a Russian church in Paris, my favorite park, a tea salon and the Courcelles district

This post was written in May 2018 when no one had ever heard the word COVID or Coronavirus. How carefree and untroubled we were back then! I’m so glad I have my blog archives to look back on and remember.

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Strolling along the boulevard de Courcelles in Paris’s 8th arrondissement, you are suddenly arrested by an unexpected and spectacular sight. Stopping in your tracks you exclaim, “Oh, my God!” (this is appropriate because it’s a church). Not a church, actually, but a cathedral. The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a Russian Orthodox cathedral located at number 12 rue Daru. Established in 1861, it was the first Russian Orthodox place of worship in France. To visit it, the nearest metro station is Ternes.

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Guess who married here in July 1918? Pablo Picasso to Olga Khokhlova. The witnesses were Jean Cocteau, Max Jacob and Guillaume Apollinaire. When visitors to Paris ask me for out-of-the-way places to explore, I suggest this area.

Cities are composed of villages, really, or pocket neighborhoods and one of my favorites is the district bordering the small and beautiful Parc Monceau. It’s completely off the tourist grid. The people you see are mainly residents or, during the week, people who work there. There are some great shops, restaurants and a market street.

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strolling along the blvd. des Courcelles yesterday in the sunshine

Yesterday I went to buy tea, flowers and macaroons. We’re enjoying perfect weather this weekend in Paris: 20 to 22 degrees with brilliant sunshine. Plus, it’s a 3-day weekend, Monday May 21st being the Christian holy day of Pentecost. (Yup, in this secular country, Catholics rule!) From the Russian cathedral, I walked up the road to Mariage Frères, the temple of tea located at 260 Faubourg Saint-Honoré (there are other locations dotted around the city.) I bought 100 grams of Marco Polo tea for 9 euros. There’s a swank restaurant-tea salon inside, but too expensive for my pocketbook.

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Directly across the road is La Maison du Chocolat (there are other locations around the city.) If you’re a chocolate lover, these are serious cocoa confections ranging from truffles, ganaches and pralines to éclairs, macaroons and other delights. In the warm months, they make their own sorbets and ice creams. Just up the road is the famous Salle Pleyel concert hall.

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I know this district well because I worked in it for two years. It was one of the worst jobs I’ve ever had. A small French law firm, the people were execrable. Not only was I harassed weekly by one of the senior partners, I was totally exploited and underpaid. Along with my regular tasks, I was expected to translate long legal documents from French into English, but received no status or recognition as a translator. My sole consolation was the Parc Monceau located right beside the building. Small and romantic, it’s my most favorite Parisian park. If you come to Paris, you should definitely visit it. Abutting the park are two small museums, the Cernuschi (museum of Asian arts) and the Nissim de Camondo (an elegant Belle Epoque mansion housing a museum with 18th-century French furniture and decorative arts.) During those two years, when I wasn’t sitting on a park bench during my lunch hour, I was visiting these museums or striding vigorously up and down the nearby boulevards.

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The west entrance to the Parc Monceau (metro Courcelles)

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Through the park and out the other side onto the boulevard Malesherbes to my favorite florist.

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And then back home to make tea, eat a macaroon (or two or three), recline on my chaise longue and admire my bouquet of fragrant flowers.

Insider shopping tip: if you have cash to splash and are into gorgeous Italian clothes, there’s a small boutique on the boulevard des Courcelles that sells clothes direct from Italy. Expensive, unique and gorgeous, it’s called Cairns Donna. I go there twice a year during the big sales in January and June. 55 bd Courcelles, metro Courcelles. Across the road is the same boutique for men. (Update 2021: unfortunately, Cairns Donna no longer exists. Covid killed it.)

asparagus soup

I had a sudden craving for asparagus soup. So I walked to the shopping mall on my lunch hour today – a gorgeous, cold, blue-sky, sunny day – and bought all the ingredients. I’m going to make the soup right now while listening to a podcast. There’s something elegant about asparagus soup, I don’t know what exactly. Simple yet nourishing, it reminds me of old Gourmet magazines and dinner parties; springtime and Easter. The color green: nature, growth, renewal.

