November 30, 2005

100 days of the Eiffel Tower

It has annoyed me since I moved to Paris that I don't have a camera. There have been so many amazing moments that have slipped past unrecorded and. I can't wait until Christmas to get my new camera and then it will be photo city on my blog.

Every morning, I get off the number 82 bus in front of the Trocadero fountains. I walk past a full view of the Eiffel Tower, which is 400 metres away. Every morning it looks different. The light changes. The leaves have fallen from the trees so the view seems naked. Mist covers the top and so you think that the tower stops mid-way up.

These things that we see are there one moment and gone the next. How burned into our memories should they be? The jaw-dropping beauty of my morning view always lifts my heart. I hope it always does. When I get my digital camera, I know that I will find that looking at the pictures only brings back a tiny fraction of the emotion that I felt when the experience occurred. Every morning, these times come again and again in Paris, sights of the Eiffel Tower.

"Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it"
Salvador Dali

"She glances at the photo, and the pilot light of memory flickers in her eyes"
Frank Deford

November 29, 2005

Almost French

When I was in Amman I met ex-pat teachers that live and work all over the world. One such person was a teacher who lived and worked in Norway. We chatted and I asked him what the ex-pat life was like in Norway. He sniffed loudly and pointedly told me that he could not stand those people who don't try and integrate into the host country before ignoring me for the rest of the conference.

I am reading a book that Ally recommended called 'Almost French' by Sarah Turnbull. She is an Australian who met a French man and has pretty much lived here ever since. The book is basically a collection of anecdotes about fitting in. It is well written and I am enjoying it, but I feel that she is a bit naive in her musings about integration.

I live and work within an International community. The first people that I met and the first friends I made in both Warsaw and Paris are ex-pats. I have good friends from Poland, France, Canada, the UK, America, Sweden and many other countries across the world. Don't tell me that I should spurn these people and go wait to make French friends. I work full time here and it is natural that my colleagues are going to be the first port of call for my social life.

Of course I want French friends, I want to practise the language, I want to eat French food. I, however, do not have a French boyfriend/husband that is going to give me the chances to do all these things. I have to seek out chances myself. And that takes time and effort when it is dark outside and I have been at work all day.

I am taking my French lessons. I am eating gorgeous farm-made cheese and drinking red wine. I enjoy going to the market to get fresh, beautiful food. I do my hair, put on make-up and mince around Paris like the best of Parisienne women. Some of this I like to do with non-French people I have met through work. Sue me.

"We sometimes encounter people, even perfect strangers, who begin to interest us at first sight, somehow suddenly, all at once, before a word has been spoken"
Fydor Dostoevsky

November 28, 2005

The Perfume girl

In my quest to do loads of Christmas shopping on the cheap I turned to the most fun secret weapon I know: Ebay. (To any friends and family that are reading, obviously, your gift was from a fancy boutique).

I bought four or five things for people and decided to treat myself to some designer perfume at a price that I could actually afford. I found two that I wanted and vowed not to go over 10 pounds in my psychological bidding warfare. After two days of Navy Seal style computer stealth, I found that I had won. My prize a bottle of Paloma Picasso perfume. This perfume comes in a scarlet red bottle and is made by Picassos daughter. It has been around for years and the smell sends me rocketing back into the past.

I have a friend who is a well respected and very clever paleantologist. She is the person that I have know longest. Having met her at age 9, our friendship has managed to float through two whole decades. Nowadays she is married and I see her very rarely. She is still as hilarious, intelligent and kind as she was then.

One whiff of Paloma Picasso and I hurtle back towards her bedroom, shelves full of dusty dolls that her Aunts brought back from a hundred holidays. Posters of the Stone Roses. Pink flowers on the bedspread. Spraying ourselves with perfume, believing that we were grown up, or about to be. The smell of that stuff, mellow and feminine. I loved it then and I love it now.

