Thursday, March 31, 2005

liberté, egalité, fraternité.

The rain is starting to fall in heavy drops, why did I choose today to wear my long black skirt? The hemline has practically absorbed half of the surface water in my immediate vicinity by now, so I dash in to the nearest metro at Saint Michel to take a connecting line at Chatelet.
Getting towards the end of peak hour, but still a bit squishy. As the door closes, I see the faces of a hesitant American family of 4 still waiting at the platform, clearly unsure about how to negotiate the surge of people that is the Parisien public transport system during peak hour(s).
Only a short trip, 2 stops, lost in random thought. Suddenly there is a commotion behind me and two men start wildly throwing punches. Some shouts and screams from surrounding passengers;
‘stop, STOP, you’re mad! Stop it!’
The train has (luckily) stopped at the next station, someone triggers the alarm, the doors have opened and curious passengers spill out onto the platform, while within our own carriage the fight continues, unheeding of any bystander that hasn’t got out of the way fast enough.

The conductor rushes to the scene, it’s a woman in her mid 30’s, blonde, quite attractive, probably not much over 40kg.
‘So they’ll stop’ I think
‘These guys aren’t going to keep throwing fists with such a petite lady in the middle’


I’m really worried for her. She’s so small and she has no chance to stop these guys apart from using her voice and physical presence to draw back the red curtain of rage that has clouded the vision of these two crazed commuters. What can I do? Should I try and help her? I don’t know the first thing about breaking up a fight between 2 grown men. Crap! Why isn’t anyone DOING anything? By anyone I really mean –anyone in the man department. I'm all for equality, I bash things with a hammer, and do simple plumbing jobs and ask my Dad to show me how I go about repairing bits of my car. But I don't kid myself that I can stop a fracas between 2 grown men.
I’m frozen by shock, my voice paralysed. Not because of the fight itself, having lived over a decade in a modern version of a frontier town, with redneck tendencies, truckies, beer, croc Dundee types, it’s not like I haven’t seen a few fights, and almost lost a couple of drinks along the way. What I have never seen though, is a woman, of any size, left to take care of it.

There is a guy in front of me, early 20’s, fit, plugged into his music, shifts his position slightly to face more of his back towards the problem, a look of irritation as he receives the effect of a wayward shove. I see a resolute look on the face of an older guy, maybe around 50, glasses, tragic choice in pullover fashion – short fellow but he manages to get one of the men in an effective headlock. The fight surges towards the platform. Finally, one girl has had enough. She’s been pushed around for the last 5 minutes, stuck in a bad corner with no real way to get out. One of her eyes looks a bit odd, I don’t know if she’s been struck at some point. A rebel ‘P!nk’ type, she starts verbally laying in to one of the men; ‘Where’s the respect? Are you crazy? You lack respect totally, what’s wrong with you?’
Respect seems to be the key word, this guy is cowering under her verbal lashing, and half runs, half staggers off into the crowd. P!nk girl now turns her anger to her fellow commuters.
‘No-one MOVED, you just looked, no one MOVED!’
‘Yes, well that’s the French mentality’ says the conductor as she rushes off to disactivate the alarms and get the metro moving as quickly as possible. She’s bleeding from the mouth, thanks to a wayward blow, but is more concerned with getting the train back in action. The departure alarm sounds, and everyone gets back in the train. The silence is more pronounced that usual, maybe thinking about the conductors last retort, maybe thinking about their dinner, I don't know - in general people don’t often talk in the metro, everyone just stares randomly, quickly pricking up their ears to listen in to any of the few conversations that might be taking place.
And what was the fight about? As far as I can tell it was because one of them had a cigarette.

Surgeon Generals Warning: Smoking can seriously affect the health of those around you, and make the trains run late

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

you know you're in France when...

