Saturday, March 27, 2010

Dear New York.

written at the Musée des Beaux Arts, Lyon.

I'm so spoiled. I don't mean materially (I'm writing this on a croissant-wrapper). No, I mean intellectually spoiled. I'm sitting here at the Musee des Beaux Arts, I got in for free (yay to being European and under 25), and yet I'm still so disappointed. I just passed by a Picasso, and all I could think about was how much I wanted to see the Demoiselles d'Avignon again in NYC.

I saw some Delacroix and Gericault originals and thought that the collection is not as good as the Met.

There is Matta, Dufy and Chagall within a few meters of me, but it's not the MoMA - the modern art wing at the Musee des Beaux Arts was barely half of what I expected it to be. There is no Dali, or Khalo, or Rivera, or Calderon, or Calder. And the two Delaunay pieces (one Sonia and one Robert) are unbelievably small and underwhelming.

I don't get the tiniest bit of emotion here. I almost cried when I saw Malevich's White on White in NYC last summer. I'm not joking, I welled up.

I keep thinking my life would be so much easier if I never went to NYC. I would be happy in France. I wouldn't miss it so much. I wouldn't be sitting in a museum (my favourite place in the world; the museum), counting down the days until I leave for JFK.

New York -
My life would be easier if I never met you.
I would be blissfully ignorant of what I'm missing out on.
New York - I hate you
But I'm also deeply, madly in love with you.
Please take me back.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Oreos and Milo.

What kind of country is this?!!

OK, so I understand they have one of the best healthcare and education systems in the world. (Kudos to America for catching up with health care reform though - I was very happy to read about that this morning)

And I get that the cheese is fantastic. And the wine. And the bread. And the language is beautiful and the culture is rich. I get that.

And I've made peace with the fact that they don't have timtams or cherry ripes. (almost)

And I'm slowly coming to terms with the French ignorance towards Milo... very slowly.

HOWEVER, where are all the oreos?!

I have been craving oreos like a mad woman (don't worry, unless I'm going to be the new Mary, I'm not pregnant). I don't know why but I have been longing for the dark chocolatey goodness for the last few days and have spent ridiculous amount (1 Euro) on a packet of 6 tiny oreo cookies.

I wanted a big box. I wanted 48 cookies. I wanted to sit and watch crappy sitcoms all day while munching normal-sized oreos, not these French cornflake-sized oreos, totally undoing all my good work and recent weightloss, and drinking milk out of the carton. I would have to spend 10 euros for that. That's $15! to get the equivalent of a regular box of oreos.

Now, I admit that oreos and I have always had a bit of a one-sided relationship. When I start with one, I can't end with only 6. There has to be more, MORE! That puny little pack of oreos left me so unsatisfied.... quite tragic.

In 68 days, I will be in America, though. In 68 days, after I land at JFK, I will buy myself a huge, industrial sized box of oreos and munch away.

Or, even just an American medium-sized box should keep me fed for about a week.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Set in Stone.

Ok, so I recently started planning my next few steps. I have my trip to the US almost all planned, me thinks. It looks a little like this:

30 May: Take train to Paris. Then fly Paris-London-JFK
30 May - 4 June: New York
4 June - 11 June (ish): San Fransisco
11 June - 11 July: Vague idea to spend some time in NY and some time in Montreal. But not quite sure exactly with the details.

Then, on the 12th June, I get back to Paris to celebrate Bastille Day, French Style (after having spent the 4th of July in the US)
Ill then spend some time with family in France, then go to Bratislava, then to Poland for 2 weeks. After that it's Rome, Madrid, Cordoba and Marrekech.

After this, around the end of August, I'll find a place to live and work a bit. Until late December or January. Then, I hope to go to Peru, if all goes according to plan, and maybe Chile and/or Bolivia. Not too sure, but I HAVE to see Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca. And, eat some real ceviche. And probably drink too much Pisco. And just have an adventure. As I have been for the last 8 months.

But yeah, that's the vague plan.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Cobbled Streets

Now, I have already posted about my new apartment. It is beautiful. And Old Lyon surpises me everyday, when I go for my stroll in the narrow, crooked streets.

A few days ago, I came across a relatively new inscription over one of the (numerous) Irish pubs on Rue Saint-Georges. It was commemorating a member of the French resistance who was captured there in 1943 and sent to her death at Ravensbruck concentration camp. Its amazing how much history happened right on my street! (well, not on my street, technically, I live on another street, but the back door to my apartment goes out on Rue St Georges)

Another day, I stopped to read about the history of the St Georges church. It's the church closest to my house, yet I've never been there, I've only visited the St Jean Cathedral, a few blocks further down. I discovered that, although St Georges was built in the mid 19th Century, in the Gothic-revival style, it was built on the old foundations of a church built in the time of Charlemagne!

Even further into the heart of Vieux Lyon, I discovered a house which was built in 1635, less than 5 minutes from my place. Another one, in the 1400's. There are houses here from before Columbus' discovery of the New World (and subsequent invasion, colonisation and destruction of native cultures - but we'll save that post for another time).

About 15 minutes from here, there is the Rue Juiverie, named so in memory of the Jews that were forcably exiled from France by Charles VI in 1394, altohugh the street had been inhabited since the 5th century. The signs about buildings that now house modern art galleries and restaurants commemorate the dates when the buildings were taken from their Jewish owners and settled by wealthy French traders, businessmen and bankers. On this streets, there used to be jousting tournaments, and Nostradamus lived here too!

I could go on and on. But this is just amazing. Like, the Rue du Boeuf was constructed in the 3rd Century...

