I needed some time to settle into the new joint. It had been over two years since I had moved into a new home, and there were all these things that I had forgotten about -- the adjustments, masterings, and making-friends-with -- that one is either required to endure or to pursue in order to make oneself safe and comfortable and at-ease.
My apprenticeship of the newly arrived took up most of February: calibrating the shower just-so, in order neither to scald nor to freeze; learning the weight of doors, so they close gently and without slamming; committing to memory the treasure map of where things have been stowed away -- not the everyday things, but the special things, the sometime-things (for example, I still cannot find my sunglasses).
Then there is the spectrum of ambient noises and events to be memorized so that, like a script, they can be abandoned and one can focus: the water heater ticking to life; the gentle thump in the stairwell of the neighbors; the path the sun cuts across the south-by-southwest-facing living room in the afternoon, which may or may not require the ceremonial closing and re-opening of the shutters once a day.
So that was February and now it's March 1 and I feel at home. I think mostly I am grateful to still be here -- not here on earth (though of course there is that) but rather here in Paris. My apartment search (10 weeks from giving of notice to signing of lease, with a week off for Christmas) was so disheartening that I considered several times just packing up and going back to California because it seemed easier than riding out the twists and turns and near-daily disappointments of looking.
Admittedly I was spoiled because I had come to live in my first home here under such magical terms. (Read the short version here.) It required so little effort -- only that of following through on an impulse to write an e-mail to someone with whom I hadn't spoken in a long time. And of course, saying "yes" at the appropriate moment. But "yes" -- that particular "yes" -- didn't require effort, or even faith. It was more like flinging something as far as I could -- "Why not? Here's goes nothing!" Why not, indeed. I could always move home.
But this search was discouraging in just about every possible way, starting with the usual urban state of affairs, i.e., that apartments are uglier and more expensive than you would hope, and are snatched up at whiplash speed. Then, add the Parisian factor: apartments are smaller than you could ever imagine. And once you get your brain wrapped around the fact that you can live comfortably in less than 375 square feet, you learn that is only true if the square feet are well laid out. So there's that reality.
Then, there's the reality-reality: rent laws here so favor the tenants (and make it so difficult to evict one, even in the case of non-payment) that any prospective tenant is presumed to be a deadbeat, period. I took great offense at this, having been (with the exception of my three and a half years as a property owner) a tenant in good standing SINCE 1984. DAMN IT. I was lucky in that friends of mine offered to act as my seconds (non-local guarantors not allowed, sorry) for the few landlords who were willing to consider a foreigner, and a freelancing foreigner at that, as a tenant.
I kept the lessons of 2005 in mind, and tried to make my own magic wherever I could. Just put it out there, I said to myself. Just keep going, Winston, I said to myself (Churchill was the one who counseled, "If you find yourself in hell, keep going.")
Heaven knows I tried. Each phone call and apartment viewing was yet another movement in my take-no-prisoners (ha!) charm offensive. Charm was doubly difficult to muster as my health was nothing short of terrible -- I had been laid low by a mean cold on New Year's Day, one that didn't let up for two weeks.
I hurt, all over and everywhere. And in January, if I wasn't asleep, I was blowing my nose; and if I wasn't blowing my nose, I was scouring the online want ads for listings. And if I wasn't online, I was crying my eyes out.
In the end I found a truly lovely apartment not all that far from my original one. I had been hoping to move across the river, to the ninth arrondissement, where so many of my friends live, but that didn't happen this go-around. It's in Montparnasse, on the fourth floor, at the top of some pleasantly creaky oak stairs, overlooking a leafy -- or soon to be, as spring gallops apace -- courtyard.
If the sun is out, even on the colder days, I can open the windows and let the place fill up with light and with air, and suddenly January is really far away. Magic.