Sunday, September 17, 2006

chez nous

What, exactly, is the first order of business upon arriving in a new place to live? Probably to make some contacts. Because while it seems the first thing to do is find a place to live and move in, knowing people will make those tasks much easier. I’ll get to that.

Indisputably, Dr. Hubbard has been the greatest boon for us here. He’s willing to try just about anything; he follows his nose, and his nose leads him well. We learned of the apartment we’re moving into via a remarkably expensive service that gathers and dispenses information about apartments to rent. It’s something like a highly specialized classified ads section. Some other folk from around here advised against signing up for the service, after we had done so, saying that the information is often misleading or out-of-date, so we count ourselves lucky to have settled on such a marvelous spot out of that investment. It’s still not clear we should have paid as much as we did, but we’ll make up for it in the quality and affordability of our new place. Dr. Hubbard liked the place almost immediately; he quickly developed a rapport with the owner. I was hesitant for a while, mainly because we hadn’t seen any other options. After some reflection and speaking with other property owners, it became clear that it was nearly impossible for a better option to appear.

I’ll describe a bit here about the apartment and where it sits in town. In a later entry I’ll talk more about what the neighborhood’s like. We’re just a few minutes’ walk from the Hubbards’ apartment, which means we’re in the centre-ville, close to a fresh foods market (even better than the Ithaca farmers’ market, in some ways, because it’s every day, the prices are lower than in the supermarket, and almost everyone goes there—these people really care about making food well), the Vieux Port, St. Charles (one of the schools with activities we’ll be attending, such as the Friday seminar on Teichmüller theory), and the operahouse. There’s a newly constructed library nearby, which we haven’t yet had the opportunity to explore. Just up the street from us is the Place des Capucines, from which one can see the façade of the Eglise des Réformés (which, despite its name, is a Catholic church, and a beautiful one at that; we marvelled at the rose window lit from inside this evening as we walked between the apartments).

[Tangential note: I just noticed I can see Notre Dame de la Garde from the Hubbards’ window. It’s atop a hill, from which one can see all of Marseille. We visited there last summer. It’s quite impressive, with a golden statue of Mary placed in watchful benediction on a high tower.]

We have two bedrooms, a large living room with a very high ceiling (for now, while it’s empty, it’s certainly one of those places a chamber choir would love to practice for the acoustics), a bathroom, and a kitchen. All of these were completely empty we we signed the contract for the apartment. And I mean more empty than one might expect, coming from the U.S. The standard in France (or perhaps not quite the standard, but it’s certainly common) is for the kitchen to be unequipped with refrigerator, stove, or oven. Much less were there beds, tables, or any other furniture of the sort. This is where the contacts come in: one of the other professors at the university had some furniture she could donate, and knew that several of her neighbors also had items they were ready to rid themselves of. Just this evening, we picked up a fridge, a sofa, three chairs, a table top, a rug, and some sort of clothes containers from Ikea (they're meant for shoes, but neither Sarah nor I have that many shoes). We would have more still, but getting the sofa and refrigerator up three flights of stairs required so much time and effort that we couldn’t make another trip today. Tomorrow we should have a kitchen table, four more chairs, and an excellent storage unit for kitchen materials. We’re still working on a stove, an oven, and beds. But there’s work to be done first…

Part of the conditions of our contract is that we complete some repairs and a painting job around the apartment. Again, Dr. Hubbard’s expertise has been quite valuable. He bargained with the owner (himself a very kind and capable man; he and his wife loaned us the three chairs currently in our place, and may provide us with a couple more items if we can’t find them elsewhere) for a very nice arrangement, doing so in large part by demonstrating a thorough knowledge of house repairs. A substantial amount of work remains, but we hope to have it completed by the weekend so that we can move in early next week.

I feel a bit strange investing so much in a place I’ll only inhabit for nine months. It’s almost easier for me to think of doing this work for the owner’s sake rather than for Sarah and me. I realize many people feel a need to beautify wherever they live for however long they’ll be there. My life has been sufficiently vagabond (or perhaps just sufficiently bachelor) that I truly can cope with any conditions for a temporary residence (which is what this is). But perhaps that’s part of why I often enjoy spending time outside of my home—it’s not just that I prefer being around people; it’s that I’ve neglected to some extent to make my habitation comfortable and inviting. I don’t lead a slovenly life by any means. I enjoy having my home clean, and I even enjoy arranging furniture, decorations and the like in a pleasing manner. But I don’t typically launch into anything that requires more than a few hours’ purchasing and arranging. I know if I owned a home that would be different—first of all, because there’s hardly a choice but to invest a great deal of time, and second of all, because I would know it as a place of permanance and would want to feel secure in staying there.

So that’s the state of our apartment. I know I’ll have more to say on the subject, particularly as work gets completed and we get familiar with the environs. I wish you could all come see it. It’s going to be a fun place to live.

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