The four walls I live in serve the purpose of allowing me to shower, cook and sleep for however many months, years, or decades I choose to stay in France. Moving is not an option. Mining my way through the nightmarish French housing bureaucracy in order to secure this tiniest of places, had me gasping for air. The file I had to give to the landlord was the width of a doctorate’s thesis, complete with contents and appendix. You could piece together my entire life history from the information I had to give them. They even wanted half a finger as a guarantee. ‘We’ll freeze it and when you leave, we’ll give you it back.’
So my oversized bathroom sink, two hob electric stove, pre-First World War microwave, Swiss made fridge (true, it says it on the front) and bumpy bed will have to take care of me for the time being. It’s actually quite homely – just. Anything smaller would be unworkable; yet anything bigger would only have me rearranging the furniture for the next two decades until it was just right. As it stands, any interior modifications are impossible. If I move the bed, I can’t get into the bathroom. If I move the table I can’t get to the bed. If I move the wardrobe I can’t get to the fridge. And if I move the fridge I can’t get out of the door. You get the picture.
My weekly routine is the same as most people. I get up at seven, drink a strong coffee, eat some bread, walk to work, work and then return home at around six. I then crack a small French beer (for some reason, you can’t get drunk on French beer) and start preparing my evening meal, which at the moment mainly comprises of lentils and some meat followed by cheese and bread and wine. The result is that I’m developing a cheese belly. Beer gut in England: cheese belly in France. Cheapest things in France: wine, cheese, bread. Can you live on that?
After my meal, I go for a walk by the Rhone which is the best part of my day. Nothing like the mighty Rhone to confirm it’s all been worthwhile. The early starts, the maddening bureaucracy, the faint smell of urine that hangs around my street, is all for the good of the cause. After an hour, I return and hit the hay. Which is what I think my mattress is stuffed with? Adds to the rustic feel the landlord told me.
At weekends I get up at 8 and go for a run in the park. The best part of my week approaches: finishing my run I wander to the café on Rue Vendome for a croissant and a coffee. This is why I’ve come to France. For much of the week, I could be anywhere: Poland, Spain, Japan. But for this hour I’m in France, no question. The run has made me feel energized; the croissant, ecstatic. Endorphins, caffeine and croissant. If I could synthesis a single drug like that, I’d have enough money to buy a bigger flat. And a new finger.