Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Gainfully unemployed

Good news, I got an email today (yes, in a "French govt dept masters the ability to email" shocker) saying that my application for unemployment has been accepted - and I will be getting paid a couple of hundred euros more a month than I earned back when I was a language assistant! Thus proving that battling through the mean streets of Tours with a hangover last Friday to drop off my attestation d'emploi was worth it. I won't be counting on anything until I see the money in my bank account, but looks like I should get paid next week or so, for three weeks' worth, since the first week of unemployment apparently doesn't count.

Being the end of the month, today was coincidentally also the first day I had to log on to the pôle emploi website to update my status. During my initial interview at pôle emploi, my counsellor informed me that I would have to check in once a month to say what I'd been doing for the last month. So I logged on, expecting to fill in information about the CV workshop I'd been on and the jobs I'd applied for etc., only to find that you need to check about 7 boxes saying that you hadn't worked, or been sick, or been pregnant, etc. for the last month. And that's it! I was chatting with a friend, who's had more experience with pôle emploi, about this later, and apparently they do pretty much nothing to make sure you're actively looking for work. Coincidentally, the Guardian is looking at unemployment in Europe today. Their bit on the Pôle Emploi mostly focuses on youth, by which I think they mean people a bit younger than me, but it rather depressingly sums up that "There is no real device for the young, long-term unemployed graduates, which is a fairly new category in France". Still,  to put a positive spin on that (for me, as opposed to all those poor young graduates), at least I have multiple degrees and a few years' work experience, so theoretically that may make me more employable than at least some of the huddled masses...

Also out there making money is my friend Rick, whom you may remember from his recent visit to Tours. If you wondered why he looked so at ease in the guise of Louis XIV, it's because he's just come into some money by winning Jeopardy! (Or, rather, he won the money last year but the episode only just aired and I was previously forbidden to mention the subject he told no-one, as per the confidentiality agreement. Am I allowed to say that?) We never got Jeopardy in New Zealand, so I don't really understand all of how it works, but I understand it's a pretty big deal over there, and I am duly impressed, especially with the smarts on display! If you don't mind using possibly dubious streaming sites, you can watch him in action here (on Putlocker).

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Rosé, bureaucracy, and wanky Frenchmen

So last weekend we had a pretty chilled-out time with my sister Jess, her friend Liz, and our mutual friend Marion (who lives in Tours, but knows Liz from uni in New Zealand. Oh and we discovered also that Marion used to work with my cousin, who is an actress back home - god, New Zealand is a small place at times). Some of the highlights were the hour-long dégustation of rosé wine - a bit awkward having to translate for the girls at times, hope I did okay. I learnt quite a lot about how rosé is made (there are two main methods, one which basically follows the method for white wine, and the other for red wine), but not sure how much of that information I passed on! We also got to hang out at the guinguette, the "famous" open air café/dance hall/concert venue on the banks of the Loire. It rained a bit while the girls were here, but it was still mild enough on the Friday to sit outside and have wine by the Loire. The opening of the guinguette is always a very welcome sign that summer has finally arrived in Tours. (Talking of which, it has been baking hot for the last couple of days, although thunderstorms are predicted next week.) We also had dinner at La Souris Gourmande, a cheese-themed restaurant which j'adore (their tartiflette is amazing, if you're ever in Tours), drank lots of wine (but didn't actually have any big nights out) and generally just hung out and relaxed.

