Paris/COVID: June 2021, moving on…

The Little Prince, close up of a 50F bill, 1997, before the Euro

Some things take longer to write than others… Even if there’s a direction and a desire, ripening has to take place in heart and mind before anything comes to life. For a song, it can start with a title or a few notes of melody and a vague lyric, then emotions, memories and wishes click into shape in their own time. When the pattern satisfies a hunger and seems to have always existed, you know it’s done. Blogposts feel like mending holes in a story. Picking up the threads where I left off and tying them to the fabric of where I want to go.

For the past months, I’ve been in creative slomo, unable to imagine a future without my mother. I fell into a well of pain and couldn’t get out. There was no logic to it, because my loved ones were very present. Gradually feelings became ideas. there was a turning point when I identified my pain as loneliness and remembered my mother saying how lonely she was in assisted living, especially during the pandemic. By herself day after day, she was fading away, having a harder and harder time connecting even when she finally moved to a new place with more company, more and more lonely.

For my own comfort, I kept hoping she’d find new joy and meaning and stay with us a while longer, but it was too late. I was holding on to her but she was unhappy and needed to go. I think I’m accepting more and more that it’s better for her to go than be so unhappy. Grief has been a way to keep her with me. Now I want to find other ways to feel her presence, be more present myself and look ahead.

I’ve been using a gift she gave me: her recording of The Little Prince by Antoine de Sait Exupéry. She taped it on a cassette 20 years ago and I’ve converted it to MP3. (If you still have your parents, I highly recommend asking them to record a beautiful story for you.) I feel so fortunate to have it. It’s perfect for me right now. Not every day, but when I miss her, I can put it on when I’m doing something else. It’s about 90 minutes long and her voice is so soothing, like having her in the same room with me, surrounding me with a warm hug…

The Little Prince is the most translated book in the world after the Bible, yet it seems relatively unknown among my US family and friends. They may have heard the title but not read it. I can understand why. It’s very very French, a hologram of French culture, maybe a bit too exotic for anyone but a true francophile. It’s also a time capsule from the last century, a slower time. If it were published today, half of it would probably get hacked away by an editor to define the mandatory dramatic arc of Act 1, Act II, Act III. Saint Exupéry followed his imagination as if improvising a bedtime story over many nights. The result is a wistful, naive philosophical fable with very little action.

If you’ve never read it, it’s about a French pilot, like Saint Exupéry himself, who makes an emergency landing in the desert and encounters a magical child from another world. They talk about wonder and love, finding beauty and meaning, what lasts and what is ephemeral, all the essential things that cannot be seen, that we forget when we become adults. Other characters include a rose, a sheep, a fox, a snake, a businessman, a railroad switchman, an astronomer, miniature volcanoes and baobabs.

It’s playful and funny, but also sad: about life and death, loneliness, saying goodbye, letting go, and being thankful for what is lost.

The story spirals dreamily through these themes, almost hypnotic, and all the more fascinating because Saint Exupéry seems to have foretold his own destiny: 5 years after writing it, his plane vanished in mysterious circumstances.

*****

Here’s a quick passage from the next-to-last chapter:

“The thing that is important is the thing that is not seen.” 

“Yes, I know.”

“It is just as it is with the flower. If you love a flower that lives on a star, it is sweet to look at the sky at night. All the stars are abloom with flowers.” 

Yes, I know.”

“It is just as it is with the water… what you gave me to drink was like music. You remember how good it was.”

“Yes, I know.”

“And at night you will look up at the stars. Where I live everything is so small that I cannot show you where my star is to be found. My star will be one of the stars for you. And so, you will love to watch all the stars in the heavens. They will all be your friends. And besides I am going to make you a present.” He laughed again. 

“Ah little prince, dear little prince, I love to hear that laughter.”

“That is my present, just that. It will be as it was when we drank the water.”

“What are you trying to say?”

“All men have stars,” he answered. “But they are not the same things for different people. For some who are travelers the stars are guides. For others they are no more than little lights in the sky. For others who are scholars they are problems. For my businessman they are wealth. But all these stars are silent. You, you alone will have the stars as no one else has them.”

“What are you trying to say?”

“In one of the stars I shall be living, in one of them I shall be laughing. And so, it will be as if all the stars are laughing and when you look at the sky at night, you, only you, will have stars that can laugh.” And he laughed again. “And when your sorrow is comforted, time soothes all sorrows, you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend. You will want to laugh with me and you will sometimes open your window so, for that pleasure, and your friends will be properly astonished to see you laughing as you look up at the sky. Then you will say to them yes, the stars always make me laugh. And they will think you are crazy. It will be a very shabby trick that I shall have played on you.” And he laughed again. “It will be as if in place of the stars I had given you a great number of little bells, that knew how to laugh.” And he laughed again…

*****

Saint Exupéry seems to speak to an innocent, vulnerable, wise part of himself as a parent would to a beloved child.

I’m listening to my mother’s voice and learning to parent myself…

xxxxx

Aliss

Paris/COVID: Spring 2021 Moments

Cardinal, (unfinished) by Ruth Pearson

Found an email from my mother to my husband when his mother passed away:

To: Lewis
Subject: Our sympathy

Dear Lewis,

It is very hard to lose a parent no matter what the circumstances, it is a milestone in your life. I know your mother loved you very much and no doubt contributed greatly to the terrific lovable person you are. In time you will only remember the good things in your life with her, the hard times of age and illness fade. We are so sorry… I am sure this is a very difficult time for you. Remember that you are loved not only by Aliss but by us and many others. We both love you very much and are grateful that you are in our lives and know the special person you are and the wonderful husband and father you are and have been. We send our love and care and prayers for you and your mother. I wish we could be there to help in some way. Much love, Ruth

You can see why she is missed.

At the end of April, we had an online memorial for her with close family and friends. My sister and I, our partners and kids put together a slide show, the arc of her life in pictures, from her grand parents to her great grand children.

A total recall of her life in words would take 97 and a half years, so I decided to give just a few minutes of background:

On my Mom’s side of the family, the ancestors are Lutheran Yankees, proper city folk descending from early American settlers and Pennsylvania Dutch farmers. One of them, John F. Reynolds, a Union Major General from Lancaster, PA, gives his life heroically at the battle of Gettysburg. There are still statues of him there. One of Mom’s grandmothers, Blanche Johnson, is a beautiful “Gibson Girl” whose first job is compositor at the Bellefonte, PA Gazette where her childhood sweetheart, Walter Crosthwaite is a printer. As happy newlyweds, they cruise to Cuba and the Caribbean and settle in Brooklyn, NY. 

Tragically, Blanche dies from an infection just after giving birth to Mom’s mother, Roxie. Family lore has it that the attending physician didn’t wash hands between patient examinations. Walter takes the train from NY to Pennsylvania, carrying baby Roxie on a pillow, Blanche’s casket in another car. Roxie’s baptized at her mother’s funeral and then fostered by her childless aunt Emma. Emma’s husband is a photographer and takes many portraits of them. Roxie is their pride and joy until Emma unexpectedly has a daughter of her own. Roxie’s father Walter dies when she’s 12. 

Growing up an orphan stepchild, Roxie turns out spunky. During WWI, she’s one of the first women ever to join the Navy, as a reserve Yeomanette. On duty in Philadelphia, she meets Don, the son of Lewis Gettig, who owns a lucrative meat packing business in Bellefonte. (His wife’s name is Alice!) Good-looking and spoiled, Don had been expelled from the local private Academy for running the principal’s long-johns up the flagpole, among other exploits. They fall in love, marry, and perhaps too soon, become parents of Alice Jane, then Richard. After the stock market crash of 1929, the Depression hits, the family business fails and Don goes to work as a guard in a mine, renting a farm out in the country with his wages. My city girl grandmother Roxie learns to grow all their food, buying only flour and sugar, making clothes for her 5 kids out of flour sacks and donated bolts of green gingham, proud they never have to go on “Relief.” There are laundry days, baking days, cleaning days and mending days. Her premonitory dreams and visions often startle the family, like the time during WWII when she awakes in the middle of the night calling her son Richard’s name. They later find out Dick’s army unit was on a train stopped on a railroad siding nearby, secretly en route from the European Theater of Operations to the Pacific.  Sometime along in here, my grandparents buy a house in the town of Pancake, near Washington, PA, and open an electrical appliance shop, attending Masonic Lodge and Eastern Star functions. Every spring their daughters wear long white dresses to wind ribbons around the May Pole at Trinity High School. My mom jitterbugs expertly to Big Band tunes and knows every Ella Fitzgerald song by heart. My grandmother sews her stylish dresses for every dance. After Pearl Harbor, they design a red and white carnation “lei” that’s copied by all the other girls. Mom’s dad enrolls her in college, but she gets homesick and doesn’t want to stay.  Instead, she dances with a brilliant future doctor at his college, marries him in her late teens, and leaves home.

