Déconfinement, Paris-style

Masks are required in the bus in Paris. Photo by Adrian Leeds.

It was time for another trip to Paris last week, and oh how lovely (and interesting! and joyful!) to be there again.

There are lots of new rules to be followed: the main ones are keeping one’s distance (ideally, at least one meter away from others), and wearing masks when such distancing is not possible. (In any case, masks are required on all public transportation, including in taxis, and in stores and other public places). The city has extended the limits of the sidewalks so that restaurants can put more people at outside tables, meaning that there is MORE room for people, less for cars. (It’s a move in the right direction…).

With these rules there has been a gradual, and very welcome, return to life in Paris as Parisians (and people from around the world) love it: with lots of time to enjoy the beauty of the parks, the river, the buildings, and to be surrounded by people enjoying life.

Sous le ciel de Paris. Champ de Mars. Photo by Janet Hulstrand.

The French are known for being very organized (and also rather bossy, to be honest). These qualities are quite beneficial in times when everything needs to be rethought and reorganized, in order for people to stay well and healthy, in order for life to begin to return to some kind of “new normal.”

So, everywhere you go in Paris, there are reminders of how to honor these gestes barrieres: tape on the floors of stores marking out the places where people should stand when in line, stickers on the seats in the buses so that you don’t forget, and sit down too close to someone else. And so on.

And it’s working pretty well: people need to keep following all these rules in order for the very good work everyone has done at beating back the virus to remain. But: so far, so good. Although it is not gone, and the danger is not past, for now France seems to have the situation more or less under control.

I had a wonderful time enjoying Paris with my pal Adrian Leeds: she wrote about some of it here. One of the highlights was an afternoon spent in the Luxembourg Gardens with an obligatory (for me, anyway!) visit to the wonderful Red Wheelbarrow bookstore which is just across the street from the gardens. Penelope Fletcher is there, doing what she always does: making excellent suggestions of books for people to read, ordering new ones on request, filling the shelves, supporting writers, and creating an atmosphere of lively, intelligent, friendly interaction among a community of readers. She is the quintessential perfect bookseller!

I had the chance to see my son, also, while I was there. And I even got interviewed for a second time by the wonderful Oliver Gee, and finally got to meet his wife, the “lovely Lina.” (She is indeed lovely, in every way. I knew she would be from the way she is described in his new book.) After the interview we had dinner together at a lovely restaurant Oliver took us to, the Fontaine de Mars, a very sympa restaurant that apparently is a favorite spot of Robert DeNiro, and has been graced also with the presence of the Obamas. How I managed not to think of taking a photo of us on this occasion I guess is that I was simply enjoying our time together too much. (You see, that is the problem always about photography: you can either be in the moment, or take a picture of it. Which means we should all be very grateful to the dedicated photographers of this world, who seriously devote themselves to capturing beautiful, poignant, important moments for the rest of us and let some of those moments pass them by so that the rest of us can enjoy them forever. (I’m talking to you, Roger Foley, and David Schroeder! 🙂 )

Anyway, you can see plenty of pictures of Oliver (and of Lina) by clicking on the link to his site here: and you can buy his book there too.

Then it was back to Champagne, and to the préfécture de l’Aube in Troyes, to take the next step forward in renewing my visa for another year. I must say, they really are so nice there. Never mind what you have heard about French bureaucrats. It is not always true!!!

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.”

July 4, 2020 at 7:53 am Leave a comment

Déconfinement continued…

Basket of Cherries, Merci, Morgane! Photo by Phineas Rueckert

I guess I could start by saying I’ve found it hard to know what to say about anything recently. The words of the poet W. B. Yeats come frequently to my mind about “the center not holding…” It does feel like the world as we have known it is coming apart at the seams, which is unsettling (to say the least).

But also, in some ways this is a good thing. Because I think most of us would be ready to admit that the world could be better managed than we (that is, we humans) have done so far. And while not everyone admits it yet, the young people of the world are urging us, with ever-increasing urgency, to wake up and realize that if we don’t do something pretty fast about dismantling our current way of doing things, and work together to safeguard our ability to live on this planet, we are doomed. (I know: that sounds melodramatic. Unfortunately, it is also true.)

