Archive for December, 2011

Bienvenue, 2012

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

Apologies for my recent lack of contact. The last few weeks have been particularly busy with completing my work for the exhibition, playing tour guide for my friend, Rachel, and my brother, Ben, and now Christmas and New Years adventures in Germany and the Netherlands. I am writing this from the loft of my second cousin’s house in Gouda (yes, like the cheese except with the correct Dutch pronunciation – Gcchhhowda.) To my left is a view of apartment blocks surrounded by a Dutch morning sky – grey, foggy and wet. No snow in sight. It seems that all of Europe has been hit by some sort of strange heat wave and snow has been rare this winter. Very disappointing but somewhat expected as I am here and hot weather seems to follow me where ever I go. I have now spent two snowless winters in Europe. I need to work on this.

So today is New Year’s Eve, the day when everyone is supposed to reflect on their past year, examine what they have achieved and what they need to put on their “To Do” list for the next year. We all know I love a good reflection so let’s do it.

This year really started for me in February when I moved to Paris. It is still hard to believe that I only have one month left of my year away. If I hadn’t planned on extending my stay I would now be in a state of complete and utter panic, depression and general Oh-Woe-Is-Me. I am still very nervous about my approaching trip back to Australia and Sydney to visit the French Embassy to ask for a second visa, but at least it is going to happen. I think I can grandly announce that this year has been the best year of my life thus far but how could it not be? I have lived in an amazing city, met awesome people, visited wonderful places and eaten some of the greatest food of my life. What’s not to like?

Next year I plan to continue this current way of living while also endeavouring to put more effort into my writing and ‘stuff’. When I first made my Zaum business cards, I kept my options open by declaring Zaum was a business for “Writing and stuff”. I am still trying to find out what that stuff is and how exactly to do it but my recent sock laboratory adventures have put a few ideas into my head. I have so much I want to do and try – I just need to work out how to do it. According to my horoscope in the Dutch tv magazine, the best time of the year for me to work out what I want to do with my career is from March to June of next year. Sounds like a plan.

So this reflection has become a bit of a pathetic thing but to be honest my stomach is grumbling and I want to go and eat some breakfast. At 10am I am expecting to hear the onslaught of hundreds of fireworks being set off. In the Netherlands, it is legal to purchase fireworks for a few days leading up to New Years and then legal to set them off between 10am and 2am on New Year’s Eve/Day. It is now 9.30am and apparently the existence of sunlight doesn’t put people off. Should be a fun day.

Happy New Year to all – I hope 2012 is exciting and fulfilling for everyone. I highly recommend running away to a foreign country and eating food for an entire year. It has worked out for me rather nicely.

And a special Happy Birthday to two of my most regular readers, Heather and Brendan. I hope people remember to say happy birthday amongst the happy new years.

Career Change

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

I am officially changing careers – I am becoming a sock sculptor. Sure, there’s no money in it (yet), but that might change. And sure, no one would take me seriously, but that might change. Plus I don’t know how to go about it but I can learn. Essentially, I thoroughly enjoyed myself while making my sock laboratory and the final exhibition was a great success. It was very well attended and the range of works on exhibit was very interesting and varied. I was very proud to have my work on show and I got a bit of a kick watching people looking at my work and smiling. I gain similar enjoyment watching people’s reactions to my writing.

It was the process of making my sock laboratory that I enjoyed the most. I loved seeing my ideas come into reality as I managed to work out how to turn limp socks into microscopes, scissors, scalpels and coffee cups. The hands-on element particularly enticed me as it is something that lacks in my writing work. While writing stimulates my brain, it doesn’t fulfil my desire to make things with my hands. It was so nice to have the challenge of creating a piece of work that would have a definite outcome. I would love to do it again.

Studio

My dining table seconds as a studio

In another positive note, while three ‘prop’ items (a test tube, a syringe and a piece of paper) were stolen from my laboratory on the opening night, nothing was taken on the following day. Excellent.

