24 February, 2011

a stroll with la tour Eiffel

Another day is upon me in this City of Love. I bundle up on a cold and rainy Wednesday to start my journey, as usual, down the 7 flights of stairs to the eager street below. As I descend I circle around the ‘out of order’ lift, around, around, around. There is a man inside of it that is here everyday, (except of course Sundays), and he drills, hammers and greases away. But we still have no working elevator. Instead I am forced to circle him like he is a caged animal when in fact it is I who is at his mercy.

Finally I board the metro where I quickly fit into the mosh of people on their way to whatever the day may have in store, each person with a different story. In this we are all the same as we rock back and forth on the speeding train.

My story today takes me to the American Library in Paris – which is conveniently located somewhat near a landmark that Paris is known for, la tour Eiffel! As I climb up the stairs from the metro I half expect to see the tower just outside, waiting there for me like a lost puppy. Instead I find another perfect Paris street lined with cafes and shops. So I walk.

I round a corner and there it is: the giant tower peaking out at me from behind the Parisian stones. And I lose a breath, two breaths. Suddenly I feel so much more like I am actually in Paris than I have since moving here.

I keep walking looking for Rue General Camou, the street where the library sits. Now, 11 days into my Paris life, I feel more comfortable finding streets and I am beginning to understand how the twists and turns really work. (Of course I really couldn’t do it without my handy Paris Arrondisment guide that the locals assured me I would need. They were right!)

Finding the library I slip in from out of the cold and into a heated chamber filled with the comforting smell of old books. I instantly feel at home in this “house” with so many old friends: Anais Nin, Dostoevsky, Henry James, Stephanie Meyers, J.D. Salinger, the list goes on and on. I hear around me the familiar tones of my first language. As I approach the librarian it feels odd to openly ask for something using English. But she is English and we ARE in the American library so I follow the example of the Anglophones ahead of me. I learn that I will not be taking the books I have chosen with me today. The 100Euro fee for the year has deterred me. So I set out to spend some time with my Paris instead.

The air has gotten colder since I last exited the street and I rush to cover my head with my knitted hat, shield my face with my scarf and my hands with wool. I follow the looming sight of the tower to my destination suddenly content with looking like a tourist. These are pictures I will sacrifice my pride for!

The quite walk which brought me here has suddenly turned into a bustling tourist attraction. The voices are in English, French, Chinese, Arabic. It is the melting pot of Paris. I walk directly underneath the grand structure as I feel the overwhelming truth that I am in fact HERE! I take it in, all of it: the sounds of the carousel, the movement of the crowd, the droplets of rain, and the warmth I feel inside my heart.

But I have another mission that I move on to fulfill. I walk directly beyond the tower to the glory of the Seine. The wind whips around my face and invades the warmth beneath my coat. But I don’t mind.

I meander along the shoulders of the river letting the rain drench my face. I look straight ahead to see a bridge – maybe this one will be my favorite. But instead of walking on her I nestle beneath her walls in the dryness she provides. I sit down, open my bag and pull out a letter I have been waiting to read since before it even reached my doorstep. Right as I take the letter out of the envelope that has just traveled over 5,400 miles, an Albanian bum decides he needs to confide in me.

He is hungry, he is alone, he lives on the streets…he explains. He doesn’t know anyone and his home country is in massive upheaval. His worn hands are freezing and he has no scarf to keep the cold from his body. I feel sad. Then I immediately feel so fortunate and wealthy - a feeling which surpasses the guilt I feel for possessing the thoughts in the first place. I shake his freezing hand and wish him well. But in that brief few minutes I learned so much about the world. Such a simple encounter, only 5 minutes out of a life made up of billions, but it forever changed how I feel about the different fortunes I have been given. Including this letter I still hold tightly in my hand.

I watch him walk away carrying only his little red bucket and shame. With a prayer I then look back at the lines I am eager to read. I revel in every syllable written for me. I stop to let the air bite my face while listening to the slapping of the river upon the stairs where I sit. I am overwhelmed with joy and the knowledge that the truth and beauty of love really does exist.

It is with this feeling that I leave you for now...

