Monthly Archives: November 2013

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(city of) art and light

Photos of Paris come in all shapes and sizes. There are the classic post card pics that a thousand people are taking at any one time up at trocadero…

the grey city of light

Comme ça.

And then there are the lesser-seen sides of things. Beneath trocadero there live a lot of fish. Because… it’s the Paris Aquarium.

fish in the darkLuuk and the kids, watching the fish.

kids and luuk and fish It was pretty great for the kids but also expensive. Perhaps aquariums are always a bit that way… expensive to maintain and therefore… well, anyway. Vancouver aquarium may have spoiled me for life. No beluga whales in Paris, and the sharks were kind of puny. Cool tropical fish and lobsters, though. Many nemos and many dorys.

Anyway, more Paris:

croques and crepesWe had classic Paris street food for lunch: a croque monsieur for the kids, a crêpe for me, a panini for luuk (ham and cheese makes it Parisian, right?) and for dessert, beignets! (Mini filled donuts, but the ones in Antony are better…)

This week the Christmas lights arrived… the official town lights are UP but not ON, which is strangely depressing. But the shops put them on while they’re still putting them up.

Christmas Pig-outIn the spirit of christmas, the season of pigging out, we have this picture of a family feast and candy ornaments everywhere. The gift shop on Rue de l’Eglise has since added a Santa parachuting beneath a lit-up umbrella.

I, for one, think the dry cleaners got it about right. Christmas is pressing. ‘Tis true.

christmas if pressing

I do love the whole bi-lingual homophone word-play thing. Gives me thrills every day. I mean, EVERY day.

Yesterday Elena and I went into Paris. I’m stocking up on Parisian bits and bobs to take back to NZ for our friends/family (get your requests in now), and so we spent some time in the mall at Les Halles and then ascended to ground level for Hema (Dutch chain, loved by the French, though they cannot pronounce the name… Loved by me for their 75 cent stuffed speculaas.)

christmas window

This is a christmas window. To be fair, it might have been misunderstood without the notice.

Shopped-out, the kid and I continued on to Le Lilas for lunch with a friend of mine.

street art in le lilas

Street art, on the way to the restaurant.

We did cous cous and tajines for lunch, and Elena ate only the honey chevre entrée. Silly girl. Then onward to my friend’s workplace: a gallery of mostly documentary/art films.

The first was footage from soviet youth day in 1987 (just before the fall of the soviet union) collated with audio (which I didn’t understand). The footage was subtitled in French so I could follow much of that, at least.

elena hiding in the 80sSpot the kid among the 80s Russians…

elena and the soviets

Elena and the Soviets.

The video was mostly like an olympic-opening-ceremony style performance, with a lot of people in colour-coordinated garb, making shapes and patterns in a large stadium… but later on there were soldiers and some of the audience shots were in slow-mo. Very ominous, really.

elena on screenThe end.

Elena was pretty cool about sitting in the dark, watching the young Russians dancing, and then we wandered around the light part of the gallery and she looked at everything.

the punk'd portraits

No one else was there, so that made it simpler with Elena. Galleries with kids isn’t impossible, but generally we shepherd them about, or strap them into the pushchair. Unless there are no other customers, and then it’s gloriously free reign (so long as she doesn’t touch the hot projectors…)

elena at Khiasma, paris

Wandering the exhibition spaces.

dancing soldiers and elena

This documentary was a collection of all the (many) clips of soldiers in Iraq… dancing. Which was both hilarious and interesting – the environments they’re in, the other people around them, reacting, the oppressive boredom that is a big part of war, it seems. Fascinating. But also quite a laugh, at times. Black comedy, of sorts.

Elena kept touching the walls, trying to reach into the films. One of the perks of going to galleries with a kid: you see things, to some degree, from their perspective as well as your own.

We returned to Antony (about an hour’s travel) and spent the remainder of the afternoon at a friend’s house – she’d collected Louis from school. The wee man has done a whole week of full days now. Go Louis! I was too tired to get us up and off home so we lingered, planning on Sushi for dinner. But Luuk got home early and cooked. Risotto! Brilliant husband, that one.

