Friday, December 30, 2005

Welcome to Lille

Well, I’m slowly finding my feet. They’re slipping about all over the place in the ice and snow, but my feet are there, nevertheless. And I haven’t gone bottoms down onto the pavement yet either, so I’m pretty proud of myself all in all..
The new and improved daily grind isn’t so terribly grinding either (yet). The work varies between routine and mildly interesting, but the staff are friendly, the food is hearty and cheap and in such startling abundance that I'm hastily searching out fitness clubs. Also, 9.30 starts, free tea and coffee, could be worse.

Still, there's nothing worse than having to sit on your purse after a stint at unemployment until your first paycheque comes through...oh the anticipation, oh the delight and oh the bitter disappointment when you behold the rat-like tendencies of various administrations gnawing away at your salary via a bunch of Miscellaneous Unexplained Charges with codes like Intf5sec and ProSray2.5%. By the end of my last work contract, I was actually earning 4 euros less per month than at the start of it. And I had coffee to pay for people. Coffee!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Flanders


lille place rihour
Originally uploaded by Nyx.
The place, not the Simpsons character....
So here I am in the North, this means I'm going to have to possibly change my opening blog paragraphs and everything isn't it? Sigh, life is too difficult..
Everything has gone smoothly thus far and I only wish I has some time to whip of some well penned witty observations about how I'm finding things, but I'm lacking as much in time as I am in wit, so here be another drive by blog posting until such time as the guy in the office across from me finds me something to work on before I have to dash off and catch one of my very infrequent trains. Yes, the Flemish countryside, like the Parisien suburbs, can have a pretty haphazard transport link. But what I will say. About the trains. They have ticketmasters on them. With whistles. If you are running for your train, and you're really not even sure that it is your train anyway, but you'll give it a go and see where you end up just for the hell of it...the Trainmaster is there with his whistle. There to stop those train doors cruelly slamming in your face and leave you standing in the fog for the next century. They can also tell you if you've just made a dash for the right train or the mystery express. It's a pretty good metaphor for the rest of it really.
Anyway, must dash, the fog - well I'd say it was descending but it never really lifted - and I can hear a whistle in the distance....

Merry Christmas all.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

whimsical jester bunny


whimsical jester bunny
Originally uploaded by Nyx.
so, it's decided.
I've been accepted for my first temping assignment up in Lille, starting Monday. Monsieur, for his part, has two job interviews lined up before christmas already, so if he manages to get himself something before my own placement is over (late Feb) then Lille is officially our new home. Well, more MY new home, for the other half it's more of a return journey.
I've got my Christmas shopping sorted, my mail sent, my tree decorated...
Now I just need to go pack. Sigh! Again. I move way too often.
Entries might become a little patchy (because they been, like, so consistent lately) for a while, though I imagine I'll be spending weekends in Paris often enough in the New Year.
Merry Christmas all. :)

Friday, December 09, 2005

Gahr!

Yes, I'm talking about the gas heater again. Deal with it. It is the only real drama and conflict in my life, this ongoing hate-hate relationship I have with the heater and the heater repairman.
So we decided to get a second opinion, I scouted around online til I found a society with a sufficient number of accolades (member of the consumer protection agency, approved by licensed tradesmen, free quote, back massage, false platitudes)
Anyway, so I gave the guy the lowdown.
And well, what a total surprise, the repair company have a shoddy work history and we've been ripped off blind. Gee, I couldn't have figured that out on my own.
Anyway, he said fixing it would be pointless and we should get a new heater. The fabulous irony of this is that I did have to pay him a callout fee, so I paid someone to be told I was being ripped off. I feel like suing someone.(or is it sueing? don't ask me, english is just my first language)
So sorry Pip, the apartment is going to be a mite nippy (lucky I bought that oil heater, it's the only thing between me and hypothermia). Ok, ok it's not that cold in the apartment - yet - but it is rather brisk)
The boyfriend also has an upcoming job interview up north, if we both suddenly land jobs like that (snap fingers), then I'm going to get a tad suspicious. Especially after all the crap I've been wading through here over the last 6 months. You could argue karmic equilibrium, but frankly me and karma??? Let's just say I'm fairly convinced I was a bit naughty in some former lives.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Happy/Not Happy

Ok, so first place temp I walk into in Lille and they get me an interview for a bilingual assistant job for 3 months (the company even looks reasonable - an energy group owned by Veolia environment)

Happy

Have avoided not having to live with the pseudo inlaws should I breeze through next weeks job interview (ok point of note here, lovely people, really. But on no account could I live with them for more than two days without going psycho-crackers) thanks to my pseudo sister inlaw offering me a room at her place (the teeth grinding tendencies seem to have skipped a generation)

Happy

Got lots of presents, bought decorations, beer, and it's not even Christams yet

Happy.

Heating has broken down again. I'd love to wash my hands of the whole affair, but a friend of mine is coming to visit next weekend. I'd really like to offer her a warm place to stay. This situation with the heater has just got way out of control. How can a thing break down so systematically without deliberate intent?

Not Happy Jan.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Mostly I'm watching the telly...

Just quickly then...
1. New series of Doctor Who, well done beebs! (the intro music still gives me that tingle down the spine that I had back when I was 12 years old, the props are still suitably second rate, and the new doctor is charming)

2. Joss Whedons next experiment after Buffy 'Firefly' - a sort of frontier country and western sci-fi set 500 years in the future. Damn you Wheedon and your zippy script quips.

3. Finally got my ID card paperwork in the processing mill. Except the photos were wrong. I went to a frigging id photo place 4 months ago SPECIALLY for ID and passport photos, and they stuffed the format up (I discover the correct format, well, 4 months later). I have now condemned myself to a crappy bad hair no make up sallow washed out hair pulled back too severely type monstrosities that proclaim me to be me. Damnit.

4. Going pavement pounding round Lille tomorrow to see if I can't score myself something. I'm taking the obscenely early train, horrors.

Monday, November 28, 2005

snow


snow
Originally uploaded by Nyx.
We got an early taste of winter this weekend, so it was something of a relief that in his last money-sniffing visit, the heater repair guy was able to pull his thumb out of whatever plum tart he'd stuck it into long enough to actually do something vaguely resembling fixing it. The overflow spout now leaks instead (every time he "fixes" it there's a leak that moves location, it's quite a thing).

Also we have severe interior condensation problems, especially in the bedroom that has two walls that connect with the outside world. This reminds me too much of the beginnings of what I was lucky enough to send the end consequences of back in the LAST apartment.

I've managed to control the interior window condensation but the entire wall is just one big wet spot, including the inside of some cupboards, which I luckily rummaged around in this weekend or there'd have been a big tearing out of hair a couple of months down the line when I found a stash of mouldy wet blankets, books, documents and suitcases.
Ok, I've lived in the tropics, I can deal with mouldy damp walls and such, but this is rivulet territory. And its like minus 58 outside or something, so I can't really open the windows. Well, I could. But as soon as I close them again, it just comes back in a few hours. I guess I could crank the heating up AND leave the windows open. That'd work, right?

So how bored are you reading a posting about interior damp then? Given up yet?

This is another reason I need to leave town. I want a different apartment. Again.

I got proactive and went to the unemployment office last week(the half that deals with the unemploymentness and not the money). They basically said they couldn't help me. Thats it, I've been categorically advised by employment services that I am beyond help. They even gave me a bit of paper to prove it. All my other jobsearch news is boring or depressing, or both. But I might punch the next person who tuts sympathetically and exclaims how absolutely inconceivable it is that I'm having such difficulty finding work. Especially if they're a person who has my cv in front of them at the time.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Fashion fallout zone



Fashion tip for the day: Sometimes, just sometimes, naked would've been a better choice.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

And some good news for a change...


teddy bear tea party
Originally uploaded by Nyx.
Branson looks to plant waste for jet fuel

Tired of skyrocketing jet fuel prices, Virgin Atlantic Airways boss Richard Branson says he plans to turn his back on hydrocarbons and use plant waste to power his fleet.

"We are looking for alternative fuel sources. We are going to start building cellulosic ethanol plants (to make) fuel that is derived from the waste product of the plant," he said.

