Monday, 28 February 2011

Out & About

It's nerve-wracking waiting for news of my Mother and brother somewhere in shattered Christchurch so I decided to keep myself busy and get out and about.

After the usual Saturday domestic regime I headed off to Paris, camera in hand and with Laura's birthday present to give to Frederique so she can take it to Auckland for me on her forthcoming trip. It was grey and cold. I hoped it wouldn't rain. Once in Paris I took Line 4 Metro to Odeon and then started walking towards the Musee Cluny. This is the national museum of the middle ages. The buildings include the northern thermal baths of Lutetia (the only important Gallo-Roman monument surviving in Paris, built in the late first century and used for two hundred years). There were cold and tepid baths as well as hot once upon a time. The other building is the Hotel de Cluny built in the late 15th century for the Cluny abbots.

The museum display includes ivories, sculptures, altar-pieces, stained glass, choir stalls, archers' shields and manuscripts and, naturally, tapestries. The crowning glory is the magnificent 6-piece tapestry called the Lady and the Unicorn. There is no flash photography allowed and the lighting is very dim so my photos are not great but here are a selection. The complex is opposite the Sorbonne university.

By the time I emerged from the museum it was pouring with rain and I had no brolly. Hugging my camera to protect it from the raindrops I walked, and walked, and walked from the 5th arrondissement to the 13th, to Frederique's appartment. She had kindly offered to take Laura's 20th birthday pressie to Auckland with her. I bought some french macarons on the way. In Provence there are entire shops devoted to these sweet delights. Why, I had no idea, having never tasted one until now. They have a consistency of cooked meringue filled with a flavoured filling. Surprisingly tasty little coookie things but I would not describe them as biscuites, well, you just have to try them.

I shared a meal with Frederique and a Norwegian couple who were couchsurfing with her. They spoke very good English and it was a very convivial evening until I had to catch a train to Cafeolait.
Starting tomorrow I can use my expanded Train Pass to go anywhere in in the region for a monthly fee of 113 euros. Pricey so I'd better make sure I get to Paris at least 4-5 times a month or even further afield.

Sunday wasn't much better weather-wise. I was taken to lunch by Jean-Claude who is a retired dentist of 65 years, living in a tiny village in a different department. The restaurant seemed to be silver service but the food was a little disappointing. However, I was happy to meet someone new and interesting and share a pleasant meal. Then we headed off to his place where I was really interested in his inherited and collected furniture. There was even an armoir/placard from the time of Louise 14th, furniture in the style of Napoleon 2 etc. All up I had the challenge of holding a conversation completely in french for 9 hours. I probably understood 50% at most but at least I gave it a go.

Jean-Claude is good company, very pleasant and educated. The only startling surprise was to be found in the kitchen, lounge and his office. The kitchen had eyes, sad and tired eyes of taxidermied animals such as a pheasant, a duck, a rare bird, other birds in other rooms and a male and female deer whose heads were mounted on the wall. Gulp! Poor things. JC is a hunter in the forest, as a hobby, though I don't think he's been practising that recently. He has a rather energetic dog of a breed I don't recognise but JC made certain it didn't bother me. Maybe we will catch up again some time.

Photos are of Paris's Roman baths and museum, the little dinner party with Veronique, and Jean-Claude at the restaurant.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Heavy on my heart

After getting out of bed and putting my hot chocolate on to heat I switched on my TV on Tuesday morning to listen to French news while I got myself ready to work. The day before there had been a short story about pilot whales stranding off Stewart Island. Any sort of coverage of NZ is rare in France. It usually involves rugby when it happens. I was rather taken aback to hear another story on NZ. This one sent me scrambling to my laptop awash with horror and anxiety. An even more devastating earthquake had hit Christchurch less than six months from the first and this time devastation was on a horrendous scale.People were crushed under buildings and inside buses, iconic buildings that had survived the earlier earthquake succumbed.

