Lafayette (et Charlie, et Ahmed) nous voici!


Nous sommes Charlie, nous sommes Ahmed. Nous sommes juifs, nous sommes musulmanes, nous sommes chrétiens, nous sommes tristes. Et détérminés de faire de demain un jour mieux qu’aujourd’hui…

Last Sunday, several thousand of us who probably would have rather been in Paris, but were instead in or near Washington D.C. accepted the French Ambassador’s invitation to join him and other dignitaries in a silent march to honor the victims of the massacre in Paris last week.

It was also, of course, an opportunity to show our solidarity with and love of the French people–all of them, from the irreverent (and brilliant, and brave) journalists at Charlie Hebdo to the Muslim policeman who was brutally murdered while defending them, to the (also Muslim) “hero of Vincennes” whose courage and quick thinking  saved the lives of customers in the kosher grocery store that was attacked on Friday. And to show our support for the millions of Frenchmen and women in grief and shock over the violent and brutal attack on their beautiful république, and the values they hold most dear.

So we did. We gathered at the Newseum (a museum of journalism) and walked half a mile or so to–quite appropriately–the National Memorial to Law Enforcement Officers.

Many of the people were French. Many were Francophiles. Some were just people–young, old, and many in-between–who were appalled at the attack on humanity in general, and who wanted to take part somehow in the healing.

Of the many creative ways people found to express their grief, their convictions, their love, I think I liked the ones about drawing the most. One little girl being carried on a parent’s shoulders held up a sign that said, “J’ai le droit de dessiner” (“I have the right to draw”).

Then there was this one, reminding us of just how far back our debt to the the French people goes:



Some artists, characteristically, used no words at all to express themselves. This is the sculptural tribute a friend mounted outside his home in Silver Spring.



And then there was this. Probably a good note to end this post on.


“There are some new ones over there, who would like some paper and pencils…”


Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor and teacher of writing and literature based in Silver Spring, Maryland. She writes about France for Bonjour Paris, France Revisited, and on this blog (you’ll find more posts on Paris here). This spring she will be teaching “A Literary Journey into the Heart of France” and “Parlez-Vous Anglais? Survival French and French Travel Tips” at Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington D.C. 


January 14, 2015 at 4:27 am 2 comments

Today, just three words…


Thanks to Gary Lee Kraut at France Revisited. (


January 8, 2015 at 5:50 pm Leave a comment

On the Normalization of U.S.-Cuban Relations

Janet Hulstrand:

Update on Cuba: A Pre-Christmas Gift for Two Nations?

I have always had a bit of trouble reconciling the hopeful phrase “peace on earth” with everyday news from around the world. But this year, amidst abundant distressing and worrisome news there was one bit of long-awaited good news to brighten the season. Today I am pleased to reblog this post from an American student who shares his thoughts about the implications of this news. Full disclosure: the author is my son, who has spent a significant amount of time over the past three years learning about, thinking about, and spending time in Cuba. Thanks, Phineas!

Originally posted on Havana Special Period:

I woke up to an unexpected text message from a friend last Wednesday morning. She wrote: OH MY GOD, CUBA FREED ALAN GROSS. Or something like that.

I knew right away that this piece of news would turn into an avalanche. And a look at the New York Times corroborated my premonition. In a breaking news story it outlined, along with the freeing of Gross from a Cuban prison, the impending release of three Cuban spies/heroes (depending upon whom you ask) from their detention in Miami and the promise of normalized bilateral relations between the U.S and Cuba.

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December 28, 2014 at 4:59 pm Leave a comment

The Great March for #ClimateAction: From LA to DC



Back in March, in Los Angeles, a group of idealistic, realistic, determined, devoted, concerned citizens who wanted to DO SOMETHING about climate change set out on a 3,000 mile journey–by foot–with the goal of raising awareness about climate change, and inspiring climate action.

Today they arrived in Washington DC.

These marchers–who range in age from 18 (or younger?) to 80-something–are nothing short of inspiring.  A handful of the marchers, including a 71-year-old woman, walked every step of the way. Others dropped in, dropped out, dropped in again as their schedules or their health allowed, did as much as they could. Most of the way there were 25-50 marchers, walking step by step across this nation, talking to people along the way, listening to their stories, hearing their concerns about our earth and what is happening to it.

