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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Pulling yourself together

It has been a while since my last pseudo philosophical musing and so I am going to allow myself some further pondering in this post.

Have you ever noticed how attached we become to everyday things and everyday actions? We tend always to do certain things in the same way and not because that is the best way but because that is the way we have done it for a long time. I guess that is what we call habit. Well I fell into a habit recently and only when I started to question it did I realise that therein was a worthwhile lesson for me to have and to share.

It concerns the curtains in the main bedroom. There are two large window separated by perhaps a metre of wall, and the curtains are in pairs in other words a pair for each window. Inconsequently they are in a sort of swirly endpaper patterned material bought years and years ago in Alders in Croydon.

I digress. The curtains are hung on rails and have a pulley type open/close system via a loop of string. Both strings happen to hand down in the centre between the windows. For weeks I would attempt to choose the right strings to open the curtains in the morning so that with a simultaneous pull of both the curtains would swish open. I also, somehow, managed to persuade myself that if I succeeded in doing this then it would be a good day. In other words what I was doing was setting myself up to fail albeit on a very minor and insignificant task. If one set opened and the other did not then the day would be OK. If both remained stubbornly closed then, well, let's just say it was unlikely to be a red letter day.

One day last week, as usual I had made the bed and went to open the curtains , the very minor revelation occurred to me that in fact I should be looking at this in a much more positive way. If neither curtain opened then I had the opportunity to try again and the likelihood was quite high that I would succeed before very long, if one set opened then I had at least half succeeded and only had half the task to complete, and if both sets slid open then let there be light!

The point of this little fable is that we very often focus almost exclusively on our failures, on the things that didn't turn out quite right or were for some reason a disappointment. Far better to look for and to enjoy the successes in our lives that are there simply waiting to be noticed.

Did you hear the joke about the man who went to the doctor saying he felt like a pair of curtains..... Of course you did.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Bureaucracy is a French word

Is it really over 2 weeks since I last put fingertip to keyboard and punched out a few words for this blog? Apparently so. Since then autumn has really set in though kindly and gently and the maple tree in the garden is now totally red, yellow and gold. With a puff of wind the leaves tumble and I try and scoop them out of the pond at least once a day before they sink to the bottom and turn into something rather less attractive. In the interval my translation work rather dried up, probably because my supplier got cold feet when she discovered I was not registered for TVA and so she couldn't recover 19,6% of my fees. Had I been charging VAT of course my charge per word would have been the bargain of the century but then again -given the excellence of my work (cough) - it already is! I have had one more document this week extolling the various wonders of Dunkirk a little too lyrically methinks to bear much relation to the truth, but then again the French language is somewhat more flowery than modern day English and part of the job of the translator is to work out what the hell they really mean. Also our friends Nick and Hamid (our second set of Civil Partners) were with us till this afternoon. We must be doing something right as everyone so far has professed to enjoying our home, our company and indeed Lille. They had a day in Paris - or at least a few hours given the drive there and back - and checked out the wonderful Swimming Pool Museum (thanks Alan H). So what about bureaucracy? We received another of those dreaded recorded post letters from the town hall in Lille yesterday. Monsieur L'Architecte de la Mairie doesn't like our new windows and wants us to change our project (not realising that our windows are made and ready to be fitted). He wants us to reinstate the upper lights on the ground floor windows, hide the very small housing for the roller shutters and,this is the best bit, have the windows in an unspecified dark colour. The window company first said they would obtain any necessary permissions, then changed their minds to say that none were needed. We thought we had better do the right thing and the window company nevertheless went ahead and made the windows. We are at stalemate. We only wish the architect would come and see the street. It is a hotchpotch of styles and changes over the last 100 years, and yet the great and the good who make these decisions (based on the town architect's recommendations) must think it is a quasi conservation area full of quaint little workers' dwellings which should be preserved for our patrimoine. Our proposals are inoffensive, neutral and improve the aspect of the house and yet we are penalised for bothering to go by the book. Despite the fact that our new windows would look almost identical to those in the house opposite we have been given a very CDGaullian "Non". The window company have "never heard" of the regulations to be found in the Lille Urban Plan. Right. They want to go and argue the toss with M. L'Architecte. We want him to too! Watch this window...

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Lille 3000

Struggled not to attempt an excruciating pun for the title of this post and - you will be glad - gave it up as a bad thing. Last Saturday evening saw the inauguration of Lille 3ooo a three-month festival of all things Indian/Asian in the metropolis. I had questioned the reasoning behind the decision wondering what relevance it had but once I discovered that Lille 3000 is to be a biennial event with a different theme each time I was more than open to its possibilities.

Taking coals to Newcastle came to mind as friend Hamid was with us, a Bangladeshi for whom we had to promise heaven and earth in order that he would be granted a visa to visit us.

Throughout the festival there are elephants standing some 6 metres high (20ft if you must) along the Rue Faidherbe running from Gare Lille Flandres to the Place du Théâtre. They stand majestically, in pairs facing each other, a dozen of them forming proud "trumphal" (there got one in) arches. The station itself is illuminated like some brilliant temple, as is the La Voix du Nord building in the Grand' Place.
Admittedly we did have to wait well over an hour but when the parade arrived it was superb and more than made up for the wait. The air was autumnal but not cold and we could see fire and coloured smoke moving intriguingly towards us in the Rue Nationale. Then suddenly the incessant chatter was masked by the noise of the procession which swept passed,
litterally swept though with fire, falla giants, over 1000 dancers, musicians and singers. The air was filled with spice and incense and the night throbbed to a Bollywood beat.

