Slouching towards Inauguration*

Tuesday, I had an ophthalmologist appointment. A reader had written to ask me what the French thought of the insurrection in Washington D.C. last Wednesday. I thought I could answer that: that they were sad for us ex-Pats, couldn’t understand how we couldn’t see it coming, and that it was the nail in the coffin for America as the shining example of democracy. So I asked the good doctor. He laughed at me and said “Have you forgotten the Gilets Jaunes and all the destruction they did?” Actually, I had forgotten. Since the pandemic started last February, much of what happened before is gone from my mind. “The French love to dissent” he said.

“But they don’t use guns,” I told him.

“That’s true. But they did an awful lot of damage over the year of weekly protests. Remember the Champs Elysees?” I never saw it but I remember the photos of stores broken into, glass everywhere, looting, and fires in the street.

“And they weren’t goaded on by the President,” I added. He conceded that point. But he had also made his point. It is not unusual for the French to protest. They love to protest. When I was in university back in the late 60s, Paris was often shut down because of transportation strikes and postal strikes. Since I’ve lived here in Paris, there have been many transportation strikes. But the Gilets Jaunes was the longest protest I’ve seen. And who knows, if we hadn’t had a pandemic, they could still be protesting.

‘This is not America’: France’s Macron laments violence by pro-Trump supporters in US

President Macron is not a very popular president. But, in my opinion, he has done a good job of protecting us, as best he can, from the virus. The pandemic has taken all the focus away from how he was handling the Gilets Jaunes. However, getting the vaccine out to labs and given to people has proved very challenging for him and his administration. I’m not clear where the breakdown is but of all the EU countries, France seems to be the slowest. It’s even hard to get clear information even though someone from the Administration comes on TV to talk to us most Thursday nights. As of today, there is not another lockdown, but the curfew has been changed and extended. For all of France, the curfew is 6pm to 6am. If one has to go out, the ‘attestation’ is absolutely required.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex has announced a new evening curfew will begin nationally across France starting at 18:00 (17:00 GMT) on Saturday.
The move is a tightening of a curfew already in place since December, which restricts movement from 20:00-06:00. BBC News

I have been reading Barak Obama’s The Promised Land. I don’t remember his other books but I am absolutely sure he is much improved as a writer. He is thoughtful, self-deprecating, and generous. Too generous. The book is long at almost 800 pages. He doesn’t repeat his earlier books. He skims over his growing up years, and then starts walking us through his many political decisions whether to run for office, their consequences, and how Michelle felt about each one. I couldn’t help but be awed. He clearly had written this book during most of the Trump presidency while Trump was publicly making it his mission to undo everything Obama. Yet, his elegant writing of his hopes and dreams, why he decided to run for President, and his basic humanity never miss a beat while, outside his study, the US was moving into crisis and the direction was clearly not what Obama has worked his whole life for. Visions of the insurrection kept coming to mind, as I was reading about the all the Hope put on Obama’s shoulders, the certainty on November 4, 2008 that finally things would change in the US. I thought once more of Van Jones’ question on CNN January 6, “Is this the death throes of something ugly in our country, desperate, about to go away and then the vision that Biden talked about is going to rise up or is this the birth pains of a worse disorder? Jones asked. “That’s where we are right now tonight. And I think the country has got to make a decision.” I thought of the Greek myths that I read in middle school. The hero has to deal with challenge after seemingly hopeless challenge as he gets closer to the prize. Is this violent outpouring of Trumpites one of the last challenges for American Democracy and the country can again move toward ‘equality for all’ or has the hero fallen and we will witness the sad flutterings of a dying dream?

And so, the world is holding its collective breath. Three and a half days until Biden’s Inauguration. The National Guard has been called out, streets are closed off in Washington. Already one person has been arrested using an unauthorised ID to get in past the “circle” of armed guards that is surrounding DC. He had a loaded Glock pistol and 500 rounds of ammunition in his car. People are being asked not to come to Washington. All 50 states have been warned that violence could erupt in their Capitols. I have canceled everything for late afternoon Wednesday so that I can watch Biden being sworn in. And, like most of my friends around the world, I’m praying for no violence. In the words of my old hippie self, “That may be a pipe-dream.”

Sonia Sotomayor

One historical note that hopefully will get air-time: Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, the first woman, the first Black and Asian, to be elected to such a high office, has asked Sonia Sotomayor, the first woman of color to be nominated to the Supreme Court, to swear her in on Wednesday. Ms Sotomayor has sworn in one other Vice President: Joe Biden in 2013!