I joined them this morning for the last leg of their journey–from Bethesda, Maryland to Lafayette Park, across from the White House.

Please meet just a few of the marchers on the Great March for Climate Action.


This is Liz Lafferty. Back in February she heard about the Climate March from some friends and agreed to learn more “out of courtesy.” When she saw a little girl holding a sign that said “What are you going to tell your grandchildren you did about climate change?” she says, “I didn’t like the answer.” That was the moment she decided to walk away from her typical southern California lifestyle and do something about it.

Meet Kelsey Juliana, a vibrant bundle of positive energy, and a wonderfully articulate spokesman for the cause. (You can see her appearance on Bill Moyers earlier this year here).


I don’t know this boy’s name, but he and his Mom kindly let me take his picture as we were marching along.



After the marchers reached their destination, Lafayette Park, across from the White House, Ed Fallon, the man responsible for this inspired action, along with other of the marchers, addressed the crowd. “There is a force developing and an energy building,” he said. “But time is NOT on our side. We need climate action now!”


Then the marchers took turns reading some of the messages they had gathered from Americans young and old along the way, that they had promised to deliver to Washington. Some were addressed directly to the President (or to Michelle Obama). Some to the Congress. Some were polite, some were pleading, some were blunt and to the point. Here are just a few:

Jobs don’t matter if there is no clean air and no clean water.” 

“I’m tired of having our planet treated like a trash can. Can you please do something about it?”

“I have an 11-year-old son. Please take action, for his sake and for his peers.”

“Please please please stop the destruction of Mother Earth.” 

“We need to get away from fossil fuels. Hopefully you will do this so we don’t lose our planet.”

Miriam Kashia, at 71 the oldest marcher to have walked every step of the way, held up an eagle feather she was given by the Zuni pueblo, and a special stone from the Navajos. “They asked me to bring these to Washington, and ‘Tell them to protect our sacred land,'” she said.

These generous individuals have given up months of their lives to draw attention to climate change and call for climate action. They deserve our gratitude, and they need our help–all of us!

One of the chants shouted on their march today was “The people are rising: No more compromising!”

So what about it, people? Are you ready to do something too?

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor and teacher of literature and writing. She is also a human being, a citizen, and a mother who is deeply concerned about the fate of our earth. You can find out more about the Great March for Climate Action, and about how you can help here

November 1, 2014 at 8:39 pm Leave a comment

What Should I Do When I’m in Paris? (An Anti-Tourist Guide)

Sandwich Jambon, Vin Ordinaire

Be sure to take the time to indulge in a favorite Parisian pastime–just doing “nothing” for a while…

Because I am lucky enough to spend a month in Paris every year, people often ask me what they should be sure to see or do while they are there.

Of course the answer to this question depends a lot on who you are, what interests you, and how long you will be there.

But there are a few things I tend to recommend to most people who ask.

1) If you only have a short time in Paris, consider going to the Musée Rodin instead of the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay. Why? Because the Musée Rodin, despite being one of the most wonderful and most famous museums in the world (it is hands-down my favorite) offers what many of the world’s great art museums do not: pleasant, relaxed surroundings and uncrowded conditions in which it is easy to actually do what you are (at least theoretically) there for: to enjoy the artwork.

In addition to the pleasure of strolling through the very rooms where Rodin and a stellar list of other turn-of-the-twentieth-century artists lived and worked–Isadora Duncan, Rilke, Matisse, Cocteau among them–the beautiful grounds offer the chance to study Rodin’s sculptures from multiple distances and perspectives. Inside, don’t forget to notice, in addition to the sculptures, beautiful drawings and paintings by Rodin, and the friends and fellow artists he admired–Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, Edvard Munch, to name a few. And be sure to spend some time looking at the magnificent work of Rodin’s student, lover, and sometimes protégée, Camille Claudel.

If you are determined to go to the Louvre no matter what, be ready for the crowds. And consider looking at the Mona Lisa from a distance, instead of up close with a bunch of other tourists toward whom you may find yourself having irrationally murderous thoughts. And take the opportunity to view some of the literally thousands of other beautiful artworks there, the ones that are not drawing crowds.

