Monthly Archives: April 2013

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the rest of the holiday

We were pretty shattered after ANZAC day and none of us were at our best (ie. bit grumpy) but the remainder of our holiday was very much make-it-up-as-you-go. We had booked a hotel for Friday and Saturday night out on the coast so on Friday we meandered our way there, seeing a few sights in Saint Quentin (though not the butterfly house as it wouldn’t open till 2pm) and visiting Arras on our way through.

Mairie facing the square in Saint Quentin

Louis didn’t particularly feel like walking through Saint Quentin, perhaps because he hadn’t slept in the car like his sister… wise girl. Behind me is the Mairie (town hall).

Basilica at Saint Quentin, France

The Basilica at Saint Quentin was open to the public, despite major (and ongoing for quite some time I imagine) renovations – touching up all the stonework. Still, it’s suffered a lot worse. This is how it looked at the end of World War One:

St Quentin Cathedral in Ruins

The picture’s not mine – click on it to go to the wikipedia article about St Quentin.

Louis leaping, in Saint Quentin Basilica

We walked through quite a number of churches on this long weekend. This one was probably the highlight because not only could we see the stone-refurbishment in process, but the pipe-organist was having a little practise session!

Louis responded appropriately, I think.

We grabbed a coffee and Louis went for a ride on this very cool Jules Verne (who spent much of his life in Amiens, nearby) carousel. After his usual first choice of a spin in a sports car, he had a turn (or several) around (not quite the world) in the balloon. Good choice, Louis!

Jules Verne Carousel, Saint Quentin

Next stop, Arras. The temperature had dropped and Louis too (off to sleep, at last) so we did a quick march around the city. It has a couple of world heritage sights, the golden lion on top of the Mairie and this Cathedral…

Cathedral at Arras

It was under construction, but we could have gone in. We were all a bit wiped-out though, and freezing cold. We went inside a smaller church (magnificent by normal standards but ours are getting to be a bit warped with all these cathedrals and basilicas) and then made our way.

NZ memorial at ArrasEn route out of town we stopped by another NZ memorial, a strange patch of land on the corner of a busy intersection, sporting not only a NZ flag, but also Canadian, French and British flags. Only NZ got a map though. The town of Arras was unfortunate enough to lie on the front line during the first world war. It is built on chalk and underground caverns were a major part of its defence. The NZ tunnelling division were a big help here, hence the special memorial.

We drove on to the coast, with sleeping kids, and arrived too early. Restaurants here rarely serve an evening meal before 7pm so we had to find something to do with the kids, to keep them going till dinner time. We didn’t want to feed them, to placate them, because they’d soon need to sit in a restaurant for an hour (at least). It’s really best if they eat when we do, even more so when travelling.

playing in the sand at Le Touquet

Louis played in the sand with Luuk while Elena and I went for a walk, just to check the temperature of the channel

dipped my feet in the channelSurprise surprise, it’s cold. But a nice walk on the beach. It’s been too long.

hotels on the beach at Le Touquet

Our hotel was right on the beach, a gorgeous spot. Our room was facing the other way, but the view from the restaurant was fantastic. They were offering a seafood buffet for dinner, but the rate was a little steep so we went for one of the many local ‘friteries’ (fry-shops) serving up mussels and chips. And other things too, though it’s hard to tell from the marketing. I had king prawns to kick off a weekend of fabulous seafood.

On the boardwalk at Le Touquet

The next morning we walked down to the town and happily discovered a market, and eventually found a shop selling the required ‘bonnets’ (swimming caps) compulsory in the hotel pool. I also got a new bikini – hurrah! Summer’s coming. The bikini-body too, or that’s the plan. My legs are looking a little blindingly-white though.

walking back from the market at Le Touquet

Louis slept on the walk back, but Elena wanted to walk. It was gorgeous but the wind was cold, and we had bought a hot roast chicken and some fresh bread, with the intent of making lunch in our hotel room… so we were a bit eager to get back.

