The living room. Oh, sweet, sweet, light-filled living room. We're crazy about you!
We wake up to the sun beaming through the French windows, then we get it pouring in from behind in the evenings from the kitchen windows. GLORIOUS. Considering the last two sitting rooms we've had have been places I rarely actually sat in, this is a marked improvement. I like to draw here, I sit on the ledge and listen to the city below, I bring my book to the couch, I spend more than 5 minutes a day in here now, as opposed to only when I hoover it, as was the case in previous places!
I love that it's like a jungle in here. We went from 140 square metres to just over 85, so the plants had to huddle up a little. Basically there are plants on every surface, everywhere. I even considered putting one out in the stairwell but then had a surge of guilt that one would be "in exile" so had to anxiously appease him by putting him somewhere extra lovely. So much of my life is governed by ridiculous anxiety. Sigh.
One thing I am not anxious about is hoovering this place. I did the whole flat this morning and it was over in half an hour. And that was being thorough, too- none of the flight-of-the-bumblebee, someone-is-coming-over "perimeter" hoovering. Love it. Any home that means less work to clean is a-ok in my book. The Helsinki flat used to take from morning until late afternoon to thoroughly clean. What were we thinking? 130 square meters for two nerds? Bah!
I'm really loving living in a smaller flat. We've curated so we're surrounded only by the things we really love, we use each room rather than having 3 extra rooms that just accumulate stuff (and dust) and are never even entered. Unfortunately for any guests, it's back to the ole' air mattress on the floor routine rather than a cozy room, but considering we rarely have visitors and my entire family now live far, far away, ça va.
And how about those plants, huh? How much are they loving this new place? I know, right? Jungley!
Et voila! There it is, the bathroom in all its gah-lory.
I'll not mention here that the cement floor has chipped in two places already, and I suspect the builder didn't roughen the surface before applying the finish, or didn't check that the moisture content of the cement was low enough to proceed, BUT THAT'S NEITHER HERE NOT THERE. It will be fixed.
Instead we will take a quick view at the tiny room we converted into a loo. This room was originally what the previous owner called a "chambre de bébé", but I can't imagine anyone being able to fit the amount of accessories a baby requires into this tiny space. They had installed super-deep shelves with cupboard fronts to the left-hand side, and a "desk" of plywood was wedged against the opposite wall. We ripped that out, only to discover a waste pipe in the corner of the room. Hurrah! Converting this back into a bathroom made sense because it was more centrally-located in the flat, already had the waste-water plumbing, had a big, open-able window, and would free up the original bathroom to become a walk-in closet attached to the master bedroom. It just made sense. Plus the old bathroom looked like someone had vomited avocado all over it.
We originally hoped to be able to fit a bath into the space, but upon testing the baths in the shop, my giant frame just wasn't fitting comfortably into a 1,60m bath. Plus you know you're too wide for a bath? And the water accumulates either behind your squished-to-the-sides hips or in front? Then when you move, you release a tidal wave of rushing water? Yeah, not cool. Instead, we went with a large, airy shower, which I think helps the space feel lovely and modern. We slapped some metro tile up on the walls, as you do, and built a little wall in between the shower and loo, so you don't have to look at the terlit immediately upon entering the room.
For the loo (which is not pictured because seriously, loo photos?) we chose a suspended bowl, so there is no dusty leg to collect drips (ewwwww) and get all grungy. Plus I wanted to see as much of the floor as possible to keep it feeling as big as we could. The sink, too, is wall-mounted for the same reason. (It's the Ånn sink from Ikea, if you're curious!). I wanted a big, square-y sink so I could wash my face and not worry about the Clarisonic spray going everywhere like it did in Helsinki. For some reason the sink in our flat was about the size of a child's hand. Weird. You had to press your face against the mirror when you spat your toothpaste out to make sure it went into the sink and not down the front of the cupboards built underneath. Mega design fail.
The floor (chipped as it is, eye twitch) is poured cement, with underfloor heating. Since the wall space was at s premium, I decided against a wall-mounted heater or towel heater and went for floor heat. God knows how you operate it, but I'm hoping by randomly pressing buttons on the thermostat come winter I'll figure it out.
I'm really pleased with how the bathroom turned out- it's just the right amount of masculine to keep Banoo happy, but not make me feel like I'm in a mental asylum (sometimes metro tile can feel a bit clinical). I just need to fill my terrariums (you can see them, empty and sad, behind me in the mirror) and we're done. Bathroom sorted!
