Wednesday, 30 April 2008

in a hurry to sleep.

Like a yoyo it is - I'm feeling a bit better today.

I had two great classes today - great because I really liked both of my students, and I really feel like I can help them, and that it will make a big difference in their lives if I do a good job. I think it is going to require a LOT of preparation, but it's nice to be doing something meaningful. My favourite student so far has a good level of English but he's so incredibly unconfident (is that even a word? I can't tell anymore...) that he can barely get the words out. He's a lovely man and I just wanted to give him a big hug and tell him it will be ok, that he's really good, that he just needs to have some faith in himself. He's such an interesting person that I really enjoyed talking to him, and I left the lesson feeling great, because in my hurculean effort to radiate calm and confidence for him, I ended up feeling supremely zen myself. Not a bad fringe benefit really.

The bad news is I've managed to lose my debit card. Sheet sheet sheet sheet double sheet.

But it's ok because la-la-la I'm no thinking about it because this weekend I'm going to Madrid.

Yes, Madrid in Spain. Yet another WHOLE NOTHER COUNTRY. I hope they stamp my passport this time.

Monday, 28 April 2008


Here you go Elsie: I lied, and here I am writing again already. I hope it gets you through the last couple of days at work.

I've been trying to keep this blog pretty neutral, since I know now a lot of people are reading it. I try to stick to the facts and not let stuff get too emotional. But obviously moving half way across the world is not all beer and skittles, and I would like to look back on all this writing writing writing and have it actually remind me of what I felt like, and not just what I saw.

So, with that in mind.

Jeez, this is hard work. I'm up and down like a yoyo which I suppose is normal, but sometimes it feels like the yoyo always ends up at the bottom, just like a real one. And just like a real yoyo I have no direction other than just bouncing around which is ultimately tiring and unfulfilling and frustrating.

I had my first day of teaching today and it was hard. SO hard. I had basically just planned to chat with them to get an idea of their level. Ok, I had some activities planned, but it was hard to work out what to actually teach them without knowing what they'd already done, and I'm not confident enough to teach them anything without preparing, so my plan (endorsed by the tiny bit of training I got) was to do lots of controlled discussion with my students to get to know them, their level, their needs.

But it turns out 2 hours is a LONG time to talk.

It's a long time for someone whose English is not great, because they won't elaborate much on their sentences so you have to ask a LOT of questions, and there really is a limit to what you can ask someone. It's a long time for someone whose English IS great, because they'll tell you everything they can and then what else can you ask.

My first student was really cool, and kind of made me think I might like to work in advertising. I think I'm going to get along with her really well, and I think I can help her, because her English is great, but her confidence is not.

My second class all seemed really diligent, and I think I can teach them stuff, because they're still at a basic enough level that I can really structure the classes and teach them grammar and so on. Once I learn it myself, obviously...

My third class all had really great English - not perfect, but too good to actually be teaching them rules and grammar, because they know it all, they just don't use it consistently. I got them to explain the French political system to me, and they found it easy. Right. But they apparently don't need their English much - I asked them how often they use it and they said hardly ever. So what am I supposed to do with them? I can't teach them how to speak English because they already can, I can't structure the classes around the report that they have to write for next week, because they don't have one, I can't just chat to them for 2 hours because they'll see through that and get bored with wasting their time.

And the awkward silences. OH the awkward silences. When they happen YOU have to patch them up, and I don't like awkward silences. That's normally the point at which I go and get a drink.

And two hours is really a long time. I can see how 1 hour would be too short, but WOW 2 hours is a long time. I felt like I was flailing and clutching at straws for a lot of it.

And after 3 lots of 2 hours today my brain is fried. I came home and spoke French to my housemates; bad, tired French, but I was so sick of hearing chunky butchered English and beginning to feel like it was me that was getting it all wrong, that it was actually the better option.

So I'm tired and flat. And I feel like I've been tired and flat for 5 months now, which isn't entirely true - although it is true I've been having frequent tired and flat periods for 5 months now, so maybe part of it is just that I'm tired of being tired and flat, over and over again with no sign of consistent reprieve. When I feel like this, I don't feel grateful to be in this beautiful city, I just feel like I want to leave and go anywhere but here. And even that annoys me because it's really such a waste and I know in my head that another life I would've given my right arm for these opportunities that I'm too preoccupied with blah to enjoy.

I thought coming here that living in Paris would be different than visiting as a tourist, and I think that's true, but now I wonder if the tourists actually get the better deal. They only see the shiny, nice, clean bits, and they don't have to deal with the grey grimy reality of a lot of Paris, and they don't have to deal with trying to get on with having a 'normal' life within a reality where you can't communicate with anyone properly, don't have friends, a direction, a life...

Still, I'm not quite climbing on the plane yet. I know that new jobs are hard wherever you are, and whatever you're doing, so even though it doesn't feel like it, I'm trying to tell myself that it'll be ok, I'll figure it out, I'll be good at it, that less capable people than me have done this and lived to tell the tale, that it's temporary, that the worst case scenario is not that bad. I'm starting French classes again next week, and maybe I will make some friends and not feel so isolated here. I'm going to Spain for the long weekend and getting some time away from the intensity of my (ab)normal life here.

No-one said it would be easy. And everyone was right.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

learning English grammar.

Well, it's been a jam packed couple of days.

On Wednesday night, Nhan and I did indeed go to the Louvre, and my new youth card got us both in for free. Nice. That place is absolutely HUGE, which is obvious from the outside, but it really doesn't hit home until you get inside. There's a Virgin megastore in there. Really. We had about 5 things we particularly wanted to see and it took us about 2 hours. Luckily I can go back. As many times as I want. The decoration of the building itself is beautiful - many rooms have lavishly gilded and painted ceilings and wrought iron doors and gates. We saw the Mona Lisa which was amazing - it really does have an awesome presence in the room, but unfortunately you can't get within about 5 metres of it and there's glass over the canvas so for all that you can see, it could be a poster. We also saw the section which is still furnished as it would've been, which was incredibly incredibly beautiful. It's huge and the furniture is so rich and ornate. The funny thing was that the bedroom (one of the Louis' I think) had a huge four poster bed which looked completely out of proportion because of its short length.

