Saturday, 18 December 2010

Joyeux Noel!

I'm back in England, having had an eventful Eurostar journey home which arrived an hour late and was delayed by "frozen doors" at Ebbsfleet International. 

I won't be blogging until January when I go back to France, so have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year, wherever you are!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010


First of all sorry for not posting in a while; it's been quite manic lately leading up to the end of term on Friday.

OK, I said earlier that I would post when we had some snow in Paris.  We had a flurry on Saturday 4th December and a genuine blizzard on the following  Wednesday.  Coincidentally I was doing a class on Wednesday on snow when it began, and the lesson quickly turned to "describe what you see outside" as we stared out the window.

It was pleasing to learn that France is equally incapable of dealing with snow as the UK, with basically all buses cancelled that Wednesday and the Peripherique severely delayed.

Anyway, this photo is from the lighter snowfall on the Saturday at the Eiffel Tower.  I hadn't visited the Tower in a while, but I figured that it would make a nice wintry scene.  Et voilà:

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Rue Mouffetard at Christmas

In the 5th arrondissement there is a famous road called Rue Mouffetard.  It's at the heart of the quartier; a cobbled street that's almost as old as the hill that it runs down.  It's crammed with traditional French bakers; butchers; restaurants and creperies, although shamefully I used to buy most of my food from the Franprix when I lived there! 

I was back there the other day and saw it was lit up for Christmas:

The Entrance to Rue Mouffetard
The lights in the street
I've seen a few other streets lit up- the most obvious one being the Champs Elysees which I posted about earlier, but the Rue Mouffetard is the most tastefully done. 

Today we had the heaviest snow I've seen this year.  Unfortunately I've had a cold lately so I decided not to venture out into the sub-zero streets to take photographs.  Still, I've got earlier snowy snaps on the way.  A plus.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Review of Reporters sans frontières exhibition in Paris Voice

The Petit Palais
Long-time readers of this blog (yes, there are thousands of you) may remember that I posted a while back on the exhibition of the photography of Pierre and Alexandra Boulat at the Petit Palais.

Well, I've written a review about that exhibition for Paris Voice.  It's an English online magazine about Paris.  It has news, film reviews, food critics, travel guides, photography reviews and more.  The editor kindly let me write a review for them.  You can find it here.

It snowed yesterday morning, and the snow settled for a few hours all over the city.  I'll have pictures up soon.  A plus.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Marché de Noël

On 22nd November, Mélanie Laurent turned on the Christmas lights at the Champs Elysées.  Since then, the Avenue has been ablaze with light every night.  There is a Christmas market with stalls selling mulled wine, crepes, warm clothes, souvenirs and all sorts. 

It's certainly not as authentic as the markets you can find in Strasbourg or Aachen in Germany which date back years or even centuries.  And some of the stalls sell all the classic tourist goods like fake Eiffel Towers.  Bah, we'll let that slide.  After all, it's Christmas soon, right?

So, again this blogger risked frostbitten fingers to bring you some half-decent photos of la plus belle avenue du Monde at Christmas.

The Roue de Paris dwarfs everything at the Place de la Concorde

People gathering round one of the stalls

  The Grand Palais lit up  

Anyway, we're still waiting for snow to settle.  There might be some next week.  If there is, more photos will follow.  Also, have a look here for more (and better) photos of the Christmas Market.  A plus.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Cold snap: what now for the down and out in Paris?

A homeless man near Gare de Lyon
Today marks one month until Christmas.  You can feel it too: recently there's been a cold snap, with temperatures in Paris is dropping to below zero in the night and the first flakes of snow falling.

In the news, there's been a lot of discussion of how Paris is going to aid its homeless population as this cold snap lingers.  In years gone by Parisian officials have come under fire for not doing enough, but this year the mayor's office is making gyms available for the homeless to sleep in during cold snaps.  There will be 350 places this year, an increase on the 290 made available last year.  The offices of four arrondissements in Paris will also be used to welcome the sans-abri in for the night.

In addition, Benoist Apparu, the Minister for Housing, has stated that all requests for lodging should be "provided for" this winter.

