Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Who's that hiding in the bushes?

Oh, I nearly forgot, I unknowingly participated in a new and original experience while I was sitting in the Toulouse Botanic Gardens over the weekend.
We were sitting under the sun, enjoying some cool drinks, when I look over and see this guy slowly walking towards us, bandaged head, two bandaged arms - one of them braced directly out in front of him. There he was, inching zombie like along the park garden paths on a Saturday afternoon. He catches my eye and I make an involuntary *thats gotta hurt* type wince before returning my gaze somewhere more discreet. He passes behind me, and I can't help it. The microsecond image of his zombie gait is playing over in my brain like a B grade film, and I turn my head and start silently shaking with laughter. Moments later, I hear shouts of alarm,and then indignation coming from our neighbouring table. I look over and realise the guy is now on the ground. At first I thought he'd fallen over and, I hate to say it, I'm laughing even MORE by now. Though in my defence I'm laughing more at the ridiculousness that someone could actually BE that unlucky. Ok, fine, I'm mean if you prefer. Then it seems that he didn't actually fall, he was pushed! And the culprit is walking gradually away (a little too gradually? a little too casually?) Hmmm, 'something does not compute' I say to myself as I do some tennis match type head turning. Madame at the next table is indignant and sends her husband off to apprehend the evildoer!
Surprise! The guy gets up off the ground, unharmed...
Smile, you're on candid camera ;)

Monday, May 30, 2005

No time Tou-louse

toulouse capitoleum
Originally uploaded by Nyx.
ok, that will only be funny if you're a Monty Python fan, but I couldn't resist.

Well, one weekend and a lot of kilometres later, and I can now say I've seen at least a little of southwestern France.

Leaving late on Thursday night, we drove the 700 odd kilometres down to Albi (a town just out of Toulouse where we had a free bed waiting). Arriving at around 2am, we didn't see much of the town, but opening the shutters to a hot southern sunny day, we were greeted with a very green view of the river Tarn, and more than a little jealous that this wasn't OUR daily view!
View from our friends apartment
Albi is a town of about 50,000 people that is known for its massive ancient cathedral, and of being where Toulouse Lautrec is from. When we weren't in Toulouse, we spent time exploring the medieval streets, red brick buildings, restaurants, and surrounding river Tarn (full of fish, frogs and birds).
One of the most amazing bits of scenery I've ever seen

Monsieur had his job interview Friday, so we'll see what the ensuing days bring, but I'd be happy to move down there. Toulouse (otherwise known as la ville rose) is a vibrant small city - with a large student population (1/4 of the 400,000 residents), rivers, canals, parks and characteristic rose brick buidlings. The atmosphere was a pleasant mix of Barcelona, Nice, Amsterdam and a little of chez moi back in Darwin. Still taking things as they come, I won't pin all my hopes on a move there, but it's definitely on the list of places I could live.
Pont neuf

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

on yer bike

retro metro
Originally uploaded by Nyx.
My boyfriend'€™s been a little bit cursed by the bicycle gods lately. My recent (as of 3 months ago) fancy that I most absolutely have a bike seemed to have an infectious effect on the male party of this couple, and while I was still busy pouting over which week I'd be able to afford the expense, he dashed off and bought himself a nice shiny new two-wheeled transport (just to spite me, according to my own cynical philosophy).

Now, while we both bought our bikes at the same shop, I've had a little more luck with mine (touch wood...dammit, no, that's chipboard...gah! so is that, aha! a wooden elephant statue, whew! lucky...). First off, within about 3 hours of usage, one of the bike pedals came off. Unfortunately because the place of purchase was located in the major business district of La Defense (read my previous bicycle article re the horrors of trying to get in and out of this area on a bike) we had to trickily arrange it into the back of his small car, in much the same manner as those rope and wood puzzles that you buy at markets just so you can taste a little insanity. Two days and 3 hours of bike usage later, the pedal broke again. He had no option but to leave it chained up inside the perimeter of his place of work until he could fetch it with his car. Of course, the obvious ensued, and it was stolen. Karma curse them with a shitty bike I say. So,€“ being a man, he bought a better, flasher, shinier one (with theft insurance) and immediately began beligerently pestering me to join him in trying to kill himself in Parisien traffic.

So this weekend we took a very long hike up to the forest of Saint Germain, which, while being a very lovely forest, involved quite a lot too much road and not nearly enough forest time to make it a calm green destressing kind of experience that a forest visit should be. We actually had to try twice, because on the first day, his chain broke! (really, how much luck can one person get?). But it did mean that we tried a completely unexpected route along the bords of the Seine (a river whose borders change remarkably during its traverse through the greater Parisien region). Finding a small rarely used backwater track through a lot of charming shrubbery, we were soon confronted by a different side of life in the outer districts. That of several gypsy encampments, in disused condemned overgrown buildings, and ramshackle dwellings of their own construction. But what was really an eyeopening experience was arriving at the base of a massive double highway spanning the Seine river. Traffic 24 hours a day; giant concrete pillars and the noise amplified by the natural amphitheatre form of the surrounding land. There, in the middle of these two vast and trunkless legs of stone was a forgotten building, several stories high, whose top stories were mere metres from the base of this colossal double highway bridge. The residents couldn’t have been renting such a rat infested monstrosity in any legal sense of the term, river views or not, and in the end I didn'€™t really know what to make of it at all. Forgotten? Conveniently overlooked? or not worth the effort..., whatever the case, quite a few cars parked around the vicinty were not altogether shabby. It was a bit of a puzzle all round.

