Enfin à Paris

We’ve been staying in Paris since Thursday. And every day we have been going back and forth between Palaiseau and Paris to move our stuff. By train and metro.

Somehow Gergö was convinced having a fixed date where everything needed to be packed and ready to go would be more stressful than going to Palaiseau with two empty suitcases everyday. I went along with it, still convinced against all evidence that we don’t have that much stuff.

On the streets of Palaiseau

All in all we made the trip Palaiseau to Paris with two suitcases and two backpacks 7 times. We only moved 18 months ago. It remains a mystery how we could have accumulated so many things in the meantime. The first few trips I neatly unpacked my bags and filled up the wardrobe. Since Sunday it’s mostly just dumping stuff on any available surface, so the suitcase will be empty for the next trip.

I found out that I have a lot of socks, far more than I was aware of. I might be needing them in the future, though, we don’t have heated floors anymore. The new apartment doesn’t have a thermostat either. We have to switch the electric heaters on and off individually. So far we haven’t dared use the washing machine, yet. It’s a fancy American top loader that is somehow connected to the giant boiler. It doesn’t heat up its own water but takes the hot water from the boiler.

Off peak electricity is cheaper, so the boiler is programmed to only heat up water during the night. If we want to wash during the day we have to switch the boiler to the night setting and then turn it back off again afterwards.

Right now we are in the empty apartment in Palaiseau, waiting for our former landlady to show up and do the “état des lieux”.

When we arrived, we were greeted by the evil geese. I went in close to get a good last look before saying goodbye. They hissed at me but didn’t outright attack, I think because they were hoping for food and realise they won’t get any if they kill me.

The upstairs neighbour is playing music too loudly again. He has been becoming more and more erratic lately. He has always thrown empty beer cans through the metal rubbish chute but now he also occasionally shouts and screams and plays music so loudly he doesn’t hear the other neighbours knocking on his door.

This all makes us appreciate our new apartment even more. So far it has been a quiet place, even the train station isn’t loud. Only on Sunday night, after a hockey game at the nearby arena there was a lot of honking from the inevitable traffic jam of large events.

I had a little walk around the park of Bercy and I already saw a heron.

It’s promising to be a good area.

When we signed the contract, our landlady mentioned that we will need to introduce ourselves to the gardienne after she’s back from the holiday. I had no idea that was necessary and tried to ask for more info, but she didn’t elaborate. She also briefly mentioned that some people apparently tip her, but she doesn’t think it’s necessary. It’s their job, after all. I wanted to ask all about that as well! Tipping in France remains a mystery and responses from French people about tipping vary greatly. These small cultural differences interest me the most, but I couldn’t convey this, it seems. While she explained how to work the shower controls at length (it’s a regular tap), she wouldn’t elaborate on gardien etiquette at all.


Zacharie et sac a main

I had quite the strange little adventure today.

I only wanted to go for a quick coffee with my friend from French course. When I walked up the street, I found a bag on the road. It was right behind a parked car. I picked it up to see if there was anything in it and saw a couple of papers. I looked around but there was nobody on the street at all. I live in a quiet area.

I thought maybe whoever parked the car dropped it when unloading the trunk, so I rang the doorbell of the house right next to the parked car, but nobody opened. So I carried the bag into town, thinking I’ll have to go to the police with this.

I took a closer look at the bag once I sat down with my friend and found a phone, and keys, but no wallet. The phone wasn’t locked, so I checked out the contacts, trying to figure out who to call and what to say. I ended up talking to the last person the phone’s owner talked to, her colleague. She had no other means of contacting her either but promised to send her an email.

Then I called the second person on her list of recently called contacts. But he didn’t pick up. So I hung up. At least that’s what I thought I did. Instead I left the phone running while my friend and I talked: “Did you check the bag for bombs?” “What?!” “Well, this is Paris, you never know.” “It’s too small for a bomb.”

That’s when I noticed that I had been recording the conversation on a complete stranger’s voicemail. I sent a text message to him saying something like “sorry, just found this phone, can’t get in touch with the owner.” Luckily he called back and after some initial confusion followed by worry (“I hope she isn’t sick or hurt!”) he promised to let her know I’d taken the bag and phone to the police in Palaiseau.

