Aggressive Friendship

I’m reminded that this is a time to practice aggressive friendship with each other, to be the one who seeks out the lonely and the troubled. It’s also true that character is formed in times like this. People see deeper into themselves, bravely learn what their pain is teaching them, and become wiser and softer as a result. David Brooks, NY Times

Last week, David Brooks, columnist at the New York Times, asked readers to e-mail him with thoughts, feelings and personal experiences of being in Lockdown (or whatever it is called in your country). This morning, he wrote us all a letter saying he’d received 5000 responses and he quoted a number of them. Students and the elderly, for different reasons, were scared and in tears much of the time. Reading his letter, I once again felt a deep sense of gratitude that, except for a few moments last week, I have been quite upbeat. I believe I’m being realistic and planning my days and weeks with reality in mind. I don’t like it but nobody asked my opinion. As the above quote shows, Mr. Brooks is encouraging us to reach out to people–especially the elderly and lonely people.

Le Jardin du Ranelagh: didn’t get the memo that we are all under lockdown.

Since most of us are only communicating through e-mails, phone calls and Zoom meetings, a lot can be misunderstood and cause grief, unneeded despair and a pulling apart of friendship just when we need to pull together. I’ve been quick to judge others when I didn’t like a communication. Then it occurred to me, what if I were upsetting someone else? How would I want them to treat me? I’d want them to put my e-mail or Zoom statement in perspective. I’d want them to extend to me the benefit of the doubt, that in these extraordinary times, many of us may say things in haste that actually don’t express how we feel. I know a lot of my friends are very anxious, their children aren’t near them and they feel powerless. Many are scared–that looking into the future seems bleak and unpredictable. I have sent e-mails off to close friends and family and not heard back. First I got angry, then I felt scared. It turns out that 100% of those e-mails were either not received or lost in an onslaught of e-mails. I want to be forgiven for anything I said or did, unintentially or even intentially but blindly. If I want that, I’d better extend that to others. I find this hard.

Normally one of the busiest areas of traffic in Paris full of honking horns, gestures and impatience.

As the days have turned into weeks and the weeks are slowly turning into a second month of lockdown, I’m feeling the fatigue of this sameness. I look out my window where it is 75o in Paris. It is green and the birds are chirping away as if all was normal. I may not have the largest following with this blog but I must have the best of followers! Many people wrote me last week in concern. Was I okay? Why was I crying? A number urged me to go outside and walk where it is green. I did. I went out three times and found it to be more stressful than staying inside. I live near Bois de Boulogne. Last Sunday, I walked in that direction only to be stopped by a line of police saying it was forbidden to enter. Only the small green areas are ok. Monday, I went to a real grocery store for the first time. The streets were full of people, many not respecting the 2 meter distance guideline, joggers were everywhere, families were everywhere. I had to remind myself we were in lockdown. I kept crossing the street, back and forth, back and forth, so as not to cross the 2 meter line. Tuesday night, French administration banned jogging between the hours of 10am and 7pm. I haven’t been out since then to see if joggers are respecting this latest decree.

Walking home along one side of Jardin du Ranelagh. Some Mayors in France in an autocratic move have outlawed sitting on benches. Not Paris.

I feel thin-skinned. I can’t control what other people think of me. I can’t control the Parisians who believe they don’t need to follow the rules. I can’t control people on Zoom who, no matter how much you remind them to put as much security in place as possible, aren’t listening. No matter how thin-skinned I’m feeling, I have to remind myself that no one means hurt or harm. I’m quite sure of that (with the exception of some politicians we all know and don’t love). I can’t afford to let myself get stressed by what others are doing. The CDC says that stress lowers your immune system. I have to practice love and forgiveness. That’s what I want from others.

Scotch broom (or maybe it’s French Broom) in full bloom.

This brings me back around to “Aggressive Friendship”. We live in an age where one can instantly ‘friend’ someone. It is even a verb: ‘to friend’. David Brooks urges us to reach out to the lonely, the elderly, those that cannot do much to fend for themselves during Covid-19. The dictionary on my MacBook Air defines friendship: “noun [mass noun] the emotions or conduct of friends; the state of being friends: old ties of love and friendship | this is an ideal group for finding support and friendship. • [count noun] a relationship between friends: she formed close friendships with women. • a state of mutual trust and support between allied nations: because of the friendship between our countries, we had a very frank exchange | the foreign ministers extended to eastern Europe the hand of friendship.” A state of mutual trust and support. Almost by definition, this says that friendship is deepened by surviving the big and small bumps on the road of life. Mr. Brooks is asking us to extend the act of caring–doing something for someone whether you know them or not, just because. Isn’t it extraordinary that it takes a crisis for the majority of us to practice this basic act of kindness? This is a time to practice love and tolerance. To remember the old adage that we were all taught when we were young: ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. Never easy in normal times, but these are not normal times.

