I’m afraid this might be a long one. I don’t want to abuse your attention span, but I’ve realized these missives are a nice way for me to record this experiment in a new way of living. I take solace knowing you all have a delete button. I thought I’d start with a Paris update before moving farther afield. It is our 6 month anniversary after all!
A friend came to visit and we gave her the tour (ha!) of the tiny house. She asked if there was anything about it we found annoying to the point of frustration. We couldn’t think of anything. But I liked the question because it made me think of all the ways things could be annoying, but aren’t, or could have gone wrong, but didn’t. Yes, it’s small. Smaller than most of you can imagine (220 sq ft) and those who can imagine, it’s because you’ve seen it. But we wouldn’t tempt fate by trying for perfection. The advantages would hard to replace. It’s cheap (relatively, this is Paris after all), it’s quiet (ditto). We’re on the 6th and top floor, so we have natural light and no upstairs foot stomping. There is an elevator (thank god) even if we try our best not to use it. We have a terrific landlady. We think we have the best neighborhood. Maybe too good? There’s 4 fabulous bakeries within 100 meters of the place. Hence the reason we forsake the elevator. The layout is a very efficient use of space. We never feel like we’re on top of each other, except when Mark is cooking. Then I stay the hell out of the kitchen. No hardship, I assure you.
We have fallen in love with our neighborhood. The other day our favorite wine merchant stuck his head out of a neighboring shop as we were passing by to ask how we liked the champagne he’d recommended the other night (it was excellent, bien sûr!). We’ve become good friends with our neighbors Pat and Julie. They’re the reason we have our place. Julie writes a blog that I found some time ago called The World In-Between. They had just arrived in Paris for an extended stay when we were here last year. I sent her an email, we met for coffee. Later in the week they invited us to lunch at their place. After we’d left and were back in the US in the throes of wrapping up our lives and possessions, she let me know the place next door was going to be available and did we want it? Hell yes! So sight unseen we accepted a year lease. No regrets. But it wasn’t as big a risk as it sounds, French law is very much biased towards renters. We can leave anytime with 1 month’s notice. But we can’t be made to leave, except in very limited circumstances. And for now, I can’t imagine being anywhere else. As the above mentioned friend said to me, it’s good to see you in what is now your natural habitat!
It might seem to you like we’re always heading off somewhere, but we are mainly hanging around in Paris. Mark has said he needs to stay put for longer stretches to keep his French learning momentum going. He now has 3 conversation partners, and speaks with them almost every day and sometimes twice a day. I go to language exchanges and have two conversation partners as well. You’d think living here would give us ample practice, but the reality is most of the French we speak in a day is transactional, as in, I’ll take 2 of these, 3 of those. Not to mention that some of the shopkeepers we’re friendly with want to practice their English!
Onward to our latest adventure. Oh my gods, Greece! It was so very difficult deciding where to go. To see everything on our list would either require a fast pace and lots of transportation, or several months. We narrowed our focus to the Macedonian region and not the islands, if only because we’re still a little shell-shocked from our horrifying ferry to Capri, an experience we don’t care to repeat. Mark also says I have an aversion to paradise, but that’s another story.
First Thessaloniki, with its loads of Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman history and archaeological sites. The area we stayed in reminded us of Buenos Aires: decayed elegance surrounded by unfortunate post war international style blocks. But the comparison ends there. The people were some of the nicest and friendliest we’ve ever encountered and the food was superb.
The arch of Galerius, somewhere around 300 b.c.e.
Took a crazy cab ride and wound up not where we intended to go, but our surprise destination made it all worth it. The Vlatadon monastery, built on the site where St. Paul supposedly spoke. I got one picture of the wonderful 14c frescos before I was told photographs were forbidden.
And then Meteora! Where hermit monks began living in caves who knows how long ago, and then they got all community-minded around the 14th century and built monasteries on top of pinnacles of rock. At the height (no pun intended) there were 20. Now there are 6 remaining.
Thanks to everyone who inquired how my foot has healed. For those who don’t know, one year ago I tore a plantar tendon hiking in Croatia. (Pro tip: don’t do that) After 3 months not walking at all, and 3 with much difficulty, I’m happy to say I’m back in form, but only if I continue to wear the oh so special shoes. I was ecstatic to be able to hike Meteora.
In Greece, English is widely spoken, with varying degrees of fluency. We native speakers often don’t realize how damn lucky we are. I always thank people who help us for speaking English (like ticket agents at train stations) and I tell them I know how hard it is. It always gets a big smile, even if they hadn’t been super nice before. And I truly mean it. It makes all the difference in the world to us. That said, I’m not above an inward chuckle when I say hello and I’m greeted with a hearty you’re welcome!
Our last stop was Litochoro, at foot of mount Olympus. We now naively think that every place in Greece is fabulous, because each of our stays was better than the last. We came here to do the Olympus trail. Ha, ha, ha. It is rated moderate, but damn if it doesn’t go steeply uphill for an hour, and then up and down for 3 more. Then you get to turn around and head back. Or so I’m told, we skipped it and instead hiked the trail to Zeus’s bath, the waterfall water supply for the city, and then the bottom of the gorge by the river.
We’re back in Paris where I have to say it feels damn good to be home!