Paris in Pearls chapter seven (unedited)

I hadn’t been on a bike in probably twenty years, but as they say you never forget . . . “it’s like riding a bike.”

The wind in my face was almost too much to bare; the cold made my eyes water. I hope my eyes don’t freeze. Can that even happen?

I received strange looks when I laughed out loud.

A young woman on a bike passed by; she looked so graceful! How is it possible to look stylish riding a bike in winter, I don’t know, but Parisian women just seem to be elegant no matter what. She had her scarf wrapped lightly around her face and a cute hat covered her ears; she even managed to ride comfortably in a long flowing skirt.

I still had on my boots, a pair of warm pants and my coat, so I didn’t look quite as elegant. I pulled a warm hat out of my bag and wrapped a scarf around my mouth and nose. What a difference that made.  I was comfortable and rode freely through the small back streets of Paris. As long as I avoided the Toile (that crazy traffic circle around the Arc de Triomphe), I’d have a nice ride.

Paris en vélo was amazing fun. I soon forgot about the cold and pedaled all over the city.  I pedaled across the bridge to the Ile aux Cygnes and paused for a minute to look back over the river at the Eiffel Tower. What a pretty sight!

 From the other side, I stayed on the landing by the river and road towards the city center. The river seemed to be the best place to ride. Some of the bridges were so beautiful and many are famous.

I soon arrived near the Jardine de Tuileries, rode up the ramp and crossed the street to the Place de la Concorde; the eastern end of the Champs Elysees. I leisurely rode my bike around the Tuileries Gardens; Très beautiful.

I continued through the gardens until I reached the famous Louvre museum. The pyramids were amazing.

 I vowed to come back when I could spend the whole day.

  I exited the Louvre through one of the great arch openings and rode back along the river until tout d’un coup; I saw the most beautiful church I had ever seen.

It was the Notre Dame Cathedral. I crossed the river once again to ride in front of the Cathedral. Even in winter, the church buzzed with tourists. I parked my bike and inquired so to when the next mass would begin. Lucky for me there was one scheduled to start in twenty minutes.

I took off my hat and entered the church.

Glorious! I could appreciate its beauty in reverence to God.

 On the other side of the island I pedaled into a fun, lively looking little neighborhood and decided to explore. Beautiful old buildings housed cafés, bookstores, lots of cool looking little shops and food stands. Music spilled out onto the streets from some of the rowdier cafés.

 I stopped and asked a young man, “Excusez-moi monsieur. Where am I?”

 “This is the Latin Quarter, Madame,” he said, “Famous for its student life and excitement.”

 This is definitely another place I will have to revisit. I can shop for old books and read at one of the hip cafés.

The sky was turning gray and I was tired.  The bike had to be back at the shop before they closed or I would be charged another day, not to mention I would have to carry the bike up to my fourth floor apartment. I made my way back toward my apartment, winding through little side streets. Totally in awe of the cute buildings and window dressings, all the things that made them just so…so French!

Advertisements

Paris in Pearls chapter six (unedited)

As I rounded the third flight of stairs to my apartment, a woman, balancing groceries on one knee, stood fidgeting with her keys, trying to unlock her door. 

“Here, let me help you.” I reached out and took the bags.

“Merci, Madame.” She unlocked the door and ushered me in. “Just set them on the table, s’il vous plait.” She extended her hand, I am Peggy Windsor. “You are American, Oui?”

“Yes, I am. My name is Kate Hamilton.”

“I gathered as much from your accent; I’m an expat from the UK. Stay and let me fix you a cup of tea to show my appreciation.” She gestured toward a small sofa. “Please, hand me your coat and, have a seat.”

“That sounds lovely. It’s quite chilly in the hallway.”

A furry yellow cat, lay grooming himself on the windowsill. He stopped long enough to glance my way as if to say, ‘You have my permission to sit on the sofa, just don’t forget who it belongs to,’ and then continued on with his bath.

Peggy returned with a tray ladened with everything needed for a proper tea. She carefully set it on the ornate coffee table and then sat down on one of two matching side chairs.

