Let It Snow!

Today is the second day of snow in Paris.  Today it is sticking to trees, to plant life and bushes, roof tops and bus stops.  It is glorious.

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From my terrace.

When I was a young college student, there would always be snow in winter here in Paris.    Six inches to eighteen inches.  Then and now, it is other-worldly.  Men with roasters and large platters of roasted chestnuts would stand at the end of any of Paris’s many bridges.  They would take a page of newsprint, double it over then roll it into a cone.  Into the cone would plop fifteen or so hot chestnuts.  Holding them would be warmer than your glove.  Imagine a twenty year old American girl who loved to daydream crossing the river Seine, hot chestnuts in hand, snow flurries adhering the fantasy daydream.

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Along the Seine (courtesy of The Local)

Today, I have to go to one of the many French administrative offices to deal with my impots d’habitation.  I don’t believe we have a tax for renters in the US.  They are similar to what cities require hotels to tack on to our bills (and now, of course, AirBnB has to do the same thing).  I could take the metro and be warmer or I could walk a little further and catch the 63 bus.  I’ve been here four years and three months.  I haven’t seen snow in Paris until today.  This choice is a no brainer.

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Train tracks (courtesy of The Local)

It is very grey and the closer the bus gets to the river, the less the snow is sticking.  The Eiffel Tower was large and dark in the grey sky.  The bus moves through the city easily.  There isn’t much traffic today.

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Versailles (courtesy of the Local)

I thought perhaps I was the only one enchanted by the snow falling.  I hear it has mucked up traffic outside of Paris and tourists cannot take any boat rides on the river because of the flooding.  At least they could walk around all day.  Probably not today unless they want to get very cold and very wet.

I met my friend, Fatiha, at St. Sulpice where my administrative office is.  She assured me that I was not alone.  She loved the snow.  Just not enough to walk outside a lot.   When I arrived home, I was very wet and very cold.

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Walking one of the many parks

 

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One of the Wallace Fountains  — Wallace fountains are public drinking fountains designed by Charles-Auguste Lebourg that appear in the form of small cast-iron sculptures scattered throughout the city of Paris, France, mainly along the most-frequented sidewalks. They are named after the Englishman Richard Wallace, who financed their construction.

A bientôt,

Sara

 

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More thoughts on living in Paris

“The more you come to know a place, in general, the more it loses its essence and becomes defined by its quirks and its shortcomings.  The suggestion of something numinous or meaningful is usually available with full force only to the first time visitor and gradually decreases with familiarity”

Sebastian Faulks Charlotte Gray                                   

I have changed the tense to the present tense because those two sentences jumped out at me when I read Charlotte Gray (a wonderful book, by the way!).  I first came to Paris to live in November of 2013.  I walked everywhere.  I had time to walk everywhere.  I was so full with wonder, awe and amazement at the beauty of Paris, at my good fortune to be able to pick up and leave California and live in Paris, there were times I thought my heart would burst open.

It has been a long time since I’ve had those feelings.  I live here, have commitments here, pay bills here, run up against French administration here and unless I write it down as a date with myself, I don’t take those long walks anymore.  I still love Paris but it is completely different.  I have also changed apartments.  I used to live on the corner of Git-le-Coeur and Quai des Grands Augustins.  I sat at my table and looked out on the Pont-Neuf. I could stick my head out the window, look right and see a perfect view of Notre Dame.  I understood how Monet felt when he wanted to paint certain things at every hour of the day.  These two views changed all the time depending on the weather, on the time of day, on my mood.  Many days it would take my breath away.

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Now I live in the 16th.  I have a large terrace which I said I wanted.  In exchange, I gave up the view of the Seine, the Pont Neuf and Notre Dame.  I look out on another apartment building.  Below me is a lovely courtyard.  Every hour on the hour, I see the reflected lights of the Tour Eiffle flickering on the glass of the building across the way. The blinking lights last for five minutes then I lose the reflection.  That is the only reminder I have that I live in Paris.  And there are no high buildings or skyscrapers.  Strictly interdit in Paris.  It’s not till I walk outside and turn left on Avenue Mozart to go to the metro that the atmosphere of Paris washes over me.  Some days, especially days that it has been raining, it seems especially beautiful as the lights bounce off the sidewalk and glass store fronts.  Those days, I take a deep breath and pinch myself.  But those days have gotten far and few between.

