Monday, 13 February 2012

Je rentre à ma ville de (re)naissance

Juste pour une longue weekend. J'ai le mal de la ville des Lumieres depuis que je suis partie il y a sept mois. Je suis ici à la fac en Angleterre. J'étudie la langue, l'histoire et la politique de ce pays ou j'ai passé dix beaux mois, et des fois je me sens comme si je n'avais jamais quitté Angleterre. Ma prof de traduction se fache contre nous quand on ne se souviens pas comment utiliser le subjunctive; je passe mes soirées en étudiant l'usage correct des prepositions (quand je suis pas au pub, bien sur!) Mais j'avais une vie dans cette langue; des amis, des colocs, du travail, une petite amourette meme... Maintenant que je suis retourné en Angleterre, ma vie est mes études, ma famile, mes amis et la politique. J'organise des séances, j'écris pour mon autre blog qui parle plutot de l'échec du capitalisme que du dernier joli parc que j'ai visité. Il est tellement cliché qu'à Paris ma vie était plutot plaisir, et ici elle est plutot devoir...

A jeudi, tout le monde qui me comprends...

Friday, 2 September 2011

Over / Fini

Here’s something I wrote when I first got back. I don’t know why I waited such a long time to post it.

I came back to England last Thursday, the day before my 21st birthday, and I'll be staying with my family until the end of September when university starts. Going out in Watford last night was a culture shock. I haven't been around people wearing that little and drinking that much since Christmas. It all seemed a bit depressing, honestly; conversation, flirtation and pleasure all seemed to be in quite short supply. Everyone was shouting and stumbling around; I left by 11, or else I would have seen the inevitable conclusions of a night out with repressed Puritans suddenly dissolving their social shackles in cheap, sweet alcohol. The police vans lay in wait up by the Horns pub. There was nowhere you could sit and have a quiet drink outside. It will all take some getting used to. I listened to some Arctic Monkeys on the bus home and thought, yeah, they do say it changes when the sun goes down, around here.

My last day in Paris was perfect. It included pretty much everything that made the city such a wonderful place to live for the 10 months I spent there. Before meeting 
Ally for falafel in the Marais, I went for a long stroll by myself around the Right Bank; starting off at Louvre-Rivoli metro stop, I went into the St.Germain-l'Auxerrois church and looked at all the art and architecture I've got much more of a taste for since reading up a little on what it's about, and then I walked across the Pont Neuf to the Louvre. I sat in the courtyard for a long time, thinking about the year I'd spent, thinking about leaving, thinking about what I had left to pack. I even stumbled on the Bibliotheque Mazarine, and looking at the gold-tipped dome that was being snapped by hundreds of Japanese tourists in a passing coach, I wondered if any other city in the world has so many public buildings covered in gold. I then crossed over the river again and wandered down past the Paris Plages, the public beaches that have been set up along the Seine for the month of August, and comprise banks of sand on the quais with deckchairs and sun umbrellas. There are also quite random free attractions like dirt biking, a swimming pool, a salsa band and an ice-cream stall, as if this city didn't already have enough to see, do, experience and reflect on to last the average person several years. But that's false, of course, by the time you'd done it all, it would have changed - there'd always be another exhibition, another cultural initiative, another restaurant you hadn't tried. So, it had started to rain, and I sat under an umbrella on the damp sand, watching the teal Seine wend its way under the Pont Neuf. I met Ally for falafel, which was predictably delicious, and then we went for a wander, and then I realised 59 Rivoli was nearby, so we checked it out. Every square inch of this artists squat is decorated with something; most of the artwork didn't mean much to me, but again, for the millionth time, how wonderful that a place like this exists. I'd love to say that the chocolate tart, coffee and wine that followed was because it was my last day, but quite honestly I ate what I wanted in Paris pretty much all the time, because I could afford it, and what would have been the point in not? We went to a café and then back to Ally's for an apéro with some of her French friends. We had white wine and blinis and salmon rillettes. I left reasonably early for dinner with my flatmates, which was a lot of fun as we quite uncharacteristically decided to se bourrer nos gueules, and at 3am I was playing Action ou Verité (truth or dare) with a Frenchman, an Italian, a German and my fellow anglaise Fiona. Crossing international borders with half of my possessions is, however, perhaps one of the worst things I've ever had to do with a hangover that bad.

So what I'm trying to say is that my last day in Paris was wonderful because it contained almost everything that made this year worthwhile. I had free time and a chance to appreciate the beauty of the city, a good friend, excellent food, patisseries and coffee, art, random cultural initiatives, an aperitif with some nice people, all in French with no problems, and then dinner with my flatmates, who always provided a safe and welcoming base for me to come back to after my adventures in the city.