"It is 100 per cent environmentally friendly and I believe it's the future of fuel, and over the next 20 or 30 years I think it actually will replace the conventional fuel that you get out of the ground."

Mr Branson did not say where Virgin would build its factories or how economically viable cellulosic ethanol would prove.

"We are in the early days," he admitted.

He says cellulosic ethanol "is the by-product you get from the waste product (of plants), the bits in the field that get burned up" as opposed to ethanol, which is produced from fruit or corn for example.

Mr Branson's Virgin Group has a 51 per cent stake in Virgin Atlantic as well as interests in Virgin Cargo, Virgin Nigeria and Australia's Virgin Blue.

He says the combined fleet is almost 100 aircraft.

"We use around 700 million gallons of fuel a year between the four airlines," he said.

"I hope that over the next five to six years we can replace some or all of that (with ethanol)."
(This is very similar to my own approach regarding my bloodstream - my edit, Branson didn't say that. Pity)
- Reuters
______________________________________

Some of the UK's most environmentally sensitive upland lakes and streams are recovering from the impact of acid rain, the government has said.

Acidic sulphur in Britain's water has generally halved in the last 15 years, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said research showed.

In around half of 22 sites monitored by scientists, invertebrates and native algae were showing signs of recovery.

It is thought that emissions controls and greater use of natural gas instead of coal is aiding the reduction and boosting fish, plants and insects.

Since 1970 there has been a 74% decline in sulphur dioxide emissions from 3.8 million tonnes to one million tonnes in 2002, and a 37% decline in emissions of nitrogen oxides.

The switch from coal to gas in both power generation and in the home, while being mainly for economic reasons, has also meant a lot less pollution

In some sites, acid-sensitive mosses and other aquatic plants were found for the first time in 15 years.

And at three of the most acidic sites identified, juvenile brown trout have recently been found for the first time since 1988.

Other examples of improvements include the River Etherow in the Pennines which has experienced substantial reductions in biologically toxic aluminium.

Also, the Round Loch of Glenhead, in Galloway, and Llyn Llag in Snowdonia - both with a well documented history of acidification - have seen stands of aquatic plants return.

Ben Bradshaw said the research highlighted how measures brought in by government were starting to bear fruit.

"New strengthened measures such as the implementation of the Large Combustion Plant Directive will help ease the situation even further."
________________________________________

Monday, November 14, 2005

Hausseman at Christmas

fragments

Jacob put me on to this article. Long, but a very solid and complete background into the history of race relations in France today.

Puzzling fact for the day
Shorts and stockings seem to be the current autumn fashion thing. Last year it was pants tucked into tall boots. Next year I expect the latest accessory will be a frigging HORSE to go with all the country club fashions.

Latest goss.
I met her. Lucky me :)
(ok, that is NOT sarcasm in case anyone decides to artificially implant some sarcasm in there and ruin my feeble social life)

Literature:
Finished war of the Worlds. The Martians all get a cold and die.
I haven't watched this yet, but I found out that this was made at about the same time. And that it was totally faithful to the book. And that it was a complete and utter pile of crap,chock full of appalling acting and bad fake moustaches.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

oh, the incompetency

Gaaaaaahr!
When will this reign of incompetency end? I should preface this with a disclaimer that this is not another Paris is worse than anywhere else on the face of the planet rant. Incompetents are everywhere. You name a place, and I'll pretend I'm worldly enough to know something they're spectacularly incompetent at.
Darwin, Australia: Processing construction permits
Adelaide, Australia: roadworks
Hanoi, Vietnam: Driving
America: Tact and diplomacy in world politics.

Paris, France: Read the blog.

I got a recorded message call today from the ANPE (employment agency). Telemarketing to the unemployed? Hello? We're looking for work. Just call us ok? We'd like the opportunity to chat with someone once in a while. So I got this message, recorded by someone who was clearly learning how to talk underwater and say complete phone numbers in under 0.5 of a second (seriously I had to listen to the message FIVE TIMES to get it). Anyway, I called the number, because they'd made it sound like I meant to, and the old dear on the other end didn't know very much of anything about it and was asking ME questions to specify (I'm sorry, the mermaid didn't elaborate, search me).
Earlier in the day, I connected to a public service website to try and find out about the precise conditions to be eligible for a particular type of work contract (there's about a zillion of them, contracts for one legged people with headlice, blind people with urinary tract infections, young people, old people...nothing for spectacularly pissed off 30 year olds with Masters degrees though, funnily enough). First number was wrong, second rang out and third was a paid service (I'll get onto that later), in which the lady on the other end, in a spectacular display of empty grammatical prose, managed to explain absolutely nothing. 'It means what it means' was the best I got out of her (and when it doesn't mean anything at all? What then huh?)
Yeah, so paid services. A lot of phone numbers to unemployment agencies, social security, dole offices have per minute rates. People, who by definition have no money, have to pay to try and do something about it. Explain that one if you will.

But despite being perpetually pissed off and such, I did a good deed today, I weighed an old ladys grapes for her because she couldn't see the buttons on the scales. She thanked me for not telling her to get lost (serious).

Monday, November 07, 2005

Dancing on Merlins Tomb

I lost about half my leisure time stuck in traffic jams over the long weekend. There should be some sort of law against other people wanting to go vaguely in the same direction as me during holiday periods. Spent a couple of days in Saint Brieuc, Brittany, much to the chagrin of the local crustacean population. In Brittany we beach-comb food, mussels, oysters and an assortment of hapless crabs to violently kill and consume in the form of a bisque which, much to my surprise, did not result in my untimely death by food poisoning. Other cultural pursuits involved potatoes, Merlins tomb, fest-noz, crepes and cider.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Riots

You've probably been hearing some news about riots going on in this part of the world. I've had a few 'hope you're ok!' messages from some dear friends who like to worry, so in case you're thinking along the same lines, I thought I'd post this up...


The Seine Saint-Denis and Seine et Marne areas of the north/north-east of Paris have long been problematic zones, with large numbers of poor immigrants, high density housing, few services, and an urban landscape to make you weep. The sort of activities of late - burning cars, destroying property - aren't new, it's simply the length of time (a week) they've been going on is unusual. Apparently the standard average is 5 or so days. There are incidents of this sort fairly frequently on the whole. They think there might be more problems tonight, I guess we'll see how it develops.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Fly agaric



Toadstools growing in a field. Brittany, France

Friday, October 28, 2005

It took how long??



Oh yeah, I saw this last week. Hi-freaking-larious. Seriously. It's crazy how much they make me laugh. Remember, during the giggles, that they shot an average of about 10 seconds a day in the making of this film.

It was a toss up between the Japanese and the Russian publicity poster. Russia won.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

queue DNA

I'd love to know what's lacking in the DNA sequence of the average Parisien (yes, I'm complaining again, call it a hobby)that renders them totally incapable of possibly, just once, waiting for their turn. If one more person pushes in front of me in a line, especially when they get between a starving me and a tasty hot waffle (actually, it might've been bland and disgusting, in my experience they lose any capacity to make a good waffle otside of the country formerly known as Flanders)then my grinding teeth might finally crack, that throbbing vein in my temple might finally burst. And, dammit, I might just actually say something. Gosh darn it. I might just say 'excuse me, but I was next in line'. I'm warning you. Look out. Just, look out.

The heatings on the blink again, so thank god for global warming eh? And I think our hot water time has been shortened by another minute. Frankly I don't think they'll be satisfied until we've forked out at least 5 000 euros just so they can leave us with a gas heating system that no longer actually supplies hot water or heat.

I'll deal with it when I get back from Bretagne, I presently lack the mental strength to deal with it messieurs-dames.

