Saturday, December 30, 2006

Ready, Steady...

Back in the city of lights after a very relaxing and enjoyable Christmas with my family. I have heard that going back to your childhood home makes you more child-like, I've certainly found that in the past, but this time I felt much more of an adult. I can't really explain it, perhaps it's the fact that my 30th is literally days away, but this Christmas I've been able to shake off the childish behaviour that usually arises in me when I step onto the thick beige carpet of my parents' house. Perhaps my parents would totally disagree...

So now it's on to packing for Cuba, we leave in two days. The photo is just a tiny sample of the various lotions and potions we're packing in, even though Cuba is supposed to be one of the best countries for health care in the world. The main things I'm concerned about are the mosquitos (a strain of Dengue fever was reported a few months ago) and sleeping properly. I read that Gloria Hunniford takes a herbal sleep remedy called valerina, so I was persuaded and put a packet in my Boots basket. Now if the salsa dancing gets a bit too frenetic I can retire to my room and arm myself with my spongy earplugs and a tablet or two of homeopathic valerina.

G bought a new video camera with his Christmas money, so we'll be taking plenty of films during our trip, I'll try to put some of them on here when we get back on the 15th.

For now it's time for one last slap up dinner with G's family and then it's a very quiet New Year's Eve for us, before taking the plane on Monday morning.

Check out L's blog for her pursuits in Hong Kong, it seems to be going pretty well for her.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Home Time

It feels weird, like the last day of school, except that it's not hot, I haven't done any exams and my school tie isn't wrapped around my head like a bandana. The fact is that I have done my last day of work until 17th January! Tomorrow G and I are heading off to England for Christmas. I'm staying a week and he's back in Paris for Christmas Eve to be with his family.

Reading the news I'm hoping that we'll manage to actually get back to England, and not find ourselves in some scene of tragedy waiting in an airport for hours on end. I think if our flight is cancelled we'll go on the Eurostar, those guys must be rubbing their hands together in joy that so many flights have been grounded by the fog.

What I find rather bizarre is that flights from Heathrow have been cancelled, yet flights to Gatwick are supposedly unaffected. Surely the two airports are not that far from each other? I've been looking at various sites and it seems that if we'd booked a flight from Paris to Heathrow we'd definitely have been cancelled. As it is, the low budget is alarmingly news-free, so I honestly can't say if tomorrow will be smooth or choppy runnings.

At least I'm pretty sure that one way or another we'll get to the UK before Christmas. I really can't wait, it's been nearly 5 months since I've been home. I'm starting to crave Lemsips, Johnson's baby powder and yorkshire pudding, although clearly not on the same plate...

Thursday, December 14, 2006

One Of Those Days


Today was one of those days. Over the course of the day I:

1. Woke up 50 minutes late
2. Hauled a guitar on buses,and métros across Paris no less than four times
3. Arrived at work only to find my 9am appointment had been cancelled
4. Schlepped (can a British girl say that?) over to Asnières sur Seine to sing Christmas Carols
5. ... in a company meeting room with 10 French people and 2 other English-speaking people
6. Consumed only 1 banana and 2 slices of Christmas cake
7. Thought about how much I'd like to be in Hong Kong having aromatic crispy duck with pancakes and Tsingtao beer with L

I know it could be much, much worse, but right now it feels like I've been to the front line and back.

I've just made and put away a delicious spaghetti bolognaise, or al ragù as my Italian friend S says. I've rested and watched some very exciting series on tv and now, with a chapter or so of my book ahead of me, I'm feeling a lot more human again.

Time to set my alarm clock properly now...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Fly Me to the Moon!

There are only a few weeks to go before our trip to Cuba and I'm getting very excited! I've been hearing lots of different opinions about the place and extremely conflicting advice. Some people say not to hire a car, others say it's the best thing. Some say people don't ask for money in the street and others say that it's constant. Strange. I've never set off for a country that I know so little about really. Reading wikipedia's Cuba article and doing other bits and pieces of research on the net has helped, but I still feel remarkably unready. I've never been inside a communist country. My visit to Poland in 1997 is probably as close as it gets, but the iron curtain had been officially lifted well before that.

With L gone now, I need something to look forward to, and of course I do appreciate how great it is to be able to go on holiday in January when most people in the western world are trudging through snow or rain on their way to work after the festivities have calmed and the turkey has been digested.

G and I are secretly hoping that during our holiday in Cuba there will be some kind of historical event. It is unclear for the moment if Fidel Castro is alive or dead and if he chooses the first two weeks of January to 'pass on' then we're sure to experience a very important political event.

In my scrupulous research I've discovered that there are no McDonald's on the island of Cuba except on the US-owned military base of Guantanamo Bay. Apparently detainees of Guantanamo are allowed treats of happy meals, filet-o-fish and other delights as a reward for good behaviour. I'm not even going to go into the sickness that must live in the mind of man who eats that stuff as a reward. For more cheesy, greasy facts take a look here.

In Cuba there are also no Starbuck's, no Disney and no Gap. It's going to be a surreal but fantastic experience, I can't wait. As long as there are mojitos.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


My fabulous friend L (one of us in the picture from June 21st - fête de la musique) is leaving for Hong Kong in just over a week and we had her leaving party last night. We took the métro over to her neighbourhood in the 17th arrondissement past the Place de Clichy, where I used to live with her in the first months of my Paris life. The neon lights, queues of people and the big Wepler brasserie, even though I've been there since living with her, brought back memories of late Friday nights at Corcoran's Irish pub, and karaoke extravaganzas at l'Epoque. All her friends were there and the party was a great chance to have a fun and laughter-filled evening. The atmosphere was not sad or gloomy, people danced, chatted and L's new beginning was truly baptised with endless bottles of champagne. I wrote a song for her, changing the words from Jolene to her name, and she enjoyed it. My guitar playing is rusty to say the least, but let's hope that the people listening were thinking that 'it's the thought that counts'!

So her French adventure has come to an end now, adult life really is about accepting that people move on. She has a fantastic career opportunity and is taking it with all her might. I know that I'll be able to visit in the future and she'll come back for trips to Europe from time to time, but for the best part of 11 years we have lived either in the same apartment or in the same town, be it at university or in Paris, and there is going to be a clear, L-shaped hole in my life now.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Pierre Gemayel, the Lebanese Industry Minister was shot yesterday in broad daylight, at 34 years old. Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB colonel and defector was poisoned in early November, he has been in a critical condition since Sunday and doctors at one of London's top hospitals still don't know for sure what poison was used on him. Robert Altman is dead.

On a personal note, my very best friend L is moving to Hong Kong in a few weeks. We've lived in the same city since we were 18 (give or take a year) and I'm going to miss her enormously. She is one of those people who you end up laughing with, even if you're the foulest of moods to start with. She's been wildly successful in her career, which is now taking her to Asia, and of course I wish her the best of luck, but I can't help feeling a bit sorry for myself that she's leaving Paris and me behind.
Now, I'm not one to paint a gloomy picture of the world, but doesn't that make rather a lot of bad news for one week? Plus it has been raining everyday. I'm sure I'd be forgiven for not being as chipper as I manage to be most of the time.

Then this evening on my way home I saw a man cycling in the pouring rain with a bunch of roses in his backpack. I have to say it warmed my soul a little.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Boondoggle in the boondocks

The reason for my prolonged absence from here is not, I'm afraid to say, due to the glittering party-life of a Parisian, visiting Lacroix or eating at George V. I've been working very hard and translating very hard.

The piece I'm working on at the moment was written by someone who clearly hates translators. I'm not going to write the whole thing, but suffice to say it includes the words 'boondoggle' and 'boondocks'. Sounds like some kind of Australian slang to me. In fact boondoggle is a word to describe doing useless work for the sake of it, and boondocks is a name for a little village. No idea what I'm going to do with that information, but at least my English vocabulary has been expanded.

