My Travel Book - Paris - Graveyards can be fun... Well, not really (Part II)

Like I said in my last blog entry, it was a beautiful autumn day in Paris. I chose to go take pictures in the most ancient part of the Montparnasse Cemetery.

It's a very small replica of my beloved Père Lachaise. And graves are so close to one another that you have to be very careful not to step on one of them.

Of course, dogs are not allowed - except at night where the graveyard is watched over by keepers with dogs. I'm not kidding. It's quite new. A few years ago, the graveyards were home to lots of feral cats.

Actually, those two graveyards are "fun" because they are so different from other cemeteries. They belong to another time, so different and so remote from our modern concerns. Nowadays, the graves are quite plain and most people chose to be cremated anyway.

During the XIXth century, poor people (at least in Paris) ended more or less in a communal grave.
Rich and/or famous people were buried in graves that had to show who they were and what they had done. Their graves were a mere continuation of their lives. They loved sculptures, expensive gravestones topped by their busts, especially men. They flaunted their decorations (in bronze, of course). Everything was made to last a long time.

This is why sometimes I can't help smiling because sometimes it just gets to be too much. Too much for me, that's for sure. Too much for our century, good point too.

A few examples:
This man probably had a lot of fun in life. At least that's what one hopes. It'd be so silly to smile after your death.

This one was a banker. Have you ever watched Mary Poppins?

No bust over this grave. This shows that he was a fireman in Paris, probably a hero since he's buried in this section. Notice that the Paris council is really taking good care of the graves even though most of the dead there no longer have family members alive in our XXIst century.
They loved flowers to distraction. Ceramics and bronze of course. The bay leaves show that the dead had been awarded decorations during their lifetime.

I'm so used to those ancient graves that sometimes I do not really care. One bay leaf, two bay leaves, one hundred bay leaves... One bust, two busts, two hundred busts...

I have to admit I was quite taken aback when I walked straight to this grave...
At first, I have to admit I started giggling. A stately (marble) bed. Flower (bronze) pots. And this couple...

She's lying down, half asleep while he's been reading to her something he just wrote in his journal.

And then a miracle happened. I fell in love with them. Mr and Mrs Charles Pigeon are a darling couple, I have to admit. But I still had a hard time imagining them planning their last bed with some artist. 'I'll fall asleep, dear. You know how sleepy I get at night.'
'Go to sleep, dear. I'll keep on writing and reading to you until you close your sweet eyes. I'll be watching over you as I have always done.'
Can it be real? Really, really true... Or is this grave the image they wanted to leave to posterity? Their posterity is not buried with them anyway. Who can move this bed to make room below for the new coffins. Maybe their grave was their posterity.

Allright, I admit I had to stifle a good laugh in front of this one. Someone was probably afraid the person buried there would try to escape. Hence the rock! The name is not French so I'll never know whether it was a man or a woman. Does it matter?

I noticed from quite far away a darling flower layout. Very strange and weird and so feminine.
It's quite new. Actually it's been made for two women. The first one died in 2001. The mother. Her daughter's name is already on the grave with her year of birth and half of the date of her death, of course since she's still alive.

This is the most incredible grave I've ever seen. And believe me, I've been roaming graveyards for the past two years. It is so sweet that it becomes a little bit laughable. It's supposed to be a parchment with their names and loving words but it ends up looking a lot like vanilla icing.

And then there is a cherry on the cake:

They didn't write the cat's name. He's sure having fun catching the rose seal. He's having so much fun that he did not even notice the wonderful butterfly stuck in the marble... in perpetuity.
I don't know what deeply disturbed me there. Probably the daughter's 'half planned' date of death on her mother's grave. Maybe the cat? Spooky. really spooky.

So spooky that I was really glad to go back to reality. Is it possible to go back to real life in a graveyard? Yes. Well, in a way.

So simple and so moving. The kind of grave you find in every graveyard in France... a human grave.

*Good Night, and Good Luck*


My Travel Book - Paris - Graveyards can be fun... after all. (Part I)

Yesterday was a delightful day in Paris. A very sunny afternoon. A very beautiful and nippy autum day.

What would you do in Paris on a beautiful day? What do I do when it’s so nice outside?

I go take a walk... in a graveyard, of course.

Today, I went to the Montparnasse Cemetery, not very far from Swee'Pea’s apartment. I had never been to the smallest and oldest section yet. A street divides the two graveyards hidden behind high walls. It’s a little bit strange but that’s the way it is.

