Paris is f-r-e-e-zing and fashionable french fashion is hiding under woolen hats, thick coats and heavy boots. I can’t see a thing and as much as I’m enjoying my quiet life, I received an email invitation from a buddy opening a new musical in London on the weekend–and decided to go. Why not?? Might be wise to get outside my head for a day or so, reconnect with English speakers and practice my French on friendly strangers en route. I Skyped friends who live on a houseboat near the theater and they were delighted at the opportunity to house me, so I hit the wifi (pronounced wee-fee) cafe and made a reservation on EuroStar (the bullet train that speeds to London in a mere two hours). I used the opening as an excuse to buy the cutest funky French dress I spotted in a boutique window walking to Nôtre Dame — perfect with my scrappy gray leather boots . . . all set.
A day later in a moment of pure curiosity, I emailed Surfer Dude and in my best coquettish script, inquired if he would “meet for a quick tea whilst I was in [his] hood?”… He responded with an immediate “Oui, bien sûr” (but of course) and some excuse about “chemistry” being at the root of his philandering last summer . . . Yeah, sure, mister . . .
Much to my dismay I apparently missed the “confirm” button before exiting the EuroStar website (so much for my French), so when I arrived at the Gare du Nord (main train station) two days after the last great blizzard of 2010, I discovered I had no reservation – and the train was cancelled. A French steward, professionally unsympathetic to my plight, sold me a new ticket at twice the price for the next train — which was painfully slow moving due to track conditions…
Despite the delay (and to his credit) Surfer Dude was patiently waiting at the station, chilled to the bone, but overall happy to see me … Off we trotted for a bowl of soup. There’s nothing romantic about soup. Nor was there anything romantic in the rendezvous. It was gratifying to see him, albeit briefly, with the promise of Bond, James coming to Paris for the holidays neatly tucked away in my heart. Après some fun banter that included an impromptu test of my French, he left, I paid and headed into the Underground to find my way to Kingston-upon-Thames.
My old friends were waiting with the heat turned up and hot tea . . . wonderful to see them again. They chauffeured me to and fro, the theater was buzzing with excitement and my fellow New Yorkers were rich with good humor. I caught up with more local friends before my time was up, and, anxious for Paris, flew back for the return trip “home.”
Carrying only a small bag, I didn’t need to shell out all those Euros for taxi fare … Rather smartly, I took the train from the plane to Gare du Nord, sitting next to an American guy with a friendly face (aka Puppy a Paris). We struck up a conversation and by the time we arrived downtown, we had a date to meet up in his ‘hood (Montmartre/Sacré Coeur) the following day for some sightseeing.
Sweetly surprising, I read an email from my niece Brigitte along the way, asking to meet up for dinner — we did and joyfully dished for hours about our weekend apart.
As I walked the mile or so to my rendezvous point with Puppy the next morning, I was less attentive to the green and red guys on the walk signs, instructing me to HALT or PROCEED as I crossed the crowded Parisian streets… “You’re feeling quite at home here,” I laughed to myself. I was heading to a tourist attraction, yes, but with a local who’s lived here for 12 years, divorced from a French woman (with whom he has 3 young boys) and fluent in a language I was just beginning to grasp. I was safe. Really safe. He dubbed me his “Jewish Mom in Paris” — and he’s one of the good guys.
The following day, I had pre-arranged evening plans with an American ex-pat who Bond, James had connected with through friends … Jim Hanes makes a living hosting dinners on Sunday nights –- and occasional “events” for anyone who wants to come including travelers passing through. I signed on for an Opening of a play written and performed by an Italian friend of his. It was there I met Janet, an American professor, retiring here from the University of Michigan — and Marie, a casually elegant French woman who, I learned a week later over lunch in her gorgeous apartment just off the Champs-Élysée, lives her life as she pleases, with minimum pomp — albeit with homes in Nassau, the French alps and Fontainebleau. Plenty of lovely circumstance!
Luckily, Janet and I live on the same side of town with free time and an appreciation for good company … I turned her on to Brigitte’s pilates and she turned me on to a young, hot, Sicilian olive seller who makes dinner every night for six guests in his tiny shop for an easy 30 euros per person. He’s completely booked through February but offered some tastes — we cooed, which was more about him than his olives.
But it was at the theater with Brigitte on the anniversary of my second week in Paris that I had my first encounter with an angry Frenchman at My Fair Lady at the Théâtre Châtelet. In English with French subtitles, there wasn’t an empty seat in the house. Arriving at the last possible second, Brigitte took her seat in the Orchestra, on the aisle just opposite me as the theater lights dimmed. An older, heavy set Frenchman next to her assumed she grabbed that aisle seat — which he thought he had purchased for his wife (who couldn’t come). He made a fuss — shoving her, stuffing his coat between them lessening her space, muttering “thief !” AWFUL (!) but nothing I could do without making a bigger stir since the curtain was going up!
I had no qualms reporting him to the house manager at intermission after loudly announcing we purchased that ticket (for the same price he paid for his!) … Management and security arrived to investigate … His wife’s seat was in front of his and someone had ‘stolen’ that seat (!) He was made to apologize — twice (looking Brigitte in her eyes the second time) — “for embarrassing my niece on our lovely evening out” j’ai dit à lui en Français (I told him in French)! Others around us were quite amused, engaging us in friendly chatter as we exited the theater — and Brigitte bought me dinner as a thanks.
Ending week #3 and beginning to break through … becoming more comfortable with the language and the familiar faces in the cafes and local shops I frequent. I meet friends for coffee, a concert or for dinner chez moi, chez leur. They are becoming the who and the what in the fabric of my day-to-day. “It,” whatever “it” is, is happening.
NOTE TO SELF: Buy some tinsel . . . and settle in.