mine is bigger than yours

Listening to Donald Trump brag about his new “super-duper missile” (and in the midst of a deadly pandemic!), seventeen times faster than those of China and Russia, this is basically what it boils down to: mine is bigger than yours. You can see where his priorities are. And what world leader says “Super-duper”?

I’m sick of reckless, feckless boy-men running the world (and ruining it.) I’m even sicker of the people who vote for them. Who to blame? Trump, or his supporters who gave him all that power?

And have you noticed something these self-involved fellas have in common? Multiple wives and numerous children from different marriages. What does that tell you about fidelity and long-term commitment? Look at Boris Johnson: two ex-wives, four children, and he’s just had his fifth child with his new girlfriend, Carrie. She’s 32, he’s 55. Age difference, 23 years. (There are rumours of a sixth, unknown child conceived while he was Mayor of London.)

Trump has been married three times and has five children, three from first wife Ivana; one from second wife, Marla Maples; and one from his current wife. Melania is 50, Donald is 73. Age difference, 23 years.

Does this kind of man need to spread his seed to feel …virile? And what’s with all the groping, harassment and sexual assault scandals swirling around so many male politicians? Sick of it. When will these hoggish adolescents grow up? We need role models, not these sorry excuses of men.

We need smart women leaders, and there are lots of them. I was very disappointed when Elizabeth Warren dropped out of the presidential race. If I were American, I would have voted for her. Look at New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern and Germany’s Angela Merkel and their impeccable handling of COVID-19 (and other disasters.)

From The New York Times:

Countries led by women seem to be particularly successful in fighting the coronavirus. Germany, led by Angela Merkel, has had a far lower death rate than other European countries. Finland, where Prime minister Sanna Marin, 34, governs with a coalition of four female-led parties, has had fewer than 10 percent as many deaths as other Scandinavian countries. And Tsai Ing-wen, the president of Taiwan, has presided over one of the most successful efforts in the world at containing the virus, using testing, contact tracing and isolation measures to control infections without a full national lockdown.

But my intention is not to trash all men, just some of them. There are male leaders that I like, Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron, to name two. Oh, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/may/15/super-duper-missile-us-trump-military

the latest fashion trend from Paris

Here it is, folks. The latest fashion trend direct from Paris! (You saw it here first.)

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Rubber dish gloves can lift a dull outfit from the doldrums. See how the pink adds a pop of color to an otherwise cheerless ensemble.

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As for the must-have reusable face mask, it’s the most versatile accessory in your drawer. If you’re looking for something to mix and match with just about everything in your wardrobe, a face mask is something you should definitely get your hands on – but make sure those hands have been thoroughly washed!  See how it completes the rest of the outfit.

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Depending on the fabric and color, it can turn your attire into evening wear, daytime, formal or casual wear.

(Seriously, folks, I don’t know if people in other countries wear COVID-protective dish gloves out in the streets, but here in France it is très en vogue.)

Hermann Hesse’s 100 year old love letter to trees

“Trees are wiser than we are.”

For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree.

When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts… Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.

H.H.

 

london old tree

This is one of London’s “ten great trees.” It’s called a Brunswick Plane, and it’s over 200 years old.

 

last day of lockdown today

youpi

 

Tomorrow is officially our first day of freedom, sort of. We can go out without a certificate, that’s one good thing. But there are a dozen things we cannot do. As I look at the published “schedule of deconfinement measures in France until the summer”, I scratch my head and say “Huh?”

During the lockdown, we could go out for one hour and walk within a maximum radius of one kilometer around the home. Jogging was strictly forbidden between 10 am and 7 pm (why?) which meant that at 7 pm the streets were full of joggers bumping into one another. Now, we can venture further than a maximum radius of one kilometer, BUT only within a 100 kilometer radius.

