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A New Year Ahead…What Will We Make Of It?

Christmas morning in Essoyes

As 2022 draws to a close, all four members of our far-flung family were together once again for Christmas, for the first time in many years. Here are a few pictures of our Christmastime.

While counting one’s blessings, it’s hard not to think about the many parts of the world where people are not as lucky as we are. Here’s hoping that in the coming year each of us can find ways to help ease the suffering of those around the world–or right next door–who need our help.

Wishing you and yours a safe, healthy, and happy new year…

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 31, 2022 at 2:23 pm 2 comments

Paris, London, Troyes & Essoyes

St. Pancras International, Eurostar station

It’s been a busy month, and a joyful return to a little bit of travel for me. I was invited to join a dear old friend in a trip to London–a city I have not been to in more than 40 years!–a couple of weeks ago.

I met my friend in Paris, and before we went to London, I got to show her some of my favorite things to do there (stroll around the sculpture garden at the Musée Rodin, for example). We also visited a relatively new museum I have been meaning to get to ever since it opened: the Musée de la Libération/Musée General Leclerc/Musée Jean Moulin . I can now confirm that for anyone interested in World War II history in France, that visiting this museum is a must.

Then it was on to London on the Eurostar, an interesting experience for someone whose last trip to London was over the English Channel on a boat, not under it in a train. My main impressions from that trip: one, the fact that Normandy (or was it Picardie, and Pas-de-Calais?) is so flat and southeast England is so hilly. (They are both very beautiful.) The second, the sobering (and yet somehow comforting) sight of people waiting to meet Ukrainian refugees, holding up blue and yellow signs, as we entered the main part of the St. Pancras International train station in London.

The things I love most about London are the Indian food and theatre, and we got to enjoy both in the few days we were there. The play we saw at the Old Vic (The 47th) is fascinating (but uncomfortable-for-Americans) “future history” about Trump (and Trumpism) in the U.S., written in iambic pentameter (oh those linguistically sophisticated Brits!) “What a dreadful summary of the state of our country” was the informal capsule review I pronounced the next morning as I woke up, groaning as I remembered just how close to reflecting the real state of things this dystopian “fantasy” really is. 😦

Anyway. The next day, given my intense interest in World War II in Europe, we went on a walking tour called “Westminster at War.” The guide was really knowledgeable, very personable, and–rather touchingly–exceedingly happy to be once again leading groups of tourists around London and sharing British history with them. (The pandemic has of course been even harder on tour guides, among other professionals, than it has been on the rest of us.)

Then it was back to Essoyes in time to see Solomon Pico, an indie rock band my son Sam is a member of. They were performing in Troyes, which is our nearest big city, and the départemental capital of l’Aube. I got one great shot of (some) of the band on stage (sorry, Vincent and Flo 😦 ) but unfortunately I did not get any pictures of them in Troyes.(Since Troyes is such an interesting place to visit, and one of my favorite cities in France, I invite you to learn more about it here. Or maybe here.)

The next morning we welcomed the members of the band to brunch at our home. The weather is not always perfect in northern France but this just happened to be a day in May that could not have been more perfect. For me one of the highlights of the day was a spontaneous singing of “I’ll Fly Away” with banjo, guitar, and surprisingly (delightfully!) even a trumpet accompaniment. One of those magic moments that just happens, when you are really really lucky…

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.

May 29, 2022 at 4:58 pm Leave a comment

Autumn 2021

My kids, and their friends, arriving for Thanksgiving with turkey, escargot, pecan pie and other delights …

Well it is good to be back to typing with two hands!

And I am trying to think what highlights to report between the last time I wrote here and this time.

Although three different anticipated visits by friends in the U.S. who decided to postpone (not cancel!) their European trips this fall fell through, my sister and brother-in-law, who had first planned to come for a visit right before COVID threw everything into a spin in March 2020, finally made it here, in early November. And I had a visit from one of my students from my Politics and Prose classes also, earlier, in October. She and her husband were visiting their son and future daughter-in-law, who live in Dijon, not far from here. They too had been long awaiting the time when they could come here and be reunited with their son. So this was the fall when families separated by Covid for too long were finally able to get together again. Yay!

My sister and brother-in-law and I had a wonderful time in Paris (where we walked 7 miles one day!)

After a couple of days of museum going and walking and walking and walking in Paris, we went on to Lille, where we visited my son Sam. And then all of us (including both of my sons) went on to Bruges, Belgium, a place we had all heard good things about, but none of us had ever been to before.

The weather in both Paris and Bruges was uncharacteristically sunny and mild for northern Europe in November, a lucky break for our visitors! In Bruges we had a wonderful time doing all the typical Belgian things: eating waffles, and fries, and drinking Belgian beer. And admiring the beautiful canals, and the lovely architecture…

By the time we got to Essoyes, the weather finally became a bit more typical of the season. We still had a wonderful time–in addition to the required (of course!) visit to the Renoir home and interpretive center in Essoyes, we visited a couple of nearby sites of interest that I had never been to: The Crystal Museum in Bayel, and the former abbey/now prison at Clairvaux. (A word to the wise: the entrance to the museum and tour of the former abbey is to your right as you come out of the visitor parking lot. That is where you want to go, not to the friendly-looking French flags to your left: that is the entrance to the maximum security prison, and you definitely don’t want to go there. The guards inside were quite surprised to see my brother-in-law confidently approach those heavy metal doors looking for a way inside. Fortunately, a quick explanation in French that we were looking for “l’abbaye” convinced them that we were harmless, just a bit confused, and they kindly redirected us.)

All too soon it was time for my sister and brother-in-law to go back home. And so they got the obligatory COVID test that had become required in order to board the plane during the short time they were here. And they went back to Paris, and on to Minneapolis.

