Paris Winter Light and more random musings

Spring is encroaching, so I thought it important to get at least one entry in before another season is upon us. The last few months have been a blur, and continue to be hectic, hence my lack of recent posts. During the past few days, I’ve been getting up early and washing in the kitchen sink, as our shower-room is being completely renovated, and soon I’ll be cooking on a little electric hob in the living room whilst the 1960’s kitchen is gutted and rebuilt. In two and half weeks I will have a new daughter join the family (assuming she’s on time) and shortly thereafter a move to an entirely different part of France.

hotel de ville, paris town hall

I’ve scarcely taken any photographs of Paris this year, and those I have taken have been with Mme. Grenouille’s simple point and click. I had to swing by the DIY shop next to Paris’ main town hall (Hôtel de Ville, shown above) a couple of days ago, and met up with an operatic singing friend who lives in this part of the city. The winter light and haze creates a picturesque drama; the bus journey along the river Seine left me feeling a little sad to be saying goodbye. I know part of me will be nostalgic when I look back to my life here, and whilst nice Parisians certainly exist, I won’t be upset to leave the rest behind.

hotel de ville, paris town hall, paris winter light, paris photography, paris photos

paris metro sign

Last night the strangest thing happened when I went to reach for a glass from the kitchen unit. The glass is a thick drinking one, only used for fruit juice and water, and hadn’t been subject to any environmental influences. It was at head height, and the moment I touched it, very lightly with finger and thumb, it didn’t just shatter, it exploded! How a glass finds the kinetic energy to splinter into a thousand tiny fragments, some landing four metres away down the hallway is beyond my understanding of physics. Not only were the fragments in the dinner I’d just prepared, but the splinters found themselves into every corner of the kitchen.

Whilst I’m writing with no coherent direction, I might as well continue with my disjointed musings… After the glass incident I went to the local La Poste. En route there’s a small, quiet one way street off our road where I pass through to take a shortcut. There’s sometimes a strong police (marked, and unmarked police cars) presence on it, and I’ve seen a posh escorted blacked out car come down here several times, which I’ve no doubt is Sarkozy and/or Bruni who have a place at Villa Montmorency (or possibly on Rue Pierre Guerin which runs just behind it). I’ve thought about buying one of those bags with a nude picture of Carla Bruni (she tried to sue the company over it) and waving it up to the car window with a big grin as it passes. I like staring into blacked out car windows, as I imagine the passenger sitting there, paranoid : ‘can they really see me?’
The other week we visited a cop friend, and met with several Paris cops, who made Bébé Têtard eat snails (poor devil), and they said the police station next to where we live just spend all their time dealing with security for Sarkozy. Probably why they weren’t that interested when the driving school over the road ripped off Mme. Grenouille and did a runner with our money.
The Villa Montmorency itself is all gated and very security conscious – either to keep the riff-raff out, or to act as posh prison for the rich and famous. It’s where CEO’s, pop stars and film stars live (Céline Dion reportedly paid 47 million euros for her house here). The main entrance is on rue Poussin, just a few metres down the road from La Poste. At the top of the road is the edge of Bois de Boulogne where we took Bébé Têtard to a small enclosed park that sits opposite the hippodrome d’ Auteuil yesterday evening as the sun started to set.

bois de boulogne sunset, paris sunset

hippodrome d'auteuil, horse racing paris, bois de boulogne horse racing

paris sunsetting, hippodrome d'auteuil, horse racing paris, bois de boulogne horse racing

paris park, sunsetting in paris, paris sunset

Just across from the hippodrome a terrible scandal is facing Paris’ historical and beautiful botanical gardens. I’ve written about the Jardin des Serres in the past, with photographs of its magnificent and ancient greenhouses. Somebody thinks it would be better these were demolished so that people can bash a little ball across a net to one another in the name of sport (war without the bullets as George Orwell once described it). Not only that but it seems the Parisians will be hit with a 200 million euro tax bill to cover it! You can protest against it online

