Thursday, 30 September 2010

Put downs and pickups

What a way to start my day - visiting social security and the predictable red tape. A pregnant lady had an appointment which I watched through a window. It didn't seem to be going well. The lady was getting sadder and more depressed as the minutes ticked by; I thought she was going to cry. I don't know what was going wrong for her but her body language was so dejected when she left. The office person interviewing her was completely dispassionate and unsympathetic. Oh oh, doesn't bode well, I thought. Darned right!

I walked in with the paper the university had told me to take. It was obvious I wasn't French but they made no concessions at all and I felt they deliberately made it difficult for me to understand. They would not slow down. They must have both had botox because there was no amiability there at all. I felt bullied and a non-person. They demanded my birth certificate be translated into french. I asked why they couldn't read a name and a date without it being translated into exactly the same anyway. They don't appreciate anyone questioning anything- this is a big problem in France. They wrote down a list of demands and told me to go away and come back with someone who understands French. Charming, not!

I was so pissed off because this puts my employer out as well. So much time gets wasted on all this crap. I had my passport and visa but that's not good enough. My birth certificate isn't even in my current name. What to do?- I was sizzling even though it was grey and rainy.

Shopping! No no, that's really not normal for me but I had planned to buy some new clothes so I would have something from this century, especially since my personal effects still haven't left NZ yet. I caught a train to Rambouillet. I'm a lot poorer but I had fun. A shop proprietor became my stylist and we dressed me in a very different way to what I'd be doing in NZ, especially at my age but it's perfectly fine in France. I now have an outfit for going somewhere niceish (if I had someone to take me)or even wear to work, an outfit with short pants for work, a fake leather jacket and ankle boots for casual and a teensy bit of makeup PLUS the table lamp I predicted I'd buy, in a sale. It's gold - must be the Versailles influence. Now I can read in bed.

After all that therapy I set out with my camera to explore the Chateau de Rambouillet and parc. I loved it. It's a tad like Versailles but much more intimate with some lovely detailing on the walls. I've got to hand it to Napoleon, he did restore and protect a lot of important buildings and works of art. His bathroom was beautifully done. Francis 1st -well he died in the castle and I saw his bed where it happened. I also saw where Francis X abdicated. The influence of Louis XV and Louis XVI with Marie-Antoinette is strong. There's a lot I could tell you about it if I had time. Sadly I was forbidden to take any photos inside the castle or the Queen's dairy or the seashell cottage.

The art inside is incredible. So much creativity, imagination and superb skill. It's lost to modern folks. No-one would want to build something amazing over 10 or 50 years these days. I walked for kms and I've got the blisters to prove it. I struggled to understand the commentaries given by guides for the chateau and dairy. They speak at full speed in French. I only picked up a tiny fraction which is such a shame because I know they were very knowledgeable. I did wish the guide for the dairy and cottage wouldn't keep brushing his arm against my breast all the time he was explaining things to me (the others had abandoned the tour early so it was just me), it was very off-putting, even though he was a very enthusiastic guide.

On my return from the parc I wandered around the chateau gardens. I saw a guy with a strange gait coming towards me and he made certain I couldn't walk past him. He decided he was going to show me some beautiful gardens around the corner and would like me to accompany him. Well, er OK. So we chatted away in french. Turns out he is a fashion photographer from the very ritsy Parisian suburb of St Germain, named Alain. He then insisted we sit down on a park bench for a chat-no sign of the garden. He proceeded to light a cigarette and ask me questions about me. I made sure I didn't give him the name of my street though he wanted to know it. After a while I started getting a bit fed up with him and his smoking. I told him I wanted to see the garden, he said, after. Next minute he's taking my hand and stroking it and asking why there are no rings. I say I am going to look at the garden. He tries to kiss me and is mighty put out that I do not allow him any 'bises'. A solid no from me and he vanished like a genie. No garden.

How annoying. Second time today a guy has immediately gone straight up to me and tried to get me to have a coffee. It's not flattering because they do it with no thought for who I am at all. They are not interested in me just the game and I am not game to be hunted. I prefer the 'princess' treatment. Guys, please take note: if you are not seriously warm and respectful, piss off.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Oh the pain!

I'm doped up on painkillers today. Is it any wonder with degenerating discs, two long-haul flights, dragging and slinging 30+kgs of luggage around for days, walking screeds of kms on cobbled streets and then finding my click clack bed in my studio has no idea how to spell 'decent mattress'. In fact it has no mattress at all, just a very thin slab of foam on top of all the metal and wires. Utter agony and it curves in the middle so all my weight when lying down concentrates on my lumbar region (my most unhealthy area). No sleep the first night. None at all. Last night I was so desperate I took a sleeping pill and woke up, incredulous, at 10.30a. (12 hours sleep, amazing). Maybe the painkiller helped. Maybe all the extra linen and blankets I could find and stuffed on top of the foam slab helped.

