Who knew that rubber boots could get you kicked out of your apartment?
We spent eight years living in an apartment in Geneva and ours had a Concierge.
Now that sounds a lot posher than it was in reality because he was not a ‘I’ll do anything for you’ smarmy chap at the luxury hotel counter or a French-speaker who offered to walk your poodles. Nope, he (normally a ‘he’ as one of the unofficial job requisites is unruly facial hair) just lived in the building and kept the gardens, hallways, lifts and garages clean.
It’s undoubtedly hard work. Our guy, let’s call him ‘Fratman’ in a vague nod to his real name, was a busy little bee.
If he wasn’t up before 6am putting out the green bins for collection on Monday, he was doing similar for the rubbish on Tuesday and Friday or the ‘Papier Receptacles’ on Wednesdays. He made sure to bring them back inside no later than fifteen minutes after the garbage truck had been and immediately cleaned up any spills or blow outs. Considering he had six eleven-storey buildings with several hundred residents who shared his street address, he had a huge amount of rubbish, cigarette butts, garden spaces and parking spots to keep tidy. He polished windows, shared door knobs and letter boxes and — if you ever felt bored enough to take this on as a dare— you could eat dinner off the garage floor after he’d passed through with his cleaning cart.
He and I had a complicated relationship.
He couldn’t help looking like an Orc with reading glasses (as I still can’t help looking like a baked potato in mine), he didn’t speak a word of English and my French was extremely limited. He believed that if he YELLED AT ME the language would magically ooze its way into my blonde brain and we would then be able to converse eloquently ala Francais. He invariably waited expectantly for my answer and was always visibly disappointed when he only ever got my inane grin and a ‘thumbs up’ sign.
He shooed me off the lawn when eating lunch on a sunny summers’ day because it was only for looking at not using; and the day I unthinkingly strolled across the just-mopped marble foyer saw his one eye steam up with rage before gesturing at me to “Sortez! Utilisez l’autre porte!” Merde and tete might have been muttered a few times as well…..
Then again, he apparently thought I was worth enduring because I commented to Anne — a friend who lived on the first floor and was fluent in French — that I noticed how hard he works. “The Fratman never stops; he’s like the Duracell bunny but with a big set of keys instead of drum sticks.” She told him and he began beaming at me with his one good eye.
Anne then became unwittingly involved in our relationship. The Fratman knew that we were friends. She was, after all, a retired nurse from New Zealand and I, the clueless cretin from Australia. Geographic proximity was enough.
“He’s going to write a letter to the Regie,” Anne exclaimed one morning, slightly out of breath from indignation and eight flights of stairs. “He knows that it’s you who traipses mud into the foyer.”
We’d had this sort-of-discussion via Anne before. Oh no, I reassured her. Tell The Fratman that I wiped my feet very carefully and that mud got stuck in the tread of everybody’s shoes during the winter.
This appeased him for a while until he was out chatting to the gardeners (they literally hoovered up the autumn leaves every week. Milly would run out to her dog forest afterwards and be absolutely puzzled at where her crunchy ground cover had gone) and he saw them. My rubber boots.
The Orc inside him knew — these weren’t your everyday shoes; they were made for mud his resident Aussie Idiot was prancing around in them, dropping off clods at every step. He putt-putted past me in his mini-tractor with six steel wheelie bins trailing on chains behind him towards the bike cave. There was fury in the clouds of exhaust farting out behind him.
I wasn’t surprised that he’d put the blame onto my shoulders and mine alone. “He’s been watching you,” Anne gasped. “He told me to tell you to leave your boots outside or….” she paused, in a bind between upsetting me and the shock of the information she was about to impart, “……it could be you who ends up outside.”
After that indirect ultimatum, I clipped on Milly’s lead, put on my Dog Walking Parka and headed downstairs. In my other hand was a huge plastic bag containing my rubber boots and a large towel. When the foyer doors shut behind us, I took off my house slippers and stepped into the boots, making sure they were resting on top of the grate should any chunks of dried mud fall off, and then reached over to fold up the bag, place the towel on top and my slippers on top of that.
After our walk, I again stood on the grate and deftly lift one foot at a time out of the boots and into the slippers and then put the boots in the bag. The towel was then used to wipe off any mud and water from Milly’s legs, stomach and feet so that, several long minutes later, we could enter the foyer without leaving any significant signs on the floor that we were ever there.
The Fratman saw me a couple of days after this technique was initiated. “Tres Bien!” “Merci Beaucoup” and “Bravo” were gleefully yelled on his side and my go-to ‘Thumbs Up’ sign was acted out on mine: we’d found a solution that suited us all — Orcs and Dumb Aussies united.
So can you imagine how annoyed a week later when Milly and I returned from a lovely long walk around Parc de Trembley and there was the plastic boot bag, Milly’s tummy towel but NOT my slippers?
WHO would want to steal a manky pair of second-hand slippers? They were unflatteringly squashed down at the heel with brownish stains where there was once fluffy blue lining and the outer velvet was festooned with orange dog fur.
….. I wasn’t prepared to risk losing any other pairs of shoes, so the routine was adapted to a rapid tip-toe across a very slippery marble floor and an awkward half somersault from the doormat straight into my rubber boots that were still sitting in the bag with the straps wide apart for my landing.
Eight years later, I’m five kilometres away in France, still in an apartment but without a live-in concierge. I can troop in all the clods of mud I like with newly-adopted dog Felix and my shoes remain un-interfered with. I no longer live in fear of annoying the little Orc or desecrating his spotless marble foyers. We may not have any lawns in our bare-minimum communal garden but there’s no way anyone would come running out to tell me to get the hell off it if we did.
Instead, the apartment cleaners come in once a week to sweep and mop the ridiculously pale beige carpet-lined hallways studded with mud, tiny stones and wet leaves for the other six days. Admittedly, mostly my work.
After their visit, the floor looks stained but no longer crazily textured with remnants of the nearby fields. The cleaners studiously ignore the scrappy overgrown garden and litter blown from the street into our front entrance and clearly have no intention of making our garages anything than untouched dust traps.
Bugger it, there are times I miss The Fratman.