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

Remembering Rue Git-le-Coeur

Before Elodie, my downstairs neighbor, went on a rant to tell me I was once more doing something illegal, I tried to have a window garden in my apartment at Git-le-Coeur. My window was quite large and looked out over the Seine to Pont Neuf. I had an arm chair pulled close and would sit there for at least twenty minutes every morning filled with gratitude at living in this beautiful city I call home. I’m sure I didn’t need the garden but, as an adult, I have always had green things growing, something to care for. I certainly didn’t need Elodie as the Apartment Police pointing out the laws I was breaking. I want to be clear that I never set out to break the law! I didn’t know better and french administration being what it is…… It seems there truly is a law in Paris that no one can have a window garden that has the remotest chance of falling on the sidewalk and hurting someone. I can’t help but look up in my wanderings around Paris to see who is committing a window garden felony!

My apartment building on Git-le-Coeur sat on the corner of Quai des Grands Augustins. There is one apartment per floor. Elodie lives on the first floor, I lived on the second floor, the apartment on the third floor is rented by a family living in Brussels who visit Paris once every other month or so. The fourth and fifth floor is one apartment owned by Mr. and Mrs. X. Everything that happens in the building has to be voted on by the owners. Elodie and the Xs hate each other so Elodie always loses as she has one vote to the Xs two votes.

Notre Dame at sunrise

My living room was huge for a Parisian apartment. Two windows looked north, over the Seine to 36 quai des Orfèvres where the infamous Paris Homicide Unit resided until a year ago. If I leaned out one of those windows and looked right, I had a full view of Catedrale de Notre Dame. I took dozens of photos of the sun rising behind the cathedral. Once I caught a full rainbow hanging over the spires gracing a dark grey sky. It was magical.

Le Seine and Pont Neuf from my window

Two windows looked out on Git-le-Coeur, the Canadian Pub and Pont Neuf. It was this view that became my North Star for the almost three years that I lived at Git-le-Coeur. Everyone knew how I loved that view. Artist friends would draw it and give the drawings to me as presents. After Elodie and I made our peace with each other, she presented me with a copy of a painting of our building and the Seine. She had seen the painting at an Expo at the Musee d’Art Moderne although it was painted in 1904. She went to great trouble to get it copied and then had it framed for me.

Elodie is truly the only person I know who speaks no English at all. Befriending her was a challenge. She is a very bobo frenchwoman. My friend, F, says she always has her nose just slightly in the air. I decided to kill her with kindness. After the tenth leak from my bathroom down to her apartment (three happened while I lived there), I wanted to help her confront the owner of my apartment. He lives in Madrid and is a lazy owner, only wanting money and ignores all pleas to fix the many things wrong. I bought her a small present at BHV and wrote her a note saying that we would figure this out together. She melted slowly even inviting me to coffee one day. Because my french is mediocre, I would find myself avoiding opportunities to talk with her. Now that I live in the 16eme, we have developed a schedule of meeting every other week for coffee so that I can practice my french. She still plays police only now she is the Academie Police. I wrote her an e-mail this winter beginning “Salut Elodie”. When I arrived at her apartment a couple of days later, she sat me down telling me one never ever uses Salut in writing. It just isn’t done. It is for waving and greeting a friend on the street. Of course, that evening, I saw it used in writing by someone of a much younger generation.

Av. Mozart, Paris 16eme

I miss Git-le-Coeur sometimes. I love my new neighbourhood but it took months to adjust. I will dream of that large living room and my window gazing out on the Pont Neuf. Elodie tells me the apartment is still empty. Little strings get tugged in my heart but then I remember my lazy landlord, my nasty, greedy agent and think how wonderful it was to live there and that I now live in a real Parisian neighborhood.

A bientôt,

Sara

A month later……

Since my last post, I contracted the common cold and was laid low for two weeks. It is beyond my comprehension that we can cure so many ills but the common cold still does most of us in and it just has to run its course. It starts so slowly and shows no sign of being menacing. Blowing my nose every five minutes. In Paris, my nose starts running Nov. 1 and lasts until March 31st. It seems to be the price of walking outside so much–to get the metro, see friends in cafes, etc. So who knew that that day turned into two weeks of misery. I had to cancel almost everything. I had a scheduled flight to San Francisco and anyone who has flown with a congested head knows how miserable and painful that can be. I was determined to be well before the flight even if it meant never moving from my couch.