I went to Bercy last night to see the Eric Bompard ice-skating competition. It was the first time I'd seen a competition up close and the tension was truly icy. Every time someone fell (and they did frequently), I cringed and really felt for them. It was really quite magical to see the sparkling costumes and glamour of the skaters, let alone their talent throwing themselves and each other around on the ice. They're constructing the ice rink outside the Hôtel de Ville at the moment, maybe I'll pull on some leg warmers and a mini-skirt and have a go.

Well I'd better get back to my boondocks. It is pretty ridiculous to translate such a difficult text, but I keep thinking that when it's done I'll be able to tackle anything. In the mean time I'm gearing myself up for a 6/30 grade and dreaming of triple twists in glittery tights.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Dans le Noir

On Saturday, as now seems usual, I did another wine tasting. This time it was more fun than pedagogical and also in aid of raising awareness for the blind. If you think really hard. Yes, I did drink the best part of 5 glasses of delicious wine (noting the aromas, tastes... of course) but I also learned something. I learned that being blind would be extremely difficult indeed.

The experience G and I did on Saturday was called wine tasting Dans le Noir. The idea is to take away all the preconceived ideas about seeing wine and thinking how it should taste, to just concentrate on how it does taste. Plus, you start to understand how incredibly difficult it is to be blind.

After that we went over to Gare de Lyon and ate at the Européen, which was nice enough. They had some great oysters and a delicious dessert of pears with ice cream and chocolate sauce.

I'm still battling on with my translation course, this week is one into English about José Bové, and one into French about half-crowns, the old English coin. Rivetting.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

A nice Chianti

Yesterday I ran around Paris like a mad thing, I'd done what I do best, which is organise too many things to do in one day. They were all really fun things, but a Saturday start at 6.40am is enough to put anyone in a difficult mood.

My day started with my first interpretation seminar; part of my translation course at the University of London in Paris. It started at 8.30 so quite a lot of bleary-eyed ex-pats just like me, along with Parisians and people from other parts of France all met in a plush blue reception area with the BBC world service blaring out from the high-tech plasma screen perched on a wall. No-one said a word. It wasn't because anyone was shy, I discovered, it was because no-one knew what language to use. In a room full of people in that kind of context, it really isn't clear, and despite living in a mixed-language environment for six years, I still can't address an English person in French without embarrassment.

So, we sat and watched poppy-wearing presenters talk about the dangers of Halloween, all of us wishing we could just get on with the seminar. Finally our tutor came to pick us up and the rest of the morning was difficult but extremely interesting and my co-students turned out to be a lovely bunch of people.

Later that day I had planned to do a wine tasting lesson with my friend L who sings in the band with me. I rushed up just in time to write my (unpronouncable in French) name on a card in front of me and hear about cépage (varietals of grape), fermentation and what makes a wine tannic.

We tasted some delicious wines, a Sancerre (Côte des monts dannés), a basic Burgundy Chardonnay, some other reds from Languedoc and Bordeaux and one in particular from the Margaux appellation which was really delicious. As I was eating at a friend's that evening I tried to use the spitoon as much as I could, but the last Bordeaux was just too good. We took a bottle of G's family's wine which is really scrumptious and our friends made a fantastic dinner.

I finally got to bed at one, with the joyous words, "the clocks go back this evening..." in my head.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Cuba Libra

After spending a rather relaxing summer in England with friends and family I'm yearning for a few rays of sunshine. August was lots of fun, visiting people who'd been out to Paris to visit us, and catching up on real English life with curry and everything. Recently though, I've been thinking I'd like to try out a little dépaysement (lovely French word meaning getting out of your own country and soaking yourself in new cultures). So, last week, with two friends, G and I decided to book a trip to Cuba. I've never been to the Carribean, despite studying its literature at university, and always had a desire to go to Martinique, Guadeloupe or this fascinating communist country with Chevrolets from the sixties, ornate crumbling buildings from before Castro's time and soft, sandy beaches with coloured fish darting about in the transparent water below.

I've been doing my homework and reading about Castro and Guevara; it seems like the Cubans have had their fair share of oppression, rationing and authority. Now it seems it's time for them to be overrun by tourists. Several sites state that the absence of Americans on the island is a real saving grace; it isn't overcrowded like other islands can be, and tourists are actually welcomed by many of the inhabitants, who regularly put them up in their houses (for a price of course). The fact that Americans are banned from the island is not necessarily a good thing though, the trade embargo has crippled the population in the last decade and with the fall of the Soviet Union they are looking to tourism now as a major income source for the coming years.

Well, I'm happy to oblige. I'm very much looking forward to jetting off on New Year's day from freezing France and touching down in hazy Havana, sipping mojitos and certainly engaging in a spot of salsa every now and again. Salsa isn't forbidden by Castro, right?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Single White Female

Well the girl was very sweet. With a surprising number of coincidences chewed over (same first and last name, one day difference in birth date - but not year - from the same part of England..) we got on well. It's often the case that I meet other ex-pats in Paris, but it's not because we're from the same place that we'll get on. This girl was nice, young and spritely with an innocent enthusiasm for everything French or Parisian (food, wine, museums), co-existing with a rolly-eyed derision for everything else French (dogs, their street deposits, customer service).

I found her attitude similar to my own when I first arrived. It's a kind of love-hate tempestuous relationship with the city which for me has now turned into a marriage of stability and acceptance. I really no longer see Paris as an exotic city with romantic cafés and countless museums, nor do I see Paris as a place where you can't get on a subway without being shoved or order a coffee without some derisive comment from your waiter. I see the city of lights as my home, good and bad, with its flaws and assets, much like a cherished and loving husband who comes home each evening without flowers.

Will I see her again? Probably. She's young, new to the city and keen to go out, and it's always good to have English-speaking friends. I'm not sure it'll turn into a Monica and Rachel, Kate and Allie or Edina and Patsy friendship, but there's always the chance.

Now I have to go and pick up some delicious chocolate pastries from my local pâtisserie, maybe Paris isn't so bad....

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Mystery Woman

A few days ago I received a letter for someone else with the exact same first and last name as me, someone living in Paris and around the same age. I contacted her and left my email address and she got in touch. I'm supposed to be meeting her tomorrow in Paris for coffee and I'm a little nervous.

Watch this space for more details...

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Harvest Festival

When I was a child, around this time of year, we always had a harvest festival at school. This involved bringing in cans of beans, loaves of bread and of course one child always brought in a huge, useless pumpkin. We would distribute these tasteless offerings to the elderly in Doncaster who probably had better taste than we gave them credit for, but still, our hearts and the hearts of our tireless teachers who organised all this, were in the right place.

A second tradition was the singing of All Things Bright and Beautiful to a tinny piano, both at school and at church, where, on the following Sunday, the offering of produce and the distribution to the aged started up again in abundance. Again, all in a spirit of kindness and generosity.

It was not with these two thoughts that I left the Fête des Vendanges (Harvest Festival) in Montmartre on Sunday. Behind the brightly coloured stands stood farmers, vintners and cheese makers of all kinds, their cheeks ripe with smiling and discussing their produce. With my three friends we wound our way through the crowds to sample champagne, crêpes and oysters all fresh from whatever region had produced them. I was more drawn towards thoughts of oenological varieties, oyster sizes and what filling to have in my crêpe. Granted, not as kind-hearted as our scholastic offerings, but just as pleasurable.

There was no sign of a baked bean or a stale loaf of bread braided into a plait. There were no free hampers and no-one singing about "all creatures great and small." With a pang of homesickness I realised I haven't seen a harvest festival since 1994 when I was in my A Level year. University didn't really provide much hamper-making activity, and in France the harvest festival is either non-existant or something completely different from the English version like the Fête des Vendanges in Montmartre.