This morning I walked down to the opticians, along a fairly quiet, straight road where the pretty infrequent traffic moves slowly. When I came out, the police had cordoned off the road, and there was car debris scattered everywhere. When I saw the car (which sat by itself), the entire front was completely destroyed, so I don’t know how the heck that happened, but am glad I wasn’t there at the time.
This afternoon I’ve just come back from a little park around the corner where they have a sandpit and some playthings. The parents dump all their plastic buckets and spades for their kids, and Bébé Têtard, being only small, very gingerly helped himself to play. We didn’t see the harm in it, but then one of the mum’s took the bucket off him and said something to him, so we tried to buy him a bucket and spade which is actually really difficult to do out of season. For now we have some plastic cups, but as I was the only parent interacting with their kid (most have babysitters who just stand on the sidelines chatting amongst themselves), it drew the attention of other little kids who then decided they wanted his cups, so the poor little chap sat there in the sand with nothing to play with.
Several months back we took him to the 15th arrodisement, where they have a place for kids under three to play. We thought it would be good as we never got a place in a crèche and he doesn’t get to interact with kids his own age. He did enjoy himself, but there were two adults to every kid, and the room was jam packed, which is tough when you’ve babies crawling all around you, and certainly meant you had to be vigilant. One Parisian lady holding a young baby didn’t pay attention and stood right on his hand, she muttered a very brief sorry, as Bébé Têtard went red in the face and started to scream. Mme. Grenouille picked him up and sat down to comfort him next to the lady who had squashed his digits. I watched from across the room, and you would have thought any decent person would have been mortified, or turned to check and ensure he was okay, but she didn’t say a word, and just continued to stare forwards, almost irritated that he was screaming. This is not an untypical Parisian mentality; it is infuriating, and I will certainly not miss it.

It may just be rumour, but several newspapers and said Marks and Spencer is making a return to Paris on the Champs-Elysees later in the year; not that I’m a fan of retail, but I know several Parisians excited by the prospect! And on that random tangent I must think about getting some tea.

Paris in the Fall – Autumn Colours

I like the American description for the autumn season – the Fall. It so succinctly describes my favourite time of the year. The temperatures in Paris have dropped, but I love the mild autumn breeze on my face, and the warm spectrum of autumnal leaves as they repave the floor.

avenue mozart, 75016, paris 16eme
Avenue Mozart, 75016

On a Sunday morning the Paris streets around me are lifeless. Only dog walkers and runners dare venture out of their apartments at such an ungodly hour. An early morning start is a necessity for the market however, as by the time we’ve walked over to the 15th arrodissement, the locals have already made the roads almost impassable for anyone with a pushchair. Cutting out the middleman means much better prices for fruit and vegetables, and the quality is superb. I’ve recently been eating a lot of pumpkin and potimarron soups, and Bébé Têtard is assured of a healthy meal too.

saint-perine parc, 75016, paris 16eme
Saint-Perine Parc, 75016

bebe tetardOn the way home is Sainte-Périne Park, sitting opposite Parc André Citroën on the other side of the Seine river. Bébé Têtard started walking a couple of weeks ago. He’s very independent and every time I’ve tried to encourage him, he just flops down to the floor and crawls off, but one Saturday afternoon, he walked across the room and looked mighty impressed with himself. He then found the courage to charge back across the room, and within a couple of hours he was walking all over the apartment! Unfortunately it comes at a time when the outside grass and playground sand is wet, but we still take him to some of the parks and let him go on walkabouts. Unassisted he will eventually tumble over, but it’s mainly because he runs everywhere; walking just seems to slow for him.

rue george sand, paris, 75016I haven’t posted too many architectural photographs in my blog, but it is a privilege to live in the 16th arrodissement, and to admire the Haussmann architecture, and pass by Hector Guimard’s creations every time I leave the building. The autumn sun is cold and hard, and as the buildings are cleaned on a fairly regular basis, they reflect the light brilliantly which contrasts with the shadows, creating labyrinths in which you can explore and lose yourself in.

