Painting (and Patisseries) in Paris, Part 3: A Giant Jigsaw

Exactly two weeks after our previous trip (Part 2, Reluctant Realisations), Clive and I arrived at Gare du Nord on a Monday afternoon in the first week of October.

We were giving ourselves three days — Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday — to move furniture and ready the apartment for the upcoming repairs, before returning to the UK on an early Friday morning Eurostar, hoping to beat the weekend hordes.

From Gare du Nord, we hopped on a metro to the final hours of a Japanese landscape exhibit at the Musée Guimet. I claimed this cultural outing did not violate our ‘sole purpose’ agreement since we had not yet arrived at the apartment.

A mountainous challenge, Musée Guimet, Paris

During the two weeks we’d been back in Felixstowe, Clive’s subconscious had continued to work on the challenge we faced.

It’s Physical

The problem — and the reason our friend and neighbour, Bernard, was so sure we needed to store things in my cave — was lack of physical space.

Altogether, the space of the living (and dining) room, bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and entry totals 42 precious square metres, about 450 square feet. The living room and bedroom are similar in size but not in shape, thanks to one wall of the apartment not being parallel to the other.

The living room, with a sofa, two lamp tables (end tables), a drop-leaf dining table, small TV/DVD unit, desk, bookcase, chair and several folding chairs, has virtually no free space.

During our time in the UK, when Clive was working on other tasks, he would come out with random comments like, ‘The bed and mattress can go behind the sofa,’ or, ‘The bins under the bed should fit in the bathroom, if we push the dresser against the bathtub.’

When I expressed amazement at his percolating ideas, he said, ‘It’s like doing a giant jigsaw – without a picture on the box.’ I started referring to the project that way, telling people we were ‘going to Paris for three days to do the giant jigsaw.’

En route to the apartment – Eiffel Tower peeking through the trees

After the landscapes exhibit, we arrived to Bernard’s customary welcome note on my kitchen counter. He said he had stored proper moving cartons in my cave, for our use. Clive remained confident they wouldn’t be needed and neither of us fancied lugging boxes up and down the curving steps. Nor had I changed my desire to avoid the subterranean depths.

That night I wrote Bernard and Berthe a note, thanking them and saying we would keep the boxes in mind and looked forward to seeing them during the week. Bernard had had a medical procedure a few days before, and box-pushing aside, we were eager to see how he was doing.

Beginning the jigsaw

Clive woke early on our first morning, keen to get started on the jigsaw. While I fueled up with coffee, he went over a few design points: in addition to keeping the sofa and desk clear and accessible, it would be nice to have the TV/DVD and wireless printer usable. The first and most important priority was the armoire, aka the Beast.

I was still on my second cup of coffee but Clive got to work preparing the living room. He moved the end tables temporarily into the entry and pushed the sofa down so he could move the TV cabinet into the not-square corner. He measured the space where the TV had been to reconfirm there was enough room for the Beast (he’d already done this in September, thinking ahead as he does).

By this time I was helping. He hauled the bins from under the bed; I wiped off the dust and stacked them in the bathroom, once we pushed the dresser against the bathtub. The space was just right, as he’d envisioned from Felixstowe.

The Beast — first project-within-a-project

Back in the bedroom, it was time to empty the Beast. We couldn’t put anything on the bed; it would need to be tipped on its side to make space to move the Beast out. (Once the Beast was resettled in the living room, we would put all the contents back in.)

As I began pulling things out, I noticed the back panels seemed a little loose. Clive said he’d have a look at them once the Beast was empty.

I’m not sure Clive was thrilled when I had the idea that instead of just piling up the contents, we had the perfect opportunity to do some serious sorting and purging and setting items aside for recycling. Thus I held up every item of clothing and footwear, we made decisions and Spreadsheet Man updated our Paris inventory as we went along.

Gradually we found places for all the Beast’s contents, mostly mountainous piles on the chairs and sofa, leaving one end of the sofa free for the bedding.

