Monday, 28 March 2011

Warming up

I've settled into a new routine. Jean-Claude and I try to make time for each other for part of the weekend. We're getting to know each other and I can certainly appreciate the kind, gentle and thoughtful person that he is. He makes such an effort to do nice things for me such as cutting some Spring flowers for me to take back to my studio, giving me fruit to munch dring the week. He completely blew me away by presenting me with a gift of perfume.

It was off to Chartres again for another VO movie, this time Black Swan. No doubt JC thought I'd enjoy it, being a dance movie. It's very well acted but rather bizarre and I certainly didn't expect to see Natalie Portman on pointes. We found the ending unsatisfying but an interesting movie. Camille from work had been to see it and she agrees with my assessment.

I enjoyed accompanying JC on (yet another) castle tour of Rambouillet. Although he has lived in the region for decades he had never been inside the chateau or the seashell cottage and it was a long , long while since he had visited the Laiterie (Dairy). I think he enjoyed the interesting historical and architectural details of the french commentary. Once again the guide gave a different 'rendition' to each of the others I've experienced and I still miss a lot of it because the french is too fast and colloquial.

How lovely to see the spring stirring in the 'parc'. It's stirring at JCs property too, with pink sprigs opening all over his plum tree- the fruits are tiny and inedible, and the lawn is starting to need mowing.

We had to have a wee chat to Jean-Claude's dog. She's apparently very jealous of me and needs reasurance from JC, and then she's OK. As you know, I'm not comfortable around dogs, especially biggish bouncy ones but I'm trying to chill out. She's quite a lovely animal and good company for JC. She stays outside the house so it's easier for me to cope. I've had several bad experiences with dogs throughout my life and it's challenging to get past them but usually my enjoyment of animals wins out.

Yes, Spring is now in the air and we are on European Summer time. I'm looking forward to spending more time in the sunshine and exploring new places in France. Maybe this time I will will be doing it with someone special.

Photos: the chateau, the impressive dairy created for Marie Antoinette (she detested Rambouillet- not grand enough for her), the cottage built for Madame Lamballe to entertain her lady friends while the guys were hunting in the forest, French girl scouts, my perfume Lolita Femnicka in its apple-shaped flacon.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

You're part of my milestone(s)

I have now passed the six-month milestone of my life in France. It has been quite a ride. As I reflect back on my myriad of experiences, there are some I expected, difficulties one could predict, meeting some lovely people but also rather too many really negative experiences. But experiences they are and it's certainly true that I would never have experienced anything like them if I had stayed in NZ.

My life in NZ has been dismantled. I can never have back what I had there even if I returned. That was always a strategy of mine - to make it really, really hard to abandon my dream of France and slink back to NZ when things got tough. And tough they did get. I think they will be challenging for a long time to come but I've made it this far.

I'm living hand to mouth, with no savings, no security of any kind other than my resilience which must expand with each travail that comes along. I wanted to grow. I suppose I must have, subtley, but I don't FEEL stronger. You, Dear Reader, don't see the times of despair, the tears and the fear I experience on train trips or alone in my room. The language difficulties are the most frustrating and isolating.

However, it doesn't take a lot to lift me up, fill me with hope, discover a flash of joy, a momentary flash of feeling comfortable. I don't need anyone's religion to have faith. I have to create my own brand of faith in this endeavour. What is the basis of this faith? I don't believe in God and I'm not sure about destiny. I don't know and I don't need the answer- I can live with ambiguity in this. Self-delusion? Quite possibly but whatever works for me- whatever keeps me on track and not looking back too often.

Oh, don't get me wrong, I've had plenty of time to review my single-minded determination to do this and the enormous sacrifices it has cost me. I never had a comfortable life before but that old life seems positively safe and luxurious compared to the results I have now.

