29 January 2009

Have a Heart

On Wednesday, January 28th, Delaney spent the night with her new friend, Pamela, because a strike was announced and service from the Metro, trains, and any other civil servants would be greatly reduced on Thursday. Gina cancelled her planned trip to Milan at the advice of her French colleagues and decided to work from home instead given the challenges of the commute to Fontenay sous Bois outside the periphery of Paris.

We decided to dine out to celebrate 1) the 9 year anniversary of our first date on January 27th, and 2) the one month anniversary of our arrival in Paris. We strolled through a new section of town looking for a restaurant that would catch our fancy. We wanted Italian food, but most importantly, we wanted ambiance. After 30 minutes of walking in very cold winter weather, we stumbled across Caves Petel on 4 Rue Petel in the 15th. The soft glow of the lighting drew us in. There were less than 15 tables and it was quaint and charming. The host/waiter showed us to a nice table for two and we were surrounded by well dressed, attractive Parisians speaking French. We were the only foreigners in the place.

The menu was written on a chalk board the waiter carried from table to table. Randy forgot his iPhone so we had no source of information for translating the menu. The meals came for the two gentlemen next to us, and we saw they had ordered the same thing. It looked great, like meat with gravy with mashed potatoes on the side. As is customary with a French restaurant, the meals were Prix Fixe. You could choose an Entree and Plat or Plat and Dessert for a set price. Randy chose the former and for his plat, ordered what the gentlemen had - Coeur de Veau. Gina ordered a lamb for her Plat and creme brulee for her dessert - to be shared with Randy. Randy's entree was a fish dish smothered in white sauce that tasted vile. We had no idea what it was. When the plats came, Gina dug into her lamb and Randy dug into his veal. And that's when we realized his veal was - veal hearts! It was so terribly unsettling. He didn't realize it right away and offered Gina a bite. One bite and she knew. OMG! We couldn't believe it.

And so Gina shared her lamb, and we shared the creme brulee, and we vowed never, ever to order anything again without a complete explanation - and disclaimer - about the content. Thank God for the wine and the San Pellegrino. €100 total!

It was a long and cold walk home.

Traveling Under Pressure

Gina has to travel a lot in her new job. So far, she's flown to Madrid for the day on EasyJet and traveled to the Brussels office by Thalys, the high speed train. That last trip was truly a challenge since there is no one to provide any guidance when she sets out at dawn for the airport or the train station. Here's an example of the hazing phase of her job as relayed to Randy via an email from the train:

"Good grief, as Charlie Brown would say. Okay it's not even 8 and I've run the equivalent of a marathon. Getting to Gare du Nord was a piece of cake. Arrived at 7:30. Finding my way to International departures was maddening and took 10 minutes in and of itself. Finding a ticket kiosk another 10. Then my code wouldn't work. That puts me at 7:50. Train leaves at 7:55. I stand in line for help. A nice lady who speaks English prints my ticket, hands it to me, points downstairs to a red train - the Thalys - and tells me RUN!!! So I do, down the steps with my rolling briefcase, past the hordes of people, up to the first conductor standing by an open door to the train. He looks at my ticket, tells me I am at Car 1 and my seat is in Car 6, and then says VITE! VITE! So I run to Car 6. Mind you these rail cars are a half a block long. I arrive at Car 6, stumble into my seat, and now listen to the labored breathing of the man next to me who clearly has emphysema. It sounds like snoring, but he's awake. Will listen to him for the next 90 minutes, and wonder how my day will go from here, and how bad I must smell from sweating."

Gina spends the day with colleagues in Brussels and heads back to the train station at 4pm for the trip home. She struggles to find a kiosk with which to print her return ticket and then learns from the friendly and helpful Eurostar clerk that she was supposed to print both tickets (to and from) in Paris and that it's "too late now". Eighty-six euros later she has a one way ticket from Brussels to Paris.

Live and learn.