We took our time to walk back up towards where the parade had started in order to see the elephants in all their nighttime glory, bedecked in glowing jewels.

Of course there were some negative feedback on the local paper's website opinion page on Monday, but we thought it a huge success and hope that the standard is now set for the rest of the season. More information can be found on the Lille 3000 dedicated website.
Final photo courtesy of La Voix Du Nord.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A nice little earner

How swiftly fortunes can change... Only two days ago it seemed as if I was staring at, at least, a very steep incline if not a sheer cliff face and then yesterday, plaff I was dropped straight back into the world of work and earning a few sous.

The translation work I was half hoping for didn't arrive but a whole PowerPoint presentation did and then another 5 documents for translating today. My neck and back are absolutely rigid. Now I must make the effort to get myself properly registered as a travailleur indépendant at URSAAF, bite the bullet and accept that they will want the bulk of what I might earn. Hence the little

Gorgeous card arrived from Clara Bo today - only 2 days in the delivering unlike the English teachers' resource book which arrived yesterday one day short of 6 weeks to cross the Sleeve: by pigeon relay perhaps?! Back to the card. The message on the front said that friends are the people who know you and still like you. How true. We often speak of people as friends but they are no more than acquaintances as we know very little about them and/or they haven't volunteered information.

Now what shall I make for dinner....

Monday, October 02, 2006

Off colour but in the pink?

Today is a non-day, a was it really worth getting up at all kind of day. Or at least it was. Max was called to work to cover for a sick colleague and we had said goodbye to the last of a run of guests so I really did have the house to myself and I am feeling pre-cold or lurgyish. Add to that the first really poor autumnal weather we have had - apart from in august! - following a record-breaking september.

For some reason, maybe because the frustrations of bureaucracy, and especially the self-employed kind were close to the front of my mind, perhaps because the juicy prospect of some translation work was being dangled in front of me - yet to materialise - and I realised I might have some difficultly in getting paid as I have yet to register as self-employed. Two reasons: I have no work, and I would be expected to pay a minimum amount of cotisations even without an income. Or so it seems.

So I accessed Ségolène Royal's blog (the favourite for the socialist party's nomination as presidential candidate), and strung together a few - I hope - pithy comments on the burden put on self-employed individuals in France. Rather like picking the fruit before it has formed let alone before it has matured the state takes so much more than it gives entrepreneurs. It offers them little in the way of support but expects them to take care of themselves when their contributions are enabling so many other people to continue to enjoy very generous state benefits and unemployment benefit. How can a one-person operation be expected to do this well before the income they derive from their hard work even reaches the overall average?

I suspect Ségo may have some sympathy but how much? The top discussion theme on her blog was about encouraging all salaried employees to join a union...

Then Clare, whose fleeting weekend with us ended only yesterday morning, created another beautifully crafted post on her blog - Lemon Soul - painting me in colours I don't always see but should perhaps try to discern more frequently. It certainly gave me a well-needed boost. How true though that it is often our friends and close ones who are able to see the real us, to pierce the self-doubt and misgivings, to spot the ability and the potential in us. Or at least to give us the affirmation that we need.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Food and le fin d'été

Apart from a 3 day window the last 18 days have been marked by visiting friends and the indian summer that was so longed for to counterbalance the misery of August. As I type a shower or rain falls outside but any rain we have had over that period was not enough to diminish the positive effect of the warmth and sunshine we have enjoyed nor to penetrate the guest bedroom where a bowl stands ready. Repairs have been scheduled and soon we should feel, once more, feel confident under the protection of our tiles.

We have discovered: another good restaurant, Le Melting Pot; the Jardin de Plantes where, although the roses were past their best, the dahlias impressed yet we couldn't quite determine whether the orangerie was accessible or not; the museum of art and industry at Roubaix, known as La Piscine and indeed realised in a 1930s public swimming pool.

Food is always a favourite area of conversation and of activity when Clare is around and her nutritional needs a small but interesting challenge. I had thought of preparing a salad of endives with pomegranate before receiving her gift of pomegranate molasses - a bit of a coincidence - and look forward to preparing perhaps the dish she recently offered friends at a feast to inaugurate her new flat and soon to be fabulous new life, see Lemon Soul in the Links. None of us could come up with a blue goat cheese but sheep was also fine and we went a-hunting only to finally be reminded by the charming woman on the cheese counter at Auchan that, of course, Roquefort, part of French fromage royalty, is made with sheep's milk; a chunk of deliciously creamy yet tangy Roquefort was duly purchased. The salad of endive, beansprouts, pomegranate jewels and Roquefort looked wonderful, tasted divine and was simplicity itself to prepare.

Whilst on the same shopping expedition - for food porn as Clare will have it - we were seduced by moules from Mont St Michel and so we bought a couple of kilos and the requisite simple but flavoursome ingredients with which to achieve a good Moules Marinières. This was a big thrill as I have not prepared mussels for many years and certainly not in France ever. Yesterday evening we were à deux at the kitchen sink cleaning and sorting them and noting the blueness of their small shells. Clare did the lion's share of the chopping - celery, shallots, garlic - I added carrot and fresh deep green parsley, and soon the pot was full and the mussels burgeoning. We allowed ourselves a little self-applause agreeing that the final dish was amongst the best moules we had ever eaten.

The shells are sitting just outside the back door waiting to be washed and crushed for the garden.