California Dreamin’

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

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

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

The beach at Asilomar, Pacific Grove, California

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

Hiking in Joaquin Miller Park, Oakland, California

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

Sara, Rocky, Jeanni hiking in Briones Reserve, California

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

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

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

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

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

My baseball family at Cheesecake Factory in Walnut Creek

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

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

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

Watching the sun set over San Francisco from Point Isabel.

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

A bientôt,

Sara

Banya the cat.

Before Banya was attacked by a raccoon, she was already overweight but she moved around rather spritely, going indoors and outdoors as she pleased.  Then, three summers ago, I went out of town and a family stayed at my home in Oakland.  For some reason, that I’ve never been able to figure out except that they must not like animals, they put Banya and her food outside on the deck.  In California.  Where wildlife is in everyone’s backyard. Five days later they called me to say Banya was hurt.  I had a friend go get her and take her to the Vet.  She had maggots growing in a huge wound.  The only reason she wasn’t dead was that the raccoon bit her around her spine.  Her spine protected her organs.  I’ve never forgiven myself for that happening.

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So I brought Banya to Paris.  I thought I was the most trustworthy person for her to be with.  She was and is a real trooper.  She flew in cargo and when I picked her up, she looked quite pleased with herself.  In Paris, Banya became an indoor cat. She became a city cat having to get used to city noises that she had never heard before.  She hid under the bed a lot and seemed very lost.  But she was still Banya.  When I would sit next to her, she would purr as loudly as a car engine starting up.  If I stopped, she would take one paw and wrap it around my hand and bring it back to her neck.  She never meowed, she chirped always making me smile.

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Then I did the unthinkable.  I bought a kitten from an SDF (Sans Domicile Fixe/Homeless Person) on Blvd St. Germain.  My only excuse was that this kitten was the spitting image of Samantha, my tortoiseshell, that died just before I came to Paris.  Banya hated her.  She didn’t just hate her, she made it clear that this was her territory and Bijou was not welcome.  She pee’d on the couch, she pee’d on the bed.  She pooped wherever she felt like except in the litter box.  I, who pride myself on knowing cats and dogs well, was beside myself.  I had no idea what was wrong.  She was thirteen years old and I thought maybe she was deathly ill. So off we went to the Vet who explained the facts of cats’ lives and territory to me.  So Banya wasn’t dying, she was just pissed as hell.

I set up the apartment so that each cat had her own space.  But, in fact, Bijou had the run of the place and Banya was relegated to the bathroom.  I made her a bed there, she had her litter box next to my toilet and she rarely moved.  If she had been human, she would have wiped her brow with the back of her hand and uttered to anyone who would listen “See what I have to put up with!”

My friends, one in particular, scolded me rather regularly.  She said:                               “Lock Bijou up in the little bedroom and bring Banya out and pet her, brush her hair.  Be nice to her.  After all, this apartment belonged to her before Bijou ever arrived.”                                                        I would agree.  I would do exactly that for two or three nights then life would get busy and I’d forget.

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In January, I had to return to California.  I had to have hip replacement surgery and would be recovering there.  I’d be away from Paris for 4 months.  After a lengthy ping pong game in my head of “do this” “no, do that”, I settled on taking Banya back to the States and leaving Bijou in Paris with a friend.  So, once more, Banya was in California, back on her home turf. She was a different cat however.  She had gotten fat, really fat.  When she walked, she didn’t so much waddle as limp along to wherever she was going.  She didn’t seem upset by it.  I was the one upset.  Her spine wasn’t straight, it dipped.  It finally dawned on me the damage that had probably been done by the raccoon.  She seemed happy though, she went up and down the stairs, she slept in whichever room she pleased.

And I put off thinking about what I was going to do when it was time to return to Paris.  I couldn’t bring her back.  It seemed cruel.  I wasn’t sure where I was staying and for how long.  And eventually she’d have to be with Bijou.

