samedi, septembre 06, 2008

The Endless WiFi Search and First Night of Partying

After a somewhat hefty night of celebration, I decided to let myself sleep in “Berlin-style,” which means until noon (from now on, anytime you wake up at noon or later, you’re doin’ it Berlin-style). Then, I got out of bed and got to work.

You see (and you probably noticed if you check this blog regularly or have an RSS feed), I hadn’t blogged anything past last Saturday during this week, mostly thanks to the frantic schedule I was keeping. Today, with the afternoon entirely open and a rather busy week coming down the pipe, I decided now was the time to get caught up. Since I cant seem to catch the WiFi network that my neighbors have been using (I plan to get an external WiFi adapter sometime soon to fix that), this actually worked out pretty well. Without the internet to amuse and distract me, I managed to get about 6 days’ worth of blogging done in 5 hours, which is pretty good.

After that, I needed to post this shit on the web. Well, Paris has free WiFi in most of its parks, so off I went to Les Halles, which isn’t too far from where I’m living right now. I wandered around until I saw a sign with the familiar purple-ish shapes that indicate a free WiFi spot. I set myself down and opened up my laptop…and nothing. I took a closer look at the sign and saw a map with a layout of the gardens, showing two transmitters with circular transmission ranges. One was located at the Berger gate, which is close to where I am, so I headed over there and opened my laptop. Nothing. I moved to a bench nearby…my computer detected the network but couldn’t get on. I moved across the pathway to another bench…nothing. I walked directly over to where the Berger gate was and sat nearly underneath it…nothing.

Losing patience, I found another sign with the broadcast zones and looked for the other transmitter. It was located on the other side of the park, near the Louis Aragon walkway. I tried to get a good idea of precisely where the center of that circle was, and then headed over and sat my self on a pair of benches that should’ve been directly above or beside the WiFi radio. From there, I was FINALLY able to get logged on.

Then, the login script for the free WiFi kept on throwing errors that pissed off Firefox and made it constantly disconnect. I opened up Safari and it worked fine. Yes, for once Safari was more robust than Firefox. Go figure.

Anyway, I was FINALLY connected to the net, and so I set about posting all of the last 6 days of blog posts in a row. So now you can read about my frantic search for an apartment! It’s a thrilling read, I tell ya. There was also an explosion of email waiting for me, so I took care of responding to most of it, and made a note to myself to come back here tomorrow afternoon and finish some of this business.

I thought about just walking down to the huge FNAC in the Les Halles shopping mall, but it was already 20h00 and I was pretty sure the shops closed around then. I headed down into the mall and, indeed, it was all closed. To my surprise, though, the multiplex cinema and all the little coffee joints around it were really hopping. And even though the stores had just closed, there were still a lot of people wandering around the halls of the mall. This is a radical change from a decade ago when I came here as an exchange student, and even a change from when I was here two years ago. Ever since the city demolished the old, traditional covered market and created this underground shopping mall, this place has been a wasteland of closed storefronts and late-night muggings (made possible by the fact that the mall has to stay open late for access to the métro-RER station beneath it). Also, thanks to the fact that three of the 5 RER lines pass through the Les Halles station, this mall has been a favorite hang-out of young banlieusards (“suburbanites,” although the connotation is more “ghetto trash” than “wealthy middle-class”). Anyway, the banlieusards are still there, but there were generally more people milling about and there was a greater mix of people in the crowds. I don’t know what the place looks like at 2am on a Tuesday, but this is still an improvement.

So, upon finding FNAC closed, I headed down into the bowels of the métro station and caught the 11 line (my old, dirty, overheated line!) to Belleville, where I got a filling yet healthy bowl of Pho at my favorite Vietnamese restaurant, Tin Tin. I put so many hot peppers into my soup, I was sniffling like a coke addict by the time I paid my bill. From there, it was back home to rest up a bit in preparation for a night out. Apparently, Fantômette was going to some sort of event at the Trabendo, and I had no earthly idea where that was, but thank goodness that my friends are only an SMS-message away.

The Three-Step Plan

1: Le Pinup [LINK]

Around midnight, I got a message from Fantômette, saying that she was meeting some folks at Le Pinup before continuing on with their night. Well, since that bar is only 15 minutes’ walk from where I am right now, I decided to head out.

On the way over, I discovered that rue Saint-Denis is the major stroll for the city’s prostitutes. You can’t walk 5 meters without passing a woman with a face older than her body, and a body underdressed for the cold weather. What was odder was that there were lots of men standing on street corners or in doorways, looking bored yet available. I would’ve presumed that they were hustlers, except that they were…um…not in possession of the typical sex-trade body type. In other words, these were mostly middle-aged dumpy guys dressed in unexceptional clothing—in other words, more likely johns than hustlers. So it was odd that they were standing around looking as if they were waiting while the hookers were also standing around looking as if they were waiting. They could’ve been pimps, I suppose, but they DEFINITELY didn’t look like pimps. Usually, pimps do a good job of maintaining a personal appearance that demarcates them clearly from potential clients.

