Friday, July 16, 2004

Protests and pigeons

Undoubtedly Paris is a breathtakingly beautiful city; and the shopping is great once you have navigated the pitfalls of a 35 hour working week.
Is it closed on a Monday or a Tuesday?
Of course it’s closed on Sunday.
Does it close for lunch from 12.00 to 14.00?
Or 13.00-15.00?
Or maybe 12.00-15.00?
Then you can go to Madeleine Gely at 218 Avenue Saint-Germain, a shop selling handy little fur lined umbrellas and custom made umbrellas, or to Maria Luisa at 19 bis Rue Mont Thabor, the only stockist of Manolo Blahnik in Paris, carrying a small but perfectly formed collection, Or my favourite shop in Paris, BHV, though I have to admit they have reasonable opening hours; they are open on Mondays and lunchtimes. BHV is a department store (8 floors) with a fantastic Aladdin’s hardware cavern in the basement.

I’m sorry to have to bring this up but why do Parisian men have to pee on the streets?
Clearly it’s a guy thing to pee outside. Here they mark there territory on the street, that’s obviously if for some inexplicable reason they can’t do it in a car park which seems to be the preferred choice, more discreet perhaps? Or maybe it’s just a seasonal thing – car parks are preferable in the winter?

Something else inexplicable, why were the Foreign Legion marching wearing what appeared to be butchers’ aprons and carrying axes during the 14th July parade?

Protestors are out in force as we approach the strike season, there is even a website: to ascertain who is striking this week. The organisation of the protests is impressive. Groups from all over France arrive at different metro stations, and then make their way to the starting point on foot. Off they go, marching in an orderly fashion with flags denoting which region they have come from. They sometimes have balloons. Maia has become quite a fan, especially if they have balloons. They are followed by police who are followed by the street cleaners.

The beautiful wide boulevards of Paris so ideal for protesters and parades were not in fact built for the citizens so much as against the citizens. They were designed to be too wide to build barricades across, and straight enough to aim a canon at any citizens that might be uprising in the streets. Protestors didn’t have the support they enjoy today back in the time of Napoleon III. Paris was redesigned by Haussmann, a city planner. Personally I see a pattern, city planners against the people. It continues to this day, in one of the universities, pebbles are embedded in concrete to make it too slippery for protesting students to stand on when water canons are being aimed at them.

There are principally two problems with Parisian parks; firstly you’re not allowed to sit on the grass except for one small over subscribed patch of grass in the Jardin de Luxembourg, that leads to the second problem of trying to find a park bench that is not enshrouded in pigeon fertilizer.
The Parisian pigeons seem to be a lot larger and sleeker than the London pigeons I remember, but that could just be a cultural thing, obviously the Parisian pigeons are more concerned with grooming whilst the Londoners are out drinking on the rooftops.
We are talking about big fat fornicating birds, and I do mean that literally. All they do is chase each other, for shagging purposes and eat what I fervently hope are conceptive pills. It’s a vicious circle; they are supplied with copious amounts of baguette crumbs by the little old ladies of the hood, which then makes them too fat (or are they all pregnant?) to get any decent elevation when flying. Consequently when chased by children, they barely make it over the children’s heads (that surely could be intentional on the part of the pigeons). The little old ladies `tut tut´ and feed the pigeons more bread, possibly deliberately, to keep them flying low over the children’s heads.

I also have been living on bread as it is so magnifique and proof man can live on bread and, wine and cheese alone, with maybe an occasional salad thrown in. Surely more agreeable than the Otago University researchers who tried to prove that man, or possibly they meant students, a different species altogether, could live on beer and fish and chips, allegedly they all got scurvy. It’s amazing I haven’t turned into a smelly wine soaked baguette by now, but it could possibly take a little longer, I will press on with the study.

I have recently spent time in the suburbs (banlieue) of Paris, a very scary place for someone with absolutely no sense of direction; I need mappy to go to the supermarket.
Yes, if you live in the suburbs you can have a garden and therefore dogs – not that the lack of a private garden prevents the inner city dwellers from rampant dog ownership. Or you could live in the suburbs and have three dogs all needing psychoanalysis. Two big dogs, one of a nervous disposition whose fur falls out and eats her own tail, the other big one has halitosis and a taste for small dogs and the small dog that lives inside and thinks she’s a cat.
And yes, you could even have you own private swimming pool. Or you could have a swimming pool full of gold fish, which would be tragic if it wasn’t 13°C in July. It was tragic last year (during la canicule) when it was so hot that the acorns simultaneously decided to commit suicide one night at 10pm.
So I am looking forward to getting out of la banlieue and back to the city and into our apartment. Just as soon as our band of Portuguese builders and Romanian cabinet maker (certified at the University of Transylvania) leave. Five months and counting.

