Locked Down Again, But the Vaccines Are Here…

My “vaccine center”

This is going to be a very short post. Just want those readers out there who are also close personal friends to know that although France has been struggling to gain control of this pandemic, and the entire country has gone once again into lockdown, the vaccine is beginning to finally make its way to people. Not as quickly as everyone would like, but they’re trying. And it’s happening…

After a whirlwind of the AstraZeneca vaccine being on the market, then off the market, then on the market again, along with a rather dizzying, frequently changing flurry of information about potential side effects, and who should take it, and who should not, etc. I finally had my chance last week to take it!

I’ve listened to lots of doctors talk about the controversy and confusion surrounding the release of this vaccine, and have noted that their advice seems to be nearly universal. They are saying, more or less, that for most people just getting any vaccine is a good thing to do, as soon as possible.

I was able to do so in the most pleasant way possible. A 10-minute stroll to my village’s pharmacy on a sunny day, where the pharmacist administered the vaccine, filled out the post-vaccine paperwork, checked my blood pressure and then said I was “good to go.” No long lines, no frustrating search for a place to go get the vaccine. Just a call from my pharmacy saying “We have the vaccine, can you come in tomorrow at 11:45?”

I was very lucky!!!

And no side effects either, at least not yet. (Touch wood, why not? 🙂 ) Since this was three days ago now, I don’t really expect any. And in 10 weeks I will be able to get the second dose, and feel even better.

And so that is all I have time to report for today. But I’ll be back soon. In the meantime, stay safe, stay well everyone. Prenez soin de vous!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, a literary memoir entitled “A Long Way from Iowa.”

April 12, 2021 at 6:33 pm 1 comment

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

Everyone is tired of this virus…

No hugging each other. (But you can hug yourself.) Keep a safe distance. Wear masks.

…and that is perfectly understandable.

However, it’s still here. And we still have to fight it, every way we can.

Many people are getting tired of Emmanuel Macron as well, and many (myself included) are disappointed about his shifting from the center ever more toward the right end of the political spectrum.

Still. This story made me smile this morning, and I am choosing to feel good about the fact that two young (and apparently extremely popular) YouTubers who I had never heard of before (because, let’s face it, I am neither that young, nor that cool…) accepted a challenge from le President de la République (Macron) to make a video reminding everyone of all the ways we need to continue working together to fight the virus that is, after all, continuing to wreak plenty of havoc among us–not only those who are suffering from the virus itself, but also those who are caring for them. (And they, more than anyone, have a right to be very very tired of it.)

The President challenged the YouTubers (McFly et Carlito) to make a video reminding everyone of what les gestes barrieres are (masks, physical distancing, airing out rooms, working from home, avoiding large gatherings, and so on). And has promised them that if they can gather 10 million views he’ll invite them to do a video of their choice from the presidential palace (Elysée).

They in turn have expressed completely appropriate skepticism and characteristic youthful irreverence about the challenge (among other things, they refer to him as “Manu” which is a not quite correct way to refer to le President de la République* but hey, what did he expect from these two?)

More importantly, they accepted his challenge and have made a very witty video doing exactly what he asked them to do. And they in turn have promised that any money they raise in connection with this video will go to help feed students in need. (Last year they raised more than 400,000 euros to help healthcare workers.)

So why not take a look at it, and help them meet their goal? It will be a good test of your French, and my hope is that even if you don’t understand all of it, it will make you smile. Here it is!

It certainly cheered me up this morning 🙂

*Always something new to learn: here’s a bit more context about the term “Manu.” Who knew? (Not I. 🙂 But I agree, he shouldn’t have humiliated the young man…)

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 22, 2021 at 9:31 am 1 comment

Snow across la belle France…

These birds were my faithful friends, and my home entertainment during a very wintry week across northern France…

It is easier (and also more fun) to write about snow, and birds, than about the pandemic. So that is what I have decided to do today.

I grew up in Minnesota, where we “know from” snow. (Though we do not say that we “know from” anything; that is New Yorkers who do that. But I digress…)

People often wrongly assume many things about people who grew up in a wintry climate. They assume that the person is probably glad not to be living in a wintry climate anymore. (Wrong!) They assume that winter is a terrible thing (Wrong again!) They assume that winter driving presents no challenge for these people. (Really wrong! Trust me on this: winter driving is challenging for anyone who is trying to stay on the road. If you’re driving on snowy, icy roads and you think you’ve got it all under control, you’re probably not being careful enough. So be more careful!!! Tip: The way to be the most careful of all is not to drive in snow and ice if you don’t have to…)

Anyway. This week was a very wintry week across most of northern France. There was real snow, and real cold (though not as much of either as there often can be in, you know: Minnesota 🙂 ) And since I didn’t have to drive anywhere, I quite enjoyed it.

