Learning the 17th arrondissement

When I lived on rue Git-le-Coeur, in the 6th arrondissement, and looked out my window at the apartment building  across the small street, I rarely saw people in the apartments.  There was one apartment that was possibly an AirBnB.  It was rarely occupied and when it was, it didn’t seem that the same people returned there.  I asked my neighbor about this and she shook her head saying that housing is such a huge problem in Paris.  Very wealthy people, atmospherically wealthy people, buy up apartments on the top floors or ones with beautiful views and then they go empty for a large part of the year.  While down in working class people land, it is often impossible to find a good affordable apartment.  So while the view from my apartment encompassed the Pont Neuf, the Seine, les Bouquinistes, beautiful sunsets, it also looked on dark apartments.

Here in the 17th arrondissement, near Porte Maillot,  I look out on a working class apartment building.  It was probably built in the 50s or later, has 3 or 4 apartments on each floor facing me and I imagine the same number facing the opposite direction.  There are 7 floors.  Every apartment is full and has a story.  One of them recently had a fire.  The windows are gone, the terrace is black.  The terrace above it is also black but I’ve seen a woman moving around there.  For the first time in three weeks, I saw a crew come in to start cleaning up the rubble.  It looked temporarily like progress was being made.  At the end of the day, with the workers gone, it didn’t seem that anything had changed.

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directly out my window on the 7th floor (European)                                              Burnt out apartment is in the middle on the 5th floor.   

The irony is that I am in one of the beautiful old Haussemann buildings and I look out on modern thrown up architecture.  While they live in the modern apartments, probably don’t have the leaks and problems that these old buildings have and they get to look out on the lovely Haussemman architecture famous for it’s wrought iron balconies, long windows and a clean look for the exterior.  Agents will say “live in the modern apartments and look out at the old”  It does seem a smarter way to go.

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Looking out on the beautiful Haussemann buildings.  The small windows at the top are the Chambres de bonnes.

Most of these elegant lodgings have large apartments with five, six or seven rooms.  Each apartment will own at least one Chamber de Bonne on the very top floor.  This is the servants quarters.  My little studio is two Chambres de Bonne with the middle wall knocked out so it has become a nice, small studio with kitchen and bath facilities.  A friend recently told me that smart real estate investors are buying these rooms up as fast as they can, doing minimal amount of upkeep and then renting them to students who don’t mind the size and may even have romantic notions of the garret apartment/studio in Paris.  In a short time, those investors become very rich.  They can charge anywhere from 600-900 euros for a small space.  A law has been passed that no one may rent a space that is under 10m2.

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Sun setting behind the apartment building I look out on.

It’s hot these days, so I often am leaning out the window looking at the life going on down below me and across me.  One man comes home from work, turns on the tele and doesn’t stop watching till midnight.  Three floors below him live a very old couple.  On one these nice mornings, I watched as he joined her for a small breakfast out on their balcony.  On the same level but at the other end, an elderly man comes out twice a week with his watering can and waters his very petite jardin.  I haven’t seen color there only green plants.  He is clearly fond of them!

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It is getting hotter and hotter as the days pass and life will take place on the terraces more than inside the apartments.  Down in the street when it’s this hot, there is always noise: police sirens, motorcycles, loud voices made louder by rising 8 stories, more police sirens.  The sun doesn’t disappear until 10:30pm and since the majority of apartments are small, life takes place on the streets, in the cafes and bistros for most people.  And in spite of all the terrorism threats, tourists still arrive daily for the summer months.

The Palais des Congres is across the street in the other direction.  It’s connected to a Hyatt hotel.  There are conventions there every week, huge conventions.  So the markets and stores in that area are kept open late and on Sundays.  The metro #1 goes through Porte Maillot on it’s way to La Defense.  The #1 is one of two metros in Paris that is not run on human power but electric.  So it runs even when there is a strike.  It is very convenient.  I can take the #1 and change to go most anywhere.

