Wednesday, April 12, 2023

The (good and not so good) old days

 It's funny how conversations have turned, recently. Last week, we had a meeting of the yarn group and we were talking about our parents' deaths. Not a cheerful subject, but one person's father had just died, only 11 weeks after her mother had died. She did not have to rush back because the memorial service was not going to be until May. It was a different story in January. And it was even different just the week before because her father was failing fast and she was faced with the question of dropping everything and rushing off to the airport. Distance makes all this hard on us. 

I remember a friend whose father was dying and she jumped on a plane but he died before she got there. She was broken up about that but was present for her mother. Another friend went back and stayed and stayed and stayed until her mother died. I was present almost at the end. I almost stayed. My father insisted that I go home where my new job was waiting for me. I went home. I got the number at the Atlanta airport (not the 800 number) so that my uncle could contact the airline and me in case I should not get on the flight to Paris. The call did not come; I got on the flight. When I got home, I got a call that he had just died. I did jump back on a plane the next morning. More for my mother. But I get that my friend last week did not rush back. This was her second parent to go and there was no parent to console if she went back. 

When my grandmother died, no one thought to call me and I didn't learn of her death until I received the letter from my brother (probably 10 days after he sent it) telling me he had just gotten back from her funeral. When my other grandmother died, though, 10 years later, I did get a call. There was still no question that I would jump on a plane to go to the funeral. 

Later, with another friend and a similar subject, we were talking about how slow communication was when we first arrived in France 50 some years ago. We didn't receive phone calls because we didn't have phones. Landlines! There was a waiting list for phones. We rarely made calls to the U.S. They were expensive. I made collect calls. Making any kind of call meant going to the post office and requesting the call, then, waiting an hour or two for the call to go through. Even calling from someone's home required waiting for the call to go through. (My brother-in-law had the kind of job that required a home phone for emergency contact.) Our main means of communication was via aerograms. 

Aerograms were one sheet of extra-long, lightweight blue paper that was pre-stamped at a lower rate than an air-mail stamp. You could get a long letter written using both sides of the paper, carefully avoiding the address section. It would take about 10 days for this to arrive in the U.S. and another 10 days for the reply. 

By the '90s, there was a system whereby we could call a local number that would call back and we'd dial the U.S. number. This was much cheaper than the PTT rate for calling. Much cheaper does not mean cheap, though, so we didn't call often. We were simply not in the habit of calling. By the time internet came to our family via Compuserve, we used that system to collect email in one call and then reconnect to send email. Email replaced the aerogram. In France, we had Minitel back in the early '80s, but we did not have domestic internet service, yet. Shortly after, though, AOL set itself up in France (or was Club-internet first?) Our family was early an early adapter. With AOL came the Buddy List for chats. 

Then came cell phones. Triple-play internet service (internet, landline, TV) and with that, free international phone calls from the landline. And WhatsApp replaced Skype for free calls from the mobile. 

My friend whose father just died got a phone call. She was at a party. It got me thinking that maybe slower communication was not such a bad thing. 

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Fall frenzy

I don't know if it's the coming end of the World Series, and of course I'm for the Phillies, or if it's the upcoming election but my eyes are focused on the US these days.

The World Series is exciting. It's amazing that the fairies are even in the running. It's amazing that they have won two games of the series. Maybe they will even it out tonight, maybe not. It's been quite a run. 

The election, on the other hand, is depressing. I hope the Democrats do not lose the House and I hope they do not lose the Senate but the chances that they will not lose both are very very slim, according to all the reports one sees.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Black Indians from New Orleans -- exhibit at the Quai Branly, Jacques Chirac Museum

Most Parisians still call it the Quai Branly Museum (and the URL of the museum is still Then it was known also as the Musée des Arts Premiers (Primal (as in "first", not "Primitive" after a short period of "Arts Primatifs") and it was finally named in honor of Jacques Chirac, who was the instigator of its creation and a great collector. It has great permanent collections from Asia, Oceania, the Americas, and Africa. Many items should probably be returned to their countries of origin, leaving many that were purchased and can stay. 

