Le Métro et moi – week 5
Published 6th October 2014
‘Il y a des jours’ (there are days) when I feel like, jumping on (not under – not yet) the Eurostar and ‘partir précipitamment’ (hotfooting it) back ‘sous la manche’ (under the channel). Maybe it’s ‘à cause du froid’ (because of the cold), or the fact that ‘je suis enrhumée’ (I have a cold) or maybe it’s the end of the expat ‘lune de miel’ (honeymoon), or ‘maintes’ (numerous) little things that are just more challenging abroad. I don’t want to ‘me plaindre’ (complain) but nor do I want to ‘faire semblant’ (pretend) that it’s all ‘un long fleuve tranquille’ (a bed of roses). Otherwise you’d all be coming out to join me – and I still haven’t had my ‘cuisinière’ (cooker) delivered ! I cheer myself up with a free ‘premier dimanche du mois’ (1st Sunday of the month all French museums are free or reduced) visit to the local Musée Maurice Denis and all of my little ‘ennuis’ (problems) fade away in glorious colour.
‘Toc toc’ (knock knock). ‘Qui est là?’ (Who’s there?). It’s me – remember? – from the ‘association d’accueil’ (welcoming association). I let the lovely lady in and she sits down and we natter away about why ‘je suis partie’ (I left), why I’ve come back ‘je suis revenue’ and ‘combien de temps je reste’ how long I’m staying for. I tweak it as I go along so that it sounds like there was some method to my madness. ‘Bienvenue!’ she says warmly! “Join us for the town’s ‘pot d’accueil” (welcome drink) and so, a week later, I am handed a sticker with a green dot which shows where I live – and I mingle with other, (shy) ‘timide’ stickered and dotted ‘nouveaux venus’ (newcomers) over exquisite ‘fait maison’ (home-made) ‘amuses-bouches’ (tidbits). I meet two ladies ‘très sympathiques’ (really lovely) with whom I ‘èchange’ (swap) life stories and phone numbers.
I take ‘quelqu’un’ (someone) to the hospital as a ‘patient en consultation externe’ (outpatient). We arrive and take a number – like at the shoe shop. When the number is called, we go and pay and only then do we get to see the doctor. It is an experience ‘qui donne à reflechir’ (sobering) to someone caught between 2 health systems. I hold on tight to the ‘l’escalier roulant’ (escalator) as we leave but by the time we’re back home I’m balancing on ladders changing ‘ampoules’ (light-bulbs), cleaning first floor ‘volets’ (shutters) and crossing my fingers.
See Maruice Denis’ beautiful paintings at www.wikiart.org
Published 29th September 2014
Friday night and my daughter ‘s’ennuie à mort’ (is bored to death) after daily overdoses of ‘devoirs’ (homework). We’ve been here a month and we still haven’t done the 20 minute métro journey in to Paris! ‘C’est inadmissible!’ (It’s simply unacceptable!). ‘Sur un coup de tête’ (on a whim) we put on our ‘rouge à lèvres‘ (lipstick), buy a ‘carnet‘ (book of 10) tickets and head off in to the night.
We take ‘les petites rues’ (backstreets) from the Arc de Triomphe towards La Tour Eiffel. It is Paris fashion week and people in ‘tenues bizarres’ (strange outfits) huddle trendily on street corners. We find a table on a ‘terrasse’ and eavesdrop on a fashion buyer and a journalist and suddenly feel terribly cosmopolitan. The waiter asks if we’re here for ‘La Semaine de la Mode’. I ask him incredulously if he’s seen what I’m wearing. We eat quickly and hurry to the tower just in time to see it ‘scintiller’ (twinkle) – just for us.
Antonio, ‘caricaturiste’, harasses us amiably as we take ‘un selfie’ (ok it wasn’t just one…). “Vous êtes soeurs?’ (Are you sisters?) – meant to flatter ‘maman’ (mummy) with the ‘porte-monnaie’ (wallet). ‘Tu es tellement belle – je vais mourir si je ne peux pas te dessiner’ (romantic flattery) he hypnotises my daughter, leading her away ‘par la main’ (by her hand). Despite my huffs and puffs of protest, we are soon offered a rather lovely ‘croquis’ (sketch) at a very unattractive price. “Je n’ai que’ (I only have) 5 euros”! I protest. He hands me the sketch with a smile. ‘Garde tes sous’ (keep your money) he winks – which is just as well as ‘une noisette’ (expresso with a hint of milk) goes up from 3 euros to 4:50 after 8:30pm (is that legal?!?!?!?).
This morning I jump out of bed, eager to go on my first ‘me’ activity since arriving – a forest walk with a local ‘association’. Only the event is ‘annullé à cause de la pluie’ (rained off). If we took that attitude in the UK it would end up being an annual event! I mutter as I slip on some ‘bottes en caoutchouc’ (wellies), grab ‘mon imperméable’ (waterproof jacket) and set off for ‘la forêt’ (the forest) alone.
Published 22 Sept 2014
‘Je trouve que tu as grossi!’ (I think you’ve put on weight!) said a French relative accusingly – reminding me that in France ‘la perte et la prise de poid’ (weight loss / gain) is fair game for general discussion ‘à table’ (at the dinner table). ‘
Je trouve que tu es très impoli !’ (I think that you’re very rude!) I countered. But ‘le lendemain matin à l’aube’ (the following morning at dawn) I donned my sports shoes. After a week of puffing and panting, I finished my circuit at the boulangerie, desperate for a croissant – only to find that it was fermé le lundi et le mardi! ‘Quel pays!’ (What a country!)
