Tom.

Tom.

Wanderlust.  I’ve been living in a state of it for some days now and I suppose this might explain where I’ve been.

Traversing the streets, promenading the rues, soaking up the pastel hues that bathe the city in evening sunlight – all while staring at people newly tanned and back in Paris after months in the sun down in the south.  I’ve also watched a lifetime quota of romantic films at night time- stories filled with hope and love and tragic endings.  My eyes are  foggy at all times because the days are just so beautiful here that I want to bottle them, and the evenings so warm that I can walk the Seine until well after the evening meal- that I skip because I’m too busy being a hopeless, tragic, fuzzy flâneuse -just living in the moment and with a heart newly captured in my self titled blockbuster, aptly named ‘The City That Stole My Heart’.

Ok, so that’s out of my system.

Paris has been gifted mountains of sunshine after a the weather Gods delivered a wobbly start to August.  I now have three umbrellas in the umbrella section of chez moi after being caught in the rain (sadly not with a lover who also enjoys a pinocolada), and the last week has been postcard perfect with sun, and warmth and only a little bit of stickiness.

On Saturday, I ventured out in a rather odd choice of outfit that isn’t in keeping with my usual uniform of white/navy/pondscum green, opting for a bright green frock that I picked up in India earlier this year – a shade of green almost exactly the same as the City of Paris rubbish bins. Teamed with a pair of raffia lace up pumps, I headed out for an evening walk where I found the river littered with boats filled to the brim with eager selfie stick wielding humans desperate for ‘that shot’ (I know the feeling- sans selfie stick) and skaters flipped their boards on its banks while families raced by on bikes and scooters.  The plethora of pop up bars that have made their way to the edge of the Seine for the summer, were filled with young people enjoying a crisp beer and conversations in rapid Français.

In my lime green frock I swooshed across ponts, snapping every view while my heart did little backflips and airpunches- I was really feeling it and the light (which heavily influenced my mood), was indescribable.

In the supermarket later that night, a little girl marched up to me and asked ‘what on earth is sour cream?’ after being sent on an errand by her Aunt.  I happily dragged my marmalade/avocado/salad filled trolley and the child to the crème fraîche- telling her that Auntie would be grateful for this tub.  Sticking her tummy out in a way that I also did at ten (and still do at 38) she proudly announced ‘I’M making pudding tonight- all by myself’ before adding ‘and by the way, I REALLY love your dress’.

Today I was back in my uniform of white shirt, white trousers, raffia pumps and with the added bonus of newly washed hair.  Lunch was spent with a wonderful person who used to be my boss but has become a great friend, accompanied by her daughter, as they spend three precious months together in Europe.  We chatted and laughed and enjoyed pastries at the end of lunch, with the waiter saying to Judy ‘I prefer you,’ a statement to which her daughter and I responded in unison ‘we do too’.

I’d lugged my basket to the post office earlier in the day in anticipation of a parcel for which I’ve recieved two notices in the last 48 hours- it’ll be ready tomorrow the lady advised (where is my friend today, I thought).  Later in the afternoon I visited Dr Hiesse (who inoculated me for India earlier this year) and I left with a copy of my medical records after her secretary printed them off, in preparation for my visit to the visa office later this week.  Almost home, I took a seat on the statue de Danton, and responded to emails that had come in this morning from both the Red Cross and the Sorbonne.

As I sat on the edge of the statue I could hear an American delivering a spiel to a stranger, but I wasn’t really concentrating as I tried so hard to get my email to the Red Cross ‘just right,’ before I twitched and sent it to them littered with mistakes – square into the ether with that ‘whoosh’ unique to smartphones.  ‘Oh shit and bugger’ I said quietly, before having a quiet, reassuring conversation to myself in my head.  ‘Excuse me, do you speak English,’ the American asked as I recovered from my fumbles.  I advised that I do, very well in fact, before he added, ‘I thart you’re Pareee-Shen.’  ‘No, look I’m not, I’m actually Australian but for the time being I am living here,’ to which he added ‘oh, you’re a Fraustralian’.  Probably more ‘frustrated‘ I laughed.

Tom missed his flight to Japan last night and is now ‘roughing’ it on the streets of Paris until his new flight to Tokyo leaves on Friday- an expense that has ‘flattened him broke’ and, as with dark chocolate and all food, I added a pinch of sea salt to his story.  A film is in the pipeline, one that is imagined and drawn – not written, because writing gives too much away and if we were to give it all away, nothing would be original.  Tom, in a pair of quite enviable Nikes, explained that he was from New York and each night for the next five days, were to be spent sleeping at the airport with his freshly minted ticket in hand, and the days within the périphérique of the city, fundraising for the days that followed the nights, in this five day saga.

I quite enjoy meeting Toms, and I listened intently as he explained that Ghandi had it right with his shift to isolation, adding that money isn’t everything- as much as he needed money as he roughed it in Paris.  ‘Let me buy you a coffee,’ I said, and with that I was with a bearded, Nike wearing New Yorker sitting on the terrace of an ‘oh so typical and heavily populated Parisian cafe’ as he explained his need for complete silence (and a couple of euros), in a world that he has created sans technology, on the eve of a trip to Japan to pitch his film to Sony.

