I seldom write about politics here — because in a democracy everyone is entitled to their beliefs. But when children are being deliberately brutalized for political gain, it becomes a moral imperative to speak up. My hope is that some of you will call your representatives in Congress and ask them to please support more humane ways of enforcing our nation’s laws.

Yesterday we celebrated Father’s Day in the United States. But thanks to the direct actions of the government more than 1,000 fathers spent the day separated from their kids. And at least one of these fathers — Marco Antonio Muñoz — will never see his children again, because he’s dead.

Muñoz and his family were apprehended at the Weslaco, Texas Border Patrol station on May 11, where they were arrested under the “zero tolerance” immigration policy Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in April.

According to a Border Patrol official, “… Muñoz ‘lost it’ after Border Patrol told the family they would be separated. ‘The [Border Patrol] had to use physical force to take the child out of his hands.’” Muñoz later killed himself in his jail cell on May 13.

Although Muñoz’s case is extreme, it’s hardly unique: The Trump administration separated 1,995 children from 1,940 adults between April 19 and May 31, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security said last Friday.

McAllen Texas immigrant arrestA child cried as her mother was searched and detained in McAllen, Texas, this past week.
Credit: John Moore/Getty Images

The officials could not confirm whether parents are allowed to say goodbye to their children before they are separated. Some reports have alleged that parents were told their children were being taken to a separate facility for a bath; others have described children screaming in the next room as their parents were being arrested. In some cases the parents have even been sent home without their children.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said he is simply enforcing the law. But there is in fact no law mandating that parents must be separated from their children at the border.

DHS officials have also said they have “no choice” but to separate parents and children, claiming that the only alternative option is to ignore the law. (Never mind that previous administrations have found other ways to keep migrant families together as they wound their way through immigration court proceedings.)

Meanwhile, Trump is blaming the Democrats for this “forced family breakup.”

Twitter democrats

In fact, it was President George W. Bush who initiated the “zero tolerance” approach for illegal immigration on which Mr. Trump’s policy is modeled.

In 2005, Bush launched Operation Streamline, a program along a stretch of the border in Texas that imprisoned all unlawful entrants and expedited assembly-line-style deportation trials. However, exceptions were generally made for adults who were traveling with minor children, as well as juveniles and people who were ill.

But it’s really not about whom to blame, is it? What matters is that this systemic child abuse masquerading as law enforcement must stop. And the cold truth is that if Trump “hates separating families” as much as he claims, he himself can end it — today — with a single phone call.

Children should never be used as pawns for political gains, especially when it will cause them irreparable, permanent trauma.

Dr. Colleen Kraft, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, saw some of the detained children in April. “It was really devastating to see,” she said. “The first room we went into was a toddler room and there was a little girl who couldn’t have been more than two years old who was just sobbing and crying and was inconsolable.”

And beyond the trauma our government is deliberately inflicting on these children, we are also harming ourselves and our standing in the world.

Remember how shocked the nation was to see Otto Warmbier coming home comatose from North Korea, after being detained for taking a pamphlet from his hotel room? We will no longer have the moral high ground or the right to be outraged over such mistreatment of American citizens if we ourselves are doing irreparable damage to those we detain.

As a society we would be horrified if a police officer pulled over a car for a moving violation and proceeded to beat up the children who were riding in the back seat. Isn’t it just as horrifying to beat up children psychologically under the pretext of enforcing the law?

We can — we MUST — do better than this.

 


I’ve been searching for the perfect Father’s Day gift, and for a brief shining moment today I thought I’d found it in KSBeth’s post.

51aCyAsaj8L

Yes … can you believe it?! A HOT-GLUE GUN FOR CHEESE!

Alas, the reviews were less than stellar …

Well, it was a good idea. Hot cheese on demand? Heck yes! Unfortunately it just doesn’t work well. It heats up about one squeeze worth of cheese and then you have to wait for 2 mins for more heat. This is not fat guy approved. Thanks for crushing my dreams of assembly line nachos. Dream killers.

… so I decided to keep looking.

But like a solicitous sales clerk in the sock department at Macy’s, Amazon wasn’t about to let me leave empty-handed. “Customers also shopped for …” it suggested hopefully.

Before I knew it, I’d gone down the rabbit-hole of Weird and Inappropriate Gifts.

CUSTOMERS also shopped for

My dad is a fantastic cook, but somehow a “Creepy Cage Face Mug” or a package of Augason Farms Funeral Potatoes wouldn’t exactly set the right tone. The reviews were pretty amusing, though:

Sometimes I get a hankerin’ for gramma’s potato casserole, but I get tired of waiting for one of the family or friends to die. Thanks to Augason Farms, I can bring the taste of sorrow and loss, along with awkward hugs from distant relatives I didn’t know I had, to my freezer anytime I want it.

Hmmm. Maybe a practical gift instead — like a fanny pack for his morning strolls? Amazon suggested this men unisex waistpack with adjustable belt. Because nothing says GIFT like a hairy, pinkish neoprene man-paunch.

Belly fanny pack

My dad doesn’t (yet) own a chicken, so he probably wouldn’t have much use for a chicken harness and leash, either.

Chicken harness

But again: the comments!

I’m still working this out. I think my bird is less “hen size” and more “monster bird” size, but this isn’t offered in mutated science experiment size. My girl is a pretty tolerant bird, she let me fuss it onto her, but she was able to scrunch up and get her head out the top. Maybe I’m doing it wrong. It’s still fairly cold for walking so I’ll give an update on what my neighbors think of me in spring.

Sadly the squishy fried egg stress reliever didn’t have any reviews, but this word-salad of a description made up for 100 glowing testimonials:

Egg yolk brother vent egg pinch whole package tricky weird decompression toys. Durable Polyurethane Foam has Memory Foam-like characteristics for a super squishable experience. Great Gift Idea: Perfect to entertain,

Oh yes, my friends … I will entertain you now with my weird decompression toys squishy egg!

Squishy egg

But I will stop my narration for a moment and just let you imagine the look (surprise? delight? you are never welcome in this house again?) on your loved ones’ faces when you give them a build-your-own simple pine casket or set of 10 tiny hands.

Casket on display

 

Finger hand puppets

Ummm. Two of the hands are Mexican and the remaining 8 are Caucasian. This item isn’t eligible for return, so…I guess I’m stuck with a random assortment?? The photo showed ten matching hand finger puppets. That is not what i got. Boo.

And let us not forget about the pets — they are members of the family too, after all!

Cat Yoda

This is cool, but the strap is way too big for any cat. I think this was made for an infant’s head and they just cut holes in it and marketed it for cats. Otherwise the cat they tested it on must have had a HUGE head, but then again I’ve never been to China so maybe cats look like chupacabras out there.

Okay … I must interject again for just a second. YOUR CAT IS GOING TO KILL YOU FOR THIS.

Cat Yoda kill

Speaking of our furry friends … what could be cuter than a squirrel wearing a horse head? Totally worth $19, even if the top reviewer is right in observing that “squirrels always kill what they love.”

Squirrel horse head

We got one of these for the yard and it is super awesome. We smeared the inside of the snout with peanut butter and filled it with the finest squirrel blend, then set it up and waited. It did not disappoint. The additional preparations we had made for the Squirrel Viewing, which I shall not bore you with here, only enhanced the hilarity of the inevitable squirrel-in-a-horsehead shenanigans. The only downside is that once the squirrels overcame their fear of the giant disembodied floating horsehead, leering down at them like a vision out of what I can only imagine would be a squirrel’s most fevered nightmare, they tore at it like deranged zombies and turned into something resembling the steed of a White Walker. I can tell you that it was a bit unsettling the first time it rotated towards us on its string, in a seemingly innocent fashion, then suddenly revealed its ravaged and skeletal other side. You’ve won this time, squirrels.

I also got maybe too much glee out of the “My first fire” play kit. The front of the package seemed innocent enough … but just look at that photo on the back. Better start saving for Timmy’s bail!

My first fireMy first fire backWait … what was I doing? Oh, yes. Looking for a gift that expresses the love I feel for my father, and the debt of gratitude I will never be able to repay.

