We arrived Paris eager and exhausted. Our hostess, April Tash, met us on the Boulevard at 4:30 p.m. and spent over two hours chatting with us about the area, fascinating history of our apartment, and we even took a stroll of the neighborhood with April as she pointed out the boulangerie, pharmacie, wine shop, cafes, mini market, and the freshwater spring that still supplies the drinking water of the neighborhood. Below are photos of our apartment, beginning with arriving at the door on the street, then to the inner courtyard, and finally up a flight of very old stairs to the second floor.
Walking down the courtyard is stepping back in time. Our neighborhood is a working class neighborhood with mixed tenants, some very poor and others well off. April, herself, is Harvard educated and works at the United Nations. Obviously April is not poor. But on the courtyard, you see spaces in front of other apartments fixed up for a garden, a patio area with table, and other things, some looking a step above a tenement, some looking cared for, but very mixed.
At the very far end of the courtyard about a block in length, is our apartment. The stairs are very old and with each step, you sway one way or another. The old steps seem to be holding the building up. There is a very modern light switch at the bottom of stairs that is connected to a sensor so that the light turns off after you have left the stairwell. Light is a necessity as the stairs are like an obstacle course.
Once you enter the apartment, you are transported to a Parisian pied-a’-terre. Every inch is packed with practical application. We found the ironing board stored under the sitting room beds. The dryer [an old-fashioned clothes drying rack] was stored behind the pantry [an armoire restored to hold plates and a few food items]. The iron was stored in the upper cabinet above the sink along with the hot water heater. The washing machine was behind a small cabinet under the toaster oven. The refrigerator was behind a cabinet door under the sink.
April had hired an architect to update the apartment after purchasing. The architect had to make do with a building that could not have any holes knocked out for fear the entire building would collapse. Therefore, to run the AC, we open the window and hang the vent over the iron railing, and run the AC with window open.
I fell in love with the charm of our Parisian apartment. We had windows all along the courtyard and could open them for fresh air. The sun would pour into the sitting room and table in the afternoon. Armoires were used to store clothing and as a pantry.Even though we thought we were exhausted, we ventured out that evening to the rue de la Butte Aux Cailles filled with cafes and bursting at the seams with young people drinking, smoking and probably eating as well. Everyone seemed under 30. We wandered until we came upon a Thai Restaurant and a delicious meal.
Of course we couldn’t wait to shop at the open air market on Auguste Blanqui where every Friday, Sunday and Tuesday the sidewalk is transformed to a market that goes for blocks of produce, flowers, cheese, clothes, rugs, soap, roasted chickens and potatoes, fresh fish, cheese, olives, spices. It was very trying for me to pretend I could shop, not knowing a word of French. By this time my head was so muddled with Italian and other languages, all that came out was Gratzie, muy bueno, as I fumbled for the right French word. Rather than rudeness, we encountered only patience and smiling tolerance at our befuddlement.
One man felt so sorry for me, he tried to show me how to use my fingers to hold up how many peaches I wanted instead of trying to say the number of kilograms. He was very gracious.
We arrived home to our apartment with a bounty of fresh fruit, bread, and wine, plenty to provide lunch and breakfast [as the French seem to only eat a croissant and coffee for breakfast].
We later strolled the streets of our neighborhood and found some of the original streets and single-family cottages.
The neighborhood overflows with cafes and at any time of day locals flock to them to enjoy their cafe, wine, and smoke. There are also small parks and a fountain. There is a lot of very old history in this neighborhood, mixed with modern high rise apartments.
And so it goes. Learning the language, learning the French customs, learning the transportation system — we have challenges and many rewards. For now, I will say Au Revoir, until another day.