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.

*

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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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.

drizzle be damned

IMG_1976I gotback from the beautiful, sunny, warm South of France to wet, gray Paris a couple of days ago. Not surprising, but still deflating.

Yesterday, I was wandering around running errands in a dour mood, but I kept noticing charming things despite myself. So I started taking pictures and making a list of them. I posted it on Instagram and am now pasting it here because I realize I have not been writing as often as I’d like.

So… an inventory of delights encountered during a walk in Montmartre:

1. Joyfully screaming kids behind walls shielding a school playground. (At a certain hour of the afternoon you hear this on nearly every block.) The fact you can only imagine what they are getting up to makes it even cuter.

2. Pretty tilework taken to the level of art.

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3. A cat hanging out in an antique store.IMG_1967

4. Hazelnuts in their full natural packaging. First time I’ve seen this and it’s beautiful.

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5. As are french fruit displays.IMG_1968

6. As is vintage french lettering.

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7. As is my tied-for-favorite cheese shop…

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8. …from which i bought the most gorgeous and delicious goat cheese.

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The end. / Fin.

Have a good weekend!

the stuff of my dairy dreams

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I have written about my fruitless search for rose glace in Paris before. About three weeks ago I finally found it – nearly 25 years after the first time I tasted it – at an ice cream shop just a few blocks from my new place in Belleville. And I got doubly lucky, because they also had violet flavor. It tasted sort of soap-like but still wonderful.

I am triply lucky – or very, very unlucky, depending on how you look at it – that the most well-suited cheese shop for my particular palette is also located just a few blocks from my place.

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See that top row of round cheeses? It is made up entirely of goudas. The first time I came in I bought truffle gouda and 3-year aged gouda, along with a humongous ball of burrata. It cost the same amount as the rest of my groceries for that week. I have since returned for the aged gouda at least four more times. It is crystalline and sweet and tart and creamy and every other adjective you might use to describe the world’s most delicious cheese.

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My friend got wind of my cheese obsession and recommended that I try aged comté, which I also found at the local shop. It was heavenly, though aged gouda remains my best cheese friend. That’s the comté and some chevre, below.

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Just for good measure, I leave you with the vitrine of what may be the world’s most beautiful cheese shop, in my old neighborhood of Montmartre. (I’ve been jumping around the northeastern section of Paris and its outskirts a lot; between Barbès and Belleville I spent three weeks in Montmartre and two weeks in Montreuil.) It was in this shop that I bought the best goat cheese I’ve ever had. It ate like cake.

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assorted observations

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In no particular order…

In New York City, it always seems to take longer to get to my destination than Google Maps’ time estimate, but in Paris, I always seem to get places faster than what the map tells me. At first I thought maybe Google calculates walking time based on the average pedestrian speed in each city. New Yorkers practically run while Parisians saunter – and I walk at some pace between the two. Then I made another observation, which I now believe probably better accounts for the difference: Continue reading

5 things I admire about France

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    • Half of Macron’s cabinet are women.  I think that is awesome, even if other forms of diversity, along with much of his political agenda, are lacking.
    • France plans to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040. Ambitious environmental leadership at the national level – unfortunately now a foreign concept to me.
    • Starting in 2018, vaccination of children will be mandatory in France. This while the anti-vax movement and anti-science sentiment in the United States appears to be growing stronger.
    • Right around the time it was looking like Obamacare would be going down the tubes, I went to the doctor in Paris. I paid for the visit out of pocket, without any insurance, and the cost was around $35. If I had had French social security (which includes health insurance and a bunch of other benefits), it would have been no more than $12 or so. On the other hand, if I had gone to the doctor in New York without insurance… well, I wouldn’t have, because it would have cost me like $300. I knew theoretically that the French health care system puts the American one to shame, but experiencing its straightforward humanity in real life, at the same time as I was following the events in DC with ever-growing disgust, made me highly emotional.
    • And finally, on a “one of these things is not like the other” note: I recently found out that France has almost 250 distinct varieties of cheese. If I were more gutsy about the stinky ones, I might make it my mission to try one of each.

Also, an honorable mention. I couldn’t include it in my list since it’s not actually true, but oh how I wish it were:

I was sad to learn that Paris Plages – wherein the city creates beaches along the Seine – would be sand-free this year, since it looks like it was amazing in years past. But, when I heard a rumor that the cancellation of sand was because the construction company that provided it had put its hat in the ring to build Trump’s wall, I couldn’t have been prouder of my temporary city. The truth is a little more complicated. Apparently the decision was more to do with environmental considerations and / or the company’s having indirectly funded terrorism. Both of which are highly admirable reasons… It’s just that I really loved the idea of Paris giving up its summer fun to take a stand against the Trump agenda.

to do, and done

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Things that I still want to do in the near future even though I have taken little to no action on them to date:

  • Spend at least two weeks and preferably two months doing Spanish immersion in Spain or South America.
  • Take a tour of the South of France.
  • Visit a bunch of Europe’s tiny states and principalities: Luxembourg, San Marino, Monaco, Andorra, and Lichtenstein, to be exact.
  • Practice my French conjugation the way I used to in school, with drills and tables and such.
  • Convert my ever-growing French vocab list (2,661 words and counting!) into an Anki deck.
  • Read more than five pages of a book at any one time.
  • Get back to running two or three times a week.
  • Earn an income.

On the other hand…

Things that I have done in the recent past and/or am continuing to do in the present:

  • Committed hundreds of new French words to memory.
  • Learned my way around Paris. Though I still can’t keep the arrondissements straight and probably never will.
  • Got out of town more than once, to bucket list places both near and far.
  • Met a ton of new people.
  • Started taking photographs with my video camera.
  • Finished my first (small) paid assignment in Europe.
  • Started my own documentary project, which can only be described as Grey Gardens, in Paris, with British people.
  • Ate my weight in cheese.

Eight for eight: proof that for everything I have not done (yet!), I have done something else worthy. Because you know that my annoying brain is keeping score.

[The photo is from my documentary project.]