Saturday, October 02, 2004

The Apartment Search

When Things Were Green

It's all familiar. I'm back in Paris and perfectly content. I moved into my apartment after three weeks spent at Nicolas's, cooking up plans for the future and creamy pasta sauces. Pasta is our staple of choice, right next to baguettes and cheap red wine. We spent many evenings in his living room, discussing the current state of affairs: politics, gender, gender politics.

And, I'd fume about the apartment search. He'd give me the sympathetic, "oh, Emily, you poor thing," and offer to make more tea. This is a surefire sign of a great friend.

I'd come to affectionately call it a PAP smear. I performed them compulsively, five or six times a day. PAP: de Particulier à Particulier. From Owner to Owner. A 127-page listing of available apartments in Paris and my guiding force, agency-fee free.

I learned to dress the part for the apartment visits: hose, heels. I am a working woman. Confident, smiling, nodding. I am here to learn about your wonderful culture. This apartment is beautiful. It's perfect and, oh, look at the view. What a lovely neighborhood. What a lovely time. How I love France. How I love the French. Thank you, I look forward to your call. Please call me. Please?

I learned how to assemble a flawless dossier: photocopies of current ID, working papers, work contract, working visa, resident visa, last three paystubs, bank account information, letter of financial support, guarantor, guarantor's ID, his last three paystubs, his working contract and latest tax form.

Obliged to give copies of all these documents to each potential landlord, I visited the internet/fax/copy place next to Nicolas's so often that the thugs who hung out on the corner stopped calling me Baby and started calling me Photocopy.

After twenty-odd visits, I became desperate. I lowered my standards. A lot. I found myself ready to sign a lease for the world's tackiest apartment in the middle of the French ghetto: The Jungle Boat Apartment. In a room decorated entirely in green, including a shaggy green carpet and a green armoire and sofa, the owners had painted a giant jungle mural, complete with tigers and tropical pink flowers the size of my head. It was a decor rivaling Graceland's shame. It was so ugly, I found myself strangely attracted to it. It could be my great joke to live in this apartment. I could buy safari hats and mosquito nets for guests to put on in the entryway. Off the living room, the bedroom sported a marine theme featuring fake portholes in the wall and a bed sunken into the floor. The ceiling was so low that the only access to the bed was through a small crawlspace.

I found myself sitting at the (green) kitchen table, selling myself as an adventuresome jungle-lover. The landlord looked over my life documents and told me I'd be getting a call in the next couple of days. I phoned Matt to brace him. Surely, I was to be the only person with standards so low to rent this place. But two days later, I was turned down in favor of other candidates.

French rejection hurts. It's formal and mocking. "Unfortunately, one couldn't continue with your dossier, despite its evident merit. Good luck for the future, mademoiselle." Note that the subject of this sentence is the ambiguous one. As if by some inexplicable turn of events, someone, somewhere had turned me down. No responsibility here. And it's not me who's mysteriously rejected, it's my dossier. Oftentimes, I didn't even receive a call and was rejected instead via text messages. I came to hate my phone. My stomach would lurch when it rang like it did when I was thirteen, waiting for a call from a boy.

Indeed, the apartment search consumed me. I began to take whatever visits I was offered, without checking my availability. Angry landlords yelled into my answering machine when I didn't show. "You'll never find an apartment if you behave like this." I came to know the faces of my rivals when I ran into them at various visits. I grew fiercely competitive in the face of my adversaries, pretending to not know the code to get into the door or to have the landlord's number on hand. Good luck, I'd say, and offer a sympathetic smile.

I started to wonder if a black list existed for barred apartment seekers. Certainly some mass-email list for landlords was circulating. They all knew each other and they had been warned about me. Don't rent to that American girl.

When I shared this theory with Nicolas, he encouraged me to take a day or two off, citing health reasons. I began to talk about visiting an agency. We started to recognize that there was no other way. I couldn't live with him forever. It was time to throw in the proverbial towel and admit defeat. I couldn't even snag apartments in which I had no interest.

Finally, thank goodness, Matt arrived in town. I no longer had to call him across the seas to ask him to fax me another Important Document. Jetlag? No time. We hit the town immediately upon his arrival, PAP in hand. I had a list of buildings and codes for a few visits.

At 41, Rue du Temple, we met Sidonie, Gregoire, and Madame Monnaie. Sidonie and Gregoire were Beatle Maniacs. They were leaving the apartment for London to live out the Beatles Dream. Oh, you like the Beatles? We love the Beatles. The Beatles speak English, and so do we. With Lenon crooning from the stereo, we told them how much we loved the apartment. I saw Madame Monnaie put a star by my name. It was looking up.

Two hours later Madame Monnaie called. Matt held my sandwich while she explained that she wanted to rent us the apartment, but there were these other two Italian girls.... In another two hours, Matt and I were back in the Marais, knocking on her door. We're here, we're ready, and more importantly, we have money. Twenty minutes later, we'd handed over our life's savings.

Caveats? The landlords live next door. Matt and I are pretending to be a longstanding couple. (They didn't want to rent to roommates.) Matt explained to Madame Monnaie, "I cannot speak about love in French." So for the moment, the apartment's still bare. There are no photographs of ex-boyfriends or girlfriends on the wall; suspiciously enough, nor are there any photographs of Matt and me together. I put my pillow and blanket on Matt's bed every morning, just in case. It's only a matter of time before we're discovered.


At 8:02 PM, Blogger susan said...

Starlla: you know how people's livejournals really suck
Starlla: and they're boring drivel about things we don't care about?
Starlla: my friend emily should kick their asses:


Post a Comment

<< Home