FIRE! – Rich Paschall

Engulfed in Flames, by Rich Paschall

Fire fascinates. Fire frightens. Fire feeds. Fire consumes.

We may all have a fascination for the dancing flames in a fireplace or a campfire. We may be able to sit and watch for hours and just relax. At Christmas time we have been fond of the Yule Log channel. No, it’s not the same, but it is safer and comes with holiday music. We cook with fire and we actually heat our home with it via the furnace in the basement. It is essential to modern-day life.

Burning Fireplace

Then again, we fear fire for what it can do when it is out of control. I was horrified when the news came up on my phone of the fire at Notre-Dame de Paris. I had visited the famed cathedral twice and marveled at the architecture.

You may know that it was the architectural advancement of “flying buttresses” that allowed for the high and heavy vaulted ceiling to be supported. Without this feature, the roofed would have buckled and caved in. It took 182 years to build the cathedral (1136-1345) but it only took 15 hours for a fire to topple the steeple, destroy the roof and damage the upper walls and windows. It is reported that in another 30 minutes the building would have completely collapsed.

Here in Chicago, as in most big cities, we have had spectacular fires. In fact, from October 8th to 10th, 1871 most of Chicago burned to the ground. Three-hundred lives were lost. The burning embers were blown high and far and it was just too much for firefighters of that era. Stronger building codes followed as the city rebuilt and hoped the new buildings would be more resistant to fire.

Although we often say that only the Chicago Water Tower in the center of downtown and the pumping station across the street were all that survived the fire, it’s not quite true. The magnificent St. Michael’s Catholic Church, completed in 1869, was largely destroyed by fire, but the walls and the tower were left standing and the church was rebuilt.

In the 1990’s I attended a wedding there.

Chicago Water Tower (Photo credit: Nicholas G. Mertens)

Certainly, there were many large fires after this, but the first of my memory was the fire at Our Lady of the Angels School on December 1, 1958.

The fire broke out while school was still in session. While most of the 1600 students were able to get out, some were cut off by smoke and flame. The older building was considered up to code because it was in compliance when it was built and was “grandfathered in.” Which is to say, it did not have fire alarms, a direct line to the fire department, fire escapes, or fire doors.

Some students jumped from the high second story windows. Ninety-two students and three nuns perished in the fire.

Following this, we all took our grade school fire drills seriously. We knew the way to the exits and where to meet outside. Fire inspectors were frequent school visitors and fire alarms were installed inside and out.

Teachers drilled us on keeping quiet and moving quickly. In case of fire, we would not be returning to our classrooms to pray if there was smoke or fire in our way.

In 1958 the city began to build McCormick Place, the large convention hall that would include the 5000-seat Arie Crown Theater. Sensitive to our history of spectacular fires, the concrete and steel building was touted as fire-proof and opened on Chicago’s lakefront in November 1960.

McCormick Place 1967 (Photo: International Housewares Association.)

Around two in the morning, January 16, 1967, a fire broke out behind one of the booths of the National Housewares Manufacturers Show. At 2:30, the Fire Chief arrived and sounded the fifth alarm. All fire department personnel responded to the scene to try to save the building. The blaze was even fought by fire boats on the lake in the bitterly cold weather. By ten AM the roof had collapsed and the massive convention center was destroyed.

The theater was saved.

Church fires large and small are part of our history. Older buildings with a lot of aging wood are particularly vulnerable. Some are repaired after the fire and live on. Others are not so lucky.

There is always a greater concern when the building is a matter of civic pride or architectural significance. Such is the case with Holy Name Cathedral.

Holy Name Cathedral interior (Photo credit: Terence Faircloth)

The first structure, a large brick building whose cornerstone indicated 1852, was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire. Its replacement was dedicated in 1875. The massive Gothic-style structure holds 1200 people and the interior is 70 feet high. The ceiling is largely wood and was meant to symbolize the “Tree of Life.”

In February 2009 a fire broke out in the roof and the attic of the building. According to reports, first responders entered the attic without helmets or oxygen tanks. Fast work saved the Cathedral. The repairs to the roof and ceiling were completed in six months. Without this response, the building could have suffered damage like Notre Dame. Or worse.