A bientôt,

Sara

*apologies to William Butler Yeats

The Second Coming 

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.   
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out   
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert   
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,   
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,   
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it   
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.   
The darkness drops again; but now I know   
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,   
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,   
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? —–William Butler Yeats

Confinement Redux

A friend back in Oakland, Ca wrote to me this morning asking me if I was ok. He included a photo from the Associated Press that was titled: “Parisians flee, sidewalks empty, as France enters lockdown.” The photo showed a solitary figure walking an empty street and everything was grey. My friend said “Frightening to see this–hope you’re holding out ok.”

Photo my friend sent. It turns out this street is in Bayonne not Paris.

It has been an adventure of sorts. Wednesday evening, 8pm CET, President Macron announced that France was going back into lockdown. Although he claims that it will be slightly different than the last time, I haven’t seen what the difference is. I was still in Normandie and knew I had to get home. The lockdown started at midnight on Friday. I was able to get a train reservation for Saturday morning and began a whirlwind, frenetic packing generated by my sense of urgency. But as each hour went by, the urgency subsided. I was told that the shelves were sparse and so I packed a full bag of my groceries that I hadn’t yet used. By the time I left on Saturday morning, I had my one fairly large suitcase, my cat inside her carrier which is soft and can be worn over the shoulder, my ‘market’ bag in which I carry things I might need during the day, the full bag of groceries and another bag that held all the overflow.

I turned my car in at the train station and loaded myself up with all my ‘stuff’. I got about five feet and I knew it was all too much and too heavy. I started to do something I hate in myself and hadn’t done in a long time. I sighed very, very loudly, tried to look as miserable and helpless as I felt, tilted to the left with the weight of the grocery bag, sighed a little louder, all in hopes that someone would come rushing to my rescue. I must have looked a bit lunatic if not homeless, and I’m sure anyone who passed me gave me a wide berth. I made very slow progress. I realized I would have to go up and over the bridge to get to the quai where the train to Paris was. I was close to tears. Someone did say there was an elevator but didn’t offer to help. I was halfway across the bridge still doing my Sarah Bernhardt act when an employee of SNCF asked where I was headed, grabbed two of my bags, and, asking which car I was in, deposited me in Voiture 5. The train left within 30 seconds of my being inside.

Of course, I pulled the same stunt walking to the taxi queue in Paris. This time, a young woman stopped and helped me. I was home in my apartment three hours after leaving my friends’ home in Normandie. Ultimately I was glad for all the groceries as I had no energy to shop for food on Saturday.

Sunday morning, Day 3 of Confinement Deux, I went for my usual morning walk at 10:30am. On my walk, I pass a parcours with exercise machines in the Jardin du Ranelagh. My habit is to stop for about fifteen minutes, and every other day work out my arms and, on alternate days, my legs. The parcours was packed with people. I’m not sure if the area would be considered a space for gathering but there were well over thirty people. Three-quarters were not wearing masks. I got on one machine, felt scared, got off and went on my way to finish my walk. This morning, it was the same thing on a much smaller level, probably twelve people total, all the men not wearing masks.

Current Covid-19 numbers in France, according to the Health Minister: 1 new positive every 2 seconds; 1 hospitalisation every 30 seconds; 1 death every 4 minutes

When I left Paris on October 14th, everyone was wearing a mask. Was this a rebellion? I noticed a number of people not wearing masks just walking or wearing the mask under their nose. Not only did my neighbourhood NOT look like the photo my friend sent, it seemed teeming with life. Av. Mozart, my shopping street, had more people than usual. Only stores that sold necessities were open so my little clothing store was closed but the florists were open. They were not open the first time around. I was able to purchase my weekly bunch of flowers and that made me happy.

Around Europe, the numbers are devastating.

Macron said that the confinement would last one month but everything would be reviewed in fifteen days. If the cases of Covid-19 had stopped rising and looked to be diminishing, there was the possibility of some of the restrictions being relaxed. That is not likely to happen. Countries around France are following suit. The UK isn’t calling it a lockdown but much the same rules are in place. Germany is in lockdown. Spain and Italy had cities in lockdown for weeks already. Macron has said that this second wave is and will continue to be much more devastating.

Wearing masks in Paris on Friday, October 30.

Last Spring, the days were getting longer. It was a novel experience and people all over the world went out on their balconies to sing and clap for the healthcare workers. Now the days are getting shorter, the wind howls at night and no one is celebrating anything. And, for US citizens, tomorrow is a day that almost everyone has been awaiting for four years, many of us have been working at getting out the vote, making sure everyone over here knows they must register anew every year, and that it is an honour to be able to vote. So Please Vote. Now we, and the rest of the world, are holding our collective breath both hoping and fearing the results.

So, to my friend in Oakland, I will respond, “Yes, I’m holding up. My Paris doesn’t look like that photo and I’m not sure if that is good or bad. Both politically and health wise, I think we are in for a long, cold winter. Je t’embrasse.”

A bientôt,

Sara

Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can; 
and wisdom to know the difference.

