Bonne Année

Bonne Année

Winter has set in, Paris is freezing. Each day as I make my way to the Sorbonne, my fingers threaten to fall off- finally, as the weather really sets in and following the first night of snow, I find some really awful fingerless gloves in a souvenir shop full of berets and tea towels. The trees are bare and the sky is grey as it looms threatening from above- will it snow again, I wonder? My book bag is heavy and I’m not sure that my brain can take one more piece of information.

The French are both brutal and methodical in the way in which they teach- the complete opposite of my education in Australia. The days leading into the final exams are spent in the classroom with more new articles, prepositions and subjunctives to learn and understand, and our exams are imminent with just days remaining in the Autumn semester and so much revision to complete. How will I ever pass? I question my ability to even sit through the three hour exam, let alone remember anything in those precious moments when it will really count. I’m conjugating verbs in my sleep and when I wake, I make coffee in the present, past and future tenses. My morning walk to school is made up of conversations with myself (out loud) and finished off with enjoyable interludes in French with café staff along the way. My heart is breaking for the homeless as they do anything in their power to keep warm.

One morning, the tallest man in Paris throws open the shutters on a beautiful building that I have used as a marker to ‘turn right’ up to Boulevard Raspail for the past three months. His dining room is grand with a domed ceiling hand painted in a style to rival the work of Chagall at l’Opera Garnier. I want to go in and explore his apartment, one of millions in Paris that span seemingly square kilometres in size, and that would no doubt hold more than a decent handful of secrets. He smiles and shouts ‘Bonjour’ as I walk by, my eyes transfixed on his ceiling.

Nibbling on a croissant moments later, I duck as a pigeon swoops me and when I look up, an old woman chuckles heartily, it wasn’t a pigeon, rather, her pillowcase has dropped out the window – ‘I thought it was a pigeon’ I laugh, as I throw her pillow slip back up to her, she’s still unable to speak, having found my duck for cover across the footpath obviously quite funny. She catches her pillowcase as it becomes snagged on a pot plant hanging precariously from her balcony- ‘bravo,’ I smile back to her. Next, I make my way past the two guys who whisper ‘Madame’ at me every morning, paper cup outstretched. Only days before, I watch an old woman walking her dog slip one of the men a ten euro note- in that moment I felt as though I’d learnt something very important.

The written exam passes and I feel momentarily relieved. A long lunch with my classmates follows and we are so happy as we sip champagne at Café Marly overlooking the Louvre courtyard. History is abundant in these parts, and we don’t even register as a speck on the horizon when it comes to weighing up those who have been here before us. Nevertheless, in that moment I feel a little bit French, so much that I consider getting a beret tattooed onto to each eyelid.

Days later, I enter a classroom at the Sorbonne and make a presentation in French about a family playing Monopoly with their grandparents. Whilst this doesn’t sound like rocket science (and trust me, I know it), I am so determined to get all the tenses right and not forget a thing and, until the moment when I first see the photo I have no idea what the subject matter will be. Half an hour later I’m triumphant as I walk out the doors of the Sorbonne one last time, my pen lids are chewed within an inch of their lives.

I experience a feeling of freedom that I haven’t felt for months.

The Chinese girls who I have befriended at their nail parlour on the banks of the Seine make me coffee and quiz me on my exams later that afternoon. The boss is in skinny jeans (as always) and her stomach leans down towards her knees and the waistband of her hooded jumper sits high above her waistline. She’s aware of my pending trip to Australia the following morning, and takes it upon herself to boss me around importantly, ‘you need to look happy and bright for Australia, its summer there you know’. The following hour is filled with hysterical conversations had in French with competing Australian and Chinese accents, and to this day I’m still not sure if she wanted me to fix her computer or observe it in its glory, still wrapped in bubble wrap and in the box. I’m sure she said that it was three years old.

The night before I leave, I visit Sasha and his team at the café down the road and enjoy a plate of smoked salmon, before going home to vacuum the floors and clean the apartment. My bag is packed and for the first time in my life, it is under the allocated 30 kilo weight limit.

The following morning I bustle down to the laundromat with two bags full of sheets and towels. It’s early, and the old man who runs the business and rivals Father Christmas in both size and jolly demeanour and, who also drives the smallest car ever made on this earth, doesn’t arrive to open the door at 7am. I shuffle around to Bubbles in Rue de Seine whose opening hours I’d observed the day before, just in case.

