March 2008 Archives

A book about me

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Peep egg with kefinparis


My biggest weakness is books*.

When I first came to France, I spent a good two or three years not being able to afford to buy books, and spent a considerable amount of time and energy trying to procure them in the most economic way possible. I read about one book a month, and I used to drag the words out in my mind to make them last longer. I eventually became a member of the American Library in Paris for a year, but there's just something special to me about owning books, and I let my membership run out without renewing it.

Now, I'm lucky enough to work within 3 minutes walk of two English bookshops (selling both second-hand and new books), as well as a couple of other shops that have a rich selection of all sorts of English literature, but this really is my downfall, you see. I buy at least one book a week, sometimes more. I would prefer to go without certain things in my life than to go without being able to read.

It started at a young age, when my parents had to forbid me from getting up and reading in front of the fire before 6am. After 6am was fine, but they were not to hear a peep out of me before that. My sister is the same, and it's really all my parents fault anyway, since they're both bookworms too.

I always have a book in my handbag. I read on the train. If I'm not having lunch with my colleagues, I read at lunchtime. I read as I walk. If I don't have my ipod on, I read standing in line at the supermarket (and sometimes when I do). I'm a book nerd, and proud of it.

I'm not particularly fussed about what I read - I often find myself buying the first thing my eye falls on - I love reading all sorts of books, although that's not to say I'm not discerning. I might spend a month reading every single bit of crime fiction I can get my hands on, then spend the next month devouring Dickens, and the one after that I'll be all about modern fiction.

I always thought that I'd marry a reader. Someone who loved books as much as I do. But unless it's a cookbook, a photography magazine or a comic book, Sylvain is not so much into reading. It occasionally surprises me that I'm ok with this, but at least it means that I don't have to share the precious space in our bookshelves with anyone else (except for one little spot where he keeps his comics, but that's a small concession to make).

Speaking of books, if you're in Paris tomorrow, SOS Helpline (the anglo phoneline support network) is having a big book sale near Charles de Gaulle Etoile, just a couple of steps away from the Champs Elysées. It's for a good cause, and you can donate your old books and pick up some new ones while you're at it! Waiting beside our front door are two big bags of books I'm planning to donate... I just have to make sure I'm reasonable and don't buy more than I can carry home.

* stationery comes a close second, but that's another post for another day.



Did you know that a cat physically can't walk when you tie something around its stomach?

That was our lesson for Wednesday.

Symphony kept trying to pull her stitches out following her "operation", (obviously not advised), and despite attempts at reasoning with her, she studiously ignored us and kept trying to pull them out. So we turned to the vet for help, who told us that a "conehead" like you see for dogs is absolutely out of the question for cats (who apparently are too traumatised by it), and told us that we needed to put a bandage on to stop her from chewing on the stitches.

I trotted off to work, confident that Sylvain could take care of it, but -20 euros of bandage and one very cranky cat later- he rang me and said, "I'm going to take her to the vet and get her to do it". And so, Symphony was essentially mummified.

The vet warned Sylvain that when he got her home she would have a lot of difficulties walking around for awhile, but "difficulties" was apparently an understatement. She literally walked two steps, fell down, miaowed in anger, walked another step, fell down, then threw a full-on temper tantrum at Sylvain. It took the poor little sweetie a good hour to be able to walk properly again.

Who knew? I've never been the type to tie things to my cat, but now I know what is apparently a well-documented fact (at least according to some of my colleagues): that you can't tie something around a cats stomach unless you want them to flop around like marionnettes and be unable to walk for an hour.

So, she's been stomping around like a cranky puss for the last 24 hours, trying to chew off her bandage and miaowing randomly at us. I confess, it's been a little amusing, watching her alternate between her little temper tantrums over this thing wrapped around her tummy and getting distracted into chasing moths that sneak in when we open the windows to let out the smoke from cooking sausages for dinner.

One of the things that Sylvain was worried about following her "operation", was that she might have a personality change. That she might mellow out a bit too much, that she might be a different cat.

But if the evidence of her continued stubborn-headedness in persisting to chew at her bandage, hissy fits and insatiably playful episodes with moths are anything to go by, I think he shouldn't have been worried. Symphony is Symphony, and that's that.

Of Easter and edibiles


Symphony had an operation on Thursday (we got some of her girly bits taken care of), and I provided plenty of cuddles as was prescribed by the vet. I took Friday off (since Good Friday isn't a public holiday here) to keep an eye on her. It's always hard to see her not feeling well, all wobbly and woozy. She didn't want to drink for 48 hours, which worried the vet a little and worried me even more, but when Saturday came around, she had started to drink and ate a couple of pieces of crunch and even purred a little and we knew all was well.

Then we all went out and drank champagne on a boat on the Seine then got hailed on and then ate Korean (this was not including Symphony, who decided to stay home and recuperate a little since champagne is not on the recommended diet for a post-op cat). A highly recommended way of spending a Saturday night, even with the hail. Sunday, of course, was punctuated by the eating of much chocolate, and I spent quite a bit of time speaking to various Australians over the phone, concocting various plans for this year and otherwise.

All in all, a reasonable Easter weekend. And made much better by the fact that I didn't have to suffer through my mum's disgusting smoked cod slop* on Good Friday. I swear, even if I manage to avoid spending Good Friday with my parents for the rest of my life, that will not make up for the childhood of smoked cod slop trauma.

*a running joke in our family. You're supposed to eat only fish on Good Friday, so my Mum insists on making this revolting stuff that she loves because it is apparently the only time she can get away with making it. Imagine bright orange fish drowned in a stinky sauce. Ew. I can think of a million other ways to cook fish and I don't understand why she put us (or the smoked cod) through such trauma. Ahem.

