Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Dog Days of Summer

Les jours chien d'été seems more appropriate, but more accurate is the roman translation of diēs caniculārēs.  No matter how you slice it, it's hot.  Paris got its first heat wave of the year.  It was 100 degrees all week-end.  I'm currently welcoming the drop to 90.

The heat almost feels appropriate for the pace Paris is moving right now.  With all the locals out of town, there's a quiet stillness to the city as it slowly ambles to the pending rentrée when Parisians will re-enter the city and go back to work after their 5 week breaks.

I went into this peacefulness kicking and screaming, but eventually succumbed when I caught a nasty cold that when combined with the heat, sapped all of my energy, and literally left me speechless.  With no voice and most of my friends joining the city in taking their vacances this month, I've used this time to do a lot of reading and writing.  I think I now have read every word Hemingway has written about Paris, and while I can't say I could keep up socially with him and his lot, nor would I want to, I may start taking my writing to the cafés.  I'll do my best to avoid whiskey during the day (at least until winter), although he does recommend writing drunk, but editing sober.  More research to follow.

Empty stalls at the normally bustling marché.

More troubling than my chicken guy and friends leaving for a holiday this month, is the new wave of friends I have that are moving out of Paris permanently.  My college friend Jen who lived in Paris for over 10 years, left the city while I was in LA last month, and then my friend Stephanie just sadly moved back to the US - actually I think it's more sad for her than me as she was not finished with her 8 year life abroad.  I did get to join Stephanie for her "last supper" in Paris at Les Ombres, and there can't be a better view than this for your final farewell to the City of Light.

I remember Jen telling me when I first moved here that she really tries not to befriend ex Pats anymore since she's tired of investing time in developing friendships with people who aren't going to be around long. I recall thinking how horrible that sounded, especially since I was the new kid on the block, but now I find when I'm at social events and learn someone is only in town a few months, I slowly drift away in hopes of meeting someone with longer term potential.

But with the ex Pat relationships, also come new global friendships.  I was able to visit 3 friends in London during my Olympic trip, 2 of whom used to be fellow Angelenos. I have a friend from Stockholm coming to Paris in a few days, and I was able to catch up this past week-end with a new friend I made this year on my Morocco trip.  So the tides continue to release some back, but also bring others in.

And then there's Claire.  Claire entered my life less than 2 weeks ago, and in that short amount of time, I've spoken to her more than anyone else this year.  Qui est Claire?  Claire is the 85 year old friend of my Parisian landlady who was selected to help shepherd a few home repair projects in my petite abode.  Claire doesn't have a computer, e-mail, TV or fluid in her joints, but she does have a phone and she has my number on speed dial.

I haven't needed to use my alarm all month since most mornings begin with a call from Claire.  There's questions about the water damage to the place that happened while I was in LA.  There's the setting up of appointments, including one for her to simply come by and read some e-mails from my landlady, even though she would be there the next day with a plumber.  She's called to make sure I've had a good sleep, and she's even called right after I spoke to her, asking if I had just called.  

All that said, in those 2 weeks, we had insurance people through, as well as multiple visits from the plumber who finally has fixed the toilet and bulb issues I've been having.  As you may recall, I tried in vain to get a handyman back to my place for these fixes for over 6 months, but evidently I was too young for the job, and leave it to Claire to fix it all, including my cough and French.  For the cough, 15 drops of essential oil of thyme on a sugar cube (huh?), and for the French, get a French boyfriend bien sur, but not online.  I'm guessing she didn't have any luck there.

Actual size of the bathroom.  Poor guy could barely fit.
Claire and I (or maybe just me) had a fond farewell, and she phoned later to tell me to call her if I ever needed anything.  I think I'm going to take her on all my future French errands as she knows how to get the job done, assuming I switch to an unlimited calling plan.  I should have taken her with me to open my bank account at the beginning of the year.  I've been swimming along just fine with my French account and then I got a piece of mail that said one of the forms I filled out over 6 months ago needs to be in triplicate so they need me to refill it out and send it to them.  Yes, you might think they could simply copy the first one, but that's where you'd be wrong and not capable of living in France.  So I did as they said, sent it in, got an e-mail confirming they received it, and then told me that I put some incorrect information on it and that my signature looked different.  This then sounded the alarms and now not only do they need me to do the triplicate form again, they now need me to submit 6 other pieces of information including the passport of my landlady.  Sounds like a job for Claire, non?

Then there was the issue of me needing more Passport pages.  It's something I've actually had on my goal list as I've been jealously eying all of my global friends' thick proof of much travel, and at last, the day has come.  I found a few week window of time when I wouldn't need it (difficult yes) and then off to the post office I went for 45 minutes of excruciating bad French postal terms, charades, phone calls and prayers as I hoped I sent the right things, in the right envelopes, with the right return postage.  I left in a cold sweat, feeling very naked and very helpless without my Passport, hoping I would see it again, and see it before my next trip in September.

I anticipated at least a few week turnaround time, but I was awoken this morning, not by Claire, but by my buzzer door with a man speaking French about something.  "J'arrive!" always appears to be the right answer and I walked downstairs, only to find an envelope with my writing on the outside and my passport on the inside.  It took 2 days, and that's why the August vacances aren't all bad.  With dozens of new, blank pages in my passport, I feel like I have a full tank of gas and am ready to go.

