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falling into autumn

this post will be very brief, for i am typing with just one hand.

this is because i seem to have developed the habit of taking spectacular falls onto the sidewalks of paris.

please note: in neither case should either paris or mme hidalgo be blamed for this. my good fortune in both episode 1 and episode 2 was to tumble onto a smooth, even, and even nice and clean sidewalk. never mind why! 😦

but before i fell i did manage to get a couple of photos of the newly reopened samaritaine, shown above.

watch your step, everyone! and i will try to do the same. 🙂

view from my place of recovery 🙂

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.

September 16, 2021 at 11:15 am 6 comments

Late Summer, Essoyes 2021

Our New, Opened-Up View of Essoyes. Photo by Stephen Rueckert.

Well, it has not been a quiet week in Essoyes, and next week will be even busier because I am told that is when the vendange will begin.

This is the week we (that is, our family) had to say goodbye to our beloved épicéas (spruce) trees, another victim of climate change. (Of course I am well aware that around the world, including in my beloved city of New York, others have suffered much worse fates, this very week. 😦 )

Nonetheless, for us this was a big loss, and it was a big job to take these trees down. Fortunately, we were able to call upon our local paysagiste, one of whose specialities is “abbatage délicat,” to take on this enormous task. And délicat is indeed the right word for the work they did for us this week.

We were most impressed (plus relieved) to watch this team practice their expertise. Five (out of the 32 very tall trees that had to come down) were right next to our house, with a fence behind them, and a road on the other side of the fence, plus a farmer’s field. These guys–two guys, one with a ladder and a chain saw, the other standing at a distance with a rope attached to the tree–managed to take these huge trees down, one at a time, in such a way that when they came crashing down, they cleared the house by a very narrow margin, and also managed to not hit my beloved “Christmas tree”–a beautiful, majestic cedar, which is (thankfully) immune to the insects that have devastated all the spruces. This task was carried out with surgical precision. It was amazing!

And it was not a lucky accident that it turned out that way. This was the result of sheer professional expertise. I have often remarked on the excellence of the French in mastering their various métiers. Here again we saw that excellence demonstrated.

So while it was sad to see our lovely trees go, remembering how that line of evergreens had sheltered, more or less cocooned us here in our lovely French home, by the time we were able to arrange to have them taken down, we were not only ready, but actually quite eager, to have it happen. Because by the time they came down, they had not been green in the least for a good while; and there is really nothing at all lovely about looking at a line of dead trees. (It’s also no fun wondering every time a storm comes up which of them may come crashing down, and where!)

And so, in the end, the new and expansive openness of our view from here has felt liberating, even kind of joyful. The beauty of the sunsets that I have so often shared on my Facebook page no longer have to be taken while standing between the trees and holding my camera up: the view of that beautiful sky and the fields over which it performs its daily visual splendor now can be seen clearly right from our house, and all around our yard.

In other news: French kids went back to school this week. And I must say, this tweet, with a short video of the rentrée, which I saw on the news feed of L’Est Eclair (our regional newspaper) really touched my heart. I feel for all the parents, kids, teachers, and school administrators who are doing their best both to resume a semi-normal school year, and to protect the kids from that nasty virus. It’s not easy. I hope things will go well. The kids didn’t ask for this, and they don’t deserve it. 😦

Anyway: as the virus picks up in various places, these words again become very useful: wear your masks, wash your hands, practice those rules of social distancing. Be safe, be well. 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.

September 4, 2021 at 12:12 pm Leave a comment

Demystifying the French: A Panel Discussion on Zoom

The event is over now, but you can still watch it. Here’s the link!

August 14, 2021 at 2:16 pm Leave a comment

Summertime 2021

Essoyes a travers les champs, at dawn. Photo by Janet Hulstrand.

In spite of early predictions for another hot, dry (meaning good-for-wasps) summer, at least in this corner of southern Champagne it has been cool and frequently rainy. I’m not sure what this means for the farmers around here: I know the season started out badly for those who grow grapes and other kinds of fruit, due to a few unseasonably warm days in May, followed by a late freeze.

To the untrained eye, the vineyards look healthy, at least the ones I have seen. In any case, my message to the world is the same as it always is: buy champagne! Support farmers!

And my message to wasps is: no offense, but we have not missed you this summer!

I thought that in this post, rather than try to sum up the ever-changing rules, progress in the fight against Covid, sliding back in the fight against Covid, disagreement about how to handle the pandemic, etc., I would give you some respite from all that, through a little late-summer photographic resume of this beautiful part of the world in which I find myself.

The photo at the top of this post was taken at dawn. And the one below, at dusk.

L’heure bleu, Essoyes. Photo by Janet Hulstrand.

There is no such thing as a day here that is not beautiful. I hope wherever you are, you will find beauty in your world too, even if it is in the lovely colors of sunset saturating a brick wall in golden light, or reflected in panes of glass. Or wildflowers making their determined way through cracks in a sidewalk, or a pile of gravel. There’s beauty everywhere…

Stay safe, stay well everyone. Get the vaccine. Wear those masks. So much to enjoy in this world.

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.

August 7, 2021 at 11:40 am Leave a comment

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 5 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

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