French Friday: I’m American. I Hug.

As soon as I started the Cours Préparatoire or CP, which is the equivalent of the American Kindergarten, I fell in love with history. I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed the stories our teacher read out loud and the ones I started to decipher on my own, likely because I understood that history tells of a people’s stories. Likely also, because I lived in a village with one single elementary school divided between the lower and upper grades. While the first year in the lower grade completed easy additions or copied the alphabet, our teacher taught history to the first and second graders. And I listened.

Now that I think about the woman who taught me my first three years of elementary school I’m sure she was more rebellious than she looked. With her severe chignon, in her classic knee-length skirt, silky blouse worn underneath a lab coat, and her strict orders she definitely reigned above us. And yet I knew that she disliked anything royal. I could feel it. She was a public school teacher after all and worked in a country where the Revolution triggers strong opinions, still in 2018.

 

“It’s a protest? No, your majesty, it’s a revolution.” The infamous quote is the answer that the duke de la Rochefoucauld-Liancourt gave to Louis XVI, on July 14, 1789. Used now by the French railroad workers’ union to announce their strike with French President Emmanuel Macron as the king.

At home, my mother and my father put the principle of equality above liberty and fraternity. They were old enough to know that true liberty and fraternity could not be be achieved without equality.

As a kid I disliked the color bleu roi or royal blue, because of its name. Queens and princesses did not enchant me. I never dressed up as one, never pretended to be one, and certainly never wanted to be one. Real or not, I kept my distance from princesses.

One thing I loved about the U.S. when I moved there was the certitude that the country didn’t want to have anything to do with royalty either. I still applaud Americans for kicking those British tea trunks in the Boston Harbor, paving the way to the Revolution.

Last weekend, though, it was hard and almost impossible to entirely avoid royalty.

I managed to skip Harry and Meghan’s wedding on TV and everywhere else. I wish them the best, of course, as I would wish the best to any couple embarking the marriage boat. Which is equally hard to steer, for royalty and the rest of us.

That said there is ONE thing in common between Meghan and me.

When she started to visit Kensington Palace she greeted the palace guards with hugs, threatening centuries of protocol and shaking the entire kingdom (queendom since a while, in fact).

When scolded, Meghan replied, “I’m American. I hug.”

When I started to explore the countless playgrounds in my new American neighborhood I greeted mothers with solid handshakes.

No one scolded me, thanks to the infamous American acceptance. Yet, based on the quick surprised look I caught in their eyes, I should have felt compelled to explain, “I’m French. I shake hands. Or I kiss on both cheeks.”

I’m always glad that I didn’t go for the kiss. A bisou or a smack, like the French nowadays call the very light kiss (es) that only natives truly master, would have triggered some real shock, particularly in the early 1990s.

Phew. I’m so relieved for Meghan. At least she isn’t French.

Secretly, although I don’t care about what’s going on one way or another at the palace across the Chanel, I hope Meghan will stick to her good old American hugs and defend them.

When instinctively I lean toward French people to embrace them and meet their resistance I also say, “I’m American. I hug.”

 

XOXO

 

French Friday: Not du Pipi de Chat

In a country that is becoming more and more dog friendly, I belong to a smaller segment of the population: the people who favor cats.

Dutch cats that my daughter met in Amsterdam last week

A lot goes back to childhood, so it’s not really my fault if I’m still quite afraid of dogs. For five consecutive years, a dog barked at all the kids on their way to the elementary school. I never saw more than his bared teeth behind the wrought iron fence. That was plenty enough. In addition, one of my uncles was a hunter and kept several dogs that jumped on people to welcome them. I’m likely my uncle’s only niece who stayed in the car until his dogs were locked in their pen. They never hurt me or anyone else, but they scared me so much. As I grew up I learned that most dogs are friendly, but I remained cautious around them, even though many years later, I insisted to keep the female Lab that showed up one day at our door. Unlike me, my kids instinctively loved her.

Today I still prefer cats. I like their independent attitude, their nimbleness, their soul-digging stare, and their soft coat too.

Over my early morning or late afternoon walks I often cross the path of neighboring cats.

The two cats featured below are my daughter’s. She invited me to share Tuck and Aly with you.

This is Tuck, one of two rescued sisters from a large litter found in rural Pennsylvania

And this is Aly. Both she and Tuck were so tiny that my daughter fed them with a bottle for a while. They’re no longer kittens, even though we still call them babies.

