a Howard Beale could get on the air, but we have no doubt the idea would be discussed as the movie suggests. And then Chayefsky and the director, Sidney Lumet, edge the backstage network material over into satire, too–but subtly, so that in the final late-night meeting where the executives decide what to do about Howard Beale, we have entered the madhouse without noticing.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the madhouse.

This is indeed a great movie.  I encourage you to read the Ebert review then think about the rise of Donald Trump.

http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-network-1976

Don’t forget to watch the Oscars this coming Sunday 4pm PST and 7pm EST.  There’s always something memorable even if you have to slog through a lot of commercials and boring speeches to get there.

This will be my last post for awhile.  On Thursday morning, I will be having total hip replacement surgery on my right hip.  I’m told that the process has advanced so much that  I could go home the same day.  I asked to spend one night in the hospital.  I have to learn Physical Therapy and be disciplined about doing it three times a day.  My goal and reward is, if everything goes well as is predicted, I have a return flight to Paris on May 2nd.  I miss Paris terribly.  It is something I will hold in front of me as the undisciplined part of me tries to talk me out of doing PT.

A bientôt,

Sara

La La Land

I’ve always been a fan of escapism: TV, movies, books, it doesn’t matter.  But there is something about going out to the Big Screen that does the trick without making you feel groggy  or hung over.

So while in the midst of my surgery anxieties on Tuesday, I took myself off to see La La Land by Damien Chazelle.  Since this isn’t Paris, I had to choose very carefully the theatre and the roads and availability of parking.  Without too much trouble, I arrived at BayStreet 16 AMC Theatres in Emeryville to see one of the Oscar contenders: La La Land

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As the film started to roll, the screen announced that La La Land was filmed in panavision and therefore Cinemascope, in very large letters, filled the whole screen.  The curtains pulled back just like in my youth.  Coincidently, I saw Mr. Chazelle chatting with  Ben Mankiewicz on TCM classic movies channel last night.  Ben said “You filmed this film all over Los Angeles, yet you’ve tried to make it look like it was filmed on a backlot.  All the old films from the backlot days tried to make it look real”  Mr. Chazelle said he was aiming for something in between: magical!!!

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The two men were introducing The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (go see it asap if you haven’t already seen it.  Go see it again if you have!!!) Mr. Chazelle agreed that this film was one of the biggest influences on La La Land.  I think he said he has seen it 17 times.  That’s close to my record of Singin’ In the Rain.  So even though, I’d seen Umbrellas of Cherbourg, I watched it to see the influences.  I liked it so much better this time around.

 

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I digress.  La La Land pays homage to Singin’ in the Rain (in the beginning and throughout the movie).  Boy and Girl meet the first time while in cars and immediately piss each other off.  Boy runs into girl again and almost knocks her over.  Finally boy and girl meet a third time and the attraction begins.  Neither Emma Stone or Ryan Gosling have great singing voices but that’s part of it’s charm as in Umbrellas of Cherbourg.  On the other hand,, they do seem to be very good dancers and I would have loved to have seen more of them dancing.  Listen to the two of them sing “City of Stars”.  Ryan Gosling is playing the piano and he is GOOD, very good!!!

The story is age old: trying to make it in Hollywood, the ups, the downs.  Everything about the movie is charming: the actors, the singing and dancing, the ordinariness of the characters played by the two stars and, as in many Gene Kelly movies, there is a fantasy number that is beautifully produced and executed.  I want to tell you the ending but you must go find out yourself.

Rotten Tomatoes calls La La Land Chazelle’s love letter to a by-gone era.  Yes! A wonderful era full of singing and dancing and the opportunity to escape and forget the present with it’s anxieties and powerlessness.  It worked for me!!!

A bientôt,

Sara

 

 

I, Daniel Blake

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If you have ever walked by a homeless person and thought “There but for the Grace of God, go I”, go see I, Daniel Blake.

If you have ever listened to some of our well known politicians talk with utter contempt about the people using state systems to nefarious ends, go see I, Daniel Blake.

If you have ever felt complete powerlessness and building rage listening to Donald Trump talking about ‘those thieves and ingrates’ taking food out of his mouth, go see I, Daniel Blake.