No matter the great care we take, devastating accidents happen. In the Notre Dame and Holy Name Cathedral fires, it is believed electrical problems may have been the cause. It is hard to say for sure at Notre Dame since much of the building remains unsafe to inspect. At Holy Name the cause may have been related to a snow and ice melting system which was installed on the roof.

A Chicago Fire Department spokesman stated after the Notre Dame fire that fire officials are inspecting large buildings every day to make sure that there is a building plan at the entrance, and exits are clearly marked.

In older buildings of historic interest, they want to know what unique challenges may exist and about which they need to know. Even “fireproof” buildings, like McCormick Place, can burn to the ground.

Sources include:

“Rebuilt, but never forgotten – the McCormick Place fire of 1967,” ExhibitCityNews.com  January 1, 2014.

“Notre Dame Cathedral Fire: Investigators think an electrical short-circuit most likely caused Paris blaze, AP reports,” abc7chicago.com April 18, 2019.

“Holy Name survives fire thanks to firefighters,”abc7chicago.com/archive February 4, 2009.

APRIL LOVE OR APRIL FOOL? – Rich Paschall

April in Paris, by Rich Paschall


One April early in the 21st millennium, I actually was in Paris.  I thought it would be exciting, even a bit romantic.  I am not sure my travel companion saw it in the same light.  Although he had never been out of the country before, he did not seem overly excited about the trip, much to my chagrin.

At the time I was working for a freight company that had acquired a nice collection of gifts for Christmas.  Since they did not have something for everyone, they raffled off the gifts they had.  The top prizes were the airline tickets.

Of course, I had hoped to win the Air France vouchers but doubted it could be so with such a large group.  There were other nice prizes and I would have been happy with any of them.  When they called my name for the tickets, I thought it could not be true and it must have been for some other prize.  I was delighted to receive the top prize.

Paris-1

There were not really many blackout dates, but you were not allowed to cash in the vouchers long in advance.  This would allow many summer flights to sell out before you had a chance to claim the date.  Being afraid we wouldn’t find a suitable date if we waited too long, we decided on late April. We hoped for small crowds and good weather.  We got one of the two.

Frommer’s Guide to Paris was an invaluable resource, not just for the hotel, but also for how to get around the city.  We also found the best ways to visit the main tourist sites.  With a little planning and a lot of luck, we were on our way.  We learned how to get from Charles De Gaulle airport to our hotel in the St. Germain neighborhood.  The location was ideal as the metro was nearby.

Our tiny room had a small balcony which looked out on an old Paris street.  The room had a tiny refrigerator which allowed us to stash a few items so we could save on all the expensive restaurant meals.  A small grocery store nearby was a welcome site for a few essentials.

The first night we made it through the rain to a small restaurant nearby.  I spoke no French at the time and the people at the restaurant spoke no English.  We were not certain what we ordered, but we started with French Onion soup which was nothing like the French Onion soup you get here.  The broth was clear and the onions were fresh.  It was great.  I do not recall what beef dish I had; I do recall it was quite good.

In the few days we were in France we saw the Eiffel Tower and actually went to the top of it.  We also saw Notre Dame, St. Germain des Pres, Versailles, the Louvre, including the Mona Lisa, the Cathedral at Chartres and many wonderful local spots.  Despite the cold and damp weather most of the time, it was April in Paris!  What could be better?

In honor of this delightful little memory, I have our top 5 April songs.  I wanted to give you 10 songs as always, but I could not think of that many.

5. The April Fools, Burt Bacharach, Hal David.  The theme is from the movie of the same name.  In the film, Jack Lemmon meets the married Catherine Deneuve and decides to run off with her to Paris.  In this instrumental version, the pictures of Paris do not come up until 15 seconds in.  As Neil Patrick Harris might say, “Wait for it.”

4. April Love, Pat Boone.  This theme is from a movie that starred Pat Boone and Shirley Jones.  The song was nominated for an Academy Award and was a big hit for Boone.

