Just a few things that I love about Paris…

I had to go to one of my doctors last week in Paris. When I am going there, people often say “Enjoy Paris,” and inevitably I reply with a smile, and the truth: “I always do.”

I really do always enjoy being in Paris. And although Paris is full of world-famous attractions and amazing things to see and do, that is not why I love it. I love it for all the simple, mundane pleasures of just being there. That is what this post is about.

So, for example, while I was waiting to see the doctor, sitting on a bench across from the entrance to her building (COVID protocol) I saw the lovely Haussmanian building you see in the picture above, and the leaves of the tree branches that were shading me.

That night, I had a simple (but wonderful, and very French) meal with my son at the Cafe de l’Industrie, not far from Bastille. Normally I’m not in the habit of taking pictures of food, but this plate looked just so delicious that I couldn’t resist. And he and I both agree that just looking at it makes us want to go back for more.

Bavette de boeuf, pommes de terre, oignons, salade

I only stayed one night this time, and it was an early night for me. But it was nice, as I fell asleep, to hear people enjoying just being in Paris again, socializing on a Friday evening, outside the open windows of my son’s apartment overlooking the Bassin de l’Arsenal, a boat basin between the Seine and the Canal St. Martin.

The next day the first thing to do (of course) was to have breakfast–un café et un croissant–in a cafe, while leisurely reading one of my favorite books. In fact this is the book I always recommend when people ask me, “If I bring only one book with me to Paris, what should it be?” I recommend Paris Paris: Journey into the City of Light by David Downie because I feel that in this collection of his essays there’s something to interest almost anyone. The essays not only bring Paris and its history alive, but offer the additional benefit of providing the reader with a most interesting travel companion–the author himself, whose personal approach to the city is often iconoclastic but is also unfailingly thoughtful, honest, and illuminating. Plus witty!

Next I went back to the plaza opposite the Opera House at Bastille, to study a display commemorating key figures in the Paris Commune that I had noticed the night before but had not had a chance to study. In the picture below on the left you can see, in the background, an educational display from which interested passers-by can learn about this socialist movement that was in control of Paris for a brief two months in 1871. And in the foreground, you see sanitation workers who are, if not direct beneficiaries of the Communards, certainly indirect ones. For although the Commune in 1871 was quickly and violently suppressed, the ideals they were fighting for were not.

The photo on the right is a detail of the display that shows three Communards, with Louise Michel at center. This, by the way, is one of the things I love the most about the French: their genuine interest in their own history, and the lengths the government goes to to provide citizens with opportunities for learning about it. This same display was at Gare de l’Est a couple of months ago, so apparently this wonderful open-air museum exhibit is making its way around the city in this, the 150th anniversary year of the Commune.

While I was standing there reading some of the panels a mother walked by with her child, who couldn’t have been more than 2 or 3 years old. I couldn’t hear what he said to her, but she answered him by saying, “Well, I don’t know, let’s find out,” and proceeded to read the introductory panel, no doubt trying to figure out how she was going to make the Paris Commune comprehensible to this wonderfully curious little boy.

Next I made my way across town and had a lovely lunch with a good friend in a Vietnamese restaurant on the Blvd Montparnasse; and after that I went to see my friend Penelope Fletcher, bookseller extraordinaire, at the Red Wheelbarrow bookshop on the rue de Medicis, on the northern end of the Luxembourg Gardens.

Of course you cannot leave a bookstore, especially one managed by a good friend, without a new book. This time I chose Laurence Sterne’s Sentimental Journey through France and Italy. Then it was time for another favorite thing to do in Paris. To enjoy a kir cassis, en terrasse. With a good book, of course.

Soon it was time to return to Essoyes, so the next stop was Gare de l’Est. I have always been attracted to this huge painting inside the main entry to the station, but I had never taken the time to really study it.

Le départ des poilus, août 1914

So I took a picture of it this time, and today decided to learn about it. I was surprised to learn that it is the work of an American artist, Albert Herter. He painted this mural in memory of his son, who was killed in World War I, and donated the painting to the people of France in 1926. You can learn more about the painting, and about the artist, here.

