What did you do in 2016?

Hugh and Brenda on Pont Alexandre III with la Tour Eiffel in background

Hugh and Brenda on Pont Alexandre III with la Tour Eiffel in background

Joyeux fête de fin d’année! (Happy new year’s eve celebration!)

With Greg and Lauren Meyer on New Year's Eve 2016

With Greg and Lauren Meyer on New Year’s Eve 2016

Friends in the US and people we meet here ask us what we do in France. When we tell them we are retired, the French always wonder how we could possibly have chosen France, since our dream is not necessarily their dream. The Americans ask, “What do you do with your time?”, and often we stumble telling about the mundane day-to-day and probably don’t give a very compelling answer. We haven’t posted to this blog very often recently, so consider this an attempt to catch up about what we did with our time in France in 2016.

We spent New Year’s Eve 2015 with our dearest French friends Cat and Jacques and also with our friends Greg and Lauren Meyer, who were visiting Paris from Poulsbo. It was fun to share our friend’s French family celebration with American friends who love the culture here.

Atlantic Ocean from beach on east side of Cozumel Island

Atlantic Ocean from beach on east side of Cozumel Island

On February 3rd we successfully renewed our residence permits for a 4th year in France. From February 14-29 we got away from the Paris winter with our friends Cat and Jacques by going to an all inclusive resort at Playa del Carmen, just south of Cancun, Mexico. While there we visited Chichen-Itza, Tulum (about the same time the Pope visited), Cozumel, Cancun and one of many cenotes called the Grand Cenote. All in all we had a wonderful time and great weather.

Celebrating our 27th Anniversary at Les Papilles in Paris

Celebrating our 27th Anniversary at Les Papilles in Paris

On March 5 we celebrated our 27th anniversary by dining out at Les Papilles, a reasonably priced but very good restaurant in Paris 5th arrondissement. On March 24th I took the train to Brussels to renew my retired military ID card. This was just 2 days after the terrorist attacks at Brussels airport, so the city was locked down. However our financial advisor Brian Dunhill ferried me around to get the ID card renewal completed (and for Mexican food and beer), so everything went smoothly.

Tasha Moretto and new baby Emma

Tasha Moretto and new baby Emma

From April 20 to May 5th we were in the United States, Brenda starting by visiting friends in Poulsbo, Washington and me starting in Pekin, Illinois visiting my brother Chris and wife Michele, and niece Tasha and her husband Dustin and their new baby daughter Emma. I spent much of my time scanning old family slides and photos, since Chris and Michele were in the process of moving to Florida.

Brenda and Beth resting after Bloomsday

Brenda and Beth resting after Bloomsday

Then Brenda and I met in Seattle to travel to Spokane to see her mom, Beth Shaw, and to run the annual Bloomsday road race, where each year we check if we can still make it around the 12k course. On our way back to Paris, we returned to Gig Harbor and stayed with Patty and Bill Wilson (Jr), allowing Beth to see her good friends Edie and Bill Wilson (Sr), who live in a retirement community there now.

Brenda at the dome at The Reichstag building, which looks down on the German Parliament.

Brenda at the dome at The Reichstag building, which looks down on the German Parliament.

In May we received a visit from our Poulsbo friend Don Merry, who stayed a few days with us in Paris before he and Brenda headed out on a Rick Steves tour of Berlin, Prague, Vienna, and Budapest. This was magnificent whirlwind tour that exposed Brenda and Don to a wide swath of European cities and cultures. Brenda loved Prague and Vienna. Upon Brenda and Don’s return for a few days in Paris, we took a day trip to see the King’s herb garden (and other attractions) at Versailles on a guided tour with our favorite cooking school, La Cuisine.

At the outskirts of Tataouine, Tunesia, heading towards the Sahara - the end of the world.

At the outskirts of Tataouine, Tunesia, heading towards the Sahara – the end of the world.

In June, almost as soon as Don departed, we were off on another all inclusive resort vacation with Cat and Jacques, this time to Tunisia, on the Isle of Djerba. It was very hot when we arrived (50°C one day with no air-conditioning yet in the rooms), but for the most part the weather was wonderful. In addition to visiting some of the local towns on the island, we spent one day going to the end of the world (south into the desert) and visiting the village of Tatouine, as well as a troglodyte city started by the Bedouins in about 1100 AD. Brenda fulfilled her dream to ride a camel. This was our first time in Africa and the Magreb, and it was a wonderful experience.

Brenda, Allison, and Dean with Saint Peter's Basilica in the background

Brenda, Allison, and Dean with Saint Peter’s Basilica in the background

In early July we traveled to Rome to meet Brenda’s friend Allison Fankhouser and her husband Dean. Brenda and Allison had taught school together in Australia in the ’70s, and just found each other again a few years ago via LinkedIn. It was our first time back in Rome since the early 2000s, and was it fun! We did some sightseeing, toured the Coliseum and ruins, hung out at the Trevi Fountain, visited the Pantheon, shopped, and dined out. We watched Euro Cup soccer matches in the evening at the hotel. The last day we visited Saint Peter’s Basilica and saw the weekly address by the Pope.

Later in July, we were off with Cat and Jacques to the Brittany region of France, first stopping at the fabulous Mont Saint Michel, then along the coast to Saint Malo, then Dinar, and then inland to the town of Dinan and the Port of Dinan running along the river of the same name.

Just before the start of the Bastille Day fireworks in Paris

Just before the start of the Bastille Day fireworks in Paris

We went to the Bastille Day fireworks at the Eiffel Tower on July 14th. Brenda set down blankets and kept a space in the field from early afternoon until the show started at 11pm. Hugh came at about 6pm with Poulsbo friends Chuck and Cheri Gerstenberger and brought a picnic dinner so we could enjoy the live concert that precedes the fireworks. It was a typically stunning event, and the weather was perfect. You may remember that at the same time some 500,000 people were watching the show on the Champs de Mars in Paris, a madman was driving a truck through the crowd after the festivities in Nice, killing 86 and injuring 435 people. So the evening ended as a somber occasion.

Brenda, Barbara, Terry and Martha at a cafe in Frankfurt.

Brenda, Barbara, Terry and Martha at a cafe in Frankfurt.

At the end of July we traveled to Frankfurt, Germany to visit our friend Barbara Hoehfeld. Friends Martha Pendergast and Terry Campbell from Hansville, Washington, met us there. We stayed at the Hotel Senator near Barbara’s apartment in the heart of town. We spent some time walking along the River Main and admiring the European Central Bank. The wait list for tours there was months long. We spent half a day or so traveling to Darmstadt to see the Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt, where Martha continued her quest to see all the Pieter I Bruegel (the elder) paintings in the world. There we saw the Magpie on the Gallows. We also toured the Städel Museum and attended a concert by a multinational group from Morocco, toured the Palmengarten and rowed in the pond, and had several unique and wonderful dinners. One day Brenda and I went over to the US Army Base at Wiesbaden, where we were able to update her military ID card. This was an important step in making sure that we continue to have medical coverage here in Europe.

At Berck Plage in Nord Pas de Calais, France

At Berck Plage in Nord Pas de Calais, France

Late in August we went with Cat and Jacques to Le Touquet Paris Plage, a beach community in the French Department (somewhat like a state or county for administering the affairs of a region in France) of Nord Pas de Calais, a region north of Normandy lying along the English Channel. The first night we came to a nearby beach town and joined a parade in progress where the crowd was marching behind the band. Periodically the band would stop, turn around and play a song. We ended up at the beach, where we saw a skit by two women playing employees at a bank. It was a very professional act, cutting and very humorous. Then we slipped next door to the casino, found a table by the window to see the sunset and have dinner, and then watched France lose the European Cup (soccer) to Portugal. Another day we visited the beach at Berck, where we had a very nice lunch and then spent the afternoon laying on the enormous beach in the warm sun. Berck is a fun word to pronounce.

Carl Swanstrom and Linda Gagnier at our apartment in Paris.

Carl Swanstrom and Linda Gagnier at our apartment in Paris.

Early in September our Seattle friends Carl Swanstrom and Linda Gagnier visited Paris. We spent a couple days touring the town on foot, plus making the trip to Montmartre, where I tried to do the professional tour route in reverse as we came back down the hill from Sacre Coeur. We really enjoyed meeting Linda. Carl used to terrify us taking us down the steep slopes on ski trips so it’s good to see that there is someone who can slow him down.

Chantilly

Chantilly

In mid September we traveled with Cat and Jacques to Chantilly, one of France’s most beautiful and iconic Châteaux. We spent the day touring the castle and wandering the gardens in beautiful late summer weather.

Joanie, Brenda, and Beth in Idaho celebrating Beth's 90th.

Joanie, Brenda, and Beth in Idaho celebrating Beth’s 90th.

Later in the month Brenda headed back to the US. She and her sister Joanie, who made the trip up from California, both came home to Spokane to celebrate their mother Beth’s 90th birthday. They got to go mom’s exercise club to swim and work out, spent a day visiting friends in Idaho, and saw some beautiful gardens in Spokane. Brenda attended a luncheon where an old boyfriend (from 1st grade), Bill Moos, now Athletic Director at Washington State, was the guest speaker. Brenda also visited Poulsbo and stayed with her friend Randi Strong-Petersen (up in Hansville). While there she was able to meet with as many of our close friends as possible and find out how things were going.

Pianist Emil Reinert with two friends

Pianist Emil Reinert with two friends at the Romanian Cultural Institute, Paris

While Brenda was gone, Hugh had an invitation from Pascale Velleine to hear her son, Emil Reinert, perform a piano concert at Romanian Cultural Center in Paris. Emil is the grandson of Barbara Hoehfeld, whom we had visited in Frankfurt earlier in the year. He is also a terrific classical pianist, one of a handful young performers invited to play in a series of 1 hour concerts that ran throughout Paris Journées du Patrimoine this year. Barbara came from Frankfurt, and we all, along with a number of other friends of Emil and Pascale, went to lunch afterwards at a Romanian Café just down from the concert hall.

French Prime Minister's desk, Hôtel Matignon, Paris

French Prime Minister’s desk, Hôtel Matignon, Paris

The Journées du Patrimoine are cultural heritage days where in cities throughout Europe, the government and other buildings and gardens not normally open to the public are opened for public viewing. It’s a way to educate the population about the history and functioning of their government and associated facilites. After the concert Hugh was able to get into the Hôtel Matignon, the residence of the French Prime Minister, then Manual Valls, who is now running for President. The expansive garden behind the hôtel was a wonder to behold – one would never imagine it exists when regarding the hôtel from the street.

Patty Wilson and Brenda at the Eiffel Tower

Patty Wilson and Brenda at the Eiffel Tower

In early October, about a week after Brenda’s return, Patty Wilson visited us from the US. We had stayed with her and husband Bill Jr. at their Gig Harbor home in May. Patty had been to Paris a number of times before so she was capable of getting around. Brenda took her shopping at our local market and then cooked at our place. We visited some of Paris’s covered passageways and walked and took photos along the Seine and down by the Eiffel Tower at night. The girls went shopping and sightseeing in the Marais and at the Jardin du Luxembourg. Patty took us out to for an excellent dinner at Le Bistro Paul Bert, a fine restaurant where we had not dined before.

