“Letters from an American”

Although it is August and I, like many of the French, take August off, I had to jump in and write a post. I woke up to the news that the Senate had passed, 51-50, the sweeping bill now called the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 addressing climate change, health care, the national debt, and many more things. Every morning, I get an e-mail entitled ‘Letters from an American‘ written by Heather Cox Richardson. (Anyone can subscribe free to her posts on Substack: https://heathercoxrichardson.substack.com/p/august-7-2022 ). Ms Richardson describes herself this way: “I’m a history professor interested in the contrast between image and reality in American politics. I believe in American democracy, despite its frequent failures.”

Senator Majority Leader Chuck Schumer after the passage of the bill

I have been mystified by the consistent reporting that Biden’s popularity is so low, in the 38% range. Democrat Nation loved him when he won the election. He inherited a horror show (my words) from the former president. Senator Tim Kaine visited Paris and Democrats Abroad and told us how Biden managed to get Europe to join America in preparing for the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. At the time, Europe was hedging bets that Russia was just bluffing. Biden’s administration was sure he was not. He got European countries to listen to him by saying that he hoped they were right but, just in case, wouldn’t it be nice (my words) if there was a plan in place that could be executed immediately upon an invasion. All agreed to that – even Turkey who probably would not have agreed if the invasion had already taken place. Brilliant, I thought to myself. Had I read about this in the papers? No? It must not be exciting enough news.

Ms Richardson writes this about Biden and Democracy: “In the past 18 months, Democrats have rebuilt the economy after the pandemic shattered it, invested in technology and science, expanded the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to stand against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, eliminated al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, pulled troops out of Afghanistan, passed the first gun safety law in almost 30 years, put a Black woman on the Supreme Court, reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, addressed the needs of veterans exposed to toxic burn pits, and invested in our roads, bridges, and manufacturing. And for much of this program, they have managed to attract Republican votes.

Now they are turning to lowering the cost of prescription drugs—long a priority—and tackling climate change, all while lowering the deficit. 

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne noted accurately today that what these measures do is far more than the sum of their parts. They show Americans that democracy is messy and slow but that it works, and it works for them. Since he took office, this has been President Joe Biden’s argument: he would head off the global drive toward authoritarianism by showing that democracy is still the best system of government out there.

At a time when authoritarians are trying to demonstrate that democracies cannot function nearly as effectively as the rule of an elite few, he is proving them wrong.”

The passing of this bill in the Senate is exciting. All expect that the bill will have no trouble in the House. It is inspiring to other countries, like France, who want Democracy.

I’ve been reading these ‘Letters from an American ‘for quite awhile. If you would like to read about day to day goings on without the hysterics, the hyperbole, without the ‘screaming at you’ from much of the media, I refer you to Heather Cox Richardson. If you don’t like it, you can always unsubscribe.

A bientôt,

Sara

The Silent Generation

My sister is a prolific reader. She recommends wonderful books I might not have stumbled on had she not alerted me. A couple of weeks ago, she suggested I read Deborah Cohen’s Last Call at The Hotel Imperial: The Reporters who took on a World at War (Random House, 2022). It is so new that I had to recommend it to the American Library in Paris. I have found it to be one of those non-fiction books that is so well-written, it is easy to forget that it is not a novel. Cohen tells the story of the foreign correspondents who went to Europe, Asia, Russia (I know Russian is considered Asia but….) and chased down any emerging story. Some went to great lengths to get an interview before their friends, who were also competitors, got there first. This is definitely not Fox News where those guys sit in comfy chairs telling the world how it should think, what their truths are, and haven’t moved an inch to talk to anyone except those who 100% agree with them.

On page 110, Ms. Cohen was describing “the so-called Lost Generation“. “Eventually the term “Lost Generation” came specifically to denote the American writers and expatriates who, in the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald, had ‘grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken.’ Disillusioned by the Great War, alienated by American materialism, they’d moved to Europe in the 1920s, embracing what the critic Malcolm Cowley called ‘salvation by exile.’ ” “In using the term “lost,” psychologists were referring to the “disoriented, wandering, directionless” feelings that haunted many survivors of what had been one of the most horrific wars in modern history.”–Robert Longley at ThoughtCo

Actress Betty Field Dances in Party Scene From “The Great Gatsby”. Bettmann Archive/Getty Images 

This doesn’t sound so different from today. So many Americans, disillusioned by the state of affairs in the US that have followed one war after another that the US can’t win, are moving over here (Europe). Some say it’s worse now than it was then. But how does one gauge how bad something is. Many of those correspondents saw and wrote about Germany and the threat of Hitler. Maybe it’s only worse now because we are in the middle of it, day by excruciating day, waiting for the next body blow. I’ve read the above paragraph by Cohen many times. I have found some solace in it. I didn’t move here because of the politics but I have stayed here because it seems like a nicer, kinder place to live. I’m sure many French people would disagree with me. Their politics hit them the way American politics hits me. Cohen goes on to say that by 1930, “the dividends had evaporated, adult life beckoned, the half-finished novel would be put away. The “exiles” were returning, sobered-up and broke, newly conscious (perhaps) of the ties that bound them to other Americans.” p. 111.

