Saturday, September 27, 2008

Happy happy, joy joy!

Let the word ring forth from the mountain tops…I have secured an apartment! In fact, I moved in yesterday and am all unpacked. But before you begin to think that I arrived at this point with the greatest of ease, let’s back up a couple days and review the contortions I performed in order to swing things my way.

As you’ll recall, I had found an apartment through a real estate agency and the good grace of an English-speaking agent named Sylvie. At that point, an unfortunate and inevitable problem reared its ugly head: I had to have a guarantor, a co-signer of sorts. Someone who would promise to pay the rent in the event I decided to scarper. If I were under 30, the bank would gladly help me out with this, but as I’m now apparently in “Older Than Dirt” demographic, I was out of luck.

My bank agent, an absolutely wonderful chick named Emilie, advised me to ask for help at one of the administrative offices of my school. This seemed perfectly reasonable to me, as it was the school which got me into this mess in the first place (no room at the inn, if you’ll recall). Oh, if only it were that easy… With that simple advice from Emilie, I embarked upon a Sisyphean struggle [yes, I’m aware you might have to look it up, but I guess I just don’t care] that was eventually resolved only through the luck of the devil, I assure you.

As you’ll again recall, the first office I went to was closed (but the woman there gave me a phone number to call to make an appointment). The second office I went to was also no use because the woman I wanted to see (the one who had told me there were no rooms for me at the university) had already gone home. So, I was screwed for that day and the following, as government workers don’t have to be in on Wednesdays, apparently.

So, Thursday morning, I was up with the dawn and out to the nearest internet café. No response to my desperate email from the chica at the IUFM, so I decided just to call her. Oh joy, her secretary told me that she wasn’t there, but would be in tomorrow. At this point, I started to freak out, I don’t mind telling you. I emailed every administrative person at the university with whom I had had contact previously, and a couple I hadn’t.

[I would like to state here, for the record, that I am as far from impressed as one can possibly be with the University of Poitiers in regards to their handling of me as the new Assistante d’Anglais. You’d think that I was the first one they’d ever had, when in fact this program has been in place for *decades*. At this point, all I should have to do is show up to one particular office, speak to one particular person who is in charge of me, and receive a detailed packet of information that includes a comprehensive list of everything that I need to do in order to function here as a teacher and resident. I know that I am far from the über-regulated business mindset of the United States, but fuck! Get it together people! At this point, I have no idea which of the approximately 15 different offices around town I should be going to, and even less of an idea who I need to speak to, or even who is directly in charge of me. Argh! Thinking about this makes me want to pull my hair out, so I shall cease this bitching immediately.]

Anyway, not getting any emails back in a hurry, I decided to call Sylvie the real estate agent to advise her of my predicament. She was understandably concerned, but I told her that I would call her before she left work in order to let her know the outcome of my struggle.

I called one of the school’s offices (the one that had been closing up when I went on Tuesday), and the secretary there gave me a couple phone numbers to try that were for social agencies designed to help poor people who needed a guarantor, one of which was particularly for government employees such as myself. Terrified to call them on my own, I decided to first try the bank again. It had occurred to me that when I was at the bank, I had said that I needed a “caution”, which is like a deposit, when in fact Sylvie had just said “un garant”, which is a co-signer of sorts. Thinking that I had perhaps not communicated my needs correctly, I rushed across the plaza to speak with Emilie again.

Well, much to my disappointment, Emilie explained to me that a caution and a garant are basically the same thing in France—a promise to pay if the person skips out on rent. Damn. Sensing my impending insanity, and perhaps not wanting me to start crying right there in her office, the incomparable Emilie then offered to call all of the phone numbers I had been given in an attempt to fix this problem for me. What unexpected service from a bank employee!! :-)

She called and called, and explained the situation over and over again, but it seemed that no one could help me. Eventually, as it was now noon and people just weren’t in their offices, she made a last ditch effort and called a lady she knew in the international student department at the university. This Maryvonne had the unenviable task of finding housing for international students and dealing with their various issues. In short, someone perfectly suited to helping me! Emilie told me that Maryvonne should be able to help me find an apartment, but maybe I wouldn’t be able to get the one I already wanted because of the caution requirement (apparently, some apartments don’t have that requirement).

So, to kill time until my 2 o’clock appointment with Maryvonne, I decided to drown my sorrows at my favorite café, Le Gil. I had just placed my order when suddenly I realized that my mobile phone was ringing. It was Sylvie! She had discussed my situation with her boss, and they decided that it would be safe to rent me the apartment without a caution, but just until the end of my contract. If I wanted to keep the apartment after that, it would be on me to find someone to be my “garant”. In fact, this arrangement is quite perfect, as it relieves me of needing to use my psychic skills to figure out in January if I want to keep the apartment past March. (You have to give 3 months notice to vacate an apartment here.)

Needless to say, after hearing this news, I did a little happy dance right there in my seat at Le Gil! I even celebrated with a dish of ice cream (I originally thought I would get one of the enormous sundae creations I saw others eating, until I reviewed the menu and saw the prices were $9-$12!) When I ordered the salted butter caramel ice cream [a revelation!], I told the ever-hustling waiter that I was celebrating because I had found an apartment that day. He seemed as happy for me as a stranger could possibly be. ;-) After lunch, I hurried back to Emilie’s office to tell her of my good luck, and she seemed equally happy for me (or possibly just happy that I wouldn’t be having any more breakdowns in her office for the foreseeable future).

