the Molitor swimming pool, a Paris institution

Piscine d'Eté

This is the Molitor. In the upper left background you can see the glittering Eiffel Tower.

What is the Molitor, you might well ask. Why, it’s the city’s most fashionable swimming pool, darling, and it has quite a history. Constructed in 1929 in Paris’s 16th arrondissement, it was intended to resemble an ocean liner with different levels, white railings and circular windows. It’s a marvellous example of the Art Déco style of its time.

Future Tarzan actor, Johnny Weissmuller, was a lifeguard there. He spent a season giving swimming lessons and rescuing damsel bathers in distress.

In the winter, the Molitor converted into a skating rink. “I remember a confined, very crowded place”, reminisces Corinne, a Parisian schoolgirl in 1958. “We used to turn endlessly, bothering each other.”

“It was a place where rich kids from the 16th arrondissement and Boulogne-Billancourt picked each other up. All the girls wore crew neck cardigans buttoned on the back and Hermes scarves crossed in the front and tied up on their backs.”  Chic !

molitor skating rink

By 1989, though, the 60-year-old pool fell into ruin. The city of Paris didn’t have the funds to renovate, so it closed down. It became a venue for raves and a canvas for graffiti artists.

molitor graffitti

But all’s well that ends well, my darlings. Today the Molitor is swank – restored back to its former glory, but with a modern twist. It’s part of a luxury hotel. For many Parisians, though, it’s an unaffordable luxury. People can use the pool if they stay at the hotel (from 215 euros per night), join the Molitor club (3,000 euros per year) or pay for a one day membership (150-180 euros).

Here’s a beautifully-done video of the pool’s history and its sparkling new life today.  Click on the link below and scroll down a little bit. Watch how the Molitor re-invents itself over the decades. Chic !

remember this? Unfinished Sympathy

While rummaging through my old internet favorites on another computer this morning, I came across this music video.

“Unfinished Sympathy” became a top-twenty hit on the charts. The single is accompanied by a memorable music video featuring a single continuous shot of Shara Nelson (British singer and songwriter) walking through a Los Angeles neighborhood.


hooray! M&S is open

Well, that really made my day. Today, or rather this evening, as I was trudging through the mall from the office carrying shopping bags, one in each hand, on my way to the metro station to go home, I saw the storefront of M&S in the distance – all lit up and OPEN FOR BUSINESS – and a huge grin broke out on my face. No one saw the grin because I was wearing a mask. But I guess my eyes were smiling too.

I love Marks & Spencer’s food store, and it reopened today. It’s fairly large, this store, and conveniently located next to the metro station. I have spent much money there (too much!) Their bacon is the best, as are their chicken breasts. Great cheese department: halloumi which is hard to find, really good mozza and parmesan from Italy, and of course all the English cheeses. Crumpets and muffins, crackers and crisps, and so much more. But it shuttered in March, and there were rumors that M&S was going to close all its stores in France. We waited and waited, impatient. Just yesterday my colleague asked if the rumors were true. I spent fifteen minutes googling and didn’t find anything. All the other stores in the mall have been open for ten days or more now, but not M&S. And then today: the reopening. I’ll pop in tomorrow after work and stock up on my favorite things for the weekend. I’ve been craving halloumi, melted, for months now.

So life is pretty much back to normal now; well, the new normal. Face masks are definitely de rigueur and we still wash our hands ten times a day. No one kisses anymore, which is fine by me as I’ve never been a kissy person. The schools, all of them, from kindergarten to college, re-opened on Monday June 22nd. And the shops and stores, cafés and restaurants, and movie theaters are open. I won’t say that COVID is a distant memory, because it’s not; it still lingers, if not physically then in our minds. We were traumatized, and it was a collective trauma.

I’ll never forget the fear of doing something so mundane as going grocery shopping at my local supermarket. Having to queue outside, two meters apart, and waiting up to 15 or 20 minutes before being allowed in. Then the terror in the aisles: masked shoppers, all of us, veering right and left to avoid one another. Heaven forbid if someone should sneeze or cough! It was, and still is, a modern-day plague. And the empty shelves: staples like flour, oil and rice the first to go. Back home, washing our groceries in hot water and soap. And then every night on the 8 o’clock news: the daily tally of Corona deaths flashed along the bottom of the screen. All of it, truly awful.

