Monday, July 28, 2008

Last weeks in Paris

I suspect that the fullness of the experience of living in Paris for 7 months will continue to reveal itself to me over time...right now I'm feeling a little sad to be leaving this adventure, but also excited to be home in the arms of loved ones, and back in my "real" life.
Stan just left, and after a couple of weeks of having a close partner sharing this adventure and providing a reflection on the day to day experiences, I miss him more than ever. We went to Lisbon for 5 days, and had great weather, some beach, bacalhau in at least 7 different ways (they say the Portuguese have 365 different ways of cooking codfish), and as you can see in the pix I sent in the web album, fabulous architecture from the many cultural influences of the region.
Bastille day (really Bastille day lasts about three days) meant music all over Paris, centering around the town halls of the different arrondissements as well as Place Bastille, where you could dance and drink with the firemen. The fireworks were held at Trocadero, and it seemed all of Paris was there! The whole thing was well organized, and for those of us who have Carnaval experience, very civilized...getting on and off the Metro and walking through the crowds did not feel at all scary or overwhelming.

The things I will miss...are those things that are different about living somewhere versus short stays. Friends who I hope will make it to our neck of the woods in the future, who offered warmth, meals, cultural brokering, practice in French while correcting me, who shared their friends with me as well, expanding my social classes with Gérard, who brings a calmness and sense of play to a vigourous flow practice, the changing seasons, the introspection that being mostly alone has given me. Changing seasons was also a novelty, and sharing Paris with family and friends during this sejour also added layers to myperception.

It has been eye opening as well to see politics from the perspective of Europe, not just US politics but the African continent and Asia as well. Perhaps having been empires in the past, now fallen, allows some of the EU to contemplate the world a little less beligerently.

The nomination of Obama and the campaign has been all the more dramatic viewed from here, and the problems of the world; racism, economic innequality, the status of women, cultural and religious conflict, ecological peril sadly universal as well. It has definitely reinforced the sense that we are really in this mess together as humans, and we need to figure a way out together.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Beginning of July

Wow, I have been in Paris for 6 months now, with a short break to go home of less than a week. I'm back at the Alliance Française taking classes, this time a workshop in oral expression with the thematic content of "Living like the French". Though I'm pretty sure we are having more fun than most French people, it has been a great way to organize and think about the cultural and political differences. The way the class is organized by our very seasoned and cool teacher Michelle, is a short discussion to frame some French cultural event, monument, political process or institution, and then we go do a field trip on the bus or walking. So far, the Arche de la Defense, the National Library of France, François Mitterand site, and today we went to the Palais de la Justice and watched an actual criminal trial, of a group accussed of having a huge network dedicated to stealing cars in France, and shipping them off to Africa for sale.

My first response when walking into the courtroom was how much it reminded me of criminal coutrooms I have been in, where mostly black young men stand accussed, and whites are the cops and judges. for all the complicated reasons that is so in the US, I'm sure there are many similar and different reasons why that is so here. All the judges, and lawyers are in black robes, and today was sweltering. I'm sure it's not quite so bad in winter to wear robes. The testimony was challenging to follow, and I missed a lot of things, like how long the group had been under surveillance and such, but the gist was available to me, related to stolen cars, trucks in which to transport them, that there were verbatim reports being read of conversations the accussed had reportedly had with each other, and some of them were related to each other....The nonverbal inattention of what we assummed (at a later discussion with the teacher) were probably court-appointed defense lawyers.

The setting itself was quietly sumptuous, if a little shabby where the public was mostly (grafitti scratched on the walls of the waiting areas outside the courtrooms, for example, benches the public sat on a bit worse for wear), but the walls in the courtroom were covered in lovely carved wood paneling and golden-green brocaded fabric. The building also surrounds Saint Chapelle, one of the loveliest and most visited churches of Paris, so the lieu has that additional cachet, dating back to the time of Napoleon the first.

