The day I met my Parisian elevator
My Parisian elevator and I met in March, when I visited the elegant red brick building, built in 1936, I came to call home. Two weeks earlier (I was still in Seattle then,) my father had told me he may have found a studio for rent located on the 7th and last floor of the building. I remember thinking: “Please not a ‘ss asc!‘”
The “ss asc,” (sans ascenseur, a walk-up,) is one of the most dreaded abbreviations to be found in Parisian real estate listings. How many unfortunate visitors have booked a vacation rental in the French capital without reading (or understanding) all the small print and found themselves dragging suitcases, grocery bags, and their derrières for the next ten days up quaint, yet steep, flights of stairs? Parisians expect their apartments to come “ss asc.” Most foreign visitors don’t. Everyone in their right mind prefers un ascenseur (elevator.) How else are you going to go grocery shopping with a fancy Rolser poussette de marché (shopping trolley) like a bona fide Parisian if you live in the upper floors?
Less than two weeks after that phone call with my father, I squeezed inside one of the tiniest elevators I had seen in a long time with a portly real estate agent. I don’t know if it was the quintessential Parisian lift (small, quaint, all wood and iron,) or the incredible rooftop views in the studio that did it, but it took me exactly 10 minutes to announce: “Je le prends!” (I will take it.) It was a done deal. At long last, I was back in Paris and would constantly be reminded of it when I rode my Parisian elevator or when I opened my windows. Perfect.
At first, we loved each other, my Parisian elevator and I. I enjoyed the slow pace of the ride, up or down the building, several times a day, as I looked through the glass walls at the stairs and the pretty green carpet. On the way down, I memorized my grocery list before visiting Monoprix and other specialty shops in my street. The elevator was there when I needed it, and, as I opened the door and the light came on inside, greeted me cheerfully. We could have lived happily ever after, but fate interfered.
Cracks appeared in the relationship just ten weeks after I met my Parisian elevator. It was getting moody, making creaking sounds while going up and down the building, doors opening and closing reluctantly, it seemed. One day, the elevator stopped working without an explanation. I was surprised, yet I tried to understand and carried my grocery bags up the seven floors, huffing and puffing unromantically. The repairman took several days to fix it.
A couple of weeks later, on my way to a morning run in le Bois de Vincennes, I spotted two visitors, unwilling prisoners of the elevator, the cage stuck half way between floors, as their children watched in horror from the stairs. My kind landlady was standing by their side. She was on the phone with the repairman. The elevator was very, very ill. My heart sank. That relationship, I could tell, was headed down the drain fast.
Falling out of love with my Parisian elevator
The first heatwave of the summer hit Paris on the same day I had to go back on tour at the end of June. The elevator had been down for a week. I cursed as I dragged my travel bags down seven floors on the pretty green carpets, sweating profusely before I even reached the hallway. My landlady (she lives below me on the 6th floor,) later texted me that the repairs would take weeks. The building’s board of directors were very unhappy with the maintenance company. They had decided to start shopping for a new one, and had sent out several quote requests, with promising results. Parts had been ordered. I sighed. I knew what was coming next: A re-introduction to the concept of the elastic French time, and its two sidekicks, patience and flexibility.
I returned two weeks later, at the beginning of July, a wee bit tired after traveling around France in the heatwave for 14 days. That afternoon, I had to drag my bags up the seven floors. The bad news: I was home for the next four weeks “ss asc” (without an elevator,) and my son was coming over for a few days. The good news: There was an encouraging note on the elevator from the new maintenance company (named Eiffel Ascenseur) when I arrived.
Signs of life
For the next four weeks, I climbed seven floors at least twice a day, and became really good at maximizing my time outside the studio (while minimizing the number of trips.) There was no going back downstairs to buy a warm baguette last minute. Let them eat biscottes (crackers!)
Walking by the elevator on the rez-de-chaussée (ground floor,) I could see (and hear) encouraging signs of life. Someone was definitely working there, in the abyss under the building. Someone was playing music (rather loudly.) Someone was being treated to espresso by a friendly neighbor. — — But where was he?
Meanwhile, residents pushed through, one foot after the other. Still no elevator. Some people count sheep to fall asleep, they say. I am certain many neighbors of mine started counting stairs in their sleep. I know I did.
Keeping the spark alive
One morning, as I started – ever so slowly – the long hike down the Mont Blanc, I had to stop on the fourth floor. The elevator door was open. Two legs were coming out of it, blocking the way, surrounded by tools, while the small speaker was blasting rock’n’roll music. Finally! I was going to meet the repairman, the guy who had become so essential to the building nobody had dared ask him to turn down his music during the day.
Bonjour!, I shouted (because that is what you do in my homeland, as every single expert on French life likes to remind you.) A male voice replied, Bonjour! Excusez-moi! Legs disappeared. Door closed. Then reopened. He stepped out. And I kid you not: This is what he looked like:
I smiled. Of course, it had to be Ryan! Who else would be able to save my relationship with the Parisian elevator after it had been on life support for weeks? Of course. That afternoon, I had to abandon my studio to survive the second round of heatwave. All my neighbors on the 7th floor had already left by the time I booked myself into an air conditioned hotel. I did not have much time to think about
Ryan the repairman for the next couple of days. My landlady had hinted at the fact that if he did not complete the repair by the weekend, he was scheduled to go on his summer vacation, and we’d have to wait longer for the elevator to get fixed. Quoi? Never mind. I did not worry. Ryan was in charge. With his help, everything would be all right.
Ryan delivered, in spite of the heat and the long hours. When I woke up at the hotel on the second day, I received a new text message from my landlady. My Parisian elevator was working again! Ryan had done it. I almost got emotional when I returned to the building and opened the door, ever so slowly. Once again, when we touched, it was like… magic. The rest is history. Wherever you are
Ryan repairman, Merci! I hope you are enjoying your vacation. You have earned it.
I had to immortalize the moment my Parisian elevator and I fell in love again in a video…
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