 

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Still my favorite shot out my window!

The 17th arrondissement is out on the edge of Paris, behind the Arc de Triomphe.  The peripherique, the ring road that circles Paris and encloses it, is the next “street” over.  Past that, I would be in the suburbs.  I feel the distance from where I used to live.  I’m getting used to this area and coming to like it but the Paris I love is more in the center along the Seine–where the magic is!

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

Banya the cat.

Before Banya was attacked by a raccoon, she was already overweight but she moved around rather spritely, going indoors and outdoors as she pleased.  Then, three summers ago, I went out of town and a family stayed at my home in Oakland.  For some reason, that I’ve never been able to figure out except that they must not like animals, they put Banya and her food outside on the deck.  In California.  Where wildlife is in everyone’s backyard. Five days later they called me to say Banya was hurt.  I had a friend go get her and take her to the Vet.  She had maggots growing in a huge wound.  The only reason she wasn’t dead was that the raccoon bit her around her spine.  Her spine protected her organs.  I’ve never forgiven myself for that happening.

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So I brought Banya to Paris.  I thought I was the most trustworthy person for her to be with.  She was and is a real trooper.  She flew in cargo and when I picked her up, she looked quite pleased with herself.  In Paris, Banya became an indoor cat. She became a city cat having to get used to city noises that she had never heard before.  She hid under the bed a lot and seemed very lost.  But she was still Banya.  When I would sit next to her, she would purr as loudly as a car engine starting up.  If I stopped, she would take one paw and wrap it around my hand and bring it back to her neck.  She never meowed, she chirped always making me smile.

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Then I did the unthinkable.  I bought a kitten from an SDF (Sans Domicile Fixe/Homeless Person) on Blvd St. Germain.  My only excuse was that this kitten was the spitting image of Samantha, my tortoiseshell, that died just before I came to Paris.  Banya hated her.  She didn’t just hate her, she made it clear that this was her territory and Bijou was not welcome.  She pee’d on the couch, she pee’d on the bed.  She pooped wherever she felt like except in the litter box.  I, who pride myself on knowing cats and dogs well, was beside myself.  I had no idea what was wrong.  She was thirteen years old and I thought maybe she was deathly ill. So off we went to the Vet who explained the facts of cats’ lives and territory to me.  So Banya wasn’t dying, she was just pissed as hell.

I set up the apartment so that each cat had her own space.  But, in fact, Bijou had the run of the place and Banya was relegated to the bathroom.  I made her a bed there, she had her litter box next to my toilet and she rarely moved.  If she had been human, she would have wiped her brow with the back of her hand and uttered to anyone who would listen “See what I have to put up with!”

My friends, one in particular, scolded me rather regularly.  She said:                               “Lock Bijou up in the little bedroom and bring Banya out and pet her, brush her hair.  Be nice to her.  After all, this apartment belonged to her before Bijou ever arrived.”                                                        I would agree.  I would do exactly that for two or three nights then life would get busy and I’d forget.

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In January, I had to return to California.  I had to have hip replacement surgery and would be recovering there.  I’d be away from Paris for 4 months.  After a lengthy ping pong game in my head of “do this” “no, do that”, I settled on taking Banya back to the States and leaving Bijou in Paris with a friend.  So, once more, Banya was in California, back on her home turf. She was a different cat however.  She had gotten fat, really fat.  When she walked, she didn’t so much waddle as limp along to wherever she was going.  She didn’t seem upset by it.  I was the one upset.  Her spine wasn’t straight, it dipped.  It finally dawned on me the damage that had probably been done by the raccoon.  She seemed happy though, she went up and down the stairs, she slept in whichever room she pleased.

And I put off thinking about what I was going to do when it was time to return to Paris.  I couldn’t bring her back.  It seemed cruel.  I wasn’t sure where I was staying and for how long.  And eventually she’d have to be with Bijou.