Then it was on to the train, and the lovely train ride to Vendeuvre-sur-Barse, which is also one of my favorite things to do in France. To ride in those quiet, comfortable, trains of the Société National des Chemins de Fer (SNCF for short, but why shorten a name like that, it is pure poetry!) through the lovely countryside, past fields of wheat in a rich golden early evening light.

Happiness.

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 7, 2021 at 10:27 pm 3 comments

Midsummer Night’s Dream…

Summer evening, photo by Janet Hulstrand

It is just past summer solstice, and France is creeping out from under the restrictions imposed due to the pandemic. Last week Prime Minister Jean Castex announced that people are no longer required to wear masks outdoors. (This included, significantly, children playing in the school playgrounds; one can only imagine the happiness of the little ones at this news.)

Also, the evening curfew has been lifted completely. This came just in time for the annual Fêtes de la Musique, a nocturnal festival that occurs all over France on the summer solstice, and is followed by the celebration of the Festival of St. Jean, on June 24.

Here in Essoyes, people are joyfully celebrating the ability to be together again. The restaurants and cafes have reopened. A couple of weeks ago there was a village-wide vide maison (empty the house) what we would call a garage or yard sale, and other special activities, including a hike followed by a community picnic.

Reopening means reopening cultural events also. There will be organ concerts in the church at Essoyes over the next few weeks, bringing musicians from as near as Dijon, and as far away as Scotland and Finland.

Three Concerts in l’Eglise d’Essoyes during July.

Among the benefits of country living are being able to get your second Astra Zeneca dose from your friendly local pharmacists, which I did last week. At this point about 50 percent of the French population has received a first dose of the vaccine, and 30 percent have received their second: it’s not enough, but it’s a good start. Hopefully the numbers will continue to grow as rapidly as possible. Last week the vaccine was opened up to children 12 and older as well.

The abundance of the land begins to express itself in early summer. Here are a few proofs of that.

These images are of the barley, wheat, and wild strawberries that grow right in or next to my yard. Up in the hills surrounding the village, the vignerons have been especially busy over the last 10 days: this is the part of the summer where the vines must be trellised, which requires extra hands in the vines. The enjambeurs have been heading into the vineyards early in the morning–sometimes at dawn. Of course, this being France, they come back down for a nice, long lunch. Then it’s back into the vineyards again to work until early evening.

I am lucky to have a neighbor whose hens are prolific enough that she is able to share their eggs with others. Fresher, more delicious eggs I have never tasted!

Finally, from spring to fall there are many lovely varieties of wildflowers here that spring up of their own volition, brightening landscapes and cityscapes alike with their colorful variations. Here are a few of the current stars of the show.

Wishing you a safe, pleasant summer wherever you are. Bonne continuation, et prenez soin de vous!

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.

June 29, 2021 at 6:38 pm Leave a comment

Book Review: Stone Soup for a Sustainable World: Life-Changing Stories of Young Heroes

There is a traditional folktale about a hungry traveler who goes from house to house in an impoverished village, looking for something to eat. No one can offer him anything, because none of them have enough food to feed themselves. The clever, and very enterprising, traveler persists: “Don’t you have anything you could give me?” he asks at each house. “A carrot? A part of an onion?” He explains that he has a magic stone that will form the basis of a fine, nourishing soup. All he needs is a few ingredients to add to the pot.

Eventually, using the meager contributions he gathers from each of the villagers, he does succeed in creating a fine, nourishing soup, and he is able to feed not only himself, but the villagers as well. It turns out that the “magic” stone was not really needed: the only “magic” that was needed was the villagers putting together their resources, whatever they could manage to spare, in order to come up with enough for everyone to eat.

That, and their belief in the power of collaborative action in the face of human need.

This is the folktale on which the 1998 book, Stone Soup for the World: Life-Changing Stories of Everyday Heroes was based. That book featured 100 stories of “everyday heroes” from around the world who, through their individual contributions, were making the world a better place.

