Thursday, March 19, 2009

Apartment Hunting

Paris, week 3 and 44 to go. Bobby and I (Carla) are apartment hunting, which is a lot like hunting the endangered Red Squirrel in the Guinea-Bissau: you look, creep around, stalk, and then finally find one and pay to shoot it to death to realize that even though the Red Squirrel is pretty, there is not a lot of meat on it. But good lord! We have successfully shot ourselves a Red Squirrel. As the French would and do say, "Ça alors!" (Hot damn.)

What does all this mean? It means we will pay a lot of money to live in a tiny, 23 square meters (that's 23x9=207 sq. ft), corner kitchen, toilet in the hallway outside the apartment, on the 10th floor without a lift, apartment in a really nice Haussmann-style building. We wait outside with our dossier (a French rental application standard; includes copies of your bank statements, work information, yearly salary statements, promis to give first child to landlords... normal stuff) for a tardy rental agent to show the apartment. So far Bobby and I have looked at 7 apartments, and 4 fit this description. No shots have been fired.

The fifth and sixth apartments we looked at seemed like a great deal initially. They were both 30 square meters and on the ground floor or second floor. One of them even had a normal oven, and not a toaster oven! And both of these apartments are in the 18th arrondisement, home to Sacre Coeur, the Dali museum, and the bohemian Montmarte. The 18th arr. is also heavily populated by immigrants from North and Central African, the Middle East, and China. It is known as 'La Goutte d'Or', or The Golden Drop, because of it's ancient wine-making history. We thought, "Great! We'll finally find hot spices at the grocery store and get some good couscous at an affordable price!" Needless to say, we thought these apartments were great; but these thoughts occurred while we visited the area in daylight.

*Side note before continuing the story: Bobby and I lived in a pretty bad neighborhood in Los Angeles. While living on the corner of San Pedro and 49th, we witnessed a drive-by-shooting, were familiar with 3 local gangs (the 18th St. gang, the Playboys,and the 42th St. 'Lil' Criminals'), and lived next to a "sex worker" who was previously an elementary school teacher. The night we moved out, there was a quintuple homicide two blocks from our apartment.*

So before we make any decisions about living in the South Central of Paris, we decided to visit the area around our potential flat at night. What a different story! Practically every street corner was packed with young men; we saw very few women walking alone. The street that crosses over the train tracts seemed like something from the beginning trailer of Law and Order: SVU; surely a bad guy or two were lurking in the shadows! We only saw one prostitute (maybe the others were 'busy'). The apartment itself is located on rue Myrha, which after a little Googling we discovered is notorious for its drug problems and is often called the most dangerous street in Paris--however, over the past 10 years the French government has cleaned it up. The overall feeling of the place was one that does not invite a woman walking by herself. I felt like I had to keep my eyes down, attract as little attention as possible, and walk really, really fast. Bobby didn't feel the same and keep smiling and repeating, "Bonjour, nous sommes arrivées!"

Because of our experience of living in LA, we thought we could handle anything. I mean, come on, it's Paris! How bad could it be?! The big difference is that in LA, I parked my car right outside of my front door. I only had to walk 15 feet. In Paris, the nearest metro to the apartments in the 18th arr. is a half mile away, and through a corner bustling with young men aggresively hawking cigarettes.

Long story short: we will not be living in the 18th arr. -- but we will be going DURING THE DAY to have some great couscous and obtain our spices.

"But wait", you say, or "Mais non!" if you speak French. "You've only talked about 6 of 7 apartments. What about the 7th apartment? The one you saw today!"

Ah yes. (Or "Ah, Oui" since we are trying to learn French.) Located in southern part of the 15th arrondisement, the apartment is directly south of the Tour Eiffel and consequently Champ Mars. Apartment #7 is in a super retro building from what must be the late 1960s, but it has an elevator that can hold more than two very thin and short people. The hallway on our floor is covered in carpet wallpaper; our front door even has carpet on it! Aside from this insult to our senses, the one-room apartment has a large bathroom (separate), an OK kitchen, a Go-Go Gadget bed that comes out from the wall, as well as a lovely balcony overlooking un grand jardin. The neighborhood is very quiet, but a bit out of the way, and far from the 18th arr. (I now have a new appreciation for a bit out of the way). The rent is also very cheap by Parisian standards, and with our habilitation help from the government we will be paying even less.

Though we are looking at two more apartments tomorrow, I think we have found 'the one'. It is now in the hands of the owner, who has asked for nearly every detail of our financial statements, as well as those of Bobby's boss/professor who is acting as a "Garant", just in case we decide to hole up in our carpet-walled bungallow without paying rent. As if!

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