I'll mostly miss the friends I've made here, the sharing of meals and experiences with them, and the richness of the art scene here. I'm hoping many of these friendships will extend across the "pond" and I will have a chance to host those who have contributed to making Paris so warm and welcoming for me. I have been super fortunate to go the showing of a friend's paintings, the dress rehearsal of another's modern dance production choreographed by William Forsythe and performed at the Chaillot Theatre, a couple of theatre productions that were put on by small theater student groups of which a friend is one, a puppett and live actor production of Don Quichote, a few musical events. La féte de la Musique, where every June 21 Paris has some musical event on practically every corner was astounding in the variety of genres and sheer volume. I went to go hear Persian Sufi musicians at the Musée of the Middle Ages, right in their courtyard. On the way home ran into techno, hip hop, urban folk, and Rock, just on the street around the corner from me. I got up very early the next morning, as I was catching the train to the Basque country, and Fète de la Musique revelers were just making it home at 6 AM!

Other random images from Paris in the last month. Coming back on the bus one evening after having dinner with a friend, I was sitting behind a man in his 40's who appeared to be of African origin. He turned on his cell phone and I could see a photo of a smiling woman and two pre-teen kids. He looked at the photo for a long time, then turned it off and put it in his pocket.

My brother Peter paid a surprise visit, coming to play a gig in Paris and Lyon with Willie Colon. His flight was rescheduled and he stayed for a couple of days. A treat to have a sibling one on one, and we spent the last morning visiting musicians at the Père Lachaise Cemetery before he took off. It was sweet to see that the great jazz pianist Petrucciani is resting almost right next to Féderic Chopin.

The Basque country trip was great, Claudine and I took the train from Paris to Andaye, picked up a car there, and drove to San Sebastian. Though the weather was overcast part of the time, we enjoyed the beach, even to the point of renting kayacks (first time for Claudine) and put a serious dent in the tapas supply. That was the week that Spain made it to the finals, and the vibe was jubilant everytwhere we went. Bilbao was a bit of nightmare driving into into it, as there is so much new construction everywhere, but once we parked the car, trams and walking took care of it...the Guggenheim alone worth the trip, with the cream of the collection of surrealist art the featured exposition this week. It was also sweet to be speaking Spanish, I had forgotten what is was like not to have to work so hard at communicating!

The one little glitch involved filling the tank with gas instead of diesel (it says it in teeny tiny writing in the gas tank door, which we both missed). That necessitated arranging for the car to be towed and the tank siphoned out. Even then we were saved by the kindness of a stranger we will call St. Fredrick, who drove us back and forth across the Spanish border a couple of kilometers, as we made arrangements, then raced to make our train.

Planning to spend time with friends, go for some long bike rides, a couple of weeks cocooning with Stan in ten days (yay!) and feeling all in all ready to go home, and see how I can make my life feel this new on a daily basis...Any thoughts from you travelers?
Kisses to all...

Friday, June 13, 2008

First half of June

Beginning to feel the mental transition as I start to say my goodbye to Paris. As I wander the different neighborhoods, I wonder if this is the last time I will see such and such. Having my comadre, Kate, visit along with the girls Amanda and Tania, has added to the poignancy of that. All three were keeping illustrated travel journals, and we reviewed them at different points of the day. A funny cartoon, Amanda's 12 great ideas, funny things that came up with language. When they asked me how to say to someone they did not speak French, for example, we came up with the phrase "Desolé, mais tragiquement je ne parle pas français, est-ce que vous parlez anglais?" (sorry, but tragicaly I don't speak french, do you speak english?) This had the effect of stunning people, and for the most part, they would smile and speak English. On one occassion, however, a lady in a store responded to Kate, 'why no, you speak French perfectly, let's go on in French!' which of course brought the whole thing to a grinding halt! There are so many mental pictures, snatches of conversation, and thoughts that come up, and only a few make it the journal, much less the blog. I'm trying to catch a bit more by walking around with a notebook, to see if that adds to my recall.

I wanted the girls to meet the folks I have met in Paris, so I organized a picnic for all to come to. At final count we had 21 people, out of about 28 I invited, which was not bad, and the weather cooperated by not raining. We ate well, laughed a lot, and Tania played the accordeon some in the Parc des Buttes Chaumont.

