Posts filed under ‘About Paris’

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

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 Few November Highlights from Paris…and Essoyes!

The real reason for my visit to Paris this month was to see and support my friend Edith de Belleville, who was the speaker at Adrian Leeds‘s monthly Après-Midi gathering. Edith is a licensed tour guide in Paris, a lawyer, and the author of two wonderful books, Belles et Rebelles and Parisian Life: Adventures in the City of Light. If you can read French, you should read both of them, they’re wonderful. I keep hoping Belles et Rebelles will be translated into English, it’s too good to stay in just one language, DO YOU HEAR THAT, PUBLISHERS? But also (to be clear), Parisian Life is already in English: Edith wrote it in English (another feather in her cap). So you should all buy it. 🙂

You can learn more about Edith in this interview I did with her for Bonjour Paris. if you are a subscriber. She is a very smart, lively, funny, interesting woman! (If you’re not a subscriber to Bonjour Paris, and if you’re a serious Parisophile, you might want to subscribe. Lots of great articles, Zoom talks, etc. available there!)

Then I got lucky: Adrian invited me to come for the weekend before Après-Midi to just “hang out” and have fun in Paris with her. (She didn’t have to twist my arm about that…)

You don’t hang out with Adrian in Paris (or anywhere, as far as I can gather) without eating a lot of really good food. This woman believes in eating at least two full meals a day, which is kind of a novelty for me; and a culinary adventure whenever I stay with her in Paris. Whenever she asks me what I want to eat for dinner, my main requirements are generally the same: “Not too expensive. Not too fancy. Not too far away (so we can walk there).” I like to keep it simple! And she always has great suggestions. Here are just a few of the culinary pleasures I enjoyed in those few days in Paris.

Then I got even luckier. My son’s girlfriend, Diane de Vignemont, is a historian, and she was recently involved in putting together an exhibition at the Musée de l’Armée at les Invalides. She invited me to attend the opening for this exhibit, which happened to fall on my last night in Paris. This was very exciting indeed, and it was really fun to see her in this professional context. (Though I’ve actually been able to see that before in my last couple of classes for Politics and Prose bookstore, which were focused on France under the Occupation, during which Diane was kind enough to visit via Zoom, and share her expertise with my students. She is, in a word, amazing!)

The exhibition, which focused on the years of the Algerian War, and De Gaulle’s role in it, was beautifully mounted and very interesting indeed. One of the things Diane was involved in was arranging for the loan of a beautiful Calder mobile called “France Forever.” (Can you see the Cross of Lorraine in it?)

Of course it would not be a trip to Paris without a visit to The Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore (Here’s another interesting interview to read on Bonjour Paris, this one is with Penelope Fletcher, the wonderful bookseller who runs the store. See what I mean about subscribing? 🙂 ) Adrian and I went there on Saturday afternoon, and I was delighted that my son and Diane were able to meet us there too. With an armload of new books, some of which I will use in future classes, I left the store very happy indeed.

Well, anyway. This is really only a sampling of what I was lucky to experience in Paris this time in just a few days: there was more! Sometimes when I am in Paris I really don’t “do much” at all, I just wander around, walking, sitting in cafés or parks, reading, writing, and eating only one full meal a day. That is fine with me too! But I have to say, this time was pretty fun, thanks so much, Adrian! (and Diane, and Phineas, and Penelope–for just being there–at The Red Wheelbarrow!)

A few days later, in Essoyes (and all around France), Armistice Day was being celebrated. This is a very important–and moving–national commemoration of the day that brought peace (temporarily! 😦 ) at last to war-ravaged Europe in 1918. Here are a few photos from that day here in Essoyes.

Let’s hope that today’s fragile peace in Europe can be maintained, and the forces of hate and tyranny pushed back. We can’t afford to keep fighting like this all the time. We have big problems to solve together!

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, will be published in early 2023.

November 19, 2022 at 9:12 am Leave a comment

Paris in August (2022)

The Bassin de l’Arsenal feeds into the Seine

I have just spent a very nice week in Paris, apartment and cat-sitting for my son and his girlfriend while they were vacationing in Italy.

They live in the Bastille neighborhood, and have a very nice view of the Bassin de l’Arsenal, which is a canal that feeds into the Seine. I haven’t spent a lot of time in this neighborhood before, so this time I was pleased to have the chance to get to know it better.

