Saturday, April 10, 2010

What we have to work with: Part II. Living quarters

Let me start this off by saying we love our neighborhood. The 18th arrondissement of Paris is extremely diverse and just walking two blocks puts you in a whole new atmosphere. We live roughly at the confluence of the more upscale neighborhood of the Montmartre Butte and the eclectic "immigrant" neighborhoods near the Goutte d'Or district that are full of Africans and Arabs, as well as the colorful outdoor market named the Marché Dejean. So, on any given day we can choose to visit a typical Parisian café for an espresso or draft beer, head to a Caribbean restaurant serving tropical cuisine of the French Antilles, or pass by the discount phone booths for calling Algeria, Tunisia, Mali, etc. on the way to a café to to drink a Moroccan thé à la menthe served in a traditional silver teapot and glass tea cup. It's common to hear a lively mixture of three or four languages as you walk down the street.

But the current digs are a little too cramped for our style. The apartment we live in is a total of 387 square feet. All of it. That space includes one bedroom, a living room, a bathroom with a shower stall, a telephone booth kitchen, and a walk in hall closet.

Santi sleeps in our room, which is the biggest room in the place. Our internet is cable connected DSL that is located in the bedroom and the only working phone jack is in there too. Once the lights go out for him, we need to remember take the cordless phone out and the good internet connection is mostly unusable. It also is our home office with all the household documents in there. So if we want to pay bills or look up any info (like for my immigration proceedings) we have to remember to do it before Santi goes to sleep.

The living room is where we can eat and relax. We also have to store Santi's clothes and his toys out there. So when he occasionally needs an emergency change in the middle of the night, one of us has to run out there to grab a new set of pajamas. When I'm alone, I have to either lug him with me, or leave him upset and crying to quickly grab new jammies. Fun. Not. We also have slower second internet connection out there, which we have to share at night (Farmville vs. Warcraft, who wins?)

The kitchen is ridiculously small, nine square feet and enclosed on three sides by walls. There is a two-burner electric stove, a sink, a small counter where our coffee maker fits, a 1/3 size fridge with a little freezer compartment inside, and an electric mini-oven (think toaster oven, but you can actually use it to bake too. If you can find pans small enough to fit inside) that sits on top of the fridge. The shelves for dishes and food are all exactly at eye and hand level for a toddler, and even better, they don't have doors, just curtains you can close. So he's alway grabbing for the glass, ceramics, and there are plenty of meltdowns when he sees the cookies and chocolate are right within hand's reach. We installed a gate, but that just seems to make him angry when he gets locked out, so we use it as little as possible. There's no room for a trash can with a lid that closes, so we have to keep chasing him away from exploring the trash.

The bathroom is also very small. It shares the design of the kitchen of having all of the shelves for medicines at eye and hand-level with no doors. So we have to keep the door shut and keep an eye on Santi because he knows how to open lots of the bottles and boxes. The washing machine is also in the bathroom. It's the incredibly skinny thing that fits between the sink and the wall, yet manages to hold a full load of laundry. Santi also likes to play with with the detergent and fabric softener that we can't shut up behind a door. For his baths, we put a plastic baby tub in the shower stall. It fits (barely) behind the bathroom door for storage.

The walk in closet is where we keep our suitcases, shoes, winter coats and things like suits and dresses, the vacuum cleaner, the drying rack for the laundry (no electric dryer. No room for it), all of our tools, cleaning products, batteries, old electronic stuff, etc. Basically all the things you probably store in the garage or basement.

So, basically, we are in a tiny space where most rooms have to serve at least two or three different purposes. Nothing can really be left out. We're always having to find novel ways to store things and it's impossible to childproof. And, wait, it gets better! We live on the 6th floor of our building and there is  no elevator! So our stroller stays locked to the staircase in the entry hall (we learned our lesson about locking it after having our first one stolen) and Santi gets carried up and down the stairs to get to it. And, of course, you have also carry everything you need for him and for you at the same time. So dropping him off at daycare on the days I bring my laptop, purse, and lunch (not to mention taking the trash down at the same time) are not fun. And doing grocery shopping is a nightmare because you have to haul him and everything you buy up those stairs at one time. Things aren't so bad when there is someone else to stay with him upstairs, but during single momma phases, life requires quite a bit of advance planning to avoid running out of diapers and food (and a hernia).

