Friday, December 28, 2007

NYC

Start spreading the news
I'm leaving today
I want to be a part of it, New York, New York
These vagabond shoes
Are longing to stray
And make a brand new start of it
New York, New York
I want to wake up in the city that never sleeps
To find I'm king of the hill, top of the heap
These little town blues
Are melting away
I'll make a brand new start of it
In old New York
If I can make it there
I'll make it anywhere
It's up to you, New York, New York.
I want to wake up in the city that never sleeps
To find I'm king of the hill, top of the heap
These little town blues
Are melting away
I'll make a brand new start of it
In old New York
If I can make it there
I'll make it anywhere
It's up to you, New York, New York.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Addiction

Being currently wrapped up in series 4 of Desperate Housewives and seeing one of the characters struggle with an addiction (no spoilers I promise), it got me thinking about how much time I spend being addicted to things. Not dangerous things, I'm not that exciting, but certainly little everyday things that notch up the minutes as they eat away at your life. I don't want to think of the amount of hours frittered away on the internet that could be spent doing something useful like knitting, needlework or scrapbooking.

Like Facebook. I've just spent more than an hour surfing on facebook. OK so yesterday night I had my choir practice and I've been working far too much today, so I've been using my time resourcefully up to now, but my evening has just been swallowed up by reading amusing comments and watching funny but time-wasting video posts.

Like text messaging. Not the actual typing of the messages but the checking of the phone - I must do that twenty times a day. Fumbling around in my handbag to fish it out, checking the screen and putting it back must gnaw off a good half hour from every day of my life.

Like email. In my job I have an email in the office and one which is online with a password. Typing in the login and password must take up another half an hour every day. Let alone checking gmail and hotmail when I get home.

Like vente-privee - a French online shopping site which offers brand name products at discount prices for short periods. I check the site perhaps twice a week but always end up staying on it for twenty or so minutes.

I know living alone during the week is probably the reason for all this, and also the undeniable geekiness which flows through my veins.

I would like to go cold turkey for a day, but I just don't know if I could stand being out of contact with cyberland that long. Am I sick? I'm sure there will soon be facebook anonymous groups where people can go who are totally addicted. I'm just glad it's blocked on work computers, funny that I never miss it there. Ooo, just a minute, I've got a new text message...

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Tinsel time



Today is the 1st December and things are hotting up in the shops. Kids are screaming, mums are tearing out their hair, dads are starting to ask themselves why everyone is crazy. Christmas shopping has begun in earnest in Paris and you can't buy so much as a T-shirt without waiting in a queue for ten minutes or more.

Of course I haven't experienced any of that, because this year I decided to do all my shopping online. I know that "it's not the same" - yes, it's better. No carrying anything, no waiting in a queue and no pushing through throngs of people with no idea what they want or where they're going. Being a fairly organised person in my professional life means that in my private life I'm a bit of a mess, and usually the warning lights of Christmas shopping don't arrive in my radar until at least mid-December.

Maybe I'm getting on a bit, or maybe I use up so much patience with my students during the week, but I just can't stand the thought of traipsing round Galeries Lafayette (as nice as it sounds on paper) with a million Parisians and two million tourists. The tourists are annoying because they don't know where they're going and the Parisians are annoying because they push past everyone at any opportunity.

So, I've probably accrued a delivery bill of more than 50€ in total, but at least I haven't left the privacy of my nice warm slippers.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Gospel Dreaming

I've just got home from an extremely boosting evening at the Eglise St Roch in Paris. No, nothing to do with Alpha; this was musical boosting, curtesy of Gospel Dream. They are a small choir of around 20 people with voices to raise even the heavy stone roof of St. Roch and the heavy stone hearts of the Parisians listening.
Their songs were upbeat, their style so clear and confident that I smiled and clapped along throughout the whole thing. For the encore, they performed a version of O, Happy Day, a classic, and I've been singing it ever since. Enjoy.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Strike two



We in the city of lights are currently experiencing the second strike period of the autumn. It started out in nice sunny, crisp weather with people rallying round and organising car-pools, cheerfully hopping on Vélibs and there generally being an air of acceptance, not agreement, but acceptance of the situation. In 1995 when Paris and the rest of France lived through 3 weeks of much tougher strike action (there was literally no métro), the general feeling was that the strikers were right and they should support them. This time, with the private sector dealing with retirement at 60 or 65, the public sector with its mid-life retirement age of 50 or 55, sympathy is much less readily available.

It's true that working on the railways was tough work with dangerous conditions and rail workers suffered much more than those snugly warm in offices. When the retirement age for these workers was being defined, it was a very different job from what it is today. Forgive me for my ignorance, but from what I've seen in the Paris underground, driving a métro train is little more than pushing a button or two. I can't speak with any kind of authority, but it seems to be not incredibly taxing.

So, whether they are right or wrong, the strike goes on. This week the weather forecast is rain and more rain, so I fear the cheery Vélibbers are not going to be quite so eager to get out on their bikes this week. I was going to be among them, but I'm counting on the driverless (so therefore not on strike) line 14 to get me nearer to where I want to go. However, I have the feeling the rest of Paris will do the same. Vive la différence....

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Dumb Dog II

This morning I was hurrying along my street and I saw in the distance the dreadful mutt that had bitten me a couple of weeks ago.

I actually had my camera with me and it was only a few metres away, but I was late for work and I rushed on to the metro to get there on time.

Now I regret it, but I'm determined to run into that scoundrel again, and when I do I'll be camera at the ready.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

A Weekend in the Country



I'm still alive and the bruise is gone, so the dog bite didn't turn out to be such a big deal. It has however given me lots of opportunities to tell a story and people are generally extremely shocked, not by the dog bite itself, but by the attitude of the owner, which to me is a source of continuing frustration.

Anyway, it's in the past now. Paris and the rest of France are enjoying a long weekend at the moment, it was All Saints' Day on Thursday, so most people took the 'pont' or bridge, which means taking the day between the bank holiday and the weekend off as well, to make a four-day break.



I went scooting off to Chablis on Thursday morning to see G and his family, which was lovely. Thursday brought blue sky and sunshine and even though Friday was a bit grey, it didn't rain. On Thursday lunchtime we went to a gorgeous restaurant called L'hostellerie des Clos, a Michelin starred restaurant famous in Chablis for its fine food and enormous wine list. We ate delicious scallops with Burgundy truffles, then pigeon in Pinot Noir sauce with puréed potatoes and finally a pastry with hot fruits and ice cream. It was all washed down with a delicious white wine from Burgundy and a red from the south of France. Living in France really does have its advantages....

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Dumb Dog



On Strike Day last week (Thursday 18th) I decided to work from home. We have a rather flashy new system which allows distance training, so I can be in Paris and my student can be in Grenoble or Nepal, and it doesn't make any difference. It was a great opportunity to spend a day testing it out and things were running smoothly until I mistakenly put my foot outside my front door.

I'd been invited to a meeting not far away, so I decided to be cunning and use my own bike to get there, instead of taking a Vélib, which I'd heard would be far too in demand for anyone to be able to get their hands on one. So, I wheeled out my Décathlon powder blue bike and got it outside the cellar, locked the cellar, and then realised it had a flat tyre. No problem, I thought, I'll chance a Vélib, and still be on time.

What I hadn't factored into my timing was the dog attack.

