Mes Amis.

Mes Amis.

One thing I really struggle with in French is getting the masculine and feminine tenses right and it’s quite often a disaster. I always forget that petite with an e is feminine and petit without an e is masculine, the word for friend (feminine) is amie but if there are multiple friends being spoken of (friends plural) then friends become male (ami), enter mes amis- even if there is just one male in the group, the masculine tense prevails. Therefore, I am terrified to write in French because with all of this to remember, I usually write things as easy as ‘little croissant’ as ‘petite croissant’. With a croissant being a male noun, the correct way to write it would be petit croissant, while petite croissant is actually half man half woman croissant, and I’m not sure what that would actually look like.  

French is a very sexist language. 

In Paris, I’ve made friends (yes plural) in the strangest places. There is the Chinese lady in the Tabac who sells everything from cigarettes, to chewing gum, to lottery tickets, to an espresso had leaning on the bar each morning with mainly men who also lean against the bar, eyes transfixed on the television watching the horses. I walk in each day and she greets me with a ‘bon – jour’ before waving me to the corner and voila, out comes my coffee. Now, I’m no gambler by any stretch, but leaning on a bar with men (they’re all old men – just like this language it seems) and listening to them as they watch the races is very good for my French. I spend ten minutes trying to translate what they are saying before leaving more confused than I was before I arrived. 
Then there is the African lady in the supermarket who has extremely neat cornrows and is actually very cheeky – she doesn’t move from her chair as she taps madly on the touchscreen (with very long purple nails) adding up my goods, all while tormenting David who sweeps the floor in the entrance and runs for the hills whenever she opens her mouth. 

‘Nameless’ works at Cafe Jade just around the corner who serves up not too bad coffee and speedy wifi and says ‘c’est cool’ (it’s cool) a lot and there is, of course, Nadine upstairs (so kind and all of 70 odd years) with whom I’m dying to go and have another can of Coke with pronto and Dr Heisse, who is so terrifying but I can imagine would be a great person to have a glass of wine with. 

Today, I made a new friend in the post office.  I really wish I’d asked for her name but I was so busy looking at the boots she was wearing (thinking that they looked a bit like the ankles on a Clydesdale horse or even better, a yetis foot), while explaining that I speak a bit of French and she explained that she speaks a bit of English and from there I decided that I’d use my bit of French because she was about to help me and I think that’s the polite thing to do.  
First I needed a registered post bag to send a parcel within France and as I chatted away, only ever in the present tense, her colleague looked over and asked her if she needed any help with the English woman. Her first response (in French) was ‘I think’ which made me quite determined – ‘I can understand what you’re saying,’ I thought to myself before making it my business to turn the situation into a do or die – ‘you can do this,’ ‘one friend in the post office is enough’.  After a few moments, she turned back to the concerned colleague, ‘c’est bien,’ and there I was with licence to make a mess of her beautiful language.

The second part of the post office visit came with a need to send three supermarket bags full of clothing back to Australia, which was greeted first with a nod followed by an explanation – if I packed the boxes in the post office, (rather than taking the boxes home and packing them in the privacy of my own four walls), she would make me a saving of 50 Euros per box. I responded in the present tense, (with a daring little nod to the future as I mixed it up for a bit of humour for hers and the noisey colleagues combined benefit only), and agreed that I would arrive on Wednesday with three Carrefour bags and would she mind if I sat in the corner and packed. For some reason she seemed really happy about this and I’m still the slightest bit perplexed?  

I can only conclude that she felt as though her and her yeti boots had helped me reach a milestone – which they had.

Then there was Étienne who I met in a cafe two weeks ago and with whom I started to fall madly in love with after two seconds of him speaking to me. We had a further half an hour in ‘Fringlish’ before he disappeared into a bleak Parisian day never to be seen again… (I could write a novel about this man).

All of these people make my days here all the more enjoyable, as do my ‘old friends’ like Miranda from my days at the Australian Ballet who turned up last week and led me to the funniest champagne and espresso martini fuelled night at Hotel Costes – a night which rendered me useless the following day and all the days after; and Sas, my amazing cousin who is here on a years exchange at a local university (all of 21.99 years and incredibly funny and smart to boot); and Paul, who I study with at the Alliance Francaise in Melbourne who is in Paris on a similar jaunt to me.   Not failing to mention all of the gorgeous people I spent two weeks with at the Eurocentre trying to improve my French.
Around each corner I’ve found a friend and most of them probably wouldn’t even know how much our daily, or weekly, or twenty minute interactions actually mean to me – but by writing this I feel as though I’ve come one step closer to at least acknowledging them.  