If this winter is anything like the last one when at least two homeless people froze to death during one cold period, then Paris has certainly got a job on its hands.  It's good to see that the government is acting now, in November, when the worst weather is still to come.  Still, it's worrying that the people who devote their time to helping those with nowhere to live say they are having to turn people away.  Let's hope that they can shelter as many as possible, but with at least 10000 sleeping rough every night in Paris, you fear they may not reach everyone.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Au Bois de Vincennes

Faithful readers will no doubt remember that I posted earlier on about the Promenade plantée that runs near my flat.  I mentioned that I might go for a run along it sometime.  With a typical sense of timing, I chose a bleak and freezing Monday afternoon to follow it to the Bois de Vincennes, a large park on the outskirts of Paris. 

The run broadly follows the Avenue Daumesnil on its long old way out of town.  The Promenade itself is very straight and lined with greenery, but the classic Victorian avenues surrounding it disappear as you reach the edge of Paris, being replaced by depressing high-rise flats.  After viewing the delights of the Péripherique, Paris's answer to the M25, you arrive in Saint-Mandé and then the park itself.

The park is enormous: four times larger than Hyde Park in London.  It was also almost deserted.  Happily this led to a good photography opportunity, at least until my camera battery ran out...

A merry-go-round closed for the winter

One of the lakes in the park
An autumnal path

So that's the Bois de Vincennes, for you to view from the comfort of your bedroom.  The next few posts will probably be on a winter theme.  Apparently snow is due to fall in Ile-de-France this week.  I'll keep you posted.  A plus.

Friday, 19 November 2010

The End of the Assistant?

Hands up who hates the Coalition?

Tomorrow marks a month since the Comprehensive Spending Review was published by the government setting out how it was going to reduce public spending.  Over the last four weeks newspapers and think tanks have been picking the review apart to work out where the axe is going to fall.  Sadly, it looks as if Osborne's axe is going to fall on the British Council Language Assistants program in England and Wales. 

The Independent was the first to break the story a few days after the CSR.  It named J.K. Rowling, Alistair Campbell and Rory Bremner as some of the Council's alumni, and said "[t]he tradition could now be in jeopardy after the British Council, which runs the programme, was forced to suspend next year's selection".

A week ago the Times Higher Education Supplement ran the story as well.  It quoted Mark Williams, head of Modern Languages at Leeds University, who said it would "make life incredibly difficult" for current second-year students.

It's a totally misguided decision from the Government to shut this century-old programme down.  The Times said it cost just £750000 to administer last year.  In the context of the 80 billion pound savings the Government is trying to make, it's small change.  It's not worth denying thousands of students this opportunity to save such a small amount of money in the scheme of things.

This suspension is making life difficult for current second-year students.  They have to make decisions about next year now.  How are they supposed to do that if they're not sure what the options are?  At Bristol University, the students' plans have been thrown into disarray, and they have been told to make other plans in case the suspension is not lifted.

Labour MP Gareth Thomas declared it was "bad news for students and bad news for our image abroad".  He's right, but he forgets that it was Labour who made languages optional after the age of 14 years, sparking a decline in the number of students taking GCSEs in them.

What this amounts to is another body blow to language learning in the UK.  There is this petition going around at the moment; if you want to sign it please feel free.

Nick Clegg, you speak five languages.  Surely you don't want to scrap this program?  Please, s'il vous plait, por favor, bitte...

Monday, 15 November 2010

Music in the street

McDonald's is where I've been spending a lot of time lately.  Sad I know; my Internet doesn't arrive until later this month, so during a lot of my considerable free time I've been hanging out with all the other people with nothing better to do than sit in the corner of McDo at odd hours.

On my way home from the fast food restaurant this morning I noticed something I'd never seen before.  A man and a woman with a music box on wheels were walking along playing a tune.  I've noted before about music on the métro, but this was the first time I'd seen people with a mobile busking service in the street.  By the look of it, the good people of the 12th arrondissement were rewarding the cheery man and his partner quite handsomely.