Walking along the street near my apartment towards our local Vélib station, I was enjoying the fresh breeze and the bright sunshine when I saw an extremely mangy looking waist-high dog a few metres in the distance, held on a leash by a slightly less mangy-looking owner, but nevertheless urinating all over the pavement (the dog, not the owner, although I wouldn't have put it past him).

I continued walking along and considered that the pavement was wide enough for a grumpy old man, a scruffy dog and myself. Obviously I was mistaken because just as I passed the dog it went crazy and yelped in anger, somehow managing to engage my (fake-leather-clad) arm between its slobbery jaws.

I screamed like a little girl and yanked my arm away from the dog. Thankfully no damage was done and my jacket, limbs and circulation remained intact. I was shaken nonetheless, and quite surprised to hear the dog's owner yelling, "What do you expect if you walk like that, approaching a dog from behind...?"

Now, he may have a point that dogs shouldn't be surprised, especially when eating, but to say that his mutt's attack on me was my own fault is nothing short of ridiculous. I tried to reply intelligently through my heart palpitations and tears, but all I managed was, "I expect nothing at all, Monsieur, when I walk in the street, especially not be attacked by a dog for no reason, sob..."

Later that evening I would think of several much more effective rebuttals, but in the moment that's all I could manage.

I finally got to the Vélib station and took out a bike, only to find that it too had a flat tyre. It was this that pushed me over the edge and I called my boss in floods of tears explaining what had happened. His main reply was, "What just happened?!" and reassured me that they would wait until I could arrive.

Finally I managed to get another bike, pedal to the meeting and arrive just five minutes late. Thank goodness for the lovely promenade plantée.

A friend said to me today that I should have called the police or at least reported the dog incident, but I am not hurt, so I thought it wasn't necessary, but then she asked what if it had been a child? Of course she's right, so I'm going to report it.

Rather an eventful day all in all. I just hope the strikes are well and truly over now or I'm going to have to invest in a puncture kit.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Swing low

Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home!
Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home!
I looked over Jordan and what did I see,
Coming for to carry me home?
A band of angels coming after me,
Coming for to carry me home.

If you get there before I do,
Comin' for to carry me home,
Tell all my friends I'm comin' too,
Comin' for to carry me home.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Spinning Around




It's never easy trying to decide what to do when the parent wagon rolls into town, especially with grandmother in tow. Obviously walking is pretty restricted as grandmother is now 86, so in the no-no category you also have to add dancing, climbing, being in crowds, cobblestones, dark interiors (eyesight problems), so rather a large portion of improvising is required.

It is nice to spend time with family of course, and we did have a rather pleasant weekend in the sunshine. We managed to improvise with a red bus tour, a bateau mouche and another red bus tour; the highlight of which, for me, was seeing the Tongan rugby team licking ice-creams dejectedly near the Eiffel Tower the day after losing to England.

We enjoyed two rather tasty dinners at Au Chein Qui Fume and La Tourelle. The second one, being near to my apartment, I always consider as basic with nothing particularly special to offer. On Sunday evening I couldn't have been more wrong. They brought out plates of mouth-watering, melt in your mouth steak, crispy gratin dauphinois and beautifully cooked cod. The dinner at the smoking dog was good too, but for almost twice the price... but that's Châtelet as opposed to Vincennes.

I had wanted to go to the new aquarium in Trocadéro, but the interior would probably have been too dark for my gran. Fair enough, we have to consider everyone but I think my mum would have loved it. That will have to be a feature of one of G's future Parisian weekends.

We did manage a mother-daughter bonding moment after dinner on Saturday. With my dad and his mum safely ensconced in a taxi back to the Citadines, my mum and I headed down the rue de rivoli towards Concorde. For the first time in the weekend we walked briskly; laughing and chatting all the way to the big wheel. The view was stunning, so stunning that I was in fact a little stunned and spent the first (painfully slow) rotation with my hands glued to the central pole, praying that the tiny metal half-cage we were in would withstand the wind (or what actually was a rather pleasant evening breeze, but everything is yanked out of perspective at a height of 50m). By the second rotation I was fine, and the delighted grin on my mum's face made me relax and enjoy the rest of the trip. Sometimes it really is nice to be a tourist again.

So now it is back to the grindstone once more, with the nights drawing in and G still spending Monday to Friday in Chablis. Maybe I'll pop out again for another spin on the wheel...

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Wicked!


I'm totally obsessed.

I made the huge mistake of buying the soundtrack to a musical I knew I would love, and now it's too late for second guessing, too late to go back to sleep. I'd heard all about it, I knew it was popular, but I never realised how the music from this story of two witches can cast a spell over your mind and have you dancing through life.

Wicked is a musical based on the two witches from the Wizard of Oz. The Wicked Witch of the West is the main character and it tells the story of what happened in Oz before Dorothy and Toto arrived.

The show-stopper from Wicked is Defying Gravity, which even after hearing it twenty times gives me chills and Idina Menzel's top E in the last part of the song is totally ethereal.

I haven't yet got bored of it, but it's been going around in my head every day this week and I'll either have to power through and keep listening until I'm sick of it, or force myself to go back to Stevie Wonder and book tickets for the West End show. Sad but true, my life is now revolving around musicals; that's what happens when your man goes away for weeks at a time.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Harvest



It's the time of year when all is safely gathered in, as the song would have it. The wine estates of France (and probably the rest of the Northern Hemisphere) are collecting, pressing and fermenting the fruits of the vine and turning them into what will become the fuel for drunken mistakes. On a more optimistic note, they are producing wine which will be enjoyed throughout the world for years to come. And a few bottles of plonk to be used for cooking.

Chablis is in the middle of its harvest and the weather is perfect. Blue skies and sunshine for over a week now, the work is pleasant and there is no risk of diluting the wine with the rain water that would inevitably go with the grapes into the pressing machines.



I visited Chablis very briefly on Friday and Saturday to see G and watch the harvesters at work. It was a fascinating thing to watch, above all because it only happens once a year and for a short time. Most of the grapes are picked by a machine which drives through the vineyard shaking off the grapes; but the Grands Crus (i.e. the best grapes) are picked by hand. I never actually thought to ask why that is, but I will!

It is quite a sight to see a whole trailer full of grapes being emptied and sent to the pressing machine. I took a short film but it's on its side and the quality isn't good because it came from my regular camera. Still, it gives an idea of what hundreds of grapes sliding down a metal thing looks like.

video

Is it going to be a good year? Apparently it is, contrary to what everyone thought during August. With little sunshine and far too much rain they thought that the wine would be acidic and tasteless, but in the last few weeks in the warm sunshine the grapes have ripened nicely and it seems that things are looking positive.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Paris Lights



On my way to work one day last week I was lucky enough to enjoy one of those rare treats: a stroll through an empty Parisian garden in the sunshine.

Normally in the Jardin des Tuileries there is little peace and no quiet, with tourists jostling for space with pushchairs and all manner of ridiculous souvenir sellers. The chalky Parisian ground stains your shoes with other people's footprints and wheel marks from the variety of skateboards, rollerblades and Vélibs which really shouldn't be there.

There are never any free reclining chairs around the pool and wherever you look some snotty child is wrestling with an ice-cream cone.



Last Wednesday it was totally different. As I stepped into the garden on my way from the Tuileries métro station to the rue de Lille, my destination, I turned my face to the sunshine
and literally began basking and appreciating this beautiful city for what it has to offer.

On my left was the Louvre museum with its glass pyramids, reflecting the sunshine coming from the east, and on my right was the grande axe, a long section of boulevard stretching from the Louvre to the financial district of La Défense. The sun lit up the Eiffel Tower and the Musée d'Orsay on the other side of river with a light that I had never seen in these gardens; mostly because I come to this area at weekends and not at 8.30am.

