Archive for May, 2023

Another Wonderful Week in Paris…

My favorite reading spot in the 12th (on the Coulée Verte). This time I was reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. It is a wonderful book!

I had the great pleasure of spending another week in Paris last week. My son and his girlfriend were both away and they needed someone to care for their cat. This gave me the opportunity to stay in their place in its wonderful location on the Bassin de l’Arsenal, near Bastille.

The first time I stayed in their apartment I didn’t know about the Coulée Verte, which is a beautiful green space designed for strolling on an elevated train track that goes from Bastille to the Chateau de Vincennes, on the eastern edge of Paris, a distance of a few miles. It opened in 1988 and apparently was the inspiration for the High Line in New York; it is just a few short blocks from my son’s apartment, and this time I was determined to explore it.

After a rather late and chilly spring (which actually remained chilly during the whole time I was in Paris) some of the blooms that normally come earlier in the year had not yet happened. But while I was there, roses and other flowering bushes began to blossom and it was lovely, both on the Coulée Verte and along the Bassin de l’Arsenal as well.

While I was there I had the incomparable pleasure of meeting six delightful Canadians who were traveling in France. Rosemary is a reader of my blog who became interested in my writing as she was researching the history of her husband’s uncle, a pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force during WW2 who was killed in action just north of Essoyes on August 5, 1944, and is buried in the village cemetery, not far from the grave of Renoir. We had communicated sporadically for a couple of years, and when she told me that she and husband and some friends of theirs would be in Troyes during the month of May, we laid a tentative plan to meet.

As it turned out, I was not in Champagne when they were in Troyes, but we were lucky to be able to meet in Paris. These Canadians–who are, specifically, from Winnipeg, and thus nearly “next door” neighbors to my hometown of Minneapolis. (Well. At nearly 500 miles apart, I guess it is a matter of “relatively speaking.”) Anyway, these Canadians turned out to be a delightful group! We met at my son’s favorite local café last Sunday morning and had one of those conversations that begins without effort, and threatens to never end. 🙂 I was particularly pleased to learn that Rosemary had enjoyed reading my new book, and that she had also recommended Demystifying the French to her friends; and when they told me that reading “Demystifying” had made a definite (and positive) difference in the quality of their experience of being in France, well that just about made my day right then and there.

I left the café feeling that I had six wonderful new friends. I hope to learn much more about Bill’s uncle, who paid a high price for his role in helping to liberate France. It was a poignant reminder of just how many lives were lost in getting Europe back out from under Nazi occupation, and an occasion for renewed–and deep–gratitude for all those brave men and women who so unselfishly did what needed to be done. 😦 I hope to be able to learn more about Bill’s uncle’s story, and write about it on this blog.

Here I am, with Rosemary in Paris, and with the rest of the gang as well.

Later that same day I had the good fortune to meet Kitty Morse, the author of a beautiful new book called Bitter Sweet: A Wartime Journal and Heirloom Recipes from Occupied France. After her mother died, Kitty had discovered a suitcase that held a wealth of archival material–both wartime journals and heirloom recipes–from her great-grandparents, one of whom perished in Auschwitz. She told the group of writers who had gathered to meet her a very moving story not only about her family’s history but about the warm reception she received in Châlons-en-Champagne when she went there this spring to do additional research into her family’s past, and to present her book.

All of this was wonderful, but the serendipity just kept rolling! As luck would have it, my cat-sitting assignment coincided perfectly with the arrival in Paris for one short day of a friend and former student of mine from my days of running a program in New York back in the 1980s, called the Junior Year in New York. Otter Bowman was one of the ones who couldn’t leave New York once she got there: she ended up staying there for several years before returning to her home state of Missouri, where she became a librarian and has carried out a career as a bookmobile librarian. Now, as president of the Missouri Library Association, she is one of hundreds of librarians across the country who are fighting the good fight against the banning of books.

Anyway. She and one of her sons, who now lives in England where he is studying classics, were doing a whirlwind trip to Paris and I was super pleased that they made time to see me while they were there.

We arranged to meet for dinner at the Bouillon République, which was not far from where both of us were staying. Otter had told me that a modest budget was what they had to work with, so right away I thought of meeting them at a bouillon. This revival of a 19th century phenomenon in 21st century Paris is explained here. Basically the idea is to provide a classic French meal at an affordable price, and in the past few years bouillons have popped up all over Paris. The décor tends to be 19th century France, and the meals are simple, classic–escargots, boeuf bourguignon, crème brûlée, for example. They are also copious, indeed affordable, and the atmosphere is very convivial. There are menus in both French and English, and the waiters very thoughtfully ask you which one you would prefer. The server we had was particularly kind and attentive, but I have found the service at bouillons to be so, generally speaking.