“How many kilometers between Paris and Lille?” I asked my friend yesterday over the phone. I haven’t seen him or his kids in months. 204 kilometers, was the reply. So I cannot go to Lille. Here’s the new rule for travelling beyond a hundred kilometers:

Travel over 100 km
Movement will remain limited to compelling professional and family reasons (bereavement, assistance to a vulnerable person). A certificate will be required for trips of more than 100 km (as the crow flies) from his main home, outside his department of residence. Checks will be carried out. Failure to comply with the rules will result in a fine of 135 euros, an amount which may increase in the event of a repeat offense.

Can I take the metro tomorrow and visit a different part of Paris? I’ve been stuck in my neighborhood since mid-March.

Restricted Transportation in Ile-de-France (Paris and surrounding boroughs)

In Ile-de-France, during rush hour, transport will be reserved for people with a certificate from the employer or with a compelling reason to travel (convocation of justice, accompaniment of children). Failure to comply with these rules may result in a fine of 135 euros.

Reopening of urban transport

Subways, buses and trams were severely limited during the lockdown. They should retain reduced capacity. Only one seat out of two will be accessible and a flow limitation must be implemented if necessary. Wearing a mask will be compulsory, under penalty of a fine of 135 euros.

Reopening of parks and gardens
The reopening is possible from May 11, except in the four “red” regions: Ile-de-France, Hauts-de-France, Bourgogne-Franche-Comté and Grand-Est.

Paris is part of Ile-de-France which is still colored red, so that means that my favorite parks and gardens will remain closed.

Reopening of shops

With the exception of cafes, bars and restaurants, all shops are allowed to reopen. However, they will have to set up a limitation of the number of customers and to respect a minimum distance. The wearing of a mask will be recommended: shops may prohibit access to customers without a mask.

Hair salons will open tomorrow and they’re already fully booked in advance! I can do my own hair, but am impatient to see my pedicurist.

Reopening of large shopping centers
Shopping centers over 40,000 m2 “may reopen in agreement with the prefects”, except in the Ile-de-France region, said the Minister of Economy.

Funnily enough, there’s no mention of the re-opening of local Post Offices. For a month I’ve been walking around with letters to mail, one of them a birthday card to my godson in Lille who celebrated his 8th birthday two weeks ago.

Organization of working hours and organization
When teleworking is not possible, staggered hours are encouraged, particularly in the Ile-de-France region. Wearing a mask is mandatory when social distancing is not guaranteed. Sixty business guides are being developed to cover all sectors of activity.

Because I work at La Défense, Europe’s largest business district housing 180,000 people, only twenty percent will return tomorrow. In the office towers, the elevators will be restricted to 4 passengers only, the staff cafeterias and gyms closed; masks and gel will be distributed and, most importantly, the central air conditioning will be sanitized daily. (there has been concern about Coronavirus being transmitted through central air ducts.) The return to work will be progressive.

There’s a lot more rules and regulations that you can see here, all neatly categorized by sector and date. You know, the French are often perceived as chaotic, unruly, and undisciplined. Not so.

https://www.lemonde.fr/les-decodeurs/article/2020/04/28/coronavirus-ecole-transports-sport-musees-le-calendrier-du-deconfinement-par-secteur_6038054_4355770.html

 

 

nature is my church

Yesterday I paid a visit to my church, my temple, my synagogue, my mosque at whose altar I worship. “Nature is my church” is a lovely phrase that came from a Canadian man who left the high-density, vertical city of Vancouver to live in a log cabin on a semi-secluded island with forest and beaches, one of the southern Gulf Islands situated between mainland British Columbia and Vancouver Island. One day I will visit that entire region, but for now – and while we’re still in lockdown – I can walk ten minutes from my flat to a beautiful nature spot.

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Towering trees and whispering grasses.

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The weather was perfect yesterday: sunny, a cool breeze and 19°C (66°F). Too beautiful to stay indoors! In fact, I’ve observed a funny thing: my French colleagues daren’t go outside during this lockdown, whereas me and my non-French friends go out every single day. Why is this? Because the French view their government as a “nanny state” and, like obedient children, follow its strict rules and regulations re COVID?