I’m writing this because I often feel torn. There is a very good chance that democracy won’t survive what’s happening in the US. From over here, it seems the Democrats are whimpering along not doing much about the everyday decisions coming out of a very biased Supreme Court. My own opinion about the war in Ukraine is that the more Europe and US gets involved, the more likely a war on a much larger scale will break out. How can it not? And will it take violence, death, and hostile killings to find out if Democracy can still survive? It is only through a few flukes that the “good guys” won WWII.

I can’t imagine what I can do if I were living in the US that I can’t do here. Democrats Abroad is a vibrant organisation and very active. I feel much closer to the ‘action’ by going to DA meetings and meeting interesting people and politicians who travel and stop in Paris to talk to us. The amount of e-mails I get on a daily basis from so many organisations who want to crush Republicans but are loud, hostile, nasty, and sound just like the Republicans they say they want to get rid of is extraordinary. I unsubscribe to at least three a day but, just like Medusa, six more come the next day. They consider themselves completely entitled to access my e-mail then scream at me in order to shame me into giving my life savings to something that is probably not working. I even wrote one person running for Congress in California. I asked that he tell me what he stands FOR; that I was tired of hearing how awful his opponents are. I never heard back.

I wrote last week that many bloggers like me, non-professional opinionators, feel numb, unable to write. Thoughts like the ones that have been swirling around my brain, I believe, occur to try and break us out of sleep-walking, out of an overwhelm that is crushing. People get involved in world activities for many reasons. One of the main ones is an attempt to feel some power in a powerless world. “I’m doing something, I have a voice. Where can my voice best be heard?”

All of this has been going on in my head and reading Last Call at the Hotel Imperial has gotten me writing. If only to put down on paper the hard questions. Where can I be useful? How can I be useful? Am I doing enough already? Can writing words be a tool that I can use to make a difference? If 300 people read what I write, does that make a difference?

There aren’t any answers. But it is good to ask the questions. If I, and others like me, keep asking the questions, individual answers may get clearer.

Taking a selfie

Why did I title this blog The Silent Generation? I wanted to know if any research showed similarities to the Lost Generation and today. The Silent Generation is about to outnumber the Baby Boomers of which I’m a part of. The Silent Generation is the most materialistic and tech savvy generation. The Silent Generation feels let down by adults and politicians (who don’t always act like adults). The Lost Generation was undereducated and the Silent Generation is overeducated but both ended up feeling ill-prepared for the world they have been let loose in. In France, they don’t vote. In the US, their passion lies mostly with Climate Change. This generation has “…the highest level of stress than any other generation, suggesting a need for more conversation surrounding mental health and the pressures facing recent graduates.”–Evan Brown, The Warped Similarities Between Millennials and the Lost Generation (2020). This only underscores the questions I ask myself. What do I owe this generation? I often look at the future as I see it in my head and I’m grateful I may not be alive to see the worst of it.

And the questions just keep coming?

A bientôt,

Sara

While I’m waiting

It’s July 7, I have not yet heard from Stanford. I’m not holding my breath. I’m not anxious or letting the world pass by. In fact, the news of the world seems to be coming in fast and furious. Some bloggers I know are writing that their brains have gone on tilt-too much, too fast, too sad, too awful–and how hard it is to write at the moment. I absolutely concur. So I give you the things I’m focused on.

Today, Boris Johnson stepped down as Prime Minister. “It is clearly now the will of the parliamentary Conservative Party that there should be a new leader of that party and therefore, a new prime minister,” said Johnson. Ya think???? This morning I woke up to news that he was going to stick to it come hell or high water (my words). Four hours later, everyone who gets notifications on their phone got the same message as I did. CNN reported that Johnson is not planning to leave office immediately, however. “I’ve today appointed a Cabinet to serve, as I will, until a new leader is in place,” he said, in a televised speech outside 10 Downing Street. Hmmm. How much damage can he do between now and then?

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks at Downing Street in London, Britain July 6, 2022. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Everyone I know is getting Covid. Two friends came over, vaccinated and boostered, got Covid here (Europe) and I spent time on the phone with them helping them figure out what to do. Three friends were over here and tested positive after their return to the US. This virus will keep mutating and figure out how to get around all the vaccines. The great saving point is that it does make one sick but not so sick as to go into the hospital or die.

France Covid Covid Rears Its Ugly Head Again The seventh wave of new Covid cases in France is getting worse by the day, over 125k cases confirmed on July 1st, with the Ile-de-France (Paris) and Brittany leading the pack, and the Atlantic and Mediterranean coastal towns not far behind. The government recommends wearing masks, and encourages anyone over 60 or at high risk to get a fourth dose of the vaccine, but the government is too gridlocked to pass even the smallest of restrictions, so at the moment there’s no “risk” of the Pass Sanitaire or lockdowns making a comeback.
From ‘Secrets of Paris’ blog

In French Politics, Macron was forced to shuffle his cabinet around. “France has entered a new political era; or has reverted to an old one. Parliament is divided and therefore parliament rules. The President can no longer treat the National Assembly as his rubber-stamp or echo chamber. We have returned to the France of the 1950s or the 1930s, before Charles de Gaulle invented the supposedly all-powerful presidency (but left the ultimate power in parliament).”–John Litchfield in The Local. For more of his analysis, go to: https://www.thelocal.fr/20220706/opinion-france-begins-a-new-political-era-and-its-going-to-get-messy/?tpcc=newsletter_member

French Parliament

And on a sweet note, on a walk in the Parc de Bagatelle this past Sunday, I learned about two of the sweetest cats there. Their names are Zoe and Gaston. They come from a circus. Once the pandemic hit 28 months ago, the circus approached the non-profit that feeds and cares for the cats in Bagatelle and asked if Zoe and Gaston could stay there. The volunteer assured me that there was no abuse, nothing like that. The circus felt strongly they would be better cared for by the wonderful volunteers who come everyday to feed the cats. I went over and petted Zoe who rolled over on her back to get her belly rubbed. No wonder I see the two of them sitting on benches with people reading or just hanging out in the sun.

