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 !
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.”
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.
When I lived on rue Git-le-Coeur, in the 6th arrondissement, and looked out my window at the apartment building across the small street, I rarely saw people in the apartments. There was one apartment that was possibly an AirBnB. It was rarely occupied and when it was, it didn’t seem that the same people returned there. I asked my neighbor about this and she shook her head saying that housing is such a huge problem in Paris. Very wealthy people, atmospherically wealthy people, buy up apartments on the top floors or ones with beautiful views and then they go empty for a large part of the year. While down in working class people land, it is often impossible to find a good affordable apartment. So while the view from my apartment encompassed the Pont Neuf, the Seine, les Bouquinistes, beautiful sunsets, it also looked on dark apartments.
Here in the 17th arrondissement, near Porte Maillot, I look out on a working class apartment building. It was probably built in the 50s or later, has 3 or 4 apartments on each floor facing me and I imagine the same number facing the opposite direction. There are 7 floors. Every apartment is full and has a story. One of them recently had a fire. The windows are gone, the terrace is black. The terrace above it is also black but I’ve seen a woman moving around there. For the first time in three weeks, I saw a crew come in to start cleaning up the rubble. It looked temporarily like progress was being made. At the end of the day, with the workers gone, it didn’t seem that anything had changed.
The irony is that I am in one of the beautiful old Haussemann buildings and I look out on modern thrown up architecture. While they live in the modern apartments, probably don’t have the leaks and problems that these old buildings have and they get to look out on the lovely Haussemman architecture famous for it’s wrought iron balconies, long windows and a clean look for the exterior. Agents will say “live in the modern apartments and look out at the old” It does seem a smarter way to go.
Most of these elegant lodgings have large apartments with five, six or seven rooms. Each apartment will own at least one Chamber de Bonne on the very top floor. This is the servants quarters. My little studio is two Chambres de Bonne with the middle wall knocked out so it has become a nice, small studio with kitchen and bath facilities. A friend recently told me that smart real estate investors are buying these rooms up as fast as they can, doing minimal amount of upkeep and then renting them to students who don’t mind the size and may even have romantic notions of the garret apartment/studio in Paris. In a short time, those investors become very rich. They can charge anywhere from 600-900 euros for a small space. A law has been passed that no one may rent a space that is under 10m2.
It’s hot these days, so I often am leaning out the window looking at the life going on down below me and across me. One man comes home from work, turns on the tele and doesn’t stop watching till midnight. Three floors below him live a very old couple. On one these nice mornings, I watched as he joined her for a small breakfast out on their balcony. On the same level but at the other end, an elderly man comes out twice a week with his watering can and waters his very petite jardin. I haven’t seen color there only green plants. He is clearly fond of them!
It is getting hotter and hotter as the days pass and life will take place on the terraces more than inside the apartments. Down in the street when it’s this hot, there is always noise: police sirens, motorcycles, loud voices made louder by rising 8 stories, more police sirens. The sun doesn’t disappear until 10:30pm and since the majority of apartments are small, life takes place on the streets, in the cafes and bistros for most people. And in spite of all the terrorism threats, tourists still arrive daily for the summer months.
The Palais des Congres is across the street in the other direction. It’s connected to a Hyatt hotel. There are conventions there every week, huge conventions. So the markets and stores in that area are kept open late and on Sundays. The metro #1 goes through Porte Maillot on it’s way to La Defense. The #1 is one of two metros in Paris that is not run on human power but electric. So it runs even when there is a strike. It is very convenient. I can take the #1 and change to go most anywhere.
The 17th arrondissement is out on the edge of Paris, behind the Arc de Triomphe. The peripherique, the ring road that circles Paris and encloses it, is the next “street” over. Past that, I would be in the suburbs. I feel the distance from where I used to live. I’m getting used to this area and coming to like it but the Paris I love is more in the center along the Seine–where the magic is!
Ok, Macron first. I’m not going to write about him and how he won the French presidential election. Everyone else has written about it. What I can say is that among my friends, mostly American, everyone was holding their collective breath. The media was saying he would win by a landslide 60% to Le Pen’s 40%. But we had all heard that before with Brexit and with Trump. No one wanted to be the one to say it out loud and then be wrong.
So it was with a huge sign of relief that the French went to bed last Sunday night knowing that their new President would be Emmanuel Macron or, as Le Match is calling him on their front cover, The Kid. I went to sleep hearing horns honking and voices cheering. I am in the 17th arrondissement and the victory party was in the 1st at the Louvre. So there were many happy people that night.
The majority of people were happy that Marine Le Pen lost. No one really knows what a Macron presidency will look like. Many in France didn’t vote or voted by leaving their ballot blank. Banker and racist to these people are equal in their sinister meaning. Macron’s party, Onward (On marche) is one year old. He now must have members standing for election in the next months and they must win. He needs the strength of his own party in order to achieve anything. He is the elite and no one is sure what that means. But I remind people that FDR and JFK were also the elite and we Americans look back on those two as two of the greatest Presidents in US modern history. So Onward!
