Personal Update from Paris

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

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

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

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

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

A bientôt,

Sara

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

Covid-19 in France

Today, all ex-Pats were sent an e-mail by the American Embassy in Paris. “France has confirmed cases of COVID-19 within its borders.Since January 24, 2020, there have been 1412 confirmed cases in France.  There have been twenty-five confirmed deaths.The French government has reported cases throughout the country. Five “clusters” of concentrated cases have been identified in l’Oise (communes of Creil, Crépy en Valois, Vaumoise, Lamorlaye et Lagny le Sec), Haute Savoie (commune of La Balme), Morbihan (communes of d’Auray, Crac’h and Carnac), Haut-Rhin (Mulhouse), and Bas-Rhin (Strasbourg).”

Walking around Paris, nothing seems different. All my markets are open and no one seems to be stockpiling food. People are sitting outside on the sidewalks at their favourite cafes. Possibly there are a bit fewer people walking around but it’s hard to tell. The biggest indication that there is a dangerous virus is that all the pharmacies have signs saying they are sold out of masks and hand sanitiser. Even Amazon says it will take three weeks to deliver hand sanitiser. The people who have been counted as having Covid-19 in Paris are in hospitals and don’t necessarily live in Paris. Other than the Minister of Culture, who tested positive yesterday, there aren’t reported cases. “The prime minister’s office said that the rules for ministers with the virus “are the same for all French people” including acting with caution and taking measures to minimise the chances of the disease spreading.” France24.

Probably most Parisians feel extremely cautious about public transportation: the metro and the buses. People hang on to poles and grab handles from above to steady themselves. Persons without gloves touch those surfaces thousands of times a day. Wearing gloves is the best idea and figuring out how to clean gloves is smarter. As everywhere around the world at the moment, we are told to wash our hands often and for twenty seconds. Hand sanitisers come in second to hand washing.

The papers say that France is now sounding the alarm since Italy has shut down its borders. But most of all, they are asking all of us to remain calm and use good sense. Compared to what the news says is going on in the US, the French are positively snoozing. Events larger than 1000 people have been cancelled but I haven’t heard any complaints. “Having banned large public gatherings at the end of February, France will see its first match with no fans in 10 years at PSG’s stadium on Wednesday.” France24 The Louvre is open and restricting who enters. Flights to Asia have been cancelled. None of my friends have reported cancelled flights. It’s a wait and see attitude.

I have reservations on the Eurostar to go to London March 25-29. I think the only reason I would cancel is if I thought that, for some reason, I couldn’t get back into France. So I guess the next two weeks will be very telling as to how France and her people will handle this.

One thing of note: my home town, Oakland, California, has allowed one of the Princess Cruises to dock at the Oakland port (5th largest in USA). Listserves that I’ve read have people extremely worried/angry as to why the Oakland City Council would allow that. One person, ONE PERSON, wrote how proud they were of Oakland that it would offer its hospitals and emergency services to help the people who have been quarantined on the ship.

The next chapter will unfold soon,

A bientôt,

Sara

The American Centre for Art and Culture

I may have written about this centre before. Until recently it was known as The Mona Bismarck Foundation. Mona Bismarck was an American philanthropist who loved art and high fashion. She lived in a beautiful town house on the Quai New York facing the Seine and the Tour Eiffle. The Foundation was created in 1983, after she died. According to her wishes, it was to promote artistic and cultural appreciation especially those enhancing French-American friendship. On July 4, 2019, the Center announced its new official name: the American Center for Art and Culture. It is the only centre in Paris dedicated to American art and culture.

February in the US is also known as Black History month. Many cities go full out with a packed month of commemorations, historical plays, art and many, many talks. Two years ago, the American Church here in Paris had a wonderful slide show/talk/songfest for Martin Luther King Day. Last Saturday, the ACFAC turned their main salon into the Blue Bird Jazz Club. The stars of the night were the Jean Jacques Elangué All Star quintet.

