Learning the 17th arrondissement

When I lived on rue Git-le-Coeur, in the 6th arrondissement, and looked out my window at the apartment building  across the small street, I rarely saw people in the apartments.  There was one apartment that was possibly an AirBnB.  It was rarely occupied and when it was, it didn’t seem that the same people returned there.  I asked my neighbor about this and she shook her head saying that housing is such a huge problem in Paris.  Very wealthy people, atmospherically wealthy people, buy up apartments on the top floors or ones with beautiful views and then they go empty for a large part of the year.  While down in working class people land, it is often impossible to find a good affordable apartment.  So while the view from my apartment encompassed the Pont Neuf, the Seine, les Bouquinistes, beautiful sunsets, it also looked on dark apartments.

Here in the 17th arrondissement, near Porte Maillot,  I look out on a working class apartment building.  It was probably built in the 50s or later, has 3 or 4 apartments on each floor facing me and I imagine the same number facing the opposite direction.  There are 7 floors.  Every apartment is full and has a story.  One of them recently had a fire.  The windows are gone, the terrace is black.  The terrace above it is also black but I’ve seen a woman moving around there.  For the first time in three weeks, I saw a crew come in to start cleaning up the rubble.  It looked temporarily like progress was being made.  At the end of the day, with the workers gone, it didn’t seem that anything had changed.

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directly out my window on the 7th floor (European)                                              Burnt out apartment is in the middle on the 5th floor.   

The irony is that I am in one of the beautiful old Haussemann buildings and I look out on modern thrown up architecture.  While they live in the modern apartments, probably don’t have the leaks and problems that these old buildings have and they get to look out on the lovely Haussemman architecture famous for it’s wrought iron balconies, long windows and a clean look for the exterior.  Agents will say “live in the modern apartments and look out at the old”  It does seem a smarter way to go.

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Looking out on the beautiful Haussemann buildings.  The small windows at the top are the Chambres de bonnes.

Most of these elegant lodgings have large apartments with five, six or seven rooms.  Each apartment will own at least one Chamber de Bonne on the very top floor.  This is the servants quarters.  My little studio is two Chambres de Bonne with the middle wall knocked out so it has become a nice, small studio with kitchen and bath facilities.  A friend recently told me that smart real estate investors are buying these rooms up as fast as they can, doing minimal amount of upkeep and then renting them to students who don’t mind the size and may even have romantic notions of the garret apartment/studio in Paris.  In a short time, those investors become very rich.  They can charge anywhere from 600-900 euros for a small space.  A law has been passed that no one may rent a space that is under 10m2.

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Sun setting behind the apartment building I look out on.

It’s hot these days, so I often am leaning out the window looking at the life going on down below me and across me.  One man comes home from work, turns on the tele and doesn’t stop watching till midnight.  Three floors below him live a very old couple.  On one these nice mornings, I watched as he joined her for a small breakfast out on their balcony.  On the same level but at the other end, an elderly man comes out twice a week with his watering can and waters his very petite jardin.  I haven’t seen color there only green plants.  He is clearly fond of them!

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It is getting hotter and hotter as the days pass and life will take place on the terraces more than inside the apartments.  Down in the street when it’s this hot, there is always noise: police sirens, motorcycles, loud voices made louder by rising 8 stories, more police sirens.  The sun doesn’t disappear until 10:30pm and since the majority of apartments are small, life takes place on the streets, in the cafes and bistros for most people.  And in spite of all the terrorism threats, tourists still arrive daily for the summer months.

The Palais des Congres is across the street in the other direction.  It’s connected to a Hyatt hotel.  There are conventions there every week, huge conventions.  So the markets and stores in that area are kept open late and on Sundays.  The metro #1 goes through Porte Maillot on it’s way to La Defense.  The #1 is one of two metros in Paris that is not run on human power but electric.  So it runs even when there is a strike.  It is very convenient.  I can take the #1 and change to go most anywhere.

 

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Still my favorite shot out my window!

The 17th arrondissement is out on the edge of Paris, behind the Arc de Triomphe.  The peripherique, the ring road that circles Paris and encloses it, is the next “street” over.  Past that, I would be in the suburbs.  I feel the distance from where I used to live.  I’m getting used to this area and coming to like it but the Paris I love is more in the center along the Seine–where the magic is!

