Not a lot of people know that

I recently posted this Tom Scott video about Paris and ‘Paris syndrome’. What Tom doesn’t tell you is that the Parisian padlock craze isn’t just on one steel mesh guard rail bridge over the Seine. Around Ile de la cite, it’s all of them.

Seriously. On a sunny day they glitter like they’ve been gilded. Nor is this phenomena constrained to Paris. According to legend, this ‘tradition’ began in Serbia prior to WW1. Moscow has special wrought iron ‘trees’ for those determined to display their undying commitment by shackling an overpriced cheap lock to a piece of steel railing. I say ‘overpriced’ because some street entrepreneurs set up shop at either end of the bridge when Les Flics aren’t around, and flog locks at thrice the price and more to unsuspecting lovebirds. As well as the cheap sheradised models of La Tour Eiffel. One detail of which I’d forgotten.

Around premiere etage of said steel song are listed some of the great 18th & 19th Century scientists (Lagrange, Coulomb, Ampere) only half of whom I could remember from school and college. Everyone in the Anglosphere knows about Newton, Faraday and Hooke, but these men were also intellectual giants of their day, laying much of the groundwork for modern technology.

Meanwhile, back on Earth; just around midnight last night I was awakened by the noise of sudden heavy rain accompanied by a good deal of shouting outside in the street. I rolled over muttering “Noisy bloody kids.” and went back to sleep, thinking it was some of our less worldly neighbours celebrating the rain. This morning on my way down to the Boulangerie, I noted one small storefront had lost its plate glass door and a good chunk of a tempered glass window. Hmm. Don’t know if the street noise and damage were related, all I know is what I see.

There is nothing worth quite so much doing……

………..as simply messing around in boats. Truly. You see so much more from the rivers that still form trade arteries. Details on bridges, views of strange architecture and places, people and oddities that engage a mind more fully than any bus tour.

Recommendation: BatoBus day tours. Sixteen of the best Euros you will ever spend, and a reminder that when it comes to real Fcuk off monuments, I don’t think anyone does it better than the French. Even the most crazed dictator with a coterie of truly terrified style advisers simply lacks the flair of the Frogs for commissioning and placing poems of gilded rock and bronze around the landscape. Style. Bags of it. Even the beggars have a certain je ne sais quoi.

This is rapidly becoming my favourite city in the whole world. Although my feet are telling me not to try walking so much of it at once. Letting my pauvre pieds have the day off tomorrow, when I shall be attempting to improve my French by launching into Marc Lemonier’s epic treatise; ‘Dictionaire de Gros Mots‘. A tome worthy of minute study for the really serious student. I mean I did the stuff for the citizenship test, but you can never really claim mastery of language until you can freely bandy insults around, and understand when they are friendly banter, and when they are fightin’ words.

By way of an aside; I hear Ed Millipede has slunk off to Ibiza to lick his wounds. The moment I heard the news, the thought crept into my head; what if Millipede got all tranced up to dance naked on a nightclub table. I’m reliably informed that such events do happen in certain Ibiza clubs. And nobody noticed? Evil snigger (Simultaneously in English and French).

Be alert, your country needs, erm….. Lerts

Taking our daily post travail Parisian perambulation this lunchtime, Mrs S and I were meandering down the street when we noticed a fully armed Policeman, uniform almost blending into the painted wall on a street corner, automatic assault weapon at low port. “Hello. I think there’s a terror alert on.” I vouchsafed.
“Really?” Said my other half a little sceptically. However, suspicions were confirmed several times during our wander round Ile De La Cite, where we came across four distinct patrols of soldiers. Not Police or paramilitaries, but soldiers toting FAMAS Automatic weapons. Berets were being worn, but Spectra pattern helmets were slung within reach on belt packs.

Mile for mile, I’ve never seen so many police and military kitted up and loaded for bear. Locals, National Gendarmerie and full on military all looking for trouble among the tourists. While Mrs S and I were sitting and chatting, full of ourselves and Irish Coffee, three soldiers wandered close past us (Within two metres) in the Notre Dame gardens, giving our tourist camera bags the eyes over in case us two old farts were undercover Al’whatevertheyarethisweek terrorists and not two slightly inebriated Canadians enjoying the early evening sunshine. As for being a terrorist, whilst I freely admit to having done the odd Dance with Danger, Tango with Terror, and mildly unco-ordinated boogie with a bit of bovver, today we just smiled and chatted away to each other while the guys (and gals) with the guns meandered past.

A few years ago, armed Police would have made me very nervous indeed. Now, like the rest of the populace, we affected the “Oh so M’sieur has a gun? – Pff.” and got on with our lives. Apparently the heightened alert has been on for three months. Oh well, street life continues, and everyone’s out and about as usual. Drinking, eating, talking, doing business as usual. If it wasn’t for the Police and military presence, you wouldn’t have known.

