Sunday, October 11, 2009
The apartment is coming along quite nicely. Most of of the boxes are unpacked. When we are here we really feel as if we're in our home...The well-known negative ion effect that occurs at the seashore is tangible here. Here we are quite relaxed and sleep very well. The North Sea air is supposedly among the most heavily charged in negative ions that produce positive results.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
I hobbled around the piles of boxes looking for the bag with the clean sheets that we had packed that morning in the trunk of Jacky's car...only to discover that they were still in the trunk of Jacky's car in Dieppe! Luckily the bed did have sheets on it (if not the cleanest) and we had the old ratty conforter as a cover. After all, we were none too clean ourselves after all that moving.
The kitchen stuff not having been unpacked yet, we had to go eat at the only restaurant within reasonable walking with crutches and small dogs on leash distance: a bar, café, brasserie, pizzeria, créperie, ice cream parlor, something for everyone restaurant on the esplanade by the improbable name of Octopussy. Vaguely I looked for the James Bond theme but could not find it. When we got there around 9:45 pm it was hopping; most of the tables were occupied and people were still arriving. I had a "galette" (it's the savory version of the "crépe") with ham, egg and cheese. Jacky got a pizza. It was after 11:00 pm when we got home and we had no problem falling asleep.
The next morning, we were up early and Jacky got back to work unloading the truck and I got back to work unpacking the boxes. A box marked "Winter clothes" was one of the boxes that appeared to have been nibbled at by some rodent and the impression was confirmed when I opened it: many of the clothes had been chewed at and had holes in them. Then when I opened the box holding my leather handbags and shoes and I had another surprise...most of them were seriously mildewed...I felt like crying! But one of the worst surprises were the boxes with the family photos: the photos were seriously affected by the humidity and the boxes were crushed, with dirt and leaves inside them...what a mess!
To console myself, turned to unpacking the dishes and kitchen equipment and at least everything was there and in perfect condition, ouf!
By the end of Sunday there were still a few boxes to unload but Jacky had had enough. This time, when we showed up at Octopussy at 9:45 pm, the kitchen was starting to close and all we could get were pizzas. I was getting a little tired of eating like that...
Monday morning, Jacky got up very early, finished emptying the truck, took it back to Dieppe and came back with his car. Finally I was able to change the sheets. That, along with the kitchen stuff unpacked, made me feel we were really setting up housekeeping.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
On Thursday night August 27th August Jacky rented a van and picked up the armoire we puchased at the Puces de Vanves. He then picked up Colman and I and we drove to pick up the fridge I had found on Craigslist Paris for 100 €. I was glad that Colman was there to help us load it into the van.
On Friday morning August 28th we went to our storage space in Paris and loaded the rest of the stuff into the van. Of course it took much longer than expected since I'm still on crutches and Jacky had to do it by himself. Finally on our way, we had an appointment with the real estate agent at 11:00 am to pick up the keys and for the entry inventory. At 11:00 am we were still a good hour away and we called to say we would be late but she had other appointments and could not meet us until 1:45 pm. We had time for lunch and at 1:30 sharp we were parked in front on the building waiting for her. She arrived on time and while Jacques began unloading items she walked me through the inventory and explained to me that the electricity would be redone to norm, the broken shutters would be repaired and a new shower stall would be installed.
Meanwhile, I was suspiciously eyeing all of the boxes marked "DVD" that Jacky was bringing in...
All of the small stuff having been brought up, the fun began. The armoire, while large and bulky, was not particularly heavy and Jacky and I managed to bring it up the steps, me sitting and holding in place, him pushing up. But the fridge was another story. No matter what, a regular size fridge needs two strong and healthy persons to bring it up some narrow winding stairs, even up only one story. So after much trying, groaning and effort (and seriously denting the front of the fridge), we had to leave it in the entry hallway with a small sign saying we would remove it the day after (when Colman agreed to come and give us a hand). It was getting very close to the time we absolutely had to leave to return the van on time.
We drove back to Paris at breakneck still-keeping-to-the-limit speed (not easy with a tall van on a windy day) and had to call the van rental agency because we did not think we would make it in time. We arrived a couple of minutes before they closed, returned the van and made our way back home by metro and bus, with crutches and dogs.