Now in other news, my dear Monsieur, while having somehow annoyed the bike dieties, does have a job interview in Toulouse this Friday. So this weekend will be spent in the southwestern part of France, one of the major geographical bits I haven'€™t yet seen, and who knows? Maybe this roving reporter will shortly be changing location...?

The regime of the regime*

Originally uploaded by Nyx.

Mince! si seulement j'étais mince!

One thing the French are very good at doing, is reminding you of how very fat you are and how you should be doing something about it. Which is difficult to reconcile with the other thing they're very good at, which is the art of food. In addition to the fact that they quite shamelessly intersperse ads for chocolate inbetween their multitudinous get slim ads, it's enough to drive anyone barmy.

The directive to slim down is, of course, standard in all westernised countries. What France excels in is the sheer QUANTITY of messages. Coming into summer season, as we shortly will be (tomorrow , so I'm led to believe), the advertising gears have been shifted into overdrive, and ones evening session of telly watching can quickly degenerate into an aggressive display of cellulite free bottoms and inner thighs that know what a breeze feels like. Now, in Australia, the large part of this advertising is directed towards magasine sales, subscribed dietary programs or late night infomercials ('I stuck my finger into this plug socket and lost 58 pounds!' Yes! You too can lose inches off your waistline and years off your life expectancy simply by ordering our special patented finger socket adaptor for the special price of $299 + $75 miscellaneous unexplained charges. Watch those calories fry!)

In France, by contrast, a large part of this marketing is directed towards actual snakeoil products; lotions, potions, creams (try as you like, you will never convince me that rubbing anything short of an organic solvent onto my legs will remove centimetres of diameter off them), and - quite hilariously - water. Diet water. I need to sit down for a moment and mentally digest that one. Most of this overpriced foolishness is what you come across in Australian health food shops, whereas in France it's sold in the first refuge for the hypochondriac - the pharmacy. Now here's another thing I've not yet explained about France - the sheer abundance of pharmacies; green neon crosses flashing signs of a saviour promising sanctuary from the evils of owning a body.

Every year, the health system refunds a staggering amount of presciptive medicine (though they managed to save themselves a packet last year by encouraging people to buy generic medicines) and French citizens happily continue to stock up on any number of remedies, for real or imagined problems. In fact the last time I went to the pharmacy - the sales assistant seemed quite puzzled and irritated by my reluctance to buy only one product and my dogged refusal to buy every single product he was recommending to me. I suspected for a moment that he was going to refuse to sell me my anything at all by way of punishment.

Now if you'll excuse me I have an unexplained urge to go and eat a bar of chocolate.
* regime(fr): What the above sentence expressly forbids one should do.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Over the borderline

One minute it’s café au lait…and the next you’re in Belgium.
One thing I find startlingly difficult to get the hang of, is not so much the sudden changing of countries (and the fact that all the signs suddenly switch language during a microtime where you've been preoccupied with cleaning your fingernails), but the total absence of fanfare when crossing a border in these parts. In Australia, by contrast, there are many big signs in place to WELCOME YOU TO A DIFFERENT PART OF AUSTRALIA. WHERE THE NUMER PLATES ARE A DIFFERENT COLOUR!!!!AND EVERYTHING IS THE SAME!!! THOUGH OUR POLITICAL PARTIES MIGHT HAVE MORE QUESTIONABLE MORALES THAN YOURS! OR VICE VERSA!! WE MIGHT ALSO HAVE A RIDICULOUS AMOUNT OF GIANT SCULPTURES OF STRANGE OBJECTS FOR NO APPARENT REASON!

That said, if you enter any other country via a major highway (or England via any form of transportation including a flying broomstick) you will be treated to a giant sign that makes you feel special. And if you’re extra lucky, you’ll get sniffed by a customs dog (not the time to play friendly with the puppy, just for some general travellers advice). Which reminds me of that time that we all got hauled off a bus and had to remove our luggage to be ceremoniously sniffed. Not so much an extraordinary event in itself, but you’ve got to wonder how seriously they’re taking their job when you get the following situation:

‘Has your bag been checked by the dog?’
‘And there was nothing in it, you’re not carrying any drugs?’ (ok so I haven’t washed my hair for a while, but it’s not that serious)
‘Really? Are you certain? Because if you’re carrying any drugs you’d better let me know’
‘Well your dog doesn't seem interested'
‘ok, that’s fine, off you go’

(Oh wait hold on, there was that HUGE bag of cocaine, but since my bag has been passed over 3 times and you haven’t bothered to notice that I’m still standing here tapping my foot impatiently, and because you subsequently interrogated me anyway, and because you then simply took my word for it, I’m going to keep that piece of information to myself)

Anyway, where was I before I got sidetracked into pretending I was a drug smuggler..? Ah yes, Belgium. Rattling along through northern rural france, a few fields, some cows, and suddenly you’ve got the Belgian version of, well, exactly the same thing. Except that it’s in Dutch. I find the Dutch language frankly hilarious, and spend ages amusing myself with the similarities between this language and English, the way I imagine it was spoken 800 years ago. Like Warme Drankken, translates to Hot Drinks. Funny no?

