Tuesday 18 December 2007

Multicultural Paris On Video

Another shameless plug for my project known as The Paris Project I'd like to get more people and more languages involved. So please send us you videos no more than 10 seconds long. Anyone who participates will not only receive instant stardom but will also be invited to the Paris Project party sometime in 2008 (details to be confirmed) cetain to be the event of the century.

What have you got to loose?

Sunday 16 December 2007

France Smoking Ban January 2008

11am at the Corner Cafe
Originally uploaded by malias.

When the chimes strike midnight on New Year's Eve 2007 me and a lot of people like me living in France will have another reason to celebrate the arrival of 2008.

As we top up our champagne glasses with a spot more Pommard and link arms to blurt out a semi-coherent rendition of auld lang syne descending into a hogmany inspired inebriation. I'll glance across the room and watch gleefully as the smokers light up their final cigarettes.

Praise the Lord! (or rather praise the EU directive) the smoking ban will come into force in cafes, bars, nightclubs and restaurants on January 1st 2008. In every other public place the ban has been in effect since February 2007 but due to intense lobbying cafes were given an extra 11 months grace.

What I've found most surprising in Paris is that so many non-smokers I've spoken to oppose the new rule. Only yesterday one of them told me that they were against the ban because smoking was part of the culture of French cafes . Well I suppose lung cancer is part of the culture of French hospitals but it doesn't mean we shouldn't do anything about it.

It's bad enough in bars but smoky Parisian restaurants can be unbearable. The pleasure of enjoying a Turbot a L'Estragon baked to perfection in a swanky Paris brasserie is significantly reduced when a dozen lungs worth of Gitanes wafts over into your eyes and nostrils and Johnny Halliday bursts out over the speakers.

Actually Johnny Halliday won't be banned in France just yet but it's only a matter of time.

Tuesday 4 December 2007

The Paris Project

Like This
Originally uploaded by malias.

Here is a new project that you might like to participate in. You will need to be in Paris and have access to a digital camera or a mobile phone with a video function. Go to you favourite place in Paris and film yourself saying 'Welcome to Paris' in your own language then film what's around you.

To see the film and for more information follow this link The Paris Project the video is also on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fF3MVYYdEtA try guessing the languages and the locations.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Thursday 29 November 2007

Paris Chinatown Arts et Metiers

You’ll find the oldest and the smallest Chinatown in Paris in the 3rd arrondissement near to Metro Arts et Metiers. This neighbourhood is quite a contrast to the gaudy Chinatowns of Belleville and 13th arrondissement. It’s made up of just 2 streets; rue Marie and rue Volta and is lined with Chinese restaurants, supermarkets and merchants. In the 1930s Chinese mostly from the Wen Zhou province arrived in Paris to make their fortunes. They formed a community around Arts & Metiers to set up leather workshops and handicraft shops

A further point of interest in this area is the half-timbered building a 3 rue Volta which is said to be the oldest house in Paris dating back to the end of the 13th Century or beginning of the 14th Century. It is now occupited by an Asian restaurant offering 'soupe pho'.

Thursday 22 November 2007

An English Pub in Paris

Finding a decent English Pub in Paris is sometimes as difficult as finding a working train driver.

Possibly the best, and the certainly the most authentic is the Bombardier. It serves real ale and decent grub and has a happy hour until 9pm. It also benefits from a splendid location right on the place de Pantheon.

This is also where we held a soirée for the language students for the English courses and French courses in Paris that we organise. On the whole it went well though when I tried to introduce them to our 'warm' English beer some of them found it rather peculiar.

It's an acquired taste.

Monday 19 November 2007

France Strikes and the Special Regimes

The Strike Continues
Originally uploaded by malias.

France was hit by a fifth day of strike action today transport around France was at a minimum and in Paris the Metro was severely disrupted (except line 14 which runs driverless trains), even though a minority of train drivers support the strike.

Train drivers are complaining about the end of their special priveleges (régimes spéciaux) which allows them to retire as early as 50. These working practices were brought in during the age of steam when driving a train was physically demanding and often dangerous, but the days of shoveling coal into a blazing boiler are over. Many people argue that train drivers and other transport workers should be subject to the same rules as everybody else.

Amongst the public the strike is extremely unpopular a recent poll showed 71% are against it.

This is however of little comfort to people facing nightmare journeys to get to and from work and tourists who've had their holidays ruined.

Friday 16 November 2007

First Eurostar to St Pancras from Paris

Arrival at St Pancras
Originally uploaded by malias.

Yesterday (14th November 2007) I took the very first Eurostar from Gare du Nord to the new St Pancras station. The journey to London now takes only 2 hours 15 minutes. In fact it is now quicker to get to Paris from London than it is to Liverpool or York.

The only problem was a transport strike on the French side so of the channel. I left my house an hour earlier than I would do normally, anticipating a long walk to Gare du Nord. As it happened I managed to get a Metro within 2 minutes (bloody French unions you can't even rely on them to have a proper strike these days)

So I had to kill an hour in Gare du Nord before entering the Eurostar terminal which is not easy.

The Eurostar train was full of journalists and train spotters. Half the seats were empty (I suspect that some people were not as lucky as me in overcoming the transport strike).

On arriving at St Pancras we were treated to large crowds and music from the London Philharmonic Orchestra. As I left the terminal I was give a Sun newspaper "Welcome to England" pack which contained: tea bags, Mr Kipling's mince pies and Walker's crisps. It made me want to get on the next train back to Paris.

The highlight of the journey though was St Pancras station itself. Spectacular and beautiful after it's £800 million refurbishment.