For two years now, I’ve been working on a new project and I need to roam ancient graveyards to achieve my goal. And no, I am not turning into a pervert! And yes, I love what I am doing.

Before taking the ‘real’ pictures that I will eventually exhibit, I need to go off to explore. I notice things that may be interesting. I take notes i.e. pictures with a light equipment. Then back home, I sort pictures and make notes about what I’ve seen and how to use my discoveries at their best to serve my purpose.

Once I’m happy with what I’ve found, I take off to do some real work. I usually carry over 20lbs of equipment on my shoulder and around my neck. Sometimes it is really hot. Sometimes it gets really cold. It is always exhausting but I love working on a project.

Le Père Lachaise and the newest part of the Montparnasse cemetery are very much like city parks. Lots of people taking walks. Children running around on the tree lined paths. Old people chatting on benches. Teenagers catching the sun by the graves. One thing though: No dogs allowed!

Today was exploration time. Two light cameras. Enjoying the weather, the light, the place, the peacefulness.

I did work a lot though, getting happier and happier about my findings... (and sometimes frustrated!)

While I was going from grave to grave, I had to be careful where I was walking because the ancient part of the graveyard is quite overcrowded. Since I was intent on taking very specific pictures, I didn’t really care about whose grave it was.

This part of the graveyard is packed with XIXth century graves. Lots of writers, artists, famous people from remote times.

And suddenly what would have been a mere afternoon of work turned out to be quite hilarious.

I was lost somewhere, facing a grave that could be an interesting item but... when I was suddenly brought back to reality.

‘Bonjour, Madame.’

The voice was coming from behind my back.

I turned around. The man was 40ish, very well dressed. Educated voice. Quite handsome. Friendly smile too.

‘Please excuse me for disturbing you...’

I was pretty sure that I knew what would be coming next. Questions about photography, etc.

How wrong I was!

I smiled at the man while I was swiftly looking around to check whether or not we were alone. We were very much alone in an overcrowded graveyard. But he looked nice.

‘Excuse me, Madame. Have you seen Guy de Maupassant?’

The guy had to be kidding. Maupassant, one of our great XIXth century novelists, has been dead since 1893.

‘Well, no. I’m sorry. Is he here?’

‘Oh yes. I’m looking for him.’

‘Anything particular?’ (Thinking: Interesting grave)?

‘Well, Madame. He’s Guy de Maupassant, you know.’

(I know. I know. Do I look  this stupid?)

I smiled. A big friendly smile.

‘I know. Sorry. I haven’t seen him. But... I’ve seen Joseph Kessel over there.’

Brilliant answer. Kessel died in 1979. And he’s definitely not Maupassant. A brilliant journalist but not a novelist.

The guy looked at me, obviously very disappointed. I had not seen Guy de Maupassant. Seen Maupassant? Do you see people in a graveyard or do you happen to look at their grave?

I was a little bit spooked but I decided to be nice after all.

‘If you go to the other part of the Cemetery, you’ll see Baudelaire.’

Raptured look. Extremely happy smile.

‘I know. (Deep sigh.) I’ve seen him there already.’

By the way, last time I went past Baudelaire’s grave, a girl was sitting in front of it and she was crying her eyes out. B. is one of our greatest poets but he died in 1867, for goodness sake!

Now I had work to do and the graveyard would close in less than one hour.

‘I’m sorry I can’t help you. I hope you’ll get to see him. Good luck and goodbye, Monsieur.’

He went his way and I went mine.

I worked for a while. Then I heard the bell that signals the closing time. (It’s a real bell, quite huge.) So I walked to the other part, opened the door to a young father pushing a baby stroller and found myself on the busy sidewalk, door closed behind me.

A woman was hurrying towards me. She was much older than me and somehow reminded me of the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland!

‘Is it closed?’ she wailed.

‘The bell is still ringing.’

‘I have to get in. I have to. It’s my short cut.’

‘My short cut’? Where to?

I started giggling inwardly and quite nervously. By the time I turned around, she no longer was there. I guess she had found her ‘short cut’...

What a lovely day! A man who was there to 'see people’ and a ‘white rabbit’...

And I was bringing back a nice crop from an enchanted graveyard!

A very exciting day indeed.

*Good Night, and Good Luck*


My Best Picture Ever

Ever since the early 1990s, I am a full-time photographer. I have probably taken thousands of pictures. Actually I’ve been taking pictures all my life long.

Ask me which picture is my best picture ever, I shall answer unhesitatingly: ‘My grandmother reading the newspaper.’

