Contacts and Alps

Sometimes I don’t want to put my contacts in.  I want to wander around my apartment taking my glasses off to read my Kindle although I don’t much like spending several minutes trying to find where I put the glasses for safe keeping.  But if I go out, I must put my contacts in.  It’s not a vanity-thing.  It’s convenience.  I prefer my Maui Jim sunglasses to my prescription glasses. And taking one pair off and putting the other on.  And the glasses can slip down my nose.  I prefer the contacts to glasses even though I now have mono-vision contacts.  That means I have one eye with a prescription for seeing things far away and the other for seeing up close.

Yup.  I have a pair of reading glasses and friends help themselves to them sometimes when they are reading a map near me.  I wait.  After just a few seconds, they rip the glasses off with a horrified expression – what is wrong with your reading glasses!

But it is amazing how the brain can transpose the images from your eyes and make sense of them.  I can look at something far away and then glance at a book and yes, I can see both very well.  OK.  Maybe not perfectly, but I find it preferable to having to grab reading glasses.

So I had a busy three days in Annecy.  Maybe seven years ago, I met a young American student (Oh I miss the French language right now – I wanted to convey that it was a young lady which I could have done easily with simply using une not un and Americaine not Americain… ).   She sang the praises of this lake south of Geneva.  So it’s been on my wish list for a while.  A friend and I went for three days, two nights.  A delightful find.  There is a small historic area with canals.  It’s been called the French Venice, but get those images of gondolas out of your mind.  These are small and shallow canals, more picturesque at this point then transportesque (ok so I made up a word!).  And a gorgeous lake.  We took a cruise on our full day.  The plans changed completely from a brief hour to a two hour to a two hour with a stop that ended up taking from 10 til 4.  Wonderful.  It’s surrounded by mountains – not quite the pointy peaks of the Alps, but getting there.  Albertville is only 30 miles away.  We stepped off at Talloire, a small village lakeside.  Wandered about.  Had a café – my friend did.  I had water.  Wandered.  Found a great restaurant near the small harbor and had a 2 hour lunch. Which is very easy in France.

Beef in France.  A friend said earlier this week that the meat wasn’t very good.  I guess I would agree in many circumstances.  But if you see Charolais or Savoyard on the menu, it will be delicious!  I had great meals including burgers and raclette of those two beef types.  Miam Miam.

The Alps are famous for the fondue but also raclette.  That’s where they put a cheese on this intricate machine that then melts and you scrap it off to put it on potatoes and meat.  In my case thin strips of dry Savoyard beef.  Double Miam.

There were museums in the Chateau and the Palais des Iles… but the buildings were more interesting than the modern art.  The French like to combine the two.  At least there were no Jeff Koons pieces.  I detest him.  Instead: Chinese animation.  OK.

For a moment I considered a second trip to Annecy to wander a bit further afield – like Albertville.  But instead I am energized to investigate the Swiss Alps trains.  That’s now on the agenda for September.

So today I have been taking it easy as I am a bit worried that a cold is lurking.  Yes, I have been taking Zicam and Day/Ny quill.  But taking it easy after a trip is also a good idea.  Moving from bed to couch to computer to couch to bed to computer…  yet the fridge is fairly empty so a trip to the store is on tap for later this afternoon.  Which is why this blog started on the topic of glasses.  I am going to have to put those contacts in shortly…

Around Town

So I missed the Tour de France this year. I saw it whiz by my first year as it came into Paris right past my apartment (practically). Last year I was out of town. This year it came up from the south. I decided to stop by Etoile and see if I could see anything but then remembered the whale.

Yup. A whale beached on the quai of the Seine. OK, it was a faux giant size whale making some political point. But it appeared on Friday. I wasn’t sure it would still be there on Sunday but I decided to have a look see. This was after cleaning my house in the morning. When, for no apparent reason – because I wasn’t stretching or lifting or even twisting and turning, my back got tied up in knots. I figured a walk might be good.

