Update from Paris: The Hammam of La Grande Mosquée

Photo by Linus Mimietz on Unsplash

My Finnish possible heritage compels me to investigate communal bathing whenever I find myself far afield: Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Hungary, Estonia, Finland, Sweden, Italy, the U.S. Now for France! A bit of extra time at the end of my recent Episcopal jaunt to Paris gave me a few ideas. I checked out various spas (from the Latin, Salus per aquam, made into a Roman acronym. Health through waters!), heard about the Nuxe and Caudalie spa centres (I adore both of these brands, so that was tempting), then my friend Flo said, you should go to the hammam of the Grande Mosquée! It’s in the Fifth Arrondisement, I’ve only ever been to the tea garden! My curiosity was immediately piqued. As soon as I confirmed late Friday night that the hammam was open for bathing Saturday at 10 am, I was resolved to go.

I was travelling light, just a backpack and a purse, and quickly found my way on the Métro to Austerlitz. In the backpack was a two-piece swimsuit I had tucked between my rolled summer dresses, hopeful I would find an opportunity, and here it was! People on the Métro who saw me smiling might have thought I had just received some other sort of Very Good News but I was just very much looking forward to an extremely local and specific spa experience.

Getting out of the Austerlitz construction zone was another matter entirely but after eavesdropping on the chatter of a quartet of French women, I followed them out and crossed the street to follow the length of the Jardin des Plantes. (I think it is really funny that French specifies, this is a garden of plants. What else would be in a garden? But perhaps this is a linguistic lacuna, such as when French says that something is a salade, which could mean a green thing is involved, or could mean some things are mixed together, such as jambon melon, or a salade de musau featuring a diced porcine snout with visible nostrils atop a bed of sad soggy lettuce. In any case, leagues from the salad bar popular in the North American imagination.) The Grande Mosquée is the biggest in Paris and lives up to its name. Its massive whitewashed stucco hulk, delicately laced with kelly green screens, towered over the street corner. The entry was discrete but I had done my research the night before and walked through the hidden door behind the café’s glass pastry case and stepped into a dimly lit interior courtyard.

The elegantly dressed madame at reception (hijab, perfect eyeliner) explained the options while I studied the menu. I agreed to a gommage (all-over body scrub), massage (argan oil!), and mint tea. But for an extra ten euros you can get the déjeuner! she urged me. Sold. I grabbed my claquettes (flip flops), was handed a towel, a scratchy mitt (very very scratchy – more on this), and a packet of special soap (more on this). I went back to the vestiaire to change.

The hammam is not for the faint of heart or nudophobes. Get ready to undress and scrub. The Maghreb-flavoured spa was all business. A woman in the shower explained the soap packet to me. I cut it open and applied the oily, olive-scented scrub soap all over my skin. DO NOT RINSE! she reminded me. AND PUT YOUR TOWEL BACK IN THE LOCKER! I followed her second piece of advice only to somehow set off an alarm as I pressed the wrong order on the key pad, but a cleaning lady had a bracelet to quiet the shrill warning and reset the code.

Relieved I wouldn’t be responsible for the evacuation of the hammam, I mazed my way through the thick air to the hottest, steamiest steam room for my prescribed twenty minutes. The marble floors of the spa were heated from below while the steam pushed out of marble vents in the wall. Hot condensation dripped from the ceiling. I repeatedly refilled my plastic bucket from the cold tap. The olive soap began to smell better and better in the warmth as it lathered up lightly. I could not stop sniffing my forearm. When I could stand it no more, I moved to the second room, which featured six bathing alcoves, also with heated marble floors, and their own private taps. Each sauna-sized alcove would have fit six to eight women, but I was by myself and took one. I tried out the scratchy kassa (glove) and was delighted to see its immediate exfoliating effect as rolls of grey skin began to slide off my skin. A raised marble dais in the center was inlaid with a marble cherubim or maybe a compass rose. The vaulted ceilings were lit by clerestory windows, further covered by latticed screens. The vibe was steamy, content, and private. I jingled all the plastic tags on my numerous rubber bracelets and thought, RIGHT. Let’s get this gommage going. I took my bucket and kassa and sat in the waiting area.

