Wednesday, September 17, 2008

De Ma Fenêtre

La Rentrée

It’s noon, and a group of newly arrived students trickles out of the Hôtel Châtelet Victoria and gathers on the sidewalk where they are briefed by their older and presumably wiser instructor before being led away towards the Place du Châtelet and on to who-knows-where—Notre Dame, Saint Michele, Cluny, La Sorbonne, all patiently waiting to impress. The shortest (girl) and tallest (guy) walk together, bringing up the rear.

Up the rear… “Up yours!”—“Enculée!” (On-que-lay) I want to yell at this terrible city. Leave it to the tourists and wide-eyed exchange students. Just as everyone comes flooding back after summer break and long August vacations, I am packing my bags. Will I miss the noise of the sirens and motorcycles and busses and delivery trucks on the streets below? No. The wandering, screaming, sometimes singing drunks in the middle of the night? No. The piss at our door? The homeless woman who sleeps on the metro vent across the street and doesn’t accept food? The Italian landlord who never returns our calls? No, no and no. And I certainly won’t miss the public service clerks telling me “No.” Will I miss the scolding—in restaurants, stores, the metro, and at the markets? No. At least I hope not.

The pets are all cleared for their long voyage back to the states—two days of paperwork and visits to Dr. Payancé for health examinations and rabies vaccinations. We spent Saturday chasing around the suburbs looking at three-story houses with yards. Three stories… his, mine, and ours. He needs rooms where he can breathe easier, rooms off-limits to the animals, doors to close to keep out the allergens, windows that open onto green. The house in the quaintest town was too far from the city, too many trains to his work. The nicest house was just 100 meters from the train station—a station on the most direct line for traversing the city each morning and night—in a big, small town with little charm, though it boasts a chateau at the end of the wide main street and a forest on the other side of the tracks. But at the end of the day, we couldn’t decide to move out of the city we love.

So with only this day left before leaving, I have manuscripts to polish and post. If I wait until I get “home,” friends and family will vie for my attention, and I fear that the work won’t get done. There are, after all, the proverbial i’s to dot and t’s to cross—words to revise, deadlines to meet, checks to write, envelopes to address. I’ll take Filou out. We’ll walk to BHV for paper, binder clips, and big envelopes to carry my work away. I suppose I could put them all in my suitcase to mail from California, but I want traces of Paris on these packages… to match the subject matter printed on the pages.

I’m looking forward to being “home…” at least for a while. He’s going home, too… to Tunisia for the end of Ramadan, but only for a week. I suspect the weeks without the animals and me will be harder on him than the time away will be on me. I’ll miss the autumn sun slanting through the windowpanes. I will miss our dinners together—at home and in our favorite restaurants. I will miss walking… and walking, drinking wine and cappuccinos in cafés and watching the myriad Parisians pass. I will miss Saturdays at Shakespeare & Company, and David… his Spoken Word nights. I’ll miss Alexa’s frank and saucy tales. I will miss Ellise… our freakishly parallel lives spilled over salads and Gamay in Montmartre. But I’ll be back… at least for a while. I always imagined a bi-continental life. Maybe all these complications are just the universe at work making the decisions I haven’t been able to make for myself.

Last week’s flowers on the dining table are pretty much dead, ready to go out with the last bag of trash. I smoke a cigarette in the bathroom where the last load of laundry turns in the machine. It’s taken me a year to find the smoothest setting, having always used the “E” cycles which make the machine jump and clatter on the white-hard tile. I loose myself in the whir of the non-economical spin. The air is cold and the sun moves further away. I hang my wet clothes on the rack by the bedroom window and hope they’ll be dry by tomorrow.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


a wish for tranquility

He bought me this beautiful bouquet as a peace offering after last weekend’s fight—something about my snapping at him when he was trying to teach me some auto-formatting tricks on Word—which went from an insignificant quibble to “it’s over” in record time. He spares no expense in making each bouquet full and dense, perfectly balanced in color and fragrance, and consequently has a good relationship with the flower vendor in the Metro here at Châtelet. Usually, the flowers are just because. I remember the days when he brought me more modest arrangements, single roses before simple dinners at my place in the fifteenth.

Our first date was up there in the clouds… He said he could make my television receive more than one channel, and he did. He loves the idea that I might have used my TV as a ploy to get him to my apartment. Now we have too many channels, most with nothing worth watching, but we do anyway. The apartment we share is twice the size of either one of our studios was back then, but some days it feels just too close, especially now that he’s been diagnosed with pet allergies… a big problem with two cats, a Shih Tzu and only 250 square feet. They haven't been allowed on the bed in months.

Tomorrow marks one year since I left California to pursue life and love in the City of Light, and I have to admit: The year is coming to a rather disappointing close. Let my try to sum up its lessons: French red tape is endless and incredibly sticky; Long distance friendships are tricky and new ones are hard to come by—especially in my small circle of writers and expats who are forever coming… and going; And love is elusive, especially, to put it bluntly, when you’re someone’s bitch—at turns and in all senses of the word.

Next week, Filou, the cats and I are headed for Los Angeles. I will attend my twenty-year class reunion and spend a lot of time with family and friends. I do have a return ticket and fully intend to use it, but having been shut down yet one more time by French government clerks, I don’t know quite how I'll go forward in this inhospitable land of far-fetched dreams and close quarters. Something's got to give, and I may very well end up back in California teaching for the spring semester. This season of turning leaves is bittersweet, to say the least.

For now, I have a few months of reflection and reminiscing to look forward to, so I will try to be more religious about my blogging. For the past year, I’ve had nothing but time. Not needing or wanting to chase down under-the-table tutoring gigs left me free to do so many things, but it always felt like there would be another endless lot of days to use wisely. Now, pondering the potentially numbered days I may have left here, I can only hope that the old “emotion recollected in tranquility” will lead to some fruitful writing, if not on this blog, then on some page somewhere.