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

How to make Christmas last forever (or at least until the end of January…)

DSC04092

This is a post from a previous Christmas, just as relevant now 🙂 ” This year’s darkness hasn’t been due to the weather but many other things… “As a native of more southerly latitudes, I had to learn to ignore Parisian weather to survive. If I had known before I moved here that my birthplace near Washington, DC, is comparable to Madrid and Rome in terms of sunlight, whereas Paris is comparable to Montreal, that lack of sunshine depresses the immune system and dampens the spirits… I may not have come. Then one day I was ranting about the gray skies to a French friend who said, “Il y a d’autres soleils à Paris” (There are other suns in Paris) and that was a turning point. I learned to love rain even when it falls every day for months as it has this winter, one of the darkest in 30 years.

Living in Paris has made me think that Christmas and Hanukkah lights are Northern Hemisphere responses to winter sun deprivation, and this year they are more vital than ever. So here are my strategies to make Christmas last forever, or at least until the end of January and the gradual approach of Spring…

  • Virtual fireplace on flat screen TV (DVD’s available and now streaming on Netflix!)
  • Epiphany galettes (King cakes) still on sale in the bakeries (collect prizes, wear crowns!)
  • New Year’s cards can be sent until at least the end of the month (and received!)
  • New Year’s resolutions boost energy and project us into the future, especially if updated and tracked
  • Skype faraway friends and family to open presents they sent by mail
  • Sort pictures, print some to send with New Year’s greetings
  • Play with presents: make a list of who gave you what and what you will do with each one in the new year, include thank you’s in New Year’s cards
  • Keep a log of good times over the holidays, in your appointment calendar, and relive them by journaling: funny things people said, conversations, realisations, issues to clear up?
  • Food memories: recipes new and heirloom, to share in New Year’s messages
  • Food continued: bake cookies and send to older and younger loved ones
  • Keep the tree and decorations up even as the tree folds inward like a shriveled umbrella and begins to look like a biological equivalent of Miss Havisham’s wedding cake (in Great Expectations)
  • Make un-decorating part of the holiday, set aside lots of time, enjoy treasured ornaments, as mementos and promises of future holiday celebrations
  • Keep the music playing: all the oldies you didn’t listen to when it was really Christmas, laugh at Bob Dylan and Elvis holiday albums, discover Yuletide gems by Lynerd Skynerd, Louis Armstrong and the never-obsolete Frank Sinatra. If that’s too much, fall back on instrumental “Winter Solstice” and “Celtic Christmas” collections from Windham Hill and others…
  • Recycle your tree in any of Paris’s parks until January 28th (and beyond), knowing it will become fragrant mulch for gorgeous spring landscaping…
  • Hibernate without guilt, perhaps with the help of a carefully selected winter virus, just severe enough to keep you on the couch in front of the “fire” with herb teas and soups,  but not requiring antibiotics or ER trips…
  • Continue your creative and professional work when the fog clears
  • Start thinking about Valentine’s day…”

Merry Christmas!

To be continued, love xxxxx Aliss

 

 

How to make Christmas last forever (or at least until the end of January…)

DSC04092

This is a post from last Christmas, just as relevant now 🙂 This year’s darkness hasn’t been due to the weather but many other things… “As a native of more southerly latitudes, I had to learn to ignore Parisian weather to survive. If I had known before I moved here that my birthplace near Washington, DC, is comparable to Madrid and Rome in terms of sunlight, whereas Paris is comparable to Montreal, that lack of sunshine depresses the immune system and dampens the spirits… I may not have come. Then one day I was ranting about the gray skies to a French friend who said, “Il y a d’autres soleils à Paris” (There are other suns in Paris) and that was a turning point. I learned to love rain even when it falls every day for months as it has this winter, the darkest in 30 years:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/19/aint-no-sunshine-winter-darkest-europe?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

Living in Paris has made me think that Christmas and Hanukkah lights are Northern Hemisphere responses to winter sun deprivation, and this year they are more vital than ever. So here are my strategies to make Christmas last forever, or at least until the end of January and the gradual approach of Spring…

