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.


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

At the beach in Paris

Paris Plage along Voie Georges Pompidou

Paris Plage along Voie Georges Pompidou

Paris has loads of beautiful things to see; art-works, architecture, gardens and parks, monuments, views and perspectives that will stop you in your tracks.  But, it doesn’t have a beach.  It’s not even within cooee of a beach.  Except from the 19th of July to the 17th of August the beach is brought to Paris.  Five thousand tons of sand is transported by barge from the canton Gaillon-la-Campagne in Haut-Normandie and deposited in three locations in the city to create beaches for Parisians; the Paris Plages.  This is the thirteenth year that the Paris city administrators have set up the beach city to bring a bit of vacation vibe right into town.

A stroll along the beach

Strolling along the beach

Alongside the right bank of the Seine on the Voie Georges Pompidou from the Pont Neuf to the Pont d’ Arcole there is a one kilometre stretch of golden sand beach complete with deck chairs, water sprays, ice-cream stands, tai-chi lessons, chair massage practitioners, petanque pitches, cafes, dancing lessons, a sand-castle building competition and more.  There are beach attendants in bright life-saver like uniforms and the Red Cross are there too in case of over exertion, over exposure (to the sun) or any other summer ailment.

One of the attractions at this city centre beach is the model of the Eiffel Tower made out of 324 red café chairs.  Why would anyone do this?…..Well to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the 324 metre high Eiffel Tower (built for the 1889 Paris Expo) and the typical folding café chair (aka bistro chair) built by French outdoor furniture manufacturer Fermob.  I was impressed; a very clever idea, and just how those 324 chairs are arranged is nigh on impossible to discern.

The big square at the Hotel de Ville (the Town Hall) is also covered in sand and is the location for weekends of beach volley-ball, rugby, beach tennis, and the FNAC music festival.

Out in the 19th arrondissement at the Bassin de la Villette (further upstream from the Canal St Martin I wrote about here) there is another beach installation.  At this beach there is a flying fox over the water, various water rides, boats and cruises as well as the deck chairs and beach games, ice-creams and cafes.

I’ve been spoiled living in Wellington with a walk along the beach front as my daily route to and from work and I really really miss the beach.  So a pilgrimage to check out the Paris Plages easily lured me one hot sunny day.  Crowds of people, (though not overwhelming), sunbathing, having fun and generally a thoroughly jolly atmosphere made for a pleasant stroll and if there had been any unoccupied deck chairs I might have stayed a while longer.  Sadly, I still couldn’t dip my toes in the water; even Paris can’t beat Wellington on a good day.  ( I cant resist showing you….)


Oriental Bay Beach, Wellington NZ.

Oriental Bay Beach, Wellington NZ.

Very soon I shall be dipping my toes, and hopefully the rest of me, in the Adriatic Sea.


Revisiting Clichy Batignolles Martin Luther King park

A year ago I posted a story about Martin Luther King park and the residential building projects going on around the park.  At that time a green living wall was being attached to the side of one of the new buildings.  Well look at it now…..a lush, healthy vertical garden.


Vertical green garden

Vertical green garden

There is great progress on this park project.  It’s exciting to see each stage come to fruition and the works in progress advance visibly week by week.  We now have a beautiful wetland space with waterlillies, reeds and several other water plants.  The aquatic residents – and their offspring – have moved in and look very content.  This morning while I was exercising and the ducks were still sleeping there were workmen preparing the muddy edges for the next extension of planting.  Beyond this wetland area in the middle of the park, the north park is now open with a grand adventure playground, petanque pitches, various green spaces and the re-located basketball, football and tennis grounds.  The original spaces for these in the south park have been subsumed into the work on the extension of the Line 14 metro.  In total the park now provides 6.5 hectares of space, which will ultimately become 10 ha on completion of the project.

The Clichy-Batignolles area is one big urban development scheme comprising the park project, transport improvements (Metro, train and tramway), development of additional housing (3,400 households for an expected 6,500 inhabitants) complete with social services such as crèches, schools and aged-care, commercial services, car parking and recycling, plus the development and installation of the Cite Judiciaire (aka Palais de Justice de Paris comprising the High Court, magistrates courts and police ministry).

It’s ambitious, complex, costly and necessary.  Above all it’s enjoyed already.  It’s the little things that deliver so much.  In the grand scheme of this project the water spout space is probably a small thing.  But at 4 o’clock every afternoon when the water pumps rumble under the concrete slabs and the first jets of water spurt sky high the enjoyment value is measured in the squeals and laughter of the kids dancing in the water jets.  In the heat of summer in the concrete heart of a big city it’s magic.


