Sunday, 5 December 2010

This post is long comme un jour sans pain*

Paris is freezing, and as such, je m'habille comme un oignon (I am dressed like an onion). By which I mean I've gone for a spherical beige outfit. Not really. It's a new phrase that my language partner Estelle taught me, which describes the state of being bundled up in hundreds of layers in an attempt to alleviate the cold.


Lots of things have happened. Including the discovery of a "pinhole" function on my camera, which renders photos all nostalgic looking, regardless of the content or context. But look how pretty it makes the Sacre Coeur! I took this a couple of weeks ago.

I was walking to the Metro Station last night, and this peeked at me from between two rows of buildings. I hadn't realised it was so near. I love Montmartre.
Other events of interest...

I learnt how to make espresso at home!

Tiffany drinking said espresso in our kitchen. 

This is a sticker which says "In French, please!", stuck onto an advert whose slogan is in English. I'm inclined to agree. So many adverts have random English slogans ("Are you Ready?" "Hide yourself", "I love to Party") which is just a lazy way of making them seem edgy and interesting. 

Mint tea for five, poured from a beautiful teapot. Paris = form over function (and paying through the nose for it)

Christmas tree in front of the Notre Dame.

After-school walk around the Marais.

And this weekend I went shopping for the first time in Paris. I went to a few vintage shops and bought a bag and jumper, and then today I found some super-cheap jewellery shops. 

10 Euro vintage bag. I am very pleased with this.
                                         These were two euros!!!

*This post is as long as a day without bread. Another new French expression.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Pendaison de cremaillere.

Paris' flaming trees are slowly being doused in an endless drizzle of rain; grey cloud banks cover the sky. Paris is beautiful in every colour but less than charming in this stormy mood. Saying that, the rain has abated for today, so I might turn my errand-running into a little walk. Sadly my memory card is stuck inside my computer, but a friend has promised to lend me a new one so come Tuesday, there will be more photos.

In the past week, I went to the theatre on Sunday to see Le Diner des Cons, which was very funny. Perhaps not as side-splitting as the Frenchies around me seemed to find it, but entertaining nonetheless. It was such a nice atmosphere; to be in a gorgeous theatre on a Sunday afternoon; high up and level to the vast chandelier, surrounded by people laughing in red velvet seats. Le Diner des Cons is known in English as "The Dinner of Idiots" and it's a farce based on the premise of a dinner where every guest brings along an "idiot" for entertainment value. Marrant.

Hmm, aside from that, the most interesting place I have visited this week was the Parc des Buttes Chaumont. Everyone says how lovely it is, and I wanted to see for myself. It is on the site of a former quarry, hence all of the hills (buttes is hills or heights).

It has a lake, two waterfalls, statues, and a big island with a belvedere on it (pictures to follow because clearly no one knows what a belvedere is without seeing it).

Belvedere on a hill

Trees with a statue of Pan, the Greek god of nature.

Pan in a classic Facebook pose.  
Leaves, light and water.

Last night I went to a party with people from all over Europe - French, English, German, Italian, Colombian and Spanish. One girl I was talking to came from Palermo, city of le mer et le Mafia. I keep meeting hundreds of new people, and often never see them again after an evening's conversation. It is very strange. No doubt a time will come in my life when I very rarely meet new people, but I can't help but think at the moment it would be compensated for by being around the friends I have already. That's a fancy way of saying I feel a bit homesick. Oh well. 

I attempted to speak and understand some German last night, and it was terrible! I can't believe I got the best mark in my school and now remember almost nothing of it.

In any case.

Auf wiedersehen, au revoir & arriverderci. 

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Il pleut des cordes

It has been raining all weekend. I learnt a new idiom to help me out with describing this - "Il pleut des cordes", which means literally "It's raining ropes". It will hopefully be more help than the supposed English idiom of "It's raining cats and dogs, which I have never heard used outside of English language textbooks. 

Anyway, I spent this weekend... pottering around house. I found an old coffee table in the garage, which is full of old furniture people don't want, and decided to rearrange my room. Et voilà.

Newly painted furniture and bedside lamp.

New (old) coffee table, with coffee and computer.

The view from my door, looking inwards.

 My sofa bed.