Zoom in to the D.C suburbs, mid-twentieth century. My future mom and dad are working on different floors of a ziggurat called the Bethesda Naval Hospital, now the Walter Reed Medical Center. Mom is separating from Dr. Andy and has a little girl, my future sister Lynn. Working for the Red Cross, in a big office, Mom transcribes mental patient case histories from a psychiatrist’s dictaphone, and cracks everyone up with the bizarre and gory parts she reads aloud. Dad is training as a medic, bound for Korea. In their portraits, they look like Hollywood movie stars. One day at the hospital swimming pool, their eyes meet. Later she tells me, “He was the handsomest guy I ever saw.” They fall in love, find themselves with an unplanned baby on the way, arrange a quick wedding and spend a few very happy months before my dad ships out. He leaves as a sweet, soft spoken guy. When he comes back the next year, Mom said, “He was a completely different person.”

During Dad’s hospital treatments for PTSD, Mom keeps the family together. As a military wife, she had tried a lot of different things, from driving a taxi to selling real estate. When I’m a toddler, she gets hired as cashier and bookkeeper at a car dealership called Suburban Cadillac. 

At the wheel of her convertible Chevy Impala, Mom drops me off and picks me up at my school in Bethesda on her way to and from work at the Cadillac dealership. I love our car commutes, often with the top down. In her beautiful alto voice, she sings along with the radio Hit Parade, harmonizing with Perry Como, Patti Paige and Frank Sinatra. She’s a knock out in bright print dresses, high heels, cats-eye sunglasses, and red lipstick, her shiny honey-colored hair up in a chignon or bouncy ponytail.

When Mom and her friends stand side by side, they tower over me like technicolor goddesses.  You wouldn’t think so now, but in the macho world of the 50’s, women have a powerful presence, literally occupying more vital space than men with their bright calf-length full skirts, belted waists, pointy bosoms, red lips, costume jewelry, and big hairdo’s.

She meets Jimmie, the love of her life, at Suburban Cadillac, where he’s a mechanic in the repair shop. He seems like a giant. He had left high school to join the Navy and trained as a submariner at the very end of WWII. After the service he worked in a garage for a while and later got promoted to service advisor at a car dealership. Mom’s brother Don, an executive at a Gas company in Pennsylvania, gets him an interview at JC Penny, where he rises to tri-state energy manager. Jimmie can build and fix anything. He tells jokes. He’s generous with his hard-earned cash and the first man who ever takes us out to nice restaurants. He’s into cool vehicles so we have a black Triumph convertible and a white Plymouth Barracuda parked in our driveway, lined up with an outboard motor boat for summer weekends on the Chesapeake. I’m really blown away when he takes Mom to a jazz club downtown to see Charlie Byrd, whoever that is.  Another time he takes her for dinner at the trendy Trader Vic’s Kon Tiki-themed dining room in the DC Hilton and I brag about it to the kids at school.

Mom is super smart. She audited classes with her first husband, Andy, during his medical studies and eventually finds her niche as a medical secretary and physician’s assistant.

My parents work 40+ hour weeks with overtime, taking care of kids, nieces, nephews, school friends, grandparents, animals, a house and a vegetable garden. When I start going on Peace marches in the early 70’s, I bug Mom for not doing anything to change the world. She takes a deep breath and says she thinks the best thing she can do is to show kindness to the women who come into the obstetrician’s office or call asking for advice about their health problems, test results, bills and appointments, by listening to them, making sure their kids are okay in the waiting room, explaining complicated medical terminology, and comforting them when they get a bad diagnosis or lose a pregnancy. That shuts me up. As time goes on, I respect and love her more and more for this and it inspires me.

She had many talents, but never thought of herself as an artist, a writer or a singer, a decorator, a seamstress or a chef. All that energy and presence was channeled into family and friendships…

She taught us about: holidays, flowers, animals, color, sewing, juggling work with family and friendships, keeping house, cooking, resilience, rebuilding a life after tragedy, outliving illness, travel, snorkeling, playing the slots, singing, health and medicine, absurd humor and cut-throat scrabble. Who would we be if we hadn’t had this person in our lives? She made us feel loved.

She was really a good sport about assisted living. She regained her sense of style, wore lipstick, had her hair done whenever she could, enjoyed outings and family get togethers, but it was hard. Thank you everyone who visited her over the past 7 years. Thank you everyone who called, sent cards and flowers. You all made that easier for her and for Lynn and Ned, who took care for her.

One of the poems read by our officiant, Rev. Thérèse Bimka:

Untitled

Death ends a life, not a relationship.

Lost love is still love.

It takes a different form, that’s all. 

You can’t see their smile or bring them food or tousle their hair or move them around a dance floor.

But when those senses weaken, another heightens.

Memory. Memory becomes your partner.

You nurture it. You hold it. You dance with it.

— Mitchell Albom

To be continued…

Paris/COVID: March 2021 Tears

Her High School graduation picture

This month my family became one of millions to lose a loved one during the pandemic. Ruth, our beautiful mother, grandmother, aunt, and friend left us on March 12, 2021. She survived COVID and lived to be vaccinated but nine months of isolation had already taken a toll and certainly accelerated her decline.

We have much to be grateful for! Her long life and resilience, a festive lunch at home on Saturday March 6th, surrounded by loving family for her first meeting with her newest great grand child…countless holidays and birthday celebrations, laughter, pictures, mementos, art. Since December 4th she was in a more intimate living arrangement 5 minutes from my sister, who visited every other day, took her out shopping and meals. They celebrated Christmas together.

During the nine-month lockdown, I worried and called her every day. Sometimes she said she felt like a prisoner, but more often she said how grateful she was to be alive and in a comfortable environment. Sometimes our talks were long, sometimes just a few minutes. Her short term memory was impaired but her listening skills and empathy were phenomenal. I kept her updated on my good moments and challenges. She asked lots of questions, still full of good advice about health issues and relationships. She was my constant source of encouragement and perspective. All that time I thought I was supporting her. Now I see that she was supporting me.

I’m thankful I was able to spend 4 weeks in the US over the summer and visit her 7 times. We touched finger tips through a wire screen and said “I love you” over and over.

https://www.simpsonhammerl.com/obituaries/Ruth-Pearson?obId=20396324#/obituaryInfo

Ruth with Tulsi, one of many rescue kittens

I almost got through the day today with no tears.

Ethel Ruth Getting Pearson

Adieu

Paris/COVID: Feb. 2021 Vaccine Dreams

How high the moon?

Writing this from an escapade to a tiny village in the Burgundy wine country for my husband’s birthday, the virus seems as far away as the moon. Enjoying while we can. In a few days we’ll be back in Paris where the number of cases has exploded again and we’ll be contemplating a third confinement of uncertain length and severity. Meanwhile the vaccination campaign seems to be a rumor or a myth. No one I know except for an elderly relative and first line health workers has had a vaccine. Even my very media savvy friends say they haven’t found any viable explanations for this anywhere in the French press.

And it’s not just in France. A post from my friend Guida de Palma in Portugal:

“The UK vaccination plan is well-organised and running at a military rate. Over thirteen million already inoculated. Portugal has had the worst of infections, not getting the amount of vaccines needed at all. Info is diverse and incongruous: One says 70.000, the other 32.000, the truck breaks down and vaccines jump into the arms of bakers and social security employees…Anyway, opacity and wind reign. Yes, here months ago I promptly received a text saying they would contact my parents, 90 and 80 years old, but no one has contacted them yet…Who is negotiating buying vaccines for Portugal? Get them out now…The official news announced proudly, with pomp is: Portugal will receive x doses through April and by the end of Summer 70 % of adults will be inoculated… maybe if I dream deeply, convince myself … Hey what happened?”

The US and UK are moving fast but we can’t accuse them of speculation or hoarding as they seem to be using vaccines funded and produced on their own turf? Did a European manufacturing facility in Belgium shutdown for repairs? Is it ineptitude due to EU oversight instead of country by country management? The NYT ran an article about private contractors being hired in France to facilitate logistics, now under criticism:

It’s all the more puzzling because in so many other ways France has great healthcare. COVID testing is fast, free, and available.

In this context, I stopped by my local pharmacy a Monday morning two weeks ago to pick up a supplement and asked the owner if she had any information. “Call your doctor right away, ” she said, “We just got word that doctors can register to pick up 10 doses for their clientele, to use at their discretion. You might be able to get one if your doctor agrees. The deadline for registration is Wednesday at midnight.”

