How not to knit a chicken, and other language laughs

Un pull - a jersey

I knitted a jersey

From the other end of the table a sweet little voice said “Ah, I wondered why you were knitting a chicken” and with that the knitters around the table erupted into friendly giggles.

Let me explain: It was knit night at L’ OisiveThé, the café full of knitting friends was abuzz with chatter in French and English. My fellow knitters know I like to practice my language skills and encourage conversation en français. Someone asked me what was I knitting. “Un pull” I replied, or more correctly I intended to reply. A jersey is un pull, a word I know well and use with ease. But clearly, with too much ease and not enough attention to correct pronunciation, because what I actually said was une poule -a chicken – I am knitting a chicken!

Around the table amid chuckles Anglophones practised and Francophones coached the different sounds: pull sounds (more or less) like “pewl” and poule sounds like pool. The words and their sounds are etched in my mind thanks to the impromptu and thoroughly amusing lesson.

It’s not only the French-English traps that generate laughter. English alone has provided plenty of entertainment when accents play a part. During the discussion of summer holiday plans I mentioned to an American friend that some of our knitting colleagues were heading to the Shetlands on a knitting trip. I could tell immediately by the look on her face that we had a translation problem. With my New Zealand accent and her American ears, what do you think she heard? Yep, it sounded like our friends were heading somewhere for a really crap holiday. Quickly clarifying I meant the Shetland Islands north-east of mainland Scotland solved the problem. The Shetlands then made perfect sense for a knitter’s holiday destination.

My Shetland Island Fair Isle inspired vest. A project from 2013

My Shetland Island Fair Isle inspired vest. A project from early 2013

Amusing, inspiring, enlightening and cultural; knit night enriches my Parisian life week after week.

Summer knitting in review

Sea shells and shawl Crikey, I need to be quick. I want to tell you about my recent knitting achievements before the memory of summer is too distant. Thoughts of lingering balmy evenings have been blown away with the autumn leaves; it’s cold and high time for sock knitting already.

Only a few weeks ago sitting in the warm sunshine on our seaside balcony, I cast off the final stitches of my first ever all-over lace shawl, Bien Aimee designed by one of my Paris knitting friends Hiro. I knew I would need peace and quiet to concentrate and knit carefully on the pattern with its gathered stitches and intricate manoeuvrings of knits, purls, yarn-overs and decreases. Leucate seaside turned out to be the right spot. To the background of gentle beach sounds I worked my way through the chart repeats and onto the lace border without any great difficulty. Even the seashore seemed in tune with my project as everywhere I looked there were tiny shells with mauve tones perfectly matched to my shawl. As soon as we were home I blocked Bien Aimee and with the temperatures tumbling from their summer highs I’ve worn it many times already. I love it.

Cafe model

Before the holiday I started another pretty shawl, Southern, by New Zealand designer Libby Jonson. Several people knit this design as part of Libby’s Trulymyrtle knit-a-long and after seeing one gorgeous example finished with beads I decided to add beads to mine too. I couldn’t get the right beads until I got back from holiday so my Southern has only just been finished. While knitting the lacey section, inserting the clear glass beads as I went, I had my doubts if they were a good idea after all. But after blocking the shawl and seeing them sparkle like icy droplets in the sunshine, I’m delighted.


That’s two of my knitting goals for the year accomplished; all over lace and beads. I’m happy, these are both wonderful designs and I’ve got gorgeous accessories to dress up for a stroll around Paris on a crisp Autumn day.

Now I’ve picked up where I left off on an interesting shaped jacket, Lost and Found by Stephen West (just finished) and I have socks on the needles which will be another goal-achieving project as this is my first pair with after-thought heels.

There’s nothing like a bit of a challenge to add interest, even if it’s a small challenge. I’m all for that and I’ve got a few projects lined up that are definitely exciting.

Visiting the President at home – France Heritage days

Monsieur le President at home

Monsieur le President

Here in France every year since 1984 two weekend days in September are designated Journées du PatrimoineHeritage Days. Having been started by France as Open Door days when ordinary citizens were given access to visit places normally closed to the public; the President’s palace, the Prime Minister’s residence, France television studios, artists’ workshops, historic buildings and all sorts. The idea was adopted by the Council for Europe and by 1991 became the European Heritage Days; the doors are open all around Europe this weekend.

