Simplicity.

Simplicity.

‘Keep it simple, when you get too complex you forget the obvious’.

I saw this written somewhere the other day and have promptly forgotten to remember where. I like it, and, as somebody who says, does, and thinks-flippantly, deeply and passionately (sometimes, and in this respective order), I am often left with pangs of guilt when I realise that maybe I’ve offended someone, or said the wrong thing or written something that I’ll regret, or, heaven forbid, made the most ridiculous decision.
By nature, I sit on the extreme end of the sensitive scale and with big feet, I find myself more often than not landing them ‘in it’.

The end.

No, of course there is purpose to opening this piece with a little exposé of my far too obvious foibles.

During my hours of study and moments of procrastination, I am constantly drawn to online news and opinion pieces- much of it depressing, bad, annoying, thought provoking, over opinionated, unrealistic, idealistic and just plain ludicrous, but one thing that is becoming more apparent, as swiftly as the days inevitably go by, is that everyone seems to have something to say and opinions are available to be formed and then made public, with the swipe of a screen and click of a link.

General chit chat, polite interactions and even so much as a ‘hello’ have been replaced with urgent bursts of ‘THIS IS MY OPINION, I HAVE TO GET IT OUT BEFORE I EXPLODE,’ and this type of online behaviour has begun to leave me feeling a bit sick- in my humble opinion, it is not only totally unhelpful when considering the original point or issue (usually born out of an unwillingness to even try to see eye to eye), I feel that it is slowly turning us all against each other. I’m all for sharing ideas and having open discussions, and I’m more than willing to accept that my opinions are delivered to this earth from my mind, to be challenged – but rudeness and throwing weight around online makes me feel slightly empty, and a bit concerned about where we are all headed.

Gone are the days where we clinked a glass and had robust conversations, replaced (all too frequently) by online commentary that is often futile because it is not only missing eye contact that is important when airing your grievances, but also the all important ‘hands waving in the air’ and all the other nuanced behaviours that come with any sort of confrontation.

Of course I’ve shared my fair share of opinions and articles online and I’ve responded to posts with ideas and (often impassioned) thoughts – this is the world we live in and there is no turning back. Also, I wouldn’t be able to share these stories on this blog if it weren’t for the internet, but with access to so much information at the click of a button, I can’t help thinking that we are running the risk of over complicating things and forgetting the obvious, or at least the initial point.

No amount of words and ‘cyber fists’ waved around will ever replace a simple, polite ‘hi, I have a bone to pick, can we have a chat over a glass of wine’.

I’m guilty of not being able to keep my thoughts and life choices simple- with my mind being the only part of my body that even remotely seems to enjoy exercise, but in my (maximum) 20 square meters in which I now live, I’m working on it at the very least.

One morning last week I was humming around the apartment listening to the radio, having chosen the BBC World Service as respite from my daily routine of French radio had with my coffee and vegemite on toast. Enjoying my fifteen minute sabbatical from la langue français, I was surprised to hear a knock at the door. CIA? Les Pompiers? EMERGENCY!?

Nope, instead, it was (at least 80 year old) Nadine from upstairs, wondering if I had seen a mouse in the apartment.
With the word ‘souris’ (mouse) sounding very similar to smile, sourire, I spent the first few moments just listening to her, nodding and smiling like a lunatic wondering why she would even think that there was a smile on the loose in my apartment (admittedly, I had been enjoying the switch from French to English news in that very moment).

I enjoy bumping into Nadine- she’s very old fashioned and although I suspect she probably has a fairly heavy right political bent, it is always a pleasure to see her. She has lived in this building since the 1960’s and as far as I can gather, I think her husband may have been the concierge. In his absence (sadly, he died), she spends her days seemingly walking up and down the stairs before playing marbles on the floor in her kitchen (that, or she drops a lot of things).

Our (approximately) twice weekly meetings on the stairs or in the doorway are relatively short lived, and I think she might believe I have something missing from my grey matter. But, she is one of the kindest people I’ve met and the fact that I can’t engage too heavily in anything other than small talk with her, keeps everything all very nice.

Nadine doesn’t have a computer, let alone facebook or any online source of information, so her responses during our conversations are kind and considered and she always uses ‘vous’ as a formality, as much as I have told her that she is more than welcome to refer to me as ‘tu’. She has four radios in her apartment and three pots full of hairbrushes; she is worried about the economy and the ageing population in her country, who she feels, are becoming overlooked and left to die, in place of ‘other things’.

