Further Adventures in Paris
PART II - Leaving the Baron
Part I- Awaiting the Countess
I left the heavy portal on rue de Richlieu and trudged with my heavy backpack toward the rue de Rivoli. It was obvious, this part of Paris, near the Louvre, catered to the wealthier tourists. I scanned the beautiful scarves as I walked by, wishing I could afford one, hoping it would transform me from an ugly duckling American to a beautiful, elegant swan, like the French women all around me.
I walked through the Tuilleries gardens until I can to the pedestrian bridge where I crossed the Seine, stopping to watch a Bateau Mouche float under me. I looked at my Plan de Ville, afraid I would get lost. But no, I saw the rue de Sulferino and passed by the Legion d'Honeur. Just as the Baron had said, there was the rue de Lille and I could see the street number on the door from the corner.
rue de Lille
When I stopped in front of the big great portal, my heart thumped so hard I couldn't hear the intercom when I rang it. I was dripping sweat as it was in the high 90's and I was packed down like a mule.
What if this old Countess was mean or didn't like me? What would I do? I had practically no money left and would not call my family for help. As I mentally started down the dark spiral of my thoughts, the intercom cackled, "Oui?"
For a moment, I couldn't remember what I was supposed to say, even though I'd practiced it all the way over.
"Oui?" the intercom cackled again.
"Yes, I mean, ah Bonjour. Je m'appelle Marianne." I said, voice shaking. Then continued in French, "I'm here for Madame La Comptess de Cleremont Tonnerre"
"Ah bon, Attendez," the intercom snapped. I heard a buzz and the thump of the portal's lock give, so I pushed with all my weight and went in.
My eyes took a while to adjust to the dimmer light but as the door closed with a thud behind me, I saw the black and white tile floor, a simple door on the left and a more elegant one with a big window into a lobby on the right. Further in was a bright court yard with trash cans, a Mobylette and some boxes.
As I hesitated, wondering where to go, a woman in house slippers and a cleaning smock came rushing over to me.
"Ah, Marianne, Venez, venez" she urged me over to the door on the left.
With a barrage of French I didn't understand, she disappeared through the door, still speaking. I caught a few works, "madame le Comptess", the keys, 7th floor, 6 o'clock, but I couldn't put any of it together to mean anything. I looked through the door and saw it was a little room with a small kitchen and a table and chairs. "Oh, " I thought. "This lady is the concierge."
Finally, she burst out into the hall again, still spewing French, but handed me two keys with a smile.
"Venez" She said, motioning me to follow her again.
And so I followed her into the courtyard where we entered a small door in the back. Then I saw them: THE STAIRS! Around and around they went - and the expression 'seventh floor' made sense at last.
She scurried quickly, but weighted down with my backpack and other bags, I was slow and thought I would throw up from the effort. Slowly, I went up to the seventh floor, the very top floor!
The concierge was already waiting by an open door. "Oh la la, " she exclaimed, "it's hot in here!"
She rushed into the room and opened the single window. When I finally approached the door, I felt ill. Partly from the climb, but mostly from site the room.
It was crescent shaped and contained a single bed against a wall, a study table which overlapped the end of the bed, my window, a small rectangular box which was the shower, a tea cart with a single burner, a sink, and a closet. Then back to the bed.
As the French often do, the walls were covered in cloth. But this was orange cloth. Being the inside of a turret, make that half a turret, the ceiling was round and so it felt like the inside of a pumpkin. A pumpkin in an oven. There must have a fairy tale that described this condition. I put my things down, trying to look cheerful and appreciative.
The concierge then led me down the hall to show me the closet with the shared "WC". Of course, it was a "Turkish toilet" which is a porcelain fixture set into the floor with raised areas for your feet and no place to sit. The flush was a pull cord that pretty much flooded the whole floor of the closet as you leaped out into the hall.
Quickly, she returned me to my room. "I'll be back up later and we'll see madam then" she said in French. I thought. And then she rushed off, closing the door behind me.
Inside the sweltering room I sat down on the bed and sobbed. What had I done? I was going to live in the womb of a pumpkin.
So, I sat there crying, sweltering in the heat of the room I was apparently going to call my home. Occasionally, I picked myself off the bed and panted out the window and took in the sites across Paris.
On this oppressively hot day, I could see every where and everything from this window. Directly below me was the Legion d'Honeur, and next to that a gargantuan old train station that was being converted into a new museum. Beyond that was the Seine, the Jardins des Tuilleries, The Louvre. Beyond even that was the round roof of the Opera Garnier and above was Mont Martre crowned with the shimmering, white Sacre Ceour. If I leaned really far out my window and looked right, I could see Notre Dame; looking right, I could see the pointed top of the obelisk in the center of Place de Concord.
I must have had the best view anywhere in Paris. But I felt somewhat manic depressive: cycling quickly between utter amazement and ecstasy at finding myself staring out this window and overwhelming hopelessness finding myself in this room. Although the Countess had spoken of a large, nice room, I sat here staring at the walls of a fucking pumpkin. And I had about $35 left to my name.
PART III - Settling In
Not knowing what else to do, between marveling at my window's view and weeping hysterically at my hopelessness, I unpacked. This didn't take long. All I had was my L.L. Bean frame pack stuffed with very few clothes, and extra pair of shoes, my writing material and a few emergency tins of sardines. Everything fit into a quarter of the small closet. I looked in the cupboard over my bed and found real Russian tea in blocks; I had studied Russian and so could read some of the Cyrillic. There were also a few bouillon cubes left by the room's previous occupant.
Under the tea cart with the single electric burner were some cooking pots, 2 cups, a plate, a few bowls and some utensils. There was an Iron and an ironing board hanging from the wall near the door, a tiny sink with a mirror on the wall. The shower was set high off the ground. I stepped into it, closed the doors and quickly realized I would never enjoy the luxury of retrieving the soap if I dropped it. But, at least I had a shower - I knew that was lucky. There was big melamine desk with a chair. This overhung the foot of the bed which was built into the wall with the closet at the head of it.
I felt weak and confused and so I lay down. After sleeping on trains and train station floors and hostels, I thought I could sleep anywhere now. But I discovered this mattress was horse hair or something awful and ancient like that. It had a permanent crevice in the middle, as if someone had broken it in half and then stuck it back to together, hoping no one would notice. I was no princess but knew I'd never be able to sleep on this.
When I heard the knock on the door, I startled. Than angle of the light on the orange turret walls had changed and I realized I HAD slept. I jumped up to open the door, hungry for any human contact at this point.
"You are ready?," the urgent voice of the concierge asked?
"Uh, oui, " I said, struggling out of my grogginess. "Oh wait, my keys!"
I looked around the room for my keys and adjusted my squashed bed-head hair, noting the deep creases on my sleepy face as I ran past the mirror and locked the door behind me. It was so quiet, every sound we made in the hall echoed loudly. I looked around at the the other closed doors, wondering if other miserable young women wept behind them.
The concierge was quick, she was already waiting for me on the landing two flights below. When I caught up, she grabbed her huge ring of keys and noisily unlocked the only door on this landing.
"Voila, Marianne. The apartment of Madam le Comptess de Clermont-Tonnere!"