Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Why no-one's going to hire me as a professional Photoshopper anytime soon

Thought I'd jazz up a photo of me and Jess in the fancy Reims restaurant a bit. It was really hard though, mostly because the wall was the same colour as the (now wonky) table. I also forgot that one of the prime qualities of glass is that it's transparent. I now have a full-to-the brim martini-style glass instead of my wine glass and I just got rid of the water bottle altogether. I also got rid of the wine bucket, but seemingly digitally spilt its contents on the tablecloth in the process. On the bright side, I made my arm a bit skinnier!

Monday, November 28, 2011

What am I reading? 1Q84

Inspired by The Guardian's list of the best books of 2011 (the first of many such round-ups, I expect) I thought I'd kick off an occasional series of posts on (surprise, surprise) what I'm reading.

I briefly had a blog back in the day in which I decided I would read one book by everyone who's ever won a Nobel Prize, after realising I had read hardly any of the laureates. Looking at the blog now, I see I managed to get through 16 books, which is more than I thought. I actually have no memory at all of most of them (this is a general problem for me, that I forget books I've read, and even some I've studied, quite easily). If you'd asked me, I would have said I'd never read any Anatole France, despite him being a favourite of the French board of street names. But apparently I read him, and I didn't like him - "Pointless, that's the best summary of The Amethyst Ring by Anatole France, pointless from start to finish". I think the only book of the lot that really stayed with me was The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass, which is a masterpiece. But I see that I read that just before starting the 'project' anyway!

But anyway, while the constraints of reading a whole bunch of obscure Swedish writers and people chosen as much for their political beliefs as their writing wore me down (actually, I come across of a bit of a philistine in the blog - apparently I wanted to punch Jose Echegaray, 1904's winner, in the face ha ha), I thought it would be quite fun to blog about books that I had chosen to read of my own volition. So after that lengthy introduction, here goes.

I'm still ploughing through the 900+ page epic that is Haruki Murakami's latest, 1Q84. It's been quite a while since I read any Murakami, but I am definitely a fan. As I said to my mum a while back, it's now seemingly become obligatory to like Murakami. He's the perfect "I have pretensions to literariness, yet I like to think I'm a bit alternative" go-to guy. Not that I'm trying to say I was on the bleeding edge of Murakami appreciation and now I'm too cool for school.

I think I first read Murakami - Kafka on the Shore - when I was in Moscow in 2006, so I think I hardly "discovered" him. I have vivid memories of picking up that first book, with its white cover with a picture of a cat on it. I used to buy a lot of books at the big Dom Knigi (House of Books) on Novy Arbat, but I think I might have bought this one at the English book shop in Kitai Gorod. I ended up with a whole shelf of them in my bedroom, all of them abandoned when I left Moscow precipitously shortly afterwards. I used to read a lot - and spend a fortune on books I was later to discard - when I was in Prague and Moscow. The joys of having (some) time on my hands and no TV (or Russian/Czech only) and no computer.

In Prague I used to go to Shakespeare & Synove (Shakespeare and Sons) a lot. (I imagine it's probably something of an homage to Paris's famous Shakespeare & Co.) Shakespeare & Synove was a wonderful place to hang out - used and new books in the back (and they'd buy your old ones back too) and a coffee shop where you could install yourself by the fire with a hot chocolate and read for hours without being bothered. A rarity indeed in Prague, where generally a waiter will swoop within two seconds of you finishing your drink and ask if you want something else. At the time, I was unemployed, waiting to go to Moscow, and spent a month living in a hostel dorm room before spending a couple of weeks sleeping on the concrete floor of my friends' basement apartment (in one of their bedrooms, in fact), with only a folded blanket between me and the floor, and another thin blanket to sleep under. I used to wake up aching all over when my friend's alarm went off at about 6 am. The good part was that I was authorised to climb into her bed for a few more hours' sleep once she left! There was no spare key, so once I decided to leave the apartment for the day, I was out on my own until whatever time they made it back from long days teaching. I saw a lot of Prague, but it was getting cold by that stage (beginning of November, I think), and I'd been in Prague for a couple of months already, and so I spent a lot of time trying to drink hot chocolates as slowly as I possibly could in cafes or even sitting on the floor outside their apartment waiting for them to get back.

Very different to how I've been reading 1Q84 - on my Kindle, with no real sense of the weightiness of such a book, the pages left unread diminishing with every day; on the bus, in my lunchbreaks, or perched on the stationary bike at the gym. I found that Vol. 1 and 2 (sold separately from Vol. 3 in the UK, where my Kindle is registered) zipped by quite quickly. Even though I'd read some spoilers in articles and interviews before it came out, it did a good job of drawing you into its world and allowing some of the connections between characters to only gradually dawn upon you. There are definitely parts where it's genuinely gripping and you can't wait to see what happens next. But it's quite unevenly paced. Vol. 3, in particular, seems to be dragging somewhat in comparison, although there still is a desire to know how it all turns out. Somehow the surreal elements of the book seem a bit lacking in purpose. One feels that exactly the same essential plot could have been achieved without any of the Little People and air chrysalises etc. They don't really seem to be *doing* much in the book, and yet they're not so out there that you really go "wow, what the hell?" Or maybe that's just because we're all used to this sort of magical realism guff by now?

