life, travel

Letter from Paris: First Impressions

Dear Friends,

It never really hit me that I was leaving for Paris (despite all the posts and conversations), until I was sitting in the departure lounge at JFK surrounded by only French-speaking people. “What am I doing?” briefly flitted across my mind; but then, I reminded myself of the large boulevards, the shoes and clothes, the language I long to learn, and all the Nutella crepes I could eat, and was instantly comforted.

At Charles de Gaulle airport, it was suggested that a train could be taken to the hotel, however I decided that that wasn’t going to happen; though, I tried to pack as lightly as possible, and my suitcase did make the weight requirement, my hand luggage, suitcase, laptop case, and purse, all added up to HEAVY. I really should’ve just brought a small suitcase, and bought new cheap clothes at H&M (the sixty dollars I paid to check my extra suitcase at the airport, plus the cab fare to carry the extra suitcase to the airport, would’ve been a new wardrobe at that store).

On Monday morning, it was with great excitement that I woke up to meet my new landlady Barbara. I’d been told that the apartment wouldn’t be ready until August 1, so I spent the first night at the Libertel Austerlitz Jardins des Plantes Hotel (http://libertel-austerlitz.hotel-rez.com/index_fr.html?lbl=ggl-fr), which really has the most comfortable beds (puffy down comforters).

So, I headed to Barbara’s studio, my future home, and my first impression of the building was “Great! I’m gonna love to live here!” The street was clean, and the apartment is in a very central neighborhood (The Latin Quarter). I’d found the apartment months earlier on Craigslist Paris and was quite pleased at the great rent, the proximity to the Institute where I’ll be taking classes, a block chock full of cafes and shops, its nearness to a large park. It really couldn’t get any better, right? Wrong!

I pressed the door code to get into the building, and was still impressed. The courtyard in the middle of the building (typical of many French apartment buildings) was spotless, and even had a tree (love trees). The building that the landlady was meeting me in was behind the front building. I later learned that the building I was to live in was formerly the servant’s quarters, and thus had no elevator. Now hear me, I knew that I was moving into a seventh floor walk-up, but I didn’t know that the stairwell would be so narrow that two people can’t fit into at once, and so steep that the vertigo I didn’t know that I suffered from came upon me suddenly. What the hell? I made it to the fourth floor, before I not only gave up, but sat for a long moment, collected my breath, and crawled back down the stairs. Yes, like a servant with real shame.

The landlady eventually met me downstairs after yelling for a long time that I should come up. I flatly refused… no way, no how, never was I going all the way up those stairs. She called my fear of heights and claustrophobic stairwells, “ridiculous.”

Thankfully, one of my closest friends in life Sacha, and her fantastic husband Trevor, were meeting me in Paris on that very day. Seeing them walk up the sidewalk to meet me two hours later must’ve been akin to the Israelites seeing the first drops of manna falling from the sky: incredible joy and relief. Sacha speaks fluent French and is quite calming and Trevor is a take no nonsense kind of man. He called Barbara and spoke to her about refunding some of my money (which she promised to do and still hasn’t). Trevor told me to be nice to her, because her adoption of a Haitian kid means she’s a good woman. Friends, if you’d seen the little girl’s hair, you’d agree with me that Barb’s no saint.

Eventually, after a delicious seafood dinner, the three of us (I’m a honeymoon crasher) took ourselves to the Hotel Gare du Nord-Suede (two separate rooms people–http://www.hotel-gare-du-nord-suede.com/uk/index.php ), where I’m currently writing this at 3:54am Parisian time.

Since they’ve been here, we’ve eaten and talked and laughed and drunk champagne drinks and walked along the Seine, and seen the Notre Dame at night, and the Eiffel Tower by day, and practiced speaking French, and eaten crepes and strawberry tartlets, and window shopped, and taken buses to wherever they left us with no destinations in mind, and walked miles, and eaten nectared fruits on sidewalks, and strolled along the Champs Elysees, and threw coins into the fountain at the Louvre, and eaten snacks from home (Chippies banana chips), danced at a club where a bottle of Carlsberg (beer) was $21.50 (15 euros!!), and met some friendly French people, and met some snobby French people, and sat outside the hotel at night while the front desk man got himself snacks, and exclaimed that we “love this city” that’s been warm and open. Today, Paris drizzled like a soft kiss… only for a moment.

Oh and yes, my homelessness…. they helped me try to find a new apartment. We spent an hour and fifteen minutes at an internet cafe, where Sacha found nine places online, and left messages for them all. I will call the agents in five hours, as today is my very last night at this hotel.

More important than learning that Paris is really a wonderful city, it’s been confirmed that I do have the best friends one could have…. it’s nice to confirm that in The City of Love.

Bises xx,

Valerie

p.s

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