Tour My Old Paris Apartment
My Old Paris Apartment
I’ve been thinking about the ol’ digs quite a bit. Spring always comes with a heavy dose of personal nostalgia. So many defining moments happened around this season, my brief residency in France being one. The reality of Parisian dwellings was quite different from my original expectations. In fairness, at that time, Carrie Bradshaw had just left Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte to live the dream in the City of Light with her wealthy Russian artist lover. In my naiveté, I just figured that every Parisian had a place like Aleksandr Petrofsky. Before the taxi parked in front of the massive oak gates of my humble summer residency, my Parisian apartment fantasies were rampant and irrational. I imagined myself in a black, fitted Givenchy dress with matching heels, which naturally sported a brilliant set of infamously red bottoms. I’d step out of the taxi, tip the rim of my black floppy hat, and widely smile at my Haussmann building, adorned with pristinely geometric topiaries as far as the eye could see. I’d climb a spiral staircase, open an enormous set of white doors, and see the Eiffel Tower greeting me through a pair of open volets. Really, I imagined my apartment would resemble something out of a Dior perfume commercial.
That’s totally reasonable for a college study abroad program. Sure. Please note the sarcasm there.
In reality, I was a broke college student who worked seventy hours a week and took out a massive personal loan to be able to afford the study abroad experience. The only red on my shoe bottoms would have been from stepping in old ketchup somewhere during the layover in Iceland. The dress would have actually been a knockoff known as Cheap-venchy, and the outfit was not so much a dress as it was black yoga pants and a matching hoodie sweatshirt. My expectations were bogus, so that when the taxi did turn down the Rue des Tanneries in the 13th arrondisement, I gasped. The ‘view’ would be a drab apartment building with a broken mini-refrigerator from 1986 dumped in front of it, which by the way, sat on the same curbside spot for the entire three months of my program. The Eiffel tower was nowhere in sight, as it was a lengthy metro ride away. For a total of five minutes, I was disenchanted. This was not the charming Paris I’d seen in the books. Certainly not the romantic scene everyone gushed over. Save for the street signs and Histoire de Paris plaque, this neighborhood seemed mostly interchangeable with every other major world city.
Or so I thought.
A Charming Zombie Nook in the 13th
At first glance, the apartment entrance itself was a scene derived from my nightmares. It looked like it should have been crudely spray-painted with the words ‘Beware: Dead Inside’ to suggest the place was actually a glorified zombie container. Large pieces of the ceiling were missing. Pieces that looked like they might have been structurally necessary. The paint was gashed and chipped at every angle. The inside of the door had several persnickety deadbolts, which certainly didn’t help alleviate my nerves. I pushed away the onslaught of worry and quickly realized that this was my apartment… in Paris. As in Paris, France. I had an apartment in one of the world’s most iconic cities. Regardless of aesthetic, this was a privilege. I dumped an armada of suitcases in the tiny bedroom, flopped on a twin cot, and wore a stupidly smitten grin as I relaxed for the next few hours. This was my home.
Appearances Can Be Deceiving
Not much time passed before I fell in love with the authentic French dwelling. It was simple. Humble. Our mostly quiet neighborhood consisted of longtime locals. Aside from the young, late-night streaker who ran past our apartment window hooting, ‘ello laaay-deez, I am joost French’, as he jogged and gyrated down the street, our neighborhood seemed entirely French-speaking. Not even our groundskeeper, Christophe, spoke English. The language barrier made usually simple maintenance conversations- like trying to explain that the washing machine was broken, when in fact, the appliance was actually in ‘dryer mode’ and could be fixed simply by pressing the power button multiple times- difficult. Yes, I was definitely not in Massachusetts anymore.
Our building, a former 17th century convent, concealed a stunning cobblestoned courtyard draped with luscious ivy and flowers. Wispy blades of grass poked through the gaps of the stones, slightly swaying along in tandem with the faint Parisian breeze. The street itself may have not seemed very French, but the courtyard was quintessential Paris.
With blogging and social media currently at an all-time popularity, I find there is a hugely glamorized misconception about life in Paris. There’s nothing wrong with sharing those aspects of Paris, but I think we do a disservice to the city by merely focusing on the glitz. Don’t get me wrong, there are swanky neighborhoods that are adorned with macaron towers and filled with the rhythmic clanking of Louboutins. As nice as that is and can be, the Paris I know is more. The Paris I know is shopping at Picard. It is the little neighborhood Vietnamese restaurant that didn’t speak English, but was happy to communicate and learn along with us as we pantomimed our words. The Paris I know is the art shop that gave me a free watercolor brush every time I tried to communicate with them in French, because they knew I was shy and scared to converse. The Paris I know is that modest, no-frills apartment that filled itself with love and memories of people who gave me courage to abandon my comfort zone and exist in foreign place.
The old Paris apartment. The broken refrigerator was a better view than a macaron tower any day.
Well, maybe not, but you get my point, right?
À la prochaine.