In haste!

In haste!

I’m writing this as I enjoy a boiled egg with marmite on toast on my second morning in London, and as I gaze out the window the sound of jackhammers cracking concrete penetrates in the distance.  The fact that we live in an ever changing and continually developing world-  this is a sound we’re all becoming increasingly used to.  

The flat opposite me in Paris is sheathed by an enormous piece of cloth pristine and white and cut to perfection – there is no evidence of six stories of limestone wrapped up inside, but at seven o’clock every morning, five days a week, the jackhammers begin along with the banter until the builders take ‘un petit pause,’ before starting up again after lunch.  I can only assume they are doing some fairly important work in there, as the building in question is as ancient as it is beautiful.

Yesterday, I had a makeover of sorts too –  I removed my old suede brogues and replaced them with a green pair of high heels and headed to Australia House in the Strand for dinner with forty eight other Australians.  During the day I had enjoyed a lovely lunch at the Westbourne with my Indian travel companion who is in town visiting friends, before heading across the channel to shake the Australian winter.  And, earlier that morning I’d had ‘success’ as always at COS – a store that has contributed to 90% of my wardrobe over the years and is genius for women who are actually built like women- of all shapes and sizes.  All I really ‘needed’ was a pair of stretchy trousers to hold me in over dinner and to be worn under a nice blue shirt dress. Très simple. 

Arriving home later in the day with sore feet and tired legs from walking the entire length of this city (or so it felt), I ran a bath and sighed with happiness as I realised I had whole hour up my sleeve before my taxi was due to arrive at 6.30.  Twenty minutes later, pampered and newly revived, I pulled on my new trousers which reached my knees before refusing to go any further.

Now, I have had just one croissant in two weeks in Paris and have walked more than I’ve ever walked, so to say I felt perplexed is an understatement.  Pulling and pulling and pulling, there was no way these stretch miracles were going to go the distance and as I tore them off, I realised I’d been sold a size six, which is very unhelpful when I’m double that and only on a really good day can I wedge myself into a size 12 anything.

Looking at my watch I now had just fifteen minutes until the taxi was set to pick me up, and as I cast my eyes around the room beginning to feel slightly panicked, there was nothing that even looked like a plan B.  

I stood bare legged with my green shoes blending with the tone of my skin and my navy shirt reaching (hardly) modestly towards the middle of my thighs.  Frazzled, I pulled on a pair of faded blue jeans and ran out the door and into my cab pushing my earrings in as I did (a precious $30 purchase from India that sparkle like a million dollars), madly trying to get the backs on without losing them along the way.  

I arrived at Selfridges ten minutes later looking like I was heading to a barn dance rather than a jacket and tie dinner (albeit with bag searches and a dress code).  Racing up the elevator I shimmied into COS and explained my predicament (I didn’t really need to, it was quite evident) and within moments a bemused assistant had me in the change rooms in a pair of trousers that slid on, zipped up and voila!  I was back in the room, save for my beautiful earrings- one of which was now hanging out of my ear by a faux gold thread.  

The back had gone missing and I looked like something from the punk era.  Scanning the counter as I paid for my new trousers which were now happily hitched up around my rib cage and hugging my legs, I noticed a little pair of studs and threw them in too- all I needed was that tiny little back for the precious earring hanging precariously out of my ear, and I’d be on my way.

A black cab driven by the kindest man in the world pulled in out the front of Australia House at 7pm, delivering me only half an hour late and with another thirty minutes to spare before we were seated.  

Hours later, and as I sipped on my glass of wine feeling relaxed and listening intently to speeches peppered with just enough wit, I played with the earring in my left ear and found two backs jammed on top of each other.   All that haste had gone to my head, or my ear in this case, and I now have a pair of cheap studs as a constant reminder.

All in all, it was a lovely night and a reminder as to why I never wear high heels.

Pictured:  a beautiful garden bed in Hyde Park shot on my way to buy the ill fated trousers.

Parties and Paperwork.

Parties and Paperwork.

Yesterday, as I packed for five days in London, I procrastinated (I’m almost hitting personal best status at this) by sifting through and replying to emails and messages that readers have written in response to previous blog posts.  

One comment that caught my eye was from a girl whose sister had spent six months on exchange in France.  She wrote, ‘my sister always says that the French love bureaucracy and they throw great parties.’  

