the incandescent Joni Mitchell

As a girl, Joni grew up near the wheat fields of Saskatchewan, Canada, before heading east to Toronto where she lived in a rooming house and played musical gigs in church basements and YMCA meeting halls. To pay her rent, she worked in a downtown department store in women’s wear. It was 1964, and her intention was to become a folk singer.

Just south of the border in New York City and having already made a name for himself in the coffee houses and folk clubs of Greenwich Village … and at the Newport and Monterey Folk Festivals and elsewhere, a young man was recording his fourth album in a Columbia Records studio. His name was Bob Dylan, and he was 23 years old. Eleven years later, the paths of Joni Mitchell and Dylan would cross.

1975. Here they are in Gordon Lightfoot’s house in Toronto, Dylan moodily playing guitar and Joni confidently performing her new song, Coyote.

Flawless and peerless.

For the first and only time in his life, Dylan found himself face to face with his equal. He looks quietly discombobulated. Now famous, the 31-year old Joni is in complete control. She had to be, in that male-dominated musical world. (The song, incidentally, is about Sam Shepard’s advances towards her during the Rolling Thunder Revue concert tour of 75.)

David Crosby, of Crosby Stills Nash and Young, said this about Mitchell – “She’s as good a poet as Bob, and she’s ten times the musician and singer than he is.”

Footage from “Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese”

the burning of Notre-Dame cathedral – with updates

I first posted this in April 2019. I’m now reposting it with updates.


good pic notre dame burning

AFP-Getty Images

One thing I’ve always liked about the French is their discretion vis-à-vis their (Catholic) faith. I appreciate this because religion is a deeply personal matter and should, in my opinion, remain private and unobtrusive in the public sphere.

But on the morning of April 16, 2019, you could feel the raw emotion and désarroi in the air. At the office, many of my French Catholic colleagues were visibly very upset. Clusters of them gathered in corners and around espresso machines to speak of last night’s tragedy, quietly at first and then louder. Not a Catholic, I respectfully stayed at my desk and did not encroach on their space. But I listened (the office is open plan). Here’s what I heard (translated by me):

But I was there, just the day before at the same hour! I had gone to evening Mass with my mother to celebrate Palm Sunday.

Were you shaken? Mais, évidemment, c’est une catastrophe !

I watched the spire fall, and it was as if an arrow had pierced my heart.

I was coming out of the boulangerie at around 6:50 pm and I saw smoke at the end of the street. I stood paralyzed with shock. Notre Dame is in my parish, you know.

Well, I don’t believe for a second it was accidental. During the week of Easter? No, it’s too coincidental. Notre Dame? It’s a symbol of France and of Christianity. One minute it’s there, and then – poof ! – tout en flammes (up in flames.)

What are you saying, that it was a conspiracy? Yes, I think it was the Freemasons.

Have you read Naomi Klein’s book, La Stratégie du Choc? (The Shock Doctrine). She writes about conspiracies.

Who’s Naomi Klein? She’s an American author. (“No she isn’t, she’s Canadian!” I wanted to shout. But I kept my mouth shut.)

Mais c’est Victor Hugo qui l’a sauvé avec son roman! (But it was Victor Hugo who saved the cathedral with his novel!)


Later, over coffee, I asked Jean-Philippe what he meant about Victor Hugo’s novel saving Notre Dame. He explained that when Haussmann was busy transforming Paris from the mid to late 1800s, he wanted to raze Notre Dame to make room for his famous boulevards. In protestation, Hugo wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame. “Haven’t you read the book?” J-P asked me. I replied that I hadn’t. “Well, maybe you’ve seen the musical?” he insisted. “No, I hate musicals.” I replied.

And then another of my colleagues, originally from Lebanon and of Christian faith, came in wearing his habitual suit and tie. He’s a jokester by nature, and usually keeps us laughing all day. But this morning something was different. His tie was entirely black.

Je suis en deuil.’ (I’m in mourning), he said solemnly, and no one laughed.

As for me, I was sitting in a pizzeria last night while sirens wailed across the city. “I wonder what’s going on?” I said to my two friends. We were completely unaware of the catastrophe unfolding a mere mile away.


Flash forward nearly 4 years. Where are we with the reconstruction of Notre Dame?

The cathedral is scheduled to re-open sometime in 2024.

How much money was raised for the refurbishment of Notre-Dame Cathedral?

More than 845 million euros, the largest collection ever launched worldwide. There are approximately 350,000 donors from all over the world: individual donors and large companies.

Rouen. Strasbourg. Bordeaux. Versailles. Dijon. Marseille. Toulouse. Amiens, to name a few. All across the nation and in solidarity with their wounded sister in Paris, the majestic cathedrals of France rang their bells simultaneously at precisely 6:50 pm, the time that fire broke out on Monday.

today, at precisely 6:50 pm, bells rang out across the country

tapioca pudding with coconut milk and mango

I mixed coconut milk with regular cow’s milk and soaked the tapioca for 30 minutes.


