Thursday, 31 August 2017

Up the Eiffel

Incredibly, I had been living in France for almost seven years and still never been up the Eiffel Tower. I hadn't wanted to travel into Paris and go up on my own but all attempts to get there accompanied by Jean-Claude just hadn't turned out. Despite us having prepaid for tickets online JC had back problems so I ended up going alone anyway.

On a rather fresh summer morning I arrived very early as on Saturdays there is only one train per hour into Paris from my area. I killed time by wandering the around the Trocadero, navigating past all those with selfie sticks, eventually deciding that I didn't need that sort of photo and watched some rather harried marriage participants. None of them seemed to be enjoying themselves as they tried to get a decent shot of the Tower swathed in an anonymous tea towel, or so it looked.

Since all the nastiness with terrorism in Paris, secruity is  extremely evident and has totally spoiled the aesthetics of the Champs de Mars and around the foot of the  Tower. Be warned, even with prepaid you will queue to get in because each entrant is individually searched. There are ugly galvanised grills and barriers everywhere; consequently the lawn has been destroyed with everyone confined to a small area.

There was a lot more waiting to come but prepaid then helped. The worst wait was to go to the summit. If you just want to go to level 2 you should be OK but the summit is much higher and needs it's own lift.

I did enjoy the view at level 2 and again at the summit, especially when the temperatures rose. Paris is well laid out with the river, trees, boulevards and monuments. On the way down I spotted the little gizmo that controls the 'sparkle' of the Eiffel Tower on the hour during parts of the evenings. These 'boxes' are installed on the structure and switch on and off so fast the tower becomes a flashing bauble - quite lovely though I've only managed to be near the tower once at the right time of night.

On my way down from level 2 to level one I was most disconcerted to discover I felt rather a lot of vertigo so I was obliged to desperately cling to any railing that appeared from time to time and avoid looking down too much while moving. Maybe my recent acquisition of a pair of progressive glasses wasn't helping but I felt disoriented and squeamish. The architecture inside with the beams going off at odd angles really added to it and I hadn't expected that at all. Back on Terra Firma I can advise that toilets are available on site and are free. In Paris, that's important as toilets aren't easy to find.

So what's the view like? Here are a few shots from the summit which is meshed and outdoors. No, you can't jump off these days.

Views include a new Russian church recently inaugurated by Putin's visit, Arc de Triomphe, quintessential views of Parisian architecture. You'll need to allow an hour up there to make it worthwhile, there's waiting times and so two hours may be needed for the visit as a minimum. Guided tours may be booked but they can be very expensive.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017


On a crisp day I drove with JC to visit the Chateau de Compiègne, north of Paris. It's a royal residence built for Louis XV and  restored by Napoleon. Compiègne was one of three seats of royal government, the others being Versailles and Fontainbleau. This chateau has not fared as well as the other two as it's more remote and less ancient.
During the French Revolution Compiègne  was gutted of all its furniture and fell into disrepair until Napoleon visited it and decided to restore it. The result is that most of the style inside is First French Empire, not much of Louis s XV and XVI remain.
Still, it's  a good place to visit. We spent hours there and still didn't get to the carriage/vehicle section. This sprawling museum is made up of three sections: the historic appartments of Louis XVI to Napoleon III, the Second Empire of Napoleon III, and the National Car and Tourism Museum.

On the grounds by the rose garden is an old building now turned into a teahouse or informal restaurant. While waiting for it to open I strolled around the garden. There are many old roses as well as irises edged with box. The restaurant menu is limited and I found the staff less than attentive; rather a shame as there were hardly any customers to busy them.

The quality of the renovations is pleasing with many interesting details on handles and hinges, stairways and dark panelled corners. Napoleon I's style with its Egyptian influence is everywhere in furniture and balustrading.

The painted ceilings and beautiful statues really complement the place.

JC explained that the stag's head mounted in one of the foyers wasn't entirely real. He said that a head that old would be unlikely to survive the centuries of dust etc and so normally they used real antlers but the rest was sculpted in plaster.

