Oh la la, j’arrive!

Eiffel TowerIt seems we’ve been here long enough to have adopted a few French words into our everyday chit chat at home – our own peculiar Franglais.  We hear these little phrases and words everyday from friends, on the tele and just out and about.  They are so endearingly French, and being able to use them makes us feel just a teeny bit French ourselves.

Take the verb arriver for example.  When I was at high school (a looooooong time ago – last century in fact) my beginner text book told me it simply meant to arrive.  Now I understand all the nuances of this ordinary little verb, it’s way more interesting than I’d imagined.  Usually announced with a bit of a flourish it turns the truth – “I’m still on my way” – into a positive statement; a personal triumph even.

We have a friend that we meet up with every couple of weeks.  She’s always just a tad on the late side.  A couple of minutes after the agreed meeting time a text from her will ping into my inbox announcing j’arrive!  She’s not actually arriving just yet, what she means is that she’s just got out of the nearest Metro station and is walking to the café we’re at and will be there in just a few minutes.

Cafe on Rue de Levis

Cafe on rue de Levis

Waiting at the appliance store for someone to help me, an endless stream of terribly busy sales folk bustle past holding important documents until eventually one makes eye contact and announces j’arrive madam as he whisks past.  He means yes, I’ve seen you there with that slightly impatient look on your face and I will come and attend to you soon; I’m on to it!

Then there are the phrases that didn’t make it into my text book; like oh la la.  I’m sure that I’ve mentioned this before because it never ceases to amuse me; especially in the rugby season.  It’s an essential tool in every commentator’s repertoire.  That one little expression can be used to convey every emotion from great excitement to wincing pain and utter despair.  A rapid oh la la la la la la laaaaaa accompanies the nerve wracking moments when the All Blacks (of course) are right on the try line, the weight of the pack pressing hard on the French defenders, man after man attacks the line, will the defence hold?  In contrast a deep, guttural oh la la transmits the horror of one of those bone-crunching tackles that stops a player in his tracks, leaving him prone and gasping for breath.

Then there is pffff!  It’s not a word or a phrase, just a sound.  But you have to be able to render a truly expressive pffff to be French.  It’s hard to define exactly what it means, I’ve interpreted it as “yeah whatever,” “who knows”, or “who cares”.

So, we learn our grammar, listen to the tele, practise our oh la las and try to spit out j’arrive with the panache of Parisians.  Are we really getting to be a little bit French? Pffff!  We’re having fun.

 

C Sacre Coeur

A whole bunch of differences

9/11 Memorial, NYC

9/11 Memorial, NYC

911 memorialTwo years!  We’ve been in Paris for two years now, living an ordinary life in one of the least ordinary cities in the world.  We feel at home, we know the routines and understand more about the “way things are done around here.”  I realised that my point of comparison for “the way things are done” has changed.  While in the USA for a family wedding last week, we kept noticing how things were different to what we were used to in Paris.  We had to think hard to compare with NZ, and wondered what we will notice when we return.

In Sackets Harbor, a small town of 1500 people way up in the north of New York state, the extraordinarily prompt and bubbly customer service in the restaurants struck us.  A soon as the meal (gargantuan – we shared) was done the plates were whipped away and the “check” delivered to the table.  No dilly-dallying around trying to catch the eye of the waiter to signal for “l’addition.”

The drill was the same once we arrived in New York city; super-friendly, fast and forthright.  In some places the check arrived with suggested gratuity amounts printed on the till receipt, starting at 18%, with higher options of 20% and 22% handily calculated too, or in other cases already added onto the total.  In one place we watched the scene at a nearby table where the waitress bowled up to the guests, just as they reached the door, to ask for a tip as they hadn’t included a gratuity amount on their credit card payment.  Unfamiliar tourists, or discerning diners – I wasn’t sure – the waitress made sure and got her tip.

Even if the language was familiar, the accent and the turn of phrase in overheard conversations had me smiling: “ah there’s a whole bunch of things we could do.”  A whole bunch?  It doesn’t really translate directly into French or Kiwi.

For all the differences though there were plenty of things the same (a whole bunch of ’em) that we loved: family and traditions.  Proud parents, bride and groom, bridesmaids, groomsmen, the best man, confetti, the first dance, wedding cake and speeches; all the elements for a wonderful day shared with friends and family.  We were thrilled to be together with all my family and a couple of Kiwi friends at the very happy occasion of my nephew’s wedding held on the historic Battlefield site.

In New York I was right at home in familiar surroundings in two gorgeous yarn stores.  Knitty City on the Upper West Side (W 79th Street) just happened to be only two blocks away from our hotel, and Purl Soho (Broome Street) on the bus and subway route between our hotel and downtown Manhattan – both easy to get to, how convenient!  At Knitty City I chatted with a few local knitters sitting around the knitting table.  We shared opinions on fair isle techniques and admired a recently finished object that had us all complimenting the knitter while jotting notes of designer, pattern name and yarn.