I particularly enjoyed watching the birds gather around my bird feeder. They were more interested than usual in the seeds and other treats I had put out for them this week. And it was fun to watch them hopping around, enjoying a little bit of this, a little bit of that…then flying away. I had to sneak up on them to get any pictures at all (like the one above). So it became a kind of game, a nice little break from whatever else I was doing, many times a day…

I didn’t take the time to photograph their “happy tracks” until today, four days after the snow first fell. So the trail of their joyful hopping around is not as clear as it was the first day. But you can see that they had a lot of fun, can’t you?

I’ll be back sometime soon to report on other things. In the meantime, stay safe, stay well, wherever you are. Prenez soin de vous…et a la prochaine!

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 14, 2021 at 5:12 pm Leave a comment

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.

Sigh.

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

January in Essoyes…2021

As I write this post, another snow is drifting down from the sky, softly falling over trees, fields, and houses. It is a lovely sight.

In France confusion over what to do about the pandemic reigns. In my opinion, the government is trying as hard as it can to figure out what to do as the plateau of new cases that was holding steadily for a while (but not declining) begins to creep up, and worries about the new strains of COVID that are appearing here and in other European countries are added to the list of concerns. So far they have not been able to take the kind of decisive action that would make everyone feel if not better, at least less uncertain about what comes next.

But can you blame them? In addition to a rather sluggish pace of the vaccine becoming available, they are dealing with on the one hand approximately 60 percent of the French population that is very suspicious of vaccines, and on the other hand (I suppose about 40 percent of the population) complaining that the government is not moving fast enough to get the vaccine distributed. The other day President Macron did a bit of complaining himself, by protesting that it’s impossible to deal satisfactorily with a nation of “66 million prosecutors.” 🙂 Though he was obviously overstating the case, I can kind of see his point. I think he’s trying. I think the Minister of Health, Olivier Véran is trying also. I think pretty much everyone involved in trying to do something about the pandemic is doing the best they can…

What can I say? The French themselves know that they are a nation of complainers (and yes, sometimes they kind of complain about it 🙂 ). So…plus ca change, plus c’est la même chose….

Apparently the next decision will be announced on Wednesday, so then we will all know more exactly what to complain about, and what the next weeks hold in store. A reconfinement is widely anticipated, but we’ll just have to wait a few more days to know if indeed there will be a reconfinement, and if so what the terms of it will be.

I watched the inauguration of our new President from here, and chose to watch French television coverage of it rather than American. I always find it interesting to follow important developments and events in the U.S. through a French lens. One of the small details noted over here was that there was an awkward delay in the opening of the doors to the White House when the Bidens arrived there. According to the New York Times in an article written the day after the inauguration, the doors are usually opened for the new president by Marine guards. It’s not clear who finally opened the doors this time, but the French journalists watching the event live certainly noticed the awkwardness of the moment, and one of them guessed that in the end Biden opened the doors himself. This would fit into the general view of Americans as perfectly capable of blowing protocol aside when the moment calls for it. 🙂

I would say that overall the reaction over here to the new administration is at the very least great relief. The President of the EU was quoted as saying that she was looking forward to having “a friend” in the White House who could work with Europe on fighting climate change, quashing the COVID-19 pandemic and rebuilding multilateralism. No need to think too hard about what really was being implied there…

And so, it was with great joy (and relief) that I and millions of other Americans, along with citizens of many other countries, watched the peaceful (though hardly gracious) transfer of power take place in the end after all. President Biden has his work cut out for him…here’s wishing him the strength, courage, and commitment to get it done, and done 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 24, 2021 at 5:42 pm 2 comments

Softly falling snow…

…brings joy, brings comfort, blankets the earth, softening all sounds…

There is more to report from my perch here in France, but much of it is upsetting, or at least uncertain and unsettling. The pandemic continues. Doctors, nurses, scientists, and elected officials, as well as the general population are all trying to deal with a difficult and worrisome situation. It’s not clear when we’ll be able to breathe a sign of relief. Not yet.