My American penpal is coming to visit in less than three weeks!!! It's hard to believe that the sender of emails, - some one line long, some going on for paragraphs, some arriving within hours, others taking weeks - is going to appear in my life as a real person. We've only spoken on Skype once, and I saw a blurry picture of her about a year ago, but there's no way I could recognise her. But... I love showing off Paris. I feel proud, as if I have some claim over the city. I plan to be a tourguide par excellence.

A bientot.


Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Automne à Vincennes et à Paris

Paris is on fire. The trees are red, and yellow, and orange, and maroon.

We went to the Parc Floral in Vincennes:

We went to the Pere Lachaise cemetery, although couldn't find Oscar Wilde's grave:

We went to a poetry reading at Shakespeare & Co

 Alice impressed up by playing Mozart and Beethoven from memory

Life continues as usual. I had visitors over the Toussaint half-term holiday, but it's back to work tomorrow. I've got classes in 9 hours, and I haven't finished planning them yet, so there's no more time to write.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Soft shock

My timetable for this week so far has been:

Monday - Nothing
Tuesday - 8am - 10am
Wednesday 10am - 12pm
Thursday - Nothing
Friday - ???

I have two hours of classes scheduled for tomorrow, where I have to lead groups of final year students in conversation practice. However, I doubt anyone will turn up. Every day this week the entrance to the school has been blocked by wheelie bins, although a second entrance about five metres to the left renders the blockage rather symbolic. As far as I can see, a few students are hanging around outside the entrance next to the "STUDENTS ON STRIKE" banner, but most of them seem to have stayed at home. This is compounded by the fact that as half-term draws nearer, fewer students attend lessons. 

It's a culture shock, to say the least.

Talking to my responsable (who I will subsequently refer to as Dave) about the political and education system in France this morning, I asked whether there was any consequences for students choosing not to attend classes. I should point out that this is in a lycée, where the students are aged between 15 and 21. Schooling is compulsory until age 18. There are no consequences, because

1. Most of the teachers support the strikes.
2. Half of the teachers are on strike anyway.
3. There's no register taken.
4. There are no detentions.

Detentions aren't run because (duh!) the teachers aren't interested in staying after school to run them. Teachers have 18 hours per week of timetabled lessons, although class preparation obviously takes longer than that.

Coming from a school where an untucked shirt could results in a detention, this was obviously a shock to me. My school had uniforms, playing fields, tennis courts, PE, music, art, technology, sports clubs, pictures on the walls, assemblies, PSHE lessons, common rooms, careers advice, an identifiable ethos implemented by the senior staff, school plays, productions, an orchestra, a school hall and religious education. The school I am working at  now has none of the above, and that is typical. It is a building with numbered rooms, white walls and a canteen. The staff are appointed by the Ministry of Education.

The system is fairer here. I doubt any of my students will retain either allegiance or resentment towards their secondary school, unlike at home. Beyond the fact that certain schools have a different atmosphere depending on their catchment areas, there is no diversity in the state education system. I don't know whether it's better or worse, it's just different.

France is the country I know best after my own, but I am still experiencing a lot of culture shock. The people seem to be threatening to take down the government thanks to the raising of the retirement age to 62 (and full benefits until 67). I'm not entirely sure what's going on at home, but I don't think there'll be a million person march through London despite the fact Gideon Osborne has just driven a stake through the heart of our welfare system. 

Essentially, I marvel at the socialist munificence of this country at least twice a day (rent subsidised to the tune of 200 euros/month by the French government, my Navigo pass half reimbursed by the school, a full-time salary for 12 hours per week work on top of an ERASMUS grant, free museum entry, wonderfully maintained parks and libraries, free cultural events, a metro that runs for 21 hours per day). But all I keep hearing is about how Sarkozy is transforming France into a neoliberal hellhole. 

It's all very strange.

A bientot

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Ten ten ten

It's been a nice weekend, again. I was trying to work out just now how long I have actually been in Paris. I couldn't work out if it was two or three weeks; turns out it has only been 10 days. It feels like much longer.

So, my five day weekend (I only start full-time this coming week) has been blessed with amazing weather. Yesterday it was 27 degrees and I was walking around in a dress sans tights. I was actually getting burnt whilst sitting on the roof on Thursday afternoon. Let's see, on Friday I wandered over to the Parc Floral with my flatmate which was really nice. She invited me to a party in the evening, which was in one of the coolest apartments I've seen so far; all exposed piping, modern art and bright painted walls. I met a few other assistants and ULIP students there; unfortunately nearly all of my socialising so far has been in English, but I had a great time nonetheless. On Saturday I wandered around the floral park which was gorgeous in the autumn sunlight. I would taken so many photos but GAH! my camera has broken.

