Highs and Lows

Posted on Tuesday, October 23, 2012

On Sunday, the sun appeared again and the weather was warm and perfect.  I could hardly believe it when I looked out my window in the morning, and determined to make the most of the nice weather, I set out from my apartment on foot and headed North.  Crossing the Seine and making my way across Île de la Cité, I stumbled upon the Bird and Flower market; it was full of life and chirping and colorful little birds and beautiful flowers.  It was such an awesome sight - here in Paris, you're lucky to encounter any bird that's not a giant arrogant pigeon trying to steal your baguette - and I was charmed by the market's pretty layout and exotic contents.

Moving on from the market, I continued to walk North through the city centre.  I wasn't headed anywhere in particular, but stopped on park benches and at a café and soaked in the beautiful weather and the simple joys of life in Paris.  I found a beautiful bookshop on two levels, where I was thrilled to spy my old friend W.B. Yeats sitting on a dusty shelf.  Though I was tempted to buy the collection of his work in French, out of curiosity and nerdy interest, the book was too big so I had to leave it behind.  It's always nice to see familiar faces, though. Meeting up with Jackie near the Georges Pompidou Center, we rented bikes and headed further north, deciding to end our bike ride at the Buttes Chaumont park, which has one of the best views of Paris as it's elevated and quite far north.  The bike ride was beautiful, though we made the mistake of trying to ride through the pedestrian-heavy Marais,  and we saw several things that made us laugh out loud (A man dressed in giraffe print doing a one-man-band thing à la Mary Poppins....).  I don't think I'll ever forget the sight of a shirtless man in-line skate-dancing at an intersection - he wore baggy khakis that had been slit up to his thights to allow for ease of movement when he kicked his leg up to his ear... No description will really ever be accurate enough, but rest assured it was equal parts hilarious, impressive, and frightening.

We passed through the Canal St Martin, where much of the film Amélie was filmed, and where I lived when I was a student.  The area is so vibrant and full of people, particularly on a Sunday afternoon, with families and groups of friends picnicking and eating lazy lunches in roadside bistrots.  Though the sun began to disappear a bit, Jackie and I finally made it up to the Buttes Chaumont (after an obligatory bakery break for chouquettes).  The park was full of people, too, and we climbed all the way to the top of the biggest hill to see the view.  At first, we were unimpressed, and didn't understand why so many people are so enamored of the view.  Finally, we turned around with the intent of leaving only to realize that we had a perfect view of the Eiffel Tower from where we stood, and with the sun beginning to set just behind it, it really was breathtaking.  Lots of people don't like the Eiffel Tower, or become jaded after seeing it every day, but I continue to be seduced by its delicate architecture and quiet elegance.
Back on our bikes, Jackie and I bought a rôtisserie chicken for dinner and feasted in her little studio in the 10th.  Newly carnivorous and still unsure how to prepare/cut/serve meat, I let Jackie do most (all) of the carving, but the chicken was so very tasty and with a glass of wine and some potatoes was the perfect ending to the most delicious lazy Sunday of my life.

Awesome view of the Eif.
Though Sunday was picturesque and perfect, living in Paris is no fairytale.  I've been struck lately by the number of homeless people I've noticed, in particular along the Boulevard St Germain, near my apartment.  It's impossible not to be affected by it; on one side you pass five benches occupied by homeless people in a row, while on the other tourists feast on 5 course lunches at the Armani Café or shop at Sonia Rykiel.  My heart gets so heavy sometimes, walking home, because there's so little I can do.  Offering some spare change or a bit of food might alleviate the weight sometimes, but ultimately being faced with this destitution is a reality of living in a city like Paris, where the richest of the rich step on the poorest of the poor without looking down.  I don't want to make this blog post too serious or to make you, readers, walk away feeling depressed or heavy-hearted, but I've been so struck by the problem in the past week that I felt I needed to record it somewhere, to remind myself that la vie en rose isn't always so rosy.  Here I am, living my dream in Paris, while on the next street corner there's a mother with her infant asking for pocket change.  It's something I try to stay conscious of, and staying grounded has never been more important for me than here in Paris.
All that being said, I continue to feel grateful for everything I've got here.  Sure, the WiFi signal might be spotty at best, and the customer service can be frustrating, and the contact lens solution expensive, but ultimately almost everything I've ever wanted for myself is here, now.  I've started riding my bike home from work sometimes.  It's quite far, since my school is outside Paris in the North, but it's a beautiful ride and goes through at least ten different neighborhoods.  They're never signposted, but the shift from the ethnic colorful neighborhoods in the north to the to the up-and-coming and gentrified 10th is striking every time.   The city is so accessible, and so very alive, that an hourlong bike ride feels like a few minutes as I'm so fascinated by everything I see.  Anyone who knows my sense of direction might be alarmed that I'm let loose in Paris, but fortunately Paris is one of the few places where I can generally keep my bearings and end up in the right place.  There's no confidence  booster like bike riding from Porte de Clignancourt to Sèvres-Babylone without consulting my map once!
My language skills have reached a bit of a lull which is severely frustrating.  I can understand everything, but some days I'm so tired or frustrated that I feel like I can't even communicate.  I never had a lull like this when I was abroad and it's driving me nuts - the words are in my mind but I'm having trouble speaking with confidence like I'm used to.  I'm hoping this phase will pass, but for now it makes for amusing stories (Such as asking "Do you have coffee which is cold??" at a café...).

Package from home featuring Halloween goodies for my students - and cold meds for me!
After this week, the kids have a full two-week vacation from school.  Luckily for me, my contract here includes six weeks of paid vacation time, the two weeks next week included.  I look forward to after these holidays are over, though, to really knuckle down with my students and start to make some progress.  There's only so much Hangman a class can take, I think, and so I'm beginning to invent some lesson plan ideas in my mind to help them as much as I can.   Teaching continues to be rewarding.  Even if waking up when it's pitch black (PITCH. BLACK.) at 7 in the morning can be a drag, I always leave my schools in the afternoon feeling happy.  I might walk into the courtyard feeling grumpy and unmotivated, but hearing "'ALLO MADAME!", "'HALLO MISS NIAMH!", "'ALLO MISS 'OW ARE YOU?" always lifts my spirits and makes me ready to start teaching.  From this moment in the morning with my students, to the moment I'm in the home stretch of my bike ride home, where the air is thick with the scent of Nutella crêpes and four cheese paninis, every day here makes my smile to myself.  How did I get so lucky?  

1 Comment


stealthisnick said...

One of the most surprising things I've seen for now in Paris is Oisellerie du Pont Neuf. I was walking along the Seine and I really didn't expect that.