July 2, 2009
Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of our return to the States, leaving our year in Paris behind. It’s a small coincidence that it would be on June 30 then that I had a strong reminder of our time there.
Flash back to March 2003 – Not a year out of college, I return to France with my mom and my friend Sara to visit Paris and Montpellier. One day at Place de la Tertre in Montmartre, a small oil painting catches my eye, and like many tourists before me, I haggle with the artist until we find a price we can agree on. At the time, it was a big expenditure for me at almost $60. But I loved the sepia-toned scene that was so Parisian, and yet not explicitly in Paris (no Eiffel Tower, or other recognizable monuments). I handed over my euros (or was it still francs at the time? euros, I think) and have never regretted it.
I found a small metal easel to display my painting on, and it graced my apartment in Dunn Loring, then the one Allen and I shared in Rosslyn, then our condo for two years. When we moved to the house in DC, I packed it up very carefully and put it in a safe place.
Now I don’t mean that I put it somewhere safe. I mean, I put it in a safe place. And you know what that means? I put it in a safe place means that I put it somewhere so safe and so hidden, that it would be safe even from me for a very long time. When anything valuable of mine goes missing, I know immediately that I put it in a safe place. (Another recent example: my aunt gave me cash to put towards framing these two beautiful lace doilies made by my grandfather’s mother and my grandmother’s sister. And do you know where that cash is now? I don’t either. I put it in a safe place.) And that painting was no exception. I put it in a safe place in August 2006, I moved everything, and I didn’t see that painting again…until yesterday.
(The painting’s safe place? A Harry & David pear box that I felt compelled to save because of the beautiful pattern. It has been in plain sight near the washing machine for months. It’s a miracle that I didn’t throw it and my beautiful painting away.)
Small enough coincidence that I would find the painting again a year after we moved away, but I wouldn’t think a single thing of it if there weren’t a bigger coincidence lying within. When I pulled that little painting out of its safe place, I suddenly knew exactly where in Paris it was. I’d never thought much about it before – pretty stone bridge, typical Parisian apartment buildings, the Seine, the trees – it was just Paris. But yesterday, on the anniversary of moving back from Paris, I found that painting, and I saw the Seine with Pont Marie stretching above it towards Rue des Deux Ponts and the first few buildings on Quai d’Anjou to the left there, where another inch of canvas would have revealed our Ile Saint Louis apartment.
To end my little reminiscence, I will share some pictures.
Here is my painting from Place de Tertre:
Here is a picture that Allen took of Pont Marie, facing away from our apartment:
For a view of Pont Marie facing towards our apartment, where you can see the shape of the buildings across Rue des Deux Ponts, click here.
July 8, 2008
Back in Paris, I started to really feel as if we lived there once we started running into people we knew on the street. There’s something about having your name called on the street, about the surprise, and the happiness to see just about anyone you know. It was one small thing that made Paris my home.
But it’s never something I expect. So I am flabbergasted that I’ve run into three people I know in the last three days! On Friday evening, we were metroing home around midnight when Jenna got on our train. (She’s staying with us, but still - what are the chances that we both caught the same red line train, and that she’d walk up to the door we were sitting next to?)
Saturday at the grocery store, I saw Tavon and his mother. If you worked at my school in 2006/2007, you just fell out of your chair laughing. Oh yes. I was slightly terrified that they would recognize me, so of course they ended up in line directly behind us. (They did not recognize me.) Tavon started asking about the price of candy, and his mom yelled that he’d better not try to spend her twenty dollars, and then there was an argument about whether or not he would get the candy, and I felt like I was back at school again, and nothing had changed.
As if that weren’t enough, Allen and I got on the metro Sunday and ran into Nabila! I had Nabila during my first year of teaching when she was in 7th grade. Now she’s going into 10th! She tried to talk me into applying to teach at her high school, but I told her high schoolers scare me. Somehow, she had heard that I moved to France (when she saw me, she thought it must have been a lie). I am impressed at the former student rumor mill, since she moved before my second year (and thus a full year before I went to France). I was really excited to see her – she’s such a smart and sweet girl, and she just looked really healthy and happy. Her dorky teacher made her take a picture in the middle of the metro.