That’s right, the French love Parties and Paperwork.

This morning as I began to type this on the train to London, I was feeling nothing short of exhausted and positively mad, with a warm up resting on my knee and a watery coffee lasting only moments before it was devoured with the greatest sense of urgency.  Just two drips made it onto my top and one blob of melted cheese was discovered soaking nicely into my trousers, two hours later and as we pulled into London.

A warm up consists of two soggy wholemeal pieces of bread filled with ham and cheese and wrapped in cardboard, before being nuked in a microwave by Mathew (with one T), a friendly man who was working the cafe in carriage 9, and one who takes his job very seriously.  

Mathew was a mutitasker and diligently switched between French and English and having a jolly old time as he did. 

Standing in the queue as I waited to be served, I found myself wondering if Mathew spends weekends with his Nan and a little dog (I imagined a scruffy terrier or sorts) and I also made a mental note when he stopped, just once, to take a breath after a man observed how busy it was in the cafe this morning – raising a hand to his head, Mathew let out an almighty sigh before admitting (between clenched teeth), ‘it’s just non stop.’

‘Non stop’ was the approach that Colin took when preparing our drinks at the Hemingway Bar last night.

My friend from Melbourne, Marcel, was back from the South and she had one night remaining in the city that never sleeps. We met up in the late afternoon, sipping on a glass of rosé at ‘Maison Sauvage,’ my new favourite little haunt in Rue de Buci and just around the corner from my apartment.  We shared stories from the week and enjoyed a fabulous visual feast of 6pm people watching in the warmth of the early evening before deciding that it was time to get to the birth place of the Bloody Mary.  

Half an hour later, we were in an Uber crossing the Pont du Carrousel as we swept past the Louvre and into Place Vendôme, home of the Ritz.  

(It is important to note that my normal life in Paris is spent holed up in my apartment making coffee on the stovetop most mornings, as I busy myself with writing this blog, before heading out in the afternoon for lunch and a walk and as many conversations as I can make people endure- practice makes perfect, and I save moments like the Ritz for visitors- not my everyday!).
The Hemingway Bar sits at the end of a magnificent gallery of shops that are too beautiful for me to even look at, let alone enter – the types of ‘magasins’ I have visions of being chased out of and I’m still scarred from that time in Benetton in the Bon Marché, circa 1999.

 I digress.  

To the right of the gallery there is a beautiful and opulently oversized garden that houses tables and chairs hidden in little alcoves along its edges which are framed by decent sized Versailles planter boxes filled with Linden trees, and to top it off a limestone fountain trickles in the centre – it is nothing short of magic. 

The bar is a relatively small, dimly lit room filled with plump leather chairs and banquettes, handsome men and facelifts to match.  We were told on arrival that we would be best sat up at the bar and, after just a few moments we realised why. 

Colin Field- Hemingway authority, drink mixer, performer and French speaking Brit to the core, has to be seen to be believed.  

He advised that the Hemingway Bar is not actually the birth place of the Bloody Mary, and nor is Harry’s (much as they claim to be – with Colin’s very public objection to this leading to a 20 year ban from him setting foot in there).  

Marce and I sat for hours listening and watching as Colin did his thing while imbibing us with drinks we’ll probably never see again in our respective lifetimes. We were treated to days old mushrooms frozen in ice after being fermented in a cell that ‘no one has ever entered,’ fresh tomato juice blended with ice made with the freshest celery (no strings attached) and vodka mixed with champagne exclusive to the Ritz.  

It was quite possibly one of the funniest nights I have had in such a long time- my trip out of the 6th Arrondissement with Marcel was one for the book, and when I got home last night I was delighted to read that Colin Peter Field is in fact, ‘The Best Barman in The World’ according to Forbes Magazine.  
Google him, it’s a read you won’t regret.

Now, as I finish typing this piece in a study on the top floor of the sweet little place where I am staying in London for the next five days, I look out the window to a bleary London sky.  

Union Jacks fly from building tops and the black cabs are busy as always. It’s so great to be back in this wonderful city and I look forward to sharing tales of what unfolds in the days to come.

Today marks the beginning of a week sans paperwork, kicked off with a very funny and very French party.  Now, I’m off to do the very English thing of running a bath!

Pictured:  our man Colin in action- drinks mixer, fount of knowledge and easily the best barman in the world (the most amusing too). 

A new life.

A new life.

