A Song of Egypt

friends from Paris

Five of us traveled together from Paris – me, Brenda, Cat, Jacques, and Betty. (Click on any photo to enlarge)

Every morning at our hotel by the Red Sea the guy making eggs would hum a little song. It was a happy song, though I had never heard the tune. It was always the same. He was always happy, cooking eggs, humming a song of Egypt.

I would never have chosen to travel to Egypt on my own, yet luckily I have friends who see the world differently. Our French friend Cat heard from her friends that Egypt was a great vacation experience and that the fear of terrorist attacks that had seriously affected tourism had subsided. She pushed for us to go there on a winter vacation, and thus it came to pass.

Egypt is so old. Go back a thousand years in our history to the beginnings of France and England. Continue back another thousand to the beginning of Christianity. Keep going back 300 more years, to the end of the Greeks and also the end of the Egyptian Pharaohs. Finally go back 2700 more years to the beginning of recorded Egyptian history (3000 BC), though the culture had no doubt been preparing itself for several hundred years before that time. The reign of Egyptian Pharaohs endured far longer than has our western culture.

Women with animals at rest stop

Several women with their animals showed up at our first rest stop to earn money by posing for photos.

Yet there is a modern day Egypt. 100 million people live there, 90% Muslim, 10% Coptic Christian (Coptic is a Greek word meaning Egyptian). The population is poor by western standards, yet richer than you would think in terms of material possessions, health care, infant survival, and many other measures of the quality of life (see the short video clip below). Tourism is the largest component of their economy. Despite perceptions, our guide told us that Christians and Muslims get along, that the culture is centered on the family and is traditional to a far greater extent than we accept today in the west. Another guide talked about the principles of Islam, the difficulty of remaining celibate until marriage, which typically for men is in their 30s and for women in their mid 20s. Religious law still prescribes death for the woman who becomes pregnant before marriage. Very unsettling for westerners.

Travel to Egypt

Travel to Egypt was harsh. Our flight on FlyEgypt Air was spartan – they serve free water, and the seats do not recline. People were packed in like sardines. Our flight from Paris to Hurghada, halfway down the country along the Red Sea, was delayed 3 hours, resulting in our spending a night in a hotel on the Red Sea coast before arriving at our Nile cruise boat. We were late to bed and set out early the next morning by bus for the Nile. All slack was removed from our tour schedule because of that delay.

On the Nile river proceeding south from Luxor

On the Nile River proceeding south from Luxor

Still, once aboard our boat on the Nile, everything was sublime. It was a fine hotel. The weather was mid 70s (25°C) and sunny. There was a gentle breeze. We spent a week cruising down the Nile, starting at Luxor (Thebes in ancient times), going to Aswan (where Egypt twice has built a dam to contain the flooding of the Nile), and then returning to Luxor. We went on a number of tours along the way to see the temples at Kom Ombo, the Temple of Isis on the Island of Philae, Abu Simbel, Esna, Karnak, Luxor, some tombs at the Valley of the Kings, and other tourist activities.

When we weren’t on tour, the boat was underway, and we were enjoying the sun and perfect weather while watching and listening to the sounds on the banks of the Nile as we passed by. While at Aswan, we ventured further south by bus to near the border of Sudan to see the ancient temples at Abu Simbel. These were moved in a giant engineering project of the ’60s to prevent permanent immersion beneath Lake Nasser when the High Aswan dam was built.

Mina, our tour guide

Mina, with the umbrella, was our guide and leader.

Our tour guide, Mina, was terrific. He spoke slow and grammatically correct French, which was perfect for us amateurs. Did I mention that only French and German were spoken on our boat? We fell in with our French group (18 total) and benefited from a concentrated course in French conversation. By the end of the trip we were all friends. We had mostly late nights and early mornings to make our tour schedule, and after a week of cruising and touring Egyptian antiquities, most of us were tired.

To get over being worn out from touring, we spent a second week in a quiet all-inclusive hotel along the Red Sea at Safaga. This area primarily attracts diving enthusiasts because of the ample sea life in the off shore reefs. For us it was a chance to relax and enjoy the sunny winter weather. Starting in 2008 there was a push to develop the Red Sea coast for tourism, but unfortunately an economic downturn in 2011 stopped many of these projects, leaving half finished buildings along the way.

Touring out in town – security concerns

Security guard Abu Simbel

Brenda poses with one of the security guards at Abu Simbel. He has us covered.

Security is still a concern. One day we ventured to the busier tourist area of Hurghada to the north. The city sprawls with hotels and unfinished development. We visited a mosque, a Coptic Christian church, and a mall with various shops selling Egyptian goods that might appeal to tourists. The mosque was fenced and guarded at the boundaries. Women had to don chadors, the body and head coverings traditional for muslim women. The street in front of the Coptic church was barricaded, and there was security at the entry. We could not visit the local marketplace, the souq, because there had been too many problems with theft and pickpocketing. Our boat and hotel had tight security and armed guards. A couple times we had an armed guard on the bus with us.