Monday, October 24, 2005

All I want for Christmas

Is a cattleprod.
I know, I’m getting in early on my Christmas wishlist, but a cattleprod – used as it is currently and indiscriminately on zapping poor cows, instead of as it should be ; on zapping pesky humans – is just what I need.
I could go on at some length about the number of people that need a bit of zaaaap !ing at this moment in time. I expect I shall. First on today’s candidate list is my boyfriend – who I don’t grizzle about much (even though he deserves no less). But today he’s getting grizzled about. And my aren’t I happy that he’s not particularly capable of reading this blog. But frankly, unless he gets back to doing more productive things with his weekend (namely, entertaining ME), and stops whittling away the entire two days glued to whatever bloody goddamn computer game he absolutely must finish honest-I’ll-only-be-a-little-bit-longer before he can concentrate on the real world long enough to say, do the dishes or something, then he’s going to feel the zappy steel pretty soon. One thing I would like him to be honestly-finished-with-soon is the damn ferret cage he started on about 2 months ago. Yes you read me right, a ferret cage. Because one day he decided that he absolutely must get a pet ferret. Which would have been fine as far as half-arsed ideas go if he hadn’t got around to building a cage shell before he got distracted by another half arsed idea. Consequently, we have sacrificed a half metre square out of our not so very grand total of 44m2 for an imaginary pet. That’s a little more than I’m willing to share.

Second on the list of he-who-should-be-prodded is the gas heater repair guy (who, during the process of robbing us blind decided to have a dig at those sneaky embezzling Jews, but managed to annoyingly stay just within the borders of actual racist slur, so the best one could do was to sit and wait to pounce saying ‘hmmm, really ?...riiiight’ until that very moment – which he craftily avoided – that one toe goes over the racist slur line). Anyway, if you haven’t been reading this blog like, since, forever (and why haven’t you ?) you’d know we have an on-again, off-again love affair with a lousy gas heater and a lousy gas heater repair guy. Well, we had a quote to get mud shifted out of the pipes, and an appointment was made. Within about 3 minutes he was trying, once again, to get us to buy a new radiator rather than repair this one. The main problem here is that a) new radiators cost about 2,000 euros, b) the landlord is in South Africa. And c) I’m not willing to make that kind of decision for anybody. What ensued was a totally unnecessary telephone triangle while we sorted this out. Eventually the repairman’s boss yelled at him over the phone to just do the bloody work he’d quoted for and stop pissing about. Which was better than paying 2,000 euros, not to mention much more fun to listen to. Because my stupid boyfriend decided to take the quote WITH him to work, and accidentally on purpose delayed coming home so he wouldn’t have to speak to the repair guy, we got overcharged. The heating is sort of working now, but it’s still being quite temperamental. Much like me.

Third on my list is everyone who frequents my local post office. Without actual lane markings the French, it seems, are totally incapable of forming an orderly queue to save themselves. This, coupled with the fact that our local post office is only ever staffed by a maximum of one an a half people at any one time, means I have already managed to lose 3 years of my life waiting in a post office melee - especially interesting when I've only lived in the area for 7 months. The whole crowd dynamic in our post office seems to go like this;

*Only two out of the maximum 3 booths are ever open. No matter how large the customer crowd is

*Both booths are filled, one seems to move along relatively quickly, the other seems to always have a person with some unimaginably long problem to sort out. The staff member doing the sorting is generally on the point of having a nervous breakdown


* The rapidly moving booth closes temporarily for no apparent reason. The sign thanks us for our understanding.
(This is a fundamental difference between English and French cultures. English culture apologises for the inconvenience - French culture thanks you for your understanding. Which assumes a lot.)

*The "queue" starts well back from the booths, and works for about 4 or 5 people before degenerating into a rugby scrum that looks something like a herd of sheep bunched up at the back of a paddock (I think my Kiwi genes just showed through there).

*As slices of my existence are consumed whole, individuals advance to be served, but the queue doesn't. You see, the new front of the line person never seems to think that MOVING FORWARD might be a good idea. This continues until you have a vast empty expanse of floor space in front of the booths, the herd of sheep are still bleating at the back, and the crowd extends out onto the footpath.


In case you were ever thinking that I don't write to you often enough...

The final prodding candidates are, of course, everybody else (except for you, I probably like you a lot) - the pushy public transport users, maniac drivers, diagonal pavement walkers (you know the ones, walking slightly slower than you, so you're gearing up to do a pavement overtake but during the time you've been catching up to pass them on the empty side of the pavement, they've managed to sneakily veer across to your side just in time to totally block your path as you're about to pass, old people are spectaclarly good at it), people who rant incessantly on their blogs, administration etc etc etc....

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

sunrise


sunrise
Originally uploaded by Nyx.
One good thing about shrinking daylight hours, you don't have to get up at a horrific time to appreciate a good sunrise. And I certainly wasn't the only one to appreciate this one today.

Every season has its advantages, and a 4 season lifestyle is something I missed in the two season monotony of Darwin (though never experiencing cold has its good points too). The late summer transition into autumn - especially when it's a dry, sunny, mild indian summer kind of changeover, is one of my favourite parts of the year. The slight chill in the air, the smell of woodsmoke and leaves in early decomposition, chestnuts, pumpkin, figs, grapes and duck...to name but a few of the seasons ingredients. Yesterdays trip to the supermarket turned into one of those extreme overindulgence sprees faced with the enormity of choice in the fruit and veg dept. Normally I'm more prudent - no least of all because I live on the 5th floor and we have no elevator. A slight overindulgence can mean the difference between a good workout and putting your back out as you haul the caddy up the stairs one.by.one.

Brilliantly stupid short headline on todays Yahoo home page in the Entertainment Section regarding a possible return of that brainless series 'The Simple Life' starring the girl who shares a name with a hotel:
'Life not Dead'
Genius.

Stunning sunrise



in the suburbs of Paris.

Monday, October 17, 2005

spooky old bones


heart
Originally uploaded by Nyx.
I did fully intend to go to the markets, visit the catacombs AND take a little trip outside of ile de France this weekend. Oh well, one outta three ain't bad.
Visiting damp tunnels full of centuries old skeletons is probably not everyones idea of a great day out, but there's something I rather like about roaming about in tunnels. And if there's one thing that Paris has got a lot of, it's tunnels.
These particular tunnels were originally limestone quarries - some dating back to Roman occupation (of what was then Lutece). During the late 1700s, there were severe problems with overflowing graveyards and poor burials - especially in the region of Les Halles (once a famous marketplace, now a tragically designed commercial district). To combat the disease caused by these unsanitary conditions (becoming even more problematic during the revolution), it was decided to transfer the bodies to the former quarry sites and create mass graves.
I'm not overly squeamish when it comes to bones, skeletons, slimy toads, slithery snakes, dissections, blood and all that sort of stuff - probably my biology training shining through. There's something very anonymous about this sort of experience though. Graveyrads at least give you an indication of who each person was. Lots of plaques with short prose throughout the tour to remind you that this is the fate that awaits us all (cheerful!), and you find yourself wondering, as you looks at the rows and rows of skulls, who they were, how they lived, how they died. Though its sure that these old bones get no rest with all us tourists wandering through day after day.

Here's some other fun info about the catacombs (from Wikipedia)

* The chamber walls are full of graffiti from the 18th century onwards. In the 19th century some families even lived there.

* Victor Hugo used his knowledge about the tunnel system in his novel Les Misérables.

* During World War II, some Parisian cells of French Resistance used the tunnel system.

* The arrangement of the bones, as well as the ominous signs placed here and there, were made specifically for visitors in the 19th century.

* Burial chambers are only a small part of the full amount of galleries under Paris. The total amount of underground tunnels is more than 300 km.

* In theory, entrance to catacombs is restricted. However, enterprising souls can enter the tunnels through certain places in the sewers or the subway system, as well as through manholes in some streets.

* On rare occasions drug dealers, addicts, eccentrics and those who want to keep clandestine meetings or unusual parties frequent catacombs. Most of the explorers who visit the catacombs today are adventurers or urban explorers.

* Legally speaking, going into catacombs has been illegal since November 2, 1955. There is a 100 € fine and a special tunnel police. Some of the most dangerous places, especially in the center of the city, have been closed.

* While most unofficial visits to the quarry are safe, there are still hazards in such activities. The map of the tunnel is complex; while some of them have plaques indicated the name of the streets above, this is not the case of most, and the complexity of their layout can be perplexing. It is thus necessary to have a good map of the tunnels, and possibly the company of people who have made such trips before.

