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Our Apartment

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As usual, the embassy furniture is designed for a Middle America rambler, not any housing available in the rest of the world.

This is the smallest apartment we’ve had in the Foreign Service.  Considering we’re a lot higher ranked these days and have a bigger family and this is a hardship post, that’s not how it’s supposed to work. It’s a deal smaller than our house back in the States, a fact that the cat points out from time to time when she runs her laps.  However, I’m not complaining, as this is a very nice apartment and more space than we need.

I am complaining about a couple things related to the design of the apartment (nothing that the embassy can control, really), and a lot of things related to the fit and finish.

It’s an aggressively modern apartment.  I think it was conceived as a bachelor pad, where upwardly-mobile Venezuelan or ex-pat men could bring their dates to score.  It’s somehow very masculine, and its best feature is a panoramic view of the city that’s quite romantic at night.  The master bedroom features a pass-through closet between the bedroom and the bathroom, with a built-in closet system on both sides.  And both sides are designed for men’s clothes and shoes.  The shoe racks are too short for heels (and let me assure you that women here wear heels), and there is only one full-length section where you could hang a dress.  It’s 4 linear inches and next to the space for suits, so I think it’s for overcoats.  There are several pull-out drawers designed for ties and men’s socks, but no place for jewelry or women’s accessories.  Ideally this apartment should go to a gay male couple.  As it is, my dress clothes are in the remote storage closets behind the guest room.

The master suite itself is all dark wood: floor, closets, and doors.  It’s handsome.  The sink counter is slate as is the bathroom floor.  The far end of the bathroom is one huge shower behind a plate glass divider.  Six people could fit comfortably in it, if they were intimate enough to shower together.  It would be ideal for the wheelchair-bound, except you couldn’t get a wheelchair through the closet into the shower.  The bathroom walls are slabs of undersea rock with actual fossils – the kind of tile that people pay through the nose for in America.  The fossils are amazing.  They creep my DH out and he tries to not look at the walls.

I’m creeped out by the bedroom walls.  They feature gold-yellow wallpaper in both a Victorian print and vertical stripes.  I try to remind myself that I’m not confined to the bedroom, there’s no writing desk, and I wouldn’t be able to circumnavigate the room anyway, as one wall is all window.  Really the place isn’t like The Yellow Wallpaper at all; it’s the least haunted place I’ve ever lived.  Completely flat.

The rest of the apartment is white walls and travertine floors, except the kitchen and maid’s quarters which have black marble floors and backsplashes.  The kitchen is set out very well and easy to use (although the oven’s only in Celsius, which is my weakest conversion).  I could do with more than one electrical outlet in the kitchen, of course.  Our red or stainless steel appliances look awesome here, but they are all running off the same power strip.

Most of the floorspace is the main room, which is huge and will be excellent for entertaining once our stuff gets here.  The lighting is also well designed, and unlike most embassy folks our lightbulbs seem to survive the power fluctuations.

However.

The place is filthy.  We cannot keep it clean.  The 30-foot expanse of windows on each side are great, but they are overlapping glass with half-inch gaps between; they don’t seal.  So all the pollution comes in and settles, and everything gets a daily coat of thick black dust. Mal and the cat have to be washed daily as they get covered in it from being on the floor.  (There are no bathtubs, but Mal kind of digs the huge freaking shower with its handheld sprayer).  We are also obsessive about food or anything that could attract bugs – there’s a gorgeous planter in front of the windows that attracts hummingbirds like crazy, but it’s also full of ants who will have no trouble coming in through the windows if they want to – heck, the hummingbirds can almost fit.

Also, while the place was designed with a certain level of artistry, it wasn’t built particularly well.  Currently two of the five (five!) toilets work, and only one of the bathroom sinks (at least it’s one that’s in a bathroom with a working toilet).  The maid’s toilet doesn’t even have a toilet seat; if we were to have a live-in maid I guess we’d have to hire one from a culture that was cool with squat toilets.  There’s a lot of built-in furniture (an entertainment center,  a computer desk), but none of it was installed correctly so it’s unusable.  If you put weight on the computer desk (like, say, a laptop), it pulls out of the wall.  Things like that.

So we mop, and then hang out solely in the main room, watching the city and the birds, and then mop again.

The building itself is nice as well; there’s a little bit of a yard with a play area, and the sentries are pleasant and professional.  The electrified wire topping the wall into our compound is subtle and hidden behind very pretty tropical landscaping.  We are in a gated community that provides a second perimeter of high concrete wall and electrified fence.  It’s basically an oval, and has a nice park at one end.  Many of the embassy folks come here to run; the oval is a half mile around, and it’s free of traffic and the flattest place around.  By “flat” I mean that if you run the oval 4 times (2 miles), it’s the equivalent of climbing 26 flights of stairs.  (I love my FitBit).

In general it’s easy and pleasant to live here, and it doesn’t really feel like the minimum security prison it is.

Let’s hope the power stays on

Our apartment has a front door and a back door.  The front door is an elevator.  Literally.  There’s a call button inside our foyer, and when the elevator arrives we open the door and enter.  There’s no shared landing, and the elevator is key-controlled.  I guess they do this in some NYC apartment buildings also.

The back door, with its Alcatraz-level security gate, opens onto a small landing we share with the other apartment on this level (they have their own front door elevator on the other side).  The trash chute and the stairwell are accessed from this door…and only from this door.

So I hope you understand my concerns about the fact that the security gate sealed itself shut two days ago, effectively locking us in the apartment except for the front door elevator.  I’m really glad they didn’t shut off our power, as we are stuck until after Christmas.

 

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Mal attended his first diplomatic function yesterday, one of the embassy holiday parties.  It was a small garden party of Americans and Venezuelans, and quite lovely.  He is is learning to respond “Bien” when someone asks him “Como estas?” and to wish people “Feliz Navidad.”  He also learned how to manage a buffet table and got all hopped up on imported Dr. Pepper.