Incidentally, while we were out, we didn’t see one of the notorious white faced French mime ‘Street Entertainer’ artistes. A few buskers and beggars, but only one clown, who honked his nose at a few Ile de la Cite tourists before moving on. If we’re lucky, the Police National have kept their zero tolerance policy on clowns after the 2014 Halloween ‘killer clown’ scare. Well isn’t that nice? Vive les Flics say I. Maybe they have a shoot on sight policy for all those white faced ‘artistes’, who go around terrorising tourists with their mimicry and invisible panes of glass.

Footnote: Just to clarify, I am of the Vetinari mindset when it comes to street mimes. They should all by chained upside down over hot tar facing a big sign saying; ‘LEARN THE WORDS’.

Slow news day

It’s May, the UK elections are over, political blood is being mopped up and the ‘silly season’ stories have begun to take over the headlines. Like giant killer asteroids and the Loch Ness Monster. BTW: a kilometre (Not a mile) wide asteroid pootling by at 26.5 lunar distances (6 million miles, not 3, FFS! That’s over 10 million Kilometres) is hardly cause for the mass panic some think it should be. Although the tabloid media would be dead in the water without sexing up scary stories to fwighten all the poor ickle bunnies out there. Personally, the only use I have for tabloid newspapers is for lighting fires or as an emergency substitute for toilet paper.

Although I am deriving some quiet pleasure at watching all the UK based control freak lefties beating themselves senseless with wet Che Guevara T-shirts over the Tories getting a majority. Oh, vraiment? As I’m learning to say over here. Les pauvres (Avec un rire sarcastique). You’d have to have a heart of stone not to laugh.

Had the piss taken out of me royally first thing when my pronunciation slipped and I asked for ‘Doux’ not ‘deux’ pain au chocolat at the closest Boulangerie / patisserie. The proprietor corrected me and when I’d acknowledged my goof, was all smiles and ‘abientot’. I’ll be back. Demain.

Double standards

I’ve just had a stressful morning trying to pay a bill online, spending valuable vacation time on the phone to my bank in Canada. All safe and sorted now (I hope, but you can never tell with banks) and way more expensive than I wanted. I lost out on charges and exchange rate differentials. When I tried to pay the bill you’d think I was staging a smash and grab on a diamond deposit the way these guys carry on. You tell your local branch you’re going away (“Have an awesome time!” With a big happy smiley face). Use your secure ID to transfer funds between your accounts, all the while on the phone (International call, telling them who and where you are) to Bank tech support. Yay! Easy peasy. Try to transfer via the banks byzantine international money transfer? “Sorree. Security flagged it up as unusual activity and cancelled your transfer.” Which has led to much grinding of teeth and tugging of what little hair I have left. FFS! Whose fucking money is it? My bank are quite content to accept funds from my Brokers, yet ask them to pay exactly the same company so I can do a quick, efficient, less than 24 hour transfer? You got it – no fcuking way. When I get home my banks customer service department will be getting an ear bashing. My money has to work, to move, to breed, and they’re getting in the way.

Large companies use currency brokers all the time. I know because I used to run tech support on the applications side. Transfers of millions went through every day and the banks never blinked. Try that as a private citizen. Even after double confirming your identity and bank details. Go on. Clucking bell. The big guys use third party money transfers all the time, yet can I do so as a private individual? No. I run headlong into the brick wall of ‘money laundering’ restrictions, even when I’ve already jumped through all the hoops of account verification, exemption forms and the like. Then I have to pay the banks extortionate charges and loaded exchange rates, which can lose me up to a hundred bucks a transaction. I can buy a lot of wine with that. Especially here.

To make matters worse, we’ve run out of wine to lower my blood pressure, so I’m off out in a few moments to replenish supplies. At this rate I’ll be making a serious dent in the much-vaunted EU ‘Wine lake’. Well, at 2-5 Euro’s for a half way decent bottle I can do that. A lot. To add insult to injury, I haven’t smoked for over thirty five years, but I’m eyeing the displays of cigarillo’s right now with fond nostalgia.

Maybe I need a better bank.

Street life

Markets, I love ’em. Street markets even more so. They’re a whole circus of their own. Various stall holders periodically going into a semi manic routines when trade lags off a little. One super animated skinny blonde Italian stallholder (Well, she said she was Italian) treating us to almost a dance routine as she busily shifted stock on her fruit stall. Everyone practicing their not so much broken as mildly bent out of shape but still adequate English on me while I unstick the heavily corroded French language synapses in my brain. We’re getting by.

