31 August, 2011

Breakfast in Paris: Tomorrow is now Yesterday

Breakfast in Paris: Tomorrow is now Yesterday: I have just left my first home in Paris for the last time. With Monsieur Goutagny on the practically mandatory Parisian August holiday he ...

Tomorrow is now Yesterday

I have just left my first home in Paris for the last time.  With Monsieur Goutagny on the practically mandatory Parisian August holiday he had a friend come by to check me out of the flat.  Of course being it was already halfway through August she, too, would be leaving for her trip after our meeting.

I spent the last two days packing up 6 months of memories.  I recall the first time I entered that apartment alone, falling exhausted and lonely on the couch.  This time it was going through to the other side of the doors that proved difficult.  The place “belongs” to me and I to it.  Am I the only one that gets this possessive about a residence?  I hope I am not because it is a wonderful feeling to feel connected to the home you go to every night.  Where you learn, you change, you grow, you…LIVE! 

Lauren, the agent, shut “my” door for me the last time I walked out.  The door of the perfect little studio I so love closed with the loud click I have become accustomed to, signifying that one part of my European life has come to a close. She helped me, holding my fan and my computer and a little bag of memories that I had plugged up on the wallboard during my stay.  We walked the twelve feet across the hall to the place where I would be staying for a few days.  Elvira, my always gracious neighbor, had offered to allow me to stay at hers whilst I await my holiday to Spain. I unlocked the hard wooden door that resembles my own, or the one that was mine rather.  There I turned and Lauren saw what I had feared she would: huge tears falling silently, involuntarily from my eyes.  
I shut the door behind Laura, a kind woman, I thought, even though she was the grim reaper of my apartment.  I sat in the silent wide-open rooms of the flat.  Much, much larger than mine and empty since Elvira is on her vacation.  Empty except, of course, for the little (albeit growing) chat that I love.  She comes running down the long hard wood corridor along with the sunlight that bounces off of it making it look like gold.  She circles my legs and purrs.  Chat is happy I am here and slowly the tears start to subside.
I walk around looking at the walls that aren't mine, realize I need a tissue. As I go to grab a paper towel I get the instinctual feeling when your legs take you were you need to go without asking you.  Mine took me towards the front door to my old place.  Then I realized, no, no I don't live there anymore.  It hurt, that gut hurt where you cave in for just a second with the realization that the past is now, in fact, the past.

Luckily the view from Elvira's, is soothing.  With one quick turn of the head I gasp as the Sacre Coeur comes into view, up on the hill looking majestic with its white marble dome.  It is overwhelming.  On “my” side of the building (as you know) I had looked down onto my half naked neighbor or schizophrenic, bad guitar playing teenager.  Quite the change.
I take a deep breath gazing out at the view.  Wiping the final tear from my eyes it occurs to me.  I have never lived anywhere I didn’t shed a tear upon leaving.  This fact tells me that I am doing something right.  The fact is I am sensitive and I feel EVERYTHING –heaven help me. 
As I pack up and leave a part of my life behind, if there are no tears, what does that mean?  Was I not truly fulfilled there?  Should I not only be excited for the next horizon but spend a brief moment mourning the loss of another successful adventure?  So it is with tears, at the end of an old beginning, that I left my Café de la Lune to create another series of beautiful memories in my life!
Espana here I come!  Or like my landlord said when he called today, “Vive l’espagne”.
Mais j’aime Paris tout mon vie!

17 August, 2011

Six Moins...

Paris from Montmarte

Just over 6 months ago, I followed a slightly frail looking gray haired French man through a thick wooden door and into the slightly pungent air of the apartment I would be calling home.  6 months that feels like both a decade and a week.  Today I sit here and look around: my clothes all carrying that musty smell I had once thought of as unpleasant.  They occupy the drawers of the black and brown dresser where my old school TV sits.  My airline ticket stub and a “Welcome to your new home” card from my parents, which were hung on the closet partition, are now covered with 6 months of Parisians memories.  The kitchen holds a few less glasses I may or may not have broken and the terrace blooms green sprouts that I had planted.  Then in my closet, in the very back sits my suitcases, which today I pull out with a heavy heart.  
You see my contract for my apartment expires on Monday signaling the beginning of the end of my time here.  I won’t be heading back to the states right away.  Instead I am becoming a nomad once again heading off for a couple of weeks in Spain before returning to my Paris where I will stay with friends. 
Le Louvre from the sky

I try to push back the images of taking the flight back to the states.  I try to avoid thinking about rejoining my life there.  But the thing is nothing will ever be the same again anyhow.  My life there, nor anywhere, will ever be the same because I am not the same.  I have chased a dream but lived a reality.  The experiences I have had and continue to have will forever be emblazoned on my heart. 