Our new building is lovely. So lovely, that they threw a little block party to welcome us to the neighbourhood! Or so I thought. Apparently my French is so shit, I completely misunderstood the reasons for the gathering. Turns out, it is held yearly for all the neighbours to get together and have a drink and a laugh. Still nice, though!
Let's skim over the crippling social anxiety from which I suffer (compounded when foreign language skills are heavily required) and talk instead about the food. Living in a building full of nannas means there was a table absolutely groaning under the weight of the clafoutis, mi-cuit aux chocolat, tarte tatins, and gateau aux citron. Phwoar. The quiche section was fully representing too- there were at least 5. I did my classic crispy mushroom and spinach ricotta triangles with spicy pepper dip, and made a pistachio yogurt cake with figs. I was in there like swimwear when several nannas even asked me, L'Anglaise, for my recipes!
At first, it was a bit awkward as everyone asked us our life story and I tried desperately to keep up with the French, but a few of the neighbours spoke English, so they were lifesavers when my head was about to implode. We met a great family (who are actually directly across from us, on the 5th floor of the opposite hallway- we can wave across the courtyard!) who were both lovely and hilarious. They even invited Banoo to a tennis lesson the next day (we live across from a small court) and he had a blast! We also were told by several of the people that when we have children, they will babysit. I like how they just assumed it was going to happen at some point! I wonder if they plant sit?
One small note: out of all the food on the tables, my triangles and cake were the ONLY items that were completely eaten. FUCKING STRUT. Both recipes, I'll add, are by a British woman. Les Rosbifs are kicking ass with British cuisine!
In the pursuit of a more simple, rural life, Marie Antoinette had the bold idea to create a living, working hamlet in the grounds of her Petit Trianon. Called simply L'Hameau, it was comprised of 12 buildings (9 of which still stand)- each with it's own purpose. There is a mill, a dairy, a working farm, barns and stables, and green things growing in all of the little fenced gardens. She would wear her simple muslin frock, drink the fresh cow and goat milk, and enjoy pretending to not be the Queen of France for a while. Of course, her trusty billiard table was installed in her cottage here, too. I'm beginning to think she was a bit of a pool shark!
The land around the hamlet is gorgeous- wildflowers everywhere, fuzzy bees flitting from petal to petal, little streams and ponds snaking through the dense green, and animals nibbling away at the grass. It's quiet and peaceful and, ignoring the groups of touring school children on their iPhones squawking loudly, you can imagine how idyllic it must have been for her and her children to come here to breathe.
These are the actual stairs to the Queen's house balcony. She actually walked up and down these. This makes me weirdly excited. Also this is the prettiest and most obliging cow I have ever seen. She totally posed for my photo.
The hungriest fish ever. They just came up and nibbled, with a noise like "Glomp! Glomp!". Muskrats paddled behind them, ducks swam in and out, pecking with annoyance at the chompy fish. If it were a cartoon, birds would have come down and braided my hair with ribbons.
Maison de la Reine, in all its simple beauty. I'm not kidding, when I die, please sprinkle me here. I don't care if you have to smuggle me in in a Ziploc. Just make it happen.
Originally built for the King's mistress, Le Petit Trianon was given to Marie Antoinette by her husband, Louis Auguste, as a place to escape the rigid rules and regulations of Versailles court life. Marie had her own billiard table installed, a game room, a decked-out music room, and spent many years happily designing the gardens behind the small (mind you, this is in Versailles terms- this place is still massive) home-away-from-home. She chose to let the garden grow in the "English" style- wildflowers, lots of green grass and gently rolling hills, ponds and lakes, and planted rows and rows of trees.
The Petit Trianon itself is gorgeous- all light blue and cream on the first floor, with a grand staircase with her monogram built into the wrought iron railings. Since the King used to keep his mistress here, there was once a private staircase, usable only by His Majesty, who was the sole owner of the special key. (I'm assuming it was to slip in and out of the rooms unobserved for his "pleasure".) Marie Antoinette had those stairs demolished and opened up the layout to make a more pleasing home. The cool marble and floor-to-ceiling windows fill the place with light and the views are stunning. She even had a small stage and theatre built in so her ladies and her could playact and perform for entertainment.
