Tag Archives: paris

Letter About CDG Experience

Hi Friends,

My departure from Paris ended on as good and hectic a note as it started. There’s something about the process of flying these days that brings about a certain madness/panic/adrenaline rush. It’s the combination of uncertainty, making it through customs, and possibly missing a flight that evokes feelings of controlled hysteria.

At the Air France check in counter at Charles de Gaulle airport, the agent informed me that the weight allowance on China Eastern Airlines for two pieces of luggage and a carry-on is 42 kilos, and that my suitcase was seven kilos (14.4 pounds) overweight. He also regretfully informed me that each kilo would cost 65 euros. 7kilos x 65euros= 455 euros= $620.66. I think as much blood drained from my face as the day I put my hand in my purse and discovered that my wallet wasn’t there. His best advice was that I go to the side, near the scale, and figure out what to do with the offending seven kilos.

What could I do with 7 kilos?  I knew a girl who lost seven kilos in five months, and here was this guy telling me to lose seven kilos in thirty minutes. I was at a loss. I sat with my two suitcases open, trying to decide what was priority, what I’d need in the next year, which items I could stuff into my purse. I piled on an extra sweater, and an extra pair of socks, but that only amounted to .2 kilos. So, into a plastic bag, that I’d found in my suitcase, went black jeans with a messed up zipper, two cases for my sunglasses, toiletries, a few long-sleeved t-shirts, and one pair of shoes that really are a pain to walk in. I rested there for a long moment rearranging, weighing, and just generally looking drained by airports. Then, in a puff of light, came Remy.

Remy is yet another angel I’ve met this summer in France. It seems he had been observing my goings on and wanted to help. He spoke no English, but let me know that he was there to help me, and nothing should be discarded. He took my suitcase to the Safety Bag counter and asked the man at the kiosk if he had any overhhead bags for the cabin. The SB guy said that he didn’t, but we should try another terminal.

I kid you not when I say that Remy took off on a run to terminal 2E (we were in Terminal 2F). When we got there, there were small bags available; so, Remy took everything out of my “trash” and filled the bag. There was still room, thus we threw in scarves, belts, and some shirts from my two suitcases. It worked out perfectly. Do you want to know how much the Safety Bag cost? 10 euros. $16.

Remy went out of his way to help me, and when I asked him why, he said “I could see you needed a hand.” It just reconfirms what I know– people are amazing, I’m blessed and fortunate, the French are truly awesome, great things happen.

* At the second Safety Bag counter… you wouldn’t think I’d be taking pictures at a time like that, would you?

Ciao for now,

Val

Letter to Paris: Toujours, Je t’aime…

Dear Paris,

I’d always seen you and loved you from afar. In movies. In postcards. In my mind… envisioning myself at one of your cafes, drinking an espresso (though I’m not a fan of coffee), smoking a cigarette (though I’m not a fan of  tobacco), having witty repartee in fluent French with some guy that I liked much less than you. Oh yes, and I’d be doing all of this in crimson-red lipstick, and a black and white striped sweater while basking in your light. Paris– golden and ideal.

Paris, I studied your language for years, so that I could understand you and relate to you. Language is always the first step, isn’t it? I listened to your music, watched the movies in which you were featured, became familiar with your celebrities: Yvan Attal, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Melvil Poupaud, Marillon Cotillard. Their grace, beauty and talents were a reflection of you. I wasn’t a Francophile, I was a Parisphile… obsessed/obsessed/obsessed.

Then, in spring of 2010, after many years and many films, and many classes at the Alliance française, I met you. Oh, the feeling. When I sat in one of your 200 parks, with a baguette in one hand, and a mimosa in the other, I knew that we were meant to be together forever. It was March, but your sun warmed me inside and out.

A year and a half later, we reunited. Your Tour Eiffel sat on my desk at work, a gift from my wonderful boss (in a not so wonderful job), and I knew that we’d reconnect.  Your most revered symbol, and perhaps the most visited tourist attraction in the world, rested on my desk, on my mind, and everyday I plotted how to see you again.

