Whilst Paris swelters in its newfound summer, thousands descend upon the Paris Plage….a few blocks of the Seine where an instant beach has appeared….bars, deck chairs, music, buskers, mini-golf, tai chi, kayaks, pedaloes, umbrellas, the odd illegal topless bather and lots of sand. “Bather” is perhaps an anomaly because whilst it is a beach in central Paris swimming in the Seine is a dangerous pursuit, not because of the quality of the water, but the tides, I am told and there is no place set aside for the pleasure.

Naturalment all the Parisians with houses at the real beach, or in the mountains, have sensibly long since left the city. The beautiful apartment building opposite me keeps its shutters tightly closed on every window. It’s an expensive building: ergo no one is there whilst the heat prevails!

When I lived in Buenos Aires it was called Paris of the South, and I guess to some extent it is, but there is nothing like Paris. To have spent a glorious month here learning the language and really living in this city has been a divine pleasure. Getting up at an unspeakable hour and heading off with the commuters is something I have not done for more than 20 years. But when it’s for pleasure and one is walking to school every morning past the bakeries and street markets and seeing the city spring to life it takes on a different note.

I have learned some French, after speaking Italian for the first week and still getting the odd word in, I am not and probably never will be trilingual or even bilingual but I have made great progress and I have loved it. But even more have I loved being in this place and learning more about it.

When on the first Wednesday of the month there was an almighty siren at noon and again at 10 past we learned that the Pompiers test their equipment at this time every month…and that if there is a real alarm, it will sound and everyone will take refuge in the Metro which sounds very sensible and organised.

Ah, the Metro: comparisons are odious, (and all metros are odoriferous, especially in the summer), but it is faster, cheaper and quieter than the London tube and every bit as good.

However because the City of Light really isn’t all that large, I have found the best way to get around is by foot.  I don’t want to miss anything: the architecture, the corner bar I want to rest at and partake of a glass of wine, the next shop offering something irresistible in its sale, a divine view of the river, a fabulous this or a wonderful that.  So after more than a month my feet are in sad need of repair and I can almost justify the several pairs of new shoes that will leave with me this weekend. Almost!  But not quite, because Italy really is the country for shoes and I will have more sales to contend with there when I get home. (Yes, it’s wonderful to now call Italy home, but that’s another story).

Walking itself is actually quite a hazard. I am yet to determine if the French have absolutely no sensory acuity or whether they have first class honours in arrogance. Whatever, they are beyond unconscious of others as they stand on the pavements chatting to one or two others, with absolutely no regard for people who want to walk past them or else they can be so preoccupied that they walk into you and practically knock you over before being effusive with apology. Still walk I do and I must also be unconscious because I have been known to set out at 2 after class and lunch and not return until midnight. Where did those 10 hours just go?????

But I digress! Paris inhabitants have a mish-mash of origins, mostly they are dark haired. Blondes are either foreign or per courtesy of the coiffeuse!  All the places the French colonised are represented here, in all their variety of colours, including more than a sprinkling of Indo-Chinese, and for good measure there are plenty of Indian taxi drivers as there are in Australia.

In the shops, which I have visited many (being sale time), they are incredibly polite, like the Italians, greeting you when you enter and farewelling you when you leave. It makes it a very nice experience and so far I have not experienced what occurs sometimes in Italy when they follow you around to make sure you dont pinch anything. 

So living in a city… has to be what I love most about being in Paris. I have a pathological hatred of suburbs and people hiding behind high fences and automatic garages.  Paris is a city which lives in each block: there are people everywhere and there is action everywhere. My immediate neighbours include 2 opticians, one of the best butchers and one of the best fishmongers in Paris, a discount store selling cheap electrical stuff and cheap wine, 3 shoe shops, 5 women’s clothing shops, a choclatier, an antique shop, an hotel, 2 children’s clothing shops, a shop selling fancy fountain pens and divine writing paper, a manicurist, a florist, a bank, a small supermarket, a Japanese restaurant, 3 French restaurants and 3 bars, an Italian deli, a hairdresser and a pharmacy.  That’s all in my small block….so why would I even venture to the next street???? Well because it has the best cheese shop in Paris, two wine shops, a cake shop, a hardware shop and if all else fails I can buy a French icon: a Renault. This is all less than five minutes from home.

This is Paris. This is what I love. This is why I shall return. When I grew up there was a petrol station on every corner with long forgotten logos: the sign of the flying red horse, (or was it white?), the Golden Fleece, Total, and others that have remained. But here there is a bar on every corner and it is part of life to go and sit, have a coffee, have a glass of vin, and sit for an hour or so with just one drink, watching life passing. Now of course there are many tourists but you can see the locals; the businessman on his way home from the office, businesswomen meeting each other after work, young lovers always dressed in jeans, clearly here the universal language of the young (and the older) that defy economic status. It’s easy to go sit in a bar and not feel judged. It’s fun to watch the waiters. It’s a profession here…not an occasional job for the youngies to pay their uni fees or living expenses like in the UK or Australia. Mostly they are men, and almost without exception they are grumpy. Hugo, a waiter in London, very keenly observed his fellows in our peregrinations around this city.

