Reentry

Ohhh.  That makes it sound very NASA-ish.  Coming back to the States is not quite an alien experience but I do miss Paris.

It’s only been two weeks plus one day.  It feels longer… and not….  Just crazy.  Got back on Wednesday afternoon.  Several disruptions I would have been happy to avoid but that’s life:  Garage door opener – broken springs (2) fixed on Thursday for $600+, slow leak in rear tires – two tires later at $300, dishwasher broken $700+, back slider is really hard to move – handyman next Saturday for a lot of money plus time to get new sinks as the porcelain is wearing out – handyman and more money.  He’s happy I am back!

This after the extra bag charges for Delta.  The allowance is one free, next one $100 and third more like $200.  But that’s cheaper than shipping.  The final number at the airport was 22.9 kg, 22.0 kg and 22.3 kg.  Whew.  Max is 23 kg.  And btw, always ask them to weigh in kg because that gives you a little bit more than the 50 lb limit.  And my Delta AMEX card which gives me free bags domestically doesn’t help for international.  The United Visa gives me the second bag on international flights free.  About the best thing I can say about United…

Most amazing: NO JET LAG.  None.  Nada.  Zip.  Sure – I might have woken up about 2 or 3am, but that’s normal on a normal night.  And what is normal for jet lag is to wake up at 3am and be WIDE awake since that is noon in Paris.  So jet lag means you can’t go back to sleep.  Your body is ready for action!  Time for lunch or a walk or something other than sleeping.

But not this time.  Went right back to sleep every night immediately.  Why?  If I really knew the secret, I’d patent it.  But I think it was because I had so much to do – arrange for all those repairs, and doc appointments and routine car maintenance.  AND travel down to Visalia to see my sister who is recovering from a stroke.  So one day here and the next on the train south.  Stayed there 4 nights and back here and then back down there 3 days later.  I think that is going to be the routine for a few weeks.  (She is doing VERY well – speech great and progressing from a wheelchair to walker to using a cane!)

What’s best about the return?  The clothes dryer!  And a washer that is easy on the clothes versus the one in Paris.  And of course the dryer is nonexistent in Paris.  I was very disappointed about the dishwasher – I was so looking forward to not having to wash and dry dishes by hand.  But no.  On the other hand, I have been patiently waiting for that dishwasher to break – it was here when I bought my house in 2003.  And it wasn’t new at that time.  The new one is not a high end fancy bells and whistles machine but it is so quiet that I only knew it was working at first because the timer on the front was changing minutes…

Total Wine is a great store for wine.  I went to stock up on my French wines.  I don’t really drink a lot and usually not alone and usually with meals.  I got a Chinon, a Brouilly, and a rose from Provence.  And after watching the news, I opened the Chinon.  It was necessary.

Because of my travel schedule, I wasn’t eating well during my first week back.  Finally had time to buy food and prepare a meal.  So I have changed after two 9 month stints in Paris.  I was quite surprised.  I made a chicken breast with wine sauce and champignons…. Oh.  Mushrooms.  And as I looked at the plate, I thought to myself, It looks tasty.  And I could slice it up nicely and arrange it on my plate and put the sauce just so…  OMG!   I never thought anything like that for a meal I made for myself.  It was scary!  I shared the story with a friend who said I was a foodie.  Oh God Forbid!  Me? A Foodie?  I won’t go that far, but I will say, oui, I have a different attitude to food.

Coming back also includes medical appointments.  Spent the day at Kaiser for a variety of things, including getting a hearing aid fixed.  Yes.  I have a hearing aid.  I got it when I worked for a company that was totally paranoid.  The senior team of which I was a member would have meetings where everyone whispered.  I would be saying, What? What?  So I had my hearing tested – they said, you’re border line.  I said I need to hear the whispers.  But I didn’t wear it often in Paris.  Sometimes crowd noise would be too loud – so I’d take it out and then I just didn’t seem to need it.  Come back here and it’s like I am at the bottom of a well.  What’s up with that?  But it had stopped working – a Kaiser gal fixed a broken wire and I am now good to go.  But why do I need it in the US more than in France?  I think Americans mumble.

