Global Mom: Sitting in a Franco-American Political Hot Seat

After a week of real time traveling with Global Mom on the road through Poland (thanks so much for coming along, by the way), we’re back to our excerpts of Global Mom: A Memoir.

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Should I refresh everyone on where we’ve been here at the blog?  Last series of excerpts, we’d just finished a dense three years of moving home and/or country every few months.  We’d been in Versailles, had moved to a village called Croissy-sur-Seine, Randall had promptly moved to the US to commence work at company HQs in New Jersey,  I had followed over half a year later with the four children, we had reentered The Homeland (which entailed buying our first – and only – home, refurbishing it for what we thought would be the rest of our  mortality in that place), then, eight months into that life and two weeks after the grout had dried on the tiles in a new kitchen, we were offered a position in Paris.

We took it.

Another international move.

(I’m counting, but I believe that’s three major moves, including two international ones, in fewer than three years.)

This move was from the sprawling space, ease, convenience and  homogeneity of The American Dream to the heart of Paris and a sweltering Europe-wide heatwave, in the middle of which I stood while our waterlogged transoceanic container drained sea silt, a jelly fish or two, and most of our destroyed belongings out onto Rue du Colonel Combes. Our new “chez nous.”

It took several months to get our footing in Paris. By that, I mean that I hit a reinforced concrete wall of overwhelmdom.  Knocked flat for a spell and sinking a bit every day, I sought help (Mr. Psy and a week of teeny blue pills), circled Les Wagons, and steadied myself.  In the nick of time.  The last excerpt you read promised we were galloping  right into”Camelot.”

And so, voilà!  Part of “Village en Ville”, Chapter 16 from Global Mom: A Memoir. . .

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New Year's Eve, Parker and friends, on the Quai D'Orsay.

New Year’s Eve, Parker, his  brothers and friends, on the Quai D’Orsay.

The Quai D’Orsay runs right along the left bank of the Seine and is roughly the French political equivalent of America’s Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s where one finds France’s primary governing body, l’Assemblée Nationale, housed in a grand neoclassical building that stands right at the mouth of the Pont de la Concorde, close to where the seventh arrondissement, or district, eases into the sixth. By partial accident and tremendous providence, we’d landed one street south of Quai D’Orsay. We were in a political hot seat.

To our left was the Eiffel Tower, icon of audacious French inventiveness and skyscraping pride. Surrounding us were the Senegalese, Austrian, Romanian, Finnish, South African, Swedish and Georgian embassies. Our apartment shared a wall with the central offices of the American University of Paris, two streets away in one direction was the American Library of Paris, and farther in the other direction, Napoleon’s tomb and the Musée D’Orsay. Immediately to our right was the American Church of Paris, seat of the Societé Franco-Américane, and that just about sums up our part of Paris.

In spite of Jacques Chirac’s touching expressions of support after the World Trade Center attacks, (“Nous sommes tous les Américains”, “We are all Americans”) Franco-American relations were tense following the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a move the French (and most Europeans) found unsubstantiated and rash. I tell you all this to underline how we’d literally landed not only in the center of a politically stimulating neighborhood, but had done so in a moment in history when being an American in Paris was loaded with consequence.

Church friends making music

Church friends making music

As had always been the case everywhere we moved, we eventually eased into serving and worshipping in our church community. The congregation we attended met in a small rented meetinghouse in the narrow Rue St. Merri between Notre Dame and the Pompidou Center, and proved to be a cultural mix like we’d never know before and have never known since. There were as many non-French members as there are native French. Once I actually took count: among the one hundred fifty members there were seventeen native tongues. French with every accent you can think of or make up.

Our bishop, or pastor, who was married to a German, was born in former Serbo-Croatia to a French mother. His Italian, Russian and English were as solid as his German, Serbian, Croatian and French. His assistants were two men from Madagascar and the U.S. The presidencies of the women’s and youth organizations were composed of a Malagasy, an Ethiopian, a Romanian, an Iranian who’d converted from Islam, members from the Ivory Coast, Cameroon, the Congo, Angola, South Africa, Ghana and California. Working in the nursery with the youngest children were a Finn who spoke French, Swedish and English, a Swede who spoke Croatian, German, French and English, and myself, an American, who spoke French, German and Norwegian. We were overseeing children who spoke Spanish, French, English and Croatian. And the missionaries, young men and women from America, mostly, but also from France or other western countries, were bringing more and more Mandarin-speaking investigators of the church, students from mainland China and Taiwan, to meetings. When, on top of all these visitors, tourists also flooded our congregation, (which was a regular thing from April to October), everyone fought over the earphones through which we members would give simultaneous translation from French, the lingua franca of our congregation, into whatever language was required. That was primarily English but sometimes was another European tongue. French to German. French to Russian. French to Spanish. When enough Chinese members began attending, special rites like the sacrament (similar to taking the Eucharist) were performed both in French as well as in Mandarin.

The effect of all these cultures crowding into one cramped place made the overflowing facilities look like a general meeting for the U.N. Or, given the microphone head sets, a rehearsal for a Madonna concert tour.

