Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The world in black and white





It arrived silently in the wee hours, magically, like Father Christmas. No doubt he'd be feeling at home here in Cafeolait and Paris. The snow. And there's plenty more on the way. Everything horizontal is white, everything vertical is black. The view from the train is beautiful.

The air burns the inside of my nose and ears but it's slightly warmer just after it has snowed. I can't explain that, the following days seem even colder. It's very dangerous trying to walk outside. Shoes and boots slide. If someone is walking faster than me it's invariably a guy. They must have better shoes or balance. I set off this morning and almost reached the station when my NZ walking shoes gave out. The soles completely detached. So I missed my train and had to turn around and go home for more footwear. It wasn't fun trying to walk in snow and ice without any soles. Ahh, just another verse in a miserable song.

Yes, things have been rather miserable lately. After Bent's bizarre and hurtful behaviour I was further disappointed by my belongings not arriving when promised. I had to take a day off work. They didn't arrive and no one contacted me. I had to do a bit of research to find someone in the UK to handle my enquiry. Apparently the haulage company had not loaded my stuff the night before. Bad timing for me, adding to an already miserable day.

At 8.30 on Saturday my mobile rang to say they were outside the studio with my stuff. Still in my PJs I donned my coat and never went outside the rest of the day. Everything arrived in good condition except a beloved candle vase on a pedestal. It had not been packed in the vertical position-broken. Disappointing and not expensive enough for me to waive the excess and lay a claim. I spent the rest of the day trying to refocus my life away from my short-lived relationship with Gerard. I wrote him an email explaining how I felt and that I was hurt and didn't understand his reaction. He did not reply.

I did receive the following email:"send me quickly all the details of the car : year, model, kilom├ętrage, puissance fiscale, type.May be I can sell it to my partner"..Hmm was it his way to make contact again? Was he still trying to be helpful? After some very brief exchanges he sent:"OK I bring my friend monday evening at 6h30 in your place. He will bring his car and take your one if he likes it. remember to ask 3500 euros for your car.Tell him that you paid that sum of money to get the car OK?...He will repair the tire if he takes the car and he will drive it until you bring him the car registration".

Bent knew I had not paid quite that amount of money. Why would he want his partner to pay more? He also thought he might know of a small car I could buy inexpensively so I would have some money in my pocket- we'd discussed that several days ago.

I discussed this with the ladies over lunch at work. They were alarmed. They had all sorts of scary hypotheses. If I am given cash it's probably counterfeit, maybe they will take the car keys and drive off, maybe they are trying to steal your money,maybe the cars are stolen, maybe they will discuss ripping me off in rapid french so I can't understand their dastardly plan. Shit!!! This sort of thing isn't really an issue in NZ. In fact, cash is considered safer than anything else. I was reminded I am not in NZ.

Bent had not answered my heartfelt letter to him and had not rung me. I decided not to take the risk and sent an email and text to cancel the meeting. I wanted to see him to find out what was going on but he never called me to enquire why I cancelled and he never turned up on my doorstep. How can you believe anything tender guys say even when their eyes suggest they are speaking the truth?

I suspect he had some feelings for me and genuinely hoped I would stick around but it would have been completely on his terms and I'm not about to be controlled as I have been in the past. There would have been further disappointments for me I'm sure. It's a shame the white side of him lost out to the black. Time will heal my heart - again but it showed me that I really do want and need some tenderness and companionship from a nice man. I had a taste of it and it was great. Now there's a big void again. I'm sad.

I'm also sad about the serious financial situation I am in by buying my boss's car. It was rather too expensive for me. To change ownership and buy new plates cost more than 300 euros. On top of that I had to pay more than another 300 euros to replace TWO tyres and pay for parking for the car.It was horrifying. I'm also advised that the condition of the car is such it may be difficult to sell. I had little opportunity to test drive or see the car properly in daylight. I should have insisted.

Normally I would never be in this situation but I'm in it because I cannot manage the language and bureaucracy difficulties alone with buying a car and I was unaware of the cost of changing ownership. Then there was the situation where I had to drive at night and damaged a tyre.On top of that there's insurance. I have no money to eat for the next month - no kidding. I still have to pay train trips to work, personal insurance, contents insurance, car insurance, tax, rent and what is left over would have gone on food, not a car. I also have to pay the NZ Embassy just to stamp some photocopies of documents are genuine-I'm trying to replace my drivers license (there are no justices of th peace here), and I've had to pay to have my birth certificate translated, courrier fees for a replacement VISA since the metro incident. This is way beyond my little salary so I must sell the car somehow to raise funds. Merde!

