Bonne Année 2019

With the French tradition in mind, this blog is my New Year’s card to all of you.

The French have a tradition that I really like.  Instead of sending Christmas cards, they send New Year’s cards.  They can send them any time during the month of January. If you tip a service person, you put it in your New Year’s card. So what happens is that here in France people prepare for Christmas with the presents and the parties and going to Galleries Lafayette to see the windows without the fuss of writing Christmas cards. Then, after you take the tree down, put it out on the sidewalk for pick-up, you have the rest of the month to write cards. People are still saying Bonne Année to me. It’s nice. I feel like I’m slowly moving into 2019 with the daily reminder to make it a good year.

The French have a tradition that I really like.  Instead of sending Christmas cards, they send New Year’s cards.  They can send them any time during the month of January. If you tip a service person, you put it in your New Year’s card. So what happens is that here in France people prepare for Christmas with the presents and the parties and going to Galleries Lafayette to see the windows without the fuss of writing Christmas cards. Then, after you take the tree down, put it out on the sidewalk for pick-up, you have the rest of the month to write cards. People are still saying Bonne Année to me. It’s nice. I feel like I’m slowly moving into 2019 with the daily reminder to make it a good year.

I spent New Year’s Eve in the town of Annecy in the Haute-Savoie region of France. Annecy sits at the north end of Lac d’Annecy, a lake that has a 32 kilometre circumference that one can walk, run or bike easily.

Pier just south of Annecy

My friend, Barbara, and I spent four nights there. What for me is the most amazing part of traveling at any time of the year in France is the transportation. Annecy is southeast of Paris, about an hour south of Geneva. By car, the fastest driving route takes five and a half hours if you don’t stop. By TGV (fast train–often going up to 200 km per hour), the trip is a bit over three hours. Marseille, in the south of France, is just over three hours. Bordeaux is two hours. Even the small towns along the Côte d’Azur where the train stops at every famous spot, one wouldn’t spend more than five or, at the very most, six hours on the train. These are comfortable trains with tables to write at or play games. There are always one or two “Bar” cars that sell sandwiches, drinks and sweets. There is every kind of discount card imaginable. A senior card that often has first class fares that are lower than second class fares for the under 62 years old set. A weekend discount card, a weekday discount card, a youth discount card, a student discount card.

The old city of Annecy

To go such a distance for only four nights is easy. Our AirBnB was a five minute walk from the station. We spent one day just walking around the town of Annecy, especially Le Centre Historique and Vielle Ville with cobbled streets, winding canals and pastel-colored houses. The Marché de Noel was alive and well and open until January 6. We took a bus ride up to La Closaz, a ski area, hoping to ride the chairlift to the top of the mountain. We were told that the winds were quite bad that day and the lifts weren’t operating while we were there. So we took the bus back and went to a movie!

On our last full day, New Year’s Eve day, we started on a walk down the west side of the lake. We stopped for a coffee in Sévrier, about 7km south of Annecy, and ended up eating lunch. We walked out of the Café to blue skies and a warm sun, the first we had seen of the sun during our trip. It transformed the lake and everything around it. We now could see what everyone was raving about when they told us how much we would love Annecy, how beautiful it is. Indeed, with the sun bouncing off the snowy white mountains and reflected in the lake with it’s multitude of sailboats, it was dreamlike.

We stopped in a store as we walked home and Barbara asked about fireworks. The salesperson looked at her and said “This is Annecy. We don’t have fireworks here.” “Completely calm and quiet?” Barbara said. “Oh yes.”

We leaned out the living room window just before midnight and heard people counting down the minutes to midnight at the top of their lungs. At midnight, we saw a few fireworks very far off in the distance. It was hard to tell if it was a suburb or where they were originating from. After a few screams and yells, a siren or two, all was quiet by 12:30am!!

East side of Lake Annecy at sunset

As we got off the train at Gare de Lyon the evening of January 1, 2019, Barbara and I looked at each other and said almost at the same time, “This is so easy. The train ride flies by in no time. I got so much done!!!” And we both went towards our separate routes home. The metro for me and the train to the suburbs for Barbara.

Welcome to 2019. I hope to see you in Paris this year.

A bientôt,

Sara

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