Monday, 30 June 2008

writing a very very big post. Hold your horses, here we go!

This week (in an impossible attempt to see the rest of Paris before I left), I:
  • Made lentils du puy
  • Visited Shakespeare & Co bookshop (with a piano!)
  • Saw dancing rollerbladers outside Notre Dame
  • More bertillon icecream (twice!)
  • Walked past l'Hotel de Sens
  • L'As du Falafel
  • Climbed the Arc de Triomph
  • Sales at the Printempts (2 new pairs of shoes)
  • Vespers at Notre Dame
  • Found the park at the point of the isle
  • Visited the Pompidou (like the one with the graffiti music, and the wrapped up grand piano - modern artists don't lack a sense of humour i find...)
  • Bought some pirate pants
  • Packed and posted 30kg home
  • Peach chocolate from l'Etoile d'Or
  • Pere Lachaise (how the mighty fall...)
  • Pompidou again
  • Posh dinner with Jillian (beans, tuna, pannacotta)
  • Musee d'Orsay
  • Louvre
So. I'm leaving Paris, first thing Monday morning. All my stuff is packed and off I go.

Why I am leaving Paris.
As it turns out Paris is a much better city to visit than to live in. It is dirty, and crowded, and smelly, and the people are rude, and it's actually kind of depressing. As my friend Andrew said, Paris is a great place to live if you are super rich and/or are bonking someone who is super rich. If that isnt you, then it's not so fabulous. I am looking forward to coming back as a visitor, and knowing my way around the citiy, but I am also looking forward to leaving as a resident.

I didn't like my job very much. The actual company was okay I think (in a relative sense, anyway), and my students were all nice. In the first place, I don't think I'm cut out for teaching. I found it really stressful, and mostly pretty unsatisfying; however, it might have improved with time, I don't know, and I'm sure if that was the only problem I could've stuck it out for 6 months, no problem. However; it pays peanuts. It pays about the same amount of peanuts everywhere I'm told, but Paris is stupidly more expensive than everywhere else, compounding the problem. I found I was spending significantly more than I was earning, even when trying to be frugal, which was not a sustainable situtation. To make it work in the long term (in my opinion), you would need to be: in a relationship and living with someone earning a normal wage OR willing to live on the barest of essentials (see this article for someone else who agrees with me) - ie. horrible apartment and living on rice & pasta. In addition the conditions were pretty horrible - I spent as many hours as I was paid for acutally 'working' on preparation and in the metro. The nasty urine smelling metro. I felt very much like I was being taken advantage of. No thankyou. So, I quit.

The second problem was, my lovely housemate turned out to be collectively crazy as coconuts. Yes, there were two of them. The woman I moved in with had her (male) cousin sharing her bedroom and neglected to mention it when I moved in. Which I kind of could deal with (none of my beeswax after all), but the telling me off like a child when I so much as left a light on for 15 seconds when going from one room to the next and back again, made me feel horribly uncomfortable - I spent my time walking on eggshells in case I got in trouble. Which is not a good way to live. And THEN (here's the coconut bit - and don't freak out becuase it's ok, I've left and I'm safe): the guy sat me down and gently suggested I come up with a 'plan b' living arrangement, because apparently the girl cousin has some rage issues resulting from an inability to deal with her murdered catholic priest father and her Sicilian cocaine dealer boyfriend. BONJOUR! So there's enough holes in that story to build a KI shower out of, but either way I was either living with a crazy lying guy, or just a plain crazy girl. So I decided it was time to move on.

What I am doing next
I am going travelling around for a couple of months and then I'm coming home. First off, I'm visiting a friend in Germany, and then I will go backpacking for a couple of weeks. I am kind of terrified about that, to be honest - shared dormitories, not knowing anyone, your way around, the language...all kind of scares the bejesus out of me. I think it is going to be quite a stressful experience - floating wherever the wind takes me is really not my style. On the other hand, I can go and see whatever I want, and by the end of it all I think I should be able to honestly say that I can face anything. I have vague ideas of where I'd like to go: maybe Hannover, Prague, Venice...but who knows. We will have to wait and see. I'm spending all of August in the UK visiting various friends in various places. I think I will have a good amount of time to see a few very different places and it will be nice to have locals to show me around. Then, unless my plans change (again), it's home again, home again, clippety clop.

