Wednesday, November 25, 2009
My niece and I sat at the dinner table, eating a glorious meal she had cooked in her cottage by the orchards, listening to Ethiopian funk music on her computer. That just about sums up my "long weekend" in England. The English countryside, family and funk all harmoniously swinging together. I do love living in Paris, but I find it a very intense city – there are so many fascinating things all going on at once that even when I cut things down, I still have the feeling of being overwhelmed floating in the background. So every once in awhile I need to get away. This was my second visit to Canterbury where my niece lives now and where she works at an organic produce market in the area: The Goods Shed, Station Road West, Canterbury, CT2 8AN*. She's getting her Master's Degree in literature at Canterbury University and feels quite at "home" living in the English countryside. Now this is an international soul – born in Germany and then having lived in Switzerland and then in Holland before moving to England to study. And I do mean the countryside. She doesn't own a car and walks a minimum of one hour each way, every day, to and from the actual town of Canterbury. This made it a great getaway from Paris where the transport is fantastic, but where I live alone. In Canterbury, we pretty much stayed in the cottage, but spent time talking about anything and everything. I have come to truly believe in he power of genes. My goodness – my niece thinks just like I do! And with a good 35 years age difference. (But after all, there must be some positive side to family connections.) And it's wonderful to meet someone young who really loves where she is, wants to stay there and grow her own vegetables and raise animals on a farm. I'm still trying to figure out where that gene came from.
* http://www.thegoodsshed.net, open Tuesday to Saturday 9 to 7 and Sunday 10 to 4
Thursday, November 05, 2009
Bingo? And what does that have to do with Pierre Gonella, the young man in the photo above? Please bear with me. I know that you're all familiar with the game Bingo. But do you also know that it's also a way of life? This is how it works. You have something that you want to do or accomplish. You start out and "beat the bushes", but nothing happens. No results. Nada. Do you give up? Not if you subscribe to the Bingo Way. No –keep beating those bushes! And, one day, when you're least expecting it – BINGO! You get what you want – or something better. I know this is why they created the game in the first place – to have a game that imitates the Bingo Way of Life.
That is why I have not written more columns lately on exploring Paris. I have been exploring, honest! But I simply have not discovered anything worth passing along to you. No Bingo. Does this mean I will quit exploring? Not on your life. And be assured that you will all be the beneficiaries when I achieve Bingo and share it with you. It just hasn't happened yet. Fortunately, although so far there is nothing I can recommend to you to visit, I have taken some interesting photos that I've uploaded on my flickr site:
I discovered the Bingo Way quite by accident even before I moved to France and have been following it ever since. As a matter of fact, that is how I got to France in the first place. And Pierre is another example of how it works. First, I assume you're asking yourself "Who is this guy? A top model? An actor? A descendant of a Renaissance angel?" Nope – guess again. He's my physiotherapist ("kinésithérapeute")! I've been having some back problems for awhile and need regular physiotherapy sessions. At first I tried a few really useless therapists who either did nothing or made my condition worse. Finally I found a really great one, but he was really far outside Paris. And then – he decided to become an osteopath, rather than a physiotherapist, so our sessions would no longer be reimbursed by Social Security. I didn’t' have a lot of resources at the time, so I was desperately seeking a new "kiné" when I spoke about it with a friend of mine who has knee problems. He was getting physiotherapy at a local clinic and gave me the contact info, I was so desperate that I phoned them for an appointment even though I didn't know the name of his kiné. I just asked for someone – anyone. That "anyone" turned out to be Pierre, one of the best kinés I've even had – plus- although he's studying osteopathy, just like the kiné I had to leave, he has chosen to continue as a physiotherapist, covered by Social Security. Bingo!
I know that the Bingo Way works – eventually – although it takes patience and continued effort (i.e. it can be a real drag). But I'm committed – I'm sold – I will continue along the Bingo Way. After all – I got to meet Pierre. And I got to France, didn't I?
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Health Care in France. To my surprise, I haven't heard any references to it in the current "debate" (i.e. mess) now happening in the U.S. Funny thing that. So I thought I'd share my latest experiences.