Christchurch will never be the same. So much history has been lost. To me and many others, Christchurch, New Zealand's second-largest city, was the most beautiful. It had preserved much of its colonial British past. It was well designed and justifiably called the Garden City. Yesterday I was shocked and numb. Today I was devastated and so very sad for what has been lost. Yes, people have lost their lives too and that's dreadful; it will be unbearable for their friends and families. I am hoping none of the people I know there are dead.

I have tried to discover if my mother is Ok but I can't get through. In desperation I posted her name and phone number on Facebook in case someone out there could get through but the lines are either down or not working through lack of electricity. She's old and lives alone but my brother is in Christchurch and my mother is part of a church group so I'm hoping it's just a communication problem.

I thought of my oldest friend Lorraine. We met at high school when I was 15. We played violin in the school orchestra, her a year ahead of me. We hung out at the cinema, sewed ballgowns together, attended music camp together. Social media is a wonderful tool during emergencies. It connects people who might not normally connect and it facilitates community spirit. Lorraine's daughter is on Facebook so I could ask her if her Mum was OK. Lorraine and her husband are OK, with just some broken windows. I don't know if my second-oldest friend is well.

Chrissie and I met at Teachers College when I was 18. She was my bridesmaid for my first marriage back in 1976. Distance and circumstances have separated us since but when we have managed to meet it's always felt natural, like old times. I do hope she and her husband have minimal side-effects. Lorraine and Chrissie are in a photo from my wedding, somewhere. Photos are especially precious now.

Photos. Looking at the before and after photos of specific buildings today had me bawling my eyes out. I know them. Most of them have some significance for me. I lived in Christchurch for more than 30 years, all up and I associate them with events, people, experiences in my life which I would forget if it were not for their existence to remind me.

I can't bear the fact that some really special historic buildings so precious to such a new country are likely to disappear and be replaced by something not at all representative of a British History. Could they bring some masons in and recreate those beautiful monuments to Christchurch's past?

People die, disappear, leave, but special buildings are supposed to remain as markers, memory-joggers, part of our collective identity, aren't they? And if they are gone-what do we do about their function? I grieve. To think that young children will never see Christchurch in the special character it had for me and all those who went before is very sad. When the past is obliterated how can they understand Christchurch's story?

I'm feeling a big loss because I thought Christchurch, as it was, would always be there, with small modifications as time went by. Now all I have are a few photographs. I have so few 'things', there are so few reminders of my own story for me. I forget whole chunks of my life- what's left to remind me?

I've popped some of my personal photos on here to share Christchurch with you. Christchurch-a little touch of England, a city that cared about its heritage buildings (unlike Auckland). An aesthetically designed and maintained city, one that wasn't actually all flat because it had hillside suburbs, beach suburbs, estuary suburbs, urban areas, farms and idyllic rivers. 'Punters' in Christchurch are not those who gamble away money, they are the guys who punt you down the Avon River so you can take a leisurely, romantic trip through the city, looking at the beautiful architecture, the gardens, the ducks and daffodils, the parks; imagining a bygone era.

Christchurch and its environs-gateway to the Antarctic, the Port Hills, Banks Peninsula, the French settlement at Akaroa, Sumner, sitting between miles of sandy beaches and the mighty Southern Alps, Hagley Park and the Canterbury Museum, my old University (now the Arts Centre), the Provincial Council Building, the Town Hall built for the Commonwealth Games, the trams, the statues and the Anglican Cathedral (yes OK the Catholic Basilica too). The buildings where I met this person, divorced that one, had a romantic date here, held a wedding there. So much more too.

Some things will survive, a lot won't. I'm sorry to see this in my lifetime and sorry that many people have had their lifetimes cut short. Hugs to Christchurch- what will you become? I hope it won't all come down to money. A city needs to be an emotional entity too.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

English pubs in Paris

As an extremely light drinker you wouldn't expect me to be hanging around in pubs; certainly not two within 3 days. It's where people congregate so that's sometimes where I need to be. For me, it's a lengthy and expensive exercise visiting Paris but this week I've done it three times in order to meet people and maybe establish friendships and contacts.

