Where is that? Je Suis Parisenne?

There are benefits to packing early.  Less stress and wondering – you know how much the bags weigh (under 50 pounds please!) and it’s another task to check off the list.

There are also downsides… Like forgetting if you packed something you need and combing through the apartment and finally opening the bag to search… and find it.

But I think the benefits outweigh the negatives.  I trial packed the carryon today.  That was more difficult because it will hold the electronics – and I use the electronics – like the laptop I am composing this on right now.  But I got a good enough idea and all is well.

I also discovered another four bottles of water to give away.  I had already given my friend a couple bottles yesterday when I went out to her house for Christmas dinner.  Oh la la.  Such a wonderful meal – an entrée of salad and avocado, followed by a mushroom dish, followed by fish and vegetables followed by a salad followed by a cheese plate followed by a buche de Noel. (Christmas cake).  Accompanied by champagne with the aperitifs of veggies, dip, and humus and salmon.  Then a delicious white wine.  Whew! A splendid Christmas!

Today, Boxing Day, I could have been out in Paris in the sun but instead I walked the 2 miles in the apartment again.  And I was resting up for the evening dinner.  I know it is the standard Parisien dinner time, but gosh 8 is just too late!

Albert and his wife treated me to a delicious meal.  Three entrees that were delicious and each a separate taste and a wonderful main course followed by Les Meriveilles… a candy chocolate concoction that was beyond scrumptious.  With champagne and a light red.

I had met Albert’s wife for lunch in May and it wasn’t too exciting.  She spoke far too quickly for me and I was very hesitant with my French.  We seemed to mutually agree to not meet any more.

But tonight!  It was the best Christmas going away present I could ever have had.  At the end of 2 and a half hours speaking French all three of us… a real conversation talking over each other… she told me how much I had changed since we met.  She thought I even looked different! (Well, I do have Michel… the French hairstylist!) And I was clearly mastering French and looked so happy and Parisienne!

Could it get better?  Well, ya.  Albert was kind enough to send me home in a cab – not any taxi, the service Le Cab, somewhat Uber like but better.  After 3 minutes of silence, we started to chat and I talked the whole 30 minute drive – with his continued compliments of my French.

Why am I leaving?

Oh yeah… if I don’t, I will get kicked out.  Almost overstaying my legal limit.

And now at almost one a.m., I am hyped up and sleep is doubtful.  Tomorrow I can sleep in.  It’s my last day in Paris for 3 months.  I have said au revoir to all the important places and a bientot to the important people (good bye and see you soon).  Tomorrow evening I am treating myself to a concert at Sainte Chapelle.  That’s a good send off.

Is the blog over?  I don’t think so… I think that transition back to the States will still give me fodder for thought.

A big MERCI A TOUS to my readers for accompanying me on this journey.  If anyone wants to comment on my journey, what was significant, how I may have changed, or anything, I’d love to hear.

A bientot!

Preparing for a return.

I don’t want to go back. Really. I have had a fabulous time. My French skills have grown immensely.   I have survived and actually thrived in 400 square feet, three floors up and no microwave and no dryer.

I’ve learned how to be a good European. I continue be asked for directions from French and others as I walk through Paris. I know the bus system and I know the metro system. I know how to get around.

I survived the attacks of 13 November. Of course, as I write that, I know it had little real effect on me compared to the victims and their families. Visiting La Republique and Bataclan was a sobering experience.

Paris will survive too. Yet at this time, the tourists seem to be absent still. Saturday night I went to a concert at the Eglise St-Louis En l’ile. Choir and

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orchestra performing parts of The Messiah. (Special thank you to Jasper Rose of UCSC who had the freshman class spend a week singing The Messiah so I have a great appreciation for it!) (But the French did NOT stand for the Alleluia chorus. It was so weird! 2015-12-19 21.15.52At the end they did an encore of that song and a singer asked the audience to stand so it made it all well.) Ile St Louis is a popular place but the restaurants were not full. The concert was not full. And as we walked back to the metro through the Marais area, the restaurants and cafes on the way were pretty empty. On a Saturday!

Sunday I did major packing. Major. I have decided to get it all packed and live out of a suitcase for the last week. If I don’t do it like this, I will just be worrying in the back of my mind every day. One bag is fully packed – and a little extra room just in case.   The other large suitcase has the clothes draped over it. The carryons have things tossed in for final packing in 7 days. Three bags sit by the door to be carried to the donation center. I discovered the donation bin about 6 blocks from me. I will fit that in somehow.

