Sunday, 30 January 2011

Moving in and out

My goodness, what a week it's been. It started out with me still not feeling well and having to go to yet another GP for some more antibiotics. I insisted he give me a dose equal to the hospital. Money just flies out the window with nothing to show for it, other than that I am able to write to you, dear Reader. Now that I have a social security card I must work out how to claim back some of the expense but the big hospital bill remains. I try not to think about how that money might have been spent while Laura is with me later this year-sigh!

Then my boss informed me I must move out of my studio for a bit because he is having some insurance hassles. He had a problem at his house a few weeks ago so the insurance company is checking he's not hiding anything at my place. Everything of mine of any value had to go.

I found that distressing. I've been trying to get settled and am forever waiting for his big stuff to be taken out so I can have the space I pay for. I understand he needs to keep his assessment low and so my stuff had to go but I had to spend my evenings packing up with almost no packing materials, hand over my keys so my boss and the insurance company could come in and look at what was left (I wasn't present), go live with his second-in-charge and his family for a night, risk damage to my few precious possession while guys uplifted them and put them in a van, farm out stuff with Camille, and then get everything back and connect up my electronics and unpack my stuff again. Imagine how I felt- invasion of privacy, moving in and out of the same little studio twice in 4 months. I really hope I can have my own life now and be allowed to settle. I hope I can have some peace and quiet to get well. And I hope my boss gets fair treatment from his insurance company after all this.

The up-side of this was that I got to get to know a colleague better, along with his wife and their cute little daughter. He is a key person  where I work and the website I'm working on is one of his 'babies'.

Having to move out meant I could not meet commitments I had to teach English in Paris to a couple of groups. It's volontary but I thought helping out might be good for meeting people. Maybe next week or next month.

On Thursday Damien picked me up from work and we visited Montmartre in Paris. I was surprised at how small the cathedral is inside . It's nice but not exceptional though the view from the hill is probably lovely in daytime and in summer. There is no photography allowed inside. The weather was so horribly cold it was very unpleasant to be outside so we didn't linger but headed for a touristy restaurant on the Place du Tertre which is where all the artists congregate in summer. It's empty and sad looking in winter though. My entrecote steak was well done to perfection-the benefit of dealing with tourists I guess but the down-side was the profiteroles - touristy and defrosted-not fresh and not worth ordering. Profiteroles-decent ones- are becoming hard to find in french restaurants.

After a pleasant evening at the restaurant Damien kindly drove me all the way home to Cafeolait-a good 2 hours each way. He's gentlemanly and generous and I manage to keep up a conversation with him for several hours - we have a fair bit in common.

Next post I'll show you the wonderful castle of Chantilly.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Hoping for some smoother sailing in February

This year certainly didn't start well but I can report I am feeling better. Not 100% yet, I suspect the lung infection is still lurking inside but the antibiotics helped and maybe my immune system can sort out the rest, eventually.

While I was recuperating last weekend I decided to use the time to teach myself to make some classic but simple french dishes. Quiche Lorraine was on the menu. It's simple but I discovered the cooking limitations in my studio created obstacles to my efforts. For starters, the itsy oven proved a bit too small for the quiche pan so the oven wouldn't close well. This also resulted in the pan not being flat inside. Consequently the liquid ingredients collected in the lower half and left the other stuff like bacon behind. The pot of creme fraiche didn't have an indication of volume of quantity so I had no idea how much to put in. I will need to get some sort of liquid measure because measurements here are different to NZ.

Despite all that it was edible for two meals and I took the rest to work for my lunch but I was a tad disappointed it didn't turn out better. So, I have just bought a smaller pan for this weekend's experiment- Tarte a l'Oignon. I have made this before in NZ after Jerome taught me during his stay with me in 2008. This time I must cope with the limits of my kitchen so fingers crossed. Each time I try something new I learn a few words of vocabulary and I must research how to find the right ingredients in a french supermarket.