I’m off to Lille next Friday for a long weekend, my first trip in months. Masks are obligatory on the trains and in the stations.

nuthin much to say

I have absolutely nothing to write about, so I’m reaching into my bag of tricks (archives) to pull out favorites from past JUNE posts. The one below is a divine trip I took to the region of Puglia, way down in the heel of Italy. I was so enchanted by the place I returned last year in June.

Why do I have nothing to write about? I dunno. I’m totally lacking in inspiration right now. Reading the online newspapers is so depressing that I stopped reading the world news: full of toxic people, violence and noxious events. This past weekend I disconnected entirely from the internet. I call this a “cleansing”. And I plan to do more cleansing this summer; it’s like rinsing off all the pollutants and contaminants that vile people send out into the ether. They make our world worse, not better. Be gone!

I crave the simple life: sitting in a garden reading a book. Walking through a field with a dog. Cycling down a country lane. Shucking corn and preparing for an outdoor corn roast. When my parents were alive, we had a hundred acre farm. Dad named it Fern Hill Farm after the poem written by his favorite poet, Dylan Thomas. We’d spend weekends and summers there, it was a quick hour and a half drive due east of Toronto. I miss our farm.

Summer was walks along country roads with our dog, Mia, and plucking wildflowers from the hedgerows (yarrow, Queen Anne’s lace, Lady’s Slipper). Idle hours spent lying in a hammock reading a book or lost in reverie while watching fluffy clouds drift across a benign blue sky. Listening to insect sounds: the incessant chirping, whirring and trill of grasshoppers, crickets and katydids, and the drone of bumblebees careening through the flower-scented air. Swimming in the neighbor’s pond or in the Trent River. Cycling the three miles into town to fetch cheese curds at the Warkworth Cheese Factory. Summer at the farm was the smell of sugar-beet juice, sprayed onto the gravel roads from a township truck to keep the dust down.

There. I said I had nothing to write about. Thinking about our farm inspired me.

Here’s Puglia:

back to work. but for how long? exceptional aid from the French government.

I went back to work on Monday of this week. For two months and twenty days – since March 18th – I stayed at home while receiving full pay. I am immensely grateful for that; grateful to the French government and to my employer. The office tower was near-empty when I returned. The cafeterias, coffee shop and gym closed, the reception desks empty, only four people allowed in each elevator at a time. Signs everywhere reminding us to wear a mask, practice social distancing, avoid touching surfaces and wash our hands frequently. Antiseptic gel stations scattered around the lobby and on all floors. Extraction fans installed in the elevators to remove airborne contaminants.

Normally, there are 5,000 employees in my office tower, this week there were only a thousand. It was quiet and, dare I say, pleasant. I was busy all week doing one aspect of my job: carrying out the legal formalities required following our annual general shareholders’ meeting. For the first time ever, and in lieu of our stakeholders and representatives flying in from Africa, Asia and the Arab world, the meeting was held by audio conference.

Next Monday will be a lot brisker. The cafeterias and gym will re-open and many more will return to work. I’ve heard, though, that those telecommuting/teleworking from home will be encouraged to continue working at home until September. Why? To avoid overcrowding on public transport and possible outbreaks of COVID-19. As it stands, employees who have returned to the office are working staggered hours or on rotation –  again, to lessen crowding on public transport. It’s mandatory to wear a mask on all public transport, if not one risks a fine of 135 euros.

The French government’s exceptional scheme, called “partial employment” or “paid furlough”, cost the State a staggering 31 billion euros. Over one million companies applied for this exceptional aid and more than 13.3 million employees, including myself, were the recipients. Merci, President Macron!

It worked like this: a company files a request with the Ministry of Labor, and the ministry pays the company 84% of each employee’s net salary. The company can or can not, there’s no obligation, complete the remaining 16% for the employee. My employer paid that remaining 16%. Merci, mon employeur!

The idea of this exceptional scheme is to avoid mass layoffs and unemployment. Better to keep workers employed and pay the companies to pay their salaries, rather than pay out unemployment benefits to millions.

HOWEVER, this will soon change. President Macron is scheduled to speak to the nation tomorrow night at 8 pm on TV. As of July 1st, the government wants to follow the German model wherein a ‘partially unemployed’ or ‘furloughed’ employee will only be paid 60% of his net salary by the government instead of 84%. Other European countries have been saying that France is too generous.

For some companies, this reduction in aid/compensation by the State will force them to proceed with lay-offs. In the end, the ‘partially unemployed’ will find themselves simply unemployed, which sort of defeats the whole purpose of the state intervention to save jobs.

