New knitters, new skills, new friends.

A couple of months ago one of my DB’s work colleagues contacted me to ask if I would consider teaching her to knit. It was an easy decision, of course I said yes. We had already met a few times at work functions so I knew we had plenty in common as fellow antipodeans and the idea of being able to pass on the knitting spirit along with some skills to young knitters delighted me. In a flurry of emails we finalised arrangements and by the time we met for our first lunchtime get-together our party of knitters had already grown to four. The following week another new recruit, then another and another, and now we are regularly 6 or 7: a New Zealander, an Australian (of Italian descent), 3 (or more) French and 2 Venezuelans. Knitting is a globally transmissible addiction!

It’s been quite illuminating for me to think about how I knit and explain that. At our second meeting I proposed that I would try and explain as much as I could in French and the knitting pupils, all fabulously multi-lingual, enthusiastically assisted with the language; a fair exchange, a win-win and a lot of fun. Some had no knitting experience, even holding the knitting needles felt uncomfortable at first, others had tried before, two are left-handed – oooh challenging for right-handed me – and now they are all knitters.

The transition from careful d-e-l-i-b-e-r-a-t-e movements w-r-a-p-p-i-n-g the yarn r-o-u-n-d behind the needle, p-u-l-l-i-n-g the stitch t-h-r-o-u-g-h the loop and o-f-f the needle to the rhythmic click clack of needles in nimble hands is a lovely reward for all of us. These debutantes have mastered cast on and off, knit and purl and conversations are peppered with discussions of point mousse (garter stitch), point jersey (stocking stitch), point de riz and point de blé (seed or moss stitch and double moss) , dimunitions and augmentations (increases and decreases).

PicMonkey Collage2 OIE

New skills are added week by week, the first projects have been finished and new, more challenging WIPs are on the needles. I am so proud of them.

I’ve reflected on my knitting year with a sense of satisfaction that in addition to the knitting projects completed and the new skills gained through those, I’ve been able to pass on the baton – or should I say the needles – to a new group of knitters to enjoy knitting as a social activity, a means for mental stretching and an effective antidote for stress in busy lives. Here are some of my knitting projects from 2015 that haven’t already made it into a blog post.

 PicMonkey Collage may projects

 

Two straight steps forward

20151206_120206Foot surgery is probably not most people’s idea of excitement. It’s not really mine either but I am a bit excited because I’ve now had the unsightly and painful bunions corrected on both feet and my toes are straight. It’s a good feeling to end 2015 with this behind me.

I had surgery on my right foot in September and then on the left foot on 25 November. After one week I was able to get out and (slowly) about to enjoy the sights of Paris again. My first expedition after the November surgery was to the newly re-opened Musée Rodin to take advantage of the free entry for the first Sunday of the month. Even then in the grasp of winter there were several brave roses blooming in the garden. The museum has been completely renovated over the last 3 years, the new look is subtle and becoming for display of Rodin’s works. His famed work, the Walking Man, struck a chord with me on this visit; strong straight feet and powerful legs – something to be thankful for. Everything in this museum is intense, full of emotion: passion, anguish, despair and thought flow from the huge marble and bronze figures. Such a treat.

At home or out and about I am restricted to wearing special shoes designed for therapeutic use after front-of-foot surgery. Not surprisingly these beauties won’t be seen on a Paris catwalk but they are magic.

Endowed with an inherited tendency my big toes have been gradually tipping sideways for a long time. I had reached the point where I had only one old pair of trainers and a pair of ugly sandals that I could wear all day without feeling significant pain. No matter what shoes I bought, (and there were a few) high quality, orthotic friendly, low heeled, wide toe, the result was the same: intense pain after an hour of having them on my feet. Enough is enough, I enjoy walking, I walk a lot wherever I am and I want to keep walking. I decided on bunion surgery now while I am fit to recover easily.

I had both operations done at the Institute Hospitalier Franco-Britannique under local, epidural anaesthesia and came home the same day. The entire team of people caring for me were simply Top! Preparing me for theatre the anaesthesia and nursing staff were totally professional, kind and friendly. We chatted, en français, about rugby, la coupe-de-monde and la belle équipe neo zélandais. This was one of the more weird French language experiences I’ve had. Talking to people wearing masks really focussed my listening skills and to be helpful my nurse insisted to her colleagues: articulez! The journey has been straightforward from start to finish. I’m so very grateful to my surgeon for his excellent care and skill, and perfect English.

Straight toes for the New Year? That’s definitely exciting, and in 3 weeks I will graduate to trainers then after another month’s time I ought to be able to wear regular shoes just in time for spring in Paris.  Meanwhile Happy New Year to you all.

Here’s the proof: top = before, centre = right side done and below = both feet done. At the moment my left foot is still a little swollen (and cold when I took this photo) but improvement is coming along visibly.

IMG_1020

 

 

Belonging

P1080057In the last couple of weeks I’ve reflected a lot on what it means to belong. I’ve talked with friends about what it means to them to belong in a place, to a community; how do you know you do, when does it happen?

We’ve shifted several times in our lives; in the days before children, then with our young family a couple of times and now overseas again for this second big OE. I’ve known the feeling of being new, anonymous, alone, not part of a place, and then the lovely realisation that you belong. In my experience there has been some thing – a comment, an event, a moment of revelation – that suddenly makes you think, “oh yes I belong here, I’m part of this,” but the transition itself is gradual. In the introduction to his cookbook The Sweet Life in Paris, American chef David Lebovitz amusingly recounts the moment he knew he had become Parisian when he found himself changing into “good” clothes to take the rubbish bags out. I laughed in recognition reading the story, knowing I might add a dash of lipstick too.

Almost three weeks ago The Thing happened that made me realise how much I belong in Paris. I don’t mean I belong here and nowhere else, or that I’ve stopped being a New Zealander. No, I’m still me, but I am here in Paris, I’ve adopted aspects of la vie parisienne and I belong to a community, a circle of friends of French and expatriot Parisians whose lives are happily connected with mine.

Never before (and I hope never ever again), will it be a tragedy like the terrorist attacks in Paris that trigger my realisation that I belong. Immediately I knew of the attack my fears were for our friends who live, work and socialise in the area where the terrorists struck. It is an area we know well, the weekend before we had met a friend for lunch at a café just a stone’s throw from where 11 people were gunned down at La Belle Equipe on rue Charonne. Two young American knitters I had met at knit night only a week or so before had me worried, one I knew worked and lived in that same neighbourhood. As social media updates and messages appeared we established that all our friends and their families were safe. Thankfully my two new knitting acquaintances turned up to knit night the following week, safe and sound, wondering like all of us how could this happen in beloved Paris.

As our family and friends rang, messaged, emailed and texted to check on us in the aftermath of the attacks we knew we belonged not only in our immediate Paris community but to a caring circle of loved ones with arms that stretch around the world. Thank you all.

Belonging in a community of love, respect and goodwill is a notion to be cherished. We must make it happen, safeguard it and nourish it. I figure it’s the best protection we have.

 

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.

Southern

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.