Wednesday, June 30, 2010

When you find a fledgling pigeon on the streets of Paris, you …

a. put her in a box and bring it to the police commissariat, hoping they’ll help
b. put her in a box and bring her to Miao Wiao, hoping they can point you in the right direction
c. listen to Miao Wiao’s advice and take her to a “great animal place” a long metro ride away
d. Take her to a vet who suggest feeding her biscuits soaked in milk, exactly what internet sources suggest NOT doing
e. bring her home, feed and water her, and hope she sprouts functioning tail feathers overnight

(answer below!)

Up the rue de la Roquette, between our temporary apartment and the Cimitiere du Pere Lachaise (where, among others, Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, and Edith Piaf are interred for all eternity), there’s a little gated park that seems always to be empty. It’s a pretty park, like so many others in Paris; there are bright green lawns surrounded by two-foot-high green fences, a circular fountain with benches on three sides, trees, flowers, and a general air of tranquility. At least it seems so from the outside, where I’m always standing , looking in. This park, also like nearly every other park in Paris, is a dog-free zone. So Fanny and I stand outside, admiring the beauty from a distance.

It’s a sad little sight watching Fanny as she catches a whiff of that heavenly greenery, probably wondering why the hell we’re not actually going in. It’s a bit like looking over the prison wall and seeing Shangri-la or some other verdant paradise; so close but yet so very, very far.

Just outside this park is a “pigeonnaire.” I didn’t know that’s what it was called until I studied the sign. It explains that this bird palace was erected as a joint project between the city of Paris and the SPA as a creative solution to the city’s pigeon “problem.” The Pigeonnaire sits on a single metal post roughly 8 feet high; the structure itself is a tall, three story affair with little curved doorways and pigeon-sized decks on each level. Here, the birds gather to nest, preen, and, presumably, stay out of humans’ hair. What a nice, clever idea I thought to myself. San Francisco should be so smart; they’d never think of something so humane, so dignified. Hmf! I’m glad I said goodbye to that draconian place.

A mere hour after marveling at Paris’ animal-friendly ingenuity, I was standing in the local police station, bearing a box containing one scuttling, pooping, fledgling pigeon. The commissariat was not the place to go searching for assistance. Inside, a group of about 5 or 6 twentysomething flics surrounded me, interrogating me about all sorts of things that had nothing to do with this bird. “Where are you from? Do you understand what I’m saying? Where do you live?” After wasting five minutes of my time, they suggested I just put the bird back on the sidewalk where I found it.

“But there are all sorts of dogs out there who might eat her.”
“Ah, well, that’s just nature for you.”
“No. That’s not ‘nature.’ Domestic dogs are not ‘nature.’”

I left in tears, with the one nice flic in the bunch calling out “Desolee, madame” after me. Next stop: a nearby pet-supplies store. I figured they might have some ideas. The nice young man behind the counter suggested I bring the pigeon to some place that didn’t sound good once he mentioned “puppies and kittens for sale,” but he was certain that they’d take this little critter in and care for it. After a wild and wonky metro journey that included getting stopped briefly by metro flics for squeezing through a turnstile instead of using my ticket, I arrived at this awful pet store. The young retards running the place were of no help at all.

I decided then to just take the bird home and figure it all out once I got there, but with my eye on the lookout for a vet’s office along the way. We didn’t pass one. At home, I gave the pigeon a comfy towel to make herself at home on, before cajoling her to drink some water, which she finally did do. After some internet research, I realized I really should have just left her where I found her; she was probably learning to fly from the ground up, and her mother was probably nearby with food ready to be delivered. How many times during the course of my tenure at the SF/SPCA did I counsel people on this very subject, and how could I have neglected to heed my own advice? I think the moral of this story is “Don’t call people ‘retards’.”

Monday, June 28, 2010

I Need a Place to Live (dammit!) aka An Outsider's Lament

Susa and Leesa are a couple of Paris-based bloggers I had the good fortune of meeting yesterday at a trendy cafe on the other side of town, near the Tour Eiffel. Susa blogs about fashion, and is as lovely and interesting as she is thin. Leesa, who looked so familiar that I thought we might have met before, blogs about life in France -- and about the scrupmtious sweet things she loves to make, buy, and bake. I met them through Owen (that's him on the left), who also blogs about life in France, and who was in town this weekend to catch up with some of his old friends, some of whom now work for Green Day as tour managers/wranglers. (They put on a great show, by the way.)

