Going Postal

Photo courtesy of ladepeche.fr

So, I just spent half an hour at the post office in La Courneuve so that I could come right back home with my letter STILL in my hand.

As is usual for this particular location of La Poste, there were only two people working (very slowly) and the line seemed to be a kilometer long. But I was patient … sort of. I assumed the requisite mindset of beaten-down resignation. Sometimes that helps. When I finally arrived at the counter after — no exaggeration — twenty-five minutes in line, I placed my fat envelope on the counter and told the postal worker that I wanted to send it by registered mail. She handed me the form for that, but then sympathetically informed me:

“But you can’t do that here. You have to use a machine for that, and it only takes change or debit cards.”

“I can do this at a machine?” I sighed. “So, I didn’t have to wait in that line after all? Okay. Well, I can pay with my debit card. It’s that machine over there?” I pointed in the general direction whence I’d come.

“Yes, I’ll come with you.”

She kindly escorted me back over to the area of lobby with all the machines. On the way, she asked me if I hadn’t seen the “welcome desk” when I came in.

“Why, yes, I did see it. But no one was there half an hour ago when I came in.”

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Weekend Bourguignon

© 2012 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved

Monday was Memorial Day in the United States and, thanks to the timing of Easter this year, it was also le Lundi de Pentecôte (Whit Monday) here in France. While Pentecost Monday was removed from the list of French state holidays in 2005, traditions die hard here and it made a quick comeback just a few years later. No one wants to be deprived of a three-day weekend, of course, and the French have rebelled for less. So, while my American friends were hitting the road to go to the beach or were gearing up for a weekend of barbecues and pool parties, I was doing the same.

My destination: the Burgundian countryside.

A friend of ours has a country home in Burgundy — an old farmhouse renovated into a magical little oasis far from the bustle of Paris — and we were invited along with three other friends to spend the long weekend there. How could you say no to that? So, Saturday morning, we headed off down the A6 and the A77 to western Burgundy, towards a little hamlet called Picarnon. And when I say “hamlet,” I mean it. Our friend’s country home is nestled among ten or so other houses located just off the main road, surrounded by rolling fields and woods. It was postcard picturesque and absolutely peaceful … even with the self-described “charming” neighbor, who seemed just a little too intrigued by the presence of six obviously gay guys splashing around in the inflatable pool next door. But she was nice all the same.

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“Aux urnes, citoyens!” • “To the ballot boxes, citizens!”

Today, like some kind of United Nations election observer (or a self-appointed election journalist for the online media), I witnessed my first foreign election in progress. April 22, 2012 : It’s the first round of the French presidential elections, and I tagged along as Michel went to his polling place and exercised his franchise. It was a proud moment for him and for me. It was even memorialized on Facebook. Here’s the picture …

“Michel Denis Pouradier … a voté.” • “Michel Denis Pouradier … has voted.” © 2012 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved

As an American — coming from a tradition that likes to view of itself as the father (even the guarantor) of democracy around the world — I found it very intriguing to watch the voting process here. As in America, the voting system differs from town to town, but here in La Courneuve, they still use paper ballots and ballot boxes (“urnes“). That struck me as both surprisingly outmoded and, somehow, so much more legitimate than pressing buttons on a touchscreen and watching your vote disappear into the ether. Watching Michel vote brought to mind images of elections in less developed countries that we Americans often see on our evening news, but also memories of my childhood, accompanying my parents to their polling place in rural South Carolina where, after having voted, they dropped their ballots in a little locked wooden box with a slot in the top. Nostalgia. Continue reading “Aux urnes, citoyens!” • “To the ballot boxes, citizens!”

Cold War on Line 7?

I live in La Courneuve, at one end of line 7 of the Paris Métro. I spend a lot of time riding on that line, looking at its long list of stations during my daily trips back and forth to Paris. Scanning that list recently, I noticed what seemed to be some strange homage to the Cold War: the end of World War II … the White House … and the Kremlin.

V-E Day in Paris, May 8, 1945

The official name of the La Courneuve station is La Courneuve—8 mai 1945. The date refers to V-E Day, or Victory in Europe Day: the end of the Second World War in Europe, when Germany’s act of military surrender was officially ratified in Berlin. While we don’t celebrate May 8 in the United States, it’s celebrated widely in Europe as a public holiday. Nothing really noteworthy in having a station named in honor of the end of the war, right? Towards the other end of line 7, however, two more stations drew my attention: Maison Blanche and Le Kremlin-Bicêtre. That got me thinking. “Maison Blanche” means “White House” and “Kremlin” … well, “Kremlin” means “Kremlin.” (I’ll admit, I had no idea what “Bicêtre” meant.) “How interesting!” I thought. At one end of line 7 we’ve got the end of World War II and at the other end, we’ve got the White House and the Kremlin! Hmm …

Continue reading Cold War on Line 7?

A Walk in the Woods

“The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.” — John Muir

Last week, I went with Michel, my mother-in-law, and my father-in-law for a walk in the woods—not in La Courneuve, certainly, and not even in the woods close to Paris (the Bois de Boulogne or the Bois de Vincennes), but in Picardy, about an hour to the north. There’s a trail in the Forest of Compiègne near the village of Saint-Jean-aux-Bois that we know and love. It leads you into a world that’s far away, one that’s quiet, peaceful, and full of simple wonders.

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Tonton Michael

Photo: “Buzz l’Éclair” © 2011 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved

This week, I’m in Doncourt-lès-Conflans, a village in the countryside of Lorraine, just west of Metz. Michel and I are babysitting our niece and nephew, Tiphaine and Romain. They’re the ones I referenced in this post about a child’s imagination … or was it about my rusty drawing skills? In any case, vacation is over for their parents, but school doesn’t start back for them until next week, so it’s Tonton Miko (that’s Michel) and Tonton Michael (that’s me) to the rescue!

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What do you mean, I can’t work for myself?

I’ve been spending my day working on my CV, trying to convert my “lawyer” CV into one that screams:


I spent almost 8 years of my life working as a lawyer for a big firm in Washington, DC. Many of my clients were big financial institutions from Wall Street and most of my work was for them. When I left that job back in 2009, I decided to pursue a different course, but I wasn’t quite sure which one to take. Continue reading What do you mean, I can’t work for myself?