A Nomad in Paris, Part III: A Tiny, Happy Place to Belong

©Lisa Anselmo

©Lisa Anselmo

Not caught up? Read Part 1, and Part 2.

The last few days are winding down in apartment #2 on this nomadic journey of three Paris apartments in three months. The first apartment was a perfect haven that was very hard to give up, with creature comforts I didn’t even have in New York, let alone my own Paris apartment, from which I have been evicted by a leak of epic proportions. While the first apartment was only 236 square feet, it had high ceilings with a skylight, and a large terrace. I fell madly, deeply in love. Sadly, it had been sold, so out on the street I was. Well, that particular street. Apartment #2 was just a block away in the same district, so no reason to whine too loudly.

Whoa, Nellie! These stairs are steeeeep! I fell down a flight my first day. Photo: ©Lisa Anselmo

Whoa, Nellie! These stairs are steeeeep! I fell down a flight my first day. Photo: ©Lisa Anselmo

But this new apartment came as a shock after the first one, which had set the bar very high. No skylight? No air conditioner? No bathtub? What ever would this spoiled girl do? With my terrace haven for comparison, I only saw apartment #2 by contrasts. The size, for starters. It was no more than a small room—only 172 square feet, with low, dark-beamed ceilings and a tiny kitchen in one corner. Most of the space was taken up by a large bed. There was just a table for two, which meant no more entertaining the gang. And the biggest contrast of all? Unlike the other apartment, which had an elevator, this one was up three steep flights of narrow, winding stairs. This was more like a student’s garret, something out of La Boheme. Five weeks living in a room smaller than most hotel accommodations? Was this even manageable? Would it feel claustrophobic? Lonely? Depressing?

Photo: ©Lisa Anselmo

Could you feel sad here? Photo: ©Lisa Anselmo

“You cannot be sad here!” the little apartment declared, bathed in sunlight from three windows facing a large, verdant courtyard. “I’m happy!” it said. “Happy! Happy!” It smiled with ebullient decor evoking a Provençale landscape: sunflower-yellow walls trimmed with mosaics of bold yellow-orange, red, and purple. For its size, it offered its own amenities including plenty of storage. How could a person be anything but happy here? Even someone prone to depression, like me, had no choice but to surrender to its warm embrace.

The tiny, happy apartment was housed in a cheery building, too, one that came with a mascot—a cat named Charlot—and friendly neighbors who organized parties in the courtyard. Nope, happy would be all I could be here—without a terrace, or a bathtub, or air conditioning. Even the stairs worked their magic on me. Well, on my glutes, anyway.

Invitation to Charlot's 6th birthday party in the courtyard.

Invitation to Charlot’s 6th birthday party in the courtyard. Illustration: Yukié Matsushita.

Soon enough, I detached from apartment #1 and became totally attached to my sunny new home. I’ve settled in, found places for all my belongings, developed a routine—all the things that make you feel at home. In a short time, I’ve created a relationship with the residents in the building, the quality of which I don’t have with my New York neighbors of twenty years. Life on a courtyard brings you close. Each day, we chit-chat, kissing hello on both cheeks. It’s small talk that reminds me of the small town I called home as a kid, the kind of intimate village life that makes you feel safe and happy.

I’ve come to know and be comforted by the sounds of everyday life here: the click of the gate as people come and go about their lives, the chatter of the swallows at dusk, the tink-tink of silverware on dinnertime plates. Every day around noon a dog whimpers for lunch, and in the afternoon, my neighbor lovingly waters the garden, the sssshhhh of the hose, a summertime sound from childhood. Sometimes he sneezes, maybe from the pollen in the garden, and I call out, “À tes souhaits!”—the French version of “God bless you.”

Charlot like to hang out at my feet while I write. I don't have the heart to tell him I'm allergic. Photo: ©Lisa Anselmo

Charlot likes to hang out at my feet while I write. I don’t have the heart to tell him I’m allergic. Photo: ©Lisa Anselmo

The sound that brings the most joy is Charlot the Cat’s ever-jingling bell on his collar, announcing his whereabouts. He mews to us from the courtyard, and I sing down to him, “Charloooooow!” He looks up and squints his howdy-do before disappearing into the garden. When he’s tired of the outdoor life, he will come up to visit “Auntie Lisa” as his owner calls me, mewing outside my door until I let him in. He’ll sit at my feet while I write at the tiny table for two, or jump on my lap if I’m not paying enough attention to him. It doesn’t matter that I’m allergic to cats, I can’t resist being a part of his life, and the life of those around me here in this little cluster of buildings bound together by a courtyard, this little village, this happy community. I belong, and I like how it feels.

