October 2006 Archives

Everybody needs good neighbours


In a lifetime of turning points, this weekend was a turning point for me, for us, in our life here.

The neighbour that shares our floor rang our doorbell on Friday night. She asked to borrow a chair for a party they were having the following night. We said, "but of course!" and she turned to me and said, "what a lovely accent! where do you come from?" And thus we chatted for ten minutes.

On Sunday afternoon, she rang the doorbell again, thanked us profusely for the use of our chair, and invited us over for dinner next Friday night.

Whilst I was picking my jaw up off the floor in surprise, Sylvain rushed in with a "but of course".

A turning point, indeed.

I have lived in this apartment for 5 years, Sylvain for 6. We have only exchanged the bare minimum of pleasantries with our neighbours, a fact that I have lamented frequently. Conversations about this subject with the French people around me have always resulted in the declaration, "well, that's the Capital for you..."

I still recall being looked at like something that climbed out of the sewer by a new neighour when I offered my help if they needed anything. In this city, you tend to keep to yourself. A far cry from the concept of neighbours I grew up with - people that you knew and trusted, who could walk through the back door and turn up unexpectedly in the lounge room, saying, "I put the kettle on, let's have a cuppa".

And if that wasn't enough, we needed to buy something from the Little Man who runs the tiny general store down the street. We didn't have enough cash, and Sylvain said, "I'll just go get some money out and come back". The Little Man grinned and said, "just pay me the rest tomorrow."

Am I in an alternative dimension? I might have to pinch myself.

Cheese, please


I knew it was too good to last.

My cheddar supply has run out.

For a few weeks now, the beautiful big roll of cheddar has been missing from it's usual place on the Shelves of Special Cheese. The normal cheese man has mysteriously disappeared and we've been pestering the cheese people at our local Monoprix about when they were going to replenish the stocks. They've been avoiding answering our questions, but finally, last night, I got a straight answer : "we will not be ordering any more Cheddar".

To say I'm upset is an understatement. This was real cheddar, shipped from England, better than any I'd tasted in Australia. Perfect on crackers and toasted sandwiches, it was the ideal finishing touch when sprinkled on top of lasagne.

With tears in my eyes, I told the girl behind the cheese counter that I was willing to pay their ridiculous prices for this little piece of cheesey goodness. I told her that I was sure I was not the only anglophone in the area who was willing to do so, that the old cheese man before her had told me that there were other anglos who also bought this cheddar. That I was incredibly disappointed and that I would be writing a letter. She smiled at me and told me that she was oh so very sorry but she really couldn't do anything to help.

A new cheese shop has recently opened down by the train station. I pass by there every day to and from work, and Sylvain suggested that it might be worth a try getting them to order the Cheddar for me. I'm know I'm not the only anglo who would be willing to pay for it.

It's like a drug.



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Sympony didn't like me leaving last week. Sylvain told me that she miaowed at bedtime, when she would normally sit on my chest and purr me to sleep.

I got home at midnight on Friday night, opened my suitcase and pulled my pajamas out, and left it beside the entrance of the apartment. I was so tired that I didn't even take out my toothbrush and used Sylvain's instead.

I started pawing through my suitcase yesterday, not even having the courage to think about it on Saturday, only to realise that several of my garments were damp. A leaky bottle of shampoo? Face wash? I picked up a tshirt and smelled it.


Symphony had peed in my suitcase, all over my clean clothes, phone charger, shoes, and also over the pair of socks that I'm knitting for my mother-in-law.

So, I don't think she liked me leaving. Either that, or she didn't like me coming back.

Of cassoulets and congrès

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A week of 4-5 hours sleep per night doesn't make me a cheerful and happy Aussie Lass. I'm physically and emotionally exhausted, drained. Our annual congrès was harder than last year, for a number of reasons, although at least this time I wasn't on crutches.

After a delayed plane ride (I really shouldn't have been watching Lost, because now I'm really nervous about taking the plane) I have been curled up on the couch since midnight on Friday night, drifting in and out of delirious sleep, plagued by incoherent dreams of the last weeks events, massaging my aching feet, watching tv, eating soup and getting hugs from my adorable husband and cat. The best remedy. Thankfully Sylvain is still smiling, even after a weekend of my crankyness and tears. He is my hero.

