My Paris Apartment, pt 2
Where I was, and where I'm going. Maybe. (TBA)
In my previous post (below), I let you in on my first apartment in Paris, which was small and a mess when I arrived. While the view resembled l’annonce online, which I’ll get to in a moment, the ceiling was hanging down in large, dusty shards, the entrance was a tangle of dried-out plants that had fossilized to the walls, and a makeshift fountain had been set up in one corner, which had soaked and ruined, and fused to, the wood floor beneath it.
When a good friend from the States called to see if I’d arrived okay, I practically burst into tears.
The kitchen was tiny and the dishwasher was so clogged with calcium deposits that it halted to a stop the first—and the final—time I used it. The bathroom had an open-element heater, which wasn’t very reassuring in a room the size of a telephone booth…if you remember those. I was heartbroken as it wasn’t at all what I was expecting, and I wanted to leave almost as soon as I got there. I gave up living in a clean, orderly home in San Francisco with several bedrooms, a well-outfitted kitchen, two terraces, a two-car garage, a garden, and a hot tub, to live in a cramped, top-floor apartment that was a wreck. I didn’t speak French, I barely knew anyone in the city, and at-home internet wasn’t common in France*, but I stayed and persevered, and lived there for ten years, where my life changed dramatically.
[*Being a tech-friendly San Franciscan, when I mentioned to people in France that I needed internet access at home, several said, “Oh, don’t do that! It’ll steal your soul…” I thought they were being silly and paranoid. Now I realize they were right.]
It was also my first experience with an entrepreneur in Paris, a painter who the absentee landlord hired to fix the walls and get the place into reasonable (i.e., livable) shape. It took weeks and he wouldn’t leave, coming back to do the job a little bit at a time. The place wasn’t very large, and two weeks should have been enough, but in the end, two friends helped me by booting him out so I could begin my new life in Paris.
My initial reluctance to the apartment faded as I made friends with more people in the city, who came over and were enraptured by the light and the magnificent view. The apartment was just under (and adjacent to) the multileveled zinc roof, and I could walk out and see all of Paris spread out in front of me. The sunsets were magnificent, and I didn’t realize how much I’d miss them, and the apartment, until I left.
I wrote several books there and hosted many mini-fêtes on the rooftop for drinks to watch the sunset with the Eiffel Tower showing off in the background, which twinkled every night. Just across the street was the Marais where a good friend lived, which was two minutes away in the swanky Place de Vosges. She was well-heeled and kept a refrigerator full of Champagne and was always looking for an excuse to open a bottle, which was much appreciated as I acclimated (with a few bumps and bruises) to my new life in Paris.
In spite of some downsides, I considered buying that apartment, which the landlord wasn’t interested in selling. It had a lot of flaws, including being freezing cold in the winter, then turning into a blazing inferno during the summer. I was in that apartment during the lethal heatwave (canicule) in 2003, which took the lives of 14,802 people in France. No matter how hot people tell you their apartment gets in the summer, if you live in a top-floor apartment, you get bragging rights in any contest of whose apartment is hotter.
I had very little room for anything, except for a small closet for clothes and a few drawers for socks, T-shirts, and unmentionables. But the rooftop made up for a lot of it, which was the perfect place to keep things chilled in cooler weather. Hard to complain about having unlimited storage space for wine!
When I decided to move, and become an owner, it took me years to find a place. I had a few conditions, which you need to mentally toggle when looking at apartments in Paris, like options in a search engine; you need to decide what you really want, and what you can live without.
Depending on your wants and needs, these are things that Parisians value: Light, a ballustrade (aka: a “Juliet” balcony), étage (upper level vs. lower level, one has more light, the other has less stairs), exposure (which direction the sun shines on it), elevator, a basement cave (since apartments lack storage space), and the grand prize: A balcony, or better yet, a terrace. Jardins are rare. But one can dream—right?
Places are sold (and most rentals) as unfurnished, which is different from the U.S. definition of “unfurnished.” Unfurnished in Paris means everything is stripped from the apartment, including kitchen cabinets, light fixtures, bathroom vanities and mirrors, and appliances. If it’s not part of the actual walls, ceilings, or floors, people take it with them, and if you’re a renter, you’re expected to supply your own when you arrive. (And you take them with you when you leave.)
As readers of L’Appart know…and what I learned, was that I had no idea what I was getting myself into. When I did find a place (which was, as they say…atypique) and renovated it, it was a comedy of errors, minus the laughs. (At least at the time.) When I decided to write L’Appart, no one told me that when you write a memoir you’re reliving your past, which is especially hard when the experience wasn’t exactly a walk in le parc. So it’s no wonder I wrote a cocktail and apéritif book afterward!
For years I couldn’t look at pictures of the renovations and had them filed away in the far depths of my computer. I probably had an iPhone 1, so the quality of them wasn’t very good, which is one reason why I never shared them. There were a few other reasons, which I mentioned in a previous post. But clicking through the pictures on my computer now, I decided these might be interesting—and I dare say, fun?—to share. The photo below is my kitchen after everything was torn out, and they were starting to put it back together. There was a looong way to go…
You’ll notice it’s a big f*king mess. I was probably naïve to think that they would just take down the walls, put some electric wires in there, close things up, and build my kitchen.
I think the picture below was taken maybe a year after they started?
It may look like it’s almost there, but it wasn’t. There was another year ahead of me. And not a very fun one.