This is why I choose to add a French Flag Filter to my Profile Picture on Facebook


In the aftermath of Paris attacks of November 13, 2015, Facebook quickly offered the ability to add a filter covering your profile photo in a layer of the colors of the French Republic flag.

After thinking through, this is why I chose to do it:
there is a time of shock after events that you feel are touching you directly in who you are. After a death comes grief, but it comes with several stages, that need to be passed through before you can transform them into something constructive. I decided that until I had passed those stages, I would signal my state of grief by filtering my face behind a veil that represents a part of who I am, and that will signal myself as a mourner, or a person in mourning for those particular events. I will remove the veil when I feel ready to go back to the world… this is called bereavement, and nothing else.

Now, if it presents a vision of the world to anyone who would tell me it is limiting to a shocking reality excluding other valuable causes, I would reply that the world wide web is very vast, vaster than the sea of filtered faces you can see in Facebook’s timeline. If you see only filtered profiles, it may mean that your choice of friends is not diverse enough, that is all. This goes both ways.


I had also had to explain something that seemed obvious, but is always necessary to restate clearly:

Since we are all guilty of doing it, and I will always include myself in these faulty behaviors or speeches, I want to say that immediately after hearing of a terrible news, other than pronouncing conventional sentences, we may want to jump to very insensitive comments, that are spoken from a place of raw emotion.

I will not comment on top of these comments that social media have facilitated now. I will put myself in the place where I am: in shock and disbelief, in sadness and profound distress.

I know that whatever I will say or think is painted with where I come from and what my own experiences are. We are all part of what is going on and in need of trying to make sense in order to be able to move from the place of raw emotion that is too painful to bear otherwise.

My plea to everyone is to do what you feel comfortable the most with, whether it takes root in your belief system or political views, but also bear in mind that the noise we make has an impact, the words we say have an impact, the images we share have an impact. Let us all think before we react. Let us pause the time we are sure what we can do is going to be useful to someone else as well as to oneself.

And if too much thinking and pausing is making us look dumb or bizarrely shy or uninteresting, let us be thankful for being a worker of peace, a keeper of time.

Thank you for all your messages of love. Paris is where I was born and where I lived all my life until I moved permanently to the States at 40 years old, too old to become anything else than a foreigner in a foreign country, an adopter of a new land. The motherland remains strong. I do not want to hear any disparaging comment about the politics of the French. They are my countrymen and my allegiance will always be to the world of strong values that made me who I am. Paris will always be my hometown where every nook and stone I have walked and had adventures that those who are currently walking may feel and love or fear.

Let us be kind to each other and let us try to be patient when Time has been suddenly put in a motion that is scary.

The Time of Cherries – Le Temps des Cerises

When tragedy strikes, what can I do that can be helpful?


Le Temps des cerises is a song written in France in 1866, with words by Jean-Baptiste Clément and music by Antoine Renard, extremely famous in French-speaking countries. The song was later strongly associated with the Paris Commune, during which verses were added to the song, thus becoming a revolutionary song. The “Time of Cherries” is a metaphor regarding what life will be like when a revolution will have changed social and economic conditions. It is believed to be dedicated by the writer to a nurse who was killed in the Semaine Sanglante (“Bloody Week”) when French government troops overthrew the commune. (©Wikipedia)

Quand nous chanterons le temps des cerises
Et gai rossignol et merle moqueur
Seront tous en fête
Les belles auront la folie en tête
Et les amoureux du soleil au cœur
Quand nous chanterons le temps des cerises
Sifflera bien mieux le merle moqueur

Mais il est bien court le temps des cerises
Où l´on s´en va deux cueillir en rêvant
Des pendants d´oreilles
Cerises d´amour aux robes pareilles
Tombant sous la feuille en gouttes de sang
Mais il est bien court le temps des cerises
Pendants de corail qu´on cueille en rêvant