I swore I was taking a break from alcohol, but that lasted until Wednesday, when it was so hot that not cracking open a bottle of rosé would have probably resulted in a criminal indictment. Then on Thursday, my friend Liz had just arrived back from Japan and I went round to help her deliver flyers for her business around our neighbourhood. I think we did about three blocks and then decided it was wine-o'clock. We seem incapable of just having a quiet glass and this was not helped by heading to a bar (same one I went to with my sister and friends across from the Souris Gourmande, if you're reading this Jess) where they are super friendly and nice and you can just sit at the bar and chat with all the regulars and your glass just keeps getting magically filled (and these glasses are about the size of a bucket to begin with!). We spent a lot of the evening chatting to a guy who had spent 12 years being tortured in a Vietnamese prison camp before breaking out, fleeing on a boat and getting picked up by a French navy vessel. Getting to meet people with stories like that is definitely a highlight about travelling! He was much better than the young French guy I got talking to later, who said things like "I have a complicity with my girlfriend" (meaning that they have an "understanding" that they can cheat on each other) and then when I said you can't say that in English, he looked up the word on his iphone and showed me that it existed (obviously having a completely different meaning in this context makes no difference) and said (quote) "you're not English so you don't know how to speak properly like an English person does". He also tried to convince me that "snob" is an adjective (as in "She's very snob", because in French they have just borrowed the word snob and thus say things like "Elle est tellement snob"), and then when I said it wasn't, he asked Liz, the "real English person" and damn Liz was like, "yeah, snobby" and the guy was all like IN YOUR FACE and just wouldn't listen when I said "NO! SHE SAID SNOBBY! NOT SNOB!". Plus he said New Zealand and Australian accents were the same and if he couldn't hear the difference it meant it didn't exist. Anyway, I might still be a little bit ragey about this stereotypical arrogant French guy, so we'll move on. (Although, one last thing, I was talking to arrogant Frenchman's friend later and he said that he didn't have a "complicity" with his girlfriend, she just cheated on him all the time and he was sad about it and trying to act like the big man about town to make up for it. It's not very elegant to crow, but I've got to say HA! He deserves it!)

On Friday, the attestation d'emploi I needed from my assistant job turned up, so I had to drag myself out of bed and across town to take it to the pôle emploi. I didn't want to wait since Monday is a holiday and obviously the sooner I get all the paperwork together, the sooner they might start paying me. It took like two and a half hours' round trip to just give them this piece of paper, since they were being rubbish at the reception and I had to wait to see someone else who took all of about 30 seconds to sort it out. Good news though, they still had my file (apparently if they decide it's incomplete, they just reject it and send it back to you, because of course that makes way more sense than just sending you an email saying "hey, we need one more piece of paper from you, can you bring it down?") so fingers crossed now everything will be in order and they'll make a decision on it soon.

Right, that's all of interest (supposing it was, in fact, interesting). I'm going to go catch some rays (21 degrees, my idea of perfection) before watching quali for the Monaco GP in a couple of hours. Hope it's sunny where you are too! Here's some photos from Greg's and my sister's visits to Tours.

I don't know if you can read this, but it says "Bastard is waiting for you at stand E8 at the Tours Fair". I was intrigued!

The west windows in the cathedral glowing in the afternoon sun

A shot of the cathedral from behind

Not a great photo (hello fake smile...), but the only snap we got together, courtesy of the covoiturage guy who was giving Greg a ride to Paris 

An old church (or something) hidden behind the cathedral

Greg and St. Martin's at night

An old building I liked

Me and the ghost of Fritz, the famous elephant, as featured in the Super Best Tour of Tours Ever. I look strangely like my arms aren't attached to my torso, but I assure you they are.

My sister Jess and her friend Ratty got into the swing of things with Fritz as well

Me and Jess at the cheese restaurant. Mmmm, cheese

Liz, and Marion at the restaurant

There has long been a goat-about-town in Tours, which some guy takes around on a leash (you can see a glimpse of him hanging in a kebab shop here, on my first visit to Tours), but now there is a RIVAL GOAT, who rides around in a little cart pulled behind a bike! I've seen him twice in the last couple of days. Is this town big enough for two goats, that is the question??

And here's a video of my cat, Bob. Bob is normally frightened of everything (he was severely traumatised for about a week after Greg's visit, due to Greg running around the apartment gratuitously making dinosaur noises and so on, followed by me running the vacuum cleaner and not having enough time to give Bob make-up cuddles before the girls showed up from London), but I have recently discovered that he loves smoked chicken so much he's even willing to meerkat about in order to get it. If you don't know Bob, this will seem like less of a ground-breaking revelation, but honestly it's a big step! I have tried buying him toys and things, but if you roll a ball at him or whatever he gets scared and runs away and hides, so it is awesome to see him playing a little bit!