I planned a month long trip to Oakland to see doctor’s, do my taxes, clean and organise my home and probably do repairs. I wasn’t looking forward to the trip. Paris is my home now and going to Oakland is work not a vacation. I still find it painful to wake up there with the news in your face 24 hours a day and none of it good. Scandal after scandal. Who’s going to jail for what financial or political conspiracy? There was one piece of great news that made me jump up and down. Congress and Senate, both I believe, voted to protect millions of acres of National Park land, land that the Trump administration has been trying to get it’s hands on and destroy the protections that have been in place for years. When I ask friends ‘how do you stand it?, the news?’ They inevitably respond, ‘I no longer listen to the news.’ I understand BUT…..how many of us that want things different aren’t listening anymore or reading anymore? How do we stay informed when the media just eats up all the distractions and twittering? My way was to record The Late Show with Stephen Colbert each night and watch it the next day. He always has some political person on and makes it funny enough to be palatable. It helps that he and I are on the same side of the fence.

Then there is the matter of the weather. I picked February and March to be in Oakland in hopes that I would miss the worst of Paris winter. And what happens? Oakland has not had weather higher than 54o and rain most of the time. Not just a little rain, but gales and flooding and high winds. I’ve been dressed like a ski bunny most of the time. And Paris?—gorgeous weather — 20o/21o. I saw a photo of people sunbathing in the Place de Vosges! My timing is impeccable.


Gusty winds and rain will move across the Bay Area in time for the evening commute. Meteorologist Kari Hall has the details in the Microclimate Forecast.

I was in Oakland one week when I learned that a very good friend of this blog, Philippe Melot, had died suddenly. He was fit, rode his bike regularly and hard, ate well, didn’t smoke, didn’t drink. I was just stunned. I still am. But it reminded me to tell everyone I know how grateful I am for their presence in my life, their friendship. You just never know. It will be a shock all over again when I get back to Paris and realise I will never see Philippe again. It just breaks my heart. He loved Americans and was so kind and generous to all of us. He was, in my opinion, a very special man and special Frenchman.

RIP Philippe

The Gilets Jaunes have not slowed down. I am dependant on my friends in Paris to keep me informed of all the activities. One would think nothing happened in the rest of the world if only watching American news. Even NPR only gives the highlights. I subscribe to The Guardian and keep up with the Brexit antics but Les Gilets Jaunes just get small print. A week ago, my friend Barbara wrote: “Violent protests again in Paris on Saturday. Went to the library to return your book and could hear explosions everywhere and smoke everywhere. My eyes were burning at Rue General Camou. Of course the library was closed. I could see gilets jaunes and CRS everywhere. Losing all hope that this is ever going to end.” Now I’ve come to understand that the gilets jaunes are attacking jews. This just keeps getting worse. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/24/alain-finkielkraut-winds-of-antisemitism-in-europe-gilets-jaune

So for the time being, the rain falls in Oakland, the sun shines in Paris. Brexit may not happen until 2021, if at all. The Gilets Jaunes are being courted by the far right of Marine LePen and the Italian President and Prime Minister (both financially supported by Putin??). Meanwhile, they continue to destroy Paris and cost the French government billions of dollars. I do not think this is the way to win friends and influence people. But France is the land of protest. Life goes on except for my dear friend, Philippe, who I will miss terribly.

A bientôt,

Sara

La Politesse

After I had been in Paris for about 6 months, I started listening carefully to how my friend, Barbara, addressed everyone. Her friends, the shopkeeper, the man on the street for directions. She always said to people she didn’t know “Bonjour, je suis désolée de vous déranger….”. I figured out that she was saying “Good morning, I’m so sorry to disturb you but…….” Barbara has excellent manners so I decided just to copy her.

Then one day, I was looking for a bus and felt completely lost. The wrong bus came along and stopped in front of me, As the doors opened, I leaned inside and asked the driver if he knew where #37 was. He looked at me slowly, then said “Bon…Jour Ma..dame” long and drawn out. I knew immediately I’d made a curtesy mistake, a big one. I apologised and started over again. I said “Bonjour, that I had juste une petite question..” and could he help me find my bus. He gave me directions without blinking an eye or giving a smile. I was just doing what I should have done in the first place. I felt about two inches high. The last time I was scolded like that, I was probably twelve years old. I’ll say one thing, once it’s happened to you, you never forget to say “Bonjour” again. It doesn’t matter who it is. It’s la politesse. I always say “Bonjour Madame or Monsieur”. When leaving, I always say ‘Au Revoir’ and ‘Bonne Journée’. Even if someone stepped in the elevator and you rode only three floors with them.