The completion of the project is planned for 2017-18 with delivery of the Palais de Justice and the Metro line 14 extension.  It will be the culmination of years of planning (from 2001 onwards, which included plans for development of the site as the potential space for hosting the 2012 Olympic Games, but London won the bid), preparation with acquisition of the land (it was railway land) and creation of the Zone d’ Amenagement Concerte (ZACs) needed for public works programmes, and hours, days and years of hard work on site.

I cannot say enough good things about this park; as a nearby resident – albeit a temporary one – it adds considerably to the quality of my Parisian life.  I certainly want to come back and see the finished project.


May Day – celebrating spring

The Medici Fountain, Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris

The Medici Fountain, Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris

I’m late, I’m late……I feel like the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland.  I was trying to post this in time for the first of May – “May Day” – instead I crawled back into bed with the flu (again).  Now, the spring showers and the flu are over, the sun is shining again, and so are my spirits.  May Day, the Fete du Travail is a significant public holiday here in France with most of the major tourist attractions such as museums, galleries and chateaux, and shops etc closed on May 1st.  It’s also called the Fete du Muguet (festival of Lily of the Valley) and is a day to celebrate spring and workers rights of 8 hours work, 8 hours leisure and 8 hours sleep.

Lily of the Valley for sale

Lily of the Valley for sale

The May Day workers holiday traces back to the sentinel events of May 1886 in America where workers took strike action in pursuit of an 8-hour working-day limit.   The Fete du Muguet dates back to the time of King Charles IX in the mid 16th century when he was apparently given a sprig of lily of the valley as a good luck wish.  The idea took hold and it’s a tradition still going strong today.

May Day 2014 lived up to expectations; we had spring showers interspersed with blue sky and sunshine, there were street sellers with bucket loads of lily of the valley on every corner and everyone was out and about promenading in the gardens and parks, umbrellas at the ready.

We strolled through the Jardin du Luxembourg with our Kiwi guest and took in the free photography exhibition currently in place on the outer fence of the garden.  This lovely exhibition “Fields of Battle – Lands of Peace” by Irish photographer Mike Sheil is part of the World War I commemorations.  There are hauntingly beautiful photos of sites that must have been anything but beautiful during those war years.

The photographs are on display here until early August, and from then they will be on show in London in St James Park.  There is also another commemorative display in the grounds of the Jardin du Luxembourg in front of the Senat building showing a large map of the WWI battlefields and a series of very interesting photographs of wartime work and activities.

With all the spring showers everything is looking so fresh and green and pretty, chestnut trees are bursting with flowers, the parks are beautiful.  It is no wonder that springtime is said to be the best time to visit Paris and no surprise that the tourists are arriving in force.  We are loving having our family and friends in town; there’s more adventures in Paris to come.

Spring flowers Jardin du Luxembourg

Spring flowers Jardin du Luxembourg

Katherine Mansfield; author and knitter.

Route marker in the woods near Fontainebleau

Route marker in the woods near Fontainebleau

If you have been reading my blog for a while (and I’m very grateful if you have), then you might remember I wrote about hiking in the woods near Fontainebleau.  On a later hike in the  same woods we found route markers named in memory of Katherine Mansfield and a memorial plaque attached to a rock bearing the inscription:

“Life never becomes a habit to me, it is always a marvel.  –  Katherine Mansfield”

When I wrote that first post my friend Cathy in NZ insisted that we must go back to Fontainebleau-Avon and visit Katherine Mansfield’s grave in the Avon cemetery – “its your patriotic duty” she said.  She’s right and we did make a return visit recently.

Katherine Mansfield’s grave in the Avon cemetery is plain and simple; a paua shell, a pink daisy growing in one pot and a variegated leafy shrub in another, the few mementos left by visitors.  The inscription on the weathered tomb is hard to read, well obscured by lichen.  The words are from Shakespeare’s Henry IV, she had used them as an epigraph to one of her stories:   “but I tell you, my lord fool, out of this nettle danger, we pluck the flower, safety.”  The cemetery itself is just the kind of ordinary place – quiet enough to hear sparrows chirping – that KM might have written about with intimate, observant detail in one of her stories.

KM was born in Wellington in 1888 and died, aged 34, in Avon, France in January 1923 from a sudden fatal pulmonary haemorrhage – a consequence of Tuberculosis.  She had moved to Avon to try and improve her health not long before her death.  At that time a number of her short stories had been published and were already receiving highly positive reviews.  Her stories and letters have since been published and reviewed over and over, as well as biographies written and television dramas made about her life.  She has become a celebrated literary figure of whom we NZers are terribly proud. (You can find information about her and her writing here, along with links to her stories.)

