The tiny elevator reeked of cigarette smoke, something we would learn was pretty common in the building, and we gasped for air as we tumbled out on the eight floor with all of our belongings. I’d never been here before and I didn’t know what to expect.
“Why don’t you stay in your grandmother’s studio?” My mother had asked. And we’d said yes in a heartbeat. I mean, you don’t turn down a wonderfully located, rent free apartment in central Paris without darn good reasons.
M jimmied the key into the sticky lock on the tall skinny white door. And as the door fell open we got our first glimpse of the tiny apartment that would be our home for 13 months. I almost turned around and called the elevator back right then and there.
The cramped microscopic hallway branched off to the left to a sliver of a kitchen that had clearly not seen the inside of a bottle of Ajax in a long, long time before leading to the main living quarters. The room that would become our family room/living room/bedroom/office brought tears to my eyes.
A lone mattress huddled in the opposite corner from the only other two pieces of furniture, a rickety table and a sad looking leaning Ikea bookcase. Two walls were bare cement and a third, for reasons that would only become obvious much later, was covered in sheets of Styrofoam. The fourth wall was taken up by a huge grimy bay window.
I put our bags down on the ancient cracked linoleum and gulped back a sob. I didn’t even have the heart to go check on the bathroom. It was late, I was tired, and I was mortified that I was even showing this disgusting place to my well to do American boyfriend.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I had no idea. Let’s go find a hotel. We can start apartment hunting in the morning.” I mumbled to M without even daring to look him in the face.
“Are you kidding?” He almost shouted, the excitement in his voice causing me to look up in surprise. “Did you see this place? It’s a penthouse! In the heart of Paris! And did you look out the window? That’s a balcony overlooking the Sacre Coeur! This place is incredible!”
“But it’s disgusting.” I stammered.
“Who cares? We’ll clean it! And paint it! It’s going to be awesome!”
He was right. He saw through the grossness and the aging decor and envisioned the lovenest that we would create. Months later I sat on our cushy carpet and gazed out the clean windows at the gorgeous church that millions of people visit every year. I leaned back against our bed and smiled at the futon that we were using as a couch. I glanced at the walls that we’d painstakingly painted and smiled. We’d turned the place around and made it cozy and ours. We lived there for just over a year and while the closeness got a little oppressive at times, I’m pretty sure I speak for both of us when I say that we loved every moment of it.
And not just because there was an incredible boulangerie less than a block away.