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!

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!

Return to the US to sell the house and say goodbye

March to July, 2015

After 4 months in Poulsbo we have returned to Paris.

The time in Poulsbo melted. We had no idea it would be so busy – our plans to keep up with people in Paris, continue French lessons, etc., faded in the rush to get everything done and see everyone we could. Hugh said he got to Seattle once and Bainbridge Island perhaps three times during our stay.

6th Avenue Poulsbo home and garden

Our 6th Avenue home and garden

We prepared our home on 6th street for sale. Connie Lamont toned down the interior paint palette, and Chad Lyons Painting did the work. Suzy Legiere directed the house staging, while her husband Mark Middleton expertly priced and marketed the property, and then found the perfect buyers in the very first day! Jill Harris and Jim Pijan prepped the gardens. Rolling Bay Plumbing replaced a sink and fixed plumbing leaks. Bill Hill (Hill Construction) made repairs recommended by the ace home inspectors Ron and Adam Perkerewicz. Michael Mills recoated our wood floors. Sunset Electric completed minor electrical repairs. Paul Klingbeil (All Kitsap Windows) cleaned our windows and gutters. Jacqui’s White Rose Cleaners gleamed up the interior.

We worked hard to keep the garden groomed and the grass green-it was our way to bid goodbye.

Piles of photos and letters to be scanned

Some photos and letters to be scanned

We sorted through boxes and boxes from our storage unit. Hugh scanned hundreds of letters, notes, and photos – those family momentos we had been saving all these years. We donated clothes and furniture to Fishline and nearly all our books (perhaps 250) to the Friends of the Library. Our storage unit shrank from 10×10 to 5×5 after we shredded 35 boxes of business and personal records.

Andrea Lanyi priced items, set up tables, then “merchandised” and sold hundreds of items at our giant and very successfull garage sale. Chuck Finkbiner and Carolyn Stein hauled away things we couldn’t sell. Neighbors Paul and Kathleen helped with signs and were great customers too, as was Don Merry’s wife Kathy Parker.

After ridding ourselves of most of our clothing, personal possessions and furniture, we spent a very long day packing and loading what was left for shipment overseas. Our car, purchased when we arrived, was re sold on consignment through Kevin Hogan at Liberty Bay Auto. Our friends Wanda and Dave Taylor bought it.

Some of our things in the process of being arranged for the garage sale

Some of our things in the process of being arranged for the garage sale

Much in Poulsbo was the same, though we recognized many changes – the new Safeway and CVS Pharmacy, the closing of Albertsons and the new areas of road improvements and home construction. The price of food in the Pacific Northwest seemed much higher than when we left – perhaps we just forgot? The city of Seattle looks like a war zone with all the new construction. All in all, Poulsbo remains a town with lots of energy, making great improvements while preserving its character and uniqueness. We couldn’t have hoped for better weather during our stay.

We visited as many friends as we could. Breakfasted with Ardis Morrow, Gretchen Pickens and Donna Davidson. Attended Ardis’s 90th birthday party as well as the 80th birthday party of Bill Austin. Met the group in downtown Poulsbo to celebrate Donna Etchey’s birthday. Dined with Lauren and Greg Meyer, Jeff and Carrie Goller, Ann and John Pyles, Wally and Wendy Hampton, Jerry and Becky Deeter, Steve and Cindy Garfein, Eric Thanem, Martha Pendergast and Terry Campbell, Jeff and Denise Bauman, Bryan Johnson and Rob Gelder, Randi Strong Petersen and Dick Soderstrom, Cami Gurney. Partied at the home of Gay Brownlee who kindly hosted a wonderful John L. Scott reunion. Spent several Sundays and the 4th of July at the home of our dear friends Barb and Dave Maxey and their special group of friends. I spent many peaceful hours at the home of Peter Hasson and Andrea Lanyi. We stayed overnight in Seattle with Laurie Greig (who was our wonderful hostess in Provence last year). I danced, lunched and toured gardens with Signa Palmerton, walked the beautiful gardens of Sharon and Don Savelle and Hugh and I celebrated the 3rd of July fireworks at a party at the home of Gabe Gaylord and Jim Korzetz.

