Snow Day

Snowing this morning in Paris. Thick white flakes falling, snow piling up on the ledges and zinc roofs of the church opposite, though not so much on the sidewalks and streets, yet. Hoping to go over to the Marais later for lunch with a friend. I was planning to take the bus, but if there are snow-related traffic snarls, perhaps I’ll take the Metro instead. Paris isn’t really prepared for snow—I mean there’s a tendency to let it fall and see what happens, unlike, say, Montreal (Boston, New York?), where people plan ahead so the economy doesn’t come to a halt. Here, it will be another drop added to the demonstrations that kept shops from selling stuff around Christmas, shops that seem mostly empty to me, as the January sales go on.

Still it is pretty, especially when it falls straight down, without gusts of wind pushing it, making you reluctant to go out. I wonder where the homeless man, who now comes late to curl up on the sidewalk and leaves early, is. In the fall, he took socks, money, tangerines, rice—anything that fit in his pockets or stomach—but didn’t want anything more encumbering like an isothermic blanket or a backpack: ‘Don’t need that, don’t need that.”

Clouds giving way to sunshine...

Weather, weather, weather…is it a Canadian thing? If I lived in a tropical paradise would I still think to lead with the weather?

Off to Paris tomorrow morning, so I expect I’ll have some new things to say—always the result of a change in vantage point—from the bed cum writing spot in the bay area to the bed cum writing spot in Paris. Here my lookout is into live oak trees and an Ikea-blue but ugly house, that apparently belongs to a Swedish woman but is inhabited by tenants, apparently male apparently single each with a mid-sized (for California—in Paris these cars would be BIG! and right now, if you lived in certain neighbourhoods I presume you wouldn’t be parking them in the street for fear they would be targets for burning as symbols of privilege.

No suitcases out yet. Not much to park. We have pjs and toothbrushes in Paris. Also cold-weather clothing (have I seen forecasts of snow in northern Europe?). We’ll be in France until June. Then no doubt we’ll be itching to get back to California.

Overcast with mild showers

Grey day, second one, but yesterday I went out for a bike ride, up Alpine , over to the Portola Valley Farmer’s Market, where I stopped to chat with my bread baker, who makes better bread than Poilane in Paris, which is saying something, plus she delivers it warm to my doorstep, and no one has stolen it yet (though if they knew…), then back down Sand Hill Road to Palo Alto. It was cold! Fortunately I had a warm jacket, which I kept on even during the uphill parts on the way down (if you see what I mean). Felt good.

Meeting old friends who now live in Minnesota for dinner downtown tonight. Tomorrow, another bike ride, perhaps. Monday we are off to Utah for three days.

Still reading the Levi-Strauss biography, plus a poet, Nick Laird, plus Tabucchi, the Italian, plus a little Borges, plus…lots of news—so much it’s hard to keep up with. Thank heaven for Tian’s bread and broccoli soup and the red tree whose name I don’t know, still clinging to its leaves outside the window.

Thumbs etc.

Beautiful weather, leaves red outside the window, far hills clear—great day for a bike ride, though I’ve had my thumbs in splints for a week and I’ll need to treat my thumbs well, now that the splints are off.

I never realized how useful thumbs are, though I’ve got quite proficient at using pointer and tall man to do the fine motor stuff, like inserting the key in the car lock (yes, I have a real key) and the ignition and turning the motor on, which requires not just a turn, but a push. Still a little pain, but better. Was trying the other day to think how far down the food chain opposable thumbs go, a question that Google no doubt has a quick answer to, but haven’t been there yet.

Reading? Nick Laird’s latest book of poetry, Feel Free, extremely well written and intelligent, good, in short, but not entirely my thing, because long on line and short on colour. Witty and cynical, a student of Paul Muldoon, though less extravagant. Also a biography of Claude Levi-Strauss by Emmanuelle Loyer that has, I read in the TLS Christmas books, just been translated into English. I’m about halfway through: have reached the third wife and Tristes Tropiques, which I will reread when we return to Paris. I’m also interested in what it says about British Columbia native peoples and their art, of which the University of B.C., where I went, has a superb collection, which I believe I first saw in Montreal at Expo 67 (?)


