31 May, 2011

...just, how it is.

 I was standing on one of my favorite bridges last week, one that connects Ile St. Louis to the right bank, when an old woman passed by me.  She was shuffling along slowly holding tight to a leash. The leash was connected to an ancient looking cat who was walking on the wall of the bridge.  It was so bizarre.  Right there in midst of the chaotic city a little old lady and a little old cat just having a walk.  I couldn’t look away and followed behind them for a bit.  
Then I carried about my ritual bridge time.  
I have thought of the cat a few times while on that bridge and wondered what the story was of her thinning hair and slow walk in one of the most beautiful places in the world.  Then yesterday I got my answer.

I was crossing that very bridge on my way back from a job interview (story to follow) when I stopped to let the wind cool me in the muggy humidity of late May.  I was leaning on the bridge wall looking out at the sun dancing on the Seine when I looked to my right.  There was the cat, laying just a few meters from where my arms rested.  She was on her leash but this time a man was holding onto it.  He was talking with a couple of American tourists in English.  I listened.
The cat was 20 years old.  They weren’t from Paris, just visiting.  His accent was neither French nor American, German maybe.  I watched as the American tourist pet the frail looking fur on the top of the little head.  After they had said thank you and left I took my opportunity to tell the men she was with that she was beautiful.  They then explained this was her first time in Paris…on her list so to speak.  “Bucket list, yes” I replied.  They smiled and nodded before walking away saying “…and now she can go.”  So this was the last journey for a 20-year-old animal that got to live a dream that so many humans always hope to.  I felt as lucky as this cat: both of us knowing what it really means to "live" life.

Today is cold coming off of an insanely humid day yesterday – Paris weather changes its mind from day to day, finicky, unpredictable.  I stay in watching the passing of intermittent dark clouds wishing for the rain I know won’t come.  It hasn’t rained in months, an oddity for Paris this time of year apparently.  But I am a one-woman draught inducer.  I love the rain so much that no matter where I go rain doesn’t.  Still the day is beautiful.  
The gray, wrinkled man staying across the street at the Hotel D’Olreans must think it chilly too because he has left his window closed today.  He has been staying at the hotel for over a week now in a room one floor higher than my apartment is.  I experience what my neighbors must, the most mundane daily movements of my life being exposed.  He doesn’t look in my apartment much, thank goodness, instead looking down at the street or up to the sky.  And I am thankful for that.  Even so, I hope for his vacation to end soon!

Tomorrow I will be tutoring a French man.  In my ongoing effort to find work I finally received one response to the ads I posted around Paris to tutor English.  The job market is tough, especially when you don’t have papiers de travail (working papers).  I will admit I could have used a few more months back in the states to save for this adventure.

I suppose I didn’t truly grasp how insanely expensive this city is, or rather chose to just dive in to my new life.  But through this turn of events I now have a kinship with Hemingway, particularly during the time he wrote ‘A Movable Feast’.  The city and I are in this together.  I have become the clichĂ© – the starving writer living in Paris for the sake of her art.  I am not the first and won’t be the last. There is a sort of comfort in that.

While I wait for my first tutoring job, and to hear back from the internship I applied for, I spend my days continuing to work on the pages of my novel. All the while marking myself on my city and letting her lay her feet upon me now.  I am at home having seen both the refinement and the despair she possesses: loving her contradictions. 

Time marches on.  I have dinner with my fabulous neighbors (the Mum and Dad of Chat).  The long meal followed by a plate of cheese is every bit what I expect of the French: our conversation a mixture of both English and Francais.  (I find I have trouble finding words in either language now.)

I attend a Toastmasters meeting, sit along the Seine and listen to random musicians, have a movie night with friends.  I take pictures often and videos of the fascinating life I am in.  I find private gardens and lay down to enjoy the sun and the smell of fresh roses.  I stand on a bridge, close my eyes and feel Paris moving all around me.  

16 May, 2011

Weeks of Days

The past few weeks of days have been nothing out of the ordinary. 

