Need help with sleep – read Balzac

Rodin's rendition of Balzac, 1897

Rodin’s rendition of Balzac, 1897 (click on images to view larger version)

Both in France and in the United States, we seem to be in the worst of the COVID-19 problem now. There are shortages of equipment, rising numbers of deaths and infected, new outbreaks, and no quick fix on the horizon. We continue to be inundated with non-stop news, most of it bad. I’ve discovered that when you need help with sleep, read Balzac!

In France we are hunkered down, except to go outside by ourselves for exercise or to buy food. Still, I don’t sleep so well with all the things beyond my control. It’s not because there is too much noise in the neighborhood. I have dreams about situations that make no sense, problems that can’t be solved. I wake up when it gets too difficult.

Scientists don’t really know why we dream, but one interpretation is that, unlike focused activity like hammering a nail, dreams represent a supremely unfocused state in which our brains make broad, unfocused connections guided by our emotions. If there’s only one strong emotion, the dream is more straightforward, but if there are several conflicting emotions, dreams can be complicated. Dreams are thought to be a way that new material can be woven into our conscious thinking, providing compensation for our waking, perhaps unconscious, problems. I think there is a coronavirus restlessness that comes to bed with me every night. There have been other times like these.

Shakespear's Globe Theatre

London’s Thames River, Millenium Bridge, Tate Modern on the far shore, restored Globe theater on left (click on photos to see larger version)

From 1348 to 1665 the Black Plague struck London every 20 years or so. Bubonic plague was a disease spread by the bites of fleas from black rats. One of these epidemics struck London in 1604, and they ordered social distancing. Houses with infected people had to hang a bale of straw on a pole for 40 days to warn others. They had a special bell to ring when transporting the dead through the streets to mass graves. There was much suffering with poor treatment options and no known cures, but also there was unexpected good. All the London theaters were closed, and William Shakespeare used his time in lockdown to write Macbeth and King Lear. No wonder that Shakespeare turned to writing tragedies while he was in isolation. Here’s a little background on King Lear.

King Lear

State of the rebuilt Globe Theater

Stage of the rebuilt Globe Theater

In Shakespeare’s King Lear, the King announces to his three daughters that he’s giving up his kingdom and will award it to the one who loves him the most. The first two daughters praise him effusively, and are each awarded a share. The third daughter states that she loves him and that the award of his kingdom will make her love neither more nor less. She is disinherited. A complex story follows, but let it suffice to say that the first two daughters consider the king a fool. Each with her husband sets about trying to take all the power and money for herself. Only the third daughter has true love for her father. The first daughter kills the second, then commits suicide when her betrayal is discovered. The third daughter dies trying to save her father. The King dies of his heartbreak because he loses everything he values.

Le Père Goriot

rue Tournefort

Looking towards the Pantheon on Rue Tournefort, the neighborhood of Le Père Goriot

When I can’t sleep I’ve been reading Le Père Goriot, a novel by Honoré de Balzac, one of France’s greatest writers. Le Père Goriot is similar in many ways to King Lear. Two daughters take advantage of their father’s love and drive him to financial ruin, all to keep up appearances and improve their social status in the post-Napoleonic Paris of two hundred years ago, when King Louis XVIII (whose brother Louis XVI was beheaded in the Revolution) was brought back to the throne in a constitutional monarchy. It was the first time in France that lower classes had a chance to gain wealth and power and move up in social status.

Our protagonist, a young student named Rastignac, is trying to figure out how to get ahead in his life. He lives with a number of other characters in the run-down pension Vauquer near today’s Pantheon on rue Neuve Saint Genevieve. Today rue Neuve Saint Genevieve is known as rue Tournefort. The steeply sloping part where the house would have been has become rue Lhomond. Balzac’s descriptions of the shoddiness of the pension are legendary. There Rastignac meets Le Père Goriot, a retired vermicellier (pasta maker) whom everyone thinks is a dolt, and also a gregarious man named Vautrin, who seems to know everything about everyone. The ladies boarding at the pension all seem to like him. He pays the servants to let him come and go furtively in the night.

 houses on the hill rue Lhomond

Old houses on the hill rue Lhomond near the fictional Maison Vauquer

At first the women in the pension try to attract Le Père Goriot, since he seems to have lots of money, but he ignores them. They think he pays for two beautiful women who stop by his room from time to time. It turns out these are his daughters, who only come to visit him when they need money. As he runs out of money, he keeps moving into cheaper and cheaper rooms in the pension. Everyone at the pension makes fun of him, but he seems not to notice.