Saturday morning Jacky got me up early and not-so bright and drove me to Colman's house where I would accompany him to Mers-les-Bains while Jacky drove to Dieppe to pick up a truck and the rest of the stuff from the second storage space. The plan to rendez-vous at Beauvais having been dropped since Jacky was afraid Colman would not find us. Arriving at Colman's house at about 6:00 am, Colman let me in, went back to bed and I crashed on his couch. We both got a couple of hours more sleep and left around 9:30 am for the drive to Mers.
Meanwhile, Jacky had picked up the truck and was loading it with the aid of the persons at the other storage space...more to come on this one.
We managed to both arrive in front of the apartment at about exactly the same time and after a quick tour decided that we would have lunch first and then begin to unload. We went to Mon P'tit Bar where Colman ordered steak and Jacky and I sole, as usual. Afterwards, when we returned to the apartment the fun began. The refrigerator went up the steps without excessive struggling now that there were had two strong men to do it.
Then Jacky and Colman attempted to turn on the water and kept making trips to the basement and turning valves but nothing was happening. It was getting critical as we had no water for the toilet. Finally we had to ask the real estate agent to come by and show us...it was all too simple: they had been turning on the gas instead of the water! Ouuf!
As the boxes were unloaded from the truck, I began to notice that they were in pitiful shape, dilapidated, torn, crushed, mildewed, dusty, dirty and even...nibbled at by some rodent! I began to fear the worst...
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
We have "stuff" in two different storage spaces: a small one in Paris and a big one in Dieppe in Normandy. Thus, we will have to rent a van for the Paris stuff and a moving truck for the Dieppe stuff. Jacky's original plan was to rent a moving truck, pick up the stuff in Paris and then swing by Dieppe and pick up the stuff there. That idea was quashed when he discovered that the kilometers for a big moving truck (not to mention the gas) were more expensive than for a van. So Friday he will take the stuff from Paris to Mers and on Saturday he will take the stuff from Dieppe to Mers.
Saturday also, Colman will be available to help with the moving...something I cannot do while walking on crutches. But he doesn't want to drive in to Paris from Pont-Sainte-Maxence so the rendez vous point is going to be Beauvais.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Last Friday I received the official verdict: I indeed have a stress fracture of the third metatarsal (not the fifth, as the doctor originally thought). Sunday August 9th, on the third day of power walking in the Buttes Chaumont, I developed excruciating pain in the foot whenenver I put my weight on it. Spend the rest of the day in bed with the foot elevated and ice packs on it. Monday I still could not walk so I hobbled to the doctor who told me to stay home from work for a week, massage the foot with anti-inflammatory gel, wrap it in an elastic bandage and use crutches to get around...no weight bearing.
A week later the rest had done some good, the pain was still there but no longer excruciating. The x-rays did not show anything but then, stress fractures are not often visible on regular x-rays. Monday August 17th I returned to the doctor and said that I was going back to work, on crutched, if necessary. He prescribed a bone scintigraphy (scan) which is more effective in revealing stress fractures. All last week I went to the office with crutches. Friday morning August 21st Jacky accompanied me to the Lariboisière hospital next to the Gare du Nord, an elegant mid-19th century structure fitted out with all the latest modern equipment.
After initial x-rays I received an injection of some kind of radioactive product and was told to return in two and a half, three hours, so I went for coffee, read, visited the hospital gardens and spent some time in the hospital chapel, an elegant 19th interpretation of the Baroque. Upon my return, scans were taken and I almost fell asleep listening to the hum of the scanner. Finally the doctor came out and showed me the scans: positive for stress fracture of the third metatarsal. The results will be sent to my treating physician. However, I called right away to find out if there is anything I should do other than what I am already doing and he said no. So now I'm stuck on crutches for another month or so.
Friday, August 14, 2009
The apartment buildings along the avenue Simon Bolivar and the rue Manin encircle and conceal the the houses atop the Butte Bergèyre in the manner of walls around a medieval enclave. Only one street gives vehicles acces to the top the Butte. Otherwise, three steep stairways niched between the buildings provide acces to pedestrians. One of these, the one at the end of the rue Barrelet de Ricou, was immortalized by Willy Ronis in 1950.
