Once more with feeling

Before I go any further, I have to eat a little crow. The tone of my blog last week made it sound like I thought Spain was ugly and disappointing. By the time the week was over, I thought the area we were in was quite lovely (with the exception of the A7). I have a bad habit of seeing things in the negative when I’m new at something. A class, a group, first day on a trip. Any discomfort I feel translates into something wrong with the person, place, or thing. I left Paris in a state of exhaustion and overwhelm. I took it out on the Costa del Sol which had never done anything to me! So any Spain lovers out there, I apologize.

View from the balcony off my bedroom

One reader wrote me to say that a reason that Spain and France are so different is that Spain was governed by the Moors for a very long time and historically Islam has had the greatest influence on Spain. Today, Islam is growing again, especially in younger people, and is the second largest religion after Catholicism. Whereas France, since the time of Charlemagne, has been the most Catholic country in the area we know as Europe until the 16th century when Protestantism began to appear. Even then, Protestantism flourished in Germany, Switzerland, and other parts of Europe, more so than in France. When one adds the weather and the proximity of the Mediterranean sea, it can be expected that the two countries will appear very different. That is what I saw and felt when I first arrived.

Looking out on the sea from the timeshare (photo: Susan Johnson)

Andalusia, which includes the Costa del Sol, is the second largest of the eight communes of Spain. High in the mountains behind Marbella are a circle of villages known as the White Towns because of their white-washed walls and houses. On Thursday last week, we drove to Ronda, the largest and most popular of these towns. Although only 40 km from flat land to town, the road is so curvy through the National Park, that it takes over an hour to get there. Susan did the driving and I was the navigator. I had the help of my Apple map on my iPhone and a voice I called Fred. Fred is terrific. He gives plenty of warning when a turn is coming up or having to take an off-ramp. He even told us when we were approaching a radar for speed. We discussed all the radar and decided that, unlike the US, they were not out to trap us and make money, but trying to regulate traffic. Even so people whooshed by us at top speeds. We never saw much traffic anywhere except on the A7. Nor did we see any police or traffic cops deterring these drivers. Everything is being done on-line these days.

The white washed houses of Ronda (photo: Susan Johnson)

Ronda is famous for the bridge that traverses over a 380 foot ravine connecting the old town with the new as well as its cliff side location. It is the largest of the White Towns with a population of 35,000. From our one afternoon there, I’d say 34,950 live in the new town. There was a large and well-organized carpark where we left the car, and a lengthy pedestrian street from the carpark to Plaza de Toros de Ronda, the oldest bullring in Spain. “American artists Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles spent many summers in Ronda as part-time residents of Ronda’s old-town quarter called La Ciudad. Both wrote about Ronda’s beauty and famous bullfighting traditions. Their collective accounts have contributed to Ronda’s popularity over time.”-Wikipedia

The drama of the bridge connecting the two parts of Ronda

We had lunch on a balcony overlooking the bridge and wondered how the it was built (I had visions of the movie, Ben Hur and the slaves pulling huge boulders to build Pyramids). Known as Puente Nuevo, it is the youngest of the three bridges that cross the river that separates the two parts of town. It was finished in 1793, 42 years after construction began. Looking over the cliff edge, one can see the Guadalevin river and the other two bridges much lower down. There is a large archeological site (around the city are prehistoric settlements dating to the Neolithic Age, including the rock paintings of Cueva de la Pileta) and Arab baths (dating from the 13th and 14th centuries), both requiring a walk down into the ravine and a walk back up. We chose to pass that up! Once past the bridge, it was quiet. Only tourists walking the town, learning about old Ronda. Even the touristy shops selling linen dresses, brand new tiles, and leather goods petered out as we moved deeper into the old town. Without a map from the Tourist Office, it would have been impossible to know what was what. The overall feeling was one of huge expanse in all directions from the top of a hill well fortified for just in case. We walked the length of the old town and back towards the bullring, the pedestrian street and to our car. We arrived ‘home’ at 7:30pm wanting nothing more than a quick salad and bed!

One of the smaller bridges traversing the chasm-(Photo: Susan Johnson

Susan and I decided that we should return to Estepona and find the old town and the narrow streets that the guidebooks gushed over. This time, I asked Fred to take us to the Centro Historico and he got us pretty close. We even found parking two blocks away. What made the old town so lovely was more than the narrow streets, there were flowers and plants everywhere. Pots hanging off walls, flower bushes on either side of doors, and large tall decorations of flowers on the shopping streets. There was also tile. Most entryways had the regular what I call ‘Mexican tiles’. Thoughtfully placed were smaller tiles of animals, angels, and symbols. I wanted to buy masses of the artisan tiles and bring them home with me but where would I put them in my rented apartment?

Walking in the old town of Estepona
Looking in a door at tiling and iron work door

This part of Spain takes a siesta from 2:30pm-5:30pm–at least that is when all the stores close, even the small vegetable markets on the corners. Without people, old Estepona gave off a feeling of a Hollywood set, perfectly assembled and just waiting for some life to happen. It was an eery feeling. We didn’t have too far to walk when one of the streets opened up onto the Plaza des Flores. We found seats at a café and, along with a number of other tourists, had a drink before attempting the walk back to find our car.

Aerial view of Plaza des Flores–photo in the bathroom of a café

One interesting fact: in the 1990s, the Walt Disney Corporation chose Estepona as the site for its EuroDisney project. However, Paris ended up with the installation.

Another use for the beautiful tiles

As we walked, and I was walking with my head down, I was thinking about the fact that I had written that there was no town planning along this part of the Costa del Sol. At my feet were brown and grey stepping stones surrounded by smaller grey stones all placed in a pleasing pattern for the length of a block. The next block over would have a similar pattern. Clearly this town had given a lot of thought to planning. And the flowers and plants were all thriving. Most of Europe has suffered terrible heatwaves this summer. Someone was taking care, watering these plants. And those someones were probably paid by the city. I was far off base. Lesson learned.

Seen on the wall of one of the narrow streets we walked down.

I write this from Paris thinking back on the week. The absolute best part of the week was the rest I got. They say that mediterranean countries move slower and are more laid back. Perhaps the three of us caught the southern bug. We moved slowly, only went places we really wanted to see, and made simple dinners every evening. That felt like a luxury. And what a vacation is supposed to be.

A bientôt,

Sara

Toto, we aren’t in France anymore

Spain is so close yet so far away. It is a short plane ride or train ride but the culture is so different. Feelings about color are different, the art is different, the cities are different. Paris is considered the most beautiful city in the world. I don’t think any city in Spain would be on a list of the top ten. Going to Spain feels like a journey of a much greater distance.