28 January 2009

Show Me The Money

If you haven't walked in our shoes, you have no concept of how much we miss American food like maple syrup, root beer, cereal, brownie mix, cake mix, frosting, Manwich Sloppy Joe mix, Campbell's soup, Jif peanut butter, brown sugar, Ocean Spray cranberry sauce, etc. We stumbled across "THE REAL MCCOY" on 194 rue de Grenelle and we thought we'd died and gone to heaven!

We didn't have our shopping cart with us, so Delaney and Gina had Randy type our "wish list" into his iPhone. This was last Saturday so he assured us that on Monday while we were at school and work, he would come back and purchase what we listed. :-)

Well lo and behold he did - to the tune of 92 euros, about twice the expense of our usual grocery store runs. He was flabberghasted by the price, while Delaney and I suggested Monday night that it was all worth every penny. Randy laid down the law and said we'd better make our "special American food" last because we would probably not be returning to THE REAL McCOY anytime soon. ;-)

So there it goes. You all now know the key to our air mattress for guests...bring some authentic American food (best to check in for latest craving) and you will win the hearts and minds of your American hosts. (At least, the hearts and minds of the female American hosts, and we know best where the good shopping is!)

25 January 2009

Driving in Paris

We did it. We successfully moved the car assigned for Gina's use until she orders hers. It's been sitting in her company garage in Fontenay since January 5th. Since we managed to rent a spot in a parking garage three metro stops away (100 euros/month), we decided to venture to Fontenay sous Bois on a quiet Sunday to make the drive back into Paris with less stress. Foolish Harris family. LOL. There is no such thing as "less stress" when one is an unfamiliar car with a standard transmission and a French dashboard, driving in unfamiliar territory - despite having clear instructions from Mapquest.

The car is actually quite nice. From the France motor pool, it's a Renault Megane Scenic. It seats five comfortably with plenty of room in the back for gear. The back can also be turned into two additional seats if needed. It's the lovely blue color as shown in the picture, though the picture doesn't include the dirt on the one we drove home today.

We succeeded at getting into the garage on a Sunday and after looking around a bit, found the car. We got it started and out we went onto the streets of Fontenay sous Bois. First out of the gate, we missed the turn onto A86. That lead us on a circuitous route going in the opposite direction. The saving grace was Randy's iPhone because he has Google Maps which includes a blinking beacon to tell us where we are and we can see where we want to go. Between the two of us, we managed to get back on course and made the complicated left, right, left right all the way to the garage. It was one of the more complicated 40 minute drives we've ever made and sure makes the Metro and the RER look more appealing.

Then there was the challenge of backing the car into the spot in a very confined space. Not wanting to damage the car on the first venture out, Mrs. Harris was exceedingly cautious and eventually made it into the tight spot and off we went.

It may be several weeks before we get behind the wheel again.

Restaurants We Enjoy in Paris

We thought we’d keep a list of restaurants we’ve enjoyed for future reference on this blog. We can use it for recommendations when friends come to visit (hint, hint).

No particular order other than when we’ve eaten there and had time to post the information.

Le Pamphlet
38 rue Debelleyme
75003, Paris
01 42 72 39 24

The Marais district

22 January 2009

Les Petits Chiens - Tucker and Scout

Tucker and Scout are slowly but surely getting used to living in Paris. They're a bit suspect about the new living arrangements, and are not particularly keen about wearing collars and leashes to be walked around the streets of Paris. They find it undignified.

For the longest time, they have had the run of the backyard. We'd just open the back door, and out they'd go. Now, they must ride an elevator down five stories to reach fresh air. Once there, they are confronted with bitter cold, rain, snow, ice, wind, and the like. To their credit, neither has had a single accident inside since we moved here on December 28th. That's a record for each of them!

Tucker, in particular, would prefer a sunnier climate and is unsure why we've landed somewhere so utterly cold. Scout is a good sport. She's up for a walk most of the time, though she too finds the bit about putting a collar on barbaric. They ride the metro, but they're wary of the "gap". For that part, they freeze in place until we scoop them up and hold them. The are welcome in the bakeries, the stores, the restaurants, etc. which they quite like. When they spot some grass, near L'Ecole Militaire or Place de Breteuil, they are ecstatic.