But yesterday, it snowed. In Paris people were out sledding, skiing, and generally rejoicing in the snow. (Snow brings out childlike wonder and joy in almost everyone, doesn’t it?)

Here in Essoyes the snow started in the afternoon and continued into the night, softly covering everything. And it was still here this morning.

So for today, I’m going to just let this lovely sight stay here. Along with the words that always come back to me when a lovely, thick snow is falling.

Snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves…

Has anyone ever written more beautifully about snow than James Joyce did in this passage? I don’t think so.

Stay safe, stay well everyone. Prenez soin de vous…


Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, a literary memoir entitled “A Long Way from Iowa.”

January 17, 2021 at 7:36 pm 2 comments

France: The Vaccine Arrives

Keep your distance til you get that vaccine, everyone!

Well, here we are. The coronavirus vaccine has arrived in France, and it is being slowly (quite slowly!) distributed. In fact, according to doctors, nurses, and other health care workers, as well as many mayors of French cities and villages, it is being distributed way too slowly. 😦

Having been so impressed at the way the French government handled things back in March when the pandemic first hit here, it has been both disappointing and surprising to see that the response, starting last fall, has not been all that impressive. I was in a Parisian hospital one day last September and I overheard two doctors talking as they walked by. One of them was saying “Macron fait un peu Trump…” (Macron is acting a bit like Trump), and added something about how halfway measures don’t really work, the response to a pandemic has to be clear, decisive, and aggressive. (Kind of the way it was back in March, in other words…)

The reason for this conversation is probably that since sometime in September the number of cases was mounting in France, and many experts felt that it was time for another lockdown. However, the lockdown, when it finally came at the end of October, was both later than it should have been, and also a pretty confusing one. It was billed as “confinement lite” (not officially, but informally people were calling it that); and the main result seems to have been not all that much confinement, and (not surprisingly) not all that much success in keeping the numbers down either.

I won’t go into the boring details, but suffice it to say that I think most people in France would have preferred something both clearer and more effective. I do understand that the government is reluctant to add to the already really serious economic consequences of lockdown, however. It’s a difficult problem, to say the least.

As for the slow start on vaccination, as with most things in France, the reasons behind this matter are of course “compliqué.” (There is a whole chapter in my book, titled “A Passion for Complication.” There’s a reason for that! 🙂

My son, who is most of the time a fairly enthusiastic francophile, has nonetheless been both frustrated and bewildered by the slowness of the distribution of the vaccine. He asked his best friend here why it was taking France so long to get the vaccines going. (The comparison with other countries is really kind of embarrassing.) She said there were primarily two reasons: 1) logistique (which I gather has to do not only with distribution of the vaccine, but also the need to keep the vaccines at a very low temperature while transporting and storing it, as well as many important details of how to safely and effectively administer it); and 2) the government’s desire to not have people think they are moving too quickly with a new vaccine. This is probably related to the fact that apparently 60 percent of the French public is somewhat resistant to the idea of taking vaccines in general and this one in particular.

Well, this has led to a great many long and interesting conversations on French television and radio. And in listening to these sources of information, I have learned yet another reason for the slow start, which goes back to that same chapter in my book. That is the fact that, as French commentators have been noting, the procedure for getting permission for the elderly living in nursing homes to receive the vaccine, for example, is, yes, extremely complicated, perhaps even too complicated. They have even said that this is “typically French,” with a typically Gallic shrugging of their shoulders. (They have said it, not me! As an American in France who is constantly noting French foibles (though almost always affectionately,) I must say it is rewarding to have French people agree with me. 🙂 )

Here’s a little video clip to illustrate what I mean, for those of you who speak French. (For those of you who don’t, one of the most revealing bits in the clip is that getting consent for giving the vaccine to the elderly was explained in a 45-page document delivered to the nursing homes of France on Christmas Eve, about 3 days before the campaign was to begin (!)

On the other hand, I must say that given the vociferous, and mostly united and very strong criticism of the slow-as-molasses approach initially taken by the government–the words injustifiable and inexcusable are among the adjectives that I have heard frequently in recent days–they have been very quick to respond to the criticism and change course. Yesterday the Minister of Health announced that the government was going to immediately “amplifier, accelerer, and simplifier” the process. The initial result of this will mean, for one thing, that health care workers over 50 will be moved to the front of the line.

It only makes sense, doesn’t it?!?!?!

