Water Therapy, Paris Style (Sept 2 update)


This summer, for the first time in 50 years, swimming in the Bassin de la Villette has been actively encouraged by the city on occasion, including last Sunday, as part of Paris’s bid for the summer 2024 Olympics and a larger environmental plan.

Flashback: Near the end of the last century, then-president Jacques Chirac, erstwhile Mayor of Paris, promised to swim in the Seine before the end of his mandate. A consortium of townships along the tributaries, including the canal system, formed to reduce pollution. Years passed without news as the dream receded into an indefinite future. Researching the neighborhood, I found out our local waterway was commissioned by Napoleon to provide fresh drinking water for parched Parisians, but was then defiled by sewage and manufacturing due to the Industrial revolution. For the past 5 decades, swimming was discouraged by fines. People still partook but rarely and at their own risk. A few months ago, the city announced its Olympic ambitions, including events in the canal and the Seine, starting summer 2017. The water quality has been monitored over recent years and was now supporting fish and wildlife.

Next thing I knew a preliminary swim was organized on the canal one cold June day, with a pontoon access, wetsuits on loan, showers, supervision and everything you’d expect from a modern metropolis.

Excitement started to mount and when I got back from summer vacation, news items began to appear in print and online about a long-distance race followed by open swimming scheduled for August 28th. Fanciful posters decorated billboards. The event was dubbed “La Fluctuat” from the city motto “Fluctuat Nec Mergitur” (Tempest-tossed but unsinkable):


Co-sponsored by the city and a scientific-sounding “Laboratoire des baignades urbaines expérimentales,” it was irresistible. So thousands of people, including my family and neighbors, trooped over there on Sunday and waited for the race to end and show our support by taking a dip. My peeps plopped down with lawn chairs and a cooler on the sunny side. The crowd was 4-deep along a cobbled walkway, euphoric in bathing suits and beach towels, jumping in and paddling around with floats provided by volunteers on the sidelines.

My own nautical motivation started to wane when I saw a 3-foot distance between water and embankment, with no pontoon or ladders in sight on our side. Chinning and pull-ups are not my strongest attribute. Could my friends pull me out of the water soaking wet?  My son is a strong swimmer, so I cheered when he jumped in, but kept an eye on him and hoped my water safety training wouldn’t be needed. It wasn’t. We basked in the late afternoon sunshine, surrounded by disrobed revellers. Perfect way to segue from vacation back to business after an intense year. “I can’t believe this is really happening!” “Pinch me, I must be dreaming!”  With my feet dangling in the cool water, I resolved to set up camp on the opposite side next time so I could climb in and out at will.

Then I noticed that all the lifeguards posted on surfboards during the race had disappeared. There were 2 men in wetsuits going up and down the Bassin in a zodiac, but no other safety measures. Something fishy was going on.

Sure enough, when we got home, reports in the media proclaimed that we had all braved the ban on public swimming. The “Laboratory of Experimental Urban Swims” turned out to be an association of activists whose permit application was denied by the city the day before? A huge publicity campaign had been launched without official support from the Mairie? Looks like we were a flashmob and didn’t know it…


In any case, no regrets. Hot showers and soap took care of whatever may have been in the water.  We all survived to tell the tale and make history, sharing a vision of rivers and canals coming back to life even in huge metropolitan areas.

:-))))  xxxxx Aliss

Paris Pulse (updated Sept 9)


August 25th: Olive tree and cedar, Pavillon du Lac café, Buttes Chaumont, looking down towards the lake, yesterday morning, Paris 19th…

Emerging from jet lag, picking up the pulse, listening to people, remembering questions from a US friend…How are we living with terrorist threats, what’s going on with the burkini thing?

August 27th: It’s taken longer than I expected to compose this in my thoughts, partly due to jet lag slomo, but also because of the emotional charge on these questions:

How are we reacting to the terrorist threats here? The consensus is that more incidents are coming and we’re doing our best to prevent what we can and prepare for what we can’t prevent. There are soldiers patrolling the streets. I don’t see them every time I go out, but when I do, I thank them. Never thought I’d see the day. But no, there are no soldiers in my 12 year-old son’s school, and still no metal detectors. He and I took a mass-emergency first aid class at our town hall this spring (see March posts). I hope I’ll never have to use what I learned. If I do, I hope I can stay focused enough to save lives, including ours. One million fewer people have visited France since January than usually come. This summer alone tourist expenditures are a billion euros less than in previous years. On the other hand, 89% of French households maintained their vacation plans and now that August is coming to an end, I feel the life force returning to Paris. There’s a lovely buzz of people in my neighborhood, walking, filling sidewalk cafés. Reality check: France is still 3 times safer than the US!