Unlike most French restaurants and even cafés and bistros, the bouillons tend to serve meals continuously during the hours they are open, and they don’t take reservations except for large groups. (Although I did notice that a poster outside the Bouillon République was announcing that they had just introduced the possibility of reserving tables, so it pays to check in advance, especially if you will be eating during traditional French lunch or dinnertime.) Since my friends had just arrived from London on the Eurostar, and Otter was also less than 36 hours into getting over jet lag I figured they might want to eat on the early side and I was right. So we met for dinner at 6 pm (very early by French standards) and walked right in. By the time we left at a bit after 8 pm there was a very long line to get in.

After dinner we took a stroll toward their Air B&B near Arts et Métiers and I showed them one of my favorite little parks in Paris, the Square du Temple. At nearly closing time, the playground was empty, but there were a couple of games of ping pong going on, and it turns out that Otter is a big fan of ping pong. (“Oh! If only I had known!” she said. “I would have packed my paddles.” 🙂 )

Here are a few images from the Square du Temple at other times of day, from other trips to Paris.

Early the next morning I needed to get back to Essoyes so I was on my train at Gare de l’Est before 9 am. I love taking the train between Essoyes* and Paris. It is such a wonderful way to travel! And I love the Gare de l’Est. It is not huge, and overwhelming like the Gare du Nord. And it is not huge and modern like Gare Montparnasse. It is old, and beautiful; big enough to be grand, but not so big as to be overwhelming; and it is full of interesting things to look at if you have time between trains. For example this painting, which I wrote about here.

When I got home I learned that Otter and her son had made time in their one precious day in Paris to go my favorite bookstore there, The Red Wheelbarrow, and I even have documentation of their visit, thanks to Penelope, the bookstore’s manager, who kindly snapped these photos of Otter enjoying a peek at my new book. (For those you who may not know, this is really the best Anglophone bookstore in Paris to go to, especially if you wish to go into the bookstore without having to wait in a long line (!) and if you fancy the idea of strolling across the street with your new books into the lovely Jardin de Luxembourg, which is also an absolutely perfect place for reading.)

And so here I am back in Essoyes, where there is less excitement, but also lots and lots of peacefulness and quiet. Our little orchard needed watering, and our new willow tree and flowering bushes did too. And so I am here to do these things, and to enjoy sunsets like this one nearly every night. And am counting my blessings…

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 A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France.

*You actually cannot take the train all the way to Essoyes (sadly). The closest station is Vendeuvre-sur-Barse. And the closest place where you can rent a car to drive the rest of the way is Troyes. But Troyes is also a fascinating and beautiful city with some wonderful museums. So well worth putting on your list!

May 28, 2023 at 2:57 pm 1 comment

Mothers and Daughters, and Sisters…and Book Groups!

Mother’s Day is a nice holiday, but it is also a holiday that is hard for some people. Daughters who have lost mothers; mothers who have lost daughters (or sons); women who wanted to become mothers but couldn’t, or didn’t, for some reason. Mothers and daughters (or sons) who feel that they could have been better mothers (or daughters, or sons). Mothers and daughters and sons who are in a bad moment–or a bad way in general–when it comes to these relationships. I’m sure there are other reasons too.

I am going to try to make this post one that celebrates and honors women, period. Mothers. Not-mothers. Daughters. Sisters. Aunts. Women friends. Even book groups!

Why book groups? Because many (though by no means all) book groups tend to be composed of women.

And because my wonderful sister has just shared my long-awaited book (long-awaited by at least her and me, and a few other people) with her book group.

My book is about mothers and daughters. My mother was a wonderful mother. My sister is/was a wonderful daughter. I was a pretty good daughter, but I was not an easy daughter for my mother to raise. (She loved me anyway. I wrote about our close, but not perfect, relationship here.)

And now I have finally published the book I decided to write thirty years ago, when I suddenly realized, in one of those profound moments of life that sometimes grabs you by the throat, or the heart, or in the gut–that I owe so much of who I am and have been able to become because of not only my mother, but also her mother. The grandmother I actually didn’t really like that much. (You’ll have to read the book if you want to know why.)

I don’t remember when I told my sister I was working on this book, but it was quite a few years ago. And so my sure-fire, eager audience of one (my sister) waited all those years and always let me know that she was really looking forward to reading “the book.” (She called it, calls it still, “the book” as if there were only one in the world! 🙂 )

And now that it is a real book, she shared the news with a group of her “sisters”–the members of her wonderful book group in Minneapolis. And they read the book (this means, by the way, that they also bought the book: this means a lot to authors!). And this week they discussed the book, and apparently they really liked it.