On Monday, as you know, I met Rachid on Valentine's Day to discuss couchsurfing, guiding and matters philosophical. That was at an English pub called The Lions. It is situated at 120 Rue Montmartre 75002. Being an English pub it is also a sports bar. There were little flags of all nations decorating the interior but none of them were of New Zealand. I found this a bit disappointing since NZ is part of the British Commonwealth. Even Australia was represented, Turkey, Japan but the opportunity to query the barman concerning the omission eluded me.

On Thursday I made my way back to the second arrondissement, past the Thistle scottish pub, to the Frog & Rosbif english pub at 116 rue St Denis. I had agreed to assist with a group wishing to improve their english speaking skills. We were rather a cosmopolitan group: Danielle from Cameroon, Nigel from Wales, Jason from the USA, Erkin from Turkey, Mamed from Mauritius. We all ensured each person got a chance to contribute to the conversation. It appears the group wants to meet weekly but this may prove too expensive for me. It costs 20 euros each time I come in my train and metro changes. I was interested, listening to each person's stories and questions but I think I prefer being more actively involved in someone's language learning. it doesn't use any of my training and I suspect I only add a little bit of multicultural colour. Most of the group seem to have a religious leaning at the same church which doesn't interest me at all. We'll see. I probably need to be focussed on looking out for myself, employment-wise, than helping others but social contact is important too.

Saturday dawned somewhat wet. That was disappointing as I had scheduled to go to Paris again, this time to meet Jean-Pierre. Oh well, I strapped on my camera bag, grabbed my brolly and headed off to the train station. This time I was visiting the 11th arrondissement, Place de la Bastille, a cafe called Indiana. By the time I arrived the rain was very heavy and my brolly was barely coping. It was clear I would not be doing much sight-seeing.

I located Jean-Pierre and we sat down to a hot drink and introductions. He lived many years in Manhattan in the US and so speaks English quite well. He is a consultant for sales and marketing in the women's ready-to-wear fashion market and has had an interesting life. Like me he has been a teacher and has a daughter as an only child. His daughter is four years older than my Laura. Jean-Pierre is very forthcoming and is happy to speak at length about his experiences. Perhaps he can keep an eye open for any opportunities for me to obtain a longer work contract. I don't know, but I'd certainly appreciate any efforts he can make on my behalf.

After a while the cafe became uncomfortable (check out the rain-drenched table in the photo)so we set out under my tiny umbrella, treading carefully between the puddles, along some of the oldest streets in Paris. I've been to the Marais before. I enjoy this part of Paris. As we passed Place Leon Blum by Boulevard Voltaire the decision was made to abandon the walk and have a hot drink at his apartment nearby. This gave me a chance to blow dry my sodden hair and dissipate some of the chill.

It's always a bit of a culture shock when I visit french apartments. They are so small and usually lacking in amenities NZers would take for granted. I look at the very modest existence I had in NZ. It seems wealthy compared to french apartment existence for the average person and my own studio situation. Unless you can afford a detached house and garden in France you just cannot have the space and amentities most people can have in NZ. The percentage of income spent on housing is frightening. A state house in Otara is more palatial than living in an urban environment in Europe. Jean-Pierre is fortunate he can look out onto some trees and grass from his windows and I can too from my wee studio. After more conversation I needed to head back home as trains to Cafeolait become rather sparse from early evening. Again, I arrived back at Paris Montparnasse to discover there was no train to Chartres leaving until 10.30pm. It was almost 9.30 so I took a train to Cafeolait. It's not direct and takes an hour to visit all the stations along the way, and then there's the walk home. Normally I choose a seat that can afford me a fleeting glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, just before passing through Meudon but I couldn't see the Eiffel Tower because of rain and fog. This interminable winter.