The hillyness of this neigborhood is illustrated by the stairway that continues going down on the other side of the avenue Simon Bolivar. Sixty years later the traffic light is still there but speeding cars and motor scooters have replaced horse drawn wagons.
On a more mundane note, this is the same crosswalk where a run-away scooter hit me in a freak accident on a rainy day: the driver tried to stop, lost control and the scooter kept going...right into me. The recent photo of the stairs on the right emphasizes its length and steepness. Visible under the apartment window are the louvers of the "garde-manger".
The website of the residents' association of the Butte Bergèyre features a photo of Josephine Baker, whose infamous dance wearing little more than a skirt of bananas had made her a star of the Folies Bergère, at the ribbon cutting ceremony celebrating the inauguration of the housing develoment.
Like the apartments buildings around it, the smaller constructions on the Butte were built in the late 1920's and the 1930's in the latest architectural styles. Many are single family townhouses with garages and small gardens.
One house, the "Maison Zilvelli", unlike the larger and better known Villa Noailles, is a small, little-known jewel of the Modernist architectural mouvement in France.
The house was designed in 1934 by Jean Welz, an Austrian architect who came to Paris for the 1925 Exposition des Arts Décoratifs. Welz stayed in France to collaborate briefly with Le Corbusier, Robert Mallet-Stevens and Adolphe Loos before working on a more regular basis with Raymond Fischer from 1927 to 1935. Beginning in 1933, he worked on some individual projects, only two of which are known to have been built. The Maison Zilvelli on the Butte Bergèyre is one of them.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Although his family was solidly middle class (after all his father was an engineer and made a good living), his stingy housewife mother of Auvergnat descent refused to move to a nicer, (i.e., more expensive) neighborhood. He fondly recalls the narrow cobblestone streets, the steep stairs, the dilapidated buildings, the neighborhood cinemas, cafés and shops and most of all, the hilly, weed covered vacant lot where the film's climax takes place: it was his playground as well as that of the gamins shown in the film.
He recalls less fondly his mother's centime pinching ways: the tiny family apartment of 31 square meters (or 333.68 square feet) for a family of four. His mother's adamant refusal to buy a television set, his father who designed vehicles but would not drive a car, the fold-out bed in a corner of the living-dining room on which he slept until he left for the army at age 19 and having to bathe either in a zinc tub in the family kitchen or at the public bain-douches.
In 1989 when we were in Paris for the bicentennial of the French Revolution, Jacky's niggardly mother would not allow us to stay in their apartment (even though she and his sister were out of town). The best she could do for us was to allow us to stay in a vacant apartment in the building to which she held the keys. The apartment was, indeed, completely vacant, so we slept on inflatable mattresses on the floor and only ate take out food with plastic utensils, having no means to cook. But we had hot water, electricity, a roof over our heads and no Paris hotel expenses.
It was in that apartment that I discovered what Jacky referred to as the "frigo parisien" (aka "garde-manger") in the kitchen cum bathroom (i.e., a shower stall set up in one corner of the kitchen, the toilet was in a separate closet-like room by the entry).
A common feature of parisian apartments starting the end of the 19th century, the "garde-manger" (aka pantry) or "frigo parisien" is commonly found under the kitchen windows. It is a cabinet with louvers and screening used to store food. When we first visited the Paris apartment we bought, one of the first items that caught my attention was the under the window kitchen pantry. It was, in my mind, a definite exotic plus.
But this cabinet's interior had been panelled, the screening and louvers blocked, the doors and locks covered with layers and layers of paint. I knew I had my work cut out for me. As soon as we bought the apartment, one of the first things I did was to strip the paint from the doors and the locks.
Then, I tore out all of the panelling and the rusty screening and replaced it with new, clean plastic screening, stapled into place.
Eh, voila, my finished "frigo parisien"!
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Our apartment in Paris is located in a group of buildings that were built starting in the late 1920's, early 1930's along the avenue Simon Bolivar and the rue Manin near the Buttes Chaumont. Unfortunately, unlike many buildings in Paris that have the date on which they were built and the name of the architect on the facade, these buildings do not. So far my research on the internet has yet to turn up either an exact date or the name of an architect (or architects).