 I love it here, you may have guessed.  I love way the French are so open to life and laughter.  I love the flowers in the window boxes and the random parks that seem to call to you to take a load off.  I love the fast pace of the streets, the slow pace of the market, and the way the city has no problem closing down for a month so everyone can vacation.  I love that there are 2 months out of the year everything is on sale.  I love that the city doesn’t really wake up until 11 and if you are out before that it is like having it all to yourself.  I love that I can go and see a movie in an outdoor park and enjoy a bottle of wine with my friends.  I love that they ship in sand to make a beach along the Seine every summer.  I love that a proper meal takes three hours and that the service staff are rarely in a big rush.  I love the way the French language sounds when coming from little kids.  I love that you can be in the country in 30 minutes for a calm day outside the city.  
Paris Plage
I love that clothes don’t have to match to be fashionable and that you can get a 5euro dress at a farmers market that is good quality.  I love the open-air markets that are sprinkled over the city every Sunday offering varieties of fish and ample selections of cheese.  I love seeing people walking down the street carrying a baguette in long white bags.  I love that pique-niques are common and that there are lines of bicycles for rent across the city where you can pick up and drop them off.  I love that it is hard to find an open grocer on Sunday’s. 

I could care on and on.  But I will leave you with this simple sentence. 
Mon coeur est si vivant!  

26 July, 2011

Breakfast in Paris: In my Element!

Breakfast in Paris: In my Element!: "Recently my wonderful Aunt suggested I not make any big decisions while I am out of my element. I could not agree with her more. However I..."

In my Element!

Recently my wonderful Aunt suggested I not make any big decisions while I am out of my element.  I could not agree with her more.  However I have the feeling that we have different ideas about where my element is.  
Right now, this very minute, I am sitting on my terrace – the sound of local kids running on the streets, a dog barking in the distance just past the overwhelming sound of urgent cars.  An emergency vehicle goes by as usual and it sounds like maybe the dog barks at its bumper.  I hear the air being let out of the tires of a bus stopping to pick up commuters.  The sky is overcast, as it has been the last 3 weeks and the air a perfect combination of warm and cold as if there may not be any air at all.  Only a hint of a breeze comes my way. 
I am in my element, right here, right now. 

I have just returned from St. Germain en Laye, a suburban town about 45 minutes outside of the city.  My best friend here in Paris, Alison, has the pleasure of being employed here in France which means that she and every other employed Parisian will be taking the month of August off.  No, you did not read wrong - this is the absolute, beautiful, truth.  The end of the French year is July.  Most folks don’t even make it through July to be honest.  But by late July every family has found their au pair for the following year (of course that means Septembre through Mai), their children have finished up their brief summer activities, bags have been packed, white window shutters securely latched up tight or (more than likely) flats rented out.  

The abundance of available apartments in Paris during July and August is immense.  While the intelligent Parisians leave the city behind they rent out their flats to the unassuming tourists who will come to the city and find that is has closed down for the month.  No matter to the landlord, they have their overpriced rent in pocket and have taken it with them, along with their family, to a beach in the south of France or to Spain or Greece.  Anywhere that is not here. 
So here I am in my Paris element, honestly, so at peace with this life I have built for myself that I can neither laugh nor cry.  Just sit back, smile and soak in how very much at home I am here. 
Another friend recently said something to me that I will now set straight.  She said, “ah, but you are on vacation.”  I was completely taken aback without letting on.  I don’t feel as if I am on vacation.  I live here.  Going to the country for the weekend, that is my vacation.  Heading off to Spain for a couple of weeks, that is my vacation.  Here I have a home, rent, bills, friends, eek- even responsibilities.  Of course if the definition of vacation is living somewhere you love with all of you heart, searching endlessly for jobs, tutoring when I get lucky to find the jobs, doing computer work for a translation company and of course writing a novel…then yes, I am certainly on vacation.  But I instead find that is not the case, as I have mentioned.  I live here in Paris.  This is my home right now.  I commiserate with my other ex-pat friends on finding work and learning how to live off of very little (did you know that a baguette can last you nearly 4 days before going off?)  I involuntarily learned how to shrug and wave my arms annoyed like any good Parisian when a lackadaisical tourist stops in my way. 
I am at home.
The beauty of the lifestyle in Paris is that there is never a shortage of things to do.  The French know how to live life and not let life live them.  Work is something to be done in order to pay for life. 
Workweeks are 35 hours long and holidays seems to come about quicker than you can say “merde”.  The children may be the luckiest of us all as they only attend school Lundi, Mardi, Juedi, Vendredi (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday).  Wednesdays are a day off which is a delight to the nannies for it helps the salary out a bit with the extra hours.  Then every 8 weeks there is a 2 week holiday scheduled that the parents also seem to get the time off for.  
I wonder what we are doing wrong in America?  We may be a “free” country but the grand majority of American’s are under a dictatorship – forced under a regime that dictates mealtimes, bathroom breaks, telephone calls, even doctors appointments – the workplace.  I can’t help but think we have it all wrong in the US.  Where is the “life” in our lives?
Upon my return to the states, assuming I remain there for an extended period of time, I am beginning a group that will bring a little bit of Paris to whatever town I live in.  It won’t change the social agenda or the desperation of the workweek but perhaps, just perhaps, it will help others learn to enjoy the little, magnificent, nuances in life that make it worth living.  Not every day has to be the same as the last.
Until that inevitable day when I move from my ex-pat life to a life back in the states I will keep living here in my element every minute of every day.  I will soak it all up for those that aren’t able to run, bike, fly, or even crawl towards their dream.
Still, no matter circumstances or experience I will say what my Dad always told me, “Plan it and the money will follow,” and the ever appreciated “where there is a will there is a way”.

