The further adventures of Bijou, the cat

While I was in the United States, January through May, Bijou was living the life of Riley.  She stayed with a friend who has quite a large apartment, consisting of three large bedrooms, a living room plus and a dining room plus.  Bijou had the run of the place.  And she literally could run in a circle going through almost every room.  She loved hiding under my friend’s bed, she would go to sleep on the kids’ book bags, she would sit on the back of a sofa for hours making those funny kitty noises every time she saw a bird and she made herself at home wherever she could.  She knew she was only a guest and never jumped up on a table or workspace as she did at my apartment.

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Hello

Once Spring came, things started to get a bit dicey.  The apartment is on the 6th floor.  Each room has a minimum of two ceiling almost to the floor windows.  And every window had a little balcony where healthy plants were waiting for the sun. The windows would be thrown open and Bijou, with tons of cat curiosity, would go exploring.  Just sitting on the little balcony was not enough.  She would jump up on the railing and when any of the family walked by, she would just look innocent.  While the family member had a small heart attack terrified Bijou would fall to the pavement and use up all her nine lives at once.

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One very hot in July night, my friend decided to leave all the windows open.  She could see that Bijou was near the balcony but opted for taking care of herself first. The next morning, when she called Bijou, Bijou was nowhere to be found.  She went looking everywhere and, after an hour, she was formulating a conversation with me to tell me that Bijou had disappeared.  Just as she picked up her phone, she saw Bijou looking pathetic outside her son’s window.  That window was not open the night before.  Neither of us even wanted to think how Bijou managed to get to that balcony from the opposite side.

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Phew, I’m glad she found me.  I’m tired

When I finally moved into my own apartment in early August, I came and got Bijou and, for the first time in eight months, we were living together.  I have a large terrace with a railing.  The top of the railing is 4″/10cm thick.  I’m on the 7th floor.  Each room has glass doors that open up on the south side of my building and it is necessary in warm weather to have them open.  Bijou loves the terrace and spends a lot of her time there.  At first, she would jump up on the railing and I was the one having a heart attack.  If I screamed or did something panicky, I was afraid I would scare her and she’d fall.  I would clap my hands very loud which has always been my signal to her that said “No”.  She would jump down.  As soon as I went inside, she’d jump up again and nonchalantly go walking over to the next door neighbor’s apartment.

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Are you talkin’ about me?

Bijou always comes when I call her.  She is basically a very good cat.  She is learning not to jump up on the railing and does it rarely now.  I’m still too nervous to leave the doors to the balcony open in the night when I’m sleeping or when I leave the apartment.  I don’t know why.  I truly don’t think anything would happen to her.  Cats have such an innate sense of balance and perspective of distance.  But……I don’t ever want to be in the position of saying “If only…..If only I’d done the right thing”  So doors stay closed at night, open during the day. Sara, the police, periodically wanders the apartment looking for any cat trouble Bijou may have gotten in.

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Bijou, who was bought off the streets of Paris 2 1/2 years ago, has grown into a sweet cat. I’m completely aware that the catcapades she gets into are completely in line with her job description.  She also likes to be in the same room as people.  She likes to sleep at the foot of the bed.  When she was very little she discovered a teddy bear of mine and to this day treats the bear like the mother she never had.  She will walk up slowly, sniff it then realizing it is mama bear, she will start kneeding the bear and collapse in pleasure while her front paws go in and out of the bears tummy.  I’m always so grateful it’s not my tummy.  My friend, Fatiha, adores Bijou and makes her toys out of whatever she finds lying around.  She gets Bijou to jump 4 feet high then teases her by pretending to throw a ball.  Bijou doesn’t care.  She adores Fatiha back and if Fatiha wants to play, that’s what Bijou will do.

And now you are caught up with the adventures of the fur ball living with me!!!

A bientôt,

Sara

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Brittany (or what I did on my summer vacation)

In Paris, summer vacation is sacrosanct.  From June 15 to August 15-30, the majority of Parisians leave Paris for three weeks to two months.  In August, Paris is dead.  Only the tourists walking around in the summer quiet.  Half of businesses close, either because the owners vacation or for renovation.  The train lines use the summer to do work on the tracks.  Many Parisians have country homes in Normandy and tend to go there for the summer.  An equal number will have second homes down south somewhere in the sun.  And a smaller number go to Brittany.

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The hydrangea or hortensia, as they are known in French, are magnificent in Brittany.  There is a Fete de Hortensia every summer.

