Category Archives: France

SAYING YES SOMETIMES MEANS SAYING NO 

Many of you know that I have been learning French non-stop for the last three years, and some are aware that I wanted to go back to France to visit or live. Moving there is not possible, due to the difficulties of acquiring a visa without actually owning a home or having relatives in the country. And these same visa requirements, meant that I had to limit any temporary stay to 3 months or less. I had begun to plan a trip that would have allowed me to visit friends in Paris and Rouen, and near Lyon and finally a month in Guillestre in the French alps, visiting one of my favorite French friends. I had looked at certain Airbnb places in those three regions and was on the cusp of making reservations, when I was temporarily halted in my plans by two small retinal hemorrhages. These likely represent nothing serious, but it did force me to put off planning the trip until after my November 19 appointment with the eye doctor. However, in that time things have changed, or my thinking has. 

I have been advised that my stance is useless, that someone will be in that seat, aboard that plane, if not me then another person, that my denying myself a trip to France won’t make a dent in climate change, that individuals’ efforts are for naught when it’s the big corporations that need to change. Maybe so. As an individual I already do what i can to diminish my carbon footprint: I eat no meat, fish, eggs or dairy products. That is because I have learned that it is animal farming that is at the base of most deforestation and our billions of cows are a huge global source of methane emissions, bigger than all transportation combined, according to some sources. Since methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, this is something I encourage in others: cut back on your consumption of animals even if you feel it is impossible to go plant based entirely. I use a washing machine yes, but I dry my clothing on a line. I rarely drive when walking is possible (yes I do own a used car). I have flown in a plane maybe a handful of times over all my nearly 69 years. I keep the heat way down in my apartment, despite the fact that my rent includes heat. BUT…

The things I do that add to my own carbon footprint are typically American. I use a small air conditioner in my bedroom in the summer, just for sleeping but I do use it and would suffer without it as my bedroom gets stifling in the summer heat, even in Vermont. And I confess to shopping online, largely because I do not want to drive to a far-off store or the store is simply too far away to get to. But transportation is transportation whether I do it, or I purchase something that forces someone to drive to my apartment to deliver it. I don’t only buy locally to sustain the local economy, no, as the local prices are sky-high for art supplies that are not the quality I need. And so on and so forth. I’m sure there are a dozen other behaviors I could name that add to my typically American carbon footprint.

But “everyone else” is flying, or would if they could, so why do I insist on not going to France? The French need tourist dollars, I’m told, and they would love to meet someone who loves their language and has devoted herself to learning it. Maybe so. Vermont needs tourist dollars too. In fact many of the world’s local economies depend on tourism just as much as France and Vermont do. Something is wrong with this. It used to be that a town sustained itself with local dollars and local crops and local tradespeople. We didn’t need to order most goods from afar, with invisible energy costs. Local consumption didn’t carry a hidden price tag in terms of the poor people in other countries employed to manufacture what we want more cheaply than we know it ought to cost. We have become addicted to bargain prices, to everything being made cheaply elsewhere and to low fuel costs so transportation doesn’t add visibly to the price we pay either. 

I see I’m going beyond my level of expertise and also straying from my subject. 

Someone recently said to me that if one country does the right thing, in terms of climate change, that could start a snowball effect, with other countries  vying to do the same or better. I believe that individuals can spark this sort of thing too. I’m not going to France, because I cannot “justify” the energy usage. I will be just as happy as i am now, France or no. So, yes, I’m setting an example. Were you planning a trip overseas or by airplane?  Well, maybe we can start a movement by changing our minds and our plans, and saying No. Because every such No — to eating meat or fish, to flying, to excessive energy use, among other things  — is a heartfelt Yes to the world, to the environment and to the planet’s future.

Mon Séjour à Sancerre, Learning French at Coeur de France

First, the little slide show of the town of Sancerre, cobbled together mostly from photos I took:

i just spent the month of October at the amazing French language school Coeur de France in Sancerre, learning or at least improving my French, which I started relearning — after only a high school’s acquaintance with the language — about a year ago at the age of 65. Despite what i felt was my own unfortunate lack of grammar basics, I placed into an advanced level class but the class was so tiny at four students that we made huge progress. Group classes with the delightful Valerie, for the first two weeks I was at Coeur de France, were followed by two weeks of individual instruction. Despite the pace and intensity of learning immersion French, I had a ball, for the most part.

