January in Paris

March 26, 2023

January is the one month of the year I *might* try to dissuade you from booking a ticket to Paris. It’s just so grey.

Seriously, the January I lived in Paris I saw the sun a grand total of 3 times in January. No, I’m not exaggerating- when it got to January 9th and was yet to see sun I decided to keep count. 

I didn’t have much else to do during my mostly couch-ridden first two weeks of the new year. I was in full recovery mode, fighting off a brutal sinus infection following a rather traumatic New Year’s Eve mis-adventure comprised of almost missing my flight back to Paris from London, the most expensive Uber of my life, a stolen phone on the metro, discovering all my photos had not been backed up on said phone, and lots of snotty tears.

Oh, and I was also moving that week. As much as we loved the central location of our first, teeny tiny 6th floor Parisian walk-up, ‘la vie boheme’ went from charming to chilling the moment Paris temperatures dropped and we realized our old windows did not hold heat. 

What could have been a tragic winter tale (American southerner dies of frostbite, baguette and brie still in hand) actually morphed into one of my favorite American in Paris success stories. 

Once I realized there was no way I, or my remotely employed husband, would last all winter in this apartment, I decided to quietly begin searching for another.

When I say quietly, I actually mean secretly, as I knew the last thing J wanted to do was move again. We’d only been in the apartment a few months, making the rookie mistake of moving to Paris and trying to find a rental at the start of September- aka “la rentrée” when Parisians and students return to the city after 6 weeks of vacation. 

Options were scarce, prices were high, and our French sucked. We’d spent our first, rainy week in Paris desperately banging on rental agency doors after they failed to return our calls, then taking the train back up to Charles de Gaulle to scan another round of rental applications in our airport hotel’s business center. We ultimately went with this apartment because they called us back, closing our eyes and cringing as we handed over 3 month’s worth of what we knew was overpriced rent (first and last month’s requirement, plus a non-refundable deposit equal to another month). Honestly, we were both still scarred by the experience.

But now we were also cold, and I knew it would only get worse. I needed to find a new place, with better heat and possibly a couch or futon that didn’t rock and simultaneously poke you in the back and booty every time you sat on it. 

Sure that felt like a challenge, but I was up for it. What I didn’t feel up to was trying to convince my husband to come look at another apartment without triggering immense stress on our relationship- I knew I’d have to do all the up front prep work, then hope for a miracle. Lucky for me, a miracle is just what I found, in the form of a friendly Parisian named Frank who posted his apartment on French Craigslist.

I’m not kidding. Every time I tell a Parisian friend I found an affordable apartment on French Craiglist, they think it’s the start of a joke whose punchline involves an Italian mob ring or a foot fetish. This is also why I knew I had to convince J to come with me to meet Frank and see the apartment in person.

I talked to Frank, who spoke impeccable English (California! I love it, dude), and felt assured that this was a real, albeit 200 sq ft, apartment, and set up a time to meet there the following week. 

My approach to get J to join me was effective but cowardly- I told him about the apartment an hour before we needed to leave to see it, stressing that even though I felt very good about this opportunity, did he really want me to meet a man I found on Craigslist in an unfamiliar Paris neighborhood without him? We took the metro from Notre Dame to Montparnasse- Bienvenüe in silence. He was seething, I was praying. 

The apartment was located at the top of an old Haussmanian building along Avenue du Maine straddling the 15th and 14th arrondissements in the shadow of the famously ugly Montparnasse tower. The location was notably less glamorous than living on Ile Saint Louis, but still nice and normally Parisian. It was also incredibly convenient to my work set up: I could take the RER train directly from the Montparnasse train station the days I taught in Versailles, and UNESCO headquarters were an easy 20 minute walk away, where I was slated to start the next month.

Frank met us in front of the building’s blue door (he’s real, good sign!), and buzzes us into a respectable foyer, inviting us to take the small elevator together while he takes the stairs and meets us on the 6th floor. For a moment, I see J’s scowl soften… a real, working elevator? I knew I did good, but also knew it was way too soon to gloat.

Touring the apartment takes no time (did I mention the 200 sq ft part?), but we linger, practically salivating over the updated HVAC and double paned windows that open to reveal pink clouds dotting Parisian rooftops. We chat with Frank a bit, learning that this had been his first apartment in Paris, which he now maintains for friends and family to stay in while visiting, financed by renting it out month-to-month in between. Our time frame works for him- we’ll be leaving just in time for his summer visitors- and in the meantime we will pay him in cash at the start of each month. 

Frank encourages us to take a day to walk the neighborhood and think it through. He bids farewell, after pointing us in the direction of the closest grocery, boulangerie, and laundromat. I am so relieved- not only is he real, he is incredibly nice, and I can sense J is warming to the potential benefits of this move. 

Not wanting to push too soon, I suggest we take the nearest side street to scope out the neighboring shops Frank mentioned. The block is quiet and residential, but then spits us out onto the busier Boulevard du Montparnasse. We turn to the right and see the Franprix (grocery store) Frank told us about. Then we look left and both audibly gasp. There is the illuminated top half of the Eiffel Tower, poking up over the neighborhood’s buildings- something we quickly learned the 15th was known for.

So we moved, and I spent the first two weeks in our new apartment sick on the couch, watching those grey January skies outside of our much appreciated, insulated windows.

J later admitted he was sold on the apartment 3 minutes into the visit with Frank, but it wasn’t until we were outside, admiring our newfound Eiffel Tower view that suddenly began to sparkle, that he could actually say it:

I think we are going to like it here.

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