A Few November Highlights from Paris…and Essoyes!

The real reason for my visit to Paris this month was to see and support my friend Edith de Belleville, who was the speaker at Adrian Leeds‘s monthly Après-Midi gathering. Edith is a licensed tour guide in Paris, a lawyer, and the author of two wonderful books, Belles et Rebelles and Parisian Life: Adventures in the City of Light. If you can read French, you should read both of them, they’re wonderful. I keep hoping Belles et Rebelles will be translated into English, it’s too good to stay in just one language, DO YOU HEAR THAT, PUBLISHERS? But also (to be clear), Parisian Life is already in English: Edith wrote it in English (another feather in her cap). So you should all buy it. 🙂

You can learn more about Edith in this interview I did with her for Bonjour Paris. if you are a subscriber. She is a very smart, lively, funny, interesting woman! (If you’re not a subscriber to Bonjour Paris, and if you’re a serious Parisophile, you might want to subscribe. Lots of great articles, Zoom talks, etc. available there!)

Then I got lucky: Adrian invited me to come for the weekend before Après-Midi to just “hang out” and have fun in Paris with her. (She didn’t have to twist my arm about that…)

You don’t hang out with Adrian in Paris (or anywhere, as far as I can gather) without eating a lot of really good food. This woman believes in eating at least two full meals a day, which is kind of a novelty for me; and a culinary adventure whenever I stay with her in Paris. Whenever she asks me what I want to eat for dinner, my main requirements are generally the same: “Not too expensive. Not too fancy. Not too far away (so we can walk there).” I like to keep it simple! And she always has great suggestions. Here are just a few of the culinary pleasures I enjoyed in those few days in Paris.

Then I got even luckier. My son’s girlfriend, Diane de Vignemont, is a historian, and she was recently involved in putting together an exhibition at the Musée de l’Armée at les Invalides. She invited me to attend the opening for this exhibit, which happened to fall on my last night in Paris. This was very exciting indeed, and it was really fun to see her in this professional context. (Though I’ve actually been able to see that before in my last couple of classes for Politics and Prose bookstore, which were focused on France under the Occupation, during which Diane was kind enough to visit via Zoom, and share her expertise with my students. She is, in a word, amazing!)

The exhibition, which focused on the years of the Algerian War, and De Gaulle’s role in it, was beautifully mounted and very interesting indeed. One of the things Diane was involved in was arranging for the loan of a beautiful Calder mobile called “France Forever.” (Can you see the Cross of Lorraine in it?)

Of course it would not be a trip to Paris without a visit to The Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore (Here’s another interesting interview to read on Bonjour Paris, this one is with Penelope Fletcher, the wonderful bookseller who runs the store. See what I mean about subscribing? 🙂 ) Adrian and I went there on Saturday afternoon, and I was delighted that my son and Diane were able to meet us there too. With an armload of new books, some of which I will use in future classes, I left the store very happy indeed.

Well, anyway. This is really only a sampling of what I was lucky to experience in Paris this time in just a few days: there was more! Sometimes when I am in Paris I really don’t “do much” at all, I just wander around, walking, sitting in cafés or parks, reading, writing, and eating only one full meal a day. That is fine with me too! But I have to say, this time was pretty fun, thanks so much, Adrian! (and Diane, and Phineas, and Penelope–for just being there–at The Red Wheelbarrow!)

A few days later, in Essoyes (and all around France), Armistice Day was being celebrated. This is a very important–and moving–national commemoration of the day that brought peace (temporarily! 😦 ) at last to war-ravaged Europe in 1918. Here are a few photos from that day here in Essoyes.

Let’s hope that today’s fragile peace in Europe can be maintained, and the forces of hate and tyranny pushed back. We can’t afford to keep fighting like this all the time. We have big problems to solve together!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the US and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You. Her memoir, A Long Way from Iowa, will be published in early 2023.

November 19, 2022 at 9:12 am Leave a comment

Bands & Birthdays & Bouchées à la Reine, OhMy!

My singer/songwriter son Sam (aka Samjo). Photo by Diane de Vignemont.