It was truly magnificent, which is more than I can say for the mince pies.

Friday 9 November 2007

90th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution

Joseph Stalin
Originally uploaded by malias.

Strolling by the River Seine in Paris the other day I came across a bookseller selling posters of Joseph Stalin, Lenin and others from Soviet Russia.

If someone was selling a poster of Adolf Hitler he'd probably be lynched by the nearest lampost but somehow it is acceptable to sell images of Stalin a mass murderer of at least 20 million of his own people during the purges of the 1930s. Lenin was no pussycat either but he murdered a mere 3 million people.

Two excellent books on the subject are Robert Conquest's The Great Terror and Martin Amis's Koba The Dread.

Meanwhile this week sees the 90th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. There will be, no doubt, a fair few die hard communists in Paris and elsewhere celebrating the fact.

As for me I subscribe to Jon Luc Godard's assertion ""Je suis Marxiste, tendance Groucho,"

Tuesday 30 October 2007

Strikes in France

velib girls
Originally uploaded by malias.

The two things that can impede your life in France more than anything else are the bureaucracy and the strikes. I’ve already grumbled at some length about bureaucracy. As for strikes October has been a prime month.

Earlier this month France was paralysed by a strike caused by 8 transport unions over changes to pension rules. Most of the SNCF network was down and in Paris the Metro ground to a virtual standstill. It was practically impossible to get anywhere even the Velibs were all taken. Most people had to either stay at home or trudge long distances on foot.

At the moment some workers in the public sector can retire as early as 50 which the government believes is economically unsustainable. Air France flight staff have also been on strike this week causing chaos at the airports. More transport strikes are planned for November.

The bicycle industry seems to be the one growth sector in France.

Saturday 6 October 2007

Nuit Blanche Paris 2007

Originally uploaded by malias.

Today is nuit blanche an all night free art festival which runs through the heart on of Paris. With art installations inside buildings and outside on the street.

This year's nuit blanche follows the Metro line 14 from Batignoles in the north of Paris through the centre of town to the new station at Les Olympiades in the south.

There'll be buckets full of art to enjoy from both emerging and established artists. For more details see the website


Friday 5 October 2007

Free wifi in Paris

Wifi In the Park
Originally uploaded by malias.

The Marie de Paris has installed free wifi in all the gardens, publc squares, libraries, municipal buildings and even museums.

The initiative covers Paris and the ile de France. In total 260 different locations have been provided with free wifi hotspots.

Given that many cafes already offer free wifi I think we can finally say that Paris is a (free) wifi city.

I travel to London a lot and most of the hotspots there you have to pay for. So for once Paris is a step ahead of London.

For more details of the free wifi hotspots in Paris (in french) follow this link Paris free wifi hotspots

Tuesday 2 October 2007

Rugby World Cup Paris

Rugby at Hotel de Ville
Originally uploaded by malias.

Just in case you've been on the moon or something the Rugby world cup is taking place in France at the moment. There has been a great atmosphere in Paris during the tournament fans have been boisterous but always good natured. Compare this to the football world cup where the vast majority of fans are well behaved but there is always a small element of violent, nationalistic thugs that try and spoil it for everyone else (I witnessed this first hand in Stuttgart last year when some English 'fans' were causing trouble).

If you are in Paris and you don't have a ticket for a game then you can catch the matches on giant screens such as the one at Hotel de Ville.

Even if, like me, you are not a rugby fan it's still watch a game at a bar or at one of these venues.

Thursday 20 September 2007

The Wall Street Institute Paris

The worst interview I ever had happened some 18 years ago while in Madrid when I went for a job at the Wall Street Institute. I'd spoken to arrange the interview by phone and had talked to someone with a deep husky voice who explained a few things about the role to me.

When I arrived at the school I was led into a room and was confronted by a sizeable black American woman. After the usual pleasenteries I said that I had spoken to her colleague over the phone and he had told me x, y and z.
She stared at me for a moment and then said in a quite aggravated manner that 'it was me you spoke to'. I got out of there as quick as I could.

The Wall Street Institute is like the Starbucks of language schools. You'll find many in Paris and their advertising is everywhere notably in the Metro where the ad claims (usually showing a photo of a businessman punching the air in delight) that their students have a '97% success rate'. That is, on their own internal test. Wasn't it Disraeli who said that "There are lies, damn lies and statistics"

One of the students where I teach English in Paris used to go to the Wall Street Institute. He hated it. Basically he spent most of the time in front of a computer doing exercises and once in a while a teacher would come by to check things. He paid a lot of money but got nowhere so he came to us.

If I could just convince a few more of the Wall Street Institute's clients in Paris to come to my classes instead (perhaps 3%) then I might start to make a decent living here.

Post script: After posting the above I came across this interesting website about the Wall Street Institute in Paris and elsewhere TEFL blacklist - Wall Street Institute

Post post script: I recorded this skit called not the Wall Street Institute Paris

Sunday 9 September 2007

In Trouble With The French Police

Parapluie Paris
Originally uploaded by malias.

Back in Paris I had this bright idea to go down to La defense to hand out leaflets promoting the language courses that I run in the hope of attracting some lucrative business contract.

La Defense is the business district of Paris and early September is the time of the rentrée when Parisians return bronzed and refreshed from their summer vacation. It's also the begining of the academic year so it's the best time to get work.

I went down with a friend early on Friday morning to catch the salarymen as they arrived for work.