Rastignac has a distant cousin, Madame de Beauséant, who lives in the district Faubourg Saint Germain (the neighborhood on the other side of Invalides from ours). She is wealthy and belongs to that part of society that Rastignac wants to enter. She arranges an invitation for him to attend a ball, and there he meets a beautiful young woman, Madame de Restaud, whom he vows to see again. When he comes home that night, full of hope for his future, he hears his neighbor, Le Père Goriot, working away in his room. Peering through the keyhole, Rastignac sees Goriot winding silver around a sculpted piece with great skill, all the time muttering about his poor child. Rastignac is impressed and realizes that he and others have greatly underestimated Le Père Goriot.

Rastignac goes to visit Madame de Restaud (Anastasie, a countess) at her house on Rue du Helder, east of the Paris Opera. He walks, muddying his boots along the way. The countess isn’t expecting him, and she makes him wait. While waiting he unexpectedly sees Le Père Goriot departing via the servant’s entrance. He meets another young man, beautifully attired, named Maxime de Trailles. He turns out to be Madame de Restaud’s lover. Then he meets Count de Restaud, her husband. They exchange pleasantries. When Rastignac mentions that he knows Le Père Goriot, the others become angry. He is shown the door. The Count informs the servants to never again present him at their home.

Rastignac realizes he needs to up his game. He visits his cousin Madame de Beauséant for advice. She says that to succeed he will need to have a hard heart, to never show his emotions, to guard against ever letting a woman know he loves her. The way to get the attention of Anastasie is to become companion to her sister, Delphine, wife of Baron de Nucingen. Delphine is unhappy and trying to attract attention. The two sisters are rivals and enemies. Despite her cold blooded advice, secretly Madame de Beauséant has a broken heart because her lover, a marquis, is leaving her to marry another woman.

Rastignac writes his mother and his sisters, asking to borrow money, which they send to him even though they are poor. He buys beautiful clothes to fit in with his newfound lifestyle. He meets Delphine at a ball. She is troubled and in debt, so he risks his money at a casino and wins enough to pay what she owes. She loves him. They date, for lack of a better word. Time passes, and she becomes more critical of him. He loses money gambling and is almost out of funds. He is in at the end of his wits.

One night at dinner, Vautrin approaches him with advice. First, he needs to be hard hearted, but also that this pursuit is fruitless. He suggests a more lucrative approach. There is another resident at the pension, Victorine Tallefer, whose father has millions, but who denies it all to her in favor of her brother. She is in despair because of her poverty. Vautrin proposes that he arrange to have the brother killed in a duel, thus the father’s fortune will pass to Victorine. Rastignac could move in and instantly become part of the fortune. Vautrin desires to make a contract that would pay him two hundred thousand francs for his services, a small price for Rastignac to achieve everything he wants.

The moral contradiction is too much for Rastignac, and he declines. Still he cozies up to Victorine, who seems to like him. That night at dinner, Vautrin offers some wine to both Rastignac and Le Père Goriot, who has also become Rastignac’s confident. He has spiked the wine with something, and they both fall asleep. When they awaken, they find out that someone killed Victorine’s brother in a duel, and that she has departed to be with her father.

Another man and woman living at the pension, who seem to be amorous, meet secretly with a police detective in the Jardin de Plantes. The detective says that he thinks Vautrin is a wanted criminal who has escaped from prison. There is a substantial reward for his capture. He gives them a potion to slip into Vautrin’s drink. It will put him to sleep so they can identify if he has the prison tattoo on his arm. They drug Vautrin and discover that he is indeed this criminal. The police arrest Vautrin and lead him away. Others at the pension condemn the couple for denouncing him and force them to leave. The landlord, Madame Vauquer, bemoans her loss as her tenants depart for new apartments.

Le Père Goriot tells Rastignac that in spite of appearances, his daughter Delphine loves him dearly. Goriot has purchased for them a flat where they can get away together. Delphine sends him a love letter promising a bright future. Rastignac meets her at the new place, and sees that all is as arranged, though Delphine will continue to live with the Baron and only visit from time to time. Anastasie has come to her father with a sorrowful tale of the debts of her lover, which her husband insists that she pay. Le Père Goriot gives her his nearly exhausted funds to pay her debts.

Meanwhile Madame de Beauséant has invited everyone to a grand ball at her mansion. Her secret plan is to leave Paris and escape her failed love life, never to return. Both of Le Père Goriot’s daughters will be there. He has given up the last of his funds to buy a dress for Delphine. Anastasie will wear her husband’s family diamonds for the last time, since she has promised them to pay the gambling debts of her lover. Le Père Goriot, realizing he has nothing left to offer his daughters, has a stroke and is dying in his room. He is crazy, both expressing love for his daughters and remorse at the heartless way they have treated him. Rastignac remains behind to tend to Le Père Goriot with another tenant, a medical student.

