*The Gifts of a Year in France*
I wrote one blog near the beginning of this wonderful year, so thought I’d
add my thoughts to Karl’s as we say goodbye to Paris for now.
A stranger at dinner our first night here last July, told us that, “A year
is a long time if you have nothing specific to do. A year is a short time
if you are writing a book.” Actually, the year has sped by for us both.
At the end, Karl has a book in final edits, almost ready to hand to the
There have been many strands to my experience of France. Being an editor, a
volunteer for a French organization that visits elderly shut-ins at home,
cooking with a group of ex-pats for a weekly soup kitchen hosted at The
American Cathedral, a French/American History book group, French lessons
formally at Alliance Francaise, and informally with a new friend met at a
conversation group, regular swimming and beginning Tai Chi, strolling and
sitting in the Luxembourg Gardens.
I have learned something about wine, cheese, bread and history. I’ll come
home with a batch of new recipes, not from a fancy French cooking school
but from French cooks I met cooking for the homeless. You might say I also
collected spiritual experiences, swimming pools and scarves. A lot more
than that happened.
I made two friends: Melinda, an accountant from the Philippines who worked
as a domestic for thirty years in Paris. She revealed the inner workings
of the French household and the customs of her people. How we laughed. And
Chrystele, a single mom who works in the French film industry. She is
glamorous but understated. We found a way to talk about our lives and
beliefs across a language barrier that made nuance and humor challenging.
We were here for the Cubs’ win, the Trump election, the Women’s March,
Macron’s election, the Nice and Manchester attacks. Our younger son got
engaged while we were here. My best friend’s Mom died. We hosted 34
overnight guests. We enjoyed and learned something from each one.
What I will remember about Paris is zooming down the hill on my bike from
the lovely St. Genevieve Library after a morning of editing to meet Karl
for lunch. I’ll remember Marco, my vegetable guy at the Sunday Monge
market, the little girls playing with such delight at a bus stop, the
couple we watched from a balcony above Luxembourg Gardens as they ended
their affair and parted. I will remember the transit police who said,
“This is not a game, Madame!” when I attempted to leave the scene of my
crime—having lost my Metro ticket proving I paid.
I’ll remember the three Frenchmen who came to my aid the day I turned my
ankle and fell on the cobblestoned street. One brought a chair, another
water, another offered to accompany me home and carry my groceries. My
ribs and face were bruised but I still grin when I think of how chivalry
What I learned is that it is worth taking time to savor the sensual
delights of this world—right now. “Don’t postpone joy,” is an adage I’ve
long believed but the French do it so very well. It has been great fun to
watch them. People-watching in the parks, on the Metro and buses, in the
street is a daily delight. Flirting is not relegated to the young. The
appreciative glance goes both ways and perhaps explains why Parisiennes
dress up even to walk to the open market. This is not lasciviousness. It
is appreciation and joy. It’s the 80-year old who winks at you as he rides
by on his bicycle, the young man who carries your shopping cart up the
There is banter with strangers in the park, on the bus, and with waiters.
Kindness is met with kindness and the French tell each other often how kind
they are. “Vous etes tres gentil!” I believe that engenders more of same.
They shake hands, they greet each other in the store. They wish you a good
day and mean it. There is the two hour lunch and three hour dinner. There
is public caressing as well as the lovely kiss on each cheek in
greeting—UNE BISE. (I’m determined to import that.) I hope to keep alive
the sense of adventure and the fresh eyes to savor what is around me.
This year has been a great gift to both of us. We have lots of memories and
photos and we promise not to impose them on you. But we will savor them
On sabbatical in Paris!