They spend their time in confinement, while we're away without them, together in a large size crate filled with plush blankets and lovely stuffed toys. They are living the good life and we're quite sure, in spite of the move, they're counting their lucky stars that they landed at Chez Harris.

Photo of the Day

Here is an example of taking a boring image with gray sky and turning into something else. Like it or not, it's completely different from the original.

The second image was converted in Photoshop CS4 into black and white and then using NIK's Color Effect Pro 3.0 Film Grain plug-in I added more grain to the image to make it appear older. Lastly, I used a FotoFrame Pro 3.1 to add the frame and texture to the photo.

21 January 2009

Photos of the Day

Today I ventured out, while Delaney was at school and Gina flew to Madrid for a meeting, to start photographing the many wonderful scenes Paris has to offer. I picked the area around the Trocadero figuring there would be photo ops with the Tour Eiffel in the background. Below are a few I came up with.

The Tower Behind Nikon D300, ISO 400, f/2.8, 1/800, WB Auto
Lens 70-200, with Monopod

A Watchful EyeNikon D300, ISO 400, f/4.5, 1/250, WB Auto
Lens 70-200, with Monopod
Guarding the Tower Eiffel Nikon D300, ISO 400, f/4.5, 1/1000, WB Auto
Lens 70-200, with Monopod

20 January 2009

Photo of the Day

Eiffel Tower
This image of the Tour Eiffel was taken around noon and under bad lighting conditions. The sun was shining brightly on my left. I thought I'd try and take advantage of the lighting conditions and let the sun glare enter the frame (bottom left area). I liked the color, but thought I could do more with the image. In photoshop I converted it into a black and white and then selectively blurred parts of the image.
Nikon D300, ISO 400, f/ 4.0, 1/5000, WB Auto

19 January 2009

Chez Harris, Notre Maison

Now that we're nearly all settled, we thought we'd share photos of our modest three bedroom, one bath apartment. It's quite an adjustment going from a four bedroom, four bath, three level house to our new home. The nice thing about its small and cozy size is that we're near each other all the time.

Looking out the living room window at the apartments and statue below.

From the living room looking towards the dining room.

From the dining room looking towards the living room.

More of the living room. We have three non-working fireplaces in the apartment.

Our dining room.

The living room, again.

Our small, but efficient kitchen.

Delaney's bedroom. She has a little bit of space.

The entry way with very tall double doors.

Another view of the entry way.

The master bedroom. Notice all the IKEA closets to the right of the bed. This room had no closets so we had to plan ahead and shipped the closets ahead of time. The mirrored doors give the room a bigger feel, but it's tight quarters.

Our office. This is the last room that needs to get organized.

18 January 2009

The Count of Monte Cristo and our Cave

Remember in the movie when Edmond Dantes is falsely accused of being a spy and wrongfully imprisoned to the island of the Chateau d’lf? Do you remember how dark, dingy and gloomy the dungeon was? Well, that pretty well sums up the look and feel of our cave, pronounced "caaaahve" in French. We were fortunate our apartment came with one. It's essentially a storage room located deep below our ancient building. We didn’t get a chance to see the cave before we moved to Paris, so we (Randy) gambled and over packed thinking we’d have room for our (Randy's) overabundant supply of toys. There was no way that I was going to go to Paris for a three to five year stint and not take my golf clubs, snow skies, snow board, fly-fishing gear, mountain climbing gear, bikes, bike rack, camping gear, extra photography equipment, and a few extra clothes. Much to our delight, the cave was large enough to hold all our extra stuff with room to spare. So if I don’t return to Seattle at the end of our assignment, and Gina says she doesn’t know what happened to me, please check the cave for my remains.
On the way down to the dark and dusty Cave.

Notice the dirt floor.

This one is ours.

Our stuff with room to spare.