I’m sure if I showed her the way we read the news and operate online in the year 2017, she’d be seriously mortified. Nadine never ‘launches’ into conversations, rather, she greets me with a polite ‘bonjour’ and seemingly a years worth of ‘comment allez vous’ and I’d be very surprised if I ever saw her without her hair brushed and perfectly coiffed into a neat, chin length bob.

After ‘mouse chat,’ I farewelled Nadine, reassuring her again that there weren’t any smiles running around on my floor, before telling her that seeing her ‘puts a mouse on my face’ – she smiled and told me to keep an eye out for little black ‘points’ hidden in corners. Calling out behind her as she made her way up the stairs, I asked if she would come for a visit next week ‘I would like to speak with you more Nadine, come for tea’. She accepted graciously before shutting the door behind her.

If we were both fluent in the same language and had a true understanding of what was actually being said, perhaps our relationship would be different. But I like the grey area and the limitations because with this comes no judgement, misunderstandings or hurt, and our relationship, simply put, is very simple.
As a retired school teacher, she is also a diligent French tutor in my endless battle to speak her language.

In a completely joyous coincidence, when I returned to my vegemite on toast, the first piece of writing that I found saved in a file titled ‘to read,’ as I started up my laptop, was written by a man who was born in Paris and is now deep into his 80’s. Like Nadine, he has lived in this city for his entire life and still feels a sense of excitement when he makes his morning walk to the boulangerie – explaining that he is never quite sure of what may unfold. In his words, he referred to daily life in Paris as ‘a little bit of theatre’.

I smiled for the entire duration of his article. It was a happy and positive recollection of a life modestly lived and, one which his age would suggest, has no doubt seen plenty of long, cold winters and more than its fair share of conflict, hard times and economic downturns. He was born into an era of war and has watched Paris maintain her beauty as decades have passed and the city has evolved, all while retaining her magic. I imagined him at his local cafe, poring over Le Monde each morning as so many old people still do, and was grateful to have stumbled across his appreciation for life and all of it’s simplicity’s. His ability to wake up and see the world for what it is, under his nose, though his eyes, was refreshing, to say the least.

Later in the week on a routine trip to the supermarket, I made the decision not to carry a basket (I was, afterall, only there for a jar of honey and a bottle of milk).  I was a sight after discovering ground coffee on special, two pairs of tights in my size (‘size huge’- the measurements on the back of tights in France are beyond brutal), seriously black Lindt chocolate with a hint of sea salt (not helping with ‘tights-gate’), the required bottle of milk and jar of honey, plus, two pumps of hand wash for the price of one. As I rounded the corner to the checkout, one of the two pairs of giant tights slid off my pile which I had carefully balanced around the shop and down the aisles like a circus performer. A very polite Frenchman told me it was ‘pas grave’ (as far as problems go, ‘not serious,’ I love this phrase) when I thanked him for picking them up from underneath a shelf laden with honey.

Making a clown like approach to the checkout, one of the two bottles of peach and apricot hand wash slid cunningly under the refrigerator, and a Japanese girl bowed when I thanked her profusely for retrieving it, not daring to bend over.

A security guard watching over what was left in the butter section of the dairy fridge (the global shortage on le beurre is being taken very seriously in France) smiled, as he witnessed this performance.

It was dark and the street was bustling as I emerged from ‘Carrefour’ with a shopping bag heaving with ginormous tights, a packet of chocolate, 2 pumps of hand wash, a jar of honey and the rest.
There was music, chatter, laughter and bike bells in abundance, creating an air of complete togetherness as my beautiful little neighbourhood settled in for another evening under twinkling fairy lights wrapped around la terrasse of each café.

The light atop the Eiffel tower slid from side to side across a huge, clear, darkened sky – it was a beautiful moment.

This peaceful ambiance was broken by a group of Hari Krishna’s emerging from seemingly nowhere and they danced down the street chanting ‘Hari, Hari, Hari Krishna’ led by a man in a denim jacket who looked like none other than Christ Jesus himself.
As denim clad Jesus led his bell ringing tribe around the corner and into the distance, I continued on my way-  nodding at the man who runs the fruit stall as he closed its doors for the night.
I smiled as he brought his roller door down, freshly tagged in the unmistakable bold script unique to graffiti artists.

A menace français had chosen the fruit stall roller door to make the totally inoffensive statement of CRÊPES in a huge swirling tag of beautiful tones of violet, lime green and yellow.

As far as making a statement goes, this is by far the best I’ve seen in a long time.

