October 31, 2008

Lady in Waiting


Vélib’ is the name of the rentable bikes that are stationed all over Paris (Vél = Vélo = bike, Lib’ = Liberté = freedom). Really, the system is delightful. In the streets of Paris, the shelf-life of a bicycle one actually owns and leaves locked up is approximately 24 hours. It will be stolen, full stop. Knowing the thieving ways of the French (not chicken thieves Xavier, bike thieves), the mayor of Paris instituted an ingenious system (also implemented previously in Lyon) of rentable bikes.

There are these stations all over the city - literally every couple of blocks or so. The bicycles line up and wait for their turn to be taken. One simply registers for a card, pays an annual fee of about 30 euros and receives a card with a chip in it. By placing the card on top of this little cubicle, to which the bike is attached, the light turns yellow and then green and then the bike is released and off you go.

With the influx of so many bicycles in the city (and an abundance of tiny medieval roads), the city has made an effort to designate lanes to bikes. Usually you get to share with buses, and as Stephen said as we were biking along when he came to visit last year - at first you are absolutely terrified of being passed by these huge buses, but then you realize they are a little bit like whales - massive but harmless...they even sound like they have blow-holes.

So, the city has worked to accommodate bikes, but with this accommodation comes rules to follow. Traffic laws. I never stop for red lights unless it is necessary. The police don't like this approach and now there are police stationed to stop cyclists who don't obey the laws of the land.

Not surprisingly, Xavier is also one of these cyclists. He has an interesting technique when he is caught breaking bicycle laws though. When pulled over for running through a red light or for cycling on the sidewalk, he immediately whips out his Australian driver's license and speaks in English to the French policeman. The policemen are usually convinced (how, you demand?...a very good inquiry) and they just try to communicate with hand gestures and little bits of English that, in Paris, one cannot behave that way on a bike. Le renard.

This is a Vélib’ map of my area of Paris; the little purple circles indicate where stations are. As you can see, they are plentiful.

The only problem with the system is the fact that destroying public property is a national past-time. The French are experts. Bikes are often found strangled by the rubber of their own tires, or just dented and mangled like this one.

Dad, I cycle so much I am probably going to beat you on one of your 10-mile loops in Enumclaw when I come home for Christmas (Mud Mountain Road/410 preferably - there we encounter the steepest incline). I hope you are up to the challenge. Get training.

October 29, 2008


This post is officially dedicated to Layla, my wonderful student who found a pumpkin for me in Paris, bought it and dragged it all the way to class to give it to me. I was so happy and tonight I carved it with my two little Frenchies who had never carved a pumpkin before...

First, the Frenchies regarded the pumpkin with disdain when we lifted its little carved hat, horrified by what they saw and smelled inside. To me, it is a divine smell. Pumpkin gunk. I love it.

Then, I spent some time explaining exactly how a pumpkin is properly gutted and carved. Marguerite didn't really get it until we cut the first triangle eye. Then she started liking the whole jack-o-lantern idea. Voilà.

Now, the pumpkin sits on the table, shining its yellow light on Marguerite as she eats (who is mainly just interested in blowing out the candles inside).

Here I am, typing away at my little desk (rust free, I might add - look), and I overhear this little interchange between Xavier and Marguerite and I can't stop laughing, I am almost crying:

Xavier: Les Italiens sont des voleurs de poule...et Martha My Dear - c'est une chanson des Beatles. On adore les Beatles. Martha dans la chanson, c'est une femme - comme Martha Stewart; (pause) elle est un homme en fait.

Marguerite: Non!


Xavier (in a sing-song teaching voice): Italians are chicken thieves...and "Martha My Dear" is a Beatles song (playing in the background). We love the Beatles. Martha in the song is a woman - like Martha Stewart; (pause) actually, she is a man.

