Tuesday, February 23, 2010

When in Doubt, Dance

And so, apartment found, Kate left for Russia and Greg left for work, leaving me to my new full time job of tourist. I gave it a pretty good go in my first few weeks seeing Montmartre, Shakespeare and Co, the Opera House, the d'Orsay, as well as Galleries Layfayette and Les Printemps, amongst other things.

A highlight was on our second weekend, when my Aunt and her beloved came to visit. Linda moved to London a few years ago and was coming with Phillipe to Paris for a Valentine's weekend. It was so lovely to see familiar faces....and to speak English! (I'd been challenging myself to go out daily and complete an everyday task -bank, grocery store, post office- in French). Phillipe took us outside of Paris to Champtigny where a Valentines dinner dance was being held. He explained that these places evolved when poor country people could not afford to go into Paris for weekend entertainment; instead they entertained themselves with their friends, cheap food and drink, rowing and dancing along the river on lazy weekends. Traditionally, music was supplied by an accordion and we were not dissapointed in this regard (although we avoided the rowing due to the -7 C temperature!). The room was decorated with colored lights, the tables with checked clothes; the food was plentiful and the crowd lively. I've never seen such enthusiastic dancing, without regard for who was watching, or how one looked. Everything was enjoyed: the bonhomie emanating from the room warmed the cold night. Linda and Phillipe performed the java, a complicated traditional dance and we just tried to keep up! It was a lovely, warm introduction to French life.

Getting Settled

The first order of business was to find a place to live...and this is no small task in Paris. With a vacancy rate of less than 1%, and rents that make you reconsider the need to eat, finding an apartment is no small task. The standard suggestion for expats is to hire a relocation specialist, someone who knows the ins and outs of the market and can help you narrow down what it is you want (Old/new? City/country?Stairs/elevator?) However, they cost 700-1600 Euros to hire, in addition to the 1600 or so Euros you need to pay a rental agent (just like a realtor) and the first months rent etc.....mucho deneros.

Our Greg was not paying that if he could help it and thank God he did the legwork to avoid it: we saved so much. Greg found a website for "prochaine a prochaine" meaning renter to rentee, no agents, everyone saves. He lined up 4 apartments for the first weekend: one in the 16eme, our desired neighborhood, 2 in Boulange-Billancourt near his work and a one-off in the 15th. Mumsy came with us, excited to see 'real' Parisian apartments.

The first one, in the 16eme, was in a delightful neighborhood: old Haussmanian style with its typical elegance, hardwood floors, big bright windows and French doors, surprisingly nice bathroom, dismal kitchen. The next one, in Boulange, new, modern and clean (the 2nd in Boulange not worth mentioning!). And finally, the one-off in the 15eme that none of us thought would work but turned out to be large and bright with a walk in closet, full bath and view of the Eiffel Tower....oooh, suddenly we had a competition!

After a sleepless night (do we go for the neighborhood we want or a great apartment? New or old?) we (mostly I) picked the big apartment in the 15th. I loved the layout and could see how we would live, where things would go. And who can resist looking at the Eiffel Tower every day? We made sure Greg could get to work each day without too much hassle and we were in: the 15th it was! Our new landlord, M. Boffa, was delighted to have 'two nice young Canadians' coming to live in his apartment. A week later, we signed the lease and got the keys; to bad our furniture won't arrive until mid March! Oh well, another temporary place it will be....the gypsy life continues for now.

Getting there....

I'm so lucky. Katie/Mom (Greg's Mom) had (finangled?) a business trip to Paris the same week I was flying out. So I had a friend on the farewell flight. Even better, Mom got us upgraded to business class!

I sat in the business lounge, wine glass in hand, and reflected how, even in the loss of so much, I felt liberated. All of a sudden I had nothing to care for, no-one who needed a call back, no garbage to put out nor garden to weed......how many people get an opportunity to put 'real' life on hold and go to Paris for 3 years? It would just be me, G, and Paris.

The flight over was great: the seats laid right back-not that I slept but watched almost 3 movies! (Bright Star, Whip It and An Education). I had one of the best beef tenderloins ever (yes, airplane food can be good! Who knew?) and all the wine I could drink (which is a bit as you all know!). We caught a cab in to the city from Charles de Gaulle (known only as Roissy to locals-same place, don't be fooled) and between Mom and I, I knew the most French, so I got to give directions to the apartment. It gave me a lift of confidence: maybe I will be able to communicate here! And then we arrived at our wee abode with its blue door and red couch, and my sweet husband's face, so happy to see us both.

Let the adventure begin....after a nap!!!


Is there a worse word in the English language than moving????
Thankfully the house sold fast, and Greg didn't have to report to the NEA until mid Jan 2010. We enjoyed Christmas, then Greg worked like a Trojan to organize the move (cancelling utilities, adjusting insurance, dealing with CRA etc etc etc) until he had to go, leaving me at the helm (I worked until he left).
Nothing prepared me for an international move. Military moves have nothing on an international move, especially since the military gives you a great deal of structure. We had to interview and book our own moving company, arrange for a place for Greg to stay in France until we could look for an apartment, figure out what to do with our vehicles and cottage, go through each and every article in the house and decide if it was for shipping or storing (or Sally Anne!), and say good bye to so many precious people. The night before the packers came to the house, I did not go to bed....at all! It was exhausting, heart-breaking and completely overwhelming.
But we had wonderful people helping out, putting me up, taking stuff to VV Boutique, making me meals, helping to pack, sort, carry away.....thank you all, we cold not have done it without you!
So, even though I didn't want to leave, compared to the stress of the move I was looking forward to Paris! And seeing my beloved Greg again.

In the beginning......

Well, you see, we were a little bored.......we'd each finished a degree, then renovated the house, bought a cottage, had great friends and family, secured the good government jobs. A pretty great life, all tolled, but as my Dad aptly observed, maybe we'd peaked early?
So when Greg came home one day and said there were two international positions up for competition, and should he apply, I said sure! What were the chances of him actually getting the job? It was a fictitious situation, the impossible dream.
I underestimated my husband's complete awesomeness. He charmed the pants off the group from the National Energy Agency in France, a subsidary of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development; of course he got the job!
OMG! When faced with the reality of saying goodbye to our fabulous house, fabulous family and friends (that's a lotta f's), fabulous cottage and fabulous (?) job could I really do it?
As it turns out you just don't say no to Paris.
So, we sold the fabulous house, rented the fabulous cottage, put the fabulous job on hold and the fabulous freinds on Facebook....and departed for France!
Oh F%^&!!