Living in a Lovely 140-Year-Old Apartment ...
For those of you who have had the desire and the time to keep up with my blog posts, I think you might find the current situation either amusing or distracting from the more serious problems of the day. This one goes back to where I left off in my post on November 5th, 2021, just before we put up the Christmas tree.
This saga is still ongoing to date. As I write, more developments are occurring by the minute.Our plumbing problems are beginning to look like a new and more personal plague, with new permutations mutating from one to another. In case you don't care to look back, I will clue you in to the point where all this began: with the replacement of all the pipes and valves in our water heating and floor heating system. We discovered shortly thereafter a phenomena that I can only imagine as some kind of ghost in the thermostat for our floor heating. Since this poltergeist materialized, we've been on a roller coaster ride, because when manually turned off our thermostat still heated up the house to the point of discomfort, and when turned on manually we felt the chill of winter in every room, day and night. To top that off, the pressure in the boiler of the water heater was climbing to ever more dangerous heights.
So we asked for a diagnosis and an estimate of the cost to replace the water heater and the thermostat, which it turned out had been installed all the way back in 1985, and thus were now at least seven years past their shelf-life. After the first estimate from the plumber we’d had good experiences with, we decided to get a second one. The price tag on the first was astronomical, but the second was over the top. I suddenely realized that we might have an option for assistance with the expense of this new system, according to our viager contract with a very reasonable businessman.
Mr. Respectable Businessman (RB from here on) wanted a third "devis" from his own contractor, of course. At first, this third plumber couldn't do any better than the lowest of the other two bids. Thus, RB apparently was convinced by his plumber that he could find a way to reduce his bid. The only way that he could manage that trick was by reducing the size of the equipment, which left us with a 16-litre water heater and a system that was supposed to immediately start warming up water again, so that there
would be a continuous flow, or so he claimed. It wasn't that we had not seen such systems, even in the States, but these mini-tanks or ballons as they are referred to here, were installed over a odd sink, not a bath tub, shower, or heating system. In the winter time here, the tap-water is close to freezing. Our current water heater is 120 litres and does the job of keeping the pipes in the flooring filled with hot water with plenty to spare for two consecutive showers, and hand washing the breakfast dishes without loss of pressure or warmth. Needless to say, we were quite skeptical about the new low-bid and finally settled with RB by offering to pay the difference between the low bid and our best bid from the company we had experienced as both honest and reliable. So all was agreed upon, the contract was signed, and the date was set for the two day job on Thursday and Friday of last week.
And then it all went South from there on! Jean, the main technician, seemed to really know his job but this equipment was new to him and he was straddled with two inexperienced apprentices who didn't seem to know or care about anything other than staying out of the way and sitting on the step in the vestibule of our apartment, playing video games on their smart phones. The truth is that there wasn't enough room for more than one person in the small closet that housed our air conditioner, the water heater, boiler, thermostat, and all of the electrical panels. The real problem was that, although the information that was reported by our original plumber from the same company -- the one who had installed the new pipes and valves -- and all the photos and movies he had taken on-site in order to assist the “Boss" in making his bid while also preparing the plumber for the job, had unfortunately been ignored or lost. The new technician arrived on the job having absolutely no idea what he was about to be met with. Upon arrival at the site, he could tell that the job would take more than two days. Way more! All three of us were left praying that the job would be completed in time for us to have heat and hot water for the weekend. But even though the technician, Jean, stayed until 6:30 on Friday night, it was impossible to overcome some of the difficulties he was encountering. Jean said that there was no
choice other than to wait until Monday when the manufacturer could be contacted. In spite of our agravated state of mind, we were still able to think a bit. We called the hotel across the street, hoping to rent a room in which to take a hot shower on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. Luckily, after listening to our story, one that generated many giggles, the hotel clerk announced that she had one room left and that we could have it for a reasonable rate, in spite of the last minute booking. The room was on the fifth floor, newly re-decorated, clean and cute, although the shower was in a bathtub with a porcelain apron that was so high, my arthritic knees had a tough time climbing over it to enter the tub. Nevertheless, we felt much better afterward, although we arrived home to find the apartment was beginning to turn to ice by Sunday night. Dressed like Eskimos, we greeted Jean Monday morning.
And he worked, and worked, and worked and worked, but by 10:30 PM there was still a problem with the electronic connection that would give us fresh hot water for our sinks and our showers. That said, at least we had home heating coming up from underneath the floors. The complication seemed to be with the manufacturer of the equipment, who needed to be consulted in order to enable all to be fully up and running. We were also facing yet another more insurmountable problem: The city crew that had coincidentally been working for over a month to replace the gas lines in our street were going to shut off the gas for the entire next day, Tuesday, February 1st.
Our only hope was that all would come together by Wednesday. Ted and I were both becoming grumpy, imagining that we were at risk of beginning to smell like over-ripe Camembert cheese. It wouldn’t help to curse the plumber or his “Boss” who kept insisting that all would be fine.
We called our friend Antoine and asked him if we might use his shower on Tuesday, and he was more than good-natured and accommodating. So we jumped in a taxi, unsure what the parking would be like where he lived in the congested 6th arrondisement, and in spite of traffic, and police barricades blocking our usual straightforward path (for reasons unknown to us), the driver found a detour, very long but quite effective.
