Years ago I spent a week in Paris visiting two friends. I traipsed around Montmartre and beyond, taking in the people, the handsome buildings, and the creative drive of the city. Instinctively I understood why American musicians and writers flocked to Paris in the early 20th century. New York City, my former home, has a creative pulse also. But where the heart of New York borders on tachycardia, the heartbeat in Paris is slower and more sensual, with an infusion of healthy love hormones, strengthened with good food and red wine.

I browsed in the Shakespeare and Company Bookstore. At Notre Dame, I set foot on the stone floor where Joan of Arc might have stood. In her alcove I donated a few Francs for a candle, lit it, and communed with Saint Joan. It was one of the few deeply spiritual experiences in my life within a Christian church. With enough French to get around politely, I ordered food in cafes, and bought round trip Metro tickets. At one point I emerged from the Metro in an unfamiliar neighborhood, trying to figure out which way was north. An older woman came to my aid, asking me, “Quelle langue?” –What language? I smiled. She had not pegged me as American. I wandered along the Seine. Ate ice cream. Sat next to fountains on city park benches. I smiled fondly at gargoyles. I wondered what the story was behind a statue of a man holding his own severed head. From hidden doorways to inviting balconies, narrow medieval streets to the Champs-Elysees –I could not get enough. The French people were warm and funny, and appreciated my attempt at their beautiful language. They had an innate sense of style –even those without a lot of money cuffed their jeans just so, with an attractive pair of shoes and socks that matched. I wore pretty flowing dresses and comfortable flats and walked everywhere, soaking up the visceral engagement of all the senses that is Paris. The city captured my heart.

Just before going back to my friends’ house in the afternoon, my job was to pick up bread and pastries at the bakery. What I brought home with me from Paris, what changed my life, was what we experienced at their home every evening. At about 8:00 we sat down at the dinner table. Wine flowed. We passed the cheese tray, then had a soup, and another entree. Their commitment to sharing food and meaningful discussion for an hour every night impressed me. A more well-rounded approach to life includes a healthy relationship to food –shared with friends and family.

I bring Paris home every Thanksgiving. Mind you, I cook fresh food all year long. But on Thanksgiving I lay out a vegetarian feast in my best china, light candles, and create the combination of conversation and delicious food I found compelling in France. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday –a harvest celebration of old. A time to give thanks for blessings.

This year I’m most grateful for the outcome of the US elections. Just like France, a creeping right wing authoritarian movement is gaining traction. And, like the French, we beat them back. Decisively. Generation Z and younger women come out in huge numbers, motivated by the overturning of the right to an abortion. The potential loss of other privacy rights appeared inevitable. Young people were not having it. In swing states, people voted for Democrats (the only pro democracy party at the moment) for Secretary of State and Governor positions. That’s important, because those officials oversee elections. We need non-partisan public servants in those roles, not election deniers and extremists. Five states put reproductive freedom on the ballot. Even in Kentucky and Montana, people stood up for bodily autonomy. The senate will remain in Democratic hands. Biden will be able to appoint federal judges.

Alas, we are not out of the woods. Millions of Americans voted for Trumpists. The House of Representatives will be run by MAGA nut jobs –by a razor slim majority. It’s a shame that older people –still bamboozled by the lies of Fox –believe MAGA Republicans are the best choice. But because of the pro democracy wins across the country generally, the House will just look like a clown car ride. They want to waste our time and money. Last I heard, Marjorie Taylor Greene intends to impeach Joe Biden and other members of his cabinet, summon Dr. Fauci to congressional hearings, and try for a national abortion ban. The House will disband the January 6 committee, and turn on its members. All theater.

What’s genuinely frightening are the draconian abortion laws in red states. MAGA law makers promise they will get more cruel. Florida went MAGA, due to redistricting, and the Governor’s Anti-Woke law and Don’t Say Gay bill should scare every American. Here in Arkansas, a school board near Little Rock wants to outlaw words like Equity, phrases like White Privilege, and books about slavery or LGBTQ sexuality. History books in Texas are under revision. The other day Trump had lunch with a Christian Nationalist named Nick Fuentes. Fuentes believes in a fascist take-over of the US. Trump, a serial liar and criminal facing state and federal charges, wants to be elected president again in 2024. Quelle Horreur –what horror.

In spite of the upcoming MAGA side show in the House, and red states descending into Christian Nationalist dystopia, the red wave did not break as predicted. And for that we can celebrate whole-heartedly. As the Grand Old Party implodes, we now have no functioning conservative party in the US. May they be reborn –sane.

But we must continue to hope, organize locally, and vote. I have begun with a t-shirt and bumpersticker. In states where abortion is illegal, “We Are Jane” translates as “I’m a safe space for pregnant people and I will offer you information about reproductive health care.” In some states those conversations are illegal. Too bad.

I’m grateful to you, my readers. I’m grateful for pro democracy voters, and for women who will not be silenced or intimidated. I’m especially grateful for the chance to take a breath, relax for a minute, to not be so afraid. I planned to put on a brave face if the country went sideways. My husband and I discussed moving to a blue state –or even another country. But no. Democracy won a big battle.

Finally, I’m grateful for a holiday devoted to good food, and sharing, where I can bring Paris home. That city still inspires my heart.

Laurel Owen

November, 2022

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