There is a good story there though, and I'm still looking forward to see what happens at the end (which I have heard is disappointing...) If anything, though, it's made me want to go back and re-read some of those books I read back in Moscow and see if I can recapture the magic.

PS Next time I will try to get down to business a bit faster...

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

123€ poorer, any wiser?

All the ins and outs of the situation are too complicated to bore you with (anyone wanting to follow the flatmate from hell saga can look here, here, here, here, here and here - for starters...), but to be (kinda) brief (this may not seem like the simplified version, but trust me), I saw the agent last night, who gave me a copy of the lease, as requested by the taxman. She also let me know that she has no idea where G is these days; that G had been charging me more than half the rent when I was living with her - not really surprised at this stage, but unsure why that never came out before; and that G's dad had said she has always been a liar. True dat. Plus more stuff about how even when the agent had turned up to the apartment to bust her, she was spouting lies about how I (and she pretended I was 'Géraldine' and she was my flatmate) worked nights and wouldn't be back and she should come back during the day - whereas she knew I was right behind her, since we'd been at a mutual friend's place, but she was obviously hoping that she could get rid of the agent and I'd never find out.

Anyway, armed with the lease, I went to the tax office this morning (the whole thing took about 2 hours total). Unfortunately, didn't get to see the guy I saw last time, who got the whole sob story and told me how to sort it out. Instead, I got a woman who seemed much less sympathetic. To be fair, I didn't lay all the cards on the table at first, since I was thinking that, as I had been told I wasn't legally responsible, it didn't really matter what G had done to me. But she started off by saying I could have forged the agent's signature on the lease. I mean, first off, the agent had crossed out the girl who had lived with G THREE flatmates before me (and was never taken off the lease), and just written in that she left in 2008 but G was still there until the end of July this year. Why, if I were the legal-document-forging and lying-to-the-tax-department type, would I have bothered trying to absolve this other girl of responsibility? Wouldn't it have been easier just to leave things as they were?

After a bit of back and forth, thankfully she decided to believe me that I hadn't turned my hand to fraud to get out of a 450€ bill. Then she said she could cancel me off the tax (and thus make G solely responsible for it) but for some reason she couldn't take the TV licence fee out of my name. Why couldn't she? She just couldn't. Of course. Sigh. I pointed out that this was pretty unfair, since it was G's TV (technically - and I didn't tell her this - I did have a TV in my room too, but it belonged to G and I watched it max once a fortnight when the F1 was on, plus it's one fee per residence, not per TV, so didn't make a difference anyway) and she turned all snippy and said that normally everyone had to pay the taxe d'habitation, and I had been living there, so I shouldn't be complaining. Which was infuriating. At this stage, I had mentioned that G had stolen from me and not paid the rent (since she had initially suggested that I just sort out paying the tax between ourselves), so don't bloody talk to me about moral obligations! However, there was no budging her on this standpoint, so I just paid the 123€. At the end of the day, it's less than half the amount, which is what I was expecting to have to pay, and it's done with.

The only thing is, I'm left wondering if the situation is truly resolved now. She said (again, I don't know why) that G would now receive the bill for this tax in January or February. Somehow, I'm not picturing her leaping off to the tax office to fulfil her obligations (obligations? Obligations are for suckers). The agent said that if she doesn't pay, they will end up chasing the landlord for the money. In that case, she mentioned using a rent cheque I gave the agent for June and July (which she hasn't yet cashed because of accountancy issues chasing up the money from G's family - again, won't go into the details) to pay the tax. Sure, I was in the apartment in June and July, so I'm not contesting that I owe rent for those months, but it seems unfair to have that hanging over my head for who-knows-how-long. And the thought that she might just merrily not pay something AGAIN and not really have to deal with any of the consequences AGAIN really, really annoys me. And I feel that that's like, best case scenario - I just have visions of her somehow harrassing me.

This whole thing has been such a drain for the past six months. Even today, I was feeling physically sick to my stomach in the tax place. I just wish I knew it was over.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Fast times in Tours

Anyone else impressed by the lack of typos in that 6 am post? I would like to say that's because I always perfectly master the keyboard arts, but here's how I sounded a bit earlier in the evening:

Lime IS the best of the flavours (with gin) and I think you can see the shots of vodka that took place between 1.27 am and 2.44 am. I didn't show the bit where I tried 10 times to spell 'bye' correctly

This chat also involved the immortal lines: "Hey, super good news! I just got news from the future from [mutual friend in New Zealand - and, therefore, 'the future', time zone wise]." The news from the future was "There was a cat and she looked like a Japanese lady! And then I laughed a lot and she said I should call her tomorrow." This was received with confusion, as you might imagine.

