Friday, 25 February 2011

Les trucs classiques

I've just got in from a tiring but fun day trip to Chartres, where Tiffany and I saw a beautiful cathedral, wandered lovely medieval streets, and I was reminded of the existence of France outside Paris. I would say the only Parisian traits I possess are a love of sushi, an addiction to thé vert à la menthe and a slight sense of pity towards anyone unfortunate enough not to live here. Of course, my love of the city is in itself an a foreigner's trait; a true Parisian is impressed by nothing. LOL FOREVER at this sticker I saw the other day:


Rien meaning "nothing". 

Rambling aside, I want to document the five days I spent with my family, because as usual when I have visitors, I end up going to the more touristy sites that I might otherwise avoid. I don't intend to bore you with shots of the Arc de Triomphe, but I still think the weekend yielded some nice photos.

On Sunday we went to the Marché des Oiseaux near to the Notre Dame. In one cage there were two birds who looked like they'd been painted with acrylics, tastefully placed among six albino birds. Birds are extremely hard to photograph, but after some editing here is the best picture:

Gorgeous! Apart from the Bird Market, we did a lot of classic things - we climbed the Arc de Triomphe, went inside the Notre Dame, wandered around the Latin Quarter and ate a lot of steak. Here's another view of Paris I love - a jumble of roofs and chimneys.

The Notre Dame, that"Gothic masterpiece whose style of architecture radiated out like a rose across the whole of Europe" (badly paraphrased Julian Barnes - I can't find the original quote). I don't know much about architecture, but it strikes me every time I see this building that churches all across the continent, from tiny chapels in rural Slovenia (or wherever), to the church down the road where my cousin was baptised, have been influenced by a style of architecture of which the Notre Dame is the earliest coherent example. How can I say anything original about this structure? The pinhole effect makes it look pretty.

We wandered up the quai, past the bouquinistes and into the Latin Quarter for some lunch. I think my family are pretty pleased that I'm in Paris for my Year Abroad, to be honest. Not sure that visiting me in rural isolation would have had the same effect.

To the left, the quai next to the Notre Dame, and to the right, a smile from my sister, also taking a photograph. She's asked to do a guest blog about her holiday here, so stay tuned! I also took a lot of nice photos in Chartres, which I'll post soon, and I'm planning some kind of comment on the surreal day Bet and I spent at Disneyland. 

As always, if you do read, please leave a comment. I'm getting a pleasing number of page views, but it's always nice to be appreciated. And if you randomly found this on Facebook and are embarrassed about stalking me - don't be! Seriously, that's why I put it there.

It's been a long day, and this blog post could not have been created without the help of MINT TEA in my lovely new cup and saucer. Mmm.... bliss.

Bon nuit tout le monde.


Thursday, 17 February 2011

Les arbres se couvrent des feuilles

The stages this week went so well! I know I bitched about the students a little on Monday, but luckily, because the stages are voluntary, the students with terrible levels of English and no enthusiasm didn't turn up after Monday, and I was only left with the good ones. I can honestly say that after leaving the school at lunchtime today, I seriously thought about training to be a teacher. Only for about five minutes, of course, I don't really want to spend my life cajoling kids into conjugating avoir (or maybe reading Of Mice and Men with GCSE students every year until I retire). But there is something very rewarding about building a rapport with a class, and having them leave a lesson with some skill, some knowledge, some understanding that they didn't enter it with. It helps that a foreign language is an academic subject, but also a practical skill, as well as a conduit for things that they are already interested in. By which I mean the lyrics to "Billionaire". I planned the whole week myself, which meant I only had to teach what I was interested in.

Highlights of this week:
  • Introducing my students (half of whom are training to be electricians) to the poetry of Philip Larkin and THEY WERE INTO IT!!! I did The Trees ("it is a beautiful poem") and This Be the Verse ("I think it is funny... and provocative"). They all grasped the meaning of "They fuck you up, your mum and dad", even if finding a French translation was nearly impossible.
  • The Post-It Note game, where you have to stick a Post-It note with the name of an unknown celebrity onto your forehead, and ask questions about them to try and guess who they are. We had a 17 year old studious Algerian guy with "Lady Gaga" on his forehead, and a stoner guy in a Slipknot T-shirt guessing "Amy Winehouse".
  • Discussing the differences between the British and French education systems. To summarise, the French system is rigorous, incredibly centralised and theoretical, and practically everyone, from trainee electricians and hairdressers to future accountants and lawyers and teachers, does a year of Philosophy in Terminale. I happen to think that is amazing and idealistic and wonderful, but not all of them agree.

