Monday, October 22, 2007

I Get a Lift Out of You


When apartment hunting in Paris, inevitably you'll come across an ad for what sounds like the Parisian flat of your dreams.

rental apartment (une location)
great location (bon quartier)
well-maintained building (immeuble de grand standing)
the rent (loyer) sounds affordable, plus
wonderful, unobstructed views (vue dégagée).

Then, ahem, the teensy little afterthought tacked onto the tail end of the announcement: the dreaded "sans asc."

Sans ascenseur= oops, no elevator!

Now, let's use deductive logic. Great views = oh, maybe le 6e étage? That's French étage, mes chers amis, which is 7th-floor American style.

Please, please, listen to me: no matter how delightful the apartment sounds, no matter how much it oozes with charm, you just don't want to move in if it's way up in the ozone and sans ascenseur. "Oh, that's okay," you fantasize. "It sounds so... Parisian! So romantic! I'll get used to it -- and climbing all those stairs will tone my thighs."

No, no, no. Trust me -- what it will do is make you dread going home. It will make you buy extras of personal items you realize you've forgotten just when you've lumbered down to the rez-de-chaussée and simply cannot cope with trudging BACK up the 7 flights to retrieve them. To wit:

"Damn! I left my Carte Orange on my desk? Well, just this once I'll buy another métro ticket anyway." "It's raining and my three spare umbrellas are upstairs in the closet? Oh, well, just this once, I'll buy another." And so forth. "Maybe I'll pay to have the groceries delivered.. just this once." "Hmm. Out of milk for my coffee this morning. Okay, I'll go have a café crème in a café. Just this once."

Psychology, mes amis, psychology. Rewards and pain.

Eventually that "cheap" rent gets expensive because you spend a euro here, ten euros there, to compensate. Believe me, I've been there. This summer a friend offered to let me use her 6e étage walk-up chambre de bonne -- in a seductively swish neighborhood -- to set up as an office. View from the window: the tip of one weathervane of the Louvre. I swoon.

I was also smitten with the notion of a separate office. The apartment was minuscule and charming. I saw it for the first time using her 5th floor elevator, of course, which was not part of the daily deal. We crossed over to the servants' stairs in back for access to the top floor.

I joyfully moved in my files and papers, and spent a while sprucing the place up. After the first few outings, I've virtually stopped going to my "office" to write. Why? Because each time it takes me a half hour to recuperate from hyperventilating once I hike to the top of the very, very steep stairs. I've gotten to know the landing of the 4e étage intimately -- my habitual pit stop. This fabulous bohemian garret may be closer to heaven (le ciel), but even my Puritanical you-gotta-earn-rewards mentality, it's more punishment than I care to inflict on myself.

Now, therefore,

Let us praise elevators. When I get home to my cozy 3e étage real dwelling, avec ascenseur, I practically weep with joy at the happy reunion. Although I admire the idea of the stair-climbing exercise in principle, I am head-over-heels in love with elevators of every size and shape.

Mine is officially a three-person elevator. As in: three people who get along really well, have bathed recently, haven't eaten too much at lunch, and no oversized pocketbooks, please. And one of the happy smushed trio gets to kiss the fuzzy Velcro walls in the process. But when friends pile in, it's zany, like those telephone-booth stuffing contests of yore.

Lacking guests, most days I'm riding solo. If I take the elevator down when I'm running late (often) I can do a last-minute hair-and-earring status check: there is a mirror with dim yellow lighting that somehow always makes me look good. Unfortunately, it's so dim that it doesn't let me see that I've applied eyeliner to only one eye, for example. Or notice that residual pale-blue dab of toothpaste on my chin. But, damn, I always look good in that mirror-mirror on the elevator wall! Scrutiny under broad daylight is another story.

Then when I return home, woe to me if I'm clutching three plastic grocery bags in each hand. My dear elevator (whom I call Darth 'Vator on these evil moments), requires a key to function. (I still don't understand the rhyme or reason of it -- something to do with les charges and who did and didn't pay for the elevator installation 30 years ago). Holding grocery bags at the knuckles and turning the key and simultaneously pressing the button for the third floor requires gyrations only performed normally by circus contortionists. Loath to let go of those bulging bags, I turn the key with an available finger and (shh!) press the elevator button with my nose. Yes, my nose. Stop laughing. How would YOU do it? It gets me where I need to go, most days. Once I did nasally press button "2" by mistake: I exited the elevator and and spent a few minutes inadvertently trying to unlock the door of my downstairs neighbor's apartment. But that's a story for another day.

My US visitors laugh at it, but my 3-man elevator is not the tiniest elevator in Paris, not by a long shot. I have ridden in plenty of two-person elevators. I have crammed into a one-person elevator, where I had to inhale deeply just to let the doors close. This is not recommended for people with Poe-esque taphophobia. Happily, it doesn't bother me -- and in my book, a coffin-sized elevator is sure better than none at all. (Note to self-- lacking a little bell and string, always bring cell phone when riding elevators.)

I was wonderfully spoiled by the elevator in my first Paris apartment. A fabulous classic wrought-iron cage, nice well-oiled gliding doors, a grand, expansive family affair, and it only broke down occasionally. The genuine article in antique Parisian elevators. I hope they never have to change it.
Some of my other favorites have rattan inner doors. But my attempts to chronicle these delightful, quirky elevator interiors have understandably been a challenge.


I herewith announce the Polly-Vous Français Paris Elevator Photo Contest. The tricky part is is how to successfully photograph the inside of a box. Go ahead and try -- if you send me the results at that yahoo address in the right-hand corner, I'll publish the winners.

1 comment:

Missy said...

I've just discovered your blog as I'm thinking of moving out to France again, and this post made me smile.

Having got stuck in a Parisian lift as a student many years ago - when we got six people in a two-person lift (there may have been alcohol involved) - I have an enduring phobia of small French lifts. I'd rather take the stairs, pain or no pain... ;)

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