July 28, 2010

My five year old is adorable. He has golden blond hair, sweet brown eyes and the ability to endear himself to most anyone who meets him. This is quite fortuitous as he is very precocious and given to some outrageous "antics". I have always heard that the French were not nice to children, that they did not particularly wish to see or hear them. Traveling with three children who are very American, i.e., loud and opinionated, I have yet to meet a person in France who was not only lovely to them but also quite engaging.

Sunday in Place des Vosges is everything a Paris romantic dreams of. Two young women setting up music stands and breaking out into arias worthy of La Scala. Another corner and there sits a violin player and cellist. The music swirling out into the courtyard is magical. Artist after artist selling paintings while displaying their published works in international artist magazines. These are not weekend watercolorists but full time successful painters. One of these artists had the most alluring paintings of Paris I had seen so far. His color, perspective and the flow of his lines jumped off the canvas.

As we chatted about his work I noticed that he was quite taken with my children, particularly my youngest. "Little American Boy' he kept chuckling, "Little American Boy". I would not be surprised to see a painting of my little American boy at Place des Vosges one Sunday soon.

As we wandered through the Marais looking for food and adventure we settled into a tiny cafe run by a woman and her husband. She took the orders, gave suggestions, sprayed hot children with cool Evian water and washed the dishes behind the sink. It was sweltering but that did not stop the steaming food from flying out of the kitchen prepared by her husband. While we read the chalk board menu she emerged from the kitchen with a wet cloth and wiped out two items, smiling and shrugging, "sold out". Evidently the only english words she knew.

My two older children (13 and 9) wanted something cold to eat but the little guy wanted spaghetti. As our ubiquitous helper served up the plates she spilled a tiny drop of hot tomato sauce on the little guy's shoulder. "Ohhhhhhh, no no no !!!" she put down the plate, wiped off his shoulder and gave him a two genuine kisses on his soft little cheek. I can't say I blame her, he is irresistable, but it was so sweet and sincere and motherly. Maybe times have changed here but I don't think so. There will always be people who don't want to see or hear children, but there will always be a lot more who do and do it with love and care. 


July 27, 2010

For every helpful friendly face we saw in Provence, there is a surly, snarly, frowning face working in Paris. It occurs for a number of reasons. Life in Paris is not easy. It is crowded, busy and expensive for everyone, not just tourists. People have to really work to survive which appears to be counter-intuitive to French culture. The great joie de vie that has enthralled the world forever is difficult to maintain when a cafe creme is 4.50 euros. In the morning we smile as we pass by the waiters working in one of the many cafes in our neighborhood. At 9:00pm (or 21:00h) we are waving good night to the same staff.

Yet the allure of Paris continues. For as you meet and interact with Parisians the quality of human caring and dignity is deeply pervasive. On the hot, packed city buses manners reign with an awareness of personal space. I am enthralled with more than the sheer beauty of the city. It is the people. 


July 26, 2010

If New York is the city of endless possibilities, than Paris is the city of never ending romantic notion. Mine included. Whenever I mentioned that myself, mother,  three  children, and at times my husband are spending a month of the summer in Paris, sighs and gasping commenced. No other city elicits such envy. Living here is another story.

Paris is hands down one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Every time I walk through another architecturally dazzling arrondissement I quietly thank the French for saving this exquisite jewel from the decimation of WWII. Now, after experiencing Gallic fortitude first hand, I am quite sure they never had any doubt about its retrieval. 

We are staying in an apartment in the Marais. I use the word apartment sparingly. Hell hole would be a more apt expression for the sliver of space it represents.

Upon arrival, the six of us butted up against the front door, overflowing onto the boundaries of the sidewalk. Our apartment manager cheerfully arrived a few minutes later, jangling keys straight out of Monty Python. As we climbed the 200 year old stairs the children were very excited. Clearly, they were about to have an adventure.

 Entry to the apartment was deceiving. Newly decorated in tones of soothing celadon and white it looked halfway inviting. Upon further review, fussy becomes an understatement. Tchochki  nirvana, a stall explosion at the Clingnancourt flea market, all possible terms for the suffocatingly small space. No corner left untouched. If there was one micro dot of space, there was a dried flower in it.

 As our manager scuttled thru the apartment something seemed to be missing. Oh yeah, a bed. Without skipping a beat Manager pointed to the daybed in the "Living Room" (read as front half of the front space sliver) and announced without aplomb "It sleeps two". Huh? How can a daybed sleep two? "One child, one adult".

Oh my GOD. For four weeks?

We were screwed. Having paid upfront for this former ghetto dwelling, and Paris being at full capacity, we were totally and utterly screwed.  Suffering the unfortunate results of renting an apartment, sight unseen, without photographs, due to "it is in the process of being beautifully redecorated. "

 I know, duh.

 If anyone could take a bad situation and make it worse, it is our leasing agent. In retrospect I had experienced a slight uneasiness about her when after our first contact she emailed back stating she would have to converse later as her children were screaming for her.

Her children are college age.

Thus began the relationship with the woman who can't tell you enough about what she is doing for you while doing nothing.

Let's get back to the apartment tour. Our friendly manager pointed out the air conditioning unit in the bedroom. "You can only use it for two hours at a time."

 Come again? 

"You can only use the air conditioning for two hours at a time, then you turn it off for an hour".


 "There is a restaurant downstairs and the fumes can build up in the courtyard and cause a problem. To the environment. "  Now I am beginning to get agitated. Sheer joy and sparkle of arriving in the City of Lights is starting to dim. Showing my three children Paris and all its charm is beginning to feel like entrapment.

And we haven't seen the second bedroom and bathroom yet.

When you walk into a new space, be it a hotel room or someone else's apartment there is a sense of possibility and curiosity. At times even enlightenment. It is difficult to take it all in at once because the saturation level is so intense. As we stepped into the closet with trundle beds (2nd bedroom) and stepped down into the terrarium (2nd bathroom) I almost hyperventilate. "Don't flush anything down the toilet that doesn't belong there" states upbeat apartment Manager. I'm sorry,what? "It is a chemical toilet and can only get rid of what is supposed to be in there." Oh. Does that include crap?

So speaking of courtyard, where is it and the clothes line for laundry as promised? "We have a washing machine and you hang your clothes on the towel rack." Okay Cuckoo land, enough is enough. "That will not work. At all. I need a place to do laundry as stated when we rented. This is truly outrageous. " Manager sensing that he has finally run out of any possible good graces calls the cleaning lady, who agrees to do our laundry off premises and bring it back 3 times a week. More on that later.

We had truly gone down the rabbit hole on this one. Who talks like this? Better yet, who thinks like this? Which brings us to the furniture. It is all white. White linen. I kid you not. The apartment is decorated as a rental unit with six white linen covered dining room chairs, one white linen settee against the back of the daybed and two white linen empire style chairs in the "living room". There is a cheery letter from the owners warning us that they have an excellent control system and that security deposits help them maintain high levels of decorating. Excuse me while I gag.

It is time to call the rental agent. Immediately.


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