This week a follow-up book is being released. Stone Soup for a Sustainable World: Life-Changing Stories of Young Heroes has a similar format to the previous book, with two slight differences: this time the heroes being featured are all young people. And the focus of their efforts is on dealing with the climate emergency the people of this planet–that is, all of us–are facing.

Their stories are inspiring, not only because of the enthusiasm and optimism these young heroes possess, but also because of the astonishing creativity and energy they have brought to their efforts, and the successful innovations and projects they have already introduced into our world–which is in desperate need of just this kind of energy and just these kinds of projects. Their efforts offer promising solutions to a wide variety of the global problems we are facing, from deforestation to plastic waste in the oceans, from threatened biodiversity to endangered species.

A 13-year old boy in the United Arab Emirates has created an award-winning prototype for a robot that can clean up plastic waste in the ocean. A young entrepreneur in Barcelona has created a successful business making fashionable eyewear out of plastic waste retrieved from the ocean. A young woman in Mumbai started out by turning a public scrapyard in her neighborhood into an urban garden, and has gone on to become a researcher/educator about the importance of protecting native plants. These are just three of the encouraging, inspiring, and ultimately very hopeful stories included in these pages. There are 97 more!

Young climate activists in countries around the world, including the U.S., are also featured, and their energy and commitment to solving the massive problems they’ve been handed by older generations is matched only by their refusal to waste any time being angry about it, and just simply get down to work. That, in a way, is one of the most impressive things about them in the view of this baby-boomer, who feels pretty bad that we haven’t done a better job of caring for our earth, and that we’ve handed it to them in such sorry shape.

But there’s no time to dwell on that: the youth today are here. And they’re smart, and committed, and determined to turn things around. All they need from us is for us to stop wasting time, and help them–before it really is too late.

Marianne Larned is the powerful “force of nature” behind this collection of inspiring stories. After publishing Stone Soup for the World in 1998 she created the Stone Soup Leadership Institute, which has been nurturing youth leaders from around the world, and providing educators and others who work with youth with a variety of excellent educational materials, and youth leadership summits in order to provide both educators and youth with the tools, inspiration, and support they need to indeed make our world a better place.

If I haven’t convinced you that you should really buy this book, and read it, and tell all your friends to do so also, maybe you’ll listen to some of these young heroes tell you why you should. It’s two minutes well worth your time: trust me on this, and watch them here. I dare you not to be inspired!

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 literary memoir entitled “A Long Way from Iowa.”

June 14, 2021 at 9:43 pm Leave a comment

Déconfinement Again, Hoping It Will Last (!)

Sandwich Jambon, Vin Ordinaire c 1978. Photo by Janet Hulstrand.

Of course I can only speak for myself. But here is how I would describe the importance of this day in France.

Today is the day that many businesses that have been closed for many months–most notably museums, cinemas, and most of all sidewalk cafés–are reopening.

They’re not reopening in the way they were before, not yet. It is only the terraces that are reopening, not the interiors of cafes and restaurants.

And the curfew hours are still in place (though the limit has been extended two hours now, until 9 pm, not the highly impractical 7 pm).

Nonetheless there is a very excited feeling of (cautious) joy, I would say, all through France. Cafe owners and their employees are very eager to get back to work. Ordinary citizens (as well as all the leaders of government) are very eager to bring their business back to them.

And since sitting in a sidewalk cafe is not just a worn cliché, but in fact a very essential and important part of life in France, this return, limited though it is, cautious though it may be, is extremely important. And so there is a kind of kids-on-Christmas-morning feeling to this day, a kind of can’t-help-wanting-to-skip kind of feeling.

I am hoping with all my heart that this déconfinement will be able to last for “the kids.”