Zoe (or Gaston) waiting for company to sit on the bench with them

There is supposition that France is in for a long heatwave. Last summer, we had rain all summer and no canicules (heatwave). So far, we have had two that have been called a canicule and more is yet to come. Depending on where you are in France, it can be fine. In Paris, where the pollution is terrible, heatwaves are awful to bear. In the south of France where many people live in stone houses, one keeps the shutters closed, the lights off, and one stays inside cool as a cucumber until evening. As long as there is no humidity, these heatwaves cannot be compared to NYC or Philly in summer. However, if you have porcelain, British skin, it is hard to get through a french summer. I have dark olive skin inherited from my Russian grandparents and I love the heat of summer.

A bientôt,

Sara

Update on French Elections

My first foray out into commenting on French politics and I got some of it wrong. How embarrassing. So here’s the deal. The second round of Parliamentory voting was Sunday the 19th not the 26th. Macron’s party won 255 seats, the NUPES won 131 seats with other leftist parties winning 22 seats, and Marine Le Pen’s party, the far right, won an unprecedented 90 seats.

The question on everyone’s mind is ‘Can Macron dissolve Parliament and call for another election?” He is scheduled to speak on TV tonight.

More on all this later,

A bientôt,

Sara

French Parliamentary Elections: Who are the NUPES? A Primer

Two Sundays ago, June 12, the citizens of France voted in the first of two elections for seats in Parliament (Assemblée Nationale). For the past five years, President Macron has held a majority and been able to lead top down. Macron won his second election for President but is not enjoying the popularity he had in 2017. The parties on the left, who have a long history of fighting with each other, felt a resurgence of hope when Jean-Luc Mélenchon came in a very close third in the first Presidential elections. Now Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s party, LFI (La France Insoumise) has created along with three other leftist parties a new coalition known as the NUPES (Nouvelle Union Populaire Écologique et Sociale). On June 12th, the NUPES won a tenth of a percentage point more than Macron’s party, En Marche. Who are the NUPES why is this not good news for Macron?

Generation NUPES. Go Vote!!

Mélenchon has not been a popular candidate (He also ran for President in 2017). They call him the Bernie Sanders of the French, but he doesn’t have Sanders’s personality. You mention his name and people used to say, “oh Mélenchon, he’s crazy’. But he is a leftist and with his high percentage of votes during the first round of Presidential elections, people on the left are looking to him for guidance to create obstacles for Macron. He has become the defacto leader of NUPES. As Macron has been leaning more and more right in an effort to appease conservatives, he has neglected what has been happening on the left. The four parties that have allied together to become a new left alliance are Mélenchon’s LFI, the Greens, the Communists, and the Socialists. The Nouvelle Union Populaire Ecologique et Sociale. NUPES (pronounced Newps or New Pays). If this alliance won a majority in the National Assembly on the 26th of June, Macron would be forced to reckon with this block and probably Mélenchon would become Prime Minister. The few times this has happened in the past, the president would deal with foreign policy and the Prime Minister with domestic.  All 577 seats are up for grabs. Macron needs a majority, 289, to maintain the power he has enjoyed his first five years as President. En Marche, soon to be renamed Renaissance, could win 255 seats. NUPES is projected to win 150-190 seats. Marine Le Pen’s party could win as many as 40 up from 8 in 2017.

There is one other block of voters that made themselves known Sunday, the 12th. The no-shows or abstainers. According to the media, this is the largest no-show of voters – 52% — ever in France. It is made up mainly of young people who have stopped caring, who feel powerless to do anything about their circumstances.  There is a chance that these people could be motivated to vote for NUPES. Followers of NUPES are out on the streets campaigning in every arrondissement of Paris urging these people to go to the polls on Sunday. Although the chance of NUPES gaining the majority of seats this Sunday is very low, this group of people if motivated to get to the polls, could make all the difference.

“Perhaps the most notable loser on Sunday was far-right pundit Eric Zemmour, who attracted vast media attention in the presidential race but has so far flopped as a candidate. Zemmour failed to advance to the second round on Sunday in his bid for a seat representing Saint Tropez. Nationally, his Reconquest party won just 4.24 percent of the vote, and did not send a single candidate to the run-offs.”—France24.

To keep leftist voters away from the polls or to convince them not to votes for NUPES, Macron and his buddies have reverted to some bizarre scare tactics. In a guest essay in the New York Times, Cole Stangler, (an American journalist based in France), wrote, “Amid tight polling and mounting anxiety, Mr. Macron and his allies have sought to tap into fears of this very scenario, reverting to red-baiting. The finance minister has likened Mr. Mélenchon to a “Gallic Chavez” who would “collectivize” the economy and bankrupt France, while a leading lawmaker from Mr. Macron’s party has warned of a “return to the Soviet era.” The chief of France’s top business lobby has said Mr. Mélenchon risks pushing the country “to the brink.”