Anyway, I finally made it to Le Pinup and caught up with Fantô, her girlfriend and a cluster of her friends and buddies. Unlike when we were in Berlin, Fantômette here was in her “networking” mode, playing the role of DJ and promoter. Although I know that that sort of activity can be exhausting at times, I certainly benefited from it by being introduced to pretty much everybody that passed within 2 meters of her. Yay! Luis makes new friends.

We had some drinks, including a house special drink involving white wine, vodka and violet syrup called the “Purple Pinup.” The tiny bar was packed, even with almost 50% of the attendees standing outside smoking. We pushed our way downstairs to the converted cellar (recently renovated with new flooring that has taken away the mossy stench I experienced last time I had been here) to check out the DJ that was spinning. I have no earthly idea who this guy was, but he was sorta OK. He mixed together a somewhat noisier, more electro-influenced version of minimal house, which was sometimes pleasant and sometimes annoyingly ear-piercing, but never fantastic nor horrible.

By around 0h30 or so, we decided to move over to another bar in the Marais, called Yono, to see a friend and his partner spin. After taking ages to say goodbye to everyone (again, Fantômette in networking mode), we finally made our way by foot over to the Marais.

2: Yono

We eventually made it over to Yono and Fantômette immediately saw a group of girls that she knew. As it turns out, some of them had been out the night before at On Cherche Encore, so I got to be “social” too and chat with the lovely ladies. We eventually went inside, got some drinks from the super-friendly head bartender (who, of course, knew Fantô and greeted her with a big kiss and a hug) and went downstairs to say hi to the DJ duo, Bfck.

They were spinning a thoroughly electro set, with lots of “classic” tracks from the electro-clash wave of the early 2000s. Although it’s no longer a style that I particularly follow or enjoy, the set gave me a warm glow of nostalgia for my years in Toronto, when electroclash was the hottest thing since anything.

It was getting close to 2h00, and if we wanted to get all the way to Trabendo (which was in the Parc de la Villette near Porte de Pantin), we would need to catch the last métro or pay a LOT of money for a taxi. So we started making our way out of the bar and found ourselves in front of the entryway, talking to the same girls we had seen on the way in. We chatted some more and some more, while Fantômette’s girlfriend and I tried our best to humor a profoundly drunk guy who insisted that he lived in the apartment above the bar.

Finally, we got moving. It was already past 2h00 and there was no chance of catching the métro, but the girls we had been chatting with were also heading to the Trabendo and one of them had a car. So we headed over to where her car was parked and piled in. There was about one too many people in the car, which meant we were at risk of being stopped and getting a nice big fine for piling up like that.

In response to these concerns, one of the girls in the car said cheerily, “It’s OK! We’re all invisible, anyway. Isn’t that right, girls?” This joke only made sense because all of the women I was traveling with were queer. An ongoing complaint in both the politics and history of queer women is that they are treated as if invisible. Alas, I doubt a police officer would get the joke…you’re only invisible until you’re inconvenient, eh?

We drove over to the apartment of the woman who was driving (her apartment was close to the Trabendo), parked her car and sat in her apartment for a while and had a drink. At some point, someone checked their watch and pointed out that it was already 3h30. Considering that clubs in Paris close at 6h00 precisely, we only had 2.5 hours left for fun. So off we went to Trabendo. We decided to go by foot, which we later came to regret, as it was a lot further away than we had thought.

3: Trabendo

We got to Trabendo just before 4h00, after a seemingly endless walk. They were still charging full price for admission, so we grudgingly handed over 12€ for less than half of the night’s entertainment. As we were standing in the vestibule, one of the girls in our group leaned over to me and said, “This doesn’t sound like minimal techno, here.” Indeed, the sound coming out of the main room seemed more like a pounding progressive or trance set. Hmm.

Once we got inside, I immediately saw the playlist and pointed it out to the girls. Apparently, the headliner Philip Kieran had been on since 3h00 and would continue to 5h00. Really? This? We had all been under the impression that Philip Kieran produced some pretty fine minimal techno, but this was like an unholy alliance of Justice-style “neo rave” and crap Hi-NRG Euro-Techno progressive house. Maybe our reactions were more severe because of our high hopes going in, but I really found this horrid.

So I found myself doing something I’ve almost never done during a night out: stand against a railing outside of the dancefloor and exchange looks and gestures of disgust with other disappointed attendees. I was completely, utterly uninspired to throw myself into the crowd and dance, such was disappointment with the music. No doubt, part of our sour mood was the fact that we had just paid 12€ and walked halfway across Paris for this.

Anyway, by about 4h30 or so we realized that this was just not worth the aesthetic agony and we decided to move. Half of our crew decided to roll over to Le Rex to catch Jennifer Cardini, while the rest of us made our way home (including me). We caught a night bus from Porte de Pantin to Gare de l’Est, and from there I walked home and those heading to Le Rex hailed a taxi.