Three women who looked North African were scrubbing, each with a pink body laid out on a marble bed. Back, then front, then sit up for more scrubbing around the neck and shoulders. I was happy to see this level of grandma attention to skin and the care with which they treated each client. Much Parisian skin needed to be exfoliated that day, so I waited my turn. I was very familiar and in fact couvetous of the treatment to come, so patience was on my side. I have only managed to procure this type of scrub once in Hungary in 1995 at the Gellért, and once in Tacoma at a Korean spa where a tech in a sport bra and a girdle took my skin almost down to raw meat.

The grandmas motioned me in, and pointed to the shower. Once I was clean, my grandma took my gommage bracelet, laid me on the marble bed and went to work. She was all business, excellent and efficient. I felt the buildup from years of using lotion and sunscreen and suffering dry skin in winter all slough off and be rinsed away. Tout finis! she announced, and off I went into the next shower. By this time, feeling very relaxed, I kept my swim top in the plastic bucket, and headed back for some more steam, my service tokens clacking quietly.

The massage salon was situated on the upper floor, in a beautiful gallery of wooden trellises and bright paint. I was whisked into a room where once more a no-nonsense tech used approximately one litre of argan oil as she worked me over, front to back. The oil smelled like the garden of eden. Beaded curtains separating each treatment room rustled gently in the breeze as staff bustled by with clients. By the time she was done I felt like a roast ready to go into the oven, so I did exactly that. Down for more steam. My skin by now looked like a baby’s, oiled and washed and scrubbed and oiled. The steamiest steam room was really hot by now, so I crawled into the tiled cold tub and remained there like a fun-sized pink hippo. I honestly felt like I was visibly becoming thinner in the steam and from all the sweating. I wasn’t even hungry but knew that when I did locate my appetite, I would be ravenous (more on this). Ironically both times that I was in the cold tub it was full of the only loud women in the hammam: first Italians, then a group of Brazilians.

There is a lot to be said for the body positivity of an all-women bathhouse, and for the level of care and attention, and how much happier this makes a person feel to have a body, especially a person approaching the mid-century mark with years of post-partum and breastfeeding under the belt. It’s a level of calm that is difficult to approach in a bath or shower at home. The industrial steam helps. The communal setting of intention to relax is also strong. But relaxation is a commodity for sale. More than one of the staff seemed to be having a very stressful day. A cleaning lady leaned on a mop, hissing her grievances with the the first woman who had explained the soap packet to me, and the extremely capable grandma who had so efficiently scrubbed off all my dead skin was weeping in a corner talking to the beautiful receptionist, ils disent que les clientes …. I felt bad when I saw the grandma crying and wanted to tell her how perfect her treatment was for me, but I felt like the timing wasn’t ideal for such a move.

I successfully retrieved my towel from my locker without setting off any alarms and went to the main internal courtyard. Now I was down to my last bracelet: thé du menthe. The lovely receptionist poured me a glass of hot, very sweet, mint tea, and I found a quiet corner to relax in while my tea cooled.

Mint tea at the La Grande Mosquée. Photo (c) 2022 Monica Sharp

Usually in situations like this I like to have something to read, but I was in that spa for close to five hours and never felt like reading anything. I was just reading my own thoughts, doing what the protagonist does in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” where he mentally reviews various stories he never wrote – writing without writing, reading without reading. I wasn’t near death, but I was feeling very drowsy indeed by now, surrounded by low-volume French chatter. It was hard to know what time it was. No clock anywhere. I finally spotted one over the reception and began making my plan to ease into a less steamy, more dry, more robed world. I had a flight to Florence in the evening and would need to head to the airport by no later than four, and a Hammam Value Meal to put down before then. I made one more fast circuit, then got dressed and thanked the staff on my way out.

The quiet of the hammam was not matched in the restaurant. The place was bustling like I’ve never seen a Saturday lunch service bustle before. I realized that half of the guests were drinking the sweet mint tea and nibbling on small pastries. I, on the other hand, was now starving, and when the liveried waiter came I quickly made my selections, handing over my lunch ticket and looking forward to my halal kofta couscous. The people watching was superb, but I didn’t have to snoop on strangers for long because the waiter reappeared with my lunch: a platter of couscous, three huge flat meatballs, a tureen of stewed vegetables, a ramekin of chickpeas, and a ramekin of sultanas. The eyes at the table next to mine grew so big they almost popped out of their sockets.