But what about Geneva?
Well, I've sort of gone off that idea. For a number of reasons. The first and strongest reason is that I'm not sure I can handle the idea of studying for another two years with no goal at the end. Part of me likes study for study's sake, but most of me is ready to get my teeth into something 'real'. I'm sick of putting off my life to fritter away at uni just because I don't have any better ideas. I think I'd like to go back to uni at some point, but when I have a clearer idea of what I want to achieve from it. I also now do have some clearer ideas of what I'd like to do career-wise, and I'm excited to get started on it. That is the main reason. In addition though, this has been a really hard 6 months for me, and the idea of tying myself into another 2 years of being so far away from my family is not an attractive one right now. Not to mention the fact that my French is not up to scratch - English teaching is really not the way to go about learning to speak French. I could get up to the necessary standard in time, but it would require (really) intensive classes for the rest of my time here (and in fact, I probably needed to start a month or two ago), meaning I would spend all my time and money on lessons, and by the time I arrived in Geneva I would be skint and brain-fried. I think I would rather spend my hard-earned pennies on seeing a bit more of the world.

What I have learnt from all this (warning: serious navel gazing ahead).
Most obviously, I have learnt to speak French. Okay, I'm nowhere near fluent, but I can have a conversation with someone, most of the time understand what's going on around me, and if I don't I can ask for an explanation and understand that. I'm not at a level where I can appreciate the nuance of French vs. English, and enjoy it as a beautiful language in its own right (most of the time I just find it illogical and stupid at this point), but it is really satisfying being able to understand and be understood in a foreign language. I'm actually suddenly nervous about going to other countries where I won't have that luxury anymore. Learning another language was on the life list, and sure, I'll keep having lessons when I get home, but I think I'm far enough along the way that I can definitely tick it off the life list.

I have learnt some stuff about what I want to do for a career. I don't want to go into it yet, because it's still not super clear in my own head, but suffice to say I'm a lot closer now than I ever was. I think I've been waiting for the 'right' answer to come along, and I think now maybe there isn't a 'right' choice, just making the best decision you can, giving it a shot and going from there. So that's what I'm going to do next...

I have learnt that I am not a big city girl. I thought I was - I thought I would like all the hustle and bustle and the million things to do and the cities that never sleep and all that. And there are some things I like - for example, it's great to be able to catch public transport and walk home in the middle of the night without feeling like I'm in danger, because there's always so many people around. And of course, being able to go to the Louvre, the Pompidou etc etc whenever you want is a real luxury. And you'd never run out of things to try/see/do here. But by the same token, you could never really say you 'know' Paris - it's too big and it's changing constantly. I miss feeling comfortable in my space, I miss feeling a part of it, and above all, I miss the space. I really didn't think space was that important to me, but (like so many other things) it turns out that I never missed it becuase I never lacked it. I feel cooped up here, and I'm sure it's just in my mind, but I feel like this city is closing in on me for miles around. I yearn for some wide open spaces, some plants, some life. And the associated feeling of having time and space and freedom to think and move. I think for me, the ideal situation would be living in a small-medium sized town city - one where you could more or less walk where you need to go, but one not so far away from a big metropolis, so when I feel bored I could go and find some inspiration. But here I don't feel inspired - I feel overwhelmed.

Speaking of things I never missed because I never lacked it, I miss my family and friends. Here I am lonely almost all of the time, and even when I am with people, they are not people who know the real me, who have known me forever. I wanted to leave because I felt tied down by that - unable to grow much because the idea of 'Emily' was too fixed in too many people's minds for me to be able to work out what Emily was really like. And it has been a good experience finding out what things have changed about me when they were no longer tied down. But it turns out, I'm (mostly) exactly who I, and everyone else thought I was (what a surprise!), and while it's good to be able to blur the boundaries a bit, it's also good to be able to have one foot firmly in the ground (not to mention, mix metaphors willy nilly). Most of my closest friends are not at home these days, so it seemed like I wouldn't be missing much to travel. But it's sure as hell not better here where there is no one! I have learnt to stand on my own two feet, but I have never felt so lost in my life, and I am ready to find my way home. Maybe it will be for good, or maybe it will just be for a little while and then on to something new again, but either way at least I will know what I have now.

