Evicted from Chez Moi (Temporarily)

key 2-rtchI came to Paris for two months to finally live like a local, spend a long stretch of time in my neighborhood, in my little Paris nest. Up to now, because of my job, I’d only been afforded snatches of time—five days, maybe 10 if I was lucky. This would be a luxury, a chance to really put down roots. I was going to discover my quartier, make friends with the local boulanger, fromager, profit from the familiarity I would create. I couldn’t wait. I packed up three suitcases of my favorite things from my New York life and set off to set up house in Paris. For real.

But the universe had other plans.

Hallway detailI’d known about the leak. It had been working its way insidiously into my life since February. A leak from my upstairs neighbor began to seep into my wall near my front door, creating an unnerving bubbling effect by the baseboard. By March, it had started to migrate northward, and the managing agent—le syndic—was notified. Six months later, the leak persists, owing to a battle between the syndic and the owner of the apartment above, neither claiming responsibility for the repairs. This has wreaked havoc with my wall, my parquet floor and my ability to open and close my front door. But the worst part: mold.

You can’t see it, but you can smell it, taste it. It makes your ears itch, your throat raw. No matter how long the windows are left open, or how many fans blow, it can’t be abated. Two days later, my sinuses were so impacted my teeth hurt. My eyes began to swell. Breathing became difficult. Did I mention I’m allergic to mold?

The solution: Vacate the premises.

I was lucky in that I know people in Paris real estate, and one of them had a place to rent for a month. Problem solved, right? But I’d just unpacked three suitcases. My clothes were hung in color order and everything. My toiletries were in the cabinet. The fridge was fully stocked. I was emotionally installed in my little home and I didn’t want to go. I could deal with the mold, couldn’t I? I’d take antihistamines or something.

I decided to stick it out another day. I woke up in the middle of the night gasping for air.

The next morning, I packed some essentials, leaving most everything else behind, things I’d spent weeks shopping and planning for—agonizing for someone already unsettled after so much life change. With the help of a friend (mostly emotional), I lugged one suitcase, two large tote bags and my laptop (ok, two laptops) to my temporary digs. My heart was in a knot. I’d come to Paris to live like a local, now I had to stay in a vacation rental. This, more than anything, was what distressed me.

Why wasn’t I allowed to finally enjoy my Paris home, after everything I’d done to get here?

The rental was on Ile de la Cité in the heart of Paris, just near Notre Dame. Sounds wonderful—if you’re a tourist. The island is overrun with them, and the souvenir shops that cater to them. No boulanger, no fromager, no local Paris life. This only deepened my anguish. It was exactly what I didn’t want.

entranceBut as my friend and I turned onto the tiny, cobbled street lined with 17th  and 18th century buildings, some dripping in wisteria, the knot in my heart loosened a little. This wasn’t so bad. In fact, it was sort of dreamy—a version of Paris for postcards, somewhere I’d never imagined I’d be able to live. The apartment building had a massive, blue door—large enough for a carriage to pass through—that opened onto a large ivy-covered courtyard. Once shut, the tourist fracas disappeared and suddenly, we were in a haven in the countryside.

entry

The apartment was on the far side of the courtyard, up a flight of marble stairs, deeply grooved from a few hundred years of climbing feet. My friend and I exchanged glances as we climbed, our feet finding the grooves of souls long gone.

view from doorOnce inside the apartment, my friend couldn’t contain himself. “This is super nice!” he said to me in accented English. And it was: ten-foot ceilings, windows on both sides of the apartment letting in sunlight, and fresh air. The place had been impeccably renovated, with a small but fully equipped kitchen—better than my own in New York. There was a large bedroom with a built-in desk and a window that opened onto a tiny terrace. Best of all was the smell of the place—not like mold—but like…what was that? I took another deep sniff. Fresh laundry. Impossible in Paris, but this place was bone dry and smelled like soap.

I plunked down my suitcase, still uneasy despite the luscious digs. I missed the light in my place; I missed my stuff. I flung open the seven-foot-tall window in the living space as if to open myself to the idea of this place. Sure, the historic courtyard was swell, but…

Then we heard it—just a few high-toned pongs at first. It grew louder. Bells. Then more bells. More and more bells, each deeper in tone than the last, until finally, the apartment filled with the song of what seemed like hundreds of bells. A celebration of bells.

“Ah, that’s your mama!” my friend said. “She’s wants you to be here!”

The bells of Notre Dame were welcoming me. They tolled for over seven minutes; I recorded them, and in that recording you can hear me sobbing. These weren’t bitter tears of mourning; these were tears formed from the release of sadness. The letting go of fear. These were tears of joy, of amazement. Of gratitude.

