Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Halloween in Paris?

So here it is, October 31st, Halloween. Here we are Halloween freaks in a country that doesn't celebrate Halloween. What to do?

Thanks goodness, an American woman has organized trick or treating at Parc Monceau. What better?

We were asked to help pass out candy on a bench. We can do better than that, we decide. We deck our bench out American style with a big spider web, two real carved pumpkins, little red ghosts, and not to forget, chilling Halloween music.

The kids went to different benches throughout the park and could trick or treat at the benches with orange and black balloons. The most fun was passing out candy at our bench because, as it turns out, we are the only decorated scary bench. It was quite the attraction.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Carte de Sejour-Part II

After spending yesterday going over paperwork and making copies, we set off to "la Cite" for part two of our Carte de Sejour. We had heard it could take several hours complete with medical inspection on the one extreme, to "oh, the worst part is over" on the other extreme. This was our day to find out.

I had images of the immigrants on Ellis Island waiting in lines, being inspected, rejected, and dejected. Thoughts of people's names being changed to "normalize them" or just because they couldn't communicate with the officials whirled in my mind. Would we come away with names like Mulanet or Suiszer? Would we be whisked away to a cold sterile examining room? Would our kids be able to come with us? What is Sean going to do if I can't go with him? I guess he'll do his best Marcel Marceau.

We arrive early, which is fortunate, because it is very confusing trying to find the room with America, Middle East and Europe. Once found, we enter and register with the receptionist who gives us a number. I'm number 10 and Sean is 11. There are many other people in line ahead of us. It looks like a very small operation with 7 or 8 different cubicles. No one seems to leave the room we are in for inspection. Good. There is a TV with music videos to distract the kids. Good (mostly). I duck into the hallway to make some last minute copies.

One hour, and we have not been seen. The people ahead of us are slowly being called and then they leave after about 20 minutes. Okay, not too bad it seems.

Finally, after about an hour and a half I am called back to counter 7. I go back with my file and greet the clerk. She goes over my paperwork, keeps some, throws something out, and returns some to me. She seems surprised that we have brought children along. Yes indeed, I say (one of the major reasons for the trip I'm inclined to say, but don't). She tells me I must apply for a Carte de Circulation for them across the hall when we are finished. Later we wonder, "what happens if we don't register them? Will the child snatchers come and take them?"

Sean is then called back and Quinn chooses to stay in the waiting area with the bracelet he is braiding (we can see him from where we are). My clerk encourages me to go help my husband while she attends to some paperwork. Unlike Part I of carte de Sejour, my husband is not treated like a monkey, and he and the man seem to be communicating without my aid. Those French classes pay off for Sean! His clerk seems a little skeptical of our paperwork, but my clerk assures him all is well.

Our "dossiers" pass inspection! We are then sent across the way to set a date for a medical exam. Assuming we pass the exam, we are presented on that day with our Carte de Sejour which allows us to live in France for a year. If we choose to stay in France longer, my clerk informed me that we can just mail it in next year.

The woman who sets the medical appointments is like the public servant from hell. She tried to not look up and notice us there. Finally, she looked up, and there we were, two pesky immigrants wanting a date for inspection. She tosses out December 6th, and as much as I hate to, I ask if we can try another date. (I have a French cooking class at someone's house in the neighborhood, for goodness sakes! First things First. Food is First!) Here's how it goes:

Pesky immigrant - "Would Dec. 7th be possible?"

(This is where the woman turns into a robot in voice and manner)

Clerk- "The Prefecture has no available times on this date."

Pesky immigrant- "Would Dec. 10th be possible?"

Clerk- "The Prefecture has no available times on this date."
P.I.- "How about the 11th?" (note: not as polite)

Clerk- "The Prefecture has no available times on this date."

Pesky and Persistent Immigrant- (fearing I may have to give up lovely French lunch after all)
- "How about the 12th?"

Clerk- "The Prefecture has some available times, 8:30, 9:00..."

P.I.- "9:30 would be great, thank you very much, Madame." (pouring it on)

Clerk- actually almost smiles (or is it that the frown lessens) and wishes us a good evening.

Meanwhile, Mag's face is flushed and they've just about reached their limits. After finally figuring out how to exit the compound we're in, we find ourselves along the Seine.

We amble along the Right Bank eyeing what the bouquinistes are selling along the way. Maggie and Quinn find a couple of momentos and we enjoy the color of the sky.

We decide to go to Anglelina's to have a special treat to celebrate passing Part II of the Carte de Sejour. The rest should be no problem unless they find calloused feet and worn knees a reason to reject an immigrant.

