En Train à Grande Vitesse

6:30am
TGV baby! En route to Paris, to meet some friends from home who are on a holiday there, before continuing on for Amsterdam this evening, where other friends will arrive tomorrow morning. I’m a bit hungry and caffeine deprived (it didn’t seem right to start at 5:10am) but I’m very excited to see everyone. Much to my amazement, the taxi I ordered yesterday actually showed up -any successful telephone interaction is nothing short of a triumph -and brought me to La Gare for 6am. As a stark contrast of lifestyles, when I turned on my phone first thing this morning, what pops up on the screen but “Bestie écrit…” -My bestie is writing!! WhatsApp messages! The dirty divil is only going to bed as I am getting up! And I only at Greenwich Mean Time +1. Very glad to be on this side of the time difference though, as I am not feeling too hectic and am already fantasising about the pharmacies that are going to greet me when I stop in the next train station. Panadols and coffee and I’m hoping to be right as rain.

For the moment, I am being rudely reminded of my Chinese friends, and their horror at the public displays of lust that are all too common in France. They are particularly upset about the sound of lips smacking against lips, which assaults their ears at all hours of the day and night. To be honest I hadn’t noticed this until they pointed it out, but now that it has been noted it cannot be unseen. Or unheard. It is 6:30 am and the two behind me are slobbering loudly over one another like attention-starved St. Bernards. They look at least 45 years old. I’m with the Chinoises on this one. As long as my hair doesn’t start falling out I suppose we can risk some common ground.

 

8:45am
I have finally done it!! I’m on a new TGV now towards Paris, and I have found the holy grail -a nice coffee!!! Un café allongé, avec beaucoup d’eau chaude !!! You add in the request for milk casually at the very end, to avoid risk of contamination. And crème de la crème, they also gave me the much sought after but oft times elusive mini-chocolate. Heaven! It’s taken an entire month, but it’s been worth it. It is so delicious. It probably helps that it is my first caffeine fix in 24 hours, but I want it to last forever.

So with a bit of time on my hands for reflection on the train, I’ve just recalled this phenomenon in rock climbing, that affects the person who is second to climb a route. This is often the less experienced climber, as the leader is the one who takes on the risk, and seconding a climb is a reasonably low risk and easy thing to do. However, as the second, you can often start imagining while you are climbing, what it would be like to lead the route. Even on routes that are well within your ability level, you almost invariably convince yourself that the route is perilous beyond imagination and that you could never lead such a thing. You therefore end up at the top of what should have been a walk in the park, white in the face and covered in sweat. It’s weird. And it’s kind of like that with French. I find that when I’m leading my own route -having a conversation that I actually need to be part of and know the gist of -I get by just fine. However, when I play the game of “let’s see can I understand the snippets of conversations of the passers by” -as I foolishly attempted in the queue for the coffee just now -I immediately become dejected and deflated, convinced that I will never understand a word and am doomed to confused mumbling for the rest of my time here. It’s odd. I don’t have a solution, but I guess just keep leading on up.

Welcome to Tunisia

Almost a full month down!! My last day chez Mrs. G.!! The weather is so beautiful today though, I couldn’t sacrifice the entire day to moving, and Mrs. G, her daughter and I all set out ensemble to walk up to the fort above the city. The walk was much less strenuous than either her daughter or I had anticipated, and I was very pleased with mounting many steps relatively pain free. Mrs. G. complained of palpitations most of the way up and needed a lie down on her return, but she made it. Her daughter and I hatched a plan to sound out Mrs. G. on parapenting -a very mild form of paragliding. Or maybe it’s just paragliding. I know what it is anyway, and so did Mrs. G. Her daughter has been thinking that this might be a good surprise for her mother for her upcoming 60th birthday in January. Given Mrs. G.’s somewhat nervous disposition -kettles, microwaves, out of season vegetables and the Internet featuring among her many terrors -I could only conclude that her daughter had lost her mind. However, I dutifully sidled up to Mrs. G. and started asking casual questions about it. Knowing full well that it wasn’t, I asked whether this was the mountain for doing the parapenting, because I had a bit of a yearning to try my hand at it. She immediately launched into a tirade listing the many risks that are associated with it, and told me that because of her two children (aged 28 and 31 I might add), she doesn’t take any risks with her life. It took quite some time and joint forces between her daughter and I to explain to her that you don’t just take off on your own like a mad thing, you are strapped on to a trained professional. At that she became better disposed towards the idea, and we were all delighted. Although she may not know it yet, it looks like Mrs. G. will be taking flight on the 20th of January! As for me, I was delighted to have conducted a covert operation en français. This is surely a positive sign -of my French if not of my nature.