View from breakfast at The Mansion Resort in Ubud, Bali

View from breakfast at The Mansion Resort in Ubud, Bali

As Patty’s stay in Paris was ending, we took off for vacation in Bali with Cat and Jacques. First we took a flight to Doha, Qatar on the Persian Gulf and then caught a connecting flight to Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia. In case you don’t know much about Indonesia and Bali, Indonesia is the 4th largest country in the world (250 million) and the largest Muslim country. It consists of a long chain of islands south of the equator. Bali, a smaller island in the middle of the chain, is still more than 80% Hindu with a population of over 4 million, mostly concentrated in the south part of the island. Except for rising problems with over population and development in the south part of the island, Bali has preserved much of its Hindu character and life style despite the modernization that has occurred elsewhere in the country. Indonesia was a dutch colony (Dutch East Indies) from the early 1600s until World War II, when the Netherlands gave up possession to the Japanese. After the war it became an independent country and, after a long period of authoritarian rule, held its first direct presidential election in 2004.

By the Bali Sea on Lembongan Island, Indonesia

By the Bali Sea on Lembongan Island, Indonesia

We stayed at two different hotels, 5 days at The Mansion Resort in Ubud, towards the quieter north central part of the island and 9 days at the Artotel in Samur, on the east coast of the heavily populated south part of the island. Both hotels were beautiful, the Mansion old and traditional, the Artotel brand new, open, and modern. We interspersed days at the beach with days of sight seeing and hired a guide named Willy to manage the tours. He spoke both French and English and was constantly enlightening us on small facets of Balinese life and Hindu traditions. We saw two traditional dance shows, several artisan shops, and several important and beautiful Hindu temples. One tour provided lunch at a windy restaurant atop one of Bali’s volcanos, and another a beach fish fry where the surf kept chasing us from our seats to farther ashore all night long. On our own we toured Sacred Monkey Park at Ubud. Brenda volunteered to feed the monkeys, which was as easy as buying bananas from the lady and holding them high over your head. The Balinese monkeys take care of the rest – they climb you with their sharp little nails. We heard that the best way to see how Bali used to be was to take a fast boat off shore to one of the nearby islands (30 minute ride), so one day we went to Lembongan Island and hired a driver to take us around the bumpy island roads. Along the way we visited a mangrove and a spectacular beach with giant surf pounding against the rocks, then sunned ourselves and had a great lunch at a restaurant and pool near the beach before beating our way back across the waves to Bali. Some days we just went to the beach and ate at local restaurants. One negative was that Hugh contracted some kind of dysentery towards the end that made him very ill for 10 days or so (7 of these back in Paris). He got to meet the hotel doctor and go to the hospital to get the blood test for Dengue fever. Fortunately no Dengue. All in all, the Bali trip was a grand adventure that went very smoothly.

Brian Dunhill with Brenda at the American Club of Brussels for Thanksgiving

Brian Dunhill with Brenda at the American Club of Brussels for Thanksgiving

It was nearly November when we returned from Bali, and with Hugh’s continuing illness, the US Presidential Election, and the Washington Huskies trying to win the Pac 12 football championship, there was lots to keep us busy. We intensified our search for an unfurnished apartment, trying to narrow down the neighborhood, price, and essential features. We’ve been pretty slow with this step and our stuff from Washington remains in storage here in Paris. At the end of November, we took the train to Brussels for several days and stayed in a fancy hotel near Place Louise (Wilcher’s Steigenberger). The highlight of our trip was Thanksgiving Dinner at the American Club of Brussels held at the downtown Sheraton Hotel. We were guests of our financial adviser, Brian Dunhill, and his company Cross Border Planning. Brian is also President of the American Club, so he is a busy guy. Like last year, the dinner was superb, with a turkey for each table prepared by the kitchen staff according to the special recipe of one of the club members. Everything else was very good. It was a traditional meal for this very traditional holiday. We also walked around city center to see the Christmas decorations and the beautiful light show at night in the town square. Another night Brian suggested for us a local Belgian restaurant near our hotel, Le Chou de Bruxelles, that served excellent mussels and fries, a Belgian specialty, and fine, fine everything else. We also spent a wonderful afternoon visiting the European Union Parliament’s Visitor Center called the Parlamentarium. It provided numerous educational exhibits describing the history and operation of the European Union.

French friends Cat and Jacques at our apartment

French friends Cat and Jacques at our apartment

It’s December now and the year is slipping away. When we haven’t been traveling, we’ve been doing what we usually do with our time in France, French lessons twice a week, usually by Skype, twice a week to the local market for food, running workouts every other day, with long walks on the off-days, Hugh keeping up the Poulsbo Rotary web site, keeping up with life in the US by listening to KPLU (now KNKX) in Tacoma, calling Brenda’s mom twice a week, spending time on Facebook, doing the laundry without having a dryer, spending every Sunday at the movies with Cat and Jacques and then staying for dinner and playing scrabble (in French) until 2am, and other stuff like that. Study for the French lessons consumes lots of time since we learn about France as well as the French language. And we have to cook and clean house. Hugh has run about 700km over the past year, and Brenda has run a bunch too, plus she works out with her personal trainer Margaux once a week. We have a little home gym with a yoga mat, several stretch bands of varying intensity, and a core bag. Margaux has taught Brenda plenty of ways to get a good workout without need for a weight set or exercise machines. Hugh just copies.

Brenda on Rue Cler at Christmas

Brenda on Rue Cler at Christmas

So that’s what we’ve been doing to stay busy. We want to thank everyone who has visited or allowed us to visit all through the year. I know I haven’ t mentioned all the guests we saw here in Paris, but thanks for your visit. Our lives have been the richer for it. We wish you and your family a Happy New Year and hope you will have a fun, healthy, and productive 2017. Bonne Année!

Eisenhower in Paris

The only President I’ve ever seen in person was Dwight Eisenhower. It was 1956, and we lived in Peoria, Illinois. You might think that a 5 year old would not remember much of what happened back then, but I already knew who he was and what he looked like. He was revered in our family for being a great leader in World War II. Fortunately we have the Internet to help with the details – Eisenhower spoke at Bradley University on September 25, 1956. Election campaigns back then didn’t start two years before the election. Before the event there was a parade up Main Street, and my parents took my brother Pete and me to see the President. I remember the cold night air and eventually after a cavalcade of other cars, the President passing by, waving from the back seat of his limousine. That was it – I saw the President.

At his speech in Peoria that night, President Eisenhower recognized Senate Minority Leader Everette Dirksen, who was from the nearby town of Pekin, and also Robert Michel from Peoria, who at that time was running for Congress from Peoria’s Congressional District. Michel would be elected and would eventually become the House Minority Leader. He was also the Congressman who in 1969 gave me my appointment to the Naval Academy. I have an old letter from Senator Dirksen congratulating me upon my appointment. Eisenhower died in March 1969 after a long illness, and Dirksen died in September of that year. My brother Chris and his wife Michele raised their family in Pekin, and both my parents lived there at the end of their lives. Many times I’ve run by the statue of Dirksen in Pekin’s Mineral Springs Park. Many aspects of my future life were represented in the President’s 1956 speech in Peoria.

Building where Eisenhower lived in Paris in 1928, now 68 Quai Louis Blériot

Building where Eisenhower lived in Paris in 1928, now 68 Quai Louis Blériot

Nearly 60 years have passed since I saw President Eisenhower, but recently I received an email from my friend and former colleague Monty Bolstad. We used to work together at the Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington. He was reading a biography of Dwight Eisenhower by Jean Edward Smith (Eisenhower in War and Peace), and he asked me if the experience described in this quote about Eisenhower was my experience with trying to learn French: “Eisenhower initially relished his post to Paris. He and Mamie commenced daily French lessons, and Ike set out to explore Paris on foot. After three months of daily instruction, Eisenhower became proficient at reading and writing French, but the spoken word eluded him. ‘Major,’ said his French teacher, ‘you are one of the best readers of French and translators of the written language that I have among my students, but you are the worst candidate as a French linguist I have ever tried to teach.’ Ike persevered for a year, but his effort to speak French proved hopeless. Mamie, for her part, began enthusiastically but soon lost patience.”

Eisenhower had come to Paris when he was assigned to General John J. Pershing’s Battle Monuments Commission. His job was to create a guide to the American WWI battlefields in Europe. It was a complete history, battle by battle, of the American war on the western front. When the job was completed, Eisenhower was the best informed officer in the Army on the strategy and battle tactics that Pershing had employed, other then Pershing himself and his director of operations, Fox Conner.

Eisenhowers lived upstairs in this photo of the apartment at 68 Building where Eisenhower lived in Paris in 1928, now 68 Quai Louis Blériot

Eisenhowers lived upstairs in this photo of the apartment at 68 Building where Eisenhower lived in Paris in 1928, now 68 Quai Louis Blériot

In July 1928 Eisenhower and his wife Mamie arrived in Paris, Mamie taking a plush apartment in the 16th arrondissement about a mile downstream from the Eiffel Tower and close by the Bois de Boulogne. The apartment was on the 1st floor (2nd floor US) at 68 Quai d’Auteuil, owned at the time by the Comtesse de Villefranche. It was beautifully furnished, and the Eisenhowers soon became the social center for their friends in Paris and guests visiting France. Because of exchange rates, Paris was then very inexpensive for Americans, and the apartment was far more elegant than the Eisenhowers could have afforded on his salary in the US. The quai where Eisenhower lived is now called Quai Louis Blériot, named after a French engineer and aviator who invented the first headlamp for trucks and who also was the first person to fly across the English Channel. The adjoining quai is Quai Saint-Exupéry, so after the war they must have renamed some of the streets after French aviators. Eisenhower would walk to work each day to Pershing’s headquarters at 20 rue Molitor, a few blocks down the road. I walked there one day and took photos of both buildings, still today much as they must have been back then.

View across the Seine near the old Eisenhower apartment

View across the Seine near the old Eisenhower apartment

Though the area on the right bank hasn’t changed much, the Eisenhower’s view across the Seine has changed markedly. The Citroën factory that used to be across the river is now Parc André Citroën. It has the world’s largest hot air balloon, tethered so that groups of tourists can rise up and take in the city, and then re-descend without an uncontrolled flight over central Paris. Many of the other left bank buildings in this area have been torn down as part of modernization that started in the ’60s and ‘70s.

I had always assumed that though Eisenhower graduated in the middle of his West Point class and was a middling officer very junior in the army leadership at the start of World War II, his meteoric rise to Supreme Allied Commander was because he performed successfully in the war whereas many more senior to him had failed. It turns out he had been on this trajectory for many years before the war.

In 1920 he met George Patton, 6 years his senior and already well known for his heroic service in World War I. Together they worked on radical new strategies for tank warfare, so radical that they incurred the wrath of the Army for publishing ideas that conflicted with existing doctrine.That same year Congress reduced the size of the Army to 288,000, about one tenth of its 2.4 million wartime strength. Eisenhower was promoted to the rank of major, a rank he would retain for the next 16 years. The tank core was abolished, and Eisenhower decided to return to the infantry.

Balloon airborne above Parc André Citroën

Balloon airborne above Parc André Citroën

Before the officers parted company, Patton hosted a party in the honor of Brigadier General Fox Conner, and Eisenhower’s were invited. Conner came to the party to meet Eisenhower as a result of the high recommendation of Patton. Conner had a long discussion with Eisenhower and asked him many questions about his views on armored warfare. In 1922 Eisenhower was assigned to the 20th Infantry Brigade working as a staff officer for Fox Conner in Panama. Conner spent many hours during that tour educating Eisenhower about history, warfare, and the Army.

