Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mahler's Third, Rugby, and not Renting an Apartment in Paris

These three things have something in common: we have experienced all of them this week. In fact, we have experienced "not renting an apartment in Paris" for the past two weeks. But more on that later.

Tonight we attended a performance of Gustav Mahler's Third Symphony accompanied by the Paris Opera Ballet, described here:
At the Opera Bastille from March 13th to April 11th 2009. Choreographer John Neumeier translates Gustav Mahler's tormented universe into expressive and elegant movement: the human condition and Man's inextricable bond with nature, the exaltation inspired by love and the attendant perception of its fragility. A fresco bringing together the Paris Opera Ballet, Orchestra and Chorus.
Indeed it was all of this and much more. I (Bobby) have a long history with this music; Mahler and I go way back --- even before the time my voice had changed. And I was reminded of this at many points during tonight's ballet, particularly when I recognized a similarity between what the dancers were doing to the music, and the crazy tumbling, diving and gratuitous awkward movements I would "perform" to the same music when I was, oh, I don't know, 16 years old? Vindicated is what I feel tonight; no longer am I ashamed.

This third symphony is the longest of all of Mahler's, and in fact it is one of the longest symphonies in the standard symphonic literature: one hour, forty-five minutes. During the whole performance, from our vantage point, we could see various people "texting" under their coats, taking pictures with their cellphones, and some making little movies with their cameras. In the dark theater their screens shot like lasers through the room. It was annoying, but I put it aside. Not so for another man close by --- another taker of the 18 euro ticket. He swallowed his frustration until a split second before the climax of the entire piece (at approximately one hour and forty-three minutes) finally violently belching "Turn it off!" while extending his arm with a rolled-up 10 euro program and swatting at two rows ahead populated with giggly girls taking movies. (Carla swears she didn't hear him yell in English, but I don't think my French is that good yet.) We waited afterwards to see if there would be a riot, since Paris is known for that kind of thing, mais non, (but no). Anyhow, the piece was so fabulous that we are going to try to go again. I might even perform a little recreation in our tiny apartment.

Moving on then, out in the Parisian suburbs of Puteaux lives the sister of my best friend Phil (Katie) and her husband (Olivier). I practically grew up with Katie, who I get to call Katie because I have known her for more than 20 years. Carla and I have had two excellent visits with them, and each time there is a lot of great food and lessons in proper French manners (elbows ON the table, not OFF). Last weekend we went for brunch and rugby --- each of which provides a nice counterpoint to the other, like a petting zoo in Miami and lobster trawling in the Arctic.

The local team in Puteaux was playing another local team (we think), and the crowd of a dozen or so was loving the action. In fact, some of the players were sitting with us until their turns came. During the match people yelled Allez Puteaux (Let's go Puteaux), but to my insensitive ears it sounded like Allez putains (Let's go whores). There were certainly other kinds of colorful language being used, but to us it all sounded so pleasant. Je voudrais un croissant.

Now onto not finding a place to rent. We could upload another picture of us competing with the crowds that show up to look at the same apartment, but the image would show nearly the same thing. Here is how the past two weeks have been like:
  1. Carla goes on-line, finds the latest listings of places offered to rent, and creates a listing of all their information.
  2. I take this list and begin to make calls to the numerous immobeliers (agencies that specialize in property rental).
  3. When a person answers the phone, my first question is Parlez-vous angalis, peut-etre? (Do you speak English, maybe?)
  4. Then they say Pas de tout (not at all).
  5. Then I do my darndest to speak fast enough so they don't hang up, and accurate enough that I don't say "Can I watch you, maybe?"
  6. I set up an appointment to see the place and present ourselves, and then I repeat this procedure for the rest of the listings.
  7. Carla and I jump on le Metro, and off we go to each apartment.
  8. We arrive and see maybe one other person waiting if we are lucky, a dozen others if we are unlucky. We are often the foreigners.
  9. The agent invites us in, speaking French the whole time, and after we take a cursory look we give him or her our "dossier" --- which is like a resume that proves we make enough money and have enough friends that make enough money that we will not be delinquent.
  10. If we are lucky, the agent says we will be called soon; if we are unlucky, the agent hands back our dossier with a grin. Does our dossier look like it was done with craft paper and crayons?
  11. The last step in this whole process, before returning to the beginning, is getting a terse email or voicemail "Owner go with someone else. Thank you."
When I call an immobelier now, I have a little easier time. Today I made an appointment where I understood every question asked of me. At the end I asked, C'est tout? (Is that all?) My BFF in the lab laughed at that. I asked him what I did wrong, and he said, "You speak perfect French and it is understandable, but when you say, "C'est tout?" you are not asking "Is that all?" You are asking, "Are you done annoying me so that I can go take care of more important things?"

Needlesstosay, we do have some leads on apartments; and we are no longer under pressure to find something before April 1. So it looks like we won't be living sous le pont (under the bridge) just yet.

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