So, although I had thought my next post would be about Macron’s speech to the nation on June 14, in which he announced the next steps toward a resumption of “normal” life in France–normal life lived with “the virus” that is–just as he found it necessary to address other concerns as well in his speech, things he had not anticipated talking about, I am finding it hard to know which overwhelming concern to comment on. And (an even bigger problem), what to say about it.

I did find much of what Macron had to say on June 14 somewhat comforting, and as usual his (for the most part) calm and intelligent way of expressing himself, as well as his clear concern for the common good are reassuring. France has done a pretty good job of flattening the COVID curve. Lots of people (though not enough) are wearing masks. People have stopped shaking hands, and there is no more faireing la bise (I find the latter sad, but also necessary). The numbers of cases are going down, and the government is working hard to figure out what to do next to avoid a resurgence of the disease.

But Macron was not able to focus only on the coronovirus in his speech this time, because the rising tide of (very justifiable) anger about police brutality that started in my hometown in Minnesota has swept the world, including France. And that has brought about a whole new set of concerns.

Of course it is not just contemporary racism and police brutality that is the problem. It’s the whole ugly history of colonialism, imperialism, that is being confronted.

I guess it is about time, isn’t it?

France has plenty of guilt when it comes to the ugly legacy of colonialism, that is for sure, and much of it has not yet been fully acknowledged. But the thing is, every country has racism; and the particular shape and form it takes is different in each country. These local differences seem to give people an opportunity (well, an excuse, really) to point fingers at other countries and say how much worse they are “there” than “here” (wherever “here” is).

The problem is, pointing fingers at others doesn’t solve anything. (Also, it isn’t really true. Racism is just plain bad. Let’s not lose sight of that central fact, in arguing about the details…)

What is needed is not more finger-pointing, but less avoiding the truth. “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced,” James Baldwin said, and he begged (and begged and begged) his countrymen to face the truth about our ugly racism, before it destroys us. (He always emphasized that racism hurts everyone: the innocent, and the guilty; blacks and whites; those who see the ugliness, and those who are blind to it.) And he was right about all that

So. I don’t know what to say about the state of the world. It is not good. (How’s that for concision and indisputability?)

I am deeply sad about what happened to George Floyd, and of course to all the literally thousands (no, millions) of black men and women who have suffered similar fates due to the racial hatred that to me is among other things, really just so damn hard to understand. 😦

I feel worried about the state of things in my hometown, and in my country. And I am aware that there are very big problems in France also, and in all the rest of the world too.

But since I stubbornly always prefer to “keep on the sunny side” of life: no matter what, as much as possible…

And because I believe it is important to be grateful for the blessings of one’s life no matter how distressing things may be in the world at large.

For those reasons, I will end this post on a note of gratitude anyway…

For the church bells that ring out in Essoyes, lately much more often, and often more joyfully, for some reason. (Not sure why yet, stay tuned for more on that…)

For the presence of my two wonderful sons, who have been here with me so much in recent weeks (and months), and who have been such a comfort and a joy to have here with me.

For the abundant (and deliciously sweet) basket of cherries that our friend Morgane surprised us with the other day. (Shown at the top of this page 🙂 )

And for my wonderful group of women friends with whom I spent a delightful few hours last night sitting in the shade of a garden, enjoying an apéro that stretched into a wonderful, light summertime dinner, and especially for the rich and stimulating discussion we had about all manner of things…

Most of all for the fact that we are all still well, and so are our families.

We are lucky indeed, we are blessed.

Prenez-soin de vous, everybody. Pensez aux autres.

Find something to care about, and don’t just “look for the helpers” (as Mr. Rogers so kindly and thoughtfully always urged little American kids to do).

Try to be one too.

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 25, 2020 at 9:33 am 1 comment

Minneapolis, City of Lakes…and Police Brutality

Minneapolis, Minnesota. My hometown.

I am from a city in Minnesota called Minneapolis.

It is a place that, until recently, was not very well known outside of the United States, and even, to some degree, within the United States.

Minneapolis is a beautiful city of lakes and parks. It is a city that is rich in cultural activities and the arts. It is very cold there in the winter, and the winter is long. And it is my beloved hometown. That is how I have always thought of it, until now.