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I can’t tell you how restorative it was to sit on a log – tranquil and undisturbed – while listening to the birdsong, looking up at the blue sky and the trees all around, and feeling the sun on my skin. I will return to this same place later today. There’s a term for this: forest bathing, and it’s true!

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But this could be the last moment of feeling tranquil and undisturbed. The coming months and years look very grim indeed. The aftermath of COVID-19 is that the European Union is staring at its worst economic recession ever.

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Our days of gliding serenely on the pond are over. Am I being overly-pessimistic? Only time will tell.

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Tatiana De Rosnay open letter to Covid

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tulips I purchased yesterday

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As I stood in my kitchen making coffee earlier this week, this open letter was read aloud on the radio.  I turned up the volume and stood still, listening.

Tatiana De Rosnay is a Franco-British writer, known for her best-selling book, “Sarah’s Key”. The book sold over three million copies in French and two million in English. It was then adapted into a movie with Kristin Scott Thomas playing Julia.

In this Open Letter to her neighbor, she summons up the powers of memory and imagination as protections against stress and anxiety. I have translated it into English, the original French version is further below. I hope I’ve done it justice.

I know you can’t sleep either, my dear insomniac neighbor. At around three in the morning, when I get up to fetch a glass of water in the kitchen, I notice that your light is always on across the street. It’s difficult to sleep in these disrupted times. So come, trust me. Don’t ask too many questions. I’m taking you somewhere else. You will not need your certificate, your mask, or your gloves. All you need to do is put your two hands on my shoulders. Yes, like that. You see, I’m here, on the windowsill. Here we go. It’s a little cool, I know. But at this hour, in the middle of the night, no one will see us. See how we are racing at high speed in the inky blue sky, heading south. Hang on.

I’m taking you along the path of childhood. Confinement has this strange and charming virtue: it opens the memory box. Don’t be afraid, dear neighbor. The journey is fast. Down there, is the ocean. Already! Yes, already. We are going to land there, gently, on this beach. The sun is shining. It’s low tide on the Basque Coast. It’s a summer day. Watch the surfers glide across the waves. You see the one with the black hair? In the red and blue outfit? That’s my father. He’ll spend all afternoon on his board. And that pretty woman in her thirties with the big straw hat who’s waiting on the sand, and who will wait a long time for her husband to come out of the water? That’s my mother. And the kid who’s playing Frisbee with her friend, Sylvie? That’s me.

Higher up, above the steps, is the shop of the ice-cream seller, Emilia. With her English accent, my mother orders “two balls in a cone”. Her way of pronouncing the word “cone” is confusing. Everyone laughs. I don’t understand why, neither does my mother. I do not care. I am ten years old, and the summer vacation has just started. And the rest no longer matters.

You see, these are the images that come back to me, while we are confined to the city, these are the ones that I will look for at night when I am not sleeping and when anxiety is gaining ground. Enjoy that vanilla-chocolate ice cream. Listen to the sound of the waves. Breathe in the spray. But be quick. We will have to leave. There are sentries (guards) lurking. Best be careful. The sentries of the past are treacherous, they bring back nostalgia in a way too violent.

We head back to Paris. Sorry for my hair floating in your face. Next time I’ll tie it up. I hadn’t planned to take you away like that.

Come, I’ll drop you at your window. Do you think we will be able to sleep tonight? Since the virus has crept into our lives, it has undermined our sleep. It has sapped everything, the bastard. Our morale, our health, our joie de vivre. Everything? Well, almost. It will not have our memories or our imaginary world.