I explained my thoughts on ‘shared isolation’ where we can do everything in our power to live an ‘isolated’ existence, but in a world where we are so connected- particularly online, there is no escaping reality (especially in huge cities like Paris and New York), and I wouldn’t probably look that great in a toga anyway.  My coffee was strong, so I went on to add that I think that if we include people in our moments of isolation through sharing our experiences, we are more likely to be understood than if we were to disappear off the face of the earth, and with this realisation comes a kind of comfort craved in moments of loneliness and perhaps, misunderstanding.  Tom had told me that he felt all questions from his past were loaded and heavily objective, and that his energy was better spent rejecting people who he’d previously known and who he thinks, really don’t understand him.

I minded his bag as he used the loo at the cafe, and when he returned I handed him a fist full of metro tickets before telling him that if he missed enough flights to Tokyo and saved the money he was spending on return trips to the airport on the metro each day, spending it rather, on a hostel in Paris, he might find himself really enjoying his life ‘en seul’ where anonymity is key, but where the light, the colours and the smells are all overwhelmingly beautiful.

In fact, too good not to share.

And in closing, I think the little girl in the supermarket is going to go a long way in life by the way, or as Tom would say, BTW.

Pictured: the beautiful Seine taken in one of my many, warm fuzzy moments.

Encounters.

Encounters.

On Tuesday afternoon I took myself to lunch at Le Hibou, a local favourite and a place that always ends up successfully seducing me with its lure, as the well behaved side of my brain does everything in its power to convince me that a trip to the market for fresh salad to be made at home, would suffice.

Hibou, being the French word for owl, attracts a really interesting crowd and I’m never sure who will be on the next table.  During my visit to Hibou on Tuesday, I made a mental note that I had at least four hours until two very dear friends arrived from London for a highly anticipated visit, and after ordering my lunch I settled in for an hour or two in the sun which had finally returned after days spent under an overcast sky.

An hour or so into my date ‘en seul’ a man and a woman sat at the table beside me.  He was unmistakingly Australian and she, American.  They chatted about Paris and its romantic lure, before the conversation turned to Hemingway.  That often happens- people love coming to Paris to talk about Hemingway and I usually switch off, but for some reason, on this occasion I kept my ears on as he spoke about the many rich people who’d come to Paris in the past to ‘get their rocks off’ and the creatives who had found a life here for a fraction of the price of New York.  He’d lectured on Hemingway at the Sorbonne and as recently as that morning, he’d ordered an Orangina, only to be cheekily delivered a neat gin.  His French was definitely fluent and neatly spoken- a talent for which I aspire.  His female companion hung onto every word- was it an interview perhaps? 

Before too long, he started talking about Woody.  ‘Did you imagine Midnight in Paris would eventuate?’ she questioned.  With this, he took her through a verbal tour of where filming had taken place, waving his hand towards landmarks where scenes had been captured.  It didn’t take me too long to figure out that my lunch neighbours were Woody Allens biographer John Baxter and his companion, a French/American journalist.  I busied myself with looking busy but listened with careful intent as he provided insights into a life so odd, but not without complete genius and a talent for bringing some favourite, quirky and thought provoking films to the big screen.

Midnight in Paris is always funny as Gil (Owen Wilson) has midnight encounters with Hemingway, Gertrude Steine, Picasso, Man Ray and Dali among many others. It’s a film brimming with clichés beyond the cliché but it always manages to make me laugh as it is so true, and a complete reminder of the lure that this city has always maintained, with its left bent and seemingly blind eye towards rules (which are apparently made to be broken).  Paris is a place where people have come with a belief that they can do things they couldn’t do anywhere else –  as they take in hundreds of years of history while surrounded by an air of what can only be described as feeling that you are on the film set of a never ending movie.

Each day I am reminded that the clichés are just that.  This is also a city which normal people inhabit and where they go about a normal life- have children, feed their pets, go for morning jogs and do other ‘normal’  things like go to work.  This is my chosen centre for finding a new ‘normality’ and this week has seen tiny wins that have edged me just the tiniest bit away from feeling like a tourist in a big, strange and beautiful hub.  These ‘wins’ are seemingly insignificant in comparison to a life that was once fulfilled and realitively familiar, but somehow they feel more exciting than being promoted to CEO of a large conglomerate with the promise of millions of dollars (this has never happened to me, but I can imagine it might feel pretty good if it did).

I’ve been summonsed to appear at the Office of French Immigration and Integration next week, for two appointments which sound about as enjoyable as being bitten by a rabid dog, but they are an important piece of the never ending puzzle towards my determined aspirations for an ongoing social experiment, in a different city.  The second win came after I sent an email to the Croix Rouge (the Red Cross) and I waited patiently for a response, receiving an email on Wednesday inviting me to become a member and thanking me for offering to ‘work on their side’ as an unpaid volunteer.  And the third exciting win in as many days, was receiving my pre-registration certificate for the Sorbonne where I will complete a semester of French language and civilisation from September until December.  I have been relishing in bureaucracy this week as I delight in stamped, scanned paperwork being delivered to my inbox.

