A Note of Apology

The other day I was trying to install a new theme on our website. The new theme, created for someone starting from scratch, included a few dummy posts so that the purchaser could see how it presented information.

So me…I installed the new theme and then the sample entries, thinking that I could delete them later before activating the theme. Unfortunately, somehow I activated the theme without removing those samples, so you suddenly received six or so new emails from muchadoaboutparis, none of which made any sense. I apologize and won’t let it happen again.

On another note, we are still here, now sometimes in Paris and sometimes in Spokane, Washington, where Brenda’s 97 year old mom lives. We moved back during the Covid-19 outbreak, and bought a house here near mom’s. Now mom has moved to assisted living, and we’ve sold her house. Life goes on.

Strange about those dummy posts – one of the posts was titled, “A Local’s Guide to Saratoga Springs.” I used to live in Saratoga Springs in the early ‘80s. It was the summer home of the New York City Ballet, and I saw Baryshnikov and Susan Farrell. It was the summer home of Eugene Ormandy’s Philadelphia Orchestra. In August the world of thoroughbred horse racing came to Saratoga, and I lost money at the track.

“Not anymore”, as says Inspector Clouseau. Now we live in Paris and Spokane. Hope you are still with us. This is my first post in the new design – hope it doesn’t explode.

Auvers-sur-Oise and the End of the Road for Vincent Van Gogh

Planning the trip to Auvers-sur-Oise

transilien train interior
Hugh aboard the clean and modern Transilien (click on any photo to see larger version)

Earlier this week Brenda and I made a day trip to Auvers-sur-Oise, the burial site of Vincent Van Gogh. It was our first trip on a train outside of Paris in a couple years, and in the interim, the French national train network SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français) had changed its web site from Oui.sncf to sncf-connect.com. Their new web site provides an easy way to enter your starting address and your destination in France or even elsewhere in Europe, after which it spits out an itinerary for your trip, with all possible alternatives from your starting time running forward. What I could not figure out from sncf-connect.com was how to buy my ticket to Auvers-sur-Oise.

After much more hunting around, I figured out that the train serving Auvers-sur-Oise, a type called Transilien, is part of the Paris Transport Authority RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens), along with the Paris Metro, RER, Tram system, and Bus. All I had to do was buy a Metro ticket specifically for my destination, and I could go there via any of the possible routes shown on the schedule on sncf-connect.com.

Making the Trip

Last Monday we went to our nearest metro station and purchased from the counter agent a 10€ round trip ticket from our metro station to Auvers-sur-Oise. Actually, we received two separate metro tickets, one for going and one for coming back. By feeding the ticket repeatedly into the access turnstyles, one could board any combination of bus, metro, RER, Tram, or Transilien train to get to the destination. Only Brenda needed a ticket since I still have a Pass Navigo, the RATP all-access annual pass covering all these same modes for all five zones of Ile de France.

Gare d'Auvers-sur-Oise
Train station at Auvers-sur-Oise

Transilien trains depart from the train station just like other SNCF trains, except they are in a section of Voies (train platforms) that one can only access using an RATP pass or ticket. We took the metro to Paris Gare du Nord and boarded our Transilien train. It took just over an hour with numerous stops before we arrived at Auvers-sur-Oise.


Van Gogh comes to Auvers-sur-Oise

Auberge Ravoux
Auberge Ravoux, across the street from City Hall

Vincent Van Gogh arrived at Auvers-sur-Oise on May 29, 1890. He rented a room in the Auberge Ravoux, across the street from City Hall. The night of July 28th, he died in his room after having suffered a gunshot wound on July 27th. His death was determined to have been a suicide. Van Gogh was only 37 and still mostly unknown. In just 4 short years, he had created a large body of incredible work, yet legend has it that he only sold one painting in his lifetime.

Van Gogh before Auvers-sur-Oise

Van Gogh was from the Netherlands. Though he liked to draw when he was young, he worked (and mostly failed to succeed) at other jobs, including art dealer, supply teacher, minister’s assistant, and bookshop employee. For a couple years he immersed himself in religion, translating the bible. He had several unsuccessful love affairs.

In 1882 he studied art with a successful artist cousin, Anton Mauve. Mauve introduced him to water colors and later to oil paint, which Van Gogh enjoyed. Later they fell out, and Van Gogh returned to live with his parents.

He was painting with a dark palette, and his subjects often included common people living and working. His first significant painting, The Potato Eaters, was judged in 1885 by his brother Theo as being too dark for the Paris Impressionist market.

Van Gogh moved to Antwerp to paint. He enrolled in classes in 1886 at the Antwerp Academy of Fine Arts. He did not do well in completing the work there, often clashing with his instructors. At the end of the year they asked him to repeat his year of training. Instead Van Gogh left for Paris.

Van Gogh in Paris

Julien "Père" Tanguy
Julien “Père” Tanguy, Musée Rodin, Paris

There, he became a member of the thriving artistic community. He lived with his brother Theo, who was an art dealer, in an apartment at 54 rue Lepic in Montmartre. Vincent frequented and displayed his art at Le Tambourin, 62 Boulevard de Clichy, not far from today’s Moulin Rouge. Along with fellow students Émile Bernard, Louis Anquetin, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, he would go to Julien “Père” Tanguy’s paint shop to see Paul Cézanne’s paintings. He studied the neo-impressionist works of Camille Pissarro, Georges Seurat and Paul Signac. In Paris he broadened his palette, learned to use contrasting colors, and developed the unique style for which he would be come famous.

