Painting (and Patisseries) in Paris, Part 4: The Final Seven Days (I Hope)

On the bus from Orly airport – this trip’s only view of the Eiffel Tower


On this trip, we arrived in Paris mid-morning on a Monday, directly from visiting my mother in New Jersey. The envelope of Felixstowe screws tucked in my shoulder bag had not set off security alarms in the UK, USA or France.

While in the US, I had exchanged emails with Elodie, the contractor’s assistant, confirming work on my bedroom repairs would begin at 8am the day after we arrived.

Sinistre dégâts des eaux (sinister water damage)

Clive and I were, as always, jet-lagged from the US-to-Europe time change. I was deeply happy we’d completed Clive’s giant jigsaw a couple of weeks before.

Our friend Bernard left his usual welcome note on my kitchen counter. That afternoon, we somehow managed to stay awake. We moved the remaining small pieces out of the bedroom and made our usual jaunts to the market and Monoprix. Our purchases included ingredients (except parsnips, because our parsnip man is closed on Monday) for Clive’s famous vegetable beef stew.

After stopping by Otilia, our helpful concierge, to keep her updated on our plans, I hit the jet lag wall and we checked into a nearby hotel.

All was well until we settled into our room to find – or to search for and NOT find – a kettle. Oh la la. We really didn’t want to carry a kettle back and forth from the apartment every day.

I stumbled back down to reception and asked if we could borrow one. The young Frenchman on duty disappeared into the kitchen and returned with a kettle set out on a tray containing a small selection of tea and coffee (though we had Clive’s ample supply), a bowl of wrapped sugar cubes, teaspoons and two glass mugs. ‘Merci, monsieur!’ I said. ‘Merci beaucoup!’

Tony Carter teapot pottery, Suffolk UK

The days that followed took on a pattern of overseeing the repair and painting from early morning to mid-afternoon, then going out on errands or for a walk. For some reason, on this trip we seemed to pass more pâtisseries than ever, whether lèche-vitrine (perfect French expression for window-shopping, literally ‘licking the window’) or buying.

DAY 1 (Tuesday) – Prepping and painful cracks

After wake-up cups of tea in bed, I believe Clive’s last words as we left the hotel were, ‘I hope Housekeeping leaves the kettle in the room.’ We had strategically placed it on my bedside table, instead of the desk, in an attempt to signify it was a Very Important Item.

At 8am, an older man, Middle Boss, arrived at the apartment with a Young Guy and their equipment – buckets, a ladder, plastic sheeting and cans of sealer. Before Middle Boss left, he told us Young Guy would take only a few hours prepping the room that day.

Young Guy spread the plastic sheeting over the bedroom floor and mantle and made a path through the furniture-filled living room to the front door. He stuck a scraper into the cracks in the bedroom wall; it pained me to see them becoming even worse. I began taking photos and emailing a few to my son and our friends in Felixstowe. 

One of several long cracks it hurt me to look at

I kept asking Clive: is everything going okay? He said it was. He waited until Young Guy really got going, then disappeared into the kitchen and made his delicious stew. Bernard and Berthe stopped by, too; everyone was pleased the work was finally happening.

Bank fail – comme d’hab, c’est Paris!

Late that afternoon, I wanted to cash a check. We waited on the long, slow line for the teller and when it finally became my turn, he told me I’d have to come back the next day. They had no cash. (The conversation was actually much longer, all in French of course, about their system and the cash machine and how something had broken earlier that day.)

I was philosophical about our unsuccessful quest; as with sinistre dégâts des eaux (sinister water damage), when it comes to les banques (banks), everyone in Paris has a story, or two or three.

Clive was distinctly unimpressed, especially since we’d trekked up to a main branch because the smaller, closer branch recently ‘stopped having money’ and now only does loans. As we walked back down the street Clive kept shaking his head and saying, ‘A bank with no money is like a fish and chip shop with no chips.’

All I could do was give my best Gallic shrug and say, ‘Comme d’habitude, c’est Paris!’ As usual, it happens, it’s Paris!

An autumn window display at a nearby chocolatier drew us into the shop, which somewhat countered the bank drama. We had a nice browse, then settled on a few treats for ourselves and a gift package for our wonderful friends who collect our post and keep an eye on our home in Felixstowe.

Autumn leaves and artistry in chocolate, Paris

After a nourishing dinner of Clive’s stew accompanied by a few slices of baguette, we headed back to our hotel room. The only question on our minds seemed to be: Will the kettle still be there?

It was, and on the desk were two sparkling clean mugs.

Day 2 (Wednesday) – Plaster smooth as glass

Middle Boss arrived with Jean, an older worker. They hauled in bags of Prestonett, rolls of fibreglass netting and other supplies. Clive jumped on the Internet, found the product description and said it looked exactly right.