I have been back in Paris for 11 days. I had probably the worst jet lag I’ve ever had. Friends were saying I made no sense when I talked and for the first three or four days, I had the affect of being on drugs. It occurred to me after five days that I was still less than three months from a serious hip operation. I had been doing so well, walking a number of miles a week, throwing away my cane! and acting as if I was totally recovered. But I’m not. The doctor says there is 90-95% recovery in the first three months then it takes an entire year to have 100% recovery.
Standard jet lag lore is that it requires one day of recovery for every time zone one goes through. I went forward nine time zones coming from Oakland, California to Paris. I think my body may have gone into a bit of shock with the altitude, the jet lag and the recent surgery. Sure enough, nine days after landing, I started feeling human again. I wanted to explore this new neighborhood I’ve landed in while looking for a permanent place to live. The weather has gotten a bit warmer and is much more inviting.
Something I keep getting reminded of and feel extremely grateful for is the importance of technology for someone like me. I haven’t had a working french phone until today and the Wifi in my little studio was, at first, nonexistent and then very sketchy while I tried to figure out what was wrong. On Thursday, I spent 1 hour at the SFR boutique with my not very good french (it’s amazing how much one can forget in four months) and my computer until the young man worked everything out.
I think it’s possible for someone like me to travel because WiFi, the internet, Skype keeps me connected to the world at large. It’s very hard to feel lonely. Cut all that off and it’s me in this small studio apartment unable to reach out to communicate. It’s a blessing I love to read so much – because that is what I did – read 4 books in less than two weeks.
I don’t like reading about the kind of hacking the world experienced yesterday. I feel grateful for my computer and WIFI every single day and want nothing to ever go wrong. Cyberspace is the Wild, Wild West.
Driving in the San Francisco Bay Area is a nightmare for me. There are very few hours in the day when the roads aren’t packed with moving vehicles. People aren’t nice. They all seem to be in a hurry. If you are in their way or they perceive you as an obstacle, you’d better not be having a bad day. You will be honked at, be given the finger and many other things that if you are thin-skinned might make you cry not to mention have severe doubts about the humanity of Californians.
When I first moved out here in the early 70s, traffic was a breeze. People were nice. They might pay your way across the bridge just because. Of course, many of us were stoned but better stoned and nice than whatever this is and frightening.
I was driving home from Albany the other day and the traffic down Marin Avenue was slow but moving. Someone was turning onto Marin Ave from my right. S/he had clearly waited as long as s/he was willing to wait and turned onto Marin missing me by centimeters. I could feel my heartbeat skyrocket. I’m in a rental car as I don’t own a car, don’t need one in Paris. Incidents like that turn me into a person I don’t like: angry, judgmental and scared.
When I was 16 going on 17 and learning how to drive, my father used to say to me “Sara, always drive defensively” Being thin skinned, I thought he was criticizing me and I kept telling him I was a good driver. I wasn’t. I drove offensively. I knew all the techniques for passing, driving in the snow, turning corners and did them well. I drove like I was the only car on the road. Now, being bullied and abused on the road here in the Bay Area, I know how absolutely correct he was. I breath deeply. I let anyone in who wants to go in front of me. I stick the speed limit and pray the person tailgating me stays the one foot behind me. I’ve noticed that I do arrive at my destination more times than not, feeling calmer.
You may be asking yourself “Why doesn’t she take public transportation?” and I’d say back to you “you clearly don’t live here or been here for any length of time” There is very minimal public transport here in the Bay Area. Where I live in the lower Oakland Hills, there is a bus that stops about a block away twice a day: to take children to their various schools and to bring them home. A variety of very powerful people have been fighting building a high speed train from the Bay Area to Los Angeles, even though the money was there, successfully. If I don’t want to drive, I call Uber or Lyft. End of story.
Oh but I miss Paris transport. If it’s not the best in the world, it has to be close to the best. Where I lived on Git-le-Coeur, I was 3 blocks from the M10, 1 block from M4 and across the street from RER B and C. I could walk across to the right bank and be at M1 and on and on. And there were sidewalks everywhere. I could walk if I wanted. Here there are often no sidewalks so walking puts one in the street–with those drivers I’ve been talking about.
Not only do we not have public transport, when you drive and look in other people’s cars, 80% of the cars have one person in them, the driver. The United States has always been a car nation, the idea of the Road Trip was born here. The suburbs as an idea became a reality when New York expanded it’s roadways and people could easily get out to Long Island. Now to drive from Oakland to San Francisco, a trip of about 10 miles, often takes an hour and sometimes two hours. Two friends of mine had moved to Oakland many years ago because they could get so much more house for their money. Two weeks ago, they announced that they were moving back into the City. The commute was ‘killing’ them.
Well, you get the idea. If you love driving, don’t live in the city or it’s suburbs.