Housing Plight in the City of Light

filed15 Aug 2012 from Carmen Jenner CategoriesParis

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THE computer screen taunts me with photos of charming Parisian apartments with minuscule dimensions. My two-year-old is dancing to The Wiggles, having given up on the promised trip to the park. Finding a flat for our six-week stay in the French capital has become my latest obsession.

Our requirements consist of a two-bedroom apartment easily accessible to the Latin Quarter, where I will be studying in July. My research has been enlightening as I learn not to take anything for granted, not even walls.

My findings are baffling: traditional two-bedroom apartments apparently are rare in Paris. Some bedrooms are partitioned off with screens, curtains and “vertically exposed beams”. In some apartments, the number of beds doesn’t equate to the number of people supposedly sleeping there. How French.

Sometimes, the second bedroom is on a mezzanine floor, which is often not full height. Some lofts are only as wide as the bed and others don’t have railings; I guess that’s not a problem as long as you don’t roll out of bed. Although, when you are putting on your jeans while crouching, you could lose your balance and topple over the edge into the living room. Often the beds are hidden away in cupboards, a system known as a Murphy bed.

I have images of the bed lurching up in the middle of the night and its occupant disappearing until the cleaner appears (hopefully to change the sheets). Meanwhile, the flat-mate lies unconscious on the dining-room table. I guess that’s what travel insurance is for. It’s lucky then that in many cases the bedrooms have the proportions of a coffin, preparing you for the inevitable.

Behind the elegant facades of 19th-century buildings, many of these apartments are walk-ups. Some advertise lifts but are honest enough to admit they don’t go up to all floors of the apartment building; assuming the lift works, of course. I wonder how quaint the winding staircase seems when you’re lugging your belongings up to your bohemian apartment with Eiffel Tower-top views.

After such an ordeal you could cool off in the shower, which probably is in the bedroom. Then wash your clothes while sitting on the toilet in the kitchen. How’s that for convenience?

As you put your feet up at the end of the day, you can gaze into the mirrored walls and imagine there really is another room that looks exactly the same as the one you’re in.

Just when I think the French have thrown all the rules out the former window, it happens. I find an available apartment in the Latin Quarter, complete with worn parquetry flooring and large windows filling the rooms with light. Now I just need to convince the agency to rent it to me.

Fearing that handing over exorbitant amounts of money isn’t enough, I send super-polite emails that are replied to with curt responses. “Oui, Madame, the bathroom does contain a bath, as the name suggests.” Finally, I am triumphant as an obscene amount of money is charged to my credit card. At last, I can dream of my fling with the City of Light.

Lights? Hang on, I didn’t ask, but surely …

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