Really, people, who, but cats, would have the imagination to consider a radiator a chaise lounge?

The current pro dog trend is visible through literature. Some amazing books have been written with dogs as protagonists. I’ve read and adored The Art of Racing in the Rain and A Dog’s Purpose.

Whether for adults or kids there is indeed more often a dog in the story than a cat, and when there is a cat, it’s often a mean one 😦

Surprinsingly, I’ve done it myself in my middle grade novel that features a beloved dog and a snob cat. In my upcoming YA novel, an old Lab plays a role too. Finally, I spontaneously included two cats in the novel I’m working on now.

However, there are cat heroes in many picture books.

Aly, exhausted after working at the computer. My own cat used to type on my keyboard and would check the screen aftwerwards.

Everybody knows Dr. Seuss’s iconic Cat With the Hat, but maybe less contemporary Pete the Cat.

Splat is the feline hero in the cattish Series Splat the Cat.

One the most popular children’s books’ character of the early 2000s is Skippyjon Jones. The Siamese cat believes he’s a Chihuahua because he doesn’t look like his mother and sisters. New titles have been added over the years.

The graphic novel Series Catstronauts features an elite group of cat astronauts that elementary kids will adore.

My all-time favorite remains Rotten Ralph, the very nasty cat who gets in big trouble and seems to regret his errors until…next time.

I easily found two copies on the shelf where I keep my children’s favorite books.

Dogs may be the #1 choice for a pet, cats still matter to their loving owners.

For the last few days, I’ve seen a Missing Cat flyer posted in my neighborhood. It makes me sad, since I know that missing cats are rarely found. Although naturally cautious in their familiar habitat, they are easy preys in the wild.

My daughter’s cats would be devastated if anything separated them and she would too, of course.

Cats played a crucial role in ancient civilizations, and not only in Egypt. They must have marked the French collective too, considering the number of popular expressions that involve a cat.

I already introduced a couple of them in the past, through my yearly series of French expressions. I’m also using a few in my upcoming novel where a French chef likes to translate French expressions literally. A few more that demonstrate that cats matter as much as dogs 🙂

Spoiled but oh, so adorable

Avoir un chat dans la gorge: To have a cat in the throat.

How would I have known that the Americans have a frog and not a cat in the throat when they have a cold?

Donner sa langue au chat: To give one’s tongue to the cat.

Expression used in situations when you cannot guess the answer or solution. You give up and say, “Je donne ma langue au chat.”

Quand le chat n’est pas là, les souris dansent: When the cat is away, the mice dance. Without supervision people act up.

Appeler un chat un chat: To call a cat a cat means saying things the way they are. The English equivalent is to call a spade a spade.

Il n’y a pas un chat: There is not a single cat is used when no one, or less people than expected, show up at a meeting or a party, for example.

C’est du pipi de chat: It’s cat pee means it’s not important.

 

Cats love windows, watching through the window, or simply resting on the windowsill, like Aly.

 

Finding missing cats, however, is not du pipi de chat and au contraire very important to the people who love them.

So these French sayings are for the missing “black and white fat cat” to wish him a safe way home.

 

 

French Friday: En Mai, Fais Ce Qu’il Te Plait

EN AVRIL, NE TE DÉCOUVRE PAS D’UN FIL; EN MAI, FAIS CE QU’IL TE PLAIT

In April, don’t take off a single thread (of your clothes); in May, do as you please

In plain English: the weather being finicky in April, it’s unwise to wear light clothes since you could get a cold, but in May you can wear what you want.

No panic, the  A to Z Challenge is NOT starting again 🙂

But I could not resist to use one of the French expressions used to depict the month of May. The other one compares May to a piece of Gruyere, due to the copious amount of holidays (Labor Day, End of WWII, Ascension Day, and Pentecost).

This month of May is quite special since it marks the fiftieth anniversary of May 1968.

Sadly May 1, 2018 was marked by violence in Paris. About 1200 Black Blocs, coming from anarchist and libertarian movements, infiltrated the peaceful march, destroyed shop windows, restaurants, bus shelters, and burned cars.

Embed from Getty Images

 

Embed from Getty Images

 

Even though violence also happened in May 1968, the ultimate goal of the French back then was Change. Political, economical, and social reasons ultimately converged and France was indeed forever changed.

I would change too!

