July 2006 Archives

Anyone who knows Paris will know about the mass exodus that occurs in this city in August. Parisians flee the city in their thousands, heading for anywhere that is, basically, not Paris.

Such movement in summer still seems foreign to me. Because of my parents dedication to the district fire brigade, we didn't do summer holidays when I was growing up. The idea of going somewhere at this time of the year doesn't really feel all that important to me, and so I watch the mass exodus somewhat bemusedly.

I'm certainly not complaining. We're not taking any significant time off in August, and the next month at my place of employ will be very quiet, so I think I should be able to get quite a bit of work done. The streets will be quieter, with more space on the train and fewer people in the shops.

But there is something depressing about watching everyone else go on holiday. I am excited for them all, but I confess that I feel slightly bitter that I'll still be working every day, while everyone else is heading off to kick up their heels.

That said, I'm sure we'll be gloating in December when Sylvain and I go to Australia, shorts and tshirts and thongs packed in our suitcases, with everyone else left behind, shivering in their winter coats.

This knowledge is more than enough to keep us both going for the next few months.

Coup de vieux

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I'm not exactly a spring chicken, but at 27, I'm not exactly old. I like to think I have a good 50 years ahead of me before I even consider calling myself old.

But there is nothing quite like ones first experience of being "vousvoied" by a young'un. I've talked before about certain difficulties with the formal and informal vous versus tu in the French language. As a general rule, you use the formal with anyone you don't really know or is in a higher position than you in the hierarchy of life (teachers, bosses, certain colleagues, doctors, shop staff, the President of France, etc.), and you use the informal with everyone else (friends, family and some colleagues, depending on the place of employ).

I'm used to using the formal with my boss and certain superiors, and being "vousvoied" in return. So when one of the new interns at my work spoke to me with a formal "vous", I'm destabilised, unsettled, left with a feeling of getting just that little bit older. When a 19-year-old passes me the phone saying, "c'est pour vous" (it's for you), I am caught for a moment, blinking stupidly as I wonder who she is talking to, and why she is handing me the phone.

The next time it happened, I was prepared. "Oh golly, you must "tutoie" me." She laughed and agreed to comply.

After all, you've gotta put these young'uns in their place.

Note to self

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Check the direction in which the fan is blowing when farting. Silent-but-deadlies that otherwise would have eventually made their way out the window in normal circumstances instead get blown over husband.

I really should have warned him.

A break in the weather

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Last nights dramatic thunderstorm is all anyone can talk about. That, and their memories of the 2003 heatwave, where 15,000 people died in France. This country is simply not equipped for the heat.

I peek through each door as I walk down the office corridor, and notice that everyone is still looking relatively chirpy at 3pm. This time yesterday, almost everyone was half-asleep at their desks. Of course, everyone starts falling asleep at 4pm, what with weeks of little sleep, but it's an improvement.

The bus driver grins and calls, "bonjour!", then proceeds to cheerfully explain how it all works to the confused passengers.

SNCF staff make their way through the train, asking questions, making sure we all know where the train is going, and advising us with a smile that the next carriage up is air-conditioned and there are plenty of seats available.

A break in the weather, and everyone breathes a sigh of relief. The temperatures are still relatively high, but it's better than it was, and all that now remains to be done is catch up on the last two weeks of lost sleep. At least Sylvain won't be sweaty beside me. And neither will Symphony (Sweaty cats? Ew!).

Of course, the métro is still stinky, but that's never going to change. C'est pas gagné.

Heating up

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Techniques for dealing with a Paris heatwave :
- keep a spare bottle of deodorant in handbag, knitting bag and desk drawer. Reapply between five and ten times per day. Your entourage may think you're a maniac, but it's better than being stinky.
- stick to the shady side of the street. Otherwise you may be surprised to discover that your top is a fraction more revealing than you thought, and more delicate parts of your body have been slightly sunburned.
- find every excuse to visit the local Picard, a marvellous shop where they sell only frozen goods (who'd have thought?). Frown at the vegetables as if you're faced with a critical choice, then smile sweetly at the guy behind the counter, so he doesn't start wondering why you're loitering.
- get your wrist muscles working as you wave a little fan in your face, given to you by thoughtful girlfriends a few weeks earlier. Smile smugly at the people who are staring at you with unbridled envy.
- figure out which side of the bus/train the sun will be hitting for the majority of the journey and sit on the opposite side. Smile smugly at the people stuck on the wrong side.
- Avoid the métro if possible. Breathe through your mouth, not your nose. Everything and everyone is stinky. That is, more stinky than usual.
- ice cream. And lots of it.