I flew to Seville from Charles de Gaulle airport last Saturday in two hours. I am with two friends who have rented a timeshare in Marbella on the Costa del Sol. A quick exit through the airport and finding the rental car, off we went south-east to find the ocean. For the first hour, the landscape was not inviting. Arid land populated with what we think are olive trees and not much else. About two thirds of the way to our destination, the landscape became hilly with deep arroyos. This was much more interesting. There was nothing on this land. Nada. No people, no other roads, no structures. We made a mistake with our directions and had to go back the way we came for 30 minutes. There were no off-ramps, nowhere to go in this landscape of hills and ravines except forward. We finally were able to turn around and head back towards the ocean.

We are staying in Mijas, close to Marbella. The A7, a four lane highway, runs along the coast from Malaga to Algeciras. It is busy at all times of the day. There is no demarcation between towns (or cities–it’s confusing as to what they are) and reminds me of Route 1 on the East Coast where one city runs into another.

I can think of many words to describe the villages of France: quaint, piccaresque, charming, etc. None of these words apply to this part of Spain that you can see from the A7. No thought has been given to town-planning. Monstrous timeshares litter the sides of the large hills looking like cruise ships plastered against the golden brown background. Billboards of all sizes line the A7 giving a sense of a very large population. One has to know where to find the good walking beaches as many have stones galore and hurt your feet as you test the temperature of the water.

Homes high up in the hills of Mijas or Marbella

However, following streets upwards into the hills, one can see what attracted people to this part of the world before it became so popular. The houses are white, large, gated, with flowers everywhere. The hibiscus is the most popular this time of year. Views of the ocean pop up at many turns and there is no sign of the A7 or the hundreds of billboards,

Promenade along the beach at Estapona

On Sunday, we drove to the town of Estepona south of Mijas. My apple map on my iPhone took us to the port where we found a parking place. Our intention was to find the old town and wander the small streets where no present day car could possibly go. We stumbled on the closing of the Sunday outdoor market and my friend bought a skirt. We then asked directions to the old town. We strolled along a promenade that clearly had been thought out, had flowers planted along the side closest to the road and an overhang that balanced out the railing on the beach side. The beach, not crowded, was wide as a football field and people were lying under umbrellas. There were par courses along the way. Children were taking advantage of them, climbing on walls, swinging on foot machines. We never did make it to the Old Town so we have yet to see the tiny streets of old Spain.

South of Spain, a short ferry ride of 40 minutes from the town of Tarifa, lies Tangiers, a city that seems mystical. A city beloved by Kerouac and Matisse and many artists of the 20s through the 50s who spent time there. We couldn’t miss a trip to Tangiers! So we left the timeshare at 6am in order to catch the 9am ferry. After standing in a line to get tickets, a line for passport control, a line to go through security, we lined up to get on the ferry where we stood in another line to have our passports stamped by the Moroccon police. Only after every passenger had done that, did the ferry start to move and make the trip out of Europe towards Africa.

Getting ready to go to Africa

Every guide book will warn you of every thing that can go wrong in Morocco. I remember visiting the old city of Jerusalem my first year out of university. The Arab world is a culture shock. I wasn’t wise enough to be scared but I felt lost. I couldn’t speak the language, women were not encouraged to be traveling on their own, and small children begged constantly. Yet, I was mesmerized. Everything was colorful, I’d never seen goods hanging on doors, from the ceilings, baskets and baskets of spices or eggs or jewelry. I imagined Tangiers, the old city, would be much the same. Leaving the taxi that took us to a gate to enter the old city, we immediately came to a market. We wandered around not sure what we were doing, grown men begging to be our guide stopping us every ten minutes. We finally found our way into the Medina, the most interesting part of the old city and found a very old man, Salam, had attached himself to us. He spoke French. The streets were like a maze leading us deeper and deeper into a warren. The open air shops turned into regular shops where we would step inside and see beautiful tile work or men weaving rugs. The dirty streets changed into lovely white streets with houses surrounded by bougainvillia. We were headed to the Kasbah and were climbing. Salam pointed everything out to me, where a famous American lived and died and later the garage where he kept his Rolls Royce. After hundreds of steps, we arrived at a wall with an arch. Walking through the arch, we got a view of the port, new Tangiers and a huge expanse of ocean. It is breathtaking.

The Kasbah is a large living area with a mosque that is now a museum, shops and little alley ways that reminded me of Santorini. We had been on our feet for five hours at that point and we were all feeling it. We were planning on a 4pm ferry ride back to Spain but thought we’d go early in case of an earlier time. There wasn’t. We descended into the lower market areas that reek of poverty. It seems a small thing to give some man or student a couple of euros to guide us around and tell stories. But Americans are warned off.

selling chickens on the street.

We made it back to our car by 6:30pm CET (Morocco is an hour behind Spain) and drove the hour and a half back to the timeshare. All three of us made a salad, ate it silently, and went to bed.

One thing I haven’t mentioned is the cats of Tangiers. They are everywhere. They are gentle, clean, friendly, have no fear of people. Almost every store had a cat near it. The parks had cats, the cats took naps in the middle of sidewalks, the cats looked longingly at you if you held out a finger and said “Cou cou.” I asked one of our guides if people had cats as pets. He said yes some families do. Mostly the cats hung out in the Medina.

Cats, it seems, have been revered for centuries in Muslim culture. So much so, that one of Prophet Muhammad’s companions was known as Abu Hurairah (Father of the Kittens) for his attachment to cats. The Prophet himself was a great cat-lover– Muezza was the name of his favourite cat.–The Guardian.

As the days have gone by, the area around the timeshare seems to have gotten prettier! I think I am so spoiled by living in Paris that I’m far too hard on other areas in Europe. Next week, I’ll share about the white hill towns of Andalucia.

A bientôt,

Sara

I get by with a little help from my friends

Trying to save money, I borrowed a car, actually a van, from a friend in Paris. As has happened in the US, car rental prices have doubled, even tripled in some areas, and it can be very difficult to find a car. The van gets great mileage she told me and it certainly seemed to. I drove from my apartment in Paris to Lessard-et-le Chêne, a distance of 200 km/125 miles, this past Monday on less than a quarter tank of gas. The van drives well and I was comfortable. I had left Paris at 9am in an attempt to beat the heat. All of France was suffering a second heatwave of the summer, and predictions said that Paris would top out at 102o and Lessard at 105o. When I arrived at 1pm, it was a mere 92o.