There has been great deal of paperwork to complete in order to change the direction of my life as I once knew it.  

As part of my preparations to come to Paris for a long stay, I spent much of April and early May completing a visa application which caused my upper lip to sweat quite regularly as I passed hour upon hour in my local library printing and scanning and filling out forms (in black pen only). I’ve had multiple photos taken – never smiling and with my hair tucked behind my ears, making me look more like a woman in a mugshot newly under arrest for murder, than one seeking a new found freedom in search of an adventure.  

Yesterday, I completed my final form, scanned my final document and copied more pages from my passport than you’d care to know about. Filling in the paperwork for the French Office of Immigration and Integration (OFII) while diligently translating any words that posed a level of confusion, I felt a liberation of sorts and smiled as I realised that I might even nearly be done.  
This form is to be sent off to the OFII with a copy of my passport and all stamped pages as proof that I’ve arrived, and if successful, it will enable me to renew my visa (should I wish) at the end of the twelve months currently granted.

My favourite question on the OFII form (and all forms relating to French bureaucracy, it would seem), is lieu de naissance (place of birth). It always makes me happy to write Warrnambool, Australia – a regional city about half an hour from where I grew up on a farm and about as far away from Paris as anywhere in the world. Second probably only to Launceston, Tasmania, where yesterday a new life began at the hands of my sister and her husband who welcomed their first child, my third nephew.

I received this news as I was heading out the door to Scoopy- a photocopy and scanning shop a short walk from my apartment, via the Jardin du Luxembourg and along the Rue Guynemer. I first found Scoopy when I was studying at the Alliance Française in Paris two years ago (where I was overwhelmed with the amount of enrolment forms required to study in a five week course). 

The man who runs the store is very kind and is always accompanied by a small fluffy white dog who guards les ordinateurs (the computers) with sharp teeth and a frequent yap en français.  
Due to the rate in which the French hand out paperwork and the love they have for requesting and processing multiple copies of the aforementioned paperwork, I have become quite the regular at Scoopy.  Yesterday, as I marked Warrnambool as my lieu de naissance before making certain that I’d also marked ‘English’ as my spoken language in preparation my upcoming interview, I thought fondly of my new little nephew, brimming with pride.  Navigating the French keyboard and pressing imprimer (print) over and over again, I wondered if he too would one day sit in a French copy shop with beads of sweat on his upper lip as he navigated foreign forms entering ‘Launceston’ as his own lieu de naissance.

The heatwave passed on Thursday night and I celebrated with a glass of rosé with the windows open, allowing the cool breeze to cleanse the apartment. The fan has been retired for the time being and I am now back into my favourite trousers and shoes – I learnt the hard way with trousers and shoes in Paris, with the shops only stocking a version of both more petit than the word itself, and I therefore always travel to France with an excess of luggage made up of just the bottom half of my outfit. 

Yesterday on my walk home from Scoopy, decked out in my favourite lace up shoes and pink jeans, I decided un petit verre de champagne (a small glass of champagne) was in order to celebrate our newest family member. Stopping at Germain, a suitably chic restaurant in the strip of shops and cafés at the end of my street, I was greeted by a beautiful waitress who set me up with a table in the sun as I blubbered (in my best excited French) that my youngest sister had delivered a baby boy in Australia that morning.  

‘Pour William,’ (for William) she smiled as she left me with a delicious glass of Veuve and from there, I spent the next two hours sifting through my mountain of forms and scans, sneaking in only a handful of peeks at photos of my newly minted nephew.

Life on the family property half an hour away from my lieu de naissance was an all female affair – Mum and Dad had (and still have) four daughters – all of whom are my closest friends. We teased, taunted, loved and supported each other (always unconditionally) and we also fought our fair share of serious wars over important things like Barbie caravans – which led to ‘do not enter’ signs being written in bold pen guided by a firm hand before being stuck with the stickiest of tape, onto our bedroom doors.  

We’ve lived together, laughed until we’ve cried together and have cried until we’ve laughed together, and as I type this a million miles from home, I feel a love for these three girls greater than ever before. I’m now an Aunt to three of the most beautiful young boys, with another little person due to arrive in September as the third in line of four prepares for her own first child.

Our sisterhood is now filled with more men than I could have ever contemplated – not forgetting there are also three other (grown) men who have bravely joined our family, and I will close by dedicating this blog to William James Affleck Weeding. Congratulations Sophie and Nick.

