Life Lessons from the Water Fairy

This is how you find a leak. Precise work, plumbing.

This is how you find a leak. Precise work, plumbing.

I honestly don’t know how to tell you this, but, well…I sprung a leak in my apartment.

I hear you all, the collective thwack! of your jaws hitting your tables. “What?” you’re asking. “Another leak?” I know. I know! But you see, I live with a water fairy, and as it turns out, she’s a b*tch.

As you know, after an epic leak from the upstairs neighbor was finally fixed, my place was re-renovated and I was able to move back home again, after two long years.

It was heaven. But two weeks in, I started to notice a faint smell of mold coming from behind my brand new washer/dryer. But why? The wall was dry and the plumbing connection was sound, so thinking there might be a problem with the machine itself, I made an appointment with the Darty repairman.

A few nights before the repairman was due to arrive, my downstairs neighbor knocked at my door. “I think you might have a leak.”

I laughed. “Well, yeah. From upstairs, for about 2 years.”

She explained that, no, this was an active leak, and it was “quite bad.” Sure enough, water was dripping steadily through the lighting fixtures in her bathroom’s drop ceiling. Two places: directly into the toilet bowl, and another just above the sink. “That’s lucky, at least,” she said about the perfect aim of the leak.

Lucky? I was thinking “luck” was the one thing I had none of. Somewhere in my bathroom something had sprung a leak—the shower, the toilet, a pipe in the wall. Who knew?

Water damage in my neighbor's bathroom ceiling. I felt her pain.

Water damage in my neighbor’s bathroom ceiling. I felt her pain.

I shut off my main water valve and the leaking stopped, so the good news was the leak was my problem, which meant that, this time, it would be fixed—pronto. My plumber said he’d come over first thing in the morning to check it out, and if they found the source of the leak, they’d fix it same day.

The bad news? My brand new, solid oak parquet flooring was starting to buckle. Apparently, water was sheeting from the bathroom under the new flooring, drenching the foam padding beneath and making the floor spongy and wavy—much like how my neighbor’s leak had done to the flooring I’d just replaced. And what’s more, the mold spores that took two years to get rid off? Yup, like the spirits in Poltergeist II, they’re baaaack.

Did I mention I have a water fairy living with me? Really. I’m pretty sure I do. Or maybe I’m the water fairy. I mean, Paris did have a flood the moment I returned in June.

The Seine rises after weeks of rain.

The Seine rises after weeks of rain. ©Lisa Anselmo

“You need to have the place smudged, or blessed by a priest, or something,” a friend said. Well, actually, several friends said that. But, I don’t know, you’d think all that water would have baptized the place by now.

As you can imagine, I’m completely emotionally spent after the last fiasco, so there were no tears. I couldn’t muster anything more than resigned shrugging. “Whatever,” I kept saying, like a mantra. Whatever. Whatever. “Whatever,” I said as the plumber and his assistant smashed through my bathroom tile and opened my walls to search for the source of the leak. “Whatever,” I said as they pulled out my defective leaking toilet, forcing me leave my apartment again and stay with a friend. Whatever. What can a girl do? This is life in Paris, where things are old, and decaying, and leaky.

Turns out that my problem might have had a lot to do with the fact that I was unable to live in my place for two years thanks to my neighbor’s leak, a leak he refused to repair until I got a lawyer. Disuse is death for plumbing, apparently. Washers dry up, calcium builds up—and pop! You’re mopping up a flood. Or in my case, piling heavy books on top of your bowing parquet floor.

Piling books on my bowing floor. ©Lisa Anselmo

Using my books to help flatten my bowing floor. ©Lisa Anselmo

I had so many plans for my time in Paris: writing and blogging, planning events for my book, visiting museums, spending time with friends. Instead, I was shopping for tile and toilets, visiting my insurance agent, and dealing with construction in a water-logged home…again.

“Nothing is perfect,” my downstairs neighbor said when I lamented my floor, and her ceiling. “Nothing is meant to be perfect.”

That’s hard to take for a perfectionist like me. Why can’t it be perfect? I paid for perfect. I worked hard to make it perfect. I suffered for perfection!

Or am I suffering because of perfection, that ever-illusive perfection?

The bubbles are back. This time, it's my fault.

The bubbles are back. This time, it’s my fault.

