Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Paris episodes: Laying the first stone...

For a dream come true, I have, surprisingly, no real recollection of the day I actually arrived in Paris...

I vaguely remember being picked up from the airport by my very kind and gorgeous ex boyfriend, and still life-long friend, who I had met at l'Alliance Française in Auckland (yes girls, it IS a hint!) a couple of years before.

It had been determined that I would arrive in Paris long before he would have finished his VSN "military service" in NZ. The vagaries of the French Administration whose tentacles extend even as far as Sydney put paid to that, and I finally arrived 5 months after his return to his parents' place in Sceaux. The said parents were kind enough to 'shelter' me while I looked for lodgings inside the Paris I dreamed of. Little did we all suspect, they would be my guardian angels more than once during my first month!

Their house was all I could have imagined. An enormous, stately, stone building full of antiques with a huge park on a lovely street in the very up market 92 suburbs. I had the whole of the very spacious and airy top floor to myself with a gorgeous Marie Antoinette blue and white bathroom comprising a huge old claw foot bath tub. With the exception of the house not being inside the Paris city limits, it was EVERYTHING I had pictured in my mind.

So you can imagine my intense astonishment when said ex-boyfriend started taking me to visit affordable apartments... (the exhorbitant rental prices and 2 month deposits we'll get to later).

With his friend Henri, we spent many hours during that first week brainstorming over which quartier would be best with respect to where I was working, in Boulogne-Billancourt. Of course, they thought Boulogne would be best (Logical). But not being in Paris seemed to me like I was falling short of attaining 'the dream' so they capitulated at my insistence and we agreed on the 5th or 6th arrondissments between Metro St Germain and M° Cluny La Sorbonne. The artists' and writers' haunt... 

Defining where I lived by my Metro station was very novel of course. I mean, it sounded a bit dubious and, well, proletarian:

Moi, rapidfire questions: "What's the Metro? Why do you define your situation by a train station? How will people know how to get to me by car?"
Ex: Silence. OK - it's easier to move around by metro. You normally count two minutes travel time between stops. Even people with cars prefer the metro...
Any one else cringing here? I'm wincing as I re-read this!

Full of enthusiasm, we hit the real estate agents. That's where the dream took on its first bit of patina. Where were the old wooden floor boards? Where were the high ceilings with Gustavian cornicing? Where was the REST OF THE APARTMENT?

Example Apartment Type 1, ( 2, 3, 4 and ... ad infinitum until enlightenment):
6th arrondissement, M° St Germain
Gorgeous Hausmanian building with 'pierre de taille' and 'digicode.' (very positive point)
2nd floor, no lift (fine by me, good sport)

Me: "It's very light, and very pretty." Note to self: kitchen a bit poky and surprisingly, no fridge or oven yet. "Where's the bedroom?" We were standing at the door facing the windows at the rear of the apartment. I had been wondering how they had artfully hidden the doors leading into the rest.
Real Estate Agent, not amused: Hmmhmm. Zis is ze bedroom, mademoiselle.
Me, confused: "Pardon? Was my French really THAT bad? Where's the lounge room and dining room then?"
REE with very raised eyebrow via Ex : Zis is ze bedroom and ze loungeroom and ze dining room and you ere very lucky as zis apartment has just been refurbished so ze sink and shower stand are bof new... I can assure you zis ees quite a big apartment for someone of your means age."
Me, incredulous: 'There are apartments smaller than this? You mean people actually sleep in the room they cook and shower in? Wow! Merci, we will look around a bit before I make my decision."

Was Ex playing a practical joke on me? Naaaah. The new girl just wasn't going to fall for it! Certain that we were being too limited, I marched him smartly out of there, determined that we would find something more acceptable.  So we visited... And we visited... And we visited...

Until I fell in love with a gorgeous run down apartment with a 'cuisine Américaine' (that definition underwent a French transformation too), and a SEPARATE bedroom, in a 16th century building with a fabulous crumbling staircase, right in the middle of the Latin quarter.
18 rue St Séverin
75005 PARIS!
Digicode: 8E6D0

There it is! You can see the dark green 'distressed' door just before the Japanese restaurant on the right. In front of the very aptly named 'St Séverin' bar where you could buy French Onion soup at very unconventional hours... and eat it to the chimes of the church bells next door.

Due to the level of exciting disrepair, the rental price fit my monthly budget, in other words, exactly half of my French salary!  This was actually almost illegal (and still is; it's normally and very sensibly 'advised' that rent be limited to a third of total salary).

All good! I could pay for it! And I DID have a bedroom that I didn't have to cook in! That was a definite positive, given that I didn't even have a quarter of the deposit necessary to sign. My 1000 AUD that I had been sure would last me through a while, seeing as I was working straight away, was just enough for the first month's rent, but not for the two month's deposit and 1 month's agency fees that no one had told me about during my interviews over the phone. Let's not even mention buying furnishings and hotplates, oven, fridge - for my cuisine Américaine - and SHOWER CURTAIN for the unfinished bathroomette.
But you remember, I had guardian angels on my side... TBC

 NOte: Didn't get this out for Monday. It's just after midnight so I nearly did though!. May I plead guilty and be forgiven as a writer for traditionally missing my deadline ;-)


  1. oooooooh I can hardly WAIT for the "to be continued" part! This is like reading a great novel *smiles* xo sherry

  2. Made me smile with my morning coffee. All those dreams, clichés and ideas you have as a foreigner... I lived like this for a long time too...
    Rue St Séverin looks great.
    We lived in Malakoff for a year, loved Paris!

  3. Cannot wait to read the nextt installment Ange! I think that this could be the start of a great novel.


    L x

  4. I'll forgive you for missing your first deadline - but am looking forward to the next instalment. I am reading the french anglais bits with quite a passable accent in my mind!! I can understand your hanging out for the romance of that apartment.

  5. I agree with Fabulously French-this is such a wonderful story! What will you call the book?!?
    Please hurry and finish the next chapter!
    Best wishes always, Natasha.

  6. Just a quick question-no need to post if you don't want-but have you read A Town Like Paris by Bryce Corbett? Natasha.

  7. Thanks for the encouragement eveyone! I had cut heaps of it out as I thought it was a bit long for a blog post! MIght do several smaller ones on a Monday now that L has taught me some of the basics of scheduling posts!
    Natasha - Haven't read the book yet but I'm willing to go and get it on a gentle nudge from you... Guess I won't be calling my 'book' A Town LIke Paris' then ;-)
    Deb - I wish I had've known you in Malakoff. We weren't too far away once I moved over to Boulogne ... Oops! I'm giving my future posts away ...

  8. It's exactly that naivete that gets us the stuff of our dreams - lovely!

  9. You should read it Ange. It is quite funny; he is an Aussie guy who moves to Paris, has a ball, meets an Aussie show girl...won't give too much else away but...well... I think your future book could be even better!!!!


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