Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My staircase, Tour Eiffel, and the autumn leaves and Oscar in Jardin du Luxembourg.

Happy Anniversary Paris...

I've now been here a whole month and 3 days!

Apologies for the lack of contact, but I haven't really felt like writing. Not that there's been nothing to say; as usual day to day life still throws up strange and funny things- the boys especially, and I've been out, met some people, had good times.

So presumably there's a fair bit to catch up on, what's happened?

Well my friend Katie came to visit which was fantastic, I was getting a bit worried that she'd never arrive with the strikes (still) going on, and then she didn't answer any of my calls or texts...Turns out she'd just forgotten her phone! Thankfully I'd sent detailed instructions that got her through the disrupted trains and metro. When she arrived my little flat was already bursting- Keyanna and Laura were here, I'd invited them and Lulu who came later, for drinks before we went to a boat-nightclub to celebrate Laura's birthday. So there were 5 of us, which I thought was quite impressive (in terms of number of friends as well as fitting them all in!)

The boat party was good, if not so memorable. Too much wine was consumed. I blame the fact I'd worked all day (9.30-8.30) and it was another exhausting one with the kids. Me and Katie left the boat early and watched the city lights reflecting on the Seine from a bridge. Unfortunately neither of us heard my phone ringing back at my flat when Keyanna called to get me to let her in, or heard Laura shouting us from down in the courtyard. (Apparently the neighbours did.) I'd never appreciated having a buzzer before. I really need to hang a bell at my window with a string down to the courtyard or something! Or just not to conk out when I've promised folk a bed for the night...

So the next day I woke not feeling too fresh, poor Katie came all the way from Madrid and ended up with a hungover host who took her to an American diner for brunch! It was on Rue Mouffetard, which was in 'Amelie' so surely scored some tourist points? I had to work at 4pm and it was the coldest day I've seen here so far, and I had to take the boys to the park. They fought all the way there, then Arsene spat at me in the Jardin de Luxembourg. Lovely. Suffice to say it was not the best day, but improved immensely when I finished work and went to see the Eiffel Tower at night with Katie. So romantic! Very cold, but verrrrry pretty. Walked all the way back along the Seine as it was past last-train time, and caught the light show when we were half way back to the Latin Quarter. We'd promised ourselves a hot chocolate for the walk, but it seems you're only allowed alcohol past midnight in Paris. So when we finally made it back we improvised with some dark chocolate and milk, not quite the same but filled a gap.

The next day started better, wine-fug-less: with pain au chocolates and coffees we admired Notre Dame and the Louvre in the sunshine before rushing back to start the long and eventful trek to the airport. As I don't have to travel far, ever, this was my first real experience of just how disruptive the strike is! Should have had loads of time, ended up running through the airport. (Well not me, but Katie did!)

It was a great weekend though, so so lovely to see wee Katie :)

Since then? Been hanging out with Laura, tea and biscuits at mine is a regular occurrence and sleepovers too which make me feel like I have a flatmate, it's nice. You wouldn't think we met only 3-4 weeks ago!
We went to a gig last week at La Cigale in Montmartre: Uffie, Erol Alkan, a guy from Franz Ferdinand and some others called Gentlemen Drivers, who we liked except for the singer, which was a shame. Decided to persuade the keyboard, bass and drums players to kick the rest of them and take us on as flute/cello/vocals and backing dancers. Uffie was fantastic, enjoyed Erol Alkan's set too. I was surprised the crowd didn't really get into either- much too cool I suppose? Good looking, the lot of them. Couldn't help noticing two tall guys in big coats, strolling in with their cigarettes, no regard at all for the smoking ban!

Just like everyone else I've been tired this week, got a bit of a cold from the changing seasons and I've worked long hours- it's the school holidays so even when the parents aren't working I've been 'on duty' with lots of English activity books, lots of stories, lots of hours spent in sandpits and playgrounds. Any other au-pairs will know the 'I work with kids' look, and I've slipped back into it since it's become winter; suddenly I'm wearing half my wardrobe at once all layered up, and dark early mornings just don't make me want to get up and shower... So much for absorbing Parisien style!

But it's looking up, I'm barely working tomorrow then 3 days off to find some new boots, finally buy and send some postcards, and do yet more exploring. And find myself a Halloween party...
Hopefully I won't leave it so long 'til my next letter!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Where I am: through those doors and 71 little stairs up

Another few days, another few incidents.