I may be waxing lyrical but the sight of the rising sun across Paris was truly beautiful and boosted me until lunchtime.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Mumblers on tour




On Sunday evening I rolled home in the late afternoon from a long trip back from Brittany. Our band The Mumblers had a gig in a little village just outside Vannes. It was actually really fun to take a van with the band and drive out to do a gig. Two of the band don't drink, none of us smokes and there were no groupies. Apart from that it was totally rock and roll.

The place where we played was a tiny Breton village called Le Gorvello, where a charming American couple run a café with a bed and breakfast. We did our gig outside the café, with the accompaniment of a rather grouchy neighbour who complained about the noise during our sound check (a rather gentle Beatles number). With that brief glitch we started off a little tentatively, but went on to do quite a good show.

The lovely American guy took a hat round the audience and we managed to gather up a rather sizable collection of coins. Of course we don't do our gigs to make profits, it would be hard if we did, but it's always nice to have a bit of brass to line the pockets.

Back to work Monday and I'm already in the train-train of city life. Looking forward to a weekend in England on Friday.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Back Down to Earth

After a hectic holiday, here I find myself back to Paris, alone in my flat waiting for Monday morning and my return to work.

G has been invited by a client from the wine business to the opera in Glynebourne. Apparently this opera is extremely famous, but despite being very much a classical music fan I've never heard of it. G's family's wine is on the list for the restaurant at the opera, so he's going in a professional capacity, but I'm sure the four course picnic will be well worth it, let alone the world-class singing.
He was more worried about having to wear black tie, but that's him!

Egypt was amazing. We dived everyday except the first and the last, and saw some amazing things. The Red Sea coral reef is incredible, stretching along miles of coastline and going deeper than any scuba diver can hope to go. We did a PADI Open Water certificate, and had to do all manner of exercises like taking off our masks and putting them on again, emptying them and continuing (my personal worst). A lot of practice with balance and breathing and how to float properly in the water.

The feeling you get from literally swim-flying over pink, orange and purple coral gardens surrounded by tiny and huge fish is just like nothing you can feel on the ground. The fish are so colourful and all such different shapes it is stunning how nature manages to create such differences. I didn't have an underwater camera, but you can find typical red sea fish here. We saw most if not all of the fish photographed on that site.

So, now I am totally addicted to scuba diving, and am on the look out for our next diving trip.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Sharm El Sheikh

So, I'm off to Egypt today! In about an hour or so we're leaving for Roissy airport to fly to Sharm El Sheikh. I have to admit now to being a little nervous about the flight, since it's been several years since I've taken a charter flight. I suppose the budget airlines I regularly use between Paris and East Midlands are no better than a charter company, but it just feels more risky somehow.

We should arrive at our hotel at 11pm this evening, and currently the temperature in the resort is 40°C. I'm looking forward to escaping this cold weather - in Paris at the moment it's about 15°C.

Our diving course starts on Monday morning, so we have all day tomorrow to acclimatise, discover the surrounding area and perhaps go on a snorkelling trip. I think it's a good idea to get used to the idea of being underwater - I usually take half an hour or so to relax with the feeling of being underwater. If it's anything like Cuba I just can't wait to get going!

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Brits at the Beach



Today I'm on Day Four of my family visit to Yorkshire. As it was lovely and sunny in the last few days my dad suggested a trip to the seaside. Great, I thought; a chance to re-sample mushy peas just to see if I can't stomach them without vomiting (I still can't, but the fish and chips were delicious). In fact it was quite nice to drive over to the seaside, it gave me a chance to catch up with Harry and his friends on the journey - the seventh book is proving just as exciting as the other six.

Seriously, the beach was lovely and wide with plenty of space for everyone, so the feeling of being squished in like sardines that so often prevails on Saturday beach visits was definitely absent. We didn't spend time sitting on the beach, fortunately, because there was a rather bracing wind blowing around hair, clothes and sand. Ensconced in my polo-neck sweater the temperature was quite manageable.

The thing which amused me the most about our day in Filey was the other people there. I have never seen so many mullets in such a small space of time; also bleached hair and fat hanging out of beige shorts. I'm trying not to judge, obviously, and there is nothing wrong with bleached hair when done tastefully, it's just when taste nips out the door for a while that you wonder if these people are not extras from Little Britain.

Another thing that I noticed today was that Brits at the beach are constantly surrounded by their entire collection of wind-breaks, picnic baskets, spades, buckets, plastic chairs... the list goes on. One set-up we saw would rival Everest base-camp for organisation and availability of provisions.



What intrigued me most was that it wasn't even warm enough to swim - so all the towels are useless, there are restaurants only 10m further up the beach and, well, all that stuff is just ridiculous.

On Monday we're taking Chloe (see my facebook page for a photographic update) swimming for the second time in her little life. I can't wait to see those smiles and hear her little giggles as she splashes around!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

School's Out!

Hurrah! At last the sun is out, the sky is blue and work is finished for another three and a half weeks!

In France, the juilletistes are returning from their holidays and the aoûtiens are getting ready to leave. I fall into the ridiculous category of aoûtien as I'm taking my holidays during August this year.

Tomorrow will see me leaving on a jet plane to visit my lovely family in Yorkshire for a good long week of rest, relaxation and nappy-changing probably; although I'm hoping I can still get away with being charge of cuddling rather than wiping. I'm really looking forward to spending some quality time with my parents and sister, and her husband and baby too. Also Harry P may have several hours of my time, I ordered the 7th book to be delivered to England so I would finish the book I'm currently reading Devil in the Details which is a strange collection of memories by a woman who suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I have to say that while I am very interested in the story, it isn't a patch on Harry's first six books, so unless I manage to whip through it this evening, the devil will have wait a while.

After my visit to England, G and I are heading off to the diving capital of the world : the Red Sea, to do a week long SCUBA extravaganza training course. I've been distracted recently about stories concerning a great white shark which was seen off the coast of Cornwall. Apparently the British stiff upper-lippers are not putting away their swimsuits just yet, there's no official confirmation at all. In any case I'm reassuring myself with the thought that the Red Sea is miles away from the Atlantic coast and according to that article, the water in the Red Sea is too warm for that species....but there are plenty of others.

I have to stop reading Wikipedia or I'll never go into the water! I haven't been nervous about swimming in the sea up to now, but I suppose a whole week's course ups the odds of accidents a little. Most people I have told about the diving course have been more concerned about claustrophobia than any interaction with marine life, but I'm not at all anxious about the mask or the tanks, it's literally the huge toothy monsters in the sea that worry me. In all fairness you have to admit that I have a point....

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Success!

Finally I got my results after a nail-biting month-long wait. I remember that day one was horrendous and I was convinced that I'd failed after an extremely taxing interpretation exercise on Egyptology... very much representing the challenges of the modern interpretor.

So you can imagine my joy when I huffed and puffed my way up the stairs of the University of London to discover that my name was clearly on the list of people who passed! I'll receive the mark breakdown in the next few days, but just to know that I passed is so relieving. I can now break into what I've wanted to do for a while now, and that is become a real life translator.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Lazy Weekend

The weekend has come around again and my lovely G is back for a slice of Paris life. We went shopping yesterday and then to a friend's (parents', borrowed) apartment for a lovely cheese and wine evening.

