Sunday, May 23, 2010

La belle au bois dormant

Absolutely lovely day yesterday! My friend Laurent & I headed out in his mum's convertible (I felt very oh là là) to the Chateau d'Ussé, also known as the Chateau de la Belle au bois dormant (Sleeping Beauty!) This is because the French writer Perrault, the originator of lots of fairy tales like Cinderella, was inspired to write the story of Sleeping Beauty by his stay at the chateau. Talk about a fairy tale location in every way! The chateau is about an hour's drive from Tours, set in grounds near the forest of Chinon and the Indre, Loire, Cher and Vienne rivers.

The chateau is still owned by the nobility (um, yeah, there's still nobility in France, how does that work?) It was always the property of the Ducs de Blois, and I think it's still owned by the same family although I think the present Duc has a different title, can't quite remember. So yeah, not too sure how they managed to swing that with the Revolution, I'm presuming they lost it and got it back somehow when France went monarchical again.

Most of the rooms are filled with mannequins wearing costumes from the chateau's collection, which makes for some hilarious tableaux, especially since many of the mannequins had crazy makeup/facial expressions. There are also re-enactments of the Sleeping Beauty story, complete with annoying Disney music. One crazy French lady was obsessed with trying to remember the names of the three good fairies in the story - she asked me and Laurent once, talked about it loudly as we traipsed around the narrow passageways behind us, asked everyone else in earshot and then her husband asked me again in a different room... Don't think she ever did figure it out.

After seeing the chateau and gardens (we were probably there for about 3 1/2 - 4 hours), it got to closing time (7 pm and still warm and sunny) so we headed to Chinon, a nearby town that is just full of history. All the buildings are made out of the local chalk, so they're all white and pretty and pretty much all of them seem to date back centuries. It's amazing to me to think that people still live in buildings constructed in the 14th century... We were on a mission to drink rosé and eat merguez sausages (things you can do anywhere, but Laurent had a craving and that made me want them too. I love merguez), we accomplished the rosé (local AOC Chinon variety) but couldn't find merguez so settled for a charcuterie platter - French bread topped with local ham, which was pretty tasty even for me who doesn't like ham, brie, and rillettes de Tours (a kind of pork pâté, a speciality of the region). These were not all on the same slice of bread FYI. Everyone has been telling me I must try rillette, the speciality of Tours, and it was pretty nice. I'll take that over andouillette any day.

It was really nice sitting out in the main square eating and drinking and watching the world go by, great lifestyle! Today I felt really lucky to be here living in France. I hate when people go 'oh you're so lucky' because it wasn't one of Sleeping Beauty's fairy friends who gave me this opportunity, I made it happen for myself & there's a lot of other things you miss out on when you make these kind of choices (family & friends, money, stability etc. etc.) But you know, today I did feel very privileged to be here living in a place that so many people dream their whole lives about just getting the opportunity to visit. A perfect day!

PS photos in the post below (lots). And today is lovely as well, already midday I must get out, thinking picnic in the park. And I have Monday off as well, because apparently it used to be a public holiday and now it's not, but French people won't stand for that kind of nonsense, so we get the day off anyway, and it doesn't even come out of annual leave. Ah, this country! Although whose idea was it to put all the public holidays in May? Can't complain with this gorgeous weather, green countryside, everything in bloom and the smell of grass and flowers in the air :D

La belle au bois dormant - photos

A street in Chinon, a charming little town near the Chateau d'Ussé where every second building has a plaque telling you it dates from 1458 or whatever. And people just live here, imagine that...

Another street view in Chinon

Staircase ghost in the Chateau!

Sleeping Beauty gets cursed by the bad fairy

Sixties lady (or as my cousin Sarah astutely pointed out on my facebook, Angelina Jolie!) The chateau's full of crazy mannequins enacting scenes from Sleeping Beauty or depicting costumes from throughout the chateau's history

Prince Charming wakes Sleeping Beauty

Dude smoking a pipe on a Flemish tapestry. He just amused me for some reason

Apparently this shows Perrault's ability to captivate children of all generations, but I'm pretty sure it depicts a time-travelling paedophile

Peeing on a Flemish tapestry. Trying that at home would probably get you arrested kiddies

"Oh, stop it!" Hard to see, but the guy in the background is laffing it up about the wine-making process. FYI I don't *think* I'm that bizarrely orange in real life (my tan is all natural), I think the 'warmining' button on Picasa let the team down...

Trying to pretend to be Sleeping Beauty, pretty much failing. Foreshortening = not my friend. Also had to crop a lot of leg out of this one!