You observe the street corner flower sellers that are having a turf war at your local produce market.

it's just a game...

pfffshwwwt! what a fizzler of a long weekend. I can warn you right off that I didn't get to Etretat, or anywhere for that matter, grrrrr....
Being newly installed in our current district confers the extreme pleasure of being virtual neighbours to Mr and Mrs Smug & Self-Satisfied up the road, a recently married couple of teachers (yes, well therein lies your first problem*) that my boyfriend has known for a while.
We get a call from Mr SSS Friday night, would we like to come over for dinner on Saturday? Monsieur automatically agrees, reorganises our entire weekend schedule (and as far as I’m concerned sacrifices our entire Saturday so we can go to this dinner thing). Ok, admittedly since moving to Paris, I feel a little uprooted, and I need plans – especially for weekends. It helps me feel grounded and gives me something to look forward to during the week. And if the plans get changed in any serious way, I get quite surprisingly upset. This is a pretty recent neurosis, so I do hope I get over it.
Anyway, the dinner was fine, Mr and Mrs SSS were tolerably smug, and there were a couple of other mutual friends over as well, one of whom had brought a stack of board/strategy/society games with him.
Let the games begin.
So, I’m approaching the third decade of life, but there are some things that don’t evolve much beyond childhood. One of those things is probably boardgame politics. I’ve learnt to lose (ahem, relatively) gracefully (well, I don’t storm out of the room anymore at least). But another thing I’m used to is a standard initiation process of explaining the actual rules before the games massacre. The first game we played, well I lost in the ‘came last’ sense. Which didn’t bother me overly much, what did bug me was the general obsession coming from my left (Mrs SSS) regarding how many points I had throughout the entire game. Even though I had less than her, it wasn’t enough to keep her happy. Even though she finished quite ahead of me, she managed to throw this little barb my way;
‘but if I hadn’t had my bonus points I would’ve had one point less than you’
(say it in your best snipey voice, no - snipier, yup, better...)
?????! Evidently I’d committed a severe faux pas in not losing by enough.

Never mind.

The next day we ended up there again, for more board games (joy), in which we went through the same process of vague explanation of rules and you’re on your own. After another abysmal failure I got the hang of some strategies and tried to get a bit more proactive in the second game. This is where Mr SSS decided to quash any ideas I might have had about competing and proceeded to launch an attack on me at every turn. Let me point out that I wasn’t winning, I wasn’t going to win, I was simply holding my own. And then HE criticised me for playing to remove the handicaps he was continually putting in place (second faux pas, trying to stay in the game).

This all sounds terribly childish in the end, but it really irked me. And I don’t want to play with them anymore *pout*

*no intention to imply that all teacher to teacher marriages result in insufferable couples, if you're a teacher and reading this, and getting upset enough to want to write a big red F on your computer screen....

Friday, March 25, 2005

whaddya mean you don't get good friday off here?

trumpeting elephant
Originally uploaded by Nyx.
Sooooooo, Good Friday doesn't exist as a public holiday concept in this country. Which strikes me as fundamentally wrong. I mean some John Lennon preincarnation type dies horribly in a freak carpentry incident and gets shoved in a cave and such like 2000 years ago or whatever. Surely that entitles me to an extra paid day off sitting on the couch scoffing chocolates, right?
(By the way, if you're particularly religious or god-fearing and you read my blather at all regularly, I'd advise that you, well, don't).

And it's fine outside, damn it! Waaaaa!!! And I'm stuck in my little oven of an office (this box has 2 climatic extremes, freezer or oven, there's evidently no middle ground), sniff!!
And from tomorrow on it will surely rain because no matter what latitude I happen to be living on, it always rains at easter (divine justice?)
Anyway, on the off chance that it doesn't rain too much, I'll be off up north again, finally convinced the Monsieur to take me to Etretat.

Happy easter everyone!

Thursday, March 24, 2005

la voila!

chocobird on rue st honoré
Originally uploaded by Nyx.
my chocobird as promised. Isn't he delicious?

Oh, so I've decided to start a new segment here on microcosmic
'you know you're in France when' inspired by a young boy I overheard today while walking home (out of the mouth of babes...)


You know you're in France when;
5 year old boys very seriously instruct their grandmothers as to how they'd like their asapargus cooked differently the next time so that they might appreciate it better...


are probably something I can't imagine I'll often talk about, for a start they don't have much to do with my skewed and twisted cynic PoV of living in a big european city vision of a blog (where I gets to moan a lot), but they are nevertheless quite an interesting subject matter in the general sense. Especially how the process differs between individuals.