"The dinosaurs eloquent lesson is that if some bigness is good, an overabundance of bigness is not necessarily better"
Eric Johnston

November 26, 2005

One extreme to the other

Last night was all about the company. For the first time in weeks my Danish/American couple friends had no guests staying and so they were free to host an intimate meeting of select friends. I lugged two bottles of red wine, Roquefort and the CSI that I had promised to lend down Rue de la Prince to their place in St Germain.

What followed was an evening where the wine and the chatter never ran dry. We ate food that had been prepared with love by our hosts and their guests. Carrot Cake and Raspberry/White chocolate cake that were both home-made and melt in your mouth fluffy and light. There was Danish herring that everyone tried but me.

There was a room full of people desperate to sleep long enough to forget the week, yet we managed to get to 2.00 am without feeling the time slip past at all. There was little talk about work, and lots of talk about the stuff that happens when you let yourself forget that you spend more time at work than anywhere else. I forgot how much fun walking home in the wee small hours can be.

Now, Saturday night is ahead of me. There are no plans and there are no people. Paris is cold today, and there has been bouts of snow. No beauty attached though, the slushy grey sort that gets into your skin and makes you numb for ages. Funny to go from such warmth to such cold.

I think that I will be content tonight to sit with a DVD box-set and try to keep warm. I have a big stock of Yorkshire teabags. I have made my bed with soft clean sheets. I am ready to recieve phone calls of a gossipy nature. Ready to nest. Winter brings out reactions in us that we never really expect. This hiding away seems like a surprise after the Autumn scramble to get out and play in the leaves. Cold, as it turns out, not so hot.

"Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted"
John Lennon

"Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, 'What! You too? I thought I was the only one'"
CS Lewis

November 25, 2005

The lost wanderer

L and I had to go to the Alliance Francaise last night after school to sign up for our next lot of French classes. We got off the Metro at Edgar Quinet and after one worng street we found ourselves lost somewhere in Montparnasse.

We walked past theatres and peep shows in equal numbers and found some little restaurants and cafes that looked amazing. About 45 minutes into our wandering we found a street behind Denfert Rochereau called Rue Daguerre.

This street was filled with sparkling decorations and amazing shops. Every step we were faced with a barrage of scents and sights that made us want to stop and shop. We were so late for our registration that we were not able to take full advantage of this street though. Rest assured, I will be blogging about what we find next time we have time to have a good walk around.

How fabulous to find somewhere that you would never have gone if you weren't lost. I checked my guidebook and the area is not mentioned at all. Undiscovered? I really hope so...

"I do not seek, I find"
Pablo Picasso

"The more original a discovery, the more obvious it seems afterwards"
Arthur Koestler

November 24, 2005

The Music

When I lived in Poland I had the most beautiful of TV channels. My favourite was MTV2 and there was also 3 polish or German music channels. Most of my time spent watching TV was spent skipping between these non-stop music programmes.

Now that I live in France, and I do not have cable, I have no music channels. I feel totally out of the loop with French music. By the end of my two years in Warsaw, I could name most of the major artists and even sing a few lines from some songs. In France, if I hear something on the radio I have no idea about who is singing about what.

I also had a radio in my office in Poland and so I would listen to polish radio all day every day. It improved my language and made me love Polish pop music. Something needs to change, I need to buy a radio, sort out cable. I love my music and I strongly believe that music says something about the place it comes from. Knowing who Edith Piaf and Vanessa Paradis are is not a strong grounding in French culture.

"Without music, life would be an error"

November 23, 2005

The Real McCoy

C and I skipped away after school yesterday to go and find an American shop that we had read about. C is from the US and we wanted to see what sorts of treats we could get there. Personally, I was after some Crunchy nut cornflakes or some Kraft Mac and cheese. C wanted some Fajita stuff, so off we went to the Real McCoy on Rue de Grenelle.

It is similar to a little log cabin inside, I am sure that the idea is that it feels like an old fashioned general store. The walls are packed with all the gaudy coloured boxes that swim before your eyes in a normal American supermarket. I saw the Macaroni and Cheese, C saw the tortillas and the other stuff she wanted. Then we looked at the prices.