My friend and I trekked to the other end of Palaiseau, to where Google claimed the police station was. There was a police sign on a building, but nobody was there except for three kids with a little dog. They had just found the dog and baptised him Zacharie. They hadn’t had any luck with ringing the door bell and didn’t know what to do about the dog.  The dog was small, dirty white and very friendly.

If our new landlords hadn’t expressedly said “no animals”, I would have immediately adopted him then and there.

We rang the bell to talk to the police but all we could understand was what sounded like angry insects. Three kids, my friend and I took turns to tell the white noise “Sorry, we really can’t understand a thing”. Finally my friend called a phone number on a piece of paper next to the door bell.

I hadn’t even realised that the door bell was in fact a connection to the police’s patrol car and not to the office. My friend explained our situation and they said we need to take the bag to the city hall front desk. She also told them about the dog the boys had found, figuring that the city hall might take in the bag, but certainly not a dog, not even a small friendly one.

So they promised to come by. While we waited, the kids started making jokes about them finding Zacharie and us finding a sac a main and I was pretty proud I got the joke/pun.

The police showed up a few minutes later, opened the door and took charge of the little dog. I wanted to leave, but as usual, couldn’t figure out how to open the door. I have my moments of paranoia, and carrying somebody else’s bag and phone (“my fingerprints all over her things!!” went my inner monologue) and having two police men shout helpfully at me in French….wasn’t helping with the paranoia. They only said “No, the blue button!!” while I hovered over two other buttons at eye height, ignoring the blue button with a little key on it 10 centimetres higher up.

We made it out there alive. My friend is Portuguese, and didn’t even hesitate when she crossed the red light, right outside the police station. She found it pretty funny that I’d have qualms about crossing a red light on a crossing maybe two metres wide. But we’ve discussed this before.

We headed back in the direction of the city hall, while I was texting updates to the bag owner’s colleague. I received another call by the guy I had talked to earlier with good news: The phone’s owner was doing fine. There had not been an accident. The car’s window had been smashed in and the bag stolen from within. He had tried to reach her son, but couldn’t, but he told me her son’s and daughter in law’s name and asked me to call them. They’d have her home phone number and / or would be able to let her know where I took the bag.

When I told my friend she made the connection to the little blue bits of plastic we saw in her bag – they weren’t plastic. It was in fact glass from the smashed in car window.

So I talked to the daughter in law about my plans to leave the bag at the city hall. All the time I wanted to get rid of the bag, figuring surely, they’d want the bag to be with the authorities not with some random stranger. In fact she asked me to hold off with that – the city hall closes at 5 or 6 and this would be too early for the owner to get the bag back. Turns out finding a phone and subsequently calling people trying to find the phone’s owner makes you trustworthy enough to keep the bag a just little longer.

In the end the owner called and we talked. She was relived to hear that her keys were still in the bag, and not surprised that I hadn’t found a wallet. I told her I lived in Palaiseau and she could come collect it. I offered to text the address, until I realised … I have her phone. I emailed my address instead. Luckily I remembered arobas, the french word for @.

She showed up an hour ago, very relieved to get her keys back and really grateful. She told me that the bag was stolen from her car while she was in it. At first she didn’t even realise what was going on. And she was quite relieved that the person who did this doesn’t have her papers and keys on top of her money.

I feel like reuniting somebody with their phone and ID is my civic duty, but I couldn’t express that in French, so I just said, “de rien!” and that I understand, I’d be completely lost without my phone. She was sorry she couldn’t offer me any recompense, but well, her wallet had just been stolen. She wanted to send chocolate but I couldn’t even accept that, since we’ll only be here for a few more days.


La grande panne d’électrique de 2016

Monday night, when Gergö and I got ready to go to sleep (read: were in bed reading on our phones), the lights went out with an impressive *clunk*. We were used to this by now and decided to just go to sleep and hope that electricity will return by the morning.

