Apartment Living in Paris


A view of the column with Napoleon at the top on Place Vendome. Napoleon had this column made of the melted down cannon balls and cannons that he captured during his military victories.

Ah, The Joys of Apartment Living

We own our apartment, which is what they call them here in France. I suppose it would be called a condiminium in the States but there isn’t any separation between units. I think this is one of the reasons I never bought a condiminium when I lived in the States-I just couldn’t see paying all that money and then hearing my neighbors through the walls or walking on the floor above my head. Well, that isn’t an option here-no free standing houses for sale in Paris. We are on the 3rd floor-4th if you are an American-and we have neighbors.
We share a wall with only one person, but she isn’t very happy with us. It isn’t that we are having wild parties until all hours, playing loud music until the sun comes up. We just don’t have that exciting a social life and we go to bed fairly early. The problem is that we occasionally rent our apartment, let friends use it, and an occasional relative will sleep in our apartment when we aren’t in Paris. When over neighbor lady moved in, we endured a week of what sounded like jack hammering as she did renovation. Then I heard days of work with a hammer and chisel. It turned out-somehow-that she was turning the bathroom into her bedroom and was getting all of the tile off of her wall. There was such work going on, that I took a framed photo off of the wall so it wouldn’t come crashing to the floor with all of the vibation.
So, it isn’t our fault that her bed is up against the wall of our bathroom. This isn’t usually a problem. We aren’t in there very early and don’t take showers at night. However, this hasn’t proved to be the case with others who have stayed here. One guy is a real music lover and goes to clubs very late, as in at 2 AM or so, and he takes a shower before he goes out. We have heard about this each time from our neighbor. At first I thought we should ask him to take showers earlier, but come on, its his life too. She also reported that one night someone was having sex in the shower-she could clearly hear this in her bed. I have no idea who this was. All I know for certain is that it wasn’t me. The days when it might have been me are long past. I’m old enough that it seems like a real good chance you could seriously hurt yourself trying this. After all don’t most accidents in the home happen in the bathroom? Anyway, we hear about each shower taking place at such an hour as it awakens her.
In the apartment above us, lives a cranky little girl with her parents. I hear her whining and crying as the mother tries to coax her up the stairs. The little girl wants to be carried but the mother usually can’t and is trying to teach her to do it all on her own. I have never exchanged more than “Bonjour” with this lady, but this is what I think is going on. In any case, this little girl is one of those kids who whines and cries when she wakes up. And, God forbid, if she is awakened in the middle of the night, she screams and not for just a short time, either. I hear one of her parents get up, walk across the floor into her room and try and calm her. It doesn’t help that the father works until 2 AM every night. How do I know this? Because he drops his shoes into his closet when he get home. Thud, Thud. I hear it each night. Many times he wakes up the little girl when he comes home. Sometimes, when he wakes me up closing doors, dropping shoes, etc., I turn on my TV to try and get to sleep again. A couple of times, the noise from my TV, wafts its way through my ceiling into the little girl’s room and wakes her up. Once she is up in the mornings and through crying, she is extremely active doing her renditition of a pony running back and forth across the floor for what seems like ages.
Incredibly, at five in the morning, I can hear the RER-a metro train that goes outside Paris into the suburbs-go roaring on its way deep underground from the station as the first train of the day. It isn’t extremely loud, just a distant rumble.
In the summer, I have an electric fan going in the bedroom and don’t hear as much noise. It is when I put the fan away, that I become an unknown listner of the goings on of my neighbors. I hear people clumping down the stairs in the morning on the way to work and the reverse in the evenings. I hear water trickling down pipes as showers are taken. I smell what our neighbors are cooking for dinner. I don’t smell cigarettes in our apartment but do get that strong smell at the bottom of the stairs where the apartment owner does his smoking. The whole area outside his door reeks of cigarettes. This is the same guy who has put plants all over the interior courtyard where the residents all go to put their garbage in the green containers. He even had an aquarium out there for a while but I think it was too cold for the fish and it has been removed. His window opens right out onto the courtyard and I think he likes it to look like his own private garden.
I do occasionally wear earplugs but I can’t when I have my clock set for an early morning wakeup. Maurice usually sleeps through everything. I guess I should look at it all as a sort of social experiement, a look into the lives of a group of Parisians living in an apartment building in the 12th arrondissement. I don’t find people friendly here. We all say “Bonjour” when we pass on the stairs but no one goes out of their way to speak to each other that I can see. All of my information has been gathered by my ears alone.

The Louvre

We are back in Paris and, on a busy Sunday afternoon, I dropped in at the Louvre to take a few photos. There is always something of interest there, even if you have seen something a dozen times. I kept trying to get a photo of the Pyramid Inversee-of the Da Vinci Code fame-but there were so many people that it was difficult. I finally managed to get rid of any people nearby by using photoshop.


See, no people! The magic of photo shop.


The Louvre has finally realized that tourists, especially Americans, are really interested in anything having to do with the Da Vinci Code. This display was in the window of a gift shop at the Louvre.


This is what you get if you stick your digital camera under the apex of the inverted pyrmid and shoot up. I rather like it.

A House in Provence Chapter 12


Flowers in market in Aix.

This Chapter was written about a year ago. Problems still loom.