Another Sunday. The end of five weeks of confinement. For me–seven weeks, almost 1/6th of the year. The weeks fly by, there is a sameness about everything which, in many ways, is comforting. Yet, early March, when I first had my cold (definitely not the virus) seems like an eternity ago. President Macron came on national TV last Monday to tell us that the confinement would last through May 11. Then he outlined a plan that would start on May 12, assuming the curve had flattened and France’s deaths were declining. It would begin with primary school students going back to school, a few stores opening up and some services that had been shut down re-opening slowly. There was an implication that the eldest, the frailist and the most vulnerable would be asked to stay indoors. That was confirmed on Wednesday when the government’s chief scientific adviser, Jean-François Delfraissy, said that people over 65 years of age would stay confined the longest. On Friday, he reversed what he said and promised that all ages would have restricitons lifted at the same time.

Sign on the street saying “Stay in your home”

It is one thing to be in lockdown and know that all my friends and neighbors were in the same boat as me. Friday morning, before the reversal, I thought of people going out and walking along the Seine, crossing the Pont Neuf and Pont Alexander III, going to the American Library, and I had to stay at home. Some friends said ‘it’s unconstitutional. They can’t age discriminate.’ I didn’t feel picked on at all. All along I have felt as safe as one can feel during a crisis like this. I have felt that France is looking after me. So if the wisdom said “You are over 65. We think it’s a good idea that you use extreme caution and stay inside,” ok, I would follow it. But I knew it would be harder. I would feel more alone, that I’m saying I’m vulnerable.

All the prime channels say the same thing in the corner: “Stay at home”

I thought of the Serenity Prayer which I say a lot. Sometimes I say it without really thinking about what it actually says. But Friday, I said it to myself many times as a way to pray for acceptance. What are the things I cannot change? This virus, how others respond to the restrictions, when it will all end if it does ever actually completely end, my age among other things.

Wisteria-it never lasts long enough. A real sign of Spring.

What can I change? and do I have the courage to act on my own behalf? I can always change my attitude if I get lonely or too tired or grumpy, I can do as much exercise indoors and use my hour outside to walk – they say the stronger a person is the better they can fight off the virus, I can keep working and writing which feels very good – and when I feel good, I feel more positive and stronger, I can keep connected with as many people as I can so that the world feels very small right now. Stephen Colbert, in talking about the virus and the One World Concert that was held last night, showed us a T-shirt he was selling to raise money for healthcare workers and food for people who are going hungry. The front of the T-shirt said “United we stand, Divided. we fall” He was urging social distancing for as long as we can and how these things are actually bringing us together.

Sign on the door of Picard (one of my favorite stores): Everyone United–Check out priority-healthcare workers, pregnant women, older people and handicapped people. Thanks for your understanding.

Maybe… It seems there are two camps. There is the one camp that has turned some yucky lemons into wonderful lemonade–feeling closer to their friends and neighbors, not being self-destructive with food (Colbert said “order two of these T-shirts. One in the size you wear and one in the size you’ll be after we get out of lockdown and you’ve eaten everything available.”), allowing the slow-down of time to give birth to creativity, to meditate more, to rest more, to read more and learn more. Then there is the other camp. The ones who are scared and anxious, who listen to news that riles them up, makes them angry and provoked, who assume everyone is having as hard a time as they are, are basically miserable.

Sent to me by a friend in California.

The wisdom to know the difference. When I was a young woman, I kept repeating some stupid behaviors over and over again. I ran into brick walls, bloodied my nose then did it all over again. I had some older women friends and I would go crying to them each time I hurt myself. Finally one of them, in total frustration, said to me “Sara, has it ever occurred to you, when you are headed for that wall, to turn left?” Intellectually, I knew what she meant. I got the metaphor. But I didn’t have the wisdom, or self-knowledge to know when to turn. I guess wisdom comes from making mistakes, sometimes years of mistakes. This extraordinary time has allowed me to show myself the wisdom that I have picked up over six decades of life. I will say “Amazingly, I’m finding that lockdown isn’t difficult.” Perhaps it isn’t all that amazing. Perhaps it’s years of saying the Serenity Prayer and, to the very best of my ability, putting it into action. Meditators will call what they do “a practice”. They keep practicing every day. I tell people a lot younger than me who are trying to change some behaviors to “consider it a muscle you haven’t used in a long time or maybe ever. Strengthen that muscle a little at a time every day, keep practicing” Then comes a time in one’s lifetime when all the practice pays off. For my parents, it was the Depression and WWII. For us, it’s the Covid-19 virus of 2020. Extraordinary times brings out the best in many of us and the worst in many of us. Thanks to the Serenity Prayer and a lot of love, I’m being a person I quite like these days. So, I’m not wild about May 11 being the possible end of lockdown but it is what it is. I’m prepared.