Later in the afternoon, I commenced the moving process towards Northern Africa, also known as Apartment 1b. I spent many long moments reflecting on my gratitude towards the inventor of the wheel, without whom moving all of my things and 16kg of dumbbells would have been a considerably more painful affair. I should probably be more grateful to my mother’s partner, who lent me the bag adorned with said wheels.. He may also be slightly better disposed to receive a thank-you note.. However, two trips and 6 trams did the trick, and I installed myself in my new lodgings. Now it may just have been tiredness, but I will admit to experiencing some feelings of mild loss while leaving my first France home -and my first France host! I fact I think she had a similar moment of unexpected emotion, as when I was on the way out the door, she suddenly looked at me with a very forlorn expression on her face and tried to give me her breakfast bowls!! It was a bit odd but very nice, although I politely declined the offer. I will also grant that there were a few initial moments of loneliness and desolation, staring at the bare white walls in my new chambre. I briefly found myself longing for  Mrs. G. and her warm family environment, with its brightly coloured bedspreads and clean kitchenware. (And her kettle and her microwave oven, which may have to be budgeted for..) But once I took a shower and cooked myself an omelette -under the grill, like a rebel -I soon began to feel at home. It was the moment when I was about to go to my room to watch Netflix (which has become my unhealthy habit in the evening, but the are only 86 episodes to go in my current series) and realised that I was allowed to do so in the sitting room, when the pleasure of having a proper rented apartment really set in. Okay so I did spend most of the night dreaming about my new housemate invading my room and assaulting me (but it was okay in the end because I murdered him), but in the five minutes I met him he seemed very amicable! I’m very pleased with the apartment though -it’s lovely and warm and the view from the window out on to the river and the mountains is really lovely. A good clean and a few essential purchases and I’ll be only delighted with life.

Dopamine, serotonin, and of course, coffee….

The coffee quest continues. I have vacated the premises to give Mrs. G. and her daughter their space (she’s visiting for the weekend) and have installed myself in a very nice nearby café, with my iPad and a crossword. Today I tried my careful explanation again, and the very friendly girl working here assured me that it was a double noisette I was looking for. However, the caffeine induced shakes and double vision I am now experiencing suggest that she has in fact given me a double espresso, with a bit of foamed milk. It’s not what I wanted, but it’s getting closer!!

Today is all about preparing for the Paris/Amsterdam trip. Much Googlisation is in order. I plan to do this in English as I have dutifully done my bit for French acquisition today, by listening to my new favourite radio station -France Bleu Isère 98.2. This morning I listened to a fascinating expert-advice show addressing the very serious issues faced by French ladies in their encounters with stray cats. Apparently stray cats are creating quite the social problem here, to the extent that the vice president of the organisation for stray cats (no,I definitely did not misunderstand) was given a prime time Saturday morning slot on the radio. (The actual president was no doubt too busy discussing the matter with Ban Ki-moon). As far as I could follow, the advice was neuter, neuter, neuter. Not sure how this took a half an hour to establish, but there you go.

 

PM
Having started a bit of organisation for the holiday and suitably relaxed myself, I decided that the weather was fine enough for a ramble into the centre-ville. This, of course, was not before yet another cooking related scuffle with Mrs. G., who now regards my every move in her kitchen with suspicion. What was I doing with the grill? And how long was it going to take to make my toast? And oh mon dieu is it burning? No, calm the hormones, Mrs. G. I’m 32 years old. I’ve made toast before. However, you are nearly sixty and you still don’t own a toaster. One nil to me, I think you’ll find. (Says she whose French crockery collection amounts to a plastic cup and a free wine glass). Still we had a nice chat, even if she did become apoplectic when I explained that the Chinese girls in my French class are all convinced they are losing their hair since they came to France. No this is true, they are all convinced of it and keep showing me their hairlines, which they believe to be receding!!! One of them told me that she had been warned of this affliction before she came here, and hadn’t believed it until it happened! To be honest I can’t say for sure whether it is happening or not, but they are very adamant. However, Mrs. G. is having none of it, and practically spat fire when I suggested that it could have been the change in diet that brought it on, what with the Chinoises typically being unused to dairy products. Maybe they’ve hit the camembert big style, and their little systems aren’t able for it. However, Mrs. G. took this as a personal affront and what followed could only be described as a diatribe condemning China, it’s food, it’s pollution, and it’s general inferiority to all things French. She may have a point though -it does seem unlikely that a bit of cheese would make your hair fall out. But try telling that to my poor balding classmates. Nonetheless, we reconciled our differences, and she is now pimping out her poor daughter to me for social outings. It remains to be seen how her daughter will feel about this, but we may just have a hiking date on Monday.