On Saturday night I met up with a fellow Warwick student, Sarah. I think blogging etiquette involves me linking to her (very interesting) blog; she is at, and posting a photo a day for her year in Paris. We had a few glasses of wine and a good chat before deciding we really wanted some crème brulée. Luckily she had her camera with her so I can post here at least one photo of the evening. Me with a creme brulee the size of my FACE.

Seriously, I couldn't even finish it. It was very nice though. After that, we tried to meet up with some fellow assistants who were on a night out on the Grands Boulevards, but it turned into a bit of a wild goose chase. After a drink with a few other assistants/random people I didn't know, we headed home. It was good to get out, nonetheless.

To borrow a topic from Sarah, one of the negative things about this city (aside from the dogshit on the streets and obscenely high price of coffee) is the amount of sexual harassment. I've been here 10 days and already been harassed more times than I can remember. This has involved being yelled at from moving cars, but mainly random guys on the metro and on the street just come up to me and hassle me for a bit. It is totally fucking annoying, and it always in happens the same way. Some guy will come up to me and say "Ca va?", which is just on the boundary of "interactions it is OK to have with strangers". So I can't win - if I reply politely, they take it as an invitation to start talking, which I obviously don't want. When I ignore them, they become aggressive.

Today on the metro some guy just asked me "Can I talk to you?" to which I replied simply "Non". He then asked me why not, and I was only saved further annoyance by the arrival of the next train. Had this been late at night, and were I on my own, I would have been genuinely scared about my safety. As it was, I felt pretty comfortable giving him my most pissed-off glare and dismissive "Non". Anyway.

This behaviour is not a desire to interact with a girl, and even if it was, their desire to do that does not trump my obvious desire to be left alone, not to mention my right to feel safe whilst walking around. The chances that a woman of 20 would respond positively to a creepy 50 year old introducing himself by saying "T'es belle" are non-existent, and if they were truly just trying their luck, they would back off as soon as I made I clear I didn't want to talk to them. I see it more as a petty display of arrogance from men who, knowing they can't have something, decide instead to try and destroy it. Destroy is too strong a word, of course, but there is an element of trying to bring me down, ruin my day, make my time in this city just a little bit less enjoyable - because I exist, am presumably desirable (without wishing to be conceited - this goes for any woman between the ages of 15 and 50) and won't interact with them.

They are kids who, not being able to build a sandcastle themselves, decide to kick down somebody else's. That's a bit of a tortured metaphor I know, but it's the best way I can think to describe it. Of course, the idea that random men in this city see me as part of the landscape, to be provoked as they see fit without any kind of consequence, is infuriating. It's also a display of social dominance - they can afford to annoy me without the slightest chance of a repercussion, when they wouldn't dream of doing the same with a man, unless perhaps one who looked particularly vulnerable. I think the men who do it are those who feel weak and powerless in some way, and who like reminding themselves that no matter how powerless they feel, there is always someone around them with less power (in certain situations). Or maybe they are just entitled arseholes. Oh well.

Oops, I was definitely going to keep the feminist theory separate from my Paris tales.

The rest of Paris is wonderful, though. Especially in this weather (autumn leaves falling with a background of bright blue sky; zero clouds but a cool breeze), I can't get over the beauty of the city. There is something aesthetically pleasing at every corner; a beautiful building with wrought iron balconies; a fountain; a boulangerie with glossy patisseries arranged like artwork in the window. I wish so much my camera hadn't broken, or I would be posting lots of photos on here as well. I intend to get it fixed as soon as possible, though.

Oh, last thing - I have an interview tomorrow with a company called Babyspeaking. As far as I can see, it's an English-language babysitting service that also offers some tutoring for older children. The pay is pretty good, and it seems like you can choose your hours, so if I get it, I can fit the job around working at the lycée as well.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Books and the Cité

There are no photos for today, because sadly I left my memory card in my computer.