The beautiful Jardin du Ranelagh. It looks so manicured. Are gardeners out working? Is that considered a necessary work during this time? I don’t have the answer.

In the news: The French news says that President Macron is speaking to many of his advisors and will go on TV Monday evening to make new announcements. The lockdown has been extended but it’s unclear how long. Deaths have reached 13,482 in France. The number of ICU patients has declined as of yesterday. I don’t believe France has peaked yet. “Macron will have to steer a careful course amid the tentative signs of improvement, telling people they must still stay at home while giving indications about how the confinement may be relaxed.” France24.com. In the UK, Boris Johnson’s illness has brought much of the nation together wishing him well. That nation has been pulled into polarity for at least 5 years. How interesting that one of the main people fighting for Brexit should also be a unifying figure. He says he owes his life to the healthcare workers. I wonder if this will soften some of his more stringent beliefs. One also can’t help but wonder if he noticed how many of his saviors were immigrants.

A bientôt,

Sara This has been a very hard blog to write. For whatever reasons, I’ve lost paragraphs, been unable to upload a photo. and a few other things. For 48 hours it has been a test of patience to get this out to you. Makes me wonder what acts of maturity I’ve been needing to work on!

Just another day in confinement; Paris, France

I woke up at 7:30 after sleeping terribly. So badly that I’d pulled the bottom sheet away from it’s nice hospital corner tuck-in. Am I anxious? I don’t think so but I’ve never slept so badly that it appears I’ve been wrestling someone or something. I get out of bed yawning as I have for the last five mornings. After making coffee and filling a bowl with fruit and yogurt, I meander to my computer to read the latest bad news. I can’t watch the news. I have to read it. If I don’t like the headline I can scroll down. I can start with the sports pages or the culture pages if I want to and then scroll upward. What I read this morning was that the President of the United States of America said he would not send life-saving equipment to any state if the Governor “isn’t nice to me”. I started crying. I’m living in a nightmare. Maybe I hadn’t really awaken. My sister said yesterday that he was favouring red states over blue. She calls him malevolent.

A part of me wanted to crawl back in bed and have a re-do. Energy just seeped away from my body. I turned the television on, went to YouTube and clicked on Walk at Home with Leslie Sansone. I’ve seen more of Leslie in the past three weeks than any friend on Zoom. I chose a Boost Walk and hoped I could march away the blues. I walked and marched and swung my arms and stomped my feet and muttered.

The fun of walking at home with Leslie Sansone

Thirty minutes later, I sat down at my computer to work. I can’t catch up with work. I felt resentful. The Guardian, every day, has a list of movies and box set TV shows that we can binge watch since we have nothing else to do. HA! If I could watch every season of MASH, I might give up on work, writing these blogs, keeping up with e-mails and all the things my publicity agent wants me to do for my book which comes out May 12. I haven’t found MASH anywhere. If you, wonderful reader, know where I can stream MASH, please let me know.

MASH is no longer on Netflix but is now streamed on Hulu

I spoke with a close friend in California the other evening. She told me how she and her daughter are taking walks and respecting the six foot distance, how check out lines at the food stores have tape on the ground six feet apart and people respect that. I seemed to be hearing that she was spending a lot of time outside of the house. I told her I’d been out three times in the past two weeks. “You haven’t even taken a walk?” No I haven’t. So I told myself I would use my hour of outdoor time today to walk over to the Bois de Boulogne and back. Then I saw an interview with Bernie Sanders who told us, the listening audience, “stay at home unless you absolutely, without a doubt, have to go out.” I don’t think a walk falls in that category. I felt paralyzed. Go out, stay in. When in doubt, leave it out. I still haven’t completely given up the idea. In my heart, I know we are being given better instructions in France than in the US but then one friend writes about being at the beach and how beautiful it is and another about hiking on a lovely trail and another describes the eery, terrible, wonder of empty streets in the middle of the day.

Coronavirus Cases: 1,210,422 view by country

Deaths: 65,449 Recovered: 251,822

Thursday, as the US announced that the limits would last until May 3 and the newspaper publishes horrifying statistics of deaths doubling overnight (New York had almost 600 yesterday), it began to sink in that there was a good chance that we’d be in confinement for a minimum of another month and likely two months. Intellectually, I knew that that was probably going to happen but acceptance is a whole other feeling. That’s probably my nighttime tossing and turning. History books will describe this time in my lifetime as “unprecedented”. To me, it’s like trying to live one day at a time with the braille method, trying to sense what is the right thing to do for my own self-care but also for my fellow citizen of Paris. Hoping and praying that what I’m doing and saying will ultimately be the best that one can do. And isn’t that what we are all doing?: the best we can do with the information we are given.