Overall, the night was sort of a cruel contrast to my previous weekend in Berlin. Of course, I know that there are great nights to be had in Paris and there is some great music to be found, but tonight was not it. I had a good time hanging out with Fantô and her friends and getting to know new people, but the musical side of the night was unexceptional at best, horrifying at worst. And, also, the fact that the night ended at 5h00, when things would just be getting into swing in Berlin, was not lost on anyone. Ah well, next Friday there’ll be an evening organized by Fantômette, called Happy People Only, so I’ve got something to look forward to.

vendredi, septembre 05, 2008


I woke up this morning with a feeling of anticipation that I couldn’t shake. The owner of that apartment at Parmentier that I had looked at last night was supposed to call me back, and there was the owner of the place at Convention that was waiting to hear from me. I went about eating breakfast, showering and getting dressed. I was about to head out to a nearby park to use the city’s free WiFi (and wonderful thing, I must say), when I got a phone call.

It’s the owner of the place at Parmentier! He’s ready to give me the apartment. I need to make a bank transfer of the security deposit (2 x the rent, which is standard, alas) and the pro-rated rent for the last part of the month, and then we can meet this evening to sign the lease and get everything in order. YAY!!!1!

I told myself I wouldn’t start celebrating and text-messaging everybody until the ink on the lease was dry, and that I wouldn’t call the other owners and tell them I was no longer on the market until I had at least made the bank transfer. So I zipped to the UofC center, checked my mail for the owner’s banking information, and then headed over to my bank, LCL, to get the virement (bank transfer) taken care of. I could’ve done the virement over the internet, but the owner wanted a paper receipt from the bank with it’s stamp and so on, so I needed to do it in person.

And this is where French-style bureaucracy came into play. I show up at the bank, all of my documents in hand, and the guy at the front desk (kind of like a teller, but without cash) doesn’t quite understand why I would want to do a bank transfer in person. After explaining to him the circumstances, he told me that he didn’t know how to do virements. Keep in mind that this is something that I can do on my own online.

So, I would have to wait for one of the full-fledged bankers to have an opening. Of course, it was already 11h30, so they would probably be going for lunch soon, and lunch here is 2 hours long. So he took my phone number and told me he would call me, although realistically I wasn’t likely to get this done until 15h00 at the earliest. Ah, French efficiency in all its glory.

In the end, at least, all this got taken care of by 15h00 and I was able to call around and tell the other apartment-owners that I was no longer looking. I kept on working at the office until about 17h00, and then headed home and relaxed for a minute in front of the TV. By about 18h30, I called the apartment owner (work ended at 18h00 for him) and headed straight over to see him. By 19h30, the lease was signed and I had a new address.

Not quite yet ready to believe it, I walked down to the main métro station and grabbed a beer on the terrace of a café and started sending SMS messages to everyone I knew. I have an apartment! I can’t move in until Sep 22 and it’s on top of 6 flights of stairs, but I have an apartment!!

From there I headed home, stopped at Monoprix to get something dinner-like, and got ready to go out. Fantômette was going to be spinning at a bar later that night, and I was ready to party.

Fantômette (and some other guy) at On Cherche Encore

At around 22h00 or so, I headed over to On Cherche Encore and found Fantômette spinning downtempo and atmospheric tech-house for a crowd of people that were mostly dining. This bar doesn’t really turn into a standing-room, crowded bar until later in the evening, so I just came in, ordered a drink and headed over to see Fantô. After a few minutes of hanging out, other friends of hers started appearing and keeping her company near the turntables. Some of these friends I already knew, some of these I didn’t, but all of them were really fun and friendly.

I was in the mood to celebrate, so I’ll admit that my memory is a bit hazy after a certain point. I had so many mojitos that the guy at the bar started making one as soon as I approached the bar, and at the same time one of the girls I was hanging out with kept sharing her wine with me, which was kind but also a bad combination. By about 2h00, I made my goodbyes, staggered out of the bar, and headed home.

I made a valiant effort to figure out how the Vélib system worked (a city-run network of self-serve rental bikes), but I eventually gave up and started walking home. It’s not more than 30 minutes away from where I’m staying right now. On the way home, I passed by a Turkish kebab stand that was open, so I headed to the counter and ordered in Turkish. When the guy asked me how it is I came to learn Turkish, I said that I lived in Berlin before. He looked confused for a moment, and then I said, “I lived near Hermannplatz,” and then everything seemed to make sense to him. This kebab had precious little vegetables, but at least the meat was good and he smeared the bread with spicy harissa. Yay! I didn’t really need the French fries, though.

jeudi, septembre 04, 2008

Frantic Apartment-Hunting, Part II, Day 3

I had an appointment to see the apartment of Anatoly’s friend’s girlfriend at 10h00, so I got up early and headed over to place de Nation to grab a coffee and check out the neighborhood. Nation is actually a really nice neighborhood; far from most of the tourist destinations, so not overrun or overpriced, and yet close to most things and well-equipped for all your dining and shopping needs. In a gesture of final desperation, I bought another copy of the PaP (Particulier à Particulier, the private-party sales and rental magazine that comes out every Thursday morning) and sat down at a café. If it’s possible to imagine, the rents have increased even more since that last time I was here two weeks ago. There were virtually no 1BR apartments under 1000€, and most of the studios were either in the 500-600€ range for unfurnished and super-small, or 700-800€ for furnished and medium-sized. Meh.

