Paris: Pigeon poop and drama at the brasserie

First day in Paris. Well, technically, it’s our second day. But we spent yesterday, after landing an hour early at CDG, stumbling around and trying to stay awake. I nearly plunged to my death outside the door of our flat, where the stairs start about three inches from the door.  But we managed to stay alive and even feed ourselves. Steve and I took a three-hour nap in the middle of the day, in the not-king-sized bed. (Bernard, the flat owner, promised it was king sized. It could have been a futon for all we cared, after flying all night in coach.)

But after a nearly full night’s sleep, we felt much revived and ready to actually walk places. There was no coffee anywhere in the otherwise well-stocked pantry (four types of olive oil and coffee filters, but no coffee), so Steve went in search. What he found: Starbucks. It was the only thing open at 8:00 a.m. Meanwhile, I had managed to make him scrambled eggs in a saucepan (again, they have a standing mixer and a washer/dryer, but no frying pan). We felt very European.

Our Excel spreadsheet agenda called for only the Notre Dame and the Île Saint-Louis, so we did both. I was prepared to go through the motions at the Notre Dame but when I walked through the doors, I actually felt some old Catholic stirrings. Maybe it was the incense – that stuff just transports me back to kneeling on a hard prayer bench. Maybe it was the enormity of the place, and its impressive ancient-ness. But I got a lump in my throat that I couldn’t dislodge until I paid 5 euros to light a candle.

Let’s see – what else? Steve and I had lunch at some brasserie off Boulevard Saint-Michel, where there’s about a zillion college students. One such student brawled with a waiter, who she called “a little shit.” The French was rapid-fire, but from what I could glean, the little shit water didn’t acknowledge her quickly enough. There was an actual physical tussle. It was very exciting. Our waiter went to grad school in Cleveland, but he appreciated my attempts at French.

Then, we walked over to the Luxembourg Gardens, whereupon Steve was promptly pooped on by a pigeon. That sort of cut short our jaunt, although he was a good sport and went to Metroprix so I could buy some hosiery and other important provisions.

I have some preliminary observations about Paris, au cas où vous êtes intéressé.

1)   The whole thing about French women being reed-thin is bullshit. It’s just straight-up not true. Parisian women come in all shapes and sizes, though I will say I haven’t seen an obese Parisian woman (or man) yet. So no, French women may not get fat, but they also don’t all look like Carine Roitfield.

2)  So far, I haven’t seen evidence that every French woman is innately stylish. They do all wear scarves, however. And, I should add that we haven’t been to Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré yet.

3)   French women (and men) do strut around like they own the joint.

4)   French women make the most of what they’ve got.  If they have curly hair, they let it be curly. If they have straight, fine hair, they’re usually rocking a pixie, or it’s stuffed into a ponytail. I didn’t see a lot of elaborate, tortured hairstyles, except on Americans.

5)   Except for shopkeepers and waiters, I don’t know what people do for a living here. Mostly, people sit in cafés and smoke. Or perhaps that’s because we’re in a very touristy area, which is already driving me slightly mad.

Door to door

We’d just finished Bini’s homework (Write the words “brown, black and blue. What is different with these words?”) when the doorbell rang. Bini and Jones ran for it. I figured it was Timmy and Nora, Bini’s new neighborhood BFFs, so I didn’t hurry to chase after him. Then I heard a deep voice say: “Can you get your mom or dad?”

It was Luther Bradley, going door to door to sell magazine subscriptions to better his life. He showed me a business license of the organization that is helping him better his life, and I went inside to Google it. Legit, although a woman who was also going door to door to better her life stabbed a bunch of people in Houston.

Luther seemed nice and unarmed, and I also have a pit bull that may or may not bite people who try to stab me. Luther admitted to getting involved in “distribution” in Georgia. He was given a choice: Probation and get your act together, or jail. He chose door-to-door magazine sales. He also went to barber school, and will use his earnings to get his license. He was very respectful and professional, and I didn’t have anything else to do. Luther told Bini and I about how he’d sold magazine subscriptions from Vallejo to Oregon and had been in Washington for three months. “It’s really nice here,” he said. “It doesn’t rain that much.”