One thing I didn't really have a handle on before meeting Susa and Leesa is that bloggers tend to be an insular group; their social networks consist of, while not exactly entirely, but in good part, other bloggers. Even though I don't consider myself a blogger, I guess--by virtue of me sitting here at Le 2001 Billard Club typing this entry--I'm a blogger, too, albeit a totally unknown one. I feel like an outsider in this unique, 21st century subculture, but hey: what else is new?

Today I returned to the Century 21 office on Rue Voltaire (across the street from a hair-do place called "Salon Volt-Hair") anxious to give little miss Sylvie my dossier; I was there Friday, lured by a photo in the window of an apartment for rent that was right up my alley: affordable, old (built in 1900), with wood floors, firerplaces, and pretty windows, and literally two buildings down from where I'm staying now. To rent the place (it's first-come, first-served), I needed to bring an "attestation de hebergement" explaining my current living situation, ID, my visa paperwork, and my "RIB," which is basically my debit number so rent can be withdrawn directly from my bank account.

I got there good and early, hoping to be the first person to view the new-on-the-rental-market place. When I arrived, I was greeted by little miss Sylvie, who asked if I had my paperwork in order. I reached into my bag and proudly withdrew my dossier, which she looked through before asking where my last three paystubs were. Aha! Owen warned me this would happen. Apparently, they forget to tell you when laws are changed, rules amended, or, in this case, when dossier-requirements are updated. "My last three pay stubs? The paper you gave me didn't mention that."

"Well, we need that."


If Owen were in my place, he's have called Sylvie out on that little oversight. I didn't think I had it in me to do it, but it was either that or start crying.

"I just moved here a week ago," I said. "How am I supposed to provide you with three pay stubs? I have a working visa, but I haven't had time to find a job yet."

"Well, that's just too bad," she said, more or less. Then we sat and stared at each other for a while. The word "awkward" seems appropriate to describe those moments. Finally, I said something along the lines of "Surely you've had other people like me here wanting to rent apartments. Is there anything else that can be done? Can't I put up more money or something?"

Finally, she said she'd see what she could do, then made copies of a couple of the documents before telling me she'd call me tomorrow. I'm not holding my breath, but I have to be hopeful. I have no other choice.

I got a rare email from Jeff yesterday; he's still cycling around the south and says he might return to Paris as early as Wednesday. I could use a friend right now, so I hope Wednesday is the day. A clap of thunder just rumbled through the hot Paris evening, timed almost perfectly to the growling of my stomach. Back to the little apartment for salad, baguette, and a spot of Monoprix ratatouille.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The People in Paris

Michel and I cross paths at the billiards hall sandwiched between a popular outdoor cafĂ© and a government nursery, down a little dead-end alley across from where I’m staying. Neither Michel nor I has WiFi at home, so we come here to get connected; he to online poker, me to email and apartment-hunting sites.

Michel and I talk a lot now. When we first swapped this-is-my-life stories, he proudly offered me photos of his smiling, blue-eyed grandson, and explained that he’s estranged from the baby's father, his own son. Why? I asked. I'm Jewish, he replied, and my son refused to have the baby circumcised. “I’m not religious at all,” Michel insisted in kilometer-a-minute french. “But this is tradition that goes back to my father, and his father, and his father, and so on. It breaks my heart to know he’s breaking that tradition.”

I kept my own opinions about religion, tradition, and circumcision to myself.

“Will you ever make peace with your son?”

“I don’t know. I really don’t know.”

Yesterday, San Francisco-based friends Diep and Jim came to town after a visit in London, before heading off to Amsterdam and Berlin. We spent the hot, sun-drenched day hopscotching from one tourist attraction to the next: Pere Lachaise, the Marais, Notre Dame. We split up at 5:00 with the plan to rendezvous later for a boat ride on the Seine.

I left the apartment at 9:45 and pedaled off toward Pont Neuf. It was probably 80 degrees. Riding along the left bank of the river, I passed a group of tango dancers gliding around before a live band, mobs of teenagers straddling bottles of Champagne, families picnicking beneath a pink sky, and lots and lots of tourists strolling and speaking loudly in English, Italian, and Spanish.

At 10:15, the three of us were sitting aboard an open-air boat, staring at the cityscape from a totally novel perspective. The moon was full. Everyone was smiling. The Eiffel tower was as beautiful as I've ever seen it. It was, to use a cliche, "magical."

p.s. The best part of the evening might've been the part where I didn't get run over on my ride back to the Bastille. It's the little victories.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Cold Feet

This was supposed to be an entry on getting cold feet about the France move, but I lost my enthusiasm in the middle of writing and decided to scratch it.