  • An activity where they had to produce a translation of some song lyrics, and where Slipknot Guy translated a heavy metal track called "Adoration for No One" by Gojira. I put the English version on the projector and he had to read out his translation in French;  it was unexpectedly hilarious (to me) to hear a mild mannered 19 year old metalhead read out (in French) to his class such lyrics as:
           "The stones and dust bite hostile
           Devours flesh and bone
           The weakest lost in hatred
           Consequence is upon my door"

          The lyrics really were terrible - "The wolves are back and crave to kill" was another gem. 
  • After covering the basics of the tuition fees situation in the UK, I got them to research various arguments on the topic and stage a mock debate whereby one side supported the rise in fees and the other didn't. Those who did support it used their limited English to insist "But err... good job mean... you can... err.. pay ze money for ze university, it is not a problem" and it really didn't sound much different in tone or sentiment to hearing the Tories defend the proposals. Yeah, take that, Clegg. Of course, when I asked their actual opinions on the subject, they were as socialist as I expected (paying?! for university?!) I'd like to think all the Philosophy lessons have given them an idealistic view of the value of education, but again, that could well be my own projection.
  • The student who said he didn't want to change groups because he didn't think he'd find "une autre prof qui est aussi sympa que vous" (another teacher as nice as you). And after hearing today that there was no class tomorrow, I distinctly heard "ah, c'est dommage!" 
  • When the favourite books of the class turned out to be 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Agatha Christies' mystery novels and Lord of the Flies. I want this class all the time!
It was a good week.

After finishing work today I walked around the Parc des Buttes Chaumont again, and found a waterfall which tumbled into a shady cave. It was thundering, if artificial. It got me musing on baptism pools and being reborn, coming back to Paris, Heroclitus, stepping into the same river twice, a city in bloom, une jeune fille en fleurs... but that would better suit an entry filled with pretty flower photos, I think.

Maybe I could photograph the purple primrose I bought on the way home, which is currently sitting prettily on my desk. It's well-watered, but needs a bigger pot. No one in Paris has enough living space. 

The title is the French translation of the first line of "The Trees", which I will quote here because I love it and because it's apt. 

The Trees

The trees are coming into leaf,
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
While we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

But still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Paris, je t'aime!

Some thoughts:

My French-speaking English friends and I have a habit of using French words in conversation quite unconsciously, when we are using words that are far more concerned with our French than our English lives. Sentences like "I love working in a lycée, there were grèves for pretty much the whole of November", or texts from Alice about "you should have come to the apéro, it was super sympa", or hearing that someone lives in a colocation in the dix-neuvième arrondissement. I've found myself talking about élèves (students) and profs (teachers) while in English. But they are different - a student is, to me, a university student, probably in Britain. An élève is one of the 18 year old multiethnic kids who I attempt to cajole into telling me about their holidays in English. Similarly, a teacher is a committed authority figure intent on handing out detentions for untucked shirts; a prof bitches with me about the awfulness of the élèves and is outraged they might have to work until age 62.

Is this an interesting dialect born of cross-linguistic fertilization, or does speaking this way just make us sound like Del Boy?

Questions, questions.

I know it would seem pretentious if we did it anywhere else but Paris, but I find it quite charming. Last night I was speaking English and suddenly used the word rue instead of street, no doubt because there was a strong image in my head of the street I was talking about, which I always think of as Rue de Whatever. This happens occasionally, and I imagine it will happen more and more the longer I live here.

I made people laugh in French last night! Multiple times! It is coming, it is coming. In a strange way, speaking and thinking in French is harder than I thought it would be, and I'm always interested in how I must come across to a native French speaker. While I can express myself fine most of the time, I'm aware that my phrasing and choice of idiom must sound foreign, and that I still have an English accent. All accents and dialects give context to what someone is saying, and I'm conscious that, for example, the English teachers at my school have perfect RP accents which can't be connected to any actual location. I find it interesting how language is both personal and communal, the tool you use to think your most personal thoughts is also a huge collaborative project with strongly embedded ideas, values and judgements. Language is first and foremost a way of thinking, and I still think in English.

