Quality of Life

A number of people responded to my blog about my Uncle Stan.  My friend, Darcy, has been caring for her mom who lives in the same place as Stan.  Her mom has dementia and has a small studio in the Assisted Living side of the Retirement Community.  She wrote this in response to another of her friend’s whose mother is just entering the dementia stage: “that you don’t know who you are when you are taking care of your mom. This made my whole world make sense, finally. Those simple words I don’t know who I am brought everything into perspective for me. Not that I understand all the emotions I went through here in Princeton and all of the emotions I continue to feel now that I have left. This will take years. But coming back, returning to Stonebridge, threw me into the old feelings of emotional chaos and I didn’t expect this. I was quite floored by it all. I felt guilty not spending more time with my mom and yet my body simply gave out on Friday. All I wanted to do was sleep.

I think it’s impossible to know who I am when I’m taking care of her because there are so many different people involved. Internally, there is my little girl, my childhood, adulthood. I am my mother’s daughter, friend, care taker. Added to this is the great unknown, the day to day step to step into aging, the uncertainties that come with this. How will my mother be today? How and where will her mind be? When will she fall again? This alone creates a myriad of emotions. Then throw in siblings and all of their emotions, their uncertainties, the family dynamic surfacing over and over again making us all crazy at times because there isn’t one truth yet we must be looking for that one stability. But it doesn’t exist because we never know what is coming next. The same way we don’t know what our siblings will do next. It’s a constant confrontation of the complexities of the past, present and whatever may be in the future.

It’s not like when we were growing up and we had parental guidelines already established for us. Friendships had their own boundaries, too, ones we navigated on our own. When it came to those friends and the twists and turns in life, we felt we knew what mattered most, even if only at that moment in time. Now there are no guidelines, only the heart. I wonder if peoples’ best and worst qualities come out when caring for an elderly parent.”

Darcy also recommended I read a book which another friend had already suggested I read.  BEING MORTAL by Atul Gawande. Gawande is a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, a staff writer for The New Yorker and teaches at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health.  In his free time!! he writes books.  Gawande poses a question that I’ve never heard said by a doctor–“Do we try to do too much?  Are we just trying to fix the next thing or are we thinking about the ill person in what may be their last years and asking them what they want?”  He calls these the Hard Questions or the Hard Talk.  It is a very provocative and thoughtful book.  He even gives the example of his own father who developed a cancer in his spine.  It is a book all of us should read, to prepare ourselves for the future and to help our elders get what they really want–which may contradict what a specialist doctor wants for them.  We are all going to die but we have choices, up to a point,  where that will be and how it will happen.

I’ve thought of Stan ever since I returned to Paris.  He did not want to be in that bed up on the Skilled Nursing floor.  He didn’t want to be poked and prodded all day long having his blood drawn, helping him sit up or lie down.  What he wanted was to be sitting in front of his computer and doing whatever he enjoys doing.  He doesn’t have to walk to do that.  He has now got an aid 24/7 to help him get his breakfast, shower etc.  But I don’t know if he is back in his apartment or still up in Skilled Nursing.  Being Mortal has given me a whole new way to think about what happens next, what to ask Stan and then to listen.  It’s allowed me to be really honest and say that this fall is probably the beginning of the end.  Gawande says that if he can live the way he’d like to live, in his apartment, surrounded by photos of Enid and all his Princeton Basketball paraphernalia, the end may be further away.  But the Stan that is up in Skilled Nursing doesn’t want to live the way he is living up there.  Neither would I.  A specimen under the light of nurses and doctors and aides none of whom knew him until about 2 1/2 weeks ago.

I recommend this book.  Darcy calls it The bible for caregivers.  Yup, it is the only one I know of that has the questions that we should be addressing now.

And in Paris….Life is cold but at the same time full of activities.  I’m feeling grateful to be here right now, with good friends and activities I love.  Christmas Parties bringing a lot of people all together in the same room maybe the only time all year!!  And the lights!!!! The Champs Elysees is lit up and the Ave Montaigne looks absolutely elegant with lights in all the trees and little tiny blue sparkly lights flashing on and off inside the the white lights.  It’s a wonder to behold.

A bientôt,

Sara

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Communication and Technology

Someone asked me how I stay connected to the United States. Specifically she wanted to know what kind of International phone plan I have.

I don’t.  So if you are traveling to Europe or anywhere and planning to stay a month or longer, you might be interested in what I do.  I have two mobile phones.  I have my American cell phone that I use when I’m in California which is about two months out of the year.  The day before I leave to return to Paris, I call AT&T and ask them to put my phone on ‘Suspend’.  That costs about $11.50 a month with tax.  I still put that phone on airplane mode just in case.  I have no reason to take it out of my apartment.

I have a french mobile with a french number.  I pay much less a month than I do here in the States!  Since I’m only gone a month at a time and the fee is so much cheaper, I don’t bother with a suspension.  But I do make sure I have it on Airplane mode from the minute the plane lifts off the ground at CDG.

I have had my Oakland home phone number with Vonage, a VOiP, for 10/12 years.  The year I moved to Paris, 2013, Vonage designed an App to download.  I can go into the App and call the United States and my home phone number shows up on the recipients phone.  People in the States can call me without any extra charge as they are calling a California number.  I do keep that phone, the American one, on Mute, as people often forget how many hours I am ahead of them.  I just call them back.