As for sarcasm, well, I’ve been enjoying badinage with one of our local Boulangeres, an example of which I’ll try to relate as accurately as possible, having not made notes at the time and consumed a couple of bottles of a half way decent Sauvignon Blanc in between times;
Boulangere: Bonjour (As I enter boulangerie)
Me: Bonjour
Boulangere: Well that was a ‘bonjour’ with an accent
Me: A Canadian accent
Boulangere: You’re from Quebec?
Me: Non, No, nous sommes a British Colombia, the West coast.
As conversation openers go it went, and we chatted about a few things, his visit to Saskatchewan and the unintelligibility of Quebeckers to the average Frenchman or Canadian. Oscillating between his accented English and my bent out of shape French, but it should be enough to give my reader a flavour of how relaxed and easy going most French traders (Even Parisians) can be if you at least try to learn and speak the generalities of their language. Nothing pisses the average French person off more than some arrogant English (or worse, American) twat who can’t be bothered to try. I’m even catching a little mild flak off some of the local waiters because I won’t let them practice their English on me. So I hand a little back in a good humoured way, and we all get it right eventually. It’s fun.

Yesterday Mrs S and I sat and watched a low level drug bust by the Flics across from the cafe we were sitting at. A woman fixing the tyre of a childs bicycle while her husband controlled their Spaniel and their excitable four year old little boy. It may have been a girl, no young lad should be forced to ride anything that pink. Not even in such a cosmopolitan place as Paris. An Angry Dyke stereotype (Very mannish short hair, wearing boots, jeans and golf shirt, pissed off expression nailed to her face) crossed the road and took a seat outside the cafe, ordering an espresso, chain smoking Gauloise, making fluttery finger gestures while talking sotto voce on her phone. She appeared to be watching the Police. Young Couple speaking very heavily accented French tucked into the corner. A tourist parking his sparkly hire car right across from the intersection, effectively blocking a buses turning circle and getting soundly honked for his transgression. Cars and buses squeaking down twisting narrow streets, miraculously missing wing mirrors by millimetres. And scooters, scooters everywhere. Somehow missing getting squished by cars and buses, in turn not squashing pedestrians and the incredibly agile Parisian cyclist. Close calls seem to be the order of the day. Africans punctuating the sidewalks in variants of the Dishdash or Thawb, those long lightweight robes suited more for sub tropical and middle eastern climes. Hey, but this is Paris, right? Street life in the raw.

I’m quite enjoying myself.

Not found in the guide book

We’re all settled in now at our little Paris apartment. Stumbling over our rusty (In my case almost seized solid from disuse) French. But we’re making an effort. Which is probably why the waiting staff, and everyone generally, have been so nice to us so far. So any rudeness, intransigence or sarcasm will have to be overheard. Drat. How am I to learn?

Never mind. Last night Mrs S and I dropped by a Fondue house. Specifically this one. Which was an education. Now in all the guide books and Rick Steves / Anthony Bourdin YouTubes we’ve watched, the art of Fondue is rarely covered. And it is an art. From the well known Fondue pot (Not those prissy little stainless steel things, but the big, fcuk off cast iron variety) to the oddity of ‘Raclette‘ where a third of a 6kg (13-14lbs for those of an imperial bent) wheel of semi soft Swiss cheese is fixed in a weird looking rig and subjected to a heating element so it melts, to be scraped off onto bread, or meats, pickles or anything. At the time we didn’t know what these strange objects were, so like the cowards we sometimes are, or in this case still too jet lagged to really enjoy things, opted for a salad and a half bottle of decent red while we peoplewatched.

For my smoking friends on my sidebar, as for the ‘smoking ban’ so rigorously prosecuted back at home, lets just say the French have perfected the art of the shrug. That gentle juggling of shoulders which means “So what?” Which is the attitude applied to the smoking ban, now enshrined in law throughout much of Europe and the Anglophone West. None of this ‘No smoking by anyone near anything anywhere or even looking at a cigarette at all- ever’ rules. M’sieur wishes to smoke? Just outside the door, under that nice snug little awning out of the immediate draught. Okay? As Mrs S and I had elected to eat at an outside table, the waitress, determined to practice her English on us, seemed surprised that we didn’t smoke, and there were children under five at the next table! Mon dieu! Call Les Pompiers! (Fire brigade) Whose van was round the corner while the lads were bunking off for a quiet Gauloise at the next Bar Tabac.

Paris isn’t a clean place. It’s busy and inexplicably dusty at present. Which if you’re overly houseproud or germ phobic might lead to a touch of the vapours. Off the main boulevards, down the side streets it’s all narrow sidewalks and busy people. Motorcycles and scooters parked on every space unoccupied by cafe tables. It’s hard to take your time unless you do so assertively. Give people room to get by and you’ll do fine. You will get bumped and barged if you’re in the way. Get used to it. You’re a touriste and therefore fair game. The locals walk briskly and with purpose. They have places to be, there’s not much room, and if you’re in the way; move it, sucker. Pavement (Sidewalk) dawdling and window shopping is best reserved for those days when the locals are still in bed or at work.

