Archive for December, 2021

A return to Paris…and Paris returning (to itself)

I was lucky to spend a few days in Paris last week. It is always a pleasure to be there, and what was particularly pleasurable this time was enjoying the fact that Paris is pretty much back to itself after a rough couple of years due to the pandemic (not even gonna say its name…)

For example, look at these two pictures of the Café République, one taken last January, and one taken last week.

It isn’t as if the pandemic is over, no not at all. People are masked up, and there is an aggressive campaign to get a third dose of the vaccine distributed to as many people as possible as quickly as possible (and plans to begin innoculating children ages 11 and up to begin soon). There are testing stations conveniently located all around the city so those who need them can avail themselves. And there are concerns about the new variant. That is why all of the above is happening, and why on the whole people are cooperating.

But mostly the City of Light is back to being a city of light. And in the dark days of December, that’s a mighty fine thing…

In our home, December 13 is the day that marks the beginning of the long march toward longer days and shorter nights…because today is the festival of St. Lucia in Sweden–and in Swedish homes all over the world.

Here’s to celebrating light in the darkness, and warmth in the cold, with music and sweets to bring comfort and joy to you and yours, no matter how you celebrate this part of the year…

St. Lucia Day, Sweden

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.

December 13, 2021 at 8:08 am Leave a comment

Autumn 2021

My kids, and their friends, arriving for Thanksgiving with turkey, escargot, pecan pie and other delights …

Well it is good to be back to typing with two hands!

And I am trying to think what highlights to report between the last time I wrote here and this time.

Although three different anticipated visits by friends in the U.S. who decided to postpone (not cancel!) their European trips this fall fell through, my sister and brother-in-law, who had first planned to come for a visit right before COVID threw everything into a spin in March 2020, finally made it here, in early November. And I had a visit from one of my students from my Politics and Prose classes also, earlier, in October. She and her husband were visiting their son and future daughter-in-law, who live in Dijon, not far from here. They too had been long awaiting the time when they could come here and be reunited with their son. So this was the fall when families separated by Covid for too long were finally able to get together again. Yay!

My sister and brother-in-law and I had a wonderful time in Paris (where we walked 7 miles one day!)

After a couple of days of museum going and walking and walking and walking in Paris, we went on to Lille, where we visited my son Sam. And then all of us (including both of my sons) went on to Bruges, Belgium, a place we had all heard good things about, but none of us had ever been to before.

The weather in both Paris and Bruges was uncharacteristically sunny and mild for northern Europe in November, a lucky break for our visitors! In Bruges we had a wonderful time doing all the typical Belgian things: eating waffles, and fries, and drinking Belgian beer. And admiring the beautiful canals, and the lovely architecture…

By the time we got to Essoyes, the weather finally became a bit more typical of the season. We still had a wonderful time–in addition to the required (of course!) visit to the Renoir home and interpretive center in Essoyes, we visited a couple of nearby sites of interest that I had never been to: The Crystal Museum in Bayel, and the former abbey/now prison at Clairvaux. (A word to the wise: the entrance to the museum and tour of the former abbey is to your right as you come out of the visitor parking lot. That is where you want to go, not to the friendly-looking French flags to your left: that is the entrance to the maximum security prison, and you definitely don’t want to go there. The guards inside were quite surprised to see my brother-in-law confidently approach those heavy metal doors looking for a way inside. Fortunately, a quick explanation in French that we were looking for “l’abbaye” convinced them that we were harmless, just a bit confused, and they kindly redirected us.)

All too soon it was time for my sister and brother-in-law to go back home. And so they got the obligatory COVID test that had become required in order to board the plane during the short time they were here. And they went back to Paris, and on to Minneapolis.

One week later it was time to celebrate Thanksgiving in France. And while it is not a holiday here, it is celebrated by most Americans who live in France, and often their French friends and friends from other places are invited to join in the festivities as well.

Because it is not a holiday here, usually Americans celebrate it on the Saturday following Thanksgiving, which is what we did. Two things were different about our Thanksgiving this year: one, my sons offered to plan it themselves and did most of the shopping and cooking for it. What a treat! Two, I took the five minutes needed to read enough about the real history of Thanksgiving that I have forevermore banished my posterboard “Day Glo” pilgrims from our Thanksgiving celebrations. I always had displayed them as kind of a joke (Pilgrims really did not dress in those colors!) but having read the history now, I have to say there is really nothing funny about the way the Pilgrims treated the the Wampanoag people. I knew that there was an understory that was not at all sweet, and very little like the one we learned about in school back in the 1960s. But I had not ever taken the time before to find out exactly what did happen. The article I have linked to above tells the story very quickly, and that was enough for me to decide “No more silly Pilgrims at our Thanksgiving celebrations.” Nothing funny about them! 😦

What was the same this year was the joy of bringing together a mix of people to celebrate a holiday we all cherish. This time we were lucky to have among our guests Phineas’s (French) girlfriend; a college friend of his who now lives in London; and the one other American who lives in Essoyes, who came with her two daughters, one of whom is just a toddler, and who delighted us all with her antics.

And there was music, there is always music when my son Sam is around. This time Phineas played his guitar too!

Now, less than a week later, the new COVID variant is causing new concerns, and consequently there are increased travel restrictions. So. I am thankful to have had this wonderful time with my family when we could.

Here’s wishing one and all a safe, happy, healthy holiday season. Wear those masks, wash those hands, get those vaccines! And I hope whatever travels you have planned will go smoothly, and well, so that you can be with your families and friends 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 Long Way from Iowa: A Literary Memoir.

December 2, 2021 at 8:13 pm 2 comments


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