Here's a video of them playing:

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Promenade plantée

That, mes amis is not some ancient footpath through the countryside in deepest, darkest provincial France.  It's a minute's walk away from my flat and five minutes from one of the main railway stations of Paris.  It's the beginning of the Promenade plantée.  It's a former railway line that runs above and parallel to the Avenue de Dausmesnil on its way to the Bois de Vincennes.  The line has long since stopped running, but in 1987 work began on turning the disused railway line into a park, which opened in 2000.

Abbey Road
Climb the steps and you find a long, straight and secluded path that apparently runs for nearly five kilometres.  Every so often the viaduct crossed a main road and you got these superb views down the avenues and boulevards.  There were a lot of early-morning runners who were taking the scenic route and avoiding getting run over by the mad taxi drivers.  If I ever get my running shoes back on (and that's a big "if") I think a run along the whole thing and back will be first up.

I thought I'd leave you with a very arty photo (well, for me anyway) which took a while to snap due to those pesky runners.  Enjoy, et a plus.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010


I've now completed a full week's teaching for the first time since I got here.  The Toussaint holiday definitely had a calming effect on the students: there haven't been any more blockades and I can't imagine any more happening.

I'm a lot more settled in the school now.  It's no longer quite so nerve-racking standing up in front of 12 bored-looking students and trying to get them to speak another language!  I've done some lessons discussing immigration and CCTV which went down a lot better than I'd hoped.  One student even knew the book "1984" by George Orwell when we discussing surveillance and CCTV!

That's all for now, it's Remembrance Day tomorrow, and in France you know what that means: a jour férié.  So, no school tomorrow.

A la prochaine.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Unrest in Créteil during first round of Ivory Coast election

This is a little bit late, but there was a slight disturbance in Créteil, where my lycée is, during the first round of the Ivory Coast presidential election.  According to Le Parisien, police used tear gas to disperse Ivorians because of a last-minute change of location of the polling stations.  The voters were apparently not informed of the changes.

This has caused the electoral commission in the Ivory Coast to call almost unanimously for the vote in France to be annulled.  

France takes a keen interest in the activities of its former colonies in Africa.  Le Monde reported that the elections, the first in ten years after a civil war took place from 2002 to 2004, took place calmly in the country itself.  The Guardian warned that counting the votes could be contentious.  

The second round will be held on 28th November. 

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Rétraites: it goes on

More protests are occurring outside my flat today over Sarkozy's plans.  Sadly, my camera is broken so I can't take any up-to-date photos, so the one above comes from an earlier protest on 17th October near Boulevard St. Marcel.  It's actually a drab, rainy day here in Paris; which I think has affected the turnout.  The CGT have got their floats out as usual, but there are definitely fewer people trudging along in umbreallas and raincoats out there on the streets.  Despite the defiant broadcasts on the megaphones, there's less of an atmosphere than before, with people just getting on with the march rather than taking their time to enjoy the atmosphere: again, this is probably due to the rain.

Some of my fellow teachers are taking part in the demonstrations, which have been going on for a few hours now.

This eighth day of protest comes after the reform has already been passed by the National Assembly and the Senate.  According to Le Monde, Bernard Thibault, the leader of the main trade union in France, the CGT is ready to carry on fighting the reform until July 2011, when the reform comes into effect.  The Socialists have also said they won't let the matter drop if they are elected in 2012

Whether these demonstrations will overturn the reform is anyone's guess.  The law still has to go through the Constitutional Court where it will no doubt be challenged by the PS before Sarkozy can sign it off.  You get the sense that the anti-reform movement is weakening, with turnout down and one trade union seemingly distancing themselves from the retirement question.  Sarkozy is staking his entire bid for re-election on this plan.  He can't back down now.  And however much it may pain my colleagues, I don't think he will.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010


The July Column in Place de la Bastille, near my new flat (Source: photos-libres)  

After five weeks of searching, I've moved into a new flat!  I'm no longer sans domicile fixe in Paris.  It's in the twelfth arrondissement near Bastille.  It's a nice area which is a lot closer to Créteil where I work.  I think it will knock off around fifteen minutes and two métro changes on the journey to my school.  It's got everything I need nearby - a Monoprix, an internet café, a newsagent, a choice of métro stations.  For the less savoury gentleman than yours truly there's a sex shop offering cabines climatisées (air-conditioned cubicles...)   
There's still a fair amount to set up - I don't have the gas on and I don't have an oven until Wednesday, so cooking is limited to toast so far.  I also have to set up Internet; I'm writing this from a hotel that let me use their WiFi.  