So of course I phoned my GP and he said, “Yes, that’s correct, I’ll call you back.” Not only would this be reassuring in the context of living with a teenager during a pandemic, but it might mean we could plan a flight to see US family sooner than expected, since many there have already had the vaccine. I told my husband and contacted several friends who aren’t anti-vaxers. Their pharmacists and doctors hotly denied the info and said they could only vaccinate patients in a certain age group and only if they had underlying conditions, called “comorbidity” in Franglais. From my friend Sylvia: “Your doctor must be a fan, I haven’t known mine very long. Maybe having a teen qualifies as an underlying condition?” she joked. Other people sent irate texts and links to articles as proof.

https://www.thelocal.fr/20210123/how-a-slow-vaccine-rollout-is-causing-frustration-in-french-covid-hotspot

Hmmm. How interesting that both my pharmacist and my GP had said the same thing with no mention of comorbidity. Is it a rule in France or life in general that everything depends on whom you know and how you approach them?

A week later there was a voicemail from my GP saying he hadn’t been able to find 10 people among his clientele who wanted the vaccine. So we’d have to wait and he’d keep us posted. Consolation prize: this avoids ethical issues for both of us. If he’d vaccinated us would that have taken a dose away from sonemeon who needed it more? I’m hearing tales of doctors having to throw away “extra” uninventoried doses in distribution vials on pain of sanction.

This time the brand was AstraZeneca. Honestly, I’m ready to take the Russian version if we can get it here. Rumor has it the general public may be vaccinated in May?

Then there are the articles from French health websites about the 500,000 sharks that will be killed for an oil in their liver that goes into the vaccine recipe… WTF?

Pandemic fatigued,

Aliss

Paris/COVID: January Dark, Light and Defrag

A quiet but cozy Christmas, a euphoric New Year, then January. This candle sums it up for me. Visceral need for a flame braving the night, like novenas and menorahs. Magnetized early am to late pm. Visual of soul, faith, focus, wholeness, hope.

Since January 16th, 6pm curfew. Rushing to reshuffle schedules and habits once again.

Virus variants coming in from the UK and South Africa. No idea when we’ll be vaccinated.

Cloth masks no longer adequate say French scientists, WHO disagrees. CDC says double masks.

New lockdown may be coming, to be announced today or tomorrow. What will the restrictions be this time?

My mom has been in and out of the hospital.

Violence at the US Capitol a few days after New Year’s. Stunned by the extent of rage and bitterness in the US. An impending mental health crisis? I think it’s already here and has been for a while. Echoes of the French Yellow Vests, some of whom vocally plotted to storm the presidential palace in 2018 and do away with Macron. Somewhat muted now due to confinement and curfew. Seems worse in the US because abetted by government officials high and low.

With family on all over the map, I try to see the big picture, compare the narratives, separate real from fake, and understand where it’s all coming from. Banned videos sent by relatives vie for my attention with NYT articles. Everyone has a non-negotiable point of view on something: Abortion, Immigration, LGBTQ issues, The Holocaust, Indigenous rights, Slavery, Human Trafficking, Antifa, Police Brutality, BLM, QAnon, Corruption, Sedition, Guns, Hacking, Foreign Interference, Global Warming, Hoaxes, Vaccines…

How to reconcile the irreconcilable?

Suddenly it smacks me in the face. This is the story of my life. Unbelievably, 100ish years after the Civil War, it was still being fought, through my parents, one from Industrial North one from Deep South, and through me, born on the divide, with an actual blood incompatibility, as if the Mason Dixon line ran though my cells. Defragmentation isn’t just for computers and hard drives. I struggle to defrag every day, mentally, psychologically and emotionally.

So, on January 6th, I chose the original cast film of Hamilton, Act I over the headlines. A bit late to the party of course, but cathartic timing for me. I surrendered to the spectacle of the main character’s survival, ambition, genius, human failings, and tragedy, lifted at last above fatalism by his wife’s generous heart. I was mesmerised by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s wit, melody, rhythm, humor, and scholarship, how the Hamilton story personifies the conception of our country and its misconception due to racial inequities in the lives of our Founding Fathers and their striking sidelining of Founding Mothers. Hip Hop culture meeting American History meeting Broadway, mostly White historical figures played by mostly POC… Hamilton reconciles the seemingly irreconcilable.

The next week, amid photos of DC as a fortified ghost town, I watched it again and continued with Act II. Ordered the CD. Kept the Christmas tree up until the last minute, filled in blanks with Christmas music until January 20th, Inauguration Day. Harris and Biden taking oaths, Gaga belting the anthem, J-Lo doing justice to “This Land is Your Land,” shining Amanda Gorman referencing Hamilton in “The Hill We Climb,” concert, everyday heroes, grace and poise under pressure, flags and fireworks. No one was killed.

Now a second impeachment and an American version of what the French call dialogue de sourds, “deaf dialogue,” people who don’t, can’t, or won’t hear what others are saying.

But also, a beautiful healthy new baby in my family, bright snow, even if just for a few hours a couple of days a week apart, and an only-in-France moment of comic relief: the French Congress voted a bill to preserve the sensory heritage of rural areas. This is a response to a case that opposed country-home-buying-city-folk to a rooster named Maurice that woke them every morning at dawn with its cocorico crowing. Of course this was boiled down in the US press as:

“France passes a law protecting smells”

https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/france-rural-noise-law-scli-intl/index.html

“Roosters bells and cicadas” are now guaranteed freedom of expression amidst potent country perfumes.

Vive poetry, music, friends, cooking, working out, walking, creative projects, the fruits of our labors and defragmentation…

xxxxx Aliss

New Year’s Video Postcards

(Editing champagne typos!) In case you missed it… my new favorite sport is hunting for amateur Christmas lights in Paris. The city and local busiesses illuminate facades and streets for the holidays, but individuals never used to decorate their balconies and terraces. Now it’s catching on, every year there are more displays. Having fun with iMovie and YouTube…

Christmas on my street (figuring out subtitles…)

Happy Holidays at Marché Secretan

Happy New Year from Paris 19 (why don’t subtitles show up when you watch on your phone?) :

Enjoy, comment, send questions…

Happy 2021!

To be continued…

Paris/COVID: Hark the Herald

Mother of pearl angel with harp on our tree

This time of year my solar plexus is usually bubbling with excitement like a toddler waiting for Santa. Instead there’s an unfestive ache. Decorating our place felt like performing a musical in an empty theater. This is the first year I won’t be getting together with anyone from my birth family, in a long long time.

Homesick, searching for holiday spirit:

Can’t go where I’d usually go, no museums, cafés, restaurants or concerts. Bright side: retracing steps from previous winters, got some cool surprises. Walking across the Marais with take-out cappuccino from Carette Place des Vosges, I saw dark storefronts, but a renovated Musée Carnavalet will reopen in the Spring with restored gardens and a chronological path across Paris history as seen through art. People queueing for falafel and pastries rue des Rosiers reminded me it’s Hanukkah week with its miracles of light. A secret passageway I never saw before, opened through three courtyards between the Place des émeutes de Stonewall (didn’t know this existed)

Was this here before?

and the cheerful, spacious BHV department store with six floors of abundance and enough shoppers to feel lively but not crowded. Cosier than the Forum des Halles, just as upbeat as Galeries Lafayette Haussman and Bon Marché, but less pretentious and pure heaven after sedentary internet browsing. No identity ordeal to set up your millionth online account with your millionth password. Added incentive: picking out gifts and ornaments in person has a new dimension this year, potentially saving the French economy.

Outside the main entrance, in front of the Hôtel de Ville on the Seine, no skating rink for 2020, but two free merry-go-rounds and a series of wooden cabins with big display windows full of nature scenes for the little ones, skies are mostly gray, but lots of lights and carols playing.

Looking across the river towards Notre Dame

It took ages to get home. No more spontaneous zigzagging across the city! Getting around is a slog unless you’re on foot. (City biking is not my thing) Option one: crawl through traffic by bus or taxi on technocrat-reorganized street grids blocked by ubiquitous construction. Option two: brave the metro, risky and time-consuming because I hop off and wait for the next one when it’s too crowded to social distance.

Bright side: I love my neighborhood more than ever with it’s sparkling garlands overhead, variety of merchandise, florists, book shops, food vendors… Most items on my 2020 gift list come from local small businesses.

Other changes:

No big French family dinner with 20 relatives around the table at midnight on the 24th, sniff. Bright side: won’t get home at 3am and be bleary for our US-style Christmas morning the next day.

