Sunday, 27 March 2011


Ever since reading The Secret History, by Donna Tartt, I have been fascinated by the idea of having a bacchanalia, which is a celebration in honour of Bacchus. Now, Bacchus is the god of wine and revelry, but a bacchanalia as presented in the novel is not so much a giant party as an occasion that, with the help of wine and any other intoxicants that might be useful, can lead one to a proper loss of self. It tended to involve things like bonfires, animal sacrifice, flaming torches, and insane amount of wine and hallucinations. Now, Isabelle and I had plans to run around Kenilworth Common in white bedsheets before sacrificing a goat on a bonfire, but we never got round to it, what with exams and all. But I'm making up for it here, Paris has been full of bacchanals.

We're not fitting in well with the locals.

The logical explanation is that the reserve of British culture leads us to seek in the liminal states such as that induced by binge drinking, the self-expression and loss of reserve necessary for psychological balance. When in that state of course, it never seems that prosaic. It seems like a totally normal way of viewing the world through oil pastels rather than watercolours. It's ironic it's all happening in Paris, a city whose inhabitants are renowned for their reserve and moderation. Well, in most cases. I am so used to the Puritan ideal of pleasure as something that must always be paid for (wine/hangover, chocolate/exercise/, a shopping trip/a few days of frugality) with an activity linked to guilt, it's unreal. It is no coincidence that the French use the word plaisir approximately fifteen times more than the English use pleasure, and that profiter de has nothing to do with money (and is also used constantly). Christ, I'm starting to sound like Elizabeth Gilbert (not a good thing). I wonder what I'll occupy my brain with when I'm back in Britain and no longer have Interesting Cultural Differences to dwell on.

So. I've been meaning to write for a while about specific events, but didn't get round to it. Generally I prefer that each entry should be focused on one event or place, as this isn't some kind of journal that I need to "fill in" on a daily basis regardless of what I've been up to. It's just snapshots Usually I just take a lot of photos all the time, then look back over them when I feel like writing a blog entry and post the most interesting ones, so here goes.

Tiffany and I took an unintentional daytrip to the banlieue, which was rather pointless but I did score the above photos as we sat by a stream, in a field, a half-mile from the indifferent apartment blocks and grimy supermarket complexes of Roissy-sur-Brie. I have no idea where why went there, but it was a nice day nonetheless.

I saw Black Swan twice.

It was Mardi Gras and we briefly joined in with the parade before finding a place that did 2.50 Kirs.

American, Brit, American, Brit, Brit, American/Brit.

A few weeks ago, a night of blossom and Bach.

Street art in the Butte aux Cailles, now that the evenings are light almost until the end of Happy Hour, this is an excellent place for an after-babysitting drink or two.

And then I went back to London for the weekend! It was my birthday party of (one of) my best friend(s) and a chance to see my family as well. London actually seemed cheap after Paris, although I've completely lost any sense of how much money it's normal to spend on a cup of tea and some cake/ a night out. At the party, we had delicious food and drink at someone else's expense, lots of people from university were there. A few people made speeches in her honour, if I had been brave enough I simply would have said "I've travelled over a hundred miles for this girl's birthday party because I have never met anyone who makes me laugh so much". Apart from the hundred miles bit, I'm sure I wouldn't have been the only person in the room to think that. What can I say? I love my friends. I was reminded of the infuriating, fascinating, hilarious, supportive, transient community I was a part of for my first two years at Warwick. Home is where my friends are, and they keep getting more and more displaced. I'm lucky in that I haven't been too homesick while in Paris, but seeing so many of them was a huge rush of nostalgia, lovely and sad. 

And next morning, a walk in the woods with Mum & Bethany. My sister loves photography too! Although  for her, it's not the apotheosis of her extremely limited creative skills as it is with me, she's actually an artist. 

My shadow over crocuses, in a field near to my family's house/home.

I have a friend who lives near the Eiffel tower, I was a bit early for a soirée (ha!) at hers last week so I wandered around and attempted an interesting take on the tower, along with hundreds of other tourists. It reminds me of the best photo I've ever taken, that one was greyscale with a flash of yellow as well. While I was there, I overheard one American guy saying loudly to his friends "Oh my God, doesn't it make you want to waterslide down it?!" to which my answer would be - NO OF COURSE NOT YOU FUCKING IDIOT. Ahem.

Last of all, my friend Dhruvni came to stay with me for a week. The weather was sunny all week, and we had fun. To commemorate her stay, here is a picture of her sitting on the butte (hill) of the Parc de Buttes Chaumont, enjoying her new favourite vice. Because if there's one thing cooler than smoking, it's smoking two cigarettes at once!

She left yesterday, leaving behind only wilted roses, baked beans and a vague haze of Vogue Menthols. Ma vie est pleine de bonnes choses, j'ai de la chance. 

Saturday, 19 March 2011


Here are some of the photos I took in Chartres. It's a pretty little medieval town, about 80km south of Paris, just on the edge of the Loire Valley. Tiffany and I took a spontaneous day trip there on the last day of the February holidays, which turned out to be an excellent idea.