In fact, the coalition’s actual platform is far from revolutionary. It’s inspired more by the golden days of European social democracy than by the Bolsheviks. The coalition’s two signature economic policy proposals — a hike in the minimum wage to 1,500 euros, or about $1,560, a month and a cap on the prices of essential goods — are modest measures at a time of rapidly rising inflation.

Plans to raise taxes on the superrich and boost investment in schools, hospitals and transport networks contrast with Mr. Macron’s embrace of the private sector, it’s true. Yet these are popular, standard-fare progressive policies in Europe. The alliance’s bold climate proposals — a five-year €200 billion, or nearly $209 billion, green investment plan driven by the principle of “ecological planning” — have led the ecology minister to accuse NUPES of “playing on young people’s fears.” But it’s hard to see the plans as anything other than an attempt to tackle the climate crisis head-on. The costs of inaction would be much greater, anyhow.” June 16, 2022

One thing is sure, since Macron will not gain a majority in Parliament, he has to stop governing top down. He and his ministers (some of whom may not even make it back to their seats in Parliament), will have to compromise with both the left and the right.  The right is a solid unit that has actually spread from the southeast of France up North and northeast.  The question will be – can those four entities on the left, the NUPES, who have vehemently disagreed with each other over the years stick together with an overall plan or will they fall in to in-fighting? I may be projecting my own fears of the US Democratic party which seems to shoot itself in the foot whenever possible.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon

My take on French politics has never been very clear. However I have found the rise of NUPES to be very interesting and I’ve caught the excitement that this alliance has incited. I hope I’ve been able to explain, albeit very simply, what is happening here in France and what the results on Sunday may look like.

Watch the voting news on Sunday, June 26, to see how all this plays out.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jun/12/emmanuel-macrons-coalition-level-with-new-leftwing-group-in-french-elections

A bientôt,

Sara

Locked Down Again (a re-blog from my friend, Janet Hulstrand)

Janet writes a wonderful blog called Writing from the Heart. This blog spoke to me and for me. I wanted to share with you. The word ‘lassitude’ has now made it into my english vocabulary.

Reminders about “les gestes barrieres” in a train station

I had to look up the word “lassitude” this week. It is a word (in French) that is being spoken a lot recently. We have the same word in English, but it is one of those words we don’t use very often, so I had to look it up even in English. It means weariness. 

Weariness is of course not quite the same thing as being tired. Being tired is something that can be cured by a nap, or perhaps a good night’s sleep. Weariness, on the other hand, suggests a fatigue born of an extended period of being tired of, or because of, something, something that wears down not only one’s level of energy, but also motivation, spirit, enthusiasm, and certainly joie de vivre. 

And that is what we have here in France right now. Lassitude as we go into Year 2 of the Covid 19 pandemic.

There has been a lot of complaining this week, especially since, given concerning increases in the number of infections, especially in certain parts of France, and even more because, given frankly almost alarming reports of the increasing pressures on the hospitals in those regions, the government–some would sayfinally, others would say ridiculously–has imposed another set of restrictions. 

This time only 16 departments of France (including Paris and the surrounding region, and also Lille, Nice, and their surrounding regions) are included. The theme of the lockdown this time is freiner sans fermer, which means “put the brakes on without closing down.” This has meant a rather complicated (and controversial) set of rules about what kinds of enterprises can stay open (bookstores, florists, hairdressers, bakeries OF COURSE) and which kind cannot (large-surface stores, museums, theaters, restaurants and cafes). 

It’s been a terribly long time for some sectors of the economy, most notably restaurants and cafes, museums, theaters, and so on. It’s heartbreaking to hear restaurateurs in particular talk about their anxiety, about how they can possibly manage not to go out of business altogether, these people who in normal times provide all of us with such a wonderful service. (The word “restaurant” after all, comes from the French word restaurer (to restore). Think about that!) Managing a restaurant, it has always seemed to me, must be one of the hardest ways to make a living. How will they get through this? 

The answers to these questions are not clear to me. In the beginning of the crisis, a year ago, one of the things that was most impressive and comforting to me about Macron’s address to the nation was the stress he placed on how the government intended to do everything it could to not only deal with the crise sanitaire (the health crisis) but also the economic consequences of having to shut so much of the economy down. Has this government kept those promises? I’m not too sure about that, but much of what I hear on French TV and radio suggests that whatever is being done is too little too late, or maybe in some cases not at all. 

Some businesses have been spared the shutdown this time–bookshops, hairdressers, florists and of course bakeries and other food shops. The despised attestations that everyone was required to carry in the previous two lockdowns every time they left their homes is not required this time for people going out during the day and staying within the 10 kilometer limits of the restriction. And there is no time limit on how long you can be outside this time, for which everyone is grateful. 

