So... apartment hunting... We are having a bit of difficulty finding an apartment in Marseille and are still on the hunt. Not only is it near to impossible to get in touch with the agents who are responsible for showing the apartments (agence immobilier), but we have once again run up against some stupid bureaucracy. Apparently there has been difficulty in the past evicting people who cannot pay their rent. This has lead to owners buying insurance that will compensate them if their tenant fails to pay the rent. This all sounds completely reasonable, but here is the catch for us, to satisfy the insurance companies you can only rent to a tenant who makes three times the rent. Keith has an adequate, but small salary, and since I have not even had time to think of finding employment, we are limited to select from the small number of places that fit within 1/3 of Keith`s salary. The thing that really bugs me is that we had planned for this. We had put aside some money so that I would have time to find a job and we could find our feet. But this doesn`t matter - we could have millions in the bank and still they would not be able to accept us as tenant. I guess if we had millions in the bank we would be buying a vila on a vineyard instead of looking at every hole in the wall we can actually make an appointment to see.
We continue to press on with the search and have discovered some other unique aspects to renting in France. Firstly, the original plan was to rent a furnished place, but because of the budget limitations we cannot afford a furnished place much bigger than a thimble. Instead we have opted to go the Ikea/LeBonCoin route. LeBonCoin is the equivalent of Kijiji in France, and I must say I always look forward to shopping at Ikea, even if we are only going to get essentials there. Don’t worry future visitors, we will have a bed ready for you and will make sure it fits your high standards. The second interesting thing about renting an apartment here are the kitchens. Kitchens do not necessarily come with appliances, or for that matter cupboards, which also means no countertops. I am continually surprised every time I walk into a kitchen and see only a sink. It is strange, empty, and souless. Kitchens should be full of nooks and crannies and things that go whiz and pop. I feel like I am on some crazy home renovation show every time I walk into les cuisines. With this in mind our goal has now become to try to get 'une cuisine équipé'. I know what you are thinking, “Ah! That sounds good.” Unfortunately une cuisine équipé can mean a range, stove, fridge and washing machine (yes one for clothes in the kitchen) all included, only the range being included, or anything in between. One other quirk about apartments here that I have not encountered in my other travels in Europe has been the separate bathroom and WC (wash closet). I remember in kindergarten being confused as to whether it was proper to use the word bathroom or washroom for the school toilettes as there were not any actual baths at the school. Well this has simply added another level of confusion to my lexicon and my sense of hygiene. Why would you have one room with your sink, bath, shower etc. and one closet (yes literally these are the size of closets) with only your toilette. It just doesn`t make sense to me. Howver, let me affirm that if we do end up with an apartment with these arrangements I will be investing in hand sanitizer for the WC and rigging up a way for one to use it without touching anything else.
I must comment on how well Keith has dealt with all of the phone calls and sorting through all of the not so potential apartments. I have been cheering from the sidelines and pushing him on like a slave driver at times, but feel a bit useless. We only have one wire for the internet which means that he has been appointed the work horse due to his superior knowledge of the French language. Monday is a holiday, but we will press on with our search next week and I will hopefully soon be able to describe our delightful new place (and new furniture!!!!)
To alleviate the feelings of frustration of our search we have had two amazing outings. The first was a dinner with Keith`s boss and labmates on what happened to be my birthday. Geneviéve, Keith’s boss, made dinner for all of us and it was fantastic. Firstly, she is house sitting for a friend who has a villa. The house itself was amazing, but from what we could see in the dark and from what we ate from the garden and adjacent vineyard we can assume that the grounds are just as spectacular. Dinner stared with halved avocados that were cradling a fish, vegetable and creamy dressing mixture for the others, and a vinegar dressing for me. Then we moved on to a pork which was simply delicious and my first taste of real ratatouille. The ratatouille was phenomenally warm in flavour and how could you not feel healthy eating all of those vegetables? I will definitely be asking for the recipe for that one to share with all of you. Next came a course of salads and cheese. Keith is blown over by the cheese here and has declared he will be gaining the “French fifteen” on cheese alone. Dinner finished with grapes from the garden and une gateau particular to the region. It was a fantastic dinner and Geneviéve was so kind as to choose dishes that enabled me to fully partake in the meal. After the wonderful food, some good wine and the late hour my comprehension began to shut down, but really what a way to enter your 30th year.
In order to work off the extra calories of the glorious meal of the night before, Keith and I set out to explore the many trails in the area that lead to the different calanques or fjords of the Mediterranean. The one that we chose actually starts right on the University campus at Luminy. The trail system that leads to the different calanques in the area is quite extensive and is well maintained but finding a map of them seems to be near to impossible. We have decided to simply explore them bit by bit as time allows. Our meandering took us not down to the calanque, but up to a lookout far above the sea. The whole trip was pretty much breathtaking and we can’t wait to go further in our explorations.
There are so many fantastic things to look forward to doing and seeing here that it is hard to come to terms with the fact that this is not a vacation. I’m sure that another round of apartment hunting will snap into focus the requirements of getting a job and actually settling down, but in the meantime we might as well enjoy ourselves.