Craig Lee for The New York Times

a soothing video in these fevered times

There are some towns and small cities in Europe that look almost like a fairy tale. Here’s one of them, shown in a pretty video entitled Wintertime in Maastricht.

I love the bicycle culture of Holland, or rather, The Netherlands. People are fit and trim. I love the historical old buildings, the rivers and canals and the uncrowded streets. (Notice that no one is wearing a face mask.) Not one single scooter or motorcycle. Noisy scooters and motorcycles are responsible for 75% of sleep disorders and perceived as a disturbing nuisance by 92% of French people. The day I leave Paris to live somewhere else will be for that reason (and air pollution. and aggressive Parisians. and super-high taxes.)

The small city of Maastricht is located in the southernmost province of the Netherlands some 200km from Amsterdam. Maastricht is chic, classy and has a very different feel to the northern cities – it lies very close to the Belgian and German borders.

(236) LIVING IN THE NETHERLANDS – MAASTRICHT VLOG / WINTERTIME. – YouTube

the night I was sequestered in a police van in Paris

I wasn’t planning on posting this at all, but it suddenly seemed pertinent in view of the outrage regarding police misconduct towards women during last Saturday’s vigil on London’s Clapham Common. Below is a short excerpt from my memoir recounting a late-night incident during which my French girlfriend and I were literally picked up off our feet from the sidewalk and deposited in a police van one night in Paris. Every word of this is true. It occurred in the 1990s.

Prior to coming to France, I had never seen the inside of a police van. But in Paris and within the space of three months I found myself not once, but twice in a paddy wagon.

It was two a.m. when Véronique and I left the discothèque in the sixth arrondissement and decided to walk home. We could have taken a taxi, but the warm air, the river Seine glinting in the moonlight and the sheer beauty of the city conspired to keep us outdoors.

“Let’s walk home.” I said.

“Yes, let’s!” said Véronique.

We began to cross one of the bridges that links the right bank with the left. Deep in conversation, we didn’t notice the police van gliding stealthily alongside us.

Bonsoir, mesdemoiselles,” We glanced to our left. A cop, one of two in the cab of the van, was leaning nonchalantly out of the open window; too nonchalantly, I remember thinking. A cigarette hung from his lip and his head was bare.

Bonsoir.” we replied curtly, and continued walking.

“What are two pretty girls like yourselves doing out at this hour?” the cop said. His voice was smarmy.

“Just walking home.” Véro said.

“It’s unsafe at this late hour,” he persisted, “Wouldn’t you rather be driven home?”

“No, thank you.” we said, and continued walking.

And then suddenly all hell broke loose. With a loud metallic clang, the side door of the vehicle slid open and half a dozen policemen leapt out. As they sprinted towards us, Véronique and I stood frozen to the pavement, open-mouthed with shock. Within seconds we were encircled, and faster than you can say ‘police misconduct’, we were literally scooped up and lifted off our feet – me in the arms of one cop, Véro in the arms of another – and carried back to the van. We protested all the way, legs and arms flailing, screaming to be let free. Once in the van, our captors placed us on a wooden bench while the others climbed back in. Then the door slid shut with a final clang, and off we drove into the inky night.

It took a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the dimness of the van’s interior. The smell of male sweat and those Gauloises cigarettes filled my nostrils. The odor was pungent, acrid, overpowering. Stiff with rage, I eyed the ring of faces around me. “Ça y est,” was my first thought. This is it. They’re going to gang-rape us, either right here in this van or in an isolated area.

Were they off-duty? On-duty? Where were they taking us? My mind raced as fast as my heart as I tried to decode and make sense of this surreal situation. A minute ago I had been walking across a bridge, free and happy as a lark. And safe. I didn’t feel safe now.

I was in a foreign country with foreign customs. Best sit quietly in my corner and observe. I’d use Véronique’s reaction as a gauge: if she wasn’t displaying signs of fear, then I assumed we were safe. But wait. Were they snickering? What was so damned funny? And then I heard something else: Véronique was snickering with them. What the hell was going on? What was this? Some pervy nocturnal ritual in which French cops routinely drive around the city plucking women off the streets only to sequester them in their vans? This so-called abduction, or whatever it was, was manifestly fueling Véronique’s lusty love of attention, lusty love of men and, I was certain, her lust-filled fantasies. It’s true that the men were young and lean and good-looking; even in the dark you could see the contours of their muscular bodies under their snug uniforms. But they were cops, French cops, and I’m no fan of authority figures. And how dare they take such liberties with us … with me! Who did they think they were??