 “Cream and sugar,” She asked as she poured the tea into delicate bone china cups. The kinds of cups that make your hands shake for fear of dropping, and thus breaking one.

Steam rose from the cup, fogging her glasses. “Oh, my,” her blue eyes crinkled when she smiled. “Would you care for a raspberry biscuit? I bought them fresh at the Boulangeries this morning.”

“Oh yum, yes, please.”

 I make it my mission to never turn down a sweet. Life is short, eat dessert fist is my favorite motto.

We carried on with the usual banter that you do when you meet someone for the time, the trivial chitchat. The cat jumped up in my lap, rubbing his head on my stomach, and began to purr.

“Ah, Louis likes you; he doesn’t take to strangers often. Do you have pets, Kate?”

“I have two cats back home, but I left them with my daughter, Emma. I’m thinking about adopting a small dog when I find an apartment of my own.”

“Dogs are the preferred pet in Paris, but cats are my favorite. They think they are royalty, Oui?  Peggy was a rather large lady, not overweight, more like big boned. In her mid-fifties I guessed. After a time the conversation warmed and became more personal; I felt comfortable with her and knew we were going to be great friends. I told her about my divorce and why I moved to P

Paris and then she told me what brought her here from London.

“After my husband passed away, I was offered a job with the British Embassy in Paris. I accepted and moved here with my son William.”

She paused, dabbed at her lips with her napkin, and offered to refill my cup.

“That was thirty years ago. William moved back to London as a young man to go to school, and decided to make his home there. After he finished university, he went on to become a prominent antique appraiser.” Her face beamed with pride.  “My William always has had a taste for the finer things in life.”

Judging from what I observed in her apartment, I was quite sure he had inherited that love from his mother.

Not wanting to overstay my first visit, I thanked her for her hospitality, gave Louis a scratch behind his ears and agreed to meet later for coffee at the café downstairs.

Instead of going home I decided to rent a bicycle from the bike shop near my apartment, ride around Paris and try not to get hit by a car!

Paris in Pearls chapter five (unedited)

The sun peeked through the slates of the closed shutters, glazing the walls of my bedroom with morning light.

I threw back the covers, flew to the window and opened the shutters. To my delight, the city lay blanketed in white, like a cotton field back home. A late snow the weather man later called it.

I waved my arms in the air and danced in my bare feet, “I’m in Paris. I’m in Paris!”

From the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of a man in an apartment across the street. He shook his head and walked away mumbling to himself.

Who cares; I’m in Paris.

I found my robe and slippers and sauntered into the kitchen, looking for coffee.

The coffee maker looked a lot like my Keurig back home. Then it hit me; I had sold my house. Wow, that’s the first time I’d even thought about the fact that I didn’t have a place to call home. That felt a little unsettling, but only for a moment.

I squealed with delight, “I’m in Paris.”

 A search through the kitchen cabinets yielded a box of coffee pods. I checked the instructions on the back of the coffee maker but they were written in French, so I improvised and hoped for the best.

How different could they be? Just add water and coffee, right?

I sipped my coffee, and from my window, I watched my little Paris neighborhood come to life.

 The café downstairs bustled with patrons grabbing a quick breakfast. Laughter and bits of conversation floated up to my fourth floor window.

An employee or owner of the flower shop on one corner, carried containers of fresh flowers outside to display on the sidewalk.

 Boulangeries opened their doors and I inhaled the delightful aroma of fresh baked breads wafting through the air.

 After a quick shower, I pulled a camisole over my head, and shivered as the coolness of the silk brushed against my skin.  In contrast my sweater, jeans and boots felt warm and comfortable.

 Dressed and ready, I checked my map for the nearest metro station. What luck; it was only a block and a half away. I sauntered down the stairs, out onto the sidewalk and crossed the street, nearly being hit by a motorcycle. The driver roared by blasting his horn, pumping his fist into the air and shouting something in French. For a change, I was glad I didn’t know what he said.

