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'!