I wake up upon my own free will and stretch in the bed I have learned to love.  I climb out of bed and open all four doors to my terrace pulling back the shutters listening to them cling, clang against each other.  I step outside to check the weather even though most likely it will change by the time I leave the house.  I soak in the soft Paris air. 
Inside I pop a mug full of water in the microwave while I choose my poison for the morning: early grey, mango passion fruit, fruits rouges.  While I let my tea steep I make up my bed and take a seat on the couch, tea cooling on the little “Paris circa 1575” map table.  I pull my white Mac up onto my lap and get ready for my morning email from my love whose is over 5,000 miles away.  Perfect way to start my day.
After a relaxing morning I prepare to explore/enjoy/peruse all that this Paris life has to offer.
Quiche Lorraine by St. Estauche
Perhaps lunch with a friend at a cafĂ© for a quiche or croque.  Maybe just a walk on my own to Les Halles where I will window shop easily for hours.  I must stop at a bridge of course and take in the slow current of the Seine and the always packed tourist boats of Paris - rain or shine.  I let the wind brush through my hair and I smile.
From inside one of the many courtyards
Walking on the familiar streets I take every opportunity I can to duck into the private courtyards when someone either slips out or has haphazardly left the door open.  These courtyards are everywhere, hidden gems in the city that too me represent a private world for those privee to them.  My friend Jeff first introduced me to them as we passed by one he had the code to (“through an old friend who used to live there”, he explained).  Exiting the busy streets you can pass into a quiet world to find off the beaten track cobblestone and dense foliage in the form of vines that wrap the buildings like a Christmas gift.  There isn’t much to see usually.  It is simply a courtyard/entryway for the lucky tenants of the apartments that surround it.  But to me they are often like a secret garden transplanting me in another time in another world.  So when I have the opportunity I always sneak in acting as though I know where I am going. (A trick my Dad always taught me.  “Act like you know where you are going and you belong there and 9 times out of 10 no one will question you.”)  Thus I have witnessed at least 15 secret worlds so far in Paris.
I venture on walking lackadaisical when the streets are nearly empty.  When they are busy I walk with the purpose and determination of any good city gal.
My day continues.  I may stop for a street sandwich; the viande hache is my favorite!  Or perhaps just a Nutella Crepe.  I snack on my treat, whatever it may be, and take side streets that have eluded me on one of my many trips down this street that leads towards home.  Yesterday I discovered where the hookers with the big boobs hang out.  There must be some under the table guide to find the hooker you would like here in Paris: like big boobs? – head to Rue de Tracy (sorry sister but it is true), like Asian women? – head to Blvd. Saint Denis.  I find it odd that the police just pass them by seemingly without a thought.
I stop then, almost everyday, to pick up what I need from the market: bottled “Source de Pins” water for .21E, fresh veggies to cook that night, fruit for the morning (that I am desperately trying to teach myself to eat), and other miscellaneous “stuff” I need for home.  I go through the long checkout “caisse” as usual which is less stressful than it used to be. I have gotten quite skilled at the “pack up my stuff while I pay routine”. 
In a short 4-minute walk I have left the Monoprix market and arrived home, punched in my code and headed upstairs. 
I have begun a game with myself, which I do keep in practice.  IF the lift is resting on Floor 0 when I arrive I am meant to take it up to Floor 5.  IF not however I am doomed to power through the 6 flights of winding stairs not matter how many groceries I may be holding.  Lucky for my legs the lift is rarely on Level 0.
Today it was which brought a smile to my face and relief to my lungs.  I pack myself, 2 pink grocery bags, and my purse into the wood paneled walls of the confined box that will take me the rest of the way home.  Arriving at my floor, “France telecom” the elevator speaks to me as the doors open.  I then open the gate to the cage that lets me out.  3 turns of my old school iron key and I am in.
The next part of my day begins.  I turn my writing desk towards the open doors, bring Mac to sit on her warped wood that I hope I didn’t cause, pull the wicker chair up and get ready to write.
Often times nothing comes to me right away.  I stare out at the buildings opposite mine and think, let my eyes drift to the cloudy or sunny skies.  Then I put fingers to the keyboard and start to write.  I don’t really know what it is I am writing at first.  I just let my hands start to go.  After a few hours and a few breaks in between I hit the save button and close Mac up.  I won’t read it again just yet.  It may be junk or it may be brilliant.  I won’t know yet so I put my “work” down for the day.
The nights vary greatly.  Some nights I meet with friends for quiz night at The Thistle, or a get-together on Pont des Arts.  Tonight I will be attending a Toastmasters event, Tuesday a friendly apero with Internationals, Wednesday a picnic on a bridge, Thursday perhaps stay in and cook a great meal and read a book.  The days carry on.
It occurs to me that perhaps my days aren’t ordinary at all.  That in fact they are just as I had always hoped, EXTRAordinary in every way.  And I am grateful!

