Introduction and Meudon

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October 4th 2010
Published: October 4th 2010
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Gotta love this neighborhood!!
I am starting this travel blog because I've been a few places--not many, but a few--long enough to sort of absorb their essence, sort of. Every place I've been, I've experienced different things. Each place has a different feeling, and I never want to forget what those feelings are. This is no expert's blog, no travel guru's adventures, but the adventures of an Average Josephina who has spent the last ten months of her life living in Europe and feels compelled to self-indulgance and to let her friends and loved ones at home know a little bit about what it's like to be here, doing it and seeing it for more than just one vacation's worth.

I'm not especially talented to be here. It kind of fell into my life. I look at the fact that I've been living abroad for as long as I have as a sort of mixture of being very blessed, very lucky, and tapping into whatever force is directing my life. I just listen really well to my gut and what it says. Right now, I am addicted to this, and just want to use whatever means necessary to be here for as long
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Autumn ivy.
as I possibly can. And believe you me, my means are meager and rely heavily on handouts from generous friends and family members. If I had not been born where I was and been lucky enough to know the people that I know, I wouldn't be here right now. I know this, and I am thankful every day for it.

Not that I haven't done my fair share of suffering, too. I don't think that many people I know know what it's like to not be able to afford necessities. I know I didn't. It is difficult to learn to be poor, but it isn't necessarily a sad thing to do so. It's just a reajustment. It makes me realize how lucky I've been to have had all essentials and non-essentials provided to me in my life before now. The hardest thing was the laundry. I had never had to worry about being able to afford to do laundry before. Suddenly, I couldn't do it anymore. I learned very quickly the best techniques for handwashing clothing, and I had to do that for months, with dishwashing fluid. You have no idea what it feels like to wear clothes washed
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Pretty hill.
with dishwashing fluid. It chafes. It's like wearing heavily starched canvas material. It also, if you aren't careful to rinse very thoroughly, creates rashes in places you don't want rashes. I could have dealt much more easily with the limited food (bread, butter, coffee, and some turkey slices if i was lucky) or the lack of TV, fan/ac, and internet if I had just been able to do my laundry.

My skincare routine also suffered. I applied lotion every day of my life before I ran out in Paris last summer. I quickly learned that you had to choose in the grocery store between expensive, sweet-smelling lotion and godawful-smelling cheap crap that didn't work. I couldn't afford either, and the dishwashing fluid I also used to shower with (it was the one thing that the family I nannied for would provide me with) was very, very drying. Once in a while, I would get so desperate that I would head to the grocery store and "sample" the bottles there, a practice I would have felt much more guilty about had I not seen other people doing the same thing. France isn't exactly known for its hygiene.

This was the past, though. Right now, I am not in Paris, but in Meudon. It's kind of a suburbs of Paris. It's where my boyfriend's new apartment is. And thank GOD I am here, because I am so sick of Paris that I could puke.

Staying here with him rather than in Paris is like the difference between health and sickness, stale pollution and fresh air. Paris smells like Chanel and cigarettes, a smell I used to find so enchanting. In Meudon, it just smells clean and healthy. It smells like trees and life. I woke up this morning to the sun streaming through the albeit cloudy and rainy skies into the window of my boyfriend's apartment (I'm staying with him for a week before my job starts, something that actually wasn't planned but I'll get to that). The view from the window is priceless. His window looks out from the second (and highest) floor of the building onto an overgrown and lovely garden, rife with snails and crabapple trees and butterflies and lizards. This lovely garden is surrounded by the red slate roofs of houses, all, like his, a maximum of two stories tall, many with walls completely covered
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The house with the window in the chimney!!!
in ivy with no apparent attempt by the owners to remove it (like we would in the U.S.--it does, after all, make cracks in the walls, but here, they just let it be). The rooftops are not ordered in a grid like in the U.S., nor are the houses even facing in the same general direction. They are completely random, scattered haphazardly in every direction and of every age. It's as though the french people who built them just sort of let them do what they wanted to do, just began laying the first bricks and let them follow whatever pattern they chose. The majority of the houses are made of stone or brick here, usually in random colors and sizes and sometimes with exposed wood framework. These houses are lawless--they seem to conform to no rules of propriety or construction. Yesterday, Eric and I saw a house with a large, flat chimney that had several WINDOWS in it. WINDOWS. How is that even possible?!

In France, it is.

Yesterday, Eric and I went out to explore his new hometown. He only moved here just last week, so everything was almost as new to him as it was
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My future place of residence. In a perfect world.
to me. For my part, I had been to Meudon several times last fall to visit the musee Rodin here (yes, there are two), and I automatically fell in love with it at first sight. The first thing that I saw was a little old man on a bike with a basket in front with several large baguettes sticking out. When I realised that there were no stoplights or crosswalks here, and that the people just LET YOU CROSS THE STREET TO BE NICE, I knew this place was nothing short of magic. I've only been here for two full days, and already I've seen two young men around my and Rick's age that walked past an old lady and they stopped and gave her cheek kisses like old lost friends and talked at length with her. I think it's THAT kind of neighborhood here. When we asked the lady at the Boulangerie (bread shop) where we could find a grocery store open on a Sunday and she gave us directions to Monoprix (before telling us that it was probably closed by now) and we walked the 30 mins or so up the hilly streets to find out before walking back down to buy bread about two hours later, she remembered us and immediately asked us, "Was it closed???" before giving us a warm smile and saying "see you later!!"

The sheer natural beauty of this town is what gets us, though, I think. It is just GORGEOUS here. Rick compares it to Switzerland (because of the hills) and I think it looks like London (because of the baskets of fresh flowers on the street corners and the healthy glow of it) but really we're just drawing on our own limited experiences of cities and it probably isn't much like either. It's just like Meudon. And it's perfect.
Oh, how silly we are in the Western World to idolize Paris!! Paris is beautiful and interesting and vibrant, and fun to visit, but the real heart of France lies elsewhere, in green vallies and lush forests, in small farming villages that just happen to be home to castles and cathedrals and where the people are humble and real. Parisians are the supermodels, inaccessible and haughty, and far, far better dressed than you could ever be. Such a shame that we think French people are rude, when it's really just the Parisians we're talking about. Such a shame that an entire country is judged by just one city. I'm even reluctant to tell people that I live and work in Saint-Cloud, because it sounds far less impressive than saying I live in Paris. And it isn't!! I've lived in Paris for eight months or so, and it is an interesting and an exciting city, but the weather is horrible and the cigarettes and dog shit overflow in the streets and you're lucky if you go a month without metro travel severely interrupted by strikers. It IS a beautifua beautiful city sometimes, though, a city that I, also, loved with all my heart until I lived there for longer and realised the wealth that lies around it in the form of the Parisian suburbs.

I can't wait to see the Brittany coast now!!!!


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