So I guess we must be home again! It makes me a little sad about moving to Arlington (and seeing Nabila made me miss my students all over again), but before you know it, I’ll be running into friendly faces there too.
June 29, 2008
Maybe “the world” is a bit of an exaggeration, but between the two of us tomorrow, Allen and I will set foot in France, Germany, Ireland, and the United States. Not bad for a day’s work. So yes, we’re flying separately because we bought our tickets different times. I’m taking Lufthansa through Frankfurt, and I remember a little too well how that turned out the last time. Meanwhile, Allen is flying through Dublin on Aer Lingus, which he hadn’t heard of before this trip and which he therefore says as if he were mouthing the name of a tricky disease. Both of us arrive at Dulles in the early afternoon, and Allen’s parents will be picking us up and bringing us to our house in DC.
Our (mostly) packed bags are gigantic. It’s ridiculous. Though they’re the same bags we came over with, we’re looking at them and wondering why they are so big. And – the horror! – why are they so full? I dread the overweight fines that may be in our future.
We’re doing very little today aside from packing, emptying the fridge, and cleaning the apartment from top to bottom. Our landlord invited us to dinner, and while we appreciate it, we probably shouldn’t have accepted. We probably won’t get out much today.
On the other hand, we spent the entire day out yesterday. We rose early to “finish packing.” It seems like we finish packing every day, and then we have to do it again the next. Once we were both showered (with the other packing during non-shower time), we took a pile of clothing and shoe donations to Secours Catholique in the 7th, which allowed us to go to the Grande Epicerie of Bon Marche one last time. We walked back towards Saint Germain, stopping at a couple of tablecloth stores, one jacquard and one provencal.
We met Mimi and Jack and the kids at the park at Rue des Ecoles and Rue de Monge, and all of us ate delicious sandwiches from Kaiser, spread out on the grass. We were joined by Samantha, formerly of Sam de Bretagne fame, and Kerry and family. Spending a couple of hours at a playground is a great way to say goodbye. I didn’t cry (I was a little surprised), but I think it may be because we’ll see Mimi and Jack and Michael and Katharine in August.
It seems so much harder to say goodbye to kids, particularly the tiny ones, because they won’t remember you the way you will them, and you may not ever gain back the level of closeness you had with them if you don’t live nearby again. I will miss the way that Katharine says “shoul” when she wants to get on your shoulders and the way Michael shows you all his artwork from his four years of life every time you walk in the door. I suppose I could say I’ve been fortunate enough to know many kids well enough to miss them like that.
Enough quasi-depressing reminicenses. On with the day! After the picnic, goodbyes and repeated hugs, we went back to the tablecloth store to buy a jacquard tablecloth and napkins. And then we were poor. Ha! Coming back, we ran into the Gay Pride Parade. They were not messing around when it came to noise level and number of people. I don’t think Katharine and Michael had a nap after all. We skirted the parade route but benefited from the music and energy all the same.
The next outing was to Shakespeare & Company books, where we sold a bunch of hardcovers (for about 50 centimes each). We walked out with 7 euros, which we immediately spent at FNAC for new headphones for my ipod. Allen and I had decided we either needed books for the ride over or an audiobook (and therefore, headphones for me, as mine have been out of commission for months). We came back home and purchased the audiobook of The Omnivore’s Dilemma for our ipods. I can’t wait to listen to it on the plane!
Phew! But the day wasn’t over for us yet. We had reservations at l’A.O.C. for one last nice dinner in Paris. We sat outside, the weather finally cool. I sipped my last Cerdon aperitif there and learned that it was in fact a sparkling rose wine (rather than a mixed drink, as I thought). Perhaps I’ll be able to track it down. I decided from the outset to skip dessert in favor of a delicious salmon and ginger tartare. (Not a bad decision. The salmon tartare was outstanding. Plus, how fun is it to say tartare au saumon et gingembre?) Both Allen and I chose one of the night’s specials for our plat: lambshanks with potato “palettes.” Also an excellent choice, but then, we were at A.O.C. Allen chose a moelleux au chocolat for dessert, his favorite. When I said I wasn’t having dessert to the waiter he said, “Perhaps you’d like a little spoon?” I smiled back and him and said it might be useful. And was it! Allen’s dessert was delicious. We returned home afterwards happily full of delicious French food.