My world upside down at Jo Carter's pilates studio

My world upside down at Jo Carter’s pilates studio

Jo Carter welcomed me back to her Bainbridge Island Pilates Studio where I got to work out twice a week. Hugh attended weekly Poulsbo Rotary meetings and made a presentation about our two year Paris sojourn. He kept in shape by running and working out at the Poulsbo Athletic Club.

I got to spend the night with my friend Christine Smith in Port Angeles. She helped me spread my Aunt Phyllis’s ashes. My friend for over 30 years, JonLee Joseph, drove from Oregon to spend the night with us and say goodbye.

I joined my dear friend Don Merry for coffee on many Saturday mornings, for monthly pedicures, trips to the Poulsbo Farmer’s Market and for breakfast at Choc Mo, often accompanied by Wally and Wendy Hampton.

Friday mornings I savored coffee at Coffee Oasis with my cherished friends Mary McAlhany and Eric Thanem. Wednesday evenings were spent with my long time friend Randi Strong Petersen, who not only put us up at her home for the 5 days before our departure but picked us up and drove us to the airport.

My mom and me celebrating completing another Bloomsday

My mom and me celebrating completing another Bloomsday

Hugh and I drove to Spokane in May to participate in Bloomsday with my mom Beth Shaw. And mom visited Poulsbo with her friend Steve, who cooked us marvelous Mexican food. I returned to Spokane in June and was able to see my sister Joani Shaw, as well as my sweet friend Karen Estes who lives in Coeur d’Alene.

It was a whirlwind of preparation and goodbyes. I know I have not mentioned all of our friends who called, e-mailed or visited: Pat Osler, Andi Reed, Debbie Nitsche, Wanda and Dave Taylor, Maureen Meyer, Bonnie and Pete Pederson, Sylvia Smith, Ward Fuentes, Tyson Rodgers, Ed Bomar, Hans Hoehn, Janet Harter, Karen Ramsey, Richard White, Jerry Hall, John and Pamela Krueger, Strong Paulson, Pat Hardesty, Donna Bumgarner, Mark and Patty Nesby, Carol Despeaux, Dan and Tamara Fischer, Carl Swanstrom, Jeff Petersen, and Hugh’s many friends from Poulsbo Rotary, as well as Monty Bolstad and Terry Mahony from his days at the Applied Physics Lab. There are so many others with whom we were fortunate enough to spend some precious time. Please forgive me if I didn’t list your name. You are in our hearts. We miss you. We thank you for your friendship. It was not easy to leave you.

Here is an album with a few photos of friends and events from our visit home.

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

Marion Nelson – 1922-2014

Marion and Bill heading off into the fog at Mount Saint Helens in 2005.

Marion and Bill heading off into the fog at Mount Saint Helens in 2005.

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. This, the start of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, is also a principle in statistics. From Wikipedia – the Anna Karenina principle describes an endeavor in which a deficiency in any one of a number of factors dooms it to failure. Consequently, a successful endeavor (subject to this principle) is one where every possible deficiency has been avoided.

My mother Marion Nelson died last night. She passed away after 91 years. I looked up the meaning of “passed away” – it is a euphemism for the act of dying – a nice way of saying something that is unpleasant to discuss head on. She was at her nursing home in Pekin, Illinois. My brothers Peter and Chris were at her side. I was here in Paris – there wasn’t time to get there, and the situation was uncertain. I spent a restless night and didn’t really perceive any of my feelings except relief that her struggle and suffering were finally over. But I knew that if I waited some idea would come to me about the meaning of all this.

Mom and I shared the view that every possible deficiency should be avoided. I could be wrong, since my father was also a formidable planner, but I’m pretty sure that my mom and I had the market cornered on worrying – and to the extent that worrying alone can prevent deficiencies, voila! In an attempt to avoid every possible deficiency, I of course nixed the idea of moving to France. Fortunately I am married to someone who does not recognize the importance of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina principle – so we moved here in spite of my grave warnings.

On Mom’s side of the family, we are German. I studied German in high school and back then could actually convey my thoughts, though a trip to Munich in the ’70s convinced me that there was a limit to my abilities. German was the logical language to study in our family. It’s a somewhat harsh sounding language, and though the German’s started World War II, still I loved the connection it gave me with the important non English roots of our ancestry.

