Archive for September, 2018
It’s hard to believe it’s been a week since leaving JFK. From my first post feeling lost and homeless, Paris now feels like a different place.
Location, location, location
Staying in the 5th arrondissement has located me in excellent proximity for walking to everything. 15 minutes to Jardin du Luxembourg and Pont des Artes, 20 minutes to the Louvre and Tuilleries, and 3 minutes to Maubert marche for this weeks’ painting spots with Atelier Alupi. Despite the fact that Google maps has started me in the wrong direction EVERY time I walk out my front door, the extra few blocks help to work off the morning croissant. Now that I have firmly oriented myself with the Seine River and Notre Dame, I can ignore my phone, look up as I confidently strut down the Paris streets, and smile at strangers. Bonjour! This would not be common for a Parisian or a New Yorker, but I just can’t get the happy grin off my face! (And I like the reaction I get in return.)
Menu du Jour
Paris makes it easy. There’s no pressure when looking for a great lunch to dine alone– just look for a sunny spot facing a busy street and there are bound to be friendly faces. Once I translate a few key words on the standing menu board (i.e. gigot d’agneau and salade de maison) 12 euros is a bargain for my main meal of the day. Being adventurous with the “plat du jour” has consistently been a good choice. Salmon, veal, lamb and a few mystery ingredients have not disappointed. The menu today at the local crepe cafe listed “galette with traditional Breton-style with andouille sausage.” Anything wrapped in a pancake is good– right? Seriously inaccurate translation. Fortunately the waiter questioned my choice of ordering “intestines” and directed me to the other special with salmon and spinach.
Maubert Marche inspires paintings and meals
After exploring the beautiful fresh markets on Sunday and Wednesday, overwhelmed by the amazing selection of fruits, cheeses and everything else (that Rob would love to buy), I had visions of preparing simple, yet gourmet meals, in my apartment when I didn’t feel like eating out. After spending a painting class morning, perched on an empty vegetable cart for 3 hours, trying to capture the emotion of that produce, while passerby peered over my shoulder to view my painting progress, I had a realization. Nah, I don’t want to shop or cook. Instead of adding groceries to my bag full of brushes, paper, paints, and my messy paint apron, it was an easy decision to walk past the luscious strawberries to an quaint bistro on the corner with my new painting friends.
Not a JWH Kitchen
I’m not the cook in the family, even with all the kitchens I’ve designed for our family and others. Although this Paris Airbnb would not be the key to my cooking inspiration, I’m amazed what can be condensed into 8 linear feet! After figuring out how to turn on the strip of countertop outlets (after 2 days), the electric team kettle and coffee maker were easily put into action. The undercounter refrigerator nicely holds a bottle of wine and a few yogurts. The induction cooktop mounted directly above the dishwasher is an interesting design that would allow a quick meal and easy clean up, but I’ve ignored both appliances. The undercounter washer/dryer combo unit, taking only 24″ of space next to the dishwasher, was definitely worth trying with a trip this long. This one-step machine promises to take your clothes from dirty, to clean, and dry– in theory. After identifying which box contained laundry detergent packets versus dishwasher tablets, the 15 minute express cycle was the most clear instruction on the machine. Attempting to program the load directly thru the dry cycle, I only managed to wash everything again, this time without soap. Taking my chances again, I pushed the button named “seche” and waited 2 hours and 40 minutes for it to unlock my jeans and pajamas. While making a ton of noise for the cycle, it literally did nothing. With clothes now hanging on chairs and door knobs, I won’t be recommending this space-saver to clients.
Train to Sancerre
The painting classes finished today, and now I’m packing up for Sancerre. The big-ass suitcase which almost killed me on the first day, will not make this train ride to the Loire Valley. My acrylic supplies that weigh A LOT more than my watercolor palette are staying in Paris, along with the odd assortment of “wrong” items packed for this 2 week trip. (For example, any shoe with a heel is NOT comfortable in Paris.) This mega suitcase will be dragged the 6 blocks back to City Locker tomorrow morning, through the same empty Sunday morning streets as last week. With a lighter load, a lighter mood, and excitement for this next step, the train leaves tomorrow for French classes.
#Au revoir! Jennifer (Thanks for reading!)
It may be hard to call a day “perfect” when it’s only Day 2. But keeping expectations at a realistic level, it was pretty darn good.
My body let me sleep a full 13 hours from 8 pm to 9 am, so technically I’m already on Paris time. A quick espresso gave the necessary boost to hike to the Parthenon. (It should have been closer, but I walked the wrong way!)
I liked my classmate instantly, Olivia, a young producer from Vancouver. Our first class was drawing, so I could wear nice pants and my Vince leather jacket without fear of ruining them. (Caroline will be displeased with the sneakers, but comfort comes first.) The scarf around my neck, a travel gift from Molly, helped the morning chill, but I still should have worn my gloves and wool sweater! It’s amazing that Paris’ mornings are much colder than NY this time of year.