He left Paris in 1888 because he had burned out and was in poor health, drinking and smoking excessively while working long hours. He had completed over 200 paintings.

The Move to Arles

Self Portrait
Self portrait, Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Van Gogh moved to a yellow house in Arles, in the south of France. Here, he would create much of the art that would one day make him famous, completing another 200 paintings as well as many watercolors and drawings. He hoped to attract Paul Gauguin from Paris to form a kind of artist collective, but their brief encounter in Arles was fractious, culminating in the incident where Van Gogh supposedly cut off his own ear. Afterwards, Van Gogh did not recall the incident and seemed to have lost his bearings. After some months in rehab, he tried to return to his yellow house, but the neighbors protested, and he was forced to move on.

In Asylum at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence

Mountains at Saint Rémy
Mountains at Saint Rémy, Guggenheim Museum, New York

In 1889 he spent a year in an asylum at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Despite having limited subjects to paint, he continued to be productive, including painting his swirling version of The Starry Night and scenes from within the asylum. In early 1890 he had a relapse of mental illness. It was at this point that his work started to receive some critical acclaim. Van Gogh was inspired by the good reviews and decided to move to a location back in the north of France. Thus he chose Auvers-sur-Oise.

Between his May 29th arrival and his death about 70 days later, Van Gogh completed some 80 paintings, including some of his best known works.

The Funeral and Van Gogh’s Legacy

Notre Dame d'Auvers-sur-Oise
Notre Dame d’Auvers-sur-Oise

The community held a funeral ceremony at Auberge Ravoux. Van Gogh was protestant, so the Catholic priest refused to allow the funeral at the local church, Notre Dame d’Auvers-sur-Oise. Ironically, Van Gogh’s paintings of that church have made it world-famous and attracted thousands of visitors over the years.

Van Gogh was interred in the cemetery at Auvers-sur-Oise on July 30, 1890. His brother Theo was present, as were his doctor and friend Dr. Paul Gachet and other friends and mourners from the town. Theo died and was buried later that same year in the Netherlands. In 1914, Theo’s wife arranged to have his remains moved to Auvers-sur-Oise to unite the brothers in death.

Graves of Vincent and Theo Van Gogh
Graves of Vincent and Theo Van Gogh

Theo’s wife and later his son collected and stored the artworks left behind. The family loaned works for some years to the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. After they established the state-sponsored Vincent Van Gogh Foundation, the family moved the collection in 1973 to the Van Gogh Museum. Relatively few of Van Gogh’s works are in private hands. The Van Gogh Museum has by far the largest collection and is well-worth visiting.

Make the trip to Auvers-sur-Oise!

City Hall with Van Gogh's painting of 1890
City Hall with Van Gogh’s painting of 1890

Our day trip to Auvers-sur-Oise was a success, though some of the attractions were closed because it was a Monday. We would have liked to visit Auberge Ravoux, where one can have lunch and see the still-empty room where Van Gogh died. There are a number of informative signboards near the Auberge that provide background about Van Gogh’s life. There is a path leading to the cemetery from the Auberge. It winds up the hill past the church and continues after the cemetery past some of the other important landmarks. Along the route are several sign boards at sites where Van Gogh painted, showing a copy of the painting set beside the actual landscape.

Zadkine statue of Van Gogh
Zadkine statue of Van Gogh

A well known Cubist sculptor, Ossip Zadkine, created a sculpture of Van Gogh that mimics the thick wavy strokes typical of Van Gogh’s paintings.

We paused our tour for a well-deserved lunch before heading back to Paris filled with new information and ideas.

Here is a link to a slideshow with photos and more information about our trip to Auvers-sur-Oise.

Some thoughts from France on Covid Vaccination Progress

QR code icon for the French anti covid app
QR code icon for the French anti covid app

Maybe because I’m 70 years old, I jumped at the first chance I had to receive the Covid-19 vaccine. Even better, I received the version from Johnson and Johnson, not only a trusted brand for floor wax (actually that’s SC Johnson – not the same), but also a vaccine that needed only one shot. I came back from France (where at the time I was neither old enough nor sick enough to receive the vaccine) to the US so that I could receive this injection at a Rite-aide Pharmacy in Spokane, WA. The experience for me was painless and incident free, no discomfort, no swelling, no side effects.

That was in April. Since then, I’ve come back to France, where, because of fear of spread of the new delta variant, the government has mandated that, as of August 9th, each person present a verification, a digital code sent from the state in the form of a QR Code, that they have received the vaccine or can otherwise prove via the code presented, that they do not have Covid-19. This is a coercive effort by the government to get more people vaccinated.

outdoor café seating on Rue Cler
Outdoor café seating on Rue Cler

Though my vaccine, recognized in both the EU and the US as safe and effective, allows me to cross the border into the EU using the shot card that I was provided by Rite-aide, it doesn’t meet the French government’s new rules for controlling access to public places. For this, the record of your vaccination has to originate in Europe and be trackable in a way that lets the French government issue an easily scannable QR code (printed or on your cell phone app) so that guardians at the entry to bars, restaurants, museums, or concert halls can quickly grant or deny access to these spaces based on your vaccine status. For Americans, this means that your record of covid vaccination is inadequate to gain access to most of the tourist activities in France, including trains and aircraft within the country. If you do not have the vaccine credential, you can present the results of a Covid PCR test or antibody test taken within the prescribed time limits. This applies to outdoor venues as well as indoors. My last covid PCR test, good for 72 hours, cost me 53€. I can’t imagine why any American would want to visit France under those circumstances.

