Saturday, February 1, 2014

Dorm Life in the Turn of the Century

I have now lived in France for almost 6 months, and in Paris for most of that time. Traversing the streets of the 16th arrondissement, I am very privileged to live in a rather hoity-toity area, similar to the Madison Avenue Upper East Side atmosphere of Manhattan. The avenues are lined with beautiful old buildings and well-manicured shrubbery amidst the boutiques and caf├ęs I mainly cannot afford. As I walk down my quiet rue and punch in the door code so typical to most Parisian apartment buildings, I think how amazing it must be to truly have the money to live in a residence where a lovely little lift opens onto an apartment that takes up the entire floor.... Swoon...

Though I live in this idyllic rather surreal environment, my personal living quarters are quite a bit different. I recently caught up on the popular series "Downton Abbey" and find myself making constant comparisons between the lives of the people "downstairs" and my own experiences on the 6th floor in a "chambre de bonne". These particular rooms were originally meant for the domestics or servants to live in, and cannot be accessed by the main staircase or elevator. When I lived in Paris two years ago, I also lived in this sort of situation, but those apartments had been fully renovated into legitimate studios with private bathrooms and elevator access. My current living space is much more traditional. Every day I walk up 6 flights of stairs... That's right, 6 flights... Usually several times a day, one of the few reasons why I don't feel badly when I have too many pain au chocolats in one week. I share a bathroom with other people on the floor, though I am incredibly fortunate to have my own shower, so there's very minimal contact with neighbors when I'm not in the mood. For days at a time, I honestly don't run into anyone in the hallways or hear notable signs of life.

Other days, however, there is quite a different feel. The walls are paper thin and the rooms small, so there is a distinct air of excessive revelry on occasion, at such times as when I have to wake up around 6am for classes, and people are rollicking in the halls the previous midnight. I recall my university days when going to bed before 12am seemed ludicrous, sometimes purposely imbibing a Dr. Pepper circa 9pm so that I had the all-night stamina to write a 12 page paper due the next day. At the age of 33, I have to admit I'm not always in the mood for social interaction when I'm nestled with a book trying to lull myself to sleep. I also haven't mentioned my Peter Sellers-esque quirky neighbor character in a while. To be fair, she has been playing it pretty tame of late, and aside from coming by before the holidays to give me a free sample of Chanel's Allure and then a fake gold Eiffel Tower key chain, has kept her distance. I do, however, get the feeling that sometimes she is nostalgic for the heyday of college fanfare. She will keep her door open as if expecting guests to drop by her dorm room for a beer on their way to the frat house. On the flip side, I am forced to harken back to the domestics of the earlier century when I share my suspicion that she frequently uses some version of a chamber pot. I'm not really sure what else to say about that, but when I don't hear anyone use the bathroom for days on end, except the sound of someone pouring liquid into the toilet in the morning, I have to jump to the fanciful conclusion that either sorority partying turned a bit sour late night or the servant's quarters is a lot more time-honored than I thought.

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