I was happy in this city. I can easily analyse what it is that makes Paris so enticing, and it would basically go: its concentration of culture; its young and international population; the beauty of its architecture, the richness of its history, and a State that is willing to spend to keep all of these things in a pristine condition. And that's before you get onto the heady combination of being a foreign student with a very undemanding job and more money than you've ever had to spend before, with a nice gang of friendly Anglo-saxon assistants to get you going in terms of having a social life, and a city of young people from all over the world to get to know. Most importantly, reinforced by and reinforcing the country's cultural heritage, is the non-Puritan idea that the pursuit of pleasure is a completely worthwhile way to spend a day, a year, a life. It was interesting to me to live in such an intellectual country, a place where someone I knew mused over dinner, "I actually don't know much about Italian contemporary art" as if it was strange he didn't! I read an article about Rebekah Brooks that described her against-the-odds struggle in the macho newspaper world as "un mépris à la déontologie" (a defiance towards deontology). And that was in GRAZIA.

The culture is different; I can't get that across in a blog post. It always gave me something to think about.

Paris managed to remain both as iconic as everyone says it is, and special to me. I don't flatter myself that I had any experience that won't be repeated by the next batch of wide-eyed Anglo-Saxon students of French to descend on the city come autumn. How I envy them; how wonderful it was to see the city in every season. Autumn for me was summed up by the newness of it all, and the red and yellow flaming of the trees the first time I went to the Parc des Buttes Chaumont with Tiffany. Winter? The Christmas lights and the snow that froze my feet on a lonely afternoon I spent wandering around the Pantheon, feeling far fromhome and like I’d escaped from something for a year. And Spring? Oh, I can’t say anything original about Springtime in Paris. The city opened up like a flower when the warmer weather came. As for summer, I made like all true Parisians and left the city for most of it… being able to travel a little more in Europe was another wonderful thing about living in France. I have a feeling that returning to university next month will give me the strongest back-to-school feeling one could experience. The best thing is that I’ll be living a five minute walk away from a handful of people I can easily spend 10 hours with, including a few who were in Paris with me, and who get it. That’s the thing to look focus on.

To sum up through providing all that I ever could on here, snapshots, well, I went to Rouen and Le Havre, I went to poetry nights, I went to a writers’ group. The metro always smelled like air freshener at Bastille metro; I realised that I’m more attracted to teaching than I thought I was; I danced around the living room of a bourgeois French family whose kid I babysat; I went to a philosophy café at 10am on a Sunday just to see what it was like; I went to so many art galleries that the yellow walls of my bedroom were papered with postcards and ticket stubs by the time I left. It smelt just like lavender outside Shakespeare & Co after March, I used to sit outside on the steps eating ice cream sometimes, and once or twice I caught poetry readings that way. I went to a squat; I had a favourite dumpling restaurant; I wandered around the Latin Quarter on Saturday evenings in July after everyone had left.  I went up to St. Denis by myself for an extreme version of the poverty + wonderful religious architecture you can find in Montmartre. I went to a classical concert at the Vincennes cultural centre with Tiffany one Spring evening, and to a friends house afterwards; and despite the fantastic Vincennes library, I rented almost nothing in French apart from Annie Ernaux’s 100-page volumes of autobiography. Oh, of course I had bad days, and I was lonely at first, and I missed my friends a lot, and I don't want to underestimate how much of a challenge I found it to have the social handicap of having to often speak my second language; a feeling that, ultimately, was quite similar to the general sense of social anxiety I've had for my entire life. Despite all that, je suis folle de la ville. I didn’t know life could be like that.

But from this distance, and writing from my parent's suburban home, it all seems magical. Paris était une fete; her parks, her museums, her people, her food, her quais, her churches and her bars. I never got bored of going into new, old, apartments with white walls and wooden floors; how lucky I was to live there for a year, how many beautiful things I saw. Yes, that’s 
what it was. I saw so many beautiful things in Paris.

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a movable feast.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

Friday, 26 August 2011

Mal du pays

I'm in England, watching "Entre les murs", and it's making me homesick for France.

My students were SO LIKE THAT. Although obviously I was no M. Marin.

I'm going to do one last entry soon - my blog should end with something more exciting that "Off to M. Bricolage to buy cardboard boxes".

