Thursday, September 10, 2009

Paris, part I: The Apartment Odyssey

Well, I’m here. Wrestling my luggage through the Parisian metro was not fun (I sweated through a shirt even though it was only about 70 degrees at 7am…gross) but it was actually a little more doable than I had feared. For anyone that has seen Auberge Espagnol, I really looked like Xavier…I was wearing a backpacking pack with a little neck pillow bungeed to it on my back, and sling-style laptop briefcase on my thigh balanced by a large purse on the other side—or, sometimes, around my neck, when I needed two hands to carry my baby whale-sized rolling duffel up or down stairs. For those of you who prefer more classic allusions, I felt rather like Jacob Marley, suffering under the weight of my wanderlust. Getting from the airport to the RER is happily elevator-friendly, but as I realized when I took Sam to Paris, the metro itself is stairs stairs stairs. I had to transfer lines twice, and each time meant several ups and downs, which either meant that I had to grunt and use my iron woman skills or rely on the kindness of a stranger to grab the other handle on the duffel and help me carry (which seemed to happen un-requested, happily). I got stuck only once, for a moment or two (one hundred cool points if you get THAT reference) when I managed to get myself and the duffel wedged in a turnstile together for a full minute. I honestly thought I wasn’t going to be able to get out without taking out clothes to make it more mashable (meanwhile I’m holding up rush-hour traffic) but somehow me and the whale both sucked in our guts and muscled through. Haha.

After wandering the wrong way on the street for a while, I arrived at my little two-star hotel panting and frizzy, where I had to wait to be able to check in to avoid abandoning my luggage. Once checked in, I enjoyed a shower and a nap before I started hardcore apartment research. I’ve never done the whole apartment thing before, but it’s a harrowing and bizarre process. Overall I think I’ve sent a total of more than 50 emails, made about 30 phone calls (and gone through entirely too much cell phone credit). I’ve learned that in this market, my buying power isn’t really a commodity and I don’t matter even remotely. The demand for affordable student housing is so high that you have to respond pretty immediately to an ad to get attention, and even then, my lack of perfect French seems too much of a hassle for already exasperated landlords. When I do get a response, it is often to say that the room will be unavailable until (insert future month here, ranging from October to June 2010?!?) or that to be considered I must produce a stack of different French legal documents which, of course, I don’t have. One woman letting a room refused to tell me where her house was located because she wanted to “take her time” to see if she liked me. Lady, I’m living in a hotel—I ain’t got time.

My best hit so far was with a girl who has an apt in the 15th. We met for coffee, then, after I passed her roommate test, went to visit the apartment. I loved the girl, but much to my dismay (and to the contradiction of her ad!) the apt was a one-bedroom, and I was expected to sleep in the mezzanine above the living room. I feel like I can compromise on a lot in terms of housing, but I at least need a little bit of my own space.

Somehow I feel kind of shy and naïve walking around, I think more from inexperience with city life than with French culture. Although I’ve been here before, it’s always been as a tourist, and just the knowledge that I am a) alone, and b) in for the long haul give the whole experience a different vibe. St. Mary’s made me comfortable in small communities with a eclectic sort of routine (if that’s possible) and few variables, and city life is the opposite. It’s definitely stimulating, though. On my relatively brief wanderings so far, the highlights have some of the space invaders mosaic graffiti that my French professor at St. Mary’s has been tracking, a romantic couple composed of a huge, muscled Arab man and an Asian midget, (Word is telling me those races need to be capitalized—as if that makes the observation any more pc…) and an eerily gorgeous black woman with a hot pink fro. The food is also (of course) amazing—as far as grab & go items go, I’ll take a baguette sandwich and pastry over pretty much anything.

Today my shoulder muscles ached from the pack and my hands are red and sore (from pulling the whale handle with sweaty hands) in a way that gave me an odd-sense of déjà-vu, until I realized what it was reminding me of—monkey bar “injuries” as a kid. I will be incurring more of those tomorrow, I fear. Unless I hear something back about short-term housing by 9am, I’m going to be checking out of here and trooping on over to the international dorms at Cité Universitaire. Yes, I thought I was done with the dorm part of my life, but dorms in Paris > living at home, right? Wish me bonne chance…


  1. Good luck! We have a spare room now and are looking for a flatmate ;) kinda the wrong end of the world though, I hope it all goes well! and honestly, living in a loft isn't so bad. Trust me, I've been there!

  2. And Tansy's loft came with parents. a definite downer. Good luck with the hunt! Sorry we missed you here in the US, we're heading to Peach Orchard Road next week for a night.

  3. Totally riveting! And you saw some Space Invaders--a very classic Paris moment. I'm super jealous. So are you near le parc Montsouris? I have a ridiculous number of's prime Haussmann territory. Keep writing....(Katie)