3. April Showers, Al Jolson.  The old vaudevillian debuted this song in 1921 on Broadway. He recorded it a few times, including a recording for a film of his life story in 1946.  Here he plays in Soldier Field, Chicago in 1949. The aging Jolson still delivers!  He died the following year.

2. April Come She Will, Simon and Garfunkel. The song was recorded for the album Sounds of Silence in 1965 and released in 1966. Here it is performed in the historic Central Park concert.

1. April in Paris, Ella Fitzgerald. The Count Basie hit has been recorded by many. This early Ella Fitzgerald version helped to popularize the song.

FRENCH FRIDAY: PIPI IN PARIS … AND ELSEWHERE – Evelyne Holingue – REBLOG

French Friday: Pipi in Paris … and Elsewhere

August 24, 2018 by  14 Comments

So many cultural facts jumped to my eyes when I moved to the USA from my native France!

However, when last week my husband forwarded me a link about newly installed public urinals in Paris he not only gave me an idea for a French Friday post but he also pushed my memory button on. I suddenly remembered the top cultural difference that I immediately noticed upon my arrival in California.

Wow! I thought. There are so many places pour faire pipi. And they are free and clean. They even have changing tables and are handicapped accessible.

I kept raving about the fact that toilets in the States were no longer a place to avoid and no longer a daily challenge. And our numerous French visitors confirmed my first impression, even if they were initially shocked to see that most stalls didn’t have full-sized doors and that it could be possible for someone to peek. At first, I was surprised, too. Years later, I can attest that no one has ever peeked. In fact, I’ve stood in long patient lines in women’s restrooms, everyone of us assuming that each stall was occupied while in fact some were not. No one peeks in American restrooms. Only visitors do 🙂

Back to the early 90s. Yes, doing number #1 in the U.S. was far easier than in France. French public restrooms were fewer, rarely free, and sadly much dirtier.

For more true stories on the subject, scroll down to read about our family toilet adventures in the City of Lights.

Despite the dire situation for all Parisians, men, though, had an advantage, thanks to urinals found in most metro stations and also in public spaces. My husband argues that they were filthy and that as a boy and teen he felt uncomfortable using them. I totally get him.

Still, men had an edge. French girls and women had to learn one lesson: hold it.

Things changed in 1981 when the first sanisette was installed in Paris.

It cost one French franc to use them, but they were clean and private.

Fast forward to 2018. Has the French pipi scene improved?

Sanisettes are free, but many close at 10:00 p.m. since they can be used for drugs and prostitution deals. Cafés still forbid their restrooms to anyone who’s not a paying customer.

So it remains a challenge to find clean free restrooms throughout France, including in Paris.

No wonder alleys, building entrances, and street corners have turned into Men Restrooms. Women still hold it.

Which explains why men were on designers’ mind when they invented the uritrottoir, a noun created from urinoir and trottoir, which mean urinal and sidewalk in French.

The French company based in Nantes installed the first uritrottoirs in Nantes in May 2017 and their arrival didn’t trigger vehement reactions.

In Paris it has been another story.

This summer a few uritrottoirs have been placed in the city.

From the Ville de Paris’s twitter account

This what CNN wrote about it.

A quick linguistic note: French people may contradict me, after all I’m not an expert on male toilets, but I never used or even heard of pissoir. In French urinals are called urinoirs, pissotières or vespasiennes.

Here and there are two additional articles, if you read French.

Residents in Île Saint Louis, one the most posh Parisian neighborhoods, argue that they spoil the look of the historical landmark.

Visitors to the area, though, applaud the idea.

When I browsed through the articles, whether pro or con, I quickly noticed that almost every person interviewed on the topic was a man.

Of course, they love the uritrottoir.

Continued …


Read the rest of this post on:
FRENCH FRIDAY: PIPI IN PARIS, Evelyne Holingue

PEEING IN THE STREETS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I’ve been reading about an urban problem that I thought was solved with the invention of the indoor toilet. Apparently, Paris is so plagued by men peeing in the streets, that they have taken action to mitigate the worst effects of this phenomenon.