"If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young (wo)man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast." Ernest Hemingway

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

London and the Olympics

I can't say I was the first one to buy tickets to the Olympics.  In fact, I was closer to the last one to buy tickets, shortly before the games began.  I wasn't sure I was going to be back in Paris in time to get to London, but once I realized I was, I went online and bought a ticket to the men's beach volleyball bronze and gold medal match.  OK, maybe it wasn't that easy, but it was easier than I thought for what I learned afterwards was the most sought after ticket of the entire Olympic games.

Living in France ended up working in my favor by allowing me to buy a ticket from the international site, and local pool of tickets.  When I went to use my US credit card, it told me I had to buy from a US website, and that site had similar tickets, but almost twice the price.  Luckily I have a French credit card that I was able to use which got me a ticket from the international site with significant cost savings.

With several friends living in London, I also had places to stay, and people to catch up with.  I had already heard from them that the big panic of the crowds descending in the city and clogging the streets and public transportation never came to fruition.  My Eurostar train to London was completely full, but once I got off, the stations were quiet, except for dozens of brightly colored vested volunteers scattered everywhere.  These volunteers, or "game makers" as they were called, were in the streets, in the tube stations, and pretty much anywhere I was when I had a question, so I came to know them more as my fleet of personal assistants. 

I had 70,000 assistants in the city, which may have been more than even I needed, and with many of them looking a little bored, I felt the need to talk to as many as I could.  Sure, I'd get direction confirmation, but then we'd chat about the games, my outfit, and where they were from as some of the cops were shipped in from other parts of the world.  Everyone couldn't have been nicer, personally escorting me to ticket booths, checking screens and times with me.  Yes, I felt like I had about 50 mini-dates while in London.

In addition to all of the volunteers, everything was really well marked.  There were special signs up directing you to each stadium.  I was told these went up months in advance, and extended far out in the suburbs, so you'd always know where you were going, no matter where you were coming from, like Brussels.

Beach volleyball was held in a new, temporary stadium erected in front of Buckingham Palace.  5,000 tons of sand was brought in from a quarry in the UK to create the playground for the athletes.  Given the close proximity to Buckingham and their only in summer state room tour, I had a visit to the palace before the match.  It's no Versailles, but was still quite nice, and I was able to see the unbelievable diamond collection from the Queen's Jubilee celebration.


Getting into the stadium for the volleyball match, I had been instructed to treat it like an international flight, and arrive 2 hours early.  You also couldn't bring in more than 3 ounces of liquid, except for sunscreen.  I didn't get there quite that early, but there were no lines, and you did have to go through security.  Again, everything went smoothly and quickly.


Once inside the stadium grounds, the energy level was at a fever pitch.  There was a matching band playing in front of quasi-creepy statues of Kerri Walsh and Emanuel Rego from Brazil.  Maybe I was just jealous of the gigantic abs staring me in the face.

There were places for food and drink, only open to ticket holders, but judging by the lines, I think they made enough money from these people alone.


The venue held 15,000 people and was sold out, but I saw empty seats, especially for the bronze medal match. 

Sadly, neither US mens' beach volleyball team made it into the top 4, but I suppose I can't be greedy since both US women's teams played for gold, and I have had the opportunity to see both women's teams play in LA.

I cheered Latvia on to victory over the Netherlands in the bronze match, which went to an exciting 3 games.


I did my best to cheer Brazil on, as did about half the stadium, but to no luck.  The Germans beat them in the 3rd game. 

I found it fascinating that the stadium seemed to be exactly equally distributed with Germans and Brazilians.  There was equal cheer between the countries with interesting outfits and songs sung.

Some people got decked out in their country colors, and others preferred local masks.


But the most popular Olympic accessory was wearing your country flag.

The excitement in the stadium was palpable, but just to ensure everyone was getting their money's worth, there was lots of other action going on at all times.  Upbeat music played between points, and there were even odd dancers coming out during long breaks.

They even tried to turn raking the court into entertainment with somewhat lude talks on the rakers, their background and what they did with their rakes after hours, but somehow everyone eventually got excited for, "Rakey, rakey time!"

I'm fairly convinced that I got as good of a workout as the athletes competing with the amount of time I was forced out of my seat to do another wave and shout, "ole!"

I got chills during the medal awarding ceremony, even though I didn't have much of a connection to the winners.  The cameras were let on the court first and they ran and dove for prime position.

Then you hear the Chariots of Fire music and the entire crowd is on their feet cheering for their teams as they walk in and are awarded their medals.



For people who didn't have tickets to events, they set up giant screens around the city where people could watch.  The biggest viewing area was in Hyde Park where you had to go through security, but then there was a big festival like atmosphere with bands playing, in addition to the games playing in several areas.

Some venues were also outside so free to the public to watch like the swimming.

It was exciting to be at the Olympics, but also fun to just be in London, filled with great energy.

And of course there was some great English eating from fish and chips to sticky toffee pudding, and more authentic Indian food than I'm finding in Paris.

There was also inventive food like at the Soho tapas style restaurant, Barrafina.


And then there was the inventive Kopapa in Covent Gardens that I'd recommend for a great meal with different delicacies with a New Zealand flair, and I'm not just talking about their local vodka, though I was a big fan of that too.


And I can't leave out the best grilled cheese in the country, if not the world, served at the fabulous Borough Market.


It was fun to be back in London after several years, made even better by the addition of the Olympics.