* In September 2004, a hidden chamber with a movie theater run by the Mexican Perforation group (a French artistic movement that seeks to convey their ideas in underground places) was found by the French police in the Catacombs of Paris.

Friday, October 14, 2005

I had my first real proper French job interview today. When I got my temp job I sort of had one, but I had already been referred by the recruiting agency so it was just for show really (though a lot more nerveracking than this one despite that). It's been a very tough slog through the job market this time around compared to when I first arrived here - peppered with (ahem) tempting offers to work on calldesks or doing data entry (I settled for the data entry).
I have sent cvs off to every environmental organisation I can come up with. Part B has involved sending off my resume to quite a few temping agencies, my cv looks in 100% better shape than it did a year ago and my cover letters reek professionalism and reliability. And I haven't heard a single word from anyone.
I almost had a job, a couple of weeks ago, teaching english. That fell through in the most catastrophic way possible. Which was a real shock - and a very stressful period. I could sort of see the entire thing imploding around me since the woman in charge did a 180 in her attitude towards me and NOTHING I could do was capable of changing it. Every phrase I uttered was wrong and subsequently criticised, and saying nothing was equally incorrect. By the end of 10 days my nerves were shattered and I still hadn't seen a work contract. Asking about it, and wanting to know how many hours she was thinking of giving me, only convinced her of my apparent lack of interest in the job and only in the money, and so she fired me. As it were. It was pretty much a no-win situation.
At the moment I feel like I'm existing in a void, and I'm becoming less and less sure where to turn next, what other avenues I could try, who I could speak with. I've canvassed about everyone I can possibly canvass, and I'm missing a crucial support network - the one that's there when you're totally fed up and out of ideas. In about 6 weeks I have no more unemployment benefits and I have no idea what this will mean for my daily life and my relationship if I'm still jobless. If I am even able to stay in Paris. It's not even a question of putting career-relationship in any particular order. But it's true that there is a certain element of pride involved. I have been working fairly average uninspiring jobs since I was 18 (and earlier), all with a view to 'when I finish my studies'. And I have. And I did pretty damn well at them too. If the only job that's ever going to be offered to me in this city is data entry, then there's really not much point.
I won't hear about the outcome of this interview until next week. I'm up against a lot of other applicants, and even if I am selected, there will still be a second interview to get through. But at least its nice to know that someone, somewhere, noticed my CV.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Glass Act


Chihuly at Kew - Sun
Originally uploaded by Nyx.
Right, I have a confession to make. I have, in the last year or so since being in France, become a world class glass breaker. It's a nasty little secret I've been keeping to myself for a while, but after tonights latest mishap (er, and the one from two days ago) I thought it was time to come clean.
This condition has changed my life in various subtle ways. Choice of foodstuffs in glass containers is now more frequently based on the becomes-a-glass-when-its-empty factor than actual quality of product (to tell the truth, those nutella and mustard glasses are actually pretty sturdy), I find myself not minding so much that glass sets are sold in threes rather than twos or fours - I know a break will come along soon enough to even things out, I gaze longingly though shop windows at exquisite sets of coloured designer glasses, sigh sadly and move on. Whats worse is that I've had to face the fact that my disease is contagious, my boyfriend also has minor symptoms - which brings our combined average up to 2 or 3 casualties a month. I've tried alterantives - a couple of ceramic goblets, and more recently some wooden ones. The wood makes the wine taste a little strange, and one of them has tiny flaws in the grain which cause the wine to seep through, but I am content in the knowledge, as I tip the funny smelling wine to my lips and drip red wine all over my lap, that THEY WILL NOT CRACK IN THE SINK. Or maybe they will. My disease may cross all material groups for all I know. This never used to happen. I have lovely glass sets back in my stuff-in-boxes in Australia. But the longer this progresses, the more I wonder about the sense in unpacking them at all.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

pigeons attacked my roses

Strange but true.
Now on the hunt for a psycho pigeon-killing cat.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Customer relations

While the French are very good at…well, let’s take ‘making stuff’ as one example (pastries, alcohol, atomic bombs), they’re not really so good at, well, selling it. Adding to the paradox are the gleeful tourists who will nevertheless fork over wads of euros for some genuine bought in France articles (often made in Taiwan though). It’s no wonder they havent’t learned their lesson yet. My most recent experience came from todays’ shopping expedition (yes, even almost broke, I can still manage to shop – probably because I never have to buy petrol or cigarettes). Laden down with an armful of fun new autumn wardrobe articles, I politely asked the lady at the cash desk if I could lay them down on an unused side of the counter and keep browsing.
‘No. You can’t. You’ll need to hang onto them. Sorry’
(Personally I think the tacked on ‘sorry’ came in response to the ‘what reality did I just step into ?’ look I gave her).
Normally I’m used to being chased about the store with offers to liberate my puchasing hands if they spot me not weeping profusely and still actually clutching to a saleable article after exiting the change rooms. Once the hands are free, more unbought goods will magically be attracted to them. It’s one of the first basic principles of female shopping. Paris is the fashion capital of the world. EVERY SHOP SHOULD KNOW THIS RULE. Still, stopped me overspending, so I guess I can only be grateful. It’s very difficult to pick things off clothes racks when you’re already drowning under your current selection.

Which brings me to this mornings twilight zone event. My boyfriend decided to start hopping about at around 7am insisting I call our local Tribunal Office today to get an update on my French Nationality dossier, which I’d handed in sometime back in April. I don’t know what put this particular bee in his bonnet, but he was all set to call them himself if I didn’t. Not being able to adequately convince him (because I hadn't had coffee yet) of the sheer futility of attempting to converse with these people (who are not from Earth) I assured him I’d do it myself. I'm perverse like that.

Me : ‘Hi, I’m calling about my French Nationality certificate. I know you can’t transfer me to the person in that office, but I thought you might be able to give me a general idea of how long they might take to process. It’s been quite a while now’
TO : Oh, yes, they can take a long time, up to a year sometimes !
Me : ‘Gee, that IS a long time. Still, thanks for letting me know. Bye !’

Ok, sorry. This is only my fantasy daydream of how this conversation SHOULD have gone if I was not swallowed into the alternate hell-reality that is French administration (note, what follows is a very condensed version)

Me : ‘Hi, I was wondering if you could help, it’s about an application for French nationality I made a while back, I was just wondering how long it usually takes,’
TO : No, sorry, I can’t help you. You’ll need to come in and speak to the person responsable
Me : Um, yes, I realise you can’t put me through to that person by phone, but I only have the one small question – I just wanted to know how long the process generally takes.
TO : I can't put you through to that person by phone. I can’t help you, you’ll need to come in yourself.
Me : Ok, the thing is, it’s quite a long way for me to go there, and to then have to take a number and wait 45 minutes just so I can ask ONE question seems a little bit stupid to me. No offense. Do you know anyone ELSE who can help me ?
TO : Possibly xxxx. You can reach them at xxxx
Me : Right, and they’ll be able to tell me how long I can expect to wait for my paperwork
TO : (what ? Are you stupid ? tone) oh, no way. They have absolutely no idea about that sort of thing. They don’t deal with that stuff at all.
Me : o-kaaaay
TO : (pause) Was that your question ?
Me ; Well, yes.
TO : Well the length of time it takes is HUGELY variable, where you’re from etc, any delay is quite normal
Me : Is longer than 6 months normal ?
TO : Sure, it can even take up to a year.

Woohoo ! I tricked an admin helpdesk person into GIVING ME INFORMATION. Within 5 minutes too. I must be getting the hang of things !!