Conner had been on the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) staff working for General Pershing. Conner helped Eisenhower to receive orders in 1925 to Command and General Staff School (CGSS), where he studied the problems of military command. Eisenhower finished ranked first of 245 in his class. Conner then helped Eisenhower to receive assignment to the Battle Monuments Commission, headed by General of the Armies John J Pershing. Pershing, who had already served in the Army’s senior-most position, Chief of Staff, was at that time the only 6 star general in the US Military. Eventually Congress also conferred this honor on George Washington.

Pershing's quarters and office at 20 rue Molitor

Pershing’s quarters and office at 20 rue Molitor

When working for Pershing, Eisenhower met George Marshall, who would eventually become Army Chief of Staff and Eisenhower’s boss throughout World War II. He also worked directly for Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur and later worked with MacArthur to train and equip the Philippine Military. Thus starting in about 1920, Eisenhower met and impressed a series of most influential seniors who helped guide his career to the pinnacle of army leadership. In little more than 10 weeks in 1942, he moved ahead of 228 general officers of greater seniority to become a lieutenant general (3 stars) and command the Allied invasion of North Africa. In 1943, he was promoted to full general and directed the invasion of Sicily and Italy.

Eisenhower became the Supreme Allied Commander for the D-Day invasion and for the eventual ending of the war in Europe. With the exception of Marshall and MacArthur, he had more political experience than any officer in the American Army. He was chosen because of his political sensitivity. He worked successfully with military and civilian leaders of the US, Great Britain, France, Russia, and other countries involved in the war effort. He was not a great tactician, and in fact made several blunders during the war that cost lives and time in completing the effort. But he was unrivaled as a decisive, organized, leader with a deft political touch, effective communications skills, extensive knowledge of history, and extraordinary common sense. He kept a diverse coalition working in harmony. He was, incidentally, the only one at the Potsdam Conference who felt the US should not drop the atomic bomb.

After the War he served as Army Chief of Staff. He then retired to become President of Columbia University, but went back on active duty and returned to Paris to lead the effort to start NATO. Then he campaigned successfully and was elected the 34th President of the United States.

He was the only 20th Century President to preside over 8 years of peace and prosperity. He negotiated an end to the Korean War, opposed segregation and integrated the nation’s schools and institutions, successfully opposed the red baiting of the McCarthy era, contained the communist threat, balanced the budget, continued social programs of the New Deal, sponsored building of the interstate highway system and the Saint Lawrence Seaway, successfully opposed the French and English effort to seize control of the Suez Canal from Egypt, twice refused requests of the Joint Chiefs to authorize the use of nuclear weapons, warned against unwarranted influence of the military industrial complex, and promoted peace and understanding as the way forward.

View of Paris from the bridge by Eisenhower's 1928 apartment

View of Paris from the bridge by Eisenhower’s 1928 apartment

In the ’70s I remember visiting Eisenhower’s home in Abilene, KS, and in the car reading Is Paris Burning by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins. It was about the German plan to blow up Paris when the Germans retreated as the Allies were advancing. German generals defied Hitler, ignoring his order to defend the city and refusing to blow it up. Eisenhower didn’t want to spend the resources to liberate Paris, but was convinced to do so by Charles de Gaulle, for whom he had great respect. Eisenhower deftly outmaneuvered President Roosevelt and the State Department, who did not like and refused to support de Gaulle. He allowed the French Army to liberate the city and allowed de Gaulle to establish leadership in what otherwise could have been a fractious battle for control. By providing a civil affairs agreement and recognizing de Gaulle as the de facto head of the French state, Eisenhower avoided the problematic issue of establishing administrative control over liberated France.

So we get back to that question about whether I had the same problems as General Eisenhower in learning French. In 3 months of daily lessons the General could supposedly read and write very well in French, but struggled to speak understandably. We know that he was renowned for his excellent memory and that he possessed extraordinary drive. For me (after 3 years), understanding the spoken French is the hard part. They seem to be able to understand when I speak. Still, if General and former President Eisenhower were to speak French to me, I don’t think I would have any complaints about his accent.

French Labor Protests

French Labor protest being organized at École Militaire near our apartment

French Labor protest being organized at École Militaire near our apartment

In our neighborhood of Paris, we’ve already seen two large, well organized French labor protests. There are now violent protests throughout France against proposed changes to the labor laws. The government is trying to improve the economy – why is there such strong opposition?

Economic Problems

France has a number of economic problems. The rate of economic growth (% change in gross domestic product (GDP) – a measure of how the economy is doing overall), has been very slow, 1.2% or less for 4 years. Unemployment has been at about 10% for 4 years, worse than unemployment has been in the US since the Great Depression. Youth unemployment has been about 25%, and about 80% of those youth who have jobs are working under temporary employment contracts, where the employer is under no obligation to keep them after a certain date. Government spending is 56% of GDP, 2nd highest in the EU, compared to about 45% in Germany and 40% in the US. The budget deficit has been more than 3.5% of GDP for the last 4 years. The public debt is more than 95% of GDP. The original rules for EU membership required countries to keep public debt less than 60% and deficits less than 3%, or pay fines. Since then there have been numerous accommodations, but the French are under pressure from the EU to reduce their deficits to below 3%.

At first the Socialist government of President François Hollande tried to raise tax rates to increase tax revenues from the rich, which was expected to lower the deficit. However, at the same time they lowered the retirement age back to 60 years and cancelled previously approved reductions in employment, thus restoring 60,000 jobs recently cut from public education. These measures added back government spending that had been previously reduced. After the government missed their goals for deficit reduction and after continued weak economic growth, France promised the European Union in 2014 that they would reevaluate their budget to find reductions of 50 billion euros over the next 3 years. Therefore the government of France must increase tax revenues by growing their economy or increasing taxes, or they must reduce spending to limit the deficit.

To deal with this, François Hollande shuffled his cabinet and named Manuel Valls his Prime Minister. Valls made other changes, including naming an economist, Emmanuel Macron, as his Minister of the Economy.

France is ranked 141 out of 144 countries on “hiring and firing practices” according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report. Companies face high taxes to hire each new employee, and when they want to lay off employees for economic reasons, the decision on compensation goes before a judge who may award the employee pay for an unlimited period of time. Therefore it is an onerous task for a company to hire a new employee.

French labor protest

Another view of the labor protest forming up to march

Regulations also permit unions to negotiate agreements with employer federations who represent sectors of industry. Thus a union representing only a fraction of all employees can negotiate an agreement that applies to all the employees and employers in a given sector. For instance, labor unions for technology and consultancy employers negotiated an agreement to limit work time through cell phone communications during the leisure time of all employees in these industries, these communications being considered to be an unwarranted extension of work time. This agreement affected some 250,000 workers. Each day some 80,000 French commute to better paying jobs in Luxembourg. This is the largest cross border workforce in the EU.

Government Proposed Reforms

To reduce the burdens of current regulations, the French government has proposed that companies be able to negotiate with unions on working conditions and salaries, where current law ties their hands. They propose that management be able to sign deals only with organizations where at least 50% of the workers participated in union elections, up from the current 30%. This would bring such negotiations closer to the individual company level. The government wants more flexibility for employers in setting employee working hours, allowing increases above the 35 hour limit under certain conditions with certain restrictions. The government also wants to make the rules for layoffs for economic reasons more flexible. They also want to limit the total possible cost to an employer for an employee layoff. The government contends that these changes would bring France into line with the rules in other European countries.

The measure has divided France’s ruling Socialist Party. After the government was unable to reach a compromise to ensure passage of the bill, it invoked a special measure of the French Constitution, article 49.3, to allow passage in the lower house (Assemblée Nationale). The bill must still pass in the French Senat.

French Labor Protests

Police barricades

Police barricade the streets along all routes to the protest

Trade unions have declared that all these changes are unacceptable, and have been organizing widespread protests, some of which have been violent, trying to force the government to give up the cause. Dozens of police as well as participants have been injured in protests involving hundreds of thousands of workers. Fuel shortages have been created by fuel blockades and a transport strike. 16 of 19 nuclear power plants have voted to go on strike, which could potentially create power outages. Unions have further plans for rolling strikes on the Paris Metro system starting June 10th to potentially disrupt the Euro 2016 soccer matches that are to take place throughout the country over the course of the following month.

Labor protest marchers arriving

Marchers arriving to participate in the protest

Polls show that a majority of the public is opposed to these reforms. It’s obvious why unions would be opposed, but why French youth are vigorously opposing these reforms is not obvious, since it appears that youth employment opportunities would be improved. Some critics say that the government’s bill doesn’t address the changes that are needed for the 21st Century. No doubt this is true, but it’s not obvious that these changes would be embraced any more than the current proposals.

While the government is standing firm and international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund have been calling on France to enact these types of reforms, it’s anybody’s guess how this struggle will turn out.

Visit to the Swedish Club

Our group “meet up” at Lili et Riton in Montparnasse

Our group “meet up” at Lili et Riton in Montparnasse

Last week we received an invitation from an acquaintance to go to a mixed French and English group get together at a local Paris cafe, Lili et Riton in Montparnasse. It was followed by a light dinner and jazz music fest at a place called Cercle Suédois (Swedish Club). Brenda and I showed up at the cafe well after the get together had started. Brenda sat down across from me and started speaking in English and French with the man next to her. Another man arrived, still bundled in wool coat, scarf, and hat and sat down next to me.

His name was Didier, and he was most interesting. We had a wide ranging conversation – first me telling him in French about our lives and how we ended up moving to Paris, then him telling me about being a Parisian who moved to paradise, which for him was the west coast of Florida near Naples. He said in passing that his life with women in Florida was thus far a disaster. His French breeding was somehow holding him back. He spoke about nuances of French language – what words you choose and how you present yourself are very important. He noticed that I still had the price sticker on my 2 euro notebook – sign of a person who doesn’t pay attention to appearances. He pointed out that if you say, “je suis à la retraite” (I am retired), people will think you are old and living on a state pension, whereas if you say, “j’ai pris ma retraite” (I have taken my retirement), it conveys that you were able to retire by choice when you were younger. He asked me whether the requirement to be appointed to West Point or the Naval Academy by a Senator or Congressman meant that only the sons and daughters of aristocrats could go to those schools. I assured him that that wasn’t the case. We talked about currency exchange rates. His opinion was that the value of the dollar was largely dependent upon the strength of the US Military. Think about that. When he departed I thanked him and wished him well. He asked me to convey his goodbyes to the others so he wouldn’t have to interrupt their conversations – yet another sign of good breeding in France. After he left, others in the group asked me who he was. Nobody knew him.


Short video of Jazz ensemble at the Cercle Suédois

Enjoying the evening at Circle Suédois with jazz group playing in the background

Enjoying the evening at Circle Suédois with jazz group playing in the background

The group conversation went on some time longer, then we all departed for the Swedish Club, located on the 2nd floor of a building on Rue Rivoli between Place de la Concorde and Place Vendome, one of the tonier neighborhoods in Paris. On Wednesday nights the club has live jazz and serves light fare for dinner, all for a very reasonable price. Our host Frederick helped our group of 10 crowd around a table near the band. The food, conversation, and music were delightful. A grand evening out.