Mom, on the other hand, studied French – I have no idea why. Here in Paris, I have her French books. Her address is dutifully recorded in the binding of each, 1115 W Nevada, Urbana, IL. I have her notes in the margins. The pictures, which represented some remote possibility in her lifetime, are of places that I have visited and readily recognize. Though I am no expert, in most cases I understand the French. It’s reassuring to me that I have brought the memory of her to a place where, despite the family’s logical connection to German, she sought to study. When we notified our relatives about our crazy idea of moving to France for a year, my mom was the first to cheer and encourage us, though she must have wondered whether she would live to the end of the experiment.

We don’t exactly know what constitutes a happy family, though perhaps it is a case where you can recognize an unhappy family when you see one. Our upbringing was not all wine and roses. My mom was the enforcer. If you follow hockey in the NHL you might have some idea of what that looks like. Certainly my recollections of childhood feature her as one who would enforce the part about “woe to that man by whom the offence cometh”. I think my brothers know that too. Still, mom was wonderful in her own way. We could bring her any modern idea that excited us, and she would become excited about it too. There was always that youthful exuberance without the fear that the standards of social etiquette would crumble.

We’ve scheduled the funeral, and I’m now planning an unexpected return to the US. Conveniently the timing works with everything else we were planning to do here. It’s funny how in spite of our family having spread all over the country (and now the world), the memory of our parents binds us together now more tightly than when we were younger. We were never the smartest kids, and we were always aware that many other families enjoyed a greater economic fortune than ours. Still, every day here I have a coat of my father’s to protect me and some French textbooks of my mother to remind me of the adventure yet to come. Were I to reconsider my life, I really wouldn’t want to have it any other way.

We finally get our Cartes de Séjour (residence permits)

Up all night celebrating our new cartes de sejour and Hugh's birthday

Up all night celebrating our new cartes de sejour and Hugh’s birthday

Since November we’ve been working to assemble the paperwork required to spend another year in France. The French name for the residence permit we need is carte de séjour. A week ago we had an the appointment at the Préfecture de Police to present our dossier and receive the permit. We documented in an earlier article how we started the process and got permission to stay in France until our official appointment. In that article we showed how we had assembled all of the details we would need to provide. From there it seemed like it would be simple enough to assemble the final documents and present them to the French authorities. Not so!  What might normally be straight forward became convoluted and difficult because we don’t speak or understand French very well.

In mid-March, about a month before our meeting at the Préfecture de Police, I contacted the service assisting us to prepare for the carte de séjour, Mon Ami Andy. We met with Jennifer Denison. Since all of our translations (birth certificates, marriage certificate, health insurance policy) were more than three months old, they had to be redone. The same with the documentation of all of our assets and account balances, sources of income, etc. With Jennifer’s help we planned the following activities to get ready for the meeting:

  • We resolved questions and completed the application forms for the carte de séjour
  • We resolved that Mon Ami Andy would update the translations
  • We would need to make new copies of of our passports and the visa pages and copies of our current récépissés (temporary visa extension document)
  • We would need to include copies of the health certification from our original visit to OFII (agency who cleared us for our visa when we arrived in France).
  • We would need to rewrite our letters promising not to engage in work while in France
  • We would need to collect three months of French and US bank statements and retirement pay statements. We would also provide the letter from our French bank stating we have an account in good standing.
  • We would need to collect the latest financial account statements
  • We would need to make a spreadsheet showing all sources of income and assets, both in France and the US.
  • We would assemble three piles of documents, one of originals and all details of all documents, including our latest tax return, one with copies about Brenda, and one with copies about me.
  • We would make color copies of all color documents, black and white copies of all black and white documents. Copies of financial statements only needed the page showing the account balance. We could look at the original if there was a question.
  • We were encouraged to use a highlighter on each document, highlighting the important information we wanted the administrator to understand.