A meme depicting the Paris metro in the heat this past week!

Tuesday morning, I thought I’d fill up the tank before it got too hot and be ready to go anywhere. So off I went, sure of where I was going, but got lost. Not having anywhere to be, it was ok to get lost, and I had my phone with me. Soon I saw a familiar landmark, the LeClerc supermarket that also has a large gas station. I pulled in and filled up the tank. Then off I went again headed to the Intermarché for a few groceries. I was inside for thirty minutes.

Back in the car, I turned the key and nothing happened. Well, something happened. The van made that sputtering noise telling me it was trying very hard to start but it wasn’t turning over. I tried three times. Then I sat there and a familiar anxiety settled over me like a heavy blanket. I had no idea where to go or who to call. My friends had not yet left for the airport but they were packing and I didn’t want to disturb them if at all possible. I felt like the ugly American who doesn’t know how to cope in a foreign country and resorts to panic out of habit. I saw a well dressed adult male pull up in front of me. I jumped out of the van, crossed over to him, and as he opened his door, I told him in my best french that my car wouldn’t start, I had checked everything, and could he help me. He followed me to the van. I turned the key but again the van would not start. After checking the obvious, he asked me who put the gas in the car. I told him that I had. He motioned me to step out of the car and we walked to the gas tank. He pulled open the cover and there in nice big letters was the word DIESEL. I must have looked like a cartoon character as I slapped my forehead, groaned, and my anxiety turned quickly into deep embarrassment if not shame.

I immediately wanted someone to blame. Why hadn’t my friend told me it only took diesel? Yes, dummy, and why hadn’t I checked to see what kind of gas the van took especially as someone was so kind as to write in large letters….. Even I, who knows little about the inner workings of cars and vans, knows that you don’t put gas in a diesel van. Even I know that the damage can be extensive. I thanked the man and he went on his way.

I had to call my friends–who rightly were annoyed with me. Not nearly as annoyed as I was with myself but, hey, who’s measuring. The husband came and got me. Did I mention they were leaving for the airport in less than three hours? On the way home, M reminded me that it is July, and could be very hard to find a mechanic, and it could be very expensive, and it could be in the garage three weeks. Leave it to the French to come up with the worst case scenario. All I could sputter out was that it never once occurred to me that the van took diesel. In the US, very few cars take diesel. Here in France, I don’t know anyone who owns a diesel car and I’ve never rented one. It’s just not on my radar. It should have been. Ninety-five percent of cars in France are diesel. It used to be far cheaper than gasoline. Farm workers and low income people were encouraged to buy diesel cars. Then Macron decided that diesel was damaging to the environment and told everyone to buy regular gas cars. The price of diesel went up. Incentives were given for buying gas cars. I have no idea how many sold their diesels. It’s asking a lot of a worker who is 100% dependent on her car for her living especially if she lives in the south of France.

Le marché des véhicules de loisirs va prendre un tournant majeur dans les prochaines décennies. L’interdiction de la vente de véhicules thermiques est prévue dans les calendriers d’ici 2040. Alors qu’aujourd’hui 95 % des véhicules vendus roulent à l’essence ou au diesel, quel avenir pour nos vans et fourgons aménagés ? Quelles alternatives possibles face à l’interdiction du diesel en France ?

Back at the house, I texted my friend who owns the van. She happens to be in the US at the moment which is why she was kind enough to make the loan. She is six hours behind me. She received my information and contacted her insurance agency immediately. She let me know that a tow truck would meet me at the van at 10 the next morning. Meanwhile, everyone in the house was talking about solutions for me. My head was swirling. I still felt both helpless and ashamed. Like an old record player, I replayed me at the gas station hundreds of times, seeing the word DIESEL, and putting it in the gas tank. It’s like waking up from a nightmare. The ending is always the same. I’d made a mistake and I had no idea what the consequences would be. I was at the point where I wasn’t sure if it would be ready when I had to go back to Paris. I went on the internet and rented the last car in Lisieux from an obscure place with the original name of Rent A Car.

The afternoon and evening passed. My friends left for Charles de Gaulle to fly to California the next morning. The not so friendly voices were whirling around in my head having a good time with my sanity. I asked a friend of theirs, John, for a ride and promptly at 9:40am he showed up and we went to Intermarché. The tow truck was already there. I watched as this skilled man pulled down the ramp on his truck, moved my van that wouldn’t start into a perfect position to roll up the ramp, attach one cable, and pulling a lever, up the van went. All of this with a friendly smile. Then he looked at me and asked me where he should take it? Huh? I didn’t know and said so. Kindly, he said, he’d take it to his garage and await further instructions.

John came out of the store just at that point and off we went to Rent A Car. I drove home and texted all this info to my friend in the US. By that evening, I knew it would be repaired at the garage it was at and possibly could be ready by Friday! Really!! That meant that little or no damage had been done to the motor. I had also talked to quite a few people, all lending support to help me feel better. One person actually said that everyone she knew who has owned or rented a diesel has done the same thing. I don’t think any French person would do it so she must have meant Americans.

Noon the next day, Thursday, US called and told me the van was ready for pick-up AND it would cost one hundred and fifty euros. Forty of that was filling the van with twenty liters of diesel. The fact that I couldn’t get a ride until this morning (Friday) meant little. This unintended but ultimately huge mistake I made was turning out to be ok. That means it didn’t break my piggy bank and the motor wasn’t damaged, all the affected parts just had a bath, and I have the van back in forty-eight hours. And probably/hopefully, I didn’t lose the friendship which was on my mind the whole time.

So here’s the final thing. I’m a good student. I do my homework and learn my lessons. But there are some lessons that I only seem to learn the hard way–by making a mistake. This one I thought was going to be a dilly. It was hard enough though it had a happier ending than I expected. I will ALWAYS look to see what kind of gas or diesel or otherwise a car takes (by the time I ever own a car again, they’ll all be electric!) All the cliché inspirations, that many of us are inundated with, remind us how important mistakes are and how to learn from them. They forget to mention that sometimes you want the world to stop, that the feelings can often be overwhelming. But…life ticks on and the consequences show themselves. And infuriatingly, the clichés are all true. Mistakes are the greatest teacher of all.