What more is there to say? A lot of people have been asking me how I feel about leaving Paris and coming back to the States. I feel just the same as I did when we came here last year. I’m happy to go but sad to leave.
June 27, 2008
As of Wednesday night, we are basically packed. There are a few slips of paper and other flotsam in disorganization (naturally, all mine). There are some toiletries, mostly perfume and cologne, which still need to be properly packed. And aside from that, only the food and cleaning need to be taken care of before we leave.
It’s very unlike me to be packed almost a week in advance. But there’s a logical reason. If we hadn’t already packed, we couldn’t know how much space we had left to fill with souvenirs from France! As it is, there isn’t much room. But Allen and I plan to purchase another French tablecloth and maybe some clothes. En plus, the twice-a-year sales just started this week! We’re in luck. However, we had also hoped to bring back some art, but our full luggage won’t allow it. Any bets on whether we’ll be charged for oversized luggage?
This week has been full of emotional confusion. Monday was a rare day off for me, and i worked on some of my graduate school research. I’m currently taking my last masters course; the first part is online (started in March) and the classroom portion will keep me wholy occupied from July 16 to July 25. (Who wants to celebrate on July 26? Alternately, that might be a good day for a nap.) So Monday I tackled some of the transcription I need to do as part of the data collection for my action research project. In the evening Allen and I continued our packing efforts for a while. Then we ran off to Fuxia, our Italian place, for what was probably our last dinner there. I had a glass of prosecco and the Scallopine Limone. Allen had his usual, the Lasagne Carne. We both finished with panna cottas, getting our own so that he could have a red fruits sauce, and I could have caramel.
Tuesday was the hottest day I’ve experienced in a long time. I don’t know what the temperature was, but I sweated from about noon to midnight. I got my haircut in the morning, and on the way I realized with horror that I’d left all the cash at home (and the salon doesn’t take credit cards). I decided to continue and just explain my problem, fearful of losing my appointment if I showed up too late. Vicky was very understanding and cut my hair anyway. (And it looks great. She has given me the two best dry-on-its-own haircuts of my life.) Then I took the metro straight home to pick up cash and straight back to pay the hairdresser. By the point, I was running late to babysitting. I babysat, tutored, the usual, and then metroed home to try to avoid the heat. I met up with Allen, changed into a dry shirt, and we walked to Mimi and Jack’s apartment. They’d hired a babysitter so that the four of us could go out to dinner together. We walked around for a while before we decided to eat at Le Bar a Huitres. The air was thick with fruit flies; I’ve never seen anything like it. The little flies looked like pollen or dust, but kept landing on us. Fortunately, though the windows at Le Bar a Huitres were open, very few flies actually joined us inside. Still, I fished a few out of my wine, and I think I ate a handful. Aside from the unintentional protein, the food was delicious! Jack and I both opted for the Menu Homard, choosing 9 oysters and a lobster each. Mimi and Allen both chose a grilled shrimp entree, followed by a tuna steak for Mimi and a crab for Allen. Dessert was ice cream all around – lemon sorbet with limoncello for Allen and I and chocolate and cafe liegeoise for Mimi and Jack respectively. The staff were all talkative and friendly, and I believe it was the owner who paid a visit to our table and ended up showing us how to get the meat out of a crab. The food was very enjoyable, and the company was better. Afterwards, we went to El Sur, an Argentinian restaurant across Blvd Saint Germain from Mimi and Jack’s apartment, and had a round of drinks. The owner (who knows Mimi and Jack) plugged the pisco sour, and for good reason. It’s probably a good thing that I won’t be here to drink many more of those. Afterwards, we made plans to see them again on Saturday, so we wouldn’t have to say goodbye quite yet.
