Thursday, 1 November 2012


Oh what a remarkably intense few weeks we’ve had.  THIS HAS BEEN EDITED.

Otherwise, the intensity has been less bitter and painful: our new flat is very cute.  It’s a little smaller and less central than the last one, in an area that we think might be the ghetto of Paris – but with all the attendant excitement and community.  We answered an ad on Craigslist and I have been stressing over that ever since as we’ve nearly been fleeced before and everything was so fast and easy.  But, we’re here now and the landlady seemed pleasant and trustworthy and if it’s a scam, it’s a very intricate one.

My dad came to visit, which has been great – I’m very close to my dad.  It was really fun to show him around our adopted city and drink French wine with him.

One of my best friends also came to visit and it was good to show him around too.  He’d left his girlfriend back in Oz so he was a little homesick.  He and I went to Nottingham for a few days – it’s so wonderful how close things are here – and we had some sort of ‘ultimate 12 year-old boy’s adventure’;  we went to Nottingham castle, Sherwood forest (everywhere in the shire is Robin Hood this or Robin Hood that), stumbled upon an aircraft museum full of menacing great warplanes and visited the homeland of Warhammer, our (or, primarily ‘my’) nerdy passion!

So, now, some colour:

Firstly, our new neighbourhood is at the foot of Sacre Coeur – you can see it looming up over the end of our narrow street. The streets here are teeming with crowds of immigrants in brightly coloured African dresses, chaste veils, and those cotton suits for the mosque.   But amongst all the exotic brightness, almost overpowering it, is a throng of chads, a veritable army of buzz-cut, puffa jacketed, leering young ne’er-do-wells.  It’s rather intimidating.  Still, variety and disparity is exciting – a little like walking down Smith Street when heroin was everywhere.

In just our few days here, there seems to be a wonderful sense of community – there are community gardens on empty blocks and the bar at the base of our building plays host to a motley crew of locals who all talk animatedly amongst each other.  There is a bustle to the streets that is wonderfully foreign and everyone on our winding staircase bids a friendly ‘hello’ as we ascend/descend (not that they didn’t before, it’s just a much larger number of people to bump into).

Our new place is up four flights of winding staircase and dilapidated corridors – the perfect Parisian scene, years of retro-fitted piping and wiring covering the walls like a web.  Once you make the climb the little space is light and airy and freshly IKEA-ed.

The ad on Craigslist was brief, no-nonsense and the photos not so great, so that seemed legit.  We met the landlady and she was well-presented and personable with what appeared to be a real passport.  The next day we exchanged a deposit for our keys and it was done.  She did not seem particularly interested in our finances or anything which is why I have been quite nervous as everyone says it’s very difficult to find a place here.  Still, I think back to leasing in Venice, where I answered a note on a pole, paid a fortune in up-front rent with not a single signature.  There are times when you just have to take a leap and cross your fingers.

My dad stayed for about two weeks all-told, we found a cute little hotel for him – run by a lovely old Asterix, complete with bushy moustache and shortness.

We wandered around, chuckling at being reminded how very easy it is to walk in circles here. Many bars.  One in particular, a tiny little whole in the wall with 2euro shots of infused vodka and a smiling, lanky barman who insisted we eat his cheese.  When we were a little hesitant to eat all his cheese, he scooped it up on his finger and stuck it straight in my dad’s face, refusing to move until J. had eaten every last bit.  Then, more laughs and vodka while the freezing rain bucketed down outside.

Another evening, another bar – the cozy retro warmth of Cafe L’Industrie in the Bastille – we were eating and J ordered the andouillette (with AAAAAA rating), because it is on every menu here and described as a delicacy.  None of us knew that andouillette is basically colon sausage (A elegantly described it as an ‘Arse sausage’ ) until the dark, knobbly dish was brought out and the table was overcome by a dark, belligerent odour.  Oh how we laughed as poor old J tried to make his way through the meal – to his unending credit he managed to get through about a third.  Henceforth, andouillette is off our menu.
More bars, more laughs, more stumbling home in the rain.

Then A arrived.  We had a lot of fun, though I doubt he would ever eat cheese from the finger of a stranger.
He and I took the Eurostar under the channel to Nottingham.  So wonderful to be in a place of red brick and varying architectural style!  The town has a really nice feel to it, despite the fact that basically the first thing you see off the train is the brutalist concrete monolith of a seventies shopping mall.  The streets are windy and everyone has such great accents.  The whole town (or at least the original bits, I think) is built on a massive chunk of sandstone, from which the inhabitants carved countless caves and crannies.

Robin Hood is everywhere.  The beer is so good.  On our way to our hostel we got a bit lost in the gloom and stopped in at ‘The Nag’s Head’ pub (go those English names!) to ask directions and have our first delicious pint of real ale.  Everyone was so lovely – everyone in the pub was helping to give us directions to the hostel as we drank our warm/warming pints of hobgoblin.
The canal meandering through the town, banked by glorious reds and yellows of Autumn, the midday sun overhead like a tea light candle under a blanket (my kind of sun!).  The home of Warhammer somewhat disappointing despite the plethora of miniatures on display and the cheery tackiness of a fake Dwarven Pub built inside a light-industrial shed.

Going to see a band in the local pub (pubs everywhere), the thrill of something so familiar – like a Melbourne pub, cozy, loud;  the band barely an arm’s reach away, blasting old school blues and basic, raw energy.  I think their name was something like Johnny Slim and The Slims – he sounding like an old Mississippian but looking like Ian Curtis.

A few nights in the village of Edwinstowe (apparently, Edwin had a stockade here in the 7th century), in the heart of Sherwood forest.  Once the forest covered some 100,000 hectares, now barely  500. Still, a wonderful , beautiful place.  The Major Oak – some 1,200 years old and thought to be Robin Hood’s hideaway (or one of them) – an immense, bulbous leviathan held up by a small army of steel rods lest gravity break it.  The visitor centre, a little hut within which is a strange, sideshow like museum of Robin-alia and wooden set pieces. It smelled of mould and damp. Everything so damp.

Our hotel a huge Victorian thing built for the tourists of the 19th century and redecorated in (we think) the mid-90s: all animal print carpets, snakeskin wallpaper and, again, yummy beers and great accents.

Far too much bacon and fried things, A couldn’t help but laugh at me and yet my body’s really only now recovering.

Home, to all the mammoth miscommunications and misunderstandings with our friends/landlords, the stress, the blahblahblah.

In this time, M went on a journey deep into the dark, secret tunnels of  the Under-Paris.  Slipping down a manhole with a few friends and a map, she squirmed her way through crawl spaces and wriggled between ancient pipes and wires to find an incredible, silent world of abandoned bunkers, pre-revolutionary quarries and a merry band of dark-dwellers sharing a few drinks far below the bustle of the modern world.  It sounds thrilling (and claustrophobic!) and I didn’t sleep a wink until she announced her return to the surface with the dawn.

A very busy few weeks.

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