I pop across the street to the épicerie to get an avocado and some red wine to complete the dinner menu.
As I leave the outer door of the building, 5-year-old Thomas, the gardienne's impish son, greets me with a chirpy and perfunctory "Bonsoir, madame!" He's really proud of his new hair-gel spikes. We'd spent last evening talking about his vacation and the beginning of school, while he tortured his two-year old brother with sly belly-pokes. He knows how to get a grin out of me even when he's in total Dennis-the-Menace mode.
As I cross the street I speak with the elderly lady -- always wearing navy blue -- who runs the tiny lunchroom/salon de thé. She serves the best homemade food in Paris, but has been closed for four months since her fall, when she broke her forearm. Now she's back, slowly. She explains her medical trials, and is proud to be working again. After my two years of living here, she finally recognizes me as a genuine neighbor, and we discuss the health and general problems facing the ground-floor residents along the street.
I move down the sidewalk and enter the épicerie. Yesterday when I was there to buy a bottle of Coca Light, I was unprepared, out of cash, and the distributeur [ATM] at the corner was out of service. The owner had just said, "Don't worry madame, pay me tomorrow."
Tonight I enter, and it's like a joyous reunion in a tiny jam-packed aisle. Everyone's back from vacation, ready to start the new year tomorrow. Jean-Michel, from the restaurant around the corner, had un temps superb in Brittany. The waitress from the bar-tabac has a new coiffure and a nice tan. The other clients I don't know, but the air was familial and friendly, everyone shaking hands and greeting each other. Including me.
As I pay for my items and laughingly remind the owner that I'm reimbursing him for yesterday's debt, I hear strains of familiar music. Faintly in the background on the scratchy radio system in the épicerie is the Keane song, the finale of the soundtrack of Klapisch's film Paris.
The owner hands me my change with a smile. Inexplicably, I duck my head down into my tote bag. I have to hurry out. Suddenly my sinuses are burning, my throat has a lump, and I have to escape. Damn. Just like that damn movie, which I loved. This is Paris, my Paris. This is the place where I have made a home, and a quirky family of strangers who aren't strangers and aren't family -- but people who are dear, who know me and care about me, in their own way.
I slam all five doors in the building on the way back to my apartment, and burst into tears when I get home to my nest.