So, anyway, it was a fun night. In case anyone's wondering, I had my laptop out (with Skype still logged in) because we were gearing up for the supposedly-80s-but-secretly-not club with a YouTube-assisted walk down music's memory lane. Stephanie, a girl from Ohio who I met recently (and asked out on a girl date, go me!), is only 25, which is not that much younger than me, but which kinda showed when Marion and I were singing along to Tiffany at the top of our lungs and she was just sitting there a bit bemused. Whatever happened to Tiffany anyway?

Also Roxette, Heart, and Dragon - although that one is less an age thing than a not-being-a-Kiwi-thing (all the rest of you have been missing out big time):

Dragon - always reminds me of nights in the 80s bar in Wellington dancing it up with Ruthie G. Particularly one night when we were out on the smokers' (slash, I'm sweaty and I need some air) balcony and the rain really was coming down like sheets. That's Wellington for you... Good times :)

And then Marion introduced us to the most hilarious thing ever. Particularly after you've been drinking for several hours. I have to preface this by saying I do the opposite of endorse a guy who got caught pissing on a teenage girl on tape, but this is seriously comedy gold:

Just be warned, this "hip hopera" goes on for 23 "chapters", so set aside some free time if you're going to watch them all (I'm not all the way through, but trust me, it's insanely worth it).

Other highlights of the night involved arguing with the bouncer because he wouldn't let me take my handbag into the club (the other bouncer gave me his card on the way out though, so I don't seem to have burned all my bouncer bridges at the club) and stealing someone's Red Bull. Um, sorry about that... I have to laugh though, I basically said to Stephanie "Hey, look, someone left their Red Bull on the bar" (for at least 5 minutes, come on people, fair game) "should I steal it?" Stephanie: "Dunno, I don't really like Red Bull", Me: "Okay then, I WILL!" There's not needing much encouragement to vice, and then there's not needing any encouragement at all... I will note that I'm very unstealy when sober. And I would also like to note that 'dancing like a bunny' consisted of jumping up and down, not like hopping and doing the bunny arms or anything super embarrassing like that!

Luckily, I was tired and a bit brain-foggy yesterday, but no hangover and no return of the sickness. I have to go back to work tomorrow, which I'm kind of nervous about. I always feel like I'm being judged for having time off sick, even though in reality everyone is actually really nice and I do have a doctor's certificate (I got a call actually, someone found all the papers I lost and handed them in, which was nice. At least they're not all floating around Tours any more). But still. I haven't been at work at all for over a week, and before that I only had one afternoon after my Photoshop course, so it's been like 2 weeks since I was really there. I just feel weird about it and like Monday is surrounded by a cloud of impending doom. Well, I just have to get out of bed and go and it will be okay, right?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

6.11 am

And I'm blogging post-club. Post-what-was-meant-to-be-an-80s-club, but wasn't. On the other hand, I was expecting a "30s and over" club would be full of creepy old men, but it wasn't too bad. I danced with one guy like a bunny (I was dancing like a bunny, he wasn't like a bunny) and he said that no-one else there was dancing like me. Well, duh, when was the last time YOU saw a French girl dancing like a bunny? I don't think the concept of dancing like no-one's watching has taken off here (or probably most places, to be fair). Then it was too loud to catch most of the rest of his conversation, but it seemed to centre on how nice the toilets were and how we should check them out, which I thought Did Not Bode Well, so I left him to check out the toilets on his lonesome. I also danced with another guy, who I thought was quite fun. I am happy to dance with anyone, as long as they can do more than shuffle on the spot, so I had no particular complaints with this fellow, but my friends told me later that they nicknamed him "The Greek" because he kept dropping to his knees (which, I dunno, Greek people do?) and I was "The Highland Dancer" because by comparison I looked like I was undertaking almighty feats of leaping about. Maybe I was being a bunny again.

Anyway, I think I will regret it tomorrow, when I'm sober (hungover) and have probably regressed into officially sick once more. But at 6.18 am, I'm happy to report a fun night out. Time for bed.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Terrible day in which I didn't go to work again, but instead went to the doctor and immediately afterwards lost a coat-pocketfull of papers the doctor gave me, including a prescription, my sick note for work and a blood test referral and then I cried in the supermarket when I couldn't find them again. And freaked out one of the check-out boys, so I guess I'll have to avoid him from now on.