On that note, I think I just heard Nadine arrive home – which probably signals time to knock on her door and see if she’s up for one last can  of Coke.  I don’t even know how to begin with explaining  my issue with tenses and cross dressing croissants (and my never ending struggles with this language and, I can hardly even order a croissant) but I have a sneaking suspicion she’ll understand.

Goodnight Paris.

Goodnight Paris.

A hiatus.
After a huge week last week, I woke up on Saturday morning and decided it was time for a blogging break and with that, I took a holiday. I sit here on my final Sunday night in Paris (for this trip at least), ready for a quick and punchy little burst before the beginning of a short and (sniff) final week here.

It’s now past midnight and as with every Sunday, the city started to sleep at about 7pm. Rushing to Carrefour (my local supermarket) for a simple lemon (sorry lemon, but it wasn’t a huge ask) and a pot of Greek yogurt (oh, and not forgetting loo paper), I was met with the doors shut and the lights off. Supermarkets in Paris seem to be the only things that ever close – this city is always alive and, in a similar fashion to my rushed arrival to the Musée Picasso last week, I nearly ran straight into the door.

One of the many things I love about this city is that no matter how many times I belt (quite literally – I maintain a cracking pace on foot each day) down the rues and the boulevards, I always seem to find something new, or walk down a street that I thought was my own, only to discover I’m in the next arrondissement and not anywhere near home, (or the florist, or the shop with the blue shirt in the window that I saw yesterday and needed so badly when I got back into my uniform this morning – uniform consisting of a très chic of blend jeans, walking shoes and about two skivvies underneath a jumper, all topped off with a puffer jacket bigger than the Eiffel Tower).

Some days when I stand up from the table after a nice lunch (usually spent staring at people and writing down funny things I’ve just heard them say), I take the table cloth with me, not by choice but because I’m like a moving mountain of clothing.

I digress.
Getting lost in Paris is a joy, and yesterday the sky opened up properly for the first time since I’ve been here – the air was completely clear and suddenly the buildings appeared to have had a facelift overnight, they were bigger than ever and I could see for miles. Jet stream filled the sky, families filled the parks and my hands filled my pockets as I strode first to breakfast (ah, the ease of Saturday morning with no class to race to!) and secondly up to the Marais for a peek at Place de Vosges (how can a park make a person so happy- I adore that place), next to Chez Janou (packed for the second Saturday running ‘désolé Madame’), and then back along Rue Étienne Marcel, across Rue du Louvre and up Av. de l’Opera towards Galleries Lafayette.

The winter sales in Paris are are reason in themselves to come here, and once inside and as I navigated my way through the heaving bodies who all seemingly had the same idea as me, I only grunted about about seventy times as people meandered and stopped, and took selfies in front of the Rolex counter (I know, quite bizarre), before I looked up and was struck for the millionth time in my life by the beauty of the domed glass ceiling that is reason in itself to go to Lafayette – just. pure. magic. 

Two giant pairs of shoes later (of course they had my size, I think I’m the only woman ever to set foot in Paris with size 42 feet), I headed for the metro.
Much as I love walking through Paris, I also love rattling around on the Metro because there is something so special about walking up the stairs from the platform and back onto the street, only to be met by a visual feast of trees, an open sky filled with birds, beautiful buildings and an abundance of light- I don’t think in my lifetime I could ever tire of that cocktail and I always stop at least three stops from home just to walk amongst it and drink it all in (and yes, sometimes I stop for a drink as well, and smile like a mad person).

Coming home through Tuileries Gardens and across Pont Neuf last night and again tonight, not only filled my camera with a trillion images but it emptied my head of as many thoughts. In my two day hiatus I’ve read plenty of news, much of it in complete disbelief, and more than ever I understand that those moments of peace, surrounded by complete beauty are not only a privilege, they’re incredibly special and they’re never to be taken for granted.

 

For Suzon.

For Suzon.

When I first arrived at the Eurocentre, the French language school a minutes walk from the apartment, I knew it was going to be fun. The class was made up of Portuguese, Spanish and English speakers and our Prof, Laura, was a force to be reckoned with who would make a noise like a tiger when we spoke in a tongue other than francais- ‘c’est une langue bizarre, nous parlons francais, ici,’ (we speak French here). The class was full of laughter (always) and in just ten short days, I have made some really special acquaintances.