The Journées du Patrimoine are hugely popular, long queues at the favourite places are legendary. This year I’m confined to barracks with my recent foot surgery but my intrepid DB made it his mission to visit the Elysée Palace – the residence of the President of France – get photos and tell me all about it.

First up, advance research was essential to confirm door opening time and entrance point: 8am at Avenue Gabriel the goal. DB was up early, 6am out the door and en-route via Velib bicycle soon after. He arrived at the entry gate by 7am and reckons from there he walked at a brisk pace for 5 minutes to reach the joining point of the queue out on the Champs Elysées! Four hours, 2 security check-points, a pat-down and metal detector scan later, he gained entry to the palace gardens to join another queue for the palace interior.

20150919_114008Eventually he arrived inside, the tables were all set with fine china, fine linen and pretty flowers and Francois Hollande was in residence meeting and greeting. Alas DB did not get to meet Monsieur le President, but he did snap a photo from the sidelines. DB was most impressed with the fabulous tapestries, the furnishings and the remarkably good crop of tomatoes in the Presidents garden.

Great tomatoes

Great tomatoes

The Elysee Palace has been the official residence of France’s Head of State since 1874. It was worth the wait – once.

A walk on the beach

Time to get up and start holidaying

Good morning Leucate – time to get up and start holidaying

In my younger days I dreamed of visiting places half a world away from my home way down in the southern part of the Pacific Ocean. I pored over travel brochures for Continental Europe and wished myself onto the pages where the blue Mediterranean Sea lapped the shores of elegant beach resorts in the South of France and tiny fishing villages on the Greek Islands. It all looked so exotic, interesting and dare I say it, better than my beach.

I wished hard enough and now 35 years on I’ve been fortunate to visit several of those beauty spots in the Mediterranean holidaying on Italy’s sublime Amalfi coast, at Dubrovnik and Korcula in Croatia, Istanbul in Turkey and before my blogging days on the Greek island of Mykonos. I’ve had tour stop-overs in Barcelona and Nice, a sunny weekend in Marseille and I’ve just spent 2 weeks on the south coast of France near the small village of Leucate, about halfway between Narbonne and Perpignan, basking in the sunshine and swimming in the Med.

The gorgeous blue Med seen from the outdoor cafe at MuCEM.

The gorgeous blue Med seen from the outdoor cafe at MuCEM.

The Mediterranean is undeniably special. It is beautiful, it is steeped in history -the Museum of Civilisations of Europe and the Mediterranean in Marseille does an excellent job of explaining the fascinating history of the region and the importance of the sea – it is shared by millions of people from twenty nations bordering its shores, and enjoyed by millions more who come to visit.

It is also polluted and over fished. It is in danger from the humans who use it and abuse it. Not all pollution is visible, but plenty is in the form of everyday rubbish plastic bags and bottles, polystyrene boxes, cans, wrappers and junk of all sorts.Rubbish

Last year on our Croatian holiday I was aghast to see the amount of rubbish slopping about in the water and littering the beach. It wasn’t the first time I had noticed the mess in the Med. I started taking a bag to the beach each day, filling it in no time with picked up rubbish. Rubbish bins were few and far between at the bathing areas in Dubrovnik and Korcula. Even more appalling was the deliberate disregard some beach users had for the care of the beach.

Litter left behind

Whoever left their wine bottle and glasses chose this beautiful spot to enjoy their evening and then CHOSE to leave their rubbish behind – how inconsiderate!

This summer I was happy to see that Leucate beach was noticeably rubbish free. Top marks for responsible beach users and the local city council’s rubbish bins every 100 yards all the way down the long beach that were changed every morning. From our apartment right on the beach front we caught the glorious sunrises and then with the sun – and us – fully awake took our daily stroll barefoot along the length of the beach, the sea as blue as those travel brochures promised years ago. The only time I found rubbish to pick up was one morning after overnight gales whipped up the sea and washed plastics and junk ashore. In between swimming, reading and lots of knitting we wandered through the local village, shopped at the market stalls and climbed up the hill above Leucate village to the ruins of the old chateau from which the locals fended off invaders through four centuries from1258 to 1659.