This dream of mine is not for the faint-hearted. I seem to have crammed a lot of misfortune into a short period. Fingers crossed next year will be gentler. I love France but not this level of struggle.

The ladies at work have been great. One invited me over to her place for dinner Saturday night. She knew I was struggling. I spent a delightful evening watching her serve up a french home-cooked meal, met her husband Frederic and their two lovely children. We had fun, spoke two languages and I had some good advice from her. She and her husband have worked wonders on what was a derelict house and garden. It has been transformed into a classy and comfortable home for a family and friends. I love learning about the lives of 'real' french people.

Camille is helping me to sort out the car- it now has plates and two new tyres and under-cover parking. She will also help me sell it to buy something smaller and cheaper. Do I need a car? YES.

It's very difficult to do grocery shopping without one. I must buy tiny quantities with little choice in a more expensive supermarket, I cannot take up my bellydancing without one, I cannot visit anyone outside of Cafeolait effectively without one, I can't explore the countryside or develop confidence in making an independent life here without being able to drive.

I took all these things for granted in NZ- driving, managing my own affairs. I'm like an adolescent getting into difficulties and needing mum and dad to help me sort things out and learn. I'm dependent and I don't like it but I am so lucky to find such generous people who help when they can. I love France, just not the current situation. I'm making big mistakes because I want to see the positive in things. Prudence-more prudence.

Photos: Ralph Lauren window display in Paris, winter outside my windows.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Barely above zero




It's scarcely above zero outside. Snow fell yesterday and I saw it alongside the traintrack as I made my way sadly and distraughtly from Bent's apartment this morning. My heart is so chilled by the icy blast I experienced this morning from Gerard. I was happy to spend time with him. I was even falling in love with him and he said he had loved me very quickly and deeply and I was perfect for him, that he had never been so happy in his life. He certainly seemed genuine. We had spent several days together, he had given me a bracelet of his mother's and we were to spend a week in Marrakesh during my Christmas holidays.

Last night we had arranged for me to stay over at this house for the first time. We were both looking forward to it; he picked me up from work, I introduced him to the ladies in my office. We went ages in the freezing temperatures getting his groceries whereas he had said we might look at the Christmas lights along the Champs Elysee. We had some lovely cuddles on the couch in front of TV and he told me many times how lucky he was to find such an angel because he had given up hope, he loved me so much.

Great. We spent some nice intimate time together. Being post-menopausal I have some difficulties in this area but consideration and patience can surmount those with a compatible man. It bothered Gerard that he couldn't do everything he wanted but maybe time could improve things.

When I wake up in the morning it seems natural to me to want to reach over and kiss and cuddle my man. But when I tried to this morning I was told not to, to never kiss him in the morning because it was disgusting without people brushing teeth first and he never shows affection in the morning. I tried to encourage a little compromise but no, so I said things weren't working well. That was death to the relationship, my attempt to kiss him. I was so shocked and incredulous. He turned his back on me and told me I'd better organise myself to catch a train home. That's all he said. So I made my way to the lounge, changed from my PJs and cried. He came in and said nothing, walked ahead of me several spaces, would not share the lift with me and preferred to take the stairs. I asked him what was happening with him and was told I obviously wanted everything my way and didn't respect him. He said he can turn his feelings off, if there is a disease he amputates it.

I told him he was being cruel to me and he said I was just being clever with my words. Really, this was beyond a devastating experience for me. I have spent my life never finding a man who really wants me, who would stay, who values me and all the loyalty and affection I can bring. They say it but they don't mean it. I dared to love and trust and hope and within 10 hours it was over because I wanted to kiss or cuddle my man before lunch. Incredible.

Yes, I know, his past was very bad and I had discussed this with the ladies in my office. Bent spent most of his life as a gangster for a 'Godfather". He only shot one person and killed them to rescue a woman but he has certainly fired guns at bad guys and wounded them and been a bank robber as well as having inside knowledge on political assasinations. He told me he'd spent years with cocaine, cigarettes and champagne and 5000 (yes) 5000 women but gave it all up a long time ago. At 64 years of age he had realised what he wanted and often helps other people. He spent a total of 15 years in jail in various countries. Last night he told me he might have to risk a trip to Belgium to collect an expensive watch they were keeping for him that he had lost in prison there.Going back to Belgium risks being jailed there. I was unhappy the man I loved could be jailed for several months so he decided to delay the visit so we could spend time together. His past still affects his present even in small ways. But I loved to talk to him and hold him and share extraordinary tenderness. He told me the guys before him must have been arseholes not to want me.