Elena turns on the classElena was happy to have lunch, and feet, as it happens. Really classy sitting position, possibly not an ad for the sit’n’sling, this one…

The hotel is attached to a health spa so I took advantage, booked myself a massage, and afterward we all had a swim, be-capped, in the hotel pool. Louis wasn’t keen but Elena loved it. Despite her birthplace and passport, I’m thinking she’s a kiwi kid at heart.

sun, sand and spaThe next day was our last and we took turns resting in the room and wandering on the beach while Elena had her morning nap. Then we hit the road (leaving behind our chiller bag, which will be a nasty surprise months from now when someone clears out the lost property at Novotel Le Touquet – oops!)

Next stop Le Crotoy, a little town at the mouth of the Somme river, hosting it’s annual festival of steam. First things first, however: lunc

Now that's an entree.Luuk ordered this marvel of a starter. Yep, that’s just the entrée!

Where's mine?

Elena looked keen, but still lacks teeth and had to satisfy herself on some bread and tomato segments.

Parents behaving badly...Louis was fast asleep and wouldn’t wake up, even for a lunch of chips and sausages. Not even for a crab pincer to the nose… ahem, parents behaving badly.

Moules au Roquefort

For mains Luuk and I both ordered Moules au Roquefort: mussels cooked in cream and blue cheese. Fantastic.

Louis did wake up, and pretty shortly spotted the carousel on the corner. He and I went for a walk. He took a spin in a shiny low-slung convertible and then, inevitably, drove the bus.

Louis driving (another) busNext stop was the steam festival. There were a few market stalls offering tastes of wine and cheese, as well as selling the same. I wandered with a sleep-ready Elena in the buggy while Luuk and Louis inspected a raft of steam powered machinery.

Steam powered tractor

Including a tractor, which occasionally got driven around the place, as well as farm machinery (for cutting wood, etc.) and trains…

Festival of Steam, Le Crotoy, 2013We didn’t go on a ride (perhaps we are just spoilt for train rides) but enjoyed the spectacle and the clouds of steam billowing into the air as it puffed off into the countryside.

We grabbed ice cream cones rather than coffee, it was just that kind of day, and enjoyed a few more sights of this gorgeous fishing town.

fishing boat at Le Crotoy

This boat came in while Louis was driving the convertible and was selling oysters, among other things, on the wharf until just before we left. Doesn’t get much more fishing-village than that.

strawberry vanilla soft serveStrawberry vanilla soft-serve: yeah, that’s childhood in a cone.

And that was our last stop before heading back to Paris. The kiddies both slept most of the way home and I had a kip too. Luuk managed to keep awake, with a little help from the peanut MnMs, and we got back in time for dinner – and to appreciate the lengthening days: it was worth opening the shutters even at half past seven. Hurrah! Summer’s coming.

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Australian Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux, France

ANZAC day in France

We’ve been away, and for some of that time I had a dead phone battery and the handy dandy cable to hook the camera up to the computer… which is a fat lot of good for charging my phone. Hence the radio silence. But this is what we’ve been up to:

On Wednesday night we skipped town after an early dinner and drove north to Saint Quentin (pron. cinquante un, sort of.)

3.15 wake up call

After a very short night’s sleep (but a lot more than our friends on the beach at Gallipoli) we roused the kids, bundled them in the car and drove to Fouilloy, found a car park (over a curb… the french are rubbing off on us) and then loaded up the kids in pushchair/sling and marched ourselves up the hill to the Australian Memorial, where an ANZAC dawn service would be held.

Australian Cemetery Villers-Bretonneux

It was dark, solemn, heavy with anticipation and a sense of camaraderie. The seats were filling up (this was the first time I’ve ever seen seats at a dawn service, so that was nice) and the pre-service program was playing something appropriate, and the next minute Waltzing-bloody-Matilda! And no one laughed. And then I realised, it was all Aussies. Well, not all aussies. There were frenchies and brits and maybe a few other kiwis, but it was very much an Australian service. The NZ bit of ANZAC was about as acknowledged as the A bit ever is in a NZ service, if I’m honest: ie. not a lot. But that’s fine.

Australian Memorial Service, as seen on TV

Elena slept and Louis didn’t, standing on Luuk’s knees and watching the big screen and occasionally making inappropriate noises, but all was forgiven by our friendly neighbours. The whole thing is televised every year on Australian TV and the people sitting in front of us had watched it every year, then last year decided they’d go.

