Saturday, September 13, 2014

How Can You Keep Her Down on the Farm, After She's Seen Par-ee? (France, Part One)

Ugh, you guys! It has been too long!!

I've been busier than a bee at my new job in the publishing industry, and man-- it has been a ball so far. I work in a division that supplies academic titles to university libraries across the U.S. of A... and between getting to geek out about EC comic reissues (fabulous), essay collections on Marguerite Duras (FABULOUS), short fiction reviews, and exhibition catalogs of the work of art deco glassmakers (be still my beating heart), guess what, I am loving it. I can't get away from books, and I don't want to! My only break from nonstop title categorizing has been a one week trip to Paris, France. You heard right! I was scared to even tell anyone about it in case it fell through at the last minute, but passports and guidebooks in hand, we set off for Charles de Gaulle airport out of Chicago O'Hare a week after my 29th birthday. And just shy of a month before our first wedding anniversary! I'm telling you, things have been nuts this side of the computer screen. 


I ordered that coffee in French. My first francophone restaurant interaction!  I feel like we spent a semester in high school French II preparing me for this moment. Judges be like, "9.8...9.9...10! 10! 10!"
I have probably said it before, but I've actively studied French since about ninth grade. After a chance dip into the world of French New Wave in mid-high school and the rigors of a top-notch French class helmed by Mlle. Murphree, I graduated from the magnet I went to with such a degree of fluency that I was able to skip past my advanced credit (which only allowed me into like a second level class) straight into a 300 level course freshman year of college. Circa 2003, every waking moment was watching the complete Truffaut oeuvre with paper taped over the English subtitles on the tv (yep, VHS tapes from the library. I feel old just saying that). I remember watching the haunting La Chambre Verte the morning of my AP French exam in a perfect fit of pique. My college conversation professor, teaching the course entirely in the target language, was a dead ringer for Michael Caine of the present day-- an elderly Australian in a driver's cap and navy blue Member's Only jacket who had studied at the Sorbonne on a linguistics scholarship and spoke Chinese, Greek, and French as well as he did the Gallic tongue. When I piped up in the first class, eager to respond to some question posed to the group, he answered back, "Very well, mademoiselle. And you've obviously spent some time abroad, your accent is very good." Face burning, I replied "En fait, je n'ai jamais quitté les États-Unis." And it was true-- I'd learned all my francophone ways making cassette tapes of the dialogue to Jean Paul Belmondo movies. It was way easier for me to talk like a fifties' small-time hood in French than maybe talk about the current state of affairs in l'Hexagone, but hey! I was happy my accent was killin' it, blank as my non-existant passport would have been at the time.

"Le dimanche matin, c'est le moment revé...pour faire la grasse matinée." Chantez pour moi, JPB!
That class with Michael Caine's aussie doppelganger ended with the semester, and I was stultifyingly bored in most of my other French classes. The program at my college was weak, and though a deep infatuation with the music and life of Serge Gainsbourg the next year kept me a little invested in deciphering old French magazine articles online and lyrics on mix cds, mostly I would show up for exams and still average an A in the course. Years passed, and while I graduated with a minor and ended up teaching French at an inner city high school for three years, the latter of those activities was more about keeping kids from killing each other than the passé simple of common verbs. Going straight from high school to college to a grown up career, there just hadn't been time or money or, honestly, enough chutzpah on my part to get across the Atlantic to the place I'd dreamed about in front of my tv screen, as Jeanne Moreau sang about the whirlpool of life. As I spent most of the spring of this year reading books about how to transform your life and reach goals you never should have put aside, I realized that if I planned to start a family in the next year or so here, "someday" might end up being "never"...and wouldn't that just have been too sad for a girl who was truly Gallic at heart?

So I called AAA (did you know they do travel agency stuff? Spoiler: They do travel agency stuff.), wrote some checks out of funds socked away in our savings account, and started studying maps of the different arondissements. Truth be told, I was so overwhelmed with my first two weeks on a new job and my birthday, that I didn't get to do my honor student due-dilligence of having the métro routes memorized before I went. Luckily, they have an app for that. Our plane from Nashville was delayed two and half hours, and we literally had to beg them to let us on the about-to-depart plane in Chicago. While my checked-at-the-gate vintage naugahyde hard case suitcase (empty but for a pair of sneakers and an umbrella, because I anticipated bringing home souvenirs) didn't make it to France until the next day, we touched down in Paris around 9 AM French time. Which, omg, crash course in how time zones work, was 2 AM NASHVILLE TIME. I'd always understood that jetlag was a thing, and time zones were a thing, but I felt like the near-hysteria I was at after a nine hour flight and later, in the afternoon, 24 hours of being awake, was a real "whuh, whoa, ok" for this little non-traveler.

This was our hotel, in the 10ème, very close to la Gare du Nord. We could see Sacré-Coeur very well, and the very tip of the Eiffel Tower, from our windows on the seventh floor...see those x's in the dormers waaaaay up on top of the building? That was us!