I'd prefer, of course, a week or so off in order to fully recuperate, but that's not going to happen any time soon, so I take what I can get.

I should specify, however, that last week wasn't all bad. We laughed a lot, in between bouts of stress. I ate my first cassoulet. And my second. And drank a lot of wine (hopefully there are no incriminating photos of me this year). And asked a hundred or so of the people I encountered in the south of France to repeat what they said because it took me just that fraction longer to understand their accents. And explained my own accent innumerous times. And drank a lot of coffee. And laughed a bit more.

But thank goodness it's over. Now life can get back to normal.

Away from home

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As much as everything overwhelms me at times, I know how lucky I am. I am healthy, happy, with a stable job and my family is ok.

All my thoughts today are with my dear Vivi, who is going through one of the biggest challenges of her life. She's a strong, amazing woman, but prayers and positive thoughts wouldn't go astray.

Being an expat is hard. Even harder at moments like this, when the reality of being far away from "home" is brought back to you with a thud.

So this is the moment that I say, I love you mum, dad, charlie, everyone back home, and everyone here. Just because I don't say it often enough.

About a buoy

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I'm treading water, trying to keep from going under. Occasionally a big wave comes and threatens to throw me to the bottom, but I keep kicking and kicking and I am managing, just, to keep afloat.

The last few weeks have been challenging. This week should prove to be even more challenging and I will need all my resources in order to get to Friday, in one piece.

But I am thankful for the people around me. Bouying me, keeping me afloat.

At the end of a long afternoon of traipsing around the city, visiting sick people in hospital and running errands, I realised that I really really really needed a couple of new tops for the coming week.

"Go home, sweetie, and get comfy on the couch." I patted Sylvain on the arm. "I'll wander about these shops for a bit, find the clothes I need, and catch up with you at home."

He looked at me, took my hand and smiled, "I would much prefer stay with you than go home alone."

I love my husband.

Holding his hand, I stay afloat.



It's not psychological. It's physical. I don't like mushrooms. I can't stand the smell nor the taste.

I went to a restaurant once with my in-laws and parents, where I was served what I thought was mashed potatoes. I normally love mashed potatoes, and was perplexed by why I really didn't like this version. I couldn't eat more than one bite, and my mother-in-law was terribly disappointed. I asked her why, and she admitted that there were white mushrooms puréed in with the potatoes. Now we all have concrete proof that I really don't like fungi, and it's not just a psychological dislike of the evil things.

So that's it. I don't like mushrooms. Point finale.

That said, I like traipsing in the forest, hunting for mushrooms.

Yesterday we made a trek to see a Renaissance fountain that is hidden away in the depths of a forest. What would normally be a 20 minute walk turned into a couple of hours as we weaved in and out of the trees, searching for mushrooms. I spent more time taking photos of pretty, deadly mushrooms than actually searching for the edible ones, but my companions managed to find a few, and enjoyed torturing me by making me try to smell them.

Walking through the forest with my in-laws and my husband is an experience. They have a real appreciation and respect for the environment, and are very careful to only take what they need - girolles and cèpes - leaving the rest alone, even if they're poisonous. A few years ago, I went on a mushroom hunting expedition here and the people in a group hunting not far from us delighted in stomping on every mushroom they didn't take, taking things that they didn't need, and generally ruining the precious undergrowth of the forest. The environmentalist in me was outraged.

We found a few mushrooms, and enjoyed our walk, but the results were not outstanding. We jumped into the car and headed home, winding down the mountain, until suddenly the car screeched to a halt. My father-in-law pointed enthusiastically at a white blob in a field bordering a forest, "c'est une coulemelle".

So we all climbed out of the car and watched Sylvain as he jumped over the ditch to fetch it. My mother-in-law and I chatted, arms crossed, and my father-in-law pottered around in the ditch, and didn't realise that Sylvain was gone for so long until we saw him coming towards us, arms overflowing with massive mushrooms.

We'd landed on a gold mine.

Such finds are rare. Most reliable mushroom "hunting grounds" are well-known and well-picked over. A good sign of a not frequented spot is when the mushrooms are big, with the time to grow and flourish without being disturbed and picked when they are young.