View from the pier at Port Leucate along the beach towards Leucate

View from the pier at Port Leucate along the beach towards Leucate in the distance

We have seen the Med at its most picturesque and shuddered at its trashy spots. Despite the rubbish it remains as beautiful and alluring as the pictures that inspired my travel dreams. I’ve satisfied my yearnings to see it, swim in it and travel on it; now I appreciate that big blue Pacific more than ever.

For a collection of Mediterranean photos visit my Flickr photostream here.

Handmade Perfume

Today I’m wearing something I made myself.  No, not something knitted, instead it is my lovely perfume that was hand made by me.

A hint of ......

A hint of ……

My daughter and I spent an afternoon at Le Studio des Parfums Paris creating our own perfume under the direction of Sophie the fragrance expert.  Nestled in rue Bourg-Tibourg in the Marais district the Studio des Parfum’s neighbours include tea merchants and more parfumiers amongst fancy boutiques.  Along the road a cluster of typically Parisian café-restaurants hum with summer activity; waiters deliver glasses of rosé to accompany platters of cold meats and French cheeses while customers busy themselves with people watching from the shade of striped umbrellas.

Having telephoned a few days in advance to fix a rendezvous for our perfume making session we arrived in the fragrance focussed neighbourhood in time to take a leisurely lunch and obligatory bubbles at one of the cafés and simply enjoy being together in Paris in the summer.

An hour or so later at Le Studio we were welcomed and settled at our perfume making counters ready for the do-it-yourself workshop.  We started with a chat about our perfume likes and dislikes – flowers yes, vanilla and spices no for me.  Then armed with pen and paper and our noses we began the process of selecting and recording our preferred scents starting with the base notes, the scent that lingers longest. Oh how hard it was to be decisive; sniffing and re-sniffing, comparing notes and sharing opinions, we made our choices.  Next up the middle notes – the heart notes – four or five more and finally the top notes; 4 or 5 scents that will be the first impressions of our perfume.  It did get easier, we became bold.  Sophie looked over our list of notes to confirm we had arrived at a harmonious mix and determined the precise recipe for our selection of notes.

Sophie and Katherine

Sophie and Katherine

The chemistry lab

Perfume chemistry

Stage two, the formulation, was the most elegant lab work I’ve done!  With measuring cylinder and beaker we tipped and dripped exactly the right volume of specified notes.  Base mix first, then heart and head notes, mixed, sniff-tested by us and checked at each step by Sophie’s assistant to make sure we were on course.  With the last few millilitres of notes added, and the final assessment by Sophie, our very own perfumes were bottled, labelled and presented for us to take home.

The finished product

The finished product

As we wafted out in a fragrant haze of happiness and satisfaction, Sophie and her team filed our worksheets safely away ready for the day we return to make a bottle or ten of our favourite personal scent. My gentle flowery scent with hints of bergamot, rose, lilac and lily of the valley reminds me of my lovely grandmother.  My big question now: what to call this eau de Keiry?  Ideas?

It’s hotting up in Paris

Happy half-marathoners

Happy half-marathoners

It’s hot, so hot the weather is the news.  In the last five days in Paris we’ve been sweltering in temperatures ferociously close to 40 degrees C (104F) as a result of hot air blowing in from the Sahara baking Europe.  The first week of July is early for our first official heat wave of the summer – that means high temperatures are recorded for 3 consecutive days – and the public health authorities were very prompt in launching “heat wave safety” alerts.  The temporary beaches alongside the Seine are not set up yet and Paris hasn’t yet emptied out for the summer holidays; that won’t happen until August when many small businesses close up for a few weeks.  The summer sales are in full swing so the shops are busy, but thankfully air-conditioned.  Shopping is definitely a cool thing to do.

