stream of consciousness googling

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It started with this article, which described an initiative to sell houses in the Sardinian town of Ollolai for 1 Euro:

https://www.curbed.com/2018/1/31/16954322/ollolai-sardinia-1-euro-homes

…which led me to this website, with information in Italian about the sale:

https://casea1euro.it/ollolai-informazioni/

…which led me to realize that a. between my advanced French and rudimentary Spanish, I can decipher quite a bit of Italian, and that b. there are similar initiatives for other Italian towns, including one in Tuscany:

https://casea1euro.it/case-a-1-euro-a-montieri/

…which led me to realize that my destiny is to buy a 1 Euro house in breathtakingly stunning Montieri, spend $25,000 renovating it, and let the rest of my life fall into place around this one pivotal act.

https://www.google.com/search?q=montieri&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjzrNiMq4jZAhWGuVkKHSQ5CpsQ_AUICygC&biw=1170&bih=551

…which led me to second-guess my ability to learn Italian and wonder whether there might not be a similar scheme in France, which led me to discover that yes, there is, but of course it’s in the dreary North:

https://www.thelocal.fr/20171006/your-chance-to-buy-a-house-in-france-for-a-euro-but-theres-a-catch

…which led me to google “cheap property South of France” and find this charming “fixer-upper:”

http://www.forgottenfrance.com/french-properties-for-sale-in-south-west-france/under-100-000/najac-renovation-project-a-centuries-old-stone-house-with-enclosed-character-courtyard-/

…which led me here:

https://www.prestigeproperty.co.uk/castles-for-sale-138/

From 1 Euro homes to 31 million Euro (price reduced!) French chateaux in under ten minutes.

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I’ll always have Paris

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I cannot tell you how many times over the past nine months I was about to quit Paris. I was only originally supposed to stay for a month, and then one month morphed into two after I was given an amazing Montmartre house-sitting offer I couldn’t refuse. And then two months turned into four when I had no better plans and found a cool place to stay in Belleville. And then four turned into five when the house-sitting opportunity came up again… And so on and so forth, and now here I am on month nine. It feels like an eternity since I arrived.

Back in the day, i.e. around month three, I would joke about the probability that in 30 years I would find myself still living in a country I never really liked and never really chose, through stasis alone. As it turns out, the universe had a different ironic twist in store: I fell in love with the city I hated just as I realized I would soon be forced to leave. Continue reading

joyeuses fêtes

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Last night I walked ten minutes through the nearly empty streets of Montmartre to experience midnight mass in one of the oldest churches in Paris. Paroisse Saint-Pierre de Montmartre dates from the 12th century and is about 870 years old, which never ceases to amaze me.

I’m not Christian nor a believer in general, but there is something about the loftiness, beauty, age, and cool stone of cathedrals that quiets my mind. And there’s something about midnight mass that I find particularly cozy.

As the organ echoed through the space and the singer’s voice rose to the heavens, I finally felt calm and self-possessed about leaving Paris in a week. The memory of the day I arrived popped into my mind and tears – of wonder, not of sadness – sprung to my eyes. Then an elderly, hard of hearing couple a few rows behind me started muttering about the service.

I moved on to Sacré-Cœur Basilica next door. I noticed camo-clad soldiers with machine guns patrolling the cobblestoned streets, and I had to show the contents of my purse before going inside. There’s the romance of Montmartre and then there’s the reality of life in 2017. 

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While Saint-Pierre was loosely filled with almost 100% locals, Sacré-Cœur was overflowing with both devoted churchgoers and gawkers like me. It was a lot less hushed and still, but when the choir sang “Silent Night” the voices filled the space with as much peace as in the parish church next door. 

I tiptoed out early so that I could have the streets all to myself on the way home. I caught snatches of revelry from open windows here and there. There was a spirited French-accented singalong to “Hit the Road, Jack” that I found particularly adorable.

And then I was back at my apartment that is not really my apartment, in a country that’s not my country, on a holiday that is not my holiday, feeling like a zen ethnographer rather than a lonely stranger. And that was really alright with me.

Merry Christmas / Joyeux Noël to all those celebrating today!

a small but significant epiphany

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Since writing my blog post about French new wave music, I must have listened to “Paris” by Taxi Girl a hundred more times. Sometimes I hear it in my head when I’m walking through the streets of Paris and I smile so hard I start to laugh.

I’ve been reflecting upon why I love this song so much, and I think I’ve figured it out. This understanding in turn feels like the missing piece to the puzzle of why I had such a hard time falling for France. Continue reading

cathedrals of Paris

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Such is the ubiquity of epic cathedrals, chapels, and churches in Paris and its environs that after eight months here, it has become hard for me to keep track of all the ones I’ve seen. They have started fading together into one massive mental image of stained glass, limestone, and flying buttresses. I am loathe to admit it, but I have started abstaining from stopping in if I happen upon one unawares and it is more than, say, 100 feet from me when I spot it.

