Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Oh To Be In Paris (Part I)

I'm not sure if this will be the first in a series or just a one-shot dedicated to comments I HAVE to make about Paris and France. So far, here's what I can think of:
  • Coffee machines, similar to soda machines, can be seen all over the place especially on the metro. These things make brewed-on-the-spot little cups of a very wide variety of coffees. I've seen similar ones in North America before but not ones that have such variety (i.e. long Italian names, sounds hard to make and elaborate descriptions) and are so abundant and actually not expensive
  • One has to actually do work to enter or leave the metro trains because the train doors don't automatically open like the ones in the Toronto, Montréal or New York. Plus, each train seems to have a different system to open the door. For example, for one train, you have to press a button while for another you have to pull up a lever. These mechanisms are located on both sides of the door. Both the commuter waiting on the platform and the ones in the train need not both do work but one of them have to do something for the door to open. The beauty of this sytem is that all the doors on the trains don't all open at every stop. A particuliar door on a train doesn't open unless someone wants to enter or leave from that door.
  • The metro stations where one can transfer to another train have the longest walking distance between connectiong trains that I have ever seen. In fact, today I got off one train to transfer to another train and the walk was so long that although they had one of those moving walks (like the ones at big airports) it still took me almost 10 minutes to get to my other train, and this wasn't rush hour AND I was walking fairly fast.
  • This morning, I had a stranger ask me to allow her to follow directly behind me to get into the train station. So we both squeezed through the turnstile together. Then from there I went to take a train headed for a different zone where one would either need to buy another ticket or have a metro pass valid for the zone like I did....only to find said lady at the turnstile pretending to search for her nonexistent ticket. Her face lit up when she saw me and she asked again to have us both squeeze into the turnstile. So I got another reason for the conductors doing random ticket checks.
  • When people go to restaurants and cafés here, they can literally stay at their table chatting for over an hour, after finishing their meal, without the waiter even glancing their way to rush them out of the restaurant like they tend to do in North America. This is even if all that was bought was a glass of orange juice.
  • Above mentioned orange juice can easily cost 3,50 Euros BEFORE taxes and this being from a very small bottle.
  • The buildings ARE as beautiful as they look in movies and on TV. Even ordinary stores are in, what to me look like, magnificent buildings.
My uncle told me that my metro pass will allow me to go to Versailles! A place oft mentioned in my European History 'A' Level classes. Uber-cool!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Bonjour from France

Today marked my fifth day being in France. Woohoo!

I haven't done much really. I'm staying with my uncle and his family in a suburb called Brétigny-sur-Orge which is just south of Paris. I haven't actually gone to Paris yet because I didn't want to waste too much money. LOL.

Ok, the cost of a metro ticket in Paris and the surrounding 'burbs depends on how far away one is from the centre. Basically, Paris is split into 6 zones with zone 1 being the centre and zone 6 being the suburbs that are furthest from the centre. I am in zone 5 and so a one-way ticket costs 5,60 Euros. I didn't really feel the need to spend 12 Euros just to explore Paris when I knew I was going to be buying a weekly metro pass that would allow me unlimited travel from Monday onwards and then after that I'll be getting a monthly pass. Yes, I know that means that I don't get to explore Paris right away but I'm here for 5 months so I have lots of time.

Speaking of the metro system here, I think people like me will find some problems with it. For on e thing, the weekly and monthly metro pass resemble the size of a bus ticket in Toronto but it's printed on less flimsy paper which means it will be easy to tear or lose. Also, how it works is that to enter the station one has to put the ticket in a thing that looks like an ATM card slot and REMEMBER to wait for it to come back out - a huge effort for someone as scatterbrained as I am. I hope I won't forget even my weekly pass because that cost 32,50 Euros.

Also, the ticket/pass should be kept handy at all times because the conductors occasionally go around to check and ensure that passengers have the correct pass/ticket. When my cousin was originally explaining this to me, I wondered why it would be necessary to keep the ticket/pass on me if I would have to use it to get in the station. This was until we reached said station and she having only one card, told me to walk underneath the ticket barrier thing. After doing this, we went to the ticket counter at the other end of the station, bought my weekly pass for Monday and then again went under the barrier with the ticket agent sitting right there watching us and saying nothing. LOL. Ah the French!

But hey I can't really complain. The metro sysem here is very complicated which means that the transportation system is great. In addition, all the surrounding suburbs are linked by metro to the the city centre.

