Saturday, February 27, 2010

Au Revoir, Voiture

It's official: We're car-free!

Stephen, Jeff's Freewheel colleague/biking buddy, and his girlfriend Melissa drove off tonight in the trusty old Jeep Cherokee that eats a giant hole in the ozone layer every time we start the engine we've driven for nearly 10 years. It carried us faithfully up to Tahoe and back for scads of snowboarding adventures, saw me safely to Mexico and back on a solo road trip, and most recently, it survived another long-haul drive down I-5 to see family in southern California at Christmastime. How's that for reliability?

I hope Stephen and Melissa get another 10 years out of it; they ought to, since it barely had 100,000 miles on the odometer, and in spite of its slightly beat-up exterior, we kept up with regular maintenance and check-ups at the mechanic's.

Now, we just need to figure out what to do with all the other forms of transportation we've got lurking in the garage; between the two of us, Jeff and I have approximately 11 bicycles -- 13 if you count the two we have stored at the pretty stone house behind the old chappelle in Penboch, south-west of Vannes. One thing's for sure: they're not all coming with us. (Don't tell Jeff, though.)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

(De)ménage à Trois

The March 2010 issue of Marie Claire magazine has what looks to be a juicy feature inside written by one of my former Paris landlords.

She and her husband, both writers -- she a writer of books and magazine/newspaper features, and he the football columnist for a major UK paper -- ultimately found the sweet little apartment they'd purchased at 17 rue xx** a little too tight for two stay-at-home writers, and moved to something roomier in the neighborhood, putting their digs up for rent. Lucky for us!

We found their ad on FUSAC and, even though it was more money per month than we wanted to spend, we loved the location, the fireplaces, and the quintessential Parisian apartment configuration: double windows overlooking a central courtyard on one side, and an expanse of Mansard rooftops on the other. We fell in love and bit the bullet, living happily ever after on rue xx** for the rest of our French sojourn.

So, this story she has written is a first-person account of arranging -- and actively participating in -- a ménage à trois. This "gift" was requested (surprise!) by her husband to commemorate his 40th birthday. I haven't read the piece yet, but I will. I just need to get over my squeamishness first; there's something a little weird about reading the intimate details of two lives that intersect with your own. Or maybe not. I suppose I just need to read it and find out.

When we visited Paris this past November, every night was booked with either dinner plans at the homes of extended family, or trips out of town; otherwise we'd have looked up our former landlorsds. We'd asked them, before leaving their/our apartment, whether they'd consider renting to us again, and the answer was an enthusiastic "yes!" so we want to keep that connection going.

One night, before dinner with Nathalie, Sacha, and Lise at their Bastille apartment, we wandered the crooked streets of our old Faidherbe-Chaligny neighborood, passing by Cafe Pure, where we'd go for a glass of wine when we were feeling rich, and stopping in to check out the wares at cute vintage boutique En Ville.

Making an impromptu stop at our old address, we spied, from the downstairs courtyard, human activity in that particular third-floor apartment, but something looked off; the potted geraniums we'd left behind were no longer hanging from the balcony, and we could see -- sort of -- that the walls were bare. The mailbox did indeed bear one of their last names, so we assumed the apartment was perhaps being used for an office now, but there's only one way to find out for certain.

Add another item for our pre-deménage* à trois checklist: Check-in with the former landlords and see if there are any impending vacancies at 17 rue xx**.

* deménage = to move
Nearly a year after publishing this post, the female half of our former landlords contacted me to request I not identify their street or names in this blog. Censorship is alive and well in the blogosphere!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Checklist Chekhov Check-off

One of my new-ish favorite writers is Chekhov. In particular, I loved the story The Chorus Girl, for its heart-rending drama, and for all the unanswered questions it leaves: Why did Pasha give her jewelry away to a demanding stranger? Was she just swindled by the man she loved in a clever, duplicitous scheme? Is this chorus girl a complete idiot or just blinded by a fear-love combo? Like another Chekhov favorite, The Lady With The Dog, The Chorus Girl left me wondering what happened to the characters whose lives I'd become emotionally invested in once Chekhov put his pen down.

This move to France feels a bit Chekhovian in that we're going through the motions, getting things done, creating little dramas along the way, but it's the narrative we write when we board that plane and say goodbye to friends and family that's the big question mark. Remembering that is a good exercise for staying focused on the present, if anything.

Jen came over last night, toting unexpected presents from a recent trip to China (she's a fellow travel fanatic and frequent visitor to Asia; we took our own trip to Beijing together two years ago, and Tokyo this past October), and her enormous Canon for snapping photos for the visa applications we're submitting to the French consulate. (Our appointments are scheduled on the portentous Ides of March). We also planned to have dinner together, but photos first to avoid the dreaded purple-teeth syndrome that always seems to accompany a wine-fueled Italian-themed meal.

The picture-taking didn't take long, which meant we were able to get down to the very important task of eating sooner rather than later. Jeff made one of his delicious pasta sauces, I made the salad, Acme made the bread, and Trader Joe's made the fake meatballs. TJ's is probably the one American institution that I'll really miss in France. No more Tofurky deli slices and Italian sausages? Whatever will we do? Thank goodness for Monoprix, Naturalia, and Bio Coop.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Countdown - 4 months, 7 days

I've always had a thing for France. OK: by "thing," I mean "obsession," and by always, I mean since Mademoiselle Onesto's high school French IA class way back in the last millennium.

This thing/obsession/love affair with France grew between the daily chants of "je suis, tu es, il est, elle est nous sommes, vous etes, ils sont, elles sont" and those loud, silly Gallic pop song sing-alongs in the labo. It probably reached its climax at one of our class's Friday-night French-themed parties, where Anthony, LeeAnne and the rest of our geeky gang of would-be world travellers expressed our sophomore sophistication over decidedly non-vegan baguette-and-brie hors d'oeuvres, brave nibbles of garlicky escargots, and sips of de-alcoholized sparkling wine. It all felt very grown up, and a world away from the cowboys-and-jocks scene at NUHS.

I didn't get to France until I was in my twenties, but once I arrived I immediately understood what Gertrude Stein meant when she said "America is my country, but Paris is my hometown." Actually, I never really identified with the "America is my country" part, but Paris definitely feels like my idealized version of what a hometown could be.

For one wonderful year, from May 2004 to May 2005, Paris was my hometown. I hadn't planned on moving there necessarily, but a chance encounter in a crosswalk with a car going 40 MPH left me temporarily handicapped and forced the abandonment of a long-anticipated 6-month bike tour from Morocco to Finland. (I finally got to do an abbreviated version of this trip last June. More on that later.) Instead of a bicycling, I limped. But at least I limped someplace interesting. Now, I'm ready to go "home" for good.

It's a long process. Our pre-departure to-do list looks something like this:
  • Renew Passport - done
  • Get photos taken for visa application - doing tonight
  • Apply for Compétences et Talents visa - in progress
  • Finalize business plan for visa application - in progress
  • Sell car - done!
  • Decide what to do with our rent-controlled apartment - agonizing!
  • Decide what to do with our furniture and other household belongings - storage or sell?
  • Vaccinate Fanny and get her travel documents in order - to do
  • Find a place to live in Paris - rent or buy? where to stay when we first arrive? - to be determined
  • Buy plane tickets - to do
I'm sure there are other things I'm forgetting, but (thankfully) I've got four months to work it out.