It is early hours on this cold February morning; I look out my window and gasp in astonishment for before me lies Paris, again showing another of her selves, this self dressed in designer snow beauty. I don my ancient furry lined raincoat from some random purchase in the late 70’s of San Francisco. My raincoat, enjoying more adventures in Paris the past five years than all its years hanging solitary in a California closet, jumps to the ready and together we descend the six floors to exit into a wintry Parisian fairyland. My Patisserie Cyril Lignac opens at 7:30am. With the mandatory “Bonjour“ and “Ca va?” ceremony completed, and after so many mornings of seeing my smiling face and listening to my so/so French, he has my baguette in its sack with his hand out for my €1.20. With the mouth watering waft of freshly baked baguette tucked under my arm, I exit with the again mandatory, “Au Revoir, Bon Journée.” And walk through the park home.
Ay, there’s the rub. Home. Can home be more than one place?
I have been away from Peripatetic Pensées for a year. There have been adventures and misadventures.
Last February my fellow adventurer Omega Man and I returned home to California (Silicon Valley). While Silicon Valley had burst into a traffic congested commute nightmare, the embrace of good friends and shared roots of experience outweighed the valley’s growing problems. It is an inventive place and confidence abides that corrections can be made to keep it the destination of dreams.
Returning home to Paris last May after three months in sunny California, OM and I had to readjust to the quieter pace of Paris, the relaxed café conversations and living in our much smaller space on the 6th floor of our apartment building. Home had become two places.
The pace of downstairs (3rd floor) domicile of our son Strategy Man and his family had OM and me with no time to spare. It was the end of the school year and the pressure of acceptance into Middle School (Collège) for our elder granddaughter (age 10) had begun. From Paris friends, I came to understand that it is highly competitive in France as not only academics but family name carries considerable weight; still it is nothing like what is demanded in the British system. The narrow window of acceptance of these two countries comes close to being a caste system. Of course, we already know of the academic pressure put on our American students. Why is it that so much pressure is being put on today’s children? School should be a safe place of challenge with freedom to explore, to experiment, and to be fearless of failure. With growing awareness, perhaps, new approaches will be acted upon. France is a country where change happens slowly, if at all. So getting into an elite school with academic ability but without a family name can be a Sisyphean climb.
July 28, OM and I took our daily early morning walk down to the Seine where we helped open a tiny café stop tucked into the wall of Quai des Célestins under Pont Louis Philippe. July and August, Paris empties, but the city forgets not those who remain. The right bank road that ran along the Seine, including all of Quai des Célestins was closed September 2016 and the entire 3.3 kilometers running from the tunnel at the Louvre to the tunnel at Bastille has been converted to pedestrian gardens, parks, running and bicycling paths. During late July through end of August, the stretch becomes a beach with sand, cooling waterfalls, lounge chairs for reading with charming peniche restaurants (boats tied along the Seine) anchoring the scene with music, wine and small meals. It is a treasure.
After reading the paper and finishing a coffee, OM and I decided that we would separate, I to do the grocery shopping for dinner and he to leisurely stroll home. I was within a block of Super U when my phone rang. I picked up to hear, “Hmmm, I seem to have fallen and, er, I seem to not be able to get up. Could you come back? Oh, and also, there are people gathering around me.” After getting the River Seine guard, who was standing by fallen OM, on the phone, I told him to not do anything. I would be right there.
I arrived to find OM quite the center of attention. Whispering, I said, “Get up. This is embarrassing. We’ll just go up those stairs, call an Uber to take us home, and by tomorrow everything will be fine.” My standard approach to all traumas is to have a stiff upper lip and carry on. Well, the boy could not get up. The small group of two River Seine guards, a nurse-on-call and the Plage (beach) captain turned as one upon hearing the dulcet sing song sirens of two ambulances that came careening down the pedestrian course. Out stepped three Dr. McDreamy paramedics who in seconds had OM strapped into a gurney, hoisted into the ambulance, I placed in the side seat, doors snapped shut, sirens back on, foot to the pedal and a hasty French Connection entry onto Quai des Celestins. We rode straight through the center of Ile de Cité with Notre Dame to my left and straight on to Hospital Cochin.
I am a great admirer of the French Health System. OM was taken into emergency, whisked to x-ray for leg that showed quadriceps tendon tear that called for surgery. Meanwhile, I stood in front of a window that I assumed was the take all your insurance in the world information. The lady behind the window looked up at me in puzzlement. I told her my husband had just been taken into emergency and that I was here to fill out the paper work. She looked bemused, and said, “Non Madame, ce n’est pas nécessaire.” I sat down bewildered. Shortly an orderly arrived, took me up to OM’s room where he was being prepared for surgery the next day. One is quickly humbled by immobility. OM had a successful surgery which was followed with months of steadfast physical therapy. It was a slow process. He went from being barely able to stand with his full leg cast to creeping snail-like with the walker, to holding both crutches as though life depended on them, to screwing his courage to the sticking point and discarding one crutch to nervously stepping outside the apartment door and pace up and down our short, narrow hallway to taking the elevator down to the entry and walking the few steps next door to Franprix grocery for a treat. During this long process, I transformed from patient, understanding wife to Nurse Ratched. The end of February gave OM his “Halleluia moment: he walked from our home to Nation and back; the next day he walked from home to Bastille and back. It has been an eight month journey. And, yes, the bill did come. The greatest challenge was going through the American insurance system where paperwork hits a record high and patience deserves an Olympic Medal.
Winter is slow to give up its hold, but it does. The Long Pause was needed for there was much to attend.