Wednesday’s highlight was babysitting Rafaela because we went to the park to meet Kerry and her kids so that Rafaela and Liese could play together. Mimi came with the kids too, so we had a big jolly gathering. Katharine was walking all over the playground clutching a bag of lollipops, so all the bigger kids surrounded her to ask nicely for one, and she was blithely handing them out to anyone who lined up. She put three or four in my purse when I said no thank you. When I went home afterwards, Allen and I threw ourselves into a frenzy of packing and cleaning. Hooray!
Yesterday was a nice day as well. The weather had become more temporate, and I met Leigh for coffee and to return some books she let me borrow. We’d met a couple of times before, but I wish we’d made more time to get together. We talked so much I ended up running late to babysitting again. I’m not proud of it. But babysitting went well – we spent the whole time drawing, and there were popsicles involved. Then I did my final lesson with Adrienne. I took it easy on her and we sang all the songs we’d learned, and I gave her a bit of an oral quiz. In the meantime, I gave her a French braid so she’d be ready for the concert at her school that night. I got to drop her off a bit early and said a warm goodbye to her and her parents. Then last night, Allen and I cooked dinner and then spent a few hours babysitting Kerry’s kids so she and her husband could have a night out in Paris.
And that brings us to today! Allen and I both have our last days of work today. I’ll have my last yoga class tonight (somehow I doubt I’m going tomorrow), and then the weekend will be filled with a picnic, shopping, cleaning, and saying goodbye to Paris.
June 20, 2008
Everything is flying by around us these days, and suddenly we’ve only got about ten days left before we return Stateside. Our lives and our thoughts are both jumbles, so this blog post will be somewhat of a jumble as well.
What’s coming up? Saturday and Sunday, we’ll be in Maubeuge (near the Belgian border) visiting Allen’s French family. This will be my first time meeting them. Tuesday night we’re having dinner with Mimi and Jack, and they’re getting a babysitter! Next Saturday we may hit an art market. We’d like to get in one more dinner at L’Epicerie Fuxia (otherwise known as “the Italian place”) and one more at AOC. Other than that, we’re working every day (except Monday for me), and I’m going to cram in as many yoga classes as I can stand. There’s also a nice bottle of champagne to drink, courtesy of a family I tutor for. Maybe we’ll drink it while we finish packing.
Last weekend, we babysat Mimi and Jack’s kids for the weekend and let them get away. You can see some pictures from our trip to the menagerie at the Jardin des Plantes here. We ate dinner at a creperie with Antoine and Typhaine last night, saying our first major goodbye. Mimi and I had sushi for lunch on Thursday, and we had a yummy Thai dinner and general talk-fest on Tuesday.
Other than that, we’ve been working, working, working. Allen took a short trip to the UK and played a round of golf up there. I have started making friends in parks (yes, the week before we leave), who tell me about/offer me babysitting jobs with many hours. Ha!
Then there’s the question of what happens when we get back. In July, we’ll be living in our house again (back in the upstairs room). In August, we’ll probably be staying in Allen’s parents’ house while they’re vacationing. Come September, our whereabouts will be a mystery. In the meantime, we plan to look for a place in Arlington, as we’re now reasonably sure that we’ll be staying in the DC area.
July will see us cleaning out the basement (lots of stuff down there that we haven’t used or seen in a year), attending Brian’s wedding, visiting my mom’s side of the family, and house hunting. I’ll finish my last masters course, take a standardized test I need for teacher licensure in Virginia, and actually apply for licensure. Allen will start a new position with his current company, as yet undefined.
So here we go, barrelling towards the “next thing.”
June 8, 2008
A few weeks ago, my mom asked if we were counting the days. But we were still on weeks. But now that June is here, we are counting the days, and there are 22 more days to our stay in France. How did that happen?