13 July, 2011

All in a days Walk

Summer weather in Paris is finicky.  The day may start out with sunshine, turn to gray, rain, and then shine again.  It can be hot and humid and then chilly and windy.  She changes her mind and I am alright with that.
Regardless of what Mother Nature had in store for us Parisians today I set out to enjoy my city. 
Je marche…
Sundays are a public holiday here in Paris.  To celebrate nearly everything is closed, even certain roads under “Paris Respire”.  There is a road along the Seine, usually bustling with frenzied Parisian drivers, that I have always wanted to walk on.  Today I do.  In the absence of cars the black tar substitutes as an adult playground.  Right along the waters edge and under the many ponts there are runners, rollerbladers, skateboarders, bikers, and the occasional meanderer – like me today.  Those exercising around me speed by as I walk without purpose looking down into the muddied waters and up at the underbelly of the bridge, a site that usually only cars are privy to.  I feel a sense of camaraderie with everyone around me; we are all taking in the Sunday free of concern from what the rest of the week may throw at us. 
Je marche…
I walk up the ramp to reach the next Pont to cross over to Ile St. Louis.  It is cloudy out at this point: grey yet humid.  I circle around the narrow streets of the island listening to the voices of the tourists, mostly Anglophones but some Chinese too.  Ile St. Louis is the location of the famous Berthillon Sorbet et Glace.  On this small island there are at least 5 different stands where you can get a cone or cup of this Paris delight.  Rain or shine there is always a line at every one.  Along the rue I watch a row of tourists on vilib’s (the rental bicycles that you can pick up/drop off all over the city).  They are on their bikes each with one leg on the curb to hold themselves up.  They are eating Berthillon. 
Je marche…
I cross Pont St. Louis, the only bridge that connects the two islands, and stop to enjoy.  Today the Pont is busier than usual.  On one end a young violinist plays Mozart.  The clown is here too.  He is a bald man who always has a tiny red hat taped atop his shiny head while doing silly tricks with his bicycle and a roll of masking tape.  He is missing his usual audience today with so much competition.    
A bit further down the bridge is the man who makes bubbles using two sticks and a piece of string which he dips into his little red bucket then pulls out to form huge colorful bubbles that look like oil on water.  That one is usually my favorite; I could watch him for ages. 
But today there is a new act.  He is a hat-wearing pianist, his shaggy white hair shoots out from under his cap and to me he looks like a sea faring captain who has lost his boat.  His tunes are quick and jovial as he pounds away on the wooden box on wheels that make up his piano.  His admirers grow quickly as do the silver and gold coins in the bag on the back of his instrument.
Behind me a new performer begins to compete.  His skinny, almost frightening wooden puppets dance around on the end of his strings to the sound of the harmonica he plays. 
A bird swoops down and flutters his wings in my hair.  I scream a little flailing my arms like a crazy person.  These French birds are fearless (this is not the first time this has happened to me).
Je marche…
I walk past the back of Notre Dame to the left bank.  Walking with no destination is the only way to truly let Paris show herself to you.  It is following my own advice that I ended up at the bottom of Rue Valette, one of the streets that heads to the top of the hill where le Pantheon resides. I looked up and saw the majestic, domed building looking down at me.  I had never seen le Pantheon except from afar; it can be seen from most places in Paris from where it sits atop a large hill.  The structure was built to house the “mortal remains of great men” and today is the final resting place for Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Voltaire…   The grand structure resembles the US Capital Building, I observe from outside its black gates.  The view from the top of the dome must be extravagant.
Je marche…
I descend the hill on the opposite one that I had hiked up and I see a familiar wrought iron gate with golden spires:  the Jardin des Tuileries.  But I am not on the right bank, it can’t be.  Naturally I investigate.