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self determination pep

The concept of self-determination first impressed me at university, in a fascinating 400-level history course. I’m sure I had social studies and history teachers who touched on the subject at school, but my brain engaged a little later…

Self-determination comes up in NZ history particularly because of the conflicts surrounding the Maori and English texts of the Treaty of Waitangi. Self determination, to quote wikipedia,

“…states that nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and fair equality of opportunity have the right to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status with no external compulsion or interference which can be traced back to the Atlantic Charter…”

And to make a long story short, the Maori people of New Zealand didn’t mean to cede the highest sovereignty of the islands to the British crown, but woops, the British thought they did.

freedom camping east coast, new zealandFreedom camping on the east coast of the North Island.
(Perhaps similar to what the Maori chiefs meant to let the Brits do…)

And why am I rabbiting on about it on a cold Tuesday morning in France some hundred and fifty years later? The Treaty of Waitangi was, until the 1970s, largely ignored. A movement for ‘self determination’ rose up and while there are still huge inequalities and problems in NZ, I for one am rather proud of how the Maori language has been saved, how Maori culture is celebrated and respected by people throughout the country (and the world, in fact).

At several points in history, people predicted that the entire race would die out, the language was certainly expected to become extinct. The culture was at risk of being reduced to dolls in headbands and ‘grass’ skirts, green plastic tiki necklaces and Goldie paintings in museums. But people stepped up and said ‘No. This is worth saving.’ And they kept it alive. And now it’s a vibrant, living, growing, changing thing, not a relic.

pania by the seaPania by the sea, for all her charms, a relic.

I love this progress. Call me a sappy romantic, a naive optimist, but I think the story applies widely. What we are, what we were, is not the end but a chapter in the ongoing narrative. It’s easy to feel stuck, to think the path is set and perhaps not going anywhere great.

I got a rejection letter yesterday, from an agent who was actually interested in one of my novels. Ouch. She says it’s a great story, she sees potential but she’s not willing to sign me on. It needs work, and she goes on to tell me how.

Helpful, but still sore. I’m not jumping into more rewrites and edits just yet, but probably soon. (Hopefully, with the aid and advice of a literary agent who sees the potential and believes in me/the book enough to get on board.)

What my manuscript is, in its current form, is unfinished. Novels, unlike cultures, do get finished eventually. They get published and all the little errors are set in stone unless there’s a second, third, forth edition. But until it’s published that first time, it can still change and grow. Which is exciting and scary.

I could give up, self-publish it as is, say it’ll do. Perhaps it would. Or I can be patient, work hard, keep hope. Either path, to be fair, might be an example of self-determination.

Kids are constantly changing and growing. They are a great reminder of individual self-determination. Just when they get into a habit of doing things one way, a week later they want to try it differently. They question why we act in certain ways. They want to try marmite by the spoonful, and playing chess, and doing vacuuming… ready or not, here we come.

marmite, by the spoonful

Louis would not let me put on his second glove this morning. He managed the first but the second (using the first-gloved hand) was just plain difficult. He was determined to do it himself. Elena insists on feeding herself, even if that means pesto and pasta and orange juice all over the kid, the chair, the floor… laundry, laundry, laundry.

Louis has been doing half-days at school, coming home for lunch and napping at home in the afternoons. He did full days for the first two weeks of term and it was too much, too stressful. He wasn’t eating and he was getting upset every morning. But half-days weren’t a problem. He was happy and engaged, speaking french, playing and excited and all that jazz.

Last week he told me he wanted to stay for lunch. In fact, he threw a fit on the way home, determined to stay at school for the afternoon. Yesterday we tried it: he ate the fish, the potatoes, the lettuce. He slept on the mezzanine with all the other kids and didn’t wet the bed.

I was so damn excited when the teacher told me, “Il mange bien, il dort bien, c’est très bien!” This morning he was reluctant and a little teary, but bravely marched on and cuddled the teacher on arrival… and it’s rice on the menu, so I think he’ll be fine. He wasn’t ready two months ago, but perhaps he’s ready now. We’ll see. It’s probably to do with whether or not he wants to be ready, believes he’s ready.

My big boy.

Ready to go!

My whole life I’ve felt like my health and fitness were out of my control. At some point, just after Elena was born, I felt ready, and believed I could take control, and I did. I don’t know what the formula is, but from that point on I’ve been able to manage losing weight, keeping it off, eating healthy, exercising regularly.

