December 30, 2005

The White stuff

Maria and I are sitting in the Internet cafe staying away from the cold and soggy snow outside. There are big fat flakes falling into the eyelashes of any-one daft enough to look up. Everyone is hunched up against the snow, and despite my best efforts, the 100m walk to the cafe has left me damp.

I thought that Paris would look very different all covered by the snow, but things are pretty much as they were this morning. Fireworks through the white glaze on New Years eve might change my mind though. So would a walk through the Jardin du Luxembourg, maybe it has turned into a winter wonderland.

Time is slipping through my fingers and soon I will be back at school. Then the days will become lighter, the sun stronger and my year in Paris will soon draw to a close. September, the start of a new school year has always felt much more symbolic than New Year. When the choices are made, 2006 will already be well under way.

"You can cut all the flowers, but you cannot stop Spring from coming"
Pablo Neruda

"If you could say it in words, there would be no reason to paint"
Edward Hopper

December 28, 2005

The waiting space

There was an American painter who painted waiting rooms, gas stations and other places where people are in transition. Edward Hopper I think, but feel free to correct me. I saw one of his exhibitions years ago and I loved the pictures. They capture perfectly the dark space that it where people wait.

I see the romance in waiting, the space between where you have been and where you are going. I am sitting in Durham Tees Valley airport waiting for my flight to Paris and the snow is falling thick and fast. Will I ever arrive? In the waiting space you never quite know.

The departure lounge is full of families, couples, lone travellers. On the tables there are cups of old, expensive coffee made by the lady who looks bored and wonders why she is on this mid-holiday shift. Kids are playing Top Trumps and bored teenages listen to their Ipods. We are all in the waiting space. The 'when will we get there?' space. The sighs and silence punctuated by the gossip that flits round as to whether any planes will take off.

Me, I love this space. It is something that I have grown to like about my travels. This quiet time when nothing can be done, and so nothing is.

"Love is so short, forgetting so long"
Pablo Neruda

December 27, 2005

Snow White

(My Dad waiting in the car to take me to the airport)

The snow is falling outside and all I want to do is lie there and make snow angels. As it is, I have to pack, make phone calls and get ready to get back on a flight tomorrow.

I am not ready to go back to Paris, I am sick and jaded from all the constant goodbyes. I feel there is no stability in my adventure and I miss the people I leave behind too much to keep going on. I think that my next move will see me stay some-where for a while. I would like to be able to go on holiday and get excited about seeing somewhere new, to feel like the movement in a more pure travel experience. In the haze of ex-pat life, airplanes, goodbyes and foreign countries I think I have lost something of my love of travel.

The street is white and so are my hopes for the future. I see more change coming, I see that I might have to slow down and look at what is important, instead of always thinking about where to get the next high. Each snowflake is unique and I look forward to a time when I can see the difference and beauty in each place that I visit. At the moment, all I see are the puddles that are left behind. The footprints that I am not there to make.

"Moving, again
Comfort of the chase
Now and again
This my saving grace"
Foo Fighters (Come back)

"You don't have to travel around the world to understand that the sky is blue everywhere"
Johann Wolfganag von Goethe

December 24, 2005

A very Yorkshire Christmas

Christmas in Northallerton is a very local affair. Maybe things have changed since I have been away, or maybe I was too close to the wood to see the trees. But it is clear that the people of this area are as fiercely proud and loyal when it comes to local produce as the most ardent of Frenchmen.

In my local shops the shelves are full of pork sausages from Masham, fat geese from Thirsk and round organic vegetables from farms a couple of miles out of town. After Christmas dinner, my family will be eating locally made cheeses, Yorkshire blue and even a locally produced Feta cheese.

Despite what the media overseas would have you believe, British food is healthy, traditional and well-made. People in this area like to support the traditions and tastes that accompany food made by people they know, places that they love. I have enjoyed my food over the last few days even more knowing the face of the family that I support by buying locally. I chatted to the man on the sausage stall about his pork and stilton sausages. He told me how they were made, where the stilton is from and I savoured the tase because I knew.

I hope that you are all enjoying the local traditions of Christmas where-ever you are. What are you loving most about your Christmas?

December 21, 2005

Great Expectations

When did Christmas become less about the gifts and more about the food? In the run up to my 30th birthday, many things seem to have changed. This might not be true, maybe I am in the midst of noticing things that have been changing for a long time. But the fact is that there has been a shift. When? When I was a teenager? When I left home to go to University?

I have a little pile of presents under the tree waiting for me to open on Christmas day. I have had a great time buying things for friends and family. Christmas has lost the bubby stomach flip that I felt as a child. It has become all about gorgeous Yokshire blue cheese, home-made stuffing, turkey sandwiches on Christmas day evening. It is an excuse to watch TV and not go out for days on end.

