When We Have Only Love

Thanksgiving full moon over the Seine


Time-lapse Thanksgiving this year… festive evening Thursday with 20 other guests on the Île Saint Louis  at Wendy Rohm’s, a moment of silence for those who are no longer with us,  then duck in orange sauce, turkey and all the trimmings… Tomorrow afternoon,  Sunday, intimate Thanksgiving dinner for family and a few close neighbors…

Additional highlight this week: memorial for the attack victims. President Hollande asked for French flags at the windows. Flag-averse Parisians responded with improvised bleu blanc rouge towels, bras, furniture, and yes, even some real tricolores.

Most moving picture: one of Jacques Brel’s most beautiful songs, Quand on a que l’amour interpreted by three young women, a Christian, a Jew and a Muslim, in the courtyard of the Invalides. Here’s a translation of the lyrics, no rhymes, just the meaning (feel free to make suggestions):

“When we have only love, to offer each other, for the great journey, what good is true love?

When we have only love, my love you and I, to make every hour and day shine with joy…

When we have only love, to live our promises, with no other riches than believing forever…

When we have only love, to furnish with marvels and cover with sun the ugliness beyond the walls…

When we have only love, our only reason, our only song, our only haven…

When we have only love, each morning to dress beggars and bandits in velvet coats…

When we have only love, to offer in prayer for the pain of the earth, as a simple troubadour…

When we have only love, for the ones who fight only to find the light…

When we have only love, to make a path, to defy fate at every crossing…

When we have only love, to answer canons, and only a song to persuade war drums…

Then, with nothing else but the strength of our love, we will carry the world in our hands…”




Today is a regular Thursday in France. News from so many places is unbearable… how to celebrate? Gratitude for family, friends, roof over my head, food on my plate, clothes on my back, water in my tap, air in my lungs, sunshine on my skin, cold weather, sapphire sky, Paris… Heart still heavy.

Then this was waiting for me at my home away from home: Marion, Alexandra, Lucas & Simon lighting up their new wood stove for the first time.

Once a wise woman said, “When you bite into an apple, send what you taste to the hungry.” For what it’s worth, this flame, this tiny perfect instant is going out to anyone who needs warmth and comfort, as my thank you gift. Does loving the world somehow keep it alive?

Breathe Freely

Ivy wall Hôtel de Sully

Surround yourself with beauty and the beauty inside you will answer it…

Find a beautiful living thing and just be with it…You might be holding your breath. Close your eyes for a moment, then open them. Does it look different? Close your eyes again and let yourself be. You might even rest your breath, letting it stop for a while. Observe what happens. In its own time, it will start again, perhaps with a sigh, and find its own rhythm. When it feels right, open your eyes and drink in the colors, vitamins for the soul.

A lot of people are having delayed reactions to last week’s events. Bursts of emotion, insomnia, isolation. Part of the group mind is imagining peace. Let’s connect to it through beauty.

Random Acts of Joie de Vivre

Christmas lights at the Bon Marché…DSC02338

Joie de Vivre, a new mantra… overcame my fear of public transportation last night, crossed the city through big crowded Metro stations, nervous about people with baggage, got out at Invalides, happy to see the Alexander III bridge, the Grand Palais and the Eiffel Tower…all because I had promised my friend Karin to help out at the children’s stand at a charity bazaar being held at the American Church on Quai d’Orsay. It was a good decision. Life affirming to see so many friends working together for a good cause, braving extremist intimidation. (The US Embassy has just boosted the alert level to “Extreme Vigilance”). We worked hard to set up the tables for the sale and were asked to gather midway through the evening for a moment of silence. Always moves me. Then we sang La Marseillaise. I felt transported back in time to the 18th century (check the date?) when the words were written and France was inventing a new national identity. I never liked the words up to now but understand them in a new way, as metaphors…

Speaking of revolutions…when I got home I saw posts about Youtube videos of Muslims burning the Daesh flag all over the world and more Muslims in France speaking out, launching a “spiritual Jihad” against Daesh… Observers wonder aloud if this is an inner revolution within Islam and I wonder what inner flags we can all burn to create peace? How about the one showing the US rearming Saudi Arabia to the tune of a billion and a half dollars? I try to keep my mind above politics, but sometimes it’s hard…

Focus on beauty in every moment, walking around this city is a meditation on loveliness…

So sorry the Climate March had to be cancelled along with so many other things, like the Model United Nations for high school students scheduled in other European cities… the kids learn so much about the world there and how to expand our narrow points of view…

If you’re feeling brave, do stop in at the AAWE Bazaar at the American Church today and tomorrow Quai d’Orsay, M° Invalides, to pick up some early holiday gifts and good vibes…It’s on two levels: ground floor theater (vintage shoes, clothing, beautiful hand made crafts…) 3rd floor “Thurber Room”: children’s clothing and toys, books and gorgeous cupcakes, delicious baked goods, “café”…

To be continued, Love, xxxx, Aliss

Meeting of Minds

Woke up this morning feeling like cr** and had to laugh when I saw  it’s “International Day of the Toilet”? (Who makes this up?)