Rastignac reaches out repeatedly for the daughters to come to the side of their dying father, but neither responds. He receives a menacing note from Delphine that he better accompany her to the ball or else. Finally he goes, and it is a grand affair. Afterwards, the daughters go home and are preoccupied with sleeping and explaining their debts to their husbands. Rastignac returns to the side of Le Père Goriot, remaining there until he expires.

Anastasie stops by briefly after her father is dead to express her love and her guilt, then departs. Delphine never shows. Rastignac uses the last of his own funds to arrange a funeral and burial. He must borrow money to tip the grave diggers. At the end of his ordeal, he sheds the last tear of his youth. Now understanding the game, Rastignac declares, “It’s just the two of us two now.” He departs to have dinner with Delphine, who will become his doorway to enter French high society.

Balzac's house in Passy, Paris 16th éme

This is the last remaining of Balzac’s many residences. He lived here in Passy for 7 years. Now it’s the Balzac Museum.

Honoré de Balzac

Between about 1830 and 1850 Balzac wrote prolifically, producing more than 100 works including books, plays, novellas, short stories, and poems. Le Père Goriot is one of the most important books in Balzac’s series Le Comédie Humaine . In this series of publications, he attempted to provide an all-encompassing description of Parisian society.

Characters from Le Comédie Humaine

The many characters from Le Comédie Humaine with a graph showing their complex interrelations between different books

His masterpiece was a unique contribution to the literary craft. His employment of realism and highly descriptive details, not to mention scandalous subjects, would influence fiction for generations to come. He also started reusing the same characters in different novels at different stages in the character’s lives, a unique method that created a web that give life to Le Comédie Humaine.

His characters are complex people, having both good and bad qualities. Rodin’s sculpture of Balzac, created nearly 50 years after his death, is less a likeness than a monument to his creativity and spirit. Balzac was a man who failed in many things before realizing his great success as a writer. His work and his characters reflect many of his own experiences.

Improving my sleep

Need help with sleep - read Balzac

My early struggles to read Le Père Goriot in print.

I owe a lot to Balzac. Reading Le Père Goriot (in French) was hard work. First I tried the audio book – too hard. Then I bought the paperback – difficult and time consuming. Then I took some months off to read Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and all of the Harry Potter series. Finally I started Le Père Goriot again on my Kindle. Better this time, but still not easy. It was the perfect antidote to coronavirus restlessness, making me weary and allowing me to fall back to sleep.

I hope I’m receiving compensating effects from my dreams. They seem to be affirming that there’s not much I can do but wait. On a hopeful note, you know that there are a lot of efforts to combat the virus that are farther along than we think, whether they be to manufacture and distribute masks or ventilators or plastic suits, to develop better testing for the virus, or to make progress towards a medicine or trial vaccine. Both in France and US we are nearing a peak in the number of deaths and new cases. We hope that the number of serious cases remains within our capacity for medical treatment. In another week we’ll find out new developments in all these areas. In the meantime, stay away from others and keep washing your hands.

But there’s a missing piece. Many of us are isolated away from family and friends. With whom can we share this anxiety?

Every night at 8pm, Parisians open their windows to applaud our healthcare workers for their tireless efforts in combatting the virus. Besides the applause we hear bells, whistles, shouts, and sometimes singing. A recent article in Le Figaro found that some doctors are indifferent to this showing of gratitude. It’s hard to feel it when you aren’t there. A sociologist said that these displays of support are really for ourselves, to show solidarity in our isolation. We hardly know our neighbors, much less the people across the street, but in this cause we are all together.

John Donne said it best: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main…. Any man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind. Any therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Plaza Fernandez de Madrid, Cartagena, Colombia

Photo from Plaza Fernandez de Madrid, where parts of the movie _Love in the Time of Cholera_ were filmed. This square also contained the cisterns for Cartagene’s water supply, fitting since cholera spreads through contaminated water.

Much of the news each day is devoted to describing problems with a new coronavirus, COVID-19, which has been spreading over the world since the beginning of 2020. Typically people try to ignore it, hoping it will go away. Then suddenly it sweeps through in a terrifying manner, and there is panic. Governments are left with an impossible situation, trying to protect their population while at the same time keeping an economy running so that businesses and people don’t go bankrupt. It’s a kind of a love story, where the girl must choose between two suitors she loves, hoping to choose one without hurting the other.

There were six world cholera pandemics in the 19th century. The third pandemic brought the disease to South America in the mid-1800s. In February, when COVID-19 was just starting to spread in China, we were on vacation in Cartagena, Colombia (South America), home of Gabriel García Márquez, the famous Colombian author. He wrote Love in the Time of Cholera, a story spanning the period from about 1880 to 1930 that follows the lives of two main characters, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza. Florentino, a passionate, artistic man, is struck by love at his first sight of Fermina. She is swept up by the same longing for him. Fermina’s father won’t allow her to see Florentino, and the family moves away to keep her at a distance from him. Still the couple exchange love letters.