On the other hand, today also brought me this, quite possibly the greatest thing any of us has ever heard, and I think I'm not going too far in suggesting you're probably a philistine if you don't agree:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

In which nothing has changed

I decided not to go into work today (kind of annoyed about spending another day of holiday, even though I have so many, but oh well) because I was still getting over the tail-end of being sick, I had the tax stuff to sort out and basically I didn't want to. I got woken up around 7.30 by my neighbour leaving his apartment (I would love to know what he does - he often leaves before I'm up in the morning, and he always gets in super late, like 11.30 at night. I have probably blown my chance for neighbourly relations though, by basically running into my apartment and slamming the door the one time our paths crossed in the corridor. It's not my fault, though - studies have shown that 9 out of 10 girls can't distinguish his footsteps on the creaky wooden stairs from those of an angry rapist) and - ding! - that was it, I was awake and worrying about the taxe d'habitation and all it represents (phoning people in French, notably).

I had called the agent on her cellphone a couple of times yesterday, left a message, and also called the agency where I thought she worked, only to be told (confusingly) that she doesn't work there "and she's not in today anyway". Um, okay then. I didn't hear back, so I gave it till 10 this morning and called her again (twice), the second time I got through, she recognised me straight away (for once, the accent came in handy, not like yesterday at the tax place where I said, and SPELLED, my flatmate's name like 10 times and the guy kept on going "Burton? She is English like you?" until I finally got through to him. Damn Rs) but asked if she could call me back in about half an hour.

No problem! Yay! I leant back, congratulated myself on being brave and persistent with the phonecalls and waited for her to call me back and for me to get everything all ship-shape by the end of the day. I don't know why I expected it to be easy. In an universe where someone can lie to and steal from a supposed friend and get away without paying rent for a year without any serious consequences (yes, she technically has to pay the money back to her family, but c'mon...) (and forgetting the whole 'spending years sleeping with a guy who has a partner and kid at home' bit - which, of course, is more his fault, but it's not super classy on her part you must say) and then karma or whatever you call it sticks me with 100% of the tax bill that even the tax office says she should be legally responsible for (leaving any moral questions aside), of course it's not going to be easy. Why would I get a break? And yes, I know I'm *dwelling* but I can't not while this is still not resolved.

So anyway, all that to say that I just waited and waited for her to call back and the call never came. I leapt on the phone once and it turned out to be some crappy autodialling thing which called me 6 times, and there's not even any message or anyone on the line! I looked up the number online (092583697 for any of you in France) and there are pages and pages of people complaining about getting constantly called by this thing. Apparently something to do with Free and Alice selling your number to advertisers or something - and sure enough, in the evening I got a call from an unlisted number and it was Canal Plus telling me that I had been specially selected for a TV upgrade offer. I managed to cut her off by telling her I don't have a TV (you may remember, I - almost - literally threw the TV back in G's face in the moving out process) so mayyyybe they'll give calling me a rest. I guess if you pick up the phone to the stupid machine, you get "selected" for a real person to call you at night.

Anyway, I'm rambling. The obvious question you'll ask is why I didn't call the woman back again. I thought about it, but first I thought I should give it more time, since I'd already called like 4 times (one message, one time actually getting through, oh and the mysterious place where she doesn't work but kind of does as well) and I didn't want to be harassing someone I essentially needed a favour from. And then as the day went on, I just got really down. I'm still down, if you can't tell from my perky post thus far. It's just difficult to have the energy to deal with it. It's hard to feel stupid and unfairly treated and put upon and lost at sea all alone in a foreign country. Plus I'm still kind of sick and I'm just so tired. It's just so hard. And I don't know how I'm going to get up and go to work tomorrow, I just want to lie in bed all the time forever.

Oh yeah, and now I'm officially past due for the tax that I never got official notification of and have no idea what the consequences of that may be (I'm hoping none for me and lots for G, who presumably already knows she's off the hook and is just somewhere cackling with glee about sticking me with it, but like I say, with my luck...)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Flatmate saga - it's not over yet

Warning: Long post about my ongoing flatmate nightmare ahead!

I've just come back from the tax office, since that seemed like a completely fun way to spend my day off. Actually, I first went by in the morning, only for there to be a huge queue in front of me. Since there wasn't that much time left before they closed for lunch, I thought I would be all clever and turn up before they reopened their doors after the break.