We have 22 days, and I have 11 classes left on my yoga studio “subscription.” In the next 22 days, we’ll play parents for a weekend, Allen will visit England, we will visit Allen’s French family in the north, and I’m really hoping to buy a new pair of jeans or two. We have 22 days and 13 unfinished City Walks, 1 scheduled haircut (mine), and 4 suitcases to pack. In 22 days, we expect to have 0 visitors! (Elizabeth has just left – our first and last and most frequent visitor for the year.)
In the next 22 days, I expect some panic. But for now, I’m going to bed.
Thursday I had a rendez-vous at the prefecture for my carte de sejour, or residence card. I’ve been looking forward to this appointment since February.
I wasn’t really sure how it would go. I knew that I was supposed to show up at the prefecture at 4 pm, or possibly earlier because sometimes there is a long line outside the building. I was to bring many, many proofs that I was myself and that I should live in France and indeed that I did live in France, plus strictly regulated pictures of myself. And photocopies. I was also to bring Allen, in the flesh, as well as proof that he is himself, that he is my husband, and that our marriage is not a sham (harder to find proof of this than you might suspect). I might or might not need a doctor’s visit, I might or might not get my actual carte de sejour pasted in my passport that day, or maybe I was really applying for the first time since the woman at the February appointment hadn’t taken any paperwork from me. What’s more, I might have to pay up to 275 euros, possibly in cash. Big on paperwork and red tape, not so big on actual information sharing.
I suppose all that is to say, I had no idea what to expect. And I was scared. (I like to refer to this as “an appropriate fear of French bureaucracy” as I think the French actual foster this sense of uncertainty on purpose.)
Allen and I set a meeting time of 3:15 and promptly cemented two very different meeting spots into our mental calendars. At 3:40, Allen called me from the house, breathless from having run back there. “Where are you?” Then he ran back again, we met, gave each other a look, and got on with it. There was no line, so we breezed through the metal detectors. In the Europe-America-Middle East room (really?), we presented ourselves at the desk and got a number. (The woman at the desk said they were going to cut people off for the day because it was getting late, and there were a lot of people waiting. It was only 3:50.) Then we sat. (Sitting for a long time increases the appropriate fear of French bureaucracy, you see.)
When our number was called, only a few other couples remained in the waiting area. We presented my dossier to the desk agent, who flipped through it. She determined immediately that this would be a ten year application, meaning my residence card would be good for ten years without renewal. Happy third anniversary to us!
(Easiest immigration story ever. Ever. Okay, here’s what you do. Be American. Marry a French citizen. Be married three years. Then move to France and apply for residence. The end.)
But it wasn’t quite that simple. We didn’t have enough proof that our marriage wasn’t a sham. In fact, we had hardly any. It’s all home in the States. We don’t have a proper lease here, we don’t get utilities in our names, we don’t have any official French correspondence, we didn’t apply for health coverage, and we don’t have a bank account. We don’t exist (and neither does our marriage – nevermind that we weren’t officially married in the eyes of the French until December). So friendly French bureaucrat says we need to come back with more proof, in a few months.
Uh oh. We explained the part where we return to the States at the end of the month and don’t know when we’re coming back.
“Wait,” she says. “Are you living here or there?”
“We’ve been living here for a year, so I did what I’m legally supposed to do and applied for residence. But at the end of the month, we’re going back to the United States, and we’ll be living there.” I kept repeating something like, “I just did what I was supposed to, legally.”
“Applying for residence when you’re leaving in a month is absurd!” Our bureaucrat furrowed her brows. I agreed. (So very Parisian, the righteous indignation. So very French. Except usually it’s not on my side!)
“The Americans, they just come and go as they please!” The bureaucrat in the next booth chimed in, seeming surprised that I had bothered to follow the legal route. (Can I cite that as a legal French policy next time I move here?)
The two bureaucrats put their heads together and came up with a solution. I’d get a new recipisse, good for three more months. Along with that would be a document asking me to request an appointment with the prefecture to continue my application. I could request that appointment whenever I returned to the country – or not.
“Moins de boulot pour moi,” our bureaucrat muttered, “Less work for me.”