The ramble in the centre-ville I must say was extremely enjoyable. The town was hopping and I spent a very happy hour and a half exploring cobbled streets and lane ways that I hadn’t found before, taking in the ambiance and casually glancing in the windows of potential workplaces. There’s a crêperie I have been eyeing up, but that is a project for another day. Yesterday’s trepidation has suddenly given way to a great sense of freedom and possibility, akin to the excitement I felt when I first arrived here. The uncertainty is almost intoxicating. I don’t know what’s going to happen yet, but it’s going to be NEW. And I like that.

I am not sure when I became so addicted to this feeling of possibility, but I am very much in the grip of its seduction. I often think of a film I saw a year or two ago called The Age of Adaline. In this film, the main character, Adaline, gets somehow infused with electricity (I am never good with details -more of a vague ideas kind of person..) and becomes incapable of ageing, staying young and beautiful forever. There’s lots in the film, but I remember that what really struck me was that she became completely jaded by what life had to offer. Her youth and beauty lost its appeal, because she had seen it all before. It highlighted the fact that life’s pleasures are made all the more pleasurable maybe because they are time limited. But I have identified with the idea recently in a new way. It relates in a way back to a diagram I saw once in a book that I have now lost, the name of which I cannot remember, malheureusement. But the diagram illustrated the idea that we have drives towards different social and emotional goals at different stages of life. For example, babies and infants are driven to make the strongest connections with their parents in the early years, and this remains the case throughout much of childhood. In adolescence, the peer group becomes the most important social bond, and all of your energies are poured into fitting in at all costs. (These costs can be quite high, as anyone who ever became a goth and hung around Paul Street in long black coats will eventually admit). In your twenties, the strongest drive is to find a partner and probably to start a family. After that unfortunately, my memory fails me, and I would dearly love to find this diagram again, as I am dying to find out what is driving me now! However, I have my suspicions. At each stage of life, you get the greatest pleasure from things that move you, or have the potential to move you towards your goals, and your hormones and brain chemicals assist you in ensuring that this happens, with goodly doses of dopamine and seratonin. However, it is roughly age related, and I am not convinced that the hormones hang around for you, if you are a bit slow on the uptake in getting these goals met. So although I am now in my thirties, I am still single, and therefore living the life of someone in their twenties.. But recently i have been reflecting that maybe, if you spend too long in any one phase -regardless of how much fun it is -maybe, like Adaline, you just get a bit bored of it. And perhaps it is this fatigue that gives rise to restlessness, and leads someone who only ever dreamt of a house on the hill above the River Lee (who couldn’t understand why you would ever leave the country when obliging travel writers and documentary makers had done it for you), to find herself gleefully, joblessly and directionlessly gadding around France like a love-struck teenager. But maybe I’m over thinking it….

The stroll around town was almost like a mindfulness exercise -just taking the time to notice what’s around me. Now as my close friends and family will enthusiastically assure you, I am not known for my skills of observation. I once stood for five full minutes in a room in my own house, before realising that there was a large motorbike in the centre of the room. Which had never been there before. Yes. However, I would argue the point that I am observant, but just with more focus than is considered strictly normal. If you go shopping with me, and if you tell me that you are looking for a grey woolly cardigan (it might be the winter time and you may want some comfort clothes), I will, within five minutes flat, have sought out every single grey woolly cardigan that is to be had in that particular shop or market. However, I will register the presence of absolutely nothing else on my mission. If I am walking to a particular destination, for example, a particular shop or restaurant, then my head is focused on finding that shop and that shop only, and no other establishment along the route will exist for me. I am too busy with my own thoughts. Typically, I find what is going on inside my head to be much more diverting than what is going on outside of it. However, I do have to work on marrying the two, because that is when the magic happens.. If you ever happen to read the book The Tailor and Ansty, you will meet the famous Tailor of Garrynapeaka, who often commented that the truly wise people are those who look around them and learn from what they see. The Tailor saw very little in his life, and yet learned a huge amount from it. He had nothing but contempt for people who were privileged enough to have a very wide experience or education, but didn’t seem to look around them. In this age of cheap flights and easy travel, we are all surely guilty of this, but me more than most. So my venture around town can be taken as a step in the direction of reflection and learning. All in all, I have concluded that a day in which, to the untrained eye, I appear to have achieved very little, can be claimed to be a good days work. Or maybe I just drank too much coffee and wandered around with my head in the clouds.. You decide!