This exhibit is extraordinary. It's far more vast than just New Orleans and it's far more vast than just the Black Indians and the Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs (SPAC) in New Orleans, today. To start, there are maps of the Native American villages along the Mississippi valley before the Europeans arrived. There are maps showing the expeditions of the French explorers as they traveled across the Atlantic and then down the Mississippi, finally establishing the settlement in New Orleans. There is a room devoted to the slave trade, the boats, the conditions suffered during the Middle Passage and the accounting of how many people per ship and how many were lost. The French kept good accounts! 

The exhibits show art and artifacts from the Native American tribes, from Africa, and even the glass beads from Venice that were the currency of the slave trade. 

Then there are the rules under which slaves were held - le Code Noir, associated with Colbert, then Secretary of the Navy. Writing it was actually finished by his son. There were different versions for the French territories. All the slaves were to be Catholic, for example, and had Sundays off. In contrast to the British colonies, there was no rule against comingiling among the slaves and with the Native Americans, many of whom were also slaves in the first years of colonization. On Sundays, they would meet in what became Congo Place. They could speak their languages, play their music, especially the drums, and dance. Their cultures survived. 

Some images are just too graphic to stomach. In paintings and, later, photographs show the conditions under which the slaves were held and punished.

The Seven Years War, known to Americans as the French-Indian War, brought about monumental changes. Louisiana became Spanish, Canada became English. This was in 1765 and in 1800, Spain returned most of Louisiana (minus the Texas part) to France. France, under Napoleon, sold Louisiana to the United States in 1803. 

Under U.S. rule, New Orleans became the slave trade capital of the country. Living conditions for the slaves became even harsher. There is a room devoted to emancipation and to the Jim Crow laws, the rise of the KKK.

Throughout these rooms that go through the history of the Black population in the French territory and pinpointing New Orleans, there are magnificent contemporary costumes of the chiefs that they wear during the Second Line parades. If you click on the images to enlarge them, I hope you can read the information cards. Also, look carefully and the images embroidered on the costumes' fronts; they tell a story. The final room, where many costumes are assembled, is about the SPACs and there is a short film about them. (In fact, there are short films about all different aspects of the exhibit, throughout, but this one was on a big screen and had better seating.)

This exhibit, created by the Musée Jacques Chirac, merits traveling around the world and especially around the United States. 

Saturday, June 18, 2022

A bit of catching-up

Last time I wrote was in April, after my fall. It's time to catch up on me and on the house. This is running a bit long, so the house will be covered in the next post.

Recovery is going fine. I go to the kiné (PT) a couple or three times a week for half-hour or hour-long sessions and I walk, more or less, without a limp. I may be a bit slower than before, but that might also be due to the heat. I can stand on one leg and kee okp my balance for about a minute. The right leg, the more recent hip replacement, is even better at that than my left leg. I'm able to do the other exercises, as well. I think PT will be ending, soon. 

I didn't describe the hospital stay in the previous post. When I fell, a little after 6 p.m., I hurt my leg and my elbow. It took a long time for the fire company EMTs to arrive, so I didn't get to the nearest hospital until at least an hour after I fell. The EMT stayed with me until the ER person came to get me and transfer me to one of their gurneys. I don't remember how long that took, but there were quite a few of us in the passageway waiting. In the meantime, Louis had come to the hospital, but could not come to where I was, due to COVID restrictions. Those same restrictions were enforced in the ER, so I convinced him he should go home. 

Once in the ER, a nurse took my vitals, swabbed my nose for a COVID test, and told me I'd have x-rays. It was about 10 when I was taken down to the x-ray, but there was a long, cold wait, there, too. It was hard getting into the position on the table, but they x-rayed my leg and my elbow. I was eventually taken up to a darkened room to sleep. I don't know how many beds there were; we were well separated by curtains. There was one person (doctor?) in front of a computer and one nurse for us all. At some point, I was finally given some pain medication and I dozed. At 2 in the morning, the person who had been at the computer came over to me and told me that I had a hip collar fracture. She did not mention the elbow. I dozed off, again, and at 3, an orthopedic resident (intern, in French) came over and told me I was going to be operated on some time in the morning but since there were no beds available in the ortho ward, I'd stay in ER until the operation. 