What a fun month this has been! Never mind all the highlights, I’ll share just a few of them today.

I got to go to Paris twice in one week this month–and in my mind nothing is much more wonderful than that, other than maybe spending the whole week, or whole month, there.

The first trip was a one-day trip to celebrate my friend Adrian’s 70th (!) birthday, along with a packed house of her friends and fans, at her monthly Après-Midi meet-up. Here’s a picture of me with Adrian (center) and Cara Black (left). Cara is the author of the bestselling Aimée LeDuc series of mysteries set in Paris–and now also the author of two books with an American sharpshooter heroine named Kate Rees, who is helping to fight bad guys in Europe during World War II.

I was up nice and early to catch a train from Vendeuvre-sur-Barse to Paris, a very pleasant, less-than-two-hour ride. I met Adrian for lunch at the Café de la Mairie in the Marais, where she has held this monthly event for more than 20 years. Then, after lunch, she kept us all entertained (and feeling young!) with her stories of ups and downs (and ups and downs again!) during her 28 years in Paris. Someone asked her toward the end of the session what the one thing is that she regrets the most, the one thing she would have done differently if she could have. She thought about that for a moment, then gave an answer that was worthy both of her favorite inspirational writer, Eckhart Tolle, and Edith Piaf. (“I don’t really regret anything,” she said.) 🙂

After the event it was time for me to begin the trip back to Champagne. I regretted having to leave so soon as I strolled through the Square du Temple, which was filled with children playing, young and old people alike enjoying a lovely warm, sunny afternoon. But I needed to catch my train, and so I walked back to Place de la République, where I took the Metro to Gare de l’Est.

I love taking trains in France, I really never get enough of it, and this time was no different. I enjoyed the ride back, looking out the window at recently tilled fields, graceful windmills sweeping their giant arms against the sky, as the sun set.

By the time I got to Vendeuvre again it was dark. It was a full moon that night, and as the moon rose against the horizon, the fields I drove through between Vendeuvre and Essoyes were bathed in moonlight: it looked almost as if they were covered in frost, but I knew it was too warm for that.

Just a few days later it was time to return to Paris so that I could see (and listen to) my son Sam (aka Samjo, pictured above) warm up the crowd with his lovely, lyrical songs before performing with Solomon Pico at Les Disquaires. They had packed the house and were rockin’ the crowd that night, what fun!

One week later a friend and I were invited to join friends formerly of Essoyes, who are now living a couple of hours away from here in the Pays d’Othe. The drive there was lovely, and when we arrived we were treated to a “real French meal” prepared by our friend Pascale. The entrée she had prepared for us was so beautiful I had to take a picture of it. (This concoction is apparently called a bouchée à la Reine, and it was every bit as good as it looks.)

Next Tuesday is Toussaint, and today the excitement is mounting in Essoyes, you can feel it everywhere. Toussaint is a major holiday in France in which the dead are remembered and honored, their graves groomed and decorated by their families, and everyone gathers for long, drawn-out, wonderful, delicious meals. Already you can feel the bustle and stir before such a holiday (kind of like Thanksgiving in the US). People are coming and going, preparations are being made, pots of chrysanthemums are being sold in the stores and carried about in the streets, to decorate the graves of loved ones. And although the custom of children dressing in Halloween costumes and trick-or-treating is fairly new in France, it is already a much loved tradition in Essoyes. (The children don’t go door to door from house to house, but they do visit all the shops in town, and the mairie, and hold out their little plastic pumpkins, or bags, hoping for treats.)

There will be more to come later: for now here’s wishing you a safe, happy Halloween. Keep wearing masks!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the US and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You and will soon publish her next book, A Long Way from Iowa, a literary memoir.

October 28, 2022 at 3:47 pm Leave a comment

The Story of a Dream Come True…

A man and his roulotte: almost finished at last!

This is the story of a beautiful little gypsy caravan that an American artist bought and lived in on the banks of the Marne River outside of Paris for several years in the late 1970s.