The picture on the right above is of my sister’s book group, holding up my book at the festive meeting (French wine included) at which they discussed it.

The picture in the middle is my hermanita (my little sister), reading my book. (I don’t know who took that picture, but I’ll bet my wonderful brother-in-law did. Maybe. Or it could have been my wonderful niece or nephew. Anyway, I love the picture.)

The picture on the left is my mother, taken on one of her happiest days, and mine. She is looking on with love and pride at my sister, and at my book, and at my sister’s book group. I know that if she were alive all of this would please her so much. (Well to be honest, maybe not every single thing I said in the book. But the general idea of the book, she would love that.)

So anyway. On this Mother’s Day I want to honor and thank my mother, and my sister, and the women in my sister’s book group, and all the other women who have so kindly nurtured me in a variety of ways throughout my life.

And I want to honor–and remember–all those mothers and daughters and sons out there who are hurting in some kind of way. I hope those of us who have been lucky in our lives and in our relationships will find ways to be kind and understanding, sensitive to and supportive of those who may not be quite as lucky. I hope we can all find ways to recognize and honor the love that comes from mothers, not-mothers, sisters, not-sisters, all women who share their nurturing and their love with others in whatever ways they can–and who may be hurting on this day.

And to let them know that we do, and that we care. Because all those love songs are right–it really is the most important thing. And everyone needs it.

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  A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France.

May 14, 2023 at 8:45 am Leave a comment

The Evolving Face of Paris: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

Now for the next thing on my calendar.

Which is my next (online) class with the wonderful Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington D.C.

I am very excited about this class, because the four books we will be reading and discussing in it will give members of the class a very diverse, vibrant, exciting look at today’s Paris through the eyes of some of its most engaging, thoughtful–and fun!– contemporary personalities.

And we will even have the chance to chat with each of the authors in the last half hour of the classes devoted to their books.

You see above the cover of the first book we will be reading–and though class starts a week from tomorrow, don’t worry about having the time to read the book. Edith de Belleville’s book is a quick and delightful read: you will have plenty of time to read it, especially if you start today!

To be perfectly honest I do need a few more people to sign up in order to make this class a “go.” So I hope a few of you Parisophiles out there will sign up. You wouldn’t want to disappoint the ones who are already looking forward to this class, now would you?

Plus, this class is going to be really fun and interesting. I promise!

You can learn all about it here. So. I hope to see some of you in those little Zoom boxes, a week from tomorrow.

In the meantime, happy reading!

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  A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France.

May 4, 2023 at 12:19 pm Leave a comment

A Long Way from Iowa Launches at The Red Wheelbarrow, Paris

With my friend (and bookseller extraordinaire) Penelope Fletcher, at the launch of A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France.

I stated on my Facebook page not too long ago that having my book launch at The Red Wheelbarrow bookstore in Paris was a longtime dream come true, but that is not strictly accurate.

The truth is I never really dreamed of having a book launch at a bookstore in Paris, at least not until fairly recently. Not until I became friends with Penelope Fletcher, the manager of my very favorite English-language bookstore in Paris (and in my opinion the very best one too).

Penelope is what every indie bookstore manager should be: a voracious reader with boundless love and enthusiasm for books and writers, and a passionate interest in putting the right readers together with the right books. (Being possessed of abundant energy and indefatigable persistence and determination is helpful too. 🙂 )

I could go on and on about Penelope’s talents, skills, and excellence as a bookseller, but perhaps I will save that for another post. For now let me just say that she has become a good friend, and a faithful supporter of my work, and I am deeply grateful for that.

Anyway. So it is that I found myself living that dream come true last night, at The Red Wheelbarrow in Paris. Here are a few photos of the event.

And so this book, a labor of love that I worked on off and on over a period of many years, is finally out in the world–and on the shelves at The Red Wheelbarrow as well as other bookstores (for example at my favorite Washington DC bookstore, Politics and Prose), and online as well. You can learn a bit about the book here, and I hope you will be interested enough to buy it. I hope even more that you will like it (and that if you do, you will write an online review of it). These things help authors so much!

The best thing about the event, at least for me, is that it was a wonderful mix of friends, and people I’d never met before. (The best thing for Penelope, I imagine, is that almost everyone who was there for the reading bought the book!) And I think it was fun for everyone that I had brought one of my favorite champagnes from the Côte des Bar (which is where I now live) to celebrate the event.

There is one more best thing about the event for me. And that is that both of my sons were there, with their very nice girlfriends. Nothing could have made the event more special for me.

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  A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France.

May 2, 2023 at 12:53 pm Leave a comment


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