Sometime during the night I woke up to flashing blue lights and got up to check what was going on. It was the local electricity provider, working on restoring our supply. They didn’t get very far though. In the morning I woke up to loud banging coming from the ground floor. When I looked out of the window, all of the four gardiens working for the résidence (I think it’s around 20 buildings all in all) standing together in front of the house, talking.

I joined them to ask for a prognosis and they understandably couldn’t really say. Apparently four houses were affected by the blackout and people had been working on the repair since the early morning hours. I decided to flee to the café for work and tea. At least this time we had hot water :-)

I packed my battery pack, my phone, my computer and an extension to plug it all in. I stayed for several hours and cups of tea and still didn’t manage to fully charge the battery pack.

cables and plugs

I went home at around 4 p.m. The building was still without electricity and there were no more sounds coming from the basement. When I got a glass of water from the kitchen however, I noticed a hole behind the house. I went to the bathroom window to get a better look.

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View from the back window

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Apparently the flooding in June had done more damage than was originally assessed. There were pannes électriques after that, like the one in August. Probably short ciruits that caused further damage to the installations.

After the two blackouts on the weekend the syndic, (which isn’t a family of organised crime, but the property management), posted a letter on our front door asking us all to check our tableaux d’arrivée de courant, which we googled to mean fuse box. We didn’t really know what they meant. It’s there. It seems to work until there’s no electricity. Maybe they referred to the FI-switch, which according to LEO is called ground fault circuit interrupter in English. Or earth leakage circuit breaker.

Before we figured out what to do, the great big blackout of 2016 happened and that was that.

Gergö and I decided to not wait it out at home but instead go to Paris for dinner and a drink. We went to a craft beer place that has a special offer on Tuesdays. One of the reasons we decided to go there instead of the thousand other places in Paris is their all singing and dancing phone charging station with bells on.

phone charging station

We returned home to a nicely illuminated apartment around midnight. We had left most of the lights on before they went out. That night was the first time in 24 hours somebody dared open the fridge. It was smelly, but that’s nothing new based on our cheese supply.

By Wednesday morning the hole behind the house was closed back up and fresh grass was sowed. I’m hoping this was the last I hear of the overflowing of Yvette.


Les gourmandises internationaux

Last year we went to a couple of restaurants with Gergö’s colleagues. Everybody got to chose either a restaurant of their home cuisine or, lacking an Austrian option, we went to a German restaurant once. That’s why we have tried a Hungarian restaurant in Paris and a Ukranian one. In the same street of the Ukranian restaurant, I noticed an Uyghur restaurant. I’d never been, so we visited that too.

In German Hungary, Ukraine and Uyghur all begin with a U, so jokingly Gergö and I said we’d try all restaurants from countries starting with U. So, last week we tried an Uzbek restaurant. I had what the french call ravioli, the Austrians would call Kasnudeln and the Uzbek call manti. Steamed dough filled with meat or spinach, very spicy and really good.

I mostly included this rather fuzzy picture because of the plates.

I mostly included this rather fuzzy picture because of the plates.

I really liked the food, but I adore the names: Gergö had atchik-tchutchuk, a salad. For dessert there was something referred to as Uzbek nougat. It’s called tchak-tchak and consists of honey and nuts. It was served with spicy tea in pretty bowls.

tchak tchak

Next up we have to see if we can find a Urugayan and a Ugandan restaurant in Paris.

This week we stayed in Palaiseau, though, and tried the second best rated restaurant of Palaiseau, according to tripadvisor. They have a very small menu including frog legs. Frog legs are a huge cliché Austrians have of French people, at least that’s what I remember from my childhood. It’s up there with berets and baguettes. And I was curious about the frog legs, but I’d only ever seen them in Asian restaurants in France.

This time I dared order them. They were served with risotto and steamed vegetables. I was surprised that they were so big. (And I caught myself being a little suprised that they’re not green, silly me).

frog legs

They tasted okay – very soft, white meat. The bones are tiny. While I was eating I wondered what happens to the rest of the frog. Now that I read the Wikipedia entry on frogs as food, I know that the rest is thrown away (in Franche, at least). It certainly was an interesting experience, but ethically and environmentally doubtful, since they are imported from Asia and so much of them is wasted.

