France and the US have always had a strong friendship – most of the time. The Marquis de Lafayette came to fight in the American Revolution when he couldn’t find a suitable job for his aristocratic rank in France. The story is that he became like a son to George Washington. Even fifty years after the American Revolution was over, when Lafayette made one final visit to the growing USA, people cheered him wherever he went. Wikipedia says that there is a city or town named after him in every state.
Benjamin Franklin, who lived much of his adult life in Paris, was adored by Parisian society. A statue of him sits in a small garden park near the Trocadero. He also was friends with the young Lafayette. There are books that say that Lafayette and Jefferson were very close–first during the American Revolution and after when Jefferson had moved to Paris as the first American Ambassador of the brand new republic.
The Americans were not nearly as helpful to the French during the French Revolution. The ones living here either went back to the US or stayed clear of what was going on. Lafayette, himself, never supported a complete break with the King and for awhile, played both sides of the fence. He eventually had to flee France, surrendered in Belgium, and was held in a miserable prison for a number of years.
Today, both Lafayette and his wife, are buried at Picpus Cemetery along with many outliers. Starting in the early 1800s, the land was used for mass graves of those guillotined during the Revolution and after. Lafayette’s wife lost her mother and other family members during the Revolution. She became a founding member of the Picpus Society which is why they are buried in Picpus Cemetery. “In permanent recognition of his role in aiding the American cause, an American flag has flown over Lafayette’s grave ever since the end of WWI. The flag is changed every year on July 4 in a highly orchestrated ceremony attended by French and American dignitaries, including representatives of the U.S. Embassy, the French Senate, the Mayor’s Office, the Office of the Mayor of the 12th Arrondissement, the Society of American Friends of Lafayette, the Sons of the American Revolution in France, and the Society of the Cincinnati in France.” –Francerevisited.com The friendship between France and the US has managed to survive many obstacles through the years.
One of the largest chapters of Democrats Abroad is in France, and Sunday evening, the Paris contingent celebrated on the banks of the Seine at a funky bar called Les Nautes. It was the first live get-together in 2021. Plus, for many people, it was the first “night out” since the curfew was lifted. The larger part of the bar is outside seating: perhaps ten picnic tables that the staff of the Paris Chapter decorated in red, white, and blue and a Pride Flag proudly flew over one of the tables.
I heard a few lovely Biden stories. Our newly elected National Chair of France DA is about to leave Paris and return to the US with his fiancée. When I asked him why he ran if he was leaving, he told me that while Trump was president, getting Visas was a hard and long process. He was told it would probably be a minimum of two years. So he ran for office–and won. Then Biden was elected President. One of Biden’s first moves was to reverse that Visa policy and fiancés went to the top of the list. So Jonathon and his french love are headed to Texas in August and the very capable Dani F, National Vice Chair, will become our new Chair in France. This is a story I might not have heard unless I had known someone trying to get a Visa to the States. I, once again, thanked whomever above that we have a new President and one that has been around Washington so long, knows every in and out, and can address this kind of thing. It doesn’t hurt to have good advisors also!!!
Most of us didn’t talk politics. We all expressed gratitude for Independence from Trump. Then we reminesced to the French amongst us about the tradional 4th of July food that gets served at these picnics: Hot dogs on buns–the hot dogs were there but not the buns; Potato salad–Someone kindly brought potato salad and it went quickly; Cole slaw–not present although it is now sold in french markets; Corn on the cob–Corn is only eaten by animals in France. If you live in a district that has many Americans, you might find one of two cobs wrapped up in cellophane but they usually end up on the day old pile to be sold for one or two euros; Fruit salad–someone remembered that in many parts of the US, the fruit salad was stirred up in mayonnaise. Tune up huge groans of disbelief.
Paris has been having record-breaking rain–in my opinion. Every day threatens at least a small shower and we haven’t had more than three or four really warm days in a row all Spring. On Sunday evening, my iPhone said 90% rain all day. It said that for 6 days prior. I was bound and determined to go party anyway and, it seems, so were a lot of others. The gods smiled on us ex-Pats. There was a small shower just before the event started then sun. Then a threat but it never materialised.