The Fairy Fingers (Doigts de Fée) Salon de Thé was a big hit with the girls and Kate, a little place on Rue des Pyrennes that has the greatest selection of middle eastern pastries I have ever seen. We took in the Musée de Quai Branly which is the new version of the former Museum of Oceania, Asia and the Americas, with a fabulous show of textiles from the Paracas region of Peru, and fabrics with indigenous themes designed by a woman named Elena Izcue in the 30's in Paris for the haute couture houses. The outside of the building is covered with vegetation that sprouts right out of the walls. I had not been to the Musée d'Orsay yet on this visit, but went with the girls and's amazing each time to look at the work of the impressionists so up close, especially in the company of three artists that have their own favorites and bits of art history to add to the richness of the exhibit itself. The museum of the middle ages was also lovely. The stained glass right up close reveals it as a craft made by human hands, instead of the ethereal nature of it in situ in the churches. The story of the tapestries of the lady and the unicorn also brings to mind how many treasures of the artists of the past are lost because there is no one to speak for it's preservation, like George Sand did for this.

Bringing kids to museums is a big part of the curriculum of schools in France, and one of the threatened cuts to education involves the transportation budget for schools. This would differentially affect kids from the poorer suburbs of Paris, as the schools cover the costs of trasporting them to the museums, most of them in more central Paris. There are weekly demonstrations here related to budget cuts to education and the health system. Sadly familiar.

Prague was magical and much easier to get around in than I had imagined. The distances in the old parts of the city are all manageable on foot, and the early architecture is so well preserved and lovely, that it has a fairy tale feeling to it, especially in the light the moon. We spent a day wandering the Chateau, the old city centre with the mechanical clock that has the saints peering out every hour on the hour, went back to the castle to visit the toy museum (not to be missed even if you don't have little kids!). Tania met with folks from the the theatre and alternative puppett program, to check into the Masters program there...(I'll let her speak to that) and it seems that the diploma has a picture of a Unicorn, how cool is that!

Other Prague highlights: garlic soup, a crazy extravagant cake made from figs and chocolate that is so rich, Tania and I together could not finish a slice. We went to see a black light theatre production titled "Aspects of Alice" enigmatically billed as covering the time from when Alice in Wonderland comfronts the grownup world, love, sadness, her sexuality...anyway, we went. Lots of special effects, including an inexplicable crucifiction at the beginning, done in shadow images, (huh?!) and after the first half and an intermission, a lesbian sex scene with nudity, a man who gives her a baby made of fabric bunched up into his was particularly amusing because there were a lot of tourists from Spain, and families with little kids, and the puzzled expressions on their faces were priceless. Tania was trying so hard not to laugh out loud that she got a headache, and we still continue to laugh about the play. So much much so, that when we came back to Paris and went to the thatre to see a puppett production of Don Quixote (amazing, with life sized and small puppetts integrated into the live actors) Amanda commented that what this production needed was less dialogue and more nudity!

The Old Jewish section of the city was also very moving, with what remains of the old Jewish cemetery behind walls and protected by one of the synagogues. We managed fine with English, until we went into grocery stores, which were run by Vietnamese who spoke only Czech and Vietnamese. We were able to get most what we needed by appearance, though never did figure out what butter was in Czech! Prague seems to be a popular place for stag parties, from what we could see in the bars, and weddings are popular in the old town center.

The girls and Kate are gone, and my little place is feeling quite palatial after having shared it with 3 other people. Getting back to my routine of classes, yoga, trying to get a little more writing done, and making the last weeks count, seeing some of the sights I have not seen yet. I'm planning on making sure I do at least 2 things per week, in the genre of arts or performance, and test my French in actual theater. I'll keep you posted!
Love from Paris,


In April, I had occasion to meet one of my "blog heroines" Kristin Espinasse, who runs a site called French word a day. She is from Arizona, but fell in love with a Frenchman, and voilà, she is in the South of France, writing about life here, and sharing little nuggets of her take on French culture and language. Her husband makes wine and had a wine tasting in Paris while she signed books. Her advice was to write every week at the very least, and I'm going to try and follow that as I reach the last 7 weeks of my stay in France.

