Remembering Rue Git-le-Coeur

Before Elodie, my downstairs neighbor, went on a rant to tell me I was once more doing something illegal, I tried to have a window garden in my apartment at Git-le-Coeur. My window was quite large and looked out over the Seine to Pont Neuf. I had an arm chair pulled close and would sit there for at least twenty minutes every morning filled with gratitude at living in this beautiful city I call home. I’m sure I didn’t need the garden but, as an adult, I have always had green things growing, something to care for. I certainly didn’t need Elodie as the Apartment Police pointing out the laws I was breaking. I want to be clear that I never set out to break the law! I didn’t know better and french administration being what it is…… It seems there truly is a law in Paris that no one can have a window garden that has the remotest chance of falling on the sidewalk and hurting someone. I can’t help but look up in my wanderings around Paris to see who is committing a window garden felony!

My apartment building on Git-le-Coeur sat on the corner of Quai des Grands Augustins. There is one apartment per floor. Elodie lives on the first floor, I lived on the second floor, the apartment on the third floor is rented by a family living in Brussels who visit Paris once every other month or so. The fourth and fifth floor is one apartment owned by Mr. and Mrs. X. Everything that happens in the building has to be voted on by the owners. Elodie and the Xs hate each other so Elodie always loses as she has one vote to the Xs two votes.

Notre Dame at sunrise

My living room was huge for a Parisian apartment. Two windows looked north, over the Seine to 36 quai des Orfèvres where the infamous Paris Homicide Unit resided until a year ago. If I leaned out one of those windows and looked right, I had a full view of Catedrale de Notre Dame. I took dozens of photos of the sun rising behind the cathedral. Once I caught a full rainbow hanging over the spires gracing a dark grey sky. It was magical.

Le Seine and Pont Neuf from my window

Two windows looked out on Git-le-Coeur, the Canadian Pub and Pont Neuf. It was this view that became my North Star for the almost three years that I lived at Git-le-Coeur. Everyone knew how I loved that view. Artist friends would draw it and give the drawings to me as presents. After Elodie and I made our peace with each other, she presented me with a copy of a painting of our building and the Seine. She had seen the painting at an Expo at the Musee d’Art Moderne although it was painted in 1904. She went to great trouble to get it copied and then had it framed for me.

Elodie is truly the only person I know who speaks no English at all. Befriending her was a challenge. She is a very bobo frenchwoman. My friend, F, says she always has her nose just slightly in the air. I decided to kill her with kindness. After the tenth leak from my bathroom down to her apartment (three happened while I lived there), I wanted to help her confront the owner of my apartment. He lives in Madrid and is a lazy owner, only wanting money and ignores all pleas to fix the many things wrong. I bought her a small present at BHV and wrote her a note saying that we would figure this out together. She melted slowly even inviting me to coffee one day. Because my french is mediocre, I would find myself avoiding opportunities to talk with her. Now that I live in the 16eme, we have developed a schedule of meeting every other week for coffee so that I can practice my french. She still plays police only now she is the Academie Police. I wrote her an e-mail this winter beginning “Salut Elodie”. When I arrived at her apartment a couple of days later, she sat me down telling me one never ever uses Salut in writing. It just isn’t done. It is for waving and greeting a friend on the street. Of course, that evening, I saw it used in writing by someone of a much younger generation.

Av. Mozart, Paris 16eme

I miss Git-le-Coeur sometimes. I love my new neighbourhood but it took months to adjust. I will dream of that large living room and my window gazing out on the Pont Neuf. Elodie tells me the apartment is still empty. Little strings get tugged in my heart but then I remember my lazy landlord, my nasty, greedy agent and think how wonderful it was to live there and that I now live in a real Parisian neighborhood.

A bientôt,

Sara

Back home in the City of Light

While in California, I sent my downstairs neighbor a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge.  I sent it the day after the election.  Being somewhat numb, I couldn’t think what to say so I wrote “Greetings from Oakland” or something banal like that.  When she received it, she texted me “Merci Sara pour la très belle carte du pont de SF qui sera toujours là après les élections….(thank you Sara for the lovely card of SF’s bridge which will still be there after the elections…”)

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I had similar thoughts the morning after I returned.  Sitting at my table, looking out my window on to the Seine and the Pont Neuf, I thought “this scene doesn’t change.  It has survived bad kings, the french revolution, the terror, the commune, World Wars I and II, surely the left can survive four years of the right led by someone who is going to have to take a speed course on the doings of US government.”

