Paris Moment: Neighbors

The week my kids and I moved into my Paris apartment was a blur. Close on the heels of my separation with their father, we were moving from the Middle of Nowhere, Loire Valley, where our farmer neighbors were suspicious of foreigners (of which I was the only one for miles around) to Paris, where our neighbors were a building full of strangers in every shape and color.

The day we got the kids’ stuff moved in, there was a handwritten sign in my lobby saying that there would be a wedding reception on the 5th floor that night. They excused themselves in advance for the noise and welcomed everyone in the building to stop by. You often see that wording, but I doubt many neighbors actually take up the offer. It’s just a matter of politesse.

My son, daughter, and I went out to a park for the day, and when we got home, we stood around gawping at our still sparsely furnished apartment and listened to the sounds of festivities coming from a few flights above us. I looked at my kids, who were watching the ceiling like they wished it were transparent. “Want to go to a party?”

We dug our nicest clothes out of our boxes, and I ran across the street to buy a bottle of champagne. Then we mounted four flights of stairs and knocked on the door where all the noise was coming from. And waited. And knocked again. The door flew open and an Indian man in a suit holding a glass of wine smiled at us and shouted, “Bonjour!”

“Bonjour,” I said, and told him we were the neighbors from downstairs. We had just moved in and heard the party and thought we would stop by to congratulate the bride and groom. My kids leaned forward and peered through the door looking for other children.

“You speak English!” the man said with a British accent and an enormous smile. “Well, I am the groom, and this beautiful woman is my bride!” He hugged a beautiful woman to his side. She wore a sari-like dress and lots of gold jewelry. My daughter “oohed” in spite of herself, and got showered with hugs and kisses because of it. We were ushered in and introduced to the bride and groom’s parents, siblings, cousins, friends. We were dragged onto the dance floor, and my children found some other kids to play tag with. We were made to feel like invited guests. We only stayed an hour. It was already late. But the goodbyes were as sincere as if we were old friends.

It’s been three years since the wedding, and I have only bumped into the couple a few times since then. They live half-time in London and we don’t seem to have the same coming and going hours. But every time we see each other they give a cry of delight and ask how we are. I passed the groom in the stairwell yesterday and he asked if my children had gotten much bigger than the last time he saw them. We agreed to meet up for a drink the next time they were around.

This is something I love about Paris. Yes, it’s a big city. Most people keep to themselves. Most people have their public mask. But sometimes you are let into someone else’s world, for a moment, for an hour, for an unpredictable and unplanned series of delightful encounters. People are the heartbeat of the city and every day holds an opportunity to sample the flavor of another soul.

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