2) Consider skipping the ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower. This experience is expensive, time-consuming, and very crowded, and the view from up there is in my opinion not that exciting for anyone who has ever been in an airplane. Instead, consider walking up to the first level. (You still have to buy a ticket, but it costs less, and the line for walking up is usually quite short.) Or just sit on the Champ de Mars and enjoy the view of the tower and the relaxed yet lively scene around you. There are other, less crowded places you can get panoramic views of Paris if that is important to you, for example from the top of Sacré Coeur, the Arc de Triomphe, or the Tour Montparnasse. There’s some good advice about a few alternative spots for viewing Paris here.

3) Read David Downie’s wonderful collection of essays, “Paris, Paris: A Journey Into the City of Light” before going. You may well develop some ideas for things you’d like to see and do while you’re there by reading this book. You will also learn fascinating things about the history of Paris, its architecture, and many interesting, “off-the-beaten-track” spots and idiosyncratic subjects, with Downie, your travel companion, offering his own unique, witty, intelligent slant on things. (If you like this book as much as I do, you’ll probably want to also bring it with you to Paris.)

4) Have a wonderful French meal somewhere. For reasons ranging from a limited budget to a lack of sufficient interest in cuisine, I am not the person to try to advise you on where to eat. My usual recommendation is Le Train Bleu, which offers, in addition to very good food, visual opulence and historical interest. However, there are many people who can do so, including my friend Gary Lee Kraut–journalist, editor and publisher of France Revisited, professional tour guide, and a gourmand who has spent many years learning about, and writing about, French cuisine. His “list beyond the list” of restaurants in Paris is a good place to start.

5) Whatever else you do, make sure to leave some time to do nothing but stroll, and spend some unhurried time in a Parisian café, and/or in the beautiful parks and gardens of Paris, watching the world go by. The French even have a word for spending time this way: flâner, which is translated in various ways. But it means, mainly, to enjoy relaxing: an activity that has a much more positive connotation in France than in Anglo-Saxon countries and cultures. So, ditch that  mentality that has you furiously checking off sights on your list and fretting about how much you are “accomplishing.” Kick back and relax. (Go ahead–you can do it! And to experience life this way, even for a short time, can be transformative.)

Finally, in order to make your time in Paris as pleasant and as safe as possible, two more bits of advice: hang onto your bag, especially when you’re in crowded, touristy areas (and on the Metro). While Paris is generally speaking at least as safe as most American cities, pickpockets do work the crowds, and apparently one of the latest things is plucking cellphones off of café tables. So, be aware!

And take a look at this post, which will give you some very important, very basic advice about how to get off on the right foot with the natives. :-)

Alors, bon voyage, et bon séjour en France!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor and teacher of writing and literature based in Silver Spring, Maryland. She writes about France for Bonjour Paris, France Revisited, and on this blog (you’ll find more posts on Paris here). This fall she is teaching “Parlez-Vous Anglais? Survival French and French Travel Tips” at Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C. 



August 19, 2014 at 1:20 pm Leave a comment

One American Veteran’s Memory of the Battle of the Bulge

Uncle Lewey, Back from the War

Uncle Lewey (center) with his brothers Jim (left) and Dave (right) c. 1945

“One thing I noticed, that the Argonne Forest, so many bullets had gone through there that the trees were mostly stumps. Very few branches on the trees there…”

The Battle of the Bulge was the largest and bloodiest battle fought by the U.S. in World War II. At the age of 20, my Uncle Lewey left his home on the family farm in Wisconsin and, along with hundreds of thousands of others, played his role in that battle. 

Seven years ago my son Phineas interviewed him, as part of a school project he was doing on World War II.  Here are some excerpts from that interview…

PR: Before you left, what was the Depression like, back at home?

LP: Oh, way back in the 30s?

PR: Oh. No, I mean, just before you were about to leave for the war, what was it like in America?

LP: Well, it was about the same as usual. Farmers were farming, and people were working, it wasn’t that bad. I wouldn’t have had to have gone, but I just thought maybe I should.

