Tag Archives: international

Romance in Paris: Why Do French Bookstores Continue to Thrive?

 

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An article in the New York Times called “The French Still Flock to Bookstores” explores why, at a time when independent bookstores struggle in other parts of the world, they still flourish in France.

Reading the article transported me to a café in Paris where, by the way, I have never been. I could hear accordion music playing softly in the background as I read. And the topic of the article, the French romance with books, fit the theme.

I can’t help but feel a certain nostalgia and romance for what appears to be a dying breed, the written word on the page. I’ll admit that I have succumbed to the lure of the e-book for its convenience, especially when travelling; the ability to carry an entire library, which is lighter than a magazine, certainly has its appeal, but there is nothing like a book.

Just the smell of books, be they in the library or in a used book store or even brand new – there is something both hopeful and weighty about that smell. What will this book tell me? Will I be transported to another land? Or learn something new about places I inhabit every day? Books provide us with a cheap form of escape from daily life.

This article is about a love affair with books, and really, where better to have a love affair than Paris?  But it also explains the practical reasons that bookstores still thrive in France.

The French government has taken a special interest in preserving bookstores, providing grants to bookstore owners and subsidies for shopkeepers.

Most importantly, perhaps, they passed a law to prohibit electronic books from being sold dramatically below the publisher’s list price. This has likely done more to prop up bookstores than anything.

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My heart and my mind appear to be at war on this particular subject. In my heart, I am delighted to read that there is at least one place in the world where I can still wander from bookstore to bookstore in search of hidden treasures and ideas yet to be shared. I would buy a ticket to Paris today to do just that.

On a pragmatic level, however, I understand that e-books help reduce the environmental impact of books, as long as people don’t constantly upgrade their e-readers and create more electronic waste. If someone can tell me that physical books are more green than e-books, I would gladly change my perspective on this.

One green alternative is the model described in the article where once a month, on weekends, in Rue de Martyrs south of Montmartre, people bring old books and are welcome to take away books for free as long as they do not sell them.

Baltimore has a thriving organization called The Book Thing that allows people to do this every weekend. It was in the basement of an old Baltimore row house, but outgrew that space and had to find a bigger location. Who knew Baltimore was so chic?!

What do you think? How do you feel about the French government’s active role in preserving bookstores? What do you see as the future of books? If you are considering writing a book, or already have, did you print hard copies or just an e-book? Do you think that old bookstores will survive, but that they will become like vintage record stores or do you think there will always be a market for books? What will this mean for libraries?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading.

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Filed under Books, Culture, Economy, Education, International, Poetry, Policy, Politcs, Role of Government, Technology, travel

What is Happening in Europe and Who is to Blame?

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I am no economist, but I have been doing my best to understand the economic problems currently plaguing Europe. Cocktail party conversations have been enlightening, but have only confused me more.

People have strong opinions on whether Greece or Germany is a bad actor and about whether either of these countries, or any other, will leave the euro zone.

In the past week, two articles on this topic have piqued my interest. The first was written by Thomas Friedman for the New York Times, entitled Two Worlds Cracking Up. This is an interesting examination of the economic crisis in Europe, contrasted with the spike in violence in the Middle East.

The second is an article by Paul Krugman, also for the New York Times, entitled Greece as Victim.

While there are many opinions about what has caused the current crisis in Europe, there seems to be general agreement that the euro zone’s lack of a strong, cohesive governance model has contributed to the problems.

The financial problems in the euro zone are a shame. The US economy is also in a state of chaos, and opinions differ on what caused our financial meltdown as well, but at least our entire governing model is not in jeopardy.

Most of us will recall the optimism which accompanied the announcements when the euro zone was established. The concept that the European region would be more powerful if countries gave up some of their sovereignty in order to band together, on its face, was strong.

But as in most things in life, the devil is in the details.

What do you think? What do you see as the future for the euro zone? Do you believe that the lack of a strong governance model contributed to the problems? Do you see a way to remedy this issue or do you think that countries are too unwilling to give up their sovereignty to make this work? Do you think that the euro zone has helped or hurt Europe in the long run? What about in the short run? If you live in Europe, how has the euro zone benefitted or harmed you personally?

Again I am no expert on this – just an interested observer. I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading.

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Filed under Culture, Economy, Income inequality, International, Politcs, Poverty, Relationships, Role of Government, Stereotypes, travel

Travel Theme: Secret Places

Copyright JC Politi Photography

This week, Where’s My Backpack’s Travel Challenge post includes an enchanting description of a secret place in Times Square in New York City, where, simply by standing in the right place on top of the subway grates, people are serenaded by a symphony of bells and tonal sounds, which drowns out the noise of the city and creates a “secret peaceful island in the middle of a sea of chaos.” Please go check out her story – I dare you not to want to visit this secret space in New York City!

