05 November 2009


This entry somehow didn't get posted when written, back in early Sept. No question it was user error. So think back to when summer was just winding down...

Summer's officially over in Paris.

It's not so much that the weather has changed, though this morning it was 46 degrees and we had a couple of days last week that didn't get out of the 60s.

It's that everybody's finally back from their vacances.

The elevator in our building no longer remains on our floor overnight, the hundreds of windows in the courtyard behind us, all white with their closed metal shutters in August, are now open, and the last of our food vendors are vending again.

And there's tons of kissing. Cheek kissing, that is. Two passes per person as friends or co-workers see each other for the first time in a couple of months. We were out to dinner recently when a table of 6 showed up, and the kissing must have taken 15 minutes, and a flow chart to work out. Kissing, kissing, kissing.

The French get, and actually take, a lot of vacation. Five weeks is mandated. If you work in an office, you probably get to pick when you take it. If you work in a shop that closes in the summer, you have to take your 4 weeks during the closure, leaving you with that 1 remaining week to get you through the other 11 months.

Which may explain why people seemed to be at their grumpiest at the end of June, several months after they've burned that last saved day, and at their nicest right now, after 4 consecutive weeks of being away. I've never found that a week of vacation from work was restorative. Two weeks was better, but returning to work was still usually a downer. Between the press of "Hey, before you go, can you take care of..." stuff leading into it, and the digging out on returning, sometimes it seemed it was hardly worth it.

But 4 weeks has done wonders for some of the grouches in my life, here. I've gone to the same boulangerie for a baguette or two and 4 pastries (our weekend breakfast) twice a weekend, and more recently for a baguette several times during the week, since about the middle of March. That's roughly 50 visits to the same shop. I'm not a difficult person to remember-- I'm abnormally tall for France, have abnormally goat-like facial hair for France, and speak abnormally poor French for France. And on weekdays, I go in early in my bike kit on the way back from a ride: pretty sure there aren't many Guy's Bicycles team members rolling through the shop. I always smile (hard not to, knowing that I'll soon be eating as close to heaven as can be achieved on earth), give correct change (change is hoarded here, but that's a topic for another day), and make an effort to be especially nice. Still, the shop matron never so much as grinned in her interactions with me. It's not that she was rude, she just wasn't personable. She was personable with others, sometimes. But even if I came in as she chatted with a customer about this or that, I'd get the stoney face when it was my turn.

Our heavenly boulangerie was to close on Aug 4, until Sept 3. I was terrified-- would we survive? Even though I'd been in there 50+ times, our bread and pastry consumption is such that I've had plenty of experience with the alternatives. And though I can get some reasonable stand-ins for the baguettes closer to the apartment, the substitute croissants, chaussons aux pommes, and other pastries just leave us sad. I don't even want to contemplate the emptiness we'll feel weekend mornings after we've left Paris.

We left for Japan Aug 1, and so I went in that morning for our Last Breakfast in over a month. I purchased my goods from Mme Stoney and at the end of the game of one-upmanship that is any exit from a shop in Paris, I added "... et bonnes vacances!"

And she smiled.

As I picked up the baguette and pastries I'd dropped on the floor in shock, she said that they'd be open for a few more days. But you could tell that she was looking forward to les vacances.

Since then, it's been a whole different vibe in that shop. My first visit was their first Fri open, on my way back to the apt after a short but hard ride in a cold, soaking early morning rain. Drenched and covered with road grime, I was worried about messing up the jewel-like shop, losing whatever meager rung I'd gained on the favor ladder in August. But she smiled at me when I came in, and as she got my baguette commented on how dedicated I was to be riding on a miserable day like that. Since then, it's been all smiles and (a little) chat, helping me with names of unlabeled items, helping me when I tell her I shouldn't buy a kouign amann again today by saying, "mais vous êtes sportif!" I like her.

Now that I know the secret to getting in good with my vendors, it's only another 10 months of grouchy service before I can work on the others.

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