For the last two weeks I've had a constant pain in my abdomen. I figured it was something that could be taken care of by my "kiné" (i.e. physiotherapist), so I let it pass until I finally made an appointment to see him last Thursday. As a matter of fact, that is why I didn't write a blog last week – pain really wastes your life. I couldn’t write or do anything but the basics,
During our session, the kiné did express concern about the pain and warned me if it got worse I needed to phone my doctor on Friday to see him immediately. Since the pain did go away after our session, I didn't phone my doctor. But at 3 am blasts of pain exploded inside my abdomen. Good lord, why hadn't I phone my doctor? And I had the entire weekend ahead of me before I could even phone him to make an appointment. Then another delay to get tests. Then another delay until I could get treatment – all the while experiencing unbearable pain. Then the thought came to me – go to the Emergency Room ("Service des Urgences") at the nearest municipal hospital! I even considered walking there at 4 am, but I really couldn't handle it since there's no public transport at that hour in Paris. So I worked on my computer (a great way to handle insomnia by the way) and took my time getting ready in the morning. It was a risk, but I figured if it succeeded – it would be an all-in-one operation: examination, diagnosis, tests, and prescription.
I arrived at les Urgences at around 11 am. Oh boy – there was an enormous room filled with people – how long would I have to wait? In fact, the first wait was about 5 minutes to see the sign-in person behind a window. I explained my situation. Fortunately, I'm in the French health care system, so I have Social Security reimbursements for medical expenses, and my complementary insurance policy pays the rest at municipal hospitals which are all within the "reasonable and customary" category regarding fees. So I merely had to show my documents. That was it. I never got a bill because all will be billed directly to Social Security and my personal insurance (for which I pay €63.93 a month).
Now the wait. After about half an hour I was called by a nurse for a quick review of my situation. It was urgent, but not so urgent that I had to see a doctor immediately. "Please go back to the waiting room and a doctor will call you." OK. I noticed that the next person she called was a young Chinese woman, accompanied by her husband, who could not even stand up straight as she walked toward the nurse. I was relieved to see she never came back into the waiting room.
Another wait. It seems really long, but at 1 pm, exactly 2 hours after my arrival, the doctor calls my name. A very young doctor – an intern according to his badge – who looks about 18 years old. Very kind and soft-spoken. We go through the door into the back of the department where there are a number of examination rooms. We speak – he examines my abdomen. Orders a urine test. Studies the results. And diagnoses that I have spasms that are blocking my digestion. He prescribes an antispasmodic medication and the painkiller Paracetamol. He explains that I absolutely have to see my regular doctor within 48 hours (i.e. Monday at the latest) and gives me a written report to give him.
That's it. I leave the Urgences at about 1:45 pm, less than three hours after I arrived.. I filled the prescription at my local pharmacy where I also didn't have to pay anything up front as all will be billed directly to public and private insurance policies. I took the medicine – and the pain disappeared! Relief at last after 2 weeks.
Oh yes – I then phoned my doctor. On Saturday? Oh yes. I have his cell phone number. You see, I've been going to the same doctor for about 15 years. He works alone – doesn't need a staff because he doesn’t' have to deal with insurance or heavy administration. And he was perfectly OK to speak with me on the phone Saturday to make the appointment for Monday afternoon. Thus speaks the French Health System. At least, that's how it worked for me during a critical incident. I'm very happy to be living in France and to be part of this "socialist"(ooh la la!) health system. You see – it can work. Wonders.
Friday, August 28, 2009
Sometimes you have to get out of Paris. I just love living here, but it's almost like it's too much of a good thing. One easy way to leave is to take a day trip to one of the many sites within easy reach by train. And one easy motivation is to have guests visiting so you've got someone to go with. During the month of August a friend I've known since high school, her friend and their daughter have been staying in Paris. Yesterday we decided to visit Chartres, one of the most beautiful cathedrals in France. I'm very proud of how we met up. The regional train to Chartres leaves from the Gare Montparnasse which was "renovated" during the 70s (poor thing) and is now monstrously huge. There was no way we could meet there - it's simply too big. So, we met on the platform at the station Pasteur (link virus I told them) because both our metro lines crossed there. Then we simply went back one stop, together, to Monstrous Montparnasse. After that, we bought our train tickets on the spot and hopped on the next train. No reservations required.