Friends: Bill, Barbara and Sara

The centre set up tables and chairs, turned the lights a funky red so we all looked a bit dazed and confused. The only thing missing was cigarettes and smoke. The place was packed—mostly with French people. The French seemed to be enamoured with all things American (except politics). They clapped and bounced their feet up and down. A barman roamed the tables taking orders for drinks. The room behind the main room had chairs and stools and was also packed. And, in the bar, were all the late comers who could hear the sound just fine but couldn’t see the jazzmen.

The Jean Jacques Elangué quintet

What I can’t show you, and probably because I’m still a novice at all the media on blogs, is the Tour Eiffel outside the window. For five minutes on the hour, the Tour Eiffel’s lights blink and dance and perform such a lively show that it seemed to accompany the music. We were treated to the light show twice while at the jazz club. The combination was breathtaking. The music was contemporary jazz which I don’t know much about. My friends and I are fans of New Orleans jazz and this was very different. The best parts were when each man had a solo to riff. The five men were enjoying themselves so much that it didn’t matter how much I liked or understood the music. The feelings of love of brothers and music were contagious.

For more information on the centre, go to: https://americancenterparis.org

As promised two weeks ago, I have begun writing a new blog. I’ve named it after the book I wrote. My hope is to use the space to educate people about compulsive eating and food addiction. So we will see if I can keep up two blogs!! I hope readers will ask questions or inform me of new information. That will be the basis of new blogs.

If you are interested, please go to: http://www.saving-sara.org and become a follower.

A bientôt,

Sara

Saving Sara

“Read Saving Sara to see how bad it can get before it gets great–and find out just how she did it, so you can do it too. What a great read.” –Judy Collins, New York Times best-selling author of Cravings and Grammy-nominated singer

Yes, I have written a book. Yes, that Judy Collins, the one who sang Both Sides Now and who we listened to for hours. She read it and told me how much she loved it. I have decided to announce the book on this blog, but Saving Sara and Food Addiction/Compulsive Eating will have it’s own blog starting mid-February.

From the time I was a young teenager, I always wanted to write a book. For all the wrong reasons. My father gave me a diary after we saw The Diary of Anne Frank together, and I was obviously deeply moved by her story. I was ten years old. I even read the book but, though I was inspired to write, I didn’t learn anything about writing and observing and sorting through my thoughts. I used my diary, that had a key and a lock, to complain about my parents and the world in general. Then there were long gaps of three or four months before I took up the cry of the teenage victim once again. It didn’t make for very interesting reading when I found that diary at forty years of age. However, I was impacted by the pain that my young self lived with. Sometimes, I thought I’d made it all up.

I had romantic notions of writing. I thought of starving artists living in garrets in Paris, writing by candlelight and thought how romantic. That would be one way to lose weight. As the years came and went, I set my goal of writing a great novel ten or fifteen years ahead of whatever era I was in. The truth was that I had nothing to say. I was still complaining which no matter how you twist and turn it is boring.

Then I moved to Paris in 2014. I joined a couple of organisations that taught french classes and, it turned out, they also had writing classes. With a push from a friend, I signed up for a writing class in the Fall of 2015. The only class I could find (at the late date I finally made up my mind to do it) was a class on Memoir writing. The teacher thought I was a good writer, that I had a ‘voice’. So I signed up for more writing classes. If you live in Paris and have a creative bone in your body, you take writing or art classes. There is an abundance of them. It is Paris after all. In the summer of 2016, I took a week-long writing workshop given by WICE, the same organization I had taken my first course with. I found I had something to say especially if I was prompted. The thing I had most to say about was my eating disorder that I have lived with all my life. At the workshop, I met an agent who read ten pages of my writing. She asked me if I thought I could write a book. Of course I said Yes! She said, ‘write it and then send it to me.’

It turns out that one needs more than a story-telling voice in order to be a good writer. I had to learn the Craft of Writing. I started this blog in order to practice writing. I hired a coach and learned how to set a scene, how many scenes in a chapter, how to write good dialogue, how long should an average book be. All things I’d never thought about, or was even aware of, although I read voraciously. Almost four years later, I have a finished product. The launch date is May 12, 2020. Amazon put it up on the website for pre-order last August. I have no idea why they do that but they do. Now people are calling me a writer, an author.