One week later it was time to celebrate Thanksgiving in France. And while it is not a holiday here, it is celebrated by most Americans who live in France, and often their French friends and friends from other places are invited to join in the festivities as well.

Because it is not a holiday here, usually Americans celebrate it on the Saturday following Thanksgiving, which is what we did. Two things were different about our Thanksgiving this year: one, my sons offered to plan it themselves and did most of the shopping and cooking for it. What a treat! Two, I took the five minutes needed to read enough about the real history of Thanksgiving that I have forevermore banished my posterboard “Day Glo” pilgrims from our Thanksgiving celebrations. I always had displayed them as kind of a joke (Pilgrims really did not dress in those colors!) but having read the history now, I have to say there is really nothing funny about the way the Pilgrims treated the the Wampanoag people. I knew that there was an understory that was not at all sweet, and very little like the one we learned about in school back in the 1960s. But I had not ever taken the time before to find out exactly what did happen. The article I have linked to above tells the story very quickly, and that was enough for me to decide “No more silly Pilgrims at our Thanksgiving celebrations.” Nothing funny about them! 😦

What was the same this year was the joy of bringing together a mix of people to celebrate a holiday we all cherish. This time we were lucky to have among our guests Phineas’s (French) girlfriend; a college friend of his who now lives in London; and the one other American who lives in Essoyes, who came with her two daughters, one of whom is just a toddler, and who delighted us all with her antics.

And there was music, there is always music when my son Sam is around. This time Phineas played his guitar too!

Now, less than a week later, the new COVID variant is causing new concerns, and consequently there are increased travel restrictions. So. I am thankful to have had this wonderful time with my family when we could.

Here’s wishing one and all a safe, happy, healthy holiday season. Wear those masks, wash those hands, get those vaccines! And I hope whatever travels you have planned will go smoothly, and well, so that you can be with your families and friends too…

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 2, 2021 at 8:13 pm 2 comments

Bonne nouvelle année from Essoyes

This post is very brief: simply the expression of a New Years wish for the world, really, and all the people in it.

If we all do whatever we can, from wherever we are, to “spread hope, spread joy” just imagine what kind of a world we could have…

More to come soon.

Prenez soin de vous…stay safe, stay well…

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.”

January 2, 2021 at 11:48 am Leave a comment

A Place to Be Alone, with Others

I wrote this piece as a contributor to a new initiative seeking to Save the Paris Café. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you will “like” and follow Save the Paris Cafe also. It’s a good thing to do…


by Janet Hulstrand

When people ask me what they should be sure to do while they’re in Paris, I always say the same thing: “Just be sure you leave some time to simply wander—walk, sit in a park or café, and take some time to just watch the world go by.”

I say this even if the person asking me is only going to be in Paris for a day or two. It seems to me to be even more important if you only have a little bit of time in Paris to have this very Parisian, and most wonderful experience—that is, to take the time to do “nothing” and just enjoy the beauty and the inherent interest of the world surrounding you.

The French have a word for this kind of thing: flâner is the verb, and it is variously translated. Most often it is translated as “to stroll,”…

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July 31, 2019 at 6:22 pm Leave a comment

Summer in Essoyes: Vernissage a la Maison Renoir

An exhibition entitled “Evocation de l’exposition Renoir de 1934 par Paul Rosenberg” is on display at the Maison Renoir in Essoyes through October 30…

Continue Reading June 26, 2019 at 1:53 pm Leave a comment

The Fire at Notre Dame

A beautiful, heartfelt response to the terrible fire at Notre Dame de Paris last night by someone who knows it well..

Out My Window

I had just arrived at the American Library when I was told there was a fire at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. I envisioned a small fire–not to worry about. I didn’t respond with much drama. We were walking on the sidewalk of rue General Camou in search of our two speakers for the evening. She stopped me and said ‘Look’. She had her iPhone in her hand and after a bit of a wait–it turned out everyone in Paris was on Wifi at that moment–showed me a photo of the fire at the back of the Cathedrale. NOT a small fire. As I often do at moments like that, I freeze a bit. I could tell by her face that she was very upset. I had yet to get there.

I was volunteering at an author event at the Library. I often get the job of greeting people as…

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April 16, 2019 at 9:15 am 1 comment

Remembering Madame Cintrat…

“…this year, on the evening of New Year’s Day, the church bells in Essoyes tolled. They were not pealing joyously, as they had that very morning, to welcome a new year: they were now tolling mournfully, because Mme. Cintrat had died on Christmas Day,..”

Continue Reading January 27, 2019 at 8:56 am Leave a comment

Demystifying the French

Thank you so much, Sara Somers, for this wonderful chance to tell people about my new book, Demystifying the French. I’m so glad you liked it and found it helpful. Janet

Out My Window

As I told you in my last blog about la politesse, while finishing it up, my friend, Janet Hulstrand, asked me if I would read and review her latest book: Demystifying the French. How to Love Them and Make them Love You (What you’ve heard about them is not entirely true….).  I love reading most anything and, as it turned out, this was a very special read. I learned a lot. The book is small and can be read quickly. You can earmark pages you want to return to and give more thought to it. I highly recommend that anyone visiting France for the first or the twentieth time, read this book. I think that means I give it five stars!

The book is broken down into two parts. The first part is made up of what she calls: Essential Tips for Even Very Brief Encounters. Saying Bonjour is…

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January 18, 2019 at 6:57 pm Leave a comment

Back Home in Essoyes…

“…I had never really thought about whether or not I had a sacred place before being asked this question; but indeed Essoyes is the one place in this world where over the past couple of years I have felt my soul settling into its most appropriate spot. And there is a deep contentment that goes along with having found that place at last…”

Continue Reading August 20, 2018 at 9:10 pm 5 comments

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