Saturday, April 6, 2013

The wolf moves from the door, and other things


My employer bailed me out of my rent difficulties (I hope) in the eleventh hour. The moratorium on evictions was extended by the government to March 31, and before it expired, my company loaned me money to pay off the rent, and reset the meter to zero, so to speak. The management company for the apartment building promised to cancel the eviction, so either that company is defrauding us, or I’m somewhat out of the woods for now. Only a few hundred other crises to resolve (all of them related to my poverty), and perhaps my blood pressure will start to go down.

It was time for me to renew my French “green card” (residency card) last week. Actually, it was time to do that months ago, but when I requested the renewal way back in October, while the old card was still valid, I was given an appointment in April. When I renewed my passport, it took six days and cost about $100. Renewing the French residency card takes almost a year, and costs around $300. Maurice Taylor might have been exaggerating in his letter to the minister Arnaud Montebourg, but not by much.

Of course, most government agencies are rather slow-moving, no matter where you live. I waited in line for about 30 minutes, then sat in a waiting room for another hour, then spent about 15 minutes in front of a government agent turning over various papers that I had to supply for the card renewal. I suppose it would have happened similarly in other countries. The agent was at least able to communicate with me in French, which was probably a relief, since many foreigners in France don’t bother to become functional in the national language. I cannot understand how people can live for decades in a country and yet never make any effort to learn the language. Not only is it disrespectful to the host country, but it is tremendously disabling in practical terms, since you can’t communicate with anyone. Very strange.

I still don’t have the new card—I was just turning in the requested paperwork. The card itself will be ready in two months. So it will have taken just under a year to renew a card that is only valid for ten years at a time.

Anyway, after spending a couple hours among sneezing, sniffling immigrants in this government office, I was rather hungry, so I decided to try Chartier, a Paris landmark. This restaurant, hidden down a corridor off the rue du Faubourg Montmartre, originally catered to the Parisian working class back in the nineteenth century, providing decent food at affordable prices in a utilitarian atmosphere. Today it still does the same, except that the working class can no longer afford to live in Paris, so the clientele consists of tourists and some Parisians who happen to like the unique characteristics of the restaurant.

I watched a group of Chinese tourists cut in in front of me to get their seats first. Apparently the Chinese leave courtesy and decorum back home when they travel. Or perhaps they are just as rude and boorish to each other as they are to the locals in Paris. Still, I was seated after only a few minutes.

Several things set Chartier apart from other restaurants. For one, it doesn’t take reservations. And the waiters seat you wherever there’s an empty seat—in my case, this meant sitting at a table for two across from a total stranger who was half-way through his meal (it didn’t bother me, but I think perhaps it bothered him). Service is very fast. The food is simple and tasty, but not haute cuisine. The prices are low. The atmosphere is very fin de si├Ęcle and has a certain charm.

All in all, it’s like a chic alternative to McDonalds. The food is better, but the prices are higher (although still very reasonable). And the atmosphere is much more attractive than the banal decor of a MacDo. I had a ground beef patty with pepper sauce and French fries, which is one of the restaurant’s signature dishes. I liked it. For an appetizer I had a simple hard-boiled egg with mayonnaise, which was very good. My only mistake was dessert: I asked for whatever was best, and that turned out to be a baba rhum, a pastry soaked in rum. I absolutely cannot stand alcohol, so it was pretty much inedible to me, except for the whipped cream. But that was my fault, because I didn’t tell the waiter that I was only interested in desserts without drugs.

Overall I thought it was very nice, and the price was right (just over 18 euro), and I’ll go back. But I’ll definitely pick a dessert free of ethanol the next time.

The weather has been extremely cold for the season, with morning temperatures still only a few degrees above freezing. It matters not to me, as with my new, full-time job, I don’t have time to go anywhere, anyway. And even if I did have time to go somewhere, I don’t have the money.