Anyway, I went to Belgium to consume some of their caloriffic food and giggle at the menus(Flemish food, for the uninitiated, is mostly various forms of potatoes and dead animal. Vegetarians be warned).

Monday, May 09, 2005

Half Baked Goods

I have a friend (in fact, I luckily have several, all very fascinating and mildly deranged individuals) who, in addition to causing me to run up a huge phonebill this month, used to have a particular habit of asking me to translate random phrases into French. Not regular, useful expressions, mind. Not the sort of things that you would ask an old gent in the street while squinting at a phrasebook. No, they were more along the lines of what you’d say to a judge if you were angling for a ‘clinically insane’ verdict to get you off the hook.

‘What’s French for “Kill the Big Pink Pig?”’
‘What’s French for “Mesopotamian wall hanging?”’
‘What’s French for “Pineapple leaves?”’

(ok, two I made up because my memory’s a little frayed, but the first one is true, I swear)

Which begs the real question;

What’s French for Self-Raising Flour?
(I’m serious)

Honestly, I’m standing there in the baking goods aisle looking at a range of numerically coded flours, with not one of them hinting it might have a trace of bicarb. Do no French recipes call for self-raising flour? (no, not yeast laced flour, that’s different again). I have several recipes that use this product in my startlingly adventurous and anally categorised recipe book. But I do have bicarb, and regular flour. So for the uninformed, 1c flour: 1t bicarb, and Bob’s your transgender aunt.

Because I don’t want to spend any more of this blog entry discussing flour, that would be much too dull, I’ll do my best to make last weeks visit to the dole office sound as interesting as possible. Despite an extreme moral and psychological resistance to the idea of going on the dole, the only other option is not having any more money in a couple of months or going back to doing crappy time wasting work when I need to be working (even for a pittance, or temporarily for free) towards my career.

I was called up to the empty waiting room, nothing but long corridors of blue doors all firmly shut and not a person in sight.
‘You know, this hall of blue doors setup you’ve got here is pretty creepy actually’ I tell the lady who is processing my dossier, after being summoned to her office by a big red number (Standard greetings are just so passé don't you think?)
According to my existing on-file information, I was born in Bulgaria, which is interesting to discover. But on hearing of my actual birthplace, I was peppered with questions throughout my entire appointment (in that rapid-fire, bullet-like, social services sort of way)
‘And have you lived in Australia’
‘What’s it like there?’
‘Is it better than here? It’s better I guess. Is the quality of life better? Do you like it here? Which is better? Is there an agreement between Australia and England? Can you live in England? Have you tried living in England? I’d like to go to Australia, ça fait rever…
‘Do they have unemployment benefit system in Australia? Does it pay well? (eh?) What’s the unemployment system like? ’

(to respond) ‘A dark hole of despair and depression that serves to crumble your morale into a tiny thousand pieces so that you will be grateful for the first underpaid shitty job that comes your way’

‘Oh, that’s bizarre. Well, it’s not like that in France. Still, you won’t be unemployed long, you need to do x, y, and z and make another appointment when you’ve got the rest of your paperwork ready. Good day’

Well, that was that was quick and painless….and…odd

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Heat wave

Montmarte resto
Originally uploaded by Nyx.
Wouldn't you know it, I go and buy myself the first bunch of flowers since arriving in France and suddenly we have a mini heat wave. Poor wilty flowers.
I could berate myself for having such poor skills for coping with the heat, for someone who has lived a long time in the tropics, but the sudden jump in temperature by about 10 degrees was enough to make anyone rethink their choice in quilt thickness. But it's a foretaste to how well this apartment will shield us from the summer sun. I'm optimistic that because we have windows on all sides, and are high up enough to get a breeze and be less bothered by radiated traffic and road heat, it should be quite pleasant. Fingers crossed.

So in an effort to get a little pigmentation back into my skin, me and about 16823 like minded individuals (including the gypsies with their postcards) thought it would be a nice idea to wander around Montmartre (where I ate at this restaurant, whose interior is as pleasant as its façade, though the food is only average), the Eiffel tower (too much construction work going on around the base to be worth the effort when one can be choosy about visiting times) and the Palais de Chaillot (that I admit to have never really taken the time to explore before, and this days visit was only brief as my mother had decided to visit me with only NEW shoes in her suitcase and consequently wasn't up to a long walk anywhere).

Right, enough slacking, back to the jobsearch...