In one of my classes at the Alliance in May,when I stated I liked foi gras, I was asked how I ate it...very specifically, was the bread warm? (no) was the foi gras cold? (no) was there accompanying choices of fig confiture? (no)and did I spread the foi gras on the bread? (I did!) It turns out that this bussiness of spreading things on large pieces of bread is a totally weird thing to the French, with the exception of jam or confiture on a slice of baguette in the morning. For the foi gras, the bread is at least warm, in small pieces, the foi gras is cooled, for easier slicing, a very delicate slice is placed (not spread) on the bread, and then you may eat it. For added sophistication, you can place a dot of fig jam on top, and accompany with a montbaziliac wine. Any other situation where there is bread and something to put on it, like cheese, paté, rilletes, or butter, the most acceptable thing is take a small piece of the bread, and apply a 'point' of whatever (a dot) and then eat it.

On the other side of the culinary coin, during my Medical French classes at the Alliance, we had discussion on nutrition. The professor happened to be from Normandy, so we had a long discussion on nutritional habits of the different regions of France. As many people know, Normandy is well know for it's fantastic dairy products, and as she described it, butter and cheese sandwiches as well as butter and dry sausage together is a common thing to eat, and cholesterol levels there show it. The only thing that saves the French from obesity is the amount of walking and the lack of snacking in general. Sadly, that seem to be changing, especially among kids, who seem chubbier than I remember and are seen eating snacks out of little containers after school on the way home. There is a lot of concern in the media about childhood obesity, amusingly pointed out by a little banner under ads for exactly those processed sweets you should not eat, reminding you not to snack and eat 5 fruits and vegetables every day, in small unobtrusive print, of course.

I have been fortunate to have some really great home cooked meals with friends here, and totally groove on the very long meal with a ton of conversation (I have sat at tables now for over 3 and a half hours)and it is amazing how much one can eat if you take it slow. Most of you know what a fast eater I can be...

I've saved some of the touristy things to do with friends when they visit, went to the Marmotan Museum with Roger and Eva, and walked across the peripherique in the 16th to the Bois de Bologne, where I'd never been before. It's a lovely park, with a lake you can walk around or rent rowboats in, with pony rides for kids and bikes for rent as well. It is also known for the Brazilian transvestites that supposedly hang out there at night, though I did not see any, I guess they rest during the day.

I have been to a local restaurant with just about everyone who has come to visit, called the Cafe Noir, which is about as haute cuisine as it gets here, and was stunned when I walked in with some friends the third time I was there, and was asked if I wanted my "table d'habitude" (regular table). My French speaking friend looked at me and said "your table d'habitude??" I blushed, but tried to play it off like this happens all the is a lovely place with really good food, and right in the neighborhood, and with a regular table, what can I say?

I had the opportunity to go to the South of France, a region known as the Drôme, in the northern part of Provence. A friend has a little house in a lovely little town called Villeperdrix, and we hiked, saw the old abbey and cemetery, sat by the river and picnicked, and just took in the fresh air, lovely vistas and good food. I actually drove a car while there and find French drivers in the country quite polite. It was also fun to get stuck behind a group of cyclists for ten minutes or so, in their cute lycra matching outfits!

Just before I left for San Franciso, I received an e-mail from the Chief of the psychiatric service at the nearby public hospital. I had written a letter asking to come and visit, telling them a little of who I was and where I worked in San Francisco. He was very welcoming and when I called he warmly invited me to come over and see the place that afternoon. It turns out he had recently been to the US, L. A. in particular and is very interested in developing a Women's mental health program with the services of OB Gyn of his and a couple of other public hospitals that serve the Northeast of Paris over the next year. I went back the next morning, was given a white coat, and did rounds with the senior attending for 2 and half hours. Though I still struggle to express myself without a lot of gramatical errors, I was able to follow the rounds, and later talk with the attending and chief about some of the similarities and differences of the setting between us and them. Though they have a total of 52 beds, theirs is an open unit. More agitated or actively suicidal patients go to another hospital that has locked beds. This hospital, however is a referral hospital for refractory depression, so they get a lot of people who need ECT, or whose depressions are complicated by medical or substance abuse issues. One aspect that was amazing to me, was that most of the patients could idetify a regular PCP in the community, and refering people to follow up psychiatric and psychological services was a matter of making a phone call to the local clinic, closest to the patient. In general an appointment could be had in a few days time!

