Thursday, 30 August 2007

Bateaux Mouches

This evening we rode the boats that travel along the Seine at dusk. They're called "bateaux mouches" (I'm not sure why they're called this, I just know that we call Maggie "mouche" and we don't know why), and it was my dad's favorite thing to do when he and my mom came to visit me in 1986. We wanted to catch the Eiffel Tower up close to see it doing it's sparkly routine. Every hour for 10 minutes from 9 PM til 2 PM, the Eiffel Tower lights up like a huge sparkler. It's beautiful. If you're a Schweitzer, you may be inclined to yell "fire in the hole!" just before it is illuminated. It's almost as good as fireworks.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Un appartement!

We are TOTALLY thrilled! We have found an apartment that we LIKE in Paris! I have been looking for apartments since December. We came out in April and saw a few places but they didn't pan out. Sean and I have both been obsessing for months- late nights on the internet checking things out. We almost had a couple of different apartments rented, but for one reason or another, it didn't work out.

We arrived last week and I've been looking harder than ever. I stay up late at night, I get up early in the morning. I search all the usuals- Parisattitude, Paristay, Lodgis, Parispromo, etc. Not to mention Craig's list and VRBO. But there has been nothing that is near school, that is big enough, that comes furnished. I have to admit, I was getting a bit depressed. I didn't want to move here, only to have to schlep the kids across town on the underground train, or to stay in a skanky place.

So yesterday morning, I woke up and saw a new listing on Lodgis. It was near school, and the photos of the apartment looked nice, and it was in our price range. I called Lodgis, and they said I need to come in and sign a paper before they set up an appointment to see the apartment. So I take a couple metros to their office and sign the papers. I signed 4 papers in order to see 4 different apartments. I'm desperate. I'm asking to see apartments that are nowhere near school just because I liked them. The kids will get to school somehow, I thought.

A very helpful agent named Pamela said she could set up an appointment at 4:00 for the apartment on Villiers (the one I saw this morning which IS actually near the kids school.) "Parfait," I say as she confirms with the owner.

We leave our apartment an hour early in order to get there early and check out the neighborhood. We walk quickly as the kids scooter on their Razors. We get to the neighborhood, and it's lovely. Nice wide sidewalks, park nearby, and the school is even closer than we think. As we sit on the bench out front waiting for the "proprietaire" to show us his apartment, I can't stop saying to Sean, "THis is it, I think we're gonna love it!"

We meet Monsieur L. and he is the nicest French man I've met to date. He explains how his family just moved out from the apartment for a bigger one (three kids). He's never been a landlord and they're going to try it out. The kids didn't want to let go of their old home, so they decided to keep it and rent it out. There's good family karma here. And we're going to be their first renters!

It's bright and spacious (for a Parisian apartment), and has three bedrooms. So family and friends- plan that trip! It is truly a weight off of our shoulders to have a nice apartment that is close to school. And Monsieur L. will be a very helpful landlord. He will set up the electric and internet for us in our names.

I didn't realize how hard it would be to find a suitable apartment- we are psyched to have ours! We move in next week.

La Carte de Sejour

The day is upon us. We reserved today, Monday, as the day to apply for our Carte de Sejour. The Carte is what allows non E.U. citizens to stay in France more than three months. It's a big day for us. Not only does it mean we'll be asked to produce all sorts of documents that we pray we have, it means we are taking the first official step in committing to our year in Paris. It's also the first time we could be denied our dream of living here. Here goes-

We enter the Commisariat de Police. Thankfully, not the long wait we had heard about. We were called to booth #4. We were asked why we want to stay in Paris for a year. Good question, I thought. "So we can all learn French," I say. It's as good an answer as any. I added that the kids are already enrolled in the Bilingual School. The young friendly clerk smiled, said okay, have a seat. So far, so good.

When we are called up to the front desk, where I heard the clerk telling two different people they need to come back in December, I am very serious and motion for Sean to come up.
Financial papers? Oui.
An apartment lease? Non, but I do have this paper saying I am renting an apartment for a few weeks. It is scrutinized by front desk clerk, and also by big imposing man in back room.
Electric bill? Non. "We just arrived five days ago..."
Health insurance? Oui.
The clerk hands our papers back to us and we sit down again. Hmm...

The friendly clerk at booth #4 calls us back and asks for the same papers as front desk clerk. She is also not impressed by our apartment rental paper and also shows it to Big Imposing Man (aw, come on, he's already seen this), but is very relieved when I produce health insurance papers. She begins my paperwork for the temporary Carte de Sejour. Woohoo! She then asks for a marriage certificate (which I have) because though married, my last name is different than my spouse's and this adds confusion in France (I thought they were more progressive with these things). Alas, I am given my temporary card "which I must carry with me everywhere", and a date is scheduled for us to do this again at the end of October to receive our definite Carte de Sejour.

Then it comes time to do Sean's paperwork. I may as well have had a monkey sitting next to me. No offense to Sean, but the clerk and I spoke about him and his paperwork as if he weren't there at all. I'm sure he was relieved and not insulted like I may have been. He also passed the inspection and was issued his temporary card. Woohoo! (At least until October).

We are very excited, and slightly worried for Matt (Sean's brother, also just moved to Paris) who will be coming to apply for his Carte de Sejour. The whole process for us took place entirely in French. Matt knows very little French. But surely he isn't the first person to apply who doesn't speak French. Just then Matt calls and is on his way to get his Carte.

"Do you want me to stick around and help you?" I ask.