I decided to celebrate my unbelievable luck by going shopping for a bed. After all, I might be lucky enough to have gotten the apartment, but it was unfurnished, and I wasn’t about to spend my first night there on the fucking floor!

The cheapest store in these parts is called “Conforama”, and it clearly fancies itself a French Ikea. But it is not as cheap as Ikea, and the woman who “helped” me was a total bitch, so it’s definitely down a peg or two in my book from the Swedish superstore. In any event, it’s a long bus ride away from the city, but probably worth it if you’re looking to furnish a house on the cheap, as I am. The one thing they have on Ikea is that they deliver; however, this advantage is totally negated by the fact that they currently have a delivery delay of 15 days, of which the bitch in the bed department was all too happy to inform me.

So, in the end, I went with my second choice of the inflatable mattress. Please stop groaning…I can hear you all the way over here in France! Un matelas gonflable. Yes, it’s true. But, it’s like an automatically-inflating Aerobed that actually comes up about two feet off the floor. And it’s queen-sized. And it was only $120. And I could take it home right then on the fucking bus. Deal with it.

In fact, because the mattress looks really awesome, I almost busted it out for my last night at the hostel. The beds here are truly awful, and I was on my own for my last night. Still, the idea of having to wrestle the bed back into its little bag come the morning was more than I could handle. So, since it will be my only furniture for the immediate future, I hope it works when I get to the apartment this afternoon!

After dealing with the bed situation, I had an appointment with the previous apartment dweller to see about buying his washing machine off him. Turns out it’s the tiniest washing machine I’ve ever seen in my life, possibly designed to be used only by midgets or supermodels. But it’s typical for France, and it’s a Bosch, so I went for it. $150 bucks (100 Euros). Literally, I think I’ll be able to wash one pair of jeans and maybe two shirts at the same time…unbelievable. But I had scoped out washing machines at the Conforama, and they were about the same size for twice the price. So, good deal. Plus, Julian told me that it was “15 minutes by foot” to the nearest laundromat, and no way was I about to lug my dirty linens halfway across town “by foot”.

Also for sale by Julian was his portable heater. He explained to me that electricity is really expensive in France, and as the apartment uses electric radiators, I would be advised to find another solution, preferably the one he was selling. As I explained to a shocked Julian, his little heater would probably get you booted from any US apartment complex, as it’s essentially a little fireplace that runs on butane…rather like an enormous Zippo. Open fire–not exactly encouraged by American landlords. Still, this is France, and not wanting to rack up the heating bills, I bought it for $50. Julian was also nice enough to show me the little ins and outs of the apartment and how to get the electricity and internet set up. Looks like it’ll be at least 2 weeks on the internet, goddamn it.

Leaving the apartment, I walked to what will now be *my* bus stop, line number 11. Arret: Pont Neuf. It was almost 8, so twilight was falling upon the city, and as I turned around to take a look back at the apartment, I could see the buildings across the bridge. The sunset had lit the stone-colored buildings to a nice rosey hue. Glowing pink houses in the distance, *my* apartment within view, and a permanent bus pass in my pocket…I just thought to myself: I live here now. This is real, and it’s good, and I’m going to have a great time.

I decided to celebrate by having a lovely pasta dinner; however, the walk-up window pasta shop that I spotted just off the town square was being manned by a girl who clearly cared more about singing along with the radio than about tending to the long line of exasperated customers. Not wanting to exchange my buzz for the customer service blues, I kept walking until I got to the small modern-age shopping mall, Cordeliers, which is squeezed in between all the ancient buildings. I often cut through this building to go between the two main squares, Place Charles de Gaulle and Hôtel de Ville. I knew there was a pasta shop in there, too, so I headed straight for it.

The man there was very nice (even offered to speak English with me), and I had my dinner to go in short order. Keen to catch the bus back to the hostel before the last one at 8:30, I hustled to my usual bus stop all the way over at the Place Charles de Galle. In fact, I hustled so superbly that I made it in time to catch the 8:07 bus. As I got settled in for the ride back to the hostel, I noticed that the bus was stopping at the next stop: Cordeliers. That’s right…I could have just stayed right where I was, instead of speed-walking to the other stop. It was then I realized that, no matter how much this feels like home right now, I still have a lot to learn. That made me smile, because I know that I’m going to have days of utter frustration ahead of me (and some behind me, as well), but at least I know enough to know when I’ve fucked up. And that’s half the battle.

Now, I’d love to go on and tell you all about moving into the apartment and my trip to “LeClerc”, a one-stop shop that offers everything a person could ever need in order to live their whole life (including a mind-blowing grocery department that puts to shame every single grocery store I have ever seen in person–or my dreams), but I need to get out of this internet cafe in order to catch my bus.

Until next time! I'll leave you with some apartment pics...

Front Door, moving in day

Backyard, river included View to the left

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