Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Summer Soldes!!

France generally has sales 2 times a year. Unlike the US when every retailer seems to just put on a sale whenever they want, here the timeframe for Les Soldes is set. There is one in the winter and one usually lasting the month of July. Today, June 30th, marks the beginning of Les Soldes for most retailers and causes quite a stir. Today many things at Monoprix were marked down 50% and those of us with a carte de fidelité, i.e. a Monoprix card, got an additional 10% off. I ran in at 8 am to buy a blender/grinder appliance I've been eying and walked out with much much more. I could barely squeeze myself into the kids clothing aisle where most things were also  50% off, but I am a seasoned discount shopper. As I left the store at 8:20 am, every store on Rue de Levis was putting out tables of stuff massively on clearance to inaugurate the 2010 summer soldes season. YAY! What a good time to be in Paris! Tomorrow I am off to Les Halles where all the culinary stores are! Let's see what kind of damage I can do down there!!!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Le Terrace

It has been hot here in Paris. My guess is that 30 degrees C is unseasonably hot for Paris as this city is on the same latitude as Vancouver, BC. I think all the pavement turns the city into an oven. But then again, according to my iPhone weather app, everyone is in the thick of a heatwave. I'll never complain about spending any amount of time in this city regardless of what time of year it is. However this beach town girl is a bit at a loss of what to do with two kids when it is so HOT in the CITY. Last year we had literally 3 months of 78 degree weather with a slight breeze. One day it rained. One day it was 96 degrees and we all thought we were going to die. Perhaps that was because it was the day that we had to collect Nana from Charles de Gaulle airport by way of the RER which has NO a/c. That was a delight. Other than those two days we had more perfect weather than we could have ever imagined. This year, we're getting heat that I did not expect.

Thankfully for us, our apartment is á la deuxieme étage. Why is that important? Well in many of the buildings here there are little terraces on the 2nd and 5th floors and the others simply have floor to ceiling windows. I know, such a shame, floor to ceiling windows, but a terrace is even more delightful. Last year we were on the 1st floor for our first apartment and the 4th floor for our second apartment so no terraces were to be had then. This is our third, and perhaps our best apartment here in Paris. It is smaller than the others but more well appointed and much more comfortable. It is in a perfect neighborhood, close to multiple metros, and is a building full of families with children. The latter point could be considered a plus or a minus depending on the time of day and whether the little terror upstairs is awake. Last week the kids and I came home at 4 pm to find a parade of 4 year old girls in Disney Princess costumes, including massive make-up, parading up to the 4th floor for a party.  It feels in NYC terms, very Upper West Side and we love it.

Yesterday was so hot that I had the curtains drawn all day and by the time we got home in the evening it was still so hot I didn't bother to open the windows. You see considering our latitude, it stays light here until nearly 11:00 pm. I don't know the official sunset time but consider this, on 14 July we will celebrate the national holiday here in France and the fireworks are not scheduled until 10:45 pm when it is dark. That is 3 weeks from now.

With my deuxieme étage apartment terrace, I have taken to sitting on le balcon during the evenings and watching life pass by. My husband is busy at work until very late these days considering it is the end of Q2 and most of the people he's managing (i.e. coaxing to get all their shit in on time) are in the U.S. Tonight he's had late meetings which have turned into a dinner at a local bistro. I know. How terrible.

Me? I've set up camp with a couple of chairs on my terrace to enjoy the evening breeze and to quietly listen to the people next door enjoy their dinner on their balcony. I've sent my children to bed to giggle and read and hopefully fall asleep at at a reasonable hour. It is 10:00 pm here and all I hear around me are the clanging of dishes as people sit down for their evening meal. There is quiet conversation from apartment windows, jovial laughter from bistros around the corner, and happy people strolling along the Rue, and I wonder to myself why I feel the need to have sleeping children. After all, the people next door have a 3-year old and he's still up. I watch families walk by seemingly full from a nice dinner somewhere, with kids in tow young enough, that by American standards, should be well enough in bed. Most are groups of families. Some are kids with just mom or dad. Many of them are ice cream in hand. Like the dad with his three daughters who just looked up and smiled at me. Bon Soirs were exchanged.