Say hello to my little friend:

view toward bed w table flash

The bed takes up most of the space, but the use of mirrors throughout helps it to feel spacious. For its size, not an inch of space is wasted, and includes a large wardrobe. Photo: ©Lisa Anselmo

apartment overview

Even on a cloudy day, light streams in from three windows that face a cheery courtyard. Photo: ©Lisa Anselmo

View toward the tiny kitchen. It's small, but lacks nothing—including a washer/dryer! Photo: ©Lisa Anselmo

View toward the tiny kitchen. It’s small, but lacks nothing—including a washer/dryer! Photo: ©Lisa Anselmo

Crazy and colorful bathroom feel more like Barcelona than Paris. More cheer. Photo: ©Lisa Anselmo

Crazy and colorful bathroom feels more like Barcelona than Paris. Photo: ©Lisa Anselmo

Detail of the mosaic in the apartment, but the same artist who created the tile work in the first apartment I stayed in.

Detail of the mosaic in the apartment, by the same artist who created the tile work in the first apartment I stayed in.

The courtyard is filled with plants and trees. This rose bush would have made my Ma swoon.

The courtyard is filled with plants and trees. This rose bush would have made my mother swoon. Photo: ©Lisa Anselmo

This garden is as lush as anything in Florida, lovingly tended by my neighbor, who is also Charlot's daddy.

The garden is as lush as anything in Florida, lovingly tended by my neighbor, who is also Charlot’s daddy. Photo: ©Lisa Anselmo

The neighbor's cat is like the building's mascot and is beloved by all. He thinks all the apartments are just rooms in his house, and visits often. Photo: ©Lisa Anselmo

Charlot the Cat is the building’s mascot, and is beloved by all. He thinks all the apartments are just rooms in his house, and visits us often. Photo: ©Lisa Anselmo

READ PART IV HERE.

23 responses to “A Nomad in Paris, Part III: A Tiny, Happy Place to Belong

  1. C’est tres jolie….very cheerful and that cat is gorgeous.
    this post makes me miss Paris.

  2. For me, this apartment, with Charlot and the courtyard community and garden, would be a Parisian paradise. Congratulations!! P.S. I hope that you were not injured in that fall down the stairs…

    • Yes, it was paradise. Now I’m in another apartment, the last one, near a busy intersection in the Oberkampf district. What a difference! I’ll be writing about this, too, so stay tuned. I just got a little bruised and pulled a few muscles when I feel down the stairs, but have since recovered!

  3. Pingback: A Nomad in Paris, Part II: My Patch of Heaven | My (Parttime) Paris Life·

  4. I stayed in this apartment with my niece during my Paris house hunting expedition. Lots of great memories in this small space!

  5. Oh you! I love Charlot’s hooded eyes! I’m now on vacation until late August and I’m already over it. Don’t know how long I’ll be in my beautiful house here in the States because God knows I miss living in Europe. You know my story. Fifteen years of living abroad has spoiled me for living anywhere else. I long to be surrounded by art, amazing architecture, people who enjoy life and really live, the list goes on.

    • My quality of life here in Paris is much better than in NYC, as it pertains to social engagements. People here make an effort to make time for friends. It’s really been great so far.

      • Yes. I recently spent 8 years in Paris and although I’m not trying to move back there, I miss how people actually spend time with one another. I have a better quality of life here in the States in terms of material things and convenience but that’s never been what my life is all about. Time to take a different direction. My goal is to have my base here in the U.S. and travel the world, photograph and report about design and that will be my raison d’etre.

  6. Pingback: A Nomad in Paris, Part IV: Bright Lights, Loud City | My (Parttime) Paris Life·

  7. Pingback: A Nomad in Paris, Part V: What I’ve Learned | My (Parttime) Paris Life·

  8. So happy to have found your blog. I follow Adrian Leeds and saw the link to your page (I saw your HH episode a few years ago). I’ve been reading your articles and having a great afternoon doing so. When I stumbled across this one, I was very happy to see pictures of the apartment on rue Charlot and to learn all about the lovely building. You see, in less than two weeks my daughter and I will be using this apartment as our home while we are in Paris for a visit.

    I have been to Paris many times, but it’s my first time staying in an apartment vs a hotel. For my daughter, it is her first time in Paris. To say we can’t wait would be an understatement. Since these pictures were taken, I see the apartment has been painted, but I’m still happy to hear that it is a “happy little apartment” in a lovely, friendly building. We can’t wait to meet Charlot.

    • Love, love, love that little apartment. I’ve stayed in it twice while my place is being renovated. Once before, and once after it was changed. The location is perfection and the building is really special. But the apartment is teeny tiny so I hope you’re close to your daughter because you will be! Give Charlot a hug from Auntie Lisa!

      • We will. LOL. I just showed her the pictures of Charlot and she is anxious to meet him (we will be missing our own kitty Kit Kat while we are gone). I like the changes in the apartment, the all white theme makes it seem bigger (if only an illusion). We plan on being out and about most of the time anyway. The space is actually bigger than some of the hotel rooms I’ve stayed in. One was so small I had to crawl over the bed to get to the window. 🙂

        I’ve visited the area before but usually stay in the 4th. I’m looking forward to exploring the 3rd some more. We can’t wait to shop for our supper on Rue de Bretagne and in Marche des Enfants Rouges.

        Looking forward to your next video installment. I can live vicariously through you (my dream is to live, even part time, in Paris).

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