May 12, also happens to be the launch date of my book Saving Sara A memoir of food addiction. I have a radio interview that day and will celebrate with as many people as I can.

Just a little chuckle

A bientot,

Sara

Paris–Day 20

Around the world 720,000 cases of Covid-19 have been reported. Of those 34,000 people have died. Here in France, there are 40,174 reported cases and 2606 deaths. I hear people saying ‘just a little bit more time then we can go back to normal” I think that is wishful thinking. Not only will we not go back to anything but it’s my belief that we are in for some huge changes. This is all evolving organically. I think we will be living with some form of the virus for a year or two. Most people my age, the 70 and over group!, aren’t going outside unless they absolutely have to. But, we in Paris, have developed a marvelous sense of humor. Funny cartoons, songs, videos are going from phone to phone and it’s hard not to smile.

Someone sent me this poem:

Pandemic
What if you thought of it as the Jews consider the Sabbath— the most sacred of times? Cease from travel. Cease from buying and selling. Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world different than it is. Sing. Pray. Touch only those to whom you commit your life. Center down.
And when your body has become still, reach out with your heart. Know that we are connected in ways that are terrifying and beautiful. (You could hardly deny it now.) Know that our lives are in one another’s hands. (Surely, that has come clear.) Do not reach out your hands. Reach out your heart. Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils of compassion that move, invisibly, where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love— for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, so long as we all shall live.
    — Lynn Ungar  3/11/20

Walking home from shopping. Complete emptiness

I went out on Saturday to do food shopping. I don’t have to go far, just to the corner to get most everything I need. I’m wearing gloves but I stick them in my pocket until I leave the apartment building. Then, it suddenly occurred to me that I am assuming people have my best interests in mind. People are scared and probably not thinking clearly. How do I know they are wearing gloves when they push the elevator buttons? If I walk up the stairs on my way back, what makes me think the person before me wore gloves or didn’t sneeze on the handle. I don’t. I’m the only one who can take 100% care of me. My sister reminded me to wear gloves when I pick up the mail. She recommended leaving it outside for 24 hours. I asked and learned that the virus can live on paper for 48 hours. So I’m using gloves to also open my mail and packages and not taking the packaging to recycling until a good 48 hours has passed. I don’t like shopping with gloves on. I’m a tactile person and shopping for vegetables and fruit this way is terrible. But it may also save my life so…..I’ve learned to follow instructions.

rue de rivoli, paris

It has been recommended that Paris stay in “le confinement” until the end of April. Macron is reticent to do that. So it’s been extended two weeks and then “on verra”. The fine for being outside without our ‘passport’ has gone from 135euros to 200euros and then 3750euros for repeated offences. After the 4th offence, it’s 6 months in jail. From The Local:

Nice, France

‘Starting Friday March 27th, 2002, the Eiffel Tower pays tribute to people rallying around amid the covid-19 crisis by playing thank-you notes and encouragements to stay home. The City of Paris tells us that the Eiffel Tower will pay tribute to all people rallying around amid the Covid-19 crisis, playing thank-you notes and encouragements to stay home every evening from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. A tribute the Eiffel Tower was already paying by extending the sparkling session every night at 8 p.m. for 10 minutes. From now on, starting from 8 p.m. a “Merci” [Thank You] will be played on the Eiffel Tower to thank health caregivers, police officers, firefighters, agents of the City of Paris, paramedics, soldiers, cashiers, garbage collectors, store keepers, deliver men, volunteers, helpers, associations, and Parisians, all those rallying around amid the Coronavirus pandemic.’

The word “Merci”, the French word for ‘Thank you”, is emblazoned on the Eiffel Tower as France’s coronavirus death toll continued to climb, in Paris, Friday, March 27, 2020. Health workers fighting to save lives in France from COVID-19 have received a huge show of gratitude, from the Eiffel Tower. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

A startling fact is being reported. Since the pandemic began, since the real slow down of society started, airplanes stopped flying, cars stopped going everywhere, trains are virtually still, pollution in major cities is reversing itself, going backwards. Even if they have limited opportunities to enjoy it at the moment, Parisians have rarely breathed cleaner air. “The air in the Paris region was 20 to 30 percent cleaner in the first days of nationwide confinement two weeks ago, compared with usual levels the same period, air quality monitor Airparif reported Tuesday. The monitor said the decrease was due to a 60-percent drop in the level of nitrogen dioxide in the air: 41 percent when confinement began last Tuesday, 62 percent on Wednesday and then 64 percent on Thursday and Friday.” rfi.