Strange Guy, who can normally be found sleeping in a doorway in Rue de Buci with stray cats, and who I haven’t seen for at least three months, is snoring underneath the dryer and another man who sits in the corner has a southern cross tattoo emblazoned across his neck. He’s in Paris from Perth with his wife for their honeymoon, and he nods on when I advise that this sight is not unusual.

It’s still dark when I leave for the laundromat, and I place a heart shaped chocolate tin full of Maxims chocolates on Nadine’s stairs with a note letting her know that I’m going home for a month but I hope she and her son Jerome have a wonderful Christmas together. When I return an hour later, my bags laden with clean sheets and folded towels, she is waiting for me, making me promise that I’ll return to Paris in February. Do I need anything, she wonders before offering to buy me a printer for my book. I tell her that all is well and that I have everything that I need- I’m just so grateful for her kindness. She tells me that the feeling is mutual, before I thunder down the stairs with my suitcase and a basket chasing me from behind, and she dashes off, making me promise that I’ll wait for her, ‘just ten minutes’ she tells me. As I load up the taxi and ask the driver to wait, Nadine comes flying around the corner, her perfectly coiffed bob and normally straight fringe now parted after a dash to the bottle shop. A beautiful bottle of Bollinger is slid into my hand luggage, and she blows me kisses as I drive away, ‘you must send me a postcard’ she cry’s as I head off into the distance.

The taxi driver has twelve siblings and wonders why I haven’t got a husband, or even a boyfriend? I explain that his guess is as good as mine, but I’m heading home for Christmas to meet my nephews and have a reunion with my family and friends. As we wheel into Charles de Gaulle he hands me his number, advising that we must enjoy a coffee together when I return in February.

Suddenly I’m in the departure lounge, reflecting on my final week in Paris.

It was hectic and hilarious and the perfect seal to one of many chapters of the most wonderful experiment I could have ever embarked on. I’m dreaming in French, stumbling for answers in French but in those final days, I feel one step closer to understanding most things in a language that I have struggled with but am beginning to feel the tiniest bit more at ease with. For now, I have waved goodbye to the maître d’s in Rue de Buci, the musicians in the street, the Chinese couple in the Tabac- ‘passe de bonnes fêtes en famille’ Madame smiled as I finished my last espresso for 2017. As I loaded the taxi, I gave a fleeting smile to the old woman with swollen ankles spilling into Mary Janes who walks two of the fattest dogs outside my door each morning, before sailing across the périphérique to Charles de Gaulle.

This is for Mum and Dad, James and Johnny, Willy, Alby, CC, Edwina, Soph, Jack, Tim and Nick and each and every one of my wonderful friends. It’s a special time of year and for the first time in a long time we are all together at Christmas – I feel so grateful for the sounds of the birds, the open Australian sky and the swaying of the gumtrees.

Happy new year to you all – my friends in Australia, France and the rest of the world. Here’s to a happy and peaceful 2018 and thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading and for your support in 2017.

Pictured:  yours truly captured on a walk with Mum along the most beautiful coastline in the world.

Bon Noël!

Bon Noël!

To all if you, the ones who take the time to read my blog, send me messages of support and feedback, along with endearing lines of thanks and gratitude- from me to you, thank you.

I hope you’re preparing yourselves for a big feast with family and friends at the end of this week, or maybe you’re saving up for New Year’s Eve – perhaps both.

Wherever the next few weeks take you, please don’t be good, have fun, enjoy some time away from the office, the gym, the library or the school gate (or all). Simply put, I hope you’re taking some time away from whatever it is that you do that forms the majority of the moments that make up the calendar year. This one has flown for me, and almost a year ago I sat in the window of the Parisian loft and quite simply, started typing because a few of you said I should. I’ve always been fairly obedient and listening to that advice is one of the greatest things I’ve ever done.

The past couple of weeks have been a complete whirlwind of study and tying up loose ends but the minute I get onto that plane tomorrow, the wheels will be in motion for a reflective piece that I’ve been stringing together on my morning walk to school each day this week. Watch this space!