We started to hand out leaflets but withing two minutes the police arrived threatening us with a 65 Euro fine each. We were outside on the street so I couldn't see what law we were breaking but apparently the concourse at La Defense is privately owned and you need a licence to distribute publicity (but If it is privately owned then why were the police enforcing these rules?).

Someone once told me that Paris is a very 'keep of the grass' city. I now know what she meant whatever you do it seems that you are transgressing one rule or another.

You have been warned.

Friday 7 September 2007

The New Piccadilly Closing Down

New Piccadilly
Originally uploaded by malias.

The old style English cafes that you once found all over London are a dying breed. One of the few remaining was The New Piccadilly in Denham Street.

This interior has remained virtually unchanged sinced the 1950s even the menu is the same, offering hearty Anglo-Italian food at reasnable prices. To be honest I never thought the food was particularly good however, I was still sad to find out that it is closing its doors for the last time on September 23rd 2007.

Happilly there are a few of these old style cafes left in London. So if you're in London and you would like to try something different to the bland franchised chaines that you find everywhere then try one from this selection. Plonk yourself down at a formica table and enjoy your meal (and a cuppa).

Just don't expect anything fancy.

Tuesday 4 September 2007

Jellied Eeels

Jellied Eeels
Originally uploaded by malias.

Someone asked me in Paris recently if there was any food specific to London. I must admit I struggled to answer. Only two things came to mind. pie and mash and that East End delicacy jellied eels.

I'm in London at the moment and on Sunday while walking around the East End on the way to Spitafield Market I stumbled across Tubby Isaacs' stall in Aldgate.

I was with the ever curious Eduardo from Argentina I recommended that if he wanted a geniune taste of London he should try the eels.

They said that when David Beckham went to play for Real Madrid the only thing he really missed from home were the jellied eels.

To me they looked disgusting so much so that I couldn't even bring myself to try them. Eduardo had a go. However, what he thought of them is hardly printable.

Saturday 1 September 2007

The 'Polish' Plumber

Eat Fish
Originally uploaded by malias.

After the EU was expanded in 2004 Ireland the UK and Sweden were the only EU countries to allow unrestricted access to the labour market for citizens of the new entrants (Poland, The Baltic states, Hungary etc).

Meanwhile France and a number of other countries maintained its work permit system largely because of the (mainly groundless) fear that a large influx of immigrants would push up unemployment.

A further factor in the restricting of access to the job market was undoubtebly to maintain the priveleged position of certain trades who feared that competition from abroad would bring down the prices they could charge.

Well I have to tell you that the sooner the archetypal Polish plumber moves west the better.

In an earlier entry I mentioned that I had plumbing problems in my Paris apartment. I needed an estimate for some laying of some new pipes. So I called a few plumbers. Some of the plumbers never returned my calls finally I got a French plumber to come round. He was late (several days late in fact) , rude, sent the estimate to the wrong address and got my name completely wrong. Worst of all he wanted 1012 Euros for what he said was a day or two days' work.

1012 Euros is a lot of money, I didn't know what to do. Finally an English friend recommended a Romanian plumber he had used. I called him, he came on time, he did the work in 4 hours and charged me 170 Euros including parts. Pretty reasonable I thought.

Call me old fashioned but a bit of competition can be a good thing.

Wednesday 29 August 2007

Antonio Puerta Dies

Boys will be boys
Originally uploaded by malias.

Sometimes something happens to make you question your very existence.

Yesterday Spain and Sevilla midfielder Antonio Puerta died after collapsing during a Spanish league match on Saturday. He was just 22 at the peak of fitness and with a wife expecting their first child.

I reflected that if it could happen to Antonio Puerta then it could happen to anyone. It's best to remember that life is fragile and it could end at any time.

It's at moments like these when it's good to take a pause from our hectic schedules, forget our troubles and go out and just enjoy the day.

With this in mind I tried to do that very thing this morning. I switched of my mobile phone (important) and went for a walk in one of my favourite parts of Paris around the 5th Arrondissement in the streets connecting the Pantheon. Then I went to a smart cafe, drank a glass of Bordeaux and read my book.

Doesn't sound much but I enjoyed it.

Cheers Antonio!

Saturday 25 August 2007

How To Ride A Velib

I finally succumbed to all the hype and picked up my first Velib the other day in Paris. I was trying to get from Bercy Village to Bastille and the friend I was with assured me that it would be much quicker than taking the Metro. As we wizzed through the streets of the 12th arrondissement I thought it was great, fast and efficient.

We zoomed past Gare de Lyon and arrived in Bastille in no time at all. Then we hit a snag. You have to deposit your Velib at a Velib station and furthermore if you're on the Velib for more than half an hour you have to pay. We rolled up and down the street looking for the parking spot finally we found one but it was full. We carried on riding but couldn't find another one eventually after about 20 minutes we managed to park our bikes.

So in the end due to parking problems it took far longer than the Paris Metro and I had to pay a fee for passing the half our mark (admittedly only 1 Euro) and I got wet because it was raining.

On the plus side it was fun and I didn't have to take the smelly Metro which, believe me, is a definite plus.

Wednesday 15 August 2007

Fancy Food

Originally uploaded by malias.

At a Paris bakey recently a friend of mine was tempted to try the interesting sounding feuillete saucisse when I asked him what it was like he said that it was really noting but a sausage roll with a French name.

It's funny how English speakers like their food to have a foreign name. It somehow makes it sound more exotic and exciting. So a posh London restaurant will serve creme anglaise but never custard. At lunchtime we rush out to buy panini rather than toasted sandwiches. At the cafe we speak faux Italian when ordering an espresso, macchiato or a caffe latte to give ourselves a little continental sophistication.