One morning in Luxor Brenda and I escaped our net of tourist security and went into the town unguided. We set out to walk from our boat to the Luxor Museum, about 5 kilometers (3 miles) to the north. As with every trip into the public, even with guides, we were immediately accosted by people wanting to sell us stuff – scarves, taxi rides, carriage rides. First they greet you – “hello, where are you from? Parlez vous français?” After establishing a language, they make low price offers. As we walked along a man was trotting in his carriage beside me, offering a ride at various prices. “Non merci”, I kept saying to him and to the many others who approached. One always must negotiate price; nothing is ever as first announced. It’s a tricky game that we don’t play well.

Mr Sisi

Brenda and Mr Sisi

Finally, after perhaps 4 kilometers we were approached by a man in bluejeans and a blue working shirt. He said his name was Mr Sisi and that he worked at the Tourist Bureau, that no one would bother us when he was around. Mr Sisi spoke the best English of anyone we met in our travel to Egypt. He told us he met his wife in Minnesota when he lived in the US, and that he spoke 6 different languages. Then he told us what a rip off it is to go to tourist shops with our guide, who probably gets a portion of whatever is sold, adding that he knew of a market where the prices were fair and a portion of the proceeds would go to benefit the children.

I asked if he wasn’t actually the President of Egypt (whose name is el-Sisi). He said no, he didn’t have time for that. He mentioned that the Luxor Museum only takes Egyptian pounds for entry fees. We only had Euros and a credit card.

He led us over to see his market, and eventually we found ourselves sitting in front of Mr George, who was a jeweler. He showed us movies of himself and his son making jewelry in their family business. Brenda found a piece she liked, and he told us the story of it. He quoted an enormous price, which we did not agree to. He kept talking about it. Since we were friends of Mr Sisi, he could reduce the price by 40%. Because we were his first customer of the day, he could reduce by another amount. Since he liked us, he could come down some more. Eventually he offered a price that was about 20% of the original price. We agreed to this amount and paid.

I’m sure we still overpaid, but it was quite an adventure. We lost interest in going to the museum and decided to head back to the boat. Mr Sisi, true to his every word, made all arrangements for us. I gave him a tip for all his hard work.

Learning to Appreciate Egyptian Art and History

Temple of Khnum at Esna

Temple of Khnum at Esna. King with queens of upper and lower Egypt approaching temple to honor Amun-Ra. This part built by Romans/Greeks about 150 BC.

On vacation I had the sense that what was in my guide book plus what I learned about ancient Egypt during our tours didn’t prepare me to appreciate the scope of what we had seen. Entering a tomb or temple with hundreds of hieroglyphs and art works provides an overwhelming experience of the very ancient art and the enormity of effort to construct these monumental works. I found myself asking what all this was about and why. So I bought a book on Egyptian Art. Though I still don’t know much, here’s a little more.

The Great Pyramids, the Sphinx, and the wonderful Cairo museum, as well as many ruins, are in the heavily populated north of the country. However, the temples and tombs of the New Kingdom at Thebes (1500 – 1100 BC) and further south are better preserved and offer a better way to appreciate how the tombs and temples were arranged in relation to the settlements, not to mention the opportunity of cruising the Nile, seeing the Aswan Dam developments, several later temples built under control of the Greeks, and the magnificent restoration of Abu Simbel almost at the border of Sudan.

Ramses III making an offering to Osiris and Isis

Ramses III making an offering to Osiris and Isis, 1150 BC

What is most striking is that the mythology, the artwork, the design of temples and tombs, and the basic organization of society hardly changed over the entire 3000 years of ancient Egypt. The temples and tombs and gods and goddesses of the Old Kingdom (3100 to 2100 BC) and the Middle Kingdom (2000 to 1650 BC) were like those of the New Kingdom and even like the temples built under Greek rule after 331 BC. Admittedly the tombs changed from pyramid design to underground structures, but the elements of design, the gods represented in typical art works, and the traditions of burial were not significantly different.

Two elements assisted in maintaining this incredibly stable society. One was the agricultural wonder of the Nile valley, where spring rains overflowed the banks and revitalized the desert soil every year, making crop production much easier than in other parts of the world. The second was a creation myth that explained that even before there was humanity, fundamental principles governed our world, not just principles of physics and mathematics but also of authority and morality. Everything a person might seek or need in his life had already been given.

Ceiling above the sarcophagus of one tomb shows Nut, the sky goddess and Osiris mother, held up by Shu, her father who separates the sky from the earth. Nut swallows the sun each night and gives birth to it each morning.

Before humanity, the Creator had made Osiris along with his brother Seth and sister Isis. Osiris was created as the first king and the first mortal. Seth, a force of chaos and rebellion, murdered Osiris and cut his body into pieces, distributing them all over Egypt. Isis, the mother figure, put the pieces of Osiris back together, wrapping his body in linen, and brought him back to life, the first to be mummified and then reborn into the next life. She also bore Osiris’s son, named Horus, who became the successor as king. Horus defeated Seth and his powers of disruption, and the stable Egypt was born. Every king is a descendant of Horus with authority that was spiritual and universal rather than political. Each new king buried his predecessor in a tomb, a monumental interpretation of his palace, and provided offerings for the late king as if for a god. 1

The Creator-given fundamental principles of authority, morality, mathematics, and physics created the fate of not only the pharaoh, but also every Egyptian. Every Egyptian was to seek to bring his life and expectations in line with the truth of what had been given by the Creator. In doing so, each could assure his or her perfect rebirth into life after death.2

Karnak temple

Karnak Temple, Luxor, Statues of Ramses II and Great hypostyle Hall, about 1250 BC, looking south along the path towards towards Luxor Temple.

