Saturday, October 16, 2010

Planes, trains and automobiles.....

Without a car, a trip to IKEA can be a bit daunting. I ventured out with my Bellevue friend, Susan, taking the RER (suburb)train. We were a few stops away from our destination when the driver announced that the train was terminating and that everyone was to get off. As we were making our way to door, the lights went off, the door shut and the train began to move. We were stuck on the 'train to nowhere' and the conducter had no idea we were still aboard. Lord knows where or when it was going to stop. We spent a few minutes laughing at Susan's bad luck since she moved here less than two months ago. (Her son was stuck in an elevator, has been locked out of the apartment, had her iphone stolen, sprained her ankle, numerous necessary items from home never made the shipment,etc.) This just about topped the list. I finally got my nerve up and pulled the alarm. I was half-expecting the train to come to a suddern, violent halt and envisioned myself being taken away by the french police for unlawfully setting the alarm. Thankfully, none of this came to pass. The conducter's voice came over the intercom and I asked him to please let us off at the next stop, which he did. From there we waited for another train to get us to the station closest to IKEA, then we took a bus, and then walked a half mile to our destination. And I used to think 20 min south to Renton, in the comforts of my spacious SUV with seat warmers was a hike. On our way home, we hoped to take a taxi, but couldn't find any out in the 'burbs'. So we did this same journey back but this time lugging a ton of merchandise, including an ironing board and bed frame parts. I'm sure that we looked like the Beverly Hillbillies.

A couple of days later, the kids and I were running late in the morning to get to school. Once our bus finally arrived we quickly hopped aboard. When we were about halfway to the school, our bus was hit from behind by a taxi. We felt the impact but knew the taxi would've taken the brunt of the collision. Of course, the bus driver stopped immediately to check out the damage. I figured both drivers would exchange info and then our packed bus would be on its merry way. Mais, non! As soon as we arrived at the next stop, the bus driver made everyone disembark. I noticed a taxi stopped at a red light, and the kids and I jumped in. They were a few minutes late to school but had a great story to tell about a taxi crashing into our bus!

And don't even get me started on the weekly strikes that have been occurring over the past month because of Sarkozy's proposed retirement age increase from 60 to 62 years. These strikes have crippled the transportation system, including a number of flights within France being cancelled. Getting to and from school dependent on mass transit is particularly challenging. The protesters often march down Blvd. St. Germain, close to the school. The entire area becomes cordonned off and is very difficult to get in or out of.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Of Lice and Mice

had coffee with an American whose daughter is in Audrey's class. We exchanged many pleasantries about life in this fabulous city and then she delved into a not-so-lovely topic--- LICE! Apparently, it is rampant among the children here and is a constant part of life. Her daughter has had multiple infestations just since September. This information was enough to send me and my children on the next plane back to the states.

Why is lice such an ongoing problem in Paris? There are many contributing factors I've seen in this short time here. There is the co-mingling of coats, scarves, hats at school along with the crowded methods of public transportation. Living in such a dense, urban area leads to close contact with everyone's parasites.

And to rid your household of an infestation involves much work and disciple. Daily washing of bedding is required. This alone, is daunting. The European washer/dryers are of much smaller capacity, take 3-4 hrs for a cycle and everything still has to hang dry for hours. It took me all day, from early morning to bedtime to wash and dry one set of sheets. I can't imagine doing this each day for a week. I'm sure that part of the problem here is that people never completely get rid of lice so it continues to return.

On a lighter note, Audrey lost a tooth at school and was visited by the 'tooth mouse' last night, who left her 2 euros. This version of the 'tooth fairy' comes from an 18th century French fairy tale. A mouse changes into a fairy to help a good queen defeat an evil king by hiding under his pillow,and tortures him by knocking out all his teeth. How sweet!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

School Begins!

Jon, the kids and I arrived by metro to their new school. We had to change trains and the commute, while in temp housing, will take 30-40 min. My stomach was a bit queasy as we waited for the doors to open. Obviously, we were 'Les Americains' but were greeted warmly by the staff. To our relief, the teachers and administrators all spoke English, and were very welcoming.