One thing I didn’t find right away, and missed, was a nice little pocket park (or “square,” pronounced “sqwar” in French) nearby, which most Parisian neighborhoods have. From their window I could see the canal and the boats, and I could see a place to stroll along a cobblestone quai next to the boats; but I didn’t see any benches to sit on or any green space along the canal, and what I always want in Paris (or anywhere, really) is a bench to sit on while I read and watch people stroll by. I was feeling a little bit sad about this, so one day I looked at the map and saw that according to the map, the largest nearby green space was the Jardin des Plantes across the river. That is not too far away, but as I was walking toward there I found an even closer little park, the Square Henri Galli, before crossing the river.

But really, I should have known Paris better! I should have known that there would be green space nearer than that and indeed when I decided to explore my son’s immediate neighborhood a little more carefully I found that all along the Bassin de l’Arsenal there are lovely places to walk, with little playgrounds, and benches to sit on, plenty of trees and flowers, and everything that makes me love being in Paris, especially on a nice day when you can find such a place to sit and read. In other words, there is all that literally right across the street from my son, duh; and all I had to do to find it was walk down a winding stairway next to the passerelle that crosses the canal. (When he had returned from his vacation my son also showed me the (not all that easy-to-spot) entryway to the Coulée Verte, a lovely elevated linear park built on top of an obsolete railway infrastructure just a couple of blocks away from his apartment.)

The moral here, folks, is: if you’re looking for green space, or a nice place to stroll or to sit and read in Paris, and you can’t find it, you’re not looking hard enough. 🙂 )

Bastille is a very busy neighborhood. The area right around the memorial to the Bastille–the original prison that was famously raided in 1789 at the beginning of the French Revolution is long gone— has an abundance of restaurants and sidewalk cafes, and generally lots of busy urban activity: skateboarders, people on trottinettes (motorized scooters, watch out for them, they are dangerous!!!), and so on. There is also a big outdoor market there two days a week, a couple of movie theaters, and one evening–it happened to be on a Catholic holiday, the Feast of the Assumption, which is a national holiday in France–there was an open-air gospel concert. One of the two opera houses in Paris, the Opera Bastille, is also located there and was announcing a current production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. I thought I would go to that one night, but alas, when I went to inquire about tickets I learned that the opera was taking its annual August vacation and so: no such luck. Well, another time…

France has for hundreds of years welcomed and offered asylum to refugees from many countries around the world, and that continues today. There is a mini tent city for homeless youth sponsored by an association right on the main square, across from the opera. And all along the sidewalk leading from Bastille to the passerelle that crosses the Bassin de l’Arsenal there are tents pitched by homeless people, sometimes whole families, who I must say seem to be bearing their circumstances with equanimity, sometimes even joy. (I know this sounds naïve and maybe even heartless. Surely they deserve better housing! All I can say is, that is what I have seen, and it has caused me to reflect: some people can’t be happy no matter how lucky they are, and others find ways to do so no matter how unlucky.)

The other day there was also a very moving installation in the square drawing awareness to the victims of a massive wave of state-sponsored executions of political dissidents in Iran in 1988. I was not aware of the extent of this tragedy before. Thanks to this effort to memorialize the victims, I am now.

While I was in town I was able to see a couple of friends. I met one of them for a catching-up-with-our-news lunch in the Jardin de Luxembourg one day. Another day I met a friend in the Marais, where we had a delicious lunch at Café Charlot, and then went to an exhibition about Proust and his Jewish heritage at the Musée d’art et d’histoire du judaisme.

Honestly my absolutely favorite thing to do in Paris always is just to 1) walk; 2) find a nice little café for lunch, dinner, or just a drink or un café, and then sit there and read, and listen to the lovely sound of French conversation going on all around my ears.

I did plenty of that too.

But how can you write a post about cat-sitting in Paris without a picture of the cat?

You can’t, that’s what. And so, here you go.

Parisian cat surveys the Bassin de l’Arsenal, waiting for her best friends to return.

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

August 22, 2022 at 11:02 am Leave a comment

A Busy Week in Paris

To be honest it has been a bit hard to think much about anything lately other than the terrible situation unfolding in Ukraine. There is much to say about it but I’m not going to say much for now, other than that I hope the people who have the power to step up and help Ukraine more than we (collectively) have done so far will do so, and quickly. It is a heartbreaking, and also a terrifying situation. I also hope that we will all find ways to do something–there are many ways to help! And the help is needed, desperately.