Decided to take a few minutes to meditate, hoping to upgrade my inner radio. Trying to focus on the “centering thought,” my mind wandered and I realized  I forgot to say how grateful I am to everyone who has dared to speak out, even if briefly, with love for France, against violence. I gave up on being a superior meditation genius and went on line to add a post. A message had just come in from the young Muslim French woman whose video blew me away earlier this week. I had hit her name and sent “Thank You” to her “other message” box on FB, the one that no one ever checks. She got it and responded, “Bonjour Aliss Merci à toi pour ces mots! Que dieu te garde et te préserve LOVE.”

She was sending me these words as I was meditating (however imperfectly)…

Thank you, Paris, for putting me in touch with people I never would have known otherwise, from completely different backgrounds, who share a desire for peace…

To be continued, Love, xxxx Aliss

Thursday, November 19th, 2015, My Act of Defiance

My act of Defiance

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

Reality check Tuesday evening. I came out of the grocery store to see soldiers in fatigues, carrying machine guns, walking down my street, right in front of my building. Were they going home after a day guarding our local Jewish school or is this now their regular beat? I’m glad they’re here, but I feel like I’m in a war movie.

Wednesday morning I woke up to a message from my friend Bonnie who lives in Saint Denis, just over the beltway (Périphérique) north of Paris. She said there was a shoot-out going on but didn’t know if it was a new attack? The Metro was closed and the the police told everyone to stay indoors.

My son went off to school on foot like every morning and I told my husband something was going on and the Metro might not be running. I turned on the TV news and saw the army of journalists filming the SWAT teams on site right near the centuries-old Basilica where all the French kings were buried until looters desecrated their tombs during the Revolution.


A siege was underway in the rue de la République there. Residents had heard at least one explosion and exchanges of gunfire, ambulances were lined up, it was rumored that policemen had been wounded. I can’t imagine how the “forces of order” (as they say in French) managed to do anything with all the journalists and rubbernecks filming with their phones. Weird.

The French TV channel kept showing the same interview over and over: a young woman in a hijab with a nose piercing kept saying she was in the toilet with her baby and heard explosions and gunfire on the floor above her before she managed to leave the building.

News commentators said a female suicide bomber had blown herself up, other suspects had been shot or arrested, but no one would know who they were until forensics could do DNA analysis because terrorists not only shave off their beards and cut their hair short but even have plastic surgery to completely alter their appearance and avoid being recognized.

I tried to stay off social media but failed. A friend posted two incredible videos of French Muslims (no idea where he found them!)– a young woman of Senegalese origin and a young man who didn’t say where his parents came from. Both were yelling at the terrorists and criticizing the Muslim community for not cleaning up its act! I had never seen anything like it before. It was riveting: finally hearing from people who know both cultures and communities, telling the terrorists to “stop breaking our balls, if you don’t like France, go live in Afghanistan or join the Algerian army and see if you like it, otherwise if you stay in France and like being greeted as French when you travel, having your kids in good schools, enjoying the protection of the French judicial system, collecting welfare and unemployment, then pay your taxes and stop complaining!” And much much more… If any non-Muslim said half of what these two did, they would be pilloried by the French media. Both films were watched by thousands of people and got tons of “likes.”

In disbelief, I showed the videos to my husband and son but when I wanted to get my best friend’s opinion, the videos had disappeared! Did the speakers realize they’d put themselves in danger and take the videos down? If so, a sad statement about freedom of speech.

Heart rending pictures of a French policeman weeping on his comrade’s shoulder after seeing the carnage on Friday night, of refugees and bombing victims… All over the world, people singing the Marseillaise and waving the French flag! Monuments lit up in blue, white, and red, Charlie Hebdo cover showing a bullet-riddled French reveler saying “We don’t care, we have champagne!” Funny comments and posts ridiculing Daesh for trying to compete with macaroons, Sartre, Proust, Gauloises, etc… much needed comic relief between tears….

Late afternoon, my son came home from school and his tutor arrived to help with homework. A young French woman in her late twenties, she has a Masters in psychology and recently got a job as a middle school counselor. She was completely drained after leading workshops where kids could vent after the events of the weekend, with no psychological support for herself or the other adults. She said to Ivan, “Not all the kids are lucky enough to have parents who supervise what they watch on TV. These kids have seen things they shouldn’t have seen and they’re very scared.” She had never said anything to me about this before, so I was surprised. I’m going to keep putting my foot down. It’s been a constant struggle, but it’s worth it (I hope).