But the waiter was not done. Oh no. Do you need the spicy sauce? the what? more? there’s more food? oh wait. Oh Yes I need all the spicy sauce! I smiled. He ginned broadly and reappeared with a third ramekin of red paste that would easily have powered a rocket ship. I dispatched my plates with gusto and reflected on the wisdom of this particular pre-departure lunch. The much younger dessert waiter came by and theatrically poured me some more mint tea (pictured above) and brought back a gargantuan platter of sweets from which I was permitted to select one. Just one?! I exclaimed. Oui madame, he nodded, patiently poised with silver tongs midair. I quizzed him on the contents of the mini burritos and baklava, and finally selected a hard, nutty pirouline dripping with honey. After I polished off the pirouline I silently conceded that one, in fact, had been enough. More than enough!

And so, five hours after my arrival, I was clean and feed, scrubbed and oiled, calm and ready for travel, my backpack carefully zipped, my phone in my left hand with the map active. I left through the same diminutive, single-person-sized entrance and started walking toward the Seine. I bought Eleanor two French berets on the way, just as I promised I would.

Thoughts on Roe

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

I was born in 1973, almost exactly nine months after the Roe v. Wade decision. My parents were young and married. I remember my childhood as a a comfortable, safe life, but wealthy by no real stretch. We went to public (American definition) schools, drove to all our vacations, which were almost always to visit family who lived elsewhere. One year when my dad received a holiday bonus at work we all took a trip to San Francisco for Christmas break (on a plane!) and it was such an unknown format to us that my brothers and I all stressed out and wanted to just hang in the musty hotel room.

I was born in 1973, almost exactly nine months after the Roe v. Wade decision. The schools I attended were safe, as were the neighborhoods I lived in, aside from the occasional creepy male neighbor whom we all knew by word of mouth to avoid. We played in the houses of friends and jumped on neighboring trampolines. There were no gun or talk of guns aside from Michigan hunting culture. I had a safe path to education and a university degree. I understand that much of this opportunity was down to privilege. My growing up experience in the U.S. would have been very different had I been a Black or brown child.

I was born in 1973, almost exactly nine months after the Roe v. Wade decision. In 1991, when I was seventeen, I left home for college, which offered a major party scene on at a state school. Fortunately that period in retrospect seems pretty status quo and didn’t last long. Both gender politics and structural racism were brutal realities in the south. The un-diversified state economy based on big energy and ignorant arrivistes was tough to stomach as I learned more, read more, and realized more. Ambition and escapism met and married in my soul and I got myself selected as the chair of the university Speakers Bureau, choosing speakers to come to campus and allocating budget funds when requested by registered student groups: Douglas Coupland, Ice-T, Gary Hart, Carl Bernstein, Sarah Weddington.

The Speakers Bureau sponsored Sarah Weddington, whom I did not know of before I met her (oh youth! oh the receding horizon of ignorance!). She argued and won Roe when she was 26 in front of the Supreme Court. She came for an on-campus talk and we took her out for dinner. She signed her book. I bought a copy and she signed that with an encouraging dedication. She met my mother, who came for the talk, and told her that she should be proud of her daughter. Sarah had a lot of Texas no-nonsense in her, like Molly Ivins or my friend Betty. People who’ve seen a rough side of life and come out on the other side knowing that people need help, not judgement. Sarah was great. I felt like I’d met a real-life role model, face to face.

I was born in 1973, almost exactly nine months after the Roe v. Wade decision. The U.S. was different then. I came into a safer culture that offered choice, and education, and maybe understood a little better that decks can be stacked against people in ways that we can’t understand, and that those people deserve mercy and support, not judgment. I am privileged that my life has been my experience. I also accept that other people may find themselves in circumstances I cannot even fathom and who deserve my support for them to get meaningful help – meaning the help they want and need, not the help that derives from an ignorant or misplaced sense of charity.