The end of the day, the end of the story

A bientôt,

Sara

We’ll always have Paris

When I hear the word Paris, my brain always goes in one direction before it hits a fork in the road. That first direction, the knee-jerk response to the word ‘Paris’ is romance. Not romance in the sense of falling in love with a person–although Paris is certainly famous for being the ‘City of Love.’ Pull up photos of Paris on the internet and you will find the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and a couple kissing, arms wrapped tightly around each other, with an iconic Parisian structure in the background. No, for me the romance is the feeling the city instills in one almost immediately. I remember when I first moved here, I would walk the cobbled streets and the quais along the Seine, and my heart would feel so full, it often felt like it would burst open. Uncontainable. The beauty of the Haussmann buildings with their iron terrace railings, the light, the fact that no building is allowed to be over six stories high so one can always see plenty of sky. From almost anywhere, it’s possible to see Sacre Coeur and Montmartre sitting on its hill over looking Paris. There is life lived out on the streets. There is a heartbeat, a bustle to the daily activity. It literally pulses around me–even now two years after the start of the Pandemic, the streets and the sidewalks of Paris are alive.

The Eiffel Tower at sunrise

The fork in the road?: I live in the 16th arrondissement. I am ten minutes from the Bois de Boulogne with its many gardens, Parc de Bagatelle, the two lakes near the Porte de Passy. The Bois is not the first thing people think of when they hear the word ‘Paris’. My shopping area is Avenue Mozart. I walk one direction and come to the neighborhood of Auteuil where my hyperCarrefour is. I walk the other direction and come to rue de Passy with the fancy stores that have migrated over from the Champs Elysées which no longer has any designer shops. If I’m lucky, on a clear day as I get close to Passy, I can see the top of the Eiffel Tower down a side street. The 16th arrondissement is not touristic. There are no iconic buildings that shout Paris. Only on walking down to the Seine and looking north and east, do I remember on a visceral level where I am.

Peacock at Parc de Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulogne

Then there is the Pandemic. For two years, almost all my ‘networking’, getting together with friends and book clubs has been on Zoom. People my age have been very cautious about going out especially in crowded places. I was at a wonderful expo ,”The Morozov Collection” at the Fondation Louis Vuitton, a couple of weeks ago. I was listening to a guide give a short talk on the paintings on the first floor. We were packed around each other, leaning in with one ear closer to her than the other. I suddenly remembered reading an article on the risk of catching Covid in Paris. The article said that in a room, a closed space, that contained fifty people or more, the likely hood that someone had Covid was 98%. In a space with thirty people, the likely hood was 65%. I jumped back from the crowd listening attentively to the guide as if I’d been burned. I walked to a place where I could be six feet away from others. I felt angry. I knew there were other options for getting information about this expo but Covid was stealing this particular option from me.

I spend 75% of my day inside my apartment, I can stand on my terrace and look out over the courtyard. At night, on the hour, the lights from the twinkly Eiffel Tower bounce off the windows of the apartment building across the courtyard from me. I remember I’m in Paris. Paris is opening up but, after two years, it feels like it takes a cattle prod to unearth me and push me out to go Paris Centre and see all those sites that once made my heart swell to bursting. Fear of being around too many people has become ingrained in me. I’ve not kept track of how many tourists are here and whether the centre is crowded the way it once was. Walking near Notre Dame was like doing slalom skiing, a curly queue road to getting anywhere. I used to love it.

Plum tree blossoming on the corner of rue de l’Assomption, 16ème

Having returned from Oakland, California where there is so much space, where I live in a home with a backyard, where neighbors walk together all the time, I’m struck by the contrast. They follow the rule of two out of three. A mask, social distancing, outside. One tries always to do two out of the three. It is easy to walk or hike in the many parks mask-free. Free being the operative word. Such a freedom to not be afraid all the time. Cautious yes, but not afraid. And iconic?: my bedroom window looks out over the San Francisco Bay. I can see the Golden Gate bridge, the pyramid building, the fireworks from Crissy Field on the fourth of July and New Year’s Eve.

Mallards begging for bread crumbs–just like anywhere in the world. Only here it is in Le Vésinet

Would I move back to California? To the US with its insane politics, mean and cruel treatment of “others”, a polarity that has caused people not to entertain interesting discussions in fear of distressing someone? Would I leave Paris? And immediately the Paris of romance jumps into my head. It sets off a longing that is physical. And I’m right here in Paris! I long for the pre-Covid Paris. In truth, for the foreseeable future, there will only be ‘Paris in the time of Covid’. Until everyone is vaccinated, and I mean most everyone in the world, this is our lives. I read recently that Fauci was quoted saying that by the end of this thing, most of us will have had Covid. More and more people that I know are getting it–breakthrough cases.

End of the canal trail in Le Vésinet

For almost two years, I’ve woken up accepting life in the time of Covid. That was before three months in California with all that space, the ease of getting together with others, speaking the native language, the wonder of the state that I have lived in (excepting the past eight years) since 1971 and re-experienced the beauty of that area. So what is troubling me? What would stop me from fantasizing about a permanent move back to California? Two days ago, Sunday, I met my friend, Barbara, out in the western suburbs. She took me to a park in Le Vésinet that she had just discovered. It was a beautiful sunny day, still cold. It is February in northern France after all! We meandered around the park, a wide open space with an island in the middle of the river that ran through it. Then we walked over to a canal with a trail that changed names three times as it crossed over streets and other walking paths. I couldn’t help comparing it to my Friday hikes with Jeanni and Rocky while in Oakland. It compared very nicely. I turned to Barbara at one point and said “this is the happiest I’ve felt since I returned a month ago.” It’s not the same as California and Oakland but Paris and France has plenty of wonderful spaces to walk and to hike.

Wild primroses near the home of Mme Du Barry in Louveciennes

No, it’s the language. I took French as a middle schooler. I flunked it. My french teacher would preach to me, “stop thinking in english, you must think in french.” I could barely think an interesting sentence in english much less in french. I stared at her sullenly as I had no idea how to respond. I took French again in college and even won a place to spend 4 months in Dijon during my junior year. I lived with a french family who told the college administrator that I was far too “timide” and refused to speak french with them. That timidité has never gone away. I’ve taken immersion french, I took weekly classes and I have improved. I understand street french, meaning I can converse with shop owners where no more than a couple of sentences is required. I can follow a conversation with about 75% understanding. But I couldn’t go to a dinner party and give my normally quite opinionated views on the world. I’ve conquered so many things here: french administration, getting a bank account, getting the Carte Vitale so I have health coverage, apply for and renewing my residency card every year, having to declare monies to two countries every year. But unless one learns the language well or one is completely inconsiderate of living in a country that speaks a different language, only learning the language will make one completely comfortable. It is said if you move here and want to speak fluently, get a french lover or work in a french business or both! I’ve done neither. I’m trying to push this 74 year old brain to “keep at it” on will-power and an on-and-off desire to be a good citizen.