It was nice to be out at night as the city is so beautiful in the evening.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Ghosts and Goblins

We kicked Halloween off last Thursday with a party in Maggie's class. My mom sent music and decorations, and I made crafts and sang songs with another parent. Does anybody else remember "Have you Seen the Ghosto of Tom?"

Our little Tulip Fairy

Scary dude and Tulip Fairy

Bobbing for apples at a Halloween party

No holding hands?

Can anyone explain this to us? On this side of the sign it has what appears to us a "no holding hands" message. On the other side it has the same image with no bar- "holding hands okay" perhaps. Maggie took it very seriously and refused to hold my hand while on this side of the sign.

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Our other living room

Because Parisians live in a relatively small space in their apartments, the parks and cafes become an extension of this space. People hang out in a cafe much the same way they might at home in their living room- reading the paper, chatting on the phone, entertaining a friend, or working on a computer. In the parks, they try to offer some amusement and places to relax. Ping pong is one such offering at the park near us. Quinn was quite excited when I came home with our very own set of ping pong paddles to use in our extended living room. Sometimes there are others playing and we have to wait to play. One day, two boys invited Quinn to play a round of rotating ping pong, and after observing a while, he joined in. After a player hits the ball, he runs to the other side of the table to hit the ball from that side. In this way, more than two people can join in, and it becomes more athletic. Yeah, I know, it's a bit of a stretch. Ping pong as a sport. I wonder if there's a chart that shows how many calories are burned per hour playing ping pong. Anyone know? 50, 150?

Friday, 26 October 2007

A new friend

It's a good thing we're allowed to have pets in our apartment, because this little darling arrived at our door last week. Isn't she cute?

Actually, she is not real, but looks very similar to our little dog back home. My friend S. sent her as a fun present. Her belly rises and falls which makes it look real. Quinn was going to sleep with her one night, but her little breathing noise bothered him. We did fool a babysitter the other night. Hee hee!

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Top 5 reasons to see the Musee d'Art Moderne

Top 5 reasons to see the Musee d'Art Moderne at the Palais de Tokyo:
5. The entrance from Avenue de New York is unbeleivable. It's urban ghetto- trash, grafitti. Adds new meaning to modern art.

4.The blue man (Klein apparently applied for a patent for this color blue).

3. The large Diana Ross (I love her).

2. The largest painting in the world (la fee elecricite) by Raoul Dufy. It depicts the history of electricity. All the cool names in science are in it Joules, Ampere, Franklin, Ohm. It was fun to see them as people and not just physics terms.

1. And last but not least, the number 1 reason to see the Musee d'Art Moderne at the Palais de Tokyo:

The Beatles' yellow submarine, now green, has landed on the roof. Swear. Have a look.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Halloween comes early

It must have been a fit of homesickness, but Sean suggested we eat at the Buffalo Grill near our home on Saturday night. It was totally like Longhorn Steakhouse back home (but the food here wasn't as good) complete with the western theme.

The best part of the evening was when our server presented Q and M with these crazy Halloween masks. They had a good time sneaking around on the street and peering into restaurant windows on our walk home. We're thinking of going again for the masks alone. An entire family of creepy withches.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Un croissant western?

Today, in a small theatre in the 17th arrondisement, Le Mariage de Figaro was reincarnated as a western. The Countess took on a cowbow demeaner and said to her sidekick servant in a Texan drawl, "Quoi Suzon, il voulait te seduire?"

It kind of works as a western. You heard it here first folks.

A kid's view of paris


Somebody shopped hungry today... and forgot she didn't have a car parked out front... and didn't think in advance to bring the wheeled cart.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Sunday at the Louvre

I was itching to use our new Amis du Louvre pass, so I told M we were going on an outing to the museum. "We need sketch pads and pencils, and markers or crayons if you'd like", I told her. "Just pencils and paper", she said as she eagerly packed her girl bag. I had to make the trip sound appealing because she is only six, and her older brother was spending the day at the park riding rides and shooting guns for a birthday party.

The plan worked out better than I thought. After we spent a fair amount of time sketching (or whatever it is we were doing) in two rooms, she wanted to press on. "Okay, maybe one more room", I said. "No," she insisted she wanted to stay for an hour or more longer. So we sat way back on a comfy couch and with our heads leaning back, we drew different details of the ceiling that interested us. She gave her various drawings names like Flrinea, Tatou, Tom and Fleur. Up to this point, we focused on sculpture. I thought it might be fun to sketch part of a painting, so we whizzed past the Winged Victory and the crowd at the Mona Lisa and settled on a room of Italian 17th century painters. M picked out parts of a painting that she liked and drew them. She totally got into it, and having M with me made me brave enough to sketch in public.