As I sat in the train I had time, again, for reflection. I considered myself and I considered where I want to live. I'm more and more certain that living in Cafeolait must come to an end if I am to have a half-way interesting life here. Paris is where I am comfortable. It's a very large city but I feel safer there than in Auckland. There are a few spots in Paris I wouldn't hang out in but generally I'm completely at ease there, even when I get lost (often). I'm becoming more skilled at planning my transport itineraries.

As the weather improves Paris is the only place that seems to have any 'life' to it, for me. I'm single. I don't have friends and family, I am not retired therefore Cafeolait has shown me all it can offer and it's much too quiet, too limited. I must find a way to live in Paris- horrendously expensive as it is. I'm a city girl who appreciates the beauty, space and tranquility of the countryside but I need the facilities and energy that a large city can offer- opportunities, adventures, chance meetings, entertainment, creating a social network.

And then there's me and who I am. I'm content with myself. I like the motivations and dreams and efforts, daily experiences and hopes that define me. I have so much to offer, there's a 'potential' aching to get out with the right opportunity. Walking the quiet streets of Cafeolait last night I felt open, enlarged. I cannot squeeze myself back into the box I used to live in in New Zealand. There's no going back, I don't fit the space I used to occupy.

There are many moments when I am afraid, afraid of my choice to sacrifice all for the hope of realising my dream. Such a dreadful risk. If I can't stay in France it will be an emotional and financial disaster. I can't even afford to go home and live in my old house. So instead of feeling like a victim of circumstance I'm asking for something extraordinary to happen. I'm ready, I'll work for it, my heart is open and my soul needs it to grow. And I'm ready for that extraordinary person I need to meet and love who'll be worthy of everything I can give.

Photos of the pubs, a wet cafe, the Paris metro

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Saint Valentine's in the City of Romance

Another Saint Valentine's Day has passed by without a lover to share it with but I decided to do something with the night anyway. I went to Paris to meet up with Rachid who is a couchsurfing ambassador. He is also a Paris tour guide and knows a lot of people socially. He invited me to meet him at a British pub called the Lions. It's a sports bar where couchsurfers meet up, in the second arrondissement. It became jam-packed while we discussed tour guiding, love and romance, philosophy, politics and following one's dreams. Later we went for a walk through the parisian streets, past the Louvre, along the Seine and across Pont des Arts- the lovers bridge.

It connects the Louvre with the Institut de France (seen in the background in the photo).

"The Pont des Arts was originally built, of iron, in 1804. It was rebuilt in 1883. Fragile, it was damaged often by boats, so much so that it was closed in 1970. It was finally rebuilt again in steel, in 1985. The name of the bridge is derived from the name of the Louvre (then called the Palais des Arts) at the time of its first construction. The bridge was designed by engineers Louis-Alexandre de Cessart and Jacques Lacroix-Dillon."

Yes, there were lovers on the bridge - some were clasping each other in various poses, some were sitting on the ground having a picnic with their duvets for shelter, well, it was cold but clear. And then there were the padlocks. Hundreds of them. It is the tradition for lovers to attach a padlock with their names on it, to the bridge to symbolise their life-long attachment to each other. All shapes and sizes and even colours were represented-what a surprising sight.

Ah Paris was beautiful, as always; splendidly lit, tranquil but with a relaxed purpose. Rachid and I parted company at the metro St Michel, by the fountain. Tour guiding doesn't seem to be a goer for me right now. Apparently you need to be self-employed and find your own clients. This requires research, marketing, time and some other income while you are setting things up. Plus, you need a specialty. Darn.

As you can see, I'm looking for ways I could possibly stay in France. I'm feeling a bit jittery with only a few months left, the possibility of being evicted from the place that matters most is more than depressing, it's scary-I have nowhere else to go, nowhere else I'd choose to go.

Oh well, optimism brought me here, maybe it can find a way for me to stay.