But now everyone in the world knows that Minneapolis is also the place where last week a horrific act of murder was committed, by a police officer, as three other police officers stood by and did nothing, or actively aided and abetted the murderer.

And that the outrage over that murder–combined with the cumulative weight of so many many many terrible murders before it–has rocked our nation and spread a cry of fury, anguish, and vigorous protest around the world.

It’s about time.

I am filled with both grief and shame over the treatment of this man, George Floyd. I grieve for his family, and for the families of so many other African Americans, and others, who have suffered for not just decades but centuries from this horrific kind of hatred, this unspeakable, unfathomable, unforgivable violence.

I don’t, and can’t, understand it. It sickens me. And I don’t really know what to say about it except that this murder–captured on camera so that anyone who can bear to watch can see it–does seem to perhaps be the last straw.

I hope it is.

Yesterday I saw a news clip of George Floyd’s six-year-old daughter, whose mother has not yet told her exactly what happened to him. All she knows is that her father is gone, that he died “because he couldn’t breathe,” and that huge crowds of people are calling out his name. “My Daddy changed the world,” this innocent child has said. It is heartbreaking.

Will his unnecessary, terrible death change the world?

Right now, nothing is certain, and things are not good in the not-very-United States of America. In many cities, the police are acting out violently, out of control. The president is completely incompetent (to say the least). The Republican leadership (still, unbelievably) stands by and does nothing.

It’s hard not to despair.

But that is not a choice. It’s not a choice.

Americans tend to feel that “failure is not an option.” But when it comes to humane treatment of our black brothers and sisters, the truth is, we’ve been failing for far too long. Failing, and failing, and failing again.

Our president promised to bring “winning” back to our nation. Somehow I don’t think he defines winning in the same way I do.

But I trust–and fervently hope–that we can start winning the only game that counts.

That we can find a way to love, and support, and help each other through this terrible terrible mess we’re in.

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 4, 2020 at 5:52 pm 1 comment

Déconfinement Day 17: France Slowly Reopens

In a small rural village, like where I live now, at this time of year crops become a matter of general interest. Even if you’re not personally involved in agriculture, you can’t help but notice the growing and thriving of things….

Continue Reading May 28, 2020 at 8:15 pm Leave a comment

Déconfinement Day 8

#Champagne11mai Photo by Phineas Rueckert.

Well we are one week into déconfinement. Such a feeling of liberation, now that we don’t have to take an attestation with us every time we venture outside of the boundaries of our home! (Though we are still required to stay within 100 kilometers unless we have a very good, and strictly defined–defined by the French government–reason for going further than that…)

We are still being very careful though, and of course we need to be, because with everyone suddenly coming out of confinement, I am assuming that that automatically raises the general risk of being infected by the virus. (That is my own very simple layperson’s interpretation, I have not heard anyone say exactly that: but it must be true, no?)

So. I am still waiting to do much of anything, outside of walks outside and the occasional trip to our little Casino supermarket here in town, so I can at least start helping my son carry groceries back home. He has been such a huge help to me throughout the lockdown! When restaurants are open again and it is safe for us to travel he is going to enjoy a very fine meal, my treat! Or maybe we will just stay right here in Essoyes and eat at our own very fine hotel restaurant, Les Demoiselles, with its magnificent view of Essoyes and the surrounding vineyards.

Together again, and so grateful for it…

Déconfinement has made it possible for my older son to join us now, too, from the place he was sheltering in place with friends in the south of France: so we are together again, and I am thanking my lucky stars for that.

None of us know one blessed thing about gardening, but today there was talk of us taking the bold step of trying to learn something so we can grow some of our own vegetables in a little “victory garden.” (Please do NOT “stay tuned.” I will let you know if we have any success at all, I promise! )

I continue to watch the news from home with sadness and concern. And I guess that is all I will say about that; except that I am very very sorry that because of the way things have been handled there, many dear friends and family members are not going to be allowed into Europe anytime soon… 😦

Meanwhile here in Essoyes the wheat and colza continue to grow, the bright red poppies are beginning to spring up in the fields, and the vineyards are doing okay too this year (I think).