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There are no tourists here where I live.  I only hear French on the streets.  Am I saying I would trade all this to be back in the centre of Paris where tourists abound, walk incredibly slowly driving me nuts.  Where all the photos of Paris postcards originate?  Good question.  One I ask myself every day.

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People ask me if I think I will stay here.  I always have to think out my answer carefully because it changes all the time.  Last Saturday when someone asked me, I responded that I thought I was a more interesting person living here in Paris.  I like having to walk to the metro.  I like that I can go to morning matinees of movies once a week.  I like that I never have to drive a car.  I like that I can jump on the TGV and be almost anywhere in France in less than five hours.  And that’s only because the train stops everywhere on the Cote d’Azur taking an extra two hours.  Marseilles is three plus hours away.  I adore Brittany and that I can go there and not have the tremendous crowds that Mendocino and the Northern California coast attracts.  I love going to the American Library and hearing wonderful speakers and authors one or two nights a week.  Does it really matter where I live in Paris?  The fact of the matter is that I LIVE IN PARIS!  How many Americans have the luxury of pulling up their lives and roots and move 6,000 miles away just because?

As they say in Twelve Step rooms, More Will be Revealed.

A bientôt,

Sara

La Compagnie

On Friday, Jan. 12, I flew to New Jersey to attend a Care Conference for my Uncle.  I flew a new airline.  Over the past couple of years, I read about this airline that has only business class seats at slightly more than economy price seats.  Since, I mostly fly Paris–San Francisco and back again, it wasn’t an option for me.  La Compagnie only flies Paris–Newark and back.

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Because a friend raved about it last June, I decided this was a fine time to find out for myself. So I booked a round trip ticket that cost about 1500 euros total. Sometimes I feel held hostage by United.  I have many miles, enjoy using miles to upgrade to a very luxurious Business/First seat and love all the perks that come with having Premier status.  I wanted to free myself.  Maybe I won’t have Premier Class anymore.  Tant pis!

My friend was thrilled that I was going to give La Compagnie a try.  She warned me to get to CDG early as LC check-in was tucked away.  So the night before I left, I went on-line to see if I could find where LC check-in was. Terminal 1 but after that I had to wait.  Some blogs popped up in my search.  They turned out to be “horror” stories. They were written in 2014, I held my fears in check.  Whatever wasn’t working in 2014 certainly has been ironed out now.  From the time I left my apartment to the time I landed in Newark, everything went smoothly.

When I arrived at Terminal 1, the digital board told me that my flight was on time and that check-in was in Hall 3.  I walked slowly looking left and right and there it was right next to United.  Since there are only 84 seats, the line to check in went quickly.  One can have two bags at 70 pounds/32 kilograms each. I left with a fast access through security card and could wait in the iCare Lounge.  Unlike other airlines, the check-in doesn’t open until two and half hours ahead of take off.  This again is because there are only 84 seats.

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Checking in

The Lounge was one floor down from the United Lounge, plenty large and set up for a continental breakfast.

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I still had to go through security so it was suggested to leave the lounge forty-five minutes to an hour ahead of departure.  Boarding the plane takes only fifteen minutes again because of so few seats.

The immediate impression upon boarding is of lots of space and very airy.  There are two seats on each side of the aisle.  Three attendants took care of us.  There are no frills and whistles.  No one asked to hang my coat.  I folded it up and put it in the overhead along with everything else.  Nothing is allowed on the floor during take-off.  As you can see, there is no barrier between the two seats as with other Airline’s Business Class seats.  I didn’t find that a problem.  If privacy is high on your priority list, this isn’t the airline for you.

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My “horror” story blog described the flight bags as made of tire like material with no toothbrush.  He was appalled.  The flight bag was perfect and there was a toothbrush.  The hand creme and lip conditioner were from the French company Caudalie.