Once at a Spanish restaurant in London I saw written in large letters on a blackboard situated in front of a full size cardboard cutout of a flamenco dancer that the special of the day was Huevos fritos con patatas fritas Olé Sounds delicous until I thought, hold on, doesn't that mean egg and chips?

Monday 13 August 2007

Professeur d'anglais Paris

Telephone Box Shaftesbury Avenue
Originally uploaded by malias.

There are two rules that I apply when teaching English in Paris. 1. The class must be interesting. 2. The students must learn something. If you apply this code to your classes then I guarantee you that most of the students will return.

I have spent a lot of time going to French classes after arriving in Paris what I found was that most of the classes I went to were unbelivably bad and mind numbingly boring.

I took lessons because I wanted to learn how to speak French but what I found was that in many cases the teacher came in and gave exercise after exercise for 2 hours or however long the class was with no opportunity to have a conversation. It was so frustrating, the only time I ever got to speak French was with the students before or after the class. There were a few good teachers who took a more imaginative approach but most of the time it was like this.

So when I started giving English classes in Paris (Professeur d'anglais Paris) I made it my mission to let the students speak. I'll correct and explain grammar in the context of the conversation but I try to give as much emphasis as possible on free expression. It seems to be working well.

My ideas may not be revolutionary but I do hope they will be adopted more widely.

Saturday 11 August 2007

Football Season Begins

Originally uploaded by malias.

French Philosopher and avid football fan Jaques Derrida once said that "Beyond the touchline there is nothing".

The existenial writer and thinker Albert Camus (and incidentally, goalkeeper for Algeria) opined that "All that I know most surely about morality and obligations I owe to football".

J.B. Priestley writing in the 1930s claimed that "For a shilling United offered you conflict and art."

It seems that great men have been inspired and entertained by soccer.

On Saturday the new season begins in England and as the Premier League is a world game now It's just as easy to follow it here in Paris. I'll be popping down to the pub on Sunday to catch a match.

If you want to own part of a football team you might want to try this site. http://www.myfootballclub.co.uk/

However, there is one question all the most brilliant minds in the world can't answer; Why is my team (Leeds United) so rubbish?

Sunday 5 August 2007

Paris Free Museum Day

Watching the People watching the Pictures
Originally uploaded by malias.

Every regular visitor to Paris knows that all the national museums are free on the first Sunday of each month. So this includes all the major galleries such as Musee d' Orsay, the Orangerie, Musee Picasso and the Louvre amongst others.

Unfortunately, this means that that the places get clogged up with art deprived tourists and frugal locals. I know that it would be so much easier just to pay the 7 or 10 Euros entry fee and enjoy a more pleasent, stress free visit but sometimes you just get caught up in the momentum. So you ended up straining your neck and standing on tiptoes to peer over a crowd on the off-chance of getting a glimpse of the arse of one of Rodin's statues.

However there is a principle at stake too. In London all the major museums are free. It is believed that the great works of art should accessible to everybody rich and poor and not jut the culture loving middle classes.

Furthermore, much of the work in the Louvre was. shall we say, acquired under dubious circumstances. It seems odd that a Greek or an Egyptian should have to pay to gain acces to view works of antiquity taken from their own countries.

Sarkozy has stated that he would like to make the national museums free in France. I hope he does this before I do myself an injury.

Thursday 2 August 2007

Trying to be interesting

Originally uploaded by malias.

I'm not much of a writer but I do like to put pen to paper (or is it fingers to keyboard) whenever I have a free moment.

I've always had an interest in history and with this in mind I've added a new section the website I'm involved in. I was looking for a theme and in I decided on two things. Firstly, there must be a connection (no matter how vague) to Paris, France or the French language (as it's a Paris based website) and secondly it must be interesting.

So far I've compiled 5 tales plus one page about franglais.

So if you want to see the first film ever made and learn about its filmaker, Louis Le Prince and how he mysteriously disappeared.

Or, how the British poisoned Napoleon

Or how it was the English who invented Champagne

Or how a Bohemian con man sold the Eiffel tower.

Or find out about the history of absinthe and how it got banned around the world

Then follow this link. Interesting, very interesting

Tuesday 31 July 2007

Hello Grandad

Writing Machine
Originally uploaded by malias.

The other day I went into an electronics shop here in Paris to enquire about camcorders. I've never owned a camcorder before and I don't know the first thing about them. It's bad enough trying to explain what I want in English but in French it was worse. The spotty seventeen year old shop assistant gave me the Hello grandad treatment before telling me a lot of things I didn't understand.

It reminded me of the hilarious Not the Nine O'Clock News sketch from the early eighties about a guy trying to buy a hifi (a gramophone).

In case you missed it first time around here it is.

Ah! Those were the days, they don't make them like that any more.

Sunday 29 July 2007

Anglo Paris

Malias and Gordon
Originally uploaded by malias.

Yesterday I held a picnic on the Pont des Arts for all the students who come to the English class (cours d'anglais Paris) and the French class. As well as being a lot of fun it also gave the students the opportunity to practice English or French (and a number of other languages too) in informal surroundings. It was quite a success with a large multinational crowd turning up.

I had put an invite to the event on the website so I was expecting a few anglophiles and strangers to come along however I must admit I was somewhat surprised to see celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay turn up on the bridge.

I thought of offering him one of the marmite sandwiches that I'd prepared especially for the occassion (they were absolutely delicous by the way) but in the end I thought better of it (he was probably off to some fancy-dan French restaurant later on and I didn't want to spoil his appetite).