The train was two-thirds empty, so we had almost the entire car to ourselves. After a brief trip that took a little more than one hour, we arrived in Chartres. As I remembered, just before you enter the town, you can see the majestic cathedral sitting on a hill, overlooking the entire area that surrounds it (and is agricultural to boot). It was an easy walk from the station up to the cathedral - (I can truly say "it's awesome"). Since it was time for lunch, we started looking for a good restaurant. To the left side of the tourist office is a street with several restaurants, but they were all too expensive. Finally, on the right hand side we saw a bar-brasserie-restaurant with decent prices and full of what looked like neighborhood people. Bingo! We had a fantastic lunch, and when we found our table across the restaurant and outside, we were literally sittting in the shadow of the cathedral. Ahhh. We then floated inside and were mesmerized by the stain glass windows and sculptures. On the way back to the train station, we found the river where in 858 the Vikings arrived to burn and sack the town. I sometimes imagine telling a French medieval peasant to just be patient and that eventually the Vikings would found Ikea and H&M, but somehow I don't think that would have comforted them much.
Then by a long and roundabout route we finally got back to the train station and took our easy train ride back to Montparnasse in Paris. photos:
Sunday, August 23, 2009
I finally did it - I finally took the article that had been sitting in my files for about 8 years and transcribed the info from French into a nice American list of interesting things you can you discover at the end of several Metro lines (i.e. subway or underground) just outside Paris. I decided to begin with the Canal de l'Ourcq. Yes - there are 2 canals in Paris. There's a body of water that starts at the Bastille, then goes underground and resurfaces around République as the Canal St Martin. When it reaches La Villette, the renamed Canal de l'Ourcq branches off and then continues for over 100 kilometers until it eventually joins the Marne River.
(For more info, here is a link to Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canal_de_l%27Ourcq)
At any rate, it seemed like a good idea. In fact, I had biked along the canal earlier in the week, and after a certain point past La Villette, the canal transformed into a peaceful waterway flowing along the countryside (yup, yup!). But getting there from the Metro turned out to be "pas evident" ("not obvious" as they say here). My French article said "end of the Line 5 Bobigny". But, there are 2 stops at the end of the Line 5 with the name Bobigny. Which one was it? First I assumed it was the stop before the very last stop and even led some friends there. Wrong. This part of the canal, easily accessible from the Metro, is not so charming when you walk along it. We could see the bridge way up the canal that marked the beginning of the "peaceful waterway" transformation, but frankly we were too wiped out to go there.
The next day I took the Metro out to the very very end of the Metro Line 5. When I exited, the first "mauvais signe" (bad sign) was that there was no wall map in the station to show the layout outside. This is the first time I've been in a Metro station did not have a fantastic wall map! When I asked at the ticket window, the woman behind the glass told me to go up the stairs to the left and then straight ahead. I did, and this is when I discovered "Bobigny land" a sort of strange suburb of ugly concrete housing mixed with planned greenery, and no canal in sight. But, the lady had said to "walk straight ahead" and I did, finally coming to a sign that said "Navettes Fluviales" (Water Transport). After that, more paths to nowhere and more concrete, interlaced with greenery. Finally, after walking about 20 minutes I found the canal where I took the picture above. But somehow, it didn't seem as charming on foot as it did on my bike (and yes - I had reached the flowing waterway part).
In the end I don't regret having gone there. After all, that's what exploring is all about - to see what's there. And sometimes it just ain't worth it - but at least you know from being there in person. That's part of the exploring deal as far as I'm concerned.
For more pictures of Bobigny, and of La Villette where a friend of mine danced the hula (true!), see my photos at:
Don't worry, I've still got 4 End of the Lines on my list. Plus a list of great places to visit on the public buses of Paris. I'll be back.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Yes - I'm back yet again, again. And now I can come back to my blog. I'm starting to explore Paris again. I'm still taking photos - at least I've done that all along.