On the way into the Louvre we had crepes (or more specifically, a gauffret [like a waffle] with stupid amounts of cream in Nhan's case) and dinner (and Nhan had a pink beer) and a man tried to pick Nhan up in typical French style by telling her she was 'charming' and 'magnificent'. Very funny.

Thursday was spent getting Nhan on the train, which I did not do well at, because she missed it and had to catch the next one. It turns out you have to know which platform the Eurostar leaves from, and waiting for the number to come up on the departure boards is a bad idea. Oh the French. Also, Nhan bought a sandwich and a drink for a set price, but the horrible lady behind the counter charged her the price for the two added together (more) because she asked for them separately and didn't ask for the deal. OH the French. I think that inspired my to get moving on learning more French because I just didn't have the vocab to tell her what a cow she was being. While we were having lunch waiting for the train, I tried Fosters for the first time, and realised why no one drinks it at home.

On Friday morning I went to the Foreigners' office to show them my visa saying I can work with a letter promising me a job to get a letter saying I can work so I can get a contract to actually work. Oh the French. I was expecting it to be a total nightmare, but with typical French efficiency they had two people working to serve a line of about 50 people, but one of them was dealing with European citiziens and students, and one was dealing with everybody else. Of whom there were two. So that worked out quite well. Since I had time up my sleeve, I went hunting for a chocolate shop I'd heard was great, which unfortunately turned out to be closed, but it was ok because I came across the Moulin Rouge on the way. I went and bought a dress (for the girls: navy blue, short sleeves, bubble skirt with pockets) a train ticket, did more English training, wrangled the photocopier, and finally made it back to the chocolate shop - 'L'Etoile d'Or' in Montmartre. It was an expensive visit, but I'm glad I made the effort to get there, because it really is lovely - move over chocolate world. I bought some gifts, as well as some bergamot flavoured lollies (like a cross between earl grey and barley sugar) a few Bernachon truffles (which I stupidly missed in Lyon - one of the few places in the world to make chocolate starting with the actual cocoa beans) which I'm savouring day by day. The lady who owns it is a real character with pigtails and a kilt and was happy to chat to (or chat at, since my French is still not that great) at me for ages. She made me eat a Peach truffle in the shop to see if I would like it since it's her favourite, and she tied all of the bags with a little ribbon, even the ones that I'd told her were just for me.

In the evening I made Anzac biscuits, which was the only thing I could think of to do for the day. I was a bit scared that French flour wouldn't work, so I bought the strongest I could find, and I think it was overkill because they came out very crunchy. Strangely enough the hardest ingredient to find was rolled oats - I went to 4 supermarkets and begged at a bakery before I finally found some! I'm not totally sure that the bicarb soda I bought was actually bicarb either, because it had more than one ingredient... but the biscuits were close enough for jazz anyway, and the flavour was right.

On Saturday I jumped on a bus first thing (I was aiming for the metro, but it went past with my destination on the front, so I ran after it) and then caught a train out to Epernay to meet Jonny and a few of his Aussie friends who came over to France in a camper van for Anzac day. We hung out at their campsite for a little while which was on a river and very beautiful, and then headed into town for lunch, which was bakery pizzas and meringue eaten in a park. It was a beautiful day, and I even got a little burnt, which I stupidly thought couldn't happen in France. Still, I'm not as cross at myself as I should be, because it reminds me of home. Epernay is the most important town in the Champagne region, so we spent the afternoon doing wine tasting. First we went to the house of Mercier and did a tour which was very gimicky - a glass lift 30m down into the caves past still lives of the history of the winery, and then a laser-guided train tour through the underground tunnels where they keep the wine. At the end we tried a glass of their champagne, which no one was very impressed with. After that, we found a wine bar with a 5 champagne tasting menu which was really nice, and it was really interesting to compare 5 very different wines. My favourite was a smoky Brut Grand Cru (Pinot Noir & Chardonnay) from Soutiran in Ambonnay. It was so much more interesting a flavour than any champagne I've ever tried, and i'd definitely recommend it, but I suspect it might be hard to find in Australia, and expensive, because it wasn't even particulary cheap in Champagne, and everything here is at least half the price of at home. Still, having now tried the good stuff properly, I think I've come to the conclusion that champagne/sparkling is just not my beverage of choice. We had dinner after that, and I headed off to the train, grabbing a 'smurf' icecream for the road. I braved the Gare de l'Est on my own at night (I've heard it's dodgy, but it seemed ok to me) and made it home safe and sound to find that my housemates had decided to do my washing for me in my absence...lucky my (still) leaky jeans weren't in my washing basket or I'd now have an almost entirely blue wardrobe by now. Hmmm.

Today I'm hitting the grammar books. Can't you tell?

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

running mad.

This week has been slightly mad. I've settled into my new place, Nhan has been visiting and I've been training for my new job as an English teacher.

Nhan arrived on Saturday afternoon, and I met her at the station. We also met one of her rellies who took us back to his place for congee. I've never had congee before! It was quite nice and comforting. By the end of the day we didn't have much time left, so we went to the 6th for a hot lemon drink at Mamie Gateaux since Nhan wasn't feeling well, and some bargain basement French pseudoephadrine.

Sunday was my birthday and I decided to go hunting for some icecream to start the day right. I got lost though, of course, and ended up doing a giant loop of my neighbourhood before finally finding my destination about 2 hours later. I had gelati at Pozetto (fiordilatte and hazlenut) which was good, but nothing I hadn't had before and a capuccino which was heavenly because it actually tasted good. Coffee here is generally bad and expensive. Since I still had a little time up my sleeve, I kept going and visited the Montmartre cemetary. I didn't see much of it but the tombs were beautiful and ornate - even the new ones, so I shall have to go back sometime, and it's defintely inspired me to go and see Pere Lachaise.