Why is it when you actually have cash to spend there's nothing in a whole city to buy?

After waiting for my french bank card to arrive in the post for the past 2 weeks, I realised that I had to go in to collect it. Right enough, on one of the 20 letters they've sent me for who-knows-what reason, it says right there in french: something to do with inviting me to come and 'retirer' it. Next time read the letters, using a dictionary if necessary.

What it didn't say on the letter (and I checked this) was that before they let you into the bank you have to be identified: standing between the outer and inner doors via intercom someone speaks to you and you give your account number/name/secret password, then they buzz you in. I pushed the button for 'appel' ('call', well done me) and then completely failed the rest; Bonjour! ne comprende pas! Je ne parle pas francais! Pardon? Euh, je n'ai pas mon account number... She gave up, let me in and gave me my card- in english. Obviously not a security threat me, just incapable.

So, debit card in hand I headed to Rue de Rivoli where the high street shops are, my budget not stretching to the posher parts. Zara, Mango, H&M, Gap, all the usual suspects, and nothing. Tired myself out walking, mainly when I went the wrong direction down Boulevard de Sebastopol, just when I was thinking I had a good grip on my usually unreliable sense of direction...

The difficult thing is not knowing what shops are normal french equivalents of nice normal shops, and which are the crappy 'Internacional' types- the usual signs don't translate; decor, type of clothes, type of customer- I don't know who's cool and who's not! Same with bars, the usual set of factors you'd use to choose where to go don't work. You could think you're going into a funky nightclub, jazz bar or live music pub and end up in les Indigo Rooms.*

So after drinking my birthday wine next to a nice fountain the other night, Laura (my friend!) and I went to investigate beer pricings in a dark, dingy looking pub which turned out to sell pretty cheap wine, have a very good-looking barman AND have a multi-roomed club downstairs, like a very mini version of Glasgow's Arches! A good find I think, likely to be revisited again this weekend.

Work-wise, all is fine. I forgave the 3 year old for biting me on the ear (Sunday, on the metro, because I picked him up to stop him running around and potentially falling onto the tracks) and we were friends again today. Learning to distract him from the daily 'But I don't like this soup' by telling him it's made of whichever vegetable (of the same colour) he likes that day. Today it was not courgette, it was pea, honest. I have twice accidentally called him my little brother's name, which just popped out of nowhere. Christopher (the brother) was his age when I was 11 so "Stop It Christopher you're being Silly" must just have been etched into my brain somewhere!

Tomorrow and the next day I have off, thinking of visiting the Orangerie and seeing some art, attempting the shopping trip again, and I also need to make my way to the parks- Jardin de Luxemburg and the Jardin des Plantes are nearby and I should take advantage of the still-warm and sunny weather to do some wandering. That is after buying myself a good book or two from Shakespeare & Co, a pretty famously quirky english-language bookshop just down the road. Been in a number of times already but there's too much choice, I always come out with nothing.

I was about to write 'that's me off to re-watch another Mad Men', and remembered I finished what I have on disk last night! Noo! Any gifts of downloaded tv series would be gratefully received, I also particularly like Gossip Girl, Ugly Betty, Glee, BBC period dramas, and Neighbours.

A bientot! x

* For those who don't know, Indigo Rooms is Galashiels's finest nightclub (although this is debatable since contender 'Move' opened.) Galashiels is a small town in the Scottish Borders. In Scotland. (Just in case.) Indigo Rooms is legendary, but not necessarily for coolness. Small, sweaty, sleazy, and until recently, bright orange.

Friday, October 8, 2010

A Scottish Summer / Paris in October

What a gorgeous few days. Honestly, lying in a park with new friends and a baguette I felt like I might get sunburnt. Just had 3 days off in a row and managed to do quite a lot, including boring stuff like finding the big supermarket (and learning the difference between supemarche, superette and hypermarche) finding a forest growing between 4 towers at the national library and seeing some pretty disturbing art at the Pompidou Centre. Will try and get a photo up of the library area soon, it's all new and bright, and like a whole different place to the Paris I've explored so far.
Also finally found a percolator, so have now used my little hob and happy to say it works. Thinking of making some soup, although the tiny freezer compartment in my fridge will only hold one tiny box so I'll have to eat it all in one go, shame...
Got fresh milk, butter and jam, coffee and orange juice in that little fridge and have just finished the last of my birthday After Eights with a few pots of tea (it's a small pot.)
And it was a very good idea to bring my teapot, I only wish I'd brought boxes of tea with me- it's so expensive here! Most things are, but it seems ridiculous for teabags!
Did have a lovely cafe creme (like a latte) next to the Pompiou today for only 1.80 euro- cheapest so far!

