how do you say catch-22 in French?

 

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Here’s a fun way to make your head explode:

To be officially hired for a particular job in France, I have to pass a criminal background check. Since I was born outside of France, by law the documentation can only be sent to me directly, not in care of a third party. I know this because I received a rejection notice after I tried to have the letter sent to my would-be employer.

There are no apartment numbers in the building where I live (a mind-boggling Parisian tendency), and the mailman or guardian or whoever it is slides the mail addressed to each resident underneath the resident’s door. God knows why there is no mailbox and they make that poor person climb seven flights of stairs daily. Regardless, he or she has no idea of my existence, so without the name of the official resident somewhere on a letter addressed to me, it wouldn’t get further than the lobby. I suppose I could tape a note to my door that says, “Please leave mail for Ruth Fertig here.” But the person who sublet the apartment to me is doing so without permission, and I don’t want to risk getting him into trouble.

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There does not seem to be a P.O. box system in France the way there is in the United States and even if I am wrong about that, I am pretty sure the background check can only be sent to residences.

You can apply for a proxy fixed address through a community center in your “associated” arrondissement, so that you can pick up all your mail there. But I have heard from someone who works at one that all 40 or so of the centers in Paris are overwhelmed and not accepting new applications, which are subject to two months’ processing time in any case.

The only way for me to get my own fixed address is to officially lease an apartment… but you cannot rent an apartment here without providing proof of employment. You see where this is going.

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And just to make things really interesting…

To be paid for the job, I need to have a French bank account.

To open a French bank account, I need to submit proof of a salary. And an address.

*

Around and around we go.

 

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Marseille

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When I arrived in Marseille I headed straight to the Old Port, where my friend Gilles met back up with me and offered to take me on a moto tour of the city. The mistral winds were blowing something fierce, and I had never been on a scooter before. This did not seem like a winning combination, but I said “pourquoi pas” anyway and off we went.  Continue reading

Arles

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After a strong start in Montpellier, my whistle-stop tour of the South of France continued in Arles, a town that interested me because it was once home to Van Gogh, my favorite painter. I wanted to see the place that had inspired him to create some of his most beautiful work. Continue reading

have a good weekend!

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This Saturday in Paris is La Nuit Blanche, when art installations and performances pop up all over town and museums stay open until late into the night. I’m excited about it. I hope cafes stay open late as well because I’m going to need a recharge at some point if I’m going to wander around until the wee hours.

Meanwhile, this week I did more Internet-browsing than usual, and I have a bunch of interesting links to share.

Have a good weekend! I’ll try to put up my Arles pix next week…

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Cartoonist Roz Chast draws a love letter to New York City – cockroaches and all.

Why am I am nomad?

The Smithsonian wrote about the “Lost State” of Franklin, an intriguing side note in American history that at one point I really wanted to make a documentary about. It’s a fascinating story, though the article barely touches the surface.

10 ways Prague keeps it weird…

While Japan’s bathroom ghosts keep it strange and terrifying.

Beautiful photos from Les Halles, Paris’s main market in the 1950s. Sadly, it no longer exists – replaced by a mall, of all things.

I’ll teach my dog 100 (Yiddish) words.

The 20 best road trips on earth, according to Fodor’s.

Duping the tourists who went “slumming” in New York City’s Chinatown.

And finally, I really hope that by the time I leave Paris I will have my own love story to tell about the city. In the meantime, here is a beautiful one written by an Irish actress.

Montpellier

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My original France plan was to 1. arrive in Paris, 2. spend a month doing informational meetings with the heads of communications for agencies and organizations that could give me work making videos about the European refugee crisis and other humanitarian issues, and 3. then head to the South of France to wander town to town until I found a sustainable place to base myself.

For various reasons, that never happened, and for better or worse, Paris seems to be becoming my home in France. But I did finally take a whirlwind tour of the South to at least see what I was missing. I spent five nights visiting five cities in Provence and Languedoc that I suspected I would love. And love them I did, though want to live in them, I did not – until my last stop.

But to begin at the beginning: Montpellier. I had seen such beautiful images of this place, I was convinced it would be heaven on earth. Here are some pictures: Continue reading

for the love of lettering

A roundup of some of the fabulous signs and storefronts I’ve wandered past in my strolls around Paris. IMG_1378

I would be willing to foot this store’s electricity bill and even throw in some replacement light bulbs if it meant I could see this sign in all its lit-up splendor.

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My second sighting of a hair salon named after Obama. (First was in Benin.)