In the Middle Ages in Europe, people emptied bedpans out their windows onto the streets below. Then indoor plumbing made this practice obsolete. So walking on the street became less dangerous and unpredictable, But it seems that even today, men don’t accept the concept of exclusively indoor, bathroom urinating. They still want to relieve themselves wherever and whenever they want. Including on public streets.

This public peeing creates two separate problems, affecting two of the senses. First, there’s the problem of odors permeating public streets, often in upscale and tourist neighborhoods. Then there’s the visual assault of people having to watch men peeing in public.

The City Council of Paris has addressed the problem. Their solution was to install urinals around Paris to discourage pedestrians from relieving themselves randomly on the streets of the city.

Enter the ‘Uritrottoir’, or sidewalk urinal. It’s bright red, is free-standing and open on all sides. It’s filled with straw and uses the nitrogen and other chemicals in the urine to produce organic compounds. This supposedly eliminates odors. That may at least solve the smell problem.

But Parisians are complaining that the open design of the urinals does not prevent passersby, including tourists on Seine cruises, from having to watch men relieving themselves. Sensitive Parisians also dislike the bold design and color of the urinals. They are considered an eyesore, particularly in historic and quaint areas.

Apparently, public urination has always been a problem, around the world. Some cities in Germany have come up with more creative ways to discourage public peeing. In Munich, there’s a walkway between the soccer stadium and the subway which suffers from a disproportionate amount of drunken peeing. So the city is looking to install a long strip of un-planted flower beds that would go over a giant tank. It would have bark chips in it to reduce odor so men could pee in it at will.

I like Hamburg’s solution better. Some locals in Hamburg have been coating the walls of buildings in ‘splash creating, urine retardant’ paint. This paint is used in ship hulls. What it does is coat the urinater in his own pee.

Poetic justice!

I don’t understand the psychology of men who do this. Women don’t have the option and they manage to hold it in until they find a bathroom. What is wrong with men? Do they feel entitled? Do they have no modesty or shame? Are parents remiss when they toilet train their sons? WTF!

I’m also appalled that this is a universal problem in 2018. I guess we are not as evolved as I hoped.

I didn’t need another reason to be grateful that I left the city and moved to the country. I guess the universe wanted me to feel particularly good about abandoning urban life.

I have to watch my dogs pee in the backyard, but that’s not an affront to civilization.

Men peeing on city streets is.

APRIL LOVE OR APRIL FOOL?

April in Paris, by Rich Paschall


One April early in the 21st millennium, I actually was in Paris.  I thought it would be exciting, even a bit romantic.  I am not sure my travel companion saw it in the same light.  Although he had never been out of the country before, he did not seem overly excited about the trip, much to my chagrin.

At the time I was working for a freight company that had acquired a nice collection of gifts for Christmas.  Since they did not have something for everyone, they raffled off the gifts they had.  The top prizes were the airline tickets.  Of course I had hoped to win the Air France vouchers, but doubted it could be so with such a large group.  There were other nice prizes and I would have been happy with any of them.  When they called my name for the tickets, I thought it could not be true and it must have been for some other prize.  I was delighted to receive the top prize.

Paris-1

There were not really many blackout dates, but you were not allowed to cash the vouchers long in advance.  This allowed the summer flights to sell out before you had a chance to claim the date.  Being afraid we wouldn’t find a suitable date if we waited too long, we decided on late April. We hoped for small crowds and good weather.  We got one of the two.

Frommer’s Guide to Paris was an invaluable resource, not just for the hotel, but also for how to get around the city.  We also found the best ways to visit the main tourist sites.  With a little planning and a lot of luck, we were on our way.  We learned how to get from Charles De Gaulle airport to our hotel in the St. Germain neighborhood.  The location was ideal as the metro was nearby.

Our tiny room had a small balcony which looked out on the old Paris street.  The room had a tiny refrigerator which allowed us to stash a few items to save on all the expensive restaurant meals.  A small grocery store nearby was a welcome site for a few essentials.

