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.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

True story

Today was over 30 degrees and without a cloud in the sky, and I bought a new pair of red shoes. Then I went to the Promenade Plantée, which is a walkway that runs from Bastille to the Jardin de Reuilly, and which, for one day only, was host to "Art en Balade", a series of installations and art displays from Parisian artists that you could discover while walking along. One was in a shallow basin filled with water, with tufts of lavender growing on each side, and an archway at either end of the basin. An artist that Ally knows had filled the pool with garlands of roses made from silver and gold foil, and someone else, a thin woman like a water-nymph did a dance down the length of the pool - she turned and pirouetted and sank beneath the water and hopped over each string holding the roses - and she ended up at our end, and we clapped and said "Bravo!" to which she replied "C'est l'instillation qui inspire" to the artist, both for modesty's sake, and to compliment the artist, a delicate woman in a big blue and stripy hat.

It was art for arts sake, it was art that also cooled down your feet, it was one of many strange & even magical moments that I've experienced in this city which holds such a place in my heart, this city which is artistic beyond belief, which is frivolous, which tastes of pains aux raisins and good coffee, this city which is tranquil on hot Sunday afternoons, this city where it stays light until 10 in June, city of open-air cinemas and exquisite cuisine, city of poetry and architecture which is also poetry, city of people sublime, sometimes, in their rudeness, city of a language that expresses sentiments impossible to say in English, fourmillant cité, cité pleine de reves...

Monday, 20 June 2011

Rouen/ Flowers

First things first, a picture from the Flaubert and Medical History museum in Rouen. The stairs were decorated with quotes from Flaubert's Dictionnaire des idées reçues, which is an ironic collection of "received ideas". The bottom two here say "Imbeciles: People who don't think like you" and "Optimists: Equivalent to imbeciles". Yes, we did go to this museum to see the parrot mentioned in the book Flaubert's Parrot, and yes, it was a brilliant afternoon!

We even saw the man himself, in wax, at the Joan of Arc museum. Here he is, Gourstave Flaubear. 

Skip forward a couple of weeks, and here is a photo I took in the courtyard of the Musée Rodin. It has so many beautiful Parisian features in it; the dome of the Invalides on the left, the Eiffel tower on the right, a mansion on the left that houses the museum, and the courtyard has sculptures and yellow roses. There are roses everywhere in Paris.

Speaking of flowers, look at what my neighbour gave to me a while ago. What a shame he's 84 and very senile. "Vous etes jeunes et belles, mes enfants!"

After a disaster where the wooden tub these cornflowers were growing in split and the soil and roots went all over the roof, I tried replanting them in new pots. Here they are looking healthy before the accident, but now they are withered and I threw them away. A flash of striking indigo while the flowers lasted, but it did lead me to conclude that if the cornflowers are anything to go by, you can't grow new roots. 

Eden xxx

PS - Stick around for an update on the Trotskyite festival I attended last week. 

Monday, 6 June 2011

Heavy with desire the sky/ To rain.

The weekend: An afternoon wandering around Montmartre by myself, the Montmartre museum isn't really worth the entrance price, in my opinion, but it had a wonderful little courtyard where I sat for about an hour, on a bench, in view of the Sacré Coeur and thus a stone's throw from thousands of tourists, and yet the loudest noise I could hear was birdsong. A quick text around got me a dinner invite from a French friend, and with two hours to spare I tried to walk from Montmartre to St. Paul. I got as far as Galeries Lafayette, where I stopped for a while as I hadn't been there before. Verdict: beautiful architecture, and it's always fun to mentally gasp at the amount that designer clothes cost. It was full of Japanese people, and even the announcements were in Japanese. Dinner was interesting, even if my friend and her flatmate's very fast-paced discussion on the inevitable downfall of capitalism led me to be unable to contribute much more than agreement of certain points.
Fish in an aquarium in the Galeries Lafayette.