In fact, I had fears about going home this summer, based on headlines from the past year. Once there, I was fine. Front pages have to be kept in perspective. Which brings me to the second question, “What’s going on with this burkini thing?”

As I tried to explain stateside, the bans were local ordinances in seaside towns still traumatized by July 14th, and would be overturned by the judicial branch in due course. This is exactly what happened yesterday, faster than I expected, when the Conseil d’État (State Council, like an administrative supreme court) ruled the bans illegal. Around the globe, people were absolutely convinced the bans emanated from the French government because they read “French Burkini Ban…” in the media. I was blown away by the intensity of their moral outrage. As someone who goes to the beach in a shirt, hat, and sunglasses, I would never tell anyone else what they can or can’t wear. Have to say I did find burkini timing a bit odd, only weeks after the attack in Nice. Could it really be completely by coincidence, totally without an agenda?  I’m struck by the fact that the most virulent statements in the controversy seem to come from people who’ve never lived in France, don’t speak French, have no inkling of cultural history or daily reality here. There’s much more to say, about France as a “secular” country, pros and cons…

For a good summary:


Meanwhile, the words echoing in my head are “context,” “compassion,” and “humility.” Can we try to see that there are always multiple perspectives? Talking about all this has made me humble.  OK, so I speak a few languages and have traveled. What about all the countries I’ve never been to, all the languages I do not speak, the cultural histories and daily realities I’ve never experienced? So…I’m going to try to keep this in mind at all times in the onslaught of headlines, sound bites, and social media flare ups… Keep talking to as many real human beings from different areas of the globe as I can, to get their inside take on local and world events, think before I react….

To be continued….

xxxxx  Aliss


Flying over France…


My Paris, hard to come back this time, so much going on before I left, sad to leave my family and friends in the US, sad vacation is ending…long wait for our bags, announcements about highest-level terror alert…in the back seat of our taxi in from the airport, sit with my eyes closed, not just for lack of sleep…are 1000 refugees still huddled on the corner of my street? How will I help them?

Sunday noon, neighborhood almost empty, carry our bags into the building, first blessing: trees and flowers in our courtyard, still quiet. Ah, real coffee and baguette…unpack a few things before jet lag knocks me out. Doze, wake, doze, wake, watch Olympic round up on late-night French TV live from Rio and cry. Even sports announcers here use beautiful, precise language, commenting on a montage of passionate athletic performances by French and international athletes I never saw on NBC…almost no commercials, no blaring ads for cars and fast food, a very different outlook on our world… I’m thankful to see it from this vantage point…

Feel torn, so far away from loved ones…how has my life turned out this way? Not easy trying to be a bridge between the US, France, and Russia. Please help me use this gift, for compassion between nations, find the right words, for peace in me and around me, please help me keep perspective….

to be continued…xxxxx Aliss

Thank You


Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you …..life.

For beauty, for grace, for forgiveness, for generosity, for love

xxxxx Aliss

PS turns out this enormous flower outside YumYum in Woodstock, NY is a giant Rose o’ Sharon. Information courtesy of Cliff Frost.

Water Therapy

Since arrival from Paris, spending hours driving in triangles to connect family…whenever possible, filling my senses with these Catskill landscapes:

Awosting Falls (tiny person at top left gives an idea of scale)…DSC02874

Up the mountain to Lake Minnewaska…DSC02887

Also on the preserve, Mohonk Lake just before thunderstorm:DSC02895

Driving north, Woodstock, NY, just off Tinker Street:DSC02902

And miraculously, there are still places where the water gushes sweet and pure straight from the land (befriend the locals to find out where). Some good soul hooked up a pipe so you don’t have to crawl into a cave. We fill tanks and take them home as an alternative to slightly sulferous well water:


No wonder the ancients worshipped springs…

To be continued… xxxxx Aliss

Meanwhile in Paris

A memory from August 15th, 2014: “Paris, City of the Goddess… This morning in our courtyard I could hear bells ringing everywhere for a long time, the way it must have been before cars, watches, and smart phones, when the streets echoed with human voices and bells tolled the time. The city is almost empty and today is Assumption Day. You don’t have to be Catholic or even Christian to feel the feminine energy here. Notre Dame stands in the very center, where geobiologists say Telluric Currents meet and people have been drawn to worship from time immemorial. Traditionally all distances in France were measured from Notre Dame. When you were out in the provinces, the old road signs used to read ‘Paris Notre Dame xxx km.’ There are shrines to Mary everywhere with ex-votoes at the entrances and on the walls saying, ‘Thank you, Mary’ or ‘Thank you, Mother’ and sometimes details about the events of her intercession. Whatever your beliefs, these places seem like portals to another dimension where you can release your fears and pain if you are willing to trust that somehow they can be transformed through grace beyond human understanding…I thought this was all superstition until I moved to Paris. The Goddess of La République, called ‘Marianne,’ seems to be replacing Mary in some contexts. Her statue stands on one of the major squares of the city and in all the Mairies, or town halls, presiding over civil ceremonies of all kinds. If she allows us to imagine a higher power of justice and gives birth to compassion and hope, then is she Mary’s secular sister… or daughter?”
 xxxxx Aliss