This is a simple message from me to you to say thank you and Happy Christmas, as my suitcase eyes me off, spewing summer dresses out each corner and I really need to mop the bathroom floor. If there is one thing I’m excellent at, it’s procrastination.

All my love and thanks from my most favourite place in the world (apart from home, India, Turkey, Italy and others). On that note, I might have to eat a plate of oysters for dinner…

Pin x

Ooops… one more thing!

Forgive me, I’m becoming forgetful as I become lost in piles of verbes and passé composé!

I meant to say, in the absence of a long post this week and in preparation for my Australian summer adventures, I will continue to post regular photos on Instagram with snippets of the day, so if you’re not already following @pinningmywords on Instagram, please do and by all means feel free to share with your friends, colleagues and pets (if they have an account).

Pinningmywords is an ‘accent aigu’ (French students will understand that little gag) away from reaching un petit milestone- watch this space for updates!

Salut et merci beaucoup x

Study.

Study.

I’m going to be a disappointment and bow out of a long post this week- and as much as I am sure you’re all queuing up to read about the life that is pinningmywords, the last couple of days have seen me drown under a pile of text books and I don’t know how I will ever resurface.

But! There is light, with my final written exam set to take place at the Sorbonne next Thursday and my oral the following Monday. From there, I will race home and pack my Monoprix bathing suit into my suitcase along with my new summer satchel purchased at Pompom Bazaar- a heavenly store in the 10th- during a much needed break from the books, before whizzing to the airport for 26 hours in one seat (glued to Season 2 of The Crown) as I make my way home to Australia for Christmas.

Next week will see a much more informative post featuring champagne, snowflakes and snippets of things I’ve found along the way- almost 1 year since I started writing this blog!

Thank you all so much for reading and I’ll see you next Sunday, and many of you in person in the weeks that will follow.

Much love from Paris,

Pin X

Pictured: the beautiful Relais Christine just two doors from home.

Let it snow.

Let it snow.

On Thursday night I flung the windows open and braved the elements. Huge snowflakes fell from a pitch black sky before settling on the rooftops across the road. It was the night before the much anticipated winter (the cold has been threatening for days) and I breathed in the chilly evening air feeling like a child the night before Christmas in a moment so, utterly beautiful.

I write this post from Café Bonaparte in the 6th arrondissement and not far from home. Three older ladies sit just down from my table in huge wool coats and one wears flared leather trousers. As the smallest of the three and hardly able to see over the café table she is also the chattiest, and if I was only in closer earshot I would be able to decipher what it is she is actually saying. Her taller companion shouts ‘bon! mais oui’ at the end of every sentence and the third woman- not tall and not short, smiles on in agreement with almost everything they say.

The next table is made up of four younger men who frantically discuss an application that they wish to develop and one is becoming so impassioned with every word, that I fear he may explode. The thing I love about listening to younger people speak in French is the way in which they throw their hands around with vigorous intent, before adding a smattering of words taken from Hollywood movies into their monologues- lines which are steamrolled by the next sentence en très rapide français.

And finally, the beautiful couple who sit on the table beside me. She is pretty and blond and wearing no makeup- her face is easily one of fifty years but fresh with youth and her companion is handsome, enthusiastic and smitten with both her and the salad that she has ordered for lunch. ‘Superbe’ is the word of the moment- everything from her salad, to his coffee, is just superbe.

It’s no secret, my love of people watching and the inspiration I draw from eavesdropping on conversations, particularly in cafés. I could spend hours picking through words that make the base of (often mundane, sometimes exciting) conversations and I find this exercise much more enjoyable than say, jogging in the freezing cold. Along with watching the television and listening to the radio, eavesdropping is a very good way to practise my French and learn about what is actually happening in the worlds that belong uniquely to the inhabitants of this country and les tables de cafés.

During the week I had ‘one of those days’ where I overthought everything and became frustrated with everything else. The morning class filled me with dread as we began to structure sentences seemingly backwards and dreaded little articles from French classes of years gone by, began to reappear. ‘They just replace an item or a place, don’t be afraid of them,’ our Prof explained in response to resounding huffs and sighs from around the classroom.