Eglise de la Trinité, near the Gare St. Lazare

Saturday: A trip to a lake in Torcy with my flatmates, a swim in the glacial water was the only way to deal with the sweltering pre-storm heat.

Sandra and Fiona

Baignade interdit!

I went out in the evening, although I had a pretty terrible time at a party and was glad to leave, and was glad when it started raining as we crossed the courtyard of the apartment block. It had been so hot all day that Tiffany and I happily walked through St. Germain and the Latin Quarter, down to Hotel to Ville, enjoying the freshness. We saw a clarinet player under a shop-front. We saw the café where Sartre and de Beauvoir went to write and to discuss existentialism. We crossed the river and saw the gigantic Hotel de Ville, still standing, still statuesque after centuries of Parisian upheaval have raged around it. Scratch everything I said about this being a city like any other, my resigned admittance that it's not where you live that's important. I don't want to go home. I don't know exactly what I'm doing this summer, but real life starts again on Saturday 1st October, when I move into a small bedroom on Warwick campus and have to start studying and working out what the hell I'm doing with my life. Needless to say, I'm in no rush for that date to roll around, although I can't deny that being on the same landmass as most of my friends and family is something I won't ever take for granted again.

Today: Taking 3 children to school in the rain at 8am, pronouncing Arthur's name the English way which he found very amusing and kept repeating, doing a pretty good job on the "th" for an 8 year old French child. Then I went home and slept till lunchtime. Homemade brownies. Tiffany and I went to Bercy Cinematheque this afternoon to see L'Ange, which was the most avant-garde thing I've sat through, and although I can't say it was entertaining, it was certainly interesting. It occurred to me that only in Paris would an hour-long piece of wordless, experimental cinema be full at 2pm on a Monday afternoon. Then I went over to Reuilly for more babysitting - Alexandre told me about the dinosaur exhibition he went to at the weekend with more excitement than most adults would use to describe the holiday of a lifetime. We played Piggy in the Middle while blasting out some George Michael, before playing Monsters, which becomes an imaginary battle to think of the scariest imaginary creature - "Je suis... une squelette... avec des doigts qui sont des allumettes, et des grandes ailes! Je fais l'attaque des tenebres!"

"I am... a skeleton.. with fingers made of matches, and big wings! I'm doing the shadow attack!" 

Home for ping pong on the recently constructed table in the spare bedroom. Curry. A quick trip upstairs to get the can opener from Tiffany gave me a chance to admire the view from the roof, and 87 year-old Guy came out to repeat his usual phrases to us - "Vous etes mignonnes!" "English-spoken!" and "J'ai quatre-vingt-sept ans!" before chuckling away. Now for some reading in the bath, and an edit to the pantoum I'm writing (nope, I will never be brave enough to put my poems up here). 

Days like today are peaceful and interesting, and I realise I have only scraped the surface of what this city has to offer. If I'm honest, I'm not quite sure what Hemingway was trying to say when he described Paris as a "moveable feast", but what strikes me every time I cross Place de la Concorde is Montaigne's quote, "Paris a mon cœur dès mon enfance. Je ne suis français que par cette grande cité. Grande surtout et incomparable en variété. La gloire de la France et l’un des plus nobles ornements du monde".

"Paris has had my heart since my childhood. I am French only thanks to that great city. Great especially, and incomparable in variety. The glory of France, and one of the most noble ornaments of the world".

Place de la Concorde, Eiffel Tower in the background.

Place de la Concorde, different angle.

I don't want to complain, and I don't want to come across as smug, but this is truly how I feel, or at least, how I feel at the best of times when I'm here - Paris is special. Paris is a magical city. That's about as original as something you'd find on a t-shirt in a souvenir shop, but it's how I feel - I can't think of any other city in the world that can compare with this one. I wanted to be small fish in a big pond, and if from time to time French culture makes me feel like nothing so much as bumbling clown-fish, well, at least it's in the most monumental pond in Europe. In my humble opinion.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Au Café

Photo copyright Sarah Graham.