Every year, the tiny parsel of land situated between rue des Saules and rue Lepic yields its crop of grapes and the people in charge press the grapes and set about making wine. The bottles are sold for around 30€ each and in quantities of 50cl, not 75 as for regular wines. I'm not sure how good or deep the soil is in Paris, nor how much sunshine the area gets, but the wine is popular and the festival brings montmartrois together with other Parisians and tourists for what, on Sunday, was a beautifully sunny day and gastronomically pleasurable experience.

Having said that, on my way home I found myself humming about each little flower that opens...

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Political Swing

I just took a political test and it seems :
You are a

Social Moderate
(56% permissive)

and an...

Economic Liberal
(21% permissive)

You are best described as a:


Link: The Politics Test on Ok Cupid
Also: The OkCupid Dating Persona Test

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Who Am I?

Being an English girl living in Paris is full of fun, new experiences and stress, at times. Something happened to me recently which was more of a surprise than anything else. Living here, having the English name that I have, I am more than used to people's puzzled brows knitting when they hear my last name, let alone my first name which has the extremely unfrench 'th' sound at the end of it. I understand that I am probably the only person with this name that the French have met, at least in the last year or two, and I accept that people will never really want to use it unless it is absolutely necessary.

You could forgive my surprise then, when I discovered yesterday there's a girl, living in Paris, with the exact same name as me. I even have her address. The reason for my knowing this trifle of information is that I received her medical information through the post yesterday.

In France there is a health system which is difficult to understand and which I won't go into here, but suffice to say that you have to send a lot of documents to a lot of different places. It seems that this particular fellow ex-pat had sent her feuille de soins (like a proof of doctor's visit) to the Sécurité Sociale, without the necessary prescription to proceed with reimbursement. Up to here, all is simple.

It transpired that the people at the Sécu couldn't recognise the ID number she had quoted at the top of her form, and so they did a haphazard cross check and found my name. They somehow deduced that I was her, and promptly sent me her medical information with her real address quoted, and with my own ID number scribbled across the top in pencil. I have to insist now that our birth dates are different (4 years apart), our addresses are different (I don't even live in Paris proper) and our ID numbers are different.

In a typical city in Europe, there are many different nationalities, some of whom are natives to that country and some who aren't. I just did an experiment on BT and I found that in London alone there are three people at different addresses called R Dubois (Dubois is a common French surname). How the people at the Parisian Sécu managed to link two people whose only common point was their first and last names I have no idea. Surely there is more than one person with the name Jean-Marc Dupont or Françoise Martin. If it was a French person I am certain they would have done a much more thorough ID check.

As it is, there is a poor 25 year old English girl with the same name as me, fruitlessly waiting for her Sécu reimbursement. Perhaps at some time in the future I'll meet her and compare pronunciation variations on our first name.....

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Pantomime Dame

No, I haven't decided to pack up my suitcase, don my colbalt blue eyeshadow and run off to join the circus. The picture is what I'm looking at to inspire my new 'hobby'. I'm quite a considerable geek when it comes down to it, and since I thought I was not quite busy enough with the choir and the band I decided to start a course.

I did a degree in French Studies at the University of Warwick, and I thought that would be sufficient to hold down a career and a decent lifestyle in the country of eau de toilette instead of soap and water, and wine at every meal. Of course things are bumbling along quite nicely, but I decided to aim at something new and I just started a translation course at the University of London in Paris. The first translation I had to do was about Aristotle (not the most fun) but the second is about pantomime. I don't know how much French you speak, but pantomime is not the easiest subject for which to find French words. For one thing the concept of pantomime doesn't exist here. Pantomime in French is the closest thing and it is basically a play without words.

So that's what taking my time at the moment. For now, it's translating text but in a few weeks I have to go to a seminar on interpreting which I'm very much looking forward to as I've never done it before. It really is geek central here.

Right now I'm planning an early bath, bed and a long sleep. This week has been very busy and it's time for downtime. Chablis is on the agenda for tomorrow to visit G's family so it's time to get out my stretch trousers and get ready for a slap up weekend.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Home Improvement

There used to be a programme on British tv, and no doubt on US tv too, called Home Improvement. I was never a fan, but one of my university housemates was, and now I wish I had joined her on the couch instead of prancing about dressed as a pirate singing Gilbert and Sullivan or belting out jazzy numbers in Bugsy Malone.

Last weekend, G and I went to a certain Swedish furniture shop near Roissy airport. It's not even interesting for me to tell you just how packed it was in there, with young couples fighting, hugely disproportionate numbers of pregnant women lumbering around, children scarily whizzing around the place like wasps and us trying to decide what kind of wardrobe doors we wanted.

We moved in together a year ago, and at that time we painted almost the whole apartment, bought a dining room table, chairs, a desk, a wardrobe (minus doors), a sofa, shelves and units over a period of three weeks. It was a pretty, let's say, hectic time, but I don't have memories of insurmountable stress or panic attacks. And yet, last Sunday with a 5cm pencil tucked behind my ear and a burning sensation between my eyes, we waited to pay for our measly two wardrobe doors - one white, one mirrored (to enjoy the sensation of living in a larger place than we do, and while admitting that two mirrored doors are perhaps a little too Boogie Nights).

As you can see from this extremely artistic photo, the doors are not level. G is an able; can put up shelves like the best of them, and not only drills like a dream but has saintly stocks of patience. So I wasn't concerned when the doors seemed a little tricky to deal with. I was soon proved to be naively mistaken. The doors were uneven by around 2 cm, they looked like something out of a Harry Potter film and definitely not what we had had in mind.

G has spent probably a total of 5 hours trying to fix the doors on properly and they still look like they're a little drunk. Next time we'll have to try a different furniture shop which doesn't whore out cheap planks of wood that won't even screw together.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Hippy Chick

I don't know if you've ever found, picked and eaten cep mushrooms, but it's a wonderful experience. These funghi grow in woods without anyone planting a seed. You can cut them away without damaging the future produce and they grow literally in just a few hours. All that, and they taste incredible. When we went to the Dordogne region recently, we were lucky enough to be given a whole bag full of ceps and we cooked them with garlic and parsley - they were delicious.

Fishing is another delight, when you can hook your dinner and prepare it within an hour, it is fresher than any fishmonger's supplies.

Yesterday a few friends came over for dinner, one brought with them a large bag full of ceps and other kinds of mushrooms, wrapped in bracken to keep them from being damaged. The other carried a little black bucket with four perch and one other whose name escapes me.

We decided that after my chicken, avacado and parmesan salad we'd cook the ceps and eat them separately from the fish to enjoy their flavours.

Clearly an evil brand of mushroom was lurking in the bag, because they ALL tasted terrible. Ceps have a soft luxurious taste not far from the taste of truffles, but these ones tasted like nothing I've ever willingly consumed. Needless to say, the pan remained full and we didn't eat more than the first bite. I thought of how dangerous eating poisonous mushrooms could be, but our friend assured me he knows what they look like, and here I am 20 hours later with no symptoms, so all turned out well.

The fish was not a lot better, bland and tasting like river, but my cherry tart and home-made yoghurt went down a treat. I think next time I'll stick to the market.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Small Packages

We had some baby news from inside our family recently, no details as it's not official with her work yet, but it has certainly got me thinking about babies and children. It's true that at 29, motherhood is a concept never far from my mind and while I truly do not want a baby at the moment, I am beginning to feel the onset of maternal instinct.

Walking home from the station this evening in 30°C heat, I noticed a young child probably around 18 months or 2 years at the most, walking with his mother, with his baby brother in a push-chair. In the distance, around 50 metres away, his father approached in the opposite direction, coming towards the little party, and the child's face lit up. His mouth made an 'O' in shock, his eyes shone as recognition set in then, giggling hysterically, his chubby little legs sprung into action and he raced towards his briefcase-carrying father with unconditional love beaming in his face.