A bientôt,

Sara

Personal Update from Paris

A lot of you in the US are writing me and asking “How is it in our beloved Paris?” Somewhat different and somewhat the same as what you are reading in the papers. Last Thursday, President Macron spent 26 minutes on national tv outlining what has happened so far and what will happen. He was very serious and didn’t try to make this pandemic sound less than it is. At that point, only four days ago, he urged all people seventy and over to stay home unless absolutely necessary. He said transportation would stay the same but hoped that work and people would work from home. As of Monday, he closed all schools and universities. He said this was up to each and every one of us. The virus knew no borders and didn’t carry a passport. That was Thursday.

I’m discovering that the French are very stubborn and obstinent people. They proclaimed that nothing was going to stop them from living their lives. So they were out and about. The metros were a bit less crowded but not by much. So on Saturday, the French administration announced that as of Saturday at midnight, all public places that weren’t necessary for our survival were to be shut down, closed, fermé. That got some people’s attention. By Sunday noon, the markets caught up with the US and all the toilet paper and such were gone. However, the municipal elections were not postponed. On websites, times were posted when best to go vote. A friend went back and forth about whether she would vote or not. Finally she decided to. She went at the last moment, waited till everyone was gone then went in to vote. Everyone was wearing masks and keeping all the voting paraphenalia as antiseptically clean as possible. I went out for about forty-five minutes just to walk, and the streets in the 16th arrondissement were full of people walking with children, with dogs and, since it was a lovely day, filling up the parks and green spaces. That was yesterday.

This morning at 8:45am, I received a notice from the administration that since the French were not doing as asked, we had forty-eight hours to decide where we wanted to spend the next forty-five days. As of tomorrow, there will be a 6pm curfew and the police will be in the streets urging people to go home. I dropped everything and headed out. I was prepared to be homebound for two weeks but not for forty-five days. I first went to the grocery store. Still no toilet paper. Then I headed for Picard which only sells frozen food, absolutely delicious frozen food. They were almost out of food and not taking any loyalty cards for discounts. I then headed for Marks and Spencer who sells my favourite yogurt. They looked like they had plenty of food though the yogurt was in short supply. When I asked, I was told they would be staying open. Picard, on the other hand, said they had no idea. On the way to M&S, I passed a florist. It wasn’t really open but the door was open. I asked if I could buy. They gave me 3 beautiful bouquets for about a third of the normal price. That will be the last of my fresh flowers I’m afraid. Finally, I went to the pharmacy. Not my normal pharmacy on Av. Mozart which had a long line snaking out the door and winding to the corner. I stopped at the one near M&S. I was the third person in line. We’ve been told pharmacies will stay open but…. I had no trouble getting what I needed.

Forty-Eight hours to decide where I want to spend the next 45 days. I knew my friends in Normandy and in Brittany would probably love to have me and my crazy cat come join them. I would love to go to Le Gers where I think my heart resides. But…..I have here, in my small apartment in Paris, everything I need to survive the next 45 days if I never go out. I have Netflix, I have enough books to read for at least a year. I have the expanded tv that has HBO series, Showtime and Canal+. I have the wonderful Zoom. Which allows me to have video conversations one on one or in large groups. I have my work which I do at home anyway. I just learned yesterday that ten of the world’s best museum’s are totally on-line and I can tour it visually. I was even given a jig-saw puzzle with 1000 pieces. That would take some time!

Yesterday, I defrosted my freezer. Something I should have done months ago And thank goodness I did. After shopping at what was left in Picard, I was able to fit for more things in the freezer. I have plenty of ‘projects’ to do. So as long as I talk to friends at least three or four times a day, I think I can do this! And that’s whats happening in Paris.

A bientôt,

Sara

PS As I was about to hit ‘publish’, I received an e-mail saying all non-essential travel to EU is to be banned for 30 days.

Happy New Year 2020

Bijou, the cat.

The French in general, do not send out Christmas cards. They send New Years cards and have until January 31st to get them all sent. This is my New Year’s card for all you.

I spent New Years in Pacific Grove, California. I had come to Oakland to address issues in my home and various other problems. My oldest friend in the world–we went to High School together and have been close friends most of our lives since then–lives in Pacific Grove, as does her eldest daughter, one of my goddaughters, her husband and eighteen month old William.

Pacific Grove, California

I’m never excited to go to Oakland. It’s a long plane flight and often takes days for me to recover from jet lag. I am so spoiled in France having access to some of the best transportation in the world (except when there is a strike–more on that later). I do not like driving in the Bay Area–if sitting in rush hour traffic and listening to horns honking and people screaming at each other can be called driving. I planned my trip to Pacific Grove so that I’d leave with the least amount of traffic and arrive with the least amount. The drive takes about 2 hours and starts on I880, one of the ugliest, messiest freeways in California, winds its way through groves of trees as it gets further away from Oakland and ends up merging with Rte 1 right along the Pacific Ocean. The views of the Ocean have brought millions of people to California and it never disappoints. I could feel my heart skip a beat. Whatever anxiety I had brought down with me, vanished with my deep intact of breath. It was December 31, 2019, a beautiful, sunny day and for the 20 minutes that I drove along the ocean, nothing seemed problematic.