Monday, 25 July 2011

The South

All my jobs finished at the end of June, but I decided to stay in France until the end of July, to profite a bit. Earlier in the month I went to Brussels again, which was great, but I've been there before and didn't take many photos. Brussels is rainy and not very picturesque and we spent a lot of it eating deep-fried food and watching old Harry Potters. The only noteworthy thing we did was see the Deathly Hallows premiere which was ridiculously entertaining, even if having it subtitled in French and Flemish was a bit distracting. Then after that I went down to the South, to visit another friend from Warwick, who is spending the summer waitressing in Pezenas after doing a Year Abroad in Strasbourg. 

We stayed in the offices of a charity (long story) which had two balconies!

Pezenas is an old town, and has rooftops like this.

The countryside outside the town looks like this.

Languedoc-Roussillon is full of vineyards.

The town used to have a train station but it's defunct now. It makes it difficult to get there, but it's more of a hidden gem. There is tourism, but not too much. 

We went to a workcamp in the countryside with people Alice knew from volunteering, near to a tiny village called Alignan-du-Vent. Someone had decorated the fence around their property with shells. 

Alignan was partying the night we went! There was a covers band  in the village square, who covered everything from Rihanna to Metallica, by way of Lady Gaga and that French song with the chorus that goes "Ca! C'est vraiment toi!" I wandered around the village when I got bored of the music, it had a butchers and a bakers and a pharmacy and that was literally it. Then I went back and danced in a circle to Katy Perry's "Firework" with a bunch of 17 year olds from every corner of Europe. And I wasn't even drunk! 

Look at this guy working it in an all-over Dalmation-print costume! 

We also went swimming in a river one day.

Pezenas is pretty small now, but it was the capital of the region back in the day, hence why it has such beautiful architecture, and even a Jewish quarter, which was just one street. 

Last thing, Pezenas is also famous for being the base for Moliere's theatre troupe for several years, the Illustre Théatre travelled around the provinces for over a decade, but it was at Pezenas where they really became famous before moving back to Paris. I think. We actually stumbled on the headquarters of the theatre troupe while out on a walk.

Je suis restée chez Alice, qui était la premiere copine que j'ai faite à Warwick - la semaine m'a bien rappellée pourquoi on s'est devenues des telles bonnes copines (basically we had TONS OF LOLZ). It's so strange to think that all of us Year Abroaders will be back on Warwick campus next year. 

It was great to go to the South. The weather was wonderful, the accents were entertaining, and the people seemed so much more friendly than Parisians, it's bad how surprised I am now when a waiter/shop assistant doesn't treat me with active hostility, especially if I pronounce something wrong. I swear the woman at the CoinCafé in Vincennes RER station actually rolled her eyes when I stumbled over the word viennoiseries

I'm leaving on Thursday & I don't know how I feel about that. It'll be exactly 10 months since I left Britain, and of those 10 months I've spent less than 2 weeks at home. France doesn't seem foreign anymore, although I don't know if my French will ever be as good as it was at the end of April. I'm actually a bit nervous about doing dinner in French tonight. Dinner with two friends tonight, Paris Plages (the beaches set up by the Seine) tomorrow, seeing Ally on Wednesday, and then home on Thursday. And then it's my birthday on Friday! 

Last thing, the Tour de France also passed through Pézenas while we were there...

Off to buy cardboard boxes at Mr. Bricolage and start packing up my room...

Thursday, 21 July 2011


is full of beautiful things like this:

Even the name of this region is gorgeous.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Petit dej

Ok, so the "blog post a day" thing didn't quite work out.

But this is worth noting: I had breakfast under this structure this morning! I stayed over at a party in the area last night, and stopped off at Monoprix this morning on my way back to the metro for some much-needed juice and pastry products. Where nicer to sit than on the steps of the Grande Arche, with a view over the trajectory which stretches down to the Arc de Triomphe, then onto the Tuileries and the Palais du Louvre? I could see all the way to the Champs Elysées.

La Défense is nothing like the rest of Paris; it's the business district filled with skyscrapers that they placed out of town because hello? Imagine this next to the Marais:

It's really impressive though. On a sunny weekend morning the esplanade feels like a cross between a gated community, full of healthy people wandering between food outlets, and a futuristic metropolis.

And this afternoon I did a treasure hunt in the 20th.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Marche des Fiertés

Ok, a blog post a day until I leave France.

Lesson learnt from Saturday: don't wear black skinny jeans and high-heeled boots to a Gay Pride parade on the hottest day of June so far in Paris. Also, this is still France, so you probably will still get hit on by creepy straight men in their thirties, even while dancing in a huge crowd with to Bad Romance behind a float full of Spandex-wearing Chinese gay guys.

How these drag queens managed to walk three miles in these heels is beyond me. As is why you would attempt to pick up a woman at a Gay Pride march. Oh well! Fun weekend.