I took a taxi to Madame Randon’s apartment the first day I arrived in Paris. The taxi passed by the grandiose solemn ochre Louvre and continued along the riverbank, everything corresponded to the France I imagined, so is my host Mum Madame Randon, only more amiable and welcoming.
Madame Randon lives in the 16th arrondissement in Paris, a very quiet quartier near the French Open tennis court. She lives alone, with photos of family reunion around the house. At the entrance, there is miniature statue of Jupiter sitting on the wooden bookshelf with collections of books from great French writers under. I notice that there isn’t nearly anything plastic in her house. All furniture, including the dining table, chairs, cabinets, small standing cases, bookshelves, and sideboards are wooden, together with three pieces of dark colored carpets make the house dim but cozy and classic. She exhibits silverwares, chinaware and collection of wine in the sideboard in the living room and has porcelain teapots on almost all cabinets and plates on the war as décor.
Madame Randon originally comes from Cherbourg and has moved to Paris with her husband decades ago. Her niece, Mari, came to Paris to visit her children in late Feb and stayed with us for a week. The two ladies never stopped discussing receipts, wines, plants and vignettes from their hometown for the whole week. During one dinner, Mari told me that I was lucky to stay in Madame Randon’s house because she knows the art of living. I completely agree. I have dinner at Madame Randon’s house Monday through Thursday, and this is how I get to know her art of living.
Our dinner starts with an entrée, usually soup, and then main courses, usually healthy, delicious and good-looking dish of fish or meat with French bread and cheese, then salad, and dessert is served in the end. She replaces our plates in every stage and prepares two sets of fork, spoon and knife for each of us, and also two goblets, one for water and the other for wine. During dinner, she turns on all the lamps and wall lights, making all glassware gleaming in the warm light as if each dinner is an event. Also, she is always completely dressed for dinner: white blouse, knee-length skirt, leather slip-on, necklace, French pleat. Mari says that not many French mums keep making dinner the way Madame Randon does, but it is not a good sign when people lose patience and passion for food.
Madame Randon’s elegance is not of those highbrow in the air but comes from a loving heart, that of a Mum and connoisseur of life. Several days ago, all of a sudden I couldn’t connect to wifi at home. I told her when she was to leave for lunch at a friend’s house, and she stopped and crawled behind the little cabinet to check the modem. It’s the same lady at the dinner table and never lets me see her in pajama, but she crawled on all fours and she’s almost in her eightieth! Several days later, she invited her friends from the same porcelain painting workshop that she’s been to for thirty years to her house for lunch. She started to arrange seats two days ago, putting them in circle and placing a folded scarf between the arms of each chair so that her guests’ hand sweat would not stain the arms even though by my standard, those chairs had always been in perfect condition and position. Not only that, she began to prepare their lunch one day earlier so that she could welcome them in person when they came that day. All the tableware for that lunch was at the table the night before and we had our dinner in her kitchen that night. She’s meticulous and considerate about things she offers to others.
She loves beautiful little things like chinaware, the silk scarf I brought her from China, flowers, vegetables, not only how they taste but also how they look, recipes, the light of a painting, the night Louvre, Istanbul and the list can be endless, but she also loves French and international politics, especially Nicolas Sarkozy. Our dinner is usually accompanied by news on French TV 2. The night Nicola Sarkozy declared himself as candidate for the 2012 presidential election, she drank more wine than usual. And ever since that day, she follows everything about Nicola Sarkozy, his campaigns, debates and more importantly his rivals. She would put down her dinnerware and put on her audiophone to listen to news about him.
Madame Randon has the passion and love for life that young people like me sometimes can hardly keep pace with. I’m really glad to stay in her house.
P.S About Homestay
Homestay situations vary in each family. I’m really lucky to stay in Madame Randon’s house. She helps me do the laundry, buys me fruits and cooks rice after she knows I love them. But some families have very strict rules about using kitchen, one of us is not allowed to use kitchen during time for meals and others have had problems at first about internet and so on. In general, some of us think that French family is in general less interactive than we have expected, but maybe the distance is French too.