Saturday, November 29, 2008

Apartment search, the finale

I know you've all been on the edge of your seats wondering where we've been living since the end of September. Taking a page out of Aleppo's old playbook and living on the road? Camping? Squatting in an abandoned apartment? None of these!

When I called Madame P. the morning after our day in Aix, I got a surprise: she had rented the apartment for the first week of October. It seems that she thought that since we hadn't called back the night before, we didn't want it. I guess that telling her we'd call that night or the next day really meant that we'd call that night and when we didn't, and she got a request through one of the websites she's on, she rented it to someone else.

In hindsight, it's unlikely that the hotel had already rented out all the rooms for the next few nights, so it's probably the case that I could have gone back downstairs and told them that we needed to stay. Or, we could have taxied our 200 pounds of luggage to another hotel in Marseille. But at that moment, I really didn't know what we were going to do.

Lucky for us, Madame P., as opportunistic as she was about renting that apartment, was also extremely kind. She offered to furnish the downstairs apartment (the one that would be remodeled) enough that we could stay there for the first week of October, because, as she said, she would eventually have to buy things anyway. Then, after the first week we could move upstairs for the rest of the month. We could move in on Monday.

We said yes.

On Monday we checked out of the hotel, went to Aix and moved in on Rue Matheron. The apartment was kind of cold, dark and damp, which wasn't going to help James' cold but Madame P. had bought a bed, sheets, pillows, a duvet and even hangers. She had brought in an oven with two electric burners on its top, a small refrigerator, a table, chairs, pots, pans, glasses, etc. It was more than fine for a week. And because Madame P. knew we were having so much trouble finding a place, she had even asked one of her friends if she had or knew of any available apartments (she didn't). This was much better than being in the hotel and we could cook a warm meal at home -- our first home-cooked meal in France! I had imagined that that first meal would involve fresh things from the market, but instead it involved a trip to the Petit-Casino grocery-store-ified mini-mart for store-bought ravioli and a jar of tomato sauce, salad with olive oil (no salt or pepper) and a local rosé. Still, it was much better than a sandwich with cured meat and cheese that had been sitting out for a day. And besides, the meal was at least a little celebratory ... or wasn't, but turns out that it could have been.

As soon as we had moved in, James went into the lab and I went to the tourist office to get their weekly posting of apartments for rent and then back to Agence ComeIn!. The agency had a couple of apartments that were north of the city and would have required a bus trip in everyday for James. I said no to these. And then, the agent (a different one, not S.) found one right in the Vieille Ville (within the "loop" on the map). I'm going to give agent S. the benefit of the doubt on this and assume that she chose the three completely inappropriate apartments that she had sent us to over this one because this one was close to our upper limit rent-wise, but this apartment was nice.

It was on the third, and top floor of a well cared for historic building. When you walk into the apartment you're in a little entry way. There's a closet on the left (the door you see on the far left of this picture is the door to the apartment) and opposite the closet is the kitchen, which is enclosed with this bar here in the picture on the left in the collage. The bar/countertop is a really pretty piece of wood that, unfortunately, a previous tenant used as a cutting board. Anyway, you can see that the countertop runs along the wall too. Under that part, there are the shelves that you see next. Then, there's a full-size refrigerator with a freezer and a microwave oven with a "grill" setting that sort of browns things. And opposite that is the sink and four-burner gas stove. There's no oven, but as we had learned from our search up to this point, the oven proves to be rather elusive in rented apartments in Aix/Marseille. And besides, when I studied abroad in Paris, I only had a camping stove, so this was already a major improvement.

If you're standing between the closet and the kitchen, you can look into the main room and see this view. That's the single-bed/couch on the left and that's a working fireplace on the right.
You can see the night table in the right front of the picture. Here's a view of the bed (next to the night table) and back toward the entry way. The white panels on the wall are where the hot water heater is. (The bathroom is on the other side of that wall and that first door on the left goes to the bathroom.) The white doors above the doorway are our storage.

From looking at these pictures, you may wonder if the ceiling is slanted or if this is an optical illusion due to my handiwork with the camera. It actually is slanted though. Where the ceiling meets the windows it's less than 6ft. tall. On the other side, above the bed, it's like 12ft. and there are two rough-hewn beams that run across the length of the room (you can see one in the picture here below.

As you look back toward the entry, you can see the kitchen bar on the left and a spiral staircase on the right. A spiral staircase, huh? That leads up to the terrace.
So this seemed like a pretty great apartment. But of course, there was a hitch. Madame S. wanted to rent the apartment as soon as possible (i.e. October 1st) and we had just committed ourselves to the month of October at Madame P.'s. We hadn't signed anything or given Madame P. any money, but we'd told her we wanted it and she had gone out and bought stuff to accommodate us for the first week of October.

Over that gourmet dinner, we decided that we did want the apartment if Madame P. would let us get out of our verbal commitment. As it turned out, she had no problem with it. She said she had been getting lots of calls and that for some reason this year seemed like a tougher year to find an apartment, and then she didn't even charge us for the night we spent in her apartment.

The next day, we moved into the Mas de Bonheur!

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