I’m just one in several millions of people before me who have been lured to a life of Parisian clichés.  Like a goldfish at feeding time I find myself in raptures as little specks are sent my way, while I swim in what feels like continued circles- plotting what is next as I try and shift my status from hopeless visitor with an uphill linguistic battle, to an individual existing with purpose and a sustainable way of living here.  This challenge is set not for immediate benefit, but for the many years that will follow this tiny dot on the horizon in the long screenplay of life.  

The encounter at Le Hibou was a welcome reminder that you never know who is on the next table, regardless of the year or the place in which you are living. The legacy of those before us is as powerful as the legacies we work towards creating, as we write our own history books.  After three lovely days with two gorgeous friends, the following is more apparent to me than ever – drink the champagne, buy the shoes and light the candle. We can plan for tomorrow, but today is the only time that is completly guaranteed – today is here to be enjoyed and if it is peppered with clichés, this will only serve as a reminder that whatever it is we are experiencing, it has usually been tried in the past.

Literature and film are a fine example of the role that we all play in our everyday towards inspiring others, regardless of where we may sit and regardless of what our situation may be.  No one is completely alone, just as no one is completely original. 

Morning.

Morning.

After a brief hiatus from the morning run (or to be fair, a shuffle around the gardens at an almost illegally slow pace), I took to the track again this morning.  When I perform this routine, I tiptoe down the 87 steps that make the four flights of stairs (not for the purpose of being quiet, but in fear that I’ll otherwise fall down them they are so steep) and then proceed out the huge, heavy front door.  Once on the street, busy with rubbish trucks operated by men shouting at each other as they smash bottles into the bowels of their great, huge, chugging machine, I usually spend the first 100 metres holding my breath in every effort not to end up amongst the thousands of crushed remnants of what were once bottles of Beaujolais.  I don’t require an alarm clock in Paris, as this noisy and drama filled collection process is an almost daily ritual as well as a full proof, lifetime guaranteed, money back with steak knives included, way of picking up French slang.  

Jardin du Luxembourg was bathed in the most magnificent sunlight this morning, with its avenues leading to little alcoves blanketed by trees, whose branches hung over chairs neatly arranged and ready for a new day.  Morning dew rested on cobwebs newly woven after being dutifully prepared overnight, and les pompiers (oh, the firemen!) performed their morning sprint drills.  Men in short shorts aside, there was a view from each and every angle worthy of a photo, but the morning run is for just that, running, so I reluctantly pushed on, agreeing that there is always later (after my well behaved side of the brain had a quiet word with the lazy side of my brain).  

Push on I did, along the western side of the gardens along its winding paths framing tennis courts and neatly kept, plump green lawns, before exiting at the northern gate beside the Musée du Luxembourg.  I tottered down the cobblestoned Rue Ferou- after many running accidents, I have a well justified fear of falling over and a not great track record with cobblestones, before making an entrance into the forecourt of the beautiful Place St Sulpice.  

The fountain in this magnificent square is best enjoyed under a flawless, blue sky, but also takes on a hauntingly beautiful guise in winter, where it’s statuesque lions seemingly challenge the grandeur of the church, propped up by grand columns and flanked by grey, winter light.  I always enjoy walks through the forecourt of this beautiful church, with its ability to take me by surprise every time I turn the corner, and regardless of the season.  This morning as I passed by, the fountain gushed heavily chlorinated water-  immediately flooding me with a nostalgia for childhood swimming lessons, and I waved quickly to the old man making morning espresso at the cafe on the edge of the square- keeping it brief and not wanting to take a very public spill as I took my eyes off the road.

As with many places in Paris, August has seen the marché St Germain closed for renovations, which has made trips to the ‘supermarché Carrefour’ (conveniently located only a block from home) more frequent.  This morning I finished my run on Rue de Seine, just meters from Carrefour and where I observed  ‘un homme francais’ leaning casually out the window of his apartment, handsome under hooded eyes and foppish hair.  Breakfast of a freshly lit cigarette hung from his lip and a coffee cup loosely from his pinky finger.  On my imagined film set, I have a ponytail and I wave at these types of men leaning out of their windows while I jog at pace and with confidence.  I wear bright coloured activeware and avoid every possible chance of anonymity, whereas in reality, I shuffle and wear an outfit better suited to backstage duties on the aforementioned film set, and pray for complete anonymity.  As I played these thoughts out in my mind, avoiding treading on the cracks that lined the pavement as I did, I almost tripped over ‘strange guy’.