No long-distance travel this year, sniff. Bright side: no packing, no jet lag.

No family visitors, sniff. Bright side: don’t have to clean guest room and guest bath twice, before and after. (Would jump at the chance, if only.)

Other blessings:

Thankful I didn’t Marie-Kondo my home before COVID so have stuff to sort through, rediscover and repurpose, like the mason jar of “pumpkin butter” found in my pantry, a ghost from holidays past. Contrary to its name, it doesn’t contain butter, just pumpkin, sweeteners and spices. With some eggs and evaporated milk, this transformed into a gorgeous pie for decadent cold snacks right out of the fridge that take me back to feasting on leftovers as a kid.

Work is slow, time on my hands, can volunteer more: mentoring opportunities in scouting community, Sandwich Ministry food distribution for the needy at the American Cathedral.

Private, low key holidays might also leave thought space to prioritize neglected projects on my I-hope-someday list?

Maybe I’ll do something really radical, like cooking up edible presents for friends?

Most of all, processing two major events:

-My mom has moved from a large assisted living facility on a busy city street, luxurious but sometimes impersonal, to a small family-run elder care home in the countryside near my US relatives. After being isolated for nine long months, she’s in intimate surroundings with dogs, cats, greenery and warm human contact. Hats off to my heroic sister and brother-in-law and to my mom for her endurance. A weight has lifted from heart.

-Our teenage son just completed a four-week full-time internship among adults in a professional kitchen as part of his lycée culinary program. Coincidentally this was also in a retirement home (where food preparation doesn’t shut down even during a pandemic). He didn’t catch COVID and neither did we, his chef was very pleased with his skills and wants to help him make contacts for after-COVID. Good omen. Hats off to him for making it through and to us for getting him there every morning in spotless chef’s jacket and apron (a story in itself).

Nearing the winter solstice and 2021, reasons to celebrate: we’re well and vaccines are on the way. Sit back, relive happy memories and imagine a future together again.

Let there be music! Let there be color! Rejoice and stay safe!

xxxxxx Aliss

Paris/COVID: Thanks(giving) anyway?

My favorite co-working café a while back, will it survive?

A reminder I’m not my usual self: Christmas lights going up on our street courtesy of local merchants’ association, after all they’ve been through, made me cry, with gratitude.

Resetting holiday attitudes and expectations… I’m usually a grinch about the Beaujolais Nouveau event, third Thursday of November. It always seemed a fake marketing ploy dreamed up by the vintners’ lobby in 1985 to rake in cash with too-young, too-acidic beverages calling themselves wine. However…this year, I was treated to a memorable bottle with a weird name: Beaujo Beau from Domaine Anthony Charvet, AOC Chiroubles. https://www.vins-anthony-charvet.fr/vins-et-tarifs

Recommended by our favorite local restaurant owner Bertrand Disset:

https://www.instagram.com/labicyclettebistroparis/

Do check out La Bicyclette, his bistrot: real chef (Slavica Marmakovic), fresh ingredients, gorgeous creativity, charcuterie from l’Aveyron, natural wines, low prices, great press, offering take out during confinement, our family’s hooked.

Tasting this wine sparked my curiosity and I learned that Beaujolais Nouveau wasn’t invented in 1985, but is one of the surviving French wine festivals all over France, vestiges of traditional fêtes des vendanges, grape harvest festivals that used to be a thing. When I was a student here, all the French kids used to take off in the Fall to work in the vineyards and enjoy camaraderie and banquets prepared by the vintners’ families.

Live and learn! Vive le Beaujolais Nouveau! We need all the holidays we can get these days. This one is connected to a real terroir.

The other event I’ve always hated is Black Friday. How could anyone sully our miraculously non-commercial Thanksgiving with such a display of crass greed the next day? OK, I know Thanksgiving is an idealized version of Early American cooperation between indigenous people and colonists. When my kids were little I researched it so I could present it to them in good conscience. It seems that there was a historically-documented meal where “pilgrims” and native people celebrated abundant local produce and European survival in the New World (what happened next is less a reason to celebrate). Question: could our US Thanksgiving mythology be a template for future inclusivity and stewardship?

Meanwhile French businesses adopted Black Friday to my chagrin. But COVID has changed the context and when I see how small businesses are struggling, I have to welcome Black Friday for their sake. Reset.

And there are other things to celebrate this year.

No matter how you voted, a respite if not an end to election hangover.

If you’re reading this, congratulations for being alive.

If you’re a parent of teens in France: remote working means more adults are at home paying attention to the comings and goings of their teenagers, who have to communicate more about their outings: where, when, why, how long… to fill out the required dérogation. It’s become much easier to form alliances and keep them safe.

This helps us to find a balance between restrictions and permissiveness, keeping in mind current mental health challenges for young people: increased rates of depression, suicide and anorexia:

https://pro.orange.fr/actualites/covid-19-la-sante-mentale-d-adolescents-se-degrade-selon-une-pedopsychiatre-CNT000001v45pY.html

And… Thanksgiving is starting to appeal to a French audience! Monoprix features a special shopping section on their website:

https://courses.monoprix.fr/content/thanksgiving

….with a recipe for Pecan Pie that lists maple syrup instead of corn syrup (Gasp! my South Georgia ancestors are rolling in their graves!)

But upon closer investigation… maple syrup has 200 fewer calories per cup than corn syrup and contains actual nutrients contrary to its ultra-refined alternative! So perhaps a new era will dawn in that area as well?

Welcome news! Last night President Macron announced lighter confinement rules for the holidays, starting on Saturday November 28th when non-essential stores are allowed to reopen.

A final word: over the years I’ve figured out that I’m a pilgrim in France, grateful for all the support I’ve received from “the natives.” We expats watch Emily in Paris on Netflix and laugh at the cultural caricatures we recognize from our attempts to adapt to our French hosts, but in truth we all love France, we’re grateful to here.

Happy Thanksgiving from a pilgrim,

Aliss

Paris/COVID: Purple Haze

November in our courtyard

A big priority for November was to not let the US presidential election steal my life. I voted in September, participated in a get-out-the-vote Zoom organized by Chicago friends and supported my candidates as much as possible on social media. Liberal leaning news sources were trumpeting a blue landslide, which I did not trust after last time. So, the afternoon of November 3rd, I started a 24 -hour media fast, determined to maintain some semblance of emotional stability no matter what. I did not want to relive the morning of November 2016 when I woke up to election results that had seemed impossible only hours before.

I highly recommend doing a screen Sabbath and seeing who we are without all the electronic input from around the world. Sitting with my coffee, uncharacteristically internet-free the morning of November 4th, I attempted to breathe and pick up a vibe coming from the US. All I could feel was a sort of neutrality. Hmm. When I finally turned on my phone and computer early afternoon on November 4th, it was eerie, no emails, no texts. Were all my connections too devastated to communicate or asleep after a night of watching the coverage? To my amazement, my candidates still had a chance and staunchly red states were showing amazing new trends. From then on I was glued to my screen like millions of other people, hooked on the suspense, especially because all my ancestors come from two of the states that tipped the balance, namely Pennsylvania and Georgia.

Part of the drama of the past 10 days has been observing reactions from my relatives in these two states. One of my cousins in PA wrote that seeing the election tally was like watching 9-11 all over again. I can relate, because that’s how I felt 4 years ago when my world view collapsed like the Twin Towers. The same person and another cousin in Georgia made dire predictions and posted videos of GOP supporters using violent language to describe the coming fight for the current president, as a civil war. I could not relate. Meanwhile my Dem friends continue to mock the losers in the most condescending and derogatory terms imaginable. I can understand intellectually but I don’t think this is going to help us progress.

Is there a way to stay informed without hate- and fear-mongering? Is there a way to keep the lines of communication open in all directions, by reacting positively to posts that affirm our common humanity and not reacting to the others?

There are voices of reason. My main news source right now is a Dem lawyer in south GA, expert in Constitutional Law and first-hand observer of the electoral process in his state. When I get his permission, I’ll share his posts in case they can help others stay sane.

Here in France, everyone is facing many more weeks of confinement to stem the second wave, commemorating the 5-year anniversary of the November 13th attacks. The US expat community is wondering how to celebrate vital rituals of Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hannukah… Focusing to keep body and soul together, continue working, studying, staying alive.

Hoping to get through the current purple election haze,

Yours truly…

Paris/COVID: Lockdown 2 “Halloween Scream”

We made it through curfew.

