Archive for September, 2012

Men in Tights

Saturday, September 29th, 2012

On Tuesday night, Becky and I went to watch particularly fit men dance around on stage in tutus and tights. It was Les Ballets  Trockedero de Monte Carlo – a US based ballet company made up entirely of male dancers. These fit and particularly talented guys dress up as female ballerinas and perform a parodic yet skilled version of well known ballets.

Ballet Trockadero

Dancers from Les Ballets Trockadero

It was an impressive performance – the dancers were ridiculously muscular yet at the same time, showed the grace and beauty of female ballerinas. I spent a lot of time squinting at certain dancers trying to work out whether they were male or female. The scary thing was that ALL of them were more elegant and feminine than me. Throughout the show, the dancers they would then switch into more masculine poses, showing off their muscles, or would perform funny dance moves adding plenty of laughs to the performance.

Folies Bergere

Impressive building of Folies Bergère

The show was held at the Folies Bergère – an amazing performance hall constructed in the late 1860s that would have seen plenty of action in its lifetime. It was here that Joséphine Baker performed wearing almost only a skirt made of bananas in the 1920s. The male ballerinas that we watched perform, while somewhat ‘different’ and going against the norms, were really nothing compared to what would have been seen on stage in the early 1900s.

Horse at Folies Bergère

A sparkle horse inside the foyer

The overall performance was very entertaining, although it had a lot of scene changes that ended with the curtain going down, making it disjointed and somewhat confusing. No one really knew if it was the end of the show or merely an interval. There were also some technical difficulties – they had to deal with French electricity that has a habit of turning off at inappropriate moments. The last third of the show was performed under a large spot light as the stage light fuse blew (twice) and it appeared no one could work out how to fix it. The dancers just kept on doing their thing which was credit to them, however it would have been nice to see the show with the appropriate lighting.

Les Ballets Trockedero is in Paris until 7 October and then they go to Australia. They will be in Perth at the Regal Theatre from 15-18 November. Check them out.

Le Médicin

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

I had been putting off going to the doctors for weeks. Months actually – I had even waited until I was back in Australia in June to visit my own GP for a particularly grumbly stomach. What my doctor prescribed me just made matters worse but I couldn’t go back for more advice as I was already back in Paris. Dang.

Finding a doctor in a foreign country isn’t high on my “Fun Things to Do” list. It generally makes me feel even sicker – what questions will they ask me? How do I find one? Do I have to ring and make an appointment? Will they understand what I am talking about? Will they make me take 500 tests that will cost me so much money that I won’t be able to afford to eat? Will they tell me I am dying?

So, as you can see, I put it off like I do with most things I don’t want to do. But eventually the constant feeling of nausea that I was experiencing won and forced me to ask a friend for advice on where to go to find medical help. She gave me the name and address of a doctor who is located on the other side of the canal and the opening times when I could just turn up and see her. Perfect.

It was very odd. Her office was located in a building that looked like any other building in Paris – signless. There was nothing to suggest you would find a doctor inside, apart from a small golden plaque that said “Médicin” next to the front door. To enter, you had to push a call button and wait for the door to be opened. Once you were past this door, you had to find another button for another door and wait again. (I later discovered that it was the doctor herself who would answer the two phones in her office that would make these doors open.)

Her office was on the fourth floor, so after a ride in a very rickety lift (at least medical help was close by) I stepped out into a space that had four faceless brown doors. Which one to open? I spotted a piece of paper stuck to one of them that said “Médicin” so following these clues I eventually stepped into a waiting room.

The room was rather large for Paris and around the edge were a range of chairs. There were people already waiting but no sign of a receptionist or a ticketed number system. A woman had arrived at the same time as me so I followed her lead and just sat down. It seemed people in Paris can remember who is next in line to be served, unlike Australians fighting at the deli counter at Woolworths.

While I sat and waited 20 minutes or so for my turn an interesting phenomenon occurred that made me giggle with delight each time. The note on the door to the office instructed you to ring the door bell and then enter. So each time a new patient arrived there would be the sound of someone walking outside, the door bell would ring and then the door would open. But then came the best bit – everyone in the waiting room would greet the new arrival. A chorus of polite “Bonjour”s would reverberate across the room, welcoming the new person as they found a seat. It was like an instant breaking of the ice – yes, we are all sick and waiting to see a doctor for a range of unknown reasons. We are all the same. We are all accepted.

Once it was finally my turn, I was welcomed by the doctor and told to take a seat. I was pretty nervous by this time as I had been trying to work out in my head the best way to introduce the fact that:

  1. I didn’t know what was going to happen next
  2. My French was limited in medical vocabulary
  3. I just hate going to the doctor.