In addition to this overarching plan, we thought we needed to change our address since we moved to a new apartment in early March. Our understanding was that we needed to update it within 8 days of moving. As soon as we had what we thought were the required documents (rental contract, utility bill showing both our names, receipt showing we had paid rent, and our current passports, visas and récépissés), we went to the Préfecture at Rue Truffaut, where we had gone before, to attempt the change. They sent us away, telling us they didn’t handle changes of address. We had a difficult time figuring out where to go after that. We were told that the police station at Rue Truffaut could do it, and that might have succeeded except that they told us we didn’t have all the required documents. We needed proof of insurance, which we didn’t have with us. They told us that we could do it at our local Préfecture in the 5th arrondissement, but a policeman there told us we couldn’t. We thought maybe we could do it at the downtown Préfecture, but then found out that was not the place. Then we were told we might be able to do it at the Mayor’s office in our arrondissement, but that wasn’t correct. Finally we discovered that what the policeman told us was wrong, and that we needed to go to the 5th arrondissement Préfecture. When we finally met with them, they said we didn’t need to change the address yet, and we should just do it at our carte de séjour appointment.

By now we were closing in on the end of March, so I started in earnest getting the packages of documents together. We don’t have a printer, so every time I needed to print something I had to walk 6 blocks down the street to “Copy Self”, a local printing and copying store in our neighborhood. The guys inside know me, even though I don’t pick up much of their French chatter. I think they talk “copy speak”, mostly consisting of terms of art about toner cartridges, document settings, color correction.

I carefully planned to print as many of the documents I needed as possible. I went to Copy Self and plugged my USB flash drive into their computer. For some reason I could not print my tax return at my usual printer. The office assistant came over to help me. First he printed my tax return to another printer in the back. It came out completely distorted and sized wrong for the paper. He then asked if I wanted to print all the documents at once, which I agreed to do since it seemed easiest. He moved my USB drive to another computer, selected all the documents, and hit print. My tax return document required that I type in my password. Only one hitch – I didn’t know of any password for that document. The assistant asked his boss for assistance. They exchanged copy speak – soon the boss took over. Every document required a password, but he did something to get them to print. Everything printed in portrait even though a good percentage of the documents are set up to print in landscape. It was printing disaster!

I took my 80 plus pages of financial documents home. That night I lay awake worried about identity theft. The next morning I assembled another package of summary financial pages and pages that needed to be printed in color, plus my tax return. I returned to Copy Self and kept things under control this time. By then my packages were coming together, but I was sick of getting ready for this meeting. All my time in France was being spent preparing to get a residence permit. I complained to our French tutor. I complained to Brenda. They tried to make helpful suggestions, but I was having none of it. I wanted this monkey off my back. I complained to my coach, who pulled me up short to ask how was I taking care of myself. We figured out that I needed a rest. Also I needed to recognize that others were making suggestions to try to help me because they could recognize better than me that I needed help. My real job at that point was to help myself.

A few days remained until our appointment. I agreed to take time off – we surfed the web at the Luxembourg Gardens and walked around town. I went to the gym and went to bed earlier at night. I resigned myself that if there was a problem, they would give me more time to fix it.

Our package was assembled. We had another meeting on Skype with Jennifer from Mon Ami Andy to go over everything. I highlighted the places in our documents where the income stream on my spread sheet showed up as deposits in the three months of US bank statements. I highlighted where transfers occurred from the US to France, and provided copies of the transfer documents themselves. I downloaded and printed the Tricare Overseas (retired military medical insurance) pages to show that we were enrolled and to show the list of recommended physicians and hospitals in France. I created an example of a bill from our doctor that I paid and for which I filed a claim and received reimbursement. I went over the checklist again and again, finding a few more mistakes and fixing them (and trudging back to Copy Self to print new copies). Brenda and I rehearsed how we would assemble our documents, how we would present them, and what we would say. On Sunday before our Monday appointment, we rested.

On Monday we went about 2 hours early to our official appointment at the main Préfecture office on Île de la Cité. We got through security and lined up outside of the room where we were to have our meeting. A man at the front door greeted us and quickly checked our paperwork, which he pronounced as “magnifique”. Then he gave us each a ticket and told us to sit down. In our room full of people, there really weren’t others like us. There were corporate employees with their families and a corporate attorney to shepherd them through the process, spouses one of whom is a French citizen and the other requiring to establish residence, students following the instructions from their schools, and others who spoke good French. People always ask us, why are you here, to which we shrug and say because we thought we would like it.