Embarrassed, I avoided the eyes of the patrons at the café.

An old man sitting on a nearby bench flashed a sweet smile in empathy. He wore a dark wool coat and black hat. My father had a hat like that; he called it a driving cap. The smoke from his pipe twirled up into the thin cold air, as his dog lay on the ground beside him, warily eyeing everyone that walked by.

When I find an apartment of my own, I think I’ll adopt a dog, a small one.

The smell of urine assaulted my nose, and I was surprised at the many homeless people in sleeping bags peacefully slumbering on the sidewalks. People walked past as if they were oblivious; just part life in the city I guess.

I stopped at a Creperie for breakfast on my way to the Metro. How convenient to be able to walk out of my door and be in the midst of everything Paris had to offer any time of the day or night. An ATM stood by the entrance, so I used my debit card to purchase more euros. Unlike America it is mauvaises manières to eat while walking in France, so I settled into a booth in the corner and enjoyed a crepe stuffed with Nutella, bananas, and whipped cream. It was all I could do to keep from licking my fingers when I finished eating.

 Another block, and down a flight of stairs, I found the metro I was looking for. Lucky for me the signs were printed in French, and English. I wasn’t quite sure if I were ready to use a ticket dispenser so after deciding what I thought I needed, I opted to try and converse with a ticket agent. I took a deep breath and stepped forward.

An agent slid open the window.  “Bonjour, Madame. May I help you?”

“Bonjour, Monsieur.”

Paris in Pearls chapter four (unedited)

Beep, beep, beep, BEEP, BEEP the alarm resounded. Ugh. Make it stop. The bed was comfortable and warm and I didn’t want to get up. Ten more minutes; I’ll just lie here ten more minutes.

I sat up and swung my legs over the bed, dragged myself to the bathroom and splashed cold water on my face.

It would be much colder now than it had been this afternoon, so I dug through my bag until I found the cashmere scarf, hat and mittens set that Emma had given me for Christmas as a going away present. A little Pink Blush lipstick, a quick check in the mirror and I was off.

 I stepped out onto the busy Parisian sidewalk and buttoned my coat against the cold, crisp air and began to explore the streets of the ‘City of Lights’, wandered around, going nowhere, in particular, just wherever the whispers of the city led me.

 Like so many others I was drawn to the Eiffel Tower; it was exactly what I had expected, the sheer size of it was awe inspiring. It wasn’t tourist season yet, so the line to ride the elevator to the top wasn’t too long. Standing on the upper deck, the wind whipped down my collar despite my scarf; my teeth chattered and I’m sure my pink lips had turned blue.

 Back down in the park I sat for a while, just staring at the tower. How could anyone ever get tired of looking at this seemingly eternal symbol of France?

Anxious to see more of the city and, dying to try some of the famous Parisian cuisines I set off again.

Gilded bronze sculptures of winged horses greeted me as I strolled across the Pont Alexandre III. No wonder this is one of the most famous bridges in Paris; it’s breathtaking. This would be the perfect place to watch a sunset.

 I paused to take a selfie while a boat loaded with tourists making its way down the Seine, served as my background.

My seemingly small side street opened up into a big intersection with shops, people, and cafés all around. What this marvelous place? It wasn’t too long before my eyes fell upon a street sign that, to my delight, read “Avenue des Champs-Elysées.”

  I could not ignore the growls coming from my stomach any longer so I ducked into an attractive restaurant on the corner.

 Le maître d seated me at a booth in the back, and handed me a crisp, white, folded napkin. “The soup of the day is Cassoulet, Madame.” He poured me glass of wine, and brought a loaf of crusty bread and an assortment of cheeses to enjoy while I waited.

In the corner of the room, a young couple caught my attention, sitting both on the same side of the table, sipping their wine and laughing. There was also a table full of men in suits. They talked as though they had a lot of important things to say, all of them speaking at once and none of them listening to the others.  