A French friend facetimed me my first week back.  I thought it was someone else and just answered without thinking.  Then I realized it was Francois.  Yikes.  Early morning here and I am not sure I had even combed my hair.  FT can be dangerous!  So I held the phone as far away as I could so my early morning hair and face would be as small as possible.  And then he started speaking FRENCH.  QUOI?  My brain stalled.  It was the feeling you got when the teacher announced a pop quiz.  Huh?  I hadn’t prepped for that!  Yikes.  Fortunately, it came back.  But we did speak more in English.

However, this evening, I went to an open house for a new law firm a dear friend is starting.   And there I met a French woman.  And yes, I just started speaking French with her and it was wonderful!  Maybe soon I will stand up and believe I speak French!  (I also added TV5 to my Xfinity lineup so I can watch the French shows.)

And for the three of you who said you have read every blog, please email me your physical address so I can send you your prize!  I hadn’t forgotten!  Cheaper to mail from here than Paris.

Notice I have stayed away from politics… except for the need for wine?  I’ll just say I am so proud of those National Park Service employees who have started altNPS Facebook and Twitter accounts and refuse to be silenced on climate change and science in general.  This is nuts.

I have been called a global resident.  I love that.  And an English friend posted on FB that she wants me back to being an American Abroad soon!  I agree with her.  We will see how the health of everyone progresses.

Bus trip…

So it was an easy boarding process.  I thought. 

But no.  We went down the ramp to stairs. Huh?  No jet way?  Nope.  Then at the bottom: a bus!  Really? So we boarded and waited and waited as everyone else got on. Well. Not everyone else.  But a full bus. There would be multiple bus trips we could tell.  

The bus ride was forever!  For a moment I thought they were taking us to Orly,  the other airport south of Paris.   And the ride was like an E-ticket at Disneyland for those of you who remember that. (E did not stand for electronic). 

Finally at the aircraft.  And more stairs!!!  What is Delta thinking?  

And we have a companion dog on board.  In general I am sympathic to companion dogs. This is a Great Dane….   A guy I was chatting with showed me a photo he took on another flight he was on- the companion animal was a miniature horse.  Really.  

So getting on early gave me a chance to get all my bags stowed.  My electronic gear out. I am ready. Going to read and listen to Hamilton. That will take up 2+ hours.  We land At 2 in SLC. Then customs. Then Sac here I come.  I got up at 6am and will be home at 1 am Paris time.  Whew. 

C’est dommage

It’s sad.  Sitting in the waiting area at CDG.  Bags checked.  All just under 23 kg. All over 22 but 23 is the magic number. It still cost me over $300 to check the two extra bags.  The packing was smooth. Driver showed up at 7 and I was ready.  At CDG by 755.  Through check in and bags by 805 and through security by 850.  No rush.  Now just waiting to board in 20 minutes.  

Leaving Paris is not as sad as it used to be.  My love for the city has not decreased.  On the contrary It has increased.  But a change happened this year.  Like Paris is another home and I know I will be back.  It’s no longer just a vacation or adventure city.  

The last line is beginning.  Thanks for sticking with my blogs this year.  More to come as I transition back to the states.  

Hills and the Last Days…

I always think of Rome when I think of a city with Hills…. The Seven Hills of Rome?  Right?  Yesterday I had a multi-tasking day and I saw the hills of Paris.  There are a lot of them!  I had discovered the obvious – Montmartre.  And Buttes de Chaumont.  And over at Passy.  But yesterday I just noticed how hilly all of Paris is.

It started with the Bauhaus exposition at the Musee Arts Decortifs.  I have been aware of Bauhaus in a peripheral  way for many years.  This expo was a great summary of this arts “movement” that was started by Walter Gropius in 1919 and ended – pretty much by the Nazis – in the early 30s.  The idea was to combine artist and artisan.  The artist and the craftsman and to combine them from all different aspects of art – architecture, painting, ceramics, silverwork…  And I realized that I like much of this and much of it was also the favorite of my parents.  The tea sets, the silverware, the chairs…  I grew up amid them.

And the Nazis didn’t support it…  Clearly this exhibit was a long time in the planning – even some things from the Los Angeles Art Museum!  But nowadays there are many comparisons to the Nazis…  Just makes one think.