Maybe I will just call him and tell him that instead.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Not many sports can trace their origin as decisively as basketball: Fans know the first game was played on December 21, 1891 in Springfield, Massachusetts.

But few Americans are aware that the oldest surviving basketball court is in Paris, inside an unassuming building at 14, rue Trévise in the 9th arrondissement.

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The entrance, in a promotional brochure from the 1930s

The building felt almost abandoned when Esteban and I first walked into its small lobby with our friend Gilles Thomas last April. A single shaft of light from the serpentine stairs illuminated the tile floors and the old posters on the walls.

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It seemed a strange setting for the first recorded basketball game on European soil, which took place here on December 27, 1893.

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A plaque commemorates the first basketball game played in Europe

But Sylvie Manac’h — the director of the Y.M.C.A. in Paris — would soon show us that very spot (and many less-well-known) in this remarkable structure.

A video shoot was in progress when Sylvie led us into the historic basketball court. But in spite of the pink lighting, balloons, and young actors that filled the gymnasium, I still felt like I was stepping into a time machine.

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The gymnasium in Paris was almost identical to the original in Springfield, which unfortunately was destroyed by fire. As in its American twin, the two baskets were suspended from a slanted wood track that circled above the court.

Piste-gymnasePhoto courtesy of UCJG Paris

Below, the antique exercise machines hinted at the building’s age: it opened less than two years after James Naismith invented basketball at the Y.M.C.A. in Springfield in 1891.

YMCA exercise equipment 1260635 BLOG

I wondered whether the original gymnasium in Springfield had also featured cast-iron columns in the middle of the court.

Gymnase1Photo courtesy of UCJG Paris

Sylvie explained that the creaky parquet floor was original too, made of wood imported from the United States.

YMCA floor 1260637 DIF BLOG

In fact, the entire building seemed like a testament to the special friendship France and the U.S. have shared since the American revolution:

• James Stokes, a millionaire philanthropist from New York, financed half of the construction to honor General Lafayette’s role in the revolution.

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• The architect (Émile Bénard, a student of Gustav Eiffel) traveled to America to study Y.M.C.A. buildings for inspiration.

• An American named Melvin B. Rideout became the first athletic director, bringing basketball to Paris.

But perhaps even more revolutionary were the ideals of the Y.M.C.A. (Union Chrétienne de Jeunes Gens, or UCJG), which linked physical health and community with spiritual well-being — a concept that was unheard of in France at the time.

In addition to a chapel and a cafeteria …

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Gilles asked why the railing on the stairs was so high. “So people could lean against it and read the newspaper while they waited in line for food,” Sylvie explained.

… the new building featured an American-style bowling alley and France’s first indoor swimming pool. Sadly, the bowling alley (shown immediately below) and swimming pool have fallen into disrepair.

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But many of the other rooms are still in use — including the auditorium, which has found new life as the Théâtre Trévise.

The upper floors also still provide housing for some 40 residents (most of them young men under 25) in modest dormitory-style rooms with fantastic views.

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I was fascinated by the winding stairs that served the dormitories, and by the cast-iron fire escape. Was it just my imagination, or did the latter show some Eiffel-like influences? It looked in excellent condition, considering its age.

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Alas, other parts of the building were much worse for wear, including a few rooms that were practically in ruins. Sylvie lamented that it would take hundreds of thousands of euros to make all of the needed repairs — money the Y.M.C.A. simply doesn’t have.

YMCA ruins 1260807 BLOG

That’s why the association has launched a Go Fund Me campaign to restore the basketball court and renew interest in saving the building, which was registered as a historic landmark in 1994.

It is my hope that a few kind, generous Americans will once again extend a hand of friendship by helping preserve this historic venue, and this living symbol of the Franco-American bond.

I extend my deep and heartfelt thanks to Gilles Thomas for arranging our tour, and to Sylvie Manac’h for so graciously sharing her knowledge and time with us. Je vous remercie infiniment !

Want to know more?

Help save the building with a donation of any amount.

Discover how you can tour this building through the European Heritage Days program.

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Learn more about the history of the Y.M.C.A. in Paris.

See more photos on Atlas Obscura.

Become a sponsor of the Y.M.C.A. in Paris.

 

 


One of my favorite things about WordPress is its community of kind, supportive people. And one of those lovely people is Jessica, whose blog I fell in love with instantly because of this post. She is a superb, deeply perceptive writer and a marvelous photographer. I promise that if you take one virtual stroll with her — maybe in inappropriate shoes? — you’ll fall in love, too.

So what an honor it was to read her latest post and see that she’d nominated me for the Sunshine Blogger Award (merci infiniment, chère Jessica !). I sometimes turn down these awards because they can have a “chain letter” element — and I don’t want my blog friends to feel pressured or obligated to continue the thread. But in Jessica’s honor I will gladly accept.

Ready? First, let’s start with the rules:

SUNSHINE BLOGGER AWARD RULES

• Thank the blogger who nominated you.
• Answer the 11 questions asked.
• Nominate 11 other bloggers and ask them 11 new questions.
• List the rules and include the Sunshine Blogger Award logo in your post.

Sunshine-Blogger-Award-1-1

And now, the goods:

What inspired you to start blogging?
My friends Pam, Laurie, and Derek. I loved how freely and unselfconsciously they wrote about their lives and thought “maybe I should try that too.” Which is weird, because I am an intensely private person.

Sadly, none of their blogs is active anymore but I do owe them all a debt of gratitude.

What do you hope to accomplish with your blog/writing?
I have so far failed miserably in my aspirations to attract one billion subscribers, eradicate flatworms, or start a cult. But I have stayed true to my stated mission of sharing my love of the absurd (fluorescent marmosets!) and the beauty I find all around me.

In hindsight, though, my blog’s greatest accomplishment has been introducing me to incredible people all over the world, many of who have become cherished, real-life friends.

Have you ever experienced culture shock?
Oh my, yes. The worst was when my family moved to Minnesota. In spite of my efforts to look like the cool girls, I became an outcast and a target for bullies — and my classmates branded me a liar because of the fantastical stories I told about Peru.

It wasn’t all bad, though: Being on the outskirts made me a keen observer and taught me a lot both about my fellow humans and myself. I also learned that even if you do fit in, conformity exacts its own price.

Since then I’ve made a point of deliberately exposing myself to culture shock from time to time. Yes, it can be intimidating and even scary. But it can also be liberating and reassuring to be reminded that people are fundamentally the same the world over.

Describe the most memorable meal you’ve ever had OR the worst date. Or both.
Most memorable meal? I’m fortunate that a dozen contenders flicker across my mental movie screen. So instead I’ll tell you about the worst date. (Scroll to the very bottom of this post if you’re really interested.)

What is something you wish you were better at?
Small talk. I can never find a happy medium between “I like potatoes,” and “When you think about it, even the universe will die someday.”

What cities/countries have you lived in, and do you have a favorite?
I live in Minnesota now but grew up in England, Mexico and Peru — and they’re all dear to me for different reasons. But Paris is my favorite city (although I technically haven’t lived there). It has an intoxicating blend of history, culture, beauty and grittiness I find irresistible.

Where do you find inspiration?
In nature. Whether I have writer’s block or the blues or feel “stuck” as a photographer, a walk through the woods or prairie always makes it better. Pausing to hear the birds or study the bark of an ancient tree reminds me that I’m part of something much bigger, much more powerful, and much more beautiful than my little human brain can even imagine.

What is your travel philosophy?
When my sisters and I were little my parents bought us all matching red backpacks, and the rule was that you could bring whatever you wanted on vacation as long as it fit inside. This taught me to make tough choices and travel light.

But the philosophy that has served me best as an adult is that, “At some point the trip you plan will become the trip you’re on.” You’ll lose your wallet. You’ll get stranded in Rome. Or fall down a flight of stairs. You won’t always have a choice in how your trip unfolds, but you will always have a choice in how you respond when the unexpected occurs. (Those last four words are for my friend TO’S.)