Yes, this photo is pretentious, but I really like it. Sarah did a course in Street Photography à la Robert Doisneau and took this photo of Tiffany and I doing something we do at least twice a week - drinking coffee and having conversations about, you know, the purpose of literature. And the Teletubbies.  

Monday, 23 May 2011


Reasons that Belleville/Ménilmontant, in the 20th arrondissement, are awesome:

- Culture Rapide, the "Cabaret Populaire" on Rue de Belleville, which does poetry slams on Mondays and Tuesdays, in English and French, as well as acoustic sets, literary quizzes and other such events pretty much every other night of the week. And I haven't even got started on the cheap (for Paris) cocktails served with Haribos. 

- Belleville Park, with its terraces and shimmering view of the city from a hill. You can even marche on the pelouse. 

- The graffiti/street art. There is this: 

and plenty more, including, scrawled in pink outside Culture Rapide, "Poesie = Bonheur".

- There are lots of cheap Asian restaurants, including one where I ate a huge plate of prawn dumplings, an even bigger bowl of beef vermicelli soup, with mango and lychee juice, for less than ten euros. 

- La Miroterie in Menilmontant, which was sadly closed last night but to which I definitely will return, because it's a squat in a former mirror shop that does free jazz concerts on Sunday nights, and paying concerts other nights of the week ie. exactly the kind of thing I came to Paris for.

- The International, which is another bar we stumbled into last night (stumbled as in happened upon, not stumbled as in "could barely walk otherwise". I do the school run on Monday mornings with three very challenging children). The International does free concerts downstairs and yesterday we saw "Minor Sailor". It was half an hour or so of tuneful, mostly acoustic noise from a man who looked so indie it made me feel homesick (French men really don't go in for any of the following - skinny jeans, check shirts, oversized cardigans, hipster glasses, borderline anorexia levels of skinniness, two weeks of stubble, pained expressions and mumbling into microphones). Where was I? Jeremy Joseph, who is actually Icelandic, created ambient soundscapes with only a guitar, his voice, a child's handheld tiny keyboard and something to record these on loops and play them back immediately. He performed in front of projected photographs which looked a wee bit like they'd been edited with Hipstamatic. Perhaps the whole thing wouldn't border on cliché in Iceland, and perhaps it doesn't in Paris either. In any case, it was very nice Sunday night music. 

So, in other words, the 20th is my new favourite arrondissement. I have a feeling in a few years it might be a kind of alternative Marais, with prices to match, but it's nice to have discovered it now. 

6 weeks left of this city. People are leaving already. There is never enough time.

Thursday, 19 May 2011


Life in Paris is now a mixture of babysitting and sightseeing. Seeing as I take the kids to the park most days now, my job has been transformed into a particularly high-stakes game of Where's Wally?, as they run around with the other children from school and I try to allay my fears that they've been kidnapped when I can't see them for more than 2 minutes.

My Mum & Nan came to visit last week, fresh off the train from the other Metroland. On a fait les trucs classiques, alors pas grande chose à vous raconter, mais regarde ce photo-là que j'ai pris à Montmartre. Sympa de les voir, comme d'habitude.

Apart from that, there's been a lot time spent drinking and eating by bodies of water and in parks (have you seen how much they charge for a pint here?)

And Tiffany and I went to Versailles last Sunday, which was one of the most impressive things I've seen in my life, especially interesting after having studied Moliere and his relationship to the court of Louis XIV last year, as well as some aspects of the French Revolution. I don't know whether it was that which brought the history to life so much, but as I was in Marie Antoinette's bedroom I could really imagine the pitchfork-wielding mob running up the drive as she fled through a hidden door in her ridiculously, offensively lavish bedroom. Seriously, it looked like a bomb made entirely of gilt had gone off in there.