And We Were All So Worried About Her

It's official. Delaney is now a Parisian. She successfully completed week two at her new school - Ecole Active Bilingue Jeannine Manuel - and has made many new friends. This weekend she spent Friday evening at Pamela's house off of Suffren with a few other friends. They did what 13 year-old girls do. They ate, they painted their nails, they wrote on Facebook and they talked about boys. On Saturday, after finishing her chores, she and her friends rode the metro to Galeries Lafayette, a posh department store where the annual January sales proved too hard to resist. Delaney, who is as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside, is doing homework in French and adjusting to her new world better than anyone expected. She is a joy to live with and an inspiration to us all. She is getting around independently on the Metro, and feeling more confident everyday about the logistics of her daily commute to school, how to get to and from her friends' houses, and how to go just about anywhere in the city if she knows the nearest Metro stop. She is getting to know the local merchants - especially those at the Boulangeries and the Pattisseries. She's on a quest to find the best pain au chocolat, but is willing to give any dessert a try.

This afternoon we decided to venture out to dinner and a movie at Bercy Village, a locale recommended to us by one of Gina's co-workers. It's a quaint little place that has shops, restaurants and a large, modern movie plex. It took us all of 15 minutes to get there by Metro. Once there, we strolled through the shops, ate dinner in a quaint French restaurant and then saw Slumdog Millionaire (what a great movie) in a nice theatre with comfortable seats and a wide screen. The meal was great and the movie was excellent. (Note: We thought it was bad to pay $9 per ticket back in Seattle. Here we paid 10 euro, which is about $13.35 each.) Bercy Village was decorated for the holidays - as shown in this photo. We are looking forward to taking our visitors there so they can experience it too. Delaney likened it to Leavenworth, but without the Bavarian theme.

Tomorrow morning Randy and I go to the Préfecture for our Cartes de Séjour - French residency and work permits. We have a stack of documents to bring to prove our worthiness. Fingers crossed we meet their expectations and requirements.

14 January 2009

Photos of the Day

An art galley in the Montmartre area.

A true artist painting at an open air market in the Montmartre area of Paris. His work and the work of the other artists were truly amazing.

12 January 2009

Americans in Paris

Well we've made more progress since our last post. Randy has gone on many a clandestine trip throughout Paris in the dark of night dropping off our more than 30 Hefty garbage sacks full of packing materials. He actually shred the packing boxes up and squished them into little bags. Then he scoured the city looking for public garbage bins alongside which he can leave a gift from Chez Harris. We now have only furniture and enough clothes for 10 people. Americans have too many clothes. We will not need to buy clothes for a long, long time. Sad, given we're in the fashion capital of the world.

We have a great need for an interpreter. Everywhere we go, we ask with high hopes, "Parlez-vous Anglais?" Generally, the answer is "Un peu" and they're not kidding. We're all for acclimating to our surroundings, blooming where we're planted, and so forth, but when you're dealing with electronics and cell phone plans that could end up costing more than our exhorbitantly high rent, we want to know what the heck the fine print says. Our first foray into this was Randy buying the new G3 iPhone. It doesn't work, but because we bought it from DARTY and not Orange, the carrier, they have no pity. Anyone seen Randy cranky and mad about not having contact with the outside world? It's not pretty. I hope we don't make it on CNN after he loses it in the DARTY customer service line.

Gina has a hideously long commute by Metro and train that's like a scene out of "Metropolis", the 1926 film noir classic. Like drones, the people schlep draped in shades of charcoal and soot heading briskly from subway to stairway to hallway to train, filing in and out without expression or acknowledgement that they are alive. Depressing is not adequate to describe how sad her commute is. A 15-minute commute from home to attached garage to luxury car to a parking lot next to the building has been replaced with leaving a cozy and warm apartment into frigid and icy cold temperatures in the teens on a three block walk in pitch dark to the Metro station. It takes her over an hour doorstop to doorstop; she leaves in the dark and she returns in the dark. She has a company car waiting for her in the company garage, but we have nowhere to park it. We're searching for a parking space nearby that we can rent. Once we secure it, we'll each brave the roads in Paris and play "chicken" with all of the other drivers.

