Special to The Village News
Oct. 2, 2012: For most of the overnight flight, we play gin rummy and watch movies. In between Champagne induced naps, my husband VJ and I indulge in lots of delicious food and wash it down with even more Champagne.
Hours later, as the sun splits through our neighbor’s port-side window, with the Eiffel Tower glistening in the morning light, we know we are minutes away from touchdown.
Landing at Charles de Gaulle airport, right on schedule at 9:05 a.m., Thursday, Oct. 3 2012, we get through customs in a breeze. But, to our disappointment, our driver isn’t here holding up a sign with our name on it in the international arrival lounge.
To our good fortune though, this lobby has a concierge who graciously calls him just as he is driving into the airport complex. As the driver requests, we meet him on the front curb. Looking back, no doubt this was his plan all along to save paying parking fees.
Stowing our luggage “in the boot,” our kamikaze-driver Phillipe hits the gas pedal before we can even buckle up. He is rocketing us toward the city center. All in all, we have a dizzying stop-and-go, wild-toad-crazy kinda ride through Paris traffic. No doubt, he believes we will be caught by the paparazzi if he slows down.
Phillipe is zipping over bridges, around Notre Dame, across Ile de Cite’, and turns right on the quay running along the Seine. Bang. Quick as a bunny, he unceremoniously dumps us at our front door in time to meet the housekeeper, Sonia.
She shows us how to put in the door code so we can push through the tall-double doors into the central courtyard.
Rolling our two, 70-pound suitcases into the lift barely leaves enough room for the three of us to squeeze in. And this is when we get our first lesson in French counting. As it turns out, ground floors across Paris are usually leased out for commerce resulting in the second floor being called their first. It’s probably this way across Europe, but a little-known fact to us. Truth be told, we’ll actually reside on an American third floor but a French second floor. Regardless of what it’s called, call it by any name, it is still 59 stairs up to our apartment.
Originally built in 1820, sometime in the decades since, this one-time personal residence was converted into 18 apartment units. In a grander time, all of the buildings along Rue de Verneuil in the 7th Arrondissement were private. Like the one across the street from us, which is owned by the Nestle Chocolate heirs and that fortune. They occupy the entire second and third floors. I know because our window looks into their grand living space.
Sonia and her family use the top attic space in the Nestle’s home as their residence. As it turns out, the energetic Sonia is primarily the housekeeper for the Nestle property doing side work for Ms. Cirelli, our landlady.
Our two-bedroom apartment is as advertised, although there should have been a posted warning. In the living room, sitting between the two chaise lounges in front of the fireplace is a coffee table on rubber rollers. The problem is, without fail, it seems we cannot even come into the room without banging a shin bone on a glass corner. Grr
The tall windows along the street wall have outside shutters. Opposite the fireplace at the other end of our rectangular living room is a table and four chairs tucked in the corner between the hall entry and the door leading into the front bedroom.
Both bedrooms have large closets. VJ claims the front bedroom as his violin practice space and to use that closet for his clothes. I prefer the back bedroom as our sleeping quarters since it will be quieter overlooking the inner courtyard.
The galley kitchen is equipped with an American stove, a full-size refrigerator, all of the necessary appliances, tableware, and even a washing machine. The private bath is a step up off the hallway between the kitchen and the living room.
After crossing so many time zones, we agree to stay awake until bedtime. Therefore, imitating our host country, we set out on foot to explore our new neighborhood. (We will be pedestrians for the first time in our lives during this one month stay).
By turning right out of the building’s front doors on Rue de Verneuil, it is but a few steps to Rue du Bac, a main thoroughfare. At the corner light is a boulangerie, a drug store, a real estate office, and a bistro.
After that crazy ride into town, I need a beer to settle my stomach. Turning right toward the Seine, we pause to look at the beautiful La Cornue stoves. Further up, we spot a café with outside tables on the corner of rue de Bac at the Pont Royale bridge.
As I sip my beer, we see exactly what my sister-in-law warned us about. An industrious woman is dragging a small child back and forth across the bridge stopping Americans with a palmed piece of jewelry. Linda forewarned us about that ruse. Later a man with another small boy joins her for a moment before moving on. This appears to be their jobs.
After my stomach calms down, we retrace our steps, walking pass our street, down to the Mon Prix grocery store. (Naturally, France recycles grocery bags which now explains the pile of neatly folded bags in the pantry).
So, on this, our first afternoon in Paris, we feel we no longer project ourselves as Californians, but instead, as Parisians. (God forbid, we speak). Which is why, as we lazily head back to our apartment in the drizzly rain, we project our French aplomb.
To be continued.
Elizabeth can be reached at [email protected].