Sunday, August 29, 2010

Bye, bye nice hotel, hello life! Dimanche 8/29/10

Agenda for the day: check out of hotel, find Kadin’s school, move into apartment.

After a delicious buffet breakfast at the hotel restaurant, we set off to find Kadin’s school. Kadin’s school is called Houille Blanche. We look it up. Instead of white oil (which would be huil blanc), Houille Blanche means water power.

We find the school and find we can walk there no problem, but there is also a convenient bus (about half a dozen of these pass us as we walk). It seems safe and easy to walk around the city and so far I have managed to avoid getting my z-coils stuck in the groove of a tram rail. The children too have been adapting in their own ways. While one child agilely leaps over pylons and obstacles on the street, the other is so in his own head he is in danger of crashing into them (not to mention being hit by a vehicle). Urban life sure brings a new awareness (and for mom a whole new stress on the brain).

Walking back from the school, keen eyed Rees finds a 20€ note! Score!

We also score as we find the open market (marché) under the train tracks near our apartment. Apparently they set up every morning except Mondays. And, bonus for us: it’s lunch time!

I have some organic goat yogurt in my bag from our stash at the hotel (bought in old town), Greg and the kids opt for some very delicious smelling oven roasted pizzas. We enjoy the sites and smells of the market and the sounds of the accordion player while waiting for the pizzas to come out of the oven. I buy more white peaches and prune plums, and this time some small green ones as well (we have already tried the delicious yellow plums). We resist loading up because anything we buy will have to be carried later with our luggage from the hotel to the apartment.

Greg looks at the map, finds a nearby park, and we head there to enjoy our impromptu picnic. Not sure what we will find, perhaps a bench in a concrete square covered with pigeon droppings, perhaps a dilapidated play structure, perhaps some mischievous foul-mouthed teenagers, or perhaps the garden of Eden. We easily find something in between: a pleasant enough park with formal gardens and plenty of benches. The few people there are relaxed and pleasant, talking and walking as one should in parks.

While the city seems fine safety wise, it is still a city (and one where there were recently riots), and I am trying to calibrate how wary to be and in what situations. Is it okay to walk down a dark alley alone? Is it okay to carry a purse that doesn’t zip closed? Etc. Heck, in Boulder, if you went around with bills sticking out of your pockets no one would take them. In Boulder, if you leave your iPhone or wallet on the bus, there is a good chance it will be returned to you. I don’t get the feeling that would be true here.

But in my experience, if you calibrate it wrong, people are generally very nice and give you some warning that you are being foolhardy. Like in Bogota, Columbia, people warned my mother not to carry around her big telephoto camera before it was ripped off her shoulder. And in New York city, people warned my friend Marcia that having her wallet sticking out of her pocket was not a good idea, even if she thought she always had her hand on it. It disappeared while she was browsing in a department store. So if you pay attention to the cues, you can generally be safe.

So here are some signs of crime that I have observed so far in my short time here:
Bicycles are triple locked (seat, wheel, and then to something like a pole or rack).
You need to ring a bell to get into the hotel lobby.
You need to use a key card to operate the elevator.
There is a man sleeping in the vestibule of the bank across the street.
There are heavy metal shutters on all the closed shops and multiple locked doors.
There is graffiti and burned trash cans.
There are lots of security cameras.
Many stores search your bags or backpacks if you bring them in.
There are security guards in some shops.
Shops only have one door that opens, other routes are closed.

And here are some signs that, though there may be crime, it's not too bad:
People hang purses on their chairs at outdoor cafés.
Not all purses are zippered.
Parks are relatively nice and clean and people in them seem relaxed.
People do walk down side streets alone and seem to take their time when they do it.

After lunch and a rest at the park, it is finally time for the big event of the day: the move in to our apartment! We know hardly anything about it, only that it is two bedrooms, furnished, and Greg’s colleague with two daughters rented it last year and found it worked well for them.

