Paris through an American Eye

Years after I left my native France and my beloved Paris, my ears and eyes identify in a heartbeat a word said or written in French. French language is and will always be mine. And in a jealous way, France and Paris belong also to me even if I am far away from them.
So there was no way I could miss A Paris Farewell in The New York Times (March 27)
Ah! the cover picture! La Seine, the queen of all rivers.
The article tells of the Left and Right Banks, divided by the Seine. According to the writer, the two banks are more a travel guide thing than a real tangible frontier. She makes a distinction between east and west of Paris and she has a point.
As a former Parisian, I relate even more to arrondissements. Since I have lived in the 18th, the 13th, the 11th, the 12th and worked in the 14th, I am from the Left and the Right banks, from east and west.
Paris as any major city is ever changing, pushing its frontiers as the population grows and evolves. Living in Paris, I saw the death and birth of entire quartiers.
Beaubourg and the Halles, first “mall” looking shopping area, replacing the traditional food market where my father unloaded his truck several times a week until the early 70s. The first café Coste. The modern and then controversial Centre Beaubourg, launched through Georges Pompidou’s presidency.
La Villette, the old meat market, giving place to museums with the local brasseries and cafés attracting a younger crowd.
The Bastille area and the arrival of ethnic and hip restaurants when l’Opéra Bastille opened during François Mitterand’s presidency. The typical working class quartier evolving into a trendier and seek after neighborhood.
My working class 12th arrondissement, now home to exclusive art galleries and expensive apartments, while the Marais and its small restaurants with menus prix fixe, where the owners knew me and my husband before we were married, has become an upscale overpriced area.
My first neighborhood, tucked a block away from the Boulevard Rochechouart in the 18th arrondissement, is now home to the largest African community in Paris.
La Sorbonne where my husband and I were students has closed its doors to unannounced visitors.

I wasn’t too nostalgic when I finished reading A Paris Farewell. But it made me definitively hungry since it is an article articulated around food. And, no offense to anyone, and certainly not to California and its bounty of fresh produce and innovative chefs, or New York with its creative cuisine, but no other city can rival Paris when it comes to food.
Although most restaurants mentioned are unknown to the American I became, I felt a pang of envy for the Canal Saint Martin, one of my very favorite parts of Paris, way before it became the trendy neighborhood it is now.
But in the end, perhaps more than nostalgic or hungry, I felt lucky.
Lucky that Paris is intimately part of who I am, regardless of the distance between us.
Lucky to have known a Paris that was still affordable, that was unlike any other city, not quaint, not over sophisticated, still dirty and grey, before the façades of the buildings were restored, before the sanisettes (Decaux chemical toilets) replaced the dames pipi and the urinoirs.
A Paris I have never been able to say farewell to yet.

I Am an American

A couple of years ago, a good friend of mine told me I should submit one of my stories to KVPR, Valley Public Radio. This is how I discovered Valley Writers Read, a program opened to every writer living in the vast Central California Valley. I entered with a fiction piece called Journey Home and was accepted. It was a cool experience to go to the studio and record parts of my story.
Last year, I submitted a nonfiction piece, based on a collection of true stories related to my immigration experience from France to the USA that I wrote for my family.
My work was accepted again and I Am an American will air tonight at 7:00 p.m.
I find interesting that the day my story airs, my native country is making the headlines with its military involvement in Lybia. I am following the news with interest, as if I needed to be reminded that my heart will probably forever beat for the two countries I love.
My writing group is meeting today for critique and we will share dinner while listening to my story.
This is when I realize how writing is so unique. A job that requires a lot of time alone, sitting in front of a computer or a piece of paper. But a job, that unlike so many, is never solitary. Tonight, as we gather around food (we all like to cook and eat, so I know it will be yummy!), we will celebrate our common passion for words and we will forget, for the time of a story, how hard it is to write and how even harder it is to get our work out.
Small successes keep writers going and the seven of us never miss to celebrate each story that makes it to publication.
Tune it tonight to 89.3 FM if you live in the Valley. If you miss it, click on the following link and check the archives.