 All my photos are of the grounds, which were amazing. I don't think we saw even half of it. I didn't take any photos inside. In fact, I got really annoyed at the huge number of tourists snapping away at every last detail inside the Chateau. It makes me wonder who they think their 300 photos of the rooms inside Versailles are going to interest once they get home. 

The entrance gates.

Rose trellis.

A fountain through hedges.


Marie Antoinette had a model farmhouse built in the grounds of her own private palace so she could observe farmers at work. The buildings seemed unreal, like a precursor to Disneyland. It's strange to think they were doing pastiche 250 years ago. 

After all that excitement, it's been a quiet week. I need to buy a new teapot today, and then it's off to babysit.  Now I think I'm doing OK, and I've even started chatting to the other babysitters in the park, which is companionable, and gives me more opportunity to speak French. Last time they were discussing DSK, and I had nothing to add about the situation, partly because I don't know as much about his reputation as they do and partly down to boring old language problems, which was really frustrating. I just managed to nod along and say something about how terrible the whole thing was. I can't work out if I'm looking forward to being back or not. I know I'll be more confident doing everything (everything!!!) in English again. But when I do feel like I'm managing to convey myself well in French, or when I'm talking about something I'm genuinely interested in, I feel like I'm mastering an instrument, and it's wonderful. It doesn't happen as much as I'd like though, because if I spoke as much French with adults as I do with under 8s now, I'd never be at a loss for words again. Oh well. The children are quite sweet, really. It's funny to think that before working for the agency, my main experience of childcare was when one of my Sims had a baby...

A bientot, blogosphere. 

Sunday, 8 May 2011


That this is the only country in Western Europe I've felt a need to wear a fucking burkha, just to limit the amount of sexual harassment I get on at least a weekly basis.

I've been told a lot of times that I look young for my age. As far as these arseholes are concerned, they are using the body of a girl who could be anything from 16 to 20 (I'm 20) for their pathetic male-bonding-through-sexual harassment-of-someone-who-can't-fight-back shtick.

Disgusting, disgusting, disgusting.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Carpe Diem

Update: I am now a full-time babysitter. I get paid to sit in parks listening to my iPod while the kids play nearby. It's so unchallenging. I'm free until 4pm every day except Wednesday (and I'm still earning justenough to get by) and so profiting from the city has never been easier. So far this week I've seen a film (Norwegian Wood), had apéros with Alice twice, read a lot, mooched around on the Internet a lot, and slept in until 10 most days. Bel far niente, indeed.

I've been reading an excellent book on Parisian history called "Metrostop Paris" by Gregor Dallas. The author picked ten metro stops around Paris and wrote essays on each one about aspects of that area's history. The section on Trocadéro wrote about how the Chaillot Hill was apparently Hitler's favourite part of the city when he visited Paris. So naturally I had to go there (I have a lot of free time).

The Trocadéro is a building for exhibitions, built in a very neo-Classical style, and directly behind the Eiffel Tower. The courtyard overlooking the Eiffel Tower was filled with gold-plated lifesize statues. It was easy to see why this view appealed to a Nazi sensibility, weird as that is to say.

And as if that wasn't all morbid enough, today I visited the catacombs at Denfert-Rochereau, again on the inspiration from "Metrostop Paris". Thanks to reading that, I know that during the 18th century, the powers that be realised that Paris' various cemeteries and mass graves were full to bursting and that the remains of centuries of dead Parisians needed to be relocated. So for two years, carts transported the remains through the streets of Paris in the dead of night, to the sight of former stone quarries at Denfert-Rochereau. Apparently the actual ossuaries are much vaster than the small section open to tourists, but I felt like I saw thousands of remains anyway. Interspersed with the decorative displays of skulls and femurs are a lot of quotes in French and Latin on a fairly similar theme (see title). It's one of the stranger ways to spend an afternoon in Paris.