I went the day after I got back from the US, and hung out with the MD covering the ER, similar to our Psych Emergency Service, but without a separate location. I sat in on her evaluation of two patients, one who she sent home with a referal for psychotheray, and another who she determined needed a locked bed, and was in the process of admitting involuntarily and arranging for transportation when I left. The hospital itself is old, and a bit run down, and has a vibe very much like San Francisco General, of staff that are very invested in public service, who shrug at the challenges and make the most of it, and a very diverse patient population. This particular hospital had gone out on a walk out earlier in April, and the walkout had included the chief of the emergency services there, protesting cutbacks in the budgets of the health department.

In the middle of all this, I took a 6 day break to go home for Amanda's graduation from nursing school. I arrived Saturday afternoon, went to a roller derby bout where Amanda was 'jousting', and was so jet lagged by the end of it, I was almost in tears. For those of you who don't know, roller derby is a rough sport, played by tough women, and the last game I went to in December, Amanda broke her arm, requiring surgery and metal to glue the whole thing back. She took a lot of hits and falls in this last game the day before her graduation, and in my delirious state of jet lag, I was wanting to go hit the girls that were knocking her around. Thankfully it was over with nothing more to show for it than a bruise and 'rink rash' which she shows off like heroic battle scars. It was weird being back home, but delicious as well to be back in the cocoon of my hubby's arms, and to cook on a big scale in my kitchen. I made lasagna for 30, and hosted a party for Amanda while there, full of familia and Amanda's buddies.
À bientôt, (till soon)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

End of April 2008

I'm sitting in my little apartment with both windows open in a short sleeved t-shirt. It's Sunday, almost 9 PM and it's still light out. Kids and grown ups are partying in an empty lot a couple of doors down which has been turned into a neighborhood 'open space' with some play structures and a little community garden. The last few days have been beautiful...sunny, in the 70's during the day. There is a sense of Spring cleaning all over, with people hanging their linnens out of the window, the front of buildings being cleaned and painted and repairs made to streets, signeage refreshed. I myself washed windows today, and felt compelled to do a thorough cleaning of my little place. Music, mostly middle eastern, and conversation waft in my window, the cats in the apartment across the street are sunning themselves on the ledges, tails flicking back and forth.

I continue to find amusement in my growing French skill, now good enough for some eavesdroping as I wander around. I just read a French Maigret Mystery, by Simenon called Maigret et le Tueur (Maigret and the murderer) in which a young man has a hobby of going around town recording casual conversations in the Metro, or Cafés, at the butcher's and the baker's. I feel much like that when I'm trying to catch bits of nonsense conversation, and relishing in the fact that I can understand it, never mind the banal nature of the content. "I think wearing jeans is OK..." or, "what do you think you are doing? " or "softly, darling..." or "wait a minute, I have to go in the house, so I'll call you later". I can even uderstand the Metro loudspeaker now when it tells me the train is not operating between this station and that other, thank you for your comprehension...

Next week I begin the medical French classes for 2 weeks. At the end of last week, a friend, Diane Jones, was in town on her way to the Ivory Coast in west Africa. She is a nurse working on an international project supporting teams of health leaders in the Ivory Coast who are placing people with HIV on meds and monitoring them. The project is a collaboration between Ward 86 at SFGH and a nonprofit organization dedicated to care of people with HIV. We went to an organization called Action Traitement, to look at their educational materials in French. Their goal is educating people about treatment options for HIV, and supporting them in getting the best medical care possible. We then went to Hopital St. Louis, which has been around for 400 years (does that blow anyone's mind besides mine?) originally for the treatment of people with the plague, and later became a treatment center for skin disorders, notably leprosy, and now is a dermatology hospital. They attend to all skin disorders including those secondary to HIV and other STD's. We visited with a Dr. Joseph Ecra fron the Ivory Coast, who is working there for another few months, and is one of the leaders in HIV treatment in the Ivory Coast.