Finally, and on a completely unrelated matter I do need to note that les pompiers (the firemen) were on the streets yesterday selling raffle tickets. I had to duck behind the newspaper stand in fear that had they spoken to me, I probably would have needed to be taken away in une ambulance.  It is no myth that the men who fight fires in this country are very, very easy on the eye.

Pictured: mes sœurs et moi (my sisters and me, circa 1985).  The baby in the middle is now a new mum. 

La Piscine.

La Piscine.

Today marks day four of a heatwave where temperatures have soared to 38 degrees each day in Paris.

The French word for swimming pool sounds more like what children might do in the pool, and yesterday I took myself off to the giant barge housing the Piscine Josephine Baker, moored next to the Bibliothèque François Mitterrand in the 13th arrondissement on the banks of the Seine.  (piscine-baker.fr)

The website boasts ‘a pool 25 metres long and 10 metres wide, with four lanes open to swimmers of all levels – this one-of-a-kind swimming experience is even more special in summer, when the glass roof opens up to reveal a huge sun deck providing a fabulous view of the Seine. Besides the main 250-m² pool, there is a 50-m² wading pool for children, not to mention solariums, saunas, a hammam, a jacuzzi and a gym featuring fitness and bodybuilding equipment.’

I wasn’t sold on the bodybuilding part, but the idea of floating in a freezing cold public pool (hopefully sans anything rhyming with piscine), by means of playing the heatwave at its own game, was all too tempting.

On Tuesday night, after a successful trip to Monoprix in the heat of the day, I returned home with a lovely new navy blue bathing suit (from the round bottom section of the womens department) matched with a beautiful, plush, yellow beach towel. I poured a freezing cold gin and tonic and listened to the birds chortling outside as the sun remained up (with temperatures to match), well into the night.

By the time I rose yesterday morning, temperatures were already heading towards 30 degrees (before 6.30 am), so I spent the morning not running, but floating around in an Indian dress in front of the fan writing emails and working on my writing.

By mid afternoon I had my new shopping basket packed with my bathing suit, plush towel and enough money to buy ten passes to the pool (I’d read on the website that each individual could buy up to ten entrées at one time).

My map suggested it would be a lovely 30 minute walk to la piscine along the left bank of the Seine, under the shade of the willow trees and away from the chaos of the lunchtime traffic. As I meandered, I practiced my French- I’d like ten passes please, and do you sell water? Can I please have a small locker for my possessions? Do you sell earplugs?

The latter question relates to the alarm that my Chinese acupuncturist Ziggy showed, when a month ago I told him that a noise sounding like a water cooler refilling went off in my head each time I bent over. Upon further inspection, he found both eardrums completely pierced and concluded that they probably have been for over twenty years. I now shower with cotton wool in my ears and must swim with plugs firmly wedged in. The upside of this (and something he found most humorous) is that I don’t get blocked ears on aeroplanes.

After walking in the heat of the day for over 30 minutes, I arrived at la piscine and walked confidently to the door muttering on repeat and under my breath, ‘Je voudrais dix entrees s’il vous plait, et avez vous un petit casier pour mes vêtements?’ (I would like ten passes please, and do you have a small locker for my clothes?). I was chased away by a kind but firm guard who took his job very seriously ‘vous devez faire la queue!’ (You must join the queue!).

Looking over my shoulder and wincing in the sunlight I saw a line (as long and as wide at la piscine itself) against a stone wall and under the shade of three huge trees. Rather than getting bothered (I can’t do that in French yet and didn’t have the strength anyway), I moseyed over to the queue and diligently joined.   Parched, I reached into my basket and scrambled for my water. None. I’d left it at home.

One and a half hours later, the guard let us in as groups of people who’d had their fix of cold water and splashing about left, lighting cigarettes as if the end was nigh before rushing towards the shade.
I like the way the French do leisure, 90% of the queue had smoked their way through the wait and not a soul seemed to even mind. By this stage, I was very thirsty and very hot and very much in need of those earplugs along with a ticket to ride and a tall glass of water.

I was considering drinking the pool.

As my turn in the queue arrived, I walked confidently to the woman in charge (a bossy authority wearing a big pink scarf on her head and not an inch of a smile) and asked for ten passes which was met with ‘non’ and a finger pointing at the new rules for the summer months (in French) stating that only individual passes were available at peak times.

