How complicated could it be to fix a tiny leak, you ask?
On Tuesday morning the apartment doorbell rang without warning, and it was the gardienne and a plumber. I guess it was the plumber I had waited for all afternoon the day before, because water was dripping into my downstairs neighbor's apartment from somewhere.
Fortunately I was dressed and out of my pajamas, and no lingerie was embarrassingly strewn on the bathroom floor. In they trooped, and I showed him the access to the pipes under the tub.
He shined his flashlight under the bathtub, under the sink, and pronounced, "I don't see much of a leak -- but there is some moisture under the sink. It must be the weak soudure from the old lead pipes." He jotted down a few notes and departed.
Right-o. So I figured the downstairs neighbor would take care of whatever needed to be done and they'd let me know when the plumber would be back to repair the soldered joint. Case closed.
How naive of me to think it could be so simple.
Friday morning my cell phone rang. Get this: it was the real estate company who rented me the apartment two years ago. "We received a fax from your neighbor saying there is an ongoing leak from your apartment and you better do something about it NOW."
Fortunately, I have developed nerves of Teflon -- and enough deflecting French lingo -- to fend off this type of supposed threat. Actually, I've figured out that it's just a game of Chicken, a particular way of life here sometimes when dealing with community or shared problems.
The former American Pollyanna version of me would have wrung her hands in despair, secretly concluding that I was somehow at fault, wailing "it's not fair!" and wishing the Others would be more understanding, and a tad more helpful to a relative newcomer who might not understand the system.
Nevermore. In essence, I have learned to say "Eet ees nowt my dahwg."
"Je suis désolée, monsieur. But the plumber was already here." Blah blah, blah, I explained, calmly but firmly reporting the plumber's diagnosis.
"Non-non-non-non," insisted Monsieur Real Estate. "The neighbor insists that it is still très urgent -- un grand problème -- and you had better contact your insurance company right away."
Sheesh. Whose side was he on, anyway? Hadn't I paid him a hefty commission when he found the apartment for me? I was baffled but unruffled.
Again (I'm so pleased with myself!) I maintained, "Problems with plumbing which have nothing to do with my inhabiting this space are not mine to deal with. It is the fault of whoever installed the plumbing years ago, the syndic [building association] or my landlord, but not me. And the plumber confirmed that it was not due to my use of the plumbing or my negligence in any way." I like to pepper my sentences with the word constater because it makes me sound like I know what I'm saying.
"Urrhargrumpfhhh," quoth he, "Mais, nous avons reçu un fax. Et, et, et... enfin, what do plumbers know? They'll say anything. They're liars and the scum of the earth, you know."
"Sorry, monsieur, it wasn't MY plumber. He's the expert, and seemed to know what he was talking about."
"Well, something needs to be done right away."
"Bon courage," I said matter-of-factly.
Half an hour later, the cell phone rang again. "Allo madame? this is the Cabinet H. You know, Cabinet H, we are your apartment management company."
"Oui monsieur, bien sur. I certainly recognize your name, as you extract a sizable chunk from my bank account each month and send me a quittance de loyer on that flimsy paper." Duh.
"Alors, madame, we have received a fax from the Agence Immobilier who received a fax from the downstairs neighbor saying that your apartment has a fuite and it is constantly damaging the ceiling in the apartment below."
Repeat conversation above.
How many times were various parties going to try to grind me down on this? I was actually kind of enjoying this game, knowing that they couldn't pull one over on me.
The cell phone rang two hours later. "Alloa madama? Je suia le polombiah..." A new plumber, who sounded as if he were calling from the bottom of a cistern. "J'ai-ah reçu una fax dua Cabinetta H quia a reçu una fax de l'agenta immobilier qui a reçu una fax de votra voisine," he began. With malicious glee I tried to envision the fourth-generation fax -- surely illegible at this point. Too bad I don't have a fax machine. I could ask them to fax it to me, too, just for fun and games.
I leaned back in my chair and began the conversation anew, with slow-downs and repetitions. Sure. Come check out the "leak." Oh, you can't come until after the long weekend? A shame, I may be away in the US next week, I said, and I won't know until the end of the day.
An hour later, the cell phone rang again. It was the plumber. "Alloa madama? J'arriva tout de suite."
Maybe there are some sleazeball plumbers around, but so far I've had only nice encounters with them. I like anyone who understands plumbing more than I do. This friendly guy was Ace Detective, and wanted to see every inch of pipes. He showed me where the pipes had been improperly installed so they have to try to defeat the laws of gravity by draining on an upward slant. "Would that be why there were always foul odors emanating from the bathtub drain?" I asked sweetly.
He nodded in earnest. "Oui, this is all a mess," he concluded. "Where it was installed at the proper angles, the PVC and the old lead pipes just don't join properly."
The good news: he re-caulked my tub and wrote up the devis [estimate] for the syndic -- not for me -- for the work to be done.
The bad news: les travaux -- the necessary repairs -- are the whole enchilada. Ripping out the wall, replacing all the bathroom plumbing including the john, and all the pipes under the kitchen sink. It should take "3 or 4 days."
Stay tuned as I warm up for my next Battle Hymn: who pays for me to live somewhere else when I have no place to pee for four days?