At the entrance to the catacombs is the following melodramatic inscription. "Stop! Here is the empire of the dead".

It was strange walking outside into the warm and alive afternoon afterwards. In another sign that I've read Metroland far too many times, I did just as Christopher Lloyd/Julian Barnes did during his walks through the catacombs, and "sweetly combined personal gloom and pre-Revolutionary history". This entry has been full of other peoples' observations, and I didn't take the photo above. What can I say, it's hard to think original thoughts when so many have gone before. 


Saturday, 30 April 2011

C'est une belle opportunité, quoi

It's over. I've finished working at the school. In a years' time, in two months' time even, the whole experience will have already found its narrative; when people ask me how my year in Paris was, I'll say something about how interesting it was to work in a French school, how strange it was to teach students older than me, and  how difficult it could be when their behaviour veered from hostile through to levels of enthusiasm for learning English more appropriate to coma victims. I'm glad I've done it, but I'm not too sad that it's over.

So before I leave, a series of anecdotes. What comes back to me now as I think about the seven months I spent as an assistante de langue in a school in the Marais?

- A terrible class that was dominated by two loud, thuggish boys who made it impossible for me to teach anything. I asked them to stop giving out chocolate in the lesson; they wouldn't, but they did offer me some. As I was eating it, I heard a "Mizz, he ztole zis shoclate". Right. Eating shoplifted chocolate with them - very professional.

- A class where I made them create roleplays based on random situations, where they got so into that I laughed until I cried. It was like an awesome GCSE Drama lesson, in English.

- My last lesson where I taught them the beautiful English expression "I don't give a fuck".

- Painful two-hour sessions on Friday mornings with a Terminale group who barely said ten words between them for the entire session. I would hand out an article, force them to read it out and then spend 40 minutes desperately trying to cajole them into giving any kind of feedback on it while they shrugged and acted like I was forcing them to do this because I wanted to, rather than because it was my job. I'm an introvert, I don't like speaking in front of large groups of people in the best of situations - this was like a personal form of torture and I am so glad it's over.

- Two-hour sessions of 10-minute conversation practice with 15 year olds, where I would ask the same questions at least twelve times in a row until I wanted to tear my hair out. "Ok, tell me one place you have been on holiday recently. Ho-Li-Day. Vacances." They weren't all that bad, although a lot were.

- On one hand, the librarian and my responsable were lovely, and I had the kind of relationship with them I've had with colleagues back home - random chats about life and what we were doing in the holidays, bitching about the students, as well as a few discussions about things like the education system, politics, current affairs and stuff like that. I'll miss seeing them, especially for the opportunity to speak at length in French, something I do much, much less than I'd like to. However, that was a contrast to the other teachers at the school, who barely spoke to me. One or two made my acquaintance when I first started; after that we stuck to communal Bonjours and Bonne Weekend upon entering and leaving the staffroom, and that was literally it. I don't know if it was a cultural thing, or if they were just busy people, but the workplace vibe seemed a lot more formal and a lot less sociable than I imagine, for example, the staffroom at my old secondary school was.

- Insane amounts of time off. Ultimately the entire experience boils down to "I was paid 850 euros per month to work, on average, 8 hours per week". I'm mentioning all the above about the pros and cons in case anyone finds it interesting, but I have no right to complain about any of it. Working for the French State is like working for your rich, indulgent grandmother who doesn't like to think of you working too hard. Better than that even, because the body responsible for paying me never once took any interest in how hard I was working; I was employed centrally by the Ministry of Education, and certainly the school never bothered to inform them if I took a day off (which I only did once or twice), let alone to mention whether or not I was working hard. France is so incredibly centralised - as far as I can see, the Proviseur (headmaster) at the school has no power at all - he doesn't employ any of the teachers as it's all decided centrally by the Ministry of Education. Anyway, because I was an assistante and thus not really necessary in any way, the teachers would often just give me days off because the class had something else to do. And that's before we even get into the number of strikes, teachers being ill, school trips, classes that didn't turn up etc.

