A good friend of mine, Allison Badea, has recently moved to Paris for work with L'Oreal, which has been her dream for as long as I've known her. She's incredibly talented...and speaks French! So I knew it would happen for her one day 🙂 Well, I read her beautiful posts about life in Paris and see her gorgeous pictures of cheese (only she can make cheese look pretty), and I think, "I need to find an excuse to visit her!" An excuse, meaning, more than one reason to spend $1,000's. Any festivals out there want a super hero film? And are willing to fly me to Paris for the screening? Maybe? Let me know...
Here is her most recent post that I just needed to share. And I secretly want to make a short animation of it..so let me know if you're interested in making a low budget animated film with me! Woohoo!!
She is also a talented photographer of the world around her. Check it out here. In fact, see the photo at the top of this blog? That's her handy work!
PARIS : party in the Marais. I arrived at my friend's apartment, just having moved into mine a few streets over, an extra set of keys in hand. "Hey, I'm leaving these with you just in case,". Parisians at the party echoed in agreement, "...ah yes, trust us - you do NOT want to get locked out in Paris." When I got home that night, I coincidentally found, in my mailbox, a small piece of paper. "NUMEROS UTILES" it said. On it were numbers for a doctor, an electrician, a chimneysweep, and a 24-hour locksmith. Hunh, I thought. Not bad to have.
A week later I was consolidating the last of my moving boxes, Ella Fitzgerald blasting in my apartment, the place really coming together. I couldn't wait to have the boxes cleared out, but heeded the movers' advice to put them down at the curb late to avoid a fine (unlike New York, you cannot leave random items on the sidewalk whenever you want). 11ish, I pushed the last big box filled with crunched up paper - as big as I was - out the door . . . which slammed shut behind me. I immediately checked to confirm my worst nightmare . . . automatic lock. My thoughts raced. My keys were inside. My friend had left Paris that evening for a trip. I had not left keys at the office but even if I had, it was closed. I did not have money, I did not have my cell phone, and I did not have the building key so if I left, I could not get back in. And I could hear Ella, a bit muted now, inside mocking me.
When we make a decision, we inform ourselves based upon past, similar experiences. Back to my childhood home in the surbuban midwest, I'm locked out. Next door: Ding-dong! "Hi Sally-Sue! You know what, I've just locked myself out, do you have the extra set we gave you ten years ago? Thank you SO much!" College, residence hall office across the street : "do you have the extra key pass? Thanks! I'll bring it right back." New York, Upper West Side studio apartment : wait - non-issue, the door did not lock...UNLESS I TURNED THE KEY TO LOCK IT.
This was not helping. I am in Paris. Let's be honest, I have no idea.
I frantically scanned the hallway for small objects. My hair clip! The Gods of No-Solution had a sense of humor. The Hair Clip of Hope in hand, I bent back two of the plastic prongs, channeling my long-ago summer camp lock-picking knowledge. How many years ago could that have been? Allison, who cares right now, FOCUS! . . . this is dire. What would McGuyver do? I inserted each of the prongs, parallel, into the lock, and pressed to the left. I pressed harder. I twisted slightly and pressed again. My heart racing, I paused momentarily to catch my breath. I could NOT allow the plastic prongs to break off, this would eliminate my only tool and create greater complexity within the lock itself.
It was getting late and I had wasted precious time in which civilization was still awake. Suddenly, the little mailbox paper with "NUMEROS UTILES" flashed into my consciousness. I had no choice but to meet - and most likely wake - my next door neighbor and ask to use his phone.
The man answered the door, peeking out to make sure I wasn't dangerous. Dangerous no, self-proclaimed annoying, yes. This man needs no description other than that he had a halo, wings, and a potentially-helpful expression on his face. "Bonsoir Monsieur", I said, "I'm your new neighbor and I'm so sorry to meet you this way, but I'm locked out and don't have another choice but to call the emergency locksmith." He handed me his phone and the same mini paper of "NUMEROS UTILES" I had remembered. My Locksmith In Shining Armor was on his way.