The waiter brought me a bowl of steaming soup; the fragrance of which made my mouth water. He described it as a delicious combination of white beans, duck, and sausage. He poured another glass of wine and enlightened me that the wine was from the lle-de-France region, and that each little town or village since the middle ages, had its own vineyard.                

By the time I finished eating I was rested, warm, and ready to set out again.

I paid my check and left the waiter what I thought was a nice tip. With a kind smile and broken English, he said “Merci, Madame, c’est très gentil, but euh, here it is not nécessaire, euh necessary to leave a big money, only a little euh, change, you call it?”

“Merci Monsieur,” I replied. I didn’t know much more to say in French, but the look and smile we exchanged said more than either of us could have in any language.

    As I was gathering my things, a group of Americans in the front were practically shouting, “Hey, waiter, we’ve been waiting for the tab for ten minutes!”

He quickly dropped a piece of paper on the table, quietly said, “Désolé,” and walked away without ever making eye contact with them.

 As I walked out of the café, I saw him picking up the change, and the generous tip they left him. He didn’t bother to give them the same advice he so kindly shared with me.

    I pulled my coat closer, slipped on my gloves and then stepped back out into the cold. Window shopping along the beautiful Champs-Elysées was quite different than shopping in Savannah. The large bright store windows with their displays of designer dresses and shoes fueled my desire for a new wardrobe, a more Parisian look.

    As the sun was set, excitement quickened my step on the short walk back to the Champ de Mars. I joined the others who had gathered on the long grassy field that stretches out in front of the Eiffel Tower.  For years, I had watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night from my computer desktop and now I was going to see it in person.

 From that position, I watched the sky grow dim and the Tower light up for the first time. As I stood in awe of the laced-iron work of the tower; I was filled with a mix of emotions. My heart was heavy, missing my children and wished they were here. But, I was proud of myself for taking this step, for getting out and making my own dreams come true.

The sky grew dark and the Tower began to light up from the bottom all the way to the top. In just a quick second after, as if the Tower herself were welcoming me, she began to sparkle, and at the same moment I felt the tickle of something cold on my nose. I looked up and the sky had let loose a stream of white confetti. It was snowing.

 I stood in front of the Eiffel Tower, like a child seeing something for the first time. No matter how many times I see the Eiffel Tower, I will always remember the feeling of that night.

 I will always be enchanted by the beauty of her presence.

 If I had written the perfect ending to my first day in Paris, it could not have been any better. It was the right decision to come here. 

That night, I called each of the kids to tell them that I loved and missed them. Emma was excited and wanted details of my day. Jack was still angry and had little to say. I understood it would take him time and I was OK with that.

I pulled the delicate crocheted coverlet on my bed back, and slipped into threaded bliss. I was asleep before I could even reflect on all I had seen and heard in this magical city.

Paris in Pearls chapter three (unedited)

By the time Renée returned, it was the height of lunch and the café was teeming with hungry Parisians. All the chairs were occupied, so she squeezed into the space beside me on the bench.  “I’m sorry, it took longer than I had expected. I hope you weren’t too bored.”

“No, not bored at all. I’ve been eavesdropping on conversations; I know its cliché, but I love, love, love the accents. I just wish I knew what they were saying.”

 I admired the cut of her hair and gave thought to finding a style to fit my new surroundings; maybe something très jeune and less matronly.

“By the way, your hair looks great; you’ll have to give me the name of your salon.”

“Merci pour la compliment.” Renée rifled through her bag, pulled out a pen and wrote something on the back of a napkin. “This is the name and address of the salon. Mention my name when you make an appointment. Now tell me, did you enjoy your breakfast?”

“Actually, I wasn’t very hungry, so I just ordered coffee, three cups to be exact, and people watched.”

“You must be ravenous then.” Renée motioned to an attractive young man. “I imagine you’ll spend a lot of time here, so let me introduce you to our waiter.” The young man approached. “Alex, this is Madame Davis. She is renting my apartment for a month, or so. Kate, this is Alex,” she smiled, “the best waiter in all of France.”

