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

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

Diamonds and Rust

A friend posted a copy of Joan Baez singing “Diamonds and Rust” on his Facebook page.  He said he had heard it in the Arrivals Lounge and couldn’t get the song out of his head.  I clicked on the link and was immediately transported to Berkeley, California and my tiny little apartment on Spruce St.  It was 1973.  I was the ultimate Joan Baez groupie–had been since I was fourteen years old.  I tried to learn how to play the guitar because she did.  I didn’t have the discipline or the passion.  I loved her choice of folk songs and equally loved it when she crossed over into rock and roll.  She seemed to be able to do anything.

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When Diamonds and Rust came out, I was heartbroken over a relationship that I had ended but hadn’t really wanted to.  Don’t ask me to explain, I was 26 years old and very crazy.  I would sit in my little living room and listen to the album over and over.  And now as I listened to the song, while looking at the Seine and the Pont Neuf, I had a strange feeling in my stomach.  The past trying to edge it’s way in maybe.  I’m not one to sit around regretting the past, it is what it is.  However there is something about music that grabs me and hauls me backwards in time so fast I could almost believe in a time machine.

This is the same nostalgia that Ms. Baez writes about in the song.  It feel almost like the lip of a deep hole that you could fall into.  The older we get, the more we look backwards. It’s how we look backwards that makes the difference.  I have such a wonderful life today.  There are times I wish I’d known this kind of happiness back then.  But I didn’t.  Do I have regrets about decisions I made–yes, I do.  At the same time, the decisions that I did make led me to today–which is a wonderful day.  Funnily enough, almost all the YouTube links I’ve been listening to were recorded and/or filmed in France.  I think the French must have loved her.

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Joan Baez celebrated her 75th birthday this past summer.  I learned that piece of information trolling through all the YouTube songs.  I’ve been following and listening to her for over 50 years. Now sitting here looking out my window from my life in Paris, I thank you Joan Baez for all the wonderful songs and memories you’ve given me over the years.

Happy Birthday, Joan Baez