How about a bottle of water, ‘non’.

A locker for my possessions ‘oui, un euro.’

A request for some earplugs was met with a shake of the head and I walked away- not without a new bright pink bathing cap and a swipe card for the turnstile.

Naturally, the swipe card didn’t work and I jammed the turnstile which caused a traffic jam of hot and bothered fellow queue members piling up behind me. Returning to my unsmiling friend, I tried to explain that my pass didn’t work which was met with an eye roll and instructions that I had to wait for the light to go blue.

‘I should have known,’ I thought and went back to try again.

Once I was successfully through and in the sterile white tiled room that looked more like an asylum than a change room, I was met with a vision of a whole lot of barely clothed bodies and a pool of water that everyone seemed to wade through with ease, barefoot. I followed their lead and found myself in an extension of the asylum, filled with lockers and change rooms and a man busily swept water and black hairs down a pipe, never to be seen again and away from the beautiful, white tiled floor.

Eventually I worked out how to open the lockers (put in one euro and the key will pop out), I had found a ‘cabine’ to change in and before I knew it (two hours since I’d left the apartment), I was wrestling with my new pink bathing cap poolside.

The sheer joy of the cold water on my extremely hot body is hard to describe. I was so happy and more relaxed than I could ever explain, and I watched with complete wonder as the French just meandered up and down the lanes chatting with the same vigour I assume they might display in a courtroom. No one was there to exercise, bar the group in the farthest of the four lanes who paced up and down under the watchful eye of a lifeguard, whose job was not to save lives, but to shout at anyone who dared enter lane four and slow it down.

Me and my pink cap bobbed up and down- mindful not to get too much water in my ears, and as I looked up to the wide blue Parisian sky I made a mental note to myself that life probably couldn’t get much better.

Only a glass of water or an Aperol spritz could have improved that blissful moment.

Ten minutes into my almost meditative state, a shrill whistle sounded – the lifeguard had left her post and had redirected her shouts towards everyone to evacuate the pool. Because I had very little understanding of what she was in fact saying, I followed the lead of those who did.

They were in no hurry to leave the water, and she just continued to blow the whistle and shout – this went on for at least five minutes until the pool was finally empty.

‘What on earth is going on’ I thought to myself as I picked up my towel and removed my cap, revealing static hair. I walked up to the rooftop and took a position on a sun lounge amongst all the other evictees – all of whom wore bathing suits that edged neatly up their brown bottoms. I felt somewhat outnumbered in my navy blue Monoprix number, but was grateful for the sun that warmed my lily white skin.

Before too long, I realised that we were not getting back into the water in a hurry, so I returned to the ‘cabine,’ pulled on my linens, retrieved my bag and set off.  By this stage, I had developed a thirst to rival a thousand camels and was overjoyed when I spotted a vending machine at the far end of the reception area- oh, what joy! I made a mental note that I’d buy four bottles of water and drink them all at once, only to find a note stuck on the machine as I made my my triumphant approach that simply read ‘discontinu’ (broken).

The walk home took me past the seemingly ancient Gare d’Austerlitz (www.gares-sncf.com/fr/gare/frpaz/paris-austerlitz) before I reached the Jardin des Plantes in the 5th Arrondissement. These gardens are beautiful and have become a favourite place of mine for long winter meanders – they are also home to the Museum national d’histoire naturelle (www.mnhn.fr) – one of my favourite buildings in Paris.

I eventually made it to Boulevard St Germain which stretches from the 5th arrondissement to the 7th and my apartment is tucked behind this wonderful stretch in the 6th. I love walking along Bvd St Germain and last night was no exception- the sun danced behind plane trees forming shadows on the street, and I was delighted to find a Monoprix half way home. I bought four bottles of Evian and drank them all as I stood beside a rubbish bin discarding empty bottle after empty bottle, before continuing on my way.

I stopped for dinner at Margherita, a lovely Italian restaurant in the beautiful cour du Commerce Saint Andre – an ancient passage paved with cobblestones only moments from home. Margherita does a delicious salad of raw vegetables topped with fresh mozzarella and at this newly hydrated stage of the day – it was 6.30, breakfast was a long lost memory of twelve hours ago. (I’d gone without lunch because that hour fell in the midst of my four hour swimming escapade- where I swam for a total of ten minutes).

