Who hasn’t dreamed of quitting their job and doing something “crazy” like move to Paris? This singular woman did exactly that and never looked back.
There was a wave of excitement followed with clapping and cheers as the Boeing 747 touched down on the tarmac of Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris. I had left New York City only seven hours earlier, and I basked in the buzz around me. The flight attendants must have felt it too. They floated up and down the aisles, breezing past, all toothy-grins as they announced over the intercom, “Eet eez now eight feef-teen een zee mor-neen, lo-cale time. Bienvenue à Paris.”
The crescendo of anticipation bustling through economy class was palpable, even if, further up, the business elite were keeping their purse-lipped, impermeable, je ne sais quoi composure. “This is it,” I thought to myself, feeling the flutter of butterfly wings in my belly. Au revoir New York, Bonjour Paris.
Less than 24 hours ago, I had quit my job and boarded a flight to France. And not just any ol’ remedial, whatever-will-pay-my-bills type of job, but a full-blown, career-oriented, cushy and stable job in finance on Park Avenue. But strangely, as I heaved my carry on out of the overhead bin, the New York glitz and glam of yesterday already seemed like a hazy memory.
As I waited patiently at Carousel 4 for my checked luggage to arrive, a quick flash of “oh-em-gee-what-did-I-get-myself-into” penetrated my mind. It was definitely over the weight restriction, grotesquely bulging at the zippers. But the truth of the matter was that I needed every single square inch to transport my obscenely robust (even for a Manhattanite) wardrobe from the posh Upper East Side to my new down-sized apartment located in the 17th arrondissment d’ Paree.
One by one, my fifty-plus pound suitcases tumbled down the conveyor belt until I had all five stacked precariously high, swaying back and forth. Two hundred and fifty-plus pounds of clothes, handbags, heels, and make-up were all that was left to remind me of the past five years of my life: traipsing up and down Fifth Avenue, jogging around the Jacqueline Onassis Kennedy reservoir in Central Park, drinking fancy cocktails at chic, tucked-away Speakeasies on the Lower East Side and singing along to my favorite Broadway musicals in Times Square.
Life had been good, even perfect, which was the exact reason why I left, seeking out a new adventure, a new challenge. As I peered up at my luggage it seemed my first challenge would be figuring out how to get all of that up the four flights of winding wooden stairs to my flat, typically Parisian, and sans ascenseur. I may have been without an elevator, but I was in luck. My French landlord was generously sending his personal driver over to retrieve me from the airport and assist me with the towering suitcases I was now stealthily maneuvering through the terminal.
Visions of a tall, dark, French chauffeur filled my head, fine beads of sweat glistening on his serious brow as he gracefully carried one suitcase in each hand effortlessly up the spiraling staircase, all the while wooing me with “mademoiselle’s” and “charmante américaine’s.” Making my way through the final sliding glass doors, however, I was confronted by the loud humming of excited friends, family members, and dozens of chauffeurs awaiting the new arrivals. I scanned the crowd and sought out my own suitor — err driver.
That’s when I saw him: a smiling, five-foot- two, sixty-something Vietnamese man greeting me with his hand-written sign. He didn’t weigh more than a buck ten. I almost laughed out loud at my own silly fantasies and expectations. “It will be okay,” I reassured myself as I returned his smile. Besides, I had fifty whole minutes in the car ride to the city to mentally prepare myself for some heavy lifting.
I heaved and hoed those suitcases up the beautifully pristine and shining hardwood steps — 118 of them to be exact. My driver offered the best he could and as a team effort, we finally succeeded. My first Parisian challenge had ended in victory, and though I sat dripping, catching my breath beside the door of my new apartment, I was filled with contentment and excitement for what my new life à la Parisienne would bring.
But for now, I was completely exhausted. All I longed for was a cold shower followed by a luxurious nap and only then would I be refreshed and ready to face whatever new challenges came my way. I stood up, said au revoir to my driver and turned to open my door. It was when I turned the key that I looked up and noticed the business card taped to my door. It was from the local plumber and it read, “Veuillez me contacter pour la fuite d’eau.” Please contact me regarding the water leak. An exasperated moan escaped my lips as I prayed that my good fortune had not already run out after just two short hours in my new country.
I opened the door and peered inside. From first glance, everything looked to be intact. No flooding on the bathroom floor, no kitchen sinks full of water, nothing but a charming one bedroom apartment warmly greeting me with its clean white walls and bright sunny windows.
It was fully furnished with a comfortable living area at the entrance followed by a small but functional bathroom, an open fully-equipped kitchen, and balcony that offered southern exposure, thus letting in the sunshine from dawn to dusk. The queen-sized bedroom also opened up onto the balcony and had spacious floor-to-ceiling closets that spanned the entire length of the back wall.
Above everything else, it was precisely for the ample closet space that I had chosen this apartment, a rarity in France since accommodating such an extensive wardrobe is generally viewed as extravagant and superfluous. I would later learn that the French prefer to have less quantity and more quality, spending more on one item as opposed to less on several, but for the moment, I was tickled to have found my own coveted closet space.
Because the mysterious water leak message had “can of worms” written all over it, I decided to surrender to a much needed jetlag-induced nap. I quickly slid into a peaceful slumber, recovering from the eventful morning. I was soon woken, however, from my reverie by a knock on my door. Stretching and yawning, I rubbed my eyes as it took me a minute to remember where I was. “Oui, c’est qui?” I shouted to the door, inquiring who was there. “Le plombier,” a man’s voice responded. The plumber.
He entered my apartment along with all of his tools around his waist belt and in a metal box. Rapidly explaining that a water leak from my apartment was causing damage and flooding the floors below, he started tapping on the walls and ceiling until he heard what he was looking for. He pulled out his chisel and hammer and before I had a chance to comprehend what he was about to do, he began pounding at the kitchen wall, huge chunks of cement and plaster falling to the floor.
In less than five minutes, he had created a hole that was four-feet high and one-foot wide. With his flashlight he examined the now-exposed metal pipes and columns inside. He turned to me, and with elation on his face announced, “C’est pas vous, Madame. C’est votre voisin!”
It wasn’t my apartment after all which was causing the leak, but my adjacent neighbor’s! As quickly as he entered, he packed up his tools and left, leaving me to clean up the pile of crumbled wall on my kitchen floor.
As I stood there, absorbing what had just happened in my new no-longer-clean-and-intact apartment, I realized that I had a choice to make: I could either cry and wallow in my “good luck gone bad,” or laugh at the hilarity of the situation, happy to have already expanded my French to include new plumbing vocabulary, and to have a ridiculously entertaining “first day in France” story to tell my friends and family. After all, it had been adventure and excitement I was after in moving to Paris, and quelle aventure it was.
Copyright © Amber Holmes/2013 Singular Communications, LLC.