More on France/Paris vs California/Oakland next week!!!

A Bientôt,

Sara

California Dreamin’

I spent three months of this winter in Oakland, California. I have been back in Paris over a week and, until today, suffering my usual jet lag. Before I moved to Paris, I had lived in Oakland since 1971. I still own a home there. Since I thought I was moving for only one year eight years ago, I thought it was high time to spend some energy on my house and do needed repairs. I also had a very large project in mind–to clean out and organise my garage, my attic, and a storage area under my living room. In the end, I only did the garage but how wonderful it felt to purge, give away, sell STUFF that has been sitting there for years.

A third of the way through the project, starting to make some progress in my garage. One can now walk to the back!!!!

Some readers noticed that my blog wasn’t arriving in their mailboxes and wrote to ask me if they had missed something. I wrote them back and said I was taking a break for the winter. I should have written that here before I left but I don’t think I’d really realised how deeply I would get into my “home projects” and that there wouldn’t be much energy for anything else.

The beach at Asilomar, Pacific Grove, California

When I first arrived in early November, the weather was lovely as only the Bay Area can be. I visited my friends in Pacific Grove and we walked on the beach and enjoyed sun on our faces. I had left Paris just as it was starting to get cold. So it felt heavenly to be able to go outside in just jackets. Then it started to rain, and rain some more, and rain even more. It rained for almost four weeks straight, to the point that people like me were wondering if it was making a dent in the worst drought that California has known in a very long time. A couple of weeks into the rain, the temperature plummeted. I would wake up in the morning to 38 degree weather and, if we were lucky, it went as high as 48 degrees. Every morning, I would check my iPhone: weather in Oakland vs. weather in Paris. Paris was consistently 20 degrees higher. What am I doing in Oakland, I would think to myself, shivering my butt off? (The rainfall did nothing to make the drought better. As anyone who saw the photos of the Big Sur fire knows, there was no ground wetness/saturation. Fire just spread like…..well, like wild fire).

Hiking in Joaquin Miller Park, Oakland, California

Most of my work kept me inside. I hired a wonderful woman who organises professionally and she took over how my garage would turn into a garage again. She said “you might even get a car in here!” She turned an odious job that I had resisted doing for years into something that was achievable, something satisfying, and dare I say it–Fun! By the time I left Oakland to return to Paris, STUFF had gone to the Salvation Army, Creative Arts Depot which resells arts and crafts and office supplies to people who can’t pay high prices, to consignment stores, and too much of it into the trash bins. Two auction houses came to look at the myriad of things I’d bought over the years that I no longer needed. I got excited that someone else might enjoy things that had given me pleasure.

Sara, Rocky, Jeanni hiking in Briones Reserve, California

Fridays were my reward day. I found a book that I’ve owned forever called “East Bay Hikes.” My friends, Jeanni and Rocky, joined me in walking. Each Friday, we found somewhere to hike for three to four hours. I grew up hiking–mostly in Vermont and New England. When I moved to California in the 70s, I hiked the Sierras and the Rockies in Colorado. Then I went back to graduate school and life took over. I don’t remember it happening. What I know is that I was hiking places within 15 miles of my home that I’d never been to. Easy to get to, open every day of the year. It was glorious, it was exhilarating. It was fun. As my weeks wound down, Jeanni and I started a list of places to go on Fridays the next time I go back to Oakland.

Sun setting over San Francisco and the Bay from my bedroom window

By the end of December, the rain stopped, the temperature rose slowly and, according to my not very trusty iPhone, it was colder in Paris than it was in Oakland. The days were beautiful. I could work outside, clean up the garden areas. And the sunsets…. I was told that something happens in January, the longitude or latitude of where the sun is setting (way past what my brain cells can integrate) and the sun puts on a show of dazzling reds, oranges, deep purples for at least thirty minutes. The sight gives complete meaning to the word ‘breathtaking’. Every evening I would take a photo from my bedroom window thinking that it couldn’t get better. Then it would get better.

A couple of nights later. The Golden Gate bridge is on the right connecting Marin County to San Francisco

The month of January was so wonderful that I hardly got anxious at all about getting the PCR test for entry onto a plane, entry back into France. I didn’t worry too much about whether the flights would be cancelled even though thousands of flights were being cancelled because Omicron was taking out the staff of airplanes, hospitals, and numerous other places. I was full of whatever will be, will be because I would have been happy to stay in Oakland another couple of weeks.

My baseball family at Cheesecake Factory in Walnut Creek

I hadn’t really visited with many friends. I still have a baseball family (Go A’s) and we manage to stay in touch. Between Christmas and New Year’s, we met in Walnut Creek for a very long luncheon. I was able to listen to baseball chatter and gossip that was so familiar but hadn’t heard in a long time. My friends still adore the Oakland Athletics but there isn’t much love for the Front Office or the baseball strike. Ticket prices have doubled in less than four years and no one knows whether they will be going to Spring Training games when they get to Arizona at the end of this month.

Point Isabel, Richmond, California. Doggie all dressed up and getting a free ride to the best dog park in the country.

Once “Project Garage” was winding down, I was able to meet and walk with more friends. The Bay Area boasts of one of the best dog parks in the country. Point Isabel. With or without one’s dog, friends can meet up and walk a short stretch throwing balls to our canine babies or walk four or five miles north along the coast. And there too, if one timed their walk correctly, it’s possible to watch the sun set over “my city by the bay (Lights by Journey).

Watching the sun set over San Francisco from Point Isabel.

Now I’m sitting at my dining room table in Paris, remembering California and how quickly the three months flew by. I could do this every year if I wanted: live in both places. And how lucky would one girl get?– to live in two of the most beautiful cities in the world!!!

A bientôt,

Sara

Powerlessness

I have sat down and written numerous blogs in the past six weeks. Most of them in my head. When I actually put pen to paper or start typing on the computer, in a very short time I run into an obstacle that I can’t seem to overcome. At first, I treat it as a challenge and struggle with it. So far, I have gotten discouraged, felt exhausted from pushing the proverbial rock up the hill and abandoned whatever I was working on.