And here's an awesome video of my brother swimming in his own private waterfall in Hawaii. Frickin jealous!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What am I reading? Fatherland, The Finkler Question and One Day

I need to find my camera cord, upload my photos and blog about my sister's trip, but first I'll catch up on some of the books I've read recently, although I'll probably end up forgetting some.

I think first of the recent batch was Fatherland by Robert Harris, which I downloaded after finding it on a Guardian list of best "alternative historical fiction" books or something like that. First published in 1992, it depicts an alternative history in which the Nazis won the war and continue to rule a Greater Reich, with much of Western Europe under the thumb in a sort of Nazi version of the EU. I must say, I expected it to be very heavy-handed, filled with lots of exposition and extempore hand-wringing about how naughty the Nazis were, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that the book was primarily focused on telling a story, in which a German criminal detective (and therefore, member of the SS) discovers a body which turns out to be a high-ranking Nazi official, and thus gets sucked in to a world of danger and intrigue, in which he discovers chilling truths about the regime. So, it does get there in the end with the "Nazis are bad" bit, but I really appreciated that this felt like an organic part of an interesting story, rather than some sort of exercise in prognosticating on what might have been for its own sake.

I've been cat-sitting for Liz while she's been in Japan for the last few weeks, and once Fatherland was out of the way, I raided her bookshelves for something to occupy me while I was round at her place (I've managed to sit out in the sun in her garden two or three times in the last few weeks, when it hasn't been raining, and on other occasions I try to spend half an hour or so sitting with the cat so he doesn't get too lonely). First up was The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson, winner of the 2010 Man Booker. When I first picked it up, I thought it was going to be another meditation on life from the perspective of middle-aged-to-elderly white men, in the vein of the recently-read The Sense of an Ending, and I prepared to be quite bored. (Not that I didn't enjoy The Sense of an Ending, but I found it hard to relate to the protagonist.) Again, I was pleasantly surprised. The book is essentially an extended meditation on Jewish identity, centred around three men with very different takes on the idea - a Gentile who, after possibly being mistaken for a Jew while being mugged, decides to adopt a Jewish identity; a philosopher who leads a movement of 'ashamed Jews' against Zionism, and an elderly Czech-Jewish widower who starts out defending Israel's actions before becoming increasingly disillusioned. It is certainly an interesting insight into the specificities of the Jewish experience in Britain today, but beyond this, it is wonderfully-written, and its themes of identity, love, friendship and loss go far beyond its specific context. Oh, and it mentions both the Motueka Gorge and Kamyanets-Podilsky, thus making me feel like a global sophisticate for knowing where those two places are...

The second book I read at Liz's was One Day by David Nicholls. It starts with a great concept - showing the lives of two characters by revisiting their stories on one day a year for twenty years, from the night they met to... I couldn't possibly say. On a technical level, Nicholls deals with the idea expertly, with each "yearly" excerpt managing to give you a sense of the characters' lives and developments without ever feeling like it's hammering a year's worth of exposition into the events of one day, before inevitably breaking off at a point that leaves you eager to read the next chapter and find out where the next year has taken the characters. In a way, it's the typical "boy meets girl, but the course of true love never did run smooth" romantic comedy plot writ large, but the writing is good enough and the characters interesting enough that it never seems to fall into cliché. The (lightly present) background of 20 years of recent history also adds an extra element of interest to the story. Apparently it's now been made into a fairly bad film, so you should read the book instead.

Friday, May 18, 2012

A change is as good as a rest

Just a quick one, I just dropped Greg off at the station at 5 pm and am expecting my sister and her friend around 6-6.30 or so. The post title is in reference to the fact that I will need to catch up on my sleep and detox next week, but for the moment I am looking forward to another fun weekend! Not that Greg and I have been partying hard, but there have been a few drinks every evening, and we've been up till 1 or 2 am talking every night, so I will be needing my rest...