The family eventually returns home. There, a third character, Dr. Juvenal Urbino, meets Fermina when he is called to examine whether she has cholera. The doctor verifies her good health and starts to court her, much to the liking of her father. The doctor has become rich and famous after ridding the town of cholera. He is a logical thinker who is driven to find fame and success.

Dr Urbino proposes to Fermina, and she rationalizes that, as much as she loves Florentino, she really hasn’t spent much time with him. She makes the logical choice is to marry the Doctor. Thus they are wed.

Florentino is disconsolate and swears his undying love for Fermina, despite being rejected as her suitor. In French en colère means angry; Florentino is choleric. He realizes he can somewhat ease his emotional pain by having trysts, so he starts to keep count of the number of his affairs. Sometimes he has fun. Sometimes there are terrible consequences. He never marries.

Meanwhile Fermina and Dr Urbino raise a family, have a comfortable life, and are widely respected in the community. Yet they have disputes, and the doctor is unfaithful. Like in any marriage, life is less than perfect. Years pass by, everyone grows old. One day Dr. Urbino falls off a ladder and dies. As soon as the funeral is over, Florentino appears before Fermina to again court her. She repulses him, but he is persistent. He has become head of a river transport company and is himself successful. She eventually gives in, and they settle together in old age.

This love story is a kind of dance between the three characters, and likewise, treating a pandemic is also a kind of dance until there is a vaccine to protect people from it. The city of Paris has a long history with vaccines, starting with cholera.

Large monument to Louis Pasteur at Place de Breteuil, Paris

Large monument to Louis Pasteur at Place de Breteuil, Paris (click on photos to see larger version)

A cholera vaccine for chickens was first discovered almost by accident in 1879 by Louis Pasteur, a microbiologist here in Paris. He was the first to understand the concept of a vaccine. He also made important discoveries in wine fermentation, inventing the process known today as pasteurization, widely used to preserve milk, wine, and other foods. Pasteur invented the vaccines for rabies and anthrax. I got my last cholera shot at the Pasteur Institute, which he founded and where he is buried. The search for a new vaccine is important to our story.

Love in the time of Coronavirus is perhaps just as intriguing as Love in the Time of Cholera. The government of every country on earth is faced with an impossible situation involving two things it loves. One, the economy, provides the means to live for everyone in the country (as well as for the government), but the economy requires a great deal of interaction between people. The other love, the people themselves, is threatened by a disease that will infect and kill many of them should they work to make the economy successful. Governments faced with this dilemma have chosen so far to protect the people, but it is killing their economies, perhaps promising financial and employment losses greater than any we have seen in our lifetimes.

Paris Marché Saxe

Paris Marché Saxe with police patrols and places marked to indicate where to stand in line.

Here in Paris we are under a pretty strict protocol. We can’t meet with anyone. There is no getting together with other family or friends. This is central to limiting the spread of the disease. No one knows who is infected. We can only go out to the grocery store or the pharmacy or the doctor or for exercise by ourselves (which still allows walking the dog should you have one). Access to stores is controlled to limit the number of people inside. There is a line at the door. At the outdoor markets, there are marks on the ground by the vendor stalls to keep people waiting in line at least one meter apart.

The French have issued a form that you must carry to show the police that you are outside for an authorized purpose. Your actions need to conform to your stated purpose. Parks and monument areas are off limits, even for those who want to exercise. People have been instructed to limit outdoor trips to a 2km radius from home. I was checked for my form and activities by a police patrol on Saturday. They forbid me to cross the Champ de Mars on my way to the grocery store. We wash our hands every time we come back in the apartment. We disinfect reusable bags after getting groceries.

I run alone regularly and go to the store for necessities. Otherwise I am here in the apartment. It’s not really a problem since I have plenty to do, study French, listen to audio books or read (in French and English), work on the Poulsbo Rotary web site, on home office projects I’ve been neglecting, and on keeping up with friends and family via FaceBook, e-mail, etc. Brenda does much the same. She goes to the outdoor markets. She also has a video workout session each week via FaceTime with her fitness trainer, as well as other fitness workouts from the internet. We’ve been scheduling movie rentals to have a date night that we can look forward to. The food in France is still excellent, and Brenda is a fantastic cook. We are not suffering.

I attended a Poulsbo Rotary Club online meeting using Zoom, a teleconferencing Web site and app. The meeting was really quite effective. Applications like Zoom could meet many needs as group congregations continue to be banned in the coming months.

Every night at 8pm, Parisians open their windows and applaud our healthcare workers for their efforts in combatting the virus. In my mind we extend these thanks to the police, rescue workers, sanitation workers, delivery personnel, and everyone else who still goes to work each day to supply the public with life’s essentials.