After that expo I stopped by the Scandalous Clothes expo in the same museum.  That wasn’t the real name but I forget and it was in French anyway.  So that’s a valid translation.  About how changes to fashion push the envelope – from years and years ago.  Did you know there was a law in the Middle Ages that people could not wear hoods – hid the person too much and was considered a security risk.  Much like hoodies today.

After that show, I was off to the Bibliotheque Nationale for an expo of Avedon’s France – Old World, New Look.  I have always liked Avedon’s photos.  A modern Cecil Beaton.  This exhibit was not very big, but still fun.  It opened with a room dedicated to the movie Funny Face, starring Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn based on a fashion photographer much like Avedon.  And he collaborated on the film.  I do enjoy that film – so much so I came home and downloaded it to the Ipad for possible watching on the flight home.

The Bibliotheque Nationale is the nation’s library.  And it was the first time I went here.  There it’s a huge open space deck with four large and tall towers in each corner.  Glass.  A huge mistake, I heard, after the fact.  The sun was damaging the books.  So now there are panels that can twist and act as a sun block.   Funny, but it doesn’t seem like that’s a surprising issue…. Sun… Glass… Books…

My bus let me off at the opposite side of the activity so I hiked over to a line I saw in the distance.  Unbelievably long.  It would have to be something pretty dang good to make me stand in such a line.  I asked – they said to get into the library.  So being my true American self, I went to investigate.  And it was a LONG line.  I finally found the almost beginning.  Two guards who were letting people walk down the stairs to another entrance.  So that’s the deal.  There are several floors below the plaza open space deck I came in to.  That makes the library huge.

I said I wanted to see Avedon and the guard waved me through ahead of everyone.  I was sure that couldn’t be right so I hesitated.  And another family came up and showed him some tickets and he waved them through.  When he saw me lingering, he again waved me in.  This time, using the family as cover, I went.  To discover that the line was for the large cinema complex underground.  Maybe three of us were there for Avedon.

My trip from the Bauhaus to Avedon was close to the Seine, so there weren’t hills.  But from the Avedon, I headed to Larnicol for some Kouign Amann – a delicious pastry from Brittany – what I am tasked to bring back.   The bus route took me south to Toilbac in the 13th and then back up to the 5th.  Every view on a side street seemed to be either up or down.  I was struck with the hills that are hidden by all the wonderful buildings.  And glad to be on the bus, not hoofing it.

From Larnicol, I was back south to a tabac store near Montparnasse.  Because – of course-  my phone plan was warning me that it would expire soon – like on the Sunday before leaving.  How can that be more inconvenient?  I toyed with a 5 euro plan but ended up splurging for the 20 (I usually buy the 30 euros with 2 GB).  I have only til Wednesday at 10:40 am but I have some key lunches and dinners before then and I don’t want to miss calls or texts.  Just the cost of traveling.

As is the Navigo.  That’s my transportation pass.  I normally buy monthly for unlimited.  Much better than SF or London where you get charged per ride.  So last week, I bought a weekly pass that got me through Sunday.  This morning I decided to just get another weekly pass. I might have saved 5 euros if I had bought the separate tickets but then I have to keep track of them and what the hey…  It’s in the budget.

So what am I doing in my last days?

Packing.  And I have surprised myself.  Packing is something I dread.  Well.  Not always. But specifically when returning from Europe after months.  Last Saturday I actually packed and zipped two bags.  Weighing in under 23 kg.  The third checked bag was filled with the remaining stuff and weighed in at 12 kg but I am sure I will find enough other things around that I missed so the extra cushion will be good.  Between weight and duty limits, packing and mailing must be creative.  I am so surprised that it has all gone so well.  I will have to reassess the dread level assigned to return packing and lower it to def con 1.

And I also was packing up things to leave with friends.  I am not sure about returning to this apartment so I am not leaving anything here.  Mostly because of the construction going on across the street that will continue until 2018.  And I have somethings that I would rather donate to friends than to this apartment if I don’t return soon (dread that thought!)  Like a fan, a dust buster, my printer…  Two dear friends offered so I split it up.  One drove in to pick up her share today.  The other is coming tomorrow.

