2nd arrondissement, paris, june 2020
Life in Paris has taken a turn for the better since I’ve found myself somewhere to live, and it only took three years to the day. It’s not what I dreamed of, it’s not what you’d expect of a woman in her 40s, but I tell you it’s positively glorious to have an address, and to only pick my own hair out of the shower drain.
Only a year ago I was staying in a musician friend’s tiny room, sans musician friend, who’d told me he was away on tour for six weeks and needed to sublet. His version of “away on tour” was gigging in Paris and sleeping rent-free in the lounge. I’d regularly be startled awake by his foot next to my face as he strode across the bed to get something from his room.
Before I signed this lease, I spent a week in a 2-star hotel in Les Halles, and pretended to be a tourist. After a flurry of desperate Facebook messages, this apartment arrived at the eleventh hour, furnished, though frayed, and foot-free. It’s a small, square and squat studio, up in the Gods with a view of the roofs of the 2nd arrondissement. The laminate floor slopes at exactly 4 degrees, a perfect monument to the Sisyphean effort required to survive with any dignity in Paris. Pens habitually roll down the incline to huddle against the dusty skirting board, so I gather them up to place them back on the desk again. ‘Office chair on wheels’ is crossed off my Ikea shopping list. I make a mental note to practice my yoga downhill.
There’s an accursedly soft bed with broken slats, a pine sideboard holding an array of The French Owner’s junk, and to make up the quorum, a large, unfortunate-looking wardrobe hulks mammoth-like in the corner. I purchased a long white Ikea box to hold The French Owner’s junk and I placed it on the top. The French Owner’s junk is a deluge of dried up black, green and orange watercolour paints; unused diaries from 2016; Lonely Planet guides and someone’s university papers, amongst other things. Things I’d like to throw out, or possibly use for a ceremonial burning in my darker moments, but I’m too chicken; as upon the lease signing, The French Owner instructed me the junk “stays with the apartment” as it “may be useful”. The rebel in me says burn, the wretch says keep, and I listen to the latter, as would you if you’d slept on couches for three years.
A tired kitchenette rests against one wall, less ugly than the wardrobe, but also less functional. I glare at the drunk asymmetry between the bench-top and the sloping floor as I chock my desk to save the suicidal pens. For one industrious morning, I am consumed with correcting that uncorrectable situation. Pale cupboards, strangely level for the lopsided room, contain mismatched plates of glass and cheap china stacked next to a solitary saucepan with no handle. I burn my fingers boiling vegetables on the camping stove, and discover the kettle has calcium stalagmites growing in its innards, like a geode. Paris water, like Paris, is astonishingly hard. As I begin tartar control on the angry kettle, I wonder why my nails haven’t become as strong as my resolve.
Days pass here. Days where I begin to relish my solitude and this newfound security. The chocks are working. I buy a geranium. I await a springtime explosion of Parisian red, surely one of the most beautiful accents to the boulevards of this city. I delete links to real estate agencies. I file and sort documents. I hide suitcases inside the stocky wardrobe and breathe out.
The French Owner calls and sternly advises me to “keep the apartment clean” as apparently there is a mouse problem. Considering this sixth-floor-studio-for-one contains exactly twenty-four mugs of various sizes yet no covered bin, I’m hardly surprised.
He is as right about the mouse as he is wrong about my personal habits, and the sound of midnight gnawing heralds the beginning of our nightly sojourns. Although I am amply prepared with enough cups to host a whole army of coffee-loving rodents, I am rewarded with only one. The mouse enters through a hole at the bottom of the front door with such unusual regularity I’m tempted to add a welcome mat. She is brave, small, sleek and round, and far shinier than is appropriate for vermin. Watching her go about her mouse-ly business is my new hobby now the chocks are complete, and my fondness blossoms along with my window box.
I live in central Paris with a box of The French Owner’s junk and a pet I didn’t ask for. It’s not what I dreamed of, it’s not what you’d expect at my age, but I rejoice in my own way, as I clean my hair out of the shower drain. Under the watchful gaze of the looming wardrobe I continue to ponder the foibles of this dilapidated rental when they appear, like the mouse, on a daily basis.
HETTY KATE was born in England, raised in Melbourne and moved to Paris in 2017. She is a jazz vocalist and has performed across five continents. Career highlights include singing with eight international symphonies as part of James Morrison’s award-winning concert The A to Z of Jazz, and portraying Ava Gardner in Eric McCusker’s original musical Ava at the End of the World. Hetty has released nine albums, and appeared on TV in both France and Australia, including the relaunch of Australian music-themed quiz show Spicks’n’Specks. She enjoys writing acerbic Facebook posts, reading science-fiction, and teasing the French. It’s likely she can beat you in Mario-Kart. www.hettykate.com