The conversation veered towards babies and weddings, as it invariably does among a group of thirty-year olds, especially when, like yesterday evening, there is a pregnant woman among the crowd. It seems nearly all of us had some kind of new baby / new niece / new nephew arriving on the scene, or were trying for one. It's incredible how conversation subjects can move so quickly over the space of a year or so from who is getting it on with whom to how often you should give a screaming baby a bottle. As always, there was a little teasing to G to get a move on and produce some bilingual babies. As I have said before, I find it wonderful to be an auntie and it is so great to have a niece in each family, but I just don't feel the urge to put my own body through that just yet.

Today we fought our way through the throngs of screaming children in Decathlon to get some gear for our bikes and bits and bobs for Egypt - our upcoming holiday, and again I thought, why would I want to have that piercing screech in my ear 24 hours a day? Children are very sweet on photos, as the gorgeous pictures of Chloe and Charlie on my facebook page show, but I just don't think I'm ready for that vomit / poo / scream extravaganza just quite yet.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Auntie Again, Hong Kong to Paris and Very Vélo


It's been an extremely hectic few weeks, in which my wiltering blog has been wholeheartedly rejected. I am now, however, the proud owner of a beautiful Fujitsu laptop with 2 Giga hard-drive, 15.4" screen, Wi-fi compatibility and most importantly a lovely silver casing. So, now I'll be more able to obsessively check my email while kindling my Starbucks hazelnut latte addiction.

I just spent a great few days with L who was back from Hong Kong for a wedding. We caught up, drank, ate, shopped: what we do best. I had a wonderful time with her back in the city again, and it's good to know that with some friends time passing by doesn't make any difference at all.

More great news is that G's sister has had a gorgeous little bouncing baby. Her name is Charlie (although it's pronounced à la française, more like Sharrr-liee) which is pretty unusual for a girl in France, but the more I say it the more I'm getting to like it. I don't have permission to put up a photo of her yet, but if you're a Facebook friend of mine have a look there....

In order to continue my run of urban queen activities in a bizarre embracing of Paris life when I'm thinking more of how to spend time in the country, I tried out Vélib this evening. Lyon was the first French city to try out this new concept. It involves putting thousands of bicycles out on the streets in locked up docking stations, and giving pedestrians the opportunity to use them for free for half an hour on the condition that you authorise a direct debit of 150€ if you don't return them within 24 hours. I think if you go over 30 mins you also have to pay 1€ or thereabouts, but it's not a big amount.

I got on the silvery monster at Porte d'Ivry and rode her doggy style (i.e. sit up and beg Dutch-fashion) all the way to Porte de Vincennes, going over quite an ugly industrial part of east Paris. The bicycle itself was extremely comfortable to ride, but the facilities for bikes in the city are severly in need of a repair kit. I have to admit that there are far more bike lanes than there were two years ago when I bought my own bike, but occasionally they merge with bus lanes and all hell breaks loose. There is no way a bus driver will slow down or even move to overtake so if you have a bus coming up behind you the only options are to stop on the pavement and wait until it passes or grit your teeth, peddle like mad and hope that the driver a) has seen you and b) doesn't grind over you like a boot to an earthworm.

My Vélib experience passed without catastrophe as I rode on exclusive bike lanes where possible. Since my desire to avoid a sticky end is stronger than my fear of bending highway code rules I rode on the pavement for some parts. I'm a convert and now plan to try to use it at least twice a week on some part of my journey home.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

A weekend in the country

Friday night brought a trip to the circus to see the world famous Cirque du Soleil. After watching people fly through the air on pieces of elastic (and really wanting to have a go), other people bouncing and spinning through the air on trampolines and yet more twisting and turning in the air from trapeze to trapeze, I thought it couldn't get any better. Then the Chinese contortionists came out. I'm not joking, you could see bones that I haven't seen out of the pages of a biology textbook. I can just imagine their coach before a performance, "Right girls, get warmed up, stretch those legs and remove those internal organs before you go...."

They did not have stomachs, that I am certain of. As I said to my friend, you know that something isn't quite right when you can sit on your own head. How these girls were doing what they were doing is beyond me. At one point there was one of them balancing on one hand with her body in a ball shape (stomach up) while the other was on top of her in the same ball shape - and both their faces were looking out to the audience. I bet they are fireballs in bed.

So after my exciting evening of acrobatic entertainment, on Saturday morning I took the train to see my winemaker boyfriend in his village. It's always nice to go to Chablis to rest, relax, eat and drink the finest foods in Burgundy. This weekend was no exception and despite the rain and my sore neck from too much staring up at acrobats, we had a lovely time.

A "long-distance" relationship is something I said I'd never do again, but this time it doesn't feel like long distance, and it's so easy to see each other every weekend. It's true that everyday experiences have to be stored up for the nightly phone call, and I don't say my first words of the day until I arrive at the office, but the time we spend together is precious. I don't know how long we'll keep living in different places: I don't feel ready to live in a village full-time yet, but for the moment it's do-able and let's face it, free Chablis on tap is not something to be sniffed at!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Single Life

Last night, in order to soften the blow of G's departure to Chablis, I decided to have some friends over for dinner. I spent most of Tuesday evening cooking with various pots and pans bubbling on the stove and onto the work surface. Turkey in creamy mustard sauce with rice was on the menu and I think it was pretty ok, though obviously due to the fact that I'd invited eight people, it was more about quantity than quality.

The French contingent stayed until the respectable time of 11.30pm, then politely went on their way. My English and American friends - and 1 Italian friend - stayed on amongst much merriment, giggles and empties until 1.30am. It was the best evening I've had in a long while with friends, just laughing and telling stories. S, my Italian friend, always has hilarious anecdotes about the various scrapes and situations she gets into. Also A, one of my American friends was over in Europe from Dubai, and we hadn't seen her for several months.

I do miss G, but this evening I realised that girlfriends are such a tonic. Glancing round and checking glasses and filling them up with Chablis, Champagne and pinot noir, I saw how precious these people are to me. There were of course plenty of gaps, especially an L-shaped one, I miss her often, and especially on occasions like last night.

But life goes on, people leave and people return, and we still plod along. Friends just make the plod fun.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Home Sweet Home

I visited England this weekend for what seemed like 24 hours, but what was in reality all weekend.

I also lived through quite a horrendous airport experience, although thankfully without any terrorist links. I arrived in Roissy on Friday at 6.45pm, all ready to check in to my bmibaby flight to East Midlands at 7.25pm - cutting it a little fine I'll admit, but that was mainly due to the wasted 15 minutes spent at the now non-existent bus stop to get from terminal to terminal, it's now the CDGVAL and very nice it is too - and I was greeted with a huge long queue of people waiting to check into the same flight. Now, I know that Roissy is not famous for its lightening check-in times, but there was practically a whole aeroplane full of people waiting.

It turned out that the reason was a THREE HOUR DELAY! I think I've never in my life been delayed three hours for a plane. Perhaps once in winter when the plane was re-routed to Birmingham due to snow, but at least that wasn't all in one go. So, making the best of a bad lot I took Glamour magazine and the Guardian and settled down to a nice Italian salad in one of the airport restaurants. I think the staff of Roissy must all be middle-aged English women but the temperature in there was below freezing for sure. Thankfully again I hadn't put my case in the hold, so I layered on all the tops I had in there to prevent the icy air-con from giving me pneumonia on June 22nd.