I have to say I’m amazed. I actually did it. Not in my forties or fifties but starting in my sixties and the book will be published in my early seventies. It’s possible to find inspiring cliches to give a person confidence and now I’m my own example of why you don’t give up and it’s never too late, you’re never too old. My parents used to say that I never finished anything. If only they could see me now. It was hard work. I almost gave up three times. My editor had great faith in me. She kept telling me I am a good writer and this was a story that needed to be told. Thank goodness for cheerleaders.

I will say more about the book itself in the next blog

For more information on WICE: https://wice-paris.org

I am a champion of independent bookstores. Of course, one can always order off Amazon but go to this website to see where the independent bookstore closest to you is: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781631528460

A bientôt,

Sara

Happy New Year 2020

Bijou, the cat.

The French in general, do not send out Christmas cards. They send New Years cards and have until January 31st to get them all sent. This is my New Year’s card for all you.

I spent New Years in Pacific Grove, California. I had come to Oakland to address issues in my home and various other problems. My oldest friend in the world–we went to High School together and have been close friends most of our lives since then–lives in Pacific Grove, as does her eldest daughter, one of my goddaughters, her husband and eighteen month old William.

Pacific Grove, California

I’m never excited to go to Oakland. It’s a long plane flight and often takes days for me to recover from jet lag. I am so spoiled in France having access to some of the best transportation in the world (except when there is a strike–more on that later). I do not like driving in the Bay Area–if sitting in rush hour traffic and listening to horns honking and people screaming at each other can be called driving. I planned my trip to Pacific Grove so that I’d leave with the least amount of traffic and arrive with the least amount. The drive takes about 2 hours and starts on I880, one of the ugliest, messiest freeways in California, winds its way through groves of trees as it gets further away from Oakland and ends up merging with Rte 1 right along the Pacific Ocean. The views of the Ocean have brought millions of people to California and it never disappoints. I could feel my heart skip a beat. Whatever anxiety I had brought down with me, vanished with my deep intact of breath. It was December 31, 2019, a beautiful, sunny day and for the 20 minutes that I drove along the ocean, nothing seemed problematic.

I arrived at Darcy’s door just in time for her to take me to my AirBnB, brighten up a little and go the Fishwife Restaurant where we were celebrating our New Years. We spent the rest of the evening sorting through all the presents and treasures I’d brought from Paris and from my jewellery box. Some was a walk down memory lane, some was just fun. My goddaughter, Elizabeth, was born in Paris when her parents lived there in the 1980s. Darcy has never recovered and longs for the day she can spend more extended time in Paris. As Audrey Hepburn said for all of us “Paris is always a good idea.”

Driving back up to Oakland on January 2, 2020, I listened to an interview with Christine Pelosi talking about her new book, The Nancy Pelosi Way; Skyhorse Publishing. Over the past two months, my respect for Nancy Pelosi has soared. In my daily life, I try hard not to let others provoke me when they disagree with me, but I’ve never had the barrage of tweets and attacks that have been aimed at her daily since September. She somehow manages to rise about it all. She’s clearly not white-knuckling the appropriate affect as her time and good sense seem impeccable to me. Many of the new House Democrats did not want her to be the House Speaker but, love her or hate her, she is a leader, she is smart and she knows how the game of Politics works. I look forward to reading the book.

Christine is remarkable in her own right. As she was being interviewed, I wondered if she would ever run for Congress. No sooner had I thought it, than the interviewer asked her exactly that. She didn’t say No but seemed clear that as long as she had children at home, the answer is Not Yet.

This was the worst of the strike, 5 deep waiting to get on one metro that came every twenty minutes. It is much better now.

