Thursday, June 20

I arrive in Paris, explore my neighborhood, and move into my apartment.

My flight left Chicago O'Hare at 6 pm and landed at Paris Charles De Gaulle at 9 am Paris time, a truly horrible overnight flight. It was impossible to get much sleep so I was very tired when I finally arrived. I took the RER B train and the métro to Gare Austerlitz and left my big suitcase in a storage locker as planned.

I waited out a rainstorm in the train station, then explored Jardin des Plantes, Arènes de Lutèce (an old Roman amphitheater), and the streets around my neighborhood. This is a building in Jardin des Plantes, La Grande Galerie de l'Évolution.

The stairs of rue Rollin, leading from rue Monge up to the little alley where my apartment is located. Everything is extraordinarily beautiful, but it hasn't really sunk in yet because I'm so tired.

The same stairs of rue Rollin in 1934, in the photograph "Les escaliers de la rue Rollin" by Brassai. How romantic to be living here!

At La Contrescarpe restaurant having a little espresso coffee (un café). I meet my landlord in 3 hours and acquire a much-needed bed. I just noticed that both the streets and the coffees here are really tiny. That's Place de la Contrescarpe beyond the awning in the picture, just around the corner from my apartment.

Lunch. A chicken crêpe with lettuce and tomatoes from a little stand on rue Mouffetard.

Scene of a miraculous triumph. These are the steps of Église Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, in a photograph I found on the net. It contains the shrine of St. Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris, and the tombs of Blaise Pascal and Jean Racine. This is where Woody Allen shot Gil waiting for the magic taxi in his film Midnight in Paris. While standing here I had a long conversation in French with a Parisian gentleman of my own age. I understood him! He understood me! A triumph!

A few doors down from my apartment there's a plaque announcing that Ernest Hemingway lived there. Big deal. This plaque is directly across the alley from the front door of my apartment, just a few feet away. As I sit in my apartment with the window open I can see the house and the plaque.

Here's a translation:

The Memory of Places. 
Here lived 
René Descartes 
1596-1650
Settled in Holland, the French philosopher 
lived in this house during his stays in Paris 
in 1644, 1647, and 1648. 
"Being as I am, a foot in one country and 
the other in another, I find my condition to be very 
happy, in that it's free." 
(Letter to Princess Elisabeth de Boheme, Paris 1648). 
This plaque was put up in 1987, on the occasion 
of the 350th anniversary of Discourse on Method.

The plaque neglects to mention that the reason Descartes lived in Holland is because his books were banned in France.

We don't have cool old stuff like that in Chicago, do we?

And earlier today I sat on a stone bench in Arènes de Lutèce that's two thousand years old.

All moved into my apartment. After meeting with my landlord's assistant Baptiste I hiked back to Gare d'Austerlitz and fetched my big suitcase. A long shlep uphill both ways. The apartment is tiny but clean and nice and enough for my needs. I have a little clothes washing machine and a drying rack for clothes, an unexpected bonus. I have the window of my ground-floor apartment open and I'm enjoying the people strolling by and the sounds from the busy bar down the street. Very pleasant.

Baptiste spoke to me in English. He kept saying "light" when he was talking about turning something on. That's because the French word for "turn on" is "allumer", which also means "to light". Funny. We chatted quite a bit about language and also about Obama, when he heard I was from Chicago. Very nice young fellow.

Went out tonight and got coffee and milk for the morning at a market on rue Mouffetard, plus a bottle of Bordeaux that I'm consuming as I type.

Stopped by the hotel where the kids will be staying in September and chatted up the nice receptionist (in French, of course). He let me park my aching feet and ass in the lobby and use the Internet connection while I waited for the appointment with Baptiste.

There won't be much cooking this summer, I'm afraid. My microscopic kitchen nook only has a microwave and two electric burners. No oven. No mixer. No food processor. No blender. Half a fridge, a toaster, and a coffee maker. That's about it.

The light switches all go up for off and down for on. Weird. At least they drive on the right side of the street! And the electrical outlets are just bizarre.

The Internet is great here. Wi-Fi in the apartment and the restaurants and cafés. Pronounced "wee-fee" in French. You just have to ask the waiter for the password (le mot de passe). The password at the café where I got tiny rejuvenating coffees this afternoon was "chocolat" (no E at the end in French).

There's an elementary school just down the street. This afternoon the parents all gathered in my alley to pick up their raucous offspring. Nice. Real people actually live here and go about their real lives.

My neighborhood. The red pin marks my apartment on rue Rollin. As you can see, I am not far from the Seine, Notre Dame (the center of Paris), and the Jardin du Luxumbourg. My apartment is at the southeast corner of the Latin Quarter, which is part of the 5th arrondissement.

Another map of my neighborhood, showing more detail, including Place de la Contrescarpe, rue Mouffetard, le Panthéon, Église Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, the elementary school on my street, etc. The Arènes de Lutèce are in the big green area at the far right edge of this map. ("Les Arènes de Lutèce" is plural in French, but I don't know why, because as far as I can tell there's only one "arena".)