Call me a sucker, but I bought a damned subscription from him. Maybe it’s because I drive past the homeless guys  with my kid in the back seat asking “Is he poor? Does he not have a family?” Maybe it’s because two of my neighbors, people I think aren’t suckers, bought magazine subscriptions from this guy. Maybe it’s because Luther asked me how I’d gotten started in the world, and if anyone had given me a chance. I know these are all techniques — I’m Vince Mellone’s daughter, after all, and we trust NO ONE. But the sun was shining and hell, Vince Mellone needs a three-year subscription to The Atlantic. So I bought it.

I earned Luther Bradley 400 points. I hope he uses them well, and that he meant what he said. If not, I got three years of The Atlantic for $101.

In the kindergarten line

We have a “walk pool” in our neighborhood, where the parents trade off who walks the kids to school. This morning, it was my turn.

I’m not sure if there’s a way to keep three kindergartners from running. If anyone knows any tactics, let me know. This morning, my kid and one of the neighbor kids, who I’ll call Timmy, called out “smush!”  and then took turns ramming each other. The blows were, thankfully, blunted by their comically enormous backpacks. While Bini and Timmy smushed, I walked with the little girl from the neighborhood, who I’ll call Nora. I like Nora. Her default facial expression is a split-your-face-happy smile, and she tells long, convoluted stories. This morning, I was listening to Nora and occasionally yelling out “Bini! Timmy! Slow down!”

Nora was telling me about how her brother had broken his arm. When she was finished, I told her about how Steve had torn the webbing between two toes, and had to get stitches. One of the moms overheard. “What a nice story, first thing in the morning,” she said.

Once we got to school, Timmy and Bini ran through the front doors and into the back playground area, where all three full-day kindergarten classes line up in front of a ramp. I love seeing the sea of little kid heads and the handful of parents, like me, clutching reusable coffee mugs and trying not to make eye contact.

This morning, I was trying to keep Bini and Nora (who are in the same class) from smushing each other in line when one of the kids, named Asijia, tapped me on the elbow.

“Excuse me, but this boy wants his mommy.” She pointed to a little boy standing in front of Bini, sniffling. Occasionally, he’d get rammed by Bini and Nora’s smushing.

I knelt down and looked at him. His nose was running and his eyes, behind his glasses, were wet. “What’s wrong?” I asked him.

“I want my mom,” he said, voice quavering.

“What’s your name?”

“Siddharth,” he told me.

“He doesn’t want to be at kindergarten,” said a tall girl, dressed in all pink. “I didn’t want to have full-day kindergarten either, but my mommy said I had to, and it’s fine.”

“What’s your name?” I asked her.

“Audrey.” She smiled, a gap-toothed grin.

“Siddharth, are you not feeling well?” I asked.

“I was in my mom’s car and I said I didn’t want to go, and she said to go, and I got out and now I want my mom,” he said.

That did sound rough. “You know what, though? Today’s a half day. You get out early. Can you hang in there?” Siddarth turned away, considering.

Audrey put a protective hand on Siddharth’s shoulder. Asijia moved in, too. “We’ll help you, Siddharth. We’ll be your friends.”

“That’s really nice, you guys. Can you tell Mrs. Bailie that Siddharth is having a hard time this morning?” The girls nodded vigorously.

Meantime, my child and Nora, who Bini insists isn’t his friend, were giggling and roughhousing. But when the bell rang, and the class marched forward toward their teacher, Bini fell out of line and grabbed my arm.

“Why were you talking to Siddharth?” he demanded.

“Because he was sad, honey. When someone’s sad, it’s nice to try and cheer them up.”

Bini shook his head. “No. That’s not your job. You’re my mom.” And with that, he swept into the classroom.

Being room mother should be fun.