The Sock Lab

Friday, December 16th, 2011

Yesterday I set up my piece in the Art Ou Science exhibition at Café A. It was then taken down without my knowledge in the evening (a tad annoying) and I have to put it up again in 25 minutes. Ca m’enerve. ANYWAY I thought I would put up some photographs of my work so that you can see it. I am pleased with the final result, and am ignoring the person who called it ‘mosh’ (ugly). I stole her desk (hence why my work was taken down) and she wasn’t happy about it clearly. I was told I could use it by the people running the exhibition. Not my fault. ANYWAY…

Sock lab

The lab

Sock lab

My microscope pre-installation

Sock lab

Mouse brains

Sock test tube holder

A test tube holder complete with colourful threads to examine, and a scalpel to cut off little mouse heads

Sock Lab

Bits and bobs in the sock lab

Sock lab

A certificate of education and alpha, eta and lambda hang from the ceiling above

Art vs Science

Sunday, December 11th, 2011

I realise I have forgotten to mention that I am soon to be a world-famous sock artist who has exhibited in one of Paris’s hippest joints. Yes, that’s right. I’m going to be putting my socks on show at Café A – the hippest, grooviest, BoBo-est Café/gallery space in Paris that happens to be connected to the Récollets. When I first found out that I was going to be moving to an artists’ residency, I thought that maybe I would get to go to some cool exhibition opening. It never crossed my mind that I would have the opportunity to put something IN the exhibition for arty French people to come and look at.

A few weeks ago, all of the scientists and artists living at the Récollets were invited to submit ideas for an exhibition with the subject of “Art vs Science.” I jumped at the opportunity to exhibit work in Paris and submitted the idea of making a science laboratory out of socks. My idea has been accepted and for the past two weeks I have been making microscopes, scalpels and coffee cups (scientists need caffeine) out of socks. This Friday the exhibition opens with a vernissage (aka free wine) at 7pm and apparently lots of ‘cool’ people have been invited. This makes me nervous. I thought this thing would be little and no one would come to it but it seems it maybe actually get some sort of turn out. Terrifying.

Anyway, I still have some work to do on it before I post photos but I will let you know how it goes. In the mean time, anyone would happens to be in Paris this Friday night should come!

Art or Science Poster

Cool.

Christmas is Coming!

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

There’s something about Europe and it turning me into an anti-scrooge – I actually like Christmas here. Weird. As a result, I went and bought a mini Christmas tree and decorations from my favourite store, the Hema. I managed to get a tree, red baubles and lights for a mere 9 Euros! BARGAIN!

Christmas decorations

What a great buy.

Today Tom and I ceremoniously started decorating our apartment, getting into the festive spirit for our first Christmas living together (Nawww! How romantic!)

Christmas decorations

Technically these are stars, not baubles.

This afternoon I am going back to the Hema to buy more baubles because there just isn’t enough bling on our tree. So stay tuned for “Finished tree” photos but for now here is the gang getting ready for Christmas in Paris.

Christmas trees

Everyone is excited about Christmas – particularly Martin

We have hung the fairy lights above the couch because there were too many for the tree. They look so sparkly and provide additional light in a normally dark corner of our apartment!

Christmas lights

Ooh sparkly!

Wine Time

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

I’m sure I have mentioned this previously, but connected to the residence that I live in is one of the coolest, hippest, and most sort-out cafés for the BoBos of Paris. In case you don’t know, a BoBo is a person between the ages of 21 and 38 who wears a lot of ‘vintage’ clothing and who hangs around in public spaces with other BoBos hoping to be seen. They usually wear oversized glasses and lots of layers. Anyway, the cafe, Café A, is cool. So cool that in summer there is a line of BoBos pleading to come in while my fellow residents and I walk past in our BoBo-offensive clothes and sit at our residents-only tables. You can probably tell I get a kick out of it.

There are often concerts, exhibitions and random events at Café A and this past weekend there was a two-day wine tasting event held within the café and the beautiful chapel that is connected to it. This chapel is part of the original convent building of the Récollets and is rented out by the Architects society (they now somehow own it) for excessive amounts of money. Therefore it is very rarely open and when ever it is, I try my hardest to get in there.

On Sunday evening, Tom and I walked in the back door of the café with our friends and fellow residents, Becky and Vivien. Why go in the front door when you can sneak in the back? We then talked our way into getting free tasting glasses and not paying the 10 Euro entry fee because ‘we live here.’ Seemed fair to me.

Salon du vin – Café A

A blurry photo but lots of people and lots of wine inside the chapel

The chapel was set out with 50-plus tables allocated to different organic and biodynamic wine producers, offering tastings of their wines and information about how they produce the wine and the region it comes from. These wine tastings are particularly helpful to us as there is so much difference between choosing a wine in France than in Australia. Back home, I usually choose a grape variety I like and then go by price and whatever label interests me the most. This doesn’t work so well in France and I have managed to choose numerous very bad wines as a result.