What is something you think is completely overrated?
Paris Hilton! That was the first thing that popped into my head. But also microbrews, Frapuccinos, avocado toast, manbuns … pretty much anything that’s wildly popular.

What’s your drink?
Kombucha. It’s a bit of a problem, actually. I may be addicted.

Describe a piece of art (in any medium) that changed the way you saw the world.
Pablo Picasso’s painting, Guernica. I saw a photo of it in Delta Airlines’ Sky magazine (“Experience Spain,” read the inexplicable tourism ad). I stared at those faces for a long time: women, horses, bulls, children … all screaming in terror. Men lying motionless on the ground. It was one of the most powerful and stark depictions of human suffering and inhumanity I’d ever seen — all of it expressed in just a few spare, almost-abstract shapes. It not only taught me about a tragic episode of history but also gave me an appreciation for Picasso, whose work I had never really understood before.

And if you’re still interested in my reading about my worst date, don’t forget to scroll to the very bottom of the post.



Now, here are my 11 questions for some of my other favorite bloggers, in no particular order. Please don’t feel compelled to respond — but know that I appreciate you and all you bring to this community.

Alys at Gardening Nirvana
Hanna at Hanna’s Walk
Marcus at Streets of Nuremberg
V.J. at One Woman’s Quest
Patti at Learn More Every Day
Kate at Ankhor You
Suzanne and Pierre at Paris Expat 2012
Anthony at Today’s Perfect Moment
Corey at French Frye in Paris
Beth at I Didn’t Have my Glasses On
ME Lewis at France Says

What inspired you to start blogging?
What are you most proud of?
If you won the lottery, on what would you splurge?
Where is the last place you traveled to? Would you like to go back?
What is your favorite book? Why?
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to your younger self?
What is the silliest thing you ever saw or heard at work?
What is your favorite childhood memory?
Have you ever gotten hopelessly lost? What happened?
If you could have dinner with any famous person, whom would you choose?
What hopes and dreams do you have for your next 10 years?



My worst date

It was my husband’s and my fifth anniversary — or maybe our sixth? — and to mark the occasion we decided to go camping.

We got up early on the appointed day and loaded up the dog and the tent and the sleeping bags and the freeze-dried food and the camp stove (can you tell I married a former Boy Scout?) and the drinking water and the miniature chess game and a travel-sized bottle of schnapps and drove 200 miles north to Split Rock Lighthouse.

We hiked maybe a mile into the woods, located our campsite, and pitched our tent. But we hadn’t even sprung the last pole when the insects found us. And by “insects” I mean literal clouds of mosquitoes and blackflies, all of them craving our precious blood. We instructed the dog to pee and beat a hasty retreat into the tent.

Have you ever tried to sleep with a mosquito in the room? Imagine three dozen inside a tiny, stuffy tent. We swatted at the darkness … until a flash temporarily blinded us. Lightning!

Soon the wind started buffeting our tent. Then came the heavy raindrops. And then, the creaking of tree branch rubbing against tree branch. “Widow-maker!” exclaimed my Boy Scout. It sounded like a huge branch — and it was right above us. We had to get away. Fast.

It was pouring now, and the thunder was deafening. We took turns comforting our terrified dog as we shoved random gear into our packs. Then we slogged a mile through the mud and whipping branches and piled our poor soaked dog and belongings into the car.

“Thank God we got out of there,” said my Boy Scout. It was almost midnight and the visibility was terrible, but at least we were out of the weather and on our way back home.

“Rrrrr,” said our car. “Rrrr, rrrrr …” The strange sound was sporadic, but the loss of power that accompanied it made our hearts race. We decided to aim for Sandstone and pull into the parking lot of Banning State Park.

“OOOOH! A MOTEL!!” It was right across the highway from the state park, and the Vacancy light was on. A red-and-blue neon miracle!

I felt terrible for the woman we got out of bed at 2 a.m. to check us in. “Do you have any dog-friendly rooms?” I asked. “Is the animal clean?” she shot back, eyeing the two soaking-wet, mud-splattered, twig-covered humans who stood before her. “Oh yes!” I replied with unnatural enthusiasm.

We let Arrow in through the back door of the motel, trying to wipe the mud from his feet and belly as he pulled us down the hall. Confident that he was finally clean enough to enter the room, we threw open the door and removed his leash.

Arrow was so overjoyed to be indoors that he slammed his butt onto the carpet and scooted the entire length of the room as Esteban and I looked on, horrified at the brown skid mark the dog was leaving in his wake. (That’s how the phrase “I believe you’ve met our dog, Scooter?” became one of Esteban’s and my most enduring pet jokes.)

But we haven’t done much camping since then, for some reason. Maybe it’s time we gave it another try? We have another anniversary coming up, after all …

 

 


I was planning a return to Como Lake last weekend to see how our young eagle was coming along. But then I got distracted by the sunrise.

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As I passed the Gibbs Farm Museum I couldn’t help wondering how many spectacular sunrises Jane DeBow Gibbs had watched from this same spot some 170 years ago.

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The goats were out, so I went over to say hello. Mom and dad came over first and demanded a vigorous petting before allowing the youngsters to approach me.

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Only when I was completely covered in snot and goat hair did I notice the sign: “Please do not feed or touch the animals.” I had just touched ALL OF THE ANIMALS.

[Intermission: In which yours truly flees the scene, wiping goat snot on her hair-covered jeans in a vain attempt to hide the evidence of having touched ALL OF THE ANIMALS.]

In the small marsh a little further down the road, the red-winged blackbirds were out in full force. I wondered whether a male’s virility is reflected in part by the height of his perch.

Red wing blackbird 1300271 BLOG

Or maybe they just enjoy trying to stay upright on the brittle, swaying reeds

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I also noticed the blades of grass (as one does). They looked like they had been showered in sunlight.

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Fast-forward to this weekend, when I once again intended a return to Como Lake. But this time I was thwarted by acute hypersomnolence, so instead I went for a forest bath in the woods near my house.

The dappled light filtering through the leaves was delicious.

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But a good ways down the path a strange noise gave me pause. It sounded larger than a squirrel, and it seemed to be coming from the canopy. Was it an injured red-tailed hawk?

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Just then, the animal righted itself and glared at me, as if to shame me for my intrusion.

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It was an owlet! And I was witnessing perhaps its first day of flight school — which, frankly, wasn’t going too well.

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I left it to the watchful eyes of its mom and sibling … and when I came back this evening to check on the wobbly youngster they were all gone.

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But that’s OK. Soon he will be gliding like a whisper through the woods. And even if I can’t hear him, I’ll know he’s up there somewhere above the canopy of green.

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I had a wild weekend. Not in the “Dad, can you please post my bail?” kind — more in the John Muir sense:

Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods. Here grow the wallflower and the violet …

On Friday evening I strolled through the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden,  which opened unusually late this spring due to our unusually late winter.

It looked drab an uninviting at first, until I noticed a group of colorfully clad children clustered around my favorite tree.

 

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Even as the fall leaves still clung to their branches, new siblings were being born.

 

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The bloodroot flowers seemed almost bashful about revealing themselves, like divas shrouded in velvety green robes.

 

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And from among the forest’s brown understory the tender fiddleheads were starting to emerge.

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Some people harvest the young ferns and sautée them in butter, but I couldn’t stand the thought once I noticed the delicate young leaves. (Plus, harvesting plants is forbidden in the park.)

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I couldn’t identify this prehistoric-looking plant, though. Can any of my gardener friends out there help?

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Sunday brought my first walk of the season around Como Lake, which was considerably more colorful thanks to some creative soul with way too much time — and yarn — on his/her hands.

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I also loved the new critter condos, with platforms for nests and holes for insects and slats for bats. Talk about communal living!

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Unfortunately, the wildlife itself seemed rather scarce. I surveyed only one woolly bear caterpillar

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… a muskrat that left an outsize wake as he hurried to shore …

 

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… a photobombing great heron …

 

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… and a juvenile bald eagle plucking a catfish out of the lake.

