are our lives predetermined?

I consider myself a rationalist, believing that logic and circumstance (and one’s socio-economic-geographic environment) largely determines a person’s life. I mean, let’s face it: a woman born in Juba, South Sudan is not going to have the same life as one born in Toronto, Canada.

Chance also plays a part in our lives; luck, good and bad. Genetic traits as well.

This morning I awoke from a dream and a deep deep sleep with the following question in my head: What if my life had turned out differently? The dream was about the farm my parents bought way back in the 1970s, a beautiful rambling property with an old barn and a ramshackle hundred-year old house. Over the years the buildings were fixed up and the property tamed. When the drunken tenant farmer accidentally burned the barn down, Dad had a swimming pool put in its place, the remaining old stone walls enclosing it in a U-shape. We went there weekends and over summer vacation; happy happy days.

Why did my mother sell that farm? What if the farm had been kept in the family and I could still go there? What if my life had turned out differently?

Hence, the eternal existential question: Why am I here? I ask this question a lot. It’s this question that triggered the writing of my memoir. I wanted to trace or map the trajectory of my life to determine why I’m in Paris and not back home in Canada. I needed to make sense of it all.

How much control do we really have over our life circumstances? In terms of external causal factors, the answer is “none”.

I think it’s good to examine our lives from time to time: how did we get here, what were the circumstantial reasons/factors that brought us here. And, most importantly, how can we live our lives to our full potential.

It was a 100-acre farm, located an hour and a half drive east of Toronto, between the towns of Warkworth and Campbellford. I miss it.

By coming to Paris I believed that my world would expand, and in many ways it did, but it also shrank. I lost many things.

Here’s a brief excerpt from my book –

As for my father, he was on his way to fulfilling his next dream of buying a hobby farm. We had spent a year of Sundays cruising the back roads of rural Ontario and visiting farms for sale, all of them derelict and available for a song. The homestead that he eventually purchased sat on a hundred acres of woodland and fallow fields, set back from a gravel road. A long driveway led to a brick house dating from the late 1800s. Two sheds and a barn overlooked a pond.

“John is realizing his ambition to become a gentleman farmer,” said my mother to a friend.

“What’s a gentleman farmer?” I asked, imagining a man, suited and tie-ed, sitting on a tractor.  “It’s someone who farms for pleasure rather than for money,” was the response.

One day at the height of summer when the crops and foliage were in full bloom and the trill of crickets filled the air, my mother and I stood knee-deep in a field of goldenrod, she clutching the bottom of a rickety ladder, me sneezing and rubbing my hayfever-inflamed eyes. From the ladder’s top rung my father stood, hammering a wooden name plate onto a tree at the foot of our driveway. The words engraved into the name plate were ‘Fern Hill Farm’.

“But there are no ferns around here…” I said between sneezes.

“It’s the name of a poem, dear,” said my mother, sighing. “Your father’s favourite poet is Dylan Thomas.”  Later, I read the poem entitled Fern Hill and agreed that it was fitting.

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and
cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was
air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the
nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.

Dylan Thomas, Welsh poet, 1914 – 1953

a holiday gift guide

I guess Christmas will be scaled back this year. Here are some of my favorite items that make great gifts for yourself or for friends and family:

Reebok DMX Thrill

In two words: supreme comfort. All my walking shoes are Reebok, but this model takes the cake.

LEXON FLIP

This award-winning alarm clock turns on and off by flipping it over. Featuring ON and OFF faces, LCD display and touch sensor snooze, it’s affordable and comes in a range of different colors. I love mine. There’s also a smaller travel version.

URBAN DECAY Born to Run eyeshadow palette

Since the beginning of COVID in March, I haven’t worn lipstick. Why bother when you wear a facemask? So I compensate by using lots of eyeshadow. Known for high-pigment, velvety color and blendability, UD eyeshadows have been a bestseller for years.

PURESSENTIEL ULTRASONIC HUMIDIFIER DIFFUSER

My new acquisition, purchased at my local pharmacy for just under 40 euros. You fill the reservoir with water and add drops of essential oil. It’s completely silent, and the fine mist that comes out fills the room with fragrance. See that blue color? It’s a soft ambient light that changes colors. The Puressentiel oils that I bought with it are Walk in the Forest (Atlas cedar, Cistus Rock Rose, Cypress and Siberian pine), Cocooning (Sweet orange, White grapefruit, Chinese cassia leaves, Bitter orange and Cinnamon bark) and Positive Energy.

UNIQLO – MARIMEKKO

I just bought this for myself at UNIQLO. It’s ultra-light and stylish because it’s MARIMEKKO. Of course you know who MARIMEKKO is: a Finnish design house celebrated for its original prints and colors since 1951. One of the first lifestyle brands in the world, Marimekko combines fashion, bags, and accessories as well as home décor into an expression of joyful living.

ANTIPODES – Protein-rich serum, avocado pear night cream, and this hand cream because we wash our hands ten times a day!

If you can find this brand, grab it because Antipodes is a plant-powered vegan beauty company from New Zealand. It uses pollution-free native New Zealand ingredients in its organic skincare range, and it’s great (award winning). Because I wash my hands ten times a day, I need to put on hand cream afterwards.