Both children's classrooms looked as if they could be in any school in the states. The children sit two to a desk and our kids were paired up with English-speaking children which put them both at ease. As we left Julian, we noticed that he was surrounded by at least ten very curious students. Audrey sat with an English girl in her 1st grade class, who helped translate the teacher's instructions throughout the day. Her name is Poppy, but the teacher pronounces her name 'puppy' which Audrey thought was hysterical!

With this being a private Catholic school, I expected it to be more formal. The teachers were dressed casually, some even wearing jeans and sneakers. The staff prefers the children to address them by their first names, which I found very surprising. It was such a comfortable environment, and compared to what I had heard about the strict French schools, I felt very relieved. Jon commented on how happy all the children seemed, which I had noticed as well.

After accompanying the children to their classes, Jon and I (along with two ladies from the relocation agency) met with the school director and administrator. The 1st grade trip (6 nights, no parents, on the Brittany coast) was brought up. I explained that I was not comfortable letting my 6 yr old go away for that duration, especially since we just moved here, and the trip is in a few weeks. The Director looked at me and did a 'tsk, tsk'. "We feel very strongly that it is in the best interest of Audrey to attend with her fellow classmates. It would be an excellent way for her to get to know her classmates and it is an important part of their curriculum." The other three ladies (including the relo. people, who are supposed to be on my side) all nodded their heads in agreement and added their two-cents worth as to why my 6 yr. old should be taken away from me for an entire week in a foreign land. Even Jon crossed over to the dark side and was nodding along. (I had to wonder if he was this easily swayed as a teenager.) Instead of screaming 'when hell freezes over', I politely stated that I would consider the trip. This seemed to hold off the mob temporarily.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

1st Grade Trip

The kids will begin their education adventure later this week and will be attending a small Catholic French school. It will be complete immersion for them, though the school has many students who arrive not speaking French. Hopefully, they will pick up the language relatively quickly. As I parent, I know this is an amazing gift (to be bilingual)--I just don't want them to suffer too much early on. I am preparing myself for many challenges and cultural divides along the way. Which brings me to an email I rec'd from the school about my daughter's 1st grade field trip. Not just a trip to the Louvre for the day, but a WEEK-long trip to St. Malo along the Brittany coast. WOW--for a mom whose not big on sleepovers yet, this was a shock! (Parents are not allowed to chaperone.) I forwarded the email to Audrey's 1st grade teacher in the states--could she even imagine? A day trip to the Pacific Science Center downtown Seattle is a big enough adventure for teachers and parents alike. If you couldn't have already guessed, I will politely decline.

Welcome to Paris!

Our adventure in Paris began Friday morning, Jan 29th as we flew into Charles de Gaulle. The weather was not welcoming, though reminiscent of home (Seattle) -- raining but 20 degrees colder. In the taxi line, we waited for a French minivan (a miniature of our home version) and loaded our 8 pieces of luggage and cat. You’d think we were staying for years! Well, two approximately.
Though not a wink of sleep on the transatlantic flight, both kids finally slept on the hour ride to our furnished apartment in the 16th arrondisement. We‘ll live here for the next month until our furniture arrives from the states. The taxi driver had nowhere to park so she stopped in the middle of the street. I couldn’t mouth “desolee” (sorry) enough to the poor drivers behind us with no way around and were forced to wait. We proceeded , in the pouring rain, to unload all of our baggage, dodging numerous dog poo piles on the way to the front entrance. Bienvenue a Paris! (Whose ideas was this anyways?!)
The apt is in an immeuble ancien (100 yr old bldg). Such a surprise to see how modern it was inside with a well-equipped kitchen, two great modern bathrooms, one with a large tub, the other with a shower. I appreciated the two roles of TP kindly left by the property mgmt. since no other paper products or soap, for that matter, could be found. Thankfully, I was armed with a few small bottles of hand sanitizers I had in my carry on.