Fais de ta vie
So far, no one has handed me a key to a Parisian apartment. My dream of a croissant and cafe au lait every morning sitting at my kitchen table as I look out over the roof tops of Paris at the Eiffel Tower, has not become a reality.
For more than sixty years, my fantasy life has been enriched by the dream of living in Paris. The advent of online real estate ads with pictures is a boon for me, although until I retired two years ago, they severely cut into my productivity at work. As a retiree, too much time online can be isolating.
Retirement is good for the soul for many reasons, but primarily because it forces the retiree to ask the age old question again, “What will I do with the rest of my life?” For me, the answer isn’t, “Sit at home in Massachusetts and read Paris real estate ads.”
I cancel all the automatic emails I had requested of apartments for sale in Paris. I take a volunteer job at the local library and join a writers group. Things are going along very well until I receive a newsletter from a real estate agency in Paris. I had forgotten, probably on purpose, not to stop the subscription to this newsletter.
There it is, the first article in the newsletter, “Apartment for Sale, rue Volta, 3rd arrondissement.” The price is low for Paris. A more careful reading reveals that the apartment is also small, tiny actually, only 19 square meters, or 200 square feet, which explains the price. The photo makes it look charming, a word I reserve for an apartment with large windows, looking out over dormers and rooftops, light streaming in, parquet floors, wooden beams, and a fireplace. There is also a mural above a trundle bed showing the same windows with the same view over the same rooftops, but with the Eiffel Tower in the distance.
I spend the next 24 hours arguing with myself. I’m a New Englander. That should mean prudent, cautious and careful. I had worked until I was seventy to have enough money for retirement. What am I thinking? Besides, what is wrong with the life I’ve created for myself thus far? Nothing. Nothing at all. Well, maybe it is a little too predicable, measured, well planned in a conventional way, but I’m healthy and doing just fine, thank you. Then again, what is wrong with buying an apartment in Paris if I can? Nothing, Nothing at all.
Three days later I’m on an American Airlines flight from Boston to Paris. During the flight, Pascal’s famous line, “The heart has its reason which reason doesn’t understand,” keeps circling through my brain. I guess I am being led by my heart, something relatively new for me. I’ve thrived as a good manager, a planner using reason to guide me. It feels completely different to act so impulsively, to open my eyes to possibility without consideration for reason.
Within twelve hours of arriving in Paris, I meet the real estate agent at the corner of rue de Turbigo, a busy street built in 1866, and rue Volta, a narrow back street in the Haut Marais. Against all advice about buying real estate, I exclaim in delight as Adrian, the real estate broker, turns the key and I can see over her shoulder into the apartment. In fact, I squeal. At which point she is probably counting her euros in commission.
Later, anxiety sets in as I speak with friends. They seem incredulous that I would just get on a plane within days of seeing an ad and buy the first thing I see. “What floor is it on,” they ask. The third floor by the French calculation, but the 4th floor in the US. “Is there an elevator,” they ask. “Well, no, but the treads are quite low,” is my feeble response.
It seems prudent to see a few other apartments. I give myself four days for the compare and contrast exercise. Four days to be careful. Four days to exercise the conventional managerial skills I had built up over the years. Four days to be prudent.
In between visits to Paris apartments, I see a provocative exhibit of African American Art and visit old friends. None of these activities are surprising or too different. What is different is a new attitude to the world around me, born of my openness to serendipity, to acting on impulse, to following my heart.
For example, I meet a woman, a perfect stranger, as we stand at a subway station in front of a map of the intersecting subway lines, each using our fingers to find the best route. Is it her smile or my newfound introduction to impulsive possibilities, but we get talking, not for long, but long enough for me to learn that she’s from the Philippines and going to meet her husband across town. After our brief but warm exchange, we even shake hands to say goodbye.
Later, as I climb the stairs out of the subway, I see a woman at the top of the stairs holding a sign that reads, “Free Hugs.” I have read about a young man who started an anti-hate movement that gives out free hugs. When I reach the sidewalk, I walk right up to her. We hug, a great feeling by itself, but soul jolting for someone like me who usually holds back.
The next day, waiting at a bus stop, I notice graffiti next to me on the bench that says, “Muslims, Get out!” Just then, a woman in hijab and her daughter come up to me and hesitantly ask the way to the Austerlitz train station. I quickly slide along the bench to hide the graffiti. I wonder if she saw the graffiti. In spite of my own shyness speaking French, I tell them the way as best I can and with as much warmth as I can muster for such a simple task. Her smile lights up her face. Openness is having its payoffs.
As the Paris bus makes it’s way along the Seine, I reflect on the anxiety that sent me looking at other apartments. I haven’t seen any better apartments than the first. Yet I am still anxious. Perhaps the anxiety isn’t because I feel myself about to make a mistake by buying a Parisian apartment. Perhaps anxiety always attends a brave step into the unknown. Perhaps people who are open to new experiences are just people who have learned to take action even when they are anxious or unsure. I would have to think more about this.
As I step of the bus, I see a sign on a building across the street with a saying of Antoine de St. Exupery that says, “Fais de ta vie un rêve, et d’un rêve, une réalité,” Make of your life a dream, and of a dream, reality.
That afternoon, I make an offer on the tiny apartment on rue Volta. The offer was accepted. In just ten days, I made a dream a reality, and
along the way opened my heart to the unexpected. There has been no buyer’s remorse.