And so it happened. In June, I gave up my job to come to you. Exactly as Peaches and Herb sang, all summer long, I’ve been singing and screaming and exclaiming, “Reunited and it feels so good.” It has. You have been amazing, living up to the promise. How many things do that? My adoration for you was complete, only to be rivaled with my adoration for The Gloved One. When my friend Nadia, said that she’d come to visit us this weekend, I wanted her to see you and love you as much as I. Your charms didn’t impress her on her previous visit, and I just knew she’d change her mind once she saw how absolutely perfect you are. There’s no rudeness, arrogance, or ill-will in Paris. Never.

Sadly, she was harassed by three police officers at the airport. She was chosen at Charles de Gaulle for a random search, and your brash officials asked her why she doesn’t speak French, rifled through her underwear, and unscrewed her toothbrush. Sure, she was shaken, but I told her that all airport officials, in all countries are, for lack of a better word, pricks. That wasn’t you, that was “airport security.”

Then, today we left the hotel to find a nice cafe to live the “Parisian dream.” When I opened my purse to pay for something, lo and behold, the wallet was gone. The bright pink wallet with my money and bank card and credit card. Gone. Paris, I’ve been with you for many weeks now and have received nothing but love, so imagine my shock. I thought “could things between us be going sour?” Then I spoke to my mother on Skype, and she said, “Valerie, Paris isn’t perfect.” She told me that you weren’t perfect, that you weren’t heaven, and it amazed me, because I thought you were. So, Nadia and I went out and enjoyed our Saturday:

* At Siam cafe

*… we also went to a creperie

* In a cafe, you’ll never be rushed, never be hurried; buy a crepe and spend four hours catching up with your friend.

* This girl may be an angel… I swear there was no actual light behind her.

Paris, as my mother says “you’re not heaven,” and yes you’ve disappointed me (your large number of pickpockets at least), but I realize that one needs to be very, very careful with his/her wallet, and also that I’ll always love you (cue Whitney Houston).

Bisous,

Val

p.s

Letter from Paris: Life Goulash

Dear Friends,

This post, similar to goulash, is going to have many different things thrown in, so if you need a minute to get a cup of coffee or tea or rum punch, please go ahead.

1) I live at 117 rue de belleville, in the 19th arrondisement (arrondisements are neighborhoods). On my block, there are three cafes, a jeweler, two chocolatiers, one florist, two cellphone companies, a travel agency, a Monoprix (smaller-scaled Kmart), a boys’ school, a pharmacy, a hair salon, an eyeglass shop, an open air market and a bakery. Everything one could possible need is on this street, but the most essential force of the block is leaving tomorrow. The baker. Why couldn’t it be the butcher or the candlestick maker who needed a break from city life?

He told me today that he’ll be away for three weeks, and that someone else will take his place. After that sad announcement, he gave me a free pain au chocolat (buttery croissant with chocolate chips melted inside).

* Why is he smiling at my pain?

* A moment of silence please…for all the baguettes that have come before.

2) When you come to visit, don’t worry about inhaling all the pastries, gelato, warm bread and butter, cheeses, chocolates, because the subway stairs and all the fruit vendors (even inside the station) will get you back on the right track.

3) When you walk down the rue de belleville pass the McDonalds on the way to Republique, the neighborhood noticeably changes into more diverse ethnic groups: Algerians, Malians, Tunisians, Vietnamese and Chinese. There are many restaurants and markets catering to the different groups, and the street often feels like a bazaar. It’s interesting to note that there are two Chinatowns in Paris… the larger one is in the 13th arrondisement.

* There’s an incredible Hello Kitty obsession, but who knows why?

4) Though people may discriminate, mannequins don’t. They don’t discriminate against each other, they often laugh together in Old Navy commercials in the U.S; they don’t discriminate in store windows where they stand side by side and smile at all and sundry; and they certainly don’t discriminate against ugly clothing. On my way to Belleville, I had to stop and capture the essence of hideousness that graced the cream and brown mannequins in this “capital of fashion.”

* Check out the stylized cornrows on this black mannequin.

* This mannequin looked at me defiantly as if to say, “Yes, my clothes are ugly, but I’m getting paid. Are you?”

