The sign is down!

The sign has come down. I suspect there has been a conniption of sorts thrown by Jeannette, whose relationship status is apparently “moitie-moitie” -fifty fifty. That or maybe she just didn’t take too kindly to being touted as merchandise, with her single status advertised right under our artisanal teas. Pity. I quite liked having it up there. I’ll just have to get a t-shirt printed.

Visiting Vercors: being led up the garden path

9:30am

Well it transpires that my incompetence has extended to my personal life as well as my professional life. I got up at 6:30 this morning, and launched myself onto my tired feet at this ungodly hour. I had it on good authority (the weather forecast) that we would have cold temperatures but sunshine today, and I had an ambition to get myself to the mountains. There have been a number of failed attempts so far, previous plans being thwarted by bank holidays, buses, and finding work, but this time I was determined. I had given myself ten minutes leeway, in case I couldn’t find the bus, and was full sure I had left myself with ample wiggle room. However, in my hasty Google planning yesterday, i forgot that everything in France is highly bureacracised, and that to hop on a bus, buy a ticket and GO somewhere would be far too much to hope for. Naturally, office finding and lengthy queuing are in order. So having found the bus for Vercors, and on the second sprint found the ticket office, I stood in the queue until 7:49, watching the monitor telling me that the bus was still at the platform. I had tried the ticket vending machine to no avail, and joined the long queue -ignoring the lady at the empty counter who was clearly only stationed there for celebrities and royalty.  Equally naturally, the bus departed on time, at 7:50 -apparently long waits are only necessary for public services when it is highly inconvenient. Of course I was still in the queue. The wrong one, evidently. If I had paused my panic and read the sign, I would have seen that the queen’s first advisor was in fact the one selling bus tickets, and not train tickets. So I could have made it after all. Je m’énerve. I’m annoying myself. So now I’ve opted for the later time, and have lost all hope of ever finding a mountain without a car. I can SEE them, I just can’t REACH them.

Fail to prepare and all that.. (This plan incidentally was my third option for finding mountains, and nothing is guaranteed even if I get there, as I am awaiting the advice of a tourist office adviser in Vercors to see if such a thing is even possible -the buses generally refuse to take you to the mountains midweek). I am now back home in defeat, waiting for the next bus at 10:10, which is unlikely to leave me with much time for rambling around Vercors. There is a lot of failure associated with finding your pieds in France. Even more with getting your pieds on the montagnes, apparently -even the lady at the bus station told me to get a car. But it doesn’t help when you’re an optimistic ape who doesn’t read signs. Moral of the story? Sleep deprivation doesn’t work kids. It doesn’t matter how many espressos you drink.

But now, having had the time to open Facebook messenger….. Copine alert!!! A message from Karim last night, advising me that it is cold in France (clearly he saw the weather forecast too…) and to mind myself when I go out!! WTAF is going on in his mind???!

10:10am

I am on a bus!!! Who knows where it will take me exactly, but at least I’ve gotten this far..
I realised on the way to the bus station (round 2) that I still feel like I am only pretending to live in France. Even though I now have an apartment, a job, and you never know, maybe in time even a social security number. I run into people I know in the centre-ville, and I have someone possibly trying to seduce me into Islam. It all SOUNDS very much like I live here, but it still feels like I’m only playing a game. Which I am in a way, having run away from reality and kind of joined the circus -which has been a lifelong dream, if you must know. In fact, I’ve just realised that moving to France with a view to climbing up high things (rocks, mountains, whatever) isn’t a million miles away from the career path I chose at age 4, which was to join the circus and be one of the acrobats who climbed the ropes.  Christ, do we decide anything independently? I’ve long suspected that our major life decisions are driven not by rationality, but by an almost pre-conscious force, that is driven by much more primitive instincts and early-life formations. This has in fact been well documented in several prestigious psychology publications, but this proves it for me. My four year old fascination with the blonde lady in the blue sequinned bikini has led me to what many may interpret as an early mid-life crisis! I was always advanced for my age…

10:53am

You will not believe it. For some unspecified reason, the extraordinarily pretty office de tourisme has a special closure for Weds 29th and Thurs 30th November. The curse of the fermature exceptionelle strikes again….

Why France, WHY???? Toujours pareil, always the same, as the friendly bus driver told me. There was a promising looking sign outside with mountain routes, but it seemed to think I had three to six months to spare, not recognising that my last bus home is 6pm this evening, and only suggested routes ranging from 60 to 350km.