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The attendant only offered champagne before take-off.  But fairly soon after, a drinks trolly came rolling by.  Everything was on offer.  This was followed by lunch (take off was at 10:30am).  I always bring my own food but my neighbour let me take a photo of his tray.  This is before the hot entree was brought.

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My only complaint is that the seat does not turn into a flat bed like most business class seats nowadays.  It would have been ok except the foot part didn’t rise and I found that hard.  Going to Newark was not a problem.  I wasn’t sleepy and watched two movies, read my book and did some writing.  My flight back to Paris left at 7:30pm and I was exhausted.  I slept on and off the whole way but the discomfort of my feet kept me from sleeping completely.  As the other blogger said, for the price I paid and having so much room, I thought everything was good.

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Every seat has an iPad.  They are turned on about fifteen minutes into the flight.  One has a choice of about 20 movies, 3 audio books and 4 special videos.  The map with the flight progress is on four screens overhead.

Everything went smoothly.  Even the bumpy parts of the flight were fine.  We landed early and taxied to the gate right on time, to the minute.

My return flight was very similar except that I have very little idea what happened after I closed my eyes.  Did they serve a dinner?  Don’t know.  Don’t even remember a drinks trolly.  The check-in was just as smooth except it was in English and there were four people doing the check as opposed to two in Paris.  The Lounge was before security and very elegant.  It had the feel of old world glamour.  The food was better than anything I’ve ever seen.  An entire dinner was laid out so I suspect that dinner was not served on board.

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When you go on-line to book a flight, after picking your dates, four different prices come up.  Each price has conditions.  The cheapest is called promotion which is what I got.  Since turning 65, I always get flight insurance now.  As they say in many countries, Shit happens.

If my opinion counts for anything, I recommend this airline for the price, the space and the ease of travel.  You do need to be going to Newark or Paris or be willing to land there before the next lap of your flight.  Happy Flying!!!

A bientôt,

Sara

 

Quality of Life

A number of people responded to my blog about my Uncle Stan.  My friend, Darcy, has been caring for her mom who lives in the same place as Stan.  Her mom has dementia and has a small studio in the Assisted Living side of the Retirement Community.  She wrote this in response to another of her friend’s whose mother is just entering the dementia stage: “that you don’t know who you are when you are taking care of your mom. This made my whole world make sense, finally. Those simple words I don’t know who I am brought everything into perspective for me. Not that I understand all the emotions I went through here in Princeton and all of the emotions I continue to feel now that I have left. This will take years. But coming back, returning to Stonebridge, threw me into the old feelings of emotional chaos and I didn’t expect this. I was quite floored by it all. I felt guilty not spending more time with my mom and yet my body simply gave out on Friday. All I wanted to do was sleep.

I think it’s impossible to know who I am when I’m taking care of her because there are so many different people involved. Internally, there is my little girl, my childhood, adulthood. I am my mother’s daughter, friend, care taker. Added to this is the great unknown, the day to day step to step into aging, the uncertainties that come with this. How will my mother be today? How and where will her mind be? When will she fall again? This alone creates a myriad of emotions. Then throw in siblings and all of their emotions, their uncertainties, the family dynamic surfacing over and over again making us all crazy at times because there isn’t one truth yet we must be looking for that one stability. But it doesn’t exist because we never know what is coming next. The same way we don’t know what our siblings will do next. It’s a constant confrontation of the complexities of the past, present and whatever may be in the future.

It’s not like when we were growing up and we had parental guidelines already established for us. Friendships had their own boundaries, too, ones we navigated on our own. When it came to those friends and the twists and turns in life, we felt we knew what mattered most, even if only at that moment in time. Now there are no guidelines, only the heart. I wonder if peoples’ best and worst qualities come out when caring for an elderly parent.”