I was born in 1973, almost exactly nine months after the Roe v. Wade decision. When I was 34 I was married and decided to stop taking the pill. I had one early miscarriage. Then my appendix ruptured. Then, a few months after I returned to work from that medical crisis, I became pregnant again, but this time it was ectopic. My husband and I very much wanted a child. We did not want to have miscarriages or ectopic pregnancies, but we did. Well after six weeks, I went to the hospital on a Sunday in May, which happened to be Mother’s Day. We were married without children. The “personhood bill” was then being much discussed and debated in that silly state legislature. Technically I was still pregnant, but it was a big problem. Ectopic pregnancies are nothing to fool with. They can go sideways and fast. After much consultation with our Israeli doctor and my always-on-call Aunt Ginny, an obgyn who will always take a call anytime of day or night from a female relative, we decided to proactively terminate. It was trapped. It could not live, and if left to continue, it would probably kill me. We trudged back into the doctor’s office and told him I wanted the methotrexate shot. I cried when I got it and then I went home and cried for weeks. I was lucky. I lived in a place of privilege. I had good health care. I am here today to tell you this story.

Fortunately I wasn’t on any kind of looney-tune public prayer list and no one tried to talk to me about the precious life I was carrying in my Fallopian tube. But in the family planning aisle of the drugstore closest to our house, zealots frequently placed anti-abortion pamphlets next to the pregnancy tests. Whenever I saw them I removed them and threw them away in the trash outside the drugstore, furious.

We went on to have two healthy pregnancies in that state, both our children born in the same hospital where I’d had to end the ectopic pregnancy in May 2010. As a pregnant person and a parent to infants, I appreciate more then ever the unknown twists and turns that a pregnancy can take, and the toll it can take on the pregnant person. Obviously I think life is precious, but it’s not my place to insert my opinion into the medical decisions of any other person.

I’ve lived outside of the US for years now, and it is becoming a culture I struggle to recognize. It grieves me that people in power cannot imagine the shitty hands that so many people are dealt in life, nor can they summon the empathy to genuinely support unimaginable suffering. It is amazing to me that predominantly Catholic Latin American countries (Argentina, Mexico) are now expanding women’s rights as the U.S. recedes further into a dystopian plot that even ten years ago we did not think was a foregone conclusion. How did Latin American people do it? Mobilize, protest, get on TV, radio, every social media channel out there, and change the conversation. Don’t let the story they tell be the only story, because it’s not a true one. People in power are owning this debate and setting the terms, and the suffering that will result from their shortsighted ignorance is beyond imagination.

Paris My Way: Collected Observations

Photo by Thibault Penin on Unsplash

In a city as charming as Paris, things start looking familiar at every turn, which can quickly make geographic disorientation an occupational hazard. This is also the case with Ljubljana, but less so with Florence.

It is strange to feel more European than ever landing in Paris and hitting the ground running. I squint to remember the times when I felt like the cultural status quo to myself (nation Monica, population 1) and Europeans seemed different. After 7 of the last 11 years in Italy, nothing in Europe chafes; the pleasure remains in finding a parc de loisirs of cultural delights.

Got controlled (checked for valid ticket) in 2 of 4 Métro trips today. This has never happened before. Glad I hung onto my single paper ticket after validating it. On my way to dinner the turnstiles were broken and so I just walked in. Luckily this was not one of the two controlled trips. The Métro cops detained a mother and her son (approximately eight years old) who was raising holy hell in a crowded, low-ceilinged tunnel.

Cojean is better than Pret A Manger by miles. Plus those bamboo cutlery sets are fetching. I bought a second set for a euro today just because… isn’t it nice to have two sets of bamboo cutlery?

French coffee is still abysmal – what does the culture hold against a good robust roast?

Tartine for breakfast in the hotel was magnifique.

A treat to catch up with old friends and share news, along with general annoyances and a refusal to watch Emily in Paris beyond the first few minutes of Episode 1, Season 1. Screw that dumb series with its shoddy writing and shoddier clichés and Phil Collins’s slender pretty daughter.

Hobnobbing in the Marais with French people who have married into glamorous American semi royalty of the cinematic and rock n roll classes.

Shocked at the line out the door to browse Shakespeare&Co. French friend and I were all, quoi? is J.K. Rowling in there or something? “No,” a middle-aged blonde American woman told us; “they stamp the books with rubber stamps with the store name (I know that) and I am going to buy Leaves of Grass!” (barf) We left disgusted.

The Parisian grand-mère on Ile-St-Louis passing an accordionist on the bridge and mumbling loudly, fait chier! We were dying. Poor Parisians.

