Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Week of Milestones

It's been over two weeks since the last update. Life has been hectic.

The lease on our cute little apartment in the Bastille was set to run out four days ago, so we were scrambling to find a new place.

On top of all that, there was the whole issue of being marooned in the States for a freakin' month, meaning other than what little I could get done overseas, I had a shit-ton of catching up to do at the office. Which I'm still doing. My work hours are hitting the double-digits every day, I'll most likely be working through the weekend, and - oh yeah - we're still trying to find a place to live.

That said, things are coming along. Alannah and I are starting to get more of a hang of the whole apartment hunting process. The other weekend, we made the crucial step of obtaining a French bank account.

This should be easy because, after all, who doesn't want to hang on to your money as a means for them to make more money? I mean, between all the fees the banks charge, you'd think they'd be letting you open as many accounts as you wish. As a matter of fact, you can open all the accounts you want - if you have an address, and a utility bill to prove it. Neither of which you really have when you're living out of suitcases, not having your own apartment and all. Which, of course, in order to get, you need a bank account.

This vicious circle has been well documented on many a web site, book, and any other source for people wanting to make the leap to Paris. But we found a bank willing to break the cycle, and now I've got an account and a debit card, and for an annual fee deemed ridiculous by American standards, a gold card with a line of credit. Because despite being a jetsetting professional with global responsibilities at an established tech company -- I have no credit.

So getting this bank account, this little tiny shred of everyday life, was like a huge victory. And victories call for celebration. And it just happened to be Alannah's birthday.

"What do you want for your birthday, honey?"

"I want to go to that place we went with the guys that one time and have fruits de mer," she said.

My gal's got expensive tastes. We'd gone to a seafood restaurant on rue Montorgeuil with some friends one night and dug into a big, icy plate of raw seafood, and we'd been dreaming about it ever since.

"Ok, that place was really good... but maybe we could go up to Deauville and get it right out of the ocean," I suggested.

Before I could twist her arm, we were on a train out of Gare St. Lazare up to the northern coast of Normandy.

Deauville is one of those "playground for the rich" type of places. Despite sharing weather patterns with the English, it's considered the Riviera of the north, what with its chi-chi boutiques, beach clubs, and star-studded annual film festival. It's beautiful, peaceful, and tons of conspicuously wealthy people have drinks and overpriced meals on the boardwalk overlooking the beach.

Trouville, just next door and sharing a train station, is like the slightly less attractive sister... who puts out. A bit shabbier (but still charming by all means), it's less expensive, less pretentious, and it's easier to get a table without a reservation.

And so we chose that path, sharing a three-tiered plateau de fruits de mer at a restaurant not just overlooking the beach, but on the beach. We chowed down on ginormous crab, langoustines, prawns, boulots, clams, and a nicely sized whole lobster, washed down with a bottle of rosé. Had I not smelled like a fishing boat and had my fingers not been pruned up from handling all that seafood, I swear, I could've been mistaken for Thurston Howell, feasting on the seashore in my black blazer and sockless loafers. Luckily for me, the wife looks more like Ginger than Mrs. Howell, so despite it being her birthday, I felt like I was the most blessed guy on Earth. For all the stress and misery and not knowing what the immediate future holds, it was so nice just to be on vacation for a day.

The area is famous for its artisan ice creams, so we went and shared a cone of caramel de beurre salée flavor as we walked around town. Now I've had my share of ice cream over the years, and like to think of myself as a bit of a connoisseur, so it amazed even me when I kept thinking, "This is the best... ice cream... ever!" I reluctantly let Alannah finish the cone, but only because it was her day. Or so she thought.

By nightfall, we had to head back to the reality of Paris (how awful that is, I know) as we shared a train cabin with a group who'd just bought bagloads of the region's other specialty: Soft, ripe, stinky cheese. I love the stuff, but it goes without saying that we did not close the cabin door at all on the way home.

We were back to our (new) regular lives, and back to the stress of finding an apartment. One morning last week it got kind of ugly. Stressing that we had only a few days left in our place, I spent the better part of a day looking at rentals and mapping them on Google and trying to figure out how the commute would be. Of course, apartment hunting during weekdays digs into work, even more so when you're behind and trying to hit deadlines. The management, not pleased with this, decided to take matters into their own hands, booking us into a new temporary apartment... of their choice.

The new place is in the 17th arondissement, which is much more residential, somewhat more dull, definitely more expensive, and much more touristed than our old neighborhood in the 11th. Things are more expensive, there are too damn many Americans living around here, and it's really... umm... white. (Except for all the ethnic nannies taking their little caucasian charges out to shop or play.) But in the prime interest of my handlers, it's a total of five minutes on the train from the office. You know, so I can spend more time there.

I dunno - it's not ideal, but I suppose I could get used to this:

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

And All Is Right In the World

I saw the Cure up front on the floor last week.

My belongings have made it to port in the UK.

I'm back in France.

And the icing on the cake: Barack Obama clinched the Democratic nomination for the U.S. presidential race.

"Ok, so you saw one of your all-time favorite bands, all your worldly possessions have safely made their transatlantic journey, and you're in your newly adopted home. You're happier than a pig in shit. Why do you give a damn about who's President in the country you were so keen to abandon?" you may ask...

Good question. I can only stand to benefit from America's continuing downward spiral into the toilet bowl of history. It vindicates my decision to leave. It makes trips home like a third-world shopping spree. And, well, there's always the delightful schadenfreude brought about by years of hubris and hegemonic foreign policy.

But as much as those things do apply, I love America. My family's there. Most of my friends are there. Hell, I still pay some taxes there. So of course I have an interest in who's in charge. I'm not so selfish as to dump all of my interests from the last quarter century just because I bailed to another country. The red-white-and-blue (as ugly and asymmetrical a flag as it is) is in the fabric of my being. I'm as American as I am Iranian or Japanese. If not more so.

So damn right I'm celebrating the fact that there's the possibility - nay, a good chance - that Obama may well be the next president of the United States of America.

Besides, it'll finally bring it all to an end.

As the sole American in my office - and amongst other circles here in Paris - I'm subjected to unending questions. "Why is your president such an idiot?" "Do they purposely breed them that stupid in Texas?" "Why can't that bitch see that she's defeated?" "Did a losing candidate just threaten to obliterate another country?"

All valid questions, of course, but none I want to deal with on a daily basis. And soon, I won't have to. Because we damn well may finally have a president that will restore a bit of dignity, hope, and - dare I say - statesmanship to the office.

Of course, if McCain wins, fuck all y'all.