Last week, as I wrote here, I visited the D-Day Museum in Caen and also went to two of the Normandy beaches. At the same time, I was reading The Flight Portfolio by Julie Orringer: the story of one of many little known heroes who did daring feats and risked their lives to resist the Nazis and the Vichy. It’s 75 years since D-Day, June 6, 1945 and new stories of resistance in WWII are still being written. To me, the most distressing stories are the ones of human blindness and ignorance as Germany became proudly anti-Semitic and built up to war.
So why, I wonder, aren’t we learning from past mistakes? “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.“(George Santayana). From my perspective here in Paris, the US Constitution is being trampled on in ways that were unimaginable three years ago. I remember November 9, 2016: I had gone to bed early the night before having seen the writing on the wall. I woke up praying. The computer and TV told me that Donald Trump would be POTUS come Jan. 20, 2017. As shocked and stunned as I was, I did think “we’ve gotten through bad times before, we can do it again.” Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the environment in the White House, a man with absolutely no moral compass being declared the leader of the Free World.
I do get it: People were fed up with the status quo. They wanted change at any price. Isn’t this similar to Germany in the early 1930s when Hitler came to power. Both men got into an office of tremendous power by instigating an atmosphere of fear and hatred. I wasn’t alive during WWII. I was raised by two parents who had lived through the war and tried to teach me the meaning of freedom. I was a slow learner. It wasn’t until I was well into my 30s that I grasped the huge price in human life that the Allies paid to win that war. And it was sometime in my 60s that I realized it’s not a given that the good guys win. I couldn’t actually grasp how people lived through the Hitler years, the Dark Ages, Spain under Franco. It scared me.
My generation rebelled against the Vietnam War. This younger generation has thrown all it’s protesting energy behind the emergency warning cry for Climate Change. Even Jane Fonda, the anti-Vietnam voice of my generation, is getting arrested for Climate Change each week.
What about the rest of us? Have we gotten so cynical that we can’t do anything. I have a friend who says “I’ll go to the ballot box but don’t talk to me about politics.” In some ways, I don’t blame her. When I visit the US, TVs blare 24/7. I don’t know if anyone actually listens. Here in Paris, I read my news. President Trump acts as if he does not believe in democracy. I think he really believes he didn’t do anything wrong on the July 25th Ukranian call. I’m told that the far-right Republicans say we are in Civil War and anything is fair game in war. Trump thinks of himself as Emperor and “off with your head” if you aren’t 100% with him.
I’m still watching the Democrats squabble among themselves and I don’t have any clear idea of the path ahead for them. Do they? I feel discouraged by my party. It’s not who is the best person to be POTUS, it’s who can beat Trump. When we get together, we don’t talk about a candidate’s pros and cons, we talk about whether a woman can beat Trump, whether a gay man can beat Trump, will the US elect another African-American president? Democrats Abroad is hosting Zoom meetings and inviting every candidate to present their platform to those of us who sign up. I think it is the only place where I hear what they stand for.
One month before the mid-term elections, Malcolm Nance spoke to an audience at the American Library in Paris. He told us, “Get everyone you know to get out the vote. This could possibly be the end of the great American experiment.” I feel that way today. But I don’t have time to get active with Dems Abroad. How many people say that and look back and wish they hadn’t believed their own voices? So I will get active. There is always time.
I pray a lot and end up saying the Serenity Prayer. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference. –Reinhold Niebuhr
I don’t often write political opinion and probably won’t again for awhile but these things I had to ask. Thank you for bearing with me.
I spent last week down in Le Gers, the tiny village of Pouy-Roquelaure, where I spent most of last summer. I wrote about my time there in a number of blogs. It seemed magical to me with the music, the kindness of the people, the freshness of the food, the multitude of sunflowers surrounding me everywhere and the heat which I love but is not everyone’s friend.
I have spent most of the winter dreaming up ways to return. People who live there don’t want to leave in the summer so home exchanges are difficult. The British will buy up large country houses, fix them up and then rent them for Parisian prices. I didn’t want that. I ended up renting a smallish place near the town of Nerac for a month starting in mid-July. But first I did an exchange with my friends: Paris-Pouy for one week.
Two things interested me. Learning the history of the area starting with the Gauls. Is this where Julius Caesar came and started unnecessary wars so he could abscond with a lot of stolen loot? There are three exquisite areas, one near Montreal and two near Eauze, that show a village and probably village life.
