Letter from France #6 – Odds, Sods and Anecdotes

Our great adventure is winding down. Just one day left in Paris before we fly home on Saturday. While I have enjoyed our trip immensely, I will be happy to be home. So this will be my last letter (unless something really interesting happens).

I actually drove in France! I am not crazy about driving. I used to drive every day on the 400 series of highways but when I moved in with Sweetie a dozen years ago, I drove less and less, to the point where I am no longer comfortable driving on anything other than easy roads. So when we decided to rent a car in northern France, it was with the understanding that Sweetie would drive and I would navigate.

When we first planned our trip to France, everyone advised us not to even think about driving in Paris. Too many cars, not enough space. In the countryside it would be another matter. And it has been.

For the most part we found driving through many of the small towns and villages as well as the back roads of Normandy to be a true pleasure. We’ve seen a very different France to that of Paris. But the driving has been at times nerve-wracking. The roads are narrow and in the small villages, the buildings come right to the road’s edge. Sweetie learned to put up with a steady stream from me of, “Too fast, too fast! Slow down! Bendy road, bendy road! Eek! Turn right! No, left! Wait, I don’t know!” He humoured me throughout it all. More than once, we found ourselves driving down what could really only be termed cow paths, through farmers’ fields with crops on either side and assorted cows mooing as we drove on through. The driving was an adventure, if a little stressful.

On our last night in Normandy, we were driving back to the Manoir from dinner. “I want to drive,” I announced. Especially since our rental car was a spiffy, smooth-riding Peugeot. It was also a standard which I haven’t driven in twenty years. By this time, we’d turned off the main road to a side road so Sweetie, somewhat doubtfully, pulled over. I hopped around to the driver’s seat. Popped the car in gear. And off we went. Smooth as anything. I zipped down the road and gleefully pushed it up to fourth gear. Made the turn into the lane to the Manoir. Zoomed along. Deftly navigated through the stone gates and parked with precision. My drive lasted all of five minutes. But I did it. I drove in France. Yeehaw.

Parisians have a remarkable ability to make efficient use of tiny spaces. Our apartment is an excellent example. Smaller than our master bedroom at home, which isn’t that big, it has a sleeping area, a kitchen area and a bathroom that includes a shower. It’s cleverly done.

The only real inefficiency is in the washer/dryer combo that is common in most apartments. It’s one machine for both jobs and it too is small. And has a mind of its own. Washing a small load of laundry takes three or four hours. The machine stops, starts, whirs, clanks, rests, starts all over again. Eventually, it launches the dryer cycle… another three to four hours. More whirring and clanking. When you finally remove your clothes, they are not dry. And they have wrinkles baked in to them that a steam iron has no hope of eliminating. There is no efficiency in this. I do not understand. Perhaps it’s just a joke on tourists who rent apartments. I am bringing home a whack of clothes to be re-washed in my nice big North American washer and dryer. I will speak nicely to them from now on.

I am huge in France. Women here are mostly slim, svelte and stylish. Something else I don’t understand. How is this possible in the land of butter, cream, cheese, croissants, baguettes, steak frites with béarnaise, delicious desserts and great wine? My sister tells me it’s because French women walk a lot and exercise portion control. I can accept the walking. It’s more efficient than driving, at least in Paris. But I’ve watched tiny women routinely eat huge plates full of food. Even climbing three flights of stairs after supper to get back to our apartment has made no dent in my weight. I was 20 pounds overweight when I left Canada for France. I am larger now. I dread my nice North American bathroom scale.

I do not, however, dread my nice North American bathroom. I do not understand why in a city as sophisticated as Paris, there are so many toilets without seats.

I went shopping today. Sweetie, bless him, came with me. I was excited, ready to seek out interesting, unusual items I would be able to take home and nonchalantly say, “This? Oh yes, I bought it in Paris.” It didn’t start well.

We headed first to an inexpensive store where I had been assured there was good stuff. Nothing. All the clothes were designed for people much smaller than I. “Not a problem,” I said to Sweetie. “I know where there’s another bigger department store.”

We headed through the Marais district toward the river, winding our way through streets of shops filled with great looking things. The problem? It was all wholesale. No retail sales permitted. How cruel. Sweetie breathed sighs of relief.

I persevered. Made it to BHV, the aforementioned department store. “Look, Sweetie, there it is!” Like the sighting of a fascinating new land. I marched in, confidant I would find wondrous things. And I did. But not for me. Once again, too small. Sweetie could see I was getting discouraged.

“What about shoes?” he said, bravely, knowing that could mean another hour in the store. I brightened. Yes, forget clothes, just focus on accessories! My Sweetie is brilliant! Found the shoe department. Tried on many pairs. Most did not fit my feet. Until… at last! A lovely pair of blue and turquoise suede half boots with purple leather straps. They fit. Mostly. Doesn’t matter. They are now packed carefully and lovingly in my suitcase, waiting to head home.

I’ve been the navigator throughout our trip, whether on country roads or finding our way around Paris. Somehow, during the shopping expedition, I got us turned around. The shopping was done, we were tired and ready to go home. Except even with my map, we couldn’t seem to orient ourselves. It was at this point it began to rain. No problem. We had brought the umbrella from the apartment. An umbrella that apparently had seen better days. It wouldn’t stay up. And it was, once again, very small. Sweetie graciously handed it to me and said he was fine with a little rain. That was before it turned into a lot of rain. We huddled together, checking and re-checking our now soggy map. “This way,” I said. We moved forward. “No, that way.” We changed direction. “Wait. I don’t know!” The umbrella kept closing on our heads and my paper shopping bag with my lovely new suede half boots was in danger of disintegrating. Clutching the bag close, I spotted a familiar street name. “I know where we are!” Our apartment was around the corner. We’d managed in our confusion to find our way home. And treated ourselves to some lovely wine, baguettes, supper with cream sauces and frites and splendid little desserts at the café on the corner.

We are, after all, in Paris.

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About saxbergonstuff

I'm a mother, a grandmother, a sister, a daughter, an auntie. When I'm not focusing on that, I'm an educator, facilitator and content designer. When I feel like it.
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2 Responses to Letter from France #6 – Odds, Sods and Anecdotes

  1. I didn’t snack! I was too full. No sugary drinks either. And your map is fine. Paper dries.

  2. Baby Sister says:

    I have really enjoyed your blog entries. I was very insistent to be kept up to date and I think you have done a good job at that. Did I also mention that French women aren’t fat because they don’t snack (in addition to the walking and the portion control?) And they don’t drink sugary drinks. Very proud of your driving, and that better not have been my map that got soaked.

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