It’s not that I take them for granted – quite the opposite, in fact. The more of them I see, the more I want each visit to be special and unique and not at all rushed or an afterthought. With that in mind, here are images of some of my favorites, including Sainte-Chapelle, the most overwhelmingly beautiful manmade space I have ever been lucky enough to set eyes upon. And guess what? Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur are both great, but they don’t even make it into my top ten…  Continue reading

Drinking Sancerre in Sancerre

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It makes sense that the first (and let’s be honest, probably the last) poem I ever wrote in French was inspired by drinking Sancerre in Sancerre:

C’est clair, si je vais boire un verre,
Mon vin préféré, c’est sancerre
Maintenant je suis sûre,
Que la joie est plus pure
Quand on boit le sancerre sur sa terre.

(I’ll leave the translation to you.)

My first taste of Sancerre was during the spring semester of my senior year at college.

I went for drinks with other soon-to-be-graduating friends at a French-style bistro just off campus. We sat around a small outdoor table in the fresh April air of a faux Parisian terrace, eked out of a Manhattan sidewalk. I had only recently crossed over the divide into legal drinking, and the freedom of choice was thrilling. When a friend of a friend who seemed to come from a glitzy background suggested we order a bottle of Sancerre – her absolute favorite, she said – I was incredulous she could remember the name of a wine, annoyed that a 21 year-old claimed to have a specific wine preference, and even more annoyed that it just happened to be the most expensive one on the menu. We were college students, not college professors.

Still, when the bottle of almost-white rosé arrived and I took my first sip, I had to admit there was something special about this wine. It was crisp and refreshing, with a hint of sparkling grapefruit, and for the first time, I truly enjoyed drinking a glass of wine. I am not sure whether it actually tasted sophisticated or whether I simply read sophistication into the experience, but from that moment on I linked Sancerre with both exceptional taste and understated elegance. In the more than 15 years since that spring evening, it’s the only wine whose taste my ridiculously forgetful palate can identity, the only one I get excited to see on a wine list, and the only one I’ve ever splashed out for at a wine shop.

So, when I realized that the town of Sancerre was less than three hours from Paris, an idea inevitably took shape. How amazing would it be, I daydreamed, to drink a glass of Sancerre in Sancerre?IMG_3526
The answer is: incredibly amazing, especially if it’s a perfectly bright and crisp autumn day, your friend Simona is in town, and your only ambition is to wander around the countryside sipping wine and eating cheese.
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Some more pictures, after the jump… Continue reading

last-minute links

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I had a bunch of links I wanted to post here yesterday but I never got around to it because I went to a very fun fashion show (pictured above) instead. 🙂

I need to get into bed to wake up super early for my train to Luxembourg tomorrow, so without further ado here are the links:

A really cute / crazy international love story.

Butter shortages are hitting France, a country that eats three times as much as the United States (and where the butter is three times as delicious.)

Paris is installing free sparkling water fountains around the city. 

Learning French with flashy, sassy Christine. 

Can you guess which is the world’s most powerful passport?

12 English-language insults we should bring back. 

I can’t vouch for the etymological accuracy of this map, but it’s fascinating.

This “most frequently used words” visualization speaks volumes. 

Have a good weekend!

Have a good weekend!

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It is an especially happy Friday for me because my friend of almost 25 years is coming to visit on Sunday, AND she is bringing my winter coat from New York, AND we’re going to visit Sancerre together.

I also bought a ticket tonight for a day trip to Luxembourg in mid-November. At some point over the past year I realized that I was 37 years old and had been to 38 U.S. states and 37 countries, if you count Puerto Rico, England, Northern Ireland, and Scotland individually. I decided that I’d attempt to keep my country and state counts up to or ahead of my age for as long as possible. I turned 38 this week, and I haven’t been to a new country since I left Senegal in March… so no time like the present. I have heard there are lovely fall colors in Luxembourg and I’m hoping the leaves stay on the trees long enough for me to appreciate them.

In the meantime, I’m continuing to love Paris in the fall, and I’m filled with even more joy knowing that in two short days I’ll have a puffer coat to hide out in as soon as the temperature drops.

I leave you for the weekend with some interesting things I read this week:

Proof of what I have long known to be true about speaking foreign languages while tipsy.

Some useful French idioms. Avoir le cafard (to have the cockroach, i.e. to be sad) is my favorite, obviously.

Want to travel around the world for a full year, writing for the New York Times? So does like half the planet.

The official guardians of the French language have a problem with gender inclusive writing, not surprisingly (since they are textbook fuddy duddies).

Even on our own, we’re always in translation. (A beautiful letter of recommendation.)

An ‘accidental dictionary’ explores how errors created the English language.

Have a lovely weekend!

Aix-en-Provence

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Aix-en-Provence is a gorgeous town that I will forever associate with Candyland, because within five minutes of my arrival I happened upon the most wondrous food festival – in celebration of the local confection, the calisson – in the plaza a few steps from my AirBnB.

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In addition to the star attraction in every color and flavor, there were wedges of nougat as big as wheels of cheese, macarons that looked like watercolors, marshmallows in soft pastels, every kind of jam and jelly, and a variety of cookies for good measure. Continue reading

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.

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Around and around we go.