I wasn’t even a fully-fledged photographer at the time.
I took it when I was 16 with one of my first cameras (not a very good one).

She was 62. Those were times when women were aging faster than we do now.

She was staying with us from October till March and then she’d go back to her mountains to take care of her vegetable and fruit garden so that we’d have plenty of fresh produce during the summer and jam for wintery times.

When she was staying with us, every afternoon, after she had taken care of her daily tasks (and before getting supper ready), she’d get rid of her apron. She’d grab the newspaper and then she’d settle down on ‘her’ armchair and start reading. She’d go from page one to the last one and comment on the news. I loved those moments with her. So much.

One day, it struck me that she wouldn’t always be there and that I had to take her picture as a memento.

I loved my ‘Bonne-Maman’ very much.

We had a very special relationship. We were very close. She was my sunbeam in a very disturbed family life.

She raised me full time from the time I was born until I turned five when she had to go back to Arfons to take care of her father. After his death, she came back to live with us. I was fourteen at the time. And she was sixty.

I loved my ‘Bonne-Maman’ very much. And she loved me a lot. I was the apple of her eyes.

She was very small. She only was 4ft9. (I was 5ft7 when I turned 14.)

Her face was very round and wrinkled. I used to call her my ‘Pomme d’api’ (a delicious apple, very small and wrinkled we used to eat when I was much younger).

How I loved to kiss her cheeks!

She smiled and laughed all the time because she was a happy woman.

So many years later, I think that this was probably our strongest tie: Being happy whatever may happen. Finding enough strength to laugh about life instead of complaining and whining.

People usually only saw the very shy sweet person she was. But she was in reality a very strong woman. Not stubborn. Very strong. Strong and kind.

She had been my great-grandparents’ eldest daughter, born in 1902.
Second day of December. A very cold day to be born in the mountains.
Her grandmother died the same day in the room next to the bedroom where her mother was in labor.

I always shudder whenever I think about that day. Imagine being born a wall apart from a dying woman, your own grandmother.

Did her parents rejoice over her birth or was the house filled with wailing and sadness? I’ll never know.

They gave her her grandmother’s name: Marie-Antoinette. Since they also shared the same surname, psychiatrists would really love this kind of story.

Bonne-Maman didn’t seem to care at all. Everybody took to call her ‘Marie’ or ‘Marinette’ (little Marie) and that was it.

She was 12 when Bon-Papa Mathieu went to war and so while her mother was teaching and taking care of the farm, she was in charge of her younger sister and brother.

Then right after the war, she was very sick with typhoid fever. She almost died. When she recovered, her parents decided she’d never be able to go to school like her siblings. They sent her to spend a few years in a convent school where she did learn a trade: embroidery.

She became an extremely gifted embroideress at a time when girls needed an embroidered trousseau to get married. I still have a few pieces of cloth she embroidered almost a century ago. They are beautiful. I would not part with them for all the money in the world.

Then she fell in love with a young man from her village. He was a police officer which meant material security in the 1920s. He took her away to Marseilles, a huge city for Marinette. She never talked about this experience because while there, he met another woman. He divorced my grandmother when their daughter, my mother, was 2 yrs old.

Marinette and her young daughter went back to Arfons and stayed with her parents. She resumed embroidery and helped on the farm.

Her life must have been very hard. There was no alimony. The worst part though was she had to deal with a lot of guilt, shame and harsh criticisms. Her husband had abandoned her and their daughter for another woman. But she was the one to bear the cross.

(I’ve never met my biological grandfather. After he retired, he came back to live in Arfons with his wife in his family home. One summer night, when I was 18, I noticed a much older man who kept watching me. It kind of freaked me out and after he left, I asked my friends if they knew who he was. ‘Your grandfather, sweetie.’ Spooky.)

During WWII, she was asked to take care of her siblings’ children. Her own daughter was in a boarding school almost all year long. So she became the live-in nanny for all the kids in the family while her sister and sister-in-law were teaching school, in a nearby town (their husbands being POW). She did it during the war and after the war for a few years before I was born.

She raised all the children in the family and then she raised her grandchildren when her daughter (my mother) needed her. Then she took care of her ageing and sick parents. And back to her grandchildren.

She mostly was taken advantage of. But she didn’t seem to mind.

Whenever she had some free time, she’d embroider everything she could  get her hands on. She never noticed that it no longer was fashionable. She did it because she loved her craft.

She did knit the most beautiful sweaters and sewed all our clothes.

I never ever heard her complaining about her life. Like I said before, she was fundamentally a happy woman.