Vivien, the only true-Frenchman of our group, was put in charge of wine selection and we started off with his favourite region – Bordeaux. There were three different Bordeaux producers and we sampled three different wines from each. The flavours between each wine varied significantly and it was amazing to see how different the wines could taste despite containing similar grape blends. It all came down to handling, time, barrels and general competence.

After Bordeaux, Vivien took us on a grape tour of his life in France, moving between regions where he has lived, studied and worked. Every region produced significantly different flavours of wine and each vintage varied just as much. It was a taste-bud sensation and a big learning experience for me. Of course, after sampling a few different wines from various producers, they all start tasting good and there were a fair few people who had clearly been ‘sampling’ for most of the afternoon and evening. It was a great way to get a better understanding of French wine although I have come away with even more confusion about how to choose a wine when at a wine store. No matter what bottle I choose it will taste completely different to the last wine I had from that region. So I guess I have to return to my “try it and see” methods.

Another to Add to the Dessert List

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

I have a few favourite desserts scattered throughout Paris that I seek out in order to satisfy cravings. There is the banana bread at Kooka Boora, gateau chocolate de Grandmère at Le Jardin d’en Face, and the créme brulée at Les Enfants Perdu. At one point there was also a chocolate and basil tart at Hotel du Nord but certain a grumpy waiter named Adrian has removed that from my list of must-eats. Shame, really.

Last night I managed to welcome a new addition to my “Top Desserts” list, something I was very happy to do. Let me state from the beginning that in order to be in my Top Desserts list, the dessert has to be exceptionally good. I don’t hand out this status willy-nilly! I have eaten MANY desserts and only those that really excite my taste buds and make me all gooey inside are allowed into the Top Desserts category.

Tom and I decided to celebrate my 50,000 word writing achievement and his recent skill at easily gaining freelance work by going out to dinner. We La Fourchette-d it and chose a restaurant that I had been wanting to go to for some time, Le Vernissoir. It is a cool and hip restaurant located in a side street that as we walked down it made me feel like I was walking in NoHo in New York. Very cool. Lots of little restaurants and plenty of BoBo’s hanging out and being cool-and-stuff-without-trying.

I wanted to have an early night as we have been going out a LOT lately so we booked the 7.30pm time slot. We were, of course, the only people eating and no one else came until at least an hour later. It didn’t matter – the staff were friendly and didn’t poo-poo us for being there so early. We both managed to order the exact same dishes for both mains and desserts so we didn’t really get to experience a large extent of the menu, but there were plenty of interesting items to choose from. Duck with truffles, a japanese tapioca risotto with mushrooms, and sword fish with sea urchin juice (yuck.) But we both went for the ‘thick cut’ beef with parsnips and we weren’t disappointed with our choice.

Beef

Mmm... Beef.

The meat was tender and deliciously cooked and the parsnips were a wonderful change from potatoes. I never cook with parsnips but I am now excited to do so. The sauce was soooo good although the plate was covered in a soup of olive oil which, while delicious, is sometimes a bit excessive.

Our La Fourchette booking required us to order desserts. DANG. It was an easy decision. The final item on the menu was a ‘mille feuille’ like dessert – two pieces of thin, flaky pastry with a chocolate mousse (with a very slight hint of chilli) inside and then a drizzle of salted butter caramel sauce over the top.

Chocolate dessert

Winner of Jess's Top Dessert Award

It arrived in front of me and I gasped with joy. OH YES. It was rich. It was good dark chocolate. The pastry was lightly caramelised and then the salted butter caramel sauce was just pure heaven. It was one of those desserts that you want to continue eating forever, no matter how sick you are feeling. By the end of it I was feeling very chocolate-afied and I needed a litre of water to quench my thirst but I WANT MORE!!!

And then came the joy of asking for the bill and paying a tiny amount for fabulous food and half a bottle of wine. The accessibility of eating out in Paris is something I am never going to be able to get over. I don’t know how I will survive back in Perth where for the same price as what we paid last night, I would only be able to get one main dish – no dessert, and maybe a glass of wine.