"No, it'll be all right," he says.

And it probably will. Matt never worries, and it always ends up okay for him which annoys me sometimes.

Sunday, 26 August 2007

A day in Beaubourg

August 26, 2007
Wow! What a day. We began by attending service at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. It was kind of bizarre, the entrance was guarded with armed soldiers. It was a modern church with quite the international flair. Many Asian and African people. The priest was Irish. The organ put out a cartoonish sound which we all sang along to as if everthing were normal. It certainly wasn’t St. Monica St. George, but it helped get us into a type of routine (okay and it encouraged me to toss up a prayer).

After lunch, we headed to the Pompidou Center where we hoped we’d see a few spectacles (freak shows). Sean and I were both hoping to see the fat man who walked on glass and breathed fire (he was around in the 80’s) or at least a diablo juggler as Quinn is quite the diabo afficianado. But alas, he was (dead and ?) gone, and artists had taken up his spot.

We enter the Pompidou Center (Centre Georges Pompidou or Beaubourg), and I am disappointed that we can’t ascend the exterior escalators which are really cool, without buying a ticket to the museum. I ignore my usual inclination to do only free things, and suggest we actually buy tickets to the museum and exhibition. Even though I’ve only ever come to see the building itself or the entertainment out front, I figure, it is a museum after all, and hopefully something interesting will show itself. If not, it’s a $15.00 escalator ride with a good view of Paris.

The escalator ride is wonderful and does reveal beautiful views of Notre Dame, la Tour Eiffel and Sacre Coeur. My son was very eager to capture the images on his digital camera (a cheap one).
The first floor had the work of Messager which involved very large stuffed vinyl body parts which were individually bagged in some sort of netting. The body parts were hung from the ceiling involving a system of pullies which would randomly send the parts falling to the floor. Trippy. There is a feast for the eyes on the second floor - I’m actually pleased to have bought my ticket. Then I realize there is a third floor and I dash up quickly to see if it’s “worth it” because my kids are getting tired and hungry. I turn a corner and there it is-

An entire room filled with Matisse’s work! Not only Matisse paintings and a sculpture, but Matisse cutouts! The originals! I can’t believe it! I love Matisse! Having been a French teacher, I taught students about Matisse and how he created cutouts when he got older because it was too hard for him to paint tableaux with oil. He would paint sheets of paper with colorful guache, let them dry and then cut forms out of the paper. He would arrange the colorful shapes and glue them on canvas to create beautiful abstract pieces. I ran down and found my husband and kids and told them they must come and see the Matisse pieces. Sharing my enthusiasm, the kids took many pictures of Matisse’s cutouts (after turning the flash off, of course). I still can’t believe it. Images of the cutouts reproduced in books show neither the depth and variation of color, nor the brushstrokes in the painted sheets. I truly sound like a Matisee groupie now, but it was such a thrill to see the cutouts “live” .

Before heading out of the Centre, I scurried down the hall to finish off this floor and to see what else it had to offer. My goodness, Kandinsky, duBuffet, and very near and dear to me were a couple of Marc Chagall paintings with their magical blues and the married couple motif.
Truly a destination in itself, the ticket for the Pompidou Center was worth every one of its 10 Euros, and I’m even counting on going back. (I will, of course, check first to see if there is a free day.)

We finally sat down and had crepes at Creperie Sarrazin next to the colorful fountain with whimsical spinning art. A tasy finish to the day.

But wait, a second time passing Pompidou center reveals not the fat man, but at least some street theatre. A man begins to do Diablo performance art. He motioned for us to step back and to watch his performance. He did creative things with not one, but two diablos. He then took out a softball sized glass ball and did magical spinny things with it. Our kids were mesmerized. I fell off my usual tight wallet and gave the man 3 or 4 euros. It was well worth it. Plus, I feel like I’m paying back for the entertainment I saw in the eighties and rarely paid for.

I was very happy to show the kids a piece of the Paris I fell in love with in 1986.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

A Paris!

So here we are! We’ve arrived in Paris! Our one year adventure begins today!

So far, a great start. We exited the baggage claim area at Charles to Gaulle, and there was our van man (very nice - he gave us address of another family going to E.A.B.) holding up a M....... sign. After loading 17 bags into the van and driving about 35 minutes, we arrived at our apartment building, with a friendly Mlle F. standing in front to check us in (we weren't sure if she'd be there). Yeah! We loaded all 17 bags into the one person elevator, two at a time and entered our one bedroom apartment. It’s not bad for two people, but we happen to be four. So, Quinn and Maggie’s bedroom is actually the living room.

After unpacking a few items, we walked around the neighborhood for lunch. We bought 4 umbrellas as it started to pour. We dashed back to the apartment for warmer clothing and then decided to take a little nap which was wonderful. The kids however, did not nap but watched a French cartoon (language reinforcement). After our brief respite, we grabbed our umbrellas and set out to walk to Quinn and Maggie’s school. It takes maybe 20 minutes to get there (we stopped for patisseries on the way). The route looked perfect for scooters which we packed in my mom’s giant floral suitcase. (The van man was amused at all the different sizes and shapes that our luggage came in).

Upon returning, we had quiche and shredded carrots. We desserted on clafouti which was delicious. The kids showered, got into their jammies and Sean read a story on the fold out bed. We’re lucky it held out for 3 people. After much giggling, the kids fell asleep at about 10:30. Everyone slept well, and at one point Quinn was sleeping with his hand under Maggie’s cheek- cute.