When I dream (relatively frequently), I tend to do so quite intensely. We won't get into the weirdness factor. I know, everyone thinks their dreams are weird, but I thus far I remain pretty underwhelmed by the craziness of other peoples dreams. Except my Mum. She has the sort of dreams that make me suspect my father of slipping something into her tea.

I can remember a few snippets of last nights adventure (something like a Dali vision of Barcelona through the architecture of Gaudi, in case you're interested). They say you should have a dream journal and scribble stuff down as soon as you wake up, if you want to remember (based, of course, on the theory that you should afterward be able to read and understand whatever nonsense made it onto the page). But I am generally fighting the wake-up demons at this time and have levels of coherency somewhat akin to 'shoot the pink poodle, where are my pants?, give me coffee', so controlling a pencil and cataloguing some random weird images is pretty much beyond me.

Anyway, the other day I was having a conversation with my boyfriend about a bizarro nighttime experience, which I assume is normal by virtue of the fact that it happens (applaud my logic), where I wake up during the night with no recollection of where I am, or even who I am. This ego-less state lasts for a few seconds until my brain catches up with my change in sonambulous circumstance, and I'll drift off again. It is, granted, a rare event, but judging by the 'did you just grow another head?' look I got from my monsieur, it doesn't happen to everyone equally. In trying to explain that it wasn't really that odd, I actually had to come up with some reasons why (that's the standard system I believe).

So I argued that, when we dream, we generally do so with very little self awareness. The reality of our life enters into our dreams and we recognise it and 'react' to scenes that vary from the mundane to the insane in a variety of ways, but one generally doesn't wander through one's dreams thinking 'I am me, I like blue and cats and I work with Bob' (that's called lucid dreaming, which is a whole other matter).
Sometimes I am aware of my entire body (swimming running walking, flying if I'm lucky) though sometimes I feel as if I exist only as a pair of eyes that never blink, ego-less, absorbed and observing. If I wake suddenly from that state, my brain has to scramble to catch up, so the result is that I stare at the window puzzled for a while till my brain points its finger frantically on the 'you are here' of my reality map.

See, it's not just me....even they hate themselves

a streetcar named yellow
Originally uploaded by Nyx.
(sourced from expatica)

French drivers rude? Mais oui, says survey

PARIS, March 23 (AFP) - Any visitor to France who thinks the country's drivers are pushy, rude and prone to parking wherever their cars might conceivably fit on Wednesday had confirmation from an unlikely source - the drivers themselves.

According to a survey carried out by AGF, an insurance company, and APFC, an association for preventing road-rage, six out of 10 French drivers believe their fellow motorists are impolite and aggressive behind the wheel.

"Civic behaviour, politeness, respect, patience and commonsense are concepts which seem to totally escape the French when they are behind the wheel," APFC said.

The list of galling Gallic transgressions on the road remains long - and dangerous.

Half the respondents felt drivers did not respect pedestrians.

The pollsters pointed out that the pedestrians themselves had a much lower regard for motorists with 87 percent saying that they often or sometimes had difficulty crossing a road. Much of that could be attributed to the peculiar French blindness of crosswalks and a fondness for speeding, even between traffic lights.

More than one driver in three admitted that he or she "regularly parked on the sidewalk".

And one in five of all the respondents - and one in three of the respondents aged 18-24 - also confessed to using a mobile telephone while driving.

APFC, which held the survey before a national Day of Politeness Behind the Steering Wheel to be held Thursday, said the French behaviour contrasted with that in Britain, where motorists were seen to be calm, orderly and considerate.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Chocolate can even make a banker smile

One thing I haven't been discussing cos-I've-been-too-absorbed-in-my-petty-issues-of-day-to-day-living-and-trying-to-figure-out-which-personality-disorder-I-have-come-down-with-today, is...CHOCOLATE!
(trust me, in terms of food, we've got a lot to thank South America for)

Generally at some point every couple of weeks or so, I'll find myself lost, ahem, wandering casually through a posh area of Paris, and stumble across what I can only describe as an example of an Haute Couture chocolate shop.