Before they took me to the OR, I managed to alert the club that I wouldn't be able to do the scorekeeping on Saturday. I also wrote to postpone another procedure that was scheduled and sent an email to the surgeons who had done my shoulder and hip (left) replacements. I was afraid I might have harmed the shoulder. Paul also asked me to take care of a few things, which I did, all from my phone. 

Then, it was time to relinquish my things, about 10 a.m. Valuables -- cash, credit card, Sécurité Sociale card -- were put into a bag and taken away to be locked up. My clothes, which had spent the time thrown into a plastic bag at the foot of my bed, were taken somewhere else. My handbag was left with me until we reached the elevator to go to the OR. One of the aides said she'd take it up to the 3rd floor, where I was going after surgery. And that was the last I saw of my possessions.

After surgery, I was taken up to the 3rd floor. Louis was there. I asked if he could find my things. No luck. The rest of the day, I dozed. On Saturday, I had visits: Paul, Louis, and Anne. Even one of the grandchildren snuck in with Louis. 

Ah, the weekend -- wherever my things were, they were not going to be found until Monday. I saw the post-op doctor, who assured me nothing was wrong with my elbow. It was the bruising. Still, I couldn't move my arm much. I couldn't turn my palm upwards, which was what the nurse needed to draw blood. I couldn't get food all the way to my mouth; I had to push my head forward to meet the fork. I couldn't extend my arm. Paul had brought my crutches (from the left hip replacement) and I got up to sit in the chair. 

Monday, I managed a few steps across the hall but almost fainted on the return. Turns out I was anemic.

Finally, Anne spent the better part of her visit on Monday trying to find my things. They weren't at the ER; they weren't at the desk in Ortho. They weren't anywhere anyone could think of. They were declared missing, except for the little bag with my cash and cards, recovered from the ER. No clothes, no handbag with my wallet, my glasses, my phone, etc. She persisted. And miraculously, they all turned up at the hospital pharmacy!

Tuesday morning, I was looking forward to being released in a day or two. My release had been delayed because of the anemia. My roommate was leaving for rehab. Before her release, they did another COVID test on her in the morning. After lunch, they took her to a private room; she had tested positive. They didn't test me until later in day, but they did not place anyone else in the room with me, either. The next day, I was told my test was negative, but that I was going to a private room and would not be released because I needed to do a full quarantine "as if" before going to rehab. 

It took a few days, but I was managing on crutches pretty well, so we managed to convince them to release me to home instead of to a rehab center on Saturday. That whole week, no one really listened to me when I asked what was wrong with my elbow.

The care at the hospital -- the nurses, the nurses' aides, the cleaning staff -- was always good. Staff was short, though, so waits were long. I was not happy with the doctor who came every other day and was only interested in my hip. This was a major Parisian hospital. COVID has created staff shortages, as it has all over the world. I made appointments to see my surgeons about 6 weeks after the fall. The hip guy gave me a thorough exam and said the hip is fine. The shoulder guy, who is also an elbow guy, had me have another x-ray. He saw something and prescribed an MRI. That was done in mid-June and there is a little unconsolidated fracture, which explains the ongoing discomfort. Mobility is getting better and he expects the discomfort to go away by September, when he wants me to check in with him, again.

At home, we had our favorite nurses coming by every evening for a few weeks to give me my anti-coagulant shot, change the dressing, take the blood for tests -- to do whatever was needed that day. Paul dropped me off at the kiné on Tuesday for my first session of massage therapy. But the following week, I was making my way on crutches: 550 m. each way! And between PT sessions, I was walking around the block.

Cost: All of the hospitalization expenses were fully covered by Sécurité Socialé (surgery, medicine) and the mutuelle (the €24/day food charge, the private room charge for the last few days); the home nursing was fully covered. The only out-of-pocket expense has been a few euros for each Kiné session because he charges above the Sécu-approved rate, my private consultations with my own ortho surgeons, and some of the x-ray, MRI, and CTscan cost. And that €500 will be covered by our accident insurance.