‘On a fêté’ (we celebrated) the ‘Journées du Patrimoine’ (heritage days) with un dîner spectacle (cabaret) in the ‘centre social’(community centre). We were treated to a ‘cancan’ and I learned that the word originally meant ‘scandal’ and that people used to be arrested just for dancing it! I also heard the sad story of the famous dancer at the Moulin Rouge ‘La Goulue’(the glutton).
The only awkward part of the evening was posed by the bread rolls. We were well in to ‘l’entrée’ (the starter) and no one had taken a bite. « How does it work in France ? Left or right for the ‘petits pains ? » I asked the table in an attempt to hide my peasant upbringing. After an awkward silence, it transpired that no one knew – so we voted on the matter. I was just about to tuck in when someone asked ‘And in England?’ at which point I had to own up that I knew nothing about ‘l’art de la table’ (the art of table setting/dressing/decoration) in either country. I’ve since checked and the English rule is “solids on the left liquids on the right” – and for once the French agree – presumably to avoid diplomatic disaster if the French and English were dining together on a cross-channel ferry…
We first saw the enourmous black ‘araignée’ (spider – pronounced aray-n-yay) late at night on the stairs. I managed to scoop it up and set it free despite shrieks of ‘Tue-la!’ (Kill it!) from my daughter. The next day, I found an identical spider ‘sous l’évier’ (under the sink) in a saucepan. « It came back! » shrieked my daughter « You need to take it far away! « So I trotted half way up the street and tried to tip it out quietly on the kerb. The spider clung on and I had to bang the saucepan several times on the side of the road to get it out – at which point I noticed some neighbours waiting bemusedly to introduce themselves.
Published 15th September 2014
Week 2 of the ‘déménagement’ (move) and most of the ‘cartons’ (boxes) are unpacked, but not yet ‘rangés’ (tidied away). I cannot bring myself to spend as much money on a ‘cintre’ (hanger) as the item of clothing that is going to be hung on it, so I’m waiting for a trip to ‘eee – kay – ah’ (Ikea).
Couldn’t wait for a kitchen table, so went to visit the local ‘Emmaüs’ (warehouse size charity shop). You don’t find Oxfams on the high street in France; everything is sold at ‘vide-gréniers’ (car boot sales), online, or is donated here. Picked up ‘une trouvaille formidable’ (a real find); an (extendable) pine table ‘avec rallonge’ for 20 euros and 6 rather pretty cups for 1 euro!
We are still cooking on a single ‘plaque de cuisson’ (hob) while we try to decide which ‘cuisinière’ (cooker) to buy. I am tempted not to buy one at all and use my cookerless state as an excuse for not being able to cook for anyone vaguely French.
I have not been to Paris, or to a museum or eaten very many croissants yet, though I am managing to drink a fair amount of wine which as I am a wine idiot I choose at random. In fact, my daughter chose the last bottle because it had my middle name on it – Château de Ruth – which turned out to be equisite! Still, whole days go by when I could easily be ‘en Angleterre’, were it not for the baffling French tradition of ‘écoliers’ (schoolchildren) being allowed home at lunchtime. No sooner have I breathed a sigh of relief and sat down at my ‘ordinateur’ (computer) than it’s time to prepare lunch and do the whole “Have you got your ‘carnet’ ?” (school-diary) routine AGAIN!
‘Pour résumer’ (to sum up) a week of ‘le train-train quotidien’ (daily grind) peppered with some lucky finds and the slow realisation that I am going to have to learn how to cook and choose wine or go back to the mountains and become ‘un ermite’ (a hermit) again.
Published 8th September 2014
So I’ve swapped the mountains for the métro, ‘à la périphérie‘ (on the outskirts) of Paris and the only thing I’m scared of here is how not to look like a ‘mal fagotée‘ (frumpy), middle-aged (the French don’t even have a word for it!!!) Englishwoman. I can finally satisfy my ‘penchant‘ (fondness) for fresh croissants and ‘longer les berges de la Seine‘ (strolling along the banks of the Seine). I’m supposed to be here for ‘les affaires‘ (business) but how can I focus when there is so much lovely FOOD and WINE and so many MUSEUMS? Quite simple, ‘je m’enferme’ (I lock myself away) in ‘la mansarde‘ (the attic room) with a copy of my ‘to do’ list (the French don’t seem to have an official expression for this either. What a sensible lot!)
I borrowed a ‘tondeuse à gazon‘ (lawn-mower) yesterday and the race was on as on Sundays there is an allocated ‘créneau‘ (time slot) to make loud gardening noises from 10-12. All was going marvellously until I made a sudden turn down a sharp bank and got dragged half the way down the garden on my derrière before I remembered to let go of the ‘truc‘ (thing – no idea what it is in any language) that makes it go forward.
I have been trying to perfect another kind of ‘créneau‘ (parallel parking) with an English car on a very quiet, but full street where everyone parks politely in their allocated spot. I made about ten ‘tentatives‘ (attempts) before I drove off in a huff and parked rebelliously in front of someone else’s house. Each day, my lovely neighbours have been diplomatically increasing the space between their two cars, so that now anyone apart from me really could ‘garer‘ (park) un autobus in it.
My worries about fitting in with chic Parisians disappeared instantly after reading Hadley Freeman’s article http://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2014/sep/08/how-to-be-parisian-move-to-paris which categorically states that chic, scary, skinny women don’t actually exist in any significant quantity and all I need to do is “Move to Paris. Speak French. The End.” I can do that.