There are more pharmacies than I have ever seen anywhere in the world indicating that the French must be a nation of hypochondriacs but their shops are fascinating. Almost without exception the windows are crammed full of Mason and Pearson hairbrushes, and assorted mirrors and combs such as you would buy at Priceline. I dont understand it!

Paris has always been considered the home of thought and I am delighted to see bookshops in every street. Very nice looking books too, and some exceptional bookshops with foreign books that await my return.

Despite all the people Paris is a very clean city. The rubbish collectors (always black as the ace of spades) are out on the job morning, noon and night and the piles of rubbish just in my block are beyond description. Police sirens are a part of daily life but I don’t see a speed camera or police putting fines on cars however I have a secret wish that they would bring in the smoking police. Londoners eat in the streets, as I commented earlier, French smoke in the streets….and still in eating places! That has not been outlawed yet….quelle dommage!!!

And so to language. When in Turkey I discovered there were 40 different verb tenses (including one for gossip which I think is a real bonus) but thank heaven there are not 40 French tense.  After 3 ½ weeks we have just skipped over the imperative and launched into the simple past tense. Knowing Italian and knowing the structure is the same, it has felt odd speaking in the present all the time, but first things first, and not all the class has the benefit of another Romance language.  After embarrassments subsided, we have had immense fun: Jill a lawyer from Minnesota, Miquel alias Michel from Pamplona, also a lawyer, Karina a cook from Venezuela, Costanza a student from Milano, Katrina, a student of 16 from Slovakia, Raweyal, a nun from Egypt with the most beautiful smile, which I’m sure shines a big light on her flock in Palestine, Elisana a doctor from Salvatore in Brazil, Pierre a South African gent who just joined us last week, and myself, Madam Buzz 007-Miss….my latest name!  As a visual learner it has been interesting and at times frustrating but I have no doubt learned much more than I give myself credit for.  Our teacher, Lydie, has been fabulous … she has a deep guttural laugh when something is very funny, and she has egged us on in spite of all the Portuguese, Spanish and Italian words that have left our lips. Now she threatens a tax if we speak English, but having lunch today, as a sort of finale, we spoke French badly but all understood each other. And that is it really. Communication is all about being understood…it does not have to be perfect!!                                                              

So it’s almost Au Revoir Paris. Sadly. But I will be back. For more of the same and something different too. I have hardly seen a museum or an art gallery in more than 4 weeks, but I have seen many friends and wined and dined in many street cafes, and some beautiful restaurants. I’ve lived the life, not seen the relics and I know which is more important.

Thank you to friends and family who have made this experience so wonderful: especially Ellen, my son Hugo, Cynthia and Deb who visited out of the blue from the US and Australia, Veronique who came from Hong Kong, and friends I have made here in this beautiful city and my fun classmates. Merci bien. I will return.

And so for a complete contrast….. I fly to Denmark on Sunday. And after that? Another complete contrast and a change of pace. But no secrets out of the bag yet!

Until next time, with heart





Well officially it’s summer but when I check the temperature when I wake each day, it seems Paris and Melbourne are the same. Funny that, one is in summer and the other winter. Well they tell me that France is experiencing the coldest summer since 1959… its not about me at all!!


Yesterday the Champs Elysees saw more guns and more sparkling uniforms than it has since the celebration of last year’s Bastille Day.  The new socialist president stood at attention surrounded by myriad security guards with curly plastic cords protruding from an ear whilst thousands of smartly dressed soldiers and sailors and airmen of both sexes paraded past. Those home from postings in challenging places wore a profusion of medals on their breasts and I have never before seen such a collection of lean, honed faces and bodies of these men and women who have seen recent action. The country should be proud of them.  Those rather more portly gentlemen and the odd lady at the front of a regiment had clearly spent a tad more time in their office of late, stopping by at the patisserie for le petit dejeuner at the desk I’d guess.  The four crack parachutists who jumped right over the city, hanging onto each others canopy way up there looked magnificent. Sadly one cracked a foot or a leg on arrival in Place de la Concorde and was probably the hero of the day lying there unable to move whilst the show went on around him.


