Monday, April 4, 2016

Visiting Paris - It's All About Relationships For Me!

I'm really lucky because I have family in France and spent time there as a kid. My aunt ran my summers like Outward Bound camps. LOL And I love her for it! When I was 16, she found a family that didn't even speak English and sent me off on a train to be their au pair for a month. Wow, it was scary but turned out to be so much fun!

When I settled in Paris as a young woman, I made relationships with other people. In exchange for my peanut of a room on the top floor, I helped out an older woman. She was an elegant woman, a Countess no less, who just needed a little conversation and help walking to the park. I really learned to like her, especially as my French got more fluent. I had a few girl friends too and no one spoke any English. Again, scary but really rewarding.

My Aunt and Me, Paris
My Aunt and me from another trip
So now, every time I return to my lovely city, I hope to return to familiar places and meet new friends. While my husband and I visited my family in March, our hearts were filled with warmth and mine with nostalgia as I remembered every piece of furniture, noise and smell of the house that had made me so happy as a kid! And now my cousins and I are all, not just grown up, but staring down retirement and empty nesting. Dinner was fun and full of stories and catching up. My only regret was that they handed me the glass of champagne too soon and I forgot to take pictures!!

Besides that, I've made a relationship with the woman from whom I have rented twice. While I've never met her, I have surely written a lot of emails, making queries about arrangements. She is always as warm and friendly as her apartment feels, and infinitely patient! (Please click here if you're looking for a quiet place to call home in Paris.)

The lady who checks us in and out is also now familiar and I was very happy to see her again! When she handed back my security deposit at check-out, I explained that these same returned Euro bills would be saved to give back to her next time we came! She seemed surprised and happy.

These were people I had expected to meet. But we were surprised by others.

Home away from home, Paris
Home away from home, Paris

The buildings around the courtyard are well cared for by a concierge couple. My husband and I mistakenly put the wrong trash in the wrong bin. The older woman came outside, as if we'd tripped her radar, to correct us. I loved it! She reminded me of the concierge where I lived a long time ago. I asked her to explain everything and by the time we left, she would smile at me as I said a friendly "Bonjour, Madam!"

In 2012, my husband, daughter and I rented a few doors down from a Bistro/cafe. We stopped in several times and walked by every day at least twice. We actually got a chance to know two of the waiters: Stephan and Matthieu! By the time we headed home, we had a relationship, albeit brief. We took a picture and I wrote a blog post when I got home. These young men were the perfect example of the real French waiter, not that snobby caricature Americans think of.

I was sad when I returned to the neighborhood in 2014 and did not see them.

This trip, 2016, my husband and I arrived in Paris early in the morning from the airport to the Gare de Nord with backpacks and suitcases.

And it was snowing! And it was also pouring and pretty darned cold. We thought about setting up "base camp" at one of the cafes just in front of the train station until we could meet the apartment manager, but our feet and hearts headed to Cafe Le Bistro instead. We dragged ourselves in the door, looking and feeling like undignified wet rats only to look up at Stephan's welcoming smile!!

We sat by the window where he turned on the heater above the table for us and we had a warm breakfast. It took a little while, but he remembered us from 2012 (and the blog I suppose!) Mike and I couldn't have felt warmer and more welcomed on that cold, wet day!

Even more surprising was the evening Mike and I stepped a few doors down from our apartment for Tapas at a Spanish restaurant. A young man approached us and it was Matthieu! He had recognized us as while hanging out with his friends! We had a lovely conversation with him about lots of things. Once more, it was like we had come home.
Mike, Matthieu and the Great Chef

A day or two later, we stopped at Cafe Le Bistro for a late lunch and to sample the new chef's offerings. It was a wonderful meal. Sadly, Stephan was not working that day but Matthieu and another waitress took good care of us. As we left, he ran to get the chef so we could meet him. We shook his hand and complemented him on the splendid lunch. And me being me, I had to get a picture! So the picture is of my husband, Matthieu and the wonderful new chef. I'm sorry Stephan was not there to be in it too.

So, there you go. Relationships. You can't make them without really putting yourself out there and they become richer if you return to continue them. Sometimes, they're only fleeting but surprisingly, sometimes they are more. There is nothing quite like arriving in Paris and feeling like you are coming home to your neighborhood!

More than all the sites I have ever seen in Paris, these are the experiences I treasure the most.