A few posts ago I wrote about the word “lassitude“, which is a word in both French and English, and in both languages it means a kind of deep, sustained weariness. It is a state of being we’ve of necessity come to understand in the past year, even though most of us don’t even really have enough going wrong for us that we deserve to apply the term to ourselves–that should be saved for the small businessmen and women hoping desperately to be able to return to work soon enough to save their businesses from bankruptcy. And even more for the healthcare workers who have had to maintain courage, energy, strength, health, and compassion over a very long stretch of exhausting, discouraging, heartbreaking, and sometimes frightening work.

Today I believe the word of the moment is “chastened.” It is a day of excited joy, but it is also a day of only cautious optimism.

Because how can we, after all, emerge from this protracted year of worry and frustration, annoyance and confusion, without some lurking sense that things will never be the same again? That this is just another period of false hope before the next round of coronovirus knocks the country to its feet again?

I think it is probably more or less impossible not to have that lurking thought anywhere in our minds and hearts. Because to be conscious, to be paying attention at all is to know that what we have been going through is a very serious crisis, not easily solved, not quickly solved either. And not done yet.

So unbridled joy is probably not possible. The image I have is of us all tiptoeing out of our homes cautiously, quietly, as if (somehow) by not letting the virus know we are resuming life as we like to live it it will not notice, and it will LEAVE US ALONE!!!

And yet there is an irresistible, very human desire to just simply rejoice in this day.

Carpe diem, the ancients said. “Seize the day.” The point is, this is a new day. At least for the moment, the sun is shining (though the forecast suggests that it will not shine all day). The tables are out again. All across this beautiful nation people are cautiously returning to one of their favorite activities, an activity that has charmed, and pleased, comforted and seduced people from all around the world for hundreds of years.

That is, sitting in a sidewalk cafe watching the world go by. There are very few things in life that bring more joy in such a simple, fundamental way. The French have brought this simple, joyful, idea of convivial gathering to perfection. Today they are going to be able to enjoy it once again. They are going to be living the meaning of the sheer joy of just “hanging out without feeling guilty.” (Which is a chapter in my friend Harriet Welty Rochefort’s book Joie De Vivre). A book you should read!

Let’s wish them well, shall we? And let’s hope anyone reading this who hopes to be able to return to a table in a sidewalk cafe in France, to enjoy that incomparable feeling of being en terrasse, can do so sometime soon…

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 literary memoir entitled “A Long Way from Iowa.”

May 19, 2021 at 1:38 pm 2 comments

What I saw in Troyes today…

Wouldn’t you like to sit here for an hour or two, reading? I would.

Troyes is one of my favorite cities in France. This is partly because it is “home.” (Well. It is the departemental capital of l’Aube, and the home of “my” prefecture. So, that makes it kinda like home.)

It is a very interesting city, with lots of museums, abundant cultural and artistic activity, and all of the things one looks for in a vibrant urban setting. It is also ancient, and full of fascinating history.

But today I was only there for an hour and a half, and all I did was take a few pictures on this lovely spring day to share with you all. To show you the everyday beauty of this city.

There were some children too, with their teacher, from a maternelle. I was taken with their joyous shouts and the amusing array of human diversity they displayed as they passed by me–one holding the teacher’s hand, most of the others running ahead, one or two lagging behind, as if it say “What?! We’re leaving already? Why?!”

So taken that I didn’t think to take a picture until they were gone. So you’ll just have to imagine that…

I hope you have enjoyed this little mini-tour of Troyes. You should come here someday and see it for yourself. You really should!

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 literary memoir entitled “A Long Way from Iowa.”

April 26, 2021 at 8:00 pm 2 comments

Demystifying the French (avec moi)

So, the event has happened, but if you missed it and would like to take a look, you can do so, right here. Mille mercis to the wonderful Alliance Francaise, for this opportunity to talk about France and the French!

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 literary memoir entitled “A Long Way from Iowa.”

April 15, 2021 at 7:19 pm 2 comments

Locked Down Again, But the Vaccines Are Here…

My “vaccine center”

This is going to be a very short post. Just want those readers out there who are also close personal friends to know that although France has been struggling to gain control of this pandemic, and the entire country has gone once again into lockdown, the vaccine is beginning to finally make its way to people. Not as quickly as everyone would like, but they’re trying. And it’s happening…

After a whirlwind of the AstraZeneca vaccine being on the market, then off the market, then on the market again, along with a rather dizzying, frequently changing flurry of information about potential side effects, and who should take it, and who should not, etc. I finally had my chance last week to take it!