Nuclear under Fire

Daniel M. Kammen is professor in the Energy and Resources Group (ERG), professor of public policy in the Goldman School of Public Policy, and professor of nuclear engineering in the Department of Nuclear Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. Professor Kammen was recently appointed Chief Technical Specialist for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency at the World Bank. He is also the founding director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL).
Could anyone have been more appropriate at Town Hall today than a highly qualified professional in the clean energy field?
Alas, even though Mr. Kammen is a pleasant man with a good sense of humor, and no doubt an expert on the subject of new energies, he managed to speak for a whole hour without once saying the word “nuclear.”
Has it become such a dirty word that his audience couldn’t hear it? Was his lecture so well rehearsed that he couldn’t change it even though today, of all days, called for a special talk?
And how come none of the fifteen people who rushed to the podium for Q&A asked about nuclear energy?
By 11:45 a.m., Mr. Kammen’s microphone was turned off and he was whizzed off the stage for lunch. I realized it was too late to stand up and ask him his honest opinion about nuclear energy.
One of Japan’s nuclear plants is in big trouble now, so close to a densely populated area that the consequences can only be devastating. Japan is also less than 6,000 miles away from LA. “Experts” guarantee us that Americans are safe and that the probability for health issues is almost none.
Although I agree that nuclear can be a clean and appropriate answer to the growing international need of energy, I question the waste disposal and the safety of the plants when faced to extreme natural catastrophes.
Today, in California, we have two nuclear plants. One is near San Clemente and the second one near San Luis Obispo. California sits on several faults and since the last notable earthquake was in 1989, a major one is overdue. How will our nuclear plants deal with a severe earthquake? A tsunami is not out of question either. The harbors of Santa Cruz and Crescent City register millions of damage in the aftershocks of the Japanese tsunami.
There are serious talks of building a nuclear plant in Fresno, the heart of the big California Valley, food cradle of America and home of some of the most dramatic landscapes in the state. We don’t live on a fault here, the ocean is too far to fear a tsunami, the area is deeply affected by the economic crisis and space is not really an issue where land is flat and abundant. Convincing ingredients for a population misinformed and eager to get jobs.
Mr. Kammen, I’m sure had plenty to say about nuclear. I have no doubt that he would have provided valuable information. Reassuring information would have been nice too. It is too bad, that because of a terrifying natural catastrophe that brings exceptional awareness, he omitted the subject.

If you want more information about Mr. Kammen:

When Nonfiction Gets as Visceral as Fiction

I know people I’ve never met better than some I see on a regular basis. I even care for people who don’t exist more than for some who do. At least for a few hours or weeks. However, some of these people have stayed with me since I got a glimpse of their lives and then became part of their lives. I won’t ever forget a few of them.
I am a reader. A fiction reader.
And because I care more for protagonists and secondary characters, I rarely read nonfiction. And it is the same with movies.
Especially here in the USA, where screenplays and movie stars take us far from home and our little lives, for the time of a story.
However, last night I watched a documentary that has all the ingredients of an American movie. Action, suspense, greed, sex, money, a lot of money, lawyers and trials. There is a beginning, middle and end. The climax is phenomenal. What is missing though is the resolution. The exhale moment where the audience cheer for the good guys who win and the justice system who punishes the bad guys. The end is not satisfactory. By far.
The Inside Job won the Award of the Best Documentary last month. It should have then been mailed to every American household and school.
I still wonder after watching this larger than life (after all this is about America) documentary why none of us (okay a few did) went down the street urging our justice system to do their job.
I still wonder how we can accept the fact that every day people go to jail for stealing in a store while real burglars sit on our government.
This documentary has everything of a must read fiction book or must see movie.
And more.

What Happened to My Name?

