When I arrived in Paris in mid-April two years ago, I assumed I was in for a lovely spring in the City of Light, followed by a graceful transition into a pleasantly mild summer. I had left both my early winter and deep winter coats behind in New York and packed only a leather jacket, a light puffer jacket, and a wool sweater to keep me warm. I figured that would be enough. I was wrong.
I spent the first two weeks of my time in Paris waking myself up with my own shivering, running to the space heater to turn it on, diving back under the covers with my sweater on over my pajamas, and curling up in a fetal position until I summoned the courage to get out of bed a half hour later. Leaving the house wearing my sweater, puffer jacket, and leather jacket one on top of the other made me look like an Oompa Loompa and yet did not keep me warm enough, even in the sun, which rarely made an appearance.
Most days, the default Paris setting was gray skies, punctuated by maybe an hour or two of sunshine at some point in the morning or afternoon. I started thinking of the sun maliciously, like it was a stuck-up tease.
When summer came, not much changed apart from a slight increase in the temperature and a toning down of the sky’s tint from gray to milky beige. The sunny days lasted longer but they were still too few and far between. Everything just felt… bof.
I realized then that Paris has somehow avoided the reputation that London has for cold, rain, and gray, but it nevertheless follows the same general weather patterns. And I am not a fan of those weather patterns in the least.
Until the fall.
Though the scientific data does not in the least back me up, I remain certain that there are far more clear blue skies from September to December than there are during the spring. And even when it is objectively cold and gray, Paris paradoxically wears its shitty weather so much better in fall and winter. It’s not a popularly held belief, but I truly believe that the off seasons are the best seasons. Continue reading
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
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.
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!
The title of this post was going to be “Chez [name redacted]: A perfect neighborhood place.” Then tragedy struck. Continue reading
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
I have just over two weeks left in Paris. On New Year’s Eve, I’m heading back to New York, because apparently I like symbolic departure dates. (Nearly two years ago, I flew to Dakar on Valentine’s Day.)
I haven’t found a way to make living in France sustainable, and the past eight months have been some of the toughest of my life, for multiple reasons. I need a break, and while NYC is also a struggle for me, it’s my best option right now.
That’s why after months of getting to know Paris at my leisure, I’ve suddenly gone deep into tourist mode and am trying to cross off as many things as I can from my long list of places to see and things to do. Today was fairly epic. Continue reading
I had two places to be today, in very different parts of the city that are both far from my apartment. The latter appointment was anxiety-provoking, and I decided that instead of heading back to my house for a few hours of work in between meetings, I would take the day off and enjoy some exploration and indulgence.
My ultimate destination was the Pantheon, but I ended up adding so many interstitial stops to my route that by the time I got there, I didn’t have enough time to go inside. That’s okay, though – I’ll head back another time, and I did lots of fun stuff instead. Continue reading
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!
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.
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.