Reflections from a Garret

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First French home in PauThat is the very corny title I gave to the diary that I started on my arrival in France on 1st October 1975. I had a corner room on the 3rd floor of a 4-story building in Pau in the Pyrenees. Hardly a garret but I guess I’d never been higher than the upstairs of our Queensland house on stilts. It also sounded very romantic of course. It cost me 220 francs a month – about 33 euros. Unbelievable isn’t it ? Through the window, I could see “the steeple and spire of St Martin’s Church which is very beautiful”. When I saw the church again last Easter, I was most disappointed!

I’ve lived in a few places since then. After my first year as an “assistant” English teacher in a high school, I had a very short stint working in a disturbed children’s home during which I shared a very cold house with another special needs teacher. Thank goodness it didn’t last long. I was hardly prepared for the job and certainly not trained. Fortunately, I got another year as an “assistant” in Nantes and lived in a teachers’ training college. I had my own room and shared a shower and kitchen with a couple of others girls. Most of the rooms were vacant, but I don’t know why.

After that I moved to Paris with my future husband in 1977 and we rented a two-bedroom flat in Fontenay sous Bois. I can remember having the impression of “playing house”. I’d go down to the market on my moped (which eventually got stolen for the second time) and join the other housewives, trying out new fruit and vegetables. But once I started going to uni on the other side of the city and audiotyping for two translators in between classes, I didn’t feel I was pretending any more! We lived there until 1984 when I was pregnant with Black Cat and working as a freelance translator. Leonardo was 2 ½.

We bought a house just down the road and Black Cat was born there. This time there really was an attic which eventually became my office. It wasn’t a very pretty house, I must admit, but I loved the fact that it had three floors and a long garden with raspberries and a very old acacia tree. The kids had a little wooden cubby house underneath it. There were also three beautiful old rose bushes with the most divine smell and huge thorns which sometimes bothered friends with small children but no one ever pricked themselves. The first year, there were masses of tulips in the garden. We didn’t know that mowing would remove them completely. Now I know better!

When I divorced, I had to sell the house, but I found a ground-floor flat on the edge of Fontenay with a little garden and lots of trees. After we married, Relationnel and I turned the garden into a “mini Giverny” as he called it and had so many barbecues that one of the neighbours eventually complained. I think they were just jealous! We also added enormous sliding glass doors between the living room and garden to make the most of the view. I moved my office to nearby Nogent sur Marne to make room for Thoughtful and Forge Ahead who used to come and stay every second weekend and half the school holidays. Our four children got on like wildfire to our great relief. During the 27 years I lived in Fontenay, I made many friends, all of them French and I often used to drop in and visit them.

The next move was to Paris in 2004. It was a golden opportunity in more ways than one and I can’t fault the location as my windows overlook the Palais Royal gardens, but I miss my own garden and my friends. A lot of my contacts these days are by phone or email. There is no one I can actually drop in to see. And I think I went to more exhibitions and plays when I lived in Fontenay than I do now though when we first came here, we spent a lot of time in the Louvre. I do love exploring my neighbourhood and trying out new restaurants, but I’m not a shopper, to the despair of Black Cat, so having the Galeries Lafayette and Printemps around the corner is not really a bonus. I do like having Book-Off down the road though, because it has a wonderful selection of second-hand English books at one or two euros a time.

Now that we have found our dream house in Blois, I feel I have new wings. I’ll have a garden again and trees and I already have a host of new friends waiting for me whom I can drop in to see from time to time. We can still come to Paris for the day if we want to or stay overnight – it’s only 200 kilometers away.

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5 thoughts on “Reflections from a Garret”

  1. What a very lovely visit to all of the places you’ve lived — and are about to live. I have to say your view of Palais Royal cannot be beat, though I understand your missing “dropping by” friends’. When I found out I was pregnant (my son is 16 months old – so this wasn’t long ago, though it feels like it now) for some reason the first thing I did the following day was to buy a journal to write the baby letters to, and my very first entry was a many page reflection of all of the addresses I’ve ever lived, with associated friends/ phases/ past beaux/ authors or directors that I liked in the phases associated with the flats, etc. That first entry reminds me of your post here from December.
    Kind regards,

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