The waiter delivered my long awaited Aperol spritz and I sipped it with a smile on my newly sun kissed face.

With yesterday marking the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, I had hours on my hands when I returned home just after 8pm on the longest day of the year- and didn’t I know it, it wasn’t just the planets celebrating!  Having spent the morning work-shopping my blog, I spent the evening on ‘chat’ to San Francisco- trying not to get bothered with the sweet online technician who was doing his ‘level hipster best’ to help me rebuild my website.

By 10pm I had a new look pinnningmywords which is much easier to navigate and is also slightly more chic in its design (well I think so!). It’s far more forgiving to my amateur photos taken on my trusty phone – and, I even managed to figure out widgets and link instagram to my new page.

I’m working towards increasing my subscription numbers and I am always heartened to see commitment from my regular readers!

If you haven’t already signed up you can easily do so on your iPhone by going to the ‘about’ tab and entering your email address at the bottom of the page before hitting ‘follow’ or, if you are on your desktop, laptop or tablet you simply hit the ‘follow’ button on the top right-hand side of the home screen.

Au revoir for now, and thank you for continuing to read my musings as I keep pinningmywords – I look forward to receiving your feedback about my new site!

Pictured: My trusty swimming gear with a spotted scarf to wipe my brow.

 

Home away from home.

Home away from home.

Over the Easter long weekend I spent a few days with Mum and Dad at their piece of paradise by the sea, in a town so rugged and wild that only the hardiest of plants and humans grow and survive there. Almost closer to Tasmania than Melbourne, this little secret is a mass of crumbling clay cliffs over-run by sea grass and daisies, sweeping views of a roaring, raging ocean (which terrifies me) and only a handful of houses- some of them original, state of the art asbestos shacks. The beaches are a long and abundant mass of the most golden sand- and a permanent sea mist creates a glaze over the town as you cast your eyes back towards groaning power lines, chaotic shiny leaf hedges and blooming agapanthus, during long beach walks.

Mum grows a perfectly beautiful garden there made up of an eclectic, well planned (but seemingly random) gang of species that she has carefully researched and nurtures to perfection. A little old gypsy caravan saved by my Grandmother sits amongst a plethora of sea daisies which flow over to a vegetable garden overwhelmed with kale, the sweetest of tomatoes and prickly little zucchinis.

The day before the Easter long weekend my sister got married, and suddenly I was the only one of four daughters to still carry our family name – Dad chuckled as he told me that I was now technically, an only child (a promotion I graciously accepted- oh, the opportunities!).

Over the weekend, the three of us spent a lot of time going for long walks and talking about the year ahead. The two younger of my siblings were (and still are) expecting babies, my oldest sister has two darling little boys who make my eyes brim with happiness, and I was planning my trip to Paris for as long as it may last.  
On one of our walks, Dad sped ahead to fetch salad rolls from the store and Mum and I meandered up the cliffs talking non stop as I mused that I was salivating with hunger- all that fresh air had gone to my head. 

Emerging over the rise and into the communal picnic area, I spotted a beautiful woman drawing on a Shisha pipe as her two male companions busied themselves over the barbecue. ‘That smells so wonderful,’ I thought out loud, as I dusted my shoes off and jammed them onto my sandy feet ‘have it, you must have it,’ one of the men insisted as he followed me up to the road, ‘and take one for your friend,’ he added. My ‘friend’ was looking back at me with a look of ‘please darling don’t eat all that mans lunch,’ but I was hooked. It was the most delicious chicken I’ve ever eaten.  

‘Where are you from?’ I asked between mouthfuls. ‘Iran,’ he replied ‘the most beautiful country in the world.’ I explained that I plan to go to Iran in the next couple of years and told him that if the chicken in Iran was as delicious as his, I’d be happy to go next week. He advised that I wouldn’t be disappointed, and with that, I said my goodbyes and did a brisk shuffle to catch up with my friend.

Sometimes when I sit in my loft in Paris and listen to the sirens in the distance with the sun pouring in my window well beyond 9pm, I think of that man in his new home away from home and feel completely inspired by his happiness, far away from his home in ‘the most beautiful country in the world.’  

Pictured: Notre Dame in beautiful sunlight moments after a pigeon had done a poo on my shoulder in the gardens behind the cathedral.

Whiplash.

Whiplash.

