LIVING UNSCRIPTED: Francophile or Francophobe? That Is the Question!

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A Francophile is a person who has a strong positive predisposition or interest toward the government, culture, history, or people of France. This could include France itself and its history, the French language, French cuisine, literature, etc. The opposite of a Francophile is a Francophobe – someone who dislikes all that is French.

In my version of “Paris, Je t’aime,” the cast-of-characters are a mixed bag of Francophiles who teeter on the brink of morphing in to Francophobes. But from where I’m sipping my Merlot, they’re actually living extraordinary lives in a gorgeous city that happens to be a relatively socialist state…and it’s the Socialist part that unleashes their inner winer.

Puppy á Paris grew up in working class family in New Jersey and fell in love with the first woman who fell in love with him. She’s French, he moved here – and now they’re divorced, he lost his job and is doing his best, managing 3 young boys on the weekends while looking for work.  You can’t get a job in France unless you go through an agency and the agencies only fill one position at a time.  So unless you “fit” the job description the moment you ‘sit’ in front of them, you’re waiting for the next … and the next … and the next.  When it works, you’re passed on to Human Resources at XYZ company.  HR hires and fires. Workers are so protected under the system, it can take months/years to get in — or out.

Janet took early retirement from the University of MI and moved to France to finish her dissertation on the socio-economic status of former French slaves from Martinique –and to put distance between her and her (verbally) abusive family back in the States.  She’s in awe of the multi-cultural communities that make up the various districts in Paris and gravitates to third world restaurants for lunch.  Obviously brilliant –and attuned to life ‘on campus’ she’s more accepting of life ‘in a socialist state.’ She sees the very real challenges her fellow ex-pats have working within the system, but has found ways to work around them so she can live out her days (or at least the next few years) in the City of Love –and hopes to find same, here, soon.

Monsieur Magret spent his career wearing long robes and performing in front of French courts.  A successful international entertainment lawyer with a passion for theater and French mime, he eventually gave in to a mademoiselle, 25 years his junior. He’s now divorced with two teenagers and not happy about his forced retirement in the country he’s called “home” for the past 35 years. He’d have enjoyed a few more years in those robes, but, alors, c’est la vie en France.

Brigette is the one lone voice of “happy” in all the clatter of “they should” or “they don’t” or “that’s just the way they are.”  She’s found a way to support herself for seven years (teaching pilates), rents velos (public bicycles) to get around town, sneaks on buses (that’s soFrench) and fixes lite meals at home to spend more on the chic piece of wardrobe every woman should have.  Kudos to her for seeing the humor in waiting three months for SFR to install WIFI in her second floor walk up –

It’s true that the Metro stops running after midnight, taxis are scarce and holding an iphone makes you a target for a mugging … But they’re not turning in their Visas anytime soon because despite the occasional strike or harboring of the politically insane, Paris is, simply, precious.  And I was glad to be back.

Puppy à Paris greeted me at the airport to help me with my bags and I treated us to a taxi, knowing there were three long flights of stairs ahead –and as many hefty bags to schlepp up them.  The keys fit, the doors opened and the tiniest apartment in Paris welcomed me again (to yet another) “home.”

On my first morning, I waved to the gal behind the counter at the Patisserie downstairs –and they remembered me at the cellular phone company setting up my wifi without a hitch (remarkable for France). I bowed to the laundress, picked up some groceries, recharged my metro-card and let the festivities begin…

Janet prearranged lunch with Cedric, the handsome Frenchman who owns the tiniest olive shop, Les Tete dans les Olives, filled with barrels of different Sicilian olives and bottles of various olive oils.  Famous for the private dinners he makes every night in his shop for parties of up to 6, he shut down for us for lunch.  And in this little street at the bottom of a hill in the middle of Paris, we (including 2 old friends of mine from my backpacking days in 1972) sat on folding chairs around a wooden table and indulged in bread & more bread, dipped in this kind or that kind of olive oil, olives & more olives –fish cooked to perfection & pasta.  It was remarkable at any price but a total treat at 30€ pp.

And so were the walks through the parks that day –and every other day.  The sun was shining and the people were out, unbundled from when I left in January.  Sitting out in sidewalk cafes, or walking, biking, everyone was enjoying the transition to longer days.

I spent alone time with each of my buddies, enjoying the pleasure of their company –and their complaining.  Walking around town, listening to the sounds of their voices and the sounds of the city all wrapped up in to one big muddle of good people choosing to live their lives somewhere else.

They picked Paris, with its wide streets and wider sidewalks. They live in polished buildings, wear stylish clothing and eat deliciously prepared food in charming restaurants.   Only in Paris can you get sucked up in the romance of a city filled with monuments and chocolate.  And only in Paris can you buy a lock and a key, draw a heart in the middle with your initials on it and hang it from a footbridge across the Seine.  That’s what Bond, James, and I did when he surprised me (with a little help from Puppy & Janet) and flew in for the weekend.  And I didn’t complain.

NOTE TO SELF: We’ll always have Paris.

About Shaz

I’m 59 and never expected to be divorced and, having raised a big family in the city I grew up in, to be still living there now completely on my own. My parents are gone and my grown children have opted for smaller towns. My father passed away this past February and my children suggested I take off and make a world tour of all my friends overseas…In piecing that together in my mind, I imagined taking a boat across, as I did the first time I went to Europe with my grandmother, as a teenager – and in that vision, I imagined taking those first five days and writing. Writing about where I’d been, writing about what I want, writing about the crossing over from my past to my future.

In reestablishing myself as a single woman, I’ve made new connections with some fabulous women and realized I’m not the only one going through this; there are other women out there who are also on a journey to becoming whole again. I hope my personal adventure will help us all find humor in the aging process –and confidence in following our hearts.