Now, with Easter approaching, there is a torturous assortment of chickens, rabbits (and for some reason I can't fathom, gnomes - one chocognome I spotted was meant to have a chococarrot in his chocohand, except that the carrot had sort of slipped elsewhere down to his choco-netheregions and he was looking pretty excited about Easter is all can say) in the window of pretty much every other patissier, while the High Class chocolate get on with their weird and wonderful creations as part of the day to day showing, business, and they chuck in the odd chicken to prove they're paying attention.

Yesterday night, while displaying my astute knowledge of the layout of inner Paris ('where the hell we NOW? And where's the putain de metro station gone?')to a visiting friend, we found ourselves (intentionally of course) on Rue Saint Honore (think Cartier), I passed by the creme de la creme of all the chocolate concoctions I've seen thus far. A giant exotic bird made of dark and white chocolate with a chocolate waterfall in the background. Wonder if they've managed to scrub my nose print off the glass yet?

Friday, March 18, 2005

the tell tale heart


This is the poster for a upcoming film, a remake of the 1978 film 'Fingers' - about the son of a mobster whose life is divided between a career as a pianist and a mobster debt collector (and I thought I had an odd mix of jobs when working as both a quality officer with red cross blood service and as a library shelver). It's not so much that this is a very interesting peice of news in itself, simply that in my opinion this is a really fantastic movie poster. The simplicity of attire, one bloodied hand, the assemblage of overlayed squares within the photo slightly off centre - creates an idea of a fractured existence. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that Roman Duris is pretty hot. Nothing at all.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

apres la pluie, c'est le beau temps

a French way of saying that things go well after a bad spell (sunshine after the rain). This is what a friend of mine said to me after he asked what I've been up to since January, and received a response that started off 'january february bad, march good!' (to paraphrase), and it's true that since the sun's started getting up before me again, there's a certain weight that's been lifted off my shoulders.
Mental health wise, December through to February have been difficult months. I'd had a feeling I might have some trouble adjusting as my body has been exposed to pretty much non-stop 12 hour daylight days for the last 13 years running (near the equator the daylight hours change very little in their length throughout the year).
In addition I was consistently falling ill, at least every 3 weeks, which had been wearing me down physically and mentally, not to mention my general hatred of where I lived and my 9-5 routine!
In the end, the combination of everything together was something of a downer, and the combination of everything changing simultaneously has turned up the happy vibes (I'm not saying anything about a positive attitude after the whole Raffarin affair ;) )*

Back to the subject heading though, while the weather certainly has taken a wonderful turn for the better (21°!!!), it certainly didn't follow much rain, and France is currently faced with a water shortage situation that resembles late summer. There's hope that April rains will recharge key water stores, but little will be absorbed by the soil as most rain is absorbed primarily be vegetation during this period, or it evaporates. Should I use my expertise in studies of ecology minded techniques suited to adapt to the driest continent on the planet (that would be Australia) as a selling point in my upcoming job search do you think?

* For my non-France readers, a teeny bopper type singer had a saccharine teeny bopper type hit 'positive attitude' (yeah yeah yeah), which a very non-teeny bopper like prime minister decided was a rather jolly good philosophy and decided to counsel the French people to adopt just that. Which provoked much eyerolling and a long running gag on 'les guignols' (basically the French version of Spitting Image...and if you didn't get that in, caricature puppets?)

pavlov! aaah...

some stuff I still do that puts my brain back in tropical Australia;

* think small green objects are frogs
* duck my head instinctively whenever my head approaches ceiling height, to avoid the (non-existant) overhead fan
* imagine I can get anywhere within 10km in 20 minutes
* assume movements out the corner of my eye in my apartment are giant cockroaches (yeah, can't say I miss that much)
* have trouble understanding why quite so much paperwork is necessary for absolutely every little thing you do
* expect to find coriander in the supermarket
* say 'it doesn't matter' a lot (seems to scare Parisiens)
* put more stuff in the fridge that really needs to go in there
* generally remember to buy beer for my boyfriend (oh, isn't he the lucky one?)
* keep an eye out for animals on the highway (yeah right, like there ARE any)

Tuesday, March 15, 2005


That was the sound of Spring sproinging. I dunno, is it just me? Is it possible to 'go Spring' overnight? Even the weather people were a bit stunned;
'so yes, well, it's not an illusion, it's going to be 17°C today'
17! It was snowing 2 weeks ago!