I discovered Brittany last summer.  I wanted to go somewhere in France that I’d not been before for my August birthday.  My friend, Barbara, suggested Perros Guirec on the Coast of Pink Granite (Cote de Granit Rose).  She’d been there many, many years ago.  So I found an AirBnB and off three of us went to Perros Guirec.  By the end of our five days there, I was so in love with Brittany that I convinced the owner of the home we had rented to do a house exchange with me.  I would come to Perros Guirec for 4 weeks this summer and he and his girlfriend could have a month in the Bay Area.

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My “home” in Perros Guirec

 

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The view from the bedroom window

Brittany, to me, is an extraordinary place.  It’s not like anywhere else in France.  I’m told that the catholic English, Irish and Scottish escaped there at one point in British history.  I’m guessing it was during the reign of Henry VIII when being Catholic was outlawed.  Not only is Brittany exceptionally Catholic but all the dialects have Celtic in them.  The people are as friendly as they come and love their land.  Only sixty years ago, if a visitor from one village came to another, he was called a foreigner just like I am a foreigner.  It doesn’t mean they don’t like you, it just means in the end, you don’t belong.

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Marker on GR 34

 

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Typical Bretagne home with a beautiful garden

Brittany has a coastline on three of it’s four directions.  There is a hiking trail, GR 34, that follows the coast line and attracts day trippers and backpackers all summer.  Many other trails criss cross Brittany.  But enough, they say a picture says a thousand words so I’d like to share some of my best photos from this summer.

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One of my favorites parts of GR 34–the Sentier to Ploumanc’h (the path of the customs workers)

 

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Sentier des Douaniers along Le cote de Granit Rose
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Sara and Barbara in the Perros-Guirec harbor
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Church in Treguier
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One of many harbors

 

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Port of Perros-Guirec in low tide
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Beginning the Sentier des Douaniers trail looking back on Trestraou beach
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Harbor at Paimpol
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The old Washing Area in Pontrieux–the washing women for private homes would come down here and do the wash.  The city and home owners have decorated it so it is quite special

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IMG_6960.jpg Sara and Barbara on the 4th of July headed to Ile de Brehat

If you see that every single house and building is an A frame, good observing.  They do not have flat roofs in Brittany!!!

The last week I was there, I went to the Finistere and stayed in a six house hamlet in a National Forest.  I will put those photos up over the weekend.

A bientôt,

Sara

Living in the 16th

I received a lovely e-mail from a reader this week telling me how much she is learning about Paris and France from reading my blog.  She urged me to do more posts.  Thank You lovely reader.

After waiting almost two months, I have finally moved into my new apartment in the 16th arrondissement.  The view from my window is extremely soothing but not very interesting to a Paris tourist.  I overlook a Courtyard and garden.  The amazing thing about this apartment is that it has a terrace.  Everyone in Paris would like a terrace, it is a premium commodity.  I don’t have just any terrace.  I have the equivalent of another room! With a table and chairs for eating, a chaise longue for reading and room to start a small Parisian terrace garden if I so choose.

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Looking down at the courtyard from my terrace

When one walks around the 16th and looks up, it’s impossible to miss all the terrace gardens with so much lush color and different shades of green.  If you are standing up high in an apartment building, you can see that almost every roof top has a terrace that is home to a garden–with trees, bushes, sometimes benches.  I don’t know if this is unique to Paris but it’s a wonderful aspect.

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Opposite me–What’s known as the Penthouse in Paris.  The top two floors as one apartment in most buildings here.

My street is very quiet.  Even the church bells across the street are quiet unlike the bells of the Catherale de Notre Dame which announce themselves throughout at least 4 arrondissements.  My street dead ends into Boulevard Beausejour.  After passing through a path for pedestrians only, I am two blocks from the Bois de Boulogne.  The Bois de Boulogne is the smaller of the two parks that sandwich Paris from the West and the East.  There are lakes and bicycle paths, boathouses, the Jardin d’acclimatization which has a wonderful playground for children.  I once saw a small camel there giving rides!  The extraordinary Fondation Louis Vuitton is next door.

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My street dead ends here

The other end of the block crosses Ave. Mozart, a wide street with small, very Parisian little stores: a bakery, vegetable and fruit market, fish market, etc.  The metro 9 is one block from my street.  The closest grocery store is Monoprix which is quite a walk down  Ave Mozart.  I was very spoiled in the 6th where I lived.  Everything I needed and more was at most 6 blocks away.