Outdoor covide antibody test tent along rue Saint Dominique
Outdoor covide antibody test tent along rue Saint Dominique

It is authorized for you to cross the border into France based upon your US record of vaccination, but it is not authorized for you to use that record to sit outside for lunch at a café. This might have something to do with the US precaution to not yet allow EU tourists across our borders.

One can see that the public health record of vaccinations in the US was neither conceived nor intended as certified record that could be linked to our national ID card. Oh yeah, we don’t actually have a national ID card.

Both in France and in the United States, I think a majority of people disdain the vocal minority who refuse to get the vaccination. It seems contrary to “science”, many would say. Yet the fact is, the US government (through the US Food and Drug Administration), while encouraging and mandating that certain groups get vaccinated, as well as supporting state and private efforts to do the same, refuses to certify that the vaccine is safe, except for emergency use.

In the August 5th edition of the Wall Street Journal, a letter to the editor included the following commentary, rebutting an editorial that criticized the FDA position:

The history of drug and vaccine development illustrates possible pitfalls of post-approval drug manufacturing, some of which have had dire consequences. The most notorious was the 1955 “Cutter incident,” in which more than 200,000 American children received a polio vaccine in which the process of inactivating the live virus was defective. The vaccine, manufactured by Cutter Laboratories, eventually caused 40,000 cases of polio, leaving 200 children with varying degrees of paralysis and killing 10.

The Pfizer -BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are not killed-virus vaccines, so faulty inactivation is not a possibility, but the manufacture is highly complex. Emergent BioSolutions, designated by the U.S. government as the sole domestic manufacturer of the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines, had to discard 75 million vaccine doses because of possible contamination. Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration recalled certain batches of a commonly prescribed diabetes drug, metformin, because it contained unacceptably high levels of a cancer-causing chemical contaminant.

Applications for approval are extraordinarily complex and sometimes contain shortcomings or inconsistencies. The medical and public-health experts who are, with the best of intentions, demanding immediate full approval of the Covid-19 vaccines, have not actually reviewed all the data documenting that the manufacturers can produce batch after batch of vaccine with the necessary purity, potency and sterility.

There is also the big-picture issue: If the FDA were to grant full approval to a product that caused a debacle similar to the Cutter incident, or even a problem like the metformin contamination, it would not only injure patients but also provide fodder for anti-vaccine activists and make the public skeptical of vaccines for years, or even decades. We can’t afford a misstep.

Henry I. Miller, M.D.

It would seem that Dr Miller, a founding director of the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology, has already provided sufficient cause (if not verified, the future manufacturing of these vaccines could go awry) for anti-vaccine activists to make the public skeptical. Though about 400 million doses of the various types of vaccines have already been administered in the US, who is to say that future doses won’t be ill-manufactured and cause some sort of catastrophe (though having Covid-19 when you are young seems nothing like contracting polio)?

Perhaps the FDA should perform a cost benefit analysis of protecting their administrative integrity.

Technical Difficulties in Paris in 2020

Hugh and Brenda at the flower market on Ile de la Cité
Hugh and Brenda at the flower market on Ile de la Cité

Remember when the TV would occasionally show a screen saying that they were having technical difficulties? We had a few technical difficulties in Paris in 2020.

Looking back, I have plenty of things to be thankful for. I’m not among those who suffered because of health problems or financial loss. The regulatory regime was a grind, but I found interesting things to do. Brenda and I had six months of family separation while she was with her mother in Washington, but we communicated every day, and I kept busy helping her organize life there. I still had enough of a social life through attending Poulsbo (Washington) Rotary weekly meetings via Zoom, six virtual wine tasting events via Microsoft Teams, and, when we weren’t locked down during the summer, weekend get-togethers with our friends Cathy and Jacques here in Paris.

I think that beyond economic and medical effects, Covid-19 influenced many other aspects of people’s lives. Last fall I had skin cancer surgery, which required 17 medical appointments and considerable effort to submit the medical bills for reimbursement in the United States. Also I was preparing for our annual visit to the Préfecture de Police on December 22nd to renew our French residence cards, a complicated process that takes several months to organize. On top of these obligations and the effects of lockdown on the general routine, a few other problems came up, as described below:

Renewing Brenda’s Military ID Card

In July we realized that we needed to renew Brenda’s military dependent’s ID card. The card was to expire at the end of July. Normally I as her sponsor (since I am retired from the military) must go with her to an appointment at a military base to attest to her being my wife. There is no US military facility in Paris. The last time we traveled to Germany and renewed it at an Army base in Wiesbaden. However, this year I was in France, and she was in Washington State. The DOD ID card office has an Internet feature to allow the sponsor to authorize the dependent’s card renewal remotely so that the dependent can renew their ID by themselves. This is a system with millions of users.