As we sped through the streets I sat glowering in the corner, arms crossed defensively across my chest. I watched, we all watched, as Véro, now in a state of high excitement and wedged between three cops on the wooden bench, shrieked with laughter, showed off her legs to maximum effect and tried on someone’s cap. I groaned inwardly. The trollop! Why didn’t she just sit on their knees, one by one, and perform a lap-dance?

“Nous allons où exactement?” I said loudly, in an attempt to steer matters towards a clear and sensible course of action. Where are we going exactly? No one answered. And then a minute later one of the cops, cocking his head in my direction, said to Véronique in a surprisingly familiar tone, as if they were long lost friends, “Qu’est-ce qu’elle a votre amie?” What’s wrong with your friend? He seemed surprised that I wasn’t enjoying myself. Oh, I’m sorry, I felt like saying, was I expected to provide entertainment?

“Elle est canadienne,” Véro replied between squeals of laughter. (She’s Canadian.)

A silence ensued while the men reflected on this, and then one of them spoke. “Are all Canadians coincés?” Coincé means uptight.

“Je ne suis pas coincée!” I hollered from my corner, “Je suis scandalisée!” I’m not uptight, I’m scandalized! The rest I said in English – How dare you physically pick me up from the sidewalk and hold me hostage in this van! There’s no law against walking home at 2 a.m. This is a violation of my civil liberties, and when I get out of here there’ll be hell to pay!

No one understood a word I said. Six heads turned to Véro for translation, but she couldn’t be bothered. “Elle est vexée,” is all she said. “Vexed??” I continued to rail. “I’m so angry I could spit!”

There was no question as to who to drop off first. The van pulled up to number 6 rue Cadet (Véro had given them my address) and here’s what one of the cops said to me, within earshot of everyone else: “You can get out, but only on condition that you kiss each of us before leaving.”

The sound of my shocked intake of breath was audible. I stared at him, my outraged eyes blazing in the dark. I was beyond livid. I stood up and commanded them to open the door: OUVREZ CETTE PORTE IMMEDIATEMENT! OPEN THIS DOOR IMMEDIATELY!

Or what?, squeaked a small voice in my head. You’ll call the police?

For a fraction of a second there was silence, and then someone opened the door. The clanging seemed to go on forever as I stepped over legs and extricated myself from that lawless lair. Jumping down to safety onto the sidewalk, I turned and looked back at them, an array of raw emotions etched on my face: insolence, defiance, rebelliousness. From the van’s interior seven pairs of eyes were fixed on me as I hissed my final riposte: I’d rather die than kiss any of you!

They cackled like crows. What? What? What did she say? I heard Véronique translating, loud and clear: Elle préférerait mourir plutôt que de vous embrasser.

Loyal to my friend despite her sluttishness, I spoke to her as I would a wayward child. “Véronique, are you coming?” My voice was stern.

“No,” she tittered. She was still sitting on the bench, cops on either side of her. “I think I’m in good hands. They’ll drive me home.”

I snorted. Good hands indeed. Ha! I thought of the bargained kiss and how, alone in that van with six testosterone-fueled men, she was going to negotiate the transaction. I didn’t want to know. Exasperated, I turned on my heel and walked towards my building. As I did so, a chorus of farewells chimed behind me. “Bonne nuit, mademoiselle! Dormez bien!” Good night, sleep well! Of course, I neither turned nor replied. I reached the big front door, yanked it open and, stepping over the sill, disappeared into the dark.

That weekend I recounted the incident to my mother over the telephone. She listened in shocked silence right to the end. And then she said, “Don’t ever tell that story to your father.”

New Chapter

In which a physical assault breaks out on the metro and its back to the paddy wagon

Copyrighted Material

we don’t want your candles

Despite the Covid ban, women across the country went ahead with their vigil for Sarah Everard.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said – Tonight Carrie and I will be lighting a candle for Sarah Everard and thinking of her family and friends.

