Catching Up in Paris with Somers and MacLean.

A month has passed since I last wrote. Since then my sister, Dr. Margaret Somers, and our friend, Dr. Nancy MacLean came to Paris to visit. They gave a joint talk at the American Library in Paris–which I moderated–and the next evening answered questions on American politics and political economics at The Red Wheelbarrow bookstore.

The Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore: Nancy MacLean; Margaret Somers; Nita Wiggens; Penelope Fletcher.

We then made a whirlwind visit to Bretagne and la Côte de Granît Rose visiting with my friend, Roland, who kindly lent us his three-bedroom home while he slept in his boat–which he loves. He insisted we weren’t putting him out in any way. He even took them on a boat ride around L’ile de Brehat. On the way home, the engine fell off the boat–not down into the murky depths but was dragging along while the men, Roland and Nancy’s husband, worked at pulling it up. Nothing like coming to France on vacation and having a big adventure on the water!

Nancy, Bruce, Sara and Margaret in Pontrieux, Brittany

Because of the very difficult situation in the US, I’ve been doing a lot more reading about how US government works, the forces that do not want Democracy because it gets in the way of making mega-billions (numbers I can’t even imagine), the huge efforts to end all social programs–which help our neighbor who may not be as lucky as we are in life circumstances. It has been eye-opening and appalling–if only at how much I’ve taken for granted–that others want a Democratic system that works for all us as much as I do.

My sister is an academic and has written a wonderful book along with a colleague, Fred Block, The Power of Market Fundamentalism: Karl Polanyi’s Critique. Nancy has written a best seller Democracy In Chains; the deep history of the radical right’s stealth plan for America. They were invited to the American Library in Paris July 2nd for an Author event.

Sara, moderator; Nancy MacLean and Margaret Somers at ALP

It was quite an honor to moderate and ask both of them questions. The two books actually address a similar topic: the growth of the free market as something that promotes financial equality for all. Somers’ book lays the historical background and MacLean’s book goes from 1958 with the fall-out of the Brown vs the Board of Education supreme court case to the present day and the Koch brothers.

Dr. Margaret Somers, Dr. Nancy MacLean, Sara Somers, blogger

It is beyond the scope of this blog to tell in more detail the specifics of Somers’ and MacLean’s talks or to review their books. I do encourage anyone interested in learning more about political economics to read these books. It’s one thing to listen to either sides’ rantings. It’s another to get educated information and form an opinion based on facts–even though facts seem to be going extinct.

Dr. Margaret Somers, Amy Sulkies Below, Dr. Nancy MacLean at The Red Wheelbarrow

The next evening, at the Red Wheelbarrow, there was lively back and forth of questions and answers. It was a beautiful Parisian evening and when the gathering finally left the bookstore, it was still light out, the energy was high and it was hard to contemplate going home and to bed. There is something about Parisian nights and the the sky still being light at 10:30pm that makes one just want to stay out and join the bustling sidewalk culture that is at the heart of Parisian life.

Bruce, Margaret, Sara near Lezardrieux.

The next morning, we all got on the TGV fast train to Brittany. What a pleasure it is to show friends some of the most beautiful places in France outside of Paris. All too soon, both women were on the way to Potsdam, Germany where they gave keynote speeches at an International Conference: The Condition of Democracy and the Fate of Citizenship.

Happy Bastille Day, July 14th,

A bientôt,

Sara

The Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore

Penelope Fletcher at the door of her bookstore, The Red Wheelbarrow

Before I moved to Paris in 2013/14, one of the most popular English language bookstores closed in 2009. Penelope Fletcher assures friends that it was for personal reasons and had nothing to do with Internet competition. Now that it has reopened nine years later, the outpouring of love and gratitude for the return of the Red Wheelbarrow got me investigating Penelope and her bookstore.

The name comes from a sixteen word poem by William Carlos Williams entitled The Red Wheel Barrow. I have yet to learn what the significance is. I sense it is important. When Penelope and her associates first opened the bookstore, it was located in the Marais. It has now re-opened at 9, Rue de Medicis across from the Luxembourg Gardens in the 6th arrondissement. “People like Umberto Eco lived here,” says Fletcher. “There’s this very rich community of writers and characters here. I didn’t realize it still exists.” This location is poignant in Paris’s bookstore canon; the store’s building has been a bookshop since 1930, and before Fletcher and her associates acquired it last year it was the last remaining secondhand science bookshop in France.–Paris Update, Nov. 6, 2018

Tash Aw, Edouard Louis signing books at the American Library with Penelope and a volunteer selling the books.

I first learned about TRW because, from the minute it re-opened, it became the partner bookstore for the evening events at the American Library in Paris. One or two times a week, Penelope shows up on her bicycle with bags full of books to be sold and signed by the spotlighted author of the evening. The respect and admiration that surrounds Penelope and the many articles that have been written about the re-opening have made me extremely curious. I thought the most well-known Anglophone bookstore in Paris was Shakespeare and Company. It has resided in one form or another in Paris since 1919. I had stopped by a couple of times when I lived close to it but found the used books to be so expensive that I stopped going. After reading a lovely book about the Tumbleweeds (students and travellers with no where to spend the night and stay at Shakespeare in exchange for work) that have stayed there over the years, I returned about two years ago. I walked through the space which is a delight but was not greeted by anyone and when I tried to talk to the owner Sylvia Whitman, daughter of 2nd owner, George Whitman, and someone manning the cash register, I was greeted with total silence as if I was invisible. I haven’t returned since. My Anglophone bookstore of choice became San Francisco Book Co. I could buy and sell used books there and have a lively discussion with one of the two owners if I had the time.