I ended up fumbling out something about this being my first time seeing a doctor in France and that I didn’t know what the procedure was. The doctor looked at me kindly, like a manager who is just about to fire their incompetent assistant, and asked where I was from. And then the consultation began.

Turns out she was brilliant and I should have gone earlier. She spoke to me slowly, asked lots of good questions, listened to what I was saying and threw in a few “keeping it friendly” questions to make me feel comfortable. She told me I wasn’t dying and prescribed some tablets for my stomach. She even spotted the GIANT HOLE that is still on my leg from when I fell off the bike and wrote a prescription for some antibiotic cream to make it heal faster. What a doctor!

Then she filled out a piece of paper, explaining I could take this to my health insurance (which I don’t have) to get my money back. My 23 Euros! That’s all! I couldn’t believe how cheap it was – 23 Euros to be cured of my diseases. It felt quite strange to hand 23 Euros over in cash to a woman who had studied for an extensive period of time to be a medical doctor. It felt a bit like we were doing a black-market exchange – at least I went elsewhere to buy my drugs. Those were ridiculously cheap too! Just 12 Euros for miracle stomach medication and leg ointment!

I think I might now go to the doctor every day as a form of cheap entertainment. I’m sure I could come up with that many ailments. I am glad I managed to overcome my ridiculous phobia as whatever she gave me worked instantly and I now don’t feel like throwing up! BRILLIANT! So I can now officially say that the French medical system is a wonderful, wonderful thing. You should add it to your list of things to do next time you visit France – Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Notre Dame, visit a doctor, buy cheap medicine.

It is Coming

Monday, September 24th, 2012

The last week has seen the sudden arrival of Autumn. While there had been small signs that the seasons are changing – yellowing leaves, cooler evenings – it hasn’t been until the last seven or so days that it has become very obvious. Something like being slapped in the face with a wet fish, with just as much pain and wetness.

Last night I was eating dinner with some friends and heard the whistles of the garden-police ordering people to leave the park behind the Récollets. This happens every evening, the time changing throughout the year depending on when the sun sets. At the moment the park closes at 8.30pm and, up until recently, there would still be sunlight. Not last night. It was DARK. Sure, there was rain approaching and it was overcast, but it was also just DARK.

This morning my alarm went off at the usual time of 7.10am and as I opened my eyes my first thought was, “No… surely not… I must have set my alarm to go off an hour early.” But no. It was indeed time to get up but only for stupid humans who feel the need to go running every morning; the sun certainly wasn’t thinking about getting out of bed.

And so Becky and I went running in the dark (well, by 7.30am it was a bit lighter.) The weather today is fantastic – strong winds are pushing fluffy grey clouds through the sky at rapid speed, bringing showers of heavy rain. This did result in us getting wet on our run, but the winds were strong enough to push the clouds along so it didn’t last long. Plus running in the rain is very refreshing, even if you do look like a drowned rat at the end.

It is warm and humid today, which I love – it reminds me of Perth and the tropical storms that drift through on occasion. Every time there is a strong gust of wind, large chestnut shells are falling from the trees in the park and going CLUNK! and THWACK! as they hit the ground or ricochet off the metal fence. A great day to be inside.

Paris autumn sky

The sky earlier this morning.

The Real Water Lilies

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

When my parents were in town we caught the train to Vernon and then a shuttle bus to a small town called Giverny to visit Monet’s gardens. This was something I had been meaning to do for some time and as my Mum loves gardens it was the perfect opportunity. Thanks to the advice of some wise friends, I booked our tickets online the night before so that we could skip the queue of tourists as we all moved from train to bus to garden like a well trained flock of sheep. While everyone else went to the ticket office, we snuck in the back entrance. Smooth.

I went there knowing and expecting it to be tourist laden, and, of course, it was. But nothing really prepares me for the inner hatred that sprouts from me whenever I am in those sorts of places. I attempt to accept my position as a tourist and embrace my inability to change the situation or the people I am surrounded by, but I can’t help it. I hate it. Absolutely hate it. I blame the slight peevishness that I have inherited from my father’s side (sorry, Dad) so technically it isn’t my fault. I was born this way. But the sight of masses of tourists arriving in a bus, then following signs to stand around and take photos of something that represents something that once existed makes me want to hit my head against a wall. And then I participate in this circus… shocking.

Sure, I admit, Monet’s gardens were beautiful. There were water lilies just like in his paintings, and despite Autumn being almost in full swing, the garden was scattered with bright flowers. We had chosen to go on a good day and there weren’t that many other people visiting. You were able to get your photo of the pond and the bridge without someone standing in the way and ruining the shot. It was quiet and peaceful (apart from the occasional semi-trailer that roared past on the main road adjacent) and a pleasant way to spend a morning.

