Sunday, July 23, 2017

More summer nothingness

We had another heat wave that broke gently. Yesterday, we had light rain in the morning and a big storm in the early evening so the sky is clean -- not really clear; it's very cloudy. It's even chilly!
Last Monday, though we were in the midst of the heat wave. The temperature got into the mid-30°C range. I went to visit a friend who was having her chemo treatment at the Hôpital Européen Pompidou way over on the far side of Paris, near the Place Ballard in the 15th. I took the RER into Paris and connected to Line 8 on the Métro, which I took to the end. The RER train was one of the new ones, air-conditioned, and line 8 was not jam-packed, so it was bearable. The treatment ended at about 3:30, so she and the other friend who had come to visit went their way and I decided to take a bus. A trip home by bus from that hospital is 3 buses. It usually takes a little over 2 hours, but I had an e-book.... I thought that at least one of the lines I was taking had air-conditioned buses, but it turns out, they don't, or they don't any more. As I was getting on the 46 bus at the Gare du Nord, the driver and I talked about the heat and he said they were eliminating the air-conditioned buses because of the COP21 Paris agreement. I have trouble believing that. If the aim is to push people out of their cars into public transport, then public transport should be comfortable. I also mis-judged the mid-summer traffic; there should have been less. The buses should have been able to go faster than usual, not slower. It took almost 1 1/2 hours to get to the Gare du Nord on the 42; my ticket was just barely valid for the 46. Then, it was another hour to Vincennes. The 114 was over-crowded, but I was one of the first on the bus, so I did have a seat. This is no way to convince people to take public transport -- almost 3 hours point-to-point. There are shorter paths, I know. I could have gone back underground to reverse my trip. I could have taken the tram from Ballard to Porte d'Orée and gotten the 46, there. My complaint is not really about the time it took, but about the discomfort. One thing I think I should also mention, though, is that 47 years ago, I would have remarked on the stench, and now, that is a thing of the past -- people wash and use deodorant.
We went to see the Christopher Nolan version of Dunkirk (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunkirk_(2017_film) on Wednesday. It's quite well done -- once you figure out the time scale. What's happening to those from the beach is happening over several days, What's happening to those in the sky is in hours and those in the small boats a full day. Lots of noise; there's very little dialog. It's not really about the battle leading up to the evacuation (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunkirk_(1958_film, which was shown on TV on Thursday, here) , nor about what it was like on the beach, especially for the French troops (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weekend_at_Dunkirk; "Week-end à Zuydcoote" -- the original French title). This is about the evacuation. Sure the other films are also about the evacuation, but they have more background leading up to it. This has a little background, but our heroes find themselves quickly in the sea. In fact, now having seen the 1958 film, I think this one seems to take a lot of its scenes from the end of that one. It's definitely to be seen on a big screen. I noticed it is also in IMAX -- for me, that would be too much.
We've started eating the first cherry tomatoes from the garden. The big tomatoes are really big this year and haven't started turning red, yet. I hope the first ones are ripe before we go south. The red plum tree is producing this year. The plums are not quite ripe, yet. They, too, usually get ripe when we're not here. Paul picked some yesterday, hoping I'd make a pie, today. I'd better get to it, then.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Mid-July

Let's see. We had some strawberries in May and June, but any new ones are now found by the snails and ants before we get to them. The raspberries are finished for the first crop. I've cut the branches that had fruit to make room for the branches that might have something in September. I have 3 bags of frozen raspberries in the freezer. The blueberry bush we bought in May is producing some nice fruit, but not enough for a whole dessert. The other day, we split a harvest of 10 berries. The red plum tree has lots of fruit this year. If the past serves as any indication, the plums will be ripe and fall off the tree right when we're on vacation. The greengage tree, child of the wonderful tree that was here when we bought the house, which produced such succulent plums, seems to have a branch with some plums on it this year. The old tree was chopped down several years ago, after losing yet another branch. This young tree grew right on the property line. Normally, we would have had to cut it down because you're not supposed to have trees or shrubs grow over 2m. high less than 2m. from the boundary, but our neighbor likes it and his side of the tree apparently produces more plums than ours. We just had to cut back the maple trees at the back, which I had planted to be trimmed as shrubs, but which grew into trees anyway. They were up against the boundary wall and were high enough to cast long shadows on that neighbor's yard.
Bastille Day, which is simply known as Fête Nationale, here, is over. The parade was very nice, as usual. The fact that the US President was invited was normal as this year marks the 100th anniversary of the entry of France in WWI. There was a demonstration against him on the 13th, organized by Indivisibles-France and Democrats Abroad. The consensus is that the invitation was the right thing to do, no matter who the President is. And the parade was excellent, with the sun shining and mild temperatures, so it went off without a hitch. As usual, when I see the planes flying over the Champs Elysées, I go up to my room and open the windows to see them fly over us barely a minute later. They don't fly exactly over us, some veer off to the left, over the Marne, and others fly just to the right, more over Fontenay, than Nogent. Still, we have a nice view and the noise drowns out everything.
After that ceremony, Macron flew off to Nice for a much sadder event. It was the anniversary of the 2016 terrorist attack by truck during the fireworks. It was a moving commemoration. I didn't see this last part, but have read about it this morning -- the singer, songwriter Calogero wrote a song about fireworks (Feux d'Artifices) some time ago, not for this, not right after the attack; it's a song that was already on an album of his. It's about taking a kid to see the fireworks, to put him up on your shoulders, to see the "stars", the "constellations", and so on -- you know, what people do at fireworks and what it means to them. He was asked to sing the song after the minute of silence last night. He couldn't finish it. He broke down. There were no fireworks in Nice this year. They had 86 lights up in the sky for the 86 victims.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Time flies!

