Posts Tagged ‘books’

I have posted before about our two Rescue Romanian Dogs.  I have also mentioned the plight of one of them, little Eddie who was abused and tortured: he had his tail cut off, was hung from a tree in a metal snare and left to die


and then hit on the head with a metal spike, to kill him.  This missed his skull but made a hole in his nose through which a bone and tissue destroying bacteria has entered, destroyed the inside of his nose and is now in the bones of his skull, giving him a life threatening disease: we are crowd funding to try to raise money to pay for life saving veterinary treatment for him.


We are being supported by a local charity who are helping by circulating information: all their Trustees are donating and trying to raise his profile.  Two local Newspapers have run stories on the dogs including with photos of me, which I am not keen on but they wanted them, so there we are.

(My recently dyed hair to celebrate my 70th birthday is showing up well!!!)

Now a UK author, Milly Johnson, has joined in and is holding an auction on ebay giving bidders the chance to name a character in her 15th book and to liaise with the author about the character development, receive signed copies and a hamper of goodies:

so if you like her books you might like to go over and check it out at


Several of you kind readers have already donated and I am so humbled and grateful by your support and that of people locally who know about poor little Eddie.

Given the awful things happening all round the world I sometimes question whether I should be trying to raise money for one little dog rather than for other charities, but as has been pointed out to me, this gives some people a focus, an idea of something practical they can do to right some terrible wrongs, and raises the profile of stray dogs in Romania.  It also makes people feel happier knowing that a fairly simple gesture will make a huge difference to another sentient being at a time when a lot of us feel powerless to help millions of other animals and people.

At the risk of boring you silly, I will once again leave the link to the crowd funding page at the end of this post for those who have not visited here before, and will end with a photo of Eddie sending you all lots of licky kisses:)




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It seems to be a pattern this year, just as I am embarking on blogging about a trip away, life intervenes and the posts stop before they really get started.

Oh well, I hope that my Scotland trip will still appear here, but for now my seasonal offering this year is a tradition from Iceland I have just heard about from litlovers facebook page:

The “Jólabókaflóð” – literally, the Christmas Book Flood.  Apparently Icelanders love books perhaps more than any other nation in the world, and every Christmas everyone will find at least one book under their Christmas tree.


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Bells ring out at 6.0 pm on Christmas eve and then Icelanders sit down to a formal meal:  many  listen to the service on the radio even if their families aren’t religious, just because this is the beginning of the Christmas celebrations.  Once the meal is over and cleaned up, the gift distribution (or book distribution) begins. In fact, it’s a tradition in Iceland to open the books and spend all Christmas Eve reading and drinking hot chocolate, or better still, to climb into the freshly cleaned sheets of your bed, in your new pyjamas, with your new book plus some chocolate, and spending the night under the covers eating and reading:)

Its interesting that chocolate in some form seems to go hand in hand with reading:  clearly I am Icelandic:)

I hope you get some good books this Christmas!




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With Easter being very late this year, the garden is looking really Spring-like!

An unusually warm and sunny period has seen me out in the garden for hours and days on end trying madly to get on top of things before they get on top of me.  Hence yet another long silence on this blog.

I have planted up part of the Orchard as a woodland Spring garden and this year it has really come into its own: for once the plants have had a chance to open up and decorate the place for us in time for the holiday weekend.

The snowdrops are long over but the ‘Snowflakes’ are looking lovely with the small Spotted Dog flowers peeping out behind:

The Pheasant’s Eye Narcissus with the Dog’s-Tooth Violet clustering around them: I revel in the pure white of the Narcissus with that gloriously delineated edging to the tiny trumpet, and the delicate butterfly petals of the Dog’s Tooth which look as though they are about to fly away.

Some purple Snake’s-Head Fritillary with Primulas of different types, including Primroses:

Some ‘Native, Wild’ Tulips – so delicate compared with cultivated ones.

What I do not have and would really like are some Native, Wild Daffodils, also known as the Lent Lily, which are much smaller and paler with thinner, more delicate petals, than the cultivated types.   Perhaps I will be able to order some in the Autumn.

I have a species of Mahonia which has small flower heads rather than the more usual long spikes, but it smells deliciously of honey, which is why I chose this particular one.