Two weeks before I returned to Paris, I wrote a note to my neighborhood Listserve describing Banya who would be fifteen years old this August.  I explained the circumstances and asked if there was anyone willing to take in an older cat.  I included two photos.  Banya is beautiful.  She is a Birmin.  Birmins are the sacred cats of Tibet.  Her profile is magnificent.  When I look at her, I think of the Lion King.  It is such a proud profile.  I thought “how can anyone resist this beauty?”

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Within one hour, I got a response.  I called the woman back and I was so afraid she would change her mind, I rushed through an idea.  I was going to Yosemite for 4 days.  What if I brought Banya over and this wonderful person could see if Banya would fit into the household?  The woman thought that was a fine idea.

Banya is still there. I think she will live the life of Riley.  I took her on one trip to the Vet to make sure she was healthy and that there were no surprises.  She’d lost 2 pounds.  The day before I returned to Paris, I visited her one last time taking all the extra food I had.  She was seated on a window bench that looked out on the whole Bay Area.  She didn’t chirp in recognition nor start purring when I petted her.  I don’t know what felt worse.  That I was a bad mom and couldn’t care for my animals or that she didn’t seem happy to see me or even recognize me.

Today, I received an e-mail from Banya’s new mom:                                                                    “I am delighted to always have a feline that is willing to sit next to me while I read or watch the sunrise and then the sunset.  She is a very sweet cat”

I can hear her chirp and picture her paw reaching out to keep my hand from leaving.

 

 

Happy New Year—-from Oakland, Ca.

In France, one has the entire month of January to send out New Year’s greetings.  Sending cards for the new year is popular, sending Christmas cards is not.

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So I’m wishing every one of you a wonderful 2017.  What I wish for us all is an ability to navigate our world, our politics (or their politics as the case may be) and to be the best citizen of this world that we can possibly muster without bringing in more anger, more hatred and bitterness than already exists.  It’s not a new concept but imagine if we did one good, kind deed a day and it spread like “The hundredth Monkey Phenomenon”.  Well, I’d like to imagine it!!!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hundredth_monkey_effect

Yesterday, I got on a United flight to San Francisco to return to my California home for 4 months.  I was taken by surprise in mid-December when I was told that I needed hip replacement surgery.  Actually, I was given a choice.  It seems that doctors today cannot actually say “you must have…..” without fear of litigation.  One of my choices was surgery.  I went to all my friends who have had hip or knee replacement surgery and asked them one question: “In retrospect, if you had had the surgery done when you were first told that you might need it, would you have done it?”  Without exception, they all said yes.  When I was talking to the orthopedist and he was telling me the pros and cons of cortisone shots, I asked him straight out “is there any reason to delay it?”

The answer, not so surprisingly, was “No”

So I’m scheduled for surgery in mid-February.  The curious fact about me is that I have never been in a hospital since I was born.  My father used to joke “Sara, you were born in Garfield Hospital in Washington, D.C and they immediately tore it down”.  Yes, of course, I’ve been in many doctor’s offices and had two one-hour procedures (that I can remember) but to have a serious surgery and spend the night, that has been my sister’s realm.  And to say I’m a bit anxious would be an understatement.

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View from my bedroom window

Now, the window I get to look out of is my westward-looking windows here in Oakland.  I can see the San Francisco Bay, the Bay Bridge that spans from Oakland to downtown San Francisco (4 miles) and the Golden Gate bridge.  Many evenings, there is a sunset that cannot be rivaled.

California has been suffering a terrible drought for going on six years.  There has been rain, quite a bit of rain, in the last couple of weeks.  As my Uber drove me up my street from the San Francisco airport, the landscape looked strange.  It hit me that everything was Green.  Really Green!  And because it rained on and off yesterday evening, the green was sparkling like itty bitty diamonds jumping around on leaves, on new grass. Now sixteen hours later, it is pouring cats and dogs, as we like to say in English, or I’d go outside and inspect the gardens and see all the changes.

