by Beth Arnold
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.
This column is dedicated to Snapp Morgan—handsome, smart dog about town in both Little Rock, Arkansas, and Paris, France. He was the dearest of dogs, a true friend, a vital member of our family. Snappman, I know your grandmother met you in Heaven with a juicy bone, and you are flying high.
ALMOST AS SOON as we returned to Collioure from Morocco, our 67-year-old landlord informed us that we would have to move out of our garret loft so his latest girlfriend could move in. Even in the spirit of Sowing Late-ish Oats, I couldn’t imagine why he would prefer a romantic arrangement to our good company and the enticing aromas of my cookery drifting down his stairwell (he dined with us quite often). But he did and kicked us out anyway.
As longtime homeowners and newish nomads, we weren’t used to being evicted from our household. But in spite of that shock, this nudge gave us the opportunity to do something I had been wanting the three of us to do anyway—move to Paris!
Back in Collioure, we began packing up our possessions—our computers, books and files, Moroccan rugs and Haitian tin art, our Indian spreads, leather club chair and antique tables that I had hunted and gathered during the months we’d lived there. In June, we said tearful goodbyes to our new friends, put Snapp in the truck we had rented, and drove away for the next chapter of our adventure.
It was, I have to admit, revolting that we’d acquired so much stuff to make our first French apartment functional, comfortable, and reflective of us that we had to rent a truck to move. Here we go again! Is this just how we are? Can we not change? I know a few things about myself: I require order where I live, and I must have beauty surrounding me. That goes for Jim, too. A life without beauty is empty, boring, dull, and—well, beauty-less. I wasn’t cut out to live a plain life in any sense. It would break my spirit and render me null and void.
As I write these words, it’s been nine months since we moved to Paris. Our new apartment is small though lovely—classically Parisian with a Moroccan twist—and dates from 1620 (Napoleon Bonaparte is said to have once lived in our building). The colors of our walls are spectacular—the green of Mimosa leaves in spring, and a luscious luminous blue accented with jewel tones in shades of aubergine and ruby. The apartment is tres chic, and looks and feels like us—with two exceptions. We have a closet of a kitchen, which shoots my usual entertaining style to hell (though we’ve learned to manage). And we wish we had another room or two. Americans are used to space.
I’ve adjusted more easily than Jim (as throughout our trip in France). Change is harder on him than me. He misses his writing desk, his blue Chinese rug, his classic rattan chairs. He misses space, and also the outdoors. It would, I admit, be nice if we at least had a balcony. But we’re coming up on our first spring here, and Jim is planning to get some window boxes and plant impatiens, just like we had in our back garden at home.
One thing neither of us misses is a car. We gladly gave up our leased auto in lieu of walking or taking the Metro—and, only rarely, a taxi.
Snapp instantly became a popular dog about town. We couldn’t take him for a walk without being stopped on the street by numerous admirers. The French love dogs, and Snapp had such a gentlemanly presence. People instantly recognized his grand spirit, his soigné. One summer day, two Japanese women asked me to take their picture with him.
You may notice that I’ve used the past tense here. Almost six months ago, after our first summer here, Snapp became very ill. He was nearly 13 years old, and his kidneys were failing. It was a long, sad autumn—one I’ll remember as marked by waterproof pads all over our floors, and Snapp’s increasing dismay at his situation; he would sit for an hour with his face toward the wall. A month ago (on February 15, 2005), we had to have him put to sleep, which broke our hearts. We lost our dear boy, pal, and treasured member of our family.
But Blair and Bret were here for Christmas 2004, and we rented a car and all drove to Alsace for a few days. Mr. Snappman had one last adventure in France with his family.
It is good we left Collioure. As glowing as it is, Collioure is a very small town. I loved it and the region—the Mediterranean and Pyrenees, the vineyards cascading down the hillsides, and the Catalonian people and their traditional dance, the sardane. But the town shuts down after the tourist season—which makes it more authentic, in a way, but it’s also a little dispiriting, especially to a couple of outsiders. Frankly, I wanted the heartbeat of Paris and all the cultural opportunities that come with it. I knew I wanted to live here. I’m a city girl at heart, and it’s a delight just to step out the door and walk down any street at all here. Beauty waits around every corner, appearing when you least expect it. People are sitting at sidewalk cafés drinking coffees or glasses of wine. Store windows are artfully arranged, and boulangeries are loaded with cases of croissants and meringues. Restaurants are waiting to be tried.
We’re in the center of this city of light, making new friends, attending the opera, and listening to jazz. Our neighborhood is divine! It’s good to live here. We’ve started a new life, and I feel at home.
Our neighborhood by the Place des Victoires
Now Chasing Matisse is finally out, and you can read Jim’s lovely rendering of our big adventure—or, let's say, his version of our story! Please support your favorite bookstore and pick up a copy—or click on to Amazon.com.
But however you follow us, I hope our journey will inspire you to chase your own dreams, whatever they are. We’ll be chasing ours.
Unless otherwise indicated, photos by Beth Arnold. Not subject to use without permission.
Beth Arnold lives and writes in Paris, where she produces her "Letter From Paris" new media project.
Jours of Our Lives illlustration by artist (and couturier) Elizabeth Cannon. To find out more about her, click here.
You can find the Chasing Matisse book by James Morgan here at Amazon--or you can find it in or order it from your favorite book store.
If you'd like to start at the beginning of Jour of Our Lives, click here.