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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Saturday, 14 August 2004

Topic: World View

Paris Notes: A building without a concierge is a building without a soul.

News of the Syndicat National Ind?pendant des Gardiens d'Immeubles, Concierges et Professions Connexes...

I came across this oddity -

Key changes may spell end for the Paris concierge
Jon Henley in Paris, The Guardian (UK) - Thursday August 5, 2004

The concierge is disappearing.
They are as much a part of Paris life as petits caf?s at the comptoir, carnets of violet-tinted tickets for the metro and crottes de chien on the pavement, but their numbers are dwindling and the fate awaiting many is causing concern.

Concierges, the women who wash the doorsteps, scrub the stairs, change the lightbulbs, take out the bins and distribute the post in the capital's apartment blocks, have been in decline since electronic entry code systems were introduced in the 1970s.

But as the older members of a dying profession retire and soaring property prices lead owners to get rid of those who are left, rent out their cramped lodges and use contract cleaners instead, the needs of impoverished ex-concierges are proving hard to meet.

The Paris town hall says up to 2,000 of the 35,000 concierges' jobs in the capital are disappearing each year.
Well, times change.

And it seems largest union of these works, the Syndicat National Ind?pendant des Gardiens d'Immeubles, Concierges et Professions Connexes are getting fed up. Henley says there are many problems: concierges "work for a pittance," retire on minimal pensions, and can be legally evicted from their lodges as soon as they are no longer employed.

He notes that Paris concierges, who since the late forties have almost invariably been Portuguese or Spanish, typically earn ?1,000-1,200 a month before tax and social security, leaving a net pay of about ?600-800. And of course their pensions are much smaller. This too is a fifty hour a week job, or more what with, he notes, are additional tasks - letting workers into the apartments, watering plants, feeding pets, even taking care of schoolchildren for a couple of hours. And of course there is the problem of the residents' attitudes. But Parisians are nutritiously cutting, if not rude - as all non-Parisian French people will tell you. It's kind of like New Yorkers and the rest of us. Henley cites a survey by the union that found verbal abuse or violence had doubled in the past three years. Eighty percent of these concierges surveyed said they had suffered verbal attacks and twenty percent physical assaults. Life is tough.

Then there's this -
To these must be added the determined attempts of some residents' committees to oust them on economic grounds.

"I'm safe, but I've heard of cases where concierges have been given written warnings because of a cobweb," said another concierge. "Or asked to sign contracts that double their workload for the same salary."

Adelina Nunes, who has looked after a 36-flat block in the 10th arrondissement since 1969, is retiring next year.

"My husband has a family home in Portugal," she said. "I'm lucky. But even with somewhere to go, it will be terribly hard after 35 years here, in this building. This is my home. What must it be like for people who have nowhere else?"

Mrs Nunes says she will not be replaced: with her salary and the employers' fees adding up to 12% of the communal charges, a cleaning firm costs less, so her lodge might make way for bikes and pushchairs.

"I understand, I suppose," she said. "But it's sad, don't you think? A building without a concierge is a building without a soul, we say. An electronic entry code isn't going to lend you an umbrella, is it, or take delivery of your mail order shopping?"
Well, times change.

Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, confirms all this -
Concierges, or gardiennes, are disappearing like snow in August. My building has one of these mysterious contract-cleaning outfits. I haven't heard or seen them for months. Without a concierge, the building management may as well be in Panama.

The question is, when something goes wrong, what are we supposed to do? I don't even know the phone number in Panama. They changed the doorcode last fall without putting a note in the mailboxes. Imagine asking a pizza delivery kid what it is. People coming to - ha-ha - 'water the plants,' ask me what it is.

In the last place I used to chat to the concierge, her kids and her husband. She had two buildings to look after. At least 5 staircases, 8 floors high. The husband did construction work I think. After 20 years here they went back to Portugal in 2002, in their used BMW 530 turbo-diesel, to operate their own bar-restaurant, and live above it - instead of in the shoebox they were in here. I wish I could have gone too.

My last concierge confirmed just about everything that was in this Guardian piece. Tenants are the gardienne's worst enemy. They don't even tip anymore at Christmas - the going rate used to be a 10th of a month's rent. I think they were all glad to go while they were still young enough to have a life in Portugal's sunshine.

You know, Paris has a lot more circuses now, but it's not getting to be a nicer place. Folks are getting ground down. Solidarity is on the wane.

There's a guy in the 17th who gave up his job as an accountant to be a concierge. He tries hard but has said on TV that it's a thankless, uphill job with lots of downside. He organizes fetes in the cour, and some of the sour ones say, 'nobody asked him to do it.' America has no monopoly on pinheads.
My apartment building here in Hollywood has a resident manager - a three hundred pound severe looking Russian woman. And her English isn't good. And she's surly. But things get fixed when they break. That's as close as we get here in Hollywood to having anything like a concierge.

One of my French friends out here has her mother up in Montmartre (rue Lamarck) in a tall building with the standard Portuguese concierge. Mom is in her early eighties now and needs someone around. I wonder if the Portuguese concierge is still there. I shall inquire.

But the world is changing. I fear this Montmartre Portuguese woman is long gone.

Ric says Paris is not getting to be a nicer place. The world is not getting to be a nicer place.

And a photo I found on the net - and will attribute when I figure out where I found it - that shows the Paris of these new times...



Posted by Alan at 13:39 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
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