Wednesday, 27 February 2008

coming down with something.

I can't remember when I last wrote - Saturday I think, and not much has happened since then, but I seem to be a verbal volcano at the moment - unable to stop myself from spewing out everything that's inside. Someone (Hemmingway???) said that you've got a good piece of writing, not when there's no more to add, but when there's no longer anything to take away. I guess I've got a way to go. Hopefully someday I'll be able to write concise, eloquent and witty little stories about an interesting thing that's happened, but for the moment you'll just have to bear with me as I wade through the minutae.

On Sunday I went to see Sweeney Todd which was excellent but oh SO depressing, but I'll write a proper review up some other time. Afterwards I went for a run in the beautiful park. I managed to run for the full 30 minutes again - I'm finding it sort of helpful in times of stress because when I'm running because it takes all my strength to just. keep. going. so it's an opportunity to not think about everything else for a bit, which actually makes it easier to want to keep going. I'm aiming for 3x a week (although I really should aim for more, what with the proportions of my diet being drastically skewed towards the other four food groups: chocolate, cheese, bread and potatoes) but it's not quite happening at the moment. Funnily enough, the advertisements against smoking here are not nearly as strong, but on junk food ads (coke, for example), there's always fine print at the bottom recommending you exercise to stay healthy!

On Monday I decided to treat myself to some lovely red shoes I'd seen, but ended up not getting them because they were a wee bit clog-like, and I ended up looking like Heidi the Dutch milkmaid or something. I did a fair bit of general wandering and I think my sense of direction is getting better. I'm rapidly discovering that the more interesting shops (surprise surprise) are a little off the beaten track, so wandering aimlessly can turn up some treasures. I've found an excellent cheese shop (although I haven't actually gone in yet...the smell when someone opens the door indicates I'm going to need some fortitude, but it's little and ridiculously cute, and there's no refrigeration, just shelves and tables), and an Irish shop (which doesn't sound that intersting, but stocks a heap of things I will soon want, like cheddar, Worcestershire Sauce and crunchies). I also found the Swatch shop which has lots of excellent jewellery, and another most excellent cheap jewellery shop, where I bought my lariest ring yet, which was a very satisfactory substitute for the shoes, especially since it was about 1/18th the price.

I headed back to Monoprix to buy myself lunches for the week, as even cheap bought lunches are horrifyingly expensive when you're doing it every day. This week I'm eating multigrain baguettes with tomato and goats cheese (good luck finding normal hard cheese in a french supermarket, although you can buy St Agur...yes, St Agur IN THE SUPERMARKET and not even the fancy gourmet section, just the normal cheese fridge), bananas, natural yoghurt (it's plain or hyper-sweet here, there's no middle ground) and apple juice fruit boxes.

Tuesday was spent in class and at the Orange (French equivalent of Telstra) shop. My phone credit has gone haywire again. After spending over 2 hours (my lunch hour, and after class until the shop closed) in the shop with an extremely helpful sales lady, we figured out that my phone, for the purposes of the internet/email, thinks it's in Britain. Once we figure out how to tell it it's in France (which I haven't managed yet, partly because there's a lot of settings to fix, partly because my phone's just being difficult, and partly because my phone's in English which makes it difficult for the French people to help) everything should be ok. So I've turned off the internet altogether, and someone who speaks English *should* be calling me to talk me through it tonight. We'll see. If you want to contact me urgently, sms is the way to go at the moment, although I'm getting email every day anyway, because I've sussed out the free wifi cafes around the place, and resigned myself to schlepping in my laptop every day.

Today was a bit of a washout of a day, on the whole, but a few interesting things happened, apart from the standard looking-like-a-crazy-person-photographing-macarons-in-public. I meant to spend the afternoon job hunting, but I forgot my map, lost my umbrella (and it was raining), the shop with the printer (for my C.V.) is shut for the school holidays and the Canele shop was closed. So I made it to one of the four places I'd planned to go - the International school here - and even that was being run with a skeleton holiday staff.

I randomly got kicked out of my language school at lunchtime - some of the people there are extremely lovely, but there's a few trolls, and today one of them came out of the woodwork I guess. I went to find somewhere to eat my lunch, and came across the ruins of an amphitheatre from the 1st century. I can't tell you much more about it than that because the information panel was all graffitied, but it was quite amazing to stumble across something like that in the middle of the city!

I went to La Poste and bought some postcard stamps, and sent some letters. They weighed the letters and they cost me 1.70 euro each to send, so I think what the lady told me the other day was a bit misleading. Yes, posting heavy parcels to Australia is expensive, but if you want to send something bulky that's say, 200g, the cheapest way is NOT to buy the 24euro pre-paid-up-to-2-kg boxes. That is nice to know. Mum's had some new shoes sent to me, to forward on home, so I guess that will be a good litmus test.

I walked most of the way home today, because the International School was on the route, and I decided once I'd gotten off to see how I went walking. It turns out you just turn right from my language school and follow the road til you get to the bus stop near my house. It's about 4ks so it's still a hike with a heavy bag, but it's nice to know it's so easy and I can't get lost! There was lots of pretty architecture and little gourmet grocery stores along the way so it was quite an interesting walk. Because France is so old, even the buildings which by French standards are new and boring, I'm finding quite beautiful.