The buildings encircle a small butte known as the Butte Bergèyre, one of the least known (and, in my opinion, one of the most charming) in Paris. In the plan above, the Butte Bergèyre is indicated in yellow and the Buttes Chaumont park in green. The avenue Simon Bolivar is the curve at the bottom of the yellow triangle and the rue Manin is the curve between the yellow triangle and the green of the Buttes Chaumont.
The Buttes Chaumont was built in the 1860's on a wasteland of former stone and lime quarries in what was then the outskirts of Paris. The Butte Bergèyre was not incorporated into the park but was the site of an amusent park known as "Les Folles Buttes". In 1918, just after World War I, a soccer and rugby stadium with a capacity of 15,000 spectators was built there. In 1920 it hosted the finale of the soccer world cup and in 1924 several olympic soccer matches took place in the stadium.
This did not prevent the stadium from being demolished in 1926 to make way for a housing development. The growing population of Paris needed housing and the stadium and the lots around it were sold to real estate developpers Charles Pelissier and Emile Stern in order to build the "Lotissement du Stade des Buttes Chaumont" (aka "Buttes Chaumont Stadium Housing Project").
This housing project consisted of a series of Art Deco apartment buildings located at 50, 54, 56, 58, 60 and 62 avenue Simon Bolivar
and 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17 and 21 rue Manin.
The buildings along the rue Manin have a view of the park. Some of these also feature carved bas-reliefs of stylized flowers in the Art Deco style. The buildings along the avenue Simon Bolivar are plainer in design.
A document dated 1st December 1950 gives some interesting details about the origin of the property and how the various lots were acquired by Pelissier and Stern in order to build the apartment buildings. One of the more interesting details in the document is that the developers received permission from the city of Paris to build the inner courtyards of their apartment buildings smaller than was normally allowed because the apartment buildings, being built against the slope of the Butte Bergèyre, would have courtyards open to the top of the butte on the side of the slope, allowing for more light and air than a totally enclosed courtyard. The document gives in great detail the measurement of each building's courtyard.
These photos, taken from the street along the back of the buildings atop the Butte Bergèyre show the rather successful results, in particular because none of the buildings on top of the butte itself block the light since none are more than two or three stories tall. The unstable nature of the soil of the butte, a by-product of the quarrying activities that took place on the site, does not allow for taller buildings.
The 1950 document gives the dates of the documents signed between the city and the developpers for this project and these are between late December 1928 and early January 1929. Since construction probably did not start until spring this provides a fairly reliable terminus post quem for the group of buildings. The terminus ante quem is a little more difficult to determine but the first condominium regulations for the property date from 1938, however, it is not clear whether the apartments were originally rentals or condominiums from the start.
Sunday, August 9, 2009
The real estate agent wanted to show us an apartment but she did not have the keys. She called her colleague but there was no answer. In the meantime, she said, she could show us a house for rent.
The rather small house, towards the center of town, was on three levels. A living-dining-kitchen area on the ground level with window onto the street and a small storage area behind. On the second floor, a bedroom and bathroom, rather light and on the third floor, under the eaves, a second small bedroom with skylight windows.
The house had recently been renovated. The windows were new, the walls painted white. But the living room was dark and too close to the street to comfortably have the window open and the tiny corner kitchen did not inspire me to be able to cook with confidence. We were not impressed.
The real estate agent suggested that we see the apartment and again tried calling her colleague. Again, there was no answer. She suggested we come back in an hour or so.
In the meantime, we went to the other real estate agency next door (literally next door) because I had spotted an interesting item in their window: it looked exactly like a house we had seen three years ago and I had really liked. When we went in to ask about it we were told that it was, in fact, the twin of the townhouse we had seen three years ago
But it was the smaller, uglier twin that we saw that Saturday. The ceramic tile of the kitchen floor was cracked and buckling, the rooms badly laid out and the price was much too high.
We returned to the agency and she still did not have the keys...so we went back to the other agency, to visit yet another house for sale at Le Tréport this time. This house, high above Le Tréport, was built out of local stone and had a view of the sea from its terrace, two bedrooms, a garage, and an attic for storage.
Had we been really looking for a house to buy rather than an apartment to rent, it would be a possibility as the parquet floors were decent. However, as is the case with too houses and apartments in France, the walls were covered with really ugly wallpaper. Ugly wallpaper is the bane of my existence in France.