In May, France elected a new president and in June, a new legislature. I must admit I'm happy with both results. The député for my district is not the one I voted for, but I'm not unhappy that the one who got elected did. It was a close call and they were both good choices, in my opinion. It was the first time in a long time that I entered a voting booth not really sure whom to vote for because I rather liked them both. Usually, if I can't decide, it's because I can't stand either.
 For the first round of the legislative election, we were out of town and had given our proxies to neighbor friends. We were down in Arles. We didn't visit the city this time. We were there for a very special occasion -- a friend from the Pierwige days was hosting a féria. (in French). He invited a group of us from the Pierwige, student days, but mostly the guests were business associates, partners, customers, and family, too. There were no bullfights, but there were games, if you like, with young cows -- testing the females to see if they would be good for breeding bull fighting stock and a bit of acrobat running with cows in the little arena. In the afternoon, there was a small equestrian show. Between the arena events, there was a pre-lunch appetizer cocktail, then lunch. Plus a hayride and or horse ride. It was enough to occupy the whole day.


 It was hot, too. Coming from Paris, we were not used to the heat. Of course, since then, we've had a heatwave, even in Paris, with temperatures getting close to 40°C. (over 100°F). And we still do not have air conditioning, so it makes for difficult sleeping conditions.
During this heat wave we had a visit from A. for a short week. We went to the Musée d'Orsay on Saturday morning. I had bought the tickets on line, so we had no wait at all. We were there just after opening, so it was still mostly empty. There's no way you can do the whole museum -- we stuck to the pre-Impressionists and the Impressionists. We had lunch in the restaurant, which is the original train station restaurant in all its 1900 beauty (walls and ceilings, not furniture) and took a long bus ride home. On Sunday, we "did" Ile de la Cité -- the Sainte Chapelle, the Conciergerie, the Archaeological Crypt and then a long bus ride home along a different route. Taking the bus is also a way of doing some tourism. Unfortunately, the buses we ended up on were not air-conditioned. In the afternoons, we sat out in the shade of the hazelnut tree in our yard.
 Monday -- a pleasant drive to Giverny. We got there early, but it's always crowded. It's a good thing we had our tickets, already. Parking used to be really near the house. Now, they've stuck it a good distance down the road. I did see where the old parking lot still is and how to get to it for the next time. None of the signs lead you there. If you follow the signs, you end up where we were. Also, the on-line ticket does not tell you to go to the group entrance, which is closer to the parking lot. We walked all the way to the main entrance only to be told to walk back to the group entrance. There were lots and lots of school groups. It was crowded in both the house and the gardens. It was a very nice visit, but paced a bit faster than we would have wished. We felt pushed along by the people behind us. We ended up at the restaurant where we'd reserved much earlier than planned, but that was not a problem. After lunch, we set the car's GPS to not allow highways and took a leisurely, but long route home, with a stop at La Roche Guyon. We were very happy to spend 3 hours getting home in the air-conditioning!
After three full days of excursions, we stayed home on Tuesday. Well, we went for a little walk into Nogent and around the Nogent market, but it was early -- too early for any shops to be open on the main street. Even the market was not very busy.
Wednesday, we headed out, again, to Chantilly and visited the Château with it's extensive art collection and antique books. The collections require air-conditioning and controlled humidity, but humans do not, so the restaurant (see the movie Vatel) is not air-conditioned, but it wasn't too bad. The high ceiling and being on the shady side of the building helped. After lunch, we hiked over to the stables, visited the horse museum and took in the little equestrian show before heading home.



