Other people’s houses.

16 07 2011

Living in Paris is a character-building experience as, it is certain, is living in any other foreign, completely upside-down city.

Over the last (almost) three years (September 10 is the anniversary of my arrival, pencil it in) I have done without such modern luxuries as a kitchen, or a toilet which the neighbours do not use. I have no garden, and grass that is available to be walked upon is few and far between. I occasionally cook banana cakes in my shower, thanks to the friendly teamwork of an electrical steamer and the internet (for recipes), and the rest is microwaved crap, or fresh salady things, thanks to frequent grocery outings. I have grown used to the idea that the magical taste caused by a slow oven is reserved for the rich. Many a time I have advertised my time, effort and grocery shopping to anyone with a kitchen, simply because I love to cook.

My apartment / room / shoebox is tiny, yet has a wonderful view of the Opera Garnier, Centre Georges Pompidou and the Tour St Jacques. A little balcony would be nice, even a proper window, but there is no one to whinge about the dishes, the gentleman callers or the floor-drobe. Let’s face it, it’s a piece of shit, but it’s in Paris, and it’s mine.

This is why I love other people’s houses. I live vicariously for just a little while. I’m a successful whatever, tottering about Paris in fabulous clothes, hanging out the window, drinking wine.

This happens occasionally when I cat-sit France’s fluffiest cat, who happens to live in a beautiful apartment in central Paris. He is my commis while I cook up a storm in the kitchen. I live such wonders as a breeze whilst reading a book on the couch, attempting Ma’s famous roast vegies, eating ice cream when I want (not just after purchase, before it melts in the lame icy section of my fridge), and walking from one room into another. Life is good when I’m not in my house.

Another fantastic maison is that of the parents of the children whom a very dear friend cares for. Picture a blank piece of ground in Paris, an architect, a fair stack of euros and voilà…an amazing loft style HOUSE.  The oven alone is what dreams are made of. Many a vegie pie, sticky date cake, scone and stir fry have been made in that kitchen, and those memories keep me going when I squish myself back each time into my mouse hole.

Space is a premium that I absolutely love, cherish and will never forget the importance of, and one day I will maybe have it around me full time.


Lonely Planet for putting down roots – France, Part One – Les Hommes / Men

10 06 2011

To visit a place is a wonderful thing, to think you recognise a street corner, you walk a little more and find that the next one also looks familiar. I miss new things, but I continue to search for new areas and experiences.

I thought I’d write about the things one finds out from living somewhere other than home. These revelations are sometimes really surprising, often mindblowing and mostly learnt the hard way. I imagine this will cover mostly the French culture, food, men and Parisians in general.

Firstly, the reason I came to live in France was that the men are particularly beautiful, quirky and fun. I have since learned, via personal experience or accounts over 4-euro espressos on the terrace of Cafe de Flore, that they come in varied packaging but are limited in variety to just a few different flavours.

There is the charming, semi-hot one with the girlfriend who will let you know he is interested and act upon it.

The one who rolls over in the morning with a worried look on his face, similar to the break-up face. He’s engaged.

He who cooks dinner at his house will have his way with you. You agreed to dinner, and have inadvertently signed up for a burger with the lot, and you might not make it to dessert, unless it’s served for breakfast. I kind of respect this code, it’s a no bullshit way to say ‘how about it?’ without the timidity.

Glue boy. Go there once and you’ll be sharing an apartment before you can find your jeans.

Then we have the Firemen. Hold up on the excitement, however, they are not built like brick shithouses as in Australia, the fantasy-inducing kind. They are little boys with small arms and crew cuts, who wear white pants, carry ‘murses’ and drink beer with peach syrup. There do exist the big ones, almost similar to the Australian variety, who like to strip off at the Bal des Pompiers on 13th July, and who occasionally get my joke obliging them to point in a muscleman kind of way towards what I ask to know the direction of.

French men will chase women down the street shouting ‘mademoiselle!’ should you smile at them whilst they drink on a terrace, urging you to have a drink with them, or at least surrender a phone number. I’m just glad that I brushed up on my French numbers before I left Australia, and that I rarely remember correctly my own. They remind me of little boys in the way they are astonished by little girls. Even Police will leer at girls from the window of their Peugeot 306.

Flirting is something I find incredibly easy in France. Men have a flimsy barrier and I love to break through, whether its thanks to my cute accent, or the fact that I just made you reveal the dimples into which I asked if anyone had ever fallen. It’s fun and I enjoy making them smile most of all. I applied the same methods on a recent trip to Australia, in my mother tongue, and found it worked to a certain extent. I would also put it down to the metaphorical balls I have grown which grant me the willingness to put my ego on the line in order to meet people.

All in all, I love the French, I find them fun and quirky and in some bizarre way, they understand me.

Je déteste le shopping.

3 06 2011

Paris. City of fashion and love and other associated bollocks. It’s great if you are a runway model, or even just a French woman. For ordinary ladies packing outlandish extras like love handles, breasts or broad shoulders it is a nightmare. Months ago, I boycotted Zara after not fitting a size Large. Yes, the sizes reflect the population, and the measurements to regulate the size chart must have been taken from ten random women on the terrace of Café de Flore.