That mannequin’s sass is a perfect segue: remember that I’d mentioned that I’d applied to schools in France, Spain, Singapore and Japan? Well, one of the schools from Japan and one from Singapore set up interviews with me this week. I have no idea what to do if offered a job in either country, since my dream’s to stay in Paris… But as you know, the pickings are slim here. I’ve been told that being an au pair would be a great option, to improve French language skills, thus making me more marketable. However, I have no desire to be an au pair.

My brother told me on the phone today to “follow my gut.” Friends, if I follow my gut, I may end up on the baker’s vacation, with a restraining order against me.

It appears that my letters from Paris (my new favorite city), may soon become letters from Singapore or Japan. The salaries are comparable… 1) Singapore is sleepy and Tokyo’s alive 2)Japan may have a radiation problem (who knows?) but rich culture and the “lure of the unkown” 3) Singapore has a nice quality of life (never lived in a complex with a gym, pool and tennis court before) 4) They’re both expensive as heck, but they’d both pay enough to save money and move on in a year or two. 5) Neither has cities that are Paris (!), but there are jobs there.

What would you do, if you were me?

I prefer when life’s decisions are along the lines of “liquid , kohl or gel eyeliner?”

Bises xx,

Valerie

p.s At the park, I finally saw why they say, “to get all your ducks in a row.” Who knew?

Letter from Paris: Smorgasbord of Life

Dear Friends,

It’s been exactly two weeks since I landed on the European continent. Fourteen days, I’ve come to learn, is like fourteen minutes when in the company of great people, tremendous feasts, and nothing but time to discover the meaning of pleasure. What’s your pleasure, and when’s the last time you experienced it?

(*Dear Nutella, you’re my soulmate. Please rest on my lips.)

The course for which I’m registered at the TEFL Institute starts in two weeks, and I’m not quite sure what I’ll do when I have to wake up at 8am, put on “work-type” clothing, and sit on a seat that’s not a park bench. What’ll I do when I once again have to commute?

More than a week after arriving in Paris, I met my flatmate Z who, sadly, departs for New York tomorrow. I could say many things about Z: her sweet disposition, her fantastic sense of humor, her taste for adventure, but I’d rather discuss the fact that she can throw down in the kitchen. She has been preparing feasts that have not only satisfied, but knocked us out (literally, sprawled on our beds after eating). Feast your eyes on this:

BREAKFAST: Merguez sausage, fried Haloumi cheese, sliced tomatos & Lavash bread

DINNER: Roasted chicken, stuffed zucchini, mixed salad with chevre, and a baguette

* Okay, it would’ve been nice if I’d snapped the photo before Z, Tony and I devoured the chicken, but you get the idea.

And to drink, a bottle of Muscadet and cans of Desperado. A dear friend has coined Desperado “crack in a can,” because of the tequila content:

In between eating and napping, I frequent a park that’s less than ten minutes away, Parc des Buttes Chaumont. Friends, the park is humongous; there’re waterfalls, lakes, ducks, joggers, a few eateries, a bar, a suspension bridge, joggers, babies walking parents, dogs walking humans, too many pigeons to count, gazebos, and people that  could be observed for days. Of course I must tell you that I also take my napping “activity” to the green park benches… Is there anything more pleasurable than sleeping in the sun’s hands, with the wind whispering in your ear, ‘Rest, rest?”

* One of the the park’s many entrances.

* “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both;” but aha friends, here’s where I one up Robert Frost, my roads were green not yellow, and I can travel both, because there’s always tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that.

* I wanted this little girl to teach me French, but she was busy chasing a pigeon.

* A man who wears a blazer to walk Lassie Jr., now that’s classy.

* She had the same idea as me, “Buy some fruit, walk to the park, spend many hours on a bench.” Check, check, check.

* Men in France run in the skimpiest shorts I’ve ever seen…. not complaining, just saying.

* I loved this couple and followed them at a discreet distance… they were at least 80 years old and walking hand in hand.