One question I had for Dems Abroad and did not get a 100% confirmed answer is: Do I need to register this year to vote in California’s special election. As most of you know, unhappy Republicans are trying to remove Governor Newsom from office. So Californians are going to the polls this November 2. There are some other elections occasioned by vacancies after the Presidential election of 2020. Here in Europe, I have to re-register every year there is an election to make sure I get my absentee ballot. However, that might not be true for a special election. The assumption among those I asked is that California is good about absentee ballots and, if I voted in 2020 (I did), I will automatically receive my absentee ballot in September. It’s never smart for a Democrat to assume anything so you can be sure I will be calling the Registrar of Voters soon.
It stays light this time of year until 11pm. I didn’t want to go home while it was light so though people were leaving at 9:30pm, I asked my friends if we could slowly walk to the metro ( they live in the Marais but dropped me off at #1). I pulled out my phone to take a photo of the Seine and the light–something I don’t get where I live in the 16th. Here is my parting gift to you. This is the Paris I love.
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.
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.
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.
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!).
Tom Hanks has been around as long as I can remember. I first saw him in the movie Splash (1984). He’d been in a TV sitcom for two years before but that was back in the days when I never watched TV so I wasn’t aware of him. Then he was a leading man with women like Meg Ryan. I wasn’t sure I understood, but the movies were always good, and I didn’t question casting choices. I remember when he suddenly became ‘a son of Oakland, Ca ‘because he had lived in Oakland and, for a brief time in his young life, gone to Skyline High School. Then he played a washed-up, hard drinking baseball legend coaching a girl’s team in A League of Their Own (1992). Loving baseball as I did, I fell in love with him and, from then on, if Tom Hanks was in a movie, I went to see it.
Then I was middle-aged and Hanks was middle aged. He’d been married to Rita Wilson since 1988 (they have 2 children), and there had never once been a scandal associated with him. At some point, we both had graying hair and I realized that I had watched the rise and staying power of a true Hollywood giant. Last year, he and wife, Rita, caught Covid-19 on a visit to Australia. They went public with it, they were honest about how horrible it was, and I’m sure the rest of the world besides myself were praying for their recovery.
Today, needing an escape from the chatter in my head, I went looking for a movie to watch, and up popped A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019), a movie I’d wanted to see but it hadn’t come to Paris as far as I know. Within ten minutes, I was once again thinking with awe about Hanks, his acting, and his amazing career. But mostly what appears to me to be his humility. Mr. Rogers wasn’t around when I was growing up and I don’t believe I have ever seen a single episode. I’ve seen enough paradies to know that there is a chunk of America that is too cynical to think he was for real. As the movie started, I was one of those people. I thought to myself, “only Tom Hanks could pull this off.” Twenty minutes later, I was a Mr. Rogers cheerleader (Fred Rogers died in 2004 at the age of 74).
The movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is based on the friendship of Fred Rogers and journalist, Tom Junod . Mr. Junod wrote a wonderful essay for Esquire magazine, published in 1998. If you are interested, I encourage you to see the movie first, then read the article. It was re-published in 2017. It is a remarkable piece of writing.
People like Mr. Rogers are unique and exceedingly rare. People who want the world to be a better place. They are people who remember what it is like to be a child. Usually these people who know that it all starts with how one treats children, your own and everyone else’s, become therapists, buddhist monks, writers of children’s books, but to create and sustain a TV show that lasted from 1968-2001 and never veered off-course is an amazing feat. And that the great Tom Hanks can bring him to life for someone like me shows the talent of a truly gifted actor.
Usually someone has to do something bad, create a scandal, be a Republican, to have one’s name in the papers and become famous or infamous. But Mr. Rogers and Tom Hanks share in common being famous for being kind. They are quiet presences in our lives. They go about doing their jobs. They don’t seem to need to create buzz and bring attention to themselves. I don’t know how they do it. At one point in the movie, the protaganist, Lloyd Vogel (based on Tom Junod) asks Mrs Rogers what it is like being married to a saint. She looks at him and says “I hate it when people call him that. He is human. He gets angry, sometimes really angry. He practices at being (the man you see). He swims. Every morning.” So, in fact, I do know how they do it, they practice. I have learned late in life that doing the right thing does take practice. It certainly doesn’t come naturally to me. I have a rock in the back yard of my home in Oakland that says ‘May I be the person my dog thinks I am.’ There was a time I thought that was unattainable. Now I think ‘May I be the person I know I’m capable of being….if I practice at it every day.’
