La Rentrée

Most of us know there are four seasons in the year. In France, there is a minimum of five seasons. The one we are in presently is known as La Rentrée. Literally the word mean ‘The Return’. It’s the time when all Parisians come home from wherever they spent August, and in some cases, July and August. Children prepare for school, and, even though the weather may still feel like summer, it’s the beginning of Autumn.

To understand “La Rentrée”, one has to understand the month of August. During August, almost everything stops. More than half of stores shut down. Restaurants, that are not in the tourist center, close for the month. The trains all do whatever repair work needs to be done. Many of the lines do not run. In August, the government is not to be found. As friends part for the summer, you can hear them say “A la rentrée” which loosely translates to “See you in September.” In other words, every single person in France knows that if you include ‘la rentrée’ in a sentence, you are referring to that season beginning September 1 when everything starts anew. Clothing stores have fresh stock. Children are back in school. The government gets back to work. And every supermarket has huge sections of space dedicated to schoolwork, creative work, and office work. If you have a favorite pen and haven’t been able to find another just like it, chances are very good, you will find it at the Carrefour or Monoprix during La Rentrée. It is a time of celebration and many parents will hang around their children’s school catching up with a drink or two in their hands.

I love it when every store stocks up on notebooks, paper products, pens of all different sizes, tips, and comfort. I will stand far too long in front of these aisles telling myself I don’t need anything (I have enough journaling notebooks to last me well into the next decade), and still end up at the cash register with a new pen and perhaps a folder. I love to write on paper. The computer is fine but pen to paper…there is nothing like it.

And … Writing. I did not make it into the Stanford Certificate Program. When I received the e-mail, my first feeling was of disappointment. My second was relief. I had started a summer course at Stanford Continuing Education in Short Story writing. I was beginning to get an idea of how much time just one course requires. I had no trouble finding the time. I was like a human vacuum cleaner sucking up all the knowledge that was available. So, along with reading published short stories and commenting on them, we each wrote a short story, had a workshop and every student commented on every other students writing. It was terrifying and glorious. When I magnified the work out two years, I wasn’t at all sure. Did I have it in me to write this novel I want to write. Or perhaps I should be sticking to what I do well, non-fiction writing. Since it was August and no one thinks in August, I put off any contemplation until September. I’ve signed up for another Stanford course and cannot wait for it to begin. And, by the way, I got an A+ in my class. I believe it is the first A+ I’ve ever gotten in my life!!!

Female and male peacock after mating season has ended. The male has shed his tail.

Lastly, and I’m taking huge license with this one, even Parc de Bagatelle and some of its creatures are starting anew. The male peacocks are molting which means they are shedding their gorgeous tail feathers!! I had no idea. After mating season ends, since tail feathers are not regenerating, they slowly fall out. When I was there this past Sunday, there were only a few colorful feathers on the backs of the males I saw. Here is some fascinating information from a website called: peacocksuk.com

Male peacock last week in August

“The peacock has around 150 to 175 long tail feathers or long covers which sit over shorter strong tail feathers. These shorter feathers  support the weight of the long tail covers which grow to three to four feet long. As the peacock matures to five or six years old, the peacocks tail feathers grow in size and the number. As the peafowl reaches maturity the eyes on the tail feathers become larger. At maturity the peacocks tail will be constant each year as long as the peacock is in good health. If several males are kept together we have found that the subservient males will not grow or develop a tail as striking or large as the dominant peacock.  If these birds are removed from the pen with the dominant male the upper tail feathers then develop! After the peacocks long tail covers have moulted the new tail begins to grow in the autumn, reaching maturity in time for the next mating season in the spring.”

A bientôt,

Sara

While I’m waiting

It’s July 7, I have not yet heard from Stanford. I’m not holding my breath. I’m not anxious or letting the world pass by. In fact, the news of the world seems to be coming in fast and furious. Some bloggers I know are writing that their brains have gone on tilt-too much, too fast, too sad, too awful–and how hard it is to write at the moment. I absolutely concur. So I give you the things I’m focused on.

Today, Boris Johnson stepped down as Prime Minister. “It is clearly now the will of the parliamentary Conservative Party that there should be a new leader of that party and therefore, a new prime minister,” said Johnson. Ya think???? This morning I woke up to news that he was going to stick to it come hell or high water (my words). Four hours later, everyone who gets notifications on their phone got the same message as I did. CNN reported that Johnson is not planning to leave office immediately, however. “I’ve today appointed a Cabinet to serve, as I will, until a new leader is in place,” he said, in a televised speech outside 10 Downing Street. Hmmm. How much damage can he do between now and then?

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks at Downing Street in London, Britain July 6, 2022. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Everyone I know is getting Covid. Two friends came over, vaccinated and boostered, got Covid here (Europe) and I spent time on the phone with them helping them figure out what to do. Three friends were over here and tested positive after their return to the US. This virus will keep mutating and figure out how to get around all the vaccines. The great saving point is that it does make one sick but not so sick as to go into the hospital or die.