Among the rooms of note are Napoleon I's library (he had a library in every residence and also a travelling library for when he was campaigning), the Empress's bedroom, Napoleon III's dining room (a cold and rather souless place) and quite a range of impressive chandeliers from various epoques.

Napoleon III's bust is easily identifiable by his moustache and  goatee. It was during his reign that Baron Haussmann remodelled the architecture of much of central Paris into large apartment blocks with their distinctive balconies that we see today.

Look out for the games tables - rather intriguing and the symbols of Napoleon's reign - bees and eagles.

I'll leave you with a collection of photos from our visit. For more information go to

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Blogging dangers - bullies and the truth

It seems some of my most effective writing is the most dangerous. This is a lengthy  warning to bloggers and communications experts as to how you can run into foul waters even when you haven't done anything wrong.

A year ago I attended a seminar. My blog chronicles my life experiences and interesting events so it was natural I would write a blogpost on this public event. I won't give details about it in case it gets me into trouble -free speech out the window.

It proved to be a hugely popular blogpost, doubling my visitors to my blog over these past six months and building. A 'particular' google search would find my blogpost appearing on the first page. This post attracted by far the most comments around the world of any of my other posts in over 7 years. More than 90% of the comments agreed with my observations and report. Quite a few thanked me for my honesty and clarity and in helping them avoid wasting a day or worse, going into significant debt due to the nature of the techniques used in this seminar. My blog success attracted another sort of attention; from the Dark Side.

What was fascinating was to discover who commented on these seminars and what they wrote. Some of it was pretty strong. People came out of the woodwork with anecdotes to share. One of the commentators had grown up on the same street with this person (then known under a different name) and wrote a lengthy expose, Others expressed horror at how their friends had been parted from up to $40,000. Still others were business coaches who did not approve of this person's methods or fees. One person said he himself was a millionaire and had personally had drinks and meals with various celebrities who were paid by this person. This commentator said these well-known stars didn't care if their brand was sullied by the connection because they were being paid at least $250,000 a pop and that one particularly respected star was usually drunk anyway so what would he care.

You'd be hard pressed to find anything negative about this seminar presenter because anything he doesn't like is threatened out of existence and this is what happened to me. Beware bloggers- so you know the consequences of writing online?

I received a cease and desist letter from a lawyer from a 'cowboy' state. A one-man-band sort of lawyer who accused me of refusing to respond or comply. I was accused of refusing to speak to this millionaire friend of Trump (yes a friend of his) when he called me on my mobile. You what? Yeah, apparently this very busy and important person had tried to contact little me on my mobile. Of course there is no record of this. I was told the organisation had tried to resolve the difficulties with me but I had refused. At first I thought this was some jokey scam but they had my true name and email address. My blog is not in my real name. They had got my details from a silly, useless purchase I had made at the seminar. I got scared.

I was very intimidated and this was their goal, of course. While such threats (cease and desist letters) are not necessarily acted on you can never be sure so it's not a good idea to ignore them. I have huge amounts of stress in my life right now and no money to legally defend my case so I hired an American lawyer who understands defamation and blogs for the cheapest possible email and Skype advice. I've also done a bit of research on the internet. Not one Parisian law firm bothered to respond to my request for help.

Here's what I know:
  • It was probably an empty threat because international court cases are expensive.
  • No French judge would have taken this on as in France you must send such a letter within 3 months of the publish date of the blogpost that defames you. Clearly this cowboy lawyer didn't know that. Elsewhere it is often 12 months.
  • Whose jursidiction? This is a very grey area. The French don't like their citizens being bullied like this and the Americans are strong on freedom of speech. However this guy's activities are international and so is my blog. Tricky.
  • Defammation (libel in this case) has two forms - private or public plaintiffs. In the case of private the plaintiff must prove your blogpost was negligent because a reasonable person would not have written such things. I was certainly reasonable in my content. In my case the plaintiff is in a very public domain very willingly and so must prove I was malicious in trying to destroy his reputation. Highly unlikely he could have succeeded with that. He would also have had to determine how much business he would have lost via his free events due to my post.
  • Bloggers are not legally liable for the content of other persons' comments as per section 230 of the Communications Decency Act 1996. Phew!!!
  • Defammation requires evidence that the content of my blog disregarded the truth, but my content was supported by my commentators and was purely a report on an event.
  • Telling the truth is a defence but proving it can be difficult and expensive. A fair and true report captures the substance and gist of an event, which mine did. I just didn't have the head-space or money to defend my writing.
If you want more information on section 230 visit here...