Quand vous en serez au temps des cerises
Si vous avez peur des chagrins d´amour
Evitez les belles
Moi qui ne crains pas les peines cruelles
Je ne vivrai pas sans souffrir un jour
Quand vous en serez au temps des cerises
Vous aurez aussi des peines d´amour

J´aimerai toujours le temps des cerises
C´est de ce temps-là que je garde au cœur
Une plaie ouverte
Et Dame Fortune, en m´étant offerte
Ne saura jamais calmer ma douleur
J´aimerai toujours le temps des cerises
Et le souvenir que je garde au cœur

The Birthday Cake

Making of the birthday cake from Otir on Vimeo.

Today was my son’s 14th birthday. Yesterday we prepared the traditional chocolate cake with his brother; we had a lot of fun of course, but not as much as today’s while eating the cake.

During the making of the cake, I mention a pinch of sugar in the whites, when I meant a pinch of salt of course. While the cake was baking, we enjoyed the last episode of season 5 of the West Wing, had you guessed it?

Traditions are sacred. Six years ago, I already documented the making of the famous homemade chocolate cake, that I learned to bake when I was a child, and that my four-year-old made with his grandmother in 2001 back in Paris. I am not sure I have any digital photo from back then, but the delicious pictures of the toddler in the kitchen mixing the batter are everywhere in my mind.

I have this fantasy that I have time to spare building a whole interesting book of memories on a unique theme, as discreet as the making of the chocolate cake. Each year, I think about it and pass on the action because pictures are either scattered or suddenly I realize how futile the endeavor would seem to anyone but me.

And then another year goes by and I really regret I did not do it, as it would be such a wonderful way to show something to the world, something that is so difficult to explain with words when you are living it day by day, one day at a time, and have done so now for decades in the plural form: the tiny changes that you cannot see, cannot feel, cannot experience, because one year after the other, all is so exactly the same and at the same time absolutely not any more.

Yes, the seasons come back, and with their name and their flow, what is expected at that time, happens. But, you have grown, and aged, and lost so much that remembering would allow to measure how much you actually have won, what you gained in wisdom and in patience, in understanding and in marveling.

This year was no different: I wanted it to be memorable and at the same time it felt such a repetition of the previous years heartaches that I nearly was discouraged before even starting. There is such an intense hope that things have changed for the better and the utter inability to feel that it happened. But only static memories can prove the feeling wrong and show that things change, not maybe what we wanted to change, but something is happening. Growth is happening.

The cake remains the same and the pleasure to eat it is a continuous renewal of memories to cherish.



Joseph 20th Birthday

Click on the picture to go browse the full album of pictures – starts with a short recap of past birthdays 

My Mother

The text below was shared during shivah with the visitors who came to comfort me.

My Mother

She was born May 9, 1927 in Algiers
She died in the morning of August 27 in her bed in Paris.
In between those two dates, she had run the course of a luminous life. On that last morning, she woke up, said she did not want to take her breakfast nor her medication and simply wanted to go back to sleep. Then the heart that had beaten with passion and love for all those years simply stopped.

Colette was the type of sunshine that warms you all the time. She was constantly active and had only started slowing down and losing some of her enthusiasm for life after her beloved husband died April 8, 2014. They had been married for sixty years and my father Francis was her only love. While he was still alive, he was the one keeping her on her toes intellectually. Otherwise nothing could stop her in her busy tracks, always bustling with errands, planning of all sorts, redesigning, shlepping furniture in between rooms or between her houses – the country cottage and the Parisian apartment – or constantly relandscaping  her garden. Her joy in life was to feed everyone and she would cater the most refined and original tables with a taste for always new recipes. She would jump at any opportunity to throw a festive meal and she would even invent some bizarre celebrations just to have a chance to set a full table of guests to rejoice.

