Posts filed under ‘About France’

Sneak Peek at A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France

Many thanks to FranceToday.com for publishing this excerpt from my new book. Hope this little taste of my story will entice you to want to read more.

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.

January 31, 2023 at 9:53 am Leave a comment

A Long Way from Iowa Is Now Available

More than thirty years ago I had the idea to a write a book that would pay tribute to my mother and grandmother, whose passion for reading, writing, and travel had been passed on to me. I wanted to honor the fact that this was a legacy they had passed down to me even though neither of them got to do as much of these things in their own lives as they would have liked to do.

They did live pretty happy lives anyway, and they were wonderful role models in that way. Still, I feel pretty lucky that I am the one of the three of us who was able to live out some of the unfulfilled dreams they carried with them through their lives–silently, but no less real for all that.

Finally, as of today, my book is now available in both e-book and paperback from my wonderful indie publishing service, BookBaby. In March you will be able to buy the book anywhere books are sold, but for now this is the only place you can buy it. (It is also the place where the author gets the best royalties. 🙂 )

If you prefer to buy the book some other way, the preordering period for Amazon is now open, and it should be open on Bookshop.org soon also. But I do hope that some of you will support BookBaby (and me through BookBaby). BookBaby is a wonderful thing for authors!

But honestly, I don’t care all that much where you buy the book: I will just be so pleased if you do; and I will be even more pleased if you like 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.

January 19, 2023 at 6:34 pm 1 comment

Books that will help you understand and appreciate the French

For any of my readers who are looking for good books about the French for holiday gifts (or whatever), take a look Shepherd.com, which is a new book recommendation site. I was asked to contribute five of my favorite books about some aspect of life in France.

Here is the topic, and the books I chose:

You can read about why I chose these books here:

https://shepherd.com/best-books/understanding-and-appreciating-the-french

Once you’re on Shepherd.com, do stay a while to check out this site. It’s a wonderful new endeavor by some very creative, book-loving, monopoly-challenging heroes of the book world. So take a few minutes to browse around and see what other lists they have available. (Just a few examples of some of their many, many topics: “The best books to understand modern Iran” “The best books on enjoying wildlife when traveling.” “The best travel books when you need escapism.”)

I’m honored to have been invited to do this, along with some very impressive authors from one of my favorite niche genres: books about France. (Martin Walker? Mark Greenside? Stephen Clarke? Wow!)

You might want to also take a peek at the “bookshelf” posts on my blog for additional ideas. Here they are! https://janethulstrand.com/?s=bookshelf&searchbutton=Go%21

PS: Be careful out there everyone. Wear those masks! (I didn’t wear masks as much as I should have in a recent trip to Paris, and I am regretting 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. Her memoir, A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France, will be published in early 2023.

December 7, 2022 at 2:44 pm Leave a comment

September in Essoyes, Paris, and Nice!

My goodness, what a busy month this has been!

First of all, there was the vendange (the grape harvest) which of course is always a busy and important time of year in Essoyes. This year, despite a very dry summer, there was a very abundant harvest, which made everyone both relieved and happy.

To add the excitement for me, this year one of my oldest and dearest friends in the world came for a visit. She and her husband were lucky to finally, on their third try, be able to take a Rhine River cruise to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary, after two previous cruises were postponed due to Covid restrictions. And I was lucky that after their cruise was over they chose to meet me in Paris and then come with me to Essoyes for a couple of days before they had to head back home to Colorado.

They had a whirlwind couple of days in Paris, in which they were able to make it to two of the three sights that Colleen’s 95-year-old father had told them were “must-sees”: the Basilica of Sacré Coeur in Montmartre, and the rue du Bac. We weren’t able to work in a visit to Chartres, Mr. Foy’s third must-see, in the short time they had, but we did stop in the beautiful medieval city of Troyes on our way to Essoyes. Troyes has many beautiful churches, as well as a cathedral, a synagogue, and a mosque. I took them to see my favorite church, the Eglise de la Madeleine, and they also were able to visit the very cool Musée de l’Outil et de la Pensée Ouvrière (Museum of Tools and of Workers’ Thought).

Then it was on to Essoyes. My friends got there too late to see the grapes being pressed, but not too late to be given a wonderful private tour of the pressoir owned by our friends Bethsabée and Léa Roger, which they declared a highlight of their visit.