I enter into the massive park and immediately know I have finally found Jardin de Luxembourg.  My first few steps into the garden I am overwhelmed with the countless shades of green on the trees lining the walk.  Before I even make it to the reds, yellows, magentas, and oranges of the rest of the park I am intrigued by hundreds of people surrounding the gardens gazebo.  The people keep coming carrying chairs from other parts of the park to rest for what I assume would be a concert.  I was right.
I stumbled upon a piano concert.  Not wanting to be in the center of the crowd I have chosen to sit, white pants and all, in the dirt up against a tree underneath the canopy of leaves.  The pianist begins - le jardin becomes his concert hall.  The sounds of Chopin seemingly dance in the air around the fortunate audience, I among them. 
Regardless of the concert le jardin remains lively.  To my left the outdoor restaurant continues to serve cold salads and hot coffee, children run through the dirt leaving clouds of dust in their wake.  Further into the garden teams play tennis and families relax in the grass.  I zig-zag through the old men who play chess on the “chess board” tables that always make me think of Harvard Square in Boston.   Runners zoom past me and I slow my pace to take in a pond with a statue of an angel overlooking it.  I am breath taken.
Je marche…
Exiting the garden there is a calm about me that I didn’t possess when I entered.  I don’t know exactly where in the city I am but I can always find my way.  I know which way leads towards home which is the direction I have decided to head.
I turn another corner to see a large courtyard with a massive, ornate water fountain in front of what appears to be a cathedral.  I am at Saint Suplice I discover.  The yard is peaceful, only the sounds of the falling water break the silence.
Je marche…
I head towards St. Germain des Pres and pass by Cathedral St. Paul.  I stop every few minutes to look in the windows of the closed shops and imagine what I could buy for my loved ones if I had the money.  Now would be the time to do it, after all it is SOLDES!  Soldes is the magical bi-annual event in Paris where everything in the city is on sale.  It lasts for about a month with discounts getting deeper and deeper the longer you wait to buy.  Of course by then you are taking the chance that what you want to purchase will be out of stock.  So I window shop and pretend that when it isn’t a Sunday (so the stores will be open) I will come back and buy what I like.  Of course I know I won’t but it is fun nonetheless.
While drooling over a crystal globe a crazy bum approaches me calling me lovely in French.  I know how to handle this: don’t look him in the eye and just walk away, even if he follows you just keep on walking until he tires of the chase.  This one was persistent but I shook him eventually. 
Je marche…(faster now thanks to the bum and my desire to escape the temptations of the soldes)
I cross Pont des Arts running my fingers along the “Locks of Love” that adorn the bridge.  There are varying locks from simple to intricate, a number dial or key.  But each one of them means something to someone – or two someone’s rather.  I have a look at a few of them “Emile aime Cleo”  “Je t’adore toujours K&M”.  I think of the two people standing here on this bridge signing the back of their lock with a sharpie.  I can picture “Cleo” wrapping that little red bow around their lock so that it would stand out.  I am sure they kissed then as a tourist filled boat passed below their feet. 
Eventually the locks will be cut off, as they always are in order to make room for more “love”.  If the owners are lucky though whatever made them clasp that lock will remain.  It moves me.  So I touch a few more locks and pray for the happiness of those who took the time to make such a gesture.
Je marche…
Back on the right bank I look down onto the quai to see a photo shoot going on.  A very “French” looking woman wears a light pink feathered jacket that blows in the breeze while a man kneels below her holding it together.  The photographer snaps away while she makes subtle adjustments to her face.  I watch, once again entertained. 
Je marche…
Three and a half hours later I make it back to my inviting home, climb the stairs then plop myself onto the sofa. 
I think about my day and my Paris.  
Life happens to you here.  No matter where you go or what you do, if you let it in, the gems of the city will entertain you and you may even be lucky enough to feel her heartbeat.
Yes, Paris is the city of love.  But more, Paris is the city of lights, the city of music, the city of life.  Now more than ever I feel the “joie de vivre” that is Paris!

