Emeryville Amy

This blog will be a combination of my favorite places in the Bay Area and abroad, memoirs, recipes, restaurant reviews and travel experiences.

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Location: Emeryville, San Francisco Bay Area, CA, United States

Monday, July 18, 2005

Memories from my last Big Adventure

As I look forward to my upcoming 2 month Amtrak Trip, I find myself thinking about the last time I prepared to be gone for awhile. I went to Paris for 3 months in the fall of 2003. Here is an exerpt from my journal about my first day abroad.

Paris Memories Chapter 1: Arrival September 2, 2003

Well, I am off! We just left the ground. I have been waiting so long for this moment. I thought that I would feel more emotional, maybe I will later. I am sitting next to a very nice (and cute!) French journalism student and there is an open seat between us so we have plenty of room- yeah! I wonder what God has in store for me in the next three months. I have spent so much time and energy planning to be gone, checking things off my endless TO DO lists, wrapping one thing up after another- it is a bit odd to have all of that completed.

Tomas, my seatmate, ended up being really nice. The flight went fairly quickly considering it was 9 ½ hours in the second leg from Dallas. As soon as I had cleared customs (no line at all), picked up my luggage and was heading to the exit door a taxi driver came over and asked if I wanted some help. Next thing I knew he had my bags in the trunk of his car. It happened so quickly that I barely had time to ask him the price. When he told me the amount I knew it was too much but I figured that he already had my belongings so I should just get in.

He quickly sped away from the curb. As I looked out the windows for my first glimpse of France I saw a huge IKEA store; just like the one ½ a mile away from my condo in Emeryville that I loathe because every time they have a sale it snarls all of the traffic for miles around. It wasn’t exactly the first sight that I wanted to see here. Meanwhile my driver was yelling into his cell phone and weaving in and out of traffic at a crazy pace. He must have answered 20 calls during our ride into Paris. In between the calls he would glance at me in his rear view mirror and fire questions at me. He asked my address and then asked if I was sure. He lectured me on the dangers of my neighborhood, showing an obvious prejudice against the ethnic makeup of it. I began to worry a bit when he told me that I shouldn’t go out at night alone around there. Great. Just what I wanted to hear. Apparently the neighborhood was predominately Middle Eastern, African and Asian, a bit surprising to hear, but not necessarily a bad thing to me
It only took about 20 minutes to get to my door. Because everything went so quickly at the airport and with the ride there I was about an hour and half earlier than the prearranged rendezvous with my landlady. I had the outside door code to get into the entryway but didn’t have a key for the “lobby” or my apartment. So I just brought my two suitcases inside and sat down on the big one to wait for Stephanie, my landlady, to show up. I ventured outside the door a bit to look at the farmers’ market that was set up on the main street (Rue Ornano) in front of my building. It did seem more ethnically diverse than I was expecting but not in an uncomfortable sort of way.

I returned to the entryway and sat down to read for awhile. Pretty soon a young Chinese man came down the stairs and looked at me. He asked me (in French, of course) who I was and what I was doing there. My tired brain worked overtime to explain in French that I was renting an apartment on the fourth floor for three months. He had a cell phone and helpfully said he could telephone my landlady to tell her that I was already here. I gave him her number and he talked to her and she told him she couldn’t come early, she had to wait for her lunch break. So Fong, my new French neighbor, kindly said that I could put my luggage in his apartment on the 2nd floor. He lives with his wife and three children and his parents in a small (bigger than mine, but only by two small bedrooms) apartment.

I forgot to mention this earlier, but one of my crazy worries for the past month was how I was going to lug my VERY heavy big suitcase up 4 flights of stairs. My building, like so many in Paris, is 6 stories( plus a lobby level) high, and there is no elevator. Being the somewhat lazy American that I am, I was not thrilled when I learned that there wasn’t an elevator and that every time I came in I would have to go 4 long flights.

Anyhow, Fong leaned over and picked up my big suitcase and hauled it up 2 flights to his apartment, with me apologizing as profusely as possible in French as I struggled after him with the other smaller bag. I met his family and he asked if I wanted to go for coffee downstairs. So we went back down to the café located on the bottom floor of my building. He ordered coffees for us and introduced me to one of the waiters who lived in our building as well.

