Archives for category: Sublimity

This was not the most inspiring of Novembers. Rarely saw the bright, crisp days I love so much, or that special November light. But so what if the weather was crap? My health has returned after I spent nearly two years diminished. A new project was born this month and, with it, a partnership with someone dear and special. An acquaintance turned into a friend (thank you once again, Internet). Plenty of beauty in spite of the weather.

So it’s November 28th, and I got the picture today. I helped it along with a little photo editing app I love, which I’ll soon be talking about on my new app review site, Cowgirl App!.

I took lots of other photos this month. But this is the picture that captures my seventh November, which at first glance seemed drab and utterly lacking in promise, but turned out to be full of little miracles and big possibilities.

Click for a bigger version. Previous years’ photos below.

2011 | 2010 | 20092008 | 2007 | 2006

When they started talking about the US Postal Service stopping Saturday delivery a while ago, my first thought was how medieval, the US is supposed to be a developed country and this kind of thing just doesn’t happen. I was kind of embarrassed for America, actually. It’s like you can see the holes in her socks. Poor thing.

And then I felt slightly guilty too because most of my communications are electronic now, like everybody else’s, and maybe that’s why the PO is in a bind. Not that I was ever a huge letter writer, but you know.

I abandoned Christmas cards years ago, though I held out longer than most I think. I did have a real-mail correspondence with my high school French teacher that lasted about 30 years. We sent each other Christmas cards and letters every year, and sometimes we exchanged notes in between. Maggie. An extraordinary woman. She saved my life, I loved her, and I wanted to keep thanking her forever.

In the year or two after I got to Paris I sent my nephew in California things like castles made of card stock that he could put together and knights on horses and a foam Eiffel Tower to build, but then the novelty of Paris wore off and he was getting too old for that kind of thing anyway.

I’ve been trying to send my 92 year-old grandmother more mail. I’ve sent her notes and printouts of my Instagram pictures, a couple clippings from glossy European fashion and decorating magazines that showed a scarf and a rug made of granny squares so my grandmother, the crochet queen, who can no longer crochet because of arthritis, would know they’d made a comeback in sophisticated circles, which of course meant she was very hip.

I will mail her something today. (Thanks for reminding me.) I’ll send my mom something too. I mail her a postcard every time I go to a museum or exhibit because she gets sole credit for teaching me to appreciate culture from a young age. I’ll send my mother-in-law something too. She very recently lost her husband and is having a rough go of it.

Reach out and touch someone, right?

So the post office is dying and we should mail people more things in order to save Saturday delivery and jobs and because sending people notes and things is a nice thing to do. Of course, mail isn’t very environmentally correct. But some things, like letters to Grandma, are important. So cancel a few of your catalogs and magazines and offset your carbon. Question of priorities.

I’m writing this because this week, a literary magazine I follow on Twitter launched this great project, Letters for Kids, in which well-known authors of children’s fiction mail a monthly letter to kids. I thought I might sign my nephew up.

And then I got to thinking, because of Maggie and my grandmother, and my mom and my mother-in-law, that there should be something like this for seniors. I thought for 15 seconds about organizing it myself. Then I thought others would be in a better position to do it. It should be done in any case. I will give it some more thought.

And that brought me to HOOT, the “mini” literary magazine I went bonkers for this year and wrote about in a HuffPo article in which I recount the sad story of my first chain letter experience. I subscribed immediately and also chided the editors for not having a better order form that would let me buy gift subscriptions for multiple people at once.

And that made me think of Postagram, which I mentioned in my HuffPo article, but had never used. I just downloaded the iPhone app and in a matter of minutes sent postcards of some of my Instagram pics to a bunch of people (including myself, to see the product). First five were free. Bonus! Not terribly personal, you might say, but more so than many of the tools we use to reach out today. What’s really cool is that the pictures pop out of the postcards. Anyway, I’m sold.

In early 2010, I got a fat envelope in the mail, the kind of thing that usually comes as a pleasant surprise. But it was from Maggie’s daughter, Gina, whom I didn’t know, and it contained a letter letting me know Maggie had passed away. With it were copies of the eulogy and a poem Gina and her brother and sister had written and read at the memorial, the program, some pictures… And a puka shell necklace that had belonged to Maggie in Hawaii in the 70s, when she was my teacher, when she saved me, when puka shells were all the rage.

In the letter, Gina told me that Maggie had kept all the letters and cards I’d ever sent to her in a folder labeled “Sunshine.”

So go ahead and grab those pretty cards and envelopes next time.

