Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Wow… First two (and a half) weeks in Paris

The thing about a blog is that it is a contradiction in itself. If you have something exciting that you are doing, you don’t have time to blog about it. And if you do blog, you have the time to do so, therefore your time isn’t filled out with exciting social encounters and adventures.

With this words, sorry for being so absent (though how many people read this anyway is another question), but I have had a splendid time in Paris in the meantime and was quite busy. Let me see whether I remember all I accomplished:

1. Got a phone.

2. Found an apartment.

3. Got a bank account (nearly. Only one more meeting. Okay? Please? Send me all the right documents now??)

4. Got a Sciences Po student card.

5. Found an apartment (oops. got that already.l But it’s really cool!!)

6. Made a tarte aux mirabelles, my first French baking experience in Paris. Those chocolate chip cookies didn’t count. At all. In fact, they didn’t even count in my stomach.

7. Biked around with a baguette under my arm and felt very Parisian.

8. Settled my health care (nearly. Just one more signature to go and get… Story of my life.)

9. Messed up a job interview and applied for three more, none of which have gotten back to me. Not really an accomplishment, but loads of my time.

10. Moved into my new place!

All this makes me occasionally consider myself like a true Parisian and scoff at the tourists running through the city to see all the sights in 3 days like I did three years ago. Instead, I go sit in my favourite cafe, have a café au lait and do some people watching while I scour the internet sites for more job offers. It’s a good life.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Decision Time

Time to look over my options.

Option 1: Gentilly. Nice boys, really sweet and light apartment with a big kitchen and modern living room. Out in the suburbs, but the nice middle-class ones, not the burning-cars one. Really tight renting requirements with the garant though, and the landlady only comes back from vacation on the 23. of August – what do I do when she refuses me?

Option 2: Place des Fetes. Really sweet 19-year old roommate, cute apartment (from her family) with big kitchen and a large room for myself, my room would be a little remodelled and cleared out, the whole family is really nice and the location is in the Belleville part of town. My guide says that “Belleville is not exactly belle, but it’s certainly vibrant, thanks to its diverse population. Successive waves of immigrants have settled in the area: Jews, Poles, Greeks, Armenians, followed by Spaniards and Portuguese, then Tunisian Jews and Muslims from Algeria. The most recent arrivals are Chinese.  The quarter is known for its strong left-wing and community spirit. Many artists and students have settled here due to lower property prices.” It’s close to the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont and the Parc de Belleville for jogging and a good 20 – 25 min metro ride from school. The immeuble is right in front of the metro station. Alice is supposed to choose somebody next Thursday.

Option 3: Chambre de bonne in St.-Germain, one of the renowned best quarters of Paris. Coming down the steep stairs, I imagined my life, rolling out of bed 10 min before class, making astonishing variations of one-pot-dishes, having friends over (only 2, more don’t fit) for experimental microwave-cake-parties… It sounded like fun, until I tried finding a low-priced grocery store (hm.. found one 15 min away) and a laundromat (20 min approximately). The quarter has loads of antiques and designer stores, but little affordable every-day items. But it is cool. And close. And definitely mine. If I want it. I have to tell Chantalle Monday.

And there I was, fed up with waiting and searching and applying and waiting. Willing to take my future in my own hands. Willing to take risks. Willing to listen to my friend Aurelie (thanks, Aurelie!). So I called Alice and told her that I really really wanted to live with her, but would have to take Chantalle’s offer since I couldn’t risk not taking it in case Alice wouldn’t take me. And guess what? I was Alice’s first choice anyway. We’re signing the sublet rental agreement (also without garant) on Tuesday morning. UPDATE: We just signed. And discovered that we are both vegetarians. How much more perfect can it get, really?


(P.S. I may have jumped around Aude’s place making little squeaky noises of delight after we had finished the call, but just because I was alone and didn’t have anybody to celebrate with. I would’ve totally celebrated like a grown-up. Totally.)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

