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Paris again

My train trip to Paris was fast and uneventful direct to the airport. I had decided to stay in an airport hotel to save lugging 2 cases and a backpack around the Metro system because the normal train from Montpellier is to Gare de Lyon, not on the line to the airport.
After depositing my luggage only 100m from the station I took a train into Paris central and met Kate, a good friend of Anna’s, who has one book published and had taken a break in Paris to try and finish her second one. But she assured me she is not living in a garret – rather, a large apartment in Montmartre courtesy of an old family friend. We had a great dinner, talked heaps about our respective French experiences and later took selfies in front of the Moulin Rouge.

 

Next day I returned again to take a guided tour of the splendid Palais Garnier opera house. The theatre was the place to meet and be seen so the splendid design was part of the scene.

The fabulous Marc Chagall ceiling was added at a later date.

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The main salon was modelled on Versailles and part of the ceiling on the Sistine Chapel.  Truly stunning and enhanced by our guide’s obvious love of the building.

I became very keen to see a production so asked afterwards if any tickets were available. I had tried to book online some time ago without success but this time I was in luck. I got a ticket which must have been returned – 9 rows back in the middle of the stalls – actually in the middle of the main aisle as they have a strange system of 2 fold-up seats which fill each row in the aisle – didn’t like to consider what happens in case of fire! Anyway I had a great view of a superb ballet called La Dame aux Camélias which is the same story as the opera La Traviata, choreographed by John Neumeier. The music was Chopin and largely piano. The first act was a little lacklustre but the second was extremely moving and beautifully danced. I love a ballet which evokes strong emotions and thoughts – just as this one did. I was delighted!

In the afternoon I had met up with a young friend, Laetitia, a French girl who spent a year on exchange at Damascus College when our Swedish friend, Jenny, was staying with us. They became great friends and I have kept in vague contact though hadn’t seen her for about 15 years! She is now married with two little girls and living just out of Paris. after many years in England with her English husband. Great to catch up on her life and tell her of mine. I felt like I was filling her in on a huge part of my life which has changed so much over those years. The last time we met was with Jenny at Versailles where we ate at a restaurant called Le Chien qui Fume (The Dog who Smokes). On the walls there were many paintings of various dogs smoking a range of cigarettes, cigars and even a pipe. Very humorous and memorable!

On my last day in Paris I needed to do some Christmas shopping so I headed to Printemps – a great department store next to Les Galeries Lafayette. Had coffee under this marvellous domed glass ceiling on the top floor.  Not quite Chagall but nor bad for a department store.

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Some prices were way beyond my means but I browsed happily and bought a few small things that I hope will suit their recipients. Some aspects of consumption are rather depressing –  plastic baskets priced at 150 euros – that’s about $250. I wonder how much the makers receive for each.

Later I decided to check out a Christmas market and went to the one in the Tuileries Gardens where I found a few more gifts to bring home.

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Wandering around Les Halles this gorgeous Christmas tree was the main feature.

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Then it was time to leave Paris, collect my luggage and depart France. It has been a wonderful 3 months with many good memories that will help ease my feelings of missing Bob when I go to live at Queenscliff. I have much to look forward to there and the renovation project will be a good project to consume my energies. So I go home to commence another stage in my life.

Later
My flight home was long but uneventful and I was extremely happy to be back after 3 months away. Anna met me at the airport with my dog, Kasper, who was super excited to see his Mum! After a restful week in Melbourne this past week has been completely exhausting with moving to Queenscliff. It has been a huge job to try and cull many things – two houses into one does not go! However, tonight the house is looking good and even festive with some Christmas decorations while I am happily looking forward to Christmas with my two girls. I am sure I will enjoy this beautiful part of the world and the legacy that Bob has left me. Kasper and I were overjoyed to walk the beach when we arrived here.

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Happy Christmas and a wonderful new year in 2019 for all my faithful readers!

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Last days

Mauld, Alex and Kez met me in Avignon and we drove to the home of Mauld’s father Robert and Jeanette, who visited a couple of weeks ago in Montpellier. We had a late meal and Kez was admired and fussed over by all present!
Next morning was a superb day – in contrast to the rain I experienced in Avignon. After a late breakfast we walked to the nearby village – one of over 300 designated as the ‘Most Beautiful Villages in France’. We climbed the narrow streets and wandered for an hour or so. It is a tourist spot in summer but only one small artist’s shop was open.

Nevertheless it was a lovely promenade with good views across the Rhone valley and vineyards.

