July 23, 2007


The bikes are in the cave. Josephine and her gall won out.

It came down to Xavier and me just trying to sneak out of the apartment, making as little noise as possible, to avoid her nagging. It was a futile attempt to escape her glare – for her eye is perpetually at one of her windows or on her Judas (as French people call the little peephole in a front door).

One morning I was leaving the apartment pretty early and found Josephine waiting for me in the hallway before I had even shut the front door. She is at least a head and a half shorter than I am, but twice as wide. “Je suis tres en colere!” (She was very mad), she cried. She took me, almost by the arm, and explained that she was going to give me a key to cave and she was escorting me there that moment to open the door. I felt like a boarding school kid being lead by his ear to the head master’s office. We arrived at the door to the cave and with terrible frustration, Josephine found that the lock to the cave was somehow broken, or that in her rapid attack plan, she had grabbed the wrong key. We went back up to the fifth floor to find the right key. Opening her door with ferocity, she cried out for her husband, Jean-Pierre, who was still asleep. He appeared in his striped pajamas, grumbling, and asked her what she was yelling about. He was to find the right key to the cave; she had already been up for hours, she explained, and thought that he could do something to help out. “Depeche-toi!”(Hurry up), she commanded again and again. The funny thing is that as she would bark orders to him, she would turn to me, look at me, and furtively wink – like she was showing me how to effectively operate a marriage. I thought to myself, life is hell for poor Jean-Pierre. Jean-Pierre was ordered down to the cave to get the key working, but to no avail. The lock was apparently broken! That morning I left Josephine practically sobbing by the door of the cave, frantically trying every key she owned. I felt bad and stayed for a little while, but after 15 minutes of saga I turned and said, “Bonne journee, Josephine,” walked to the courtyard where my bike was waiting for me and took off. Oh happy day.

Josephine’s assumption that the lock to the cave was broken turned out to be false. And in the meantime, Josephine had continued rallying the people of the building against our poor bikes. A sign posted above our bikes the next afternoon read: “The courtyard is not a parking lot. It is not a place for bikes. Please be polite and move your bikes to the cave.” After reading this, Xavier pulled out a pen and wrote, “The lock to the cave is broken. Please call me to discuss this…” The response that came next was the best. In big, thick, green permanent marker, written directly on top of his writing, the sign writer responded triumphantly, “C’EST FAUX!” (It’s false!) The lock, apparently, wasn’t broken at all; Josephine just has an issue with keys, I guess.

The whole sign thing was troubling. It went on and on and I just didn’t get how sign-writing is an effective means of communication…a bit passive aggressive (not that sneaking out our apartment to avoid the lovely Josephine didn’t reek of the same). The posted signs reminded me too much of my roommates when I lived in Hawaii, one of whom became so upset about other people consuming her sliced American cheese, she firmly placed a note on the wall by stabbing a large butcher knife into it. We all got the point and I pretty much avoided the kitchen after that point entirely (the cockroaches were a good enough deterrent anyway).

Finally, the last sign was posted. It was a sign threatening a visit from the syndicat, some amorphous, all-powerful person involved in the functioning of the building. (And I thought New York co-ops were bad). The syndicat came and went and we received a visit from a nice man who explained that the bike issue is, indeed, not a big deal, but even still, we would simply have to park the bikes elsewhere. We conceded. Since I use my bike everyday, it is now parked out in a public square near our house, waiting to be stolen or vandalized (pretty much inevitable in this city). And Xavier’s bike has been banished to the cave. He only uses his on weekends and so the journey down into the cave and back up is feasible once or twice a week.

Last weekend we were going out for a bike ride to enjoy the sunshine (which appeared, incidentally, for the very first time since I’ve been in Paris). I was waiting at the top of the stairs to the cave for Xavier to fetch his bike and watched him disappear down them, around the slanting stonewalls that smell terribly of toadstool. Behind me, Josephine was approaching. I caught her figure out of the corner of my eye and looked around for a place to escape to…the cave! I ran down the steps and turned the corner. But from above, Josephine’s voice boomed down. “Can you hear me? Can you hear me?” Xavier blew air out of his mouth in the typical French way (a ppuuuhh sound). “Yes, Josephine, loud and clear,” he replied. She went on for a moment about the bikes (of course), how much better it is they are in the cave, and trailed on…something about the mildew smell in the cave. Xavier retorted snidely, “Josephine, it smells bad down here and my bike is really heavy, I can’t seem to get it up the stairs. Can you please come down here and help me out?” Josephine’s response was another classic French noise (booouuff) and Xavier smiled amused as he hefted his bike up the stairs.

Xavier does this funny movie announcer voice, like the guy who narrates trailers for American films. It is the voice where his French accent is the least conspicuous and only occasionally you think he might have a slight speech impediment while the voice is going (but not an accent). We came to start thinking of ways we could get back at Josephine throughout this whole thing and Xavier would narrate our ideas like the trailer of a film. (Imagine the voice that starts the trailer): “Josephine is watching…she is always there…she knows what you are doing and why…she is at her window…she is behind the door…(and then long and drawn out): J o s e p h i n e…”

Mostly we came up with ways to sabotage her attempts to spy.

Scenario #1: Xavier finds sulfuric acid and covers her Judas with it, preventing her from spying from her front door ever again.

Scenario #2: We leave our front door open a tad, with all the lights off in the apartment. There is a large bucket of water balancing on the door from above. She will not be able to resist the lure and will enter the apartment. She will be soaked.

Scenario #3: Same set-up as Scenario #2, minus the water. Xavier and I are merely waiting in the dark for her to enter, look around and then we get close and scream. She leaves very frightened.

Scenario #4: (Background: Josephine has often looked at Xavier with coquettish eyes and smiles. Highly amusing. She is, again, a 65 year-old, white mushroom in a very large, floor-length, t-shirt at all times). So in this scenario, Xavier seduces Josephine with chocolates and his fox-like head and expressions. She falls for it and allows our bikes to stay wherever we would like them. The arrangement is maintained by only a few waves from the windows of our apartment from time to time.

We will let you know if we decide to produce a full-length feature. Meredith, maybe you could help out...

Here we are at the Sacré Coeur
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