I don't think I will ever understand Bent's brutal reaction and cruel comments and blame of me. How can a man not want to be woken with a kiss? Has the cocaine use in the past affected his sanity? Well, clearly I do not have a happy future there. Do I have one anywhere? I'm feeling more lonely than ever - there's no special person to share kindnesses with and Christmas now looks horribly bleak.

On top of this I took the day off to receive my personal effects. They never arrived. Cockup in the UK. I'm alone in my studio with a breaking heart, with scarcely enough money to eat for the next week, car bills and wondering if I'm really meant to be in France. Or anywhere. This blog is all about finding and realising my dreams. It involves my search for lasting love. Right now it's looking as hopeless as the day I was born.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Pitfalls and pitstops


I really could do with things being a little less challenging at present. Maybe I should buy a large carton of vitamin B tablets because I'm definitely feeling a bit run down.

On Monday night after work I took possession of my car. I didn't want to do this at night because I felt it was too risky driving for the first time in France in a car unknown to me, arranged differently to cars in NZ, manual, out in the countryside without any streetlights or GPS. Unfortunately I had no choice. That's when the boss wanted to do the handover so I asked Michelle to come along with me so I didn't get lost and to supervise my driving. Thank God I did. Things took an unpleasant turn (excuse the pun).

I tried to keep to the right side of the road but the country roads are narrow and most are unlit. I had no idea where I was going and just followed instructions from Michelle. I didn't feel safe in this situation. In hindsight I should have asked her to drive but I've been driving since I was 17.

The car is practically a stationwagon and not well looked after though it seems to run well-enough. As I negotiated the country road my right tyre clipped the kerb. These kerbs are exceedingly tall in France so clipping one is a big deal. I kept control of the car but only managed to drive 100m before it was clear I had no functioning tyre/wheel. Here we were in pitch dark, two women alone in the country. What to do?

The first thing was to erect a reflective triangle and set it up on the road, then don a reflective vest. This is a legal requirement for all motorists. We couldn't locate the spare wheel and we struggled to find the right tools for changing a wheel. A man stopped but was unable to assist. Michelle called her husband to assist. He came as fast as he could and eventually, after much searching, found the spare wheel underneath the car- it eventually fell onto the road, an impossible situation for a woman to cope with. The run-down tool kit seemed hopelessly inadequate to me. It was difficult and fiddly for Thomas to use and try as he might he could not get the wheel to let go of the car. Another driver stopped by and the two men tried to help pull it off. No luck and an hour in freezing temperatures had passed. There's no AA in France. I felt left out of doing anything to help because I was shaking with shock, cold and despair at not being able to understand anything anyone was saying. Michelle rang the garage which normally services the car (we'd stopped in there with Martin before he handed over the car). Just as it seemed like the mechanic would have to do an emergency trip out to us another stiff kick from Thomas finally released the wheel's hold on the car and the spare could be put on. He drove 'my' car to Cafeolait and parked it outside the church while Michelle drove me there in their car.

It's still there (I hope) because I need to find a garage to fix the tyre or replace it and also to put on the new number plates. In the light of the next morning I was disappointed to see lots of gouges and scratches on the car that I had not put there and the interior is very run-down. It's a 2002 Peugeot 307 but mine is looking older. Why did I buy it? because I was informed that to try to find one on my own would be difficult and that I was getting a good deal. I had never had the chance to have a good and relaxed look at it because the boss had always been in a hurry and it was always full of stuff. He explained he'd made sure it was always well serviced and the engine did seem to run well.

All well and good but I'll be selling it. It's not right for me; too heavy and big in narrow town streets, too hard for me to park and I'd rather have something with better inside and outside aesthetics even if it's a wee twingo. An automatic would be helpful too. This whole experience has been another financial struggle: the cost of the car was more than double what I got for selling my NZ car, the insurance costs are high, I must find paid parking as most folks living in an apartment cannot park at home. There are the running costs and the cost of a Carte Gris is horrifying. That's the change of ownership papers and each time the car is sold it must have new plates.