But it doesn't matter. It will only matter if I give in and try to go back to what I can no longer have. The world has moved on and so have I. My life has changed and so has Laura. She's an independent woman now, with her own life and car and friends. My only regrets are giving up some of my precious possessions and not being able to share life with Laura. I miss my friends but of course but they all have their own lives which suit them. I was, effectively, alone in Auckland. I figured I might as well be alone in France where bigger things were possible. NZ had run out of plot lines for me-I needed a new writer.

So lets see, what's happened so far? Bought, had an accident and sold a car; was rescued by paramedics and admitted to the emergency department in a hospital; was was robbed in the Metro and experienced a police station; was visited by a radio-active cloud; had a brief affair with a french gangster who was 'unhinged';was a friend, briefly, to assorted other guys; washed a car in a snowstorm; spent Christmas with a French family in Brittany; was evicted temporarily by my boss and had to stay with his 2IC; spent a fortune on french doctors and chemists; lost my patience with the french immigration service (to good effect); discovered the ins and outs of all sorts of insurance; shared good and bad moments with some of my colleagues; bought my first flat-screen TV; attended an earthquake memorial service for a city I used to call home; explored all communication options to find my mother (not all that successfully); visited the Cathedral of Chartres and many interesting places in Paris; started a new job doing web development stuff and translations; checked out British pubs and couchsurfers; upgraded my shower and curtains; acquired a tolerance for some french plonk and cheese; met a lovely retired dentist.

Not too bad for six months. Did I miss anything? Check the blog archives.
I've been writing this blog for 11 months. I'm not sure how long I will continue but I do have a lot more interesting and unexpected experiences to go and I do enjoy sharing them with you. I can already promise you there's good stuff in the pipeline.

Sunday, 20 March 2011


The first official day of Spring today. Cold but eventually the sun made an appearance. Thank goodness because yesterday was bitter.

In the afternoon (yesterday)Jean-Claude and I went to visit an antiquities expo in Chartres-he has an interest in this sort of thing and I've never attended one before so I was curious. It didn't have high-class antiques but I still found some of the pieces enchanting. Really, there were a number of pieces of furniture, light fittings and carpets I'd have been excited to purchase if I had a few spare thousands of euros. To me it's fascinating seeing the old french furniture from the 18th century and later. And I believe I have very good taste. I can imagine a small french house with these pieces in it- I would love that, and some special outdoor furniture for the garden too, of course. Ah, one can dream.

The weather was not conducive to walking around Chartres (as you can see from the photo of the Cathedral, bitterly cold and misty. Instead we attended a VO session at the cinema there called "We want sex equality". It's about a group of machinists at a Ford factory in England who go out on strike with major consequences. Funny and admirable.

Today we pottered around the bottom of Jean-Claude's property. It's wild in this section and fenced to keep JC's dog from hunting everything there. We could see the beginnings of Spring: a faint flush of green on some of the trees, the ground covered in nettles, violets and mini-ranunculus. Along the river and in boggy places are found slightly bigger ranunculus, bullrushes, iris.

Along the other side of the stream is a raised railway line. It has been abandoned since World War 2 because the allies bombed the bridges. JC explained there are lots of bomb craters. The locals fill them with rubbish and let them grow-over. One of the stone bridges is in original condition (see photo).

It was quiet. JC is observant and pointed out any ducks and other birds in the vicinity. A quick flash across a little footbridge was caused by two chevreuil (very small species of deer). You can just make one out crossing the bridge in the photo if you zoom on it. They are the first animals I've seen in a french forest. I hope I'll see more as the weather improves and the forests wake up. I can also see why JC loves his somewhat remote property and wouldn't dream of leaving it. He loves nature (being a chasseur) and his hunting dog enjoys great freedom. It's very energetic and fast and good company for JC.

I wonder if I'll ever be settled enough one day to have a pet of my own again. I miss that. I wonder if I'll ever have a house of my own here in France-that's an essential part of my dream.

Friday, 18 March 2011

In Memorium

Today a memorial service was held for the victims of the Christchurch Earthquake and to support those who survived. I travelled to Paris to be part of it. I'm here in France, alone, so far away and not part of the Kiwi expats community yet I have much feeling for Christchurch.It's been hard - little news on french media, grabbing a moment here and there to check the NZ Herald and TV3 news sites for updates, frantically employing Facebook, Twitter and any networks I have to find my mother.