Also the Italian writer, Antonio Tabucchi, whom I discovered thanks to my Italian bookseller in the Marais, Tour de Babel, rue des rois de Sicile. Oh, and…too many things, but let me mention Apollinaire’s wonderful Letters to Lou, in preparation for reviewing Lou’s Letters to Apollinaire, just published by Gallimard.

'Yellow Vests'

Reading the French news, over the past couple of weeks I find myself wondering about the out-datedness of our socio-economic words:

‘Working Class’ is an industrial age term. Who in a service economy is ‘working class.’? Is there still a ‘proletariat’? Why would no one in America call themselves ‘working class,’ but rather ‘middle class’ and would they distinguish between ‘lower,’ ‘middle’ and ‘upper’? Where do the boundaries fall? What about property ownership? In the USA it has long been considered socially and politically propitious to help everyone become a property owner, I suppose, so they have a stake in their village, town, city and are less apt to go after other people’s property. In France probably more people are renters? The ‘bourgeoisie” are property owners in towns. The nobility own property but also hereditary titles. They scorn the bourgeoisie, historically, who kick the dog one rung lower on the social ladder. Who are the people in the streets of Paris and other French cities (but which you sometimes see in Quebec, though it is embedded in Canada’s rather placid society)? Do they own property? Not the ones breaking things, presumably, but the others? The ordinary folk manning and womanning the barricades? Why does France break out in this rash of anger, a phenomenon foreign to Anglo-Saxon culture by and large? Is it the repressiveness, say, of the education system, the institutionalized top-down practices, the engrained hierarchies?

Those yellow vests are a potent signal, one that could be very quickly globalised.

Rivers of water

The rain is coming down on the roof like a solid river of water. This is not very promising for my bike ride later. On Tuesday I biked up Alpine past the turn-off to Portola Valley Road, up the steep hill, telling myself I only had to get to the school crosswalk, then when I was there, telling myself I was almost at the top now, so I might as well continue, which I did, then downhill, past houses with horse barns, where it was starting to drizzle, then up again to the first green gate where the rain was falling pretty hard, though the creek in the gully wasn’t much fuller than it had been in September when I last biked up there. Two guys in a pick-up truck were discussing something I didn’t get. I put my quilted jacket on, pulled the hood over my bike helmet and turned around. It’s all downhill, so faster than going up, but I still got pretty wet. Now the rain is falling less hard.


The sound of rain was never so welcome, as two days ago, a day after my return to the Bay Area, where even in the airport terminal, waiting in line to go through Customs and Immigration, the smell of smoke was everywhere, and people were staying inside with towels at the base of their doors and windows (unless they had modern ones, closed to drafts). But rain was expected, and materialised right on schedule, plopping softly on the bathroom skylight, hissing under tires, gleaming on the parking pad. We threw open the doors, and watched the sky line clarify until we could again see the hills in the distance, the ones we bike up (all the way for my husband, half way for me).

When I was growing up in Vancouver I really didn’t like rain at all, because it turned my hair into a ball of frizz. But here, in this dry climate, it is welcome—for a while, even if it keeps me off my bike for the ride to town or the campus. Of course, the grey skies (and short daylight hours, at this time of year) are dispiriting if they go on, and on. But after long days of good dry weather I love the sound of the first drops hitting the roof, especially at night.

The Guardian Poem of the Week

One of the many moons in my new collection:

Off to San Francisco tomorrow morning. From all reports I won’t be able to breathe when I get off the plane. My son says the quality of the air is the worst on planet earth at the moment. But this is a lesser evil than all the people caught in the fires, that just get worse and worse.

In Paris the temperatures have dropped to close to freezing. I worked at the Soupe Populaire at lunchtime and came home to pack my bags (done, except for the last minute things). Last night I went to the poetry group that meets each Sunday at The Red Wheelbarrow English Book Shop Berkeley Books, where I’ll be reading with Nina Bogin in early March, both in the 6th arrondissement. It’s a good group of readers and writers.