The European elections were this past weekend and I wondered how Le Gers would vote. I asked a British friend and she thought the majority of Gascognians were still of a socialist bent which surprised me. The Gilets Jaunes were born out of poor countrysides and I would have thought that Le Gers might be part of that. But if my friend was correct, Le Gers would be the colors of the rainbow when all the winning parties were put on the map.
The area I love is in the northern-most part of Le Gers. I arrive by train from Paris to the Agen Station which is in Lot-et-Garonne. Twenty five minutes south is the tiny village of Pouy and forty-five minutes south is the the town of Condom–both in Le Gers. The Compostale of Saint-Jacques, that starts near Paris in Le Puy, comes down south to Lectour which is east of Condom, winds its way slightly north again to the beautiful village of La Romieu then southwest to Condom before making its way west to Eauze. This is a land of pilgrims as well as agriculture. There have always been pilgrims and always been foreigners.
Visiting Eauze last Friday, I learned that I was right. Centuries ago, Eauze was called ‘Elusa’ being the ancient capitol of the Elusates who were the last to surrender to the Roman army of Julius Caesar. Nowadays, Eauze is the capitol of the Armagnac region, situated in Le Gers on the border of the Bas-Armagnac and the Ténarèze, home of the best Armagnacs.
Eauze is a small town with a friendly old historical heart and calm character. The architecture looked a lot like Strasbourg with the half-timbered houses. We did a self-guided walking tour and visited the lovely simple cathedrale of Saint-Luperc that had a chapel dedicated to Saint Jacques. We ended up at the Elusa historical sites that we didn’t have time to visit on this trip. We had been to Séviac last summer so we had a good idea what would be seen. We did see many pilgrims wander into the centre of town looking weary, dusty and slow. They all headed to the Tourist Office to have their Compostale book stamped.
Elusa: Eauze during the Roman Empire
During the era of the Roman Empire, Eauze was called ´Elusa´ and acted as the capitol of Novempopulania. Novempopulania is Latin for ´land of the 9 peoples´ where it was a Roman Province in today’s ´Aquitaine´, formed after the successful conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar. Elusa became the capitol of Novempopulania by the end of the 3rd century and developed into an important administrative and religious center. But after the downfall of the Roman Empire, Elusa lost her important position and slided into decay.–Tourism in Le Gers website.
So what did Le Gers look like when the French woke up Monday morning after the European Elections:
Results for Condom
Taux d’abstention : 45.41% People not voting.
Jordan BARDELLA PRENEZ LE POUVOIR, LISTE SOUTENUE PAR MARINE LE PEN–25.56%
Nathalie LOISEAU RENAISSANCE SOUTENUE PAR LA RÉPUBLIQUE EN MARCHE, LE MODEM ET SES PARTENAIRES–22.05%
Raphaël GLUCKSMANNEN VIE D’EUROPE ÉCOLOGIQUE ET SOCIALE–9.40%
Yannick JADOT EUROPE ÉCOLOGIE–9.27%
François-Xavier BELLAMY UNION DE LA DROITE ET DU CENTRE–8.29%
Manon AUBRYLA FRANCE INSOUMISE–5.94%
Nicolas DUPONT-AIGNANLE COURAGE DE DÉFENDRE LES FRANÇAIS AVEC NICOLAS DUPONT-AIGNAN. DEBOUT LA FRANCE ! – CNIP–4.12%
Benoît HAMON LISTE CITOYENNE DU PRINTEMPS EUROPÉEN AVEC BENOÎT HAMON SOUTENUE PAR GÉNÉRATION.S ET DÈME-DIEM 25–3.59%
In Fourcès, next door, a village I would live in easily, En Marche was easily the winner with only 30% of the village not voting!!!
Taux d’abstention : 30.6%
Nathalie LOISEAU RENAISSANCE SOUTENUE PAR LA RÉPUBLIQUE EN MARCHE, LE MODEM ET SES PARTENAIRES – 29.25%
Jordan BARDELLA PRENEZ LE POUVOIR, LISTE SOUTENUE PAR MARINE LE PEN – 18.37%
The rest of Le Gers seems pretty much the same. Marine Le Pen did not take all of Le Gers. In fact, if the colors are accurate, it looks pretty even between Le Pen and Macron.
So what is the take away? Twenty-one hundred years ago, Le Gers (Gaul) fell to a Trump like dictator only wanting money and power and not much caring how he got it. Today, France is in a battle that is not so dissimilar. If Le Pen were to win in the next elections, she would fight tooth and nail to have France leave the EU (we’ll see what happens in Brussels between now and then). If France left the EU, there might not be a EU left. Macron wants power, wants to lead the EU. Perhaps if he settled for working out his France issues, relating to the French people, he might make more strides. But I’m only an American with not a lot of knowledge of French politics so you must take what I say with a few grains of salt!!!