As I head home to Paris, I’m wondering what the taxi situation will be like at CDG. Everyone who would normally take the RER B will be taking taxis. I’ve been trying to keep up with the news of the Strike but it is badly reported in the US. I’ve heard of people cancelling their trips because they were told nothing was running. Untrue. The buses were always running. The rest of us went onto RATP.fr every morning and learned what metros and trains were running and when. My metro #9, for instance, ran for 3 hours in the morning and three hours in the late afternoon. Starting Friday, Jan. 17, it is running all day long just 1 out 2 trains. The #1 and the #14 have been running full time all day long as they are electric. The #11 has been added to the all day long, full schedule. Getting around, definitely, takes more planning but not too much time is added unless you live outside in the suburbs. And anyway, isn’t one of the main attractions of coming to Paris is the Walking!!! It’s usually at the top of everyone’s to do list.

I did find a taxi at the airport after waiting all of five minutes. That gave me the experience of the worst part of the strike. The traffic. Until we reached the peripherique, it was bumper to bumper. So Parisians aren’t depending on the news–too bad, the transport does seem to be working.

Last night, I read that Macron was willing to keep the retirement age as is–IF the other side was willing to make some concessions. The problem as I see it is that this strike and the Gilets Jaunes are as much about Macron as the pension plans. At some point, there will be an end, the strikers are making no income. They would feel very satisfied if this whole thing resulted in making Macron look very bad.

https://www.ft.com/content/7092edb0-2c0a-11ea-a126-99756bd8f45e French unions vow to push on with strikes despite Macron plea

Parisian Dreams

I’ve written about the American Library in Paris in an earlier blog. Since that time, we have a new Director, Audrey Chapuis. I say “we” because I’m a volunteer there and am made to feel like an integral part of the library and how it’s run. Audrey started out as a volunteer just as I did. Now she is the Director, the first librarian ever to be Director of the library. She is out-going, charming and has become a friend.

I found an essay she wrote for the Literary Hub and asked her if I could share it with you:

The Timeless Appeal of an American (Library) in Paris

On the Literary Romance of the City of Lights

By Audrey Chapuis


April 15, 2019

Literary pilgrims to Paris, however ardent, tend toward crises of faith. A whole genre has flowed from the deflated hopes of writers who once believed the muse to be Gallic, living in a garret, and partial to Americans abroad. Of course, American writers don’t have a monopoly on disappointment about Paris. Tourists from around the world complain about the rude shock—now dubbed “Paris Syndrome”—of their fantasies crashing into the city’s prosaic reality. It’s a lesson in the perils of idealization.

For those of us who live in the French capital, it’s more complicated, as are most long-term relationships. I regularly cycle through devotion and disillusionment, witnessing how the city’s beauty and the ugly commodification of that beauty coexist, how its idyllic myths mingle with its sometimes bloody history. I’ve also come to see how the city is like any other, with the same simmering cultural tensions and socioeconomic issues as any metropolis.

Looking back, I’m sheepish to admit just how fervent my own Parisian dreams once were. As a girl growing up in Texas, I became—quite mysteriously to the Texans around me—a Francophile. I ate up stories of the Lost Generation and swooned thinking about bohemians lounging on café banquettes, waving cigarettes, and arguing about ideas. I read everything by Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin, believing their entwined literary and romantic relationship to be the apotheosis of seduction. Teenage years in Texas seemed painfully banal in comparison. Bygone writers had Parisian bacchanals; we got keg parties in the woods. The injustice tasted more bitter than the flat Shiner Bock on tap.

When I finally traveled to Paris on my own, I sought to right the wrong, not that I expected to find any modern bacchanals. I was content to chase the ghosts of the writers I loved against a picturesque backdrop. I checked into a dank hotel as close as I could get to Shakespeare and Company and mapped out my course to all the famous cafés where writers had once gathered. On my first night, I wandered shyly into a café and ordered a glass of white wine, blushing furiously at being alone and mumbling in a language I had only practiced in an air-conditioned classroom. The harried waitress in shirtsleeves and black suspenders set down my glass with such force that it shattered, sending wine and tiny shards of glass across the tabletop and into my lap. She blithely mopped up the mess without apology. I imagined she was disgusted with me and my Americanness and my solitude. Gertrude Stein wouldn’t have giggled nervously and then left a large tip.