After lunch we drove some distance and Kez was happy ‘reading ‘his book.

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We came to a rocky area where an old quarry has been turned into a place for artistic installations.

The current exhibition was a series of projections of Picasso and a couple of other Spanish artists’ works. The paintings were projected all over the walls of the place and was similar in presentation to the fascinating Klimt exhibition in Paris. Similarly, these painting projections were accompanied by appropriate music for the era or the style of art.

There was also a shorter presentation called Flower Power with many paintings of psychedelic art and music from the 60’s. Apparently these presentations have been going on there for some years, although my information in Paris had suggested that the Klimt exhibition was a first!

When we emerged from the place it was dark but we decided to have a drink before heading home. The nearby village, Les Baux de Provence, was another beautiful one built on and around the rocky landscape, looking beautiful with small streetlamps.

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But sadly, nothing was open so we parted from Robert and Jeannette and headed back to Montpellier, a trip that should have taken 75 minutes. However, the ‘gilets jaunes’ (yellow vests) protesters were blocking many of the major roads. They were protesting about President Macron’s proposal to raise the cost of petrol with a carbon tax as well as the cost of living in general. It was amazing how widespread the protests were all over the country. We passed one blockade successfully where vehicles which were going in the opposite direction, especially trucks, were almost completely blocked. So after that we decided to take minor roads and avoid the blockades altogether for fear of being stopped. Thus Alex drove, I navigated and Mauld kept Kez happy. It was a very long journey that took 3 ½ hours but we successfully returned to Montpellier with barely a cross word in rather trying situations. The subsequent violence in Paris made me realise that the French really have a much more rebellious and militant approach to politics than we are used to in Australia.

My last two days in Montpellier were pleasant and low-key. On Sunday Mauld, Kez and I strolled to the Christmas market to look around. There were many stalls with food and others selling goods. I bought only a couple of decorative items as most things were not as interesting as I’d hoped.

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In the evening several friends came for a raclette meal – special thick slices of cheese are melted on a raclette grill, placed on potatoes and eaten with a side salad. Very scrumptious, easy to do and a lot of fun with a few glasses of wine. It was a kind of farewell to me and all the friends were so friendly and chatty in a mix of French and English.

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The next day Alex took me to see the local flamingos at a lake near the sea and we walked along the beach for some time. The weather was mild and warm with no wind – a lovely change after the colder weather that has been prominent.

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We had lunch in the local square and later I took Kez for a last walk around the town. Alex had football in the evening so Mauld and I indulged in more raclette for my last dinner! Kez was a little grumpy and another tooth seems to be coming. But on my last morning he was delightful and I had a lovely time with him smiling and enjoying being with me. It has been such a privilege to spend all this time with him and get to know him. I shed a few tears when I said goodbye – he will be a much bigger boy when I can next cuddle him!

 

Guest writer – Kez

Bonjour – I am Keziah Euan Fuller and I am now almost 5 months old and learning many things in this big world. My Nana Pauline thought I should tell you about myself, so this is my first venture into social media.

My Nana has been spending a lot of time with me and she is good at taking me for walks, playing, putting me to sleep, feeding me, changing my nappies – but my Mummy (Mauld) and Daddy (Alex) are my favorite people and they love me immensely!

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Recently I have begun to grab hold of things like my little ‘friends’ on this mobile which are fascinating as they go round and round while music plays. You can see from these photos how I have to work hard and concentrate to grab hold of those little creatures.

Another favorite is my lion, Simba. Often my Mum pretends she is Simba and talks to me.

I also like to lie on the floor and try to hit these fellows on my colourful playground.

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But the most wonderful new game is this one where I can bounce up and down all by myself! I love jumping on my Dad’s knees but this is even more fun!
This is Nana Pauline’s early Christmas present. I am not sure about Christmas but understand that there will be many more presents when that happens! Already a big box has arrived from England!

The best parts of my day are when my Mum feeds me and I also like it when she dances with me around the kitchen.

I have a bottle when Mum’s at work and now I am eating food like the adults! I have already tasted pumpkin, potato, apple, peas and carrot (not my favorite).

Bathtime is always good fun and last night I had a bath with my Dad in the big bath! But we don’t have a photo of that.

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Over the last few days I have been feeling a bit miserable and my mouth was sore which made me wake up a lot at night. My Nana Pauline thought I might be getting a tooth – and she was right. Suddenly the soreness stopped and I felt much better. My family are now able to feel my tooth and I like to put my hand in my mouth as well.