Note: If anyone is asking naively...'Hey, I thought she was French? What's all this about?'
a) so am I
b) Because I am only a half blood creature born outside of France, and even though I have a passport, and can work here, and pay taxes, and get social security and unemployment, I can't get a simple ID card without going through several thousand hoops. And even though a passport is just as good, you can bet that one day someone will make my life difficult because I don't have an ID card. I'm also fed up with carrying my passport around in my wallet, mostly because it'd be a pain to have to pay for a replacement if it got stolen.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Prague


Tynsky cathedral at night
Originally uploaded by Nyx.
Sometimes I feel slightly guilty only staying a weekend in a city I've never visited, in a country I've never visited. The backpacker in me wanted a good couple of weeks to follow the roads less travelled in this country I know nothing about, speaking a language I don't understand. That said, I have a pretty good talent for figuring out key foreign words pretty quickly. In this instance, though, I think it was limited to beer, wine, exit and thank you.
More than anything, this trip was an opportunity to catch up with an Australian friend for her birthday. We're old housemates from Darwin, and shared a really amazing 18months living together in a beautiful tropical house (back in 2002-2004), and drinking lots of red wine, griping about boys, having crazy theme parties, the usual stuff.
So, only having Saturday and Sunday to play, my impressions of Prague are quite brief, wooden toys, amazing art, marionnettes, spires galore, cold! I had a great time on a limited budget, even managed to splash out on a few small paintings.
In non-travel related news, things aren't going so brilliantly. Certain plans are unravelling at the seams, and I can't seem to figure out where the loose thread came from. Sorry, that's all a bit vague and metaphorical, but in other words, I don't really want to discuss it at the moment. Mostly work related, before anyone starts thinking up wild scenarios. There's some things I need to sort out before I can go back to enjoying the leisurely pasttime of blogging, however.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Powder Tower



Prague, Czech Republic

Tynsky Cathedral at night



Prague, Czech Republic

Good luck



John of Nepomuk being thrown into the river for refusing to divulge the secrets of the confessional. He was since made a martyr and if you rub this plaque on Charles bridge it is supposed to bring you luck. Prague, Czech Republic

Ginger and Fred



The Dancing Building. Designed by Gehry, Prague - Czech Republic

Prague horses



Carriages leave regularly from in front of the Tynsky cathedral to take tourists on tours through the city. The exposure in this shot is all out, but I like it anyway.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Visitations

The real kind, not the spooky 4th dimension stuff. September looks like it's going to be a social month for me - for a change. A welcome change. I certainly need to do something to get my social life reactivated. Just getting used to not seeing people isn't a really workable solution. So, last week an old friend from New Zealand, now living in London, passed through. Haven't seen him since I was slumming it in London at his place a year ago. Technically my official London residence remains his lovely house near South Kensington. Spent a lovely evening having dinner, talking about new things and old things, and enjoying a grand view towards the Notre Dame on a warm night. Then he gave me his flu, so most of the last week I have been cooped up in the apartment with a head full of pseudoephidrine. This week a friend from Australia (my Adelaide years) will be stopping over in Paris for a couple of days, so I can play tour guide again. Maybe this time I'll put on a better show of pretending to know where I'm going. Then finally, it's a birthday catchup weekend with my old housemate (also now living in London) - though this catchup will be in Prague. A city I've never visited and heard only good things about. So I'm trying to get an online airline ticket definitely purchased before Friday - my first try didn't work for unexplained reasons (unexplained reasons make me nervous when my bankcard is the subject).
Not the best month for purchasing airline tickets - financially. This month is tax month, and the Monsieur has had a whole months salary eaten up by the tax machine (and car repairs, and rent, and night class enrolment). He's even asking to borrow money from me, which is always a bad sign, seeing as I'm generally a half-step away from broke at the best of times. I haven't quite grasped the tax system in this country yet. As far as I can tell you have to pay twice - once out of your periodic salary, and once at the end of the financial year. Tax reimbursement for low income earners does not exist as a concept here either (as it does in Australia). Still, if all goes to plan this year, I too will have a nice big tax debt this time next year (the woman from the English teaching school did get in touch with me in the end, looks like I'll be starting work in October).

Monday, September 05, 2005

Being mean


so many sharks
Originally uploaded by Nyx.
Metro entrances in Paris have a double barrier entrance. First you pass your ticket through the reader the go through a turnstyle, then you push open a metal door behind it to continue on through. It's a pretty common habit - especially among younger guys - to follow people through and get a free entrance by jumping over the turnstyle behind someone and holding open the metal door before it shuts behind the person who's just passed through it. The turnstyles are pretty easy to jump - if you're not eighty, but once the metal doors are closed, they lock in place.
There's something about being followed through a turnstyle that really gets on my nerves. I hate that someone has used my ticket as a get in free pass. I do let people in who ask to pass through with me, that's not a problem. It's just when you see them sneaking up behind you out of the corner of your eye...argh! it drives me mad, maybe it's a personal space thing, or it's just the arrogance of someone using you to exploit the system, dunno. Anyway, yesterday I'd had it - one guy was mid-leap behind me, I turned around as I passed through the door, raised an eyebrow, said 'you think so?' and slammed the metal door shut. He was stuck. He was pissed. I was amused. I guess being mean can be fun sometimes ;)

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Picasso Museum



Museums in France are free on the first Sunday of every month. Contrary to the UK where they're free all the time...
Paris, France (3e arrondissment)

Friday, September 02, 2005

Katrina

I think about 80% of the population were able to get out of New Orleans before the hurricane struck. Most of the people that stayed behind probably didn't do so out of choice. People without a car, people too old or infirm to move, people who had no money to pay for a way out. And they expect these same people, who have probably been at the receiving end of lifes' big crappy boot often enough, to play nicely in the aftermath. To encourage them to play nicely, some 'freshly returned from Iraq' soldiers have been ordered up to kill some of their own countries citizens.
Help is on the way? insists The President. Help in the form of US troops with M16s? Where was the help BEFORE the hurricane? They didn't expect the levees to breach? Oh, please...here's an extract from a risk evaluation document dated from 3 years ago;

* Most of the city is below sea level and has an at-risk population of roughly one million people.

* It experiences land subsidence at a rate of 5 mm per year.

* The global sea-level rise is currently 2 mm per year, but is expected to accelerate two- to four-fold in response to global warming.

* There is limited evacuation potential in the area.

* The area is protected by deteriorating coastal defenses that are presently only effective against category 3 hurricanes.

* The city is located in a coastal area that is frequently subjected to large hurricane storm surges. One example is Hurricane Camille in 1969, which made landfall in nearby Mississippi with a 22.4-foot storm tide.

* The area frequently experiences locally heavy rainfall (especially during hurricane landfall) that contributes to flooding.

But I'm really glad the oil is safe though. I was certainly worried about the oil.

"President Bush said he expected Saudi Arabia, a close ally of Washington in the Middle East, to do "everything it can" to provide the US with more oil." (BBC)

Because the increasing hurricane frequency since 1995 certainly couldn't have anything to do with increasing and persistent fossil fuel consumption...

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Difficulties

My mother wonders why I keep things like 30 year old hand held eggbeaters in storage. Here's why... I've been trying to hunt down an eggbeater for days now - to make a chocolate mousse. Which is, as an aside, one of the first things I learned to make, and was certainly the stuff of legend back in high school if I do modestly say so myself.
So, back to the batteur…After a 3 day succession of shops being closed, shops not stocking the eggbeater attachment for my hand mixer - and requiring a week delay and several forms to order said attachment,shops not stocking old fashioned hand powered ones either, frustrated stomping round the streets of the banlieu...one of those ‘my god this simple task is turning into a Homerian epic’ reached its climax of utter stupidity yesterday.

Finally I found one in a large supermarket, after walking for over 3km checking every plausible shop on the way, picked up a made in China piece of junk practically weeping with relief, and made my way to the checkout. Where it was rung up for a grand total of 28 euros. And herein began the long process of finding someone sensible to do something about it. To cut a long and tediously boring story short, the matter was resolved without the need for me to resort to physical violence, but what really struck me about this little humdrum misadventure was, that of the 7 (SEVEN!) or so people that I had to speak with to get what was clearly a simple pricing error sorted out, half of them tried to convince me that this WAS the actual price. 28 euros. For a junk quality hand powered eggbeater. When electric eggbeaters sold for 23 euros. Because thinking outside the square to ‘there has been a mistake’ was such a great mental leap.