However, just in case you missed it here is the Recipe

Marmite Sandwiches (serves 4)

Sliced white bread (1 loaf)

Line up slices of soft white bread (it must be soft white bread do not use crusty bread, baguettes or any type of brown of wholemeal bread). Spread some butter (do NOT use margarine) on each slice followed by a generous layer of marmite.

Put slices together to form a sandwich and cut in half.

Serve with a mug (preferably one which is chipped or scratched) of tea.

Thursday 26 July 2007

Paris Plage

Well it's coming the end of July and Paris reverts to summer mode. This has certain advantages and disadvantages.

On the negative side, if you don't live in a touristy area you could die of starvation since many of the neighbourhood boulangeries and food shops will be closed for a month. So make sure you've got lots of tinned goods stacked up in your larder and don't loose that tin opener.

If you have a leak in your apartment (as I did) you might as well forget about getting a plumber. You'd be better advised in buying a dinghy and a wetsuit and sitting it out until September. Fortunately those tinned goods won't spoil. I guess this is going to be the same for electricians, locksmiths and all those other trades.

If you run a business or are a freelancer then this is the time that the overdraft comes into its own as you won't be able to get any work done (unless you're a plumber, sparky etc). Your income will drop but your expenses will remain the same.

On the plus side you can visit Paris plage where you can play beach volleyball, listen to music or just sit and read on a deckchair. You can go to the open air cinemas or you can hire a velib
and ride around breathing in 75% more carbon monoxide than everybody else.

So it's swings and roundabouts really

Tuesday 17 July 2007

Paris Open Air Cinema

Time Passes Slowly
Originally uploaded by malias.

Paris is one of the world's great cities for cinema. On any day there is a vast array of films to watch, old and new, big hollywood productions and obscure low budget foreign language productions. In London I've seen many of the alternative cinemas disappear or turn into mainstream movie houses or multiplexes but in Paris the small inpedendent places are alive and well.

In summertime Parisians flock to the beaches but those who remain are treated to a grand cinema extravaganza.

At Parc de La Vilette there is the open air cinema cinema en plein aire from 17th July to 26th August.

There is a cinema au claire de lune (moonlight cinema) at a different location each evening from the 1st to 19th August. All the films are free and they are organised by the forum des images.

And on the 19th, 20th and 21st of August most of the cinemas in Paris reduce the price of entry to only 3 Euros a ticket.

Great! This could be more fun than the beach.

Monday 16 July 2007

Velib Comes to Paris

Velib riders
Originally uploaded by malias.

Velib, velib, velib everyone is talking about velib. The Mairie de Paris have positioned thousands of bicycles around Paris to encourage people to give up the motor car. There is not much I can say that hasn't already been covered extensively in the media except that on its first day it seemed pretty popular. I even saw long queues at some velib stations. The riders looked happy and the bikes were shiny and new.

I wonder how long it will stay that way.

Saturday 14 July 2007

Bastille Day Paris

Demonstration Paris
Originally uploaded by malias.

Am I right in thinking that France is the last county in Europe to hold a giant military parade on its Fête Nationale (national day) every 14th of July. It reminds me of those black and white images of Stalin waving from the balcony of. Lenin’s Tomb during May Day military parades in the Soviet Union.

The rest of the world seems to have moved on but not France. This time Sarkozy invited soldiers from France's 26 EU allies to take part in the parade.

There were even soldiers from Luxembourg here which is a very small country.

So my question is; who's defending Luxembourg?

Friday 13 July 2007

Paris Free Event

Chilling out
Originally uploaded by malias.

If your in Paris on Saturday 28th July between 6pm and 9pm you might want to trudge over to the Pont des Arts as I'm organising another free event taking place there. The idea is simple. It's aimed at anybody learning a language who would like conversation practice with a native speaker in English or French or any language. In return you have to help them with their English or whatever is your mother tongue. If in addition you want to sign up to some English or French classes then that's fine but there is no obligation to do so. The event is called Parler in the Park (even though it doesn't take place in the park). Check the website for details.

Thursday 12 July 2007

Eurostar Frequent Traveller

I’ve been travelling backwards and forwards between
Paris and London every fortnight or so for the last 4 years and except for about a dozen journeys by plane I’ve always taken the Eurostar. Here are some calculations I’ve made.

Over the last 4 years I’ve taken approximately 220 journeys on the Eurostar and I’ve spent around 10,000 Euros.

I’ve spent about 620 hours on board the train which equates to 26 full days.

I’ve been awarded 3 free tickets because the train was more than an hour late and Eurostar was to blame. (it’s been late several more times but Eurostar were, or claimed, they were not responsible).

I’ve travelled first class on 8 of the journeys.

I’ve missed 3 journeys to my carelessness.

On one occasion I was unable to complete my journey between Paris and London due to a fire when passengers were removed from the train in Ashford and had to finish the journey on local trains.

I once caused a security alert when I passed a small kitchen knife through the x-ray machine.

I know now that it is not permitted to take knives on the Eurostar.

I’ve had three arguments on my journeys, or rather in the terminals. In Paris; once with a French Eurostar official and once with an American tourist. In London; once with a French immigration policeman. On each occasion these individuals were acting in an unreasonable way (yes they were, honestly!).

I’ve been stopped and questioned by British immigration officials about 10 times. I’ve been stopped and questioned by French immigration officials twice (one of these times led to an argument).

I’ve never been stopped by custom officers.