In France24.com this morning, a reporter was confirming what most of us are already suspecting–that we are in this for a very long haul. He thinks that the lockdown limits will be lifted slowly but not all at one time. He pointed out that already China is getting a second wave as people travel around again. So government administrators will have to really be prepared to advise as to how to begin living our lives outside of our homes. “The prime minister cited the possibility of easing lockdown measures on a region-by-region basis and “subject to a new testing policy – depending, possibly, on age and other factors”. It’s a scenario similarly touted in Italy – one of the countries hit hardest by the virus – where Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has said that a “return to normalcy” will have to be achieved “gradually”-(France24). But it’s not going to happen for awhile.

police checking on the reason for a couple to be sitting in a British park

The Guardian says that in the UK, people are starting to rebel against the going-outside restrictions. I don’t think they get fined the way we do here in France. I’ve rebelled against limitations so much in my life but this time, I’m more scared of getting sick than of following the advised restrictions. Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, since 2018, is now live telling people if they don’t obey the restrictions and stop putting others’ lives at risk, all outdoors exercise will be banned. I think this might be called ‘lockdown fatigue’. I’m sure it is what I was feeling the other day.

“May you live in interesting times.” That is a Chinese curse. (There is actually no record of this being a Chinese saying or curse but an English saying from a translation. No one has ever found what it is supposed to have been translated from.) These are indeed interesting times, times when each one of us has to be creative, self-motivated to care for ourselves and others. Getting our high on being with others isn’t going to happen. The crowd euphoria of singing and dancing at a club isn’t going to happen. Taking a long hike in the beauty of our natural world isn’t going to happen. We have been challenged to find ways to entertain ourselves and our loved ones and live within the parameters set by our governments. I wish for everyone that they find their best selves within and call on that being hourly to stay safe, stay well, stay inside, wash your hands and don’t touch your face.

A bientôt,

Sara

Covid-19 in France

Today, all ex-Pats were sent an e-mail by the American Embassy in Paris. “France has confirmed cases of COVID-19 within its borders.Since January 24, 2020, there have been 1412 confirmed cases in France.  There have been twenty-five confirmed deaths.The French government has reported cases throughout the country. Five “clusters” of concentrated cases have been identified in l’Oise (communes of Creil, Crépy en Valois, Vaumoise, Lamorlaye et Lagny le Sec), Haute Savoie (commune of La Balme), Morbihan (communes of d’Auray, Crac’h and Carnac), Haut-Rhin (Mulhouse), and Bas-Rhin (Strasbourg).”

Walking around Paris, nothing seems different. All my markets are open and no one seems to be stockpiling food. People are sitting outside on the sidewalks at their favourite cafes. Possibly there are a bit fewer people walking around but it’s hard to tell. The biggest indication that there is a dangerous virus is that all the pharmacies have signs saying they are sold out of masks and hand sanitiser. Even Amazon says it will take three weeks to deliver hand sanitiser. The people who have been counted as having Covid-19 in Paris are in hospitals and don’t necessarily live in Paris. Other than the Minister of Culture, who tested positive yesterday, there aren’t reported cases. “The prime minister’s office said that the rules for ministers with the virus “are the same for all French people” including acting with caution and taking measures to minimise the chances of the disease spreading.” France24.

Probably most Parisians feel extremely cautious about public transportation: the metro and the buses. People hang on to poles and grab handles from above to steady themselves. Persons without gloves touch those surfaces thousands of times a day. Wearing gloves is the best idea and figuring out how to clean gloves is smarter. As everywhere around the world at the moment, we are told to wash our hands often and for twenty seconds. Hand sanitisers come in second to hand washing.

The papers say that France is now sounding the alarm since Italy has shut down its borders. But most of all, they are asking all of us to remain calm and use good sense. Compared to what the news says is going on in the US, the French are positively snoozing. Events larger than 1000 people have been cancelled but I haven’t heard any complaints. “Having banned large public gatherings at the end of February, France will see its first match with no fans in 10 years at PSG’s stadium on Wednesday.” France24 The Louvre is open and restricting who enters. Flights to Asia have been cancelled. None of my friends have reported cancelled flights. It’s a wait and see attitude.

I have reservations on the Eurostar to go to London March 25-29. I think the only reason I would cancel is if I thought that, for some reason, I couldn’t get back into France. So I guess the next two weeks will be very telling as to how France and her people will handle this.

One thing of note: my home town, Oakland, California, has allowed one of the Princess Cruises to dock at the Oakland port (5th largest in USA). Listserves that I’ve read have people extremely worried/angry as to why the Oakland City Council would allow that. One person, ONE PERSON, wrote how proud they were of Oakland that it would offer its hospitals and emergency services to help the people who have been quarantined on the ship.