This is all vaguely related to the concept of self-determination, see? I can’t bite off too many things at once. Louis couldn’t hack school and lunch and nap time all in one go, but just morning class was fine. When I learned to drive I used Mum’s easy automatic car. A couple of years later I mastered a manual gear shift and it was relatively easy because I’d already figured out mirrors and the give-way rules, indicating and parallel parking… One thing at a time, but determined, and taking responsibility for self.

We can do it!

And pep talk finished. In my next installment, at least one pretty pic of Paris. Promise.

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I never realised how much I overuse the word enough until I started trying to translate myself into French. C’est suffit means That’s enough. But it’s unusual (or just doesn’t work) to say enough in other contexts, ie. ‘there are enough cheerios in Elena’s hair.’ You need to use the word suffisement and it just gets clunky. I don’t know if this tells us something about the culture of attainment in New Zealand or France. I don’t pretend to be an expert in either.

But I do have something to say about having/doing/being enough.

I really admire people who say ‘no’ to things because they’ve got enough going on. I think it takes guts and wisdom and an admirable amount of self-knowledge. It’s tempting to think that an event/cause/the whole wide world won’t get on without us, but it will. There are things we need to do and there are a bunch of other things we say are necessary, but aren’t. That’s not to say those things aren’t good to do.

I used to teach 14 year olds about poverty and social action – two separate social studies units, one on the back of the other. In the social action unit they learned about different types of social action, petition, protest, etc., and then had to choose a cause and take action. They’d get quickly overwhelmed and flabbergasted at the choosing-a-cause stage of the game. There are so many good causes out there. I support nearly all of them on some (I mean philosophical) level. But there are some I’m passionate about and many, many others which I hope get on well without my involvement. I told the 14 year olds to pick the one that got them the most pissed off and go with that. Most of them did animal rights. I talked some of the boys out of dressing like chickens and harassing KFC customers. In the end they rallied sponsorship and took turns trapped in crates like pigs. PETA and the SPCA took tiny donations for all our hard work.

It’s tough, but we have to choose. One of the options, of course, is to do nothing. But NONE of the options is to do everything.

Much of the time I feel a little bit background-guilty for not doing enough. Perhaps we all do. Perhaps that’s just how effective the advertising campaigns are for all those good causes we can’t or won’t support. But the guilt isn’t just about human rights and animal rights and the environment; it’s so much bigger than that.

The house is a mess. I haven’t written a blog post in a week. I haven’t caught up with friends x, y and z in months. I keep meaning to write an article for this particular magazine. I need to print out Elena’s photos and finish her 1st year album (the only one I intend to do…). I should make something healthy/interesting for the kids’ lunches. I should clean out the fridge. I should do my French homework. I should put all the laundry away. I should make Louis’ 3rd birthday cake worthy of instagram/pinterest/etc. I should… blah blah blah guilt.

Well, I still intend to make the robot cake.. In fact, I intend to do all those things (except the fridge) at some point. I could probably tick a lot of it off the list in the next week/ten days if I didn’t do anything else. But I’m saying NO.

I am a writer. I want to be an author. Now we’re getting down and dirty with semantics, but that distinction is important to me.

The POINT is that I have to say NO, or at least WAIT, to the things on my potential and perpetual to-do list in order to

a) one day become a published author,

b) not lose my mind, and

c) not alienate all my friends and family.

(This order does not indicate importance. It’s not a ranking. Just saying.)

Yesterday morning I queried literary agents. In the afternoon I wrote a few hundred words and blew my nose a thousand times. I put on Pingu and wrote a shopping list for a kid’s birthday party.

This morning I have done the gratitude survey (not essential. A nice thing to do, but probably a good thing to say no to) and written this blog post and in a minute I’ll put on the laundry. I will write for half an hour then pick up Louis from school. We will come home via the pharmacy and I will buy potent cold&flu drugs (now that I’m not breastfeeding – yippee!) We will have a mediocre lunch. I won’t have to strong-arm the kids to eat any of it. I will have leftover chicken korma and we’ll watch the Michael J. Fox show.