It’s the simple things.

Pictured: early morning as I crossed the square at St Sulpice on the way to La Sorbonne during the week.

 

 

Late!

Late!

‘I don’t like people who are late’. (Anna Wintour).

Well, Anna and I would have had a real struggle today. After a week of being highly organised and feeling (almost) on top of everything, I’ve let Sunday down – and I’ll blame it (in part), on the Russians.

Never in my life have I been told I need to ‘hurry up’ when it comes to anything even remotely related to a glass of wine. For anyone who knows me, I’m sure you’d agree that I’m very good at keeping up when it comes to having a little sip.

Last night, over a beautiful dinner in a snug little apartment in the 16th arrondissement, I was talking so much (no surprises there) that I found myself being (laughingly) reminded by the husband of my host, that I needed to lift my game when it came to finishing my glass. In the company of my wonderful Russian hosts and an equally wonderful Japanese couple (my fellow guests), we laughed as I drank up, promising  them I’d never forget this ‘life first’.

All this hilarity and good cheer married with fascinating conversation covering a thousand different topics teamed with the inevitable eye rolls at the French numerical system, has resulted in me spending most of today walking aimlessly around the apartment poking things – while trying to remember what it was I thought I might do next. I’ve achieved very little, but I do have a tidy home ready for the week ahead and, it has to be said, I’m sorry I’m late in my delivery of this piece.

I love exploring the streets of Paris’ differing arrondissements and it is always fun to venture out of the often touristy Latin Quarter that I call home. Each quarter has its own identity but they are all married with commonalities including endless history, Parisians in varying shapes and sizes, doors that I would do anything to get behind, boulangeries, brasseries, cafés and bars, galleries, boutiques, flourists, street musicians, butchers and épiceries. I could wander from neighbourhood to neighbourhood and never tire of it all – in Paris, I never quite know what might be around the corner.

As I made my way to dinner, the metro rattled from Odéon in the 6th, to Michel Ange Auteuil in the 16th, I swayed from side to side with my basket resting on my lap as I observed each person in the carriage, one by one, taking a moment to conclude that majority of them are probably very decent people going about their daily lives. In a world where the media highlights the bad and very rarely speaks of the good-  filling our minds with awful and powerful propaganda as it brews up endless witch-hunts which over complicate everything, it is easy to see how globally, we are at war with ourselves and quite literally, with other countries – usually as a result of an unwillingness to just stop, take a moment to listen and understand our differences and competing priorities.  NB. This is not to excuse anything that is legitimately ‘wrong’.

Stepping out of the metro station in the 16th, I breathed in an air of busyness as store keepers closed up for the night and families made their way to restaurants in preparation for the evening meal. Laughter filled the air and I felt very much at home; in that moment I didn’t really have a worry in the world, I felt happy, my mind was clear.

As I meandered through the streets on the short walk from the metro to a much anticipated dinner with my new friends, I was filled with further contemplation. I looked forward to a night with new aquaintences made just weeks ago, when we started a new challenge in a course that is teaching us about a culture for which we have a shared love, and fascination in equal parts.

All of all us are from different cultures but we are brought together by likenesses- in particular, to be fulfilled and fair and to make a positive contribution in the world based on sensible decisions. Our friendships were established over glasses of wine at lunchtime, followed by endless coffees after hours of phonétiques, in the first few days of our course- we are an unusual trio (but, in the next breath), we are all very similar.

Over dinner we reflected on many things, questions were raised, answers were given. Perspectives were shared, eyes were opened. One thing we all agreed on, is how refreshing it is that we have found each other in the classroom -from each other we continue to learn and this is exciting and fulfilling and (the state of the world aside), the only thing that is really confusing for us collectively, is le langue français.

Later in the night as I made the walk back to the metro, a man played his trumpet in the street below the apartment – the wistful tunes of ‘Blue Moon’ filled the air and people stuck their heads out their windows to have a look. His music brought the neighbourhood together, just as Paris continues to bring people together each day.

I love this city and the way in which it works its magic, bringing me friends and situations unique to this moment – and for this, I feel entirely grateful.

 

Pictured: magnificent evening light as I meandered towards the Seine earlier this evening

Merci!

Merci!

I arrived in Paris in June when December seemed like a million miles away- but, alas! It is just around the corner. This week is positively zooming along and things are really beginning to crank up in the classroom.  On the 18th of December, just moments before I fly back to Australia for a month of sunshine, friends, family and most of all FUN, I will sit three monumental exams which I can feel creeping up on me- very, very quickly.

