At Home in Paris

Written by admin on January 30, 2010 – 3:18 pm -

People mean well, but if one more person asks me how I’m spending my time in Paris, I’m going to scream. It’s wonderful to be home. But that catapults me into a different reality zone. I am not complaining; it’s a statement of fact.

I’ve attended lectures including a reading at the Village Voice Book Store that detailed the extraordinary journey of the English language translation of Simone de Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex” by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier. I was riveted by a presentation given by the wife of the Ambassador to France from Afghanistan Khorshied Samad and laughed through Born to Shop Suzy Gershman’s show & tell at The American Library in Paris.

I’ve eaten a couple of memorable meals and even managed to stick my head into a few stores with signs touting Les Soldes at more than 60% off. Because it’s freezing cold, I bought a knit cap for ten euros and have already amortized the purchase.

But the reality is I’ve been living in the Métro (and bless Bienvenuë, its visionary chief engineer), going from one appointment to another. Doctors with four different specialties have had the pleasure of my company. My lawyer, who also does my French and U.S. taxes, was a must-see, as well as a quick visit to the bank of course and renewing my French press card that has to be done annually. This is called real life and taking care of nitty-gritty necessities.

It’s been wonderful being reunited with friends, and last week’s Bonjour Paris get-together was a true highlight. Meeting the site’s readers was important in more ways than you can imagine. Living in cyberspace is isolating, and spending time with people who are BP (not British Petroleum) faithfuls has fueled my motivation to continue writing and adding additional information to the site.

I’m amazed by the number of writers I’ve met who want to contribute and am delighted to read what they write (most of the time) since they have different perspectives on living in and visiting France.

May 1, 2010, will mark my 22nd anniversary of moving here and how things have changed—for better and for worse. I suppose it’s a sign of the times and expanding globalization. When I recount how my hands were slapped when I had the audacity to touch a peach before buying it, people laugh. Don’t get me wrong—it still happens. But, there are more supermarkets where the owner isn’t surveying each time a client approaches a vegetable.

Tasks that were impossible to accomplish 20+ years ago can now be done via the Internet. People can buy groceries, and for that matter nearly everything else, not to mention record their electricity and gas usage and conduct their banking online and even renew their cartes de résidence. Considering how resistant the French were until fairly recently about computers—this was, after all, the home of the Minitel—this is almost as amazing as fondling vegetables without fear of corporal punishment.

But it’s mystifying that if you want to talk to a real person, there’s a charge. This is not simply for tech support, but for purchasing a product. It’s not the end of the world. But it’s irritating when you’re required to call a 08 customer service number to reset a PIN code on a bank account.

It’s an enigma that if you want to buy an item, you’re charged for the pleasure. When inquiring why this is the case, the voice on the other end of the phone explains you wanted help and that’s what you’re receiving. Excuse me? You’re selling a product and what’s happened to the concept of marketing?

It’s Paris, and with Paris comes houseguests. I’m delighted if they stay a few days and are well trained. If they want croissants for breakfast, I’ll direct them to Maison Kayser a block away from the apartment. It’s come to my attention that you-won’t-know-the-difference bakery items are available frozen at Picard and they’re more than delighted to deliver.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to sightsee unless it’s something I want to see—and invariably write about. The same is true when I’m in Washington, D.C. My days of playing tour guide and docent are over.

When I try to qualify (or quantify) what makes Paris so special, it’s that I’m not forced to get into a car to accomplish the most mundane chores. This is true about New York City and many very small towns, but New York is very big and small towns (for me) are very dull.

It’s early afternoon and I’ve already bought some fruit, stood at the bar of a neighborhood café for a coffee and skimmed Le Figaro, took a three-minute walk through the Luxembourg Garden and bought some flowers. All of this was accomplished in less than 30 minutes.

If there’s a real down side to Paris, it’s that my granddaughters aren’t here. But, we said Bonjour this morning via Skype and they’ve already gone to buy doughnuts (thank you Facebook for the information). Undoubtedly their parents and they are in full gear!

But when I go back to see them (sooner than later), I’ll have a stash of croissants and a baguette with which to greet them. The girls are fully aware there are advantages of having a grandmother who lives in Paris. They get to visit and see the city though my eyes.


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