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Parties in the past

standard November 5, 2009 5 responses

My grandmother had a home in the town of Briare, France, about an hour south of Paris. She didn’t actually live there though, the house sat empty, waiting for whatever family member wanted to escape Paris for a weekend in the country.

Briare Canal image

Often that family member was me, usually accompanied by some of my closest friends.

Man did we have some rocking parties at that house.

The checkered living room tiles just begged to be turned into a dance floor. And the many bedrooms were the perfect place for everyone to pitch a sleeping bag for when we were finally too tired to party.

It never occurred to me to marvel that so many of my friends would drive an hour out of the city to join me for a party in a truly rural town. People in France just don’t drive places. Going an hour out of town is not something people do unless they’re heading out for a week long vacation. But they were my friends. And they came.

I loved those weekends away. I loved the casual camaraderie of it all. Friends clustered in the kitchen. Everyone pitching in to prepare the party that they’d all be attending. We would all spend the afternoon decorating, cooking, and clearing furniture. Then we’d head to the bedrooms and bathroom to get ready for the party. Sometimes extra people came for the actual event, but for the most part it was all the same people, from sun up to sun down.

These people were my friends, my chosen family.

Ten years later I can’t remember if we were already starting to lose touch before I left France or if my departure marked the beginning of the end. I just remember how I was affected by that summer in New York. I broke up with my boyfriend by phone, met M, and in a heartbeat decided that I wasn’t going home. I never stopped to think about the friends I’d be leaving behind or how my departure would affect them. I guess that I assumed they’d just go on being friends without me, that I would step out of the circle and that the circle would tighten to fill the void. Then I got caught up with life in another country and, even though I missed them all terribly, I didn’t worry about them.

Over the last year I’ve reconnected with many of those old friends, primarily thanks to Facebook, though it kills me to admit it. This morning, one of them sent me a link to some pictures from the last of those infamous parties. Instead of packing up my computer and taking my children to daycare I found myself dragged back to 1999. For a moment I was single and childless and utterly silly and carefree again. There was no work, no worries, no bills, no taxes, no children who needed me to brush their hair and find their shoes. There were just great friends and endless time to hang out and just be together.

The caption under one photo grabbed my heart and twisted. “I never found another friend like you.”

I’ve been busy creating a life for myself these last ten years. A life filled with great friends and an incredible family. I’ve grown up, become who I was meant to be. But it’s true for me too. I never found other friends like them.

Thank you to my old friend Cecile for the photos. I’m very grateful she found them and took the time to scan them.

When Memory Lane is called The Champs Elysees

standard June 7, 2009 2 responses

We never had to say where or when. We just all knew that we’d converge at the huge McDonald’s on the Champs Elysees at 6pm on Friday nights. Usually the whole crew would show, sometimes one or two members would be missing, even more rarely someone would bring along a friend or a date.

We didn’t always eat there. Sometimes we made the trek down the brightly lit avenue, slaloming around gawking tourists, all the way to the bottom of the Champs for thin crust pizza at Pizzeria Uno. But most often the McDonald’s was our hang out of choice. Cheap dinner, plenty of space, and no one to care about a rowdy bunch of college kids.

Our Friday nights were as predictable as our meeting time and place: dinner, a movie, and a trip to Virgin Megastore. Virgin was the only store that had the double attraction of being open after the movie and offering enough variety to entertain our motley crew.

We knew that store inside out, from the movies on the top floor to the bookstore in the basement, including the very special (to me) but tiny shelf of books in English. The music was located in the middle. Two floors of tantalizing jewel cases containing CDs that each cost roughly two to three hours of hard earned babysitting money.

When you think of it in those terms you don’t buy lightly. How many diapers is that song worth? How much spit up this one? My sad CD collection showed how few albums made the cut. I was always too aware of how hard I had worked to earn those francs to blow them on an album that might not have more than a good song or two.

Instead I spent my cash on stacks of 2 song singles. Brilliant CDs containing the hits that most people were after when buying the full album anyway. These were moderately priced and didn’t feel like a crazy indulgence. I bought many.

The last of those Friday night excursions took place 10 years ago. That group of friends has long since disbanded. I keep tabs on some via sporadic emails and FaceBook. One is getting married this summer, another got married last fall. The others have been lost during the move, much like a favorite piece of furniture or trinket that for some inexplicable reason never makes it to your new home and that you remember at odd times.

All that’s left of those many outings is a dusty stack of random CD singles ranging from the Crash Test Dummies to Ricky Martin, from Chumbawamba to Celine Dion, a mortifying amount of Celine Dion, and an even more mortifying amount of Bryan Adams singles. I sit here and flip through the stack and wonder about the girl I used to be and wonder who I would be today if I hadn’t fallen in love with M and moved to the other side of the world. Would I still hang out with the same friends? Would I be married with two little french daughters? Would I really be any different or would I still be perplexed at the odd music choices I was making back in college?

Friday Flashback – Two views, one room

standard June 6, 2009 1 response

Friday Flashback is all about bringing to light some of my favorite posts from my archives to breathe new life into them. This post was originally published in August 2008. It’s a little more about my Parisian past, this time a part that I shared with M.

Two views, one room.

The tiny elevator reeked of cigarette smoke, something we would learn was pretty common in the building, and we gasped for air as we tumbled out on the eight floor with all of our belongings. I’d never been here before and I didn’t know what to expect.

“Why don’t you stay in your grandmother’s studio?” My mother had asked. And we’d said yes in a heartbeat. I mean, you don’t turn down a wonderfully located, rent free apartment in central Paris without darn good reasons.

M jimmied the key into the sticky lock on the tall skinny white door. And as the door fell open we got our first glimpse of the tiny apartment that would be our home for 13 months. I almost turned around and called the elevator back right then and there.

The cramped microscopic hallway branched off to the left to a sliver of a kitchen that had clearly not seen the inside of a bottle of Ajax in a long, long time before leading to the main living quarters. The room that would become our family room/living room/bedroom/office brought tears to my eyes.

A lone mattress huddled in the opposite corner from the only other two pieces of furniture, a rickety table and a sad looking leaning Ikea bookcase. Two walls were bare cement and a third, for reasons that would only become obvious much later, was covered in sheets of Styrofoam. The fourth wall was taken up by a huge grimy bay window.

I put our bags down on the ancient cracked linoleum and gulped back a sob. I didn’t even have the heart to go check on the bathroom. It was late, I was tired, and I was mortified that I was even showing this disgusting place to my well to do American boyfriend.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I had no idea. Let’s go find a hotel. We can start apartment hunting in the morning.” I mumbled to M without even daring to look him in the face.
“Are you kidding?” He almost shouted, the excitement in his voice causing me to look up in surprise. “Did you see this place? It’s a penthouse! In the heart of Paris! And did you look out the window? That’s a balcony overlooking the Sacre Coeur! This place is incredible!”
“But it’s disgusting.” I stammered.
“Who cares? We’ll clean it! And paint it! It’s going to be awesome!”

He was right. He saw through the grossness and the aging decor and envisioned the love nest that we would create. Months later I sat on our cushy carpet and gazed out the clean windows at the gorgeous church that millions of people visit every year. I leaned back against our bed and smiled at the futon that we were using as a couch. I glanced at the walls that we’d painstakingly painted and smiled. We’d turned the place around and made it cozy and ours. We lived there for just over a year and while the closeness got a little oppressive at times, I’m pretty sure I speak for both of us when I say that we loved every moment of it.

And not just because there was an incredible boulangerie less than a block away.

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