For you Americans to work out the euros, add a fifth of the price back on to get to dollars. For the Brits, take a third off. Here we go. For a family sized box of Macaroni and Cheese - 6 euros. For a box of Crunchy nut cornflakes - 8.50 euros. For a four pack of sesame bagels - 6.50 euros. For a tin of refried beans - 4 euros. For a pack of large tortillas - 10 euros.

Does this sound reasonable to you? Do the french have some sort of horrific import tax on comfort food for foreigners? Are the owners of the Real McCoy laughing hysterically every time some-one leaves the shop with a bag of food and 50 euros less in their pocket?

In Poland we all did what normal people did. Stuff our cases full of the things that we missed from home and forgot about clothes. The ex-pat population is so developed in Paris that they have their own supermarket! Maybe it is just geared towards posh housewives whose husbands work for companies that can afford to pay 7 euros for a tin of pumpkin for your pumpkin pie. It is not geared towards us poor teachers, that's for sure.

What do you miss most in the food stakes where you are?

"If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world"
J R R Tolkien

November 21, 2005


I always liked the cold much more than the hot. I would take winter over summer any day of the year. I always thought it was because I was a winterbaby. Born in January, used to the cold.

Like a true Brit, I have a mild obsession with the weather. The temperature in Paris has dropped like a stone over the last two weeks and I frequently find myself actually cold in my apartment and in my city wanderings. When Jo was here over the weekend I could feel the numbness in my toes.

The thing is, that as long as there are blue skies then bring on the big chill, I say. I love seeing my breath in front of my face. I adore the sensation of numbed cheeks. Shivering so much that a hot chocolate drunk on the street seems like heaven, and makes you close your eyes for a moment to really savour the warm sweetness. I love my paper soft skin, worn away by the elements.

Paris is all Christmas lights, jingly music and fluffy jumpers. How much more winter do you get than that? Now, all I have to do is go out and buy a winter coat to snuggle in to and I will be all set and ready to go.

"In the depths of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer"
Albert Camus

"Those who don't believe in magic will never find it"
Roald Dahl

November 20, 2005

Intimate portrait of the Krupnik Supplier

Jo arrived late on Friday night bringing fresh supplies of Krupnik (honey vodka) with her. We talked in the taxi and then didn't stop until the wee small hours. On Saturday morning, two showers proved too much for the tiny bathroom and we laughed as water dripped on our heads while we put our make up on.

We ate fresh baguettes for lunch and walked and walked all through St Germain, popping in and out of little shops that had fabulous clothes in the window. I didn't call D, C or L. I just wanted her all to myself, selfish. Sometimes we walked in silence, sometimes we walked with gestures, words, laughter.

We relaxed and watched American teen drama while we drank cups of tea. We caught the bus over the Gallerie Lafayette to go and see the Christmas lights at the department stores. The cold made our cheeks hurt and the lights made us smile. We caught the number 27 bus home, which drove past the Louvre, all lit up through the darkness.

Jo is focused, determined and hard-working. Last night, we sat with our hot cups of tea, red wine glowing through our cheeks. We had our pyjamas on, make-up off, hair down. The face that we show to the world was all washed off, scrubbed clean. And we sat as friends, with nothing else to hide behind.

"Beauty is how you feel inside, it reflects in your eyes. It is not something physical"
Sophia Loren

"Don't walk in front of me; I might not follow.
Don't walk behind me; I might not lead.
Just walk beside me and be my friend."
Albert Camus

November 17, 2005

Ladies day

This is a picture of me and my ladies when they were here a few weeks ago. I am second from the left.
Last night I walked past this bridge and watched the sun set behind the Eiffel tower, and I thought of them.

After school, in the spirit of enjoying Paris, D and I escaped the clutches of the cold winter evening by going for cake and coffee. In the end it was tea, tart, brownie and chocolat chaud. We went to Cador by the Louvre and after seeing the lights flickering on the water, we enjoyed a solid two hours of chatting.