My time in Paris is now finite. It was never intended to be ‘forever’ and with an expanding family, had we decided to stay, a new apartment with an extra bedroom wouldn’t provide much value for money. The apartment will be rented for someone else to enjoy life here, and we will disappear to Charente Limousine for an entirely different lifestyle (we already bought a new (old) house in the summer, and will relocate in the summer of 2011). There’s no doubt I will miss Paris a lot, and this comes from a non-city dweller who hadn’t wanted to move here! Certain aspects I won’t miss. The transition will be much harder for Mme. Grenouille who has lived virtually her whole life here, though the move was very much a joint decision. We still have friends and connections, so even if my future blog will largely migrate elsewhere and transform into something quite different, I will continue to share stories and photos of Paris on this website. Life has got in the way of being able to update the Paris blog as often as I would have liked.

saint-perine parc, 75016, paris 16eme
Building from Rue George Sand, 75016
saint-perine parc, 75016, paris 16eme
Building from Rue George Sand, 75016
saint-perine parc, 75016, paris 16eme
Haussmann architecture, from Rue George Sand, 75016
saint-perine parc, 75016, paris 16eme
Avenue Mozart, 75016
saint-perine parc, 75016, paris 16eme
Avenue Mozart, 75016
saint-perine parc, 75016, paris 16eme
From Avenue Mozart, 75016

paris autumn colours, parc de saint-cloud, saint cloud park
Parc de Saint-Cloud

Returning to autumn: bank holiday Monday was a little overcast, but we took a bus to Paris, Saint Cloud (where Bébé Têtard was born, and where his brother or sister will surface next year, if all goes to plan). It’s a nice suburb of Paris that nestles alongside Bois de Boulogne. I haven’t been to the Parc de Saint-Cloud very often, so it was extremely pleasant to visit whilst the trees were at their peak colour, despite the lack of sunshine. There used to be a chateau here once upon a time, but now only the gardens remain. With a pushchair there’s a lot of uphill walking, and the paths (which aren’t pushchair friendly) provide a good work out for the arms. The park covers 460 hectares, so there’s plenty of walking opportunities.

paris autumn colours, parc de saint-cloud, saint cloud park
Parc de Saint-Cloud, 1st Nov 2010
saint cloud park, paris
Saint-Cloud Park

After wandering down a long straight promenade, we took one of the more covered forest pathways, rich in yellows, browns and crimson reds. We stopped to collect chestnuts to accompany a future pumpkin soup, and by the time we returned to the entrance by which we’d entered, it was already dusk. There is a wonderful panoramic view across Paris, which was hard to capture without a tripod, and by the time I’d carried the pushchair down all the steps night had fallen as we left the gates.

Collecting chestnuts, Saint-Cloud Park
Collecting chestnuts
baby oak trees, autumn colours
Baby oaks
saint cloud park, tennis courts, paris
Tennis courts
eiffel tower, dusk, view from saint-cloud
View from Saint-Cloud Park
saint cloud park, sunsetting, paris
Sunsetting in Saint-Cloud

A post on La Poste – mini Parisian dramas

A post on La Poste; not terribly exciting perhaps when I still have stories about Operatic restaurants, journeys to remote parts of the French Confolentais countryside, and the fact that another Bébé Têtard is due next March.

I’ve just returned from a trip to the post office, and between here and the supermarkets, I find it a good way to observe Parisian cultural behaviour in ordinary everyday mundanity.