I recognise many of the Eurostar staff, shop assistants and officials and am on nodding terms and even speaking terms with a few of them. I know the best way to get the cheapest tickets online; I know the passenger announcements by heart in both English and French. And needless to say I’m extremely familiar with the landscape between the cities.

I invariably read a book on the journey but I still sometimes get bored. So if you see me on the voyage please come and say hello.

Saturday 7 July 2007

A Paris Plumber

The Hole
The other evening there was a frantic knocking at my door, it was my neighbour from the apartment below she was complaining of a leak coming from my flat that was running down her wall. We called a plumber who turned up the next morning to sort out the problem. He quickly discovered the source of the leak Then came the bad news; He told me that because the leaking pipe was inaccessible without digging up the floor, he was going to cut off all my water.

Non c'est pas vrai , Monsieur how can I live without water? And how long will it take?

"Well", he explained "we'll have an estimate for you in a couple of days then you'll have to speak to the insurance company and the management committee so no more than a couple of weeks."

2 ****ing weeks without water, c'est pas possible. isn't there anything you can do?

He looked at me in a don't-question-the-master kind of way.

"bon, maybe I can give you hot water in the shower".

We'll that's something, at least, but what about the kitchen?

He sighed "Ok, you can have hot water in the kitchen too."

That's much better but no cold water? It would be great to have some cold water. He lent over the piping in the corner once again exposing his bum crack which I believe is obligatory in his trade.

"Ok you can have cold and hot water in the kitchen but only hot water in the bathroom"

By this time I was so relieved that I'd have at least some water that I was practically, kissing his feet. Merci, merci mille fois monsieur vous êtes très gentil.

And that's how he left it. It was only afterwards that I realized how absurd it was to have to negotiate how much water I could or could not have. Aren't these things black and white to a plumber?

I'm still waiting for an explanation and for cold water in my bathroom.

Tuesday 3 July 2007

Freelancing in Paris

Clock Boy
Originally uploaded by malias.

Paris is one of the most difficult places to be a freelancer. For once I'm not complaining about the absurd taxes and 'social charges' you have to pay here but rather the process of trying to find contracts in a country which is closed to business half the year.

We are now entering the vacances, Paris empties out, its inhabitants head South to the beaches, to their houses in the countryside or on a plane to some exotic destination. In July and especially August it's difficult enough to buy bread in the city let alone get someone to do work with you. Approach a business and the answer is always the same. Mr/Mme x is on holiday please come back at the rentrée (for those who don't know the rentrée is the first week of September and is considered the beginning of the year in France).

It gets worse. In May and June nobody wants to commit to new work because the holidays are just around the corner. In November and December it's coming up to Christmas so that's out of the question and in January nobody has any money because they've spent it over Christmas and New Year.

So according to my calcuations, you can only actually get work done in Paris for a few weeks between Febraury and April or in that other narrow window of opportunity between September and the end of October.

Make sure you're ready.

Wednesday 27 June 2007

Cours d'anglais Paris

Mushroom etc
Originally uploaded by malias.

I hate to admit it but I quite like teaching English. After 15 years in the IT industry it comes as quite a refreshing change here in Paris. It wasn't always like that. I first taught English in Madrid after finishing university and it was quite stressful because in the UK we really learn very little grammar at school.

When my students asked me the difference between the present perfect and the present perfect continous I was non-plussed. How do you explain the difference between big and large? And what about between baggage and luggage? Gradually you pick things up. And once you do it's a great skill to have because you can work anywhere in the world.

My cours d'anglais Paris are mostly conversation classes so I'm usually just chatting with students.

But if you do have a grammar question, go ahead, ask. I'm ready.

Tuesday 26 June 2007

If Eiffel In Love With You

If Eiffel In Love With You
Originally uploaded by malias.

I've been in Paris 4 years and I still haven't been up the Eiffel Tower. Last Saturday afternoon with time on my hand I wandered West to the Champ des Mars with half a mind of doing just that. However, when I say the queues which stretched around 100 metres beneath the base of the tower I soon put that plan to rest. Getting to the front of the queue would have taken something like 2 1/2 hours. And once at the top would it be worth it. After all, from the summit you can't see Paris's most famous monument - the Eiffel Tower itself. You're better of climbing the Montparnasse Tower.

I had my camera with me and I wondered whether it would be possible, in any way, to take an original photo of this, probably the most photographed monument in the world. The answer is, no, it isn't possible. At least not for me.

Friday 22 June 2007

Le Vide Grenier

The Perfect Spot
Originally uploaded by malias.

The vide grenier or attic sale a popular pastime in Paris. In the UK these things tend to take place in fields and car parks and are called car boot sales but in Paris they sprawl along the high street for anything up to half a mile (very annoying if you just want to get from A to B).

In both places though the crap you find is pretty similar. An old Subbuteo set with several players without heads, a ceramic flamenco dancer that you got on a trip to the Costa del Sol in 1991, old videos, chipped mugs, smelly t-shirts, typewriters with keys that stick, computers from the last century that only run on the DOS operating system.

Yet people come in their droves they rummage and they buy. What is it that draws people to them? Is it is the prospect that amongst all that junk they might just might find a real treasure going for a song. I must admit if there is one in my neighbourhood in Paris I may pop down for a look. Though I still haven't found anything that's any good. But who knows.

Where there's muck there's brass.

Thursday 21 June 2007

Fete de la Musique Paris

place De Vosges
Originally uploaded by malias.

So today 21st June is the longest day. Make the most of this long summer evening because from now on it's a downward spiral to the dark, cold, wet winters just around the corner.