There were no trains running to Chartres at that hour so I had to wait until 00.30hrs for a train to Cafeolait which took an hour to get there. Fancy me being out so late by myself on Saint Valentine's Day but I remind myself that I don't have to rush home to kids, husbands, animals or any other commitments. It's OK for me to do other things with my time but really difficult to break the mindset and habits of a lifetime. I need practice in living 'freely and spontaneously'.

Photos are off the internet this time, of Pont des Arts.

Sunday, 13 February 2011


It has been another quiet weekend but at least there have been no dramas. I went with Camille to a different supermarket on Friday evening. It gave me a chance to go somewhere new and the prices were not too bad. That left my weekend free to do other things.

Camille met up with me again on Saturday morning to sort me out with some medical insurance. After the financially disastrous hospital admission episode I can't afford to take any risks. Now I'm covered (mostly) for the bits the social security doesn't cover. It's not 100% but it should avoid impossibly large bills for the next 12 months- if I'm lucky enough to stay here that long. This past week I had to see a doctor yet again due to effects of antibiotics- different antibiotics this time. Hopefully, soon I will have less health complications to deal with and the weather is now mostly above zero, the days are lengthening.

Last night I took myself off to the movies for only the second time since I've arrived in France. French version movies are still too difficult for me to sit through. I wait until an English version arrives with french subtitles but most movies are dubbed into french so french people never hear the original soundtrack. I went to see The King's Speech. I really enjoyed it, even though we all know the outcome, because the details are not well known, the casting was superb and so was the script. At the end when you see George and Liz (Queen Mother)standing on the usual balcony with the two princesses it brought a tear to my eye. I sensed there was real appreciation amongst the french audience for the historical aspects and the iconic buildings and places of London. Maybe it's not as pretty as Paris but it has been world-shatteringly important through the ages.

I reaffirmed to myself that I must find a way to stay here somehow- I'm near England/London/ other history and ancestors. New Zealand is much too young to move me the way parts of Europe can do. I want to experience, discover, travel. I've no ideas how to make that happen or how I will ever afford it but, hey, I've got this far. And I need quality people in my life, in my spare time. That's very challenging to make happen.

Sundays in general are 'teaching myself to cook french dishes" days. With no one to see and nowhere to go I applied myself to making two dishes: a reprise of Quiche Lorraine and an orange cake. Both turned out entirely edible but I think I was a bit generous with the syrup at the end- the cake was a bit too moist. Maybe orange icing would be better.

The quiche didn't go tidal on me this time with a smaller pan but I can still see room for improvement. I might research a meat dish next but I'm mindful of not having a lot of basic equipment. It's not easy squeezing oranges without an orange squeezer - just my hands and a fork - slow and messy and inefficient. I have invited two colleagues over for dinner 04 March so I need to have sussed out the menu well before then.

There's nothing on the 'love' front though I make plenty of effort on the internet. Time and numbers I suppose. I'm also investigating if there is a possibility of becoming a part time tour guide in the weekends to cater for English-speaking tourists. I have plenty of recent experience doing tours as well as 20 years ago. We'll see. I've joined a number of internet groups who have 'meet-ups' in Paris from time to time but I need to be selective in what I do.

I've also started reviewing some of my dance choreographies. No serious practice but running things over in my mind. Might even tinker with my guitar but it's all very solitary and doesn't provide a social network. If only I knew I could stay longer, a lot longer I could plan things. Right now the best I can come up with is to save up for an orange-squeezer.

Photos of Rambouillet and a toy train museum

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Bad Taste

It never ceases to amaze me just what can happen in a day. In just a few hours your life can change markedly and off you go, having to move in a direction you didn't want.

Sunday dawned reasonably well. Cold, overcast but with a suggestion that blue sky might appear. Mid morning Damien arrived at my place in Cafeolait before we took the train for the promised busy programme of getting to know Rambouillet. We went for a walk and ended up walking to the Bergerie Nationale. The Merinos were'nt making their presence known but I imagine they were saving their strength for the open day for families, later in the day.