I say mundane, but I’m usually guaranteed of seeing a little drama unfolding every time I pop out. I went quite early to La Poste, hoping it would be quieter, but it was as busy as any other time. With only two people in front of me, I thought my chances of a quick go and return were good; however there was nobody manning the desks, and all the staff had changed (they like to swap them every few months). The woman in front of me had a small jiffy bag, and found a staff member to whom she started giving some serious grief about how she was going to send this without using Chronopost or Collisimo (expensive, French postal services that La Poste like to enforce upon people). After five minutes somebody arrived at the desk to serve the lady in front of me, but then in walks an old lady who looked like a Hollywood wind effect fan had been switched on permanently in front of her face. All the old people seem to have plastic surgery here; I prefer wrinkles and white hair – you can never really cheat the effects of time, and even if you can postpone the aesthetical for a decade or so, I think it’s good for the soul to have a more carefree, devil-may-care attitude. Anyway, this woman obviously thought her noble upper-class birthright granted her privilege to jump the queue, and so that’s exactly what she did. The staff member behind the desk had disappeared again for some time, and the middle aged guy behind me started mumbling and ranting under his breath (which happened to be down my ear) about having waited ten minutes already.
I had a big item to send recorded, and plenty of stamps to buy, so I knew he wasn’t going to be a happy chap when it came to my turn! Indeed, when eventually I got served, and he saw I had much to do, the cursing started again. Then Bébé Têtard started throwing an almighty tantrum, filling La Poste’s auditorium with cries that reverberated throughout, and this in turn simply exasperated the man’s impatient rants further. The staff member looked totally stressed out, and asked for his patience, as I took Bébé Têtard out from his pushchair and tried to appease him. I made it out eventually, but with another white hair to add to my head.
Incidentally I do have the magical ‘carte pro’ available to somebody with a business, but the dedicated desks are rarely manned. They do allow you to “jump” the queues at times, although in some post office layouts, it does give the appearance that you’re jumping the queue without authority. One woman tried to have a go at me when I first moved to Paris, but I just waved the magical card: ‘Carte Pro mam, step back’, and felt her scolding resentment upon the back of my head as she slithered back into line.

One of the worst incidents of impatience at La Poste happened a couple of years back, when two pompous business men in suits got fed up of waiting in what was a long queue. They raised their voices to such a level that I could feel the spit of one chap on the back of neck. They started yelling about taking court action against the staff, and all sort of ridiculous stuff that didn’t seem to impress anybody, though they seemed to think they were speaking on behalf of everybody in the queue. Then one of these guys barged his way through the card stands sending them flying, and started hammering his fist down on the desk, shouting abuse at the postal workers, who reacted with indifference. Just after my turn had finished, rather than going to desk when their turn arrived, one of the guys picked up a set of prepaid envelopes and declared he was taking it as compensation for his lost time, then walked out, without paying.

Museogames : retro computer gaming in Paris

What do you do when your guest has no love for art, architecture, history and culture in a city that oozes in old-worldy charm? This was the challenge I faced when my sister’s boyfriend came to stay, although fortunately I’d caught something about Museogames on TV: a retro computer games exhibition in Paris.

museogames paris, retro computer games, computer games exhibition

Although I was the inventor of some pretty cool, extremely popular, not to mention boyishly violent playground games, I was also part super geek myself. At six years old I was programming my Dad’s Commodore Vic-20, and converting binary to hexadecimal and trying to learn machine code at 7. When I wasn’t being cut, bruised or bashed playing games in the junior school playground, I’d sometimes be sat down with paper and pen, writing computer games in my head, which I’d later go home and write up on my Spectrum 128k. I used to play a lot of computer games in those days, right up until my Atari STE days (The Atari was also a nice machine for writing music in Cubase, although Commodore Amiga owners would give me grief over its gaming capabilities!) I no longer have the time, nor inclination for gaming. Even though I have a good degree in computer science, graduates would find themselves lined up for database or programming jobs, and I just couldn’t find the motivation for a career in it. In a very short space of time, I learnt how to draw and paint, traditionally and digitally instead, and ended up a graphic designer.

Before I disappear under a wave of reminiscence… Back to Museogames! I couldn’t say it was a particularly educational experience, but it was an interesting trip down memory lane, and a reminder just how terrible some of these games were. I got a little nostalgic when I saw ‘Boulder Dash’, a game I enjoyed some 25 odd years ago. The dodgy Museogames’ joystick action made moving left a little tricky though, and that triggered yet another memory of the awful control mechanisms that you could use to play these games. I ended up concluding that the retro world of computing gaming was but a false nostalgic memory, and that today I they would bore me to tears within minutes.

museogames, lemmings, retro computer gaming, computer games exhibition

My little sister found Lemmings, which she once had on a Sega Game Gear, but then later discovered GoldenEye 007 on the Nintendo 64, and her boyfriend found satisfaction shooting her to death time and time again, as they relived their teenage gaming days. I sat down to try Arkanoid with Atari mouse in hand, when the French ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ came to talk to me just as I’d started.

