Saturday, December 28, 2013

This feels like the perfect picture to start with, in spite of the fact (maybe because of it?) that Max is a tad blurry.  Who isn't a little blurry when the jet lag is fresh?  I love these stairs leading to our apartment's front door, even though I will say that I think twice before running back up them to grab something forgotten, and even though my legs are more than un peu sore a week into this adventure.  

It gives new meaning to "l'esprit de l'escalier," when you think of the perfect retort to a snarky remark once you're already on the staircase and it's too late for your comeback.

After walking 3 miles up to Sacre Coeur and back yesterday, Dana told me that her legs were so sore that she felt like a newborn colt.  The strange thing is that I swear I walked all the time in San Francisco, too, especially the past month when we didn't have a car and were walking Max to school every day.  Is it the cobblestones?  Or are these stairs to blame?  But they are beautiful, and I like imagining their installation, and the fact that they've endured since the apartment was built in 1820.  One of my favorite places is my friend Stephanie's family's vacation house on Blakely Island, an island that is only accessible by small plane or boat, where the house feels like a 60s time capsule as a result because it's so hard to get building materials and furniture on and off the island.  This 5th floor walkup reminds me of that in its 1800's way.  Need a new floorboard?  New bathroom fan?  But do you *really*?  

I can see why our landlord hasn't cleared out a lot of her family's things, and I'm grateful for her book collection.  One of my favorite things is having a limited and subjectively curated collection of books from which to choose.  When I lived in Japan, the selection in English at the local public library was: 1) The Bridges of Madison County, 2) Breakfast at Tiffany's, and 3) Alice in Wonderland.  Here at the apartment there are a lot more to choose from (thanks to the fact that we're renting from a couple of profs, one of whom is British) and it includes a few Harry Potters, PD James, Bleak House, Julian Barnes and Rentata Adler.   

Lest I seem too virtuous going on about reading and walking, let me add that Dana and I were on a "tour de pastry" as we walked, using a poorly functioning David Leibowitz "Paris Pastry" app that lets you find his favorite bakeries and read about his favorite pastries wherever in the city you are.  The lemon yuzu tart that we ate at Gontran Cherrier bakery was incredible.  In its uncloying tanginess, with a perfectly crisp yet eggshell thin butter crust, it put to shame the formerly delicious seeming lemon tart we'd bought at a nameless bakery.  We also got a pitch black squid ink baguette to take home and eat with a cheese so runny you could puncture it with your finger.  The bread was a novelty but I'll take a regular baguette next time.

I will say--I like a culture where every single time you pass a patisserie, no matter the hour of day, people are sitting in the window, eating the most beautiful pastries you've ever seen, and the bars are similarly full of people drinking wine and enjoying themselves at all hours.  My own puritan work ethic has not caught up with me yet, and I'm hoping that it doesn't find me for a while.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

First night in Paris

The Watrous-Schumaker trio (we don't all actually have a hyphenated last name, but I'm so tired that it seems shorter somehow just to go with Max's) has arrived in Paris, France after a mere...35? (again, too tired to do the calculation, but that seems about right) hours.  I was about to write "35 hours in the air" but that would also be shorthand.  In fact we spent fewer than 10 of those hours in the air.  It would be tedious to type out all of the ways in which this trip went awry.  But since I started sharing this, I will impose some of the details upon you.  

1.  On time departure from SFO.  See excited photos of Max, Malena and Matt about to embark on adventure, repeatedly saying so to Max, who is duly in the spirit/mood after having been somewhat apprehensive a while back.  2.  Easy flight to Chicago.  So far so good.  3.  On time departure scheduled from Chicago to Paris.  Chicago is where winter weather can go so wrong, right?  Things look great.  4.  Three hour delay while sitting in seats in Chicago in a plane that would've seemed vintage back in the 70s.  Ashtrays at every seat, malfunctioning flushes on the toilets, teeny TV's every 10 rows or so.  They tell us that there are 2 malfunctioning oxygen masks.  No on is in those seats, but apparently the plane can't fly if 2 masks (that--let's face it--would never save anyone's life "in the unlikely event of a water landing") aren't working.  Mechanics come on board to "fix" the masks, which means taping them up under duct tape and plastic sheeting.  We are told that this isn't good enough.  (Really?)  Mechanics come on board again.  The plane is declared good to go, but then a light malfunctions.  At one point Max is invited into the cock pit (yes, the plane is THAT old-school) where we see about 10,000 lights.  It's hard to imagine how one malfunctioning would even be noticed.  After 3 hours on the runway we take off.  They have repeatedly told us, "Our flight time is only 7 hours, which is RIDICULOUSLY short, and so none of this matters!"  5.  After about 7.5 hours, they come on to announce that Paris is having a "tornado," and we are not allowed to land at Charles De Gaulle.  NO planes are landing!  This is what they say.  They tell us that no one will miss connections since the airport is essentially shut down.  6.  An hour later we are rerouted to Zurich and told that we will be put on a bus ("with sandwiches!") and taken to Paris that way.  We are told it will be a 5 hour bus ride.  7.  I'll spare some of the more boring (what?  More boring than what we've heard so far?  Can it be?) details.  It took over 10 hours to bus across the autobahn (or whatever) into Paris.  There were indeed a lot of sandwiches.  We arrived at CGG after midnight on Christmas Eve.  We got to our apartment at 2 am, at which point Matt (mostly) lugged 9 pieces of luggage up 5 flights in our 1820 apartment.

All this said, we are here!  

And all things considered, it could have been a lot worse.  For instance, Max really was a great kid from start to finish of the journey.  (My new mantra: It's about the destination, not the journey).  He made origami star wars figures.  Read about 150 pages of Harry Potter 4.  (OK, was read to).  Ate a LOT of chocolate (first American, then Swiss, then French).  Came to understand that the word "adventure" actually means not knowing what's going to happen at any given moment.  Managed to be contained in a seat for 1.5 days without exploding (I didn't realize it was possible).

The group of humans on the 10 hour bus ride from Zurich was amazingly uncomplaining and decent.  There was even a young woman whose birthday was yesterday.  Would I have been complaining nonstop?  Absolutely.  But she just curled up and napped and at one point one of the other ladies on the bus initiated a group sing of "Happy Birthday."  Would I have been mortified?  Yes.  But this young woman video filmed it on her phone and then said that she would keep this forever.  

Arriving in our actual apartment was definitely the highlight of this "adventure."  The 5 flights of curving stairs are beautiful, especially when you're not tasked with carrying all of the luggage.  (Really, someone had to hold that child's hand, right?)  It's old in the best way, with creaky wooden floors and clanking radiators (actually, I wish they'd clank a little more right now, because it's a cold Christmas morning) and the bed felt MIGHTY comfortable last night at least.  We'll see how it feels in a less dire state of fatigue.  Max was excited to drive through our new neighborhood (the 10th) and brimming with energy, only sorry we couldn't, at 2 am, "go on 2 walks and draw the gargoyles at Notre Dame."  We had no time to grocery shop for Christmas as planned, but we have a lot of chocolate.  Things could definitely be worse.

It is the destination, not the journey!