Here in Paris and elsewhere in France it is celebrated with the Fete de la musique a 24 hour music festival which takes place all over the city. The events are free and a great way to spend the day is to wonder around the city from place to place enjoying a taste of a wide range of music on offer. A timetable of events is available on the website.

Wednesday 13 June 2007

Paris Outlaws Snacking

Walking along a Paris street the other day I spotted this.

At the bottom of this ad for a hamburger there is a government health reading which reads Pour votre santé, évitez de grignoter entre les repas. http://www.mangerbouger.fr/ Which translates as; Don't snack between meals it's bad for your health.

First they informed us that smoking was a killer, then they encouraged us to practise safe sex and drink less alcohol all with good reason. Now it's snacking. But perhaps this is a warning too far.

Does the French government really need to tell us when we can and can't eat a croisssant or a pain au chocolat? I realize that obesity is a serious problem but some things should be beyond the realm of state intereference. Surely it should be left to the parents and the schools to educate the young on how to eat properly. I can't see this having any positive effect at all.

And what will the next warning be about? "Take a shower at least 3 times a week or else you'll smell", "Watching reality TV will turn your brain to mush", "Mixing strips and checks is a bad fashion combination".

Let's wait and see.

Friday 8 June 2007

International Switch Off The Internet Day

Tiny Buttons :)
Originally uploaded by betsyjean79.

It seems that every day of the year has been appropriated by one group or another. There is an International women's day, International No Smoking Day even an International Talk Like A Pirate Day on September 19th . Meanwhile Saturday 9th June has been designated world wide knit in public day. Incidentally you London knitters out there might like to know that there is a Central Line knitters group. You go round and round the circle line knitting and drinking tea from a thermos. Sounds like fun.

So I want to start up a day. I gave it some thought and have decided that we all spend far too much time on the internet these days. We need at least one day a year to switch off and go out into the big wide world to do whatever we choose. Play tennis, read Chaucer on the Paris Metro, build a scarecrow out of lego, go for a walk in the cemetery, grope an anteater. The choice is yours. To give us sufficient time to prepare let's say December 13th is International Switch of the Internet Day.

Hooray for that. But now I'm off to sharpen my knitting needles for tomorrow's grand event.

Monday 4 June 2007

Madeleine In Paris

Madeleine In Paris
Originally uploaded by malias.

You are probably aware of the disappearance of 4 year old Madeleine McCann from her parents’ hotel room in Portugal. Now the search for poor Madeleine has even reached the streets of Paris. Tragic as this case is the amount of publicity that it has generated is out of all proportion to the event. Madeleine’s parents have had an audience with the pope, the Prime Minister has got involved and an International Madeleine Day is planned with David Beckham and J.K. Rowling rumoured to be taking part.

Meanwhile as the British and international press indulge in a fury of publicity many other worthy new stories are shoved off the front page. Every day children get abducted all over the world but their cases receive little of no coverage whatsoever.

If every missing child had a poster put up for them in the streets of Paris then you would never see the bricks of the buildings.

Friday 25 May 2007

Parler in the Park

A splash of colour
Originally uploaded by malias.

I'm helping to organise a free event in Paris for people who are learning a foreign language and would like the opportunity to practise with native speakers.

It's aimed mainly at the anglo community learning French and Parisians learning English but everyone is welcome. It's called Parler in the Park and it's taking place in the Square du Temple in the 3éme on the 10th June. Full details are on the website.

I got the idea because after 4 years in Paris my French is still pretty bad mainly due to the fact that I really speak it. I found out that so many others are in the same boat as me including my students learning English.

Hoping that this will help a little and, who knows, it might be fun.

Thursday 24 May 2007

The Paris Ex-pat Press

You've been framed
Originally uploaded by malias.

My current stint in Paris is not the first time I have lived abroad. At the beginning of the '90s I was in Madrid for a while. In those days, in order to keep up with current affairs either we read the local press in Spanish or, when we wanted some news from England, we would by a copy of the Guardian often a day or two old. On Saturday evenings me and my flatmate would huddle around his pocket sized radio and, if its carpricous reception fell in our favour, we'd listen to the football results on the BBC World Service.

Oh how things change! Not only do we have all the joys of the internet and cable television but Paris itself is replete with its own expat newspapers, websites and blogs.

This is a mixed blessing. Certainly my French isn't as good as it should be because I'm forever reading in English. On the other hand we have so much choice now (both good and bad).

Amongst the good: The excellent Paris Times has a print and an internet version. David Lebovitz's food blog is informative and very entertaining and Paris Daily Photo for its stunning photography of Paris.

There is so much more good stuff but I just don't have time to read them all.

Tuesday 22 May 2007

I'm No Orson Welles

Malias and The Orange Drink
Originally uploaded by malias.

I remember back in 1985 a small headline in The Sun newspaper read Sherry Man Dies The so called Sherry Man in question was none other than Orson Welles who had been appearing on TV adverts for Domecq Sherry in the UK for several years until his death. Sad that one of the greatest directors of all time finally became best known for his cheesy commercials for fortified wine.

One rainy afternoon in Paris a few months ago I was looking for inspiration for a small promotional film for a paris website I'm involved in. Searching YouTube I typed in the name of Orson Welles I found this video with Orson Welles ruthlessly laying in to the British directors of a commercial for frozen peas that he was doing. It's simply hilarious but oh the poor old Sherry Man! You couldn't help thinking that his talent was being wasted.

Incidentally I finally used Bob Dylan's Subterranean Homesick Blues for the starting point of our promotional films. Which were filmed at Square du Temple outisde the Mairie of the 3éme arrondissement in Paris

LetThemTalk - Promo 1

LetThemTalk Promo video 2

LetThemTalk Promo video 3 outtake

Completely unoriginal, I know, but what do you expect? I'm no Orson Welles.

