A month ago, after a careful survey, we pulled the door of our Paris apartment closed for the final time. Our keys were inside, and the new tenant had the spare. There was no going back; without a key, only a locksmith or a thief could get in. We trundled our four roller suitcases and four slung-about-our-bodies bags to the taxi stand at the corner of av des Gobelins and bd St Marcel, where we loaded them into a cab for the ride to Gare du Nord. Our driver delivered us in plenty of time to board l’Eurostar bound for St Pancras Station in London.
>> Good-bye, 25 bd Arago: our apartment was to the right of the tree, second from the top. The tower with the gym and pools is to the left.
>> Gare du Nord. Eurostar trains leave from the far left tracks.
Although l’Eurostar leaves from the same level as domestic trains, one must ascend to the next level to go through security and customs.* One of our bags was pulled aside and opened by security after passing through the x-ray machine. The main culprit was a bubble-wrapped bundle of peeler, corer, and melon baller, abetted by the bubble-wrapped, macaron-shaped kitchen timer and the almost-full, bubble-wrapped bottle of delicious argan oil. The Opinal paring knife and the three little cans of foie gras were ignored. Nothing was confiscated.
Every day between 06h43 and 21h13 more than 30 trains depart Paris for London’s St Pancras Station. When ours was announced, about 15 minutes before departure, we guided our suitcases down a long ramp, found our voiture, shoved the suitcases into the small storage area, found our seats, stowed soft bags in the overheads, and settled in for the ride, which lasts ±160 minutes, ±20 of which are under the English Channel (la Manche).
We were on our way and could finally say definitively that we had survived two years of wandering the streets and riding the transit system of Paris without being pick-pocketed and without once stepping in dog poop.** What else had we left undone? Although we took the fascinating tour of le Palais Garnier opera house, we never attended a performance there or at the newer Opéra Bastille. Musée Henner (the Alsatian artist’s works) and the wonderful Musée de la Poste (history of communication) were both closed for renovations. We did not join the masses on le Champ de Mars for celebrations of 14 juillet (which the French do not call Bastille Day), though we did watch the 2013 fireworks from the excellent vantage point of Caroline and Guy’s building. We once again did not go to le Château de Versailles. I forgot to buy a stinky-cheese storage container.
More surprisingly, since our original plan was to travel throughout Europe during our second year, we spent little more than a month total outside la Ville de Paris: an overnight trip to Baden-Baden (our sole foray outside France), a week in Antibes flanked by visits to friends in Pignans and Toulon, three days in Normandy, a day in Chartres, another six days in Antibes, and day trips within or just outside l’Île-de-France.
More to the point, of course, is what we did do for two years. Residing in a place is different from visiting a place. Because we would be living there for a year (original plan), we chose an apartment in a neighbourhood of the 13th arrondissement, rather than near popular tourist areas.*** We wanted to become a part of the community. We also hoped that relatives and friends would take advantage of our guest room. They did:
In 2013: Laura & Brian (BC), Linda & Chris (Oregon), Alice & Phil (Oregon), Dorothy (BC), Connie (Nova Scotia), Graham & Klever (Canada & Central America), Estelle & Grégoire & Clémentine (France);
In 2014: Diana & David (Ontario), Lynne & Peter (BC), Susan & Dick (BC), Colleen & Brian & Erin & Nathan (Calif.), Pam & Brad & Al (BC), Ivana (BC), Astrid & Mike (Ontario) & Anne (Turkey), Anita & Steve (BC), Danielle (BC);
In 2015: Diana & David (Ontario) again, Tom & Jeanne (Calif.), Jillian (Alberta), Anne (Turkey) again, Maddie (BC), Nancy (Calif.).
>> David & Diana, Jeanne & Tom, Jillian.
>> Anne, Maddie, Nancy. (Note that most — we failed to capture some on camera — 2013 and 2014 guests are pictured in Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année! posted 22 December 2014.)