Yesterday Michelle and I spent hours trying to secure those papers and plates at the prefecture. The day didn't start as planned for us, the weather was freezing and there was the inevitable long wait in a queue before being seen by an officious young woman. She wanted to send us away because my habitation situation is not normal (I'm not the person directly renting the studio). Michelle came up with a solution to get some documentation faxed through. It worked and I got to pay 284 euros for the privilege of buying a car that's no good for me. Sigh!

Bent may be able to help me move the car to a repair garage on Friday.Speaking of Friday-my personal effects are due to be delivered to me at last. Fingers crossed all is OK.
Photo of the model of car I've bought but in a different condition to mine.Mine too is green.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Rebuilding





Little by little I am putting my life back together after the robbery in the Metro. I now have a replacement Carte Bleue and a new NZ Visa. The later cost a lot of money to get here but full marks to the ASB for having a 24 hour emergency service manned by NZers,and responding very promptly to cancelling my stolen VISA and getting a new one to me. A little more rigmarole to replace the French one but, once again, with the help of a colleague, I now have access to funds. Almost nothing, but I did manage to buy some groceries so that's cool. Replacing my drivers license is another ball game. There are no such things as Justices of the Peace here who can sign and validate a photocopy of a document. I need that because NZ Land Transport says to send various ones to them, not original documents. I will need to ask the NZ Embassy in Paris if they can do that for me. If yes, I will have to take a day off work to travel to Paris-what a pain.

I'm also having to take next Friday off because my personal effects arrive from NZ to the studio. It's ridiculous, they don't deliver on Saturdays. I wonder if there will come a time when I am actually 'settled' without all this moving and bureaucratic crap to deal with. I still need to find some wrapping paper so I can post Christmas presents to NZ. Such a simple detail is so difficult to do. Bookshops are not common and my local supermarket doesn't stock anything like that. Most of the time I cannot do this shopping because I am working during opening hours. I get things done eventually but great patience is required.

I may get my car tomorrow. The boss is leaving for NZ for a few weeks so it needs to get sorted tomorrow. He also popped in to collect some of the small stuff in the studio so my home is a little less cluttered. Before Christmas I am hoping his enormous wall unit will be gone so I can set up my stereo and not have to get bruised each day trying to get around the corner of my bed. My new curtains will function better too with more room.

Last Tuesday Bent kindly picked me up from work and came over to install my curtains. It was a job and a half. The drill couldn't penetrate the wall coverings/wood properly and the windows are at the end of reach of a man of normal height standing on a rickety table. It's not fancy. There's no room at the top to install a normal tringle so I had to use a metal cable instead. It sags a bit but at least the curtains are up.

Yesterday I took Bent to Rambouillet to see the castle. We did the tour inside. Yes, it's lovely, visited the seashell cottage and the Queen's Dairy. Awesome. Ancient air-conditioning at the cottage was achieved by embedding thigh bones of cattle into the walls to conduct the humidity outside. Very clever-see my photo.

Bent and I have had some intensive/extensive discussion in recent days. Despite our very different backgrounds and life experiences we enjoy each others company. We are not what we 'expected to meet'. I needed to consult with the lovely ladies at work to see if I should be considering a relationship with a man with such a past but, french attitudes are less rigid than in NZ. Their advice was that if he treats you well now and does not have the old behaviours then give it a go. And I think he deserves a chance. So we'll see. Could 2010 be the year when Frances achieves almost all her dreams?
Stick with this blog. I suspect my adventures may only be 'getting started'.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

NZ???? What?



Ah, those strange little occurrences each day that stick in your mind for a short time and then exit forever. I had one of those today. I went to the University cafeteria/restaurant because for 2 euros I can get a bowl of soup, a yoghurt and a microscopic salad. Good value for money. While I was trying to decide on what combination to choose at the salad bar, I was stopped by a journalist and cameraman. They wanted to interview me about sustainable food and what was on offer in the caf.

I explained I don't speak French very well but they didn't beat a hasty retreat so I gave it a go. They clearly found it entertaining because they kept filming my impromptu french. I explained I was eating less meat, eating more fruit and vegetables, used to grow my own and that the caf always had fruit and vegetables on the menu, just look around. Pretty pathetic really but it was all I could do. Bit of a laugh with all the French folks around who could explain so much better.