I headed over to the apartment and met the owner, who showed me the place. It was actually in great condition and reasonably large, although there was a bit of remaining water damage on the ceiling of the kitchen that she promised would be cleaned and painted soon. The bathroom was separate from the apartment, but it was private, so at least I wasn’t sharing it with others. While not ideal, the apartment was great and a far sight better than what I was currently living in, and the price (which I can’t disclose here, since it was a “for friends only” price) was hard to refuse. However, the one stumbling block was the fact that it was unfurnished. If I was going to be living in Paris for several years, unfurnished would be just fine, since the savings in rent would make up for the purchased furniture over time. Anyway, I had to think about it; it would be a pain in the ass to furnish this thing from scratch, but then there’s always Craigslist to sell leftover stuff before leaving…

Anyway, she had run an ad in the PaP as well, so she wanted a chance to have other interested parties look at the place. So we said that we would be in touch over the weekend and I promised to send her my “dossier locataire” (with all of my housing and financial info) and left it at that.

From there, I headed over to the UofC center to put in my hours and take care of a lot of my online business. There’s no internet at the place where I’m staying (well, there’s supposed to be a free internet zone in the area, but it’s just out of range), so I had a lot of business to deal with very quickly.

In yet another gesture of desperation, I took a look at the stuff posted on Craigslist. Amid the usual scams and holiday rentals, I spotted a handful of apartments that seemed reasonable. I sent out some emails and forgot about it.

About an hour later, I get a phone call from a guy who is renting an apartment in the 15th arrondissement, near Convention métro station. He wants to show me his place right away. Yay! I tell him that I’ll be there at 17h00 and I start wrapping things up and getting ready to leave. Just as I’m stepping out the door, I get a call from another person. This is a guy renting a studio in the 11th arrondissement, near métro Parmentier. He asks me a few more details about my financial situation and how long I’m planning to stay in Pars, and then makes an appointment to see me at 19h30. Yay again!

The rest of the day was pretty fast-paced. I ran to the first apartment and checked it out. The guy showing it was a really friendly New Zealander who was moving back to NZ and wanted to rent out his place. The neighborhood was lovely and the building was in very good condition. The room itself was a chambre de bonne, that is, what would’ve been the maid’s room in a classic Hausmann-era Paris apartment building. This means that there were two potential drawbacks: it would probably be really small and it would probably be on the top floor.

Indeed, both of these were true, although at least there was an elevator in the building. But the thing was small—16m2 at best. Still, I was imagining that I could make it work, especially since he had been very smart about furnishing the place in a way that saved a lot of space. He seemed ready to pretty much sign a contract right away, so I told him that I needed to see one more apartment that night, and then I would get back to him that evening.

I ran home and swung by Monoprix to finally get some groceries for my place (although not too much, since I wasn’t sure if I would be moving tomorrow), and then borrowed my neighbor’s internet for a moment to double-check the prices for the apartments I was looking at tonight. As it turns out, I had gotten things backward. The place at Convention that I had just seen was 800€, while the place I was going to see at Parmentier was 660€. Hmm, that made me much less likely to take the first place, and much more likely to take the second.

I zipped over to Parmentier and met the other landlord, who was an (also friendly) American English teacher that was looking to rent his apartment while he moved to Ireland for a time. The apartment was on the 6th floor (European reckoning, which is like 7th floor in the US) with no elevator…but I was beginning to realize that that was not really a big drawback for me. I had lived in Berlin on the 4th floor without an elevator for the last two months and got used to it quite quickly. I can probably use the exercise anyway. Also, he wasn’t going to leave the place until September 22, but I had this other apartment in Strasbourg Saint-Denis for the month of September anyway, so no problem really.

Aside from the height of the apartment, the place was all WIN and AWESOME. It consists of a main room that is probably 25m2, a kitchen that is about 8m2, and a bathroom that is about 3-4m2. The owner doesn’t want to take anything with him, so he’ll be leaving his flat-screen LCD TV, his beautiful white leather sofa-bed, his bookshelves and fantastic telescoping coffee table / dining table (the legs are adjustable), a huge, ancient oak kitchen workspace, a GAS STOVE (you have no idea how hard this is to find in smaller apartments here), an old wardrobe, and his complete WiFi / TV / phone setup. I would pay an extra 33€ for the WiFi/TV/phone, which he would keep in his name, and I would pay a monthly advance of 40€ for the electricity, for which we would settle the difference every month when the bill comes. He had done a lot of renovations on the place, and the bathroom looked brand-new and the ceiling windows were the fancy kind that opened all the way to ventilate it during hot weather. All told, I’d be putting in 733€ for the apartment including all utilities, WiFi / TV / phone, furnishings and so on.

I was ready to take the place right away, but he had had several other visitors who were interested in the place, including a shrewd young Mexican guy that had complained that “Nobody wants to rent to a Mexican,” which is a good card to play on a college-educated white American. Despite being also Latino, I doubted that I would be able to play that particular guilt card credibly, considering that I have a Canadian passport and I’m here on a scholarship, so I just did my best to seem really friendly and very responsible. I made a point of telling him that I’ve been subletting my place back in Chicago, and having the same sorts of concerns and worries that he was having in choosing a tenant. Of course, the market was radically different between here and Chicago. In Chicago, I was desperate for anyone (well, anyone who could pass a credit check) to rent my place, whereas here this guy had the pick of 4 or more desperate tenants.