Parisian life makes me happy. The sound of vespas and cars with diesel engines roaring down the street, the smell of warm pavement and bakeries, and the knowledge that even though people here don't outwardly show it, they are enjoying life to its fullest. Á demain.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Staying fit in France

Like any other country outside the US, many American trends have filtered in here and taken root. Strong root. Like McDonalds which the French affectionately call McDo and Starbucks which I am sorry to say is starting to spring up on every block like they do in the US. We do both fast food and coffee brilliantly so it is understandable that this country would import those two chains with such fervor. However, one of the things that the French have decided to keep uniquely theirs, is exercise. There really are no gyms to speak of here in Paris. Okay. Maybe a few. And while you might think that bringing the gym concept to a city full of people would be an easy sell, getting your exercise in an air-conditioned room full of machines upon which other people are also getting their exercise is simply not popular here. For me, this has been difficult. I have had to abruptly break my 6-day a week gym habit in the hopes that marching around the city with two children in tow all day might suffice. 

When you are here for  week's vacation that might be just good enough but when you are here for several months it is a different story. Like I mentioned earlier, there are gyms sprinkled throughout the city. Most of them are near the universities on the left bank and there are few exercise rooms attached to city pools. Membership and/or usage costs are exorbitant and then there is the issue of what to do with those two children I mentioned. My husband recently caved and joined a gym which is actually just an exercise room attached to a pool up near his office in Levellois. The membership to the gym is 200 euros/month for us foreigners but if you can prove you are here working for a company and get a letter from your doctor saying you are healthy enough to exercise, they will drop that rate to 125 euros/month. The big selling point, according to the Frenchman who took my husband on a tour of the gym, is that membership also grants you access to the spa which includes steam-rooms, saunas, and the solarium. For those of you unfamiliar with that last term, solariums are large areas of decking where people lay about on lounge chair recliners getting sun and are quite popular here.  The French love to tan. The more tan you get during the summer the better. Getting a seat in a solarium is like trying to elbow your way through a ski lodge a noon looking for a place to collapse and have your lunch. During this tour, my husband noticed that the the steam rooms and solarium were full of people relaxing but the gym was vacant. The upside is that he'll never have to wait for a machine.

So what does all this mean for me? Ride up to his office and drop the kids with him at work while I hit the gym for an hour? Possible, yes. Realistic, no. Do I already feel myself getting soft? Yes. Does that make me panic? A little. Plus the city of light is not the city of lite when it comes to food so I have gone to a store called Decathlon to purchase some weights, a ball and a mat. And I will have to get my exercise where ever I can. Like yesterday, we went to the Eiffel Tower. And we took the stairs.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The old and the new

At the moment I am listening to a very frustrated maman negotiating with her 2 year old in the stairwell of our new apartment building. Well the building is not new, but it is new to me. It is kind of interesting to hear the mother-child back-and-forth going on in French. I am sure after a week or two it will get old. Simon mentioned we have small ones upstairs that like to cause a raucus in the public areas of the building and conduct chariot races in the apartment above ours. He has been here for a few weeks now and is not only not suffering from jetlag like the rest of us but he knows all the ins and outs of the apartment and this building.

We are located not exactly in the 17th as I had thought but instead in the 8th right on the line. Lucky for me it is is virtually the same neighborhood we lived in for part of our Paris excursion last year. We are equidistant from Parc Monceau but closer to Rue de Levis with all its shops & the Bio (organic) market on Saturdays.

There has been quite a different feeling landing here in Paris this time compared to last. There is so much less to figure out. I know where the kids can play, where they can scooter around, how to get to the grocery store and where everything is. Last year it took me a while to figure out shopping cart & razor scooter protocol. This year not only did I know where to park my roller cart when I was doing my shopping but I also didn't have to spend 30 minutes reading all the yogurt labels to figure out which kind the kids would like. The comfortable feeling I have with this city is nice but I have to say I miss a bit of the excitement of having to figure things out. Thankfully we have had to get creative with coffee making and the washer in our apartment was not like anything I'd ever seen.  As you can see from the first picture above it looks completely friendly from the outside. But when you open the lid, the photo on the left is what greets you. A bit of a surprise, no?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

It's not just jetlag

It is Sunday morning and I am exhausted. I slept for about 14 hours last night. My body crashed and crashed hard around 8:00 pm which is good considering I didn't take a nap after arriving here in Paris yesterday morning. The kids slept for 5 of the 6 hours on the plane while I tossed and turned as our jet made a rollercoaster ride out of our cross-Atlantic journey trying to avoid pretty bad turbulence. Of course the only thing on my mind were pitot tubes. If you don't know what I am talking about, go google pitot tubes and Air France you'll find an event from last year (almost the day) that was on my mind as I tried to relax in my AF Airbus 330 seat.