It was just what we both needed, to look at the world through each others lives for a while. It helped us to see with our own eyes. After we had eaten the best Tarte Tatin in the city, we caught a bus over the river to go home. Only we found that there was a demonstration on human/civil rights down my street. We watched the protestors for a while, a sea of them stretching down Boulevard St Michel.

All it takes is an evening feeling the cold nip your cheeks to make everything seem exciting again. Paris is wide open.

"The loneliest woman in the world is the woman without a close woman friend"
Toni Morrison

"I like men with a future and women with a past"
Oscar Wilde

November 16, 2005

The gift

Amman is all done and gone and I am back to the reality of life and work in the floaty, fashionable Paris.

D and I have come back to the same topic of conversation over and over again during these last few wintery days. That of our choices in being an ex-pat. Being away from home has seemed to hit us all hard now that the sunshine glamour of Paris has faded into an oppressive grey routine. Not getting home before the darkness falls is just never OK.

D and I agree that we feel distant, but together. We miss our families, but are also with people that we are happy to enjoy our Parisienne adventure with. Reading so many ex-pat blogs, I have to ask; is there anyone who really integrates without missing a thing?

Even the grey, sad days in Paris feel like poetry. Even the melancholy that hangs over the city is felt with the intensity of a romantic novel. Paris is like Heathcliff; brooding, mysterious and intense. Sometimes we quite literally cannot see the light here.

The thing that I never like to remember about my move to Poland is how incredibly difficult that first half term really was. Minus 20 and blinding white snow can be a shock to the system to say the least. But having been through that I thought that Paris would be easier to settle in to, and in some ways it has. But when the grey seeps into your skin, it won't scrub out. Have to wait for the sun again.

"But you're bound to lose
If you let the blues
get you scared to feel"
Joni Mitchell

"As long as one keeps searching, the answers come"
Joan Baez

November 15, 2005

Amman see

The view from the front of our bus, prayer beads hanging from the mirror. The sun was so bright every day. I never talked to anyone on the bus in the morning, too much to see outside the window.

The view from the front door of the Holiday Inn in Amman. Every evening we could see the Shepherds cooking their dinner over an open fire.

Two armed Policemen standing guard over the buses that took us to and from the school every day.

The muted lights of the Mosque in Downtown Amman. The Mosque was completely open, and when we walked past on Friday evening, we could see the rows of people at prayer.

"The camera can photograph thought"
Dirk Bogarde

November 14, 2005

Warm Amman

I am back in Paris now, with only normal amounts of riot police and guns as oppose to bomb level threats as in Jordan. The last day in Amman continued to astound and emote. After the conference had finished, the school children gave a performance of a traditional Jordanian dance and sang. It was so up-beat, so happy and it really ended what had been an occasion where strangers turned into friends. The conference was about International Education and it became clear to all of us why we believe in out communities that span the cultural divides.

After this, I went back to the market down town to get some more christmas presents. This time, I got chatting to a man who told me all about what Islam means to the Jordanians. He explained to me what the Imam in his Mosque had said about the bombs and how they had prayed for the souls of the dead that evening in Friday prayers. He told me that they prayed that the people who had done this would understand that this is not what anyone wanted. He told us all again how happy they were to see us, to see that foreigners were not afraid of Jordan. I told him that I would be happy to come back and visit and that I would tell my friends how amazing Jordan was. He gave me a free fridge magnet and smiled.

We went to the best bakery in the city, which had Jordanians spilling onto the street. The owner came out and took us around the store, letting us try gorgeous little pistachio pastries that pit any Parisienne pastries to the test. He smiled and asked us where we were from, shouting 'Bonjour!' when he learned that we lived in Paris.