Anyway, he decided to sleep on it and call us all in the morning, so I headed home and tried to resist the temptation to tell everyone about the place. I know I’m being superstitious, but I just don’t want to jinx this thing.

On the way home from the subway station, I noticed a Chinese restaurant on rue de Strasbourg that constantly had crowds eating in there (notably, not just tourists but also other Chinese folks), and I also noticed that it was named after Chengdu, the capital of the Szechuan province. Yay, spicy Szechuan food! Maybe I can finally get something that is more than just moderately spicy. How exciting!

So I went in there and ordered a few dishes to go, telling the waiter that I wanted it very, very spicy. As I waited for my food, I took a close look at the menu and was impressed by the range of food they had available. Not just the usual “sweet and sour pork” variations, but also more adventurous things like tripe, frog’s legs, eel, kidneys, liver and so on. I may have to come back here some time and try this place again.

mercredi, septembre 03, 2008

Frantic Apartment-Hunting, Part II, Day 2

Well, today was the first day of work at the UofC center, but first I had some more “official” business at the préfecture (police station, but also local administrative office). It was time for the visite médicale, or the medical check-up that all arriving immigrants must pass before being granted the titre de sejour, which is the ID card that serves as your proof of visa while living in France.

If this “visit” was going to be anything like the last one, this is how it would go. You go to the office and get ushered into one waiting room, then into another waiting room. After a fair bit of time waiting, someone calls you into an examination room where they test your eyesight, weigh you, measure your height, and then take a blood sugar reading. Then, they send you into a room where they take an x-ray of your chest (mine always shows that I have a HUGE pair of lungs). You then wait in the waiting room again for a while longer, and then you’re called into the office of one of the doctors working there, who looks at your x-rays, asks you about your health history, asks you what you’re doing in France, and then scolds you about your weight. Then, you head over to the actual préfecture office, where they invariably don’t have your card ready. Then, you have to come back a week or two later to finally get it.

This time, however, my appointment was at 9h00 instead of noon, so the visit actually went very quickly. There was still the usual prodding and poking and scolding, but the whole thing was over in less than an hour. Oh, and of course they didn’t have my card ready yet.

Amidst all the scolding, though, I memorized the weight written on my form noting that it was at least a few kilos lighter than when I had been weighed here a couple of years back. When I got to my office at the UofC center, I converted the weight to pounds and realized that I had lost 20 pounds this summer! Apparently, the “Berlin diet” works: party 3-4 times every week, dancing until 6 or 7 in the morning, while eating really light so that you don’t get cramps while dancing. Also, you should completely screw up your sleep schedule. Simple!

It’s actually a bit surprising, considering that the entire time that I was in Berlin, I was eating 3-egg breakfasts with toast (eggs have lots of vitamin B-12, which is important for the regeneration of nerves, i.e., my Bell’s Palsy). Anyway, it’s good news.

I’m keeping my policy from last time of not blogging about work, so I’ll just say that things went relatively smoothly, it was great to see everyone from the program again, and I love the fact that any reception in France involves lots of wine.

I had an appointment at a hairdresser near Mélanie’s place at 16h00, so I dashed out of my office and made my way over. I had pretty much picked the place because it was a combination hair salon and tattoo shop, and all of the people getting their hair done there seemed to be getting pretty stylized or dramatic haircuts. My hair is the longest it’s been in years (and possibly my entire life), so I felt like it was a good time to get an adventurous haircut. I’ve been doing adventurous things with hair color for almost 13 years now, but the actual hair style has generally been pretty simple. Besides, if I really hate the results, I can buy a hair clipper and buzz that shit off; I’ve got tons of experience in that, let me tell you.

So, after getting there, waiting for the hairdresser to finish his previous client, and sitting down in front of the mirror, I told the him, “I’m ready for a change. The only important thing is that the sides and back are relatively short, because otherwise I develop curly wings. Other than that, do what you like.” After asking me some questions on how much length I wanted to take off the top, he got to work.

I was of two minds about the results. On the one hand, I was impressed with the dexterity of his technique; he gave a great shape to the cut, made everything manageably short, and used a whole range of techniques to lighten and texturize my otherwise over-thick hair. On the other hand, the resulting haircut was pretty unadventurous; it was a good cut and it suited me well, but there was no adventure going on here. Ah well, at least it was a good cut.

From there, I headed back to Mélanie’s place, re-packed my bags, and started moving my stuff over to the apartment at Strasbourg Saint-Denis. It only took two trips (although one of them involved my super-heavy luggage), and in the process I got to know my new neighborhood a bit more. Apparently, it’s a rather seedy area with lots of sex-trade activity, even during daylight. Yay, hookers!

By the time I was finished, it was midnight and most of the food stands nearby were closed. I didn’t realize that Faubourg Saint-Denis, which was just on the other side of my street, was full of late-night döner kebab joints, so instead I wandered down to a schwarma place down the street and had a horribly disappointing kebab. Made from some sort of dark-meat poultry (I’m pretty sure it was pigeon), with only a dash of vegetables and a pile of greasy fries. Meh.

mardi, septembre 02, 2008

Frantic Apartment-Hunting, Part II, Day 1

Well, work (a.k.a. my gig at the University of Chicago’s Center in Paris) was to start the next day, so today was devoted to getting myself together, re-starting my search for an apartment, and maybe getting my !@#$ hair cut.

