Monday, January 05, 2009


These are the shoes that launched a thousand ships.

When I lived in New York, I basically had half my apartment stored in the hallway outside my front door. Everything from the air conditioner to a broken vacuum cleaner, seven trash bags filled with clothes, wire desk organizers, plates, two bathroom gift sets and a pair of crusty pajamas that sat on top of the pile for approximately three years. No one ever said anything. Why would they? No one cared that the fire escape was perpetually blocked by the sports nut next door neighbor's giant duffle bags of sweaty gym clothes and various baseball bat collections. No one cared that the painter downstairs would consistently drag his giant canvases into the tiny, unventilated hallway and proceed to spray them down with toxic paint fumes, then leave them there for weeks, sometimes months on end. No one moved a muscle to clean up the dead mouse on the second floor. Or to remove the plaster chunks when the ceiling caved in....again. The only thing you had to "worry" about was your piles of shit outside your apartment getting stolen when the crack addict on the 1st floor quit N.A. and went back to using. My rollerblades (used once) disappeared around then. I think I finally noticed the following year. 'Cause no one cared.
The least of

But now I live in a fancy building in France. Where seemingly everyone cares. Deeply. Emotionally. About EXACTLY what I choose to leave in the hallway outside my front door. Fortunately for me, I am the foreigner in the building whose wide smile and frequent, terribly improper tendency of using the familiar CA VA?!!?? (and way too loud) with everyone I see has...

a. rendered me so dimwitted I am not to be spoken to EVER
b. rendered me so frightening and so toxic I am not to be looked in the eye or have my presence acknowledged IN ANY WAY unless I am with the French husband
c. all of the above

The only one in the building who actually speaks to me is the concierge from Portugal. She's down with me 'cause I'm a foreigner like her and I keep asking her to teach me how to say her dog's name with the right Portugese accent. She had a conversation with FB while I was in New York about the "shoes situation" by our front door. Evidently, it has caused quite the stir in the building. This came as a surprise to me as we live on the top floor in an isolated hallway with no neighbors. No one has any cause to walk by our apartment unless they come up to look for something. I suddenly got the vision of the snoopy old rich ladies who live here coming up to rubberneck the foreigner with her foreigner ways, finding my well worn sneakers and recoiling in horror before running down to complain to the concierge.
It seems someone, or
WHO, I wonder, WHO are the shoes actually bothering???
So naturally, we just left the shoes there.
Like shark bait. Waiting and wondering if they would come ask us directly while my suspicions about the identities of real complainers began to form....

FIVE AND A HALF, the REAL cuplrit.
We live on the sixth floor but technically it is the seventh floor because the apartment below us is on a half floor. It has a little half front door and it is the only apartment where I have never seen the woman who lives there. I know she is there all the time because I can hear her below me all day. I have seen the woman in FIVE peeking through a crack her door to stare at me as I come up the steps but FIVE AND A HALF has remained an unsolved mystery until....

About a month ago, I was home alone when the doorbell rang. I froze in my usual terror before tiptoeing to the door and sheepishly answering. It was a man of about 45 years old and he asked for Veronique. I told him "Veronique for it has been six months moves and now I live here with my husband". He told me he was the son of the Madame who lives below me and asked to use my phone because she does not answer when he knocks on her door and he forgot his phone. I asked him to wait there, shut the door, returned and brought him my cell phone. He asked to use my home phone claiming it was cheaper but I insisted he use my cell phone in the hallway. He made his call, left and I thought nothing of it UNTIL.....

I am in the kitchen preparing food for our friends who are coming over. FB opens our front door as he thought he heard someone outside and who is standing there? None other than SON OF FIVE AND A HALF. Again. But this time, he is just standing there. He seems taken by surprise but then proceeds to complain to FB about the "shoe situation", how it is REALLY out of control now and that this space is common space and it REALLY needs to be taken care of. And that we should watch out because things outside the apartment can get stolen. I'm sorry, is that a veiled threat in there? Dude, I dealt with a crack addict, SON OF FIVE AND A HALF doesn't scare me in the slightest. Go ahead, steal my shoes. I have six more pair exactly like them. And don't MAKE me go get an air conditioner for the hallway too, pal. I could have six plastic bags of crap out here faster than you can say GIVE ME THE MOTHERFUCKING ROLLERBLADES, I NEED SOME SMACK.

As our friends arrived at just that moment and filed past SOFH loudly with flowers and champagne, I had to wonder...why on earth did you feel the need to bring this up on New Year's Eve of all nights and more importantly...WHO SENT YOU??!!
And how can she HATE MY SHOES when she NEVER comes OUT???!!

I moved the shoes inside today after realizing I had spent waaaay too much time on this and in the end, I didn't really care all thaaaaaat much. I grabbed my shopping cart, walked down the 7 flights of stairs, staring at the mysterious half door as I passed five and a half. As I walked through the courtyard, I felt someone staring at me. I quickly turned around and looked up directly at five and a half just in time to see the curtain rustle and move back into place. I stood there in the snow for a moment before smiling and waving.

The mystery continues......


Anonymous said...

I never comment, but had to say something. I too am a foreigner (Canadian) living in a 'fancy' building in Paris where everyone stares at me instead of just saying "Bonjour" like I do, with a foreign (Spanish) concierge who is the only one who talks to me!! I live on the 6th and last floor, and my only neighbour is a family that... keeps two pairs of shoes out on the hallway. It obviously doesn't bother me, but does bother FIVE to an extent I don't understand. They never see the shoes, what's the problem? Must be a French thing, I don't know.

Sadie Jernigan Valeri said...

Love the story, not surprised at all about the French lady problem with the shoes (I once had a French lady in a Paris apartment building mad at me because I turned the light on in the hall with a "click" in the middle of the night... not that I had a choice, because the bathroom was down the hall).

What I am surprised about... there is SNOW in Paris this year?? Isn't that just like, once every 50 years or so?

Ksam said...

Ha, I also live on the top floor of a fancy French apartment building and deal with the same thing. Nice to know I'm not alone.

If I were you, I'd start leaving random bags of things outside her door in the middle of the night, and then go to the concièrge and complain about her. But I'm evil like that... lol

Nicole said...

We were the Horrible Young People in our building for the first two years, which was only compounded by the fact that I was foreign. This all was cleared up, however, when the Truly Horrible People moved into the flat below us. Now, I spend my elevator rides moaning with the old ladies about the odious woman on the 3rd floor who leave her cleaning supplies on the balcony, making our building look like a tenement, screams like a lunatic at her children, slams the entrance door whenever she comes home drunk in the middle of the night, and cleans her kitchen at 3am. I promise everything will get better for you when someone even newer moves into the building and you can complain about that person with Mme Five and a Half. Complaining is how French people bond. Its the opposite of the British stiff upper lip.

Anonymous said...

Complaining is how French people bond. Its the opposite of the British stiff upper lip.
When my foreigner colleague got her French citizenship, her husband said "Maintenant tu peux raler!!!"

Margaret said...

First off, I totally love your blog, KFD! I wonder if Time will finally dull these particular corners. I spent 2 weeks in Paris in November, the 2nd week in a 6th flr. apartment in the 19th. The owner is French and a longtime resident, and his top floor landing has quite a bit of stuff on it--but not junk, it felt a bit like a cute tiny parlor. OTOH, you'll probably always be an object of fascination for your neighbors . . . work it, babe!

rion said...

I didn't find out that our Parisian neighbors were noticing details about us and our stuff in the lobby til we left:

my new favorite phrase: "comme si c'etait le Bronx ici! On n'est pas dans le Bronx!!!"