So anyway. That is the main news from my little perch in France this week. I will say that the concerns about a new surge of COVID cases following the holidays has seemed to inspire more or less universal respect for and practicing of les gestes barrieres. Almost everyone is wearing masks, almost everywhere, including here in Essoyes. And I assume they are also taking the other precautions–washing hands, keeping physical distance, and so on. Nobody wants to see “the Thanksgiving effect” (pronounced here as “l’effet Sanksgeeveeng”) that was seen in the U.S. take hold here.

Fingers crossed. Stay safe, stay well, everyone. Wear those masks, and until the vaccine has a chance to work, stay home as much as you can. The vaccine is here, and eventually things will get better…right????

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 6, 2021 at 3:53 pm Leave a comment

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

Adieu to a Much-Beloved Village Doctor

Dr. Alain Grizot, Essoye’s beloved village doctor

I knew fairly early a few mornings ago that someone in our village must have died, because the way the church bells rang at 8:00 was not the usual way. They were tolling, not just ringing the hour.

So I checked the Facebook page for our village, and that is how I learned that the person who had died was Dr. Grizot, and that there would be a funeral mass for him held in our village church that afternoon.

Essoyes is lucky to have a village doctor. Many communities in rural France do not have doctors living in their communities. We have one now, and we were also lucky to have had Alain Grizot as our village doctor for many years, until he retired a few years ago.

I didn’t know Dr. Grizot very well, but I knew him a bit, because several times he was the doctor who cared for members of my family. I also encountered him several times after his retirement, at cultural or heritage events that he was participating in, and so was I. One was the annual memorial hike led by Guy Prunier, in honor of the French Resistance unit, the Maquis Montcalm, based in nearby Mussy-sur-Seine. Another was a guided walking tour led by the staff of the Maison Renoir here in Essoyes.

A few years ago I asked Dr. Grizot if he would be willing to sit down with me and answer some questions about his career as a village doctor. It was my intention to publish the interview on this blog but I was not able to do that, mainly because the interview was very long, and in French (so it required transcription and translation, both very time-consuming tasks), and thus difficult for me to find the time to do it. And now, sadly, I don’t even have access to the recording because it has become locked in an old computer that I can’t get into anymore. (This made me sad before every time I thought about it, and it makes me even sadder now. ) If I can find a way one of these days to recapture that interview, I will eventually do what I intended to do in the first place: which was to publish it as one of a collection of occasional essays and interviews I am posting, as I am able to do so, to feature the lives and the work of some of the citizens of this town, and their contributions to the life here.

However, I do remember a few things from that interview that I can share here. I remember that although he came here, I believe as a young man, a new doctor, and then spent the rest of his life here, he was not born and raised in Essoyes. I vaguely remember him telling me that he came from somewhere in Burgundy, a fact that seems to be confirmed, or at least strongly suggested, by the fact that he was to be buried in Nolay, a village south of Dijon. I remember also that I asked him what was the hardest thing about being a doctor. And while I can’t remember his exact words, I remember that before he answered he looked both thoughtful and sad, and that he said something about how hard it was to see people who he had cared for as little children die as young adults. I believe he said something specifically about car accidents.

Village doctors, and family doctors in general, are becoming more and more rare individuals in our modern world. The amount of training required is considerable, it is ongoing, and the compensation is not what it should be, certainly not comparable to the compensation specialists can expect to receive. Though in general health care in France is much better than in the U.S., this is a problem here just as it is in the United States. I think we talked a bit about this too, about how hard it was to have enough doctors when the sacrifices asked of them are as great as they are, and the rewards insufficient for all but the most dedicated, and those able to survive on the very modest amounts they are allowed to charge for their services.

We did discuss this a bit, but it was in the context of how this a problem not so much for doctors (though it certainly is that), but for the public. What I remember most about that interview was Dr. Grizot’s intelligence; the way he spoke about current and evolving medical issues knowledgeably and with genuine interest, even though he was retired from the profession. He talked for a long time, and seemed to be very happy to have been asked to talk about his work. The other thing that stood out was his compassionate nature, which was evident as he talked about the people he had cared for. That is what seemed to matter the most to him.

So, I would say that one way to honor Dr. Grizot is to remember how much he cared. And to do what he would want. I think he would want everyone to take good care of themselves (“prenez soin de vous“), to carry out, as it were, the work that good doctors everywhere do when they take care of us.

And to drive carefully. An especially good time of year to remember these things.

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.”

December 24, 2020 at 11:30 am Leave a comment

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