Saturday, 20 October 2007


Well, it was more than a mere flesh wound this evening for the English as their team, "The Whites" lost the Rugby World Cup to South Africa. The fans were certainly full of spirit and should perhaps win a prize for "best dressed".

To market to market

It was a typical Saturday at the market until we see and HEAR this guy. Q asks what the big deal is about the grapes. The vendor had a great marketing gimmick. He was acting like the crowd was going crazy for the grapes. He'd pass out empty bags to people and hold up the beautiful grapes. At first it looks like he's passing out bunch after bunch of grapes, but it turns out he's just setting them on the table. "Luxe!" he'd shout. That's right, grapes, the new luxury item. Diamonds, yachts, grapes. It was street theatre. Couldn't resist recording him.

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Friday, 19 October 2007

Call me obsessed...

While playing a game of Scrabble today with my French conversation group... Let's stop there a minute. First off, my French conversation group started with a reading of a portion of Le Petit Prince. I love the peculiar little fellow from Asteroid B-612! I have a Petit Prince watch, and one year I transformed my son into le Petit Prince (complete with the blue and red topcoat with stars on the shoulders- he already had the blonde curly hair)for Halloween.

What could get better than this? Our facilitator, who was a daughter of the American Revolution (her great, great...grandfather fought with Lafayette in our Revolution- it all comes back to France), said the words I love to hear. "On va jouer au Scrabble pour pratiquer les mots francais". That's right folks. She was going to bust out a game of Scrabble. I was excited and nervous. I love a board game, but become a total freak when playing. I was afraid I might scare off my conversation group at my first meeting. Within a few rounds, I realized I was dealing with novices, AND WE WEREN'T KEEPING SCORE which allowed my to take it all down a few notches. I had to intervene when the Scandinavian player to my right was going to set down the word "tu". "Hold on", I said, "let's see what else we can do". A two letter word at the beginning of the game- ARE YOU KIDDING?! She seemed to appreciate my help which is good because I "helped" a couple more times. The facilitator called me "scrabble pro" or maybe it was scrabble freak.

Getting back to my original story, toward the end of the game, my phone chirped (seriouly, it was set on a cricket ring- Sean?) I got a call from school saying my son wasn't feeling well. I thanked and said goodbye to my conversation/Scrabble group and headed quickly to school.

And then I realized, I STILL HAVE TIME ON MY VELIB'! (My 24 hours still weren't up). I can pick up another bike and ride to Q's school and get there quicker, I thought. I soon saw some Velib racks and searched for my card with the authorization number. Durn. No card. Luckily, I remembered the seven digit number from my outings the day before and hopped on a bike. I hopped off and checked it back in right around the corner from Q's school. I'm telling you- the freedom of it all! It's great! I was wrong about the name of Velib'- it means bike of freedom (not free bike like I said yesterday- but hey, it is also free.

Upon returning home with my boy, I noticed a letter for Sean. I bet it's his Velib authorization, I thought. Sure enough, when Sean came home he opened it and gloated that he got his yearly Velib' pass first. Yeah, well, who has travelled all over the city on a Velib'? It's all a competition. I warned you I was obsessed...

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Velib' or die

Today was it. The day I was going to finally mount the Velib and cycle through the streets of Paris. Because I'm so tight, I was waiting until I got my Velib card in the mail that I applied for a couple weeks ago. I didn't want to dish out a whole euro unnecessarily.

However, due to the transportation strike, I found myself far from my meeting on the other side of town without an hour to spend walking there. I walked to the Velib (short for velo libre or free bike) bike racks, and eyed the few remaining bikes suspiciously. I'd done my homework. I knew that you had to check the tires, chains and seats to make sure things were working properly before you headed off.

I decided to give it a go. With help from a friendly veliber, I put my debit card into the Velib meter(it debits the card only if the bike is taken out for more than a half hour or if it is not returned). It spits out a card with a customer number. When ready to take off, you punch that number into the machine and it tells you which bikes are avaible. In my case it told me that bikes 7, 13, 18 and 19 were available. You are then supposed to choose the number of the bike you want. Not so fast, I thought. I had to give them a quick once over, and when I decided, I walked back to the machine and it had moved on. I'd taken too much time deciding. As my other friend had taken off on her bike, my next helper showed my where to sign in again. This time I was prepared, and knew which number bike I wanted. I punched in the number, 18, and then went to unlock # 18. I don't know what I did wrong, but I redid the process again and I pressed a button and #18 was unlocked for me. Woo hoo!