In one corner I planted a white Bleeding Heart in front of it:

The Hellebores are also feeling floriforous this year:

They are always promiscuous and breed profusely, but I leave them to grow and flower before weeding out the ones which I do not want, just in case they produce a real beauty:)

I have a Flowering Currant too, but instead of a pink or red one, I have the yellow one: this smells gloriously of cloves, instead of the frequent cat pee scent of the red varieties, leading to them being called the Tom Cat Bush over here!

Like many of the plants in our garden this bush came from a friend, in this case from a very elderly lady, many years ago: a wander round here is a wander down memory lane and brings many people rushing back to my mind.

The two tall Magnolia trees frame the orchard at one end, majestically reigning over all: just before the petals fall the Lilac comes into bloom, accompanied by the Apple blossom.

The grass is awash with Daffodils: they were planted before we came here and have multiplied massively over the years.  They look marvellous, even though I regret that they are not the delicate pale native variety.  Here they are in a full view of part of the orchard –

I wanted to leave you with an Eastery picture of the orchard: five years ago I could have taken a photograph like this one below:

Unfortunately we have no chickens at the moment, so I have copied this from the website of rainingsideways.com – Sally Vincent’s Diary of Food and Life on a Devon Farm which is well worth a visit.

Whether you will be surrounded by children and chocolate eggs or rabbits, or real eggs,

or just a relaxing weekend with some sun and a good book,

I wish you all a very Happy Easter weekend.

NB  Of course, over here we only have a three day week after Easter this year since we have another long weekend afterwards with the Royal Wedding followed by another Bank Holiday.  Some people are finding themselves with eleven days holiday, which is only ‘costing’ them three actual days!

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Well folks, I thought I’d better come clean.

I am struggling here.  Usually I have a big depression every year from mid-January to the beginning of March and then it lifts as suddenly as it descended.  But this year it has already begun.

You cannot escape grief.  And I jetted off to my magical stay in France on the back of losing Ulf and Rusty.  Now, back in the house, I think about Ulf all day and cannot make myself go out for walks here, and every time I see a lone woman walking her dog I crack up inside.  At night I am dreaming about Rusty or the house where she lived, or the times I spent there as a girl.  Last night I was in her house, but decided to walk to the next village where I lived to go home.  But each time the road led me straight back to her house again.  There was no way to leave.  Strange.

And my actual home is sapping my energy and giving me grief: I felt it as soon as I came back. I have been trying to analyse my situation.  Because of various things that happened to me as a child I need to feel free.  I was trapped in unbearable situations very young which had traumatic consequences.  So, I have found that I need to live high on a hill with open views: I like to have no curtains at the windows: I like open doors and windows with the wind blowing through: I like open expanses within and without: I like relationships which are transparent: I need to know where I am physically and emotionally: I do not like to have too many possessions.

Now my sister is the opposite: she like to have lots of things around her: lots of thick curtains, half drawn against people looking in: playing her cards close to her chest: being close to home: having a game plan.  My husband is similar.

Just different ways of reacting to difficult situations: no blame, just different people need different things.

But the amount of ‘stuff’ in my home is suffocating me: we have had to clear five peoples’ houses in the last 15 years.  Although we have felt drastic in what we disposed of, inevitably there are things we have kept.  We had a valuer in last Autumn and a lot would have gone to auction then but I had to prepare for examinations, then Ulf and Rusty became ill and died, and then my trip to Paris was upon me.  The prices are bad in the salesrooms at the moment so it seems a bad time to let precious things go, for a few months at least.

And I am my own worst enemy: I have never gone through and sorted out all the papers from my teaching or all the many wonderful academic books on plants, trees, landscape, soil, physics, chemistry, music, French, not to mention history, novels, travel etc.  There are books in cardboard boxes and in piles across the floor because there is no room for shelves to put them on.  Then I have clothes in all sizes and styles because they are too good to throw away and may come in useful again. etc. etc.  It is the same old story for so many people.  Things accumulate over the years and once they reach a certain level it is just too exhausting to wade through the muddle.

When you walk in here you feel as if you are physically dragged to your knees rather than sighing with relief at being home.  So I have spent the time since my return from France beginning to sort through old paperwork.  So far I have filled one and three- quarters of our blue bin (paper recycling) and two large sacks, but have now used up my energy spurt from my trip away and am struggling to keep on going.  Its a vicious circle: you need the energy to get rid of the stuff which will give you the energy to go on getting rid.  But stopping over Christmas has broken the spurt and I need to get back on track.