Finally we landed in East Midlands at around 11.30pm, three hours later than scheduled, and I was exhausted. A 90 minute drive up the motorway with mum, dad and grandma took the final wind out of my sails (and theirs too quite probably), but it was all worth it when I saw the gorgeous smiling face of my little niece Chloe the next morning.

All this, and I haven't even mentioned the Mumblers Fête de la Musique performance; watch this space.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Nerves of Steel

Tomorrow I have my day 1 of three days of final exams for the Certificate in Translation that I've been doing all year. I'm not confident, because in the mock exam I failed one of the papers. Fingers crossed and blog off now. Wish me luck...

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Prague Progress



This weekend I visited Prague with G and his parents, supposedly for his mum's 60th birthday, but in fact we had a great time too and felt more like a present to us than to her.
Prague is a truly extraordinary city. I visited it ten years ago during my student days on the obligatory month long trip around Europe on interail. I know I have grown up a lot since then, but Prague has changed beyond all recognition. The only things I recognised were the old town square and the Charles Bridge.

Otherwise, the city has had a total facelift. The one thing that struck me most is how much the Czech people have understood about tourism. At the hotel the service was top quality, in restaurants the wait staff were polite, smily and efficient, and overall everyone we met was totally open to new ideas, new people, new ways of doing things.
I love France very much, and I wouldn't change it, but when I think about the arrogance there is for all things French: wine, cheese, sauces, monuments, I can't help but think that the French are going to get a harsh wake-up call sometime soon.
Service in France is pretty chilly to say the least. Occasionally there are exceptions, but generally speaking people working in the service industry will do as little as possible to help if it means extra work for them.

The city of Prague is blossoming with new restaurants, bars, museums and parks all over the place. There are fusion restaurants sprouting up with glossy menus, crisp white table cloths and huge crystal wine glasses. Our hotel was modern, gorgeous, designed by Eva Jiricna and with a Philip Starke bathtub in one of the suites. No poky dark rooms there, and a far cry from the gloomy £6 a night apartment I rented for three days the last time I visited. It's a city with a sparkling future for sure.
On a personal note it was lovely to spend some quality time with G, he's been living in Chablis for two weeks now, and I miss him a great deal. He's back again tomorrow and I'm trying to think of something nice to do. It seems we've both been running around so much, perhaps I'll treat him to a little English fusion cooking at home.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Butter wouldn't melt...

How cute is this little bundle? Chloe is almost two months old now, I can't believe how quickly time is flying by. My sister assured me about two weeks ago that her offspring was smiling on command - or at least in reaction to tickles, smiles and songs - and that it was unbelievably cute. Having said that there was no photographic evidence. Now there is, and here you can see my gorgeous niece performing for her close-up.

Life in Paris is extremely busy at the moment. Tonight I just returned from a concert with Voices in Boutigny-sur-Essonne, a delightful little village with a post office, a restaurant, a bar and a church. We sang in the church which was packed to the back, and even the Mayor was there; he sat behind the alto section, so I'm not entirely sure he enjoyed the whole concert.

Yesterday we had a gig with the Mumblers, my band. This time the action was in Gif-sur-Yvette, another small place with the claim to fame of being home to the CAES, which as far as I understood is the playground of the nuclear scientists from the CRNS who spend their days working with nuclear reactors and complicated theories. The CAES seems to be an organisation which takes care of the scientists leisure time. The Mumblers are made up of several employees from the CRNS, and whenever work is mentioned it goes completely over my head.

The gig went pretty well, it was freezing cold and we had to dance like maniacs to warm up, but overall the people liked it. I was quite surprised by the way that they knew line-dancing, rock'n'roll steps and what looked suspiciously like a quick-step. It's always a great pleasure to play for an appreciative audience, and even though they were probably dancing only to keep warm, there was a great atmosphere and they seemed to be having a good time.

So now there are two more concerts to go before the end of the "year" - of course in France the year finishes in June and the new one starts in September. We have one more with Voices - in Magny en Vexin (can a place never have just one word in its name?) and one on the 21st June with Mumblers for the Fête de la Musique, as we did last year. Lovely Lola is no longer a part of Mumblers - the weekly commute from Hong Kong for rehearsals would be a real pain - and so we have to go on without her. Her replacement Angela is doing a great job, but I really miss practicing with L. A January Hong Kong trip is in the pipeline and an Asian karaoke experience is definitely in the top five of my to-do list.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Burning at both ends

Yet again I'm in the throes of a concert - rehearsal - concert - translation - work cycle. G is still living in Paris (until next week) so I'm also trying to make the most of him before the world of wine-making absorbs him forever.

With The Mumblers we have a concert on Friday, so it's all hands on deck to get the ooos in the right place and the belty voice ready to pounce.

Exams in three weeks for my translation certificate and I don't really feel like I'm making progress. I've decided to read Annie Ernaux's Une Femme in French as a way of convincing myself I'm doing something towards bettering my language. In the mock exam I had 9/30 for written French translation, which I am utterly ashamed about, but it gave the kick I needed - or so I thought. Since receiving the results I haven't really done anymore than I did before.

Procrastination is making its home in my schedule and it looks like it's here to stay.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Cereal with a side of cotton anyone?

I had a successful shopping spree today and the sales guys at H&M, Zara and Etam were pretty pleased as well. The reason for this was not any particular boost in my income, but that I managed to ruin at least ten items of clothing from my (and G's) wardrobe.

Last Wednesday, G and some friends of his were sharing an apéro and waiting for a roast chicken to, well, roast, and he heard a banging sound not unlike the noise metal makes when it gets hot. So, without thinking anything of it, he assumed it was the oven.

The next morning I put a load of darks into the washing machine and set it going. Arriving home that evening, I spun round the drum of the toploading washing machine and heard a sickening crunching sound. Now, even with my limited experience of washing machines I am bright enough to know that crunching and machinery do not usually make a good combo.

Opening the machine with intrepidation, I discovered that there was a box of cereal inside the drum. The cardboard from the box had totally disintegrated, leaving shreds all over the dark clothes. The plastic inner bag was slightly open, and a few handfuls of cereals had managed to escape from the packet and onto my lovely new tailored shorts. They were obviously having a great time because they'd stuck with such enthusiasm that I couldn't pick them off without yanking out clumps of material.

The bang that G and his friends heard must have been the box of cereal landing into the open toploading washing machine. I still have no idea how. Suffice to say that most of the clothes from that particular wash are now on their way to some landfill in a rubbish dump.

The cereal was Special K by the way. I have no idea why that's important but everyone I've shame-facedly admitted this story to has asked me the same question.

The moral of the story: always check the interior of the washing machine for children, pets, garden tools and of course, cereal boxes.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Paris Subway warms up...


I found this heart-warming video today, even though Sarkozy will probably ban it soon, métro music can still be good. I have to say that this group is professional and were on a tour of Europe. Their name is Naturally7 and I'm sure we'll be hearing more from them.

Yes, old Sarko made it, as everyone thought or feared he would. His first duty as President was of course to take a holiday, in true French style. Still, he wanted to make a point: money is not a shameful thing to have. All those single-parent families are very grateful to him for pointing that out, I'm sure.

As I said in my previous post, I'm neither for him nor against him and there are parts of his programme which do worry me. I just think we can't forget that he's been minister of the interior for the last 5 years and there has been little radical change.

Let's calm down and listen to the cool metro music...

