Monday, January 7, 2013

Our Paris Apartment (rental. . . )

Classes start tomorrow morning, and I expect I'll be too distracted to write much for the next few days. While I'm settling in to a new term, conscious of my promise to reveal some of my travel plans and other goals for this new year, perhaps you might not mind reading a piece I've been working on since we got back from Paris last May. I'll split it into two parts, if that's okay with you, as it's rather a lengthy bit of reading otherwise.
UPDATED TO EXPLAIN FURTHER: I began writing this the week after we got back from Paris -- we didn't get back just last week, as the first paragraph suggests . . .
Here on our island, listening to the rhythmic susurration of waves rushing through pebbles, gazing across the evening's muted blues and pastel pinks, chest expanding to match the ocean's breadth, eyes lifting to the distant coastal mountains, urban life seems an imaginary fiction. But just last week, we jostled our car through Vancouver traffic, parked it under our apartment building, waved our electronic keys to open-sesame an array of doors, and rode the elevator up to the hallway lined with more doorways, one of which opens into our small condo, just outside of whose windows traffic roars by with varying intensity from 6 each morning until midnight -- with other periodic noisy spurts in those wee morning hours.

I thought about our condo while we were in our tiny rental in Paris. The latter was brilliantly located, just around the corner from the Monoprix on Rue de Rennes, five minutes' walk from a wealth of Parisian attractions, two minutes from the Blvd. St. Germain. But it wasn't quiet.

Turning the corner from the crowds on Rue de Rennes or Rue de Dragon, trying not to feel too smugly Parisian as we punched our access code to open the heavy courtyard doors, we would push our way into the building's dark interior. Over the past seven or eight years, we've watched others key their way into such entryways over our years of visiting Paris, and finally, last year, became one of that privileged crowd, even if only for a month then, a week this time. Often, we would glimpse elegantly landscaped gardens fronting a setback building, the front wall only a facade. Sometimes that facade even offered permanent tantalizing views through its pierced architecture. I would try to be discreet with my camera. More importantly, I would try not to drool as I dreamed about entering our own claim to the city.

Last April we did just that. A charming little apartment on the 3rd floor of a building in the 7th arrondissement, a block and a half from one of my favourite museum/art galleries, the Musée Maillol. Just as so many have described, we enjoyed feeling like regulars in the very local shops: fruiterie, boulangerie, café, and the diminuitive supermarché at the corner. But last year's rental was a bit more genteel, definitely much quieter, than this year's. Paul's decision to try something different, at a similar (modest!) price point, moved us right into the heart of an area pulsing with Parisians and tourists alike. While last April (2011) we digi-coded our entry into a spacious if slightly drab courtyard from a fairly quiet side street, this past May (2012), we never entered or exited without an audience, whether simply employees on a smokebreak from one of many neighbouring businesses, or the garbage collectors or street cleaners whose constant presence suggested a gleaming cleanliness unmatched by reality.

Another huge difference between this year's and last year's rental was the foyer. Last April, in the 7th, the heavy exterior doors of the building opened to a small dark space with mailboxes ranged along one wall, the staircase describing L's with small landings halfway between floors. This year, in the 6th, the foyer was larger, with doors at the back that led through an outdoor courtyard, if one could use such a grandiose term for a space filled with garbage cans. The darkness of the foyer itself was as wise a response as any to the decrepit conditions any light revealed. Not only was paint peeling off the plaster in wide swathes, but the plaster itself was falling from the ceiling in chunks, and the walls were pocked by its conspicuous and frequent absences. More frighteningly, pieces of wood seem to have detached themselves from ceiling and wall and hung precariously in a few spots. One hoped they weren't involved in any structural work.  As our Parisian friend, Jennifer, said when she popped in to have a peek at our digs one evening, dropping us off after a pleasant restaurant meal, "Oh dear, it's rather leprous, isn't it?"

Both apartments, however different each other though, became more similar in their contrast with our Vancouver condo. Before I illustrate this contrast, I should acknowledge that our Vancouver apartment is in a well-situated but modest building, and that in sticking to a fairly frugal travel budget, our Paris apartment this year was considerably more modest than what we'd be willing to adopt if we were living in The City of Light for more than a week. And there's no doubt at all that Paris apartments offer luxe we could never imagine, let alone afford, in wealthy neighbourhoods throughout the city.

I'll break off here, if you don't mind, and continue in another post. . . .


5 comments:

  1. I too am in the process of booking a Paris apt for next fall. It's important for anyone interested in the rental option to note that properties go on and off the rental market from year to year. Several we adored are no longer offered, or only available for very long rentals.

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    1. We're actually going to stay in our friends' hotel this time, as we'll only be in Paris for 4 days at one end, 3 at the other of our trip. Otherwise, we'd definitely go back to ParisAddress -- and we'd cross our fingers that our 2011 rental would be available again. In this post and the next, I'm just trying to capture a sense of what it felt like to occupy that Parisian space, and trying to sort out why/how it feels so different from our Vanc'r apartment.

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  2. Fascinating - looking forward to reading more.

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    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Lorrie.

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  3. Very, very interesting - wishing for more.

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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