Paris a la North Pole

When I was a junior at Stanford, I lived in Vienna for 6 months starting in January.  At that time, Vienna experienced the coldest winter since they had begun keeping records.  So cold that there was frost inside the windows of our classroom.  So this is not THAT cold, but according to the man who gave me euros for dollars this morning, it is the coldest he’s seen it in 20 years.

It is wear-tights-under-your-jeans cold.

We have settled into a 2 bedroom apartment in the Saint Germain des Pres neighborhood, right across the Seine from the Louve and within earshot of the ringing of the bells of Notre Dame.   Our street has 2 bookbinders and a little cafe at the end, and a chocolatier across the street.  We wake up at the crack of noon.  Our first day in Paris and Hans woke up feeling awful — stomach acting strange and what sounds like a head cold — so Anders stayed with him in the apartment and I took my very limited French out for a drive to get croissant and other food for the day and bring it back to the apartment.

I can tell you that the French are very serious about their yogurt, with an entire section in a very small corner market devoted to all kinds.  I got Danon in these adorable little jelly jars that I am tempted to clean out and take home with me.  They are the perfect size for a small collection of delicate flowers.   The strawberry at the bottom was chunky with just the right amount of sweet.  I ate it with a very very tiny espresso spoon, one taste at a time.

Like any warm-blooded female shopper let lose for an hour by herself in Paris, I of course slipped into a shop or two to try on a few things.   I now know that French shop doors seemingly always open IN.  Every shop keeper will enthusiastically welcome you with a “Bonjour, Mademoiselle!” which is lovely.   Changing rooms do not have mirrors in them, so you must display your body to the world for inspection.   I picked up a cool black raincoat, which I will no doubt need if it warms up at all.  At this point, all water from the sky comes in the form of snow.

We spent the afternoon on the couch, Hans playing the ukulele, studying math, vying for time on an iPhone to play Scramble, my face in the guide books or on my computer, Anders either reading Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, attempting to steal the iPhone from Hans for a game of Scramble, or catching a quick nap.

When Hans felt better to go out, we walked around the corner and had a traditional French dinner at a tiny restaurant.   I had a delicious fish soup (a la bouillabaisse without all the stuff in it) and beef bourguignon (with carrots and potatoes).   We got a little pot of red wine and creme brulee for dessert.   I start each conversation with a pitch perfect,  “I’m sorry but I do not speak French,” and then stick to (and hopefully don’t butcher too badly) the very few words and phrases that I’ve learned.  Everyone so far has been able to say enough English or we get by on pointing and doing the best we can. Each day I study, and then Hans learns, a couple more words and phrases.

Il fait froid.   That’s a good one right now, even if I don’t know how to pronounce it.


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