The first night we made it in the rain to a small restaurant nearby.  I spoke no French at the time and the people at the restaurant spoke no English.  We were not certain what we ordered, but we started with French Onion soup which was nothing like the French Onion soup you get here.  The broth was clear and the onions were fresh.  It was great.  I do not recall what beef dish I had; I do recall it was quite good.

In the few days we were there we saw the Eiffel Tower and actually went to the top of it.  We also saw Notre Dame, St. Germain des Pres, Versailles, the Louvre, including the Mona Lisa, the Cathedral at Chartres and many wonderful local spots.  Despite the cold and damp weather most of the time, it was April in Paris!  What could be better?

In honor of this delightful little memory, I have our top 5 April songs.  I wanted to give you 10 songs as always, but I could not think of that many.

5. The April Fools, Burt Bacharach, Hal David.  The theme is from the movie of the same name.  In the film, Jack Lemmon meets the married Catherine Deneuve and decides to run off with her to Paris.  In this instrumental version, the pictures of Paris do not come up until 15 seconds in.  As Neil Patrick Harris might say, “Wait for it.”

4. April Love, Pat Boone.  This theme is from a movie that starred Pat Boone and Shirley Jones.  The song was nominated for an Academy Award and was a big hit for Boone.

3. April Showers, Al Jolson.  The old vaudevillian debuted this song in 1921 on Broadway. He recorded it a few times, including a recording for a film of his life story in 1946.  Here he plays in Soldier Field, Chicago in 1949. The aging Jolson still delivers!  He died the following year.

2. April Come She Will, Simon and Garfunkel. The song was recorded for the album Sounds of Silence in 1965 and released in 1966. Here it is performed in the historic Central Park concert.

1. April in Paris, Ella Fitzgerald. The Count Basie hit has been recorded by many. This early Ella Fitzgerald version helped to popularize the song.

A FEW WORDS ABOUT PARIS …

Horrible. All the deaths, all the murders. What terrible things we do to one another. Unspeakable.

To all of you who rather than offering condolences or words of comfort chose instead to use this moment to point out how media hasn’t given enough “air time” to other, equally despicable acts of violence in other parts of the world … well.

french flag flying

What can I say about that?

Do you feel the amount of attention press gives to an act of terror in some way makes it better or worse? There’s no rating system for tragedy. The fundamental problem remains. Human beings can’t seem to stop slaughtering one another. And now, apparently we’ve lost the ability to experience empathy.

For those of you who felt obliged to point out the inequity of news coverage, as if this has something to do with anything or that increased press attention actually fixes anything — rather than offering sympathy or at the very least, shutting up — shame on you.

There’s something wrong with you. Something in you is broken.

THE BONES OF PARIS, LAURIE R. KING

BonesOfParis

The Bones of Paris
A Novel of Suspense
By Laurie R. King

Random House Publishing Group – Bantam Dell
Publication Date: September 10, 2013

Set in a strange world of weirdos, artists, authors and perverts in post World War I Paris, this Jazz Age murder mystery has some of the creepiest characters I’ve ever encountered in a long time. Historically, this was indeed a strange time. The Lost Generation of Hemingway, Fitzgerald in a Paris seething with new art forms and angst.

Flappers meet  old aristocracy. Painters and photographers hook up with roaming flotsam and jetsam of a displaced generation. These are people well and truly lost in time and space.

Amidst this odd collection of geniuses and madmen, comes private investigator Harris Stuyvesant, an American ex-FBI agent. Down on his luck and much in need of a paying  job, he’s gotten the plummy assignment of finding Philippa “Pip”Crosby, a young American woman. She’s been missing for months, last seen in the company of some of Paris’ more dubious denizens. Harris has previously met Pip, albeit briefly, and wonders if knowing her was how he got the job in the first place.

Tournee du Theatre du Grand Guignol de Paris -...