The next chapter will unfold soon,

A bientôt,

Sara

Les Gilets Jaunes–part 2

Hi from Paris,

Many of you have written to me to make sure I am okay as the tv reports showed a Paris out of control and burning.  I am fine.  The protests, the demonstrations and rioting have been in the centre of Paris where tourist attractions are and the wealthiest streets are.  It has affected my ability to travel around Paris.  Yesterday, we were warned ahead of time that forty metro stations would be closed.  And, as a caution, all tourists sites were closed, all museums closed and the department stores on the Grands Boulevards were closed.

What started as a protest against a tax on diesel fuel has now escalated to a full-blown rage at the cost of living in France, hatred of President Macron as a president of only the rich and a general overflowing of suppressed anger at the things the average French person cannot control

I have friends on both sides.  A number of my french friends are disgusted with the Gillets Jaunes.  They feel they do not appreciate all the services that they do get for ‘free’. The French pay one of the highest taxes in Europe and those taxes are what support the French Healthcare System which is remarkable, maintenance of roads and highways–they are always up to date, and many days and evenings during the year when the average person can go to museums and monuments for free.

I also have friends who support the Gilets Jaunes.  They also believe that this protest has been hijacked by the hooligans and the far-right as well as the infamous ‘black bloc’.  Many believe that the Gilets Jaunes want a peaceful protest but as one french worker said, “if we protest peacefully, we get ignored.  If there is violence, they hear us and things change.” (that is not an exact quote).

For those of you who want to read a lot more detail, I’ve included articles from the NYTimes, The guardian and France24.

https://www.france24.com/en/20181208-live-hundreds-detained-paris-france-braces-new-anti-macron-riots

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/08/paris-police-flood-streets-gilets-jaunes?utm_term=RWRpdG9yaWFsX0d1YXJkaWFuVG9kYXlVS19XZWVrZW5kLTE4MTIwOQ%3D%3D&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GuardianTodayUK&CMP=GTUK_email

No one knows what will happen next.  Macron is supposed to talk to the country early this coming week.  Is he going to stick to his revolutionary plan or will he have listened and be willing to work with the French?  And interesting sideline is the comparison to the 1968 student riots that brought Paris to a complete standstill.   “In an interview with the Observer, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, one of the leaders of the May 1968 student riots and one of Macron’s friends and advisers, said the president and the government needed a “complete reset …and a tax revolution” to answer protesters’ demands.”

Thank you all for your concern,

A bientôt,

Sara

 

3:30am in Paris

Out my window, it’s dark.  The Quai is mostly clear.  The Seine is quiet, all the young people who sit on the concrete sidings until 1 or 2 in the morning have gone home.  The spotlights on Notre Dame have been turned off.  It’s that time of night when the only people awake are those that are tossing and turning because they can’t sleep.

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I’m not looking out the window.  I was deep into sleep and had set my alarm to wake up before 3am.  Hillary Clinton is ‘debating’ Donald Trump. She actually looks lovely in a red suit and he looks exactly the same.  His hair is combed forward and looks at bit like a small mop. Both are standing in front of a huge blown up photo of the Constitution.  When she talks, he stares at her with a huge frown on his face.

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Here in Paris, the news doesn’t show either of these two at campaign rallies 24/7.  In fact, I can’t remember the last time I saw the Donald on France24, Al Jazeera or BBC news. I’m very familiar with Hillary’s voice but I’m surprised that I recognize Trump’s voice.  He seems to be doing exactly what he has done for a year and a half–criticizing “Secretary Clinton”, criticizing government, criticizing everyone that isn’t him.  As I’m writing he is bragging about how he forced President Obama to produce his birth certificate.  I’m stunned.  What is it with him?  He can’t produce his income taxes but because President Obama is black, he engaged in this birther theory year after year after year.

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I, and many of my friends that don’t live in the United States, are frightened.  The slight possibility that Donald Trump could be President of the United States is so appalling that it is barely imaginable.  Whatever one thinks of Hillary, I happen to be a fan, she is prepared to be president.  She is probably more prepared than any other candidate in history.  She’s been in the White House, she’s been Secretary of State and Senator from New York.  She was shown to work well with Republicans in New York. If she were a man, there wouldn’t even be a competition.

I’m surprised I actually woke up and got out of bed for this.  I could have read a transcript in the paper in the morning.  I could have read the critics’ observations and declarations of who the winner is.  I needed to see for myself the narcissism, the outright lying, the incredible immaturity of the man who wants to be Commander-in-Chief.  I give her huge points that she is standing there and still has a smile on her face.  She must be seething inside. No matter the question, he has to have the last word.  Lester Holt, the moderator, is not doing a good job of managing his outsized ego.  One of the critics is saying that this is a debate for the fact checkers.

The debate is winding down. It’s time to go back to bed.  I don’t know if I can sleep.  This is as serious an issue as any I’ve known in my lifetime.  I will finish by quoting Hillary: “I hope you get out there and vote as if your future depends on it.  Because it does.”