The last week in July, I logged into the site and reviewed all the information, then clicked on the button to renew the ID card. Despite submitting my authorization using the same credentials that I had already used successfully to gain access to the web site, I could not authorize her replacement ID card.

After going to the online help desk, I learned that I could only succeed by using Internet Explorer. As a Mac user, there is no Internet Explorer. Even 5 years ago, Internet Explorer was only used by perhaps 15% of all Internet users. Nevertheless, I reformatted my hard drive and installed Windows 10 and Internet Explorer, plus other specific tools (Javascript and card reader software that I had to purchase) that they said were required to access the site.

It still didn’t work. I called the help desk, waiting on hold for 45 minutes to learn that yes, their site was broken. A system outage had occurred about a week prior, but they said they were working diligently to repair it, so I should just keep checking back. The help desk person assured me that it wouldn’t be a problem since ID cards were now being extended to September 30.

Nowhere on the web site did it say that remote ID card renewal wasn’t working. In fact, while waiting on hold, the message kept repeating that unless you had Internet Explorer, the card reader software, and the correct version of Java you need not ask them for any help.

For the next month I checked back every couple days to see whether they had fixed their Web site, then on August 31st I called again (waiting again on hold for 45 minutes). The site was still broken. There was no estimate for when it would be repaired.

So I downloaded the form, filled it out, and made an appointment on September 4th at the US Embassy (the only place in France where there is a US notary public) to sign the form. After I signed in front of the Notary, I mailed my form to Brenda in the US. It arrived in Spokane in mid-September, still in time for the September 30th expiration.

On September 17th Brenda went to Fairchild AFB near Spokane to renew her ID card, but their card making machine was broken, so bad luck. In the meantime, DOD had now extended the expiration date for cards due to expire until April 2021.

Finally, on October 27th, Brenda was able return to Fairchild with her form and get her ID card renewed. Problem solved!

Obtaining Proof of American Health Insurance

We need to provide proof of our health insurance to renew our French residence permits each year. We have done this the past 6 years – a letter of coverage can be downloaded from my account at DOD benefits web site with the click of a button. In preparation for our annual renewal appointment at the Paris Préfecture de Police, I logged into my military benefits web site account on October 19th and tried to download the proof of coverage letter. It didn’t work. The site’s error message said, “There has been an error. Please check back later”. Once again, there are millions of users covered by this insurance.

I checked back with the same results for a couple days, then called them on October 21st, waiting on hold for 45 minutes. They said that I was the first to report a problem with the system, but that they could fax or mail me the letter. I said I don’t have a fax so please mail to my US postal address. They promised to do so.

On November 2nd I had not received a copy of the letter, so I created an online fax account and called them back. I told them that nothing had been received, and that I was running out of time. They said that they had just received word that there was a problem with downloading the letter. I asked if they could please fax the letter to me, which they agreed to do promptly.

I waited another week, not having received either letter or fax (and the web site didn’t work yet either). I called again and said I really need this letter – please fax to me. A supervisor promised to do so.

A day later I received two partial faxes, only the cover sheet but not the letter I needed. I tested my own fax system from another number and it worked perfectly. I called them back and said that I still didn’t have my fax – please send again.

Within an hour I had my faxed copy, which I sent to the service in France that translates my US documents into French for our appointment. You have to use an official translator for this service. My advisor said she was worried about the letter because It wasn’t signed, and I said it was the best I could do.

On a hunch I checked the web site again. For the first time in 6 weeks, it worked. I downloaded my official-looking letter in one click and sent it to the translator, who thought it was perfect.

Voilà, another problem solved!

Filing French Taxes

Each year we must file income tax both in the US and in France. To do this we hire an accountant licensed in both countries. There is a complicated tax treaty to prevent double taxation of citizens of one country living or working in the other country. In our case, retired with income only from pensions and investments in the US, we don’t owe tax in France, though all of our income must be declared. In France you declare your income from all the sources (using several forms totalling about 25 pages of French legalize) and send this Declaration of Revenue to the tax authorities. In turn they review it and send back a calculation showing how much tax you owe. The past three years we owed zero, as expected. This year (with no change in our sources of income or the treaty) their letter said we owed 692€.

Our accountant said they had miscalculated and furnished a letter that we could use to submit to them. She said that about half her American clients had received French tax bills with errors this year. According to the specific section of the tax treaty, they should be giving us a credit in the amount of the tax owed in France for each of our income streams. Thus we should not owe any tax in France (which is not to say that we didn’t owe tax in the US).

I sent the letter via registered mail on August 31st and a few days later got back the return receipt. On September 28th, with no reply yet from French tax authorities, I received a letter from them saying that since I hadn’t entered my bank account information to allow withdrawal of the tax, they were going to charge an extra 10%. After spending a long time studying the US-French tax treaty in English and in French, on October 2nd I walked in the rain over to our local Centre des Finances Publiques near l’Eglise Saint Sulpice.

Since we were locked down, I waited in line outdoors in the rain (with my umbrella) for about two hours before getting to the head of the line. There was a continuous stream of elderly people, usually with crutches, who arrived and went ahead of those who were waiting. The Centre passed out umbrellas to people in line who had forgotten theirs, but there weren’t enough. One man showed up and insisted that they take him right away since he didn’t have an umbrella and it was raining. Fortunately the gatekeeper didn’t fall for that one.

