Sunday, June 3, 2007

Democracy "à la Française"

Paris is a city of many charms, and one of them is the quirkiness of its elevators. Most of the buildings in the city were built in a time when the only technology used to move up and down involved a flight of stairs; as a result, retrofitting building to add elevators sometimes requires creative solutions.
But this elevator is really the best I have seen, by far. It is the standard matchbox-sized issue, but what makes it truly unique is its operations. It serves a 6-stories building, and only tenants who live on the 5th and 6th floor are entitled to use it. There is a certain logic to it, until you learn that actually, as for most buildings in Paris, there is an extra 7th floor with what is known as "Chambres de bonnes". In the good old days, "Chambres de bonnes" were the quarters provided for domestic help employed by the wealthy tenants of the building; today, they are used as cheaper apartments, and often rented to students.
You would think that living on the 7th floor would entitle you to use the elevator? Wrong. That's a privilege only granted to tenants of the more expensive apartments. And to make sure nobody sneaks in for a free ride, using the elevator requires a key, provided only to the lucky few living on floor 5 and 6 - which apparently caused some rising criminal activity, with outrageous cases of disappearing keys... I think the obvious solution is for the building to hire a full-time guardian for the elevator; but then, should he live on the 7th floor? And, to the point, should he be given a key?

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