But we arrived not having to find out how cold North Atlantic waters are and I was thankful to put our 6 feet on the ground as we tried to navigate as fast as we could through Charles de Gaulle Airport to get to Dad. SJ left a few weeks ago and before that he was not home for about 2 weeks with a combination of business and vacation trips. The kids haven't spent any time with him in something like 4-5 weeks. The non-EU passport control line was, well, out of control. I'd never seen such a long line. I was so tempted to break out the kids' UK passports and follow them through the EU line and try to talk my way through with my Blue passport. But I wasn't that brave.

By the time we got to baggage, I felt broken. Preparing for this trip while single parenting for weeks on end and also trying to get through the end-of-school-year-gauntlet was mind and body bending. Ben was complaining of a blister and I was now carrying all of his bags in addition to my own. The long passport control line meant that by the time we got to baggage claim all the bags had been unloaded.

While I had originally packed 3 bags to check per the limits of Air France, we ended up checking 4 because I do not have the airport karma that my husband seems to have. When we dropped him off at the airport he had one bag that we knew was probably going to be over the limit (so I brought an overflow bag to take stuff home) and a second bag for which he'd have to pay $55 which contained things like razor scooters and household items I was sending over with him. We walked up to the desk and the AF person notified him that with two bags he would have to pay the extra baggage fee and then asked if she could weigh the bags. 1st bag was over the limit. She tagged it and sent it. The second bag over the limit she tagged it and sent it. Then told us she saw he hadn't done seating and would try to get him a good seat. She handed him his tickets and said have a nice flight. If you are thinking I forgot to mention the part when she asked him for his credit card, I didn't. She never asked for payment on the second bag and gave him that coveted window seat in an emergency row that has NO other seat in front of it at all. Leg room galore!

Let's just say that with my 3 bags becoming 4 bags upon check in, that I do not have the same kind of airport karma he has. And this was confirmed when 3 bags arrived and not 4. I grabbed my phone and texted SJ that we were missing a bag and didn't really feel I had the capacity to handle all this. It was the bag with all the good stuff in it. Expensive knives, all my kitchen equipment, father's day presents. Yeah. All the good stuff. So I make my way to the baggage claim desk to report the missing bag and find myself in yet another long line. When I get to the top of the line in true Parisian form I was promptly cut in line. Not by a Frenchman but by a German. Line cutting is part of the norm here and you really have to watch your back if you care. By the end of our stay here last year not only did I learn not to care but I also learned to cut. So alas it is my turn and I sit down and in my very rusty French I explain the missing bag. She is very sympathetic and kind. We are about to start collecting my information when my phone abruptly rings with SJ asking me where I am. He had talked his way back through customs into the baggage claim area to try to rescue me. Of course when he walked into the office the kids leapt into his arms and I started crying. I explained to the woman that the kids hadn't seen him in 5 weeks and she did the big eye-puffed up cheek blow that I love about the French. In any case, we completed the paperwork, Simon explained where we lived in Paris, and I continued to cry. She explained how they will look for the bag and then looks me dead in the eye and tells me that no matter when they find the bag that I get a 100 euro inconvenience allowance which I can have reimbursed when I get back to the States so I should go buy myself a pretty dress. And then she smiles.

So as we are leaving I say to the one with the good karma, can YOU just go take one last look. And not surprisingly, he comes waltzing back with the bag which he found in some remote corner of baggage claim.

I will still be buying that pretty dress which will be made of copper and will be purchased at E. Dehillerin.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Oh, wait, today is Saturday?

Every day since Tuesday I keep thinking the bullshit will end. The nonsense that has been tripping me up all week is nothing short of a scene out of an Inspector Clouseau movie. The kind of stuff where you just throw your hands in the air and say to yourself, "really? Come On!" I am trying to pack. I am trying to organize. I am trying to parent and keep on top of all my other responsibilities so if the nonsense could just STOP, that'd be great!

To paint a picture for you, here's today's drama...

Rolling in at 11:30 after a morning of soccer, tomato plant buying, PTO volunteer protecting, and whining children, I was relieved to be home before Noon so I could talk to the milk delivery person to let him know this would be our last delivery until we get back from Paris in August. He rolls up right at Noon. On Fridays. And then it hit me, today is Saturday.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

There is never enough Paris

It has been a busy year. Busy kids. Busy mom. Lots of stuff going on and hardly the time to blog. But we're heading back to Paris this summer for more fun and games. Besides getting to live in one of the world's most beautiful cities, I love that life gets simple again and I have time to think and write and blog. T minus 9 days and we're back! Yay!

Oh and if I have time (insert laugh track here) I'll try to give the blog a new look.