Thin slices of joy. Very thin.

I’ve just read an article stating that ‘thin slices of joy matter’ -we should be taking the time to notice and appreciate the small reliefs, sensations and pleasures of everyday life. Apparently you get better at this as you get older, but today must surely be proof of my ongoing youth. Firstly, there is absolutely no joy whatsoever in this plate of mush I have served up to myself. Apparently the French don’t eat the same kinds of beans we do, and my longing for beans on toast has to satisfy itself with some kind of sugar free mulch and gluten free pain au cardboard. Washed down by another coffee attempt -this time I appear to have ended up with a lukewarm double espresso. It is all most disgusting. But in general, it’s been a bad oul morning. I’ve made four unsuccessful attempts to contact Objets Trouvés (lost and found) in the town hall, only to be told to call back in five minutes three times, and to have a very confusing exchange of wrong numbers on the fourth. I traipsed back to the train station to discover that Objets Trouvés there is only open during a two hour window in the mornings, because of the holidays. The credit card is doomed.

However, there are some advantages to despondency. It is becoming increasingly clear to me that men sense vulnerability, and they effing LOVE it. As I exited the train station, feeling miserable and defeated, one of the hottest men in history started eyeballing me. I took no notice, until it happened three more times in the ensuing hour -different guys each time. Apparently, to attract a man, I need more pain, misery and loneliness in my life! However, having identified the solution, I’m not sure I can implement it with any degree of success -you can’t fake that shit. Still, having noticed of late far too much ‘madame-ing’ and not enough ‘madamoiselle-ing’, I’ll take what I can get in the ego boosting stakes.

So today is the last day of the course, and I am about to become officially direction-less. Now that my life has no purpose, I am a bit unnerved. Additionally, it is the Jazz Weekend at home. Now I may not have mentioned this before, but I LOVE the Jazz Weekend. To me, it is better than Christmas -all the fun and none of the hype -and I have genuine affection for it. So when I rang my bestie at 5:30, I was nothing short of devastated to hear that she is already in a pub with all of our friends. In one of my favourite pubs, as it happens, where there is a fire and crosswords on the tables. The crosswords were a step too far. I may never forgive that pub. This Amsterdam trip next week is well-timed.

The day has however been somewhat redeemed by getting good marks in the course -I didn’t even know they were assessing us, but apparently so! My oral comprehension an expression are reportedly coming along very well, although my written expression is betraying my cavalier approach to anything that resembles grammar or structure. What care I for pronouns! If I even knew what they were.. Still, big teacher’s pet that I am, I got 20/20 for ‘travail’, working hard. (Thin slices of joy you say…) It feels a bit like a medal for participation, but I’ll take it! I’ll even go one further, and I’ll put it on my CV is what I’ll do. Hopefully this will distract potential employers from the spelling errors, and enlighten them to the fact that there is very little report-writing involved in smiling at people and serving coffees. I might have to work on the smiling…

 

On the dangers of blogging while you walk

The nightly walk, however important, brings its challenges as well as its merits. Polite though they may be, there are many many homeless people in the streets, and passing them always causes a minor surge of cortisol to the system. Additionally, I have noticed that I appear to be living in the slightly dodgier quarters of the city, and the street on which I live is lined with numerous halal kebab joints, outside which sit groups of men smoking illegal looking substances from large bongs. They appear to do this all day and all night, all the while eyeballing you lecherously from their pedestals of mild intoxication. Having experimented with various methods, I have found that coughing, yawning, being on the phone, looking for your lost credit card or admiring the roofs of the surrounding buildings are all methods, with varying degrees of success, of avoiding eye contact. Eye contact is the worst possible thing to happen between a walking woman and a lustful lecher. It would naturally be taken as a sign of romantic interest and I would doubtless find myself in the throes of a loving embrace in the blink of an eye.