The amount of space in the studio is not too bad for one person, it has a very good location on the ground floor and I'm learning to cope without an oven (don't cook) but the lack of sunlight is a real problem for me. The windows could be lovely but they are permanently covered by solid blinds which are not designed to go up and down. It's like a dungeon and the lighting is so dim I can barely see to read. I shall go out and buy a table lamp tomorrow. I've already tried to find a stronger bulb and can't. I think the problem is it's an old style CF and it points up at the ceiling instead of down.

Today I had to spend quite a few euros getting some essential stuff. A hygienic toilet brush with a bit of life in it, ditto for a towel and bathmat. Then a toothbrush and toothpaste, some teatowels that are recognisable, a mug (only one very cracked one in the studio), a hotwater bottle. I had to buy a frypan and pot as what is here is so bashed and worn out I'm not convinced it would be healthy to use - teflon is coming off.

Not having a car makes any kind of shopping very difficult. It's impossible to lug a week's worth of groceries from the supermarket to my studio and shopping every other day means I spend more money so I invested in one of those shopping trundlers old ladies use. Don't laugh- it makes doing the groceries or going to the markets possible.

Speaking of markets, I discovered there's one outside the mairie (town hall) every Wednesday and Saturday. It's not cheap but it's fun and it's fresh. Tonight I'm going to sit down with fresh strawberries and raspberries to have with some exceedingly dark chocolate ice-cream. Ah chocolate... I found a tin of drinking chocolate, pure cacao from Monbana Chocolatier. I imagine myself as Juliette Binoche's character in the film Chocolat. Really, the tin even has Inca imagery on it. Nice tin, shame the contents barely fill it halfway. Never mind- add a sinful hot chocolate experience to my fruity indulgence this evening.

New pyjamas -great style and fit and great(as in big) price- so I now have two pairs. New haircut too. I'm reinventing myself because, quite frankly, I'm embarrassed when I see my appearance and my clothes and shoes from last century, yes.

Tomorrow I will try to find some affordable clothes that suit me (so far only the outrageously expensive ones seem to appeal). 600 euros for a coat? Choke! Not for me. Thank goodness for my bank loan, I can have fun looking around tomorrow. Apparently boots suitable for snow don't arrive in shops until the beginning of December but they got caught out last year when the snow arrived in November. Oooh that's not far away.

The weather was mild today. I enjoyed wandering around the town, orienting myself, talking to the lady in the Tourism Office, other vendeuses I needed to talk to too. They understood me but I understood barely half of what they said. If in doubt I smiled and said yes, thankyou. Generally the shop assistants are very friendly and helpful.

So you can see-my money got spent at a great rate of knots. Things I really needed, things that will be useful the rest of the year. My hair is a lot shorter, and easier to take care of. I'm making some progress. Tomorrow I'll do some sightseeing and some more clothes shopping before I start work officially on Friday.Today was the first day I thought I might actually enjoy my free time. I'll just keep popping the painkilllers for a bit.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Bitter but beautiful

That sums up Versailles right now. For the past couple of days I've tried to get out of my hotel room and explore but the weather is horridly bitter, windy and occasionally wet. It's hard to believe it's barely Autumn. How cold is it going to be in a month? How on earth will I stand it, namby pamby little Aucklander that I was? Everyone is rugged up but I don't have an adequate 'rug'.

Yesterday I explored a bit of the old city and today I decided to explore parts of the Chateau that I hadn't had time for three months ago (when it was cold and windy then too). Less visited parts include Marie-Antoinette's estate le Petit Trianon and the Grand Trianon. I noticed again how worn everything is. They try to preserve things but it's a far cry from what it must have been in its heyday. Even though things are tired and old the magnificence still shines out. This tourist attraction is one of my favourite places-if only the weather would be warmer so I could relax instead of freezing and hunkering down in my thin little rainjacket.

I put on more comfortable shoes today but the cobbled streets and footpaths of Versailles are quite uncomfortable to walk on for any length of time. I stayed out all day and am physically paying the price but my room is small. My toilet is like a tiny pantry. When I sit on it my knees touch the front wall. I have to keep the door open because I'm no longer limber enough to twist around for the toilet paper in such an enclosed space. So, you can see that outside was a good place to be, certainly in such a beautiful and historic city. I love the architecture.