There was something else about the Swedish Club – a door to another room with the label plate “Nobel.” Someone in our group told me that Alfred Nobel used to have an office there where he awarded Nobel prizes. I took a photo of the room (which looked like a dining room) and the label plate. I did some research and found there was much more to the story.

Site of Nobel’s former Paris house on Avenue Raymond Poincaré

I finally found out that Nobel’s Paris house on Avenue Raymond Poincaré had been torn down to build this now famous art nouveau building

Nobel was a very rich Swedish industrialist and entrepreneur. Over his lifetime he became one of the richest men in the world. Though born in Sweden, Noble’s family moved to St Petersburg, Russia, when he was 9. His engineer father moved his business there, invented the rotary lathe used in the manufacture of plywood, and the underwater mine. He also started a profitable factory making explosives in Russia. Alfred and his 3 brothers received a first class education -learning several languages, poetry, chemistry and physics. Because his father wanted him to work in the family business Alfred was sent to Europe and the US for further training in chemical engineering. Alfred met an Italian chemist, Ascanio Sobrero, who invented nitroglycerin, a highly volatile and explosive material. For many years Alfred tested compounds to mix with nitroglycerin in order to make a stable, usable explosive. In 1867, he succeeded, patenting the material under the name dynamite. Yes, Alfred Nobel invented dynamite! The new explosive coupled with other inventions at the time drastically reduced the cost of major construction and could be readily applied to military weapons technology. Nobel became rich and extremely busy founding factories and laboratories in 90 different locations in 20 countries.

Nobel loved Paris. In 1875 he moved there and bought a house at what is today 59 avenue Raymond Poincaré. The original house was completely rebuilt in the Art Nouveau style by a subsequent owner. In 1876 Nobel advertised for a personal secretary, and hired an Austrian woman named Bertha Kinsky. She only worked for him a short time before deciding to return to Austria and marry Count Arthur Von Suttner. In spite of this Alfred Nobel and Bertha von Suttner remained friends and kept writing letters to each other for decades. Over the years Bertha von Suttner became increasingly critical of the arms race. She wrote a famous book, Lay Down Your Arms, and became a prominent figure in the peace movement.

Room where Nobel signed his will

Nobel’s last will and testament was signed in this room at Cercle Suédois

In 1890, Nobel was accused by the French government of treason for selling advanced explosives to Italy. He decided to leave Paris and move to San Remo on the Italian Riviera. In 1895 he returned to Paris, and on November 27th composed his last will and testament before four Swedish witnesses at the Swedish Club in Paris, in the very room where I took the photo. The will was a paragraph just 300 words long. No lawyer was involved. In that document he directed that upon his death all his assets would be converted to cash, invested for a safe return, and the capital would be used to fund annual prizes to those who contributed the most to benefit mankind in the preceding year. The equal shares were to be distributed in following categories: physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and the promotion of peace and the fraternity of nations. It is believed that his choice of the last category was influenced by his long relationship with Bertha von Suttner. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905.

Upon Nobel’s death in 1896, the will specified that his wealth was to be given to a foundation that did not yet exist. His executors, two engineers he trusted, did not know they had been so named. It took the Swedish Academies and the Norwegian Parliament (assigned in the will to grant the various awards) two years of debating before they formed a foundation. Then there were a great many challenges to this will from the governments of France and Sweden, various family members, and academies within Sweden. Eventually all questions were resolved, and in 1901 the first prizes were awarded.

There is also an annual Nobel Prize in Economics, though this was not part of Nobel’s original will. The prize was established in 1968 by a donation from Sweden’s central bank, the Sveriges Riksbank, on the bank’s 300th anniversary. Although it is not one of the prizes that Alfred Nobel established in his will in 1895, it is referred to along with the other Nobel Prizes by the Nobel Foundation. Winners are announced with the other Nobel Prize winners, and receive the award at the same ceremony. In 2001, Nobel’s grand nephew Peter Nobel asked the Bank of Sweden to differentiate this award from the original five categories by declaring it “in Alfred Nobel’s memory”.

And lastly, if you’re in the Naples, FL area and meet a nice French man named Didier, there’s more to him than meets the eye.

Annual Trip to the Préfecture

Hugh standing in front of the Prefecture de Police, Paris

Standing in line before the riot started

On Thursday, January 7th we went on our annual sojourn to the Préfecture de Police to renew our residence permits. Our original appointment was December 10th, the day before we were leaving for a Mexican cruise vacation. It seemed then to be a good thing that the nice lady at the Préfecture asked us if we could please delay because their staff was overworked, but in hindsight it was a mistake. We got up at 8am after a late night out with our friends Cat and Jacques for our 10 am appointment at the Préfecture. We wanted to arrive early. It was also pouring rain.

After arriving at the Préfecture, we found that it was unexpectedly closed as a security precaution for memorial ceremonies being held for the killings at Charlie Hebdo a year earlier. Also there was a madman knife attack at the Préfecture de Police office in the 18th arrondissement that same morning, which may have added to the heightened security. The signboard outside the Préfecture told us they would reopen at 2 pm. We knew we would need to be early so, after getting some coffee, we went shopping (it was the first day of the semi annual government authorized sale in France). After visiting my favorite store, Zone Nordique, I had a big bag of clothes that I didn’t want to take to the Préfecture. I headed back across town to dump off the stuff at our apartment while Brenda continued shopping at some of her favorite stores. I took a 15 minute nap, then hit the road again to meet Brenda at the statue of Charlemagne in front of Notre Dame. They’ve been cleaning the outside of the Cathedral with some kind of pressure washer, so now all the black parts are spic and span.

We arrived at the Préfecture at about 1 pm. The line was already 100 yards long. We got in line and eventually struck up a conversation (mostly in French) with the Moroccan lady in front of us. She kept telling us how much she loved Michael Jackson, that he was very rich, that Americans are all very rich, that Madonna is rich (but was she as rich as Michael Jackson?). She was singing songs by Michael Jackson. He was related to Elvis, etc. Meanwhile the line had formed a U and gone back another 100 yards or so. About 5 minutes before 2pm, someone broke from the line and rushed the door. Suddenly everyone broke out of line and made a big crush of humanity in a semicircle around the door. We were, of course, at the back. The lady from Morocco was probably at the front.

Finally about 10 policemen showed up and told everyone to get back in line again, but this time in a direction different from the original line. Naturally some people who had stood in the original line for more than an hour were outraged to find that they would now be now at the back of the new line. I went to get in line, thinking surely the police would enforce their order by admitting only the people who were in line. Brenda remained with the defiant ones in the crush of humanity around the door. Eventually the door opened, and the police started to let people in. There was a great outcry from the people in line because they saw that the police started to let people into the building from all directions, despite their order for all people to line up in one direction. After about 20 minutes of pushing and shoving, Brenda called me to say that everyone around her was in agreement that I should come forward and join her, since this type of pushing and shoving match occurred every day, and cutting in line was the only way to ensure you could get in the door – so I did.

After more pushing and shoving we were in. I noted that a French lawyer, who had pulled his American client out of our original line and left the area before all civility disintegrated, somehow mysteriously reappeared ahead of us in the room for Americans. None of his client’s paperwork was complete so he kept cutting back in the line in front of us to speak to people, while all the time going back to explain and fill out her forms. She must have been one of those Platinum Club members. Eventually we appeared before our fonctionnaire (civil servant) and presented our files. Everything was in in order, and she issued us our récepassés, the documents that fill in for our cartes de séjour (residence permit) until the new ones are received. Our next appointment, where we get to fight through the line again, is to pay them 106 euros each on February 3rd to receive our cartes de séjour. Our past experience is that they won’t be ready then, and that after much waiting and presenting of the paperwork, we’ll find that we have to come back in March to receive the final product.

Bienvenue à France!

Terrorist Attacks in Paris

Je suis Charlie projected on the monument at Place de la Républic

Nous sommes Charlie (We are Charlie) projected on the monument at Place de la République

Freedom of the press

Freedom of the press

We have received many inquiries from the US about whether we were OK after the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. We are fine, but we’ve spent the past few days riveted to the news, learning about Muslims in France, and then Sunday marching in Paris’s huge march against terror.

Brenda and I were both at the gym watching on French TV when the initial attack was reported on Wednesday. TV reports were vague about the location, and since they were in French, we didn’t pick up all the details. We had no reason to believe we were in any danger. I noticed when I went to the post office that I could no longer put my letter in their outside letter box. Only later we learned that our apartment was less than a mile south of the Charlie Hebdo office where people from the magazine staff and a policeman were assassinated. Charlie Hebdo is a satirical comic weekly magazine that frequently contains offensive cartoons. The magazine’s targets include (but are not limited to) Islam and the Middle East. Hebdo is slang for the French word that means weekly – hebdomadaire – so the name is something like Charlie’s weekly. The night of the attacks we walked near the crime scene en route to a vigil at Place de la République, where over 15,000 people rallied in support of Charlie Hebdo and freedom of the press.

Here’s a short video of the Wednesday night vigil – rally for support of Charlie Hebdo:

Here is a summary of what happened with the terrorists: From news reports there were at least 4 people involved in the terrorist activity (plus one who turned himself in). Two were brothers, Chérif Kouachi and Said Kouachi (both French citizens from the Paris suburbs) who carried out the attack on Charlie Hebdo. One or perhaps both of the brothers reportedly received training from Al-Queda in Yemen. The other two suspects were a man, Amedy Coulibaly (cell mate in prison with Chérif Kouachi) and his girl friend, Hayat Boumediene. Coulibaly reportedly had ties to the Islamic State. They all knew each other and had been involved with others who supported the terrorist activities in the Middle East. Amedy Coulibaly reportedly killed a police officer in the south of Paris the next day, Thursday. Police are not sure whether Hayat Boumediene was involved in any of the activity. After fleeing north of Paris towards the Belgian border, the Kouachi brothers ran out of gas, stole another vehicle, and drove back towards Paris on Friday. Police tried to capture them on the highway, shots were exchanged, and eventually the brothers were cornered, surrounded, and later killed in a warehouse north of Paris near Charles de Gaulle airport. On Friday morning Amedy Coulibaly took some 15 people hostage at a kosher grocery store in Porte de Vincennes. He killed 4 people when he entered the store. After a long standoff, he finally succumbed to a fusillade from the police. The Jewish community in Paris has viewed Coulibaly’s attack on the store as an act of anti-semitism. They are quite fearful that there could be other similar attacks. News reports said that Coulibaly was trying to use his hostages to negotiate the release of the Kouachi brothers. Hayat Boumediene reportedly fled to Turkey, and possibly continued to Syria before any of the attacks. Police continue to investigate.

During the crisis we were wondering with each passing siren what might be happening next. Armed police were everywhere, but life on the streets was pretty normal. We went to the food market for groceries, and all the normal vendors were there. Our tutor came to our apartment for our French lesson. Stores were open, and Brenda went shopping in the Marais – a traditional Jewish neighborhood. We’re not familiar with the area outside Paris near Charles de Gaulle Airport where the two brothers were killed by the police, but we are very familiar with the neighborhood of the kosher grocery store in Porte de Vincennes. It is 5 miles from our apartment.