Jean got to work, putting on multiple coats of plaster.

As for my envisioned ‘hours free to clean or read and write’, I spent much of that day (and every other day) jumping up and down, getting coffee or a can of Coke for Jean, taking photos and emailing them to my son and our friends, doing my own emails and paperwork and that afternoon, pulling out a space heater at Jean’s request to hasten the plaster-drying process.

Working on the most-damaged area

We could see Jean was working hard, but still I checked regularly with Clive about what he was doing. Clive said ‘he’s good’ and ‘he knows what he’s doing,’ much to my happiness and relief. Though Clive says he doesn’t know much French, when it comes to DIY projects (not to mention technology matters), he communicates way better than I do. He understood most if not all of Jean’s comments and gestures and from what I observed, they communicated very well (in two different languages) with each other.

The plaster was so smooth; after it dried it felt like glass. It was exciting to think painting would begin the next morning.

Day 3 (Thursday) – Ceiling and mouldings and trim, oh my

Jean arrived on his own and spent hour upon hour painting first the ceiling, then the mouldings, the mirror trim, the baseboards (aka skirting boards or plinthes), the window and the door. We admired his work and he seemed to appreciate our interest.

What a joy it was, to see the restored corner where the sinistre dégâts des eaux had caused the most damage.

Repaired ceiling corner and moulding

On our afternoon walkabout, we paused outside the window of a Merveilleux de Fred shop, where you can watch pastry-makers form their airy concoctions of meringue, cream and shaved chocolate toppings. Just looking at these ethereal creations makes my teeth hurt.

Aux Merveilleux de Fred, Paris

 Day 4 (Friday) – Colour!

Jean showed me the vert pastel (pastel green) paint and asked for approval before he got to work. (‘Smart lad,’ Clive said.) I loved the colour, a close match to the original.

Vert pastel, ready to go on the walls

That afternoon, Big Boss paid a visit with Bernard. I wasn’t expecting them but was pleased Big Boss stopped by. He looked the bedroom over from floor to ceiling, chatted with Jean and asked me if I was satisfied. Yes, I said, very satisfied.

Jean worked hard, as he had done each day, and finished by mid-afternoon. I loved the way the vert pastel looked on the walls. He said he would return Saturday morning for the final clean-up. When he left, he told us to leave the window open so it could fully dry, as it had a different kind of paint on it.

Vert pastel on the walls

Clive and I were delighted the job was basically complete on Friday afternoon. We felt our strategy of being there had been worthwhile; the workers may have followed their own pace regardless, but we were pleased at how steadily they worked each day. Or maybe they just wanted to get away from us as soon as possible.

That afternoon, floating on cloud nine, we took a long walk, talking about how we’d start moving furniture back into the bedroom as soon as Jean left on Saturday. We’d have Sunday and Monday free to relax and enjoy Paris.

And, as you do in Paris, we couldn’t avoid passing a few pâtisseries.

Sadaharu Aoki bamboo pastry – not my favourite taste but one of my all-time favourites to look at

Day 5 (Saturday) – Just when we thought everything was okay

Jean arrived in the morning, as he said he would. He carted his ladder, buckets, bags and brooms to the courtyard, removed all the plastic Young Guy had taped down on the first day, and gave the room a final sweep.

The finished bedroom thrilled me: the fresh white ceiling and trim, the soft vert pastel (pastel green) walls and the contrast with the parquet floorboards. I thanked Jean once again for his work.

The pile of equipment he left in the courtyard wasn’t ideal for my neighbours, but he did a fairly neat job and I’d let Otilia, the concierge, know it would be only for a short while. Jean told us someone was coming with a truck before noon.

Mid-morning I went out on a few errands. The window display at Aux Merveilleux de Fred featured freshly-made meringues of, among others, white chocolate, pistachio and Speculoos (a favourite word and tasty, mildly-spiced Belgian biscuit).

Still on cloud nine about the bedroom, I ducked inside and purchased a few to celebrate. We wondered how something that weighs nothing and feels like eating a little cloud puff can taste so good.

Saturday morning at Aux Merveilleux de Fred

Noon came and went. Despite the pick-up guys being late, and my concern about the pile in the courtyard, I still thought all was well.

We were eager to start moving furniture back to the bedroom, and we also had our eye on the clock, looking forward to dinner with my dear belle-fille’s (daughter-in-law’s) parents, who had recently arrived in Paris.

In preparation for moving the Monster bed back into the room, Clive decided to close the window (still open from the night before), to give us more space.

Un petit problème – we have a problem

The window would not close.

He tried several times, and was careful not to force it. It simply would not close. There was just too much paint, especially in the curved indentation where the two tall panels meet.