Biggest challenge: major differences between anglophone and French parenting styles. My son doesn’t appreciate being subjected to the former while his French peers enjoy the latter. Here’s the deal: my husband and I try to stay informed of where he is and who he’s with while French Moms and Dads are way more laissez-faire. It could be that we are more aware of comings and goings because we work from home on flexible schedules while most of the French parents around us work more rigid hours in and outside the home. Or have the French parents just given up? That would be understandable!

Even during curfew and confinement, most of my son’s friends are allowed to disappear for long stretches and stay out all night without divulging any addresses of where they will be or parental phone numbers (assuming there is adult supervision where they are). French parents seem to consider this normal, unavoidable, or not worth fighting over, or a losing battle, or perhaps just a welcome break.

You can see how this might be a problem during a COVID pandemic.

Psychologists I’ve spoken to assure me this is part of adolescent experiments teens have to try. The battle of wills and communication breakdown may be exhausting and painful for us, but they’re not a rejection of us as people, we’re merely “collateral damage.”

I keep thinking about initiation ceremonies described in the works of Joseph Campbell and in Patrice Malidoma Somé’s Of Water and Spirit. Traditionally, young people had to endure ritual trials and hardships away from their family groups to become full-fledged members of their tribes. Accepted wisdom says teens have to separate emotionally from their parents to form ties that will shape their relationships and careers for years to come, hopefully in rewarding ways. They hunger for physical closeness with their age group, taking risks together and slamming into boundaries to test their strength. Could my son and his friends be inventing some form of self-initiation because our modern world has no organized and socially acceptable rituals for this purpose?

I know it’s hard for the young. Over the past year and a half, before COVID, just in my circle of French and anglophone friends, three teens have attempted suicide.

Their levels of maturity are all over the map. Neuroscience now shows that as their brains undergo rapid and chaotic development, literally overwhelmed, they’re not always able to process information and feelings in a logical way.

So it’s impossible for some teens to grasp the seriousness of the pandemic or empathize with others. Instead they feel victimized. A highlight of the Fall school vacation during curfew was the study group we set up to help my son and his friends complete a big assignment for lycée. They had to read a novel and fill out a reading journal. The book they chose, Le Fumoir could be called a 21st century version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest from a first person POV. Talking over the themes together, it became clear they identify with the narrator, feel trapped and sacrificed, angry towards cruel restrictions. The world is Nurse Ratched.

Seeing things from their perspective is an eye-opener.

As difficult as it is for us, we have to keep up a dialog, listen, empathize while providing structure and maintaining our integrity as parents, wearing masks and social distancing in our own home, sanitizing doorknobs, railings, handles, and wondering what’s next.

Despite curfew, COVID cases are increasing alarmingly, the government just announced a second confinement and it’s Halloween…

Halloween, Celtic New Year, Day of the Dead, Catholic Toussaint, a time for reflecting and honoring ancestors, braving or mocking fears, preparing to enter the darkness of winter, or just blowing off steam, depending on where you come from.

This year, it coincides with a “blue” moon (second full moon this month), interesting astronomical and astrological configurations, and the US Presidential election, which will decide not just America’s future but the future of the planet. Muslims are celebrating the birth of the Prophet, Charlie Hebdo is taunting extremists with extreme caricatures and France is paying for it in blood, putting our parenting problems into perspective.

If nothing else, they’re bringing back plenty of memories of my own impulsive teen misadventures, how my poor parents must have felt, and fleshing out the coming-of-age femoir I’m working on.

From Rilke’s Poem, “The Man Watching,” some parting words: 

“What we choose to fight is so tiny!

What fights us is so great!

…..

Winning does not tempt that man.

This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,

by constantly greater beings.” (Translation Robert Bly)

Let us grow!

Aliss

Paris/COVID: Curfew Day 1

Yippee another challenge to keep our brains from aging too fast!

De-scheduling dinners, open mics, evenings with friends, not to mention Halloween… wondering how our friends in the restaurant, hospitality, theater and music worlds are going to re-imagine themselves for the nth time. Theoretically it’s not as bad as confinement, but then again, we were all just picking ourselves up, brushing ourselves off, and fantasizing about getting back to some semblance of a rhythm, in this city of lights, now going dark again. It has to be done with 30,000 new infections just yesterday. Our frontline health workers and vulnerable ones have to be shielded.

While we’re at it, please send special good vibes to all of us parents of teenagers chafing at the bit. If they’re caught outside after 9pm, they’ll be detained by the police until we can pick them up at whatever precinct, and we parents will have to pay 135€ ($160) the first time, 1500€ ($1760) after that for the privilege of getting them back.

And… just to make things more interesting, invitations to super-spreader all night parties with no adult supervision are being shared because schools are on fall break for 2 weeks and the young feel entitled to blow off steam. Attempts to help them understand the gravity of the situation ping off them like raindrops on a parapluie.

If anyone else is in this boat, please DM me. I have a strategy. Not terrifically fun from an admin POV, but potentially more economical.

To be continued!

xxxxxx Aliss

Paris/COVID: Emily in Paris “Scarlet Zone”

It’s been a few years since Emily moved to Paris and started her career at Savoir. She’s married the most seductive, creative, and age-appropriate of her swains (no spoilers!) and they now have a young son. After winning every major award known to her profession, she’s taken the parenthood plunge and shocked herself by wanting to prolong her congé parental to be with her little boy and breast feed! None of her Paris acquaintances, even Mindy, approves of this crazy departure from stylishness. All her designer outfits are soon too small and when she finally fits into them again they get covered with baby spit-up. Emily takes the baby to show her friends at Savoir and he projectile-vomits on Sylvie.

Emily keeps a finger in the professional pie with consulting gigs she snags and somehow squeezes in between sleepless nights pacing and jiggling her colicky infant. Starting when he’s 2 weeks old, all the French parents say, “You mean he doesn’t sleep through ze nuit yet? Let him cry himself to sleep, zey have to learn to comfort zemselves!” Then come the teething and the endless colds, sapping her career motivation. She joins an English speaking Moms’ playgroup, which saves her sanity and before she knows it little Jr. is 2 and can attend maternelle. There is still hope! Mad about her toddler, she doesn’t want to work full time like 80% of French mothers. Citing a technicality about the length of Emily’s leave, Sylvie can refuse to take Emily back to Savoir part-time. Instead, Emily turns to freelance writing as a micro entrepreneur, staggered by the paperwork involved.

Over the next few years, her son graduates to primary school and she navigates the torturous hallowed and haunted halls of the Education Nationale, ignored and sniffed at by teachers because of her US accent, failing to understand the grading system (a full point off for forgetting a comma?) And why do students have to do math homework in pen? But still churning out pieces for French style bureaux and US magazines.

Then COVID hits, all the companies she has contacts with go under or slash their budgets to the bone and anyway she has to homeschool her son during confinement, trying to reinvent herself evenings and weekends.

Her sexy husband, now CEO of his own société, works from home in a bathrobe, completely preoccupied with saving his business, no longer shaving and reverting to the ancestral custom of not wearing deodorant. Romance slides onto the back burner.

Fall 2020, Jr is back in school, spouse is back at the office a few days a week, but Paris has been declared a “scarlet zone” due to the galloping COVID infection rate of the second wave. The government is threatening confinement again… Now what?

(Story ideas and comments welcome! Will include glam shots of Paris!)

M@M: The Making Of (Official Selection Paris Short Film Festival 2020)

MARGARITAS poster3

Proud to announce my short feature/music video Margaritas@Midnight is in the official line up at the Paris Short Film Festival 2020:

The Making of M@M:

So there I was far from the musical spotlight due to family craziness and out of the blue, Richard Manwaring, renowned British producer, drummer, and sound mixer, sent me a demo he was arranging with his band Rough Score. Richard and I met in London ages ago when I was recording my first single for Virgin and we’ve been friends ever since.

fullsizeoutput_70a(Photo Celia Manwaring)

The track’s bluesy lounge groove was sexy, but I asked if I could spin the lyrics away from lost-love territory already covered in Jimmy Buffet’s megahit Margaritaville, towards a female take on tropical fantasies. I needed something light and playful to counterbalance the challenges in my life and darkness in the world. The band said yes and singing it was a blast. From day one, I “saw” the story, but had no budget to film it.

My artistic process for the video involved strumming on my guitar, imbibing margaritas, island reveries…

 IMG_1013

…plus tons of comedy and art. (Tough job, but…)

As I was planning a minimalist version on iPad and iMovie, tech genius DP, editor, mixer @krysed came on board:

DSC04704

…joining  improv talent, brainstormer deluxe, DIY acrobat, and the original Margarita God himself, Lewis Primo:

DSC04705

Not to mention couple of the century, Shirley and Brandon:Shirley Brandon

I could now throw myself into storyboarding and mapping, creating costumes and decors from scratch. 