A bientôt,

Sara

 

L’investiture

I was able to watch the turning over of power from President Hollande to now President Macron on Sunday.  It was remarkable for it’s simplicity and elegance as opposed to the American Inauguration.

At the end, I felt privileged to have watched (albeit on television) and very hopeful for France.

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On route to Arc de Triomphe

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A bientôt,

Sara

 

Jet lag, Macron and Technology

Ok, Macron first.  I’m not going to write about him and how he won the French presidential election.  Everyone else has written about it.  What I can say is that among my friends, mostly American, everyone was holding their collective breath.  The media was saying he would win by a landslide 60% to Le Pen’s 40%.  But we had all heard that before with Brexit and with Trump.  No one wanted to be the one to say it out loud and then be wrong.

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So it was with a huge sign of relief that the French went to bed last Sunday night knowing that their new President would be Emmanuel Macron or, as Le Match is calling him on their front cover, The Kid.  I went to sleep hearing horns honking and voices cheering.   I am in the 17th arrondissement and the victory party was in the 1st at the Louvre.  So there were many happy people that night.

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The hardest is yet to come

The majority of people were happy that Marine Le Pen lost.  No one really knows what a Macron presidency will look like.  Many in France didn’t vote or voted by leaving their ballot blank.  Banker and racist to these people are equal in their sinister meaning.  Macron’s party, Onward (On marche) is one year old.  He now must have members standing for election in the next months and they must win.  He needs the strength of his own party in order to achieve anything.  He is the elite and no one is sure what that means.  But I remind people that FDR and JFK were also the elite and we Americans look back on those two as two of the greatest Presidents in US modern history.  So Onward!

I have been back in Paris for 11 days.  I had probably the worst jet lag I’ve ever had.  Friends were saying I made no sense when I talked and for the first three or four days, I had the affect of being on drugs.  It occurred to me after five days that I was still less than three months from a serious hip operation.  I had been doing so well, walking a number of miles a week, throwing away my cane! and acting as if I was totally recovered.  But I’m not.  The doctor says there is 90-95% recovery in the first three months then it takes an entire year to have 100% recovery.

Standard jet lag lore is that it requires one day of recovery for every time zone one goes through.  I went forward nine time zones coming from Oakland, California to Paris.  I think my body may have gone into a bit of shock with the altitude, the jet lag and the recent surgery.  Sure enough, nine days after landing, I started feeling human again.  I wanted to explore this new neighborhood I’ve landed in while looking for a permanent place to live.  The weather has gotten a bit warmer and is much more inviting.

Something I keep getting reminded of and feel extremely grateful for is the importance of technology for someone like me.  I haven’t had a working french phone until today and the Wifi in my little studio was, at first, nonexistent and then very sketchy while I tried to figure out what was wrong.  On Thursday, I spent 1 hour at the SFR boutique with my not very good french (it’s amazing how much one can forget in four months) and my computer until the young man worked everything out.

I think it’s possible for someone like me to travel because WiFi, the internet, Skype keeps me connected to the world at large.  It’s very hard to feel lonely.  Cut all that off and it’s me in this small studio apartment unable to reach out to communicate.  It’s a blessing I love to read so much – because that is what I did – read 4 books in less than two weeks.

I don’t like reading about the kind of hacking the world experienced yesterday.  I feel grateful for my computer and WIFI every single day and want nothing to ever go wrong. Cyberspace is the Wild, Wild West.

A bientôt,

Sara

Banya the cat.

Before Banya was attacked by a raccoon, she was already overweight but she moved around rather spritely, going indoors and outdoors as she pleased.  Then, three summers ago, I went out of town and a family stayed at my home in Oakland.  For some reason, that I’ve never been able to figure out except that they must not like animals, they put Banya and her food outside on the deck.  In California.  Where wildlife is in everyone’s backyard. Five days later they called me to say Banya was hurt.  I had a friend go get her and take her to the Vet.  She had maggots growing in a huge wound.  The only reason she wasn’t dead was that the raccoon bit her around her spine.  Her spine protected her organs.  I’ve never forgiven myself for that happening.

