Flying the night flight from JFK to Paris is a blur… arriving Thanksgiving morning, taxi to the apartment, schlepping three suitcases up as many floors at 101 Rue Jean Jaures in the 19th district — with the wrong key. The first warning to take it easy this time: it’s not 1972 and I’m not 21 (!) which is how old I was the first time I was in Paris, single and on my own. My estrogen-starved brain forgot to take in the small detail written in an earlier email from my hosts that the key sent in advance was for the mailbox – and in the mailbox I’d find the key to the apartment. A kind neighbor solved the mystery within minutes… Et alors, the door to the next 6 weeks of my life opened to the tiniest, coziest space: chez moi.
It is somewhat intimidating, handicapped as I am by old ski injuries, a fallen arch and a mature brain, but orthotics inserted, I managed to find a grocery nearby for breakfast basics, a map with big enough print to be legible and memorize the name of the closest Metro stop . . . the point at which my adventures will begin.
Armed with Google Maps on my Blackberry, I planned out a route knowing my starting point and the end stop my niece (who’s living here) had emailed me earlier, where we would meet for our Thanksgiving feast . . . Bravely heading underground and on to the first train, I asked a friendly looking man near me in very timid French, where to transfer for the next. He corrected my original plan and sent me off to the #8 line – minutes after boarding, I noticed my niece, in all her beauty, sitting just a few feet away. “The Universe works in wondrous ways,” I cried as we hugged and she laughed in disbelief. Put away the oversized map, Shaz … you’re a local now.
The sounds and smells of Paris are everywhere … I pass a patissarie and smell the croissants that I’m avoiding; the cheese I’m hoping not to over indulge in and the chocolate shops with windows dressed like Christmas year round …
Back at my apartment, I set up my iPod to listen to French music and feel the language seeping in to my brain … I bought a French DVD for 5 Euros that looked like a good chick flick to watch on my computer since I couldn’t find a movie theater nearby and laughed out loud on my way back to the apartment: JE SUIS A PARIS! JE SUIS VRAIMENT A PARIS! (I’m in Paris! I’m truly in Paris!) HOW FANTASTIC IS THAT????? OMG!
But here I am, indeed. I live where the people live and walk to where the tourists are, to soak in the grand boulevards and sights I want to see once more. Saturday, I walk along the Quai, a waterway in the northeast section of Paris that offers a pretty passage from the 19th district, south to Republique, a more fashionable part of town — and from there on to the #8 Metro to near the Eiffel Tower and a pedestrian street with cafes and food stalls on either side. I settle in to a brasserie attracted by a warmly dressed Chanteuse singing “La Vie en Rose” stationed across the alley, got on SKYPE and caught up with Karen, Paley, Bond, James and Emma – even caught my son, vacationing somewhere in Guatemala. Reconnecting is reassuring – I’m so lucky to have them all in my pocket, for good luck.
My niece, Brigitte, caught up with me on email later in the day; she suggests we meet for a drink at Mama Shelter, a chic sort-of underground bar with eclectic clientele, in the 20th district… it gives us a chance to catch up, dig a little deeper in to each other’s personal lives since my marriage unraveled –and she’s been living in Paris.
She’s unique. Gorgeous and artistic, she chose a life outside the US … to have an adventure that’s left her single, wanting children and an easier life. She teaches pilates to French women and ex-pats. She speaks the language carefully and clearly, laughs loudly at her own faux pas and impresses me with her insight. She fits here, as easily as she would in New York. And she knows that here or there, she will find a man capable of sharing his life with her. She’s starting off where I’ve already been – and I am starting off where she’s leaving behind.
We’re both happy. Amazing even me, I feel happy here, away from the familiar noise that’s been the fabric of my day-to-day the past few months. Talking to myself inside my head, here, in Paris (OMG!), on my own, in a tiny apartment with two little windows looking out onto a courtyard … far away from the four star hotels I used to know, long ago in another life.
It’s snowing. I take a picture of myself in the mirror to send back home, showing off my layers of clothing, head down the stairwell and hit the streets on a chilly December morning . . .
NOTE TO SELF: Just breathe.