Me pretending to be one of the fancy ladies

Me in front of the church, doing a bad pose as usual

Me in front of the chateau

Glad to see people made out in front of perverts back in the day too

Laurent in front of the chateau

I think this is in the 'King's Room' - the Chateau d'Ussé was (and still is) the property of a noble family, but Louis XIV decided that every chateau had to have a room just for him

An iris in the garden

Hair horns! Why, I don't know.

View from one of the castle's windows

The gardens, laid out by André le Notre, who also did the gardens at Versailles (and I know this due to my tenure as Liaison Librarian for Landscape Architecture!)

Male-model footman mannequin

A room full of flappers

Inside the chapel

The church at Ussé

Room in the chateau

Playing around with special effects...

The chateau

Thursday, May 20, 2010

La vie Tourangelle

So I haven't blogged properly for a while cos I've been tired and/or busy or tired cos I've been busy... but I think I should catch my Mum up on my life, so here goes.

Today I was feeling really down at work cos a) I didn't feel as though I was coming up with anything and b) the stuff I was coming up with was all exhibitions and things going on in New York and I was all 'according to the user survey (completed just before I started work) about 80% of the readership comes from France, followed by Canada (Quebec, betcha) and Belgium and the Maghreb, and no-one is going to know/care about the stuff I post about London and New York'. And also, tomorrow everyone is going to get together and look at the work I've done these past 3 weeks, and supposedly this is not at all meant to be a judgement on my work, but pretty sure I'm going to feel like it's either the Court of You Suck or maybe the Court of the Awkwardness I Will Nonetheless Feel if It Turns Out I'm Actually Doing a Good Job. I like how the names of my courts are rendered in MLA style <3 the MLA! Unless it turns out they're not, in which case, give me a break, my beloved MLA style guide is far away and they went and updated the rules since I did my thesis anyway...

ANYWAY, before the rambling started I was going to tell you what made my day better, which was whoever runs a blog on the subject I work on calling me 'precious' (well my work, not referring to the precious little darling I am) and 'very productive' and picking up some of my postings as being particularly helpful to those working in the field. Take that, internets, I rule you now!

After the beginning of May being the coldest in 15 years or something (seriously, at work I wished I had gloves it was so cold), the weather has turned lovely this week. Which makes me happy that I usually clock in around 8.45, take half an hour for lunch and finish my day at 4.15. After that, I can walk home in about half an hour or take the bus in about 15 minutes, and still have plenty of lovely warm sunshine to enjoy. Today (and yesterday, when I went home sick) I went to a lovely park not far from my house and soaked up a bit of sun. Still not quite used to putting in the hard yards that is 7 hours' work per day, so this makes it easier! Glad I didn't have to start in winter!

What else have I been up to? Oh yeah, as you will have seen if you looked at the photos in the last post, I went to the fair on Saturday with a guy I met the other week. Fun! I only went on two rides - the one pictured, that featured awesome views from the top and made me very dizzy and made my eyes cry, but was pretty fun, and then another that featured huge amounts of centrifugal force (I think this was the first time I've had a flat stomach in about 10 years ha ha) and ALSO made me very dizzy. Oh and we went on the Ferris wheel which was a lot more sedate, but was very pretty and enabled me to take the below blurry photos of the fair. The bit with the rides and fairground stalls and everything had candyfloss and suchlike, but turned out that the real gastronomic/drinking action was across the road. France really knows how to do this sort of thing - there were dozens of stalls selling everything from tapas to speciality cheeses, to sangria (possibly the same stall as the tapas stand), delicacies from Réunion (we had some samosas and some kind of white rum), suckling pig, etc. etc. etc. But what did I end up having to eat? None other than andouillette:

This was the result of foolishly saying (AFTER the subject of andouillette had already been broached) that, while I wasn't overly keen on the idea of eating a sausage made up of coarsely-chopped pig stomach and intestines, I would try anything once (PS not spiders!) So yeah, I knew what andouillette was, I knew that one Eduoard Herriot once said: "La politique, c’est comme l’andouillette. Ça doit sentir un peu la merde mais pas trop." (Politics is like andouillette. It should smell a bit like sh!t but not too much) and I ate it anyway. And you know, it wasn't that bad. There is so much pollen around in Tours I'm permanently a bit runny of nose at the moment, so maybe that protected me, or maybe it was the red Chinon wine or the mustard and onions that went on the andouillette sandwich that helped, but while I won't be going there again, it was fine.

