My Paris Apartment

by Britta on 5 October 2009

in European Adventure,The Freelancing Life,Travel,Writing

My apartment is a little quirky. It’s centrally located, so I can walk everywhere, but it is fairly expensive—for me, not for Paris—so it’ll work for a couple of months, but not for much longer. It’s a fairly large studio in an older building, though not a historic one. I can see one of those across the courtyard when I look out my windows, but mine probably dates from the 60s or 70s. In Paris, that probably qualifies as a new construction. The apartment is on the 5th floor, across the hall from someone who owns a little yapper dog that barks every time she opens her door, and next to a dentist’s office. I can see into one of the exam rooms from my windows, though no one ever seems to look at me. Fortunately, the chair is not right in front of the window, so I never see what actually goes on. I’d probably keep my curtains closed if that was the case.

Paris ApartmentI’ve been getting my exercise lately, not only in walking around Paris, but in going up and down the stairs in my building. The elevator—which may be the world’s smallest—is constantly broken or being worked on. Ditto for the service elevator, which is much bigger but apparently no more reliable. So, I take the stairs. Up and down.

The studio has a large bathroom but a tiny kitchen. In all of the places I looked at while I was searching, this was always the case—the bathroom was bigger than the kitchen. Most of them probably started out as one room in a much bigger apartment that was subdivided and then subdivided again, so suddenly a studio existed where one had never been intended. Bathroom facilities were probably easier to add than kitchen facilities, and more practical, too. It still baffles me, though, that a people as obsessed with food as the French would allow apartments to exist where it is virtually impossible to cook. Maybe that’s what really keeps the cafe culture alive—not a love of going out, but a lack of cooking facilities.

The kitchen consists of a mini-fridge, a two-burner hot plate, and a microwave. I have most of the necessary dishes, although I did have to buy a knife the other day because I just couldn’t handle chopping veggies anymore with a steak knife. No wine glasses, either, but I do have the entire collection of soccer player cups from McDonald’s. Excuse me, football. The washing machine is in the “kitchen,” which provides me with a surface for the hot plate and about two square feet of counter space. I had to figure out how to use the percolator, as instant coffee was not an option, despite the fact that I already knew how to use the electric kettle.

The bathroom, as I mentioned, is nice and big. It even has a bathtub, which has proved to be a very welcome addition after walking around Paris streets and hiking up and down stairs. The water pressure is great, and the hot water works almost too well. The lighting, however, is a little more interesting. There is an overhead light and vanity lights, and usually about 2 minutes into my shower, the vanity lights start to dim. They come back up, and then they dim again. This continues until I shut off the lights and leave them off for several hours. At first Ithought maybe it had something to do with the dentist’s office next door—maybe there just wasn’t enough wattage to go around—but it happens on weekends, too, and the dentist doesn’t work on weekends, so it’s obviously something else. Must be related to the divisions of bigger, older apartments, yet again. Mood lighting, maybe.

Paris ApartmentOn laundry days, the bathroom is filled with clothing, draped on lines like prayer flags, all sopping wet and dripping. The washer adds yet another dimension to the character of the apartment. The final spin cycle is broken, and so the clothes come out clean but soaking wet. I have to wring them out in the bathtub, and then hang them to dry. The bathroom has a built-in drying rack, and I brought another one, so the bathroom is crisscrossed with clothing that blows in the wind from the floor fan that I bring into the room and turn on full blast. Actually using the bathroom while this is going on is nearly impossible, and I have to turn the fan off while I’m in there, otherwise the wind and the damp make my teeth chatter.

My closet is half of a shallow, two-sided alcove, and the other side is the pantry. Each side has its own sliding door, but if one side is open, the other is closed: I can eat, or get dressed, but I can’t do both at the same time. The doors are rather sticky and hard to slide, and they often get stuck. For two days this week I had to reach in from the outer edges because the doors got stuck in the middle. At least I had access to both sides until I finally got them unstuck (by kicking, of course).

I do have an internet connection in the apartment, and it was a big adventure getting it to work. The first modem was faulty, though I didn’t know that right away. I could get the welcome screen but couldn’t get beyond that. My landlord was not in France, and his emails to the company (their customer service number is only valid in France) went unanswered. I tried to call, but not having words to report the problem and not being able to understand the answers of the agent just proved frustrating and unhelpful. I finally found the nearest office and went in praying that someone there would speak English, but also preparing a demonstration in sign language just in case. Fortunately, someone did. New modem, problem solved.

Except I feel like I have a tether. In the interest of space and weight, I did not bring a router with me, and I am living to regret that decision. I have a 6-foot radius of movement when I’m connected, and I pull the modem onto the floor on accident all the time. I do have a nice, modern workstation, though, a sort of counter area with shelves and stools and cubbyholes, and it has proven to be useful as I update my website and try to drum up some more freelance work.

Despite the quirks, I feel at home here. It’s quiet, familiar, and comfortable, and is often a much-needed refuge from a crowded, noisy, confusing city. They’re beginning to recognize me at the bakery and the market around the corner, and I’ve become a regular at one of the cafes down the street. Plus, there’s this great wine shop just over on the next block…

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