Copyright JC Politi Photography

When I thought about this travel challenge, I was immediately transported to one of my favorite places on earth – Patagonia, Argentina. Hundreds of miles down a dirt road, on our way to Villa Pehuenia, exhausted after hours and hours of driving, we were awestruck when we came upon the magnificent area in these photos.

As I thought more about this challenge, a song that we used to sing in Girl Scout Camp kept coming into mind. I have not thought of this song in over 25 years, but I loved the song then, and it still resonates with me. In fact, I think the song is even more special now, as I understand the words better than when I was younger.

I know a place where no one ever goes
There’s peace and quiet, beauty and repose
It’s hidden in a valley beside a mountain stream
And lying there beside it
I find that I can dream
Only of things of beauty to the eyes;
Snow-capped mountains rising to the sky.
Now I know that God made this place for me
For me, God made this place for me.
One can imagine herself as in a dream
Climbing up a mountain or down a small ravine
The magic of the peace and quiet ever shall stay
To make this place a haven every day
Oh how I wish I never had to leave
All my life such Beauty to receive
Now I know that God had made this place for me,
Oh yes, for me.  

 

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Filed under Photos, Poetry, travel

The Price of Slowing Down: What Has Caused the Increased Interest in Buddhist Practices?

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An article, entitled “Buddhist’s Delight” is the number one most e-mailed article in the New York Times this morning. This is fascinating to me.

We live in a time where technological advancements have required us all to become multi-tasking masters, enslaved to the pings of smart phones and e-mail. But clearly, many people seek new ways to regain a simple focus on the here and now.

The irony, of course, is that the focus of Buddhist practice is meditation, whereby people sit in silence and attempt to empty their minds to listen to the voice within. There could be nothing less technological than this. And yet people are willing to pay hundreds, even thousands of dollars, to go on spiritual retreats to work on cultivating this silence and emptiness.

I, too, seek the peace that comes from meditation and yoga. I savor the moments at the end of a yoga class when we lay still and listen to our bodies and feel the softening of the mind. But soon after I return to my everyday life, this peace quickly dissipates.

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We live in a fast paced world where instant gratification has become the norm. Perhaps this is what causes many of us to seek a religious philosophy which encourages us to slow down.

Imagine a long distance relationship, where you run to the mailbox every day to see if there is word from your far-off lover? Or disconnecting from work every night and waiting until you get back to the office to see if there is anything pressing which needs attention? Really, would this be so bad?

What do you think? How do you explain the interest in Buddhist philosophies and practice? Do you think this is related to the hectic pace of everyday life? Do you practice meditation or yoga or otherwise find ways to try and remain aware and present? Have you found any strategies that help carry this peaceful state into your everyday life? Do you think that interest in these practices will grow or do you think that this is just a fad?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading!

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Filed under Culture, Health, International, Peace, Religion, Technology

Give Me A Break: Why Do the US Jobs Offer So Little Vacation Time?

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Last night on Real Time with Bill Maher, Maher’s final “new rule” was related to the fact that the vast majority of jobs in United States offer little to no vacation time, especially in comparison to the rest of the world.

To see the youtube clip, go to: Real Time With Bill Maher – New Rule June 15th

This really struck me in 1999, when I spent four weeks travelling in Guatemala. I thought I was fortunate to be able to build up enough comp time to take such a long vacation break, until I spoke with people from other countries who expressed their sympathy that my trip was so short. And most of my jobs since then have only had two weeks of vacation time.

It is hard for me to understand why the United States vacation system is so meager compared to the rest of the world. I can only assume that companies are trying to squeeze every ounce of productivity out of workers.

But I can’t help but wonder whether expectations that people will not take a vacation, or the fear that a person could lose his or her job simply because of using vacation days, actually leads to less productivity in the workplace – and to more sick days.

I believe that the low number of vacation days in the United States also likely contributes to rising health care costs and to increased obesity rates as we all sit on our rear ends for at least 40 hours every week, only to go home so exhausted, that all we can do is sit on our rear ends for a few more hours in front of the television. I can’t believe that this is actually good for any of us.

What do you think? If you are working now, or when you worked previously, how willing were you to use your vacation days? Did you feel pressured not to use your days? Why do you think the United States is so far behind the rest of the world on this issue? Do you think that this will change? What do think it is about the American culture that perpetuates this problem? If you are not from the United States, how many vacation days do people in your country start with when they start a job? And how many vacation days do you have? Do you use them?