I’ve listened to lots of doctors talk about the controversy and confusion surrounding the release of this vaccine, and have noted that their advice seems to be nearly universal. They are saying, more or less, that for most people just getting any vaccine is a good thing to do, as soon as possible.

I was able to do so in the most pleasant way possible. A 10-minute stroll to my village’s pharmacy on a sunny day, where the pharmacist administered the vaccine, filled out the post-vaccine paperwork, checked my blood pressure and then said I was “good to go.” No long lines, no frustrating search for a place to go get the vaccine. Just a call from my pharmacy saying “We have the vaccine, can you come in tomorrow at 11:45?”

I was very lucky!!!

And no side effects either, at least not yet. (Touch wood, why not? 🙂 ) Since this was three days ago now, I don’t really expect any. And in 10 weeks I will be able to get the second dose, and feel even better.

And so that is all I have time to report for today. But I’ll be back soon. In the meantime, stay safe, stay well everyone. Prenez soin de vous!

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 literary memoir entitled “A Long Way from Iowa.”

April 12, 2021 at 6:33 pm 1 comment

Locked Down AGAIN…

Reminders about “les gestes barrieres” in a train station

I had to look up the word “lassitude” this week. It is a word (in French) that is being spoken a lot recently. We have the same word in English, but it is one of those words we don’t use very often, so I had to look it up even in English. It means weariness.

Weariness is of course not quite the same thing as being tired. Being tired is something that can be cured by a nap, or perhaps a good night’s sleep. Weariness, on the other hand, suggests a fatigue born of an extended period of being tired of, or because of, something, something that wears down not only one’s level of energy, but also motivation, spirit, enthusiasm, and certainly joie de vivre.

And that is what we have here in France right now. Lassitude as we go into Year 2 of the Covid 19 pandemic.

There has been a lot of complaining this week, especially since, given concerning increases in the number of infections, especially in certain parts of France, and even more because, given frankly almost alarming reports of the increasing pressures on the hospitals in those regions, the government–some would say finally, others would say ridiculously–has imposed another set of restrictions.

This time only 16 departments of France (including Paris and the surrounding region, and also Lille, Nice, and their surrounding regions) are included. The theme of the lockdown this time is freiner sans fermer, which means “put the brakes on without closing down.” This has meant a rather complicated (and controversial) set of rules about what kinds of enterprises can stay open (bookstores, florists, hairdressers, bakeries OF COURSE) and which kind cannot (large-surface stores, museums, theaters, restaurants and cafes).

It’s been a terribly long time for some sectors of the economy, most notably restaurants and cafes, museums, theaters, and so on. It’s heartbreaking to hear restaurateurs in particular talk about their anxiety, about how they can possibly manage not to go out of business altogether, these people who in normal times provide all of us with such a wonderful service. (The word “restaurant” after all, comes from the French word restaurer (to restore). Think about that!) Managing a restaurant, it has always seemed to me, must be one of the hardest ways to make a living. How will they get through this?

The answers to these questions are not clear to me. In the beginning of the crisis, a year ago, one of the things that was most impressive and comforting to me about Macron’s address to the nation was the stress he placed on how the government intended to do everything it could to not only deal with the crise sanitaire (the health crisis) but also the economic consequences of having to shut so much of the economy down. Has this government kept those promises? I’m not too sure about that, but much of what I hear on French TV and radio suggests that whatever is being done is too little too late, or maybe in some cases not at all.

Some businesses have been spared the shutdown this time–bookshops, hairdressers, florists and of course bakeries and other food shops. The despised attestations that everyone was required to carry in the previous two lockdowns every time they left their homes is not required this time for people going out during the day and staying within the 10 kilometer limits of the restriction. And there is no time limit on how long you can be outside this time, for which everyone is grateful.