Go see I, Daniel Blake

When I lived in the Bay Area, at Christmas time, I would get about thirty dollars in one dollar bills and give them out to homeless people until I ran out.  I stopped doing it here in Paris.  I was warned that many kids, big and small, were run by Russians and Slave gangs and it was all a con.  Many of the homeless are very aggressive and can be scary.  Many seem to have their “spots” where they sit every day.  These spots are won by the strongest and the fittest.  There is a man with a german shepherd who sits in front of the Monoprix every day unless it is pouring rain.  I rationalized my lack of compassion by saying that I saw an SDF (Sans Domicile Fixe) pull out an expensive iPhone.  I didn’t stop to ask myself if I, even with my iPhone, would ever sit on the sidewalk all day, summer and winter, hoping that some kind soul would put money in my paper cup.

 

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There is a moment in the film when Dave Johns, who plays Daniel Blake, says “all I want is my self-respect”

Ken Loach, the director, is 80 years old.  I, Daniel Blake won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival this past summer.  It was his second Palme d’Or.  It is a film that will touch your soul.  Daniel Blake is a 59 year old carpenter who cannot work as he is healing from a heart attack.  He is fighting to keep his benefits.  He is treated like a dog by state agencies and the  people who work for them.  He is uneducated and never had the need to learn to use a computer.  He is told over and over that he can find the information he needs on the Internet.  He befriends a young woman (Haley Squires) whom he tries to help in one of these state agencies.  The friendship of two souls trying to work within the system, starving and slowly being humiliated is touching and real.  Everyone in the movie could be someone we know.  There is no flash, no extremes.

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This is political filming at its best.  I challenge you to leave the theatre with dry eyes and unaffected.

Go see I, Daniel Blake

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/oct/25/i-daniel-blake-ken-loach-uk-box-office-trolls-top-spot2318.jpg

 

Going to the movies

Living in Paris is movie heaven! The Parisians LOVE movies. Shows start as early as 9am and the last show will often be at 10:45/11pm.  A matinée is a morning movie.  I made the mistake of asking for a matinée ticket for a specific movie at a Festival:                                       “Je suis desolé, Madame.  On n’a pas une matinée pour ce film”                                                              I pointed at the time and, quite nicely, he told me:                                                                               “Mais Madame, ce film montrera l’après-midi.  Il n’y a pas une matinée”                                         Lesson learned.

From my building front door, there are at least 50 screens within 10 minutes walking or 5 min by metro.  Some are current first-run movies, some are Indies and quite a few are old classics on the big screen.  Two of the companies, UGC and Mk2, have a Carte Illimitée.  For 21euros a month, I can go to any film at any hour at those two Theatres anywhere in France!!

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There are no dubbed movies.  That would be sacrilege.  A movie that has VF (Version Français) below the title is in French. One that says VO (Version Originale) or VOSTF (Version Originale sous-titres français) is in the original language with French sub-titles.  Children’s movies are dubbed until 5:30pm.  After that, original language with sub-titles.  Maybe they think, if you are old enough to go to the movies after 5:30pm, you are old enough to read.!

If I tell a french friend s/he should see a certain film, I won’t be asked who is starring in it. They want to know who directed it.  Even information on the TV about American shows gives the director of each episode.

This week, I saw Captain Fantastic with Viggo Mortenson–you see how American I am!  Name of movie plus the star!!!  The French would tell you “J’ai vue Captain Fantastic realisé par Matt Ross”  Ross’ name will be above actor credits.   I also saw Brooklyn Village.  The movie had started rolling the credits when I realized the English language name was Little Men.  After the movie was over, I thought it was too bad they changed the name as it had a double meaning for me.  So I asked a French friend if Little Men translated would have a similar meaning.  Les Petits Hommes means short men–far from the meaning for this film.  Un grand homme, however, can mean a tall man OR a very important man.  I now could understand the name change.

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Tomorrow morning, I will hop on M4, go 5 minutes to Les Halles where there are 30 screens and see another film.

 

 

 

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A bientôt,

Sara