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.....