Is Christmas time something to be cherished? Or is it something to be survived? Does it force us upon our families? Or does it give us the chance to reconnect to the home that most of us have moved away from?

"When they are alone they want to be with others, and when they are with others they want to be alone. After all, human beings are like that."
Gertrude Stein

"They sicken of the calm, that knew the storm"
Dorothy Parker

December 19, 2005

The way we were

In the last thirty years there have been many people who have floated in and out of my life. I have seemed to pick up friends at every job, place and school that I attended. And I know that the ones that are left over and stay are the ones who will still be around to see the next thirty years.

I saw her in the new Costa Coffee on the high street. The naughtiest girl in the school, at age 12 she was suspended for drinking beer behind the Art rooms. She was my friend, I was in awe of her. I sat with Ls, chatting about the cinema and laughing about my crazy night out in Paris. I saw her that she looked and then turned away. She sat with her husband and a small baby. I sat with my expensive handbag and Parisienne clothes on. She looked happy, we pass each other every time I am home.

I went for a coffee with G, a student I used to teach in Northallerton. He is nearly 18 and looks all grown up. He was one of my favourite students, lively, engaging and honest. Me and K felt all nostalgic, seeing that he is man now. We also met M, a friend from my days at the school in Northallerton, and a friend of Ks from church. He seemed different, a little lost. Some much changes so quickly when you are away. I come back and it all seems the same but a bit disjointed, fractured some-how.

Friends from Paris are brand new, but they understand my world in France like no-one in England ever will. Friends from Yorkshire have been around, they see me through the eyes of time, having seen me come and go from here and there. All these relationships are tested, each seems to have to survive like a fish out of water every time I go away. Relationships are easier when you are there.

"Life would be so wonderful, if only we knew what to do with it"
Greta Garbo

December 18, 2005


Before York was called York, it was called Jorvik. Before that it was called Eboracum. York moved forwards from it's roman beginnings and I moved on too. Today I went back to what I had been, what I had known.

Like many Sundays before, I met the girls for a post-Saturday night brunch. We met at 'Meltons Too' on Walmgate. We odered cappucinos, tea and other fluids to help shake off the Saturday night leftover haze. It was great to see them all. We swopped gifts for Christmas, S smiled and opened hers early. I collected things to take back to Paris ready for my birthday.

We shopped afterwards, went in and out of the shops in York where we used to work. Chatted to friends still working in the heart of the city. As always, I play the role of the one who went away. The girl who is far from where she started.

York is filled with the old and the new. Things change so fast there. There is always a new bar, a re-furbished cafe, sparkling shop windows to be explored. York takes me back to the beging. To people and places that I loved.

" I tore myself away from the safe comfort of certainties through my love for truth - and truth rewarded me"
Simone de Beauvoir

"And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom"
Anais Nin

December 17, 2005

J'adore la lumiere

I loved looking down from my window seat, 1F, to the lights below. After we has crossed the Channel I could see Nottingham, then Leeds and finally the twinkling towns of the North East. The plane touched down and I was home again.

I loved the drive home, chatting to my parents, getting excited to see my brothers. I loved driving through the little villages to Northallerton and seeing how the homes were decorated on the way. Trees full of blue light, windows laced with blinking colours. I loved how the light cut through the dark.

I loved getting home and getting into my bed, smelling the smell of my family kitchen. I loved the food that my older brother had cooked. I loved seeing my sister-in-law for only the second time. I loved getting up this morning and wandering downstairs, watching the news with my Dad, kissing and hugging my Mum.

"I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way."
Pablo Neruda

December 16, 2005

En fin

The darkness in the air is palpable. I can't wait for the 21st of December to come and go so that the days start getting lighter little by little. It is 8.35 and all is dark outside still. I am very aware of how long this term has been. It's been 5 months since I was last in England, and I will be running away from school at lunchtime to go and catch my Charles de Gaulle flight at 5.25.

Here I am at last on the final day of this school term. This move has been hard, and it is well known that it takes the first term for a teacher to really settle down into a new school. I think I have done OK. I am excited about being back in the UK, seeing my family. Everything feels strange, staying, leaving, being at home again.

The end. At last.

