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.
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?
“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.
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.”
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:
READ PART IV HERE.