Paris is having a lovely Indian summer. The weather stays in the low to mid 70s. The air just feels different, however, than in Spring or Summer. Maybe it’s the leaves turning brown and the sidewalks full of fallen leaves. It does feel like the beginning of Fall.
La Rentrée is over and Paris is in full swing. My swimming pool has opened after four weeks of renovations, adult classes have started. At the American Library where I volunteer, “Evenings with an Author” will be starting up with Richard Russo”. He will be discussing his latest collection of short stories: Trajectory. He is in Paris for Festival-America, a three day gathering of well known authors speaking, dinners, presentations. The focus this year is on Canada and the Festival will be celebrating the life and work of John Irving. https://www.festival-america.com
In other words, Paris is buzzing with energy. The streets and cafes are full at all times of the day. Dog walkers are out by the dozens. Every size of dog imaginable but mostly small dogs that fit comfortably into small apartments. My hydrangea, though still full and sporting green leaves, have brownish flowers that are drooping towards the floor of my terrace. The pinks and blues are just a memory of my wonder of when they actually bloomed in May.
I last wrote about La Rentrée. After reading it, a French friend of this blog wrote to me. This person is not a fan of Les Réseaux Sociaux (social media) and wishes to remain anonymous. Which is why I have taken out some words.
You are right to underline the importance of la rentrée in France. This country is run by the schoolteachers’ unions. The building sector, the car industry , the hotel industry, the traffic jams, the prices of plane tickets, everything depends from the sacro saint summer recess of schools.
I always hated it: as a child, la rentrée was for me the end of the wonderful summer months in ________, back to the drawing board, the nasty teachers , the anxiety of lessons and home work, the tiny apartment in Paris, the chilly days of autumn.
Later as an adult, having to work at my self-employed job, July and August were damned months when the turnover was low, the billed hours at low tide, no money in the bank to pay the bills. I hated having to be in Paris at work in August, when the sun shines, Paris is empty, everybody having fun at sea, mountain or travelling, and you are chained to your desk to make a living.
But now I take my revenge! I am retired! Fuck with la rentrée! I am still in __________. I don’t have to spend hours in the car in traffic jams on the périphérique. Don’t have to take the crowded trains or flights. Can wait until they are all back to work and railway stations, airports and highways are empty to buy the lowest fare and not stress at the counter!
Don’t have to shudder in front of the school mistress because I did not learn my lesson, nor my banker because my billings in August were miserable. Free! I am free of all the hassle of la rentrée!
It is so good september in ___________, when all the ants are back in the cities and you are gently tending to your garden, riding your bike on empty backroads and taking time to go the store…
Vive la non rentrée !
And there you have one French perspective!!!
My uncle Stan was born in the Bronx the youngest of three children. I never knew him until my family moved to Princeton, NJ in August 1963. He and Enid, his beautiful wife from Newfoundland, had moved from Detroit the year before. My father was a professor at the Woodrow Wilson School and Stan headed up the ROTC program and later Director of the Office of Personnel Services.
Stan and Enid were always StanandEnid. You didn’t refer to one without the other. Their e-mail address was ‘eandstan’. To me, as a teenager, they were royalty. They were Hollywood glamorous. They were Jack and Jackie Kennedy. They were young and fun and, though I didn’t spend much time with them before I left for college, I always knew that there were two “normal” people in my family.
Enid was the person who kept in touch. Whenever I was in Princeton, she would invite me to dinner. She loved to cook and would experiment trying her new recipes on me. Though I didn’t reciprocate much, she always was interested in what I was doing. There was never a doubt in my mind that she liked/loved me. In 2012, a year after she had died, Stan and his three nieces (Joan, Robie, Sara) with one husband (married to Joan) went to St. Johns, Newfoundland to pay homage to Enid and the Goodyear family.
As I grew older, I realised how much Stan loved sports. His true love was the Princeton men’s basketball team. He founded the organisation Friends of Princeton Basketball and served as it’s secretary for many years. I always thought of him as a Yankees fan mostly because he grew up in NY and I knew he wasn’t a Dodgers fan. He told me a story of being stationed in Detroit when he was in the Army Air Force and going to Tigers games whenever the Yankees were in town. Stan was a talker and very social so within a short time, they were waving him in and he would always go to “his” seat next to the Visitor’s Dugout. He got to know a number of the players esp. Hank Bauer. When he learned that he was being moved somewhere else, he went to the next Tigers/Yankees game to say goodbye. Hank Bauer came back 30 minutes later and said “Can you stick around? The team would like to take you out to dinner.” The first time he told me this story, his eyes got wide and he said “and there I was having dinner with Mickey Mantle, Phil Rizzuto, Yogi Berra…..”