 

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The eagle was HUGE — at least 100 times the size of an Airbus A-320, as you can see in this photo.

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But maybe the most satisfying wild moments came from wandering around my own neighborhood, buzzing like a bumblebee from yard to yard.

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Some of the flowers were still barely emerging.

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But others were starting to fade already.

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Which made me all the more glad I’d stopped for a closer look, and that I’d noticed the variety of species that hide inside those blankets of blue.

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On Saturday morning two maniacs decided to use our neighborhood as a racetrack, so I fled into to woods to escape the revving engines and squealing tires.

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That’s how I met Owen Wilson (the dog, though I suppose he might also be an actor).

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I could ramble on about the fleeting beauty of spring in Minnesota and the repose of the green deep woods … but I’ll leave you for now with a couple more moments of quiet reflection from my weekend walks on the wild side.

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It’s been only two weeks since the record-setting late-season hyphenated-expletive snowstorm, but it already feels like a lifetime ago.

Plow driver kid 1830354 BLOGOur plow guy’s son pretty much summed it up.

Last weekend brought temperatures in the 60s (15.5 Celsius) and a thaw so rapid you could literally hear the ground sucking in the snowmelt. I was giddy to see the first patches of green, and my first robin.

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Esteban and I went for a walk one evening and marveled at how late the sun set.

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Since then it’s been cool again, but the sunlight has still encouraged the little things to molt and pop out of the earth and end their hibernation. So yesterday I put put on the close-up lens and recorded my first blade of grass …

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… and a downy feather …

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… and the first delicate bluebells blooming in a neighbor’s lawn. (Never mind the awkward moment when she and her son came home from soccer practice to find me lying belly-down on their lawn; totally worth it.)

Bluebells 1850059 BLOG

On my way home I noticed more bluebells growing among another neighbor’s forgotten rake. Did he give up in the middle of his fall raking and never venture back out, I wonder?

Rake 1850106 BLOG

Back at home, I paused for a closer look at the plants and flowers I pass every day in the hallways. There’s something to be said for living in a building full of green thumbs.

Attempt one 1850220 BLOG

Buds of some kind 1840077 BLOG

Chlorophyll 1840401 BLOG

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I got a bit obsessed with the drop of dew on this lily.

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Drop of dew 1840514 BLOG

And I wondered what on earth would possess and insect to crawl into an orchid. Isn’t it kind of terrifying?

Orchid 1840110 BLOG

But if you look closely enough, I suppose the same could be said of most flowers.

Pink petals 1850233 CX BLOG

As evening fell, the tags from Esteban’s and my teabags summed up the wisdom of the day. Nature has not hurried this year, but spring seems close — and maybe soon the earth will laugh in flowers.

Emerson and Tsu quotes 1850176 BLOG


This post is dedicated with admiration and gratitude to my friend Gilles Thomas, for his knowledge of Paris’ history — and for his generosity in sharing it.

Paris’ history is full of unsung heroes whose names have largely been forgotten. One of these is Charles-Axel Guillaumot.

Charles-Axel Guillaumot
Charles-Axel Guillaumot, “the man who saved Paris.”

Esteban and I had the privilege of walking in Guillaumot’s footsteps about a month ago, when our friend Gilles led us on a tour of the Cochin quarry (under the Cochin hospital, in the 14th arrondissement).

Cochin quarry 1210279 BLOG

Cochin quarry 1210444 BLOG

Cochin quarry 1210322 BLOG

The Cochin quarry is not far from the official catacombs. But it’s a lot harder to get into: On this Saturday our little group followed Gilles into the hospital, past an underground garage, and through an unmarked door to reach the entrance.

Behind the door was a classroom of all things underground, with maps of tunnels and photographs of the men who dug them. Gilles described the “squirrel wheels” that were used to bring huge chunks of stone to the surface — and the voids those stones left behind.

image002

Sometimes those voids would collapse, Gilles explained, and anything on the surface would fall into them. This happened in 1776 — one week before Christmas — when a quarter-mile-long trench opened on the Rue d’Enfer and swallowed an entire block of houses.

Fearing more collapses, the young King Louis XVI appointed our hero Charles-Axel Guillaumot to be the first Inspector General of the quarries. But ironically, because of bureaucratic delays, Guillaumot didn’t actually start work until April 24, 1777 — the date of the next major cave-in.

A descent into the past

Our heads filled with visions of calamity and collapses, we marched single-file past Guillaumot’s portrait and down a long concrete stairway.

Several of Jérôme Mesnager’s exuberant “white bodies” adorned the walls — a stark contrast to the remnants of a 1930’s civil-defense shelter that greeted us when we reached the bottom. (Pardon the quality of the photos; I took them while walking.)

Cochin mesnager 1210539 BLOG

Cochin quarry stairs 1210532 BLOG

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Cochine Mesnager 1210537 BLOG

Cochin gas masks 1250012 BLOG

Like the official catacombs, the Cochin quarries also serve as a museum (restored and operated by the S.E.A.D.A.C.C. association). But unlike the catacombs, the Cochin quarries are not generally open to the public — nor do they contain human remains.

I was anxious about how Esteban would react, because it was his first time underground. (He’s tall, and I worried he would feel claustrophobic from all the hunching.)

Cochin tunnel 1210501 BLOG

But to my delight he seemed as fascinated as I was.

Cochin Esteban 1210412 BLOG

Gilles showed us the tools the quarry workers had used to extract the stone, and one of the wells where they had drawn water to mix concrete.

Cochin tools 1250133 BLOG

Cochin Gilles demonstration 1210285 BLOG

Cochin well 1250018 BLOG

He also pointed out the markings. Some corresponded to the street names directly above our head. A few were made of soot from the quarrymen’s torches. Others were left by the inspectors, indicating their initials and the date of the inspection.

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Cochin malheur 1210342 BLOG

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Cochin rond-point 1250128 BLOG

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Cochin soot 1210368 BLOG

In the footsteps of Guillaumot

Traces of Charles-Axel Guillaumot were everywhere. (The G in the inscriptions denoted his name, along with the pillar number and the date.)

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Cochin Guillaumot 1210401 BLOG

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Cochin inscriptions 1210513 BLOG

But traces of the king who hired him were harder to find. Once ubiquitous, now only 10 inscriptions of the royal fleur de lys survive. One was on display near the entrance; another was inaccessible due to flooding from the Seine.

Cochin quarry 1210339 BLOG

Cochin quarry 1210299 BLOG

Every engraving had a date, but I saw none for 1789 — the year of the French revolution. That’s in part because Guillaumot was removed from his position and imprisoned due to his royal appointment. Fortunately, he was released in 1794 and given his job back.

There were also some traces of Antoine Dupont, a mathematician who preceded Guillaumot. Dupont built some 100 pillars in areas that showed signs of stress. Alas, the April 24 collapse proved the inadequacy of his efforts.

Cochin quarry 1210403 CL 2 BLOG

That’s why Guillaumot decided to shore up the walls, too, in some especially vulnerable parts of the quarry.

Cochin fontis 1210448 BLOG

Cochin signs 1210400 BLOG

But in spite of his valiant efforts the ceilings continue to crack …

Cochin Guillaumot 1210361 BLOG

Cochin quarry 1210318 BLOG

… and in some cases, collapse. We passed one active cave-in that was slow enough to be considered stable, but that still motivated us to walk a bit faster.

Cochin fontis 1210521 BLOG

Esteban and I also hurried past this old patch, just in case.

Cochin fontis 1210429 BLOG

Cochin fontis 1250245 BLOG

“Fontis” inscriptions indicated other cave-in sites — like this one, which has long since been reinforced.

Cochin fontis 1210465 BLOG

In a couple of other spots, we paused to survey the service wells the quarry workers used to bring down supplies. It wasn’t hard to imagine their soot-covered faces gazing at the pin-dot of light, maybe hoping for a better life or thinking about a loved one.

Cochin puit 2 1250036 BLOG

Cochin puit 1250218 BLOG

Just as it wasn’t hard to imagine Charles-Axel Guillaumot standing in the same spot, inspecting his work.

