Sabotage in Paris, Part Two
You may recall that the first chapter of this story, which I wrote about last week, came to a head after midnight on the Friday night after Thanksgiving when I stood by my front door in my pajamas, hot-pink canister of mace in hand.
I’d been awakened by loud metallic clanging outside my apartment door just seconds earlier. When I crept toward the door and looked out the peephole, I could see the light was on in the hallway but the peephole had been covered (!) by the two people I could hear whispering not even a foot from where I stood. They eventually left, slinking back down the stairs. After a fitful night of sleep after my thundering heart rate finally slowed down, I woke up to find the result of the mysterious lurking and banging: I had no running water. These covert somebodies, I strongly suspected, had sabotaged the water main outside my door.
Here’s how this week has gone down in the most dramatic apartment building in Paris.
Let’s start things off with some HONESTY. In the first chapter of this story, I used a fake name (Satan) to describe my downstairs neighbor. But since it’s increasingly clear to me there will be no justice in any other form, I’m going to out him to my six loyal blog readers (hi, guys). Let me introduce you to the demon from downstairs himself: Elias.
Elias is a short, brown-haired French guy in, I’d guess, his early thirties. He always wears a black rain jacket, I haven’t seen him smile once, and he mumbles so much that the four (four!) plumbers I’ve seen interact with him have all had to ask him to repeat himself. And lest my description leave anything to the imagination, I hate him.
Elias’s mother owns the unit below me, and while I haven’t met her, according to my Airbnb host Dan she’s insane – calling and leaving Dan screechy voicemails ten times a day to complain about the water leak that led to this series of ever-escalating plumbing events. Elias is managing the renovation of the family apartment, and apparently they’re trying to get it into shape to rent it.
So after my Thanksgiving weekend without running water or a toilet (infinite thanks to my friends K and S for letting me sleep on their couches), my host Dan brought a plumber by Monday while I was in class to get to the bottom of the outage.
By that point, I had told Dan of my suspicions that the water line had been sabotaged, and while initially hesitant, he’d started to think I might be onto something once he and I had heard conflicting stories from Elias, who on Saturday told Dan the water was out for the whole building, but told me he had no idea know why I didn’t have water, because everyone else had it… while not quite making eye contact with me.
And lo and behold, when I packed up my Moka cake at Le Cordon Bleu on Monday afternoon and checked my Airbnb messages, Dan had sent me a photo. The plumber had found a centime – a French penny – sandwiched between two sections of water pipes outside my apartment door. We didn’t have proof of who’d done it, but now, we had a smoking gun.
I didn’t know whether to be angry or to laugh. Centime for your thoughts, neighbors? If they hadn’t deprived me of basic sanitation and a place to sleep the weekend before my written exams, I would almost have to admire this thrifty crime, so populist that only a Frenchman and his mother could dream it up.
The plumber was thankfully able to remove the centime, and get the water flowing again. And he also found a leak near the washing machine that might have been the cause of the water dripping into the unit below, and fixed it. Might the neighborly squabble finally die down? Dan asked me to keep holding off using the washing machine a couple more days though, just in case the leak wasn’t fully fixed.
While my clean clothes situation was dire – I hadn’t had clean socks in several days, and was down to my last summer shirts, perfect for the daily sleet and mistral-like gusts – I was thankful to have running water again. I really needed to start practicing the eight bakes that could be on my practical exam the following Friday, which I needed to pass to get through Basic Pastry, and make it to a visa appointment in DC two days later. Relieved but still peeved at my neighbors, I returned home that Monday night and made a Paris-Brest to celebrate the return of the water.
Tuesday morning I woke up to proof. Dan had messaged me. He’d run into Elias’s mother and she’d admitted they were the centime criminals! I felt vindicated, and aghast that a grown woman and her adult son would cut off a neighbor’s water supply, risking – well, I don’t know what kind of penalty vandalism gets you in Paris, but surely risking something. To sabotage your neighbor’s apartment is crazy enough, but to make the poor, foreign renter suffer for an issue with the landlord?
