Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Snow in the Alps

Last night I got back from a weekend away with the family in Evian (Yes, Evian, live young) where there was the best snow I have ever seen in my life. We took the sleeper train to Annecy on Friday night and got in at about 7am when it was just beginning to start snowing. Oh la la, il faisait froid! We had to wait in the station cafe until the car hire place opened at 9 when we started out on our adventure to Evian. The snow was getting thicker and thicker as we drove and we had to go really slowly. What should have been an hour and a half drive turned into a 5 hour drive. Bof. C'etait pas bon avec les enfants. Well actually, it wasn't that bad. Just that Mila is sometimes a bit difficult with me and this is always accentuated when we're in the car. She just won't talk to me. So I had to patiently put up with her ignoring me, subtly pushing me, and then just being plain rude by the end of it. And then just as we were about to reach the gîte we had to go back to buy some chains for the car because it was too dangerous to go any further. So it was a long long time in the car squished between two children and their car seats.
This was the start of the snow as we reached the lake at Evian:

We had gone to Evian for the 40th birthday of one of Romain's friends and there were 40 of us staying in a chalet in a village just above Evian. It was so beautiful, there was an incredible view out over the lake from the chalet. It was a typical alpine village, all wooden chalets, although it was a little strange because it was totally deserted-it is obviously a village/ski resort and so only busy in peak ski season.

On the Saturday evening we played a game where we all got into teams and had to ask David (the birthday boy) questions about himself and his life then had to mime out his responses and the other teams had to guess what part of his life we were talking about. It was really good fun although some of the mimes were a bit obscure! After dinner we did some celtic dancing which was fun, although it does get boring after the first few dances! Then we watched the birthday boy and his wife do a Tango. It was really beautiful. The actual tango wasn't particularly brilliant but their evident connection was really beautiful to see.

The next day we did lots of playing in the snow (it was so deep, over my knee!) and went down the mountainside through a Narnia-like forest on a sledge. Ha it was so fast! I've never known such good sledging! In the evening we played a version of Mafia (Bristol people you will know how good this game is, Hereford people I will explain it to you some time) called Loup-garrous - werewolf! It was so good, everybody really entered into the spirit of it and I got accused of being the murderer so many times, just because I was being quieter than everyone else!

It was a good weekend, a bit scary with so many French people but a few people in particular made a real effort to make me feel included so it wasn't too bad. We took the train back yesterday. First class no less! And today I have found myself a French penpal to force me to write more in French.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Last weekend was Saskia's third birthday party and to celebrate she had a pirates and princesses party. There were about 8 children and of course all the girls came as princesses and the boys as pirates. Of course. Saskia is what her mum describes as a 'trash queen' which I think has a different meaning in New Zealand to what I think it means, but what I think she means is that Saskia is a bit wild, she doesn't care particularly about looking pretty- she dressed up as princess but insisted on having her face painted as a scary tiger. Mila on the other hand, in some ways is quite a tomboy, but she LOVES princess and she wore the whole get-up for the party, make up and all. It was a good children's party with all the standard games - pass the parcel (although the children didn't seem to quite get this, they all tried to open the present as soon as it was handed to them!) musical bumps and statues and a treasure hunt. It was a joint party and the other girl's parents made this amazing cake! Although apparently to have cakes like this is very Anglo-Saxon, the French don't really go in for that kind of thing.

On Monday I went with Frances to the Jacquemart-Andre Musee. We did try to go to the big Monet exhibition at the Grand Palais but apparently all advance tickets are sold out and there was a 2 hour queue to get in. So we decided not to this time. Although I really want to go at some point, there's over 200 of his works there! As I'm sure you've guessed by now, I'm a big fan of his. The Jacquemart-Andre Musee is the old palace of a 19th century couple who dedicated their time to collecting artworks. It's an amazing building to start with, from the street it looks like a typical Haussman style house but the entrance is tound the back and it's an incredible, luxurious palace. It's beautiful. And all the rooms are beautifully decorated and the amount of artwork for one house is astonishing. Afterwards we had tea in the cafe there. And of course it was typically luxurious and beautifully furnished. Having tea and pastries in one of Paris' finest salon de thé, you know, I've really got it good here.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Some new music

I've just got back from a weekend at home which was fabulous but fleeting unfortunately. I arrived back late last night and as I got off the bus I saw that the christmas lights had been put up at Galeries Lafayette. They are incredible. I've not got much to compare them to, coming from Hereford, but they really are amazing.