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Filed under Career Planning, comedy, Culture, Fitness, Health, Income inequality, International, Politcs, Role of Government, social pressures, travel

Say it Ain’t So, Lance: For the Love of the Game

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I was sad to read an article in the Wall Street Journal about Lance Armstrong facing doping charges by the US Anti-Doping Agency. As a cyclist – heck, as an American – Lance has been held up as a role model for so many reasons, his cycling being just one.

I have no idea if Armstrong is guilty of the charges, but the allegations presented in this article are severe. I can’t help but wonder what has happened to sports?

When I was little I went to Orioles baseball games all the time with my family. I could tell you the position and team of almost any baseball player and had a huge number of baseball cards, which I was sure would finance my retirement.

Our family friends who were even more baseball-obsessed than we were ended up trading all of my valuable baseball cards for  cards of players on whom I had girlhood crushes, but I didn’t mind. (Now that I have hit 40, I have started to second guess that decision, but that is a subject for another post).

When we went to baseball games when I was younger, we would never see a score of 13-8; it just didn’t happen. Today, these scores are typical. I can’t help but think that easy access to performance enhancing drugs is a contributing factor.

It seems like weekly we hear about another athlete who is being charged with doping or who is found guilty of the charge. It is disappointing.

What do you think? Why is drug use so prevalent in sports today? If these drugs had been available in Babe Ruth or Joe DiMaggio’s time, do you think they would have used these drugs? What does this say to our kids, who look up to these athletes? What do you think could be done to curb the use of these drugs? Do you think that the penalties are harsh enough for drug use? And why do you think these charges are coming against Armstrong now, when the criminal investigation has recently ended?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading!

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Filed under Culture, Fitness, Health, International, social pressures, Sports

What Makes Amelia Earhart So Captivating?

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What is it about Amelia Earhart that continues to inspire and intrigue so many? There have been a number of articles lately in honor of the 75th anniversary of her disappearance and, personally, I can’t get enough.

For me, her disappearance is not what interests me, but rather her remarkable life. I am interested in learning more about women throughout history who have bucked societal trends and accomplished great things. Why do we not learn more about these inspiring women in school?

I had a teacher in high school who made a point of teaching us about women’s history. I believe that she faced some challenges from the school administration and from other teachers and students as a result of this emphasis, but I have always appreciated the fact that she was willing to face those challenges in order to ensure that we learned about both the great men, and the great women in history. To this day, I would credit this teacher with helping shape my sense of right and wrong and understanding of social justice.

But what is it about Amelia Earhart that makes her so universally admired? It probably helps that she was not a political figure and did not politicize her activities, despite the fact that her very life challenged conventional paradigms.

But I think there is also something about the fact that she appeared to be fearless and we worship such bravery in this country. Many can understand that Eleanor Rossevelt, who is one of my heroes, was also required to be fearless in her activities. But Amelia Earhart’s brand of fearlessness, being willing to risk her life to acomplish something that had not been done before, was something that eveyone, men and women, could relate to.

I am glad that Amelia Earhart is so celebrated and the more I read about her, the more fascinated I grow. And, I hope that more women heroes in our history are recognized for their bravery and sacrifice.

What do you think? Did you learn about women’s history in school? Why do you think this is the case? Why do you think Amelia Earhart is so celebrated? Who are some of your female heroes in history?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading!

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Filed under Culture, Politcs, social pressures, Stereotypes, travel, Women

As American as Baseball and Apple Pie: How Would You Describe the United States?

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The Atlantic posted a fun, thought provoking article this week which explores travel advice offered by guidebooks for foreign travelers visiting the United States.

As someone who loves travel, and who would never dream of going to a foreign country without reading at least one travel guide from cover to cover, I was intrigued to learn what cultural traditions and advice travelers receive when visiting the United States.

Some guidebooks warn travelers to be aware of people’s sensitivities around politics and about the historical oppression of people of color and same sex couples in the United States.

Most guidebooks emphasize the importance of punctuality, which is practically a religion in this country – a religion which I practice faithfully, I might add, illustrated by the fact that I must show up at least 15 minutes early for any appointment.

It is fun to read about your own culture from a different perspective. That is one of the things I love about travel – it can change the entire framework through which you see the world in an instant.

The article includes a delightful excerpt from Wikitravel with advice about etiquette when visiting a home for a meal:

When invited to a meal in a private home it is considered polite for a guest to ask if they can bring anything for the meal, such a dessert, a side dish, or for an outdoor barbecue, something useful like ice or plastic cups or plates. The host will usually refuse except among very close friends, but it is nonetheless considered good manners to bring along a small gift for the host. A bottle of wine, box of candies or fresh cut flowers are most common. Gifts of cash, prepared ready-to-serve foods, or very personal items (e.g. toiletries) are not appropriate.    

