Au Revoir Paris

 

Our Parisian life has been folded up and squeezed into the suitcases, the lids closed (only just) and the destination labels attached. It really is time to say a final goodbye to Paris. We’ll miss every elegant inch of her charm, the way she unfurls her springtime greenery and the unbeatable social buzz of life “en-terrasse.”

Amongst the magnificent monuments and art, the fashion and the fabulousness that Paris offers it is the ordinary life and the people in it that matter most. We are so glad that we fitted in to an ordinary life, that we belonged. Like an ordinary Parisian I queued up for our daily baguette (une tradition pas trop cuit s’il vous plait), responded adequately en francais to the butcher’s interrogation about my intention for cooking the meat he was preparing for me, grumbled with fellow passengers about the stoppages on the metro and even argued successfully with the man behind the counter at La Poste.

For the last few weeks we’ve been saying our farewells to friends, workmates and whanau. We’re terribly sad to say goodbye, but at the same time it reminds us of how special these people have become in our lives and how cherished are the friendships: our language teacher Martine, my knitting friends at Montreuil and my knitting “pupils” at l’OIE – I’ll miss you, and I promise to keep up the French language practice.

I am so grateful to my knitting buddies, les tricopines, at L’Oisivethé who made me part of their tribe. Although I am going to miss the Wednesday night tricot soirée sessions immensely, I have a special project to assuage the yearning to be there: The Tangible Memory blanket.  These knitters started a memory blanket project as a farewell gift back in February, each of them knitting a few squares from their left over and stash yarns before passing it on to the next knitter and the next and the next to join in. They even knitted almost under my nose at knit nights, it was taken to Edinburgh then London and back to Paris, where it was presented to me to take home to New Zealand and finish. Is there a better gift for a knitter – I think not. Merci mille fois mes chѐres amies.20160702_112655

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Tangible Memory Blanket in situ on my knitting chair

For now, it’s farewell to you my regular readers too. Thank you so much for following keirybeesparis, for commenting and helping me belong in the blogging world. Along with Barbara, my dear friend and Stitching up Paris co-author, I will be writing about the Paris stitching scene from time to time over at www.stitchingupparisblog.wordpress.com, and you can find me, @keiryberry on Instagram.

Ka kite ano…………….Keiry

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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.

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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.

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.

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.