“This is freaking unreal,” I said. “This is ridiculous,” you can hear me say in the recording. Then I laughed. Ridiculous how freaking beautiful it all was.

Now I’m installed in my temporary apartment. It’s not really home but I don’t feel like a nomad anymore. On Ile de la Cité, I’m steps from the Marais, the Latin Quarter and Saint-Germain-des-Prés, and still close to my friends in Bastille and the 3rd arrondissement. From this central location I can be anywhere in a jiff, and do my everyday things in some of the most beautiful and historic parts of Paris. It’s an adventure, a different kind of local experience. A chance to live in a part of the city I may never have otherwise had the opportunity to live in. And it’s exactly where I need to be, for reasons I have yet to know. Because day by day, I feel myself healing, unknotting. Even in my temporary home, I’m settling in—to the new me I’m becoming.

Sometimes you need to be evicted from what’s familiar to really feel free.

Wisteria on a building across the street

Wisteria on a building across the street

Stairs well worn by centuries of feet

Stairs well worn by centuries of feet

looking at entrance from inside

Ancient entry doors (view from courtyard)

My view while writing

My view while writing

Original 18th Century door hinge on the apartment door.

Original 18th century door hinge on the apartment door.

Detail of the courtyard

Detail of the courtyard

The quiet, winding street near Notre Dame

The quiet, winding street near Notre Dame

My neighbor, Notre Dame

My neighbor, Notre Dame

This is not the first time I’ve had a leak. Read about the first time here.

47 responses to “Evicted from Chez Moi (Temporarily)

  1. Dear Flaneuse: Thank you for sharing these details – the door, the hinges, the steps, the beams! I was truly experiencing it all vicariously through your description. For some reason, I am unable to play the bells, so I had to imagine them in my mind from memory. This eviction seems like a blessing – a displacement to shift your perception. You are literally gaining a new outlook on your surroundings and when you return to your apartment, you will have a new view in more ways than one. Enjoy, enjoy!
    p.s. Sounds like you’ve got another chapter for your book

  2. OH LISA….how charming….sorry about the leak though…it’s always something and I’m sure not easy to fix..good luck

    you need to hook up with Carol from Paris Breakfasts…she’s living on the island too…red hair, red glasses….possibly a limp.

    check her out http://parisbreakfasts.blogspot.ca/
    in the meantime…make the best of it..and had to laugh…talk about first world problems..
    “I’d come to Paris to live like a local, now I had to stay in a vacation rental. ”

    just relax and enjoy…and work on that book…plenty of material now.

    • Hi Debbie. Carol actually commented on this post, funny enough! I may have to be her “stalker.” (Disclaimer: I am only using that term in jest, I swear.)

      Regarding your comment about first world problems, I have to say I questioned whether or not to post this kind of stuff for that very reason. Seeing myself quoted back like you did made me cringe. I hate that I might sound trite, or spoilt. I always try to use the filter of “what deeper message can other people get out of this?” In a way, the point is really that I should know how lucky I am and stop whining. But there is also an underlying theme of fear of the unknown, feeling lost in a strange place. I hope in the end, the deeper message prevails.

      • Sorry Lisa didn’t mean to make you cringe, I’d just been reading a web site on first world problems and I couldn’t resist, not a slight at all….:)

      • Don’t worry, Debbie, I can take it! I took it to heart because you’re always so supportive and so cool. I didn’t take it as a slight at all. The expression, “first world problems” is a bit contrite and is a place of shame and guilt we (I) easily put ourselves. The fact that I have all this goodness is such a huge source of guilt that it’s completely messing with my ability to be joyful or celebrate all I’ve accomplished to be here. (Do I smell blog post?) But it’s still a good filter for my posts, and I’m up for the challenge. L

  3. I see a movie deal in the future…;)
    (loveee the blog. it’s a momentary respite in the middle of an otherwise uneventful workday…thank you!)

    • I like how you think, girl! I do have the book deal, and have plans for a TV show (in my head). So, movie deal? I’m there!
      So glad my blog is giving you an escape from the day. It means a lot that you took the time to tell me so! L

  4. That is one fabulous secret street…I’ve wandered along in awe…nothing like the areas near by. As for those #%£?! Bells…I can’t believe how often and how long they ring!?
    9am…12 noon…I think I just heard them again at 4ish.
    I’m glad you find them welcoming. Your temp place is absolutely divine.
    I would find it very hard to give up. Enjoy!

  5. Usually I don’t read blogs. Not because I’m a snob, but because I never feel like I have to be a part of someone else’s life. But what captured my attention to this was the heading so I ventured in. What the heck, I’m sitting on BART, headed to work anyway–I’m captive. I enjoyed reading the story of transformation–unplanned of course, and aren’t they all anyway? Rhetorical.

