First baby tooth. First baby tooth to fall out. First words. First reads. Riding a bike. Learning to drive. Cooking. Living independently. Choosing a partner. Having children. Milestones mark the journey of life, reminding us of befores and afters so that our time on earth doesn’t just pass by in a monotonous blur.

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Take This Job and …

We all know, or have been told by Emily in Paris, that the French work to live, rather than live to work. So it isn’t surprising that a proposal by President Emmanuel Macron’s government to gradually raise the retirement age to 62 from 60 has brought people out into the streets and has shut down most rail travel (not just trains between cities but also the Paris Métro).

In the absence of relevant photos, I present you photos of what the French live for. Like amazing pastries. Most important is the top photo–terrace cafés.
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A few weeks ago, I went to a delightful jazz concert at a winery in the countryside outside of Carcassonne. I’ve been to concerts there before, since we first moved here. This concert was by the Marc Deschamps trio, who embodied 1950s cool cats of jazz and who played a mix of beloved standards and lesser-known pieces by such pillars of jazz as Dave Brubeck. As lovely as the music was, the concert room, as always, was the star of the show.

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The word on everyone’s lips in France these days is sobriété–sobriety. Not regarding consumption of alcoholic beverages but regarding consumption of energy. It all just makes sense, but as usual, it takes a crisis to kick people into action.

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Sticking with last week’s theme of sounds floating into one’s ears. First, let’s be clear that overhearing is not the same as eavesdropping. It’s like the difference between hearing and listening. One just happens, as sound waves travel through the ear canal to the tympanic membrane. You can’t decide for it not to happen. Listening (or eavesdropping), is intentional–you’re making an effort.

A few random shots of Carcassonne, where the extended summer has snapped to seasonal norm.

Overhearing is like clicking through channels and catching out-of-context snippets that sometimes make your eyebrows jump up to your hairline. Like the time I was in Paris with a friend and we overheard two young women ahead of us talking about being held up. My friend and I quickly shifted from overhearing to eavesdropping. This was too interesting to not follow. So we followed them, just far enough behind to not freak them out yet hear their tales. “I put my phone in my underwear now,” one said. “The worst part is losing your photos,” the other lamented. Paris is extremely safe as big cities go, but things can still happen. Mostly it’s pickpocketing–a pain, a hassle, a financial hit, but not violent. In fact, the point of pickpocketing is for the victim to not notice. But sometimes things escalate.

The New Yorker has run a few features in which one or another of their cartoonists goes out into the city to sketch overheard conversations. They are hilarious. In that vein, use your imagination around some of these random street quotes that I’ve been collecting. Much of the time, my reaction is just: So. Many. Questions.

“I work with children. I get coughed on on a daily.”

“Nobody wants to hear that word.” !!!!!!! what word??????

“I don’t think I can dye my hair pink.”

Three twenty-ish guys in a hot argument….about Keith Haring. New York.

One burly, bearded millennial to another: “Then my ACTUAL girlfriend is going to come and she’s going to f***ing say WTF your ex is still f***ing here!”

“C’est interminable!” (“It never ends!”) French woman looking for the street exit after seeing the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.

“Bon anniversaire! C’est la moindre des choses! Oh la la!” Woman on the phone.

“I want an apology first off.” Different woman on the phone.

At Zaytina, José Andrés’s restaurant in Washington, a child has a screaming fit. A nearby diner observes, “They’re definitely LA.”

“C’est qui, Richard Nixon?” (“Who’s Richard Nixon?”) French woman in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington. Her middle-school-age son explained.

Man: “I really regret it.” Woman: “I know.”

“He was like a sharpshooter.”

“I don’t know…I flew too close to the sun last night.”

“My bedroom is SUPERCOOL!” Three-year-old.

“You wasted the $200 you got paid?!?!” kid to parent in a mall.

“That’s why I appreciate you, man. You’re really rooting for me.” Man in Bed, Bath and Beyond.

“Well, to be real, it’s been Covid.”

“I’ve got to do something. I don’t know, you know?”

Two guys in suits, looking like escapees from the movie “Hidden Figures.” One says: “In an era of ripped jeans and yoga pants, I feel like I’m the only one who wears a tie.”

Man yelling at woman: “I’m not yelling at you!”

“Is it controversial? Yes. Will the city do it? Probably.”

“I’m not ravenous but I’m eating.”

“Whaddaya want? I can hear you.” Bartender at airport motel bar (there are dives, and then there are dives at airport motels, where, by dint of isolated location, one has a choice between taking a chance and going in or waiting until the promised rebooked flight the next day and finding something in the actual airport–marginally better ambiance but perhaps not better food. In this particular establishment, table drinks were served in flimsy to-go plastic cups because of “incidents of beer-throwing.”)

Elderly guy in Washington Square Park to another elderly guy at the end of our park bench: “Jim! Where the hell you been for two days? You been missin’ for two days!”

Jim: “I have no cash. I have income but it ain’t comin’ in. Not ’til the 20th!”

You just can’t beat New Yorkers for witty repartee. And I don’t think Jim was even trying.

Do share your wacky overheard snippets with us!


Today was the truffle market at Moussoulens, just northwest of Carcassonne. The beauty above is the one that came home with me, ringing in at 25€ (the going price is 800€ per kilogram). It will perfume my meals for a week, and that includes a truffled risotto dinner I plan to have with a few friends.

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Hello Again

I sit in in the glorious gloom of a summer thunderstorm. Minutes ago, the skies and the church around the corner competed loudly for which could produce the loudest peals. The church won, working through the four plus ten chimes of the hour, then moving on to 23 (!!!) uninterrupted minutes of random ringing, interspersed with some very pretty hymns (I recognized one but couldn’t recall the title; another was Bach’s “Ode to Joy”), then some more raucous ringing. Thunder clapped and rumbled, but the bells dominated.

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People Who Need People

It is heartbreaking to see what the pandemic is doing to French culture. Yes, the deaths and long-term suffering are far more important than complaints about culture. I hope the changes don’t take hold, either. It seems the major method of transmission is in family/friends settings, and so life has largely returned to normal with the exception that we have a 6 p.m. curfew in order to rule out get-togethers after work. Restaurants and bars are closed, and I see more and more of them dropping their flimsy lifelines of lunch takeout and “for sale” or “for rent” signs appearing in their windows. I think the survivors will be mobbed when they are allowed to reopen. It’s all everybody wants to do–go out, have a meal or drinks with friends. We crave company.

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Emily in Paris

Have you seen “Emily in Paris”? It’s fun, but oh-la-la! the exaggerations!

The story is about a young social media whiz sent at the last minute to fill in for a French-speaking senior colleague. Our heroine, Emily, is neither senior nor able to speak French. She doesn’t even have experience in the same sector as the Paris office she’s sent to. But she bubbles over about how she’s going to teach them. No wonder they aren’t happy with her.

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