Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Neighborhood

On an afternoon in early September I decided to park the car in the garage and pick up the kids on foot.  The school is only a ten minute walk from our apartment, but most days I take the easy option of swinging by in my car on my way home which saves me some time and some kid-herding.  But on this particular day the late summer sun was shining and I decided a block or two under the neat rows of linden trees would do me good. Mademoiselle had just started CP, the French equivalent of first grade and thus her first year in primary school.  Le Petit had just started CM1, the equivalent of fourth grade.  I suddenly had two big kids.  If I could make time slow down for a walk home from school, I'd take it.  

Once the car was in the garage, I left the building and started down the sidewalk, walking briskly since I was slightly late, swimming upstream while most of the other folks were heading back home.  I crossed a father and his three kids, neighbors in our building, and said hello.  I greeted another kids and his mother.  I nodded and smiled at another neighbor.  And just before I crossed the street, I saw one of Le Petit's friends, walking home on his own.  

When I got to the school, I realised I'd never before lived anywhere when I could walk down the street and recognise and be recognised by so many people.  Even back in the US, my life was from house to car to office, and the neighbors I knew by name could be counted on one hand. When I lived in the dense suburbs just outside of Paris, I hid in the anonymity of urban life and rarely exchanged more than a brief "Bonjour" with anyone.  Now in Versailles I felt like I belonged, which both startled and pleased me. 

For this I can probably thank Mademoiselle and Le Petit, who seem to know all the kids who go to their elementary school and a good number of their parents, and who fill me in when I'm clueless.  I'm an introvert, and I doubt I would've gotten here on my own.  But I also marvel that I've finally found a village for myself, in the suburbs of a city in another country on the other side of the world.