We're hoping to find a two-bedroom place with an elevator in our same neighborhood soon. It's very hard to rent in Paris because it's expensive and most owners require a pretty high minimum income before they'll even consider you. Until we become a permanently two income family, we're going to have a lot of trouble. But at least for the moment, we've adapted more or less, and our place is ours (owned), so we'll always have a home, even if it is ridiculously tiny.

(Part III. And all the rest of it, coming soon)

And, if you want to know what I think about to pass the time while living in this tiny space,click here.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Counting down to seeing papa again!

Santi and I will be flying to Mexico next week to meet up with papa and work on his excavation project. We are both very excited! Besides work in the great outdoors and lots of fantastic local food, there will be sun, some beach time, and a whole country of people who love children and love to help out with them.

Unfortunately, Santi has a double ear infection that needs to clear up before our flight. So send us some good vibes to help out those antibiotics.

Monday, April 5, 2010


I have to apologize first off for the lack of pictures for this post. Unfortunately, it is really difficult to keep track of a one year-old by yourself and take pictures on a visit to Disneyland!

Since Easter is a three-day weekend in France and the daycare center was closed, I decided to do something very different and take Santi to Disneyland Paris for the afternoon.  I was a little nervous this might not be a good idea. I worried he would hate it, be scared, it would be too hard to take him on the rides myself. But after reading up some travel blogs by families who had taken small children his age and had a great time, I decided to go for it. I even was optimistic and bought an annual passport to the two parks (Disneyland and Walt Disney Studios) so that we can make this a more regular outing. Parc Disneyland (as apparently now it prefers to be called, rather than Eurodisney) is much less expensive than Disneyland or Disneyworld in the US, so it actually was a great deal.

I decided to take Santi on the trek after he's finished lunch and prefereably had had a nap. He was willing to eat most of his lunch, but he refused to do the nap, even though he was obviously tired. So we set off on the trip. First there is a 20 minute metro ride to the RER station (the trains that serve Paris and the outlying cities). Then it's another 35 minutes on the RER to the front gate of the park. The train ride went well. There was a father and son in the seat facing us who were goofing around with the father pretending to bite his son's had over and over. Santi thought this was hilarious and started shoving his hand in my face laughing. I played along by giving him lots of kisses on his hand, which made him giggle even harder. Then he finally settled down and fell asleep for the rest of the ride, maybe 20 minutes in all.

The RER dropped us off a 2 minute walk from the entrance gate. We got through the gate and headed over to the stroller rental. The stroller was a little scary (enormous and very spartan), but Santi was happy because it was higher off the ground than his normal stroller and he had a great view. Rolling down mainstreet he perked up and was staring wide-eyed at all the colorful buildings and the people. A jazz band was playing and he liked that too. Then, being France, we had to go stand in half-hour line at the Disney annual passport office to get my provisional printed-at-home passport upgraded to the official laminated version with my photo. Santi was very patient and spent his time grinning at the other kids running around the office while they waited for their parents.

Finally we were free to enjoy ourselves! We first went on "It's a Small World". In the line, Santi was starting to look tired and bored. I was trying to keep an eye on the crazed Italian tourists who were determined to crawl over us to get ahead in the line. But once we were in the boat and entering the room with the dancing, singing dolls, Santi was all eyes. Actually, all eyes, pointing fingers, big grins, and excited squeals. He had no idea what this was, but he LIKED it! He kept craning his head to see everything and looking at me as if to see if I was believing this too. Occasionally he would also turn around to bat his eyelashes and give his cutest grin to the Italian ladies who had just been trying to push past us. Actually, now that we were all on the boat, they kept gushing about how "bello" Santi was. After leaving the boat you can pass through a little hall that has models of buildings from all over the world in the same style as the ride. Santi loved that too.