Strange guy is quite strange, but he is also not very well.  He lives on Rue de Seine and torments everyone and anything in his path.  This morning I found him hugging a street cat as he woke up, blinking in his first light in the doorway of a restaurant (also closed for renovations in August).  Each day, strange guy yells at anyone who will listen, he asks unassuming diners for cigarettes before shouting ‘BAH’ in their faces when they say no, and he has a penchant for playing drums on empty rubbish bins.  He chases pigeons down the street and negotiates with the immaculately groomed maîtres d’ who keep order on Rue de Buci- the tiny cafe strip that runs off Rue de Seine.  I’ve seen him chase down the newspaper seller, who sings ‘Figaro, Figaro, Le Monde, Le Monde!’ before shouting ‘Hilary pregnant!’ in a clever ploy to shift a few more copies of the New York Times.  Strange guy can be a bit of a terror, but he is accepted on his strip by everyone who knows him, and who seem to have a way of keeping him relatively content in his seemingly tumultuous mindset.

Last night I watched the Zookeeper’s Wife and was reminded of the unique role that animals play in comforting humans in their hours of compete darkness.  I sobbed as a heartbroken and wrongfully displaced little girl hugged a rabbit for days, as she lived in hiding in the Warsaw Zoo after escaping the tortures of war.  This morning, as the street cat made no attempt to wriggle free from the arms of its companion, was no different, and a heartening reminder of this.

Pictured: the daily walk home along Quai des Grands Augustins. 

Osmosis.

Osmosis.

My word of the week.

I began writing this post last night in my dimly lit loft and to the sounds of French radio which I’ve started listening to as a rule at any given opportunity, in the belief that by being surrounded by conversation, I’ll pick up more of this language by osmosis.

By 10pm, I was so exhausted from translating sentences in my head as the announcers moved (at pace) to the next topic and my eyes rolled so far into the back of my head that I had to put the iPad away before saying goodnight to the cat who stares at me from a distance from his window in a neighbouring apartment, and call it a day.

Yesterday I went to the cinema to see the much anticipated film, Dunkerque.  As I sobbed through spitfires, gunfire, haunting music and Harry Styles, I gave myself a mental pat on the back for stopping at Eric Keyser Boulanger for a croissant earlier that morning. His napkin came in handy as I clenched my movie ticket with one hand and wiped my eyes onto the pastry ridden tissue, with the other.  I felt a bit bad for the very thin woman beside me who clearly hadn’t stopped for pain au chocolat and a free napkin, as she sobbed into her hands and wiped her nose onto her sleeve.  The rest of the cinema was filled with French people who sat upright and staunch, leaning back and muttering ‘merde’ from time to time as they gripped the arms of their chairs in a fashion usually reserved for trips to the dentist.

Two hours later, I emerged into daylight, blinking, overwhelmed and full of contemplation before going for a much needed café in a café (this always makes me laugh as I imagine drinking a building within a building- it’s the small things).  One thing that doesn’t make me laugh is nazism and fascism, and as I sipped my coffee and watched people hurrying by, dodging circus performers cartwheeling down the street as they did (not as unuasual as it may sound), I contemplated the news that has flooded my screen in recent weeks.  I wondered how on earth, over 70 years after the plot for this film was played out in partial reality, we still have people in positions of power-  namely the supposed head of the free world, along with a lunatic from northern Australia- who are still supported as they take passages from Hitlers book of Nazi ideals.

I spend much of my life alone and in my own thoughts, and as much as I don’t want the content of my writing on this site to be politically motivated, nor do I want to give airtime to negative people and topics, it becomes increasingly difficult not to, particularly when I have a lot of time to weigh up the past and where we are today.  I can’t help feeling plain disbelief that fractions of the human race still support people who seemingly seek to be devisive, rather than inclusive.

Which takes me back to the process of gradual or unconscious assimilation of ideas and knowledge- osmosis, and I can only concur that much of what I’ve just spoken about comes from the powerful tool that is media in its many forms.  I take an interest in written media and probably read more than is healthy for a mind that is only capable of processing one thing at a time.  I am particularly challenged when it comes to concentrating, and often have to tell myself (outloud), ‘one thing at a time Pin.’  I read a lot of vitriol cleverly disguised as ‘fact,’ as well as plenty of positive pieces – often peppered with a sort of wanderlust or romantic ideals but, when picked apart and not taken entirely literally, the positive pieces (not so much the vitriol) are helpful in building an increased perspective, which I hope is getting healthier as I get older.

Five years ago, I left a relationship and I haven’t entered another since.  Not because I don’t want to- I love company and being a grown up playing house, but simply because another hasn’t eventuated.  Throughout the past five years I’ve been promised the world under wild headlines (I’m talking social media here- not the Guardian), ‘Girls- you can have it all,’ and ‘Susie X has her first baby at 700,’ and ‘My perfect life; how I managed to buy a house, have nine children, a husband who loves me and I’m only 24 – I’ve got it all.’  These types of articles, much as they are inflated to sell papers and advertising space, can be perplexing when you are in a section of society that has been labeled ‘single,’ and the only other people in that ‘section’ are also single and (often) female, heading towards forty and working too much.  There are also men in this ‘section,’ but they are quite often married and pretending to be single.  Then there are the headlines that read ‘My single life- the opportunities it brought me,’ written by females who are now married or in a relationship- they are pictured holding two healthy and alarmingly clean children, and they write triumphantly about the importance of ‘being single and loving it, you are not in a waiting room, you are your own boss.’  Yes! My own boss! 

