With Thanks to David Lebovitz
15.10.2015 - 15.12.2015
People worry about me when I travel. I worry too, but not about normal things like getting robbed. That can happen anywhere and did actually happen to me in my quiet suburban town when burglars broke into my house and ransacked it, looking for who knows what.
I worry about odd things. In Paris, I obsess about keys. I was embarrassed to admit this until I recently read David Lebovitz's blog and learned that being neurotic about keys is a thing in Paris. If you don't know David Lebovitz, he was a pastry chef at the original US farm to table restaurant, Chez Panisse. (Other countries have always been farm to table, but that's another essay.) Leibovitz is now a cookbook author who lives in Paris and has a food blog.
Getting in and out of your apartment in Paris is complicated. There's a lot of security. Seriously. Most buildings in Paris are old, so locks and entries have had to be retrofitted and updated. This usually means a box with a push button system and a code. More recently, an electronic key fob has been added so now you can wave this against your box instead of using the code. It gets worse.
My last apartment had a gate with a code. Once inside the gate you needed to use the code to enter the building. The first entry in most buildings only gets you into the foyer. There's another door with a locking system; either a key, a code, or a buzzer. Finally, there is a key or a code to get you into your apartment. My friend, who lives in a much fancier place than me has an added layer of security. She has to code her elevator. My key, a skeleton key, is as old as the building and sticks. Once inside, you are supposed to place the key on the inside and double lock your door. Although this seems like a risky fire hazard, at least you always know where your key is. Are you still with me?
None of this is easy. I have a terrible memory for numbers and used to carry around my code on a scrap of paper. Last time I was here I blanked and suddenly forgot my code. It was late and there had been a lot of wine involved, it's true, but suddenly I couldn't remember my code and had to fumble around to find my scrap of paper with my code. That was scary.
With my latest apartment and my electronic key, all I have to worry about is not leaving my key in the apartment, since the magic key fob overrides the need for the code. My fear of locking myself out is nearly paralyzing. I check again and again to make sure I have my key and my phone before I leave the apartment. The phone is in case I have to call someone if I get locked out. Which happened. Through no fault of my own.
Returning home one evening, I waved the fob against the box and voila! Nothing. Still calm and in disbelief, I tried the code which I had written on the key. Nothing. Dead.
Banging on the door is useless since, if you remember, there is a foyer with another door before you get inside, so you can bang forever and no one will hear you. Long, complicated, panic-stricken story later, my rental agent was finally reached. He did not have a physical key to my outer door either. Phone calls were made, my phone was down to 15% power, more panic ensued. Eventually the owner of the apartment managed to telephone an upstairs neighbor who came down and let me in. Apparently, a circuit breaker had tripped on the lower floor and there was no electricity to power either the code box or the magic electronic key. The upper floors still had electricity so were unaware of my key crisis out on the street. So much for technology.
My worst fear had come true. I got locked out and it wasn't even my fault. After this happened, I read David Leibovitz's blog where he talks about the thriving industry of locksmiths in Paris due to people locking themselves out and/or losing their keys. That was no comfort, but at least I now know I'm not alone in my fear and loathing of Paris keys.