I knew Clive wanted to get back to the jigsaw (aka ‘sole purpose’), but the Beast-decluttering project-within-a-project was so satisfying for me I told him that since we planned to be at the apartment while the repairs were being done, it would be a perfect time for a similar exercise (without the spreadsheet) with the kitchen cupboards.

Finally the Beast was empty and we paused for a break. Regular readers of this blog may recall Clive the Englishman, years ago, educated me on the soothing, restorative power of a nice cup of tea.

Tony Carter teapot pottery, Suffolk UK

The Monster – second project-within-a-project

Then it was time to get the bed out of the way. It has heavy slats and a heavy headboard and footboard. Basically it’s a Monster.

I piled all the bedding, including the ten-ton French duvet (quilt) on the sofa and we slid and shoved the Monster’s queen-size mattress into the living room. I couldn’t remember the last time I actually moved furniture. But so far, so good.

Then we noticed a large X-shaped metal piece underneath the bed, designed to keep the bed square. For the day’s second project-within-a-project, or expect-the-unexpected, Clive discovered not only had the metal structure come undone, but a number of screws were loose or missing.

Clive working on the Monster

He tightened a few screws and fixed what he could, but my apartment toolbox didn’t have the right sizes for the missing ones. We made a note to bring a selection back from Clive’s extensive Felixstowe collection.

After tying up the bottom slats (which were not fixed as the top were), he said it was time to tip the Monster. I tried not to be nervous but am afraid our conversation went something like:

Me: Wow! It’s really heavy! We need someone to help us.

Clive: It’s not that bad. Don’t worry. I’ll take most of the weight.

Me: It will come down too hard! It could wreck the floorboards.

Clive: It won’t wreck the floorboards. It will be fine.

Me: I don’t want it to hurt either one of us.

Clive (more than once): Will you please just trust me?

With great trepidation, I positioned myself where he told me to and followed his instructions as we lifted the Monster. Taking most of the weight, he raised it higher and higher and, as promised, it gently (sort of, for a Monster) came down on its side. It did not crash. It did not wreck the floorboards.

I emailed a few photos to my son and our friends D&J in Felixstowe, sharing our progress.

The Monster and the innocent-looking Beast

The Beast returns — third project-within-a-project

The moment we moved the Beast away from the wall, the back fell off. It made a terrible bang as the two pieces clattered to the floor. I could feel myself getting a bit emotional over the unsightly spectacle.

Clive said the back was the weakest part of the Beast’s design. He managed to slide the huge panels back together and said he’d fix it properly before we moved it back.

Thankfully the Beast’s depth wasn’t too wide (by an inch or two) for the doorway. But its height meant it had to be tipped to get it through.

We removed the heavy shelves. It was still a Beast, but Clive wasn’t worried – at least until I started ‘helping’ and we pushed, pulled and slid the Beast across the room. More than one exchange went something like:

Clive: OK, go sideways a little.

Me: [pushes in one direction]

Clive: Not that way!

Me: Well, I don’t know! You need to tell me.

Clive: I thought it was obvious.

Somehow we – mostly Clive – got the Beast positioned sideways in front of the door. With minimal help from me, he tipped it and took its entire weight as he manoeuvred through the bedroom door and into the living room –without a scratch.

A humongous accomplishment — Clive moves the Beast through the bedroom door

The only problem: the minute he set the Beast upright, the back fell out again, slamming down to the floor.

My face must have revealed my feelings.

‘It’s OK. I’ll fix it again temporarily for now and nail it properly before we move it back,’ my dear husband said.


It was all too much: the physical labours, the furniture falling apart and, also, the memories.

My logical mind knew we were doing what had to be done. But the day’s events also took me back to another time, when my late husband, Gary, our son and I set up the apartment. And now because of a STUPID LEAK FROM SOMEONE ELSE’S KITCHEN TAP, the ceiling and walls were damaged, the whole place was upside-down and Gary’s beautiful, careful work was about to be painted over.

I had a little cry in the bedroom, while staring at the Monster. As I dried my eyes, contemplating the tipped-up Monster and the need to put it back down, haul the mattress back into the bedroom, unfurl the pile of bedding and remake the bed, I came up with a plan: Go to a hotel. Go NOW.