I already had an appointment to see an apartment at 11am, that I had heard about through a friend of a friend. The place was at the top of the building without an elevator (5 flights), located near the Étienne Marcel métro stop in the 3rd arrondissement. It was a reasonably-sized studio with a nice kitchen, going for a relatively-reasonable price of 600€. However, there were two mitigating circumstances: 1) it was completely unfurnished—the tenant was even going to remove most of the kitchen appliances; and 2) 8 other people had already visited the apartment and declared their interest in the place, so my chances were slim. Nonetheless, I headed out and phoned the agent that was managing the apartment, leaving him a message saying that I was interested and that I had my dossier ready to give to him. I never got an answer.

I headed over to the UofC center to check my mail and to take care of some business at my bank nearby, and then grabbed some lunch. Another friend, Anatoly, had told me that the girlfriend of his friend was looking to rent her studio apartment near Nation as well, so I called her a left her a message asking to make an appointment to see the place.

Also, yet another friend had sent me a text message last night saying, “Hey, are you still looking for an apartment? I know somebody who is looking to rent.” To which I said, “Hell yes!” She passed my email and phone number on to this person, and I finally got an email today. The situation wasn’t entirely clear from the email, but the girl that contacted me was apparently a tenant in the same building, who was taking care of business for the owner while she was out of town. Either way, she had a studio near Strasbourg Saint-Denis (10th arrondissement) that was available for 600€, fully furnished, all charges included. She wasn’t sure when she would be able to contact me about visiting the apartment, but I left her my cell phone number and headed home.

I managed to get connected to the WiFi in Mélanie’s apartment, and when I checked my email the woman who had been contacting me about that apartment had sent me another email saying, “Actually, if you’re nearby, you might as well call the cleaning lady Linda, who is here right now and can show you the place. If you like it, she’ll give you the keys and then I’ll collect the money from you later. I live right next door.” Surprised at the casualness of this arrangement amid the usual panicked rigidity of the French rental system, I nonetheless made the call and left a message for Linda.

About half an hour later, I was on my way to the apartment to meet the cleaning lady and see the apartment. The apartment itself was spacious and indeed furnished, if also rather dingy. The main room was actually pretty big, but the tradeoff was a tiny and really grungy kitchen with an electric hotplate and a shower in the corner (yes, the shower is in the kitchen). And the washroom was a true water-closet: about the size of a small closet with barely enough room for your knees with the door closed.

When the cleaning lady asked if I was interested, I said yes (partly out of desperation, I’ll admit) and she gave me the keys. I reasoned that, since it would probably take a couple of days to meet the woman that was arranging the rental and sign anything or pay money, I could still see some other apartments and return the keys if I found something better. If not, I’ll just put up with the shitty kitchen and tiny washroom and be done with this.

On the way back to Mélanie’s apartment, I finally got a call from the woman taking care of this (also my potential future neighbor) checking in with me. In the course of the conversation, she revealed that this rental was being arranged so informally because it was only for a month. The landlady was expecting a tenant to arrive in October, and she just needed someone to fill in September (which is tax time for French folks). Ah, gotcha.

This was actually a bit of a relief, as I was feeling more and more worried about the feasibility of living in this place in the long-term. I was glad to have that option taken from me. And, at the same time, this place would allow me to stay somewhere without bugging my friends for the duration of September, while I looked for an apartment. I should hopefully find something before then. Nonetheless, this meant that I still didn’t have an apartment.

I got a call from the girlfriend of a friend of Anatoly and we finally set up an appointment to look at her place Thursday morning. I spent the rest of the evening writing up my blog notes for last Saturday (I was a bit behind) and then eventually had dinner with Mélanie when she got home from work. To bed!

lundi, septembre 01, 2008

Goodbye, Berlin; Hello, Paris

I woke up in Berlin around 10h and started saying goodbye to the city. My plane wasn’t until 20h or so, so I still had time to do something in Berlin or wander around a bit. After taking my time to pack my bags and get a start at blogging the events of the weekend, I finally gave my French buddy a call and we planned to meet at Hermannplatz for lunch.

I took him to my favorite little Vietnamese place near Hermannplatz, called HaMy, on Hasenheide. Over a bowl of noodles, we told each other all about our various adventures that weekend. The last time we had actually seen each other was at Rechenzentrum; after that, he missed me at Berghain, then I was sleeping when he was at Bar25, then he left Bar25 before I got there Sunday afternoon, and then he returned to Bar25 just after I called it a night and headed home.

After lunch, we headed our separate ways and I wandered around my neighborhood a bit before finally heading to the apartment. I gave some thought to buying some souvenirs or items for people in Paris, but my luggage was already likely to overshoot the baggage weight allowance, so I let that drop. I spent maybe a couple of hours doing some more blogging and cleaning up my room, and then I headed out around 16h00 to the airport. This was ridiculously early, I know, but I was going to take the U-Bahn and S-Bahn to Flughafen Schönefeld, which is a 40-minute ride on a good day, when not encumbered by piles of luggage.