Never did I feel threatened while I was in Jordan. I understand that Jordan has always been a bit of a haven of peace in the Middle East and I am heartbroken that this has now changed. It has been a long time since I have been somewhere I was greeted so warmly and with such genuine feeling. I want to go back and visit the Dead Sea and go to Petra. Friendly people in Jordan.
(Photos to follow when I have some time to upload them)

"What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise"
Oscar Wilde

"The story of life is quicker than the blink of an eye,
the story of love is hello, goodbye"
Jimi Hendrix

November 11, 2005

Down town Amman

After the conference yesterday I got back to the Hotel to find heightened security. We were all checked through a metal detector on the way back in, Police still very much a presence.

Before dinner a few of us decided to go down town to have a look at some of the markets. We drank mint tea on the street and went off to buy scarves and pearl boxes. I chatted to the guy who runs the scark stall and he told me about how sorry the Jordanians are that this has happened. He said that he hoped that we would all not go home and tell people that Jordan is not safe, that it is a beautiful place that foreigners should feel safe in.

Everything is tinged with sadness, regret and fear. And yet I can see that Amman is an amazing city. It is honest, basic, religious and beautiful. I do not feel sorry that I have chosen to stay until the end of my trip. And I feel that the Middle East is somewhere that I would visit again. It is not as I imagined, it is more than I have given it credit for in the past. Safety and fear aside, this trip will have been shocking and amazing in equal measure. I hope that I get home safe so that I can have a chance to really think about what I have seen.

There was a huge, noisy Jordanian wedding in out hotel last night. The bride looked incredible. Life goes on.

"Fear is something to be moved through, not something to be turned from"
Peter McWilliams

"We don't see things as they are. We see them as we are"
Anais Nin

November 10, 2005

Bombs in Jordan

I arrived late last night about an hour after the bombs had gone off. After getting through 5 security checks we made it to the arrivals hall where we saw the news and realised what had happened. I am staying at the Holiday Inn and my hotel is fine.

When we got to the hotel we were greeted by the sight of flashing Police lights, men with guns and armoured cars. More security checks and we got to bed at about 2.00 local time. The organisers of my conference have decided not to let themselves be scared by what has happened so I am blogging from an International School conference in Amman.

There is so much more to say about this, when I have the time and space to breathe and reflect I will explain what this has really felt like.

November 08, 2005

School-boy style

While I was on the bus this morning I saw the same group of schoolchildren that I see every day. Today, one of my regulars was wearing the following;
  • A navy blue pinstripe jacket
  • A white shirt
  • A navy blue striped tie
  • Jeans
  • Prada loafers
  • A pashmina style scarf

He was also carrying a newspaper and smoking a ciggarette, yet I think he can be no more than 14 or 15. It is like he was a parody of himself.

"Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is exhausting for children to have to provide explanations over and over again."
The Little Prince

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

November 07, 2005

The Middle East

I will be spending a considerable portion of time today organising my trip to Jordan. I am leaving on Wednesdaya and will be back on Sunday after a 4 day conference in Amman.

Having travelled extensively, I have never been to the Middle East and I am nervous and excited at the same time. I think that I might be in for a bit of a culture shock, but I have not had one of those for a while so it should be good. Blogs from Jordan to add to the mix.

Wierd how airports and taxis become a familiar thing when you are living overseas. I honestly have no idea how businessmen do it. Planes and hotels every week. I enjoy these trips because they are not an everyday thing, often enough to feel safe, not so often to make you feel seperated.

" I feel about airplanes the way I feel about diets. It seems to me that they are wonderful things for other people to go on."
Jean Kerr

"To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries"
Aldous Huxley

November 06, 2005

Paris Riots

Something strange is happening in the centre of Paris. The strange thing is that there is nothing strange. The riots that are happening are in the suburbs of the city and nothing has changed within the main centre, the twenty arrondisements that the tourists are used to.

There is a calm, Sunday feel to the Jardin du Luxembourg. The hazy autumn weather has gone and it is officially cold. Nothing has touched the city, despite these amazing changes filtering through certain sections of French society.