§§§

Je sais que tu ne dors pas non plus, chère voisine insomniaque. Vers trois heures du matin, quand je vais chercher un verre d’eau dans la cuisine, je constate que de l’autre côté de la rue, ta lumière est toujours allumée. Difficile de dormir par ces temps bouleversés. Alors viens, fais-moi confiance. Ne te pose pas trop de questions. Je t’emmène ailleurs. Tu n’auras pas besoin de ton attestation, ton masque, ni de tes gants. Il te suffit de caler tes deux mains sur mes épaules. Oui, comme ça. Tu vois, je suis là, sur le rebord de ta fenêtre. Nous voilà partis. Il fait un peu frais, je sais. Mais à cette heure-ci, au cœur de la nuit, personne ne nous verra. Regarde comme nous filons à toute vitesse dans le ciel bleu d’encre, direction le sud. Accroche-toi.

Je t’emmène sur les traces de l’enfance. Le confinement possède cette vertu étrange et charmante : ouvrir la boîte à souvenirs. N’aie pas peur, chère voisine. Le voyage est rapide. Là en bas, l’océan. Déjà ! Oui, déjà. Nous allons nous poser là, doucement, sur cette plage. Le soleil brille. Marée basse sur la Côte des Basques. C’est un jour d’été. Regarde les surfeurs glisser sur les vagues. Tu vois celui qui a les cheveux noirs ? Une combinaison rouge et bleu ? C’est mon père. Il passera son après-midi sur sa planche. Cette jolie trentenaire avec un grand chapeau de paille qui attend sur le sable, et qui attendra longtemps que son mari sorte de l’eau, c’est ma mère. Et la gamine qui joue au Frisbee avec sa copine Sylvie, c’est moi.

Plus haut, au-dessus des marches, il y a l’échoppe de la marchande de glaces, Emilia. Avec son accent anglais, ma mère commande “deux boules dans une cône”. Sa façon de prononcer le mot “cône” prête à confusion. Tout le monde se marre. Je ne comprends pas pourquoi, ma mère non plus. Je m’en fiche. J’ai dix ans, et les vacances d’été viennent de commencer. Et le reste n’a plus d’importance.

Tu vois, ce sont ces images là qui me reviennent, alors que nous sommes confinés en ville, ce sont celles-là que je vais chercher la nuit quand je ne dors pas et que l’angoisse gagne du terrain. Savoure cette glace vanille chocolat. Écoute le bruit des rouleaux. Respire les embruns. Mais fais vite. Nous allons devoir repartir. Il y a des sentinelles qui rôdent . Il vaut mieux être prudents. Les sentinelles du passé sont perfides, elles font remonter la nostalgie d’une façon trop violente.

Cap sur Paris. Pardon pour mes cheveux qui flottent dans ta figure. La prochaine fois je les attacherai. Je n’avais pas prévu de t’embarquer.

Viens, je te dépose à ta fenêtre. Crois-tu qu’on arrivera à dormir cette nuit ? Depuis que le virus s’est insinué dans notre vie, il a sapé notre sommeil. Il a tout sapé, le salaud. Notre moral, notre santé, notre joie de vivre. Tout ? Presque. Il n’aura ni nos souvenirs, ni notre monde imaginaire.

Tatiana de Rosnay

lockdown gradually lifts in Europe

kids running

I love this photograph taken by Josep Lago/AFP via Getty Images of two girls and a dad running through the streets of Barcelona. You can feel their energy and exhilaration at being let outside after 45 days of lockdown. Poor kids.

Yes, all over Europe now restrictions are slowly being relaxed; there’s a tingle of excitement in the air. Yesterday, the French prime minister announced a progressive but tightly controlled exit plan.

“A fine line must be followed,” he said. “Too much carelessness, and the epidemic restarts. Too much caution, and the country sinks.” Since some parts of the country had been hit far harder than others, lockdown measures will be lifted by area, with regions classified as red, orange or green depending on their infection level.

Next blog post: a beautiful open letter written by Tatiana de Rosnay, author of the bestseller book, Sarah’s Key. I’m translating it for you now.