He was still the Inspector General of the quarries when he died in 1807 — and it took nearly a century after his death to complete the work he had begun.

Guillaumot was buried in the Sainte-Marguerite cemetery, but was soon lost forever among the hundreds of graves that were transferred to the very catacombs he helped create. Within a few generations, only a handful of people remembered his name.

But he was never completely forgotten. In fact, on October 4, 2017 the city of Paris inaugurated the Esplanade Charles-Axel Guillaumot in his honor at the corner of the boulevard Saint-Jacques and the place Denfert-Rochereau.

esplanade BLOG

“He saved the capital from collapsing,” reads the plaque. But the epitaph Charles-Axel Guillaumot truly deserves is, “He saved Paris.”

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

 

“Le mal des carrières est celui de plusieurs siècles ; il ne peut donc pas être réparé dans un petit nombre d’années. Ni moi, ni mes coopérateurs n’en verront la fin. D’autres auront cet avantage ; mais j’ai lieu de croire que nous leur avons frayé la route, et qu’ils n’auront rien d’essentiel à changer au système que j’ai adopté.” — Mémoire sur les travaux ordonnés dans les carrières sous Paris, et plaines adjacentes; et exposé des opérations faites pour leur reparation, par C. A. Guillaumot

“The problem of the quarries goes back many centuries; it therefore can not be repaired in just a few years. Neither I nor my colleagues will see the end of it. Others will have the opportunity; but I have reason to believe that we have paved the way for them and that they will not need to make significant changes to the system I have adopted.” — Memoir on the ordered works in the quarries below Paris, by C. A. Guillaumot

 

 

 


We’re used to wild weather forecasts in Minnesota. But for once, yesterday’s all-caps warning was no exaggeration.

Blizzard 2018 BLOG

“URGENT … BLIZZARD WARNING EXPANDED THROUGH THE TWIN CITIES METRO … HISTORIC WINTER STORM ONGOING.”

If the warning from the National Weather Service sounded dire, the road conditions were even worse.

Blizzard 2018 MNDOT map BLOG

Once my friends and I realized we were toast, it didn’t take long for the weather humor to start making the rounds.

John Cole weasel lion winter 208995 BLOG

Minnesnowta BLOG

It also didn’t take long for me to get cabin fever, so at about 4 p.m. I headed outside. The snow was coming down at about two inches an hour, though, so there wasn’t much to see (bad visibility, dontcha know).

Bilzzard 2018 trees 1820985 CR BLOG

Blizzard 2018 1820951 CL CC BLOG

Blizzard 2018 1820981 CC BLOG

I did find one stranded/abandoned car against which to photograph the giant, wind-whipped snowflakes.

Blizzard 2018 car 1820987 BLOG

It served as a handy snow gauge when I ventured back out this morning.

Blizzard 2018 1830001 BLOG

There were buried cars everywhere, and shovels sticking out of the snow where their owners had given up (or maybe died) trying to clear a path.

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Blizzard 2018 SAAB 1830116 BLOG

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But there were a few intrepid souls still at it, so I busied myself helping neighbors shovel their driveways and dig out their cars — including this couple, who posed American-Gothic-style on the way to the parking lot where they had beached their Mercedes.

Minnesota Gothic IMG_8486 BLOG

It took us a half hour of shoveling and pushing to free the dark-green beast, but I enjoyed every second of it. “Days like this bring out the best in people,” said my new friend Mark. I wish that were true every day.

On the way home I noticed that some of my neighbors had put out their lawn furniture prematurely …

Blizzard 2018 lawn chairs 1830051 BLOG

… including this realistic-looking cement dog that gets me every time.

Blizzard 2018 dog two 1830034 BLOG

Another had stuck a yardstick in the snow. It read 14 inches. And it was starting to snow again!

Fourteen inches IMG_8491 BLOG

My camera’s battery froze in the middle of all this, so I dug out my phone. Sadly it decided to focus on the fluffy flakes instead of the intended subjects, and my frozen fingers couldn’t convince it otherwise.

I suppose my phone was right because the snow really was the main story …

Dueling snowblowers IMG_8537 BLOG

Snowy dogwalk IMG_8520 BLOG

It’s been fun to witness yet another record-breaking storm but the snow can stop anytime now.

Blizzard 2018 stop 1830013 BLOG

And if not, I suppose there is always Plan B …

Minnesota Spring problem funny BLOG

 


“What makes Paris so special?” I get this question a lot. There’s food, art, centuries of history … and I love the Parisians’ flair for sophisticated simplicity.

But what draws me back again and again is that there’s always something new to discover — if you have an attentive eye. To me, Paris is a master class in seeing.

During our last visit, Esteban demonstrated superhuman patience as I continued my obsession with door knockers.

Knockers 2018 BLOG
These were all new to me, gleaned from streets I’d never explored before.

And why not? The door knockers stir my imagination. I like to wonder about their symbolism, who crafted them, and how many human hands have touched them over the centuries.

St Jacques knocker 1210001 BLOG
The St. Jacques shell motif — symbol of the pilgrimage to Santiago — adorned many homes near the St. Clotilde basilica, an important stop for pilgrims on their way to Spain.

Some are gorgeous little works of art.

Lion knockers 1240649 BLOG

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Sculptural knocker 1160881 BLOG

Others are flat-out bizarre, like this dragon-man-lady …

Dragon knocker 1220027 BLOG

… and this menacing face (which reminded me of Christopher Walken).

Christopher Walken knocker 1220479 BLOG

Regardless of their appearance, I like to think about the Parisians who continue to use them and care for them every day, like the gardien of this apartment building in the Latin Quarter.

Door knocker polish 1200140 BLOG

Sometimes the door knockers are missing entirely, victims of rust or theft or thoughtless remodeling.

Missing knocker 1210994 BLOG

But it would be hypocritical to protest too much, because I have remodeling to thank for the door knocker that almost literally fell into my lap after visiting several bouqinistes and brocanteurs to ask where one might find an “heurtoir de porte ancien.”

Our very own knocker 1820851 BLOG

It’s huge and weighs almost three pounds, but it should adorn our front door quite nicely. Also, there is no chance Esteban and I will ever again miss one of our neighbors’ visits (assuming they can lift the hammer).

As an added bonus, while sifting through my photos I noticed it has a fraternal twin somewhere in Paris. Gosh … if only I could remember where!

Twin knocker 1280403 2 BLOG

Looks like I’ve just found my excuse to go back.

 


There are lots of theories about why Paris is called “la ville lumière” (“the city of light”). I’ll save mine for another day — as Esteban and I are on our way to the airport in an hour to catch our flight home — but here are a few of the moments I witnessed over the past two weeks.

Many more to come, with a huge thanks to the dear friends, old and new, who made this visit so special …

Accordeoniste 1280385 BLOG

Lamp posts 1250910 CL BLOG

Metro and Eiffel 1180858 CC BLOG

Cochin quarry 1210403 CL 2 BLOG

Hotel de Ville and Quai Bourbon CL 3 1250578 BLOG

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Huchette café 1230936 BLOG

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La crème de Paris 1240736 CL BLOG

Ma Bourgogne 1280087 CL BLOG

Notre Dame and moon 1250489 CC CL BLOG

Palais Royale blossom 1230445 BLOG

Passage 1260896 BLOG

Quai Bourbon 1270794 CX CL BLOG

Rue des Chantres 1270739 CL BLOG

Sunrise on Khan's house 1270710 BLOG

Louvre 1260133 BLOG


Esteban and I have done so much and seen so many friends over the past week that we’ve started comparing notes to make sure we’re keeping our days straight.

There are so many stories to tell — beginning perhaps with today’s superb lunch in Paris’ oldest house. But if I stop now to look for a photo and confirm the historical facts, I’ll never get to bed … and tomorrow is another big day. So instead here are a few glimpses of what I’ve seen over the past week.

The snow has finally melted but it’s still cold and damp, as the rows of empty café tables will attest.

Cafe tables 1180702 CR BLOG

During an afternoon stroll, Esteban and I stumbled onto an academic tour and were literally pushed into this medieval courtyard. (Not that we complained.)