This morning I had a final Kouign Amann run to another bakery for a different style.  She said they were out.  I said dang it and I was leaving the next day.  I bought a baguette, four croissants and a gallette du roi (king cake).  But then she went in the back and said she’d have some for me in a moment.  Score.  When the kouign amann was added, my arms were full.  As is my freezer.  Yes.  I have done this before.  It usually works – the cargo hold this time of year is very cold.  And this is why I have to back that last bag very carefully – not the weight but the volume has suddenly expanded.

Bags almost all packed.  Pastry all purchased and freezing.  Apartment vacuumed.  I might just wander in Paris tonight.  Tomorrow is the Eiffel Tower pilgrimage.  But tonight I might not do a lot – not a good night’s sleep so I am tired.  And sad.

Miscellaneous

The title is in honor of the French woman next to me on the bus who saw me reading English and asked if I was British or American and could I help her with a definition – the word was miscellaneous…

I walk down the sidewalk thinking and suddenly I have to push Andy Rooney back into a box in a recess of my mind.  My blog makes me think in Andy Rooney speak sometimes… did ya ever….

It’s a tense time right now.  Nope, not terrorists.  My last days in France.  I find I am consciously trying to avoid any catastrophes….  I have slipped and fallen twice and am being so careful to not a third time.  But other catastrophes rear up in my mind.  As I was leaving the apartment today and holding my keys in my hand, I had this image of the keys slipping out of my hand as I was pulling the door shut, falling inside the apartment while the momentum closed the door and thereby locking myself out of my apartment.  I must have a special little man in my brain (see previous blogs for explanations re the little men… and the French and American/English librarians…) whose only job is to be fearful.  With an active imagination!  Fortunately, he is usually back in a nice room with ice cream and he rarely comes out to worry me.

I am also discovering a relaxation of a tension that I wasn’t very aware of.  It’s the “get out of speaking French free card!”  And I thought I loved this experience.  I DO love this experience.  But my brain is apparently looking forward to a few months of just one language.  HA!  Little does it realize – I still have TV 5 – the French channel on Xfinity and I have 3 French novels I want to finish.  There will still be French spoken!  And I might join Alliance Francaise again too.

I have a birthday upon me.  The reality is that I am actually older than the day would suggest – meaning that when you reach your first birthday, you are actually starting your second year of life.  It’s funny because centuries are done the same way – we are now in the 21st century.  I don’t like this.  Makes me feel old.

It has been cold here still.  Yesterday in the Metro, I saw my breath.  Yikes.  That just isn’t right.  Well, not on the platform itself, but down the corridor to get there.  Brrrr

I was sick with a bad cold over NYE so my plans to spend it with a friend evaporated.  Instead I sat on the couch hacking and coughing but I did stay up for midnight.  This year Paris had a light show projected on the Arc de Triomphe followed by fireworks.  It was televised so I enjoyed.  Then I suddenly remembered how the airplanes flew over my apartment on the 14th of July for the Parade down the Champs Elysees.  And I rushed to my window and yup!  I could see the fireworks!  It was sooooo cool.

My cold is almost gone.  I am meeting all my friends for the final conversations for this visit.  And in the midst of that, I am trying to get to sites I have not seen and pack.

I hate packing.

A Quick Blog

Before going off to a fancy high tea with a friend at Le Bristol – one of the classiest hotels in Paris.  Tea for two will be 85 euros.  So I only had a light breakfast and skipped lunch.

An aside re food… the one thing I really enjoy is the quintessential breakfast sandwich.  Egg, bacon, cheese between a muffin, two pieces of bread, or interestingly enough – a croissant.  I have only seen this once here – at a coffee shop – and yes it was more a coffee shop than a café.  In Brest.

It’s a bittersweet time – saying good bye to friends with no absolute return date.  But I suspect there will be more FaceTiming going on when I get back to the US this time.  The French still don’t know how to do a good goodbye.  Just the bises on the cheeks and a bientot.  That means ‘see you soon’ as opposed to au revoir which is more a hard ‘goodbye.’  I am not even suggesting an American hug.  It made them all so uncomfortable last time.  If they come to visit me in the US, then we will have to hug!