I have no idea what that particular man had been doing all day, maybe he was a lawyer, a doctor, a teacher or an accountant; he could have just closed a million euro deal, he could have lost a million, but I can say with absolute certainty that the look in that father's eyes seeing his small son scurrying up to him, arms outstretched, was worth more than any business deal.

Of course when they arrived home the father realised his son had done a number two in his dungarees, spilt his favourite aftershave all over the bathroom and broken his treasured laptop.

I do want children, but maybe not yet.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Beautiful Packaging

As I picked my way through the Japanese tourists and ex-pats milling around rue St Anne, the Japanese quarter of Paris, I looked up at the sky and realised that we are in summer again. I say again because August was a (delightfully mosquito-free) cold month and I was convinced my yellow halter top had had its last airing. But no! It seems that there's someone somewhere playing a trick on all those (us) evil Parisians who took 4 weeks vacation and after an obscenely cold August, now everyone is glumly traipsing back to work, the sun has his hat, sunglasses and swimsuit on!

I don't normally work in the 2nd arrondissement but I was working there today and it really is a beautiful area. Having lived in Montmartre, and now living just outside the east of Paris, I never really got to know the area around the Louvre, the Palais Royal and the rue St Honoré.

Looking up at the buildings on my extended walk to a métro stop on my line, I was plunged into an architectural bran tub of history. On my right strolling up the rue St Honoré was the luxurious Hotel du Louvre, on the left the Comédie Française theatre. Further along the road and back towards the river I looked up and saw the sculpted glory of the Louvre museum itself adorned with images never to be seen by any but the most attentive of passers-by.

As I came closer the stairs to lead me down into the entrails of Paris I passed a homeless man with feet as dirty as the step he was lying on. A plastic bottle of red wine, uncapped, stood next to his sleeping form. On the other side of the road I saw a building covered with a kind of metallic lace. I paused to look more carefully but I neither understood what purpose that building served nor why the lacey metal was needed.

Perhaps a small part of the building budget for the 2nd arrondissement could find itself providing shelter, a square meal and skills training for those obliged to sleep barefoot on its streets, rather than dressing up buildings to look like wedding cakes. Paris is beautiful, but she comes as a whole package. We need to think about the safety of the heart of the package before giving all our money and attention to the wrapping paper.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Back to the Front Line

8am line 1, approaching Châtelet. The humid intense heat of the métro only briefly marrs my enjoyment of Ben Elton's new release The First Casualty but a sense of impending horror is settling around me as I approach my stop. Jostling myself out of the train with my thumb wedged in page 25, I try to whisk through the corridor at my normal pace and realise that my knee and back are throbbing more than is strictly desirable at this early hour. Being a newly recovered invalid is unnerving because I'm fine now, almost totally recovered, but the very first day back to work is not a time for skipping down public transport halls at 8am.

Line 4 is no better and if you know Paris you'll know it's even hotter; a damp quilt of hot air pressing down on all the unfortunate passengers. I try to imagine how Elton's semi-fictional characters must have felt during the First World War, as they, coughing like hags, knock-kneed, cursed through sludge. Obviously I'm a 29 year-old English girl living in the 21st Century on her way to her decent job and not a nineteen year-old Tommie with lice-ridden fatigues and a future of gas attacks and bullets. What I'm trying to say is that the métro was damn hot this morning.

The first rehearsal of my choir after our summer recess followed my first day back to work today, which was a double whammy of effort. I hadn't realised how easy it was to get used to relaxation. So now it's back to the old routine and there are hundreds of things I now realise I could have been doing instead of feeding my 24 habit, but sometimes you need to stop turning and get off the merry-go-round.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Convalescence - day 7

I can't believe it's already a week since I went under the knife. This staying at home watching films lark is pretty great actually. I read something somewhere about people who stay at home too long becoming almost institutionalised and not wanting to leave the house because of agoraphobia which develops when you spend long periods alone.

Having watched the whole of series one of 24, I'm now not only agoraphobic but have recurring nightmares about being kidnapped and no longer hear a noise in the apartment without thinking someone has come to get me! I finished the series yesterday, so today has been a lot more tranquil.

Aside from watching Kiefer Sutherland attempt death-defying stunts, this week I have made the following things to eat :

1. Rocket, parmesan and avocado salad (twice)
2. Tomato and mozzarella salad
3. Lasagne
4. Aubergine parmesan
5. Boeuf Bourgignon
6. Thai hot and sour soup
7. Dried beef and carrot salad with sesame oil
8. A chocolate orange cake (that's chocolate and orange, not as in Terry's)
9. Orange salad with cinnamon and orange blossom essence

As you can see, I haven't been sitting on the sofa all day. We've had friends or G's family over every night this week except last night; it actually gives me something to do. In the morning I do the washing-up, then sit and let my scars heal some more. Then in the afternoon I cook again and lay the table then rest again. I'm not supposed to walk very far or stand up for long periods, so I've nicely managed to marry cutting vegetables with tv watching. Very productive.

It's the second to last night tonight of entertaining and it's G's sister and her husband. We're also going to discover the start of a new series (in France), Prison Break. I know it's been on in the States and the UK for ages, but we're only just getting it on tv here now. I sound like a tv series addict, but believe me when you're supposed to be lying down for most of the day there's little else to do. (I know, I know, but I've already read two books this week, AND done a counted cross-stitch).

Now if you'll excuse me I'll have to get back to planning the final meal for tomorrow, it's my sister and her husband this time.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Convalescence - day 4

I have discovered 24 - the series with Kiefer Sutherland which takes place over 24 hours. I've watched from 12am to 4am already and I'm completely addicted.

G's parents are coming for dinner tonight so in between episodes I've made a lasagne and now I'm going to pop out to Monoprix and pick up some flour to make a Victoria Sponge. I thought I'd avoid trying to cook French food since I'm trying to impress!

I'm delighted to say that given the chilly weather we're being subjected to in Paris at the moment, there are no mosquitoes darkening my door. I'm bite-free, but unfortunately not quite pain-free yet. The cuts from my op are still hurting a bit and it's worse when I walk, so no métro for this week. I think it must be the very first week that I've lived in Paris that I haven't taken the smelly underground. No bad thing really. I prefer Kiefer Sutherland to dodgy métro men any day.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Convalescence - day 2

Yesterday I watched 2 films, one with George Clooney and one with Clive Owen. I did a counted cross-stitch of The Lion King and made prawn Thai-style noodles. That really is all I did yesterday. In the name of rest and relaxation I've bored myself stupid already, and I'm not even close to halfway through my 'arrêt de travail'.

Today G has been at home so it's been pretty much like a normal Saturday except I've had pain where my scars are forming. Thank goodness for Doliprane which has really helped to ease the soreness. Still, James Bond's Goldeneye took my mind off it for a couple of hours today.

Tomorrow I'm having some friends over from the band and the choir so I'm really looking forward to that. It'll be nice to be active in a conversation rather than imagining that everyone around me is in an action movie.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Convalescence - day 1

In the place I live - Paris, or even more realistically, France, at any mention of illness or pain the French jump on different kinds of treatment the same way an energetic labrador jumps on his long-awaited owner. I have experienced a few minor colds in the 6 years I've been living in France and people have given them names I can barely pronounce. Rhinopharyngite is what they call a common cold in France, then you have bronchite which I suppose should be bronchitis but it's far more common here than in the UK. More people than I can count on two hands complain of having migraines here whereas at home I knew of one person who suffered from them.

All that to say that when I have really needed medical care I have thanked my lucky twinkling stars that I do live in France.

Today is one of those days. Yesterday I went into hospital to have five moles removed. No tests were done prior to my admittance to hospital to find out if these moles were dangerous, but my dermatologist thought it would be prudent to have them removed.