I met Nhan at the Arc de Triomph an I opened my presents there on a bench! How surreal! I took Nhan back to my place to show her around and then we headed for the second icecream of the day, coming across Notre Dame on the way. We got to the Ile and lined up at Berthillon for icecream. When we finally got to the front of the queue, I had salted caramel and mandarin, and Nhan had strawberry and vanilla. And wow. No really, WOW.
Y'all know that I do like my icecream, and this was significantly better than any other icecream I've ever had in my life. It all tasted so...real. Line or no line, I will be going back there again soon, for sure. Repeatedly

We had dinner at Chez Omar, which was fine but nothing special (meat and chips, nasty yellow 'rose', and a surly waiter) and then finished the evening off with a trip to the Eiffel Tower. I hadn't been there yet, and I still haven't climbed it, but it was certainly very beautiful all lit up at night, and it even glittered for me.

Woot. I met Nhan for a late lunch and we went and bought a picnic from Monoprix and ate it at my place. Nhan surprised me with a lovely little raspberry tart with a candle for me to blow out (and a funny story about attempting to buy one candle and matched with little French). We did a little window shopping and then went to see the building where Napoleon is buried (Hotel des Infermieres?...too tired to look it up). Very fancy indeed. We went then to have a beer and pretend to be intellectuals at Les Deux Magots, but like REAL intellectuals decided it was too expensive and went and chilled out in the Jardin Luxembourg instead.

Today Nhan and I met early to have a croissant breakfast, but in true French style our chosen boulangerie was closed. We found another though, and Nhan had a most delicious almond croissant that I would definitely recommend. I headed off for more teacher training and we met up again in the afternoon to sample the fancy Pierre Herme macarons. They're definitely artier, more interesting and more beautiful than the Laduree ones (I loved the Jasmin one which was powdered with silver dust and was delicious) but I think in the end I like the latter better as they're just a little simpler and perhaps more elegant. We ate them on the street before heading to Chinatown for pho (and more pantry staples for me).

Well, this has been a more succinct post than normal, but I am tired and must sleep. I think tomorrow we're going to the Louvre.

Friday, 18 April 2008


This morning I went for a rather abortive tour of the neighbourhood with one of my flatmates but it was still interesting. I knew I was living in a rather posh area of Paris, but I hadn't noticed that that also means a very white neighbourhood. Hmm. Unrelatedly, I'm finding actually that France is a very rascist country (to make a gross generalisation) and that the whole 'liberte egalite fraternite' thing, while it might be accurate as far as the law is concerned, is a complete load of codswallop as far as society in general is concerned. And just because I'm white, people seem to feel totally comfortable sharing their views with me. And then I find myself in this position where I don't want to be rude to a total stranger and I want to make allowances for cultural diferences, but every molecule in my body wants to scream 'WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT??? WHAT CENTURY ARE YOU LIVING IN???'.


This arvo I went and got my yearly pass for the Louvre. 3rd time lucky! It was actually quite easy after all that, and the lady actually told me to smile for the camera so i'm not looking completely mental like in the Pompidou one. Seriously, that guy was having a bad day, and I was his amusement.

Since it all worked out so well, I decided to go and do a little more pantry-staples shopping. I went to the English shop and bought Worcestershire sauce, more vegemite (in a jar!), Coleman's mustard and some salad cream. Exo! Then, because I had still more time after that and it was a direct metro, I decided to go to Chinatown to find a mortar and pestle. Which I eventually did after a long walk through the area (ironically enough, centred on the Place d'Italie). Clever old me didn't think about the fact that schlepping a mortar and pestle home on the metro would be quite enough of a pain, so I bought a heap of Asian pantry things too - coconut milk (which is stupidly expensive in the normal supermarkets here), oyster sauce, sesame oil, edamame and TWO kinds of soy sauce. And some other stuff which I'm sure I've forgotten. I found worcestershire sauce there too at about half the price of the British shop. Oh well. I didn't get any spices, but at least now with my big mortar and pestle I could do something with it if I did find them. The lady couldn't find me the right sized pestle, so I have an extra big one which is very cool - more weight to crush things with but not a stupidly big mortar since I'm just little old me with a little shelf in a tiny Paris apartment. (I hope I'm using them around the right way). And for the first time in France, the lady in the Chinese hypermarket actually checked my signature against that on my card. Most of the time they just seem bemused to make me sign it at all, and once or twice I've had to tell them that it's necessary. Roll on French bank account. And a card with a 'flea'.

It's looking like I'm going to be able to have a lovely window box with herbs and maybe flowers too. I can't wait. Another thing I can't wait for is Nhan arriving for a visit tomorrow. Woooh!

The only other news (news? newsworthy? i think not...) is that I have a splinter on the sole of my heel that I can't get out and due to it's location it's just getting worse and worse with all the walking. Does anyone have any advice?

Thursday, 17 April 2008


So finally the big news. I've found an apartment! I didn't want to say anything until I moved in, in case I jinxed it, but here I am! I managed to find it in less than 24 hours, which is apparently a minor miracle in Paris. I've got a big room with a double bed, and windows with shutters and view out onto the street. I'm living about 5 minutes from the Arc de Triomph in very calm and posh neighbourhood, and there's a little outdoor fruit & veg (and bread and cheese since it's France) in a nearby street. I'm super happy because I have all the things I was talking myself into being ok with living without - an oven, a bath, a freezer, a washing maching and even a kettle!

Yesterday was spent ferrying stuff from the old place to the new one - fortunately there was a direct metro line, but it was still a major pain lugging suitcases up and down metro stairs and in crammed carriages.

Today I went shopping and tried to stock my cupboard. It's a bit of an odd thing to do - starting from scratch. I suppose I will build up staples as I go along, but what are the real basic things you need to start with? I ended up with tinned tomatoes, lentils, baked beans (from the English section of the supermarket), pasta, couscous, bread, yoghurt, sugar, salt, butter, oil, vinegar, tea, tomatoes, a cucumber and a few fresh fruits. Have a missed anything essential?