Every once in a while, something passes in front of each one of us that reminds us that there are still people out there trying their best to make the world a little bit kinder. They aren’t praying for World Peace. They are putting into action small steps that will impact their “neighborhood”. Many of us hope that the Hundreth Monkey theory really exists and that one day…. Meanwhile, this author is forever grateful for the inspiration of Fred Rogers and Tom Hanks to remind me that one little action today, an intention of kindness, will make a difference …. to someone.
PS–a small Tom Hanks movie that may have gotten lost in this year of the amazing availability of streaming shows is News of the World on Netflix. I watched it in February and was glad to see that it received a number of Oscar nominations. But I heard no buzz. So I’m buzzing now!
As many of you know, (and if you love and miss Paris, you are probably paying attention), today, May 19th begins the second phase of the ‘déconfinement’ that began for some establishments last October. For Parisians, the most important thing happening is that terraces will open for cafés and restaurants. The minute it was announced, I noticed chairs and tables being moved outside in preparation. Some two weeks ago. One café that I pass every day on my walk built a new terrace. Everyone will need umbrellas. It has been raining on and off almost every day for two weeks. And it’s chilly. I’m actually getting used to this. People talk about Springtime in Paris but in the eight springtimes that I have lived here, there may be a burst of warm weather in February, March or April, but nothing permanent until early June. Then we’ll have three days of Spring and voilà, it will be summer with the canacules (heatwaves) just around the corner.
Our 7pm curfew will become a 9pm curfew starting tonight. It has been tough. Unless one has an extremely urgent reason for being out on the streets after 7pm, we were to be at home. Last night, it wasn’t dark until just after 10pm. I am fortunate, I have a large lovely terrace with some wonderful plants on it. So I can be outside in nice weather. But there is something glorious about walking in Paris, along the Seine, in the evening. Especially as the lights turn on and are reflected in the water. Not that any of us have seen that scenario much in the past 15 months but we can dream! And there is the possibility that it lies in our future.
All stores will open today. Clothing stores have been closed as have been everything considered non-essential. Hair salons are essential, nail salons are not. There will probably be a queue around the block at my nail salon. According to The Local in France, there will be strict limitations of how many people inside a store at one time so we are advised to also expect queues at popular small stores. I have received e-mails from every department store including Monoprix Hyper and Carrefour to let me know that many of my favorite things will be at a 30-40% discount. Especially linen clothing which is so popular here in the summer.
Museums, theatres, and cinemas will also open today, and also be under strict guidelines of the number of people allowed inside. As was true last summer, everyone is advised to buy tickets in advance especially at popular museums. With France open to tourists of many countries starting June 6, Parisians are well advised to get to museums now while there is still a chance of not getting lost in a crowd even a small crowd.
More from the Local: “Outdoor sporting activities will again be allowed (also on the condition that they respect specific health rules). Sports stadiums can reopen with a limit of 800 spectators in indoor spaces and 1,000 in outdoor venues.
Gatherings of up to 10 people will be allowed in public spaces (up from six currently). There is no actual rule on gatherings in indoor private spaces such as homes, but the guidance is to keep groups limited to six adults.
The UK opened up from lockdown Monday. Johnson has been greatly criticised for allowing flights and travel from India. Health officials are warning people to still be very cautious. France has not allowed flights from India but starting today, travel between the UK and France is opening up. So I’m guessing the same warnings would apply to us. The Indian variant of Covid is said to be very dangerous. On the other hand, health officials are saying that those who have the Phizer vaccine and the AstraZenica vaccine have had a 99% anti-body build up after 14 days and the second vaccine. That is better than advertised.