It's hot again.

On a daily basis, from 2pm onwards, when the four printers, three computers and three humans in my office have heated the room up sufficiently that we are able to enjoy a temperature of about 40°C, my productivity drops to around the 5% mark. If I want to get any work done during August, I'm going to have to start coming in an hour or two earlier each day, when there is at least the possibility of a morning breeze to zoom through the open windows and cool down our building. Oh the joy.

People keep saying to me, "oh you're from Australia, you must be used to it". It's true, this heat doesn't affect me quite as much as some people here, and it gets a lot hotter for a lot longer over there. But in Australia, the buildings are all much newer and there is more air conditioning (buildings that are a couple of hundred years old look nice and all, but ventilation? non-existent). And not everything is as stinky as it is here. Not to mention there are real beaches, not fake ones.

There is something infinitely more bearable about hot weather when you know that at the end of the day there is always the possibility to sink your toes in the sand as waves crash about your knees. Pahtooey.

Of wine and weddings

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Weddings in Bordeaux are fun. Yep. Now, some highlights.

Number of...
... glasses of wine drunk : enough to make my cheeks flushed and to let me dance in front of my in-laws
... grapevines seen : too many to count
... stories heard about Sylvains shared childhood with the groom (Sylvains cousin) : too many to count (it was only on the way home that I realised I should have tempered my rowdy laughter to a chuckle - I'm sure at the end of the year my family will yet again be delighted to recount plenty more stories about my own childhood to Sylvain)
... questions fielded about my accent/kangaroos/sharks/Australian weather : 1,982,857
... kilometres driven : well over a thousand
... songs about wine sung by various members of the extended family at the "day after party" : 8
... ducklings exclaimed over with nephews and niece : 7
... people I might've-nearly-almost-could've offended due to my mouth working faster than my brain : 5 (on Friday night, someone complimented me on my French, and I did my usual, "oh I still have a long way to go, and I sometimes still get thrown by those tricky accents from the deepest South of France", only to turn around and hear some tricky accents from the deepest South of France at the other end of the table; on Saturday night, at the table of honour, I had to ask another wedding guest to repeat a number of phrases several times throughout the evening ... Parisians say "groooooooond", and those Southerners say "graaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand" all nasal-like, and it confuses me, yo.)
... cousins left behind the "day after" by forgetful parents : 3 (this fine example, along with a couple of others I witnessed this weekend, leads me to believe that that scatterbrained-ness I've seen in Sylvain is indeed genetic)
... wine cellars visited : 1 (Chateau Bertinerie)
... cases of red wine brought back to Paris : 1
... perplexing moments brought about by unusual French wedding traditions : 0 (I've been to quite a number of weddings here now, and I find that I am more and more comfortable with French traditions - it helped that this time my husband was a best man, and we know the bride and groom very well )

This weekend was marvellous. I fell even more in love with the Bordeaux region, its winding country roads and the rolling horizon lined with grapevines. It was a wonderful way to spend a weekend - sitting amongst the grapevines and fig trees, drinking local wine, listening to impromptu family chorales singing about wine and love (complete with ever-emphasised and trilling Rs), catching up with relatives that we hadn't seen since our own wedding three years ago, meeting new ones that I had not yet had the chance to meet, and making plans to spend more time with all of them in the near future. I love Sylvain's family.

Not to mention that we are both wondering how easy it would be to drop everything and move to the Bordeaux countryside.

When in Rome

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The heatwave continues.

I rarely travel for work, but yesterday I found myself getting up early in the morning to go to Nancy, in the east of France. A very pleasant 43°C in the workshop. Hmm.

At work, I'm stuck in an old building whose foundations heated up weeks ago and haven't had a chance to cool down, not to mention the lack of air conditioning. We have a tiny little machine that spits out more dust than cold air. My productivity is hovering around the 5% mark at the moment. Brilliant.

This weekend we have a wedding to attend in a village near Bordeaux. The weather doesn't look like it will break in any significant manner, so I think we'll be tackling a sweltering heat along with an 8 course dinner and dancing until 6am. Delightful. At least I know we'll be enjoying good wine.