After visits again to the social security and the hospital I now have a temporary number and attestation and have until the end of February to pay 711 euros. Merde! I am now investigating yet more insurance in case the unthinkable happens (again) but it is very expensive. To do or not to do, that is the question. I suppose I must. Imagine if I was in hospital more than 4 days-horrors. I don't know how to get settled financially in France. Everything seems to be enormous outgoings and extremely modest incomings. Nothing stays the same-request to the universe-please change something for the better for me very soon.

On that note, I am still trying to get out there and meet people, searching for companionship, friends and hopefully expose myself to the love of my life. Well, so far I have met a few guys who are not interested in me even thought they enjoyed meeting me. Not sure what the issues were. Most of the time it's not my diet or my level of french. In fact, dear readers, I get by with my smattering of french fairly well, meeting them. I don't understand a lot of what they say but enough all the same to hold my own. It's a very good exercise for my language acquisition and confidence even if it is really hard.

I have now met Damien, a very pleasant and interesting man who treats me very well. He is gentlemanly enough to drive me all the way home to Cafeolait after a meeting- that's a long way from his home. Yesterday he picked me up from work and took me to a restaurant where we had a lovely chateaubriand steak (well-cooked for me) at a restaurant frequented by those of an artistic and political persuasion, celebs etc. We enjoyed ourselves scribbling all over the paper tablecloth. These tablecloths are often to be found in restaurants used by writers and artists. It was fun discussing lovely parts of France to visit, interesting vocabulary,and getting to know each other via a large piece of paper. We then drove to Paris, along the Champs Elysee, past the Tour Eiffel just as it was finishing its spectacular sparkle effect (must go back and see it again), around the back of the Arc de Triomphe, past the giant Christmas ferris wheel called La Grande Roue by the Place de la Concorde.

From there we eventually found a park and stopped into the bar at the 4-star luxury hotel Le Lotti for a hot drink and tiny sweet munchies. The Lotti is located near the Tuilleries Gardens in central Paris and was established by Mr Lotti and the Duke of Westminster in 1910. Paris has a completely different character at night. Night or day it is magical and I felt blessed to have someone nice (not an ex gangster) to show me around places I would never know about or get to on my own.

Next week I am likely to pop into Paris and help out with a group of folks wanting to improve their English- a good opportunity (volontary) to meet people and later in the week Damien is thinking of showing me Montmartre by night. How cool. Could things be turning a corner? I'll let you know after I get past a disagreeable experience scheduled for Tuesday. Having your private life tied to someone in authority at work is no way to feel settled but details will have to be limited.

If you'd like to visit the Lotti vicariously visit this site address and enjoy the groovy music at the same time.

7, rue de Castiglione. 75001 Paris (France)

Photos include my attempt at Quiche Lorraine (note the tidal effect),the ferris wheel and hotel Lotti.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Inside a french hospital

This post is a little longer than usual as it covers in depth my experience of emergency health services and the challenges for a new immigrant sick in a foreign land.

There comes a point where you can no longer look after yourself. By Tuesday I was very ill but staying at home wasn't helping. I thought I could go into work late but as I dragged myself out of bed to get dressed I discovered the weakness and pain were too much for me. Going back to the doctor seemed a waste of time as nothing he had given me helped, in fact I think it made things worse. I began to feel desperate and afraid. I could no longer eat and drink. To take a sip of water resulted in violent vomiting. It takes a lot to make stuff evict my body from either end- this was a disturbing sign. I had not been able to sleep and I was becoming shaky and anxious.

I phoned my work colleagues, at the end of my will-power to help myself. They told me I must go to hospital but I had no idea in my fuddled state what to do. They rang the equivalent of 111 for me. Sometime later a pompier rang me to determine my address and said they'd be on their way in 30 mins. I scraped some spare knickers, my phone, toothbrush and PJs into an overnight bag, unlocked my door and clung to the bed.

