Paris

August 8, 2010

It feels like a year. Okay, the expected re-entry process has been more difficult than anticipated. Picture a CD playing at full tilt that's ripped out of the player. That's me.  For one thing, let's discuss the bugs. Evidently there has been an infestation of mosquitoes from a horror movie since we left. Creature Features lives.  While walking around the backyard and surveying the weed situation, myself and my five year old were attacked by mosquitoes. They went down my shirt and up my pants legs. Who gets bit on their knees while wearing pants? I do. Then I noticed many small children in town looking like they had chicken pox on their faces. Upon further investigation it appeared that the evil mosquitoes had descended upon them as well. Ick.

I love farmer's markets. From the first sign of spring I am anticipating the energy rush of all the beautiful produce plucked so recently from the ground. Summer is my favorite time to cook and prepare meals, inspired by the gorgeous bounty. Obviously our local farmer's markets are not going to bear any similarity to the ones in France. We have different soil, light, weather conditions. So my expectations were not particularly high for the local market, and it was o.k. Smaller than last year, and a little anemic, though I did find some beautiful triple creme cheese with apricots and almonds that was amazingly delicious. We ripped it open, slathered it on water crackers and practically ate the entire chunk standing at the kitchen counter. 

Now for the boxes. Coming home to a house filled with packed boxes that need to be emptied overwhelms me with fatigue. This is the most difficult hurdle of all. Getting back into the swing of children's schedules and school necessities is "child's play"  compared to this. How do people cope with unpacking moving boxes? How would a French woman cope with the unpacking and organizing of hundreds of boxes. Those bastions of efficiency and energy would certainly not allow boxes to sit around for weeks collecting dust and above all, looking ugly.   One friend says attack it head on, get it over with, then on with your life. Another's advice is one box a day – it's not so miserable. I would love some advice on this.

August 2, 2010

I wake up in the shape of an upside down question mark and can't move. Oh, I see. It is due to two children in my bed, one on either side of me. There is snoring coming from the floor. My oldest has placed himself there sometime during the night. Re-entry after six weeks in France is not going to be easy.

Upon return the children all felt our house was tooo big after living in a sardine can for four weeks. Just goes to show the affects of environment even in the short term. The house does feel cavernous, but that is because it is empty. We moved a month before leaving and half the boxes have yet to be unpacked. Uggghhhhh…..

Ice. Being dry and parched from my jet lagged sleep I reach for a cold glass of anything and realize I can pull out ice. Ice is a great luxury in France. Restaurants rarely serve it and our apartment did not have a freezer – big surprise. The refrigeration systems there are teeny tiney dollhouse size, and electricity  chuggs along in what seem to be limited amounts in the old buildings of the Marais. Ice is a welcome friend.

Bread. Wandering through the grocery store yesterday in a bit of a culture shock stupor I was at a loss as  what to buy. The bread aisle  looked  cartoonish ,  filled with Disney-like bundles of plastic. At the corner boulangerie in Paris the smell of fresh bread wafted in the windows in the morning and by afternoon their  shelves were empty. And it was DELICIOUS. Chewy in that perfect way, rolling with flavor. The bread here looks about as appealing as eating a sponge.

Cheese. Well, maybe I'll purchase some cheese. That was a mistake.

Olives.  Love olives. Always have. One of the tastiest concoctions we had in Paris was a thin crusted pizza on the Champs-Elysees with cheese, tiny capers and olives. It was sublime. That is one recipe I will try to recreate. The olive selection here is all in bottles, but there is a nice olive salad in the deli that looks fresh. We will have one of those please.

Fruit. Generic and  industrial looking. The berries at the local market in Provence were still warm from being picked. This fruit looks like it's been hermetically sealed in a vast refrigeration system. This was getting depressing. I picked up a peach, hard as a rock and ice cold. Eww.

Why is our food so disgusting? Perusing our local grocery store is a viewing of food like substances with very little real food.Not a novel discovery but  visually shocking when coming from such a different food experience for my family. Summers with my grandparents when was a child were a bounty of fresh produce picked everyday from their own garden. And it was absolutely delicious.  Sitting at the kitchen table chatting while munching on sliced green peppers and warm, sweet tomatoes was vividly recalled for me with the beautiful produce of Provence. The leisurely abundance of the Provencial markets was replaced with the fervor of Paris, but the food remained the same.