This story in itself is as tedious and urbane as hell, I appreciate that. But sometimes it can be interesting to dissect even the most inconsequential events of daily life, it can tell you a lot about the ingrained attitudes and behaviours of ordinary folk.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Bad blogger!!


lion fish
Originally uploaded by Nyx.
Bad!
I've been overly neglectful of my 'let's talk about me some more' site for the last few weeks, mostly having come down with a severe case of can't-be-arsedness. Which is funny, considering I have actually had things more interesting than my local bakers shop changing ownership to talk about. What's with that?
So the down south holidays round the beginning of august were good. Got a tan, saw some great scenery, fulfilled a few smallish life goals, all that sort of thing. The story of what I did and where I went is pretty self evident from my Flickr photo site - I might get more descriptive if I have some procrastinating to get done sometime this week, we'll see...
This past weekend we decided to leave summer behind and head up north again to visit a great aqaurium in Boulogne sur Mer called Nausicaa. Despite the fantastic November all-year-round weather they can get up there, I have a little fondness for the north. Though good sense tells me to head south and look for some sun, I really don't mind Flander-y France.
Nausicaa is a marine aquarium exhibit with a heavy focus on ocean ecology and sustainable use of the world ocean resources. The English language (sometimes a little dodgy) translations on everything were also a treat, though the excessive number of children had me making up involuntary shark food:small annoying children feeding ratios in my head. Yes, I'm brimming with maternal instincts, really.
My dearest other half seems to be going through one of lifes' spring cleaning periods, with a dedicated interest in taking up further study (in something essentially unrelated enough to raise at least one of my eyebrows) and a backburner approach to the idea of buying a property - at least not in the ile-de-France region anymore. The english instructor job is hopefully still in the works, though my repeated phonecalls to get any kind of schedule confirmation haven't met with any success yet...

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Carousel racecourse



Carousel in the Tuileries. Paris, France

Boating in the Tuileries



A popular summer pasttime for kids. Tuilerie gardens, Paris - France

Monday, August 15, 2005

Daily Bread

Some new change that's been gnawing away at my daily routine and equilibrium. My favourite baker has shut up shop and her bakery has been taken over by new management.
Bakeries are probably the only establishment to outnumber pharmacies in a country where bread in plastic bags that is designed to last longer than 24 hours is relegated to some obscure back aisle of the supermarket. And choosing the right one is a tricky process. Bakery A does great pain au chocolat, but the croissants are too salty. Bakery B has superb buttery croissants but the chausson pommes is too gluey. Bakery C has lovely crusty baguettes, but their brioche isn't sweet enough. And even when they get it all fairly right, they also have to be NICE. You visit them every other day, so someone a bit more amiable than just tolerable is always welcome. Our last local baker at Saint Ouen was fairly sour, and her pain au chocolats were pathetic (cheap chocolate), so I was chuffed, upon moving, to find a lovely bakery very close to us, with great produce, not too expensive, and a charming funny lady running the place. It was with great dismay that I saw the 'closed - change of ownership' sign up in place a couple of weeks ago. It has recently reopened, and I have popped in once. But everything is more expensive now, the resident cat and kitten have departed, and strangely enough - I feel like a bit of a traitor...

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Roman arena



Arles, France

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Course camarguaise



A popular sport in the Camargues region. The aim of this sport is to remove a tassle tied between the bulls horns using a 'crochet' in a time limit of fifteen minutes per bull (normally a match involves several bulls). It's a fun sport to watch, lots of action and not at all bloodthirsty like the Spanish equivalent. Arles, France

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Camargues



The wild Camargue horse is found only on the watery plains and salt marshes of southeastern France.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Church



A church in the hills around Moustiers St Marie. Provence, France

Moustiers St Marie



A popular tourist spot in Provence that specialise in Faience pottery.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Lavender field in Provence



Such a cliché image, I couldn't resist. This was actually a field by the roadside and during the few days I was in this region I drove past it several times a day. There was always quite a few cars stopping to take a picture of the field. Maybe the most photographed lavender field in France?

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Hill top church



Sanctuary in the most unexpected places. Gorges du Verdon, France

Topography



Trekking through the Verdon, Provence - France

Trekking through provence



Cadière de brandis, Provence - France

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Aperitif hour



There's something about the lighting in this photo which I really like. Provence, France

Grapevine




Detail on a wall in the town of Groeux les Bains, Provence - France

Chateau at night


In the town of Groeux les Bains, they have converted this old chateau into an open air cinema. Provence, France

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Au secours j'ai 30 ans!


Au secours j'ai 30 ans!
Originally uploaded by Nyx.
Yup, that's it. The big three oh. Had to happen eventually right? Well for me, it happened on Friday the 29th. Monsieur decided I should start my new decade half dead and with a severely sore butt, and took me horseriding in a forest by Fontainebleau. I was rather inexperienced, the horse was admirably tolerant (thanks Bill!!) and despite storm warnings, the rain held off long enough for a dry days riding. In the evening there was another surprise in store as I was treated to a dinner at Le Procope. A very stylist café with a very long history, first founded in 1686, and reported to be the oldest café in the world still operating. Originally a literary café with patrons such as Voltaire, Rousseau, Balzac,Hugo, La Fontaine, Diderot, and Benjamin Franklin. During the revolution, Robespierre, Danton and Marat used the cafe as a meeting place. This history does nothing to decrease the price of menu items, let me assure you...

Next week I shall be taking yet another mini-break and heading off to trek the Verdon in Provence, plus a quick visit to the Luberon, Camargues and Mediterranean coast. Leaving a few days after the great holiday changeover weekend should hopefully subject us to less traffic hassles. This weekend is regarded as 'black' on the colour scheme of how bad things can get on the roads, as it is known as the crossover period for the 'Julyists' (juilletistes) and the Augustians (aoûtians) - ie people who holiday in July returning, and people who holiday in August leaving. Only in France would they come up with such a naming concept!

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Gold shoes, Silver Dior



High fashion in the Madeleine district of Paris.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Ye Olde France


castle and clouds
Originally uploaded by Nyx.
OK, I've done a few things lately, I haven't just been slouching around like an unemployed down and out in Paris type bohemian wannabe.
Ever present on the list was the continuing visits of potential apartments to buy, ever present were the themes of good bad and ugly. Having had to reconsider his upper credit limit after visiting his bank, the Monsieur is looking at a different class of apartment now (ie the 'needs work' sort). My general feeling on this is that he's better to buy a rattier, smaller apartment in a good area (and renovate) rather than a larger, nicer apartment in the middle of WhereTheHellAmI-Ville.
Anyway, we saw a great little place that just screamed extreme bo-ho chic potential. When visiting apartments I've found I not only pay attention to the view, placement, noise (and reasons for selling), but just the unquantifiable vibe that the place gives me. Well, this place certainly needs a fair bit of renovating, but it had all the karma of an early 20th century traveller-writer den. We'll need to do some follow up analysis, so it's another wait and see situation.

Cinema-wise, we decided to take in the latest Tim Burton work - Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Obviously the childhood version was an integral part of my youth cinema memory, but as I'm much more of a fan of Roald Dahl than any interpretations of his work, I wasn't feeling too leery about seeing it. Overall I liked it, I think they developed the family structure much better than the first film, there was a dash of postmodern irony, a critique on society, a healthy serving of cliché, also - the Oompa-Loopas were cool. Though they didn't really need to be as small as they were. The resultantly obvious bluescreening just detracted from the flow. There were also a few unneccesary add-in to the literary storyline, but nothing drastic.
Oh, and still on cinema talk, they've done the Hitch-Hikers Guide Film. The preview looks really good. It always makes me nervous when the preview looks good. It'd better be good dammit. I can live with Star Wars additions being crappy, but the Hitch-Hikers Guide were defining adolescent books. So I'll be most put out if they've not done them justice.

So finally, this weekend, in between the showers (don't get me started on the weather), we popped over to Burgundy (Bourgogne) to check out the chateau of Guédelon, a project that already 8 years in the making to build a 13th century castle using only the skills and technology available in the era. Already feeling like we'd taken a step back in time while trundling through the rural backwaters of the Yonne region, this just added a little extra flavour of medieval authenticity. Being as I am, in such a densely populated area now, I forget how sweet the country air smells. And despite the showers being slightly inconvenient, the smell of damp woodsmoke, damp leaf litter and clean air was worth it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

belgian beer bubble


belgian beer bubble
Originally uploaded by Nyx.
Ahhhh, back from the mini break, refreshed, suffering insomnia due to 4 days of broken sleep patterns, missing 9am appointments etc...