When we first came to Paris we lived in the town of Vincennes just outside the city. We used to walk east through Porte de Vincennes along the main road into Paris to go to Place de la Nation. We purchased our first roasted chicken at a butcher shop in Porte de Vincennes one night on our way home from there. We were so happy to have met a French woman in line who helped us buy a chicken! This is a good neighborhood. A French friend who lives about 500 meters from the deli posted messages on Friday morning that she had been told by the police to stay inside her apartment. It was eerie for her to watch on TV all the details at the deli just a short distance away. Our hairdresser in nearby Vincennes told us that the Police closed down all the Jewish owned businesses along her street (and presumably elsewhere in town) and told her she should close but it was her choice. She chose to remain open because her customers with appointments still showed up.

After the terrorist activity had ceased, the President of France, François Holland, called for a march in Paris to support freedom of the press and to honor all the victims of the attack. He invited all Parisians to participate, as well as leaders from other countries. On Sunday more than 1.5 million people marched in Paris from Place de la République to Place de la Nation. More than 30 world leaders participated, though we noticed that the President and other senior officials from the US stayed away. Considering the occasion that seemed odd. We did our best to represent the country, about 100,000 rows back from the heads of state. News reporters have described it as one of the most significant events (and largest crowds) here since the World War II parades following the liberation of Paris.

You can get an idea of what the march was like from this video of three short clips, first of people spontaneously singing La Marseillaise, then panning around the crowd as we stood at the beginning, and then marching along the route:

When we arrived at Place de la République, the weather was in the low ’40s and somewhat windy. We stood perhaps 100 yards from the bronze statue in the center of the square. The sculpture represents suffrage in France, and below it are figures representing the motto of the French Republic, “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity”. Thus Place de la République was a fitting location to begin the march.

It went through my mind that a bomb or a shooter could have wreaked havoc with so many people jammed together. Fortunately nothing untoward happened, though ambulances parted the crowd a few times en route to help people in distress.

Waiting for the march to begin

Waiting for the march to begin

Crowd pushing down Boulevard Voltaire as far as you can see.

Crowd pushing down Boulevard Voltaire as far as you can see.

Hugh and Brenda marching down Boulevard Voltaire. Eyes of Stephane Charbonner, murdered editor of Charlie Hebdo, are on the poster behind us.

Hugh and Brenda marching down Boulevard Voltaire. Eyes of Stephane Charbonner, murdered editor of Charlie Hebdo, are on the poster behind us.

It was exhilarating to chant, “Charlie, Charlie”, “Liberté-Expression”, sing the French National anthem, read banners and be enveloped in the immense crowd. We shuffled for 5 hours through Place de la Republique and along the 3 kilometer route to Place de la Nation. Early on it rained softly. For a few moments a rainbow shimmered above the bronze statue in the center of the square. As darkness descended we applauded the police and gendarmes guarding side streets along Boulevard Voltaire, chanting “Merci de la Police”.

In the dark at Place de la Nation at about 7 pm, a huge crowd remained, still congregating to watch the TV reporters, hear the messages from special groups, chant some more of the slogans about Charlie Hebdo and freedom of the press, and sing La Marseillaise. Tired and a little cold, we headed out on the commuter train to meet our friends for dinner. Still, we wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.

Click on this link to see a slide show of photos along the route.

Happy New Year!

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I‘ve been thinking that there would be time to post an end of the year letter like the very nice ones I’ve been receiving in the mail – but no, the clock has almost run out.

We started 2014 in Paris, celebrating with our American friends Martha and Terry and French friend Pascale and her mother (German friend) Barbara. Later in January we were off to see Van Morrison in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and along the way learned about “the Troubles” between Catholics and Protestants, about the building of the Titanic and its fateful voyage, and got to see some of the rugged coastline.

In February we searched for a new apartment and then moved just a few blocks to a larger, quieter place in our same Latin Quarter neighborhood.

Our house in Provence

Our house in Provence

In March we received a surprise invitation from our Seattle friend Laurie Greig to come stay at her friend’s house in the small town of Saint-Cannat in Provence. We toured Mount Sainte Victoire where Cézanne did much of his painting, visited the market at Saint Rémy, and spent a day visiting the Roman ruins and amphitheater at Orange, as well as touring a bit of the côte du Rhone wine country nearby. We also celebrated our 25th Anniversary with dinner at a wonderful hotel in Saint-Cannat.

In April we made it through the difficult process of preparing to renew our residence permit for a second year in France, though the permit itself wasn’t ready until July. Later in April we saw Randi Strong Petersen, who came for a few days after visiting family in England.

In May our friend Don Merry arrived, and after a couple days in Paris we went to Barcelona, where we spent a lot of time getting to know the works of architect Antoni Gaudi as well as seeing many other sights. After that Brenda and Don headed off on a further great adventure, first to steamy Sevilla and then to fabulous Madrid. I went back to Paris hoping to catch up on a few things, but my mother passed away, so I made plans to go back to her home in Pekin, Illinois. Brenda and I flew to the US for her funeral shortly after Brenda returned from Spain.

Rocamadour

Rocamadour

In late May, just after our return from the US, Rob Gelder and Brian Johnson came to Paris for a few days of sight seeing, and then we went with them on the train to Bordeaux, and then by car into the Perigord region of central France, where we stayed in a 400 year old cottage in the small village of Berbigueres. This was a fabulous trip that we have yet to report on in our blog. The first day we saw the 17,000 year old cave paintings at Lascaux, and afterwards spent each day on a new foray to see the various famous castles in the area, one example being the cliffside city at Rocamadour, a legendary Christian pilgrimage site built in the 1100s. Five liters of very good Bergerac (the town where Cyrano came from) wine in a box from the local coop cost 8 Euros, and most nights we cooked wonderful dinners at home (that would be Rob and Bryan and Brenda who did the cooking).

Brenda and I went out for Paris’s popular all night party, Fête de la Musique, on the June 21st. Later in June we made the first of two trips to Normandy with our French friends Cat and Jacques. We stayed at Deauville and visited other coastal towns along the Normandy beaches, namely Trouville, Cabourg, and Honfleur. Jacques and I went swimming in the chilly Atlantic – water temperatures were about 60 degrees F.

In July we saw Keb Mo at a great small venue concert in Paris – our seats about 20 feet from him on stage. Brenda got to shake hands with him as he headed off stage. One beautiful summer day we visited Monet’s garden at Giverny. Another summer night we had dinner with Pierre, the Fromager at our local food market. Afterwords we walked with him along the Seine and took in the activities at Paris Plages, the local summer festival where the highway along the river is turned into a beach for people to come and enjoy if they cannot leave town for the customary summer vacation. We also spent a day with Cat and Jacques at the medieval village of Provins, south of Paris, where we saw demonstrations of falconry and jousting, as well as a full scale play of the knights defeating the invaders in an exciting demonstration of horsemanship and fighting skills.

Vaux de Vicomte

Vaux de Vicomte

In August we were off to Normandy again for another weekend, this time staying at Étretat, a small village with high cliffs sheltering a small beach. It was a popular site for some of the Impressionist painters, as well as another place for Jacques and I to swim in the Atlantic, this time a few degrees warmer. Also we spent a day at the spectacular Vaux le Vicomte, the Château of Nicholas Fouquet, superintendent of finances for Louis XIV. When the King saw Fouquet’s Chateau at a party held in the King’s honor, Fouquet was arrested and imprisoned for life for alleged misappropriation of public finances. Louis XIV hired Fouquet’s team of architects and landscapers to create Versailles. Later in August Brenda headed to the US to see her mom in Spokane, Washington, for 11 days.

When she returned to Paris in September, we headed off again with Cat and Jacques on a new adventure, a two week vacation in the Dominican Republic. I never imagined that I would be going there. It was our first experience with an all inclusive resort vacation, and we had a great time. We also made an effort to go into the cities and experience the local flavor of the island.

My brother Peter at a Christmas concert at Saint Chappelle

My brother Peter at a Christmas concert at Saint Chappelle

In early October, my sister-in-law Jan Hiatt and nephew Alex Nelson visited us in Paris for a few days as part of Alex’s corporate sabbatical. They were the first of my family to make it to Paris. Later in the month my brother Peter spent a few days with us, and he was back again in early December, now that he has work that regularly brings him to England.

In November we renewed more easily our residence permit for another year in France. With the help of Mon Ami Andy, an agency that helps English speakers with real estate and residence issues, we now have the process fairly under control.

Getting ready to eat the meal we had prepared at La Cuisine

Getting ready to eat the meal we had prepared at La Cuisine

On the holidays of Valentines Day, July 4th, Thanksgiving, and during the Christmas season, we went to dinner cooking classes at La Cuisine, an excellent highly recommended cooking school located near us. We’ve continued throughout the year to take French lessons twice a week, and though it seems like we’ve learned a lot, there is still a wide gulf between what we know and what I would describe as fluency. It has been a humbling experience.

Through the year we’ve had numerous other visitors whom we’ve spent the day or perhaps met for dinner. We enjoyed every moment with them and hope you’ll get in touch with us if you are ever in Paris. We love sharing our experiences and local knowledge. I’ve failed to mention numerous art exhibits and galleries we’ve visited, and many many walks around town just to enjoy life here. Throw in going to the gym every other day, the local market three times a week, and keeping up with friends and obligations in the United States, and life is pretty busy.

For the second year in a row we celebrated Christmas with our friends Cat and Jacques and their family. We’ve seen them perhaps once or twice a week, often for a movie and usually for dinner, all year long, and without their help and interest our experience here might be entirely different, for they have provided a true window into what it’s like to be French. Many evenings we have played highly competitive games of scrabble in French, men against the women – and the women usually win.

After a second year in Paris we’ve made some decisions. We’re headed back to the US in February to fully retire (or maybe it’s “more fully retire”), sell the house, consolidate all of our stuff, simplify our finances and return to Paris in July for another year. This continues to be a great adventure.

It’s almost New Year’s Eve. We hope that you and your family have a healthy and happy 2015. Bonne Année!

Brenda and Hugh

Running into John Paul Jones in Paris

Brenda and I were on our way to dinner with our French friends Catherine and Jacques when Catherine was talking about her decision years ago to give up a good paying job and start her own small business in France. She acknowledged that there was risk in starting her small business, but she said it provided her not only with enough money to live on, but also the freedom to live the kind of life she wanted. Brenda and I acknowledged that freedom was a big factor in our own experience as owners of a small business. Then Catherine said, “On n’a rien sans risque” (one has nothing without risk), which called to my mind the saying in English, “those who will not risk cannot win.” My search to find the owner of that phrase lead me on another Paris adventure.

Crypt of John Paul Jones at the US Naval Academy

Crypt of John Paul Jones at the US Naval Academy

I searched the Internet for the source, figuring I had probably learned it years ago from Reef Points, the manual of style issued to freshmen (called Plebes) at the U.S. Naval Academy. Reef Points contained a treasure trove of famous naval sayings that we plebes were supposed to be able to recite at any given moment. The source of the quote was John Paul Jones, not the one who played for Led Zeppelin, but instead the most famous American naval officer of the Revolutionary War. He was buried in the crypt of the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel at Annapolis, Maryland, a tomb I knew well from my midshipman days. The 21 ton marble sarcophagus and perpetual honor guard are not perhaps as magnificent as the tomb of Napoleon at Invalides in Paris (after which it was modeled), but I would say the tomb is competitive in grandeur with the tombs of Washington and Lincoln.