At the end of March I left a very stressful job. It was kind of like a no fault divorce in that I agreed to leave peacefully and in return I received some extra compensation and the right to receive unemployment insurance. The full story will certainly be told in my autobiography. But right now I'm not naming names so the guilty can't punish me (even more than they did on the job). It's taken over 4 months to BEGIN to recover, which I'm doing now. It also took 4 months to finally get the unemployment insurance. At first they demanded the "right" forms from Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris (otherwise known as Sciences Po) which is a fantastic university where I have the pleasure to teach. This had been only 1 course a week and not at all my main source of income. It was not the job I left, nor do I intend to do so. I teach there because I love both the work and the students (imagine - students who are self-disciplined - whoah!). Getting the "right" forms from Sciences Po took 3 weeks in itself because there's only one lady who takes care of it and she was busy working on something else. Then, when I finally did turn in the papers, Unemployment told me that Sciences Po was in the public sector and that their unemployment was separate and so I had to apply there first, get their benefits and then return to regular Unemployment. OK. But when I went back to Sciences Po, the response was "Public? What are they talking about - we're private!" The lady even wrote a note to that effect and I handed that in. The response? "Sciences Po is public, therefore... Luckily, I have a few French girlfriends. In a phone conversation with one of them, I mentioned my predicament and she responded that if indeed Sciences Po was private, there would be certain codes and numbers listed on each pay slip. There were! So I went back to the Unemployment office with a pay slip. Now, you have to understand that Unemployment has been merged with the National Employment Agency. When you arrive, you can speak to a young person of an average age of 19 who kind of knows things, but has no access to your file. If you need access to your file, you have to phone. If you phone from home, you'll never get through because the line is always busy. So it's much better to phone the mysterious people who work on files from one of several phones in the Unemployment Insurance lobby. But I really lucked out because my 19 year old took my pay slip, disappeared into the back office for at least 30 minutes (while everyone behind me waited, of course) and came back with the magic words, "Yes - Sciences Po is private." So, once again I had to drop my application in the letter box by the door. "You'll simply get the money in 1 or 2 weeks." Right. In 2 weeks I did get a letter saying I had been approved retroactively since mid April (by then is was the beginning of August), but the payment was 379 euros. Not exactly a sum to equal 3 and 1/2 months of unemployment insurance. So, back again to the office where the 19-year old couldn't help me. So I phoned and was told that since I'm 60 years old and could get retirement if I wanted, they had to have proof that I was not. It would have been nice if they could have notified me in writing! Then it was time to find other forms, this time from the National Retirement Service, proving that I had not taken my retirement (forms which Unemployment had received but had obviously lost). Success arrived in mid-August - the whole shebang! I'm not rich, but I'm ok for the moment. I can rest up a bit.
Given what I've been through, I decided to explore monuments to the dead in Paris. The monument in the photo at the top is in the Pere Lachaise Cemetary, Metro Pere Lachaise or Philippe Auguste. Take the main entrance on the Bd Menilmontant and walk straight back. There you'll find the monument in the form of an Egyptian temple. It's the work of Paul-Albert Bartholomé who lost his wife when he was very young and dedicated the monument to her spending 8 years on the site. Since everyone seems to ignore it, I wanted to bring it to your attention. The cemetery was full of 19 year olds (obviously on their day off from the Unemployment office) strolling around. So obviously this means it's a cool thing to do in Paris.
Monday, February 23, 2009
Last Friday night, t'was I the Rabbi. Well not exactly. What really happened is that I led the Friday night services for our Parisian synagogue Kehilat Gesher
Back in the States, in L.A. where I lived just before moving to Paris, I was a member of a Renewal synagogue. That means bringing spiritual values back into Judaism – values cut out by reformers in W. Europe in the 1800s. More and more Tom is bringing in those values. On Friday night basically all we do is recite and sing. In three languages (Hebrew, French and English) There really is something comforting about ritual that was also cut out of our lives. I'm happy to be bringing it back. And yes there are some rabbis who have a "feeling" for music. Such as "The Rockin' Rabbis", the group in the picture above. Tom, on the right is joined by former rabbinical classmates who were all in a rock band together. They still get together for special occasions. Too cool, right?