So our little jaunt took us up to a tiny town in the Pas de Calais called Bonningues (Bonningues! C'est dingue!)
where we stayed at a friends
mothers place. Quiet (except for the roosters, kill all roosters), bucolic verdant, we set about trying to add some dischord into the harmonious countryside by a series of sun soaked party days, late night bbqs and drinking fests.
Aside from the bbqs and badminton, we also indulged in a little beach jaunt up to Wissant (does the wind EVER stop blowing on the northern coast?!?)
Wissant, as an historical aside, was the beach from where Julius Caesar launched his attack on England. The English, however, can be said to be getting their own back these days.

So in the end, though I was a bit loathe to leave, we had planned a drive up to visit some friends in Brussels - mostly to pick up a tent that we'd left at a friends house last year.

This group of people we know by a different set of circumstances, specifically via a web community. Online encounters make up a small percentage of the people I know, but I have met quite a few cool peple this way. This guy I know in Brussels constructed a Bulletin Board System Web community for francophones, which I joined up on last year a few months before leaving on my travels. My idea was that a) I'd practice french with people my own age, and b) I might also make some contacts and get some free floor space to sleep on during my backpacking (how mercenary). Both of which happened. But in constructing this website, what this guy had done was also create something of a game within it - which one wasn't necessarily obliged to play along with however. So the community actually has a system of hierarchy and power play interwoven within it. Which some people Take.Very.Seriously.

In itself it is an interesting study of human behaviour and the psychology of power, but every time I visit, my friend has a new group of young power hungry hangers on loitering around - the same story with different faces. People who will profess to be 'above' all the banal power hungry psychology, but who - in their very next breath - will extol some virtue of their individual line of online hierarchy. That said, this web community does actually have a lot of positive and interesting aspects, which is why I continue to participate...albeit sporadically.

And in the end, the tent had been commandeered by the Gods of Lost Objects, so it was a bit of a wasted trip.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

House and home

Monsieur is back on his idea of property buying in the greater Paris region. So we've done a short round of the good, the bad and the ugly these last few days. First was worst - we took a train to a very faraway suburb (Poissy) to look at a 3 bedroom unit that needed to be demolished from the floor up. Part of a system of HLM buildings (low cost housing residences), the guys mother-in-law had recently died - and no disrespect intended - looking around the state of the place, I wasn't surprised by the news. He was obviously desperate to offload the place onto a poor sucker as quickly as possible. After making the right 'hmmm, yes, interesting' noises, we immediately beat a hasty retreat and marched briskly back up the industrial scenery highway, choking on the dust thrown up by all the passing trucks. Number two was in a high rise village - round Meudon le Foret. The sheer density of high rise apartments was a bit off-putting, though the apartment itself was ok.
'So how about, instead of travelling an hour in every random direction, we concentrate on apartments in our immediate area that we can visit on foot? After all, we quite like it here, and the next door suburb is essentially devoid of high density apartments, and is quite leafy and tranquil' I suggest.

So the last apartment, less than 1km away, utterly utterly charming. I don't think you're meant to find the perfect apartment after the third try though are you?
Anyway, monsieur has 2 job interviews and two financing interviews before Wednesday, so we've decided to take it easy this weekend so he can quietly panic in peace. A proposed trip to Belgium has been postponed till next weekend and I'm just applying for jobs and planning some 'oh crap I'm turning 30!' activities for the end of this month. Thanks to Aussie Lass who put me onto a language school in Paris. There's a possibility that, if I'm still on the jobsearch in September, I may have work with them. Never underestimate the power of female networking!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Sight bites

Funny thing I saw today down in Ye Olde Red Light Districte (Pigalle). I go there every couple of weeks to have a friendly chat with the lady taking charge of my unemployment situation. When you sign up for the dole, you actually have to sign up at two places - one is the Assedic, who are responsible for the payments, the recorded telephone messages to tell you no-one is available to take your call, and the curiously lengthy delays in processing your monthly payment. The other is the ANPE, who are responsable for training, advertising work placement and personal job searching assistance (which is in turn outsourced to another service provider). Are you following? Good.
So I had the option of signing up for personal assistance, which I decided I might as well do than not, especially as the monsieur gets fidgety when I ask him to look over my application letters.

'No, you can't say that', 'What are you trying to say there? I don't understand'
'Oh I don't know, write this instead' (writes some terrifically convoluted passage)
Me: 'er, could you make it shorter and less complex?'
'I give up! I don't know, I can't tell you why you can't write it the way you did, you just can't, can I go now?'
Me: 'Can we at least finish the first paragraph?'

Anyway, I figured someone who was being paid to look at my cv wouldn't develop a sudden need to go and buy a loaf of bread in the middle of our discourse, and the meetings are actually quite cool and laid-back. Today's session, for example, was about 85% chitchat and 15% brass tacks.

Anyway, it was on my way to the red light post office that I saw this amusing transaction. I don't know why this couple caught my eye - maybe because they were speaking English. At first I thought this guy was being led around by a friend who knew the area. Then;
Lady: 'Let's just stop at this club for a minute'
Gent: 'Ummm, well, I'm not really sure'
Lady: 'Don't worry, just for a minute ok?' *Handshake* Look I guarantee you it's fine, we'll just quickly stop here'
Gent: (famous last words) 'ok, but I'm not spending any money'
(Look up: Peep show/ Live Acts/ Kiss your cash goodbye)
Yeah, you show her who's boss tough guy! Ha! I laughed so loud I inadvertently caught the attention of a magnet (you know, the ones that try and draw you into their establishment) - and had to quickly readjust my 'do not mess with me or I will poke you in the eye' makeup.

So this other strange thing I saw, I was walking past a shop on one of my local street when I spied with my little eye, something beginning with 'that's one of my photographs'
The local Kodak guy, doing a bit of 'get your digital camera shots developed here' advertisment had 'borrowed' FOUR

of my pictures (out of a total of five) for his flyer. First off it caught me by surprise, seeing my pictures unexpectedly like that, and I popped in to say 'hey, these are my pictures!'. Though after getting home I did ponder more over the fact that each of those pictures is copyrighted on Flickr, and technically he's taken these pictures without permission and is using them for commercial purposes. But on the other hand it's only a small business and I get my pictures developed there.

So I'm not totally sure about what to do about it - I decided perhaps the next time I go in that I'll let him know that he's used copyrighted images, and to ask permission next time - and to get his assurance not to distribute the images either.

Speaking of disregarding legal responsibility, some moron broke my mobile phone - not actually mine, a friends that was loaned to me that I had intended to return this weekend. It was a Saint Ouen flea market salesmen (I was buying a battery) who dropped it on the pavers, and it's been acting up ever since (and the markets are only open on weekends, and a full of notorious ripoff merchants and 'fell off the truck' salesmen). Between people ripping off my photos, breaking my phone, and the next door cybercafé sleaze who tried to get my phone number when I went to print up my cv, made me wait 20 minutes for a free computer and didn't bother to inform me that his printer had no ink....I'm staring to wear my molars out. Fixed the printer problem buy yelling at my boyfriend ('How am I expected to work under these conditions?!?' ....'er, let's go buy a printer shall we?'), the phone by switching batteries (ingenius), and I'll book a dental appointement next week...

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

tripe and trivialities


Lille Horloge
Originally uploaded by Nyx.
It's been at least a week since I've had a decent nights sleep, the heat had been oppressive, and I have not stopped missing my precious overhead fans. As another Australian has been quick to clarify, it's not the HEAT that we are having trouble tolerating, it's the pollution, the reflected heat off the cement, the stale air that doesn't move. The only thing that makes air circulate in the greater Parisien region is the fumes coming out of exhausts.