Usually, if I need to go to this part of town, I make a detour past the best damn briocherie in Tours. I was kind of embarrassed this morning, cos the lady knew my order without me having to say. Maybe I've been there a couple of extra times lately, with the train trips to Chenonceaux and Poitiers (it's right next to the station), but I swear, normally it's only like once a month max that I end up nearby! Or maybe she just looks at me and thinks "definitely the chocolate chip version for that one"? But anyway, having already got my brioche fix in the morning, I tried to take a shortcut to the tax place and ended up lost in Sanitas, which is officially 'the dodgy part of Tours' - a quartier made up entirely of high-rise HLMs (State Housing) right next to the train tracks. The dodgy bit wouldn't have bothered me too much - it's broad daylight, and it's pretty much just code for 'Here Be Non-White People' I suspect - but I was literally on the wrong side of the tracks and there was no way to get over. By the time I finally found a pedestrian overpass, I had overshot the tax office and had to walk back up the road again, thus negating any possible benefit the 'shortcut' might have had. (On the bright side, this route did lead me past a building which is now a retirement home but was, in the Middle Ages, a home for lepers! You don't see that every day! I had a bit of a chuckle at the symbolism of having a 'ghetto' retirement home in an ex-leper colony. In fact, the leper home ended up giving its name to the whole area, 'Sanitas' being derived from sante - French for health. PS sorry I lost my special short keys to do accents when my laptop crashed, so you'll just have to imagine the accent on sante.)

Normally, I would take this as a Sign From Above to continue eating brioches (and also a good opportunity to work off like 1% of said brioche), but by the time I turned up, 5 minutes before the agency was due to re-open, there was a queue of about 35 people, which swelled to approximately 50 naughty French improper queuers by the time the doors opened.

Why so many? Well, as I would later discover, the taxe d'habitation is due TOMORROW. I still haven't received anything about it in the post, so I had no idea. I had to laugh (and internally hit my head against a brick wall) when I was talking to the tax agent later on and he told me La Poste doesn't forward any mail from the tax department, because otherwise people will try to get out of providing their real addresses to the tax man. This is literally the ONLY reason I paid them 23 euros to forward my mail. I haven't received one piece of forwarded post. Ah hahahaha, you just have to laugh or you'll cry.

Talking of crying, I almost did when I got to Man #1, who was in charge of screening people into the appropriate offices. I explained my whole situation to him - for those who aren't au courant, I was flatting with a French girl, I wasn't on the lease, I gave my rent money directly to her, she didn't pay either her rent or my rent for a year and lived off approximately 4000 euros of my money while quittin' her job to lie in bed all day. When this came to light, we were "asked to leave" the apartment and I had to find a new place without her lifting a single finger to help me with anything. Everything got squared away with the rent money, but I was still left incurring at least a couple thousand euros of expenses in the move. Anyway, I explained a brief version of all this, and the guy was all like "but you weren't on the lease?", "No", "then you shouldn't be responsible for paying". HALLELUJAH! But 2 minutes later he was just all "well, *normally* you shouldn't be responsible for paying, but for some reason the full amount is in your name, nothing's in her name and so hey, guess what, you're on the hook for the full 450 euros". He basically just did his best Gallic shrug when asked why that should be if I was never on the lease and he JUST SAID that I should therefore not be responsible. And then he was all "you can wait to see my colleague if you like, but he's just going to tell you the same thing". This is about the point where I was ready to burst into tears, but I held it together and said I would wait for his colleague, which just earned more "it's your funeral" type shrugging from him.

So, colleague it was, and I must say, this guy was super nice. He took the time to listen to everything I had to say and give me a little fatherly advice about how you should never be in a flatting situation without something in writing, even if it's with friends or partners, even if it's not a proper lease but just something scribbled on the back of an envelope. So yeah, too late for me, but maybe someone reading this will learn from my mistakes...

Another "pro tip" from the pit of despair - we talked about why it would be that it somehow ended up in my name. At first he just said that he didn't know how it worked, but maybe since they had two names on the tax declaration (she did apparently declare she was living there too, which is at least a start I suppose), they just picked one at random. Then he said something interesting - that I might have 'missed something' on the tax form. He explained that you can tick that you're in a flat as an owner, a renter, or that you're living there for free. Now here's the interesting bit - living there for free, in the eyes of the taxman, doesn't necessarily mean you're not paying rent, it just means that you're not legally responsible for the place e.g. you're not on the lease and therefore you don't get assessed for the tax. I had no clue about this, so I obviously ticked 'tenant'. He suggested that she might have been maligne (which means clever, but there's an air of 'sneaky, tricky' about it - you can see the relationship with malignant in English) and ticked that SHE was living there for free, and thus landed me right in it. And you know, that wouldn't bloody surprise me a bit. He also said I was naive - perceptive one, this taxman!

So Mr. Nice Taxman suggested that I needed to get on to the agency that rented us our old flat (rented HER our old flat, I should say) and try to get either a copy of the lease or the etat des lieux de sortie (the paperwork she would have signed on moving out) to prove that she was on the lease and I wasn't, and then they might be able to shift it on to her, which understandably they can't do just on my say-so (even if they have bloody well stuck me with it IMHO unfairly in the first place). If the 450 euros had been divided in two, I would have just paid my part, but it would really kill me to have to pay her part as well, and I know she's never going to give me the money just if I ask for it (for one thing, I "technically" still owe her for the last two months' expenses and supposedly some rubbish tax (as in, stuff you throw away, not bullsh!t) she'd never brought up in the previous 15 months I was there).