Adriano and Celana are a couple from Brazil who sit together- always. The love they quite clearly have for each other is inspirational – the type of love that you just know could never be broken.
Maya, a very beautiful Korean/Hawaiian girl, full of energy and making a life here in Paris with her new Parisian love- used recently learnt, but beautifully developing French to describe stories from her childhood and her life in Paris and beyond.  

Arrate, Spanish, 24 years old and full of determination, has been posted to Paris for three months by her employer in Spain and is the type of person I just know will go a long way in life.

Nicole, fresh faced and uber stylish arrived this week from Colombia to study accelerated French before going on to study her masters in Paris, the same as Carole another beauty, who hails from Brazil and who has been at the Eurocentre since November.

Luca is also Brazilian, just like Marco- both young guys with the world at their feet and a desire to speak French, something they both (like all of the others) do so well.

Then there is Ana Marie- the quietest of the group but easily one of the most mysterious and kind people I’ve met. I don’t know too much about Ana, but she made me laugh every day with her random and hilarious little ditties that came from seemingly nowhere.

And finally, Candela and Jose, 18 and from Uruguay- both willowy little beauties who have not just the innocence of being so young, but a beautiful friendship that has brought them to Paris to learn French together. The broad and endless smiles on both those faces and their energy so fresh, has been contagious- in their presence I’ve had no choice but to smile. Saying goodbye to these two today, and the rest of the group at varying points throughout the day, has left me with a feeling of emptiness- but you never can plan goodbyes. 

This afternoon after our final class where Laura led us through more conjugations of verbs and provided much hilarity (she is really quite funny), Adriano and Celana led the group to a petit cafe in Rue Jean de Beauvais where we had the most enjoyable lunch filled with Spanish, French, English and Portuguese banter. Thank you both for organising this- I am so happy that we got to spend a final hour together (sans Luca and Marco, but there will always be next time).
At the end of lunch, Candela and Jose announced that they wanted to go to Pere Lachaise- the beautiful, huge, and rambling cemetery in the north east of Paris where the likes of Edith Piaf, Marcel Proust, Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison are buried, ‘I’ll come,’ I said- (it has been a long time since 1998, when I first and last went there), ‘me too’ said Arrate and Nicole in unison, and with that, we set off on the Metro to find the resting place of some formidable and very talented people, who form a part of who we are today and whose legacies have made the world a far more enjoyable place.

On the Metro, sardined between heaving bodies, we spoke about love, broken hearts, the fears we are all faced with in life and the fact that no matter what, you can never plan for anything- you need to just live and make sure you live really well. Admittedly, once in the cemetery, we spent a lot of time stifling giggles as we tried to find Jim Morrison- Candela and me promising that Jim was around each corner, and Edith not far from him and Oscar not far from her. We eventually found Jim as the sun began to fall behind the clouds and crows made a feast on breadcrumbs and wilting flowers. 
Down one of the many paths that we thought would lead to Jim (or Oscar, or Edith), we were stopped in our tracks when one of the girls said quietly, ‘that is so sad, she was so young’.  

Suzon , 21 years old and as fresh faced as the company I kept in that very moment, was beautiful- really beautiful. I can only imagine she lived a completely happy life, and by looking at her smile in the many photos that adorned her grave (all of which suggested a life so free), I could only concur that maybe she surely would too have carried the same concerns, you know, the ones that bother us in our every day. But the one thing that struck my heart the most, was a large shell (sitting amongst a small collection of flowers and some Christmas holly), filled with metro tickets- a sign that she is greatly missed and frequently visited. We all added ours quietly and concluded that she was so innocent and so young- she represented more than just youth and freedom – she was all of us.

Suzon went to the Bataclan on November 13th, 2015 and her family and friends never got to say goodbye.  

In a cemetery filled with so many big names – names we had all spent hours on google maps turning circles trying to locate – Suzon is one that I’ll never forget.

Vous êtes libre, vous êtes jeune, vous êtes aimé. 

Nadine.

Nadine.

December 26th, 2015 was the day that I first arrived at the apartment that I have called home in Paris for two winters now. It sits on the forth floor of a beautiful old building in Saint Germain des Pres and is the most precious thing in the world, belonging to a beautiful French speaking Parisienne Melbournian.  I pinch myself each day that this place was recommended to me by one of my favourite people in the world- she new I’d ‘get it’.