Taking the Métro out to the 14ème for a single dinner. The restaurant had a special Icelandic menu and the rest of the complexe was showing Icelandic art, film, and more. A hipster concert was happening. I nosed in to ask. They asked me if I was with the Icelandic Embassy. No, I said, I just ate dinner here, but can I see the concert? Non, c’est complet. All full, lady! I laughed and went on my way, my stomach full of beet kimchi and arctic char and various blossoms scattered over cod, and chocolate mousse and warm brandy. The garden was so lush and the people-watching so top I didn’t mind eating alone.

I’m three for three on fantastic dinners (Le Timbaud, La Mère Agitée [“un bistro non confirmiste”], and Fulgurances L’Entrepôt). And the Hotel Cosmos is a place I would come back to in a snap, quiet in the high floors of the 11ème.

I “borrowed” a book from the American cathedral that I pretended to read on all my Métro trips (Hitler and Churchill, 2003).

Some tourists from Oregon were yelling the news about today’s overturn of Roe v. Wade by our joke of a Supreme Court. More like Supreme Mullahs. This was in the courtyard of the Musée Picasso, which I realized while perusing its 5 floors of treasure is almost entirely based on Marie-Thérèse Walter and Jacqueline Roque because the loot was all donated by Maya Picasso to satisfy her inheritance tax in 1978. None of my favorite pieces; no Braques, no Brassai, no Gilet! No Françoise Gilot!? Dégage! But a beautiful space comunque. I reflected on the irony of being informed of the crumbling of women’s equal rights in America in a museum dedicated to a man who may represent more than anyone twentieth-century machismo and who certainly did the women in his life no favors. Oh well. I bought a linen pillow cover (image: painting of MTW and Maya) in the gift shop.

My trip home may be fraught due to three different strikes in cockpits (10% of Air France pilots) , airspace (southeast France air traffic control) and ground crew in Florence (11 am to 3 pm, they’ll be drinking extra espresso and checking their phones more than usual.)

Paris, je t’adore.

How It Went

Photo by Jade Seok on Unsplash

It all came on so fast. Who could have expected it? 

It’s nothing, you say, it’s probably fine. 

The small hot knot in the lower belly, the discomfort, the fever. The indignations of advancing years include a drying of the skin, a tightening of the joints, the slowing of digestion as your prana fades to a low ember.

It’s nothing, you say, it’s probably fine. With thin hands you roll the edges of the thermal blanket, over and over again. The nights are cold in that palazzo. At some point you become delirious and call for your nurse. She comes in and lays a cool hand on your neck. Her skin is not dry. Her joints are not tight.

You hear her belly growl low like a hungry hound, right by your ear.

You are hungry, you tell her. But your face will not form a reprimand.

La febbre, she whispers. I am calling the doctor. 

It’s nothing, you repeat, it’s probably fine. 

You miss your mother. She crossed years ago. You still talk to her in your dreams. You hope she sees you now.  You feel her presence.

The nurse calls emergency medical services. The personnel arrive quickly, clad in orange jumpsuits, wearing masks and goggles and blue gloves for protection. 

NPIs, you say softly. I don’t blame you. We all have to do what we can in these times.

You were always so practical.

The attendants carefully lift you and place you on a gurney. Strap you in for safety and wheel you through your apartment, the one you and Matteo bought decades ago. Past every room. The hot knot in your stomach throbs and you know this was the last time you’ll see these rooms. The library, full of books, a frescoed ceiling, a glass case of Greek and Roman artifacts you loved to hold and turn in your palms. The tiled courtyard with its wooden cabinets of onions and garlic and oranges, the galley kitchen and your espresso machine, the sugar in the crockery jar. 

Never pastry, always fruit, you remember your mother saying. Never eat pastry with your espresso. Always eat fruit and you’ll live to be a hundred. The dirty red tazza you love, Go Get ‘Em in sprawling gilt script across its smooth surface.

Go get ‘em, you smile to yourself. Oh the irony. This is it. Your knees, weak and cold. Your ankles turned out. The medical staff put another blanket on you for the four-block ride to the central hospital. 

Out the door and into the ambulance, the siren blaring. You know these people. They’ve been taking care of you for years. They know you by name. Tsking, their faces grave, they drive the bouncing ambulance over the flagstones to the admitting side of Santa Maria Novella. Urgenze. Molto urgente.