You can think of COVID-19 as an iceberg – what you see is only a fraction of what there is. When you try to calculate how fast the virus is spreading, you must make assumptions about the huge number of the already infected that you don’t officially know about. Many infected don’t ever have symptoms but can still spread the disease. I made an estimate of the growth of known active cases using assumptions from an article by Thomas Pueyo. Based on what is known now, the true number of active cases must be much greater than the number of known cases. Social distancing is necessary to slow the real (unknown) number of new active cases so that the known active cases, accounting for recoveries and deaths, can remain within the capacity of the medical establishment. If you can make the number of known active cases go down, you can be sure that the number of unknown cases is reducing by an even greater number.

COVID-19 cases in France and US

Known active COVID-19 cases in France and the US vs theoretical exponential rise as of 22 March

I have been plotting the number of known active cases in France and in the US versus the predicted exponential growth of known cases using Pueyo’s original assumptions. As you can see, the curve of active cases in both countries appears to be diverging from the predicted exponential rise if there were no controls. However, the rise in the US is still troubling.

A more recent article from Thomas Pueyo exhorts the US to do more now and outlines some ways to proceed once the initial surge of cases has flattened. Though the time to flatten the initial peak can be as short as a month with strict social distancing, the course of the recovery may be much longer, perhaps 18 months with some lesser social distancing measures still in place. Brace for big changes in how we interact socially.

Social distancing is a temporary strategy to buy time, not a fix, and will be financially devastating if it continues for a long time. Strict social distancing now will shorten the time of economic devastation. How can the government give some attention to her other love, the economy? We need to figure out how to test everyone rapidly and easily. Who has COVID-19, who doesn’t, and who has recovered and is now immune? Once we know this, we can figure out how to get people back to work.

Besides universal testing, we should consider other strategies:

  1. Use of drugs already approved for another purpose, such as hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug, in combination with azithromycin, to lessen the effects and shorten the recovery time. French doctors are having success when starting treatment before severe effects take hold.
  2. Use of a cell phone app or other means that identifies everyone with the virus and is able to track with whom they have had recent interactions. This method has been used successfully in South Korea and China. There may be privacy concerns with doing this in the west.
  3. Isolating everyone over age 65 and sending everyone else back to work. This could still expose millions of younger people to deadly consequences, and isolating the elderly will be difficult to control.
  4. Development of a vaccine – they say it will take 18 months.

Our leaders should insist that the bureaucracy act urgently to evaluate treatments that mitigate the disease or to evaluate for approval any proposed vaccine. These are tricky processes that require care so as not to do further harm, but stopping the spread and protecting those most vulnerable is urgent. We need a revolution in reviewing and approving solutions or many many will die.

As is apparent, the plot of Love in the time of Coronavirus is still under development. I’m confident that a world working furiously to solve these problems will be able to produce unexpected solutions. I ask you to practice strict social distancing, even if not yet mandated by your local or federal government. Keep your distance from others outside of your home. A lot is at stake here.

A Tale of Two Cities – Part 1

Place de la Bastille

The Bastille is long gone, remembered only in the pavers that outline the building walls crossing the square. The city gate to the Faubourg would have been behind the bicycle at left. (Click photos to enlarge.)

I’m reading Charles Dickens’s novel, “A Tale of Two Cities,” in French. It is a story of London and Paris before and after the French Revolution. I’m only part way through, and not sure I understand everything that is happening. Here is what I know so far. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to pick up the book.

Our story starts with a banker (Jarvis Lorry) traveling by stagecoach from London to the English coast. It’s dark and cold and everyone is afraid of thieves who rob stagecoaches along this route all the time. Their coach fights up the hills through the mud. The horses are exhausted. A stranger appears along the road. Guns are cocked. He has only a message for the banker. He is to meet someone at Dover. The banker hopes the others in the coach were asleep.

At Dover the banker meets a young woman (Lucie Manette – about 18 years old). She is very afraid of her circumstances, and the banker keeps trying to convince her that it’s only business and she just needs to trust in the logic. They take a ship to Calais, in France, and then proceed somehow to Paris.

They show up at a bar in the neighborhood of today’s Faubourg Saint Antoine, just outside the city gate near the Bastille. The bartender, Mr. Defarge, leads them to a room upstairs where there is a man working diligently to make shoes. He doesn’t notice them as he keeps at his work. He has been imprisoned for a long time in France and seems to have lost his mind. The bartender and the banker try to approach him without any apparent success, while the young woman hangs back in fear. Then she comes to the front, comforts the man, her father, and after some time easing his pain, they all depart for England.

