Paris IV

Once upon a time, I claimed that Paris is not the immediately romantic place that everyone says it is. That the Parisians are human beings, smokers and workers and thieves, kind and cruel, loving and hate-filled. But I also said that you need to make your own romance, and it makes me happy that every time I visit I see so many people doing just that. Is there not something really special about holding hands walking along the Seine? I think there is. Being there alone was a strange experience for all that.

My first day back in Paris, I walked. A lot. I walked from lunchtime until well into the evening, and saw just about every monument and building that attracts the attention of tourists in the city. I visited the Eiffel Tower and got hassled by pushy salesmen with worthless trinkets, watched couples vandalising precious architecture by attaching padlocks to it and had my heart warmed by a little girl telling off her Dad for using the flash on his DSLR – “Don’t use flash!” she complained, “it kills the photo!”. Damn straight, little girl – you will be spared when the glorious revolution comes. Continue reading

Nantes

France is not innovative enough. This is a statement I hear a great deal these days – in the newspaper, on the television, everywhere. French politicians and business leaders are deeply concerned – I’m told that something must be done to stem the tide of French innovators moving overseas, or of businesses in France being outstripped by foreign competitors. Though not a businessman myself, I do have one suggestion for the people of France – The Internet. Use it. The number of French businesses that still don’t have websites is truly baffling. Of course, some have nice, modern sites. A few also have Facebook pages and Google Maps entries. Some have sites that would entertain archaeologists, resplendent with Word Art, animated gifs and scrolling text. Trying to sift through this spotty information is usually not worth the time it takes – it’s often easier to put on my coat, leave the house and say “let’s find out”.

A great many things in France are old-fashioned like this. The usual explanation I’m given is that France is very old, stubborn and set in her ways, like an ancient crone who can’t stop herself making racist remarks at Christmas dinner every year. Unfortunately, it’s much harder to remind France that this sort of behaviour is inappropriate.

Nantes is not a small city by French standards – it’s home to nearly 300,000 people. It may therefore surprise you to learn that lined paper is extremely difficult to locate there. This is because the French don’t use ruled paper; instead they use carreaux – that is, squares. The reason for this is that they typically write in a very beautiful, very formal, very old-fashioned (sometimes very unreadable) cursive. As such, finding the type of paper I wanted is damned near impossible – particularly when the two stores you found on Google Maps have both closed down. Perhaps they both went out of business because they sold only lined paper, and the demand among the locals wasn’t sufficiently high. I may never know. The internet certainly can’t answer that question.

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La Bête de Guerre

History is inescapable in France – it’s everywhere. It bleeds out of the stones of the ancient buildings, it grinds out of the bureaucratic inefficiency of a government with elements that are five hundred years old, it’s in the countryside shaped by construction, destruction, reconstruction and deconstruction, and it’s in the minds of the people – who often take all this for granted. For them, going to work in a building that was built three hundred years before the Federation of Australia is perfectly commonplace, and my constant amazement is – to them – a baffling condition. It’s interesting how our points of view are different.

Of course, not all of the history of France – and Europe more generally – is locked away in centuries-old châteaux. You may be vaguely familiar with a few large disagreements that took place around here in the last hundred years or so and which, in their way, also irrevocably changed history. My next stop, the Musée des Blindés (Museum of Armoured Vehicles) in Saumur, is a part of that heritage.  Continue reading

Tours from Tours

My first vacation in France was blessed with near-perfect weather. Day after day of sunshine, white fluffy clouds and temperatures hovering just around 25 degrees. This – I am politely informed by the locals – is quite unusual for the end of autumn. More than one person has thanked me for working my Australian weather magic and bringing the sunshine with me. To this I reply that in my home country the endless sun is a terrible curse, and it has followed me here to punish my wickedness. I then make the sign of the evil eye and spit over my shoulder – an ancient Australian custom.

My aim, as I mentioned in a previous post, was to go West. If the prophecy was to be believed, this was where the skies were blue, life is peaceful and the air is open, whatever that means. I found these things to be mainly true, making me think this was a quality prophecy. My cousin also used to sing that it was where he went to relieve himself – the rhyme “where I do my poo” was inserted – but I found no obvious evidence of this part of the foretelling. Fortunately.

My first stop in this journey was the city of Tours which – spoiler alert – I found to be charming in almost every particular. Continue reading

The Great Westward Migration

I’m always happy when I come away from a vacation having learnt something. Often, this takes the form of practical information – like yes, it is always a good idea to carry a good pocket knife and a roll of high-quality duct tape [except on a plane] – as well as the huge amount of things I learn from museums, monuments and other things I visit. One of the most valuable types of knowledge I’ve gained from travelling, however, is self-knowledge. Here is some: Continue reading