I went to the street market, of course, even though I was told not to because it's more expensive than in the supermarket. I just can't bring myself to do it though, to buy from huge companies when the street stalls have such beautful produce and you can actually see the person who's getting your money. And what's the point of being in France and having markets like that at my disposal if I'm not going to use them! Today I bought these teeny weeny strawberries that were so sweet they tasted like strawberry flavoured lollies - I've never had anything like them.

Tomorrow I am going to find an English shop, because I realised there were a couple of things that I am going to NEED sooner or later: Worcestershire sauce being the first. I think I will have to try and find an Asian grocer soon too, because the Asian sections in the supermarkets here are depressingly lame, and a tin of coconut milk costs more than a coffee. Also I'm going to need a mortar and pestle and I imagine it will be the best place to find one.

Have I mentioned the milk? The French drink long-life milk and I just DO NOT get it. Considering how seriously they take their cheese. I am considered very weird for buying expensive milk that will go off.

The only other thing I did today was to go around to the art galleries and buy abonnements. If you're under 26 you can buy a yearly pass to each of the Louvre, the Pompidou and the Musee d'Orsay for about 10 coffees each. That represents a bargain to me, but I have to get in fast this week and buy them before my birthday. It was a surprisingly big hassle (actually, I shouldn't be surprised at how much of a headache anything is in France by now) and I didn't even get the one for the Louvre becuase of an 'exceptional closure'. I do not think it means what they think it means, becuase they seem to happen ALL THE TIME in this country. But anyway, it meant a lot of walking which was not such a bad thing, and I'll just have to go back tomorrow.

The other news is that I have a job as an English teacher! (Which means next week I'm going to have to learn English grammar...). It'll be teaching business people individually or in small classes, but I'm afraid I don't know much more than that because it doesn't start for another week. In the meantime I have to take the letter promising me a job to somewhere to stamp my visa before I can sign a contract and after that I have to register for social security etc. Welcome to France!

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

still tired.

Daylight savings 'on' in France and daylight savings 'off' in Australia has really made communication harder, so I've been up past midnight a lot lately, which coupled with the scariness of everything and all the everything happening so fast here and all the blah means I'm completely exhausted.

I had a job inteview at 9:30 this morning and it was a no go I think. The lady basically told me that since I don't have a tefel (or however you spell that) qualification, they'd hire me becuase they're desperate but I'd basically get the hours that they can't give to anyone else. Yeah, that sounds like a real winner.

I had lunch at L'As du Felafel which is supposed to do the best felafel yiros in Paris. It was quite theatrical becuase I knew the place when I got there becuase it was the one with a line halfway up the street. And it's obviously always that busy becuase those guys were making yiros' FAST. The felafel itself was very fresh which made it good, and they used coleslawey stuff which was an improvement on iceburg lettuce, but I was a bit disappointed to be honest. I think France really needs to get with the program and discover GARLIC.

The felafel place was in a neighbourhood called the Marais, which is traditionally the Jewish area, and is now also the gay area. It also seems to me like it might be quite trendy (it is close to the centre) and there were lots of pretty shops. It also felt a little more village like than big huge city. I think I will have to spend a bit more time exploring becuase I really didn't have time.

I met a friend of a friend for coffee which was really nice and she took me to a little place called Mamie Gateaux in the 6th (which is also where the St Germain area is) and I had a honey and lemon drink and a lovely slice of cake, which tasted a bit like a baked lemon cheesecake studded with apricots. We went for a wander around afterwards, near the Odeon theatre (which we didn't actually find...The Marriage of Figaro premiered there!) and I think that is going to be another area to explore a little more. It was also nice to meet someone new and have a bit of a chat with someone. I am a bit lonely here...

After that I explored a little more myself, bought a flocked notebook and I don't know whether I'm more excited that it's just beautiful or that it's LINED. Have I mentioned that all French notebooks are graph paper? It's so, SO annoying.

The last item of the day was to try to by the yearly Louvre pass that mum found out you can get for 7 coffees IF you're under 26. (They actually exist for most of the big galleries/museums here so I'll be doing a lot of museum information desk visits before Sunday). Unfortunately, the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays, and I had another experience of a French person who SHOULD know what he's talking about (ie. the information guy) giving me COMPLETELY wrong directions. So, I didn't end up getting it. Tomorrow it will have to be.

General observations on Paris are limited so far, becuase I've been preoccupied with job/apartment hunting and also tired as anything. However, Parisian women do not dress as well as I was expecting. In fact I'd go so far as to say that the women of Bordeaux are way out in front. The average level is still better than Australia, but I think if you walked around in Melbourne for a day you'd see more beautifully dressed women than I have here so far. And even the ones that are dressed well, are dressed boringly. Very conservative, plain, and elegant, but black black black black grey black black black good haircut black black black. It's really a bit disappointing, although at least I won't have to try so hard to keep up.

On the upside, Parisians don't seem to be as rude as I was expecting. I don't feel like I'm getting treated poorly when it's obvious that I'm not French, and everybody that I've asked for directions has been extremely helpful. That being said, I've seen a lot of incredibly rude Americans (while I was talking to him, one woman marched up to the Louvre guy who was giving me directions and interrupted [in English] with 'we need the Metro'). So maybe the Parisian reputation for rudeness is actually based on their reactions to impolite tourists, not just tourists in general.

I am very over the metro already. There actually are accordian buskers on them (and they're usually quite good) which is definitely awesome, and yes yes it's very comprehensive and easy. However, I just cannot handle the smell. Ok, I know I said I was going to stop talking about dog poo, and God knows I'd like to, but the good news is there's a lot less of it in Paris than there was in Bordeaux. The bad news is that the French laissez-faire attitude to their own bodily functions seems to express itself most obviously in the Paris Metro. I may well be an uptight Anglo, but that, my possums, is indubitably, extraordinarily ick.

Monday, 14 April 2008


I feel like I should write something but I don't know what to write. For once. Ha. I'm sure I'll still manage to write a ton of nothing. My thoughts are fluttering around in my head and I can't seem to grab them by the toe, one by one in any semblance of order. Maybe I'll go chronologically. Because I'm nothing if not original.

Saturday was awful - as previously established.