Forest Bathing (2) (US style)


Time with the trees, from the Catskills to the Taconic Range….

In an earlier post on February 22, from the Fontainebleau Forest south of Paris, I

“Recalled running across a new term: ‘forest bathing,’ translated from Japanese and Korean, meaning to spend relaxing time in the woods. (French version: sylvothérapie)

Highly recommended reading, how trees secrete natural antibiotics, essential oils, and other substances that heal infections, comparison of number of germs found in cities (lots) and in forests (none), beneficial effect on stress symptoms such as blood pressure…etc.



Disturbing to think that seeing the information presented scientifically is more persuasive than just being there. Are we so removed from our senses that we can only take them seriously when they are expressed in statistics? Why not trust what we feel when we’re there?”

Above picture taken at the top of Mount Greylock in western Massachusetts, on the Appalachian and Mohawk trails, overlooking 4 states. Very moving and uplifting because the mountain that inspired Thoreau, Hawthorne, and Melville  was once completely devastated by logging and charcoaling. Only a stand of old growth red spruce were spared due to their inaccessible location. In 1885 a group of local businessmen bought up 400 acres to create a conservancy and eventually turned it over to the State. Since then the preserve has grown to more than 12,500 acres and the forest has healed itself.

For an enlightening look at how trees communicate and support each other through living underground networks, “The Wood Wide Web,” featuring Merlin Sheldrake:



Learning from the trees…. To be continued xxxxx Aliss


Upstate of Mind (2)

With Paris as my prism, visiting small towns a couple of hours north of Manhattan…

Lucky to catch a beautiful show near the Rondout waterfront at the Art Society of Kingston by Mary Anne Erickson, co-creator of local food temple Bistro-to-Go, artist and neon designer among her many talents. A recent trip to India inspired photographic prints on silk, suspended on rods and transparent lines from high ceilings in a softly lit space. Here she is in a frock made from one of her photographs on fabric:DSC02832

Some of my favorites:



Mary Anne’s intro:DSC02835

To purchase the catalog and see more of Mary Anne’s work, including her paintings of America’s disappearing roadside folk art and the neon sign she designed for her Blue Mountain Bistro-to-Go:


For the restaurant:


To be continued  xxxxx Aliss

Upstate of Mind


With Paris as my prism, hanging out in small upstate NY towns….

Starting to get to know Kingston, briefly the first capitol of the Empire State during the American Revolution. Colonial history has left two main heartbeats, one by the Rondout waterfront:

DSC02255with galeries, shops and eateries, a maritime museum and cruises out on the wide Hudson. Then there’s an area on higher ground, still called the “Stockade” although the original fortress was burnt first by the Esopus tribe and then by the British after the Battle of Saratoga. Highly recommended guided tour, The Senate House, for a glimpse into 18th century daily life. Picturesque tree-lined streets framed by white arcade walkways with a butcher selling grass-fed meats, hairdressers, international and US cuisine, art supplies, antiques, clothes, gifts, The Old Dutch Church (its iron fence now festooned with rainbow flags), cornucopia farmers’ market on Saturdays and a memorable pawn shop:DSC02844

Interesting mixed messages…a Buddha, musical instruments, a book cover showing armed Native Americans, entitled Turn in Your Weapons (The Government Will Take Care of You), and a neon sign that reads, “Guns bought and sold.”

Behind the scenes on brick façades around the main drag, facing 17th century stone houses, monumental street art… Artemis Emerging From The Quarry:





A few miles away is a huge strip lined with malls, surrounded by woods and farms, the Catskills rising in the distance. Can’t quite define the vibe yet. Every activity involves car travel, fresh produce everywhere but no baguette. Is France a figment of my imagination? Supersized local yokels, Manhattan intellectuals, Woodstock hippies, some Latinos and African Americans, County Fair, farm animals and wildlife, bugs, T-storms, humidity, blue skies, big sunsets, air smells like watermelons…. summer upstate.

DSC02839Davenport Farms, roadside produce stand 🙂

to be continued  xxxxx Aliss