Unlike anywhere else in that era (Mesopotamia excepted), Egypt could produce enough food so that a portion of society didn’t need to farm. Egyptians organized society to use the crops as the taxes paid to the pharaoh, who in turn used the taxes to support an enormous cultural effort to honor the gods, the kings as they passed to the next life, and to a lesser extent other officials deserving recognition for their contributions in helping society honor the Truth.

This was an enormous collective effort, farming, harvesting, moving the crops to storage, building communities and training artists to build temples and tombs, providing the resources to feed and house them, gathering and transporting the materials of construction, designing and building the structures, and planning and accounting for the materials and resources to accomplish the goals of the pharaoh. 3

Luxor Temple

Entrance to Luxor Temple. Twin of the Obelisk (about 1250 BC) shown rests at Place de la Concord, Paris, a gift to France in 1830. During the inundation festival, statues of the gods would sail here from Karnak to greet the god Amun-Ra.

The king must have spent much of his time traveling from temple to temple celebrating festival after festival away from his grand residence. The New Kingdom pharaoh was, as with the earliest of pharaohs, as much a figure in social and religious ceremonies as he was the central figure of government. Thebes was designed to accommodate the festival routes of Amun-Ra. North and South there were the temples of Karnak and Luxor, and between them was a sphinx-lined causeway running parallel to the river. Karnak also had a second axis east and west to celebrate the dry season through a festival from Karnak to the king’s mortuary temples near the Valley of the Kings. The Temple of Hatshepsut remains mostly intact, the lone remaining mortuary temple.

Ancient Egyptian art belongs in sacred, contemplative contexts, especially in temples and tombs that became places of offering. The act of making the art was an important part of Egyptian culture. Much of what was created was never intended to be seen. The art seeks to illustrate the perpetual and eternal. Egyptian art is intended to seem clear, familiar, and human. At the same time it is quite abstract and symbolic. It expresses abstract ideas in many different ways through iconography, relative size of figures, and texts. 4

Colossi of Memnon

The Colossi of Memnon were statues at the entrance to the mortuary temple of Amenhotep III, 1352 BC, the largest of the temples in the dry season procession from Karnak west to the mortuary temples of the kings.

The artist puts more stock in presenting recognizable characters and their interaction than in creating realistic representations of the world as it appears to the eye. The artist gives the gods human characteristics and the power of speech. He employs standard forms and poses with stock clothes and regalia. The artist organizes and divides the composition into distinct areas of information. The arrangements are acceptable to the eye and seem real-world at first glance. 5

Hieroglyphs state identities and details. They are a device for writing the sounds of ancient Egyptian to add information that enhances visual attractiveness while clarifying meaning. 6

The human form of Egyptian art in two dimensions is so iconic that we lampoon it, witness the 80’s sketch by Steve Martin. This style of art is not from lack of skill. The Egyptians maintained this form across dozens of centuries. Art often depicts shoulders square to the canvas, but shows the hips and feet and head turned 90 degrees. There is no unified viewpoint for the body as a whole, rather, the artist maintains a single distinctive view for each part of the body. The eyes are often over sized and looking at you even if the head itself is turned. 7

Great Temple of Ramses II

Great Temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel, 4 statues of Ramses II, about 1250 BC, stare impassively outward, inviting you to make an offering.

“The art of ancient Egypt represents a committed attempt throughout the centuries to illustrate human lives in a context that does not move on or pass away.”8 For nearly 3000 years Egypt remained this beehive of human activity responding to the Truth, the unchanging fundamental principles of its very creation.

Imagine how much different that is from our worldview of progress, scientific revolution, and individual attempts to achieve freedom, equality, nirvana, agelessness, peak experiences, etc. In our society we seek progress towards perfection. In ancient Egypt, perfection was already there, and the challenge was to accept the Truth and adore what was already perfect and present from the creation.

To see more photos of our travel to Egypt, including more about our time on the Red Sea, follow this link to a Photo Tour.

  1. Manley, Bill. Egyptian Art. World of Art. London: Thames & Hudson, 2017. Ch2 loc 465 ↩︎
  2. Manley, Bill. Egyptian Art. World of Art. London: Thames & Hudson, 2017. Ch3 loc 544 ↩︎
  3. Manley, Bill. Egyptian Art. World of Art. London: Thames & Hudson, 2017. Ch 4 loc 935 ↩︎
  4. Manley, Bill. Egyptian Art. World of Art. London: Thames & Hudson, 2017. Ch 8 loc 1661 ↩︎
  5. Manley, Bill. Egyptian Art. World of Art. London: Thames & Hudson, 2017. Ch 1 loc 156 ↩︎
  6. Manley, Bill. Egyptian Art. World of Art. London: Thames & Hudson, 2017. Ch 6 loc 1282 ↩︎
  7. Manley, Bill. Egyptian Art. World of Art. London: Thames & Hudson, 2017. Ch 7 loc 1371 ↩︎
  8. Manley, Bill. Egyptian Art. World of Art. London: Thames & Hudson, 2017. Ch 15 loc 4307 ↩︎

Bonne Année 2019

Happy New Year! 2018 ended for Brenda and me at an all-French party with friends and friends of friends in their home south of Paris. We returned to our apartment at about 4am this morning. Cafés and bars in our neighborhood were still going strong and there was lots of traffic. Über was charging surge prices. It’s sad to think that another Christmas season has passed so quickly.