Elena and Me, ANZAC dawn service

Elena woke up toward the end, so she didn’t miss all of her very first ANZAC day dawn service, and on her first ANZAC day as well. Good work, baby girl.

Australian Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux, France

They doled out hot coffee and baby-pain au chocolat, which was very much appreciated, and then we walked back to the car (around 2kms away) and went searching for breakfast. We found a hotel in Amiens serving up an excellent buffet and we snuck the kids food off our plates before letting them loose on the curtains…

kiwi kids at fancy hotelWe kept a loose eye on them, drank our deuxième tasses de café, and hoped the lethargy would lift. It was barely nine in the morning, we’d been up for nearly six hours, walked five kms and were feeling it.

(Again, this is baby-pool stuff compared to the stoic folks who do this in Turkey, hiking 4 or 5 times the distance we walked and on much rougher terrain, sleeping on the beach… really not something I can imagine doing with kids.)

Walking around Amiens, France

We went for a walk around Amiens, and soon found the famous Cathedral, a world heritage site, and quite a sight –

La cathédrale d'Amiens


It struck me as similar to Notre Dame à Paris, from the front, but quite different on closer inspection. This is the largest French cathedral (in square footage) and also the tallest completed cathedral in France.

a hedgehog on Amiens Cathedral

And they even have a hedgehog. Quite a few animals, in fact, are etched into the stone in the archways over the doors.

Inside Amiens Cathedral

Louis is getting pretty cool at walking around big churches without yelling at random, just for the echo or the reaction, or something… The view was pretty speech-defying though. All that stained glass and endless ceilings and arches and stone. Architectural marvels, and invested with so much meaning – telling so many stories in the art and design, and more overtly the plaques:

Memorial plaque to NZ services, Amiens Cathedral

There we are again; the kiwi boys did there bit.

organs, glass, archways, ceilings

And there’s the organ. And the endless ceiling – Over 42 meters at the top of the stone vaulted nave. Built without cranes. Yikes.

We drove to Albert next, a nearby town with a museum all about trenches, and as soon as we got in the car the kids promptly fell asleep. It was too good a prospect to resist, so I joined them. And lovely Luuk let us all doze for a while.

family nap time

He was good enough to take photos. But he also wandered over the road and took a pic of the basilica with the awesome mosaics. I have adored mosaics ever since I helped create one a couple of years ago. Ours was a little different, but it did have a Jesus-face, so there are similarities.

Mosaics at Basilica in Albert

Want cool mosaics, among other things, go to the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Brebières in Albert.

We woke ourselves up and went to the trench museum, which is built in an old tunnel, 250ms long and a few meters underground (only a little claustraphobic, nothing to the towers of sacre coeur).

This wasn’t a trench, but as a museum it is about trench warfare and life in the trenches. The tunnel is quite a bit older than the wars of the 20th century, but was used during those wars for hiding people and things. In the first world war the entire town, except the post office, was destroyed. This region was so utterly transformed by the first and second world wars. The mind boggles.

The museum lead us out through a shop (as always, mais bien sûr) and then into this gorgeous park by a river, with a play ground and a band rotunda. So we scouted out some sandwiches and pastries, and had ourselves an impromptu picnic.
lunch on the lawn

The handy dandy sit’n’sling was magically transformed into a picnic blanket, though god knows why I bothered. These two got themselves utterly filthy between the pastries and the dirt.

acrobatics outside the trench museum

Luuk and Louis did their thing and a little later Elena tried to join in (but first things first: fresh croissant). May as well be dinner and a show sometimes.

keeps the animals in and Elena up.

There were a few animals around the place: goats, chickens, ponies, etc. A mini farm sort of thing, very common in French parks. The gates keep the animals in, but of course they’re perfect for holding Elena up too. She’s getting quite eager on her feet but good hand-holds are still essential.

Before heading back to our hotel room to crash we went in search of the NZ memorial. They’re dotted all over the farms throughout this area of the Somme and we stumbled across the South African one as well as a cemetery where some of the NZ soldiers are buried, before we found this. It’s just outside of Longueval.

NZ memorial at Longueval, France

It’s on a rise and from here you can see all across the fields and farms, to several other towns. It feels like it stands out but we had some trouble finding it. If you ever go looking, drive north from Longueval on Rue du Calvaire.

