Monday, November 7, 2016

You had me at "Bonjour!"

When I first moved to the USA, I was blasted by the sense that I was in my own feature film. My movie moments tended to be borrowed from those epic westerns with yellow grasses and rolling hills blending into majestic mountains.

This October morning, in Paris, I am having another movie moment. This time with a different genre. I'm sitting looking out through a fifth story window into a rustic courtyard (to describe it kindly). It looks like something from the set of Les Miserables, with broken shutters on dirty windows and peeling paint. The cobbles below glisten with a variety of colors from rosy-beige to slate-grey. It's all a tad "down in the heel" until from somewhere across the courtyard wafts piano music.

Someone is playing a piano and playing it well, with beautiful heart-rending music, the soundtrack to a moody romantic film noir set in Europe any time onwards from the early 19th century. As I lean my elbows on the balcony absorbing the moment, I know that we've made the right decision about Paris - the only decision about Paris... and I also realize it's time to start blogging again...

One day in May, a few days after we'd finished all our travel adventures, My Husband was on the hunt for a job. I came home from working with a gardening client. My Husband met me at the front door and said in horrendous French, "Bonjour, parlez vous Francais?"

In a split second I knew it meant he'd had word from a former boss, now working in Paris, and that there was a chance of a job there. In the next couple of seconds we decided... It wasn't hard and the answer was obvious - Yesssss!

Paris was closer to home without the Irish climate and ... well ...Paris ...I mean...Paris...right?

For the next six weeks, we kept quiet about the job for a few reasons. There was no point in raising hope for my family in Ireland that we might be moving closer to home. There was the superstition that we could scupper the job completely just by talking about it. Then there was California... we felt like we were unfaithful lovers ending a long relationship just by thinking about the seductive other place - glamorous, romantic Paris!

I mean, it wasn't California's fault. It was us who had changed, not it. I who had longed for sunshine in the grey Irish climate, now lusted after four seasons. I wanted to see Autumn and Spring at different times of the year - in California they both seemed to arrive in November and give way to summer again in a few short weeks. I wanted to shrink the place, so that you could get somewhere, anywhere, different in a drive that was less than 4 hours. I wanted less adrenaline and more quaint old buildings and culture, more chilling in street cafes with my sister, and great cuisine, and time with my nephews. I wanted less suburbia, less time driving around in a car and more walking along city streets. Less time weeding and more time perusing veggies at a market and selecting cheeses and... oh my God...I realized that perhaps in the eight years we'd been in California, I'd grown up a little bit and wanted different things. I'd changed ... sorry California, all that gallivanting at the beginning of the year had squeezed a wedge between us. California felt very far from the rest of the world, and suddenly Paris felt like the center of the Universe.

Time accordioned during those six weeks in the summer. Sometimes it crawled by so slowly that we felt like a month had passed in one afternoon as we waited to hear news back from Paris. Then time sprinted forward as we took a secret trip to Paris in July, only the people at the interview knowing we were there. Not even our family or neighbors knew we'd gone and a couple of sets of close friends ironically popped up in Paris while we visited (one from Ireland for the weekend and a couple from California on vacation to Europe) - thank goodness for Facebook check-ins - we knew where to avoid them.

We were so thrilled on the plane, using our terrible French on everyone we met. The flight attendant gave us champagne (for free) - It was a sign!

We stayed in the 9th Arrondissment, near the Trinity Church, in an AirBnB studio apartment. I was so excited just to be in Paris, with its beautiful buildings, the melodic language, the bridges...
the sculptures...
 Even MacDonald's was cute...
The city had a vibe that reminded me of how I felt as an 18 year-old living in the heart of Belfast when I first went to Queen's University, with an energy that whispered of good times shunning boredom with lots of different things to see and do. It was my first time in Paris, and I totally fell in love - sorry California - the heart wants what the heart wants!

On the morning of the interview, we sat in our accommodation,  rinsing the dregs of jet lag from our bodies with coffee, when an alarm sounded in the building next to us. We poked our heads out our door and saw that they were evacuating people onto the street. We choose not to see this as a sign, but we decided to evacuate too, after I made My Husband go back inside and grab his good shoes and his suit! Fortunately, it was a false alarm and we all went back inside in a matter of minutes.

While my husband went to his interview, I went to the beautiful Trinity Church and lit candles. The rest of the week (bar one more meeting for My Husband with HR) was ours to explore the city. We walked everywhere and at all times of day and night wanting to see the Eiffel tower...
in all its moods...
 with the lights on too...
From atop the Lafayette Galleries...
And from the Scare Coeur...
I loved the gargoyles up there too.

We ticked off the major sights, fearful that My Husband would not get the job, and we'd never be back here.

There was the Moulin Rouge...
And my personal favorite - The Notre Dame Cathedral...

The streets hummed with people. Everyone me met was friendly and kind, contrary to what we'd been told about Parisians. We laughed at how we'd begin with our mangled "Bonjour," and immediately the French would switch to English. I mean, how could we get our "Bonjour" so wrong that it gave us away so quickly?

By the time I left Paris I wanted to live here so badly that it took my breath away. I couldn't sleep, couldn't concentrate on anything and tried to tell myself that if we didn't get this opportunity that we still lived a great life in California...

It was fast really, but to us it seemed to take forever to hear back from the Paris Company. Positive snippets of news about the interview, the job, the contract came back to us piece by piece from Paris in precious little droplets of information until eventually we had a puddle of confidence big enough to break the news - My Husband had a new job, and we were moving to Paris!

We had just invited a huge suite of new challenges into our lives such as living in a big city, in a smaller space with no car, moving to a colder climate, having to keep up with the style, feeding My Husband who hates cheese, creamy food and strong tasting meat like beef and lamb, and most of all communicating in French...

It was the beginning of a whole new world of adventure. And we were ready for it...we hoped!

Byddi Lee


  1. Greetings from foggy, damp San Jose! It's green again! Have fun.

  2. I've been keeping tabs on that and am delighted for you guys. The gardens will love it!

  3. Sounds amazing Byddi! I think you need to go into teaching English for a while - I'm loving your turn of phrase.

    1. Awe thank you! Actually, I did look into that but 15 years teaching science was not good enough - they wanted experience in teaching languages... in the meantime I have a trilogy to finish!

  4. Yay! So on you went on your new adventure. Get some silk undergarments and enjoy, enjoy, explore, thrive, enjoy! xoxo

  5. Byddi, a lovely, well told story from an adventurous heart! So wonderful that You were graced with your dream. Enjoy all of these moments of your life!

  6. Love luv luff the tales of your journey and this time i needn't leave the comforts of my bed or change my clothing on this rainy day! I love the pictures (visual & verbal) and am inspired by it all; the unfolding adventure, the worries (so its not just me!), the excitement, and the hilarious tricks of the Universe which we can laugh at after the fact :) Miigwech again for the sharing!

    1. Thank you! And believe me the Universe has a great sense of humor. Your comment means a lot. Miigwech to you too xo