I still don't know how she is, where she is, only that the police say she is alive. There's no news from the Red Cross regarding my brother but I must assume no news is good news.

I have a dysfunctional family, not at all close though I've always wanted it otherwise from the moment I was born. Alas, some families have love and others don't. Still, they are the only family members (other than Laura) that I have so I've tried really hard to check on them. It's impossible to phone, Mum doesn't seem to be living where she was and my brother does not appear in the phone book. Neither of them have contacted me. I had sent a care parcel to Mum before the quake but I don't know if she has since received it or if she checks her mail.

So, the only way I could share in the caring and acknowledgement of loss, death and that the city would never be the city I remember, was to go to the service. It was religious, being at St Michael's church in Paris. It's a few rooms in a modern sort of building and typically minimalist. I am not at all religious but this was all that was on offer so I just let that bit wash over me and appreciated the intentions. Two observations I had were that I still know the hymns, virtually by heart, after all these decades of atheism, and secondly,for some reason I found my voice. For the past few decades it has slumbered, unfit, out of tune and condition and not the singing voice I once had but today for reasons I don't understand, it soared high over many others with no effort at all, in tune. Where did it come from? Of course, hymns are designed to be very singable but our National Anthem has a particularly challenging high note-it was achievable today and I'm pleased.

I went to acknowledge my emotional support for all those in Christchurch; struggling with the aftermath which will drag on for years. Those who are homeless, bereaved, who've lost their incomes, their most precious personal possessions. Where will they find the energy to start over-how will the elderly keep going, will some of them give up because they no longer have the energy and time to build a life all over again?

The service was timed for 12.30pm, same time as the Christchurch one which happened yesterday. There was a pianist, a priest from the Wellington Cathedral, Rt Hon Simon Upton, the NZ Ambassador to France (Rosemary Banks) and the service was presided over by the Rev, Philip Mounstephen. Towards the end we each lit a little tealight candle and some of us trotted upstairs for refreshments; glass of orange juice and a lammington, in my case.

Heading back to the metro I took a tiny detour to the Elysee Palace (known as Sarkosy Palace). Nic wasn't going to stick his head out and offer me a drink before I went back to work. Shame, so I amused myself photographing his guards. I walked past the Madeleine (covered in urban grime) to travel back to the Gare and then back to work.

Photos from the service, the Elysee Palace and Madeleine.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Beauty & the Beast

I'm still eagerly awaiting Spring. The trees remain leafless and the temperatures are not consistently climbing yet. Four degrees in the morning are still happening but we don't seem to get the frosts such as you'd get in NZ whenever temperatures are that low. I don't know why- maybe things are simply drier.

Next month I'd like to buy and organise some window boxes for my studio - to pretend I have a little garden and to soften the hard lines of the building. As Spring gets closer I miss my garden more and more; the ability to grow my own food, have a natural haven away from work, outdoor living.I don't have the opportunity to get much sunshine when it arrives without my outdoor hobbies so I will need to make a special effort to find places to visit in the warmer months.

On Saturday Jean-Claude and I went to see a "Version Originale" movie "127 hours", maybe you've seen it. A true story of survival but very hard to watch. About once a month the cinema at Cafeolait has a VO movie (in English with French subtitles)but I'm fairly choosy. JC is a very kind, gentle and generous person and it's lovely to spend some time with him. His village is very small and located in the Eure et Loir area; 500 inhabitants, I think he said, with a medieval church. The weather has been very dull and cool so getting out and about hasn't really happened this past weekend and I've been a bit preoccupied with keeping up with news covering the Christchurch and Japanese earthquakes.

Thank goodness we don't have any nuclear reactors in NZ but France has 58. It's the second most 'nuclear-powered' country in the world and the french people I've talked to either shrug their shoulders and say they simply need to have a decent electricity supply or say there's no risk and that nuclear power is 'cleaner' than any other. What planet are they on?