I saw two guys in dark grey uniforms carrying kit bags walk past so I let them know, yes it was me. None of this was easy because I was now in a situation for which I had little vocabulary. They asked me some questions, I tried to explain my problem. I locked up while they carried my bag and then installed myself in a seat in the quaint little red truck ambulance. I have never been in an ambulance before. I've always driven myself to hospital, even in emergency situations. It was very cramped. The guys, both young, good-looking and serious, checked my vital signs and asked questions about medicine. I was handed a barf bag. Alas, I needed it but the vomiting was so violent that I couldn't aim properly. They weren't worried about the pool of yellow stomach acid on the floor. We didn't have far to drive but I couldn't see how we got there or where we were. I was wheel-chaired into emergency and there I was left, in distress, a lot of pain, in the corridor where everyone just ignored me apart from the silliness of asking me for my birth name, and went about their cheerful business. Torturous hours went by - maybe only two but it felt much longer.

Eventually I progressed through the questions and pre-admission stuff (including a guy starting to take off my hospital gown without explaining who he was - not a doctor, just an orderly - to being connected to IV -never a pleasant experience) and a room was found for me. Nil by Mouth for two days, under observation, many blood tests, urine tests, ultrasound of my stomach, xray of stomach, scanner of lungs and stomach. I got used to the routine of the nurses and recognised what they were asking me to do even if I didn't understand all the words.

I was very distressed when I saw a list of prices on the wall of my room. I pointed this out to the registrar but he said not to worry, they weren't the USA. I tried not to worry. There was nothing for me to do each day or night except stare at the walls and ceiling. I was so grateful to have my own little room. I could shut out the sounds of a foreign language all around me. I could shut out the noise and light at night.

I was not encouraged to shower despite my request. I was perspiring so badly I needed one but instead I was handed paper towels and told to use the tap and the liquid soap in the toilet. That was tricky with one arm out of action. It got trickier as the days went by and each arm developed venous problems due to the IV. Several unsuccessful attempts to open collapsed veins just added to my misery but I was told there was no choice. I must stay on IV and as soon as one arm became unusable they would switch back to the other one.

The diagnosis from the scan revealed I had a serious lung infection and fever. My GP never picked up on it, declaring my lungs fine both visits and instead prescribed oral steroids-a complete no-no. His medications created havoc in my stomach and left the door open for the infection to rage. A doctor at the hospital said the regime I had been put on by my GP should never have happened. My GP had not listened to my concerns, he was cursory in his examination. Friends of mine in NZ tried to ring him and left a message but this was ignored. I'd like to know what was said when the doctors from the hospital rang him. I will find another doctor- less 'nice' but more competent?

As is normal, there was a range of 'service ethic' across the staff. Some chose to ignore my concerns or requests until too late (problems with side effects of one of the antibiotics-I gave up and suffered). Almost no one spoke any English despite medical degrees-I felt so isolated and lost. One bright spot occurred when a different orderly noticed I wasn't eating the roast chicken or pork or fish or plain yoghurt. He went in search of something to tempt me and came back with some fromage frais for kids in berry flavours. I was so grateful for his observation and thoughtfulness. Later he asked me if I would like a coffee. Yes but could I have a cup of tea? Milk and sugar? He'd get right on to it. I should mention here that it is not usual for cups of tea to have milk supplied in France. That cup of tea, when it arrived with a cookie, was so wonderful. I thanked him profusely and he rushed off to get me another one. Superbe, I said, you are the best. The next day I lost my little room and was moved up to level 3 Cardiopulmonary service.

I shared a room with a very elderly french lady who was almost impossible to understand by her mumbling and breathing problems.I introduced myself and for the next day helped subtly where I could. She was a bit rebellious and didn't want to co-operate and use the oxygen even though she clearly needed it. She would put it down as soon as they left the room so I told staff she was having 'some problems'. They handled her by allowing no rebellion and no negotiation by speaking so she couldn't get a word in edgeways in an unnaturally cheerful way punctuated frequently by loud 'voila's.