In the taxi on the way from the airport I skimmed the notes prepared for guests who stay in the apartment and I can recall reading about the woman upstairs but was busy taking in the classical music and making a mental note that the taxi driver sang quite the tune.  Upon arrival at number 17, and after finding my way through the grille (the electronic door downstairs), I was struck by two things- the first being the sheer madness that were the nine million very hard and very steep wooden stairs that lead up to the fourth floor to Amy’s flat and the second, to the right of my doorway was a tiny little set of stairs that lead to a door behind which, I could only imagine, was the sky. Turning my focus back to my own door I huffed to myself ‘this must be me’, and then puffed and sputtered thinking my heart may stop at any moment. Hurling my bags through the door, I looked over my shoulder once again ‘where do those stairs go?’ I wondered, before throwing myself onto the sofa to catch my breath.

Five weeks and at least four thousand ascensions and descents of those stairs later, I hadn’t clapped eyes on anyone from upstairs, but I was sure I’d heard mouse like pottering’s and the door opening and closing from time to time. ‘Whoever lives up there must be tiny,’ I’d concluded in my mind before going to the airport in tears.

Since my return four weeks ago, I have had a strong desire to knock on the door and introduce myself to the neighbour- I feel as though I should let her know that I’m here. But each morning I run out the door in such a hurry to get to class no more than five minutes late, and usually I return late into the night, by which time my mystery friend would probably be asleep.

Today I came flying around the corner and through the door and was followed into the building by a very small woman with a perfectly coiffured bob- we ascended the stairs chatting to each other and I knew by about the ninetieth stair that I’d finally met her.

Nadine is a kind Parisienne who has lived in her tiny bolthole since the 1960’s, and by the time we got to my door this afternoon we’d become friends, so of course I obliged when she waved me up that  little set of ten stairs and into her apartment.  We stood shoulder to shoulder in a tiny landing which was full to the brim with cleaning products and linen- she had told me she was a retired school teacher so I was confused by these items as a start.  

Her son is 50, which must make her 70 years old or more but her beautiful round face with the pinkest cheeks, looks not a day over 50 itself, so again, there was further confusion. Behind a curtain was a makeshift shower and more containers and two steps further and behind another curtain she proudly presented ma chambre, her tiny bedroom with a single bed neatly made with a doona adorned with cartoon characters. We sat in her petit kitchen and shared a coke out of matching Asahi plastic cups (she didn’t strike me as a beer drinker) and chatted under the indoor plants whose arms patted my head as Nadine spoke only in French and I nodded and said ‘oui’ (a lot). 

Nadine has the patience of a saint, and she went on to tell that the French are an aggressive bunch and the gypsys taking over the streets are driving her mad, ‘Paris is no good’. I listened intently as she told me she had shared that same space with her husband before they divorced (I can’t count in French so I’m not sure what year that event took place) and we both agreed that Coke is the most delicious drink but it makes you very fat- just look at the Americans (her words, not mine but I was happy to respond with a further ‘oui’).  

I never wanted to leave Nadines flat and I told her that I was so happy to have finally met her. I scanned the room, taking in the pots (some filled with up to nine hairbrushes) and the rest of the perfectly arranged, hoarded chaos. ‘How old are you,’ she asked, to which I replied ’37 and my brain is dead- I’m so sorry my French is terrible,’ to which she replied, ‘you cannot be 37- you have the most beautiful skin and a perfect French accent.’ 

I told you she was kind.
Remembering the milk and groceries still sitting in my doorway, I finally got up and walked down the 10 steps and back to my door, ‘bon soirée Virginia, take care of those steps they are very steep,’ she warned. I nodded knowingly, desperately wanting to tell her that I learnt the hard way when I fell down two flights last year at a rapid pace in leather soled shoes.  To this day I’m sure the lady downstairs who heard the whole ordeal, thought that Nadine was having ‘a moment’ and had decided to throw her fridge down the stairs as a result- the look on her face when she saw me brushing myself off and walking sideways like a crab, was priceless. 

 But that is another story for another day.

Big Apple Red (for a change).

Big Apple Red (for a change).

I won’t write a rambling post today- for a change.  I have a dinner to get to and today was the only ‘busy day’ I’ve had since I arrived in Paris.  I had two notifications on my phone before I went to sleep last night, the first being that my alarm would go off in the morning (great), and the other a reminder that I had to get to Dr Heisse at 5.15pm.  Oh, and French class for four hours in the morning, but that is a given and hard to forget.

Change, as they say, is as good as a holiday and getting my nails done, regardless of the city I’m in (on the holiday seeking change), is an experience so familiar that its probably the only thing in the world that doesn’t ever change.