Friday 18 May 2007

Cafe Satan

Cafe Satan
Originally uploaded by malias.

They are everywhere in Paris now. Every time I leave my apartment another Starbucks (or as they have affectionately become known, Cafe Satan) has sprung up. I'm not blaming them - they are just another multi-national corporation trying to make money but it's a shame that high streets in all the major cities of Europe are fast becoming clones of one another with the same shops, the same fast-food joints and the same cafés.

I guess that most people prefer familiarity to actually making a choice or trying something new.

Shame that.

Thursday 17 May 2007

Paris catacombs

Beneath the streets of Paris lurk a labyrinth of some 300 kilometres of tunnels and chambers. These are the catacombs originally limestone quarries dating back as far as the Roman era. In the 18th century when Paris’ graveyards where filling up an already overcrowded city they moved many of the bones underground. You can take the official tour at the entrance at Denfert Rochereau the more daring amongst you might like to try the unofficial tour.

There are entrances usually hidden away on the outskirts of the city next to old railway lines, behind bushes or abandoned buildings. You’ll crawl down a narrow dark hole into the subterraneum wilderness but before embarking on the expedition bring a torch, wellington boots and a map. You’ll trudge for hours through tunnels often the water comes up to you waist. If you’re lucky you’ll reach, ‘La Plage’, Le Chateau or the ‘Circle of Death’ you might even see the German bunker from the war located somewhere beneath the Luxembourg Gardens.

It’s not permitted to go down the catacombs and if the cataflic (the police that patrol the catacombs) catch you’ll get a 60 Euros fine.

But that could be the least of your worries.

Tuesday 8 May 2007

London, The Seventh Largest French City

Guess where I am?
Originally uploaded by malias.

Here is a picture of the seventh largest French city. That's right it's London. The French have crossed the channel in their droves to take advantage of Britain's great climate and wonderful cuisine. That's my opinion although everybody else seems to think that it is low taxation and full employment that has brought an estimated 300,000 Frenchies to London.

Now Sarkozy has been elected will our European cousins gather up their fine wines and smelly cheeses and take a one way ticket on the Eurostar back to Paris? Not just yet.

Meanwhile whenever I get depressed about my poor French and bad accent I have now found a new source of comfort; Tony Blair's message to the French people in French following Nicolas Sarkozy's election.

Surely I can't sound that bad in French. Can I?

Saturday 5 May 2007

Wong Kei London

Wong Kei
Originally uploaded by malias.

Some people tell me how rude waiters in Paris are I tell them that's nothing they should try Wong Kei's in London's Wardour Street.

It's become a London institution not for its food but rather for the abusive staff to such an extent that people go there just to experience the rudeness of the waiters. It's one of the must-do things to tick off the list on your trip to the capital; visit the British Museum, have your photo taken in Trafalgar Square and get insulted by the watiers at Wong Kei's.

The last time I went there was a few years ago with a group of friends. As soon as we entered and before uttering a word the waiter pointed skywards and said abruptly "upstairs!". We reached the first floor the waiter there looked us up and down disparagingly for a second and then pointed to the corner "you sit there". We didn't argue.

Friends of mine have got off far worse. Someone once complained that the food they had ordered was taking rather a long time to arrive. "If you want fast food go to McDonald's". No arguing with that. And I heard the story of an elderly woman finding it hard to walk asked to sit downstairs rather than upstairs the waiter replied. "This is a restaurant not a hospital".

I'm told that what they say about the customers in Cantonese is far worse. I don't speak Cantonese. Probably just as well.

Friday 4 May 2007

Antony Gormley Exhibition London

Nude Horizons
Originally uploaded by malias.

I arrived in London on the Eurostar on Tuesday afternoon from Paris and as it was a beautiful day I decided to walk into central London. On crossing Waterloo bridge I came across the erection of a statue right in the middle of the bridge. I got chatting to a woman passing by and she pointed out other identical statues strategically placed on top of building on the London skyline and all visible from the Hayward Gallery.

It's part of an exhibition by Antony Gormley which will take place for the next three months. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/london/6614487.stm.

It's quite striking and if you are in London I'd recommend that you go and have a look. Even if you don't want to look be assured that they'll be looking at you.

Thursday 3 May 2007

A Pub Quiz in Paris

Although I'm an étranger living in Paris I do try to integrate myself with the French community as much as possible. Once in a while, however, I do rub shoulders with the ex-pat community. One such occassion is when I take part at that most English of traditions the pub quiz.

On Monday nights in The Auld Alliance pub in the Marais gather a great number of Brits to drink large quantities of ale, eat Walker's crisps and do battle to find out who is the best at general knowledge. 12 or so teams took part, 4 US presidents were assisinated in office, Vincent Van Gogh cut off his left ear and Sri Lanka were runners up in the cricket world cup.

Our team came second losing by just 1 point. Next time we plan to win. If you knew the answers to those questions you may wish to join our team. We could do with some extra help.

Wednesday 2 May 2007

French Election Posters or Are They?

Election Posters
Originally uploaded by malias.

I spotted this collage of election posters on rue Oberkampf (75011 Paris) . From a distance it looks just like a jumbled up bunch of images but if you look closer you see that the posters have been subtly doctored to create grotesque characatures of the candidates. It's very funny. The artist is Gil Bensmana.

It really makes the candidates look ridiculous. But then again don't they anyway?