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.