By the time I moved to Paris, many years later, most of my romantic notions of the city had been swept away like those shards onto the sidewalk. The move, for my husband’s job, was practical rather than whimsical. And my status as “trailing spouse” threatened to extinguish any remaining flicker of glamour. The ugly term encapsulates the privileges and limitations inherent in the status: according to the state, the partner who follows is legitimate but secondary. Another applicable but contentious word, “expat”, so evocative of Americans in Paris, loses its sheen when one examines the difference between an expatriate and an immigrant. The gap is filled with questions of agency, means, and access to resources in one’s host country.

After a few months acclimating to life in Paris as a resident, I found a job as a reference librarian at the American Library in Paris, an institution established in 1920 which serves a diverse population hailing from over 60 countries. As part of my training, my coworkers joyfully produced artifacts and anecdotes from the library’s long history. I was shown Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein’s book reviews in the library’s newsletter and heard about Stein arguing with Alice B. Toklas in the stacks. Pulling volume after volume down from the shelves in the special collection, I saw books donated to the library from Sylvia Beach, Willa Cather, Janet Flanner, and Irwin Shaw. One colleague opened a cream folder to show me a letter from Henry Miller, dated November 21st, 1938, asking if the library had The Secret Doctrine by Madame Blavatsky, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, an English translation of Seraphina, Walt Whitman’s prose works, and “any book on Zen Buddhism.” Holding the piece of stationery with its jaunty Art Deco letterhead—“Henry Miller 18 Villa Seurat Paris”—I felt a jolt of exultation for my younger, more idealistic self.

Over time, as I learned more about the American Library and its place in the history of literary Paris, I recovered some long-repudiated belief in the city’s magnetic pull and inspirational force. Conjuring scenes of my old heroes in the library’s reading rooms made me swoon all over again, decades after their work first moved me. However, the most thrilling thing was not the library’s function as a monument to the past. Rather, it was the lively thrum of its present activity. Clearly not only ghosts walked here. Writers, readers, students, and scholars converged daily upon the place.

Writers don’t need smoky cafés or any other clichés of the writerly life, but they do need a comfortable space to write. They need access to books. They need quiet. And, perhaps surprisingly, they need community, just like the rest of us who might be floundering in a new city.

I recently became the director of the American Library, and I hear stories from people all over the world—“trailing spouses”, “expats”, immigrants, and Parisians alike—about what the library means to them. Again and again, the need for sanctuary in this beautiful but sometimes alienating city emerges. I hear familiar tales of disillusionment, and then reconciliation, with Paris after people discover the library. Some speak of forging deep friendships in book groups. Others remember carrying home teetering stacks of books to read to their children who are now grown. Many tell me about the experience of writing books here, comforted by the silence of the reading room and the company of others.

These stories remind me of the potential of any library to be a refuge for its public. Romantic notions of artistic communion pale in comparison to what libraries regularly do. Yes, libraries protect history, but they also safeguard the future by providing spaces dedicated to people learning and creating. Stalwart, they serve communities unbeholden to any fleeting cultural moment.

At the American Library, the rate of book borrowing is up, across genres and in every age group. The children’s area fills up during every Story Time. Literature-loving teenagers flock to Friday night festivities. Crowds congregate for evening author talks. Lapsed readers fall in love with books again as they wander the stacks, reminded, in a very tangible way, of the breadth of human knowledge.

And that’s more exhilarating than any bohemian bacchanal.

A bientôt,

Sara

A Place to Be Alone, with Others

Dear Readers

I’m reblogging something my friend, Janet Hulstrand, wrote this summer. We both learned about the efforts to Save The Paris Cafe. Anyone who has wandered the streets of Paris and stopped periodically for an expresso, a café creme or allongé, knows the joy of taking a rest and watching other walkers as one regroups and chats and considers the possibility of more walking or just letting the world pass them by. Please read her wonderful piece, look at the site and start reading!!!!! https://savethepariscafe.com

by Janet Hulstrand

When people ask me what they should be sure to do while they’re in Paris, I always say the same thing: “Just be sure you leave some time to simply wander—walk, sit in a park or café, and take some time to just watch the world go by.”