Around the corner from my apartment in Paris there is a nail bar called Happy Nails (you guessed it), and inside the nail bar sit two of the sweetest women I think I’ve ever met.  ‘You have boyfriend?’ they ask in French (every week) –  to which I reply (going a shade of Big Apple Red, the colour they busily paint my nails with),  ‘Oh, non, je n’ai pas de petit ami,’ as a standard response- and no, I don’t know why and much as I would love to tell you my life story, I don’t actually have the dialogue to and yes, I too am frustrated about this (is what goes through my mind, every- single- time).

I write this post with a dead arm and bright red nails after Happy Nails at 4pm and Doctor Heisse at 5.15pm.  At the nail bar we watched cute videos of babies dancing to Justin Beiber songs and later, with Doctor Heisse, I  was put through my paces (in French) and grilled on the importance of taking care in India and if I felt sick, I had to take this, and then this ‘understand Virginia,’ ‘Oui Madame,’ (even though I didn’t), ‘diarrhea is the single most terrible thing you can possibly contract- that, and eye mucus- you know eye mucus, you get it from dirty hands in the eyes’.

Got it, and thank you, and with that I looked down at my Big Apple Red nails shimmering under the bright lights of the surgery.  The only other thing bothering me in that moment of revolting thoughts and abysmal French (both of which were shelved for a moment), were the wafts of beef bourguignon that I got each time I shifted in my chair (the beef smell was deeply embedded in my skivvi after sitting in a petit cafe for lunch where it was the plat du jour- I went for the salmon).

So I’ll leave you with all of this as I enjoy my first Aperol Spritz in what feels like one hundred years- under a heater, wearing a puffer and two jumpers over a beef scented skivvi before I go to see friends for dinner.  This being one of my favourite things and (like nail bars), I can’t imagine will ever change.

Le Ciel est Bleu.

Le Ciel est Bleu.

The sky is blue (finally).

After spending much of the last few days in a nature induced cafe lockdown, it was a pleasure to leave class this afternoon under a clear blue sky and absolutely no sign of rain.  
Paris is complete when flanked by a blue sky, and as I skipped off to lunch today – out of the passage Dauphine and onto Rue Jacob I had one thing on my mind- chicken stir fry. You see, I’ve found the most amazing cafe not far from home and just off the Rue Jacob that serves vegetables dressed in sesame seeds with the tenderest chicken pieces I ever did taste and do you think I could find it today? No.
After a meander down Rue Jacob looking in the windows of each and every gallery, pining for almost everything I clapped eyes on – a delicious salad was eventually had at Cafe Le Dauphine on the Boulevard Saint Germain.  A man so similar to Mick Gatto sat beside me on the neighbouring table and I can’t deny that I may have found myself looking up to see if the sky was indeed still blue and if there were any rogue cranes overhead.

Last night I ate dinner at Cepe Figue a very French restaurant in a cobblestoned passage just of the Rue St Andre des Arts, which is situated around the corner from my apartment. I have grown to really love this place- many dinners have been enjoyed there en seul and the staff never fail to make me feel so very much at home (and they let me speak only in French). The escargot are a favourite (six little snails doused in butter and garlic), followed by tender pork pieces with poached apple and, at the end of this extravagance I can never, ever go past the apple crumble – baking dishes of this old fashioned sugary masterpiece adorn the shelves in the front window- its heaven and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  

Sometimes in Paris I eat meals with the sort of confidence I might be able to justify if I’d (just say) been blessed with a really fantastic metabolism at birth – a gift that sadly, the stork forgot to drop in my nursery in 1979.
In the absence of any such gift, I love walking and always have – and with time on my side I walk a lot in Paris. 

On Sunday, as I shuffled home from a day in the mosque – teeth grilled (looking like an emoji) and with hands freezing cold, I suddenly felt perplexed as to why my umbrella felt ready to snap and my feet like wet cement trapped in a pair of Nikes.  Looking up I saw beautifully formed snowflakes falling from the sky before melting as they hit the ground.  
I continued like a penguin down the Boulevard St Michel (saluting Sherazade and Dr Heisse as I passed number 22), before making my way around the corner past the Musée national du Moyen Age (the Museum of the Middle Age) in Place Painlevé. Alternating my hands from pocket to pocket (fearing they may fall off) and not daring let go of my umbrella, I suddenly felt giddy with cold and something quite extraordinary.   

There is something to be said for the changing of elements and the feelings we experience from walking under a perfect blue sky or a sky filled with threatening clouds, but walking under a pitch black night sky producing perfectly formed snowflakes makes justifying every plat du jour and every apple crumble consumed in this city, just that little bit easier.