The day I got robbed in the metro in Paris I spent part of the evening with Camille giving a police statement in Cafeolait. We were seated by a French woman police person. We had barely got started on the statement, I handed over my passport proactively and was asked what NZ is? Camille was a bit taken aback and replied that it is a country. And what nationality was I, asked the policewoman. Camille shuffled in her seat and tried to explain I was a NZer. How do you spell that? How do you spell Auckland. Hell, what an insult. Camille and I looked at each other incredulously. That policewoman must have been kept indoors all her career.

Tomorrow I am attending my first Symposium. It's being held in Evry - an area I know nothing about and in order to get a lift there with a colleague I must meet her in the centre of Cafeolait at 6.30am. OOOh. Better than trying to make my way there via multiple train connections. We'll spend all day there and on Friday evening the plan is for me to attend a party on a Bateau Mouche on the Seine with some of Victoria's acquaintances who are into politics and human rights and stuff. Should be interesting. I'll have to brave the Metro again- cringe. I don't have a wallet to steal at present (I'm using my makeup purse instead- bit embarassing at the supermarket but it can't be helped).

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Disappointing and Disastrous weekend




Sit down with a cuppa or a wine for this one...
I'm feeling a bit sorry for myself. I was so looking forward to this long weekend. I even sacrificed a day of annual leave. The plan was to meet a possible new friend who might become more than a friend and thus have some company and maybe tenderness in my life, have my curtains installed at last (I'm desperate) and do my Christmas shopping for NZ as the deadline for postage is looming.

On Thursday I caught the train to Versailles Chantier to meet up with Bent. We had arranged to go to visit the Louvre together. I'd never been there and I felt it was a good place to go to meet someone for the first time. The weather was dreadful. My umbrella was damaged within one minute of stepping outside my door. Being a public holiday the traffic in Paris was atrocious. We drove through the tunnel where Princess Diana died- it still feels dangerous. Battling the elements we finally made it to the doors of the Pyramid not long after lunch.

Queues on queues. The facilites can no longer keep up with the patronage. After the effort of getting to the Louvre we just managed to secure a table in the restaurant and have a quick bite before heading off to the Egyptian exhibit which interests us both.

Bent is 64, mostly retired and spends a lot of time in Morroco. He speaks 8 languages and has an extremely colourful history, not all of it savoury. A reformed playboy, he's good looking, keeps in shape and very interesting to talk to. I was enjoying myself. We talked so much (mostly English with a bit of French thrown in by each of us from time to time) that we frequently had to remind ourselves to look at the exhibits. They are awesome in the full sense of the word.

It's really powerful to look at artifacts 3000-5000years old and know that people made them and touched them and who are now just atoms of the planet. Well, most of them anyway. We did see a mummy. It was rivetting and sad to see someone that old still 'here'. I was totally pissed off at myself for not bringing my camera but the weather wasn't accommodating for that- my camera is not compact.

We spent 5 hours in the Egyptian exhibit and still didn't see everything there. The Louvre itself had an extention added a few years ago and it's beautiful inside. The famous modern pyramid is a triumph of integration between the ancient and modern and to be inside it and looking up at the night sky outside is magical. As we (tried) to navigate the Champs Elysee I saw the 'sparkler' for the first time. I had very briefly seen the Eiffel Tower at night back in June but I had never seen the lightshow that occurs every few minutes. What a shame we couldn't get closer, it was gone almost immediately as we tried to make our way to Versailles for some spaghetti.

Bent generously paid for everything but was a little overly enthusiastic with kissing so this lead to a bit of an uncomfortable debate the next day.

Once again I made my way by train to Versailles expecting to go cycling with Bent in the grounds of the palace. The weather was horrid again but I took my sneakers as requested. Nothing went smoothly. My train was delayed almost an hour by climatic problems on the line. Good grief, problems already and it's still above zero degrees.

Poor Bent had to wait for me. This was not a good day for that to happen. When we met up he told me he was in a very bad mood. And he certainly was. No wonder.

Earlier that morning his sports car had been destroyed by a massive fire in the carparking building where he stored it during the winter months. A nice silver Mercedes sports car it was totally burned along with 300 cars. A major financial and bureaucratic headache, not to mention the disappointment. We saw several cars still barely driveable but black, trying to drive away, and several even more blackened parked in various parts of his town. His car was gone though. Luckily he had another car which he could drive.