NZ memorial at Longueval, France

So that was ANZAC day, 2013. It seemed very perspective-giving: little people in a big crowd, little NZ in a big world. All this commemorates such a small but significant part of history, utterly changing the lives of people in France, where the towns were all but demolished, where families fled or were killed, and in WW2 were even occupied by German forces. These events had a huge impact on NZ’s nationhood, as well as on pretty much every family, with such a huge portion of the population fighting, especially in WW1.

On the NZ memorial it says, FROM THE UTMOST ENDS OF THE EARTH, which is pretty accurate. We are a long way from home here, but those soldiers stood on the same soil and were really so much further away.

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pull yourself together

Saturday was a little, how do you say, incroyable. Ridiculous. Pay the damn transport company staff a decent wage already so that we can have the trains run as usual – on time and with enough space to breath.

We didn’t know the strikes were happening until we’d already gone through the ticket gate and saw we had to wait 23 minutes. Usually three or four trains come in that period of time and the platform was already busy. I’m guessing the platform was busy at Massy-Palaiseau as well. We got on the train and then more people managed to squeeze on at nearly every stop between here and Paris. I had a seat, with Elena on my knee, lucky me. And Louis was in the pushchair, thank god, or he’d have been freaking out, if not crushed. Luuk had to stand, but so did a lot of other people – including me on the way back. And then on the way to Paris again. And on the way back again…

We went to Jardin des Plantes which is fantastic, though I saw only a fraction and will have to go again. We went to the menagerie and zoo parc bit:


The Rodents of Unusual Size, from The Princess Bride, are REAL!! The ROUS is not a myth. Who knew? (Luuk tells me that everyone who’s been to Hamilton Zoo in NZ would have known… and probably a few other people. News to me though.)

Admiring the Tortoises



Louis loved the tortoises  Among other things. Very cool old-style zoo, actually. Not too cage-like depressing. Lots of different animals and obvious modernising efforts (for the sake of natural-ish environs, etc.)

Luuk stayed on longer, bravely on his own with the two kids, because I had to dash off to get my things and get to writers’ group. I was hosting/running/facilitating – whatever you call it – and couldn’t be late! Only, I was late, by about five minutes. I spent 20 minutes waiting for the train, playing scrabble on my tablet (new favourite app), which would have been fine had it not made me late! Anyway, pas grave, as I’m always telling Louis when he panics over little things. Pas grave.

Coming home after writers’ group I nearly didn’t get on the train. I pushed my way on and people made faces, and I said, with a big smile and clunky French  ‘is it possible?’ And they made faces. And I squeezed in as the doors shut, banging into me twice while I literally pulled my body inside. Fortunately none of the later stations stop with the doors on that side, so I could safely lean against the doors all the way home.

Speaking of pulling our selves, Elena is pulling herself up, and I have video proof (primarily for the grandparents and great grandparents back home, but go ahead and enjoy if you like…)

Not sure about this whole playing INSIDE the toy box thing, but as it’s a microwave box, its destruction doesn’t bother me much. Pas grave. 

Now, I’m off to pull my monday-itis self together and get some writing done. No novel to work on, so I’ll have to be motivated and pick something else. Of course there are five novels to work on and none of them really capital-F Finished, but I need a break from novelling and there are so many holidays and interruptions in the next month or six weeks that I think I’d best do smaller projects for this particular period of time.

My shorter project ideas:

– a short play, possibly an adaptation of something I’ve already written as a short story, or something less developed, but not a new idea.

– editing my three short stories, possibly looking to self-publish these..? Not sure. Very uncertain really with regards self-publishing. With good reason, but I’m not going into all that here.

– writing and putting together Elena’s scrapbook for the first year of her life. I did one for Louis and have no intention of keeping up that kind of thorough record for their entire childhood, but I’d like to do a 1-year thing for each of them. That’s not biting off more than I can chew, I think.

– working on the query letters and synopses for each of my nearly-finished and most recent novels.

– new poems. Nothing long-winded. I’m going all commitment-phobic on new writing. Step away from me with your white picket fence. I have enough children already.