Eventually I was ushered inside to talk to a man standing behind a large plexiglass wall. I showed him my bill and a copy of the letter I had sent. He asked me for my declaration, so I showed him a copy of that. He told me that the tax treaty was very complicated and that I would need an appointment, but that no appointments were available. He took a copy of my letter and sent me on my way, saying that they would contact me.

When I got home I looked through the my past tax information to figure out the how to log into my account in the French tax system. Since we had never had to pay, I had never done this before. Once I got online, I discovered that two days before I went to the tax center, the government had amended my tax bill so that I only owed 295 euros. After studying the tax treaty more and consulting further with my accountant, on October 18th I sent them a secure message citing the same information from my first letter and asking them to recalculate the tax owed. On November 4th I received a letter from the French government telling me how to pay my 295 euros.

On November 27th I received another correction notice from the French tax authorities, correcting my tax owed to zero. Another problem solved!

Getting Brenda’s Covid Test to Return to France

Finally I’ll add a similar problem Brenda faced in returning to France in late November.

From August 1st, travelers to France aged 11 or older from the United States had to provide before boarding the results of a COVID test taken less than 72 hours before departure indicating a negative result for COVID-19. You also needed a valid reason to travel, in our case being that we have a residence permit and a domicile in Paris.

Brenda was leaving on November 20th, a Friday, from Spokane, flying to Minneapolis, and then Atlanta before departing from there to Paris. It is no longer possible to fly direct to Paris from Seattle, so this is how her previous Seattle flight had been rerouted. We hoped that getting a test 72 hours before leaving Spokane was going to be satisfactory. To meet the timeline she needed to have the test taken on Tuesday, November 17th, and receive the result before the flight departed at 6:30 am on Friday.

The problem was that in Spokane there was no facility providing rapid tests except for doctor-ordered tests for suspected Covid-19 exposures. Most clinics promised results between 1 and 5 days after testing. No amount of begging helped. There were no special provisions to meet tight time requirements for flying to France. Brenda had her test at a local clinic on Tuesday morning, then waited until 3:30am on Friday, when, with no results yet, we decided to cancel her flight and replan. That test cost $100. She received the results on the 4th day.

The only way to get the test result in time to fly was to go to Seattle (so it would be possible to return home if the test was positive), stay in a hotel, and use a testing service that provided overnight results for $250. She had to stay 2 days in the hotel because you couldn’t be certain that a test taken the afternoon of the first day would have results the morning of the 2nd day. This plan worked perfectly. Test results were available, and Brenda made her flight on December 3rd from Seattle to Amsterdam, with follow-on flight from Amsterdam to Paris. Total extra cost to us, including the first test, was about $750.

The only thing was…with the flight coming to Paris from Amsterdam, no one checked anywhere to see if Brenda had a Covid-19 test.

As I was saying in the beginning, I am happy that everything eventually worked out. Our meeting at the Préfecture went well. Life is good. We wish you a Happy New Year and the best in 2021.

Halloween and Terror in Paris – 2020

Entryway to our building, decorated for Halloween
Entryway to our building, decorated for Halloween (Click any photo for larger version)

There is Halloween in Paris

Owing to American influence, there are shops with costumes and decorations. In our neighborhood, we haven’t seen kids go door-to-door soliciting candy, though I buy some every year hoping that they’ll catch on. Spooky Halloween decorations cover the common areas of our apartment building. On the streets, they are already installing Christmas decorations, so you know what is important to the merchants. Still, there is a place in Paris this year for those who dress up in scary costumes and put fierce-looking carved pumpkins on their steps to ward off the evil spirits.

Place de la République after the Charlie Hebdo murders - 2015
Place de la République after the Charlie Hebdo murders – 2015

This year we have terrorists

On October 17th near Paris, a terrorist attacked and beheaded a school teacher who taught a lesson on free speech. His lesson featured controversial elements of articles from the radical Paris periodical Charlie Hebdo, where terrorists had murdered much of the staff in 2015. According to accounts, the teacher had endeavored to present the material in a culturally acceptable way. His efforts were misrepresented on social media as callous disregard for Islamic teachings. An assassin read about it and traveled 80km to kill him and cut off his head.

Then, on October 29th in Nice, a Tunisian who had only arrived in France last month, killed three people in a church, nearly severing the head of one woman. A knife attack last month outside the former office of Charlie Hebdo injured two. Since 1970 there have been nearly 3000 terrorist incidents in France.

Bouquet of Tulips - Jeff Coons
Bouquet of Tulips – Jeff Coons

Recognition for victims

The French government has tried to create a form of recognition for the victims. They give a National Medal of Recognition for those killed, wounded, or held captive. American artist Jeff Coons Bouquet of Tulips honors the victims of the Bataclan Theatre terrorist attack, where hundreds were killed in 2015. It resembles the hand of the Statue of Liberty, only holding a bouquet of tulips (all in Coons’s balloon-like style). We associate tulips of all colors with grace, symbolizing how easily the deceased walked the earth during their time. For me, these attempts do little to address the profound sadness and loss suffered by innocent victims. The anonymous British street artist Banksy created a mural on a door at the Bataclan, a madonna-like figure. Art thieves stole it in 2019. Investigators found it again in Italy last June. I don’t think it has yet been returned.