Marguerite: Non! (exclaimed in immediate disagreement with a breath of laughter behind)

October 28, 2008

Öcalan and Les Grèves à Paris

We now live on rue du Faubourg St. Martin. That may not communicate much to you, but in fact, it turns out to be a central locale for les grèves (strikes) in Paris. I basically love these. We are especially lucky because from our little balcony we can see all the action, almost as if we lived on Fifth Avenue with all the parades below. We have been here just a short while, but have nonetheless witnessed several grèves. Xavier and Nicolas, above, show us just how it is done.

Striking is one thing the French are very good at. If you recall, during my 'civil training' I requested a special training session on just how to go about striking. And then the other night, Louise, my niece, said to her mom (my sister-in-law), "I won't take a bath. I will strike." Marie laughed and I did too - because I loved that a 9-year old would employ such an idea in her everyday speech.

Anyway, the French strike about many many different issues. Most commonly, public transportation. But also taxis, education, social security, Sarkozy. You name it. Usually I don't mind a bit. I ride a bike everywhere and bikes do not go on strike, (although I wouldn't be surprised if one day I woke up and they too were out of commission due to a grève). Xavier even told me that one day a couple of weeks ago when the economy really started its downturn (worldwide), there were people near his work striking against the economic situation.

Here we see people 'sans papiers' (without papers) in France, marching to the beat of drums and making their claim for legitimacy in France.

They were beautiful, wearing all sorts of bright colors - almost dancing in the street. This one really was like a parade - they even made a float - a blow-up tank. I suppose they wanted to emphasize the importance of peace at the same time.

The best part is that they are totally backed by the police. One hundred percent. The police close lanes of traffic, they drive behind or in front of them, clearing their path. I think all of this is part of a policeman's job description in France.

From what I've seen, most of the time these manifestations are totally ineffective. However, they do provide a public forum for airing grievances. Almost like a group counseling session where everyone vents. I am all for that sort of emotional ventilation.

Last weekend, I was particularly interested in a manifestation that passed by. I saw these signs:

"We condemn the barbaric attacks against our leader Öcalan"

And I felt a little sheepish because there were hundreds of people marching in the streets with their signs and flags and I didn't really know much at all about this guy Öcalan.

After some basic research...he is, as would be expected (with his face flying all over those raucous flags like that), on the terrorist list in the US and other countries. He was a rebellious Turkish leader. Apparently, he launched a war against Turkey with the aim of an independent Kurdish state. He also founded the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) = Marxist, which is the very thing that makes him 'terrifying' to people like Bush and others. (I really love how Bush has continued to employ the word 'terror' as a thing to combat. An emotion).

After all of that (pre-1980), he fled Turkey, because he didn't make that many friends and lived in exile in Syria. Interestingly, since he was captured, he was sentenced to death in 1999 but Turkey abolished the death penalty in 2002 (that's right Americanos - we are pretty lonely at this point with our death penalty stance). Thus, he won't die. He will spend his life in solitary confinement as the only prisoner on an Island in the Turkish Sea of Marmara! They removed all the other prisoners, but kept 1000 guards there for him.

The "barbaric attacks" reference relates to his treatment in prison. Some people got a hold of strands of his hair and claimed that heavy metal traces were found. The Turkish government has completely dismissed the claims. I don't know the reality behind all of this, but solitary confinement for your whole life seems quite barbaric - but then I don't really know what kind of barbarism he enacted to get himself in there...

What really counts is that people are striking in his honor in France.

October 27, 2008

Climbing Out

If it seems that I have been obsessed with and all-consumed by this apartment - that is because I have been. Moving on and climbing out now that things are a bit organized... (but still, bathroom and bedroom photos to be added very soon - just a little more indulgence).

October 24, 2008


There is a gun and knives store on the corner of our street - an "Armurerie" - not far from the door to our building. This is a strange spectacle in Paris, because as you know, the French and other Europeans pride themselves on their anti-gun policies. I don't particularly like guns; in fact, a store like this disturbs me. However, it does provide a good outlet for snide comments. Xavier's friend to me the other day: "You must feel right at home with that next door..." Hah hah.