I presumed that being a dermatologist, she would be the one to lay me down on the table, inject a little local anaesthetic and whip them off herself with a brisk slice of a fifteen blade. But no, this being France, medical things have to be done more than properly. She referred me to a wonderful plastic surgeon, another lady, and promised me that as I was a young woman, it would be better for me to have my surgery done by a true surgeon whose work was "vraiment beau". I suppose she meant, contrary to The Carver, that Beauty Is Not A Curse On The World, but should be sought out at all costs. I have to say, it's a trait to be cherished in skin specialists. (By the way if you haven't seen all of series 3 of Nip/Tuck don't read the link on The Carver).

So, yesterday with a full ten page dossier under my arm, and a full family of butterflies in my stomach, G and I set off to the hospital.

The experience was completely stress-free from start to finish. I was welcomed warmly by the nurses, the room they gave me (even though it was just for an afternoon) was modern and comfortable and I even had a post-operative snack. Again, this being France I was given fine biscuits and a little packet of very good soft cheese with a roll.

I found it extremely interesting to be awake during the operation, although awake is perhaps a slight exaggeration. The very kind and friendly anaesthetist (not unlike Liz) gave me an injection to make me relaxed and it soothed any remaining anxiety I may have had left while I was lying on the table ready for the knife. I was disappointed that there was no cool auto-CD player on to accompany the op like there is for Nip/Tuck.

So now I'm back home with five wounds to tend to. Because they're all in different places it's very difficult to remember not to catch them. I have little pieces of medical tape over them so I can't see the gory details yet, but I thought I'd leave you with a pre-op photo of the one behind my knee in all its former glory. It's now on its way to the lab to be analysed along with its four friends and I have to stay at home for ten days while the wounds heal.

Being a very active, busy person I don't expect to enjoy myself over the next ten days, but my blog will probably get a lot of attention. Watch this space for signs of insanity creeping up on me.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Back to School Blues

I don't really have to go back to school, just to work, but it feels like those last few days of holidays when you're thinking about all the nerve-wracking tests, new teachers and old bullies that you gleefully left behind in a swirl and a skip at the end of the summer term.

Truth be told I have had great holidays this year and they're not really over just yet. I visited the Dordogne region of France recently for a wedding - a high school friend of G's.

The village where we went, le Verneil, is an amazing place. It was created, literally, in the early seventies by a group of friends who wanted to leave Paris and live in the country and in true hippy style. They bought some old ruins of an empty hamlet and set about reconstructing the ruins into habitable houses. Now in their fifties, these people have successfully built their very own village, and bought the forest of several hectares surrounding it to avoid unwelcome newcomers to the area.

As friends, we were welcomed with open arms however, and life in the place is very warm and friendly. No doors are locked, people move in and out of each other's houses with a freedom rarely seen since the fifties. All the houses (there are 4 or 5) are private and there are common areas like the swimming pool (hippies but not poor...) and the grange where we had the wedding reception. The bride is the eldest daughter of one of the inhabitants of the hamlet, and the love they all share was palpable during the whole time we stayed there.

They are not completely self-sufficient in Le Verneil, but they grow vegetables, flowers and there is even a very generous man who picks mushrooms (ceps, no less) from the surrounding forest and sells them for a living and gives the rest to his friends. Suffice to say that we ate delicacies that in Paris cost over 20€ a kilo completely free.

Arriving on the périphérique yesterday evening I heard a carhorn beeping for the first time in over a week and it gave me the little stomach flip that nerves bring. I do have another four days before work starts again but knowing that I'm not going anywhere new or doing anything different does make me feel a little down.

Now, that pile of dirty washing is not going to put itself in the wash, and my newly purchased mosquito net seems to be winking at me from its sleek casing. Where's my stepladder?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Beautiful Blighty

I have just returned from a brief trip to Châtelet to exchange an ill-thought-out dress purchase made before I went on my England tour, and I'm already wearing my Paris face.

In the last few days G and I have visited Yorkshire, Derbyshire (I recommend the Heights of Abraham), The Cotswolds (I recommend The Slaughters) and Winchester. We have been visiting friends and family and it has been a truly lovely experience to drive through the country I love seeing special people who I miss when in the day-to-day Parisian routine.

While I've been away I've realised that England is not the same as it was when I left. The most shocking thing was the size of the people. I do not mean the people we stayed with, of course they are all gorgeous, what I mean is the general size of the population is larger than it was 5 years ago when I left the UK. I'm not sure why this is, because I ate pretty much what I would eat in France (give or take the odd curry or cake) and definitely about the same as what I ate when I lived in England before.

What I think has changed is food preparation. We went to two supermarkets while we were away and the thing I noticed the most was that now you can buy absolutely anything in a packet. ANYTHING! I noticed mashed potatoes, ready prepared and refridgerated - with a pat of butter ready on top! I noticed frozen meals, not just pizza but roast beef and yorkshire pudding with vegetables, all ready to heat up and consume. People who don't want to cook really don't have to now, as long as they have a microwave and a large rubbish bin to throw away all the superfluous packaging.

I have to add at this juncture that we ate extremely well with all the people we visited and I never once saw a frozen meal in any of their freezers!

So, our tour of England is over, but now we're on to our mini-tour of France. Tomorrow we start by visiting G's family in Chablis for his mum's 60th birthday, then it's down to Périgueux for a wedding, one of G's high school buddies is tying the knot in the Dordogne region. I've bought a new outfit for the wedding in next season's (apparently) gold so I'm looking forward to getting dolled up. Going out in England always involves long hours of preparation, but in France I tend to be lazier. A wedding is the perfect opportunity to pull out my glad rags and I'm looking forward to it.

Now, if you'll excuse me I'm going to see if I can still get into my new dress.

Monday, July 31, 2006

England Tour

So my summer tour around beautiful blighty has begun. I have started in the North, where my roots and parents are. Yesterday, due to extended caravanning plans on the part of my parents, I stayed with my sister and her husband who live half an hour or so away. We spent an extremely fun afternoon at Go Ape! (exclamation mark essential) in Sherwood Forest, where we swung from zip slides, climbed across rope ladders and swung out like tarzan. As you can imagine there were more than a few references to the oooooo ah ah ah sound of the legendary ape-man. This physical fun was rewarded with a delicious roast pork dinner prepared by my sister H. So, it's day 2 and I'm already being utterly spoilt, especially if you count the bacon and egg sandwich I wolfed down earlier.

It's nice to be at home, more so now I'm with my parents in the house where I grew up. I've just spent a very bittersweet couple of hours going through my old wardrobes and finding old lipsticks (was peach frost really a lip option in the early nineties?), glitter spray and some earrings in a variety of animal forms - yes I have dolphins, cats and even giraffes. It pains me to throw any of this old tat out, though I know I should.

Next step on the tour is picking up G from East Midlands Airport tomorrow morning. He enjoys coming to England for the curry, fish and chips and English practice, and he gets on well with my family so there's no problem there. After that we're going to stay with my grandma in the Nottingham area and to catch up with my cousin and her family. Later in the week we're heading further south, more on that later.

So if you'll excuse me I have to get back to Countdown, I think Carol Vorderman is going to be stumped by this numbers game.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Things That Go Bump In The Night

It's scorching hot and I'm currently fantasising about purchasing one of the above rather splendid swatters. In my anti-mosquito arsenal I now boast :

5/5 repellent spray against mosquitos, ticks, bees, wasps and other stinging insects (1 bottle)
5/5 plug-in repellant liquid (1 plug)
long-sleeved, long-legged cotton pyjamas (1 pair)

I fully appreciate that I'm lacking a safari-size mosquito net to hook above my bed (think Joanna Lumley in Girl Friday) but I haven't had time to go looking for one. After all, this is Paris not the Amazon Basin. Despite this very irrelevent information, I am forced to admit that my part of the Ile de France is somewhat more popular with biting insects than other areas.

