My French teacher was explaining the various verbs that translate as ‘to return.’ She told us that retourner constitutes a return to any place: school, the library, a country. But rentrer is reserved for that special place. She placed her hand on her chest and sighed, “You can only rentrer to home sweet home.”
In Paris, this time of year is referred to as ‘La rentrée’— ‘The return.’ I love the idea that returning home requires its own word. Wouldn’t that be nice in English? (Maybe together we can invent one?)
Yesterday, Pat and I arrived back after an extended stay in Ireland. Last night we ate at Ober Mamma. Of course I ordered pizza. The pizza chefs are from Naples. The ovens stoked with wood. The cheese and tomatoes trucked up twice a week from the south of Italy. Words can’t describe how much I’ve missed this.
I’m writing this blog post at 7 AM in my favorite café. The espresso was adequate, the croissant superb. I’ve already walked through the market as the vendors were setting up: strawberries, tiny green plums called Reine Claude, apricots. I never knew you could yearn for an apricot.
We’ll have fish tonight. Sliced tomatoes. A warm baguette.
Earlier this morning, I swung by my butcher shop and saw Bouba. He yelled out, “Julie! You are back. Can I come kiss you?”
I replied, “Of course, Bouba.”
And he did.
Paris may be a large city, but once you leave the tourist area, it’s a network of villages. And this little slice of Oberkampf between Richard Lenoir and Parmentier is ours. It’s where we rentrer.
It’s been a busy summer. Let me catch you up.
Pat spent most of it in Ireland in a house we had rented for a year on the southern coast. I joined him for a few weeks in June and the entire month of August. Our plan was to spend most of this summer there, to renew our lease, and to return next year to live.
(Let me pause here and give you some background. A friend was building the house when we saw it last summer. We fell in love with the views, the tiny village, a home large enough for company. The rent was low, and impulsively we agreed to sign a lease upon completion. It was extravagant to have a second home, but we justified it by convincing ourselves we’d live there after Paris. And life in rural Ireland would be cheap.)
A few weeks ago, we went to Philadelphia for a long weekend, saw all our kids (and grandson!), and worked our son Ryan’s race: the Philly 10k. He created this race and now operates it. It was wonderful to see our entire family and to witness once more this enormously successful race having another enormously successful year. (The US will always, and ultimately, be that place where we rentrer.)
Of course, through all this backing and forthing, the border agent noticed I had multiple Irish entry stamps this year in my passport (they are huge and green and easy to identify). He warned me that I couldn’t spend more than 90 days per year in Ireland (no matter what each new 90-day visa stamp might imply). The burden was on me to count the days across my several visits. I am not sure that this is correct but accept that the border agent is the final arbiter.
This warning, coupled with new (and much tougher) residency requirements, forced us to realize that spending next year in Ireland was not tenable. We ended our lease, packed four boxes and left them behind, lugged 2 suitcases back to Paris. A very happy neighbor took everything else and exclaimed in a charming brogue, “Santa came early this year for sure. Grace be to God.”
Yes, we had bought too much junk: Pillows and towels and bedding (3 BRs, 3 baths, one dream of lots of company). Baking pans. A caste iron Dutch oven (and yes, I lugged this back to Paris).
Ireland will revert to what it has always been: A happy place to spend a bit of time. A place to gather with friends, sing songs at the pub, walk the coastline, recharge.
A place where we can retourner, but not rentrer.
For some reason, France wants American retirees and Ireland doesn’t. A simple fact. We’ve moved on.
I’ve made our immigration appointment to renew our visas in Paris (France is booked out 5 months! The next available date was January 31st). Our landlord has agreed that we can stay as long as we want.
I have no idea if this will be months or years. It doesn’t matter.
I’ve (re)learned some lessons:
The future can wait. Options should stay open. I prefer cities. Warm baguettes make me very happy. As does an espresso at my neighborhood café at 7 AM. So do apricots. Houses are nerve wracking. Buying stuff is a fool’s errand. Never make a rental decision while standing on a hilltop overlooking the Atlantic. Ober Mamma really does have the best pizza on the planet. Morning kisses from my butcher make me laugh.
As I finished writing this, my wine man saw me through the café window and came in to say hello.
Categories: Life in Paris