Today I finished "Norwegian Wood" whilst sitting on the roof of my building. Then I went into the city and wandered down to Shakespeare & Co. I ended up hanging out with this guy:

J'adore cette ville/ I love this city.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Le Weekend

The most eventful thing that has happened so far is the "Nuit Blanche" which took place in Paris on Saturday night. For those not in the know, La Nuit Blanche is a night dedicated to art and culture, where firstly large museums stay open until 1 or 2 in the morning, and are free for the night. Secondly, there are lots and lots of small exhibitions and installations dotted around the city. Some of them were in public places, like this one which was by the Pont d'Alma:

Some were hidden away inside buildings, like this giant rotating robot:

This was inside the courtyard of an old building somewhere in the Marais. I could give you the name of the artwork, or the artist, but really for me the interest wasn't the artworks themselves so much as the incongruency of seeing them at 4 in the morning, off a side street somewhere with hundreds of other people milling around. 

Here's some more artworks that we saw - aside from the museums, which included everything from small galleries to the Louvre - all of the art on display veered towards the modern and surreal. I didn't "get" any of it, really, but I don't know much about art. Here's some more:

This was probably the most memorable. A room filled with hundreds of those plastic alarm clocks which were apparently all timed to go off at 7am. We didn't stick around to hear it, but the effect of having so many versions of the same object was quite disconcerting. Here is a picture without flash:

And with:

The Hotel-Dieu was covered in coloured lights. Each of them spelt out "Love difference" in about 20 different languages.

Sunday was a lazy day. I really wanted to try out the vélib, and go for a bike ride around the Bois de Vincennes, but the station wouldn't accept my debit card. For those not in the know, the vélib scheme is a public bicycle hire scheme available to anyone with a Navigo pass (vélib = vélo (bike) + liberté). Here is a picture of a cycle station with most of the bikes gone. As you can see, they are heavy, utilitarian things, all coloured beige. There are stations like this literally all over the city. After paying a small subscription fee (5 euros per week, or 30 euros per year), the bikes are then charged by the hour: the first half hour is free, then the second costs 1 euro, the third 1/2 hour costs 2 euros, the third costs 3, and any subsequent half-hours cost 4 each. The ascending charges are designed to keep the bikes in circulation, but seeing as there is a station nearly every 300m in Paris, it is easy to swap bicycles every half hour and thus pay nothing but the subscription fee.

 Anyway, I sadly couldn't get it to work, so instead I decided to buy myself an apricot tart and sit on the roof of my building to do some reading. The weather this weekend was bizarrely warm for October.

Here is my book (Flaubert's Parrot), and the rest of the rooftop. It's a lovely place to sit.

Here are some more shots from the top of our building. I think it's most picturesque during twilight. I don't think I could ever get bored of this view.

I have Mondays off, and yesterday, again, I didn't do much. I ran a few errands and ended up walking to Bastille - a good few miles away. There are currently lots of posters up protesting the proposed increase in the retirement age. I know it's a cliché, but France's political system is very noticeably to the left of the British one, as shown by these posters below.

They benefit
They get fat
They pollute
They lie to us
They exploit us
They "spoil us"
They give us nothing, they give in!
Striking is a tool of both defence and conquest.
It's a right!

Do not interfere with retirement at age 60!
The cartoon shows (I think) a working person telling a financier "Stock market money/a grant for retirement! Quickly!" (La Bourse referring both to the Paris Stock Market and a grant or bursary (source of funding)) 
This one says "Save retirement at age 60! Let's tax finance revenues!"

Although it seems crazy to me that people can protest having to retire at age 61, yeah let's tax some finance revenues.

Finally, here are some pictures of the Place de la Bastille.

Well, I had my first day teaching today, but that's a story for another day. I feel like it went pretty well. Beforehand I was terrified, but knowing that I just had to do it somehow stopped my worry. Sometimes it can seem there is a thick glass wall between what you imagine yourself doing and what you actually do, but, in my case, it seems like the nearer I get to the wall the more gauzy it appears, and when you get really close (like 3 seconds), it melts away. The secret is there is no barrier; this goes for everything from moving to a foreign city to jumping in front of a train. Or standing up in front of 15 French high school students saying "Hello, my name is Eden and I'm your English Assistant for this year..."

Oh, a little slapstick anecdote from this morning. I have a key to the staffroom that I hadn't used before today. As soon as I turned it in the lock, a really loud bell went off (obviously, of course, it was the school bell). In my confusion and nervousness, I thought I had managed to set off an alarm by turning the key the wrong way - Shona will know what I'm talking about here. Anyway, someone ran up to me and I started saying "Desolée, umm.... je sais pas ce qui se passe" and generally panicking like a mad person until realising what was actually happening. How embarrassing.

I'll leave you with one more classic Paris picture.