Chanoinesse courtyard 1190693 BLOG

The clouds parted long enough a couple of nights ago to give us a gorgeous sunset. Of course, I had the color balance set wrong on my camera so here it is in black and white.

City of light 1190150 BW BLOG

I found the Eiffel Tower fenced off on this morning, but could at least still see its reflection in the mud.

Eiffel Tower in mud 1190296 CX BLOG

I KNOW EXACTLY HOW THIS DOG FEELS.

Expectant dog 1190557 CL BLOG

Because cheese.

Say cheese 1200195 BLOG

And also wonderful restaurants, like this gem our dear friend Des introduced us to in Montmartre.

Le Bon Bock 1190538 BLOG

Because it’s Paris, of course there also has to be some weirdness. I expect to have nightmares for weeks about the Musée de la Chasse (“hunting museum”) in the Marais.

Musee chasse owls 1200263 BLOG

Fortunately, there are plenty of more sedate spots in this ancient neighborhood.

Marais 1190979 BLOG

It was near here that I also found Father Théomir Devaux’s name inscribed on the Mur des Justes (“wall of the righteous”). Read my friend Louise’s story to learn why.

Theomir Devaux Mur des Justes 1190849 BLOG

Just across the river, a flock of starlings circled Notre Dame cathedral at sunset …

Notre Dame murmuration 1190129 CX CL BLOG

… while the lights of a little café in the Latin Quarter cast a cinematic glow on the street.

Odette 1190145 BLOG

Through it all, I continued to marvel at the Parisian women’s unique combination of elegance and toughness.

Parisienne in heels 1190221 BLOG

Scooter grrl 1190608 CR CX BLOG

But no matter where my adventures have taken me over the past week, at the end of the day it has always been a pleasure and a privilege to come home.

Our courtyard 1200355 BLOG

Thank you, as always, for coming along.


I’ve always wanted to see Paris under a blanket of snow, but have always missed it — sometimes by a matter of hours. So imagine my delight when the blue skies that greeted me and Esteban a few days ago turned a heavy lead gray.

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Ile St Louis 1160944 CL BLOG

At first the flakes were big and deceptively fluffy (because instead of landing softly they hit you in the eyes with a big wet SPLAT). Even by Minnesota standards, it was pretty miserable.

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Notre Dame in snow 1170078 CL BLOG

But the tourists made the best of it by donning festive headwear.

Eskimos 1170924 BLOG

Paris hats 1170874 BLOG

I was especially smitten with the lovely shy young woman in the métro whose knit cap reminded me to “STOP FREEZING.”

Stop freezing 1180526 BLOG

It snowed again the next morning — but this time, everything got coated in fine dust.

Paris in snow 1170981 BLOG

Ile de la Cité 1170691 CC BLOG

Institut de France 1170655 CC BLOG

Henri IV statue 1170556 CL BLOG

At one point Esteban and I saw what looked like a red umbrella convention on the Pont Marie.

Red umbrella brigade 1170990 CL BLOG

But I liked it better when they all departed, save this lone woman.

Ile St Louis 1180011 COMPOSITE BLOG

I bet you can see where this is going: Yes, it snowed again. With gusto!

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Plane trees 1180749 BLOG

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Buildings Ile de la Cite 1180157 BLOG

Café de la Paix 1180524 BLOG

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Although the streets were icy, it would be an exaggeration to say they were impassible.

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Pont d'Arcole commuter 1180311 BLOG

But it’s no exaggeration to say that the quays along the river were impassible. I needed a bathroom so desperately that I actually gauged the water’s depth at one point. (I concluded it was better to turn back and walk an extra mile than to wade through armpit-deep Seine sludge.)

Flooded Seine 1170778 BLOG

I was glad for my decision, if only because it put me in the direct path of a wolf. And I do mean a literal, living wolf.

Wolf in Paris 1170798 BLOG

He was ENORMOUS, but playful and gentle. I was taken aback for a moment when he reared up and planted his cold, wet nose on my forehead. “Oh! He kissed you!” exclaimed his owner. “Now you must kiss him back.” It’s not every day you come home from your morning stroll with wolf breath.

Wolf in Paris 1170801 BLOG

Above the Square du Vert Galant …

Vert Galant 1180562 BLOG

… there were tourists attaching “locks of love” to the already overburdened railings as fast as they were being removed, just a few feet away.

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Locks of love removal 1180569 BLOG

And although I was disappointed the rooftop terraces of both the Printemps and Galeries Lafayette department stores were closed due to the weather, I still got an OK view of the snowy city from the cafeteria …

Galeries Lafayette 1180481 BLOG

… and a sublime view of the 1912 stained-glass dome at Galeries Lafayette.

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But now the sun is out again, so I must excuse myself and go work on my tan.

Back with more news from Paris soon …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


I realized today I’ve been posting lots of rambling narratives about Minnesota, so here’s a change of pace: Just photos, selected at random from my travels over the past five years. Stay tuned for more news from the road, coming soon …

Foddy dogwalk 1360168 CL BLOG

Rouen street 1510440 CX BLOG

Akron meditator 1160799 BLOG

Arles Overlook 1700757 BLOG

Petite Ceinture 1000704 BLOG

Gondoli 1560176 PR BLOG

St Eustache beggar 1360908 BW 3 BLOG

Rouen St Amant 1520030 BLOG

Cheeky red bug close up 1000243 BLOG

State Fair Wrangler 1300019 CX CL BLOG

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Prairie 1040259 BLOG

Old hallway 1570202 BW BLOG

Creperie 1030057 BLOG

Freiburg postcard BLOG

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Cafe tables 1020528 BLOG

Eiffel 1060981 CL BLOG

Mont St Michel 1490378 CL BLOG

Bruges 1010456 CL BLOG

Balloon and red rocks 1090419 CL BLOG

Sedona stars BLOG

Venice market 2 1630615 BLOG

Gondolas 1590835 darker CR BLOG

Notre Dame sunrise 1200099 CL BLOG

Paris knockers poster BLOG

Iceland ponyhead landscape BLOG

Iceland horiz hike CL BLOG

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Paris hotel stairs BLOG

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Room at the Inn 1010556 BLOG

Munster 1240939 BLOG

Cafe a la pluie 1030777 BLOG

Old passage 1330420 CL BLOG

Pigeon look 1260892 CL2 BLOG

Notre Dame ringer 1100323 CX BLOG

Colmar fog 1060306 BLOG

Peacock on parade

Venus may your blessings 1090945 BLOG


The past week has brought a palpable shift toward spring to Minnesota.

Yes, it’s still snowing. But instead of plunging below zero after each snowstorm — as is typical between late December and February — now we’re inching above freezing during the day. This has enticed me to spend a lot more time outside.

Last Saturday morning, the sun still seemed mostly ornamental amid the haze.

Ineffective sun 1820029 BLOG

I thought of my mom’s dearest friend, May, who during an ill-advised winter visit from Mexico once declared Minnesota to be “the vivid image of desolation.”

Snowy field 1820048 BLOG

By that evening we were again in full-on whiteout mode as yet another snowstorm piled yet another six inches onto the roads. During our drive home from the grocery store, Esteban obliged my compulsion to MUST DOCUMENT EVERY WAKING MOMENT by fishing my phone out of my purse and taking this photo.

Smowy drive IMG_7903 CR BLOG

“What happens to all of that snow?” you may wonder. Why, it gets plowed into the parking lot of my local Target store. The tree in the background gives you an idea of Mount Target’s scale.

Mount Target 1820605 BLOG

But on Sunday I awoke to a whole new world. Yes, the snow was still knee-deep …

Knee deep in snow 1820216 BLOG

… and I still needed mittens. (This photo was an accident. I held up my hand to reset my camera’s auto-focus, but ended up with a finger selfie by mistake.)

Hand in woods 1820327 BLOG

*Ahem.* As I was saying, Sunday was different.