Once again, Paris is kicking my expectations to the curb. Perfection doesn’t exist; my neighbor is right. There is never a time when everything will be “just so,” and you can begin living for real. When I tipped my world on its ear, buying an apartment across an ocean and then leaving a steady job for an unknown future as a freelance writer, I made a tacit commitment to being in a constant state of change. And as if Paris knows when I need a reminder, it shook things up just when I started to settle in to my old self, the me who creates expectations of perfection.

We can become prisoners of our need for things to be “just so.” But “just so” is an excuse, a barrier we create between ourselves and the full experience of life, conditions we impose on our happiness. When you put conditions on life, you’re not allowing the universe to bestow all it has for you, in whatever form it might come.

Cool aluminum trim tiles will add some flair the old crapper.

Cool aluminum trim tiles will add some flair to the old Crapper.

Is it crappy that my brand new floor is spongy? Yup, but it’ll dry out. The bathroom is dried out already, and the moldy smell is fading. And, hey, I now have a swanky new Jacob Delafon toilet (who’d have thought I’d be excited about a toilet?). And I’m going to take this opportunity to upgrade the tiles in my bathroom, too. So, by the time all is said and done, my entire place will be renovated like new. The best part? I met a new neighbor, and we’ve really hit it off.

Water is a transformative element, one that nourishes even as it can destroy. Maybe my water fairy isn’t a b*tch, but instead a guide who teaches with tough love. And she hasn’t left my side yet because my transformation isn’t quite finished. I’m still being prepared for my next phase, being made whole and strong by all these challenges.

Maybe it’s not my apartment being baptized by all this water, maybe it’s meant for me, my initiation into my new life.

My new toilet in place. After everything dries out, the wall and tiles will be reinstalled.

My new toilet in place. After everything dries out, the wall and tiles will be reinstalled. Did you ever think you’d read a post about a toilet?

________________________

Lisa Anselmo Author My (Part-time) Paris LifeLearn more about the journey that led to My (Part-Time) Paris Life my memoir.
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15 responses to “Life Lessons from the Water Fairy

  1. O.M.G. Lisa.

    Your neighbour sounds like a treasure , I can’t say I’d be that calm about a leak in my ceiling…but c’est la vie.

    You must be an expert on all french plumbing terms by now! Love those tiles btw.
    ps…looking forward to your book!!

    take care.

    • I was very lucky she was so sweet about it. But then I corrected the problem IMMEDIATELY, unlike the owner above me, who won’t even reimburse the co-proprieté (i.e. his fellow co-owners) for the tiny plumbing costs to search for the leak in the first place. Horrible. He’ll get his.

  2. Hi Lisa, I completely sympathize with your frustration with these repeated leaks in your apartment and I admire your strength in getting through it. I had a place in Paris for 11 years, and repeated leaks plagued me as well. I once had to replace all the flooring in a long hall and twice had leaks ruining the ceiling of the neighbor below and then my own ceiling from the neighbor above. I think that the plumbing in Paris’ old buildings which look so great from the outside is the downside of living there no one tells you about. Your experiences–both of them–sound especially distressing. I hope Paris will make it up to you!

    • Yes, I’m souring on old buildings in Paris. A new building with large terraces has a unit for sale in my area, and I contemplated calling the agent for a go-see! As Adrian Leeds says, better to be in the ugly modern (but healthy) building looking at pretty old buildings than the other way around!

  3. My goodness! Well, life does tend to kick the “just so” notions out of us. And truly, we are much better off without them. But it’s always traumatic when it happens. Hugs to you and it’s great that you are rolling with those French punches! 😉

  4. Hi Lisa, sorry to hear about your leaks 😦 We had two last year, one from upstairs and one was our own. Fortunately in both cases, insurance (after a couple months) covered everything but it is certainly stressful. Ours was right after a renovation too. The best is that your neighbor was good about it. That helps 1000%. Best, Bill.

  5. Lisa, so sorry you are having to deal with your water fairy again. Well, at least you made a new friend, got a kick-ass toilet and lovely new tile. Hang in there and I am so looking forward to your book (I pre-ordered)!!

    • I’m in America right now, silly! My place is getting all fixed up while I’m here in NYC doing my book launch and when I go back to Paris for my Paris tour, my place will be good as new!

  6. Oh my goodness, I’m so glad you’re taking this so well! You are great at looking on the bright side. And you’re right, now you get a new friend in your neighbour!

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