I made a postcard for my sister who is in the SNF (and doing very well!) and I wanted to put a photo of the Eiffel Tower on it.  I was amazed at how far I had to go back in my photos on my iPhone to find one.  That’s my go to spot.  It’s on the list for these last days.

Yes.  Last days.  8 wake ups.  Things to do every day – people to see, restaurants to try, museums to catch up with- until next Sunday.  Then the real packing begins and the real cleaning begins.  I hope the vacuum cleaner can suck up those mammoth dust bunnies!

I made a major faux pas at the restaurant yesterday!  Major!  I guess I am anticipating the return too much and the American in me slipped out.  My conversation partner has suddenly become a great source for restaurants – this after we went to the same place many times for its convenience.  We both were tired of it and I suggested he find a place.  Wow.  Great suggestions.  But back to lunch.  We were seated. Looked at the menus.  Ordered.  But kept the wine menu.  So the waiter returns with the bread, the water bottle and then takes the wine menu before he puts down the bread and water.  And suddenly he has trouble managing it all – tries to put the menu in one hand, then can’t get a hold of the bottle, can’t get the bread basket, tried to fold the menu under his arm, that doesn’t work either… so of course, my American helpfulness comes out and I reach for  the menu to hold it while he gets the bread and the water on the table.  Oh my. Non!

Non  Non  Non  Non  Non  Non  Non  Non

And NON.

You should have seen his face.  I think I offended all his sensibilities.  I cringed.  My French friend looked at me as if to say ‘what the hell are you thinking!’  I think I embarrassed him too!

So I mumbled something in the way of an apology and said I was an American.  Didn’t say stupid or uncouth American.  That was already obvious.

I didn’t make it any better at the end of the meal.  I asked for tea.  And for milk for my tea.  And he asked if I wanted it hot or cold.  Did I mention this earlier?  Had the same question at another café.  It’s such a British question.  Hot or cold milk is important.  And the order in which you do this is also a debatable question – does the milk go in the cup before the tea or does the tea go in first.

Like I care?  But I had forgotten that earlier faux pas with milk – and I just looked at him in confusion and said I didn’t care.  Not the right response which I realized at the time.  I think he was used to me at that point –he just said maybe a mixture.

The milk was hot.

My French friend said there was “something” going on between the waiter and me.  I have no clue what that meant.  Clearly, the waiter was about 25 years my junior.  If he meant attraction, my radar wasn’t working.  I do think the poor guy felt sorry for the etiquette-challenged American.  Perhaps I amused him.

Regardless, the meal was delicious.  I had the traditional French onion soup and chuck roast with puree of carrot and parsnips.  I am not a foodie.  But I must say that this year my tastes have changed.  I am appreciating the fine food more and more.  The French have a burger on the menu more than ever – but these burgers are not the greasy spoon of the US.  And even when I took my friends to the Hard Rock Café, I ordered the pulled chicken, not a burger.  And coming home, In N Out burger may not be my first stop.  However, Round Table may be up there on the list – the French pizzas are not the same.  Even though I read that the French eat more pizzas than anyone in the world.  Who knew?

Sorry.  I guess this didn’t turn out to be a quick blog after all…

Heading for the Stable

(Written December 24) You all know about the “rental” horses that go out for the day and are a bit sluggish and seem fatigued.  Until the rider turns them back towards the barn.  Then they perk up and head home eagerly for their dinner.

Sort of but not quite.  I am now three weeks out.  California is in sight.  At the oddest times, I find myself thinking longingly of clothes dryers, dishwashers, or my stainless steel pots and pans.  The most frequent is the clothes dryer.  I am creative in finding ways to drape wet clothes about the apartment but oh for a dryer!

This year I have decided to take everything back home or store it with a friend.  A family member has medical problems – see previous blog – and I am not sure I will be back in April.  So better safe than sorry.  But that creates an automatic headache.  Stuffing nine months of living into two suitcases?  No.  It’s more like 18 months since I left things from last time – so I gave in and bought another suitcase.  It holds 120L of stuff.  A test run showed that the clothes I just dropped in without good packing were only 33 pounds –  my max is  50.  Of course, the third suitcase will cost me $200.  Better than shipping.