- Last Tuesday, I had my last class with the very small group of BTS students who will be doing work experience placements in Belfast next month. I like this group, because obviously they are motivated to learn English. I ended up giving them a bit of a motivational speech before I left, along the lines of "make the most of it, make friends from lots of different countries, try and explore Ireland, you will learn so much about British culture, but you'll also learn a lot about your own culture, because it's only by going away that you realise that a lot of aspects of yourself are neither universal human traits, nor individual quirks, but linked to the culture you come from". Actually I didn't say that at all, but it was what I was trying to get across. I finished off with perhaps the most French expression ever to have left my mouth, as I described the entire living-abroad thing as "C'est une belle opportunité, quoi". It's French because I've heard belle (beautiful) being substituted for bon (good) on many occasions, which says a lot about the esteem they hold beauty in, but I think it worked here. And to finish with "quoi" is like tagging on "you know" to the end of the sentence, which I've picked up as well, not that it's a particularly beautiful use of the language.

And now? Well, I still have my babysitting job with the 8 year old and the 3 year old, who are sometimes delightful and sometimes infuriating. On Tuesday we spent half an hour playing Pokemon School, whereby the 8 year old made us decide which Pokemon we were, arranged into the "Class of Fire" and the "Class of Plants" before making us practise attacks before we could evolve and thus move into the next class. When I asked who was the teacher, he informed me that the teacher was invisible. At times like that I actually start to get what people say about children being whimsical and charming. Roxane also told me I was belle yesterday (yes, the fact that a 3 year old has started conflating the concepts of "beautiful" with "things that I like" does annoy me, but in any case, I could see she was trying to be nice). On the other hand, yesterday I paid out of my own pocket for her to ride on a carousel, just cause I'm nice like that, and all I got afterwards was a load of whinging about how she wanted to ride it twice. Alex can also be vile towards his sister. Oh well, c'est la vie.

I should be starting another babysitting gig on Wednesdays, although I'm going to meet the family first before committing to anything. It's pretty obvious that childcare is not really my thing, but I'm lazy and it's very easy for une Anglaise to pick up childcare work here. I'm also applying for jobs in shops, which would be more interesting, I think, and might give me the chance to actually meet some French people before I leave. I intend to stay for June and possible July.

Tonight I am finally getting around to going to the (English language) writers group at Shakespeare & Co with my friend Tiffany. I haven't posted a photo for a while, so in honour of that here's one I took a while ago, when the whole city was garlanded with pink, outside of that bookshop.

This has been a summation of sorts, even though I'm not leaving Paris for a while yet. You know what conclusion I think I'll come to? Wherever in the world you live, the same kinds of things affect you. It's a beautiful city, and I was still bored sometimes, and lonely, and had headaches and hangovers and arguments among other, better, experiences. Of course that's what it was going to be like - if life didn't offer a similar palette of emotions no matter where one lives (excepting war zones and North Korea and such), then what would be the point? It's still your relationships, your work, and your material quality of life that stay as the deciding factors in your happiness. A change of location doesn't offer the promise of a change of self, but nonetheless... it's been interesting. I can't put it any more eloquently than that - it has been interesting to live here, and to do this.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

An Observation

Although it was never a serious conviction, I've realised that part of me vaguely assumed that after having lived in France for a while, I would, in some way, become French. I know that's ridiculous, but firstly I underestimated the cultural differences and overestimated my fluency in the language. I still don't get at least half of the jokes. Secondly, it made sense somewhat because a lot of personal changes in my life were precipitated by a change in location. When I worked in a bookshop, I felt like a bookseller, it fit me. Most significantly, when I went to university, I became a student. I am a student. These attitudes have become part of me. So it's very strange to have come to Paris and the only change I've felt in myself is a further reaffirmation of an identity I've always had and barely thought about - that of my nationality. As well, being English is a defining part of my identity to every French person who meets me, and consequently that affects how I see myself. Something happens to remind me of my foreign-ness every single day.