France Covid Covid Rears Its Ugly Head Again The seventh wave of new Covid cases in France is getting worse by the day, over 125k cases confirmed on July 1st, with the Ile-de-France (Paris) and Brittany leading the pack, and the Atlantic and Mediterranean coastal towns not far behind. The government recommends wearing masks, and encourages anyone over 60 or at high risk to get a fourth dose of the vaccine, but the government is too gridlocked to pass even the smallest of restrictions, so at the moment there’s no “risk” of the Pass Sanitaire or lockdowns making a comeback.
From ‘Secrets of Paris’ blog

In French Politics, Macron was forced to shuffle his cabinet around. “France has entered a new political era; or has reverted to an old one. Parliament is divided and therefore parliament rules. The President can no longer treat the National Assembly as his rubber-stamp or echo chamber. We have returned to the France of the 1950s or the 1930s, before Charles de Gaulle invented the supposedly all-powerful presidency (but left the ultimate power in parliament).”–John Litchfield in The Local. For more of his analysis, go to: https://www.thelocal.fr/20220706/opinion-france-begins-a-new-political-era-and-its-going-to-get-messy/?tpcc=newsletter_member

French Parliament

And on a sweet note, on a walk in the Parc de Bagatelle this past Sunday, I learned about two of the sweetest cats there. Their names are Zoe and Gaston. They come from a circus. Once the pandemic hit 28 months ago, the circus approached the non-profit that feeds and cares for the cats in Bagatelle and asked if Zoe and Gaston could stay there. The volunteer assured me that there was no abuse, nothing like that. The circus felt strongly they would be better cared for by the wonderful volunteers who come everyday to feed the cats. I went over and petted Zoe who rolled over on her back to get her belly rubbed. No wonder I see the two of them sitting on benches with people reading or just hanging out in the sun.

Zoe (or Gaston) waiting for company to sit on the bench with them

There is supposition that France is in for a long heatwave. Last summer, we had rain all summer and no canicules (heatwave). So far, we have had two that have been called a canicule and more is yet to come. Depending on where you are in France, it can be fine. In Paris, where the pollution is terrible, heatwaves are awful to bear. In the south of France where many people live in stone houses, one keeps the shutters closed, the lights off, and one stays inside cool as a cucumber until evening. As long as there is no humidity, these heatwaves cannot be compared to NYC or Philly in summer. However, if you have porcelain, British skin, it is hard to get through a french summer. I have dark olive skin inherited from my Russian grandparents and I love the heat of summer.

A bientôt,

Sara

Catching up with myself

The formal rose garden at Parc de Bagatelle

It is rare, if ever, that I write about something before it happens. When I wrote my post on Anatomy of a Scandal, it was more a review of a book and a series that I was encouraging readers to be aware of. Then last week, the media publicised the result of the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial. A travesty. Real life mimicking art. For those that don’t read this kind of stuff, Johnny Depp was awarded at least ten million euros to be paid to him by Amber Heard, his ex-wife. He had sued her because she had tattled on him publicly about domestic violence. Although witness after witness testified about horrible things he said and did, the media liked him better. The jury liked him better. And he won. Just like in the book and series, Ms Heard was made to say things no woman should have to say to defend herself. It didn’t help. One can’t help but wonder whether this will put back by many decades what woman are willing to report and/or say when it comes to sexual assault, rape, etc. If any any of you want to correct my perceptions of this, please do. I didn’t watch any of the trial, had no interest in it. However, after I wrote the earlier blog, I was interested in all the Op Eds that came out the next couple of days. Without exception, the writers, both male and female, were aghast at the results.

*** *** ***

With the support of many of you–Thank you, you know who your are–I got my application in to Stanford University for the writing program. The wait is not long – mid July. I believe I have a fifty-fifty chance of getting in. One cheerleader sent me a wonderful book called Dreyer’s English–An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style. Written by a copy editor, the book is laugh-out-loud funny and helpful. What does a copy editor do? S/he takes a finished piece of writing and makes it … cleaner. Example from p. 245: “There is a world of difference between turning in to a driveway, which is a natural thing to do with one’s car, and turning into a driveway, which is a Merlin trick.” Since I often jump to the back of a book (I don’t know why), I read that within my first hour of reading the book. I laughed so hard, I had tears. Now I pause every time I write ‘in to’ or ‘into’. I have to say that line over and over to myself. Have I been writing it wrong all these years? No one has said anything but it does seem like a mistake I might make. I urge any writer amongst you to get a hold of this gem of a book even if you write perfectly. We all need a good laugh and true wit these days.

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Amy Larue, tour leader and garden expert, explaining roses to us.