While Clive was examining the window, I spotted Bernard and our neighbour, Marc, chatting in the courtyard. I hurried down to join them.

This was the first time I’d seen Marc on this trip (and heard his lovely French-accented ‘Hi Carolyn’). As much as I was dying to blurt out, ‘THE WINDOW WON’T CLOSE!’ it wasn’t a life-and-death situation, so French courtesy – which I love and admire – required that we first exchange polite greetings.

We progressed through the necessary Bonjours and Ca va? and Oui, ca va bien, et vous? Oui, ca va, onto how long Clive and I were in Paris and other pleasantries. Berthe happened to come through the courtyard with her wheeled shopping trolley; she and Bernard chimed in with their comments. I apologised to all for the pile of equipment and told them the guys were two hours late picking it up. Then, finally, I pointed up and said we had a petit problème: ‘The window won’t close!’ Bernard, Berthe and Marc all looked up, too.

Clive in the balcony

Clive, who had been watching from the first-floor window, took his cue and gave a most excellent demonstration to the four of us below. He opened and closed the window (of course not all the way), then stood in the open window behind the wrought-iron balcony with his palms up, lifting his shoulders in a perfect Gallic shrug and shaking his head, as if to say, ‘Non, la fenêtre ne se ferme pas.’ No, the window will not close.

A flurry of French erupted around me. Bless Bernard. He jumped into action (with his new hip and walking cane), went up to his apartment and returned with a large sign, which he tied with string to the workers’ ladder. It wouldn’t blow away and they couldn’t miss seeing it. He instructed me to let him know as soon as they arrived, so he could come down and talk with them.

Clive and I resumed waiting, rather tensely since now one of us had to keep a lookout on the courtyard every minute.

Face to face

Ninety minutes later, at 4pm, two men showed up. One was new to us, Aggressive Guy; the other was Young Guy, who prepped the bedroom on the first day.

Clive called down to them, repeating his gestures. I duly raced up two flights to tell Bernard and a few minutes later, we all faced each other in the bedroom.

As Bernard admonished them in rapid-fire French, Aggressive Guy tried unsuccessfully to close the window. He then made the mistake of trying to lecture Bernard (and us) about 100 year-old windows.

Bernard would have none of it. He waved his cane around and correctly reminded them the window had closed just fine before the work began.

Aggressive Guy really wanted that window to close. His superior, bullying attitude offended and disheartened me (and offered proof all Parisians are not perfect); he seemed the kind of person who is used to intimidating others.

Still, I almost, but not quite, felt empathy for him. No doubt he thought he had a five-minute job (but he was more than four hours late) to pick up equipment in someone’s courtyard, but instead found himself confronted by Bernard, me, Clive and a window that wouldn’t close. Young Guy never said a word. Perhaps he was intimidated by Aggressive Guy. Bernard was not.

After more exchanges of rapid-fire French and more failed attempts, Aggressive Guy admitted the window needed work. He wasn’t happy. Bernard wasn’t happy. Clive and I weren’t happy. I kept interjecting with, ‘lundi matin, lundi matin,’ (Monday morning), conscious we had Eurostar tickets for early Tuesday and an important appointment to get back for.

FInally, Aggressive Guy said, ‘OK, lundi matin.’ Bernard informed them he would walk to the building firm when they opened at 8am Monday and let Big Boss know the job was not finished properly.

Evening à Paris

Everyone left and the courtyard was once again clear. We hadn’t moved any furniture back into the bedroom, but we did have a wonderful evening with my belle-fille’s parents. It was such a treat to see them that night and we enjoyed a wonderful, leisurely meal together.

Later, Clive and I strolled back to the metro at Hôtel de Ville, Paris’s city hall.

Saturday night at Hôtel de Ville, Paris city hall and metro entrance

Day 6 (Sunday) – An unplanned expedition

After attending a morning church service, we walked back past several boulangerie/pâtisseries decked out in their Sunday finest, in anticipation of families and friends shopping for the midday meal.

Sunday best at the patisserie

Having lost so much time on Saturday, we reluctantly ditched our plan to enjoy a leisurely Sunday afternoon outing and decided to move at least the Monster bed and the Beast armoire back into the bedroom – despite the window not yet being fixed.

The first step was to move the Monster from the living room to the bedroom, keeping it on its side. This cleared space in the living room so we could push the sofa back to the wall and move the Beast.

With the Monster out of the way, we pushed and pulled the Beast into the centre of the room. As promised on the day I had the meltdown (see Part 3, A Giant Jigsaw), Clive strengthened the back of the Beast, fixing the panels into place with small screws. It’s never been more sturdy.