Le Petit Trainon is gorgeously preserved- you can even see original furniture with the same upholstery as she used, as well as small touches like her clock and other bits and bobs. The most interesting to me, though, were the small details. In her billiard room, for example, the parquet was all chipped and scuffed. Was this from scratched balls flying off the table during raucous games? Was it from the ladies' (and mens', this was the 1700's, after all) heels leaving little indentations which discoloured over the centuries? What was this chip out of the stone step? How many lavish meals had this butcher's block seen prepared? Had Marie ever sat at these windows, gazing quietly at the distant castle and wondering how her life could have been different if the fragile alliance between Austria and France didn't rest upon her relationship with Louis XVI. Were these chairs even comfortable?
I love places of historical significance- they're so fascinating to me. Sometimes when you read about historical figures, it's hard to see them as actual people. Kings Louis the I, II, III...they all start to run together.When you can actually walk through the rooms that they must have walked, and see the views, unchanged, that they woke up to every morning...it somehow makes history come to life and you realise that they probably weren't much different than any of us. Obviously the people who lived here had the entire wealth of France at their feet, but still. I'm sure Louis sometimes just wanted to sit in his pyjamas and fiddle with his iron locks. Marie Antoinette herself asked her dressmakers to design her a simple muslin dress to wear at home to be more comfortable and free. When you boil it all down, we all want to be in fat pants, chilling. Of course, the "fat pants" in this house were probably brocade silk, hand-stitched by virgins, with thread drawn from the rarest fibre available to humankind, and the makers sworn to secrecy as to their source.
Ah, la vie à Versailles!
Oh, I'll just be out puttering in the garden...all 800 hectares of it.
Keep in mind that 1 hectare is equivalent to 10,000 square meters. Or about 2.5 acres. So (and I'm not the mathematician of this family, so here we go) that means the gardens are about 2000 acres in size. Or, for my Euro homies, 8 million square metres. I get annoyed when I have to hoover 80!
After meeting up with my new blog friend Sara who courageously had traveled to France by herself for an adventure, we decided to hit Versailles. We'd already scooted all over Paris, so it was the next logical step. We took the RER, saved from taking the wrong direction by a tourist asking us if it was the right platform (blush...yeah, I live here...cough), and arrived at the castle just as the sun was starting to hide behind menacing-looking clouds. Thankfully, we were lucky and it never rained, but the cool breeze and the shade were very welcome as we meandered around the massive space. Sara weaved daisies in her braid, I sat and watched the groups of school children int heir matching orange hats, and we enjoyed the peace and quiet that 800 hectares of garden can provide. There were baby swans, friendly mousers, and rowing boats, and everything was neat and proper and geometric and expansive. It apparently took over 40 years to complete, these gardens, and were said to be loved by Louis XIV more than the chateau itself. It's easy to see why.
The best part of the day though, was me cringing in social anxiety horror as Sara, in true American confident style, waved down two old ladies on a rental golf buggy and hitched a ride because her feet hurt. I sheepishly jumped on, and the lovely ladies (from Toulouse, it turns out) were happy to ferry us back through the gardens. We pidgin-French conversed with them, and wished them well as they deposited us at the foot of the chateaus's steps. Bless.
If you're ever in Paris, I always recommend a visit. Though its one of the most tourist-visited places here, it's so massive that you can always find a quiet, shady bench upon which to sit and imagine the ladies of the court rustling by in their beautiful dresses, or the clippity-clop of a horseback rider coming down the cobblestone path. If you're not able to visit, you could always pop Sophia Coppola's Marie Antoinette in the DVD player- it was filmed in and around the grounds and is simply gorgeous, too. It should tide you over until you finally get here.
In Farsi, there is a phrase that means "little by little"- nameh nameh. Though it's hard for me to do things like that (typical Aries), we've been taking the unpacking pretty easy. Though it gives me eye twitches supreme to see packing materials and cardboard everywhere, I'm trying to take it easy and decide what will stay in the flat, and what we'll have to get rid of.
Unfortunately, as we moved from a 130 square meter flat to about 80 (much, much nicer, and much more suited to two people, and much, much, much better for hoovering and cleaning) we've had to downsize a lot. I thought we had done enough in Helsinki by weeding out things I knew wouldn't fit, but we may have to carry on now that we're here. There are a lot less walls, for one, and a lot less storage, so it's an exercise in minimal living. At this point, we don't even have a dining table. We may have to get some stacking stools and eat at the kitchen counter!
But nameh nameh, we'll sort it out. And nameh nameh this place is really starting to feel like our home- totally and completely. We may never move again.*
*Absolute bullshit, as you know.