The Chateau de Versailles is vaste, you can't do it all in a day or even two. I started with Le Petit Trianon and had lunch consisting of a baguette with emmental and ham. Baguetttes in France are nothing like the rubbish you get in NZ. They are firm but easily chewable on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside with a smooth, delicious taste. I followed that up with a chocolate filled eclair for sinfulness and a hot chocolate to chase away some of the cold. The drink was so rich it could hardly fit through the straw. Then on to le Grand Trianon.

Now that I'm living in France I thought I'd be a bit naughty and actually buy a souvenir, hang the cost, because I don't have to worry about the weight of my suitcase now. I bought a little novelty baroque clock (runs on a battery) to remind me of Versailles and a book in English about the Chateau and its environs. After taking more than 80 photos today alone, I needed a pot of tea at la flotille on the grounds of the Chateau. Apart from the physical discomfort and the bitter weather it was a great day and this time the fountains were playing along with the piped baroque music.

Tomorrow another way of life begins. I must catch a train to my new work, to see what arrangements are being made for my studio in another town. I really need to start creating a home base so I can settle.

Enough already

I really don't like long-haul flights, especially back to back, but I have no interest in staying in Singapore when I could be at my real destination of France so; 11 hours + 5 hours at Singapore + 13 hours and then travel from CDG to Versailles (in stages). Auggh! No matter how good the service on the plane there is no compensation for the torture of sitting upright in a seat for more than 10 hours at a time. Get up and stretch, you say? Not much of an option these days as the planes are all full and the aisles clogged with people waiting for the toilets. There's no space to bend so I was reduced to making tiny movements with my calves and ankles during the flights. The woman sitting next to me farted odiferously at regular intervals-I wanted to throw up.The frequent turbulance (even at 37,000 ft) did not help.

No one wanted to talk to me on either flight. They sat beside me with 'cones of slience' switched on. After watching 5 movies I couldn't bear watching another one so I listened to my MP3 player instead. Sleep was impossible to Singapore so I shouted myself a massage and shower at Changi. It's a good service but very expensive. I needed it because I was facing another 13 hours of sporadic moderate turbulance. The internet service is also good so I dropped a line onto my Facebook Page to update everyone.

On arrival at CDG, as on my first visit, no sign of customs checks, really. Not even an arrivals card to fill in, just long waiting queues. Outside the terminal I tried to work out how to get to Versailles. There's nothing direct so I needed to catch a bus to a major train station in Paris, but which one? I asked a bus ticket seller but he had no idea, probably both gare de Lyon and gare de Montparnasse, he suggested. Oh both? The bus driver wasn't helpful either, he thought maybe both? No matter, he was going to both but I'd need to make a decision.

I had plenty of time to do that. The traffic in and out of Paris is so apalling now that it took me nearly 3 hours to get to Montparnasse (luckily I guessed the right gare). I then couldn't find anywhere to buy a simple one-way ticket to Versailles as it's not on a main line. I asked and was told where to go. I went and stood in line for 40 more minutes of heavy luggage wielding. There were hardly any tellers on duty. The lines of waiting customers were enormous. Eventually as I asked for a ticket I was told no, not here, this is only for other tickets. I must go somewhere else. I found somewhere else and purchased a ticket, train leaving in 4 minutes, great, I thought.

As I put my ticket into the machine and pushed my way through the metal barrier pincers the machine stopped me halfway and refused to budge. My legs were trapped in the middle, my suitcase was trapped ahead of me, my laptop and camerabag fell off my shoulders behind me and no one cared to help. I was pissed off, especially as the machine had swallowed my ticket. After painfully extricating myself and my belongings I marched over to the ticket seller and told him what had happened. He looked a little amused (I was definitely NOT) and eventually came out, having made me wait for him to dress up in a fancy official jacket and cap.

After identifying the offending machine he unlocked it and retrieved my ticket but now I wasn't allowed to go through the machines. I had to go through a door. I discovered this door only opens one way so I had to wait until a passenger wanted to come through to my side. Needless to say- I had missed my train with all this.

Next task, identify your platform, time of next train to the destination you want and it's a good idea to check the names of the stations you will pass through too as a double check. Done, on, arrived at Versailles Chantiers (you must take care which Versailles line you are on). I was so exhaused, my back and hips completely done in from struggling with luggage for so many hours I thought, stuff it, time for a taxi to the hotel.

My room is number 11 and just to polish me off I had to haul all my luggage up an old spiral staircase until the proprietor took pity on me and hauled it the rest of the way. I'm suprised you didn't hear my shuddering sigh as I closed my room door behind me.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Heartache, headache and hassles

My last few hours in Auckland were decidedly unpleasant. Firstly there was the last minute tossing of things from my life that would not make the 20kg baggage limit. It was quite peculiar wearing clothes one day and then throwing them out only to start over with another set the next day. This went on for five days. Stephen's rubbish bin must look rather weird with women's clothing in it.