 

That’s it really – life’s the same but different, here or there, we loved New York too.  The differences don’t matter, they just make life interesting.

 

We especially enjoyed these New York places and activities:

Mille Feuille Bakery Cafe, 2175 Broadway, Upper West Side (between 76th and 77th streets)

Central Park Bike tours, 203 West 58th Street, NYC.  (We did the Art and Architecture tour)

9/11 Memorial and museum

Riverside Park, alongside the Hudson River

Golden weather

Dashwood Sauvignon blanc 2013

Dashwood Sauvignon blanc 2013

September.  Autumn.  Winter’s approach is inevitable, but in the last few weeks there’s been no sense of hurry along in the weather.  The warm sunny days stretch into benign evenings; perfect for special soirees.  Our friends said come along to a wine tasting at our local wine cellar, there’s New Zealand wine on the menu de degustation.  We didn’t need asking twice!  We met up at Les Caves de Reuilly on Boulevard de Reuilly in the 12th and joined the throng of people (easily 100+) enjoying samples of bio/natural (organic) wines from Chile, Italy, Spain, California, Argentina and New Zealand.

Now, one of the things about New Zealand that I really miss is screw caps on wine bottles.  That confession may well have some of you reeling in horror.  For me there is nothing so evocative of a gentle NZ summer evening than the crick crackle of the screw cap opening before the first sip.  And so, with much anticipation I bought a bottle of the Dashwood Sauvignon Blanc (2013); what a delicious treat, nostalgia in a bottle.  At our table we hailed from Mexico, NZ, USA, France, Netherlands and Finland.  English was the common language, and we were in unison as to the verdict on the NZ wine.

Twenty-four hours later with the weather still in top form we were out enjoying another balmy evening, this time taking our seats under the stars for Don Giovanni Opera en Plein Air staged in the courtyard (the cour d’ honneur) of L’ Hotel des Invalides.  It was quite a spectacular setting with the golden dome bright in the navy blue sky and the statue of Napoleon at times washed in colour from the stage lighting below.  Together with the music and voices it was a wonderful evening.

Opera en plen air staged in the cour d' honneur at l' Hotel des Invalides.

Opera en plen air staged in the cour d’ honneur at l’ Hotel des Invalides.

 

Autumn can keep up its slow progress; there’s plenty to like about it.

Wool Week in Paris

The glamour sheep

The glamour sheep

Glamour and glitz are not words I would expect to use in the same sentence as sheep yards.  But on Tuesday night a handsome flock of Merino Rambouillet sheep in a designer farmyard took pride of place at the glamorous Vogue Fashion Night Out event on Rue St Honore in the heart of the Paris fashion district.

This was all part of the launch of Campaign for Wool’s presence in France and the start of Paris Wool Week 16-21 September 2014.  Along with The Woolmark Company, CFW were co-sponsors with Vogue for the VFNO event.  This is a big do for fashionistas with activities like make-up demonstrations, a photo-shoot set as well as retail stores offering lucky draws, goody bag specials, champagne, cocktails and so on.  With a free invitation included in the September issue of Paris Vogue and the map and guide to all the events from the wool-focussed VFNO guide, my DB and I dressed up and headed along for a look.  Even if we felt a little out of place (and old!) it was an interesting experience.  The streets were packed with fashionable young men and pretty, red-lipsticked women.  The queues to make it inside the boutiques were patrolled by doormen so elegantly dressed they could have stepped out of the magazine pages themselves.

Off to VFNO

Off to VFNO

The sheep have now relocated to the Berges de Seine for the continuation of Wool Week activities over this weekend.  There will be sheep shearing demonstrations, educational information about wool and exhibitions of interior design and fashion with wool.

For the next two weeks there’s an installation of photographs and information about wool at one of Paris’s most loved and busy department stores le BHV.  I happened to be there when a camera crew from London were filming under the watchful eye of the Woolmark Company people.

Does this all make a difference?  According to the Campaign for Wool’s website, their activities since launching in 2010 have “influenced a new demand for wool on an international scale”.  If my amateur assessment is anything to go by I’m pleased to say yes.  Amongst the winter clothing ranges in stores here there are even more beautiful wool garments than I noticed last year.  The fashion glossies like Vogue are full of models snuggled, wrapped or elegantly suited up in wool; wool is getting serious attention.  Fashion is only one aspect of the campaign, but as a wool lover, knitter and proud New Zealander I’m pleased to see the best of wool being promoted here in the fashion capital.