As for me, I am going off to enjoy the last of the dry brown leaves in the JdL. A hot cafe latte, a Sunday newspaper and a couple of hundred Parisiennes escaping their small apartments to read Hemingway or Sartre in the park. That way everyone will know how clever they are.

"The shortest answer is doing the thing"
Ernest Hemingway

"We do not know what we want and yet we are responsible for what we are - that is the fact"
Jean-Paul Sartre

November 05, 2005

My Letter to Warsaw

Maybe I left you too soon, but I have never been good at committment. Seeing you again so soon after our break up brought up so many happy memories that I am left now in the aftershock of the waves. How could I know that leaving you would still hurt so much.

When I broke up with you, I knew that it might have been too soon, that there may have been more that we could teach each other. But I walked away just the same. Looking backwards is not good for either of us, the choices have been made.

What I have now is incomparable to what I had with you, but that doesn't mean that it isn't right. All I know is that I miss you, and that is not fair on Paris. I have missed you, I do miss you and today a breeze of longing floated around me as I walked around. A physical sensation that you are no longer with me.

Maybe stepping into my future will also mean stepping back to you, but I can't make you any promises. I gave myself to you and sometimes you were cold. But you gave me more than I ever gave you, and that's something that I will never forget. You made me what I am. You allowed me to breathe where before there was no air.

Maybe I will see you again on this path that I am walking, maybe not. Love is always love, even when it loses the shine of being new.

"Touch you once, touch you twice
I won't let go at any price
I need you now like I needed you then,
You always said we'd meet again"

French connection

I started my French lessons yesterday. After two months of blatant avoidance I found myself in a small room with twenty other non french speakers feeling off the chart out of my comfort zone. The fact that I spent the whole two hour panicking that someone might ask me a question hqs done nothing for my confidence.

As of Monday, I will be taking French lessons 5 times a week for two hours at a time. That is what is known as language immersion. Maybe I should retitle this blog 'Thoughts on my Language Class'.

It will be tough, but it will be worth it. It is the only way that I will become fabulously conversant as I really want to be. That will not help me though when it is after work and I have to use my brain actively for two hours every night. Come back TFT, all is forgiven.

"I speak two languages, Body and English"
Mae West

"That woman speaks eight languages and can't say no in any of them"
Dorothy Parker

November 04, 2005

Do they know its Christmas?

One of the things about living in a place and not being a tourist is watching the change of the seasons. There have been quite a few posts about the floaty leaves of Autumn and now the seasons are changing again already.

After two days of training, I decided that I was going to treat myself to a little something from Gallerie Lafayette. I love the crowds near the Opera, the mix of the real and the transitory. As I got off the bus, I saw that Printemps and Gallerie Lafayette have already put up their christmas lights.

This time last year I was gazing at the lights with J, we came to Paris for a girls shopping weekend. This year I was standing in front of Printemps wondering who comes up with the most amazing displays ever. I am not going to go into details as only 3 out of 7 are finished and I will blog about the whole effect another time.

What is it about coloured lights that screams Christmas? Is November so boring that we need quite literally to bring some light into our lives. England is not much better and I am sure that the lights are up in Northallerton. The Countdown begins. I bought my first two presents over the weekend, lots more to go. I just wish that Christmas had not started just yet.

"Christmas, children, is not a date. It is a state of mind"
Mary Ellen Chase

November 03, 2005

Frankfurter sandwiches

When did the world get so small? Coming from the Uk, this little island floating in the sea, I had a sense of distance. I knew that it was 10 hours drive to Cornwall, 45 minutes to York and a long way to the tip of Scotland. These are considered long journeys in England.

Ally has been interviewed for a job in Frankfurt, and I have to say that I am so excited that she might get it and be back in Europe. I laughed the other day at the thought that another country is considered close to me, but then, she is on the other side of the world. Fingers crossed everyone.

When I was a little girl, my dad used to sing me a song about Frankfurter sandwiches. I think it was a sign of things to come.

"All paid jobs absorb and degrade the mind"

"I've been lucky, I'll be lucky again."
Bette Davis