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...