Book excerpt

Buying a Piece of Paris

The Home of My Dreams in the City of Lights

Ellie Nielsen

St. Martin's Press

OneI blame the butcher's shop -- the one across the street from the first apartment we rented in Paris. Every morning I stood in the window of the apartment, mesmerised by that shop. It was so elegant, so classical, so unlike a place that just sold ... flesh. I was dazzled by the graceful, tangled curves of art nouveau writing on the windows, by the door's fine framed-glass panels, and even by Monsieur who slowly polished his white-marble bench as though he was caressing a thigh. But this butcher's shop flaunted its insensible beauty only to mock me. In this shop there were no pre-packaged, take-home, pop-straight-in-the-microwave meat solutions. Here there were real animals -- with fur and heads and eyes -- meat that looked dead rather than not living. This was meat that demanded experience. French experience. It was experience that excluded me.It's true. I didn't understand French meat. And what I wanted, more than anything else in the world, was to walk into that butcher's shop and buy a piece of paradise. I wanted to say, 'Bonjour, monsieur' and have Monsieur say, 'Bonjour, madame'. And I wanted to be able to tell him, calmly and with some authority, that I would like half a rabbit (no, I don't need the head) and a few pieces of canette (female duck's legs) and some andouille. Whilst thanking Monsieur I would purse my lips, shrug a shoulder, and outline my weekend cooking-plans in flawless French.Of course, this could never happen. For a start, I am not in the habit of eating rabbits, headless or otherwise. When I purse my lips I look comical or intoxicated (depending on the time of day), and I cannot speak French. I am, however, greatly in the habit of imagining myself in all manner of situations that are outside my real, everyday life. So that day, almost four years ago, as I stood at my window, willing the street beyond to leap up two floors and embrace me, a plan popped into my head. It was a perfect plan, one that involved daring, danger, and a ridiculous amount of money. It was a plan that would show that butcher's shop who was who. I decided to buy Paris. Well, just a tiny bit of it. I'm not totally irrational. 
My husband, Jack, doesn't always see things the way I do. He would, for instance, prefer to listen to the cricket than to one of my brilliant ideas. We were back home in Melbourne driving to a friend's house for Sunday lunch when Waugh hit a six, and Jack hit the steering wheel and turned the radio up even louder.'That's it,' I said. 'You never listen to a word I say.''Yes I do.' But his attention remained fixed on the cricket. 'You were talking about Paris.'I sighed rather than answered. It was mystifying the way Jack always knew what I was talking about even when he wasn't listening. He turned the radio down a bit and raised an eyebrow at me.'Well', he said, 'I think you're right. I think we should look at buying an apartment in Paris.''What? What do you mean "look at"?' I squinted at him. The sun was criss-crossing the car.'Alright. Buy one. I think that maybe we could buy one. A very small one.''Really'? I let the sun embrace me. Very small was perfect. More than perfect. We could buy a very small apartment in Paris. There was magic in that sentence.'It's not as crackpot as some of your ideas,' said Jack grinning, pleased with his surprise. 'But,' he continued as he lent to turn the radio up again 'it'll be up to you. You'll have to do all the work. See the agents. Work out the system. We'll be there in six weeks. You can have a go at it then.'I took my sunglasses off and smiled across at him. He beamed back at me. 'Even our accountant thinks it's a good idea.''Wow.''See,' he added 'I was listening.' He turned the cricket up to screaming point.I sat staring straight ahead thinking, this is it. This is one of those moments I'll remember for the rest of my life.BUYING A PIECE OF PARIS. Copyright © 2007 by Ellie Nielsen. All rights reserved. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010. Ellie Nielsen is the author of Buying a Piece of Paris. She has worked as an actress, publicist, curator and script assessor. After the birth of her son, she began writing, and dreaming of moving to Paris.