Much of the story you can learn here, through the artist’s own words and pictures. (You should look around the rest of his website also: his work is awesome!)

The link above brings the story through last summer (2021). This summer has been very exciting around here because this summer the dream of restoring the roulotte (that is the French word for it)–a dream that has taken the artist 15 years to complete–came true. The roulotte is now more beautiful than ever, and is positioned in our garden; and the artist, who is also a musician enamored of gypsy jazz guitar–is my nearest neighbor.

Our son is a musician too–a singer/songwriter who also plays pretty much any instrument he decides to pick up. One night in August he played his songs for a very intimate audience–just his immediate family–thus bringing the lovely music that filled the roulotte once upon a time by his dad, and who-knows-who before that back within her wonderfully acoustic walls. That was a very special occasion.

Now that the roulotte is ready to be truly enjoyed in the way it should be once again, I’m looking forward to hearing much more music coming from within, and to having that music shared with others as well. Stay tuned for more of the story!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the US and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You and will soon publish her next book, A Long Way from Iowa, a literary memoir.

October 3, 2022 at 1:00 pm 1 comment

September in Essoyes, Paris, and Nice!

My goodness, what a busy month this has been!

First of all, there was the vendange (the grape harvest) which of course is always a busy and important time of year in Essoyes. This year, despite a very dry summer, there was a very abundant harvest, which made everyone both relieved and happy.

To add the excitement for me, this year one of my oldest and dearest friends in the world came for a visit. She and her husband were lucky to finally, on their third try, be able to take a Rhine River cruise to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary, after two previous cruises were postponed due to Covid restrictions. And I was lucky that after their cruise was over they chose to meet me in Paris and then come with me to Essoyes for a couple of days before they had to head back home to Colorado.

They had a whirlwind couple of days in Paris, in which they were able to make it to two of the three sights that Colleen’s 95-year-old father had told them were “must-sees”: the Basilica of Sacré Coeur in Montmartre, and the rue du Bac. We weren’t able to work in a visit to Chartres, Mr. Foy’s third must-see, in the short time they had, but we did stop in the beautiful medieval city of Troyes on our way to Essoyes. Troyes has many beautiful churches, as well as a cathedral, a synagogue, and a mosque. I took them to see my favorite church, the Eglise de la Madeleine, and they also were able to visit the very cool Musée de l’Outil et de la Pensée Ouvrière (Museum of Tools and of Workers’ Thought).

Then it was on to Essoyes. My friends got there too late to see the grapes being pressed, but not too late to be given a wonderful private tour of the pressoir owned by our friends Bethsabée and Léa Roger, which they declared a highlight of their visit.

Their visit to Essoyes was wonderful, but short. And almost as soon as they left I had to leave Essoyes again, to go to Nice, where I had been invited to present on Demystifying the French at a conference my friend Adrian was hosting. It was a very interesting, friendly and responsive audience, composed of (mostly) Americans who are considering the possibility of moving to France. We had a great time discussing some of the cultural differences between the French way of doing things, and the American way, that can lead to confusion and even sometimes dismay not only for Americans, but for French people as well. I tried to give them some tips about how to understand these differences and how to avoid cultural clashes over them, and I was very happy that quite a few people told me afterward that they really enjoyed my presentation.

The day after my presentation I was invited to join the group in a one-day tour of the lovely Côte d’Azur area before they went on to Provence and Occitanie. What a treat! Here are just a few images from a lovely day.

Then it was back to Essoyes, and time to settle into autumn activities: stacking wood, resuming my writing projects, and preparing to continue exploring the history of France with the students in my online class. There’s room for more students this time, so if anyone is interested in learning about how France recovered from World War II, we’ll be reading three very interesting books and we’ll have a couple of great visitors to the class who will share their expertise to augment our learning.

Wishing everyone a happy, safe, productive autumn. (You can keep wearing your masks if you want to 🙂 )

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the US and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You and will soon publish her next book, A Long Way from Iowa, a literary memoir.

