Thursday, September 25, 2008

L'enfer, c'est l'immobilier

Remember in my last blog when I talked about the wonders of Parisian real estate? I take it all back. In terms of real estate, this week has been one of soaring highs and devastating lows. Most recently, lows.

But let's start with the highs. This past weekend, I spent a paradisical 48 hours at the chateau of a baron that I happen to know. Two barons, actually.

We went for walks, picked blackberries, played croquet, drank 25-year-old wine, built fires, played dress-up, cooked lobsters, hula-hooped, rode motorcycles, and admired D'Artagnan's signature (I jest not).

As we pulled away from the chateau on Sunday evening, doom was in the air. Not even our artful rendition of "There Must Be More Than This Provincial Life" could dispel my mounting certitude that something dark and dangerous awaited me in Paris.

And I was right. Back in my little studio, I was greeted by the familiar smell of hot, old cheese (I live above a fondue restaurant). A few moments later, I was also greeted by a very angry man pounding on my door. He looked more Armenian than Savoyard to me, but before I could remark on his swarthy appearance and accuse him of falsifying his heritage for the sake of his fondue enterprise, he accused ME of flooding his restaurant. And, as it turns out, I had! Or at least, my apartment had.

Apparently a pipe had broken—or had never worked in the first place. According to him "there was water everywhere," "his clients were leaving," "the old people were sliding and they were scared" (what?), and "I had cost him everything." Whoa, buddy.

I considered slamming the door and cowering in the corner but thought better of it. I was to the flood what he was to the gruyere fumes: undeniably culpable. And more importantly, he knew where I lived. There was nowhere to run.

So what to do? First, whiskey. Next, call for help.

And now, three days later, having been thoroughly educated in the rhetoric and subtleties of French plumbing, I am still not allowed to shower in my apartment. I am FILTHY, and part of me thinks I deserve this filth. Things had been going well… too well… suspiciously well.

Ah, life! One day, it invites you to a chateau; the next, it sprays you with dirty shower sludge.

In Paris, as anywhere else, pride goeth before a fall.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

4 Reasons to Move to Paris Right Now

I’ve been in Paris for over two months now, but sometimes I am still struck by little cultural differences that remind me why I have chosen to live here. I’m not just talking about things like delicious cuisine and stylish people and universal health care and blah blah blah. That stuff is important, I suppose, but this is why I REALLY love Paris:

1. Getting sexually harassed on the street here can be an absolute pleasure. (Let me preface this observation by saying I am not trying to imply that I’m particularly harassment-worthy. Almost all women probably experience this treatment from time to time, and it has less to do with the physical appearance of the harassee than it does with the sleaziness level of the harasser). That said, harassment can be downright poetic in France. The comments I get most frequently are “Vous ĂȘtes charmante” and “Mais, que vous ĂȘtes ravissante.” Charming! Ravishing! This is a vast improvement from the comments I used to get in New York, where a homeless guy once followed me through the subway calling me a “garbage bitch.” Part of me enjoyed this comment, but I must say, it was not very polite. Vagrants in Paris really know how to romance a lady.

2. Bars here have caught onto the idea of “Happy Hour”... sort of. There seems to be some confusion surrounding the concept. At home, happy hour is a gimmick to make people start drinking at an unhealthily early hour (“Really gross $2 mixed drinks from 3-5pm!”), and in New York, no one can leave work early enough to take advantage anyway. In Paris, I’ve noticed that many happy hours last from about 6pm-midnight which, to me, seems like fairly normal drinking hours… just cheaper. I’ll take it! I guess in a culture where it’s acceptable to drink at all hours of the day, the concept of happy hour is fairly obsolete. In Paris, it’s all happiness, all the time. Digression: is anyone else confused about New York's current "speakeasy" trend? I was under the impression that prohibition was over, but apparently the joy of drinking in an underground cave persists. In Paris, you can drink in the street and you don't even have to brown-bag it. This is what I call living.

3. While the nightmare of apartment hunting transcends cultures and continents, my experience thus far in Parisian real estate has been surprisingly delightful. I had one broker tell me to “take as much time as I needed,” as choosing a temporary sublet was a “big decision.” In New York, if you don’t sign away your first born the minute you’ve seen an apartment, you’re screwed. You might as well just set up a cardboard box and become a freegan. And while New York’s Craigslist is rife with disgusting and cramped apartments described as “cozy,” “charming,” and “jewel-box,” a lot of Paris Craigslist ads tell it like it is: "come see my tiny apartment!"

And then you get ads like this:

"Are you coming on holiday or to study, i can offer a fouton in my lounge for females only, i have a separate bedroom. In exchange i need this person to keep my apartment clean, do laundry, grocery shopping and water my plants when i go on holiday in october for 2 weeks. Only responsible people please, not people that are here to party and make a mess. I am a smoker and it,s not negotiable whether i can smoke in my own apartment or not. No weirdo,s or sex offers please, this is a genuine offer that i will give to only one person"

Please let me be that person!

4. In Paris, we don’t scoff at philosophers. I have encountered more than one person here who, when posed with the age old question “What do you do?” responded by saying “I’m a philosopher.” In New York, this would not fly. If you responded in this manner, it’s likely that whomever asked the question would spew their vintage cocktail all over the table and then write you off as a complete spazz. Same goes for being a novelist. If you go around New York telling people you’re a novelist, they’re going to wonder what you’re really up to (think Ashley Alexandra Dupre). Here, since I don’t really know what I “am,” I tell people the truth—I'm working on a novel—when they ask me what I do. The first few times I did this, I braced myself for rolled eyes and public ridicule, fully expecting to have a glass of Bordeaux thrown into my face. To my amazement, no such thing happened. People nodded their heads respectfully and responded by saying things like “How wonderful. Is this your first novel?” Apparently I’m the only one who thought my being a novelist was completely ridiculous. Oh, you’re a novelist… no big deal. Oh you’re a philosopher… sounds good to me. Oh, you wander the streets and look pensive for a living? Nice. If there is judgment in the air, I cannot sense it.

And thus, Paris is totally and completely radical.

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