I also recently went to a soirée where I'm pretty sure a girl thought I was racist cos she was kind of Asian-looking and I spoke to her in French and her boyfriend (loud, obnoxious, drunk and almost incomprehensible in English) replied for her in English so I assumed she didn't speak French and then she did and I was all 'oh, sorry, I thought you didn't because he answered for you in English' and then she said 'yeah, he's my boyfriend' which I don't think adequately explained why he did that at all but I think the hidden subtext there was 'and you're racist cos you thought I didn't speak French because I'm Asian'.

Anyway, I think that's about it. You've presumably already seen my furniture-constructing triumphs in the photos. I went to a free French class the other night, I will hopefully eventually get to go to the classes for reals but I'm pretty sure my work isn't going to pull their finger out in time, since this course is already halfway over. Next one isn't till October :(

Oh, and the French government refuses to believe that my MA is the equivalent of a 2-year French Masters (they say it's a 1 year degree, whatevs, I wrote a thesis and everything) which is even MORE annoying since I have TWO Masters and I'm not even going to try to argue the point on the other one, but the MA was totally a research degree. And yeah, that means that they pay me a little bit less and my job title is different, so I'm trying to fight that but that mostly consists of just sitting around waiting for my big boss to get back to me at the moment.

And that is all! Will try to update more promptly should anything exciting befall me in the near future.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Settling in

Eventually had to upload these last photos one by one cos it wasn't a happy camper. But look, my room in all its glory!

The bed corner. The bed that I built! And have managed to (dress?) like a grown-up despite buying one duvet that was too small. Success!

The window

The clothesy corner

The desky corner. For those of you who are good at counting, yes there's a secret 4th corner which is not pictured cos right now it has suitcases and junk in it but will hopefully shortly house a chest of drawers once I figure out how to obtain one from Ikea

The photowall is up - posters pending getting them flattened out again

Collapsible laundry basket! This may be the greatest thing mankind has ever created

I built a clothesrack thing!

And a bedside table - without instructions!

Went to the fair on Saturday night, here's how it looked from the Ferris Wheel

And again

And here's a scary ride I went on, I think it goes up like 60 metres and goes 90 km/hr but could be wrong. You go upside down though, that I know

Walking by the Loire, mainly took this cos it reminded me of the landscape in Nord-Pas-de-Calais, although here there's a river and there's a main road just up the bank instead of a zillion more fields. Photos of NPdC for comparison here

Old house somewhere in Tours

The Loire again

And more Loire

Church near my house - if you look carefully, you can see an old lady wearing a beret and coming up to a zimmerframe traffic jam

The Cher, just for a change

Monday, May 10, 2010

Bad at bise

I'm usually one of the first into work, I wander past this old dude who does some job that is unclear to me and rarely comes into our workspace, but is always there first in the mornings, then T usually rolls in next and says hello. Then, in various orders, come M-C and my immediate boss P, and S who looks after the technically bits of the website. M-C and P, and some other guy whose name I can't remember who presumably works on another floor but always comes in and says hi in the morning, all give me bisous every day. This is the French kiss kiss and I'm bad at it.

Firstly, I never know who to bise and who not to - apart social situations with people I've met before, I never go in first for the bise, although it's quite common to get bise from friends of friends or whatever who you've only just met. Secondly, the whole etiquette around it - I always stay sitting down for my morning work bise, because I feel like it would be a bit production if I got up, but I always feel like I'm doing it wrong even so. Thirdly, I'm just pretty bad at face position - lead with your right cheek, I've got that part down, but the timing and everything is tricky. Banged cheeks a bit too hard today with the boss, he apologised but it was quite probably my fault. Fourthly, there's the whole question of, do I even want to do the bise? If you ask me, every day is a bit much, but then on the other hand, it's quite nice because you definitely know you're on a sociable, informal standing at the least, and at best it can be a real seal of approval from Johnny Frenchy. I was quite touched in my last couple of days at school that several of my teachers expressly requested permission to do the bise. In fact, I sometimes feel weird now meeting up with English speakers socially and not exchanging bisous.

Another downside of the bise though, as I've mentioned before, is guys will frequently try to land one 'accidentally' on your mouth, sigh! Oh, and then there's the whole issue of how *many* bise - I always go 2, which seems to be safe most parts of the country, but there are some pockets where they do 3 or even 4, just to increase the awkwardness...

Anyway, today at work was meh... went well in the morning finishing working through a good list of podcasts I found from the London School of Economics, but then was just casting my net on the sea of Google in the afternoon and coming up empty for the most part. Posted about 10 articles, which is not a lot for a whole day's work, but I guess the other side of the coin is, how much new material can really go up on a site *every day*? I also translated a couple of banners into English, but yeah, that was it really.