I can't imagine a more horrifically toxic material than the byproducts of nuclear anything. Not only for humans but for every living thing for hundreds of thousands of years. There are a few stations south of where I live. Doing a spot of research, they HAVE had some safety issues but maybe not much negative publicity because France is so dependent on them.

It's not comfortable for me knowing my electricity is produced this way. The Germans seem to be uncomfortable with the idea too and have officially planned to phase out all nuclear power stations by 2020. Not far away.

On a lighter note, and certainly a more beautiful and natural one, I've included a photo of the gorgeous roses JC gave me yesterday. How thoughtful. They are enormous and of a very delicate pink blush. One day, I'd like to be able to grow my own roses again.

Photos of a french nuclear power complex, my roses and a 12th Century church which is near Gallardon.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

New beginnings for 2011

What a busy weekend it's been. It began when I rushed home on Friday evening to start preparing for my mini studio-warming. I had invited Camille and Claire from work over for a meal. Despite the limitations of my habitation I managed to come up with an appetiser, main and desert and then chockies etc.This sort of thing is quite tricky with the size of my fridge and lack of appliances so I just have to work with what I've got and not try for a dinner party. I'm also still frustrated with my language progress because I don't understand most of what the ladies are talking about together. Roll on the day I can understand everything around me but that could be a year away.

Saturday morning was flat out getting shopping and washing done as well as the inevitable housework. Well, the housework isn't a lot but it still takes time as I have few mod cons. So different to my life in Auckland where I lived in a 3 bedroom house and garden. I so miss my garden. I looked at all the space Jean-Claude has at his place, trees, grass, a little stream, front and back gardens- not exciting gardens: half empty and few flowers though it has potential. With some effort and ideas it could be even nicer than it is.

Jean-Claude (my retired dentist friend) collected me and took me to Parly 2 a big shopping centre near le Chesnay which is near Versailles. He likes shopping. Quite a few french guys do, not necessarily to buy much. Most kiwi guys hate it. I wonder what causes this cultural difference. He bought me a CD of Etienne Daho I've wanted for a long time- that was very kind and we played it later in the day. I have almost nothing in the way of french CDs, partly because I can't afford them and partly because i don't know who's around that I would like. Etienne's been around decades, I prefer his later stuff. We also managed to fit in a quick drive past an old chateau which is now a private hotel for the very well heeled who arrive for clandestine hookups from Paris via helicopter.

Dinner was some well-cooked (for me) steak and potatoes dauphinois - always a good bet, and JC had thoughtfully bought some milk so I could have a cup of tea. Today we drove to the nearby Chateau de Maintenant which is famous partly because Madame de Maintenon was the mistress and secret wife of Louis XIV. There was a chateau in Maintenon in the 13th century which went through various owners until it was purchased by the widow Scarron (Fran├žoise d'Aubigne) who received generous financial support from the king and it was extended and famous landscape gardener le Notre designed the gardens. Fran├žoise became Madame de Maintenon but had no descendents and so the castle went to her niece. More remodelling occured in the 19th century and the castle was severely damaged by allied bombing raids. Restoration is fairly recent and took 15 years. It is now the responsibility of the regional council Eure-et-Loire. Not all of it is open to the public but it is definitely worth a visit. I found it quite beautiful and the artworks are impressive. Naturally Louis XIV (the sun king of Versailles) features prominently.I loved it: the romantic exterior details, the beautiful interiors, the furniture ( though some is in poor condition), It's quite ornate and intimate. I wasn't allowed to photograph indoors, alas.

Photos include the chateau and also a medieval tower at Galladon village. It's a wonder it still stands but it's all that remains of several towers and a wall surrounding the village during the hundred years war with England. 

Seeing this stuff is where I get my bliss. I'm thinking of attending a meeting of amateur photographers in Paris tomorrow night. Maybe I'll get some pointers on using other features on my Nikon.