The experience of listening to French focused on medical issues was timely for me, and added to my interest in sharpening my skills. Also eye opening to be in a hospital in a modern country that has such a long history, hearing about the conditions in the Ivory Coast, where the civil war has decimated the health infrastructure of one of the most advanced medical systems of Africa. He gave the example of no running water in the pediatric part of the hospital, and no land lines or computer technology. The result is that clinicians use their personal phones to stay in touch with patients as well as getting results from labs and the like. And still he could be excited about a new integrated model of care. Makes our challenges seem more manageable...

Enough for up, how to eat foie gras and other French culinary mysteries.



Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Fourth Month

At the beginning of the 4th month, there is a change coming over me that I'm a little sad to see. In the early part of being in Paris, every corner of the city was full of wonder, as I noted the geraniums in someone's window, the pattern of different colored brick on an exposed wall between buildings, the patterns of the wrought iron in every balcony and door...mermaids, cherubs, chimera, animals of all types, fancy coats of arms. Even as I skipped around the "crottes de chiens" I was charmed by the pattern of the stones in the small streets one finds almost anywhere, the leftovers of the medieval Paris, which Haussman could not quite erase. What I realized the other day was that as I settle in, I notice fewer details and I'm annoyed by some things...yeah the dog doo doo is one, the cigarrettes that have almost put my eye out as someone standing outside of a cafe waves their arm around exhuberantly, their back to the sidewalk, as I squeeze by, and the ubiquitous grafitti. When that happens, I remind myself "you're in Paris!!" and that part of the gift of being here is remembering to take my 'new eyes' with me finding something new anywhere I am. Having guests has been a reminder me to open my eyes and ears and soak it up.

Little chances to test my French in real life come up. Though I still feel far from fluent, I was able to explain to a man in a store how to recharge his phone with a new card and I give lots of directions to people, as I get asked a lot. I always carry a map with me 'Paris Pratique par Arrondisment', so I can track any street easily. Most recently, I say 'oui' when someone asks on the street if I can talk for a minute or two about the French Red Cross, or whether I can participate in a 'sondage' on a particular topic, of which there seeem to be a lot in Paris. These are for the most part marketing questionnaires, but they make for interesting spontaneous conversation. Just today I was stopped for an inteview on my use of feminine hygiene products! (where else would this happen?)
In class this week the teacher asked what our goal is learning French was. I have made some French friends and get invited to dinner, and I confess that my real goal is to be able to converse with a group of French people talking about movies and politics and to participate actively without too many mistakes. When I shared that with an American friend that has lived here for 11 years, he responded that he finds that setting the most difficult of all, and that even now, it's more of a one to one thing for him because the speed and nature of the bantering has so many layers to it. My ability to follow conversation has improved a lot, but by the time I compose my participation, the conversation is on another trail altogether...tant pis!
The number of demonstrations here is amazing and the amount of police power out and about is staggerring. I walked by the tail end of a demo near the area near my school, which happens to be a ritzy district where a lot of officials live. There were about 30 busses full of police with full riot armor, and blocked streets in every direction. The bus service places notes on the stops letting people know that service will be disruped by a demo at least once a week.
The weather is warming up, and in spite of the rain, I took note today that half the women I saw, even on bikes, have given their boots and trousers a rest, and pulled out the 'mini-jupes' and 'talons hautes' (miniskirts and high heels) all in increasingly bright colors, in welcome to Spring. The parks are also blooming away, jonquils in all colors, narcissus, crocus, yellow sprays of forsythia and I'm hoping the rain will slow down as I'm on my second umbrella!
Happy Spring wherever you are!
Jo Ellen

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Third month

At the start of another month, moving along in my French classes. I'm thinking of taking Medical French classes the second half or the month, and try to arrange an observational experience at one of the public psych hospitals here. One of my classmates is a medical student from Colombia, who is in the process of doing her last year of school here, and she said it's pretty easy to arrange that for professionals. I have the number of a nearby hospital with 52 psych beds, so I will check out how easy it really is in the next week or so.

Had the opportunity to test my growing French skill 'in vivo'when I had to return some linens I'd bought from the nearby discount everything store. Yes, the mistake was mine and the package had been openned, but I was fooled by the picture that appeared to be the comforter cover I wanted, not the fitted sheet and flat sheet that were really in it...the man at the store initially refused "but ma'am the package is openned, how can I re-sell it?" I agreed, but he could see it was a lot of money, and not what I really needed. Then I suggested we use the packaging from the exchange to re-package the return. We spent about ten minutes folding and re-folding in order to get it back in, but 'tout d'un coup' it was done, both us was as satisfying as taking a language proficiency test, and acing it!