These days, I seem to be drowning in a mountain of verb conjugations and frustrating négations, leaving me with very little time for celebrations!

(Or even nice walks along les rues).

As respite from the books, I look forward to providing stories on this site so that you can continue to share my life in Paris with me- I cannot even begin to express how much your comments, encouragement and wonderful feedback actually means.

Since I launched pinningmywords earlier this year as a little baby project with no real idea of the outcome, 4,800 people have paid a visit (with most drop ins since June) which has seen 10,600 views to my posts. Subscriptions are steadily growing and I am loving writing more than ever. I mean, REALLY loving it, and your input makes it all the more enjoyable.  You inspire me to keep going and I am finding it easier with each post to craft a message to you all with the knowledge that you are enjoying reading each word, as much as I am enjoying writing them.

From this week until the end of December (I really need to pass those exams!) I will be producing one big blog post per week, which you will find published each Sunday at Parisian lunchtime (approximately 9pm AEST), right here on pinnningmywords.com.

I will also continue to provide little Instagram and Facebook snippets throughout the week which will form content for the theme of each Sunday.  If you don’t already follow me on the socials, I’d love you to!

Instagram: @pinningmywords or, you can join me on Facebook: Pin Affleck

Now for the hairy bit!

I really, really want this project to work.  As I mentioned earlier in this post, I started this blog with no real idea of where it would go, or if anyone would even read it- I didn’t even know if we’d survive.  It’s heartening to know that it does get read, and each time I post, you continue to come back.  Since January, we’ve gone from Paris to India, back to Melbourne, up to Sydney to the consulate, back to Paris, over to London then to Italy and now I’m happily and firmly ensconced in Paris.

I have big plans for 2018, where I will return to Paris in February after a month with my family in Melbourne.  I have two new newphews to meet (my sisters just won’t stop having babies) and two to rekindle an old friendship with.  I couldn’t be more excited for what is ahead.

Now, this is the bit I don’t want to write!  If you could take a moment to tell your neighbour, bore a colleague, force your Mum or even share my work on social media, I would be eternally grateful.  The more people I have subscribing and reading, the more likely this is to work.  I loath to ask for your help, because the fact that you are even reading this should be enough.  And, it is, but every little bit counts and the more eyes I get across my words, the more likely they are to continue to spill across the page.

And finally, thank you, thank you, thank you for continuing to read my pinnings.  You are the hero’s in this story, and one day I will buy you all a drink!

I promise to keep the (now) weekly blog posts fun, light hearted, optimistic and as amusing as possible, as I continue to trip over my feet in Paris.

It’s a crazy old world out there and I hope this brings a little bit of light to your day.

All my love and a mountain of merci beaucoups from Paris,

Pin xx

PS- see you on Sunday!

Pictured: when I’m not tearing my hair out practicing French verbs, or tearing down the street madly taking photos, or torturing the maître d’ at the local, I find myself nurturing another of my true loves, sketching.

La musique.

La musique.

Send me a postcard, drop me a line
Stating point of view
Indicate precisely what you mean to say
Yours sincerely, wasting away
Give me your answer, fill in a form
Mine for evermore
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four?’

(The Beatles).

I’m not 64, far from it actually, but my wonderful Mum achieved this milestone during the week. On her birthday she was treated to a cake from Dad with the words ‘when I’m 64’ piped onto the icing, leaving us all rest assured that he still needs her and is willing to feed her (even if it is birthday cake).

Apparently when he turned 64 he danced around the kitchen table singing the same Beatles track, and evidence suggests that the answer was and still is, ‘yes’ from Mum. He is one of the best kept and fed people I’ve ever met- Paul, Ringo et al would be proud.

A big part of my life in Paris is music. I download endless songs discovered in shops and cafés and from time to time when I watch films in both French and English, I also download the entire soundtrack, using it as inspiration to keep learning, writing and moving.

In moments of being entirely alone, music is a priceless companion for me. I shimmy around the apartment under the shadows of the moon to the sounds of everything from ‘my girls’ Adel, Edith Piaf and Françoise Hardy; to the headiness of Jean Sablon and Serj Gainsbourg as well as the wonderful sounds from other favourites like Eddie Vedder- with my current choice from Eddie being ‘the Long Road,’ which is the ultimate getaway tune in my imagined screenplay of life.