Food glorious food.  Well it is Paris and who cares about a couple of kilos. It’s to be expected! Especially when one eats out every night and can’t decide between so many delicious things. Entree one night and desert the next? Or why not go through the menu??? You only live once.  Harrods Food Hall eat your heart out: Le Grand Epicerie is just down my street, the lovely Rue du Bac, and it is the most magnificent food shop I have ever had the pleasure of calling my local. And just by chance the organic market of Paris is in Rue de Raspail two blocks from me on a Sunday morning. Expensive, very, but what a treat to buy direct from organic growers in the heart of this city.


Speaking about buying: the sales started the day before my arrival and they are now in the Second Markdown. Everything is decreed by law: the day the sales start and the second reduction day. I am waiting for the 3rd, if it happens, but meanwhile I did serious damage yesterday in the Marais to celebrate Bastille Day.  Serious sales too: one beautiful top I bought was marked down by 250 Euros which is a good bargain in anybody’s language!!


It is a city of contrasts:  fabulous shops with magnificent clothes and things, exquisite buildings, party boats with loud music on the Seine, and an afternoon when the main road by the river was shut for a time for thousands of roller bladers: old and young, some pushing prams, others dressed up with wigs and crazy clothes. The Champs Elysees used to be an elegant street but there are few fashion labels left on it and instead there are thousands of tourists: Scandinavian groups wearing sensible shoes; young men with bleached hair and earphones, Arab women with headscarves and black trousers or ground length coats to contend with on a warm day, Maccas, the Virgin Megastore and dozens of cheap label shops. However Louis Vuitton is full to the brim with Japanese tourists and security guards whilst outside men in navy suits chat and have a smoke out of their banks or offices for a moment and down the road outside the George V, now the Four Seasons, everything is black: cars, suits, and the looks of the drivers waiting for the self-appointed important people.


It is the city of homeless like I have not seen before, perhaps because I have not lived in a city for a long time. My apartment is beautiful and beautifully located in the 6th arrondisement a doorway or two from the famed Boulevard St Germain. It’s definitely my favourite of Paris, and I could be tempted back in the winter and perhaps stay somewhere else to become familiar with another part of this wonderful city.  But for the homeless I wonder if it’s any better in the 1st or the 6th or the 20th for that matter.  There are many of them. Old men, middle aged women, old women. Bed rolls all over the pavements day and night. Some are families: one gypsy looking family of 5 are just around the corner outside my Monte dei Paschi di Siena bank. They often seem to sit there eating so I guess people give them money for food, but the other night when it was pelting with rain I wondered how they all were. It seems nothing is done for them, but I could be wrong.


That pelting rain prevented us from a traditional activity on Friday 13th. Not a normal Friday 13th gig, but only because the Friday happened to be before Bastille Day:  there are balls held around the city at the Pompiers …the Fire Stations. It is a traditional pre National Day event that goes on half the night and anybody can attend free if I’m not mistaken. I was so disappointed not to share this experience but it was seriously cold too. Last night, the 14th, there was a repeat in the Marais but the people waiting to go in were all about 18 and it didn’t seem that exciting to go with them!


So I came to Paris to learn French…well at least that was one of the imperatives. I think that was a bit of madness but maybe it is starting to pay off. The first week all I could do was speak Italian. And if by chance I remembered the French word I put an Italian ending on it. Well I can hardly be blamed: the Iti’s pronounce every letter except h, and the Frogs have all these extraneous letters on the end of their words so its bloody confusing.  Week two I got a bit better and I can now sometimes understand people who speak to me even if I screw up my response. I’ve got week 3 and 4 ahead of me so I may even get a sentence or two together by the end of my time here and if not well I’ll blame it on the fact that I am a visual learner and not an auditory learner, and anyway I am having too good a time here to sit in my apartment, however divine it is, and do homework!!!


Yes, I have been incredibly busy. Here for two and a half weeks; never to bed before midnight, at school from 9 – 1 each week day, burning the candle at both ends; today is in fact a rest day..sort of like half time in a footy match.  Paris has been invaded by several friends so I have had no shortage of amies to drink with or discover new restaurants with, and it is always an absolute delight to hang out with my dear friend Ellen who lives only an 8 minute walk away. We are dynamite when we go shopping together…after yesterday perhaps it is good she is leaving in a day or so to see family elsewhere. My son Hugo dropped in last Sunday for 5 days which was just wonderful. So nice to hang out with him in Europe now that we are both living here. He remarked that we had seen the last three Woody Allen films together in 3 different cities: New York, London and Paris. Nice memories to have. He’s such a star in my life.


And so it is Sunday afternoon, the half-time orange halves have been eaten and I must now go out to play. Well for a walk at least whilst the meagre sun is shining on the magnificent boulevards around me. And before I face the weekend’s homework which I really must do.


There will be more from Paris. Maybe. Or from the next place and right now I have no clue where that will be. Lovely that I don’t need to know either.  Sometime in the next 2 weeks I will plan the next piece and you will hear from me then.

Until then, with heart