Yesterday was Sunday, and for some bizarre reason I decided to go for a run, which I have not done since I've been here. Somehow the hours of walking I do each day had seemed enough, but I had noticed that there was another entrance to the Père Lachaise Cemetery right by my house, and running in the morning quiet of the cemetery seemed like a good idea. It was grey, and drizzling very lightly, but not very cold as I started out, and very few people wandering the cemetery, looking for famous resting places (Proust, Chopin, Piaf, Wilde, J. Morrison). I jogged past the memorials to the deported, the wall the final stand of the communards against the Prussians, monuments to the survivors of the various concentration camps where thousands, hundreds of thousands, French Jews, Polish immigrants to France and various others were sent in the early 40's...there is also a newish section of the cemetery, which caters to the growing popularity of cremation. A lawn where the ashes of loved ones are scattered, flowers laid in their honor...I ran past that, too. I passed several guards, mostly busy answering questions from the growing number of clusters of wandering tourists, brightly colored umbrellas adding a splash of color to the somber landscape, and continued my slow jog. As I came round the front entrance of the cemetery, I slowed to a walk, passed the female guard in the front, and as our eyes met, said "Bonjour, madame" to which she responded with a smile, 'bonjouring' back. I started to jog as I passed her, when I heard a scream behind me "On ne peut pas courrir, il est interdit!!" I looked behind me (it always takes a second or so to figure out unnexpected dialogue) and realized she meant me! I stopped in my tracks and apologized, saying I did not know, and to convince her I did not plan to continue running, I took out my camera and took a couple of shots of graves and trees, but I continued in her sights for the next while until I rounded the next corner. Whew! Glad I did not get kicked out! I checked later, and it's not exactly written down anywhere that you can't run in the cemetery, though picnics and alcoholic beverages are strictly forbidden; as is walking on lawns and leaving garbage...but I don't think I'll go argue my point.

Thanks to all for your comments and responses. For those that are having a hard time responding on the blog itself, since it's not one of those blogs that just anyone can see, I think the trick that you become a member before you can comment, that way there are no anonymous comments. You can get around that by just responding to me by separate e-mail at
Jo Ellen

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The second month

Stan just left after 12 days, and I'm in mourning still...he had a lot of suggestions for improving my place (new shower curtain, get a microwave for instance), and in addition to his company in romantic Paree, helped me through what might have been a meltdown for me, when I lost my internet connection for a few days.
Thanks to all of you that are making suggestions...I'm noting them all and doing my best to follow through. Keep sending me homework, kathy C.!
Random observations in no particular order-
The markets are an event that anchors Paris to another time...rather than the precious nature of some of the street markets in SF, these are more like the market at Allemany, where the prices are good, about twenty languages are going on around you and you see produce that one sees nowhere else. I'll include some pix on my next web album so you can get a feel. They are all over Paris, on a regular schedule, and one sees families making an outing of it on the weekends. Everyone shops in small amounts and carries it home by hand, and the baguette in hand at the end of the day is almost universal. This seems like a hard place to be on a gluten free diet, though there are more and more choices in the 'bio' (health food) stores.

Fashion in the normal parts of Paris among the young resembles young fashion mostly everywhere, but there is a shabby-chic motif I've noticed accent scarf, a pair of purple boots, chatreuse fishnets, wacky hats especially among teens and middle aged women (making me feel right at home!)

There are more homeless around, and more begging which is particularly poignant in winter...and being in a more working class neighborhood, I notice more how many people jump the Metro entry not to pay, or go into the bus through the back; trasportation being one of the big expenses here. A metro bus pass for the month is about 55 Euro or about $75. A lot if you have a big family or are poor, even with the reductions for youth and the retired.

I'm wandering neighborhoods I had not seen before, and so far my two new favorite areas are the 19th Arr. near Butte Chaumont and the area around the canals Ourk and St. Martin, in spite of their gritty reputation.