Each day from 10-12 there is homeroom, where we undergo two gruelling but enjoyable hours of grammar and conversation. Following this, we are sent into a reinforcement class for a further two hours focussed on conversation, usually followed by another two hours of lectures in French culture – where we learn about everything from the origins of French language (so much of it inspired by music), to the beheading of Marie Antoinette, all with the added bonus of absolutely every, single word, spoken in French.

Some days I shake with hunger (and complete brain freeze) as I step into the afternoon light at 4pm, but am quickly reassured that I’m not fading away when I catch a glimpse of myself in the reflection of the Pharmacy window, before crossing at the lights and making my way home.

At the beginning of each day our professor plays a song chosen by a student, which is accompanied by rolling lyrics on the electronic whiteboard. This is easily my favourite part of the morning lesson, bringing much needed respite after an early start, with phonétiques and headsets at 8.30am.

The purpose of the lyrical exercise is to grasp the way in which verbs are not only conjugated, but also utilised in every day situations.
It’s one thing to be a whizz at grammar, but another to understand how to use verbs, nouns, pronouns (and everything else that I didn’t learn at school) in an every day setting and, in a language with masculine and feminine tenses (which render me almost helpless, with this being the most dangerous part of speaking French-  I still refuse to speak about cats in this language).

For the record, a cat must always be spoken about in masculine form – le chat.

On Tuesday, we listened to a song titled ‘Je Vole’ which I think (I spend a large part of each day hoping what I ‘think’ to be right being based on plain assumption), featured on the soundtrack of a recent French teen film.

Vole comes from the verb voler ‘fly’ therefore, Je vole literally means ‘I fly’.  The lyrics are sung by the French ‘poptrice’ Louane and they are as sweet as they are poignant and also rather emotive.

Mes chers parents je pars
(My dear parents I go)
Je vous aime mais je pars
(I love you but I’m leaving)
Ce soir je ne m’enfuis pas je vole
(I’m not running but I will fly)
Sans fumée, sans alcool je vole, je vole
(Without cigarettes and alcohol, I fly, I fly).

Louane goes on to explain that she must cross the Atlantic and free herself from ‘the cage,’ warning that there is no point in standing in her way at ‘la gare’.

Tuesday’s song was chosen by a young Greek girl in our class who explained that she is a big fan of Louane and her music. We listened not once, but twice, and during the second round I smiled as the class began to sing along, reaching pitch and finding themselves lost in the moment as they utilised French verbs in varying froms, in a sweet pop song. I joined in, sitting at the back of the class in my usual seat, tapping my enormous foot and wearing my favourite dungarees as I imagined writing a song as sweet for my parents when I was younger. The lyrics would have been similar, but the promise of ‘sans fumée, sans alcool’ would most definitely have been broken.

It’s hard to explain how much I enjoy learning French and equally as difficult to describe the frustrations I experience when speaking it. Each day I imagine every conversation in my head and when I go to open my mouth, I often become frozen, ‘what if I get it wrong, what if the tense is embarrassing…what if, what if’.

‘English native’ Francophones ‘helpfully’ keep reminding me that when I dream in French I’ve ‘made it’ but, much to my disappointment, I have continued to dream in English and freeze over in French, which has only resulted in feeling incredibly disappointed in myself.

Until last week, where I started having dreams reflective in their nature of my days in Paris.
The conversations creeping into my daily slumber have been short lived and ended in cold sweats, but nonetheless they are starting to enter my (wishful thinking) eight hours. This is probably one of the most exciting things that has ever happened to me.

On Saturday morning I woke after a dream about a French class where we went from Je, Tu, Il, Nous, Vous to Ils, conjugating the verb ‘manger,’ the French word for ‘eat’ which left me feeling only the slightest bit disillusioned that my first ‘big’ dream was spent speaking about eating in a French class, having always imagined the moment where I ‘made it’ to be spent frolicking about on the Pont Neuf with a man named Mathieu discussing the finer things in life. But, my (literal) dreamed up feast of words signifies a start – another beginning in new beginnings.

There is no doubt that my daily ritual of listening to music in both French and English is paying off. Through music in English, I feel inspired to keep moving and thinking, and through listening to music in French, the language is subtly creeping into my subconscious – and in the words of Carl Jung “Deeply listening to music opens up new avenues of research I’d never even dreamed of. I feel from now on music should be an essential part of every analysis.”