Yesterday was excellent, but I'm still saving up the good news, just in case.

I spent the afternoon wandering the sights - the Arc de Triomph, the Champs-Elysees, the Tuilleries, the (outside of the) Louvre. I found a huge English bookstore (with Australian cookbooks!) and just generally wandered a long way. I'm sure I didn't go very far, and I must have been circles even though I thought I was aiming in a straight line. The roads in Paris are bigger than I imagined and more of them are still cobbled than I expected. There is really a lot of gilding going on here too.

I had some macarons from the Laduree. What a treat. This is apparently the original place where someone had the inspiration to sandwich the two biscuits together with icing. I didn't think they could really be that much better than the Baillardran ones, but WOW was I wrong. I had a caramel one and an orange blossom one and they were both incredible. The biscuit part was so light that the filling dominated, and the filling in each case was soft and rich plentiful and incredible and very sweet. I think there's something to be said for the crunchier contrast of the Baillardran ones, and they are subtler, but these were just ... wow. The caramel one tasted better than caramel itself. That's impressive. The shop itself was also beautiful - the ceiling and walls were painted with cherubs, lots of blue sky, lots of gilding. I think there's a little cafe part too, but the line was enormous.

In the evening, I went and saw Penelope with Phil. It's a sweet, uncomplicated movie, and I really enjoyed it. And now I want stripey tops, secretary shoes, a long long long scarf. And curly hair. Maybe I should get a perm? But I think I might compromise by sewing a lot of buttons on to my black jacket. Which would also give me an excuse to find the Paris version of La Droguerie.

Phil and I hung out a little afterwards, and it was great to pick his brains about Paris. It was also a real relief to just have a normal chat to someone. I haven't done that for a while...

I slept with one eye open again (or rather didn't sleep with one shut), and the bed butted up against the door. I am sure I am being ridiculously paranoid (what a surprise) and there is nothing wrong but I do not feel comfortable here and I will be glad to leave.

Today I had 3 interviews for teaching jobs, and all were very different from each other. I haven't come to any conclusions yet, but I don't really know that I care. I've still got at least another 3 interviews to go to, so I'm probably better off not getting carried away thinking about it, but in any case, I'm functioning on a total of about 9 hours sleep for the past 3 days, so all my mental capacity is being utilised just putting one foot in front of the other, and one word after the other.

Still, it's looking like in a week or so I should have some semblance of a normal life. That will be nice. I should start looking for French lessons and friends soon. And maybe an orchestra.

Also, it's been hailing here.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

feeling a LOT better.

Oh what a difference a day makes. Yesterday things couldn't have been looking bleaker, and today things couldn't be looking better.

But a. it's 2am
and b. it's all so good I don't want to jinx it.

But I just thought I'd write a quick post so that y'all don't get on the phone to my mother worrying about my mental health.

Oh, how cryptic I'm being...

Saturday, 12 April 2008

is in gay Pahwee...

and is utterly, utterly terrified.

I left Lyon this afternoon (after finally making some friends in my class yesterday), got on a train, and here I am. I found a short term apartment to rent until the end of the month while I find something more long term. Which apparently will be hard.

The girl that I'm subletting this apartment from met me at the train station and brought me back here and showed me the ropes, which was very kind of her. And then she left.

And now I am feeling very, very alone.

I've never lived on my own before. I used to think I'd like it. Maybe I would like it, but right now I can't think straight and the cavewoman inside of me wants to sleep with one eye open in case someone comes through the door in the night.

I feel better on the street because there are people around, and if something feels wrong, I can turn around and walk in the other direction. Logically, there's nothing wrong here. Logically I'm safer inside. I'm safe here in a (relatively) clean, secure apartment with a locked door. On the other hand, I'm in a city of 2 million people and I know virtually no-one. Who would notice if the bogeyman gobbled me up in the middle of the night?

I'm counting down the hours until 1pm tomorrow, when I have an interview for a share house with a lady who sounds really nice. I really hope she is nice, and I get it and I can move in straight away, because it's been about 2 hours, and I'm already sick of feeling so completely isolated from the world. Stuff the 300 euros I just paid for this place for 2 more weeks. I'm getting a glimpse of how tiny and unimportant I really am in the grand scheme of the universe, and I don't like it even one little bit.

I'm counting down the days until Nhan arrives to visit, when I can finally, FINALLY have a hug from someone who knows me.

I had better be brimming with character when all of this is over.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

nearly ready to say goodbye to Lyon.

I was going to save this post until maybe tomorrow or Saturday, but I think life is just going to get busier and busier so I'm taking the chance now. When I should really be online searching for apartments. But it's a bit overwhelming and I've sent about 50 emails, and I think I need to grow some courage and start ringing people on the French...

Unfortunately I don't have that much news, becuase I've pretty much spent all week since Geneva online. I've decided to bite the bullet and so I'm moving to Paris on Saturday. I'm staying with a daughter of a friend of my aunt (talk about relying on the kindness of strangers!) for a little while, so I really need to hit the ground running. Thus, I've been online searching for jobs, apartments... the good news is that I've lined up 7 English teaching job interviews. The bad news is apartment hunting looks like it's going to be a complete and utter nightmare, if not nigh on impossible. Well, I guess I just have to keep my chin up and trust that somehow, something will work out.

I'm still pretty down on Lyon, although I've had glimmers of interest. I think I've really learnt from this experience that knowing a few people, having someone you can have a coffee and a chat with, and a little bit of sunshine and greenery can make all the difference. I haven't really liked Lyon at all, but the weather's been depressing, I don't know anyone, I don't know the cool places and everything is grey grey grey ugly 80s buildings. It's a big, unwelcoming city, but I don't think it has to be that way. I've come across a couple of pretty little corners that make me wonder if I could have had the opposite experience had things panned out differently, but I still think it's not the easiest city to love.