You can't say I'm wasting my time though; I have spent some of this evening doing a translation for a friend and the other three hours looking very determined with a cunningly folded TIME magazine in my hand, a frown of single-minded concentration on my face and desire to murder itch-giving, ear-buzzing beasties cursing through what's left of my clearly delicious tasting blood. My legs are a ransacked banqueting hall of mosquito enjoyment and my arms are puffed up in strange places which makes me look either like I have well-defined biceps or like I'm smuggling grapes under my skin.

At least the temperature has dropped a little this evening and I'll no longer be allowed to complain about both the heat AND the mosquitos. During the writing of this post I have killed three mosquitos alone. Does anyone know where I can find a particularly hungry spider?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Dooced à l'anglaise

It has been only a matter of several months that I have been blogging on here, and while I have to say it is really a pleasure to click on the Site Meter (US spelling notwithstanding) and see that people have taken time out of their lives to read my rantings, increasing my readership is not my first intention. I'm happy with being able to share what's going on in my beloved city with the people who want to know.

I'm certain this was the case for Petite Anglaise (you can find her real name if you look hard enough) when she first started blogging two years ago. Her hilarious and true-to-life anecdotes on bi-cultural living from the point of view of a young English mum living in Paris were born of her desire to write and share her life with whoever was interested, as she says on her blog. I wonder if she ever imagined the impact her online diary would have on the internet community.

Yesterday, Petite Anglaise announced that her boss had fired her because of comments she had made on her blog and for the fact that she occasionally used company time to work on it. You can find the full story here and some of Petite's own responses here. Petite was dooced because her managers took offense at her (very brief and anonymous) anecdotes which never even mentioned the name of her employer (Dixon and Wilson - ironically now they are being named). It seems strange how these people now think they have a case against her when all she had done was post some old photos on her site, which, now having seen up to date pictures of her, look nothing like her.

All the managers have done is draw attention to themselves and to Petite, probably losing business for them and creating it for her. I have never mentioned my own company on here and don't plan to, especially now I've seen what can happen. Of course Petite's blog was being read by over three thousand people a day, obviously reaching many more people than my own. Now, thanks to her ex-employers, she has quadrupled her readership at least and has offers of publication and interviews streaming in.

Did I tell you about the time my boss.....?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

80s Music Extravaganza

I have just discovered a fantastic web site which plays videos of hits from the 80s. I have spent the last twenty minutes admiring ABBA's multi-coloured knitwear, Dolly Parton's towering locks and Yazz's shiny cycling shorts. I'm not even going to go into details about the industrial setting from Fairground Attraction's video for Perfect which beggars belief, Beats International's gold-effect costume jewellery, which seems to have been around well before the term bling was ever coined, or the very scary people who can't seem to do anything but Walk Like an Egyptian.

So, excuse me for the brevity of the post, but I have to get back to Olivia Newton John, I think she's about to Get Physical.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Roo need to control yourself!

He can now wash, iron and put away his white and red strip for another few months. Or at least Colleen can. Poor Wayne Rooney, he's just a kid, but boy can he run and kick and, unfortunately, shove other players and get sent off. England's bash at a place in the semi-finals was badly dented by his post-foul absence on the pitch; the mean, pink-faced bulldog didn't get a chance to show his stuff and while the 10 remaining players did a great job against the fiery Portuguese, holding off into extra time and penalties, it was clear that penalty practice had been an elective activity for the team.

While I was watching the England - Portugal match with G, I was screaming, shouting and crying for England to just put one away, get it out, send it up etc. and to no avail. The air waves stubbornly didn't carry my good vibes all the way to Gelsenkirchen. This evening, yet again, we have a whole posse of friends coming to our apartment to enjoy France - Brazil. At this juncture I should pause to say that none of the said gang care remotely about football during the other three years between world cups, and the commentaries flying about the room are often hilarious. Roughly translated here are some of the gems we've been treated to over the last few weeks :

Friend A : "No! He was off-side wasn't he?"
Friend B : "No way, he aimed at the ball!"
Friend A : "What?"
Friend B : "What? What is off-side anyway? Isn't when the player kicks another instead of the ball?"
Friend C : "No, that's a free kick"
Friend A and B : "What?!"

A sexist would say they sounded like clueless girls, but no, they're just Frenchmen with jobs who don't care about football until it looks like their country might win; and suddenly interest is sparked, beer is drunk instead of wine and discussions at work around the coffee machine involve words like coup franc, tirer, and Zidane.

8.50pm Let's hope that on Wednesday we can still be rooting for France and that the biting pain of England's defeat is somewhat quelled. Bon courage!

1.30am There is tainted joy in my delight at France getting through to the semi finals, I would have preferred if England had raised St George's cross in victory too, but still, that is the way of sport. Not everyone can win!

Here, just outside the city limits of Paris there are drivers beeping their horns, people whooping from windows and getting together in public squares; finally France has rediscovered a national pride which is healthy and wholesome. Not a Le Penian racism or a nationalistic arrogance, but France is happy to have won, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Allez les bleus!

Late yesterday evening in the quiet, refined streets of Vincennes, between the Catholic cathedral and the Jewish synagogue; car horns, shouts of glee and whoops more reminiscent of wolves than humans filled the night air with a patriotic pride that has not been felt in more than 8 years of sport. France's team, les bleus, issued 3 stunning goals over the course of little more than 90 minutes, beating Spain to the quarter finals of the World Cup 2006. An onlooker could be forgiven for thinking that the joy in the air meant that France had won the cup already, as they did so convincingly in 1998. Zidane, Vieira and the spritely scarface Ribery brought the frogs their first win in a long time and the country is now buzzing with thoughts of victory over Brazil in the next round; ideas which until the start of the second half yesterday were considered pipe dreams.

As a rather girly girl having not more than a passing interest in football, I am surprised by the delight I have taken in this year's World Cup. I always like the Olympics and never miss at least a few minutes of the Paris Marathon, but club football has never caught my attention. This year I've found myself in front of Ukraine v Switzerland, Italy v Australia and other matches, with no patriotic interest at all, yet screaming at the tv with all my breath to encourage a goal by psychological power.

Maybe it's the fact that the French have been so pessimistic about their team of older players, the term une équipe de papi (grandad team) has been bandied about by the press. People at work today are replacing their 5-minute small talk at the coffee machine with 20 minutes of football talk. Middle-aged women are analysing the game with expert vocabulary, repeating what they've heard from husbands, boyfriends and other friends in the know. There is a lightness in the air and a fresh French pride which has been seriously lacking in the last few years.

Last night, despite the age of the équipe de papi, we were shown that experience can triumph over youth, and it's not all about being perky and energetic, but skills and brainpower have their rôle to play too.

With the scurrying approach of my 30th birthday that's all the good news I need to hear.

Thursday, June 22, 2006


The sunglasses were not absolutely necessary, but we needed them for our rendition of 'It's Raining Men'. Why we didn't have umbrellas I'm not exactly sure. The light rain which sprinkled over Paris late on Wednesday evening was not really our idea of a perfect Fête de la Musique, but we had an extremely fun time and the punters seemed to like it! Our repertoire, which I have to admit is rather cheddar-y around the edges (BeeGees, ABBA, Donna Summer) went down well with the people who stopped and stayed and we certainly had a blast. My great friend L, the newest member of our group made a stunning start to her band performing and blew the onlookers away with her glittering rendition of Hot Stuff, and we all played / sang the Moulin Rouge theme Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir? the best we ever have.

I hope the audience enjoyed listening and watching as we did singing and dancing around like schoolgirls. It is really is one of the most essential joys in my life and despite the 6.30am start the next morning, I don't regret a single minute of the free time I devote to music.
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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Shut eye

How do you imagine being tired? Take an image of a mother of three forced to entertain, cook, work, taxi around and perform wifely duties. There it is right there. Fortunately I'm not that woman and the only excuse for my fatigue is self-inflicted excess activity.