Right now we are fondly reminiscing on our recent weekend in Hamburg to cheer on the runners in the Hamburg half marathon.  Not only were our dear Kiwi Hamburger and her boyfriend competing, but the weather was a comfortable 20-ish degrees with sunshine and puffy white clouds.  The parental cheer leading squad stationed themselves on the looped section of the run so we cheered them through 4km and then 9km before jumping on the U-bahn to head out to the finish and wave and cheer them through the last kilometre.  A happy posse of proud parents and tired but happy competitors were reunited after the finish line.

As for knitting in this weather, I’ve had to temporarily abandon one knitting project, Penguono a colourful kimono-styled jacket, for a lighter project that won’t cause me to self combust.  My new Rattan shawl project is a treat for me in several ways; I’m knitting with Zealana Air yarn from New Zealand, the pattern designer is from NZ and I’m knitting as part of a virtual KAL, a knit-a-long, led by Libby the designer, so I’m feeling the kiwi vibes with this one. Rattan However even with this gorgeous light-as-a-feather yarn I couldn’t knit on the hottest days, my sweaty hands just could not manipulate the sticks and thread at all.

Thankfully the hottest days have passed and we have some respite before the next blast from the Sahara.  A little knitting is on the agenda again and hopefully the stores will replenish their stock of fans.

Stay cool.

New in Neuilly

Another chapter in our Parisian adventure is underway, although strictly speaking we are out of Paris now.  Moving day went without a hitch; the hired minivan turned out to be less mini and more van and our experience with the official Authorisation to Park for the purpose of house-moving was amusingly French; it happened perfectly half the time and not at all the rest.  No indication of a special parking arrangement appeared in the street outside our old apartment but on arriving at the new address we found two formidably official looking NO PARKING signs bearing a copy of our personal parking permit stationed by the roadside.

Authorised to park

The official parking authorisation for moving house.

Most drivers had completely ignored them and parked anyway, but we still found enough space for our hired van and completed a swift unload of our belongings.  Despite the absence of reserved parking at the old place there was no problem, we simply followed the local custom and parked where it suited.  The boss of the painting gang working on our old apartment building that day had parked alongside us and directed traffic and moving operations as part of his supervisory routine – which incidentally did not seem to include painting.

The Boss

In charge of operations

Day one at Neuilly the telecommunications technician arrived bang on time and with supreme efficiency and expertise connected us up with the same industrial strength wifi, VOIP phone and TV that we’ve enjoyed for the last 3 years.  Top marks this time Orange.

Week two and we are still wondering just how we have managed to accumulate so much stuff in only 3 years here.  What didn’t get thrown out has been unpacked and a place found for almost everything in our 53 square metre apartment; an increase of 5 square metres on the last apartment.  Plus, best of all, we have a balcony with a view onto gardens and large trees lining both sides of the boulevard.  It’s a treat to look outside and see the sky, the trees and watch the world go by.

Knitting spot

My new knitting spot

Our new neighbourhood on the edge of Neuilly where it borders with Levallois-Perret is very different to the much loved corner of the 17th arrondissement that we left behind.  We’ve exchanged the lively cosmopolitan bustle of Avenue St Ouen and the food merchants on rue des Moines for the leafy bourgeois suburb of Neuilly with its wide green boulevards, modern apartment buildings and the American Hospital of Paris just along the road.  For the moment we are missing the friendly local bakery, the cheesemonger and the butcher but we are discovering other pleasures in our new neighbourhood.  It’s only a 5 minute walk to the Ile de la Jatte for a stroll alongside the river Seine where it loops up and around the western edge of Paris.  House boats, some of which look decidedly like house mansions, line the river and the Impressionist Walk through the park marks the places where several famous painters set up their easel and paint box to capture the scene.  Georges Seurat’s paintings Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, and the Bathers at Asnières are two of the best known.

Neuilly sur Seine

The Seine river at Neuilly

The reasons for choosing the new apartment are many and varied and include that my DB can still walk to his office from here.  Since it’s a 15 minute longer walk he now picks up a Vélib (the subscription hire-bike) part way and completes the journey à vélo.  We might be technically out of Paris, but with the nearest Line 3 Metro stop a mere 8 minutes walk away we are still connected to all the joys of the City of Light; the Paris adventure continues.  À bientôt.