As I mentioned in my last post, I think it’s important for everyone to keep in mind for whom this year-long crisis is the most difficult, and calibrate our personal annoyance and lassitude with the situation accordingly. Of course everyone has had it with this crisis. (In French, the phrase is “on en a marre.”) But really, we do not all have an equal right to “having had it”: the health care workers who were being cheered in the streets as they made their weary way home after difficult days of saving lives a year ago are not being cheered anymore. Instead they are having to work just as hard (or harder) than they did a year ago with what must be an overwhelming sense of fatigue and pessimism about whether this extended trial will ever end. They are the ones who have the greatest right to being sick of it all. We have to just hope that they don’t throw in the towel, and be extremely grateful that most of them are not doing so. We need them! 

I also would like to say something that I am pretty sure is going to be somewhat controversial, perhaps even downright unpopular. But I think it needs to be said. And that is that the amount of intense criticism that the government here in France is subject to is, I believe, somewhat unfair.

This is not to say that I do not agree with the thousands (millions?) of people who feel that the Macron government has bungled the managing of this crisis. What seemed to be a strong start in the beginning of the crisis is not as admirable by now, a year in. There are many reasons for this, some the fault of the government, and of Macron himself; but many of them are no one’s fault, really.

The problem is that this is so far, a very difficult crisis to manage. It may even be, to some extent, more or less impossible. One doesn’t have to look very far, all around in Europe in fact, to see that it is certainly not just Emmanuel Macron who is having a hard time figuring out what to do to keep his people safe, and prevent the economy from completely crashing.

This is a new disease, and new problems keep cropping up: shortages of the vaccines that almost miraculously have been able to be developed on such a short timeline; new variants of the disease cropping up all over the place in a most dismaying way. Europe is also struggling with trying to figure out how to function as a “union” rather than just a set of separate political entities that exist geographically adjacent to each other. It’s not easy (take a look at the United States to see how just how not-easy “forming a perfect union” can be, and how long it takes…)

So, while I do believe there’s been a lot of bungling in France since the fall. And while I personally believe that that is mainly because the government did not continue to listen to doctors as carefully as they should have, and did, in the beginning of the crisis. Where we are now was fairly predictable and probably could have been avoided by earlier, more aggressive governmental action. And by listening to the doctors, many of whom said “partial measures do not work.” 

But I cannot help but think about what it must be like to be Emmanuel Macron, or Jean Castex, or Olivier Véran, the French minister of health, these days. I think we should all remember that these too are human beings, flawed like all human beings. They have probably made some big mistakes. But who among us would want to have the heavy burden of the responsibility that is on their shoulders? Who would want to have to keep guessing, or betting, or hoping rather than being able to plan in a way that was predictably fail-proof? Who would want to be any one of them trying to figure out what to do, trying to go to sleep at night, looking in the mirror and asking oneself if what they are doing is the right and best thing?

When I hear these people being criticized so strongly, I can’t help but think about their humanity, and how tired (and frightened) they must be as they struggle to keep up with this monstrous, protean virus. 

The thing I think should be remembered is this: these are people who care and care deeply. We all saw the dreadful reality of a powerful leader of a nation who really did not care about the fact that hundreds of thousands of his citizens were dying, and who made things much worse, not better. (And his comment? “I take no responsibility,” and “It is what it is…”)

France is not in the hands of such people. I think they’re doing their best, or at least they’ve been trying to. 

If we are going to blame anyone for this crisis, I suggest we look to the billionaires of the world, who apparently have been becoming even more obscenely wealthy, as the poorest of the poor bear the brunt of this crisis. It seems to me that the one thing that should be being done, and is not, is those very billionaires stepping up, and emptying their over-full pockets. Why couldn’t they do so? Why couldn’t they help the government by dumping some of their wealth in those places that need help the most? I don’t see any reason why they couldn’t. 

Do you? 

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, a literary memoir entitled “A Long Way from Iowa.”

Slouching towards Inauguration*

Tuesday, I had an ophthalmologist appointment. A reader had written to ask me what the French thought of the insurrection in Washington D.C. last Wednesday. I thought I could answer that: that they were sad for us ex-Pats, couldn’t understand how we couldn’t see it coming, and that it was the nail in the coffin for America as the shining example of democracy. So I asked the good doctor. He laughed at me and said “Have you forgotten the Gilets Jaunes and all the destruction they did?” Actually, I had forgotten. Since the pandemic started last February, much of what happened before is gone from my mind. “The French love to dissent” he said.

“But they don’t use guns,” I told him.

“That’s true. But they did an awful lot of damage over the year of weekly protests. Remember the Champs Elysees?” I never saw it but I remember the photos of stores broken into, glass everywhere, looting, and fires in the street.

“And they weren’t goaded on by the President,” I added. He conceded that point. But he had also made his point. It is not unusual for the French to protest. They love to protest. When I was in university back in the late 60s, Paris was often shut down because of transportation strikes and postal strikes. Since I’ve lived here in Paris, there have been many transportation strikes. But the Gilets Jaunes was the longest protest I’ve seen. And who knows, if we hadn’t had a pandemic, they could still be protesting.