Next we started to stroll around a little, but it was SO crowded that it got a little overwhelming trying to get through the crowd with the stroller. Santi wanted to get out and push the stroller, which was fine. But then he wanted to walk around in the crowd, which was not ok because he almost got stomped on a couple of times (by people who clearly saw him and he was only a step or two away from me). So I sat him down and fed him a snack. By this point, the lack of a nap was catching up with him and he got pretty fussy. But I bundled him back into his stroller and walked him till he fell asleep. I spent the next hour strolling with him, people watching, and making mental notes on what would be fun things to do on this trip and future ones.

After he woke up in a great mood, we tried the Pinocchio ride. He loved, loved, loved being in line for it! He was grinning at everyone, blowing kisses, sticking his tongue out. He is such a ham and everyone was eating it up. He also seemed to really like the kitchy chandeliers that hang down over the line area, and when I let him grab onto the wooden hand-rail. He has a hand-rail obsession in general right now. The ride itself he seemed to like, but not as much as "It's a Small World". Maybe because it's kind of loud.

I wanted to take him on Peter Pan, but the line was 50 minutes (now I wonder if he wouldn't have liked that too. I suspect his favorite part of the park was the lines). So we did Snow White instead. Wow! That's really not a very good ride for small children. I know they put a warning sign that it may frighten small children, but it was even worse than what I imagined. It' just basically scenes of the evil witch, skeletons in a dungeon, and a scary forest at night. Then a random scene of Snow White and Prince Charming for maybe 30 seconds before you exit. Blech! Santi didn't cry, but I felt him stiffen up and he grabbed my hair and wouldn't let go (a sure sign he is either very tired or upset).

After that it was starting to get late so I decided to drop off the stroller and head home. Unfortunately I had forgotten about the Mainstreet parade. There was nothing to do but wait it out and watch it. I was afraid Santi was getting tired and would be restless. But he loved it! He was craning his neck to see the floats and would wave and grin at them. His favorite was the Lion King/Jungle Book float. But he also was very happy to see the Disney Princesses and waved lots and lots at them. I thought the whole things was so funny and adorable because we haven't shown him much Disney stuff and I'm sure he had no clue who any of those people are.

Finally we joined the masses pouring out the exit gate. Santi cotinued to be in a great mood on the RER and the metro. I felt badly that I hadn't bought him a souvenir, because he kept pointing at the Mickey Mouse helium balloons and smiling at me every time he saw one. But it seemed like a hassle to bring on the train, especially if it was going to be crowded. Luckily for me, on the RER someone left behind on their seat a small empty bucket for Disney cotton candy that had all the classic character painted on it. When Santi saw it and gave me that "Can I have it? Please?" look, I let him take it home, since it was obviously abandoned but clean. He was proudly carrying it by the handle around the apartment when we got home.

So, a great end to a nice weekend. We'll have to head back over the next year to ride the Merry-go-round, Peter Pan, Dumbo, Buzz Lightyear, meet some characters, and maybe even try Pirates of the Carribean (not sure about that one yet). Oh, and there's that whole other park I've never been to either.

PS - I should add that the visit was made VERY much easier by the Tonga hammock sling I just bought. It's cotton, super light and small, but apparently very comfortable for Santi. It was perfect for carrying him on my hip on the train, for holding him while we waited in the lines, watching the parade, and for those moments when he just didn't want to be in the stroller. I think they only sell them in France, but I'm sure there is something similar in the US too.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Joyeuses Pâques! Happy Easter!

As you can see, the Easter Bunny made a visit to our house! That must have been quite an undertaking for him what with all the travel restrictions and the immense amount of French red tape for obtaining a work permit. You see, France is outside outside the Easter Bunny's jurisdiction. In France, children do get chocolate on Easter Sunday, but it's delivered by flying church bells. They wing off to the Vatican on Good Friday, taking with them all the misery and sadness of Lent. There they exchange all the bad stuff for chocolate and other treats, which they deliver the French children on their return on Easter Sunday. So, it's just as common to see a chocolate bell here as a bunny, chicken, or egg.

We started off the morning with homemade "Banana Bites", recipe courtesy of Weelicious. They're slices of banana dipped in pancake batter and cooked till the banana is warm and gooey.