There is also a field of what I think is cow vetch (in English) vesce de vache in French, near our home. (Now do you see why I wanted to learn French?) 🙂

Vesce de vache. Photo by Janet Hulstrand.

Stay well everyone. Prenez soin de vous…and here’s a helpful reminder from the French government about how to go about doing that.

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 17, 2020 at 5:31 pm Leave a comment

Déconfinement Day 1

Today is the day that France begins to progressively, and slowly open up again, after eight weeks of quarantine. With an emphasis on the word “slowly”…

Continue Reading May 11, 2020 at 1:44 pm Leave a comment

Lockdown in Essoyes: Day 49

…May 1 was a national holiday in France, as it in many countries, as a day of international honoring of workers. But of course, with everyone still confined to their homes it was a pretty quiet celebration this year…

Continue Reading May 5, 2020 at 11:01 am Leave a comment

Lockdown in France: Day 42

…What is interesting of course is how it gets harder to be patient with the lockdown with each passing day: but also one must acknowledge that, having recognized the danger and the threat out there, and the incredibly robust contagiousness of this virus, the thought of returning “to normal” is pretty damn scary…

Continue Reading April 29, 2020 at 6:25 am 3 comments

Lockdown in France, Day 35

Masks being made by volunteer members of the community are becoming available in our village. Isn’t this a pretty one?

Last week I was gathering dandelions in our yard, which is wonderfully full of dandelions. Because (did you know this?) dandelions are NOT weeds, they are very useful plants with a host of healthful options to offer us, everything from salad, to tea, to dandelion wine. They also are very important for bees, and bees are important for US. (So, not to go off on this tangent: but if you are still killing dandelions, please STOP KILLING DANDELIONS!!!!)

This week was different: a couple of projects had me busy at my computer. And then, toward the end of the week, everything got a bit complicated. First, I fell (on my face–again!) on my nightly .5 kilometer walk across the field.

I say “again” because I pulled a similar trick about a year ago in Paris. I am tempted to call this my annual “spring fall” except I am really hoping it is not an annual thing. (That time in Paris I landed on asphalt. This time I landed on gravel. There are interesting differences to note, but I will spare you the details…)

Anyway, I was pretty sure that I had also fractured my ankle again. But, hallelujah, and long story short, I did not! It is getting better WAY too fast for that to have been the case, and today our village doctor confirmed that it is not broken, not even fractured, pshew. And, in general, this was a much less serious fall for a number of reasons I won’t go into either…

Then my chest started to hurt. Oh, for goodness sake, now what? Do I call the doctor? thought I. Surely he has more urgent cases on his hand; surely I should wait at least a few days and see if it gets better.

Which I did. But then it didn’t get better, it got worse. And it kept kind of getting worse and worse…So I started doing the required internet research, and read enough to think that probably it was prudent to at least call him, describe my concern, and see what he said.

Another long story short, he came here, checked all my vital signs (and my ankle), gave me a couple of prescriptions to ease the pain in my chest, and ordered a COVID test. (Which the village nurse came and performed here in our home.)

I’m not the first one to say it, but these people are heroes. They are. Let’s all remember that “when this is over…” and make sure they are appropriately rewarded for their brave, humanitarian service. And I mean really rewarded. More than just heartfelt thank-yous, nice as those are…

So, we shall see what we shall see. The test has been taken, the verdict is out. The medicine is making me feel a little bit better and I am forcing myself to take it easier, and rest more than I accustomed to doing.

My younger son is here with me, he is a wonderful musician, a wonderful young man, and a much better cook than I am. And he is taking such good care of me.

Spring has sprung in Essoyes…Photo by Janet Hulstrand

And so, that is my report for this week. Very personal, very self-centered I suppose. Except I want to note that the heroes of this post are, once again, those health care workers (and others) who are out there every day helping us get through this.

All the rest of us have to do is PLEASE just do what they say. Which is mainly: STAY HOME! (And enjoy it…why not?) 🙂

Take care of yourselves, and stay home for the sake of OTHERS as well. as yourselves..and be well…until next week…

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 21, 2020 at 7:52 pm 5 comments

Lockdown in France, Continued…

The colza is in bloom…Photo by Janet Hulstrand

I love our home in Champagne, and I love living in our quiet, but busy, little village, Essoyes, here in the Côte des Bars.