I did have a wonderfully refreshing, restorative week in Paris. Last Tuesday I attended a sobering (but enlightening) discussion at Adrian Leeds’ Après-Midi led by Douglas Herbert. Wednesday enjoyed a champagne apèro with two good friends that I haven’t seen enough due to Covid and other nuisances, for far too long. (One of those friends is Gary Lee Kraut, editor of the wonderful online publication, France Revisited.) Thursday lunch with another good friend (Ellen Hampton, author of the fascinating Women of Valor), and my obligatory and joyful visit to The Red Wheelbarrow bookstore, where I met Janet Skeslien Charles, author of The Paris Library, and picked up a copy of War and Peace. (How I have managed to live all these years without reading this classic of world literature is a mystery to me. But well, no time like the present!) Friday, a delightful dinner in St. Germain des Près with Diane Johnson, an author I greatly admire. Saturday, I had the extraordinary pleasure of seeing my son Sam perform with Solomon Pico at Les Disquaires, where they rocked the house! Sunday, it was brunch with my sons at Molly’s, a delightful Irish/American bar in the 12th.

And now I am back in the quiet, peaceful beauty of Essoyes. Full of gratitude for friends and family, and re-energized in the way that only big, vibrant cities can do, ready for the road ahead.

Here are a few photos from my busy week in Paris.

As of yesterday, it’s masks off in France in most places. (You still have to wear them in public transportation, hospitals, not sure where else.) You might want to keep them on in certain places anyway. Rising numbers seem to suggest that’s not a bad idea. But for now it’s up to you!

The morning bells of Angelus are ringing as I write the final words of this post. Be well, everyone, and try to think of ways you can help someone, somewhere, from your little corner of our troubled world. Every bit helps.

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.

March 15, 2022 at 7:33 am Leave a comment

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

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

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.


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

Is Paris Still Paris?

Is Paris still Paris?

Well, yes and no.

Like many cities around the world, Paris is struggling to be the beautiful, joyful, lively, convivial place she is known to be. But it is not easy these days.

The cafes are closed, and have been for some time. The restaurants, bars, theaters, cinemas, and museums are closed. There is a 6 pm to 6 am curfew in Paris and all across France.

There are many other restrictions having to do with everything from travel into and out of France, to how many people can be in a shop (or store) at one time. Masks are required everywhere in public–indoors and outdoors.

Another lockdown had been widely anticipated in response to the persistently concerning numbers of new COVID cases, especially with the introduction of new variants of the virus to the mix. But when the announcement came on Saturday, it was not for a new lockdown, but for a continuation of the couvre feu (curfew) that has been in place since December 15, news that was not necessarily met with relief or approval. Many people find the restrictions of the curfew, and some of the consequences of it–crowded shops, trains, and buses as the curfew hour approaches, and the difficulties of compressing the day into fewer usable hours for example. Some also worry that it is not going to be enough, and that the government is simply putting off another inevitable lockdown.

Who knows? The French are famous for not liking to admit to there is something they don’t know, but I was listening to a doctor talking about the pandemic on French TV not long ago, and in answer to one of the questions, he answered in words quite seldom heard on French TV. “Nous ne savons rien” he said. (Which means, basically, “We don’t know at all.” Or, more informally one might say “We have no idea.”) His tone was somewhere between discouraged and sad.


So all of the above is about how Paris is not really Paris these days.

But what about the ways she still is?

Well, here are a few answers to that question.

As in many times before, this is another good time to remember Paris’s motto: Fluctuat nec mergitur  (‘Tossed about, but not sunk.”) These are tough times, but among their many qualities, Parisians have shown themselves time and time again to be nothing if not resilient.

Gardens are being carefully tended, in preparation for spring…

Wherever you are in the world, try to be patient. If you are safe and in good health, and your family and friends are too, be grateful. Stay well, be careful, prenez soin de vous…one day things will be better…and spring will come again…

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.”

February 1, 2021 at 2:36 pm 2 comments

“Couvre feu” means curfew

And this is what “Haussmanian” means. Photo by Janet Hulstrand

I was in Paris again last week, mainly to see my eye doctor, and get my glasses adjusted to my new post-cataract-surgery vision, but I also had the chance to do a few fun things while I was there: to celebrate a friend’s birthday, to have a couple of meals with my son, to take a turn around the lovely Square du Temple during a break from my work, to attend my friend Adrian Leeds Après-Midi meetup, and see the documentary Meeting Jim, about Jim Haynes.