As I type, it is Sunday morning in Paris and during a trip to the supermarket earlier today, I felt a tap on my shoulder, ‘parlez vous Anglais’ an American man asked. ‘Yes, yes I do, extremely well in fact’ I responded enthusiastically. ‘Oh good’ he said, explaining that his wife had sent him out to buy makeup remover to take the mascara off her eyes. ‘Oh you’ll need this’ I told him, pushing past with my basket ‘it’s for sensitive skin, is she sensitive?’
My new friend looked at me slightly perplexed, as if to question my ability to speak any language at all ‘well, yes, I suppose she is’ he smiled.

As I walked home my basket overflowed with a bottle of milk, a package of loo paper and a new water filter. A jazz trio played in the street alongside my favourite café, filling the air with the sweet sounds of 1940s classics. ‘Bonjour Madame’ my second favourite maître d’ shouted as I walked past looking up to the sky, wondering why French women never seem to have loo paper in their baskets.

‘Bonjour Monsieur’ I replied, smiling as I pushed on – no time for a croissant today, I had a new blog post to write and the theme would be music- it is after all, everywhere we look.

Pictured: a table of crooners who (literally) sing for their supper each Sunday.

Respirer Paris.

Respirer Paris.

Respirer Paris. Cela conserve l’âme’. (Victor Hugo)

(Inhale Paris. It keeps the soul).

Yesterday I had lunch with Jun ichi and Maria (Japanese and Russian respectively), following a long session of phonétiques and the daily grind of morning classes. I seem to recall muttering ‘boof’ into the headset (or something equally as daft), during our trial exam two weeks ago, so when I got my results back with 17 marks out of a possible 20 at the end of the lecture, I began to believe there is in fact a God- a language one at that.

‘And what in your Godly heck does B or TB actually mean,’ I quietly pondered, making sure I wasn’t busted speaking to myself in public.

Bien or très bien are common marks on our French papers and only now, as I type this post with my little miracle positioned beside my iPad on the desk, have I come to realise this very simple marking system.

Over lunch, we spoke about our lives in Paris and what it actually means to us. ‘I suppose for me, I have enjoyed taking my life into my own hands,’ I explained, adding ‘it is such a good change and I honestly couldn’t feel better about this decision – I mean, so much has happened in a short space of time’. Ju Ni Chi was busy with a very rare piece of tuna while Maria had gone for the faux filet and as an added bonus, the waiter had just winked at one of us. The mood was buoyant and a caraf of wine had also landed on the table.

‘And I suppose, at this particular stage in my life it is more important than ever to just have a go, breathe it in and see what happens’ I finished. Jun ichi looked up from his tuna, ‘out of anyone you know, and in your current situation, you have the best odds at wining a Nobel Prize,’ he said laughing, before adding earnestly, ‘this moment is an opportunity’.

As much as I was content with a smattering of B’s and TB’s on my phonétiques exam (deep, recorded sighs and all), I must add, that I was suitably impressed with his optimism and positive outlook on life in that particular moment.

With feet larger than an elephant and a chronic disposition to blisters, I have to order most of my shoes online. Paris has a very limited supply of anything resembling a size 42 and for those of us with larger than life pieds, this can be a minor disappointment. I have a healthy supply of mens tennis shoes acquired in the end of summer sales, but from time to time I like to wear a more feminine take on a lace up. Therefore, on Saturday morning when I got a notification in the mail advising that my new shoes were in a Chronopost holding zone 40 minutes away on foot, I almost re-injured my right Achilles which is currently bandaged with a bullet proof blister pad, as I did a little dance by the mailbox.

After lunch with my new friends, I made the forty minute trek to the Chronopost depot on the banks of the Seine. I rounded endless corners and took in the sights and sounds coming from the beautiful green spaces that flank the median strips of the 15th arrondissement, breathing in huge doses of Paris. Children rushed by on scooters, marking the end of the school day, and the Eiffel Tower loomed closer with every step. Old ladies bustled by with their shopping caddies and the metro rattled above on the open line as it left Bir Hakeim, heading east.

It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon and with every step (bullet proof bandage and all), I pondered the words used in the opening line of this post written by Victor Hugo, many years before I arrived. At the end of the day, I met with a charming couple who are part time residents in France, and who were about to start their journey back to Melbourne after almost 8 months in their village deep in the south in a part of France – not too far from the Spanish border.

‘Why Paris?’ they asked with genuine interest and as loyal and avid readers of pinningmywords.

With that, we launched into two very happy hours of non stop chatter about Paris, and the ability that this city has to inspire and keep the soul alive in more than a handful of imaginable ways- sometimes through the simplest of things like reading the newspaper, or observing a conversation on the next table. Even a trip to the mail depot is capable of reawakening the mind, stirring a part of the soul that could perhaps feel very different in a another landscape.