‘This is not America’: France’s Macron laments violence by pro-Trump supporters in US

President Macron is not a very popular president. But, in my opinion, he has done a good job of protecting us, as best he can, from the virus. The pandemic has taken all the focus away from how he was handling the Gilets Jaunes. However, getting the vaccine out to labs and given to people has proved very challenging for him and his administration. I’m not clear where the breakdown is but of all the EU countries, France seems to be the slowest. It’s even hard to get clear information even though someone from the Administration comes on TV to talk to us most Thursday nights. As of today, there is not another lockdown, but the curfew has been changed and extended. For all of France, the curfew is 6pm to 6am. If one has to go out, the ‘attestation’ is absolutely required.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex has announced a new evening curfew will begin nationally across France starting at 18:00 (17:00 GMT) on Saturday.
The move is a tightening of a curfew already in place since December, which restricts movement from 20:00-06:00. BBC News

I have been reading Barak Obama’s The Promised Land. I don’t remember his other books but I am absolutely sure he is much improved as a writer. He is thoughtful, self-deprecating, and generous. Too generous. The book is long at almost 800 pages. He doesn’t repeat his earlier books. He skims over his growing up years, and then starts walking us through his many political decisions whether to run for office, their consequences, and how Michelle felt about each one. I couldn’t help but be awed. He clearly had written this book during most of the Trump presidency while Trump was publicly making it his mission to undo everything Obama. Yet, his elegant writing of his hopes and dreams, why he decided to run for President, and his basic humanity never miss a beat while, outside his study, the US was moving into crisis and the direction was clearly not what Obama has worked his whole life for. Visions of the insurrection kept coming to mind, as I was reading about the all the Hope put on Obama’s shoulders, the certainty on November 4, 2008 that finally things would change in the US. I thought once more of Van Jones’ question on CNN January 6, “Is this the death throes of something ugly in our country, desperate, about to go away and then the vision that Biden talked about is going to rise up or is this the birth pains of a worse disorder? Jones asked. “That’s where we are right now tonight. And I think the country has got to make a decision.” I thought of the Greek myths that I read in middle school. The hero has to deal with challenge after seemingly hopeless challenge as he gets closer to the prize. Is this violent outpouring of Trumpites one of the last challenges for American Democracy and the country can again move toward ‘equality for all’ or has the hero fallen and we will witness the sad flutterings of a dying dream?

And so, the world is holding its collective breath. Three and a half days until Biden’s Inauguration. The National Guard has been called out, streets are closed off in Washington. Already one person has been arrested using an unauthorised ID to get in past the “circle” of armed guards that is surrounding DC. He had a loaded Glock pistol and 500 rounds of ammunition in his car. People are being asked not to come to Washington. All 50 states have been warned that violence could erupt in their Capitols. I have canceled everything for late afternoon Wednesday so that I can watch Biden being sworn in. And, like most of my friends around the world, I’m praying for no violence. In the words of my old hippie self, “That may be a pipe-dream.”

Sonia Sotomayor

One historical note that hopefully will get air-time: Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, the first woman, the first Black and Asian, to be elected to such a high office, has asked Sonia Sotomayor, the first woman of color to be nominated to the Supreme Court, to swear her in on Wednesday. Ms Sotomayor has sworn in one other Vice President: Joe Biden in 2013!

A bientôt,

Sara

*apologies to William Butler Yeats

The Second Coming 

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.   
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out   
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert   
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,   
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,   
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it   
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.   
The darkness drops again; but now I know   
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,   
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,   
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? —–William Butler Yeats

Watching insurrection from France

I was watching Legends of the Fall last night. I often watch a movie after dinner, all the dishes washed, e-mails read and written, and a few phone calls made. It was 9:30pm and I was ‘closed’ for business. I heard a text come in. Most people know I don’t check my phone after 9pm so this had to be important. “Have you seen the Capital? I’m stunned watching this terrifying spectacle of unhinged rioters smashing windows & storming the capital. I’m afraid this is going to end in a very ugly way & to think this was all created by that monster in the WH. A tragedy. A woman has been shot. It’s out of control.” I had to think about what I would do. If I turned on CNN, I probably wouldn’t get to sleep until very late. I turned it on anyway.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 4500.jpg
All the photos except the news covers were taken from the New York Times. The photos of the covers were taken from The Guardian.

CNN was doing that thing where they have a panel of ‘experts’ opining on what’s happening and why while the cameras are on the Capital outside and inside. There is also a blue dialogue box informing us who is speaking. You have to rush to keep up with them and be able to jump tracks when they do but, in the end, if you listen for an hour, you pretty much hear the same thing over and over. When I came on, Rick Santorum was speaking against the mob but not understanding how this could happen. David Axelrod jumped in disbelievingly and said ” how can you not know how this happened? Trump was out there this morning telling them to march on the Capital. To be strong and how he wished he could be with them.” Meanwhile the cameras were showing rioters mobbing the capital steps, pushing aside cops who definitely did not look like they were up to the job, more of the mob breaking windows and crawling into the building where they got onto the Senate floor and into individual offices. You could see them taking selfies of themselves in Pence’s chair, in Pelosi’s office.

Unlike baseball on TV where the announcers will give you a blow-by-blow description of what was happening visually, these many reporters and guests were asking each other and themselves questions. Like ‘Where are the police.? Why are there so few?” And everyone watching heard the understory–if this was Black Lives Matter, the police, riot squad, National Guard would be here in minutes. Van Johnson tried to spin a new way of looking at this. That we were either witnessing the death throws of this crazy movement that has ended in an attempted coup. Or we could be watching the birth of Trumpism without Trump. He pointed out that much of that choice was up to the Republicans to decide what they were going to do next-support the Coup or denounce it.