21 June, 2011

Small World, Tiny Paris

 I have been so busy filling my time in Paris with amazing experiences to share with you that I haven’t had time to share them with you! 
A week ago Friday I joined a bunch of strangers for an organized meet-up at Les Halles RER metro stop.  We were meeting to take the train out to Chantilly for the Prix de Longines horse races.  I recognized my group on the platform by the extravagant hats they were all wearing.  The hats were over the top in every way, long flowing sashes or little faux hats pined to the side of the head.  My simple hat and I felt out of place for a moment.

Taking the hour-long ride out to the country 8 international women got to know each other with the usual ex-patriot questions: Where are you from?  When did you move to Paris?  How long will you live here?  What kind of visa do you have?  We ought to just have a CV with the answers to save some time by just passing them around. 
We arrived in Chantilly, yes like the cream, the lace and the Chateau.  The group of us along with many other race goers squeezed into the fancy black bus that took us through the dense foliage of the French countryside.  Longines is a huge racetrack, bigger than any I have ever seen.  Most of the action took place on the infield where there was a large “red carpet” platform, a carousel, and multiple VIP areas with 200 Euro bottles of Moet.  

Circling these areas were countless picnics going on.  These aren’t your regular picnics; these have been planned to the most specific details.  The tables are covered with white linen and topped with crystal stemware to enjoy the champagne. The extravagant food is served from shiny silver dishes onto fine china.  No expense spared or detail overlooked.  Our party, being the first time any of us had attended, spread out our blankets and tossed our snacks to be shared in the middle of our intimate circle before passing around plastic cups and paper plates.  We will know better for next time.

Before we knew it the races began, the horses charging past on their quest to be a champion while the French announcer follows the progress in his quick almost auctioneer type voice. (Why does everything sound classier in French?)  Behind the starting point for the races is the Chateau of Chantilly reminding me that we are not anywhere but France.  I smile and soak it all in, even the random drops of rain that fall.  I lean back and enjoy it instead of run for cover like many of the other fans.

I bet on one race and lost one race.  That was enough for me. 
As we prepared to pack up and go back to our city I look up to see my friend Jeff standing not too far from where I sat.  Here I am an hour out of the city and I run into a friend…small world. 

A 30-minute train ride home and another long, eventful day is behind me.
I don’t get much down time though 
because Saturday has its plans for me already.  My dear friend Alison invites me to join her and her friend Luke for a typical Parisian lunch, and by that I mean a late one that will include a glass of wine.  Come 14,00h we start toward 

Rue Monorgruille – one of my favorite streets close to home that is always bustling with activity.  We walk on the broken cobblestones; get splashed by the fish market rinsing off their stoop.  We swerve in, out and around the constant pedestrian traffic and the occasional vespa that dares brave this Rue.  Stopping to look at “le cartes” along the way we finally decide on a little Café with Italian dishes.  The outdoor patio is full so we are forced to sit inside which is something a little different for me.  But the rustic interior has a welcoming feeling as though we are sitting in a café during the time of F. Scott Fitzgerald and not here in 21st Century Paris.
Following a long relaxing lunch we stop by a café and find a seat outside to enjoy some of the sun that has finally come out, who knows for how long.  
Not content with this being the only sun for our day Alison and I return to my house where we bring my little table to the terrace and play cards while getting in some much needed “girl talk”.  Sun then clouds again; Paris always keeping me guessing.  This perfect relaxing atmosphere is followed by a night out.
It is quiz night at The Highlander.  The pub sits tucked back off of the Seine on a narrow dimly lit pedestrian street. 

We join a group of girls that Alison teaches with and register our team.  The small confines of the pub quickly fill up with patrons and the quiz begins.  It doesn’t take much time for the crowd to get rowdy with excitement.  Then I feel a tap on my shoulder.  It is my friend Jaime.  She is there with a gentleman that we had met at the James Bond party the week before.  I walked to join her at the end of the bar where she stood and on my way ran into 4 other people I know stopping to give a “faire le bis”.  Paris...is tiny.

I lay down that night letting the wind come in off the terrace and I think about Paris.  I realize that I am running into people whenever I go out (these aren’t the first two occasions). The ex-pat community of Paris is a small one and we often end up at the same events.  The strangest part about our community is that it is a revolving door.  Some people are here for years, others months, some only weeks.  No matter the duration if you have gotten yourself active in events you are bound to start seeing the same faces - some that have come before you, some that have come after – some that you have asked advice from, others you have given advice to.  You share your experiences and say “au revoir” when another one moves on to their next adventure.  All the while knowing someone will be coming to take his or her place soon like someone will eventually come to take mine.
After all, only eternity and love last forever.