We went to Annie Mac at Motion on Friday and she played such good music. The only track I can remember is one by Katy B - Katy on a mission. I was told that this song has been around for a while now but this was the first time I've heard it. It's such a good tune! I haven't heard any music like it since being in France and I loved the change. And then today I saw a link to Adele's new song. Wow. I love her. It's such a good bluesy song. I can't wait for her new album. I don't know how to embed a video so here's a link to it: http://www.adele.tv/news/165/listen-to-rolling-in-the-deep

I have been listening to a French radio station called FIP which plays really good music and a really good mix of genres. So I've discovered a few new bands through that including a band I think are great called Felipecha. Check out their songs 'Un Petit Peu D'air' and 'Matin du Café'. And a Lithuanian singer called Alina Orlova who is a little Kate Bush-y i think. I like the song Menulis and her version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is haunting. She's playing in St Germain en Laye next weekend so if I don't have to babysit, I'll try and go along.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Un joli weekend a la Marais et Versailles

The weather has taken a turn for the worse here, it's been raining all weekend. Ce n'est pas bon. Luckily that hasn't stopped me and my fellow chums (cue famous five style voice)! Yesterday Anna and I went to Musée D'Orsay as she hasn't been before. I won't bore you with talking about it again, but my opinion remains the same, I love it. Afterwards all we wanted to do was snuggle up with a nice warming cup of tea (or bière pour Anna) so we went to to the Marais to check out some recommended cafes and bars. The first one Le Loir dans la Théière was super. It clearly has a good reputation as the queue to get in was going out of the door. We waited our turn and weren't disappointed. Inside it was decorated with lots of cool posters and some Alice in Wonderland style pictures. It was really cosy and had some of the most amazing cakes I've ever seen. Tea was un petit cher - €4.50 but that seems to be generally what you pay in Paris. Plus it was Lapsaang Souchang. I love Lapsaang Souchang tea. We did feel a little like we were being hurried though so we decided to move on to somewhere a little more chilled and found Cafe Martini a few streets away. Which equally had a really good vibe, it was more a bar than a cafe but was pretty cheap for Paris. A kir was €3.50 and a Double Martini was €4, which by the way, I never realised was so tasty! Then on our way home, we walked past another bar where a French jazz bar was playing. We couldn't resist and went in for another petit blanc and watched the music. It was amazing. They were incredibly talented musicians and the girl singer had a beautiful voice. You could tell they were all the best of friends which made it even better to watch. We stayed until the end of the set then went on our way home back through the cold and the rain.

Today I went with Vanja, a Swiss au pair who lives in my village, and Nathalie to Le Chateau a Versailles. Again another miserable day weather wise so the ideal day to go. If you're under 26 and an EU citizen you get in free to all the State-owned museums which luckily also included Versailles. It really is incredible, so so enormous and ornate. The basic ticket gets you into the State-appartments, so where the king and queen lived and the hall of mirrors where the Treaty of Versailles was signed after WW1. There was also an exhibition on by Takashi Murakami a Japanese artist, where his sculptures were placed around the chateau. It was really bizarre seeing them in that setting as they are a complete contrast to the sumptuous and traditional decor of the chateau. That was the point I know and in some cases it worked well but other times I just didn't like it, it's not really my time of art but I can appreciate the idea behind it. Seeing the chateau has now inspired to find a book on French history as there's so much interesting history here especially about their revolution. My knowledge about that so far is pretty limited to what I learnt from watching The Scarlet Pimpernell with Richard E. Grant. But that was a long time ago.