I popped in at the Asian takeaway/grocer to buy a spring roll ('Nem') for the road. I tried to ask for it hot, and then had a big exchange with the guy which I didn't understand at all, despite the fact that he was able to put half of it in English for me (GOD the people here are ANNOYING. Isn't 2 languages enough? I can barely manage one!). I got my spring roll hot in the end, and it was all wrong. It looked like it had been fried, but the texture felt more like a cold roll that had been microwaved, so I guess the conversation was all about how maybe asking for the thing that looked like a spring roll warmed up was a stupid request. I 'm glad I asked for vegetarian though and not the chicken! Anyway, it tasted ok... at least it tasted properly Asian which was good because I've been missing that. I went searching for pho on the weekend and it was abortive when the recommended shop had a sign in the window saying it had closed down. Attempt 2 this weekend I think. At the Asian shop today I also bought a Taiwanese passionfruit drink which was completely awesome. Just like Golden Pash (which I'd also been missing) only better and bigger. I will be going back there, even though the guy now thinks I'm an idiot (fair enough).

After one cycle of the recommended salt treatment for my jeans, they are still turning the water (a slightly less vivid blue) so I'm repeating the process. I went to the supermarket to get more salt, and spent ages just looking around. I find foreign supermarkets so interesting - there's so much to contrast to home, and it's like a little microcosm of the everyday culture. French supermarkets smell unfortunately kind of gross, I haven't quite figured out why, but it's not good. They have lots of fancy fruits, but you can't get watermelon...or any melon for that matter. You can buy a tagine, but you can't buy a spoon. Nestle rules here, and there is no Cadbury - in general the supermarkets in the UK seemed to stock a lot more of the same products - but I discovered fair trade (which I always manage to call 'free trade') chocolate for only a few centimes more than the Lindt, which is cheap here anyway. There is literally an entire aisle for yoghurt, all of which is super sweet except for the few tubs of natural yoghurt, and I would say that probably half of it is some variation on chocolate. There's also a lot of pre-packaged dairy desserts, like creme caramel, iles flotantes etc. The French seem to eat a LOT of dairy (yoghurt, cheese) which is why I find it so weird that almost all of the milk is long life. (The 'normal' milk seems to be non-pasteurised and put through some weird filtering process instead.) This is probably one reason why the coffee here is not so good, although I have to say that on the whole it's not as bad as I was expecting. On a feminine note (boys may skip ahead to the asterisk) the francaises seem to love the Ultra Thins and only the Ultra Thins, which I do not, so I'm looking forward to leaky week even less than usual. * Chewing gum is l-a-m-e here - all pellets and no Extra. I'm glad I stocked up in the US. Beer is super dooper excellent here - all the fancy Belgian Beer Bar brands are in the supermarket and unbelievably cheap. You can get a 6 pack of Hoegardarden for around the price of 3 espressos. It's cheap even when converted into dollars and compared with West End. When I move out, I fully expect I will eat nothing but beer, chocolate and cheese, which is fortunate because Maggi noodles seem hard to come by here (don't worry Mum, just joking!). There are also lots of different flavours of Ferrero Rocher which I'm looking forward to trying. Ok, I think that's all about the supermarket. Stay tuned for the next exciting installment of Emily Buys Groceries!

In the evening I found myself watching Noddy with the kids. It was the weirdest experience yet. To start with they had a lot of trouble (the adults included) believing me that it's based on English books from the 50s. 'No, it's French'.'s not. It's a new swish 3d pixar-esque animation, but about the only thing the same as the books that I remember are the characters. Big Ears ('Pumpkin') is not Noddy's friend but a relatively minor character, and instead Noddy hangs out with a little black girl (not a toy as far as I can tell). The stories are very bland standard plots for children. It's very santised and PC and boring, which makes it even funnier that Noddy is called 'Oui-Oui' in French, which is decidedly NOT a PC name when you think it in English. I marvelled, and the little boy caught on and kept asking me 'is that bizarre too?' 'and that?' 'what about that'. Still, I've learnt some useful words from it: pumpkin, fob-watch and goblin.

I'm up to 3 now in the count of people who've mistaken me for a. a frenchwoman and b. someone with a sense of direction. Maybe I just have a helpful face.

The only other new thing today, is that I'm starting to get slightly cheesed at all the English words that the French use WRONG. I've no problem with them using our words (easier for me) but it's SO annoying to be corrected when I ask for a bottle of shampoo (it's 'shampooing' in French) or to have to say that I'm going to 'do the jogging' because 'jogging' is not a verb in French. 'Sandwichs' is also on the list, as are all the brand names they use for everyday things eg., 'kleenex' and 'scotch' (tape). If French comedians want to mock the English I'm told they just bugger up the genders of everything and it's apparently HILarious. I've seen some pretty shocking examples of franglais around the place (a building called 'Square Primerose' is the worst offender to date) which is not a problem in itself but I think it fully justifies me butchering their beautiful language, which I'm doing with great aplomb these days.

A demain...!


Hannah said...

Thanks for the opportunity to share my favourite joke:

Q. Why do elephants have big ears?

A. Because noddy won't pay the ransom.

(ba doom tish)

m∃ said...

Oh, I'd forgotten that one. I SO didn't see that punchline coming that I laughed out loud. Cute. Very cute.

Molly said...

I LOVE "Emily buys groceries"! Did I tell you that the first thing I did when I arrived in Istanbul was go to a supermarket? I am totally with you on the foreign supermarkets being interesting microcosm of the local culture :o)
(Btw - If you would like a care package of Women's Travelling Necessities (euphemism of the 1920s that I am particularly fond of) please e-mail specs and I will send some your way. Honestly.)
Good luck on the contiuing job hunt!

m∃ said...

Oh that is a good euphemism. I'll see how I go first Molly, maybe I'll stumble across something workable. But thanks!

Maybe a big supermarket trip planned for today. I'm a bit sick so I'll see how it goes.