September 22, 2022 at 4:00 pm Leave a comment

Paris in August (2022)

The Bassin de l’Arsenal feeds into the Seine

I have just spent a very nice week in Paris, apartment and cat-sitting for my son and his girlfriend while they were vacationing in Italy.

They live in the Bastille neighborhood, and have a very nice view of the Bassin de l’Arsenal, which is a canal that feeds into the Seine. I haven’t spent a lot of time in this neighborhood before, so this time I was pleased to have the chance to get to know it better.

One thing I didn’t find right away, and missed, was a nice little pocket park (or “square,” pronounced “sqwar” in French) nearby, which most Parisian neighborhoods have. From their window I could see the canal and the boats, and I could see a place to stroll along a cobblestone quai next to the boats; but I didn’t see any benches to sit on or any green space along the canal, and what I always want in Paris (or anywhere, really) is a bench to sit on while I read and watch people stroll by. I was feeling a little bit sad about this, so one day I looked at the map and saw that according to the map, the largest nearby green space was the Jardin des Plantes across the river. That is not too far away, but as I was walking toward there I found an even closer little park, the Square Henri Galli, before crossing the river.

But really, I should have known Paris better! I should have known that there would be green space nearer than that and indeed when I decided to explore my son’s immediate neighborhood a little more carefully I found that all along the Bassin de l’Arsenal there are lovely places to walk, with little playgrounds, and benches to sit on, plenty of trees and flowers, and everything that makes me love being in Paris, especially on a nice day when you can find such a place to sit and read. In other words, there is all that literally right across the street from my son, duh; and all I had to do to find it was walk down a winding stairway next to the passerelle that crosses the canal. (When he had returned from his vacation my son also showed me the (not all that easy-to-spot) entryway to the Coulée Verte, a lovely elevated linear park built on top of an obsolete railway infrastructure just a couple of blocks away from his apartment.)

The moral here, folks, is: if you’re looking for green space, or a nice place to stroll or to sit and read in Paris, and you can’t find it, you’re not looking hard enough. 🙂 )

Bastille is a very busy neighborhood. The area right around the memorial to the Bastille–the original prison that was famously raided in 1789 at the beginning of the French Revolution is long gone— has an abundance of restaurants and sidewalk cafes, and generally lots of busy urban activity: skateboarders, people on trottinettes (motorized scooters, watch out for them, they are dangerous!!!), and so on. There is also a big outdoor market there two days a week, a couple of movie theaters, and one evening–it happened to be on a Catholic holiday, the Feast of the Assumption, which is a national holiday in France–there was an open-air gospel concert. One of the two opera houses in Paris, the Opera Bastille, is also located there and was announcing a current production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. I thought I would go to that one night, but alas, when I went to inquire about tickets I learned that the opera was taking its annual August vacation and so: no such luck. Well, another time…

France has for hundreds of years welcomed and offered asylum to refugees from many countries around the world, and that continues today. There is a mini tent city for homeless youth sponsored by an association right on the main square, across from the opera. And all along the sidewalk leading from Bastille to the passerelle that crosses the Bassin de l’Arsenal there are tents pitched by homeless people, sometimes whole families, who I must say seem to be bearing their circumstances with equanimity, sometimes even joy. (I know this sounds naïve and maybe even heartless. Surely they deserve better housing! All I can say is, that is what I have seen, and it has caused me to reflect: some people can’t be happy no matter how lucky they are, and others find ways to do so no matter how unlucky.)

The other day there was also a very moving installation in the square drawing awareness to the victims of a massive wave of state-sponsored executions of political dissidents in Iran in 1988. I was not aware of the extent of this tragedy before. Thanks to this effort to memorialize the victims, I am now.

While I was in town I was able to see a couple of friends. I met one of them for a catching-up-with-our-news lunch in the Jardin de Luxembourg one day. Another day I met a friend in the Marais, where we had a delicious lunch at Café Charlot, and then went to an exhibition about Proust and his Jewish heritage at the Musée d’art et d’histoire du judaisme.