Most of us ride by public transportation. We spend a fair amount of time out on the street or in public places. One can always tell if there is an American new to the country near by. Their voice is at least three decibals louder than anyone else’s. After awhile, I find myself hoping I look french when I hear Americans talking so loudly and not caring whose space they are invading. French, in general, speak quite softly. They text all their messages. They are constantly with their phones as is most everyone but the French do it more quietly. It was strange to me when I first arrived that so few people used their phones as phones. Then I figured it out–the noise factor.

Yesterday, I was shopping at Picard ( best frozen food store in the world. Another blog!!) A woman speaking Spanish spent her entire time at the store on the phone, walking around, talking very loudly. Everyone was looking at her. It wasn’t a mean look, it was a look to say “You might consider speaking softer.” When she got to the cash register, the fellow taking her money was so kind. He tried to speak Spanish with her. She just glared at him. He asked if she spoke English, she nodded her head. Then he told her how much she owed in Spanish. She looked at him like she had no idea what he was saying. Here he was, a young french boy, trying to make this woman less wrong by joining in on her language but she wasn’t having any of it. I felt bad for him. She left without a goodbye, a thank you or any indication that he had been helpful. So it’s not just Americans.

I have two friends, both named Sylvie, who I meet with each once a week to practice my conversational french. When I was confirming a date with Sylvie #1, I started my text by saying “Salut, Sylvie.” When I arrived at her home two days later, the first thing she said to me was one never, ever, ever uses ‘Salut’ in writing. “We, the french, only use it if you see a friend on the street and wave Hi/Salut!”. Well yes and no. Sylvie is my age, old school, and it probably was a strict rule at one time. My younger french friends say people do use it among close friends in writing. However, I hate breaking these rules of politesse especially when I’m not even sure I know many of them. So to be on the safe side, I’m sticking to Bonjour or Bonsoir.

La Politesse is no small thing. Children are taught it from a very young age. If children seem ‘bien élevé’ (well brought up) when you see them out on the street or on the metro, that is why. There are rules. If you as the visitor or the Ex-Pat living here or the tourist passing through, respect these rules you will find the French very easy to get along with. However, if you just blunder your way around in English not attempting to be polite, you will find yourself getting some strange looks. It would be easy to misinterpret those looks as the French looking down their noses at you. In fact, they will just be wondering why you are not ‘bien élevé”!

While I was finishing up this blog, my friend Janet Hulstrand, sent me a copy of her brand new book: Demystifying the French: How to Love Them and Make Them Love you. It is an extension of everything I’ve written here. I will be interviewing her and putting it in my next blog.

A bientôt,

Sara

Happy Holidays

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BONNES FÊTES ET BONNE ANNÉE                                                                                     However you celebrate the holidays, Out My Window wishes all of you peace and joy.  Paris has been relatively warm this past week but this morning, Christmas morning, it is a brisk 34oF/1oC.  However, the sun is out, at least for awhile, and the bells at Notre Dame de Passy are ringing loudly.  Below: windows in Paris.

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Many of us wondered if the Gilets Jaunes and the many others who have joined them would back off for the holidays.  After Macron’s speech and then the shootings in Strasbourg, a plea was made to not protest the following Saturday, Act V as the Saturdays were being called.  The police were exhausted, many had been called to Strasbourg and there was hope that the GJs would give Paris a break for the holiday weeks.  But no, they called for a protest.  They intimated that the government was hiding behind a false statement that the shootings were by a terrorist and just lying to stop the protests.  Paris geared up for yet another Saturday of protests and violence.  Thirty of the metro stations announced in advance that they would be closed, the American Church and the American Library both closed on Saturday and the exhausted police were called out once more.  However, the streets were much calmer here in Paris.  A man was killed in a traffic accident near the town of Perpignon when the driver rammed into a lorry that had been stopped by the GJs at a roundabout.  That was the tenth fatality during the six weeks of protests.