They say that people who moan about Adelaide are the people that have never been and the people that have never left. I think I have proved that true for myself, and about a lot of other things as well. I have a much clearer idea of what's important to me now, which will hopefully make it easier to find that and hold onto it.

I am ready to come home.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008


A whirlwind tour to the UK and then back to the lilypad. Being in Blighty was in a lot of ways a huge relief - for a country I've barely even set foot in before, it felt like home. Imperial leather soap, vending machines with recognisable lollies, poo-free streets, normal milk in normal sized coffee, people apologising when they bumped into me, people wearing colours on the tube....

I didn't realise how isolated I was really feeling in France until I caught myself on the tube spying over someone's shoulder to see if they were reading in English or French. It was English of course, and the rush of relief at the realisation that I didn't need to check anymore was a bit of a worry. I didn't realise until then that I've been doing that unconsciously in Paris in order to make the tiniest imagined connection with total strangers...weird hey?

I lugged all my luggage to Nhan's who will babysit it for me over the coming months. Another wave of relief at the idea that I won't have to drag it around anymore.

Most of the weekend was spent at Oxford. We wandered around the city a little, snuck into the Bodleian (wow. wow. wow.), ate gourmet student food at an outdoor cafe, drank warm beer on the river, took photos of skylines and gargoyles, toured Worcester and Magdalen colleges (saw the deerpark!), had a fryup breakfast, bought too many books at an inspiring bookshop, drank Coopers on the back lawn.

Friday night was the Worcester ball, which was lots of fun, yet different than I expected. Set in beautiful grounds and with men floating around in tails, that's about as far as my imagination got it right. It was more like a slightly damp Womad without all of the music - we spent the night outside tramping between different buildings and tents, on a beeline for the comedy, the chocolate fountain, the little casino with the jazz band, the beer, the pizza, the music, the 'ferris wheel', the bacon butties, the pimms, the henna, the icecream, the gladiators station, the portaloos, the dj & dancing, the cuppasoup, the colourfully lit trees, the strawberries and champagne. And at 6am, we went home exhausted and grubby.

I think Oxford must be a nice place to live. A city as well as a student town, small enough to walk everywhere but big enough to not feel stiffling, it's got beautiful old architecture yet green and trees everywhere. You can travel to the big smoke of London in an hour, or stay home and breathe the fresh air. The only less than beautiful bit is all the English people, who despite my fondess for them, it has to be said are just not as good-looking as their amphibian neighbours across the channel (nor despite embracing of colours do they dress to their advantage).

Sunday and Monday were spent in London, wandering around shopping, eating sushi and dumpling noodle soup and just chilling out at home, in the park or in the next door cafe. Possibly not the most efficient use of my 2 days visit, but I feel a lot better for having a bit of a break, and hopefully in August I'll have the energy to see a little more of the town.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

promising to post again soon, with less whinging. Interesting times are afoot.

This week I:
  • Took French classes at the Sorbonne (written and phoenetic)
  • Did some career testing (I'm an INFP if anyone cares)
  • Went on the Bateau Mouche
  • Caught up with Rosie
  • Understood what was going on when a Frenchman tried to pick Rosie up ('I don't like the football, but I do like the women!'...ok, it works better in French)
  • Had some good Lebanese food
  • Tried Pastis
  • Discovered the charmingly (original) 70s bar next door
  • Went to a Melies film screening
  • Caught up with Jim
  • Went to an afternoon tea in the suburbs
  • Made friends with Shawn the American
  • Sat on a hill and knitted
  • Watched The Castle
  • Had chestnut mousse
  • Made friends with Cass
  • Had a cup of tea at the Laduree
  • Bought some makeup at Sephora
  • Bought an Architecture in Helsinki cd at FNAC
  • Tried the new Hermes perfume (ooh! grapefruity!) and one called 'First' which I liked better but comes in an ugly bottle.
  • Walked in a garden on an old train line
  • Went to the Paris hammam
  • Bought a new handbag
  • Finished my classes
  • Gave notice
  • Started planning

Friday, 6 June 2008

lamenting France's colonial past.

For over four months now I have been drinking the nasty, black & bitter muck that the French call coffee. Well, actually they call it cafe. With an up accent on the e. I drink it, but only because it's the cheapest thing you can buy here, and even though I rail against paying the same price for an awful espresso as I would for a good latte at home, it's still better than spending twice as much for a (perfectly decent) lipton teabag, or even more for chocolate powder mixed with long life milk.