Honestly my absolutely favorite thing to do in Paris always is just to 1) walk; 2) find a nice little café for lunch, dinner, or just a drink or un café, and then sit there and read, and listen to the lovely sound of French conversation going on all around my ears.

I did plenty of that too.

But how can you write a post about cat-sitting in Paris without a picture of the cat?

You can’t, that’s what. And so, here you go.

Parisian cat surveys the Bassin de l’Arsenal, waiting for her best friends to return.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You and will soon publish her next book, A Long Way from Iowa, a literary memoir.

August 22, 2022 at 11:02 am Leave a comment

July in Essoyes: Birthdays, Bicycles, and Champagne!

July has been a busy month for us in Essoyes. In mid-July, due to record-breaking temperatures, one of our sons decided that working from home in Essoyes was preferable to working from his apartment in Paris, so he and his girlfriend asked if they could come and stay with us for a few days.

Of course the answer was yes.

It was delightful to have them here. My son’s birthday is just five days before mine, and our dessert of choice for our birthdays is always a raspberry tarte (tarte aux framboises). Our patissier makes a wonderful tarte, and so we enjoyed one together a few days before his birthday.

Sometimes birthday celebrations can be frustrating to plan, especially with summer birthdays–getting everyone to be in the same place at the same being often challenging. This time we were very lucky to have all the stars line up so that an unplanned visit from two dear friends who live nearby coincided with our son’s unplanned escape from the heat wave in Paris, and voila! we had ourselves a delightful unplanned birthday party.

The last week in July began with a two-day birthday celebration for my birthday; first we had dinner at one of the two lovely riverside restaurants in the heart of Essoyes, the day before my birthday. Then we had dinner again the next day in the other one, when we realized that our other son, who lives in Lille, would be able to join us for that; and of course there was no better birthday present than to have him here.

Then on Wednesday, July 27, the Women’s Tour de France came through town. There has only been a women’s race five times in the 113-year history of the Tour de France, and this was the first time in more than 30 years. According to the director of the race, it was a great success, with enthusiastic crowds greeting and cheering the cyclists on all along the 640-mile route.

In Essoyes, pink bicycles beautifully decorated with handmade crepe paper flowers, and crepe paper flowers gracing the grillwork and the bridges over the Ource River, helped point the way for the cyclists to make their several turns through town.

The Troyes to Bar-sur-Aube étape went right past our driveway as the cyclists came speeding downhill out of the forest, on the stretch from Gyé-sur-Seine to Essoyes. So we were the very first Essoyens to greet them with enthusiastic clapping and cheering as they entered our village. It was lots of fun; I hope they do it again next year. (Though if they do, they will no doubt take a different route: the Tour de France likes to spread the excitement to different villages and towns every year.)

The end of the week brought Son #1 and his girlfriend back to Essoyes, and this time a few of their friends also, who came to celebrate the Route du Champagne en Fête, an annual celebration in our department (l’Aube) of–yep, you guessed it–champagne!

We often feel like our swimming pool doesn’t get used enough; but the fun they all had in the late afternoon–swimming and sitting poolside, then hanging around talking, eating pizza, playing Uno, drinking ratafia until late in the evening–more than made up for some of la piscine’s more idle days.

And, as usual, evening fell with the gift of a very beautiful sunset.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You and is currently working on her next book, A Long Way from Iowa, a literary memoir.

July 31, 2022 at 11:26 am 1 comment

Beautiful Italia, and then back home

On TrenItalia, in Tuscany. Masks required!

This is the summer when people really began to travel again, and I was lucky to be able to do so also. There was that fun trip to London in May that I wrote about here. Then in June I participated in a Meet the Authors event in Nice, where I had the opportunity to tell people about my book Demystifying the French. And–super conveniently–I was also invited to join a friend for a few days in a beautiful Tuscan villa she had rented. When her family couldn’t be there for as much time as they had planned, she decided to invite some of her friends to enjoy this beautiful place with her. And I was one of the lucky ones, especially lucky since starting from Nice I was already halfway there.