AHA! (Apartment Hunt Anecdotes) V – The Maid’s Quarters

Only day four of the apartment hunt, and it seems as if years of searching have gone by. I can only drag myself out of bed by the promise of having café au lait and croissants for breakfast with Aurélie (oh, the croissants. Montreal, sorry, but you have no idea of croissants) and a gorgeous new day of hunting ahead! Ha. ha. ha. No, so true for breakfast. It is especially great how all the chairs in a cafe are so placed that you automatically look out on the street and just have to people-watch. Fantastic. After the best start in the day possible, I have an apartment visit that I got over CROUS, the French student help center that also offers subsidized housing. I am not totally certain whether I even am eligible for this, but it’s never bad to check it out. When we arrive with Aurélie, there are already around 7 people waiting. This one kid looks intense, he has his folder under his arm as if he can’t wait to shove his dossier (those freaky papers with all your bank information) into the landlady’s hands. This is supposed to be a studette, a student studio, with your own shower and the toilet in the hall. When the landlady arrives and after lots of confusion (on which storey was the room again? Where are the keys?) manages to open the room, it has.. a bed. a chair. a table. a sink/hotplate/fridge/all-in-one/nothing-entirely. A rusty shower. And looks like the saddest place in the whole world. My fellow contenders for the place don’t look the least appalled though, and when the landlady says that we have to say immediately whether we’re still interested, intense kid is like, yeah, yeah, and I have my dossier ready too. What they must’ve already seen otherwise… While the landlady can’t find the keys to the bathroom, we say our goodbyes. Intense kid looks relieved. One contender less. But I have to say, I’m not too sad to have left this race.

Against lunchtime, I ring up my one find of the bulletin board and arrange a meeting. This is for a chambre de bonne (maid’s quarter) literally a five minute’s walk away from school. In the heart of the St. Germain district. Right behind the Musee d’Orsay. The location is a dream. And the landlady looks nice too, she has a no-nonsense kind of attitude, wants us to be in good relations (I can call her Chantalle), and says she is so tired of her phone ringing that I could decide immediately whether I wanted the place – then it’s mine – or not. Wow, first choice! This chambre is on the fifth floor of a bourgeois building where apparently Napoleon’s doctor lived –ooooh- and where now a bunch of snobby Parisians hate to hear any noise. So you have to be quiet. All the time. Otherwise your neighbors will hate you, and Chantalle, and Chantalle will therefore be angry, and you don’t want Chantalle to be angry. Oh, ok. The rooms are tiny, but cute, much like the studette, but much more charming, with slanted ceilings (but meaning you can’t stand upright in half of the room) and little kitchen niches. It might be silly, but I try half of the visit to picture my culinary excursions with one hotplate, a microwave and a toaster. There are microwave cookbooks, right? And why did I take Julia Child’s baking book along if I haven’t got an oven? Can I live without an oven? The bathroom is tiny, but oh well, one of the rooms has a tv, there are plugs for internet, but clearly, here you are paying foremost the location. Is it worth it? Maybe. At least this would be my first chance for a guaranteed roof over my head. I would have to find a “floormate” though, because there are two chambres, and if you are friends, you might also share hotplates, so you have one to make spaghetti and another to make the sauce. E-mail time! When leaving, all of a sudden I discover the door that says toilette and remember that Chantalle hasn’t told me about or shown me the toilet yet. For good reason. On request, she does open the door for a millisecond, enough for me to see the – hole?? Visitors to France might know that the standing toilet (is that the name?) has been very popular, mainly at highway restrooms and the like. Apparently also for French maids. Cuz who really is prissy enough to need a seat?