We finally arrived at Antoine’s and were cheerfully received with plenty of soap and hot water and a nice dose of uplifting conversation, after which we left our friend to do the errands he had postponed for our comfort, and we walked to one of our favorite restaurants, a charming one with a café and bar, open and serving great food at all hours. A most renowned restaurant in Paris and an iconic place in Montparnasse, La Closerie des Lilas was as welcoming as could be. Inside, there are small brass plates attached to the tables, engraved with the different names of some of the most famous regulars such as Charles Baudelaire, Emile Zola, Théophile Gautier, Honoré de Balzac and Ernest Hemingway, for whom this café was a “home away from home." In later years, this institution attracted
such luminaries as Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, Oscar Wilde, Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, André Gide, Louis Aragon, Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Samuel Beckett. It is said that an elated James Joyce spent a memorable evening at the Closerie while celebrating the news that Sylvia Beach (a publisher and owner of the iconic bookstore Shakespeare & Co) agreed to publish his controversial novel Ulysses. Gertrude Stein and her life partner, Alice B. Toklas, were also regular patrons. In the 17th century it functioned as an Inn, and in the 19th Century it became a Cafe that has preserved the spirit and the
atmosphere of the olden days. The interior is warm and inviting with pleasant, low lighting, red stools lining the mahogany bar, and live piano music after 7PM. In the summer, you can enjoy the terrace surrounded by the lilacs from which this establishment derived her name, and one can order Hemingway’s favorite pavé de rumsteak au poivre (which I did).Ted and I had the best meal we’d had in well over a week. The ambiance was cozy and not yet crowded, the food was delightful, delicious, and de-lovely, and the wines we chose were just right for each of us. As a writer, I get chills when I remember that this had been the place we’re Hemingway did much of his writing for the Toronto Star while living in Paris. As the story goes, after lunch at the Brasserie Lipp on the Blvd. St.-Germain one day,
Hemingway decided to write a memoir, and came straight to the Closerie to begin the work. He replicated that moment in A Moveable Feast: "I sat in a corner with the afternoon light coming in over my shoulder and wrote in my notebook. The waiter brought me a café crème and I drank half of it when it cooled and left it on the table while I wrote. […] There were days ahead to be doing that each day, no other thing mattered.”
This night was the eve of the French holiday Chandeleur, celebrated by eating crepes. And although Ted ordered his favorite Mille-Feuille, I
ended my repas with scrumptious Crépes Suzette, and we both finished with deux Café Noisette.
Feeling much more human after an evening out of the house with all the chaos around us, we had some hope for the arrival of Jean at 9AM Wednesday morning. But instead, Jean would not arrive until after 11AM and the manufacturer of the appliances had supposedly passed on to “the boss” all the instructions needed for the fix. Only then did the world collapse, when Jean arrived and found that the gas had not been restored to our home by the city Tuesday evening. Ted and I flipped through our browsers and made the rounds through EDF, the company from which we purchase our gas who refered us to the city services who further referred us on to the Urgent City Services, only to wait on the phone for a half-hour before finally getting through to a real human being. To give them due credit, they immediately sent up one of the men working on the street, and within a couple of minutes he had gone out to our meter, opened the little box next to it, and voilà, the gas was restored at last. Now the work could be finished, or could it? Now Jean could do his work.
But he was still perplexed and needed to contact the manufacturer’s technician directly. Unfortunately, Frisquet was closed for lunch and would not return until 1:30. One would think that, with a company of that size, at least the technicians would stagger their lunch hours, but this is France, they are French, and so it goes. By now, Ted was really worked up with worry and bugging the plumber every few minutes while he was trying to accomplish other tasks related to the job. Alternately, he would stop by my desk where I was trying to write, and trying to keep me in the loop as I had requested while interrupting me just as he had the plumber.
Finally I thought I had to put an end to it all. I suggested that Ted would best stay in the kitchen with the doors closed because I was going to be playing very loud music, and i asked him to please refrain from interrupting either the plumber or me in our work, and to let me call the “Boss," who spoke very nice English, and take shot at the weasel who was »the Boss » and by the end of our conversation he was so shocked that a woman would have such Chutzpah, that he wanted to know how high he had to jump to get me off his back.
By the end of the afternoon, Jean had announced that he had both the hot potable water and floor heating up and running. We were nearly overjoyed by the news. There were some odds and ends (literally and figuratively)and
some oddities the concerned us, but Jean returned to put all in order bright and early Thursday morning (day eight) as promised. Samuel also came to check everything out and to make sure we were satisfied And that all had been done to manufacturers specifications. There were still some difficulties with the master bathroom wall radiator, which was refusing to cooperate, and poor Jean along with Samuel who had repaired that furnace way back in the time of pipe and valve replacements in November, got to work. Meanwhile, Mickey was getting tired of hiding from all these strangers with the big boots, coming in and out for eight days, card board and plastic strewn all over his carpets and floors, and furniture misplaced to clear space for the above.
Want to know how all of this ends? If it ends? Who lives, who dies, and how I tell the story? Perhaps you will read through my mystery novel before the end of this story is published in my next post In March.