Although traveling by air was recommended by several friends, that didn’t make sense to me. The closest I would have been able to get by air was Florence, which was still quite a distance from my destination. And since I always prefer travel by rail in any case–and since the scientists of the world are telling us we all need to stop flying as much as possible–I made the trip by train. It was fairly long–I got on the train in Ventimiglia, just over the Italian border, at about 6:30 in the morning and arrived in Sinalunga, where my friend had come to pick me up, at about 4:30 in the afternoon. So–it was quite a few hours on the train–and I enjoyed them all. (I always do.) And it was FAR less expensive than traveling by air and being harassed and interrupted all along the way. Much more peaceful time to read, and write, and look out the window, and think…and see Italy, close up!

This was the farthest I had been into Italy–about 50 miles south of Florence, in the heart of Tuscany. And what a beautiful part of the world! Warm, friendly people, a lyrical, beautiful language, stunningly beautiful landscapes and architecture, wonderful food. (For example, for me the discovery of a new favorite cheese (pecorino). And the chance to spend some relaxed, leisurely time with a good friend. What’s not to like in all of that?

We did some touring of the little Tuscan hill towns, including Pienza, where we had a lovely lunch one day (pictured above). Another day we had a hair-raising drive through a tiny little town the name of which I do not remember; but I will never forget trying to tamp down the anxiety I felt as my friend negotiated a series of hairpin turns in her rented Jeep, on a very steep slope on a very narrow street that we hoped (as we went around each blind turn) was a one-way. (I was very impressed that she was able to keep her cool. I had enough trouble keeping my cool being the passenger.) We also developed a favorite local trattoria near the villa where we began to get to know the staff, and the menu, and feel like regulars.

Then it was time to head home to Champagne. I had purchased an Air France ticket to return from Florence, thinking my friend would be going there to meet her next round of guests, but lo and behold, in the end my preference for train travel won out again. The night before my trip, the airline cancelled my flight and proposed that instead I should fly to Paris from Bologna–which was quite a bit farther away from where I was staying–and that I would have to get there earlier than my original travel time.

I said “no thanks” and requested a refund instead. I am hoping the airline will see fit to refund my money since the substitution they offered was in no way acceptable. Not only would I have had to travel farther to get to the airport and get there earlier, but I would have had to change planes in Amsterdam, of all places. Not even close to “on the way.” (As it turned out, ultimately the flight I declined as a substitute was delayed to the point where I would also have had to stay overnight in Amsterdam. 😦 !)

So I opted instead to take the train from Florence to Paris. This was a delightful nine-hour ride through beautiful Alpine country in both Italy and France. I will fight hard to get the refund that I have coming to me, and maybe even look into the possibility of getting compensation for a bungled flight because of EU rules protecting consumers from such nonsense. But the truth is that even if I don’t succeed I will be glad I decided to spend nine peaceful hours on a train than twice as many hours being aggravated in a series of chaotic airport scenes in unfamiliar airports, and then either sleeping in an airport or having to negotiate spending a night in an airport hotel in a city I had no interest in being in (at that time) (!)

Anyway enough of the complaining part of this post. Well, almost.

I finally had my turn with Covid immediately on my return to France. But I can’t really complain about that: I was thrice vaccinated, so my case was mild; I was in a very nice place to recover, and a place where it is very easy to self-isolate.

My place of self-isolation

Now I’m fine, the isolation is over, and much of the rest of the summer remains. As the new French Minister of Health advised us all last week, I will be wearing my mask more frequently again, even though it is not yet obligatory. Apparently Italy has that right, and France does not (yet).

Stay well everyone. The virus is still here–but by now we’ve all learned a lot about how to try to avoid getting it. So let’s do it!

And enjoy your summer, wherever you are.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, A Long Way from Iowa: A Literary Memoir.

July 8, 2022 at 2:51 pm 1 comment

Paris, London, Troyes & Essoyes

St. Pancras International, Eurostar station

It’s been a busy month, and a joyful return to a little bit of travel for me. I was invited to join a dear old friend in a trip to London–a city I have not been to in more than 40 years!–a couple of weeks ago.