There have certainly been moments this past week when I've wanted to throttle Greg - notably this morning when, instead of helping me clean the apartment, he was following me around playing a terrible shrill version of "Bolero" on the recorder. Or when I was trying to tell him an (admittedly crap) story about recycling and he kept on talking over me in his "comedy French" voice (eh nana, je peux te choper une clope? etc.) But we've also had a lot of fun, from chasing a spider into my neighbour's apartment (sorry about that) to debating which 20th century dictator it would be most embarrassing to accidentally sleep with (feel free to play along in the comments section). I've also been really surprised by the "deep and meaningful" discussions we've had over the last few days. While, for example, I've stayed in pretty much constant contact with Rick over the last few years, Greg and I have only been in touch very sporadically over the last 5. However, we really reconnected and spent a lot of time discussing everything from politics to religion to Why We Are 30ish And Still Alone And Living Essentially Meaningless Existences.

I really feel we've got a lot closer and I hope it's not going to be another 5 years before we catch up again. While at first there was a part of me that really felt not up to having someone take over half my apartment for a week or so, I'm now feeling sad that he's gone. Meeting awesome people from all over the world is definitely one of the great things about travelling, but the flipside of that is that you and others are always moving on and it can easily be years before you find yourselves on the same patch of ground again, if you stay in touch at all. And then there's the whole struggle to start over again and make new friends every time you find yourself somewhere new... Well, good thing I have another weekend of fun to look forward to at least!

PS the new Blogger is very annoying with not putting line breaks in if you compose posts in HTML mode. Grrr!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

New adventures in lo-fi

I have been having a pleasant few days, without resulting in anything particularly interesting in blog terms. (So, um, you've been warned?)

Quiet Saturday night, I headed over to Laura's for an apéro dinatoire. I felt really bad because her text invite said "anytime after 8" but when I turned up at 9.30 there were only three people there and they were waiting for me to eat! Oops! But yeah, be more precise with your invitation maybe? I didn't mean to be quite that late, but I'm still having to wrangle Liz's cat on a daily basis plus there has been a bus strike for about a week so I had to walk all the way to Tours Nord.

On Sunday I watched the F1, pretty good race as with all of them this season, although I wasn't happy with the result. Tell you one thing, McLaren need to start aiming their (wheel) guns somewhere other than their own feet, because they should be leading both championships by all rights. Annoying. Then I had to clean the house ahead of Greg's arrival at 9 pm.

We spent Sunday evening just chatting and catching up. As mentioned, it's been 5 years since we last saw each other, but he kindly informed me I look the same and not like someone else he just caught up with in Paris who now looks like he's been fashioned out of a deformed leather bag. Score! Sunblock every day, no smoking and a healthy layer of face fat if you want to know my secrets ladies ;) Plus good genes I think, my mum has always looked young too. I do need to sort out the growing number of grey hairs I've got going on though!!

Greg is a Very Special Boy and I imagine he takes some getting used to for some people, but he's awesome. I was chatting with his mum on Skype last night (who is lovely, and not just because she said I was pretty and wonderful and I can come stay with them in Plano any time, but take note: it helps) and she told me just to stop him if he starts going off on a tangent (sample tangents so far: about how his parents abandoned him as a child to fly around the world in a dirigible or about how he was molested by a skeleton/Liverpudlian man in the Paris catacombs). I did very much enjoy his (I think true) story about how he hitched a ride off some Italian sailors who asked him if he'd ever been with a man, before driving him to an isolated Italian motel, where Our Hero thought he might be about to be raped by a pack of Italian sailors. (The story had a happy ending - the motel only cost 15 euros for the night. Oh, and no-one raped him.)