Home secretary Priti Patel tweeted I’ll be lighting a candle tonight in Sarah’s memory.

Lighting a candle? How’s that going to help?

You can keep your blinking candles. We want real action. This is not a women’s issue, it’s a men’s issue. Stop blaming women! (what was she wearing? why was she outside at 9 pm? She asked for it.) and shift the blame to where it belongs: on men. Good men need to speak out more in defence of women rather than keeping silent. Young boys and teenage boys need to be educated on the subject of harassment and violence towards women in schools. Where are the mentors? All proof that this is still a deeply patriarchal society in which men refuse to confront and acknowledge this issue. (I’m talking ALL societies, not just British society.)

Women are sick and tired of having candles lit for them. Today, in France, “une marche blanche” (a white march) is being organized to pay tribute to 14-year old Alisha, pushed into the river Seine by two classmates and drowned. As for the 41-year old woman found dead in the Seine after disappearing from jogging? Nothing. No one’s talking about it. Just another statistic. In France, murders are referred to as “faits divers” which means “trivia” or “various bits of information”.

“Men are rarely challenged to think about their dominance, power and privilege. Lacking introspection and the ability to be examined, they are rendered invisible in the discourse about issues that are primarily about them. Men have been erased from much of the conversation about a subject that is centrally about men.” Jackson Katz – Educator, filmmaker, and author who has created a gender violence prevention and education program entitled ‘Mentors in Violence Prevention’.

Reclaim These Streets vigils to highlight women’s safety held across UK – latest updates | World news | The Guardian

the killing of Sarah Everard

In the space of one week, Sarah Everard went from the beautiful and vibrant young woman we see in these photographs to “human remains found in a woodland area.” She was snatched from a London street and murdered. We’ve all been following this terrible story. The disappearance of Sarah Everard is yet another statistic in the litany of violence towards women.

What happened?

On the night of Wednesday March 3rd, Sarah left a friend’s house in Clapham, South London at around 9 pm and began walking home. But she never arrived. She vanished.

On March 6, the Metropolitan Police raised the alarm over her disappearance. Friends and family said it was “totally out of character” for her not to be in contact with them.

Who was Sarah Everard?

33-year-old Sarah lived in Brixton, South London, and had recently started a new job as a marketing executive. Originally from the North of England (York) she had moved to London about 12 years ago after getting her geography degree at Durham University.

On March 7, police released footage showing Ms Everard walking alone along Poynders Road towards Tulse Hill, just south of Brixton. This is the last image of Sarah alive:

Who has been arrested on suspicion of murder and kidnap?

A Metropolitan police officer named Wayne Couzens, 48 years old, married and father of two children. It is believed that he may have lured Sarah into his vehicle by using his police badge. By sheer fluke, the breakthrough that led to the arrest came from CCTV footage from a passing London bus that had been travelling along the route where Ms Everard disappeared. Couzen’s wife has also been arrested.

WOMEN SHARE THEIR EXPERIENCES

Social media has been flooded with women sharing their experiences following Sarah’s disappearance.

Hundreds of Twitter users gave examples of the lengths they go to when out alone: lengthy detours, stick to well-lit streets, call a friend and clutch their keys between their fingers to feel safer.

Victim-shaming: don’t tell women not to walk home at night, tell men not to rape and kill. Stop focusing on women’s choices, and start focusing on the men that attack us.

VIGIL FOR WOMEN      #ReclaimTheseStreets

This weekend women are expected to attend a vigil held in Clapham Common, the park Sarah walked through on her journey before she is believed to have been kidnapped. (cancelled due to COVID)

The organisers wrote on Facebook: We believe that streets should be safe for women, regardless of what you wear, where you live or what time of day or night it is. It’s wrong that the response to violence against women requires women to behave differently. Women are not the problem.

We shouldn’t have to wear bright colours when we walk home and clutch our keys in our fists to feel safe. It’s wrong that the response to violence against women requires women to behave differently. As if it’s our fault.

In Clapham, police told women not to go out alone at night. Why should women stay at home cowering behind the curtains because of a male threat to women?

