Living in a Railway Car

I‘m in France. It still doesn’t quite seem real. But I’m here, staying in the Marais, in what must be the smallest apartment ever made.

I used to stay in a very small apartment in the Village off 6th avenue which I thought was the smallest apartment ever made. But no. This French apartment is more like a railway sleeper car than apartment proper. Maybe fifteen feet long and only three feet wide at the ceiling. More like five feet wide at the floor, but, because it’s an attic, the outer wall slopes in and you lose two feet by the time you get to the ceiling. It’s narrow enough that you can’t pass another body when you walk to length of it. And yet somehow in this space the French have managed to pack a kitchen, a twin bed, a large bookshelf and a shower. Due to the size and arrangement you can go to bathroom, sort your laundry and fry eggs at the same time. Not that you’d want to.

But it’s actually not a bad place. Livable for one, tolerable for about three hours with two. So long as the two are good friends. About two months ago I spent a week living on a 40 ft boat with six other people. In hindsight that was roomy and spacious. So I try to think of this place as a little ship in the vast sea of Paris, which makes it more fun. For those of you thinking, oh it can’t be that small, check out the pictures.

Paris itself is lovely. I’m not exactly sure what to write about Paris because I feel like the only person that’s never been here. I’m going to eschew the ‘I went here,’ ‘I went there’ stuff in favor of more eccentric observations. A couple of things of note… Paris is by far the quietest major city I’ve ever been in. At least the Marais is quiet at night in ways that New York can only dream of. French pre-packaged food is better than most of the restaurants I’ve eaten at in America. You can buy things like créme fraiche in little containers at any grocer. Try to even find pre-made créme fraiche in America. And that myth of wine being cheaper than water, strictly myth, though wine is cheap. In general though Paris is more expensive than New York. But like New York, you can live cheap if you know where to go.

Outside the obvious landmarks, the highlight so far has been the food. For those of you that don’t know I’ve spent the last five years of so working in restaurants, so there may well be a good bit posted about food in the course of this trip. Sort of an obsession of mine. Last night we ate at a very traditional French restaurant, duck breast with poached figs, salade de epinard etc. One nice thing about having worked in French leaning restaurants is, while I may not understand much in the way of French, I can read a menu just fine. Of course I can’t really order except with pathetic finger gestures, but at least I know what’s being served.

Speaking of not speaking French, I haven’t said much since I’ve been here. I say bonjour and merci to be polite, but I haven’t gone much beyond that, which I feel a little weird about. The French are intimidating when it comes to language, I’m not sure why, they just are. And I’m not about to try English; I would feel much more comfortable trying to order something in Spanish than English. I feel guilty for speaking English, but then I have weird hang-ups about language so it may just be me. So far I’ve let L.S. take care of the talking since she’s fluent.

I guess I’ll indulge in a little itinerary repetition. Today we went to the Centre Pompidou, which is currently having a huge Dada exhibition. We’re saving the Dada for a later day, but we did go to the Big Bang collection and saw some good stuff. Cy Twombly and Basquiat along with a few Picassos and some other good stuff by people I’ve never heard of. A lot of it was crap (i.e. overly intellectual with no soul, maybe crap is too harsh, just not my thing), but there was enough good stuff to make it worthwhile.

Then we caught a train out to Père Lachaise, the famous graveyard. We managed to see Apollinaire’s grave, Marcel Proust’s, and Richard Wright’s before we got kicked out because the cemetery was closing. Who knew graveyards closed? We’ll have to try that one again. It’s a massive, massive cemetery, there’s no way you can see it in one day anyway. By the way, if you’re into this sort of thing, it turns out there is a search engine for graves.

Well that’s all for now, stay tuned. Also, we’re looking to get out of France for an overnight, or maybe two-day excursion so if there’s something you know of that you think we really should see, let me know in the comments below.


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