This morning, after dropping off my kids at school, I stopped by Starbucks and ordered my regular tall nonfat latte.
When I pay cash or with a gift card, I always say I’m Eva. It started a long time ago, because clerks, cashiers, baristas called me Ezeline, Ezelina, Evla, Avarina, and even Beverly when I said Evelyne.
Sadly, I could have avoided this issue if I had paid attention to the question that had puzzled me when I went through my naturalization’s interview. Why didn’t I say yes to a new name? Why didn’t I understand that the immigration employee wanted to help me? He gave me a hint; he knew I would be in trouble with my first and last names that sound so French.
But because I had no idea I could, not only become American, but also get two brand new names, I declined the offer. A whole world of opportunities could have been mine. I could have chosen among so many easy American names nobody would have trouble with. More importantly, I could have chosen one first name I could pronounce.
First, I started to use Eve instead of Evelyne, but Eve became Eva so Eva it has been for a couple of years now.
But today, on a perfect California spring day, ordering my tall nonfat latte, I became, for the first time ever, Yvonne.
Yeah, Yvonne, written in black felt pen on my white Starbucks cup.
If I get it right, although I refused to change my name when I was naturalized, the Americans did change it anyway.
No offence to any Yvonne, but I’d rather be Evelyne again. Between two French names, I pick mine.

100th Anniversary International Women’s Day

Bravo to the French papers for their headlines celebrating the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day.
The American ones preferred the topics of the cost of oil and the states budgets to women.
Except Nicholas Kristoff who didn’t let us down with a particularly interesting article challenging several idées reçues or preconceived ideas on the topic of equality between men and women.
The funny thing is that, reading the French articles and readers’ comments, it felt as if France saw itself as a backwards country when it comes to women’s rights.
It does surprise me when I think of the many laws that support women in my native country. I have myself enjoyed my long pre and post delivery leave, and the opportunity (although I didn’t take it) to take care of my child until her third birthday without loosing my job. I remember of female colleagues who took Wednesdays off to be with their children who didn’t have school that day.
The American women are far from enjoying these advantages.
Yet, French women were complaining mostly of the still gender oriented chores such as house cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, cooking and child care.
Most complained of being the only one in charge while their partners or husbands did little to help them. Most seemed overwhelmed and resigned as if they had accepted that women would forever be the primary home caretakers.
Years ago, Sacrés Français, a book written by a former Newsweek reporter described in details how French men had it easy. The author wondered how they managed to have both pretty and obedient women who cooked and cleaned for them while wearing stylish clothes.
It had made my laugh then and I had thought that of course only French women could cleanup in a petite robe noire.
Practical American women would instead wear sweat pants and loose tee shirts.
It looks like my female ex compatriots overdid it and wanted to quit the rat race.
Although they were complaining, at least they were talking compared to our silence here in the US.
Is it because everything is dream like when it comes to men/women equality? Or is it because we stopped trying and plain gave up?
It is hard to talk for everyone but a glance at my family tells me a lot.
If my husband hates mall shopping, he enjoys grocery shopping. He knows the aisles of Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Raleigh as well as I do. If he doesn’t like daily cooking, he collects recipes that get his attention and can be quite the chef when it comes to sophisticated soups and delicate fish. If cleaning isn’t his cup of tea, he had to do it after my knee surgery. He bought a smaller, high tech vacuum cleaner because men enjoy tools, right? He doesn’t like spending an afternoon browsing through clothing boutiques but he has picked himself many of my nicest clothes and all my purses. If he is the breadwinner for our family (stories for kids don’t feed a large family!), he encourages and support my writing dreams and goals.
If he doesn’t do laundry because sorting clothes can be challenging if not gross, he found a new product to clean the washing machine that was reeking of mildew. Who would have thought of it but a man?
Because dogs don’t give birth to cats, my fourteen-year-old son walks in his dad’s shoes when it comes to mix and match male and female roles.
If he dreams of driving a Porsche on Las Vegas strip when he turns 21, he bakes cookies that he brings to school and cooks impeccable omelets for Sunday breakfast. He doesn’t wait for his mom to prepare his lunch if he gets hungry and even makes French toasts for her!
And both my men watch with equal passion the Chopped Chef on the Food Network and the Ultimate Fighter shows.
As for my daughters, they navigate between girly and sporty looking styles and wear their hair either very short or very long, they run and bike, and do workouts in their dorms. They read Glamour when they find a copy but blog daily in their own words. They go to formal and proms in long gowns and glitter in their hair but share the cost with their date if they have one. In high school or college, they study to get a job they will love and will support them later.
They talk of children but not necessarily of husbands. They hate boys who prefer long hair to short as if they came straight from the 20th century, but love the ones who don’t mind a sweaty girl and cheer them on when they run cross-country. They cook and bake, listening to Lady Gaga, the ultimate example of breaking traditional boundaries.
So when it comes to equality between men and women, I believe that although laws are instrumental to progress, change starts at home when parents don’t set up barriers separating their roles.
Oh, by the way, my husband just left for Costco before school pick up time. Meanwhile, I will vacuum
borrowing his cool new vacuum cleaner.
I’m happy to say that it is Women’s Day at my home. Almost every day.

