08 December 2011


In my last posting I mentioned how important the social environment is to sociologists in their attempts to understand social behavior and patterns.   While I stretched the meaning of social environment a bit by referring to the ways in which the physical environment, namely the weather, affects human behavior, I am much more in line with typical sociological thinking in this post when I consider residence.  Residence refers to the socially created environment in which one lives, that is, typically the neighborhood and its social characteristics.  For example, this quarter in my online Social Inequality course, my students and I read about the ways in which racially and ethnically segregated neighborhoods affect the occupants' opportunities in life, their personal security, and even their health outcomes.

My family has just made a change of residence, moving into a new apartment in Aix (emménagement means moving in and déménagement, moving out).  We are still denizens of the centre-ville (the city center, which consists mainly of the old town), although our new quarter is the villeneuve (the 'new' old town, by a century or so).  Our building is a hôtel particulier which means that at one time the entire building was a private residence (not a hotel as we understand it in English).  Now there are 6 units carved into this 4-story building.  There are at least three other former private residences on our street alone with intricate facades while ours is much less ornate and seems newer.  A hôtel particulier often has a grand entry and the ground floor apartments may have high ceilings and elegant spaces as they would have been the reception rooms or salons, while the floors above would have been bedrooms and other private spaces.  We, at the top, on the fourth floor, may in fact be occupying the servants' quarters, as a French friend pointed out; our ceilings are a little lower and windows a little shorter than in the apartments below us.  The French call our floor the troisiéme étage (third floor), since they don't count the ground floor as the first floor; I can tell you that whatever floor we call it, there are six flights of stairs (six landings) between the street level and our floor, because we made the trip up and down countless times last Thursday, Friday and Saturday!  I believe we have the largest apartment in the building though as we have over 125 m2 of living space, trois chambres (three bedrooms), a typical French kitchen (see below), a living/dining room, a wc, a bathroom/laundry room, another bathroom with toilet, and two balconies, all spread over two floors.  (The French call a two-story residence a duplex; that's another cognate, same word in English and French but different meanings).  One of the boys' classmates marveled that our apartment is almost like a house!

We are lucky indeed.  The light is incredible in the living spaces, and we have some lovely views, of the lace-curtained apartment windows across the street and peaceful inner gardens at the back of the apartment.  The balconies are rare luxuries (relatively few exist in the old town) but they were a priority for me so that we could sit outside during spring and summer meals and I could step outside during respites in my online teaching work.  Being at the top of the building, we can't hear neighbors (although the ones below us hear us walking around; we shall try to tread more lightly in this old building.).  As is typical, we have to buy our own appliances, and you can see from the photo that I am still short an oven and dishwasher, but Julia Child churned out some amazing meals in her small Paris kitchen sans frigo, (no refrigerator!), and I believe we can make do in ours.  (Check out this brief interview of the production designer who reproduced Julia's French kitchen for the film Julie and Julia. http://www.themagazineantiques.com/news-opinion/current-and-coming/2009-08-05/behind-the-screen-a-look-at-julie-julia-with-mark-ricker/)

The location of our new building also remains very convenient to local shops and the boys' school, even if our orientation is slightly different.  I found a new boucherie/charcuterie (butcher shop/delicatessen) nearby and the boys were thrilled by the familiar foods at the Asian food store off the périphérique to the east of us (the ring road around the old town).  I have now also ordered my first online groceries in France, complete with livraison (delivery) all the way up to my apartment's front door!

Such benefits, proximities, space, and light all mean that we are relatively privileged in our residence and that our social and other opportunities are enhanced as a result.   Some consider Aix itself a bit 'high-falutin' as we say in colloquial American English, or like a mini-Paris, according to another French friend, if prices and/or egos are any indication.  We know we are fortunate to afford to be here.  As for residence-based health outcomes, while I did have a a sick boy at home yesterday, Jori's sore throat and croupy cough had little to do with his living conditions and much more to do with attending a very big school with lots of students and air-borne viruses.  In fact, thanks to his new living conditions, Jori was able to rest comfortably all day in his new bedroom's built-in loft (the French call this a mezzanine), and he was well enough to return to school today.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Onnea uuteen kotiin! Oletko jo saanut uunin ja tiskikoneen?