We didn't end up cycling, we visited Saint Germain en Laye instead, a pretty and affluent town.  His apartment is very tastefully decorated with Morrocan furniture, lovely pieces and in my favourite colours. He likes to write poetry- it's quite clever but dark. Perhaps we might end up as friends if he decides he wants that. He's certainly wonderfully helpful when it comes to finding me a warm coat in a style that suits me. "No, that's for an old woman, no, what you want isn't on offer this season but take a look at this one... here's one for a good price". So now I have a warm coat for a reasonable price thanks to advice from a man whose taste in women's clothes I can trust. NZ teaches you nothing about warm coats.

All the trials and heartaches I've been through with men have been very heavy going in my life. So far just in France I have been rejected by an acupuncturist who couldn't accept me because I don't eat fish, then there's a lovely guy who seemed to enjoy my company but is too busy to spend any time with me and doesn't want a relationship (you can probably guess who I am referring to from posts way back), another guy who said no because my french isn't perfect and another who blows hot and cold and needs to sort himself out. Not to mention the terrible Jerome period that wasted two years of my life and caused me major emotional hurt. Are there any men out there who actually want ME and to stay with me and appreciate the well-rounded character that I am AND that I would care about too? I'm still looking. So disappointing so far but worse was to come.

With my hopes for some curtains to be installed dashed for the time being I decided that, despite the hassles financially, physically and time-wise, I'd go to Paris to do some Christmas shopping for a couple of special people in Auckland. I had to do it now because posting stuff to NZ takes time. Ghastly weather but took my camera, bag, broken umbrella and a bag to put purchases in. I had no real idea where to go for anything because buying for NZ is very difficult and I don't know Paris for shopping. I decided to head towards Boulevard Haussmann and visit Galeries Lafayette, a very famous and enormous parisian department store. Oh dear- the people. The store had set up their Christmas window displays and anyone with kids (and without) was looking at them, clogging up the pavement. Dancing cancan bears, Mamma Mia Abba bears popping out of cakes to the sound of the musical tracks in french.

The store is great but tiring and I spent 4 hours trying to find anything suitable to post. I ended up having to be rather predictable but at least things are ready to post(when I eventually have access to money-read on). I got lost a bit trying to see past my broken umbrella in the wind and rain and darkening skies but a friendly Metro cashier advised me how to make numerous changes of train until I could get back to Gare Paris Montparnasse. Second to last stop was Porte d'Orleans where I purchased my ticket to Montparnasse where I would purchase another ticket home. I never saw my wallet again.

Somewhere between my crowded experiences on the train and negotiating the enormous complex that is Paris Montparnasse my wallet disappeared. I was horrified when I discovered it missing when trying to purchase my ticket home. All my money, my French and NZ credit cards, my drivers license and sundry other things. I had prudently hung my handbag around my neck but it was still easy for someone to pick. I had my arms full and everything was crowded.

The police in Paris wouldn't help me because I couldn't prove my identity. I was told to visit the police in Cafeolait and lay a complaint. How to do that? I had no money. I was told to get on a particular train without paying- oh great! I sent a Mayday to Victoria. Thank goodness she answered. Like a trooper she called my french bank for me and found the number to call for me to contact ASB Auckland. Shaking from all the stress I finally got through to the ASB but couldn't stay on the line long because international calls on my prepay phone chew up the credits. I called them back when i got back to the studio. Camille called me (alerted by Victoria) and called in to pick me up to help out with the language barrier of making a statement in French. Thank God for those two lovely ladies. My bank cards are cancelled but the other stuff is a problem. I have no money and no access to money for some days. I have to sort out the issues of my drivers license.

I am so glad I do not usually carry my passport. I could use that to prove my identity to the police in Cafeolait. Folks, scan ALL docs and save them on the gmail or hotmail servers. I must stay inside my uncomfy little studio until work on Monday. I can't even buy a loaf of bread. What an awful weekend. Hope yours was better.
Photos: Castle (Henry 4th) at Saint Germain en Laye, and Galeries Lafayette

Saturday, 6 November 2010

With a little help from my friends




Exactly, thank you Beatles.
Recently I've had help from the lovely ladies at work. I like to introduce some of my colleagues to you from time to time.

Meet Michelle. She handles lots of administrative things for the organisation. We've spent a fair bit of time together some work-days battling the famous French bureaucracy. I could NOT have opened a bank account or taken out car insurance without her help. Consequently I'm managing now to fit in a little better to french society and manage my own life to a limited degree. I can do internet banking (still teaching myself all that), use a Carte Bleue credit/debit card and I think I might be able to sort out a savings account to put the dreaded tax money into to meet the yearly bill.