Then, in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, I stirred in sugar and vanilla. I didn’t have a vanilla bean or essence, so I used vanilla sugar. When it thickens, you take off the heat then pour into serving bowls. Top with mango, banana, blueberries or kiwi. I recommend serving this warm (not hot) – in other words, on the same day that you make it – because when it’s cold it becomes hard and gelatinous.

The trick is to make it not too thick, but not too thin either.



The civilized classes and nations are swept away by the grand rush for contemptible wealth. Never was the world worldlier, never was it emptier of love and goodness.

Friedrich Nietzsche


This is the quote I put in my book (memoir). After my parents died and my sole sibling (older sister) robbed me of a significant chunk of my inheritance, those words perfectly reflected my thoughts and feelings.

Born in Germany in 1844, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was a German philosopher, prose poet, cultural critic, philologist, and composer whose work has exerted a profound influence on contemporary philosophy.

I invite you to watch this superb BBC documentary on his life and learnings –

soccer mom for a week

It’s school break and my ten-year-old godson is enrolled in soccer camp for a week. We get up early in the morning and drive him to the indoor stadium where he does soccer stuff from 9 am to 4:30 pm.

All French boys dream of being a future Kylian Mbappé, the 24 year old professional footballer who plays for the French national team and the Paris Saint-Germain Club.

“Who’s your favorite football player?” I asked my godson. To my surprise, he said “Robert Lewandowski” who plays for “Barça” (FC Barcelona).

Diamonds and Rust

A cold Saturday night and I’m watching a Bob Dylan and Joan Baez documentary on YouTube. Tomorrow I take the train up to Lille for a week’s vacation. It’s “les vacances scolaires” (school break) up north and I’ll be spending time with my favorite ten-year-old.

Joan was hopelessly in love with Bob. They were a couple in the early days, but it didn’t last. He moved on, but they did remain friends and in later years continued to sing together.

The song. Written in 1974, Joan Baez is singing to her former lover Bob Dylan, fondly reminiscing about their 1960s affair. Lyrics below. It’s a truly beautiful song, tinged with melancholy. 

Well, I’ll be damnedHere comes your ghost againBut that’s not unusualIt’s just that the moon is fullAnd you happened to callAnd here I sitHand on the telephoneHearing a voice I’d knownA couple of light years agoHeading straight for a fall
As I remember your eyesWere bluer than robin’s eggsMy poetry was lousy you saidWhere are you calling from?A booth in the midwest
Ten years agoI bought you some cufflinksYou brought me somethingWe both know what memories can bringThey bring diamonds and rust
Well, you burst on the sceneAlready a legendThe unwashed phenomenonThe original vagabondYou strayed into my armsAnd there you stayedTemporarily lost at seaThe Madonna was yours for freeYes, the girl on the half-shellCould keep you unharmed
Now I see you standingWith brown leaves falling all aroundAnd snow in your hairNow you’re smiling out the windowOf that crummy hotelOver Washington SquareOur breath comes out white cloudsMingles and hangs in the airSpeaking strictly for meWe both could have died then and there
Now you’re telling meYou’re not nostalgicThen give me another word for itYou who are so good with wordsAnd at keeping things vague‘Cause I need some of that vagueness nowIt’s all come back too clearlyYes, I loved you dearlyAnd if you’re offering me diamonds and rustI’ve already paid.
Songwriter: Joan Baez

largest Vermeer exhibition ever opens in Amsterdam

I wrote this a few years ago in a previous post –

Oftentimes I find myself craving art (and beauty). In this world of brutes and atrocities, it’s important to nourish the soul and feel uplifted and inspired. Thank goodness for art, artists and museums. Can you imagine a world without art? It would be a dark and desolate place … a sort of Trumpland, bleak and vacuous.

This is a perfect opportunity to return to The Netherlands. Some of the paintings in this new exhibition (at the Rijksmuseum), I saw at the Mauritshuis in the summer of 2017. That was a lovely trip.

For two hotel recommendations in Amsterdam, a visit to the magnificent Rijksmuseum and the Mauritshuis, and an account of my purchase of cannabis in a legalized coffeeshop, I invite you to visit my previous trips to Holland by clicking on this link below. I can’t wait to go back.



Macron slapped, Melenchon floured

The man who had the audacity to slap President Macron in 2021 was given a four-month prison sentence. Not enough, most people say. The prosecutors had asked for eighteen months. 28 years old and unemployed, he was said to harbor ultra-right political convictions.

There’s an old tradition in France to “flour” politicians. What does this mean? The act of covering someone with white flour sends the message “se faire rouler dans la farine” (to get rolled in flour). That’s the literal translation, but the real meaning is to dupe or lie to people. This is what many French citizens believe their politicians do to them. The expression comes from the 19th century when actors used flour as makeup and would dupe people with their identities.