CHOCOLATE

 

How fortunate (for me) that I live in a city with the best chocolatiers in the world.

In closing, don’t forget to make a donation to your favorite charity this Christmas:

coming to Netflix – Room 2806 and the DSK sex scandal, 9 years later

They always said that one day a movie would be made on this hot topic. Well, it’s been done. Documentary film director Jalil Lespert returns to the scene of the crime that brought down not only one of the most powerful men in the western world, but a potential candidate for the next President of France.

Who is DSK? Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Professor of Economics. Minister of Economy and Finance from 1997 to 1999. Former managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and a controversial figure in the French Socialist Party due to his involvement in several financial and sexual scandals.

Where did the crime occur? In room 2806 of the Sofitel hotel in New York City.

Who was involved? Nafissatou Diallo, a refugee from Guinea (West Africa) who lived in the Bronx and worked as a maid at the hotel. 

What was the charge? Sexual assault. Diallo alleged that Strauss-Kahn had sexually assaulted her after she entered his suite.

Was there a settlement? Reportedly, DSK paid Diallo 1.5 million dollars. Today she divides her life between Dakar, Senegal and NYC where her daughter lives.

Here’s my blog post on the subject that I wrote way back in 2013 –

Two events brusquely jolted the French out of their reverie vis-a-vis their archaic attitudes towards women: the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn in New York in May 2011 and the arrival onto French soil of the feminist Ukrainian group, FEMEN, at about the same time. On a Sunday morning, over croissants and steaming bowls of café au lait, the entire nation stared with collective incredulity at their TV screens. What were they looking at? Surreal images played over and over for all the world to see of their well-known countryman and respected economist – who was not only the head of the IMF in Washington, but candidate to be the next president of France! – handcuffed, unshaven and flanked on either side by burly New York policemen before being shoved into the back of a car and driven off to prison on charges of alleged criminal sexual assault. This was reality TV at its most horrific. It was, as the French press called it, an electroshock.  

There’s nothing like a pair of handcuffs and the clang of a Rikers Island prison gate to shrivel a sex offender’s dick.

Flash-forward two years: it took half a year for the French to come out of denial. During that time we had to endure endless TV talk shows (what, again?) and long, tortuous, psycho-babble written in weekly magazines dissecting what was so obvious to us outsiders (that DSK was guilty), and seemingly oblivious to them. Two-thirds of the country believed it was a Sarkozy-orchestrated plot. In collusion with the French-owned Sofitel hotel where the assault took place, they imagined that Sarkozy had planned the whole thing in an attempt to sabotage DSK’s presidency bid.

Had this calamity occurred in Paris it would’ve been swiftly silenced, just like Strauss-Kahn’s prior transgressions had been silenced by the practice of a mafia-like code of honour here called omerta. For decades (we later learned) DSK had been groping and harassing women. Either none of the victims had come forward to complain, or they had come forward but were jeered at and dismissed by the macho men’s club that runs the Gallic corridors of power. The wake-up call that France sorely needed to shake itself out of its dusty, last-century torpor were those TV images of DSK in handcuffs played over and over with the eyes of the outside world looking on: judging and criticizing unacceptable French behaviour that had carried on, unchallenged, for centuries; unchallenged by both men and women. Better late than never, I suppose.

See the trailer below. The one line that stands out is this – “He didn’t believe he did anything wrong, other than to get caught.”

(127) Chambre 2806 : L’Affaire DSK | Bande-annonce officielle VOSTFR | Netflix France – YouTube

Far from the Madding Crowd

I loved this movie. When I first saw it on French television, I didn’t know I was watching an adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd because the title is different. At some point though I recognized the story. The title in French is “Loin de la foule déchaînée”.

Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) is Thomas Hardy’s fourth novel and his first major literary success. Set in rural southwest England, it deals in themes of love, honour and betrayal, against a backdrop of the seemingly idyllic but often harsh realities of a farming community in Victorian England. It describes the life and relationships of Bathsheba Everdene (played by a brilliant Carey Mulligan) with her lonely neighbour William Boldwood, the faithful shepherd Gabriel Oak, and the thriftless soldier Sergeant Troy.

Have you seen this movie? It’s so so good.

(124) Far from the Madding Crowd Official Trailer #2 (2015) – Carey Mulligan Movie HD – YouTube

walking home at night

I love walking home from work at night, all the more so now that the decorations are up. We so need joy and illumination in our lives right now. Joy to the world! Fa la la … Christmas is coming …

This is the route I take home every night. People seemed to be drawn to those light rods.

What I particularly like about the Esplanade is that it’s car-free.

I work in a concrete jungle. But I like it. Growing up as I did in North America, I guess I’m used to tall buildings, glass and steel.

Here’s our building’s elevator with an air purifier in it. Below is my office space and desk where I spend 37.5 hours a week. Note the most important item on the windowsill: my Nespresso machine!