I met my friend in Paris, and before we went to London, I got to show her some of my favorite things to do there (stroll around the sculpture garden at the Musée Rodin, for example). We also visited a relatively new museum I have been meaning to get to ever since it opened: the Musée de la Libération/Musée General Leclerc/Musée Jean Moulin . I can now confirm that for anyone interested in World War II history in France, that visiting this museum is a must.

Then it was on to London on the Eurostar, an interesting experience for someone whose last trip to London was over the English Channel on a boat, not under it in a train. My main impressions from that trip: one, the fact that Normandy (or was it Picardie, and Pas-de-Calais?) is so flat and southeast England is so hilly. (They are both very beautiful.) The second, the sobering (and yet somehow comforting) sight of people waiting to meet Ukrainian refugees, holding up blue and yellow signs, as we entered the main part of the St. Pancras International train station in London.

The things I love most about London are the Indian food and theatre, and we got to enjoy both in the few days we were there. The play we saw at the Old Vic (The 47th) is fascinating (but uncomfortable-for-Americans) “future history” about Trump (and Trumpism) in the U.S., written in iambic pentameter (oh those linguistically sophisticated Brits!) “What a dreadful summary of the state of our country” was the informal capsule review I pronounced the next morning as I woke up, groaning as I remembered just how close to reflecting the real state of things this dystopian “fantasy” really is. 😦

Anyway. The next day, given my intense interest in World War II in Europe, we went on a walking tour called “Westminster at War.” The guide was really knowledgeable, very personable, and–rather touchingly–exceedingly happy to be once again leading groups of tourists around London and sharing British history with them. (The pandemic has of course been even harder on tour guides, among other professionals, than it has been on the rest of us.)

Then it was back to Essoyes in time to see Solomon Pico, an indie rock band my son Sam is a member of. They were performing in Troyes, which is our nearest big city, and the départemental capital of l’Aube. I got one great shot of (some) of the band on stage (sorry, Vincent and Flo 😦 ) but unfortunately I did not get any pictures of them in Troyes.(Since Troyes is such an interesting place to visit, and one of my favorite cities in France, I invite you to learn more about it here. Or maybe here.)

The next morning we welcomed the members of the band to brunch at our home. The weather is not always perfect in northern France but this just happened to be a day in May that could not have been more perfect. For me one of the highlights of the day was a spontaneous singing of “I’ll Fly Away” with banjo, guitar, and surprisingly (delightfully!) even a trumpet accompaniment. One of those magic moments that just happens, when you are really really lucky…

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, A Long Way from Iowa: A Literary Memoir.

May 29, 2022 at 4:58 pm Leave a comment

Spring 2022 in Essoyes

Spring has been capricious this year. It was here, bringing sunshine, warmer weather, beautiful wildflowers, and sunnier dispositions. Windows were being opened to let warm breezes inside. Then it snowed again! Which was not good for the young buds on the vines that are so important to life here–and to making the champagne that brings pleasure to people far and wide. The temperature hit a record low for April, and so our local vignerons were once again desperately trying to save their crop of grapes for this year. 😦

Fingers crossed that winter–beautiful as it is–is done for this year! We’re all very ready for spring.

This is an important month in France, as voters choose their next president. In France there is a two-round system for the presidential elections. The two candidates who get the most votes in the first round–which was yesterday–then face off in the final election, which will be held on April 24.

This year there were 12 candidates on the ballot for the first round. And this year–as in 2017–the final choice for French voters is between Emmanuel Macron, the current president, and Marine LePen.

Although the system of counting votes here is very simple and old-fashioned –paper ballots are counted by hand in each commune or arrondissement–it seems to work better than the system in the US. By the morning after the election, sometimes even earlier, the results are posted so that everyone can see how their community voted. I walked into the village this morning so I could see the results for Essoyes posted at the mairie, but since you can’t read the figures on my photograph of the posting (instead you see a rather lovely reflection of the part of the village that was behind the photographer 🙂 ) you can see how Essoyens voted here if you’re curious. And you can read this very interesting article if you want to learn about part of what is at stake in this election. (Only part: there are always, of course, many many issues of concern. But this one seems pretty significant to me. )

The news from Ukraine continues to be horrifying, and the worst part of it is the slowness of action on the part of political leaders to take more vigorous and decisive action to deal with the rapidly mounting humanitarian crisis, and in fact a genocide. Another one. How can this be happening again. How can it?