I might read the kids a few stories. I might play Candy Crush and tell them to read stories to each other. Then Louis will nap and Elena will follow me around while I do a shoddy job of cleaning/tidying the house (so that there’s less to do tomorrow morning in preparation for Louis’ birthday party). And then Elena will nap and I will write. There is a girls night out tonight and I am not going. I am going to make cake (from a box) and watch sitcoms.

That is enough.

ps. I should find an image to make this blog post “pop”, but it aint gonna happen.

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Category : Daily Life

Officially, POUR QUOI is the way to ask WHY in French. But with the right kind of eyebrow action (and a hand gesture might help) a good QUOI? does the trick. Literally, just WHAT?

Perhaps it’s PMS but there seems a lot of stupidity going around this week. Perhaps it’s teething and the terrible two’s last stand, but my kids are driving me up the wall.

Elena hates (loathes, attempts to destroy, screams at) the rain-cover on her push chair. This means a lot of noise, all the way to school, the market, and home again. It varies from screech to whimper but all of it’s miserable and really, truly, SHE’S FINE. Strangers comment, or just glare at me – terrible mother, clearly, ignoring the protests of my otherwise adorable daughter. Thing is, the moment I take off the rain cover, she’s fine. If I pilfer her a grape from the groceries, she’s happy as larry, until the grape is gone. Gah!

All this pales, of course, compared to the real problems in the world. Violence, oppression, bigotry, warped ideas about bodies and beauty in the media… But, gr.

Louis gets stuck on repeat, and feels the need to tell me, thirty times over before I’ve had my morning coffee, that he’s not going to go outside at school today. The decision, I’m afraid, is not up to him (or me for that matter) but he needs to stop saying it over and over and over, before I lose it.

School holidays have finished, at least, and we can return to routine and normality (for a month or so, then comes the Christmas Crazy – ie. trip to NZ!) I’m sure the kids will get into their groove. And I’ll get out of my rut.

I was doing the groceries online, earlier today, and was browsing through the international food categories. There’s USA (sweet popcorn is the only item in this category – quoi?) and then there’s TEX MEX. I scroll through two pages of burritos and tacos and guacamole with a surprisingly low percentage of avocado… and then at the very bottom of the last page –

tex mex and peanut butterSo this is why the French don’t like Peanut Butter… they think it’s tex mex! Quoi? (Doesn’t help, I’m sure, that it’s Skippy, hardly the best example of this delectable spread.)

I mean, I certainly mess with food, play with fusion, make up recipes as I go. I use sweet chilli sauce like the Thai never intended, probably, and the Italians would have some strong words about the way I make cannelloni, but where do you put peanut butter on a taco?

On Tuesday, in the rain, Elena and I went to the market. She wouldn’t sleep in the morning and so I figured she could grab a few winks between an early lunch and halte garderie (starts at 2pm).

It didn’t go well. First there was the rain cover to contend with, and then we were half an hour early to pick Louis up from school. So we went to Cafe de la Gare, which make awful coffee but an alright Lemon pressé. I let Elena stir in my sugar then wrestled the glass off her so I could drink it. But I used all my cash at the market and they won’t take my bank card for a 4 euro purchase. How much do I need to spend? Twelve, thirteen Euros. Quoi? He’s just pulling numbers out of the air, right? I got a croissant (Elena needed lunch – but she wouldn’t touch it – quoi?) and a hot chocolate (also held no appeal to the stirring-child who just wanted to load it with sugar packets, paper and all). Nine euros, he let me pay by card. Was the four euro reduction on account of the screaming toddler?

Then we got Louis and went home for a sham of a meal and (finally) Elena napped.

Randomly, I bought fish off a guy whose sister works in NZ, for the French ambassador. Small world, eh? Also managed to take the kids for their BCG vaccines (finally) and turns out the pediatrician knows a few kiwis in these parts, mostly rugby players, and once saw to Andrew Mehrten’s kids.

Speaking of rugby, we’re off to a game this weekend. For someone who grew up in NZ I’m not much of a fan. I’d been to two live games in my life before moving to France. This time next week, I’ll have been to as many in France as I ever did in NZ. Unfortunately, my warm coat is blue. Might have to fashion some black ferns on my cheeks, just to be sure.