The weather in Paris has been depressing this spring. But it was the perfect backdrop for the depressing French presidential campaign, which was harsh and ugly, with the extreme right gaining ground and the Greens written off completely (less than 3% of the vote). Sigh.

So I have a suggestion for you. To lift your spirits, celebrate Mother’s Day, and give your kids the priceless, lasting gift of eco-consciousness and civic responsibility…

Why not take a trip to the Zoo La Boissière du Doré for a special event to raise awareness about orphaned orangutans? The zoo is right outside of Nantes. (OK, so it’s a four-hour drive from Paris, but I’m from California, so… road trip! It’s only about two hours to Nantes by train.)

Need a moment to think about it?

How about this moment? This is one of the orphans at the Nyaru Menteng reintroduction center. He didn’t want to go back to the center for his nap after “forest school.”

(Image copyright Orangutan Outreach! Click the picture to go to their Pinterest page and see a bigger version.)

Orangutan Outreach helps support the Nyaru Menteng center (managed by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation), where our little buddy above lives, and the Ketapang Rescue Center (managed by International Animal Rescue). If you’re still not convinced, watch the Orangutan Outreach mom and baby orangutan video that melted our hearts.

Missing Orangutan Mothers (MOM)

This year, on Mother’s Day (May 13th), the Zoo La Boissière du Doré is hosting the annual Orangutan Outreach MOM (Missing Orangutan Mothers) event, which raises awareness about the plight of orphaned orangutans:

Every year on Mothers Day, Orangutan Outreach celebrates orangutan mothers in zoos around the world. We take this special day to bring attention to the hundreds of orphaned orangutans being cared for in rescue centers in Borneo and Sumatra.

The orangutan keeper at the zoo, Dr. Marylise Pompignac Poisson, is a child psychiatrist, psychology educator, and specialist in early psychosocial development of primates — both human and non-human.

The program she has put together for the MOM event includes:

  • a talk about orangutans during which she will also discuss findings of her research on the importance of early interaction in the cognitive and emotional development of infant orangutans,
  • a fact sheet/quiz for visitors,
  • coloring pages for the little ones.

She will be available to chat with visitors and answer questions, her book Les Orangs-outangs de la Boissière nous livrent leurs secrets will be available to buy, and you’ll be able to make donations on the spot. All proceeds will go to the EAZA Southeast Asia campaign (see below).

By now you should be highly motivated to go to the MOM event at the zoo! (But if you can’t, scroll past the details for other ways to help.)

Event details

Date: May 13
Time: 13:00
Location: the orangutan enclosure, of course.
Hotels near the zoo

Map of the zoo (click for a downloadable PDF):

The orangutans desperately need our help

The MOM event is being co-sponsored by the nonprofit org Le Jardin d’Athéna, founded and run by Dr. Pompignac Poisson, and EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquaria).

This year, EAZA is running a campaign to support endangered animals in Southeast Asia. Large animals in this region are in serious danger of being completely wiped out in the near future (the Sumatran orangutan is critically endangered, the Bornean orangutan is endangered). This is largely because their rainforest habitat is being razed to make room for palm oil plantations. It’s all about greed.

For professionals

If you or anyone you know are a pediatric, veterinary, or other professional interested in early primate development, Dr. Pompignac Poisson is offering a training program on the topic: Stage d’observation en primatologie.

Dr. Pompignac Poisson is also a member of the Société Française pour l’Etude du Comportement Animal, and will be presenting her research at their meeting May 9-11.

I grew up in San Diego with the beautiful San Diego Zoo. My favorite parts were the reptile house and the monkeys and apes. And the elephants. At the San Diego Zoo in the 70’s, you could buy bags of peanuts and the elephants would take them from your palm with their tickly trunks. But I don’t want to think about that right now. And they let kids ride on the giant tortoises, and reach into a kid-level incubator to hold newly hatched chicks. That was all over by the 80’s. Bad for the animals. I respect that. But I suspect it changed mostly because of liability issues.

I have a special place in my heart for orangutans. One day I was at the zoo with my son when he was in his early teens, standing on the observation platform above the orangutan exhibit. Looked kind of like the one below (click for bigger), but with a wooden wall instead of a net wall. You could watch them from the platform, or you could go under the platform and look at them at eye level through very thick glass. They are notorious escape artists. Can’t blame them. They’re too smart to be enclosed. But I guess it’s better than being butchered and having your babies sold as pets, or being burned out of your home for palm oil plantations

That day, there was an adult orangutan chilling out on a rock below the platform, just staring up at the few people up there, about like this. I waved at her and said some stuff.