And now I need to get on with my knitting, I’ve had an awful lot of inspiration and encouragement this week.

A wool festival, a running race and Nivea care – Hamburg has it all.

The Alster, Hamburg

The Alster, Hamburg

We’d hardly been back from holiday three weeks and there I was yet again trundling my carry-on case up and down the stairs through the grubby Metro tunnels, fighting my way onto the airport train at Gare du Nord, dodging the meandering, confused travellers clogging up the inter-terminal shuttle lanes, tip-toeing through security with my carefully selected wooden knitting needles before finally relaxing with a few rows of sock knitting before boarding.  My reward; a weekend with Katherine in Hamburg and a Wool Festival – Wollfest Hamburg.

With a day and a half free to explore before our long planned weekend activities I had time for a long walk along the lake edge near Katherine’s apartment.  In the glorious sunshine there were blokes fishing, (and catching), runners – canines and homo-sapiens – and on the lake there were yachts and ferries, paddle boarders, kayakers and rowing crews.  I crunched along the path cheerily snapping pictures thinking oh my my, summer is not over yet.  The German signs amused me.  Mostly I can’t understand them at all but occasionally the meaning is crystal clear when you just say it like it looks.

Guess what you are not allowed to do here?

Guess what you are not allowed to do here?

On the topic of other things that amused….Hamburg, like other Big Cities, has a swanky big Apple Concept Store; its spacious clean uncluttered interior is populated with more than enough Apples for a sizeable pie.  But what you might not know is that Hamburg has a Nivea Concept Store just near Apple.  Yep, I discovered good old Nivea is a German brand, originating in Hamburg.  Impressed by the array of Nivea goodies, I stocked up on things and succumbed to the promotion for personalised Nivea.

Personalised Nivea

Personalised Nivea

The Hamburg Wool Festival ran over Saturday and Sunday.  I visited the market stalls on Saturday and limited myself to buying only yarns that I could not get in Paris.  That still left quite some choice, but since my dearly beloved has noted that my yarn stash has expanded to the proportions of a yarn collection, I exercised restraint.

The highlight was the “Manipulating Stitch Patterns” workshop with Ysolda Teague on Sunday.  I confess I felt on the edge of my comfort zone.  I’ve adapted patterns many times before in a she’ll-be-right, amateur kind of way but this was a glimpse into a more technical world where really talented, professional young designers are forging their independent design careers combining age old craft skills and technology to produce wonderful patterns.  I felt challenged, a bit lost at first and then a bit excited and inspired.  I enjoyed it immensely.  Ysolda is knowledgeable and entertaining, the three hours went by in a blink, and I learnt so much my brain was buzzing.  I’m working on my post workshop project while it’s still fresh.  The concept is sorted, the charting underway and swatching is to come.

While I was manipulating stitch patterns Katherine was participating in her first 10km run, the Alsterlauf, with DB as chief cheerleader and photographer under stern instruction to wait at the assigned place, keep a watch out for her and record the moments for posterity.  Katherine successfully completed the race and there are photos to prove it.  Our next visit to Hamburg is planned for December because there is a special birthday to celebrate.

Korcula: beach, balcony, view, bliss.

View from our balcony

View from our balcony

The sea routes along Croatia’s Adriatic coast become almost a marine highway in the summer. There are ferry boats for people and cars, fast catamaran ferries, sail boats, super yachts (actually not yachts), cruise boats big and small all plying the sea passages between the mainland – the Peljesac peninsula – and other islands. We travelled on the Jadrolinija ferry from Dubrovnik up to Korcula on the island of Korcula; a smooth 4-hour trip. Korcula is the second largest island in the Adriatic (by population), home to about 17,000 people.

We had searched out an apartment with a balcony and view of the sea and booked months in advance. Once again we were not disappointed with our find; Apartment Adriatic, unsophisticated, comfortable and only 2 minutes to the beach for our morning swim. Everyday we enjoyed watching the comings and goings on the sea and each evening we watched the glow of the sun drench the stone buildings in the old town. We became expert on the arrival and departure times of the passenger ferry that plied the route between Korcula and Orebic, we watched luxury super yachts slip into their mooring spots and daring wind surfers and kite surfers zip, zap and take flight across the Peljesac channel (between mainland and the island). Korcula’s location on the eastern side of the island where the channel is only 1270 metres across means the Maestral wind is reliably strong, but not unpleasant, and the area seems to be a popular destination for windsurfers.

Windsurfers at play

Windsurfers at play

steps to swim

En route to a morning swim. Time to destination 2 mins at most.