Without trying to add too much detail, I can say that our 2018 was another year of traveling abroad and back to the US, meeting friends here in Paris, and taking advantage of some of the cultural opportunities that come our way in this part of the world.

Cami and Brenda enjoying the beautiful weather by the Seine

Just to name of few of the people who visited (I know I’ll miss some), Barb Maxey from Poulsbo stayed with us over Christmas and New Years 2018. Martha Pendergast (also from Washington) stayed with us in March. Patti and Bill Wilson (Washington) visited us in April. Cami Gurney (Washington) stayed with us in May. Dianne Rodway and John Becker (Portland) visited us in September. Kelly and Linda Lunn from Portugal stayed with us in October. Plus we’ve had a host of others whom we’ve met for dinner or at our apartment: MaryLou and Paul Vibrans, Brian Dunhill, PK McLean, Rick Anderson and Louise Rosenbaum, Pam Perry and Jane, Nancy Whitaker, Chad Zinda and partner Felix, Ward Fuentes, Hermie and Virgil Valdez.

Brenda and her mom at the end of Bloomsday

Presenting Gary Carlson with $50.

We traveled quite a bit. Brenda went back to Spokane to see her mom in February, May, and September, and I was able to join her in May, when we all competed in the Bloomsday 12km road race. Though Brenda and I finished out of the money, her mom placed 3rd in her age group for the second year in a row. On the same visit to Spokane I was able to pay off my outstanding debt for the 2017 Army-Navy Game to Army veteran Gary Carlson. We had been haggling over payment terms, but I was finally able to satisfy him by personally presenting a $50 bill. Unfortunately, Gary passed away in June, which was a very sad occasion. Though I would have lost the bet again this year, I very much miss the banter we had regarding the Army versus the Navy.

The beach at Ko Phi Phi

The beach at Ko Phi Phi

Patong Beach incoming fire from squirt guns on Songkran

Patong Beach incoming fire from squirt guns on Songkran

We spent nearly three weeks in Thailand with our French friends Cat and Jacques. We visited the beach areas of Ao Nang, Ko Lanta, Ko Phi Phi (with its breathtaking beach), and Phuket, with the unbelievable Songkran celebration of the Thai New Year at Patong Beach. Thousands celebrate the New Year by shooting each other with giant squirt guns or dousing each other with buckets of water. We returned from dinner soaked to the skin. We also spent several days in Bangkok, which was spectacular.

Our bed and breakfast in Normandy

Our bed and breakfast in Normandy

Brenda with Alison Fankhauser - they were school teachers together in Australia 40 years ago.

Brenda with Alison Fankhauser – they were school teachers together in Australia 40 years ago.

In July we went to Brussels, where our financial advisor Brian Dunhill invited us to celebrate Ommegang with the American Club of Brussels. The evening featured a wonderful dinner followed by a traditional pageant that ends with guys on stilts fighting to topple each other in the town square. Also in July we were in Normandy with Cat and Jacques, and later a week in Nice at the apartment of friend and Paris real estate expert Adrian Leeds. In September we spent a few days in Amsterdam with Poulsbo friends Wally and Wendy Hampton, and then later in September met our Australian friends Dean and Alison Fankhauser in Split, Croatia, prior to their big bike trip along the Dalmatian Coast.

Some street artists have made it big

Some street artists have made it big – this by the artist INTI

With Kelly and Linda Lunn atop the Eiffel Tower

With Kelly and Linda Lunn atop the Eiffel Tower

In our spare time there were concerts, art galleries, and local events here in Paris. I went to the top of the Eiffel Tower for the first time. Just to mention a couple of the less-well-known events we attended, there was a stunning multi media presentation of the artwork of Gustav Klimt (and others) at Atelier des Lumières, projecting an hour of ever changing artwork on all walls and the floor choreographed to beautiful music. Attendees were immersed and wandering around in the art. We also went on a street art tour in the 13th Arrondissement, where our passionate presenter spent more than 2 hours enlightening us about the fundamentals and the motivations of the artists, and new involvement of the Paris government in promoting this form of artistic expression.

Early February Snow storm

Early February Snow storm

January flooding by the Seine

January flooding by the Seine

There were the usual ups and downs in daily life. In late January there was historic flooding and high water on the river Seine that closed my running route by the river for two months. In early February there was a historic snow storm. There were the Giles Jaunes (yellow jackets) riots on the streets of Paris over the past month. These were very disruptive but also occurred at specific well advertised locations, so the overall effect was much less dangerous than it appeared from the TV coverage.

Hugh with lump on head above eye

Hugh with lump on head above eye

Brenda's broken hand (little finger)

Brenda’s broken hand (little finger)

I fell while running one time and hit my head on the pavement, causing a nice bruise. Brenda broke her hand in a fall while running, but she didn’t know it for a month. Now we tell each other « pick up your feet » before each run. I finished reading Les Misérables in French. I joined a monthly poker game. We went to two wine tasting events, where we learned there is a wide variation in how people taste wine, and that there is no reason to believe the point score of experts or the high prices of big name wineries as indicators of what wine would be best for you. Often in a blind taste test, a lower priced wine may be very competitive. So trust yourself.

mannequin Christmas tree

mannequin Christmas tree

Bonne Année!