OK, and here is the very best thing for all of you thinking of traveling over here this summer. Again, according the Local.fr “France is one of the only countries to offer free PCR tests – which can cost up to €120 in Spain, £100 in the UK and €300 in Sweden – to residents for all purposes, including travel. But now that is being extended to tourists who visit the country over the summer. The French government hopes the free testing will make the country an attractive tourist destination, and will also allow it to welcome back tourists while staying safe. Announcing the new policy, Europe Minister Clément Beaune told radio station Europe 1: “We need and we want to continue to be the first tourist destination in Europe and the world, in safe conditions.” https://www.thelocal.fr/20210517/france-to-offer-free-pcr-tests-to-tourists-and-visitors-this-summer/
What is still to come in this multi-phased ‘déconfinement’? June 9th The curfew is pushed back further, to 11pm. Gyms reopen (with health rules and limits on the number of people allowed in at the same time). Cultural or sporting events with up to 5,000 people will be allowed, but on the condition that participants provide a health pass proving that recently tested negative for Covid-19 or have been vaccinated for the virus.
And sad news: The square in front of Cathedrale de Notre Dame has been closed due to fears of lead poisoning. The best place to glimpse the front of Notre Dame is on the bridge that is closest. However, if you want to see all of Notre Dame, where the work is happening recontructing the spire and everything that was not destroyed by the fire, it is best to walk eastward along the Quai on the left bank. You will have better and better views of the side and the back. Breathtaking views.
Last week, I took my second longer-than an hour-excursion away from home. It was the last day of the 10km boundary for us in France, meaning that unless there was an extremely important reason we could not venture further than 10 km (about 6 miles) from home. And we had to be back by 7pm which is curfew. On Monday, the restriction was lifted and we can now go anywhere within France without an attestation. On Sunday, I traveled by train and car thirty kilometers but no one was checking. In fact, I’ve not seen any police checking anyone in the six weeks since the semi-confinement started.
I took the RER A out to Saint Germain-en-Laye where Barbara picked me up and drove us to the Parc de Versailles. “Situated to the west of the palace, the gardens cover some 800 hectares of land, much of which is landscaped in the classic French formal garden style perfected here by André Le Nôtre. Beyond the surrounding belt of woodland, the gardens are bordered by the urban areas of Versailles to the east and Le Chesnay to the north-east, by the National Arboretum de Chèvreloup to the north, the Versailles plain (a protected wildlife preserve) to the west, and by the Satory Forest to the south.” Wikipedia
Barbara told me that in the thirty-four years she has lived in or near Paris, she had no idea that this park existed. Everyone knows about the Palace of Versailles, it is one of the top five tourist destinations in Paris. The palace and the formal Versailles Gardens, also designed by Le Nôtre, have been closed since last October; (we are all crossing our fingers that museums and heritage spots will re-open May 19). The park has stayed opened and is accessed by two gates. We parked near Porte de Saint Antoine. We entered on foot, carrying our picnic lunches, to make a day just walking and exploring. Barbara had come the week before so she did the leading and I did the following. We walked a broad dirt road with trees in bloom on either side. After five hundred yards or so, we turned right onto another beautiful, wide dirt road leading towards the Grand Canal. We passed the Petite Trianon and Angelina’s (famous for it’s chocolate) café. The café was open in that one could buy goodies but there were no seating areas inside and the large terrace outside was also closed. As we neared the Grand Trianon, it was time for a bathroom break.
We were now at the Grand Canal. From the air, the Grand Canal looks like a large cross made of water. “With a length of 1,500 metres and a width of 62 metres, the Grand Canal, which was built between 1668 and 1671, physically and visually prolongs the east–west axis to the walls of the Grand Parc. During the Ancien Régime, the Grand Canal served as a venue for boating parties.”-Wikipedia. We were at the tip of the right arm where we found another closed café. We plotted our walk. It was possible to walk up and down each section next to the water until we returned to where we started. We guessed the round trip might be around 4-5 miles. As we passed the bottom of the cross, we were treated to a view of Versailles Palace and the formal gardens unhampered by tourists. It’s hard to gauge distances when air and water combine but it seemed that right in front of us, as we looked at the palace, was the large pool of the Apollo Fountain “which was constructed between 1668 and 1671, depicting the sun god driving his chariot to light the sky. The fountain forms a focal point in the garden and serves as a transitional element between the gardens of the Petit Parc and the Grand Canal.” Wikipedia. Black and yellow tape as well as a multitude of signs reminded us that all was closed from the now until further notice (which we hope will be May 19!).