One thing I miss here in Palaiseau is ice cream – there is no ice cream parlour in Palaiseau. There are a few places selling ice cream in Paris, but by far not as many and not as fancy ones as in Vienna. There is the place making ice cream with liquid nitrogen close to Centre Pompidou. And there’s one that makes the ice cream cones look like flowers on Rue Mouffetard. Last time we were at the Hungarian restaurant, we discovered a fancy ice cream place that has original ice cream names and flavours, which in French are called parfums. I tried green velvet, which is coffee and cardamom and a flavour whose name I forgot which consisted of vodka, lemon, and basil. Gergö wanted to try “Highway to ale” but it’s no longer available. I really miss our ice cream maker.

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La batterie et la cueillette

A few days ago Verena was taking a nap when I decided to do something I had been interested in since we arrived in Palaiseau, but she wasn’t: Climbing up the steep hill behind the railway station to have a look at the ruins of the fortress of Palaiseau. There are several ways up, and I chose the one that looked the most interesting, namely the path through the forest. The path is narrow and not well maintained, but I managed to climb over the odd tree blocking the way, and to not get cut to pieces by thorny bushes growing across it. The forest ist too dense to see much besides trees, so I cannot offer any spectacular views over our valley.

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Up on the hill are the last remains of the Fort de Palaiseau, which according to the French Wikipedia was built after the war of 1870, in which German troops occupied the whole area around here. It was one of a whole ring of fortresses meant to protect Paris. Apparently it was never useful and was finally burned down by occupying German troops in 1944. One part still survives in ruins, called the Batterie de la Pointe. (The French word batterie here means an artillary battery. It also has other meanings, including drum kits and batteries in cars and mobile phones. It does not refer to most other electrical batteries, which are usually called pile. It’s almost as flexible a word as baguette, which refers to most stick-shaped objects including chopsticks and magic wands.)

The entrance to the batterie is guarded by a gate that is apparently meant to be locked but, this being France, isn’t. Trespassing is prohibited, but I sneaked in and took a peek. I wasn’t the first one, judging by the graffiti.

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Sometime around September last year there was some sort of heritage festival thing which included some event up in the fort. It felt a bit strange creeping around up there all alone and illegally, but it might be interesting to come again if there is some sort of guided tour. We’ll see this fall.

The more exciting thing this weekend was the cueillette or harvest. We got a free magazine with news about our departement, which I didn’t read closely, but at least I found out that a young woman from Palaiseau is French champion in synchronized swimming. (Not alone, obviously.) Verena read the thing more thorougly and found out that there is a farm nearby where you can go and harvest fruit and vegetables. It’s up on the plateau, not all too far from where I work.

There is a direct bus to the farm, but not on weekends. Instead we took one to the village of Saclay and walked the rest of the way, about a kilometer or two. On the way we passed the two lakes of Saclay. These are artificial lakes, originally created to supply water to the palace of Versailles (maybe 10 to 20 km away). Nowadays, according to Wikipedia, they are fed by water used in some way by our nuclear research center. They are also a restricted military area off-limits to the public, and their water is used to cool the defense research agency’s adjoining center for testing propulsion systems. Despite all this there was a surfer in the water, but, well, this is France.

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We arrived at the farm and were hit by a strong scent of strawberries even from a few hundred meters away. The photo doesn’t do the smell justice, but at least you might be able to see the size of the farm.

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There weren’t too many other people, but apparently the nicer weather the day before had brought many people, so we weren’t sure how many strawberries we would be able to harvest. Verena wasn’t too successful in the beginning, but I got lucky with my row of strawberries, and in the end we managed to fill up a big bowl. Then we moved on to raspberries, which are a bigger variety than the ones I know. Many of them are not completely ripe yet, but as a sunny week is coming up, they should soon be perfect. All in all we collected a kilogram each of strawberries and raspberries as well as a cakeful of rhubarb and a big bunch of parsley.