Another room is tucked around the back with some old arcade machines, some of which existed in the tuck shop of my old high school. The old classic Outrun would vibrate so much when you drove onto the sand, that the entire arcade machine would shake and move across the floor. They also had one of the first light gun machines, and Time Traveler, a hologram laserdisc arcade game which was frustrating to play.

museogames, computer game exhibition in paris, retro computer gaming, computer games exhibition

There was a guided tour in French to explain more about the machines and games, but it’s not so much an exhibition to educate, but a chance to look back over the years of computer game development, from the oldest games to one of the latest.
The exhibition is open until the 7th November and costs 5,50 euros to enter (I think it may be cheaper for students). More information can be found here: Museogames

Pere Lachaise revisited: RIP Morrissey, Fish and Chips, Curry and Broken Penis Paperweights

It’s been a while since I last stopped by the Pere Lachaise cemetery, but as my little sister and her boyfriend had stopped over for a few days, I took the opportunity to visit with them. My sister lives in her own strange bubble full of child naivety, and I’m always guaranteed she will unintentionally come out with something to make me laugh. Knowing they would only be familiar with a few tombs, I said I’d start with Jim Morrison. After repeating the name Morrison several times I heard a perplexed voice declare, ‘Oh, I didn’t know Morrissey from the Smiths was buried here.’ – Personally, I didn’t know Morrissey was dead! My poor dear sister really lives in her own little planet.

jim morrison, pere lachaise, paris cemetery, jim morrisons grave

I was quite impressed by my navigational skills, and found Jim Morrison’s grave with no difficulty whatsoever; without a map it is very easy to miss. The tomb itself is incredibly modest, but then I read that the funeral itself was an extremely low-key event.

bastard, pere lachaise, surname bastard

mirelle albrecht, chair tomb, pere lachaise cemetery, paris gravesWe took lunch on a bench, and one of the pleasures of the Pere Lachaise cemetery, is the guarantee of seeing something new on each visit. As I peered behind the bench I was sat upon, I spotted what I mistakenly presumed to be the grave of a clown. The writing had completely faded, but after a bit of google research I discovered it is the burial site for a Mirelle Albrecht (1924 – 2007), who spent some of her childhood in London before moving to Paris. Her mother was a member of the resistance, and Mirelle was only 15 years old when the second world war broke out, and had to go into hiding. After the war she fell in love with a man who died in the earthquake of Agadir, which led her to travel to South Africa with be with her father. Whilst there, she met an Englishman named Charles from the Royal Air Force. Mirelle fell pregnant and they returned to Paris without a penny to their names, marrying one year after the birth of their daughter. Charles and Mirelle later moved to Provence and ran an English pub, serving Indian curry (then unknown in France), and started English fish and chips in Saint Tropez which Brigitte Bardot once visited. Mirelle later moved to Aix in Provence (running an art gallery), and then spent some time in Indian, following a divorce… The full story and more can be read here (ALBRECHT Mirelle). The tomb was actually designed by an artist and friend, featuring symbols of Auroville, India. The chair’s unbalance is to symbolise Mirelle’s life.

first curry in france, first fish and chips in france, mirelle abrecht

Pere Lachaise holds the fascinating, scarcely known stories of thousands. If you’re in the 39th division and see this chair, then you’ll at least know the story of one more of its occupants.

oscar wilde tomb, oscar wilde pere lachaise, oscar wilde photo

The other tomb most frequented by English speaking tourists is that of Oscar Wilde, where the tradition is for women to wear lipstick and kiss the tomb. Lipstick graffiti is also a common trend. Oscar Wilde probably wouldn’t have minded the attention, though perhaps American sculptor Sir Jacob Epstein who created the tomb would have been a little peeved… Even more so when the penis was snapped off, and allegedly used as a paperweight by the superintendant of the cemetery.

paris cemetery, paris pere lachaise, pere lachaise tourist guide

I will finish this entry with a few more photos, the most harrowing of which relate to the Holocaust. For more general information, see Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris Guide

pere lachaise, tortoise

paris pere lachaise, paris cemetery

holocaust, pere lachaise cemetery

holocaust memorial, pere lachaise

My ten year old guitar riff appears on Télématin (France 2) TV this morning

The damndest thing happened this morning. I was working on my computer early this morning, with the TV on in the background behind me. It was Télématin on France 2 with their daily breakfast show, but I wasn’t paying any attention. Like many French shows, they use a lot of musical clips from many famous bands and albums, but all of a sudden I heard a guitar riff I recorded in the year 2000. It lasted about 15 seconds, and I honestly thought I’d lost my marbles! I started emailing people: ‘I’ve just heard a guitar recording I made in my bedroom ten years ago, on French TV this morning’… I’m not sure they believed me, and I even doubted myself because it had passed by so quickly.