Once Clive and I realised we had to move out all the bedroom furniture, not just a few pieces (see Part 2, Reluctant Realisations), we knew that when the living room became full, opening the sofa bed would be impossible. We had decided we’d go to a hotel on the last night, but we’d made good progress and now I wanted to go sooner.

For us staying at a hotel was a necessary move. We agreed we’re beyond the stage (okay, and beyond the age) of crashing on a friend’s sofa or floor. Nor did we accept Bernard’s well-intentioned offer of someone with a bed but no toilet. At this stage, we prefer the privacy, and comfort, of a hotel room.

Clive thought it was too soon to move to a hotel. But the Monster was tipped up and, perhaps because I was a bit fragile, he agreed.

I jumped on the Internet and began searching. And searching.

The hotel closest to us had nothing. Absolutely nothing remotely affordable was available within a reasonable metro ride. We were out of luck for Tuesday night. Finally I found a hotel a few metro stops away for Wednesday, and another within walking distance for Thursday.

After dinner at the apartment, we summoned what was left of our energy and put the Monster back down; at least I knew we could tip it up again without too much drama. We dragged the mattress back in, remade the bed and collapsed into it.

Not a one-day project

Having slept the sound sleep of older-people-who-moved-furniture, we awoke on the second day, downed a quick breakfast and multiple cups of coffee and repeated the sequence: pile up the bedding, push the mattress into the living room and tip the Monster on its side.

Clive lifted each end while I slipped towels underneath, so we could slide it across the floor. He had to angle the too-wide headboard a few times to get it through the door, but he knew what to do and we managed with only one or two, ‘No, not that way, the other way’ exchanges.

Eventually we got the Monster and its mattress stored behind the sofa.

The Monster and mattress in the living room

This warranted a lunch pause, so I ran out to the boulangerie/pâtisserie for baguette sandwiches and pains au chocolats. We spent the afternoon completing the jigsaw. The dresser and bedside tables fitted against the wall opposite the sofa without blocking the bedroom door; the dining table had to go in front of the dresser but we could pull it out to access the drawers. The bedroom chair squeezed between the living room chair and the bookcase.

Berthe came down for a visit and told us Bernard was still in bed, recovering from his medical procedure. She profusely praised the near-complete jigsaw and said he would have a look when he felt better.

I was impressed, too. The jigsaw looked much as Clive had envisioned it. Everything fit. The sofa – and the desk – were clear, most of the TV was visible in the corner and the wireless printer was usable on top of the dresser.

Clive said, ‘We really could have done it in a day.’ I just looked at him as if he were crazy.

By 5pm we were completely worn out. We threw essentials into our backpacks, rode the metro a few stops and stumbled to our hotel.

Clive, as always, had packed a supply of regular and decaf tea and coffee bags. The crucial question: would the room have a kettle?

Tony Carter teapot pottery, Suffolk UK

I’m pleased to say it did. We found a local restaurant for an early meal and returned to the room for a nice cup of tea.

Colour matters

In an email exchange about choosing the paint, Elodie, the contractor’s assistant, said it would be helpful if I provided references for the desired colour.

From the beginning, I always wanted colour in the apartment. Gary wasn’t sure, but we chose warm, creamy pastels – yellow for the kitchen and bathroom, blue for the entry and living room and green for the bedroom. How happy and grateful I was when, after he finished each room, he said, ‘I’m really glad you wanted colours.’

Nearly 20 years later, I still love the colours. There was no doubt in my mind I wanted the bedroom to remain its soft and peaceful vert (green) pastel. Clive lifted small pieces of paint from where it was coming off the cracks in the wall.

On the morning of our third and final full day, we rode the metro to the BHV department store and its basement hardware section – aka DIY heaven or hell, depending on who’s talking and what day of the week it is. Just trying to find a cashier can get my blood boiling as we circle endlessly like figures in an Escher painting, through and around the maze of hardware aisles. Thankfully, this particular morning it wasn’t too bad.