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

La France Présidente

The pun in her election campaign tag-line roughly translates into "France presiding" or "France on top" but with the added bonus that présidente is the word for a woman in that job. This doesn't really gel with how the media has been portraying Ségolène Royal in the last few weeks. I'm not totally sure, but I get the impression that France will be pretty crippled under all her generous reforms and I'm beginning to wonder where she's planning on getting all her funding for the projects she assures us she'll put in place.

On the other hand there is "Ensemble, tout devient possible" from Nicolas Sarkozy, which is really just as scary. Anything is possible, indeed. Where will he stop with his threats to clean out the rough suburbs with a power-jet washer? Economically he is the polar opposite to Ségolène Royal, choosing to emphasize the fact that France doesn't work enough.

I have to admit that there he may have a point. Today we are enjoying a very sunny 1st May public holiday, and there are more to come. Next week will be the same, Tuesday is a bank holiday, and like this week, Monday will be a pont (bridge - word used for a long weekend) so the week will only contain three real working days. There is another pont the week after that, on Thursday and Friday, and then a full week, then on the 28th a lot of companies still give Whitsuntide Monday off, although it's no longer a public holiday (since 2004).

It's hardly surprising then when we hear that the French resent their potential president telling them that they have to work more. Being used to 5 weeks holiday a year, plus all these public holidays, they consider them part of life, and a right.

Being English, I don't have a vote in the presidential election, and with the current selection of second-round candidates I have to say I'm almost glad. Now if you'll excuse me I'm going to lie in the sunshine and do nothing.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Country Bumpkin

The gorgeous sunshine is still beating down and it's making me want to get out of the city. A lot is going on at the moment and things are changing rapidly. My sister has given birth, my mum will be 60 in a few weeks and G is moving out to Chablis to make wine.

Yes, he has decided that the city is not for him and he's going to don his dungarees and get ready for a life among the vines. Chablis is not so far away (just 1hr and a half) and I'm sure he'll manage to do some of the non-dirty fingernail work from Paris. During the week we are both so busy with work running late, me with my rehearsals and other stuff that we barely see each for an hour in the evenings anyway.

He's going out to Chablis to his uncle's domain, Louis Michel et Fils, and will try to learn how the business works from A - Z, then he's going to identify which parts of the process he's most interested in, and then he'll do some official training at a university, probably part-time. For more info on the wine of Chablis, pay a visit to the wine doctor.

This will all start at the end of May. As for me, I'm staying in Paris and keeping my independence... at least for the time being. As a child of the seventies I have been brought up to think that I should be as independent as possible. It's going to take some imagination, but when I do finally go out to Chablis to live there permanently I'm determined to find a way to at least contribute to our finances.

Now if you'll excuse me I have to look out my flowery dress and apron.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Scorcher

It's thirty degrees in Paris today. I rode my bike from Vincennes to the métro stop Odéon (about 5 miles) and even though I tried to stick to bike paths and pavements I found that there were so many people milling around it was almost impossible. All of Paris crawled out from under their baguettes today, to take in the beauty of their city.

I went to meet my friend Silvia for brunch at a delightful little place called Forêt Noire in the 6th arrondissement. We had cakes, eggs, toast, salad and fruit salad washed down with delicious grapefruit juice and tea. The descriptions of the place say it's very cosy in winter but with the windows open onto the garden next door it really was a perfect place to spend a couple of sunny hours.

My sister isn't having quite such an easy time. There are no bike rides and brunch in the land of babies. As gorgeous as Chloe is, and as happy she is about her arrival, I think the sleepless nights are beginning to grate on her. It's to be expected, and of course she's taking it in her stride, but I hope that after a few more weeks she will stop waking up 5 times a night! She told me it is ten times harder than she thought it would be, and she had a very realistic view on things to begin with.


Well I think I would change places with her at least for tomorrow, I have a group to lead from 9am to 12pm and I'm feeling very nervous about it. I have that Sunday evening feeling that I haven't had for a while - like before an exam or driving test. Better get back to the prep.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Chloe Louise


I've fallen in love with a little girl. My niece Chloe is so beautiful and gorgeous, I can't believe how delightful she is. My sister is exhausted but happy, her husband is very much in control of the situation - changing nappies and calming her down - Chloe and my sister. They are a vision of a young family.

What I am really surprised about is that I'm not broody. The birth of my niece has only calmed my desire to have a baby. Not because gorgeous Chloe is not a perfect little bundle, she is. Perhaps it's because my ridiculously practical nature disallows any kind of desire for a lifestyle too far removed from my own.

In any case, regardless of my lack of broodiness to have my own children (at least for the moment), I'm totally besotted with Chloe. Tomorrow will bring another precious visit, then I'll have to wait another month before coming over for my mum's 60th birthday party. Or Chloe's Presentation Party TM as it has started to be called.... Her grandparents are so proud, not to mention her great-grandmother, but my mum's party will bring a bevvy of great-aunts, great-uncles, second cousins as well as friends from all over the country (and France) who will all be jostling for a view of the new arrival.

I'm a happy aunt but I can't believe what my baby sister has gone through the last 48 hours and all that with a smile on her face.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Baby Chloe



Bang on time as always, my sister gave birth to a gorgeous healthy little bundle of love this morning at 9am - right on her due date.

Chloe Louise was born this morning and she's doing very well. As far as I know they can leave the hospital this evening and so my sister won't have to be in hospital overnight. She went in at 4am this morning and should be home pretty soon. Chloe is really gorgeous and very placid - for the moment she hasn't cried very much, she just sleeps and looks around a little. I'm certain there is more action to come, but for the moment she's extremely happy and calm.

We were only allowed an hour of visiting today because of the hospital rules and because my sister is exhausted, but we'll go over tomorrow at some point and try to help out with cooking or something. I'm a very proud auntie!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Waiting....



Easter : a time for new life and birth. At least I'm really hoping so. My sister is exactly 9 months pregnant and ready to pop. In the last seven months I've had the thought of being an auntie for the first time in the back of my mind, and I'm truly desperate to see my new niece or nephew. The baby's room is ready, the cot is set up and the moses basket prepared. All we need now is for my sister to say, "Ooo, was that a contraction?"

I've come home to England for Easter and don't go back to Paris until Wednesday evening. She's due to give birth tomorrow, so I was hoping that by Wednesday I would see a glimpse of the newest member of our family. So far there's no sign, but I went out for a walk with her this morning and her husband gave her curry on Thursday, so we're doing what we can!

England is bathed in sunshine at the moment and there's a mild breeze in the air. It's a real pleasure to be at home but I have to admit to missing the pace of the city a little. I'm catching up with translations that are long overdue and general paperwork which has been mounting up over the last few weeks.



Watch this space! This scan is from a few months ago....

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Arrrrgh

Family visits, management meetings, a Sinclair concert, opening up a new office and six hours of concert.... I'm still here but just about finding time to tell G to do the washing up, not even doing it myself.
It's 11.30pm now, I'm kneeling in front of my computer because I can't even muster the energy to get the chair, and I'm longing for my bed.
I sense that's all you're getting out of me for now.
More soon, I promise.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Daily Grind



After that post about the gorgeous weather in Paris, temperatures have now dropped to zero. I've got out my winter coat and had gloves on today for the first time in weeks. Global warming certainly is temperamental.

My exam wasn't too bad, the two tests into English - written and oral - were both pretty good, but the ones into French, as always were not quite so much of a pique-nique. At least it was just the mock and I came away pretty much certain that I have to do a lot more practice for the interpreting part of the certificate. I sense the next time G is in England, (or even perhaps this weekend when my cousin and his wife come to visit), I'll have to get him to speak French to a poor unsuspecting member of my family so that I can interpret as practice for the exam.