Informal victims memorial, Place de la République
Informal victims memorial, Place de la République, after Bataclan attacks

The French have pushed back

French President Macron has gone beyond his predecessors not only to denounce the terrorist acts, but also to strengthen French secularism, which advocates that everyone is first and foremost French and supports French ideals. The President has also attacked Islamist separatism, the organization of separate religious-based laws and customs within certain communities in France. The leaders of Turkey and certain countries in Africa with predominantly Muslim populations now denounce Macron for his actions.

These suicidal attacks on innocent people supposedly confer great honor on the attacker and inspire fear in the local population. In my view, the attacker is just one of the victims. Those who inspire the attacker still live. Ironic isn’t it? Even so, these attacks are highly effective with our modern day secular thinking, where we try to censor online media posts, lock down our countries to try to prevent the spread of Covid-19, and organize community events so that children can safely trick or treat. Making everything safe consumes us, even though it doesn’t really make things safer.

Still we have a certain fascination with terror, as if it should exist only to entertain us. For example, the 11 movies of the Halloween series have, over 40 years, produced a significant body of work reveling in murder and terror.

Halloween pumpkins from Tokyo, Venise
Halloween pumpkins from Tokyo and Venice

A history of Halloween

In ancient Britain and Ireland, the Celts celebrated a new years festival, Samhain, held on November 1. Legend has it that during the festival, the world of the gods became visible to humankind. The gods played many tricks on their mortal worshippers. People thought only of danger, fear, and supernatural episodes.

According to legend, during the Samhain festival, the souls of those who had died return to visit their homes. Those who died during the year journey to the otherworld. People set bonfires on hilltops for relighting their hearth fires for the winter and to frighten away evil spirits. Sometimes they wore masks and other disguises so that the ghosts would not recognize them. It was in those ways that beings such as witches, hobgoblins, fairies, and demons came to be associated with the day. The Romans came and conquered. They added their own celebrations for the passing of the dead and celebrating the goddess of the harvest.

By about 700AD, the Roman empire had collapsed, but Christianity had spread to the British Isles. Pope Boniface established All Saints Day. By the end of the middle ages these various traditions had merged. Halloween, All Hallows’ Eve, occurs October 31, followed by All Saints Day on November 1st. After the Reformation, Halloween became a non-religious holiday for Protestants. It came to the United States essentially in its present-day form.

Parole portée, à la mémoire des victimes du terrorisme, sculpture Nicolas Alquin, Belgium
Parole portée, à la mémoire des victimes du terrorisme, sculpture Nicolas Alquin, Belgium

A statue for the victims

In the Jardin de l’Intendant at Hôtel des Invalides is a small, but terrifying statue of a woman. It’s actually a fountain, though the water is usually shut off. It’s well off the street and not marked on either Apple or Google maps. I don’t think tourists know this site. I noticed it from perhaps 50 yards away while walking by. The feminine shape standing alone in the trees is very attractive. Imagine the horror when you realize she is holding her head in her hands. She was dedicated in 1998 to the victims of terrorism following a grisly period of Metro bombings in Paris. To me she represents the true image of the victims of terrorism, a beautiful, shocking, profoundly sad figure.

So it’s Halloween here in Paris. Covid-19 has us locked down. There are terrorists among us. We put out our pumpkins to ward off the evil spirits, knowing that we really don’t have control, but determined to make the best of things anyway.

People remember Franklin Roosevelt for his empty quote, “All we have to fear is fear itself.” Still, if you take that in the context of his first inaugural address, it reads, “the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” It’s a fitting quote for our times.

Bloomsday in Paris

Bloomsday in Paris and the Origins of the Lilac Bloomsday Run

Bloomsday 2016 in Spokane
Bloomsday 2016 in Spokane (Click on photos to see larger version)

In 1979, my mother-in-law Beth Shaw ran her first Lilac Bloomsday Run in Spokane, Washington. My first time was in 1988. This year is my 27th year of competing in the race. My wife Brenda has done it a couple more times than I. Beth was the only finisher over age 90 last year, her 40th race. This community event has become a not-small part of our lives.

Hugh before Virtual Bloomsday
Hugh before Virtual Bloomsday

The man who started the Lilac Bloomsday Run, Don Kardong, finished 4th, only a few seconds shy of the Bronze Medal, in the Olympic Marathon during the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. In those days he was also teaching grade school in Spokane, after having graduated from Seattle Prep in 1967, then Stanford (psychology) in 1971, and then the University of Washington in 1974 with a degree in English and a teaching certificate. 1

In 1977 he left teaching, started a small running store, and organized the first Lilac Bloomsday Run. He was hoping for 500 runners, but nearly 1500 came. In the years following, the race quickly became a huge community event. Since 1986, it has never attracted fewer than 38,000 participants. 2

Virtual Bloomsday

Straightaway on Blvd des Invalides
Straightaway on Blvd des Invalides

The 2020 race was affected by Covid-19, just like practically everything else in our lives. First it was delayed to September from its traditional first Sunday in May. Then, when the organizers realized that the virus restrictions would still be in effect in September, they declared that this year, Bloomsday would be virtual. All one needed to do was register, pay a fee (which gets you the coveted, unique Bloomsday T-shirt), and run or walk a 12km course anywhere in the world. Submit your results on the web site, and you are done.

