Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Final Instalment

Paris, like anywhere else I have lived for an extended period of time, is filled with memories. Having now made the decision to leave the city these memories are more profound than ever. Walking to work the other day from Gare de l’Est I passed the Numericable shop at Republique where Soraya and I went to set up our shared internet connection in July 2009. This was only a couple of weeks after having arrived - I could hardly speak a work of French and was engaged in a constant battle against the cockroaches in my tiny studio apartment on Passage des Recollets.

Continuing along Rue du Turenne I looked up at the ivy covered walls of Katy and Emily’s old apartment where we spent many a summer’s evening drinking cocktails, listening to music and playing with their cat Mr Obama. To avoid the crowds on Rivoli I veered off on to a side street and found myself next to the restaurant where I first met Charles, with John, having a pizza and where Kaye and I had had a beer one evening after work and discussed our trip to Amsterdam with great excitement. Eventually, as I approached the restaurant, my thoughts wandered back to the days when I was teaching English and working only part time as a serveur. Josy, Ellie, Ian and I would work a variety of half shifts throughout the week with Bobby in the kitchen, my latest playlist on the stereo and a restaurant full of seemingly polite, courteous French customers. At that point everything was still rather novel and it wasn’t until a few months later that I began to develop a more realistic understanding of the average Parisian inhabitant.

Upon Darrin’s return I went to stay with my Aunt in her spacious, bright and modern apartment in Sarcelles, a suburb of Paris, perhaps 20 minutes from Chatelet by RER. Here I was to stay for my last month before moving to Cyprus to spend the summer working for a tour operator. This decision was not made lightly however, and before I accepted the position I spent many an afternoon apartment hunting in the spring sunshine. To give you an example of just how sought after property is in Paris and how important location is, I viewed a studio, very centrally located on Rue Rambuteau in the fourth arrondissement, priced at €750 per month. Our entrance into the apartment was a little strange to say the least. The owner knocked on the door and entered whilst asking me to wait outside. A few moments later the current occupant exited doing up his shirt and dripping water all over the landing. As I entered the apartment I was engulfed by a cloud of steam and as it cleared I realised I was, in fact, in the shower cubicle. I tip-toed carefully over the slippery tiles and walked down a narrow passage with a couple of cabinets and an electric hot plate against one side – the kitchen. This led to the living area which comprised a dark, cluttered room with a sofa bed in one corner, a desk and a table with a microwave and a kettle on it. That was the apartment in its entirety.

By contrast, for just an extra €100 a month, I viewed a beautifully light, modern apartment in the 20th. This apartment really was something special with soft luxurious carpet throughout, a balcony dappled with shade from the surrounding trees and a modern, well fitted kitchen and bathroom. The owner of the apartment showed me round with his wife and both were very amiable. Unfortunately they required a dossier which is something all house-hunters in Paris need if they intend to take out a lease on a property. This includes wage slips, references, details of a guarantor should you default on the rent and bank details. This is a tedious collection of documents to put together and, considering the apartment was right at the top end of my budget, I let it go. And so, with multiple unsuccessful viewings under my belt, the decision to leave Paris came about.

Sarcelles is rather a poor area but the apartment itself is bright, cheerful and homely. I slept very well during my time there. It is serviced by the infamous RER D which always has a strong police presence at night. The last two trains are at 12:15 and 12:45. Breakfast in America closes around midnight so there was always a mad rush to get from St Paul to Chatelet in an attempt to catch the 12:15. Line one, of course, closed at 10pm for the month of April so invariably I would miss it. As a result of these time restrictions my social life took somewhat of a nose-dive during my last month.

Nevertheless, Darrin kindly volunteered his apartment once again for a joint birthday party for Lucy and me at the end of March and, to mark my leaving, we all made a trip to a wonderful Ethiopian restaurant where Mike, a guy from Ethiopia who used to work at Breakfast in America, worked. Sam, Alex and Bamlak, all from Ethiopia and who worked in the kitchen, joined us and we enjoyed a lovely meal of injera with various accompaniments finished off with tea flavoured with cinnamon.

My last month in Paris passed extremely quickly and, astonishingly, the weather was beautiful. I remember walking to the RER each morning in the sunlight and feeling ecstatic at the thought of spending a summer filled with endless days spent in the Mediterranean heat. My last shift came and went (Lucy brought in a bottle of Bailey’s and we toasted with Bailey’s milkshakes after all the customers had left). I shipped my belongings back to England and spent my final night at Rose’s in her quiet, peaceful apartment in Juivisy. The following morning we made our way to Gare du Nord and the Eurostar terminal. As I made my way through to check in I turned to wave to Rose who was standing faithfully, in her red coat, waiting for me to go through. She waved back and I scanned the rather impressive interior of Gare du Nord one last time before I turned my back on Paris and passed through the security barrier for the final time.