As Audrey Hepburn said, ‘Paris is always a good idea’.  Quite simply put.

 

Pictured: my journey to Chronopost.

 

 

Memories made.

Memories made.

‘We didn’t realise we were making memories, we just thought we were having fun’. (Winnie the Pooh).

My grandmother Posy and her friend Sal could often be found leaning against the gate wedged between the established shiny leaf hedge that formed a fairly flimsy boundary between their properties, situated in a tiny, isolated seaside town at the very bottom of Australia. Ash from their cigarettes would drop onto their desert boots, causing neither to flinch as they lit another, continuing to inhale and speak at pace as if the art of talking was about to become rationed.

They preferred to listen to ABC radio streamed out of Tasmania (‘less crackle’ they’d explain convincingly) and their conversations were endless- I wish I’d recorded everything they said because neither of them are here anymore, but I hold the memories of both of these incredible women tight in my heart.

On Friday night I sat on the terrace of a cafe in the 7th arrondissement and listened intently as Sal’s granddaughter Thea, told me all about her three month internship in Paris. She’s every bit as bright as she is beautiful and we laughed about our two grandmothers and their funny, independent ways, before toasting them as the metro clattered loudly above on an open line – ‘hopefully they know about this,’ we agreed. Several glasses of wine and feast of steak and frites later I caught a taxi home, and as I rounded the Musée de l’Armée before hitting Boulevard Saint Germain, I reflected on the interactions I have here in Paris- leaving the Eiffel Tower behind me sparkling under an almost full moon.

I hadn’t seen Thea since she was a tiny little girl, but as it so often happens, our lives in Paris have brought us back together after all of these years.

I first came to Paris when I was 19. I thought I knew everything but in hindsight (ha! No surprises there), I knew very little. My school friend Skye was my travel companion and we stayed in a caravan park outside the périphérique, venturing into Paris by day to see all the exciting things like the Eiffel Tower and the Bon Marché, and we also made a very important trip to a pharmacy on the Champs Élysées to buy nail scissors, which became the conduit to me cutting off all of Skye’s beautiful, long blond hair.

Skye and I met when we were 13 years old at the salad bar of an ‘all you can eat’ diner called Sizzler. Our fathers had been at school together many years before and on the day that we met, I was embarking on my much anticipated foray into a new life at boarding school. Skye had been there for a year before me, and once I’d enthusiastically waved my parents goodbye my new ally introduced me to everyone I needed to know, and taught me everything I needed to understand in order to keep out of trouble. She was always in possession of an enviable stash of wrapped chocolates, with my supplies being limited to stale homemade chocolate cake. I’d explain the importance of sharing, and she was ever obliging.

We were opposites in every way – she tiny, incredibly sporty and popular with the boys, with me being rather large and awkward and as the second of four girls, painfully shy around the opposite sex. As 13 year olds we became the firmest of friends, and as we headed deeper into the years that were our glorious teens, we became fiercely protective of each other, with my thick set Viking stance providing the perfect shadows for my tiny friend to hide within.

In the midst of preparing my visa application this year, Skye telephoned to tell me that she was coming to Paris. ‘When?’ I asked (yet to book my flight and sceptical about the visa process), ‘oh in October, you’ll be there’ she replied, ever optimistic. Yesterday I positively bounded out the door and down Rue Christine, making the easy 200 metre trip to the hotel where Skye and her mother Janie are staying for the next week. They greeted me with two giant jars of vegemite and a bag of jelly snakes- my favourites. We spoke at a million miles an hour and laughed at the memories of 20 years ago when we first came to Paris together.

Last night, as we feasted on dinner and plentiful wine, a trio on brass played on the street below. This morning, we enjoyed a breakfast feast of croissants and coffee at Cafe Marly overlooking the Louvre courtyard, and at one stage Skye pinched me, almost causing me to elbow the handsome waiter in the groin- ‘I cant believe we’re here’ she giggled.

Tonight, after a big day under the beautiful ceiling of Galeries Lafayette, we will enjoy a well earned gin and tonic on the end of the bed in their hotel room, before the three of us head up the Tour Montparnasse to cast our eyes over Paris from the highest possible vantage point this city has to offer. I love nothing more than taking in views of my beautiful new home, as I reflect on the opportunities it has brought me and the friendships it nurtures and rekindles- old and new, some many years old, and others born right here, in Paris. But most importantly, through generations and years gone by, for me, the dots are continually joining, right here and right now.