Thursday, March 11, 2004


Detropicalization: to adapt to non- tropical regions, esp. in regard to a return to Europe, esp. Paris with recently acquired apartment under renov. for an est. 4-5 month period, after three years or more in tropical regions

I’ll start at the top. No humidity (comparatively speaking) – so my hair is fabulous.
Moving on, my ears have gotten larger (no it’s not an age thing). It appears I have an allergy to cold weather. This is preposterous, for although my homeland could be described as a Pacific Island, it is by no means a tropical one and that’s not even taking into account over a decade spent in London living in a climate very similar to the one here.
I'm guessing it was the three year hiatus in more equatorial climes. In fact it happened once before in KL, just before we left. I was holding an ice cold bottle of coke on my delicate, lightly tanned, bare arms (the pigmentation was sucked out of me within hours of arrival here) and I got a strange rash in the shape of a coke bottle which took a couple of hours to clear.
It starts with my ears, they get itchy and swell (think bright red rugby player cauliflower ears), then my cheeks get red and itchy though don’t seem to puff up much and then – this is the fun part – my lips. We are talking about collagen injected inflatables. It takes about 10 minutes of exposure to reach stage one (the ears) though this can easily be averted by wearing a hat, and a further 10 minutes per stage. It takes an hour to deflate. Not exactly debilitating, yet strange all the same.

Now that Spring has sprung and all is well now on that front, however Spring has separate concerns for us. As it is now light until 9.30pm at night Maïa is having light sensitivity issues, which I guess explains why she never got jetlag. This is easily remedied with blackout curtains.

Speaking of my Little French Girl, she has become obsessive about wiping her feet. The LFG can’t walk past a door mat without thoroughly wiping her feet. I’m not really sure why this has come about as the sidewalks are remarkably free of crote de chien (the same of which cannot be said of park benches and pigeon excrement).
The streets and sidewalks are comprehensively cleaned and positively sparkle. I initially thought water mains were bursting all over Paris and commented to the FM (no longer known as the GM) what a terrible waste of water it was, when it was pointed out to me that the people in green suits were deliberately turning on the water, letting it gush down the street, and then giving it a good scrub – a fine use of water, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Sadly the LFG has finally lost her movie star wave – she just wasn’t getting the accolades from her fans when waving from a bus. The only appropriate response she got was from a boatful of tourists (mostly Asian) on the Seine. She is now focusing more on little old ladies, some of whom do in fact stop to say how cute she is especially if she is wearing her very cute (if I do say so myself) raincoat with matching boots ensemble.

The LFG hasn’t inherited the cold allergy, luckily for her as she does have an allergy to gloves and hats. She will wear a scarf, although this could be an innate chic French thing (who knows how they tie the things, I will have to wait until she is old enough to explain it to me). LFG also likes coats, then again this is fashion linked – one also needs a matching bag.

Now that the LFG and I fall under the category of mobility challenged people (have child and large buggy), we get around town via disabled bus routes. It slightly limits where we can go but at last we don’t have to ask for help from the unfriendliest people in Paris, working women. I don’t know what they are doing on buses at that time of the day – shouldn’t they be at work? There they are, not only ignoring us but being actively unhelpful whilst maintaining a disdainful expression – try it, it’s not as easy as it sounds. The men are falling over themselves to help – I guess they can’t help themselves though – woman and child in distress.

LFG’s language skills are improving more rapidly than mine, is anyone really surprised? Strangely she doesn’t seem to pick the easiest words. For example she prefers to say chaussure rather than shoe, chaussette rather than sock – you can see where her interest lies.

LFG is of at that delightful stage where she is repeating everything she hears (happily I am not driving around Paris so I’m not involuntarily contributing as much to her expanding vocabulary as I used to). We were listening to a breakfast radio discussion about the lyrics to a 50 Cent sing (the ones they don’t even print on the CD). They were going through it word by word, I was shocked - living too long in a censored society I guess – still it was only breakfast time.

And speaking of French radio brings me to French music. It isn’t quite what I thought it was – you know the same as Vegemite, an acquired taste that must be ingested from birth to be fully appreciated. Well it is if you have been subjected to the same French radio stations I have, Nostalgi and Cherie FM – dreadful, truly dreadful French songs (they really have a thing for the 80’s) and songs in English that you have never heard before, and that would be for a really good reason, that they are so naff.

And so to French television, first the fabulousness.
There is a channel (cable unfortunately) called Jimmy and they have back to back Dynasty and Dallas – great for my French skills. Unhappily now we just have regular French television which is basically variety shows and talk shows and boy can they talk. A normal talk show is 2 hours and I am not talking about an Oprah thing – I am talking about a bunch of guys (usually they’re men) who sit around a round table and argue about something for 2 hours minimum, and this is televised. One show I saw, not in it’s entirety you understand, was entitled La frite et la mode. The chef they were interviewing was dramatically disguised, in case the frite mafia got him, I suppose. One other show is presented by a gentleman with the most serious mono-brow I have ever seen – how is that allowed? I have never been able to watch it long enough to discover what it is about as I find the mono-brow too disturbing. This is Saturday night television.
Abysmal because that’s the governments cunning plan to get French people to go out and spend money.