French Elevator Hell

My sons have had previous experience with French elevators. When we were here for a few days in 1997, they found the elevator up to our friend Olivia’s apartment hilarious. It was just a normal French elevator — so unbelievably tiny and slow it seemed like a cartoon. It amused them no end to take it up and down, and so when Michael arrived yesterday afternoon, one of the things I was eager to share with him was the elevator in the Gilon-Villes’ building.

I think it shocked him with its smallness (despite his previous experience) and then tickled as it transported him and his two suitcases up to our flat on the fifth floor. Hours later, when we returned from the Christmas soiree at Olivia’s (in Neuilly), I smiled wickedly and urged both boys into the telephone-booth-sized space (Steve and I took the stairs.)

I had expected they would joke with each other on the ascent, but what I didn’t expect was that the door would not open once they reached their destination. Numerous button pushes later, we all concluded: they were stuck. It was 10:30 on a Sunday night. What to do?

What did NOT work was phoning the two separate “emergency” numbers on the elevator door. My French isn’t great, but I think the recording I got when I called each basically communicated the idea that I should leave a message and someone would get back to me… eventually.

Next I tried going down to each lower floor and pushing the call button. No dice. The boys tried pushing all the buttons within, including one that sounded a piercing alarm. (But that was so nerve-wracking they only did it for brief periods of time.)

Eventually, our neighbor on the fourth floor poked her head out and inquired about the ruckus. SHE knew what to do, descending to the foyer on the ground floor where, it turned out, the critical button was stuck. But she lectured us that the problem was that our sons weighed too much for both of them to be riding in the elevator together. I felt insulted. Together they amount to no more than 160 kilos (350 pounds), and the sign inside the elevator clearly proclaimed that the fateful limit was two persons weighing 180 kilos.

No matter. Our neighbor was convinced it was all our fault. Once she’d rescued us, though, she sweetly bade me bonne nuit.

And y’know… once Michael and Elliot were released, all was again well with the world. After a shower and change of clothing, Michael earlier in the afternoon had insisted he was up for attending Olivia’s party, his grueling journey notwithstanding. The party was magical, staged in O’s huge, airy, peaceful apartment in Neuilly and attended by not one but two serving assistants, who deftly offered delicious sandwich slivers and multiple desserts and endless glasses of champagne. An intriguing assortment of thoughtful and charming individuals filled the salon with conversation. Everyone in my family loved it, so the vertical entrapment afterward came as we were awash in happiness.

Today has been filled with equal pleasures: an outing to Notre Dame, a quick lunch back at the apartment, a dash down to the Gran Palais, where a friend of Olivia’s helped us secure tickets into the incredible Monet retrospective (even though they’ve been sold out for weeks? months?) At times the exhibition moved me to tears, and all the other men in my family appreciated it to one degree or another.

At 6 we rendezvoused with Olivia at the venerable LaDurree on the Champs Elysees for coffee and wondrous pastries (shocking by San Diego standards to be consumed at 6:30 but normal here.) We returned home and enjoyed an excellent dinner just down the block from our building. Mike, Steve, and I walked up the stairs afterward. Elliot ascended in the lift.

One thought on “French Elevator Hell

  1. Natalie Fiocre January 16, 2011 / 1:28 am

    That the perfect French guilt trip that neighbor gave you, I am sorry.

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