It was so quiet when we first got there. It felt like the place had been deserted. As soon as I said this to Tiffany, I realised how silly that was; it's Paris that is the exception for constantly buzzing with a million people for about 22 hours per day. Chartres was just a small town on a Friday morning.

We went to see the cathedral, which is famous (at least, I'd heard of it before I got there) for its stained glass windows, which I'm told are the best preserved medieval stained glass in the world. They certainly were beautiful, as was the cathedral itself. I felt I was in a tall cave with ornamental stalagmites, with beaten sheets of jewels for windows.

We saw pretty streets like this.

Dog out of a window.

This all happened weeks ago but I didn't want to waste the photos.

Saturday, 5 March 2011


Children, queues, cartoons, junk food, piped music, souvenirs everywhere, annoying English teenagers shoving into each other in the aforementioned queues... yes readers, I went to Disneyland Paris. It wasn't really my thing, but my sister wanted to go while she was visiting me, and my German flatmate Sandra who works at the hotel there let us in for free, which saved us a cool 80 euros, so vielen Dank Sandra.

It was very, very strange. I felt like I'd eaten 56 blue Smarties in one sitting and spent the first two hours just buzzing with the visual over-stimulation of it all. It must be what the real world is like to people on LSD, or perhaps just how children see everything. Everything was over-designed; simultaneously minutely realised and totally inauthentic. Under a freezing blue sky, we saw ponds with piped waves to make the water lap against the shore like they were huge, tranquil lakes; a fake Colorado-desert style rock formation that towered fifty metres into the air; a cartoonish version of a jungle clearing complete with Landrover, a cartoonish version of a German castle, a cartoonish version of a frontier-era saloon bar. Everywhere were structures that with slightly weaker contact lenses would have almost looked like what they were representing. No, not representing, I think, but embodying, in an alternate Disney universe, for example - a Southern mansion with verandah, an African tribal hut, a Mark Twain-era steamer. And the hotel! A confection of pale pink clapboard, fairy lights, turrets and cute wooden balconies, like the whims of a 5 year old, realised by a billionaire architect. It could have almost been pretty, but like everything to do with Disney, it just tried so hard to force a desired reaction from a viewer that it failed in its aim.

Disneyland is like a futuristic Earth-themed amusement park. I imagined I was in year 5607, on the planet of an advanced alien civilization for whom Earth was the home of many long-dead cultures and societies, only now good for providing decorative inspiration. It is the least French cultural space I've been in whilst in France, I felt like I was in America. At the end of a long day, we exited the park by walking down Main Street, its booming marching music bidding us farewell, its fake barbershop and fake ice-cream shop and fake theatre lit up with thousands of too-bright fairy lights. Everywhere, there was piped music. It was relentless! I have never understood the appeal of Disney. Obviously the place is for children, and I liked theme parks when I was a child. But that was because of the rides! I don't think I ever would have been into that saccharine ideal of happiness, no doubt because Mum never really liked Disney either and trips to the cinema to see the films were never a part of my childhood. Oh well. I have heard that for those who did see the films, they feel the same way about Disney now as they did when they first saw them. Lacking this emotional connection, I just find it saccharine, and moralistic, and verging on creepy.

Sorry, Bethany.

Pretentious whining aside, the rides were good! Especially Space Mountain. And the Indiana Jones one. We screamed like children and bought photos of ourselves on Space Mountain pulling stupid faces. I had fun.

And I did take photos. Curly trees; sunset from Space Mountain; shadows through bamboo.

Snapshots of odd details from the most over-designed playground in Europe. 

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Magic city

  • The lights almost always go out on metros on lines 6 and 2 as they pull into Nation. The carriage goes dark for several seconds, it's enjoyably creepy.

  • Verlan is a form of slang created by inverting the first and last consonants of a word. I can't possibly describe the effect on a French speaker of hearing someone say teuf instead of fete, or keum instead of mec, but it's the language of the banlieue that has slowly gone mainstream to the point where pretty much everyone under 30 can get away with meuf. I think. Like I said, it would take me years to really get the tone of language being spoken, as opposed to thinking vaguely "Aah, teuf, that's the verlan way of saying fete". I have a huge urge to use it myself, even though as a white English girl I'd sound utterly, utterly ridiculous. Got a text from Alice today saying "Safe keum" which I thought was pretty jokes; I guess it's another thing I can only use around French-speaking English speakers. It's interesting though; the closest thing I can compare it to in English is cutting edge Cockney rhyming slang.

  • Once I finish my job here, I can legally, as a European citizen, sign onto the dole. 

  • It's going to be 12 degrees and sunny tomorrow!

  • I amused myself for ages this morning trying to get my students to pronounce "hungry" and "angry" different. It just comes out as "ahngree" each time.

  • Daffodils and mint are planted on the roof in pots, and I found some more pots on the street yesterday that someone had thrown out. I am planting seeds on our building's odd flat roof to make a little garden, hopefully soon there will be herbs, flowers, chairs and maybe even a little tree...

Spring is coming! Purple and yellow crocuses poke through a lawn in Pere Lachaise cemetery, taken about a week ago.