And Now, the Reluctant Parisienne’s Window on France
Our correspondent Mindy Jones is a Seattleite living in Paris for two years. When she’s not busy trying to figure out what the French are saying, she’s busy trying to figure out what to say to the French. She posts frequently at An American Mom in Paris.
We left Seattle New Year’s Eve, 2008 and arrived in Paris New Year’s Day, 2009. New year, new life. Isn’t it just so damn poetic.
We packed up our Seattle things, rented our Seattle house, sold our Seattle cars, and passionately kissed our Seattle friends goodbye (we have boundary issues) to follow my French-Canadian husband’s dream of living in Europe. It was indeed his dream, not mine. I’d been to Europe; it was neat.
I’d even been to Paris a couple times; it was pretty. But not once while visiting was I struck with the desire to throw my arms around the person next to me at a cafe and say, “Be my NEIGHBOR, Frenchie!”
I was content being a tourist. My husband, my Alex, was not. His job fortuitously offered him a relocation opportunity–Luxembourg or Paris for two years–and Alex stared at me with pleading eyes. I agreed, but only if we chose Paris over Luxembourg because, well, come on it’s obvious. (No offense to Luxembourg; it’s a helluva grand duchy.)
I also made Alex pinkie swear we would return to Seattle in NO MORE THAN TWO YEARS. He swore. On his pinkie.
(We’re going to be here longer than two years.)
It’s been a wild ride. Here’s the story, parts of it anyway, from the beginning:
The 10-hour flight went as well as can be expected considering our almost-three-year-old son, Lucien, never stops moving and never stops using his “outdoor” voice. Benadryl got him through. (Ativan got his mama through.)
Then we were in Paris, jetlagged and stuck in a car with a driver who got a giggly thrill from trying to kill pedestrians. Al and I mouthed, “Oh my God!” to each other, eyes wide, all the way to our new ‘hood in the 6th arrondissement.
We were met at the door of our temporary apartment by a nice lady who immediately pointed out an expensive sculpture displayed on a narrow wobbly table. The owner of the apartment was an art dealer. Great. I had visions of said sculpture in pretty little pieces on the floor and Lucien’s arms raised in triumph. It was going to be a tense month-long standoff in the temporary digs.
The apartment was adorable, all 400 square feet of it. It had typical Parisian mouldings and floor-to-ceiling windows with wrought iron balconies outside. A big old mirror hung over the fireplace. Sure, we couldn’t all three fit in the kitchen at the same time, but we had a gorgeous parquet floor. We suffered many foot splinters and assorted tripping-related injuries due to its unevenness, but it was worth it because of the beauty.
Lucien didn’t adjust well to the time change and became nocturnal. The resulting sleep deprivation over those next few days turned us into strange, strange people. Alex started laughing maniacally at things that weren’t funny, which wouldn’t have been different from our lives in Seattle except his pupils were dilated and his hair was sticking straight up.
For instance, that second morning, when I held up the only roll of toilet paper and asked, “Alex, did you use all the toilet paper blowing your damn nose?!” He stared intently at the empty roll, said, “I left a little piece there, but I think we’re almost out,” then laughed so hard he fell down. I didn’t think it was funny, though, because we were out of toilet paper and didn’t know where the store was.
Our appliances were up to no good. When Alex tried to make toast, he pushed the lever on the toaster and all the electricity in the apartment went out. He found the fuse box, reset it, and tried again. POOF–all electricity gone again. Alex was then afraid of the toaster and hid it in a closet.
Our washing machine was the size of a shoebox and could fit approximately five pieces of clothing at a time. It was one of those fancy European washers that wash and dry in the same machine–in theory, anyway.
First the clothes got wet but not soapy. Then they got soapy but didn’t rinse. Finally they were clean and rinsed–and the machine had shimmied itself across the kitchen–but not a one of ‘em was dry. At one point I suggested that maybe they were starting to look “a little fluffier,” but Alex looked at me squarely and suggested I was perhaps “a bit too optimistic there.”
I was delighted to discover one of those very first days, as I stood at our kitchen window and dipped a baguette in Nutella, that there was a very wealthy family living across the courtyard. Their apartment appeared to consume the entire floor, which made me feel both awestruck and angry. They even had servants running around over there. I could tell they were servants because they never sat down and didn’t look very happy.
Sometimes I crouched under our window and watched the people across the courtyard being rich. From what I could tell, the wealthy in Paris spent a lot of time sitting around drinking various beverages and looking fabulous. They looked over several times and I thought I’d been caught spying on them, but they would’ve only been able to see the tip-top of my head, and occasionally my hand as it reached up to dip my baguette in more Nutella.
I was pretty sure they couldn’t pick me out of a lineup from that. I was safe from the Frenchies. For now.