There seem to be a number of things happening:                                                                        1–the word of the protests spread by way of social media particularly Facebook.  So, as a french friend reminded me, 175,000 people or less are deciding the fate of a country of ten million.  Facebook has become the wild wild west of the Internet.  One can expect all the dangers that come from a lawless entity with no boundaries and no rules.  I, personally, have deleted my account.  Not only do I not approve of anything that Facebook is doing, I don’t trust it to do anything at all in my interest.  For any of you looking to delete your account, there was an excellent article in the NYTimes two months ago advising how to go about removing yourself. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/10/technology/personaltech/how-to-delete-facebook-instagram-account.html

2–Many Parisians are sick and tired of all the violence.  Where once there was sympathy and empathy for the poorest amongst us, destroying monuments, burning cars and wreaking havoc has caused a majority to back off and condemn those that are still actively creating chaos.  It is not clear how many of the original GJs are still involved.  The protests have been hi-jacked by the ‘Black Bloc’, anarchists and right-wing extremists.

3–The protests have expanded far beyond fuel taxes.  Those on the street now include students, academics and citizens begging for more say in the French government.  For an excellent report by an activist, you can read Aurelie Dianara, a Paris-based academic and activist: https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/france-protests-yellow-vests-macron-paris-gilet-jaunes-fuel-prices-minimum-wage-a8681366.html

4–The far right politician Marine Le Pen is taking advantage of the chaos to make the protests her own.  She has brought in hatred of immigrants as a part of the protesting.  The frustration and hatred of Macron may actually make her words more palatable to the french public.  After all, during the 2017 elections, many didn’t vote For Macron as Against Le Pen.  As Populism (which in my vocabulary is another word for Facism) grows in Europe, it could easily go the opposite way.

LES SOLDES                                                                                                                                   When all else fails, go shopping…..  The Winter Sales start January 9, 2019.  For those of you who are lucky enough to visit Paris in January and February, the Winter Sales are extraordinary.  There are two state-mandated sales during the year: the Winter Sales and the Summer Sales that start end of June and go through early August.  Almost all stores want to get rid of all their stock.  Discounts will start at 50% and by the end of the six-week sale, be down to 75%/80%.  People wanting high-end luxury clothing can find great deals.  People will do a lot of research during the first week of January, then be ready to be the first person in the door of their favourite shop.  Many, like me, wait until the mad rush of the first couple of days is over and then we go shopping.

That’s a wrap!

A bientôt,

Sara

Les Gilets Jaunes–part 2

Hi from Paris,

Many of you have written to me to make sure I am okay as the tv reports showed a Paris out of control and burning.  I am fine.  The protests, the demonstrations and rioting have been in the centre of Paris where tourist attractions are and the wealthiest streets are.  It has affected my ability to travel around Paris.  Yesterday, we were warned ahead of time that forty metro stations would be closed.  And, as a caution, all tourists sites were closed, all museums closed and the department stores on the Grands Boulevards were closed.

What started as a protest against a tax on diesel fuel has now escalated to a full-blown rage at the cost of living in France, hatred of President Macron as a president of only the rich and a general overflowing of suppressed anger at the things the average French person cannot control

I have friends on both sides.  A number of my french friends are disgusted with the Gillets Jaunes.  They feel they do not appreciate all the services that they do get for ‘free’. The French pay one of the highest taxes in Europe and those taxes are what support the French Healthcare System which is remarkable, maintenance of roads and highways–they are always up to date, and many days and evenings during the year when the average person can go to museums and monuments for free.

I also have friends who support the Gilets Jaunes.  They also believe that this protest has been hijacked by the hooligans and the far-right as well as the infamous ‘black bloc’.  Many believe that the Gilets Jaunes want a peaceful protest but as one french worker said, “if we protest peacefully, we get ignored.  If there is violence, they hear us and things change.” (that is not an exact quote).

For those of you who want to read a lot more detail, I’ve included articles from the NYTimes, The guardian and France24.

https://www.france24.com/en/20181208-live-hundreds-detained-paris-france-braces-new-anti-macron-riots

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/08/paris-police-flood-streets-gilets-jaunes?utm_term=RWRpdG9yaWFsX0d1YXJkaWFuVG9kYXlVS19XZWVrZW5kLTE4MTIwOQ%3D%3D&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GuardianTodayUK&CMP=GTUK_email

No one knows what will happen next.  Macron is supposed to talk to the country early this coming week.  Is he going to stick to his revolutionary plan or will he have listened and be willing to work with the French?  And interesting sideline is the comparison to the 1968 student riots that brought Paris to a complete standstill.   “In an interview with the Observer, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, one of the leaders of the May 1968 student riots and one of Macron’s friends and advisers, said the president and the government needed a “complete reset …and a tax revolution” to answer protesters’ demands.”