Darcy also recommended I read a book which another friend had already suggested I read.  BEING MORTAL by Atul Gawande. Gawande is a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, a staff writer for The New Yorker and teaches at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health.  In his free time!! he writes books.  Gawande poses a question that I’ve never heard said by a doctor–“Do we try to do too much?  Are we just trying to fix the next thing or are we thinking about the ill person in what may be their last years and asking them what they want?”  He calls these the Hard Questions or the Hard Talk.  It is a very provocative and thoughtful book.  He even gives the example of his own father who developed a cancer in his spine.  It is a book all of us should read, to prepare ourselves for the future and to help our elders get what they really want–which may contradict what a specialist doctor wants for them.  We are all going to die but we have choices, up to a point,  where that will be and how it will happen.

I’ve thought of Stan ever since I returned to Paris.  He did not want to be in that bed up on the Skilled Nursing floor.  He didn’t want to be poked and prodded all day long having his blood drawn, helping him sit up or lie down.  What he wanted was to be sitting in front of his computer and doing whatever he enjoys doing.  He doesn’t have to walk to do that.  He has now got an aid 24/7 to help him get his breakfast, shower etc.  But I don’t know if he is back in his apartment or still up in Skilled Nursing.  Being Mortal has given me a whole new way to think about what happens next, what to ask Stan and then to listen.  It’s allowed me to be really honest and say that this fall is probably the beginning of the end.  Gawande says that if he can live the way he’d like to live, in his apartment, surrounded by photos of Enid and all his Princeton Basketball paraphernalia, the end may be further away.  But the Stan that is up in Skilled Nursing doesn’t want to live the way he is living up there.  Neither would I.  A specimen under the light of nurses and doctors and aides none of whom knew him until about 2 1/2 weeks ago.

I recommend this book.  Darcy calls it The bible for caregivers.  Yup, it is the only one I know of that has the questions that we should be addressing now.

And in Paris….Life is cold but at the same time full of activities.  I’m feeling grateful to be here right now, with good friends and activities I love.  Christmas Parties bringing a lot of people all together in the same room maybe the only time all year!!  And the lights!!!! The Champs Elysees is lit up and the Ave Montaigne looks absolutely elegant with lights in all the trees and little tiny blue sparkly lights flashing on and off inside the the white lights.  It’s a wonder to behold.

A bientôt,

Sara

Communication and Technology

Someone asked me how I stay connected to the United States. Specifically she wanted to know what kind of International phone plan I have.

I don’t.  So if you are traveling to Europe or anywhere and planning to stay a month or longer, you might be interested in what I do.  I have two mobile phones.  I have my American cell phone that I use when I’m in California which is about two months out of the year.  The day before I leave to return to Paris, I call AT&T and ask them to put my phone on ‘Suspend’.  That costs about $11.50 a month with tax.  I still put that phone on airplane mode just in case.  I have no reason to take it out of my apartment.

I have a french mobile with a french number.  I pay much less a month than I do here in the States!  Since I’m only gone a month at a time and the fee is so much cheaper, I don’t bother with a suspension.  But I do make sure I have it on Airplane mode from the minute the plane lifts off the ground at CDG.

I have had my Oakland home phone number with Vonage, a VOiP, for 10/12 years.  The year I moved to Paris, 2013, Vonage designed an App to download.  I can go into the App and call the United States and my home phone number shows up on the recipients phone.  People in the States can call me without any extra charge as they are calling a California number.  I do keep that phone, the American one, on Mute, as people often forget how many hours I am ahead of them.  I just call them back.

For all the above, when I’m in Paris, I pay a total of $75.  That is about the price of one month of AT&T cellphone service.  Why on earth would I get an International plan?

I now have friends all over Europe.  We call each other on Skype, which is audio as well as visual, or download WhatsApp or Viber (WhatsApp seems to be more popular at the moment).  All the Apps can be used on my french phone at any time wherever I am.  I have found, however, that reception is best if I’m at a Wifi spot.

Then there is the wonder of FaceTime.  I have an iPhone (I actually have two iPhones but you get the gist).  There is no charge to talk to another iPhone anywhere in the world using FaceTime.  Again, the platform is strongest at a Wifi spot.

Until this morning, my Facebook page had never been hacked.  I discovered it within a couple of hours and got it taken care of quickly.  So I am one who is constantly grateful for technology.  I’m not particularly savvy but what I do know and what I do have keeps me connected to all my friends around the world.  I don’t find it difficult at all to keep everything straight.