Life in Paris has changed a bit since I was last there. As the number of COVID cases has started to rise, too quickly for anyone’s comfort, new restrictions, and stronger and more frequent reminders of all the ways we are supposed to be keeping ourselves and everyone else safer are ubiquitous. Every restaurant and cafe that I went to had a bottle of sanitizer on every table, as well as at the entrance to the establishment. Stores and Metro stations also have bottles available as you enter: the ones in the Metro have foot pedals so no one has to touch anything. There are also sign-in sheets in restaurants for anyone coming in a group, which is to make it easy for the establishment to help with contact tracing should the need arise. No group can be larger than six people, and physical distancing rules between tables must be adhered to. And everyone, well, pretty much everyone, is now wearing masks throughout the city, inside and out. If you get caught not wearing one, there’s a hefty 135 euro fee. That helps with compliance!

There was a fair amount of suspense during the few days I was there, since it was announced that President Macron would be addressing the nation again, on Wednesday evening, but not what he would say. So of course everyone was dreading a return to a national general confinement, and the necessity of filling out permission slips if we strayed more than a kilometer from our homes. As it turns out, the most concerning areas, not surprisingly, are nine big cities in France (Paris, Lille, Toulouse, Marseille, Lyon, Montpelier, Grenoble, Rouen, and St. Etienne ), and as of Saturday they were put under a curfew, which means that everyone, with very few exceptions, has to be in their homes, and stay there, from 9 pm until 6 am. The curfew will last at least four weeks, more likely six. (It took me a while to realize that the “couvre feu” I kept hearing about on the radio was the same thing as “curfew.” Voila: another new term learned.)

This of course is very hard on restaurateurs and also anyone in the broad category of culture (theater, music, dance, cinema). I’m not going to try to say whether or not I think this measure will meet the government’s objective. I hope it will, because the idea is to try to keep the hospitals from getting overcrowded, health care workers overwhelmed, and everyone in less danger of the virus spreading. One can only hope…

Anyway, I left Paris one day before the curfew began, so I didn’t get to see the unusual sight of the “City of Light” suddenly quiet and dark at 9 pm.

On Sunday I had the chance to talk about my book, Demystifying the French with the wonderful Jennifer Fulton of Bonjour Books DC, in Kensington, Maryland, just outside of Washington D.C. Jennifer had gathered a great group via Zoom, and we had lots of fun discussing with them the finer points of how to appreciate the French, and how to learn and understand the rules that guide their behavior.

You can buy my book, and a host of other wonderful books (mostly in French, but also some books about France in English) from Jennifer online, and I urge you to do so. She is, as an indie bookseller, one of the champions in the world of publishing. And we readers (and writers) need to support our champions!

And so I am back to my quiet life in a little village in Champagne. The trucks going up the hill alongside our road are mostly hauling wood now, and my wood for the winter has been delivered: so I have my work cut out for me, to get it properly stacked.

Wednesday was a national day of homage and mourning in France, after a horrific act of terrorism took place last week in a town not far from Paris. A middle school history teacher was brutally murdered in the street as he was walking home from school. I won’t go into the awful details of what happened; there’s a pretty good account here. I will say that this tragedy is one more symptom of a terribly difficult, complex social and cultural problem in France, and a subject that is very difficult to discuss with the calm perspective that will surely be needed in order to begin to solve it, though people are certainly trying. It was, among other things, an attack on one of the most beautiful aspects of French culture–that is, respect for the life of the mind, and the ability to debate controversial topics in a way that is intellectually challenging, reasonable, respectful, rational, and sound.

It was also the tragic loss of a husband, father, and much beloved teacher who was devoted to his work, teaching French youth about those values. It is hard to know what to say. It is very, very sad. The teacher was, as President Macron said in his homage to him, “un hero tranquille” (a quiet, peaceful hero). He will be sorely missed, but it is clear from the testimony of his students that Samuel Paty, and his deep belief in tolerance, understanding, respect for others, and the importance of the continuing pursuit of knowledge will not be forgotten. And the lessons he taught, and the values he inspired in hundreds of students over the years will live on.

Autumn. Photo by Janet Hulstrand

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.”

October 23, 2020 at 6:28 am Leave a comment

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