Parker, Claire, Dalton and church friends

Parker, Claire, Dalton and church friends

At home, Claire’s flute teacher spoke French with a Mexican accent. Our temporary live-in student spoke French with a Colombian accent. And Parker’s petite amie (or crush), was native Peruvian, but had lived most her life in Paris and thus spoke French with no accent whatsoever and spoke no English at all. Parker, like the rest of us, was at home in all this, as comfortable as a you’ve ever seen a teenager, back in his circle at the American School of Paris (ASP) playing the drums in three ensembles (jazz, rock and orchestra) and on the weekends with his friends at impromptu percussion gatherings at le Trocadéro overlooking the Eiffel Tower, or on le Pont des Arts overlooking the Seine.

Parker and school friends

Parker and school friends

He also played basketball in the pick-up basketball games with the local guys (Algerian, Moroccan, Tunisian, Egyptian, and Lebanese) who gathered on Saturday mornings at the Champs de Mars, and with one of his best friends from school, (the captain of the basketball and volleyballs teams for which Parker became co-captain), he set up a volleyball sand pit near the Eiffel Tower. He was our resident PPE, or Paris Public Expert, who could shepherd brothers, sister, friends, and strangers on the street and befuddled tourists to whatever place they needed to reach via public transportation.  Paris quickly became his town, the place to which he swore he’d one day return as an adult to live out the rest of his life.

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(To be continued. . .)

14 thoughts on “Global Mom: Sitting in a Franco-American Political Hot Seat

  1. Great story and setting; anticipating the next episode. It really makes it special for me since I can relate to most of this in terms of geography, social setting, etc. Plus, with a family name from Languedoc it just feels like….well, home.

    Glad to see Parker back in the blog today.

    • Jack, I’ve charted how many excerpts I’ll post from Global Mom: A Memoir between now and the book release, June 1st. There are strong chapters ahead, hilarious and also sacred. I hope they are appropriate in a blog format.

      Very glad you’re here for this journey, friend.—M.

  2. Awe…good times! I miss Paris and always knew I would end up there one way or another. Low & behold I served my mission there. I was and still am drawn to that place.

  3. Your final sentence got me right in the heart today.

    Can’t wait to read more. Can’t wait to hold the book in my hands.

    Write on, my friend.

    • Sharlee, The first time I wrote that sentence Parker was alive and well, standing next to my writing desk in our Paris apartment. I was working on a book with the provisional title , Francegressions, all about adapting to Parisian culture, how steep that learning curve had been for us at first, all the countless ways we discovered one can make grave cultural missteps (transgressions), and how each of us, including the children, had managed and adapted pretty well, I think. Parker, then seventeen, had found his groove, had taken the city in his hand, had friends in just about every corner of town, and was certain he’d eventually come back. After University. Maybe as a young married. But for sure he’d live out his life there. He couldn’t imagine anything else, he said.

      So I was typing away (like I am now) and my son was leaning on my desk, and I asked him for his input. Those are his words.
      –M.

  4. Melissa what year was it when you moved to Paris? We moved to Luxembourg 2002 in April. Describing the church congregation was exactly like ours. what was fun with our small church group in the women’s organization was that most of us only knew our native tongue. And I had no “gift of tongues” . I was blessed when I was president of that organization that we could understand each other,though. We had about the same amount of countries represented too. Did you know a isabell mopuei? I think i spelled her name wrong she was in our church in Luxembourg . . Thanks cathy.

    • Cathy, we moved to Versailles (15 mins southwest of Paris) first in 1999. Then we moved in to the heart of Paris in 2003. We left in July 2007. Luxembourg sounds eclectic and stimulating, esp. with all the languages.

      And no, I don’t remember having ever met an Isabelle Mopuei…

      thanks for stopping in, Cathy.—M

  5. you certainly DO expand within the embryonic balloon of touching on a memory, a place, a collected set of experiences and end up with, if not ‘complete’, then appreciably much more FULL set of chapters. wha diddeye say? ‘jes that it seems to me that your chapters are like rolling a little snowball from the top of the hill, and it gets bigger ‘n bigger.
    the pick-up basketball with many nationalities reminds me of one stormy rainy SUMMER afternoon in the Ouray (Colo.) hot springs pool. MANY years ago. there was a pick-up volleyball game in progress, and there was ME (token Amerikin middle-ager), three borderline-rowdy energetic U.S. teenagers, three women from Germany my age or older, a family from Lebanon and another unrelated couple from another ‘Arab’ country … the melting pot of humanity and the high fives and occasional hugs makes my eyes start to well up even now thinkin abowtitt.

    • Nancy–Thank you. Totally without pretense, easiest guy on earth to strike up a conversation with, hilarious impersonations, and an energy level –- oh, his energy! – that met the demands of a city like Paris. It kept him extremely happy. We still consider that place “home”, since it was the last place we were all together.

      Thank you, Nancy, for this comment.–M

  6. What that last picture doesn’t show is that Parker and Henry are watching a combination of Diet Coke and Mentos propel into the Seine. Seminary in Paris was nothing like seminary in the states… the train rides, the dual languages, the cheap Chinese food dinners and/or Subway (only in Versailles!), and of course, the Diet Coke (so difficult to find!) and mentos experiment.

    • You’re right, Rachel. I think it was – yes it was – a church activity. Chucking homemade wimpy explosives into rivers. I love that photo so much. Its layers of meaning grip me and take my breath away.

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