And it’s a good thing that I love spending time here: because I will not be going anywhere except to the village and back on my daily walks until at least May 11.

I feel so lucky, and so grateful, to be here during this time.

Last week was Holy Week. And although there could be no church services this year, on Palm Sunday at noon the bells in our church rang out joyfully.

On Maundy Thursday at 7:00 in the evening they rang again, this time solemnly.

And on Easter Sunday they rang joyfully again at noon.

Every night the citizens of Essoyes continue to flood the town with music at 8:00 pm as their way of thanking those who are continuing to provide essential services during the lockdown. They are beginning to vary the song: last night this song was played, in homage to a family member of several Essoyens who died yesterday, and whose funeral mass could not be largely attended because of the confinement.

The night before this was the song selected for sharing in the streets of Essoyes.

Crayons and line drawings were distributed to the children of the village the week before last, and last week the resulting artwork was displayed around town in the windows and on the walls of the businesses that remain open, and at the mairie. A nice (and appropriately educational) activity for the children, and a cheering sight indeed for all.

The mairie and some of the businesses in the village are displaying artwork celebrating “nos heroes quotidiennes” created by the children of the village…

Last night my son and I, along with millions of Frenchmen and women, watched and listened carefully to President Emmanuel Macron as he outlined the steps ahead for France as the country attempts to gain control of the coronovirus epidemic, and slowly begin a return to normalcy.

The main points were: France will continue to remain on strict lockdown until at least May 11. The borders will be closed to entry from non-EU countries until further notice. The French government is doing, and will continue to do everything it can to preserve both the lives and health of its citizens, and to find ways to address the inevitable economic consequences of this situation, and help those who need help.

Like his previous speeches during this crisis, Macron was calm, clear, and very candid (“…we still have several months of living with this virus..”). He started by praising all those who have worked tirelessly, unselfishly, bravely to attempt to defeat this thing. He urged everyone to continue to take the rules of confinement very seriously. He emphasized that although the period of confinement has been moderately successful in slowing down the advance of the disease, the epidemic is not under control, and that the continued vigilance of everyone is essential in order for this goal to be achieved. He explained some of the concrete actions the extended period of confinement will allow the government to put into place in preparation for a slow return to normalcy, including the provision of masks to all who want them and the amassing of a sufficient number of tests, so that after May 11 those who show symptoms of the disease can be tested. He stressed that both public and private resources have been aggressively mobilized to work together to adequately address this crisis.

And he said that as of May 11 there will be an attempt to begin to return to normalcy, step by step.  Progressively reopening the schools, beginning in the primary and secondary levels, will be among the first steps, as he explained, because “…there is an inequality in that there are those who don’t have access to the internet and can’t be helped by their parents.” This is only a tiny step toward addressing all of the many inequalities that really need to be made, of course. But it is a step in the right direction. One can only hope (and work together to demand) that this priority does not get lost sight of once things are more or less back to normal again.

I hope I have more or less accurately summarized what he said. Here is the video of the speech, and the entire speech in French, along with a summary of the highlights.

What was most comforting about this speech in addition to the calm intelligence throughout was the humility, the transparency, in other words the honesty of the president as he spoke to the nation. He who has been criticized for having a “Jupiter” complex was also uncharacteristically humble last night. (“We have to reinvent ourselves, and me first of all … We are vulnerable. I understand you have many questions and I would like to answer all of them. But I say in all humility, we don’t have definitive answers today.”)

I hope with all my heart and soul every day, along with many millions of my fellow Americans both at home and abroad, that something similar can begin to happen in the United States as soon as possible. I know that millions of U.S. citizens, and many of the state’s governors are doing all they can to prevent an even greater tragic loss of life than has already been suffered there. I hope that those leaders who have not yet joined them will do so soon. As soon as possible. It is hard to imagine what they are waiting for…

Meanwhile, in Essoyes, as elsewhere around the world, the coming of spring gives reason for hope.

Stay well, everyone. I’ll be back next week with another report. Until then, as they are saying here these days…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 14, 2020 at 9:10 am Leave a comment

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