If I were to believe everything I read on these types of forums (or any media forum really), I could by now be an anxious wreck riddled with all sorts of anxieties and fears.  Rather than take all of this too seriously, I have turned my attention towards the opportunities that come with being an independent person with half an operational brain in my head  (the other half is still trying to translate what the guy said an hour ago on the radio).  Yes, I feel anxious from time to time, but I’ve chosen to land myself in a fresh landscape to challenge these anxieties.  In this landscape, I wear culottes and big shirts, and my lip trembles when I open my mouth to speak, because I haven’t got the freedoms exlcusive to youth on my side required to speak a new language, and my day revolves around completing tasks that can often take hours longer than they should, as I stubbornly refuse to give in- I will jog in french, laugh in french, go to the post office in french and buy a cabbage in french.  

I’ve started reading French newspapers (one of my sisters laughed at the seemingly simple nature of this sentence yesterday), where I do a page a day- conjugating every verb in each article and translating words that seem poetic and descriptive.  Interestingly enough, the news in another language seems to make about as much sense to me at the moment, as some of the news written in my native tongue.

Osmosis is a funny old thing as it grips our minds without us even knowing, which inevitably leads to related behaviours and reactions to situations.  Repeated patterns of mining knowledge and gaining ‘facts’ can form both great and dangerous factions in any society.  If what we are delivered is vitriolic, fear mongering and negative- naturally we will see lunatics rise to power, just as if we believe all we read on ‘lifestyle forums’ to be true, we will see increased levels of disappointment.

I find written media powerful, exciting, strange, biased and challenging, and I relish in all sides of it as I aim for a better perspective and understanding of a diverse cross section of views. In my opinion, and with osmosis playing its sneaky little part, this approach has to work as we aim for a less devisive and more inclusive world.

Pictured: my favourite part of the day, morning coffee in my window.

 

Being true.

Being true.

Much of mastering a language is pronunciation.  I know this, because I am often met with ‘quoi,’ when I speak in what I believe is ‘my best French’.  Quoi, being a form of ‘what’ or ‘why’ is often a really hard word to swallow when I’m already sweating and feeling vulnerable in my delivery.  But I’m slowly learning that I needn’t be so bothered by this apparent rudeness, it is sort of like saying ‘huh’ in English, but as a little girl I was always taught to never say ‘what’ for any reason WHAT so ever.

Most days I get a ‘quoi’ with my coffee (or my basket, or bucket, or phone, or paperwork or anything for that matter) and it usually married with a wince of the face or a raised brow, followed by a barrage of words- 30% of which I can claim to almost understand.  Most days I sweat, curse myself and then skip a bit when I have a mini triumph.

Reading French is so much easier than speaking French, as is writing.  With both, I can take all the time in the world to re-read, re-type and slowly balance out what I am trying to understand or say (through an email perhaps, or when reading the daily news).  My newest addiction, is watching French films where I add French subtitles – this way, I can watch while I read and really understand how different the words sound when spoken, as opposed to the way in which we read them.  It’s great for my dialogue as well – much of what I have learnt in French school is ‘regimented’ French and a dead giveaway to anyone with the power to hand me an English menu or a will to wish me ‘a good day.’  I don’t want ‘have a good day,’ I want a ‘bonne journée’ or ‘bonne soirée’ – I know beggars can’t be choosers, but I’m working towards choice over begging.  

Last week I wrote an email as a follow up to a quick catch up I’d had as part of my enrolment at the Foundation Robert de Sorbon where I will study from September – December.  Feeling well versed and triumphant, I wrote that I was sorry about the fact that I had spoken French like a child and the response to my email came with smiley emojis and a reminder that I needn’t worry, and was not without a gentle reminder that what I had actually written was, ‘I’m sorry, but I speak to underaged children.’  Much as I absolutely love kids, this was not the message I was trying to get across and certainly not with creepy undertones.

Speaking of children, I spent the better part of all of this morning in the post office sending letters to my beloved little nephews and godchildren, in a completely self interested bid that they won’t forget me.  I love the guy at my local post office, mainly because he makes no effort what so ever to speak to me in English, but he also has a killer goatee and he also struts a lot.  I nod and say ‘oui’ to all of his questions as I stare at him as I listen intently.  Today, what I thought he said was ‘are these all going to Australia,’ to which I replied ‘yes,’ but what he had said was ‘have you filled in all the required forms for these parcels going to Australia.’  I hadn’t, because his ‘coll-egg’ (I love the way French people say colleague) had told me I only had to fill out a form for two of the four parcels.  We continued in a further (confused) exchange and I know that he was probably thinking ‘not you again,’ but I hope that he knows how much I appreciate his training, and I also hope that nothing ever changes in my post office interludes.  We’ve been dealing with each other on and off for almost three years now, and I enjoy his company and the way he struts around with a great deal of self importance.  And, so he should.