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And so my numbness slowly went away.  My jet lag has been relatively mild, just sleeping a lot.  I haven’t turned on the news.  I was hearing horror stories of teens doing very questionable things to non-white teens in their schools.  That was enough.  I’ll get back into my daily life here and sooner or later, things will be very clear on how the wind is blowing in the United States.

I’m told one of the first politicians to call and congratulate Mr. Trump was Marine La Pen, she who would very much like to be the next President of France.  We’ve called her the French Trump because of her stand on immigration.  After Brexit, she was ecstatic and called for a referendum in France.  She wants France to leave the EU.  I don’t think she’ll be called the french Trump anymore, too superstitious.  The French elections are in five months and eyes will be turned this way to see if bad things come in threes.  Ms. La Pen has been building power as immigration becomes the most important issue for almost everyone.  The choices, so far, are not great.

It’s a strange time.  I was born in the aftermath of World War II, grew up in the Kennedy years, became a hippie in my university years and now have watched politics swing as far away from those years as it could possibly get–at least in a democracy.  I’ve been extremely active in politics and I’ve been asleep.  Right now, it seems to me that what is called for is living the best possible life I can lead.  To do random acts of Kindness — because I can.

There is an opinion piece in the New York Times this morning written by Nicolas Kristof titled: A 12 step program for responding to President-Elect Trump.  I thought it inventive and smart.  I pass it on to you:

A bientôt,

Sara

Going on a Trip

I am leaving Paris for two weeks.  I’m going to California where I lived for most of my adult life.  It is a beautiful day today.  The sky is blue, the Seine is peaceful, sparkling and the Bateaux Mouches have begun their daily trips up and down the river showing tourists the sights along the banks.

 

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I have been grumbling about the weather most of the Fall.  It seemed that we went from summer to winter without passing Autumn.  In fact, we have had a couple of beautiful Indian Summer days and this seems to be turning into one of them.  I’ve turned the heat off in the apartment and I’m looking forward to a walk.  My iPhone says that the next week will be sunny and much much warmer than it has been.

 

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However, I’m leaving for Charles de Gaulle airport before the sun comes up tomorrow morning.  And like most of my “last days before the trip” Paris seems lovelier.  I seem to see it all much more clearly.  I look around my apartment as if I will never see it again.  I held Bijou, the cat, so close trying to make a physical memory of her furriness, her sweetness, the way she will suddenly look up at me with loving eyes that completely melt my heart.  I don’t feel this way about going anywhere else in Europe.  But California and another life seems worlds away from Paris and this life.

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Last January, when I took my trip to California, terrorists had just bombed the Brussels airport.  We had heard, though it hadn’t been confirmed, that the Brussels airport was second choice to Paris.  I had no idea what to expect.  I felt very matter of fact about it.  I called my lawyer and asked if I wrote out a makeshift will in pencil about all my belongings in Paris, would it be considered legal.  He said yes then added to please not worry, nothing was going to happen to me.  He couldn’t possibly know. The truth is, a place where terrorists have just hit is probably one of the safest places in the world.

I’m not worrying about terrorists.  I look forward to these long flights to California (but not to the jet lag). Once I get to the airport, get my bags checked, get through border control, I’m in No Man’s Land.  Soon my phone won’t ring at all, I won’t be able to receive any texts.  No one can bother me or demand anything of me.  I can watch five movies in a row and not feel guilty or lazy. I can daydream or read a book or write.

But that’s tomorrow.  Today, I’m walking around looking at everything as if it’s the first time and the last time.  I don’t feel anxious.  I don’t have a word for it.  It’s a feeling I’m sure everyone gets at some time or another.  Of wanting to imprint something in my memory that is stronger than just a memory.  I want to be able to touch it, feel it, take it with me.  When I’m sitting in my living room in Oakland, I don’t want Paris to feel so incredibly far away.  The memory I always default to is sitting in my armchair that I have facing the window.  The window that looks out on Quai des Grands Augustins, the Pont Neuf and the river Seine.  It’s an amazing view of one of the most beautiful parts of Paris that I look at every day.

 

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A bientôt,

Sara

The privilege of living in Paris

Periodically, a visitor will ask “Sara, How do you stay here in Paris?”                                           “Do you have to get a Visa?  Is it hard?”

If you want to stay longer than three months, yes you have to get a Visa.  Is it hard?  That depends.  Students can get a student Visa, workers get a worker’s Visa. Then there’s me! I’m retired and I just wanted to come live here.  So among other things, the French want to be very sure I could support myself.  They wanted to know I had my own health insurance and I had to prove I had an address to come to.  No sleeping rough!

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Since I lived in the Bay Area, I made an appointment at my closest French Consulate: San Francisco.  On the website was a long list of things I needed to bring to the appointment with me…..in duplicate.  I was warned to do exactly as it said.  The French like to dot their Is and cross their Ts.