So when I woke up on Thursday morning, to the sight of a pinkish brown haze out of my kitchen window, I figured a long weekend out of town might be in the best interests of my lungs.
With the heat and humidity becoming heavier, and a thickening dark cloud covering the sky in a very Mordor like fashion, we got a taste of the flipside of the heatwaves....storms. A decent tropical style storm. Except this isn't the tropics...and the water conduits are not designed for a months rainfall in 40 minutes. Roads flooded, cars became immersed up to their headlights. We were already on the way out of town when all hell broke loose. A combination of peak rainfall and peak hour. Water cascaded down stairs into metro stations. Traffic was blocked in every sense.

Well, onto the North. Where - can you believe it - it was even hotter. 41°C on Saturday. But cleaner at least.
Stayed once again at the pseudo inlaws. Lovely people, really. But Flemish down to their little meat and potato-toes. Call me finicky, but when its 36°C, give me a tomato and a carrot.Do not drown me beneath a barrage of creamy sauces, meat, potatoes and various other stodge.
One night at a restaurant - perfect occasion to order a salad, finally. Now I was the only person at the table that seemed to consider vegetables as a food group - but how did they foil my perfect enjoyment of my luscious salad? They ordered tripe that's what. THREE.OF.THEM.
Really, I'm fairly open minded when it comes to food, but I draw the line at fried pigs intestines. Well, nothing to do but smile weakly, discreetely cover my nose against the wafting sewer odours, and chomp down on my lettuce.

In pursuit of more tasteful cultural activities, we went to see the 'festival of the Giants' in Lille. Enormous wickerwork creations - every town or village has their local giant personnage, and it's a tradition dating back to the middle ages. Several times a year, they dust themselves down, and participate in any one of several regional cultural events.

But for now, back to repairing the nutritional damage of this past weekend, wait for the next set of storms (later today), and track down a nearby swimming pool.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

A mind field

It was really great to switch back to speaking english for a bit. Kind of like a vacation for the brain. Rattling on at 100 miles an hour, not wondering when I'd stumble across a missing adjective, awkward sentence construction, whether that was meant to be a feminine or masculine plural (more difficult to disguise than my generic gender 'leh', which, if you say it quick enough and softly enough, can pass for either). Once you get into plural adjectives though, there's less room for bluffing.

While all of that stuff is a bit stressful for the language centre, every now and then it provides a great source of amusement - for others (it's character building to be laughed at right?) This mostly happens with words that SOUND similar, or have an english equivalent which SEEMS logical (faux amis - false friends)

Which has resulted in the following examples:

orteil - toe
ortie - nettle
As in 'toe tea is a good blood purifier'

preservatif - condom
conservateur - preservative
As in 'The amount of condoms in food is really worrying'
(note, said during a date...)

une ride - wrinkle
un rideau - curtain
As in 'we need to buy some wrinkles'

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

London Calling


Funky ride
Originally uploaded by Nyx.
So in an effort to get away from my partner for a few days, blow some cash and hang out with a girlfriend (all for the sake of boy-girl diplomatic relations...what with this heat and both of us now loitering round the apartment *teeth grinding*), I decided to take a quick jaunt over the channel and spend the weekend in London.

Ahhh, London. Where people apologise for the mere possibility that they might have almost got in your way, where drivers stop to let you cross the road even if you don't have right of way...Makes a nice change from getting perpetually whacked in the solar plexus by enormous briefcases carried by completely oblivious businessmen, and run down on pedestrian crossings when the walking man is green.

(This could be a gripey post, someone downstairs is renovating an apartment, and I've had a constant whack whack whack whack background noise all day)

London was great though, we had brilliant weather (the start of the latest heatwave), got a sunburn, burnt a hole in my wallet, visited the markets, went to Kew gardens, watched BBC, went 'how much?!' a lot, spoke nothing but english for 2 and a bit days. Lovely.

Got back, happily exhausted, only to find Ben had locked us out of the apartment (we only have one 'uncopiable' key, and the inevitable 'locking it in the apartment' finally occurred). Ideally I'd have preferred this didn't have to happen after I'd spent 8 hours on a bus though...(post travel serotonin wearing off as need for shower and bathroom facilities becomes more and more pressing).

So after a call to a locksmith, an industrial strength grinder, an annoying downstairs neighbour looking up at us through her door, window, window, door, clutching her child like WWIII was about to start (call it revenge for the number of times the little person has woken us up at 3am), a conversation with the across the hall neighbour whose boyfriend wanted to scale the wall over to our open kitchen window (ie kill himself), and about 2 hours, we finally got inside. Luckily we were able to do the standard 'the burglars tried to get in' declaration and claim it on insurance, because I don't want to scare non francophile readers into knowing how much that sort of business costs. But it's at least as much as a plane ticket to the other side of the world (always a viable plan B if you couldn't face the cost I guess).

The only other major news is that there isn't any. We're still in major indecisiveness territory about where we're going and what we're doing. Toulouse is still an idea, but so are a few other locations - including Bens hometown of Lille (which I also quite like, though the weather isn't exactly south of France). In the end, I probably will refrain from discussing anything more on the subject until we have made a firm decision.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

And finally


London Big Ben
Originally uploaded by Nyx.
Off to Londonium this weekend

Glee!

How many MORE of my favourite things can possibly be combined in one event? Roald Dahl, Tim Burton and Johnny Depp! Oh the torture of impending release dates.

Don't touch that, you never know where it's been

I caught a shrew!
I just thought I'd share that with everybody.
Actually, someone's pet cat caught it first. I just swooshed in to do some rescuing and exclaim over it's extreme cuteness and pointy noseness and such.

This is about as exciting for French countryside residents as saying you caught a mouse, but it was a shrew, and I'd never seen a real live shrew before.

That is all.

Monday, June 13, 2005

June in the Dunes


Dunes
Originally uploaded by Nyx.
Feels like I haven't blogged for a while, nothing much to discuss recently. But this past weekend was a fun trip up to the northern coast to hang out at the seaside(ish) apartment in Merlimont (if you can't find it on a map, it's near Touquet - or Boulogne if you can't find Touquet)

After the always-fun exercise of getting Ben out of the apartment and into the car, and removing yet another parking ticket from under the windscreen wiper, and getting onto the highway, getting lost, and after the unfailing interrogation of 'did I pack this and that and the toothbrushes' (and after inevitably turning back because he's forgotten something), and geting lost again, we arrived several hours later at the little town of Merlimont
Merlimont church

(which, for all future reference, is where his parents have bought a holiday unit - in one of those detestable model village home affairs that always has an artificial lake in the middle)

We spent a large part of the time in the neighbouring town of Touquet,
Touquet

a resort town that was once particularly fashionable with the English upper crust (post WWI) and has the dubious honour of being the place where PG Wodehouse was arrested by ze Germans in WWII. Nowadays it's an overpriced tourist resort whose highrise beachside apartments and nighttime flashing neon signs drown out the charming belle epoque style buildings. But it's worth a tour nevertheless.
Our night was spent enjoying a sunset
sunset from the dunes
trek along the dunes, a drink at an overpriced pub playing bad 80's music, and a meal at an overpriced restaurant serving bad italian table wine (which we sent back after failing to find any alcohol content in it whatsoever - the waiter placated us by saying it was a hit with English tourists. Lesson 1 in how to placate French diners; insult the English).

Sunday was more of the same - with more beach and dune exploring and less time in town - oh, and another parking ticket (!!) because contrary to pretty much everywhere else in the Western world, Touquet (who have decided they're not quite rich enough yet), only charge for parking ON THE WEEKENDS, and not on weekdays. And how many people - lured by icecreams and carousel music - get caught out, do you think...?

The doors

Oh, and in very mundane yet exiting news, I drove back. My first time behind the wheel in a year (!), and my first time driving on the opposite side of the road. Ben was quite calm (despite being a bit driving instructor-ish, ahem, I have been driving for longer than him, nyarnyanyar) - though driving though Paris' outer districts was a little nerve-racking, I must admit. Still, it's another step towards integration - once I start using my hasard lights as a method to override any illegal double parking manoeuvre and honking my horn at anyone who dares execute a left hand turn into a side road in front of me - even if they're indicating, then, then I'll be the real deal