To my surprise, Alex bent and kissed me on both cheeks. “Renée is too kind. Welcome to Paris, Madame Davis.” He turned to Renée, “It is lunch time; I bring two menus, si?”

“Ouais, and two glasses of wine. Do you prefer red or white, Kate?”

“Red sounds good.”

Conversation with Renée was easy. She possessed a certain je ne sais quoi that set her apart from the average woman. 

“What brings you to Paris, Kate? A long holiday, maybe?”

“No, it’s a little more complicated than that. My youngest child recently graduated from college and moved across the state for grad school and my ex-husband basically just used our home to have somewhere to hang his clothes. I grew tired of rambling around in a big empty house and decided I would be happier alone, so, long story short; I filed for divorce. He got the condo on Tampa Bay and I got the house in Savannah. I’m not getting any younger, so I chose to step out of my comfort zone, and follow my dreams of living the Parisian life.”

“Bravo, mon cher! I’m sorry to hear that, but being divorced myself, I understand. One must move on, Oui?”

“I’m curious, Renée, you speak English so well. Did you spend time in the states?”

“Yes, actually I attended the New York School of Interior Design for a time, married and lived the American dream. She chuckled, “It wasn’t for me. I was young and impulsive.” Her finger lightly traced the rim of her glass, “Let’s just say, it was a mutual divorce. I went on to travel the world, study different cultures and how it affects design.” She tilted her chin, “You’ll see part of my collections in the apartment.”

After a leisurely lunch and interesting tête-à-tête, she singled Alex and made a writing motion in the air. “L’addition, s’il vous plait.”

Renée paid the bill; we retrieved my suitcases and started the climb to the fourth floor.

Two flights up I leaned against the wall, my heart pounding. Renée laughed and kept climbing, “You’ll get used to it.”

 I was pleasantly surprised at the size of my apartment, considering how small the ones were that I had seen in magazines and on TV. I noted there were only two apartments on each floor; maybe that was the reason for the extra space.

Renée showed me around the apartment and explained all she thought I needed to know.  It was one long room, done in a contemporary, open style that she had designed herself. Floor to ceiling shuttered windows lined the front and back walls, flooding the apartment with sunlight. A small kitchen and bath were the only other walled rooms. Worn hardwood floors, loaded bookcases, art and sculptures added to the charm.  

“I hope you enjoy your stay here, Kate. I will be at my house in the country if you need me. I usually come into the city once a week to check my mail and treat myself to dinner. I’ll drop off a few more towels and linens next week.”

She handed me the keys, “Au revoir.”

The wine I had at lunch, combined with the long flight, caught up with me. I decided to take a little nap before setting out to see the city. I didn’t want to sleep too long because I would then have to battle jet lag for days. I set my alarm for four o’clock, curled up on the bed and dozed off.    

Paris in Pearls chapter two (unedited)

Tiny dust particles floated on streams of light as the rising sun shone through the airplane window.  My back pressed hard against the seat, and the engines roared upon landing.

 I’m here.

Like a drum in a rock band, my heart beat double-time.

I’m actually in Paris!

 After going through customs and collecting my bags, I pulled my coat tighter and stepped outside, bypassing the unofficial taxi drivers and handed my suitcases to the first cab in the Taxi Rank.  

I sent a text to Renée, the landlady I met through the leasing agency, to let her know I was on the way. She responded immediately and said to meet her at the café on the corner of the apartment building. Thirty minutes, and sixty Euros later, the driver sat my suitcases on the sidewalk in front of the double doors of, 5 Rue d’Abbeville. 

A woman waved to me from a table under the blue and white awning of the café, “Kate, over here.” She spoke to a waiter and then walked my way, extending her hand. “I’m Renée. Welcome to Paris.”

I was surprised at how well she spoke English. “It’s so nice to finally meet you in person, Renée. I’m glad you speak English because my French is awful.”

She smiled, “You’ll get the hang of it soon enough.” Renée grabbed the handle of one of my suitcases and started walking. “I can’t take you up to the apartment just yet because the workers are not finished varnishing the stairs. They assure me that they’ll be done, and the stairs will be dry by 1:30, so we’ll set your suitcases inside the doorway until then.”