I had been training for this race for months. Then I strained an Achilles tendon – no running. I had skin cancer removed from a couple places – stitches. Still, I wanted to participate so I signed up, determined to walk if necessary the 12km course somewhere in Paris. My first idea was to make a course in the Bois de Vincennes, a large park on the eastern outskirts. There it would be easy to proceed uninterrupted by traffic.

Honoring Ulysses

Then, thanks to my wife, I got a better idea. Don Kardong named the race Lilac Bloomsday not only because the lilacs bloom in Spokane in May, but also because James Joyce’s classic Ulysses told the story of a day in the life of its protagonist, Leopold Bloom. Bloomsday in the novel is June 16, 1904. This date corresponds also to the date that Joyce met his future wife, Nora Barnacle. James Joyce wrote and published that book in Paris in 1922 after it had been banned in America. The courageous bookseller who agreed to publish this novel, since proclaimed a literary masterpiece, was Sylvia Beach of Shakespeare and Company in Paris. I live in Paris and was running the virtual Bloomsday race, so why not make my course about how Bloomsday is related to Paris?

Bloomsday in Paris

Course for Virtual Bloomsday in Paris
Course for Virtual Bloomsday in Paris

My race route was haphazard. I thought that I would walk the whole way, but decided to run a little because I doubted that I could make my predicted race time of 2 hours by walking. After running the first kilometer, I realized I hadn’t started my watch, so I had to start over. I ended up running 7km, the last 6km counting towards my race.

Then keeping away from crowds of people, I walked quickly (and ran occasionally), winding my way through Paris over to rue de l’Odéon, passing the former site of Sylvia Beach’s apartment and Shakespeare and Company, then to the Latin Quarter past the apartment building where Joyce lived when he finished the book, and finally back by the Seine to the site of modern day Shakespeare and Company. My course worked out almost perfectly even though I had no plan when I began running.

The Odyssey and Ulysses

James Joyce's Ulysses
James Joyce’s Ulysses

Homer’s poem The Odyssey is a story of Odysseus, King of Ithaca, who is trying to return home after 10 years of Trojan Wars. He longs to be united with his wife, Penelope. His son, Telemachus, searches for and finds him when Odysseus arrives again in Ithaca, and helps him to rid his house of suitors who have lined up for Penelope in his absence and to reclaim his kingdom. When the Romans translated the Greek works, Odysseus became Ulysses. In the Roman version I’m told that Ulysses is less formidable and needs more help from others – it’s a more human version of the tale.

Joyce’s Ulysses is a modern parallel to the Odyssey, the action taking place in a single day (Bloomsday), June 16, 1904, in Dublin, Ireland. Our hero Leopold Bloom is an everyman, not a king. His wife Molly is a well-known concert soloist. In the story men ask, “what is she doing with him?” The Telemachus counterpart, Stephen Dedalus, is the well-educated son of Leopold’s co-worker. Leopold starts out in the morning serving his wife breakfast in bed. She has a big meeting scheduled with her concert promoter in the afternoon. He spends the day going to a funeral, trying to sell advertising, and winding along a haphazard path to get back home again, suffering life’s injustices along the way. He ends up helping Stephen, who becomes drunk. Still he returns home late in the evening. Finally in bed with his wife, he tells her about his day and requests that tomorrow, she makes him breakfast in bed.3

Joyce’s Unique Style

The beauty and uniqueness of the story lies in how Joyce renders his characters. The world is a stream-of-consciousness saga related through Bloom’s eyes, but as with all of us, with a thousand random distractions. Bloom keeps moving a bar of soap from one pocket to another across three chapters. He floats in the tub and thinks of a friend floating in the Dead Sea, hardly going beneath the surface; then he wonders what really is this thing we call weight. All along there are Irish terms you don’t understand, and places you don’t know in a fictitious Dublin, sounds of things and plays on words and style, and terms in Latin and French. Yet beneath all this is a plot that bumps along, gradually heading towards the end of the day. 4

Joyce’s First Trip to Paris

Ascending rue des Carmes towards the Pantheon. Saint Geneviève Library is just to the right at the top of the hill
Ascending rue des Carmes towards the Pantheon. Saint Geneviève Library is just to the right at the top of the hill
Hôtel Corneille is at No 5, other end of this short street next to the Odéon Theatre
Hôtel Corneille is at No 5, other end of this short street next to the Odéon Theatre

Joyce first came to Paris in 1902 after receiving his BA from the University of Dublin (with honors in Latin). He wanted to be a writer but thought he should support himself by becoming a doctor. Then he quit that idea, borrowed some money, and came to Paris, where he studied at the Saint Geneviève Library, near the Panthéon, and wrote articles to make ends meet. He lived at the Hôtel Corneille, a location which I passed by on Virtual Bloomsday.

Joyce returned to Dublin in 1903 because his mother was dying, met his future wife, and celebrated the first Bloomsday with her in 1904. He convinced her to leave Ireland with him, and they moved across Europe to modern-day Croatia, to Trieste, to Rome, and back to Ireland as he taught language, wrote stories, worked at a bank, promoted his writing, and tried to organize a chain of movie theaters. Not much panned out.