Four months ago, I left Paris with not even a tear in my eye.  I had a plan, and I was going to do my very best to make it work- a bit different to the first winter I spent here pretending to understand what Paris was all about.  That winter, I cried so hard in the taxi on the way to Charles de Gaulle that I think the man driving the taxi thought I’d just been given a life sentence.

Following this last Northern winter, I made a quick trip though India and flew into Melbourne in February with a bag full of new clothes, a memory bank of memories, a new blog and a really, really firm promise to myself that I’d get back here.  Whatever that may take.

My sisters wedding, a plethora of lunches and catch ups, a pitiful 2.5 month real estate campaign (thank god for a friend and saviour who fixed that one up within ten short days), a mountain of paperwork with every i dotted and t crossed by means of pleasing the French consulate (and getting a visa), a trip to Sydney for an interview with the aforementioned consulate, ongoing French classes, a short course on how to write a novel (watch this space), an empty apartment- packed up and now sold, three trips to my Grampians family, two trips to my Tasmanian family, multiple trips to my beachside based parents and every little visit to anyone who said ‘visit,’ later and, voila- I’m here in the little tiny loft that I call home in Paris.

I boarded the plane last Wednesday night and upon takeoff I read a letter from Mum and two other notes from very dear friends- I shed a tear, had a glass of wine and then proceeded to fall asleep with a handkerchief in my hand.  An hour later I woke up with such a stiff neck that I thought I was going to have to organise an emergency landing- how was I going to make it to Dubai, was I dying, what on earth was wrong with me?  I could only concur that I’d flung myself out of my seat fully strapped in and only my head had made it anywhere near the floor.  Dubai was hot and painful and my transfer far too quick.  A prank in a shuttle bus later (the very busy and important ground staff had sent me to a terminal half an hour away), I literally ran onto the plane with my arms outstretched – not because I was excited to be flying and was simulating what I believed to be ahead, but because I was so late and I thought my head was going to fall off my shoulders.  I had a chronic case of whiplash.

Paris was hot on my arrival.  I could feel the heat as I stepped off the plane and made my way towards customs.  My newly minted visa stuck firmly in my passport was earmarked with my boarding pass- it had been such a long time in the making and the cause of plenty of blood, sweat and tears- this guy was going to get the full inspection and whatever it took, those often handsome but always humourless men who guard this heavily guarded country, were going to see it and admire it just as I had almost every day since it turned up in my mail box only days before I left.  ‘Bonjour, j’ai un visa,’ I quipped as my turn arrived, which was met with an extra loud stamp and a mumbled ‘meh’ and I was through.

My taxi driver was African and funny, he sang ‘don’t worry be happy,’ almost the whole way to my home away from home in the 6th arrondissement.  I’m not sure what relevance his song actually had to me personally, but I can only assume that my upright poise and muted neck movement made me look like a stressed and desperate person in need of a holiday.  I had not a worry in my heart and felt happier than I possibly ever could as we darted through traffic and made the now familiar trip from the north of Paris, across the Boulevard Peripherique and into the beating heart of this jewel of cities, along the Seine around Notre Dame and into my street where we pulled up outside the heaving red door which always marks the spot.

Thankfully I’m not famous and there wasn’t a film crew documenting what happened next, because it was a sight for very sore eyes.  The apartment sits at the top of four very steep flights of medieval stairs (87 in total) and I had two suitcases and me to lump up those stairs with a (seemingly) broken neck and a very sore set of legs that needed a good stretch.  We made it, the suitcases and I, and by the end I was dripping with sweat and looking every little bit in touch with my Viking heritage.

I ran around the Luxembourg Gardens on my first morning (yes, I broke an almost year long cycle) and felt light and bright by the time I returned home at 8am.  My day was almost done by the time I met the very funny Marcel Crosby from Melbourne for an omelette and a cup of watery black coffee at 11am.

I have always been proud of my relatively strong pain threshold- it takes quite a bit to bowl me over, but by 4pm on Friday afternoon I felt as though I had been run over by a bus and was coming down with bubonic plague.  I could hardly move and my eyes were pinched together with jet lag- I felt completely defeated.  Traipsing the streets for a sign that even started with M for massage, I was delighted to find Madame Lou Lou with her shiny face and lips heavily painted in pink lipstick- luck was on my side.  Lou Lou told me that I needed a hard massage, before shouting at her colleague (hidden behind a curtain) in Cambodian and then coming back to me with ‘you can have the good luck massage,’ (which I might add was above the tantric massage on the menu- that one came with the promise of all four hands).  Too tired to even speak, I let Lou Lou throw me onto a mattress on the floor covered in a piece butchers paper.  For the next half an hour she pummelled me (causing my body to move so rapidly that I tore the butchers paper in half) hit me, and pulled the toes off my feet- I lay there praying that I’d leave feeling normal again.