Going out with him can be somewhat frustrating at times, as it's like dealing with an errant toddler or a herd of cats. I pissed myself laughing in the park, when, having failed to open the gate by pushing it, instead of trying to pull it, he lifted it off its hinges. We soon attracted a small crowd of people trying to get through the gate as he attempted to repair it, and I had to explain that he was an American and this was his first time dealing with gate technology... On another occasion, I was trying to run some errands, but we had to stop so that he could climb down one of the boat ladders on the side of the Loire and run around on its banks while I looked at him exasperatedly. On the other hand, his exploratory spirit has already led to me discovering some Roman ruins just next to Place Plum which I never knew existed though! (They're going to be on the new edition of the Super Best Tour of Tours if so required though!)

Last night was awesome though, I said I'd cook him dinner on condition that he serenaded me while I did so. Greg's a fantastically talented guitarist and he wowed me by playing classical pieces like bits of the Four Seasons by Vivaldi or the Flight of the Bumblebee on guitar - I've never heard classical music played on the guitar, and it was pretty special! Also, can you imagine how good you have to be to play Flight of the Bumblebee on the guitar? I was just staring at his fingers in awe. I took guitar lessons for a bit as a kid, but it was the only class I ever wagged (skipped, cut) because the strings really hurt my wee little fingers. My mum always said I would regret it if I couldn't play a musical instrument (hence I was forced to try about 5 different ones, all of which I was bad at), which is normally not true, but I must admit I was a bit jealous last night. After dinner I made him play some songs I could sing along to (he seems to know pretty much every song you can think of, perhaps because he's fresh from a stint working in a band on a cruise ship) and we had a bit of a jam together until it got too late and I didn't want to bug the neighbours any more. It was really cool, like having a concert in my living room.

I'm sure Greg won't mind me sharing some of his music. Here's a cover of Eleanor Put Your Boots On by Franz Ferdinand, which is not actually one I know, but I like his version:


 Here's one of his original songs, Happiness Machine.


And another one, which shows something of his sense of humour and political bent. To quote from his introduction to the song, "If the good lord hadn't intended for us to pave the entire continent, then he'd have given the indians kalashnikovs." He's a very proud Texan... (whoops, naughty naughty swear word in the freeze frame there)

If you like what you hear, you can buy his album! Get in before he's famous, that's why I'm keeping him on anyway ;)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Hi ho, hi ho...

It's off to the dole office I go. Or went, rather, this morning. I had to assemble a fearsome list of documents, only some of which were actually needed, but obviously one crucial document was a "work certificate" from the assistant job in Nice which I don't have, of course. I looked back through my emails to find the name of my contact person there and found one where she actually offered to send me one just before I left Nice. I was moving to Tours with no forwarding address, but she assured me it should get to me before I left. In short, it didn't, I forgot all about it, and now the lack of it has come back to bite me.

 Anyway, other than that, the woman was really nice - I was expecting some sort of ritual humiliation or something - and the "interview" consisted mostly of her confirming the details I had filled in online (which took an age with her two-fingered typing, I wanted to mutiny and take control of the ship) and then a bit of desultory job searching. She gave me a reference for a job in Chartres which is not only far from here but I don't like the sound of at all (working for an agricultural centre), but I suppose if beggars can't be choosers then they can at least not try very hard with their application. One thing I learnt is that, in addition to getting financial help to attend interviews out of town (which I'd already heard about), if you actually get a job somewhere else they pay up to 2500€ moving costs! I expressed the view that that was a LOT of money and she somewhat defensively listed costs like moving vans and petrol and that it "added up quickly". All I can say is, if I do move somewhere, I'm doing it with style with professional movers in that case!!

I'm a bit confused as to the all-important question of getting some money honey - apparently they look at my dossier over the next 10 days (which will probably stretch on and on given all the holidays in May) and then decide whether it's the government or my old job that has to pay the dole for me (this is the confusing bit). Then, either way, I would get paid for May at the beginning of June and so on in arrears. I hope that it does actually work out like that - I was looking at my bank balance the other day and thinking "okay, I have about 400€ to the end of the month, that's doable" and then it struck me that "the end of the month" is currently a bit meaningless since there's not guaranteed to be any money coming in at that point!