I hated backing down. As my American lawyer said, "This guy needs to have blogposts written about him so people can make informed decisions." But you'll find it hard to find anything that isn't written by him or his flunkies. He's protecting his business by intimidation of all uncontrolled publicity.  I kept my lawyer in the background because I didn't want to escalate things lawyer to lawyer, so I wrote my responses to his lawyer carefully, myself. The affair is now closed.

Since I took the post down numbers of visits to my blog have diminished but I know that for a time I did save a few folks from heartache and I did at least irritate the guy enough that he eventually reimbursed me the cost of my purchase to shut me up. That was the deal I proposed so maybe I didn't lose everything... just my most globally effective piece of writing to date.

Postscript: If you think you know who I might be writing about please don't post any comments that might identify him on here as I don't want any more hassles. Any other comments are welcome.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Death of a dream

I've tried so hard for so long not to make this decision. I've looked for last minute reprieves, signs of a positive change in the wind. I've cried oceans of tears for years but there's always been plenty left to cry. Yet, here I am in this 'place' I don't want to be, making a decision I never wanted to make.

My dream of living and working in France took years to develop and eventually became irresistible. When, through a combination of my own efforts, imagination and what I thought was 'luck' at the time, I was offered a great-sounding job here, I discovered there was a hell of a price to pay and the job proved to be a horror.

I thought the price for coming to France was losing my worldly goods and regular contact with my daughter, but that was only the start of it. After arriving I found myself trapped in a whirlpool of corruption and manipulation, harassment and abuse with nowhere to turn. Somehow, determined to find a way out and stay, I have survived. I felt getting thus far must mean something.

Once I set foot in France I realised I needed to stay here. My soul was so obviously at home. I needed to put down roots but that was never possible. For me to make a life here I needed at least one of two conditions (preferably both):

Condition One: A stable, fulltime job. It's not much to aspire to but I never had one despite my best efforts and good performance and around one thousand job applications over 7 years within France alone. Each year my employment situation here was totally precarious and has deteriorated. In 2015 I lost the battle to live independently. I knew at that point it was probably all over. Unemployment, suggests JC? That would amount to 65% of a sum already well below the minimum annual wage. Unemployment wouldn't cover basic personal expenses let alone any living expenses and would only be available for 3 years. Retirement in France wouldn't start for me before age 67 and would be unliveable as it's based on lifelong contributions.

Condition Two: Have a relationship with a man who wants to construct an equal life together, buy a house, have security of lodgings in old age. I told JC I could sell my house in Auckland, contribute equally to a house with him in France and use the balance for my retirement. "That will never happen" he said. He doesn't want to change his life and I understand that because his home means the world to him. He won't let me contribute financially to the property because I'd never have the money or technical expertise  to manage this large, expensive terrain if he was gone. And anyway, everything goes automatically to his kids. That's how it works in France.

 I am currently dependent on JC for a roof over my head so the moment he changes his mind or gets really sick and has to move out or even dies (he's much older than me) I will instantly find myself a sans abri - a homeless person standing in the road with my suitcase and no resources to save myself. I'm saddened after nearly seven years that having a roof over my head and food on the table and interesting company from JC is the extent of what I can look forward to here in France. I've been existing and not living and it's destructive of the spirit.

Through a particular set of circumstances France has been, on balance, a very painful experience. I do love France and just one of those conditions appearing would have changed my life here completely. I thought anything was possible in such a big and interesting country but it's not possible if you are not allowed to have it. My experiences here have not been typical expat ones, I could not have known what would be in store. Life is short and another year of barely existing with no hope for improvement or security is something I can't face, despite my feelings for JC.