For all the above, when I’m in Paris, I pay a total of $75.  That is about the price of one month of AT&T cellphone service.  Why on earth would I get an International plan?

I now have friends all over Europe.  We call each other on Skype, which is audio as well as visual, or download WhatsApp or Viber (WhatsApp seems to be more popular at the moment).  All the Apps can be used on my french phone at any time wherever I am.  I have found, however, that reception is best if I’m at a Wifi spot.

Then there is the wonder of FaceTime.  I have an iPhone (I actually have two iPhones but you get the gist).  There is no charge to talk to another iPhone anywhere in the world using FaceTime.  Again, the platform is strongest at a Wifi spot.

Until this morning, my Facebook page had never been hacked.  I discovered it within a couple of hours and got it taken care of quickly.  So I am one who is constantly grateful for technology.  I’m not particularly savvy but what I do know and what I do have keeps me connected to all my friends around the world.  I don’t find it difficult at all to keep everything straight.

For people who do come for a shorter time, one or two weeks in Paris for instance:  if you want a french number, Orange will happily sell you a SIM card with 2 weeks worth of talk time and unlimited texting for a reasonable fee.  Most french numbers can call a landline in the US and UK.  But as more and more people get rid of their land lines, that becomes a moot point!

I hope this is helpful.  People are so glued to their phones these days that the idea of not being connected while they are traveling is terrifying.  These are one person’s suggestions.

A bientôt,

Sara

A resident of Paris

On September 29, 2017, I had my fourth yearly date with an agent at the Prefecture to renew my Titre de Sejour (residency card).  Each year, it gets a bit easier to prepare for it.  The French want to make sure that 1–I won’t work meaning take away a job from a French person 2–I won’t end up living on the street and 3–that I’m covered by health care and don’t need to use their social security system.

I seem to get anxious anyway.  I know something will go wrong and this year, it was the printer that ran out of ink while I was making the required copies of all the documents I needed to bring with me and my translator’s vacation. (All English documents must be translated into french by an official translator).  She arrived home two days before my appointment and meeting up with her the day before demanded a dexterity of mind that is not a strong suit of mine.

The morning of my appointment, I went to the nearest Post Office to make copies.  I was under the impression that it opened at 8am and I arrived at 9:30am.  My appointment was at 10:30am.  The sign on the door informed me that this particular Post Office opens at 10am.  So I took myself off to a nearby Cafe for a cafe allongée (long pull as opposed to a short pull which is an expresso).  At 10am, I was back at the front door of the PO.  There was a man standing there looking very bewildered, checking his watch.  The PO was very closed.  I walked closer and read everything on the PO’s front facade.  In small print up in a corner of one of the windows, there was information telling us that this PO was no longer open on weekdays.  I had 30 minutes, and probably less, to find a printer.

I stopped in two cafes and asked if they had one I could use.  No, madame.  I called my old neighbor from my Git-le-Coeur days knowing she had one and was close by.  I reached her at the hospital where her mother was dying and she could barely get four words out.  I rushed to a Gibert Jeune, an all-purpose station for students of any age to buy books, supplies, maps and more.  The Security man told me that ‘No, madame, we don’t have a printer but if you go up that street, cross over past the Pharmacy, there is a Internet store that has a printer.’  I rushed there and, acting like a spoiled American, thought I could talk my way to the front of the line.  No dice.  I had to wait my turn which I did extremely ungracefully.  My heart was beating so fast and my anxiety was so high that I thought I might make myself sick.  With my copies in hand, I rush-walked back towards the Prefecture–it was 10:20am.  I asked myself what was the worst that could happen?  The Prefecture would ask me to make another appointment in the future, it wasn’t the end of the world.

I made it to the door at 10:30, made it through the TSA-like security and, after handing all my documents to a lady at the front desk of my particular department, receiving a number in exchange, waited two and a half hours to be called to one of the cubicles.  After twenty minutes, she renewed my Residency Card and told me I would receive a text of when I could pick it up.

I relate this experience without accompanying photographs because so many of my American friends are envious of my living in the city of their dreams.  And indeed, I am extremely fortunate to be able to afford to live in Paris.  However, at some point, one is no longer a tourist or a visitor but a resident.  And being a resident comes with a lot of anxieties, dealing with the French administration and a lessening amount of time to explore museums and tourist points of interest which continue to be interesting to me.

Days will go by now that I do not see the river or my favorite bridge, Pont Neuf.  I have responsibilities and commitments.  I live here.  I carry around a card issued by the Mayor of Paris saying I’m an official citizen of Paris! It’s actually not official but gets me in to many places that I wouldn’t see if I didn’t have that card.

Some mornings, I wake up thinking of the Bay Area, my other home, the way I used to think of Paris.  With an affection and longing that surprises me.  Sometimes I think it’s time to go home–meaning Oakland.  Paris is really home but I’m not saying that anymore.  It’s a luxury dilemma that doesn’t always feel so luxurious.  And a universal dilemma I believe–wanting to be somewhere else when the going gets tough.

For now, I will take my fiscal stamps to pay for my new residency card.  Paris will have me for one more year.  For one more year, I will wake up with the joys and the aches of being a resident in this city.

A bientôt,

Sara

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

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