For people who do come for a shorter time, one or two weeks in Paris for instance:  if you want a french number, Orange will happily sell you a SIM card with 2 weeks worth of talk time and unlimited texting for a reasonable fee.  Most french numbers can call a landline in the US and UK.  But as more and more people get rid of their land lines, that becomes a moot point!

I hope this is helpful.  People are so glued to their phones these days that the idea of not being connected while they are traveling is terrifying.  These are one person’s suggestions.

A bientôt,

Sara

A resident of Paris

On September 29, 2017, I had my fourth yearly date with an agent at the Prefecture to renew my Titre de Sejour (residency card).  Each year, it gets a bit easier to prepare for it.  The French want to make sure that 1–I won’t work meaning take away a job from a French person 2–I won’t end up living on the street and 3–that I’m covered by health care and don’t need to use their social security system.

I seem to get anxious anyway.  I know something will go wrong and this year, it was the printer that ran out of ink while I was making the required copies of all the documents I needed to bring with me and my translator’s vacation. (All English documents must be translated into french by an official translator).  She arrived home two days before my appointment and meeting up with her the day before demanded a dexterity of mind that is not a strong suit of mine.

The morning of my appointment, I went to the nearest Post Office to make copies.  I was under the impression that it opened at 8am and I arrived at 9:30am.  My appointment was at 10:30am.  The sign on the door informed me that this particular Post Office opens at 10am.  So I took myself off to a nearby Cafe for a cafe allongée (long pull as opposed to a short pull which is an expresso).  At 10am, I was back at the front door of the PO.  There was a man standing there looking very bewildered, checking his watch.  The PO was very closed.  I walked closer and read everything on the PO’s front facade.  In small print up in a corner of one of the windows, there was information telling us that this PO was no longer open on weekdays.  I had 30 minutes, and probably less, to find a printer.

I stopped in two cafes and asked if they had one I could use.  No, madame.  I called my old neighbor from my Git-le-Coeur days knowing she had one and was close by.  I reached her at the hospital where her mother was dying and she could barely get four words out.  I rushed to a Gibert Jeune, an all-purpose station for students of any age to buy books, supplies, maps and more.  The Security man told me that ‘No, madame, we don’t have a printer but if you go up that street, cross over past the Pharmacy, there is a Internet store that has a printer.’  I rushed there and, acting like a spoiled American, thought I could talk my way to the front of the line.  No dice.  I had to wait my turn which I did extremely ungracefully.  My heart was beating so fast and my anxiety was so high that I thought I might make myself sick.  With my copies in hand, I rush-walked back towards the Prefecture–it was 10:20am.  I asked myself what was the worst that could happen?  The Prefecture would ask me to make another appointment in the future, it wasn’t the end of the world.

I made it to the door at 10:30, made it through the TSA-like security and, after handing all my documents to a lady at the front desk of my particular department, receiving a number in exchange, waited two and a half hours to be called to one of the cubicles.  After twenty minutes, she renewed my Residency Card and told me I would receive a text of when I could pick it up.

I relate this experience without accompanying photographs because so many of my American friends are envious of my living in the city of their dreams.  And indeed, I am extremely fortunate to be able to afford to live in Paris.  However, at some point, one is no longer a tourist or a visitor but a resident.  And being a resident comes with a lot of anxieties, dealing with the French administration and a lessening amount of time to explore museums and tourist points of interest which continue to be interesting to me.

Days will go by now that I do not see the river or my favorite bridge, Pont Neuf.  I have responsibilities and commitments.  I live here.  I carry around a card issued by the Mayor of Paris saying I’m an official citizen of Paris! It’s actually not official but gets me in to many places that I wouldn’t see if I didn’t have that card.

Some mornings, I wake up thinking of the Bay Area, my other home, the way I used to think of Paris.  With an affection and longing that surprises me.  Sometimes I think it’s time to go home–meaning Oakland.  Paris is really home but I’m not saying that anymore.  It’s a luxury dilemma that doesn’t always feel so luxurious.  And a universal dilemma I believe–wanting to be somewhere else when the going gets tough.

