Pat and I have lived the last four years largely alone together. First, just the two of us moved to Bratislava. Then, we moved on to Budapest. Our apartments were small with no finished basement or spare bedroom in which to escape. Given our commitments in Colorado kept us frantically busy, we adjusted surprisingly well to a life of a much slower pace and with near constant togetherness.
But Paris is different. First, the apartment is much smaller, under 300 square feet (27 square meters to be precise). And every spot in the apartment is visible from every other. I wondered if we would adapt, especially given this is the first time in 32 years that I no longer leave for work most days. This is similar to the early days of 24 hour news channels. (“Who’s gonna watch that?”) It is all us, all the time.
Last week, during our morning walk, I lapsed into one of those uncontrollable pissy spells. Over the course of an hour, I managed to dredge up everything from the last three weeks that annoyed me. As we waited to cross the last street before our apartment, Pat looked over at me, “Julie, are you done yet?” (Note to Pat: Of course I was done. We were a block from home.)
Pat is an extrovert. He refuels with people – which is its own challenge when you live in a country where you have no people. I am a introvert (albeit, a loud one); I recharge alone. If we were home, I would pull out my comforter, curl up on the deck, and nap. We have no deck in Paris. All we have here is a sleeping loft which looks down on the living space. I can hear a mouse pass wind in the kitchen (“Hey Pat, I’m trying to nap. Can you breathe a bit more softly?”)
In an act of unspoken truce, Pat decided to walk through Belleville park – it’s a street photographer’s paradise, while I returned to the Pere Lachaise cemetery and spent hours visiting Wilde, Piaf, Bizet, Balzac, Proust, Chopin, and Heloise and Abelard. The marquee graves are surrounded by pilgrims, but the rest of the cemetery is quiet, peaceful – a perfect place to be dead, or unwind. Reading the tombstones was like perusing a map of our neighborhood. I made a mental note to figure out who this Parmentier fellow was (Bless this man, he advocated for potato consumption in France!).
That morning, I had reread the tale of Heloise and Abelard. I learned that the empress Josephine was so moved by their tragic love story, she ordered their relocation into a single grave in Pere Lachaise. At this ornate shrine, I met an American couple who asked me to take their photo. She shared that she was a retired English teacher in search of the great writers – “any grave but Jim Morrison’s”. I was impressed how smitten they seemed to be with this particular grave, perhaps she taught their love letters in an advance English class. Then, as they started to leave she turned back and asked, “By the way, whose grave is this anyway?”
After walking through the cemetery for a few hours, I stopped for a late lunch at a very good, tiny crepe place near our apartment. Many of my friends tell me they can not eat alone in a restaurant, but I enjoy it. I have a small arsenal of tools from 32 years of corporate travel. At times like this, they serve me well.
Mid afternoon, I returned to our apartment, and Pat walked in a few minutes later. We shared our experiences. He had met a new friend who owns a camera shop; I recounted the English teacher and her husband and our brief conversation. That night, we tried a highly rated restaurant very near our apartment and had a wonderful time. (BTW, the food and the service were fantastic – and comparatively inexpensive.)
As it turns out, I just needed a bit of alone time and Pat needed to connect with people. Perhaps we should make this a more deliberate part of our weekly ritual. That’s fine. After all, we are new to this and still sorting through how to make this crazy life work.