Below is an article in yesterday’s The Guardian entitled – Women tell men how to make them feel safe after Sarah Everard disappearance

Takeaways:

  • women are repeatedly expected to change their behaviour to reduce personal risk, shifting responsibility away from the decisions and actions of men;
  • women feel scared and unsafe in public spaces;
  • women often go out of their way to avoid potentially unsafe situations. Taking lengthy detours and sticking to well-lit streets, talking on the phone as a deterrent, clutching their keys, and wearing comfortable shoes in case they need to run.

I’ve just read an article in the French press: a 41 year old woman was out jogging end of February in a Paris suburb. Then she went missing. Her body has just been fished out of the river Seine. Happens all the time here. Another female found dead.

A new article has just appeared in this evening’s The Guardian: Endemic violence against women is causing a wave of anger. Analysis: Sarah Everard’s disappearance sparks furious demands to address misogyny in the UK. Protest marches are planned in cities across the country (cancelled due to COVID).

Women tell men how to make them feel safe after Sarah Everard disappearance | UK news | The Guardian

Endemic violence against women is causing a wave of anger | #MeToo movement | The Guardian

 

International Women’s Day … so what?

I don’t know what International Women’s Day means. March 8th around the world. So what? Does it mean that for one day only, on March 8th, men should not strike, beat, strangle or kill a woman? In France: only 90 women were killed in 2020, 56 less than in 2019. Only 90 women killed – is that a number to be proud of? That’s 90 too many! Two-thirds of those deaths, leaving behind traumatized orphans and broken families, could have been avoided. Femicide: the killing of females by males because they are female. 

Does it mean that for one day only, on March 8th, forced marriages and FGM (female genital mutilation) should stop?

Does it mean that for one day only women’s sanitary products (tampons and other products, classed as ‘luxury’ and ‘non-essential’) should not be taxed? Non-essential? After pulling out of the E.U. (European Union), the U.K. detaxed sanitary products in January 2021.

Does it mean that for one day only men should pay women a higher salary? Women earn 77.9 cents for every dollar earned by men.

Does it mean that for one day only men should stop harassing women in the street, office and elsewhere? Women the world over face sexual and non-sexual harassment in the workplace which range from unwelcome verbal, visual, non-verbal or physical harassment.

75% of women who find themselves subject to hostile situations in the workplace do not report their harassment for fear of being fired. People often ask “why did the victim not report?” I know, because it happened to me on more than one occasion. I found myself out on the street and unemployed for no other reason than I was harassed (one of my harasser’s was a female senior lawyer.) When I reported my tormenter’s actions to HR, they were utterly untrained and clueless as to how to treat harassment cases. “Just get rid of her” seemed the easiest option for those involved.

Does it mean that for one day only employers should put an end to Maternity Discrimination? The Guardian reports that over 50,000 women lose their jobs over pregnancy discrimination.

I guess my point is – why haven’t we, in 2021, repaired these injustices? Why have we not detoxified our societies of damages and discrimination toward women? The photo below, showing one of the biggest contaminators, is one explanation why.

Most of the above refers to First World “advanced” nations. I shudder to think what women in Second and Third World countries go through.

Let me share with you a chilling photograph that iced women’s blood around the world, including my own. This is what patriarchy, misdirected power and misogyny look like. In other words, a horror show.

The Trump administration rolled back important women’s rights protections with an executive order that enabled more employers and insurers to assert objections to the contraceptive coverage mandate of the Affordable Care Act.

This photo sums up Trump’s assault on women’s rights

from an article written by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett (The Guardian)

Look at these men. Look at them. Gathered around the most powerful man in the world – a man who has openly bragged of sexual assault, who refers to a vulva as a woman’s “wherever” – as he signs away the reproductive rights of women in developing countries. 
 
The stupidity of the blinkered, religiously motivated agenda on display here is that no matter what legislation these men implement, they will never succeed in banning abortion, per se, only safe, legal abortion. As a result of the reimposition of the global gag order, the loss of their services alone could result in 6.5m unintended pregnancies during Trump’s first term, 2.1m unsafe abortions, and 21,700 maternal deaths. In passing this law, these patriarchs have fathered millions of unwanted children, helping to create lives that could very well turn out to be painful and potentially motherless.
 