The Mood Board:

My vintage doll and toy collection, first featured in a brilliant fotonovella shot with my son for his middle school art class:Fotonovella

Iconic Kramp Kitchen sequence from 70’s cult film The Groove Tube (ancestor of SNL):

Christian Boltanski art installation: Shadows from the Lessons of Darkness:

Screenshot 2020-09-07 at 14.10.25

Christian Boltanski, ‘Shadows from the Lessons of Darkness’, 1987, Phillips
Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are:
 
Sendak
Extra visuals:
h0us3s_Signs_Hazard_Warning_35800px-Crocodile_warning_sign_01
and island reveries….IMG_1013
 
 
Essential background and props:
 
Florida paintings by artist Lynn Margileth (full disclosure, also my sister, whose studio assistant I was for this series many moons ago) :
 
FullSizeRender
 
Fabrics from Marché St Pierre + patterns, needles, thread, charms, sequins, glue:
 
IMG_1312  FullSizeRendermargaritas thumbFullSizeRender
 
My collection of international female power objects:
 
FullSizeRender
 
 
Candles and bakelite jukebox piggy bank:
 
FullSizeRender
(Krysed bought a special lens for this, same one as Stanley Kubrick used for Barry Lyndon)
 
Blender:
 
FullSizeRender-3
 
Cat:
 
FullSizeRender-2
 
Location shooting took place in:
 
My kitchen, with puppet theater and blankets:
 
DSC04706
 
Our guest room with linen sheets and keyboard:
 
Krysed studio
 
Lights, camera, action:
DSC04790
 
With my story board (here p 4) and lines of vision map:
 
Storyboard2
Geography
 
 
 
Big thanks to Rough Score for the song: Drums Allmighty Richard Manwaring, Guitar Messiah Paulie Raymond and Bass Creator Richard Hewlett:
 
fullsizeoutput_70d(Photo Celia Manwaring)
 
For gorgeous Florida paintings to Bodhisattva Lynn Margileth, for tech magic to Shooting Ninja @krysed, and to Margarita God Lewis Primo for allowing me to immortalize his original margarita recipe, developed over years of travel, investment, research and experimentation…
 
Festival info:

Screenshot 2020-09-02 at 14.09.50

https://filmfreeway.com/paris-short-film-festival

Festival website and tickets:

http://www.psff.eu

Enjoy as much as we did!

Your (Vocal Siren) Aliss xxxxxxx

Paris/COVID: The trip that almost wasn’t (4)

IMG_1538              (Clouds this morning over lush French farmland)

Doubly COVID negative, we were able to board our flight and are now safely back in Paris, but what a gruelling experience…

In case this can help other travelers from NY state to Paris (or make you laugh), my family and I have personally tried three of the testing options recommended by the NYC French consulate:

A – The French gynecologist who meets you in a parking lot in Mount Kisco, NY

B – A Lab in Edison, NJ where he sends the sample or where you can go directly to be tested

C – Another French doctor in a health clinic in Larchmont, NY

And the ONLY winner was …. C: Dr. Philip Heinegg, 1890 Palmer Avenue, Suite 304, Larchmont, NY, 914-834-9606, info@larchmontmd.com, Monday-Friday 8am-3pm.

We made an appointment, it wasn’t crowded, they didn’t bullshit us, the results really arrived by email in a few hours AND it was free with a NY ID thanks to the COVID fund. Apparently there is a lab nearby that delivered results in a matter of hours. BUT!!! We were among the last people to benefit from this and it has been removed from the French consulate website…BECAUSE the lab they used can no longer guarantee a delivery time for the results, due to high demand (more about this below).

Still, do not bother with A and B, unless you have no other choice.

A is a lovely man who will charge you $60 per person to take the sample and send it to the lab, but trash your carefully typed paperwork so that the lab can’t read it and will not be able to contact you. He will also misinform you about the 72 hour time limit: “It’s fine to take the sample on Friday evening for a Tuesday evening departure!” (Not) AND not give you a receipt.

B will give you different information every time you call, will tell you they are not open on Saturday (they are), that the date of the sample will not be on the email with the results so you can have the test on Friday for a Tuesday departure (not). B will ignore the email address you gave them directly and use the illegible version hand copied in chicken scratch by A so that the results bounce back to them, meaning that you don’t get the results of your Friday test until Monday afternoon and only after many tense phone calls. Oh, and they will charge you $130 per person for this “service” which will be rejected outright by Air France. AND when B was first recommended by the consulate, they were charging $100 per test. A few days later they had upped the price by 30%, what nerve.

Fortunately we played it safe and scheduled our second test, with C, on Monday morning. We got the results Monday afternoon, which fell within the 72 hr limit. They were accepted by Air France and enabled us to fly.

So what would have happened if we had trusted A and B and shown up at the airport with results from a sample taken outside the 72 hr limit? The AF agent we spoke to said they have fail safe options: a testing center in Brooklyn and one in Queens where you can rush with your baggage at the last minute by cab and IF you are COVID negative, possibly arrive back to JFK in time for your flight or get on a later one. Fine, but can you imagine the stress? And why do they keep this information secret?

Maybe everyone is keeping their particular partners confidential because many labs are now swamped with testing for school reopenings and even the fastest ones can no longer get the job done quickly… For info, when we called C‘s office to thank them for saving our butts, they said that they are no longer on the consulate list because they no longer have a reliable fast lab. We gave them the Brooklyn and Queens addresses we got from Air France, hoping that might help, because they have people coming all the way from Ohio and Pennsylvania to whom they have to explain all this, cancel their appointments, or use the expensive lab in NJ… Imagine the dialog!

Anyway, we are COVID neg, showed our results from C at the airport, filled out our required statements, got our temperature taken on both sides, wore masks, had a smooth flight, and made it back to Paris. We didn’t have to have another test at CDG.

We did it! But it was a really close call.

For more precise names and addresses, PM me.

To be continued!

Aliss

 

 

Paris/COVID: The trip that almost wasn’t (3)

IMG_1486

Week 4 of our time in upstate NY:

Right now we’re in a sweet spot. There are very few cases of the virus here and it’s good to be away from Paris where cases are increasing. NY Families are debating how to start the school year. We can pretend we don’t have that problem for a few more weeks.

I’ve been able to reconnect with my US family and my mom. She and I have settled into a comfort zone across our window screen. This afternoon will be our 6th visit (that’s 6 x 160 miles), first time together outdoors, 45 minutes with no physical barriers, but we have to stay 6 feet apart and there will be a staff member monitoring us. We may be able to play scrabble on my Mom’s board, with me keeping my distance and hand sanitizing my every move for safety. More good news: her residence has reopened their dining room, organizing two sittings per meal to allow for spacing, so my mom is seeing people again and moving around more. Hopefully things will continue to improve and she’ll be able to visit my sister at her home soon.

Meanwhile, we’re being very careful. Everyone’s wearing masks even on hiking trails. My son has been going to an outdoor day camp wearing a mask, distancing, washing hands. The camp is still COVID free, vive New York.

Our moment of truth is looming. In a few days we’ll have to be tested for COVID in order to return to France, we still don’t know where or how. We have plans A, B and C, just to be safe. NJ lab with result in 48 hrs if they decide to open on Saturday (which we won’t know until late Thursday or early Friday morning and they don’t give appointments, it’s first come first serve)? Otherwise appointment with French doctor in Larchment, NY on Friday evening with 48hr results? And just in case, appointment with another French doctor in White Plains, NY on Monday with results in 2 hrs? It’s very Catch 22 trying to schedule the test less than 72 hours before boarding our flight, over a weekend, in a place where thunderstorms can knock out power grids for days and given conflicting info from consulate and AF about how the time is calculated (from sample or from delivery of results?) If one of us tests positive how will we arrange to stay here? Suspense.

BTW: apologizing for the delay, Governor Cuomo’s office finally replied to my email query sent 5 or 6 weeks ago. The message informs us that yes, we should quarantine for 14 days (now that we’ve been here over 3 weeks) and once again provides the NY state virus hotline number where they told me and others the contrary. Are these contradictory signals due to the fact that numbers are now up in France? Who knows?! This is where we’re at now, no one knows anything for sure, we just have to roll with it.