J’ai Craqué

A week after sending my PC to the computer cemetery for a sleek Mac Book Air, when I had planned to do so only if I sold a manuscript, I have now set up a Facebook page although I had said I would never have one.
What’s wrong with me?
J’ai craqué or in English I have succumbed.
Since I tore two ligaments in a stupid ski fall, I must admit that I have done a few unusual things.

I have had breakfast in bed for three weeks in a row. Obviously it wasn’t Mother’s Day for that long but it didn’t bother me at all.
I have not cleaned my house since January 4th. Don’t worry others (husband and kids make a terrific cleaning team) have done it for me.
I have dressed in athletic gear almost every day although I don’t go to the gym. Hint: a leg brace isn’t exactly the sexiest accessory man created.
I haven’t put a pair of jeans on since my fall although I wear my Levis with fervor. See hint above.
I haven’t used the Starbucks gift card I received for Christmas. For some reason standing in line with crutches and a leg brace spoil the expectation of a good latte.
The balance of my checking account has steadily increased. No more Chevron, Shell, Valero or BP’s credit card transactions. Torn ligaments are good for your credit report.
I haven’t shopped at Target (major source of temptation for American women), CVS (I am a fan of their beauty section), or Panera (I love their morning soufflés). A lot of savings here.
However, my contribution to Blue Shields is skyrocketing and the number of statements or invoices mailed to my home has increased at a steady pace. A huge Thank You to my husband for having picked a solid health care plan allowing me to receive good care. At a reasonable price? Not really. 20% from our pocket is a lot when surgery is involved but it would be enormous if we had no plan at all. I know, I know. I am one of the very few Americans who believe that health care must be part of a family budget. A mortgage or a car loan are, right?
I have read almost ALL of John Grisham’s books. Until now I favored Joyce Carol Oates and Anita Shreve, Now, I award Grisham the top place for taking my mind away when I’m in pain and depressed. His characters go through so much worst.
I haven’t cooked for weeks now. I know I can. But my husband and my son have shown real talent and their Breaded Fish Fillets and French Toasts are to die for. They even started to watch the Food Channel. Just in case I have another accident?
The war between the squirrels/rats/ gophers and my potted plants is still raging under my porch and I don’t see any peace treaty in the near future but I have stopped worrying about losing the battle. Spring and potting time are still a few weeks away.
I haven’t been to the gym for more than two months but I don’t care. I’m positive the exercises I do from home and the physical therapy I follow twice a week are plenty enough. Bathing suit time is anyway four months away.
I stole my husband’s coveted first place when it comes to reading the daily news. He can now quiz me on any subject and there is a good chance I’ve read an article about it before he has.

So, considering all the strange things that have happened to me recently, succumbing to Facebook isn’t that bad.
Anyway, j’ai craqué only for a Facebook page. Just to give me the illusion of being part of the normal world while I’ve been otherwise acting so abnormally.

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