Monday, May 31, 2010

Change is good…n’est-ce pas?

My son and his girfriend are here until Wednesday and I just can't take precious time away from them to write a proper post. But as usual (okay, except for the past two weeks), I'm posting a Monday article I wrote almost a year ago today... the beginning of a very interesting story. 

You know you live close to your neighbors when, not only does the smell of their first pot of coffee wake you up, but you can actually hear the espresso pot steaming on their stove. This morning that is what woke me up. That, along with another neighbor's cat meowing insistently and the sound of late night revelers making their way home in the light of day. And, of course, the ever-present guy who washes the street every morning

It's a strange occurance, this washing-the-streets thing. There are actually spigots on each corner and early in the morning, after all the garbage has been picked up (this occurs at least 3 times each day), trucks crawl around the city, and men dressed in yellow and blue hook up their giant red hoses to the spigots and wash all the streets and sidewalks. It's a very curious phenomenon here in France...or at least my corner of the country.

This morning I watched from above as my street was completed. The gentleman was very meticulous about washing away every last bit of garbage and the ever-present dog poop that litters the streets and sidewalks like a minefield. He finished the street, looked at his watch and, perhaps because he thought he didn't spend the appropriate amount of time, did it again. I would think this problem could be solved more effectively by requiring people to pick up their dog’s doo doo and making it illegal to litter, but this is France. Who am I to question the necessity of the men in blue (and yellow)?

All of these new sights and smells are occurring in my new apartment, which I moved into immediately upon my return from The Grand Tour of France with my sister and mom. I have moved 4 times within the last year. And three of those four times my mother has managed to be here to clean up after me. Poor woman. She joined my sister and I halfway through our trip and came back to Aix en Provence to spend a week with me; 2 days were to be in a hotel and the remainder at my new apartment which has two bedrooms.  It turned out to be the week from hell.

The apartment became available at the last minute and, in fact, I’m subleasing from a woman who moved to Paris but wants to keep her apartment in Aix “just in case things don’t work out”. I get a good deal on rent (or at least I thought I did) and she gets to keep her things here. However, now that I have moved in, I understand her real reason for continuing to pay rent here…. she is completely incapable of removing her things.  This woman has never thrown anything away in her entire 9 years here nor has she cleaned. Every single piece of paper, old envelope, moldy box and tissue paper, bill, and magazine was piled high all over the apartment.  Every crevasse and shelf was stuffed with paper and broken items in plastic bags.  The closet doors would not close because of the piles of old and torn clothing spilling from the shelves.  Every movement caused a cloud of dust and the “decorative” items were stuck to the shelves with a paste that had developed from years of dust, grease and neglect. There was neither a place to sit nor a single place to put any of my things. My mother was horrified and immediately rebooked her hotel for the remainder of her stay and began, once again, cleaning bathrooms. Bless her wonderful heart.

And so began 5 days of torture. Alex, (my Swedish friend who continues to live with me for a few more weeks), my mother and I, scrubbed, sorted, packed, swore, moved, piled, scrubbed some more, swore some more, and eventually found the floor and the kitchen countertop. We repaired broken lamps and clogged drains, washed windows and curtains and swore. We swept the walls and the ceiling, washed all the dishes, picked up the beds to check for living creatures…and swore.

We found 5 broken telephones, 4 broken printers, 10 or 12 broken lamps, unopened bills dating from 2001 and beyond, 6 broken tea pots, stacks of cracked dishes, numerous broken kitchen appliances, enough loose change to have a grand party when we’re finished….and not a single corkscrew!  Believe me, after 5 days of this, we NEED a corkscrew.

We walked between my old apartment and the new, pulling suitcases, carrying scrub buckets, mops, rubber gloves and insect spray (we looked decidedly un-posh strutting down the Cour Mirabeau!). We hauled all my belongings up 4 flights of stairs and eventually I was deposited, lock, stock and olive oil, in my new digs.

And here I am, in my new, spacious (for here) apartment in a 17th century building. My ceilings are 14 feet high with giant, ancient beams and the gorgeous Plafond au Française. The stair ceilings are carved stone and absolutely exquisite. The beautiful fireplace is now a bookcase, but its plaster-embellished façade is stunning. I have no terrace but my windowsills are 15 inches deep and I can sit in the sill in the sun like a satisfied cat and watch the world go by below me.

As I write here in the window, and watch the guy in blue and yellow, I can’t help wishing there had been a spigot and a big red hose available up here to hose out this apartment. But no worries, it’s done. We can walk barefoot on the old stone floors. We found a screwdriver and a hammer, which seems to work for opening wine and Alex is cooking something in our clean pans that smells garlicky and delicious. The laundry is drying on the rack, two of our lamps work, and I believe my neighbor is cooking….. bacon.



  1. How lovely to have them staying with you, Delana - don't cry too much at the airport now - they'll be back.

    As for this landlady - what did you do with all her things? How annoying though to have to spend so much time sorting out her debris - bit of a cheek if you ask me.

  2. Oh it is lovely, Julie. And I'm quite sure they'll be back. There is so much left to see. As for the nutty apartment lady, we packed up a lot of her stuff in labeled boxes. It was just too impossible to move without breaking things. Cheek is not even the word...and believe me, there's more to this story. But you'll have to wait!

  3. Another great story! Have fun with your family!

  4. You must be a very brave and very organised lady to have moved so many times.

    I can't believe that someone would let their place without even having moved all their stuff out the way first! What a nutter!

    I dread to think how you opened a bottle of wine with a screwdriver and hammer! I hope you enjoyed it and your family :)

  5. I started to read this and....quite literally, got up to get some tea so I could really "settle in" and read the rest of the story. My break was at "The apartment became available..."
    So, now I have finished the story for the time being, and am already eagerly awaiting the sequel!


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