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Living In Paris As An American

Paris Is…Still Paris

At the height of the French Revolution, in the year 1794, the guillotine that had been erected in the square then known as the Place de la Revolution, today the Place de la Concorde, was in very regular use. One month that year, more than 1,300 people were “chopped,” as 12-year-old Jackson refers to it. Notably rendered headless at this site, in front of cheering crowds, were King Louis XVI, Queen Marie Antoinette, Madame du Barry, and Maximilien Robespierre.

Jackson and I reminded ourselves of this bit of French history as our taxi passed through Concorde this morning on its way from Charles de Gaulle to our little apartment in the 7th.

It’s been some time since Lief, Jackson, and I were in Paris together. Returning this week, after more than two years away, we find Paris just as we left her…

In striking contrast to Panama City, the place we currently call home, where, day by day, often, seemingly, overnight, the landscape is being remade, reshaped, reconsidered, re-dug…where, if you blink too long, you may re-open your eyes to a scene you don’t recognize from only moments before.

Here in central Paris, after centuries of reconsidering and reshaping, it seems prudent to leave well enough alone.

We wondered how Paris would strike us after this extended absence, and, here now, we note that, while she is unchanged, we are not.

“My head feels funny,” Jackson said, looking up at me with bloodshot eyes as we stepped from the airport terminal out into the morning sun.

“That’s jet-lag,” I explained. “We’re not used to this trans-Atlantic travel.”

Not so many years ago, when I traversed the ocean regularly from the New World to the Old and back again, I could go from airport to breakfast meeting to productive day in the office. Alas, this morning, all I wanted was a shower and a bed.

We’ve arrived in August, when most of Paris decamps, to their French country homes, the Mediterranean seaside, or farther afield. Driving from our home in Panama City to Tocumen International for our departure flight yesterday morning, we traveled through morning rush hour in that town. Miles and miles of bumper-to-bumper.

Driving into Paris this morning, we had the city nearly to ourselves. Most of the shops and galleries in our neighborhood are closed. “Back In September,” read the signs on the doors (in French, of course). We don’t mind. Our plans for Paris these next three weeks are more about walks along the river, picnics in the park, and long café afternoons than shopping.

I sit again now at the old desk I purchased years ago at auction, remembering that I must hold it steady with one leg while working or my typing tips it back and forth, back and forth, click, click, click, click, as the legs tap the stone tiles beneath. Not only because the desk is old and unsteady, but because the floor is likewise.

The floors, the window frames, the doorways, everything in the apartment slants and slopes. Nothing is level or square. Tomettes in the kitchen and tiles in the entry, original to the 300+-year-old building, are cracked and chipped. We notice these things now, anew, and are glad to find that we still don’t mind.

Other observations are less cheerfully acknowledged.

“You better finish that jar of yogurt, boy,” Lief joked with Jackson earlier, when the two came back from a trip to the corner grocer. “We’re not in Panama. Food here is expensive!

“Though, to be fair,” Lief added for my benefit, “the wine I bought for us amounted to about a third of the total.”

In Paris for the next three weeks, our agenda is to revisit favorite haunts (Jackson is making a list)…to take care of some maintenance and repairs in the apartment (Linda, our property and rental manager, has sent us this list)…and to write. With Lief’s help, I’m working on a new book, for Wiley, on “How To Buy Real Estate Overseas.”

While I’m focused on that, tap, tap, tapping away at this old secondhand desk, key correspondents from our Live and Invest Overseas team will be keeping this conversation going. You’ll be hearing more from Lee Harrison (on the Americas), Lucy Culpepper (on Euro-land), Paul and Vicki Terhorst (in real time from their current position in China), Wendy Justice (reporting in from Asia), attorney Joel Nagel (who’ll be keeping us current as we count down to year-end, FATCA, and the end of the Bush tax cuts).

I look forward to hearing what they have to share.

Kathleen Peddicord

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