Oh, my bed got delivered first thing this morning. They had told me 7-9, so I got up at 6.45, hopped in the shower, and was not at all dressed when the intercom buzzed, eep! So had to throw on jeans super-quick, I realised later my belt was misbuckled, and I was still brushing my hair when I opened the door to them (had expected them to take longer getting up the stairs with the stuff). Turns out 'Ikea delivery man' must be the easiest job ever, the bed frame and slats are in 3 different bundles, plus a bundle which will become a bedside table, and the mattress came ROLLED UP! I was so unawake that I actually asked where the mattress was, despite having directed them to put the rolled-up thing in my cupboard. My tired, caffeine-deprived brain was just expecting a real, flat mattress... So I'm not sure how that's going to be to sleep on. I tested it in the shop, and it was firm but didn't feel especially thin, definitely couldn't feel the slats through it, and it was thicker than the width of my hand. I hope it lies properly flat!

After the delivery, I had a panic attack because I thought one of the cats had got out with the delivery men. I looked all over the building, out on the street, and was really starting to hyperventilate over the thought of having to tell my flatmate (who's in Paris for the next couple of days), "oh hey Gigi, welcome home, I lost your cat..." Can you imagine? I don't know where she was hiding, I swear I looked everywhere but my Mum will tell you how much that's worth, but I was just so relieved to see her when I went back into the apartment! I suppose she probably got scared, as she does about everything, and hid until the big bad men had left...

Later, I successfully changed one duvet/cover set (have been sleeping with the other this week, never mind it can just be the spare) and picked up a kick-ass collapsible mesh laundry basket and a rubbish bin as well. This was like, what, my 5th trip to Ikea? I still need to figure out something for clothes storage as well, and will probably end up picking up some other things like a bedside lamp, maybe a mirror, nickety knacks. This is the problem, every individual thing is so cheap it's just tempting to go mad and buy heaps of crap. The only problem for shelves/dresser/whatever would be transporting it home somehow, cos I'm not paying for delivery again... Anyway, great big post about nothing, I bid you adieu, *bisous*

Friday, May 07, 2010

My so-called life

Don't ask me why I'm referencing a show I never watched (I'm not sure it was even on TV in NZ?) but I suppose I just feel I have to jazz up the post title a bit...

Anyway, I have been too tired/lazy this week to post properly, so let's try to do a bit of a catchup. Globally (globalement) things are going pretty well. Last weekend my new flatmate Géraldine took me to the movies on Saturday and out bowling (I had *no* clue what she meant until she did a hand action for me - they say the word 'bowling' in French but with a wacky French accent) and for a drink with some of her friends on Sunday. She's so nice! Really pleased with how things went with the flat, think I was due for some flat karma. Also IKEA rang me this morning - victory #1 was that I managed to understand the woman on the bus (I was on the bus, she wasn't) which is not a given and victory #2 is that they are delivering the bed between 7-9 am on Monday. So sucks that I will have to get up super early but good that I will be able to take possession of the bed! On the other hand, the old flatmate had some issues with the bureaucracy surrounding her new apartment, so she'll be moving out on Wednesday. This is fine by me, but won't be able to set up my room until after that. And I was so pleased with myself getting pretty coordinated duvet sets and inners at Ikea yesterday, and then once I opened one of them I realised that I had bought singles. Boo! I swear my brain wasn't working properly yesterday... I got duvets the same size as my mattress (they put the dimensions on stuff instead of calling it double/queen/whatever) and it just didn't cross my mind that the duvet needs to be bigger than the mattress cos there's a person in it. Although frankly, the one I opened does not look like a double even just lying flat, so dunno. I bought two sets, so I might try to return the one I didn't open and change that for a double then just stick the single on top. There goes my dreams of a lovely grown-up bed though. *Sigh* as I wrote on my facebook, I just can't have nice things...

Now, I needed to buy the duvets already because one of the cats (Maya) pissed ALL over the duvet Géraldine lent me RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME! I had been warned she might get up to mischief if your back was turned, so I was careful to throw her out if I was leaving, but seriously, I was so shocked when she let loose under my very eyes. It was at bedtime as well, so I had no choice but to stick the duvet in the hall and sleep under a sheet and towel for one night :( AND she just got scared about something (she is the archetypal scaredy cat) and fled the room via my cucumber salad (i.e. she stood in it). Bad cat!