She was not an avid reader mainly because she hadn’t been to school very long but her favorite novel was ‘Jane Eyre’. Needless to say, Charlotte Brontë’s novel was my favorite book for a long time too. I think I’ve read it more than fifty times. It also was the first book I read in English.

She was very proud of me. Whenever she was away, she wrote long letters to me, using notebook pages, letters filled with pieces of advice which I usually followed and tons of compliments!

More important, she was very protective with me and I really needed protection from my parents when I was growing up.

I don’t mean that we were always agreeing about life (my life that is). Sometimes she had a hard time to understand my way of life but I tried to explain to her the ins and outs of my decisions. We never fought and in the end, we’d always part with a kind word and a hug and a kiss.

Her relationship with the rest of my family was strained. My parents did not like her because she was a ‘country woman’. They were ashamed of her. To them, she merely was a live-in maid and nanny. They made it clear all the time. It used to upset me very much because I could see all the good things she was bringing to our family: her help, her goodwill, her sweetness and kindness... besides the summer house and her jams!

My sister and brother followed my parents’ example and were very rude to her, bullying her whenever she was slow to understand something, which was happening more and more often as she was getting older.

We didn’t know that Parkinson was already at work. The disease was quite unknown at the time.

By the time the family doctor understood she was not merely ageing but that she was very sick, the end was quite fast.

She had been extremely happy when my son was born, her first great-grandchild. She was delighted, extremely delighted.

He was 15 months old when she started trying to grab him forcefully whenever she’d see him around and he did not like it at all. She did it because she was sick and she was so sick that she never realized that he was doing his best to avoid her.

Swee'Pea was almost two years old when we went down South because my sister was getting married. By then, my ‘Pomme d’api’ had been brain-dead for the past three months, at my parents’ home (French Social Security home (medical) care). Her heart was still healthy and strong. And she was breathing more or less on her own.

We flew down there and as soon as we got to the house, I felt the urge to go upstairs and check on my Bonne-Maman. Everybody told me not to. All the talking was about my sister’s wedding, the next day. There was no time to waste about a brain-dead grandmother. She’d still be there the following day anyway.

But Popeye and I, we went upstairs. She was lying on a medical bed and was intubated. A light was on.

Bonne-Maman was so diminutive. She looked peaceful. I walked to her bed, took her childlike hand in mine and said softly: ‘Bonne-Maman, je suis là.’ (I’m here.)

You will find it hard to believe but this is the way it happened. Popeye was there with me and I’m glad he was because...

She opened her eyes, looked straight at me, tried to lift her head while attempting to smile and said: ‘Oy-oy-oy.’ Which more or less meant in her native Southern dialect: ‘What a happy surprise.’ And she fell back on the pillow. Brain-dead again.

Her heart gave up three weeks later.

It took me years to recover.

It’s been thirty years now but I’m still thinking about her. I tell her many things, not aloud of course but in my heart. I share with her my joys and pains.

I know she would have loved to see our son grow up the way he does. So I’m telling her. Yes, I tell her my joys and my sorrows, our happy moments in life, my doubts and my fears.

Just the way, since last January, I keep talking with my sweet Yvonne, the way we have been talking all those years.

Yvonne and my ‘Bonne-Maman’ were so much alike. They both knew what love means.

*Good Night, and Good Luck*


Race? Roots? Racism? And then what?

A week ago, I read a very interesting blog about ‘race’ and ‘roots’. And I had to comment in a very assertive way that races were not a problem in France because the race concept is not accepted by our constitution - Which is true since France is probably the only country in the world to refuse to use the word ‘race’ and/or to mention ‘ethnic groups’. Officially that is.

So no ‘race’ problem in France. So-called ‘National Identity’ problems, yes: Are you French? Were you born in France? Were your parents born in France? So we always get mixed up signals. But no official ‘race’ nor 'roots' problems. 'Race' and 'roots' are a very personal matter after all.

The policemen arrest someone because they don’t like the look of him (i.e. definitely not Caucasian). This is derisively called in France ‘facies offense’. (Completely forbidden by law but very real nevertheless, ask my son.) But who talks openly about ‘race problems’ in France except the far right voters?

Let me tell you a story.

(I have already made my point about firearms a while ago.)

This summer in a very small village in Southern France, R.G., an old man wakes up during the night. He hears strange noises at his door.

By the time he gets up, two young women have entered his house. He calls the firemen. (One wonders why but there must be a reason. Maybe the police station was too far away.)