  • Virtual fireplace on flat screen TV (DVD’s available and now streaming on Netflix!)
  • Epiphany galettes (King cakes) still on sale in the bakeries (collect prizes, wear crowns!)
  • New Year’s cards can be sent until at least the end of the month (and received!)
  • New Year’s resolutions boost energy and project us into the future, especially if updated and tracked  http://www.nytimes.com/guides/smarterliving/resolution-ideas
  • Skype faraway friends and family to open presents they sent by mail
  • Sort pictures, print some to send with New Year’s greetings
  • Play with presents: make a list of who gave you what and what you will do with each one in the new year, include thank you’s in New Year’s cards
  • Keep a log of good times over the holidays, in your appointment calendar, and relive them by journaling: funny things people said, conversations, realisations, issues to clear up?
  • Food memories: recipes new and heirloom, to share in New Year’s messages
  • Food continued: bake cookies and send to older and younger loved ones
  • Keep the tree and decorations up even as the tree folds inward like a shriveled umbrella and begins to look like a biological equivalent of Miss Havisham’s wedding cake (in Great Expectations)
  • Make un-decorating part of the holiday, set aside lots of time, enjoy treasured ornaments, as mementos and promises of future holiday celebrations
  • Keep the music playing: all the oldies you didn’t listen to when it was really Christmas, laugh at Bob Dylan and Elvis holiday albums, discover Yuletide gems by Lynerd Skynerd, Louis Armstrong and the never-obsolete Frank Sinatra. If that’s too much, fall back on instrumental “Winter Solstice” and “Celtic Christmas” collections from Windham Hill and others…
  • Recycle your tree in any of Paris’s parks until January 28th (and beyond), knowing it will become fragrant mulch for gorgeous spring landscaping…
  • Hibernate without guilt, perhaps with the help of a carefully selected winter virus, just severe enough to keep you on the couch in front of the “fire” with herb teas and soups,  but not requiring antibiotics or ER trips…
  • Continue your creative and professional work when the fog clears
  • Start thinking about Valentine’s day…”

Merry Christmas!

To be continued, love xxxxx Aliss

 

 

How to make Christmas last forever (or at least until the end of January…)

DSC04092

As a native of more southerly latitudes, I had to learn to ignore Parisian weather to survive. If I had known before I moved here that my birthplace near Washington, DC, is comparable to Madrid and Rome in terms of sunlight, whereas Paris is comparable to Montreal, that lack of sunshine depresses the immune system and dampens the spirits… I may not have come. Then one day I was ranting about the gray skies to a French friend who said, “Il y a d’autres soleils à Paris” (There are other suns in Paris) and that was a turning point. I learned to love rain even when it falls every day for months as it has this winter, the darkest in 30 years:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/19/aint-no-sunshine-winter-darkest-europe?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

Living in Paris has made me think that Christmas and Hanukkah lights are Northern Hemisphere responses to winter sun deprivation, and this year they are more vital than ever. So here are my strategies to make Christmas last forever, or at least until the end of January and the gradual approach of Spring…

  • Virtual fireplace on flat screen TV (DVD’s available and now streaming on Netflix!)
  • Epiphany galettes (King cakes) still on sale in the bakeries (collect prizes, wear crowns!)
  • New Year’s cards can be sent until at least the end of the month (and received!)
  • New Year’s resolutions boost energy and project us into the future, especially if updated and tracked  http://www.nytimes.com/guides/smarterliving/resolution-ideas
  • Skype faraway friends and family to open presents they sent by mail
  • Sort pictures, print some to send with New Year’s greetings
  • Play with presents: make a list of who gave you what and what you will do with each one in the new year, include thank you’s in New Year’s cards
  • Keep a log of good times over the holidays, in your appointment calendar, and relive them by journaling: funny things people said, conversations, realisations, issues to clear up?
  • Food memories: recipes new and heirloom, to share in New Year’s messages
  • Food continued: bake cookies and send to older and younger loved ones
  • Keep the tree and decorations up even as the tree folds inward like a shriveled umbrella and begins to look like a biological equivalent of Miss Havisham’s wedding cake (in Great Expectations)
  • Make un-decorating part of the holiday, set aside lots of time, enjoy treasured ornaments, as mementos and promises of future holiday celebrations
  • Keep the music playing: all the oldies you didn’t listen to when it was really Christmas, laugh at Bob Dylan and Elvis holiday albums, discover Yuletide gems by Lynerd Skynerd, Louis Armstrong and the never-obsolete Frank Sinatra. If that’s too much, fall back on instrumental “Winter Solstice” and “Celtic Christmas” collections from Windham Hill and others…
  • Recycle your tree in any of Paris’s parks until January 28th (and beyond), knowing it will become fragrant mulch for gorgeous spring landscaping…
  • Hibernate without guilt, perhaps with the help of a carefully selected winter virus, just severe enough to keep you on the couch in front of the “fire” with herb teas and soups,  but not requiring antibiotics or ER trips…
  • Continue your creative and professional work when the fog clears
  • Start thinking about Valentine’s day…

To be continued, love xxxx Aliss

 

 

A Tale of Two Christmases (updated 12/26/17)

IMG_0927Rockefeller Center, of course 🙂

As Josephine Baker said, “J’ai deux amours, mon pays et Paris” (“I have two loves, my country and Paris”) That’s totally me! Both Christmas styles are genius, if very different…

It’s taken longer than I expected to synthesize my pictures and thoughts, due to jetlag and holiday socializing, but, here goes..

I had to go to the Washington D.C. area in early December for a family funeral in Arlington. It was very solemn but heart-warming, bringing family together to commemorate a life well lived.DSC03934a

It was amazing to return to the area where I grew up and then take the Amtrak train north from Union Station, like when I was in college.

 

Seeing NYC from afar over northern NJ  marshes reminded me of the first time I saw it rising on the horizon like the Emerald City when I was a teenager.