"All flowers in time bend towards the sun,
I know you think there's no-one for you,
But here is one"
Jeff Buckley

"Make it go away without a word,
But promise me you'll stay and fix these things I've hurt"
The Killers

December 15, 2005

Pink coats and Police

Life is still a show of extremes for me sometimes. I finally recieved my pink coat that I had won off Ebay yesterday. I wore it when I went to D and Ls house for dinner and champagne, it goes down to my knees and is gorgoeus and warm. Everyone said what a bargain it was. Dinner was fun as always, we talked about everything from the sacred to the profane and squashed the giggles in-between. Saying goodbye to CO has been hard, I am in denial about her leaving. Another little bit of hilarity and friendship an ocean away.

On the way home with C, I hopped out of the taxi on Boulevard St Michel to walk the last three minutes to my apartment near the Pantheon. There was a group of about eight men stood near a wall. As I walked closer, I could see that there were 3 young men of Arabic origin and the other five were police. Two of the boys were up against the wall being searched, and the third was stood with a baton pointing at him. They didn't look like trouble to me, they were well dressed and young, open faces.

The Paris riots didn't seem like they were just images on the news anymore. How hard it must be to live in fear of being stopped and searched every time you leave the house. This was only a snapshot for me, something I saw for a couple of minutes. It was enough time to see the look in the eyes of the boys though. And the look in the eyes of the Policemen for that matter. It was midnight, and I felt the black hand of night curl round the throat of Paris.

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

"Light thinks it travels faster than anything, but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds that the darkness has got there first, and is waiting for it."
Terry Pratchett

December 14, 2005

The Beauty of Sleep

I went to bed last night at about 7.30 and slept the whole night through. I had wierd dreams, about big houses and being at University when buildings were bombed. I dreamed about rescuing one of my students after an army tried to blow up the students residences. I saw myself stood on a platform looking out at fields and buildings.All roads and paths were slanted. The harder I try to remember the further the dreams slipped away.

I slept until I woke up in the dark again. I carefully climbed down by ladder that connects my Mezzanine with real floor and put the kettle on. I made a cup of Yorkshire tea, got dressed and put on the TV on. Now, I feel almost human again. My brain is not foggy like it was yesterday. I don't need to keep rubbing my eyes. The memory has faded, and routine and reality has kicked in again. On we go now...

"Reality leaves a lot to the imagination"
John Lennon

"Black Car, with your creaking wheel,
Take away these thoughts of mine."
Jeff Buckley

December 13, 2005

The Clubbing Wars part 2 - The Folie Bergere

I have lost the battle but I have won the war. Last night I went to see Jamie Cullum at the Folie Bergere. L got us free tickets and backstage passes, and it was all very last minute. At 7.45 I was in front of my TV in my pyjamas and by 8.45 I was in a taxi zooming across the city to the 9th arrondisement.

The gig was amazing, and was matched only by the fabulous venue. Intimate, I could very much imagine the dancing girls of old being suspended from the ceiling. Jamie played a brilliant set, including a version of 'I could have danced all night' from My Fair Lady. He plays with the beautiful energy that comes from true talent and youth.

We went backstage after the gig and met all the band. Jamie Cullum and company are all the nicest of boys I have to say, and all very gentlemanly. After a few shy bisous, we were off and chatting. They were all English and we were all the interesting girls who live and work in Paris. We got asked to go to an exclusive little club called Le Baron.

Huge bottles of Champagne, smoky atmosphere and a rocking dancefloor and the night was well under way. I found myself dancing like a maniac and the time slipped past. The club is tiny, with the Paris rich, famous and bored checking each other out. Somehow 3.45 arrived and I started to slow down. I hopped into a taxi and went home, leaving D, CO and L at the club. The kept going until dawn. I am here at work after less than 3 hours sleep. They stayed awake all night. Clubbing can be fun sometimes.

What was I thinking? I have to work today, I have young minds to mould. Students that need my help. I can barely open my eyes, never mind organise anything. My brain has turned to mush. The knowledge that I can live on the edge, just once in a blue Paris moon, has made it all worth it though. I will spend the day smiling about my night out under the starlight.

"You don't get nothing from sleep but a dream"
Don king

"I lost myself on a cool damp night
I gave myself in that misty light
Was hypnotized by a strange delight"
Jeff Buckley

"I don't want to get up, just let me lie in
leave me alone, I'm a twentysomething"
Jamie Cullum

December 12, 2005

Rue du Dragon

A couple of weeks ago L, CO and I went to a place that L had found called Lilis on Rue du Dragon. It is a small New York style hole in the wall that sells brownies, muffins and carrot cake type stuff. The food is amazing and the staff are friendly, so we found ourselves keen to go back there again. So did the rest of Paris. The place is tiny and there is often people queuing out the door to buy takeaway american patisserie.

