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

More thoughts on living in Paris

“The more you come to know a place, in general, the more it loses its essence and becomes defined by its quirks and its shortcomings.  The suggestion of something numinous or meaningful is usually available with full force only to the first time visitor and gradually decreases with familiarity”

Sebastian Faulks Charlotte Gray                                   

I have changed the tense to the present tense because those two sentences jumped out at me when I read Charlotte Gray (a wonderful book, by the way!).  I first came to Paris to live in November of 2013.  I walked everywhere.  I had time to walk everywhere.  I was so full with wonder, awe and amazement at the beauty of Paris, at my good fortune to be able to pick up and leave California and live in Paris, there were times I thought my heart would burst open.

It has been a long time since I’ve had those feelings.  I live here, have commitments here, pay bills here, run up against French administration here and unless I write it down as a date with myself, I don’t take those long walks anymore.  I still love Paris but it is completely different.  I have also changed apartments.  I used to live on the corner of Git-le-Coeur and Quai des Grands Augustins.  I sat at my table and looked out on the Pont-Neuf. I could stick my head out the window, look right and see a perfect view of Notre Dame.  I understood how Monet felt when he wanted to paint certain things at every hour of the day.  These two views changed all the time depending on the weather, on the time of day, on my mood.  Many days it would take my breath away.

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Now I live in the 16th.  I have a large terrace which I said I wanted.  In exchange, I gave up the view of the Seine, the Pont Neuf and Notre Dame.  I look out on another apartment building.  Below me is a lovely courtyard.  Every hour on the hour, I see the reflected lights of the Tour Eiffle flickering on the glass of the building across the way. The blinking lights last for five minutes then I lose the reflection.  That is the only reminder I have that I live in Paris.  And there are no high buildings or skyscrapers.  Strictly interdit in Paris.  It’s not till I walk outside and turn left on Avenue Mozart to go to the metro that the atmosphere of Paris washes over me.  Some days, especially days that it has been raining, it seems especially beautiful as the lights bounce off the sidewalk and glass store fronts.  Those days, I take a deep breath and pinch myself.  But those days have gotten far and few between.

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There are no tourists here where I live.  I only hear French on the streets.  Am I saying I would trade all this to be back in the centre of Paris where tourists abound, walk incredibly slowly driving me nuts.  Where all the photos of Paris postcards originate?  Good question.  One I ask myself every day.

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People ask me if I think I will stay here.  I always have to think out my answer carefully because it changes all the time.  Last Saturday when someone asked me, I responded that I thought I was a more interesting person living here in Paris.  I like having to walk to the metro.  I like that I can go to morning matinees of movies once a week.  I like that I never have to drive a car.  I like that I can jump on the TGV and be almost anywhere in France in less than five hours.  And that’s only because the train stops everywhere on the Cote d’Azur taking an extra two hours.  Marseilles is three plus hours away.  I adore Brittany and that I can go there and not have the tremendous crowds that Mendocino and the Northern California coast attracts.  I love going to the American Library and hearing wonderful speakers and authors one or two nights a week.  Does it really matter where I live in Paris?  The fact of the matter is that I LIVE IN PARIS!  How many Americans have the luxury of pulling up their lives and roots and move 6,000 miles away just because?

As they say in Twelve Step rooms, More Will be Revealed.

A bientôt,

Sara

“Take me for a ride in the car car”*

Driving in the San Francisco Bay Area is a nightmare for me.  There are very few hours in the day when the roads aren’t packed with moving vehicles.  People aren’t nice.  They all seem to be in a hurry.  If you are in their way or they perceive you as an obstacle, you’d better not be having a bad day.  You will be honked at, be given the finger and many other things that if you are thin-skinned might make you cry not to mention have severe doubts about the humanity of Californians.

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When I first moved out here in the early 70s, traffic was a breeze.  People were nice.  They might pay your way across the bridge just because.  Of course, many of us were stoned but better stoned and nice than whatever this is and frightening.

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I was driving home from Albany the other day and the traffic down Marin Avenue was slow but moving.  Someone was turning onto Marin Ave from my right.  S/he had clearly waited as long as s/he was willing to wait and turned onto Marin missing me by centimeters.  I could feel my heartbeat skyrocket.  I’m in a rental car as I don’t own a car, don’t need one in Paris. Incidents like that turn me into a person I don’t like: angry, judgmental and scared.

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When I was 16 going on 17 and learning how to drive, my father used to say to me “Sara, always drive defensively”  Being thin skinned, I thought he was criticizing me and I kept telling him I was a good driver.  I wasn’t.  I drove offensively.  I knew all the techniques for passing, driving in the snow, turning corners and did them well.  I drove like I was the only car on the road.  Now, being bullied and abused on the road here in the Bay Area, I know how absolutely correct he was.  I breath deeply.  I let anyone in who wants to go in front of me.  I stick the speed limit and pray the person tailgating me stays the one foot behind me.  I’ve noticed that I do arrive at my destination more times than not, feeling calmer.

You may be asking yourself “Why doesn’t she take public transportation?” and I’d say back to you “you clearly don’t live here or been here for any length of time”  There is very minimal public transport here in the Bay Area.  Where I live in the lower Oakland Hills, there is a bus that stops about a block away twice a day: to take children to their various schools and to bring them home.  A variety of very powerful people have been fighting building a high speed train from the Bay Area to Los Angeles, even though the money was there, successfully.  If I don’t want to drive, I call Uber or Lyft.  End of story.

Oh but I miss Paris transport.  If it’s not the best in the world, it has to be close to the best.  Where I lived on Git-le-Coeur, I was 3 blocks from the M10, 1 block from M4 and across the street from RER B and C.  I could walk across to the right bank and be at M1 and on and on. And there were sidewalks everywhere.  I could walk if I wanted.  Here there are often no sidewalks so walking puts one in the street–with those drivers I’ve been talking about.

Not only do we not have public transport, when you drive and look in other people’s cars, 80% of the cars have one person in them, the driver.  The United States has always been a car nation, the idea of the Road Trip was born here.  The suburbs as an idea became a reality when New York expanded it’s roadways and people could easily get out to Long Island.  Now to drive from Oakland to San Francisco, a trip of about 10 miles,  often takes an hour and sometimes two hours.  Two friends of mine had moved to Oakland many years ago because they could get so much more house for their money.  Two weeks ago, they announced that they were moving back into the City.  The commute was ‘killing’ them.

Well, you get the idea.  If you love driving, don’t live in the city or it’s suburbs.

A bientôt,

Sara

*song by Woody Guthrie