This all led me to thinking about powerlessness not a topic often discussed in this kind of blog. With the latest blog that I tried writing, I got stumped by trying to upload my photos. I would click ‘upload’ for a photo (or six of them before I gave up), and get a message saying that whatever I was trying to upload was empty–no nothing to upload, nada, rien. For an hour, I tried countless ways to make sure each photo was a .jpeg and ‘uploadable’. In the end, I was staring at the screen, out of ideas, mystified (to put it lightly), and completely discouraged. It always seems better to stop before I start my rant at inanimate objects.

This week, I received an e-mail from my credit card – Chase- travel agency informing me that half of my round trip reservation to San Francisco had been cancelled by the airline. I was to call them: the travel agency, please, to re-book something. I made my first call on Monday morning ten days ago. They told me it wasn’t the entire trip but the second leg from London to SFO that had been cancelled. I had been re-booked on an earlier flight which gave me twenty minutes to get to the gate after landing from Paris. I informed the woman that I was talking to that that wasn’t enough time and she needed to come up with another option. She seemed completely at a loss of what to do. I suggested an earlier flight out of Paris. She told me there wasn’t one. So I suggested the night before and I would stay in a Heathrow airport. That was fine and would only cost me $6000 more. I thought she was joking and laughed. She wasn’t joking. I can’t print what I was thinking and wished to say to her. In the end, two and a half hours later, I asked her to keep my two booked flights and would she please confirm with the airline, Virgin Atlantic, that I would make the second flight in the short time they were giving me. Her superior documented all this and said I would hear back within 72 hours.

When I hadn’t heard back by Thursday, I called again and had to go through everything all over again. This woman was slightly more competent. She said it was simple. I just had to take the earlier flight out of Paris. WHATTTTT??? I had been told there wasn’t one. She was so sorry for the inconvenience. Then there was a problem. Even though I had asked the first woman to keep the rebooked reservation, she had not. So the new person told me there was no longer a seat in my class on the second leg. After a couple of minutes, she said they would contact the airline and ask for an upgrade since it was the airline that cancelled. Twenty-five minutes of trying to contact the airline (we were both on hold, I assume), she told me they couldn’t get a representative and it would be documented and I would hear back in forty-eight hours.

That was seven days ago, many hours of haggling, screaming, trying to be patient, being told “I’m so sorry for the inconvenience”, and I still don’t have a reservation. No one seems to have any power except the airline and the people at the Credit Card travel agency can’t seem to get in touch with the airline–in ten days!! And because I did this through a third party, I’m not allowed to do it on my own behalf.

As I write, I’m on hold. I’ve been on hold for over an hour after thirty minutes of trying to get another incompetent woman (just try asking to speak to someone in the US–it’s impossible) to fix my problem. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know if I will get a flight. No one has said “don’t worry, we’ll get you there.” They are just so sorry for the inconvenience. They each sound just like the other, like robots that have been trained in certain sentences, and I wonder do they really think they sound empathic. It’s hard to believe.

I just tried adding up the hours I’ve spent on the phone. It has to be at least eight hours. I’ve thought about how much peace of mind I’ve allowed those people to steal from me because I can’t keep my frustration and total anguish at my powerlessness at bay. And I still don’t have a flight.

And the worst part is: I’m not alone. I’m sure what is happening to me has happened or is happening to many others. One friend says it’s because service people don’t get paid enough so they don’t really care. Another says it’s because of Covid, airlines haven’t hired help. Travel Agencies are just getting back on their feet. I say it’s because organisations can get away with it. They can pay people as little as possible because everyone is looking for work. And they export out these jobs. It used to be to India but I think India wised up as it got more savvy in technology. Now it’s the Philippines. So no matter about making America great again, Americans lose to countries whose people will accept much less money for a lot more work. Everyone pays the price.

Countdown: twenty-five days until my flights are supposed to leave for the US. I’m breathing. I hate the feeling of powerlessness but what can I do? More will be revealed as they say in twelve-step programs.

A bientôt,

Sara

Cambremer, Pays d’Auge

Tucked in a valley, approximately half-way between Lisieux and the seaside resorts of Cabourg and Houlgate, Cambremer is another beautiful small village of four blocks and lots of horses. Like Lessard-et-le-Chêne, it is situated in the Pays d’Auge and the larger district of Calvados.

The center square of Cambremer

I have come here for two weeks. As my American readers will probably remember, wealthier Parisians leave Paris for the month of August. It is a “right of summer.” I was negligent in what usually is very good planning this year and, by the time I got around to trying to find a place to stay, most everything was booked. No Americans this year again. No Japanese or Chinese. Plenty of Germans, English, and, of course, French. I was lucky. I found a B&B not far from where my friends live in Lessard called Le Pressoir. As it turns out, I am the only guest so Bijou and I have an entire wing of a house to ourselves. Our host’s name is Claude. She lives here with her two dachshunds, five horses, one rabbit, and two goldfish. She is my age and could not be nicer. I explained before my arrival about my food allergies and she has given me full use of her kitchen and refrigerator. From the dining room table, I can look out on a huge lawn with mature trees which, like so many of the Normandy homes, lends an air of calmness and serenity.

My home in Cambremer “Le Pressoir”

This area is not just famous for its horses and stud farms but also “The Cider Trail.” The Pays d’Auge is replete with apples, every form, size and taste. The Cider Trail of forty kilometers is a loop that takes an interested traveler by a minimum of twelve showrooms. Normandy cider has a golden yellow to amber color characterised by a light foam and fine bubbles. It has a buttery aroma. Since I don’t drink alcohol, I am quoting from the Normandy website!

Chapelle de Clermont

I am interested in the walking and hiking. I returned to Beuvron-en-Auge and picked up some hiking pamphlets and on Thursday I hiked uphill to a small Chapel called L’Eglise St. Michel. It was not open for visitors but one could walk around the narrow dirt path that surrounded the small building. From the front of the chapel, one can get an extraordinary view of the Norman countryside as far south as Saint Pierre-sur-Dives. The trail from Beuvron started out on concrete but quickly became a wide dirt trail that progressively grew smaller the higher I climbed. On the way back down, I passed some huge and elegant looking Stud Farms. One rented out rooms but also was available for large events like weddings.

The next day, I met my friend who lives in Dives-sur-Mer which is sandwiched by Cabourg and Houlgate, at a fascinating place called La Maison Bleue.

