Wednesday, April 29, 2009

One Hell of a Week

I decided I should share with you the crazy-ass week I just experienced, beginning with last Tuesday, April 21 and going up to today, which I hope will only be mildly associated with craziness. Warning: This post is long. I’ve divided it into sections for your reading ease and pleasure. If you’re a true follower, you should read this while drinking. Heavily.

Tuesday: The Case of the “Gentil Voleur”

So, Jon and I got back to France from our trip to the States for Jamie and Steve’s wedding (details coming soon) sans incident, which is in itself a bit of a crazy thing seeing as how the travel gods almost always deign to shower me with some sort of traveling calamity. The second day back (Tues.), I ran errands all morning and came down with a roaring headache- probably still a bit of jet leg- so I went home to lay down. It was a beautiful day and amazingly warm, almost 70 degrees! I opened the windows in our second floor apartment (emphasis is necessary to the story as you will soon learn) to cool the place down (plus, we had a mouse die behind the couch while we were gone and the apartment smelled God-awful), and I went to relax on the bed. I had my eyes closed for no more than fifteen minutes when I heard the sound of someone in the apartment, which I thought was weird because I didn’t hear the sound of the front door opening. I sat up smiling, thinking Jon was going to walk in the room, when who appears instead but a strange man walking determinedly through the bedroom door!

Now, as a woman, I’ve been through all sorts of self-defense seminars, have taken kickboxing, have been lectured and admonished since birth about the proper ways to handle a situation like this. Unfortunately, under the incredible shock of the moment, I did none of them. Instead, I merely yelled out, “Hey!” to which the man responded, “Excusez-moi, Madame,” with an equal look of astonishment on his face, and turned around and began to climb out the window!! Forgetting myself, I said to him in English, “What the hell are you doing in here, guy?” He said again, in English this time, “Excuse me, Madame,” as his body was half out the window. Then he proceeded to shimmy down the wall like Spiderman, walk calmly through the courtyard of our building, and out the main door. He was so calm and cool that he even turned to me before leaving the courtyard and apologized again! All I could do was stand at the bedroom window and watch, credulous, as the man disappeared.

I was in shock. I sat down on the bed and could only think, “Thank God I wasn’t just raped and murdered!” This lasted for a minute; then I called the police. I dialed the French version of 911 and what next transpired is so stereotypically French it’s almost unbelievable- when told that the man who had just invaded my apartment was gone, the operator replied that nothing could be done for me and that the next time I should call when he was in the apartment. With that, she hung up, and I stared at the receiver with even more credulity than when watching the would-be thief leave the building. I had no recourse but to call Jon at school. It was four in the afternoon; he could be up to anything there. He was tracked down, and when he heard my story, he came running home, literally. I felt bad about calling him out of cuisine, but he told me later it was great because he didn’t have to help clean up the kitchen.

Enter into the story Olivier, our trusty and much-beloved French friend. His father is a retired cop in Lyon. Jon called Olivier. Olivier called his dad. We were instructed to go to the police station to make a report. In typical French fashion, when we went to the station closest to us (but not in our arrondisement); we were told to go to the station in our arrondisement. We had to take the bus. I filled out the report. They showed me pictures of suspects fitting the house-breaker's description—no luck. They sent investigators to the apartment to fingerprint the scene because the dumb-ass left hand and shoe prints all over the place, visible in the fine sheen of Paris dust on the balcony railing and on the first-floor windowsill he used to begin his shimmy up the wall. Perhaps the most shocking part of the whole thing is that the investigators found traces of fingerprint powder on the balcony ledge, as in- this has happened before to another tenant!!! Like me, whoever it was probably never imagined that someone would be able to enter a second-floor window, at least fifteen feet off the ground. The thought boggles the imagination. The only good thing to come out of the whole experience was repaying Olivier’s kindness and patience (he met us straight from work to help in going to the police) by taking him out for street meat (Gyros from the best stand in Paris) and a pint at The Highlander.

In the midst of all of this insanity, I also got the landlords involved. They have a daughter around my age, so they are of course very concerned. The next day a man came to measure the windows for iron bars. This of course will have to be approved by the building’s resident board who apparently hate the husband-half of my landlords (something about his son knocking out a supporting wall of the apartment when he lived here- I don’t even want to know the details of that one) and are likely to deny the request out of spite. I don’t know what we’ll do if we can’t open the windows in this joint. Summer in Paris is no cool breeze, that’s for sure. But, in true Scarlet O’Hara fashion, I’ll just say that I can’t think about this now; I’ll have to think about it later.

Thursday/Friday: It Keeps Getting Crazier

I guess I should look on the bright side of the “window incident” (as I now call it) and consider myself lucky that the week a guy decides to break into my apartment is also the week that Jon gets two unexpected days off. Needless to say, I’m not so good by myself in our abode right now, so that was nice. He was gifted with said days off because the Lyme Disease Chef Sebastian, which he contracted on some holiday in the French countryside, flared up and the poor man had to go to the hospital. Luckily he is feeling much better now- just in time to teach Jon and his classmates how to make Duck à l’Orange. Bless Him.

Thursday: A Brush with Fame

Two days after the “window incident,” Jon and I went to eat at a little café in our neighborhood. Chez Dumonet is very old and heavily frequented by locals. There, waiters in traditional attire buzz quietly around the cozy dining room that looks much as it must have when the place first opened at the beginning of the 20th century. They have a few tables in the back, partitioned off from the main dining area by a wooden half-wall with a little gate in it (open so the waiters can get back to the kitchen), for those customers daring enough to come in without a reservation—we belonged there. Throwing away my resolve to eat sparingly and healthily (made during a moment of hysteria a week previous in the Belks’ dressing room in Lady Lake, Florida), I devoured the menu’s offerings with my eyes, wanting one of everything, but settling on the chateaubriand (for one) and pommes frites.

