Monday, December 10, 2018

The current uprising atmosphere in France these days

For the past four weeks, at least, France has been obsessed with "les Gilets Jaune". The yellow vests are the safety vests we all must have in our cars and we must wear them in case of an accident or other mishap, like a flat tire, as we wait on the side of the road for help to arrive. "Les Gilets Jaune" people who are participating in a movement launched via facebook and other social media in November, when the government announced that the new tax on fossil fuel, 3%, would be applied from January 1. It started out as an appeal not to apply this new tax.
Salaries have not really risen in France is quite some time. Working people who are earning minimum wage, or close to it, (and that is most people), unemployed, retired people with low pensions are having more and more trouble getting to the end of the month. Those who live in cities have public transportation to get to work. In the Paris area, it's subsidized so that employees have half of their almost €70/month card reimbursed by their employers. Elsewhere, however, getting to work is not so cheap. People move further and further away from where the jobs are because housing is so expensive. For many years, they were encouraged to buy diesel cars -- less carbon pollution and better mileage. Diesel fuel was the cheapest, far cheaper than regular gas. Then, last year, it was decided to bring the price of diesel up to the same level as gas. That already added extra expense to those who commute by car. And their cars lost value in the used car market, if they wanted to sell. Now, an additional tax. Add to that if the home is fuel heated. It's the straw that broke the camel's back.
The idea was pretty simple: local demonstrations at the many traffic circles around all French urban areas. People manning the blockades would wear their yellow vests. People supporting the movements would put their yellow vests on their dashboards and honk as they passed through the blockades. Simple. And it's very easy to empathize and support the movement. France is taxed out.
Then, three weeks ago, on Saturday, there was a demonstration in Paris. It turned violent. Extremists on the left and right and just regular demonstrators at the end of their rope started throwing paving stones, smashing shop windows, and, in what is an odd French tradition (at least for the past 30 years), burning cars. Rioting rather than demonstrating. The police reacted slowly and moderately -- the aim being to not cause deadly harm (and they didn't). But that just encouraged the mob to more violent behavior the next week. Last weekend, the police changed tactic by searching for possible weapons as cars approached Paris. 2000 people were arrested, either before anything happened or during the rioting.
In the mean time, the tax hike has been abandoned, but as usual, the  unorganized movement now has more and more "non-negotiable" demands. The students have gotten involved (more on that, from Arunwithaview). The transport workers have called a strike. Stores counting on Christmas sales, super markets, restaurants, and more have had to close, either because of the violence or because supply trucks are not getting through. There are no real leaders, no real spokespeople for the government to talk to. Macron and the government have not responded well to all this. Macron is going to say something, finally, tomorrow.
To put this into perspective, the last big social movement like this was in the late fall 1995. Before than, a catastrophic student movement in 1986. And we mustn't forget 1968. The violence is more destructive and dangerous, now, but basically government decree followed by protest followed by retraction is how France operates.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Travel month