I must be getting old, I talk about the weather way too much

Speaking of Spring though, rabbits. For our little getaway vacation, we had to get to Porte Maillot to catch the shuttle bus to the Beauvais airport (at 5.45am, ouch). There's basically one 'stupid' exit at Porte Maillot. Despite knowing Porte Maillot metro station pretty well, I take the stupid exit a bit too often for my liking (and those smug ideas of my intellectualism). This exit leads to the middle of a roundabout, which is itself in the middle of a major arterial route. Once you're there, the only way off is back through the same exit as crossing the road on foot reduces your life expectancy to about 12.8 seconds. It'd be a nice spot for lunch, it's a decently big green space, but the exterior cars kind of kill the atmosphere a bit. It's just a dumb exit designed to confuse people like me. So of course I took the dumb exit, and immediately after my standard homer simpsonism, I noticed a rabbit. Then another rabbit. Then about 12 other rabbits.

'There's rabbits!' I exclaim intelligently
thought bubble ('not again')
To explain that, I have an Alice in Wonderland type mental condition. Rabbits always turning up in the oddest places. Less often in the normal places though, now that I think about it. I thought I'd be protected from this kind of Leporidan persecution in a major capital city.

Another thing about the first twitterings of Spring, the booming nursery trade. Paris appears to do a nice vegetation and accessory turnover as people try and reintroduce whatever nature they can into their small environment (I'm steadily turning our apartment into the jungle that I believe it should be, and am happy to have a chance to play with those European plants that don't work in tropical climes).

So, having a good hour to myself yesterday as I was barred from entering my work building thanks to the road being blocked off due to a car gas leak, I took some time to check out the plant shop close by my work place, which is cheap enough if you want to get small plants, but rapidly escalates in price once you add some age and height. Noticed a small DIY plastic glasshouse thing - essentially 2 tubs - a lower tub where you put the soil, and a larger transparent tub that fitted on the top. 70 euros they wanted for that. It wasn't even a very big tub. 70 euros. Doth there exist, therefore, people who are prepared to PAY this price? Did they not learn how to make a teepee glasshouse using sticks and plastic sheeting in primary school? Still, in winter they were charging 5 euros for a couple of small pine branches. People obviously don't get out much here.

Monday, March 14, 2005

still olive, er, alive

I really don't know what the recommended RDI for olive oil is, but I've surely passed my monthly quota in 3 days.

Despite the shuttle too-ing and fro-ing that a "cheap" low-budget airline flight involves (which becomes progressively less cheap once you tack on all the shuttlefares), plus the guilt of the carbon miles (am I redeemed cos I don't own a car?), my mental health is thanking me, though whining a bit that I couldn't stay longer.

While I was studying, one of my temp jobs was in a library and I remember coming across this big blue book on Gaudi, who'd I'd never heard of before, and at once I developed an interest in organic arcitecture and visiting Barcelona. I couldn't help thinking back to this moment, when my impulses demanded I see these buildings someday, as I wandered round the sights of this city. The sun was shining, the olive oil was flowing, and Spain was already well into it's strawberry glut (I could go on about the food here at length).

Well, essentially monuments were explored, sites were visited, garbled Spanish was attempted and I sucked it up and played tourist for a couple of days, abandoning all self-delusion that I was a TRAVELLER, pounding the pavements of the earth with my beat up sneakers, sleeping on buses, wearing my cruddiest clothes, not following my map, not wearing my watch, not photographing everything in my path...Nup, I was a bona fide sellout. Tragic. And so yeah, I forget pretty much everything I learned in that 16 week Spanish course, apart from how to say hello and order coffee. But at least I got to Spain. Forgot my bloody sunglasses though.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Go bio

One of the things I love about food shopping in French supermarkets (or the old fashioned outside ones, when I get the chance) is the lovely choice to 'go bio' (organic) with almost all products on the shelf - particularly the important staples of rice, flour, coffee, sugar and milk. I kind of like it when my fresh produce doesn't come with a side serving of pesticides either, but you really need to go to bio markets for that.Despite the fact that it's not just me that likes the bio, I was surprised to discover that only 2% of France is set aside for cultivating organic produce. Of the land that has been set aside for this activity, 2004 saw a 3% decrease in total surface area undergoing conversion (a process whereby land is set aside for organic production but has not sold any produce, a process which takes 2-3 years). So as this goes against the growing trend in consumption, it means that France currently imports around 50% of it's agricultural produce. Doesn't make it so simple to 'think global and buy local'. But I try anyway.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

wot I lerned on the telly this mornin'

For the weight conscious:
1 hours shivering is equivalent to a 6km walk. So you know, if you've had one too many chocolates, and it's winter, go stand outside for an hour in your underwear.