I say this even if the person asking me is only going to be in Paris for a day or two. It seems to me to be even more important if you only have a little bit of time in Paris to have this very Parisian, and most wonderful experience—that is, to take the time to do “nothing” and just enjoy the beauty and the inherent interest of the world surrounding you.

The French have a word for this kind of thing: flâner is the verb, and it is variously translated. Most often it is translated as “to stroll,” with secondary definitions including to lounge, dawdle, wander, or loiter. Harriet Welty Rochefort, in her book, Joie de Vivre: Secrets of Wining, Dining, and Romancing Like the Frenchhas a chapter called “Hanging Out Without Feeling Guilty.” It seems to me that this is the best way to describe what it means to flâner that I have ever heard.

Each summer, I assign the American students in my literature class in Paris to find a café that looks sympa to them, and then to spend at least half an hour there. (“Longer is better,” I say.) I tell them they don’t have to order more than a cup of coffee, or a glass of wine if they don’t want to, or can’t afford to. Then they are to spend at least some of their time there writing about what they see, hear, observe, or think about. I give them this assignment fairly early in their month-long stay in Paris because I want them to know that this is something they can do in Paris even if they are there on a very tight budget. And I want them to understand through personal experience that it is indeed one of the most wonderful things Paris has to offer them—and everyone.

Watching the world go by. Photo: Patty Sadauskas

That is, to have a place to go where you can be alone with your thoughts, but surrounded by the interesting display of humanity around you. A place where you can take the time to relax—read, write, think, and watch the passing parade. Perhaps most importantly of all, to not be hurried away by anyone, but to feel truly welcome.

A café doesn’t have to be old in order to be a very pleasant place to pass the time, but sometimes that is part of the charm. My own favorite café in Paris is the Café Bullier, on the corner of Boulevard Montparnasse and Avenue de l’Observatoire. This café has been there for a long time: Hemingway referred to it in A Moveable Feast (as the “Bal Bullier”). When I sit in the Café Bullier, I like to find a seat from which I can look across the boulevard to the Closeries des Lilas, now famous as one of the cafés in which Hemingway liked to work. But what I like most about the Café Bullier is the warm accueil I always experience when I am there, whether I’ve come for a leisurely cup of coffee or glass of wine, or a meal. (The service is always both professional and friendly, and the food is always good too.)

Because of my love for Parisian cafés, as well as cafés elsewhere in France, I avoid going to Starbucks when I am in France. I have nothing against Starbucks in general, but I do feel like there are plenty of Starbucks in the world, and that when in France, it’s better to support local, independently owned cafés.

After all, they have played such an important social function for such a long time—and to me, this being able to be both alone and surrounded by people, to do your work in peace and calm, and to not feel rushed about leaving is truly one of the greatest things about Paris.

Of course one of the reasons Parisian café owners are able to allow us this wonderful luxury is that there are so many of them—so many cafés, so many tables, so much space in which to do this. There is not the need to “turn tables” as there is in other places that are both more crowded and—let’s face it—more mercenary.

But Parisian café owners have to be able to earn a living too. So shouldn’t we all be helping them do that?

Because Paris just wouldn’t be the same without them.

JANET HULSTRAND is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher who divides her time between France and the United States. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and she writes frequently for Bonjour ParisFrance Today, France Revisited, as well as for her blog Writing from the Heart, Reading for the Road.

Catching Up in Paris with Somers and MacLean.

A month has passed since I last wrote. Since then my sister, Dr. Margaret Somers, and our friend, Dr. Nancy MacLean came to Paris to visit. They gave a joint talk at the American Library in Paris–which I moderated–and the next evening answered questions on American politics and political economics at The Red Wheelbarrow bookstore.

The Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore: Nancy MacLean; Margaret Somers; Nita Wiggens; Penelope Fletcher.

We then made a whirlwind visit to Bretagne and la Côte de Granît Rose visiting with my friend, Roland, who kindly lent us his three-bedroom home while he slept in his boat–which he loves. He insisted we weren’t putting him out in any way. He even took them on a boat ride around L’ile de Brehat. On the way home, the engine fell off the boat–not down into the murky depths but was dragging along while the men, Roland and Nancy’s husband, worked at pulling it up. Nothing like coming to France on vacation and having a big adventure on the water!