More park photos:

And that’s where I’ll wrap up. The things that have given me joy: meeting new friends, spending time with old ones, watching lifelong couples walking together, seeing new families doing the same, enjoying the fleeting sun, every second realizing that I’m truly blessed, trying to figure out the next step (okay that last one isn’t giving me joy but agina). It seems that obtaining a French work visa is even more difficult than reported, so in addition to job applications in France, I’ve applied to teaching jobs in other European locales, as well as Asia: Singapore and Japan. Cross your fingers for me, because my tourist visa expires in October…. and there’s no concrete plan after October.

Bises xx,

Valerie

p.s Only this moment, right now, matters.

Letter from Paris: Eat, Drink and Be…

Dear Friends,

*WARNING: If you’re on a diet, or wear skinny jeans, or care anything at all about your waistlines, don’t come to Paris! Better yet, please come, but join a gym the very second you go home…. Wherever home is, I can tell you one thing, the food isn’t this good (and that’s from a woman who just used a pot for the first time in over a year).

**Note: I made this… sure it’s pasta, but it was yummy with its blend of cheeses.

**Note: The baguette’s all mine!… How could I share when I had to eat it in four parts: 1/4 goat cheese, 1/4  Morbier cheese, 1/4 strawberry jam, 1/4 Nutella.

**Note: The lamb knuckle is my friend Tony’s, and it looked exactly like the bone Fred Flintstone loved to munch on. The chicken I ate wasn’t picture worthy.

*WARNING: If you don’t drink alcohol, you’re going to have a problem… it’s cheap, it’s sold on every corner, it’s great with your french fries, good for your health and your outlook on life; so let’s lift those glasses, “Santé!” The most useful thing I’ve seen online is the article on how to toast in fifty languages: http://matadornetwork.com/nights/how-to-say-cheers-in-50-languages/

*WARNING: Be prepared to embrace beauty at every turn, because if you’re not ready for fantastic sights, they’ll sneak up on you and wham you upside the head. BAM!*#!”

*WARNING: Be ready to be wowed. Enchanted. Captivated. Invigorated. Thrilled.  Just relax and be….

*WARNING: If you’re visiting in August, know that many stores will be closed with signs in the window that say, “Be back in two weeks,” or they’ll just be closed for three hours in the afternoon. Ahh no problem, take your beer (or bottle of wine) to the park and wait.

Bises xx,

Valerie

p.s And dear friends, it’s amazing when you’re sitting in a park eating baklava and you look up and see the Eiffel Tower in the distance. Lovely summer!

Letter from Paris: Pas de problème! (No Problem)

Dear Friends,

To paraphrase my mother’s counsel, it’s best not to worry; just believe that the best is yet to happen, and things will work out. Of course, I was a bit worried when day four rolled in and I was still at the Hotel Gare du Nord-Suede (as comfortable as the  beds may be); however, last night I decided to put worry aside, and concentrate on the task at hand– finding a residence in Paris before all my savings ran out.

My good friend Antonio (aka Tony) sent me a link to apartments that I really wish I had had earlier as it’s much better and cheaper than Craigslist: www.airbnb.com. Within minutes, several great housing options were just a click away. I emailed six people, and just as quickly as it took to eat my nightly strawberry tartlet, responses were flooding in. Friends I went from impending homelessness to five possible options, and all under budget. If I were in a church, the pastor would say, “Can I get an Amen?!”

At 1:30pm, I went to see one of the apartments and fell insanely in love with not only the apartment and its size (uncharacteristically large for a Parisian apartment), but the non-touristy feel of the block, the apartment’s two minute walk from the Jourdain subway station, the abundance of eateries, the flowers everywhere, and the bakery on the corner. The landlord (hip guy) handed me the keys, and told me that the two-bedroom share would be with a Canadian girl who lives in NY; it seems like I’ll have to hit the streets (the corner bakery, and neighborhood bars) to practice speaking French. Pas de problème!

* My cool landlord Alex.

The French have a healthy respect for sweets and beauty, and since I can’t get enough of either of those things, I’m glad that they’re all in walking distance.

Bises xx,

Valerie

p.s Should I send Barbara, of the claustrophobic stairwell in the Latin Quarter, a photo of what a normal stairwell looks like? Maybe that would be “ridiculous?”

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