When it was quite obvious that Trump was not going to come make a statement (He was so angry at Pence that he was ‘home’ in his chair watching all this unfold), Biden, as he has done several times since he became President-Elect, called a press conference. He looked old, and in a lot of pain, but he managed to remind us all what the Capital building stood for, a citadel of democracy. He ended by saying straight to Trump “Step Up”. Ten minutes later, Trump was video’d telling his ‘crew’ to go home. Yes, the election was stolen right out from under us, everyone knows we won by a landslide. I know you are angry. I feel your pain. But go home” He then repeated the lies before asking them to please go home.

By the time I turned off the TV at a little past 11pm/5pm in Washington, the DC Mayor had announced a curfew of 6pm, a camera was showing the Nat’l Guard getting prepared to do something and we were told that all the police from Virginia and Maryland had been activated and were on their way. Even I was thinking by that time about the hypocrisy of it all. According to CNN, this had been going on for four hours. The perimeter had been breached-easily. They were inside the building. One announcer said the last time this kind of assault on the Capital had happened was in 1814 when the English attacked and burned the Capital down. The word Treason was being used more and more. Yet, four hours later, there were still only a handful of police to deal with hundreds of rabid, angry Trump lovers. When I woke up this morning, no newspaper had an explanation. Everyone I know knew absolutely there would have been violence. We would have been prepared for the worst.

Four people have died. Fifty-two people have been arrested (only 52?? I shouldn’t be surprised). The Guardian is calling for Trump to be removed by the 25th amendment or impeachment but the 25th is faster. There is a headline somewhere that announces that Ms. Pelosi has already started that process. My own personal fear is that he would start a ‘little’ war, let’s say… with Iran and dump it in Biden’s lap. There really is no end to the damage he can do in fourteen days. The good news is that since the Democrats won the two seats in Georgia — can you remember that far back in history? That there was an election day before yesterday?–the Democrats have control of the Senate and the House. Proceedings to remove Trump from office would be very different that the last impeachment.

One Opinion piece I read, and it was the only one, underscored QAnon’s responsibility in what happened yesterday. The author is Farhad Manjoo: “With One Presidential Phone Call, QAnon Shows Its Power. The sprawling online conspiracy network is at the center of Trump’s attempt to overturn the election.” This was the last thing I read last night so I hope I get it right. I don’t know if Q is a person or a group but Q will fabricate a lie and post it, it will go viral. Trump will see it and report it which then validates the lie as real news. Some of the kinder announcers last night said it was very possible that if QAnon and all its offshoots were the only thing these Trumpers read, then they really did think they were patriots. They really did think the Washington Swamp was stealing their country from them. And this is what politics and a two party system has come to. Those who believe science and the news and those who think it is all a scam by the devil to steal the country.

God please bless America

And all of us. Stay safe, stay healthy, stay alive to see a better day

A bientôt,

Sara

The view from Normandie

As of Saturday, Paris will have a 9pm curfew. So will eight other cities in France. Germany and Ireland are joining the emergency measures to slow down the quickly rising number of cases of Covid-19. Hospitals are at capacity. “Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo called on Parisians to respect the measures and “remain united”. “Faced with the heavy circulation of #Covid-19 in France and in Paris, we must remain united and apply the measures announced by the President of the Republic, even if they are harsh. It is a new ordeal, and we will face it, together and in solidarity with caregivers”, she tweeted.” France24.com. Macron says the second wave is coming on fast.

Maus, the cat!

So, thinking that this might be happening, I left Paris on Tuesday and came to Normandie where my friends live. They are visiting their first born grand-child and I am kitty sitting and housesitting. It is glorious here. The trees are golden and greenish and many bushes are flaming red. The ivy that has crept up the walls of this house is burnt umber, deep maroon and yellow. It is completely quiet. The apple trees have already produced buckets of apples and I get to gather ones that still remain on trees and make apple puree tomorrow. The mornings are crisp and cold. The temperature rises as much as 20o as the sun rises and warms the air. On my morning walk, I see many of the same horses I saw this summer but they are friskier, dancing around, nosing each other and cantering in circles. What a wonderful place to escape the curfew even if just for a few weeks.

In the evenings, I have been watching Netflix. Wednesday night, I watched a documentary called The Social Dilemma. I felt smacked in the gut. I’ve been wary of Facebook for awhile but I post this blog there and I have a Facebook page for my book: Saving Sara. I have tried to learn Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, and it is definitely a younger person’s thing. And now there is Emily in Paris, also on Netflix which is a walking advertisement for Instagram. After watching the documentary last night, I understand why I’m wary of Facebook but now I know I should be scared shitless. Dozens of ex-technologians of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Uber, Pinterest talk about how what they designed was meant to be fun for all of us but now has turned into a lawless monster that knows EVERYTHING about all of us. It is Big Brother for real. It is the promotion of so much hate and divisiveness. If I sound like I drank the kool-aid, it was not just believable, it all made perfect sense. The documentary illustrated it all with a docudrama of a family in which two children become addicted to their phones. I am in awe of the people who have taken a stand against this worst idea of Capitalism, that the almighty profit is God. There are no laws that govern what these companies can do. Watch this documentary: The Social Dilemma and be scared. https://www.humanetech.com/the-social-dilemma