By now I had been incommunicado for many days and was becoming anxious that folks back in NZ might be wondering what had happened to me. There was no way for me to contact them. I gave staff Laura's name and her nana's phone number in case of emergency and also Laura's email address as I have no close friends in France. I couldn't phone from my mobile as it's prepay and I didn't have enough credits for international and I didn't have my charger either. My colleagues did what they could by keeping a phone contact with me each day but that was the extent and none of them have Laura's details or access to my studio-I must do something about that next week.

I couldn't sleep so a senior nurse allowed me to use her computer to send Laura a message and for me to leave a message on my blog. There was a firewall preventing access to Facebook, alas-that would have been better. This helped my anxiety somewhat. A small gesture but a kind and important one by the nurse so I could let folks know I had a problem but it was under control.

On my last afternoon in the hospital my boss stopped by. I'd had no visitors during my stay. It was so good to see a known face and to discuss stuff in English while the little old lady read her book.I appreciated his effort.

Getting out of the hospital wasn't easy. The doctor informed me they couldn't help me further but that I would be given Augmentin to continue my recovery at home. Woohoo but no paperwork arrived. I was dressed and ready to go. Several times I asked staff what was happening but each time they would just disappear. I had no idea what paperwork would be required (very little in fact). Eventually I was on my way out but had to take a number and wait to check out at a booth.

Oh God- I was presented with a bill for 3500euros. It's not free you know, I was told. Can't pay for every Tom, Dick and Harry who gets sick. In NZ, if you are working and especially if it's an emergency you don't get charged anything. This sum is completely beyond my salary to pay. I was asked about my social security number- I'm waiting for my card still, I replied. This fell on deaf ears. Without that I must pay the full amount. I don't have any money to pay this I said. Suddenly pleasant woman stood up and left and unpleasant woman sat down and glared at me. She explained how much I would pay if I had social security - much less but still many months of penny-pinching to pay for it. I wasn't well having just been discharged and to be hit with this was horrendous. Every month something happens to threaten my financial viability to live. Tears of despair held no 'water' with my interrogator. I was told to speak to social security to establish my situation and come back and pay the bill.

As you know, I completed all my convoluted and expensive documentation before Christmas and each day I have looked in my post box for my Carte Vitale. Nothing. It turns out they should have given me a paper by social security but I wasn't given one and didn't know to expect one.

I must now go back to social security on Monday to plead my case to the witches there once again. God help me- they've got all my stuff-I don't have more but I can't prove anything. I do hope NZ isn't as abusive to immigrants as the french government departments are.

Feeling hopeless and helpless I set out with my bag to walk all the way home in the cold. Not ideal. No money for a taxi.

I don't know about you, dear reader, but I'm more than ready to have something less excruciating and catastrophic to talk about soon.

For an idea of what a french ambulance can look like see the video link below.

Monday, 10 January 2011


Unfortunately, determination was not enough. The pain got worse. After taking the steroids last week and appreciating the fact they seemed to help the general pain I experience each day things became truly unpleasant. The side effects caused general pain and inflammation throughout my body and then did nasty things to my stomach. I went out to keep myself distracted. I stayed in bed to rest. Nothing helped. I dragged myself out of bed today and limped along the streets to the train. I was actually sitting in the train to go to work trying to decide if I was being a fool by going to work. In the end the pain decided that I should get off the train and walk in misery back home. Later in the morning I queued at the doctor's. It doesn't matter if there's an appointment or not I still have to wait a minimum of an hour and a half.

I was obviously sick and in pain but no-one else was going to give up their position in the queue. The doctors' rooms are so primitive here, as I've said before. No receptionist, no nurse; just a hard chair and a magazine. Torturous.

I had written a letter to the doctor because he doesn't speak English and I needed to explain the complexities of stomach, arthritis, bowels interactions and what products I had used to try to help myself. It's tricky, as you can imagine, and being completely alone, n cups of tea or a hug or kind word when you are really sick in a foreign country is rather scary. The doctor started talking about blood tests and investigations into the stomach. No way, I have no money. And I STILL don't have my Carte Vitale health card.

