Return to Paris

This is an epilogue to my previous post about retiring half of the year to Berkeley, California.grandma and computer

I’m now back permanently in Paris, although I expect I’ll return to Berkeley from time to time during the summers. Even though I felt very comfortable living in California after many years of living abroad, there was something missing, something that drew me back to my adopted country, France.

What was it? It certainly wasn’t the grey and dismal skies of Paris winters. And, it wasn’t the cultural life of the French capital and the possibility of traveling easily throughout Europe, although I greatly enjoy these opportunities and take advantage of them whenever I can. Nor was it the various clubs and associations I belong to in Paris or the group of old and new friends I have made here over several decades.

No, it was something else, something I never really understood until I experienced it personally. I have come back because I very much missed my four grandchildren, aged 1 ½ to 7. Friends are mobile. Friends understand if you travel far and wide or live in another country. Grandchildren don’t always.grandma shopping

I decided that now was the time to see my two granddaughters and my two grandsons on a weekly basis, to help care for them when my sons and daughters-in-law need me to, to play and bond with them as often as possible. When I was in California, we spoke on the phone and Skyped, of course, but nothing really replaces proximity and physical contact. Besides, and other grandparents have confirmed this, I reasoned that when they are older, their main centers of interest will be their friends, their sports and activities, their play stations. Now is the time to be with them.

So, even though I haven’t baked in years, I’m now making brownies and cornbread; I’m playing dominoes and “teacher”; I’m taking them to the park and reading them bedtime stories. grandma telling stories Not having had a role model for this-–my mother’s mother, my only grandparent, was never present for my brother and me—I’m learning as I go. It’s sometimes hard, but fun, and I’m very much enjoying it.

Although they all prefer to speak French with me at the moment, I’ve started giving English lessons to my eldest granddaughter and a little friend of hers, and I hope to pursue this with the other grandchildren in the near future.  I also try to share with them aspects of my American culture and my love of travel.

I am the mother of three sons, so caring for my two little grandsons brings back memories of how my sons were at their ages. Dealing with my two granddaughters, however, is a completely new experience. Their French mothers are bright and independent young women and are bringing up their daughters to be so, too.  I’m realizing more and more how much these little girls will have the world in the palms of their hands as they grow into mature human beings. They’re loquacious, playful, athletic, intelligent, and hard-working in school; they have minds of their own but are also thoughtful towards their little brothers and their friends. They’re gorgeous, too, with beautiful blond hair and long dark eyelashes that I’m terribly jealous of!

I never thought I’d want to be called Grandma. To my mind, it’s an old-fashioned and “unsophisticated” name. But I love the way my grandchildren call me “GrandeMa” with their French accents. In our family, it’s unique, too. They have other grand-mères (their mothers’ mothers and my ex-husband’s second wife) but they only have one GrandeMa, whom I’m very proud to be.

Published in: on December 20, 2017 at 3:48 pm  Comments (1)  

Retiring to a U.S. University Town: Berkeley, California

When I retired from teaching for the French Education Nationale ten years ago, I was determined to keep busy and to have an active retirement. My sons were grown and married but had no children yet. So I decided I’d go around the world for six months. Thanks to my special Air France plane ticket, I traveled to Asia, Central America and South America. Following my trip and after a few months back in France, I contacted AGIR, a French NGO that sends retired professional people abroad as volunteers on short-term missions. Paying for my transportation and my living expenses, they sent me to China, where I replaced an English teacher at the French Lycée of Shanghai for six months.

On my way back to Paris from China, I visited friends in San Francisco, which I still consider my “home town,” even though I no longer have any family there. After all my traveling, it felt good to be back in California and to reconnect with my American roots and mother tongue. In fact, it felt so good I decided to stay for several months and to see what it was like living in the U.S. again after some 40+ years in France. These several months turned into seven years of spending part of the year in Paris and part of the year in my home state.

Because I couldn’t find affordable short-term rentals in San Francisco itself, a friend suggested I look for a place in Berkeley, where, because of the student population, there’s more real estate turnover. So Berkeley was where I ended up, and, as it turned out, it was the perfect solution for me since it’s a university town with a diverse population of students, young professionals and retirees and a lot going on.ucberkeley-campus-ggbridge-400x265

Being a “joiner” and never one to sit at home twiddling my thumbs for very long, I joined various groups and associations. The first organization I joined was OLLI Berkeley, which is one of 119 Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes supported by the Bernard Osher Foundation on university and college campuses. In addition to being attracted to the workshops and courses OLLI Berkeley offers, the way it describes itself also appealed to me: an ongoing learning community of peers; an interdisciplinary forum for Berkeley faculty; and an intellectual and cultural connection to the university and the city of Berkeley. ( By way of example, my first half-year in Berkeley, I took a course on Russian literature, attended a story-telling workshop and sang my heart out in The Joy of Singing. I also joined an OLLI-sponsored book club and, as an OLLI member, audited a class on American literature at the University.

During those first few months, I also took intermediate tennis classes through the City of Berkeley’s Parks and Recreation Department and met several women of my age with whom I started playing tennis on a regular basis. To this day, I still play with them on public courts whenever I’m in Berkeley on a Friday. I also joined the YMCA and used their gym and swimming pool.

Being a frustrated journalist at heart, I discovered that the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism on campus hosts bi-monthly talks by journalists–many of them graduates of the University–that are open to the public.  I very much enjoyed hearing representatives of the press and the media speak to us, and every time I now hear Tamara Keith report from the White House on NPR I think to myself : “I heard her speak at the Berkeley JS soon after she graduated.”

Another organization I joined in the Berkeley area is Stagebridge, the nation’s oldest senior performing arts company, which is in Oakland. I first took courses in storytelling and was lucky to later participate in storytelling events on stage in Oakland and Berkeley and in senior centers around the Bay Area. After that, I started taking courses in playwriting, acting, and directing. Over the past seven years, I have written many 10-minute plays, as well as four full-length ones. Scenes from several of my plays were performed by professional actors in California, and I have also had readings of my plays in Paris. As for acting, I have taken classes in basic acting and the Uta Hagan method. One of the highlights of my acting experience at Stagebridge was when I played the role of Mrs. Roby (I’m dressed in white in the photo) in a performance of “Xingu”, a short story by Edith Wharton adapted to the stage by the San Francisco troupe Word for Word. An actor/acting teacher from the troupe directed us, and some people have said it was one of Stagebridge’s most memorable productions.Xingu 1

I could go on and on about all the activities available in Berkeley—going to stage performances and taking classes at Berkeley Rep, the Aurora and Cal Shakespeare theaters, participating in two playreading groups, hiking with a local Sierra Club, having dinners with my New Yorker discussion group, attending meetings and events of Les Amis de la Culture Francaise, seeing old movies at the Pacific Film Archives and new ones at local cinemas, auditing classes at the University, volunteering in English literacy, reading and writing programs in local schools, attending a Unitarian church, and so forth. Suffice it to say that retiring to a university town in the U.S., even if it is only for part of the year, has been, insofar as I am concerned, a real source of personal épanouissement.

Published in: on December 4, 2017 at 1:34 pm  Leave a Comment