I also spend most of the day talking in French, as that's how Vanja an I communicate. I think it must be pretty funny to hear us talk because a lot of it is definitely not correct. But it is very good just to practise so at least I've got someone I can do that with. Til next time!

Monday, 1 November 2010

A French Weekend in Brittany

I've just got back from a fantastic weekend in Brittany where we went to for a family gathering to celebrate Romain's parent's 40th wedding anniversary and his mum's 70th birthday. I was a little bit apprehensive about it, as I didn't want to feel like I was intruding on a lovely family weekend. But his family are so nice, they never made me feel unwanted or unwelcome. They always included me. Although there were times when I was totally lost in what was going on; round the dinner table for example there were lots of conversations going on in very fast French which there was no way I could follow. It was quite cool though because you can learn quite a lot about people just from listening to the way they speak even if you can't understand it. And this is definitely a family who clearly love each other's company and enjoying chatting and debating for hours on end, sitting round the fire with a café or a tisan. I felt a bit like I was watching 'Little Women' or something similar. Totally wonderful.

On Friday Pascal took us for a surprise walk to some land which some friends of hers own. It was absolutely beautiful countryside-forests, lakes shrubbery, flowers and lots and lots of wild mushrooms. So with all the family in tow we went foraging for mushrooms. People obviously don't go there very often as many of the mushrooms had grown so so large. So we went spend a good few hours exploring and finding lots of different types of mushrooms. Apparently you can take any wild mushrooms you find to a pharmacy and they'll tell you whether they're safe to eat or not. There was a bit of scare when we were told we had found some deadly ones and we didn't know who had touched what, what had touched what, what would need to be washed but Romain nonchalantly brushed the concerns aside saying it would be fine and we went home to cook up the good ones to put in our galettes. The tastiest mushrooms ever.

On Saturday we took the children for another surprise trip to have a donkey ride. The children were so funny when they found out what they were going to be doing. One of the cousins kept on and on saying how it was the first time she had ever ridden a donkey and it was just the BEST surprise EVER. Again it was a walk through beautiful countryside but the highlight of this day was listening to the funny things children say. Mila proceeded to give Saskia a sex education lesson whilst on the donkey telling her about the donkey's 'zizi' (penis). 'You know Saskia, the thing that they have hanging from their bottom, like Daddy and Papou (Grandpa)' and all the other males in their family. Haha it was so funny, not least because Kaki's (Grandma) was trying her hardest not to laugh out loud! Then in the car on the way back, another of the cousins started asking me about marriage:
'Are you married?' 'Why not?' 'When are you going to get married?' 'Who are you going to marry?' 'What happens if ony our wedding day the glass in the church breaks?' 'What happens if there's a storm and blows the roof off?' 'What if you have to get married in a car?' and so on and so on. It was a bit like the TV show 'Outnumbered', one ridiculously funny childish thing after another.

The final day was the day of the big party and more of the family had come to visit for the day. We had an incredible lunch started with oysters. I tried oysters for the first time a few weeks ago and I've got to say they were disgusting. But since being in France Romain insists I keep on trying the things I don't like as tastes change. For example every few nights he makes me try a little bit of red wine. Now I certainly prefer it now but I think that has something to do with the far superior quality they drink here rather than whatever was the cheapest at university. Anyway I'm not going to change my mind on oysters for a little while. For the main course we had a Moroccan tagine which was incredible and then some of the best puddings I've had in a long time - Charlotte Marron (chestnut cream sponge cake) and walnut tart and meringues and macaroons. Heaven. The children put on a little show for us - a dance and some actions to some French nursery rhymes - trop mignon. They all dressed up in regal outfits and marched and danced around with various musical instruments. This was the hardest day for me in terms of feeling totally out of my depth but it was nice to see such a lovely family occasion.

All in all it was a really fab weekend but I'm happy to be back in L'Etang and get back to Paris life. I really need to crack on with the French. Romain told me his dad learnt Spanish in 3 months. Oh blimey, I've got a long way to go.