I didn’t, and a trip to the kind faced pharmacist later (who always smiles when I ramble to him), I left with a packet of heat packs that he instructed I stick on the problem areas and try to get a good nights sleep.

Hours later I woke to hear a girl downstairs screaming at her boyfriend on the street- it was obviously the end for the two of them, and as I managed to hoist myself up with the support of an elbow I sat on the edge of my bed in my white cotton Indian pyjama suit- both shoulders now aching and my neck so stiff I couldn’t even turn to see if the damsel downstairs needed a crippled hand, and peeled the heat bags out of my hair (they were having a night out of their own).  Having my own moment of dispair I looked up to the moon and pleaded with him ‘when is this going to end.’

I met Sophia yesterday on the way home from a beautiful lunch at Cafe Marly in the Louvre courtyard.  I love going to Marly for its brash clientel, delicious lunches and ever so satisfying eavesdropping.  Sophia runs a beautiful day spa at the end of my street (how did I miss it the day before) and she was more than willing to help with my now chronic disposition.  The music in the spa was calming and would upstage even the gentlest of rainfalls –  I left feeling better than I had, and filled with a newly restored hope.  Sophia instructed that I have a hot shower before bed and that I visit again if I needed to. Last night, I diligently had a warm shower and as I adjusted the shower head it snapped clean off the hose and I spent the next 30 seconds chasing the hose around the bath as it raced away from me and threatened to walk down the street.

Thankfully, this morning I woke feeling almost normal again.  I could move with ease and I’d slept through the night sans heat packs in my hair and breakups on the street and, it was early.  Entering ‘douchette and hose,’ into google while praying there would be a hardware store open in Paris on Sunday morning, I was almost beside myself (lottery winning excited) when I found a little shop on Rue Cadet in Montmartre that stocked everything from novelty ice trays to ‘douchettes’.  Setting off in the morning sunlight after a shower with the rogue hose, I paced confidently to the Metro St Michel and emerged on Rue Cadet with hours to spare before they closed ‘strictly at 1.30 pm.’

French is still not a strong point- I can do simple things like order a meal, have a mildly basic conversation and understand when someone is shouting at me that I’m about to be hit by a bus.  But explaining that my douchette has come away from its hose isn’t something that I can remember learning in my almost three years of French classes.  The man running the hardware store was kind when I explained that I had limited French, and he made me feel better (?) by telling me that he could speak ‘absolutely no English.’  So there we stood, me with a supermarket bag containing my broken douchette and the runaway hose and him with a huge smile on his face ‘oui Madame, je l’ai’ (yes Madam, I have it).  From there, we started speaking, he explained that the washer that I’d carried in a piece of loo paper was the same washer on the end of the new hose, they are the same universally and all I had to do was choose the right shower head (douchette) and hose, go home and assemble the whole lot.  Voila, I’ll be home and hosed (pardon that pun)!  From there, I found myself buying plastic containers for my muesli, a storage box for my clothes, a new paring knife for the kitchen and god only knows what else.  I walked out of the aptly named ‘Cadet Service’ on Rue Cadet feeling really quite pleased with myself.

I’m going to dedicate this post to my most wonderful French tutor Céline who has spent hour upon hour, week after week, month after month being so patient with me – every single Thursday afternoon.  Each week, I would arrive for my tutorial (seperate from class) looking like a Labrador who’d just raided the pantry- eyes bulging, complete with a look of docile guilt.  I’d confess that I’d already forgotten what we’d done the week before and she’d diligently and patiently explain that I can do it-  I haven’t forgotten, we just need to go over it again.  Now that I’m back in Paris, I think of you Céline and I thank you so much for reassuring me that I can do it (and for insisting that I only speak French here).

I will and its moments like this morning when I realise that I really can do it, and I find it all thoroughly enjoyable.

 

 
Pictured: the view from my bedroom window where I wrote this post.