David Downie signing books on a Sunday morning in April.

In April, I went for the first time to The Red Wheelbarrow for a book signing by an author I like: David Downie. My sister and Nancy MacLean will be doing an event there on July 3 and I wanted to see the space and how it might work. Peggy and Nancy are speaking at the Library the night before and I wanted to make sure that the 3rd would be low-key and very casual. I needn’t have worried at all. David was seated at a table and signing books and I knew almost everyone who walked in. I also ran into Michael Ondaatje which got my ‘groupie gene’ activated. There were ladders next to the walls and Michael was climbing up one checking out books that were very high, close to the ceiling. The bookstore is small and filled with books. The windows in front tell an immediate story of who Penelope and her associates are and what the bookstore is.

Penelope in the window still organising the windows in the first months of the re-opening.

At the old bookstore in the Marais, Penelope had created a ‘neighborhood’ of book lovers. Visitors to the bookstore became friends and Penelope would introduce new visitors to old. When this bookstore opened last Fall, the ‘neighborhood’ moved with her. Penelope has a dream of community. She wants to serve as a refuge of positivity in uncertain times. According to the Paris Update article I read: “The shop window makes the store’s politics clear: on display are Innosanto Nagara’s A is for Activist and Jason Stanley’s How Fascism Works. An upcoming event with James Baldwin’s nephew Tejan Karefa-Smart will promote the reissue of his uncle’s book Little Man, Little Man: A Story of Childhood. These choices are especially relevant, and perhaps brave, as right next door to the Red Wheelbarrow is an extreme-right bookstore.

“You never know what’s going to happen with a bookshop,” says Fletcher. “You have to roll with the haywire. Because we have the extreme-right bookstore next door, we have to be extremely attentive to what we’re doing and be an opposition, and be more powerful, and be more positive, and be cleverer than them. Which is a challenge, because they’re very clever.”

She feels a responsibility to oppose the kind of hatred represented by the shop near her peaceful little store. “One of our co-owners survived the Holocaust, so of course her whole life has been dictated by this. Another one is African American – we are all directly impacted by what their intention is.”

Michael Ondaatje

Paris Update article: https://www.parisupdate.com/red-wheelbarrow/

Artwork hanging in the re-opened bookstore

I urge residents and visitors alike to support this wonderful bookstore that is more than a bookstore.

The Red Wheel Barrow

so much depends

upon 

a red wheel

barrow 

glazed with rain

water 

beside the white

chickens. –William Carlos Williams

Canadian Penelope Fletcher, the founder of the English bookstore, has found new partners and is again dedicated to providing one of the best English literary experiences in Paris. The location is pure Paris postcard with large, bright blue picture windows overlooking the park. Afterwards, head to the park to spend the afternoon reading.

  • 9, Rue de Médici
  • 6th Arrondissement
  • Metro – Saint Sulpice
  • Website

A bientôt,

Sara

Go out and Vote–Democracy depends on you.

I hope the New York Times will forgive me for posting a part of Saturday’s editorial.  It is too long to put the whole thing here but it is good.

“It’s also true that when more people vote, the electorate becomes more liberal. If Americans voted in proportion to their actual numbers, a majority would most likely support a vision for the country far different from that of Mr. Trump and the Republicans in Congress. This includes broader access to health care, higher taxes on the wealthy, more aggressive action against climate change and more racial equality in the criminal justice system.

Republicans are aware of this, which is why the party has gone to such lengths to drive down turnout among Democratic-leaning groups. A recent example: In North Dakota, the Republican-led Legislature changed the law to make it harder for Native Americans to cast a ballot.

It comes down to this: Democracy isn’t self-activating. It depends on citizens getting involved and making themselves heard. So if you haven’t yet cast a ballot, get out and do it on Tuesday, or earlier if your state allows early voting. Help your family, friends and neighbors do the same. Help a stranger. Vote as if the future of the country depends on it. Because it does.”    NYTimes Editorial, Nov. 3, 2018

Unknown-3.jpegI have had quite an education in the last two months.  Thanks to my sister, Margaret Somers, University of Michigan; Nancy MacLean Duke University and Malcom Nance a retired Intelligence Officer, my eyes have been opened to what I’m sure many others have seen but I hadn’t.  The rise of market fundamentalism and, perhaps, the end of Democracy as we know it.  Or as Malcolm Nance said when I heard him speak at the American Library “It’s possible that Tuesday will be the end of the American Experiment”

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This isn’t a political blog but tomorrow everyone in the United States has the right to vote.  Many who want to vote are being prevented from doing so.  Many who can vote don’t.  Because they are lazy?  I’m old enough that I remember being taught about women dying  working to get the right to vote.  We were taught that voting is a privilege and not to ever abuse it.  People who don’t vote are actually voting.  The NYTimes says that the more people that vote, the electorate becomes more liberal.  So not voting is a vote for conservative.

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We live in a crazy, crazy world.  France fought off Marine Le Pen.  I heard she was one of the first, along with Donald Trump to congratulate the new President of Brazil.  The papers were asking how could someone like him win when he was so vilified a decade ago?  I think there is an answer.  It means reading and educating ourselves about the Far Right, Extremism and Russia.  It means having to stretch our brain cells to comprehend things that, to me, seem unimaginable.

So go vote tomorrow.  Then read and read some more.  Don’t get distracted by tweets and  stories that rise up and flame away.

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A Bientôt,

Sara