That worked just fine for Allen and me too. We didn’t really want to pay for the carte de sejour (275 euros, over $400, remember?) with just 25 more days to go in the country. And if we do move back to France, we can prepare a ream of documentation (plus photocopies!) to prove our marriage isn’t a sham – in advance.
We left the prefecture in high spirits and went straight for a Berthillon ice cream. Ah, to be an American in Paris.
June 1, 2008
As usual, I’ll try to distract you from the lack of actual writing on my blog with fancy! shiny! pictures! You can see all our pictures from Montpellier (with a running commentary, of course) here. In the next few days, I’ll be trying to get up some stories from our Montpellier reunion 2008! But fortunately for me, Elizabeth is coming up for her last visit to Paris while we’re still here, so her arrival on Tuesday may mean that I need to venture back into the great outdoors, instead of putting my feet up and blogging. Isn’t life an adventure!
Apparently, I had the foresight to book first class tickets from Paris to Montpellier and then the good sense to forget all about it. So when Allen and I arrived at car number three and found it was a first-class car, we were very excited. “Just a little early anniversary present,” I joked.
Three hours into the trip, the TGV has finally slowed, and we’re pulling into the train station in Nimes. Somehow “I’ve been here before” is almost a physical reaction. My skin is tingling with anticipation of the heightening of that feeling in Montpellier. We’re twenty minutes away.
It didn’t seem to make sense to travel very much in the fall, when I was settling in to Paris, and Allen and I were adjusting to inhabiting a shared space again (and a small one at that) after two months apart. And then I found work, and we had visitors, and I flew back to the States in December, then Allen did in January, and there was dreary February, and then half the people we know came to Paris seemingly at once. Now with five weeks left in France and fifteen minutes left on a train, I’m asking myself why we waited so long.
I’ve been back to Montpellier since studying here, in 2003 with my mother and my friend Sara. But this time will be so different. Last time my friend Adam was studying abroad in Montpellier with the William & Mary program (I like to think I had a hand in it), and he was living in our building. So we stayed two floors down from my old apartment. This time, we’re farther removed, staying in a chambre d’hotes. But this time is a reunion, with Allen and I meeting Debbie and Elizabeth. We’re about a fifth of our study abroad group right there. (And it’s worth noting that by luck – or a predictable sequence of events, depending on how you view it – we’re two pairs that lived together that year. Allen and Debbie were in the same dorm hall at Boutonnet, while Elizabeth and I shared a charmed apartment on rue Eugene Lisbonne.)
As the trip drew closer, and our discussions and plans more frequent, I started to notice the ways in which that year had been different for all of us. Our daydreams about the trip were revealing. Debbie was prepared to spend every day at the beach, as was Elizabeth. Allen and I hadn’t even given a thought to taking the bus to Palavas and the Mediterranean. Allen expressed an interest in visiting our old campus. I was entirely focused on listing all the places I hoped to eat.
I came to Montpellier when I was 19, and I’ve turned 27 this week. It will be different (and I would want it to be different). And yet – we’re pulling into the station now, and I can see the familiar orange and green tiles. I’m scanning the crowd for Debbie and Elizabeth; we haven’t planned to meet, but I somehow know they’ll be there. And it will all be just exactly the same.
May 16, 2008
A year is too long…
To be away from your baby niece.
To live in an apartment without a proper kitchen and a bed on stilts.
To be unable to have a regular job (especially for my American sensibilities of needing to be “productive” all the time).
To say something stupid every single time you interact with another human.
To put up with the dollar-euro exchange rate (which is devaluing our sole salary).
A year is not long enough…
To establish a proper social life in a foreign country.
To see everything in Paris.
To get to the level of fluency in French I’d like to be.
To forget where home is, or was, and to reassign its location.
To try all of the amazing restaurants in Paris.
A year is perfect…
To make a few great friends (specifically, Mimi & Jack and Antoine & Typhaine).
To figure out your favorite bakery and try 75% of the food in it.
To brush up on French enough that it’s not completely embarrassing.
To have a few people around the neighborhood recognize you and say hello, and to run into friends on the street.
To appreciate a city you weren’t in love with when you moved.