Here are two of my colleagues (Franco-Lebanese). He makes me laugh all day long.

increasing poverty (due to Covid)

“The most shocking thing I saw were young people lining up at the food bank. They were wearing their work uniform: an Uber food delivery vest.” A quote from someone I heard on the radio this week. The irony. Young people delivering food to others on scooters and bicycles, most always at night, but not having enough themselves to eat. A note to Uber Eats users? Tip generously.

Also this week: standing in a shopping mall buying myself a ham and cheese baguette sandwich, I heard a soft voice beside me – “Excusez-moi. Would you have one or two euros so that I could buy something to eat?” I turned my head to see a woman, well-dressed, in her fifties. She looked embarrassed at having to ask such a question. She was French.

Bien sûr“, I said. I bought a second ham and cheese baguette sandwich. Walking back to the office, I thought – That woman could be me. She could be YOU. She could be all of us. No job, not enough money to eat, no one or nothing to fall back on.

Last night after work, I stopped off at Marks & Spencer to stock up on food (for myself) for the weekend. I passed a young woman sitting on the floor with a small sign asking for food or money. Inside M&S, I bought a hot pizza and a drink and gave it to her as I walked past on my way to the metro. 

I no longer judge. I used to, but these are hard, hard times. “Unless you’ve walked a mile in someone else’s shoes, do not judge.”

It can happen fast. You lose your job through no fault of your own (redundancy. restructuring. Or a pandemic called COVID). Your unemployment benefits run out, you can no longer pay your rent or mortgage payments. Or you fall ill and can’t pay your medical bills. Or you’re a student and just have no money and you’re alone. Every homeless or hungry person has a valid story to tell (and it always begins with family.) Those from the Middle East? Their stories begin with war, displacement or persecution.

You have no family to help out, no loving parents whose home you can return to until you get back on your feet.

France has a generous safety net, but it’s being stretched to the limit. And benefits last for only so long. One of the reasons I live in France is because of that safety net. Because you see, I have no family. My loving parents died in the 1990s. Had they not died, I would’ve moved back to Toronto a long time ago to be close to them. I have an older sister – married, well-off – but we’re estranged. The last time I saw her was in a lawyer’s courtroom in Toronto in 2000.

There are so many wonderful, hardworking charities, associations and organizations the world over. For every Christmas or Hanukkah gift we buy this year, let’s donate to a charity as well!

La Fondation Abbé Pierre

Les Restos du Coeur

Le Secours catholique

La Croix rouge française collects clothes, toys, blankets.

https://www.croix-rouge.fr/French-Red-Cross

The Secours Populaire Français (SPF), or the French Popular Relief, dedicated to fighting poverty and discrimination.

EXCLUSION EXCLUDES NO-ONE.

purrrfect new ad for Thalys train service in Europe. And a trip to Amsterdam.

As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the pleasures of having a blog is to be able to look back through the archives to see what you were doing 2, 3, 5 years ago. A blog is a digital time capsule of sorts. So on this mild November Saturday late afternoon in 2020 as I sit here relaxing with a glass of Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil at my side and listening to In the Mood for Love soundtrack on my CD-DVD player, I scrolled all the way back to November 2014 (wow, have I had this blog that long?)

I still think this advertising campaign below, created by Rosa Park ad agency, is brilliant. It promotes Thalys, a consortium of companies (SNCF, SNCB and Deutsche Bahn) that manage high-speed train service between France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands.

On December 20, 2014, I took a Thalys train to Holland. Fancy a winter trip to Amsterdam? Click on this link here, I had such a good time.

https://julietinparis.net/2014/12/

 

what to do on a rainy lockdown day

Today I want to turn the world off.

I’m sick of hearing and reading about Trump, COVID, Brexit, the lockdown and all the other depressing news. (But ecstatic over Biden’s win.) It’s time to change the narrative and tune out all the background noise. Just for a day; a rainy day.

Wednesday November 11 is a national holiday here (Armistice Day), so I took the Monday and Tuesday off to make a long 5-day weekend. Back to work on Thursday. Earlier this afternoon I diligently filled out my Attestation form allowing me to leave my apartment for a brief period while staying within a one kilometer radius of my building. I had local errands to do. But when I stepped outside, it was raining and I didn’t have an umbrella. I ended up in the convenience store at the foot of my street, the Attestation not needed.

I guess there are a lot of things to do on a rainy lockdown day depending on who you are and what kind of life you lead. But if you’re feeling lazy and hungry like I am, there are only two things to do: make a lemon drizzle cake and watch an old black and white movie.

Watching these old movies from the 1940s and 50s is one of my great pleasures (there’s a good selection on YouTube). I love the music, the dialogue, the clothes, the big cars, the interiors, the glamorous women. Austrian-born Hedy Lamarr was one of the most beautiful women in film.

In 1937, she fled from her husband, a wealthy Austrian ammunition manufacturer, and secretly moved to Paris and then onward to London. There she met Louis B. Mayer, head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) studio, who offered her a movie contract in Hollywood. But she wasn’t just a pretty face, she was also an inventor. During World War II she invented a radio-controlled torpedo and had it patented.

What I find surprising about some of these old movies is they’re not old at all, they’re remarkably modern. Take a look!