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Deliveries and a Party
February 18, 2005
It’s been a week of errands and deliveries, footwork and friends.
The weather turned colder. We’ve had everything from a big hail storm with thunder and lightening to snow showers, which Catherine says are really ice. Whatever it was, there were clouds of powdery fine snow/ice particles flying through the air. All of Paris is bundled up making the streets a sea of black and camel wool. The neck scarves are the art part – thick, thin, plaid, plain, knotted, slung, wrapped around and around so that even the mouth gets covered. Having been in Minneapolis (once) when it was 12 degrees, even I know this is not that cold.
For those of you asking, the bed has been bought and delivered! Once we finally settled on one, it was easy and the delivery only took two days. We bought it from Conforama, an Ikea knock-off on the Pont Neuf right across the street from La Samaritaine, a famous, old department store that Mr. Cognacq and his wife, Louise Jay, built from a tiny drape shop they opened in 1867. They made so much money that they built a fabulous art collection which is now housed in the Cognacq-Jay museum in the Marais.
En France, it is necessary to pick the type of mattress (foam, springs, latex, hybrids); the sommier (the base that the mattress sits upon – not really a box spring but some kind of support); and the legs. They can be short and round, cones, or spindles. I chose spindles in dark wood. Seemed the most traditional.
Aside from the bed delivery, the boxes arrived from the freight forwarder with all those little treasures we couldn’t live without, such as half-finished bottles of shampoo and 5,000 table clothes that don’t fit any of the tables in the apartment. And Mr. Petit came with his handy man, Theophile. They removed furniture and gave us the keys to our cave (basement storage unit). Alison said it was quite a feat to get the keys to the cave, so we felt rather happy about it.
The cave is Door #2; our mailbox is Box #19; and our apartment has no number, it is just 4th floor Gauche (left). A bit confusing. We are wondering if we will ever figure out how to have letters sent to us.
The cave is truly cave-like. I think caves were originally for storing wine. One needs three keys to get to our cave: a key for the door from the outside hallway; a key for the door to the stairs to get underneath the building; and a final key to open the old wooden gate/door with the #2 on it. It is a long flight of stairs down into the basement, and a long dirt walkway down to our #2 cave. But it is fairly large and dry despite the ancient feel of it. We are going to be filing it up with all sorts of rejects from the apartment.
So with all the deliveries and re-arrangings, we felt it was time to christen the Pompe apartment with a little party. We invited Alison over for dinner and had quite a time of it. We got fresh ravioli, an eggplant rolade, and marinated artichokes from the Italian deli at Passy. To go with, we bought tubs of freshly-made tomato and pesto sauces. At the vegetable stall we splurged on some of the fancy tomatoes and butter lettuce. We went to La Ferme de Passy, the local cheese shop, and got a huge hunk of parmesan from Madame Daho. The wheel from which she cut it must have been 15 pounds to begin with. Finally we went to Le Moule au Gateau, the cake shop, and got Fondant Riviere - our latest sin. Fondant is a melting chocolate dessert somewhere between not-quite-cooked brownies and fudge. Our punishment for buying the Fondant is to walk up the four flights of stairs to our apartment rather than take the ascenseur (elevator). (The other day I ate three pain au chocolates and walked up and down the stairs six times putting things in the cave and didn’t gain an ounce!)
Alison arrived around 7 PM, cold and bundled from the snow showers outside. She said she had avoided the 16th arrondissement since her days in this quarter as an au pair when she was 18, so coming to our apartment was a break through for her. I gather she had a few unpleasant experiences here, but we didn’t go into it. We spent the next couple of hours eating as we discussed everything from fromagers (cheese makers) to language schools.
After dinner, Alison brought out a triple layer box of chocolates from Fouchers beautifully packaged in a coco brown and rose box with matching ribbon. “It will go wonderfully with the Fondant,” we cried. So between the two, we all basked in a haze of choco-warmth. The stairs await.
The last bit of excitement occurred on Friday. We had our first run-in with the Paris underground! It happened just after lunch, in fact the dishes were still on the table. A very officious man knocked on the door and informed us he was here to check the chauffage (heating). I took one look at his neon green shirt with embroidered name tag and his well worn notebook and let him in. Catherine and I led him to the kitchen where the hot water and heating unit reside. He glanced up at the control box and demanded a ladder.
We have a very fancy step ladder, sort of a cross between a real ladder and a step ladder, and I was quite proud to bring it out. Shiny silver, barely used, I set it up in front of the heating unit. He climbed up the ladder’s three steps, got on the top platform and said loudly several times “hold on to the ladder” (in French of course). We snapped to. Catherine took a firm hold of the ladder from behind and I spotted him from the front. Once we were in place, he gingerly stepped up on the ladder’s 2-inch curving metal handle. Perched on tip-toe, he began twisting and turning the exhaust pipe above the heating unit. I held my breath. Catherine tightened her grip. Images of the Taiwanese acrobats we had seen just before leaving L.A. raced through my mind. Like these performers (who terrified the audience by doing handstands on towering stacks of chairs), this heating man had world class balance. Surely he belonged in the circus rather than in the chauffage service. (The term “second story man” should have come to mind, or perhaps even “cat burgler”.)
After a good deal of twisting, the man pulled off the exhaust unit and looked inside it. He was horrified. Repeating “dangereaux” and making large Ka-Boom sounds, he informed us that the unit needed to be cleaned immediately and would cost 65 euros, cash. He whipped out his notebook to write up an invoice. Catherine and I looked at each other: What to do? I said “Un moment…I have to telephoner Monsieur Petit, le proprietor.”
We all marched out to the living room and I called Mr. Petit. Thankfully he answered. The beauty of cell phones – and the French are very attached to theirs. As I began trying to explain, the heating man grabbed the phone from me and started talking to Mr. Petit at high speed. Finally, he slammed down the phone in a huff and made for the front door. Catherine picked up the phone and Mr. Petit shouted “Do not pay anything! Do not sign anything! This man is a fraud.!” She said “D’accord,” (OK) and hurried to open the front door for the huffing heating man. He left and we sighed in relief. A near catastrophe.
While trying to fit the exhaust unit back into place (without the benefit of balancing on the ladder handle), and searching the Internet for info on carbon monoxide poisoning, we discussed all the clues that we had ignored because we are in Paris and our radar is a bit off. “How did he get inside the building?” I asked. “He didn’t offer to carry the ladder.” Catherine observed. “He had no tools to clean the unit,” I recalled. “He was far too demanding,” Catherine countered. On and on and on we went. Les deux americaines might be just off the boat, but we can spot a scam when we see one!
That’s all for now. Next letter – our adventures in the art world