Bonne Année!

The year ended with another wonderful Christmas Eve with Cat and Jacques and family. I spent a long time looking over with Cat’s father his cruise book from his time in the French Navy in the late 1940’s. My French is improving (but still has a long way to go). We also hosted our friend Barbara Hoehfeld (from Frankfurt) and her daughters Pascale (from Paris) and Ingrid (from Israel) and other family members on December 26th for a buffet lunch. Brenda created a beautiful mannequin Christmas tree, and we strung lights on the fireplace mantels and windows.

So…Bonne Année! We’re thankful for another great year here. All the lights are on for a final celebration. Go Huskies in tonight’s Rose Bowl. We wish you all a happy and healthy New Year. Bisous, Hugh Nelson and Brenda Prowse

 

Columbus Day

Statue of Christopher Columbus in Barcelona, Spain

Statue of Columbus for the Barcelona Universal Exposition of 1888 commemorating his first voyage to America

With the growing unpopularity of Columbus Day (the second Monday of October in the US), this might be the perfect opportunity to review why we celebrate. This statue of Columbus in Barcelona was erected for the Barcelona Universal Exposition of 1888 to commemorate his first voyage to America. His statue points seaward from the harbor in Barcelona.

Columbus was Italian, but he sailed under the flag of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. They represented the crowns of Castile and Aragon, lands which today make up the northern part of Spain. Modern Barcelona was part of Aragon. Spain itself wouldn’t become a unified country until 1512.

Columbus was seeking a sea route to the East Indies (China and India and the spice islands). Since the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Ottoman Empire was charging European traders high fees for those making the dangerous passage to cross by land though the modern day Middle East and Russia or across Egypt to the Red Sea. It was possible but also very treacherous to sail around the horn of Africa. Another sea route would benefit the growing amount of trade between Europe and the East Indies.

At the time of Columbus’s voyage, many educated Europeans thought that the world was round, but they greatly underestimated its size. Columbus believed it was possible to reach the East Indies by sailing west. He first landed somewhere in the Bahamas on October 12, 1492, and later would make expeditions to modern day Cuba, Hispaniola Island (modern day Dominican Republic and Haiti), parts of Central and South America and other islands in the Antilles. Europeans named this part of the world the West Indies, since it obviously wasn’t the East Indies.

Columbus never realized his goal of finding another route to the East Indies, though his efforts and subsequent European exploration conferred great wealth upon Spain, brought French, English, and Dutch explorers to America, and left a lasting impact on the continents of North and South America, which we celebrate by a day named in his honor. The process of European exploration and colonization, which also involved slavery and subjugation of the indigenous peoples, produced many negative effects that continue to be addressed in national and world politics. Thus this heroic icon is taking on a new and fuller meaning of the process by which our world has developed.

The Assumption of Mary

Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal - the Assumption of Mary

Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal – our destination for the Assumption of Mary

August 15th is the French national holiday for the Assumption of Mary. This religious day is celebrated in many parts of the world by about 1.5 billion Catholics, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, as well as by parts of the Anglican Church. The holiday celebrates the bodily taking up of the Virgin Mary into heaven at the end of her earthly life. For Catholics, it is a day to go to mass. For France, it is a day when almost everything is closed, similar to Christmas.

Yet France is one of the most unreligious countries in the world. In one survey of 2010, about 40% of the participants identified as not believing there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force, about 50% as Christian (almost all Catholic), less than 6% Islamic, and only small percentages of Jewish and other religions. The group identifying as Catholic has dropped from about 80% to 50% since 1985.

An article in Tuesday’s La Figaro showed how large numbers of believers participate in pilgrimages as part of practicing their faith. While destinations like Jerusalem, Rome, and Santiago de Compostela in Spain attract large numbers, there are numerous destinations in France that are also attractive. A sizable percentage of French tourism is for reasons of spiritual belief.

The Roman Catholic Church has recognized eleven Marian apparitions (supernatural appearances of Mary), five of which occurred at locations in France in the 19th Century. A line superimposed through these five locations on the map of France produces the shape of an M. One of the locations is in Paris, at a chapel I had never heard of, The Chapel of our Lady of the Miraculous Medal (Notre Dame de la Médaille Miraculeuse). The La Figaro article said that over 2 million people visit this chapel each year. It’s on rue de Bac near the Bon Marché department store, not far from our apartment. So I set out on a pilgrimage.

Entry Hall, Notre Dame de la Médaille Miraculeuse - the Assumption of Mary

Entry Hall, Notre Dame de la Médaille Miraculeuse

On rue de Bac near the popular Grande Epicérie de Paris, the specialty food store of the Bon Marché, I found a doorway allowing people to come and go down a long corridor to Notre Dame de la Médaille Miraculeuse. I walked around trying to photograph the outside of the chapel, but at ground level it is completely hidden from view by other structures.

