A Working Vacation

Paris: It's easier than you might think to land a summer job in the City of Light and live as the Parisians do. A Working

May 27, 2001|By Hal Piper | Hal Piper,Special to the Sun

Paris is a daily feast, a city of pleasant prospects.

Notice the tree-shaded streets and the creamy, sun-warmed building facades. There are shops and brasseries on the ground floor -- butchers, bakers, florists, cafes. Above, six floors of apartments, each with ironwork railings or grilles fronting the windows and balconies. Geraniums, petunias and lobelias spill from flower boxes.

This is the Paris that Parisians live in. One hopes that they are not blase about the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower and the Hemingway haunts and the boat rides on the Seine. But Parisians are also real people who live in a real city. They work, shop and play.

For one summer, my wife, Betsy, and I became Parisians. We lined up a small apartment and a temp job to pay for it. We found somebody to look after the dog and water the plants at home. We prepaid the bills, packed our bags and got on a plane.

We were not exactly strangers to Paris. Betsy had lived there during her college junior year abroad, and her French is fluent (mine is barely adequate). In the 1980s, when I was a foreign correspondent for The Sun, we had made frequent visits. On those occasions, though, I was usually working and Betsy was usually pushing a stroller.

When we would compare notes at the end of the day, I would report that some French diplomat had been cryptic about some policy point, and she would report that the children had enjoyed the elephants in the zoo.

"I saw a lot more elephants than Old Masters in those days," Betsy says. Except for the sidewalk scene, it was not exactly like visiting Paris.

Our stay last summer, though, was more like it. Empty-nesters now, we were giddy with freedom. Not only were there no strollers to push or diplomats to spar with, there was no household to manage -- no children to chauffeur, no committee meetings or choir practices, no auto tune-ups, no lawn mowing, no light bulbs to change or plumbers to call.

And we had Paris. The sense of irresponsibility was sweetened by the city of romance. As we wandered hand-in-hand, Betsy said she liked to imagine that the world took us for a middle-aged widow and widower who had remarried and found crazy love all over again.

And we had Paris. The sense of irresponsibility was sweetened by the city of romance. As we wandered hand-in-hand, Betsy said she liked to imagine that the world took us for a middle-aged widow and widower who had remarried and found crazy love all over again.

I doubt that the world was paying that much attention to us, and I hope we have never strayed from crazy love, but it is true that the summer felt like an extended second honeymoon.

Where to stay

Spending a summer in Paris is not so difficult as it may seem.

Finding a place is easy. Many Parisians flee the city in summer, and some are only too happy for their apartments to earn them money while they are away. Obviously, personal contacts are best, but you need not rely on them. Just typing "apartment in Paris" into any Internet search engine will lead you to a number of Web sites with listings, pictures and prices.

We went through a broker in New York who helped us figure out the trade-offs of price, location and amenity. We got a modernized apartment in an old building -- living room, bedroom, kitchen and bath. The rooms were small and functional, bright and airy. The kitchen was equipped for immediate use, with stores of coffee and tea, pasta, crackers, potatoes, garlic, jam, butter, vinegar and olive oil -- and a bottle of anise-flavored aperitif liqueur.

And we had the Eiffel Tower out our kitchen window.

We paid about $500 a week for our place on Avenue Kleber. You can do it cheaper, especially if you find a place on an upper floor in a building with no elevator or if you are away from central Paris. As with all rentals, location is everything.

I had lined up my summer job in Paris -- editing at an English-language paper -- through friends. But plenty of other jobs are available, 12,000 at Disneyland Paris alone, according to its Web site. Students may be able to land internships at UNESCO or other Paris-based international agencies. Just type "summer jobs in Paris" into a search engine, and you'll find plenty of leads.

My work hours were 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., and my days off were split, Saturday and one other day, so we took Paris day by day -- usually morning by morning.

Our typical day was to go to a museum or visit a park in the morning and have lunch in a sidewalk cafe. Then I went to work, and Betsy went on to an art gallery or researched our next day's plan. Sometimes she met French friends in the evenings, and they exchanged conversation lessons in French and English.

Beauty and ripeness

Paris owes its beauty and harmony to circumstance and genius.

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