On the Naval Academy’s public affairs web page I also learned that John Paul Jones died alone in a Paris apartment and was first buried in Paris, where his body remained for more than 100 years before being taken to America. How did he end up in Paris? Here is a short version of how that happened.

John Paul Jones is a fascinating character. He was born John Paul in Scotland in 1747 and started working on merchant ships when he was 13. He first became master of a ship when his ship’s captain and first mate died of yellow fever, and John returned the ship and crew home to safety. On his second voyage as master, he flogged and accidentally killed a member of his crew. He then decided to leave Scotland and become captain of an English flagged vessel in the West Indies. During that stint he again killed a crew member, this time in self defense during a dispute over wages. So he decided to move again in the early 1770s, leaving his fortune behind and traveling to Fredericksburg, Virginia, where he expected to live with his brother. Unfortunately, he found that his brother had recently died, leaving neither family nor heirs, so John set about putting his brother’s affairs in order. It was during this time that John Paul took the last name of Jones. The exact reason why remains a mystery. In 1775 he moved to Philadelphia seeking to volunteer for the newly formed Continental Navy.

John Paul Jones by Moreau le Jeune - 1780

John Paul Jones by Moreau le Jeune – 1780

With the help of members of the Continental Congress, Jones gained appointment as a first lieutenant in the Continental Navy. In 1776 he was assigned command of the sloop Providence and quickly established himself in action against the British in Nova Scotia. At the same time he had a disagreement with his commodore (a recurring theme in Jones’s career) and was reassigned to another ship, USS Ranger, and was sent to France with the hope that he would be able to engage the British in their home waters. In 1778 France signed a treaty formally recognizing the new American republic. The French Navy rendered their first salute to Captain Jones and Ranger. Subsequently Ranger departed to find targets to attack in England. After some coastal raids that startled the British, Ranger successfully attacked and captured the British sloop of war HMS Drake near Carrickfergus castle in Northern Ireland, a place we have previously visited. There was again a dispute in the victory, Jones accusing a junior officer of crimes so that he alone would be seen as the hero. All was eventually resolved and the parties moved on.

In 1779 Jones took command of a larger warship, Bonhomme Richard, which he sailed into British waters with a squadron of five colonial ships in the company of French and Spanish fleets. It was here that he had his most famous battle with the British frigate HMS Serapis (the Battle of Flamborough Head). Jones and his crew succeeded in capturing Serapis, lashing the two ships together so they could board and defeat the British crew. They sailed both ships back to Holland, but unfortunately the Bonhomme Richard was too badly damaged in the fight and sunk enroute. When questioned by the Captain of Serapis early in the battle whether the Americans had struck the colors of their smaller ship, outmanned and outgunned, Jones reputedly uttered his most famous saying, “I have not yet begun to fight!”

Thus John Paul Jones had made a name for himself as ship Captain in the two most significant victories against the British in the Revolutionary War. Symbolically they raised confidence both for the Colonists and for the foreign nations supporting their cause. King Louis XVI of France awarded Jones the French title of “Chevalier” (knight).

John Paul Jones apartment was in this building at 19 (then 42), Rue de Tournon, Paris - just a stone's throw from the Luxembourg Palace.

John Paul Jones apartment was in this building at 19 (then 42), Rue de Tournon, Paris – just a stone’s throw from the Luxembourg Palace.

Placard on Jones former residence on Rue de Tournon, Paris.

Placard on Jones former residence on Rue de Tournon, Paris.

In 1782 Jones was waiting for another American command, USS United States, but before the ship was finished the government decided to give it to France as a replacement for the wrecked La Magnifique, a French ship lost in Boston Harbor during the war. Jones was given an assignment to return to Europe to recover prizes owing to the US from the War, but this assignment didn’t provide steady work. In 1787 he signed a contract with Catherine the Great of Russia to become a Rear Admiral in the Russian Navy and to help Russia engage the Turkish Navy in the Black Sea. He once again had military success, but also again had difficulty with his boss, Russian Prince Grigory Alexandrovich Potëmkin. Potëmkin is also the source of the adjective Potemkin, meaning something having a false or deceptive appearance – but that is another story. Potëmkin opposed Jones’s military successes, preferring that another Russian Prince receive credit for them. Potëmkin eventually found a way to discredit Jones and send him back to Saint Petersburg. There Jones was later accused of the rape of a 12 year old girl. He was exonerated with the help of the French representative at the Russian court and left Russia a failure. He solicited to serve with other European governments, but had no success. He returned to Paris in 1790 and retired, living alone in an apartment on Rue de Tournon, a short distance from the Luxembourg Palace (today’s French Senate). The French Revolution had already started, but Louis XVI was still King.

On July 18, 1792, Jones died alone in his room of pneumonia and a kidney ailment. He was 45 years old. This quote from an article by J. Dennis Robinson describes Jones as he was in Paris,

According to Jones’ biographer Samuel Eliot Morison, the Chevalier’s worst enemy was ultimately his own “colossal egotism.” His tireless self-promotion and self-aggrandizing, in the end, simply became tiresome. He lived and died a very lonely man.

A life mask made for this sculpture of Jones was used by French doctors to confirm his identity when his body was recovered from a former French cemetery.

A life mask made for this sculpture of Jones by Jean Antoine Houdon in 1780 was used by French doctors to confirm his identity when his body was recovered from a former French cemetery.

The French government had Jones body placed in a lead lined casket purchased by a friend and buried in the Saint Louis Cemetery, which was a special burial ground for foreign protestants. It was located near the Canal Saint Martin and today’s Saint Louis Hospital, near the corner of Rue des Ecluses Saint-Martin and Rue de la Grange aux Belles. The cemetery was sold as a parcel of land after the French Revolution and was later used as a garden, a place to bury animals, and a place where gamblers bet on animal fights. Even later it was paved over and buildings were constructed upon it.

A century thereafter, President Teddy Roosevelt elevated Jones to the status of hero. He wanted to build up the US Navy and persuaded Congress to authorize $35,000 to bring John Paul Jones back to the United States. The American Ambassador to France, Horace Porter, conducted a search for six years before succeeding in 1905 in locating and identifying Jones’s body. Searchers located the casket by using metal sounding rods to bore into the ground at the former cemetery. When Jones was first buried, the French embalmed the body and sealed the casket so that Jones’s remains would be well preserved. They hoped that America would someday retrieve their lost hero. A team of French physicians made a positive identification by comparing facial measurements with a life mask previously used for a sculpture of Jones. His body was sent on a train to the coast and transferred to a U.S. Navy ship for transport back to the United States. In April 1906 more than 1000 people attended a memorial service at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. In addition to Ambassador Horace Porter, speakers included the Governor of Maryland and President Teddy Roosevelt, who used the memory of Jones to advocate a more powerful US Navy. As one article said, “in the end Jones got what he had always wanted, permanent honor and attention.”

All of this was a surprise to me. I went to Rue de Tournon and found Jones’s residence, which I had passed many times before. The place where he was buried is just over a mile north of us, a neighborhood we have visited before, but in no way resembling the cemetery where he was originally buried.

You may get the sense that Jones reputation was rehabilitated at the start of the 20th Century. At the time of his death he was alone and unwanted. Gouverneur Morris, then Minister of France for the US, ordered as inexpensive a funeral as possible, and he chose not to attend. There was no effort to return Jones’s body to the United States. Jones had been cantankerous and left few if any friends in Paris. In the 19th century American authors painted him as an adventurous hero. The British viewed him as a pirate. The US Navy’s Officer Corps did not regard him or the limited events of the Continental Navy as important to the history of the US Navy. After more than 100 years, a US President hoping to build a strong navy helped fund the search for Jones body, and once found, ensured his return to the US as a naval hero. A biography of Jones in 1900 written by Augustus C. Buell painted Jones as a highly professional officer who could be quoted and studied as part of the development of a professional officer corps. Unfortunately, Buell invented some of the source material he used in his biography, including at least one of Jones’s quotes used in the Naval Academy Reef Points. Jones’s quote “those who will not risk cannot win”, is still widely published, though I think that quote too is a forgery. The only source I could find attributed the quote to Jones’s letter to French Admiral Kersaint in 1791, which has been identified as a forgery of Buell. Nonetheless, Jones reputation as the father of the Navy’s officer corps and model of a professional officer was confirmed more truthfully by others and seems to have survived.

So let’s see now…I was looking for the source of an American quote so I could tell our French friend Catherine about it. You should have seen me trying to relate this story to her in French. In his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell summarized the monomyth common to the structure of all myths about heros.

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons upon his fellow man.

As for many, the journey of John Paul Jones from human to hero was bigger than his life.

Vacation to the Dominican Republic

Barcelo Dominican Beach Hotel

Barcelo Dominican Beach Hotel

In September our French friends Cat and Jacques invited us to go on vacation with them. They were planning a trip to the Dominican Republic. Since we are in effect already on vacation in Paris, it didn’t seem like a good idea to me, but they told Brenda and me to think about it and that we would be welcome to join them if we wanted. Brenda liked that we would have hot sunny weather, and we thought what better chance to improve our French than to be able to practice with our fun French friends all day long on vacation.

For many in France, French resorts like Saint Tropez or the Normandy coast are too expensive, so they choose to go outside the country to get more for their money. Our friends take vacation just two weeks a year, and for them the appeal of a destination vacation with a fixed price, including airfare, bus transportation, hotel, all meals, and many amenities is compelling. Travel companies in France offer these types of vacations to many lower cost destinations outside France, including Greece, Portugal, Morocco, Turkey, and in our case the Dominican Republic. The innovator of these types of vacations was probably Club Med, but our trip was organized by a French Company called Promovacances. We paid extra to select a smaller (though still big) beach hotel, the Barcelo Dominican Beach, and to travel on an Air France direct flight to Punta Cana instead of a lower cost airline with lower baggage limits and a flight transfer at Santo Domingo. Cost per person for 2 weeks was about 1600€. We figured that we would have spent at least half the cost of our vacation just in typical day-to-day expenses in Paris, so by that measure it was quite affordable.

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Rough sketch of Hispanola Island and points of interest

The Dominican Republic is located on Hispanola Island, a part of the Caribbean island group Greater Antilles (Cuba, Hispanola, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and the Cayman Islands), and shares the island with the country of Haiti. Hispanola was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492 when his flagship the Santa Maria grounded and sank. He left behind a contingent of men who established a community on the north coast in what is now Haiti. That community was destroyed by the native population, but another contingent from Spain returned the following year and established a community on the south coast that eventually became Santo Domingo, the oldest European settlement in the Americas.

In just a few years, the originally large native population was decimated by European diseases, declining from an estimated 250,000 in 1492 to 14,000 in 1517. In 1574 a census documented 1,000 Spaniards and 12,000 African slaves. The Spanish moved on to colonize other parts of the Americas, and English, French, and Dutch pirates started to operate along the island coast. To avoid the pirates, the Spanish colony moved closer to Santo Domingo on the south coast, and the pirates established bases on the vacated north and west coasts.

In 1665 France’s Louis XIV officially recognized the French colony of Saint-Dominique (not to be confused with the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo on the eastern 2/3 of the island). In 1697 Spain officially ceded the western third of the island to France (part of the settlement at the conclusion of the 9 Years War in Europe). The population of this western colony grew, and it became an important trade hub supplying sugar to Europe using its slave population to keep prices low. After the French Revolution in the 1790’s, France was at war with Spain, England, Russia, and the Dutch in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. The Peace of Basel, which produced three treaties during the Revolutionary Wars, included a provision where Spain ceded the eastern two thirds of the island to France. French colonists started to move into what had been the Spanish part of the island.