Once inside I walked past displays and religious coin vending machines, statues, and welcome offices for arriving pilgrims. The chapel was at the end of the hall. A service was in progress. I entered, found a seat in the back, took an inconspicuous photo, and sat through a mass in a language I believe was Korean. I tried to participate, but was hampered by my complete lack of knowledge of Catholic traditions, customs, and liturgy, not to mention the Asian language of the service. People occasionally left something in a basket in the center of the room. I assumed it was an offering, so as I departed I walked up and put in a small donation. Too late I noticed that inside the basket were slips of paper, prayer requests! My bad.

Chapel, Notre Dame de la Médaille Miraculeuse - the Assumption of Mary

Chapel, Notre Dame de la Médaille Miraculeuse

Outside again, I saw a display explaining the story of the Marian apparition. A young nun, Catherine Labouré, began her service here in 1830 with the Company of the Daughters of Charity. Their motherhouse was at 140 rue de Bac. On the 18th of July and the 27th of November 1830, the Blessed Virgin appeared in the Chapel before Catherine. She asked that a medallion be made to a design that she dictated, adding that, “All who wear this medal will receive great graces.”

It was a time of great unrest in France. The bloody 3 day revolution of July 1830 replaced the constitutional monarchy of the last of the post-revolution Bourbon kings with another conferring the monarchy to Louis Philippe of the Orleans line of the royal family. France was industrializing and becoming more wealthy, but there were few social services and the poor were miserable. The workers were dissatisfied with the status quo. It is the same setting as in Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables”, a novel that above all was about the misery of poor people in France. In 1830, Jean Val Jean, the hero of that story, is living with his adopted daughter Cosette on rue de Plumet (today’s rue Rue Oudinot). This street ends almost exactly at La Chapelle de Notre Dame de la Médaille Miraculeuse. Uncanny.

Catherine Labouré reported her visions to her priest, who took two years to report this to the archbishop. Eventually a medal referred to as the Miraculous Medal was produced. In the meantime, in 1831, Catherine was sent to Enghien les Bains, to a home for the elderly, north of Paris, where she spent the next 40 years serving these largely poor and miserable residents. The church did not forget her. Following her death in 1876, her body was moved in 1933 to the chapel at rue de Bac and placed under the alter. In July 1947, Pope Pius XII declared her a Saint. It was not until 1950, via this same Pope, that the Assumption of Mary was officially recognized, though it had been part of the teachings of the church for hundreds of years before.

The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung in 1952 said that the Assumption of Mary was the most significant Christian religious event since the Reformation. Finally the church acknowledged a feminine element, allowing Mary to join the three masculine religious figures of Christianity. The realization of this feminine aspect has been slow in arriving, but gradually it is asserting itself, not only in the church, but in secular life as well. Religions adapt to changes in society to offer their adherents a more meaningful view of life, but as you can see, sometimes one must have lots of patience. Bonne fête de l’Assomption!

 

August in Paris

Brenda on deserted rue Cler

Brenda at 3pm on a practically deserted rue Cler – August in Paris (click to enlarge)

Today it’s about 97°F, which has been typical this August in Paris. We have bright sun and not much wind. Since most apartments don’t have air conditioning, it’s pretty miserable in most places. The French call this weather une canicule, which comes from the latin canicula for small dog. In English we call days like these dog days. The English word canine is also related. Many French have left Paris during the traditional August summer vacation period, so it’s quiet in the capital.

A French friend tells us that all the beautiful people have left, but in truth many of us common folks depart also for the seashore, the mountains, camping, or just to visit family outside the hot confines of the city. News media cover the Grands Départs en Vacances in July, including reports on the heavy traffic conditions and breathless interviews on the steps of the Palais de l’Élysée with the departing cabinet members. French President Macron and his wife have gone to Le Fort de Brégançon, the traditional summer vacation spot for French Presidents near Toulon on the Mediterranean.

movie screen at Parc de la Villette

Giant inflatable movie screen at Parc de la Villette. Cinema under the stars.

For those left behind

Ourselves, we’re back from a week’s vacation on the French Rivera in Nice. The seaside was lovely and our room had air conditioning. Now we’re back dealing with the canicule. The plumber came in the heat yesterday to fix the toilet. Thursday the man comes to read the utility meters. Still, it’s fun to be in Paris when everyone has gone on vacation. You don’t have to wait to cross the street, and there are some amusements for those of us left behind.

Paris Plages is a beach scene that attracts thousands down by the Seine and along the canals in the North of Paris. It simulates the beach with swimming, sports, dancing, eating and drinking (but no longer is there sand since there is a world-wide shortage). The other night we joined thousands more at the outdoor cinema set up at Parc de la Villette. They have a giant inflatable screen that allows a big crowd on folding canvas chairs or on blankets on the grass to sit back and enjoy a movie under the stars.

Our group met for a picnic and champagne ahead of the film, which was a classic 1965 Jean Paul Belmondo film entitled, «Pierrot le Fou».  It was from the era when artists were trying to find deep meaning in Campbells Soup cans; the storyline was a bit hard to follow. They gave us each a blanket with our chairs, and I was thinking what possible need would I have when, sure enough, I needed it in the suddenly cool night air. Back home later it was still the same old hot apartment, but guess what – maybe there’ll be a big storm tonight. Temperatures are supposed to fall into the 50’s by Thursday.