Oddly enough, no one seems to protest this strange French practice, including the target himself. We watch it on TV and everyone chuckles (myself included). Even the perpetrator below (wearing sunglasses) had his moment in the sun when reporters gathered round with microphones to ask what compelled him to buy a bag of white flour and throw it onto Jean-Luc Mélenchon (leader of a left-wing populist political party called La France Insoumise). Video below. Mélenchon’s reaction is calm as he brushes the flour off his suit and hair. He himself was probably a flour-thrower when he was a young rebel.

Further below is another video showing other politicians getting floured and worse – receiving cream pies in their face. Look at President Hollande standing calmly before a lectern on stage while brushing the flour of his papers.

Nicolas Sarkozy gets a pie in the face, as do others.


breaking news: Prime Minister Borne makes a first concession

In today’s JDD (Journal du Dimanche), a French weekly newspaper published on Sundays, the Prime Minister announced that those who started working between the ages of 20 and 21 will be able to retire at age 63. “It’s a measure that will cost between 600 million and one billion euros per year and will affect up to 30,000 people per year,” she said. “We hear the demand of right-wing elected officials on long careers.” Debates on the bill begin Monday in the National Assembly.

Continuing from my post of the other day, here’s another reason why 70 percent of the French population opposes the reforms: Women are the big losers. The salary and career inequalities experienced by women throughout their working life have repercussions on the amount of pensions they receive and their retirement age.

The amount of pensions paid to women is 40% lower than that paid to men, a problem which the current reform ignores. There exists a flagrant inequality between men and women: the average male retiree receives €1,924 per month, while the average female retiree receives €1,145.

While women’s salaries are on average 22% lower than those of men (INSEE 2022), their direct pensions are 40% lower than those of men. Retirement therefore further amplifies wage inequality. 20% of working women must wait until age 67 to retire, compared to 10% for men. When our leaders are questioned about these pension inequalities, the classic answer is that they are reduced over time. In reality, they are stagnating, just as wage inequalities are stagnating. (source: Le Monde)

Who doesn’t fear poverty? I know I do. I must work until I am 67 before I qualify for full pension. Why? Because I came to France late and didn’t start working (and contributing to the obligatory pension fund through my paychecks) until I was in my thirties. Thank goodness I have a job I love. Believe me, I am grateful. BUT, I have never received a high salary and during the early years I had gaps of unemployment, so my monthly pension won’t be high.

The poverty rate of retired women is significantly higher than that of men (10.4% against 8.5%), and this gap has tended to widen since 2012, as noted in the 2022 report of the Pensions Orientation Council.


the real reasons the French oppose Macron’s pension reform

In the beginning, I raised my eyebrows then pooh-poohed the idea of my fellow citizens protesting against President Macron and Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne’s planned reform. But the more I listened (to the protesters, not to Macron and Borne), the more I agree with them. Now I too will be joining the next protest march on Saturday February 11.

WHERE? Place de la République at thirteen hundred hours (1 p.m.) BE THERE!

It’s so much more than raising the legal retirement age from 62 to 64. Here’s one reason out of many why the French are protesting:

Amidst rising energy prices for consumers –

French energy giant TotalEnergies posts a whopping €14 billion profit thanks to soaring oil and gas prices

Calls for bigger windfall tax after Shell makes ‘obscene’ $40bn profit

Oil giants post eye-popping $237 billion record profits

“The pension financing system needs to be rectified because it is in deficit”, the government tells us. The labor unions exhort the government to apply windfall taxes to France’s gas and oil behemoth, TOTAL, which, up until now, pays zero tax.

Those tax payments could help contribute to the pension finance system and spare the workers, many who are underpaid and have physically demanding jobs, from working longer.

Michael Zemmour (no relation to the far-right failed presidential candidate, Eric Zemmour), an economist at Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne University, believes the government has ulterior motives. “Our pension system is healthy,” he says. “The government only wants to balance its budget and offset the impact of tax rebates for companies.” He thinks it’s worth putting public money into a system that reduces inequalities. “If there is a deficit, now or in the future, we could finance that by increasing employers’ contributions, which many people would prefer to the reform.”

And it’s not just TOTAL. The top forty companies quoted on the Paris stock exchange earned collectively 174 billion euros in profits in 2021. But did they all pay reasonable taxes in France on those record earnings?

Vivendi, the French media and communications group, made 24,692 billion euros in 2021, on which the company paid 929 million euros in French tax. Very roughly, one third of one tenth of one percent.

Here’s how much ordinary salaried workers pay in income tax in France; I’m in the third revenue band –


“It really comes down to the question of what kind of society we want to live in — one ruled through market-orientated rationality or one which is focused on reducing inequalities,” says Daniele Linhart, a sociologist specializing in work relations at the public research institution, CNRS.

Those protesting the reforms (the majority of the population) believe that, little by little, Macron’s government is dismantling France’s (cherished) social model.

Next up: retirement inequality: Women’s pensions are much smaller than men’s

The inequality stems from career breaks, wage gaps and the choice of lower-paying professions.