Saturday, May 13, 2017

How we feel about our adopted country

This post is the fruit of discussions in the Americans in France group on Facebook and lunch with Victoria. Victoria has an excellent blog, The Franco-American Flophouse. We met and became good friends about 5 years ago. She's shuttling back and forth between France and Japan and has gone back to university for a degree in international migration. It's a subject we always talked about from the first time we met.
Now, back to that Facebook group. It's made up of mostly Americans, as its name indicates. It seems to me that most of the participants are fairly recent arrivals. The questions are about obtaining and renewing visas, getting student status, finding some kind of work. There is also a core of very long-term residents who are always answering questions. I'm one of those.
Discussions often turn to food and other comfort items one misses from home or where to find this or that. The other day, I put up the link to the Costco website because the first store in France is due to open in June. It was just information. It turned out to be a can of worms. Most people seemed to like that I posted it, but among the ones who chose to comment, there was a lot of negativity. They see the arrival of Costco as importation of the worst of American consumerism, American products and so on. We have to be French, buy French, shop in an idealized, French movie set.
I don't want to discuss Costco, other than to say I'm fine with seeing it arrive in France. What bothered me in the comments was the attitude of some of my fellow immigrants. They were taking such a superior stance. More French than the French. Got to save French from rampant, evil Americanism. My examples relate to Americans, but you see the same thing among the British, and quite frankly, among other immigrant groups.
This is what Victoria and I spoke about over lunch. She thinks it might be a class thing and she can explain it better. There are the wealthier expats, who are abroad on a company contract and who will return home. In many cases, the trailing spouse can't get a work visa and seeks the company of fellow trailing spouses. Their children get to go to the expensive international schools. Then, there are those who came on their own, married a local, and need to integrate into the local culture. They don't have the money to live the movie-depicted elegant life of an expat. They even consider the term expat derogatory. Yet, if they come from an OECD country, they might not want to call themselves immigrants, either. That's a whole other discussion.
My question is "What's with the attitude?"
I first came to France 47 years ago. I've lived here, permanently, since January 1972. I'm French. I feel perfectly well integrated until someone points out that I still have a pretty little accent. France has changed dramatically since I arrived. More women work. Little shops -- the butcher, the charcutier-traiteur, the cheese shop, the fish monger -- have disappeared. There is still the market, with those stalls, but fewer stalls. I like to knit and sew, but fabric stores have all but disappeared and so have notions. Yes, I get nostalgic for the time I could walk into Nogent and find whatever I was looking for, and now I might have to schlep into Paris or troll the Internet. I take these changes as societal changes that would have happened anyway. Look at the changes in society from 1900 to 1947, the same time period -- or any other 47 year span. Another friend who writes about us with great humor is Harriet Welty Rochefort.
The fact that there are so many "hypermarkets" in France is a purely French phenomenon, not imported from anywhere else, and they have drained the life out of many town centers. Costco will not change that; it's happened, already. In fact, it's the hypermarkets that fought to prevent Costco from entering the French market, not the smaller shops. The fact that hypermarkets usually form a ring around the towns is based on the laws that were passed to protect the town centers from the big stores. Instead, they've killed the towns. They didn't need the influence of Walmart for size or for discount stores. The result is, in my opinion, a disaster for many cities and towns all over France. In France, the discount store phenomenon comes from Germany. The same thing has happened in England. There's no turning back the clock, though. Feeling sorry that the Singer store is gone is not going to prevent me from going to Lidl to pick up the sewing machine on special sale. The fact that we have a grocery store on the corner that sells almost everything we want doesn't stop us from going to Auchan to stock up. This is something that the French do. It's something people do. We go for less expensive options.
Now, what about the attitude of turning up your nose when people mention their cravings for things from "home"? Or for the familiarity of a brand or the name of a store? I like to think of these cravings as the impetus for diversity, from all sectors. We go to the 13th arrondissement in Paris to buy Oriental specialties because of the influence of the Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Chinese population, there. There are supermarkets dedicated to those products. Anyone complaining about the imperialism? We can even find small bottles of soy sauce locally! Yes, we can now find Oreo cookies (made in Spain) in France, now. But in the US, Americans now have Lu! Is it because of the cravings of the Americans in France that McDonald's is so successful? I don't think so. If the French didn't want to go to McDonald's, they'd shut down. (I'm not a fan of McDo, so if they counted on some sort of American faithfulness to anything sounding American, they'd shut down.) When newcomers arrive, they might love what they find, here, and still miss things from home. As time goes on, either they find substitutes, discover that whatever they were craving is now available, here. As we get older, our tastes change, too, so we just don't crave for what we did when we were twenty. I no longer have a list of things to bring back from the US.
I hate getting the question on whether I cook American or French food. I cook food. I do not make a point by not making a good hamburger if in the mood. I do not go out of my way to make boeuf bourguignon, either. I welcome the newcomers with their questions and concerns. I'm friends with the long-term immigrants.