Obviously I need a chocolate or another cup of coffee to get me back in-balance, and then to work! Today, I’m going to look at the scrapbook thing. There’s writing in it because I’ll write a kind of story to go with the pictures, about the pregnancy and what was going on in our family when we were expecting Elena, and after she arrived, and all about her milestones and favourite things… Though I’ll be doing well to finish the pregnancy bit today. The kids are asleep now; must make the most of it.


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news and newness

Category : Uncategorized

IMG_0364New buds, new leaves, new threads, new drafts. It’s all new. And have you heard the news? Goodness, there’s a lot of news this week, or perhaps I’m just less out-of-the-loop than usual. Nothing like a novel to finish to get me looking at news websites. Procrastination station, thy name is and france24.

But the novel is finished, nonetheless. Hurrah! Back to my glass of wine and television shows. End of blog post.

Nah, gotcha. Ce n’est pas le fin. It probably should be because I should probably be doing French homework… but I shall go on.

So spring seems to be here. Of course it’ll bugger off tomorrow, but it was here in fine form today (aka. 29°C according to the thermometer in the car, Luuk says) and I dragged the kids out for a wee bus trip to parc de sceaux (pron. park duh so… or something like that). We met up with some friends, the kids ran around, we lazed on blankets and had broken conversations (ie. interrupted by kids, but c’est la vie.)

kids at the parkThe kids at the park today.

Today wasn’t the first of it either. Sunday was a marvel. A marvelous marvel. We sat on the terrace at Nawar, our local Lebanese restaurant for lunch…

on the terrace at NawarElena is sporting the fabulous sit’n’sling. Luuk is trying to arouse Louis’ curiosity about the delicious food so that he’ll try something other than chips.

And then after lunch and a brief nap we went to a birthday party at a park.

Louis and the birthday girlLouis and the Birthday Girl

discovering hotdogs

Elena discovered Hot Dogs

Elena joins in on the sport

And then she tried to join in with the sports, but soon gave up to eat leaves. Yum.

After blissing out in the sun with friends we came home to eat dinner on the deck. The warmth was making us all happy-chappies… to the point of singing. And clapping. And Queen.

Their musical education, for better or worse, has begun. (Couldn’t wrestle this video into embedding on the page, but I promise it’s worth clicking on the link. Hard work, yep.)

And now, as promised: new threads. New clothes! Didn’t spend a cent. Threw a clothes swap instead and it was fabulicious.

Fabulous clothes and friends + delicious food = fabulicious.

the licious bitThe spread.

fashion swapThe threads.

our youngest schwapper

Our youngest and probably the most fabulous of the fashion swappers, sporting her brand new mauve scarf.

One of my new outfits

And me.

I made out like a bandit. Scored two coats, gorgeous grey boots, numerous tops, a couple of shirts, a couple of dresses, two gorgeous scarves, jewellery and a faux Louis Vuitton purse, the perfect size for taking pages to writers’ group (though hopefully I don’t get evicted for having a purse that looks like it’s worth more than any of us pay in rent a given month). Also got pants (as in trousers, in case you’re English  not undies) and some a size too small because I’m still losing weight and, well, here’s hoping.

The kids were off with Luuk. They went with friends to their kid’s rugby game, and then returned to help polish of the chocolate truffles and get jealous of our brilliant afternoon.

fashion swap for menJohnny reckons we’ll do one for the guys but went on to list all the items it is not okay to wear second hand – including tshirts. Which rules out half of Luuk’s wardrobe.

Okay, I suppose I didn’t say much about finishing my novel, and it is big exciting news. But it’s not the first novel for me, and it’s not FINISHED finished, so I’m a bit too much of an old-hat to get overly excited. Plus I’m tired. I had a glass of rosé at dinner and I was in the sun for a few hours and I think I’d best just lie down, except that the pictures are still en route from phone to compooper. So I’ll just blah blah blah – oh, think they’re done.

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I’ve years

Category : Uncategorized

J’ai vingt-huit ans. That’s how the French put it. Not ‘I am 28’ but ‘I have 28’. As if years are assets. As if years are not defining qualities, just possessions.

Well, perhaps they are. I am in the priveledged position of having lots of friends who are a little bit (or quite a bit) older than me, so I rarely feel old. I suspect I look old (older than I am) but hopefully I pass off for older because of my crazy-arse wisdom and particularly mature turn of phrase; my intelligence rather than neck-wrinkles.

