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Living in Paris; Surrounded by 17th-Century History

Screenshot of My Old Lady on TV


While I was speaking on a Webinar Thursday evening hosted by the Federation of Alliances Françaises USA on “Why living in France can cost half as much!,” my lawyer and assistant were bearing the burden of attending the annual assembly of the homeowner association of my Paris building on my behalf. It was at this meeting that their task was to vote on the approval (or disapproval) of the mediation we underwent earlier this year to determine if and how much the association would pay for my move out of the apartment while the structural damage is repaired.

If you want to follow the saga about which I’ve written on a few occasions, you can visit past Nouvellettres®. The synopsis is that the beams in the ceiling of my Paris apartment aren’t in good enough condition to hold up the two levels above mine. The building dates back to the 17th-century, so the beams are about 350 years old. At the time, my level (third) was the top floor, so it wasn’t designed to hold two more floors, but there they are, centuries later. The “copropriété” (homeowner association) voted to do the work, but voted against giving me any money to move out of my apartment! I was told it would take up to one year and I’d have to move every tiny thing out of the apartment and that anything touching the ceiling (all my custom built-in closets and bookshelves) would be damaged. For this, they thought I should bear all of the expense. Obviously, I disagreed, so I sued them.

They suggested mediation, to which I agreed. Twice we met for mediation and came to terms that we could both live with, but the entire co-ownership must vote to confirm that mediation. That’s what took place last Thursday.

The good news is that they voted “yes” and I’m set to go and be out of my apartment by September 1st so they can begin to destroy it and then rebuild it entirely!


Meanwhile, the Webinar was a big success. We had almost 500 registrations and half that number of attendees. While I was going through the Top 10 biggest cost centers (1. Property to Rent or Purchase, 2. Property Taxes, 3. Utilities—Gas and Electricity, 4. Phone/ TV/Internet, 5. Homeowner Insurance, 6. Homeowner Association Fees, 7. Groceries, 8. Restaurants/Dining Out, 9. Health Care, 10. Public Transportation) providing statistics researched on the internet, then disclosing the real figures based on my personal experience, I could see the attendees’ faces in awe, amazement, nodding their heads in agreement and giving me a thumb’s up. I knew they were receptive, yet sometimes in disbelief at how inexpensive life in France can really be.

The questions we got during the Q and A were all over the board and barely not “on topic” as one might have thought. That’s okay—we were able to answer them all in order to assuage their worries about how difficult or easy it is to get a visa, how they won’t pay tax on their U.S. retirement income (thanks to the U.S.-French tax treaty—the best in Europe) and even questions about antisemitism in France! Clearly Americans are “chomping at the bit” to make positive changes in their lives by moving to France…and we don’t blame them. We know the benefits!

The Webinar was recorded (one hour long), so if you couldn’t participate live, you can easily watch it here.


It took an act of God to get a visit of an apartment I was considering to rent. It’s located not too far from my own apartment, represented by one of the big agencies that normally only rents online, with no visits possible. Knowing I’d be living in it one year, I certainly didn’t want to take an apartment sight-unseen if it could be avoided. But finding an apartment pre-Olympics with my specific criteria would be near to impossible. My criteria isn’t necessarily more or less specific than our clients’, and I would have loosened them up if push-came-to-shove, but I wanted to stay in my immediate neighborhood and have enough space and storage to live comfortably. A bathtub was high on the Wish List, but not a deal-breaker.

During the mediation I agreed to rent at the city rent-control amount, but very few apartments comply with those rules and most we found were almost double that. This meant a lot more money out of my pocket, but I was getting desperate. This apartment wasn’t much more expensive than the allowance, and that was a big plus. It had two showers, no tub. Okay…not terrible for one year.

Adrian Leeds' new apartment

The new apartment

My staff and I went to visit the apartment Friday afternoon, as per the plan, but there was a mix-up with the agent and the occupant, so we had to return on Saturday to see it. As I said, they weren’t used to showing the apartments in advance of renting it. The anxiety was building. I felt just like some of our clients must feel.

Two young Italian college students were staying there and allowed us in on Saturday afternoon. They were lovely and welcoming. I asked them what they didn’t like about the apartment, and the only things they said was that the neighbor downstairs complained about their walking across the floor so they took off their shoes (that was a good sign, something easy to fix) and that they found the refrigerator small. It was larger than mine, so no problem!

The apartment is close to perfect for my needs and in fact, it almost looks as if I designed it. My color scheme works perfectly and so will the bits of furniture I need to bring. While we were there taking photos of the inside of every closet and cabinet in order to determine what I’d bring and what not to bring, I emailed the agent to say “I’ll take it.” And the move-in date is early July, to which I agreed.