So, work. Work is going pretty well. I have managed to understand all the complex instructions on how to add various things to the site, how to generate code and bibliographic references etc. etc. en français the first time out of the box, so I think your casual observer would be pretty impressed with that. At various points during the week I have felt quite overwhelmed by the core job of retrieving materials to put on the site - it just seems like there's so much stuff out there, but so much of it is inappropriate for the parameters of the site, so I spend ages searching and searching and the end result is that I've rejected a lot of stuff - but that's invisible. You can't build a site by putting a little notice up saying 'hey, you shoulda seen all the stuff I *didn't* put on here'. Today and yesterday I found some pretty good stuff though - spent the better part of the day today chasing down links off iTunes University, so shoutout to Mum for introducing me to that! Then the best part was that we had a team meeting this afternoon with my big boss as well (PS omg, 2 hour meeting on technical aspects of website management in French, much of it pertaining to parts of the site I haven't even been on yet - where was my Focusin, cos I was seriously struggling to concentrate). Anyway, off topic, new sentence. Point was that my immediate supervisor said (in a joking way I *think*) that they might have to put the brakes on me because I was finding so much stuff and then the big boss said that she'd had a look and I'd found as much as the other 3 of them put together. Ha! And here I felt like I was going super slow and not retrieving much stuff :D As my Mum always tells me, got to have more confidence in my abilities.

So that's pretty decent for the first week, and the job's relatively interesting. Have been mousing with my left hand, so my RSI hasn't been too bad - worse on the laptop right now! We have Macs, and so I get regular opportunities to look like a dick in front of the rest of the team. They all have this tendency to gather round my computer screen to help out whenever I ask a question, which is nice, but just shows off that I'm still getting to grips with the different commands and mouse functions with the Mac and of course the differences between French and English keyboards (doesn't help that I switch back and forth every day with the laptop - if you notice a sudden abundance of qs in my typing, it's cos they're where the a is on an English keyboard). The other day I turned up to work before anyone else and had to wait because I didn't know how to turn on the computer!! (To nudge this down the stupidometer a bit, yes I looked for the button, and turns out it's on the back flush with the casing, so very difficult for the uninitiated to find!)

Sometimes I feel a bit out of the loop as I tend not to really pay attention when the others talk amongst themselves about various strategic decisions about the site etc. cos it's kind of hard to follow when everyone just talks back and forth to each other and not to me, and because I can't really work in English and keep an ear out for a discussion in French at the same time. Every so often I'll hear my name and pop my head up and have no clue what's being discussed... But you know, they're nice people, aging from I think 30s to 60s, probably not going to be my best friends, but fine to work with...

Hey, I realised I haven't spoken an entire sentence in English out loud since Saturday when I talked on the phone to my friend Rick for about 10 minutes... Freakadelic man! This has got to be good for my French!

Okay I think that's as caught up as we're gonna get for now :)

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Home & Away photos


Chaussettes (Socks in English), one of the two cats I now live with, has an absolute fetish for licking plastic bags. Had to throw her out last night at about 5 am cos of her rustling. PS Please tell Button that I love her the bestest

The living room, which as you can see is currently my bedroom until this weekend when the flatmate I'm replacing moves out, or possibly a bit longer since it's somewhat of a mystery when my bed will arrive from Ikea (and how long it's gonna take me to assemble it). Will put photos of my bedroom bedroom up when I have one!


Bathroom - is slightly more to it, but difficult to photograph with size and light constraints!

And away:

War memorial by the Loire

American memorial to the services that supplied the troops in WWI

Down at t' mill

Looking down the Loire (Loire is north of the city, Cher is south)

BIBLIOBUUUUUUUUUUUUUUS!!!! Yansie, Ranch, I don't think you guyses read my blog :( but I hope you're as excited by this as I am if you do. Tried to put this on facebook, but for some reason the facebook uploader hates me and it doesn't seem to have the simple upload option anymore...

Old ruined-y (I think) tower in Tours

One of the rose windows in the cathedral - I took lots of photos of the cathedral last time I was in Tours (February), but there was scaffolding over the front, so here's the newly-uncovered bit

Looking down the nave (?) to the rose window at the front

Front of Tours Cathedral (St Gatien's if I remember arightly)

My new summer sandals, badly needed! Mumsy will be surprised cos they've got flowers on them, but I think they're pretty and adequately unflashy nonetheless. Plus I was desperate - although at the mo it is fricking freezing cold, so no need! Forecast tomorrow is 5 degrees in the morning, 14 in the afternoon, plus the wind just goes right through you brrr. But nevermind, it's apparently bad everywhere and even snowing in parts of the south! It musta been around 25 degrees when I arrived last week!