 

I took a stroll up through the town for a bit of investigation instead, now that I was there. It was DESERTED. Like, abandoned looking, tumbleweed gently rolling across the empty streets. All it’s missing is a Wild West style saloon, with no one there but a swinging door and a smoking gun. Vercors is clearly a skiing resort, but can’t think what else to do with itself for the rest of the year. Typical French attitude -they have no idea what to do with time off and just go to sleep. So I walked through the village -every shutter in the place closed and the wind whistling through the town -and out the other side. The were a few bedraggled looking signs claiming ‘overture 7/7 jours‘, (open 7 days a week) but this was either wild optimism or blatant lying.

On a whim I went towards the opposing mountains and followed the sound of water. Lo and behold didn’t I find a friendly yellow sign, pointing me to a number of possible walks of varying length!

Success!! Who needs tourist offices!! Actually me. I do. As everyone knows, those yellow signs only ever want to lead you up the garden path -quite literally in this instance; the path started at the back of a few of the shuttered up houses. So up the garden path I went, panting and wincing my way up what seemed to be very steep slopes.

Now I’m a great women for going UP things, with little consideration or thought given to getting back DOWN things. It was only when I turned around, after reaching a wide field with no further  directions (that’s yellow signs for you), that I realised I appeared to have, without noticing, mounted a red ski slope.

Tricksy that was, to pick my way back down.. But I did it. My left knee had an awful lot to say about the matter, but we’ve discussed it and I’ve promised it I will bring it to a physiotherapist before I bring it to another mountain. I also promised it a chocolate crepe with ice cream later, which appeased it no end.

So Vercors was an interesting trip, and the place is very beautiful, particularly in that gorgeous almost ephemeral frosty winter sunshine weather that is best experienced at altitude.

I did succeed in getting a bit of a hike in the mountains, and it wasn’t until I left on the bus that I realised I had stayed in the city almost without exception for a full two months, which is a most unlike me thing to do. Sadly, it looks like I won’t be repeating the experience any time soon, and purchasing a car is a long way off, unless I decide to purchase a set of crutches to go with it. So for now, crepes and ice cream it is.

WHY DOES ALL OF FRANCE CLOSE ON SUNDAYS???

WHY DOES ALL OF FRANCE CLOSE ON SUNDAYS??? When I have THINGS to be doing??? Or a lack of things now, as the case may be. (Angriness). I made it about halfway down the stairs before remembering that all of the supermarchés close at 12:30 on a Sunday, and it is now 12:40. What am I supposed to do now?? I can’t go eating sandwiches an hour before schedule, and me and Karim have exhausted all of our joint vocabulary on ‘reasons why I should go to Tunisia’. (Karim is quite the Tunisian ambassador, and is most insistent on the topic -a variety of multi-media persuasion tools have been employed, and he refuses to believe that I cannot be entertained there). I have a project to visit an Irish pub later to beg for work, but they don’t open until 16:30.

I have come to the stage where I have now applied for all of the appropriate jobs advertised within a 20km radius, and I have realised that when you offer your services unsolicited, you are met with a look that is half way between sympathetic and insulted, and words I do not quite understand but that generally convey “no, if we wanted someone, we would have advertised like normal people, you imbecile”. So apparently that is not how the system works here. Which is partially limiting, as I am now left with few options but waiting for new ads on the internet (I only allow myself to check once a day). However, it is also kind of liberating, as it frees me from the constant guilt of feeling that I haven’t yet visited Every Single Establishment in the Area and its Surrounds.