Two weeks before I returned to Paris, I wrote a note to my neighborhood Listserve describing Banya who would be fifteen years old this August.  I explained the circumstances and asked if there was anyone willing to take in an older cat.  I included two photos.  Banya is beautiful.  She is a Birmin.  Birmins are the sacred cats of Tibet.  Her profile is magnificent.  When I look at her, I think of the Lion King.  It is such a proud profile.  I thought “how can anyone resist this beauty?”

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Within one hour, I got a response.  I called the woman back and I was so afraid she would change her mind, I rushed through an idea.  I was going to Yosemite for 4 days.  What if I brought Banya over and this wonderful person could see if Banya would fit into the household?  The woman thought that was a fine idea.

Banya is still there. I think she will live the life of Riley.  I took her on one trip to the Vet to make sure she was healthy and that there were no surprises.  She’d lost 2 pounds.  The day before I returned to Paris, I visited her one last time taking all the extra food I had.  She was seated on a window bench that looked out on the whole Bay Area.  She didn’t chirp in recognition nor start purring when I petted her.  I don’t know what felt worse.  That I was a bad mom and couldn’t care for my animals or that she didn’t seem happy to see me or even recognize me.

Today, I received an e-mail from Banya’s new mom:                                                                    “I am delighted to always have a feline that is willing to sit next to me while I read or watch the sunrise and then the sunset.  She is a very sweet cat”

I can hear her chirp and picture her paw reaching out to keep my hand from leaving.

 

 

Hip Replacement Surgery–Part 2

I can be honest now, now that it’s all over.  I was terrified.  When I first heard I might need hip replacement surgery, I was a bit cavalier.  Ho hum.  Then I was given a reprieve.  My doctor thought that because my pain wasn’t constant that the problem might not be bone on bone but due to inflammation.  That reprieve lasted until December 18, when the Kaiser surgeon called me and said that the arthritis was bad, advanced and that taking cortisone shots would be a very short lived band-aid.  The surgery was back on.  Only this time, I wasn’t at all cavalier.  I was really scared.

Until I had this operation, I’d never been in a hospital.  I haven’t even had my tonsils out.  When I closed my eyes and tried to visualize what might happen, all I could see was a big knife going into my back side deep.  That’s as far as I could get.  I’d shiver and try to distract myself.

I talked to a lot of people.  99% of my friends raved about total hip replacement surgery telling me that they were walking, dancing, doing yoga so much better than before and had no sign of anything irregular in their hip.  I heard them but I think the information didn’t lodge anywhere important or as one of my parents used to tell me “it went in one ear and out the other”.

Hip replacement surgery has come a long way since doctors first starting researching and experimenting with the possibilities in 1962.  I have titanium in my hip.  Initially it was stainless steel.  The ball part of the titanium is stuck into the hip socket tightly and only loosens up as the bone accepts the implant.  In the past, the replacement could come loose after only 10-12 years and cause more pain.  I’m under the impression this replacement could last the rest of my life.

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An X-ray showing a right hip (left of image) has been replaced, with the ball of this ball-and-socket joint replaced by a metal head that is set in the femur and the socket replaced by a white plastic cup (clear in this X-ray). from wikipedia

I had this surgery February 23rd.  I was released to my friends’ home February 24th.  I couldn’t go to my home because of so many steps.  On March 5th, I left my friends’ house and came to my own home.  I thought the 45 stairs going up to my front door would take me 30 minutes to climb.  It took me 5 minutes.  It was easy.  I followed instructions and used a crutch.  California stairs, as opposed to New York stairs, are not high and much longer.  That’s my observation anyway.  I didn’t have to lift either leg very high.  I was so excited.

The next day, a Physical Therapist came to my home and told me I should start using a cane.  He said I was walking well.  I was given exercises to do three times a day.  Today, I can walk around my house without even using the cane.  I go slow and step carefully.  I have to go up and down 10 stairs to go to the bathroom.  Easy peasy!