I pushed my bike up the hill to the Arc de Triomphe and decided for my maiden voyage on the Velib to ride down the Champs-Elysees. How exciting. I'm riding down the street on a public bike on the most famous Avenue. I saw a friend and made him take my picture. (Hopefully I'll post this later.) I was totally thrilled to be riding on a pleasant afternoon through the streets of Paris.

I kept on with my plan to go to the meeting on the other side of town even though by this time it's obvious I'll be fairly late. I turn off the Champs and head down a street that takes me over Pont Alexandre III, a stunning bridge, and on toward Invalides. I have a vague notion of the direction I need to go, but unlike on foot, I need to pay attention to the direction of traffic. On the velib, you're supposed to follow traffic rules which is challenging for me. I pass Musee Rodin (one of my favorites) and continue on down Varenne to Boulevard Raspail. Now this road was a little too much for me. It was hard to go from riding on the right side to crossing over to the left lane to turn left on rue de Fleurus. So I pulled over, hopped onto the sidewalk, and walked my bike over to where I needed to be. Not an experienced veliber am I. As I ride down rue de Fleurus I see the Jardin de Luxembourg ahead which is right near my meeting. I'm so excited I'm almost there, and I've biked the whole way.

Part of the joy of the velib is that you don't have to worry (usually) what to do with the bike, because there are bike stations everywhere. I figure there must be one near the Jardin de Lux., and sure enough, there is a station with spaces open to park it. (I had read that sometimes a bike station will be full and you have to find another station in which to park). I pull up to the stand and part of the bike clicks into it, and a light flashes and then turns green, which means I have properly checked it in. (Also important, because if not properly checked in, it might think I've never returned the bike, and then I'm out 150 Euros). Delighted and slightly tired, I head to my meeting, wondering if I'll ride back.

I eagerly head back to the bike rack after the meeting and there are only a couple of bikes, both of which are defective. One has a flat and the other has a seat that's all floppy. Disappointed, I wonder what to do next, and then a man approaches to return his bike. Yeah! "Is it working okay?" I ask him. He tells me all is well and then I launch off for my return trip. Both times I just kind of took off without a plan. I generally know where I'm going and hope it works out.

This time I head north toward the Seine. There are often many other people biking in front or behind. Sometimes I'll be riding alone, but am soon joined by other riders. Totally cool. I cross over the Seine near the Louvre, but the road soon goes under a tunnel. I decide to ride a little bit in the Jardin de Tuileries because there is a lot of room and not too many people, and I certainly don't want to ride through the tunnel. As I see the rue de Rivoli ahead, I wonder at my choice of route. It looks really busy and dangerous. I enter the road and it turns out there is a bike lane and it is being used by a fair number of bikers. My fellows!

I am totally happy riding along and cracking up at times at how nicely other people are dressed while riding. High pointy heels, short tight skirts, fancy headware, suits and all manner of elegant dress can be seen on my fellow bikers.

Instead of returning on the Champs-Elysees, I take a deserted Ave. Gabriel to rue de Ponthieu which terminates at rue de Berri which is at a stand still. "So sorry, cars", another biker and I pushed our bikes onto the sidewalk and passed the truck that was blocking the way and continued peacefully down the street. By now I am fairly tired and am facing a few streets that have upward hills to get the last bit home. I'm close enough, and fearing that I might soon be going over my 30 free minutes of free riding time, I see a bike station and check it in. Two people were awaiting a bike, so I was glad to be turning it in.

I'd like to say I finished my walk home and stayed in for the night, but that's not me. Knowing I had the bike for a full twenty-four hours, I decided to take another ride after we put the wee ones to bed. Being the day of a mass transit strike, I looked at two locations for a bike, but found none. I decided to walk to my destination- I really did have somewhere to go, I wasn't just out joyriding, although that it certainly is. On my way back I checked around for other stations. Sure enough, at Place de Ternes I found a bike station. Again, there were two bikes, both defective, and a person in front of me. Luckily, two people rode up to check in their bikes and I was off again.

I called Sean from my cell phone because I was so totally tickled to be riding the streets of Paris at night on my (the city's) Velib. The velib is equipped by the way with a front headlight and a rear taillight. I also wanted to offer him a spin around the neighborhood as I still had twenty minutes left of free riding time. He declined, and I rode back to the bike stand around the corner from our house and checked it in.