La Maison Bleue

La Maison Bleue is not well known even to residents of Calvados. It was created by a man who worked as a day laborer all his life. After Laika, the dog whom the Russians sent up in their sputnik in 1957, died, M. Costas, the architect of LMB, created a memorial to her. He took pottery shards he found on the street or at brocantes and set them in cement. He placed a rocket at the top and a photo of a dog near an opening. From there, he began to tile, with shards, every inch of his and his wife’s living space. He became more more religious, found icons at cheap stores, and by the time he finished his chef d’oeuvre, twenty years had passed.

Memorial to Laika

La Maison Bleue is open only three days a week and only for two hours on each of those days. It is run by volunteers who are devoted to the artwork.

A short walk of less than a mile from Le Pressoir is Les Jardins du Pays d’Auge, another privately run enterprise for people visiting the area. My friend, Marjorie, told me that it used to be a large nursery serving the entire area. She and her husband bought many of the plants, trees, and bushes that now bloom in abundance at their home in Lessard-et-le-Chêne. At some point, the nursery closed and some people had the idea of creating a large garden with about thirty different “rooms.” There is a water garden, a romance garden, a moon garden, a sun garden, and many more. There are also replicas of a forge, a shoe-maker’s hut, and a variety of different needs and talents that keep a farm running. It is well done and quite popular. On the day I went, there had to be fifty or sixty people, including children, visiting. Also on the site is a popular restaurant La Creperie.

During the months of July and August, Cambremer has its own outside market every Saturday morning: La Marchê Ancienne. It is teeny for a marchê!! There was one vendor selling chickens, two vendors selling fruits and vegetables, and four different artisinal vendors: wooden pens and bowls; children’s clothing; crocheted key rings; and specialty jams and conserves. What made the marchê exceptional was a live band and singer who entertained with great confidence marching around the square and making everyone smile.

This may look hokey but it was a lot of fun to be there!!!!

And that concluded my first week in this delightful village in the green and abundant Pays d’Auge area of Normandy France.

Evening descends on Le Pressoir

A bientôt,

Sara

Photo journaling in Normandy

Bijou looking out on the Normandy countryside
Monday Marché — Saint-Pierre-sur-Dive: late in the morning .
Sara and Thais in Dives sur Mer after an 8 mile walk
Hanging out with Marcel Proust in Cabourg
Upper area of Calvados region in Normandy
Young fouls playing at Haras de Marancourt
The Boardwalk in Cabourg
Looking out at the sea in Cabourg
Beuvron-en-Auge
Dives-sur-Mer Port-Guillaume
Store in Beuvron-en-Auge
Town Hall in Lessard-et-le-Chêne
Apéro/Dinétoire Lessard-et-le-Chêne
My new friend, Toto
Sunset from the bathroom window

Flying in the time of Covid-19–Part 2

Thanks to all who responded so helpfully to my last post. My three weeks in California were hectic and, unfortunately, I didn’t see some of the responses and I wish I had. With all the guidelines and country requirements for entrance being so fluid, it was difficult to know how to prepare and what to do for my return flight. The one thing I was sure of was that I needed a negative Covid test to board the plane back to France. That involved many of the same hoops to jump through as I’d had in preparation to coming to the USA. Again, I had to stop in Frankfurt, Germany. Germany and Ireland seem to be the strictest countries over here in terms of who can enter and how long before entering the country the Covid test must be done. Notice I said “entering” the country. At the time that I was scheduling my test, France required a 72-hour window before boarding a flight. Germany required a 48-hour window before entering the country. even the small print made it difficult to understand what would happen if one was just passing through Germany but entering another Schengen country.

On June 4, I did the best I could with the information I had and made a reservation to get a test from Kaiser Richmond on Sunday, June 20 at 3pm–70 hours before boarding the flight from SFO. I hoped to forget about it for awhile.

The next week, June 9, France opened up to American tourists. The USA was classified as an “Orange” country. What did that mean? In order to enter France (as opposed to boarding the plane, one needed proof of vaccination – two jabs – and a negative Covid test). Then exactly one week later, France upgraded USA to a “Green” country meaning, that to enter France, one only needed proof of vaccination. There was no rhyme or reason for the change. In many states, the numbers are rising again. One in every five cases is now the Delta variant. Biden has not reached his goal of 70% vaccination by July 4th although the media says the goal will probably be reached sometime in July. However, a large percentage of the southern states’ population is refusing any vaccination. From what I hear, this is all political. Any argument of the vaccine having been developed too soon without enough time to really test its efficacy has been erased. Most people know now these vaccines have been in developmental research stages for years. This is not the first Covid. Ergo the number 19. The trick a year ago was to target this exact virus and add the variable to the vaccines already under development.

By the this time, almost two weeks of my time in California had passed (more of that later), and it really was time to start paying attention. Every day, I checked both the UAL (United Airlines) website and the French government website. The real anxiety was going to be Kaiser. As of this writing, Kaiser will not guarantee a test result by boarding time. I hadn’t really thought of alternatives until I didn’t get the result 48 hours after I’d had the test, had already turned my rental car in, and thought I might actually have to turn around at SFO, come home, and fly out the next day. EXCEPT the result then would be past the 72 hour window. So I managed to find a mobile test center that would come to the house, give me the test, and guarantee the results within 6-8 hours for a mere $499. Ain’t the US health care system grand??? I didn’t think I had a choice so I made a reservation. And just like the old adage “if you want the bus to come, light a cigarette”, my Kaiser result arrived in my e-mail box one hour later.

Not ready to totally let go of anxiety (!), the printed out version of the test result looked so unofficial. You had to search to find the words Kaiser Permanente. So I spent an hour cutting and pasting to make it look really official.

At the airport seventeen hours later: While checking in, the lovely woman asked me if I had filled out the form required by the French government. I said No, that I was a resident. So she checked my residency card but then decided I needed it anyway (I didn’t). She took my phone and took a photo of the website, sent me to the domestic terminal to have the form printed then told me to fill it out. After a 20 minute walk to the domestic terminal, I learned there was no printer to be had and, that maybe, possibly, there was a printer at the travel agency next to the United counter at the International airport. I sat down, had a coffee, and told myself the check-in person was wrong. I had read the French website backwards and forwards many times and I was willing to take my chances. So I called two friends to say goodbye and sat peacefully until boarding time.

At the gate, and this was a gate of every possible definition, there were two people asking to see one’s passport and one’s boarding card. My boarding card did not have an OK with a circle around it. So one of the gatekeepers had to ask a superior who had to ask another superior if I could come into the boarding area. I suspected that I was supposed to return to the United Check-in with my printed out form, that I didn’t need, filled out and then she would ok me. But I kept my mouth shut. The third superior decided that the person had just forgotten to put the OK on and they let me in.

