La Gardienne

We live in a building with a gardienne; sort of like a concierge, except that our building has 12 apartments, not 120. We sometimes wonder what she does all day. She lives in a dimly lit room off the lobby and sometimes pokes her head out, shivers, and then goes back inside. At first, assuming she was like a concierge, I rang her bell and asked her to take our keys so that a repairman could get in. She refused, and only after a lengthy debate reluctantly took them. Paris-style, the repairman was a no-show anyway.

The gardienne does take the garbage and recycling to the sidewalk. We know this because one day when Murray entered the building, she popped out of her room and ranted to him in French that his wife had left the recycling beside the bin and not in it. I had not. I went downstairs to confront her, and she emerged from her cave shaking a crumpled Monoprix delivery receipt with my name on it that she had fished out of said recycling bag. I explained that someone must have taken the bag out, or maybe it was too full and it fell but we certainly know how to recycle. We’re from Vancouver!

She slammed the door.

The next encounter was equally unpleasant. Our mail started arriving opened and taped back together. She is the one who brings it around to the apartments and leaves it outside the door, since there are no mailboxes. I had some cancelled money orders coming back from the school (they had demanded them in February, but failed to cash them till September at which point they were expired, and then charged me 120 Euros for that). The letter explained the cancelled orders were enclosed but they were not. The gardienne flatly denied knowing anything. Then, suspiciously, the school called me to say our mail was being returned, stamped with “no such residents.” Had we moved? Again, the gardienne has no idea what we were talking about.

We decided to take the philosophy of “kill her with kindness” and made a point of holding the door for her, and wishing her good day as she mopped the lobby floor. We thought we were making headway when, in early January, she jumped out at me as I was leaving at 7:30 a.m. to accuse me of dragging our Christmas tree down the stairs right after she had vacuumed. We didn’t even have a Christmas tree! Finally, all four of us came in from the street one day to find the gardienne standing over a small pile of sand in front of the elevator. There! It couldn’t have been us! We were out! She told us to be careful and then proceeded, like a detective from CSI Miami, to take pictures of the sand from every angle. Someone was going to be in big trouble, and for once, it wasn’t us.