Yesterday was my birthday, yep. I was woken by an exuberant toddler and served pikelets (what was left of them after Elena got her fill) with cream cheese and apricot jam, fresh pineapple and coffee.

Then I spent most of the day cooking and eating. It was great!

I made Pumpkin Thai Red Curry Soup, a variation on my friend’s Butternut Thai Red Curry Soup. I couldn’t get butternut pumpkin or red curry paste at our usual supermarket, so I got a tin of red curry soup and threw that in with the coconut milk, ginger, ordinary pumpkin, onions, and chicken stock.

I had a friend coming for lunch and a large salmon steak in the fridge, leftover from a four pack we used part of another night this week. So that went in the oven, on green beans, with a little butter, balsamic vinegar, lime juice, parsley and garlic salt on top.

Oh, it was good. And the friend also bought out the bakery – muffins, doughnuts, pastries and cake! We saved the cake for the party (today) but shared the other spoils with the kids for afternoon tea. And we finished the rest off (oh, there was plenty) for dessert in the evening. Louis and the babysitter had the donuts and Luuk and I devoured the last muffin au caramel after returning from our movie.

As to the movie, we saw ‘Silver Linings Playbook’, which here is called ‘Happiness Therapy’, but we did see it in V.O. (Version Originale) and the French subtitles made it even funnier, a Rom-Com-Comédie, peut-étre.

Before the film we wolfed down some delicious sushi at one of about six Japanese restaurants over the road from the cinema. After the film we walked past a protest rally on our way back to Luxembourg Metro – always exciting. I do love protest rallies – all the energy and democracy-in-action, and those French flags waving did make me think of Les Miserables… and we were in Paris too, where the barricades went down, or up, and later down.

protesting at luxembourg

It was all very strange in a myth meets reality meets history meets fiction kind of way. And there is a difference between fiction and myth, as I learnt in Religious Studies at university – yikes! 10 years ago! It still comes up often, things I learned in Rels. Great subject. Should have majored.

And back to the birthday… I got pressies too.

dangley earrings

Pretty new earrings from the kids (though I bought them for myself about a month ago and obligingly forgot about them till we were mid-pikelets) and the big surprise – a mini ipad! I have been the stoic iDevice-less person. It’s been part of my identity. But I’m not complaining. It’s shiny (literally and in the Firefly sense) and does funky stuff, including board games and internet (much more swishly than my kindle) and will be fabulous for travelling.

So that was my 28th birthday. But it’s not over: today the girls are coming over with all their excess clothes, accessories, etc. and we shall schwap.

I’ve sorted out all my clothes and will soon be arranging everything beatifically around the house as if it’s a boutique. Luuk and I did a huge spring-clean this morning while the kids hid from the vacuum cleaner – Louis by choice; Elena would have rather ridden the vacuum cleaner, I suspect, but we didn’t want to hit her in the face with the pipe…

hiding from the housework

So they sat on the sofa, penned in by the coffee table, reading the books and scaring the parents.

Earlier this morning, before vacuum cleaner chasing, Elena did, for the first time, stand up! But she didn’t oblige and do it again for the camera. Little minx.

And now both the kids are asleep or doing a very convincing impression. And cue cries… gr. This afternoon Luuk is taking them off to watch a friend’s rugby game with our rugby friends.

Here, at my very clean house, we’ll be playing dress ups and shopping without spending (hurrah) and enjoying a grande goûter. I made chocolate truffles and blueberry cream cheese delights yesterday, and today I’ll put something together with baguette and cheese and smoked salmon and who knows what else I find about the place. It’ll be fab.

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liberté, égalité, fraternité

Back in the day, I told my year ten social studies students that democracy was not a system of government but rather an ideology, a goal. Systems (parliaments, constitutions, judiciaries, presidents, etc.) where set up with the goal of democracy in mind.

And so are school canteens, it turns out. There are a few things I quite like about France and the food (well, duh) is one of them. I’ve been reading ‘French Kids Eat Everything’ and while I don’t believe that premise for a moment, the writer does have a few good pointers. And she also has a few insights into French food culture that are very interesting.