My cat, Bijou, stayed in Paris.  She is living with a friend who has a larger apartment than I did and also has children who love cats.  When I said good bye to her on Thursday evening, everyone had a bit of a hesitant smile.  Bijou was moving around carefully, looking around each corner before she let herself into a room.  W and E looked excited but not sure how to react to her.  I taught them to clap their hands very loudly when Bijou jumps up on a counter or somewhere she shouldn’t be. As if by direction, she immediately jumped up on a kitchen counter.  I clapped very loudly, she jumped down and scampered back to the laundry room which is her temporary quarters.  Then I left and felt my heart thudding with sadness.  It didn’t seem right to make her fly two long plane flights just because I have to have surgery.

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Bijou (photo by Fatiha Antar)

Banya, on the other hand, who grew up in Oakland and moved to Paris with me is in kitty heaven.  She was an indoor/outdoor cat, became an indoor cat in Paris and never seemed to adjust.  Now she is home after a long plane ride.  She must have known she was coming home because she stayed calm and hasn’t stopped purring.

 

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I wish I had a smart closing line like Garrison Keeler and could say “and that’s the news from Oakland where all …..”  If anyone can dream up a really punchy line for me to close with, there is a small Thank You coming your way.  Until then,

A bientôt,

Sara

Going on a Trip

I am leaving Paris for two weeks.  I’m going to California where I lived for most of my adult life.  It is a beautiful day today.  The sky is blue, the Seine is peaceful, sparkling and the Bateaux Mouches have begun their daily trips up and down the river showing tourists the sights along the banks.

 

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I have been grumbling about the weather most of the Fall.  It seemed that we went from summer to winter without passing Autumn.  In fact, we have had a couple of beautiful Indian Summer days and this seems to be turning into one of them.  I’ve turned the heat off in the apartment and I’m looking forward to a walk.  My iPhone says that the next week will be sunny and much much warmer than it has been.

 

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However, I’m leaving for Charles de Gaulle airport before the sun comes up tomorrow morning.  And like most of my “last days before the trip” Paris seems lovelier.  I seem to see it all much more clearly.  I look around my apartment as if I will never see it again.  I held Bijou, the cat, so close trying to make a physical memory of her furriness, her sweetness, the way she will suddenly look up at me with loving eyes that completely melt my heart.  I don’t feel this way about going anywhere else in Europe.  But California and another life seems worlds away from Paris and this life.

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Last January, when I took my trip to California, terrorists had just bombed the Brussels airport.  We had heard, though it hadn’t been confirmed, that the Brussels airport was second choice to Paris.  I had no idea what to expect.  I felt very matter of fact about it.  I called my lawyer and asked if I wrote out a makeshift will in pencil about all my belongings in Paris, would it be considered legal.  He said yes then added to please not worry, nothing was going to happen to me.  He couldn’t possibly know. The truth is, a place where terrorists have just hit is probably one of the safest places in the world.

I’m not worrying about terrorists.  I look forward to these long flights to California (but not to the jet lag). Once I get to the airport, get my bags checked, get through border control, I’m in No Man’s Land.  Soon my phone won’t ring at all, I won’t be able to receive any texts.  No one can bother me or demand anything of me.  I can watch five movies in a row and not feel guilty or lazy. I can daydream or read a book or write.

But that’s tomorrow.  Today, I’m walking around looking at everything as if it’s the first time and the last time.  I don’t feel anxious.  I don’t have a word for it.  It’s a feeling I’m sure everyone gets at some time or another.  Of wanting to imprint something in my memory that is stronger than just a memory.  I want to be able to touch it, feel it, take it with me.  When I’m sitting in my living room in Oakland, I don’t want Paris to feel so incredibly far away.  The memory I always default to is sitting in my armchair that I have facing the window.  The window that looks out on Quai des Grands Augustins, the Pont Neuf and the river Seine.  It’s an amazing view of one of the most beautiful parts of Paris that I look at every day.

 

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A bientôt,

Sara