Delaney's first week in school went amazingly well. She looked like a weary and frightened soldier on the Bataan "Death March" as she entered the school grounds last Monday. Fortunately, she was greeted by Gabrielle, a 13 year-old student who moved to Paris from Queen Anne Hill in Seattle! Gabrielle, Pamela, Leia and a few other girls have taken Delaney under their wings and made her feel welcome and at ease. In fact, the Friday of her first week they all went to see the movie TWILIGHT in the Saint-Germain des Pres neighborhood. We met her at the Odeon metro station when the movie was over at 10PM. She's a bit wary of the teachers and their shrill demands that everyone pay attention and take school seriously, but all in all, she's acclimating better than we could have hoped. Now we pray she'll quickly learn enough French to explain our cell plans to us!

We have received around five emails from parents at school welcoming us into the community and the equivalent of the PTA. They organize art walks, cocktail receptions, chocolate walks and myriad other social events to bring the parents together into the community of the school. They come from all over the globe, though most who have reached out to us are from either the US or the UK. Perhaps it's because they're most comfortable with English. We haven't taken advantage of any of the social events yet because we're still getting settled, but we plan to venture out soon.
Saturday evening we enjoyed dinner with our dear friends Lori Preston and Jim Duffy, and their 15 year-old daughter McKenna. Gina and Lori were college roommates at the University of Washington. Lori and Jim have been our lifelines. About 7 years ago, they packed up their son Quinn and their daughter McKenna, 11 and 8 at the time, and moved from Oakland to Paris. They wanted to expose their children to another culture and during the course of their two year stay in Paris, they purchased 4 apartments which they rent out for short and long stays. http://www.ourparisapartments.com/ Lori and Jim recommended Delaney's school to us (Ecole Bilingue Active Jeannine Manuel), the neighborhood in which to look for an apartment, and have helped us tremendously in our transition. They're in town for a couple of weeks so we spent time at their place on 3 General Castenau enjoying a delicious meal prepared by Jim and enjoying some fine French wine.

Sunday afternoon we were invited to tea by a charming couple we met on the plane over. Alan is a retired surgeon and Ewa (pronounced "Evva") is a classical pianist. They fell in love with the dogs - which they call "the babies" - so they gave us their contact info and encouraged us to keep in touch. When we wrote them to describe the cake walk through customs, they invited us to join them for tea. Alan sent me an email earlier in the day on Sunday saying he'd been told to ask me to "bring the babies". We put les petite chiens in their red coats with their red and white bell laden Christmas collars and headed over to the Marais district. It is without a doubt one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in Paris. We knew we should have dressed up, but we didn't. And they opened the door to the most stunning apartment. It was elegant, but playful, decorated in hot pink, bright yellow, red, purple and white with velvet and taffeta and crystal chandeliers an and sconces. Ewa was dressed to the nines! They invited their neighbors over and the woman was from NYC and had lived in Paris for 40 years, staying when she met Serge, her French husband. Their children went to EABJM where Delaney is going, so they were eager to tell her how fortunate she is to attend such a fine school. We had tea sandwiches of cucumber, salmon and chevre, cream puffs and bright colored Laduree macarons. It was like a scene from a movie. They were warm and friendly, well read and full of joie de vive and so very eager to make us all feel at home in our new city.

Saturdays are full of markets. Nearly every neighborhood has a market akin to the Pike Place Market. Fresh fruit and produce, meat and fish, rabbits still in their fur ;-( , breads and pastries, cheeses and olives, textiles and rugs, pots and pans and wine - it's all for sale.

This last Saturday we broke down and purchased our first portable grocery cart. It's a must here because you are generally expected to bring your own bags to the stores. If you don't, they'll sell you the flimsiest, weakest bags for .03 euros. The French are extremely conscious of the environment. They put Americans and Seattlelites to shame.