And I am also shipping – but by La Poste and US Mail.  I can send back “American Goods Returning” with no duty implications.  Otherwise, I can only send $200 worth of goods to myself on any one day and $100 in gifts on any one day.  Yup.  It gets complicated.

So my apartment is a mess.  Both literally and figuratively.  Or maybe that’s not right.  Maybe literally in two senses: not clean and everything scattered around.  Sacks full of things for shipping – I pack them in the sack so that I can weigh everything.  And sacks for packing in the suitcases – those are in the bedroom with the three suitcases.  And I haven’t dusted or vacuumed in several weeks.  (Remember the dust bunny blog?  They are back!)  I was too busy then I started the packing process and it seems too much work to clean around everything.  And I am only here 3 more weeks… I can do the final cleaning at the same time!  Well, we’ll see.  I am not sure I will be able to stand so many dust bunnies…

Time of the year for classic videos.  I enjoyed the annual showing of White Christmas last night, with my “Chocolat Chaud Viennois” Hot chocolate with whipped cream!  Sometime soon I will also watch A Christmas Story.  And a French friend introduced me to a new old classic.  It’s called Dinner for One.  You can search it on You Tube.  It was made in 1963 for German TV in English starring a British comic and apparently it has become a holiday classic in – of all places – Norway!  I just watched this morning – short and hysterical!

The horror of the Berlin attack at their Marche has made its way into France.  Many more police and soldiers out and about.  They have really never gone away after last November, but now we are back to the same level as last Christmas.  And there are still repercussions – several marches in Paris did not open this year and Notre Dame does not have the annual Christmas Tree again this year.  I am happy I got a chance to see it in 2009.

I walk through the marches or down the sidewalks and window shop.  I see some beautiful things I would like to purchase but NO.  I have hit my duty limit.  You can bring back $800 to the US.  Anything over will cost you duty.  It’s not a lot.  Last year I declared $1,200.  And was ready to pay the approximately $23.07 dollars.  But after consulting the computer and his calculator for a long time, the customs agent simply waved me through.  $800 is a generous figure when you visit for 2 or 3 weeks.  It hampers your spending when you are here 9 months.  If I stayed here over a year as a “resident,” I would get a break and not have to declare everything.  But no.

 

Hardest time to be here

(Written in around December 18) Nope, not Christmas.  Not the holidays.  When a loved one has surgery or has a stroke.  And I am dealing with both right now.   Relatives.  The surgery went well and I was able to face time today.  What a difference technology makes!  The relative who suffered a stroke is doing better and better.  But again, Face Time makes such a difference.  It’s one thing to hear someone – sounding tired, slurring, lack of energy… but to see them.  And to be able to see the improvement.  My return plans were already set for January 11.  My other relatives and the doc said don’t change your plans.  You are doing all you would be doing here – face timing.  She’s in the hospital.  You wouldn’t be doing more if you were here.  I investigated coming back early – almost three times as much cost.  Is that right?  Two times more than what it was.  This is after they waived the change fees.  Why?  Because it’s holiday time!  So I stay here, getting ready to come back and doing all the administrative stuff (I am the power of attorney) on line or phone.

That makes for interesting days – I have things already planned here in France that require getting up early and then I come home and converse with California until 1 am (four  in the afternoon in CA).  But it is amazing at what can be done with a computer, the internet and a Skype California number.  Pretty much everything I would be doing there.

At least I know I will be going back soon.  Not sure now when I will come back to France.  I was set to return for the same schedule – getting a visa in January for April.  Now… I will cancel that appointment and see what happens.  Which means I am packing differently.  Won’t be leaving much here other than my printer and scale.  And will take them to a friend’s house.  I don’t know if I will come back to this particular apartment.  She has to be able to rent it.  Can’t count on it.  Hey.  Have you seen the exchange rate?  The euro is almost the same as a dollar.   Means my deposit of 1750 will return to me at 1400…  I loved the lower rate but this deposit thing is not in my favor. Oh well.