Meanwhile, the French Revolution abolished slavery in 1794. Unfortunately Napoleon reimposed slavery in 1802, and the previously emancipated slaves staged an upheaval in the French colony of Saint-Dominique. At the same time, more than half of the French army in Saint-Dominique contracted yellow fever. The French decided to remove their devastated army in 1803, and the new independent nation of Haiti was formed in 1804, becoming the second republic in the Americas. The United States and Great Britain refused to recognize the Haitian government for fear of what that would mean for slavery in their countries. The US imposed an embargo, the French imposed demands for compensation for property they had lost. Thus Haiti was saddled with debts that turned it into one of the poorest countries in the Americas, and it remains so today. The former Spanish colony on the eastern two thirds of the island, Santo Domingo, remained in French control. In 1805 Haitian troops invaded Santo Domingo and sacked two towns, killing many citizens and thus fueling animosity between the two countries that still exists today.

In 1808, settlers in Santo Domingo revolted against French rule and with the help of the British, returned the eastern two thirds of the island to Spanish control. In 1821 the colony declared its independence from Spain, only to be invaded again and conquered by the Haitians, who abolished slavery and nationalized private property. The education system collapsed, and the university was shutdown. Farmers were drafted into the Haitian army. The economy faltered and the freed men rebelled against the Haitian rulers. Eventually, after 22 years of Haitian rule, a nationalist army organized and won the Dominican War of Independence in 1844. They established a constitution modeled on that of the United States.

Unfortunately the government proved to be very unstable and endured many years of power struggle between competing factions, resulting in civil war, assassinations, and many changes of government. The US invaded and occupied the Dominican Republic in 1916 and finally departed in 1922. In 1924, elections were held that for the first time produced 6 years of stable government. The economy grew rapidly, even when Rafael Trujillo established in 1930 an iron fisted dictatorship that continued for 30 years. In the 1960s the country returned to democratic government, and though there are still ups and downs, it has grown into the 2nd largest economy of Central America and the Caribbean. While agriculture remains the largest sector, tourism is a rapidly rising area of growth in the service economy.

Our hotel was the Barcelo Dominican Beach at Punta Cana, on the far eastern tip of the island. It was along the north shore facing the Atlantic Ocean, but we were close enough to the point so that we could also visit the south shore, facing the Caribbean. In this part of the Dominican Republic, as well as other areas along the coast, there (based on looking at the Google map) must be hundreds of huge hotels, each walled off from the general public and having guards stationed along the beach to keep the wandering purveyors of paragliding, island tours, sunglass sales, massages, etc. from harassing the tourists as they sit in their beach chairs watching the waves come in.

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Guard on our beach watching one of the motorboats next door make his evening landing at full speed.

A typical day at our resort looked like this: Breakfast was served buffet style at a large open air space with both inside and outside seating. It was wonderful and included everything an American or European might expect – breads, cold cuts, fresh fruits and juices, eggs and different meats on the grill, platters of scrambled eggs, potatoes, rice, beans, pancakes, waffles, toasts, cereals, butter and cheeses. Waiters circulated serving hot coffee and tea. After breakfast every day we would go to the hotel lobby to have a café latté and check in on the hotel’s WIFI, which did not extend to the rooms and was reliably slow. Lunch was a similar feast of great variety, served with a glass of wine or beer if you wanted. Before dinner we would always meet at the lounge for a cocktail, our favorite being a mojito. For dinner there was the buffet, but also Brazilian, Mexican, Japanese, Spanish, and Italian full service restaurants. We alternated between the specialty restaurants for dinner. There was also a beach grill and a seafood restaurant that served meals under the stars. We would go to the beach every day and swim in the ocean or in one of the 3 large hotel pools. After dinner every night we would go to a show called “The Spectacle”, which would feature singing, dancing, and frequently skits with audience participation. Although there were featured singers and dancers who we understood performed at a number of the local hotels, the masters of ceremonies and most of the entertainers also worked by day at our hotel. After a week or so all of them looked like family to us. The entertainment was at a very high level and always kept us interested. A couple days it rained and we spent the afternoon at the Starbucks-like coffee shop drinking lattés. Every other day or so we would work out at the health club. None of these amenities cost us anything additional to our up front trip fee.

The waiters and waitresses were always cheerful and many spoke some French or English. A number of them quickly got to know who we were. There was a contest with voting each day on Trip Advisor to see who was the best waiter or entertainer at the hotel. Unfortunately the Internet service made it difficult to vote.

Brenda enjoys her lobster dinner

Brenda and her lobster on her birthday

We did opt for some extras – we paid extra for a fantastic lobster dinner under the stars for Brenda’s birthday. Dinner was great and the atmosphere not to be found anywhere else. Brenda had a massage at the Spa one day. Also we could add the cost of trips or tours booked through the hotel to our room bill.

Cat and Jacques quickly made friends during their beach walks with a young man who represented a shop along the beach. The way the system worked, every purchase could be negotiated, and the store you negotiated with didn’t have to carry the item. Tell them what you wanted and they would go find it. Everyone would make a percentage. Everyone was in the customer referral business. Everyone in our group purchased something from the stores along the beach.

One afternoon we took a taxi to a local mall at nearby San Juan. Everything was priced in dollars rather than the local currency of Dominican Pesos (about 40 pesos to the dollar). The mall was pretty much like being in America.

Brenda and Jacques at the town center market in Higuey

Brenda and Jacques at the town center market in Higuey

One day we took a taxi ride to Higuey (eegway), a city of about 300,000 and the capital of our province of La Altagracia. The city is named after a native chiefdom that was there when Columbus arrived. We first visited the most prominent monument, the large Basilica of Altagracia. Afterwards we had our driver take us into the heart of town to see what it was like to shop on the streets. He first delivered us to a shop where he must have had some arrangement. We looked at merchandise but didn’t purchase anything and then asked if our driver would take us into a shopping district in the center of town. This was an exciting experience that left us far from other tourists, but we were followed at every step by people asking what we needed so they could help us find it and thus earn a commission. One woman who spoke French had some success. Cat and Brenda bought bracelets of Larimar, the green blue stone that is only found in the Dominican Republic. There were lots of clothes and local artwork for sale at these stores, as well as chickens and lots of other things from the farm that don’t turn up at your local butcher shop.

The church at Altos de Chavon

The church at Altos de Chavon

Another day we took a bus ride and catamaran cruise including dance lessons and music, snorkeling, swimming at the pristine island beach at Catalina Island, and a lobster lunch aboard a paddlewheel riverboat on the Chavón River. The bus trip took us through the Casa de Campo resort complex, the flagship of the La Romana All Inclusive Resorts area. It was my understanding listening to our French tour guide that the main customers for the large homes in this resort were American, though we also know that there was a large amount of investment in island real estate by other foreigners. We visited Altos de Chavón, a replica of a 16th-century Mediterranean village located just minutes from La Romana. None of us knew at the time that it wasn’t part of the original Spanish settlement of the island. It was built by craftsmen from the Dominican Republic in 1976. It has a large 5000 seat amphitheater, which featured an opening concert in 1982 by Frank Sinatra. Everything looks as old as advertised, and it has great shops and restaurants to add atmosphere to the appearance of antiquity. The cruise and lunch were fun. There was heavy rain in the afternoon but we were swimming so it wasn’t too discouraging. The cruise took place near the town of La Romana along the south facing coast, so we had a chance to swim in the Caribbean as well as the Atlantic.

Harbor at Bayahibe

Harbor at Bayahibe

Our last great adventure outside of the resort was to take the bus to Bayahibe (byaeebay), a town also along the south shore 10 miles east of La Romana. Cat had learned from one of guys along the local beach that there was a direct bus there from the small town just down the street from the gated entry to our resort. We headed off searching for the bus stop, which we eventually found when a bus pulled up to a corner. We quickly learned that there was no direct bus. Instead we went on the hour long trip to Higuey, and then at at that bus station caught another bus that took us to a place on the highway somewhere, and from there we caught a ride with a hotel bus whose enterprising driver picked us up. An enterprising girl waiting at the drop off with us negotiated a commission from the bus driver by getting us to come aboard and telling us his price. Bayahibe didn’t have much of a town, but it did have a beautiful harbor and beach, where we spent a wonderful afternoon. Afterwords we dined at the Captain Kidd Restaurante and Pizzeria, which was très bon!

Naturally there was no easy bus trip back to the hotel. First we rode in a jam packed van into the town of La Romana, the third largest city in the Dominican Republic with a metropolitan population of about 250,000. We learned from a girl on our bus that there was a bus leaving promptly for Higuey, so we literally jumped off our bus, paying the driver and yelling at the little boys grabbing for our bags and money, and wound through a crowd to another bus, which we hopped on in total faith that it would go to Higuey. We sat in the back of the bus and became acquainted with a boy sitting just ahead of us who was obviously curious about the foreigners who didn’t speak Spanish. Eventually I also met his father, who sat next to me and gave his son stern glances and instructions to behave. He also helped me figure out bus fare and, between each of our non existent knowledge of the other’s language, we discussed that it was good that his son had a father (he didn’t have a mother anymore), that the Dominican Republic had produced some great baseball players, and that there were lots of other parts of the country that we should see and visit. He warned us to take a taxi to our hotel from Higuey and that we should be wary of people at the bus station. Still, once we arrived in Higuey we accompanied a women who had been on our La Romana bus and was kind enough to steer us to a bus that took us back to our hotel.

Moon and beach behind the pool after dinner

Moon and beach behind the pool after dinner

There were many other fun times on this vacation. One significant achievement – we learned to play Scrabble in French, not well mind you. Jacques and I have lost every time so far to those heartless language mavens Cat and Brenda. We monitored the tropical storm Edouard, which passed north of us in the Atlantic during our stay. It caused some rain but had little other effect. We also got to participate in the Air France pilot’s strike, which delayed our return trip by several hours and forced us to fly home on Air Caraïbes instead of Air France. Here we were pretty lucky. Other than cramped economy class seating, it wasn’t much of a sacrifice.

Here is a photo tour showing some of what we saw on our trip.

Trip to Barcelona

Flags of Spain and Catalonia fly above a public building in Barcelona.

Flags of Spain and Catalonia fly above a public building in Barcelona.

In early May we took a trip to Barcelona and spent three days exploring the town. Our Kitsap County friend Don Merry joined Brenda and I as part of a bigger European vacation Don had planned. This was a good deal for us because Don did most of the planning and research and passed on the benefit to Brenda and me.

Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain and is economically important to Europe. It has a rich history and lots of things to do, so like with our trip to Provence, we had to limit our choices. On this trip we were regular tourists, just as if we had come from the US. We flew from Paris rather than take the train because flying was competitive in price and much faster. It was an easy bus ride into the city from the airport.

The history of Barcelona is in some ways like the history of Paris. The first known settlers were Phoenicians, in about 300 BC. Like Paris, Barcelona was conquered by the Romans in about 15 BC (earlier than in Paris). They laid out the grid that became the old town section of the city. Eventually Rome fell and Barcelona was conquered by the Visigoths in the early 5th century, and later was conquered by the Arabs in the early 8th century. Like Paris it was conquered by the the Germanic Franks early in the 9th century (by Charlemagne’s son Louis). He established an area ruled by the Count of Barcelona.