After the chemist I went home to bed. The painkillers prescribed didn't take away all the pain and stiffnesss but I was completely zonked so I didn't care. Couldn't even raise the energy to turn over in bed. No problem, at least it was a break from the searing, grinding, aching pain everywhere. The doctor explained I'd had a bit of bad luck with my reaction to the anti-inflam/steroids. If I need to, I can take tomorrow off work-I hope I'm well enough to go though, but I may fall asleep at my desk a few times.

Just as well I had enough energy left on Friday to give the immigration department my opinion. Once again, through their error I had to leave work early and spend money and precious time getting to Montrouge. And waiting. And being sent to the wrong office, being told I would have to go back to NZ to get my Titre de Sejour. You what? They refused to speak English and I kept repeating I was only there to pick up the sticker, nothing else. My dossier is complete. Officious b**** tells me there is only one person who can give it to me and she is not available all day. I explained I was told to come that afternoon. So she told me to come back for the third time on Monday.

OK enough already. I had nothing to lose. My identity sticker was ready, I just needed somebody to give it to me. Why is that impossible? It's your fault, I said, the Immigration Department is in the wrong and I cannot come back again, I cannot spend money like this and I cannot get more time off work-impossible. AND I MADE A NOISY FUSS AND STOOD MY GROUND.

Guys came out of offices to see what was up. Suddenly one of them grabbed my dossier from somewhere and started rifling through it, backwards and forwards. I endeavoured to explain the mistake of immigration staff because clearly, this guy couldn’t see it. OOhh. Right. Sticker in Passport, off I go.

What if immigrants don’t speak French? My French isn’t adequate for situations like this. I must come back 3 months before things expire and let them know it an extension will be required. I hope so after all this. Why do I need this sticker? Because a VISA to work and live is not sufficient. You must have official identification, as each French person must. We don’t have this in NZ. We just use our drivers license or some such for identification. But, hey, no sign of that arriving from NZ either. Merde. Following one’s dreams isn’t much fun right now. OK universe, lighten up a on me a bit, please? I'm off to zonk myself again.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Old Paris

Yesterday, despite still not feeling well, I decided to make the journey into Paris and meet up with a couchsurfer I have never met before. Pierette lives in Paris and she was hosting a Texan lady, Cheryl. The three of us met up at the St Michel Fountain where a band of teenagers had been busking. There were many tourists in Paris and the temperatures were above zero; cold but manageable.

We wandered briefly around one of the older and more narrow street areas of central Paris and then stopped in at an exhibition on the Finnish ecological use of wood as a building material. Then it was on to view the outside of Musee Cluny (the remains of a Roman bath house and abby of the middle ages. I determined I'd pop back some time and look inside the museum on the Middle Ages when I had more free time. It's right opposite the Sorbonne.

Having inspected the gargoyle at the well at the abby I joined the ladies at an exhibition in the surgery section of the Sorbonne. The theme was the German occupation of Paris. I'm afraid some of the photos of Nazis in Paris just made my blood boil.

Feeling in need of some energy we stopped into one of the oldest surviving cafes in Paris. Le Procope was established in 1686 and was a watering hole and conversational (maybe controversial) during the French Revolution. I'm glad to see it survived because it's exquisite, quintessentially Parisien. I explored the upstairs section with my camera and stepped out onto the balcomy to soak up the Paris by evening vibes. So here you are.... the side of Paris that many people don't see because usually only a local can know about this. Full of rich chocolaety tarte I said my goodbyes and headed to the Metro, the stations and home.

Photos include Le Procope Cafe, Musee Cluny, St Michel and an exhibition

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

The forwards and backwards dance

Some of my colleagues are not keen on me buying a car. One said I shouldn't ever buy a car and if I get to stay longer in France I should move to Paris and manage without one. Another colleague suggested I have a break and wait until Spring and start looking then if I still think I need one.

