I've moved apartments, to the 15e.
The 15e is a part of Paris few visitors know about. It's wedged between two towers - Montparnasse to the South, which seems to follow you wherever you go, and the Tour Eiffel to the North, which sends out its searchlight over the quartier each night.
The apartments here are respectable, but not smart. Not cheap, but not fashionable either. It's the kind of area where nearly the people you see all wear working black. Neat suits and overcoats. Not trendy. Not daring. They go to work in offices. They are comme il faut. They are pressed and coiffed. They are correct. They are impeccably Parisian.
The night before, I was due to move in my house agent (let's just call him Alain) calls me.
Alain: I can't come in to Paris tomorrow.
Badaude: OK. But how am I going to get the keys to the apartment?
A: It will be fine. I left them at the jeweller's. Three doors down. His name is David.
B: But I'll be there in the morning. Around 9am. He might not be open.
A: That's OK. He'll leave it at the bakery. And if not, the cafe on the corner.
B: Who should I ask for at the cafe?
A: Just ask them. They'll have it.
Next morning the jeweller's is open. That's good. I press the bell to get into the tiny shop. There are shelves of swatch watches and shiny things that wink from inside glass cases, but which I don't take the trouble to identify. A woman is trying to sell a silver pendant to the silver-haired man behind the counter, who looks much too serious for the happenstance leaving of a key at his shop. He looks up from the desk where he'd bent to examine the necklace. His glasses flash a multicoloured reflection of the Swatches.
Vous etes David?
Je suis client de Alain et je me
demand si il m'a laisse des clef de son appartement chez vous?
Oh... Peut etre a la boulangerie?
I walk to the boulangerie.
I know boulangeries in Paris have idiosyncratic horaires.
But it's Wednesday. It's 9am. It can't be shut.
Maybe they just haven't put the lights on and the assistant's in the back. I get close to the plate-glass door and push on it gently, surruptitiously, while looking in the opposite direction. The door doesn't give.
Au cafe du coin.
Bonjour, Madame. Est-ce-que Alain a laisse un clef pour moi ici?
Non. Je pense que non... Non.
The waitress turns back to polishing glasses.
Mais Il m'a dit qu'il l'a laisse. Il m'a telephone pour dire cela. (But he told me he left it. He telephoned me to say that.)
I'm rescued by a 2nd fille (managerial-looking).
2e Fille: Je vais chercher.
Ouis, je crois.
Key has rugby ball keyring and several keys, not one. Seems wrong, but I'm grateful to get my hands on any key.
Si ce ne marche pas, je retournerai.
(ie. I'm not stealing your key).
I wheel my big suitcase a few doors down to the apartment. Door code. Lift to 4th floor. Door with camel. Or is it a zebra.
The key doesn't work.
I call Alain.
Alain: Yes I left the key yesterday night. It has a car on the tag.
Back to cafe
Me: Cela ne marche pas. Alain m'a dit qu'il l'a laisse le vielle. Il y'a un porte-clef comme une voiture.
F et 2f cherchent again
F et 2F: Non. Ce n'est pa la. Vous savez - il y'a des differents gens qui travaille ici les soirs.
I call Alain again. He says,
Yes, they put it in the drawers on the left .
which one? (there are four drawers).
I don't know. On the left
f et 2f cherchent encore. They pull out two of the drawers and rummage through them.
They show me. There are lots of keys. There is no ring with a car.
Et les autres tiroirs?
They show me how the other two drawers do not open. Are they fake, or are they locked, with my key inside?
Desolee, Madame, nous ne pouvons pas vous aider.
They shrug, Frenchly, turn around and polish the glasses. Clealy, they have finished their conversation with me.
I just stay there. Nothing I can do.
Oddly, he seems to be in charge. The F and 2F confer with him.
Drunk Looking man in hoodie: Ah ouais! Alain! Le clef! C'est la!
He shows me the interior of the tiroir again.
He picks out a set of keys.
They have a SEAT-branded porte-clef - a car tag. Not the image of a car...
I go back to the flat again.
The key turns in the lock. I'm inside my new apartment, in my new quartier.
The 15e. Where everyone knows each other but no-one knows where anything is.