At first, Harris assumes she has gone off to do whatever young women do when they want to have a good time. Perhaps the Riviera or some other resort. She has nothing to hold her in any particular place. Inquiries lead nowhere. Her trail stops abruptly at the Théâtre du Grand-Guignol in Montmartre. Harris Stuyvesant finds himself in a world in which art and sexual depravity are indistinguishable. His fears for the young woman grow increasingly dark.

She’s not the only one who has gone missing in this murky society of the talented and the strange. In fact, more than a dozen missing women may have fallen victim to the same killer. The number of suspects keeps multiplying. Somewhere, a savage killer is roaming free and he’s isn’t finished yet.

I’ve read a lot of Laurie King’s Sherlock Holmes books and enjoyed them very much. This was not the same style. In the end, though, I liked the book. It took me a while to get into it. The characters are smug, the élite of the art world, but they were also bores, boors, braggarts. Self-absorbed snobs — the kind of people I avoid. Eventually, as relationships began to sort out, I grew to like the detective and the French policeman with whom he is working. I even developed an affection for some of the women, though they will never be my gal pals.

This is a work of fiction, so despite familiar names — Hemingway pops up, along with Cole Porter — they are not real, though I suspect they were modeled on real people. It’s a good mystery. Harris Stuyvesant is an interesting guy. It’s well-written. If you like your villains insane and creepy, you have a whole slew of bad guys from which to choose. Harris Stuyvesant is a sturdy character with plenty of back story. I think he will grow up to be likable and interesting.

Laurie King is exceptionally literate. She uses lots of big words, so if you like your reading easy, this isn’t the book for you. The elegance of her language is one of her most attractive qualities as an author. I would have read to the end for that alone. The Parisian setting is well-drawn. You can virtually see and smell the city as you read. Especially smell.

The Bones of Paris is worth your time. Especially if you really like a bit of creepiness in your mysteries, The Bones of Paris has ambiance in abundance. It’s available as an e-book, Kindle, audio, paperback, and hardcover.

MURDER AND MURK – THE BONES OF PARIS, LAURIE R. KING

BonesOfParis

The Bones of Paris
A Novel of Suspense
By Laurie R. King

Random House Publishing Group – Bantam Dell
Publication Date: September 10, 2013

Set in a strange world of weirdos, artists, authors and perverts in post World War I Paris, this Jazz Age murder mystery has some of the creepiest characters I’ve ever encountered in a long time. Historically, this was indeed a strange time. The Lost Generation of Hemingway, Fitzgerald in a Paris seething with new art forms and angst.

Flappers meet  old aristocracy. Painters and photographers hook up with roaming flotsam and jetsam of a displaced generation. These are people well and truly lost in time and space.

Tournee du Theatre du Grand Guignol de Paris -...

Amidst this odd collection of geniuses and madmen, comes private investigator Harris Stuyvesant, an American ex-FBI agent. Down on his luck and much in need of a paying  job, he’s gotten the plummy assignment of finding Philippa “Pip”Crosby, a young American woman.

She’s been missing for months, last seen in the company of some of Paris’ more dubious denizens. Harris has previously met Pip, albeit briefly, and wonders if his knowing her was how he got the job in the first place.

At first, Harris assumes she has gone off to do whatever young women do when they want to have a good time. Perhaps the Riviera or some other resort. She has nothing to hold her in any particular place. Inquiries lead nowhere. Her trail stops abruptly at the Théâtre du Grand-Guignol in Montmartre. Harris Stuyvesant finds himself in a world in which art and sexual depravity are indistinguishable. His fears for the young woman grow increasingly dark.

Because she’s not the only one who has gone missing in this murky society of the talented and the strange. In fact, more than a dozen missing women may have fallen victim to the same killer … and the number of suspects keeps multiplying. Somewhere, a savage killer is roaming free and he’s isn’t finished yet.

I’ve read a lot of Laurie King’s Sherlock Holmes books and enjoyed them very much. This was not at all the same. In the end, I liked the book, but it took me quite a while to really get into it. The problem was, I didn’t like any of the characters. They were smug. They may have been the élite of the art world, but they were also bores, boors, braggarts and self-absorbed snobs — the kind of people I make it my business to avoid. Eventually, as relationships began to sort out, I grew to like the detective and the French policeman with whom he is working … and even develop a mild affection for some of the women, though they will never be my kind of gal pals.