Nancy, Bruce, Sara and Margaret in Pontrieux, Brittany

Because of the very difficult situation in the US, I’ve been doing a lot more reading about how US government works, the forces that do not want Democracy because it gets in the way of making mega-billions (numbers I can’t even imagine), the huge efforts to end all social programs–which help our neighbor who may not be as lucky as we are in life circumstances. It has been eye-opening and appalling–if only at how much I’ve taken for granted–that others want a Democratic system that works for all us as much as I do.

My sister is an academic and has written a wonderful book along with a colleague, Fred Block, The Power of Market Fundamentalism: Karl Polanyi’s Critique. Nancy has written a best seller Democracy In Chains; the deep history of the radical right’s stealth plan for America. They were invited to the American Library in Paris July 2nd for an Author event.

Sara, moderator; Nancy MacLean and Margaret Somers at ALP

It was quite an honor to moderate and ask both of them questions. The two books actually address a similar topic: the growth of the free market as something that promotes financial equality for all. Somers’ book lays the historical background and MacLean’s book goes from 1958 with the fall-out of the Brown vs the Board of Education supreme court case to the present day and the Koch brothers.

Dr. Margaret Somers, Dr. Nancy MacLean, Sara Somers, blogger

It is beyond the scope of this blog to tell in more detail the specifics of Somers’ and MacLean’s talks or to review their books. I do encourage anyone interested in learning more about political economics to read these books. It’s one thing to listen to either sides’ rantings. It’s another to get educated information and form an opinion based on facts–even though facts seem to be going extinct.

Dr. Margaret Somers, Amy Sulkies Below, Dr. Nancy MacLean at The Red Wheelbarrow

The next evening, at the Red Wheelbarrow, there was lively back and forth of questions and answers. It was a beautiful Parisian evening and when the gathering finally left the bookstore, it was still light out, the energy was high and it was hard to contemplate going home and to bed. There is something about Parisian nights and the the sky still being light at 10:30pm that makes one just want to stay out and join the bustling sidewalk culture that is at the heart of Parisian life.

Bruce, Margaret, Sara near Lezardrieux.

The next morning, we all got on the TGV fast train to Brittany. What a pleasure it is to show friends some of the most beautiful places in France outside of Paris. All too soon, both women were on the way to Potsdam, Germany where they gave keynote speeches at an International Conference: The Condition of Democracy and the Fate of Citizenship.

Happy Bastille Day, July 14th,

A bientôt,

Sara

Grabbed my journal, rushed for the C train (Notre-Dame part 2)

Only it didn’t happen that way. My plan had been to go to ground zero, Notre-Dame de Paris, Tuesday. I needed to see the devastation, the people, the burned debris on the ground. The day was cold, the sky was grey, Paris was in mourning. My body, exhausted from lack of sleep and anxiety, refused to move.

The final little fires were put out early Wednesday morning. Five hundred firefighters fought through Monday night into Tuesday morning containing the flames. One hundred of them made a long relay line and carried out precious art pieces. Tourists and Parisians alike came down in the morning hours, in the light of day, to see the devastation and saw that the main structure had been saved. The news told us that there was about an hour in the early morning when it could have gone either way. Thanks to the work and determination of five hundred pompiers (firefighters), we still have our Notre-Dame albeit in a very wounded state.

That morning, I made up my mind to join the throng of people. But every god conspired against me. I couldn’t find my walking shoes. My apartment is small enough that things get hidden away when I have company. Well hidden it turns out. My jeans didn’t fit, my lunch carrots had gone slimy bad. I didn’t even know that carrots could get slimy. One thing after another for forty-five minutes challenging my desire to get down there.

Finally I was on my way to RER C. I slide my Navigo over the turnstile and ran down the stairs. The electric billboard said the next train was coming in twenty-six minutes. “No, not another obstacle?” I muttered in English. A few elderly ladies turned to look at me. I made the walk to metro 9, got on, changed to metro 1 and got off at Pont Neuf.