All the while I suffered a very strong headache brought on by tension, no doubt. We called in to to my best friend Yasmin to say good bye and drop off my car. She and Muhab have kindly offered to sell my car on my behalf. That is immensely helpful, a burden removed from my already overstimulated brain. It was even sadder than I expected. I have never seen Yasmin cry before but as I sat in the car while it backed down her driveway we both lost our struggle. "I miss you," I choked out and then we were both inconsolable as the distance widened. How ironic; they came to NZ from Iraq for a new life and now I leave for France for the same reason. We didn't see each other often but each time it was always as if no time had gone by at all.

Ahh, the airport. It should have been simple enough. I checked in. My booking was in the system. Not enough, you must present the very same credit card with which you made your flight booking. This was impossible for me as I had been the victim of a phishing attack weeks earlier and had needed to contact my bank and get a new one, destroying the old card too.

Two days earlier I had gone to the bank and explained that the info I had downloaded from the bank's internet system did not give me much information on my flight purchase. They tried too. They could not generate a bank statement for the old card. Information was in the system but not all would integrate into one document. Eventually they wrote a personal letter to qualify my credit card use regarding the flight, on letterhead no less.

Checkin staff were sympathetic but the flight booking system was uncooperative and would not complete my boarding arrangements. Time marched on towards my boarding call. Finally a supervisor worked some magic, but wait, there was to be more anxiety ahead.

Checkin then informed me I could not be cleared for boarding as I had no return ticket. You what? I was incredulous! What's the problem with me, I asked. They smiled nervously and said I was somewhat unique. How so? people leave NZ all the time. Well the system was saying that I had to be cleared by the French Embassy. They would have to be contacted before I could receive my boarding pass. But I have a Visa-sorry, it's the rules. Time marched further.

I was told the embassy would ring the airport back after a decision had been made about me. I lost it, I must admit. After all the crappy experience of obtaining a visa to then be possibly turned away still was just too much.I was in tears. In the meantime, poor Stephen was wondering what on earth was going wrong at checkin. We spoke via mobile at Departures. So I continued to stand with my extremely heavy laptop bag and camera bag and even heavier heart. The clock was ticking loudly now. I thought a calm checkin and shouting Stephen a hot chocolate before departure would be good for our nerves and a nice way to say goodbye. It wasn't happening.

Finally the supervisor came back saying the woman at the embassy didn't know me but if I could prove I could support myself in France it should be OK. What? The supervisor waited for proof. I said the embassy had a copy of my work contract, documents from the university detailing my salary-this is how you get a visa in the first place.The supervisor looked embarrassed and said OK, here's your boarding pass.

Stephen and I bolted down a hot chocolate and an afghan biscuit to calm our nerves and then it was goodbye to a man who knows me better than anyone, other than Laura.
Not the sort of farewell NZ experience I'd wish on anyone.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Farewell NZ

It's my last night in Auckland, NZ. The past few days have been loaded up with dealing with cleaning my house, banking and minutiae. Last night Laura and I went to dinner to enjoy some quality time together. It will be such a long time until we see each other again. We went to La Padella restaurant in Highland Park and then Laura shouted me a drink at the Cock 'n Bull at Botany. Incredibly we have never been to the pub together before and I learnt what her favourite drink is.

My house is empty and there's a void in my heart that was constantly filled by Laura and my responsibilities as a custodial parent for 20 years. We've been Mum and daughter, confidants, friends, sharing ups but mostly downs. I hope Laura enjoys reading some of my writing regarding our relationship over the years and the household items I hope she'll get use and pleasure from in the years to come.

I'm tired. My job at Waitakere is over, my home is not mine to live in, I'm missing Laura and I have almost no belongings, free of what's important in my life, free of what's not necessary.

I have no idea what's ahead from one day to the next. I don't yet know where I should go when I arrive at CDG Paris. I do hope the university sends me the info overnight otherwise I'm going to be in an unpleasant situation. Trimming my suitcase down to 20 kgs is a job before sleep and I must fill out my voting papers too.

There's nothing simple about emigrating

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Know what you want

Today I attended my last Toastmasters meeting, at least in NZ. Eco city Toastmasters Club will continue on, despite the dissolution of Waitakere City Council but its membership will be somewhat different. I delivered my final speech "Know what you want" which seemed well received. I enjoyed connecting with my fellow members. We know each other well and the club has really brought out a new dimension in my life. I have more confidence in public speaking and often enjoy it. Being able to think on your feet is a really useful skill to develop.