Later into his Princeton years, the Athletic Department was having a search for a new director. Stan got ahold of the list of candidates and saw they were all white men. This was the end of the 1970s. Stan told the search committee “you can’t do that, you have to include people of color.” So they challenged him to find some good candidates. Stan decided to call Bill White, ex-Pirate ballplayer, announcer for the Yankees broadcasts along with Phil Rizzuto. He called the station and left a message saying who he was and why he was calling. To his surprise, Bill called back that evening. Not only did he help Stan find good candidates but they became fast friends. Bill and his wife would come to Princeton and dine with Stan and Enid. Bill also loved to cook and often went home with recipes. One evening during a rain delay, Bill turned to the Scooter and said he had a great recipe Phil should try. He proceeded to give him one of Enid’s recipes. Back in Princeton, Stan and Enid, listening to the broadcast were grinning from ear to ear.
They lost track of each other in the 90s and early 2000s until I thought I would try and use my love of baseball muscle and find Bill. I managed it and we all got together and slowly over the last 16 years they have gotten close again. In the last seven months, Bill has made the drive over from Bucks County, Pa at least once a week to sit with Stan and chat. As have many Princeton basketball players. As have a number of retired staff who worked with Stan and loved him. Stan was well loved and well respected.
Readers of this blog know that Stan fell and broke his hip November 17, 2017. I had already scheduled to spend Thanksgiving with him so I arrived two days later to find a very disoriented Stan still in Princeton Hospital. I’ve been told that once an older person falls, it is the beginning of the end. He was 93 and 1/2 years old. The surgeons only put two posts in his hip to keep the bones together. He was too fragile for major surgery.
For seven months, Stan has been varying degrees of miserable. He has been 100% dependent on others to get out of bed, to go to the bathroom and to be seated in his wheel chair. He did do Physical Therapy and was building up strength in his upper body. Every time I would visit, I’d ask “how are you, Stan?” and he was honest. “I feel awful and this is just awful.” According to two of his aides, he decided to stop eating and drinking and take matters into his own hands. My cousin Joan was there over the weekend and says he was somewhat delirious, often mistaking her for her father, his brother Bernie. She said it made her feel good that Stan thought his older brother was there in the end.
He passed at 6am on Monday morning.
I feel relieved. I hurt for him being so miserable. I felt powerless to change anything. I could only be there as often as was possible. I saw him towards the end of May and we both said “I love you.”
One thing you should know about Stan–he never got grey hair. Never!
From TigerBlog: the Official Blog of Princeton Athletics: “Stan, who was a month away from his 95th birthday, was a grandfatherly man to everyone at Princeton basketball. He certainly was to TigerBlog, who knew Stan for 30 or so years.
TigerBlog is trying to think of anyone he’s ever met who loved Princeton basketball more than Stan, and if there’s anyone, it’s a very short list.
Stan was a Jadwin Gym fixture for decades. He loved the players and the coaches and the game nights. He was a soft-spoken man, one who smiled all the time, hugged often, was polite to everyone and couldn’t get enough of watching the Tigers.
They were very different people, Stan and Ock, with very different personalities. They were united by their love of basketball, and they have left lasting memories on a lot of people.
Included in that group is TigerBlog, who liked them both very much.
Jadwin Gym won’t be quite the same without Stan.”
RIP sweet Stanley,
It started about three weeks ago when I was locked out of my e-mail account. I changed my password and twenty-four hours later, I was locked out again. This happened six times in eight days. I was so frustrated and felt so helpless that I decided to wait until I came to California, where I am now, to call the service company and find out what was going on. Then I got locked out of WordPress which is the platform I write this blog on. I couldn’t use my Vonage app to make calls to the United States. I suppose my antennae should have gone up but it didn’t. I was too busy being frustrated and feeling very isolated. It seemed that all my means of connectivity around the world had been cut off.
Yesterday morning, my first morning in California, I awoke to a text from my bank saying they were putting a hold on a credit card until I confirmed an expenditure. It turned out two credit cards had been hacked. Banks fortunately give you back your money. The sense of violation and fear that anything can happen, the bank couldn’t take care of. Today I tackled the e-mail account. What I learned was that my account was hacked and with the e-mail, the hackers had everything forwarded to another e-mail address. They must have gotten a lot of information as my PayPal account was breached, my Amazon account was breached and a couple of others. When they saw no money was involved, they just moved on.