My basket was full when I left home this morning, and as I write, it’s almost empty after a day spent completing jobs that are now ticked off my list.  Today I’ve taken different routes to each destination and tonight, I am quietly rejoicing in the fact that when I sit a cafe table for lunches, or dinners, I’m now (three out of five times) delivered a French menu and brought a carafe of tap water. I almost perished when I first started this adventure, as I waited, and waited and waited for water to arrive, only to realise that as a tourist I was always going to be given one option- a bottle of Evian charged at a rate higher than your average mortgage.  I don’t really actually even really like bottled water, preferring the recycled water from the tap, and in a state of resistance in this water war, I’d sit and gaze at French people being delivered ‘carafe d’eau,’ in complete wonderment- how was I going to ever graduate into that league?  I feel closer this week, and much as I still get raised brows and the odd ‘quoi,’ the old adage that ‘practise makes perfect’ is certainly beginning to pay off as carafe d’eau and le menu en francais, are beginning to more often than not, make their way to my table.

I recently met a fellow Australian who swears by speech therapy as a means of ‘100% becoming French- lets face it, who wants to be anything else,’ before adding that it is guaranteed to help to overcome linguistic hurdles, and in particular, to change the way that the mouth delivers often unpronounceable French words by an English trained ear.  She should know, she’s lived in Paris for almost ten years.  As we chatted, I began to pick up an accent that felt homemade and she seemed void of any knowledge of anything – she told me she’s not interested in knowing things, she just wants to look good.  I find this type of reinvention hard to grapple with, and I couldn’t help giggling inside when Monsieur who served her drink didn’t just wince, but look like he’d been stabbed, when she shouted over the music at him in French delivered in ‘that’ acccent.  Yes, I sound silly when I speak French and yes, this makes me feel really Australian with ‘hard to deny’ viking heritage, but I also think French people sound funny when they speak English, and there (in my opinion) lies the beauty of learning and speaking a language. 

My trips to the post office, to Monoprix, to the university, the multiple cafes, the laundromat and, (heaven forbid I’m stressing already) the bank in weeks to come, all help enormously as I try to better understand and speak this language, all while maintaining a true sense of who I am.  This is my purpose for being here- not to reinvent myself or to deny where I’m from, but to have a better understanding of who I have become.  I know in my heart, regardless of where I am in the world, that it is everyday people going about their everyday ‘things,’ who will aid in this.

Fingers crossed, the guy in the post office feels the same way.

Pictured: after my morning slog at the post office, I took great joy from putting my basket down before taking a seat by this beautiful blue door.

Grey skies blue.

Grey skies blue.

There are many things I've experienced lately that have left me newly inspired, with the David Hockney retrospective at Centre Pompidou being one of them.  In his 80th year, the Tate have organised for the collection to go on a world tour.  Saturday morning saw a short walk across the Pont Neuf and up Rue Beaubourg towards the giant 70s structure that reminds me of a wet and wild theme park experiencing a Mondrianesque identity crisis.  Sorry architectural sorts of people, but this is just my opinion.  Once inside, the huge and garish pipes painted (in now faded) blue and red on the outside of Centre Pompidou, are softened by twinkling neon lights leading towards the multiple salles, all of which house temporary collections.  In order to reach the various galleries, one must take an escalator up a thousand stories, only to be met at the top by some of the most breathtaking views of Paris.  Cleverly, (now I'll swallow my words about the design of this building) floor to ceiling windows frame vistas of the city that truly are as magical as the works on display.  I will never tire of these views and they become more exciting with every visit.  The Hockney retrospective is more than worth a visit, and his almost childlike, hand painted and very simple message of 'love life,' neatly scribed onto the panel leading towards the exit, was a welcome gift upon departing his thoroughly thought provoking exhibition.

Last week Harriet came to visit from London for two days and stayed for five.  I first met Harriet in Australia when she was on a university exchange from Newcastle in the UK and she is one of those people who just 'fits in,' so I took advantage of her (seemingly) enthusiastic approach to my stomping around the streets of Paris going about my every day business- completing fascinating tasks like collecting a long lost parcel from DHL and convincing the woman at the front desk of the visa office that I was definitely 'a keeper.' We shopped for all of those 'much needed' items like jackets for the impending spring weather and umbrellas for the antisocial bursts of rain that last week saw under a very grey sky.  Trips to the fruit and vegetable stall around the corner from home, turned into glasses of wine over impromptu dinners on la terrasse while enjoying thrilling bouts of people watching.  Throughout the week, we walked and walked and walked and talked and talked and talked, enjoying a lunch of sumptuous felafel at L'As Felafel in Le Marais; a traditional and typically French dinner at Chez Fernand downstairs from my apartment, and as a finale, a Ritz Spritz at Le Ritz in Place Vendôme on Saturday night.

As with most things in life, the more I get to know this city, the more I love it (headfirst and giddy all the way) and fewer are the moments where prickling feet and sweaty palms take over- turning me into my nine year old self in too tight shoes (N.B- these moments are usually experienced in places like the supermarket or the laundromat when kind old ladies ask me questions that I know I cannot answer).  I get a great deal of satisfaction out of having visitors here- not just for their company and ability to make me laugh, but also it is enormously fun to share my new found home as the city and I get to know each other a little bit better each day.  