Many are doing what they can–France, for example, has already taken in some 45,000 Ukrainian refugees since this crisis began less than two months ago. But there will surely be more tragedy ahead unless Putin’s war machine is stopped, and the powers that be are not doing enough, and they’re not acting quickly enough. They’re not!

Fossil fuels are destroying the planet and now they are also fueling this terribly bloody war. When will we put an end to this madness?! How many more innocent people have to suffer from our inability–or unwillingness–to change our ways? It is really so awful. So maddening. So disheartening. So wrong!!

There have been some bright spots in the news. Last week doctors and scientists around the world made clear where they stand about the climate crisis in large numbers. Thank God for them, for their dedication and honesty, for their commitment to doing what they can to turn things around before it is too late. If the climate action movement could pick up steam as rapidly as the resurgence of union activity seems to be doing in the United States as of last week, maybe things could begin to get better.

I hope so, and SOON! because really? Things are not going so well on Planet Earth right now. 😦

There is much hope to be found among youth around the world: young people with great courage, imagination, determination and generosity are doing what they can to correct the mistakes and make up for the negligence of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. If you want to feel a little bit better about how things are going; if you wonder sometimes if there is any hope at all, you might want to read about some of these young people in this book. The young people featured in it are truly a source of great hope. But they need our help: they can’t solve these big problems alone.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, A Long Way from Iowa: A Literary Memoir.

April 11, 2022 at 3:39 pm Leave a comment

A Busy Week in Paris

To be honest it has been a bit hard to think much about anything lately other than the terrible situation unfolding in Ukraine. There is much to say about it but I’m not going to say much for now, other than that I hope the people who have the power to step up and help Ukraine more than we (collectively) have done so far will do so, and quickly. It is a heartbreaking, and also a terrifying situation. I also hope that we will all find ways to do something–there are many ways to help! And the help is needed, desperately.

I did have a wonderfully refreshing, restorative week in Paris. Last Tuesday I attended a sobering (but enlightening) discussion at Adrian Leeds’ Après-Midi led by Douglas Herbert. Wednesday enjoyed a champagne apèro with two good friends that I haven’t seen enough due to Covid and other nuisances, for far too long. (One of those friends is Gary Lee Kraut, editor of the wonderful online publication, France Revisited.) Thursday lunch with another good friend (Ellen Hampton, author of the fascinating Women of Valor), and my obligatory and joyful visit to The Red Wheelbarrow bookstore, where I met Janet Skeslien Charles, author of The Paris Library, and picked up a copy of War and Peace. (How I have managed to live all these years without reading this classic of world literature is a mystery to me. But well, no time like the present!) Friday, a delightful dinner in St. Germain des Près with Diane Johnson, an author I greatly admire. Saturday, I had the extraordinary pleasure of seeing my son Sam perform with Solomon Pico at Les Disquaires, where they rocked the house! Sunday, it was brunch with my sons at Molly’s, a delightful Irish/American bar in the 12th.

And now I am back in the quiet, peaceful beauty of Essoyes. Full of gratitude for friends and family, and re-energized in the way that only big, vibrant cities can do, ready for the road ahead.

Here are a few photos from my busy week in Paris.

As of yesterday, it’s masks off in France in most places. (You still have to wear them in public transportation, hospitals, not sure where else.) You might want to keep them on in certain places anyway. Rising numbers seem to suggest that’s not a bad idea. But for now it’s up to you!

The morning bells of Angelus are ringing as I write the final words of this post. Be well, everyone, and try to think of ways you can help someone, somewhere, from your little corner of our troubled world. Every bit helps.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, A Long Way from Iowa: A Literary Memoir.

March 15, 2022 at 7:33 am Leave a comment

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