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