What else have I done? I watched Sweeney Todd in French in the cinema. It was a bloody movie and it was a musical, my two least favourite types of movies but it had Johnny Depp and he acted well. Also, learned to play a card game called Citadelles. It may be the french version of an english game but I wouldn't know. I do believe my comprehension is improving because my cousins talk so very fast and when all three of them get going telling me something or explaining, 'tis fun to decipher. Good thing is that I have yet to meet anyone who speaks english. One of my cousins supposedly understands a bit but I wouldn't know because he only speaks french to me and I to him in my broken short sentences.

I hate how my french always goes away when I leave a french environment. In Quebec City, I felt like I was starting to remember words on my own to use in daily conversations. Now I can't remember even the simplest words. When people speak I mostly understand because I recognize the words once they've been said but I cannot seem to remember them on my own. So, I sometimes feel like I'm mute.

Since my comprehension is already improving, all I gotta do now is talk. But I'll leave that for tomorrow when I start school, if I don't get lost on my way there.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Daddy Dearest

My father had gout for a few weeks last month and so his feet couldn’t fit into his shoes and he had to resort to other shoes. It’s been 2 weeks since his feet went back to normal size but he is still shamelessly wearing my sister’s Ugg boots to church, the grocery store and everywhere. And yes, it is one of the ones with pompoms on the sides. I should note that this is coming from the same man who refused to walk around with an agenda or anything bigger than a wallet because he felt they were too feminine.

Speaking of femininity, this morning I accidentally sprayed setting lotion on myself thinking it was body spray because my mother had put setting lotion in the body spray bottle. She had labelled it and I remember reading it at one point. However, I completely forgot about the label this morning in my rush to leave. After discovering my mistake, I sprayed actual body spray over the setting lotion, which resulted in an odd smell. So now I’m walking around the office smelling very odd.

In other news, my greatest accomplishment this weekend was realizing that I could do the butt jiggling, quick butt-shaking motion often done by singers like Beyoncé and Shakira.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

My Two Cents On The Democratic Race

Happy New Year to all. Below is something I've been thinking about lately...

It’s been some years since I lived in the US and while I still have friends and family there I am not as keen to know what’s going on there as I used to be. However, being in Canada, it’s hard to ignore the fact there is a hot lead up to the presidential race going on south of our border at the moment. I consider myself more a supporter of the Democrats than the Republicans because there are a great deal more issues that I and the Democrats agree on. As I previously mentioned, it's hard to ignore the overwhelming amount of news on the current political climate down South. Thus, I have been following the progress of the current candidates from each of the two major parties that are vying to become their party’s nominee for the presidential race.

Two of the main frontrunners in the Democratic race, as I’m sure most of the world knows by now, are Barack Obama, the would-be first Black president, and Hilary Clinton, the would-be first female president. If I were trying to decide how to vote, that would be a tough decision for me. As a Black person I look forward to the day the US, undeniably the world’s current superpower, even with its waning influence, has its first Black president. However, as a woman, I also look forward to the day the US has its first female president. I wouldn’t have thought that the first time there is a possibility of either happening it would mean that one has to win over the other. I think both candidates have good ideas. Despite Hilary thinking she has more experience, she doesn’t really so they’re both about equal on experience. And so I would be stuck.

To be honest, up until yesterday, I had been rooting mostly for Obama. However, yesterday, all the news articles that I read were commenting on Hilary’s emotional, “close to tears” behaviour on a campaign stop in New Hampshire (this was before the results came out) [Times Online, BBC News Online]. I hated how it was implied that being a little emotional is wrong for a presidential hopeful. In fact, the main underlying point that I got from many of the articles was that women will always get a little emotional when the going gets tough and that is bad for politics. And then my feminist side got angry because, of course, this type of thinking would mean that the man’s way is the best way.

Women haven’t really had a chance to be themselves in the boardroom or in politics because men have always run the show and so the choice has always been to follow suit or settle for something less. I bet that, of the women currently running companies or countries, hardly any of them decided to stray far from the pattern established by men. That is a sad fact to me. I know that it will be hard to change the way we think right now to have a society in place where women would run the world very differently. Too many millennia of accepted behaviour have been established by men so that most women now consciously or subconsciously think that the man’s way is the best way. Oftentimes, I wonder what the world would be like if women ran it their own way, from the beginning. I really and truly believe that there would be less wars and conflict.

So yesterday, after reading the articles, I felt like taking Hilary’s side for a bit. It seems that my sentiments were shared by many women in New Hampshire as she convincingly beat Barack, in great part due to her winning a much larger share of the women voters. However, now that Hilary has won something, I’ve started to contemplate on all the obstacles that people of colour have faced and continue to face in the US and how great it would be to have a Black president. But that’s another story….