In fairness, I have plenty to do, and my guilt can always find somewhere to hang its hat. Its hat is currently resting casually on my grammar book, which is looking at me sulkily every time I breeze past it. I also have some considerable Gabriela-related guilt. Which is mainly her own fault, but that is no reason I can’t feel guilty about it. She being Spanish probably doesn’t even have a word for guilt, so one of us has to shoulder the burden. It started on Thursday -would I like to come to Lyon? Not on your nelly, Gabriela, is what I did not say but conveyed more politely. Was I sure I would not like to come to Lyon? No I am quite sure, I was there not so long ago Gabriela, and I don’t want to pay €35 to go on a bus with you and feel demoralised for 16 hours, but thank you for the invite. And yet, a THIRD time, they have decided to go to Lyon on Saturday, and did I want to come? NOOOOOOOO! No to Lyon, no to bus, and no to the fifteen events you shared with me on Facebook in the time it took me to write my refusal! At this point though, my responses have become a bit faster, as I no longer care about making grammatical errors in my Facebook messages to Gabriela. However, she pulled a right fast one on me with one of these events, suggesting one that she had already seen someone else sharing with me, in which I had publicly and foolishly relayed an interest. I really have to reinstate my Facebook Lurker status. It was a wine tasting event, and I like tasting wine. So I had to admit that I was going with a friend, and agreed to invite her along when we agreed a date. However, that is where the guilt comes in. I socially manoeuvred it to go wine tasting on Saturday, with the Hungarian and co. Will you come along Gabriela, I say innocently. Ah but i am in LYON on Saturday, and I cannot. Oh LYON, Gabriela, you’re right, I totally forgot you mentioned that.. Fifteen times.. Désolé… So now I have Spanish guilt. Exacerbated no doubt by said wine, which was much tasted and much tasty. Regardless, the irrepressible Gabriela suggested going dancing apres-Lyon, when she arrived back at midnight. Is she high or what???? Dancing? Starting at midnight? I cannot cope with Spanish people, and their beautiful skin and relentless energy. Give me a pasty Irish potato with a bad temper and a drink problem any day of the week I say.

The wine tasting turned out to be fun (level: mild-to-moderate). Fun plusses included the Hungarian and the Wine; fun minuses: the presence of a 22 year old American whose family were Republicans, and her French boyfriend who got drunk from sucking on a sugar cube. Okay there were three drops of alcohol pipetted into it by a portly salesman who claimed his name was ‘Frére Jacques’, but it was hardly cause for the glassy eyes that ensued. We all went for pizza together later on (I boldly took a digestive enzyme), and the conversation started to suffer. Perhaps it can be excused by too many people who don’t know each other spending too much time together, but suffice to say that the iPhones got pulled out, and certain members among us started sharing YouTube videos. Which were weird and not funny, and kind of made me feel like I had been taking acid. In fact, the American girl revealed that she has gotten her boyfriend into the habit of watching YouTube videos of people popping pimples -apparently there is a whole channel for this. Disgusting and baffling, in equal measure. It is also baffling to me, the level of inanity that people are willing to tolerate just to avoid being alone. So as you can imagine, the evening got a bit draining, and I was never so happy to leave them all at a tram stop in the cold and skip off to Northern Africa. Sauna city baby, and I had the place to myself. Bliss.

And now happily, it is sandwich time, so I will bid you adieu.

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.)

 

Always go before you leave….

I’m in a car on the way to Lyon, and drinking two large mugs of coffee before leaving the house is starting to seem like a indefensible thing to do. It is a co-voiture (car share) situation, which means that enterprising individuals put the details of their planned voyage on a website called blablacar, and advertise the number of free spaces in the car. So for €15 each, Anna and I can get to Lyon and back. It’s a fantastic system, and apparently very popular in France. It’s basically hitch-hiking for people with credit cards. Monetising this age old tradition in one way seems like a shame, but on the other hand I’m very grateful for it, because if my new-found Russian had suggested that the two of us head for the motorway and start thumbing, I would have to redefine my circle of friend. Singular. No longer a circle, as such, more of a line. But thanks to blablacar, the Hungarian, the Russian and I continue to form a very neat triangle. Of course, neither of the other two know about this triangle, in which they are so deeply entrenched, but some day we will all come together and drink vodka and expand our shape making capacities.

It’s all about the nodding and smiling…

I tried really hard this time. I went to a nice quiet cafe, in the calm that can only be experienced at 10am in a university. It has the marvellous feel of the very early morning, without the inconvenience of having to actually rouse oneself from a (mildly hungover) slumber at an unreasonable hour. (The art exposition came good with the free wine). The weather is perfect today incidentally -crisp cold but real heat in the sun -and I couldn’t bring myself to cart me and my grammar book indoors. Thus determined upon an outdoor coffee, and emboldened by my stammering success at the bank just moments previous, I decided to explain EXACTLY what I wanted. I politely explained that I didn’t know exactly what to ask for, but that I wanted un Grand café noir (stress the Grand), with juste un petit peu du lait. Si possible. She smiled warmly and encouragingly at me, and reassured me that what I wanted was a cafe au lait, from her trusty machine juste derrière. Most self satisfied and smug, I sat myself outside at her best plastic table, and enjoyed the living fuck out of yet another latte. The struggle continues.