No-one seems to appreciate that I need one for everyday living. I need an ironing board. How am I going to get one without a car, I need some sort of cheap furniture to put my stereo on to get it off the floor so I need the car for that. Buying train tickets to get all the way to Paris and then to somewhere else from there that might be close to where I need to end up is impractical and expensive from my tiny village of Cafeolait. It will be impossible to do any bellydance gigs without one, even in Cafeolait. I can't carry anything bulky or heavy. Even getting groceries from a big supermarket is a problem, especially if I have frozen food- it's melted by the time I buy it and queue for ages, walk to a bus stop and wait and then bus and walk home and I still can't carry much. There's also the issue of needing to get a French drivers license if I stay past September so I'd need to be practising driving long before that.

I get the feeling they don't think I can afford a car. I'd have to buy something old with big kms and that would need expensive maintenance and I'm not used to managing all this stuff on my own. Maybe they are tired of helping me last year.

I'm trying to help myself as much as possible. Yesterday I went to the insurance company alone to cancel my car insurance and request payment stop. Complicated because I have an automatic payment set up. Horrors- it's still one total price. The boss's assistant assured me she had changed it to monthly but the company had no record of changes. Trying to decipher money options and date options made my head spin. In the end, because the money from the sale of the car is in the bank I said just go ahead take the money and then reimburse me for 10 months. Reimbursing me will take several weeks I am informed. But I'm keeping up my accident insurance (imagine if I got hurt in a taxi or in someone else's car). Unlikely but I can't take the risk. My belongings are also insured.

Later in the day/evening I went to see the doctor for the second time since arriving in Cafeolait. It's getting easier to manage the communication with doctors as I have just enough vocabulary to explain the problem. My strategy is to say as much as possible up front so they have less to say and that means less for me not to understand. This works quite well and I precis important stuff to check I have understood. But no, I still have not recieved my Social Security Card so it was paperwork the old-fashioned way which I understand now.

It's very different to NZ. The waiting rooms are old, rundown, spartan, there are no receptionists or busy atmospheres. There are some french magazines and one old toilet usually and the doctors are NEVER on time. The doctors have exceedingly inadequate signage, almost as if they are trying to be super-discrete. No lighted signs for them.Just a tiny plaque screwed to the wall.

Off to the chemist - it was a little more challenging because they are so systems driven and those systems are different to NZ. They don't print out dosage instructions on the bottles or packets so I asked the lady pharmacist to write notes on them for me-telling me once in french is no good. The little boxes generally have Braille on them and standard instructions inside. I guess French doctors don't use medications in a 'creative' way as they do in NZ. One size must fit all, it seems. I asked her if she had any other Kiwi clients-she's not aware of any. She was friendly and helpful and didn't mind my bumbling french at all.

I'm now armed with a cough syrup, some short term steroids/anti-inflammatories and a nose spray that had the effect last night of totally aggravating my nose bleeds to the extent I had to cover my pillows with towels. I am hopeful that I'll be my old energetic self by the weekend.

Photos show Peugeot 206 and Renault Clio car models I will investigate in Spring. In the meantime I've been told to keep my life SIMPLE. Come on people- does that sound like ME?

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Where there's smoke...

What now? I’m back in Cafeolait after a week in Brittany. During my trip back to Paris in the TGV I reflected on my time away and what is currently important to me right now.

Over the past week I have seen an ancient ruined castle through the fog, spent a Christmas Eve Dinner Party at Pascal’s, been part of a French family Christmas Day. I tried to generate interest in NZ by showing the movie Whale Rider, playing the sounds of forest birdsongs and showing info on many of the amazing creatures that live in NZ. I have been driven past Merlin's forest of Broceliande, read Asterix books, played guessing games in French and tried to encourage spoken French via vocab games. I have discovered there is a cheese I like that I hadn’t tried before, and that how I used to make shepherd’s pie can easily be adapted to a version of spaghetti bolognaise. I even tried to ride a trottinette (see photo). You wiggle your bottom to make it go, hmm, yes.