As I mentioned in my last post, I think it’s important for everyone to keep in mind for whom this year-long crisis is the most difficult, and calibrate our personal annoyance and lassitude with the situation accordingly. Of course everyone has had it with this crisis. (In French, the phrase is “on en a marre.”) But really, we do not all have an equal right to “having had it”: the health care workers who were being cheered in the streets as they made their weary way home after difficult days of saving lives a year ago are not being cheered anymore. Instead they are having to work just as hard (or harder) than they did a year ago with what must be an overwhelming sense of fatigue and pessimism about whether this extended trial will ever end. They are the ones who have the greatest right to being sick of it all. We have to just hope that they don’t throw in the towel, and be extremely grateful that most of them are not doing so. We need them!

I also would like to say something that I am pretty sure is going to be somewhat controversial, perhaps even downright unpopular. But I think it needs to be said. And that is that the amount of intense criticism that the government here in France is subject to is, I believe, somewhat unfair.

This is not to say that I do not agree with the thousands (millions?) of people who feel that the Macron government has bungled the managing of this crisis. What seemed to be a strong start in the beginning of the crisis is not as admirable by now, a year in. There are many reasons for this, some the fault of the government, and of Macron himself; but many of them are no one’s fault, really.

The problem is that this is so far, a very difficult crisis to manage. It may even be, to some extent, more or less impossible. One doesn’t have to look very far, all around in Europe in fact, to see that it is certainly not just Emmanuel Macron who is having a hard time figuring out what to do to keep his people safe, and prevent the economy from completely crashing.

This is a new disease, and new problems keep cropping up: shortages of the vaccines that almost miraculously have been able to be developed on such a short timeline; new variants of the disease cropping up all over the place in a most dismaying way. Europe is also struggling with trying to figure out how to function as a “union” rather than just a set of separate political entities that exist geographically adjacent to each other. It’s not easy (take a look at the United States to see how just how not-easy “forming a perfect union” can be, and how long it takes…)

So, while I do believe there’s been a lot of bungling in France since the fall. And while I personally believe that that is mainly because the government did not continue to listen to doctors as carefully as they should have, and did, in the beginning of the crisis. Where we are now was fairly predictable and probably could have been avoided by earlier, more aggressive governmental action. And by listening to the doctors, many of whom said “partial measures do not work.”

But I cannot help but think about what it must be like to be Emmanuel Macron, or Jean Castex, or Olivier Véran, the French minister of health, these days. I think we should all remember that these too are human beings, flawed like all human beings. They have probably made some big mistakes. But who among us would want to have the heavy burden of the responsibility that is on their shoulders? Who would want to have to keep guessing, or betting, or hoping rather than being able to plan in a way that was predictably fail-proof? Who would want to be any one of them trying to figure out what to do, trying to go to sleep at night, looking in the mirror and asking oneself if what they are doing is the right and best thing?

When I hear these people being criticized so strongly, I can’t help but think about their humanity, and how tired (and frightened) they must be as they struggle to keep up with this monstrous, protean virus.

The thing I think should be remembered is this: these are people who care and care deeply. We all saw the dreadful reality of a powerful leader of a nation who really did not care about the fact that hundreds of thousands of his citizens were dying, and who made things much worse, not better. (And his comment? “I take no responsibility,” and “It is what it is…”)

France is not in the hands of such people. I think they’re doing their best, or at least they’ve been trying to.

If we are going to blame anyone for this crisis, I suggest we look to the billionaires of the world, who apparently have been becoming even more obscenely wealthy, as the poorest of the poor bear the brunt of this crisis. It seems to me that the one thing that should be being done, and is not, is those very billionaires stepping up, and emptying their over-full pockets. Why couldn’t they do so? Why couldn’t they help the government by dumping some of their wealth in those places that need help the most? I don’t see any reason why they couldn’t.

Do you?

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 literary memoir entitled “A Long Way from Iowa.”

