jeudi, juillet 03, 2008

Get Everything done in Paris, Day 2

Well, I had finally fallen asleep around 19h00 last night, and perhaps unsurprisingly I was up at 7h00 the next day. Since everyone else seemed to be asleep, I tried to get up quietly and shower…and failed. My host’s apartment is one of those lovely old buildings with exposed rafters and century-old floors; lovely, but impossible to traverse without sounding like a car crash.

I spent a good couple of hours answering emails and blogging, and then I headed off in the direction of “The Phone House” (pronounced “Zee Phown Hahoos”) to try to get a cell phone. After dragging my butt to the Gambetta location (which was closed without any explanation), I headed over to another location near Châtelet to try my luck there. This one was indeed open, but (of course) I couldn’t sign a cell phone contract without my RIB (relévé d’itentité bancaire), which my bank wouldn’t produce for me right away; it would (of course) take several weeks to arrive by mail. Ah, French bureaucracy, how I didn’t miss you.

From there, I headed over to my old residence from my last stay in Paris, Résidences Lila, to hang out with an employee there that I had gotten to know well. On my way from the métro station to the residences, some guy tried to pick me up (see my blog entry from almost 2 years ago on la drague in Paris); he kept staring at me and adjusting his no-longer-very-dangly bits. On the upside, he was pretty attractive; on the downside, I had a meeting to get to. Nonetheless, I took this as a some sort of good omen.

After getting all the gossip from my friend at the residences, I headed off to grab a formule déjeuner (“lunch combo”) from my old boulangerie, and then ate it in the park near the subway station. I had to get to the UofC center again for some more paperwork, so for nostalgia’s sake, I got on the good ol’ PC 2 bus and rode from Porte des Lilas to the UofC center. Good times.

At the center, I sat down with the student admin guy and filled out my titre de séjour (“visitor’s ID”) application, which involved about 4 different forms, photos, many many signatures and a lot of complaining on our part. From there, I ran off to the American Church in Paris—which is not the American Cathedral in Paris, despite my thinking otherwise—where I had been told that local apartment owners post free and usually non-agency vacancies, job offers, and sales. Although there was absolutely nothing available in September (it was early July, so everything was for immediate rental), it was heartening to see so many available apartments in the rental range that I had envisaged. In fact, there was an ideal 20m2 (215 sq feet) studio with furnishing and all amenities on place Gambetta (XXth arrondissement), which I would’ve jumped on if I were looking for a place this month. I picked up a copy of FUSAC, which is a Paris based English-language community magazine, and browsed the listings there as well.

I had a meeting at 18h30 to see a studio that a friend had be trying to rent to me on behalf of another friend, but it was only 15h00 and I had time to kill. So I sat down with my copy of FUSAC at a nearby café, ordered some coffee and later some pastis, and I set to reading the listings there more carefully. Just by limiting my search to the 18th, 19th and 20th arrondissements, I managed to find a bunch of rental offers that suited my needs, so that also made my appointment later that evening seem a bit less high-pressure.

You see, the apartment my friend wanted me to look at is not so much a studio as a single room, 13m2 ( 140 sq feet), with a shared washroom, no kitchen (just a hotplate) and a little window. The apartment was certainly well-placed (on place Monge in the Latin Quarter, overlooking an old academic building), and the price was pretty good (600€, all utilities incl.), but I couldn’t imagine living without a kitchen and a private bathroom. Ironically, I could imagine living in that tiny space, despite my usual preference for large living quarters, but the lack of a real kitchen or bathroom made it seem like a step down from my previous lodgings at Residences Lila, rather than up.

Anyway, I had my moment of café culture and found that I still had some time before my meeting. So off I went to Le Marais (the queer neighborhood) to wander around and visit some old haunts. I hit this bakery (boulangerie Matineau, I think) that makes these fantastic fresh marshmallows. I got a raspberry marshmallow and wandered my way around the area, stuffing sticky fluff into my mouth.

The apartment meeting came and went, and I left with an urgent request from the landlady to make up my mind quickly. As I headed home, I came to the conclusion that there was no way I could live there, despite the lovely location and great view.

During the subway ride, there were three teenaged boys on the train fooling around, playfighting and insulting each other. This may have gone unnoticed at another time of the day, but as it was still the later end of rush hour, the train was packed full of tired people, trying to get home. Naturally, one of them bumped into a businessman, who glared at them and gave the most parental, scolding, “I didn’t come here to get shoved around.” This drew some insincere apologies from the boys, as well as a temporary lull in the more physical part of their horseplay.

However, this also inspired a new round of insults, where they shouted increasingly more serious insults at each other—over the head of that same businessman, to make it clear that they were indirectly meant for him. This turned up the tension, and when one of the boys inevitably bumped into him again, the businessman—without raising his voice—started in on a stern lecture about acting civilized in public. I recognized this as the French version of the “act educated / well brought-up” lecture I always got as a child of Latino parents.

Still laughing and not being at all sincere, one of boys offered this apology: “Sorry, we can’t help it, we’re Arab.” Indeed, all three of the boys were visibly of maghrebin descent (i.e., North-African Arab and/or Berber), and they spoke with the right kind of banlieusard (“suburbanite”, but with low-class connotations) accents to mark them as being part of that 2nd-generation immigrant group. The other boys in the trio picked up on the potential of that statement and started to repeat their own versions of this self-racist apology, riffing on it for comedic effect.

This left the (white, French) businessman in an awkward position: if he accepted their apologies, he would also be assenting to a racist generalization that would be intolerable if attached to him; if he rejected their apologies, he might seem petty. In the end, the businessman dismissed the whole interaction with a “n’importe quoi” (“whatever”) and the train pulled into the next station, where the boys were going to get off. However, another young girl (tanned, but more visibly French than Arab) tapped their shoulders as they were getting off the subway and said, “Hey, bullshit isn’t an Arab specialty, it’s universal.”

I don’t quite know what the moral of this story is, but I like how it encapsulates so many of the tensions of life in Paris.

I got back to my host’s place and did a bit of e-mail work and so on, and then took the host and his daughter out for dinner. From there, it was off to a bar called Le Pin Up to see a soirée organized by my friend, Fantômette. I had received one of her weekly “what techno stuff is going on in Paris” e-mail newsletters, which told me that she was organizing one last event before the summer break. Since it coincided with one of my few nights in Paris, I just had to go. Despite having crossed 7 time zones only a day ago, and having spent the day running around Paris, I put on my party clothes and headed over to the bar.

I had sent an email ahead to Fantô ahead of my arrival, but apparently I sent it to the email account that she doesn’t regularly check, because when I showed up at the bar, her hands went to her mouth in surprise. We spent a moment catching up briefly, only to discover that we were both going to Berlin for the summer. Holy shit! As of about the 14th of July, I’m going to have a party buddy.

I struck up conversation with a co-worker of Fantô, and we went down into the basement, where the dance floor was, to see her spin. The basement was really a converted cave (i.e., root cellar / wine cellar), which I don’t think had ever been thoroughly sealed. The result was that the place smelled pretty moldy and, at one point, it smelled distinctly of poop. Hooray Paris sewers!

Anyway, we had a great conversation, which lasted a couple of hours, and by half past midnight (which is really early, even for a warm-up party) I said my goodbyes and headed home.

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