I crossed the Pont St. Michel and got my first glimpse of Notre Dame: the right bell tower. I burst into tears. It looked exactly the same as before the fire from that angle but eighteen hours of holding back my ‘tristesse‘ opened the flood gates. I couldn’t stop crying. I walked by tourists who seemed unaware of the drama that had unfolded there Monday night. I turned left on Quai St. Michel and, as I approached le Petit Pont, more and more people were gathered gazing at the cathedral. Everyone seemed solemn, no one was pushy or aggressive. Some could see well, others couldn’t. The police had cordoned off everything from Pont St. Michel down as far as Pont de l’Archeveche. Firehoses snaked over the ground in front of us. The Gendarmes stood like sentries at the plastic red and white tape that separated us from them. The Station St Michel/Notre Dame was closed for both the RER C and M4. Cité must have been closed because no one was allowed entry to the parvis in front of the Prefecture.

I wanted to walk to Pont de l’Archeveche. I was hoping to take a photo at the exact same spot as the one that was taken of me three or four years ago. Some of the bouquinistes were open. I bought two sepia postcards of the view of the back of Notre-Dame. When I got to the bridge, it, too, was cordoned off. Patiently I waited for a spot to open up and I was able to get close enough to get my photo.

I stood there for awhile, just looking and my tears came and went. I was listening to Joan Baez on Spotify and she started singing ‘Amazing Grace‘. As I was listening and gazing at this beautiful structure that has stood on Ile de la Cité for 850 years, I realized just how much of it was still standing. The firemen DID save her. The sadness started to transform into hope. A friend of mine wrote me and said “it’s like she’s been horrendously wounded and stands suffering for all to see.” Wounds heal, suffering passes.

Almost the same spot as a photo of me (in the last blog) was taken 3 years ago.

Yesterday, Thursday, Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo invited all citizens and ex-Pats to Hotel de Ville (City Hall) for a ceremony to thank the Pompiers for risking their lives, working through the night and saving Notre-Dame. After she told us that she would be requesting that the pompiers be accorded honorary citizenship of the city of Paris, the actor, Nicolas Lormeaux, read an excerpt from Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

Mayor Hidalgo and signer for the deaf

In the novel, Hugo, one of France’s most acclaimed writers, describes, in 1831, flames in the Cathedral when Quasimodo uses fire and stones to attack Truands in order to save Esmerelda.

“All eyes were raised to the top of the church. They beheld there an extraordinary sight. On the crest of the highest gallery, higher than the central rose window, there was a great flame rising between the two towers with whirlwinds of sparks, a vast, disordered, and furious flame, a tongue of which was borne into the smoke by the wind, from time to time. Below that fire, below the gloomy balustrade with its trefoils showing darkly against its glare, two spouts with monster throats were vomiting forth unceasingly that burning rain, whose silvery stream stood out against the shadows of the lower façade.

As they approached the earth, these two jets of liquid lead spread out in sheaves, like water springing from the thousand holes of a watering-pot. Above the flame, the enormous towers, two sides of each of which were visible in sharp outline, the one wholly black, the other wholly red, seemed still more vast with all the immensity of the shadow which they cast even to the sky.

Their innumerable sculptures of demons and dragons assumed a lugubrious aspect. The restless light of the flame made them move to the eye. There were griffins which had the air of laughing, gargoyles which one fancied one heard yelping, salamanders which puffed at the fire, tarasques which sneezed in the smoke. And among the monsters thus roused from their sleep of stone by this flame, by this noise, there was one who walked about, and who was seen, from time to time, to pass across the glowing face of the pile, like a bat in front of a candle.

Without doubt, this strange beacon light would awaken far away, the woodcutter of the hills of Bicêtre, terrified to behold the gigantic shadow of the towers of Notre-Dame quivering over his heaths.”

Translation by Isabel F. Hapsgood

If you wish to donate to the rebuilding of the Cathedrale de Notre-Dame, Please go to this site: https://don.fondation-patrimoine.org/SauvonsNotreDame/~mon-don

A bientôt,

Sara

The Fire at Notre Dame

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

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

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

The Spire in flames and about to collapse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A bientôt,

Sara