I spent almost seven months in Cyprus. It was a stressful summer and at some of the lowest moments I would have given a lot to have been in Paris sitting in Rose’s apartment eating a delicious Ghanaian meal, or even working a brunch shift at BIA. I returned to Paris for a few days in November and stayed with Katy and Emily. It was bitterly cold and, once again, I found myself walking the Parisian streets in the drizzle. However, I went back to BIA and saw many old friends, indeed, we had an excellent night out at Jenny Jones’ new bar next to Bastille. It felt comfortable and easy and I know Paris will always feel like a second home, despite the flaws!

Friday, March 4, 2011

From Chateau Rouge to Gare de l'Est

Life in Paris continues as normal with very little worthy of mention. Consequently, it has been several months since I posted anything on this blog. The majority of staff members at Breakfast in America have left Paris to return to their home countries and we have an almost entirely new team, of which, I have been made Assistant Manager – a small point, perhaps worth mentioning.

Upon returning to Paris after the Christmas break and finding my room black with mould and smelling heavily of damp I made the decision to, at any cost, get as far away from that disgusting apartment as possible. Meeting up with several friends in London whilst in the UK reminded me of how much I miss them. However I was still left with mixed feelings about once again moving to the capital and immersing myself in the corporate competitiveness that comes with working in an office in London. Getting out of Chateau Rouge is, however, my number one priority and, for the moment anyway, I have accomplished this. The General Manager at work, Darrin, has gone on holiday for a month to Mauritius and New Zealand and, during that month, I will be staying in his apartment at Gare de l’Est (my old quartier) looking after his sweet and enormously fat cat Fifi.

My feelings towards the apartment at Chateau Rouge quickly deteriorated as winter took hold and seeped cold into every corner of my room. My flatmate, who claimed to be completing his thesis whilst looking for a job was, in fact, doing neither and I’m not sure he left the apartment the entire time I lived there. Knowing that I would come home every day to find him ensconced in his room with breakfast and lunch dishes piled high in the kitchen accompanied by a sickly sweet smell of incense, of which he was a great fan, was hugely dispiriting. On the days he deigned to get up early I would be woken by the sound of him thudding down the corridor towards the bathroom, the whir of the fan and the sound of him hocking up the night’s phlegm into the bathroom sink – a habit I fail to understand and which I find absolutely disgusting. In the summer his parents came to stay in Paris. Rather than booking a hotel they stayed in our apartment and he stayed with a friend. For a month. I endured his non French, non English speaking parents for a month and I think this was the point at which I realised, in relation to my flatmate, I had not chosen well.

Darrin’s apartment is, by Parisian standards, pretty luxurious. There’s central heating, double glazing and a distinct lack of mouldy walls. There is also a multitude of gadgets and home cinema equipment. This ranges from a robot hoover to a giant projector screen enabling me to watch Supernatural on the equivalent of a 50 inch plasma screen together with a whole host of other quality dramas saved on the hard drive. I feel very relaxed here. There’s no conflict over the bathroom and kitchen (except when Fifi jumps in the sink for a quick drink just as I’m about to brush my teeth) and the apartment is warm and quiet.

Moving in Paris is a perpetual nightmare and this occasion was no different. Having packed my clothes into two enormous suitcases I proceeded to utilise a selection of carrier bags for my books, electronics, DVDs and toiletries. My ever-faithful friend Rose came over to help with the move and we ordered a taxi. The driver took one look at the array of possessions, closely resembling those of a bag lady, muttered that he didn’t do déménagements (moving) and left. The next half hour was spent fruitlessly searching for a taxi around Chateau Rouge. Eventually I found one and managed to convince the driver to take me, along with half of my more cumbersome belongings, whilst Rose waited for a second taxi she had ordered. She would then follow with the suitcases.

It wasn’t until later that evening, after we had enjoyed a delicious Indian meal at a restaurant a short walk from Gare de l’Est, that, upon surveying my belongings, I realised that a bag containing all manner of crucial items was missing. I frantically called Rose and my flatmate both of whom remembered the bag in question but not having seen it in a taxi. I had checked both taxis anyway and there was nothing left in either one. Nevertheless, I contacted several taxi companies over the course of the next few days as well as Les Objets Perdus office in the 15th but to no avail. I can only assume that someone stole it from the entrance to my old apartment building as we loaded up the first taxi which was parked a little way down the street. My flatmate had propped the door open and followed us down to the taxi as Rose and I were loading things into the boot thus leaving all my belongings unattended. Perhaps the most important item that was in that bag was my passport.

Having grown used to French bureaucracy and things being as difficult as possible in Paris, it was with some trepidation that I paid a visit to the British Embassy. Once past the surly French security I was led into a warm, modern office with a reassuring photo of the Queen smiling out from behind the desk – I smiled myself as I noticed the English plug sockets dotted around the walls. Rather than being faced with endless sighs and cries of ‘oh la la’ the girl behind the desk explained efficiently that I had only to complete one form and provide passport photos and a new passport would be issued within five days! They didn’t even need any original documents – a huge relief since my birth certificate is in the UK and, when I think about it, probably lost too. I’m now waiting for my new passport to arrive whilst searching for a new apartment – it won’t be long before Darrin is back and I will have to move again. I pray the next time will go smoothly.