Moving to France, I expected to go through a transition and adjustment period – figuring out the differences and how to manage.

I didn’t expect something similar going back to the States. I mean, it’s just the US normal. Right?

So I am in the elevator at the hotel in Strasbourg. And there are the usual choices. 0-1-2-3-4-5-6

In Europe, the main ground floor is 0. Our US second floor is their first floor. So when I got on the elevator to go down to the lobby, I should have hit 0. Like I have done for the past 9 months. But for the first time in 9 months, I hit ONE.

Like I was already back in the States.

And at dinner yesterday I ordered a small salad. All good. With the dressing that comes with it. No choice of course, it’s France. And as I ate the delicious salad with the tasty dressing, I thought oh I can have a choice in a week or so. I can order ranch on the side if I want.

Where did that come from?

My friend today suggested I am like the horse going back to the stable – suddenly trotting quickly. Well, maybe. Except it’s my subconscious that is speeding up my return. And I even think in some deep recess of my mind there are some little men who will be taking an extended vacation – the ones whose job it is to translate. They are thinking OMG we can speak ENGLISH.

And I like speaking French. Or so I thought. This is getting too schizophrenic

2015-12-20 17.07.00After my packing efforts, I rewarded myself with a trip to the Eiffel Tower. From there, bus 72 to the Concord and a bit of a walk through the Marche de Noel. I did serious shopping here about 3 weeks ago when it opened. And it was practically empty then. Not so Sunday night. Maybe tourists like the Marches? Or maybe these are Parisiens who are out with kids and strollers on a Sunday night before Christmas? It was packed with people! Glad for the vendors – it’s been dismal so far.

And now a word about Strasbourg and Colmar, since we are talking about Christmas Markets. Strasbourg is the granddaddy of all Christmas markets. Theirs started in 1570 and they bill themselves as the Capitol of Christmas. Rightly so. There are about 8 markets scattered throughout the town. Good marketing – it keeps your senses from being overwhelmed. Better for making more purchases.2015-12-16 16.29.56 I however, with packing in the forefront of my mind, did not purchase. Oh, ok, I did, but it was edible. I couldn’t resist the bag of Anise cookies – just like my grandmother used to make. Miam Miam, as the French say. Yum!

Strasbourg is also a city of half-timbered houses. And the seat of the European parliament. Which is why they are also on high alert and as a result, some of the special activities were canceled this year. It was still a delight to wander the streets to see the lighting displays. I changed my tickets for Colmar for Thursday 2015-12-17 20.08.33so that I would be there in the evening too to see their noel illuminations. Smart idea. Colmar is a smaller city with the old town more compact. I couldn’t say which I liked more. But I give Strasbourg points as they had a market located directly across from the train station. You were immediately involved in their markets.

 

2015-12-21 16.23.20And a last Christmas Market at La Defense near me.  With Pere Noel!

Four goodbyes down. Three more to go. Tough saying goodbye even though I know I will be back and we will pick up where we left off. Fortunately, in three cases, the metro or bus appeared and so the long goodbye was cut short.

 

A week old…

I wrote this a week ago but for some reason – um, life? – it didn’t get posted until now.

Good thing I got my hair cut short.  Less to grab ahold of and pull out.

I spent the day in trial packing.

I have been avoiding mentioning my impending departure.  But reality is catching up with me.  I return to the US on Monday December 28.  That’s two weeks from tomorrow.

As good friends have pointed out – both French and Americans – I will be back!  And soon enough if the Consulate is good enough to give me another visa.  And if not, well, I’ll be back on a tourist stay.

During my stay here, I have always known I have to go back and that drove many of my purchases – and non purchases.  But still….  I lived through three seasons.  And that means from 34 degrees a few days ago to 108 in July.  I did add to my wardrobe accordingly.  Now the big question – what to toss, to leave and to pack.  Yes, the landlady’s nice enough to give me three drawers to leave things.  But the printer takes up a great deal of that.  So today was the first sorting.