But the worst is yet to come: for months now, all I’ve been hearing and reading in the media is that a gargantuan economic recession – as bad as or worse than in the 1930s – is on its way and will hit the country like a tsunami in September. France is already in recession. “800,000 jobs will disappear,” warns the Minister of the Economy, Bruno Le Maire. And yet the government wants us to spend money to revive the economy. If I think that I might lose my job in the third or fourth quarter of this year, why would I want to spend money? One’s instinct is to hunker down and save.

The economic outlook is bad. The Bank of France estimates that the unemployment rate will exceed 10% by the end of 2020 and climb to a peak above 11.5% in mid-2021. And it won’t be until 2022 that it will descend to 9.7%, against 8.1% which was the rate before the COVID-19 pandemic.

I’m going nowhere this summer, except Lille. Portugal was cancelled (I should be there right now) because of grounded planes, and I won’t go to London in August because of that government’s disastrous handling of the crisis there (over 41,000 deaths to date and rising! As of June 16, 42,054 deaths in the UK.)

Below is the link to OECD Economic Outlook. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is an international organization of countries.

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered the severest recession in nearly a century. Given the highly uncertain path to recovery, the OECD presents two possible scenarios: one in which the current virus surge is brought under control, and another one in which a second global wave hits before the end of 2020.

global solidarity with Black Lives Matter

George Floyd died over twenty dollars. And NOT ONE SINGLE VILLAIN OF THE 2008 SUBPRIME MORTGAGE CRISIS went to jail !

Where’s the justice in that? There is none. Is it any wonder Americans are mad?

But the whole world is with you! See these amazing photographs of protesters all over the globe marching in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Open letter by French author, Virginie Despentes

Virginie Despentes is a French writer. In this open letter, read aloud over the radio, she denounces the denial of racism and explains why “being white” constitutes a privilege. I’ve translated it for you.

In France we are not racist, but I do not remember ever having seen a black government minister. Yet I am fifty years old, and I have seen governments. In France we are not racist, but the prison population of blacks and Arabs is over-represented. In France we are not racist, but for the past twenty-five years in which I have been publishing books I have answered the questions of a black journalist only once. I was photographed only once by a woman of Algerian origin. In France we are not racist, but the last time I was refused service on a café terrace, I was with an Arab. The last time I was asked to show my identity papers, I was with an Arab. The last time the person I was waiting for almost missed the train was because she was stopped by the police in the train station, she was black.

In France we are not racist, but during the lockdown those who we saw being tasered because they failed to have the mandatory document that allowed us to go out were racialized women in disadvantaged neighborhoods. White people, meanwhile, could be seen jogging and going to the market in the seventh arrondissement. In France we are not racist, but when we learned that the COVID-19 death rate in Seine Saint Denis was 60 times higher than the national average, not only did we not give a damn but we allowed ourselves to say between us “It’s because they confine themselves badly.”

I can already hear the clamor of the tweeters, affronted as they are every time someone speaks up to say something that does not correspond to the official propaganda: “What horror, but why so much violence?

As if violence is not what happened on the night of July 19, 2016. As if violence was not the imprisoned brothers of Assa Traoré. This Tuesday, I’m going for the first time in my life to a political rally of more than 80,000 people organized by a non-white collective. This crowd is not violent. For me, Assa Traoré is Antigone. But this Antigone does not allow herself to be buried alive after having dared to say no. Antigone is no longer alone. She raised an army. The crowd chants: Justice for Adama!

Adama Traoré (19 July 1992 – 19 July 2016) was a French-Malian man who died in custody after being restrained and apprehended by police on his 24th birthday. His death triggered protests against police brutality in France. Assa is his sister.

These young people know what they’re saying when they say that if you are black or Arab in France, the police scares you. They are telling the truth. They tell the truth and they demand justice.

I am white. I leave my house every day without taking my identity papers with me. For people like me, it’s our credit card that we go back for when we’ve forgotten it. The city tells me I’m at home here. A woman like me moves around this city without even noticing where the police are. And I know that if there are three of them sitting on my back until I suffocate – for the sole reason that I tried to dodge a routine check – we’ll make a huge scandal out of it. I was born white as others are born men. I cannot forget that I am a woman, but I can forget that I am white. That’s what it’s like being white. Think about it, or not think about it, depending on your mood. In France we are not racist, but I do not know a single black or Arab who has this choice.

Virginie Despentes

You can hear an audio version of this in French read by Augustin Trapenard on France Inter radio: