I am embarrassed. For the past nine months in France, going to the shared toilet or shower for me has been a calculated chore. You see, my apartment is equipped with neither one of these luxuries; they are both located at the end of the corridor. So I cross my fingers and hope that nobody sees me in my state of dandruff-encrusted filth or undress. But today, in my haste to relieve myself of excess home-brewed Honey Lemon Teas (as is the usual case, when one has been afflicted by that demon called Sore Throat), I bumped into a nice neighbour, wholly French, and was obliged by the unspoken Rules of Good Neighbourly Relations, to greet “bonjour”. This being insufficient for my unusually talkative neighbour (for in posh old Paris, uttering “bonjour” is a privilege for those who receive it, and it is rarer still to encounter those who would spare more words), I was pressed to string my beads of French literacy and gave her – Antonine – an account of my experience-substantiated review of France’s internet (non)service. I did this, partly-impassioned, extremely humiliated… for I was braless, newly-emaciated, and was clothed in a rather stupid but endearing princess cat motif nightdress complete with rose-pink frilled embroidery about the collar. The sun was on full blaze outside. But hell, I had to wear this nightdress, have in my palm a roll of pink perfumed toilet paper, and in the other – my Samsung Galaxy II (I swear, that thing’s superglued to me). Alas, days are nights when I am so ravaged by the cold bugs that I can hardly heave myself out of my necessarily spacious bed; so I’ll forgive my cat PJs, the braless state, the volcanic Pompeii state of my skin, the gunky hair, the gungho-less attitude.
So we discussed about our internet connection, or more precisely, our abject lack of it. My case is especially bad, so much so that it paints me as a patient, even-tempered martyr of the modern day. For the past three months that I’ve rented my apartment in the 7th district of Paris, I received little or no internet at home. This calls for another rude finger up to SFR France, the maligned, money-sucking, fee-stamping benighted telecom corporation that squeezes its users dry, and itself – drips nothing. So to be connected I would have to, and I kid not, trudge my way to the garden outside my apartment and be sitted at an exact mossy spot overlooking our pond (there’s some sweet looking there goldfish too!), that looks at the Eiffel Tower. There now readers, bask in the knowledge that when I post this overdue update into my life in la belle France, I am using public landmark WiFi, graced by the Tower herself (who stands just two minutes away from my secret mossy spot of connectivity… no innuendoes intended).
Okay I’ve now overcome my surprise, and will now regale you with things you never need to know. Firstly, I’ve been accepted into Sciences Po for the fall semester! Formally known as l’Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris, it’s a truly wonderful place of learning all that concerns that ever-present, ever-changing sphere of politics, and the country knows it too. There is often an unbelieving gleam in the eyes of French listeners when I tell them I study here: it could be due to the golden prestige stamped onto this legendary breeding ground of many future French Ministers, or more likely it’s because my French is far too appalling by Sciences Po standards. In any case, I’m here, I’m loving it. I’ve never been so moved by the capacity of my flaccid brain to temper the storm of Political/Philosophical/Historiographical/heck-even-Gastronomical knowledge that it receives here, and to convert these information into my pleasure. Not since junior high school have I been able to equate education with enjoyment. But there you have it. Paris is a place of miracles…
And a place for discovering my love for culinary activities, yeah! My grocery receipts have largely consisted of fresh foods. My heart goes ‘ping!’ when I gingerly lay the red capsicums, carrots, échalotes, peaches, pears, courgettes, saucissons crus (raw sausages), bio eggs, cuisses de grenouilles (frog legs), and all manner and forms of French cheeses into my shopping basket. And it goes ‘zing!’ when I dig into my simple, hearty creations, post-cooking. I was completely incapable of creating edible things until a Frenchman showed me the basics of using the kitchen tools my landlady had kindly provided. And we shall not speak of this Frenchman today.
If I’m not reading impossibly roundabout philosophical textbooks in bed – with feet in the air –, if I’m not strutting around my mini-kitchenette with sleeves rolled up and ready to plop things into a willing metallic pot… I’m probably glued to the computer screen, watching, devouring Japanese animations. My new love for gastronomy has seen a slight change in my usual gluttony for animé. I’m still as interested as ever in the adventure/fantasy/comedy show called Fairy Tail, and it really is as heart-warming as it sounds. The animators of Fairy Tail spin a colourful, rambunctious tale of magic and friendship. It’s about a wizard guild called (yep, you guessed right!) Fairy Tail, a guild filled to the brim with kind, eccentric wizards (and not to mention talking cats that fly!) who go about their daily lives fixing the problems of non-wizard folk for some money. They often encounter villains who seek the end of the world, and so the plot thickens, hearts get pumping, laughter fills the room, you wonder if new cats would turn up etc. etc. Fairy Tail is an easy, delightful show to watch. Recommended for all who are young at heart.
The other show that I watch with equal gusto is the comedy Gin no Saji, which translates as Silverspoon. Now this one follows the story of Hachiken, a city boy who decides to study in an agricultural high school in rural Japan. That’s the equivalent of me being placed in a farming school in rural anywhere… voilà les complications. Hachiken milks the cows, he eats, he opens himself to the blood-curdling side of food processing, he eats, and he makes friends with his classmates and school animals (until he eats them, I suppose). It’s fun and it’s sneakily educational, I love it! Recommended for eaters. That’s you, and you. And yes, you too, you lithe, svelte beauty.
The animés that I watch often sing highly of friendship, of the bond between ‘nakama’. Often I’ve found this to be overly idealised, despite having the Australian concept of ‘mateship’ drummed into me time and time again. The Malaysian upbringing (which also coloured my life) places a higher esteem on tradition, familial bond, honour and humility, but obviously, that did not sit well with me: This year I fled my mother countries, to live alone in France – a nation steeped in cultural splendour, watercolour reflets, and I dare say, arrogance and individual pride. I pray that this is only the beginning, that I would someday be shouting ‘Prost!’ with workmates in Berlin, ‘干杯!’with colleagues in Hong Kong, ‘Quit drinking and kiss me, kiss me now!’ to my possibly English partner in Reykjavik, Iceland.
With the regrettable absence of that kissable English fellow, I find that I already have all this and more. Sciences Po, being an institution with 46% international students, allows me to meet incredible, driven people from all reaches of the world. Frankly, it reminds me of my home University back in Sydney, where the friends I’m closest with are international students/ workers. We would hold passionate debates on Badoit sparkling vs. Evian water, ruminate on the pleasantness of eating kimchi whole, lament the delectable fattiness of spätzle, instructively draw (and in so doing, mangle) the divine silhouettes of South East Asian fruits. In any case, I think you’d agree that there’s too much of an emphasis on food here, and I shall release my fingers from the keyboard and lay them on a peach.
Because a peach is all I’ve got now, thanks to my fever and my consequential physical inability to zap my heart with ‘ping’s and ‘zing’s at the grocer’s.
nb. Why of all days, I’d start re-blogging today, beneath layers of IKEA blankets, all accompanied by a flurry of tissues. It started out as a text message to somebody who always greets me, ‘Good morning Vicki J ’. But I went over the character limit.