Archive for July, 2009

More fun with water

Posted in La France at 12:32

Water damage (living room)
Yesterday I went to Nice’s city center to shop our summer sales, then buy groceries for the week. After finding some clothes and DVDs, I went home. As I walked into our building entry, my upstairs neighbor’s middle son asked me whether I knew how to turn off the building’s water, since they had a leak. “You should have a cutoff for your apartment,” I offered helpfully, “I have one in mine.” “We don’t, or we can’t find it,” he said worriedly. “Where’s your leak?” I asked. “In our bathroom… a pipe beneath the bathtub blew out…” Suddenly I realized I was probably being inundated. I ran downstairs, opened my door, and sure enough, there was water streaming down my walls, as you can see here. I moved the stereo and computer away — luckily the wood table over my PC had protected it, and only my stereo and the tabletop were wet. Then I took the photo you see here.

The neighbor’s son and I went into the building’s plumbing and heating room, but couldn’t find which valve to turn; there were nearly a dozen. I shoved the Pages Jaunes (French Yellow Pages) into his hands, since he didn’t know any plumbers, and told him to find one and call them. Then I ran back into my apartment to save more things and strategically place buckets to catch the rainfall from the ceiling.

Thankfully, my neighbor across the hall got home a few minutes later. “Bonsoir !” I said quickly, then “do you know where the building’s water supply cutoff is?? A pipe burst and we can’t find the valve, meanwhile my apartment’s turning into a lake!!” He showed me which valve to turn. It was in a small back chamber of the plumbing room, which was black with age and entirely dark. Once the building’s pipes had emptied most of their remaining water, the rainfall in my apartment subsided to intermittent dripping. Mission accomplished — and now our whole building was without running water.

A plumber, drunk, finally showed up two hours later. Diagnosis: the pipe that had burst in my upstairs neighbors’ apartment was part of the building’s main line. We don’t know when it will be able to be repaired; it’s made of copper, which erodes with age and hard water. Probably all of the building’s pipes need to be replaced — as a matter of fact, two weeks ago I had noticed micro-leaks in pipes that run through my WC, which I’d reported to our building management and my insurance. (French homeowner rule #1: never trust a syndic — building management.) We told the drunk plumber to go home for the evening since he could do no more, and I called another plumber, the one who looked at my shower last year. He doesn’t work weekends, so I had to leave a message, and we won’t know anything more until tomorrow. My living room looks like this, and my bedroom was affected too. The good news being that nothing else was damaged, and I’ll likely have both rooms repainted by my homeowner’s insurance.

I did get to see my upstairs neighbors’ apartment. It’s about 60 square meters (645 square feet), two bedrooms, one bath, separate WC, living room, and separate kitchen. Six people live in it. Two adults, their three sons, and their eldest son’s daughter. It’s not unheard of here, since real estate prices are so high, but it was the first time I’d ever witnessed such living arrangements myself. It humbled me, having 45 square meters (480 square feet) all to myself. I certainly don’t look at my place with the same eyes as before.

On a related note, this MetaFilter post led me to a wonderful site about communal living in Russia: A Virtual Museum of Soviet Everyday Life. Once you’ve chosen your language, you may need to set your video options, which can be done with the “Options” tab on the right there. It’s fascinating. Apartment buildings in France weren’t too different up until the mid-20th century. Although apartments themselves were private, not many had their own toilets, which were shared, one on each floor depending on the building’s size. This is why my own WC is so small — originally, there was only the bathroom; the WC was put in later, its size minimized to save space.

New building interior

Posted in Home improvement, Journal at 15:10

My front door, after
In January, we copropriétaires (owners of apartments in our building) voted to redo our building’s sad interior. The exterior had been redone just before I moved in, which was a major selling point for me — un ravalement de façade (façade cleaning, renovation and repainting) is very expensive, but doesn’t need to be done often. As for bargaining points, I was able to lower the price thanks to the electrical hiccups along with the downright ugly state of my entrance and the rest of the building’s interior.

It looks so much better now, it’s incredible. I’ve done a couple other small DIY projects inside my place too, putting a glass shelf in my bathroom and, today, getting a new light fixture for the kitchen. With our big summer sales on now, it was half off at Habitat, which always has nice quality light fixtures. I was very glad to replace the flimsy old wood fixture when I took it out and realized that the previous owners — them again — had bolted the fixture directly into the electrical wire hole. As in, they had drilled a metal screw into the same hole as the electrical wires, using a wood light fixture.

I admit I’m increasingly tempted to call them up and tell them never to touch anything electrical ever again in their lives, because every single electrical fixture they’ve done has been a fire hazard. Not to mention the shower (they built a tile-bottomed shower without waterproofing the bottom) and water heater. Water heaters are supposed to be hung on load-bearing walls. The previous owners hung it on a cheap partition wall. And only used one bracket instead of two. Brilliant. I noticed the water heater issue when I first visited; it will be fixed along with the shower once I can afford all that in a few months, which I’m really looking forward to.

A Tour de France Fourth of July

Posted in La France at 11:23

Coyot (2)
Yesterday I took the train to Monaco and went to one of my old haunts: the offices I used to work in. They’re on Boulevard Princesse Charlotte, which is where the Tour de France passed yesterday for the Prologue. I sat on a curb bump at the Livestrong ads, since they made a nice solid background, as opposed to smaller and more colorful ads. This was my general view. All of my photos from the Prologue are in this set.

My vantage point did indeed make for some great photos. The one posted here is my favorite — the rider is Arnaud Coyot. I did, of course, also get Lance Armstrong, but he lowered his head. His fiche coureur (rider stats) put him in tenth place currently. Another favorite is this shot of rider Bernhard Eisel, who rounded the corner near the railway station while I was walking there to take a train back to Nice. Japan has two riders in this year’s Tour, and this photo of Fumiyuki Beppu is one I’m really happy with — you can tell how the solid yellow advertisement makes all the difference with these. Currently in eleventh place, Gustav Larsson has a great tattoo on his left calf.

In just a few minutes I’ll be leaving to watch the Tour on the Promenade des Anglais. I doubt I’ll get such good photos as yesterday’s, since the Promenade is flat, so riders will be going faster, and in groups rather than separately. But it’s certainly a neat experience to watch them!