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Snowy field 1820122 BLOG

Snowy field 1820204 BLOG

I knew the snow on the trees wouldn’t last, so I walked as quickly as my stubby legs would allow in knee-deep snow.

Snowy path 1820180 BLOG

That’s how I got a closer look at how delicately and precariously the snow was balanced on the branches.

Snowcap 1820480 BLOG

Those branches were once again bare as last night’s huge full moon rose in the east, casting its reflection on the snow.

Full moon 1820673 CC BLOG

The day’s dying light also was reflected in the snow …

Sunset 1820721 BLOG

… but when I looked more closely at the warm glow behind my favorite oak tree, I could almost imagine the crickets singing one of our long summer sunsets to bed.

Oak sunset 1820630 CR BLOG

Bring on the Big Thaw.


‘Snow problem

20Feb18

Esteban and I had excellent timing in leaving our house for a condo, it seems: This winter has been among the coldest and snowiest I remember in a long time. It’s been wonderful not to worry about shoveling, or parking restrictions, or raking snow off the roof.

Snowy, icy street 1810613 BLOG

Still, I did feel a bit guilty this morning when I heard the young men (once again) plowing our parking lot. “Thanks so much for doing this,” I said to one of them as I left for work. “It’s no problem,” he replied — though I heard it as “snow problem.” Indeed.

Anyway. The absence of snow-related chores has helped me better appreciate the white stuff, even when it snarls traffic. A couple of weeks ago it took me 15 minutes just to get on the freeway. (Not moving, so totally safe to activate the dash-cam and show you these white-out conditions.)

Zero visibility 1810572 BLOG

Still not moving (but leaving lots of room in case someone gets overconfident and spins out).

Zero visibility 1810575 BLOG

As usual, winter brought out the best in Minnesotans, like this pedestrian who left his perch on the curb to push a stranger around the corner.

Downtown snow 1810584 CR BLOG

I felt bad for the woman who tried to follow me up this hill, though: Without four-wheel drive, no amount of pushing was going to get her over that incline.

Snowy hill 1810597 BLOG

The following morning I headed out for a stroll. It was still dark, because … well, it’s still dark before I go to work. All the better to capture the eerie glow of incoming headlights on the road.

Snowy street 1810598 BLOG

Also eerie? How the sidewalk ends, with the tacit suggestion that you step into the path of those headlights.

Pedestrian hell 1810600 CR BLOG

Yesterday brought another “complex mixed wintry precipitation event,” which in my experience translated roughly as “wind-driven, razor-sharp ice shards.”

NWS forecast IMG_7835 BLOG

I didn’t have to work. But I did have a doctor appointment downtown, so I dutifully covered as much flesh as possible and headed into the elements. The drive there wasn’t too bad, actually. But the drive back? Well, it would have been faster to get out and walk.

Mississippi view 1810585 BLOG

So I did. I was practically alone on the Stone Arch bridge as I took in the wintry scenery.

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But then a jogger went by … and turned around.

Stone Arch Bridge 1810855 BLOG

I felt apprehensive as he approached me. His face was completely covered, and there was no one else around. I instinctively rehearsed my exit strategy.

“Can I ask you a big favor?” the lanky figure said as it approached. “Can you take my picture?” I looked at his frost-covered eyelashes and kind eyes. This man was not a threat.

Shane Stone Arch IMG_7881 BLOG

His name was Shane, and he was a college-basketball star in his senior year when he found out he had Multiple Sclerosis (MS). “I just went blind in one eye one day,” he said. But he was doing better now, thanks in part to a new drug.

He had all the hope and joy of someone who’s been given a second chance … and he wanted to remember this moment. I was happy to photograph him running, relishing a simple act most of us take for granted.

Shane Stone Arch IMG_7870 CC BLOG

I told him about someone dear to me who is also fighting MS. “What’s her name?” he asked. “I’ll pray for her.” And I believed him.

As I walked back to my car, I could hear my friend Dan playing the carillon in the tower high above City Hall. I couldn’t make out the tune but it didn’t matter. The bells were a perfect soundtrack for this arctic-cold city full of warm hearts and kind strangers.

Stone arch bridge 1810876 BW CC BLOG


When I first stumbled across A French Frye in Paris some eight years ago, Corey Frye had just married a French girl and moved to Paris. His love for the city and perpetual sense of wonder were infectious — and I related to his earnest (but sometimes ill-fated) attempts at learning French.

“My husband and I are coming to Paris,” I wrote Corey one day, “and we’d love to meet you.” I was apprehensive because I’d never before met an internet friend in real life, but Corey put those worries to rest. He was delightful.

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In addition to being a wonderful guide, Corey is a serious foodie. Here’s one of the first meals I shared with him, on the rue des Barres.

He was teaching English in those days, but spent every spare minute wandering the city and populating what he then called his “Goonie Map.” It was a treasure-trove of historical wonders, and his gift for storytelling brought each of the spots on his map to life.

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On one of our strolls Corey showed me several remnants of the defensive wall king Philippe Auguste built around Paris between 1190 and 1220.

His knowledge seemed to grow exponentially between my yearly visits, and soon he was guiding paying customers through centuries of history in Paris’ tangled streets.

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This ornate balcony adorns one of the luxurious private homes built on the Île St. Louis after the creation of the man-made island in 1614.
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Corey paused during another stroll to point out an inauspicious-looking storefront, and then led me into the medieval crypt that is being excavated and restored below street level.

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Did I mention that Corey is also a foodie? He chose Café Breizh at random for a break — and it turned out to (reputedly) serve the best crêpes in Paris.
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… and here we are again, at Au Vieux Paris D’Arcole, which is reputed to be the oldest restaurant in Paris.

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After ingratiating ourselves to Frédéric, the manager and host, we got a tour of the wine cellar.

Since then I’ve had the privilege of taking several walks with Corey, both informally and as a client. And although he now knows the city intimately, he’s never lost the wonder or curiosity that made his blog so irresistible all those years ago.

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We never fail to avail ourselves of an open courtyard door to explore the interiors, like this old building in the Marais.
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I also took Corey on an off-road adventure in the cellar under my apartment building.

In fact, his curiosity has led him to create an entirely new experience that (to my knowledge) no other Paris tour guide is offering: free, live weekly walks through the City of Light. His episode a couple of weeks ago about the Palais-Royal yielded some eyebrow-raising facts about the young Napoléon Bonaparte.

Because I’m a crazy Francophile (and a big fan of Corey’s) I also signed up as a sponsor on Patreon, which grants me handy maps of each week’s itinerary, access to post-walk online chats, and other perks.

Corey Frye walking tour map

But you don’t have to be a crazy Francophile to enjoy Corey’s weekly walks. If you have even a passing interest in Paris, you’ll enjoy watching past videos on YouTube or catching his live tours on Facebook.

I’ll sign off today with a huge thank you to Corey for his friendship over the years, and with a tip of the hat to his success — for many more years to come.


As I type this, people from all over the country are gathering in Minneapolis for this weekend’s Superb Owl* game. For over a week I’ve been meaning to go downtown and bring you a full report of the ice sculptures and the zipline over the Mississippi river, plus an assortment of other Superb Owl* festivities.

But since it’s either been snowing nonstop or too flippin’ cold, I thought it might be more useful instead to share some tips on how to survive a trip to Minnesota in the winter.

WHAT TO WEAR

When visiting Minnesota the most important consideration is your wardrobe, because you need to dress in layers. Here’s what the experts at Midwest Mountaineering suggest:

  • Start with a base layer of polyester or merino wool.
  • Then put on a mid-layer, such as a fleece pullover or hoodie.
  • The next layer should be a shell that doubles as a windbreaker.
  • Finally, add a big puffy jacket — preferably with a hood.

And that’s just for your upper torso! Repeat these steps for the rest of your body, including your hands, feet, and face. If you dress properly you will roughly resemble a ninja. Or maybe a seared marshmallow, if (like me) you’re carrying a few extra pounds. This is not only normal, but highly desirable.

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Here’s my properly attired friend Norine, casually dropping by to say hello.

