More thoughts on living in Paris

“The more you come to know a place, in general, the more it loses its essence and becomes defined by its quirks and its shortcomings.  The suggestion of something numinous or meaningful is usually available with full force only to the first time visitor and gradually decreases with familiarity”

Sebastian Faulks Charlotte Gray                                   

I have changed the tense to the present tense because those two sentences jumped out at me when I read Charlotte Gray (a wonderful book, by the way!).  I first came to Paris to live in November of 2013.  I walked everywhere.  I had time to walk everywhere.  I was so full with wonder, awe and amazement at the beauty of Paris, at my good fortune to be able to pick up and leave California and live in Paris, there were times I thought my heart would burst open.

It has been a long time since I’ve had those feelings.  I live here, have commitments here, pay bills here, run up against French administration here and unless I write it down as a date with myself, I don’t take those long walks anymore.  I still love Paris but it is completely different.  I have also changed apartments.  I used to live on the corner of Git-le-Coeur and Quai des Grands Augustins.  I sat at my table and looked out on the Pont-Neuf. I could stick my head out the window, look right and see a perfect view of Notre Dame.  I understood how Monet felt when he wanted to paint certain things at every hour of the day.  These two views changed all the time depending on the weather, on the time of day, on my mood.  Many days it would take my breath away.

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Now I live in the 16th.  I have a large terrace which I said I wanted.  In exchange, I gave up the view of the Seine, the Pont Neuf and Notre Dame.  I look out on another apartment building.  Below me is a lovely courtyard.  Every hour on the hour, I see the reflected lights of the Tour Eiffle flickering on the glass of the building across the way. The blinking lights last for five minutes then I lose the reflection.  That is the only reminder I have that I live in Paris.  And there are no high buildings or skyscrapers.  Strictly interdit in Paris.  It’s not till I walk outside and turn left on Avenue Mozart to go to the metro that the atmosphere of Paris washes over me.  Some days, especially days that it has been raining, it seems especially beautiful as the lights bounce off the sidewalk and glass store fronts.  Those days, I take a deep breath and pinch myself.  But those days have gotten far and few between.

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There are no tourists here where I live.  I only hear French on the streets.  Am I saying I would trade all this to be back in the centre of Paris where tourists abound, walk incredibly slowly driving me nuts.  Where all the photos of Paris postcards originate?  Good question.  One I ask myself every day.

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People ask me if I think I will stay here.  I always have to think out my answer carefully because it changes all the time.  Last Saturday when someone asked me, I responded that I thought I was a more interesting person living here in Paris.  I like having to walk to the metro.  I like that I can go to morning matinees of movies once a week.  I like that I never have to drive a car.  I like that I can jump on the TGV and be almost anywhere in France in less than five hours.  And that’s only because the train stops everywhere on the Cote d’Azur taking an extra two hours.  Marseilles is three plus hours away.  I adore Brittany and that I can go there and not have the tremendous crowds that Mendocino and the Northern California coast attracts.  I love going to the American Library and hearing wonderful speakers and authors one or two nights a week.  Does it really matter where I live in Paris?  The fact of the matter is that I LIVE IN PARIS!  How many Americans have the luxury of pulling up their lives and roots and move 6,000 miles away just because?

As they say in Twelve Step rooms, More Will be Revealed.

A bientôt,

Sara

A resident of Paris

On September 29, 2017, I had my fourth yearly date with an agent at the Prefecture to renew my Titre de Sejour (residency card).  Each year, it gets a bit easier to prepare for it.  The French want to make sure that 1–I won’t work meaning take away a job from a French person 2–I won’t end up living on the street and 3–that I’m covered by health care and don’t need to use their social security system.

I seem to get anxious anyway.  I know something will go wrong and this year, it was the printer that ran out of ink while I was making the required copies of all the documents I needed to bring with me and my translator’s vacation. (All English documents must be translated into french by an official translator).  She arrived home two days before my appointment and meeting up with her the day before demanded a dexterity of mind that is not a strong suit of mine.

The morning of my appointment, I went to the nearest Post Office to make copies.  I was under the impression that it opened at 8am and I arrived at 9:30am.  My appointment was at 10:30am.  The sign on the door informed me that this particular Post Office opens at 10am.  So I took myself off to a nearby Cafe for a cafe allongée (long pull as opposed to a short pull which is an expresso).  At 10am, I was back at the front door of the PO.  There was a man standing there looking very bewildered, checking his watch.  The PO was very closed.  I walked closer and read everything on the PO’s front facade.  In small print up in a corner of one of the windows, there was information telling us that this PO was no longer open on weekdays.  I had 30 minutes, and probably less, to find a printer.

I stopped in two cafes and asked if they had one I could use.  No, madame.  I called my old neighbor from my Git-le-Coeur days knowing she had one and was close by.  I reached her at the hospital where her mother was dying and she could barely get four words out.  I rushed to a Gibert Jeune, an all-purpose station for students of any age to buy books, supplies, maps and more.  The Security man told me that ‘No, madame, we don’t have a printer but if you go up that street, cross over past the Pharmacy, there is a Internet store that has a printer.’  I rushed there and, acting like a spoiled American, thought I could talk my way to the front of the line.  No dice.  I had to wait my turn which I did extremely ungracefully.  My heart was beating so fast and my anxiety was so high that I thought I might make myself sick.  With my copies in hand, I rush-walked back towards the Prefecture–it was 10:20am.  I asked myself what was the worst that could happen?  The Prefecture would ask me to make another appointment in the future, it wasn’t the end of the world.

I made it to the door at 10:30, made it through the TSA-like security and, after handing all my documents to a lady at the front desk of my particular department, receiving a number in exchange, waited two and a half hours to be called to one of the cubicles.  After twenty minutes, she renewed my Residency Card and told me I would receive a text of when I could pick it up.

I relate this experience without accompanying photographs because so many of my American friends are envious of my living in the city of their dreams.  And indeed, I am extremely fortunate to be able to afford to live in Paris.  However, at some point, one is no longer a tourist or a visitor but a resident.  And being a resident comes with a lot of anxieties, dealing with the French administration and a lessening amount of time to explore museums and tourist points of interest which continue to be interesting to me.

Days will go by now that I do not see the river or my favorite bridge, Pont Neuf.  I have responsibilities and commitments.  I live here.  I carry around a card issued by the Mayor of Paris saying I’m an official citizen of Paris! It’s actually not official but gets me in to many places that I wouldn’t see if I didn’t have that card.

Some mornings, I wake up thinking of the Bay Area, my other home, the way I used to think of Paris.  With an affection and longing that surprises me.  Sometimes I think it’s time to go home–meaning Oakland.  Paris is really home but I’m not saying that anymore.  It’s a luxury dilemma that doesn’t always feel so luxurious.  And a universal dilemma I believe–wanting to be somewhere else when the going gets tough.

For now, I will take my fiscal stamps to pay for my new residency card.  Paris will have me for one more year.  For one more year, I will wake up with the joys and the aches of being a resident in this city.

A bientôt,

Sara