This is a work of fiction, so despite the familiar names — Hemingway pops up a lot as well as Cole Porter — they are not real, though I suspect they were modeled on real people.

It’s a good mystery and Harris Stuyvesant is an interesting guy. I didn’t love the book, but it’s well-written. If you like your villains insane and creepy, you have a whole slew of them to choose from. Harris Stuyvesant is a sturdy character with plenty of back story. I think he will grow up to be likeable and interesting. However, he isn’t there yet.

Laurie King is an exceptionally literate writer. She uses lots of big words, so if you like your reading easy, this isn’t the book for you. The elegance of her language is one of her most attractive qualities as an author. I would have read to the end for that alone.

On the plus side, the Parisian setting is well-drawn. You can virtually see and smell the city as you read. Especially smell.

The Bones of Paris is worth your time, though how much you like it is a matter of personal taste. I prefer more modern settings and people to whom I can better relate. If you really like a bit of Poe-esque creepiness in your mysteries, The Bones of Paris has it.

Available on Kindle, audiobook, paperback and hardcover.

Daily Prompt: Non, je ne regrette rien … Well, not much, anyhow.

If I have any regrets — real regrets other than “gee, it would have been nice if I’d gotten around to doing that” which is not a regret, just something that got missed …. they are about money. The personal mistakes? They are part of life and although they may have been regrettable, they became a piece of who we are … and you can’t go back and fix life.

On the other hand, I wish we’d been better about money, a little more savvy. We didn’t expect to be unable to work so young. I’m not sure we ever really thought about it in a clear-headed way. It was always far off in a misty future, a “someday” that might never come. We planned to be young and healthy forever.

Sunlight through bright maple leaves by the lake's shore.

Then, one day, bang. There it was. I was disabled. Garry was retired. Where an income had been, we had a donut hole. We’d used our savings to buy the house we could no longer afford, which seemed like a good idea when we believed we had another decade of income from work. Not such a good idea without those salaries.

We had worked and paid taxes for a collective 75 years between the two of us. We worked until we couldn’t work any more. It was time to start collecting. Retirement was supposed to be the end of stress, the beginning of the rewards.

There are rewards. The freedom of time is the big one. You can go to bed and get up on your own schedule. You can do everything, more or less, on your own schedule. I don’t know what day of the week it is most of the time. If you don’t have a job, one day is very much like another. Weekends take me by surprise. If you are in a good marriage, you have time to really enjoy each other. You get to know your grandchildren. You read, watch movies, pursue hobbies, pet your dogs.

We worked hard, played hard, so our memories are a treasure trove. We did almost all of the things we really wanted to do and hopefully, there are still a few surprises to come. Good surprises, not the other kind.

Sadly, though, retirement has not turned out to be the end of stress. Just a different kind of stress. It’s no longer about meeting the expectations of the workplace. It’s about meeting the bills.

Our pension plans are inadequate to the world in which we find ourselves. When we planned them, they sounded good and probably were … then. But the cost of living went way up and what it takes to maintain a life that would free us from stress is probably about twice what we really have. After making huge cutbacks and eliminating many (most) things we used to do, we hang on. Barely.

So I wish we’d been smarter about money. The irony is we thought we were being smart. We did what we thought we were supposed to do. It just didn’t work out as planned. What made perfect sense 20 years ago doesn’t make sense today. We didn’t grasp that pension amounts stay the same, though the cost of living continues to rise. The meaning of “fixed income” hadn’t really grabbed hold. It has now.

We have adapted, but life after paychecks is not what we intended. Being poor is like walking around in shoes that are just a little bit too tight. They almost fit. Sadly, with shoes and budgets, “almost fits” is surprisingly different than “fits.”

But looking back … we had fun. I had fun. Garry had fun. We had fun together. We still have fun. We just need to fit our fun into an incredibly tight budget, taking into account our arthritic bodies and diminished energy levels.