Thursday night, I watched another documentary called My Octopus Teacher. This documentary is about a filmmaker who forges an unusual friendship with an octopus living in a South African kelp forest, learning as the animal shares the mysteries of her world. It is as feel good as the other is frightening. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3s0LTDhqe5A

The filming is so beautifully done and the connection between the filmmaker and the octopus is told with such love that I found myself falling in love with the octopus also. I laughed and I cried and I was mesmerised. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Last night, I watched The Trial of the Chicago 7. For some reason I thought it was also going to be a documentary but it turned out to be a film made for Netflix by Aaron Sorkin of West Wing fame. If he was trying to make a political statement, it worked for me. I was in Chicago in 1968, the summer of the Democratic Convention but barely remember these events. As this election grows closer, I find myself fearing that awful violence may follow. I remind myself that violence was happening all the time in 1968–most of it instigated by the police. This film tells the story of those days of the Convention in flashbacks. The trial took place after Nixon was elected and he was determined to make an example of the seven Vietnam protestors by sentencing them to prison. As soon as I graduated college in 1969, I left the United States. Both my parents wanted me to stay and join in the protests to end the war. My mother called me a parasite as I was just hitching around Europe not really paying any real attention to the political situation. I was much more interested in sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll.

Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman

When it came to showing the police beating on the crowds with their night sticks, Sorkin put in real footage. It was shocking then and it is shocking now. Fifty years ago and what has changed? The Republicans have gotten craftier and sneakier at winning elections. The Democrats have made an art out of shooting themselves in the foot.

The real Abbie Hoffman.

The acting was superb. Mark Rylance, who played Cromwell in Wolf Hall, was Kunstler, the lawyer defending the 7. Reviewers may not agree with me but his American accent was very good. Sacha Baron Cohen played Abbie Hoffman. I thought he was terrific.

Mark Rylance and Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden

And that’s how I’m passing the time in France as I await the election and respect the severity of Covid-19

A bientôt,

Sara

GOTV (Get Out The Vote)

A reader asked if I would say something about voting from abroad. I will do my best. What I’ve learned, I learned from Democrats Abroad which is a huge organization. Right now, all the energy of Dems Abroad is focused on making sure that all voters have requested their ballots. We can get them snail-mail or by e-mail. Information, state by state, on voting from abroad can be found at: https://www.votefromabroad.org

As a voter who still votes in California but lives in Paris, it is mandatory for me to register every year. On my on-line registration form, I was asked how I would like to receive my ballot. I asked that mine come by e-mail. I read recently that a good 25% of absentee ballots get thrown out because the voter didn’t do something correctly. Dems Abroad Paris has set up tables with volunteers to help people walk through filling out their ballot step by step. On Sunday, phone lines are open all day long. Volunteers are answering any questions a voter might have.

Unlike voters in the US, we can vote twice. It is a backup ballot known as the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB). Volunteers are set up in two places in Paris to walk people through that process. At the volunteer table, I was given two pieces of paper. I filled out the first with all my pertinent information: what state I vote in, how to identify me and my signature. The second piece of paper is a ballot with only federal offices. I filled that out with my choice of President, Senator (if someone was running), House of Representatives. Once I filled that out, I put it in an envelope and wrote Ballot on the front. I folded up the first piece of paper and, along with the envelope, put it in a second envelope. I addressed that to my Registrar of Voters in Oakland, California.

Why can we vote twice? The back-up vote is opened ONLY if the the absentee ballot doesn’t reach me in time to meet the voting requirements. At the time that I sent in my FWAB, I had not received my ballot. It has since arrived. Since I asked that it come by e-mail, I had to do all my choices on-line. When I was satisfied that it was complete, the program put it onto one piece of paper which I printed. I then went to the Poste and sent it with tracking. Some states allow you send back by e-mail. California only allows fax or snail mail.

I will probably wait three weeks and then go into the website of Alameda County Registrar of Voters. I can put in my name, address, and the end part of my Social Security number and I will get a message if my ballot has arrived. With all that I have heard about the beleaguered postal system, I felt it necessary to allow five weeks for it to arrive on or before Nov. 3.

Dems Abroad Paris is very active. Since we cannot gather inside with more than ten people, all the volunteer tables are outside in front of sympathetic stores. Shakespeare and Co., in the 5th arrondissement, has had volunteers helping Americans vote every Saturday since the beginning of September.

I will finish up this blog by telling you about something that I think is wonderful. On Monday, the website and app, http://www.TenPercent.com (a wonderful tool for learning and practicing mindfulness mediation) created something called The 2020 Election Sanity Guide. Started by Dan Harris of Channel ABC, ten percent will have a podcast each Monday in October and meditations available all the time for those of us whose brains are fried by the onslaught of information, the viciousness of campaigning and the weariness that makes one feel as if this will never end. “This guide will help you stay sane and engaged during the 2020 US Elections, without burning out. There’s something for everyone in the resources below.” says the webpage. And below there are talks and mediations and podcasts and more. Check it out. There will be a daily gift to us for the last seven days before the election. Even if you have never thought about meditation, you will enjoy the talks and podcasts. Dan Harris is funny, irreverant and knowledgeable.

Stay safe, maintain distance, be smart and stay well,

A bientot

Sara

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