However, alas, yes, you read correctly. My credit card is perdu. It was dans ma poche when i set out, and upon my return home, I had only empty poches. I can only blame the repeated overly-enthusiastic “whipping out” of the phone from said poche, in my excitement to record some observation or other, one incident of which clearly took the credit card with it. No amount of retracing my steps retrieved it, although I quickly put a block on it before the homeless person who has doubtless pocketed it can order any Gucci handbags on the internet. However, the number of credit card-like objects one can find on a city’s streets is most alarming, once one’s eyes become attuned to small rectangular pieces of plastic. Chewing gum wrappers, discarded train tickets, even the inexplicable metal studs that line the streets for no apparent reason, all appear furnished with sixteen friendly digits and my own signature. But to no avail. I’ll try a few lost and found places in the morning.

In the course of my continuous loop of traipsing tonight, the city’s fitness obsession became increasingly evident. I had been fore-warned about this -I met a guy in a pub in Ireland who told me a story about a woman he met one night while he lived here. She was after a few drinks and on for more, but he politely declined her offer as he had a long cycle scheduled for the morning. She irately and bitterly complained that “everyone een theece fucking town eece always fucking exercising”. I well believe her, and I feel her pain. It the two hours I have been scanning the footpaths, I have passed the same guy twice, running at high speed and talking on his hands free phone as casually as if he was at home cooking the dinner. Not a huff or a puff out of him. The jealousy I felt of his fitness and posture (lovely knees -perfectly aligned) sent me into a such a fit of inadequacy and despondency that I was almost ground to a halt. Then I saw one of the lechers making to go down on one knee and I quickly thought the better of it.

In home news: Omelettus Interruptus! Following more door banging accusations, Mrs. G. took exception to my omelette making technique and insisted that browning the top of it under the grill was illegal in most civilised countries and considered a crime against pot and person. I sulkily scrambled my omelette and engaged in high level huffing and puffing. Omelettes that is not omelettes is not the same. Interestingly, I didn’t mind her reproaches a single bit -such an exchange would normally have me cringing in shame and in a three day spiral of guilt, but happily the effect of someone sounding off in French is much less pronounced! Additionally, I secretly note the incident for blogging purposes and it becomes not an awkward social situation but inspiration and ammunition. Also, having overheard her continuing a phone conversation through the entirety of a visit to the toilet (unashamedly I might add -she even flushed!), I am not too bothered about Mrs. G’s definitions of what is and isn’t appropriate… Only three days left here though, so I’ll carry on regardless.

 

French: I am still making the mistakes, but now I feel guilty about it

I have realised that I am slowly learning French, but backwards. I’m not learning to talk in reverse or anything -regular speech is challenging enough, thank you very much, but chronic laziness has led me to the point that I can chat away, without any idea of the basics of grammar and structure. Up to this point, I have neatly avoided having to put in the hard graft of learning verb endings and conjugation, but sadly, my number is up. The hour has come, and I have finally been reduced to grammar exercises. Marie, one of our teachers, advised that I get a book for beginners, recommended a specific one in fact and made me take a picture of it. I dutifully bought this book and showed it to her, which provoked a minor cardiac event as apparently this book is apparently far too basic for me. (It is no such thing). There is something getting lost in translation here, I thinks to myself, and ignored her and went back to my beginner book. I couldn’t bring myself to start at the beginning, and therefore randomly started on page 67. After getting 83% of the answers wrong, I sheepishly returned to the start of the chapter on conjugating regular verbs in the present tense. It was most enlightening, and I should have probably done this months ago. I’m as far as the ‘futur proche’ now and feeling most accomplished. However, I am yearning somewhat for my previous state of blissful ignorance, when I had precious little comprehension of the grave assaults I had been making on the French language. So in fact what seems like progress is in reality transpiring as ten backward steps into stuttering. I am still making the mistakes, but now I feel guilty about them.