I missed another class this week becuase I had a big palaver with my train pass. The train systems here are great, in that you can buy an 'abonnement' (I don't know what it translates as...season ticket?) for a given period and then you can use as much public transport as you like. Mine ran out on Monday so I had to recharge it, only when I got to the machine I realised it only took coins (and I didn't have 9 coffees worth of coins on me surprisngly) and it wouldn't accept my Australian credit card. There was no office at my tiny little station, so I bought a single trip to get into the station and then asked one of the attendents at what station could I find an office. Conversation as follows (in French):

Emily: 'I need to buy an abonnement and my Australian credit card won't work in the machine. Where is the nearest station with a ticket office?'. (Nb. I said this perfectly).
Attendant: 'oh, follow me, you just need to use the machine'.
E: 'no, the machine won't work with my Australian credit card'
A: 'oh ok. Follow me.'
E: 'ok'
A: 'here, use the machine'
E: 'um, no. It won't work, see I have an Australian credit card? It won't work'.
A: 'oh ok. You need to go to a station with an office'
E: 'Yes. Which one has an office?'
A: 'Oh good question. Let's go and look at the map. Follow me.'
E: 'I can't. I've just used my single ticket leaving the station. I can't come back in'.
A: 'Oh oops. Sneak back in with me.'
E: 'Um...ok...'
A: 'Oh here, let's look at the map. Here, go to this station'.
E: (looks at the map and realises she's getting bad advice). 'Ok, thanks for your help'.

Emily gets on the train and goes to a different station, not the one the attendant tells her to go to. Waits in line for 45 minutes. Buys abonnement. Decides that it's now 1.5 hours into the 3 hour class and she might as well skip it and do something else. Decides to ask another attendent for directions to where she wants to go.

New attendent: 'Well, what you want to do is, go in that direction for a while, then look at your map and then realise I've told you to go the wrong way'.


I tried to go to UBS (somethingorother bank of Switzerland) to deposit my enrollment fees into the Uni Geneva account. I got quite lost because the building didn't seem to exist, and then I found it in the middle of the road (it was number 1) with a big shut door. A moneyed suited man came back from lunch at that point, and kindly told me that UBS outside of Switzerland is an investment bank, and no that was not going to work. How do I deposit money then? Go to Geneva. D'oh!

Still, on the way I saw actual chocolate coated bread. Only in France hey?

This week has been very up and down for me. Some days I'm excited becuase I'm living in France and because everything's new and different and because I'm about to move to Paris and how amazing is that? Other days I've been down in the dumps because what am I doing here and I'm never going to find an apartment in Paris, especially not in under a week! I'm trying to be a bit pragmatic about it now. Maybe it will work out and maybe it won't, but there's too much unknown information so I can't really know either way. Hopefully once I get to Paris I'll be able to judge the situation a little better.

In the meantime I've had a bit of a brainwave. I came to Europe because I wanted to work out a few things - what I wanted to do with the rest of my life for instance. (Yes, that old chestnut). I thought it would be an active process and I've been quite frustrated with myself that I don't seem to be getting any closer to figuring it out (or maybe I am but it still feels like I'm going round in circles in a smoke filled room, and yes I know it's only been 10 weeks and maybe I'm expecting a bit much of myself). But actually maybe the point is, not that being here will help me figure it out any quicker or better, but just that sooner or later, in its own time and its own way, the answer will come to me (maybe I'll find something I love doing, or somewhere I love being, or I will see an ad for a job that's just too exciting to ignore, or I'll get sick of travelling and want to come home and get a mortgage) and it's not something I can force. And the point of being in Europe is not that it'll help me find the answer, but just that at least until I do I'm spending my time interestingly seeing the world and learning lots of new things, and not just treading water.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Saturday, 5 April 2008

in love with Geneva.

And thank the Good Lord because Lyon was really getting me down. (I think I've figured it out - it's not that the city is any less nice, per se, it's just that the people don't seem to care about it. It's not clean, there's no greenery ANYwhere and as such it just doesn't feel welcoming to an outsider.)

I left very very early (it was still dark walking to the train station which was a bit hairy) and I slept for most of the 2 hour train ride. Coming into Switzerland is the biggest cliche though, because suddenly the train is cutting a path between mountain, and there are cows, and the houses start to look like cuckoo clocks. I had to go through a checkpoint, but the immigration policeman barely glanced at my passport - I doubt he could've even told you my nationality.

I headed for the tourism office (after paying CHF2 to use the [admittedly sparkling clean] 'McToilette' [no relation, not kidding])and picked up a map, and then made my way across the Pont du Mont-Blanc and a little way around the lake. I saw the Jardin Anglais, and the Flower Clock (nice, but a little underwhelming considering how hyped they are in all the guides). Around the lake is very pretty, but I thought that too was a bit underwhelming, because after all a lake is just a lake. And then I noticed the Alps... it's a nice spot alright!

I wandered around the Old Town for a while, and enjoyed the tiny cobbled streets (the streets in other parts of the city are wide and clear) and the beautiful old buildings with pilgrim hats. I'm not sure what I expected of Geneva, but I think I had Frankenstein in mind. Although I can see that in the architecture, it was such a beautiful sunny day that the tall sandstone buildings looked nothing but welcoming to me.

After the Old Town I headed for the Parc des Bastions which is just next door. It's quite a large park, with big 3 foot chess pieces, and lots of statues of the founders of Geneva. It's also the home to the languages departments of the University, and what a lovely location - right in the middle of a park, which itself is near the big cultural buildings - the theatre, the conservatoire, etc.

I went to 'Le The' for lunch, which was a Chinese teahouse that the internet recommended. It was certainly funky and quaint, but it was also not necessarily the best value (although not unreasonable) and the service was rather brusque. Also, the people at the table next to me smoked all through my meal, which put me off bothering with dessert. I guess the Swiss must be a bit behind the times on that one...

On the way back from lunch, I chanced upon a huge fleamarket which happens every Saturday apparently. It was fun to wander though, and seemed a bit at odds with Geneva's otherwise posh visage.