We walked up the other side of that arm of the cross. There were runners, families with strollers and dogs, but not a huge number. It is not clear to me whether this park is a secret to even Parisians or just to us ex-Pats who, in our efforts to steer clear of large masses of tourists, have regrettably missed this wonderful playground. It is a place for sporty people as well as families and dog walkers. In non-pandemic days, one can rent a boat and row on the Grand Canal which must be just lovely.
As we rounded the tip of the left arm of the cross, the heavens opened up and…. it hailed! Little tiny pebbles of hail that don’t hurt or bruise like the large, round, ping-pong ball sized pieces of hail do. It’s unusual to see hail in early May. But that line “it’s unusual that….” should probably be thrown out the window with everything that has, in fact, changed since climate trauma is on the rampage. We happened to be under a ceiling of leafy green trees so we put up an umbrella and waited out the hail. We watched two swans completely unbothered by debris falling from the sky. One just floated around majestically. The other would spread her wings and race forward about three yards, at an amazing clip, stop, look around, then do it again. Do swans show off for people? Something to google.
When we arrived at the head of the cross, all precipitation had stopped. We found a place to sit on wide steps that led down to an empty, large, round area that clearly was for water. We pulled out our picnic lunches. We could see the Palace in front of us in the distance. We had a lively conversation about the tricks light and water and distance can play on the eye.
For the last leg of our walk, we detoured and walked along the Ru de Gally, a stream and nature trail that starts at the Grand Trianon and ends, 1.3 km later, at the Ferme de Gally. We intersected the trail half-way towards the farm. The farm is a family attraction. Children were petting donkeys. Both regular and petite-size horses stood slowly munching their lunch, and in the distance was a large field of sheep. All along the nature trail are signs describing the type of area that we were walking in detailing the birds, fauna, and little animals that can be found there.
Making one last pitstop at the toilets, we arrived at the car just as the skies opened up for a second time. This time the rain fell in strong, forceful drops beating on the car the entire way back to the RER A in Saint Germain.
“In 1979, the gardens along with the château were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, one of thirty-one such designations in France. -Wikipedia
In 2014, Alan Rickman made a film called The King’s Gardens or A Little Chaos starring Kate Winslet and Matthias Schoenaerts. It happened to be on TV five days after this excursion and, although mostly fiction, it was fun to see parts of the park I had just been at, and get an idea of the difficulty building these gardens, especially getting water to run twenty-four hours a day. Most of the characters are fictional. A garden much like the one portrayed in the film does exist today at Versailles known as the Salle de Bal.
Welcome to all who listened to my interview on the food junkies podcast. You were given the wrong website address. I write another blog and you can find it at: http://www.saving-sara.com.
To all the rest of you, May is my one year anniversary of the publication of my book Saving Sara A Memoir of Food Addiction. I have been writing that other blog as a companion: to help people know that food addiction is a real disease, to learn something about it, and to let them know where to get more information. I was interviewed recently on the Food Junkies podcast: https://foodjunkies.libsyn.com/episode-18
So if you know someone who seems to have a problem with food–either overeating or undereating, and you suspect it’s a bigger problem than just losing a few pounds, send them over to the other blog. They will be able to tell for themselves if they identify or not.
If anyone lives in Europe, would like to buy the book, but does not want to support Amazon, please write to me with your address and I will send you a copy. I’m told that The Red Wheelbarrow in Paris also carries it. In the United States, support independent bookstores by buying it at: http://www.bookshop.org.
More about Paris and vaccines and déconfinement soon!
On Thursday evening, Macron’s government announced on French TV, that there will be a slow lifting of all our restrictions. The 7pm curfew will probably not change for awhile, but the distance that we are allowed to travel will. We’ve been under a “no more than 10km” boundary unless there is a very good reason and one has to carry written proof of that.
The government also said that the lifting of restrictions will depend on where one lives and how rampant the virus is. Possibly in mid-May, we will have restaurants and bars open again but serving outside. Possibly sports events will return. We’ve been told that Roland Garros will definitely take place.
