It has been over a week since we moved into our apartment in the 11th arrondissement, and everything about our neighborhood is still perfect. I read an article that asserted the 11th is to Paris what Brooklyn once was to Manhattan: a place to escape the insanity of the inner city, a neighborhood of affordable shops and restaurants, and a location where locals have a chance to scrape together enough money to buy apartment. As is the case in most gentrifying, urban neighborhoods, this is a diverse area with an array of ethnic restaurants, a burgeoning population of young professionals and artists, and an increasing selection of trendy hotels.
The most urgent element of my settling in ritual involves finding a cafe; one where I can write for a few hours each morning unrushed and undisturbed. The first place I tested employs a pair of adorable, hipster servers cheerfully doling out wholegrain, chocolate chip muffins and meticulously brewed coffee on tiny, knee-high tables barely adequate to rest an espresso cup and certainly not a computer. Other nearby cafes line the boulevard with plastic, woven chairs and round iron tables; heartbreakingly Parisian, totally Hemingway but comfortable enough to eat – not write. Just as I resolved to working happily at my apartment desk, Pat and I passed a nondescript place around the corner with a sign on the door, “1 euro coffee from 8 to 11 AM.” Peeking inside, we found two large rooms connected by a coffee machine the size of a Fiat; wooden, four legged tables with sturdy chairs; and a view overlooking the petanque courts in the center island of Boulevard Richard Lenoir. “Pat. Look. It’s my new cafe!”
The next priority was to find a boulangerie. After testing every one within a one block radius; a larger feat than seems possible, but with five within a 100 meter circle, it took five days. The best is also the closest, right on the corner. Walking home, Pat and I grab our baguette by the tiny, square napkin wrapped around the center; break off the end pieces; and nibble them as we rush back to our apartment before it turns too cold to melt butter. Looking around, everyone is doing the same. No time will you see the French stride as purposefully as they do when carrying home their baguette. At one euro and twenty cents, this may be the best culinary value in France. (A three euro glass of Bordeaux is the only serious competitor.)
The market around the corner on Richard Lenoir and Oberkampf fills the final two gaps in our life; fresh food and French lessons. Green and white stripped awnings cover row after row of wild mushrooms, cheese, fish, meats, poultry, and heaps of fruits and vegetables. The French is rapid fire, few vendors speak English and the queues are always long. Consequently, I have no option to slow down and none to switch to English. I met a woman who suggested I help her with English, and she will help me with my French. I speak to her in French and she replies in English. When I saw her Friday, I shouted out “Bonjour ma prof!” She laughed and asked what we had done over the last three days. As I conjugated the past tense of the verb “to go” (which involves some trickiness), she watched with the most encouraging look of maternal pride that I nearly cried. Something like this, though perhaps not quite so unabashedly joyful.
Photo courtesy of Bob Spaziano (aka Bob Spaziano’s mustache) who may have just found a new career….
We ended the week with a Sunday trip to Auvers Sur Oise, a charming village thirty miles outside of Paris which is famous as the location of many Van Gogh works and the place where he ended his life after a 70 pictures in 70 days painting spree. I had discovered an article on the internet which claimed that a monthly metro pass for zone one and two covers all five zones on the weekend. This means the transportation to most day trip locations is free on Saturday and Sunday. It worked! A few weekends each month, we plan to explore the best sites near Paris.
This first week, we scurried about with almost a frantic sense of purpose. Now, our goal is to calm down, establish a rhythm, and sprinkle day trips and walks through the center of town into the framework of a “normal” life. One of our challenges is not to treat every day as the next in a frantic, tourist adventure. I realize our life may not be typical, but it needs to possess some semblance of normalcy.
Lastly, we met a couple of like minded itinerants here in Paris who found us through “the world in between”. They travel six months per year while working as consultants but still maintain a home in the United States. Now, they are considering taking the plunge into home free living. We discussed the issues and solutions surrounding this decision: how to handle an address, drivers license, taxes, mail, banking, packing lists, and creating a life that has some level of manageable rhythm. This will be a blog topic to itself. Meeting readers has become an unexpected and wonderful part of our day to day life. We value this, so please, reach out to us.
But for now, it is nearly eleven. I have been writing at the cafe since eight. Before I go, I want to sit for a minute, stare out the window and watch the petanque players.
Categories: A year in Paris