I've begun to realise that the area I'm in really is the centre.
I'm where Rue Saint Jacques meets Boulevard Saint Germain, a 3 km long Haussman-designed stretch of shops, cafes and everything else that goes parallel to the Seine. I'm told (by my reliable guide book) that this is where celebrity spotting is most likely. Not sure I'd know any if I saw them! I'm two minutes from everything, and I know how lucky I am!

Haven't met any French people yet, apart from mums and dads of the kids' friends at the school doors, and then there's that awkward they-know-me-but-I-don't-know-them situation... My french- although coming back to me s l o w l y - just doesn't want to come out when someone actually speaks to me. Spanish is still on the brain, and I'd rather say nothing than speak bad spanish! It wouldn't be so bad if I could get away with pretending to be Spanish, but with pale skin and blonde hair? No chance!

I have a window box here with nothing growing in it. Having one makes me very happy, so I'm going to go to a plant shop and see what I can find for cheap. Don't know anything about planting things in October but just want to brighten up my window a bit. North facing into a tall courtyard might not be the best conditions, but my window is single-glazed so at least they'll be warm!

My goodness these posts seem to get pretty long, and I'm sure I still have loads to say. But, again I'm starting at 5.30 tomorrow so off to theirs to sleep over. Have to take the boys to get their hair(s?)cut tomorrow- feel like this is quite a lot of responsibility. Hope I don't mess it up. Must remember dictionery.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

One week in

I have Friends!!
It's very exciting, honestly. I don't know what people did before the internet- just hang around in a bar on their own, hoping an other lonely soul will come and talk to them? Now we have the wonders of facebook and couchsurfing, millions of groups for strangers in Paris, even multiple versions of 'Au Pairs in Paris 2010', we can speed things up somewhat. Might not be the most natural way of making friends, and I doubt I'd do it at home, but needs must!

So after posting my desperate plea for friends on said website and getting some replies, yesterday I went to meet (blind-date style) 2 girls of whom I knew nothing except that they also look after children. Luckily they were both cool and not psychos, one a fellow Scot and a girl from Germany. We bought very expensive coffees near the Louvre, wandered in and- like most people- went straight for the Mona Lisa. It's a shame that they make you stay so far away from it- what is the point of having such a famous painting on show, making people queue to see it, then cordoning off about 5 metres in front of it? Even if we only go to see it because it's famous (which isn't true!) surely it's better to actually SEE it and be able to form some sort of opinion... better off with a postcard sadly.
It's really easy to get lost in there too. While looking for the 'sortie' signs I liked to test myself guessing the artist of paintings I recognised, art geek? Yes I am.

Had my first ham and cheese crepe yesterday, followed by my second today. Yum.

Later I met a girl who I'd met at the au pair cafe, for a Starbucks and a film. I know- why go to Starbucks, go to a real cafe... but it's damn cheaper! Anyway found another nice one at Odeon (a place near me with lots of cinemas) with big people-watching/sketching windows upstairs, perfect for hiding in from the rain. Saw Wall Street in english with french subtitles. Subtitles were good, when the film was a bit slow I could test my translation...

Later still met the weegie girl from earlier for a couple of pints, unfortunately duped by totally deceiving menu&signage and paid 8euro each, twice. Shudder.

Up again today and went to meet some different girls- this time American, Romanian-Swiss and Hungarian. (I think.) Coffee and the now-usual questions: Arrondissement? With family or in a studio? How many kids? Ages? And the parents? Do you have to drive? Cook? What did you do before this? How old are you then?! (So far mainly this one directed at me- but 23 is not that old!!)
To Montmartre, passed on the second-hand shop knowledge, up to the Sacre Coeur, (crepe), back down, getting the hang of the metro, meeting people is really tiring, home, 'theirs' for dinner, washing, back here to write this, soon going back to theirs to sleep because I start at 5.30am tomorrow.

Missing Nuit Blanche.
Trying not to think about it.