sewerfresh

Adventures in urban infrastructure, rooftops, sewers and metro tunnels. Motorbikes, travel and railgang. Get fresh and filthy. Read on...

Hobo Deluxe

A little two story stone house sat discreetly at a bustling five way intersection in the south of Paris. A short narrow window at the back had been patiently waiting, creaking back and forth gently in the breeze for two years unnoticed. With the passing of summer the nights grew longer and a brisk chill whipped down the street. Alone and shivering I wedged myself up into the window frame, peering into what appeared to be a cramped toilet abandonné. Climbing carefully and silently inside my fingers drew deep trenches through the dust on the sill, then the cistern and finally the porcelain itself. Dried leaves littered the floor and it was clear none had passed through in quite some time. By the shafts of streetlight on the old cracked lino could see no footprints but my own. If anyone else was coming in and out they were using the doors; with keys since I knew all were locked. The little house was quiet and still.

I moved slowly and breathed silently, expecting to encounter an angry hobo at every turn. While my eyes adjusted to the gloom I ran my fingers along the walls, feeling the old textured wallpaper peeling and crumbling away into dust. I stepped over the dried crunchy leaves which had blown in through the window and progressed into a space between a large empty room to the left, the front door and staircase to the right. Old lino tiles, dried and turning up at the edges, crinkled softly beneath my feet and old posters sagged from the walls. It was bare and dusty. Entirely deserted. Trees swaying in the wind outside cast shifting shadows through the mottled glass. They illuminated the old wooden stairs in a golden hue. If anyone was living here they'd surely be upstairs. With long slow deliberate steps I crept up.

Squat

At the top of the stairs light streamed into a large room via three floor to ceiling windows facing out over a small park. Empty but for a faint whiff of dampness and a hint of water damage and discolouration. To the right I found a small bathroom with paint flaking from the walls and ceiling. With a cough and splutter dirty thick brown water oozed from the tap. I hit the lights and to my surprise the room lit up revealing a bathtub, basin and toilet. I snapped the light switch down quickly. This quaint little house was offering up many surprises - water, power and even a bath. A rare luxury in a city known for shoebox apartments.

Salle-de-bain

The adjacent room offered old curtains strewn across the carpet and a single window side chair staring over the dead Parisian streets. I lay for a while on the floor in the middle of the room, listening to the occasional snippet of conversation passing by. This little gem of a house lay empty and waiting, offering me power, water and shelter without the burdens of security, comfort and luxury. It was a bargain. I moved in.

Split-pane

From the inside we picked the door's lock and dropped in a high security cylinder, then firmly bolted shut my patient little window. Satisfied with the fortifications I spent my first night there curled around a brave seventeen year old Dutch girl I'd met a week prior. As some kind of vague first date she got to play in the metro then sleep in my abandoned maison with nothing but body heat and an old hoody for warmth. By 4am, huddled together shivering, the clear priorities were heaters then a bed. Those first nights were uncomfortable yet held an uneasy excitement as I slept restlessly awaiting the sounds of someone booting in the door. One solid kick. Perhaps qx guessed my concerns as one day he returned from china town bearing practical gifts: nunchucks.

Ma-chambre-v1
Bedroom shortly after moving in, moving on up in the prohobo world.

Quickly Le Squat evolved from sparse and dirty to hobo-deluxe. Late at night I'd wander the deserted streets purloining whatever furniture I could from the haphazard piles of streetside collection, hauling it back and hustling it through the front door while the neighbourhood slept. With time we amassed a double bed, sofabed, click-clack, plush arm chair, lamps, small desk, large desk, stove, fridge, microwave, small oven, bookshelf, clothes racks, large rug, a couple of mounted canvas metro prints and three electric heaters. With furniture, electricity, free wifi and (cold) running water the quaint little house very quickly became a home. I'd paid to live in places worse. Qx discovered the house was owned by the city and presumably their motivation to clean it up and either sell or rent it was non-existent. Suited me fine, for the first time in recorded history French bureaucracy fell in my favour.

Like any abode of questionable legitimacy Le Squat had some quirks. The broken hot water system was sorely missed and despite there being a couple of decent open networks nearby internet was often flaky. Coming and going was a nervous affair, with standard operating procedure being to check for suspicious characters front, back and sides, pause a moment to listen at the door then stroll on out like we owned the place. While the local hobo population were too lazy to take the window they'd definitely roll in the front.

Metro-Art
Le squat. Deluxe living accomodations at rock bottom prices. Apply within (or bring a drill).

poster detail

The desire to squat during my life was a seed planted by Predator's early accounts, then Bob and Green's trainyard squat drowned it in fertiliser. It was a life experience happily realised. That little bit of uncertainty in everyday life that I might return home to find my things cast into the street, pawed over and looted by the neighbourhood, or appropriated by other squatters in some act of cosmic justice, was unappealing but exciting. Trusting my lodgings and my possessions to the chaotic whims of the universe was scary at first but over the past 3 years I've realised I need little more than a laptop and a camera (or three) so the chance once taken lacked the intimidation I had expected. Greater was my concern for the Dutch girl, who often slept there alone while our dirty little posse of vagabonds ventured into the metro tunnels below Paris dodging trains and seeking adventure.

Frigo
With the acquisition of a discarded fridge the squat took a giant step towards Board of Health certification. Thankfully they never looked inside it and discovered the cache of dismembered Barbies.

Those disapproving of my lifestyle choices will take smug satisfaction that one morning the city workers arrived, locksmith in tow, to evict me. I might not have lived there long but it truly was a home. By French law one can demand a court order, take a stand,man, and keep their squat another month . I knew I'd be booted and the city would take back what was rightfully theirs. Our run had saved me $7,000 in rent and there was no value in suffering siege. Ironically the night before we'd taken six inch screws and secured the place to better than when we arrived. The city locksmith pulled our cylinder and inserted his own, the twinge of sadness offset by the fact it looked easily defeated.

Ma-chambre-v2
Bedroom all prohobo shortly before eviction from my comfy little parisian squat. I've paid to live in worse places than this...

Ten minutes later shouldering as many of my worldly possessions as possible and sacrificed the rest to the squatter gods. I marched out the front door of the little house I held so dear to return to the BHV Institute of Professional Cataphilia. As I walked past the hobos one looked up from the depths of his wine bottle, stared me in the eyes and shrugged his shoulders once as if to say "bad luck kid". He was mistaken for I would've done worse had I lacked the courage to climb through that little window, take a chance and move in. That day was merely the closure of a great life experience and a period of time I'll always remember fondly. The Squat was taken but the memories will always live on for those who stayed there. One day, if I ever have the money I'll return to Paris, buy that little house and then truly it will be ours.

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