When you enjoy doing things out of working hours, they tend to start ballooning. Take my choir for example. I adore being a part of it, but for the last few months it has taken up no fewer than 3 whole Saturdays, every single Monday night for the last 3 years (this being France, July and August aside) plus an extra four whole (enjoyable) days in Malta when I really should have been working. My band has taken up 3 hours every week for the last two years and costs at least 7€ a pop per rehearsal. Add to this the hours spent practising individually and you may well begin to wonder why anyone bothers. Yes, yes, the enjoyment outweighs the annoyance at seeing 1 free evening a week on my schedule, but at the moment I'm wondering why I commit so much time to these things.

Disappointment crash and burn is just around the corner, I know. It's the same every summer. June is chock-full of concerts, festivals and the fête de la musique - which in itself brings a two-concerts-in-one-night dilemma, then July arrives and suddenly free time is my new stalker. He doesn't seem to let me go, haunting me every day and never leaving my side except during working hours. He worms his way into every evening and reminds me of a musicless life I don't know yet. I become agitated, at a loss for a responsibility to uphold.

All this to say that this evening I'm exhausted and could do with an early night. I guess that's it.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

On Tour

I was lucky enough to be taken on a free trip to Malta recently. The choir I sing with was invited to Malta for four days by the French and American Embassies there, to open a Music Festival. This involved, among other concerts, a performance at St John’s Co-Cathedral. This place is a stunning plethora of gold and wood and every square inch of space is decorated. The floor is laden with coloured marble tombs of Maltese knights and walking into the place you are transported to another world where the church ruled all. The Maltese Catholics really know how to show their faith.

The concert was an incredible experience. Malta is a small republic but nevertheless the presence of its President in the front of the audience filled the whole choir with adrenalin and apprehension – all the better to sing with. Concentration was as sharp as the heels on the dressed up Maltese women and we did the best we could to lift the golden roof. A standing ovation – rare in Malta – followed and our sopranos and altos fought back tears. Our director wasn’t so successful in her fight and her emotion moved us all to share in her happiness.

After we’d shaken off the adrenalin and pumping hearts we were able to enjoy Malta for its natural and architectural beauty. We were able to visit Valetta and Mdina during our short stay and it gave me real desire to come back as a schedule-free tourist. Our hotel was just wonderful, with an enormous and varied breakfast buffet, gorgeous marble floors and a pool set in lush gardens with its own bar. We managed to make the most of the pool for the only free afternoon on the schedule!

The food in Malta is something which has remained a mystery to me. Meals were obviously rushed affairs as we had to respect our tight rehearsal and concert schedule. I developed a tolerance for greasy pastry petits fours which I am glad to say have now taken a long-term absence from my diet. Having said that, the warm welcome we received far outshone the quality of the snacks – we were treated like stars. I hasten to add that we are not stars, nor ever will be, and are just an amateur choir who takes delight in singing.

My feet finally touched the ground at Roissy Charles de Gaulles Airport and now it’s back to the old routine.

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

A Loose End

So, it's party time all over France this weekend - today is a bank holiday and most people have also taken the opportunity of having another day off tomorrow to do the bridge faire le pont as they say, in other words it's a long weekend! Surprisingly enough, there doesn't seem to be too much upheaval on the rail system today.

Not so lucky for those taking the plane though. One of my best friends in the world from university who lives in Paris had her birthday two weeks ago and since she was on holiday we planned to celebrate it tonight. As her job as a high-flying staffing manager calls her away on business at least once a week she was planning to come in from Milan this evening. I'd reserved a table at OKI, the lovely sushi restaurant I mentioned in March, and was looking forward to an evening with the girls.

As is perhaps painfully obvious from the title of this post, my friend is not yet in Paris this evening, her flight in Milan was cancelled and now none of us get to eat delicious maki or sashimi, unless I call on the rather questionable local Chinese with spécialités japonaises. The poor girl is stuck in Milan and won't get back to Paris until late this evening, and of course sans birthday celebration. I didn't feel like having a dinner without her and so I'm thinking of spending the evening with the Desperate Housewives and a few glasses of Chablis. I suppose it could be worse.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

English Attitude

The other day a good (English) friend of mine from choir said she had read my blog and found it interesting how her outlook on life and my own were different. She has been living in Paris for 15 years and has a more French outlook on life, whilst my own remains decidedly British, having only been here for just over 4 years. I totally agree with her, I believe my take on the world is English with only shades of French and for a variety of reasons.

Let's take food. I can happily discuss a recipe, a way of cooking in a particular style for 10 or even 15 minutes. Only in France can a conversation channel itself into cooking and remain there, rooted to the spot for over 3 hours. This is no bad thing, just something of which I'm not yet capable.

Moving on to the more current topic of smoking. I can't stand it, I am 0% tolerant of the pollutant fumes eminated from people's noses, mouths, fingernails and hair - let alone my own after 5 minutes by the coffee machine at work. There seems to be a (misguided - in my opinion) belief that people who smoke should have the right to smoke wherever they like (not counting in the presence of pregnant women and children - there are some limits at least). I'm not sure why smokers have the freedom to smoke and non-smokers have, err, no freedom whatsoever to breathe clean air. This attitude of freedom for smokers does seem to be quite French. Please correct me if you disagree!

Finally, on a positive note, I have to say I love the way the French take holidays. Not only is the working week 35 hours (more in practice), but there are 5 weeks of holiday every year, plus RTT days (réduction du temps de travail- reduction in working hours) which don't even exist in England. For the entire month of August, Paris takes a break, sits down and rests. You can always sit down in the métro, breeze through the light traffic on the roads and walk around without being shoved.

I'm very interested to hear comments about English / French attitudes and what other people in a similar situation have experienced.

Saturday, May 13, 2006


A whirlwind week of post-holiday work and rehearsals has just released its final shudder of life and now it's time to rest. Sicily was incredible. The island is drenched, not only in sun but in thousands of years of history, its tapestry of invadors leaving their mark on the land in the form of Greek theatres and temples, Roman gladiator amphitheatres, Norman cathedrals with Arab influences, Baroque churches and hints from many other periods of history.

The food is delicious, consisting mostly of pasta, olives, tomatoes, fish and capers but all fresh and presented beautifully. It was a little monotonous, though I do feel guilty saying it, to have a choice of the same list of antipasti every day even though we toured the island from north to south, west to east.

My favourite two places were Taormina (the picture is from the Greek/Roman theatre there) and Cefalù - one is a gorgeous car-free town on the side of a cliff and the other is a gorgeous car-free town on the beach. It's pretty difficult to find car-free places anywhere in Sicily but those two places proved to be very relaxing to walk around without the threat of toe-ectomy so frequently encountered in other Sicilian places.

We also drove to Etna - the largest volcano in Europe. We were able to go right to the top (see photo) which was an amazing experience. The ground beneath our feet was smoking and actually warm. You don't expect your body to be colder than your feet at any time, but when it happens it's an extremely strange sensation. There was even snow on the ground at the same time which made me doubt some fundamental chemistry I'd learned at school - doesn't ice melt when it's warmed? In fact the air is so cold on the top of the volcano that the snow doesn't even melt, despite the fact there is molten lava flowing just a few metres beneath hot enough to burn the boots off your feet.

It was a really educational, cultural and wonderful holiday that I intend to repeat. We hope to visit the Aeolian islands, especially Stromboli next time, now that my interest in volcanoes has been 'sparked'!

Friday, April 28, 2006


French customer service is just as wonderful as always. I was in H + M this evening, or "ash et em" as it's called here, and I was at the till spending around 65€ on a few articles. The dress I chose didn't have a bar code but I remembered the price from the rack. The trousers I wanted had a button missing. Despite all of this I still chose to buy the clothes as I'm not one to spend hundreds of € on high-quality goods. (Starting to sound a bit mean on this site now...)