For now, I will take my fiscal stamps to pay for my new residency card.  Paris will have me for one more year.  For one more year, I will wake up with the joys and the aches of being a resident in this city.

A bientôt,

Sara

The further adventures of Bijou, the cat

While I was in the United States, January through May, Bijou was living the life of Riley.  She stayed with a friend who has quite a large apartment, consisting of three large bedrooms, a living room plus and a dining room plus.  Bijou had the run of the place.  And she literally could run in a circle going through almost every room.  She loved hiding under my friend’s bed, she would go to sleep on the kids’ book bags, she would sit on the back of a sofa for hours making those funny kitty noises every time she saw a bird and she made herself at home wherever she could.  She knew she was only a guest and never jumped up on a table or workspace as she did at my apartment.

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Hello

Once Spring came, things started to get a bit dicey.  The apartment is on the 6th floor.  Each room has a minimum of two ceiling almost to the floor windows.  And every window had a little balcony where healthy plants were waiting for the sun. The windows would be thrown open and Bijou, with tons of cat curiosity, would go exploring.  Just sitting on the little balcony was not enough.  She would jump up on the railing and when any of the family walked by, she would just look innocent.  While the family member had a small heart attack terrified Bijou would fall to the pavement and use up all her nine lives at once.

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One very hot in July night, my friend decided to leave all the windows open.  She could see that Bijou was near the balcony but opted for taking care of herself first. The next morning, when she called Bijou, Bijou was nowhere to be found.  She went looking everywhere and, after an hour, she was formulating a conversation with me to tell me that Bijou had disappeared.  Just as she picked up her phone, she saw Bijou looking pathetic outside her son’s window.  That window was not open the night before.  Neither of us even wanted to think how Bijou managed to get to that balcony from the opposite side.

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Phew, I’m glad she found me.  I’m tired

When I finally moved into my own apartment in early August, I came and got Bijou and, for the first time in eight months, we were living together.  I have a large terrace with a railing.  The top of the railing is 4″/10cm thick.  I’m on the 7th floor.  Each room has glass doors that open up on the south side of my building and it is necessary in warm weather to have them open.  Bijou loves the terrace and spends a lot of her time there.  At first, she would jump up on the railing and I was the one having a heart attack.  If I screamed or did something panicky, I was afraid I would scare her and she’d fall.  I would clap my hands very loud which has always been my signal to her that said “No”.  She would jump down.  As soon as I went inside, she’d jump up again and nonchalantly go walking over to the next door neighbor’s apartment.

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Are you talkin’ about me?

Bijou always comes when I call her.  She is basically a very good cat.  She is learning not to jump up on the railing and does it rarely now.  I’m still too nervous to leave the doors to the balcony open in the night when I’m sleeping or when I leave the apartment.  I don’t know why.  I truly don’t think anything would happen to her.  Cats have such an innate sense of balance and perspective of distance.  But……I don’t ever want to be in the position of saying “If only…..If only I’d done the right thing”  So doors stay closed at night, open during the day. Sara, the police, periodically wanders the apartment looking for any cat trouble Bijou may have gotten in.

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Bijou, who was bought off the streets of Paris 2 1/2 years ago, has grown into a sweet cat. I’m completely aware that the catcapades she gets into are completely in line with her job description.  She also likes to be in the same room as people.  She likes to sleep at the foot of the bed.  When she was very little she discovered a teddy bear of mine and to this day treats the bear like the mother she never had.  She will walk up slowly, sniff it then realizing it is mama bear, she will start kneeding the bear and collapse in pleasure while her front paws go in and out of the bears tummy.  I’m always so grateful it’s not my tummy.  My friend, Fatiha, adores Bijou and makes her toys out of whatever she finds lying around.  She gets Bijou to jump 4 feet high then teases her by pretending to throw a ball.  Bijou doesn’t care.  She adores Fatiha back and if Fatiha wants to play, that’s what Bijou will do.

And now you are caught up with the adventures of the fur ball living with me!!!

A bientôt,

Sara