We found a good paint match, and celebrated with a stop in the café and, for me a short detour (from ‘sole purpose’) to the excellent stationery and book section, bien sûr.

Une bonne référence: a good reference for the desired paint colour

That afternoon, I emailed Elodie photos of the paint sample and said I’d drop hardcopies at the office, in case for any reason she was away. We took down the bedroom curtains and packaged them up for the dry cleaner’s. I filled out another insurance form for my kitchen and bathroom ceiling damage (2018 project).

Later I strolled around the quartier on a few errands. Elodie was in the office and I enjoyed seeing her. I was tickled the firm was close enough to walk. Elodie greeted me warmly, and I felt I had accomplished an important task with respect to the paint.

After an early dinner in the apartment, Clive and I walked to our second hotel in as many nights. It had rained earlier, and the cobblestones gleamed in front of our favourite café. The warm lights inside tugged at me but we were weary and it was too late for Vlad to be on duty. I regretted we hadn’t made time to stop in even once during that trip.

Cobblestones gleaming after the rain

At the hotel, the all-important question was answered when we entered the room: it *did* have a kettle.

Bon Courage!

It was still dark outside when we left the hotel Friday morning at 6:45am. Only a garbage truck and a few pedestrians scurried down the street.

We trudged along. It was so early, and so dark, and we were so tired, heads down and minds focused on the final closing-down tasks and making our way to Gare du Nord.

‘Hello!’ a man’s voice called, but it came out with a French accent and two distinct syllables: ‘Hel-lo!’

It was Vlad, hurrying to the boulangeriefor the café’s morning supply of croissants and pains au chocolat. We hadn’t noticed him in the dark; he easily could have avoided us.

He darted across the cobblestones and shook our hands. We teased him about speaking English with his greeting; he smilingly denied knowing any other English words. Clive thinks Vlad’s feelings about English may mirror Clives’s about French: he knows enough to understand and speak a little, but doesn’t want the other person to launch into a full-on conversation.

After exchanging the usual Bonjours and pleasantries ‘Ça va?’ ‘Oui, ça va, et vous?’ ‘Eh oui, ça va,’ (how are you, everyhing OK? yes, and you?), I briefly told him what was happening and that we’d be back in a couple of weeks.

Très bien,’ he said. ‘Bon courage!’ Very good, good luck. Have courage!

We walked on with a lighter step. That pre-dawn rendez-vous with Vlad made our day, if not our week. For some reason, Clive and I just kept smiling and smiling, especially when we recalled his cheerful ‘Hel-lo!’ ringing out in the darkness.

At the apartment we dropped our backpacks and had a final look at the bedroom, all but empty save for a little table and folding chair.

‘What are you going to do all day when the workers are there, other than watch the paint dry?’ various friends had asked. I think more than a few still thought we were nuts that we wanted to be there.

I had no worries at all. I envisioned long hours of ‘free’ time — sorting and cleaning the kitchen cupboards, reading and writing. Clive even bought an interesting-looking book about world history because we’d have so much down time. Or so we thought.

After a year of watching the sinistre dégâts des eaux water damage spread and finally dry out, learning about the French insurance process and paperwork, scheduling the repairs and completing the giant jigsaw, we were ready for the work to begin.

My hero, on the Eurostar to London — a well-deserved catch-up on the English news

À bientôt Paris — we’ll see you again soon.

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next to come: Part 4, The Final Seven Days (I Hope).

2 Responses

  1. That is just too perfect that Vlad sighted you in the early morning darkness.

    Oh my goodness, you were so smart to go do this as a separate trip rather than trying to do it upon jet-lagged return in one day!!! Can imagine a bit of the stress putting the jigsaw together and how it could become overwhelming.

    This is my favorite part:

    “From Gare du Nord, we hopped on a metro to the final hours of a Japanese landscape exhibit at the Musée Guimet. I claimed this cultural outing did not violate our ‘sole purpose’ agreement since we had not yet arrived at the apartment.”

    heh heh heh he

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