The FIRE in my apartment building in Montpellier happened on the evening of January 3, 2020. I had left for the U.S. on Jan. 2! It was such a lucky break for me that I wasn’t there. The building had to be evacuated. No one was hurt, thank goodness, and some folks had to be medically assessed. I still wonder about the 97 year old woman and her 70+ year old son who lived with her – “neighbors” across the courtyard, whom I had observed with curiosity through my 20 foot high windows. Their side of the building was where the fire started in a first floor apartment kitchen, and the flames reached our 3rd floor (French 2e) apartments. When a friend notified me of the fire in an email, it had happened already 3 days before. I anxiously wrote to my friends, the owners of the apartment, to get some information, and it was another day before I heard anything from them. When I did, they said that no one was allowed back into the building, it was locked and shuttered, and I would have to make an appointment with the clean up company to get all my things out as soon as I returned, and should probably look for another apartment, permanently! They told me that while their/my apartment wasn’t damaged by fire, there would be smoke damage to my clothing and other things I had left behind. I would not be able to leave them in the apartment as work on the building would begin as soon as access was allowed, and they would be using it as an office while the work was being done.
I think I stayed pretty calm at first, hoping I would hear more with maybe an offer of help to move or find a place to stay. As time went on with only links and phone numbers for their insurance people sent from the owners, who were also friends, I began to panic! I had a plane ticket back to France in one week and I had no place to go!!
Over the next days in the U.S., after many emails, contacting friends, working with my Renestance team who had helped me so much with my move to France, posting on a womens’ expat Facebook group I was part of from which I had dozens of helpful responses from women I had never even met, I found an Airbnb that was available for 2 weeks upon my return! Great! It was in the pedestrian part of town…so there was no way to transport everything from the old apartment to the new, except on foot, up and down the cobblestones streets, a distance of about 3/4 of a mile!
My friends were wonderful! They came with boxes, a dolly, packing tape, and lots of brawn to help pack me up and move me out! It was SO much more than I had thought…how easy and fast it is to accumulate “stuff.” I had been careful not to, and just the extra clothing from the States, kitchen supplies, hangars, paperwork added a lot. Linda threw my plush “blankie” around her neck, Gary was pulling the dolly piled high, I had my pillows under my arm, and was pushing my two 4-wheeled suitcases with each arm! I had to laugh at the sight of us, like vagabonds on the move. Actually, I was very aware of the difference between my “misfortune” and that of people who were truly destitute carrying their lives on their backs or in a grocery cart…and in that moment, I actually felt blessed!
The long climb to the 3rd floor apartment, up winding, pie-shaped, shallow, stone stairs was challenging…55 of them in all. After my fall a few weeks ago, I was definitely in a bit of PTSD mode, and took it slowly. We made it. And for 3 septegenarians, that’s saying a lot!!
Two days later, a friend from the U.S. who had long ago made plans to visit me, arrived! Although I had had to tell her that my accommodations were in question, I assured her that we would work it out, come what may! It did add a bit of stress to my mounting sense of “WTF” (sorry…can’t think of a more appropriate expression!), and really, she helped me to stay grounded and present and not go “awful-izing”in my head too much. We had a nice time together, I was proud to show her my wonderful city, and she discovered places we could visit I might have never thought about. I believe, truly, that she kept me sane.
I am still here. At the end of this week, I have to pack up everything and store it away for the weekend, as this apartment was promised to another Airbnb rental before I came along. After they are gone, I can return for 10 more days during which time I must find another place to live! The pressure continues.
This morning I looked at an apartment that was just ok. Very small yet with a certain charm. After sitting with it for a little while, I decided it isn’t the one. Later today, I heard about and saw pictures of a beautiful apartment, just what I want, and we will see if I get it. I’m moving forward gradually, hoping that I will reach the finish line before my 10 days are up!
POSTSCRIPT: I have learned that I can get a bit panicky in some situations, especially with great unknowns. And I know that, as I look back over my lifetime, everything, even the times which didn’t feel so good, has worked out. I believe that all things work for good, that it just takes perspective and wisdom and faith. Surprisingly, I have learned that I am very adaptable, so temporary inconveniences, situations that are different than I’ve been in before, new places, new living arrangements, can all be just fine once I get into the rhythm. And most of all, I have learned to trust the process and listen to my heart ❤️ – it never leads me astray.