Also on this street is a shop called "Le Petit Mendigote". When we went in their before, the woman looked at us as though we were contaminating her shop. She scowled when we touched anything and puffed when she had to put the dispalys back as they were. When I went in there on Saturday, she greeted me like an old friend - 'Bonjour! Ca va?'. She must have been happy that I wanted to buy more things, also she must have realised that I live in Paris as I have been there twice in three weeks.

On Sunday night I met with C and B to go for pizza. Right next to Metro Mabillon is a place that serves the best pizza in Paris. Wood burning oven fresh. It was nice to spend some time with them, life is so busy for all of us at the moment. I walked home in the cold, nipped, rosy cheeks. Things have felt much better and brighter this weekend. I got up on Saturday to find the skies were blue, blue, blue. Told you so.

"And I never saw blue like that before.
Across the sky, around the world"
Shawn Colvin

"Now your grip's too strong
You can't catch love with a net or a gun"
James (From the song 'Tomorrow')

December 09, 2005

Lest we forget

I spoke to Jo in Warsaw last night. As we chatted she told me that there were big flakes of snow drifting past her window. It made me miss Warsaw again. We talked about the Autumn fall into Winter and how it was the same every year.

This week I have been desperate for sleep. I could sleep for 12 hours a night if I had the time, but I have not been doing anything very stressful. No more than usual anyway. Jo and I talked about how this time of year always hits us hard. Despite complaining about the darkness and lack of energy every year, it always comes as a bit of a shock.

I wonder if all us Europeans are secretly SAD (Seasonal affective disorder), because it doesn't seem to just be me. Everything looks a little subdued to me. How could we forget that this time of year saps all our energy. It also makes me reflective, and this is the time of year that my choices get made. Forget New Years Eve. It is all about the run up to Christmas. This is when the dice and rolled and the chances taken. I think I will just wait until the new year to breathe deeply and let it all out.

"To appreciate the beauty of a snowflake, it is necessary to stand out in the cold"

"I like these cold, grey winter days. Days like this let you savour a bad mood"
Bill Watterson

December 08, 2005

Le petit dejeuner

I discovered during my time in Poland that I have a freakish love of bus rides. My morning ride to work is always a treat. It's full of sunrises, watching drivers and seeing the early morning cleaning activity. The route that my bus takes is all through Montparnasse, on to the seventh past the Eiffel tower. Lining all the streets are bistros and cafes. In the morning there is a Parisienne cafe ritul that I can see from my bus. It is dark outside and the lights are on in the cafes.

People sit mostly at the bar, because many of them are alone. It is early 'I am on my way to work' breakfast. They drink small cafe noir and on the bar rests a basket of fresh croissants. They don't ask, they just take these and the person behind the bar always notices and adds the price to their bill.

The thing I like about seeing the little slice of life, is that it makes me feel a bit special, a bit less like an outsider. I want to tell them: 'I am on my way to work too'. I want to drink coffee and sigh because I know I have a day of work ahead of me. I just never leave early enough to be able to do it. Cafe Soufflot, on my corner, always has regulars in their for their petit dejeuner. Now, if only I got up at 6.00 and not 6.30, I could join them. Let's see if that is going to happen.

"Work is the refuge of people who have nothing better to do."
Oscar Wilde

"I've never been an intellectual but I have this look"
Woody Allen

December 07, 2005

Pinkie swear

Ally, Jo and I used to often talk about our friendship while I lived in Warsaw. We recognised that there were things about our relationship that was peculiar to living away from home.

Being so far from our native countries made us cling to each other. It made our friendship seem more intense at times. There, in Poland, there was no backlog of people to turn to. No family, school friends, University friends, work friends. It was just each other. We turned into all the different types of friends rolled into one. We became family for a while. We needed and expected a lot from each other. And we all managed to love each other through the expectations.

I wondered yesterday if the ex-pat life fosters these intense relationships, or if it was just us. When you are far from home, you are focused on fewer people. I am finding that the same is to be said of the friendships that I am starting to form in Paris. We seem to need each other in a different way to the friends I have back home. Do you expect more of the people in your life? Do we get more demanding of our friends when we move overseas? Or do we just need an extra bit of support at these times of change and unfamiliarity?

"Promise me you'll always remember. You're braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think"
A A Milne

"Change is the essence of life. Be willing to surrender what you are for what you could become"

December 06, 2005

Are we nearly there yet?

I feel like a whiny child. These last two weeks seem to be passing by incredibly slowly. After a great weekend, I have no desire whatsoever to be at work. There is much to do before the end of term, in addition to which I have lots of planning, shopping and packing to do to get ready for going home.

