It is rare that anything that is much anticipated actually delivers more than what you expect. For me, after realizing that even science is full of hot gas most of the time, during my Ph.D., and being as disappointed as a child who realizes that its parents are also human, after all, I was left with the sole long term dream of traveling to Europe. At least once.
I have to say that there is that wish that didn’t disappoint, at all. For the longest I had imagined that I will never find a place I actually feel comfortable in, some place that brings me joy just by being there. In all honesty, I didn’t think that the people surrounding me in such a place would be speaking a language I only know a few verbs and phrases of, but even so, the knowledge that such a place exists, has done my spirit a whole lot of good. Rueil Malmaison- a suburb of Paris ( but nothing like any suburb I have seen in the U.S., so should really be called something else for the true American reader), where even Napoleon spent a few years being happily married to Josephine ( who may not have been as happy), also made be feel happy just because I was there.
Maybe it was an older lady with her dad in a wheelchair, who stopped to help us when they saw my husband doing his ritual turning around in circles whenever he is confused about directions. Maybe it was the knowing smile in the old man’s face when we confirmed that indeed, we were from India. He said he had been to Pakistan- India border, 80 yrs ago. I didn’t know the french for 80 or years ago. But I told them I could count till vingt. The lady (whose name I regret not asking, but hey, we had been there three hours and my old college friend was waiting for us somewhere we had to look for), was happy to know that I knew that much, as she realized this was our first time in France. She may have thought that we lived there, she had started to speak in french. But having picked up one of the verbs I know in french, I had responded that we had found what we were looking for (though, apparently, we had been mistaken!). It is true that she thought that people from India should have no reason speaking in a language of the imperialists that ruled them ( she said, and I definitely felt that it is an observation she didn’t appreciate, ‘ You speak English, even when you are Indian?’, at that point she didn’t know we didn’t live in France ( so we should either have been speaking some Indian language or Francaise). Although some people may regard this as being snobbish, or condescending, I did not. Let me explain, I am highly attuned to demeaning cadence in a conversation, having worked with an idiot for 5 yrs who didn’t know anything ( and didn’t accept or appreciate that I did) and thought that having a certain ‘position’ vindicates one of actually having the knowledge that SHOULD have led to the position, in a perfect world. Who chose to use just that tone and facial expressions, all the time, that one would assign to this lady, had she actually been condescending. But that was not the case. She is from a culture that believes in taking pride from wherever you are, especially if you are from a country that has a glorious history, culture, traditions and scientific acumen- India. I in fact appreciate her seeing India in what it really is.
This encounter had been preceded by some unpleasantness as we made our way to Rueil Malmaison. We were tricked at the airport into paying a 100 euros in a private car, knowing full well that one should never be solicited into taxis as only fools fall into that trap. I was pissed and my husband no doubt dreaded an impending gloomy mood. It is not more than 40 euros to Rueil Malmaison from Charles de Gaulle airport, I had checked. But my dear college friend had come over from Netherlands, and after seeing (and with the help in finding) her all sorts of ill thoughts just vanished!
Maybe it was schoolkids ages 9-13 skateboarding (safely) to and from school, or riding ‘vintage’ push scooters. Or people carrying long french breads in bags and running after buses. The city center, with a lovely church and a square being full of people at the lunch hour. Or the beautiful flowers everywhere. The observant worker at a take out restaurant who remembered what I had ordered and asked for, after one visit.
The shutters on the side of every apartment in every building, colored brightly in lovely pastel shades. Or the streets, with wonderful Patisseries and restaurants, cafes and small cars.
It was possibly a combination of all of this that helped me realize that happiness may not be a place, but it can most certainly be ‘in’ one. Don’t believe all the cliches, when the world is waiting for you. I know now, that even though I may never be able to live in Rueil- Malmaison, or Paris ( that made me as, if not more, happy) there can be a place, with its people and its character, that make me happy.
The chateau where Napoleon and Josephine lived together for about two years (Josephine died there, later) is beautiful and still has most of its original furniture, oil paintings and that borrowed from other Napoleon’s palaces . The adjoining park with some very beautiful statues, told me in its own way, that even parks need a history to have a character and peace that can move you. It was not easy for me to get to the chateau though, we did our ritualistic circular dance before finally reaching it. The first two times I went we couldn’t even enter because the park and chateau closes at 7 pm and is closed on Tuesdays. Inside, we were asked to take our backpacks off so that we don’t ram into anything and it is possible that there was someone keeping an eye especially on us. But it maybe just my opinion. As I said, everything in the place was original, and other than the noble porcelain and other smaller things, there were no glass coverings or enclosures. Plus the rooms are not huge, or even really big.
Rueil Malmaison is about a 20 min metro ride to Paris, maybe less if you get off at an earlier stop in Paris, in the RER A train. I may never have gone there had it not been the venue of my husband’s conference, but I am glad we did. The hotel – Qualys was very nice, especially the housekeeping. They took great care to accommodate me, as I didn’t leave every morning to go anywhere and definitely messed up their schedule. Even then, they waited till I left, sometimes as late as 1 pm, to clean the room.
Walking distance to the RER station and our hotel is the Seine river front, where there is a Le parc de impressionists dedicated to the well known impressionists, including Manet, Monet and Renoir, who painted the view of Seine and other places in Rueil, presumably standing along one or the other shoreline. I saw my first view of mute swans, with a chick in between them. That completed my wish list for Rueil-Malmaison.
Yes, I could live there.