In other news, Mrs. G has taken to the bed!! Her son lost his job yesterday, which she explained was completely catastrophique for him, and she hasn’t been to work in two days. Will you come out of the pyjamas Mrs. G says I, don’t you lose your own job. Okay I said no such thing, I mumbled something about qu’elle dommage it was, and made knowing sympathetic faces, but I felt she could do with the advice.

Making knowing faces is very much the order of the day in Class B2.5, as it happens. I’m realising that the synopsis for this particular level must be something along the lines of “Faking your way around France: How to convince people that you speak far more French than you really do, and fool them into believing you have understood them”. This is the precise level we are at. It probably says this somewhere on the website, and if I in fact spoke French I would have understood this sooner. We spend a great deal of time in class practicing ‘nodding sagely’. In fact it was how we spent much of the first week. A dangerous game it is, pretending you understand. Any exchanges with the gendermerie are naturally discouraged. However, if I can blag myself a job out of it, I will write a most glowing report on the university equivalent of TripAdvisor.

So the art/poetry exposition was a great success last night. The most exciting aspect was perhaps finally finding justification for having brought my lipstick and high heels to Grenoble. With great results I might add -the bonjouring is back!! En route to the library, I encountered three bonjourers, one group of teenage snickerers and on an unrelated topic, a homeless man in a doorway passing the time by painting intricate designs on his patchwork trousers. I may have missed an opportunity to get a photograph in the National Geographic on that one, but the free wine was beckoning. Myself and the Hungarian installed ourselves in the back row, behind the conglomoration of university professors and middle-aged women draped in bohemian scarves, letting their hair grow long and grey and pretending to be ‘alternative’. The likes of which you might typically find at a reiki convention. Still, free wine is free wine. There were even nibbles, if one had the small intestines for them (gluten intolerance proving an effective starvation method in France). There were three poets who read words that I did not understand but that sounded very beautiful. I understood that the poems had been written to accompany the paintings surrounding us, and it was all very civilised. Our teacher from Class B2.5 was there, and she was very keen to culturally educate us, so took us under her wing and spoke extensively in rapid French to us. It’s a good job I’m as practised as I am at the nodding, although my neck is starting to get sore. The fizzy wine loosened the tongues a bit, and hopefully we exchanged a few sentences that made sense. The Hungarian and I have now professed ourselves so cultured that we plan to go to a bilingual poetry reading next week. We might have to bring our own wine to that one though…

They say Hupla in France! And other signs of progress…

07:20 -Chez Mrs. G
It’s early Thursday morning, and I am back on the buckwheat, baby! I’m slowly getting my act together, and the transition from Nutella to my Slimming World friendly buckwheat porridge has been quick and painless. I much prefer it, to be honest, and have lost a kilo since Tuesday! Go buckwheat. In fairness to it, it has regulated my eating completely. It’s true what they say, one Nutella leads to anutter (sorry) and things were getting out of control. It’s in hand now though, we can all rest easy.

8:20 -Tram stop
Ah unfamiliarity my old friend! It’s a strange phenomenon when you are in a new environment -you don’t realise it until something out of the ordinary happens, but you are always in a frame of mind in which you believe anything to be possible. Not in an inspirational Facebook quote kind of way, but more in an “if a tree gnome fell from the ceiling, I wouldn’t be in the slightest bit surprised” kind of way. So I was perhaps not surprised, but nonetheless petrified upon disembarking the tram just now, to see a man with a running chainsaw on the loose. (I knew there was a reason for last night’s clearly premonitory nightmare). Images of scary clowns and words like ‘Texas’ started popping uninvited into my terrified mind. Paaaaniiiicccc! Oh, no wait. Panic over. It was a leaf blower.

So prior to my near death experience, I passed yet another very pleasant half hour people-watching on the tram. I have noticed in my past that I have a tendency to stare at the parts of other women that are my own bug bears of the moment. For example, if I’m obsessing over my stomach, I stare at their stomachs, and compare theirs with mine. If it’s thighs are the source of despair, it’s their thighs I’m staring at. This was particularly unfortunate in secondary school, when I was consumed by the fact that I had no breasts.. As the men of the world will no doubt confirm, it is very difficult to stare at a woman’s breasts without coming across as an absolute creep. However, as my male counterparts will also attest to, once the impulse to look is there, it is impossible to ignore it. Over the years, the objects of my staring have included hips, noses, stomachs, the upper part of rib cages (a skinny upper mid section seems to be the reserve of very tall genetically blessed ladies, but is an insurmountable advantage when buying tight clothes), upper arms, bums and foreheads. (Please note that this list is not exhaustive). There was additionally a previous obsession with the perfect arches in my best friend’s feet -I can’t really explain this one, but she has enviably roundy arches. However, I am well past teenage insecurity at this stage and have accepted my breasts for who and what they are. At this stage in life, it is posture and injury (and ceaseless physiotherapy) that consume my thoughts and time. This morning on the tram, I found myself staring an attractive girl in the skinny jeans, thinking “what lovely turned out knees you have”. (All the better to climb stairs with you, my dear). However more socially appropriate knee staring is, I fear I am still a bog standard creep.