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All together we paid 14.06 EUR, which is really cheap, especially considering the freshness and quality. Verena already has plans to go there again with our next visitor, and to tell a friend from her language course about it. And who knows how many times we will go back; according to the farm, their strawberry season runs well into October!

We completed the visit to the farm by feeding grass to cows (young bulls, we think) who seemed happier to take it from human hands than off the ground. And who would blame them. Verena also gave one a strawberry, which was well received, but she was opposed to my idea of handing them a whole stick of rhubarb. At least without asking a qualified adult or researching the question first. I intend to return, and to do it well prepared!

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Nouvelles de Palaiseau

Sometime this June I finally went to the local pub, the shamrock kfé. It isn’t anything special, but it has a terrace as well as a very nice back garden where you can sit outside. People play petanque as well, but after almost a year in France I have to conclude people play petanque everywhere. All it needs is a couple of meters of fairly flat terrain.

They have a deal with the pizza place across the street – you can order pizza and they’ll even bring it over. If the football match is very interesting, then the pizza can turn out a bit more crispy than usual, but other than that it seems to work really well.

Last time I went to pub, I got a glimpse into the cellar as I was walking up the stairs from the garden. Apparently that’s where Darth Vader has been hiding all that time.

paper darth vader in a cellar

Every June there’s the festival de la musique in Paris and also in Palaiseau. I wasn’t in the mood for huge crowds, so we stayed in Palaiseau to check out the stage on the market square. There were a couple of bands, one of them called Abdul & the gang. I quite liked “Parfois c’est compliqué“, and not only because I understood the title.

fete de la musique avec abdul and the gang

After Abdul & the Gang a band called HAÏDOUTI ORKESTAR. They call themselves a Turkish & Gypsy brass band and they seem to be everywhere at the moment because they made the soundtrack for a French film called “La Vache” that won at Cannes. From the description and the amount of brass instruments on stage I expected something more lively, but re-listening now, I realise it’s lively but also sad.

Every time there’s a fête like that in Palaiseau there are dry toilets. It’s all very eco friendly with sawdust instead of water.

eco-friendly loo with sawdust

This week were also my two last French classes. On Monday we talked about the sign up process for the next semester and it all boils down to: On September 3 there’s the day of associations, where all Palaiseau associations present what they do on the market square.

I missed this day last year, because we were visiting Rennes at the time. That was a big mistake, as every time I have a question “Where in Palaiseau is there / can I / do they …?” I am referred to the day of associations where farmer collectives present their organic vegetable boxes, sport clubs their yoga classes and hiking programme and Dire Lire advertise their French classes.

It turns out there’s a directory on the city website, though. It’s a real treasure trove of outdated web design. It’s no surprise that googling didn’t get me far, their Ranking must be terrible, what with the frame sets and dead links.

With the help of the directory I found a few places offering pilates or yoga. They will all go on a summer break real soon, but I managed to try the last season’s pilates session of La Palaisienne on Friday and I asked my colleague from French class to join me.

The gym is pretty far up the hill that is Palaiseau, so I was already warmed up as we arrived. From the outside, the building looks like a church. On the inside it looks exactly like my primary school gym, down to the peeling paint and the rung ladders fixed to the wall. The big difference, though: the entire floor is bouncy. Not bouncy castle bouncy, but gym mat bouncy. And covered in that same brownish-red scratchy carpet that used to be on the jumping boards.

Despite the unwelcome reminder of my most hated class in school, I quite enjoyed the hour and I think I’ll sign up. The only problem that remains to be solved is how to pay for the class when they only accept checques and I declined my bank’s offer of a chequebook because what on earth would I need that for?

 

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La decrue

After all the excitement of the last week, the flooding went away as quickly as it disappeared. By Thursday morning there was only a little bit of water left in our entrance. The gardiens quickly rebuilt the little walkway and the clean up started right away.

Mostly mud, hardly any water left.

Mostly mud, hardly any water left.

We made a quick trip to the supermarket and checked out the Yvette water levels. There was hardly any flooding anymore, compared to earlier.