My Daddy loves to play games with me. He thinks I look like an ewok here, while Mummy thinks I am a lamb and Nana says I am an angel!

I love reading books and here my Mummy is reading one of my many Australian books. I think Mummy likes the Wombat Stew one best but I like Possum Magic.

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Nana Pauline has been taking me about town in my poussette where I am very comfortable in my warm suit – so comfy that I often have a nice nap along the way. Today was very sunny for a good walk. I had my bottle in the park and then we went shopping (where I got a bit bored). We listened to some musicians in the big square and then Nana took my photo in front of the Australia part of the big world globe that is up for Christmas.

So now you know a lot about me and I hope you have enjoyed the photos of my family and me in Montpellier.

Au’voir!
This is Kez signing off for now.

French ends

This weekend marks the end of another small chapter in my time in France – my three weeks of classes came to their conclusion.  Some years ago I decided that when I retired I would like to return to the French language and become more proficient – because it’s a challenge in itself, because I’d like to be able to be fluent in one other language, and in order to keep my brain active in retirement. At that stage I had no idea I would be inheriting a little family in France, so life has strange ways of making things happen!
Despite still not feeling competent I can see improvements – yesterday I had several unusual conversations which all proved to be successful. They included a woman on the floor below Alex and Mauld’s flat telling me she had had a parcel delivered and asking if it might be theirs, an elderly lady having trouble with the key to her door on the street and randomly asking for help, a phone call with friends to set up my trip to Lyon, discussion with Kez’s babysitter about his morning, and assisting someone with directions in the town centre. So I have to be kind to myself while reflecting on these interactions. I think my comprehension has improved also, since I followed most of the conversations last Sunday when Mauld’s family was here.

BUT I still have a long way to go, so when I return home I will have to continue to practise. Fortunately I have been able to retain access to the language school’s online platform with hundreds of exercises and links to interesting French films, books, radio, etc.

Thursday night the school arranged for a number of students to be able to attend a free dégustation at a nearby épicerie, where I had previously enjoyed browsing all the delicious food. There was much less food and wine to consume than we had hoped but the ambience was very pleasant. Afterwards we went to a restaurant where wine-tasting is also a feature. We used a card to help ourselves to a 1/4, 1/2 or full glass of wine from the 50 or so on display. At the end of the evening the card indicated the cost. An interesting concept – and potentially expensive!

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Several of my classmates and a few extras were at the wine-tasting and convivial shared meal. A very pleasant evening to end my time at LSF Montpellier language school.

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On Friday night I went to another dégustation evening at a nearby restaurant with Alex and Mauld where the food was plentiful, the wine was good and we had a very pleasant time. The emphasis was on people tasting and buying the wine which started at the equivalent of $10 a bottle – so reasonable that many were buying and drinking there.

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This week I took Kez on another long exploratory walk. My favorite features of Montpellier remain the old parts and I was happy to discover some beautiful narrow streets now decorated for Christmas so I know where I will be heading for my Christmas shopping, and there is a also a Christmas market starting next week. Oh la la!

A few more pics of old Montpellier – the first was the original disssection theatre for medical students at the university which is one of the oldest in Europe, along with Bologna and Uppsala I believe.

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 The weather continues to be quite cool, somewhat rainy and grey, although yesterday was a welcome blue-sky day. I am now looking forward to summer at home! But before then there is still more to do: among other things a day at Alex’s house helping with the myriad jobs there, 2 days in Lyon, a day in Avignon and some time in Paris!

Socialising

This past week I have had more energy and felt less exhausted by the French classes. Perhaps I am making progress! I have had more social activity as well with a brunch at Alex and Mauld’s last Saturday, lunches yesterday and today, a Happy Hour with other French students and a day out at a nearby town. This was all in addition to going to classes, doing my homework and minding Kez.

Yesterday I bought a new outfit for Kez to wear in his ‘poussette’ when out walking. The warm parka that Mauld had bought earlier is already too small, so I bought this suit for a one-year-old – he is just over 4 months! We decided he could be a little Inuit boy.

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A few photos of where I walked with Kez in the newer parts of Montpellier one afternoon last week – easier with the poussette than through the rambling, hilly, cobble-stoned streets of the old town and a chance to explore other parts, but not as interesting I think.

However, a game of boules, the river and autumnal colours were all more attractive.