We were finally called to our meeting with a young woman, I would guess in her ’20s. She first went through Brenda’s paperwork and then through mine. She asked questions about our medical insurance, but after we demonstrated the process for reimbursement, she checked with her supervisor and accepted the plan. She was happy with everything else. Finally she wanted to know why Brenda’s last name was neither mine nor her maiden name. Brenda had been married in Australia in the ’70s. The woman asked for a copy of the divorce decree. I told her that I didn’t have it with me, but could get a copy at our apartment. She said she was going to lunch, and for us to get it and meet her back afterward with it.

We raced home and got our copy of the nearly 35 year old document, which I had attached to an original copy of our marriage license in an envelope of extra stuff I had brought first to San Francisco and then to France just in case. 25 years ago we sent to Australia for it so that we could obtain a military ID for Brenda when I was in the Navy. No one had ever asked about it since. We raced back to the Préfecture, entered back through security and waited for our inspector to return from lunch. When she finally returned I gave her the document, and she asked me for the translation. Checkmate – I told her I didn’t have a translation. She consulted her supervisor and bought back three documents for us to sign, two swearing that we were married and one for me to agree to accept whatever liability France might bear for our not having a good enough divorce decree [my interpretation]. Since I have already signed many software end user agreements, I readily signed what was put before me.

Our inspector printed new récépissés for us to verify and sign. We are once again legal residents in France. She also gave us each a Convocation (appointment slip) to pick up our real Cartes de Sejour on or after June 25th. The new permit is good through the end of January 2015. To renew that one, we need to start 5 months ahead of time, which would be next October.

In the aftermath I came down with a cold, which I’ve now passed on to Brenda. Still, we celebrated our new cartes de séjour and my birthday with our French friends Cat and Jacques, including a night of dancing. I just hit 21 for the third time (63), still trying to grow up.

A new apartment in Paris

Boulevard Saint-Germain when it was first created

We’ve moved just 3 blocks from our first apartment in a medieval building along the Seine to a new apartment in Paris built on Boulevard Saint-Germain during the Haussmannian era of the mid 1800s. From roughly 1850 to 1870 France was governed by Emperor Napoleon III, who as a main priority set about remodeling Paris to open up the view from the narrow, cramped medieval streets and to install sewer and water systems that would serve the city as it grew. To do so, he appointed an exceptionally strong public administrator, Georges-Eugène Haussmann, as Prefect of the Seine Department of France. Haussmann carried out a program to demolish crowded and unhealthy medieval neighborhoods, to annex suburbs surrounding Paris, to relocate many thousands of people from central Paris to the suburbs, to create a series of wide, straight avenues with parks and squares, to construct new sewers, fountains and aqueducts. He overcame tremendous opposition to do this, and in 1870 he was dismissed by Napoleon III to assuage pressure from his critics. The third phase of Haussmann’s plans was still unfinished, but work continued even after he was fired and was finally completed in 1927. In the end, hundreds of old buildings were razed, and more than 80 kilometers of new avenues were constructed.

Our new apartment building

The Paris you know today was the Paris created by Haussmann. The uniformity spelled out in Haussmann’s building codes created a look that is distinctly Parisian, but if you’ve seen one Haussmann apartment, you’ve seen them all. There is still a certain sentiment for the old medieval streets and wood beamed buildings.

We moved for several reasons, but our new place has both pluses and minuses compared to the old one. We looked at apartments all over Paris, but in the end opted for another apartment in the 5th arrondissement simply because we like that neighborhood the best. The basic improvements we sought were a quieter location with more space for guests and a kitchen with an oven. The new apartment is about 50% larger and has a much better arrangement for guests. It has high ceilings and appears much more spacious. Also the fixtures and appliances are better quality. It looks on a courtyard rather than out into a noisy street. On the negative side, the new apartment was quite dirty, and we spent many unanticipated hours cleaning. We were able to negotiate a rent credit for some of the time we spent. The new apartment was not nearly as well furnished as our first, so we’ve spent considerable time and money buying missing pieces. The old apartment had double paned windows, while the new one has the original single panes – you can see the glass flowing. Brenda misses the view of Notre Dame and the light and bright feel of the old place, as well as the large luxurious marble bath with double sinks. Hugh loves it that the new place is quiet at night.