Sundays are a challenge in Paris. You can find fresh flowers as all of the florists are open. You can find patisseries as the French need their bread and tarts and desserts. You must however, look high and low for an open grocery store. We've learned we must plan ahead.

03 January 2009

Electrical Woes :-(

We've now been in Paris a week and we're still not sure what electrical gadgets will work on the Parisian 220 volt system compared to the US 110 volt system.

It seems that with just a plug in adapter, our laptops and iPod chargers will work fine. However, when I plugged in my DeWalt cordless drill battery recharger smoke quickly rose from within the casing.

So far we've toasted:

1. DeWalt cordless drill battery recharger ( badly needed to build endless supply of IKEA furniture).
2. Brand new electric cork screw (sorry Rick, we never got to use it).
3. Delaney's computer speakers.
4. Delaney's one year old Dell Inspiron 530s desktop computer. I hope I only fried the power supply and not the entire computer. We looked in a large computer store in Paris for a power supply replacement, but couldn't find one. I think we'll have to order it from Dell.com. I now have discovered the nice switch on the back of the desktops to switch to the French power supply. Sorry about that Delaney. Our desktops are spared - yours, not so much.

We need to do some more research online before we plug in more gadgets (e.g., printers, scanners, speakers, Nintendo Wii, etc.). Otherwise, this Paris adventure is going to get even more expensive. Ce ne'est pas possible!

Today we went for a long walk with the dogs. Most stores are closed on Sundays. Luckily for us, the bakeries and the restaurants are open. We bought sweets for dessert and stopped for cafe au lait & chocolat chaud. We had to sit outside because the dogs were with us, but the heaters were on so we were comfortable and content. Today was also the first day the dogs rode the metro. Tucker's eyes about popped out of his head. We only rode one stop to get home. We cannot imagine what he would have done if we would have crossed town. He'll get used to it. Scout - the low maintenance dog - was just fine. Of course, halfway through the walk each protested about the cold so they rode in our arms and nestled in our coats for the last half of the adventure.

02 January 2009

New Year's Eve In Paris

Delaney, Gina and Randy spent New Year's Eve in the central district of Paris walking up and down the Champs Elysees along with about 100,000 other people. It was amazing to see so many people out to celebrate the new year. At 11:15, we walked over to the Pont de Alma crossing the Seine River to watch the traditional fireworks shoot off the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately, due to budget constraints, fireworks were cancelled this year. I did however take some interesting photos of the evening.
Delaney and Gina standing on the Champs Elysees.

The ferris wheel near the end of the Champs Elysees, but before the Louvre.

Some of the 100,000+ people who came out to welcome 2009 on the Champs Elysees.

The Arc de Triomphe all lit up on New Year's Eve.

The Eiffel Tower just before midnight on New Year's Eve. As we entered 2009, the blue lights were no longer used. They were used for the last six months of 2008 while France's President Sarkozy served as President of the European Union.

All images shot with Nikon D300.

We made it to Paris!

A lot has happened since our last post. We planned to update the site regularly, but we’ve been so consumed settling in that this is the first opportunity we’ve had. Forgive us the long post as we recap our first week.

We left Bellevue the morning of December 27 as the week's accumulation of snow was quickly melting. We arrived at the Air France counter with 8 suitcases, 4 carry-on’s and 2 dogs in stroller crates. We we’re flying Business Class courtesy of Gina’s company and didn’t have any issues checking in. We did have to pay extra for 2 of the suitcases. We flew through security without incident and headed for the Air France / Northwest lounge to kill two hours. Since the dogs weren’t allowed in the lounge, Delaney volunteered to sit outside the lounge with them for the price of a burger, fries and a coke. The deal was sealed!

