Thursday, March 19, 2020

The Story of Plum: Monsieur Oseille

During the work day, there were short windows of time within which the baby was now spending time at the creche. It was my opportunity to make appointments with real estate agents all over town to look at properties.  The goal was to find a commercial space within a certain list of arrondissements which could serve the dual purpose of containing both my teaching kitchen and a separate apartment to live in. Getting anyone to take me seriously over the telephone had proven to be a major task, and the properties I had managed to see were mostly inappropriate, either being grossly overpriced to the point of comedy, or missing some important element that would make them legally workable.  At this point I was beginning to lose hope.

There was a property in the Pentes de la Croix Rousse, a neighborhood that featured lots of hills and stairs, that had been on the market for a long time.  It was offered by just about every agency in town.  I called agent after agent about getting to see it, since it looked like a charming space with interesting and historical vaulted stone ceilings and a small private courtyard.  It had served at one time as a gallery.  The problem was that no one would show it to me.  Refusal after refusal to even open the door for a look had me on the road to obsession.  No matter how I worded my request, they always had the same answer.  "No, madame, that one is not for you… "

I recalled a little neighborhood I had recently explored based on narrative scenes from a book.  I took my camera back there one afternoon to get some photographs of some interesting architectural details in the back alleys and courtyards.  The rain was pouring down, I had my photos, and I began to lose steam.  Walking up a hill towards home, I slowed down and was distracted by a window of a small independent real estate agency I had not yet visited or called.  I pushed open the door, and bustled in, dripping from the rain.

"Madame?" a staff of 3 or 4 people glanced my way, halfway stopping what they were doing, sizing me up, "do you have an appointment?"

"Hello, I want to see that property." I was pointing to the back-side of the information sheet hanging in the front window.  They all continued to go about their business for a moment, silently glancing at one another to decide who was going to field this person they couldn't hang up on, since she was actually standing in their office.  Finally after a delay long enough to make me wonder if anyone had heard me, a pale-looking tall young man, perhaps a stagière, who had to duck his hair under a beam to reach me at the front door, approached me, whispered "please wait" and walked away again.

They had decided to send me to see M. Oseille, who apparently was not there.  After several minutes of me standing by the door being ignored and wondering if I should finally just leave, a man's polished shoes came scuttling down a cramped metallic spiral staircase that led to the second level of the agency.  He crouched as he came under the beam, came to the door and shook my hand.  "Come up to my office, madame." We climbed into what seemed to be a tree house.  After some shuffling about to clear some papers off of one of the old leather upholstered chairs in front of his desk, he looked at me for a moment with fingers pointed in a steeple under his chin, the small desk lamp on his desk illuminating his face from one side, the dim grey afternoon light softening the shadows from the other.

"Tell me about your project, Madame."  He was looking at me, straight on and without any reservation or hurry in his regard, which took me slightly aback.  Up to that point, I had made appointments over the phone with young pushy agents that always informed me they were on very tight schedules.  When they saw me in person, they barely bothered with eye contact, let alone actually showing any interest in my project when I met with them.  I found myself, that rainy afternoon, in the light of a little stretched parchment shaded table lamp, telling M. Oseille the story of Plum.  I began about three-quarters of the way through the story, as good a place as any to begin.  The words came tumbling out. I felt as if my chest was opening and the words were released, unrehearsed, but already tightly woven. My story landed at  "...which brings me to the reason I am here. I want to see that gallery with the small courtyard you have displayed in your window down there."

"Oh no, madame.  That one is not for you, especially with a baby."  He began to shuffle some papers as if to draw some conclusion to the matter.  I began to gather my coat, feeling slightly distressed that he'd encouraged me to reveal so much information and then refused to let me though the gate.  But I was there, and decided it would couldn't hurt to give the gate a nudge. I sat back down again.

"Can you be a bit more explicit about why having a baby might be a problem with this property?"

"You're going to have to trust me on this one," he said, scribbling something down on a small pad of paper.  He tore the paper out of the notebook, folded it in half, and handed it to me.  "Why don't you go to this address and take a look." He raised his hand and held it out to shake mine when it looked like I was going to protest.  I was ready to keep pushing to see the gallery.  "I think your teaching kitchen is a formidable project, Mme Vanel." His shoes began to skuttle towards the spiral staircase.  "Listen.  I have exclusivity on this one.   Go and visit, then come back and tell me what you think.  Tell me if this might be what you're looking for."

I turned the folded paper through my fingers in the pocket of my raincoat all the way home, and threw it, along with the keys on the sideboard in the lighted side hall on arrival.  M. Oseille.  An interesting character.


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