Encore une crue à Paris

I’ve been blogging for about two and a half years and I probably know all my readers personally. It’s my family, my friends in Vienna, Gergö’s brother (hi!) and one or two people in France. When I check the stats for the blog it’s always in the same low range (and that’s fine! I’m mostly trying to keep a record and keep my loved ones back home up to date with my life).

Ten days ago, the stats were unusually high. I looked closer and saw that there were 40 clicks originating from the same person in France. I immediately got paranoid and wondered if a coworker had found the blog. I tried to remember if I’d written anything objectionable but I think the weirdest thing was probably the story about the ob/gyn.

I told Gergö about the statistical anomaly and he just said “Ah, yes, that was me.” I recently linked to older blog entries, and so he started to re-read the entire blog. Apparently he’s sentimental like that, from time to time.

I’ll include some back-links again, but it’s not Gergö-baiting, I swear! It’s just that the Seine is flooding again. I complained about all the rain recently. Apparently there was enough of it that the Seine reached 5.50 m late January. For reference, during the flood of June 2016 (oh and here’s part 1 of the photo story), where the ground floor of our building was a metre under water, the Seine reached 6.10 m.

At 5.50 m the Zouave of the pont de l’Alma is about waist deep in water, all the river banks are closed and the RER C doesn’t stop at a few of city center stations. I’m occasionally checking the status and there was a short period of relief earlier this week, but now we are back up at 5.50m again. When I check the flood news, I always check the map of the area that is threatened by flooding and gleefully note that our old apartment on rue de Bercy went from the purple to the pink area. That means the 2nd underground floor, where our cellar was, is in danger of being flooded AND I DON’T HAVE TO DEAL WITH IT! We live far enough away from the river that it took me an entire week to realise that there is flooding.

When Gergö was away for a few days for a conference I went to the city center to hunt pokemon, shop and check out the flood situation along with a million other people with better cameras.

ile de la cité flooded with brown water. The tops of bushes and trees stick out of the water

That’s the western end of the Île de la cité on the pont neuf side, where you can board Seine cruise boats.

I also went for a long Saturday walk in the district, finally finding the entrance to the Jardin Ruisseau, the communal garden that I recently learned about.

I also took the Montmartre bus up to the basilica again and this time it didn’t rain.

Sacre Cœur, photographed from below with a lot of people on the stairs in the foreground

At work we celebrated epiphany. Not a single French person could explain what exactly it is we are celebrating on epiphany (but I already knew that, it was only a test!), just that it is vitally important to eat almond filled cake. Unlike the office Christmas party, for epiphany we were also served alcohol. Apparently it’s tradition to drink cidre with your galette.

When traditional cake eating month is over, there’s Chandeleur. It’s on February 2nd, and it’s traditional to eat pancakes on this day. Again, nobody could say why, just that the crêpes are really important and Nutella also plays a vital role in this holiday.

I knew of February 2nd as Maria Lichtmess, the day the Christmas decorations would traditionally be taken down and the end of the 40 days of Christmas season. Traditionally as in, my grandma thought that was kind of old fashioned. I didn’t know the actual background either, but Wikipedia explains in detail: In German it’s Darstellung des Herrn, in English it’s called Candlemas).

I don’t mind that people don’t know the religious reasons for eating cake on a certain day. I’m totally down with it. I’m just really curious and want to know why galettes and why pancakes! And I always assume that people would have learned about it, in school. But France is secular, there’s no religious education in school. You only learn about Christianity if your parents sent you to Sunday school.

I also went back to the dodgy street market, this time with Gergö. It was on a Sunday afternoon and it was everything I’d hoped for, photo-opportunity wise:

Recently my entire day was made already before 9 am. Surprisingly, it wasn’t related to croissants, pains au chocolat or pattes d’ours. I watched a truck lift an illegally parked car into the air on straps. 

It all didn’t take longer than 5 minutes and the guy was operating the truck and doing the lifting all alone. It was pretty cool. I include the pictures here for the drivers among you, just in case you ever wanted to park in Paris.


malentendu, malexprimé

I collect the funny things I say or misunderstand by accident. Some of my favourites:

When you start a new CDI (a work contract of undetermined length) in France, you have to see a doctor. I found it odd when I received the invite, but I was assured that it’s standard in France. I was also warned that the doc who is assigned my company likes to hear himself talk, so I shouldn’t let myself get drawn into a conversation or I’d sit there for hours listen to him talk about his family.