(As an aside, I seriously do. not. get. what is is with the French and the long life milk. They take so much pride in their cheese, yet they drink the most awful boxed milk. My housemates think I'm totally 'bizarre' for forking out for actual fresh milk. [And for freezing bread, but that's another story] AND YET any cafe will still charge you an extra 20c for a smaller dash of said milk in your expresso than the coin you're paying with. Seriously. It smells and tastes like baby spew.)

Apparently the former French colonies grow coffee beans, but of the cheap and nasty variety, and having maintained economic links, that's what the French import. (Having maintained trade links however, has not dragged France into the 21st century socially. Today brought yet another example of the rascism here: my French teacher was encouraging class members to sit next to someone of a different mother tongue to them. She scolded the two Asian girls in the class for sitting next to each other, and upon being told that one was Taiwanese and one was Korean she asked why they didn't want to 'mix with the Europeans' [she presumably meant 'Europeans' like me, and the 60% American class]. And this from a highly educated professional who spends all day every day working with international students. Mon dieu!)

But I digress. So the coffee here is bad, bad, bad. I was never a big coffee drinker at home, but like so many other things, I didn't realise I valued it until it wasn't there anymore. (Sometimes it feels like this whole trip is just an exercise in appreciating Australia more!)

So today I went on a pilgrimage to The Best Coffee in Paris.

I took the scenic route to get there - through the annual St Germain brocant, where I saw single pages of medieval manuscripts selling for thousands of euros, a tiny stall with tens of tiny bottles hanging from the ceiling, each with a single pink flower, and a set of antique marionettes. I walked past a number of lovely shoe shops, down a little street filled with tiny Parisien brasseries with dark wooden beams, offering 3 course meals for 15 euros, and along a road with numerous creperies, to finally arrive at yet another god-awful coffee.

Seriously, if this is what Paris has to offer, I'm really hanging out for England. And when you say that about food/drink, you've really got to worry! (Ok, I don't really think that French food is all that it's cracked up to be, nor that English food is as bad as it's reputation, but it is true that one of my French teachers laughed her head off when I told her that Jamie Oliver, an Englishman, was the most famous chef in the world). I would've been better off at the Starbucks up the street.

On the upside when I ordered my coffee, the baristas complimented me on my (H&M, H&M, always H&M) dress and powers of accessorising. Real French people complimented me WHILE I was wearing red and green. Not grey. Major achievement making the whole journey worthwhile.

Monday, 2 June 2008

taking a new approach.

I've decided that this weekly cramming all my comings and goings together in one one big prosaic post thang isn't working. So from now on I'm going to do dot points for that stuff, unless I have something more meaningful so say than "I did this, I went there...", and try and write single theme stories about what it's like to live here.

In that vein, this week I:
  • worked a LOT
  • went to the Musee du Quai Branly
  • enrolled in the Sorbonne Summer course
  • had a very nice Panna Cotta
  • went to an actual mothers' meeting (quite fun actually)
  • discovered dried strawberries and cumquats (yum!).
And: the bread. The French are renowned for their bread, right? Well...I find it thus far a rather uninspiring thing. In fact I would go as far as to say that the bread in America was better. Vastly better in fact, although I wouldn't be game to say that aloud here. Perhaps my perspective's just off, but I like bread with lots of...well...bread. The French on the other hand seem to prefer a lot of crust. They are horrified that I freeze bread (just for toast mind you, and don't get me started on their universal preference for long-life milk) but if someone can show me a loaf of bread that's actually got a big enough circumference to make a reasonable sandwich out of, I'd be very grateful. And don't tell me to go and slice a baguette lengthways - it's not the same thing. Maybe it's just not an important criteria here because they all get lunch vouchers and have a 3 course meal on the company every day. Yes, some good sandwiched sized bread please, and if you can manage that, then find me something brown and with big fat grains. My kingdom for a big floppy slice of Tiptop multigrain - I'm dying of bland skinny shite white butterless baguettes. They're called French sticks for a reason - that's what they taste like.

HOWEVER. I figured out what brioche is today (or at least 'brioched bread'...I'm assuming it's the same thing?). It's NORMAL shaped bread, but it tastes like a croissant. Ask me what I'm having for breakfast tomorrow.