22 February, 2011

a day with a friend I had never met

Today I had the pleasure of experiencing le Marais on an inpromptu tour from a friend I had never met. He showed me around the quaint, lively neighborhood whom houses a large portion of the cities Jewish and gay population. Quite a combination, I know! As I walk along the narrow streets lined with 300 year-old buildings it is clear when I enter one area into the next. The Jewish area carries the distinct smell of falafel as it wafts through the air from the many, many falafel stands. The hungry and eager patrons stand on the cold streets waiting their turn to feast on this Jewish delight…to some I guess (to me it smells of dirty laundry and unbathed skin). In a matter of blocks the neighborhood brings an array of nicely decorated bars and intricately designed shops signaling that I have entered the other part of le Marais.

Our walk continued. I have learned that “hotel particulier” is a term used to indicate a home back in the day that housed the entirety of a well to do family. The “homes” are similar to a palace or a country chateau but right here in the bustling city. When they were created everyone around knew the hierarchy as they witnessed the horse-drawn carriages enter into to the large decorated doors that still stand to this day. The carriage then took them into the beautiful garden courtyards waiting on the other side.

I stood silently and envisioned the tight corsets on the fantastical women and the fancy suits of the gentlemen of the house. I see them returning to their city palace at the envy of the hungry, clothes torn commoners getting muddied by the clippity-clop of the horses’ hooves. I saw, in my minds eye, the glorious balls that must have taken place with elegant music and extravagant gowns. It is all written there on the magnificence of the gate that I peer through today; perhaps just like one of the dirty townspeople had before me. Now these amazing structures house libraries, museums, and even apartments. Once again the passage of time shows itself in the must subtle of ways, unnoticed by the arrogant eye.

without leaving the terrace

I stand outside on my terrace with my cold hands on the railing that could be nowhere other than Paris and I feel it begin to shake. From time to time the floor below my feet, along with the railing, rattles for just a moment. At first I thought perhaps I was back in California and it was simply a brief earthquake. But after having taken the metro today I know that the train runs right underneath this heavy brick building.
It shakes again now as I write and look from beyond my windowed doors.
I feel like a shadow on a wall or a bird momentarily birched outside a warm home.
I, without trying, look down into a woman’s cozy kitchen 3 flights down. Each night she cooks what appears to be the most incredible meal as she places the dish in the oven I wish I had. Today I think she was making either pizza or pomme frites. Ok, so perhaps not that amazing but it is freshly cooked and hot which sounds amazing to me today.
Another couple across the way lives in a tiny little box. The blonde curly haired woman and the often times half naked man do laundry almost every night as I watch them hang their wet clothes. Their heater clearly works far better than mine; I observe by the steamed windows and the bare skin.
Another older man, one floor up and one floor over, lives in a very stark apartment with very little detail. Perhaps he is a businessman in a corporate flat or maybe a recent divorcee trying to start over. I watch and I wonder. Either way he spends most of his days sitting at his desk working alone at a computer.
Like me.
I wonder, what do they think of me as they look across the frozen streets to my apartment?

19 February, 2011

The end of week 1!

It is an astoundingly beautiful, rainy, cold day here in Paris. A fact I find just perfect as it is officially my 2nd week in Paris. I sit here in front of my window looking out at the soft pellets of rain that cover my terrace. And I am happy.

This week I have been, figuratively, on mountains and in valleys. Taking on the first week was a job in itself. However I have managed to set up a french bank account, get internet in my apartment, learn how to skype and even met a few kind people. I study my french through watching french television with a dictionary in my lap. I am also learning so much from my sweet young neighbor whose apartment window is just opposite my terrace. We speak to each other, across the noisy street below, in broken french and english. But we are communicating and both of us learning more of the others' language. I have also met a friendly, even if a bit strange, Nigerian fellow on the street. I walked by and he spoke to me in the still foreign tongue I am eager to truly understand. I kept walking past until I heard, "English?" That stopped me in my tracks since I was craving human interaction that didn't make my head feel like it was going to explode.