But now Marie, the more eccentric of our professors -there’s an interesting character, if ever I met one. She is exceedingly French, she chain smokes, she talks too fast, and she calls us her petit poissons. She is completely dedicated and workaholic, but loses all her students in the intricacies of the examples she gives. However, she is language mad, and speaks the Queen’s English with the very poshest London accent you ever did hear. “But of course!” she replied, when I commented on same. I think she believes that this is how English is meant to be spoken, but it sounds as entertaining to me as if she had randomly decided to speak English in a strong Cavan accent. Despite all this, I really like her, and enjoy her commitment to giving us not just a language course, but a cultural apprenticeship, as she refers to it. She encourages us to attend all sorts of cultural events at which we understand very little -the poetry readings are particularly bewildering -but she shows up at these events and herds us around like a flock of lost sheep. It appears that she spends most of her free time preparing lessons, correcting work and dreaming up games with over complicated rules for me and the Chinoises to play in class. (We were all completely mystified by her version of crossword-cherades that I am quite sure she invented on the spot). However, it seems most unjust that of our two profs, she is not the better teacher. We can contrast her with Jennifer, with her tinkly laugh and more normal approach, and frankly there is no competition. Jennifer more effectively reads the level of the class and pitches her lessons perfectly. Everyone is with her through all of the class and learning more. She does appropriate preparation and a normal amount of correcting, and overall her classes are far more enjoyable. It hardly seems fair. But I will miss them both, and even the Chinoises too, after I leave them for the last time tomorrow. At least they don’t seem to be the hugging type, these tiny women of Asia. I am the only person not continuing with the course next month and I don’t think I could cope with eighteen emotional goodbyes.

Olfactory orgasms, and other fun and frolics

PM, Centre-ville

If there is such a thing as an olfactory orgasm, then I’ve had three of them already today. Those people should not be allowed to cook the sweet waffles in public. Such activities should be reserved for private quarters, in select company. If they are not more careful with their aromerotica, I am liable to become loud and unruly in Victor Hugo square.

In home news, Mrs. G. has been beaming brightly at me ever since I said I was moving out. There has been a definite increase in the friendly chats, now that she knows an end is in sight. No more for her, the unruly Irish lass who is in bed by 10:30 every night. Or wantonly doing crosswords at the kitchen table. (She doesn’t know about the antics in Victor Hugo square). I was recently given instruction on how to use a kettle properly, as she sagely advised that electricity and water do not mix. The good people of Braun beg to differ, I dare say. It’s a KETTLE, Mrs G. That is its sole purpose in life. But Mrs. G does not trust kettles -no no. Not quite as much as she doesn’t trust Irish psychologists, but they are under suspicion nonetheless. They might plastic up her insides, apparently, and she insists on boiling the water for her morning coffee in a manky limey saucepan that she clearly salvaged during World War II. Even so, her morning coffee is another torment to my olfactory senses, as she gets to drink the nice filter coffee, while I am only allowed access to Nescafé’s finest. I am enacting slow vengeance by misaligning the spoons in the cutlery drawer. No you have not read incorrectly -they are aligned. Like soldiers, at the culinary front.

Now you know what I’m dealing with.

Keep watching! That’s the safe cross code

AM

The blog is on a bit of a go slow. I’m too busy these days gazing adoringly at my new phone and feeling like a French person to be writing blogs you know. I am inexplicably proud of the phone, and even more inexplicably proud of its charger, which has TWO prongs and not three. How continental, I hear you say. No need for an adapter, I hear you gasp in shock. Yes that’s correct, I live in France you see, and my electrical equipment is now attuned to their voltage system. Oh what a fantastic pain in the arse I am going to be when I get home. Speaking in a French accent and refusing to eat between meals. God, future me is a right smug fuck. I don’t like me already, and I’ve barely met me. But like me or not, a French phone number and a bank account proves that I am a real live citizen of France. I have really moved here, and am not just a charlatan taking a very long holiday. Armed with an ATM card and unlimited text messages, there’ll be no stopping me.

Actually that’s not true at all. I’m very easily stopped in my tracks, or at least significantly slowed -primarily by the aforementioned object of my affections -the phone. The phone is an inferior version of the sturdy Nokia I had in 1999. It is pink and black and tiny, and has rubber buttons that require unreasonable pressure in order to register a number. (Kindly picture me wringing out my hands dramatically, with an expression of anguish on my face). It has a horrible echo and you can probably play ‘Snake’ on it. But it was €17.90, it works, and I love it.

However, if inanimate objects can give me pleasure, they can also give me pain. I felt actual grief this morning when two of my moisturisers simultaneously ran out, and I spilled some of my hair serum. I’ve realised that my toiletries have become like transitional objects for me, like small viscous safety blankets, quietly maintaining my link between here and home. I may be ready for two pronged plugs, but a French skin care routine is completely out of the question. You spend years, Years, finding the products that are cheap and effective, (not always that cheap, admittedly) only to discover when you leave the country that their only global stockist is the Supervalu in Mahon. I did go desperately in search of Aldi on one of my walks the other night, but only found several substandard Lidls. In fact, Google maps later confirmed that while the nearest one isn’t exactly in Germany, it could have been a very long walk indeed.