 The other big thing I did today was pop in to work. I hadn't been planning on doing so - it is just around the corner from the dole office but I had planned to skirt around by another route to avoid running in to anyone, but on the way there I was feeling okay and I decided to bite the bullet and go in to say hi. And wouldn't you know, turns out they don't all secretly hate me and think I'm a shirker (or if they do, they did a good job of hiding it). They even encouraged me to steal an external hard drive (not sure if I should put that on the blog!) - I was going to take it home to back my documents up and then return it, but everyone was all "what external hard drive? Was there an external hard drive on your desk before, because none of us saw one?" Ah, how easily we are led into temptation! I'll probably suffer some sort of attack of conscience and break in to sneak it back... Damn, talking of which, I should have given my keys back. Anyway, everyone was very nice although there was some of the stress-inducing chat about future plans and whether or not I want them to find work for me (which again, I realise makes me sound either like a crazy person or an ungrateful sod, but it makes me slightly hyperventally having to receive advice and make decisions and so on). But I feel very relieved that I went and talked to them and no longer have to fear that I'll run into them somewhere and have to scuttle away like a demented crab.

 The other big news is that I just got a call from my wacky Texan friend Greg, who is in Paris and will soon be in Tours!! I haven't seen Greg since 2007, which as discussed in said phone call, makes me feel old and him like he's wasting his life. But, as also discussed, at least we haven't been sitting in our respective home towns for 5 years making babies (no disrespect to those who have been). He's been metaphorically whoring himself about on cruise ships and I have, as discussed with Mary Kay this week, NOT been spreading the Good News. Greg and I first met doing the CELTA teaching qualification in Prague in 2006. Amongst other things, I spent several of the most uncomfortable weeks of my life sleeping on top of a blanket on the freezing concrete floor in his basement flat that he was convinced was full of poisonous gases. So the least I can do is put him up for an unknown quantity of time...

Anyone who wants to see what I was up to 5+ years ago or see Greg with his shirt off (oh là là) can consult such past gems as our tour of Calais, our trip to Cesky Krumlov (warning, there's a lot of cleavage on show in this one, what else is new though?), us drinking absinthe, or visiting a cemetery. Good times!

Monday, May 07, 2012

The Super Best Tour Ever (Erm...)

Today, I had the pleasure of a visit from the very lovely Mary Kay from Out and About in Paris, who basically came all the way to Tours to cheer me, a stranger, up. Which is just about the nicest thing ever, so thank you Mary Kay! This was only the second blogger I've met, and once again, the Internet didn't disappoint. Mary Kay was great company, very easy to talk to, very polite about my Super Best Tour Ever of Tours, and she bought me lunch! What more can I say? Once again, it's fascinating to get to know the person behind the blog - as we discussed, it's strange in some ways to know so much about a virtual stranger, yet in other ways to be getting the "inside scoop", as there are always so many things that don't get blogged about that often you can be burning to find out about your fellow bloggers! We had beautiful, sunny weather by some miracle, so I gave Mary Kay the Super Best Tour of Tours Ever, also known as my slightly random excursion around the few sights that Tours, which is a charming enough place but not really packed with excitement for your casual visitor. If you want a sensible account of the day, hopefully MK will blog it at some point, otherwise here is a map drawn by a five year-old me, which you can feel free to use to recreate your own Super Best Tour of Tours Ever (or maybe hire me as a guide??)
I can't get these on the same line, so you'll just have to imagine:

We started off not far from the choo-choo train on the bottom-right, also known as the Gare de Tours, built in the 19th century by Victor Laloux, a Tourangeaux architect who also built several other buildings in Tours and the Musée d'Orsay, which supposedly looks a bit like the Gare de Tours, but you can tell your friends that the Gare de Tours came first! And hence is known as the Original Famous Gare de Tours.
Not a great photo, but I couldn't find any better ones in my files (I should note, these are all illustrated with old photos) From here, we walked up the street, past the legendary Bakery With the World's Biggest Pastries (which I forgot to point out, sorry MK) to the gardens of the Musée des Beaux Arts, where I showed MK the "exceptional tree", a huge cedar planted in the time of Napoleon I and Fritz the Elephant, who was travelling around with Barnum and Bailey when he became dangerous and was shot and stuffed in ?1904 and now spends all his time in the Beaux Arts gardens. I was amused by a little sign near Fritz saying "The Musée des Beaux Arts doesn't only have a cedar tree and Fritz the elephant, we also have works by Rembrandt, Mantegna, Rubens..." Priorities, people, priorities... Come for Fritz and stay for Rembrandt! Then it was on right next door to the cathedral, which I've been to many times but is still one of my favourite places in Tours, because it's pretty and I like cathedrals. The cathedral is clearly marked on my map as the square thing with bunny ears next to the giant elephant. In real life, it looks like this:
We then proceeded down Rue Colbert, a nice pedestrianised street with lots of restaurants and an Irish bar (indicated on the map with a wonky shamrock) where I informed MK she could go for Genuine Irish Men and Genuine Irish Cider. Unfortunately, it was shut on a Monday morning (whyyyyyy?) so we didn't pick up either. Rue Colbert also has the building where Joan of Arc got her armour made before kicking the arses of those evil Englishers (as indicated by a completely convincing sword and shield on the map. It's on the wrong side of the street, I should add for those of you following along on your iphones.)
From there, we walked through "Kebab Alley", so baptised by me due to the number of places you can stumble into out of a pub at 2 am for chips and meat (I would never...) and into Place Plum, known to its Mum and Dad as Place Plumereau, helpfully indicated with a sort of plum-looking thing on the map. Also a big wine glass, because the Maison des Vins de Loire (shut on Mondays, unfortunately) is near here, and this is also ground zero for drinking and clubs. This is the old town area, full of half-timbered medieval buildings, the best icecream shop in Tours, a tabac (cig shop) where dodgy people always ask you for change, and, in summer, lots of al fresco tables to enjoy a meal or a drink at in the long summer nights.
Place Plum
From here, we walked through the Place du Monstre, which is officially called the Place du Grand Marché, but everyone refers to it as the Place du Monstre for obvious reasons (and cos that's a much cooler name)
then through Les Halles, the markets, which were a bit deserted on a Monday, but I did get to point out what rilettes were to MK (a sort of potted meat which is one of the regional specialities), so not entirely a waste of time. Then we checked out the old and the new St Martin's Basilica, where we visited the Saint's tomb and I regaled MK with tales of how the sneaky folk of Tours tricked Martin into becoming their Bishop by luring him out of his monastery on the pretence of needing him to heal a sick person, and then how when he died somewhere else they did a night raid to steal back his body and bring him back to Tours by boat for burial. I don't know how holy all that was, but it makes for a good story! This is the yellow and black blob on the map, which is meant to be a bishop's hat.
Part of the ruined Basilica
The 19th century Basilica, also by Victor Laloux From here, we went back to Rue Nationale, which was destroyed during the war and, as I pointed out, looks like it never got rebuilt because it is all completely ripped up for the tram, construction on which just keeps going and going and getting on everyone's nerves with no sign of stopping. This was at Christmas - the lights and tree are gone, but the roadworks remain:
We had lunch at Les Farfadets, a traditional Tours-style restaurant that I've been to a few times. I had one of their huge potato-and-pork-covered "salads" while MK had something that looked much more restrained! We sat outside, which was exciting after the weather we've been having, and had a leisurely lunch washed down with Chinon rosé and good conversation, very agreeable! Lunch took so long that, by the time it was over, it was time to head back towards the station, passing by the Mairie/Hôtel de Ville, another Victor Laloux creation (you can see photos of the interior in this post). This is shown on the map with blue lines, because there's fountains outside (disfigured by roadworks now)
Then it was time to say thank you very much to MK for her visit and put her back on the train to Paris. I am really very touched that she came all this way to hang out with me, and I hope she enjoyed her visit as much as I did!
Some virtual flowers, real ones are in order really though!

