The rue Duvivier in the 7th arrondisement in Paris is a charmless street that houses the discreet, the elderly and the comfortably-off.
There never seems to be much sun in this street, but, at least, it’s within walking distance of the dusty Champ de Mars and the Eiffel Tower, and, on a stifling summer’s day, a coolness emanates from its grey stone and shuttered windows.
When the Lazars’ first arrived at Apt.3, 68, bis, Vlado moved the vast pieces of ornate furniture out of reach and draped everything with white sheets, He then emulsioned the pale, patterned wall-paper white, so that this uncomfortable, claustrophobic flat gleamed like the shiny inside of a shell.
Anything ugly or unaesthetic caused Vlado pain. If he couldn’t eliminate some unpleasing object from his life and home ( and the terms of the contract forbade this), he would merely cover the offending object with white paint.
Marisa had grown sensitive to this artistic compulsion of his. Living with him, she had learned how vital it was for everything to be perfect – even down to the design of his pencils ; the correct shade of colour; or the exact positioning of an ashtray.
The kitchen in the flat was galley-shaped and overlooked a small courtyard, where a group of elderly men played boules and smoked for most of the day. Marisa liked to hear the click-click sound of the petanc balls: it was peaceful and relaxing. The men had made themselves a little camp around two old armchairs in this piece of scrap ground here in the middle of Paris; and, as she prepared their evening meal – frothy omelettes with a dash of cumin – she watched their ponderous, measured game.
‘On mange’, Marisa called out to Vlado, she called out gently to Vlado, because she could see that he was concentrating on a drawing.
‘J’arrive’, he replied triumphantly, with a smile, relishing these new French sounds. His French was still rudimentary; and his English fractured even after having lived in London for twenty years.
Marisa lit some candles. It was dusk. Paris, outside their window, seemed, momentarily, at bay, as its bad-tempered inhabitants were now mostly a table.