Sunday, May 27, 2007

Ignorance was Bliss

Is there a French expression equivalent to "ignorance is bliss"? I don't think so. I've been blissfully living a relatively anonymous existence as the American newcomer in my apartment building for the past year. Now things are heating up.

I was depositing my recycling in the courtyard when I spied the very pretty woman from the rez de chaussee who is often out watering the flowers (with an empty Evian bottle). We usually just nod "Bonjour, madame" to each other and go on our ways. Not so today. This afternoon she stepped in front of the door, blocking my exit. With a nice smile she asked if the velo (now the only one out in the center part of the courtyard) was in fact mine. In rapid-fire French she began pummeling me with the details of who is in fact allowed to leave bikes there (no one) and that although some co-proprietaires are still protesting their right to park their bikes, that is not what has been voted upon at the Assemblee Generale, (the annual owners' meeting) certainement pas les locataires, certainly not for days on end, blah blah blah. She was so friendly that I couldn't take umbrage at her complaints. Smiling politely, I merely explained that I had been very careful to ask the gardienne before I went to the trouble and expense of buying a bike. The gardienne had given me the green light.

Oops, not a good idea to get the gardienne in deep doo-doo.

Madame was shocked, shocked, that the gardienne could have dared say such a thing. "I don't want to create des soucis for her," I pleaded. Nevertheless, off we trotted to the gardienne's apartment. Always cheerful, but with a memory like a steel caisse, the gardienne said "I told Madame Polly that she had the same rights as the other locataires (renters)." Which apparently is zilch.

This started another flurry of conversation which gave me far more information about the lives of the other residents than I ever wanted to know. They harrumphed that Madame Untel on the top floor had started parking HER two bikes dans la cour years ago when she was president of the Syndicat des Proprietaires, as if that august position awarded her special dispensation. That started the mauvaise tendance, they both agreed. Now said Madame Untel is no longer President -- why, she won't even dare to show her face at the pot luck supper next week! Then more gossip and tidbits about various people's comments at the Assemblee Generale last week. "Pour qui se prend-t-elle?" (Who does she think she is?) and so on. Juicy info about who doesn't want to or can't afford to pay certain charges (monthly fees), etc. Quelle histoire!

My mind is still spinning from figuring out the complex web of who speaks to whom. There is apparently some brouillon between owners of the apartments in the back section (mine) and owners of the more sumptuous apartments that face the street. Madame lives on the courtyard, a sort of netherworld in terms of allegiances. She just wants the bikes out of her sight line. "Maybe you should put the bike in the stairwell of your hallway," she suggested with malicious glee. "That'll teach em."

But the good news is that I have a new friend. I don't know her name yet, of course, but the pretty downstairs neighbor is working to help me find a solution, to see what can get arranged. She'll shuffle my bike around for me when I'm gone. The positive part of having a new "friend" is a new ally, someone watching out for you. It also means that there is someone who more carefully observes your comings and goings. Someone that requires more than a nod and a "Bonjour" each time we pass in the courtyard.

Oh, life was so blissful, so ignorant, just a few hours ago. Welcome to France.

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