AHA! (Apartment Hunt Anecdotes) IV – The Trapdoor

Buoyed by feelings of success from the other day’s visit, I launched myself into the next day’s hunt. Jogging. Calling people. Phones not being answered. Buying groceries. Calling people. Making appointments. This time I actually got a hold of the mysterious Alice, and she turned out to be a super super sweet person that I would love to be roomies with. We got along super well and chatted away more than an hour. Yay, feeling of success! Ok, moving on. Since I was in the neighborhood, what better to do than go in the cafe of yesterday and continue. Internet site. After. Internet site. Turns out, thousands and thousands of other students are searching for accommodation too, which brings people to not even respond after the first 50 applicants. At least that’s how I explain my numerous e-mails (at first I typed them all individually because I hate copy/paste, there is so much wrong with it, but I still ended up sending the same super enthusiastic, cheery message to the latter 20 offers) never to be replied to. Really people? Not a simple “sorry, but no..”? Though I got those too, and they really crush your feelings. “You don’t … like me? You won’t even let me visit? I’m a nice person..!” So yeah. Where was I. Oh, right, the hunt. After weeding out the single men looking for preferably a female roommate (only applications with photos accepted), the ones offering a room against cleaning and massaging services and the clear scams on craigslist (get a villa  in the heart of Paris with free towels, a juice press, a double toaster and free calls to 96 countries!! I learned to recognize those by too much information.), there are maybe 24 daily acceptable offers left. 20 of them are in the suburbs. Leaves 4. For thousands of students. Yeah right. Nevertheless, sometimes I do get responses back, and then go to look at the place. For example this one girl who rented out a well insulated, sous-sol room in a really nice neighborhood. You know the Canadian sous-sol? Where you still have a small window and spacious rooms? Well, think again. She led me into a kind of sweet living room, with a tiny kitchen, the bathroom door was a curtain (though she promised to get a sturdier model), her room was a mess (because she moved things out of the new, to-be-rented-out-room… Hm, was that a storage space..?), and the highlight of the tour, my potential bedroom! Um, mind the steps. Because in the middle of the living room floor is a trapdoor which leads down to the… well insulated bedroom. Yup, living in the cellar has apparently never been trendier. You can leave the trapdoor open or closed as you wish, and there is no more authentic way to explore the period of hiding Jews or resistance fighters from Nazis than this one! Or are you a Twilight fan? Scared of sunlight? Is your skin itching to be bathed in atmospheric darkness? Then this is the space for YOU! We might even include an Edward Cullen poster for free. And for your daily 5 minutes of sunlight – well, you can use the living room as well. Deal?

AHA! (Apartment hunt Anecdotes) III – New Neighborhoods

After that interesting first day, I got up Thursday, metroed/walked to the American Church to check the bulletin boards for housing offers (1 find), walked to find the Sciences Po buildings (and I found all of them! And they are super modern and cool! Remember my first Paris post? Yeah, that was just the back entrance.) and looked for more bulletin boards (2 offers for rooms over 700 Euros and estimated 30 offers of students looking for accommodation and presenting themselves as the perfect roommate.) Wow. Then I metroed out of the city to see the suburb I was visiting an apartment this evening by daylight. Gentilly is a really cute suburb, with flowers on the streets, parks, residential buildings, residential buildings, residential buildings… Oh, and there is a supermarket near the RER station! I could imagine myself living there, though, it is just a completely different lifestyle. There are no bars. No cafes. No anything except for housing. But then again, how much time would I really be at home anyways? Then I metroed up to Jourdain, in the Belleville district, 19th arrondissement, and completely fell in love with the district. It’s still Paris – it’s got the cafes, the boulangeries, the boucheries, but it’s also very diverse, multicultural, and a little more run-down and working class than the core Paris districts. In Jourdain, I was supposed to meet my future roommate in a cafe, close to the metro station.. But which one? There was no 19-year old girl anywhere around, not up the street, not down it.. I even randomly started people: “Are you Alice?”, while the charming song of “Who the hell is Alice??” was running through my head. Turns out, later, that Alice was under the impression that we were meeting the following Thursday. My bad. Bad communication. But it made me check out and fall in love with Belleville, and find what might become my usual hangout cafe with good wifi and not too many crowds. Their mirror is decorated with money bills from around the world; cool. Later in the evening, I went out to the 20eme in the East and did not even try to check out the apartment; I didn’t like the area particularly and the prospects of living in a flatshare with only one guy, even if he is 20, started to make me feel uncomfortable. Therefore, I went to look at an apartment with 3 guys! They were the ones living in Gentilly, and they are actually super nice. Their apartment is, too, and you can see the Eiffel tower and the Montmartre from their kitchen window! This was definitely one option to be held open, and I was given a list of things to get for their landlady… OMG. In France, you most definitely need a garant who stands in for you if you don’t pay your rent, mostly one of your parents, but he or she must theoretically be living in France…. Also, you need their pay check, tax bills, identity card and account balance information. Just hand all that over, please. But we might still not take you cuz you’re a foreigner. Looking forward to that battle.