So I've called the agency, the woman I was dealing with is not there and wasn't answering her cellphone, so I left a message and am hoping she will get back to me, otherwise I'll have to like try and doorstop her the way she did when she came to get us for not paying rent, ha ha. Meanwhile, I am still legally responsible for this thing that's due tomorrow, and I don't really know what the consequences are for being late with it - the guy said they will "chase me" (although thanks to La Poste not forwarding their letters, I won't know about it ha ha) but I don't really know beyond that. He suggested maybe paying it and getting a refund, but I don't really trust that that will work out. Honestly, I hope that bitch falls into a well, I really do.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


I'm sick :( Starting to feel a bit better than I was yesterday, when I felt nauseous and weak all day, but still feeling pretty tired and all I've done today is lie in bed and watch the F1 all day long (yay, Hamilton won but Button will finish the season ahead of him on points, which pleases me). I think I'll have the sniffles for a couple more days, but hopefully the worst is over. SO TYPICAL that it's on a long weekend (Friday was a public holiday and I have tomorrow off too)! I was planning on a short trip somewhere on Friday, but I went out to the shops for an hour or so and that wiped me out, so no dice. The weather has been great too :(

It all started on Wednesday night, when I went out and had ONE glass of wine and got home just after midnight. Apparently this is now too much for old lady Gwan to handle. Not even sleeping till 9 on Thursday morning could save me - I couldn't concentrate on my morning lecture, felt mildly hungover all day, and by Friday it was evident I was officially sick.

Going back further in time though, I had a great week! Monday - Wednesday I had a Photoshop training course. At first I was like "geez, three days, I'm going to die of boredom" but it was SO COOL! I have zero talent/patience for fiddly and artistic stuff, but even I managed to complete most of the tasks okay. And there was a lot to learn! Turns out Photoshop's super complicated. I only have access to it at work, so don't expect all my photos to be turning up 'shopped all of a sudden, but you'll know what's happened if suddenly I post pics of me with Pippa Middleton's bum. (That's right, I will have finally gone on that Dahmeresque rampage I've been planning.)

We practised a bunch of techniques, like artfully blurring portions of photos, making photos that are a mix of black and white and colour, removing things from photos, retouching wrinkles etc., sticking people's faces on a cat's body (luckily enough, since that's roughly 40% of my daily workload and I've been really struggling thus far) and then bigger projects like making flyers and business cards.

Anyway, these are not great masterpieces of the Photoshop oeuvre (I did them both pretty quickly since we were meant to be working on other tasks than retouching our own photos), but here's a couple of photos I knocked up quickly.

Original photo of the Friendship Monument in Kiev vs photoshopped one (the magic wand - I almost said "magic baguette" - ate the top of the arch, but oh well, like I said, no patience for fiddly details)

Original pic of Sophia Square, Kiev, and photoshopped (I think I did a pretty good job between the horseman's legs! That wasn't meant to sound all "as the actress said to the bishop" by the way, ha ha. Whatever he's holding in his hand and the crosses on the church went a bit squiffy though, if you look closely.)

One of the official exercises we worked on, reproducing an example we were given. I didn't quite get to finish it off, it was the last thing we did, but I still think it's pretty good (it might not look much, but there are a LOT of steps you have to follow to get to that final result).

It was a serious trial sitting next to my 60ish colleague throughout the training, but I won't say anything more about that lest I sound very ungracious and possibly ageist. But geez, would it kill her not to have to ask me about every little thing (and I'm not talking about things she missed/didn't understand, I'm talking about things like "do you think I should turn the computer off or put it on standby before lunch?") Grrr. But other than that, fun times!

Going back even further in time, the Wednesday before last Ksam from Totally Frenched Out rode into town in I think what she described as a 'soccer mom car/van' and joined me and a friend for a drink. Unfortunately, before we started she made me sign an oath in my own blood (or possibly tomato sauce, details are a little hazy) not to reveal exactly what went on, so all I can tell you is we went to a bar where the owner promised us "the hottest guys in Tours" and leave it to your busy imaginations to come up with the rest. I can say, though, that responsible, mature working ladies such as we would most certainly never do tequila shots on a work night and get kicked out at closing time. Never ever, so please don't imagine we did!