PR: When and where did you arrive in France?

LP: When did I arrive in France? Well, let’s see. I went in in 44 and I had my basic training, and I went to France in 45. 1945. Then from France we went to Germany. We went over on a boat, it was the Mariana. It was an English luxury liner. There were, I think 5,000 guys on that thing, and they each had hammocks to sleep in, and there was six of ‘em in a row, one on top of the other. And the one on the top one, he had the advantage because the ones below, there, it wasn’t so good. One time I was going through the chow line, and I got my food and the guy ahead of me ate his, and he came to the barrel where they throw the scraps and got to the barrel, and he threw up right there. Y’see, bein’ on a boat can make some people seasick. And it was a big one, but…it was kind of interesting. And then another thing that happened is, on the way over there, they realized there were some submarines around there. But they threw bombs over  the side at the submarines…The submarines didn’t get us. I don’t know if we got the submarines or not…but they didn’t get us. Cuz we didn’t have any other ships around us to protect us. So that was how they did it…

PR: So, what was your job in the Battle of the Bulge?

LP: I was a radio repairman. And do you know how we checked the radios?

PR: No, how?

LP: Well, that was when they had tubes, y’know? And I would feel them to see if it was warm. And if it was warm it was working, and if it was cold it wasn’t working, and I’d replace it. That’s all I had to do. So, I really didn’t fix any. But there was other things going on…

PR: Did the American soldiers, did their impression of the Nazis before the war influence their fighting during the war? Do you think their impression of the Nazis and their being all, like, scary and everything, did that make their fighting better or worse? Or do you think it didn’t matter…

LP: I don’t think it mattered very much. It just depended on the situation at hand.

PR: Did you ever have any encounters with the Nazi Army yourself?

LP: Well, in a way. I was walkin’ through the woods one day to get back to camp, and a sniper shot at me. I didn’t see him. But the bullet went about two feet from me. So I walked a little faster and hoped I was going in the right direction, and he didn’t get another shot at me. So I was pretty happy about that.

PR: Oh. Whoa. (pause) What was the most difficult part of being there, in the Battle of the Bulge?

LP: Well, one of the most difficult parts was, one of the guys I took Basic with, didn’t come back. And another interesting thing that happened was, one of the guys I took my Basic training with, he was in a Recon company and I was in Headquarters company. And they were going between two big hills, and there was a camouflaged machine-gun nest that shot out the front vehicle and the back vehicle. And then they were gonna get the rest of ‘em. But my friend, he had a jeep with a 50-caliber machine gun on it, and he backed off the road, and he kept them pinned down until everybody got out. He saved that whole recon company. I thought he did pretty good…

PR: Yeah…

LP: He got the Bronze Star for doin’ that…(laughs)…One of the interesting things was when we went, they called us reinforcements. And the reason we went there is because quite a few of them had been killed. And instead of calling them “replacements,” they called them “reinforcements.” (laughs) Yeah, see it was a tank destroyer battalion that I was in. They had tank destroyers that were a lot like a tank. But they didn’t have much armor on them. And…I didn’t drive any of the tanks, I didn’t feel bad about that….they were big creatures!

Then one of the interesting things that happened when we were over there, we even got a vacation. We got to go to Switzerland, and there it was amazing. They had hills of alfalfa that were at 45 degrees. And the women would cut the hay, with a scythe, and rake it up, and put it in stacks, and it was sure different than it is here.

PR: At the time of the war, how did you feel about America’s situation? Were you confident, or worried, or what?

LP: Well, see, Hitler, he was gettin’ his way with things and y’know, it only takes 10 men out of a hundred, to control the other 90. And if they get control, there isn’t a very easy way to stop ‘em. And I thought it was time I should help in getting rid of ‘em. And I did.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor and teacher of literature and writing. This post is one in a series of her personal tributes to those who contributed to regaining Europe’s freedom in World War II.