Monet's water lily pond

Imagine this with a blue sky – unfortunately we went on an overcast and drizzly day

In the gardens was “Monet’s House”, which I have to put in inverted commas because 1. he never owned it and 2. it had clearly been completely refurbished because no one can keep a house THAT clean. The tiles on the kitchen wall looked brand new, the pots hanging on the walls had never been used and I don’t think Monet had that poor taste in colours of paint for the walls.

Monet's house

Monet’s house

His studio was the most ‘real’ looking space although all of the paintings hanging on the wall were replicas that had been done by artists who had never even met Monet. Needless to say, it was disappointing. As I walked around inside the house, I couldn’t help but feel that I was in a Monet-version of Disneyland. Everything was fake. On reflection, the gardens I had just admired were also fake – there’s no way that Monet would have spent that much time, effort and money on maintaining the garden. He certainly didn’t have a troop of gardeners ensuring there were always lilies available for him to paint.

Monet's garden

Yes! No tourists!

Giverny itself would have been a gorgeous little village had it not been overrun by tourist cafés selling over priced and terrible food. We wandered slowly through the town, looking at the little houses and the decent interpretive signage that had been installed outside some of the main points of interest did provide an interesting insight into the history. But it did just add to the Disneyfication of the place, and all I could think was how much I would hate to live there.

Giverny

A nice little house in Giverny

Overall, I did manage to let myself enjoy the gardens and Giverny, but I was really happy to get back on the train and return to Paris, where you can avoid being sucked into the tourist traps and life is actually somewhat real. Sure, as soon as I step outside my front gate I will spot a tourist, but here they are observing the real world of Paris, or just visiting the Louvre. And I never go there, so no heads against walls for me. Would I recommend going? Yes. Would I go again? Never.

Flowers in Monet's garden

Despite my whinging, I did like these flowers a LOT.

Helmut Great Cake

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

Yesterday I finally found an opportunity to try a new(ish) café near me, called Helmut Newcake. It a gluten free pâtisserie offering all of your most loved treats in a deliciously gluten-free way. I always feel sorry for people who are living in or visiting France who are gluten intolerant (or dairy for that matter) because you are instantly excluded from most of the greatest food that France has to offer. No baguettes, no viennoiseries, no crêpes, no chocolate tarts… Poor, poor people… but finally, gluten intolerance has been recognised in Paris and there is now ONE gluten free pâtisserie. It’s a miracle! Now all they have to do is invent lactose free camembert.

I was joined by two fellow Perthians (Judy and Natasha) and a mini-French-Australian (Hugo just turned one and has an Australian mum, a French Dad and he loves straws.) Natasha is gluten intolerant and was excited to finally be able to eat cake without regretting it later.

Helmut Newcake is located in a BoBo-concentrated zone next to Le Petit Cambodge (a hipster cambodian restaurant) and across an intersection from one of the best pizza restaurant in Paris, Maria Luisa. You can also go there for meals but we were after cake, most of which had been snatched up by earlier patrons. The range of cakes was great – there were fruit tarts, choux pastries and your more basic cakes, all very reasonably priced. I went for the peach and pistachio tart – seriously good.

Helmut Newcake tart

Served a cute little plate.

Crunchy pastry with a smooth pistachio filling and just enough peach on top. Often gluten free cakes taste like they have been over worked or too much effort has been put into making them gluten free – not so for this tart. They serve Clipper tea and Judy and I were given a huge teapot of hot water to serve ourselves endless cups. I love a café that isn’t stingy with the hot water.

I will definitely be going back and making it a regular hang out. I have also discovered two other new cafés that I have to go and try soon – every week there is another place opening up. So much cake to try…

Drawing with Knives

Friday, September 21st, 2012

I had a great afternoon yesterday as I have come to discover that while I find drawing with a pencil somewhat painful, put a knife in my hand and I can create some interesting images. Last week I spent hours working on a design that I had planned and organised and when it finally came time to print, it just looked awful. I had some left over paint so I grabbed a piece of paper, cut out a random organic shape and it resulted in a really interesting print.

Blue spindle fingers print

Spindle Fingers

You can buy this cool blue thing on my Society6 page as a print, a framed print, a card or even an iPhone cover! (It will look great on all new iPhone 5s.)

Yesterday I decided to attempt this laissez faire technique again and the results were good.

House stencil

Free-cutting stencil

Stencil with paint

Adding the paint.

House and tree stencils

Printed.

I’m not very happy with my colour choices but I really love my tree and I am pleased with the over all scene that I managed to create. The fact that I had to make decisive cuts somehow helped me to create images that I was pleased with. I knew that if I cut the wrong shape or line then I would just have to use it anyway. This meant there was an interesting combination of having to consider the lines I was making but it also not mattering so much because each line just added a natural feeling to the image. It somehow resulted in me being less concerned about making ‘mistakes’ than when I attempt to draw with a pencil. Strange but true.

