I’ve been here for almost a week and, in many ways, I’m more than a little disappointed. The area is……………what is it?

It’s a suburb, it’s populated primarily by immigrants from former French colonies, it’s built up, there’s no nightlife or anything else to speak of, there’s no community vibe. Actually, there’s no vibe about the place whatsoever. About a twenty minute walk away is Neuilly Plaisance. This is where the train station and main bus terminal is located. Here, there are shops and restaurants but, it’s not exactly the most salubrious place that I’ve been to.

And then there’s the house itself. Yes, it’s gorgeous. It’s warm and comfortable and there is everything that one might possibly need, except for a tumble drier. Laundry is dried by hanging it on a clothes horse by a radiator or, by draping it over the expansive bannisters.

Denis (pronounced Doonee) refurbished this place himself. He has his own printing business……..well, he has a few loyal clients who have stayed with him. Sadly, he realised too late that the digital age had changed his industry beyond all recognition. So, he laid off his employees, got rid of his printing presses etc and, totally gutted his workshop. Wall to wall, floor to roof, everything was ripped out and this amazing space was created.

On the ground floor is a cavernous, open plan living space with dining area and a small, but well equipped, kitchen. The only separate rooms, on the ground floor, are the entrance lobby, one bedroom (it’s the biggest of all the four bedrooms), a utility room which also doubles up as a sort of breakfast area and, a toilet.

There’s an open plan staircase leading up to a mezzanine come balcony area. Up here, there is another living space with a TV, sofa and……..a piano. Denis plays piano. Nobody spends any time in that space. There is another toilet, a spacious bathroom with a walk-in shower and, the remaining three bedrooms. All of this is in the eaves of the building so, yeah, it can feel a little claustrophobic. Weirdly juxtaposed with the cavernous space below. Oh, and yeah, I’ve bumped my head on the ceiling beams more than a few times.

Denis is a very fastidious man, he has every right to be. This is his property and it’s abundantly clear that he has put a lot of hard work, skill and no small amount of money into making it as it is. Seriously, the wooden floor is a work of art in its own right. However, it’s a bit odd that, for example, he insists that the dishes be washed in the dishwasher and, only he gets to load said dishwasher. Hey ho.

He also tends to keep himself to himself. On the one hand, this is a good thing because, he clearly respects the privacy of his guests. On the other hand, this is not so good because, his apparent reluctance to engage, to be the convivial host, seems to be transferred to the others staying here. But he does have a rather dry sense of humour. Tonight, I cooked myself a meal (something that I’ve really missed these last few weeks, a home cooked meal). I had just finished eating when he came in from his workshop and office area. I asked him where I could put the food waste. In the utility room, there is a standard kitchen pedal bin and two containers, one for plastic and one for glass and tins. He looked at me with a blank expression. I explained to him that I could see that he was recycling but that I had not found a receptacle for organic waste, like food. The blank expression remained. I further explained that, in the UK, we put organic waste into special biodegradable bags, the same bags that I had been given at the local supermarket for fresh produce. We then put these bags into specific dustbins, and they are taken for composting etc. He understood my query, raised his eyebrows, shrugged his shoulders and said,

“eh, here we have rats.”

I hope that this was his dry sense of humour talking.

Anyway, nobody makes any effort to socialise. Everybody stays in their own rooms. There are times when the place feels like a bloody mortuary.

When I first arrived here, there were two other guests.

Delphine is in her early twenties and works as a set builder at EuroDisney. She does shift work so she will sleep during the day, wake up in the early evening, have something to eat, and leave for work. She then comes straight back “home” to repeat the process. I asked her if she ever went out with friends, what did she do socially? She told me that she tends to work with different people all the time so it’s hard to make friendships. I find that rather odd. She is a young, reasonably attractive girl. And let’s be totally honest here, being an attractive female does help to break down all manner of social constraints. I guess she’s just very shy. Anyway, she left today.

Also here when I arrived was Nashide. Early thirties, a chemist, worked on the development of the Alzheimer’s medication, Heparin. She lived in Japan for the last year but decided to come back to France for family reasons. She is staying here because the apartment that she has rented is being refurbished. She’s also looking for a job. She’s also Turkish. On my first night here, I told Denis about my travel project, my website and, the two articles and galleries that I had on the site. When I mentioned Nicosia, he told me to be careful about it around Nashide because she is very patriotic and, quite possibly, a nationalist. He doesn’t want any conflict between the people staying here. I assured that I would be mindful of the fact that I am a guest here and that I will respect the other guests. I wanted to add, “so long as they apply the same levels of mindfulness and respect” but, I’d only just arrived from Paris Gare du Nord and the last thing I needed was to put my landlord off about me. As it happened, both Nashide and I broke the ice on that one the first time we met. Maybe Denis gave her a similar warning. Anyway, I think that we may be becoming good friends. But, she also spends most of her time in her room.

I arrived here on the Friday, on the Sunday night we got a new resident. Frederica (aka Fred) is twenty-three, comes from Nantes, is studying make-up and is here on a course. Fred is a lot more outgoing but, she’s out at her course all day and often goes out into Paris with her friends when she’s not studying.

What I find really, really strange is that, there are three young women living here, until today when Delphine left, and they make absolutely no effort to socialise with each other. I would understand it if they were wary of me. I’m a man, I’m considerably older and, I don’t speak French. But they don’t hang out together in any way.

This has become my mission. I figure that, if I talk to everybody and encourage them to talk back, then the mortuary vibe will be gone. Step one is to refuse to lock myself away in my room. So, I plotted myself up on the huge dining table and spent my first three days here writing the refugee story, editing the pics and, getting it all posted on the site. Every time somebody came into the room, I tried to engage them in conversation. It was hard work. I get that language is a barrier. I get that, as the foreigner, I’m the one that should be trying to speak French instead of me expecting them to try to speak English. I started doing this on the morning of Saturday, 4th Jan and carried on right through to the evening of Monday, 6th Jan. even though I understand and accept my own failings on the whole issue of language, by the morning of Tuesday, 7th Jan, I’d basically had enough. And so, like everybody else in this house, I stayed in my room. Which, I suppose, helped me to focus on getting this Journal page up and running.

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