In a couple weeks all this heat will dissipate, and we’ll be wishing that August in Paris wouldn’t end. In the meantime we’ll be here, in the heat, sipping cool cucumber infused ice water and eating chilled watermelon. Happy August!

US Passport Renewal in Paris

Where to do passport renewal in France - US Embassy Paris

The US Embassy, where Americans in France complete passport renewal, stands demurely behind tall trees and iron gates at the corner of the largest square in Paris.

A small insight into life for Americans in France. We are in the process of passport renewal for our 10 year US passports. In the US you would fill out a form, send it with a check in the amount of the renewal fee to the State Department, along with a new passport photo and your old passport. They mail you back your new passport. In France you fill out this same form and mail it with your passport to the US Embassy. However, the Embassy neither accepts US money in the form of a personal US bank check nor a personal check from a European bank (nor a credit card of course). You need a French bank cashier’s check (chèque de banque).

When I went to the nearest branch of my bank, HSBC, presented my bank ID card, and requested a chèck de banque in the amount of 94 €, they told me they couldn’t do that. I would need to contact my bank counselor to make arrangements. So I went home and called my counselor. The counselor never answers the phone, so you talk to the person who answers. He asked me for my name and ID number, then had me input a secret code that verifies I’m really me, and then asked what I wanted. I told him I needed a chèck de banque for 94€ to renew my passport. We discussed that it must be made out to the US Embassy. He told me that it would be ready at the branch near us on the following Saturday morning (2 business days).

On Saturday morning Brenda and I went to the bank branch and asked for our cashier’s checks. They had no record of our order. We presented our bank ID cards and personal identification in the form of passports and residence cards. We filled out forms indicating our names and checking account number, the payee and amount. The bank teller told us the checks would be ready on Wednesday (2 business days), but to call first since our order might not be ready in that amount of time.

The US, like France, is very particular about passport and ID photos. However, the rules for background, size, etc., are different. Though there are photo booths all over France for ID photos, they aren’t correct for US passports. Thus we had our photos taken at Walgreens in Spokane when we last visited the US. Dodged that bullet.

Should we ever get the cashiers checks, I think we will be ready to make application. Since we have to send in our current passports, we need to make sure we don’t need them for at least 2 weeks in the future. That means we can’t travel to other countries or even within France. We will want to send in our forms by traceable mail just in case they get lost.

Unlike in the US, where the State Department sends back your passport for free, in France we must send a self addressed prepaid envelope of a certain type with our forms so that the new passport can be returned to us. It must be a Chronopost for France, or Collissimo, or a Lettre suivie 500g size A4 only. Chronopost is the French mail system’s package delivery. Collissimo is a private delivery service affiliated with the postal system. Lettre suivie is a prepaid, trackable envelope that you can purchase at the post office. I chose lettre suivie because I found the right envelope in the post office rack, but I don’t know if it’s the best choice. Each prepaid envelope cost about $8.

The destination, the US Embassy, is within easy walking distance of our apartment, but it’s guarded like Fort Knox, and you need an appointment to enter. Only plan a visit if you need emergency passport renewal. Don’t try to take a photo either; the French guards will start blowing their whistles and all hell will break loose.

Snow in Paris

Snow painting the entrance to the Musée de l'Armée

Snow painting the entrance to the Musée de l’Armée

It doesn’t snow in Paris very often, and when it does, we see the flakes falling but nothing accumulates on the ground. Paris, although it is at the same latitude as the northern-most parts of the US, has a mild, temperate climate similar to Seattle. The relatively mild winter weather is both because of its position in the European land mass and due to the influence of the Gulf Stream on the weather of northern Europe. The Paris urban area is always a couple degrees centigrade warmer than the surrounding areas. This often spares the city from effects of cold weather even when it produces snow in the suburbs. Typically, the temperature here in winter is in the 40-45 °F range. Freezing weather is rare.

Thus it was significant when 12-15 cm (5 or 6 inches) of snow fell in Paris Tuesday night, turning the streets, the parks, and the building tops white. It was the biggest snowfall in Paris since 1987. No one from a snowy winter climate would be impressed with the magnitude of the storm, yet for Paris, the snow creates two effects: it renders the city quiet and magical and it turns city services into chaos.

No shoveling on rue Cler

le Malabar

Not much doing at Le Malabar

About a year ago I purchased an Apple Watch, which has a couple of fitness programs I use, Nike Run Club and the Activity App. These drive me nuts because I have goals every day to stand up often enough, burn enough calories through movement, and to get enough minutes of exercise. It’s relatively easy every day to stand up enough and to get 30 minutes of walking or running, but on days when I don’t run it’s difficult to get the 550 calories of activity. It usually takes about 90 minutes of walking to get there. Oh – and the watch can’t detect when you are doing pushups or squat thrusts, so you can’t achieve the goal by going to the gym. It bugs me not to reach my goals, so every day there is this reckoning.

Eerie quiet in the snow on the Champs de Mars

Eerie quiet in the snow on the Champs de Mars

rue de Belgrade

All is quiet along rue de Belgrade

Tuesday night at 10 pm I still needed about 125 calories, so out I went into the snow storm. I stuffed my 35mm camera into my coat, put up my hood, and walked around. Every once in awhile I stopped to take a photo in the swirling snow. Hopefully I’ve captured some of the calm, the quiet, and the mess. If you click on the pictures you can see a larger version.