The problem as I see it is: Spring is coming to Paris quickly. Now that we’ve changed our clocks, it doesn’t get dark until 9/9:30pm. Yet we have a 7pm curfew. For those who live in the countryside, it’s not as big a problem. They can eat outside, enjoy their outside gardens, and probably visit their neighbours. As a friend of mine said “They aren’t going to send a cop out here where there are ten houses to make sure we are all on our own property.” She is right.
Yesterday I went out walking and only had a light jacket on. It felt exhilarating. This past week, the NYTimes had an article in their Well Section about ‘languishing.’ It’s not a word I use much. The article written by Adam Grant, began “At first, I didn’t recognize the symptoms that we all had in common. Friends mentioned that they were having trouble concentrating. Colleagues reported that even with vaccines on the horizon, they weren’t excited about 2021. A family member was staying up late to watch “National Treasure” again even though she knows the movie by heart. And instead of bouncing out of bed at 6 a.m., I was lying there until 7, playing Words with Friends.
It wasn’t burnout — we still had energy. It wasn’t depression — we didn’t feel hopeless. We just felt somewhat joyless and aimless. It turns out there’s a name for that: languishing.” https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/19/well/mind/covid-mental-health-languishing.html
I’ve been calling it the Blahs. The most exciting thing I do is walk outside for an hour. That is not to say that I don’t love the other things I do. I love to write and write every day. I love to connect with friends and am on Zoom at least once a day. But nothing has touched the feeling of waking up in the morning and hearing the birds, not having to bundle up because it’s cold, and walking outside where the world seems brighter, full of color, warmer, and friendlier. I’m not naive enough to think this is over. I’m with those who are guessing we’ll have a respite in warmer weather and, in the Fall, things will probably get worse. If not earlier. As I write, there is real terror in India as the virus skyrockets. The EU has announced that Americans can visit all countries in Europe this summer. Can they guarantee that no form of the Indian virus will arrive with the tourists? I’m hoping governments are planning on the fact that we will all need booster shots and they will be providing enough vaccines once again.
With my exhilaration came recurring thoughts of visiting California where I lived before moving to Paris. I still own a home in Oakland. I miss my home. I built it after I lost my home in the 1991 Oakland FireStorm back when devastating fires didn’t happen three or four times a year. I tell anyone who asks that if I could have that home in France, I’d be in heaven. Thoughts of getting on a plane and flying eleven hours to San Francisco–I’m tired already. What does it mean? There are so many things to find out. How do I get back into France, what do I need? What will I do with Bijou? Take her with me or have her stay with a friend or have a friend stay here? I stop daydreaming at about that point. It all seems too complicated. If it weren’t for my friend Barbara, I would probably still be trying to figure out how to get vaccinated.
So I think I’ll spend a week or two just enjoying Springtime in Paris! Do my best to not worry about the things I can’t control. The Dalai Lama once said; “If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.” And maybe, some of you will have some suggestions for me. They say many heads think better than one (well, that’s not quite what they say but, hey, whatever works).
Thank you to all of you who replied to my blog of last week. Basically I was told that the view my writing group was inadvertently giving me was not accurate. In fact, some of you are scared–the mask rule has been relaxed, no social distancing. My sister, who has the ability that my father had–to take in the larger picture and make a fairly accurate assessment–wrote: “Michigan is about the scariest place in the country right now; your last blog really, really romanticises what’s going on in the U.S. You’re making the mistake of generalizing from a few anecdotal stories from your friends–basic social science error!!!!! The result doesn’t read authentically or match people’s experiences here.Which isn’t to say that you’re not being authentic; it’s just you need to be more careful with your comparisons.” This is one of the reasons I love her. I can absolutely depend that she will tell me the truth. So, this week, I am not going to talk about the Pandemic or vaccines. Rather I want to talk about the way each one of us has found to self-entertain during these non-ending times.
I enjoy entertaining myself and I’m easily pleased. I just have to watch Bijou run around in circles chasing her tail, falling all over herself, and I am in gales of laughter. I have discovered something else that I find so much fun. There is an App called The Conqueror. It is run by My Virtual Mission. I don’t know how I discovered it but it happened during the first week of January. I picked a real walk somewhere in the world and signed up to have my Fitbit talk to the app and record all the miles I walk. I was sent postcards by e-mail telling me where I was, describing the village and giving me some history. For every 20% of the walk I finished, a tree was planted. The website says, “We will donate toward the planting of a tree for every 20% of the challenge you complete. There’s no extra work or cost for you — just make sure you keep exercising! By the end of the challenge, you will have planted 5 trees. Imagine what we can achieve as a community! So far we have planted more than 450,000 trees since August 2020.”
