Saturday, November 17, 2018

It's a Funny Ole Life

It’s a funny ole life here in France.

For an entrepreneurial ex-pat living in rural France, there aren’t a lot of obvious opportunities for  making money. Unless you are independently wealthy or living on retirement, it is likely that you are going to do a stint being a maid or maintenance person at some point in time. 

Here’s where I fit into this experience. On the other side of the village, we have friends that run a sports vacation center that can accommodate up to 24 people. That’s more housekeeping than one person can clean on their own so there’s a small army that tackles the Wednesday changeovers. We’re divided into 2 teams and you’re either a Kitchenette or aToilette. For one reason or another I have staked out my position as aToilette. Don’t think too hard about my responsibilities. I simply do whatever it takes to get the bathroom spotless and shiny, change the beds, and be sure the windows sparkle. It’s only a half-day’s work once a week.  After finishing, the best part of the day is sitting down to a long lunch with the work crew. I’m really working so that I can enjoy this once-a-week camaraderie.
But there’s another side to the expat, entrepreneurial, life in a small village in France. When a friend asked if I would meet her in Paris to celebrate her birthday I could say “yes” in my best jet-setty, life’s a breeze voice. 

Paris - Bourdeilles pas de problem!

The morning before I headed off on this Paris jaunt found me at work in coveralls and rubber gloves. I grumbled about women with long hair and sink drains. I worried if I had accomplished tight enough hospital corners for the sheets. Lunch time was a sack of leftovers, laughing at some of the guests capers, and catching up on the latest gossip.

I changed to a dress and fancy walking shoes (I’d never be seen in Bourdeilles with something so shiny) in the broom-closet size staff bathroom. Transformed from Cinderella in the scullery to Cinderella in impractical shoes, I was off to the fancy world of gay Paris. 

My coachman dropped me off at the train station.  The cows and the cornfields of the Dordogne speed past the train window. In a few short hours there she was— Paris!
Every time I step off the train and into the avenues of Paris I am bowled over. The elegant architecture. Cafe terraces buzzing. Restaurants open at all hours of the day. Light, light and more ever-changing light— on the Seine, bathing the Louvre, behind the Eiffel tower.

I walk with a purpose although the only purpose is to look like I belong, to shed the country bumpkin air that I am sure is trailing behind me. I meet up with my friend and we have drinks on a terrace watching the city world pass by on Boulevard St Germaine. We shop for shoes that will never leave the dark of the closet if I they don’t leave Bourdeilles. “How ‘bout that silk dress and leather skirt?” - “I don’t think so.” “Well maybe.”… We ask around about dinner recommendations and select some place we can walk to in our fancy shoes and Parisienne costumes. I’m sure everyone knows I’m posing, but it’s probably not the country pumpkin that everyone spots, it’s the American bumpkin that can’t be shed. And really who’s looking any way?!

Dinner starts with champagne and the food is way too Paris fancy. The waiters in their starched shirts and tight black jackets deign to smirk at my efforts to speak French. The bill is several days of my “housekeeping” pay.

The next day we settle for lunch in a neighborhood bistro with gilded panels and cherubs dancing on the ceiling. My mind wanders to niggling thoughts. Who’s back in the kitchen getting this delicious food out to us? Who’s doing the dishes? Who’s keeping all that gilding sparkly? Who keeps the door hinges from squeaking? Is the WC (aka les toilettes) proper?
I know I’ll be back at work on Wednesday. The rubber gloves will be back on and the banter will go back and forth from room to room as we work and catch up on what’s happened since last Wednesday. I’ll pay extra attention to how important it will be for the incoming guests to crawl into crisps sheets without a thought for how the place got this way so that they can feel like they are special. My shoes won’t sparkle, Prince charming will have picked me up in the old car, but the elegant memories of a fling in Paris will linger. 
It’s a funny ole life.


Unknown said... a life being well lived.

Mary Jo said...

Sometimes, my housecleaning days feel like Cinderella days. I suspect that in the future I will think of this post and smile as I make everything sparkle. And afterward, I just may don my city clothes and head into Burlington to shop, sip, and smile as I think of you. Wonderful post.