Sorting through books to give away is so emotionally draining: one part of me is so desperate at the moment that I am inclined to give everything away lock, stock and barrel: but that would be silly: and it is not just the house.  All the outbuildings are packed full of ‘stuff’ and I want to run away screaming.  I have felt like this for years and years only I have never been away for so long before and had to come back to the full realisation of how dreadful I find it and how I long to set fire to the lot.

In my own defence, I have been so busy living that I have not stopped to clear up as I go along: and with teaching you tend to gather so much material that may ‘come in’ that you hang on to.  Then there was the whole executor stuff from sorting out my friend’s estate that I felt it necessary to hang on to for tax and legal reasons: but yesterday I found marking schedules and feedback forms from years ago that I had never thrown away.  It makes me ashamed.  Still, I have spent the last couple of days sorting, sifting, shredding, making new piles and new files.  There are pieces of carpet which have not seen the light of day for years, and I can actually see my desk.

But I have still to go through fifteen box files of teaching materials, handouts, maps, field trip details, marking criteria, to see what is still relevant, what to keep, what to chuck.  They are the result of so many hours of research and writing that it is hard to get rid of them!  What a paradox, to need space and lack of clutter, but not to be able to part with things for fear of needing them again.

Anyway, thanks to the Christmas chocolates I have managed another energy spurt and when I need a change from books and papers, I have been through the medicine cupboard and the pantry shelves: anything out of date has gone.  Then there are the cupboards full of material for projects long forgotten, bedding for attic beds which will probably never see the light of day because the attics are no longer spare rooms, etc. etc.  Boxes of old family letters to sort through for relatives in Australia, plays by my grandmother to send to Sweden, notes from both my parents on books they were writing, notebooks from Victorian ladies on the Grand Tour, ancient recipe books,  notes for books I have begun to write.  It is exhausting just writing about it, but I must make some sense out of this stuff: I cannot leave it to others to sort through.

And once I have made some headway it will get easier as I go along: once space and room become apparent it will give me the energy to continue.  2011 is THE year when I will get on top of this stuff.  I will feel lighter and freer once I can shed all these old ‘skins’: parts of lives I wish to remember but not carry with me.  It is enough to carry my present life: I cannot carry all these past lives, my own and others.

So, to all of you who also wish to make changes in your lives, improve your quality of life and/or health, I wish you energy, motivation and health to sustain you through 2011.  Plus of course, fun, joy, laughter, happiness and good friends.

2010 has been a good year for me: and one of the most amazing and unexpected things has been making friends through blogging.  I never would have believed it possible and I want to say Thank You to all you kind, supportive, dear people who have so enriched my life this year.

May 2011 be a kind year to you all!

Our remaining dog, Onyx, sitting in the sun.

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Wednesday 8th December.

Awoke to another grey, chilly day, but not cold.  Friends write and say they hear how cold it is in Paris: not in my neck of the woods.

Things feel rather sad at the moment.  After a lot of catching up blogging yesterday today it is catching up round the apartment and locally.  Husband is coming over for a long weekend, arriving Saturday, so I want to have all my sorting out and tidying done before then so we can enjoy ourselves.  Today is putting away the ironing, putting out the paper rubbish, sorting through my receipts, making notes on what I have spent, piling up books and DVDs ready for packing, packing up my paints,  replacing furniture as I found it rather than how I have rearranged it, writing a note to my landlady and then going out to buy a few presents that I have noted mentally as I have been going round.  If  I have the energy I hope to get to Izrael to take some indoor photos but I am feeling shattered.  Don’t know why.  Perhaps it is that ‘end of things’ syndrome, the dream has been lived and is coming to a close.

By late morning the weather had changed!!   Lunchtime found us with snow falling, slowly, no wind, silently, just drifting down from the sky, and lying.  It had a relentless feel to it!  View from the flat:

Finally, I decided I must go out and brave the weather since I want to buy Blanche her book for tomorrow morning.  But we have now had several inches, four inches in three hours to be exact.

So off out with the snow still falling and lying.   Cars stuck everywhere, nothing much moving on the side roads and only buses and lorries on the main roads.  Abandoned vehicles on most intersections.