Few regrets and great memories. We didn’t do everything, but we did a lot. More than most. We made some unfortunate — maybe stupid — choices, but we didn’t wimp out. If life were a movie, we would be on schedule for a previously unknown but fabulously rich relative to pass away leaving us gazillions of dollars and a mansion on a cliff in Ireland. Pity a team of Hollywood script writers isn’t in charge of our lives.

In the deathless words and music of Edith Piaf, I would like to say this about that:

Non, je ne regrette rien ... or at least, not much.

Jo Joe, by Sally Wiener Grotta

Pixel Hall Press, Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) Members’ Titles
314 pages, Publication Date: May 6, 2013

It would be hard enough growing up any different kind of kid in a small rural community. Growing up the only Jew in a poverty-stricken mountain town would be significantly harder. So what would it be like growing up a brown-skinned Jewish girl — the only Jew, the only person of color and the only foreigner — in an inbred narrow-minded fundamentalist Christian town with a strong skinhead militia contingent and longstanding prejudices against anyone who is at all different?

Add it together and it goes far beyond difficult and moves into the realm of nearly impossible.

Judith Ormand spent her early life in Paris, France, the daughter of a Black man and a converted-to-Judaism white mother. After her mother dies of causes never clearly explained, she ends up being raised by her Moravian German grandparents in a small insular Pennsylvania mountain village.

Her growing up years were punctuated by racial attacks, by violence, hatred and fear. Her only protector? Joe Anderson, a handsome blond football player, son of a drunken father and a skinhead, drug-dealer brother. When Joe — her beloved best friend — turns against her, her world is shattered. She vows, encouraged by her grandmother, to never under any circumstances return to Black Bear, Pennsylvania.

But Gramma and Grampa are gone and despite any promises she made, Judith — Jo — must return and face the nightmare of her growing up years and uncover the truth about the people she loved and lost.

The book is a compelling  psychological drama and Judith Ormand is a fascinating character, a perfect target for bigoted small town residents. I found the story gripping and honest …. until it approached the end.

All of a sudden, the book went into overdrive, as if the author had reached her page limit and now had to quickly tie up all the loose ends and somehow give this sad story a happy ending. I didn’t believe the ending. I didn’t find it emotionally honest and didn’t think it made sense based on everything that had gone before. After such a very promising start, it was a big disappointment.

For all that, the book is worth the read. The misery of a child who is so very different trying to find happiness in a frightening and hostile environment is heart-wrenching. I wish the author had stayed the course and written the ending with the same integrity she gave to the story’s beginning and middle.

Jo Joe  is available as a hardcover from Amazon. It will be available in paperback and on Kindle in June 2013.

One thing leads to another

Garry and I love “A Little Romance.” I’ve always wondered why it’s shown so rarely. It’s a gem of a movie, one of Hill’s best. The story is charming, the settings are deliciously romantic, Olivier is Olivier — and the two kids will make you nostalgic about being young. This was Diane Lane’s screen début, by the way. If you can, see this one!

Parisian Fields

We both like to listen to Web radio while we work. We were particularly pleased to discover that Radio Classique, which we listen to in Paris (at call number 101.1) is available on the Internet. (Go to the site, click on “En direct” and then choose “Haut débit” or “Bas débit” and it will begin.) The music is enjoyable and you can practise your French comprehension by listening to the news broadcasts or the occasional interview.

We also have Apple computers, which offer umpteen different music streams from the radio available through iTunes. The other day, more or less at random, I chose AAA Classic, which makes up in its imaginative choice of music what it lacks in its pedestrian choice of name. It is a French station, and every so often I had to stop what I was doing to look at the little…

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Now consider THIS

See on Scoop.itForty Two: Life and Other Important Things

And so the pissed off women of Paris took down the government.

October 5, 1789: 6,000 angry working-class women — armed with everything they had and could get from the city armory — march in the rain from Paris to King Louis XVI’s palace in Versailles to demand bread. Once there, they stormed the gates and compelled the king to return with them to Paris, which proved to be his downfall.

See on womensphilanthropy.typepad.com