I have just returned from a second chance outing at Zara, having popped in a few days ago on a last ditch effort to find something to match the theme ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ and found some interesting looking garments. I tried to mosh my XL arse into a pair of size 40 jeans, to no avail, and a couple of stripey tops, about which I should have known better. And that was all after a 15 minute wait for the fitting rooms. All I came home with was a headache.

Shopping is uncomfortable, stressful and hot, regardless of the climate control in the shop. I rarely find anything I enjoy wearing and, as a result, wear the same baggy shit, all the time. Fashion in Paris bores me to tears because it lacks the thought and quality that Australian designers put into their wares. Zara is cheaply made, moderately priced runway ripoff when you get down to it. To be fair, they allow the everyday (French) woman to mimic the fashionistas, but when one wants a classic trench or a well cut shirt, they are nowhere to be found. I do like to laugh at the ever-present tumbleweeds of dust and lost threads in the fitting rooms, especially as there are always spare staff wandering about looking semi-busy, occasionally glancing at their colleague who is serving the 15-strong queue. I wonder if that happens in Spanish Zara stores.

I had hoped that there was something in the air that gave French women their slender figure, long jawbones, flawless skin, big clear eyes and straight-from-bed-chic hair, but after two and a half years I think perhaps someone was right about the coffee and cigarette diet. They just don’t eat, and I can’t go trying that, so for now I’ll sign up for bootcamp, stay off the drink (and bread) and chime into the fresh fruit and vegies that summer brings, and I’ll keep you posted on the progress.

Paris a stage, kt merely a player

31 05 2011

People are constantly intrigued as to why an Australian would be living in Paris, and I haven’t ever really bothered to think of a reason beyond the aesthetic, so it’s time I worked it out, and you’re all coming along with me.

It is no surprise that artists have always flocked to Paris. Her milky light in the mornings and afternoons is something I have never seen anything quite like. The way the streetlights glow in the afternoons, and shadows become long and distorted remind me of the work of André Kertesz, and every single time I see the Hotel De Ville I am warmly reminded of ‘Le Baiser’ from the wonderful Robert Doisneau.

Sadly, apart from art, I never learnt anything at school that really got me excited about learning, something that intrigued me so far that I would actively seek out extra information to quench a thirst I should have had. History was comprised of ancient Greece, a smidge of Egypt and touched slightly on our own brown land and, while interesting enough, the curriculum left me hanging on such fascinations as the Romans, world wars and how the incredible cities and natural formations of the world came about.

On any day in any part of Paris I can pass by an address that was once home to the inventor of something we today cannot live without, the last residence of an incredible writer, the grave of any of my photographic heroes, a cafe frequented famously by Hemingway or Picasso – hell even Piet Mondrian had his studio up the street from my apartment. It’s like being in the presence of greatness, despite their times having passed, everything left behind still moves us and, for me, they still pass within the crowds of the city at any given moment. In the Loire Valley I stood at the foot of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Tomb in a tiny church overlooking the city of Amboise, where inside the adjoint Chateaux I recently learnt that King Charles VIII had hit his head and died in 1498. I am addicted to reading about the history of France, and in particular Paris, and love to revisit the places and buildings mentioned. Once I was even reading a book over an espresso at Gare du Nord and in those very few pages a murder took place right at the station. I would liken it to living on a theatre set. The script, set and director could change at any minute, but the colours are always the same.

The professions that have existed through generations amaze me. There is a man still hand-carving crucifixes in his untidy shop window, the horloger now run by the daughter of the family, the street markets that pop up a couple of times a week selling all manner of country fresh goods,and the dozens of hand-painted babushkas on the walk from St Germain-des-Prés towards the Ladurée, founded in 1862, on Rue Bonaparte. Even the streets teach you history.  I love to imagine the man behind the shiny zinc comptoir of a café at 14 years of age, sweeping up the sugar packets, cigarettes and croissant crumbs, having worked his way up on little espresso shaped steps over the years, and today he fields the shouted requests from the waiters for coffee, wine or fresh juice, all without breaking a sweat.

Now why would someone so accustomed to wide open spaces have a desire to pay too much for a shoebox without a kitchen or a toilet? It’s a character-building exercise of course, because that little box with the slanted wall and view to the Opéra Garnier, Tour St Jacques and Sacré Coeur is my piece of Paris, and when I step outside I enter my movie scene, walk amongst the impossibly chic French women, handsome boys in suede moccasins and well-cut shirts, to find a spot in the sun in the park where a certain celebrated writer used to catch pigeons when there weren’t enough francs to go around. I can ride my bike past the Eiffel Tower (she still gives me goosebumps), peek through the cracks in the fence to Rodin’s lovely round- derriered men in his delightful garden gallery, revisit so many scenes of so many movies, or simply have a kip on the short grass inbetwixt the Louvre and the Tuileries garden.

So the answer remains quite similar, but I don’t need to explain why I love Paris, I just do, in so many ways. To attempt a full understanding wouldn’t be dissimilar to you explaining everything you love about the one you do. I’m just so happy that she loves me back.


