Paris attracts a lot of American dreamers.
I met one of them shortly after my arrival. Georgia had moved there with her partner Catherine a few years earlier. They’d lived in California where they still kept a house, but had made the 14th arrondissement their home in Paris.
Their lovely apartment on the Rue Victor Considerant is just a few minutes from the square Denfert-Rochereau, named after Pierre Denfert-Rochereau, a French commander who organized the defense at the siege of Belfort during the Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871).
Anyone strolling the area or leaving the metro station that gives upon the square sees Frédéric Bartholdi’s Lion of Belfort statue guarding the crossroads. From Georgia’s apartment you could hear chanting demonstrators (or “les manifestants”) who gathered there to protest something or other (demonstrations are a way of life in France).
Georgia, a longtime Francophile, had for a couple of years traveled widely around the country discovering it with Catherine, and they’d spent weeks and even months living in rented spaces in a different arrondissement of Paris to decide which area would suit them. The apartment they settled on lies at the end of the quiet Rue Victor Considerant, near where I first stayed in Paris. Their street, named after a writer-philosopher who was a proponent of utopian socialism, ends at the Montparnasse cemetery.
Georgia and Catherine’s apartment looks out at the apartment building where Simone de Beauvoir lived, a particular point of pride for Georgia. And that building itself faces the cemetery’s twin graves of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir which, for some reason, are covered with a confetti of used metro tickets.
“I like to think of them holding hands in death,” Georgia said to me once, offering quite a fanciful picture of two doggedly unsentimental icons who in the popular imagination defined a certain era of unforgiving French cultural life.
Georgia started an excellent site for fine art, called ArtSlant and, having heard that I’d written about the arts for the Wall Street Journal, asked me to contribute, which I did. This provided me an opportunity to explore the art galleries – many found in the Marais – for purposes other than simply passing time.
Georgia, despite having lived almost full-time in Paris, and being comfortable with her vie française, was not entirely comfortable in French. Hearing me talk so enthusiastically about what I was learning at Alliance Française, she enrolled in a conversation course there. This was her third or fourth time doing this, and she and Catherine had also spent a couple of weeks in French immersion in Lyon. We also eventually shared a French tutor, who’d give us conversation lessons together. Her French seemed stalled at a certain level (perhaps because she and Catherine spoke English exclusively, and most of their Parisian friends were Anglophone).
On school days I would meet Georgia at the door of her apartment building, and we’d stroll along the Boulevard Raspail, a minute from her place, toward the school. We’d pass restaurants along the way where Georgia and Catherine had dined and we’d enthuse on the architectural delights of particular buildings as we made our way to school.
We would sometimes meet a little earlier in order to share a tartine – a buttered baguette, sometimes with jam – and a coffee, at a little spot on the Rue Daguerre or at another café she’d wanted to try. Georgia preferred, I think, the idea of learning French to actually learning it, and the thought of attending class to actually being in a classroom. She was happiest strolling with me as we headed to Alliance Française, and happiest too when, if our classes ended at the same time, we would stroll back along Boulevard Raspail, past the statue of Balzac just beyond the Montparnasse crossroads, wondering at the good fortune that brought us to where we were. A living dream of Paris.
One morning, over our coffees and tartines – at Café Fleurus on the Rue Fleurus near the Jardin du Luxembourg – I’d mentioned how much I had admired her determination in setting herself up in Paris. I myself had no intention of becoming an expat, but I wanted, as I’d mentioned, to become more culturally literate, to become a vital and active part of another city despite my being rather a laid-back person.
She gave me a funny look. “That’s not my impression at all,” she said.
“Well, I’m calm,” I said.
“Yes, you’re calm,” Georgia said. “But you’re also very present, and energetic, and eager to learn. That’s not laid back.”
“Okay,” I said. “I’m a serene go-getter.”