Change #1 – pay strict attention to what I feed my family and where it comes from. No more lip service. 

July 29, 2010

The service could not be worse. I am giving Laduree a second try before an early morning hair appointment. I stand by the sign telling the world to please wait to be seated. I wait for 8 minutes and am the only person in line. As two women blow past the sign and seat themselves it feels prudent to follow suite. There appears to be one person working/serving/ignoring the tea room on Rue Royal. She looks at me, then looks away. I walk into the less than half filled room and sit down at a table, taking note of several sticky, dirty cup rings. Five minutes pass and a woman appears, asking me something in French. I don't even make an effort.

 "Do you speak English?" . 

"How many people are sitting here?"

 "One."

 "This table is for four."

"Where would you like me to sit?"

She points half-heartedly to the next table over. 

"There."

I wait another ten minutes for someone to take my order. A man appears. 

"Are you ready?'

"I've been ready for 20 minutes."

I am served a not particularly great cup of coffee and four pastries that could be gathered at a Residence Inn breakfast buffet.

 What brought me back you might ask? Pure nostalgia and love of the macaroon. I adore macaroons. Each little bite is a scrumptious burst of flavor, light, airy yet somehow chewy. The colors are divine with a highly imaginative assortment of yummy flavors. Then there is the nostalgia. My first encounter with Laduree was 20 years ago on my honeymoon where I fell head over heels into enchantment. It was early spring, brisk outside, warm and bubbling in. The tea salon was chock full of chic and stunning patrons. Particularly appealing was that so many of them were mothers, daughters and utterly adorable granddaughters. It was a Parisian paradise, American in Paris in vivid, breathing technicolor. 

That experience has never been close to recreated.

This summer I finally brought my mother to Laduree. The decor looked shabby, ignored and in need of grooming. The room no longer sat with its back straight up against the chair but had developed the American slouch. Our service was god-awful, beyond rude. It was hot and there was barely any ventilation. My enthusiasm did not completely dim so we ordered omelets and a club sandwich (my five year old was with us) and had an enjoyable time. Unfortunately, my daughter was not with us. The plan was for her to meet up with us with her dad and brother, who was, as usual, running behind  by two hours. But that's another story. As we were leaving our unhurried group arrived. Long story short, (well, relatively) ~ while indulging in reverie at my favorite bookstore in the world – Galignani – I receive two phone calls from my husband complaining about Laduree. Our daughter doesn't know what to order, there is nothing she likes on the menu. This strikes me as odd.  She is very easy to please in a restaurant and almost never complains. Next call, our son wants salmon, should we get it here?

When husband and said children arrive later at Galignani my daughter tells me how much she dislikes macaroons. Oh well.

C'est la vie.   

  

July 28, 2010

Back at the apartment I have noticed several bruises on the sides of my upper thighs. Upon reflection I know exactly how I got them. When I walk from the kitchen area to the bedroom I have approximately 8 inches  within to navigate to get to the bedroom. Sound confusing? It goes something like this. Pretend you have just walked into your very small, very hot apartment (because the air conditioning works two hours at a time). You make a hard left to enter the kitchen area and pull a cold drink out of the little refrigerator under the kitchen counter. As you raise your head up it bangs into the very pointy, very hard "thing" overhanging the counter. Stumble backwards two to three inches and do a quarter turn to the right. Realize you need to powder your nose (insert your own euphemism) . Do another quarter turn to the right, go into bathroom. Oooops, can't use that one. It is all blocked up (according to  rental agent it's all part of the charm of staying in a historic building. She also stated that some of the French buildings pre date one's in US by 200 years. Added plus ~ history lessons.) But back to the business at hand. Walk out of bathroom and turn right, yyykkkkeees! You just ran into the very pointy credenza in the kitchen. Ouch, bruise number one.Step six inches to the left. Walk two feet to the bedroom, OUUCCCHHHH. Just jabbed left thigh into metal hook that holds back bedroom curtains. Godd#$!* it!!!! Turn side saddle and inch your way across entire expanse of the bedroom i.e..the width of the bed, and turn left. Walk three feet thru the second bedroom. Now comes the tricky part. Angle your body to a perfect 90 degrees so as not to run into the armoire but additionally not fall on your face as you step down into the terrarium/chemical toilet bathroom. Look out window, wave at your neighbors and sit. Mon Dieu. 

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 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".

Why?

 "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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