I started off already confused, because the regular door to his office didn’t work and he led me through the changing room, waving at the clothes hook saying something about taking my coat off. For a moment I wondered if he wanted me to undress but decided that it’s unlikely that he’d need to see me naked to see if I can be a programmer. It all went downhill from there. He asked me about the balance right away. I thought he wanted me to stand on one foot, which was more likely than undressing, but still a strange start to an exam. When I said that I didn’t understand he pushed me in the direction of the scales (la balance) and glanced at my file asking if I’m Spanish.

He asked me to read out my weight, which leads to my next problem with French: I have a hard time with high numbers and I struggled to get the right one out. Once that was out of the way it was a pretty standard exam, I thought. He commented that I don’t seem to have any serious health issues and I agreed: Oui, je suis sainte.

That actually means “I’m holy”, healthy would have been saine.

A little later a colleague said “ma marraine” (my godmother) and I only caught marraine and for a very short time actually wondered if he said “ma reine” – my queen. I asked him to repeat what he said and he used tante (aunt) when I didn’t get it the second time either. That gave me an idea what to look up in the dictionary and so I found out about the word without having to ask questions about his monarch.

Another lovely moment resulted in a colleague saying soutien-gorge. He had paper clips (called trombone in French, by the way) that looked like what could have been glasses or also a bra. Just a few days earlier I had mentioned I had a sore throat and used the expression mal à la gorge. For a few minutes I was convinced I had talked about having aching boobs to my work colleagues and was mortified. Turns out gorge means throat, I had remembered it correctly. Soutien-gorge is just one of those weird words.

I also collect French words for thingy and my list is still expanding: I already knew truc, and I learned machin pretty early on in France. At work I also found out about schmilblick and trucmuche. Recently bidule got on my list. Trucmuche lead me down the wikihole – apparently it’s also used as a placeholder for a typical French person, the French John Doe / Jane Doe. And yes, there’s an extensive wikipedia article on that topic. My favourite quote: ” Drölf (fictional integer between 11 and 14)”. Toto is also used, apparently and it took me a while to understand it’s not a Wizard of Oz reference.

In news that don’t make me look like a moron, but possibly like a glutton, I enjoy my Parisian lunch rituals. Tuesday is pizza day. Whenever my colleagues got to McDo (often on Fridays, is my impression), I go to the bakery across the street and get a baguette and a tartelette. Tarte citron meringue is my 13th favourite thing in France (1 – 12 are all different types of cheese, obviously).

When someone suggests Japanese, then I know at least one of my colleagues will get the cheesy menu, which I think is the most French thing you can get at a Japanese restaurant: It contains maki filled with cream cheese. The crêpe place down the road offers a selection of 4 different cheeses, by the way. I think the only place without a cheese option was the Moroccan restaurant we went to for a monthly team lunch last week. They did servce the most delicious couscous accompanied by bread, so it was French enough. Couscous in France is the whole meal with veggies and meat. What we call couscous in Austria is just referred to as semoule / semolina / Grieß in French. And it’s definitely better here. I think that’s because it’s made in a couscousière. That’s a two storey pot – the vegetables / meat stew in the bottom part and the steam from that cooks the semolina in the second part. Delicious!

Les environs

Gergö already showed you a few photos of the apartment. Even before we got the key we explored the neighbourhood a little and I took lots of photos, as usual.

I didn’t want to jynx the whole thing even after they said yes, because there were was so much information and documentation to supply. I was worried something would go wrong. We had to show: last year’s tax return for both of us, proof we paid our rent for the current apartment, Gergö’s work contract, the last three pay slips, a form we had to fill out and sign, copies of our ids. It’s apparently a completely normal process. Landlords can demand all of these documents.

On the other hand they have to supply the information of the apartments energy class, a document of what needs to replaced by the proprietor and what by the renters and they can’t ask for more than 2 months rent as caution / security. The contract is for one year and extends automatically for another year. We have one month’s notice, they have three.

We also had visitors again this last week. There was a lot of food! Our guests love cheese as much as we do, so we bought a lot of it, tasted it and learned a bit about cheese in the process. Mimolette, for example, is a hard cheese, dark yellow and looks like little insects ate holes into the rind because mites are used to age it and they eat little holes into the rind.

Of course we also went to our neighbourhood alpine chateau. Yes, it’s just outside Paris, but it stil has elks, edelweiß and skiing decoration everywhere. They serve about 17 different ways to prepare potatoes and cheese. Awesome, in one word.