One of these is that the French have democratized good food. A well balanced diet is available to all. Rich and poor alike, food education is a part of public school education and is available to all kids. They are introduced to a very wide variety of healthy and flavourful foods from a very young age. AT SCHOOL.

menu at maternelleThis is particular maternelle (ages 3-6) menus is not for Louis’ school – their link was broken when I posted…

I suppose one of the not-so-nice trends of many countries’ food cultures is that the wealthy eat healthy and the poor eat poorly. This is not because healthy food is expensive, but because turning inexpensive vegetables (and meats) into delicious food requires a certain amount of nous – a bit of education, meal-planning, budgeting. Forward thinking, yes, but also a food-confidence that results in interesting meals. And in many countries these attributes trend toward the higher socio-economic realms… or something like that.

In France they’re doing something right. A variety of healthy and interesting food is available for good prices (as is true in many places), AND the people know what to do with it. They have the palate and the confidence to buy aubergines or courgettes or endives or whatever’s in season…

So that’s cool. But that’s not the only cool example of democracy in action here in stinky-cheese land. They also have free museum entry on the first Sunday of every month. This is true of nearly all the museums and galleries in Paris. So no matter where you fall in the weekly-earnings-ranks you get to see Monet’s Water Lilies if you like.

I mean, sure, you have to get to Paris first, but once you’re here, even if you’re sleeping ‘under the eaves’ in a windowless garret, with a chain-smoker who doesn’t like to waste money on hot water or toothpaste, you can still spend one day a month in the Louvre. Most of the ‘high’ culture of Paris is available to you, as readily as it is to anyone.

And if you were lucky enough (debatable, no doubt) to attend public school here, then you can probably appreciate all manner of seasonal fruits and vegetables, the meat and entrails of most farmed animals (yes, horses are farmed), cheeses that would bring tears to my eyes (tears of joy, in some cases), and all the fruits of the sea. You might even like foie gras (non, merci).

On Sunday we discovered another free-entry sight, almost by accident: Maison de Chateaubriand

valee aux loupsWe didn’t discover the house by accident, but that it was free entry.

maison de chateaubriand

Unfortunately, the ‘salon de thé’ had many reservations (but no customers), and could not seat us. We were all starving and sort of banking on the café solving that problem, so we saved the mansion for another day and enjoyed our walk/bike in the grounds and the surrounding valley – vallée aux loups. If I were a wolf, I’d live there. Very nice.

springtime at maison de chateaubriandAnd it didn’t hurt at all that the weather was delightful.
Spring sprung, ever so briefly.

White MagnoliasThe creamy magnolias were, I thought, spectacular.
I’m assuming I’ve got that right – they’re magnolias?

We went back to our bikes and hunted for lunch – easier said than done on a Sunday afternoon. Eventually found a bakery and took our spoils (deux quiches, deux croissants et un chausson aux pommes) to the nearest park for a bit of a picnic.

lunch, found at last

Elena was very very ready for her croissant.

And today the temperature dialled back to the near-winter we’ve been having. Rather than brave it, the weather or my new, pinching (not quite broken in yet) shoes, we stayed at our friend’s place well after French class finished. We walked home for dinner, despite the temptation/probable invitation to stay put, because I had an aubergine and courgettes going south in the fridge.

taking a load off

So we walked home. And I mean WE. With a little cajoling and singing (quite a few passers-by enjoyed my rendition of ‘don’t worry, be happy’, I’m sure) Louis walked nearly all the way (over half an hour at his pace). But he did want to stop for a little rest here, by the tulips. Ah, fair enough.

‘scuse the tangent there… back to egalitarian food. Us parents do have the liberté to opt our kids out of school lunches, but the alternative is to pick the children up and take them home for lunch. School meals are cheaper the less you earn and the more children you have… which works out really very well for those who need it the most. As to fraternité, a whole crowd eating together is the best recipe I’ve ever seen for a kid to try new food.

Louis’ eating habits are on the gradual improve anyway, but come September his food education is going to sky-rocket. His intake of ‘high’ culture is pretty good for his age, I think. Then again, with all our expat-perks, we’re hardly great examples of the poorer classes gaining access, are we? But hurrah for democracy, nonetheless, I say.