James Joyce and Sylvia Beach

Joyce finished Ulysses at 71 rue du Cardinal Lemoine
Joyce finished Ulysses at 71 rue du Cardinal Lemoine
Placard for James Joyce at 71 rue du Cardinal Lemoine
Placard for James Joyce at 71 rue du Cardinal Lemoine

In 1915 he moved to Zürich to avoid World War I, and it is there he began work on Ulysses. After World War I he returned to Trieste, and upon the invitation of Ezra Pound, he moved to Paris in July 1920. He and Nora lived at 71, rue Cardinal Lemoine, another location I passed by on Virtual Bloomsday.

12 rue de l'Odéon site of Shakespeare and Company
12 rue de l’Odéon site of Shakespeare and Company
Placard to Sylvia Beach and Ulysses
Placard to Sylvia Beach and Ulysses

James Joyce called her Miss Beach, Sylvia Beach, owner of the Shakespeare and Company bookstore at 12, rue de l’Odéon. A character in Ulysses is named Gladys Beech, based on a name Sylvia Beach’s mother had intended to use for Sylvia, who called herself by a name more in tune with her father’s tastes. Joyce and Sylvia Beach met in 1920 when she was 53 years old. She and her friend and former lover Adrienne Monnier, who had a French bookstore (La Maison des Amis des Livres) just across the street, operated between them for 20 years a unique territory for French and English Literature.

Adrienne's Bookstore La Maison des Amies des Livres
Site of Adrienne’s Bookstore La Maison des Amies des Livres
Odéonia - with the Odéon Theatre at the end of the street
Odéonia – with the Odéon Theatre at the end of the street

Adrienne called it “Odéonia”. Joyce, who used Shakespeare and Company as his office, called it “Stratford-on-Odéon”. The outline of Odéonia was comprised of “the bookstalls on the arcades of Théâtre de l’Odéon, two bookshops, a music store, a library appraiser, and, in the boulevard Saint Germain, the writer’s favored cafés, Le Flore and the Deux Magots (a particular favorite of Joyce), and the Alsatian Brasserie Lipp.” I passed by these places on Virtual Bloomsday. 5

After Ulysses

Les Deux Magots, one of the writer's favored cafés in Odéonia
Les Deux Magots, one of the writer’s favored cafés in Odéonia
Église Saint Sulpice in Saint Germain des Prés
Église Saint Sulpice in Saint Germain des Prés

After the publication of Ulysses, Joyce became well known and better able to support himself. He lived in many different places during his 20 years in Paris, including 10 years in 2 apartments near where we live now. 6 Yet he always used Shakespeare and Company as a sort of office. He worked on his book, Finnegans Wake, for many years, finally publishing it in 1939. The German invasion of France in 1940 put an end to Odéonia. Joyce fled in ill health across the border to Zürich, where he died in January 1941.

The End of Odéonia

Sylvia Beach closed her bookshop and lived upstairs in the harsh conditions of occupation France. She hid her most valuable books, including the original manuscript of Ulysses, at Adrienne’s bookshop across the street. In 1942, she was detained with other Americans and moved to a German camp at Vittel. She was released in March 1943, but she didn’t return to her apartment, instead choosing to hide out with a friend on Boulevard Saint Michel. During the day she would sneak over to Adrienne’s, where they became part of the literary resistance to the occupation.

In August 1944, when the Allies were coming, she moved back to her apartment. Earnest Hemingway visited her there when he arrived with the liberation forces. Still, she never reopened the bookstore. Conditions in Paris after the war were almost as bad as during the occupation. There was no meat, no milk, no eggs, no butter, no chocolate, no hot water, nor light, nor coal. Adrienne’s health declined, and she died in 1950. Sylvia joined the board of the American Library. In 1962, she traveled to Dublin to dedicate a center for Joycean studies. Four months later, she died at 12, rue de l’Odéon. 7

Present Day Shakespeare and Company

Modern Day Shakespeare and Company
Modern Day Shakespeare and Company
Cathedral de Notre Dame de Paris
Cathedral de Notre Dame de Paris

In 1964, an American, George Whitman, changed the name of the eccentric bookshop Le Mistral, just across the Seine from Notre Dame, to Shakespeare and Company. He named his daughter, who manages the growing concern today, Sylvia Beach Whitman. I ended my Bloomsday run at the modern-day Shakespeare and Company.

My time was 1:34:30, handily beating my predicted time of 2 hours, yet considerably slower than my typical time in Spokane, where I run the whole way.

Reflecting on all this, I realized another thing. I’m on my own Odyssey. Brenda has been in Spokane since May, and I’m trying to get back to her. Of course, she is running her own Virtual Bloomsday, and she is on her own Odyssey, trying to get back to me. We have plans to be together again in Paris in November, when we can renew our relationship with Shakespeare and Company and James Joyce and Bloomsday in Paris.

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_Kardong ↩︎
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lilac_Bloomsday_Run ↩︎
  3. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Ulysses-novel-by-Joyce ↩︎
  4. Joyce, James, and Hans Walter Gabler. Ulysses. New York: Random House, 1986. ↩︎
  5. Glass, Charles. Americans in Paris: Life and Death under Nazi Occupation. New York: Penguin Books, 2014. http://rbdigital.oneclickdigital.com.  ↩︎
  6. https://nyti.ms/3kPpfDa ↩︎
  7. Glass, Charles. Americans in Paris: Life and Death under Nazi Occupation. New York: Penguin Books, 2014. http://rbdigital.oneclickdigital.com.  ↩︎