The restaurant is so close to the Yvette that it was very much affected by last spring’s flood. They were closed for all of summer for repairs. It was the first time we went again after the reopening and I was worried that they had changed the decor into something more subdued. It wasnT the case at all. On the contrary, if it’s possible there was even more alpine kitsch everywhere. And they had added little cabanas in the courtyard.

We also went for the fanciest éclairs of Paris, had a wander around the Marais and visited the Museum of Magic. It’s located in the cellar of de Sade’s former town house. Gergö was most impressed by the underground well. I had mixed feelings about the magic show that was part of the ticket – I was amazed and impressed by the magic and terrified of being called onto the stage as an assistant. Luckily the magician mostly chose children, but I still rehearsed the names of playing card colors in my mind (cœur, carreau, trèfle, pique) and was a little grateful there are only low numbers involved.

We also had excellent Moroccan food. In France couscous is used as the name for the whole dish. What we call couscous in German and English is just semoule in French (semolina in English / Grieß in German). When you order a couscous dish you get a big bowl of semoule, an equally big bowl of vegetables. And if you ordered a non-vegetarian version the meat is served on your plate and you add the grain and veg to taste.


La fête des galletes

I’m still catching up with my blogging. In the beginning of January we went to the fête des galletes. It’s a yearly thing organised by Dire-Lire, the people who run my French course. In France you eat galette des rois to celebrate the holiday of Epiphany.

In Austria Epiphany means kids dress up as the three Magi and go from door carolling and collecting money. It’s a yearly donation drive by the catholic church. I just did a little googling because I was vague on the facts. Apparently it’s organised by the catholic Jungschar (similar to the scouts, I guess, but closely affiliated with the church).

When we talked about epiphany in class, I looked up the word Sternsinger in the dictionary and there was an entire sentence to translate the concept. That’s how I found out that the tradition of dressing up kids as magi and sending them around town to sing, collect money and bless people’s houses by writing something in chalk is a tradition of the areas where German is spoken, not something practised by catholics everywhere. That was also the reason why I could score with detail knowledge in class. Nobody else knew that the three magi are called Gaspard, Melchior et Balthazar. 

In France Epiphany is celebreated on January 6 or the first Sunday of January and you celebrate it by eating galette des rois. It’s puff pastry with frangipan, a delicious filling made from almonds, sugar, butter and eggs. There is a fève, a broad bean, hidden somewhere in the cake. Nowadays it’s rarely an actual bean but a little plastic figure. The person who gets the piece with the bean is roi/reine of the day and gets to wear the paper crown. Here’s a recipe by my favourite French food blogger (she writes in English).

Boulangeries sell galettes des rois not just on January 6, but starting in late December all through the month of January. The galettes come in all sizes and with different fillings as well. There are even cakes where the fèves are figures of one of the last couple of animated Disney films.

Epiphany is not a public holiday in France, just a cake eating day. The Christmas school holidays only last until January 2nd. School kids still get 2 weeks off though, it just starts earlier here.

The fête des galettes was organised for a Saturday night in January. All people from all the French classes are invited and are asked to bring their family.

When we arrived we were asked to put a sticker on the map. My sticker covered most of Austria. The woman from Kazachstan brought an excellent salad.

We were asked to bring a savoury speciality from our country. It couldn’t be a warm dish, because there are no cooking facilities available. We ended up deciding on Styrian salad with runner beans (according to Leo) and pumpkin seed oil which is Steirischer Käferbohnensalat mit Kernöl.

Steirischer Käferbohnensalat with pumpkin seed oil. And a little too much onion. The pumpkin seed oil makes everything dark green

Somebody actually made France from styrofoam and covered it in tinfoil. I’m not sure what for, but I was impressed by it anyway.

They even had a little programme prepared. All the teachers who were there introduced themselves. There was a quiz on Parisian sights and a little film about France. It was supposed to introduce the country and help us decide where to go on a weekend trip. Then they showed a music video that probably everyone in France knows. They called it karaoke and expected us to sing along. Some teachers bravely sang along but we foreigners just stared at the screen wondering what that was all about. I didn’t recognise the song, didn’t know the words and don’t sing in public.

Despite not having been home for the holidays this year, I got the full epiphany experience: I was sitting there, feeling terribly awkward while unexpectedly being sung at by strangers. It’s really almost like the Austrian epiphany tradition, only in France at least we had pastry afterwards.