    I appreciate old things–the lives they’ve touched long before I existed. The hinges, the stairs; what they’ve seen, the years as they’ve passed. But it was the bells that captivated me. The bells that drew me in.

  6. I almost bought the apartment with the blue door next to the courtyard doors! I think the picture of the heart is the kitchen window to the same apartment. I loved the place as well as the thought of hearing the bells of Notre Dame but because I did not think I would enjoy being in the midst of all the tourists I did not purchase it. Given all the issues I have had with the place I ended up buying (with the current issue being a water leak) your post makes me wonder if I made the right decision! Enjoy your temporary abode!

    • Yes, Terry, that is the very place! I peaked in that ground floor apartment. So darling. After awhile I don’t mind the tourists but I agree if you want a real local Paris vibe, this is not the place. Meanwhile, leaks happen every where in Paris, all the time. I’m in the midst of one that the syndic will not fix and had to get a lawyer. The place in Chanoinesse is so old, it’s hard to believe there would have never been a leak, and a RDC apartment is never ideal. I’m sure you made a good choice!

  7. Hi Lisa how is your apt coming along your blog is very interesting can’t wait to read more,have you been to Patisserie Stohrer yet?

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  9. Hi Lisa, Thank you for your beautiful post. My mother passed away six years ago this Thursday, and reading this today somehow fit in perfectly. It’s funny how when we’ve been through so much and think we’re finally getting a reprieve, the universe adds more to our plate. But in this case with your beautiful temporary Parisian abode, there was a delightful reason. I just found your blog this morning, but look forward to reading much more. Merci, encore. Bises, Julia/Lulu

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  11. Bummer about the leak. Can you find a lawyer and threaten to sue for damages/home uninhabitable/health danger from the mould? Probably not nearly as easy as it would be in the US!! One of my English cousins moved to France, bought a house with gite in the Tarn Vally, in a divine little village. Perfect, until the sewage started bubbling up through the floor. Previous owner’s handyman work tiling the kitchen/family room. It was such a saga. Harry had to learn to scream, rant and rave in order to resolve the issue – finally -but he hung in there. He was fortunate, like you, to have access to alternative accommodation (in his case the gite) but he says it just about turned him grey. So good luck

    • Oh it’s such a saga, this leak, and so unnecessary if the syndic would have just repaired it months ago. Yes, I have a lawyer and the neglectful parties will pay 10X what it would have cost them had they been responsible in the first place! Luckily the process here, while long, is quite fair and skewed in my favor since I am the victim.

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  13. Hi, Lisa!

    I found your blog just two nights ago from a potential apartment my husband and I want to rent out when we move to Paris for one year. The site (who also happens to be your apartments agency) vingtparis.com linked your blog to the listing. I got lost in your blog the past 2 days, reading it religiously until I finished! Just did. And, I can tell you that you’re a wealth of knowledge on things to look out for when considering the move to Paris and a constant inspiration in our upcoming trip. It’s really rare to come across people who you’ve never met before, but they have the same goal and outlook on life. Down to the tee. I found my zest for life was transpired in your story.

    I can’t wait to get lost in the Parisian lifestyle, to have no agenda, to feel liberated doing what I love in the city that I love whilst sipping on a glass of rouge — Can’t wait to explore all the neighborhoods in Paris!! To simply refresh myself and just bask in the art of lounging 😉 On constant flow of vacation, lol.

    Can I email you a few questions I hard in particular to your life in Paris. Need some local recommendations and insights.

    PS: Congrats on your upcoming memoir- I will pick up a copy when it’s out

    PSS: Where can i watch your House Hunters clip? You should post it on youtube!

    Many thanks!!

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  17. Lovely vignette. Thank you for telling about Paris through such beautifully written stories. I look forward to reading more! Merci et bon courage!

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  20. Wow, I stumbled across your site. We almost bought that apartment in 1999! I can’t believe it is the same place! We had a promesse de vente but thought we were being too impulsive … In the end ended up buying one in Le Marais near the Musee Picasso.

    • You mean you almost bought the place in rue Chanoinesse? Well you can’t beat the neighborhood you ended up buy in! That’s prime real estate now!

      • Yes, the place on rue Chanoinesse. I was looking for photos we took at that time but can’t find them. Looking forward to your other installments. Perhaps we’ll run across each other in Paris at some event, etc.

      • I would love to see photos of it before the renovation. My contractor worked on that job. This post about Chanoinesse is a old one. Lots of developments since then!

      • No luck so far in finding them. I’m read some of your other postings and as you’ve said, lots of developments since then! We just did a 2nd remodel after 17 years (eek!, time flies)…

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