So down to Notre Dame to the Rive Gauche (left bank) to search for the whale. Nope. It was gone. I did see a lot of tourists but really, for a Sunday in July, there weren’t a lot. We’ll see if the tourists return in August. I will have two visiting me, so I am doing my part for the French economy.

Back to the no whale. At that point I decided to check out Etoile – I might be able to make it before the last lap is finished. But only if I got there quickly which ruled out the metro. And my back told me in no uncertain terms that it would be very happy with a car ride. Uber. My go to. Did you know Uber works a bit on a demand pricing basis? So the trip that usually would cost me 11 euros was showing up as 28 on the Tour de France Sunday.

I told my back to suck it up and we walked and metro-d home. Too late for the Tour. Maybe next year. If I am stupid enough to be in Paris in the summer. Although, it was a splendid relatively cool and showery day. No complaints on that end.

Sunday has a treat for me. At noon the Sacramento Bee Sunday edition goes live on line and I can print out the crossword puzzle. It’s not a piece of cake, but far easier than the NY Times. I can usually get it done in less than 2 hours, often one hour. And that’s fine for me. So this Sunday one clue was: using something together. OK. I immediately thought: Partager!

Then I looked at the spaces… seven letters starting with an S. OK. How about using the English definition of Partager – Sharing.

That was definitely weird – to see English and think of a French word. But I guess I am doing that more often. Tonight my friend noted that the server and I spoke to each other in both French and English – and not one or the other – we started a sentence with one language and finished it with the other.

I was in a depressed state about my French this week. You will tell me that I go in cycles of feeling competent and incompetent. Yes, that’s true. But still. Sometimes I just feel like I can’t pronounce anything! I want to give up. But two of my harshest critics of my conversation exchange friends were extremely supportive. One who is a retired teacher actually reminded me of all the different stages and my language milestones. Shrug. I guess I am doing ok.

Last week I visited Chateau Monte-Cristo, the home of Alexander Dumas. I haven’t read any of his work but from all the movies, I feel quite familiar with him. He wrote serials a bit like Dickens. His chateau was of his own design, he even built a small chateau that faces it across the hillside for his writing office. An office on the first floor and maybe a room or two above it. So playful. With many of the names of his books or characters carved into the walls. I heard he ended up living there only two years. Something to do with massive debt perhaps. He was a character! It’s not easy to get to – RER to St Germaine en Laye and then bus and then walk. But the day wasn’t too hot and it was peaceful there. Glad that a friend posted photos on FB and that prompted me to go.

Today I went to the partner of my French but trained in Texas chiropractor because she is not working until Friday and I will be gone then. I may switch to him. My left hip bothered me several times these past three years. It doesn’t seem to respond to much treatment. Then it suddenly disappears and I am pain free. Today this guy did his magic and hip seems to be fine and it must have rearranged the twisted back at the same time. Relatively pain free. Nice.

Did you know that Google Maps lets you “save” and star locations? I just discovered that feature. So I spent the afternoon starring things all over France that I have visited. I have been saving the restaurants in Paris which really helps because it’s easy to forget where you ate what. Well, I guess Google doesn’t tell me what I ate, but knowing the location of the restaurant helps me remember the place and the food. Better than when I mused… oh what was the name of the restaurant that had red checked tablecloths?

My friend was a Sherpa for me. I ordered several things on Amazon and had them delivered to her house. She packed them and I picked them up today. The most valuable is a battery operated hand fan. The kind they give you at conferences. Well, this one turned out to be a bit bigger, but it still fits in the bag. When the heat returns (and it will!), I am ready! Everyone on the metro will be jealous of me. Or they will be mocking the stupid American… I don’t care which.

Difficult Year

This third year in Paris has been most difficult for a variety of reasons. I still search for its meaning, if ther is one. Having the holiday on Friday and then Saturday and Sunday (yes, I know, that’s the usual way it goes), I experienced something new for this year. Silence.

I am beginning to think that the sounds of the construction must be worse this year than last. I did live through that. But this year the noise seems to invade my brain and depress it. Tie that in to the heat – I can lessen the noise if I close the windows (thank god I have the window back to be able to close it). But then it gets hot. A fan blowing around hot air only helps so much.

Enter the Internet to save me. Maybe. Someone posted and tagged me in an article about tying a plastic bottle full of ice to the front of the fan so it blows cold air. I understood this concept. Many many years ago when working with John Leffingwell and the Fourth Wall Theatre, we rented an empty car repair space. We were an itinerant theatre group for several years. And it was hot. Central Valley hot! So I put BLOCKS of ice in the air ducts. Not sure how much it cooled it down – it did melt fast! Not sure the plastic bottles of ice did much good either.

Now I have another scheme. This one is said to have worked wonders in Africa, reducing the house from 113 to 103. Still hot but I liked the 10 degree difference. So you take a piece of wood (or cardboard from an Ikea box found on the street left for trash pickup) and drill holes in it (or punch holes with your scissors). Then you take a big liter plastic bottle and cut off the bottom and drill through the top. Then you insert the bottle top into the hole and secure it with the top screwed on from the other side. (Or when you only have a scissors you simply push it through and let it be because the scissors are not match for the plastic top.) Then you put this in the window and wait for the temperature to drop. I don’t have liter bottles. The bottle here are longer and narrower so I am not sure the science will work. They give you an example to try – breathe with an open mouth on your hand. Then purse your lips to blow on your hand. The smaller opening does feel cooler. You place the bottles on the outside and supposedly the air coming in cools as it goes through the narrow bottle top.

I’ll let you know. So far I only have four bottles set up.

So between noise and heat, it is a more stress producing or relaxation inhibiting environment than I realized.

Observations

About the 14th of July. NO ONE calls it Bastille Day here. So Trump was here for the celebrations. And a NY Times writer described the event. I need to write to the NYT.

HA! I just did. This is why: Not impressed with this writer. “the Arc de Triomphe framed behind them, memorializing the storming of the Bastille that helped set off the French Revolution. … as an array of jets including one leaving trails in the colors of the French and American flags.” First, the scenes on the Arc are of victories of the Imperial Armies- think Napoleon. Second, the jets start EVERY 14th of July parade with the colors of FRANCE. Which coincidently are the US colors but it’s done every year whether the US president is here or not.

I do give up on the term Bastille Day. It is so ingrained in the American psyche.

I have no motivation to go to the marche anymore. These are not the farmers’ markets of the US. These are grocers who buy from a middle man. Perhaps the same person the grocery stores buy from. So I find it easier to buy at the grocery store then to have to run down on one of the three days and stand in a line for veggies. Maybe for artichokes… I know this for a fact because in Tours in my immersion program we did a ‘sondage’ at the market. Survey. Me and my buddy were assigned the vendors. One of them was even selling grapefruit from California.

But what’s up with the bags of lettuce in France? OK sometimes I want iceberg lettuce. OK? Get over it. I do. And I discovered that it comes in a bag too just like we have in the states. The bags are dated. So Saturday (today is Monday) I looked for one with a far away expiry date (yes, that’s British. No expiration date, expiry. Even for credit cards.) The bag of lettuce claims it’s good til July 20. Today the lettuce inside the unopened bag is starting to turn brown. Is my fridge too cold or too hot? Everything else does just fine in it. And if I open a bag that does have fresh lettuce, it’s only good for two servings. Brown before the third.

Everyone is gone! One friend is gone the entire summer! Her husband had too much vacation in his bank. Another left for Montenegro last week. Another for the same yesterday. And another to Amsterdam soon. At least one is returning after three weeks in Portugal. Summer is just impossible in France. I don’t know how they get anything done. And my boulangerie is closing the week after I get back from England – maybe I will buy three baguettes and freeze them before I go.

But! Next week a friend (and husband) from high school (the friend before the husband) will be in Paris for a couple days on their way to Corsica and Africa. So I am quite looking forward to spending time with them. And then off to Annecy in the mountains – where it will still be in the 80s.

They Sneak Back

They must really like that window sill. After that got them both full on and they flapped away, one has back twice. I asleep at the wheel. My pigeon second-sense warned me. Got him each time. They really should give up.

Pigeons: Zero

They’re baaaccckkk. Long time readers will recall the battle of the Pigeons. Or maybe just MY battle with the pigeons.

OK. Maybe you like birds. I think birds should be living, flying and nesting out in the wild, not in cages. And should certainly not be let out of cage to hop around someone’s living room. A friend did just that some fort… a LONG time ago… and I learned quickly that my body doesn’t like that. I found myself suddenly saying, like Gene Wilder, “Put the birdies back.” So birds outside are fine. Except when they are pigeons who get close enough to coo and disturb my peace.

A while back and in a blog a long time ago two pigeons decided to make a nest in the back courtyard, in a corner of the building near my kitchen window. Drove me crazy. So I hunted all over Paris for a pistolet a eau. Squirt gun. Found one. Used it effectively. Pigeons decided to look elsewhere.

Disclaimer: No pigeon was damaged in this activity. Other than perhaps a minor psychological dent…

Fast forward to this year. Surprisingly, I could not find my squirt gun. Neither here in the apartment nor in the things I left with friends. There were no pigeons around. But. Still. Best to always be prepared, right?

I found a super duper squirt machine gun! Well, not really machine gun but one of those things where you prime the water reservoir and it will let loose a long stream of water. Got two for ten euros at Toys R Us. I don’t need two, obviously. But smart packaging.

And, you guessed it, I have had opportunity to use it. This time the two pigeons (same ones? I dunno) decided to start to make a nest on the window sill across the courtyard from me. It is the sill for the bathroom window and I have only seen it open once so I am sure they thought it was a deserted place and just right for their new home and birthing center.

If only they could have been quieter…

That super duper squirt gun is fantastic! Got them both the first time. They flew off fast! So we had a couple days of them testing me. Nope! Ha! Now it’s been relatively quiet the last few days. I hear them when they sit on the balcony railings of the building across the street. Shrug. The super duper cannot quite make it that far. Close though. I have to check the street below before I try. Don’t want collateral damage…

Just now, however, one decided to check out the sill again. Ha… What’s great about this super duper is that it can send a stream of water across the courtyard with the kitchen window open only 1 inch. I hear the bird, I fill the reservoir in the bathroom, I prime it in the living room. And I stealthily aim it through the already open an inch kitchen window. Bull’s-eye. Got him… her? Oh I hope it was him – don’t want to attack pregnant mothers… But if I have to protect my silence…

No damage done! Except the pigeon got a bit wet and flew off.

If only I could use it on the workers across the street. Their noise is worse than pigeons cooing.

Sniff Sniff

OK, I know I talk a lot about the heat. And subsequent sweat. But I do shower. And I use expensive perfume. But sometimes during the summer on the metro, I suddenly get this whiff and panic. Is that me with the unpleasing body odor? I try to subtly check. And discover it’s the fragrance of the French man or God knows where he is from man standing next to me.

I try to breath in the other direction. Hazards of public transportation.

So today with a window gone (see previous post) the noise floods in. Another day inside – I had to wait for the window guy in the morning and he was late. I am learning how to get around the noise somewhat. I went shopping at 11 so I would be back at 12 when I knew they would take a lunch break.

I keep thinking the demolition is almost done and soon I won’t hear the melody of the jackhammer. But no. And the little forklifts seemed to be finished, they were hoisting them up, over, and down to the street. Yet one remained – I finally figured out it was tearing up concrete down in the parking garage. Sigh. Still, every day there are more and more hard hats with clip boards. Assessing the work. Time is money! Get this part of the job done! And weirdly, today, after months of clearing out each floor, today there is a three drawer file cabinet on the top of the trash bin. How did they miss this? Office equipment was gone months ago.

Why am I even looking? I just want it to move on to a different sound. And I so pity those people in the apartment building that shares a wall. The vibrations must be nerve wracking!

People are funny. I was let in on a secret by a friend. A special trip three friends were making but no one else was supposed to know because no one wanted any hurt feelings. OK. I didn’t care. I wouldn’t squeal. And they posted pictures on Facebook today…

Where there’s Smoke…

There’s not always fire. And when the smoke alarm goes off, if it’s a faulty machine, there’s not always fire or smoke. But there is an ALARM. That goes on as long as the battery is good.

My apartment had a faux fire when I was in Germany/Netherlands. Oh, I don’t think I have mentioned that trip. Maybe later. So yes, on a Monday morning I am in Maastritch getting packed to come back when I get a text from the landlady. URGENT. Basically: where are you? As in are you dead? Nope. Happy to report. But the smoke alarm went off on Sunday night and never stopped. The neighbors called the police. The landlady was also out of town. She would see if her dad could get over there during the day. Great. Sorry neighbors. But we texted again later in the day – dad couldn’t make it. Ew. More sorry, neighbors!

As I climb the stairs about 7 pm, I am listening for the alarm. On the ground floor. Nothing. First floor, nothing. Second floor, not a sound. Did the battery die? Open my door on the third floor and see the alarm has been taken down – it’s not on the wall. OK. Dad did make it. Great.

I unpack. Pour a glass of water and start to sit on the couch to relax. But there is a yellow piece of paper on my couch. Foreign looking. (Well, it was official French so maybe not foreign.) It was a notice from the Sapeurs et Pompiers of Paris. That’s the fire department to you and me.

Playing detective, my analysis is: the police arrived. Pounded on the door. No response. No smoke. No fire. But they called the fire department who put their ladder on the front of the building to climb up to my fourth floor apartment (Europe counts floors differently – our first floor is ground, our second floor is their first, etc.). And yes, they broke the window so they could reach in and undo the latch, come in, take the alarm down and take the battery out, leave the official yellow paper notice, and exit the same way.

Yup. Lots of glass on the floor. Instead of relaxing after my journey, I was hotfooting it down to Monoprix to buy packing paper and tape to cover up the hole.

So to give you a better picture, I have the lovely old fashioned windows that are about 9 feet tall, Each side has two panes of glass, at the bottom, a square pane about 18 inches. Above it , the long open pane that curves delightfully at the top.

A delightful curve becomes an expensive curve. Super pere can’t fix this. And then a hassle between me, the landlady, the insurance, and finally an estimate and repair.

The window professional says it will be about 1,000 euros. And he has to fix it at his atelier (workshop).

The window guy (who thankfully speaks Englilsh) took the frame out today and will bring it back tomorrow. Just over 3 weeks.

More heat. And smoke

Sometimes you have to give yourself a break and remember you are not a tourist, you are a person living here. I don’t have to see everything.

I went to a hotel again. I had my first good night sleep for several days. I actually slept six hours straight without waking up. No bad dreams. Delightful air conditioning.

I decided to stay a second night. I was questioning that decision when I was waiting in line at the front desk to make those said arrangements. Then the heat got to me and I broke out into a sweat. No doubt a second night was the right decision.

Saturday the local branch of BNP (bank) caught fire. I came out of the metro to see smoking billowing. Dark grey black smoke. There was some army type guy and a lot of people watching the smoke come out the front door. And soon out one of the side windows. 20 minutes later I am going past it on the bus. The fire department had arrived. But full on flames coming out of the doorway and bottom windows. Sunday furniture was piled on the sidewalk in front of it and smoke stained the walls. Never found out the cause.

Sometimes I dictate the beginnings of my blogs because I might be somewhere and in a hurry but I want to remember some brilliant ideas. I was doing that last week and couldn’t remember the English word for sci-fi. And now I can’t recall why I wanted to talk a bout sci-fi. Or the dictation says: XO stencil text. And I have no idea…

It’s been a strange time, this visit to Paris. I think I have commented on that before. It doesn’t get less strange, it doesn’t get more normal. Perhaps… I find myself wondering more and more if my time in Paris is slowly coming to an end? I don’t know. Is Paris becoming Finite? I don’t know.

There are certainly still things to see. Place to go back to. New places to explore – in France and even all of Europe.

Traffic

I think I have waited three years to tackle this subject.  Because it has taken that long to really understand it.

Most of the French traffic laws are similar to the US.  When you come over on a short visa like me or as a tourist, you can drive with your US driver’s license.  Now if you want to stay here long term, getting a French license is complicated.  The French only recognize SOME of the states licenses.  I did a little research and I can’t figure out why not everywhere.  And certainly why not California?  But that’s not a problem for me right now.

The French law says that US drivers need to have an international driver’s license in addition to the state license.  OK, that’s a joke that will cost you $15.  You take two photos passport-style to the nearest AAA office.  Give them your license so they can write your name, address, birth date and other DL numbers on it, affix your photo.  And then you pay $15 and they stamp it.  OK.  Really?

OK  Revenons a nos moutons!  That means let’s get back to the story… or in French, let’s get back to our sheep.  Yup.  I have no idea… just go with it.

The laws seem the same with one exception.  Those on the right always have the right of way.  In general, the US does this too.  But here, unless it’s marked by “sharks teeth” – triangle markings across the lane – the right has priority even from streets that should not have priority in my view!  Like you have a rather major roadway leading into town.  And there is a road on the right that Ts into the larger road.  No shark’s teeth?  Then they get priority.  So you are speeding – well not speeding! – along and you see a road on the right, you have to slow down in case there’s a car there.  We would have a stop sign for that small road.

Got it?

Now let’s move on to the rond points.  Round-abouts.  In England and Truckee, those in the round-abouts have the right of way.  The mergers just merge when it is safe.  And here, yes, if you have those shark’s teeth.  Or signs.  I see that more in the country or outskirts of cities.

Not in Paris.  The Arch de Triomphe sits in the middle of the Etoile, as it’s called.  There must be 8 streets that feed into this round about.  NO!  There are 12, I just checked.  And yes, there are stop lights from the roads feeding into the rond-point.

So you have gotten into the round-about.  And you want to get off at the 6th street away from you on the circle.  Let’s say you entered from street #1 and you are car A.  This won’t be easy.  If you are going along and then the   stoplight for street #3 goes green, you have to stop in the middle of the circle and wait for those from street #3 Car B to merge.  And sometimes,  the car B from street #3 wants to exit at street #10, but car C  from Street #2 wants to get off at street #4.  So car B heads for the center of the rondpoint and car C crosses diagonally to get to Street #2.

Did I confuse you?  Welcome to my world.  And sometimes there are 8 lanes of traffic going around the rond point.  Yes, 8 lanes.  And sometimes everyone is stopped because one car is headed diagonally to try to get out of the mess.  And don’t mention the buses.  I always thought the London bus drivers had to be so good… it was the illusion of the double decker being a challenge.  Nothing like driving a bus in Paris.  The roads are much narrower.  And then you have all these rond-ponts.

Really, about a month ago this finally made sense to me.  Up til then, I was horrified at the idea of driving in Paris.  I have driven in Paris three times now and it seems easier each time.   I must admit though, that every time I return the rental cars unscathed I am seriously relieved.

Oh yeah.  About getting a license here – if you don’t have a reciprocity state license, you have to have driver’s training and pass a test (you guessed it – in French).  I hear it’s very difficult.  And the process of training and testing is around 2,000 euros.

Really.

But you do get a license for life here.  Which seems incredibly strange to someone who renews regularly.