You slip in and out of reality. The hot knot now melting down. The parts of your body don’t seem to fit together anymore. Legs drift from hips, arms unhook from shoulders. Fingers and palms no longer flex. Your head seems to roll away from your neck. It was all very strange. So unexpected. Nothing had prepared you for this. An unattached hand continues to grasp the blanket like a memory. The hospital is loud. Your mouth is dry. Minutes stop meaning. No window, no day, no night. 

The roar of the next life shushes and foams over the weir. Just like the cascade at San Niccolò, at Santa Rosa, where the clean cold water sheets over the rocks and lands many lengths below in a pool of churning foam. You can hear it as you drift toward it. You don’t even try to stop or turn around. This is surrender. It’s not up to you anymore. You’re leaving this body and this world behind. 

The pain recedes when the body is shed. What lightness! No more concern about the composite parts that drifted away from each other, the errant arms and legs, the unhooked arms and head. The spiral of a hidden staircase. Welcoming visions everywhere. A fountain whispers, a turret smiles. A garden greets you with its hands. 

*Final sentences culled from ad copy found on Memo Perfumes, ever a source of inspiration.

American Grief Abroad: Stream of Conscience

Photo by Hoach Le Dinh on Unsplash

America has shown us once more that the culture does not value life.
This contradicts what certain factions claim about a woman’s right to choose: if and when to have a child.
This piece expresses perfectly how I perceive the passing flurry of interest and media debate post-Uvalde.

The arrow piercing his flesh, the man demands answers. What kind of arrow is it? Who shot the arrow? What kind of poison is it? What feathers are on the arrow, a peacock’s or a hawk’s?

Summer break is upon us. In the US, they are burying nineteen children who were murdered at school.

The US has no focus.
The US has a harmful focus.
The US always changes the debate.
The US misses the point every damn time. How is this possible?

The US starts wars abroad that mirror the wars at home. The US does not want to admit the wars at home. The US is having the war at home. There is a war at home. This is sobering.

An academic study has found that Americans care about a tragedy for exactly four days.
“We need to be moved by the pain of all of the suffering. But it is important that we are not paralyzed by it,” Ms. Han said. “It makes us value life because we understand life is very precious, life is very brief, it can be extinguished in a single instant.”

The American orgy of grief / false grief appears once more.
Show me one day of genuine grief that leads to a compassionate response.

Grief devolves into noise. There are no solutions. The problems persist. The violence escalates.

People busily debate pointless points while the culture sacrifices the weakest on the altar of the “values” of the strongest and wealthiest.

I listened to an Ezra Klein podcast about deaths of despair.
I felt definite despair after listening to the podcast.
The podcast made me see how Americans are blamed – and blame themselves personally – for completely normal and human responses to a very, very broken system.
The speaker, Patrick Deneen, did not even mention health care or mental health care vis-à-vis the opioid epidemic, the pandemic, the violence.
Do people suffer for fun? Should people just be stronger? Make greater effort. Make more difficult choices. Don’t be weak.

Do Americans dislike families? Every single aspect of American culture makes it so hard to survive as a family, a single person, or an old person. Any kind of person struggles to survive in America.
Do Americans divorce for fun because they’re lazy? There’s no public accounting or recognition of the sheer stress that American culture visits on families. Endless bills. Job insecurity. Debt owed. No time off. No sick leave. No childcare. Schools. Moving, moving, moving, for work.
I keep wanting to write and post about this and I am just feeling so scattered and stuck and angry. And tired.
I am ashamed of my country. The culture is what it is. It cannot change.

The political left offers no anchor in the mid-spectrum. They speak in terms that only a limited in-group understand or believe. The Old Guard are so very old. Who will come after them? We are adrift in a running sea.
Gravity pulls people toward Trump, the NRA, QAnon, Boebert, MTG. There has to be a reason. People believe this. There has to be a savior. People believe this. Here is the savior.

The collective psyche of the United States of Id cannot field reflection or calm response. No recollection of useful facts or history.
The center cannot hold. I do think it will politically fracture in our lifetimes. Lines will be drawn. New countries will emerge. Mark me.
I am a compassionate humanist.
I am so tired of the American anger and American blame game. I want to peer deeper, see more, understand. I want to help. How can I help the healing? Can I?

I don’t think I can. I used to think I would. I thought that I had to. That social justice was my vocation. It’s not, in the end. How can I sacrifice myself without sacrificing my family? I cannot. Hope despairs. My friends. I am so sorry.

I feel guilty for surviving it all, at all.