So, after a soirée last night in La Défense, this afternoon I went for a stroll around the Parc Floral, listening to The Gaslight Anthem and seeking out signs of Spring.  

But most impressive of all were these PEACOCKS WANDERING AROUND RANDOMLY. I've no idea why, I didn't know there were peacocks living in the park. There were four, but it was this alpha male who kept showing his plumage. I took so many photos. 

In this one he is rattling his plumage at a nearby pigeon, I guess just to prove that he is alpha male of the group. Look how sad and small the pigeon looks next to the peacock!

I then experimented with some different modes on my camera, to see what would best show off the extraordinary colours. First is pinhole, which, as ever, makes a photo look washed-out but nostalgic. 

Pop art! An almost scary neon tinge to the eyes. 

And the other three peacocks, just chilling. 

Well, it's Valentine's Day tomorrow, and as indifferent as that holiday leaves me whether I'm single or not, perhaps it is time to declare something. Je suis amoureuse de cette ville, de cette langue, et de ma vie ici aussi. I have no complaints; living in Paris is... for me, the closest thing to contentment that I think I have any right to expect from life. I wake up, there are things to see and do, I rarely feel sad. I like the friends I've made here, I like having free time to explore the city, to take photos, to read, I like having a job, I like feeling that my French is improving every day, I like going to parties with French people, I like the multiculturalism of it all, it's not boring. Paris is fascinating and beautiful. 

Thursday, 10 February 2011

More Marais

It's taken me a while to get around to writing this, but last Wednesday I went to the Photos Femmes Féminisme exhibition, which was in a small hotel particulier in the Marais. I was at a loose end following the cancellation of my afternoon lessons, so texted Sarah seeing if she felt like doing something; what followed was a happy afternoon of excellent coffee in my new favourite café in the Marais, visiting the exhibition, discussing feminism and other things of importance, and then wandering the streets before heading back to the café and reading together in companionable solitude. Paris, je t'aime. 

The exhibition was eclectic and brillliant. There were lots of and lots of photo portraits of accomplished women throughout the 19th and 20th centuries; not all of them were particularly involved with the feminist movement, it was just nice to see a rebuff to that old misogynist argument about women not having acheived anything throughout the history of humankind. In the spirit of that, I took a self-portrait of my own. It's a shadow, cause, you know, it's like, symbolic? Of... how I haven't acheived anything yet. Or something. I don't really know why I took it. 

What followed were photos, videos, posters and memorabilia from the French feminist movement of the 70's. I'd forgotten how much I love learning about the women's movement. Even including the misguided who don't see feminism's continuing relevance, surely we can all agree that the history of womens' liberation is inspiring, powerful, and just generally really fucking cool. Part of me wishes I could have been there in the 70s; organising marches and consciousness-raising groups, singing in the streets with the MLF (mouvement pour la liberation des femmes). But then another part of me remembers how much worse it was then, and how much inequality it took to spark that anger, and I think that perhaps I'm idealising that time. But in any case, I feel so proud of how much these women struggled against, and it makes me want to be a worthy heir of the movement.

I took a few photos of some of my favourite posters and photos, with translations underneath.

 International march of women for freedom of maternity: freely available and free contraception and abortion. 

I love the pregnant Statue of Liberty, excellent concept.


THE RIGHT TO WORK. Housewives: register at the ANPE.

Education without discrimination.

We condemn nationalism, ethnic purification, and the use of the female body as political territory.

La lutte continue.

Saturday, 5 February 2011


in January, this has to be one of the most beguiling views on the planet. I love the colour scheme; greys, greens and yellow stone.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011


On Sundays I like to take my backpack, my guide to Paris, my iPod, and of course my camera to visit a quartier I haven't seen before. This week I went to Belleville.

I got off at Belleville metro and walked up Rue de Belleville, which is a steep hill. The area is very multicultural, a bit down at heel, but there was lots to see and photograph.

The blue sky tempted me out of the house.


"One must distrust words".

Close up.

Man in hat. 

Eventually I came to Belleville Park, which was nice enough. It's on a hill, so is really just a series of terraces.

Exploding blossom.

Light through bamboo.

Despite this shop being named after the two most French words in existence, it was actually a Chinese bakery. Belleville has a huge Chinese population. I bought myself two little cakes from here and went home to eat them with a cup of tea.

And last of all, a passing cat in the park.

I find solitary Sundays very relaxing.