In my head I was already rehearsing how I’d say to Elias, if I could figure out the right French verb tense to use: “I’d ask you who the hell raised you, but since your mother was involved, I guess I know.”
Wednesday I was home by mid-morning after an early class, and by the time Dan and yet another plumber showed up for a second inspection, I’d boxed up slices of Paris-Brest and Moka cake, should the water interventions seem to be going not in my favor.
As Dan explained the situation and the neighbor drama to the Wednesday plumber, I liked this plumber less and less. After Dan told him the drippy leak into the unit below had been ongoing for more than a week, but he had wanted his insurance company to sign off on the repairs before doing anything major, the plumber replied, in French: “Well then I would have stuck a penny in your water line, too.”
Across the room, I slid the box of desserts I’d mentally marked for the plumber behind a stack of books.
Dan went onto explain that with the water turned off, the leaks had stopped downstairs. But they hadn’t started back up again in the past couple of days, even though I’d been using it. Which seemed to suggest the source of the problem had been the washing machine leak patched on Monday.
Then when he asked what he ought to do to confirm whether the leaks were indeed over, the Wednesday plumber said: “Tear up the entire kitchen and start over.”
Dan was quiet for a moment, then said, “I can’t do that right now, the Mademoiselle is here through next Saturday and I’ve disturbed her enough. What else could we do in the meantime?”
The plumber doubled down, insisting work had to be a) gargantuan and b) start immediately. He became increasingly agitated as Dan insisted I couldn’t spare a day or more of access to the kitchen before my exams (I could have hugged him). Finally, enraged, the plumber turned to me, and said:
“Let’s ask the lady herself. You’re telling me you don’t have one single day you could go somewhere else in the next week? C’est impossible.”
I chose that moment to invoke my only partial comprehension of spoken French, and innonectly replied, with a carefully quizzical look on my face: “Pardon, je ne comprends pas exactement.”
The Wednesday plumber finally left in a huff as I clutched both dessert boxes, now decidedly destined for Dan (self-described as très gourmand) and his family.
Once the door was closed and the dessert boxes were opened for tasting, Dan told me something else while chomping unconcernedly on a pastry: everyone in the building hated me.
The leak, he had learned sometime the previous week by email, had dripped down not just to the unit below, but the one below that, too. Dan said that guy hated him with a burning passion, and Dan tried to avoid him at all costs. That guy had emailed Dan and cc’ed everyone in the entire apartment building, and said he hated the woman living upstairs (me) and that I was a tourist living here illegally. (Not true.)
Licking his fingers and picking up a slice of Moka cake, Dan continued, “Airbnb doesn’t have a very good reputation in Paris. I replied that ‘Caroline is not here illegally, the Airbnb has a long-term rental agreement called a bail mobilité.’ But yes, he doesn’t like you very much.”)
Part of me was shocked, but another part of me wasn’t. I’d arrived in Paris with grand – and apparently grandiose – visions of befriending all my neighbors, plying them with sweets and pastries until they invited me over to their apartments in return, and taught me the finer points of French slang over a glass of red.
But my carefully polite Bonjours and Bonsoirs I’d directed their way anytime I saw another occupant in the drafty stone corridor had rarely been returned with anything more than a frosty glance. Now at least I knew why.
But as Dan prepared to leave with yet another dessert box he’d allowed me to fill as he snacked, he said something far more welcome: “Why not try using the washing machine tonight? If the leak starts back up, eh voila, at least we’ll know it’s not fixed.”
Shutting the door behind him, I grabbed my dirty clothes and washed everything in the apartment, just in case it was my last laundry before I left France.
It’s Sunday now, and I still haven’t seen Elias, but I’ve been practicing my speech. Two versions, actually, depending on whether I want to take the high road or, well, the French road. I’ll know when I see him.
But in the meantime, I’m baking up a storm with my gloriously normal water flow, and making the most of the Christmas markets before I head to the States next weekend. I’m stocking up on nougat de Montélimar, and salted caramels from Bretagne, and colorful cubes of pâte de fruits rolled in sugar.
And I’m carrying around my hot-pink mace with me, just in case I find anyone snooping around my doorway when I come home from a night of Christmas shopping.