Clive once again moving the Beast; this time the back stayed on

Once the Beast was back in place in the bedroom, we tipped the Monster bed down and Clive untied the slats.

He screwed one of the Felixstowe screws into the metal ‘X’ frame; it fit, but he said it was too long and the pointy tip could slice someone’s hand if they reached under the bed. Then the ominous words: ‘We might need a trip to BHV.’ A quick Internet search told us the store was open Sunday until 7pm.

As much as I love BHV, facing the basement hardware section on a weekend afternoon was the very last thing we wanted to do. After much back and forth and asking each other, ‘Do we have to?’ we agreed it was best just to go and get it over with.

So we wearily took the metro to Hôtel de Ville (where we’d been less than 24 hours before). From that station, you can conveniently proceed directly into the BHV basement. It was, as expected, a madhouse.

Despite the hordes, Clive radared directly through the melee to the wall of a million small parts and immediately zoomed in on what was needed. Then he radared us fairly painlessly to a cashier.

Amid zillions of choices Clive instantly zooms in on the necessary item

Expedition successful and back in the apartment, Clive fixed the Monster one hundred per cent. Repaired and strengthened by a master, both the Monster and the Beast had a new lease of life. I covered the Monster with plastic sheeting, in anticipation of the window-sanding that would be done the next day.

Day 7 (Monday) – What a mess

Once again, we waited. And waited.

In an early-morning email exchange with Elodie, she confirmed the guys would return ‘early afternoon’ to fix the window. She also said Bernard, true to his word, had already appeared in person to discuss the problem with her and Big Boss.

Early afternoon came and went. Aggressive Guy and Young Guy finally showed up at 2:45pm. (‘lundi matin’ meant about as much to Aggressive Guy as ‘before noon on Saturday’.) They carried sanders and scrapers and got straight to work. With our focus on the window, it didn’t register immediately that they failed to spread plastic sheeting on the floor.

As previously agreed or, more accurately instructed, I ran upstairs and told Bernard they had arrived. He hastened down to my place and began another round of animated discussion as Aggressive Guy was sanding. I couldn’t follow all the details of their exchange, but it was around this time I realised they hadn’t put plastic on the floor. It didn’t seem wise to interrupt and there was only a little dust at that point.

The sanding continued. I’m still furious with myself for being too focused on the window and/or too wimpy to insist they put down plastic. Of course they should have, and definitely one of us should have insisted, from the minute Aggressive Guy started sanding and clouds of dust began billowing onto the floor. At least I had covered the Monster with plastic.

After more sanding, and more dust, the window closed to Clive’s satisfaction – but he had to push hard. I’m still concerned about whether I’ll be able to do it next time; we’ll find out soon enough. Bernard also watched and confirmed the window would close, albeit with extra strength required.

With an ‘OK’ from Clive (and Bernard), the guys offered to clean up but we declined. I just wanted them to leave. I felt like weeping when I surveyed the layers of dust on the floor, mainly in front of the window, but still.

Clive and I swept and vacuumed and finally I spent a good deal of time polishing every inch of the floor (except under the Beast armoire) on my hands and knees. One knee is still sore, which feels like my body is punishing me for not insisting about the plastic.

WIth the floor once again gleaming, we pushed and slid and carried the rest of the furniture back into the room: the Monster’s mattress, the dresser, bedside tables, lamps and chair all returned to their rightful positions. I made up the bed so it would be fresh and ready for next time. We did most of the closing-down tasks and ate cereal for dinner at 9pm, before dragging ourselves back to the hotel.

Gratitude

A friend asked why we didn’t sleep at the apartment on that last night. I’m not exactly sure, but I think it was something about leaving the apartment clean and pristine for next time. The hotel was already booked, we had an early Eurostar and we’d only have to pop back briefly in the morning.

So, on the last morning of October, we did the final closing-down tasks. I lingered in the bedroom for a few minutes by myself, soaking it up and thinking of all the people who helped me get to that point. I was and am especially thankful for Bernard and Berthe’s treasured friendship and Clive’s heroic help every step of the way. I felt Gary’s presence with me, too. I took a few final photos, sending up a prayer of gratitude and another that when we return, the window will open and close.

Before turning off the light, I kissed the walls of my Paris home. We made our way to Gare du Nord and rode the Eurostar back to England.

Arrival at St Pancras station, London

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next to come (a shorter, I promise, final post of this series): Part 5, Reflections on a Deeper Meaning of painting and pâttisseries (including why I don’t actually like eating most of the sweet treats) in Paris.

2 Responses

  1. Loved reading this, Carolyn😊. I felt I was back in Europe – thank you!

    • Merci beaucoup, Laura! Appreciate your comment and sending you and Brian all best wishes for a happy Christmas and New Year.

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