A good friend, planning a trip to Paris, asked for ideas about where to stay, which flooded me with memories of our once-in-a-lifetime apartment in the 16th Arrondissement.
We were lucky to find the flat on rue de Lasteyrie. Colleagues from Bill's work arranged to transfer their apartment to us since they were returning to the United States. Not only was the apartment beautiful, but we could move right in. When Parisians say an apartment is unfurnished, they mean that only the sinks and toilets are already installed. We didn't have to install kitchen and bathroom cabinets, stoves, refrigerators, washer/dryers, and light fixtures which is common practice in Paris. Tenants build in everything else because most people who live in Paris stay permanently. Our neighbor in the flat below us lived in her apartment for 60 years. As expats, we knew we had a very short time (2 years) to create a livable space.
|The view from our windows|
When one thinks of old Parisian apartments, one thinks of high ceilings, elaborate moldings, large French windows, balconies, and charming elevators. In our building we had all that. The charming elevator, though, was the bane of our days. No more than three feet square, our elevator just barely held 2 adults and 1 kid -- and that was before dinner. To get into the elevator, we had to pass through two sets of doors. We pulled the heavy metal and glass outer door open towards us, and then backed into the elevator because the second set were two swinging doors that opened towards the inside. Getting in wasn't too bad. Once we reached our floor, we opened the swinging doors towards us again. We had to hold them open just right with elbows, feet or fanny, as we pushed against the heavy metal outer door to get out. Otherwise, we'd get a bang on the head, a bang on our rear, or usually both as the doors swung back. Trying to get in and out with packages or the shopping cart was even more difficult. I can see the cartoon my dad would have made our machinations as we tried to exit the elevator in one piece.
|The view from our dining room|
The 150-year building that housed our apartment had its quirks. We lost our hot water in the kitchen for a week when the gas company arrived unannounced to replace the gas meter, even though we had had no problems with it. At the end of the week, the fixit man came to bring us hot water again. In a matter of minutes, by fiddling here and there, he brought our instant hot water back again (each sink/shower/bath had its own small water heater). Hot water is such a luxury!
|Our guest bedroom where many friends stayed|
We blew the fuses many times. Once the clothes dryer went out and blew everything else in the front part of the house; another time Bill connected a U.S. plug without a transformer. Each time an electrician came. As usual whenever we called an electrician (in Paris or home in California), the electricity quickly came back on because he knew which simple button to push. All of these events sound normal for those of us who own houses, except that there the repairmen only spoke French. We got by with lots of sign language, laughter at my expense, and calls to the translator at the relocation company who helped us move in.
|The flower shop around the corner|
Our first September in Paris turned into a rainy month. The old-timers said that was unusual. The days without rain were blissful with bright blue skies and just-right temperature. We spent Saturday mornings people-watching at the local patisserie, where waiters smiled at our fractured French, and served us anyway. At first I tried to identify what a French person looked like, but I concluded that the French are as varied in appearance as Americans, perhaps the result of all those armies and bands of people passing through their country for centuries. The Parisians we encountered reminded me of the Japanese people whom we met while we were living in Tokyo: formal, polite, soft-spoken, and full of life. The French expression, joie de vivre, seems to fit.
The French use small gestures to call attention. A slight flick of the fingers is enough to attract a bus or a waiter. When they realize that you come in their shop frequently, they accept you and greet you with warmth. A smile or a laugh about yourself will get over many hurdles.
|Outside our apartment on rue de Lasteyrie|
If you are going to Paris anytime soon, email me at email@example.com I have a great list of Paris sites and activities that I can share with you.