The circled red OK saying I’m allowed to enter the boarding area

Then we were all called to order by a power-hungry United staff member who was going to whip us into line if it cost him everything. People were going to board in the order he said and he didn’t care what Group your boarding pass said. AND no one was to stand in HIS boarding area if they weren’t boarding. Which no one paid attention to. I had gotten that far and I was not going to get more anxious, so I just giggled inside as he tried to “herd cats”!!! I made it onto the plane without further ado.

Waiting to board at SFO, the arm of our “little dictator” trying to herd cats

We landed in Frankfurt eleven hours later. After the two hour connection stop-over wait, I got in-line to board my flight to CDG Paris. First we had to show our boarding ticket, our passport, and our negative test result. Mine caused another flap but by this time, I was just too tired to get overly anxious. She asked me where I had come from four or five times, what time and day I’d had my test which I answered four or five times, and seemed on the verge of not letting me on the plane. I finally said that I had my vaccine certificates with me, would she like to see them? Well, yes she would. I showed them to her and that did the trick. She smiled and showed me another line to stand in and soon I was ushered towards the aiport shuttle bus that traveled the entire length of the Frankfurt airport (I swear it went around a couple of times. It took almost ten minutes to get to our plane) and dropped us off. It was raining. There were two entrances, front and back, to get on the plane. The majority of people ran towards the front and stood in the rain to board. So, even though I was in the first eight rows, I ran to the back, didn’t get too wet and, like a salmon swimming upstream, pushed my way to my seat.

A little over one hour later, we landed in Paris. And just as always, CDG is a breeze to get through. My passport was stamped, I waited all of five minutes for my luggage, walked through customs without a question, and was in line for the taxi twenty minutes after leaving the plane. My Cambodian taxi driver thought I was the nicest, sweetest person because I chatted with him all the way to my apartment. I was willing to give him cash instead of my Carte Bancaire and I was his best friend for life. He was willing to give me a receipt so he was ok in my book.

I opened my apartment door, called for Bijou, and waited. She came trotting up lazily and if she could have smiled, I think she did. I was home.

Bijou on her new bed

A bientôt,

Sara

Flying on a jet plane—in the time of Covid-19

Last Wednesday, June 2nd, I flew from Paris to San Francisco. From the time I got both my vaccination shots, I counted out the three weeks it would take for the vaccine to be effective and started thinking about flying overseas. Just the thought of it made me tired. It had been seventeen months since I visited Oakland where I lived before moving to Paris. I have traveled by train within France but that is as much as common sense said it was wise to do.

The first thing to do was book the flight and try to figure out all the ins and outs once I had committed to traveling. Anyone who collects airline miles knows that once you have a significant number of miles, you are held hostage by that company. Mine is United. If I can, I like to upgrade for these flights of eleven hours or longer. Sometime in Spring of 2020, United stopped direct flights San Francisco to Paris and return. So I had to book a trip that took me first to Frankfurt (flying East) in order to fly to SFO (flying West). In theory, it didn’t seem too bad. In reality, it is a lot of trouble.

The next thing was to try and get the information about what the airlines were requiring as far as certificates for vaccines and negative Covid tests. It became clear quite quickly that no one was sure and information was hard to come by. The one thing everyone agreed on was that a Negative Covid test was required within 72 hours of leaving CDG airport. I worried about how I would show I was vaccinated. As it turned out, I wasn’t asked once about being vaccinated. I was the only who cared. I had to show my negative test when I checked in and again in Frankfurt even though I never left the no-man’s land part of the airport. France is very efficient about the test. I had it done first thing Monday morning, May 31, and had the results in an e-mail Monday late afternoon. Here in California, I have made an appointment to get the test and they cannot promise that I will get the results in time. The best they say is 1-3 days. I’m so tired of worrying and having anxiety about travel that I am just saying that I will get the result in time or I won’t. Maybe I’ll have to fly out the following day.

Two days before I was about to leave, I received an e-mail from Lufthansa telling me they had changed my seat and they hoped it wasn’t causing me too much inconvenience. In reading the e-mail, I noticed that the flight was leaving from Terminal 2B. United is in Terminal 1. It is a long distance one to the other. In the US, one checks in with the airline that the reservation was made with. But I had a niggling memory that it is not the same in France. In trying to find out which Terminal to go to to check in, I learned how incredibly under staffed United and probably most airlines are. The France number for United was no longer working. Lufthansa kept me on hold for 4o minutes then hung up on me before giving me the info. I called a friend and together we decided that I should go to Terminal 2B because it was not just a flight operated by Lufthansa but also a Lufthansa plane.

So to be safe, I went as early as I could tolerate. Terminal 2B is a brand new terminal. June 2, the day I flew, was the first day it was open. There was more “help” available than there were passengers in the Terminal. It was so smooth and easy, it was dreamlike. I found an area that had comfortable armchairs and couches to wile away the time. Everyone was masked and was friendly. Much was closed and will probably open up June 9th when international travelers will be welcomed into France.

I was tired by the time I arrived in Frankfurt, too tired to get upset about much. So it seemed seamless making the trip from A13 where the first flight came in and Z25 where the United flight was to leave. I boarded and, for the first time in memory, I slept the entire way.

My last hurdle was Customs at SFO. When asked it I had any food with me, I honestly said that I had my dinner with me. I think my flight was the only flight that arrived at that time because the airport was empty. But I was escorted to Customs A whereas everyone else went through Customs B meaning they had nothing to declare. There were no cute little beagles running around sniffing luggage. Yet I was treated quite nastily about having my dinner. They threw everything out and wanted to throw out my fancy container. I begged and they made a big show of sanitizing it about six times before giving it back to me.

Then I got to leave the airport. I had arrived in California.

They only thing left to say is that it seems no one is prepared for travel to be picking up this fast. Uber has doubled in price because there aren’t enough drivers. Rental car agencies sold off much of their fleet in the past year to keep afloat and don’t have enough cars. So they, too, have upped their prices by about 40% and, what used to be a quick “pick up your car and get going”, now takes over an hour.

And that’s the story from California where the sun is shining, everything is green and beautiful, and the fires have not yet started. I had three days of jet lag and can write today keeping a focus and even have a baseball game on in the background (The A’s are losing to the Rockies in the bottom of the 5th. While proofreading, Murphy, the catcher, hit a homerun, so it is now 2-1. The A’s may yet pull it off!).

A bientôt,

Sara

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