After a long and very cold walk we returned to my studio where I made lunch and then it was off to the castle so Damien could have a look around. We also walked to the Queen's Dairy and the Shell Cottage where I managed to sneek off a photo before I was told to stop. They seem to be protecting their postcard supply of photos. Silly really, Versailles doesn't bother to stop photographers-maybe they realise that folks share them with their friends, thus promoting the attraction.

Following that there was time for a long walk through the park,looking at the waterfowl, past the gardens and back via train to Cafeolaite for me to cook dinner and offer a DVD. All well and good, we enjoyed our day but the hour got late and it was time for Damien to head home.

Out of the blue he asked me when I thought I might fall in love with him? What was my time frame? Heh??????????????????? Being honest I said I didn't know at this stage but I greatly enjoyed my time with him and that he was a very nice sort of man etc. I should point out, dear Readers, that that was only the fourth time we had met. We'd had some lovely meetings and I thought things were going Ok even if he was a little overly enthusiastic at times, a bit 'rushy'. I had mentioned to him at our first meeting that i had had a few bad experiences and that I was taking things carefully and needed him to go slowly.

Clearly I was too slow.I wasn't ready to take things to another level. He seemed like a reasonable and normal sort of guy but I was prudent this time. I had decided not to rush into an emotional entanglement too soon. Some expressions of affection are fine but I'm not leaping into a sexual relationship with a guy until I am sure he's going to hang around a long time and that we are well suited.

Damien decided he wasn't prepared to invest any more time in me if I couldn't guarantee him if and when I'd be in love with him. He left. He also left his camera behind but when I contacted him he refused to come back for it and told me to throw it in the rubbish bin. How odd. I checked, it wasn't working, true but it had a lot of holiday photos of another woman on it from back in August. She looked decidedly miserable and the two photos of Damien didn't seem happy ones either. Hmm, I'll throw it in the bin.

I also discovered he had gone to my blog and copied a photo I had taken of him at Chantilly and has posted it as his profile photo on Meetic- the dating site, already. There's no class in that action; using a personal moment we shared to promote himself to other women. I guess he can't have been grieving very long over me. Clearly I was too slow in giving what he wanted. I thought I had a lovely friend but he's not interested enough in me for that. It happens, shame.

Back to square one. I'm certainly getting a lot of experience.

The handyman arrived last night so now i have a telescopic pole (not very strong) to hang a shower curtain on. Yayy!!! Progress.

Photos of the inside of the seashell cottage which is decorated entirely of shells and pieces of glass, the park, the castle and me.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Pot Luck

Some of us at work got together for a pot luck dinner at a colleague's place. These social events are really difficult for me because it's almost impossible for me to understand what all the people are saying with their rapid speech, simultaneous conversations and my age-related deafness. But I'm not going to get better at recognising language unless I push myself.

It was very interesting trying the different kinds of dishes that we'd brought. Out host had made a traditional Breton dish involving vegetables boiled with a piece of pork for 3 hours and a bag of black wheat. My two favourite dishes were the potato tart and an orange-flavoured cake.

It was very late by the time we headed home and I was feeling quite unwell. I don't know why-so much exhaustion, headaches and nausea though I do know there are a lot of nasties going round and round this winter, more-so that usual, is my impression.

I made certain I got a few domestic chores done on Saturday. Philippe the bricoleur arrived but there were problems with the tringle I bought for the shower curtain and he seems to have no idea how to fix the cover of the rangehood. So far I have two photos up and that is all. He said he would go back and exchange the tringle I bought. I hope so because I have no money to replace the one that seems broken now. It's very hard to make progress but I remind myself good things take time.

I was looking forward to spending some time showing Damien around Cafeolait and Rambouillet on Sunday but that didn't end so well either. Nice day, sad finale. More on that next time.