I just want to spend the day drinking chocolat chaud in one of the cafes that is punctuating my Christmas wanderings around Paris. When I am on the bus in the mornings, I want to stay on there. I should keep going one day and just see what Paris is like on a Christmas weekday. I can just see myself, wrapped up warm. I would walk and pop in and out of fabulous shops. Maybe I would go to the Louvre, become part of the crowds there. Would anyone notice that I was not at work? Would I care if they did notice?

So, here is a question for everyone: If you were not at work today, what would you be doing?

"To many people holidays are not voyages of discovery, but rituals of reassurance."
Philip Andrew Adams

" Don't threaten me with love, baby. Let's just go walking in the rain."
Billie Holiday

December 05, 2005

The Clubbing Wars

Saturday night saw the ladies carrying on the party spirit by going to L'Etoile and dancing until the early hours. I enjoyed their company over a dinner at Seraphin and was happy to let them go off without me.

I have never been big into Clubbing. When I was living and working in York I would find ways to get out of the inevitable move from pub to club at last orders. While I was a student I would find myself clubbing often and I am sure that this is where my feelings of disinclination come from.

Going clubbing is always like putting yourself in a beauty pageant for me. It is lovely for those of us that are so attractive that they find admirers among the men that watch and assess. I was never one of those people, and I like it that way. It heightens that feeling of being picked last in PE lessons. It gives me that 'why not me?' feeling. And I have to say that I do not care for these emotions.

So I give the clubs a miss. When I go to York, I can pick and choose the times that I end up in a club. The preconditions are as follows:
1) It has to be a themed music night, eg, seventies, RnB or Rock
2) It has to be with a big group of friends. Lots of people to chat to, dance with, circuit the club with
3) I have to not wear high heels. This makes me hate clubs most of all. Not being able to sit down while hot coals burn the soles of my feet. Not fun.

Maybe I am too old now to go clubbing. Maybe I just never had the right temperament. They just don't suit me. You know what I love about clubbing though? Hearing everyone elses stories when they come back in the early morning. Can't wait to have a creme with D tomorrow and find out what those girls got up to while I was curled up in bed...

" Don't tell a woman she's pretty; tell her that there's no other woman like her, and all roads will open to you"
Jules Renard

"The best colour in the whole world is the one that looks good on you!"
Coco Chanel

December 02, 2005

The Autistic boy

I have learnt so much since the start of term. Those regular readers know that I work with children who have difficulties with their learning. This year, in Paris, I work with a 14 year old Autistic boy.

He is severely Autistic, but also high functioning. It is likely that he will go on from school to University, and have a steady job. Watching him learn is astounding. He is not a genius savant, like Dustin Hoffmans character in Rainmain. He is hard-working and he is rigid. He has an understanding of the world around him through a set of rules that don't always follow the social rules of non-autists.

This week there were problems. Then I had meetings. Emails went backwards and forwards and I felt like I understood him a little better. I spend hours a week with this child and when I met his mother this week and she explained to me what he is like at home a light switched on in my head.

I like my job. I like the kids who have difficulties. Mostly, I just like talking to them. I like to play the role of the calm teacher, being the one that never gets mad at them. The one who gives a bit of help, a lesson a week where they can understand and not feel stupid. This week has made me think about home. The kids come and go through my hands. Support one year, gone to another school the next. But the parents. They have this extra thing to think about forever. It can be positive living and working with these kids. The parents don't go home at the end of the day and forget. They go home at the end of the day and cope.

"Don't be scared of anything at all
Everything we have is all we need"
Snow Patrol

"Come closer, that bonfire holds his life like stones
my years, my life unknown"
Jeff Buckley

December 01, 2005

The two faces of modern children

I had a horrible encounter at work yesterday. It really makes me sad thinking about it. I work with an Autistic child who is 14 years old. He is an amazing person, clever and creative. The other students don't understand what is different about him and the way that they react when there are teachers there and the way that they react in their social time is very different.

Yesterday, I saw them, but they didn't see me. I saw them teasing him and laughing at his reactions. Children are cruel, they are horrible to each other without realising how much damage they do. In some ways, I don't blame the other kids. Teasing and joking are their way of working out natural social order. I just wish that this process could take place with more compassion, just a little bit of understanding for the difference of others.

On the way home on the bus I was so blue and sad that this child had to feel anxious. Sat beside me were two teenage boys. Blinged up, long, baggy basketball tops. Expensive Ipods, skateboards under their arms. They were talking to each other in slang, swearing. When an old lady with a walking stick got on the bus, one of these boys did not hesitate to stand up and say very politely, 'Would you like to sit here Madame? It's really not a problem?'. She and I both smiled all the way home.

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle"

"Make it go away without a word
But promise me you'll stay and fix these things I've hurt."
The Killers