After less than an hour delay, we boarded and were airborne. It felt strange leaving without a planned date of return like we would normally have for vacation travel. Our dogs, Tucker and Scout, did amazingly well on the flight. At the recommendation of our vet, we gave each a mild sedative to help them cope the chaos and the 10+ hours of confinement inside their roller crates (we weren’t allowed to take them out for the duration of the flight). It was difficult to look into their sad, brown eyes. A nice woman seated across from Gina bent down to get a closer look through the mesh and commented on the dogs. Before long Gina, the woman and her husband were best of friends. They gave us their Paris contact information and offered to help us with anything we needed once we got settled. In fact, they’ve already invited us to tea next Sunday.

Upon arrival, we quickly went through customs. We had all the required paperwork ready to present regarding for bringing the dogs into France, but no one ever asked to see it! The passport control agent stamped our passports and waved us through. After gathering our luggage, we headed through the customs area where 7-10 agents were milling about talking to each other. Not one of them stopped us to ask for anything, in spite of the fact that we clearly had two dogs with us. Amazing! We were relieved to get through without incident, but chagrined about all of the running around we did to get papers signed, vaccinations, International RFID chips, etc. We were concerned about fitting the three of us, the dogs and the baggage into one cab since European taxis tend to be small. Fortunately, a friendly French taxi driver offered to get a large van. Within minutes, we were on our way to our new home at a cost of only 80 euros.

Our building lift (elevator) is very small. It holds a maximum of three lean people and that’s with all of them standing back to chest to chest. Gina and Delaney went up to peek inside the apartment. I stayed in the lobby with the 14 pieces of luggage. We soon devised a plan whereby I’d stuff the lift as full as I could get it, hit the fifth floor button, and send it up to them. They would unload it, and push the lobby button sending it back to me. After about a half an hour of this routine, we had all our belongings in our apartment. It looked like a sea of boxes. There were boxes everywhere, boxes stacked five high in some areas and boxes leaning against walls. We had to move boxes to get to boxes. Within three minutes of arriving, Gina said, “Okay, let’s get going and get the beds made up”. Fortunately, we had arranged with the moving company to try to put marked boxes in certain rooms and they did a pretty good job.

After a few hours, we had our bed set up, but couldn’t get Delaney’s done because there were no bed slats to hold the mattress in place. (Off to the Bricorama (like an old Ace Hardware store) for lumber…) Our biggest headache is the abundance of paper used to wrap things and moving boxes. We stuffed the wrapping paper in large, plastic garbage bags we were wise enough to ship, and I cut up the boxes to deal with later. The community garbage area is nothing like an apartment building back in the states. All the cans are small and there are only a couple for garbage, glass recycling and paper and cardboard. We’re hoping the moving company will come back to pick up all the cardboard and bags.

So far our days have started out like this: wake up late (from jet lag and sheer exhaustion), put together IKEA furniture, organize and put our things away, all while drawing straws to see who takes the dogs out for a walk to do their business. For some part of each day, we take time to go exploring and the easiest way to do so is via Paris’s phenomenal RATP mass transit system. There is a Metro (subway) station less than a block away. We look on the color coded map to find where we want to go and jump on the next train, move along to a few stations, jump off, walk to the connecting train, and move along to our final destination. It may sound hard or time consuming, but it’s easy to figure out and the longest we’ve had to wait for a subway trains has been four minutes! Yesterday we bought monthly passes for January that will allow us to ride the busses and the metro anywhere we want with very little effort.

The Metro is not only easy to use and economical; it provides a great opportunity for people watching. It’s interesting to watch people’s faces and listen to them speak. They speak a cacophony of languages - French, Italian, Arabic, Spanish, English and more. They seem to come from all walks of life. We’ve seen both extremely poor and the well-to-do. Some read the news paper and others listen to their iPods. The ones that really catch my eye and make me wonder are those with blank looks on their faces. I wonder if it’s because they’re poor and live a difficult life, or if the enormous size of Paris has run them down, or if it’s because they’re not happy with their life and riding the Metro is just one of the many mundane and repetitive things they do each day. We’ve seen a few homeless people down in the Metro stations begging for money. The hardest one to walk by was the one where we could see a knit hat sticking out from under a blanket that was wrapped around her body. Her face was hidden as she was looking down at the ground. As we got closer, we noticed a much smaller knit hat covered head sticking out also enclosed in the blanket. It appeared that a mother and her small child were sitting on the cold cement ground, two heads and bodies wrapped in a blanket with a small white cardboard cup sitting a few inches in front of them. As we walked by, it struck me that this was probably the only life that the two of them will ever see. It was very sad and I still regret not stopping and helping out. This shot of the Eiffel Tower was taken the second night we were here. I had to walk just one block from our apartment to set up the camera.

