It’s never too late and you’re never too old

About half a mile south walking distance on La Petite Ceinture, is one of those “free libraries” boxes that seem to be popping up all over the world. It’s a box with a two door glass front up on stilts where people leave books and are encouraged to take a book. This wonderful invention is just becoming popular in France. I find them in the most remarkable places. “My” free library has both French and English language books. I’ve found a 1937 beautifully printed book of Baudelaire poems and, in the same trip, a Harry Bosch detective thriller.

My little “free library” with buildings from Blvd de Montmorency reflected off the glass doors.

I walk down there two or three times a week and just peruse through the offerings as if I were at a regular library. I never expect much but am sometimes refreshingly surprised. As I was last week when I found Stones for Ibarra by Harriet Doerr. Ms. Doerr was seventy-four years old when Stones was published in 1984. I know this because someone I knew well back then had been in a writing class with her. When I complained that I was getting too old to write a book (I was thirty-seven at the time), Ms. Doerr was held up as an example to me that you can never be too old. I immediately bought the book and read it. As I said I was thirty-seven years old. Since I don’t remember much of the story except that it took place in a small village in Mexico, I’m hypothesising that I didn’t read books the same way I do now. Of course, I still read so fast that I often worry that I don’t retain anything. I think that back then, and especially with Ms. Doerr’s book, I read it competitively and negatively. ‘What does she have that I don’t have?’ Well, for one thing, she knew how to put a sentence together using a spare amount of words but had a big punch.

I wrote about La Petite Ceinture four and a half years ago when I first moved to the 16ème.

When I saw Stones for Ibarra in that little free library on La Petite Ceinture in the 16ème, it was like being struck in the head with a 2 x 4. A wake up call? Maybe. Of course, I grabbed it as if it were a precious jewel. As soon as I got home, I started to read it. It’s a beautiful little novel. Her language is sparse, engaging, and poetic. I immediately googled her and learned that she’d thought about writing as a young girl (she was born in 1910). She met her husband to be in her teens and eventually left Stanford University to marry him. It was after his death, when she was in her mid-60s, that one of her sons encouraged her to go back to college and get her Bachelors degree. She graduated from Stanford in 1977. She began writing while at Stanford, earned a Stegner Fellowship in 1979, and soon began publishing short stories. One of her writing professors got her into the Post-Graduate Writing program. And at the age of 74, she published her first book.

Three days ago, I got an e-mail from the Stanford Continuing Education Writing Certificate program. I was being invited to an informational Zoom meeting about their two-year writing program. I’m seventy-four.

I wrote a first book. It was published when I was seventy-two. I wasn’t writing the great American novel though I did hope it would sell better than it did. I wrote the book to let people suffering with a debilitating eating disorder know that there was hope and that I’d found a solution that worked long-term for me and many others.

Writing a book is hard work. And they say that writing a second book is even harder than writing a first book. I decided I wouldn’t do it. That I was too old. That I didn’t have the energy. But I couldn’t help writing chapters anyway and telling myself it was just for me because I like to write.

Then I found Stones for Ibarra. Then I get the e-mail from Stanford. Nobody I know believes in coincidences. It’s just what you do with them. I have an idea. That’s always a good start! I also have limited energy. So…. well, between writing the first paragraph of this blog and this last sentence, I accepted the invitation to go to the informational meeting. That’s called one step at a time and also called no commitments. I can always change my mind—about everything! But, it is true that I, and you, are never too old.

In case anyone is wondering how very cold it is here in Paris, here is a photo I took of the snow outside my window on Saturday.

We had no summer last year, it was so cold and everyone is crossing fingers for a warmer summer this year. This is not a good start!

For those of you who are visiting France soon or entertaining a visit, here is a blog by David Lebovitz. He usually writes about food but this has a lot of information about requirements and what’s happening here. https://davidlebovitz.substack.com/p/covid-update-for-visiting-france?s=r

A bientôt,

Sara

Spring arrives in Paris

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.

Jardin du Ranelagh

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.

Walking in the Petite Ceinture near my home

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

Lilac tree in bloom in Jardin du Ranelagh

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.

Store on Av. Mozart selling chairs for enjoying Spring weather on the terrace

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.

Bijou enjoying Spring and new buds on my terrace in the 16th

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).

Spring on the Champs de Mars
The epitome of Paris

A bientôt,

Sara

Chemin de Fer de Petite Ceinture

Two weeks after I moved into my new home here in the 16th, I had some friends visit.  We walked up to La Rotonde at La Muette for a cafe allonge (a long pull coffee as opposed to an expresso).  We sat outside and enjoyed the people watching and street watching.  Across the street sat La Gare.  I knew there was a train station nearby that serviced the RER C but I didn’t think it was that close.  The next day, a friend came in from the suburbs and I asked her about it.  She told me about la Petite Ceinture–literally the little belt.  La ceinture was a rail line that serviced all the main stations in Paris and by the time it was finished construction made a loop around Paris.  It’s heyday was the 1900 Universal Expo in Paris.  It was also the beginning of the end for the Ceinture as the metro lines were being built and introduced.

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Sign as one enters the pathway near my street.

La Gare, which we had been admiring, was one of the little stations for the Ceinture.  It is now a terrace tea room on it’s main floor and a restaurant underneath where the trains would stop.  The architects of La Gare as restaurant saved the signs so one can see exactly where the quays were.  The mezzanine is marked Baggage and houses the toilets and coat service.

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Once a rail station for la Petite Ceinture now a restaurant and tea shop

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Photo of the menu showing the restaurant.  Sunday brunch is 39euros!

The 16th arrondissement has resurrected 1.2 kilometers of the rail line and turned it into a nature path.  It lies directly between my building and Porte de Passy.  At the end of rue de l’Assomption is one of the gates to enter into the path.  It is green, inviting, extremely quiet and shady for our hot summer days.  Along the way are signs inviting us to look at the trees, birds and other natural phenomena telling us what to look for.  You just get started and the walk is over.  I gather there is great and on-going debate about what to do with the 36 kilometers total of the old rail line.

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A waste container made from the wood along the path and a sign begging us not to throw our cigarette butts or any ‘crap’ on the path.

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At the end of the nature path, in the Jardin de Ranelagh, is this insect hotel! with an explanation of why they are so important.

If you want to know the fascinating history of the Chemin de Far de Petite Ceinture, go to:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemin_de_fer_de_Petite_Ceinture

In a 2004 episode of Poirot “The Mystery of the Blue Train”, Poirot and friends board the Blue Train in London to go to Nice.  On the way, he explains to his traveling companion that they are on La Petite Ceinture to get to the Gare de Lyon where they will turn south to go to Nice.

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Above: One of the last Petite Ceinture de Paris passenger trains in 1933 – its passenger service would close one year later. right: View of the Ouest Champ du Mars station during the 1900 exposition, with the Boulainvilliers bridge-viaduct for Batignolles trains in the background.

Some of my readers know the 16th quite well.  Perhaps this little sign with a map will bring back memories. The three metro stations are Ranelagh, Jasmin, Michel-Ange.

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A bientôt,

Sara