Check out the view from said window:

Seriously? Are you even serious right now? The thing I would like to set out here on the beginning of recounting my trip is that I am, for better or for worse, completely predisposed to thinking something I'm really excited about will be terrible before I actually experience it. I prepare for something to be awful to protect myself from having my heart broken when things inevitably turn out for the worse. France, after the fourteen year old build up of anticipation, was so COMPLETELY WONDERFUL that the only regret I have from the trip is that I didn't get over my apprehensions and go sooner. Or that we didn't get to spend a year there rather than a week. At any rate, if you have expectations, whatever they are, seriously, my experience of it surpassed them.

"Uh, we're moving here, right? What do we have to do in order to move here?" --Me

The short list of things I was surprised about:
  • How clean everything was. I tend to think of Nashville as being clean but the boulevards and cafes were immaculate everywhere we went. Movie-shoot clean. Compare that to my trip to New York City in college, where I was actually staggered by the sight and smell of a towering ziggurat of plastic garbage bags in every alley I passed. Oh, and the rat the size of a cat that at one point crossed my path. None of that in France, which I would have somehow expected for a city of its size?
  • How friendly everyone was. My initial, long held fears of being scoffed at by natives for my slightly-imperfect-after-years-of-disuse French were completely unfounded. SO. COMPLETELY. UNFOUNDED. The biggest problem I had in learning French was never comprehension or reading or vocabulary, or even conjugation, but having the confidence to speak without second guessing my word choice in front of a classroom full of people ready to remind me that it was the plus que parfait form, NOT the simple passé composé. Believe it or not, for someone who dresses as odd duck as I do, I have confidence issues. Based on the enthusiastic and kind responses of people to conversation and the odd "which way is the this?" question, however, I was trying to make up reasons to speak to people in restaurants and stores and historic sites by the second day. And never was I disappointed by how charming and nice they were.
  • How little time I spent shopping or on my phone. Uh, I LIVE to shop, and I found myself balling past stalls of knickknacks and paper goods on the Seine's Left Bank to try and get to the next restaurant or museum. I wanted to be in France and my natural hunter-gatherer instinct was taken over by wanting to see EVERYTHING, EVERYWHERE. Weird, right? I only bought four things. Now next time, if I get to go to Les Puces, all bets are off, friends...
  • How not-homesick I was. I have never been on a trip that was longer than three days and not woken up day four going "WHY AM I STILL HERE. I want to be home with my records and my books and my stove and my own bed!" Though we went every DAY from 8 am til about 8 pm, walking, taking the metro, visiting places-- and though we were bone tired by the day of our departure, I was literally tearing up in the shuttle on the way to the airport, listening to "Les Initiales B.B." on France Bleu on the radio and our cab driver have a low key discussion in French about when his girlfriend's parents were coming to town, "Non, non, mon amour, j'ai dit pas ça ,"watching the store fronts and the other cars zooming by, because I didn't want to leave. But not to worry! I'll just have to go back again tout de suite! :)
Here's my sweet little husband, who, as always, is the best travel companion a human could possibly ask for. He stayed positive when I put us on the wrong metro line at least twice, when I made him wait in line for three hours, listening to possibly the worst electric guitar busker of all time during all three of these hours, so I could go to the Catacombes (more on that later), and even when I dragged him out of bed at four in the morning so we could catch an early train to the beaches at Normandy. Shoutout to Matthew also for being just as much into France as I was. That might have partially been because our hotel was in walking distance of a painfully hip, 1980's video game themed pizza parlor and cocktail bar, but...again, more on that later.

I've got to go get on with my Saturday, but I hope to update you more on our trip next week, and try to find some rhythm or balance to posting here on a regular basis. I've missed your comments and I've missed blabbing to you about the world at large! Don't worry, I'm still reading sixties' home decorating manuals and hoarding old photos and books, so I'll chime in on those again soon as time permits. In the meantime, HOW ARE YOU? What have you been up to? Have I missed any insane sales or vintage goings on? I'd love to hear anything and everything from you.

Well, that's it for today-- have a FABULOUS weekend and I'll talk to you soon! Au revoir!


  1. I loved living your trip through your eyes. I could see how utterly staggered and insanely happy you were. France suits you down to the tips of your stylishly clad feet, my friend!

  2. Aw so fun! Can't believe you didn't hit a Paris flea market, lol!

  3. thank goodness! i was hoping you hadn't abandoned your blog, especially since you hadn't shared about this trip! i've been dying to hear about it! i can't wait to hear about the catacombs!!

  4. Yay! So glad you had fun. I've been missing your blog posts and hoping that everything is going great for you. Estate sale land is a little on the slow side...a big blowout sale near Bowling Green is set for next week but otherwise, we're heading into the fall slowdown. Can't wait to hear more about Paris.

  5. I am so thrilled for you (and a fair but jealous). This sounds like a dream trip and I can't wait to hear more about it. I have never been to Paris; while my one year of high school French, taken nearly 20 years ago, will leave me ill-prepared for conversation, you can bet that I'll be busting out all the vocabulary I've retained if/when I ever make it there. I am so impressed with your language skills - what a fabulous opportunity to put into practice all of your hard work! Congrats on the new job and the stamp in your passport!

  6. What adventure! Good for both of you!!! Nice outfits, too! Such a good looking couple!

  7. SO SO JEALOUS OF ALL OF THIS...and how incredibly French you look in all of these photos



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