Well, it’s done. (I think.) The leak that leaked all over my Paris apartment has finally been repaired.
I’m pretty sure, anyway.
You can’t blame me for feeling dubious. This has been carrying on since March of 2014. Actually, I noticed the first bubbles in my entryway in November of 2013. Somewhere above me in the building, it seemed a leak was working its way into my perfect little world. By the time my contractor took a look and had his say, and the plumber of the managing agent, or syndic, had his say, it was four months later.
This is how things move in Paris. Preposterous, you say? Honey, you have no idea. This was just the beginning.
It took another month to get ahold of the owner of the apartment above so we could see if the leak was coming from them. Finally, on the cusp of May, the syndic‘s plumber got inside the property, and found the trouble in their shower.
You’re asking: “So, they fixed it, right?”
Oh, you logical, optimistic fool. First, you have to actually want to fix the leak. And no one did—apart from me. Apparently, in damp, old cities like Paris, where living with moisture and centuries-old pipes is just part of life, leaks are seen as minor nuisances. No one seems particularly concerned that all that unabated dripping might be causing damage—structurally or otherwise—or that the ensuing mold is a health hazard. Eh, pas grave, c’est la vie. [Cue Gallic shrug.]
Instead, the syndic and the owner of the apartment with the leaky shower decided it would be much more productive to argue over who was responsible to fix the leak. And they did that for months. My pleas of urgency, sent repeatedly by email, were shrugged off, Gallic-ly. Meanwhile, my parquet buckled so badly I could no longer open my front door, my wall deteriorated and crumbled, and my mold-filled apartment became uninhabitable.
But that’s insane, you say? No, no, that’s Paris.
In the end, it took eighteen months, three hundred and seven emails (in French!), one lawyer, and 15,000 euros of my own money in legal and court fees before the leak would be stopped. But in July, it finally was.
Before you cry huzzah! and pop the champagne cork, remember we’re talking about France. I’m only halfway there, because even though the court expert has determined who the guilty—er, I mean, responsible—party is, my case still has to go to a judge to make the final decision. And that could take yet more months. Then, and only then, can I begin the renovations. If I’m lucky, I’ll be back in my apartment in June of 2016. If I’m lucky.
Can I get a huzzah? No? I didn’t think so.
If you’re keeping score, a small leak that would have cost a mere 500 euros to fix had it been addressed in March of last year, will now cost an estimated 35,000 euros—fees and damages all told—and the loss of use of my apartment for two out of the four years I will have owned it.
Yes, there have been tears. And stress. Rage. But by now, all these months later, I’ve learned to be more zen about it. If you’re going to live in Paris, you have to be able to roll with things, or else you’ll go mad. Because any concept you might have of logical processes, efficiency—and, yes, sometimes personal accountability—don’t always exist here. You’re just wasting your energy trying to fight it, or make sense of it. You can roll up in a ball and let them beat you back and forth, or you can relax and flow with it. I’m choosing the latter. Best I can. Such is life acclimating to a foreign culture.
But it’s all good. I still love Paris. Sure, I want to slap people from time to time, but all in all, my other city still ranks pretty high, despite the fact it’s quite literally pissed all over my dream apartment. But if you see everything as a classroom, in many ways, this leak has been a gift—thrusting me fully into Parisian life, challenging me, stretching me in every direction. For example: I got to live as a nomad in the city via all those temporary rentals around town, which exposed me to different neighborhoods, and taught me to stay flexible. And thanks to the leak, I now not only have a lawyer in Paris, I’ve also learned a bit about the legal process in France. Best of all, my French has been greatly improved by this experience—particularly in the area of building parts and structure, legalese, and most importantly, in the ability to discern when I am being hornswoggled, bamboozled, flim-flammed, or otherwise bullshitted in the most charming and agreeable manner possible. Something I’m learning is very Parisian, indeed.
Those of you who’ve followed me along this journey will forgive the tinge of bitterness in my tone. You know I’ve always tried to find the deeper lesson in every experience. And I am working on finding that. But since the leak took its sweet time before it removed itself from my life, I hope you’ll allow me some time, too—at least until my apartment is fully restored—before I can look back and reflect philosophically. For now, I’m just hanging onto this crazy ride and letting it take me where it will.
Maybe that’s the lesson. Because I started this watery journey white-knuckled and angry. But now, I’ve thrown my hands up and said, “Whatevs.” And it’s when you let go of that safety bar holding you in, and wave your hands in the air even as you plummet downhill, that the roller coaster ride gets good.