The stairs in my apartment aside, nothing frightens me more than pesky little grammatical so and so’s, which I take personally, in the belief that they are designed to ruffle only my linguistically challenged feathers and my carefully structured sentences. As the clock struck midday, I left class with my collar firmly turned up under my chin and my hands jammed equally as firmly into my pockets. Stepping out into the freezing cold I made my way into the afternoon blanketed in sunlight beaming from a million miles away, as I blew freezing, steamy breath into the air which threatened to drop below zero degrees.

I headed to lunch on the right bank where I enjoyed a delicious, soul fuelling Ramen with friends, in a Japanese café just a stones throw from l’Opera, and during my walk home under a dark, afternoon sky, I took a moment to look up as seagulls swooped and musicians played under the arches of the Louvre courtyard, while old men sang on the Pont des Arts. It’s moments like these that serve as a welcome reminder that regardless of anything, this city is a stage and each day is a performance. As much as at times it can be frustrating with some days seeing inevitable smatterings of self doubt as the grammatical so and so’s continue to play their role in keeping me on my toes- I am, for the better part of each day, undoubtably grateful to be able to soak up the views and listen in on the banter, as I become one step closer to understanding it all.

Later that evening I sat at a café not far from home and set up my textbooks as I attempted to complete pages of pesky grammatical articles. As I sipped my wine and rearranged endless phrases, the new waiter at my local who is all of seemingly twelve years old, danced around the café tables taking orders in a thoroughly practised American accent. I do everything to avoid him and his Converse shoes, as he sings orders in a whiny voice at the sheer sniff of an accent associated with the English language. He’s been working at the café for a matter of weeks, and as much as beggars can’t be choosers, I always try to secure a seat at the other end of the terrasse in the hope that I’ll get my favourite waiter who ignores my accent when I speak in his language and he refuses to speak in any other language with me, than French. On this occasion, luck wasn’t on my side. I watched on as the new kid flirted with a pretty American girl and ignored the instructions from the Napolianesque maître d’ before striding to my table, ‘Oh my god, it’s my Australian friend, here, take this’ (placing a glass of boiling water onto the table) ‘you’re, like, totally freezing’.
I wasn’t really, quite the contrary actually, and he went on to add that he is ‘a total peach’.

The occupants on the table beside me laughed and started cajoling him in French, asking if he was capable of doing his job- or, was he just there to take telephone numbers from pretty American girls. I listened on as I continued to write line after line in my textbook, thinking that eventually I’d explain to them that he also irritates me beyond belief. But they didn’t stop, and when he returned from arranging to move in with the American girl on the next table, I could see that they’d really hurt him. His Converse shoes turned inwards as his lip dropped and he asked if they always go to cafés and scrutinise the behaviours of waiters.

A man in a perfect double breasted ensemble worn over immaculately pressed grey flannel trousers sat to my left, nursing a freezing cold beer as he puffed aggressively on cigarette after cigarette, totally oblivious to anything. I wondered what was going through his mind as he stared straight ahead and as I returned to my textbook, I agreed in my mind that I’d pay more than a penny for his thoughts.

Standing up to leave, I went to the whining waiter and soothed his ego with clumsy phrases, explaining that while I had initially thought my neighbours were funny, on second thoughts and after endless taunts, I’d concluded that they were quite stupid- at least he is making an effort, I explained, before thanking him for my hot water.
He asked if I was looking for a French tutor, an offer I politely declined, before nodding at my double breasted neighbour and making the short walk home.

Life is full of characters and as I finish typing this, 17 Chinese people have arrived at the café in a huge tour group lead by a chubby homme chinois who is shouting instructions to French people in English. ‘Occupied’ he yells as they go to sit at one of the many tables he’s now claimed as his own. At least 30% of his group are wearing dust masks that would be better suited to a building site riddled with more asbestos than my grammar book has challenges. His group has taken over the whole terrasse and the waiter is counting cappuccino orders shouted in English, with the patience of a saint.

On that note, the beautiful couple have just agreed that lunch was indeed ‘superbe,’ but now is as good a time than ever, to call it a day. And with that, they have settled l’addition, greeted two old friends on the table across the way with a kiss on each cheek, and left the café.

As the bells chime (signalling 2pm), from the Abbey of Saint Germain des Prés – the burial place of Merovingian kings of Neustria and just a stones throw from where I sit, I think I will do exactly the same.

Pictured: the Christmas tree at the wonderful Galeries Lafayette.