National Geographic : 1950 Jul
Home Life in Paris Today BY DEENA CLARK ON A SHINING day in New York we boarded a plane bound for Paris in the spring. My four-year-old daughter, Niki, barely had time to look down from the air to observe, "The houses look like I made them with my blocks!" before the chic stewardess was serving us a roast chicken dinner prepared by a French chef. An hour later we were cozy in an immacu late, roomy berth. After a bedtime story in the sky, we snuggled down to a deep sleep while the ocean miles vanished far below us in the star-spangled night. By noon the next day, after a magical 14 hours aloft, we had checked into the Hotel Continental, in the heart of Paris. Our number-one problem, a nursemaid for Niki, was solved through the overseas edition of the New York Herald Tribune. Our jewel of a Simone stepped right out of its "Situa tions Wanted" column straight into our hearts. We arrived on Saturday. On Monday she and Niki were hand in hand on their way to the gardens of the Tuileries, just across the Rue de Rivoli from our hotel (page 62). Simone's English was as good as her native French, and from the very beginning Niki loved her dearly in both languages. An Apartment? Try to Find One Bright and early Monday morning we be gan our hunt for an apartment. We soon found that the classic "Cherchez la femme" has given way in today's Paris to "Cherchez une maison." Practically no housing has been built in Paris for years, and with the rigid control of rent ceilings there is not much induce ment for anyone to relieve the shortage. Consequently, there are not enough houses for the French themselves. I have a friend whose father owns three five-story apartment houses, but he cannot give his own daughter and her husband a place to live. As the days passed, we began to feel we were lucky to be at the hotel, even though the Government had turned off the heat the first of May, making the decision according to the calendar rather than the thermometer. On the morning that I saw the headline, "Naming of Bruce as Ambassador Ends Wife's Year-long Hunt for Home," I had a telephone call in answer to an advertisement we had put in Figaro. Madame Blanc had "two bed rooms, 65,000 francs." Our French friends said, "Don't even look at it. The price is absolutely fantastic." To us, however, paying far more than that at the hotel, the $208 a month for what we found was not exorbitant. It was just about the same as we would have to pay for similar accommodations at home. We entered through a sunny court bordered with orange nasturtiums. Tall windows and reflecting mirrors lighted the entrance hall. We had a foyer, a hall lined with spacious closets, two large bedrooms, a modern bathroom and a half, a laundry room, and a window-lined dining room. The living room afforded a splendid view of the Seine and the broad expanse of the Esplanade des Invalides. Before we took possession, we paid Madame Blanc, a Yugoslavian married to a Frenchman, a shoebox full of francs-195,000 of them for three months' rent in advance. The rent she paid to the landlord for that entire period was 18,000 francs. Of course we rented fur nished, and we were asked to pay a $320 deposit against any possible unauthentic scratches we might add to Madame's antiques. Stoves and Sinks Come in Pairs We were especially pleased with our new kitchen. There were two stoves, one gas and one electric. Above our two sinks stretched a maze of pipes. One set ran from a gas heater that provided water only for the kitchen, and the other set led from a huge electric heater that supplied the laundry room and bathroom. All of the pipes were connected in some mysterious way. Taking the plug out of the dishwashing sink was apt to cause lettuce leaves to rise in the laundry-room basin. Per fumed shampoo suds from the bathroom basin often gurgled up next to the stove. The kitchen had four light switches. Each of them, for reasons of French thrift, illumi nated only about four square feet of space. No turning on of the pantry light if one were peeling potatoes at the sink! Actually, the arrangement saved me no money, for it re quired all the available watt power to give a cheerful light. Over one wall of the kitchen hung a row of graduated aluminum pans with which I could handle anything from an individual poached egg to a 20-pound pot roast. Sauce whisks, a pepper mill, a coffee grinder, apothe cary's scales with shiny metric weights, a sieve mill for ricing vegetables, and a salad basket, the treasure of the assortment, deco rated the shelves.