(Although having said all that, it has rubbed off on me a little bit. Biting into a pain au raisin yesterday, I thought disapprovingly, "This doesn't taste home-made" and made a mental note not to patronise the boulangerie any longer. I also no longer see anything ridiculous in spending over 5 euros on a box of tea).

Friday, 22 April 2011

Les voyages forment la jeunesse

So, I went to Barcelona for the first few days of the Easter holidays. We got cheap Ryanair flights and stayed with friends of my friend Erin, so it was pleasingly unexpensive.

Barcelona is an amazing city. It completely exceeded my expectations. In no particular order, the city has:

Fantastic Modernist architecture:

The Casa Battlo, perhaps the craziest and most beautiful of all the Gaudi buildings.

An Arc de Triomf, which was built for a World Exposition. Our guidebook suggested the only thing it had be triumphant about was having been built on time!

A close up of one of the decorations of the structure, which we could only conclude was a vampire bat with breasts. Seriously.

A port, with a little buoy looking up at the sky:

A shopping centre on the port. I wonder where else you can go to a department store a stone's throw away from the sea? The shopping centre has a strange mirrored wall, I'm in the bottom left-hand corner.

Seagulls and sunlight on the pier.

As if all that wasn't exciting enough, Barcelona also has several beaches.

This hideous fountain in The beautiful Parc de Cuitadella. More gaudy than Gaudi... it looks like it belongs in Las Vegas.

The park made up for it with orange and jasmine trees. Honestly, the weather was mid-20s with a slight breeze, and the whole place smelled faintly of jasmine and orange. One of the many reasons Barcelona is contending with Paris for my favourite city.

Just when I was thinking that the Parc de Cuitadella was my favourite park in Barcelona, we hit Montjuic, which is a collection of gardens and a large park just outside the city. It has a Greek amphitheatre!

And a series of fountains in a walled garden. Gosh, it was lovely.

Barcelona also has

Lampposts like this

Lunging gargoyles overhead in the Gothic quarter.

We also went to the Joan Miro foundation, which was a gallery dedicated to an artist I'd never heard of, but who I really liked. Here is a statue of his in the courtyard of the museum.

View of the city from the Joan Miro Foundation.

And in a temporary exhibition about (as far as I can see), local Catalan bands, here is Erin and I listening to music...

Any city with a square named after my favourite author wins points. 

Plaça de George Orwell also had this inspiring/bullshit message.

 And I haven't even mentioned the two biggest tourist attractions (according to Lonely Planet, anyway). Here is a house in the Park Guell:

And here is the Sagrada Familia, which I didn't go inside cause it cost over ten fricking euros, even for students, but it was nice to see the outside anyway. I thought I'd try and get an unfamiliar angle.

I haven't even covered half of what happened, a birthday party all in Catalan, explaining the meaning of the song "All Rise" by Blue to some girls with very limited English, sangria and tapas and excellent conversation, sunburnt feet, meeting Roser and her friends and family, learning about Catalan history, eating lots of ham, drinking lots of beer and staying in a little village outside Barcelona in a flat with a fluffy white cat and a very hospitable host. It was honestly one of the best trips I've ever taken. 

The place we stayed, Les Fonts, (pronouned Less Fonts and not actually Lay Fon, as it would be in French) also had... a castle. 

And last of all, because I rarely post photos of myself, here is a photo of Erin and I, the friend I went with, sitting on the pier just before we left to go back to Paris. 

After that I went to Switzerland for my friend Shona's birthday, which was like something out of The Great Gatsby! My flatmates looked at me a bit strangely after I'd told them that, it must seem odd that I've left the country twice in the past month for extravagant 21st birthday celebrations, what can I say, like the trip to Barcelona itself, it's been a series of happy coincidences.