AHA! (Apartment Hunt Anecdotes) II – The Drawback

So, the next visit is just after the first one, and this visit is also for a colocation (a flatshare) with an older guy. He says he is 35. What really brought me to even look at the place is that it’s located in the fifth arrondissement, the nicest district of Paris, right close to the Latin quarter. When we find the place, it’s one of those kind-of-fancy-but-none-descript doors, but when we open it, it looks like you just stepped into the Garden of Eden. So many doors in Paris hide wonderful courtyards, little squares full of plants, sunlight, laughing children and roaming cats, that you would never expect. Other doors hide… well, other things. This door was a happy door, and stepping inside the courtyard, I was already asking myself what the drawback on this deal was, because I clearly couldn’t afford such a place. We were let in by a man that certainly looked 35 to 40 years old and led around a gorgeous apartment, flashy kitchen, big room, and nice bathroom included. Then, we get a tea/coffee to get to know one another better. You know, it’s important if you are flatmates that you make a careful decision, because you really enter in a special relationship. When a girl moves in in his place, one could say, it’s almost like a couple relationship. Yeah, he really likes the feminine touch, without having to marry right away. And obviously, this close relationship needs to be maintained by having at least one dinner a week just the two of us. Actually, if I were to be further interested, he would gladly invite me to an evening (without my lovely friend) so that we could get to know one another even better, be honest, show all our flaws (by the way, do I drink alcohol? Only little? Oh, because he –ahem- likes a good red wine. A lot.) So, do I have any questions? Oh, whether friends could come over to visit? Well… Since there is a certain age difference, it would make me feel a little uncomfortable to be surrounded by 20 year old people, so, it would be better if I just came back here to work. And hang out. You know. Oh, and I showed you my son’s room, right? He comes over around every second weekend, and sometimes in between. Also for his sake, there are certain rules and restrictions in the house. I mean, the future roommate should at least be around every time he is here, to give him a certain consistency in his lifestyle. But, then, the price is really good, I lowered it to make sure that I could also target students and not just people with a lot of cash. So, are you interested? Just think about it, text me tomorrow and then we can make arrangements for dinner.

I did not text him.

He called me.

I politely texted back that, after due consideration, it wasn’t what I was looking for.

I think I found the drawback.

AHA! (Apartment Hunt Anecdotes) I – First Impressions

My first day in Paris. My first visit. Taking the metro out to Crimee, in the very north of town, was fine, and seeing my friend there waiting for me was even better. So then we go and look for the apartment. It’s in a gated complex of houses, though the gates are open during the day and there is a gang of guys hanging out within the district. So we are making sure to keep the creepy guys… inside the gates..? Calling the dude, I suddenly remember his last mail. “Oh, by the way, how old are you? I’m 45, haha, but I feel much younger..” Well, this is supposed to be for comparison purposes anyway. We follow him up the stairs. The door opens and you walk into a shelf, because the corridor leading to the two rooms on either side is so tiny. He shows us the free room. It’s smelly. It’s gross. It looks like it hasn’t been used (or tidied) since the 70’s. Then he shows us the grimy kitchen and the grimier (is that a word) bathroom, and finally his room where he does his recordings. He’s a musician/composer. Note: he will be at home all the time. Finally, he faces me and says: “Well, let’s be honest. How old are you? 21? Well, I think you might be a little too young, although I am open to everything..” Without further ado, we acquiesce, and he gives us further tips for the apartment hunt I am about to really start. It turns into an ok encounter. Except for the 1 second that I imagined myself living there.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Quest

...for an apartment has started. This is the one task I am the least excited and most anxious about. Living space in Paris is notoriously rare and expensive. And since I am looking for a room in a shared apartment, not only should the room be okay, the area not too far out and too dangerous, but also the people I will be living with should be at least non-creepy, if not to mention nice and friendly. Starting out to prepare my arrival in Paris on Wednesday, I made a profile on a couple of so-called 'coloc' - sites and am rigourously checking for new offers twice - thrice- often a day. As of now, I have 4 serious visiting meetings planned for Wednesday and Thursday. I am living in the fear that all of those rooms will be rented out before I set foot in Paris though and that I'll be able to start over there. I just don't know how good these offers really are and what other ones will be coming up in the next two weeks. Is it better to wait? Or to make compromises? To go for the outskirts? Or extend the budget to get the real big city life? All those decisions to make are not helped by possible future roommates putting pressure on you to decide now, to send in your documents immediately because there are so many people on the waitlist, and giving you the impression that you should really be glad to have found a bed at all. (Though many of them are also really nice and wait for you. To be fair.) Then there are the people on craigslist - which is in any case questionable for its seriousness - which make offers that are just too good to be true. And promptly they have elaborate excuses why they cannot show you the apartment (living in Edinburgh now, eh?) before you haven't wire-transferred them the caution sum and the first monthly rent. But they will send you pictures of what looks like a Marseille beach loft. Which is supposedly located in the middle of Paris. Yeah, sure.
If this sounds slightly annoyed, well, this is pretty stressful, but there are the funny moments. Top five of most funny housing posts:

5. Julien who wants to share his studio with somebody respectful in Scandinavian manner (don't speak if there is nothing to say), but who likes long chess games as well. of course, there will have to be bunk beds.
4. Karmelle says he's a 33 year old male and gives this full description of the offer: "je lourer 1 chambre don mon aprt". Would you ever need more info?
3. Chloe thinks yes: "JAttention avant toute chose, je suis et resterai membre basic, depuis quand faut il payer non mais ?! Donc, de deux choses l'une : il faut impérativement me contacter par sms parce que je ne peux pas lire mes mails. Merci. J'aime avant tout les fortes personnalités. Si tu penses Blanc alors que moi je risque probablement de penser noir, on s'en fout. On fera qd même une liste pour les tâches ménagères, les corvées quoi.. je ne suis pas bonne samaritaine. Faut il aussi qu'on pense à acheter des post it ( fluo ? ) pour qu'on se dise les choses à faire, à penser. J'aimerai bien aussi qu'on ai chacune une étagère sur le frigo me demande pas pourquoi je serai incapable de te répondre surtout si je vois que t'as penser à prendre des danettes au chocolat et pas moi. Je suis pas profiteuse du tout ! je vois les choses c'est différent..Si j'aime pas tes baskets adidas et si je tes les pique le matin quand même pasque je serai inévitablement à la bourre.. tu m'en voudras tant que ca ? je toucherai pas au Gucci, promis. Si je réflechis après avoir agi..ne m'en veux pas faudra s'y faire.Ha bon c'est négatif ? Si je suis pas capable de prendre une decision, prend toi en à mon signe astro..! Si tu me dis que t'en as marre je comprendrais, moi aussi je le dis souvent.. J'aime l'odeur du propre quand tout est propre mais je suis pas maniaque j'aime juste le bordel organisé foutoir ou je me retrouve. Mais dans ta chambre, promis tu feras tjrs ce que bon te semblera, je promets. J'aime faire la fête mais surtout chez les autres.. je suis pas contre evidemment de temps en temps, mais vraiment pour un jour spécial ! J'aime coocconer. J'aime Ruquier le samedi J'aime les test rapides de culture général surtout si t'es plus forte que moi ! j'aime vraiment apprendre Je ne suis pas folle vous savez ! j'écris bcp mais je ne parle pas seule et je ne ronfle pas ! J'aime bien qu'on me ramène un mcdo à l'improviste, ou alors qu'on me dise : on se barre j'ai eu deux billets d'avion pour barcelone ! aaaaaaaaahhhh. ouais on peut rêver ! mais tout reste négociable don't worry.j'aime les bilingues ! les polyglottes aussi. Si je te gonfle t'en fais pas non plus j'ai la carte ugc je m'en irai au ciné voir ailleurs si j'y suis.. Si on rigole de nos conneries c'est le début du bonheur dans la vie à deux, je parle en colocation cela va de soi. Avec des si on referait un monde. Ne vous fiez pas aux apparences, je prône la simplicité. NB : Merci à tous pour vos mails, vos apels, etc Je donnerai rdv au heureux pré séléctionnés dans un café parisien le plus vite possible Pas de panique, nous avons beaucoup de questions à nous poser ( on va quand meme vivre ensemble !) et si on se voit, de toute façon ca changera la donne, n'est ce pâs ? Faut il aussi que je précise que si je ne tiens pas à vivre avec des personnages avec des têtes en cartons, et que tout élan épistolaire avec une tête en carton ne vaut vraiment pas le coup. Continuez à m'écrire
Bien à vous" Goodness, I really wanna move in with her, don't you?
2. Florian thinks that special talents bring new roommates: "J'aimerais une personne avec un peu de temps pour se faire masser les pieds dans le cadre de ma formation en reflexologie."
1. But nothing beats Haitham: "bonjour je cherche un femme ; MOMME sereus.". At least he's totally clear about what he's looking for.
About the only thing keeping me insane through this all is my background music. I found the incredibly talented Ingrid Michaelson through the youtube suggestions and LOVE her music. I guess it's just because I'd like everything to be ok.

P.S. Random fact of the day: did you know what the @ symbol is called in French? arrobase.