Sunday, August 30, 2009

How to Park in Paris

First, take a Parisian. Add car of generous proportions and place in, say, the Latin Quarter, at eight o’clock at night.

It is still daylight so spotting a space, particularly with the experienced eyes of two additional Parisians on board, shouldn’t be too hard…

As non-Parisian friends on holiday, remember to help the driver with constant comments along the lines of, “There’s one over th-! no, sorry – disabled // Oh just look at how he’s parked – otherwise you could have got a Tank in… // Hey! that bugger pinched your space!

Such encouragement is always welcome…

After an hour or so, one of the Parisians will merrily bid us farewell and go off to meet her boyfriend at a bar we have drawn unexpectedly close to. You could suggest to the others that really, it would be just as much fun to go back to the appartment, where I could rustle something up from the contents of the fridge. The co-driver will recall that the said contents amount to half a cucumber and some old teabags of the green mint kind.

Suddenly she sees an Actual Gap between two other cars, and Manoeuvres begin! It takes but five minutes of perfect directing “go on stop go on stop turn go on back stop stop no Stop!” and magnificent wheel control, to parallel-park the car - leaving four centimetres front and back between neighbourly bumpers. If Only we’d had the camera…

Yet, this feat seemed As Naught to the Parisians… They park as they drive – ignoring all obstacles.

After dinner, as they drive you round L’Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile - the immense roundabout with its twelve exits and several million cars aiming At Yours - you must try very hard to muffle your screams.

And then be ready to spot a Parking Space vaguely in the vicinity of the appartment.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

VITAL Papers

‘But WHY do you want to change your driving licence, madame?’ said the surprised voice. ‘It’s unnecessary - England is in the EU!’

‘You’re Right!’ I nearly said, ‘What the hell am I doing, voluntarily plunging into the tortured bowels of French bureaucracy?’

But I didn’t say it. Because my English licence is quite old – one of those pink and green papery things coming apart at the folds, and there's certainly No Photograph. (Did we even have cameras)? So it's instantly suspicious.

And you’re never sure of the reaction it’ll provoke when stopped routinely by the gendarmes: we've had hilarity, fascination, incomprehension, Outrage-with-Severe-Reprimand for even bringing it to France (he was an unusually unpleasant specimen having a bad day)… But I don’t want to be flung into an oubliette because of my annoying driving licence.

The Préfectures in France are the Houses of Mass Administration. In March this year I made my first foray into their Website/licences/driving/resident/foreigner/EU/shortperson… This revealed an interminable list of Essential Documents that must be Translated by approved professionals and Sworn to by approved professionals who Mustn't Know me At All.

Naturally I gave up, but re-attacked a month later by phoning for clarification. A very friendly bloke narrowed the List down to proof of address, old licence and a photo - Just take them down to the Préfecture and they’ll send me a French licence. Simple!

Then I forgot about it. Until this week when with uncharacteristic Dynamism, I assembled all the docs, including terrifying photo (“you mustn’t smile, madame!”) and phoned to check they were open that afternoon…

But it seems every member of The Administration has a different set of rules. That day's member, after my insistence on carrying it through, passed me on to a colleague with special knowledge.

The colleague pointed out the need for another document (there's always one more) with proof of Maiden Name. Have you ever noticed that Maiden Names are instantly jettisoned from British passports and the like? Eventually I found some old GCE certificates, and post-eventually, birth and marriage ones (I’ll take them all).

I couldn’t go that afternoon, though, because this person was adamant that an appointment was imperative. ‘OK then – when can I come?’ (Hoping she wouldn't say Wednesday afternoon, as I had a trim & blow dry booked). 'End of September, madame'.

Damn! What a complete waste of Dynamism!

Still, it will be properly sorted out then, because every administrator we've met here has been charming and helpful in spite of our incoherent jabberings.

And of course, it gives me time for a load more attempts at the Terrifying Photo…

Monday, August 3, 2009

Things to do with Kippers

The other day we went round to friends for lunch in the garden – perfect tranquillity on the outskirts of town, warm sunshine, fragrance of fresh rosemary, thyme, mint…

Fabienne’s “light lunch” began with plates of tiny tomatoes, olives, nuts, quiche and water melon; it slipped into gala melon with parma ham; then we had prawns and monkfish with wild rice; wonderful cheeses; and a fruit tart with plums and apricots grown within two hundred yards - the neighbours are very friendly.

George and I have embraced French cuisine enthusiastically – everyone is keen to share their secrets; there are TV chefs and magazines and cookbooks, and our style of cooking has changed a lot since moving here.

Sadly, our style of Presentation has not. Fabienne’s appetisers were colour co-ordinated and came in handy bite-size. The gala melon was displayed like the rays of the sun, with the ham wrapped round breadsticks. The mountain of prawns was a delicate, attractive mountain, (not the unbalanced splodge I’d have constructed). The cheeses were arranged with pleasing symmetry, and the tart glistened lusciously.

Food in France is for savouring, and before savouring, we must be tantalised by hints of fresh and subtle flavours to come…

So what the hell can Fabienne possibly see in Kippers? And how can it be that every so often, she and the neighbours gather at ten in the morning for a Kipper Fest!

Sensibly, they cook them in the garden (one assumes it's by Short Straw), and accompany them with champagne. Which could help. Cats must come from many miles for this...

Personally, I loathe kippers – the taste, the Smell, the Bones. And I’ve always thought of them as a Man Favourite, like Kidneys or Tripe (which always seems to be trying to shudder its way out of the pan). How can such things appeal to a frothy, feminine person, and all her neighbours to boot!

There is obviously still much for us to learn about French cuisine. After all, we'd never have thought of cooking Beef Cheeks till the village butcher unleashed their succulent secrets to us.

Right! Take bunch of Kippers...