Wish I had that famous sorting hat from Harry Potter – it could figure this out in a second.  And what is something that I can leave behind but really want – so I want to pack it separately so it can be shipped back in some type of emergency situation.  Which I don’t expect at all.  But I am a strategic contingency thinker so my mind goes there.

I started this about 11 this morning. It’s now 6.  At least my bed is cleared off enough to sleep.

And sleep…  I have had a recent history of fitful sleep patterns.  I was getting better – through a discipline to look at my phone for only 30 seconds when I woke up and wanted to check the time and by setting the intention to get 6.5 hours of sleep.  But still fitful, with many restless minutes according to my Fitbit HR Charge.

The past two nights I have slept wonderfully, few wakeups and when I did, immediately back to sleep.  Why?  I hate to admit it, but apparently even 30 seconds of the electronic light has a harmful effect.  The past two nights – I didn’t look at the phone once.  And had over 7.5 hours of sleep.   I wonder if those bags under my eyes will finally disappear…

Revenons a nos moutons!  (Although, in talking about sleepless nights, you usually talk about counting sheep…. But we are going back to the main topic of packing!)

My last two weeks are busy!  I go to Strasbourg this Wednesday to visit the Christmas Market – the granddaddy!  It started in 1570!  Then back on Friday night.

Saturday I am off to a concert of The Messiah at a church on Ile Saint Louis with a friend.  And Christmas Week is full of the “last” conversations for a few month at least with several friends. Christmas with my Thanksgiving friend.  And an invitation to dinner at Albert’s apartment with his family.  I am so happy with my friends invite me to their house.  That is not a casual event with the French so I am quite honored.

And then a Sunday to do the final packing and storing.

Art from Picasso & Rodin

The Picasso Museum…

Really?  The plate looks like something done in a daycare…  And that bull?  Did you know it is “found” art – made up of a bicycle seat and handlebars…

The Rodin Museum

2015-12-10 13.36.40 Front and back…2015-12-10 13.26.472015-12-10 13.13.54the renovations…2015-12-10 12.32.07

How Rodin displayed his art..  And his lady falling out of the antique bowl… love his sense of humor

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  • His very own Van Gogh and, of course, The Kiss2015-12-10 12.13.01

The Tale of Two Museums

4 weeks.  I guess I am still counting.

Life is somewhat back to order.  If you call having your back inspected at every major store and museum and sometimes being wanded being normal.  The new normal.

But still there is a shortage of tourists.

I am not letting this shortage go to waste, however.  I am visiting all the usually packed places.  Last week I went to the d’Orsay early for the Splendors and Miseries exhibit – all about prostitution.  I do get in 30 minutes early because I am a member of the d’Orsay.  But still.  Empty.  And stayed empty for some time.  I have had my conversation meeting there with one friend several times since and each time it is uncrowded.  No line.  Unheard of four weeks ago.  Yesterday we chatted for 2 hours and I went earlier for lunch – so I was there for 3 hours.  There were empty tables around me the entire time.  Today at my conversation near the Louvre, there was only one Asian tour walking by the café during our 2 hours – usually at least three go by.

But I digress.  Revenons a nos moutons, as they say in French.  Really, they do – it means, let’s get back to our sheep…  I have no idea!

So, the sheep… the Tale of Two Museums.

Two major museums were recently reopened after extensive and lengthy renovations.  The Picasso.  The Rodin.

The first was very disappointing.  The Picasso is situated in a hotel particular in the Marais.  A grand old mansion.  I remember it from before, and frankly, I don’t see much improvement.  And I find the collection to be skimpy.  I thought this was THE museum for Picasso and I have seen more famous Picasso works on tours – in Philadelphia, in Paris at other museums, and even San Francisco.  And I don’t even feel like it gave a good sense of his various periods.  Total experience – a Trip Advisor 3 rating.

On the other hand, the Rodin museum…  It too is located in a hotel particular near Les Invalides, the Hotel Biron –  Rodin actually rented there.  I was never quite sure if he purchased it as some point, but at the end, I think he had the whole place to himself.  Earlier it was divided into rooms rented by several people.  They had a fascinating video showing the extent of the renovations – all the flooring was removed, special weight bearing panels were installed and then covered by parquet.  The Kiss weights 2.5 tons!  And they created a special Biron Grey paint to complement the sculptures.  Clearly, much thought was given.  And it seemed to me that there were more pieces exhibited than before.  So much Rodin.  Clearly, this is HIS museum.  Where to go to see his spectacular work.  Trip Advisor rating: 10.