Besides her amazing table, she will be remembered for her gardens. Hers were set in the country of Monet, the impressionist painter, and could definitely sustain the comparison with the best of his paintings. She was constantly perfecting it. Hands in the soil, or hands in the dough, my mother was always busy, and you could find her either in the kitchen, or in the garden, day and… night. She was happy to infuse plants and flowers with her enthusiasm. If they happened to suffer from the inclement weather and die, it was a pure catastrophe, and she would display genuine and utter sorrow over their demise for days.

Colette could not understand evil. There was nothing mean that she not see the good in. She adored people, her family, of course, her brothers, her friends, her cousins, her nieces and nephew, and each and every child born to all of them. She knew each and every birth date – and we are talking of a time when there was no facebook to remind you of sending a happy birthday greeting (and she would never approach anything technological anyways).

She loved making lists, wrote hand written letters that looked like heavily edited first drafts and would never clean them up because of her enthusiasm that would not allow her to stop long enough or regret anything that she had written. She always wanted to proceed with the next thing to be done, not delve on mistakes or shortcomings.

My mom adored that she be loved and everyone always got charmed by her, and rightfully would start loving her. She never wanted to bother anyone. She was a free spirit. She loved literature, had an absolute passion for the English language – which goes back to another long story that I will tell bli neder another time.

She loved making presents and would always give more than what you actually needed. She would send me care packages as if I was living in a war zone, and sometimes those packages were pretty explosive themselves. When I would scold her for overdoing it, she would cry and make me feel awful and guilty. Then it would inevitably end up in hysterical laughters from both of us, and the mishaps would become part of our family lore for ever.

Colette was who everyone dreamt of having for a mom and she actually would allow all who wanted to, to adopt her as such.

She thus became the mother of many, so many that I can’t count. She also became the grandmother of even more, including the children of my brother’s wife who came to France when they were 9 and 11 from Brazil. Family myths have it that she taught them how to speak French in less than three weeks.

To end this for tonight I would like to tell of the very special bond she had with Joseph. I believe the bond is made of their shared traits: their unadultered passion and enthusiasm without any filter, their total inability to think evil, their complete independence, their preference for doing things on their own and their utmost desire to then have the others partake in their joy and marvel at the results of what they do all day long.

Neither of them liked cuddling very much, but they were always ready to cuddle each other. When I told Joseph that his Grannie had died, he looked up and said: “sad“…

Grannie and Joseph cuddling

Sad Update

Colette Horvilleur née Ziza – May 9, 1927 – August 21, 2015

It is with a heavy heart that I am writing this update that my mother died this morning in Paris at home.

She will be remembered by all who have known her as a bubbly, always happy, easy going, caring and extremely busy person. She took joy in everything she was doing: cooking, catering to others, feeding everyone in the family, experimenting with recipes, tending to her garden, moving trees and plants to make them happier, reading, writing and teaching.

She had the most loving personality and was faithful to the love of her life, whose death marked the beginning of a struggle with loneliness and search for a purpose in her daily activities. She kept her wonderful sense of humor until the end and never wanted to bother anybody.

She will be sorely missed by all generations.

The funeral will be on Wednesday, August 26, 2015 at 11:00 am Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris.

ברוך דין האמת

#BlogElul – Day 4 – Understand

Those days, when all of a sudden, things that used to work don’t. It is annoying. It can trigger a crisis when you have a child with autism. You just can’t get to the core of it. You have to go with the flow. Accept that you don’t understand. That it is useless to feel afraid, or frustrated, or scared, or angry. It just does not work. There is not much to understand. It goes back to accepting again. Accepting that understanding is not in reach for the moment. It is difficult but necessary.

Living within the realm of autism is living within the realm of very little to understand. I can see it in the questions that I always get around my son. People wonder how we communicate. They ask me to translate what he is saying. I don’t know how to answer to those questions. I communicate through channels that are different, that’s all.

We all like to understand. It lifts so much anxiety. It gives power. A sense of control. But understanding can be an illusion. We understand what we already know. What we have learned or studied. Understanding comes with practice and patience.lamp