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Dreaming (or Drowning?) in a Paris Bathtub

Interior Designer Martine di Matteo made me promise not to visit my own apartment until she was present. After 18 hours of traveling from New York to Miami to Paris, you can imagine how the anxiety built to see the newly renovated apartment, scheduled for completion that morning.

She had pushed the contractor and all the suppliers to have the apartment in proper shape to move right into directly from landing, but it just wasn’t possible. There were the normal delays as with any renovation, and from the sound of stress in her voice, it hadn’t been easy.

Luckily, my studio rental apartment, “Le Provençal,” had not been booked, awaiting in a perfectly clean state, ready to pick up where I left off when I headed for the Living and Investing in France Real Estate Conference in Miami two weeks earlier. It had become so comfy the few weeks living there, so it didn’t take long to move back in, set up the desk and printer, unpack the clothing and park the big suitcase filled with bright red towels from Bed, Bath and Beyond to be rolled over to rue de Saintonge when the timing would be right.

It was easy to re-acclimate to Paris life. Paris was unchanged and it felt so secure to be at home among the old stone buildings. At the corner café we said our “bonjours” as if no time had passed. Over a “plat du jour” and “café noisette” I opened two weeks of mail and made a list of “to do’s.”

By the end of the afternoon, all had returned to quasi-normal, but the wait to see the apartment was torture. Because Martine’s busy schedule made her arrival late, I proceeded to enter without her. For years, I had been dreaming about this renovation and planning for it. It’s not easy to find the ability to leave one’s apartment for such a long period of time and to amass enough finances to do it at a level to which it deserved. This time had finally come, dreading the disturbance to normal routines and the number of unknowns sure to be encountered.

Entering slowly and cautiously, the apartment was awash with workmen painting, installing cabinetry, laying tile and adding electrical plugs. It certainly didn’t look near completion. In the foyer stood the old ficus tree, surviving the ordeal like a real trooper, but the once green shiny leathery leaves were a pale modeled minty tone hiding under the dust. The layer of dust everywhere was shocking, even in the rooms which had been kept closed off. It penetrated every crack and crevice. Nothing was left unscarred
by the fine white powder. Jokingly, we decided the ficus would be the first to take a bath in the new tub.

The living room was a sea of white. The massive desk unit was being installed along the wall under the windows. The geraniums in the window boxes had all died begging to be cut back, bathed and watered. The wall next to the dining room table that had been mirrored top to bottom made most of the difference, now doubling the visual size of the space by reflecting the entire room. In the center of the room the sofa and chairs newly reupholstered were swathed in protective plastic. I lifted one side to peak at their new shiny silver and gold fabric to discover a whole new look — like meeting up with old friends sporting a “new do.” The silver and gold cushions and pillows were piled up on the bed in untouched bedroom, along with newly made sconces in a sheer gold.

From the living room you could easily see what was taking place in the bathroom, now a striking harlequin of black and white tiles. Martine had created a checkerboard border of tiles along the top, the floor in large 20cm blocks, the walls in 10cm blocks made up of white tiles with black grout to accentuate the gridlike form. Even incomplete, it was a knock-out!

Then I saw the new tub and my heart sunk. The original plan was to add a Jacuzzi, but the small space wouldn’t allow it, so I gave in to a normal tub. Martine had found only one tub to fit the 130cm space, to which I had agreed, and now here it was, live and in person — the smallest tub I have ever seen! It was different from the old tub which had been a big shapeless basin. This new designed tub had a slanted back for comfort, wasting much of the potential sitting space, so that when you sat in it, your knees would be in your chest. This is not the luxurious bath of my dreams. Remember?…the YEARS of dreaming!

The first words out of my mouth were, “I can’t live with that. It must be changed.” The explosion was like a broken hydrant washing cold water over the entire scene. The phone calls back and forth to Martine and Benoit the contractor heated up the air waves. The entire renovation seemed for naught. The one thing I had wanted most had betrayed me.

The next morning, Martine, Benoit the contractor and I met to discuss the problem. For those who prefer showers, it was of no consequence. But, for a “poisson” like me, it’s a disaster to live without the ability to soak in warm sudsy water and let all the tensions of the day dissolve into the steam.

We each tested sitting in the tub, imagining what a bath in the cramped space would feel like. It was so comical — they were tearing with laughter while I shed tears of sadness. For the next couple days of sleepless nights and constant conversations, with everyone offering up all sort of ideas to correct the problem, we came to a complicated conclusion:

For now, we complete the apartment, move in this week and get to know the tub intimately. If it’s more torture than pleasure and seriously isn’t livable, we will plan for a renovation of a renovation, to break into the wall of the adjoining bedroom, using a part of the adjacent closet to create a niche and therefore install a longer tub. You understand, all this means another couple weeks of disturbance, more dust and mess, the loss of a closet, and fixing broken tiles. Ugh.

And then another idea came forth, which may solve everything. When I finally acquire the rights of usage of the “Viager” (life annuity) apartment in my building (working on feverishly at the moment), that has with it a 7.5 square meter “chambre de bonne” (maid’s quarter) with two windows overlooking the 17th-century cobblestoned courtyard from the 4th floor (with elevator), we can turn it into a luxury spa complete with Jacuzzi, steam sauna and relaxation massage lounge that I, my friends and rental guests can use whenever we like!

Now, doesn’t that sound like a new dream worth having?

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris

P.S. President of Israel, Shimon Peres, is scheduled to visit the Hôtel de Ville next Tuesday and I’m hoping to be there to bring you a first-hand report.

Shortly following opens the “Salon du Livre” March 14 to 19, which focuses on Israeli literature. Thirty-nine Israeli authors will be there including Amos Oz, Etgar Keret, Benny Barbash, Alon Hilu and Eshkol Nevo.

Eshkol Nevo will be reading at Shakespeare and Company on March 17th. Also reading soon at Shakespeare and Company are friends of Parler Paris: Monday, March 10th at 7 p.m., Kathleen Spivack celebrates her new book, “Moments of Past Happiness,” joined by other young authors reading poetry and prose including David Barnes, Heather Hartley and Colin Pio Dixon and Monday, March 24th at 7 p.m. David Andelman will talk about his new book, “A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today.” For more information, visit http://www.shakespeareco.org, at 37, rue de la Bûcherie, 5th)

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