As Jon and I chatted over our wine, snuggled closely next to those other diners sans reservations, I glanced up to see what appeared to be Gerard Depardieu walking towards me. Doing a double take, I realized that it was Gerard Depardieu! He was lumbering determinedly back to the kitchen (of which Jon had an excellent view, we being only one table away from its open door) where he commenced a serious discussion with the chef, yelled some orders out to various staff members scurrying about, and left. Voila. Just like that, in such a brief amount of time, I was close to fame. I wish I could have seen him eating or something (this must be my sick obsession with gossip rags coming out), but just to have seen him was cool enough for me.

Monday: The French Paradox in the Form of the Gym

Thank God the weekend was pretty much crazy-free. Luckily, my trip to the gym on Monday made up for this. I joined a gym on Blvd. St. Germaine. It is very modern and clean, and upon first inspection, closely resembles an American establishment of the same genre. It is not until numerous visits later, however, that one really begins to realize that this is nowhere near the case.

Exhibit A: Monday was the celebration of the gym’s first anniversary. I see the signs announcing it as I walk up the stairs to the main floor, but don’t know what this means. I immediately find out. As soon as I get through check-in, I see a table in the middle of the cardio floor, with numerous people milling about it, feasting upon--are you ready for this?--potato chips, chocolate cake, salted peanuts, white wine, and soda. I am not making this up. In the midst of men slogging away on the treadmills and women gyrating on the elliptical machines, the gym is throwing a “How many ways can we eat unhealthily?” party. One would expect a gym party to involve fresh fruit, mineral water, maybe some yogurt, but I am quickly learning that nothing is as expected here.

Exhibit B: Unlike gyms at home, most people in this gym wear nothing even remotely resembling workout attire. The other day, I saw a guy wearing jeans while running on the treadmill! The desk girls wear black, slinky outfits complete with either stiletto heels or biker boots. The minute I put on my running shorts and technical tee, I am singled out as a foreigner.

Exhibit C: Being an establishment dedicated to the pursuit of fitness in its various forms, one would expect to find various water fountains available for its workout-weary denizens to replenish their fluids. Unfortunately, this is not the case. There is not a single place to get water in the entire joint, other than out of the bathroom sink. I know because I both searched high and low and asked. As the attendant quickly pointed out after answering my question, there is however coffee available at all times during opening hours.

Exhibit D: Speaking of bathrooms, the toilets do not work--anywhere in the building. I keep walking up to the third floor as instructed by the notice on the door of the first floor bathroom, only to see a similar notice there telling me to go to the first floor. I’ve learned to just hold it.

I could go on, but I’m starting to talk myself out of my workout planned for this afternoon. This would be unfortunate, as I must gather more evidence to support my investigation.

Yesterday/Today: Cold Shower??

There has been constant construction going on around us since we moved into our apartment over three months ago. From the scaffolding that once covered our windows to the remodeling of the apartment upstairs to the electricians using what sounds to be a rather large drill boring through one hundred-year-old brick and mortar directly beneath us, there’s never a dull (or quiet) moment during the day. In fact, they are turning off our power tomorrow- all day or possibly even into Friday, according to what the nice, dust-covered man told me this morning. Add to this the strange disappearance of hot water from our shower, and I’d say we’re dealing with a regular Donovan’s Law situation here.

That’s right—we’ve had no hot water in the shower since probably some time on Monday. I say that because when I went to take a shower last night (after running three miles in the rain), the water was cold. I immediately accused Jon of using too much hot water in his cooking (he often turns the spigot to the hot side for no reason other than to annoy me), but found that both the sink in the kitchen and the bathroom could pour forth scalding water. After I apologized to Jon, he told me he took a cold shower that morning. We think the electricians must have pierced something with their mega drill.

I called the landlords. They are in the middle of a bicycle trip through Italy. The wife-side of the duo literally spoke to me mid-pedal. She assured me that she would call the plumber when she got back to the hotel tonight. Seeing as how I won’t have any power tomorrow and that Friday is a national holiday here, it looks like it will be sponge baths for us from now until Monday. I think I might try to find somewhere to escape to—maybe there’s a cheap flight to Anywhere I could dig up. Anything to escape the craziness; but then again, I guess life would be pretty boring with it.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April in Paris


Instead of April Fool’s Day, French children celebrate today by gorging themselves on chocolate fish and trying to stick paper ones on the backs of their teachers. Too bad this year the day falls on a Wednesday when the kids are out of school. However, I did manage to catch a group of kids with their keepers running in the park today. The adults had paper fish necklaces on!! So cute- I didn’t quite get the fish in the picture, but it sure looks like both grown-up and kid were having fun.

In honor of the first day of April, I actually went outside today with naked legs- the first time I’ve done so since arriving in Europe three months ago. With all the sunshine out today, the whiteness of my gams was practically blinding. I think I almost caused more than one car accident because of it- seriously. And, what’s even more crazy, is the fact that I was one of the few women on the street showing any leg skin- almost everyone was still in black, brown, gray, or some such dull combination. I’ve been in Paris in the summer. I know that people wear color. I just wonder when it’s perfectly acceptable to do so.

Because I’ve never really experienced a traditional springtime (key word, “traditional”- as a diehard Floridian, I will never admit that we don’t have seasons), I’ve been quite enamored with all the things blooming and sprouting up around town. There are so many types of flowers and flowering shrubs that I’ve never seen! Lovely stuff—so much so I felt the need to take pictures. Here are some images of Springtime at the Jardin du Luxembourg. From flowers, to trees, to the kids sailing boats at the grand basin, I think I captured a good feeling of how wonderful it is to be out in the sun after such a long, gray winter.