Next I went to the Patek Philippe museum, which is 3 storeys of watches. It was pretty amazing. To start with, the intricacy of timepieces that were made years ago, and the declicacy of the decoration that I doubt could be rivalled these days, because the craftsmen (and their patrons) just don't exist anymore. There were watches and clocks in every imaginable form and I suspect the cheapest one in the place would be worth more than my yearly salary, and there were hundreds. It took me a good hour and a half to get through the place, and that was without reading anything (because it was all in French, fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your perspective). I would've liked a little information somewhere on how watches actually work, because that seemed to be assumed knowledge, but otherwise it was excellent.

I stopped at a little cafe in the Old Town and sat outside in the sun with a beer. It was so warm I momentarily wondered if I might get sunburnt which I think shows that my whole temperature 'clock' has been adjusted after Chicago and 10 weeks of Europe, because it can't've been more than 15 degrees. The beer was 'Einseidler' and very nice and fruity without being too sweet - I should've known the Swiss would do beer well, becuase of their links to Germany.

I continued to wander and I saw a few other things, including Rousseau's birthplace and the Hotel de Ville among a lot of other pretty buildings and quite a few shop windows. I didn't make it to the UN tour which I would've liked, but it was a bit far by foot, so hopefully I'll get to go back and do that another time.

I couldn't find a (cheap) hotel for the night, so I decided to come home in the evening at the appointed time. I grabbed a kebab/yiros near the train station which was not bad, and the 'spicy sauce' was actually spicy. Woohoo! I realised too late that I forgot to sample the Swiss chocolate. Not woohoo. Not even sure how it was possible.

Overall I really really liked Geneva. Even though there's not a lot of stuff to do there per se, it's so nice and clean and beautiful and welcoming and I enjoyed just walking around for my 8 hours there. I was obviously a tourist but instead of feeling like a nuissance, people were really nice to, me and smiled at me in the street, and generally seemed pleased to share their city. So many of the buildings are old and sandstone, and the city really looks like it's being looked after, with lots of green spaces and flowers everywhere. It's obviously a safe city too, because most people weren't even bothering to chain their bikes up, but just lining them up in the streets. Perhaps it's such a safe city (I walked around like a total tourist all day, map in hand, and never once felt threatened) because it's a very rich city, but I think it would still be very livable. Sure, you could spend a lot of money there quickly if you wanted, but a lot of things seemed comparable to home (and with the exchange rate being about equal it's at least easier to know exactly how much you're paying for eveything) and I think you could search out a high standard of living for a reasonable amount of money if you were willing to look a little harder for it.

Who knows what the future will bring, but I think I could be very happy there.

Friday, 4 April 2008

going to ANOTHER COUNRY for the weekend.

I'm sorry to report that things are not looking up that much in Lyon, except that I'll be leaving soon. Ok, it's not that bad, but it is kind of ugly and ininspiring and I keep trying to like it, but I'm just not getting anywhere. Well, only a week more. I am going to try and see the tunnels under the city, and maybe the big church on the hill, but otherwise I'm going to use the time to chill out a bit, relax, cut myself some slack, and then start searching for jobs/apartments in Paris. Which all in all is not such a bad thing.

On Tuesday I went to the big Middle Eastern supermarket near my school, which was quite interesting. It wasn't big in the same sense as the other supermarkets here - more like the size of your average IGA. I think the school is in a Middle Eastern/Muslim area because there are quite a few exotic little shops. The supermarket was quite interesting, but didn't have a very welcoming air, and when I tried to leave I couldn't figure out how to open the door. I asked a man behind a counter for help and he ignored me! So I just had to wait until someone else walked through it. After that I stopped in at a little Muslim cafe to buy a juice (they have this brand of juice here [in France] called Pago and they're absolutely divine) and I asked about some sweets they had in baskets on the counter, and the lady gave me one for free!

In the afternoon I went to school, which is ok, but not great. As I said the school is much bigger and more impersonal, and the class is fine, but not a barrel of laughs. I haven't really made any buddies in the class, and although the teachers are good, they're not terribly friendly or jovial. I was wearing my fish necklace and the teacher asked if was for Fish Day. Is this some Catholic thing I don't know about? No, as it turns out, it's just the French name for April Fool's Day. It's basically the same thing, except the standard joke here is to sneak a (paper) fish into someone's pocket. Hil-AR-ious. And of course, eat lots of fish-shaped chocolate. That bit I'm on board with. On the way home I went to the supermarket and bought some ready-made salade for my lunches and found St Agur in the mini cheese 6 for 2 euro section. Nice nice nice.

Wednesday was unfortunately a pretty bad day. I stuffed around all morning and then skipped class because I couldn't be bothered. I probably shouldn't've, but then I decided I was in such a foul mood that I should instead go and do something to cheer myself up. I thought I might go to the funky neighbourhood (the Croix Rouge) becuase I was feeling a bit negative about the city in general and I thought that if I could find somewhere that I liked I'd feel a whole heap better about the situation. Well, it was totally lame. So much for the 'soulful village atmosphere, bohemian inhabitants and lush outdoor markets' that the lonely planet promised! It was just like the rest of Lyon - ugly and commerical and full of bland 80s apartment blocks and depressed harried looking people. I went up the main street and it was just like every other shopping street inthe world only not a particularly good one, and I went down the street that's supposed to have all the artisan shops, but everything was closed, and not even just normal closed but rollershutter closed! And it was a Wedneday afternoon! From one spot there was quite a nice view over the city, but then I took a picture of some meringues in a shop window and then realised the lady was looking at me, so i gave her a big smile and she gave me the sourest scowl i've ever seen in my life. Maybe i should've asked first, but really...So after a couple of hours I gave up and came home, feeling considerably worse.

When i got back to the city I decided I needed a little beer so I went to a cafe and sat down outside...and no waitress came. So i went and sat inside and STILL no waitress came (she was standing at the bar polishing glasses). So I got cheesed off and left. So in the end I felt considerably worse at the end of Wednesday than I did at the beginning. The only good thing that happened was that I found a little rosebush for sale for 1.5 coffees, so I bought it to put on my windowsill. I won't be able to take it with me, but i thought for that price it might cheer me up for a week and a half. But when i was in the shop they had some orchids like my Dad grows so i smelled them thinking that it would remind me of home and i would feel better, but it just made me homesick.