Whatever happens, I will be forever grateful that a brief window in time opened for us to be here and recharge before the next episode. We don’t know when or how we will can come back.

xxxxx Aliss

PS, Funny update: We’re meeting a French gynecologist wearing a hazmat sit in a parking lot an hour from NYC for one of our COVID tests 🙂 You can’t make this stuff up, sounds like Madlibs…

 

 

 

 

Paris/COVID: The trip that almost wasn’t (2)

IMG_1426

Waiting for my window visit…

Upstate NY, 10 days in. It’s taken this long to get my bearings, start to unwind and feel like I might be on vacation. The dark circles under my eyes are fading a little and I’m getting some perspective. In my mono-maniac haste to get myself here and tell the story,   I left out important stuff.

Last week a tropical storm moved up the coast causing power outages and closings. Long distance driving was complicated. I’ve now been able to see my mom twice, the first time we were almost too emotional to talk, but now we’re having real conversations, catching up, planning more visits. I took my computer and through the screen, showed her a new music video I’ve been working on, based on family history, very close to our hearts. More about that in a future post, but meanwhile:

The rate of infection continues to decrease here. Mask wearing is the new normal, social distancing and hand sanitizing a way of life. Parents are waiting anxiously to know Gov. Cuomo’s decision about school openings. Many businesses are shuttered, others are cautiously open. My son’s outdoor camp is operating at 50% capacity for added safety and implementing strict health precautions. So far, there have been no COVID cases and he’s enjoying camaraderie with staff, new responsibilities, worship from younger campers, and even being tired when he comes home. Can’t think of a better way for him to spend these weeks. My daughter is coming to stay with us soon, not sure how. Masks? 3-6 feet at all times? Hmmm….

The big news is that COVID testing is mandatory 72 hrs before boarding flights back to France (and elsewhere). The NYC French consulate has concluded an agreement with a lab in New Jersey and several doctors in the area:

http//newyork.consulfrance.org/-English-

Additional information on Air France website:

http://www.airfrance.fr/FR/en/common/page_flottante/information/engagement-sanitaire.htm?fbclid=IwAR0USmNxZH3nd9dys6u5nidifgJWc-uv50-ZrsKN5BYF7OdXZZKIaicuYSQ

This is pretty challenging for people like us who aren’t in the Manhattan area. The Friday or Saturday before our Tuesday departure later this month, we’ll have to drive to the NJ lab to be tested if we want to be sure of a fast turn around before our flight. The results are valid for 72 hours after we receive them by email, $100 a pop. We could make an appointment with an approved doctor in the city or White Plains, but that adds a step, plus traffic, and is just as far to drive. You’d think AF would send an email? But no. Thank you Betsy M for informing us!

Recent transatlantic travelers have confirmed that airports and flights are almost empty.  Surgical masks are mandatory, marriage certificates a must for bi-national couples, testing being done at CDG on arrival… Good news, airlines upgraded their air filtration systems after the SARS epidemic so the in-cabin environment is safer, as long as no one spits in your face.

Important:

I want to thank everyone who helped me make this happen:

First and foremost, my stoic French husband, who overcame justified misgivings and threw the full power of his physical presence, financial acumen, and sharp mind into the journey. Not only did he make and pay for all the travel arrangements and accommodations, including extra health insurance, but when I was still very jet lagged, he volunteered to drive the three of us from JFK to our small town NY base up the thruway, and later that first week to visit my mom, a 160-mile round trip. Meanwhile, he moved furniture and made repairs in our AirBnB for our comfort, since the managerial staff have their kids with them 24/7 due to the virus and are not on the ball.

He fills the car with gas and checks the oil, co-organizes grocery jaunts and other shopping, drives our son to the bus stop for camp, helps fill water jugs at the spring, does laundry, makes margaritas on special occasions and provides quality beverages for happy hour, among other attentions. Reading my other posts, you might get the idea that I’m a lone warrior facing the world. The truth is that when I first met my husband, I was so bowled over that I more or less lost the use of the pronoun “I” in favor of “we” or more often “he”. Regaining the use of first person narratives is a major event for me, has come about through writing, and is to be celebrated. Sometimes, though, credit must be given where credit is due. And… although he’s not the type to gush compliments or descriptions of his feelings, he’s actually relaxing, listening to music, enjoying fresh Hudson Valley produce, spring water, my cooking, naps, and drives on gorgeous green country roads.

My US/French info network: AAWE (Association of American Women in Europe) a gold mine!

http://www.aaweparis.org

USAGSO Paris (American Girl Scouts Paris, wall of moms, wall of generous friends)

http://www.facebook.com/usagso30paris

BSA Troop 112 (American Boy Scouts in Paris, wall of caring dads and moms)

http://www.facebook.com/BSA.CSA.unit112ParisFrance

The American Cathedral Friday Mission Lunch teams

http://amcathparis.com/covid19

My writing community, especially dear friend Sylvia Sabes, travel writer

http://www.instagram.com/sylviasabes/

Paris peeps, US family and all who keep us in their thoughts, you who are reading this post and giving feedback….

Thank you!

My heart goes out to everyone struggling, especially the people of Lebanon.

To be continued.

xxxxxx Aliss

 

 

Paris/COVID: The trip that almost wasn’t

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I’m writing this from upstate NY. Everyone I talk to asks, “Where are you?” “Why?” “They’re letting people fly in?” “Are you quarantined?” “Did you have to go through testing?” Here’s the story:

As an American living in France, married to a French guy, with most of my relatives in the US, I try to get back here once a year, end of July through August is the easiest time for us to get away and yes we take off 4 weeks as is the French custom (Vive la France). To get the smoothest deals, we start planning our annual migration for family time and US cultural immersion 6 months in advance, my ultra-organized male counterpart has it down to a science of frequent flyer miles, credit card points, membership rewards, the whole shebang, and this year was no exception. In early February, the virus was surging in Italy and Spain, but not yet in France and confinement seemed unthinkable (ha ha). Dealing with a lot of issues familiar to parents of teens, we needed to imagine ourselves and him in a less stressful environment. So we lined up flights, AirBnB dates, car rentals, and filled out day camp applications. Then the three of us got very sick with serious flu-like symptoms. A doctor on a house call asked if we’d been to China. When we said no, she told us to stay home, drink fluids and take paracetamol, which we did.  It was rough, but no hospitalisation, no test.

The rest is history: confinement, lockdown, borders closed, people dying. I gave up the idea of traveling. Managing day-to-day was the priority as you can see in my previous posts. When Hertz went bankrupt, that seemed a clear signal. We’d say goodbye to that fee. Other cancellation and reimbursement policies were unclear. Would we lose our airfare and AirBnB deposit? Camps were out of the question. Nevermind, the only thing that mattered was surviving.

Over the next few months, step by step, France flattened the curve.

One of my biggest fears was that I’d never see my mom again. Retirement homes were a disaster everywhere. Governor Cuomo switched the state of NY into high gear and my mom’s residence applied stringent precautions. They were 100% COVID-free for the next 4 months, but my mom was confined to her small apartment with no visitors all that time. She was amazingly resilient but very lonely. I called every day to check in, sometimes reading her funny articles or recipes, singing songs, telling her about our daily routines and how we were staying sane.

Gradually, France deconfined and NY state coped. Every day, I monitored statistics on the NYT

 

and French government websites:

http://www.gouvernement.fr/info-coronavirus/carte-et-donnees

In June, Governor Cuomo said outdoor day camps could open that month if they observed strict CDC health guidelines. Not only that, but my son’s Counselor In Training application was accepted and he could attend free of charge!

Then Air France cancelled our flight. Another sign? The email gave instructions to request a new reservation on their website, which of course had no information about this. All AF phone lines were saturated, with long waits just to be cut off. Not surprising since the whole industry was in jeopardy. On a hunch, I sent a message via FaceBook and unexpectedly received a new reservation within 24 hours. Doors seemed to be opening.

Activating my Franco-American info network to the max on social media and conversations on FaceTime, Zoom, and now occasionally in person, I threw out all my questions and concerns, harvesting ideas.

My son and I could still go to the states even though Trump banned travel from Europe, because we have US passports, but what about my French mari? US State Department website said yes. American women reporting on recent travel from France to US said they took their marriage certificates with them and all was well. OK!

But was there any point in going if we had to quarantine for 2 weeks? No recent info on State Dep’t site. Old info said yes, quarantine. CDC site said yes, quarantine coming from France. But is NY a special case? NY is quarantining people from states with outbreaks. What about France? Call Gov Cuomo’s press office. Press secretary gives me NY state virus hotline number: 1 888 364 3065. Nice woman gives me list of US states on quarantine list, but says no quarantine from France!

Another American expat friend sends me a link to Ann Swardson’s blog with pictures taken on July 21st of empty CDG, no lines for security, empty flights.

http://anneswardson.com/going-the-distance/

Could traveling be a possibility?