Walks through Place des Vosges never lose their appeal and running is less of a chore when done around the beautiful Luxembourg Gardens, whose avenues of trees frame the magnificent Palace – a building so beautiful and best viewed from the southern most tip of the gardens, where I'm usually stopped up against a tree just 'taking in the view.'  The ceiling in Galleries Lafayette has been as striking as it is bold for the many years since it was built, but every time I look up and take it in (again), it seems even more beautiful than the time before.  Walking home in the afternoon sunlight along the Seine, amongst pigeons massacring breadcrumbs as joggers edge out of their way, has become a summer favourite and the old, eccentric Parisians will never cease to amaze me. 

In my hours of people watching, I rejoice in the sight of the (seemingly) masses of ancient Parisians who still inhabit this city, and I feel sad for the inevitable moment to come, where they will no longer fill the seats on la terrasse of the many cafés that line the streets- Le Monde in one hand and un petit cafe in the other. There is usually a dog sprawled at their feet and I have to put my hands behind my back in every effort not to enter into an attack of patting, because more often than not, they are sweet little Cavalier King Charles Spaniels- a breed that sees me overcome with a mad dog lady types of behaviours. 

On Saturday as we meandered to lunch after Hockney, we were treated to one of the more spectacular episodes of people watching when an old man dressed in a suit to rival even the best Joseph, rode his remodeled tricycle through the streets of Le Marais.  His grey beard blew gently in the breeze as he moved at a pace reserved for a Clydesdale horse, all his bells, whistles and chains tinkling to the beat of the pace at which his ancient legs drove his masterpiece.  He hardly flinched, but I know that deep inside he was enjoying every moment of his audience, who gathered (at pace) in the gutter eagerly edging alongside his chariot.  He whistled a fine little tune and continued on his merry way.

Today I sweated in the Bouygues Telecom store, scratching my head and hitching my skirt up around my waist while taking in all the different types of mobile phones available with a pre-paid deal.  In a world of wifi and WhatsApp, I hardly need a telephone, but without a French number I may as well not exist and good luck to me getting any sort of parcel delivered, or bank account opened without one.  As Ravi (whose badge read: Chef de Rayon) wrapped up a deal with the woman before me in the queue, I ran dialogue through my head and began to feel 9 years old in too tight shoes.  Ravi really had earned every inch of his excellent title, and he took me way off course with my prepaid spiel, suggesting that the phone that I had my eye on was for 'seniors only' (quoi?) and I mustn't even consider it.  I'd be better suited to 'this one,' which he sold to me in hushed tones, as if I was the most embarrassing person he'd ever dealt with (the phone was worth a grand total of €20).  In an act of further kindness, he set up my new pre 1990s telephone with a SIM card and pin code before literally ushering me out of the shop, where a queue had begun to stretch out the door and onto the street.  

Seeing a collection of Hockney's works for the second time this year, watching an old woman FaceTime in sign language at lunch today, finding the old man and his chariot, all of the eccentric and ancient Parisians complete with old women slumped over coffee with loyal dogs at their feet, the pouty pedestrians, and of course my new telephone which now joins the laundry bucket as a 'long haul item,' – all come with a happiness that could turn even the greyest of skies blue.

Pictured:  my street as I made my way home tonight, empty and silent on the eve of a public holiday. 

Fiddlesticks.

Fiddlesticks.

Fiddlesticks- a term used when its ruder cousin rhyming with duck is deemed too rude, and it is a term I use fairly regularly through gritted teeth while doing lunges around the apartment as I try and sort out things by telephone, like international telephone contracts and parcels apparently so undeliverable that DHL send them back to Australia with no warning.

This really did happen, and perhaps I might have muttered more than fiddlesticks when I first learned off this annoyance, but today, a miracle occurred.  I took myself to an address in the 3rd arrondissement and picked up the final parcel of two sent from Australia, almost as many months ago.  I'm now home now after lugging a box containing my winter wardrobe across two arrondissements, and I type this triumphantly to the beat of Frida from ABBA who sings some of her most upbeat classics in French. I'm wearing a pair of sparkly socks because it's actually a sock kind of day and I've got a new habit which doesn't require gritted teeth and lunges –  it is shezaming music in shops.  Yesterday, I found Frida blasting in a store way too cool for me and my other pair of sparkly socks (I have ten pairs, speaking of habits).  Once successfully shezamed, my phone decided to not only play the album (very loudly) that it had kindly downloaded for me, but it also wouldn't let me turn it off, as Frida had disappeared somewhere deep into the phone that is called a smart phone for good reason.  With hair flopping across my face as I tried to look cool while madly trying to turn the phone down, my eyes darted around the store in a guilty sort of docile manner reserved for those moments when busted on Facebook at work.

Anyway, I'm my own boss for now, but the awkward moments are still in abundance.  