Fortunately Thursday and today have been a lot better. Not great, I wouldn't say... I'm still feeling pretty bland about Lyon in general, but at least they weren't shockers like Wednesday. Yesterday I had a big chat to Nhan, who's arrived in London, and then I went and bought a ticket to Geneva for the weekend! The return trip was only 15 coffees which I thought was a total bargain. It's there and back on Saturday, but if I like it and want to stay overnight, I can just use the return ticket on Sunday instead. I also found a lovely little paint shop. (I swear there's shops for everything here I've seen shops for doorknobs, and shops for bookshelves.

Today nothing really happened again, but when I tried to change some money into Swiss Francs (they're pretty!) I had a bit of a mishap. In a nutshell I asked for 60 euros, and the guy heard 300 (have I spoken about the absurdity of the French number system before???) and I was trying to figure out how I was handing over 250 euros when I thought that the AUD is pretty much equal to the CHF. It is by the way. It all got sorted out in the end, but I suspect I will still get charged some hefty bank fees for him making and then cancelling a rather large transaction on my credit card. The only other thing that happened was that I had to go the loooooong way around to get to school because the building next door is falling down and so the whole block has been roped off by the police.

Still, I'm off to Geneva tomorrow! I kind of can't believe how brave I am, going to ANOTHER COUNTRY for the weekend (it's in capitals because my Australian brain still can't get around the idea that it's possible to go to ANOTHER COUNTRY just for the weekend), with no fixed plans, but hopefully it will be EXCELLENT FUN and I will be able to write a less depressive post in a few days.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

getting with the program.


I've set up a Flickr account in order to share my photos more easily. You can click on the link in the sidebar to go and look at them all.

However, I'm still a little scared of the big interweb monster, and therefore any photos with people in them are private. I've sent out an email to all my 'real' people allowing them to access these photos. If I've accidentally missed you and you're reading this, and you'd like to see those photos, please send me an email and I'll be happy to invite you too.

saying hello to Lyon.

So I'm in Lyon for two weeks now! I thought it would be a good idea to take the opportunity to see another city before I hit Paris, so I'm here taking more langauge classes.

Unfortunately, my current opinion is that Lyon is a bit of a hole. Well, as far as they exist in France anyway. To me it feels commercial, impersonal, big, cold and grey but then perhaps I just haven't found the cool areas yet, or I was spoiled by Bordeaux. Yesterday at least 5 people asked me for money, and a dodgy guy snuck in behind me to the metro, and then gave me the sarkiest thankyou I've ever heard. The metro itself makes the New York subway look welcoming. However; I'm willing to revise my opinion if further information comes to light. On the upside, the footpaths are wider here and people are in a hurry, so I don't feel the urge to headbutt the person in front of me every time I'm running late for class. There also seem to be less crottes on the street, but that could be a function of the fact that there don't seem to be many people out and about enjoying life (and thus, less dog-walking).

Yesterday was my first full day and I got up and went to the school to enrol. It was a bit of a palaver because they made me sit a placement test, even though I just finished one level in Bordeaux at the same organisation. Surprise, surprise, after all that they put me in the next level from the one I just finished. The school here is much bigger, and walking in for the first time I felt like I was back at the first day of high school, and all the cool kids had already set the friendship groups. That's probably not the case, but it wasn't a fun feeling to revisit. I'm taking the afternoon course, because apparently there's less people in the class, but since I ended up having to go to the last class of the session because they run on the calendar month rather than in 4 week blocks, it could be different today anyway.

I guess now would be a good time to give an update on my language level. It's funny because day by day I feel like I'm getting nowhere, but when I look back at where I was two months ago, I've really come a long way I think. I can pretty much have conversations with people now, providing it relates to something reasonably concrete or straightforward (like their day, the immediate surroundings, etc). I'm starting to be able to understand people when they say something unexpectedly (before I used to need to know that they were going to speak in advance), and I'm starting to be able to eavesdrop on public transport. I still feel like I'm talking like an idiot, but I can get my point across one way or another, most of the time. But that being said, I can get thrown for 6 very easily. Like yesterday when a waiter asked 'what can I get you' instead of 'what would you like' and I had no idea what he was talking about. But I think that was a result of actually trying to understand his words rather than just go by body language, so i guess even that's a step forward.

After enrolling and being told to come back for the afternoon session I went to the main city square to buy a weekly bus ticket. The main square really summed up the city for me, because it's a huge space with a gorgeous big statue of a man on a horse in the centre and the rest of it is filled with... red dirt. There's a lot of beautiful old spaces and buildings here, but they don't seem to be valued much.

Thank God for my Lonely Planet, becuase I had some hours to kill and wandering aimlessly didn't seem like a good plan. Lyon sits over two rivers, and I went for a promenade in the old part of the city. Apparently it's heritage listed, but in the end just didn't feel as cool as St Emilion, and the vibe was very dead like the rest of the city. I did stop for a take away crepe at a street stall though, and I think my Mum's crepes have finally been topped. This guy knew what he was doing and was churning out perfectly round, cottony-thin crepes by the pile. Don't feel too bad though mum, because this guy does it all day every day, and it was only a little better than yours. I chose a 'filling' of sweetened chestnut cream which was very nice, but I can't quite decide whether the French approach of just putting a little swipe of filling in rather than a big pile is a good thing or not. It's subtler and I guess it has the advantage of not running down your arm as you walk. But it's not as sweet, obviously.

I had lunch at a trendy modern soup place, which was nice but not spectacular, and with my soup I also tried quenelles (quinoa flavour) which are like French steamed dumplings I suppose, and a speciality of Lyon. Nice, but subtle. I guess this is a theme - the French don't blow your head off with flavour. Apparently Lyon is famed for it's food, so hopefully I'll come across some other tasty treats.

After lunch I went to my class and then home for dinner. Today I've been spending the morning catching up on internet-y things that I haven't had a chance to do easily for months, and hopefully I'm nearly there. HurrAY for wifi.