I followed her into the apartment building, past a wall of mailboxes and into an open courtyard. The strong order of varnish wafted through another set of dark green double doors. We stepped inside onto the tile floor. My eyes surveyed the winding wood and iron stairs that seemed to reach the heavens.  

Renée sat my suitcase to the side of the stairs. “You can leave your bags here. The workers will watch them for you. I assure you they’ll be safe.”

I followed her back outside to the table where she had been seated when I arrived. “We can sit inside if you like, but I thought you might like it out here.” She motioned toward the wicker-like bench that ran the length of the building. “You’ll be comfortable with the overhead heat lamps and the day will be much warmer by noon.”

She said something to the waiter in French and then turned back to me, “I have an appointment to get my hair cut at a shop around the corner. I told the waiter to bring you a menu. I would like to treat you to breakfast since you’ll have to wait to get into the apartment.”

“That’s very kind of you, but it’s not necessary. I’ll be fine.”

“I insist. They understand English here in case you have any questions. I shouldn’t be long. Enjoy.”

I wrapped my cold hands around a hot cup of café au lait and took in my surroundings.

The apartment building and café were located on a busy one way street and intersection. Cars, scooters, motorcycles, bicycles, and people on skateboards, vied for the crowded lanes. In the distance, the melodic wailing sound of a police car ‘nee-eu-nee-eu’ echoed through the streets.

My apartment building mirrored a striking, historical building six stories tall, with shuttered windows and black iron scrollwork. Balconies, some adorned with flowers that brightened the winter, overlooked the hectic street and café. A cobblestone pathway curved beyond my line of vision.

I will have to explore and see where that path leads.

The sidewalks were lively with tourists wearing backpacks and pulling suitcases; couples holding hands; oblivious to anyone but each other, along with businessmen hurrying to work, and moms with their infants in strollers and slings.

I took a sip of coffee and sank back in my chair. I’d never felt more at home in my life.

Paris in Pearls chapter one (unedited)

This was crazy — so out of character for me; old reliable Kate was actually following her heart for a change. I reread the ticket: Kathleen M. Davis – Air France flight 3236 to Paris — one way. What it didn’t say, was that I was leaving behind a twenty-eight-year marriage.

  I stashed the ticket in my bag, buckled my seatbelt and whispered a quick prayer. ”Lord, I know I vowed till death us do part, but I just can’t live a loveless life any longer”. I’d rather be single and alone than married and alone.

In college, my dorm room walls were plastered with posters of the Eiffel Tower. I watched every movie with Audrey Hepburn I could find. I wore my hair swept up in a neat French twist; copied her makeup and clad myself in black dresses, turtlenecks, and capris. I spent hours at my vanity practicing my Audrey smile; innocent yet seductive.  My shelves were stacked with books that had anything to do with France, and Edith Piaf played in the background.

 I’ll never forget the look on my kids’ faces when I told them that I had decided to move to Paris. Jack thought for sure I had finally lost it. “Don’t you think you’re a little old to be running away from home, mom?”

And, Emma, bless her heart, though she tried to be supportive, really worried that I would hate it so far away from family. “Mom, what will you do without us, without your family?

  They both attempted to talk me out of it; “And, what about dad? Did you ever think about him? He’ll be lost without you.” If they only knew how wrong they were about that. But, they didn’t.  I protected them from our marital problems. Children don’t need to know about everything that goes on between husband and wife, so I took the blame for the divorce. They were grown; they’d be fine; they didn’t need me anymore.

I sold my house, bought some clothes, renewed my passport, and said goodbye. The move wasn’t too expensive since I had decided to leave most of my stuff behind. I would have to be careful, but I should be able to live comfortably.

The butterflies I felt in my stomach as the plane thundered down the runway slowly dissipated as blue skies replaced asphalt. I closed my eyes and rested my head against the window. It was going to be a long flight.