March 23, 2021 at 10:29 am 2 comments

Everyone is tired of this virus…

No hugging each other. (But you can hug yourself.) Keep a safe distance. Wear masks.

…and that is perfectly understandable.

However, it’s still here. And we still have to fight it, every way we can.

Many people are getting tired of Emmanuel Macron as well, and many (myself included) are disappointed about his shifting from the center ever more toward the right end of the political spectrum.

Still. This story made me smile this morning, and I am choosing to feel good about the fact that two young (and apparently extremely popular) YouTubers who I had never heard of before (because, let’s face it, I am neither that young, nor that cool…) accepted a challenge from le President de la République (Macron) to make a video reminding everyone of all the ways we need to continue working together to fight the virus that is, after all, continuing to wreak plenty of havoc among us–not only those who are suffering from the virus itself, but also those who are caring for them. (And they, more than anyone, have a right to be very very tired of it.)

The President challenged the YouTubers (McFly et Carlito) to make a video reminding everyone of what les gestes barrieres are (masks, physical distancing, airing out rooms, working from home, avoiding large gatherings, and so on). And has promised them that if they can gather 10 million views he’ll invite them to do a video of their choice from the presidential palace (Elysée).

They in turn have expressed completely appropriate skepticism and characteristic youthful irreverence about the challenge (among other things, they refer to him as “Manu” which is a not quite correct way to refer to le President de la République* but hey, what did he expect from these two?)

More importantly, they accepted his challenge and have made a very witty video doing exactly what he asked them to do. And they in turn have promised that any money they raise in connection with this video will go to help feed students in need. (Last year they raised more than 400,000 euros to help healthcare workers.)

So why not take a look at it, and help them meet their goal? It will be a good test of your French, and my hope is that even if you don’t understand all of it, it will make you smile. Here it is!

It certainly cheered me up this morning 🙂

*Always something new to learn: here’s a bit more context about the term “Manu.” Who knew? (Not I. 🙂 But I agree, he shouldn’t have humiliated the young man…)

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 literary memoir entitled “A Long Way from Iowa.”

February 22, 2021 at 9:31 am 1 comment

Snow across la belle France…

These birds were my faithful friends, and my home entertainment during a very wintry week across northern France…

It is easier (and also more fun) to write about snow, and birds, than about the pandemic. So that is what I have decided to do today.

I grew up in Minnesota, where we “know from” snow. (Though we do not say that we “know from” anything; that is New Yorkers who do that. But I digress…)

People often wrongly assume many things about people who grew up in a wintry climate. They assume that the person is probably glad not to be living in a wintry climate anymore. (Wrong!) They assume that winter is a terrible thing (Wrong again!) They assume that winter driving presents no challenge for these people. (Really wrong! Trust me on this: winter driving is challenging for anyone who is trying to stay on the road. If you’re driving on snowy, icy roads and you think you’ve got it all under control, you’re probably not being careful enough. So be more careful!!! Tip: The way to be the most careful of all is not to drive in snow and ice if you don’t have to…)

Anyway. This week was a very wintry week across most of northern France. There was real snow, and real cold (though not as much of either as there often can be in, you know: Minnesota 🙂 ) And since I didn’t have to drive anywhere, I quite enjoyed it.

I particularly enjoyed watching the birds gather around my bird feeder. They were more interested than usual in the seeds and other treats I had put out for them this week. And it was fun to watch them hopping around, enjoying a little bit of this, a little bit of that…then flying away. I had to sneak up on them to get any pictures at all (like the one above). So it became a kind of game, a nice little break from whatever else I was doing, many times a day…

I didn’t take the time to photograph their “happy tracks” until today, four days after the snow first fell. So the trail of their joyful hopping around is not as clear as it was the first day. But you can see that they had a lot of fun, can’t you?

I’ll be back sometime soon to report on other things. In the meantime, stay safe, stay well, wherever you are. Prenez soin de vous…et a la prochaine!

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 literary memoir entitled “A Long Way from Iowa.”

February 14, 2021 at 5:12 pm Leave a comment

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