We all jumped over the ditch and headed across the field to "the spot" - only a 150 metre stretch of ground. The faces of my companions were radiant, and they gibbered with excitement as we walked, heads down, eyes scanning the ground for the hard-to-spot tell-tale brown mound of cèpe. We came across patch after patch of happy little mushrooms pushing out of the ground and into the light. We spent half an hour wandering along the edge of the forest as the sun set - an untouched resource that yielded a good 5 kilos of mushrooms. Enormous, fresh mushrooms.

I don't like mushrooms.

But hunting is fun.

And thankfully, my mother-in-law kindly made me an omelette to eat for dinner last night, whilst they all revelled in their freshly-cooked mushrooms.

The internet is really really great

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After years of declaring that the internet was no good, my mother-in-law has recently taken to it with a passion, and has become a total convert. She now corresponds uniquely with her colleagues via email, using the telephone only if absolutely necessary. Twelve months ago it was the complete opposite situation, and complained when her colleagues insisted that she read her emails more often.

"Old dog, new tricks" is not the phrase I really want to be using here, because "old dog" is hardly the way I want to describe my mother-in-law, who I appreciate and admire greatly, but you get the gist.

She has been visiting Eclectic Kitchen (and has offered to write down some recipes for us), my mum's blog, and wants to listen to the podcast. I warned her that it was all in English, with much giggling, but she's determined.

Who am I to argue?

And, after a conversation where she describes how much she enjoys playing games like Tetris, I might have even almost just maybe convinced her to try out Neopets.

I am taking over the world.


Of mushrooms

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This afternoon I boarded a train that took me to the south-west of France to visit my in-laws for the weekend. Sylvain has been here for a few days already, and has spent that entire time in the forest, searching for mushrooms. He has a glow about him that I don't see very often, his dimples are back, and he's happy. The effects of fresh air and being away from Paris (and me? perhaps?) has done him good.

Sadly, though, the house stinks of mushrooms and I am happy to have mastered the art of métro-breathing (inhaling and exhaling only through my mouth, in order to avoid smelling the horrible smells).

A weekend away after a crazy week and this is what I get.


Thank goodness they don't force me to eat the damn things.

Reaping the rewards

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I've had one of the craziest weeks at work ever, but yesterday I experienced the most satisfying moment of my professional life - the project that I've been working on for the last 9 months came back... and it's fabulous.

I cried with happiness.

It is that good.

I've never had such pride in something I've done at work, and I knew that everything I've done this year has been worthwhile.

As a result, I slept the most unsettled and excited sleep last night, tossing and turning all night (totally disturbing Symphony in the process), finally waking up for good at 6am, completely unable to stay in bed, and I went in to work bubbling over with excitement and satisfaction. This is not something that happens very often...

As a reward for a job well done, I bought two pairs of shoes last night.

A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.

Of pies and podcasts

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Considering I like to have my fingers in nearly every possible pie (oh, what a pun), I have put together an online recipe book, Eclectic Kitchen. All of my favourite recipes, all in one place. There's only one for now, but what a one it is! And my mum is chipping in with her favourites too. And maybe my sister, when she gets back to Oz. And maybe even my dad, if he can figure out how to work the thing.

A family recipe book, shared across the world. I like that.

Oh, and episode 5 of the podcast.


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Life is about learning.
Learning how to talk to people.
Learning how to choose the right words to comfort, appease, humour, encourage, placate.
Learning how to listen.
Learning how to improve as a person.

I spend much of my time - too much of my time sometimes, I think, - going over conversations in my head and trying to figure out ways I could have improved what I said, how I reacted, how I dealt with the situation, both in my personal and professional life.

It is a double challenge to do much of this in another language. Sometimes my mouth moves faster than my brain and I kick myself to think of what I could have said to make it sound nicer, kinder, less aggressive, more encouraging. I get frustrated that the words don't come out right, or that I have been misunderstood. Of course, this happens much of the time in English too, so there's nothing really special in that.

Every day I have new experiences.

I learn new ways of talking, listening.

I think. Too much.

But I hope that tomorrow I will do better.


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

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