Then he grabs his (loaded - of course) hunting gun, aims and shoots the first girl. He’s 6 ft away from her. The second one runs away and hides in another room. He goes after her and shoots again - this time right through her abdomen.

The state prosecutor declares the man has definitely not been acting in self-defense. The girls, 21 and 11 yrs old, were unarmed and never threatened him.

(The youngest girl is still in the hospital, 2 months later.)

I almost forgot to tell you they were Gypsies.

Let’s quote the trigger-happy man when he was arrested: ‘I felt I was in danger. I was afraid because you never know what may happen with this ‘blasted’ race. I am a racist. When you watch television and you see what’s going on in France, you have to become a racist. And then you have to defend yourself against them.’

‘Them’ being of course ‘the others’, ‘the ones who are or look different’, ‘the ones we are afraid of’, etc. as shown on television.

R.G. claimed that his life has been filled with dread because 300 Gypsies are living close to his home. He also added that if Gypsies start stealing, they have to understand it will be a matter of life and death. Justice from his own hand, of course.

Therefore, R.G. was jailed for attempted first-degree murders.

The magistrates in charge of the case explained their decision, referring to the seriousness of the wounds sustained by the girls and above all other facts, the constant racist statements which had obviously led to his despicable acts.

As soon as the case was known, far right activists and leaders asked for R. G.’s release. Their petitions were turned down again and again.

They were trying to make this case a self-defense case. They are still trying to, by the way. But racism was the point there, not self-defense.

Up until now, the French government has been quite determined to keep R. G. in jail. Except that it is now publicly rumored that he may well be out of jail before his trial starts. Because of what's been going on all summer long.

So, I apologize. There are 'races' in France since there are racists willing to kill young girls mainly because they are Gypsies.

How dumb and blind can I be when I write to my American blogger-fellow that the ‘race’ topic does not exist in France? Since we are so bright here and know that there is only one 'race', the 'human race'.

Since it is obvious I refuse to think about ‘race’, then I am probably acting and thinking like a hard core French nationalist denying people the right to their cultural and ethnic differences. Am I? Really?

This is really, really bad!

Wait. I have an excuse, I think.

It upsets me terribly when I read in the newspaper (despite the existing laws) that a ‘French man whose roots are Algerian (African, etc.)’, has done something bad. When no roots are mentioned, you maybe sure that the guy is French-French. Therefore no need to mention his roots. He-is-French. He has been French for generations and centuries. End of the matter.

This is probably the reason why I have become color (and religion blind) and why I have such a hard time dealing with the roots and race problem. It sucks.

Being European does not solve the problem after all.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


Belgium - 'Clinical Death', really?

I’ve had a hard time adjusting to life in Belgium. It was so hard that most of the time I felt like running away. I don’t know why because I did not have any preconceived ideas about Belgium.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. I thought that Belgium would be very similar to Netherlands. A little bit too structured and stern for me. So I was kind of expecting a cultural shock. There was a shock but not the one I expected.

Actually it is a very complicated country. Did you notice I did not use ‘was’?

Before we left, I bought a Flemish manual. I even started working on it, not for too long though.

We found a house in a French speaking area, not because it was French speaking but because it was easier for me to live close to the heart of Brussels. From our home, we are a few minutes away from the historical heart of Brussels, museums, etc.

Ten years ago, it didn’t take long to realize that I would not need to take Flemish lessons. I have to admit that I’ve never met people as gifted with foreign languages than the Belgians from Flemish origins. The oldest ones usually speak Flemish, French and English. The younger ones have decided not to study French. But they speak English beautifully.

After a few years, Belgians around us started becoming more radical. It was really strange to live among two communities that started showing strong dislike over each other... turning to hatred year after year, making life miserable in Belgium, really miserable sometimes.

At first, we kind of joked about it because in France, when you live in Paris with a strong southern accent, people tend to make fun of you. If you live in Paris and buy a house in Brittany or anywhere else with strong cultural traditions, you sometimes hear niceties like: ‘Parigot, tête de veau.’ It’s such a sweet compliment I won’t even try to translate it.

We are French. We were always planning on coming back to France (we still are). And we have a very distinctive non-Belgian accent so our life wasn’t too hard in-between the two communities. Which did not mean we were accepted. Sometimes, it became kind of ugly... But I won’t dwell about this today. Maybe I never will after all.

Because yesterday, Belgium was declared clinically dead by its own politicians.

Since it’s coma we are talking about, there still is hope. I watch ‘Dr House’ so I know that coma can be reversible.

The problem is that Belgians no longer believe they are living in the same country. And it’s gone to the point that there is no Belgium any longer.