My nightly walk was cancelled last night -i sent myself a memo -owing to a massive thunder and lightning storm. And tiredness. But generally I have been going for a ramble at least once a day, for discovery of self and city. However, said rambling is clearly going to be the cause of my demise in France. Try as I might -and do try -I cannot get the hang of the traffic flow. This driving on the right business has me completely addled, and a I am a menace to myself. I keep saluting the people in the passenger sears of cars when I am allowed to pass, and becoming shocked when they are nonchalantly looking around them while whizzing through town at high speed. But more worrying is the number of buses that I literally just haven’t seen coming. I very much need to befriend the Green Man of the Traffic Lights. It’s that or stand on the footpath singing the Safe Cross Code.

We’re having lots of tram drama this morning. Trama? No that sounds a bit more alarming than can be claimed. It’s very packed, resulting in people assuming the ‘starting the 100m sprint’ crouch position atop their seats a good five minutes before their stops. Which gets awkward, not to mind painful, I’d imagine, when the tram driver decides to stop at a traffic light 12 inches before the start of the platform. However, the second result is causing more difficulty. I have always been endlessly impressed by people who can stand casually on moving trains and buses, appearing as if the vehicle’s movement causes no impediment to their balance whatsoever. I have spent vast periods of time studying these people, and experimenting with engaging various muscle groups. However, i always end up unstably gripping the grab rails so tightly that my shoulders are at risk of dislocating, in the event of a sudden stop. Or a gradual one, for that matter. However, apparently the city council engineers and train designers envisaged an urban space so civilised that no tram carriage would ever be overburdened with surplus commuters. Work hours would be staggered -in fact, if people were lowly enough to work at all. But this is not the reality, and now we have spacious corridors in the middle of the carriages, with no friendly yellow monkey bars to offer stability. Naturally I ended up entangled in the earphones of the young man beside me while I lurched towards an empty seat (its perching crouch-mistress just ready for the off). However, my clumsy pirouette was expertly outdone by a college student, who looked as if he had he’s wits about him, but landed, damsel in distress style, in the arms of the tiny middle aged woman behind him. I tried not to laugh.

(I failed.)

 

The sadness of salad

12:10
I’m in the university cafeteria, and regretting a sudden fit of recklessness, in which I deviated from the norm and ordered a new kind of salad. It is 4% tuna, 96% raw carrot. Given my historic fondness for extreme dieting, I am well aware of what this means. Juice diets (nothing but fruit), paleo diets (anything but fruit!), low carb, unlimited carbs (the mystery of Slimming World), low calorie, high protein + lifting things -I’ve tried them all. And committed to them all individually with a determination, rigidity and vehemence that can only be sustained for about three weeks. And which is invariably followed by a 6 month guzzle fest. And once I’ve loosened the reins on myself, my inner savage comes bursting out, with a whirlwind appetite for wine and chocolate. So in conclusion, I’ve met raw carrots before, and I’m wise to their trickery. They have a sustenance quotient of about 4.7 seconds. They insist you are full, and bravely refuse additional nutrition, only to turn around five minutes later, cup their hands behind their ears and say “haaaaah haa, only joking”. It’s set to be a long afternoon..

 

16:50
Said afternoon was spent, incidentally, in the laboratoire with Classe B2.5, where we generally put on our headphones and pretend we are on the phone, causing logistical problems for one another. If I get any better at emulating an unhelpful slacker in after-sales-service, I am sure to be head hunted by a large multinational. We spent more time on our /b/s and /p/s, and afterwards some on our /d/s and /t/s. Nothing to do with /d/elirium /t/remens, but if you could get these by boredom, I would have them. Amusingly, we record ourselves so we can listen back afterwards to how we’re doing. My very audible sighs meant it became difficult to tell whether the playback was my own voice or whether someone had invited Darth Vader to the language lab. I’m not sure whether it was the Chinoises or the chstarvation.