Stencils

An afternoon’s work.

Again I had left over paint so I did a few experiments to see what I can do with a knife. Exciting times ahead. I am now trying to find out the best papers to use to make stencils with as I am currently only able to do one decent print as the stencil curls with the wet paint. Anyone with any knowledge or ideas they are willing to share will instantly be my new best friend.

I Love Half Price Food

Friday, September 21st, 2012

Last night was one of those evenings where the completely unexpected happened and I came away feeling so happy to be living in Paris. My friend and ex-boss, Claire, had put me in contact with a fellow Perthian, Pak. Claire described him as a fellow foodie which made him instantly my friend. In less the 24 hours we had been introduced and had decided to go for dinner and make the most of an awesome restaurant deal that is happening across France. For one week, restaurants ranging from local brasseries to top-end haute gastronomie, are offering 2-for-1 deals on set menus. So essentially, you book a table for two and you’re eating for half price – a great excuse to try higher-end dining. Being a lover of bargain food experiences, I was pretty damn excited.

We ummed and ahhed for a few hours during the day, trying to pick a restaurant that would satisfy our palates as well as offer a great dining experience. Most of the haute gastronomie restaurants had been booked out weeks ago, so we finally found a restaurant in the 11th arrondissement – a restaurant called Le Tintilou that I had read many reviews about and had heard it was good.

And was it ever! Pak really is a foodie, eating his food with an inquisitive eye (tongue?) trying to work out each of the ingredients and how dishes were put together. His descriptions were delightful. Meanwhile my response to the food ranged from, “Yeah, it’s awesome!” to “Oh man, that’s good.” Either way, we both enjoyed our meals.

We started with thin slices of toasted baguette served with a broccoli and bean dip. It had a touch of spice which was exciting and was a brilliant bright green. Very fresh and enticing.

Tintilou dip

So green.

For entrée I had vegetarian ravioli which were spiced with cumin and served in a very thick sauce and some cherry tomatoes. Pak had prawns that were served with a coconut sauce that was also particularly thick. Both of us were a bit unsure about the sauces as they were almost soup-like. Mine was very tasty though.

Tintilou ravioli

Little bundles of yum.

For my main dish I had cod which was served on a delicious bed of spelt. Oh how I love grains. The fish was JUST cooked so it was moist without being underdone. Perfect. The spelt added a wonderful crunch and satisfied the wheat-lover in me. It was served with confit lemon which was a little bit over powering if you had too much in one spoonful. At the same time, when the proportion of lemon to fish to spelt was correct, it was exceptionally delicious.

Tintilou cod

Delicious fishes.

So wish the savoury dishes finally out of the way, I could concentrate on the important course – dessert. We had a choice between a meringue with baked apricots or a ganache with a soft ginger caramel. Not being a fan of meringue, I chose the ganache/caramel which was served with a warm madeleine on the side. The flavours were intense – the ginger was very strong and when mixed with caramel it was quite unexpected. Once you mixed it with the chocolate ganache layer underneath, everything somehow sorted itself out and the mix of flavours was wonderful. It took a few mouthfuls to get used to though and it was extremely rich and buttery. But with small bites of cakey madeleines to cleanse the palate, my dessert soon disappeared. Delicious.

Tintilou dessert

Hooray for desserts.

Throughout this entire gastronomic experience, Pak and I had been getting to know one another and also having brief conversations with the couple at the table next to us. This being Paris, we were practically sitting on top of one another so it was hard not to have some sort of exchange. They were having the same menu as us and so we were soon chatting about the food, the wine and the restaurant. By the time we were eating dessert, we had made new friends with Arnaud and Ariane and were soon ordering digestives and making a non-Parisian amount of noise in the now empty restaurant. It was fantastic! I left the restaurant having eaten great food and wine and having made three new friends. A truly wonderful experience that happened thanks to Claire and the awesome world of food that is Paris.

 

Anything for Charity

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

The other weekend when my friend Nina came to visit, we were wandering past Notre Dame when three 20-somethings approached us and asked if we’d like to donate to charity. In return, we were allowed to squish a whipped-cream-covered paper plate into one of their faces. How could we say no?

Votez Pour Moi!

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

I have entered my blog in the Paris Golden Blog competition. I don’t expect to win, but hey! Maybe some new people will discover my site and like it! Anyhoo, if you’re feeling generous and want to votez pour moi, please go here and click on the magical blue button… Merci!

I’m Part of the Society

Monday, September 17th, 2012

I have signed up to a website called Society6 that helps artists get their work out into the world. I now have two pieces up for sale – now I’m just hoping for some action to get things rolling.

Exciting times!