If anyone needs any help finding a flat in Paris, this company could help you enormously.  They've been scouring the ads and estate agencies arranging viewings for studios, speaking English and French fluently.  It's entirely thanks to them that I found the flat I have now. 

Anyway, that's the latest.  Back to school on Thursday, hopefully teaching will be back to normal.  I'll post about la rentrée in due course...

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Recommended: Reporters sans frontières exhibition at the Petit Palais

The entrance to the Petit Palais (Source: photos-libres)

Just remembered that in the dark days before I started blogging regularly, I went to visit the Reporters sans frontieres exhibition at the Petit Palais.

This is a quick blog post to say that it's well worth a look.  The Palais is just off the Champs-Elysees (metro Champs-Elysees-Clemenceau).  It's free to get into the Palais.

It took us a while to find the exhibition, but it was a happy wander past art spanning thousands of years, from ancient Greek pottery to paintings from the 18th and 19th centuries.  

The exhibition is 100 photos courtesy of Pierre and Alexandra Boulat.  They were photojournalists who cover a range of topics in their work, from the victims of conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq to a rural wedding in provincial France.  I'm the furthest thing from a fashion guru but even I recognised some shots of the late designer Yves Saint Laurent.   

I won't say any more, but it's definitely an hour or two well spent.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Music on the métro

A guitarist about to do the rounds at Place d'Italie
Almost drowned out by the noise of the métro - the onrushing trains, the announcements, the people - musicians serenade us Parisians as we travel.  If you use the métro regularly, chances are you'll encounter these people (normally men, I haven't yet seen any female musicians) playing accordions, guitars or singing.  You normally need to pass an audition a la X-Factor before you can play, but that doesn't stop plenty of others from doing the daily grind whilst avoiding the RATP officers. 
Looking around when a musician gets on, you see a lot of rolled eyes and exaggerated sighs of annoyance. The quality definitely varies from not bad to downright awful: I heard a guitarist give a questionable rendition of "Imagine" by John Lennon the other day, and earlier another guitarist croak their way through "Tears in Heaven" by Eric Clapton.  One poor guy came on to my carriage and a man asked everyone whether they wanted to hear him.  He and his friends didn't really give him a chance - they sarcastically clapped along and then jeered him off at the next stop.

On the whole I think it does enrich an otherwise dull train journey.  The accordion players in particular are quintessentially Parisian.  It's easy to sneer at the rubbish ones, but at least they're doing something to liven up the daily commute.  A lot of the time on the métro commuters seem to try to outdo each other on who can look the most stressed out and uptight.  Relax and enjoy the music.  You'll live longer.

Friday, 22 October 2010


My Toussaint half term holiday started early!  I've had one hour of proper teaching in the last two days (I'm meant to have seven).  Yesterday I got to school around 9:30 and found around 100 kids standing outside the gate in a "blocus".  On the railing they had put up a banner which read "Sarkozy, t'es foutu, la jeunesse est dans la rue" which means "Sarkozy, you've had it, the youth is on the street".  Apparently they used this slogan (with more success) for De Gaulle in May 1968.  The deputy head was there ushering in those students and assistants brave enough to cross the dreaded picket line.  Having just about made it past bored students rubbing their hands in the cold, I went inside.  The first lesson was a write-off - the teacher and I chatted for the whole lesson and waited for our next one.  That terminale class did turn up in full and I introduced myself and answered some familiar questions like I had done for the other classes.  I had a long break before my afternoon classes, and my teacher said I could go home as she didn't think anyone was going to turn up.

Today I was met with another blocus, but this time the kids had wired the gate shut and smeared what looked suspiciously like dog crap all over the electronic card reader.  I wasn't that keen to get inside the school, but I followed the rest of the staff in through the car park.  Once we got inside it was obvious that no students were that keen either - the school was empty.  So, after a quick word with my teachers, my holidays began early!