Thank you all for your concern,

A bientôt,

Sara

 

Les Gilets Jaunes — What the heck is happening in Paris

Les gilets jaunes are the yellow vests that are stored in every car in France. It is mandatory.  In case of emergency, one can stand outside the car with the vest on and any passerby knows you need help.

When Macron announced his plan to raise the price of diesel fuel, the French were infuriated.  For years, the government had been pushing diesel cars as the most climate friendly as well as the cheapest to run.  As a result, the majority of cars in France are diesel.  Now we have learned that diesel is not very climate friendly so the price of the fuel has been steadily rising in order to dissuade the French from buying diesel cars.

The government is offering incentives that are excellent if you trade your diesel car in for a new car.  However, at least 50% of the population cannot afford a new car even with the incentive.  At first, a friendly protest was planned for Saturday November 17.  There were no leaders and they had no idea what to call themselves until someone came up with the idea of wearing the yellow vests for the reason they are there in the first place.  Word of the protest spread on the internet through social media. That first Saturday most of France participated in the protest.  Those of us that didn’t, sympathised with them.  In Paris, there was a death when a woman panicked in her car and put her foot on the accelerator when she meant to hit the brake.  In Le Gers where I was that day, it was extremely friendly.  Yes, traffic was held up but no one seemed to really mind.

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Paris–November 17, when things were still peaceful

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Trying to stay warm in the French countryside

By the next Saturday, November 24 when a second protest was planned, a list of taxes that Macron has added or raised on the majority of French, was added to the protestation.  This time, agitators from the far right and far left came on the scene in Paris hoping to take advantage of the situation to create havoc.  It worked.  Cars were burned, fires started, metro stops were closed to protect people and tear gas was used by the police.  It reminded me of Occupy Oakland back in 2012 when the Black Bloc came out and created so much violence that Oakland became the poster child of how the protests were not working.  Friends back in the States were writing asking if I was ok with all the riots going on.  I thought to myself ‘Count on the media to put a spotlight on the anarchists and the violence and not on les Gilets Jaunes and their real complaints.’

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Yesterday was the third day of les Gilets Jaunes and protests. The “Casseurs” (thugs, agitators) were by far the majority on the streets yesterday.  The New York Times called it the worst civil unrest that Paris has seen in over a decade.  More fires, more tear gas, more broken windows, more havoc.  The metro lines that went through the centre of Paris closed completely.  Today, movie theatres on the Champs Elysees were closed as I’m sure many others were.  Many of us stayed home all day.

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This reminds me of Occupy Oakland.  The casseur won’t even take credit for protesting.

Macron is now home from Argentina and has been to the Champs to assess the violence.  There is the possibility that a state of emergency will be declared. “Even if mostly perpetrated by vandals who have now latched on to the movement, the symbolism of Saturday’s violence was powerful. A modern-day peasants’ and workers’ revolt against a president increasingly disdained for his regal remove turned the country’s richest boulevards and most prominent landmarks into veritable war zones.” NYTimes, Dec. 2, 2018.

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This all makes me very sad.  France, I’ve found, is remarkable in how manifestations are conducted.  They are registered ahead of time, people are warned to stay away from certain areas.  Buses announce ahead of time that they will take different routes.  The gendarmes stand with them not to respond to violence but to protect the protesters and just be a presence so that things remain friendly.

No one seems to know what will happen next.  One publication I read said that gas prices were actually falling because of cheaper oil prices and that by yesterday, it had made up for the 6% the price of diesel has gone up.  I suspect that is not the point anymore.  Macron took away a tax on the wealthy that was causing them to leave the country, move elsewhere.  Now he has to make up the revenue somewhere.  Ergo, the lower 99% are having taxes raised.  This movement can’t go backwards.  Macron has made so many mistakes in his first 18 months as President.  Will he listen?  Will he respond to the people? Macron has “sought to douse the anger by promising three months of nationwide talks on how best to transform France into a low-carbon economy without penalising the poor.” France24.com.   He doesn’t seem to understand that a huge percentage of the French cannot live in this economy and, living day to day, could care less about climate change.

More to be revealed.

A bientôt,

Sara