The other day we exited a Metro station in a busy part of town and it was half snowing and half raining, a Parisian police car’s siren was wailing in the distance and Gina and I both commented we felt we were all part of a Boerne Identity movie. It felt like we were watching a movie and we were part of it.

Some of our First Impressions of Paris are:

The people are very friendly. We’ve had to ask for directions, instructions for obtaining our Metro passes, ordering food, and they even make nice comments about our dogs. We have not had one encounter with a rude French person.

Things are very expensive here. For example, a tall Starbucks cappuccino costs 4,70 Euros which converts to $6.60. A coke in a restaurant costs 5,10 Euros which translates to $7.10 for a can of Coke. Gina went out to buy a hair dryer she saw in a pharmacy window. Not thinking twice, she said she’d take it. It rang up at 75 euros. That is close to $103—for a hair dryer!!! Needless to say, we’re on a budget and eating in whenever possible.

Love is in the air. There are older couples walking everywhere. Nearly everywhere you look you can see two older couples arm in arm, looking in love.

I’ve never seen so many fur coats. You see fur coats on the wealthy looking and fur coats on the people who appear to be living a hard life. It’s been cold the first five days. The low has been about 22 and the high around 33. I think the people of Paris are used to colder weather, much colder than the Seattle region and they are prepared for it. We’re used to going from the house to the car to work. We spent little time outside back home. Now we’re out in the weather from the time we leave until we return and IT IS COLD!

As our friend Michele Kosher forewarned – there is dog poo everywhere! We are likely the only dog owners in Paris who clean up after our petite chiens. The rest just leave it without thinking twice.

When people come to France and apply for a Long Term Resident visa, they are required to undergo a medical exam within 10 days of their arrival. The relocation company we used set up a medical appointment for us in a southern suburb of Paris. We weren’t sure how to find it, but we had an address, looked on the Metro map and off we went. We thought we’d each have an appointment with a doctor, they’d go through the routine, and we’d be on our way. When we arrived at the address about 15 minutes early, we were very surprised to see over a dozen people standing inside the office building lobby waiting for the doors to be unlocked from the lunch time break. They were all there for the same reason. Somehow, when the doors finally opened at 13:00 hours, Gina and I got close to the front of the line. We presented our formal letter of invitation and our passports and were ushered into a waiting room. After everyone was checked in, we were ushered into another waiting room. They called out Monsieur and Madame Harris first. We were taken back to a small room with an elderly woman who didn’t speak English. She began waving her arms at me to exit the room. She told Gina to take off her coat and shoes – in French – and grew frustrated when Gina didn’t understand her. She began gesturing angrily and then motioned Gina to the scale and to the meter marker on the wall. She called for me and Gina clued me on what to do. The nurse weighed and measured me and then handed each of us a small, unmarked plastic cup and pointed to a bathroom stall. When we handed her our cups, she didn’t put our names on them, she didn’t enclose them, and I’m not sure what happened to them. A woman from the next room came and got us to do our eye exams and take some blood. From there we were ushered into small changing booths and told to undress to our pants. They would be performing a chest x-ray on each of us in search of tuberculosis. Independently, we were called into an x-ray room and told to press our chests against a cold white board with markings on it. The x-ray equipment was ancient. From there we got dressed, waited some more and finally each of us were called into another room where an English speaking doctor listened to our hearts and lungs with a stethoscope and went over our results. Gina didn’t have it so lucky. Her male doctor had her sit there with her blouse removed during their entire discussion. Kind of weird. At least we passed our exams.