She was bored as hell, no doubt. She looked around her and grabbed a clod of dried dirt with dried grass sticking out of it. Then she looked up at me and gently, lackadaisically, tossed it up onto the platform, where it landed off to my right a little. I picked it up and tossed it back down to the ground beside her. She picked it up and threw it back to me. I was clapping and talking to her and laughing the whole time. We played catch for a few minutes. It was glorious. I don’t remember how or why it ended. She probably got tired of the game before I did, though.

That’s the whole story. Disappointed? You wouldn’t be if it had been you.

The other day I discovered Orangutan Outreach when Vincent saw a tweet about their Apps for Apes program. We watched one of their videos and pretty much decided on the spot we’d sell everything and go live in the jungle and hold baby orangutans for the rest of our lives. I’m crazy enough to do it. My body may not cooperate, though, unfortunately.

In any case, I’ve decided to devote most, if not all of my do-good energies to the plight of the orangutan. I think it will be good for my mental health if I focus.

You see, with social media, and all the information delivery platforms out there, I find myself overwhelmed. My bleeding heart is running out of blood. I’m losing hope and have compassion fatigue. Petition fatigue. War and disaster and hunger and racism and hate and corruption and cruelty and injustice fatigue. I constantly feel pulled in a million directions to do something. I know you know what I mean.

I’ve done only little things for Orangutan Outreach so far. Put a link to their site on my page, retweeted @redapes (their Twitter handle) tweets, read up on orangutans, connected with the OO founder on LinkedIn and gave some suggestions for promoting the organization, voted for their rescue boat. Working on figuring out some expenses we can cut in order to divert that money to OO. I even managed to get orangutans on Francophilia! I’ll do what I can with what I have.

I’m just getting started. But you have to start somewhere. You have to start. {:(|}

Back when I was in grad school at the Monterey Institute learning to be a translator (95-97), I had a classmate who was one of the feistiest, funnest (I know, not a word, don’t bug me) young women I’ve ever known. She had enough energy and enthusiasm for ten people.

And she spent most of it on others.

A force of nature, so generous. Unforgettable. And she hasn’t changed.

We’ve exchanged e-mails a few times since we left MIIS, but though she’s been living in Europe for years, we’ve never managed to get together. I hadn’t seen her in 15 years. Until yesterday! It was like no time had passed at all except for the adorable nine-year-old daughter she had with her! But the visit — breakfast in a nearby café — was much too short. She was here on a mother/daughter trip to Paris for the big semi-annual sales, and she’d come with two American friends and their daughters. All of them live in Brussels. Two of the three, including my friend, are the wives of military officers.

It was simultaneously bizarre and perfectly natural to be in the company of officers’ wives. My mother was one! I was a Navy brat. Grew up watching my mom do Officers’ Wives Club luncheons (remember luncheons?) at our house (had my first sip of lime daiquiri on one of those occasions, yummy, thanks Mom!). My parents hosted Hail and Farewell parties. Mom was a killer hostess and I learned to love entertaining, thanks to all this.

I had to get all dressed up to go to Change of Command ceremonies on giant gray boats (I know, ships, not boats). I had to get dressed up to see my dad’s ship off early in the morning every time he went to sea for six months at a time. Mom was so sad. Dad was so handsome in his dress whites. He even had a sword. They went to Navy Balls, and I remember my mom making a pink chiffon ball gown when I was six. Those ships had a smell that only they had. I knew what half mast meant. There was protocol. My brother and I were well behaved.

Dad knew how to navigate using only a sextant. He showed me all the constellations one starry night on Guam. It was Viet Nam for a while and they made my mom take the Flower Power daisy stickers off our white VW bug because it “wasn’t appropriate for an officer” (might imply support for the peace-loving hippies). One night Dad had duty and we went to dinner (in the Officers’ Wardroom, where a steward in white gloves and a white jacket served us) and a movie (The Poseidon Adventure!) on his ship.

He always brought the coolest stuff back from his cruises. My favorites were the black lacquered jewelry box with a twirling ballerina from Japan, and the muu muu from Hawaii.

He was my hero. We were the good guys. I never questioned. I was a kid.

It’s its own little world, the military, with its own reality…

Which brings me to the commissary, and back to my friend from grad school.

