Wednesday 28 March 2007

Paris riots in Gare du Nord

An unfortunate series of events led to a riot in Gare du Nord yesterday. A 33 year old man who'd jumped over the barrier without paying for his ticket was confronted by ticket inspectors. He punched one of them. The police were called and he was arrested but the onlooking crowd thought he was handled rather roughly. A riot ensued with a 100 people involved in turning over vending machines and rubbish bins finally tear gas was used to quell the trouble. Full story is here.

Today as I passed through Gare du Nord the place was swarming with police some were even armed! And all this because a man didn't want to spend 1 Euro 30 Cents for a ticket.
Remember that even the smallest of gests can trigger frightful consequences.

Tuesday 27 March 2007

Crudite au Thon

Crudite au Thon
Originally uploaded by Refracted Moments™.

Paris boulangeries are wonderful places the quality and range of bread and pastries is amazing. However, one small gripe I have is that sometimes hygiene leaves a little bit to be desired. In London it's customary to wear gloves when touching food but this isn't always the case here.

The other day, finding myself a little peckish I popped into a Paris bakery to pick up a filled baguette for lunch. The greasy man with the moustache behind the counter several sizes too big for his Ohio state University t-shirt took my order. I asked for a crudité au thon The precise filling of the sandwiches on offer were not evident from the outside nor were they labelled correctly. So he opened up the baguettes with his grubby hands and manually inspected the crevices of the bread for signs of Tuna.

Exasperated I said in my best French "Is it really necessary to touch the food with your hands?" To which he replied.

"Who the hell do you think you are Howard f***ing Hughes?"

Alright I made the last bit up actually he just stared at me and grunted something incomprehensible.

Sometimes when things look too good to be true that's because they are.

Monday 26 March 2007

Renting in Paris

Luxury Sheer Luxury
Originally uploaded by malias.

A great thing about Paris is that you'll find people of all incomes and budgets living right in the heart of the city. The trouble is what you gain in location you loose in terms of space. Some apartments are small, very small, according to the law the minimum size is 9m2 however I've seen places even smaller than that where if you reach out you can touch the walls on either side at the same time.

There are still quite a few apartments without showers in these cases you have to get yourself clean at the municipal showers, the bains douches Another important consideration when renting is to make sure the heating and wiring are up to scratch Fire kills 3 in Paris apartament
if not the penalty could be severe for the landlord and even worse for you.

Saturday 24 March 2007

Coffee Addiction

de Retour
Early one morning while in London recently, I popped into one of those café chains to get a take away coffee there was an unfeasibly long queue and just one poor trainee barista at the counter trying to take care of everyones' orders. I was becoming impatient, so was everybody else. I asked myself why do we stand here like idiots we should just leave. Then it struck me. We can't leave, we are prisoners. We are all addicted. It's the drug.

A friend of mine just came back after a week learning how to make the perfect espresso at the coffee university in Trieste, Italy. Since his return he's become a terrible snob. I called him up to suggest we meet up for a coffee and he told me he doesn't drink coffee in French cafes anymore because it's all rubbish (then gave me 55 reasons why Italian coffee was better). He has some fancy la-di-da espresso machine at home now. I heard him take a sip of what was, I believe, his 12th cup of the the day. I listened a little bit longer to him burbling on hyper-actively before making the excuse that it was getting late. 'Late?', he said confused, 'to be honest I hadn't noticed'. I hung up.

Friday 23 March 2007

Smelly French Cheese

One of the great pleasures of living in Paris is its food markets. Apparently there are 47 roving markets bring fresh produce to within a stone's throw of your doorstep at least twice a week (but never Mondays when the markets are closed). Among the best is the Richard Lenoir market (Thursdays and Sundays) it's a bit of a way from where I live but I often schlep down there on Sunday to pick up some fruit, vegetables and cheese.

Speaking of cheese I read about a survey recently reported on the BBC about the smelliest cheese in the world. Not surprisingly it's French. It's an acquired taste. When I first arrived I was understandably reluctant to eat anything that stunk like an old nun's armpit but eventually I overcame my prejudices and I'm glad I did. There's no looking back now.

Thursday 22 March 2007

Shakespeare and Company

This is Shakespeare's bookshop along the Seine near Notre Dame. If you're an English speaker in Paris you'll almost certainly have browsed through it's many volumes at one time or another. You might even have come along to one of the teas provided for customers every Sunday afternoon. What you might not be aware of is that several people live in the store they get free accommodation in exchange for helping out in the shop. Places are offered to struggling (in every sense) anglophone writers recently arrived in Paris.

What you get is pretty basic. You have a bed to sleep on but there are no showers and not much in the way of privacy. If you are allergic to cats or dusty books then you should look elsewhere. Doesn't sound much but makes a good story.

Tuesday 20 March 2007

Pretentious, Moi?