While the puzzle of today will one day be just a distant memory- the most important thing is that these memories are made having fun, with people who are important to this moment as well as moments past, and the days that will inevitably follow.

Posy and I  loved talking about Winnie the Pooh.  Therefore, it is fitting that he opens this post and I close it with a thought for my wonderful grandmother, as I reflect on her continued emphasis on friendship and the importance of bringing people together – regardless of where you are in life and where you may be in the world.

Pictured: Just like when we first met.  This time, 20 years later under the beautiful domed ceiling of Galeries Lafayette.

A Little One.

A Little One.

‘I walk around like everything is fine, but deep down inside my shoe, my sock is sliding off’.   (Anonymous. But I wish I’d thought of it).

My socks have been quite well behaved lately, and I have no intention of letting them slide off any day soon. I prefer sparkly socks, and this week I’ve stuck to a theme of navy blue lined with silver thread (I have a collection of many things, including sparkly socks).

I’m slowly veering away from answering every question with ‘oui’ (this is sometimes extremely dangerous and sometimes clever), and a little wisteria creeper of determination has slid subtly into my subconscious – rendering me frozen from time to time, but mostly giving me a feeling of confidence (or is it bullishness?) in my approach to this language and overall, my life in general.

Yesterday, as with every day, I huffed up the four flights of stairs at La Sorbonne (my new addiction to baguette viennoise au chocolat  sees a necessary daily standoff  with the lift), before throwing myself into my regular chair in the corner – a place where I can unload my Mary Poppins-esque bag and take the spare desk beside me as a stand for my water bottle. The incredibly polite and ever humorous Japanese man who sits in front of me always has a spare piece of paper for exercises to be handed up the front, and each day I make a mental note to buy a perforated notebook. My leather bound Moleskin is slowly falling apart, but I quite like the routine of tapping Ju Ni Chi on the shoulder, and he is ever obliging.

Our professor is as beautiful as she is thorough and most importantly, she is determined that we’ll get it right. English is not spoken at any stage during any of the lectures, unless, on the odd occasion it is used to compare a word with no direct translation in French.

Yesterday, when the question was raised as to who would like to present first, I almost threw my hand through the window as it shot into the air. We’d been set an exercise the night before where we were to prepare a slide show of photos accompanied by a speech (en français) using the verbs to describe the things we love, like, fear, don’t like, detest and even hate.
Questions will be asked, so you must also come with a readiness to respond, we were told.

I was taught that hate is a strong word, but the French quite like to add smatterings of ‘je déteste’ into their sentences. Feeling challenged by what I actually hate, I found a picture of a python for the détester section of the presentation, and spoke of the clear and present danger they pose in Australia.  I fumbled for words to describe growing up in the country and whooshing through long grass in Wellington boots, always feeling nothing short of petrified that a snake would slide inside. That part of the slideshow became challenging, so I skipped to what I knew best.

I love shopping for flowers at the market to put around the house. I adore the view from my apartment. I love walking the streets of this magnificent city – taking endless photos as I do. I love art and peering into the many galleries that fill the streets of Paris. I also adore sketching, and my collection of pencils is ever expanding. I enjoy collecting rubber stamps and I have started making stationary in my spare time. I love the Eiffel Tower at night, but in particular, when she is bathed in afternoon light. I love learning French and each day, I feel the tiniest bit more confident speaking French.

‘What do I fear?’ I pondered, before clicking down my presentation to a picture of rain flooding the streets of Paris. ‘I fear getting caught in the rain, but I love watching it fall, from the comfort of my window,’ I went on to explain.

The final slide was a collage of four beautiful little faces, ‘but most of all, I love these photos of my four nephews’.

Gasps of ‘tres mignon’ and ‘ooh la la’ filled the room and I laughed in agreement, before explaining that James is three, Johnny is one, William is three months ‘and this one is Albert, he is just one week old,’ which was met with cries of ‘ooh, très petite!’.

‘Which one is yours?’ a man asked from the front row.

‘They are all mine’ I smiled, before taking my seat, thrilled to have another presentation out of the way and this time, there was no mention of nor questions asked, about le kangourou.

This piece is titled ‘A Little One’ because it was always intended to be short and sweet, just like baby Albert. This is for you little man, and if ever you think that everyone is walking around like everything is fine, just remember that deep down inside their shoe, their sock may well be sliding off.

And, always be prepared for questions- regardless of the language in which they are asked.

Pictured:  the Iron Lady looking over the Seine.