Cider swilling and culture

It’s Monday morning, and I’m on the tram, as usual, seeking entertainment and inspiration. As always, the tram doesn’t disappoint. A young guy has just boarded, and has met his friend. The friend asks, “T’as bien dormis?” (Has he slept well?). Our protagonist takes massive umbrage at this mild and mannerly enquiry about his health, and starts gesticulating pointedly at his face, having taken the question as a direct accusation of having not very bien dormis. Jaysis. You couldn’t keep up with the wide variety ways to insult someone before breakfast in this country.

I don’t feel as if I have very bien dormis myself as it happens. After a complete disaster of an attempt to socialise, I wasn’t much at ease before going to sleep last night. I had agreed to meet the Spanish ‘translationist’ of the wine tasting event, who quite randomly messaged me to see if I would like to meet her and an American friend to see a movie. Her name is Gabriela and she is very talented at sending rapid fire Facebook messages in French. She has usually launched six at me in the space of time it’s taken me to cobble together two sentences. Of course I have to run all my messages through Google Translate prior to sending, which doesn’t help time-wise. Additionally, I must adhere to my very strict rule about making an attempt in French first and then translating back for corrections -partially as a language exercise and partially to avoid sounding like a half-wit, which is the fate of those who foolishly believe Google Translate to actually translate things for them. It’s kind of like a sat nav -a handy tool to have in an emergency, but must be use with an element of reflective practice. As we all know only too well, a trip to a nearby attraction in County Kerry could easily take you on a fun filled spree through Boris-in-Ossery. And unless you’re on the bus to Dublin in 1992 and dying for a wee, NOBODY wants to be in Boris-in-Ossery.

But I digress. Gabriela arrived twenty minutes late for the film, leaving me and what turned out to be a very conservative American to find each other -without each others’ names, numbers or any other identifying variables. However, my nervous and abrupt head-turning in the queue marked me out as an étranger, and Rachel the Republican found me. Now in fairness to Rachel, it’s not like she was wearing a Donald Trump t-shirt or anything, but she tutted her way through the film, disapproving loudly at swear words and sex references. Which comprised of pretty much the entire screenplay. Immediately after the movie (Gabriela did eventually show up), the two agreed it was too late for staying around for the chats and actually started Sprinting, yes Sprinting, for a tram. Having not yet given Rachel the €6.50 for the cinema ticket, I was left with no option but to sprint after them, very nearly ending up carted off by their tram in the vague direction of Timbuktoo. Or its French equivalent at the very least. Jeebus. Starting to suspect that Gabriela is a mad thing.

I could be just tired after the whole weekend though, which was busy. The visit to Lyon was very enjoyable, but tiring. So tiring in fact that upon my return “home”, I was assailed with a sudden and insatiable thirst for cider, so I quickly made arrangements to call to the Hungarian and her boyfriend with the French equivalent of a bag of cans. Except we’re French now and we drink cider from fancy bottles, even if they did cost €1.80 in Monoprix. I think her boyfriend, Francois, who is genuinely French, was slightly shocked at the pace at which his lovely girlfriend and I could get through said bottles, but all in all we passed a very pleasant evening, comparing phrases and sayings in English, Irish, French and Hungarian. The Hungarian ones related mainly to goats and cabbages. Telling. In fact comparisons were far
more readily made between Hungarian and Irish, both of which have evaded contamination by American TV, and have resultantly maintained their histories and cultures within their respective languages. Although the goats and the cabbages seem to be still very real in the lives of Hungarians! I learned a lot about the origin of a number of phrases in English, their meaning having been lost on me due to disconnection from the world of their origins -for example, “the hair of the dog”. Francois also taught me about the origins of the two fingered ‘salute’ -I had thought this was a universal ‘fuck you’, but apparently it has its origins with English bowmen, who had their index and middle fingers cut off  when they were captured by the French, to render them incapable of using their weapons. To show two fingers thus became a sign of revolt, and of ‘fuck you, I can still shoot at you’. The things you can learn at a cider swilling soirée.

So France is definitely widening my cultural experience, but in a more easterly direction than I had anticipated! I also learned a phrase from the Russian during our trip to Lyon that reveals an awful lot about any Svetlanas who have previously crossed my path -in Russia apparently “A smile for no reason is a sign of a fool”. Yes. Ve are verry heppy to meet yoo, but ve theenk yoo or all greening eediots foo kennot hold yoor wodkas. By comparison to my sensitive co-tram-taker I imagine the Russians are somewhat less easily offended. Cultural studies continue!