Expats naturally tend to pick and choose what customs they take up in their adopted country. For example, I'm happy to eat at a very Parisian 9pm or later, rather than the 6 or 7pm that I grew up with. On the other hand, I'm also happy to continue shaving my armpits (ok, this is a gross exaggeration of a horrible stereotype, because many French women I know do take such grooming very seriously, but I couldn't help mentioning it, because I was confronted with not one, not two, but three hairy pits in public places last weekend. Ew).

Amongst my expat friends, we follow suit with French tradition, and everyone kisses upon meeting. Even when I greet my friends rellies from the US, I will do so with a kiss, as if it's my own culture which I'm defending and upholding. When it's hot, I still have to go through the motions with my French entourage, kissing and being kissed by lips hot and sticky with sweat. But amongst my expat friends, we're all happy to do away with the tradition and wave our hands, saying, "bises bises" (kisses, kisses).

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Unless it's too damn hot and then, well, I'm a true blue aussie lass, and a wave is just fine by me.

A room for living

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This is a terribly banal post, but I know there are people across the ocean (and one or two living just a couple of kilometres away and can't wait until the "couch party") who will want to catch a glimpse.

We are this close (*holds her forefinger and thumb a centimetre apart*) to having the perfect lounge room. I took one last photo this morning (I'm horribly sentimental like that), then thanks to Craigslist, we gave our old lounge suite (a little ripped, but still pretty comfy) away for free to someone who really needed it. We're suckers for this sort of thing, and we were so enchanted by the humility of the guy who came to collect it tonight that we gave him our old tv stand as well.

We weren't expecting it for another couple of weeks, but our new couch and chair (aka My Throne) got delivered this morning. It's so big that there is enough room for Sylvain and Symphony and I to stretch out on the couch without even touching. It goes without saying that there is also plenty of room to snuggle up too, of course.

Of course, it's not anywhere near as exciting as buying a new house or a new apartment, but it's a start ;) So... we just need a nice rug, maybe track down an old coffee table or something, and with our bibliothèque in place (I'm so happy to be surrounded by all my books), and our comfy new couch, it's almost perfect in here. It's nice to have a primary living space that you feel good in. Really good.

These blurry photos don't give the colours credit, but I hope you all back home like the sneak peek of our lounge room :) (and believe it or not, our lounge room is big for this city).

Inappropriate behaviour

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Note to self :
When in the toilet, even if just washing hands, do not burst into song.
"Back in your heart."
Especially not at work.

I think I heard snickers from a nearby office when I came out, but I'm not sure.

So what's a girl to do as she goes down the corridor?

Keep on singing.

I must assume my role as the office nutjob.

I can't, however, be held entirely responsible. "I want you back" is a catchy tune, man. Especially when sung by Christophe.

Italia

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In theory, France's loss this evening means that there should't be too many hooligans making a racket in our neighbourhood tonight (how old and cranky am I? exactly?).

What we didn't count on was the massive party of Italians in the apartment building next to ours.

During the game all the screams sounded the same.

Enfin

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I fling myself on the couch in despair, "I don't wanna watch the soccer."

Sylvain grins at me, "you're half French now, you've got to watch it."

I sigh, dramatically, "I don't understand this obsession with this bloody game."

He shrugs. I sense very little sympathy coming from his corner of the lounge room. Especially because at that moment, France gets a goal and our neighbourhood is roaring with passionate enthusiasm.

It's no fun pouting when I don't get attention.

"I guess it's kindof like cricket in Australia," I muse, thinking fondly of long childhood afternoons spent lying in front of the telly in the sunroom, my sister and I playing with lego whilst mum watched the cricket.

He looks at me, confused, never having watched a game of cricket in his life, and armed only with knowledge of stereotypes, "uh... I dunno."

"Well, not the Test cricket, of course," I hasten to add. Sylvain continues to look at me blankly. "Those games go for days and it's just plain boring."

"Cricket?" He asks. "It goes for days?"

"Well, yes, the Test matches do, but it's the Day matches that are far more interesting," I tell him, firmly. "More specifically, the last hour or two of the game. That's really all that's worth watching. And only when my mum is there jumping up and down, shaking her fist at the telly."

He raises his eyebrows at me.

I'm really not a good sports fan, am I?

Edited to add : things are looking up as I discover my mum is up at 4am in Australia and watching the match too. Thanks to the wonders of technology and the rapidity of smses, I'm able to once again be entertained by her enthusiasm and I imagine her there in Oz, in the early hours of the morning, jumping up and down, shaking her fist at the telly...

Every girls nightmare

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I went shopping yesterday.

