Monday, July 9, 2012

Au revoir, Paris!

Today is my birthday. I can’t think of a better way of celebrating it than by being in this beautiful city. Today is also our last day here, and we spent part of the day finishing packing and cleaning up and meeting with our landlady, but we made time for a special dinner at one of our favorite nearby brasseries, L'Etoile 1903. One last confit de canard, one last carafe of Côte du Rhône before we head back to reality.

I was going to title this entry "Goodbye, Paris," but I realized that although it's time to go, this is not goodbye, it's just au revoir―till we see each other again. There is some sadness in the air, of course; how could there not be? Paris welcomed us with open arms and became our home for a year. Dianny and I have truly loved living here and are going to miss this place.

A year ago we were dreaming of Paris. Now we’ve lived out our dream, and beneath the sadness of leaving is a feeling of immense joy and happiness, a sense of accomplishment and deep gratitude for having been able to live this wonderful experience.

"Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened."
― Dr. Seuss

We joke that this may be the best year of our lives, but if it’s not, it certainly will be one of the best. The kids enjoyed it too, and have even thanked us for bringing them here ("making us come to Paris" may have been someone's exact words)

Speaking of dreaming of Paris, this is my last post. When we decided to move here I was looking for a way to put all my photos somewhere so they wouldn't just end up on my computer hard drive, and “Dreaming of Paris” was born. The blog has been fun to write and will help us keep wonderful memories of this year. It’s also been rewarding to know there were people reading it and following us on this journey. Thanks to all of you for your kind comments and encouragement.

To Dianny, my partner in crime, a huge Thank You for making this trip possible and perfect in more ways than you can imagine. And to Andrea, Nicolás, and Daniela, you guys are extraordinary, thanks for playing along and allowing us to live our dream.

Hemingway wrote in A Moveable Feast: “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast." I'm not as young as Hemingway was when he lived here, but Paris will stay with me all the same.

Au revoir!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Neighborhood life

One morning, as we were walking to school, Andrea asked me what I loved about Paris. She caught me by surprise; I wasn't expecting a philosophical question that early in the day. But then she told me what she liked—the wide sidewalks she gets to rides her scooter on—and I realized she meant what I loved the most about Paris. I answered the question, a bit lightly, by saying that what I love the most are the crêpes.

Of course there are many things to love about this place. At the top of my list are all the sidewalk cafés, but there's all the other obvious things like the monuments and the architecture and the museums and the boulevards and the Seine and the history and the language and the atmosphere and the outdoor markets and the wine and the food and the cheese and the bread and the pastries and, oh my, I could keep going on forever.

I've loved seeing all the famous sites and monuments, and discovering new ones, reading about places and then visiting them, learning more about the history of Paris, going to parks and cafés and brasseries, enjoying the food and the wine that costs close to nothing, walking everywhere, and just absorbing the atmosphere.

But I think what I've loved the most this year is our neighborhood.

When we rented our apartment we did not know this area of the city. It's off the tourist path, so you don't normally come this way when you're visiting Paris. So when we got here we felt a bit like strangers. At the beginning it was just a few scattered streets that we walked up and down as we got to know the area and found our way to the school and the stores we'd need to use the most. Little by little, as they became more familiar, those streets started seamlessly weaving themselves into what became our neighborhood, the wonderful neighborhood we have come to love.

Possibly the biggest compliment you can get as a visitor is when someone stops you to ask for directions, especially if that someone is Parisian. Usually they'll start by asking if you are from the neighborhood, to which you bravely say "yes" while secretly praying that you get asked about a street or place you know. 

We have tried as much as possible to live like the locals. We walk our kids to school and take them to the local park. We buy bread on the way back from school and do all of our shopping in our neighborhood. We love to frequent our local cafés and brasseries. We say our bonjours and au revoirs when we enter and leave stores and cafés, are polite with our neighbors, and stop to chat with the building gardienne

As we came back from dinner the other night (we've been saying goodbye to places that've become favorites this year), we mentioned how great it is to be able to just walk to and from the restaurant, not having to worry about driving or parking or how much wine you've had—plus, there's nothing like taking a leisurely stroll after dinner.

Of course there's not just one Paris, but many, and each one revolves around its neighborhood. We've visited and gotten to know many of them, but when we return to our neighborhood we feel right back at home.

A local friend told me that many times when people are looking for a new apartment they stay in the same neighborhood. They know all the local places and don't want to start all over. We can relate to that, and have even wondered that if we ever spend some time here again, would we live in the same neighborhood?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

School's out; what's next for the kids?

Yesterday was the last day of school. This is a milestone we did not want to reach because it means the end of our Parisian adventure. But it's also a major achievement because all three kids did absolutely great this year—in every possible way. Their third trimester grades were great, but beyond grades we can see they've thrived and learned and grown so much that we can call this crazy adventure a success. The school also exceeded our expectations and we feel lucky to have been able to be a part of their 2011-2012 immersion program.

The kids are, of course, happy that school is over, but they're also a bit sad because they know what it means, and after making so many great friendships and sharing so much this year with all the other kids, they wouldn't mind staying longer.

We wouldn't mind staying longer either.

So what's next for them? When we decided to move to Paris last year everyone told us how great it was that the kids would learn another language. While that's true, learning a third language was never our main goal; it's always been more important to us that they master Spanish, our family's native language, which is one of the reasons why we're moving to Colombia. But of course, once they started learning French, we realized it would be wonderful if they could keep it up.

And now they'll get to do both.

When we were thinking of moving to Colombia after our year here was over, we applied for admission to the Lycée Français of Bogotá. We didn't know how much of a chance we'd have since at that time the kids had been barely five months in their French school. But based on the school they're attending, their first trimester report cards, and the glowing recommendation from the headmistress, the Lycée accepted them right away and have so far made us feel very welcome.

The Lycée is just a few streets away from where I grew up in Bogotá. It was founded in 1934 by a few Colombians returning from France who were attracted to the French culture and wanted to provide a French education to their children. The school is accredited and partially funded by the French government through AEFE (Agency for French Education Abroad), a unique network of schools in 130 countries that was created to help promote the French language and culture.

We're happy and proud the kids will be going there. And as my good friend Richard said, we get to remain in la Francophonie.

Monday, July 2, 2012

End-of-school-year stuff

Last week things started winding down at school and we had some class presentations as well as the end-of-school show and festival. We got to visit the kids' classrooms and see some of work they did during the year. It was fun to be in those same classrooms we saw the first day of school, when this adventure was just starting and we had no idea how it would go.

The school show and festival took place at the Paris IV campus of the Sorbonne. The first part of the show was based on the Lion King's Circle of Life entrance song, for which the twins dressed up as condors; then Andrea's class did a few songs choreographed by the school's primary director.

After the shows were over we stayed for a while at the school festival, where they had some outdoor food and entertainment and we got to hang out with all the other parents.

We've also had farewell picnics at the park and have generally just been enjoying the nice weather and everyone's company. And even though we're still here, I think I am already missing Paris...

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Fête des Tuileries

Every summer the Tuileries Gardens hosts a carnival on their grounds. When we were here two summers ago we loved going there, and when we got here last August we were looking forward to going back but they had just shut it down, so we're glad we were able to make it before leaving Paris next week.

The main attraction for us oldies was the Ferris wheel, or as Nicolás says, the Perris wheel, from where many of the pictures below were taken. For the kids, without a doubt, it was the floating balls.

On the way back home we made a quick stop before Napoleon's statue at the top of the Vendôme column.