Thanks to the cancellation of one of the train lines that day, I had to take a few extra connections and I ended up arriving at the airport around 18h00. As the train pulled into the station, I noticed that the sky had gotten very quickly grey and raindrops were hitting the train’s windows. This gave me a moment of schadenfreude/satisfaction; you see, I had been a bit pissed that, after a whole summer of rain, clouds and cold, the weather in Berlin finally started getting sunny and warm this past weekend. As the drizzle turned into a downpour, I indulged in a sadistic smirk and hauled my luggage to the airport. Thank goodness that the footpath to the airport was mostly covered.

After waiting near the check-in desk for my flight to open (meanwhile eating a really horrible sandwich and drinking a really lovely beer), I finally made my way to the EasyJet check-in and got in line. When it came time for me to check in, I put my first piece of luggage on the scale, ready to pay the 15€ surcharge for the extra baggage. The woman said that I was 8 kg over the limit, and that each kg was a bit more than 10€ in charges. I said, “It’s OK, I have another piece of luggage which is much smaller, so the difference between the two average out to the right allowance.” “No,” she said, “the allowance is 20kg, regardless of how many bags you bring.” This hadn’t been the case when I had flown from Paris to Berlin, but I quickly realized that the woman who had checked me in in Paris must’ve made an exception for me without pointing it out.

Well, I’m moving and moving costs money, and I certainly can’t leave anything behind, so I shrugged my shoulders and said, “I’m moving, so I’ll just have to pay.” This seemed to elicit some sympathy from the woman at the check-in, and she said, “In total, you’re almost 15kg over the allowance, but I’ll write you a receipt for 10kg and you can just pay that.” Not quite the same deal I got when flying from Paris, but nonetheless she was saving me a good $70 USD, so I thanked her and ran off to the ticket desk to pay the bill.

The flight itself was uneventful if tiring, and we landed in Paris around 20h30. My night wasn’t over quite yet, though. You see, I still haven’t found an apartment, so one of my friends, Mélanie (bless her soul!) agreed to let me crash at her place while she stayed at her boyfriend’s until the end of the week. If I didn’t find a place by then, I would move over to another friend who would take me in for a week, and so on.

But there was a complication. Mélanie had to travel early Tuesday morning for work, so she couldn’t realistically wait until 23h00 or 0h00 at her apartment to let me in, and I wasn’t going to wake her up at her BF’s just to get the keys. So, I called in a favour from Fantômette, who collected the keys from Mélanie during the day today and would wait at home to pass me the keys.

Thus began the relay. I got into a taxi at Orly airport and gave the man directions to Fantômette’s house near Châtelet. Thankfully there wasn’t much traffic tonight, so the fare was hopefully going to remain reasonable. I got to Fantô’s house and asked the taxi driver to wait while I collected the keys. After catching up briefly with Fantômette and thanking her profusely for saving my ass (if she hadn’t been able to do this, I would’ve had to stay in a hotel tonight), I ran back to the taxi and off we went to Mélanie’s place near Pont Cardinet in the 17th arrondissement.

After arriving, paying the taxi driver a good 45€, stepping gingerly around the familiar Parisian dog-poop and pulling out my ridiculously heavy luggage, I made my way into the apartment. However, I had mis-remembered which floor was Mélanie’s apartment, so I spent a good five minutes at around midnight, tired and disheveled-looking, scraping away at the lock of some stranger’s apartment with keys that just wouldn’t fit. I’m so glad that nobody woke up and answered the door, because I was just too tired to explain myself at that point.

I eventually figured it out and lugged my stuff up one more floor and successfully got myself in. I was overwhelmed with hunger, having eaten a small sandwich about 6 hours earlier, and so I ended up raiding the fridge and eating two slices of ham and half a jar of pickles. You would’ve thought I was pregnant or something.

dimanche, août 31, 2008

One last holla

Naja, after limping home shortly after noon (with a good 25km of biking in my legs), I climbed those 4 flights of stairs and collapsed into bed. But things weren’t done yet; this was just a siesta. I still had to make use of my stempel (stamp) from Bar25, where there was a promising Sunday lineup including Guido Schneider, Benno Blöme, and Onur Özer.

I planned to sleep until about 18h00 and then make my way to the bar, but I got a text message around 15h00 from one of my French buddies (the same one I saw at Rechenzentrum last night), with two pieces of news:

  1. I hadn’t seen him at Berghain after Rechenzentrum because he had walked all the way home from Rechenzentrum (a good 7 KM), which exhausted him, so he took a nap.
  2. He was currently at Bar25, and Onur Özur was currently spinning.

To which I had two corresponding reactions:

  1. You’re crazy…but I was biking everywhere yesterday, so I suppose I don’t have any business calling you crazy.
  2. A headliner spinning at 15h00? That seems odd. Well, I better get moving.