It's so strange seeing French students openly going on strike.  They don't need to cover their faces: all that happens is they get marked late on the register.  Imagine if a group of schoolchildren decided to go on strike in Britain - the teachers would break it up straightaway.  But here, it's a bit more ambiguous.  One told me that she supported the right of students to strike if they truly believed in the cause.  But, she added, loads just did it as an excuse to bunk off school.  Seeing as the right to strike is so ingrained in French culture, I guess you could regard the kids chanting outside the school gate as taking an all-day Citizenship lesson...

Monday, 18 October 2010

Manif encore

Some photos I took of the strikes and protests in Paris over the last few weeks:

Outside the Senate building near Jardin du Luxembourg

Add caption

Some fired-up protestors!


...estation. Protests. That's the story of this week in Paris, as students, trade unionists, teachers and apparently oil refinery workers have all been going on strike and generally making life difficult for Sarkozy and company.

On Friday I only had one class to go to, so I turned up for it and found students and teachers standing about outside and in the foyer. I asked the sociology teacher what was going on and he told me "manif". I asked some other teachers what they were protesting about. They laughed and said "la retraite. Toujours la retraite." Lots of students had taken the opportunity to skip school. Nobody turned up for the class I had slogged for an hour on the metro to get to, so I chatted with the teacher for the whole lesson.

I heard stories about schools being barricaded by students around my school, and apparently vandals smashed windows in a lycée near mine.  Next stop, May '68. 

In other news, the flat I was looking at fell through, but I've found a more promising flat, again in the 12th arrondissement. Hopefully I'll get that one instead!

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Flat hunting and first week of teaching

I managed to find a flat! Well, more accurately a freelance agent found it for me. It's a studio in the 11th/12th arrondissement, close to Bastille and Nation. It's convenient as it's on line 8 to Créteil and it's in what seems to be a thriving area.

It's a great relief to have found somewhere; the process was starting to drag on. There's still a lot to be done - I have to provide them with a lot of paperwork and sign for it, but things are definitely looking good.

Last week was the observation week at my lycée. I found that the students weren't very good at English. Lycées have children from about 15 years upwards, and the students at mine had trouble forming basic questions to ask me. They were reasonably disciplined and were all curious that there was an "Anglais" at their school. I sat in on a sociology lesson where they talked about the current strikes over the proposed retirement reforms, and a French lesson where they were discussing a Baudelaire poem. The staff were brilliant; I couldn't have wished for a better welcome from them. All of them have helped me start to settle in.

There is another orientation day organised by the académie, and no school Tuesday as my (fellow) teachers are on strike. "La rétraite: c'est le vivre et pas le survivre".

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

The last week and flat hunting

Hi everyone,

Since the 19th September I've been staying in the 5th arrondissement with my girlfriend and I'm currently looking for a place to live with a friend from Bristol University. The 5th arrondissement is what you imagine Paris to be like: wide avenues and boulevards criss-crossed with smaller streets, five or six storey apartment blocks with balconies, plenty of markets selling meat, fish, fruit and vegetables and lots of French people enjoying the café culture. I've heard talk of cafés and restaurants struggling in France during the recession, but they seem to be managing fine in Paris!

It's a lovely place to start, but unfortunately it's only temporary. For the last week and a half I've been scouring the Internet and magazines for somewhere to live permanently this year. A lot of assistants in France are able to stay in a flat in their school, but sadly mine didn't have one. So the flat-hunting began...

At the beginning it was quite nerve-racking just ringing French telephone numbers. The estate agents on the other end of the line speak in a quick, businesslike manner which can be really hard to understand, especially seeing as you're often talking about numbers and timings. After a few times it becomes easier as you work out how to begin the call. After you get used to speaking in French on the phone, you realise how frustrating flat-hunting can be. The number of times I've spotted an ideal-sounding place, rung up and been told it's already gone...

Anyway, you have to keep going and hopefully it'll be sorted soon enough. There's a promising-looking flat to be viewed tomorrow. Fingers crossed...