Chapter 12

Brown Water and Backs

Maurice continued to have very bad back pain for months. It was so bad and he had so much trouble sleeping that the doctor put him on a prescription of morphine tablets. Now Maurice doesn’t react to medication the way that most people do. Sleeping pills that will knock me out for ten hours don’t phase him. Antibiotics seem to be the only medication that work on him as they should. The morphine turned out to be one medication that affected Maurice. The first night he took a tablet he slept like a baby for eight hours, something that hadn’t happened in several weeks. Of course, morphine isn’t something that you can take indefinitely and the time came when he had to stop. By this time he had been having some physical therapy and, what seemed to help the most, an injection of local anesthetic and cortisone in his spine at the point of injury. We had also been to a spinal neurosurgeon who told Maurice that his back would slowly return to normal if he kept up the physical therapy and didn’t overdo it with physical activity. Surgery, thank God, wasn’t going to be necessary.
The problem was getting off the effect of the morphine. Maurice tapered down taking less each day and then went through months of disturbed sleep. The morphine seemed to have affected his system and he couldn’t get to sleep without it. Most nights he could sleep an hour or two, if he was lucky, but then spent the rest of the night tossing and turning, finally falling asleep around 8 AM and sleeping until 10 or so. Some nights he would get up and watch TV for several hours. I had nights where I would go and sleep upstairs in the guest bedroom because his thrashing about in bed gave me sleepless nights as well. We had several very bad months for a while there. Eventually Maurice returned to his usual sleeping paterns. Some of his sleepless nights, of course, was due to the stress and worry of the plumbing.
Our shower finally ended up being pulled up three times before, and we still aren’t sure about this, the problem seemed to be taken care of. Luckily, the expensive shower covering survived being removed so many times and all of the tile that had been damaged was replaced. We could now use either toilet or bathtub. Maurice is puzzled why I remain negative about the plumbing, very suspicious anytime the toilet doesn’t flush with vigor. It may be years before I don’t think twice before flushing one of them.
One day I filled the tub with water and used some new bubble bath. I got into the water and then noticed that the water seemed reddish brown. For a minute I thought that perhaps the color was due to the bubble bath. It was lavender in color and I thought perhaps the formula dissapated into a brownish color when it dissolved. Just then Maurice came in and said the water in the toilet was brown. I had an awful feeling that the color could be due to some plumbing problem and wondered what I was sitting in. When I let out the water, a red-brown ring remained in the tub. It looked and felt like dirt. This was when I resolved to start drinking bottled water while in Provence. I could almost hear my poor kidneys making grinding noises trying to work all of the grit through the delicate little tubes as they did their cleansing thing. It turned out that it was due to the water and old pipes in the area, not our plumbing.

Cinnamon in France

One thing I find interesting in France is how little they use cinnamon in their recipes. I think Americans are much more fond of this spice that the French, at least from my personal experience. I offered to make Maurice’s son some of my famous-in my family-cinnamon toast for breakfast and he almost gagged. He can’t stand the taste. Maurice is the same way and when I am making yams, I make our two servings separately as I love not only cinnamon but sugar in mine along with butter. He only wants butter and salt and pepper. You should see his reaction to Thanksgiving yams when I also put marshmellows on top. He has an aversion to tropical fruits as well and doesn’t like pineapple, bananas, coconut or papaya. He does love grapefruit, however.
Maurice will eat my apple pie. I have to have cinnamon with apples. They just go together so well. One French guest, after having a piece, asked me if it had cinnamon in it. It must have seemed unusual tto her. The famous Tarte Tartin is a sort of upside down apple pie found all over France. I’ve never had any with cinnamon in it. I like it as there is sugar that has carmelized on the bottom of the pan and, when it is turned out onto a plate, looks really great all brownish black and gooey. It tastes great with vanilla ice cream as well, although they usually serve it with whipped cream. I did notice that Julie Child, in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, adds a little cinnamon to her recipe and I wonder if this was an American addition on her part. Just think of all of the desserts with apples in the States and I bet all of them have cinnamon in them. Then there is apple butter. I haven’t looked for it here in France but I bet I couldn’t find it.
I think it is interesting that when Americans are trying to sell a house they are told to cook something with cinnamon in it to make visitors feel at home. It has really become a part of American culture and subconsciousness. One wiff and I am a little girl again eating my mom’s cinnamon toast. I took a pumpkin pie scented candle to our neighbor as a thank-you gift. Naturally, I bought it in the States as there is no way I would have found that scent in France. Afterwards, I wondered if she would enjoy the fragrance, being French and all. I noticed that she had lit it on my next visit, so I guess it was okay.

Tartiflette

A friend wrote to me after reading about my last entry on raclette. She had heard about it and wants to buy the “appliance” to do it when she is in France again. I see them everywhere and think it will be easy to find.
I also saw a raclette done at a restaurant in the French Alps. There was a big hunk of the rublechon cheese in front of a grill set on the table. As the cheese melted, it would be scraped of the big piece of cheese onto the plate with the potatoes.
Another popular dish from the same area-those Swiss are great with cheese dishes-is one called Tarteflette. I first saw it on a menu in a little cafe in a village called St Maurice. I saw the ingredients-hard to beat potatoes, onions, cheese and cream-and ordered it. Maurice turned it down as he said it was too heavy in the middle of the day and that it would stay with me a long time. He was right. It was very filling but very tasty. This isn’t a recipe that I have tried at home. I guess the closest I come is scalloped potatoes. The rublechon cheese adds a very different flavor, I think.
For an interesting look at this dish that the writer bought in Paris, go to: http://www.xanga.com/chezchristine and look under October 9th. Looks like it would have been good.

Raclette

Raclette is a fun meal that I discovered when Maurice made it for me after skiing in the French Alps, right across the border from Switzerland. Like fondue, also from the Swiss, it is melted roublechon cheese poured over boiled potatoes and some ham. We have a special little appliance that melts the cheese under a broiler and keeps the potatoes warm on the top. Nice and easy and great with some white wine from Savoie.


Here is the appliance with the potatoes keeping warm on top. The cheese is put in little metal pans and slide inside where the broiler unit is.

Here is the cheese being scraped out of the pan onto a pile of potatoes and ham. Note there are also cornichons, little dill pickles, that you eat with it.