Fong didn’t speak any English, so I tried the best I could to think of things to say to a complete stranger in French. After awhile we went back upstairs and we chatted some more until we heard Stephanie come in. We went down to meet her and then followed her up to my room, Fong once again carrying my huge suitcase. I thanked Fong and he said if I ever needed anything to just come by. I really was stunned by his hospitality and generosity to me.

Stephanie didn’t speak much English either and she talked very quickly. I hoped that I understood everything that I really needed to know. She wanted me to pay in cash for the deposit and the first month rent, but I had brought some of my money in Traveler’s checks in Euros. She finally agreed to take the deposit in the traveler’s checks but insisted on cash for the rent. She said that it was too hard to cash the traveler’s checks and later after it took me hours to find an institution that would do so, I understood her point. There had been a miscommunication about a DSL line, she thinking that I wanted one and me without a computer to use on it. She said she would cancel it, but in the process of doing that the phone service accidentally got cancelled as well. She showed me around and pointed out how to light the pilot lights on the stove and oven and how to turn on the heat and where the vacuum cleaner was located in the hall. We set a time for her to pick up the next month’s rent and then she hurried out to get back to work.

Finally I was alone in my own apartment in Paris. My first impression was that it was kind of dingy and very small and located in a questionable neighborhood. And it might have the world’s smallest kitchen and bathroom. But within minutes of arriving I had already met and been inside a Parisian’s home. Not exactly what I had expected. There is a view of Sacre Coeur from my window, if you stick your head way out that is. As soon as I opened the window I noticed that my place is in a flight pattern for the largest flock of pigeons that I have ever seen. Literally hundreds of birds zoomed around the corner of Rue Ornano onto Rue Hermel (my street) at my apartment level, past my window and settled on the roof of the building next to mine. This went on for about 5 minutes and then 10 minutes later they all went back the opposite direction. I was worried that they might stop short and fly into my room by accident, but that never happened. Also, there are some really nice big sycamore trees across the street which are quite pretty and remind me of the sycamore trees outside my window in Emeryville.

After dealing with Stephanie I changed, unpacked and went for a walk. I was a little nervous about getting lost because I was pretty jet lagged and not yet oriented. But I did fine. I located 2 parks, several boulangeries, many charcuteries, ATM’s, bus stops and the metro. There is a McDonald’s and two Pizza Huts within a couple of blocks. I hope that I will never actually go IN them. There are lots of little restaurants and brasseries but none looked especially appealing. I will have to do some further searching for my local hangout spots.

I have had a few brief thoughts of “What am I doing here? What have I gotten myself into?” I have no idea what this experience holds for me. Everything feels so new and foreign to me. It definitely is different to be in a place that you are going to try to make your new home versus just being a tourist and traveling through. I want cafes and stores and boulangeries to become familiar and to be able to interact with the owners and workers as someone would who lives here.

It is a very pleasant temperature here now, probably around 70 degrees and a little cloudy. It is about 4:00p.m. and I think that I am going to take a nice bubble bath and try to erase the travel grime and ache away. Hopefully I will be able to stay up for a few more hours, but I didn’t sleep on the plane so I have been up for about 26 hours already. While soaking in the tub I realized that there is a window at the end of the tub where the shower is hooked up that looks directly into the kitchen. How weird is that? Maybe the French think that it is "tres romantique"; I will have to put up a poster or something for when I have guests so that the person making breakfast doesn’t have to look at the naked person taking a shower. It is amazing how much they have crammed into this tiny bathroom. The toilet is squeezed in between the sink and a washing machine so tightly it is hard to sit on it correctly. On the other side of the washing machine is the big bath tub which has very high sides, requiring me to practically vault in and out of it. A clothes rack is strung above the tub and can be lowered by a set of pulleys. It is all tiled with pale blue tiles and there is a red, white and blue foot- shaped throw rug on the floor. It will be interesting adjusting to this apartment and to being in a foreign country. I am excited about the challenge and adventure of it all. But first of all I need to get some sleep.


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