Posts Tagged ‘Paris’

What do you do to mourn? In the past, I’ve been known to bake a cake, a carrot cake. I also bake this cake to celebrate, so it’s an equal opportunity toasted coconut frosted masterpiece, if i do say so myself. I was taught early on by Ada, never send flowers, always bring food to the bereaved. I remember when Bob’s brother Dickie died, we called it the “never-ending fruit salad” since we received so many fruit baskets.

But after suffering through three miscarriages in one year, I felt compelled to de-clutter my life. If my own body wouldn’t cooperate, well then at least I could control something. I’m sure this has a psychological term, but I didn’t ask Dr Jim. I stripped away dead leaves on indoor plants, I scoured kitchen drawers for duplicate utensils. Normally housework wouldn’t interest me, but I became a regular housfrau.

Lately, I’ve been prone to prune more than plants. After downsizing to our Blue Ridge home, we had left some things undone. Beginning with Bob’s surgery I felt the need to pair down our possessions. To actually open those boxes in the basement that made it through two moves without being opened. Before the Paris massacre, we began to tackle our cluttered “unfinished” basement; this weekend we finished it.

We found some amazing things. Academic awards from the Rocker’s school days. The fairy tale I wrote for the Bride’s sorority.

Once upon a time, an ex-hippie ER doc married a feminist writer, a New Englander at heart, and a princess was born on Windsor Mountain. The baby had eyes as black as coal and skin as white as alabaster. A spring fed pond was the setting for her first foray into the wild…

I found the portfolios of both my adult children. The ancient ice-packing-sling-thing  Bob used after his shoulder surgery years ago showed up amid gear Bob used to keep in his plane’s hanger. The Piper Arrow that is missing his touch. The basement was functioning as a garage/archive of our life, but it was drowning in stuff!

Now we can breathe a little easier. This weekend our cousin in Richmond will be called to the Torah as a Bar Mitzvah. I will remember to be thankful we live in a country where police do not guard the doors of every synagogue. I remember when the Bride tried to enter a Temple in Paris for the High Holidays 15 years ago, and she was surrounded by police, they questioned her to see if she was really Jewish. She was tall and blonde, ‘she didn’t “look” Jewish.

They made her recite a prayer in Hebrew.

Is this what we must do with every Syrian refugee, interrogate every single one? Shall we make them wear a sign pinned to their sleeve that tells us who they are?

Jess Bob Tour Eiffel 20151117




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The City of Light

I have been to Paris three times in my life. On one trip, we rented a car and drove out into the countryside. It was like the movie, Two for the Road, we were free and open to adventure. No plans, no tourists, just Bob driving and me, trying to read an actual French map. We stayed at a small farm in Normandy. We tried talking with our hosts in their language, since they didn’t speak English, and with a little sign language we did just fine. In the City of Light, if we tried to speak French, Parisians were happy with our effort we could tell, but they would kindly switch to English.

On our last trip to Paris, we were visiting the Bride who was studying there for her Junior year of college. She and her BFF were staying in the atelier of a family’s home in the 16th Arrondisement. We could see the beautiful rooflines through her window under the eaves. We accompanied her to the studio where she was studying art. She took us to her favorite restaurants. Her host family welcomed us with champagne in their beautiful front parlor; a room with long windows filled with the kind of light Monet wanted to capture.

Today the civilized world is in mourning after last night’s horrific attacks in Paris. Young people going out to a rock concert, cheering on their soccer team in a stadium. I wondered if the Rocker had played at that venue, I worried for all the parents of students studying abroad. I thought of our exchange student, Stephanie, now a lawyer with three children. I sent a message to the friend of my niece, who opened her Paris home for shelter.

But most of all, I cried for the people of France, because these radical Muslim extremists have brought their insanity to the most beautiful city in the world for the second time this year.

I am sick and tired of talk. And I know we should not blame a whole religion, yet there is a sect, a radical piece of Islam that is using social media to recruit disaffected young men to their jihadist cause. It is a pernicious web, an internet spider capable of creating suicide bombers on every continent. We need to do something more to stop this, and more importantly, peaceful, moderate Muslims need to come together with the West and end their murderous crusade.

Last night I relived the time I waited to hear from the Bride on 9/11. The day she walked back to her apartment in Adams Morgan from her first job in a government building in Washington, DC. The day we Americans awoke to a new kind of warfare.

And here we are in the year 2000, before this nightmare began, on a Bateaux Mouche cruising down the Seine. I have no use for prayers. Paris, I am sending you my love. We Americans stand with France.   IMG_3490

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Yesterday was Bastille Day, so happy holiday to our French friends belatedly. I love following the Instagram pictures of the French student we hosted one summer, who is now a lawyer and mother of two young boys in Paris. Her shots are miniature art works: a still life of different flowers in bud vases; a building in the south with violet shutters; the backs of her boys in shorts entering a garden with dappled light; or the colorful play of fresh vegetables on her kitchen table “Retour de marche.”

Whenever I see Stephanie’s children, I think of Madeline.

Madeline at the Paris Flower Market 1955

Madeline at the Paris Flower Market 1955

She is turning 75 this year and is currently on exhibit at The New York Historical Society. “The Art of Ludwig Bemelman” will be shown until November 19 and then travel to Amherst, MA. “Bemelmans’ grandson, John Bemelmans Marciano, has continued his grandfather’s work with three more books of Madeline’s adventures. He says that Madeline is not French, but a real New Yorker.” http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-28233820

Ludwig Bemelman immigrated to the USA in 1914 from Austria-Hungary. Because his mother was German, he was not allowed to go overseas in WWI, though he did serve in the Army. He was assigned to a mental hospital in upstate NY where he nearly suffered a mental breakdown.

He saved himself by creating what he called “islands of security”: “I have started to think in pictures and make myself several scenes to which I can escape instantly when the danger appears,” he wrote in a memoir, “instant happy pictures that are completely mine, familiar, warm, and protective.”

Like Bemelman, I will often see my prose in pictures first. He considered himself more of an artist and less of a writer, and like many artists he had to support himself over the years by working in the real world, and in his case it was the hotel industry. His first Madeline book was published at the cusp of WWII.

I find it fascinating that his red headed girl in the yellow hat was always the one in 13 girls who did not fit into her convent school life – she had a personality and some spunk. It’s as if he took a New York schoolgirl and dropped her into Paris to deal with an ancient regime, because God knows nobody likes what happened to France during the war. Whenever Madeline left her house covered in vines, in two straight lines of girls, we always knew she was in for an adventure. And we always knew she would step out of line. I must remember to get the first book for my Love Bug to read!

Here is a self portrait of my beautiful sister Kay, a gorgeous artist who also worked in the health industry, and sent her daughter to the Convent of the Sacred Heart on East 91st Street and Fifth Avenue. The school was founded by French speaking nuns in 1881. Thank you Kay for putting me up, and putting up with me, during Sue’s shiva. Your apartment was my island of security in NYC.

My Sister Kay

My Sister Kay

I believe we red headed girls think alike.


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