Today I had to go up to get something out of the attic. Well, I call it an attic, but it's very, very different from an American attic, the comfy kind at my mother's house where a warm wooden floor leads to a spacious room full of stored toys and mementoes.
Most of the older buildings in our part of Paris have a floor of chambres de service or chambres de bonne. Do you see those little tiny windows at the top of these buildings? That's the servants' floor.
What I call our attic, or grenier, is just a storage room that used to be a servant's room. First, you have to go out the back door of the apartment, and up and up this Cinderella-worthy staircase (this is a view looking down). The old wooden stairs are worn down in the middle from a hundred years of trudging feet. The lights in the stairwell are on a minuteur and you have to keep turning them back on again every minute or so. A bit tricky when you're carrying something.
At the top, on what is called the sixth floor (American seventh floor-- but don't forget that ceilings are high in France: this is quite far off the ground), you get to a long corridor with many doors opening off it. This is what used to be, a hundred years ago, the servants' territory.
Each apartment in the building gets several chambres de service, or servants' rooms. In the old days, a small village of servants lived up here, in single rooms the size of a large closet. There were three sinks and two toilets for the whole floor, where there are about forty small chambres de service. The last time I was up here, the toilets looked like this:
I hadn't been up there in a long time and was pleasantly surprised to see a modern toilet in the other bathroom. But on the other hand, it means someone is using it, and doesn't have a bathroom in his or her room.
For a while one rogue owner in our building was renting out two of the chambres de service, about 14 feet square, to a dozen Moldovans living in Paris illegally. But little did they know with whom they were reckoning!
Nowadays, the servants' floor is a bit lonely. It is still inhabited by one or two students whose rooms have been fixed up as mini-studios made out of two or three chambres de service put together, and obviously someone is using that bathroom, but the owners of the building don't really want anyone up there, so most of the chambres, like ours, are just storage rooms. Those long dark corridors that once echoed to so many voices are empty and quiet.