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taste of home

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The Marmite has arrived, and with it a whole lot of goodies for the kids. In a strange turn of events Louis loves Marmite and Elena would rather have her baguette untainted. I’m hoping the stuff will help both Louis and I with our iron intake, and the vitamins can’t hurt either, right? But I have one little jar and I don’t want to use it all up too fast.

Marmite and fresh baguette

I have been missing home quite a bit this week actually. I’ve avoided looking at all the Easter camp photos because just a few years ago we were there and loving it. And there are all those friends and many of my ex-students (some of whom are now leaders – argh, the mind boggles) hanging out and having deep-and-meaningfuls over their hot cross buns. And this year I haven’t had a single hot cross bun.

I am lucky enough to get the occasional deep and meaningful because, though my French is patchy I have quite a few Anglophone friends here. One or two are even New Zealanders.

One family of these NZers are even moving back to Christchurch (in all likelihood) around the same time as we will be. Moving BACK, in my experience, is even harder than moving to some place new and unknown, so it will be great to have friends going through the same transition.

And yet, this moving back is still over a year away, and not something I should really be thinking about. I’m actually loving being in France and I’m not in a hurry to shorten our time here. But I do miss people and aspects of my culture that are just so easy and relaxed compared with the french.

And then there’s the weather. It’s meant to get down to zero tonight… and I’ll be out in it cause I’m going to writers’ group. On the upside, I’ll be glad to have my hair (freshly cut and coloured this morning) down on my shoulders, keeping my neck warm (with the help of my thick red/orange scarf, methinks). On the downside, I like to read on the train, and it’s hard to turn the pages of my book with gloves on – though perhaps it will be warm enough to remove my gloves on the train.

Meanwhile, back in good old Aotearoa they’re having the longest summer ever. What?? I’ve dreamed my whole life of having a barbecue for my birthday party but April 12 is always too cold for it and Dad ends up out in the cold, barbecuing alone, while me and my friends hang out inside. Though, now I think of it, perhaps Dad preferred to be outside, away from all the squealing, giggling girls. (It’s a stereotype, and I’m sorry for it, but we were too innocent/ignorant to challenge it.) It’s meant to be spring here in France, teasing us with barbecue-worthy evenings, not terrorizing us with occasional snow flurries.

This year, for my birthday, I will not be relying on good weather at all. I am once again hosting a fashion swap. I’m all a-buzz with excitement at the prospect, but I’ll explain what exactly a ‘fashion swap’ means in a later blog post, no doubt, when I tell you about my birthday party – one week today.

And there’s one other thing I’m a-buzz with excitement about: we’ve booked our tickets to London. I’ve never been and we’re finally going, in May. I have a plan – there has to be a way – to see Les Miserables in the West End.

Les Miserables

I am determined. It shall be.


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our spot on the seine

canal boats and spring

We turned the wrong way at Bastille (which is on a roundabout of truly french proportions) and ended up walking along the short canal between there and the Seine, rather than finding our way to Canal Saint Martin…

but once again, getting turned about in Paris was great fun. It was gorgeous weather for a walk and we paused at a couple of play grounds along the side of the canal. Louis played, I read my kindle, Elena slept. It was lovely.

The canal we were aiming for would have been a huge hike and we were all wasted by the time we finished even our shorter variation. We got to the Seine and realised we’d gone the wrong way, but it had been such a nice walk no one minded. Plus we were hungry and it was Easter Monday, so sandwiches for lunch seemed more likely available in tourist-trap areas like Ile Saint Louis.

Armed with yummy sammies and a few other treats, we found a spot in the sun, on the seine, and ate, looking up at Notre Dame, and at the teenagers posing for photos, an artist painting the scene, american tourists on hired bikes, the occasional pair of arm-locked lovers… all very postcard of Paris  in fact.

But I bought old, used postcards instead of glossy new ones. They sell them at lots of the stalls, with old stamps and postmarks, someone’s scrawly handwriting and sepia-toned pictures of Paris – I suppose they picked them up from estate sales or something. People have been sending millions of postcards from Paris for a long time now, I guess.

I’m not going to send mine. I’m posting this on the internet instead. Tres modern!