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

(Non) Workers of the World Unite!

Happy May Day everyone! Ironically, this is the first official day of being unemployed as opposed to "sick". Kind of extra bummed because there are 3 public holidays in May and, unlike the last two years when at least some of them were swallowed up on weekends, I think this year they are all actually conveniently posed to break up the working week, not that it helps me.

Anyway, on to the main issue at hand which is to say thank you for all your support and kind thoughts on and off blog. Mary Kay was right in her comment that it wasn't an easy post to write. I'm not much of a sharer, especially when it comes to "problems" or "weaknesses" or whatever you might like to call them - unless you get a couple of wines in me and the stories come rolling out, like "The Irishman and the Homeless Man in Moscow" or "The Time My Tyrefitter Flatmate Wiped His Hands on My Freshly-Laundered Towel" (the latter of which happened four years ago, but I still bear a grudge, and the story was aired to great acclaim during an intense towel-centred discussion just the other night ha ha. Petty, yes, but I am of the Hitchhiker's Guide school of towel husbandry, as were my interlocuters...). This, in turn, has the effect of making me more anxious, as with the work situation where I felt like I couldn't go back and face my colleagues after the first bout of sick leave. So I took some inspiration from fellow bloggers whose tales of woe and, more importantly, of strength in the face of adversity, have inspired me greatly in recent times, and decided to open up a little bit.

There are always going to be dicks in the world who lack empathy or understanding, but I think we do learn at times like these that an awful lot of people genuinely can relate through their own experiences, or at least have the capacity to listen and empathise even if they haven't had a similar experience. I do spend an inordinate amount of time Worrying What Other People Think, but I still like to believe in the inherent goodness (despite the flaws we all have) of most people, even though someone will always come along sooner or later to be the exception to that rule.

As to some of your specific comments - tackling one day and one activity at a time is indeed a sensible approach and I am trying to keep going to the gym etc. and not spend all my time cooped up inside (says she, feeling guilty to be blogging when, oh miracles of miracles, it's actually sunny outside for the first time in weeks - I'm taking this as a hopeful sign that this is April Showers Bringing May Flowers, although in fact the forecast is for rain and thunderstorms for the next few days again at least). Of course, knowing the wisdom of something in the abstract is a lot harder than actually following through, especially when handicapped - as Ella put it - by depression. I have applied for a few jobs, which I'm waiting for further news on, and I have an appointment set up at the Pôle Emploi for getting the unemployment benefit. (And I will admit that makes me cringe slightly, never having been unemployed before, but I will try to get over the middle-class/Catholic guilt and remind myself that it's nothing to be ashamed about, I'm not planning to abuse the system, and there are a whole ton of good people in the same boat through no fault of their own.) As for the medication, I am less drugged up/it's hitting me harder than the first few days. Sorting out my sleep patterns does need work though. I've always been a nocturnal type when left to my own devices (i.e. nothing to get up for in the morning), as my Mum will testify, but it's true it's not a particularly healthy pattern nor conducive to getting things done.

More good news is that the agèd Ps, aka my parents, are coming for a visit in August - I think credit is largely due to Mary Kay for luring my Mum with talk of champagne for that decision! It will be great to have them here in summer instead of the usual miserable northern English winter (sorry, land of my ancestors, but come on) and I'm hoping we can go do something extra fun somewhere, although it's difficult to plan a holiday when I don't quite know where I'll be living or whether I'll have a) a job to take a holiday from or b) holiday time from this imaginary job. My sister and a mate are also coming over in a few weeks, by which time we will hopefully have sunshine, since she will be fresh from the Caribbean (jealous) and I don't want Tours to let the side down. A one-hour rosé dégustation is already on the agenda, so you don't need much more than that for the good times to start rolling methinks!

So anyway, thank you again to everyone, I have been really touched by your messages and it does really help to know that there are people out there sending their love. Now to go "profit" from a bit of sunshine!