So I got roped into leading the services alone because I thought I'd be leading them along with someone else who turned out not to exist. Thank" you know who" that there's a marked prayer book for lay leaders like myself and a congregation who knows the service better than I do! Every week there's a Torah portion to comment on. Thank "you know who" again for internet! I found the portion for the week plus ideas how to interpret it on one of the many Renewal websites. Plus, there was one sentence that really sprang out at me: "He who insults his father or mother shall be put to death" (Ex 21:17). Whoah! But then I thought about it, and it seemed to me that in fact, if you don't respect your parents, something dies within you because you've cut off your connection with your own identity. Yeah – that I could relate to. And it was also interesting to note that the beginning of the portion is totally legalistic and detail oriented while the end is a magical feast with a vision of God appearing above a cobalt blue road. Now that's an interesting combination that reveals a lot about my religion.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
I recently had a most unusual conversation with my Parisian postman. Actually, I trace the source to the local swimming pool. You see, it was at the municipal pool that I met Marcelle. And it was Marcelle who connected me with Veronique, my hairdresser. Veronique is about 50 yards down the street from where I live (and is the best coiffeuse I've ever had in Paris!). But - outside her door it says "Messeiurs" (Men) because she inherited her father's barber shop and never bothered to change the sign. I had passed her salon numerous times without ever noticing that she cuts WOMEN's hair. And frankly, without Marcelle's recommendation I never would have noticed (being a head in the clouds intellectual well suited to the "intello" atmosphere of Paris). It was while having my hair cut that the postman delivered mail to Veronique's salon. I realize this may be hard to believe, but our postman is a doll! He's always happy, beaming, polite and recognizes everybody in the neighborhood (otherwise known and the 'hood). When I see him outside on his mail route we always say hello to each other in a very friendly way. So of course he commented on my new haircut! (Thank goodness he came in at the end while Veronique was brushing out my hair.) Then he left and continued on his mail route. The next day, he happened to come into the lobby of my apartment building just while I was leaving. So of course I had to whip off my hat to reveal Veronique's latest masterpiece haircut! He was duly impressed, we laughed and chatted together, and the circle was complete. I love Paris.
Monday, February 09, 2009
I'm afraid I was a bad girl this weekend – I didn't go to the gallery.
It's been over a week since the exhibition ended with 6 of my photos (!) – and I didn't take them down and bring them home as I promised myself I would on Saturday. Thank god the gallery owner is a French artist himself and therefore TOTALLY flexible with dates and deadlines. I promise I will go this week, although it will be sad to take my photos down from the gallery wall of my first exhibition.
The exhibition included me plus 12 other artists. I was the only photographer and was really lucky to get in at the last minute. I mean literally at the last minute. What happened is that I was wandering around the Goutte d'Or neighborhood with a (thankfully now ex-) boyfriend and we visited the small gallery Echomusee, 21 rue Cavé. La Goutte d'Or, despite its glorious name ("golden drop" – apparently in the middle ages it was covered with vineyards for white wine), has one of the worst reputations in Paris. Poor, immigrant, dangerous and ugly. But did you know that artists are gifted in real estate! They find "poor" neighborhoods, with low rents, that are not bad at all. Such is the case with La Goutte d'Or. It is filled with young artists. Let's hope that as the neighborhood is "renovated" the artists will not be pushed out as the rents go up (as is often the case).
While we were in the gallery, the owner, Jean-Marc Bombeau, mentioned the upcoming exhibition "L'Écho de Noël Les Artistes en Fêtes" that was beginning the next week. Now I've been taking photos for years and have been looking for a gallery – an impossible task when you are an unknown and don't have much time to promote yourself because you're too busy doing other work to survive. I suppose that's why I asked Jean-Marc if I could exhibit some of my photos along with the other artists. We agreed that I was only to propose photos of the neighborhood because Echomusee is not merely a gallery, but is also an association that supports La Goutte d'Or. After bringing Jean-Marc a CD with sample photos, he agreed to take 6.