As we headed from Gare Du Nord via taxi, at Place De La Republic there was a noisy demonstration of sorts going on. More like a concert than a demo. According to our driver it was a strike. When asked who by or what it was about, our man said he didn’t know or care. “There’s one every day.” He explained as he squeezed our cab through gaps with barely a cards breadth between them. Man, I am glad we didn’t hire a car. Paris driving is no place for the faint of heart.

BTW; today’s post was written while wearing my PJ trouser’s and brand new blue paisley dressing gown. I may go out wearing a bow tie this evening. I have brought two, one formal black and the other a genteel metallic paisley pattern picked up before we left London. Just in case Mrs S steers me into an establishment where ties are required. At which juncture I will defiantly tie it in sight of the Maitre ‘D (None of these cheap ready mades for me – no style whatsoever).

Hey, I’m on holiday. Meanwhile, back over the Channel, some sore losers have been kicking off because the voters didn’t see things their way. Ah, les pauvre petits. Wnakers. Bless.

Jour de la Liberation

Well blesse mon cœur. Nous sommes arrivée a Paris mes vieux. And it’s Liberation day (At least in Guernsey and Jersey) but not in Paris until 25th August. No matter. We’re here. A little light headed on the whole experience. Suitcases are down, windows are open and Mrs S is doing a little girly dance of joy. Which gladdens my heart. If being happy extended your life, I’d be almost immortal right now.

Any old courses sur route. We got out of Dodge as the post UK election parties were winding down, and when I’ve sobered up a little, will be musing over the election results financial ramifications.

Or not. For another day perhaps.

Interesting stuff about Paris

As I’ve written before, Mrs S and I are going to Paris shortly for a well deserved jollyday where I will be avidly studying the art of Francophone sarcasm and irony as practiced and perfected by French service staff. C’est n’est pas votre dejeuner monsiuer, c’est la merde de ma tante. Et services vous droit pour ne pas apprendre le francais vous rosbif ignorant. So there.

On the topic of things Parisian I’ve recently come across this guy, Tom Scott, an entertaining fellow with his own channel on YouTube. As I will be spending some time in Paris this year, I thought I’d watch and post the following videos, which, quite frankly make a refreshing change from the touristy Rick Steves and Lonely Planet stuff relied upon by so many of our Southern cousins.

On ‘Paris Syndrome

But since I’m not Japanese or Chinese and have spent time (working) in Paris before, I’m not in the ‘at risk’ category.

Or Privacy In France: A Lot Of French People Might Be About To Sue Me

This may end up being a distinct possibility. If they can find me after I’ve gone home………

And ‘Point Zero’ outside Notre Dame.

Which isn’t that far from our apartment. Way cheaper than many hotels and with a little discrimination and early booking can land you in quite the little gem of a place. I may drop by one quiet Sunday morning when most other tourists are still tucked up in their little beddy-byes.

I’ll be posting my own misadventures and observations as time and Interweb connections allow.

Londinium

Well, here we are in jolly old Londinium, the first time I’ve spent non-working days in the crapital for decades. Seriously. Our booked accommodation fell over. We’d booked through AirBnB online, and found ourselves booked into some serious low rent digs. Not quite a slum, but by our Canadian standards, seriously dodgy. I’m amazed AirBnB let it be listed. We fled and found a budget hotel south of Marylebone. The experience has cost me three hundred bucks, but I’m not unhappy. There are times when you’ve just got to chalk it up to experience and move on.

Which is where we are now, sightseeing, breakfasting at Marks & Spencers because the budget hotel breakfast is so tightly budgeted that Church mice would consider it meagre fare. I’d really rather forgotten the horror of instant coffee. Or flavoured shite, as it is more popularly known. Coffee it ain’t.

Reacclimatising to the rain and humidity of soggy old England. Moving right along to Francophone fleshpots on Saturday.

Recommendation 1: Thames Clipper. Big fast river catamarans that ply the big T from Waterloo to the millennium carbuncle. Get a river rover ticket and use it instead of the Tube or buses. Worth the money.
Recommendation 2: The Beehive, Crawford place, Westminster. Beer choice a little limited, but we’ve adopted it as a ‘local’ for the next 36 hours. A busy, cheerful little place with shelter outside for those whose drug choice includes nicotine. Not a bad menu either.
Recommendation 3: Royal Naval Hospital site where we lucked onto, of all things, a musical masterclass in the Chapel. Missed the famous painted hall as we were so busy enjoying the performances that the closing time of 0five o’clock drifted on by without a murmur.

Apparently some of the locals were indulging in a form of Democracy. I think they chose the muppets with the blue rosette, but what do I care, I’m just a tourist nowadays.

Okay. That’s it for now.

TTFN

Expatriate expostulations from Canada; a.k.a. A Sarcastic man abroad

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