It was actually my first time meeting a fellow blogger in the flesh, and it was pretty cool! I had thought it might be a bit strange meeting someone who knew things about my life (and vice versa) although we'd never met, but I don't think it was really. I think it helped that I haven't been following her blog for ages (and I think the same for her) so we had a lot to talk about without it always being like "oh yeah, I read that already on the blog". (That's one thing I hate about Facebook btw, I always forget that people might have seen my statuses even though they've not commented and you start a story about how you fell over in the street or bumped into an old friend, and they're just like "yeah, I know". Conversation over. My mum thinks she's being cruelly deprived of being my friend on fb, but honestly, between the blog and that I would have nothing left to tell her in emails if she were my friend. There's nothing interesting on my fb anyway...) So anyway, aside aside, it was great meeting Ksam & maybe some day I'll get to meet more of you lovely people!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Back in action

My laptop died last week, which particularly upset me, since I've had all the squillions of euros of expenses moving to the new place, then my ipod died a few months back, and then the laptop. Then I was in turn upset with myself for being upset because I like to imagine I'm above being attached to material possessions and money worries, even though it's a) clearly not true and b) kind of part of being a grown-up to stop being all starry-eyed and idealistic about not being driven by money. Sure, I don't have to think that money and possessions are the most important things in life, but I probably don't have to feel like some sort of capitalist stooge for acknowledging that they do matter.

Anyway, I put off taking it in to get fixed because a) I hoped if I unplugged it for a couple of days it might magically forget it was broken (didn't work) and b) asking "do you do repairs?" in French - "faites-vous les reparations?" - makes me feel like I'm a French interrogator in Weimar Germany. (Yeah, all that for a dumb history joke!) When I did take it in, I was amazed when the guy gave me a quote (40 euro) - I'm used to repair people being magically totally unable to give you the vaguest idea of what something might cost. He seemed to think it would be easy to fix, so I got my hopes all up only for them to be dashed when I went back the next day and he said he'd need to wipe the hard drive and it might be corrupted :( I was, of course, convinced that it WOULD be corrupted and I'd have to get a new one. But "good news everybody!", it is fixed and for the original price, yay! Luckily, since losing all my photos when my last laptop died, I've been a good little backing-up bunny, so I've spent the last couple of hours putting all my files back on the laptop and downloading stuff like iTunes.

It is soooo good to have it back. It seems kind of incredible now that I didn't bring a laptop when I was in Europe from 2006-07, and even as recently as 2008 we didn't have internet in our flat in Wellington. (Well, we did briefly, until the guy who was meant to be in charge of these things didn't pay the bills and it got cut off. Electricity almost got cut off too! Students, eh?) It seems like a totally different universe almost. Sometimes when I think about doing a PhD I seriously wonder if I would have the attention span for that these days, or if it would be just too tempting to check my emails or Facebook etc. all day long... I suppose in a few years I'll feel the same way about a smart phone (yeah, I still don't have one).

ANYWAY, I'm sure that is all very boring to everyone who's not me, so I'll just add (lots of) pretty autumn pictures I took on a lovely sunny day in the park. Stay tuned for news of wild partying with Ksam!

Bob rocks out with his... tongue out

I found it funny that the bake-it-yourself bread I bought "fears damp"

I made cream of cauliflower soup! Here, it is shown as part of a balanced meal :)

Ze moon, on the street where I used to live

If you don't like trees, or autumn, or parks, look away now...

Thursday, November 03, 2011


I already told you where I was on Monday night, but if you asked me on Monday day the question my blog perpetually poses, the answer would have been 'in Poitiers'! I was determined to go somewhere over the Toussaint long weekend, especially since I have my new 12-30 discount card for the trains. I looked into a couple of mid-range destinations where it would have made sense to do it as an overnight trip, but I couldn't find any hotel rooms cheaper than about 35 euro, which seemed just a leetle bit high to bother with. So I settled on Poitiers, which is about 45 minutes on the train from Tours, and I saved 20 euros on the ticket which made me a happy bunny. I knew nothing about Poitiers other than a vague sense that it was a historic place and had ties to Eleanor of Aquitaine and a couple of suggestions from blogger Eyelean at A Landscape Selected at Random. So I turned up about 11 am ready to explore!

My first impression was "wow, hilly!" I didn't realise until now, but evidently my brain (and my calves) have adapted to living in super-flat Tours and having expected Poitiers to look much the same, I was literally surprised to have to climb a flight of steps from the train station up into the city. (Where they were digging up the road, which is exactly like Tours!) I had no clue where I was going from there, and I first wandered into the neighbourhood around the Préfecture, which seemed to be mostly 19th-century buildings. With the buildings made of the local white tuffaut stone and the pavements and even the road surfaces white to match, I had the impression that the whole of Poitiers had been recently waterblasted, but turned out it was only that neighbourhood.

The whitewashed-looking 19th-century part of Poitiers, looking back from the Préfecture towards the town hall

Just hangin' out

After a bit more aimless wandering, I managed to find the tourist office where I picked up a map, a brochure of the city's sites and filled up my water bottle (aces). I don't know how many tourists Poitiers gets, but they seem to do a good job of putting information plaques up on lots of buildings and outside the main landmarks, and they have three tourist walking routes which are helpfully marked out with painted lines on the pavements - much easier to follow than trying to trace it out on a map. I was impressed! I think Tours could do a better job in this department - there are lots of old half-timbered and stone buildings around which are clearly medieval or Renaissance, but there is no information about most of them.

