ISSN : 2266-6060

Water meter: how my concierge taught me to read it

By our guest : Florence Paterson
Paris, Mai 2023.

“I’ll tell you how to do, you grab your phone and you take a picture”. That’s what you’d call a concierge’s trick, or to put it better one of his techniques. I had just told him jokingly that to read the water meter under my sink I would have to pull out the load of plastic boxes I don’t know where else to put and find myself in an uncomfortable position on all fours under the sink to read with the great difficulty the figures to be reported on the sheet of paper he distributed to the residents. Put off by the adventure, I occasionally forgot to fill it in, and he knows it. He laughs. After two failed attempts – I had to snap it several times to get the water meter in full frame – the trick was done. He has in his caretaker’s bag of tricks a thousand of these techniques that make the building alive. And probably many he does not share with the residents. In this case, because he is in charge of collecting the forms for water billing, he solicits – on behalf of the co-owners that employs him – the contribution of the residents to complete them. He sure asks people passing in the hallway if they have filled in their forms, but he does more than that, he teaches. As he did with me. He taught me techniques that made me contribute, made my phone contribute, changed my gestures, changed my use of plastic boxes (I only had to slightly decrease the pile) and my use of the cramped space under my sink. Crouching down, I held the phone at arm’s length aiming at the meter screwed to the wall (which I imagine was once more accessible, before the sink was replaced with its under-sink cabinet that now stands in the way). Not to mention my way of reading the water meter, no longer live but from a picture. I thought of this text by Mauss, Techniques of the Body, which I enjoyed rereading. “I have witnessed the change in the techniques of swimming, in the lifetime of our generation,” writes Mauss. I could say the same of the gestures that the handling of the smart-phone carries, because the technique taught to me by the concierge had not occurred to me. I realize, with sometimes the same amazement that Mauss expresses towards the technique of the Kabyles racing down a hillside without losing their babouches, that this dexterity of the thumbs for the ultra-rapid writing of a text message as well as the immediate recourse to the camera as a substitute for my eyes to “see” or read what is hidden in dark and inaccessible corners, are unfamiliar. But I am learning (or not).

Leave a Reply