Fortunately they stream Télématin on their website, so I grabbed a copy and confirmed I was not insane, but it really was my music, used on a piece about the comic strip: Spirou et Fantasio.
I took up the guitar at sixteen and was part of a heavy metal band playing gigs in the local area. We used to play covers back in the mid 90’s, from Rage Against the Machine, Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana and Radiohead, but when people went off to Uni, the band fell apart. The singer and I remained goods friends and we used to write a lot of original material together. This guitar riff, comes from a longer song I wrote (one of my first ever songs in fact), but we decided against using it, because it was a little heavier and didn’t have consistency with the other material we were writing. I took a sample and placed it on the Internet in the year 2000 on a popular flash animation community website, allowing anyone to use it for their projects, and it’s still available on a couple of websites today, though the statistics show it never got that many downloads.

What a strange trip down memory lane.

Return to England

I am still here in Paris, but I recently took a brief return to England to see my niece for the first time and to celebrate her first birthday. Although my life in Paris has only amounted to little over two years, it was still a strange experience to observe English traditions and behaviour having spent some time away.

When Mme. Grenouille used to come and visit I was living in Greater Manchester (close to Stalybridge) at the time. I remember trips to Liverpool and Manchester where her jaw would gape, watching in wonderment at the carefree fashion of the British. Back in her native pocket of Paris, the majority of people dress the same with a very chic/classic look, rarely in anything colourful or attention grabbing, and certainly nothing that reveals long thighs or exposed belly buttons. Even baby clothes are non-adventurous here, and bébé Tétard attracted some bemused looks in Paris, when we dressed him in an English Halloween skeleton babygro last year. She was also dumbfounded (and impressed) by the British queue-forming etiquette. I hadn’t fully understood her amazement until we popped into Leicester, where outside the pound shop (incidentally you’d never find the equivalent of the pound shop in France!), a colossal queue composed of all ethnicities had sprouted into a perfect, patient line. I’d almost forgotten such bus queues ever existed. In Paris you could be eight months pregnant and knocked out the way whilst getting through the door, because some young fit person wants to find a seat.

suffolk flint house, flint houses, suffolk england

During the week, we drove down to Suffolk, Bury Saint Edmunds way to visit ‘Donkey Nanny’. When I was a young nipper one set of grandparents lived on a large orchard with donkeys, and the other in a council estate in Norwich (the city where I was born). The latter had a cuckoo clock and became ‘Cockoo Nanny’ and the other ‘Donkey Nanny’. Donkey Nan is getting on in years, but has spent her whole life working long hours outdoors and is still very active, healthy and with a sharp mind. She also has a wonderful Suffolk country accent, and does all the stereotypical country Nan things, like making cakes and delicious crumbles, and tending to a flowery garden. She took us on a tour of her village whilst walking the dog, pointing out some of the nice country houses and churches built from flint.

ickworth gardens, ickworth house, suffolk national trust

We took her out to the National Trust’s Ickworth House, just visiting the gardens so missing out on their silverfish collection in the museum room, which I assume are aquatic, as I had an interesting picture of a taxidermy insect thing going on in my head. The weather was grand, the gardens well groomed (the park was created by Capability Brown) and the neoclassical architecture, resplendent. In the evening I met with cousins I have not seen in twenty plus years, and enjoyed a family barbecue with chilli burgers and fragrant sausages (I’m drooling on my keyboard as I type).

ickworth house suffolk, neoclassical architecture

ickworth house and gardens

chester zoo monkeys

Most of the week was spent in Leicestershire’s Ashby-de-la-Zouch, with my folks, where in the course of another barbecue, a hawk descended into their small town garden, and sat on their baby blackbird before flying off with it.