L’eau Chaud

Monday, December 5th, 2011

I am currently hoping that a truck with “Techno Hygiene” written on the side is here to fix the hot water. There is currently none. It’s amazing how much you love hot water when you don’t have it anymore. It stopped working yesterday evening and now a building with 80+ apartments has no hot water. Of course, there are also lots of homeless people on the street who also have no hot water. Who knows how long it will take the French to fix it seeing as everything around here takes so long to do. I think I’ll survive but it isn’t my fault if I stink.

That’s Not Rain

Saturday, December 3rd, 2011

It is apparently raining today. I say ‘apparently’ because the ground is getting wet and the forecast says there is a 100 per cent chance of rain today, however the stuff falling from the sky at the moment is more like a mist than rain. Like many things in France, the rain here is a bit… well… weak. Since my arrival, I have very rarely seen huge downpours. In fact, I can literally count on one hand the number of times I have thought, “Whoa! It’s raining!”

I like rain when it is purposeful. It has a presence, a reason of being, a strength. Here is it wimpy and pathetic and it just exists. Right now if I look out the window and stare, I can see that there is a very light drizzle falling from the sky. Most people are walking outside without umbrellas, so they are getting wet but it isn’t raining enough to require coverage. The footpaths are just getting slippery, and it is grey and dull. Why doesn’t it pour? Where is the thunder and lightning? WHERE IS THE SNOW?!

It is going to be like this for the next week so I am likely to become severely depressed and my desire to return to Australia to fill out visa forms is going to increase significantly. SUNSHINE! COME TO ME! The biggest problem with this rain is that for as long as there is rain, the temperatures are staying quite high, and while the temperatures stay high, the less likely it is that it is going to snow. I agreed (with myself) to move to Europe on the basis that I would have a white Christmas. This is not looking likely. With only three weeks to go, the temperatures have to shift dramatically for me to get my dream. It really isn’t fair. Is it that big a deal to request to the weather Gods that it snows on Christmas? All I want to do is dance and sing and run through the snow and build a snow man. Just once or twice. It doesn’t have to be anything significant – no massive storms, no road deaths, no closed airports. Just a little bit of white. Please?

Ten Months

Saturday, December 3rd, 2011

It’s amazing what you can do in ten months. Thursday marked the ten month ‘event’ of Tom and my arrival in Paris and it has come as quite a shock. Ten months is a long time and yet it feels like we just arrived. We shouldn’t be thinking about the fact that we only have two months left until our Year in Paris is over. We should still have so much time left with so many things to see and do. But alas, this is not the case.

LUCKILY we have decided to extend for an extra year, so while I would now be bawling my eyes out and chaining myself to the nearest pole and refusing to leave, I am somewhat less sad. I am still a bit worried about my impending return to Australia and visa application, but I am crossing all of my fingers and toes that it goes smoothly. It can’t not, right? What am I going to do if the French Embassy refuses to grant me a visa? Probably bawl my eyes out, fly back to Paris and chain myself to a pole.

Our friend, Phillipa, is here on the same visa as me and hers expires the day after mine. She is currently going through the horrific procedure of applying for a sponsorship from her work. She works at an O’Sullivans Irish pub and they have kindly agreed to go through the whole rigmarole of filling out forms, writing letters, and photocopying pieces of paper in order to help her stay next year. I am also crossing all fingers and toes that it works for her because she has no other visa alternatives in order to be able to stay in Paris. If Pip can’t come back then who am I going to go shopping with?! We have made a pact that we will meet on 1 April next year at a pub in Montmartre and drink to our good fortune of being back in Paris.

SO! I have 55 days left in Paris. What am I going to do in that time? Let’s write a list!

  • Continue to eat lots of food.
  • Go to Koblenz for Christmas.
  • Go to Holland for New Years.
  • Exhibit some sock creations in an exhibition at Café A (the coolest, hippest place in Paris)
  • See snow in Paris (I REFUSE to leave until it has snowed here because otherwise it is likely to do so while I am away and that is NOT fair.)
  • Go to lots of great exhibitions which are coming up in the next few weeks (when my brother, Ben, comes to visit over Christmas/New Years we’re going to see a Stefan Sagmeister exhibition AND a show about monsters puppets!)
  • Decorate my apartment for Christmas (I bought a mini Christmas tree this week.)
  • Start editing my book.
Ok, that’s probably enough. The first dot point is going to take up most of my time anyway so who knows if I’ll be able to achieve anything else. Anyway, those are my thoughts on this wet and windy Paris day. Actually, I am going to finish this entry and start another one about the weather. It deserves to be discussed separately.