Her stories are timelessly appealing.  Reading my favourites* again now takes me straightaway to a place in my mind that’s somewhere between fond memory and vivid imagination.  I can see and feel NZ so clearly in my mind’s eye.

I’ve also been reading her published letters; she was a knitter!  I am in raptures.

In one letter (to Countess Russell, in October 1921) she wrote “John now mixes his wools thereby gaining what he calls a “superb astrachan effect.” Chi lo sa! I softly murmur over my needles – I find knitting turns me into an imbecile. It is the female tradition, I suppose.”, and later on 16 November 1921 writing to a friend (Dorothy Brett) to thank her for sending wool she says…..

“The Wools came today. They are quite lovely & I feel inclined to carry them about, just as they are, like fat dolls. J.M. was deeply moved by their beauty; he is an expert with the needles……..

Isnt leming yellow a fascinatingcolour. There is a very pink pink here too – aster pink, which is heavenly fair. I could get a wool complex very easily . . . These are simply perfect in every way.”

I get her thrill about the feel of the wool and the colours.  Even more interesting is the hint that her husband John Middleton Murry was a knitter.  Is that what she is saying?  I’d love to know for sure.

It doesn’t really surprise me she was a knitter.  She writes about knitting as deftly as a knitter works with yarn and needles that she had to have been familiar with knitting.  There are several characters who knit in her stories; Kezia’s Grandma Fairfield in At the Bay,  whips the wool twice round her thumb to cast on (just how my mother taught me to cast on), and counts stitches in threes.  Her characters are often knitting something pink.

I wonder why most (maybe all) of her knitting characters are “typical” knitters; old, grey-haired, kind grandmotherly types and yet she herself was young, so interesting, unconventional and clever.

Imagine if she had given us young female characters knitting, or a man knitting……. such a tragedy that she did not get the opportunity.

Next visit I shall take flowers; lemming yellow if I can find them and Aster pink, heavenly fair.

Using the resources of Wikimedia Commons here is the essence of Lemming yellow (apparently the yellow Steppe Lemming) and Aster pink.


* My top favourite is The Dolls House.

The social scene in the seventeenth.

Les boulistes at Square Batignolles 17eme

Les boulistes at Square Batignolles 17eme

It’s 3 o’clock.  The regulars are all here – rue Cardinet at the north-west entrance to Square Batignolles in the 17th arrondissement.  A few of the boys are throwing warm up shots.  The team mascot Mideau, a slim little dog, is full of nervous energy.  She scampers back and forth along the inside of the perimeter wall with the finesse of an Olympic gymnast, shooing off the pigeons before the game starts.  The throwing ring is in place, le cochonnet (the jack) is bowled out, and we’re underway with the afternoon boules tournament.

Everyday of the week les boulistes (the pétanque players) are here; winter, summer, autumn and spring.  Mostly chaps in a mature age bracket, apparently the younger fellows (ahem, my age) play in the late afternoon and evening sessions.  There are the playing teams, three each side, and the subs bench who might come on as impact players later when one of the first team subs himself off.

The subs bench

The subs bench

There are two large rectangular terrains de jeu (pitches), large enough for several games to run concurrently and all are occupied.  The pitches are dust and gravel, the terrain is uneven and peppered with mounds and gullies.  That’s all part of the challenge no doubt, with these wily players adept at using the vagaries of the surface to their strategic advantage, and when it doesn’t the typical shrug along with an expressive “pfff…c’est la vie” amuses me every time.  So French!

Monsieur "le shooter"

Monsieur “le shooter”

The games progress briskly, from time to time the tape measure is needed to check before tactical advice is rendered for the bowler preparing for the final shot.  Monsieur “le Shooter” steps into the ring, he steadies, cigarette carefully tucked into the corner of his mouth, he crouches slightly and launches a kill shot into the air aiming to knock out the best placed boule.  When it lands right on target with a mighty claque there aren’t any high fives, a jolly “Bravo!” suffices.  That game is wrapped up; the players pick up the balls with their magnetic sticks, de rigeur for serious players, and re-set for the next end.

It’s a very pleasant and captivating way to while away the time watching, especially in the spring sunshine.  On busy rue Cardinet people commonly stop to watch the players, as I’ve done many times too.  The chaps are an amiable bunch.  A few weeks back when I stopped to watch I asked if I could take some photos, they happily obliged and chatted a little.  Now when I walk past there is a perceptible nod of acknowledgement; la politesse is important here.

As inevitably as spring turns into summer and the warm sunlight filters through the trees les boulistes will be here enjoying the company of friends.  This terrain de jeu in the 17th arrondissement is a sublime little patch of conviviality and sunshine, and I shall enjoy visiting to watch and soak up the ambiance.