15 May, 2011

Stade de France

It was a Friday night.  When I first arrived I felt a bit out of my element in this crowd of well to doers in expensive fabric.  But being the woman I am I quickly acclimated meeting a few nice people to share the little facts of our lives: name, occupation, residence.  Basic surface stuff.
I was officially attending my first Rugby game as a guest of a friend who had VIP passes. I had never much given any thought to the sport.  Other than having seen an episode of Friends where Ross gets seriously beat up during his first/and last game of Rugby.  So when I received the invitation from my new friend, whose company sponsors the event, I couldn’t turn it down.

 Arriving an hour before the first play we joined the bourgeoisie in the VIP suite complete with amuse bouches, sandwiches, meats, cheeses and free flowing champagne.  After an hour of superficial conversation we, the VIP’s, retrieved our coats from the coat check and headed to the stadium finding the seats that were reserved for us.
Then the game play began.
What an odd game I must say: scrum, drop goal, crash tackle.  Even the terminology of the game is brutal and nasty.  American football terms seem so much nicer: huddle, touchdown, kick-off.  One would think it is the Rugby guys who would need the padding!
The fans cheered a familiar cheer that I have heard in ever sport game I have every attended as they waved either pink or yellow flags representing their chosen team. Following the 80 minutes of the kind of excitement that defines most sporting events we returned to the VIP soiree to congratulate the winning team: Stade de France of Paris!  In the end we weren’t able to properly meet the big, burly rugby guys as they were busy filling their tired bodies with the array of food that had been set up for them.  So instead I perused the dessert table and snacked on the fancy (however bizarre) creations that lay among the pink vased flowers on the elegant white linen.  As midnight approached I thanked my host and headed back to the city and my cozy little studio with a hell of a view.

05 May, 2011

Will and Kate get married!

It was the wedding of the century and I wasn't going to miss it! 
I had the pleasure of watching the ceremony right here in Paris, at a Scottish pub, with a room full of British friends.  The Scottish proprietor of The Thistle had kindly offered to open the pub 3 hours early for the crowd and attempted to make a famous Brit drink called Pim’s.  It is supposed to be the best thing to drink on a warm Bristish summer day.  Turns out it is also perfect for a cool, clear spring Paris day for a momentous international occasion.  It quite reminded me of a tall glass of Sangria. 

The pub was packed with interested spectators both male and female – okay, okay more female than male.  When all the seats were taken others positioned themselves strategically trying to avoid blocking any of the 3 televisions in the small bar.  It was noisy with excited chat in various accents of the English language.  My voice joined them, sitting, talking to my newest friend Jaime - our backs to the typical wooden bar.  
Then, suddenly, a hush came over the crowd and all eyes focused on the flat screens on the wall.  It was starting.
Every eye was on the bride (some on her sister Pipa) as she took the long walk down the aisle with a grace that confirms she will be the perfect Princess.  In this pub, and all over the world, people listened to the soft voices of two people saying the most precious vows.  Then our voices rose again along with our glasses for a happy cheer to the happy couple.  Naturally the event was not complete until we could witness the traditional first kiss on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.  They seemed to wave for hours to the thousands and thousands of admiring patriots outside of the palace gates before Bride and Groom took the moment to steal a quick kiss on the lips.  The pub roared with applause at this most simple yet intimate of acts.
I wonder, why is there something so poetic about watching a wedding?  Is it because regardless of stature, even with all of the pomp and circumstance surrounding this couple – a wedding is still only about two people promising their lives to one another?
Or perhaps the reason is that at the end of the day everyone wants a fairy tale of their own.