This was literally my first trip anywhere of significance since childhood, and certainly my first all alone to a foreign country. I looked forward to it, and chose Coeur de France on the basis of its emphasis on encouraging students to speak French as much as possible and because of its 250+ positive reviews at Trip Advisor! But no less because of its comprehensive and reassuring website, which hid nothing from prospective students, and even gave detailed and accurate instructions on how Americans can best reach the school, which as its name suggests, is located smack dab in the center of France.  (Okay, maybe and perhaps unwittingly since clearly they are used to it, the website neglects to mention the steepness of the hill upon which the school sits, a hill I had to climb each and every morning, rain…rain… or rain!) Everything the website says about the school is true and I experienced it personally, from the lovely apartments rented to students to the amazing and skilled teachers and the low key but convivial atmosphere. And in fact though there was rain very frequently, the clouds often parted to give dazzling views and allow photo taking.

To give one small example of the welcome extended, a vase of a half dozen coral-colored roses awaited each new student in the kitchen of their new temporary home.

This I just had to paint, but except for pencil sketches I did not otherwise do a lot of art while at the école.

 

i also drew the school from the popular side view. And some students in Veronique’s cooking class. (The school drawing in pen and ink is not yet finished.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

i had a hard time with jet lag at first and it took me a good week to recover, not to mention to get used to the climb up that steep hill for ten minutes each morning. But by the third week it had become easy and I scarcely thought about the incline any longer. Thank heavens I had quit smoking a few months in advance, as it would  have been hell to both want to smoke and struggle to climb the hill each morning.

By the third week, too, I had come to terms with my not being able to participate in the school’s social life and activities. Largely because I was just too tired but also because such things are not enjoyable for me. I loved having one-to-one lessons the second half of my stay then going “home” to my apartment (Le Jardin) to be alone and “do my thing”. I felt that the location of my particular apartment kept me isolated from other students, too, at first, but I ceased caring once I acknowledged that I really was there to learn French and not to meet a lot of new friends…

More difficult by far was my needing to enter French stores and other enterprises. I have a hard enough time with this in the US so it was doubly hard in France. Luckily my wonderful and highly skilled one-to-one teacher, Sabrina, came to my rescue, and we went on various missions each day to get me more Familiar with the process. With Sabrina’s help I learned to enter the boulangerie and say, “Bonjour Madame!” almost fearlessly as time went on. I even went to the store that sold used books and asked the propriétaire if he could choose a couple for me “pas trop facile”. He thought at first I meant “not too difficult” but I had in fact intended to say, “not too easy” and when he understood this, he handed me a book. (The bizarre thing was that I was already reading that very same book! Given all the millions of books in print, what are the odds of that? ) I said so and he chose two others, then I bid him adieu and left, my heart lighter by factors of ten than it had been.

This trip was difficult in many ways. Many old fears reared their heads and did not let go till I departed, but I was also supremely happy almost every day I spent there. Coming home has brought paralysis and even a kind of despondency. But a French tutor i speak with (she is in Tunisia) sent me an article about “le déprime du retour” or the dépression in coming home, and knowing that this is a recognized phenomenon helps me feel better. It will pass, as everything does.

This was the trip of a lifetime and I might never have gone. It was only after Lynnie died that I understood how tenuous and iffy life is, and decided to actually go to France, try out my language skills, seeing as how French was the fifth miracle of my life. But will I go again next year? Truth is, I had refused even to consider travelling before Lynnie’s death, as I know that flying contributes a huge amount to global warming. Like that 16-year- old climate activist, Greta Thunberg, i too felt it incumbent upon me not to travel by air, amd to use my car as little as possible. I still feel that way…so while I understand that travel and tourism provide much needed jobs for people, we will all be seeking more than jobs if the temperature increases by the anticipated additional 2 degrees centigrade. What’s the point of the travel industry when half the world is drowning and the other half is on fire? I believe all will have to make drastic changes at some point…I choose to voluntarily make some changes in my lifestyle now rather than having them forced on me by global climate catastrophe. *

 

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*( If there’s one thing I know it’s that life is full of surprises, so if I started selling my art successfully I might speak and even feel differently)