I had never really thought much about this tradition – it is just what we naturally do!

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Guidebooks also describe how much people from the United States love our personal space. I recall the first time a person came and sat at our table on our honeymoon in Europe – I am not sure the person even asked to join us – we loved it, but that never happens in the United States!

I was struck by the portion of the article where the author highlights issues of safety in inner cities. I have no doubt that this is important information to share with visitors and obviously every person has to use common sense when travelling, but reading about our street crime made me wonder about safety warnings in guide books that I have read for other countries. Perhaps the warnings in all guidebooks are a little over-exaggerated to ensure that people pay them heed.

What do you think? Isn’t this part of the fun of travel – to help you think about doing things in a completely different way? What travel advice would you want to give foreign travelers to your country to avoid committing a cultural faux pas? If you are from the United States, how does this list of cautions and cultural traditions fit for you? What would you add to the list? Do you use guidebooks when you travel? Which ones are your favorites? Have you made any cultural faux pas that you would care to share? Have you learned any ways to avoid these mistakes? What are your favorite cultural traditions and customs to explore when you travel?

I hope you will share your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading.     

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Filed under Books, Culture, International, travel

Learning to Kill: President Obama’s Evolution in the War on Terror

There is a fascinating and disturbing article in Newsweek entitled, “Drones: How Obama Learned to Kill”. The article is long, but worth reading when you have a moment. It is excerpted from a new book, Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency, written by Daniel Klaidman.

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The book explores how President Obama’s thinking on anti-terrorism activities has evolved since he took office. Specifically, the book describes the decision-making process that the President and his top advisors go through before deciding to kill a terrorist target.

I have to admit that even writing these words makes me uncomfortable. I am a pacifist at heart and feel a strong urge to ignore the realities of what happens outside of our bordersin the name of keeping us safe.

I can only imagine the heavy burden placed on a President and his top military officials when forced to make a decision like this. Some striking excerpts from the book that help me better understand the complexities of what these officials deal with:

The president is not a robotic killing machine. The choices he faces are brutally difficult, and he has struggled with them—sometimes turning them over in his mind again and again. The people around him have also battled and disagreed. They’ve invoked the safety of America on the one hand and the righteousness of what America stands for on the other.

If there is a person in the camp who is a clear threat to the United States we should go after him. But carpet bombing a country is a really bad precedent.

…both men were grappling with the same reality: their advice could ensure death for strangers who lived thousands of miles away—or spare them.

I really struggle with this. I realize that there are people whose sole aim in life is to harm the United States for a wide variety of reasons. From the comfort of my home I cannot fully condemn the activities of leaders who have willingly taken on the responsibility and are doing their best to grapple with the difficult choices to keep us safe.

I also know that when George W. Bush was President, I was probably much less willing to explore this issue and more willing to cast stones.

But I have to wonder if there is a better way to keep us safe. Of course, I believe that promoting economic and democratic stability around the globe is one of the best ways to lessen vicious animosity towards the United States. But I also wonder if there aren’t more opportunities to use the legal system to bring people to justice.

I understand that this is extremely complex and that a protracted court case could actually exacerbate the risk.

I clearly don’t have the answers to this complex problem and I realize that I probably come from an idealistically naive perspective. Of course, I never do have the answers in this blog, which is why I always ask…

What do you think? How do you feel about the recent killings inflicted by the United States on terrorist suspects? Do you think there is a better way to keep us safe? What does that better way look like? Do you think that President Obama is going to suffer any legal consequences for his actions? Should he? Do you feel conflicted about this issue like I do?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading.

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Filed under International, Peace, Policy, Politcs, Role of Government, Terrorism, War

Is There Room at the Inn? The Eternal Quest for the Perfect Getaway

It’s Memorial Day weekend, which for many people signals the beginning of the Summer. And for many people, summer is all about vacations.

With that in mind, I thought I would highlight a useful story in this week’s New York Times that offers ideas for how to find unique lodging both inside and outside the United States.

Sites listed in the article include:

Boutique Homes.com

Design Hotels.com

Design Tripper.com

Mr. and Mrs. Smith.com

Unique Home Stays.com

Welcome Beyond.com

The article explains that these sites, with lodging options ranging from eclectic to luxurious, help eliminate the need to navigate the frequently overwhelming list of properties offered on sites like VRBO.

I have not used any of these websites yet, but welcome the idea of a more targeted list of properties. I am especially interested in the international options, as I suffer from an extreme form of wanderlust.

What do you think? Have you used any of these websites to book travel? Which sites work best for you? Are there any that are not on this list that should be added? And what resources do you use to find hidden gems when you travel?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading!  

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Filed under International, travel