Each day I arrive home with my basket flung over my shoulder, its leather straps just long enough to make my new life as a pack horse comfortable enough.  I head triumphantly to my mailbox and unlock it, licking my lips with excitement at the thought of mail falling at my feet.  Each day, another card with a little magnet on the back (perfect for the fridge and listing all the numbers needed in an emergency), falls out of the postbox and there is a continued absence of exciting things like letters from the Office of French Immigration and Integration (OFII).  

This morning, as I enjoyed my coffee in the window admiring a blue sky showing promise of no rain (it has rained all week in Paris), I decided to phone the Bureau again as it has been more than six weeks since I completed and posted the final documentation required for my visa.  I've spent upwards of twenty minutes a day on hold to the office all week with no sign of an answer, and with today being no different.  Reaching for my file I blurted a big 'fiddlesticks,' sending my English house guest Harriet almost across the room.  'OH FOR CRYING OUT LOUD,' I half laughed half shouted, 'I've sent my original STAMPED paperwork from the French Consulate in Sydney to an address in BLOODY CERGY PONTOISE.'  Harriet, very politely, asked what that even meant and I advised that I had no idea, but it certainly wasn't the 75012 address quite clearly listed for 'résidents de Paris.'  

Thankfully, I had made a copy of this lottery ticket and it was stapled into my file with the importance of a $1,000,000,000 cheque, along with copies of everything else required to prove that I am legally here, alive and legitimately breathing the precious air that that fills the Parisian atmosphere.  Had I not done this, I would have been in all sorts of deep fromage et jambon, as I highly doubt the file sent to Cergy Pontoise (Google maps tells me this place is 50 minutes by car from Paris), will ever see the light of day ever again.  'We have to get to the Paris OFII by midday,' I said breathily, squeezing past Harriet's air bed and into the kitchen.  With that, we set off on foot to Rue de la Roquette (with rockets in our socks), past Bastille, and deep into the 12th arrondissement.  

We were met at the door of the OFII by a very bossy man who stood no taller than 5 feet and whose jacket had a little iron on patch neatly ironed onto his left shoulder reading 'sécurité.'  It was 11.15 which meant I had at least 45 minutes before the office closed for 'déjeuner,' and I was going to get past this man, even if I had to move heaven and earth.  Explaining that I had 'an issue' with my visa, he turned to his colleague who proceeded to wand me from head to toe before rifling through my handbag.  'Oui,' he nodded and sent me to a spectacled lady who played gate keeper at the front desk.  I mumbled that I am a bit of a twit and that I sent my original paperwork to another office, pointing at the mail receipt from the post office-  clearly stamped with 26/6 as proof that it did happen.  I was really hoping that I hadn't called her a twit, but was reassured when she smiled, told me to make copies of my passport and visa and get back to her 'tout de suite.'

I raced out the door telling the security guard that I'd see him soon, in a way, I'm pretty sure, that you would tell someone you'll 'see them soon' for lunch next week perhaps,  or at Christmas time, but I said it with complete conviction, before power walking up and down the street madly searching for the copy shop.  Returning to the guard ten minutes later and with fiddlesticks coming out of my ears and beads of sweat forming on my upper lip, I asked him very politely where exactly the copy shop was.  He pointed down the street and told me it was on the left.  'On the left, on the left, on the left,' I chanted in my head 'à gauche, à gauche, à gauche.'  There was nothing even remotely like a photocopier anywhere in sight and just as I was about to give up, throw my passport down a grill leading deep beneath Paris and onto the metro tracks, when I saw a tiny little note stuck on the door of the Tabac, just across the road from the OFII, 'photocopie ici,' it read (photocopy here).

The woman who made copies of my passport, visa and any other documents I thought necessary to support this process that has consumed (seemingly) most of my life, looked at me in a state of perplexion as I managed to dig up more and more documents out of a file that was performing the same magic as Mary Poppins' bag.  A nice man in hi-viz handed me my passport after I managed to drop it on the floor, and I raced back across the road with just ten minutes to spare.

The guard opened the door with a smile, and the woman at the desk took the copies of just my passport, visa and the golden ticket before telling me they'll be in touch soon for my long awaited appointment.  I thanked her profusely, apologising for being so silly and sending the original to Cergy Pontoise, and she laughed, adding that it is certainly not a problem.  With that, I turned on my heel and managed to tip the contents of my handbag across the foyer.

Harriet met me outside and we both agreed that it was definitely time for a coffee- she had definitely managed to maintain humour in the moment and I'm grateful for having had a sidekick.  After months of preparation for getting this tiny little sticker in my passport, I will now feel a greater sense of purpose as I make the daily pilgrimage to the mailbox on my way home, eagerly awaiting a letter from the OFII.  

One thing I have learnt this week, is that life is so much easier if I don't cheat and if I actually commit to solving problems in French.  On Monday, when I phoned DHL for the thousandth time and muttered fiddlesticks under my breath when they put me on hold for the twentythousanth time, the woman on the other line replied 'non' when I asked if she spoke English, reminding me, quite politely and in French, that I will just have to speak in French.  

This is as true as Fridas love for Fernando, which she declares (in French) as I finish typing.  

Pictured: Place des Vosges for lunch today.