Thursday, January 15, 2015

Les Intouchables, Paris and Random Thoughts

April in Paris
I watched Intouchables, a French movie on Netflix, last night. The film is based on a true story of the unlikely relationship between a wealthy French man, played by François Cluzet, and his Senegalese caregiver, played by Omar Sy. The film had an upbeat feel to it, lots of scenes of happier days in Paris and a musical score that included both classical and contemporary music. The film was recommended to me by a friend and was the second biggest box office hit in the history of French film. People do like a movie with a positive message.
Does everyone have a picture from behind the d'Orsay clock?
My brother who visited me, with his wife in 2012, has been editing his photos of Paris. My brother has been taking pictures seriously for many years (not point and shoot like me) and so I was glad to receive some of his favourites. This will be my first year in the last five that I have not visited Paris so I am always happy to share other people's photos, adventures, wardrobe planning….
My brother probably took hundreds of pictures.
It's funny! For most of my life I have not taken photos or even owned a camera. When I was young and first married, we had a Kodak camera and took pictures of our daughter and of vacations. It cost money for film and developing so "photography" always seemed a luxury activity. When I was a single parent, my boyfriend (now Monsieur) loaned me a camera for my first visit to France. It was a Pentax camera and I had to change film and make adjustments to settings. I was always afraid of making a mistake and missing an important photo opportunity. Since then, I have had a series of small digital cameras but I think that I really need a course. It would be so helpful to my blogging since a photo can be an inspiration for writing.
poetry on a wall



What patience!
On the subject of writing, I am going to visit with my editor to go over my first outline. I am nervous but the only way to take a project to publication (other than a blog) is to listen to suggestions and criticism and to keep writing. I have created a main character to whom I can relate and whose motivations I understand, a setting that is familiar to me and a list of 10 possible situations….Now I have to see whether any of this would be "marketable" as a children's book. I am hoping to be at a "serious writing stage" before I leave for Oaxaca. 

An interesting topic is being discussed at church in the next few weeks: solidarity vs. charity. Is it enough to give to those less fortunate or is it important that the distinctions of "have" and "have not"
disappear? For me, I'm definitely on the fence. I would feel uncomfortable sharing one of our "community dinners" when I can afford food. I am willing to teach for free in Mexico because I have a pension but I don't want to get involved in Mexican politics. I am looking forward to these discussions in the next few weeks.

There are always new questions to ask, new ideas to think about….


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Solo and Safe???

the Jewish quarter in Paris
Yesterday, Monsieur and I were having coffee with another retired neighbour couple. We were discussing travel, community and world events when the remark was made "I guess that you're glad that you're not in Paris right now."

I have been thinking about Paris and the terror that must be felt by its citizens in this troubled time.
I believe that the shootings and the acts of terrorism are the works of fanatical young people who have been misled to believe that killing even to "defend the honour of their religion" can ever be justified.
These murders are as shameful and needless to most Muslim people as they are to non-Muslim people.

During the months that I have lived in Paris, most of the corner "épiceries" that I frequented were owned by Muslim people from North Africa. The shopkeepers were friendly and patient with me and with my Canadian guests. When I left Paris after 5 months in 2012, my local grocer presented me with a framed photograph of the neighbourhood.

In 2014, I stayed in the Marais, very close to the Synagogue. It was Passover and my neighbourhood was certainly a hub of activity. I loved to watch from my window as Jewish men in high fur hats made their way to worship. I was never afraid.

In a few weeks, I will be going to stay in Oaxaca de Juarez, Mexico for a couple of months. In many ways, Oaxaca is as far away from Paris as you could imagine. The streets are uneven, there are no shop windows and most of the people are very poor by any standard. Indigenous people from the pueblos come to the city to find that there are few jobs and little opportunity. My experience in Mexico ( two one-month sojourns in Oaxaca) is different from my European trips but I still feel safe.
a street in Oaxaca

There are many things that frighten me: heights and excess speed, looking foolish or being abandoned by those I love …..But with travel, I am usually quite certain that if I take the appropriate precautions, I will be safe. When I am alone in a unfamiliar city, I try to learn about local customs and dress so that I am inconspicuous. Not difficult in Paris but as a gringa in a primarily indigenous city, it is impossible.

In Oaxaca, I wear modest clothing that I can easily wash in the kitchen sink. I have access to a clothes line so cleanliness is not a problem. I take few clothes and donate most of them when I return home. I don't usually carry a camera or wear jewellery other than my wedding ring.

In Paris or in Oaxaca, I seldom venture out alone after dark. If I am going to a theatrical production, I take a taxi. I never drink in bars or take more than one glass of wine at a restaurant meal. I am a friendly person but when travelling by myself I pretty much keep my "poker face" until I've assessed the situation. I check out locations on Google maps before I set off. That way I avoid standing on street corners  looking lost.

Last week at church, the sermon was about "non-linear warfare" tactics that keep us off-balance and afraid. Terrorism and drug cartels do exist, but what is the likelihood, that I will ever experience either one? It is possible that in Paris or Oaxaca that I could be "in the wrong place at the wrong time" but that is possible in my own neighbourhood. I fear being "off-balance and afraid" more than I fear being taken hostage by terrorists or drug dealers.

I dislike violence of any sort. I tend to leave the room if Monsieur is watching "loud and violent" television. While I personally choose to attend my neighbourhood church for a feeling of peace and of community, I do not believe that there is any religion that instructs its members to kill innocent people.

I hope that the neither the week's events in Paris nor the tales that we hear of grisly murders in Mexico create the feelings of uncertainty and fear to prevent us from experiencing all of the positive and meaningful experiences that travel has to offer.


Friday, January 9, 2015

Blue Nights





a serious read


I have treasure in my apartment. It is hidden in closets and in boxes (treasure chests). It lines my shelves and covers many of my surfaces. My husband complains but….Oh well! In case you hadn't guessed, I am speaking of books. All of my life, I have made the acquaintance of characters; some fictional and some real. The "people" part of literature as with film interests me the most. In the 1970's, I first encountered The White Album by Joan Didion.

This week, I was interested to note in That's Not My Age that the fashion house Céline had chosen Didion as its "face." There was quite a lot of comment on the choice: Didion is 80 years old, lined and very thin. She habitually wears black turtle necks and very large dark glasses. Although she is well-known in literary and film circles, her name is not a household word.

In visiting my book closet yesterday, I discovered that I had purchased a copy of Blue Nights at Shakespeare and Company in Paris last year. Although I vow not to buy books, I still have weak moments. I have read all of Didion's nonfiction works and the book was prominently displayed. I had found lots of interesting books in my Paris rental last year so I carried my purchase home unread.

If you don't know much about Joan Didion, you could read A Year of Magical Thinking,  Didion's account of the sudden death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne, while her daughter, Quintana Roo, lay in a coma. Blue Nights is a sort of sequel to "Year" and deals with Quintana's death and Didion's realization that her own days are numbered.
    This book is called "Blue Nights" because at the time I began it I found my mind turning increasingly to illness, to the end of promise, the dwindling of the days, the inevitability of the fading, the dying of the brightness. Blue nights are the opposite of the dying of the brightness, but they are also its warning.


The "Blue Nights" refers to the gloaming or "l'heure bleue" before darkness. Didion faces the "fear not of what has been lost but of what there is still to be lost." As she faces her own mortality, Didion observes and shares her experiences as a frail elderly woman who has lost her " baby girl."

Joan Didion is sensitive and courageous. Throughout her career, she has not only observed society but she has exposed her own weaknesses and fears. I like to think that it is because of this honesty that she has been chosen the "face of Céline." Whatever that really means.