I decided to walk through the Place des Vosges to get to St. Antoine since I thought it might look lovely in the snow, and I was right.  Photographers were out in force: one man, a Brazilian,  said he has lived here for 25 years and never seen snow in the Place des Vosges like this.

I stayed, marvelling, and taking photos as long as I could but finally I got just too cold and had to continue on my way.  It was also getting quite treacherous underfoot:

I crunched my way across St. Antoine and into the Maitre Fromager: there were several ladies ahead of me so I waited, we all smiled at each other, and it turned out they were three Italian matrons who wanted to know where I came from.  It was embarrassing, they could speak French and English, so much for my progress then.

When my turn came I asked for a small dry Goat’s cheese like I had had before and for a soft  one rather like Brie:

Admittedly, it looks rather like a white cow pat and it made the fridge smell as if something had died in it, for days, but it tasted delicious!

The Italian ladies were disturbed to find that they had left their umbrella outside and it had vanished:  at least, after some cogitations that is where they thought they had left it.

I did not have mine with me, relying instead on my trusty, woolly beret from Monoprix otherwise they could have had it: they only cost 5 euros and are for sale everywhere today!

So. on to the Red Wheelbarrow to buy Blanche’s book.  I was tossing up between Terry Pratchett’s book ‘Wyrd Sisters’, about ascerbic old Granny Weatherwax the witch who ‘borrowed’ animals minds to go out and about, or Douglas Adams’ ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’.  In fact I was not sure whether Blanche would find much of the humour or irony accessible but to me they are such iconic books and very typical of a certain type of British humour which I love: I asked Penelope’s advice.  She did not have Terry Pratchett so that sorted that out and looking again at the beginning of the HHGTTG she thought it would be OK for Blanche.

So that was bought and gift wrapped very kindly by Penelope.  Another friend of hers came in and we had a long conversation on the differing aspects of French and British pedagogy.   She was interested in my use of mental ‘hooks’ and said they did not do that here, it is learning by rote and writing to a particular format.  So many ideas per paragraph etc.  She mentioned that they are looking for teachers here to teach English, would I be interested??  Perhaps I could disseminate my teaching style.  I somehow do not think a foreigner coming into Education and trying to change things would go down well!!

Then over the road into the African shop to buy some presents, and, deciding enough is enough, with wet feet and cold hands, I headed back through the ice and slush to home.   Izrael will have to wait.   Everything looked quite magical in the dark with the occasional pretty streetlamp but it was lethal underfoot.

A quick stop in my favourite Patisserie for an Opera: there was a young man in there clearly known well by the staff, who was complaining about the prices for croissants on Rue St. Antoine.  They were 10 centimes more expensive over there!!  Then he did not have the right money in this shop for what he had just bought, seeming to be complaining about their prices too.   Since he was only down a few centimes I offered him the cash.  He looked surprised, said it was not the money it was the principle and thanked me but said no.  The ladies behind the counter were killing themselves.  He asked them where I came from, and I answered for myself.  A rather strange conversation really and I wondered whether I was missing some particular point, but all seemed well and there was a great deal of thanking and ‘bonsoiring’ all round when I left.

An evening in the warm on the computer with emails and blogging: a note from the ebay seller to say she had posted the parcel.  Will the chocolatiere get here in time or be held up by the snow?  Will husband make it through?  Will I get home?

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Wednesday 1st December.

Friend said she had a good night so I decided to show her the local sights today and help her get orientated in case she wanted to take herself off at times when I need to rest.

We walked down to the Place des Vosges, along under the  arcades, past the art shops, and she stopped first at the shop which sells antique musical instruments: she pressed her nose against the glass door and we nearly fell inside when the owner came up and opened the door and encouraged us in.  He was a comfortably-built, grey-haired gent with lots of fly-away, curly, wiry hair, rather Beethoven-like but with such a kind face.

He sat down on a stool and played one instrument after another for us, no matter whether it was keyboard, strings or wind.  Old bagpipes, early clarinets, gorgeous forerunners of the lute with inlaid ivory and wood, melodians, concertinas, all mouth-watering.

and a commercial video promoting a singer shot in his shop,

Some music was plaintif, some jolly and when he began to play a jig my mouth hit the floor as my friend immediately broke into dancing.  She was a ballet dancer and rider in her youth, so arms went above her head, toes beautifully pointed, knees bent and out kicked the heels as she span round.  The gent was so delighted, his eyes sparkled, his fingers flew, and the music surrounded us and the shop.  To anyone looking in through the window it must have looked wonderful.  My friend is very slim, with short gold hair, excellent posture and her winter coat is white and scarlet:  (she is wearing four layers of clothes here under her coat!)