Back in London, there is a trial for a man accused of treason, Charles Darnay. He calmly awaits his fate. The punishment for conviction is death by the most horrible means – body separated into many parts. The King has a prosecutor and a couple of witnesses. They, upon questioning, appear to be witnesses for hire who say what the Crown wants them to say. There is a jury. Two other witnesses are the rescued prisoner, Dr Manette, and his daughter Lucie. It seems that they were on the ship and the stagecoach from Calais to London with the accused. They don’t seem to remember anything incriminating, but the crowd of onlookers is stuck by the image of rapport and consolation given the accused from these witnesses. There ensues a story of the two lawyers for the defense, the lion and the jackal so to speak. One is competent, the other is drunk and pitiful, but they compliment each other in their results. Ultimately Charles Darnay is acquitted and spared his life.

Years later, in London, Dr Manette lives in a peaceful house in Soho, shaded by a plaine tree. He has recovered (supported by the constant attention of his daughter) many of his previous faculties, but he is still haunted by the nightmares of prison. Occasionally he paces, but his daughter Lucie sees him through it. His shoe making bench sits in the corner of his bedroom. The banker, the lawyers, and even Charles Darnay are all visitors at their home.

Quartier Bastille narrow street

Typical street in Faubourg Saint Antoine as it might have been (sans street art) in 1780

The story shifts to Paris. There is a Monseigneur (a French nobleman of considerable wealth and power) whose day’s success or failure is determined by the quality of the service of his breakfast chocolate by his four servants. He has no idea or consideration for the lives of common people, who exist only to serve him. In the neighborhood Saint Antoine in Paris, there is another, similar minded aristocrat, the Marquis St. Evrémonde. The Marquis stands in line that morning for a long time hoping for an audience with the Monseigneur, and then departs Paris in a fury at being ignored.

The Marquis’s carriage runs down and kills the son of a man named Gaspard as the carriage races through the streets of Faubourg Saint Antoine. The hard-hearted Marquis offers Gaspard a coin for his trouble. Mr. Defarge, the bartender whose business is nearby, comforts Gaspard. The Marquis also gives him a coin for his trouble, The bartender hurls it back into the carriage as it speeds away.

The Marquis is absolutely convinced that his success depends upon his keeping the lowly people in their place. He takes his entourage to the countryside, where he has a château. Along the way he passes through a town where folks are gathered around a fountain. There are many stories and mentions of the Marquis. He recognizes in the town near the fountain a road mender whom he also saw earlier along his route through the countryside. The man asks him about the people in chains beneath his carriage. I don’t understand this part. Are these people being dragged along or are they hitching a ride (or neither)?

Upon his arrival at the Chateau, the Marquis is informed that a guest is expected that evening. Eventually they meet – it is his nephew, who uses the fictional name Charles Darnay. They dine together. The nephew says that his uncle needs to change his attitude towards the people, but the uncle says that it cannot be done. The nephew, who is also to be the heir of his uncle’s estate, renounces his claim to his inheritance. He sets out for London. That night, someone stabs the Marquis to death in his sleep.

Back in London, Charles Darnay realizes that he is in love with Lucie Manette. He approaches her father to reveal his love and to assure the doctor that above all else, he wishes that the close relations between the doctor and his daughter continue. He asks the doctor’s blessing, and offers to reveal the truth about his name. The doctor demurs. It will remain a mystery until the marriage. Meanwhile the lion lawyer decides that he must marry Lucie. He tells the jackal that he would be advised to get married too, should he ever be able to find someone compatible. Then he sets out to announce to Lucie his intentions, but along the way he stops by Tellson’s bank to see his friend Jarvis Lorry. After the lion announces his plan, the banker tells him he would be a fool to ask for the hand of Lucie. Though completely incensed, the lawyer accepts this analysis that his plans would certainly fail, and withdraws. After all, there must be better fish in the sea for someone with his impeccable qualities.

Meanwhile, his jackal failed partner visits Lucie and tells her what a failure his is. She responds with compassion and tries to inspire him. It’s an interesting exchange, and you wonder where it is going when it ends.

The scene shifts back to Paris. The bartender from Saint Antoine, Mr. Defarge, and his wife operate together a secret society aimed at overthrowing the King. She knits all the information that they discover into meaningless pieces of clothing. They don’t know if revolution will happen in their lifetimes, thus they play for the long term. Today, there is a man from the countryside who comes to the bar (the road mender). The bartender takes him upstairs to a private room to ask him to tell his story to himself and several friends, all named Jacques. The stranger tells of seeing a tall man named Gaspard, who was dragged through the village and taken to the prison. Horrible things had been done to him, and he was executed for killing the Marquis.

Gaspard à la Nuit

Restaurant Gaspard à la Nuit in the Marais near the Bastille.

I’m eating the other day at a restaurant in the Marais near rue Saint Antoine. On my way home, I pass a restaurant named Gaspard’s. I think I’m really on to something. I’m at ground zero for A Tale of Two Cities. After all, the Bastille was just a block away – that must have been the Doctor’s prison. The restaurant is La Gaspard de la Nuit. I think maybe we ate there one time – just to add to the intrigue.