I bought nothing.

In Paris.

In the sales.

When I realised this, a chill went through me. The companion who had joined me through much of said shopping excursion worried that she'd stolen my shopping mojo.

I came home last night, all flustered and unsettled, and told Sylvain.

The enormity of such a problem was, surprisingly, lost on him.

I decided there was only one thing to do to fix the situation.

I went shopping again today.

And I'm pleased to say that my shopping mojo is well and truly intact.

Phew.

Was worried there for a minute or two.

Another step

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And so, Paris roars.

As one, the voices of all our neighbours in our normally quiet suburb rose together in a chorus of ecstatic cheers. Firecrackers are set off all over the city. Horns toot. Dogs bark.

One girl, in a nearby apartment, is apparently hysterical, if her screams are anything to go by.

In all likelihood, this will go on all night. I was told, when leaving work this afternoon, that whatever happens, everyone will be hung over tomorrow.

Symphony is perched at the window, curious as she watches the commotion.

People have been talking about France's World Cup win in 1998 since I arrived in 2001 - it's the sort of thing that remains in the spirit of many people, whether they're passionate about soccer or not. Everyone has a story about where they were, how they watched the match.

Today, I am curious, like Symphony, as I watch all this commotion.

Feelin' hot hot hot

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It's hot.

My poor, delicate constitution has been spoiled by the weak Parisian summers and as soon as the temperature hits thirty, I wilt like a flower. A great big Katia-puddle on the floor.

My office has no air con and we have an entire wall made up of windows - so in an ingenious attempt to keep the glaring sun out, we have scotched paper to the windows. Aesthetics be damned.

My clothes are clinging to me and my skin is sticky.

A thin film of sweat lines my upper lip. My hair is stuck to my forehead and my neck. So elegant.

I'm sleepy, my eyes are drooping, and I can't bear the glare of the computer screen.

My hands are too sweaty to knit and I miss it already.

I want nothing more than to go home and take a cold shower. Dinner will be as late as we can make it, and will involve a glass of vodka and orange juice with crushed ice and a bowl of cold fruit salad.

Thank goodness it's time to go home.

Update : on a day like this, there is nothing more exciting than the sound of thunder in the distance. It will take all my willpower not to go out and dance barefoot in the rain, splashing mud up to my knees. Time to go crush some ice, and wait. With glee.

Riddle me this

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What do the Mob (including, for some reason, Tony Danza and Brad Garrett), dinner speeches, Alf and beaches at the bottom of cliffs with rough waves crashing around my waist have in common?

Who the hell knows? But somehow in my subconscious mind they were all part of one great big long dream that I had last night.

Of music and soccer fever

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I have such a love/hate relationship with this city, this place. I can swing from loving to hating the concrete jungle in a matter of seconds - the time it takes for me to marvel at a specialty astronomy shop that you'd find in few places in the world, to dodging the dog poop and pee puddle on the footpath in front of me.

This weekend, I feel priveledged to be here, to be experiencing the events around me. Whilst the rest of France is overwhelmed by soccer fever*, we're immersing ourself in music. On Friday night, my girlfriend and I succumbed to our totally nerdy sides and we went to the free Paris concert of the Nouvelle Star. I got there early enough to watch them practice, and was literally just steps away from the stage. It was almost like a private performance, and I felt lucky to be there. And the concert itself? Fantastic. I'm happy to embrace my nerdy side, and I'm glad to have someone to share it with.

Yesterday we made our way out to the Parc Floral and joined some friends relaxing in the shade while listening to jazz. A free concert is certainly a nice way to spend a hot summer afternoon.

Moments like these are when I love being part of this place. I want to sing Summertime and drink iced water flavoured with lemon slices and wear fun thongs and give my beads to babies and tackle ridiculous knitting projects and make plans and eat home made guacamole. I have a good feeling and for now, in this moment, I am happy to be here.

* although I admit that we did watch the match last night - it's hard not to get caught up in the excitement surrounding the World Cup. As we were driving home on the péripherique last night, cars on either side and all around where tooting and decorated with French and Brazilian flags. The match itself was impressive, given that everyone was convinced the French would be massacred, and they had been quite happy to suffer a noble defeat at the hands of the Brazilians. But everyone was surprised and delighted to watch them win - we didn't get to sleep until very very very late, however, with all the screaming and tooting going on in the streets until after 4am. Allez les bleus.

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This page is an archive of entries from July 2006 listed from newest to oldest.

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