When you hear the word “concierge,” something a bit fancy might come to mind. In France, however, a concierge is not considered to be fancy or luxurious— where there is a building, there will most likely be a concierge.
Monsieur Lavalle was the concierge of the apartment block I lived in. This building happened to be in a part of Paris that was described as “lively” by some and as “risky” by others. The cafe next to the entrance of the apartment building turned out to be a popular venue for fights (usually between the customers) which would result in the frequent destruction of chairs and the loss of one or more teeth. The cafe was also subject to police raids approximately once a week, in which everyone would have to line up outside the cafe with their hands on their heads while the police confiscated whatever was found to be in their pockets — and which they certainly did not smoke later on at the police station a few streets away. I was able to watch the drama unfold on the street below from my balcony.
On one occasion, I went to the bakery across the street, as I did every morning, only to find that the ladies who were usually behind the counter had been replaced by three shifty-looking men. When I tried to buy some bread, they ignored me and kept their eyes fixed on the street. Just as I started to complain about their terrible manners and non-existent customer service skills, the men suddenly threw off their aprons, rushed past me — guns in hand — and proceeded to chase another man down the street. As it turned out, the three “bakers” were in fact undercover policemen. This neighborhood may not have been fancy, but it was certainly never dull.
As a concierge in a non-fancy building in a part of town where armed policemen could take over bakeries and run about waving guns without anyone batting an eyelid, Monsieur Lavalle very sensibly did not opt for any impractical item of clothing that a fancy concierge might wear — such as some kind of top-hat for instance. He did however have a uniform of sorts which he never deviated from. He kept a very neat mustache and he wore stone-washed jeans, impossibly white vests, a thick silver necklace and was accompanied at all times by Lulu — the biggest Rottweiler ever to have walked the streets of Paris.
I never saw Monsieur Lavalle wear any garment with sleeves — even in the dead of winter the vests stayed put. Indeed, there was one thing you could always be certain of in this unpredictable and uncertain neighborhood, which was that both of Monsieur Lavalle’s biceps would visible at all times of day or night, whatever the weather.
If he ever thought there might be any trouble near the gates of the building, Monsieur Lavalle and Lulu would appear straight away to sort it out. Trouble (most kinds of it), usually had second thoughts once it had set eyes on this particular concierge and this particular dog.
Monsieur Lavalle was not one to raise his voice; he spoke quietly and only when he deemed it absolutely necessary. He would occasionally remind us to close the gates properly and he would update the rules that should be adhered to by all tenants, in order to ensure that the security of the building was preserved at all times.
One thing that did make him laugh was the sight of me and other tenants attempting to enter his office to collect our mail. Most days, Lulu would strategically drape herself across the threshold — her chain stretched to its limit, from the leg of Monsieur Lavalle’s desk to her thick leather collar. The office was tiny, and Lulu appeared to take great pleasure watching us try to tiptoe around her to reach our letters without disturbing her in the slightest.
Quite often, Lulu decided that reading mail was quite unnecessary and on those occasions she would simply lie against the glass door and block it with all her weight. Monsieur Lavalle would sit behind his desk and try to decipher which of the tenants had the bravery and fortitude necessary to persuade Lulu to move.
He would smile as I and others would at the sight of the canine blockade, just wave at him (and Lulu), pretending that we were not really after our letters, no not at all, we were simply saying good morning — through a glass door being blocked by Lulu the Rottweiler.
“Don’t worry about her,” Monsieur Lavalle would say,
“I think she’s in a good mood today.”
Words inspired by the photograph