I haven’t been physically alone this week and that’s been a lovely change and I’ve experienced a lot of friendliness and helpfulness but there has been no emotional connection from anyone. I don’t know if I’ll see Pascal again. Only if he wants to I suppose. He said he never comes to Paris - too busy, and he tells me he has teams of friends for any occasion. So different from me but I don’t need a lot of friends. Really, just a handful would be great. But I would want to feel I love each and every one of them and that my feelings are returned. It has grown painfully clear to me that my search of a lifetime – for genuine love and is no closer to realisation than it has ever been. Yet the feeling is becoming so strong. It’s a bit how I feel about needing to live in France-it’s part of my life necessities somehow. Living in France doesn’t seem enough to distract me from the other important need I have for a deep and meaningful emotional connection.

Many women my age find themselves alone, often for the rest of their lives. Some say they would never bother with a man again because they are too much trouble and you have to give up too much of yourself. Others tell themselves they don’t need one but wistfully want one and then others are desperate and make bad decisions. The general agreement is that here are not enough men available for older women. French people tell me there are more women than men in France. Is this true? 51% being women would be reasonable but what are the statistics? I need some personal tenderness in my life but in the meantime I need to look out for myself.

I’m not well at present. I had to excuse myself from a drinks and nibbles event that a female friend of Pascal’s was hosting on my last night in Brittany. My head, throat and chest were not happy, I had a cough and was frequently dizzy. It had gradually developed over the week. The energy just drained out of me. Now I understand why. I wasn’t getting enough oxygen.

By the time I got back to Cafeolait it was clear I was now suffering asthma brought on by forced exposure to smoking. I had explained to Pascal and his daughter that it’s bad for my health, gave me chronic health problems in my childhood and that I now have a heart condition. They were totally unconcerned. He hadn’t smoked in front of me last time. He explained he could do it anytime without being addicted and did it because he liked it and could stop anytime. I hadn’t realised I would be subjected to this when I accepted the invitation. What a shame he chose my visit to do his smoking. Of course it was even worse when friends arrived. They could have smoked outside or in another room but chose not to. So now breathing is painful and I spent New Year alone, coughing and feeling dreadful.

Even getting home here was difficult. I had arranged my schedule to get home around 7pm so I could then get some essential food. The cupboard was bare, no milk and bread etc. Unfortunately there was a problem at Gare Paris Montparnasse. After I queued for ages to buy a ticket a guy came through telling everyone they were closing all ticket booths, just before I could get one. Everyone was panicked and pissed off. I tried to use an automatic machine but it didn’t have Cafeolait on the list of options. I asked SNCF staff what to do. They told me to look for a green and blue machine. Those are like hen’s teeth. Eventually I got a ticket, waited, boarded my train bound for Chartres and waited, and waited. The departure time came and went. We sat there. Another train going to Cafeolaitwasn’t leaving either. Train staff stood around talking and then said something about someone on the line... firemen...... well, fill in the blanks, that’s all I had to go on.

An hour and a half later, after sitting there with no food or drink or toilet access (the toilets are locked automatically while not moving) we got going only to glide so slowly along the track I could have got out and walked. I tried to amuse myself by peering into apartment windows to see what people were doing. Did they have a Christmas TREE? Where they watching TV?

Twenty minutes later we came to a complete stop in the darkness of nowhere. I don’t know why. We just sat. Being unwell I was desperate to get home. By the time I eventually arrived in Cafeolait it was 2 hours later than expected and nothing was open so no dinner, no breakfast. Not even a cup of tea.

Yesterday was St Sylvestre, New Year’s Eve. What a pathetic figure I was in my dressing gown, wheezing and dragging myself around. No trip to see fireworks in Paris. Maybe it wouldn’t have been safe. They brought in extra police and posted notices on the telly about thieves. Charming, oh City of Lights, not a good look. Instead I dragged myself along the street to the laudromat and bought some essential food and a warm jumper and a pot to boil up some pasta.

I sure hope 2011 has some great stuff ahead for me. Hey, this time last year, who would have thought I’d actually be living in France. Amazing.... but it can be hard too.