Posts filed under ‘About the Pandemic…’

A different kind of Thanksgiving…

Over the years, my faithful pilgrims have celebrated Thanksgiving with me, friends, and family in Brooklyn, Washington D.C., Silver Spring, and Essoyes…

It’s less than a week to Thanksgiving, and only a few weeks away from Christmas. And there’s a lot of agony (both in my homeland of the U.S., and in France) about whether people will be able to celebrate these wonderful holidays in the way to which we are accustomed this year.

I do understand the agony: these are my two favorite holidays and I love celebrating them in the way we usually do. Here is a post I wrote just last year about last Thanksgiving, which I celebrated with my sons and some friends here in France.

But here is the problem this year. The problem is the pandemic. We all know this!

And here is my own unscientific (but based on what I have been able to learn from the scientists) view of why we should NOT celebrate either of these holidays in the way we are accustomed to doing, not this year.

Let’s line up some of the main features of how we celebrate these holidays:

We travel long distances among crowds of other people to be together with those we love;

We get together (inside) with large numbers of people where we sing, dance, and linger over tables full of food that we share with each other.

We sit together for hours at a table enjoying eating, talking, laughing, telling stories.

(All activities, by the way, that prevent the all-important wearing of masks and tend to ignore the rules of physical distancing…)

On top of it, we do all this at a time of year when the weather is not good, lots of people are getting sick, and in the month prior to the statistically highest month of the year for deaths. (!)

What is wrong with all of this, in terms of containing a pandemic?

Well, just about everything, really. So to me it seems the answer is pretty clear: if we want most (or ideally, all) of the members of our family to make it through to next Thanksgiving and Christmas, most of us should probably exercise delayed gratification this year.

Delayed gratification is a concept that is very difficult for children to understand or accept, but it shouldn’t really be that hard for the rest of us, right?

We are lucky to be able to substitute alternative ways of celebrating these holidays together this year: most of us can Zoom with as many people as we like. We can tell stories, laugh, and sing if we want via Zoom, all without endangering ourselves or anyone else.

We can put up the decorations that cheer us (like my silly cardboard Pilgrims shown above, one of my Thanksgiving traditions).

We can buy and enjoy an excellent feast for one, or two, or three (whomever we are spending our time with already, in quarantine) from a local restaurant that is able to safely prepare food for us. (They need our help!!!!)

And we can read poetry or stories to each other that remind us of all we have to be thankful for–including the hope of a vaccine to come soon, thanks again to the scientists among us.

Here is one of my favorite Thanksgiving poems, “A Minnesota Thanksgiving,” by John Berryman.

If we are allowed to be with each other, in small groups, we should also take whatever precautions we can to ensure that we won’t be sorry we did so–whether that means getting tested before seeing each other, wearing masks even inside our homes, and not hugging each other, which is in my opinion one of the hardest things about all of this. (My sons and I have developed an alternative: hugging oneself while standing at a safe distance from each other. Like this…)

I know…it looks like we’re members of a cult. But we’re not. We’re just demonstrating how you can hug yourself when you’re not allowed to hug each other 🙂

It’s certainly not as good as the old-fashioned way, but at least you get hugged! And it’s safer…

Wishing everyone a safe, happy, healthy Thanksgiving…and hoping for a return to a more traditional celebration next year!

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.”

November 20, 2020 at 1:18 pm 2 comments

Reconfinement: Here we go again…

Me and my boys together, observing les gestes barrieres.

The numbers are high, too high. The curfew wasn’t really helping anything. (Honestly, very few people thought that it would.) And so we have been confined to our homes again. We have to carry attestations, explaining why we are leaving our homes if we are leaving them, and there are only a certain number of reasons that are acceptable for doing so. Many stores, and all restaurants and bars are closed. We have to stay within a kilometer of our homes. And so on…

This confinement is supposed to be “different” (i.e. less confining) than the one last spring. I’m not sure it really is less confining, but it certainly is more confusing. Never mind the details: they are, well, confusing…

However, the main idea is clear. Stay home. Be careful. Wear masks. Wash hands, don’t touch face. Etc.

And the purpose is certainly clear: to keep as many people as possible safe, and healthy. And to keep the hospitals from becoming overcrowded, and healthcare workers able to do their jobs without becoming totally exhausted.

So, okay. Deep breath. On y va encore…(or should I say on y reste encore?)

And once again, I must acknowledge this important fact: if one has to be confined somewhere, I have very little to complain about.

In fact, I have absolutely nothing to complain about.

Stay well, everyone. Et prenez soin de vous…

A field of winter wheat, within a kilometer of my home. 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.”

November 1, 2020 at 7:52 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

DĂ©confinement, Paris-style

It was time for another trip to Paris last week, and oh how lovely (and interesting! and joyful!) to be there again…

Continue Reading July 4, 2020 at 7:53 am Leave a comment

DĂ©confinement continued…

I could start by saying I’ve found it hard to know what to say about anything recently. The words of the poet W. B. Yeats come frequently to my mind about “the center not holding…” It does feel like the world as we have known it is coming apart at the seams, which is unsettling…

Continue Reading June 25, 2020 at 9:33 am 1 comment


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