This week Michelle and I spent ages trying to obtain car insurance for me. We had an idea how much it might cost but I couldn't afford it and Victoria said, no, you can get it cheaper. So Michelle and I did exactly that thanks to her negotiation skills. The car is insured, even though I don't have it yet, and I have taken out some personal accident insurance in case of disaster. Otherwise, I would have NO protection, would be possibly unable to work,or support myself anywhere. Accidents are not covered by the social security system here. Imagine what could happen to a new immigrant if they didn't take out personal insurance. It's another expense but essential. Once my belongings arrive I can insure them too.

Last night Camille invited me to her apartment. She lives right by the station so it was easy to get to her place. She's a beautiful young lady with a Masters degree helping to keep all sorts of projects under control at work. We had a lovely evening with me trying out a splash of Muscat and learning about convenience meals for when you are working and arrive home tired. She has a gorgeous little grey kitten called Nala (from the Lion King) which we played with and which got very naughty, in a cute way, with all the attention and excitement. I do miss having a cat but it's not reasonable for me to have one when I am not securely settled in France. We had some in-depth discussions in English and inserted some French from time to time. It was a lovely way to start the weekend even though I was feeling so tired.

Victoria looks after the international partnerships. We often have to work together on various tasks and that's likely to continue into the future. She speaks fluent French and good English. It was sh ewho gave up her personal time after work recently to take me shopping for curtains. That was an excruciating process but she was so patient and never complained. I learnt a lot about car insurance and all sorts of random stuff from her.

I'll introduce you to other good people as we go along and as I meet them. They are all very welcoming, helpful and generous. I'm already fond of them. That's important when you spend so much of your life at work.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Just another Kiwi



In the five weeks I've been in the office at work there hasn't been one crack about Kiwis or kiwi jokes. Most French people who discover I'm a NZer are either impressed, surprised or not phased at all. We don't seem to have any 'baggage' as far as they are concerned. In this crazy world that's a plus.

There was a fun surprise in store though. One of the employees had received a toy kiwi as a gift. They dragged it out and took a photo of it and me together for a laugh. The two kiwis...it was funny and the only reminder I've had that I come from New Zealand. I hope my few belongings arrive in about a week to 10 days.

Last night I contacted the Department of Births Deaths and Marriages in Wellington. It appears the NZ Embassy in Paris finds my birth certificate unacceptable. It's the only one I've ever had, it's original and the price of 2 shillings is clearly printed on it. This sort of crap really gets up my nose. I need to have my birth certificate translated into French- don't bother trying to work that one out, apparently dates in one language are not acceptable in another- keeps someone employed I suppose. I need my birth certificate translated so that I can apply for social security. At the moment I have NO protection for anything, sickness, accident, unemployment, whatever, and I still have to pay taxes anyway.

I sent my birth certificate and the inevitable high fee, to the Embassy here because they must do a certified translation for the use of the French Government. No, no I must have a 'long version', as if my mother's maiden name is of any relevance here at all- it's nothing to do with me But...

The time difference means I must ring international from home at night. The problem with my phone needed to be sorted out before I could phone NZ. I seem to have untangled all the programming and strange Portugese message system that the previous tenant had installed so I can call out properly now. Naturally to get a new birth certificate copy AND courier it to France is going to cost me another bundle. Oh the money-go-round, for no real result- I'm here already. My old birth certificate has been perfectly fine up until now- what happened? BTW for a small additional fee you can have your new birth certificate covered in glorious artwork from a choice of designs.

Beware, recently I have discovered that these 'milestone moments' in our lives are not documented as we assume. Were you given a piece of paper to sign at your wedding? Nope, it wasn't a marriage certificate- it was just a notification. You have to know you need to pay money, queue and order the real MacCoy. Otherwise it's not a legal document. Gee, I''ve never had a legal one for more than 35 years. Eriks and I never knew we didn't have a legal document and we still managed to get divorced quite simply. When Stephen and I got divorced we discovered the document we signed at the wedding wasn't a marriage certificate. Better warn the rellies that your death certificate may not mean you are legally dead. Good grief, I thought ignorance was bliss- apparently it's a hassle if you don't know these things. In France a drivers license is not a legal proof of identity.

I'm still waiting to hear from the immigration department of France when I have to have an interview and a medical examination, do 'Becoming French' type courses and have my level of French checked..ho ho there's fodder there methinks.