I would have loved a photo of her dancing,  but did not want to spoil the moment by moving so tried to take a mental photograph instead.  I hope I have conveyed some of the unexpected joy of the moment!  It was quite magical although I did wonder if we would ever be able to escape from the shop without a proposal of marriage for my friend.  She said later that she was spontaneous and acts without thinking so was glad I was there to make our final excuses and leave.  I would so love the early lute, but it was quite expensive and I cannot play a guitar, banjo or anything like that, although I did play the violin for a while.  The wood shone like honey, the frets were beautifully carved and the inlay was exquisite.  At the end he picked a large ivy leaf out of a glass of water and ‘played’ it saying it was one of the oldest instruments.  (He is doing it briefly in second utube clip, but erroneously the narrator calls it a piece of plastic!)

The next shop we stopped at was the Russian shop, with a window full of Ikons, angels, Dolls, model soldiers etc.  We counted the dolls which fitted inside the giant one, and there were 55 one inside the other!

Then the chocolate shop and the Christmas goods are coming in now.  She was quite amazed and entranced by the quality and creativity and decided to do some shopping there on her last day.  She was very tempted by the chocolate Advent Calendar made from a tree, with a leaf to pick off and eat for each day!

So, dragging ourselves away, we went over the road to my lovely, family butcher’s shop to ask about that luscious terrine I had the other day: but there was no more, I had had the last piece and they said there would be no more made until the new Beaujolais next year.

We decided, since we had not had breakfast, to have a brunch and then to go out for dinner tonight, so dropped into the local Bistro ‘L’oulette’ to make a reservation: I thought my friend might like the experience it is the absolute best food I know.  A very friendly reception, table safely booked, and back through the Place des Vosges, down through the King’s Pavilion, and onto Rue St. Antoine for brunch.  It was sooo cold, and getting noticeably colder all the time as we walked.

We stopped to eat at the cafe on the end of St. Paul’s: I had a ham omelette and friend had a toastie hoping for lovely bread, cheese and ham, but we were both disappointed.  It felt like food for tourists who “know no better”.  According to various French TV programmes during the week, this is happening more and more in even up-market French restaurants in Paris and the French Culinary authorities are becoming really, really worried.  Interestingly this is what my US friends told me they felt was happening, in just a two year period things had changed so much.  If a name is in a guide book the punters assume the food is good, and do not trust their own taste buds to challenge that assumption.  With the mark-up they make it is getting harder and harder for the genuine places to continue to make everything fresh from scratch and still compete.  L’oulette, on the Rue des Tournelles, is still one of the good guys, so if you go to this area do call in for a real culinary experience.

However, on our way out my friend was seduced into buying two Mont Blancs – she said they were for tea: confections consisting of whipped chestnut puree, chocolate and gold leaf!!

After lunch we walked up St. Paul’s past a lovely looking shop full of African art: mostly made from recycled artefacts: we both fell in love with some white plastic bag chickens in the window: the bags had been pleated and clipped to look just like furry, feathery, birds.  So clever.  We promised to come back some time to look in but were making our way to the Red Wheelbarrow since friend wanted some books for grand daughter.  Friend was brought up on Jersey and consequently her French had always been really excellent so wanted to continue to pass on some of her experiences.

No Penelope at that point but a lovely young woman called Paradis was helping out in the shop: from the Persian name pairi-daeza ‘enclosed space’  a term that was adopted by Christianity for the Garden of Eden.  We had a long chat, she has been here long enough now, over two years, and suddenly yearns longingly to get back to New York to continue her Theatre Studies: however the work she has done over here she could not have done there.  She says she has one complication which is that she has fallen in love with a boy over here, but he has dual nationality French/Canadian so at least he can get a work permit on the same continent, even if New York is a harder nut to crack.  Penelope came in and Paradis went off to her lunch.  A lovely, lovely girl, wonderfully referred to by us and Penelope using the old hippie term ‘heavy chick’.