More than red

I'm in London at the moment it's a trip I make twice a month and as with all people who travel a lot sometimes you forget where you are. When I entered a cafe in Covent Garden bonjour just slipped out without thinking, the barista looked at me in a you pretentious w****r kind of may. I nudged someone in the street and said excusez-moi, I tried to insert my Carte Orange into the ticket machines in the underground. And if any more proof were needed that I'm become increasingly gallic in my ways I took a full hour lunch break yesterday and actually sat down and ate real food instead of popping out for 5 minutes to get a cheese and pickle sandwich, a packet of salt and vinegar crisps and a Caffe Nero skinny latte all wolfed down at my desk while reading the BBC news headlines on the internet and finished in the time it takes to say John Simpson reporting from Iraq.

Am I exaggerating? un peu.

Sunday 18 March 2007

Election Fever 2007

The election fever is hotting up here in France. If you walk around my quartier (the 11th) and you judged the popularity of candidates by the sheer number of posters on the street then Marie-George Buffet the Communist Party candidate would be the out and out winner. On checking the opinion polls you she only gets about 1% in the polls. So her small number of ardent followers must me more than handy with brushes and glue.

As a foreigner I try not to get too involved in French political debates however, on Friday I was stopped on the street during a demonstration held by the CGT and asked to sign a petition in support of the 35 hour week. The woman seemed very nice but I refused to sign saying I thought the 35 hour week was a great idea but in the real world it wasn't plausible. I felt bad as she walked away angrily probably thinking that I was some kind of reactionary. Well you can't please everybody.

Friday 16 March 2007

These Foolish Things

Blue laundry
My washing machine washes but it doesn't spin so I have to take my wet clothes down to the local launderette to dry them. After taking a bundle of soaking undergarments from the drum the phone rang so I temporarily rested them on the surface next to the bathroom sink. The call over I chucked everything into a bag and left the house.

When I was removing my things from the drying machines and I was taking out the last pair of boxer shorts I saw a shiny silvery object at the back. It was my watch. I picked it up. It was still warm. The second hand and the winder had disappeared. Ruined and useless. I'd left it on surface next to the bathroom sink. So if a stranger with an English accent stops you on the streets of Paris and asks you for the time then please oblige. It could be me.

Thursday 15 March 2007

You Wait and Wait and Wait

My advice to anyone coming to France for the first time is if you have to go to the Post Office at any time then take a book. No matter how long or short the queue there is some unwritten French law which states that you have to wait at least 20 minutes. And god forbid if you have to pick up a parcel and you've forgotten your id (I've done that) you have to start the process all over again.

A good knowledge of a martial art would also come in handy I almost got into a fight yesterday when a guy, obviously in a hurry, was pushing me from behind, he told me to go to counter number 4. I replied that there was nobody at counter number 4. He started to get aggressive. I got out of there as quickly as I could (about 20 minutes later).

Wednesday 14 March 2007


An open mic poetry evening takes place every fortnight on a Monday in the Lizard Lounge an anglophone bar in the Marais. Most of the poetry is in English occassionally budding French poets have a go.

I never imagined that poetry could be so popular the place is always packed out. So packed in fact that David who runs the event has had to find a new and much larger venue to accommodate the crowds (a bar called the Ogre Plumé somewhere near Métro Parmentier from April onwards).

As in all open mic things the quality varies from excellent to less than good but it's always entertaining. Just in case you're wondering, no, I don't read I'm a mere listener.

Tuesday 13 March 2007

Wifi in Paris

This is my recently acquired Belkin Skype wifi phone. It works on wifi hotspots. It's not a mobile as it doesn't use telephony. The advantage of a phone like this is that I can use it anywhere in the world and wherever I am I can receive calls on the same number (and I don't have to pay termination charges) . What's more I can contact anyone on the Skype network for free.

I tried it out in Paris and have been surprised to discover that on almost every street somewhere there is an open network. If it catches on mobile phones could become under threat from these. However, I tried it in London and didn't have so much luck. Most networks were secured and even in the pubs and cafes you had to pay for access. Ho hum!

Monday 12 March 2007

Where it all began

pizzaI first arrived in Paris as a callow youth some 18 years ago. I'd just come out of college eager to see a bit of the world unfortunately I didn't have the funds to reach those exotic places far away like Thailand or Australia that my friends were heading to but in any case Paris was a place I'd always dreamed of visiting.

These were the days before the Eurostar connected Britain to the continent so it was a rather arduous journey getting there. First I took a train to Newhaven then a ferry to Dieppe and finally a train to gare St Lazare. The trip took about 12 hours.

I had about £500 and imagined that if I was careful I could live for 3 months on that. I was wrong. Paris was expensive. I had a great time Paris, it lived up to the dream and I met a lot of interesting people but I was back in London 6 weeks later heavily in debt.

In April 2003 I came back to Paris and fortunately this trip has been more successful. The significance of the photo above is that it's the only place where I used to eat that is still there. All those fancy Parisian restaurants are great - if you can afford to eat there but I was broke. After paying the rent for the smelly apartment I was staying in I was left with almost nothing. I remember this pizzeria well. For your information it's in St Michel the take away pizzas used to cost 10F and were actually pretty good.

Whenever, I pass this place it takes me back.........