With a rental car for a day we explored the whole island, stopping at remote beaches that were so picturesque they could have been in a story book. The town of Lumbarda was one of the main destinations on our must-see list. This village is famous for its white wine “Grk,” and is the home town of one of New Zealand’s most well known wine pioneers, Mr Nikola Nobilo. It is a beautiful place; acres of old vines stretched out down gentle slopes, the blue of the sea in the distance, and of course the dry stone walls that are familiar in Northland NZ where the Dalmatian immigrants settled. Our visit was completed with a winery stop, purchase of some Grk wine, and very friendly conversation about NZ once the proprietor realised where we hailed from. Other means of exploration included making use of the water taxis from Korcula.  A couple of times we made a picnic lunch and headed out to Badija island for the day to find remote swimming spots, our only company some rather pesky “biting flies” and wasps.

Speaking of exploration, Korcula is reputed to be the birthplace of Marco Polo. The house where he was born in the Old Town is open as a museum. The fortified Old Town is itself very picturesque; stone buildings with terracotta roofs and narrow cobbled streets between. The steep streets on the western side run straight down to the water to allow the prevailing breeze in the summer to flow into the heart of the Old Town and the streets on the eastern side curve away to minimise the blast of the cold easterly wind during the winter. My favourite building in the old town was St Mark’s Cathedral with it’s beautiful bell tower. It dominates the skyline and its regular ding-donging routine was a pleasant marker of the leisurely rhythm of our days. One evening as the sun set we climbed up to the viewing balcony right beside the bells and were rewarded not only with a sublime view of the sun going down, but a close up rendition of the 8pm chimes. Magic.

Korcula turned out to be another great destination where we enjoyed the beach holiday delights as well as brushing up on our history and geography knowledge, more photos here. I will add that my chair on the balcony was one of the best knitting spots I’ve enjoyed. I’ve christened the red socks completed during the holiday Rosamond de Croatie after the pattern name Rosamond.

Dubrovnik – a beauty spot

Kia ora from Dubrovnik

Kia ora from Dubrovnik

The sun shone, the water was warm, crystal clear and bluer than the sky.  The Adriatic Sea did not disappoint.  We’ve spent the last two weeks in the Dalmatia region of Croatia that borders the Adriatic, staying firstly at the southern end in Dubrovnik then in Korcula town on the island of Korcula.

The main reason for the trip was purely for a summer beach holiday and Croatia’s Adriatic coastline could not have been better.  We swam every day at some beach or another; there are squillions to choose from, and all picturesque.  Most of the swimming spots are rocky, stony coves and inlets rather than sandy beaches.  At favoured spots people sit perched on rocky outcrops, drape themselves over the few weathered slabs of rock or nestle into worn hollows to soak up the suns rays, altogether looking a bit like a seal colony.  Other places are remote enough that you can have a small swimming spot to yourself.

In Dubrovnik Old Town we stayed in a lovely cool apartment tucked into a quiet corner inside the city walls near the Maritime Museum.  Our regular swimming spots only two minutes walk away included the area on the sea wall by St John’s Fort, and a spot through the hole in the wall at the end of Pobijana Street where Buza café occupies the most spectacular terraced site with views over to Lokrum island and out to the deep blue yonder.  Its also where daredevils jump off the rocks into the sea below.  (We didn’t).  A couple of times we packed a simple picnic lunch and took the ferry boat to Lokrum to enjoy the less populated spots there.

Besides all the swimming, Dubrovnik is a beautiful and historic city.  It has “atmosphere” in abundance.  In between close together stone buildings narrow streets are paved with smooth worn flag-stones that gleam in the sunshine as if polished.  In the baking heat tourists amble past sleeping street cats while swallows dart about, swooping up and around the terracotta roofs and the bell towers.  The old town is completely encircled by thick stone walls built progressively from the start of the middle ages to fortify the city; in the later stages (14th century) forts were built into the walls for extra protection.  Taking the 1.9km walk all the way round the city wall was definitely a highlight.  In the morning sunshine the views into the old city from the high perspective of the walls are magnificent and meant we avoided the crowds and the intense heat as the afternoons regularly climbed past 30 degrees.  That was swimming time!

We took the cable car up Mt Srd above the city to see the Fort Imperial built during the time of Dubrovnik’s occupation by our “old acquaintance” Napolean Bonaparte (he got around a bit).  Inside is an interesting exhibition of the history of Croatia’s Homeland War 1991-95; the time of the break up of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.  It was sobering that I remembered watching TV news bulletins of the conflict, that people we met had lived in Dubrovnik through that time.  Twenty years on, Dubrovnik is attractive, it buzzes with tourists especially in the evening when the restaurants come alive in the squares of the old town and down every street no matter how narrow.

It was hard to leave, but we had a ferry to catch and more beaches to explore.  Next stop Korcula………next post.

 

More photos here.

 

 
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