Underfoot in the snow, Paris becomes magical. The snow gives a different look to every familiar scene, and the weather keeps most people away, so especially at night the streets and public spaces are lightly trafficked and sometimes deserted. The normal noise and bustle becomes quiet and serene. No one moves quickly. Traffic slows down. Everyone proceeds carefully, looking for solid footing, except the kids who revel in the sudden chance to have a snowball fight.

slushy rue Saint Dominique

Not much activity on slushy rue Saint Dominique

Garden out our apartment window after the snow

Garden out our apartment window after the snow

All this calm belies the inability of the city to cope with even a minor snowstorm. No one has even a shovel. In walking extensively through the city streets, I saw one small green city truck with a snow blade, pushing a narrow path up a busy street. Most streets were eventually cleared by the grinding of the slushy snow under wheel and gradual melting. Curbside there were slush and deep puddles everywhere. Merchants and the City spread salt and sand to improve traction along the sidewalks of the main streets, but other than a narrow path near the doors to the storefronts, the slush and snow remained as a hazard out to the curb. Flights were cancelled. Metro trains and the bus service stopped running. The Eiffel Tower was closed. The city forbid large trucks from using the highways and encouraged people to stay home. Hundreds spent the night in the airport or in a train station. I stopped short of trying to achieve my calorie goal.

By Thursday there was sun but still freezing temperatures. I could sense the extra strain on our apartment’s heating system in the colder weather. Some sidewalks became passable, some almost clear. Others remained slushy and slippery.

The flood waters are subsiding

Snow and ice on Voie sur Berge Rive Gauche

Voie sur Berge Rive Gauche still packed with snow and ice

Snow capped Le Zouave wears his life jacket

Snow capped Le Zouave wears his life jacket

Down by the river the walkways were thick with ice and treacherous. At Place Saint André des Arts I nearly fell several times walking across the slippery brick surface. The flooding that surged into Paris a couple weeks ago seemed to be subsiding, though the roads and walkways beside the Seine are still covered in water. The Crimean War statue called Le Zouave, the city’s unofficial flood gauge under Pont de l’Alma, was outfitted with a life vest. Though the water level looks about 2 feet lower than it was at its peak, perhaps the citizenry still fears for Le Zoave’s safety as this new storm moves through.

Champs de Mars in the snow

Champs de Mars shows no willingness to give up the snow after 3 days.

The days are getting longer. Soon all this will pass and spring will be here.

 

Happy New Year 2018!

Hugh Nelson and Brenda Prowse at Vaux le Vicomte

Apologies to our readers. We have fixed the security device that was blocking comments to our post.

We did a lot in 2017, but one thing we didn’t do was post to this blog. Our experiment of living in France is now almost five years old, and 2017 was no less active than any of the other years. To start the new year out right, here is a small effort, neither too long nor too inclusive, to convey something about the past year.

We traveled a number of places, the most impressive being a trip to Cuba in May. In sum, Cuba is both a country with a totalitarian government and beautiful place with ingenious people who manage as best they can, have happiness where they can find it, and hope for a better outcome in the future. Around every corner of Cuba there was surprise and fascination. It was our privilege to visit with and learn from some of its citizens. We also vacationed on the Greek island of Corfu, which was beautiful, historic, educational, and fun. We went to Barcelona, one of the greatest tourist attractions in Europe, to meet friends from Australia for the second year in a row. We flew back to the US to visit family. The natural beauty of Washington is as good as any other place on earth. We spent time last August in Nice, France, our first experience on the wonderful Mediterranean beaches and towns of France.

We finally moved our furniture from Washington into a Paris apartment. It was a saga and an ordeal, but at least it is done. Apartment hunting, financial contract arrangements, and moving our furniture all took much longer and were much more difficult than we could have imagined, but we’re happy with the result. One conclusion, despite getting rid of as much as we possibly could before leaving Washington, we still shipped too many things that we didn’t need – our bed for instance, which the movers thought was a piano.

We were robbed a couple times. Once I was pickpocketed on the Metro. And one of the movers made off with a few thousand in gold jewelry. None of this was recoverable (except for my French ID card), but it impressed upon us that though France is relatively safe, there isn’t much trust between people.

We stopped taking French lessons. We are still not very fluent, yet our French is many times better than when we arrived. I liken it to failing 3rd grade. Try as hard as you can and come up short every time with no hope that proficiency will ever be attained – yet things seem to be getting better. There is no switch that flips so that suddenly you know French, yet every effort to learn and speak in French makes the experience here better. French self study is still a daily activity.

We have lost some dear friends this year, people who have influenced our lives in the past and continue to do so today. I keep in mind that this life does not go on forever and that every new day presents opportunities to honor the past and to make something of the gifts we have received. On the other hand, we love hearing about the new members of our families, and we’re proud of the efforts of the next generation and want for them every success in raising a new group of children.

The good fortune of our time in France is that we have been befriended by a French family and have been invited into their world. We see them every week and often go on vacation together. This has been a cultural exchange that has enriched our lives immeasurably and has made every inconvenience of living here worth the pain.

So another year begins. We wish you and your family a safe, prosperous, and happy new year!

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.