A look at the books, chat to Penelope, and then off to wander round the old part of St. Paul’s village before later giving into the cold and going home.

I took my friend to Rue Charlemagne to show her the best preserved and largest part of the oldest city walls in Paris, then along Rue de Jouy, Rue Francois Miron, into another book shop for her to buy a children’s book, and to the oldest wooden house in Paris,

it is just a trifle bent nowadays!

and them to the  glorious ‘Izrael’ shop, a spice and dry goods shop like no other.

How to describe it: you enter a small but very deep shop, with windows packed, I mean packed, with tins, bottles, strings of dried peppers, dried fungi, dried apple and onion hanging down: you pass through this curtain and walk through corridors made up of thigh-high open sacks of dried apricots,  peaches,  ground almonds, spices of every colour, nuts of every kind: literally piles of gleaming, glistening candied fruits, whole oranges, pineapples, limes, lemons, cherries, raspberries, strawberries, currants: huge unwrapped branches of angelica, all green, moist, aromatic and massive – we are talking about 12 inches long and at least three inches in diameter: and mighty hunks  of different kinds of halva – again 18 inches by 10 inches by 12 inches – sitting open on shelves: crunching semolina under foot slippery as ball-bearings, wall to ceiling shelves with jars of different spices swirled together making abstract patterns, every kind of pickle, sauce, oil, condiment, from every country in the world.   (The shop was too full and too busy for me to take internal photos but I hope to go back and get some, which I will post later).  You walk past, and nearly fall onto and into all these open sacks and bowls and plates, and baskets: no thought of health and safety, just a riot for the senses.  It is famous all over Paris, this shop. Unimaginable and I fear I cannot capture it for you.  Think Aladdin’s cave, with smells.

Finally, we stumble out into the snow flurries, put our heads down and walked determinedly home for twenty minutes through the other part of the Marais to give my friend a sense of the rest of the area. It is so cold with hard, small pieces of snow biting our faces, noses red and dripping, and my cough getting worse by the minute.  Every so often we turn a corner and hit a wind tunnel.  But even so the snow melts as it hits the ground.

We fell into the wonderfully warm flat, had a cup of tea and both flopped into bed and slept the sleep of the just, or rather, the exhausted.

When we woke, refreshed, we sat and drank more tea, ate our mont blancs, talked and much later ambled out to dinner.

Welcomed in a lovely manner, we sat and had a slow, relaxed evening.  I chose creamed goat’s cheese with herbs and aubergines, my friend shredded rabbit and red onion marmalade: then we both had fish, a kind of sole, with an orange and grapefruit sauce and perfectly plain, perfectly boiled, rice.  Neither of us could remember having ever tasted anything so divine in our lives before as that sauce.  My friend wanted red wine but was worried that the proprietor would try to talk her out of it, with fish.  But no, he was there to please and suggested a red which he felt would go well with the fish, and apparently, it did!  And to add further indulgence, late in the evening we each had a different pudding which we shared: prune ice cream with armagnac and poached pears with hot cholcolate and cardomom sauce.  Wow!!

My friend had barely been in Paris for twenty four hours and already felt as if she had been living in a different world for several days.  So many sights, sounds, smells, experiences.  And so much walking.  Replete in every sense of the word, we walked quietly back under the old street lights, through gently drifting snow, a day of ‘moments’ and such a thrill to see that someone else felt the same about them as I do.

On returning to the apartment I found an e-mail from my other friend, she definitely cannot come.  I’m so sad: I wanted to be able to share this healing experience with others.  So many I know would benefit, and they want to be able to come, but cannot.  This really makes me sad but there is nothing else I can do.

Perhaps this is just my time.

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This finds me sitting on the sofa with a pot of tea brewed and a weary feeling of satisfaction.

I woke to a grey and chilly day: so I abandoned my ideas of walking beside a canal taking photos and instead did some research on ‘What’s On in Paris’ during the rest of my stay.  It is so easy to take things day by day and then find that you have missed something wonderful.