Chemin des foulons

Access to the bridge had been blocked by the city of Palaiseau.

chemin de grimpré

The criss crossing ribbons seemed a bit over the top, I thought. But when we went back a few hours later they had been all torn down, the barrier moved out of the way and the signs were ignored by all. The entrance to the park was similarly blocked and the barrier similarly ignored.

At least one big tree was uprooted during the flood and had to be cut up.

tree stumps and mud

We also saw a lot of uprooted elderberry bushes by the side of the Yvette. And generally a lot of mud, plastic bags, leaves and things stuck to fences and hedges.

post flood debris

We haven’t seen or heard the geese since Wednesday, but we were very relieved to spot a quick glimpse of a nutria on our walk and we saw that the ducklings made it as well.

I had told our landlady about the flood on Tuesday night. When we talked to her on Thursday she said that it’s the third time the building was flooded. It had happened before in 1978, then 1999 and again in 2016.

By the evening the lobby was cleaned and only the smell remained. On Friday I went back to my French course and upon my return found a leaflet in our post box. The city was really well prepared and had reacted quickly. They had installed three areas where people could get gloves, bin bags and brooms and dump their waste. One was directly across from our house. The neighbours had started the clean up of the cellars already.

As everything went back to normal in Palaiseau, Paris was only starting. The flood had reached the Seine and everyone was watching the Zouave du pont de l’alma (German Wikipedia link). It’s a sculpture on an important Seine bridge that was completely underwater in the big flood of 1910. He’s an inofficial flood marker for the Seine ever since. I remember hearing about the sculpture when I did the boat tour with my mum. This time around he was up to his hips in water, which meant a closing down of the 2 metro lines and the RER stop St Michel/Notre Dame. It also meant the Louvre and musee d’Orsay were closed so that the lower storeys could be evacuated if necessary and everyone prepared for the worst.

The water stopped rising at about 6.10m, though, so about 8 cm lower than the big flood of 1982. Today the flood is stabilised at about 5.80 m and isn’t expected to rise anymore despite more rainfall in most of France.

The prime minister is calling for an end of the strikes in the face of the flood (and more importantly, the football championship that’s about to start, but shhhh!), but I suspect that won’t happen. I can’t complain, though, I didn’t even notice that there was a shortage of petrol in Île de France (how would I?) and even with the strike there are trains to Paris, just not as many.

The weekend before was pretty tough, because on top of the ongoing strike a lorry fell onto the train tracks in Massy and burned out. Over the weekend there was only a bus replacement service between Palaiseau and Massy while they fixed the tracks. When we took the train home from Paris with our guest on that Friday night, there was a woman who suddenly started asking who this luggage belonged to.  For a minute everyone on that train started to worry and think the train line would experience the holy trifecta of transportation fuckups: Strike, accident and unattended luggage. This time around it was averted by somebody claiming the luggage, but forgotten items regularly shut down lines for an hour or so.


L’inondation de l’Yvette

When Gergö left for the office this morning he was gone for all of 2 minutes. Our neighbour told him there’s water in the lobby downstairs and even put up some tape, so people wouldn’t step in by accident. The floor is dark marble and you couldn’t really see the water. Gergö estimated about 5 cm of water at this point.

the lobby with 5 cm of water

At this point the janitor was informed and was still calmly planting flowers in the front yard. Gergö decided to stay home and work from home.

Some time during the morning a large truck showed up. I thought it would be sapeur-pompiers but it was a city of Palaiseau truck.

truck

They started to pump the water, but gave up pretty soon.

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A different truck showed up and put up road diversion signs on concrete bricks as a little runway, so we could leave the house with dry feet.

After lunch we took a little walk. The Yvette was already flooding, but you could still cross the little bridge.

Sometime during the afternoon the parking space next to our building started to flood and somebody went door to door to warn the neighbours, including us.

So after dinner, we took another little walk, even shorter than the last one. On the photo from 2 pm, the Yvette still had a right bank. By the evening the right bank was our parking space. We saw a couple of workers at the bridge with three little dogs in tow. The water wasn’t deep, the dachshund sized dog managed without doggypaddling. But it’s everywhere now.