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This sign is cool and also reminds me of the Godard movie, making it seem even cooler.IMG_2275

I just realized I’ve got three hair salons in a row. This one is housed in an old Art Deco dairy shop. The inside is super fabulous as well. IMG_1274

It’s a shame that I passed this bakery at a time of day when the brilliance of the gold-leaf artwork and lettering couldn’t be fully captured. It’s also a shame that it was closed for the summer holidays, as a peak through the windows revealed an interior seemingly unchanged since the Belle Epoque – pastel scenes painted on the molded ceilings, intricate tile on the floors, and lots of other beautiful details.

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More Art Deco magnificence. IMG_1340

More neon / hair salon magnificence. IMG_8521

Still more Art Deco magnificence.IMG_0349

And the one that takes the cake. I know it’s sort of cheating, since this building’s star power comes from way more than the lettering. And it’s not even a storefront, it’s a very famous theatre. I tried to get inside but couldn’t get past the not-very-ornate lobby since it was too early in the day. I’ll just have to come back some time. Maybe I’ll even see a show!

September I’m in love

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Now that it’s October, I guess I should post my ode to September. 😉

I’ve made no secret of my ambivalence towards Paris. Apart from the rush of the energetic and unfamiliar, until this fall, it held no mystery nor chemistry for me. I was walking around in a daze of ennuie.

But all my lack of enthusiasm seems to have turned on a dime into infatuation now that autumn is here. The air feels tangibly crisp and the leaves have taken on a golden glow. The once-annoying gusts of winds that made summer days unpredictable now bring gentle showers of leaves spiraling down to the pavement. Paradoxically, in September the wind feels soothingly bracing whereas in May it felt bone-chilling.

I swear September feels warmer than the entirety of spring and summer. I’m not sure if this feeling is backed up by actual climatic data but it doesn’t matter – in this case feelings are much more important than facts.

The biggest difference since September is that a wave of bien-être – wellbeing – keeps washing over me, seemingly at random. I almost feel like the embodiment of hygge lately, which is weird because in August I felt precisely the opposite.

It’s like I am finally waking up to whatever it is that makes people adore this city so much. Which is unfortunate, since I’m running out of money and am going to have to move back to the States by the end of November unless I find more consistent work here (which is possible, though challenging).

When I shared the irony that I am finally starting to like Paris just as I prepare to potentially leave Paris, my American friend who’s lived here for 12 years offered the consolation, “Don’t worry, winter gets depressing as hell!”

Oh, Paris.

Giverny and a bit of Vernon

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At the end of July I took a day trip to Giverny and I got really lucky because the weather was beautiful. If it were still the 1880’s, no doubt the Impressionists would have been out in full force with palettes in hand.

My first stop was Monet’s house and gardensContinue reading

two perspectives

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Today I went to see a mental health professional who was very helpful, for the most part. But as our time was drawing to a close he said to me point blank, “You need to leave France. There is nothing for you here.” It was highly inappropriate, yet well-intentioned and perversely delightful in its utter Frenchness. He went on to say that there are no jobs here, that life is getting more difficult for everyone, and that I’m all alone, which is no good. Then he joked, “Everybody wants to leave France and you’re coming in. You’d have to be crazy to want to stay here.” Pretty fast and loose for a head doctor.

Anyway, that’s not the point.

Yesterday, I was doing a volunteer shift at the refugee / migrant center in the 18th arrondissement. I signed up with an interest in serving Syrian women and children, but it turns out the shelter only houses men, and most of them are from places in Sub-Saharan Africa, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. I go about once a week, and though it feels good, there’s also always at least one moment during which my heart hurts for these strangers in a strange land, who are penniless and without possessions, who are mostly traveling alone, and who may never see their families again.

When I do daytime shifts I work in the laundry and when I do evening shifts I work in the “restaurant.” Both are frequently hectic and understaffed, so while I serve clients directly, I don’t often get into long conversations with them. But last night, one young man, Ousman, stuck around past dinner to chat in very, very broken English with the staff member running the space. He was half-joking about how he was not going to budge from the shelter, even though he was on a very long list of people who were due to be transported the next day to more long-term facilities throughout France. He said he didn’t want to leave Paris and he looked like he was going to cry.

I started asking him questions since it was clear he wanted to share. Turns out this was a boy of 16 years old who left Pakistan when he was 11 to work in Turkey. After five years there, he moved on to Germany, where he stayed for half a year before coming to France. He had been living in the shelter for three months. In a soft voice he murmured, “I want to go back to Pakistan.” The staff member asked him why he didn’t, since that could be arranged. He said he had to stay in France for six years first, to get his papers. He had a lead to somewhere he could live in Paris, where rent would be 1000 Euro a month split between three unknown others. Whether it was a full apartment or just a room was not clear. By this point I had noticed that his face bore an uncanny resemblance to my nearly 3 year-old nephew’s, and I had to turn away to regain my composure.

Apparently Ousman’s nickname is Bambino. When I come back next week, he will no doubt be gone.

[Photo: Miguel Virkkunen Carvalho]