Saturday, April 10, 2010

What we have to work with: Part II. Living quarters

Let me start this off by saying we love our neighborhood. The 18th arrondissement of Paris is extremely diverse and just walking two blocks puts you in a whole new atmosphere. We live roughly at the confluence of the more upscale neighborhood of the Montmartre Butte and the eclectic "immigrant" neighborhoods near the Goutte d'Or district that are full of Africans and Arabs, as well as the colorful outdoor market named the Marché Dejean. So, on any given day we can choose to visit a typical Parisian café for an espresso or draft beer, head to a Caribbean restaurant serving tropical cuisine of the French Antilles, or pass by the discount phone booths for calling Algeria, Tunisia, Mali, etc. on the way to a café to to drink a Moroccan thé à la menthe served in a traditional silver teapot and glass tea cup. It's common to hear a lively mixture of three or four languages as you walk down the street.

But the current digs are a little too cramped for our style. The apartment we live in is a total of 387 square feet. All of it. That space includes one bedroom, a living room, a bathroom with a shower stall, a telephone booth kitchen, and a walk in hall closet.

Santi sleeps in our room, which is the biggest room in the place. Our internet is cable connected DSL that is located in the bedroom and the only working phone jack is in there too. Once the lights go out for him, we need to remember take the cordless phone out and the good internet connection is mostly unusable. It also is our home office with all the household documents in there. So if we want to pay bills or look up any info (like for my immigration proceedings) we have to remember to do it before Santi goes to sleep.

The living room is where we can eat and relax. We also have to store Santi's clothes and his toys out there. So when he occasionally needs an emergency change in the middle of the night, one of us has to run out there to grab a new set of pajamas. When I'm alone, I have to either lug him with me, or leave him upset and crying to quickly grab new jammies. Fun. Not. We also have slower second internet connection out there, which we have to share at night (Farmville vs. Warcraft, who wins?)

The kitchen is ridiculously small, nine square feet and enclosed on three sides by walls. There is a two-burner electric stove, a sink, a small counter where our coffee maker fits, a 1/3 size fridge with a little freezer compartment inside, and an electric mini-oven (think toaster oven, but you can actually use it to bake too. If you can find pans small enough to fit inside) that sits on top of the fridge. The shelves for dishes and food are all exactly at eye and hand level for a toddler, and even better, they don't have doors, just curtains you can close. So he's alway grabbing for the glass, ceramics, and there are plenty of meltdowns when he sees the cookies and chocolate are right within hand's reach. We installed a gate, but that just seems to make him angry when he gets locked out, so we use it as little as possible. There's no room for a trash can with a lid that closes, so we have to keep chasing him away from exploring the trash.

The bathroom is also very small. It shares the design of the kitchen of having all of the shelves for medicines at eye and hand-level with no doors. So we have to keep the door shut and keep an eye on Santi because he knows how to open lots of the bottles and boxes. The washing machine is also in the bathroom. It's the incredibly skinny thing that fits between the sink and the wall, yet manages to hold a full load of laundry. Santi also likes to play with with the detergent and fabric softener that we can't shut up behind a door. For his baths, we put a plastic baby tub in the shower stall. It fits (barely) behind the bathroom door for storage.

The walk in closet is where we keep our suitcases, shoes, winter coats and things like suits and dresses, the vacuum cleaner, the drying rack for the laundry (no electric dryer. No room for it), all of our tools, cleaning products, batteries, old electronic stuff, etc. Basically all the things you probably store in the garage or basement.

So, basically, we are in a tiny space where most rooms have to serve at least two or three different purposes. Nothing can really be left out. We're always having to find novel ways to store things and it's impossible to childproof. And, wait, it gets better! We live on the 6th floor of our building and there is  no elevator! So our stroller stays locked to the staircase in the entry hall (we learned our lesson about locking it after having our first one stolen) and Santi gets carried up and down the stairs to get to it. And, of course, you have also carry everything you need for him and for you at the same time. So dropping him off at daycare on the days I bring my laptop, purse, and lunch (not to mention taking the trash down at the same time) are not fun. And doing grocery shopping is a nightmare because you have to haul him and everything you buy up those stairs at one time. Things aren't so bad when there is someone else to stay with him upstairs, but during single momma phases, life requires quite a bit of advance planning to avoid running out of diapers and food (and a hernia).

We're hoping to find a two-bedroom place with an elevator in our same neighborhood soon. It's very hard to rent in Paris because it's expensive and most owners require a pretty high minimum income before they'll even consider you. Until we become a permanently two income family, we're going to have a lot of trouble. But at least for the moment, we've adapted more or less, and our place is ours (owned), so we'll always have a home, even if it is ridiculously tiny.

(Part III. And all the rest of it, coming soon)

And, if you want to know what I think about to pass the time while living in this tiny space,click here.

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