It went very smoothly.  A week later, My Visa arrived in the mail.  Along with a piece of paper telling me to send it in to a Paris address within three months of arriving in Paris. That led me to the Immigration Office (which I described last week) for a physical and tuberculous test.  Passing that, I was good until my year finished.

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However, I realized after being here awhile that I loved living here and I wanted to stay. That meant I had to apply for a Titre de Sejour (a residency card).  At first the process was the same, make an appointment at the Prefecture (police) and bring in the list of things that were required…..in duplicate and translated into French.  By a certified French translator.  Everyone I knew said it was really hard.  I got terribly anxious.  I also got a lot of help.  I found a wonderful translator.  My appointment fell after the Visa had actually terminated.  I had visions of being thrown out of France.  Or not being allowed back in.

 

illus_demarches_459x305.pngMy day of the appointment arrived. It was hard.  The woman who looked at my documents looked at everything very closely over and over.  Then she finally wrote a list of things she wanted me to bring back for another appointment in about seven weeks.  Meanwhile she gave me a temporary card.  When that appointment came, she didn’t look at any of the documents she had asked for.  She told me to come back in two months to get my Titre de Sejour.  It turned out that almost every American I know was asked to return for a second appointment.  Maybe it’s a test of some sort

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Recently I went to the Prefecture to renew my Titre de Sejour.  I came uber prepared but I still expected them to send me back for some reason.  They didn’t!  I was in and out in 45 minutes. And I get to stay in Paris another year!

My understanding is that the card must be renewed two more times if I decide to stay here. Then I can apply for a 10 year Titre de Sejour.

http://ielanguages.com/cds.html

Photos are of actually docs but none are mine.

The man down the street

This morning, hurrying down my street, Git-le-Coeur, I found myself behind a very determined French woman.  She had large strides.  An older dog was following but she never turned around.  I kept looking at her, at the dog, wondering did they belong to each other, should I do something.  Suddenly she stopped.  She began tying black calla lilies to a grill at a store front.  I walked up next to her and suddenly realized which store front it was.

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“The owner, he is alright isn’t he?” my french is a bit stilted but that’s how it came out.

“He died Saturday.”

“How?”

“Cardiac arrest.  I feel black so I bought him black flowers”  and she strode away with that determined manner that only the french seem to pull off.  The dog, whom I had forgotten about, ran after her.

I started to cry.  I didn’t know the owner.  Yet almost every day for the past two years I’ve walked down Git-le-Coeur on an errand.  Every day I passed him and said “Bonjour Monsieur” or “Bonsoir monsieur” if it was after 8pm.  He always nodded and softly greeted me.  When friends would visit, we would walk past and I pointed out my beat friend that I’d never met. He always wore black.  He was always outside smoking a cigarette and reading.  If it was a hot day, he was across the street sitting on the curb in the shadow.  If it was a cool day, he would bring out one of those carrying sit-stools that has 3 legs and he would lean against it.  The windows of his store front were covered with bande-déssinée covers.  Animated stories that look like cartoon books but aren’t are the rage in France, always have been.  There wasn’t one empty space, even the door knob was a photo or a book cover.

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He must have lived above the store.  If I happened down the street at the right time, I would see him leaving the entrance to his apartment building which was next to his shop.  I’m guessing his apartment was right above the store. Colorful decorations that ranged from plastic flowers to pails to almost anything hung from the balcony.

I never knew his name.

There is no center of Paris.  Every arrondissement has its own neighborhood and each arrondissement has four quartiers.  I’ve lived in this neighborhood long enough that I know many of the characters.  I see the same homeless people every day.  I know all the cashiers at the Carrefour.  These people have become my people.  I never considered that one of them might leave…..permanently.  It was always going to be me leaving, returning to the United States or moving to another arrondissement.  I couldn’t get my brain cells to wrap around this piece of information.  My friend had left and wasn’t coming back.

I was late for a luncheon date with some classmates so I went to the metro thinking about him.  I had been pondering a little gift for him when I returned from California next month.  Now I would be pondering what I would have brought him, now that I know him better.

When lunch was finished, I hurried back to the store to photograph what was there. I read everything taped up or left by the front door.  I just couldn’t believe I would never see him again.

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His name was Jacques Noel.  He was very well loved.

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M. Jacques Noel when he was a young man.

http://www.iconovox.com/blog/2016/10/02/la-mort-de-jacques-noel-libraire-passionne/

http://cqfd-journal.org/spip.php?page=pages_mobiles&squelette_mobile=mobile%2Farticle&id_article=1509