Our medieval street, Rue de Bievre. The French President François Mitterand had lived halfway down the block.

The medieval street, Rue de Bievre, at the old apartment shows how Paris was before Haussmann.

It was the first time we had to arrange for gas and electricity, since utilities and Internet had been handled by the landlord in the first apartment. We were able to call the Frech utility EDF and make our arrangements in English, which really helped since we had to estimate our usage of gas and electricity to properly size the capacity that would be allocated to us. We pay a flat rate that can be adjusted based on meter readings each quarter. The start up of our service went very smoothly. While at the old apartment the heat was electric, here we have gas heat (radiators) and hot water. The old apartment had two electric meters, one with a lower rate from 11pm to 7 am, the other with a higher rate during the daytime. Here we have only one electric meter and one gas meter, the assumption being that since we use the cheaper gas for heat and hot water, we don’t need the same incentives to save power. Gas in Europe generally costs 2-3 times as much as we pay in the US. We have become much better conservers of energy.

It was also the first time for us to sign up for Internet service. Since we already had two mobile phone accounts with Orange, a provider of both mobile and residential communications services, we shopped with them first. For and additional 25 Euros per month, we arranged bundled services that include, in addition to our two cell phones, fiberoptic internet and HD TV with extra on demand movies and TV (all in French of course), unlimited calling to US land lines, plus a mobile hot spot for up to 4 devices that has unlimited data usage. Telecoms are competing in Europe! Our total bill for two cell phones and all our residential communications needs is about 75 Euros per month, far less than we pay in the US.

Installation was not easy. Hugh made an appointment to meet the installer, but when he contacted our building concierge about getting access to the basement for part of the work, she refused him and told him it would have to be after 6 pm because she had other plans for that day. Hugh went and requested that the appointment be cancelled, but the installer showed up anyway. It took over 6 hours to figure out the best way to pull fiberoptic cable from the connection point outside our apartment into the place were the “set top box” was to be located. The installer was quite ingenious and revealed many secrets about how these buildings from the 1800’s can meet the needs of today.

Shortly before 6 pm we again contacted the concierge, who argued with the installer for about half an hour about why we should need to upgrade service, also noting that she had not agreed to assist prior to 6 pm even though she was now there talking to us. She called down some of our neighbors, who testified on our behalf that what we were requesting was necessary. We remained quiet throughout the process and let the installers and the neighbors settle the issue. Finally the concierge relented and our installer was able to complete work in about 5 minutes.

Living room and dining rooms – picture on left was my Valentine’s present

We had to change our address with the mail service so that mail sent to the old address would be forwarded. In France it costs 35 Euros for the service to forward mail for 6 months. Unfortunately, there was a parcel had been sent though the mail that could not be forwarded. Brenda purchased a French print for Hugh to be delivered on Valentine’s Day. It was being sent by mail through La Poste. Unfortunately, the company promising delivery notified us that there was a delay. Perhaps a week later they sent email to us that the print had shipped and included the tracking number for the package. Hugh tracked the package but noted that it remained at an unidentified location at La Poste (somewhere in Paris) for more than a week. We contacted the company that shipped the print and also visited our local post office, who could not help us with locating the parcel. Finally we received email from La Poste that they would be contacting us for delivery. Unfortunately by then we had moved. After the mandatory 2 tries to deliver (we think you need to be standing by your mail box when they show up because they made no attempt to contact us), we received notice that we could pick up the parcel at the post office. We went there the next day with our notice. The postal clerk asked us for identification. He would not accept any ID except an original passport (not drivers license or copy of passport). Hugh had to go back and get the passports before we received our package.

When we opened it we discovered it was damaged – a small dent in the tube caused a crease the length of the print. Eventually we were able to return the print to the company that shipped it and receive a new one. We were able to purchase a frame and hang it a month or so after Valentine’s Day. Voila! All’s well that ends well.

The new apartment remains a work in progress. Here are some photos comparing old and new and showing what it’s like in the new place. It has been a pleasant surprise to discover that there is a world of new shops and activities right in the same area where we’ve been living the past year.