Please note that putting on all this clothing will take at least an hour, so plan accordingly if you’re expected anywhere that day. Also, you will need to pee immediately after you’ve zipped up your final layer (it’s the law). Add an extra half hour to your prep time if you plan to pee.

Once you’re properly dressed, the second step is learning a few key Minnesotan terms, phrases, and cultural nuances. You probably won’t be mocked if you order a soda instead of a pop (because we’re polite here). But why risk the chance of embarrassment? With that, here’s your guide to …

WORDS TO KNOW

Bar • Any quadrangle-shaped baked good. It’s terrible manners to take the last bar, even if it’s mummified after sitting untouched for two weeks.

Black ice • A thin layer of insurance claims that forms when car exhaust freezes on the highways at temperatures below 0º Fahrenheit.

’Bye, then • When repeated at least 12 times, this is one component in the hours-long ritual of leaving any social gathering.

Can’t complain • A superlative exclamation of joy.

Could be worse • If you report that “a meteor just squashed everything you love,” a true Minnesotan will reply that “it could be worse.”

Dang, danged • Signs of an enraged Minnesotan. Avoid eye contact and back away slowly.

Dontcha know • Tag it onto the end of your sentences for the Minnesota version of audience participation. (Nodding will ensue.)

Holy buckets • An exclamation of admiration or surprise. See also, uff-da.

Hotdish • This church-basement staple resembles a casserole, but contains up to 50% more tater tots and canned green beans (bonus points if you also add Spam).

How ‘bout dem Vikings? • Sore topic; don’t go there.

Inches • The preferred unit of measurement for exaggerating everything from trophy fish to snow accumulation.

Land O’Lakes • Abbreviation for “Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes.” Also, a brand of dairy products whose logo features a young American Indian woman inexplicably holding a stick of butter.

Lutefisk • If you are offered this “food,” try to outrun it. If running isn’t possible, adopt the fetal position and feign death while protecting your head with your arms.

Meat raffle • You go to a bar. You buy a ticket. You maybe win a chunk of meat. Doesn’t everyone do this?!

Minnesota nice (1) • How Minnesotans appear to the world when they successfully hide their passive-aggressiveness behind a smile.

Minnesota nice (2) • How Minnesotans actually are when they gather to push a stranger’s car out of a snowbank.

Pop • It’s not cola or soda. It’s pop, dammit.

Spam • An inventive way to use the whole pig.

Tater tots • Small, cylindrical briquettes of compressed potato bits. Often deep-fried and used as a base for hotdishes.

That’s different • Minnesotan for “I don’t like it.”

Uff-da • The Norwegian “oy.” Avoid using at weddings, births and baptisms.

Up North • Anywhere outside the Twin Cities metro area, regardless of geographical direction. May also be referred to as “the cabin” or “the lake.”

Windchill • The combined effect of adding wind to an ungodly air temperature of, say, 20 below. In 2017 it was the #1 leading cause of Florida vacations.

You bet, you betcha • Minnesotan for “yes.”

WHERE TO GO

Finally, there’s the question of where to go when you’re smothered in wool and sound like an extra from Fargo. For that advice I will turn you over to the fine folks at Esquire, who have way better taste — and probably way more fun — than this introverted Minnesota girl.

Where to go and what to do in Minnesota during the 2018 Super Bowl

As the first paragraph reads, “… traditionally there are only two kinds of people up [here]: those who never left, and natives who explored the world but returned.”

I’m lucky (and happy) to be among the latter.

 

 * I would love a festival dedicated to superb owls. But for now we’ll have to content ourselves with the gladiatorial spectacle of testosterone and Spandex that is American football. SKOL!

Rather than make grand resolutions for 2017, instead I chose a single small word to guide me through the new year: focus. I’d been trying to do too much, I decided. I would be happier and more fulfilled if I did less, and with greater attention.

Then a bunch of unexpected things happened — my husband got sick, we sold our house — and I discovered that focus wasn’t the problem. When the situation demanded it, I was like one of Austin Powers’ “sharks with frickin’ laser beams.”

In hindsight, 2017 taught me that it wasn’t focus I had been lacking, but a sense of purpose. So that’s my watchword for 2018: purpose (or porpoise, if you’re from New Jersey).

But before we jump too far into the purposeful year ahead, here’s a roundup of a few times in 2017 when I remembered to pause and focus on the moment.

January 11 • The cafeteria at work feeds me a raw meatball. Surprisingly, I do not die.

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Sometime in June • While stopped at a red light, I watch an old woman sway her bony hips to music only she can hear. I don’t have the courage to photograph her.

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July 17 • My neighbor gets evicted and leaves behind a few tires.

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August 6 • After a heavy rainfall, a leaf unfurls to reveal a tiny castaway.

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August 10 • Sidewalk philosophy.

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August 11 • During my morning walk a red fox stops in the middle of the train tracks, locks eyes with me, and then vanishes silently into the fog. Breaking my stride makes me notice wheat sprouting where it has fallen out of the boxcars.

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August 13 • Another morning walk is interrupted — this time by a drunk, injured neighbor. He survives.

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August 19 • The Washington Post becomes inexplicably fixated on poultry disassembly.

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September 4 • Another neighbor moves away … without his belongings.

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September 30 • Among the crowds at the Renaissance Festival I spot this child, readying his pirate-ship crib for a nap. The light reminds me of Vermeer.

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Renfest child 1800690 BLOG

October 1 • I drive downtown to watch my sister run the Twin Cities Marathon but miss her somehow (it’s her first 26-miler, and she finishes in four hours). Since I’ve already paid for parking I explore the ruins under the Stone Arch Bridge.

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October 23 • Visiting my folks in Florida. I get up every morning to watch the sunrise.

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October 30 • I stand one last time at the edge of the vertiginous steps in my house.

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November 27 • Ash from the California wildfires colors the sunrise on this crisp morning.

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December 5 • I pity this model and hope he has other gigs he can put in his portfolio.

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December 17 • The tire marks in the fresh-fallen snow remind me of a hand-loomed blanket.

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January 1, 2018 • The new year begins with a supermoon and with a quiet reminder that time is fleeting, and precious.

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Here’s to a renewed sense of purpose in the year ahead.


When Esteban and I first discussed moving to a condominium, my biggest sticking point was the homeowners’ association fee. “We’ll have that monthly expense for the rest of our lives,” I protested. “But with that fee we’ll be buying time,” he replied.

Esteban was right.

Although we still need to paint the hallway and finish some trim carpentry, we’ve reclaimed the hours we used to spend raking snow off the roof and clearing our sidewalk so the drunk college kids wouldn’t face-plant on the ice and sue us.

I used some of that time this weekend to revisit the thousands of photos I shot in 2013 and never looked at again. My intent was to show you the Christmas markets Esteban and I visited in Bruges, Köln, Heidelberg, Freiburg, Colmar, Strasbourg and Paris. But then Christmas happened (along with several lazy naps) and all I have for you is Colmar.

Maybe it’s fitting, since Colmar was our favorite. I’ve already written about the city’s history and unique character, which provided the perfect backdrop for the annual Christmas festival.

During the day the decorations were beautiful, if a bit subdued.

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But as dusk fell, a different energy pulsed into the old city. Crowds materialized out of nowhere as locals and tourists alike flooded into the streets.

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Some folks queued for baked goods, sausages, and hot mulled wine while others perused the endless selection of handmade goods.

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But it was after dark that holiday atmosphere came alive — as if someone had flicked a giant light switch. (Which I suppose someone really had.)

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The effect was so beautiful that I liked even my out-of-focus shots …

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… even if a couple of the streets were too over-the-top Technicolor for my taste.

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But my favorite image didn’t have any lights or sausages or market stalls. Rather, it’s a still moment on a foggy morning, shot as we were leaving for Strasbourg.

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It captures the spirit of quiet reflection that sets in for me at this time of year. For me, Christmas is a time to give thanks for what I have and those I love — and also to think about my goals and hopes for the year ahead.

However you celebrate Christmas (and even if you don’t), I wish you and yours a merry holiday … and a happy, healthy year ahead.

 




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