Today I have two big problems:  The first is trying to respond to all the people who have cared enough to write me an e-mail and ask after my recovery.  I tire easily and it’s hard to keep up with the correspondence.  This is what a friend of mine would call a luxury problem.

The second challenge is balancing out activity-meaning my leg and foot are towards the ground: I’m walking or sitting at the computer, making a meal with rest–meaning my leg is elevated and above my heart.  Each day I feel different but I have learned to follow directions and I err on the side of caution.

I’ve seen three different PTs and each one says that this operation is one of the best inventions of the 20th century.  I now agree.  Two months ago, I was checking on my will and my living will.  I was scared and non-believing of all these other folk who related tremendous success.  And here I am today, feeling in great spirits, pleased as punch with my progress and looking forward to my return to Paris!

I also have a lot of gratitude to the friends who have brought me over prepared food so I wouldn’t have to stand too long to make meals. To those who have driven me to stores or gone to the Library for me.  Especially to my friend Susan who flew out here from Arizona to help me transition from chez Koch to chez Sara.  She was a hard task master but I listened.  I hope I don’t have to have another surgery to remember how precious all these friendships are.  You know who you are.

A bientôt,

Sara

Hip Replacement Surgery–Part 1

Today I have a new hip, a round, probably cream colored ball, that replaces the round top of my femur, which is attached to a stem that fits into my thigh bone and has been placed in the empty socket where my old arthritic hip used to be.  Got that? I am nine days post-surgery and, for the second time in two days, feel a burst of morning energy.  I’ve made a few lists of things I can actually do and started checking them off.  I’ve begun the process of straightening and sorting all my belongings that made it over to chez Koch, my home away from home.

Chez Koch is where two remarkable and generous friends have let me stay for the first ten nights of my recovery.  It is a ranch style house, the only steps being the two very small ones that allowed me in the front door.  Between lots of naps, I’ve slowly been learning how to walk again with the aid of a walker.  My Physical Therapist at the hospital said “you have wonderful posture.  Were you a dancer?”  Meaning that if I stand erect and walk, the surgical leg moves directly behind me slightly stretching the thigh skin, exactly as it is supposed to do.  Then he said “You walk like Frankenstein”  In my cautiousness, I was forgetting to bend my knee of the surgical leg.  This produced a few chuckles from the watching staff.  Dancer and Frankenstein describing me within two minutes of each other! Well, as they say “only in San Francisco”.  It turns out there is a Ballet showing in the City at the moment called “Frankenstein”.

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Kaiser San Leandro Medical Center

For the record, I didn’t like being in the hospital.  It was my first time and, hopefully, my last.  It wasn’t the constant poking and prodding that I’d been warned about, it was the double speak.  I had the orthopedist who performed the surgery.  I had a Joint Care Coordinator, a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, a day time RN and a night time RN and both of them had trainees.  I had a substitute doctor as my surgeon was unavailable when I awoke Friday morning.  Each of these people knocked carefully on the door of my single room at Kaiser San Leandro Hospital.  Each entered with an opinion or feedback.  Almost all the opinions and feedback contradicted each other.  For me, already scared by someone having taken a scalpel to my backside, opening up a fairly large portion of said backside to go in and out of the hip area, not to mention drugged silly with anesthesia so as not feel the above mentioned activity, I just wanted one person to be decisive and tell me exactly what to do.

Not to be.  I had immediate problems.  I couldn’t stand up long enough to get anywhere to take a pee.  My blood pressure would drop to the floor, giving my stomach a good shuffle on the way down so I thought I might vomit.  I’d break out in sweats while shivering.  This all turns out to be normal if one has low blood pressure to begin with and then adds anesthesia to the mix which drops blood pressure even more.  I suppose it’s nice to have that information but what I felt was weak, vulnerable, lonely and wanting someone strong to tell me what to do.