On developing my peripheral vision-I read somewhere that 50 tons of dogshit is dropped on the streets of Paris every day...thankfully the street cleaning blasts it off with water hoses once a week, but even so, it's all over. Of all the people one sees walking dogs, I have seen only a handfull pick up after the dog, usually with a napkin that goes into a plastic bag. The inverted plastic bag trick has yet to get popular here. One person I saw used the napkin to wipe the dogs "cul" instead of picking up the detritus! I'm proud to say, I have yet to step in it (knocking on wood as I say this) and I think it's because I have trained my peripheral vision to include the floor. Stan might say not well enough, as I took a big spill when I was walking around with him...checking out the photos I'd just taken while walking, I missed two steps and went down hard on my knee...ouch! No serious damage, but hobbled over to the nearest cafe on Bastille, which may rank among the priciest in Paris and spent 5 Euro on a pain relieving cup of coffee while assessing the damage. Happy to say I'm doing well and did not have to test the medical system of France.

I'm back in school tomorrow!
Bises to all, Jo

Friday, February 15, 2008

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The first weeks

So much new to get used to. Living alone, the time change, the language...but the weather has been almost identical to San Francisco, providing a constant drizzle, cold, occasional peek of sun.
I have been in school at the Alliance Française for two weeks, getting homework and attending 9 hours per week. I go in the afternoon, which leaves mornings and nights free for whatever comes up. My French teacher, whose name is Anni, is a cultural experience herself, using a lot of shrugs and hand expressions to punctuate her talks. She is also very pregnant, so I anticipate a maternity leave during my stay here. I'm learning a lot, getting a lot of "travail a la maison, or exercises"as she says. Not the more common term of "devoirs" as we are 'all adults here' not enfants a l'ecole. The class has 2 Brazilians, 2 Americans, 1 Australian, 2 Turks, 1 Chinese, 1 Colombian, 1 Israeli, 1 Pole, 1 Japanese, 2 Hungarians, and 1 young woman for the Arab Emirate. Not everyone is there every day, but that is the crew at present. Since you can start on any Monday, new people come in then.
School has a fabulous multimedia center with French films that have French subtitles (a boon for the learner...Is that what they were saying???!!!) and lots of phonetic exercises, grammar exercises and studying aides for specific proficiency tests that you can take for bussiness, or other areas of study.
My friends Valerie and Glenn reccomended a Yoga studio not too far from here, run by a guy named Gerard who heads an official Yoga Alliance recognized foundation focusing on Yoga Dynamique...flow style, or Ashtanga. So far have tried 3 teachers, including him, and find the classes quite lovely. A good workout, and vigorous but with the quality I love from Kripalu of pausing to dip into the experience.
I have made a few friends in school, as well as recconnecting with some I knew before, and among them is the wife of a fellow student who is also into Yoga, so we are checking out classes together and talking about it. I'm going to start writing down Yoga terms in French as they are a great way to add to the body parts and movements in spoke French...maybe do an oral presentation in class of a yoga class ;-)
Paris is a great movie town, with not only the new films from all over, but revival houses with all kinds of festivals. Just this week, film series focusing on Sean Penn, the Cohen Brothers, Antonioni, Tim Burton as well as focusing on genres like Gothic, etc. So far I have seen 9 films, Russian, Chinese, Australian and of course French.
I'm trying to pick a new part of the city to check out several times a week, and that has been fun, as well as making very aware of what shoes can take that kind of walking...I'm averaging about 2-3 hours a day, but on some put in 4-5. I have made friends with the family of a friend in San Francisco, and the woman in the couple is wanting to practice English, so we have a regular Friday date to explore some sight in the City. So far we have gone to a Klezmer concert, walked all over the Pere Lacheise Cementery, and are going to the Catacombs next week. There is a theme there, maybe?
Other random observations are how different the news is here...there are actually regular reports about the Middle East, Asia, African countries, and the US is of course another foreign country. Journalists are fairly clear about the grain of salt they add to the analysis that comes from the US about the economy, the war and peace efforts, etc.
I'll add pictures to the blog as soon as I figure out how to upload them!
Meantime, bises to all...don't be afraid to respond if you feel like it, as well as to ignore the postings.