Birthday candles
October was a month of travel. The last weekend of September, Paul and I took the Eurostar to see the family in the U.K. and to celebrate C's 5th birthday. We got to walk the kids to school and back, and see almost everyone on the Sunday, when we had the first birthday party, family only. I love relaxing when I'm there and don't feel like doing any interesting touring or sightseeing. I just love reading when the kids are at school and then watching them play when they're home. I also like doing a few mother-daughter things. Mostly, though, I laze and watch.
C. is in Reception year. In England, this precedes Year 1, so in age group it's like Kindergarden in the U.S., but it's full day, not half, and like the last year of Maternelle in France. In content, though, it's more like 1st grade (U.S.) or CP (France). S. is in CP in France and both kids are learning to read. I've now had a chance to have each of them read to me and they are about at the same level of sounding out the words. I love it when they read to me. C. is starting gymnastics, continuing swimming, and has decided that she doesn't want to do the "Foundation" class in music but would rather go straight to the piano. That's a pretty full schedule for a 5-year-old.
A. is in Year 4. She hates doing homework and practicing her viola. I don't know that she actually hates doing those things as much as she hates starting. In the time she spends complaining and putting off the start, she could finish the task. Once she gets started, though, she's fine. She's given up the piano and switched from violin to viola. She prefers the deeper tone. She still does gymnastics and Brownies, so she has a pretty full schedule.
We returned home on the 4th, did a laundry, and Paul took me to the airport the next morning so I could catch my flights to Philly, via Dublin. One of the good things about flying via Dublin is that you go through U.S. Immigration and Customs in Dublin. As you get off the plane in Dublin to transfer to the U.S. leg, you are directed separately from passengers transferring to other destinations. You end up in the U.S. sector, in the passport check line. It's a long line, but shorter than what we normally go through at a U.S. airport. Once through that, there's the security check, as at any airport, and then straight to the gate for departure. I had just enough time to grab a sandwich and some water for lunch before we left. Good thing, too, since the food on Aer Lingus was less appealing than on other airlines I've been on recently. I binge-watched half a season of Fargo.
We were late leaving Dublin and late getting into Philly. I took a cab to the hotel, found my roommate, N., for the weekend, gabbed a bit with other reunion attendees in the lobby, but I was pretty tired. I went out to mail my absentee ballot and walk around the neighborhood -- Locust street, then a bit of Spruce St., up to Rittenhouse Square, to Sansom St. and back to the hotel. I was craving a corned beef sandwich, but couldn't find a deli. I did not go south to Panama St. to walk by the house. It was warm and muggy. By the time I got back, my friends had all disappeared and I simply went to bed. N. and I gabbed for a bit when she got in, later. I love sharing my room when I go to these reunions. This time, N. had flown in from Alaska and I had come in from France -- opposing jetlags. We were not really on the same sleep schedule!
The 50th reunion of Girls High class 212 was wonderful afternoon. Just us. No spouses. Several of the band/orchestra group were there and we managed to grab a table for serious catching up. There was lots of table hopping, finding old friends and discovering new ones. J. drove me home with her, so I got to see her husband, E. This was a nice chance for quiet talk. In the evening about 20 of us ventured up to Ambler to see Anita Wise, classmate and stand-up comedian. It was a good show -- a fun evening.
The very next morning, Sunday, I headed over to the Greyhound bus terminal for a 6-hour drive to Pittsburgh. I had hoped I'd catch signs of fall -- red and gold leaves on the trees. Nope. Although I was freezing on the bus, the outside temperature, when we stopped for a break on the turnpike, was in the 80s F° (almost 30°C)! Visible signs of lack water -- dried up ditches and ponds. We got into Pittsburgh exactly on schedule and J. and T. were there to meet me and take me to their house. We had a pleasant few days together, went out to eat, had sandwiches in (I got my corned beef sandwich!) and just caught up. I went to the gym with T. and lasted no more than 15 minutes before caving.
Wednesday, they took me to the airport and I got the first of my flights to San Diego via Chicago on Southwest. Having just barely gotten on schedule on the east coast, I was back in jetlag mode on the west coast. I slept. I got an early shuttle back to the airport the next morning to pick up the car I had reserved. First of all, the off-site car rental garage is really far away. Yes, there are shuttles to go there and you don't have to wait too long for one, but the ride there is long. I went to the Avis counter and got all the way to handing over my card, when the guy said that they couldn't take a debit card. I immediately went outside, loaded my phone with Uber and Lyft, and got a Lyft to visit T&B. I then worked out, mentally, how much it would cost to Lyft for the rest of the stay and it came to less than the car rental would have been even before factoring in parking and gas costs.
T&B are in an elegant independent living residence that has multiple levels of care for when more assistance or convalescence is needed. They have an enormous apartment with two bedrooms and two bathrooms, a big kitchen area, good-sized living room and dining area and even a separate office area. The residence has an art studio, mail room, several dining rooms from small lunch to full meals to fine dining, a movie theater, a pool, a gym, a library, and other activity rooms. All very upscale. We had lunch at the snack/light-lunch room. Then, they had to go off to an appointment and I went back to the hotel and spent some time relaxing by the pool.
Plane landing -- on my walk to the Midway
Navy ship being guided to port -- on my walk to the Midway
The hotel, the Best Western, was at the fisherman's harbor end of  N. Harbor Drive. I had had dinner the previous evening at Mitch's Seafood, so I had fulfilled my seafood craving. The oysters were not great, but I did like the shrimp taco. The second evening, I headed to Rosecrans St. to see what I might find, there, to eat. Nothing attracted me, really, so I went to the supermarket, Ralph's, and got a sandwich. Friday, I had plans to see friends, one, a high school classmate who had not made it to the reunion because it was the weekend of her daughter's wedding and the other, a classmate from the technical communications course at the American University in Paris. For the morning, though, I decided to visit the Midway, the aircraft carrier right in downtown San Diego. I looked at the Google map, which said it was 5 miles away and it was on a bus route not far from the hotel to the Midway. I thought I'd see how far I could walk. I walked the entire way. I did stop to sit down for a little while, near the Coast Guard heliport, where I watched a helicoptor come in to land and the navy ships coming in to port and planes coming in and leaving the airport. When I got to the Midway and opened my phone to present my pre-paid ticket, I saw there was a text from the friend I was going to have dinner with and she had to cancel.
The Midway is well worth visiting. It's not the first time I've visited an aircraft carrier and they are all, basically, the same, but here, the docents actually served on the ship and they give wonderful talks, explaining the procedures for taking off, landing, and more. They have their personal anecdotes. I did not go up to visit the "island", the control tower. I did not feel up to taking the steep stairs. I was feeling a bit wobbly from the long walk.
After the visit, I went to the tourist office to ask about buses and discovered that seniors get a nice discount in San Diego, so I got change to have $1.10 in exact change and crossed the street to sit for a while and wait for the bus that took me back to the supermarket at Nimitz and Rosecrans, where I got some fruit and another sandwich. After walking back to the hotel, I took a well-deserved nap. The second friend and I rescheduled our meeting for the next morning, breakfast.
My Local Bag, with a French touch! With knitting in it.
I love catching up with friends. Cindy has had a very diverse career. Now, she is a craftswoman. She does all sorts of things with a die-cutter and she makes fantastic shopping bags from regular brown paper bags. Visit her Local Bag site! Buy a bag. They are sturdy, beautifully made. The only caveat is to be careful not to get them wet. I remember when she was pregnant with her third child, when I last saw her, in fact, and now he's finishing high school!
After breakfast, T. and R. picked me up to take me back for family lunch with T&B. This time, we had lunch in the main dining room. Again, it was good to catch up.
Sunday morning, I had to catch a 7:20 flight to Dallas before the last leg to Philly. The early flight time was one of the reasons I had chosen the hotel. They have a shuttle. What you don't see until you read the fine print is that the shuttle service doesn't start until 7. I needed to get to the airport much earlier than that, so I got a Lyft. It's a good thing I had read the fine print before. Not having to return the car to that far-away car-rental center was an added advantage to Lyft.
Sunday evening, I stayed near the Philadelphia airport and E. and M. came to have dinner with me in the bar of the hotel. In movies, the bar area always seems a very muted, quiet area. Not so in Philly when they have football playing on the big screen. It was horribly loud. Conversation was difficult as we almost had to shout, but once again, we were able to catch up.
The first start -- before it went haywire
All of this was almost 3 weeks ago! First one thing (jetlag), then another (the Parisian grandchildren visiting), then another (a frustrating start to a fairisle jacket) kept me from the computer. Today, it's the blog that is keeping me, voluntarily, from that frustrating jacket that I think I have to rip back and start -- again!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

