Sunday, November 29, 2009

Drunks, Slobs, Polluters

Yes, there are downsides to living here, and one of them is, without a doubt, the building I live in. The location's pretty good, most of the neighbors are fine, and being almost on one of the busiest plazas in town, it's remarkably quiet. But every day brings another frustration, it seems. There is, of course, the stove, with its two small, closely-packed electric elements, which only function when you turn on a timer. Making soup a week or two back, I had to keep jumping up and going and re-twisting the dial on the damn thing: it'll only run for an hour at a time. Then there's the plumbing. I insisted on a new toilet (what, didn't I want to sit on a cracked toilet seat?), and it came with one of those push-button tanks with a larger or smaller button depending on how much you wanted to flush. This broke almost immediately, and so for the past nine months I've had to pull a chain in the tank. It's fresh water, but I do think for what I'm paying I shouldn't have to do this. Oh, and once flushed, the toilet is the master. There's almost no water pressure, so until the tank refills, there's no running any other water in the apartment: great moaning and vibrating and cessation of function will follow. The two faucets, in the bathroom and the kitchen, are so silted up that water shoots all over the place when you turn them on (I know, I should just unscrew the cap that holds on the little screen and clean it,, and the one in the kitchen isn't attached to anything, so it keeps falling into the sink. But until I can afford and find another place, I'm okay with this (although I'd sure like another burner in the kitchen). What I'm not okay with is this:

Every week, dozens of advertising flyers get delivered to our mailboxes, along with various propaganda magazines from the region, the city, and so on. And every week, most of us take them out and put them on top of the mailboxes and fish out any mail we might have received. Some of the guys who deliver these things, though, just leave them on the stairs in a neat pile. Now, as I write, the scene in the hall looks much worse than this. I took this picture when Jack was here last week and he'd kicked the slick paper over to one side. The stuff's slippery and he didn't want someone slipping and falling. We do have a cleaning lady who comes sometimes, and at that point all the paper disappears. But the other day I came home and found the Turkish lady who lives upstairs with her two sons coming into the house the same time I was, her youngest with her. They headed up the stairs, which were clean except for a pile of flyers and ads someone had left. Without hesitating, the kid took a swipe at this, and dozens of slick pieces of paper went down the stairs in a torrent. I made a sound, but his mother was too busy investigating a banana -- a banana! -- which lay, half-eaten a few steps above. Ascertaining that it wasn't edible, she said something to the kid and he scrambled up the stairs. Lest you think I'm just blaming her, though, Les Lunkheads, the French idiots below me, do the same thing, and they're almost certainly the source of the banana, as they are of the half-eaten kebabs and odd croissants one finds at times.

What can I say? It's a slum.

* * *

Last year at this time, I made a horrible mistake. I thought I hadn't been paid for some work I'd done in Germany, a matter of over a thousand euros. After the client had traced the invoice, it turned out that I had, in fact, been paid. And spent it. That's what the confusion of moving will do to you. I had more coming in, though, but I had to be careful for a few days. How careful? When the city did its Festival of the Vines, in which all the wineries in the Montpellier Agglomeration set up booths for tasting, an invaluable one-stop education in the local wines, and offered a tasting glass and tickets for tastings at three wineries for €2, I couldn't afford it. I did, however, pick up flyers from as many of them as I could and studied them. I'd be ready when they did this again.

Well, this weekend they did it again. And I had €2. But this time there were two problems. First was that that flu I had a couple of weeks ago made some sort of short return, or maybe it was some other ailment. At any rate I'd been running a fever and felt whacked on Friday, and also noted that my nose -- all-important for wine tasting -- hadn't cleared up for the day like it usually does. By the evening, the very idea of drinking wine didn't appeal to me at all, so I passed. And on Saturday my nose was still dead. I'd hoped to have an appointment with the nose doctor before the thing happened, but the earliest he could do it was Monday.

The good news is, I know a lot more than I did last year. There is a cave cooperative for the very interesting St. Georges d'Orque area down in Celleneuve which I stumbled upon while looking for that old church last month, and I've been to the Château de Flaugergues for the student presentation. I also had a nice chat with Benoit Guizard of the Domaine Guizard, who make some really nice wines and whose place is easily reached on the bus, which I intend to do once the schnoz is back. But for one-stop shopping, I blew it again. Boy, do I want my sense of taste back!

* * *

There were rumors of a postal employees' strike coinciding with the wine fest on the Comédie yesterday, but I didn't see one. I did, however, note that there are dozens of little huts all the way down the Esplanade which will soon be filled with the kind of things you buy as gifts for pepole you don't really know all that well, which should be amusing. At the end of the huts, they were installing a huge artificial ice rink, and on the other side of the Esplanade there was the monthly antiquarian book flea market, at which I saw several books that were older than anything down at the Médiathèque's seminary exhibition, although to be fair a couple of them were at the table of a guy who seemed to have a fair repository of vintage erotica, which probably wouldn't have fit the bill. When I got back from that stroll, there was a demonstration, but I couldn't see postal workers dressing up as animals.

No, these were protestors showing how many tons of CO2 countries were pumping into the air, each holding a number of black balloons keyed to the output. Why the guy with the U.S. balloons is dressed like a polar bear I can't say, except maybe he's as confused about American geography as most Americans are about European geography.

At least this gal, at the other end of the Comédie where people were dressed as national stereotypes (a woman representing India had a green sari and a red dot on her forehead), attempted a cowboy hat.

And so, having been stereotyped and having not tasted a drop of wine, I slunk back to my slum, to feast on leftovers of one of the biggest culinary disasters of recent months, which occurred when I grabbed the wrong can at the store: folks, do not make pastafazool with chickpeas.

Okay, I'm going out for a minute. If the banana or the advertising flyers don't kill me, I'll be back with more soon.


  1. If you lie down with schleppers, you get to push the rock up the hill. You are lucky that you don't have a squat toilet.

  2. Sounds like the mess I used to have to live in in my first apartment in Montpellier. It's amazing that some people have very little idea about communal living - especially in France where apartment living is the rule rather than the exception.

  3. Ed, La Poste will stop delivering all the bullshit if you and your neighbors make a sign on the box that says"Pas de Publicité, SVP"

    I have no helpful words for your plight as a tenant. Most French landlords are lazy, and they act like they are doing you a favor by giving you a place to live. In the US it was the same way, but that's how I learned several building trades. The landlord wouldn't fix the stuff, so I did and I sent him a bill.

    Andy, Mussy-sur-Seine

  4. That's terrible but I'm not really surprised. Andy is right. Putting a sign on your mailbox would help you (but it wouldn't with the "pile" of ads in the staircase). Good luck, Ed. I'm still working in my apartment. It's an endless work...

  5. And if Andy thinks the crew in this building could ever unanimously agree to anything, he's dreaming! And I don't think it's La Poste, is it? There are these guys who haul little carts around piled with the stuff.

  6. Ed, I think you'll find that your sediment build-up is limestone, and if you take a kitchen knife to the bottom of the tap (i.e. don't unscrew anything)and scrap a bit, the water will behave itself.

    It works here at least.

  7. Well, yeah, it is limestone, but there's a little screen and when you run hot water, tiny pebbles come from the heater and clog it. Hard to get at them with a knife, and of course vinegar is another answer here, but the best thing is to unscrew the head of the faucet (which is, of course, similarly corroded) and empty out the little screens. Austin, Berln and Montpellier all have hard water, so I know a bit about this!


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