 

14:00 My Desk

Sure amn’t I only high as a kite. In the past three hours or so, the following fantastic things have happened:

  • I discovered that I was one of only three in the class to pass the listening test we had last week. This is a most marvellous boost to my Fronfidence, and I am caressing my 13.5 out of 20 as if it were a certificate of linguistic genius. I am not the dunce!! (Or ‘le cancre’, if you will, en français). (Yes that was parenthesised showing off). I am also gaining insight into why I can’t understand a lot of the Asians in the class -they literally cannot hear the difference between the /b/ and the /p/ sounds, and use them interchangeably. Oh, the fun we had today with our practicing. Best was when we clearly, loudly and repeatedly enunciated “boob”, “poop”, “boob”, “poop”. Chaos I tell you. Additionally, I have figured out why I can never understand our sole Chinese homme -it is because he makes no sense. He was supposed to present a simple anecdote, which went all over the world for sport and concluded in the translation of the lyrics of a Chinese song. Which none of the Chinese girls understood. Following which the teacher went on a lengthy rant about the importance of having a central idea and sticking to it. His presentation was entitled “Les perturbations”. Ironic, I says to myself.
  • I may have finally convinced the good people of Halfords in Navan that I never ordered a bike from them (although I have previously believed myself to have achieved this, only to receive further accusatory voicemails).
  • My pet Russian invited me to go to Lyon with her for a day some time in the near future, which is a much better outcome than I had hoped for when I made contact to invite her to an art/poetry exposition. She can’t come, but I have a plan B -see next point…
  • I have secured a means of procuring free wine with the Hungarian this evening. (See previous point).
  • I discovered that the French say ‘Hupla’!! Just like in South Kerry! (It sounds a bit sexier naturally, but it’s the same effect.)
  • I have finally programmed the word ‘amn’t’ into my iPad autocorrect.
  • And best of all, I just got a message telling me that my French bank account is OUVERT!! Success! I just have to go to the bureau tomorrow to sign the papers. Fingers crossed.

On the down side, I have physio to do. Boo.

Farewell coffee, my old friend

Weds Oct 18

I miss my Nespresso machine!!! I have not had a single good cup of coffee since I came to France. For a country that is not so much obsessed with food and drink as consumed by it, this may seem hard to believe, but it is true. This city is particularly food-obsessed -it would be a very unwise decision to move here with notions of flashing a bit of cash about, as you would be three stone heavier before you could say Patisserie. Everywhere, everywhere, is chocolate, cake, restaurants, food markets, people drinking fancy beers and ciders outside busy bars -it is literally temptation city. Happily for me, I am on a budget. Less happily for said budget, any coffees I have successfully ordered have been overpriced and/or disgusting. It would seem a simple request -black coffee with a little cold milk. However, it appears the French have never heard of americanos, and although I am quite convinced that such a thing exists in France, they have encrypted it’s name in a secret code known only to the elite French speakers and the upper echelons of the illuminati. Un café crème? Un grand café? Un longuer? I have tried them all, only to be met with perplexity, irritation and lattes. In that order.