Apart from that my life is very full of work at the moment, and I can no longer justify staying late as being because it's the beginning of the year. In training, the lists of people for the programmes come in during January and February, and so the beginning of the year is always harder work than other months - lots of administration and explaining the same thing to seven people a day. So what's my excuse for staying until 8pm this evening? I don't honestly know. Probably because I'm a disorganised airhead who, thanks to modern technology, can't concentrate on anything for longer than 3 minutes. I heard the other day that if a website doesn't load up within 4 seconds, users close the page and rarely go back to it, so in marketing one of the key points for Customer Relations Management is getting your website to match the attention span of spoon-fed web users.


I managed to slip into my schedule the season 3 finale of 24, so I've had my fix of Jack Bauer now for the next few weeks. I'm meeting a friend for drinks tomorrow, then dinner with a family friend who is visiting Paris, meetings on Thursday and then visiting cousins on Friday. I'm very much looking forward to this weekend. I love being a tourist again and being able to rediscover Paris. Hopefully after the weekend I'll be able to write about Paris instead of exams and tv shows. Here's hoping.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Paris when it sizzles

I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles... except that it's mid-March and we haven't had the part when March comes in like a lion, it's already going out like a lamb, and a sweet warm kind little lamb at that...

Paris has been bathed in sunshine for the last 7 days, without a cloud in the sky as far as you can see. On Saturday and Sunday we were able to get out and enjoy it, but during the week obviously the best hours of the day are spent under artificial lights, not sunlight.

It has been gorgeous weather and it's set to continue for the next few days. I know global warming is a serious worldwide threat, but the nice spring sunshine is difficult to begrudge. G's friends are all skiing, he can't go as he has just quit his job and holidays aren't part of the deal. So there is a little tainted tone to the beautiful weather, it may be beautiful in Paris but in Avoriaz it's absolutely spectacular.

Mr Backpack is still trekking across East Africa, and I'm sure he hasn't seen any snow for a while. He's just arrived in Ethopia, read his tales of adventure for some real escapism (in French).

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Back to school

Clearly my dreams of faraway places were short-lived, in the last week I've been nose to the grindstone and had no time for anything except work and rehearsals.

On Friday next week I'm taking the first exam I've had since my degree, nearly ten years ago, and I'm pretty much dreading it. It's a mock exam for my translation course that I started in September. The course has been going well, although I am finding it quite hard to get the assignments in on time. I have two translations (writing) or interpreting (speaking) exercises to do per week, and mostly I spend my Sunday mornings worrying about them and my Sunday afternoons doing them instead of relaxing. This week was an exception because at work I invigilated an English test and had a block of two hours of silence to fill, so I managed to get the draught done then and typed up the rest this morning.

So, on Friday I have to go to the University of London in Paris and sit four exams, two written, two spoken (recorded on tape) and see how well I might do in the real thing which will happen in June. I am really nervous, despite the fact that it's a mock exam. At university I tried to enjoy myself as much as I could and worry about exams later. I don't seem to have changed much, although having a job is more of a motivation. In my professional life I always try to prepare as much as possible for meetings or difficult appointments, whereas academically I've always tried to get through on luck and intelligent choices. I'm not sure how well that's going to work this time and I think I may get a nasty surprise if I don't cram in a few hours of preparation this week.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Faraway Places


I know it has only been a few weeks since I returned from Cuba, but so much seems to be happening to other people at the moment that I'm feeling the urge to travel.

Lola, as she is known on her blog, is of course in Hong Kong living an adventure every week and recounting tales of Asian delights which spice up her busy job.

L has a friend who has just taken off for an eight-month blockbuster of a holiday, visiting Pakistan, Iran, China, Thailand, Dubai, Cambodia, Laos and India, among other places. At the moment he's in the Sudan experiencing life among the world's underprivileged.

He set off from Paris a few weeks ago, leaving behind a sought-after 6e arrondissement apartment, a fantastic job in telecommunications and what can only be described as a luxury lifestyle. When I first heard about his trip, and not really knowing the man, I thought he was absolutely crazy. Thailand, Dubai or Cambodia I can understand, but Pakistan? Iran? Sudan? Why?! Of course I understand the reasons why people want to discover new worlds and new people, and I respect that, but the danger of these countries was the first thing to spring to mind.

Now, after reading his posts and seeing how passionate he is about discovering new people, new countries and new places, I can totally understand his need to do his journey of a lifetime. As a woman, I think my view on travel is shaded with worry about being vulnerable in far-off countries where women may not be as safe as they are in Europe. But maybe that's a myth. Along his way, he has met a girl of 23 travelling alone and a retired Austrian woman making her way across the world without taking a plane.

I then read Petite Anglaise's account of her solo trip to Marrakech, and found myself thinking that I would probably have reacted in much the same way, although I think I would have been aware of the intimidating atmosphere before going.

All this talk of travel is giving me itchy feet and I'm thinking of a January trip to Hong Kong with G. We're considering spending a few days in Hong Kong then a week or two in Thailand afterwards, discovering the country and then spending a few days on the beach or doing SCUBA diving. It's a long way away, so no reservations are made yet, but my thoughts at the moment are drifting all around the world.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Prodigal Phone

My phone has returned and I've celebrated by changing the screen and ringtone into something a little more interesting. Still discreet, though, no Nokia music.

We had rather an unfortunate fridge incident this morning, in that it stopped working. All the electricity went off and after several minutes of fumbling around with the fuse board, G found the appliance which was causing the problem.

So now we have to eat everything in the freezer and the fridge and work out what we're going to do for cold food from now on.

I think a trip to Darty is on the cards for this weekend.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Friendless

Yesterday my right arm was cut off. Not literally of course. France is not a country of barbarians, whatever you might hear.

I lost my mobile phone.

Despite a pretty organised appearance, I do in fact lose things on a fairly regular basis. It all started with a bag at a bus stop. I used to take the bus from the top of my street to school. Packed with sixth formers and kids from another local school, the bus was always full.

One day, at 11 years old, I walked up to the stop armed with Hot Gossip standard issue schoolbag, games kit and violin. How I didn't end up with chronic lower back pain at 30 I don't know. Obviously this load weighed me down somewhat, and it was easy enough, mid-chat, to climb aboard the bus Hot Gossipless. I realised after a few seconds and begged the driver to stop while I ran back (with violin and games kit in tow) to get it. Two minutes later and 2 kilos lighter, a panting red-faced me scrambled back aboard just as the grumpy driver was about to set off without me.

Following the bag at the bus stop incident there were many other occasions. The purse on the bench in St Malo, the keys at work, the keys at home, the scarf in the bar and the top at summer camp. I always seem to have much more important issues to think about than keeping track of my belongings.

I've now realised I left my phone at work on Tuesday, and as I work in different places on different days, I won't get it until tomorrow. I have a dinner arranged for tomorrow and now have no idea if the person is trying to confirm or cancel, or if there are any texts waiting to be read from long-lost friends.

This has also made me see how attached I am to my mobile phone and how absolutely naked I feel without it. Only ten more hours before I can get to it again and probably find the screen exactly how I left it....

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Dark Side

A little cheer on a grey Sunday evening...

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Fleeting

I had a morning cup of tea this morning surrounded by enormous suitcases and stressed looking people in all manner of clothes for all manner of seasons. There was a slight waft of kerosene in the air and disembodied voices announcing times and exotic locations.