The agency is likely closed until tomorrow because today is a holiday (Whit Monday or Pentecost), so I’ll be on pins and needles until I get a formal approval and a lease to sign. But the relief itself is overwhelming, knowing that perhaps I won’t be homeless (!!) and have the time to make the move without too much stress.


Saturday evening was the 20th annual Nuit Européenne des Musées (European Night of Museums) organized by the Ministry of Culture. Since 2005, the cultural event enables museums and cultural institutions to remain open late into the night to attract new visitors with free access to all exhibits. The first of its kind was held in Berlin in 1997, and by 2005, the Council of Europe, UNESCO, and the International Council of Museums began promoting the event to enhance cultural accessibility. Celebrated on the third Saturday of May, by 2021, about 1,200 museums in 120 cities across Europe, as well as in other countries like Argentina and the Philippines, welcomed nearly two million visitors to their collections.

The former Mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, took this idea in 2002 and spread it more broadly, including performing arts and under the banner of La Nuit Blanche (White Nights, and various related names). Now, the concept has spread around the world.

We chose to make the Musée Carnavalet (Histoire de Paris) our target. A new exhibition just opened there April 24th about “La Fontaine des Innocents“—The stories of a Parisian masterpiece on until August 25, 2024. The exhibition explores the fascinating history of the Fontaine des Innocents, coinciding with the large-scale restoration undertaken by the City of Paris. Since the Renaissance, this iconic monument in the Les Halles district has evolved with the city’s urban development.

Unfortunately, the exhibition was not accessible during the nighttime opening of the museum, but there is still an overwhelming amount of exhibits cataloguing the history of Paris to sink your teeth into. The beautifully decorated hallways are a maze that take you from one period to another in the city’s past so that if you came knowing little about the city you could walk out an expert…albeit with a lot of time and patience!

The friend with me that evening lives near me in Le Marais. We found centuries-old maps showing our streets and the buildings in which we live. It’s one thing to say “I live in a 17th-century building,” but when you see it for real on a map old it becomes more tangible and then one can imagine all the lives that may have passed through its doors. It’s very profound.

They had closed the garden of the museum just for a special dining experience for those with reservations, and under the soft lights, it looked heavenly from our view from the upper rooms. We were jealous of the diners, but not unhappy with the experience we were having ourselves.

For someone coming to the city for a short period of time (no amount of time is enough, not even a lifetime), I’d recommend a visit to the Carnavalet, even before going to Le Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay, so that the visitor has a better understanding of what they are experiencing when they see the monuments, the layout of the city, the architecture, etc. It would put it all in better perspective.


As we were walking home in the balmy evening, we walked up rue Payenne as I explained to my great niece how to distinguish the “hôtels particuliers” from the “maisons” and how that part of the district had evolved. Imagine a U.S. suburb with very big homes surrounded by land, but fairly close to one another, just like a typical U.S. suburb. The big houses are the mansions or townhouses, or in French “hôtels particuliers.” Then fill the lots in between them with narrow houses of about the same height and those are called “maisons.” You can easily distinguish one from another by the large doors leading to a carriageway and/or courtyard of the mansions and the evolution will become very clear after a short time.

I remembered a film I had seen in 2014 titled “My Old Lady,” starring Maggie Smith, Kevin Kline and Kristin Scott Thomas about a big old apartment in Le Marais occupied by a “viager.” It took place in one of those hôtel particulier once occupied by an aristocratic family who came to the “the city” on business or pleasure from their countryside châteaux. I suggested my friend watch it out of interest. When I got home and turned on the TV, I found it quickly and easily on TUBI. With a VPN (Virtual Private Network) set to the U.S. it was free to watch, and so I did, for the second or third time.

The very opening of the film is set exactly where we had been walking and talking about the mansions. Jim (Kevin Kline) walks down rue du Parc Royal, turns the corner at rue Payenne and finds the address he’s looking for. It seemed so coincidental that we had just walked past it—the Hôtel Chatillon at 13 rue Payenne, AKA the Hôtel de Marie de Lyonne or the Hôtel de Gagny or Chatainville. The hotel dates from the early 17th-century designed by Claude Chastillon (1559-1616), architect, engineer and royal topographer to Henri IV and then Louis XIII.

Watch the film and take in the scenery. It’s Paris as we know and love it.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds in front of beautiful wooden doors to a hotel particulier in ParisAdrian Leeds
The Adrian Leeds Group®

P.S. We host or speak at a number of events each year. To see what we’re up to next, please see the Events page on our website.


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