I walked dejectedly back down to the main entrance and sat on the step. In France, you must turn on the lights in your apartment hallway, and englightment only lasts for thirty seconds before they pop off again. My thirty seconds up, I found myself in the pitch black, my head in my hands, no concept of how long I would be here. I defiantly reached up to the light switch and punched with my fist. There they were, my empty moving boxes, ready to be put out at the curb, with bright blue labels : ALLISON BADEA. ORIGIN : NEW YORK, NEW YORK. DESTINATION : PARIS, FRANCE. Suddenly I was back in my New York apartment, the movers' hands slapping those labels on the boxes, the familiarity of taxis honking out on 79th street amplifying the stomach-punch realization that I could not visualize where I was going. My precious books, my photographs, my favorite chandelier lamp - all of it would be packed into a carton to cross the Atlantic and unload . . .
Here. I was here.
Here in Paris, France, in the hallway of a charming Marais apartment, my dream for many years and my beautiful reality for the last two months. And I would wake up tomorrow to the morning light rays, the Seine breeze, and the echoes of my courtyard neighbors making coffee - all floating through my lace-etched French windows. . .
POUND, POUND, POUND. I watched as the front door to the building shook violently. My heart started racing again. Was this HIM? I had given him the code, for what possible reason was he breaking the door down? POUND, POUND, POUND RATTLE RATTLE. After a long three minutes of meniacal door-forcing there was a click, and it opened.
My hulky Locksmith in Shining Armor entered, a tall, gangly teenager behind him. He smiled at me, a here-and-there-tooth grin. "I forgot the code," he said. "But then I remembered it."
I hoped that the terror I felt was not visible on my face.
I took Locksmith in Shining Armor and his Sidekick upstairs to show them the door. "Vous l'avez claqué?" he said.
I looked at him stupidly. Hunh?
"CLAQUE, CLAQUE, VOUS L'AVEZ CLAQUE?"
I thought for a moment. I think "claque" was the sound the door made when it closed, but you know, I was actually slightly preoccupied at the thought of what might follow, I didn't pay attention. So sorry. I guessed that "claquer" meant to close without locking. Which made the question illogical, because if I had locked the door, I would have keys, and we would not all be here together having this discussion right now.
"Oui, je l'ai claqué," I said.
"On va essayer avec la radio," he said. We're going to try with "la radio".
"La Radio" was a sheet of thick, shiny, metallic paper. Basically, it was the credit card method with a slight size increase. I watched Locksmith try to slide La Radio in the crack between the wall and the door, hoping it would pop open. It was then that I noticed the large tattoo of a key on his arm. Seriously? In the US, if you have a Harley tattoo, you usually have a motorcycle license. I doubted this guy had any kind of official locksmithing anything.
"La Radio ne passe pas!" he declared. The Radio doesn't work!
I looked at him angrily. What did he want me to do about it? I didn't have locksmithing expertise. He was my only hope, didn't he know that? I shrugged.
"Je ne sais pas quoi dire," I said.
I hoped that next he would try some professional lock-picking tool. But instead, he brought forth a drill. With an excruciating sound, he began to drill into the lock. Every so often he would stop, step aside, and let Sidekick try with his long, thin fingers to release the lock from the inside.
To my horror, my neighbors started emerging to see what was going on. From the staircase below, one man said to me, "Ca va vous couter cher, madame" That will be expensive. Yes, this I know. From above, another contributes, "I heard noise at this hour so obviously I had to come out to see what was happening, are you new in this building?" Yes, that I am. It's nice to meet you.
When drilling the lock didn't seem to work for Locksmith, he moved to the door beside the lock. After creating a hole four inches in diameter, sawdust spewing everywhere, he allowed Sidekick back in. His long, skinny fingers released the lock, and my apartment, calm as I had left it, opened up before me.
How does the story end? I opened up my French checkbook for the first time to an unfamiliar check format and paid Locksmith a pretty penny since it was a jour ferié, watched he and Sidekick leave and, sadly, poked a wad of paper towel into the gaping hole until I could deal with my battered lock in the morning. The next day, my landlord's locksmith came and repaired everything professionally, even vaccumed the sawdust up from the floor.
To cover the hole, locksmith #2 placed a plaque with a new door handle. It's white, and the door is grey. I could paint it to match. But I don't think I will. It's a white rectangle, a rectangle of resilience, reminding me every day of the challenges I face in this new culture, tests of my inner strength, stories I'll take with me, doors that will open.
It's also a reminder to check I have my keys.