Much like the nobility in Paris had taken local control of the city after Charlemagne had moved his court to what is now Germany, the Counts of Barcelona become more independent and expanded their fiefdom to control a larger area in northeast Spain known as Catalonia. A royal wedding joined the territory of Aragon with the County of Barcelona in 1137. This area known as the Crown of Aragon established colonies and trade with other Kingdoms and cities near the Mediterranean. Eventually there was a dynastic link between Aragon and Castile, and with the marriage of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castille in 1469, Spain was united. The center of political power shifted to Madrid. Barcelona still retains the character from its days of independence by celebrating the history, language, and traditions of Catalonia.

In the 17th century Catalonia revolted against King Philip IV of Spain. Catalan forces joined with French forces of Louis XIII to battle the King of Spain. Eventually Spanish forces captured Barcelona (1652), and the French took control of the areas north of the Pyrenees, establishing the mountains as the border between Spain and France. Catalans again sought independence during the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939, and again they lost. General Franco’s rule of Spain from 1939 until 1969 abolished independent Catalan institutions and suppressed the public use of the Catalan language. Despite all these travails, Barcelona became an industrialized and prosperous city. Population grew rapidly as immigrants came from poorer regions nearby. The city modernized extensively in preparing for the 1992 Olympic games.

Passeig de Gràcia in the Eixample

Passeig de Gràcia in the Eixample

We stayed at the Hotel Indigo Plaza Catalunya. Our boutique hotel was in the area of town called the Eixample. This part of town connects the medieval old town of Barcelona to some of the small towns that used to be well outside of the city. The Eixample was built in the 19th and 20th centuries and is laid out in a grid of wide tree lined streets, allowing a good flow of traffic and creating a light and bright atmosphere that takes advantage of the normally sunny, warm weather. Every night we dined outside at one of the many restaurants nearby our hotel.

Don worked with a firm he found through Rick Steves Web site to arrange a private tour, which quickly got us oriented in Barcelona and assisted us in planning the rest of our stay. Our English speaking guide (her name was Montse) met us at the hotel after breakfast. She took us on a walking tour up one of Barcelona’s main streets, Passeig de Gràcia, which was just a couple blocks from our hotel. There she pointed out some of the famous Art Nouveau style buildings and other features in the neighborhood.  With our guide we were able to quickly move around town and get past long lines at the attractions.

Model of the exterior of Casa Mila

Model of the exterior of Casa Mila

Our first stop was at Casa Milà, an apartment building designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí and built between the years 1906 and 1910.  One floor was dedicated to the family of the building owner. There was an underground parking garage and 20 other apartments to provide income for the owners. We were able to see one of the apartments furnished in the original style. The building is now a World Heritage site. It was renovated and restored as part of the city’s preparations for the Olympics. A further restoration of the façade was in progress at the time of our tour. We found the work of Gaudi to be so fantastic and wonderful that seeing his creations became the focus of much of the rest of our time in the city.

Gaudí’s work was influenced by his passions in life: architecture, nature, and religion. Gaudí considered every detail of his creations and integrated into his architecture such crafts as ceramics, stained glass, wrought ironwork forging and carpentry. He also introduced new techniques in the treatment of materials, such as trencadís which used waste ceramic pieces.

Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia

After Casa Milà, our guide took us to see  the Sagrada Familia, a fabulous basilica designed by Gaudi – and one certainly unlike any other in the world. Barcelona already had a Cathedral, so Sagrada Familia was to become one of the neighborhood Catholic churches supporting the faithful of Barcelona. Gaudi started work on the Church in 1883, and continued work on it for the next 43 years, until his death in 1926. At that point it was only about 25% complete. He left plans for work to continue, and other architects have stepped into the breach and worked on the design, modernized the materials, and worked to continue construction. The church has been built completely through private donations, and no progress was made for many years after the civil war. Today, largely because of receipts from tourism, the church is funded to continue construction, which builders hope to complete by 2026 in time for the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death. The completed church will have 18 spires representing the twelve Apostles, the Virgin Mary, the four Evangelists, and the tallest for Jesus Christ. Eight have been completed so far. When completed, it will be the tallest church building in the world. The first entrance, the Nativity façade to the east, was completed in 1930. Gaudi thought that the hopeful scene of the Nativity should be completed first to inspire work to continue. The starker Passion façade to the West showing Jesus death and resurrection was started in 1987 and has been completed in a more modern style. The main entry, called the Glory façade, was started in 2002 and continues today. Since 2010 the nave has been covered and an organ has been installed so that the church can be used for religious services. Church services were conducted in the crypt (the basement) for many years. The space is huge and can accommodate a large congregation.

Gaudi was buried in the crypt, off to the side from the congregational seating. He died in 1926 at age 74 as a result of being hit and knocked unconscious by a tram while on his morning walk downtown. Sadly, because of Gaudi’s plain clothing and lack of identity papers, no one at the scene could identify him. He was near death a day later at the hospital when the Sagrada Familia chaplain finally recognized him.

Entrance to the Picasso Museum

Entrance to the Picasso Museum

After Sagrada Familia, our guide took us to Museu Picasso, located in the heart of the old town section of the city. We took a cab, and during the ride the cab driver and our guide chattered in Spanish and Catalan, which she told us get mixed together in every conversation in the city. The cab driver and many others at restaurants and hotels spoke enough English to ensure our needs were met.

Picasso came to Barcelona from southern Spain when he was 14, and he lived there for 9 years before he moved to France. He continued to visit Barcelona off and on until the Spanish civil war in the 1930’s. After that he thought it dangerous to return. We could not take photos of the art, but if you follow the link to Museu Picasso above you can see lots of information about what we were able to see. This was a museum of his formative years, and if you are mostly familiar with Picasso’s cubism and later artworks, you can see in Barcelona that he was also an outstanding classical artist. You can see how his art transforms as time passes. The museum has some works from his “blue period”, and one fascinating section is devoted to Picasso’s many tries to do his own version of “Las Meninas” (The Maids of Honor), a classical work done by Diego Velázquez in 1656 on display on Museo del Prado in Madrid. On display are Picasso’s many attempts to reimagine this painting in his own style. During his school years, his father sent him to Madrid for his education, but instead Picasso spent lots of time at art museums learning to love classical Spanish art. It was Picasso’s wish to have a museum in Barcelona, and it came about as follows:

….in 1960, on Picasso’s own express wish, his friend and personal secretary Jaume Sabartés proposed the creation of a museum dedicated to the artist’s work to the City Council of Barcelona. By 1963, the museum was a reality and opened its doors in the gothic Palau Aguilar located at number 15 Carrer de Montcada.

Casa Batlló exterior

Casa Batlló exterior

After our first day with a guide we were ready on day two to visit some more Gaudi sites on our own. The first was near our hotel, a residential home designed by Gaudi named Casa Batlló, which was remodeled by Gaudi for the Batlló family between 1904 and 1906. Like other Gaudi designs, it makes use of natural shapes and religious symbols. Architecturally it has few straight lines. The façade is a mosaic made of colorful broken tiles. The roof is arched like the back of a dragon. The rounded turret with cross on top is thought to be the lance of Saint George, patron saint of Barcelona, plunged into the back of the dragon. The attic area is supported by skeletal shaped beams. The fantastic looking chimneys on the roof are designed to prevent downdrafts. The tiles in the central light well become lighter as the distance from the sky light becomes greater, giving the the light shaft the appearance that color is uniform from top to bottom. There is extensive design work to keep water out and provide natural ventilation flow. Everywhere in the interior the colors and curved structures continue. It is fantastic.

In the afternoon we took a taxi farther out of town to Park Güell (Gway), which was where Gaudi lived for many years and where also he designed a section of the park. In 1900 an entrepreneur named Eusebi Güell contracted with Gaudi to design a subdivision for 60 high end homes on a tract he owned at the edge of the Eixample. The tracts in the development had a commanding view of the city and the Mediterranean beyond – it was envisioned as a gated community for the wealthy. Güell moved into a large home already constructed on the property, now used as a school. A lawyer friend of Güell hired an architect to design the first new  home on one of the tracts. A second new home was built by the project’s works contractor. It was constructed as a show house, designed by Gaudí’s assistant Francesc Berenguer, to encourage sales.  Gaudi himself designed numerous features of the grounds, including the guard house at the gate and the home of the guardian.

Park Güell, part of double staircase and hypostyle room

Park Güell, part of double staircase and hypostyle room

He used crushed tile mosaics (“trencadis”), natural shapes, and religious symbols that we saw in other of his works. At the tract entry he created a giant double staircase and two terraces under which are two grottos. There is a giant tile salamander along the stairway and a fountain running down alongside the stairs. Originally the fountain was supplied from a water tank constructed into the hillside to collect the drainage. At the top of the stairs is a hypostyle room (a roof supported by columns). This was intended to be the market place for the development. The colonnade (structure connecting the top of the columns) is crowned by an architrave (a main beam connecting the columns), inside of which flows the water supplied to the fountain. Atop the structure is a large esplanade, originally planned to be a greek theater but now designated as a nature square. Lining the square is a very long curvy tile bench that runs atop the colonnade to give visitors a view of the nature square as well as the view of the city. The tile bench was by design a surprisingly comfortable place to sit – good lumbar support for a hard surface.

There were many other design features of Park Güell that bear Gaudi’s fingerprints. In 1906 he moved with his daughter and his father into the second residence on the property. Restrictions on the sale of lots and the distance from downtown made the project unviable, and in 1914 works ceased to further develop the property, though Gaudi and Güell continued to occupy their homes. Only two of the sixty planned homes were ever constructed. In 1926 after the deaths of both Güell and Gaudi, the property was turned over to the city and converted to a public park. Gaudi’s home opened as a museum in 1963.

Don and Brenda walk down La Rambla

Don and Brenda walk down La Rambla

On our third day in Barcelona we went into the city, first walking along the big boulevard known as La Rambla that runs through the old town to the sea. Along the way we stopped to explore the huge public market nearby. Then we continued down past the statue of Christopher Columbus on the waterfront and on to where we found a nice bench alongside the harbor. There are many other attractions along the waterfront, including public beaches, numerous hotels, harbor cruises, and the tram that takes visitors over to the Olympic Village area.

Just to try something different, we took a cab across town to Parc de la Ciutadella, a large city park with zoo, fountains, a pond, other museums, and lots of places to walk. The area was originally a fortress built in 1715 by King Philip V of Spain as a way to keep control of the rebellious Catalans. Citizens of Barcelona hated the symbol since many Catalans had been forced to help build it. In 1841 the city decided to tear it down, and the park was developed. We checked out some of the features and eventually headed for a large triumphal arch to the northwest. From there we headed  back to explore more of the old city and its architecture and found ourselves an outdoor café to rest – we were tired from all the walking.

Walking in Parc de la Ciutadella towards triumphal arch

Walking in Parc de la Ciutadella towards triumphal arch

There is much more to see in Barcelona – numerous other musuems, churches, world class shopping and food. We left with the strong impression that Barcelona was a place we would like to visit again – if not sooner, perhaps in 2026 to see the completed Sagrada Familia!

Here is a photo tour with annotations that show and tell more about what we saw on our visit.