By the time I had taken a shower (taking care not to wash out the all-important stamp on my arm) and put on some clothes, it was already almost 17h00. I decided to leave my bike at home this time and take the U-Bahn this time, and on my way to the Hermannplatz U-Bahn station, I stopped at my favourite Döner Kebab shop one more/last time. With the first bit of food in more than 24 hours in my stomach, I was ready to go.

Sunday afterparty at Bar25

Sunday has always been when Bar25 [LINK] shines. Although Bar25 is open non-stop from Friday night to Monday morning, the real party starts around midday Sunday, when all of the partygoers empty out of other bars and clubs and make their way to Bar25. Sort of like a super-hardcore version of The Endup in San Francisco, this is where all the creatures of nightlife find each other after a weekend of running from club to club…

…and this is where you the results of a weekend on non-stop partying. You see all kinds of results, from cute to funny to wild to depressing to exciting to horrifying:

  • people laying about in the sun in various states of undress and slumber
  • groups of kids climbing into “the confessional” (a replica of a confessional, with two separated chambers, in place so that people can go take their drugs without tying up the bathroom stalls) in an effort to forestall the inevitable crash at the end of the weekend
  • stained clothes, dirty shoes, melted makeup, spattered glitter, wilted hairstyles and flushed, pockmarked faces exposed unflatteringly in the Sunday sunlight
  • the stalwart Sunday Crew of regulars that show up in bizarre and amusing costumes
  • the occasional group that shows up by kayak or canoe on the river
  • people taking turns on the two swings hanging from the branches of a huge willow tree near the river
  • dancers in the little cabin that serves as the club, shuffling to gentle, post-party minimal techno (later Sunday night, it gets less gentle and less minimal)

I rolled in to Bar25 around 18h00 and wandered my way through this landscape of exhaustion and stimulation, grabbing a light Radler (a beer–lemonade shandy) to get things going. I didn’t recognize the DJ spinning at the moment, but I contented myself to shuffle in front of the DJ and coast on the bit of energy I regained from my short siesta. The French buddy that had emailed me earlier wasn’t here, so I sent him a text message and waited for an answer.

Within a few moments, I came across one half of the French couple from London that I had seen in Berghain earlier that same morning. I thought they had already gone back to their hotel to get ready for their evening flight back to London, but apparently they still had enough time for a bit more fun at Bar25. We hung out for a little while in the sun on the deck near the club-cabin area, until at around 19h30 or so they finally made their move back to the hotel.

From there, I wandered my way back into the dancefloor and wandered around, running into an Italian friend that I had met weeks ago at the Primary Colours Festival at Zitadelle Spandau [LINK] and more recently at Club der Visionäre last Thursday. When I asked how she was doing, she made the “so-so” gesture with her hands, even though she seemed to be in pretty good spirits. Apparently, she had taken some stuff at Beghain that never kicked in…until she was in the middle of Ostbahnhof on the way to Bar25 at around noon. Since then she has been in a sort of semi-high state that she felt was like a kind of purgatory. Alas, the extreme and surprising scarcity of drugs in Berlin this summer has left a lot of people desperately buying whatever is available, regardless of quality, with predictable results.

I called my French buddy and found out that he had gone home to make himself a little picnic before heading back to Bar25. He said he would come by soon.

As I was dancing in the little club-cabin dancefloor and checking out a rather cute guy next to me, I overheard someone say in rather deliberate tones, “I am Canadian.” I immediately recognized the cadence of the voice as identical to a famous series of “I am Canadian!” commercials for Molson’s ‘Canadian’ beer variety, which had been everywhere during the late 90s. My little Canuck antennae went right up and I overheard words like “Molson” and “Canadian Nationalism.” I looked over my shoulder and took note of the guy who was speaking and made a note to talk to him later.

An hour or so later, I pass by him standing around on the deck and tap his shoulder, “Hey, the last thing I expected to overhear in Bar25 is a conversation on Molson Canadian beer commercials. After a bit of chatting and introductions, we discovered that we were both from London, Ontario, and that we had been involved in the London rave scene in the 90s at about the same time. Go figure! We gloried in nostalgia for the “golden days” of raving in London, ON, and chatted about the Berlin scene (which he complained was over-hyped), until a cute blonde came by and struck up conversation with us. Like a sort of dowsing rod, his concentration completely re-centered on the girl and I found myself very quickly outside of the conversation, so I made my goodbyes and returned to the dancefloor.

By about 22h00 or so, Guido Schneider finally started spinning. His set was predictably techno, but more minimal and pointed than the sort of set he had played at Tresor about a month ago. I heard from someone dancing near me that Onur Özur actually hadn’t spun yet, so I was hoping that he would eventually start spinning at some reasonable hour. However, alas, midnight came and went and he hadn’t appeared yet. I still had to finish packing my bags and make my way to the airport tomorrow, after 3 days of partying, so I decided that I should cut my losses and head home while the U-Bahn was still running. I got home around 1h00 and climbed into bed.


At around 1h30, I got a text message from my French buddy, “Where are you? I just got here.” You’ve got to be kidding me. I sent him a text message telling him that I was at home, in bed, preparing for a day of travel and, um, moving to another country. He apologized for his “somewhat long” siesta and we agreed to meet each other for lunch tomorrow before I leave.