Friday, April 2, 2010

Pesach in Paris

"My people" are ubiquitous in Paris; Jewish folk – particularly those of the Orthodox persuasion – do not go unseen in this beautiful city. The district of Le Marais in particular is an area teeming with Jewish heritage and history. I can't help but smile when I see yarmulke-capped families on their way to Synagogue during this week of Passover, or any other day of the year. Somehow, in one small way, it makes me feel connected.

Let me be clear: I claim no religious adherence to Judaism. To me, Judaism is my culture, my heritage, the common bond that unites me with my family, with my grandparents and great-grandparents, and their complex history of immigration, struggle and success. Rather than observe by attending religious services, hosting or joining a Pesach dinner, and adhering to the many religious rituals and dietary restrictions specific to this week-long holiday, I have chosen to show my faith in my own small way, with just one simple rule of observation:

No bread, or bread-like products of any kind, for these eight days.

I will admit this has never been a challenge in the past, since my diet is light on bread anyway. But in Paris, it’s a different story. Avoiding the many patisseries and boulangeries for eight days straight, rejecting that delicious loaf of olive bread, walking past that toasty baguette, turning a blind eye to the gorgeous chocolate e’clair... here in Paris, this is nothing short of torture. But I have made it this far, only a few more days remain. And instead, I am happily filling my belly with dinners of cheese, chocolate and red wine. No, I do not deserve any pity.

As I avoid bread, I also unravel at the hands of a near-fruitless and all-too-stressful apartment search. Thankfully, all is settled now, and although I have found a place that may not be my ideal selection, it is lovely and bright, and frankly I was growing desperate. I have learned one very important lesson from this experience: the Paris housing market is tough, and relying on Craigslist as the only source for real estate options is a very bad idea.

Due to lack of time, energy and a general interest in doing so, I did not visit many apartments this week. And the appointments that I did make were quick. I have determined that visiting an apartment in Paris (on a budget as slim as mine) takes all of 7.5 minutes: 3 minutes to glance around and decide that the place is either adequate or simply awful, and if awful, another 4.5 minutes of polite conversation with the owner, during which I feign interest and long to make a break for the door. The one place in which I found myself actually lingering, taking a second look around, maybe even a third... the place in which I stood by the large window, took in the view of trees and hills and cobblestone lanes, listened to birds singing and felt the soft, fresh breeze brush against my face... this is the apartment I was meant to take. I am very lucky I got it. And even luckier there is no boulangerie immediately below.

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