First of all I asked the sales 'assistant' if she could discount me 10% from the trousers as they had no button. She pointed out the spare button that was sewn into the label at the back and explained that she couldn't do a discount because there was a button. I explained that the button was supposed to be spare and to be sold as an extra button but this didn't make any difference. She said she could go and ask her manager but it would take a long time. I chose to forget it.

She then asked me why I hadn't chosen a dress with the price tag on. I explained it was the only one in my size and that I'd remembered the price. Even after that she couldn't run it through the till because of "the system". So, I had to go and pick up another dress from the rack on the other side of the store. I'm sure one of the managers thought I was an employee by this point.

Just another example of France's wonderful customer service. If I'd been in the States I'd have had free garlic bread.

Anyway, I'm getting very excited now because I've packed up my office for the week and I'm not going to do a minute's work until a week on Monday - it's holiday time! I'm going to Sicily with G for a romantic break around the island.

We don't have any plans as yet, so I would really appreciate any advice that anyone has. The only advice I've managed so far was for the wrong country.....

I was on the RER A line, reading my Sicily Lonely Planet book and a man sitting opposite me.

"Greece is beautiful in September".

Not really being sure what to do with that comment, I looked up and said "OK that's nice".

"You'll have a wonderful time".

"OK thanks, but I'm actually going to Sicily as it says on my book."

He then proceeded to tell me he knew nothing about Sicily but Greece was gorgeous after all the tourists have gone in late August. I thanked him and my lucky stars as he got off at the next stop. He wasn't a crazy, bum pinching métro maniac but I didn't really feel happy with conversation on public transport.

Maybe I'm becoming too cynical, but at least I can now practise my sewing skills.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


I'm not a member of the upper class. I realised this many years ago when I bought a pair of jeans for less than 10 pounds from Doncaster market and was proud of that fact. Even though I'm approaching my thirties, am doing quite well in my career and have a wonderful boyfriend who would buy me what I want, I still blanche at the thought of spending more than 20€ on a T-Shirt or more than 35€ on a meal.

So you can understand my embarrassment when I was invited to partake in a Monday night dinner with G's family at Mori. Mori - Venise Bar is a new trendy Italian restaurant opposite the Bourse in the centre of Paris. Typically frequented no doubt by financial executives and rich business people, this restaurant was exactly what I had feared it would be.

Decent white wine was spoiled by the cheesy veal slices I mistakenly ordered. The promise of delicious mushrooms with the sauce was quickly dashed when I saw the lonely mushroom head bobbing around in the sauce early on in the meal. A couple of sprout-sized potatoes completed the disaster and my lovely mother-in-law went home 33€ poorer because of it. I have to admit that the tiramisu that G ordered was pretty good, but with it being more than 10€ a portion I couldn't let the Yorkshire lass inside me waste hard-earned cash, even if it wasn't my own.

I have to admit to preferring the more food-oriented eateries in Paris like the Potager du Père Thierry - don't know who Thierry is but he's a damn fine cook - or the Epicérie. Both of these places fail to disappoint and you don't have to budget for the rest of the week.

I also have to admit that today I had lunch in a certain golden-arched fast food 'restaurant' even though I have not set foot in one for more than a year and felt fat and greasy on my way out. Sometimes you need contrast.

Sunday, April 23, 2006


I've just yanked myself back to the reality that is the Paris métro system in all its glory after a wonderful weekend in Bruges with G, my parents and my aunt and uncle. Bruges is a beautiful city, nicknamed the 'Venice of the North' with its canals and cobbled streets. There is traffic in the city, but the bicycles, horses and carts and pedestrians equal them in number.

We stayed in the centre of town in a gorgeous hotel made up of three houses all joined together. Our room had wonderful wooden beams and a very high ceiling - all in all an extremely romantic place. Mussels, beer and chocolate are Belgium's specialities and we sampled plenty of all three.

So now it's back to reality and in less than twenty four hours I'll be back at work, ready to enforce my omnipotent language on some more unsuspecting frogs.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

CPE and all that

"You're fired!" is a statement not often heard in France, despite the high pressure of some executive positions in major companies that have their head offices in La Défense. Even petits boulots (which could be translated into 'dogsbody jobs' in English) are not easily lost. There are all kinds of laws protecting the vulnerable employee from the ruthless employer and you really have to do something serious to hear that immortal phrase. Of course companies making cutbacks and handing out redundancies to people approaching retirement age is another reason to lose your job, but frankly, in France, with a contract in your fist you're pretty safe. I know of no other country (but please correct me if I'm wrong) where employees have as many rights as here in France.

So you can understand when young people start marching the streets in protest against a contract which will effectively make them as expendable as workers in the US and the UK, not to mention the rest of the world.

You can understand when the young shout out in protest that it wouldn't be fair to employ them with the threat of firing for no valid reason for two years hanging over their head.

You can understand when they scream that it's not fair to apply this rule only to the inexperienced under-26 population.

What I cannot understand is why, after being so strong, tough and almost Thatcheresque in his previous discourse, Dominique de Villepin has now retreated under the table trembling with fright that he may not be able to wear a nice tie and speak to his "chers compatriotes" as Monsieur le Président by the time the elections come around in 2007.

As an English person, I really believe that the most sure-fire way to guarantee more strikes in the future and nation-wide chaos is to give in to strikers. I am certainly not saying that I agree with the conditions of the CPE, I think he never should have put it forward in the first place, but what I'm saying is that if you're going to push something through, push it. Nobody respects a scaredy-cat.

The answer, as far as I can see is to focus on training issues. Let's teach the young how to communicate better in English for international communication, how to use computer software more easily, how to give presentations, negotiate, how to do effective job interviews, CV writing and all the other skills that we never realise are important until we're faced with reality.

Let's train the youth of France to perform on a higher level with more marketable skills, perhaps then at least the demonstration banners will be more interesting to read.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Metro Madness

I've never loved the métro in Paris, but I've never had a particularly scary experience on it either. I take it daily, eyes fixed on the middle distance not looking at any of my fellow passengers or caring what they wear, look like or do. I try to let people get off before boarding myself, I don't push or tut like some and I generally get to where I want to go with minimum hassle (strikes permitting).

Such a good citizen then surely does not deserve the freakish incident which happened to me on Tuesday evening in the bussle and noise of St Lazare station.

I felt a sharp pinch on my backside as I began to go down the stairs leaving the line 3. I turned around abruptly (not easy with a fold-up push scooter over one shoulder and a duffle bag on the other) to see a girl in a pink hat about my age, in her late twenties, looking at me. Thinking it was obviously not her I asked her if she had seen who it was "Vous avez vu qui viens de me toucher?"

She just stared and I thought maybe she thinks I'm crazy and it was some random guy who's well out of sight by now. So I kept on walking and felt like someone was following me. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that it was Miss Pink Hat. I gave her the benefit of the doubt and walked right along to my platform and right to the end of it. Of course there she was behind me. I changed direction and went all the way back to the other end and there she was again.

At this I turned around, looked her straight in the eye and asked her if she was following me and what she wanted. "Vous me suivez? Qu'est-ce que vous voulez"? She didn't respond, just stared at my fold-up scooter (it is rather fetching) and my coat (nothing special) and looked crazier as the seconds went on.

When my metro arrived she was still right next to me so I pretended not to take it and then jumped on at the last minute. When we pulled away her face was almost touching the glass door and her eyes were staring right at me. Crazy Miss Pink Hat was no match for Mr Metro so I managed to rely on my Parisian friend to get me to my destination without further event.

I have now put my unremarkable short beige coat safely in the wardrobe and have pulled out my equally unremarkable long beige coat. I know I can't prevent crazy pinching ladies altogether, but at least I can make it more difficult for them to get their hands on my derrière.