Well, it’s still lying on its hospital bed under respiratory help. But nobody knows which part can be saved or even if some part can still be saved. There doesn’t seem to be any will to survive left in either part. I mean survival as a country as a whole.

A while ago I wrote a blog about a train accident in Belgium where I tried to explain the way Belgium functions. It’s a little bit difficult to understand for French people. It’s very easy for my Indian friend, I know.

I don’t know why but everything seemed to get out of control very quickly, in the last couple of years. Nationalism reared its ugly head in Flanders when far right parties won a lot of votes (and seats) in the last elections.

Belgium has been surviving without a real government for quite a long time now. Who knows about it? Who cares about it? I mean, in Europe of course. Not many people, I’m sure.

Barely surviving though until yesterday when Bart de Wever, the Flemish nationalist leader called off last minute negociations with the French-speaking part in order to form a government.

'Clinical death' was announced by Eric Van Rompuy who is a (Christian Democrat) deputy in the Flemish Parliament and brother to the President of the European Council (which comprises the European heads of states or governement).

Will it be followed by euthanasia, legal in Belgium by the way? Which will be the partition of Belgium, of course.

When Elio di Rupo (head of the Socialist French-Speaking Wallonia) decided a couple of weeks ago to quit ‘bargaining’ with Bart de Wever over forming a government, he did so wishing the partition would happen peacefully and without bloodshed. Cool.

So for those of you who don't know Belgium, there is Flanders and Wallonia and Brussels. There is also Limburg where a very small minority of German speaking people live. But nobody worries about Limburg.

Everybody worries about Brussels. It is the capital of Europe, very international, French speaking (85%) to boot. But it is also the capital of Flanders... inlead in Flanders. And Flanders is very intent on keeping it this way and on turning it very Flemish, of course.

There were talks of using Brussels like some kind of Washington, D.C. for Europe. Quite impossible, said Flanders.

Why do European countries remain silent? Because there is always the danger of intrusion of foreign countries in a domestic problem.

Europe will probably have to find a new capital. Luxemburg or France would love that, I’m sure. I’ve been told Netherlands has already shown some interest in becoming the new host to the European Commissions and Councils.

Tonight, the future of Belgium looks rather bleak.

In France, we have the most awful way of talking about cancer. We don’t talk about it. That’s it. Its ‘official’ and  very hypocritical name is ‘long illness’.

Belgium is dying of a ‘long sickness’. It’s dying from very invasive cancerous cells. Some of them go back to the Middle Ages. It took a long, long time and it’s really strange for a country 180 years old.

No bloodshed, please. Try to switch Belgium off quietly if there really is no hope left.

 *Good Luck, and Good Night* 


Rambling, Rambling and Rambling

Welcome back to Brussels.

It’s nice to learn that ‘sac’ is French and Flemish. By the way, it means ‘purse’.

During the 11 years we spent in Brussels, we were warned about carjacking, then there was carjacking and homejacking. Warnings were issued through the newspapers.

They were kind of weird like: ‘Leave your car papers at home.’ Then: ‘Leave your car keys and purses in the hall, close to your front door.’ (ie so the burglars won’t need to wake you up. We don’t want crime besides stealing, do we?) But they never asked to leave the front door opened.

So now, it’s sacjacking! Oh, I love it. Belgium ranks first for its sense of humour. The police warns you. They do. There never is one single policeman to be seen around but the warning has been issued. If your purse is stolen while you are driving your car, it’s your own fault. Don’t complain.

Upon arrival, we found out that ‘our’ house is still unfit to be lived in (nine months after the flooding). We were there to assess what had been done in September and what still needed to be done before we could move back in.

We’ve been having a slight disagreement with our landlords. It’s a long story, very long story. Let’s just say that they never lived in this house and they tended to act like slumlords despite the very high rent we are paying every month. No serious upkeep ever. Leaks everywhere. Electrical problems.

Last October there was a storm. The house had been so neglected ever since they had bought it that it was flooded from the top floor down to the basement (5 floors in all). Our belongings suffered quite a bit but the structure of the house itself was in a very bad shape, worse than ever.

We could have moved out years ago but with cancer and Popeye’s job, we kind of endured besides the fact that we knew what we were in and were worried about what we could get into.

Brussels is not very particular about housing laws even though it is the capital of Europe.

But now enough is enough. We are very angry. Angry but still very polite. Kind of hard but we managed so far!

Our landlords know that we now have the right to take them to court and ask for the reimbursement of the 9 months rent plus compensation.