Lunch yesterday was a belated birthday present for me but by chance it was also Bob’s birthday and the 10th anniversary of Mauld’s mother’s death. We thought of our dear ones, but enjoyed a happy family lunch together with some friends at a wonderful fusion restaurant – Japanese/Korean/French.

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Lindsay, a new friend from my class, went with me on Friday (when we had no classes) to the next town along the coast towards Spain. Sète is the biggest fishing port on the French Mediterranean coast and we had a pleasant time starting with a seafood lunch near the port. A free glass of wine each plus coffees from the friendly restaurateur made up for the slow service as we had arrived at their busiest time.

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Later we wandered along some of the waterfront and peeked into this well known outdoor arena used often in summer for concerts. Some view!

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We challenged our legs with a steep walk up to a lookout where we could see the layout of the land, sea and a lake. Sète is actually a relatively new city at only 300+ years old – certainly unusual in France. It was built when the Canal du Midi was constructed joining the Mediterranean coast with the Atlantic, near Bordeaux. It was officially opened in 1681 and was a masterpiece of both hydraulic and structural engineering, taking 12,000 labourers to build.
The main aim was to transport wheat, wine and textiles, primarily heavy cloth from Nîmes and silk. By 1856 it carried 111,000 metric tonnes of cargo and a million passengers a year. However, commerce dried up almost overnight the following year after the Bordeaux to Sète railway line was opened. Such is life!
Happily it has had a renaissance since the 1990’s with tourists enjoying the barges, tree-lined banks and many locks. We didn’t see any of these but the history adds to the story of our day! We did enjoy our walk and a drink afterwards in the pleasant town centre.

Today Mauld’s adoptive father and his wife came to lunch and later we strolled in the lovely sunshine (so welcome after 3 weeks of grey weather) to have coffee in the large and architecturally beautiful town square.

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Some more of the family to finish.

 

Being Nana!

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This is the other half of my life – and the more important half! Little Kez is growing fast and is quite a big boy at just over 4 months. Most afternoons I am looking after him while his parents work. Mauld returned to her academic work a month ago and Alex tries to work from home with his graphic design work, but not always successfully. I am more than happy to babysit! Kez is a very contented little fellow, as he should be with such attentive patents who are totally devoted to him!

The appropriate French words for Kez are potolêt (chubby), mignon (cute), sage (quiet/good)and content (happy). I haven’t yet heard him really cry! Here he is in his gumnut hat!

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Today Kez had his first mouthful of solid food – pumpkin puree. He was most interested and had no trouble swallowing a few spoons of it (not the whole bowl!)

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One day last week we had a lovely walk in the Botanical Gardens – the earliest such gardens in France. They originally were planted for medicinal purposes in the 12th century and are still ‘owned’ by the Faculty of Medicine.  Kez slept through most of the walk.

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The weather is much cooler and greyer but only about 17 or 18 during the day, so nothing like when I was walking further north.

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Sleeping angel as I sign off this post.

French classes

My French classes began a week ago on Monday morning and it has been the most tiring week of my whole trip – including those days of long walks! My brain is certainly being taxed! I have classes from 9 till 12.30 each day, although my first day was all day and included a film instead of a city tour because of rain.
My classes are in the building on the left

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There is a good mix of students – old and young with various nationalities, mostly European. New students can begin any Monday and are put into an appropriate level class that is ongoing through the term. So in that way I landed in the middle of a term and the first day we were revising the subjunctive. Revising? I don’t even remember doing the subjunctive at either school or uni – but I was only 16 or 17 then so it’s a long time ago! Amazing that I remember as much as I do!
Our classroom is in the basement but a rather lovely one!

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I have a pleasant walk up a short steep street to this square on my way to classes.

Within a few minutes walk there are numerous cafes and boulangeries with their delectable breads and pastries, In true French style I go out most mornings to get a baguette and/or croissant or pain au chocolat for breakfast and morning tea. BUT I still haven’t found a really good place for coffee! I told my classmates that Australia has the best coffee in the world but they didn’t believe me – and the teacher said since no-one has been there to verify my assertion – well, it was left with a question mark!

The school is a serious one and the students are very attentive. There is an excellent online platform with a huge range of exercises to practise work done in class plus films, songs and other interesting French experiences. They organise quite a lot of extra-curricular activities such as happy hours and excursions to various local places of interest (though I think the latter are usually through a separate company and cost a few euros). The weather has not been conducive for excursions, either local or further afield. And I have been too exhausted! Perhaps this week I will go somewhere as I have had a relaxing weekend and feel my energy returning!