We thanked the agent politely and returned to the first agency where she happily told us that she had managed to get hold of the owner of the apartment and that she had brought her the keys. We got into her car and drove towards the Mers-Le Tréport train station. She pulled up just beyond Le Château des Cycles and walked across the street to the Villa Parisienne.
She entered the building and greeted the gardien who was putting up wood panelling in the entry. We walked up the stairs to the second floor (aka first floor in France) and she opened the door...
Archaeological excavations have revealed that four centuries before the present era, Greek sailors from Massalia (Marseilles) set up a trading post in the area. Although the medieval portions of Hyères date primarily to the late 15th, early 16th centuries, Hyères was the site where in 1254 Saint Louis and his retinue landed on their return from one of the crusades.
The vestiges of the chateau visible today high on the hills above the town date from the 13th to the 15th centuries. These vestiges share the landscape with one of the most important constructions of the Modernist architectural mouvement in France: Villa Noailles.
In February 1923, Charles vicomte de Noailles maries Marie-Laure Bischoffsheim, a wealthy banking heiress. In December of that year they begin consulting with architects in order to build "a little house, interesting to live in, to take advantage of the sun" in the hills above Hyères. They consult such architects as Mies Van der Rohe and Le Corbusier and finally settle on Robert Mallet-Stevens, architect and designer, who was up to then primarily known for his film decors and furniture designs.
In 1924 construction on the villa began under the supervision of local architect Léon David. The same year, Mallet-Stevens designed the avant-garde sets of "L'Inhumaine" by Marcel L'Herbier. Marie-Laure de Noailles and her husband Charles were important patrons of the arts and, in particular, of the Surrealists. Beneficiaires of her patronage included Salvador Dali, Man Ray, Jean Cocteau, Balthus and Luis Buñuel.
Following the influential Exposition des Arts Décoratifs in Paris in 1925, Mallet-Stevens carefully chose the decorators for the interiors of the villa. Georges Djo-Bourgeois designed the furniture for the dining room, some of which was incorporated into the architecture... and to think that the inhabitants of Lascours had to wait until 1955 to have running water in their houses!
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Our first stop (not counting the awful breakfast on the autoroute) was for lunch at Chez Thomé at Le Tholonet, just outside of Aix-en-Provence. Chez Thomé was at Le Tholonet when MFK Fisher lived there with her daughters in the 1950's. It was there about 12 years ago when we first visited and had lunch there and it's still there today.
The whole family is welcome at Chez Thomé and my grilled daurade with fennel was fresh and excellent.
After lunch we continued our drive to the coast and Bandol.
We checked into our hotel facing the municipal beach, right across from the Casino. Since no dogs are allowed on the sand part of the beach, we set up on the grassy part, under the trees, and enjoyed the shade, only venturing out for a dip in the Mediterrenean.
Monday, August 3, 2009
The first appointment was at a real estate agency just around the corner in Le Tréport. At 10:00 am we headed to the agency. The real estate agent's name is "Gallet" a name which Jacky always found rather appropriate considering Le Tréport's pebble ("galet") beaches. We waited a few minutes in the storefront agency, long enough to check out the "For Sale" offerings and decided that while we were there, if there was anything interesting for sale we would also take a look at it.
The first apartment we visited was less than a block from the agency, located in a complex built in the 1960's. As we walked in, I saw Jacky wince. It was sunny, bright, boxy and had no soul but very ugly wallpaper and carpeting. Scratch that one.
The second apartment we visited was towards the center of town, a 5th floor walkup, under the eaves and practically all of the walls sloped down, significantly reducing the livable space. Plus, the owner, a crotchety old woman, took one look at our dogs and expressed her distaste. That's ok, we don't want your stupid apartment anyway.
Sunday, August 2, 2009
These villas are good examples of the Art Nouveau style popular at the turn of the 20th century in resort towns along the Normandy and Picardie coast and the brick construction popular in the north of France.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Although Le Tréport and Eu can both claim origins in the Middle Ages, most of the buildings which make up the historic district date of Mers date from the last quarter of the 19th century and the early 20th century. Villa Parisienne and Villa Française are from this period.