So we had a nice surprise when we got to the house. The garden was ours to take care of. It is a very small garden but I had a good gardener to help me. It really was lovely.

Early summer

On Saturday - View from the house
We got the warning message allright.

We had been asking for too much apparently. It’s obviously very bad to annoy Italians, especially high ranking officials from the Italian Foreign Office.

It was a tough blow for me but...

Anyway, on our way back to Paris, we listened to a beautiful rendition of Verdi’s Rigoletto, live from La Fenice, in Venice. Is Venice Italian?

Verdi was Italian even if Rigoletto’s libretto was written from one of the plays of our very french Victor Hugo. Victor Hugo, our French everything: Poet, writer, playwright, thinker, activist, political exile, husband, lover, devoted father.

Rigoletto is one of my favorite operas. Leo Nucci sang my first Rigoletto ever and I ended up sobbing in Bastille on the shoulder of a very embarrassed Popeye. ‘Do I know this hysterical woman? Oops! She’s my wife.’

I no longer cry when I listen to Rigoletto. I still feel sort of anguished, it’s true. Mainly because I can’t help remembering so vividly Leo Nucci’s superb and heart rending performance.

As I said, we drove back to Paris, listening to Rigoletto, live from La Fenice. We even ate at a ‘McDo’ drive in not to loose one note, one air. When we got to Paris, we stayed in the garage where we park our car until the final note.

The night watchman probably thought we were smooching in the car. Not at all. We were in La Fenice, listening to Rigoletto.

We got to Swee'Pea’s appartment, feeling a little bit down. Well, Rigoletto is not the best way to cheer you up... And we both hate confrontation. And we really didn’t enjoy the ‘garden message’... It was so uncivilized.

We went to bed, thinking that Sunday would be another day, a better one, please.

On Sunday morning, we were feeling better but already planning the letter we had to write to our friendly landlords sooner or later. Then we went to  Garnier to listen to a Rossini opera which he wrote at 21. ‘L’Italiana in Algeri’. Bad choice: ‘The Italian girl in Algiers’. Italy again!

The opera was okay, a little bit too much because of a farcical production. Very silly synopsys too. The music was extremely beautiful as usual. I imagine Rossini was a very happy man because he makes your heart swell with rejoicing and happiness. It did us a lot of good.

The tenor was wonderful. He’s African American, goes by the name of Lawrence Brownlee. His middle name wasn’t Hussein. Not all African Americans are called Hussein then?

On our way home, we turned the car radio on to listen to the news. Perfect way to end a perfect week-end - The American Government had just issued a warning about terrorist bombing threats concerning France.

You see, our government is so enmeshed in scandals of all sorts that when it issued the same type of warning a while ago, we did not believe it. Protective screen, we all thought.

And now the US are issueing a warning to their citizens who are visiting France. Quite scary.

Except that when you think of it, we are quite used to live under terrorist bombing threats. We are quite used to see soldiers patrol the stations, the subway and other public places. We are quite used to see police all over the place. Because we’ve been living under threat ever since 1995. Sometimes the level gets down to yellow but now it is up to bright red!

We’ll have to learn to live dangerously again. Most people don’t have any other choice. How do you get to work in Paris? By train or subway. What do you do most nights? Museums, operas, theaters... Then train or/and subway.

We’ll have to get used again to become very aware of anything looking weird (a suitcase under an empty subway seat, a grocery bag by a garbage can). We’ll have to get used again to have our handbags searched every time we’ll get into a shopping center or a movie theater. (They’ve already been doing it in museums, operas, etc.)

This is not a problem. We’ve been through this many, many times well before the world started talking about Ben Laden. I know we will keep on living as usual. We all know that frightening people is already some sort of terrorism. And so far, we have refused to be frightened, even right after a bomb attack.

So we’ll live. It will be stressful. But we’ll live, hoping to survive.

The only problem that did not exist at the end of the XXth century is our way of looking at Arabs, Muslims, Sikhs, immigrants and foreigners. Will their life become unsufferable? Will they be looked upon as outcasts?

This is the real threat. Will we be able as a people to make the difference between crazy fundamentalists (religious/political) and ‘the others’, the people we run into every day?

I am very pessimistic about the outcome of the threats. I’m not totally convinced that we will have bomb attacks. Daily life worries me much more. France has already been going so fast on the wrong track of exclusion and fear of differences that we may well end up being our own terrorists.