I picked Hadrian’s Wall for my first walk-90 miles. I was also to pick an amount of time that I would do the walk in and I put 8 weeks. I had no idea how motivated I would be. As it turned out, I finished the walk in less than five weeks! About a week later, a gorgeous medal arrived in the mail. No photo on the website showed how really handsome and substantial the medal is! For my next walk, I picked The Ring of Kerry, a walk of 124.5 miles in Ireland. Again I received postcards, had trees planted, finished in five weeks, and now my medal is on its way. Last week I picked St. Francis Way which, like the others, is a real walk of 312.4 miles from Florence to Rome. This is more than twice as long as the Ring of Kerry. I am hoping to do this in 12 weeks.
I have always been competitive and not always in a good way. I learned awhile ago that competing against one’s self is a good thing. Every morning, I check what my FitBit told the Conqueror app. I wouldn’t dream of not walking every day (well, I do take a day off once in awhile for various reasons) and, according to the app, I have walked 250.9 miles since I first signed up on January 8th. Here I am, in my apartment in Paris which is in a third lockdown, and I have walked Hadrian’s Wall, the Ring of Kerry, and am 11% thru the St. Francis Way! So if any of you are, like me, staying inside most of the time but walking every day, you may enjoy this great app that tells you you are doing great things, walking long distances, and sending you medals to prove it!!!
We all find different ways to entertain ourselves during hard times. At the beginning of the Pandemic, I was too cautious to go outside. I discovered Walk with Lesley Sansome, and watched her on my computer following along with all her in-house “friends”. But I’ve never been a big fan of going to the gym. And, as soon as I screwed my courage up and started walking outside, Lesley Sansome went the way of a lot of my amusements. I love walking outside. I love walking. I’ve never thought of walking as exercise. I don’t like exercise therefore walking can’t be exercise (one of those philosophers that I studied in college would agree that my logic is correct!)
It also occurred to me about three weeks ago that every single one of the Oscar nominations, in almost every category, is available to stream. I’ve always tried to see as many of the nominated films as possible so that when the Oscars rolled around, I could make intelligent guesses. I also consider myself a huge film buff and the nominations from all the different festivals give me a great list of films I should have seen but didn’t know about. This year it was never clear to me what was streamed and what was only available in a theatre.Not to mention that I hadn’t heard of most of the streaming services..I mentioned a couple weeks that I’d seen Nomadland on Hulu. I discovered that Hulu will give anyone a free 30 day trial. So far I’ve seen, along with Nomadland, The Trial of the Chicago Seven, Mank, Promising Young Woman (had to rent on Amazon), and last night, I rented The Father (the fee is more than a movie would cost if theatres were open). Of the nominated films for best foreign film, I’ve seen Deux, from France and, from Denmark, Another Round (the director, Thomas Vinterburg is also up for best director). I have seen all the films in which an actress is nominated for best actress. I didn’t make it through the US vs Billie Holiday. Andra Day is terrific, her voice sounds very much like Ms. Holiday’s, but the film itself just isn’t compelling–to me. Maybe next week, I will give you my opinion on who will will and who should win but today I just want you to know they are all available. They are all good and it’s worth spending your time being entertained by an industry whose job it is to entertain you.
I finally watched Soul. I discovered that something I belong to also gives me Disney plus. Soul is nominated for best animation. I usually associate animated films with children or youth. Pixar has been coming out with terrific films-as much for adults as children. This one, starring the voices of Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey , is very much for adults. I’d watch it again if I didn’t have a date with The Sound of Metal.
This is all to say that there are many fun things to do still in Lockdown. Many of us are genuinely fatigued by the last fourteen months but we are being advised everywhere to not let our caution down. It would be so easy to say ‘F__ it, I’m finished. I’m going back to the way it was.’ As I was writing, a notification popped up on my phone: over 3,000,000 million deaths around the world. I intend to not be one of those statistics.