We began to talk and he kindly offered to lead me to a shop where I could buy a charger for my computer (which alone is a long story). As we walked to le Place de Republique I rejoiced in the joy of simply having a companion to walk alongside of. Being alone every moment of the day, even when surrounded by so many people, feels like being held hostage inside of yourself. So I accepted his invitation to have a beer that evening, Valentine's Day. It was a nice time I suppose, all things considered. Knowing I was missing my boyfriend on this day of love he bought me a rose from one of the rose peddlers (it seems rose peddlers are staples in every city in the world). The rose is still blooming today, sitting here next to me as I write.

The rest of the week I experienced utter astonishment while walking down the many streets of Paris. I took turns that got me lost and reveled in the excitement of not knowing where I was. Being lost in a city, for me, has a way of making me feel completely...found. So the next day I got lost again.

While walking I am absorbing so much of the world around me and the world inside of myself. I feel the joy of discovering my feet on old cobblestone, which is new to me, and I feel the utter loneliness of being so much alone in such a big place.

I can hardly wrap my head around the idea that I have been here for 7 days, one week! A part of me feels like it may as well have been a year. I have gone through so very many emotions while I try to get to know this city. As I sat on my first bridge over the Seine I came to realize: there is a certain feel about Paris. I find it hard to capture in words. Its history is written on the intricate and aging stones of the buildings which most literally take my breath away. It is almost as if Paris is a living, breathing being. She kindly lets us sit with her and tread on her ancient body. Meanwhile she and I have only just begun to know each other, even though I have loved her almost all my life.

I will be kind to my new city as I find new roads to call my own. And I can hardly wait to discover where they may lead...

Day 1 as a Parisienne

Well, I've done it; I've moved to Paris! Just writing those words seems surreal. The struggles of being a foreigner in a strange land have just begun and in less than 24 hours I have learned so much.
Allow me to break it down for you...
Arriving at the airport all I could do was take one single step at a time:
Get off the airplane, Follow the herds of people to baggage claim,
Get nervous as I wait for my bags to be the last on the turnstile (which of course they were), take circles around Charles de Gaulle trying to look like I wasn't as confused as I was,
Finally discover where to get a cab,
Become a mute in the cab and realize I should have studied more french,
Sit in the silence all the way to my apartment enjoying the chaotic movement of the streets,
Make it to my new home, Have trouble opening the front door to the building,
Make it inside and stare up at 7 flights of stairs, Stare back at my 3 huge bags that weigh over 100 pounds combined
Start one by one lugging them all the way up only to realize I had no idea what floor the 4th (where my landlord lives) really is
Ring random doorbells only to have tenants look at me as a crazy American girl
Found le gardienne who got ahold of my landlord, Waited
Met landlord, got keys, got tour of tiny little studio I would call home for the next 7 months, Felt lonely,
Felt young,
Used landlords weird European computer (why is the M in a weird place and where on earth do they keep the punctuation?)
Emailed family from Monsieur Goutagny's (landlord) apartment, Got sad,
Couldn't get to my place fast enough, Door closed, Finally alone,
Wept. And wept.
Finally slept.
Saw that it was raining, Had trouble opening the door from the inside of the building this time
Went for a walk
Walked in phone store to realize I really am a mute
Walked out
Sat down at a cafe, Ordered un verre du vin, Forgot 'carte' meant menu
Found a supermarket and met a nice worker who offered to help me with anything as I acclimate to the city
Tried to find calling card, Failed
Bought quiche, Bought wine, Bought palmiers (yum)
Called Mom and Dad collect
Almost cried again
Made it home and up the ridiculous amount of stairs. Home.
Went to landlords to sign papers, shared frustration that we couldn't properly communicate
Realized how broke I am
Went home
Unpacked making the place feel like mine
Listened to music, Wrote to my Thad,
Started to not feel as scared replacing it instead with overwhelmed
Sat on my patio after dark and realized how beautiful my view is from 7 stories up,
Looked up at the top of buildings around me and thought of that chimney sweep scene in Mary Poppins
Missing family, Wanting to kiss Thad
Thankful for the moon we all share.

Welcome to Paris Erin and the insanity of the reality of a dream coming true!