If you don’t read French I recommend this article published in the New York Times since it recapitulates an intense French period of time. The photos are also excellent. In fact, they reminded me that France was a country mostly run by men back then.

My very own mini Mai 68 rushed to my mind when I read:

“It is hard to find any Frenchman or woman born before 1960 who does not have a vivid and personal recollection of that month.”

I was seven that spring and my sister six. School was closed. For kids, it meant an extra month of vacation. What’s wrong with that? The weather was gorgeous, even warm for the season, and our maman let us play outside even more than usual. Playdates, at least in my village, were inexistent. Impromptu ruled. I could either be totally alone on the backroads where I was allowed to bike or bump into classmates. That spring, I suppose that parents were tired to see their kids home all the time since they were homebound too, now that the country had almost stopped. With kids outside, so were bikes and plenty of energy.

Even though women are clearly absent from most photos and reportages from that time, girls my age had no doubt they were as good as boys. We only had to demonstrate it, again and again. Although I was limber my sister was more daring than I was. Racing ran through her DNA. So over this long, unexpected estival month, while in Paris students and factory workers united, built barricades, and threw cobblestones to oppose the police and SWAT teams, elementary school kids in rural France had a blast.

Embed from Getty Images

All was good on our front, until my sister braked with her left brake and was ejected from her bike. She landed on a rock and blood immediately gushed. Her eyelids turned red and I thought she had lost her eyesight. She had not lost her good common sense, though, since she urged me to check on her bike and to take it home with us. Our parents weren’t as strict as others, but we didn’t swim in money. My sister knew as well as I did that she wouldn’t get a new bike if she had wrecked this one.

The boys who had been racing against us only minutes ago had vanished. Thanks for not helping us. So I pulled my bike and my sister’s while talking to her the whole time as we made our way home. I had read that it was crucial to keep an injured person alert until receiving treatment. I was 100% that my sister needed treatement. Maman was hanging the laundry in our backyard when we showed up. She dropped the sheet she was holding and our goat trotted over, excited at the perspective to eat something fresh. She was a sucker for laundry. Like me, Maman believed that my sister had hurt her eyes. But when she washed her face we both gaped at the sight of the deep gash on my sister’s forehead. My diagnosis had been pretty accurate.

In May 1968, I had never seen my father home that much. Papa must have felt weird too since he still drove with his Solex to the “office” where he met his colleagues at the truck company that employed them.

Courtesy Solex

My father allowed me to drive his Solex when I turned fifteen. He was right about the instability, but had not said anything about the feeling of freedom I would feel riding it.

Now that I’m an adult and know more about strikes I imagine my father and colleagues worrying about money, wondering when they would sit behind the wheel again, and bring a paycheck home. But I also detected hope for change when I overheared conversations.

In any case, Papa wasn’t home that afternoon and had exceptionally taken the Dauphine.

Courtesy Wikipedia

Our Dauphine was blue too, but much lighter

Our nextdoor neighbor informed Maman that he hadn’t been able to refill his car at the gas station. Deliveries of all kinds were sporadic in May 1968.

Maman decided to hitchhike to town, only four kilometers away. Ironically a taxi driver stopped and drove the frantic trio to the doctor. Family legend says that he refused to be paid. I think it’s true.

Our family doctor was not on strike and quickly closed my sister’s wound with staples. He was a charismatic man, very well dressed, a father of seven, and a smoker of blonde tobacco that floated through his wood-floored and high-ceiling office. To this day, even if I don’t smoke and know that smoking is a bad health choice, the distinct smell still conveys an image of elegance, confidence, and comfort.

Our doctor owned several cats that wandered in and out and he strongly encouraged the outdoors and even rough games for kids. That day, he only reminded my sister to use her right brake when she biked. Later, Papa would echo the advice.

If my parents worried during this strange month of May they never shared it with their kids. We didn’t have TV at that time, but I read well and tried to understand what was going on, based on the newspapers’ headlines.

Maybe this is when I understood that Paris was the place to be. Clearly May 68 was different there. More than words, photos leave their mark on young minds.

These photos were intense. Even though I would have liked to see with my own eyes I also wondered if this could be the End of the World that the priest described at Catechism.

Embed from Getty Images

In May 68, students and young people who had not known WWII were hungry for a different France. In May 68, the working class was fed up with inequality. In a unique moment in French history, the needs of these two radically different groups of people met.