I have to do what was unthinkable and leave France because, without at least one of the conditions, it's not possible to stay. I'd rather jump on my own terms than be pushed. I've swallowed my disappointment and hung in here to get my citizenship, passport and ID card in case a miracle occurs one day which could see me return, and I've voted in the elections. My dream is the past. I have to find a new dream and move forward. It's going to be scary jumping into a void, arriving back in New Zealand even older, with a suitcase and little else to start all over again. I don't know where I'll go or what I'll do but I'm going to work towards a better life with more social contact where I can make a contribution somewhere and actually put down roots. I'm heartbroken and there will be scars that may never heal (every time I miss JC). I sincerely hope I will have the opportunity to spend time with JC again in France one day even though our circumstances may be different and the potager we built together will no longer exist after I leave. In the meantime we will try to make the most of what time is left to us.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Amboise and da Vinci - the return

The annual bus trip for members of a local historical society came around and this time we were visiting Amboise - a royal town, palace and location for Leonardo da Vinci's last three years.
JC and I had been there before but decided a bus trip where everything was organised, including a guided tour of the palace, might be a pleasant way to pass a Saturday. We did learn a few new things from the guide.

After travelling 2.5 hours we needed a pit stop and where better than an ancient cafe which has been in the one family for several generations. Bigot is known for its patisseries (pastries) and was founded in 1913. JC declared his pain au chocolat delicious and I certainly enjoyed my pain au raisin, washed down with a real hot chocolate (not made from powder). You'll find it across from the street leading to the royal palace of Ambroise. From the castle you have panoramic views over the Loire River and the countryside. Somewhere nearby in those tree covered hills in the distance lives Mick Jagger in his chateau La Fourchette in the village of Pocé-sur-Cisse (see photo of his chateau). He describes it as his “haven of peace in the valley of kings”. I like the Loire Valley area too and would love to live there though it's unlikely to happen.
There has been a building on site for many centuries. Its strategic position has always attracted wealthy opportunists and kings including Clovis in 503 or Philippe-Auguste in 1214 but especially Charles VIII and his wife Anne de Bretagne. All their children died young. Charles ruled until 1498 when he hit his head on a low doorway while walking to a tennis game in the palace courtyard and put himself into a coma from which a few hours later he died. He was only 28, rather ugly but often successful militarily, especially in Italy during the time of the Borgias and other leading families fighting for control of the Italian peninsula. His widow was obliged to marry his cousin who became Louis XII so Anne became queen of France twice in a row.

Before he died, Charles had constructed a solid wing of the palace and it is this wing plus one other which is all that remains of this once amazing place. Most of the palace was demolished in the nineteenth century. In this diagram you can see which parts once existed and all that remains today (black). Sad. I would have loved to see it and its gardens at the height of their splendour.

Many French monarchs stayed at Amboise for varying lengths of time: Henry IV who was assassinated in Paris, Louis XIII, Louis XIV and very notably Francois 1 who refurbished the Renaissance wing and added Italian flavours. (See bust of Francois beside a tapestry in the photo). Francois had spent his childhood here and years later invited Leonardo da Vinci to spend his last years in Amboise as his friend, confident, engineer and special event designer. Francois I died at Rambouillet, some years before his great rival Henry VIII of England died.

As I entered the council chamber with its fleur de lys columns and stained glass windows I was surprised to see a fire blazing in one chimney. It was magical to see it still working after all those centuries and it was most appreciated in the cold temperatures during our visit.

The palace is a museum containing furniture and furnishings from many periods. Of note is a French-manufactured piano, tapestries from the sixteenth century, one of the first extendable tables, a room devoted to Louis-Philippe last of the Bourbon kings of France who ruled for only 10 years (1840-1850) until he was ousted and spent his last years in exile in England. He signed off on the failed attempt to colonise Akaroa and the South Island of New Zealand.