The result was that I went online and booked some tickets.  One for me for a concert at the Saint Chapelle for Mozart, Bach and Handel, which should be mind blowing in that setting: it is an evening concert so I think I will suss out getting there and back in daylight one day so that I have a vague idea of what I will be doing.  Then I found that a Russian Choir is touring France at the moment singing Orthodox music for Christmas.   There is no concert available in Paris for my dates but they are giving a combined concert on one evening with a Choir from the Basque country: each choir singing Christmas Music from their country.  It is being held at St. Germain des Pres which will be a first for me.  I took the plunge and booked tickets for me, and my friend, hoping that it will be good.  Often one has to just book something and hope for the best: that way gems are found.  And then of course there are the tickets for the Marionnette Theatre from Salzburg which is world renowned and comes to Paris every Christmas.  This year they are doing the Sound of Music.  I reckon it is difficult to get much more surreal that the Sound of Music by puppets in French:)  Last year they did A Midsummer Night’s Dream and it was completely magical, with all sorts of flying and crawling insects as well as the main characters.  Anyway, we’ll see.

Since I do not have a printer here, I had to go to the main ticket office to collect the tickets I had booked on line.  So at lunchtime I went over to Les Halles.  This is where the old markets used to be but they were knocked down and a dreadful, concrete jungle built in their place, not a good place at night, and a dream for pickpockets at any time.  A bit of history for you now:-

The area known as Les Halles was the central Market in Paris for generations. In 1183, King Philippe II Auguste enlarged the existing marketplace in Paris and built a shelter for the merchants, who came from all over to sell their wares.  Les Halles was known as the “belly of Paris”.

In 1811 Napoleon 1st paid a visit and was completely shocked by the unbelievable disorder he found there: a warren of alleys and passages through the old market place with its myriad small sheds, stalls and halls.   

He ordered a huge hall to be built over the whole site, an undertaking which he wished to be completed by 1814.  However the Russian campaign halted construction and it was not until the second empire that construction really took off.  Émile Zola’s 1873 novel Le Ventre de Paris (The Belly of Paris) revolves around Les Halles.

Life continued to change fast, water was laid on, drainage improved and the railways came, each improvement requiring a change to the building.  

The result was that the final building of Les Halles, a massive glass and iron construction, was not finished until the late 1800s with improvements continuing to 1936.

In 1971 the French Government decided that Les Halles should be demolished.  They felt that it was no longer able to compete in the new market economy and was in need of massive repairs: despite huge public outcry, the colorful ambience once associated with the bustling area of merchant stalls disappeared as Les Halles was dismantled to be replaced with an underground modern shopping precinct, the Forum des Halles. What was once an open air market is now a pit below street level.

The site is the point of convergence of the RER, a network of new express underground lines which had been inaugurated in the 1960s. Three lines leading out of the city to the south, east and west have been extended and connected in a new underground station. For several years, the site of the markets was an enormous open pit, nicknamed “le trou des Halles” (trou = hole), and a considerable eyesore at the foot of the historic church of Saint-Eustache. The Forum des Halles, a partially underground multiple story commercial and shopping center, opened in 1979.

It is scary at night and difficult to negotiate: however it is still a bustling, though scruffy, hub to Paris, with fnac occupying the premier position and surrounded by many little streets and shops.  The atmosphere is probably not that far different from the C12!

It was at least a mile and a half each way, probably more because I take detours and stop and look at other things.  However, all was accomplished.

I ventured downstairs into the book department and asked for some books recommended to me by Blanche and then asked for DVDs and went upstairs, checking that it was OK to take the books with me and pay for them all together, not wanting some security guard chasing after me with fast French: then I had to ask for the films I wanted since I could not find them and see how long it would take to order the others.  I was quite pleased with myself, even though it was simple French at least I could understand their answers and no one tried to speak to me in English.

On the way back from Les Halles I found a series of mechanical objects in a large pool, all turning round and spraying or throwing water about in one way or another.

Rather an odd selection.

Some were quite fun, others decidedly tasteless, but I reckon that’s France for you.

They are never scared to have a go, sometimes it works and is incredible, sometimes it doesn’t.

Back via the Ice cream shop for a sneaky ice cream since I missed lunch.  I mentioned that I had never found this kind of ice cream anywhere else and the girl in the shop  said that this chain is only to be found in Paris, two shops, and  in Italy, with one shop in Milan.  C’est tout.

So now, when I have written this, I shall begin to watch one of my films and work out exactly where I want to go, and what I want to see, next.  Plus big pot of tea of course.  Bliss.

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