May 21, 2018–I wrote that not knowing how bad the hacking had gotten. It involved many accounts. Fortunately all money was returned to me and my identity wasn’t stolen. But every call took 90 minutes as I was taken through hoops etc to secure my accounts. Microsoft was, without a doubt, the absolute worst company to deal with. Three times I had to call after I was told my account was secure but it wasn’t. They don’t even have a FRAUD department! MICROSOFT!! I couldn’t believe it. I am so glad I have had Macs all my life.
Anyway, it’s hopefully in the past. It’s five weeks later and I am on my way back home to Paris. They had gotten into this account also. Why? Sure beats me! But I can start up my blogs again. So dear reader, I look forward to greeting you from sunny and warm Paris.
When I mentioned to French friends that I was going to my first Destination Wedding, most of them looked blankly at me. I had to explain that it was the latest trend among young Americans to pick a beautiful or exotic place to be married, invite all your friends and family and pray they liked you enough to spend the money and plan a vacation around it.
Blakely, younger sister of my Goddaughter, Elizabeth, chose a chateau outside of Poitiers: St Julien de l’Ars. By the end of the weekend, I learned it was actually her father who did the choosing. But never mind, how we all got there, 65-70 people showed up to wish Blakely and her fiancé, Josh, a champagne drenched Bon Voyage on their new adventure of marriage. I was impressed by the amount of people that flew from Boston, Florida, Tennessee, New York and New Jersey as well as California where I’m from.
I was the only invited guest who lived in France. It’s a quick trip on the TGV (France’s speed train) to Gare de Poitiers. I had booked an AirBnB and had the opportunity to walk around the Centre Ville before meeting the shuttle that would take many of the guests out to the Chateau. Poitiers seems to be a sleepy town. In the three days I was there, I never saw many people out and about. Even when I found the Saturday morning marché at Place Charles de Gaulle, people were scarce.
The wedding party and immediate family stayed at the Chateau St. Julien de l’Ars. The rest of the invited guests stayed in hotels and AirBnBs in Poitiers. We were shuttled out to St. Julien de l’Ars in one of the comfortable buses that tourists often use for traveling in Europe. We were greeted by a Chateau, hundreds of years old, not in great shape, but I imagine would be high on every little girl’s dream of where to have a story book wedding.
A french friend told me there are a couple of thousand of these old Chateaux in France. They are expensive to keep up and a large percentage are for sale. The immediate history of St. Julien is that the owners are an American couple. He was in a theatre group years ago and they used to come to the Chateau for practice and entertainment. When it went up for sale, he and his wife bought it. It was full of antiques which disappeared the same year the Americans purchased the property. The antiques are probably in hiding or have been sold. The Chateau is rented for large events like destinations weddings.
There is an enormous amount of work that now needs to be done and the couple cannot afford it. So after owning the chateau for eighteen years, they have put it up for sale again. Anyone have a couple million euros?
It was old home week for many of the guests. And also for me. I had not seen Blakely’s mother, Darcy, in a long time. Once she moved away from the Bay Area it was harder to keep up constant contact. She and Blakely’s dad were divorced and I hadn’t seen that side of the family since I’d been to Maine for a big birthday party for Blakely’s uncle. Time really does smooth away a lot of wrinkles. Things that seemed so important once upon a time seem completely irrelevant now. I was very grateful that I’d made the effort to get to Poitiers.
Even though the weather report called for rain, nature smiled on Blakely and Josh. Chairs were set up in a grove covered by towering trees that seemed an endless archway. A duo of string musicians played music while the wedding party walked from the chateau to the grove. Blakely, ever resourceful and a strong proponent of recycling, wore her grandmother’s wedding dress that she, herself, worked on so that it fit her perfectly. The service was lovely, short and sweet. The champagne toast that followed was highlighted by a “Cheese Cake” which Blakely promised had no sugar and no flour.
I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that these weddings of close ‘family’ that one has known their entire life are bitter sweet. I kept looking at this beautiful, enchanting and friendly woman with such composure and saw the little girl that I had known. In 1991, when she was 5 years old, my home in Oakland burned down in the Big Oakland Firestorm. Blakely made me promise that I wouldn’t rebuild a house in wood. I didn’t.
I felt so happy for her and so proud of her. Yet this feeling of ‘where has the time gone?’ surrounded me. It didn’t last but I had to work at it.
Amazingly enough, everyone who made the trip to come to France to celebrate Blakely and Josh’s wedding thought it was well worth it. It showed me how loyal their friends are.