By Friday afternoon, I had a mini-meltdown, no one would agree what should happen to me.  I thought I was in a crazy house and wanted out.  I called my friend Jane and she came and got me.  Kaiser I’m sure was happy to see me go.  I’d like to think I’d been mirroring back their very bad communication efforts and they wanted me GONE but I think that would be a bit arrogant.  I’m sure I was just a difficult patient.

From Friday evening, February 24 thru Saturday, March 4, my world became my bedroom, my slow trips from bedroom to bathroom and then slow trips from bedroom to kitchen.  The most difficult thing physically that I had to accomplish was hauling my surgical leg up onto the bed when getting ready for a rest.  I had to use a bungee cord that I would hook around the insole of my foot and gently pull the leg up, followed by the good leg, until both legs were safely propped on a pillow.

It’s been a kind of nether world.  Not much exists outside of these walls. Friends have been bringing me meals and doing shopping for me, often staying for a bite and a visit.  Everyone wants to know about me so I have perfected the story.  I see the paper each morning and that the same man is still President but it feels so far away as not to really touch me.  I’ve read four mysteries. It’s not a vacation from life, it’s more like a detour.  I’m off the track I know.  I don’t know this one very well so I’ve slowed down to a crawl and trying to pay attention.  The problems of my normal track aren’t the problems of my today.  Today, it’s how to balance out activity and rest so as not to push myself too far.  Today, it’s the fine line between pain meds and laxatives so that a secondary pain doesn’t take over all my attention from my healing hip.  These are huge problems to me.

Part 2 soon….

A bientôt,

Sara

Network, the movie

Until Saturday evening, I had never seen the movie “Network” that won four Oscars in 1976.  Turner Classic Movies is probably my favorite TV channel in the US and, as usual, leading up to Oscar Sunday, TCM is showing 31 Days of Oscar…..in alphabetical order!

I don’t know how I missed this movie.  I was recently out of Graduate School, wanted to stay in the Bay Area where jobs were scarce and was probably working around the clock to make ends meet.  I remember the iconic line “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore”.  I also remember that Peter Finch, who starred in the movie and won the Oscar for Best Actor, died before he could pick up his Oscar.  The belief is that his heart was already weak and some of the long impassioned speeches compromised his heart even more and he died of a heart attack months after the release of the movie.

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What was stunning to me as I watched Saturday evening, was how prescient the movie was.  Although supposed to be a “outrageous satire”(Leonard Maltin) , it predicted the news as entertainment and the hero worship of men who express their anger on TV and therefore relate and identify with the supposed mass majority of the American public. The movie opened forty-one years ago and predicted the rise of Donald Trump: a figure that TV made.

In a review that the great Roger Ebert wrote in 1976, he said “we may doubt that a Howard Beale could get on the air, but we have no doubt the idea would be discussed as the movie suggests. And then Chayefsky and the director, Sidney Lumet, edge the backstage network material over into satire, too–but subtly, so that in the final late-night meeting where the executives decide what to do about Howard Beale, we have entered the madhouse without noticing.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the madhouse.

This is indeed a great movie.  I encourage you to read the Ebert review then think about the rise of Donald Trump.

http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-network-1976

Don’t forget to watch the Oscars this coming Sunday 4pm PST and 7pm EST.  There’s always something memorable even if you have to slog through a lot of commercials and boring speeches to get there.

This will be my last post for awhile.  On Thursday morning, I will be having total hip replacement surgery on my right hip.  I’m told that the process has advanced so much that  I could go home the same day.  I asked to spend one night in the hospital.  I have to learn Physical Therapy and be disciplined about doing it three times a day.  My goal and reward is, if everything goes well as is predicted, I have a return flight to Paris on May 2nd.  I miss Paris terribly.  It is something I will hold in front of me as the undisciplined part of me tries to talk me out of doing PT.

A bientôt,

Sara