This is the year for "firsts." We've all been put in the position of doing things we never dreamed of doing for the first time, like confining ourselves to home for months on end, like wearing surgical masks in public places and like holding virtual meetings on an app called "Zoom" that we didn't know existed until Covid-19 became the center of our lives.
Our monthly coffee gathering, Après Midi, which we have held the second Tuesday of every month since 2003—of which I've only missed one due to illness in all these years—and which has been held in the same café all these years, too, was aborted when the café shut their doors. The speakers couldn't get to Paris, the participants couldn't or wouldn't leave their homes for fear of contracting the virus and it followed the "norm" for all public events...meaning not taking place at all.
Après Midi at Café de la Mairie
The first month after lockdown—April—we just cancelled it. In May we held our first Zoom gathering with author, Kathy Borrus, then again on Zoom with author, Talia Carner in June and author Ella Dyer in July. The café reopened in July, but because we normally don't hold a gathering in August, we set our sights on the first live Après Midi for September to be "back to normal"...whatever that meant.
Author, Cara Black, was scheduled to come to Paris, but that didn't happen, so we were faced with the dilemma of either changing speakers or combining the best of both worlds by holding it live and on Zoom at the same time. Cara, the good sport that she is, agreed to be up early morning in San Francisco to meet our 3 p.m. Paris launch time. We really weren't sure how this was going to work, but logistically we knew it could, with some planning.
Those who could and would attend live, did...about 15 people—some regulars, some newcomers. Mostly everyone wore masks while they weren't eating or drinking. The projector was set up to show the Zoom meeting on the wall, in the same spot where we normally project the speaker's presentation. We set up a mini Bluetooth speaker to project the sound. We had two computers controlling the meeting—mine projecting it on the wall and Patty Sadauskas' as a co-host letting in the participants and monitoring the recording.
Technically, it didn't go very smoothly, and we learned a lot from this first attempt at combining the live meeting with the Zoom. The speaker conflicted with the audio on the computer, sending wild reverberations whenever I wanted to add comments...so I couldn't make the usual jokes or ask questions like I might normally do. But, I think the solution to that is to wear a head set plugged into the computer instead, something we hadn't anticipated. And one of other mistakes we made was to record the scene more in "Gallery View" than "Speaker View." Live and learn! Next time will be more perfect...
In spite of the technical challenges, more than 100 people from around the world showed up on Zoom to hear Cara talk about her latest book, Three Hours in Paris. In case you haven't already been exposed to Cara and her 18 other books, she's a bestselling author of the Private Investigator Aimée Leduc series, which are all set in Paris, each in a different arrondissement. Only two are left unaddressed: the 15th and the 19th, but are in the works. This new book is a real shift from her usual.
Zoomers for Après Midi
Hearing all about her experience writing this novel, which took years and tons of research, was fascinating. She held us in the palm of her hand for almost all of the two hours as we listened intently and then questioned her. Cara is one of our favorite speakers. She makes you feel as if you've known her your whole life; is candid about her writing with no pretense and is intensely interesting as she tells stories about researching murder and in this case, World War II. She comes to speak about once a year, or with every new book, and always draws a big audience. Her books are a delight to read and this one is one of her best—a real page-turner with a fabulous new protagonist. She did not disappoint, even at such an early hour as she downed a strong cup of coffee, the sun coming up behind her out the window of her San Francisco home that we could see on Zoom.
Penelope Fletcher, proprietor of the Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore in Paris, brought Cara's books for us to purchase, with Cara promising to send book plates to all who did. For those of you who missed the event, but would like to watch it as it unfolded, you can visit vimeo.com/455874059/...and please don't be too critical for our first attempt at this!
Penelope Fletcher, proprietor of the Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore
P.S. Just a few words about the responses I received to Monday's Nouvellettre® titled "Vote. It's Your Right, Your Privilege and Your Obligation"...As is always the case, those who are politically on the right say the same things over and over again. Here are a few choice excerpts from our readers (with my comments):
"The Atlantic story is rubbish. You are no better than the 'lamestream' media peddling lies and deceits. Thus you truly are the 'Ugly American' in Paris. But since you are surrounded by Marxists it likely doesn't matter." (I must admit, this one gave me a good laugh. Do you think he knows what a Marxist is?)
"Do you vote in a state? I'm asking because you do not live in a state." (Guess what doll? You don't have to live in any state in the U.S. to vote as long as you are a citizen. You register based on the last address you had. And you submit a tax return to the U.S. the rest of your life, too.)
"And for the record, Donald’s Trump did NOT say those despicable things they’re NOW accusing him of...not ONE SINGLE source was verified." (What planet is she living on?)
"Although it’s your right to say what you like in your publication, I for one would appreciate it if you’d leave politics out of your wonderful newsletter." (Why, might I ask? Life in France as an American cannot ignore politics and that's what I write about...life in France as an American. So, "tant pis" [too bad] as they say in French.)
"These are signs of the End Times. We all need to turn to God. We will all stand in front of Him for judgement. Be ready to meet your Maker/Creator. The Rapture is coming." (From your lips to God's ears.)
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