I check out Gaspard de la Nuit on Google. The original reference is a poem by Aloysius Bertrand in the 1830’s. Gaspard is a man who lends another a book. When the borrower attempts to return the book, he finds that the lender is the devil. In 1908 Maurice Ravel turned this idea into one of the most difficult pieces ever for piano, La Gaspard de la Nuit. I haven’t determined why the restaurant chose that name, but I doubt is has anything to do with the tall man executed for killing the Marquis. Funny how we think we’re on to something, mais no.

Our adventure with the Tale of Two Cities will continue…

Bonne année 2020!

2019 was our seventh year in France, the last year of the decade, our 30th wedding anniversary, each of our 50th high school reunions, the 50th anniversary of my swearing in at the Naval Academy, the 30th anniversary of my taking command of USS Buffalo (SSN-715), the 50th anniversary of Woodstock and the moon landing, 30th Anniversary of the pyramid at the Louvre, and so many other things. Our 30th Anniversary lunch at Paris Le Cinq served to celebrate this confluence of epochs and events. 

Brenda and Beth head towards the finish line in the 2019 Bloomsday

Brenda and Beth head towards the finish line in the 2019 Bloomsday race.


We spent a lot of time visiting family this year. Brenda visited her mom Beth in Spokane three times (and I went too in May). Beth was the only finisher in the over 90 age group (among 45,000 race entrants) in this year’s Bloomsday 12k Road Race. We’re proud of her ability to continue living independently. Brenda and I finished the race too, though we weren’t near the top of our class. During our visits to Spokane we did lots of yard work and other things to help out. We visited friends in Poulsbo during our May trip and spent a few days graciously hosted by Randi Strong Petersen and Dick Soderstrom. In April we were in Poulsbo for Brenna Berquam’s law school graduation party at Kiana Lodge. That event earns party of the year.

My grand nephew Caedan hoping that I'll be able to hang on.

My grand nephew Caedan hoping that I’ll be able to hang on.

I went back to Peoria, IL, for my 50th reunion, but on the way I resolved to visit my nieces and my nephew, who are spread throughout the midwest. So I started by traveling to Leavenworth, KS, to visit my niece Tanya, husband Dan, and their son Caedan – 5 months old at the time. In addition, I visited the Army Post at Fort Leavenworth, studied the history of how the American West was developed, and had a great time.

Then I traveled to Rossford, OH to see my niece Tiffany with son Wulff (5) and daughter Alexis (almost 2). One day we went walking on a raised trail over a restored portion of the Great Black Swamp, which once extended hundreds of miles from the shores of Lake Erie in Ohio into central Indiana. It was a joy to see how the kids enjoyed playing outside and learning about the world.

John and Cathy von Allmen

John and Cathy von Allmen

On my return I stopped for the night near the Ohio border at cousin John von Allmen’s. He and wife Cathy hosted dinner for my cousins Mark and Nova, Amy and Chip, and also Mark’s daughter Abigail.

Alex on the campus of Epic Systems - Alice in Wonderland.

Alex on the campus of Epic Systems – Alice in Wonderland.

Then I visited my nephew Alex in Madison, Wisconsin. Alex works as a software engineer for Epic Systems, a medical software company somehow not located in Silicone Valley. Chances are your nearest major medical center uses their software. Alex took me on a tour of their campus, which was a fantasy world in itself. For me that was quite a treat.

I traveled to Pekin, IL, to visit my niece Tasha, husband Dustin, their daughter Emma (4), and son Jordan (9 months). Along the way I stopped by the former homes and graves of my grandparents in Davenport, IA, and my parents in Peoria. Tasha and Dustin took me to my first Morton Pumpkin Festival, where I had as much fun as the kids.

At my 50th reunion, contest to see which classmate traveled the farthest: I won by a few miles.

My 50th high school reunion was wonderful. On the one hand, there were many whom I’d hoped to see who didn’t show. On the other hand, it was great no matter. All credit to Debbie Dew for persevering to hold everything together. Peoria is where I grew up with the same group of kids all through school, an experience dear to me. It still feels like home.

We traveled elsewhere this year, starting with our February trip to Egypt with our French friends Cat and Jacques. Also in April we spent a weekend in London with Cat and Jacques. In July we went to Portugal, first some days in Porto with our Australian friends Dean and Alison, whom we were meeting for our fifth vacation together in Europe. Then on to Tavira in the south of Portugal where we met our friends Kelly and Linda, whom we had first met in Poulsbo, but who had retired to Portugal after living for years in New Mexico. Tavira had a small town atmosphere – everybody seemed to know everybody in the neighborhood.

Brenda becomes part of the art at Nice's Museum of Modern Art.