My niece’s first birthday was at Chester Zoo, and we very much enjoyed the day out despite my ambivalence to these places. The bats (one of my favourite animals) had a great enclosure, but it wasn’t the same for some of the larger creatures. The bustle of tourists racing from pen to pen, with cameras and videos is also annoying, though I did take just a couple of photos in a somewhat sombre, anthropomorphical fashion. Bébé Tétard was completely indifferent to his first zoo experience and sulked in his pushchair for most of the day.

 

 

 

elephants at chester zoo

When it came time to return, we arrived at East Midlands airport with at least two hours in hand. Despite we were near the front of the queue, BMIBaby were insistent that everybody squeeze their hand luggage into their metal measuring contraption. This caught out a significant number of people who had to cough up, and I thought I would fall victim with my trouble-free, well air-travelled rucksack which was plenty short enough, but a bit podgy for all the things I’d stuffed inside. I resolved the problem by taking out my camera and handing it over to my mum, and then putting it back in the rucksack afterwards. It took some time before we got through, so I said my farewells and went through security where a large queue had already formed. As we piled our belongings into the plastic tubs, security pulled out all four of our items. We were made to drink some of the emergency cartons of baby milk (I left that treat to Mme. Grenouille) and empty the rest into bottles. They searched the baby’s case (which was only clothes and soft toys) and were baffled because their machine apparently showed something else was in there, and as they worked their way through (with the baby crying) we were stuck for a long, long time whilst crowds of people piled past us. The security chap looked a little embarrassed when he eventually picked up Mme. Grenouille’s handbag and said ‘I don’t suppose this is yours too?’ and apologised saying it had just been flagged for a random check, as he removed the camera and checked it for traces of semtex. By the time we got through to the boarding gate, the queue was boarding the plane, and this was despite we’d arrived two hours in advance! Incidentally BMIBaby do not offer priority boarding for babies or pregnant women. Even as we boarded they were checking the size of luggage to squeeze out the last few remaining pounds from as many passengers wallets and purses as possible; with my hands full and carrying a baby they didn’t trouble me fortunately. I was also a little peeved on the flight out from Charles de Gaulle Paris when the lady at the check-in desk tried to insist we all pay check-in tax! Fortunately we found a print-out that showed we had already paid which was met with a minor apology. They also send an email two days prior to flying, saying if you don’t confirm your passport and identity online you will be charged for that too. I thought it a hoax until I googled it, but it turned out to be genuine and fortunately I’d avoided more fees. The perils of budget airlines! Even bébé Tétard’s seat (who was 10 months old) was the same price as us adults. This video “cheap flights” is quite amusing and holds many truths.

Once the Roissy bus took us from Charles de Gaulle to Opera Paris, we were soon reminded that Paris is not baby friendly. You can either suffer the misery of a cantankerous Parisian taxi driver or risk the metro. Dragging hand luggage, a large suitcase and baby down the obligatory steps is challenge enough, but then you have to find an attendant and ask them to open the larger gates (if possible) or face the obstacle challenge of squeezing everything, over or under the normal turnstyle barriers trying to avoid not getting trapped in the mechanism yourself. There’s usually another set of steps to negotiate, and then the subsequent struggle to squeeze yourself onto the train without crushing feet or becoming a barricade to those who want to exit at following stations. Thankfully the apartment is on a direct line from Opera and the metro exit a mere half minute walk from where we live.

Paris Botanical Gardens – Jardin des Serres

This is another local park where I can walk with Bébé Têtard. It sits on the edge of Bois de Boulogne and just up the road from the local Carrefour supermarket. The garden was originally created under order of Louis XV in 1761, and was later transformed between 1895 and 1898 by Jean-Camille Formigé to include the impressive greenhouses, the largest of which measures around 100 metres long and 12 metres wide.

greenhouses paris, paris greenhouse

paris botanical gardens, jardin des serres, auteuil

Although it runs alongside the Paris périphérique it’s still a tranquil retreat, and is not frequented by many tourists. Most of the locals who come to enjoy the sunshine in the neighbouring small park are parents with babies and young children. In the botanical gardens themselves (which are free incidentally), the locals sit on benches with their laptops often taking advantage of the free wifi (pronounced ‘whiffy’ in French, much to my adolescent amusement).