In addition, several people dropped in for drinks or a meal (and sometimes a swim); we did not always remember to take a photo: Avery (Calif.), Lynell & husband & daughter & son-in-law (BC), Katy & Eric (France), Miriam (BC), Caroline & Guy & Clara (France). Valérie came to our apartment almost weekly to try to improve our French language. We occasionally chatted with our across-the-landing neighbours Andrée & Michel and enjoyed two delicious dinners in their home. I came upon Rita & Stan (BC) in le Marais one September day, and Gordon met Huyen (BC) for coffee two days before our departure.
>> Eric & Katy, Miriam, Guy & Caroline.
>> Valérie invited us twice to lunch in her tiny apartment. Andrée & Michel with grandson Léopold.
I wandered throughout the city, sometimes with our guests, taking myriad photographs. I love digital! One of its advantages is being able to quickly capture information about a painting, an upcoming event, or the variety and display of merchandise (including prices) instead of having to make cryptic notes that turn out to be missing some key bit of information. As time passed, my blog entries became more and more like photo-essays. Since the blogs are there to see, there is no point in listing the topics here, except to say that they range from museums to signs to transit to cemeteries to hair to kitchen appliances to dogs to friends to language to pastries to…
Meanwhile, inclination and uncooperative ankles and knees kept Gordon closer to home, including time on the stationery bike and in the swimming pool at the top of our complex’s tower. He did almost all of the planning, shopping for, and preparation of meals. He also kept up with world events and stayed in e-mail and telephone contact with family and friends. He met weekly with Nicolas and less regularly with Émilie, helping them understand the technical English language of their businesses while they helped him with his everyday French. (I met occasionally with Nicolas’s wife Clarysse for pleasant, but somewhat muddled, conversation.) Gordon got us started on the blog, though I ended up writing more than 90% of it. His writing efforts centered mainly on academic issues: he has registered for classes again at SFU and will be teaching a short course in its Seniors’ program (non-credit, no homework or exams) in September: Plato and Aristotle for beginners.
>> Nicolas, Émilie, Clarysse.
A few months after our arrival, about the time we decided to spend the entire two years in Paris, we started volunteering at the American Library in Paris, an amazing institution that got its start with thousands of books sent to France for the edification and pleasure of American soldiers during the Great War. At one time it had branches in several cities, but its huge collection is now crammed into a building on rue du Général Camou, steps from la Tour Eiffel in the 7th arrondissement. We spent every Thursday afternoon comparing donations to shelf copies, bundling newspapers for the archives, laminating magazines and children’s books, removing duplicates, shelf reading, re-shelving books and DVDs, and doing whatever else we could to help out. Of course, we always borrowed a bag full of English language books to fill in any spare moments during the week. Check out http://www.americanlibraryinparis.org/
What will we miss, aside from the museums, the art and architecture, our friends, the pastries, the wine, the outdoor markets, the parks, the public transportation…? Stay tuned…
* Note: When taking roller bags on an escalator, do not push one ahead, as it will cause a traffic jam as you try to get off, due to the little dip in the interface between the stairs and the floor. Instead, step on and pull the bag(s) behind you; they will find their own stair and (unless faulty) will docilely trundle off behind you.
** Alas, I was not completely poop-free, having been blind-sided by a large, fresh mound smack-dab in the middle of the train station in Menton. After nearly falling, shrieking an appropriate word, and shuddering for a few seconds, I reported it to the clerk in the convenience shop, who directed me to SNCF staff, who did not seem particularly concerned, though someone eventually did mark the spot with a little “Attention” sandwich board… which was still in place several hours later when we passed through to our return train. I sensed a strong feeling of “It’s not my job.” On another trip I saw a toddler at CDG airport barf copiously over her father’s shoulder as she was being carried to les toilettes. Everyone, including a woman with a cleaning cart headed for a boutique, merely skirted around the mess.
*** “Near” is a relative concept. We were a 4-minute walk followed by a 10-minute Métro ride from le Louvre and 20-minute walks from le Jardin du Luxembourg and le Jardin des Plantes.