So my friend, having read my last post, showed up with a bag (Trader Joe’s no less!) bursting with some atrocious (as a joke) and some fabulous (GIRL SCOUT COOKIES, WOOHOO!!!) American food that she and her friend had picked up for me at the commissary. (For you civilians, the commissary is the (usually enormous) grocery store on a military base that lets you pretend you never left Kansas, Dorothy. Your tax dollars are paying to ship Oreo pie crusts all over the world. It’s a morale thing, I guess.)

She’d lugged this giant bag all the way from Brussels on the train, with a kid in tow, and their own luggage. What a doll. It was just like her to do something like this. Such a lovely treat. I hope I get to see her again before another 15 years go by.

Vincent immortalized the treasures on Instagram. This isn’t even close to all of it. But you get the idea. Strangely satisfies and intensifies my nostalgia at the same time.

Thanks honey.

So I was on the rue Saint Paul in the Marais yesterday, a trip to Thanksgiving to get French’s mustard and PopTarts (les PopTarts de Proust, OK??). Also came home with Vlasic Kosher Dills (cornichons don’t cut it; no dill) and a can of vegetarian refried beans…

Dragged Claire along with me, and she was urging me to get something “truly atrocious.” There’s atrocious aplenty at the American grocery stores here; that semi-liquid marshmallow stuff in a jar, for example, and StoveTop stuffing (which I’ve bought twice in 5+ years, that’s right, deal with it). I assured her PopTarts were quite atrocious enough and sent her home with two of them. I await her assessment.

(Aside: They have Celestial Seasonings tea there, including Red Zinger in boxes of 10 teabags for 3.75€. You can get the same thing online for 1.99€/box direct from, run by Harold, who is a great guy. Please support him so I can keep getting mass quantities of Red Zinger, without which I cannot survive winter in Paris.)

So we leave Thanksgiving in search of a café with a heated terrace, but just a couple doors down we stop short, drawn like magpies to a shop window bursting with bright cheery girliness in the form of funky, colorful leather clogs, bags and other goodies. I’m so starved for color in Paris, displays like this one make my dopamine or endorphins or serotonin or all of the above spike big time.

So of course we go in. Parisians tend to turn up their noses at clogs, BTW. Their loss. But Claire is not one of those Parisians. I’ve never stopped wearing clogs since the 70s, and Claire and I are from the same generation, so we enjoyed sharing the blast-from-the-past moment. She likes dainty florals à la Liberty of London, while I like loud 70s kitsch and the retro-collagey thing, all of which, as you see, they do:

The objects themselves were delightful, but the story gets even better. You see, they’re handmade by real, live French craftsmen! The shop, which only opened in Paris three months ago, is run by the soft-spoken young Benjamin Renoux (picture below), who is learning the leather/cobbler trade from his father. They have two other shops, in Honfleur and Saint-Malo (both big tourist destinations). Lucky for you, Cuir du Voyageur also sells its delicious products through its website.

True artisans are getting harder and harder to find in France because, of course, they have a tough time competing with the cheap, mass-produced crap imported from other countries (no need to name names).

So this shop is a true gem. Support them if you can!

I’m going to get some clogs (only 79€ for handmade leather shoes, folks, I mean come on…). Probably the ones at the top of the page. Or maybe a pair with the pattern on the bag (red, white, black, pinup, etc.). Or maybe I’ll just get the bag… Or the darker floral clogs in the bottom right corner of the picture just above. Or the red, red rose clogs I saw in the window… (You can see why I did not leave the shop with an actual pair of clogs.) And I’m also going to offer to translate their site into English pro bono.

By all means stop by and see all the other things they have, like the barrettes (you know, the kind with the stick through two holes, straight outta the 70s,) and the irresistible little leather pouches…

Cuir du Voyageur
32, rue Saint Paul
75004 Paris

Cuir du Voyageur Facebook page

It’s hard to believe this is my sixth November in Paris. It may be my last! We’ll almost surely be leaving Paris and heading to the countryside before this time next year…

I was afraid I wouldn’t get a November picture at all this year. I don’t get out and about as much as I did before, what with The Illness and all. Don’t even walk the dog as often now that he lives half the time with a friend of ours in Normandy! But I managed to snap this with my iPhone while walking him in the late afternoon a few days ago. It’s right behind Notre Dame. I made it under the wire. Not much November left!

Click the picture for a large version to get the full effect of the luscious, mellow tones of the buildings in the setting sun.

You’ll find a list of previous years’ November pictures below. Want more? Here’s a site with nothing but photos I’ve taken all year.

2010 | 20092008 | 2007 | 2006