Les Traveaux (The Renovation)

This year in Paris has not been all Michelin star meals and Chanel fashion shows. At this very moment, for example, I am sitting in my apartment in the pouring rain waiting for an electrician who was supposed to be here three days ago to fix the power which shorts out whenever we cook with the lights on. I mean, we like to be romantic but it’s getting ridiculous.

Also, there are four guys in our bathroom, one of whom has no front teeth.

Let me back up. When we moved into our beautiful apartment in October we noticed that the tiles in the master bathroom were coming loose and starting to fall off. There was evidence of water damage on the walls, so we alerted the owner and a reparation company was called in. After weeks of back and forth with the landlord, the workers tore apart the tile to reveal a thick layer of black mold, then patched it back up again. The entire process was again repeated at Christmastime for an insurance adjuster and the landlord who had flown in from New York.  Then once again, for someone from the building strata.

Now, in March, the renovation in finally underway, and there have been up to six guys in the bathroom for six weeks demoing and retiling it.

Construction, like everything else in France, has to be done in a particular order and by a precise tradesperson so that everything takes three times as long. At one point I begged the workers to seal the shower glass so it would not leak all over the floor. Only the glazier could do that. When the bathroom door had to be raised one centimetre to accommodate the new tile, only a carpenter could do the job (and only on a Sunday morning at 9 a.m. with a power tool). When there was a gaping hole in the countertop? You guessed it, we had to wait for the mason.

Another reason this renovation is taking so long is that according to their foreman Filipe, the workers are allowed a 2-hour lunch break daily, plus as many smoke breaks as they need. One day they arrived at 11 and left for lunch at 11:20. It’s me who has to let them in and out, and clean up the “poussiere” (tile dust, also known in contractor parlance as divorce dust). We mop up their dirty foot prints, collect their cigarette butts on the balcony, clean their mess in our other bathroom.

Since there are workers in the apartment from 9 to 5 most days, I often resort to what my friend Leah calls a “Parisian shower,” (deodorant and make-up). Since the Master bath is ensuite, I had to change into my Chanel dress and heels for the fashion show in my closet.

Last week I found an empty bottle of wine in the “chantier” (the construction site) after the workers left. The next day they asked if they could have some plastic cups (beer today, apparently). When I mentioned the drinking on the job to the landlord’s nephew, David, who has been periodically checking up on the progress – or lack thereof—he simply shrugged and said “Vive la France!”