I arrived at Darcy’s door just in time for her to take me to my AirBnB, brighten up a little and go the Fishwife Restaurant where we were celebrating our New Years. We spent the rest of the evening sorting through all the presents and treasures I’d brought from Paris and from my jewellery box. Some was a walk down memory lane, some was just fun. My goddaughter, Elizabeth, was born in Paris when her parents lived there in the 1980s. Darcy has never recovered and longs for the day she can spend more extended time in Paris. As Audrey Hepburn said for all of us “Paris is always a good idea.”

Driving back up to Oakland on January 2, 2020, I listened to an interview with Christine Pelosi talking about her new book, The Nancy Pelosi Way; Skyhorse Publishing. Over the past two months, my respect for Nancy Pelosi has soared. In my daily life, I try hard not to let others provoke me when they disagree with me, but I’ve never had the barrage of tweets and attacks that have been aimed at her daily since September. She somehow manages to rise about it all. She’s clearly not white-knuckling the appropriate affect as her time and good sense seem impeccable to me. Many of the new House Democrats did not want her to be the House Speaker but, love her or hate her, she is a leader, she is smart and she knows how the game of Politics works. I look forward to reading the book.

Christine is remarkable in her own right. As she was being interviewed, I wondered if she would ever run for Congress. No sooner had I thought it, than the interviewer asked her exactly that. She didn’t say No but seemed clear that as long as she had children at home, the answer is Not Yet.

This was the worst of the strike, 5 deep waiting to get on one metro that came every twenty minutes. It is much better now.

As I head home to Paris, I’m wondering what the taxi situation will be like at CDG. Everyone who would normally take the RER B will be taking taxis. I’ve been trying to keep up with the news of the Strike but it is badly reported in the US. I’ve heard of people cancelling their trips because they were told nothing was running. Untrue. The buses were always running. The rest of us went onto RATP.fr every morning and learned what metros and trains were running and when. My metro #9, for instance, ran for 3 hours in the morning and three hours in the late afternoon. Starting Friday, Jan. 17, it is running all day long just 1 out 2 trains. The #1 and the #14 have been running full time all day long as they are electric. The #11 has been added to the all day long, full schedule. Getting around, definitely, takes more planning but not too much time is added unless you live outside in the suburbs. And anyway, isn’t one of the main attractions of coming to Paris is the Walking!!! It’s usually at the top of everyone’s to do list.

I did find a taxi at the airport after waiting all of five minutes. That gave me the experience of the worst part of the strike. The traffic. Until we reached the peripherique, it was bumper to bumper. So Parisians aren’t depending on the news–too bad, the transport does seem to be working.

Last night, I read that Macron was willing to keep the retirement age as is–IF the other side was willing to make some concessions. The problem as I see it is that this strike and the Gilets Jaunes are as much about Macron as the pension plans. At some point, there will be an end, the strikers are making no income. They would feel very satisfied if this whole thing resulted in making Macron look very bad.

https://www.ft.com/content/7092edb0-2c0a-11ea-a126-99756bd8f45e French unions vow to push on with strikes despite Macron plea

Happy Holidays

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BONNES FÊTES ET BONNE ANNÉE                                                                                     However you celebrate the holidays, Out My Window wishes all of you peace and joy.  Paris has been relatively warm this past week but this morning, Christmas morning, it is a brisk 34oF/1oC.  However, the sun is out, at least for awhile, and the bells at Notre Dame de Passy are ringing loudly.  Below: windows in Paris.

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Many of us wondered if the Gilets Jaunes and the many others who have joined them would back off for the holidays.  After Macron’s speech and then the shootings in Strasbourg, a plea was made to not protest the following Saturday, Act V as the Saturdays were being called.  The police were exhausted, many had been called to Strasbourg and there was hope that the GJs would give Paris a break for the holiday weeks.  But no, they called for a protest.  They intimated that the government was hiding behind a false statement that the shootings were by a terrorist and just lying to stop the protests.  Paris geared up for yet another Saturday of protests and violence.  Thirty of the metro stations announced in advance that they would be closed, the American Church and the American Library both closed on Saturday and the exhausted police were called out once more.  However, the streets were much calmer here in Paris.  A man was killed in a traffic accident near the town of Perpignon when the driver rammed into a lorry that had been stopped by the GJs at a roundabout.  That was the tenth fatality during the six weeks of protests.