Yes, I was in Roissy airport, not because I was coming in from anywhere or leaving to go anywhere, but because my friend L was flying in briefly from England to Hong Kong.

Heaving myself out of bed at 7.30am, only 30 minutes after I normally get up when I drag myself off to work, I hastily ate some cereals and got ready. Not wanting to show up looking bedraggled I tried out my new skinny jeans and discovered that black and white trainers look stupid with them. Mentally making a note in my head to get some funky black flats I braved the Saturday morning metro.

I really hate taking the metro or RER early on a Saturday morning. The people on it are either loud-mouthed tourists, exhausted, drained looking night-shifters or people on their way home from parties - these are generally both loud-mouthed and exhausted. I experienced all three this morning, on my way there and on my way back. The RER B is the darkest and most sinister of all the lines but this morning (when I was returning to Paris) was host to a group of women from the north-west of England on a hen-night, most of whom looked old enough to be the mother of a bride, but I couldn't actually work out which one was the bride! In any case, now I know why Sheila isn't buying a house in Spain (she'd be too tied to the one country and wants to see the world), why Ron will retire next year (he's fed up now, innt 'e?) and why Barbara can translate anything in French (she's been before).

Gloomy journeys aside, I had a lovely two hours with L in a cafe in terminal 2C. It had been 3 months since I'd seen her last and while I was getting used to her not being around I still missed her very much. We caught up on developments (G's forthcoming move to Chablis - more on that soon, her new apartment, our respective jobs) and discussed pressing current affairs:

"So, have you seen Brittany's new hair?"
"I know, what made her shave it off?"
"Paris Hilton probably didn't want the competition and persuaded her it was a good idea during a Jack Daniel's marathon session..."

She got on her second plane of the day and headed back to the world of three-storey shop fronts, live chicken markets and mountain escalators. So now it's back to catching up by blog, her on mine and mine on hers, though I'm sure it won't be long before she's back again.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

VD

I'm not usually a fan of Valentine's Day. Not because I don't like its commercial nature or couply-coupleness aspect, but because it feels a little forced. I have a wonderful boyfriend I'm very happy with, but up until this year he didn't remember Valentine's Day or think it was anything special and that was fine with me. In a smug sort of way I was content with his being quite lovely the rest of the year.

So this year I wasn't really expecting anything at all. I was happily wrong, when he came bouncing through the door with a thick package from Le Triomphe. I was treated to a delicious meal of amuse-bouches, foie gras, dorado with vegetables and heart-shaped chocolate delights. The meal was truly wonderful and we drank some delicious Alsace Gewurtztraminer with the starter and G's family's Chablis with the main course. The photos don't include the fish because the photo doesn't look quite as mouth-watering as it really was...

In fact we went to the theatre on the day itself, so all this was the day after. A two-day Valentine to make up for four years of no Valentine: I wonder what he's been up to...

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Last Day


Our fabulous trip ended in Varadero, an extremely nauseating tourist-filled place with little else but roads and hotels. The fine, long sandy beach was gorgeous, yes, but the complete lack of atmosphere or real Cuban life was so blatant that we were ready to leave after just spending one night there. The glacial reception we received the hotel Villa La Mar was just the beginning of our adventure. Bare light fittings, grotty walls and a very vociferous porter who complained constantly about bad tips were to follow.

The hotel wasn't dangerous or particularly dirty, but we certainly had a much better reception in every single one of the casas we stayed in during our two-week trip.
Our flight home was long, but uneventful, and we fell into our beds early when we got back to Paris. Tanned, tired but happy to have spent two weeks discovering one of the most fascinating of countries, a communist nation with stunning natural beauty, amazingly resilient people and a history to fill thousands of pages. And we only did half of it!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Facebook

I have recently discovered a fantastic site, called facebook, which you use to share photos, stories and comments with loads of different friends and you can browse their photos too.

I discovered it during a little internet break, and was immediately hooked. In the five minutes per day of free time that I seem to have at the moment I've been checking it for new people and new photos. It's the new friends reunited on a worldwide scale!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Day 12 - 30 years old

The 12th January brought many thoughts, memories and feelings. I turned 30. In Cuba, and on the beach. Not a bad selection of events, but they did get me thinking.

I realised that it was the first time in my life I'd ever spent my birthday in the sunshine, not at work or school and without that post-Christmas blues which only lifts by late January. I know I shouldn't complain about anything; seeing the way Cubans struggle through their lives really showed me I could never be justified in moaning again. Nevertheless, every 0 birthday makes us reflect on the last ten years. While there was a huge gap between turning 10 and turning 20, moving from 20 to 30 hasn't felt so different, and I'm sure 30 to 40 will feel even less different, although hopefully by then there will have been some major changes in my family life.

We spent the day on Cayo Las Brujas and Cayo Santa Maria and stayed in Villa Las Brujas on the first island. The wind was pretty powerful and my fantasy of doing a scuba dive on my birthday was dashed by the waves. We did find a secluded beach at the far end of Santa Maria though, which had not yet been developed by the all-inclusive powers that be. It won't be long, there were construction vehicles and cranes on other parts of the island.

In the evening of my birthday we enjoyed a few cocktails in the bar and ate at the hotel restaurant, there being nothing else on the island. Our langouste was accompanied by a Spanish white, our first bottle of wine throughout the whole holiday, and it was delicious. Not a bowl of congri in sight. I haven't mentioned this dish up to now because we had it every single day and I'm trying to block out the memory....

Suffice to say I had a lovely birthday on the beach with good friends and good food, and that's all anyone can ask.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Day 9 - 11 - Trinidad

"Psssst! Cigar, cigar!"

That was the accompanying chorus during our two days in Trinidad. That and "skol!" from the German tourist groups bedecked with all-inclusive bracelets, downing rum cocktails in ten minutes flat and taking up the whole bar we'd just found tucked away in a discreet side street. No so discreet in the end.

Trinidad is truly beautiful place, with a peaceful main square, little cobbled streets you can lose yourself (and your balance) in, and gorgeous colonial houses partly restored with money from UNESCO. The streets are narrow and pedestrianised for the most part, and there is rhythmic salsa music wherever you turn.

So why didn't I love it? Trinidad has unfortunately turned into Disneyland, or at least as close as Cuba will get to that. In no other place in Cuba did I feel so much like a tourist. I felt rich, stared at, guilty and frustrated all at the same time. Cuba, generally, is not like other countries where people barter with you, pulling you over to see their products or insisting on selling you things, but in Trinidad it was. In Trinidad, pregnant mothers begged "for the baby" and children asked for pens and soap.

I can't decide if the beggars are more prominent in Trinidad because there are no jobs available, or because there are so many tourists milling around, easy pickings, that the people of Trinidad, exhausted from working for 20€ a month for the government, have found a new way to get what they need. Maybe it's because so many tourists go there on day trips from Varadero, eating in government restaurants and drinking in government bars, then get back on their coaches and to the safety of their government hotels (51% of all hotels in Cuba are owned by the government).

Perhaps if more people stayed in the casas particulars in Trinidad, eating with families there and contributing to the local economy, the people there would be able to stop harrassing tourists in the street and benefit from their presence in another way.

On a lighter note, we met my friend S and her boyfriend S while we were in Trinidad, they had booked their holiday in Cuba too, so we enjoyed the casa de la musica in Trinidad over mojitos and daiquiris (again...). S and S gave us a little salsa show from the lesson they'd had on the streets of Havana.