The Parc de Bagatelle is in rose heaven. Since I returned from Normandy mid-May, the roses have been in bloom. There is a formal rose garden, Roseraie Classique, at the far east end of the park and a natural rose garden, called Rosiers du Paysage, at the other end. I took a tour of Parc de Bagatelle on Tuesday and learned that the modern rose can bloom from May through Christmas. The Antique rose, which went out of favor for a long time, blooms only once during the season. These roses were moved to the very back of the formal garden and most people just pass by them in their attempt to get in the middle of the rainbow of color from rose bushes, rose trees, and trellises with climbing roses. There is a contest every year. Roses are brought in by different growers and watched over a two or three year period depending if they are in the formal garden or paysage garden. The judges come every week for six months before and during the season. They look for disease, hardiness, how the bush covers a piece of ground, the color of the leaves, smell, and how the petals fall off once the flower has died. It seems very complicated. Our tour guide, one of the judges, says she often has to give high marks to a rose she wouldn’t have in her own garden because of the criteria. Today, Thursday, June 16th, the winners are announced. The formal rose garden is closed for half the day while a huge ceremony is produced. While walking around on Tuesday, we saw flags from fifteen different countries.

I also learned that the beautiful peacocks that i have photographed and often shown in this blog are all male. The female peacock has no color except on her face. Her back is a huge grey blob. Our guide says this is so that she can hide from the males and also protect her babies.

Female peacock

Once during the past two weeks, I happened upon the wonderful volunteers who feed the cats of Bagatelle. Peacocks, the males, it really is very rare to see a female, will sit quietly by and watch. There is always the hope that some of the kibble will find its way to the other side of the path which is peacock country.

The cats of Bagatelle being fed by the wonderful volunteers

A bientôt,

Sara

The Cats of Bagatelle

Parc de Bagatelle is one of the many gardens that graces the Bois de Boulogne, the large park on the west end of Paris. Paris is, in fact, sandwiched in between two huge wooded parks. Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes. Living in the 16th arrondissement, I am ten minutes walk from the Bois de Boulogne. Last summer, during a phone call with a friend, I learned about a formal rose garden within the boundaries of the Bois. The search for this rose garden led me to and introduced me to Parc de Bagatelle. This beautiful garden spans 59 acres (24 hectares) in the north-western part of the Bois. Hidden away, it is an idyllic and quiet place to discover, away from the noise and the crowd. Not only does it have a formal rose garden but an informal rose garden, an iris garden, a potager, and fields that are planted with bulbs and bloom with daffodils, tulips, hyacinths and most other bulbs from early February thru the end of April. May is the month of the Iris. You probably can get the idea that this garden shows off seasonal flowers. Something is blooming all year long.

There are also sentient beings in the parc. Cats. At last count I’ve found thirty of them. Depending on the day of the week and how many people are wandering around, one can see many of them…. or not. There are peacocks that talk all day long, are curious, and will walk right up to you. There are mallards that mostly stay in the ponds but on days when there aren’t many people, they wander the parc and plop themselves down wherever and make sure you understand that this is their parc and you are the guest.

I wanted to know more about the cats. There had to be a reason for all the cats–mousers, maybe? Grandchildren of a famous cat–think Hemingway’s cats. I googled and found one reference to an association “l’association La Féline Du Chlojolie” that feeds and cares for all the cats in the Bois de Boulogne. According to the association, there are about fifty in Bagatelle, another thirty at La Cascade, and the rest wander the trails and hide in the woods of the Bois.

Véronique est l’une des quatre bénévoles à s’occuper 365 jours sur 365 des 150 chats du bois de Boulogne, répartis notamment au parc de Bagatelle et à la Cascade. LP/Eric Le Mitouard.



“In 2008, Marie-France created her association La Féline du Chlojolie which has about thirty members, a few donors and four volunteers who don’t count their time devoted to these kitties.

“Every day, we prepare 10 kg of croquettes and 40 boxes of pâtés”.
Véronique (Photo above) is one of them. “Our paths have crossed. And for seven years I have been totally involved in this action”, assures this inhabitant of Clichy who comes three to four times a week to Bagatelle park, without any remuneration other than the affection of the cats that surround her. Two other people share the task at the Cascade or in the different sites of the wood.”

Photo: Eric Le Mitouard.

“Not only do we feed them, but we also monitor their health. All the cats are castrated, tattooed and followed by a veterinarian”, specifies Marie-France who herself adopted four cats, “desperate cases”, who came back to life. “It’s a colossal job,” she adds.” –le Parisien.

Marie-Claire’s personal adventure began with a walk with one of her granddaughters in Bagatelle park. “I then met Madame Dorfmann, the wife of the producer (Jacques, editor’s note), who had been taking care of the Bagatelle cats for years. Eight months before her death, she made me promise to take care of the cats in her place”… And the the rest is history.

And that’s it. That is all I found about the cats of Bagatelle. I really wanted a story, something folksy that’s passed down through families. But no, these cats are strays and if it weren’t for the good will of Marie-Claire and her volunteers, they’d be scrawny, mangy things carrying all sort of insects on them. The peacocks, mallards, and people would be keeping a great distance. As it is, people smile when they see the cats. They stop and watch them. Sometimes, they will walk up and pet them. I’ve walked by and seen a cat fast asleep on the lap of someone reading and relaxing. Something fascinating is that these beings seem to have territories. When I am walking towards the east end of the park, the cats all stay on the path or in the brush to the right. The peacocks all stay to the left of the path. Very few exceptions.

photo: Martine Combes

A bientôt,

Sara

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