To see them go to:
Then I had to actually develop and frame my photos for the exhibition several days away, while working at my management training job during the day. But I did it. I had to have the photos developed twice because, did you know that the measurements of digital photos do not fit standard picture frames!
I and several other artists chose to invite people to the closing party Saturday night, January 31 rather than the opening. It was a blast. And little did I know that I was to provide most of the refreshments! But I suppose this is where being Jewish comes in handy. I prepared enough food for the 12 people I had invited and of course this was enough to serve 25. I did, however, manage to hide 2 bottles of Moet and Chandon champagne (a Christmas gift from the audit company where I work as a trainer) and reserve it for my very own guests.
At the end, I walked home, late at night and alone, in the "dangerous" Goutte d'Or. Nothing happened. I suppose an oldish (not old enough to be old yet!), lady pulling a shopping cart (used to bring the refreshments for 12 people) and blowing her nose as she walked was not a very attractive target. Or maybe La Goutte d'Or is exactly that, hiding under all the poverty and neglect on the surface.
Monday, February 02, 2009
I've been overloaded with work since September, 2007, and it's only now that I finally have time to myself. Hallelujah!
Today's adventure involved getting to and from my dentist. Don't worry. In Paris, even going to the dentist has a story attached. In fact, it's not easy to find a good dentist in Paris. I have finally found one. This was through my former dentist who insisted I get my teeth cleaned once a year by a periodontist. I liked her (the periodontist). But not the dentist who was abrupt, rude, cleaned too hard and left too large a space between a new filling and the tooth next door. And didn't want to admit it. So I contacted the periodontist who recommended a new dentist. He's a bit far away which defeats my plan to stay within my own neighborhood (otherwise known as the 'hood) as much as possible. Although it normally takes awhile to get there, I can simply take one bus starting from a bus stop 1 minute from my apartment going directly to his office. But wouldn't you know that just the morning of my appointment, it had snowed all over Paris! This just doesn't happen! At least not often. But of course on the day of my appointment there was not only snow but ICE all over the roads and sidewalk. Which means – no bus (and not even a strike). Yikes.
By leaving early and taking FIVE different metros I managed to get to the dentist's office on time. Yes, that's right – FIVE (line 12 to line 4 to line 5 to line 3 to line 3bis = one route of the 60 bus). Yup – Paris continues give us on the spot emergency training. I believe I did rather well this morning so I'll give myself a 17 out of 20 mark (this is the French system of grades which I know because I teach in a French university). Good girl, Jeanne!
On the way back I decided, given my new time freedom, to keep trying for the bus since the snow and (most of the) ice had melted by then. First the 60, right near the dentist's office. No go. The panel noted a 60 minute wait. OK – so I'll take the "bis" Metro for one stop. Then change to line 3 until Republique. Try for the 65 bus there. "58 minutes". Nope. Get back on metro and take line 5 to the Gare du Nord. By this time it's 11:30 am, about 2 hours since the ice has melted. Voilà! The 65 bus arrives, and we all clamber on. I don't bother to validate my ticket – I'm now a proud inhabitant of Paris and they made me wait a good hour for them to get their busses ready. Hummph!
At the next stop, a man boards the bus carrying an enormous (I mean Enormous), Blue Metal Box. Then – oops – the inevitable woman with her baby in a stroller board. There is literally no space to move until one more stop when one man gets off and I shift to stand behind a pole. Then another man alerts the Blue Metal Box man to the extra space and helps him shift his box, followed by an alert and help to the woman with the baby in a stroller. We all just fit until I get off at my stop and slowly walk home along the still icy sidewalk in the 'hood.
Yes it's cold – and grey – and drippy droppy water all over you. But hey, Man, it's still Paris! Enjoy the adventure. Even to and from the dentist.