⪧ We left our life in New York City to make a new one in Provence ⪦

June 5, 2007

PARIS I

I am sitting in our new apartment, which happens to be a dream. It is in the central north part of Paris (9th arrondissement) and has just been renovated nicely. Big, thick moldings (about a foot or more) along the floors and in some rooms, molding that runs halfway up the wall. The ceilings too. There are three fireplace mantels, in the living, dining and master bedroom. And the whole thing just has a lot of charm. The apartment is much bigger than I thought it might be, with windows almost floor to ceiling and they've just been replaced; not a sound when they are closed. I can have window boxes with flowers in all the windows, especially the kitchen one, so I am going to need my mother, Julie, and my garden editor at Martha Stewart Living to consult me on what to plant, etc. I am really excited. I feel like I've walked into a really enchanting life and providentially, it is mine. There is a nice room for Marguerite and an entirely extra bedroom on top of that. I am going to put a desk in there and the little piano Xavier acquired for me, but the point is that this room is a perfect place for guests. An entirely superfluous room that needs to be occupied by your bodies. This apartment is way better than a hotel, so I expect all to visit, and soon.

Right across the hall from us lives a woman named Josephine. She is amazing. Xavier and I came to see the apartment on Monday night when I first got here and she heard us come up the elevator (to the fifth floor, her apartment faces ours across the hall), she opened her door widely and made a little speech about the new hallway runner she just purchased and installed for the common good. She really didn’t even say hello. Next, there was a little lecture about the elevator door and how noise in the hallway is something she cannot tolerate. (Thank goodness none of our walls directly abut hers). She looks like a mushroom with a white top in a nightgown (and we’ve seen her three times now, in the exact same nightgown with the same stains on it right above the navy blue writing on the chest).

Do you remember in the movie "Amelie", the woman at the base of the building who was into everyone’s business and knew what everyone was doing and where each tenant was? Buildings in Paris formally have these women, called “concierges.” Well, Josephine is not the concierge of this building, but she certainly thinks so.

All of our things from New York were delivered this morning and there was major busy-bodiness from Josephine going on. She heard the movers and ran out of her apartment, down the elevator to the courtyard, where the movers and our things were congregated. “Mon jardin!” she kept lamenting, while puffing out her cheeks, totally exasperated. Our building has a main entrance off the street, which opens into a big, square courtyard, where most of the apartments face. It is nice, because our apartment is silent albeit we live on a rather major road in Paris. Jospehine, like most things in the building, has taken control of the courtyard. Truly, it is a handsome “jardin”. Plenty of potted ferns and rhododendrons and nice big plants. But her reaction to the movers’ hands on her pots was like a mother whose stroller sheltering her brand new baby was being moved by some bystander. She was not happy. Fretting, she ran next door and found the true concierge and demanded that someone act as a sentinel for her plants as the movers were setting up the huge lift that would hoist all of our belongings from the courtyard up to one of the windows of our apartment (that indicates how big the windows are; a huge, three cushion couch fit through one of the windows easily).

I was looking on and found the whole endeavor delightful. It seemed impossible to simply bring in a lift and basically never to have to climb a step with all the stuff. Josephine had a different perspective. Her next panic was that the lift would crack the tiling of the courtyard and then, worse, fall down into the caves below! (This is what she called the storage area in the basement of the building). At one point, Xavier looked at me and said, “We are going to have to walk a fine line with this one…we really don’t want to make an enemy here, and at the same time, she’s got to know what is hers and what is ours. Our apartment, for example.” He looked scared. But, to be honest, I think she is hilarious and, in fact, as I write, the bedroom window is open (so is hers) and I can hear her through the courtyard bossing her husband around in their apartment.

The most delightful part so far has been Xavier’s sister, Marie, and her family. They have a really incredible little apartment in the south of Paris. She is a painter and I wish you could see how meticulously they’ve renovated this apartment. There is a dearth of “things,” almost in a way I didn’t really think possible with two little kids. We were laughing as we sat down to have lunch (an avocado, endive, cucumber, tomato salad and an assortment of cheeses, olives and onions) on the day I arrived, because Jules is appreciative of me, since I am about as articulate as he (he is two). Not really, but Louise (7) has fully embraced her role as my French tutor. And Jules makes the funniest noises all the time. He has longish, brown, curly hair and is always dressed in blue and white horizontally striped shirts with little buttons on the shoulder, classically French. Louise has her hair perfectly coiffed, split down the middle with a headband running across the two sections.

After educating me on the nuances of 16th century french living: the moat, the many princesses gliding gracefully about the chateau, the elves and sorcerers, the horses and kings and queens, and of course, the monster (Jules, who crashes the castle and chortles, overjoyed with himself), Louise read books to me for three hours yesterday. Listening to how she sounds out words is such a lesson for me. And she is so long-suffering and patient. I often make her pause to clarify a word or to explain the sense of something. She calmly looks at me, smiles and says, “C’est a dire” (that is to say), and then gives details and examples to make things clear. While reading a delicious book about 100 different types of princesses, we came across “poudre” (powder). I repeated the word “poudre” and Louise repeated the word and then chose snow as the first explanation for the word…and then chocolate powder when baking a cake…and then she looked into my eyes and asked, “c’est clair?” Yes, clear indeed, Louise. Xavier teases me and says that my best friend will be a seven-year-old, that I have a lot to learn from her. It is true. And Marie, Xavier's sister, is such a beautiful person. Like Louise, she is incredibly enduring and kind to me. She will make me a big bowl of tea and then ask which of three types of honey I would prefer: lavender honey, orange honey or rosemary honey. Three types of exquisite honey; that is luxury.


This is our apartment | Dining Room


The Entry




Marie (Xavier's sister), Jules, Louise

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