There seem to be a number of things happening:                                                                        1–the word of the protests spread by way of social media particularly Facebook.  So, as a french friend reminded me, 175,000 people or less are deciding the fate of a country of ten million.  Facebook has become the wild wild west of the Internet.  One can expect all the dangers that come from a lawless entity with no boundaries and no rules.  I, personally, have deleted my account.  Not only do I not approve of anything that Facebook is doing, I don’t trust it to do anything at all in my interest.  For any of you looking to delete your account, there was an excellent article in the NYTimes two months ago advising how to go about removing yourself. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/10/technology/personaltech/how-to-delete-facebook-instagram-account.html

2–Many Parisians are sick and tired of all the violence.  Where once there was sympathy and empathy for the poorest amongst us, destroying monuments, burning cars and wreaking havoc has caused a majority to back off and condemn those that are still actively creating chaos.  It is not clear how many of the original GJs are still involved.  The protests have been hi-jacked by the ‘Black Bloc’, anarchists and right-wing extremists.

3–The protests have expanded far beyond fuel taxes.  Those on the street now include students, academics and citizens begging for more say in the French government.  For an excellent report by an activist, you can read Aurelie Dianara, a Paris-based academic and activist: https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/france-protests-yellow-vests-macron-paris-gilet-jaunes-fuel-prices-minimum-wage-a8681366.html

4–The far right politician Marine Le Pen is taking advantage of the chaos to make the protests her own.  She has brought in hatred of immigrants as a part of the protesting.  The frustration and hatred of Macron may actually make her words more palatable to the french public.  After all, during the 2017 elections, many didn’t vote For Macron as Against Le Pen.  As Populism (which in my vocabulary is another word for Facism) grows in Europe, it could easily go the opposite way.

LES SOLDES                                                                                                                                   When all else fails, go shopping…..  The Winter Sales start January 9, 2019.  For those of you who are lucky enough to visit Paris in January and February, the Winter Sales are extraordinary.  There are two state-mandated sales during the year: the Winter Sales and the Summer Sales that start end of June and go through early August.  Almost all stores want to get rid of all their stock.  Discounts will start at 50% and by the end of the six-week sale, be down to 75%/80%.  People wanting high-end luxury clothing can find great deals.  People will do a lot of research during the first week of January, then be ready to be the first person in the door of their favourite shop.  Many, like me, wait until the mad rush of the first couple of days is over and then we go shopping.

That’s a wrap!

A bientôt,

Sara

Les Gilets Jaunes — What the heck is happening in Paris

Les gilets jaunes are the yellow vests that are stored in every car in France. It is mandatory.  In case of emergency, one can stand outside the car with the vest on and any passerby knows you need help.

When Macron announced his plan to raise the price of diesel fuel, the French were infuriated.  For years, the government had been pushing diesel cars as the most climate friendly as well as the cheapest to run.  As a result, the majority of cars in France are diesel.  Now we have learned that diesel is not very climate friendly so the price of the fuel has been steadily rising in order to dissuade the French from buying diesel cars.

The government is offering incentives that are excellent if you trade your diesel car in for a new car.  However, at least 50% of the population cannot afford a new car even with the incentive.  At first, a friendly protest was planned for Saturday November 17.  There were no leaders and they had no idea what to call themselves until someone came up with the idea of wearing the yellow vests for the reason they are there in the first place.  Word of the protest spread on the internet through social media. That first Saturday most of France participated in the protest.  Those of us that didn’t, sympathised with them.  In Paris, there was a death when a woman panicked in her car and put her foot on the accelerator when she meant to hit the brake.  In Le Gers where I was that day, it was extremely friendly.  Yes, traffic was held up but no one seemed to really mind.

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Paris–November 17, when things were still peaceful

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Trying to stay warm in the French countryside

By the next Saturday, November 24 when a second protest was planned, a list of taxes that Macron has added or raised on the majority of French, was added to the protestation.  This time, agitators from the far right and far left came on the scene in Paris hoping to take advantage of the situation to create havoc.  It worked.  Cars were burned, fires started, metro stops were closed to protect people and tear gas was used by the police.  It reminded me of Occupy Oakland back in 2012 when the Black Bloc came out and created so much violence that Oakland became the poster child of how the protests were not working.  Friends back in the States were writing asking if I was ok with all the riots going on.  I thought to myself ‘Count on the media to put a spotlight on the anarchists and the violence and not on les Gilets Jaunes and their real complaints.’

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Yesterday was the third day of les Gilets Jaunes and protests. The “Casseurs” (thugs, agitators) were by far the majority on the streets yesterday.  The New York Times called it the worst civil unrest that Paris has seen in over a decade.  More fires, more tear gas, more broken windows, more havoc.  The metro lines that went through the centre of Paris closed completely.  Today, movie theatres on the Champs Elysees were closed as I’m sure many others were.  Many of us stayed home all day.

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This reminds me of Occupy Oakland.  The casseur won’t even take credit for protesting.