AARO - Living Overseas and U.S. Elections

ONE - VOTE

If you are a U.S. citizen living overseas, you CAN and SHOULD vote. It's a little different from voting when you live in the U.S.
  • The law allows you to vote in FEDERAL elections. Of course, that includes mid-terms, because all of the House and 1/3 of the Senate seats are up for election.
  • You have to send in your ballot request EVERY YEAR. Why? Because, I think, you have to keep your election board apprised of your living abroad every year. And because you never know when there might be a special election because someone resigned or died.
  • There are two websites for overseas voters that I recommend:
TWO - Find out who your candidates are.
THREE - Connect to your candidates!

AARO is running a "Connect to your Overseas Constituents" campaign: https://www.aaro.org/election-2018-candidate-statements-for-expat-americans  We are asking three questions pertaining to U.S. citizens living overseas to all the candidates in the general election.
  • If you live in one of the states AARO is highlighting, check the responses from your state and then go to: https://www.aaro.org/advocacy/voting/729-help-connecting-to-the-candidates  to see our recommendations for contacting your candidates.
  • Even if you do not live in one of these states, you can contact your candidates, just to let them know you exist and what some of your issues are as U.S. citizens in a foreign country.
 For those who are not familiar with my involvement with AARO, I am a former board member and still active volunteer. AARO is the Association of Americans Resident Overseas. www.aaro.org

Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Internet is chronophage

In France, the term for time-consuming and time-wasting is "chronophage". Its a good word. I like it. It is useful.
If you start your day looking at what emails came in during the night and trashing most of them and then proceed to Facebook to see what notifications came in, you know what I mean. You look over the notifications -- most of mine, nowadays, are from Girls High classmates, groups of Americans living abroad (generally) and in France, or Paris (specifically), and many machine knitting groups. Then, on to the "home" icon to see what's new. By the time I'm finished, it's time to check the email, again. A whole day can go by like this!
The machine knitting groups are the most chronophage. There are so many of them! There might be a new video showing a technique I'm not familiar with, or something I do know but want to see how this other person does it. There might be a question that I can help with, but I have to read all the replies to see if what I want to say has already been said. (I hate reading a long list of replies that merely repeat what someone else has said without adding any new insight! I do sometimes fall into that trap, though.)
I've dropped a few of the Americans abroad groups. They got too depressing. They also became too virulent, with some participants insulting others for daring to disagree or not taking what they considered appropriate action. I also decided to participate less in the groups I'm still following. It's quite a relief. It doesn't mean I've become disinterested. I've just decided to detach myself from the divisiveness.
My classmates are a different story. I love seeing what they are up to. They have their own passions and I continue to be educated by them.  We have our 50th reunion coming up in October and I've got my plane and hotel reservations, and even a reservation to see a comedy show where one of them is performing. I'm excited.  I'm extending the stay for family visits to Pittsburgh and San Diego.
I'll be returning to the U.S. in December, with my son and his family. A Florida vacation at Christmas, like the days our family would go down to Key West. And that'll be it, for a long while, I think.
Today looks like it's going to be a nice day. I'm finishing up my first task - this post and I'm turning off the computer as soon as I post it. I'm going to go for a walk after lunch and find time to redo that sweater that Au. started.