Maybe I've lived an unrepresentative American existence, but I don't think I've ever even touched a real live gun.

Josephine's Last Stand

Not surprisingly, the morning we moved, Josephine had her part in the story.

Those huge cranes that lift furniture up into or out of an apartment are commonly used when people move in the city because stairways are so narrow or there is no elevator and 5 flights of stairs, etc (pictured in the post below). If you recall, when we moved into this apartment a year-and-a-half ago, Josephine was wringing her hands in the courtyard, afraid that such a huge machine would fall through the tiles and down into the cave below.

This year, her tone changed. Roles reversed and the neighbor on the first floor was outside almost in tears, while Josephine was assuring her that we had been first-class neighbors and that the crane-machine was not as vicious as it appeared. We were shocked.

Josephine defending us?

She came over to our side of the hallway later on that day to commiserate a bit, telling us that it was absurd how upset Marie-Laure had become - it was only a machine for moving people after all. We nodded in speechless agreement and then, inspired, Xavier ran to get the camera because we knew that she would be talking without cessation for the next ten minutes, regardless of what we did or said (including holding a camera in her face while she spoke).

So here it is: Josephine telling a tragic tale of the sick neighbor below and then, almost weeping, abruptly changing the subject to display her beautiful grandchildren (she even got Marguerite to concur that they are 'mimi' - cute).

I think she had caught wind of the fact that we would be moving that morning - she was dressed, coiffed and ready to go at a very early hour...

Ah, but I will miss the white-topped mushroom in her floor-length t-shirt sauntering outside of our door, trying to get a peep in.

October 23, 2008

Our Disaster

I've sort of disappeared this week. I am actually trapped under boxes if anyone can come by and free me.

So, we have moved into our apartment, which wasn't really ready to be moved into, mais ce n'est pas grave. Every day after Juan leaves, (Juan is the gentleman working hard to finish things), I get more and more excited that this place will come together. These pictures may not show it, but it will be a really great apartment.

First, the move...moving out:

Moving in:

During the commotion, Marguerite and I sat in a big chair and observed.

Meanwhile, Xavier transported his most precious objects by bike:

And was very proud of himself when he arrived:

The apartment awaiting all of our stuff:

And then it arrived:

And little by little, we sort through it...that is, when the rooms are completed and ready to receive.

And I do love the neighborhood...just down the street we find:

October 16, 2008

London and le Renard

In preparation for our big move, we headed to London early this week. (That makes no sense, except to us). Anyway, Xavier had work to do and I had lounging to do. I went to the British Museum and saw Mr. Joey Moon - an all time favorite. He was splendid and irreverent as always.

And then there were the doors, always a site to see, n' importe où.

Best of all was this:

This is Xavier being the renard (fox) that he is. I walked up to him in the line at Eurostar, and found that he was pretending to lift a whole pile of the name tags for luggage. Wearing that face and that expression. He is Mr. Renard (please do note the uncanny resemblance).

We're Moving in on Saturday!

That is proclaimed with a conglomeration of emotions. The apartment will be fabulous. YEAH! The bathroom has no toilet yet. NO! The work is taking a wee bit longer than anticipated. WHAT?! And Xavier is as self-satisfied as ever. EHHH!

Translation: Voila. Look. It is practically finished. Exactly as anticipated - in, what, 3 days we're here - everything is great. Just like we thought - it's finished. There is nothing left to do - a few little things - a few details to take care of...

Here are some images to accompany his claims:

First of all, Xavier has been working diligently to move things along...

...with a little help from his friends (Nicolas, Xavier and I really did tile the bathroom).

The Paris metro tiles I mentioned previously.

The kitchen.

The living room.

Our bedroom.

Marguerite's room.

I love the texturing of the walls - common in France, but again, not in my brain.

So, we will have to live with some work. Not a big deal.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...