Years later, when I moved to Paris and studied at the Sorbonne, I thought of them, gathered in the heart of the Latin Quarter, and once in a while envied them.

Soon I grew more grateful than envious. Things would never be the same in France from now on. I had no idea that one day I would write in English a novel set in France in the direct aftermaths of May 68.

At that time, a raw, palpable feeling of change infused the air. Even a seven-year-old could breathe it. The reader I was noticed an expression that took its true meaning only much later.

Sous les pavés… la plage.

Under the cobblestones… the beach.

 

Embed from Getty Images

 

Courtesy Le Nouvel Observateur

 

 

 

P.S. TO EVERY MOM, MAMAN, MOMMY, MUM, MAMA: HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!

I WISH EACH OF YOU A BEAUTIFUL SUNDAY.

DON’T FORGET IT’S MAY. YOU CAN DO WHATEVER PLEASES YOU.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections Post 2018 A to Z Challenge

 

The 2018 A to Z is over!

Whoever writes every day knows that it’s not an easy task. Posting for 26 days, following the alphabetical order, can be quite a challenge. What do you say about the last letters of the alphabet, people?

It’s now time to wrap up the 2018 A to Z Challenge and to highlight a few of the bloggers who not only finished the challenge but went far beyond most others, either through unique themes, outstanding research, or gorgeous photos. Often, all of the above.

Here they are.

In alphabetical order, of course:

 

This year Claire featured Literary Maps in Children’s Books. She shared classics as well as outstanding atlases and books that help children gain a spatial understanding of the world. As a traveler who has trusted maps more than her phone far longer than the majority I loved Claire’s theme. Her research is impeccable and her selection of books pretty awesome. Don’t miss this unique journey through the land of maps.

Through poetry and fiction, Mona’s blog Life Between the Sheets (of Paper) reflects her Mexican heritage. For this 2018 A to Z Challenge she blogged about all things Latino, specifically culture, language, music, food, in her Mexican American heritage. She specifies that her writing reflects her family, not the entire Mexican American or Chicano or Latino experience. Don’t miss Mona’s A to Z Series filled with stories, gorgeous photos and food. Oh the food…

 

I was meant to find Stepheny’s challenge. For a month she wrote about bookshops located in the States and occasionally abroad. The research behind her theme is quite phenomenal. Her photos made me want to browse through each and every shop she described. In fact, Stepheny’s challenge triggered a new challenge idea for me 🙂

Though I will likely return, at least for another year, to the French expressions I love so much and sometimes think I’ve forgotten. In fact, as soon as I start writing them down, more pop up, just waiting in the deep layers of my memory.

Susanna lives on Martha Vineyard where she works as an editor and also writes fiction. This is the reason why she keeps two blogs. For the 2018 challenge she combined the theme of her blog From the Seasonally Occupied Territories (Life on Martha’s Vineyard) with the theme of Write Through It (writing and editing): How living on Martha’s Vineyard has affected her writing. And that was a pretty cool challenge to follow.

In addition, Susanna blogs sporadically about the license plates spotted on the island. It’s a year round project with the goal to complete the map of the United States. Along my road trips through the USA I play the game too 🙂

 

As a final note:

When I wrote about the French singer and composer Jacques Higelin’s death, Sabra commented that she enjoyed listening to the song Pars but wondered what Higelin sang about. Unfortunately I’m only Evelyne and not Higelin, so the translation is what it is: a translation.

 

PARS by Jacques Higelin

Pars, surtout ne te retourne pas

Leave, but please don’t turn around

Pars, fais ce que tu dois faire sans moi

Leave, do what you must do without me

Quoi qu’il arrive je serai toujours avec toi

Whatever happens I will always be with you

Alors pars et surtout ne te retourne pas

So leave, but please don’t look back

Oh pars,

Oh, leave,

mais l’enfant…

but the child…

L’enfant? Mais il est là

The child? But he’s here

Il est avec moi

He’s with me

C’est drôle quand il joue

It’s strange, when he plays

Il est comme toi, impatient

He’s like you, impatient

Il a du cœur, il aime la vie

He has a good heart, he loves life

Et la mort ne lui fait pas peur

And death doesn’t scare him

Alors pars

So, leave

Surtout ne te retourne pas

But please don’t look back

Oh pars

Oh, go on, leave

Mais qu’est ce que t’as?

But what’s wrong?

Oh pars, et surtout reviens-moi vite

Oh leave, but please come back to me soon

 

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