August 9, 2014 at 2:22 am Leave a comment

Keeping Immigration in Perspective

Mexican-American children scrambling for treats at a "tres años" celebration. Wisconsin, 2014

Mexican-American children scrambling for treats at a “tres años” celebration. Wisconsin, 2014


A few weeks ago I was in my local post office, waiting in line. A bit ahead of me in the line there was a man speaking some not-very-good Spanish to the man behind him who, apparently, spoke even-less-good English. They were having a friendly conversation, and I was pleased to see someone reaching out to the Spanish-speaking man in this way.

As the line inched forward, the Spanish-speaking man was called to the counter. His apparent mission (it soon became clear to everyone in the post office) was to renew the lease on his post office box, which he thought was due for payment. The postal clerk tried to explain to him that he didn’t have to pay anything until October, it was all paid up already. But he didn’t understand her.

This is where things began to fall apart. The postal clerk, with understandable frustration, began to speak louder. (A natural, but entirely ineffective, response to someone who is having difficulty understanding a foreign language.) Less understandably, she began to also speak to our immigrant (let’s call him that) in a very condescending tone. “You need to listen to me…” she said more than once, in much the way a strict kindergarten teacher would speak to an out-of-line five-year-old. Then she repeated what she had already said, in exactly the same words, at the same pace, and in the same tone (which he hadn’t understood the first time, so…)

The man who had befriended our immigrant while waiting in line tried to assist, but as he attempted to find out from our immigrant (in Spanish) what the problem was, he began to be addressed in the same condescending tone by the postal clerk. “You need to listen to me” she said in that same condescending tone (at least twice), this time to the would-be translator.

Behind me in the line, someone grumbled, “And some of ‘em vote!”

“Whether they’re legal or not,” another disdainful voice added.

It was at this point that I thought of my Swedish grandparents. I wish I had thought clearly enough at the moment to say, aloud, to the detractors behind me, that it was at moments like these that I do think of them, and maybe to add that I wondered how many people standing in the line did not have grandparents, or great-grandparents who had come to this country from far away, and gone through the same sort of frustrating humiliation before they learned to speak English.

My Swedish-speaking grandparents, c. 1917

My Swedish-speaking grandparents, c. 1917

I could also have asked the disdainful people if they had ever tried to speak a foreign language themselves, and if so, why they could not be a bit more understanding about what our immigrant (for he is “ours”) was going through. And that if they had not,  had suggested to them that they really had no idea how difficult it could be.

The linguistic frustration that immigrants experience as they adjust to life in a new land is inevitable, but the humiliation is not.

My Swedish great-grandparents came to this country, like so many before and after them, out of desperation. I am sure they had many frustrating moments, and I imagine that they encountered both kind and understanding people and critical, unkind people as they made their lives in a new land.

As a matter of fact, so difficult was the adjustment that they, like many others who settled in Minnesota, basically re-created little Swedens (or Norways, or Finlands) on the prairie–speaking Swedish in the home, at church, and among their neighbors. They pretty much stuck to themselves for a couple of generations and concentrated on the hard work of carving out a new life.  Consequently, though he was of the second generation born in this country, my father’s first language was Swedish, and it was not until he started school that he began to learn English. I suppose people criticized them for that too.

Immigration is not a new story in this country. Almost all of our families came from somewhere else (and the land we have taken over was not exactly ours to begin with, but that’s another story). My Swedish forbears, like so many American immigrants before and after them, came here to build a better life for themselves. My extended family now includes more recent immigrants from Greece, Mexico and China. Each of them has a different story, but all of them have made this nation of ours a better, richer place, adding their talents and skills, their cultural traditions and their languages to the mix.

One of the greatest strengths of this nation is that we have created a place where people can come bearing their hopes and dreams, and if they are willing to work hard, they have chance to actually achieve them. Generations of immigrants have come from all over the world and have created this wonderful nation of ours. When we see the newest immigrants among us struggling to understand, attempting to pay their dues (or their post-office box fees), I would hope that most of us will do what the kind gentleman in the line did, and reach out a helping hand.

All we have to do is realize that a few generations ago, that struggling new American was a member of our own family.

The American family.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature based in Silver Spring, Maryland.  Each summer she teaches “Paris: A Literary Adventure” for Queens College, CUNY, and she also teaches classes at Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C. 




August 8, 2014 at 8:47 pm Leave a comment

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