It truly is a wonderful thing, this Velib. You get to use a bike for next to nothing, it's easy to park, and most of the time they're readily available. It seems a bit daunting at first to ride the streets of Paris, but once you're out there, you realize that the cars are really very polite to riders most of the time, and there are a lot of riders out there with you, and on some streets there are even lanes for the bikes. Okay, sometimes the bikes share the lanes with the buses, but as the buses weren't running today, it was quite nice. Maybe it is a little crazier when the buses are running, I've seen how close they get to cars and bikes.

So, I say hop on a Velib. It's a totally freeing experience to just hop on a bike and not worry about getting it out, locking it up and putting it away. And you get places quickly while seeing the sights. Give it a go.


So today is my 42nd birthday. I find it interesting that exactly half my life ago I was also in Paris celebrating my 21st birthday. I went to a cafe with friends and had cake, a big splurge as I never had or spent money back then.

Today in honor of my birthday, the city of Paris is pulling out all the stops. The first item on the agenda is a transportation strike- subways and buses will not be running. In response, the kids' school is closed, lest the students show up and the teachers can't. I like that the transit system warned us of the strike- they stated the day it would take place, so alternate plans could be made.

So, we're having an "in day". Q has been quite sick the past couple of days, so we're taking it easy. Well sort of. The little monkeys are assembling a 200 piece puzzle, they are actually hard at work, while I catch up on emails and blogging. Sean was secretly hoping his class would be cancelled, but no such luck. He has been busy taking a 20 hour per week French class. No more wandering about town in his pajamas all day.

Looking ahead, I suspect that in 21 more years, we will have returned to Paris and I'll be celebrating my 63rd birthday. I'll be toting my grocery cart on wheels to and from the grocery. Monday afternoons will find me hanging out with neighborhood women watching a matinee. I'll be wearing sensible shoes as I join a group for a tour of the Louvre. But wait, this is what I'm doing now.

Really, I'm just thrilled to be here. I thank my lucky stars (and my husband) for the gift of this experience.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

The little beast

I saw my little friend again who bit me, and I decided it would be fun to post its picture. I asked permission first from its owner who was a little put off by my request (but being the jerk I am I didn't let that stop me). "Just as long as you don't make him out be a monster." Heh, heh, heh. Monster indeed. Just look at the innocent face. But just beyond that cute exterior lurks a beast just waiting to attack. Just kidding. Mine was an isolated incident. I was asking for it. In the wrong neighborhood at the wrong time. You know the story.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Pinch me, I'm dreaming

I'm having the best time here in Paris! Saturday night I met a new friend in front of the Theatre Athenee and saw a fabulous play in a gorgeous theatre. The play was Les Negres by Jean Genet. Genet was my kind of guy, locked up in prison for cleptomania, but because of his "free time" he was able to write a great deal. Sartre discovered Genet and his work and then helped him get out of prison and enter a new life as an author.

Les Negres is a remarkable commentary of the concepts of race and identity. The presentation of the play was outragious, most of it delivered the way Genet called for (accoring to my new friend L.), including the intermittent wearing of various partial masks and simple costumes which really added a dramatic effect. The 25 year old director added a 21st century element, that of a loud helicopter going by overhead with search lights that shone on the audience; an effectively chilling mood was set. It's showing until the 20th for you locals.

We then had a late dinner at L'Entreacte where we were served by a super friendly older waiter. As he took my order, he kind of nudged my arm with his elbow. This is something I do to people, and I laughed and thought he was mocking me because I must have done it to him, but he wasn't. He said I hadn't "nudged him" with my elbow, it's something he does. It's something I do, I said, too, and then we laughed and elbowed each other a little more. It was totally queer and fun. Our elbows said goodbye to each other after paying the bill. I walked down the street amazed that I am lucky enough to live in Paris (for a while).

I was in such fine humour that as I passed the C&A with homeless people sleeping on pads in sleeping bags at the entrances, I thought, "that kind of looks cozy and fun. A big sleepover on a nice evening." I know homelessness is not a party, but on a beautiful night in Paris, even the most disadvantaged were cast in a warm glow.

Monday, 15 October 2007

la verdure

This Sunday we went to our all time favorite place of worship- the great outdoors. It was a sunny day, so we hopped on some bikes that we borrowed from neighbors.

It was a little dodgy riding in the street at times, but it was wonderful riding through the big green expanse of the Bois de Bologne. You could smell the dampness of the earth and see the leaves falling about as we rode. We passed lakes with people racing radio controlled boats, as well as many walkers, rollerbladers and other cyclists. We stopped to smell dozens of varieties of roses in the Parc of the Bagatelle. We saw swans, peacocks and many wonderful large trees.

Q said it was his favorite day. Amen.