We grab our wheelie carryons and small backpacks from the luggage room at the hotel and walk the three blocks to our future home. At the large, nondescript wooden doors of #54, we punch the code we were given into brass buttons, hear a quiet automatic buzzing sound, and the door unlocks. We push the heavy door open to find ourselves sequestered in a cool, colorfully tiled, echo-y hallway with high ceilings and carved stone walls. Sunlight floods in through a stained glass window at the back. Can you hear the angels singing? Wooden mailboxes line one wall. A large stone staircase with ornate wrought iron railings circles around a central (retrofitted) ELEVATOR. Ahh, I was wondering if there would be an elevator. It's the kind of place suspenseful scenes in movies are set: big, shadowy, cavernous, clanking. Cool.

Our destination is the top floor, where we find the name we are looking for on a large wooden door to the right.: 4D (not 4G, can you figure that one out?). Instead of front/rear we have one side and views of the mountains out both the front (east) and back (west). We have a wrought iron balcony on the front over the street. It’s soooo French! Though our street, Cours Jean Jaurès, is one of the biggest and busiest streets in the city, it is not too loud inside the apartment since we are 5 levels above the traffic and have good windows and solid walls (built in 1910, according to the owners). One other benefit of being on this main drag is that it is lined with two rows of sycamore (plane) trees. Our apartment is at the same level as the treetops and, though it would be nice to be on some small back street, it is nice to have some greenery nearby. It’s also nice to see the sky and have the vistas that we do. And I am grateful for the elevator today since I am thinking about our 4, 50lb bags still back at the hotel.

The kind owners show us around, we sign our lease, and they depart.

Ah, the simple life!
Rees's assessment: "This place is awesome!"
Kadin's assessment: "Well, I think we found the right apartment."

Three large, sparsely furnished rooms plus a kitchen. Wooden floors and ceramic tile throughout with thick stone walls and high plaster ceilings. The kind of place where the rooms are taller than they are wide. Simple and elegant, with the best of old and new (old floors, new faucets/plumbing/dishwasher/washing machine; old stair railing, new elevator; old thick walls, new insulated easy-to-open windows). It is both rustic and refined and generally lovely.

We have everything we need, but not too much. I marvel at how the owners' tastes mirror my own. In the living room they have the same comfortable chair my parents bought the year they were in Boston, that I inherited when they left and used throughout college, and that my grandma bought from me when I graduated. I think my aunt Diana has it now. In the kid’s room we find the same Danish bunk beds I slept on as a kid that are now at my brother’s cabin in Grand Lake. (Glad there are two beds for the kids, something else we did not know beforehand). The choice of décor is simple, solid, functional, eclectic.

When we make the beds we find vivid, solid color cotton sheets and comforter covers, just the kind I would have selected.

Then there were three things I really didn’t want to do without, but also didn’t want to bring, so I took my chances: hair dryer, kitchen scale, and salad spinner. She was right, “il y a tout qu’il faut dans l’appartemente.” They are here.

Even the spices in the cupboard: cumin, cardamom, corriander, oregano, curry, cinnamon, and thyme. Parfait! As if they too like to have cinnamon and cardamon on their rice pudding in the morning, thyme on their roasted vegetables.

And get this, in the master bedroom, next to the bed, is a functioning Singer pedal sewing machine (no electricity needed). She uses it and it works, so she showed me how to use it if I want to. In the cupboard they also have two key things that no hotel could match: a sewing kit and a tool box. Triple score!

And yes, the kitchen cabinets are IKEA.

I half expected to open a cupboard and find yoga mats.

One more trip back to hotel for the big bags, and we’re in!

As we unpack I have a bit of an American moment when I run out of hangers for the wardrobe. The wardrobe in the bedroom doesn’t fit full-sized hangers, only the narrower pant/skirt clamping ones. I just need one more for one last skirt…so the American consumer in me thinks, well, I’ll just go out and buy a three pack. And then I think, well, what would I do if I couldn’t buy a 3 pack, what could I use instead? And then I look at the variety of hangers in the place and the number of different hooks and crevices on each hanger and realize: these hangers are designed to hang more than one item! Of course! Who would waste hangers by using only one piece of clothing per hanger? Duh! So easy to just put two skirts into one hanger. Problem solved, space and money saved.

1 comment:

George Swain said...

What a gorgeous apartment! I'm enjoying reading your engaging tale of transition chronologically now from start to finish while listening to a little Warren Zevon on a sunny Sunday morning.