 

This time I was on my way to see beloved younger family members who are building careers in the theater and IT worlds. Not having been in NYC at Christmas time for several years, I had to make every moment count: a long taxi ride Uptown from Penn station with a very chatty cabdriver:  DSC03945

A walk across Central park for an afternoon at the Met:

 

Midtown Christmas windows:

 

Rockefeller Center:

 

Bryant Park Winter village:

 

Visiting in Washington Heights (near GW bridge) and Queens:

 

Theater outings (The New School, The Public, Japan Society):

 

Thai “smashed” ice cream on MacDougall Street:

 

Shopping and pilgrimage to the Stonewall Inn in the Village:

 

A gorgeous fluffy snow storm:

 

Singing along with Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas” at the top of our lungs with the crowd at a cool tequila and mezcal bar called The Ghost Donkey downtown, then Uber home on the FDR:DSC03983.JPGhttps://www.atabula.com/2017/10/31/images-panorama-de-11-buches-de-chefs-patissiers-stars/

Hours on steep subway stairways and deafening dirty platforms enlivened with occasional mozaics: DSC03954

Pounding the broken pavement between stations with a capella groups singing on street corners:DSC03978.jpg

And before I can blink, time to fly back to Paris: DSC03998

First adjustment: Paris is much farther north, so it gets darker earlier here and even a bright day is muted compared to NYC. Also Christmas lights seem to be more of a public than a private thing here. The shopkeeper in charge of ordering the display over our street has retired and no one has taken over. Local cafés, bakeries, chocolate and cheese stores did their best to cheer things up:

 

Our own little family invested in a very tall tree for indoors and a floor-to-roof outdoor string of LEDs for our balcony:

 

Driving around the city, I noticed posher neighborhoods all lit up with specially designed garlands, welcoming visitors and shoppers, but there’s less self-expression by private individuals here. It seems to be catching on slowly and the occasional bright balcony takes your breath away. A welcome relief: hopping on public transportation to shop is a breeze in Paris, quiet, clean and easy to navigate:

 

But another adjustment: most of the good Christmas playlists are in English. Maybe because everything in France is still less commercial, holiday music is mainly religious with a few notable exceptions, including francophone Canadian, African and West Indian imports.

For me, the epitome of French Christmas spirit is the Bûche de Noël or Yule Log cake, a form of edible folk art reaching new levels of refinement every year. Star pastry chefs are now vying to create more extravagant versions in every shape and color, from electric guitars to Santa hats to playing cards, at astronomical prices.

https://www.atabula.com/2017/10/31/images-panorama-de-11-buches-de-chefs-patissiers-stars/

The less expensive ones in our humble local establishments are good enough for me: rolls of sponge cake and butter cream icing or slabs of mousse and ice cream with fruit glazes and every possible variation of tiny plastic forest scenes, wrapped gifts, Santas and snowmen.

 

Of course Paris is the uncontested world capital of food and can’t be beat for the availability of fresh ingredients for home cooking along with gourmet restaurants at affordable prices. Chef Philou’s foie gras and smoked salmon:Philou_boutiquehttp://www.facebook.com/Philourestaurant/

Lunch at Yam Tcha, Michelin-starred Franco-Chinese fusion:

 

http://www.yamtcha.com/reservations.html

And on the 24th, our French relatives hosted a traditional Christmas Eve dinner for 18 of us with almost that many nationalities represented around the table:DSC04041

In former days, everyone would have attended midnight mass. Now we open presents at about that time and stagger home in the wee hours to recover.

Our American background calls for stocking presents the morning of the 25th, then another round of gifts in front of a virtual fire, under the watchful eyes of our kitty, who got a new scratching box with catnip and lots of her favorite–ham:

 

This was followed by a late afternoon skype with the US family in their sparkling White Christmas landscape, whereas ours was dreary and Wet. They were spending the day in the kitchen, we were still full so didn’t have to…

So… New York definitely wins the contest in terms of music, personalized lights, and great music. Paris wins in terms of deliciousness, cozy internationalness, and human-friendly transportation. New York has the big tree at 30 Rock (see above) but Paris has the world’s biggest artificial tree, the Eiffel TowerDSC01934

… Feeling privileged to spend time with loved ones in both places and enjoy both atmospheres…

Merry Christmas! Joyeux Noël! On to 2018! xxxxx Aliss

 

Happy Everything!

dsc03162

These rolled sponge cake and butter cream Yule Log Bûches are a French holiday tradition and a form of folk art, decorated with toy saws, holly leaves, chalets, deer, tiny presents, birds, evergreens, skiing Santas and more, each pâtisserie with its own special touches, flavors and colors…in this display alone, I see coconut, lemon, strawberry and raspberry versions, other shops offer chocolate, moka, vanilla…

Happy Christmas Eve and Hanukkah from Paris, everyone!

Let the light be reborn in all of us and the world…

xxxxx Aliss

Stillness and Dancing…

Is it possible to keep an open mind and heart?DSC03113.JPG

“I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”

T.S. Elliot, Four Quartets

Thank you Marion Woodman for introducing me to these lines in your lecture, “Rolling Away the Stone.”