Nothing quite says powerlessness like the removal of your right to bodily autonomy, at the behest of a group of people who will never – can never – know what that feels like. There’s a reason women are using the word patriarchy again, that it featured on so many signs during the Women’s Marches: if you are emasculated by the notion of a woman making her own reproductive choices, then you were never much of a man to begin with.
 

I matter. I matter equally. Not ‘if only,’ not ‘as long as’. I matter. Full stop. Chimamanda Adichie, Nigerian writer

so what’s going on this Friday night in Paris

Not much. It’s deadsville here and very quiet on this beautiful cold, clear Friday night. I have three days off. Bliss! Saturday, Sunday and I’m taking Monday off. The weather is forecast to be cold and sunny this weekend. I think I’ll head over to one of my favorite small parks tomorrow or Sunday, the Parc Monceau, in the 17th arrondissement; haven’t been there in ages.

Sitting here with a large bottle of red wine at my side – an organic Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil 2018 – and listening to Led Zepp’s Stairway to Heaven through my JBL headphones ……if there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now, it’s just a spring clean for the May Queen …. As you’ve no doubt noticed, I’m currently in a Led Zeppelin phase. I drink no alcohol during the week. All week long, I’m very very good foodwise. On the weekend I splurge, that’s a good balance for me.

What’s the 5:2 diet? Eat what you want five days a week, dramatically cut the calories for two. I do it in reverse.

Work is great, largely because 70% of my colleagues are working from home and the office is near-empty (and very quiet.) Working from home in France is called télétravail. It appears that people are happy working from home. “Why is that?” I ask. No interruptions, better concentration on their work and no commuting on public transportation, is what they say when they come into the office once a week or once every two or three weeks for a day or two. And why don’t I choose to work from home? Because I love my morning walk to the office (and walking home in the evening), I call it my morning meditation. Because I prefer to keep home and office separate. Because I really like my office space and the view from the window while I stare out of it as I drink espresso from my machine on the windowsill. Because I like to go out on my lunch hour and walk to the shops and get some exercise. And because of the absence of my colleagues, it’s very quiet so that I too can concentrate better on my work (translations, organizing our annual shareholders’ meeting and a dozen other things.)

I bought Mariah Carey’s memoir, The Meaning of Mariah Carey. I’m sorry to say it, but from what I’ve read so far I don’t think it’s very well written, but that’s just my personal opinion. I shouldn’t comment at all because I know how hard it is to write a memoir! As for Netflix, I really enjoyed THE DIG. I’m a huge fan of Carey Mulligan. I also enjoyed Behind Her Eyes for the aesthetics even though the ending was strange. As for I Care A Lot, I won’t watch it because I don’t find elder abuse and predatory guardianship amusing. The Queen’s Gambit was so good, I think I’ll watch it again. I also rewatched The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story. One word: brilliant!

And on that note, it’s nearing 11 pm on this quiet cool Friday night on March 5, 2021 – the COVID pandemic a year in now. Where will we be in one year’s time? Will all this be a distant memory? Let’s hope so.

 

lockdown rock

We’re in lockdown here, everything shuts up tight at 6 pm and we’re told not to socialize. So what’s a girl to do other than drink wine and listen to rock music? No, seriously, I work all day at the office then sit at home with a glass of wine or a beer and listen to music, mainly rock, on YouTube.

From my memoir –

I remember the first time I heard Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love. It was in Lynda Scott’s basement, her parents were away and there was a Saturday night party. Someone put the album on the stereo, and the sound that blasted from the speakers electrified me. I had never heard anything like it. It was raw yet refined, sprawling yet tight, earthy yet mystical; decadent, dangerous and utterly thrilling. It was a journey to an exalted sphere, a musical ride to a place we’d never been, and all throughout the lead singer was telling us we needed love (every inch of it) and he was gonna give it to us. I was thirteen years old.

The expansive stylistic range of Led Zeppelin, Canada’s egalitarian ethos, feminism and the rebellious 1970s became my creed, my gospel to which I adhere to this day.

 

Hear this soundtrack of Since I’ve Been Loving You. Over 11 million hits. (best listened to with high-quality headphones)

(224) Since I’ve Been Loving You (Remaster) – YouTube