Their visit to Essoyes was wonderful, but short. And almost as soon as they left I had to leave Essoyes again, to go to Nice, where I had been invited to present on Demystifying the French at a conference my friend Adrian was hosting. It was a very interesting, friendly and responsive audience, composed of (mostly) Americans who are considering the possibility of moving to France. We had a great time discussing some of the cultural differences between the French way of doing things, and the American way, that can lead to confusion and even sometimes dismay not only for Americans, but for French people as well. I tried to give them some tips about how to understand these differences and how to avoid cultural clashes over them, and I was very happy that quite a few people told me afterward that they really enjoyed my presentation.

The day after my presentation I was invited to join the group in a one-day tour of the lovely Côte d’Azur area before they went on to Provence and Occitanie. What a treat! Here are just a few images from a lovely day.

Then it was back to Essoyes, and time to settle into autumn activities: stacking wood, resuming my writing projects, and preparing to continue exploring the history of France with the students in my online class. There’s room for more students this time, so if anyone is interested in learning about how France recovered from World War II, we’ll be reading three very interesting books and we’ll have a couple of great visitors to the class who will share their expertise to augment our learning.

Wishing everyone a happy, safe, productive autumn. (You can keep wearing your masks if you want to 🙂 )

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 will soon publish her next book, A Long Way from Iowa, a literary memoir.

September 22, 2022 at 4:00 pm Leave a comment

Spring 2022 in Essoyes

Spring has been capricious this year. It was here, bringing sunshine, warmer weather, beautiful wildflowers, and sunnier dispositions. Windows were being opened to let warm breezes inside. Then it snowed again! Which was not good for the young buds on the vines that are so important to life here–and to making the champagne that brings pleasure to people far and wide. The temperature hit a record low for April, and so our local vignerons were once again desperately trying to save their crop of grapes for this year. 😦

Fingers crossed that winter–beautiful as it is–is done for this year! We’re all very ready for spring.

This is an important month in France, as voters choose their next president. In France there is a two-round system for the presidential elections. The two candidates who get the most votes in the first round–which was yesterday–then face off in the final election, which will be held on April 24.

This year there were 12 candidates on the ballot for the first round. And this year–as in 2017–the final choice for French voters is between Emmanuel Macron, the current president, and Marine LePen.

Although the system of counting votes here is very simple and old-fashioned –paper ballots are counted by hand in each commune or arrondissement–it seems to work better than the system in the US. By the morning after the election, sometimes even earlier, the results are posted so that everyone can see how their community voted. I walked into the village this morning so I could see the results for Essoyes posted at the mairie, but since you can’t read the figures on my photograph of the posting (instead you see a rather lovely reflection of the part of the village that was behind the photographer 🙂 ) you can see how Essoyens voted here if you’re curious. And you can read this very interesting article if you want to learn about part of what is at stake in this election. (Only part: there are always, of course, many many issues of concern. But this one seems pretty significant to me. )

The news from Ukraine continues to be horrifying, and the worst part of it is the slowness of action on the part of political leaders to take more vigorous and decisive action to deal with the rapidly mounting humanitarian crisis, and in fact a genocide. Another one. How can this be happening again. How can it?

Many are doing what they can–France, for example, has already taken in some 45,000 Ukrainian refugees since this crisis began less than two months ago. But there will surely be more tragedy ahead unless Putin’s war machine is stopped, and the powers that be are not doing enough, and they’re not acting quickly enough. They’re not!

Fossil fuels are destroying the planet and now they are also fueling this terribly bloody war. When will we put an end to this madness?! How many more innocent people have to suffer from our inability–or unwillingness–to change our ways? It is really so awful. So maddening. So disheartening. So wrong!!

There have been some bright spots in the news. Last week doctors and scientists around the world made clear where they stand about the climate crisis in large numbers. Thank God for them, for their dedication and honesty, for their commitment to doing what they can to turn things around before it is too late. If the climate action movement could pick up steam as rapidly as the resurgence of union activity seems to be doing in the United States as of last week, maybe things could begin to get better.

I hope so, and SOON! because really? Things are not going so well on Planet Earth right now. 😦

There is much hope to be found among youth around the world: young people with great courage, imagination, determination and generosity are doing what they can to correct the mistakes and make up for the negligence of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. If you want to feel a little bit better about how things are going; if you wonder sometimes if there is any hope at all, you might want to read about some of these young people in this book. The young people featured in it are truly a source of great hope. But they need our help: they can’t solve these big problems alone.

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.

April 11, 2022 at 3:39 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

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…

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

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