May 16, 2011

it turns out, i'm not a tourist

What a week, what a month, what I life I've got going on here. Last week was one of the first weeks I realized that I have a life here in Paris and that I'm not just a glorified tourist getting my master's degree (yes, it took a year to come to this conclusion - don't judge me). When I leave here eventually, I'll have friends to say goodbye to, routines to abandon, and physical things to pack up that have been acquired from my time here in Paris and from my various travels to other countries. When you move somewhere new, there's an art to getting into the groove and finding the sweet spot where you belong. I've got my apartment, my Starbucks, my hairdresser, my metro stop, my park, my grocery store, my shortcuts, my secrets to the city that you can't get from a week-long vacation through the eyes of a visitor.

This realization came after a great friend of mine left France this Marie. I've been anticipating her departure for a few months now, but didn't know how sad I would be until I went to say goodbye last week. Marie is approaching 80 years old and within the past year her memory has been deteriorating slowly but surely. Lately when I've been going to visit her for lunch, we would spend hours looking for things she's misplaced, I would listen to her tell me things she's told me about hundreds of times, I would ask why the table was set for 6 people instead of 2 and I would leave fearing that she would accidentally leave the stove on and burn the whole apartment complex down. I brought Marie to the airport a year ago so that she could visit her daughter who lives in a tiny island off of the coast of Africa called Reunion Island (known as La RĂ©union, it's a French territory). I talked to Marie's daughter to let her know I got her to the airport and on the plane just fine.  It was then that her daughter expressed that she was concerned about her mom's ability to live alone for much longer and I agreed because Marie's usual absent mindedness seems to be headed towards something more serious. Marie knows her memory loss is problematic and it's sad for me to see her get so frustrated about it. So this year, instead of going for a visit, it was decided that Marie would move to Reunion Island to live with her daughter where she's got someone watching out for her if/when things get worse. To get an idea of how far away this island is, here's a map of Africa - the island is just off the coast of Madagascar:

I've never known France without Marie, she was my first friend here when I studied abroad in 2006 and has been a fixture in my life ever since. We had the perfect last day together, though - we "oohed" and "ahhed" over her fancy new passport, she read me the rules from the new passport in its entirety (for the second time), we went to her favorite park, went out to lunch, ran into her favorite neighbors who had thrown my going away party in 2006, and she asked me to help her perfect the only English phrase she knows..."As you like it" - which always sounds funny and comes out with a thick French accent no matter how much I emphasize my American accent in order to get her to say it's always more like "Hazz yeww lieg eet".  As our perfect day came to an end, my heart sank as she walked me outside because I knew it would probably be the last time I would see her.  Although the invite to visit Marie is open, as she has assured me multiple times, I'm not sure that a trip to the island is in my near future. Here are a few pictures from the last couple of times I went to Marie's:

Waiting for lunch
Marie ran out to this statue during lunch so she could report back to me exactly how the man and woman carved into it were standing
I love this picture because it shows Marie's shall we say...eclectic way of decorating and a picture of when she had me and my family over for dinner in 2006.
Reading me the rules to her new passport over Easter lunch
I don't know why it took Marie leaving for me to come to the realization that I've built a life here, however temporary it may be. Maybe it's because I'm usually the one leaving France, not the one being left behind. It seems fitting and also a strange coincidence that the same week I found my sweet spot here was the same week I officially got my residence permit to live in France, something that has been several months in the making. So here I am, a real resident - legally and mentally.