I feel like I got a healthy taste of Parisian life this past weekend. And the real kind – not just the dreamy touristy meanderings that I love so much, but rather the kind of stuff actual inhabitants might do. Despite my usual scoffing at our packed social calendar it turned out to be a great few days, bringing me a bit closer to the city at the end of it all. Four events graced our daily planner, one on Thursday, two on Saturday and another on Sunday.
#1: The Fancy Opening
Some of Charlotte’s design work was included in this recent book
for which an upscale release party was being held in Paris. It was fancy enough that I had to dig out my pants from our wedding reception a couple months ago. In fact I have a barometer for deciding what to wear to any given event and it has only two settings: wedding clothes or no wedding clothes. I find binary living suits me well in this spot.
As a New Yorker the chic artsy opening isn’t totally foreign to me, and this one seemed to follow the usual pattern. Lots of expensive black outfits, outfits that probably wouldn’t have RSVP-ed to the wedding my pants put on. Delicious food you promised you’d fight your way toward but end up never reaching. Swarms of attractive people who all managed to wake up on the right side of le lit that morning. But overall it was an ok evening. I was proud of my wife’s accomplishment, drank a free flute of bubbly Veuve Clicquot, and left with a sense that I’d been part of something unique, something Parisian. I mean hell, they were serving raw veal for God’s sake. Even New Yorkers don’t have the couilles to pull that off.
#2: The Move
The first of Saturday’s two visits was helping some good friends of ours move. It was a part of town I hadn’t seen yet, and the park that runs through the middle of their street made me jealous.
Fortunately their relocation was only from one side of the building’s courtyard to the other, a stroke of luck that ended up negated by the downpour that managed to soak every box during its 50-foot trip outside. But our friends are smart and they did the moving thing right — they were able to get a total of 12 generous souls in on the act, so things went quickly. At one point I found myself holding the business end of a heavy wooden bookcase, with a stranger on the other end instructing me how to guide it into the elevator. I can tell you this is not a good time for your French vocabulary to fail you. I reacted like any proud, hetero American would: I panicked and screamed for my wife.
After we finally got everything up seven floors into the new apartment, the group was chatting over a beer and I wandered into the area that would soon be the new salon. Stepping out onto the tiny balcon my eyes scanned the horizon of their new Paris digs. Of course I was looking for the same thing all of us would look for in this spot. And son of a bitch I found it, strikingly close and in all its iron splendor, with its top observation deck hidden in a rain cloud. I felt a tingle and grinned with the slightly selfish realization that we now have close friends with such a perfectly Parisian view. In my mind I started rehearsing a joke in French, where I’d ask the boyfriend of this couple if I could move in with him. I waited for the right moment and let it fly. As polite as he was, I could see on his face that such a joke must not translate so well in French. I chuckled awkwardly and ran to find my wife.
#3: The “Sacred” Dinner
Charlotte keeps in touch with a healthy portion of her art school friends. We’ve had dinners with various incarnations of this clan, each time hosted in a different apartment. This one brought us to northeastern Paris, not far from Montmartre. The apartment seemed classic artsy Parisian to me. The first small room served as entryway/workspace/bedroom, and I had to duck a bit on my way thru to clear the lofted bed above the doorway. The living room was cozy with an eclectic yet intentional look that fit in line with its owner, a 20-something ex-art student and costume designer. The third and final room was a kitchen that blended seamlessly into a bathroom with no door, no wall, nothing. In fact later on I’d have to close the door to the kitchen just to pee in private. A bit more on that later.
The dinner was good times. Our host had obviously been busting her hump leading up to it. When we arrived the table had been laid out for the apéritif, an obligatory pre-dinner ceremony in France consisting of a drink with appetizers. A white and a red were uncorked as I reveled in cured sausage, pistachios, dried figs, and a pungent soft cheese rolled in thin prosciutto.
The conversation stayed interesting and creative, touching on everyone’s latest projects: set design for a play, helping cabaret dancers change costumes backstage at the Moulin Rouge, even a story of running naked through a vineyard as a teenager. Being only a freshman wine drinker myself, I assume this is an advanced appreciation waiting for me sometime after graduation.
Now cue the best bathroom break I’ve ever taken in my life. Surprisingly it wasn’t due to the room’s odd arrangement. The fact that you could simultaneously take your morning shower and flip your omelet had nothing to do with it. As guys, when we stand there doing our business we tend to give the place a quick once over. As I scanned to my right, through a small drizzly window, I came upon this.
Up till this point I’d seen a few great bathrooms in restaurants and hotels, and figured I’d more or less seen what the experience has to offer. Looking back, I don’t recall any of them having a Sacré Cœur. I paused for a long moment to stare out towards Montmartre against the soundtrack of the rain outside and the bubbling of French conversation in the other room. Considering a few hours ago I’d been staring at the Tour Eiffel from another apartment, I meditated on how lucky and surreal my Saturday had been.
#4: Tea Time
Our final item brought us back to the same neighborhood the next day to visit a friend for tea. Out of all the warm and inviting Parisians I’ve met, this girl takes it to another level and I always feel at ease when we hang out with her. Walking in, my eyes caught two glorious sights: a shelf full of specialty teas and a piano. I knew I had a pleasant afternoon ahead of me and would only have to sit back and ride the wave. Almond green tea steeping in the kitchen, we chatted about her boyfriend’s long-awaited return from Australia and how she might pry this poor boy away from his Jewish mother for a few days of privacy. They’ve been doing the long-distance thing for a while, and Charlotte and I are all too happy to offer advice in situations like this. We’ve become a bit of a legend in certain circles for actually pulling it off.
During tea in the living room the girls talked design while I acquainted myself with the culinary task at hand.
Sipping and nibbling contently to the music in the background, I leaned back into the sofa and reflected on the accumulated experiences of the weekend. Despite the usual exhaustion of speaking and comprehending French, having it all play out in the setting of good people, tasty food, and world-famous monuments literally outside the window made it a piece of theater I was happy to be part of. As we donned jackets and scarves our hostess offered up a short piano recital and plans were made for next time.
For all the wide-eyed strolls I’ve taken through Paris streets with tourist book in hand, this weekend seemed to symbolize my slow integration into life as an actual European citizen, a path towards the real prize. To a Parisian, all these little events might seem commonplace. To an American, it’s the movie you always dreamt of starring in.