Winter is setting in.  It was 41 out yesterday when I got up with a “feels like” 34.  Two hours later that moved up to “feels like” 35.  Brrr.

Le Drapeau (The Flag)

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Hollande declared a national day of mourning and encouraged the French to display the French flag.

The government buildings of Paris were lit up with the Tricolor – the French flag.  Blue, White and Red (you must get the order correct or you are confusing us with the US).

 

2015-11-27 18.02.21   2015-11-27 19.24.13  2015-11-27 22.20.45

And many private buildings were too.

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Flags were slow to come out – probably because French folk don’t own flags.  I saw a number with the folds still showing their newness.  Small ones here and there.  2015-11-29 19.39.25Some even resorted to creative ways of showing the blue, white and red.2015-12-01 21.37.51

 

 

And now I am seeing Tricolor for sale in the newsstands.  The plane with the shipment from China probably arrived a few days ago.

 

Two Weeks Plus

I wonder when we will stop counting from the 13th of November? When that date is no longer a reference point, we are well on the way to being healed.

And we are. And the city is. Starting…

I read articles in the Sacramento Bee (yes, digital edition) that say Parisiens are still scared. I was myself measuring that level of fear by the patronage of the restaurants and cafes. Empty seemed to mean to me that Parisiens were not going outside because of fear.

But now I wonder if that is a valid measurement. What I wonder is how tourists who have stayed home have impacted my impression? Last Saturday a French friend and I went for a drink and dinner at an Irish pub. And it turned out it was no longer an Irish pub but was transformed into the Baker Street pub. In Visalia years ago, I designed the set for Baker Street the musical – but this pub didn’t interest me. (Weird to think an Irish pub became a British pub… no love lost there- and the website still has it as the Irish place…)

So we walked on. Ended up on Ile de la Citie – where Notre Dame is located. There are some very nice restaurants but they didn’t appeal. And they were empty – but it was only 730. We ended up in a very touristy restaurant on the right bank, with a view of Notre Dame, la Concergerie and the Eiffel Tower. Prime tourist real estate. And it was empty. Turned out to be a great place for a conversation and view but the meal was mediocre. I know that two weeks earlier, there wouldn’t have been a seat available.
Same for Les Deux Magots. (Not maggots ! Magot means a Chinese figurine – there had been two statutes of Chinese men years and years ago.) This is the world famous café where Sartre, Beauvoir, Hemingway and more sat and drank and debated or wrote. I have never stopped there before because it was always filled with tourists. Went Sunday night for a chocolat venoise (hot chocolate with lots of Chantilly cream!) and it too was empty (the café, not my cup)..

So is it the Parisiens or the tourists who are staying home? On my bus ride through neighborhoods, not necessarily tourist areas, I noticed a number of smaller cafes that had more clients. And even as I type that, I am not sure there is a neighborhood that isn’t a tourist area these days. What with AirBNB, any apartment can become a tourist haven.

So I am going to take advantage of the lack of tourists and hit the renovated Picasso Museum (five years in the making!) and the Rodin.

Years ago in my HR career I noticed that doctors put people off work after surgery for a routine 6 weeks. I was a bit skeptical until my mom had major surgery and complained daily that she had no energy until that 6 weeks were up! And I had minor surgery and tried to go back after 4 weeks and nope, that wasn’t happening. So I believe there are natural times for our bodies to heal. And emotions. I don’t mean to suggest anyone will quickly overcome the grief from loss of a loved one or the impact of physical harm or emotional trauma. Far from it. But after 2 weeks, I found myself starting to breathe again. And two other friends here had the same experience. Was it the constant rehashing in the news and a change in the news cycle? The distraction from the COP21 climate conference here? Or a natural reaction?

All I know is I am relieved to feel happiness again.

Fear? I have read too many articles about the chances of being killed by a terrorist versus being hit by a truck. (Apparently, the chances of being killed by a terrorist are similar to those of being killed by your television falling on you….) When I had the realization that these people – how can I call them that? – just want to kill as many innocents as possible before they blow themselves up, I knew that there is little you can do. One crazy person can walk down the streets of Paris and shoot…. Or down the streets of a town in Colorado.

So I stay here and try to let life settle back down.