Brenda becomes part of the art at Nice’s Museum of Modern Art.


In August we spent a week in Nice, our 3rd year in a row staying in a friend’s apartment in the heart of the city. It’s our way of joining the many Parisians who leave the city during “le grand départ”.

In October we met our friend Martha in beautiful Vienna for a few days, then took the train with her to Berlin. Martha was on her quest to see all the worldly works of Pieter Bruegel, so we visited numerous museums in both cities. I had studied Carl Schorske’s Fin de Siècle Vienna to learn about the fascinating politics and culture in Vienna at the turn of the 20th Century. In Berlin we saw how most of the redevelopment since Germany’s reunification was in the eastern part. We met friends of Martha who told us about the isolation and sense of community that was in the old West Berlin during the Cold War. They told us of once being trapped in East Germany after breaking their car’s fan belt on their drive home from Denmark. They finally found someone to make a temporary fan belt using a nylon stocking to allow their return to West Berlin. Martha took us to see Rigoletto at the Berlin Opera, which was wonderful. I’ve barely touched on all that we saw in each of these cities.

Notre Dame before the great fire

Notre Dame before the great fire

We saw numerous visitors passing through Paris. We met our friend Niké Panta with her mother and sister visiting from Hungary at Notre Dame in the afternoon of the April day when the cathedral burned, though we only learned of the fire upon our return home. Seattle friend Laurie Grieg stayed with us for a few days in June, and Mary McAlhany visited while I was in the US in September. We also saw Steve and Linda Ingram, Brian Young, Dennis and Peggy Paige, Jennifer and Joe Bencharsky, Ann Randall, and no doubt some others whom I’ve failed to mention.

There’s always lots to do in Paris – to name a few of the events we experienced: the orchid show at Jardin des Plantes, Nuit Blanche (parade with museums open all night – we went to the Picasso Museum), a tour of the French Sénat, Salon d’agriculture, Salon du Chocolate, the impressionist collection of the British entrepreneur and art patron Samuel Courtauld at Fondation Louis Vuitton (which hadn’t been shown in Paris for 60 years), the Van Gogh exhibit at Ateliers des Lumieres, Fête de la Musique (first day of summer), a 4th of July picnic with American friends by the Seine, Bastille Day Fireworks at the Eiffel Tower, Journées du Patrimoine where I toured the Banque de France, the Leonardo De Vinci Exhibit at the Louvre, Maison de Balzac (newly reopened) and several residences designed by Le Courbusier, lighting of the Holiday decorations on the Champs Elysées, and a Christmas chorale and bell concert at the American Church. We’ve tried doing more historical walks both inside Paris and on day trips outside to places like Giverny, Poissy, and Créteil. Brenda has a whole host of other activities she has pursued with friends, including Adrian Leeds, Fran Michalek, Kate Miller, and Anne Daignault.

We celebrated Thanksgiving twice, first with American friends on Thanksgiving, then with French friends a couple weeks later. We’ve gone to the movies and dinner most Sundays throughout the year with our friends Cat and Jacques, who also invited us into their home for Christmas and other occasions with their family. We’ve also enjoyed spending time with other friends in Paris, including Anna Cooper, Eric and Carole Taieb, Pascale Velleine, Betty Brohan, Danielle Robert, and Alex Ultrabright.

Our Poulsbo friend Barb has been visiting over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, and despite the transit strike and protests that have somewhat crippled transportation in France this year, we were able to slip away for an overnight in Strasbourg to see the Christmas markets.

We were supposed to spend New Year’s eve at a party of French friends in Vincennes, east of Paris. The Paris transport strike closed most metro stations, so we set out at about 6:30pm to walk about 2km to the nearest open station, Frankllin Roosevelt. However, it was New Year’s Eve and 100,000 police had been deployed to control the huge crowd expected to celebrate on the Champs Élysées. There was a police barrier and they sent us away, telling us to walk around the Grand Palais to the station Champs-Élysées-Clemenceau, probably another 1km. Before arriving there, we came to another barrier where the police directed us to the next station, Concord, another 2km. Traffic was backed up everywhere. Taking a taxi or Uber was out of the question. We arrived at Concord, and, after venturing to 4 different entry points, we concluded it was closed too. We called our friends and said there was no way we could get to Vincennes. Then we trudged home with our cheesecake, now properly chilled, and our champagne. In all we walked about 10km in 2 hours in uncomfortable shoes. We celebrated at home by having some pasta with some cheesecake and some port, then settled in to watch a classic French film called the Rules of the Game (La règle de jeu), a parody of corrupt French society of the late 1930’s. Suddenly it was midnight.

My New Year’s resolution: to produce more posts to this blog through reduced research, less reflexion, and probably more errors. We’ll see how that goes.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you! Here is something to ring in the new year.

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.