Okay, I exaggerated, but only a little.  The corner of concrete is the parking space of our building.

Okay, I exaggerated, but only a little. The corner of concrete is the parking space of our building.

This is the Yvette in the early evening photographed from our parking space. The bench visible on the earlier photos is gone.

This is the Yvette in the early evening (about 7:30) photographed from our parking space. The bench visible on the earlier photos is gone.

Bye bye bridge to Villebon.

The bridge to Villebon was still open, but you couldn’t cross on dry feet. The geese are happy though.

As we returned to the apartment, I asked Gergö to take pictures of the entrance: The water is now muddy and smells of river.

The palette is now standing fully in water.

The pallet is now standing fully in water.

As I looked outside shortly before it got dark, the pallet had started to drift away

I took the photo from the bedroom window.

I took the photo from the bedroom window, hence the weird angle.

The street leading away from our house in a parallel to the Yvette is flooded now as well and has been closed. So is the bridge. The only way is up!

Right now about 5 people are standing in front of the house, discussing, but I’m not sure if they want in or if they are just chatting about the great flooding of 2016 and sightseeing. The gap to the pallet is too wide to jump. At least one of them is on the phone.

I’m happy here. As long as there is electricity, there is WiFi. And I just have to hope the electricity mains are not in the cellar, at least not close to the floor. Ask me again how I feel on Friday :-)


Troisième tour

After J & C left, we had a couple of days without visitors. I mostly work a few hours every day, but I hadn’t worked much during visits, and a website I’m working on was due. So I used those days to buckle down and catch up with work. After being shut in at home looking at a screen for such a long time, I decided to visit my favourite café in town.

I brought my computer as an alibi, but I was ready to be distraced and I wasn’t disappointed. The café owner is a very cheerful woman who often chats with the customers and generally radiates a good mood. And she is really well informed about Palaiseau commerce. I first heard about the Domino’s Pizza from her. And she also knows that there will be a Portuguese epicerie (like a deli) opening up where the bookstore used to be. She also knows that a Picard will open in town. It’s one of those shops that sells only frozen food.

Because the owner is often chatting across the café, sometimes the customers get into conversations with each other and I feel like I can ask questions and join in in the conversations. This time two people were discussing books – la ligne verte. It took me a while to figure out that it’s the Green Mile by Stephen King. They said livre (book) a couple of times, but also bouquin. So I asked how the meaning differs and when to use the two words. I only knew it as used book from the bouquinists, the used book dealers with their green stalls along the Seine.

The women were kind enough to explain the difference. Mostly it’s a colloquial word for book or used book. They wouldn’t use it to refer to a classic work of literature, but just a novel, something that’s probably not considered art, but entertainment.

My question led to them asking where I am from, which led to me explaining that, yes, the current political situation in Austria is quite shocking. It was right after the first round of the presidential elections. The results even made it into the French news. It was challenging to explain my opinion on it all, and I learned quite a few new words that will come in handy, in case I’ll have to apologise for being Austrian in the near future. Don’t get me wrong, nobody asks or expects me to do it, I just kind of feel it’s necessary if 35% of voters vote for le candidat d’extrême droite. I don’t think people who did vote for him consider him an extremist, but Europe certainly does.

After all that serious conversation the guy who works at Domino’s showed up as well. He was really looking forward to starting his new job there and he’s pretty sure that it will be a big success. I agree with him – there are a lot of pizza places in Palaiseau already, but this one is really close to the school and a very short walk from the train station. Everybody coming home by train will walk past in the evening. I’m kind of hoping Gergö will get inspired by the presence of it as well. Mostly because I was shown the menu and they have Pizza with chèvre and figs.

From pizza talk the conversation went to other good places to eat and I was recommended the Syrian-Lebanese place. It’s new as well, which I didn’t realise, because it looks a lot like the Kebab place that was in there before. I have visited it since, admired the pretty tea glasses and got a plate of mezze to take away.

Pretty tea glasses at the Syrian Lebanese restaurant

Pretty tea glasses at the Syrian Lebanese restaurant

Tiny Falafel Donuts!

