Praise the Gods! The sun has returned to our fair city. I can’t tell you the joy I feel, as the sunshine streams in through my apartment windows after what certainly feels like months of endless grey skies and gloom. Granted the constant rain did manage to cleanse the urine-soaked streets of Paris – the city has never smelt cleaner – but the excess water has caused any number of problems.
According to Parisian tradition, one can assess the risk of flooding by simply regarding whereabouts the water level reaches in relation to a particular statue – Le Zouave – under the Pont de l’Alma. So, when Le Zouave a les pieds dans l’eau (He has his feet in the water) you know that it’s already getting pretty bad. This year, not only did his toes get wet, but, by the time the Seine peaked at just over six metres, he was enjoying a proper soaking. Indeed, I dare say that a good many Parisians are breathing easier now that the waters have slowly begun to recede back down his stony form.
Thankfully, Paris appears to have escaped somewhat unscathed this time, although the same can’t be said for a good many other French and German cities, who have felt the brunt of Mother Nature’s fickle disposition over the past week, losing not just property and business but, in some tragic cases, human life itself.
Even though, I’ve been living in Paris for the better part of a decade, I do still get a tad homesick from time to time. Usually, this happens around special occasions, such as family birthdays, Xmas, Mardi Gras…or anything involving a party really. So, I tend to celebrate my Antipodean heritage whenever I get the chance. As was the case last Sunday when I hosted an early, celebratory Aussie-themed lunch in honour of our National Day.
To be honest, it was partly due to my trying to banish the winter blues with thoughts of summer in Sydney. To invoke the true spirit of the occasion, I pranced about in a brightly coloured t-shirt, short swimming trunks and a pink Australian flag worn like a cape – a present from a dear friend during a long ago Mardi Gras season. Not that I’ve ever needed much encouragement to play dress up, mind you.
Also, I do so enjoy trying to convert foreigners to the ways of the land Down Under, particularly in relation to our food. To this end, the lunch was a bit of a hybrid affair – much like my marriage – with a delicious mix of Australian and French fare…baguettes and wine thrown together with a sausage sizzle and TimTams. I even managed to have non-Australians trying and actually liking Vegemite. Admittedly, I was a bit sneaky about it, as I’d spread just a smidge of the salty, black goodness inside a cob of bread and then covered it with a ridiculous amount of cheese – it is a bit of an acquired taste, after all.
Well, dear readers, it’s been just over a month since my beloved Paris was subject to atrocious acts of terrorism. Having been away at the time, I was genuinely worried what kind of Paris I would come home to. While life does continue on here, there have been some very real changes to the way we live it.
The first difference I experienced happened when I arrived back in the country. As soon as we stepped off the plane from Australia the police were waiting on the air bridge to check our passports. They were checked again when we reached the customs area only one hundred metres further on. It seemed a little excessive but this was only a week after the attacks. I’m not sure if this is still occurring but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it is still in force.
There has also been a visible increase in security forces, in Paris itself, with quite a deal more heavily armed police and soldiers stationed all throughout the city. Ever since I’ve lived here I’ve been used to a strong protective presence. Indeed, I had become rather blasé to the sight of them. Nowadays, however, it is hard not to notice, as they seem to be almost everywhere one looks.
The holidays are over and the Parisians have flooded back into the city, recharged, refreshed and ready to throw themselves back into the daily grind. Understandably, the first week back is usually taken up with discussions of everyone’s respective vacations and by the second week the summer glow has faded and they are already counting the days to their next break. For my part, I’ve been hard at work coming up with a whole new slew of saucy stories – in between the obligatory bouts of cuddle time with my furry co-workers.
As our summer holidays draw to an end I thought it only fitting to reflect upon one of the staples of the Parisian summer scene – Paris-Plages. Growing up by the coast, and loving the beach the way I do, I never imagined that I’d end up moving so far away from one in a landlocked city. Don’t get me wrong, I do love living here but I do miss being able to sunbake on sandy shores and frolic in the water whenever the mood takes me – even though I can always pop over to Spain if the need becomes too overwhelming.
So you can well imagine my excitement when I found out about Paris Plages. Granted, it’s not really a proper substitute for the beach to anyone who’s ever been on an actual beach… except possibly those only familiar with English beaches, although they barely count. It takes more than land meeting water to make a beach dammit! But I digress.
For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, about thirteen years ago the then mayor of Paris took pity on those poor Parisians who were unable to escape the city for the – sometimes oppressively hot – month of August and set up a temporary beach by the Seine. Nowadays, there are multiple beaches along the river and the canal with more and more attractions each year – ice cream stands, paddle boats, ziplinig…
It should come as no surprise to my long-time readers that I am absolutely fascinated with the Parisian pompiers (military fire-fighters). Not that I’ve sat outside the fire station nearby my house, patiently waiting for a glimpse of these manly men to pop outside and go for a run in their ridiculously skimpy red shorts, mind you. Granted, I may take the long way around to the gym/supermarket/bakery so I routinely pass by said station house but that’s neither here nor there.
Light stalking aside, it’s not just the pumped pompiers that have caught my eye – although I do think it’s a damn shame that due to military guidelines they are forbidden from giving the world a Dieux de Stade calendar. But I digress.
On a daily basis I encounter all manner of authoritative men in their tight-fitting work wear. Indeed, Paris is practically bursting with buff, handsome men sporting fantasy-inducing uniforms. Not only do we have many types of police patrolling the streets, we also have a generous array of soldiers to help keep us safe and secure… the only good thing about a raised terror alert.
There is a new campaign in Paris that has gotten my attention of late…mostly because I think it’s an exercise in pure futility. The posters that have gone up about the place are aimed at smokers and aim to discourage them from carelessly littering the streets with their cigarette butts and use one of the multitude of garbage bins instead.
Don’t get me wrong, I do think it’s a great idea, but I don’t believe for a second that it will work. The people they are asking to show respect for their environment are the same ones who show no respect for those around them….just try sitting on a Parisian café terrace without getting a lungful of your neighbour’s second-hand smoke. For my part, I have no issue at all if people want to poison themselves slowly – that’s their right – as long as they occasionally think of others and tidy up after themselves.
I’ve been living in gay Paris for nigh on seven years now and while I have somewhat assimilated into the French culture – my rampant wine and coffee consumption being the prime examples – there are still some things that continue to baffle me. The list is long but I thought I’d start off today with one of the most odd – well in my opinion at any rate – and that would be the French obsession with suppositories.
Don’t get me wrong; I think the French health care system is one of the best in the world and it’s hardly as if I’m opposed to such a treatment. Personally, I’m rather open to the prospect of a handsome doctor administering such a course of treatment…repeatedly and preferably for as long as possible. It just seems a little peculiar that it is the more preferred option for the natives. Indeed, I’ve encountered quite a few Frenchmen that excel in, and are rather enthusiastic about, both the giving and receiving of this technique.
In all seriousness, I do understand the science behind it and realise that medication tends to be absorbed far quicker via this method. It makes even more sense in cases of illness where one might not be able to keep medications down due to nausea.