Macron is now home from Argentina and has been to the Champs to assess the violence.  There is the possibility that a state of emergency will be declared. “Even if mostly perpetrated by vandals who have now latched on to the movement, the symbolism of Saturday’s violence was powerful. A modern-day peasants’ and workers’ revolt against a president increasingly disdained for his regal remove turned the country’s richest boulevards and most prominent landmarks into veritable war zones.” NYTimes, Dec. 2, 2018.

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This all makes me very sad.  France, I’ve found, is remarkable in how manifestations are conducted.  They are registered ahead of time, people are warned to stay away from certain areas.  Buses announce ahead of time that they will take different routes.  The gendarmes stand with them not to respond to violence but to protect the protesters and just be a presence so that things remain friendly.

No one seems to know what will happen next.  One publication I read said that gas prices were actually falling because of cheaper oil prices and that by yesterday, it had made up for the 6% the price of diesel has gone up.  I suspect that is not the point anymore.  Macron took away a tax on the wealthy that was causing them to leave the country, move elsewhere.  Now he has to make up the revenue somewhere.  Ergo, the lower 99% are having taxes raised.  This movement can’t go backwards.  Macron has made so many mistakes in his first 18 months as President.  Will he listen?  Will he respond to the people? Macron has “sought to douse the anger by promising three months of nationwide talks on how best to transform France into a low-carbon economy without penalising the poor.” France24.com.   He doesn’t seem to understand that a huge percentage of the French cannot live in this economy and, living day to day, could care less about climate change.

More to be revealed.

A bientôt,

Sara

 

L’investiture

I was able to watch the turning over of power from President Hollande to now President Macron on Sunday.  It was remarkable for it’s simplicity and elegance as opposed to the American Inauguration.

At the end, I felt privileged to have watched (albeit on television) and very hopeful for France.

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On route to Arc de Triomphe

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A bientôt,

Sara

 

Jet lag, Macron and Technology

Ok, Macron first.  I’m not going to write about him and how he won the French presidential election.  Everyone else has written about it.  What I can say is that among my friends, mostly American, everyone was holding their collective breath.  The media was saying he would win by a landslide 60% to Le Pen’s 40%.  But we had all heard that before with Brexit and with Trump.  No one wanted to be the one to say it out loud and then be wrong.

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So it was with a huge sign of relief that the French went to bed last Sunday night knowing that their new President would be Emmanuel Macron or, as Le Match is calling him on their front cover, The Kid.  I went to sleep hearing horns honking and voices cheering.   I am in the 17th arrondissement and the victory party was in the 1st at the Louvre.  So there were many happy people that night.

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The hardest is yet to come

The majority of people were happy that Marine Le Pen lost.  No one really knows what a Macron presidency will look like.  Many in France didn’t vote or voted by leaving their ballot blank.  Banker and racist to these people are equal in their sinister meaning.  Macron’s party, Onward (On marche) is one year old.  He now must have members standing for election in the next months and they must win.  He needs the strength of his own party in order to achieve anything.  He is the elite and no one is sure what that means.  But I remind people that FDR and JFK were also the elite and we Americans look back on those two as two of the greatest Presidents in US modern history.  So Onward!

I have been back in Paris for 11 days.  I had probably the worst jet lag I’ve ever had.  Friends were saying I made no sense when I talked and for the first three or four days, I had the affect of being on drugs.  It occurred to me after five days that I was still less than three months from a serious hip operation.  I had been doing so well, walking a number of miles a week, throwing away my cane! and acting as if I was totally recovered.  But I’m not.  The doctor says there is 90-95% recovery in the first three months then it takes an entire year to have 100% recovery.

Standard jet lag lore is that it requires one day of recovery for every time zone one goes through.  I went forward nine time zones coming from Oakland, California to Paris.  I think my body may have gone into a bit of shock with the altitude, the jet lag and the recent surgery.  Sure enough, nine days after landing, I started feeling human again.  I wanted to explore this new neighborhood I’ve landed in while looking for a permanent place to live.  The weather has gotten a bit warmer and is much more inviting.

Something I keep getting reminded of and feel extremely grateful for is the importance of technology for someone like me.  I haven’t had a working french phone until today and the Wifi in my little studio was, at first, nonexistent and then very sketchy while I tried to figure out what was wrong.  On Thursday, I spent 1 hour at the SFR boutique with my not very good french (it’s amazing how much one can forget in four months) and my computer until the young man worked everything out.

I think it’s possible for someone like me to travel because WiFi, the internet, Skype keeps me connected to the world at large.  It’s very hard to feel lonely.  Cut all that off and it’s me in this small studio apartment unable to reach out to communicate.  It’s a blessing I love to read so much – because that is what I did – read 4 books in less than two weeks.

I don’t like reading about the kind of hacking the world experienced yesterday.  I feel grateful for my computer and WIFI every single day and want nothing to ever go wrong. Cyberspace is the Wild, Wild West.

A bientôt,

Sara