Paris Journal #1: Elusive Bank Accounts and Endless Stairs

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[Written May 5, 2003, about a week after having arrived in France]

As a few of you have expressed interest in how my life in Paris is progressing, I thought I would write a semi-regular Paris Journal that I will e-mail every week or so. If any of you would like to be removed from the list, do let me know, as I don’t wish to spam anyone with my mad ravings about life in France. I thought about naming it “Sex and the City of Light,” but as there seems to be not much of either here at the moment (perhaps I should name it “Celibacy and the City of Rain”), I’ll just keep it simple.

I discovered pretty quickly that an account with France Telecom is the secret to being able to live in Paris. Apparently, to open a bank account here you need to show a utility bill, such as one from the phone company. Without it you’re SOL, no matter how much money you’ve got. I can just imagine showing up at a local bank branch with sackfuls of euros in large denominations, asking to open an account, and being told that I have to have a phone to be able to give all my money to them. Now here’s the real kicker: to open an account with France Telecom you need to have a bank account!

Luckily for me, the lady from whom I’m renting my flat called the phone company and set up an account for me through her; then, when I move to my permanent apartment in June I can move the phone number along with me and have my own account. In the meantime, France Telecom is sending me papers that state that I am indeed a customer of theirs, so I can take it to the bank and open an account. Then I’ll be able to do all sorts of things, like get internet service, rent a flat, etc. So really it all comes down to knowing someone who is willing to give you a break.

My flat is on the top floor, and with no elevator I walk up and down six flights of stairs multiple times every day. I’ve already gotten used to calculating everything I’ll need for dinner before facing the climb. There’s nothing worse than taking that last step after ascending 6 flights and realizing I’ve forgotten the milk. The reputation the French have for being so slim while eating fattening foods has nothing whatever to do with wine or diet. It’s merely the fact that they’re all running up and down stairs all day. StairMaster must have been invented in France. And although my legs have been complaining all week, they are actually starting to acquire some shape and tone; my ass is looking positively pert!

So I am living in the infamous “artist’s garret,” which always seemed so romantic in old movies. However, the walls slope in at a rather acute angle, so if you are of a height taller than a Hobbit you are in imminent danger of bashing your head on the ceiling if you stand up too fast. The one positive aspect of living in a small space, however, is that it’s easy to clean. It took all of a minute-and-a-half to vacuum the entire place this morning.

Yesterday was a perfect spring day in Paris. It was warm, there was a slight breeze, and everything was blooming. I took a walk in the Luxembourg Gardens and observed large extended families who had brought their Sunday lunch to enjoy beneath the trees; friends laughing; lovers walking hand in hand; children sailing little boats on the pond. And then I remembered why it was I came here. The French truly enjoy life and know that it’s not what you have that’s important. It’s taking time to enjoy the people and activities you love most. So I was just a little sad, because all the people I have come to love are very far away right now. But I know they are with me in spirit, and feel that in writing about my experiences here, they are sharing them with me. I have even made a couple of good friends already, which isn’t bad, considering I’ve been here less than a week. And if you come to visit me, if you are tall, be sure to bring a helmet!

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