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So I brought Banya to Paris.  I thought I was the most trustworthy person for her to be with.  She was and is a real trooper.  She flew in cargo and when I picked her up, she looked quite pleased with herself.  In Paris, Banya became an indoor cat. She became a city cat having to get used to city noises that she had never heard before.  She hid under the bed a lot and seemed very lost.  But she was still Banya.  When I would sit next to her, she would purr as loudly as a car engine starting up.  If I stopped, she would take one paw and wrap it around my hand and bring it back to her neck.  She never meowed, she chirped always making me smile.

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Then I did the unthinkable.  I bought a kitten from an SDF (Sans Domicile Fixe/Homeless Person) on Blvd St. Germain.  My only excuse was that this kitten was the spitting image of Samantha, my tortoiseshell, that died just before I came to Paris.  Banya hated her.  She didn’t just hate her, she made it clear that this was her territory and Bijou was not welcome.  She pee’d on the couch, she pee’d on the bed.  She pooped wherever she felt like except in the litter box.  I, who pride myself on knowing cats and dogs well, was beside myself.  I had no idea what was wrong.  She was thirteen years old and I thought maybe she was deathly ill. So off we went to the Vet who explained the facts of cats’ lives and territory to me.  So Banya wasn’t dying, she was just pissed as hell.

I set up the apartment so that each cat had her own space.  But, in fact, Bijou had the run of the place and Banya was relegated to the bathroom.  I made her a bed there, she had her litter box next to my toilet and she rarely moved.  If she had been human, she would have wiped her brow with the back of her hand and uttered to anyone who would listen “See what I have to put up with!”

My friends, one in particular, scolded me rather regularly.  She said:                               “Lock Bijou up in the little bedroom and bring Banya out and pet her, brush her hair.  Be nice to her.  After all, this apartment belonged to her before Bijou ever arrived.”                                                        I would agree.  I would do exactly that for two or three nights then life would get busy and I’d forget.

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In January, I had to return to California.  I had to have hip replacement surgery and would be recovering there.  I’d be away from Paris for 4 months.  After a lengthy ping pong game in my head of “do this” “no, do that”, I settled on taking Banya back to the States and leaving Bijou in Paris with a friend.  So, once more, Banya was in California, back on her home turf. She was a different cat however.  She had gotten fat, really fat.  When she walked, she didn’t so much waddle as limp along to wherever she was going.  She didn’t seem upset by it.  I was the one upset.  Her spine wasn’t straight, it dipped.  It finally dawned on me the damage that had probably been done by the raccoon.  She seemed happy though, she went up and down the stairs, she slept in whichever room she pleased.

And I put off thinking about what I was going to do when it was time to return to Paris.  I couldn’t bring her back.  It seemed cruel.  I wasn’t sure where I was staying and for how long.  And eventually she’d have to be with Bijou.

Two weeks before I returned to Paris, I wrote a note to my neighborhood Listserve describing Banya who would be fifteen years old this August.  I explained the circumstances and asked if there was anyone willing to take in an older cat.  I included two photos.  Banya is beautiful.  She is a Birmin.  Birmins are the sacred cats of Tibet.  Her profile is magnificent.  When I look at her, I think of the Lion King.  It is such a proud profile.  I thought “how can anyone resist this beauty?”

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Within one hour, I got a response.  I called the woman back and I was so afraid she would change her mind, I rushed through an idea.  I was going to Yosemite for 4 days.  What if I brought Banya over and this wonderful person could see if Banya would fit into the household?  The woman thought that was a fine idea.

Banya is still there. I think she will live the life of Riley.  I took her on one trip to the Vet to make sure she was healthy and that there were no surprises.  She’d lost 2 pounds.  The day before I returned to Paris, I visited her one last time taking all the extra food I had.  She was seated on a window bench that looked out on the whole Bay Area.  She didn’t chirp in recognition nor start purring when I petted her.  I don’t know what felt worse.  That I was a bad mom and couldn’t care for my animals or that she didn’t seem happy to see me or even recognize me.

Today, I received an e-mail from Banya’s new mom:                                                                    “I am delighted to always have a feline that is willing to sit next to me while I read or watch the sunrise and then the sunset.  She is a very sweet cat”

I can hear her chirp and picture her paw reaching out to keep my hand from leaving.