I thought they were pretty yummy. Santi, as usual when I cook for him, looked at them, licked them, offered his to me, pulled it apart into little pieces, then threw them on the floor. It's times like these that I remember why it is I feed him so much supermarker baby food (and I don't feel so bad about it).

Finally we had he main event. Chocolate Bunny! This is the one that didn't survive the Abbesses Baguette Incident

Santi instinctively understood the correct way to eat a chocolate bunny is to grab it by one ear and try to bite off the other. For a first effort, he did a pretty good job! Here's my little bunny eating his:

Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

What we have to work with: Part I. Transportation

I think it is essential at this point to describe our home and a bit of the logistics involved with bringing up an active, walking, tri-national boy of mystery. I get some comments from people who apparently think I complain a bit much about normal aspects of daily life. But I think when you understand a bit more about the reality of life in Paris, and how it differs enourmously from American standards, you'll see where I'm coming from.

Contrary to popular belief, we do not live a stone's throw from the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Louvre, or the Pompidou Center. The closest tourist zone that you might recognize is Montmartre and the Sacré Coeur Basilica. Monmartre is the only major hill/butte in Paris and is where the movie "Amélie" was filmed. It's where you go to buy paintings of famous Parisian landmarks from local artists. At its foot you'll find the Montmartre cemetary and the Moulin Rouge. Well, we live on the OTHER side of the Montmartre Butte, which is just an ordinary neighborhood, very calm, with lots of great cheese shops and delis, plus some great bakeries and cafés.

The Montmartre Butte is already on the very northwest edge of Paris, so we're not even really living in the city ourselves. To get into downtown Paris, where all the fun stuff is, we need to take a subway or bus. Like most Parisians, we don't have a car because there is literally nowhere to park it, and you'll spend half your life sitting in traffic. So, getting downtown is about 20 minutes on the subway and 40 minutes on the bus. The bus is nice because you can see the street as you go, and they have these large "bays" set up to hold baby strollers. The bus is slow though, and there aren't so many routes, so there often isn't a bus going where we need to go. Enter the Metro!

The good parts: the Metropolitan subway system is fantastic. I think you are never more than 500 meters from a metro station in Paris. You can get almost anywhere without having to change trains more than one time. It's fast, efficient, safe, and pretty clean. I loved the metro before having a child.

The bad parts: The metro is how most people get around Paris. So it can get crowded. Very, very crowded! During rush hour you may learn more about your neighbor's personal hygene than you ever hoped to. Ugh! This is particularly difficult when you are manoeuvering even a small stroller into the cramped cars. And forget about getting out! You have to fight and push your way back to the door before it automatically shuts after each stop. And Parisians in general don't cut people with children any extra slack.

Oh, and I should mention the primary dificulty in using the Metro with a small child who needs a stroller. It's underground and there are no elevators! Well, there are a few newer stations that have elevators (that are sometimes working), but these are rare and not on any of our regular routes. So you have to carry the stroller up and down at least two flight of stairs (often more) to get in, out, change trains, etc. This is annoying, but doable if someone is traveling with you. If you are alone, you need to ask a stranger to help you. This is a fairly common sight and most people are willing to help, but it can be harder during peak hours. You can instead just leave the stroller home and carry your child in your arms or in some kind of sling or pack, but then you will need to continue to do that all day. But, that may not be such a bad idea because many stores and restaurants don't have the space to accomodate a stroller (this isn't the US where wheelchairs have to be accomodated or where there is cheap land to expand to so that you can have large buildings, wide streets and sidewalks. Plus, the rents per square meter in Paris are astronomical, so people make do with less). So you develop really strong arms since you need to carry your child PLUS all of the stuff you need for your child, and any stuff you might buy (no covenient stroller "donkey" to hang everything on).

I am very glad that Santi is taking enthusiastically to walking and that eventually we'll be able to throw off the shackles of the stroller. Once we get to the point where he can walk fairly reliably, getting out and about in this city will be so much easier!

(Part II. Living Quarters, coming soon!)