Leonardo's remains were buried on the grounds in a church in 1519 but that was knocked down and so he was reinterred in the ancient chapel of Saint-Hubert in 1871. This chapel, built in 1493 has outstanding stone sculptures over the door and inside the lace-like stone carving is impressive. The windows, though beautiful, were installed in the 20th century because the originals were blown out by German bombing during WW2.

A short walk from the palace you can visit Clos Luce, da Vinci's home for the end of his life. We were supposed to have a guided visit but there was chaos. I felt the management was poor. Our group had to be divided into 2 so some of us waited. JC and I thought a drink while waiting would be in order but the café on site offered no interest in us and no service and so we lost a lot of time waiting to have an order taken. Like too many places in France, staff put their other chores ahead of serving waiting clients. They'd rather not be disturbed by money-paying customers. With no time left to explore the grounds and gardens and models of da Vinci's machines we eventually sculled a drink and moved into the chateau. Despite our guide, dressed as da Vinci's cook, and her efforts to show us around we missed half of what was to be seen. Again, the management are not efficient and can't cope with crowds.
We looked out a window to see the same view of the palace, so close, that Leonardo would have had. We saw the main dining room cum meeting room and the kitchen and a few scale models hurriedly walked through but not his bedroom and other places, before we had to leave to retake the bus. JC and I felt a bit short-changed. Luckily we were not first- (and only) time visitors. For more information and photos of Amboise and Clos Luce visit

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Voting in France - the first time

What an auspicious day! Got up, showered and accompanied JC to the local mairie. Today was the first round of voting in the French elections and of special significance to me. Today was the first time I had had the right to vote in France as a freshly minted citizen. Today I would be voting for the President of France. Further down the track would be voting for the representatives in the senate.
The system is quite different to that of New Zealand. You receive your voting card in the mail. This is later followed by all the candidate bumpf and the voting slips. Yes, you receive a piece of paper with the name of each presidential candidate. Individual pieces of paper are sent, not a list where you tick the candidate of your choice. JC ended up with two packs. Thank goodness he checked both as his preferred candidate did not have a voting slip in one of them. That's a bit dodgy. Fortunately the second pack did contain one.
When I got to the local mairie on election day, today, there was no queue at all. All was calm, quiet. I shook hands with the officials administering the voting and gave les bises (kisses) to the woman in charge of the electoral roll because I know her. She's the wife of one of JC's hunting buddies and an organiser of the Chartres Business Women's Network.

My electoral card was stamped to show I had participated. Along a side table were stacks of candidate slips, in case you hadn't brought your own (I had). JC explained you could just take one from the pile of your preferred candidate but everyone would then know who you were voting for, or you could do as some voters did and take one from each pile before heading into the screened booth.

In I went, took out my preferred candidates name slip, popped it in the envelope provided, slid it into the voting box on the main desk, signed the electoral roll with my current name (even though I am obliged to vote in my maiden name - no it doesn't make sense but that's the French way), received back my voting card for the future voting rounds and off we headed into the chilly sunshine.

In two weeks time I will have to vote again, this time between the two most successful candidates. Who will they be? We won't really know for sure until tomorrow night but it's a very important election this time. Will France stay in the EU? Will it decide to continue the socialist policies of Holland? Would it prefer a communist at the head? I really can't understand why anyone would want to live in a communist country but many French traditionally have these leanings. There are candidates with the charisma of a gnat, candidates who look like they should just put their slippers on and play with the grandkids, candidates who have little experience but powerful and rich friends, candidates who are now famous for immoral behaviour which has been encouraged by corrupt French systems, candidates who want to lock France into it's already very stagnant past.

The choice is scary. Voters tend not to educate themselves on the issues ( as is the case in many democracies) and just listen to the left-wing media. The campaign this time has been turgid and dirty. Rather a baptism of fire for me. I did watch the slots allotted to each candidate on TV but didn't watch most of the debates as they were too difficult for me to understand, language-wise. I did look over the candidates' publicity. The countdown has started. Whatever the outcome, it could change France and Europe. No, I'm not telling you who I voted for today.