Suddenly receive news that a staff member at my mom’s retirement home has tested positive for COVID. Jeez, is this the beginning of an outbreak?  Even if I’m able to go, will I be able to see her? Via Zoom, the Residence director keeps us informed.  No new cases. No residents ill. Window visits are still possible and if they stay COVID-free, I might be able to have a real visit during our stay in the US. Dare I hope?

About this time is when news reports show seismic activity in Iceland and announce imminent volcanic eruptions! I get slightly hysterical. Then that dies down… But everyday there’s some kind of new uncertainty. A shock arrives from an unexpected quarter:

Exactly 1 week before departure, my husband says, “I have to talk to you. I’m not going. I can’t sleep, I’m having cold sweats. I’m afraid of getting or giving the virus, not being able to get through immigration, getting sick or stuck there, and I can’t wear a mask for the 12h trip door to door, and our usual health insurance doesn’t cover COVID expenses.”

Somehow I don’t freak out. Instead of emotional blackmail or manipulation, I ask him to wait a day or two before making a definite decision, so we can talk it over. “OK. I’m not going to try to convince you. I just want to show you all the information so you can make the best decision.” I realize what an exhausting year it’s been, we’re both nervous wrecks, we haven’t communicated about the trip at all. I remember what my friend Sylvia Sabes told me about the trauma expert who spoke to her husband’s co-workers: we’re all on a virus-induced PTSD timeline. It’s normal to be anxious and extra careful.

We set up a time to talk. I show him the blog pix of airports and planes, read him the thread on FB about Franco-US couples traveling CDG-JFK, evolving situation on French news platforms about getting back into France. There are fewer cases in upstate NY than in Paris. We should be OK returning as we all have French passports. We can research and purchase extra health coverage. I ask what will our son do if he can’t go to camp? I reassure that we can take off our masks on the plane to eat and drink, that will give us a break. I offer to treat him to a one-hour massage at our local Yves Rocher institute to help him relax, he accepts. There is hope.

Hertz stays in business, AirBnB doesn’t cancel. Camp says my son must quarantine for 2 weeks, then I send them NY virus hotline number, they get back to me and say son can come to camp after all.

Up until the last minute, uncertainty and stress. We pack, put on our masks and set off for the airport. Very few people, quick security checks, AF agents take our temps before boarding, we show them our French and US marriage certifs, fill out forms. Easy flight. 5 people in our cabin, AF staff very happy to see us. Meal and beverage service, inflight entertainment.  Disembark at JFK. Temps taken and long wait at immigration due to computer glitches and checking documents.

Drive upstate.

Friday July 31st, I was able to visit with my mom though an open window, wearing masks. We “touched” fingertips across a wire screen and both cried, tears of joy. It was enough just to be together again. If all goes well, we’ll be able to be in the same physical space before I have to go back to France.

So, a work in progress. We’re social distancing, hand washing, wearing masks, grocery store shopping. We had one restaurant meal seated outdoors 3-6 feet from our NY family. I wore a mask to an outdoor pool, no changing or showers, and swam socially-distanced laps. My son rode a yellow school bus to camp this morning, in an assigned seat, windows open, interior disinfected before departures, temps taken.

It’s a miracle to be here. Not easy but worth it.

To be continued

xxxxx

Aliss

Paris/COVID: Beyond Burnout

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Thank you all who read and responded to my previous post about disconnection and burnout. Have you ever noticed that when you make a public statement, you get echoes of agreement and the universe also switches into fact-checking mode? I heard from a lot of people experiencing similar feelings and a lot of people defying the odds in every area:

-Close friends and relatives on both sides of the Atlantic, evidently not social distancing from their partners, have chosen to have babies, one due in October, one in January.  Disproving toddler/teen parental burnout predictions, one couple already have a 2½  year old, the other have 4 (!) preteen and teen boys, 2 each from previous relationships. Our local swan couple above are raising new triplets.

-A family member in Florida, a retired doctor, still living independently, is celebrating a century of life this month.

-The Paris city government is setting up Paris Plages along the Seine and our canal, with temporary sand beaches, boardwalks, water sports, ziplines and fresh water swimming.  The grand opening will feature a movie theater overlooking the water, where lucky ticket winners can watch movies from boats.

-Committed climate warrior, Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris, is more determined than ever to rid Paris of car pollution, closing streets to traffic, narrowing avenues to make room for more bike lanes.

-We elected her for her green platform, but we must now radically change our transportation habits ASAP, faster than anyone foresaw. Double-long buses block intersections, the Metro is often crowded, not everyone wearing masks. Remaining traffic clogs available asphalt, honking rabidly. Cabbies and emergency vehicle drivers can no longer access certain parts of the city. What about families with handicapped kids or elderly parents? You can’t balance them on your handlebars… We all have to think twice before moving around and plan much extra time, money and/or rain gear. Kudos for our perseverance.

-Otherwise, cafés and restaurants are spilling across sidewalks, with tables, improvised partitions, bright parasols and awnings.

-People in my building took up a generous collection to help the widow of our neighbor who died of COVID in April.

-The traditional Bastille Day parade took place yesterday Place de la Concorde, ending with a moving tribute to healthcare heroes. A big salary and bonus package for health professionals has been signed. Eiffel Tower fireworks were televised last night, crowds discouraged, but many gathered anyway. President Macron has announced masks will be mandatory in all closed pubic spaces starting August 1st.

-My US cousin, a dedicated young nurse who was very ill with COVID, has recovered and is buying a house for herself and her adopted rescue pup.

-Another young friend, nurse and single mom, had to isolate from her little son while caring for COVID patients and then got furloughed. Reunited with her little boy, she’s created a patio and vegetable garden behind her apartment building.

-A young Broadway sound designer, out of work until at least January, took 60 hours of training to volunteer on a crisis hotline and adopted a rescue dog.

Shoutout to:

-Peaceful protesters wearing masks.

-US SCOTUS judges who retain a degree of independence from the party in power.

-Staff at the assisted living facility where my mother lives, who have taken such good care of the residents that there hasn’t been a single case of COVID there. They work long hours, outside their job descriptions, organizing Zooms, FaceTimes, window visits, room to room happy hours with music, socially distanced walks outside… unable to hire additional staff because no one wants to work there during a pandemic.

-To everyone on the front line: grocery store employees, sanitation workers, teachers, delivery employees, farmers, progressive lawmakers, and all those everywhere who keep going and keep us going, day after day.

Bravo, thank you for the inspiration.

To be continued.

xxxxx Aliss

 

 

Paris/Covid: First Wave Aftershock

IMG_1298City life is picking up. It’s wonderful going outside and meeting people again, but I still feel disconnected. It’s not just that we’re not touching physically, there’s a sensation of unreality about everything. The decor is the same, but the way we inhabit it is very different. Everyone has been through big changes, each in their own way, and even though we’ve been in contact virtually, supporting and updating each other, we’ve all shifted internally and externally, so even in person, we don’t quite fit together the way we did before. In relationships, some grievances have fallen away, but others have come to a head. It’s disorienting.

I think I’m suffering from reset fatigue. Over the past few years Paris has gone through terrorist attacks, a migrant crisis, yellow vest upheavals, Notre Dame burning, transportation paralysis, COVID confinement and deconfinement, and #BLM, an emotional wringer of fear, rage, despair, hope and admiration for heroes…

This spring we’ve had to second guess our every habit and reflex, our social programming and attempts at deprogramming. Many of us are also processing parental burn out. I read recently that after all these months of isolation and homeschooling, it’s most intense for those of us with toddlers and teens. This confirms my own experience. These two categories are the ones with the most striking developmental disruptions. Physical changes, moods, experimentation, unpredictability, constant questioning and testing boundaries demand huge flexibility, attention, and presence from caregivers (as do Alzheimers patients, I’m guessing). A lot of my energy, day after day, week after week, has gone into making it through the school year. Mission accomplished! There’s huge relief, but also exhaustion and emptiness. Now what? What new reality do we have to adjust to or create over the summer and in the fall? How will it play out for our loved ones in the US?

A close friend told me how a war-zone seasoned neuroscientist recently gave a talk at her husband’s company to help staff adjust as they returned to work. He said the pandemic has been violently traumatic for health workers, victims and their families, for others in a more insidious way, and that all of us react to trauma as we react to grief, in five stages: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance, along a predictable timeline. Personally I don’t identify with any of these stages just now, it’s more like low energy and numbness.

Counting blessings. In many ways, confinement provided me a necessary retreat. I’m one of the lucky ones. Still here to look at the sky, the water, the beautiful earth, living creatures, hear music and conversation, walk and dance, sing, taste food and wine, and little by little, reconnect.

xxxxxx Aliss