Here's a worrying story, from the personal files. Monsieur comes home after finishing work at a stupidly late hour last night and over the course dinner casually mentions how he was 'shot down in flames' (a pleasingly accurate translation)that morning during a work meeting.
'oh' I say casually 'what happened?'
Bear in mind that I still wear a heavy mantle of naivete regarding common decency towards other human beings, even if you do happen to think they suck. So I'm not imagining anything particularly serious here.
'well, I was asked after the outcome of some tests done last week and I couldn't really give an answer, so I was sort of a bit exposed in front of everyone'

Now Monsieur is a very passive person all round (unlike yours truely), and isn't possessed of too much in the way of aggressiveness or even really much defensiveness for that matter. But I figured there might be a little more to this story, so after a few probing questions I uncovered some pretty disturbing results. Not only had he not been provided with those data asked of him to start with, but he was not ever actually informed that the tests had taken place. Ok, so that's pretty unfair for starters. But his 'dressing down' (bear in mind that this occurred during a work meeting, in front of a multitude of colleagues) took the form of aggressive threats of being fired for his ignorance, did he really want this job?, there were hundreds of other candidates just like him. Essentially that he was a lowly bit of computer technician chaff. This tirade came from someone that he had never seen or spoken to before. In addition, Monsieur has been in his current placement for approximately 6 weeks.

I am informed that this is not unusual for the info-tech domain in Paris. But I have to confess to being totally shocked at some of the stories I hear regarding workplace ethics in this part of the world. I'm sure businesses in any big corporation in any country can be like this, but God, is this what workplace society is coming to? Now that large numbers of service providers are outsourced - it kind of cuts them off from the 'work team' environment, and makes them convenient scapegoats.

It also presents the tricky problem of how I convince Monsieur that he needs to get more defensive. Not agressive as such, but you need a sort of barrier and language that effectively bursts the ego bubbles of supreme workplace arseholes. Otherwise I fear for him being eaten alive, or supremely taken advantage of at least. He agrees with me on that point, but I'm not convinced he's going to put it into practice.

'So is there much call for info techs in Australia'? he asks
'As much as anywhere I imagine, but you're going to need to brush up that English of yours first'

(yes, a sad state of affairs, but our wall ears hardly ever hear English spoken, except when he wants to try a few phrases out, or I'm off on one of my long winded mutters)

oh yeah, and we're breaking all sorts of cold temperature records or some such thing, snow ice cold, blah blah.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005


I'm going to Barthhhhhhelona next week (Monsieur tells me they talk that way thanks to some bygone king who had a lisp, and it sort of stuck). I haven't actually confirmed that story as true, I just stuck it in for 'sounds good' value.

Anyway, I bought a couple of Ryanair tickets, cheap (and whose terms and conditions read something like a 'it's your funeral buddy' citation) but didn't bother with the insurance - like, what's the worst that can happen in 3 days man? (Watch this space)
Yes, if Sarah is reading this I know you've just slapped yourself on the forehead haven't you? You know, if you do that too often, you can make your forehead go flat. I'm proof (actually it's probably how we lost our brow ridge, a slow and gradual cognition of the extreme stupidity of others "d'oh, *slap*, ow!")

I could say I was losing whatever point I was trying to make, but I'm not convinced I was making one to begin with.

Anyhoo, so, Barcelona, should be interesting. Have had a hankering to go there since discovering Gaudi - you know that he died by being hit by a tramway - and that was back when they hardly existed, how unlucky is that? (reconsiders travel insurance)

Now would be a good time to start remembering those spanish lessons I took last year (*searching memory banks*)
What's spanish for 'hey that guy just nicked my wallet and passport!' ?