29 05 2011
So I have learnt to avoid the following:
Talking to strangers in the street, unless they display a similar accent, are wearing matching parkas (tourists=harmless) or have just told you in french that you have dropped your smile (“excusez-moi, mademoiselle, vous avez tombée votre sourire”)
This also goes for the types who have ‘petitions’ on ‘clip-boards’ fashioned from cardboard boxes, those with particularly ugly rings they have ‘found,’ and anyone trying to tie a friendship bracelet on you.
Speaking english. If someone came to me in any of my retail roles in Australia and proceeded to speak a foreign language at me, I would be telling them where to go, and it wouldn’t be somewhere nice-sounding. Its a respect thing, you try, and the French particularly appreciate it. Far too often I hear ‘Parlez-vous Anglais?’  but well done les Americains, three words just doesn’t cut it.
Drinking cappuccinos. France borders Italy, but the coffee culture has skipped over France like a skim stone and landed in Melbourne, Australia. They don’t exist as we know them, they will cost you at least 5 beans, and it will be made from longlife milk with far too much foam.
Dismissing arondissements for being too high a number. Some of my best outings have been in the 20th arondissment, an area known as Belleville, high up on a hill with a spectacular view of Paris, dozens of cheap, laid back bars and restaurants frequented by young arty types, completely sans le bullshit. Brave the hill of Rue Oberkampf and discover the Fitzroy of Paris. J’adore.
Expecting normality. Any day could bring your local metro platform completely decked out with Ikea furniture, a protest about the weather meaning your bus isn’t running today, the proprietors of the cafe downstairs dressing as Portuguese women and dancing to an accordion, the most random shop window displays you have ever seen or being chased down the street by a ‘statue’ street entertainer dressed as an Egyptian Pharaoah. It keeps you on your toes and is certainly never boring.

Don Draper

29 05 2011

One sunny day a very lovely little Irish lady with a mean fetish for transport of the enviromentally friendly variety let me have a spin of her vintage Peugeot bicycle through the swirl-paved streets of Montorgueil and I was won over. I had to have one. It was suddenly necessary, after close to three years posing as a Parisian, to represent myself as a true citizen by riding my own bike.

A couple of days later, on a hangover, I received a text telling me she was on her way to the flea markets at Montreuil and would I like to join, just to check it out. After having replied with an affirmative, I picked up the phone a couple of times to send a bail message, but chickened out. Time was ticking and so I flew through the shower, grabbed an icy-cold Perrier and was en route.

As we wandered past stands full of hardware and rusty bits of stuff that looked like they could have once either constituted an engine or been props of the chainsaw massacre saga, hats, sunglasses, rugs, vintage clothes and outlandish amounts of hair combs I saw a happy looking blue bicycle in the distance. I quickened my pace in case someone should snap it up before my arrival and the vendor saw my widened eyes and insisted I take it for a test. Interesting ride position, leather saddle, stiff brakes, gear shift on the frame and the fact that it was from the fifties were all I needed for a oui, je le veux….

A couple of new tyres, a flashing tail light and a very cute bike shop man later he was ready to go, and the next week I couldn’t get enough. I rode all over, through huge intersections, down bike lanes, bus and bike lanes (also known as tank and kitten lanes) and I was now a fully fledged Parisienne. I named him (because vélo is masculin) Don Draper, mainly because he is retro and I’d like to ride him all day. You will hear more about our adventures together.

Photos without homes

24 05 2011

I predict this venture to be a lot like my photos – about everything and anything, and in no particular order. It is probably for this reason that I have never attempted to exhibit my work, because I have no idea how I would organise it and the prospect is too much for my 56 Enter-scoring brain.

Don’t get me wrong, this is what I have been placed on this planet to do, as my father has done, and continues to do, before me. It’s where my heart lives and I have long ago come to terms with the fact that I may have to work in some other field to keep an apartment and enough cash to buy a pint and some beignets de legumes after a day in the sun. I’m no go-getter, and admire people who can keep kicking their own rear end to stay motivated to succeed. But I am on the way to being bi-lingual (that’s kind of a big deal in Australia), have danced on stage for Ghostface Killah and can now stomach 12 Jagers in a night. If that counts as an accomplishment, then I’m claiming it.

So my photos float about on Facebook, sometimes being printed and sent home with folded sugar packets and letters on fancy Parisian paper, occasionally bringing a smile to the people, so that’s me satisfied. They also remind me of where I’ve been and what I’ve done these last two years, and they bring back memories vividly. I love especially to draw attention away from the everyday, to look beyond the walls we see, to see patterns and textures we wouldn’t normally have noticed, and to encourage others to look up and see whats happening on the next levels of vision.

I am still amazed at dogs here in Paris. Whether its a designer dog in a glasses shop, a boxer peering sadly through the bars of a ground floor apartment window, or a shitzu sniffing at my toes as I check out the racks in H&M, it astounds me. So I have a bit of a collection of dogs, and especially love the little scruff who lives at the café Le Conti at Odéon. He wanders the street and is a part of the furniture of this lovely little quarter tucked in behind Eglise St Germain-des-Prés.