So to continue my cultural analysis, on to Mrs. G, my resident landlady, who deserves a cultural study all of her own. As I covertly gather evidence and start piecing together her life, it appears that she lived in Asia for quite some time in her twenties and thirties, where I have deduced she met and possibly engaged in an ill-fated marriage with a Japanese man. This has left her with a tendency towards superfluous chopstick-usage and a fierce particularity about the Feng Shui in her apartment. The first rule of the Feng Shui way is no shoes past the threshold. I admit it, I break this rule with reasonable regularity. Physio exercises call for runners, so me and my newly purchased dumbells have been fenging our shui all over the place. However, my transgressions against Mrs. G do not stop there, oh no! (And she doesn’t even know about that one…) Many is the grievous crime I do commit, and I have to date been accused of the following: banging the door too loudly, opening the fridge too violently, allocating saucepans to rings on the hob too randomly, robbing her breakfast bowl for my lunch, and pinching her lunch bowl for my dinner!! I am not allowed use the washing machine -clearly, I could not be trusted with a machine of such power. (With great power comes great responsibility). I put the small bowls in the cups section of the dishwasher, I used the hand towel instead of the dish towel (they were identical), and I didn’t rinse the suds off the saucepans. Conversely, she was also upset that I was washing the cartons before putting them in the recycling bin and she told me not to do that! Crikey. (There was a terrible sulk the night of the fridge door incident.) It’s odd though -one would think that with Mrs. G having travelled through Asia and had years of students staying here, she must have come across more culturally diverse than the likes of me. I mean, I may be misusing some of her equipment, but it’s not like I’m shitting in the sink.

Now, in Mrs. G’s defence, she is great for the chats and is reluctantly helping me to secure a bank account. Okay I’ve press-ganged her into helping me secure a bank account -but if I can press gang in French then that makes it acceptable, n’est-ce pas?? I do also have to concede a point to Feng Shui at this juncture. While I’ve been in the process of dancing around the kitchen, entertained and delighted with the slanderous things I am planning to write about my good host, her dishwasher has enacted vengeance upon me and kicked me in the shin. A sore dose, but I probably deserve it.

All the same, much of the above is quite neatly paving the road to Northern Africa… To which, incidentally, I collected the keys last night! I am looking forward to having my own space and having a mirror in my room, the lack of the latter proving the more problematic. I have been doing my make up in a very compact mirror, which can lead to significant surprise at my first reflective encounter of the day. Sometimes it’s a good surprise, sometimes it’s a ‘clown stripes and mascara on my chin’ surprise. But what’s life without risk?

Now it may be linked to the mirror deficit, but I have noticed that the bonjouring from les hommes has taken a considerable nose-dive. I suspect that now that I’ve settled in a bit and lost my air of wide-eyed vulnerability, they’ve lost interest. (Must work on that..) I have recently resorted to making eyes at the painters on the scaffolding of our building, although I do find them somewhat overly familiar when they are peeping in my bedroom window in the mornings. One of them actually brazenly bonjoured me, having been caught gawking. Cheeky fecker would have been in for the tae had it not been for my scowl of reproach. (Or the substandard coffee, as the case may be, which would naturally have him running for the nearby hills).

So I am gradually coming to know the city, albeit primarily by its tram stops. If anyone mentions a landmark that is near a tram stop, I nod enthusiastically in excited recognition, as if I knew the place and it’s father’s father before it. However, what I am also coming to know, is that this place is fricking tiny! There’s about a four meter walk between each tram stop, sparing the economical walker no end of inconvenience. They could learn a few things from our Luas, I tell you. Dublin’s favourite ‘tramline’ of course understands that if you make things too easy for the customers, they will just get complacent and start taking advantage. They’ll stop making the effort. Won’t turn the telly off while having sex. That’s what you will get France. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The tram is quickly becoming one of my favourite places. It provides no end of intra-transit amusement -for example, this morning, four ticket officials, dressed like Ghostbusters, stormed the tram -each one, no doubt, playing the theme tune to the A-team in his mind. They blocked the descent of the unfortunate ticket-less chancer beside me, who at least had the cop-on to pretend to be Spanish. However, I don’t think they were buying it, and as the tram sped off he was surrounded at the station, four rifles trained on him. Okay I made up the bit about the rifles, but they looked as if they had it in them.

Additionally, I like to play a game on the tram, in which I try to decipher what the name of the next tram stop will be before I read the sign. It’s me versus the automated voice lady. The automated voice lady always wins. Her victory du jour was Flandrin Valmy. Now how am I supposed to recognise a name like that?? Not a helpful Pierre or Jean-Michelle in sight -she’s not playing fair that one. Sure I don’t know Flandrin or the sky over him! She could have been speaking Mongolian for all I knew. I had my money on ‘Mumbly Melville’, but no. Much to my dismay, it was Flandrin, me oul flower. I have her nailed though with Neyrpic Belledonne, who was a good friend of mine in the 1600s. My next nemesis, Hector Berliotz Université, doesn’t stand a chance, what with his vaguely recognisable name. The fool. Tram line C, how I will miss you in Northern Africa

 

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