I was right when I started this blog tonight. It is filled with rambling and rambling. And getting scarrier. From ‘sacjacking’ to ‘terrorist attacks’. The destruction of my lovely garden seems so trivial now. Crazy world.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


It's raining in Paris. It's cold in Paris but I am so happy!

Why do I worry so much every time I go through those cancer tests?

If the results are good, they are good and then there is a lot of rejoicing.

If they are bad, ok, what can we do except fight again and again? I use «we» because the three of us do fight together even though I’m the only one to go through surgery and chemos. But that’s allright, I’m a girl. It’s much easier for me! Just kidding.

Why do I worry so much? I spent a sleepless night. I woke up early enough to have breakfast with Popeye... Then he left for work (hard day for him because he could not be with me) and I started my ‘I’m really worried’ walk through the apartment... picking up a book, trying to find my glasses, patting Byerly (who was clearly getting nervous too), back to the computer and again ‘Where is my book?’ until I  barely had enough time left to get ready, run downstairs and get a cab: ‘Good morning, Monsieur. I’m going to the American Hospital, s’il vous plaît.’ (Maybe hoping he’d answer: ‘Sorry, but I won’t do it because it does not please me.’)

The driver was very sweet and nice. He was very worried about the fact that humans can be very cruel and animals are not. Good question. You never see a lion kill a gazell just for fun or for political/religious reasons, do you? Good point then.

When I left his car, he said to me: ‘Within the hour, you will know that you are cured.’ Very kind words indeed. I’m really wondering why some cab drivers are not working in the hospital instead of driving people there. They are so optimistic all the time. Of course, it wouldn’t be good to hear: ‘You’ll drop dead within the hour.’

We got to the AHP a long time before my appointment. I had to wait a long time in the oncology department waiting room.

A few months ago, it still had a very comfy and small waiting room... almost humane. Now that the AHP has become one of the leading cancer treatment centers in Paris, the waiting room is huge. Lots of oncologists (most of them quite young) and lots of patients too which is quite hard to stand.

When they look awfully sick, I feel so bad for them. I feel almost guilty for feeling so good (even though I don’t know the blood tests results yet).

I know I shouldn’t feel bad because I’ve been sick too, very, very sick. I’ve been there, you see. But they do make me feel terrible and helpless.  

Some of them are well past hearing: ‘I was very sick and I’ve been surviving for the past 7 years, off and on, that is.’ Yes, I’m sure it wouldn’t be a good idea at all.

So there I was, waiting for my oncologist to show up. I know he’s always late. It’s getting even worse now that he’s the head of such a big department. But he’s still very nice.

He was one hour late (because he’d been upstairs in the real oncology department - the outpatients’ waiting rooms are definitely not like the oncology department... People who are there are still able to move around even if it is in a wheelchair. (I don’t mean to scare you.)

He finally came down. There were two women before me which meant that he’d be one more hour late... But since we are ancient history, I was not feeling too distressed about it after all.

Because as soon as he saw me, he gave me a big friendly smile: ‘Ah, Marie, Marie, Marie is here.’ I hate so much attracting attention in an oncology waiting room! But his smile did mean: ‘Ok, girl, you are allright, once more.’

So I started feeling real better and trying not to show my relief. I immersed myself in my book and waited.

In his office, he had this big grin on his face. He knew I was waiting like crazy for my results but he started talking about photography. The guy drives me crazy sometimes and knows it! After a while, he picked up a few sheets from his desk and said: ‘Guess what? Your results can’t be better and this is month 46! Well done, Marie!’

And back to photography. I was feeling outrageously happy. We left his office still laughing at some joke he’d been telling me (about his camera)... We kissed good-bye. My next appointment is scheduled in January. But we’ll meet some time before then because he needs help with sorting his pictures.

I help him sort his pictures and he makes me healthy. Quite a deal!

Maybe he’s been trying hard to save my life so that I’d sort his pictures... No matter what, it doesn’t matter. He did a great job with the big mess he had to deal with 46 months ago!

(He kind of blew it 7 years ago but I trusted him enough to go back to him. After all, who really knows how cancer works? He doesn’t and he’s very blunt about it which is the reason why I trust him. I know he does his best but sometimes cancer wins in the end. And anyway, we all die, don't we?)

My men and all my friends did a great job too! Wow! Wow! Wow!

May I mention though that I did fight a lot too and that I do hope I’ll grow to be a funny crazy old lady. (I promise I will try my best not to become a cranky old woman!)

Today is a beautiful day. It’s raining and it’s cold in Paris but it really is a beautiful day.

@my cab driver - it did take almost three hours!

*Good Night, and Good Luck*