With white fingers no longer capable of holding the pencil, I moved from the tall shadows of the Parthenon columns to a sunny spot for a clear view of an architecturally challenging building. The drawings didn’t improve, but the circulation did! When my solo classmate went off to meet fellow travelers, my teacher recommended lunch at a great Italian spot around the corner to warm our hands and our insides. Plat du jour included clams, plus a pasta with white fish and zucchini, followed by a cafe au lait to start the afternoon program.
Walking off lunch:
As the only tour participant, Nicolas and Florient (art teacher and tour guide, respectively) customized the tour to my interests. Only 13,000 steps but we covered some amazing ground: hidden side streets, little known historical facts, and even archaeological treasures! Who would expect an underground parking garage to include the original Paris city wall?
5 pm ended our tour and coincided perfectly with happy hour on Blvd St Germain des Pres. With side by side seats facing the busy street in a sidewalk cafe, we laughed that this is not a typical NYC scene. But neither is the Provence rose for 3 euros! A few quiet moments to capture the thoughts of the day, and then turn on my Google maps on to find my way home.
Tomorrow I paint at the Luxembourg Gardens. This should be fun (and messy!) But I’ll have some time to clean up before our evening at Montmartre. An0ther busy day in PARIS (paradise!)
Thanks for reading and following– I’m feeling very lucky. Jennifer
It feels like 24 hours since I was sitting in JFK working on my laptop before my flight. The clock confirmed it was 4:30 pm on Saturday, and now it’s 4:30 pm on Sunday, but a couple of big factors had changed.
I thought that traveling 6 time zones, forgoing a night of sleep upright in coach, and having to wander the streets for 8 hours alone before I could access my AirBNB, would be my first stumbling block. In reality, the flight landed an hour early (so I actually had a full 9 hours to wander) and I truly didn’t sleep a wink in my airplane seat. Slight panic started rising at the baggage carousel at 6:30 am. I asked a few people for suggestions, including a mid-30’s group of travelers for Fashion Week, but they’d never faced this particular challenge. I didn’t have the guts to approach Kurt Russell and ask his advice. (He looked pretty incognito wearing jeans and a scruffy backpack, but it was definitely him.)
It’s not fraud!
To add to the dismay and frustration, after notifying both credit card companies that I was departing for France, only to be assured there would be no problem with my cards, BOTH my Visa and Platinum Am Ex cards were denied for my Uber ride. I’ve never in my life been grateful for PayPal, but at least they processed the charge. Hailing a taxi was the back up plan, but typing the destination and knowing the cost are much easier than relying on unpracticed French and unfamiliar bills and coins.
Once my 2 suitcases were stashed at a City Locker location near my AirBNB, the first views of Paris at this hour where calming. The roads and sidewalks were almost empty, with only the movement and drum beat of the crew teams practicing on the Seine. Choosing the cutest awning and chairs, as well as the desired street-side view, I enjoyed my first cafe and croissant, and plotted out the next 7.5 hours. Choosing between group Qigong instruction in the park, or a walking tour of literary and artistic history in Paris, I went for the option requiring less balance. The 20’s and 30’s came alive as our 2-person tour led by MIT-educated, Olga, guided us along the same steps as Hemingway, Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Matisse, and others from this creative era. 2.5 hours flew by enjoyably with only minor mists of rain and I found myself ready to download The Movable Feast on my Kindle and re-watch Midnight in Paris with Owen Wilson.
When It Rains, It Pours:
By the time the rain really started to pour, my feet were objecting as loudly as my stomach. Getting settled into my room was getting critical or the rain drops might have turned into tears. The 2-stop Uber request was trickier but when the driver saw the size of the larger suitcase in comparison to my height, he understood why I couldn’t walk the remaining 7 blocks. When he let me off at the wrong end of the one way street, I tried to act confident that I could maneuver the 2 bags along the cobblestones to the front door. The entry code worked on the first try (which was NOT the experience at City Locker), but this only served to quickly reveal the tiny and steep steps that lay ahead. I could barely get in the front door with my big bag so I had no choice but to block the entire hallway while I attempted to carry my wheeled carry-on and shoulder bag to the second floor. Did you know that the French don’t give the ground floor a number? 3 flights up really narrow, steep and winding stairs; I’m sure the sound of baggage wheels smacking against the risers, and a few multilingual curses, was no surprise to the other residents.
A Glass of Rose to End the Day:
The apartment is so awesome my misgivings slowly dissipated and I’m soon ready to head back out for groceries, as soon as I’ve got enough phone charge to keep me from getting lost. After a few attempts to find a gourmet market with fresh cheese and bread, I decided that a served meal and glass of wine was a fitting reward for this extra long day. And here I sit—aaahhh! “Le dejeuner special du jour”: salad, salmon and potatoes and a glass of rose. Deliciously doused in butter, as only the French can do, I felt the need to check the number of steps I walked today, before deciding on dessert. Almost 21,000 steps… that works.
Now if I can just stay awake until 8 pm tonite to get on a normal time zone for painting tomorrow at 10 am.