Sometime during the day I read the bios of the terrorists and was disgusted. They can’t even use difficult childhoods as an excuse. The main guy’s father owned a clothing store and a house in Brussels, he sent his son to a good school, nothing worked. I really felt sorry for the family. Their life was ruined.

The Washington Post reported that the ringleader from Belgium had been killed but the New York Times said it wasn’t confirmed. Same with French media. There was no way to know.

In the evening I pulled up a chair at one of our local cafés on a busy intersection and had a glass of wine, watching the crowds rushing by in a blur. It felt fantastic, even if I kept looking around just in case. I hadn’t been inspired to take any pictures for a while, much less post them, but my glass of white wine on the red café table looked like an oasis of joie de vivre, symbolizing everything we can do here, all the possibilities… so I immortalized it under the heading  “My act of defiance.” You could also call it “My act of faith.”

Today the terrorist mastermind’s death was confirmed. I want to forget his face but it pops up everywhere.

Turning off social media.

To be continued, Love, xxx, Aliss

Since Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th, 2015

Unwinding after a full week, phone rings, it’s my daughter in New York, distraught, asking if we’re OK. “Yes, why, what’s happening?” She tells us about the shooting taking place 15 minutes from our building, where we often go for drinks or meals with friends. I turn on the TV and stay up all night watching the news…

Emails pour in, asking if we are safe. Here is a compilation of my answers..

Saturday November 14th, 2015

Thank you again for keeping us in your thoughts and prayers, as we do you.

Emotionally exhausted, didn’t sleep much last night. Making comfort food (boeuf bourguignon), staring at Facebook messages from around the world…going to take some time to meditate now, try to stay focused…

Love, xxx, Aliss

Sunday November 15, 2015

Thank you for asking! Friday night all I could imagine was worst-case scenarios (won’t describe). An advantage of having to be strong for the younger ones is you have to keep going, no matter what. I was a mess yesterday, exhausted and sad, but tried to stay busy. I woke up thinking about all the karma around this event and had no idea where anyone could begin unraveling and healing it (ex: US, Russia, China, France all sending weapons to Middle East, France former colonial occupier of North Africa, religious wars going back to the beginning of time…)

…all I can think of is try to elevate my thoughts and ask for grace.

I don’t understand why the government has waited this long to close the borders. We’ve known there would be an attack since January.

Have to take the metro tomorrow morning at rush hour, not looking forward to it. Have to remind myself we have been in this situation of red alerts several times and I’ve always found my way through.

There will be a national moment of silence tomorrow at 12 noon our time if you are up and want to join in.

To be continued, xxxx

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

Hi, thanks for keeping in touch and thinking of me yesterday. I got to my appointment and back safely and was arriving near my station just in time for the moment of silence. There was an announcement in several languages about honoring the victims and then all public transportation, buses, metros, trams, came to a halt. It was eerie and very moving. I was glad to be connected to so many people in schools, hospitals, companies, offices, all focused on the same thing.

Ivan’s school had a special program for the kids all day today. He doesn’t seem too upset. His father and I have been talking with him since Saturday. Some of the other kids have relatives who were killed or wounded.

One of our friends was at the concert and escaped unharmed. We’re seeing him next week and will find out more. Everyone is still taking head-counts among friends and acquaintances, sharing stories about people saving or caring for others. There’s a weird mixture of shock and defiance in the atmosphere, fewer people everywhere, but everyone trying to go about their business.

There is fear about Christmas, but some shops are putting up their decorations and lights, which like the Marseillaise, have taken on new meaning for me.

Jewish and Muslim religious leaders gathered in front of the concert venue yesterday and sang the French anthem together.

French commentators are analyzing radical Islamic recruiting techniques aimed at young video game players. Their propaganda videos look like something out of Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty. Ivan came home talking about how kids he knows and the gunmen, too, probably, don’t know it’s not all a game. He said,  “Let’s not watch anything violent for a week, Ok?” I’m gratified that he finally gets why I don’t let him play war games on the computer or watch violence on TV. The discussions here and at school have helped him understand these issues in a new way.

Looking at the front pages of US newspapers, I saw there have been 300 homicides just in Baltimore so far this year and that gruesome fact, plus the constant mass shootings in the US, somehow shifted my perspective. We all have to be very conscious and aware right now, develop a safety GPS.

A friend from Ohio, married to an Egyptian and now living in Dubai, where she home schools her four kids and has a window on the Muslim world, said we should use the word Daesh (meaning “group of old bigots imposing their will”) instead of ISIS, which legitimizes them.

…. To be continued, xxxx, Aliss