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paris botanical jardin

I first came to Jardin des Serres in May 2007 when I used to fly over to see Mme. Grenouille. I remember whilst inside one of the smaller greenhouses, she’d let out a yelp and jumped backwards: a seed pod had alarmed her with its hostile alien exterior!

 

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jardin des serres

parks in paris

paris park

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 serres auteuil, 75016

16eme paris

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red leaves

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You can read more on this page – Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil

Bastille Day, Storms and an end to the Paris Heatwave

Yesterday saw a ravenous and much needed storm in Paris, lasting several hours, and soaking any tourist who hadn’t taken shelter in a museum or bistro. This past fortnight has been quite hellish. When the sun comes it takes a couple of days, but consecutively hot days superheat the pavements, streets and courtyards, which in turn warms Parisian apartments to almost unbearable levels. Even when you’re almost stark naked, there’s been days where it feels you’ve been wrapped in four layers of sheeps’ wool and placed in a sauna. I can’t remember the last time I slept with a duvet cover. Friends in the city have been experiencing the same, and frequently take to having several showers a day. We have Sicilian guests staying with us at the moment, and they don’t mind it at all.

We’d planned to go and watch the Bastille fireworks from the bridge down the road, but Bébé Têtard fell asleep and I offered to stay at home and look after him. I could certainly hear the fireworks and celebrations. From the apartment it sounded like a fierce howling wind, as they launched wave after wave of fireworks in rapid succession.

Before I finish, I must return to our Sicilian guests. I don’t know any Italian but Madame Grenouille speaks it fluently. We were in the kitchen the other day when Giuseppe started looking at the electric kettle with fascination. I thought I’d misunderstood when Madame Grenouille told me he’d never seen an electric kettle before. His girlfriend has a sister who has one though, but it seems the majority of people still heat the water on a pan (which is no bad thing), and prefer to keep doing so… These differences in culture remind me that I must one day write about Mme. Grenouille’s father and grandfather who used to live in a cave (a troglodyte home) in the Loire Valley. Fifty years ago, it was quite common for many poor French families to still live in caves, and my father-in-law showed me around his former home (which he now uses for storage now) a couple of months ago.

Coypu Revisited

I finished working yesterday lunchtime, and took a lazy afternoon in Edmond de Rothschild park in Boulogne-Billancourt (same suburb as the Albert Khan park I wrote about previously). I wanted to rendez-vous with my old friends the coypu, and within minutes of arriving Papa Coypu jumped out of the pond to say hello… Well, hello and do you have any food for me? It’s hard to befriend a coypu without some nutritious snack lurking upon your person (raw carrot being a particular favourite), though M. Coypu made do with my stale bread.

rothschild jardin, boulogne, paris park

coypu

After bashing the living daylights out of my rock hard bread against the stones below, I proceeded to throw the crumbly debris into the water, whereupon the usual array of wildlife soon engulfed us. The slender black shadows of carp glided beneath the water keen to partake in the feeding frenzy; smaller catfish rose up between the multitude of ducks and geese, and pigeons were content to keep at a distance, nibbling on the deposited crumbs of the bread massacre. Those poor terrapins were once again at the mercy of all, pushed back under the water at every opportunity.

terrapin, goose, coypu

An elderly couple tried to sacrifice their granddaughter to King Coypu, dangling her little naked legs perilously close to this aquatic rodent. In actual fact, these coypu are very gentle and timid. One little girl even tried stroking one, and another man enticed it to pull circus tricks using just leaves as poorly disguised food.

coypu in France

Eventually two baby coypus came along with Maman Coypu.

Maman coypu

Whilst they generally ruled the pond, and received a larger share of food than any of their neighbours, it didn’t stop the odd goose from trying to have a peck.

coypu boulogne, paris

rothschild parc, coypu

coypu and geese

wildlife in paris parks

I know some consider coypu to be pests, but I’m rather taken by these critters. To disguise my blatant bias, I will end with a couple of moorhens and a mummy duck.

moorhen paris

paris ducks