An adventure in Paris as a full-time business owner, traveling solo, studying painting and language, is not the typical trip for a 52 year old mother of 5 and grandmother of 1. Mid-life crisis or making up for the missed college year abroad program? Either one, it is time to regroup and refuel the creative fires. With another 20 years to work, and to continue to LOVE the work I do, I realized it was time to take some time for myself.
Taking a solo trip, anywhere, has never been something I’ve particularly enjoyed. Business trips that involve a flight alone, hotel room alone, and an occasional meal alone, are relished by some of my business friends. Mindlessly flipping through magazines on a flight and spreading out in the entire king-size hotel bed don’t do it for me. I like to fall asleep the minute I board the plane, curled in my window seat. And I still stay on my side of the hotel bed, leaving the other two-thirds untouched. Add a few meals alone, trying to make conversation without looking like a pick-up move, makes me even more eager to get back to the craziness of work and my family. So why have I now booked myself to travel 7 hours to France–alone? And for how long?
It all started in a conversation with my daughter, Caroline, about her upcoming semester abroad in Madrid. After she had spent a year at Tulane and another year at Georgetown, she was still managing to come home far more often than my older boys ever did– combined. “Caroline, you don’t even like to be gone from home for long. How will you make it 4 months in Spain?” I asked. In her typical confident manner, without a moment’s hesitation, she responded “That’s easy. You will have an apartment in Paris.”
This quick retort last March quickly germinated into an idea that I couldn’t release from my mind. As outrageous and ridiculous as that idea sounded, something inside grabbed hold of my daily (and nightly) thoughts for the next 2 weeks. As the words came out of my mouth to share this plan with my husband, Rob looked at me in a supportive, yet unbelieving way. Was a full semester a little dramatic? Maybe 3 months, leaving after the busy work month of September and returning in December. “2 months?” he countered. I hesitated and responded, “Maybe 1 month will be enough?” Yes, a month I could handle and the planning began.
Work or Pleasure?
First practical question: How could I manage a month away from the office? Well, working on JWH projects is a given. Skype, email and my remote access computer would let me continue design work from anywhere. Maybe not as efficient on a small laptop keyboard, as compared to my 2 large side-by-side screens on my desk, but I’ve done it on shorter vacations so I could certainly set up a work routine for this longer trip. We’ve laughed about setting up a blow up doll in my office chair, and propping a pair of expensive heels on my window sill, and passerbys would believe I am working away in Rye, NY.
A quick post on Facebook asking for recommendations on where to stay helped to focus on the “arrondissements” that would keep me safe and centrally located. Adding “laptop friendly workspace” to the search criteria on Airbnb helped to further narrow down the number of possible flats. There weren’t a lot of other filters I required. Blow dryer–optional. Wifi– critical. It seemed like 5-story “older” buildings without a lift best fit in my housing budget.
As luck would have it, the perfect studio jumped out at me. The private courtyard for the building, 2nd floor location, and tiny square footage seemed to guarantee I could make myself feel cozy. The well-known jazz bar across the street, which closes at the mandatory time of 10 pm, sounds like it was set up for my exciting nightlife. And the amazing murals on the studio walls would be my inspiration to start every day in a creative mode. And the bonus: blow dryer included.
Making the most of each day:
So now that I figured out how I would work efficiently every day from Paris, the question remained, what will I do with the rest of my time? I will be awake on a different time zone and my office has not yet come to life? (And then I will be winding down with a glass (or 2) of French chardonnay, and the office will be calling with technical questions.) Brushing up on my French–of course. A great way to meet other people while reviving my 5 years of honors French, not-so-eloquently last spoken 34 years ago at Rye High School. I envisioned ordering my cafe-au-lait with utmost confidence, asking the price on a fashionable outfit and understanding that the answer is not in my price range, and striking up casual conversations with strangers while sitting at the bustling sidewalk cafes. The reality of the latter part is that native Parisians won’t want to start up random conversations with a solo middle aged mom from NY. At least I’m pretty sure the waitstaff or other English-speaking tourists won’t snub me. Fully thinking through this scenario, which is one of my strengths (and weaknesses), reveals that I will STILL have too much time on my hands. Enter the suggestion from my beloved little sister, Molly.
Past or present life:
“Jenny, you’ve always fashioned yourself as an artist. And I know you believe there might have been a previous life as an architect, why don’t you explore this passion in Paris?” Brilliant Molly, who sometimes knows me better than I know myself. Now we are adding structure to my day, and filling lots of time in a creative way. Again, I can picture it clearly: setting up my easel along the Seine, dressed as a Parisian artist with interested onlookers, capturing the architecture on canvas with my paints and brush. The reality? First, I have trouble getting my right hand to relay what I see in my mind so the representation of these historical landmarks will be more impressionist, not to insult my beloved Monet. Second, I’m a messy painter. A full smock was the recommended protective gear to wear over my clothes, as only a BFF could suggest. But I can’t resist the challenge or the experience, I sign up for the 6 day outdoor class, and I realize that I will come home with paint on my clothes.
Housing, work and ideal activities for the trip are “planned”, but far from being executed. Life (and travel planning) always throws some funny curve balls. Please follow along to see how things develop…