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Jours of Our Lives: 1) The Bumpy Landing

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Illustration by Elizabeth Cannon

Part of an ongoing series about uprooting our lives in America and moving to France. For what's happened before, see previous Jours of Our Lives entries here.

December 8-10, 2002

IT STARTED WHEN we checked into the wrong hotel. We walked up the cobblestone street with our five huge pieces of luggage, me wearing my mother's luscious mink coat and feeling very grand. We stepped into what we thought was going to be a creamy lobby, a charming and beautiful hotel. Instead it was small, worn, and drab. The floor was being mopped, and it felt like with my hair. With our carry-ons, we barely fit into the elevator. On the second floor, we were shown to a tiny room with the walls the color of Arkansas pond scum and the wooden trim an enamel Kelly green. We thought we might have to sleep on our luggage piled on our beds as "The Princess and The Prince and The Very Uncomfortable Pea." I wanted to say, "Quel dommage!", although I'm not sure what it means. We ran out of time for our French lessons as we were sweating over all the details to leave. It has the right sound anyway.

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Victoria Hotel, above and below

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We'd worked so hard to get here, leaving what was left undone. Then we, along with our adult daughters, Blair and Bret, and our dear friend Patti boo-hooed as we drove away. This of course required a stiff drink at the airport, though not another one until we boarded our Air France flight in Atlanta. When drinks were served, we had to have champagne. We finally were on our way.

At Charles DeGaulle airport, we snagged a wonderful driver named Jacques who had a van that could hold all Our Stuff. We told him about Chasing Matisse, feeling very proud. He talked about Paris and delivered us to what we thought would be the haven for us to rest and sleep--to relax after this six-month-sprint to leave our old lives behind and learn to see in the new lives we would find.

Unfortunately, we thought we had booked the four-star Victoria Palace. We had arrived in Paris to begin our big adventure, but Jacques had delivered us to the address we told him--the Victoria Hotel. Definitely not the right one, though we still didn't get it. Our friend Mims had told us about how beautiful the Victoria Palace was. "Poor Mims," we said, looking around the Victoria Hotel. "Somebody sold him a bill of goods." As Jacques drove away and left us, it seemed absolutely appropriate that his last name was Misery.

We stayed in bed for 16 hours, and I'm not talking about a honeymoon. I mean hard-core, not-even-snoring sleep, when Paris was waiting outside our window but we couldn't have cared. My dreams were coming one after another and were intense, visions with me looking down on water--from a small, placid lake in lush countryside to flying with ethereal wings above a huge lake and not knowing how to get down until I hit a gentle waterfall and slid into the big pond. The most disturbing fantasy was Jim and me standing on a huge cliff looking down on a swirling, restless sea. Our son Matt was with us. A man walked up to the edge and stepped off. I knew Matt wanted to do the same and asked him not to, but he took the leap. Jim may have jumped too, and I don't know about me. But then I had an underwater view of them and others speeding around in a clear submarine navigating jauntily.

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The cliffs in my dreams

I went from Dreamland messages in my own head to actually trying to set up our French Internet connection. That was the real nightmare. After we finally woke up, we headed over to the Internet café around the corner. I could hardly think and my vision was blurry, still tired as could be. We spent two hours in the first foray and six hours more the next day. If one of our computers was up and running, the other wasn't, and then we still couldn't get email. This went on for days. Meals were sporadic. Our hotel room and the Internet café were all we saw.

We were wrung out...then it seemed part of our setup was working. We grabbed a bite of lunch at a Vietnamese kiosk close by to the hotel and then went to buy a cell phone, so we could be communicado in that old-fashioned mode. In a matter of a half-hour, it was success! Not nearly as hard as dealing with our server--until we discovered we really needed to know the language to press the right buttons.

We sauntered back into our hotel. I waved and smiled at the tall thin man with glasses (who looked like a Rotweiler) standing at the desk, and he snarled at me. "You owe 43 euros for the Internet, and you must pay it now." Okay. I mean what's the problem. We paid the mean, snarly man and went up to our room. Then two boxes of books and supplies of Our Stuff arrived that had been shipped, and we knew we had to get out of there. No matter what, we had to leave.

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The ghost of The Rottweiler haunts me still

Actually, it was minutes later that we discovered we'd checked into the wrong hotel. When we called Mims, he asked, "Are you at the Victoria Palace on the Left Bank?" The shock permeated our bones, horrible yet funny. We'd checked into the wrong hotel. How utterly imperfect.

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Victoria Palace Hotel, above and below

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But later that evening, as we tromped through Paris on the mission to find another place to stay, we found out we were saved! Mims had followed up on a letter I'd sent to Randall Vemer at French Home Rentals, and Randall had put him in touch with owner Michel Tessel. Michel liked our project, and he dashed in like Musketeers! We had a free apartment in the Marais for three weeks!

*

Note: From the photos I've seen online, the Hotel Victoria has been renovated since we stayed there.

Beth Arnold lives and writes in Paris, where she produces her "Letter From Paris" new media project. To see more of her work, go to www.betharnold.com.

For more on artist (and couturier) Elizabeth Cannon, click here.