11th century palace of the Ducs of Aquitaine. I think everything in Poitiers was built either in the 11th, 15th or 19th centuries

I started out with the Notre-Dame-la-Grande church, which Eyelean had told me was well worth a look. It dates from the 11th to 13th centuries and is beautiful from the outside, but I loved the inside! I love painted churches! Unfortunately, I had checked my camera in the morning, and since I didn't have any battery warning, I decided not to charge it. Next time I'm going to do it just in case, because halfway through the church, the battery died. After letting it rest a bit I managed to get a few more photos later in the day, but I was a bit bummed out by that. On the other hand, I feel like sometimes I take too many photos and forget to just really look at things, so maybe it's for the best.

Notre Dame la Grande

The main façade

Carved capitals on the façade

The information plaque said the figures here were 'embracing or fighting', which I kind of liked. You could probably use that for the title of a rock album as well.

Inside NDLG

Painted columns in Notre Dame la Grande

This is hard to see, but I swear they've got Christ wearing a beret!

One of the stained glass windows in NDLG

Ceiling fresco in NDLG

After the church, I went and had lunch at the Cafe du Theatre in the square by the town hall. The food was average and the service VERY slow (lunch took over 2 hours) but it was a glorious sunny warm day and I had come armed with 1Q84 on my Kindle, so I was quite happy sipping wine and soaking up the sunshine while I waited for my food. I sometimes have to remind myself to take the time to relax and enjoy things instead of trying to rush about the place, so this was a very nice occasion.

After lunch, I followed the 'blue' route on the pavement around the Episcopal Quarter. This took me first to the cathedral, which is unusually wide and squat from the outside - apparently this is the Angevin (I think) or Plantagenet style, dating from the time of Eleanor of Aquitaine (12th-13th centuries). Inside, on the other hand, it was amazingly light and spacious. I kept thinking that it's exactly what people mean when they describe a space as being 'like a cathedral' - nothing like the heavy gloom I remember from the inside of Notre Dame de Paris, for example (many years ago now though).

It's hard to really see what it looks like. The tower on the right is taller than the one on the left, but neither is very tall, so it just gives a strange sense of being wider than it is tall, not your typical-style cathedral at all

Inside the cathedral - again, this doesn't really do justice to its proportions

12th-century stained glass window of the crucifixion. Unfortunately I could barely get my camera to function at this point, let alone zoom in, but it was pretty neat

After that, it was to the baptistery of Saint John. I was absolutely blown away by this place. It's a small building centred around a baptismal pool from the 5th century, with the rest of the building dating from between the 8th and 11th centuries I think. It, too, has amazing frescoes on the walls, from the 11th century. This was one of those places where I felt really privileged just to be there and to see it. It almost felt to me like places I've seen in the East - in Russia or Ukraine or Istanbul (the Chora church, for example) rather than the usual Western medieval style. I've been feeling a bit "meh, same old" about some places I've been (the inside of Reims cathedral for example) and this was a great reminder that I can still be amazed by new experiences and I am really lucky to be here and to experience all these things that I could never see or do in New Zealand. My camera had totally given up by this stage, so I bought some postcards and photographed them instead! I just had an all-day seminar on copyright and ethics, and so I do realise this is almost certainly illegal. Sorry! They came out surprisingly well though! Go visit the baptistery and buy some postcards.

Exterior of the baptistery (this photo I did take myself)

View of the interior

12th century fresco of the apostles

A knight on horseback

A 12th centuryfresco of a horse. I love this one, it just looks so other-timely, if you know what I mean. No-one would paint a horse quite like that any more.

A knight fighting a dragon

13th century fresco of Christ in majesty

The last place I went to was Saint Radegonde church, built to house the saint's tomb in the 6th century, although the present building dates from between the 11th and 15th centuries. There is a suburb of Tours called Sainte Radegonde, but I didn't know who she was at first. She was a princess from a Germanic tribe who was captured as a kid and later forced to marry a Frankish king (I think one of Clovis's kids, or maybe Clovis himself). Anyway, the info I read in the church said something like she performed her marital duties to the full, but she still wanted to lead a religious life and after her husband killed her brother, she ran away (you would, wouldn't you?) and founded an abbey in Poitiers. Her tomb was despoiled during the Revolution, but it's still there in the crypt and apparently there are some bits of her left. The church also had some nice painted columns, with beautiful decorative capitals showing things like people getting attacked by dogs. That's why we love the Middle Ages!

All in all, I had a really nice day out in Poitiers. It really surpassed my expectations, which I suppose wasn't hard since I didn't really have any, but still. I think I would like to take another trip some time, take some photos in my favourite spots, and see more of the town. After all, it's just down the road really!