I don't know if I will take up Toastmasters in France. There are several clubs in central Paris but nothing near where I will live or work. I don't know what will happen to any of the interests and hobbies I developed in NZ. I'll just have to accept what happens and look for opportunities, whatever they turn out to be. So for now, I'll be content with my Competent Communicator and Advanced Leader awards from Toastmasters International. I'd thoroughly recommend joining a club for personal and professional development at an affordable price.

Photos taken at the the Toastmasters conference 2007: With world champion Dr Randy Harvey (USA) and winning the national silver medal for impromptu speaking

Friday, 10 September 2010

Team bonding

Yesterday the public affairs team went out to lunch together at La Cigale Cafe to say goodbye to me. I ordered a very scrummy rich beef stew. We shared wine and water and bread and chatted. Glyn was disappointed he had to leave half an hour later in order to conduct job interviews for the supercity.

I shall truly miss my colleagues in public affairs: Liz, Fiona, Sonya, Lisah, Sue, Glyn, Nada, Angela and Leonie. Most of us are not 'young' and we know how to share our personalities, hopes, tragedies and successes. We listen, debate and support each other. We are friends. We have spontaneous hugs and cups of coffee. I admonish the smokers in the group and they happily agree and then ignore me. We've seen our children grow up and seen politicians come and go. Crises have been managed, awards celebrated. These people with whom I have worked have been like a family to me for four years- we've all earned the right to be part of our group.

Not many work places are like that. Waitakere was but it's disintegrating under the strain of the imposed supercity arrangement. People are leaving, becoming more self-centred due to circumstances. But not my communications colleagues.

I bless them and love them for holding true to our close relationships until the bitter end. Love you guys. I hope I find a working environment like this again one day. It's the only sane way to work and be a human being. Thanks!

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Recycling the past

I popped into Elm Park school on my way home from work today. I hope they will like my donation. We transferred a large carton of unit boxes full of lesson plans and resources, an encyclopedia of NZ history and a big carton of children's books for the library plus a big crate of craft materials.Courtesy of my time as a teacher in NZ.

It's great to help out others and all it took was for me to let go of my stuff. The same for many of my belongings over the past couple of days - lots of people are enjoying my things, not just me. I think that's rather cool. My shell collection is with a bright little boy who is also excited to have bought a kite and some model kitsets from me. My Halloween costumes for girls are with someone's Grandma. Garden plantfood and other bits and bobs are with a Chinese man who seemed to want a lot for almost nothing, a friend is enjoying my container plants and an oldish man is enjoying a very eclectic mix of furniture and other belongings. My books and DVDS are all over the suburb. Some of my smaller musical instruments will be entertaining young and old.

The garage has never been tidier or more empty. Shelves and cupboards in the house are emptying. It shouldn't be too difficult to clean things before I go. It seems my property manager has found a family as my first tenants so the boxes are being ticked.

I think I'll invite the Salvation Army in to collect the left-over linen, furniture, toys and books. I'm enjoying being able to give and share, but I'm running out of stuff. There's still my time I can give and plan to do a bit of that before I leave.

Thankfully the weather was kind on Sunday so I was able to enjoy time tidying up in my garden. The temperatures just need to increase a little and growth will explode everywhere. I can see that if I can keep the snails at bay I might even enjoy a handful of clivia before I leave my home. They are such cheerful orange blooms.

Tomorrow I have my last french lesson at le petit village on Great North Road. It's been great to be able to develop my confidence in conversational french with Frederic there. In two weeks I'll be on my way to being surrounded by french language - quite a challenge.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Shimmying into the sunset

Normally I'd be sorting out my dance bag for my bellydance lesson on Saturday morning but for the first time in six years there's no class, no Monique, no exercise and no creative physical outlet. Instead I've got my last garage sale to manage.

I'd rather be dancing. I wonder if I'll bellydance regularly again. I hope so but it will be in France and I'll need to find a new teacher. Monique and I have had a great time developing me into the dancer I am now. We've shared many personal stories and danced together, laughed and cried. There aren't many people in this world I can say have been influential on me but she is one. I've enjoyed interacting with other dancers but my natural place is as a soloist. I can focus on what I am doing, rather than be distracted by others.

I've enjoyed the harem evenings at Monique's studio, learning how to conduct seduction dance workshops for women, learning how to use many dance props such as finger cymbals, veils, cane, wings, fan. Pretty costumes I've designed myself have been a terrific creative exercise and fun too. My website will cease as of the end of November

Now I'm on my own. Great memories though. Two recent photos of Monique