Tiny Falafel Donuts!

I rounded off my pretty awesome day by meeting some friends for beer in Paris. We met at a small bar close to what I call Chinatown. Gergö calls it the street with three Chinese restaurants. I’m not actually making it up, though, it’s mentioned in the Wikipedia article on Chinese communities as the “oldest but smallest Asian neighborhood in Paris”. And it’s not just restaurants, there were also estate agents, shops, and street vendors. I love discovering neighbourhoods like this.

L'Atelier des Curiosités

L’Atelier des Curiosités

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Atelier des Curiosités has batman masks ans sculptures and everything you couldn’t possibly need.

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Really old timber frame construction

Beer is really expensive in Paris. It’s common to pay 6 € for a pinte, so when the waiter brought the beer and asked for 3,30 € I made him repeat it twice, because I just couldn’t believe it. And it’s not a happy hour thing, it always costs 3,30. Needless to say the place was packed by 8.


Le lundi suivant

I was going to write about how I spent Thursday afternoon in a bus to the middle of nowhere, because I left my keys in my coat in the library, that had closed up for the day.

Instead I checked my twitter feed late on Friday night and then didn’t stop reading the Internet for four or five hours.

I’m fine, of course, far away from where the attacks took place. Palaiseau is about 20 km from Paris. Still, I sent text messages, whatsapp messages, and facebook messages and updated twitter and facebook to let everyone know.

We spent Saturday mostly at home. We hadn’t planned to, but we hadn’t planned not to either. The only noticable change in Palaiseau was the security person at the large supermarket. He’s always there, but on Saturday he wanted to check my bag.

Gergö would have liked to go to Paris on Sunday. A lot of people had gathered at the place de la Republique and he would have liked to commemorate the victims. I didn’t want to go though, because it smacked too much of gawking. Also, I’m uncomfortable with accidental fare dodging, I’m not going to ignore a Paris wide ban on assemblies.

I’m really glad we didn’t go, too, because there were several instances of mass panic when people heard loud noises or saw an armed man (who turned out to be a plain clothes police officer).

Over the weekend all city services and facilities were closed, but my Monday morning French course was on. We didn’t even talk about the attacks in class, which I found weird, but not everyone can and wants to talk about it, I guess.

My colleagues who were in Paris already in January said that the heightened security level means mostly not being able to park in front of schools when you drop of kids. Another couple couldn’t catch the bus from their usual place, because it has been rerouted not to go past the école polytechnique (the university).

“For security reasons” apparently becomes the reason for everything in times like these. The national security alert system is called vigipirate and the signs that the level has been elevated to alerte attentat are everywhere.

After class I walked to the city hall. I’d read on the city website that the mayor invited Palaisiennes and Palaisiens to join him at the mairie for observing the countrywide minute of silence to commemorate the victims and their families.

What suprised me most was that nobody wanted to check my backpack walking into the mairie. That mostly elderly people showed up, didn’t surprise. It is the middle of the day, after all. The mayor was there, of course, wearing a giant tricolore sash. I’d never seen public officials wear a sash before. Wait, maybe I have – I think Austrian politicians wear it to the Opera ball. I just checked and they do, but the Austrian sash is much smaller and worn underneath the suit jacket, while the tricolore is wider and worn over everything.

What I didn’t realise before today: kisses on the cheek are pretty loud. Palaiseau is small, a lot of people showing up knew each other, so there was a lot of cheek kissing. And it seems, here it’s not just the touching of cheeks while pursing your lips. There is some serious smacking of lips as well. Men, too, sometimes greet each other like that. I haven’t figured out the rules yet, though.

Shortly before noon the mayor said a couple of words into a microphone that was a little too quiet. I couldn’t understand a thing, mostly because there was an old man next to me complaining that it was too quiet the entire time. The speech, like the message on the website seemed to be mostly grief, unity, war rhetoric.

At least they didn’t end by singing the Marseillaise. I don’t know the words and don’t want to draw attention, what with my unchecked backpack and all. And I don’t get the whole patriotism in the first place, when so many attackers where French.