Of course now, when I remind her how disgusting it is, her favourite retort is, "I bet Sylvain would eat it. And he'd like it." Damn him for liking silverside (ew!). He's such a disappointment. Here I was thinking that marriage is about teamwork, but in fact he spends most of his time joining forces with my respective family members and extended circle to pick on me. Hmph.

The revenge of the pith


Sylvain takes out a plate and a sharp knife, then reaches into the large glass bowl on the coffee table and helps himself to an orange. He proceeds to peel it carefully with his knife. Once the peel is gone, he starts on the pith, which he removes meticulously until he is left with a little pile of yellow on his plate. He removes the last of the white veins from the centre of the orange.

Then, and only then, he eats the orange. Piece by pithless piece.

I grab an orange from the same bowl, and crouch beside the coffee table. I bite into the peel with my teeth, trying not to let my tongue or lips touch the acidy shower that inevitably sprays out and hits me in the nose. I pull off the peel, quickly, and rip the orange in half, chomping down on it, bit by delicious bit.

Juice drips down my chin and I wipe it off with a tissue that I find in my pocket.

I realise that Sylvain is looking at me in horror.

Lucky I have other charming qualities that endear me to him.

Not sure what they are yet, but they've gotta be in there somewhere.

Of food and friends


When I first moved to France and learned that when I got home from work, too tired to think about cooking, I couldn't simply scoot down to the local chinese takeaway joint and get chicken and cashews with fried rice and a sesame prawn toast, I realised that I had to do it myself. I'd always enjoyed cooking, but didn't really need to learn how to make a butter chicken when I could simply go down to the Curry Company and get a butter chicken with a side of rice and some garlic naan for less than $10 (or about 6 euros).

I missed all those marvellous sorts of foods that I could find in Melbourne - places usually not too far away, with a wide variety, of good quality, and really cheap (especially in comparison to Paris).

One might wonder why I didn't just stuff myself silly with crêpes and other wonderous French foods. Well, I did, but there's only so many crêpes you can eat, and when you're really feeling far away from everything that is familiar, nothing makes you feel better like food from home (hence my obsession with Tim Tams).

So with Sylvain as my enthusiastic sidekick, we embarked on an culinary adventure. But we had our ups and downs.

Our downs included a lemon chicken that nearly set the kitchen on fire. A seafood yakiudon that had to be thrown in the bin because of an apparent misprint in my cookbook. A meat pie that tasted far too floury and with chunks of meat that we had to chew on for five minutes to get down. But our ups were far more frequent. And I can proudly say that now, amongst other things, we can cook a darn good butter chicken from scratch, a kick arse red prawn curry, a mouth-watering moroccan chicken, the most veluptuous leek and mussel chowder, and my seafood yakiudon makes your knees wobble.

6 years later and I'm still experimenting, honing, perfecting. I move around the kitchen, chopping and dicing, a running commentary going on in my head as I prepare this or that, as if I'm in my own cooking show (I know I'm not the only one to do this).

This weekend, I made pad thai (I've figured out just the right amount of lime needed for it to be juicy but not overpowering), nasi goreng (I need to source some better peanuts and I think I overcooked the rice) and vietnamese prawn crêpe (certainly wasn't as good as what you'd get on Victoria Street if you're lucky to live five minutes walk away, but we'll work it out in the end).

Living in another country is all about embracing local culture, but I think, more than anything, it teaches you about where you came from.

Now if only I could figure out how to make a meat pie like the one that was sold in the bakery near where I grew up...


Speaking about where I come from, here are 4 Australians whose blogs you should be reading, if you're not already :
- Pink Ukulele, my sister. She is also obsessed with shoes, forgets to wear underwear sometimes, and likes to eat delicious things too.
- Oh Susanna, my mum. She talks far too much about football for my liking, but sometimes she has unfortunate incidents regarding underclothes too. I think the inexplicable need to tell these stories to the internet runs in the family.
- Alexisland, a wonderful friend. Her blog is more a stream of consciousness than anything else, and she thinks faster than she types, her fingers struggle to keep up and so there are lots of spelling mistakes, but she really is hilarious and she always says it like it is.
- Tracey, another Melbourne girl, has a travel blog with her French husband Pierre, and they write about their adventures as they travel across the world, from Paris to Melbourne by train. Written half in French and half in English, they've both got a wonderful way of expressing themselves (even if the keyboards they find don't always "do" accents), and it's almost enough to make you want to shed off your life and follow them.

Formules de politesse


In my line of work, I don't have to write that many letters in French. But when I do, it's always an adventure. If only the french would be happy with a letter that was signed, simply, "regards". Or maybe even "best regards", for a little something extra.

But no, of course they're not happy with that. Whilst you can simply sign a letter with a "cordialement", you usually have to add a paragraph of literary flourishes just before signing off, and there are all sorts of horribly complicated rules that you have to apply to letters according to whom you are sending it to and why. We do have similar rules in English, but I feel like the formal choice of words in French takes it to the nth degree.

Of course, I love translating them literally into English (à la k&k learn french).

"Dans l'attente de votre réponse, je vous prie d'agréer, Madame, Monsieur, mes salutations distinguées."
Whilst waiting for your response, I beg you to accept, Madam, Sir, my distinguished salutations.

"Veuillez agréer l’expression de ma considération distinguée."
Please accept the expression of my distinguished consideration

Hours of entertainment. Truly.

It takes so little to amuse me.


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