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Lining up for bread at the Boulangerie

The 16th arrondissement is laid out differently than many of the others.  It goes from north to south and is long, bending with the Seine as it turns south from more central Paris.  The streets are wider, everything is greener.  Along the Seine are some important organizations such as Radio France.  I’ve only gotten to know a small part of this area from Michelange-Auteuil up to La Muette and Rue Passy which has the beautiful clothing stores.

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My true treasure: the coveted terrace in a Parisian apartment!!!

Please stay with me as I explore my quartier (neighborhood) of Paris that most tourists don’t come to.

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

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

“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

Happy New Year—-from Oakland, Ca.

In France, one has the entire month of January to send out New Year’s greetings.  Sending cards for the new year is popular, sending Christmas cards is not.

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So I’m wishing every one of you a wonderful 2017.  What I wish for us all is an ability to navigate our world, our politics (or their politics as the case may be) and to be the best citizen of this world that we can possibly muster without bringing in more anger, more hatred and bitterness than already exists.  It’s not a new concept but imagine if we did one good, kind deed a day and it spread like “The hundredth Monkey Phenomenon”.  Well, I’d like to imagine it!!!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hundredth_monkey_effect

Yesterday, I got on a United flight to San Francisco to return to my California home for 4 months.  I was taken by surprise in mid-December when I was told that I needed hip replacement surgery.  Actually, I was given a choice.  It seems that doctors today cannot actually say “you must have…..” without fear of litigation.  One of my choices was surgery.  I went to all my friends who have had hip or knee replacement surgery and asked them one question: “In retrospect, if you had had the surgery done when you were first told that you might need it, would you have done it?”  Without exception, they all said yes.  When I was talking to the orthopedist and he was telling me the pros and cons of cortisone shots, I asked him straight out “is there any reason to delay it?”

The answer, not so surprisingly, was “No”

So I’m scheduled for surgery in mid-February.  The curious fact about me is that I have never been in a hospital since I was born.  My father used to joke “Sara, you were born in Garfield Hospital in Washington, D.C and they immediately tore it down”.  Yes, of course, I’ve been in many doctor’s offices and had two one-hour procedures (that I can remember) but to have a serious surgery and spend the night, that has been my sister’s realm.  And to say I’m a bit anxious would be an understatement.

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View from my bedroom window

Now, the window I get to look out of is my westward-looking windows here in Oakland.  I can see the San Francisco Bay, the Bay Bridge that spans from Oakland to downtown San Francisco (4 miles) and the Golden Gate bridge.  Many evenings, there is a sunset that cannot be rivaled.

California has been suffering a terrible drought for going on six years.  There has been rain, quite a bit of rain, in the last couple of weeks.  As my Uber drove me up my street from the San Francisco airport, the landscape looked strange.  It hit me that everything was Green.  Really Green!  And because it rained on and off yesterday evening, the green was sparkling like itty bitty diamonds jumping around on leaves, on new grass. Now sixteen hours later, it is pouring cats and dogs, as we like to say in English, or I’d go outside and inspect the gardens and see all the changes.

My cat, Bijou, stayed in Paris.  She is living with a friend who has a larger apartment than I did and also has children who love cats.  When I said good bye to her on Thursday evening, everyone had a bit of a hesitant smile.  Bijou was moving around carefully, looking around each corner before she let herself into a room.  W and E looked excited but not sure how to react to her.  I taught them to clap their hands very loudly when Bijou jumps up on a counter or somewhere she shouldn’t be. As if by direction, she immediately jumped up on a kitchen counter.  I clapped very loudly, she jumped down and scampered back to the laundry room which is her temporary quarters.  Then I left and felt my heart thudding with sadness.  It didn’t seem right to make her fly two long plane flights just because I have to have surgery.

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Bijou (photo by Fatiha Antar)

Banya, on the other hand, who grew up in Oakland and moved to Paris with me is in kitty heaven.  She was an indoor/outdoor cat, became an indoor cat in Paris and never seemed to adjust.  Now she is home after a long plane ride.  She must have known she was coming home because she stayed calm and hasn’t stopped purring.

 

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I wish I had a smart closing line like Garrison Keeler and could say “and that’s the news from Oakland where all …..”  If anyone can dream up a really punchy line for me to close with, there is a small Thank You coming your way.  Until then,

A bientôt,

Sara