It's just unbelievable. There are courtyards and turrets that remind me of times of dragons and princesses and knights in shining armour.

However, not all the history is all that interesting. While admiring a small little alley yesterday, I discovered it used to be an open sewer... charming.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


When you travel a lot, you start to become obsessed with weather.

Actually, I've always been obsessed with weather.

I'm a winter girl, through and through. Give me a hot cup of tea while I sit on the heater and watch the snow. Give me a book to read in front of the fire place while there is a thunderstorm. Seriously.

I'd rather walk in crispy snow than in salty sand that sticks to you and never comes off and you find in your shoes 2 weeks after you came home from the beach.

I'd rather put on another jumper than re-apply sunscreen.

However, when summer hit today like a big, fat, melty snowball, I was amazed. I had a job interview and when I left to go home, I didn't bother putting on my jacket. I didn't need gloves, nor a scarfe. Or even boots. In fact, I got myself an ice-cream. It was 19 degrees. Perfect ice-cream kind of weather. Really, if I'd bothered to shave my legs, I could've probably ditched the stockings.

As I said, I am a winter girl. However, after over 6 months of coats and jumpers and boots and snow, the vitamin D was a welcome hit for my system.

I got home, all smiley, and opened my window to let the fresh air in. Really, now my room smells like canal and exhaust fumes, but the fact that I'm not shivering with the window open is something that makes the canal and exhaust smells worth it... sort of.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Feeling Rather Inadequate

After 3 months in Europe, I have come to realise there is a certain charm about this place. There is a certain magic about being able to pop round to the UK for a weekend, or drive over to Italy for a mini-break. And, yes, finding a flight from London to Katowice for 6Euro is rather charming too. However, living in Europe, I am becoming to feel more and more inadequate to be living in Europe.

Firstly, Europeans travel... a lot. My pathetic 22 countries and 4 continents are pretty weak in comparison to some people I've met. I mean, I haven't even been to Africa, or Turkey, or South America. And I only went to Athens, I didn't make it to the Greek Isles. Pretty poor form, Anna, pretty poor form!

Secondly, I don't drink beer. I cannot comment of whether Belgian or Dutch or German or French is better. Mainly, because they all taste the same to me. I'm from Poland, I can vaguely distinguish the taste of certain vodkas. Perhaps I belong in the freezing wastelands of my birth country, where they drink beer through a straw!

Thirdy, I only speak three languages. And not very well at that. I have an accent in English, Polish and French, if someone is kind enough to let me include French in my list of 'languages I speak'. I spend most of my time here being looked at like a crazy person because I accidently used the past imperfect instead of the future simple. Ok, big mistake, but I am thinking on my feet, trying to remember vocab and say things in a semi-french fashion. Tenses go out the window.

However, my ability to fake-speak 3 languages (possibly more when I've gotten through a bottle of rum) is rather unimpressive in Europe. When I start speaking Polish on the phone to my parents back in Australia, or break out into basic French with some tourists, people look at me in awe and wonderment. It's kind of cool, actually. However, in Europe, everyone speaks at least 2 languages, if not 3, perfectly. And they are usually 3 useful languages, like English, French and Spanish, for example. Not Polish. Where can you speak Polish? Only in Poland! My country had no colonies to spread the vowel-less, consontant-filled goodness of 6 different gramatical cases. My language skills are pretty limited. Granted, I speak English, but my French is atrocious and Spanish is non-existant. My ability to haggle and sing a nursery rhyme in Mandarin is not as impressive as being able to discuss Kant's theories in the original German. Plus, someone always knows someone who speaks 7 languages, 5 without an accent, or is the person who speaks 7 languages and 5 without an accent.

Yes, I am rather ordinary here in Europe.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Chère France

[Eugene Delacroix, Liberty Leading the people/La Liberté guidant le peuple, 1830, Oil on Canvas. Source: here]

Chère France;

Here are some things I find interesting about you

  • The blue street signs in places like Paris or Lyon. They are so French.
  • Your pastries are to die for, which makes your lack of Milo or TimTams bearable
  • The freedom to explore your museums if one is under 25 and European
  • Your frequent condom-dispensing machines. I have never used them, but I find them very amusing
  • French gentlemen are the epitome of gentlemen (rivalled only by Americans, I must admit)
  • Your artists and writers are pretty amazing (see Delacroix, above.)
  • I truly love your accent (even if you don't)

However, there are some things I dislike about you;

  • Your railway system's ability to make life oh so complicated, and the reluctance, nay, refusal to exchange tickets. Also, your trains are too small, I cannot fit my luggage in the aisles.
  • Your metros are expensive. They are good. But they are expensive
  • You sell too many cigarettes
  • Your language is very difficult. Even after 8 years of A's and Distinctions, and many dollars spent at the Alliance Francaise, I am having lots of problems to communicate.
  • Your bureaucracy is a little on the frustrating side


Mademoiselle A.F.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A House with a Blue Door

Just when I was sleeping on a couch. Just when I thought my only recourse of action at the moment would be to fly to Poland and loaf around, because finding a place is just too hard. Just as I was begining to loose hope. Just after a long, cold, wet 1 hour trek around the 7th Arrondisment of Lyon after getting lost only to find an apartment well out of my reach (financially...)

I found an advertisment. A little too expensive, but if I live on baguettes, butter and drink nothing but tap water for one week of the month, I should be OK. In the Saint-Georges quatier. Look up address... less than 100meters from here. I've seen the building before.... it piqued my interest.

I rang the number on a whim (remember, only just out of my budget). Ok, going to visit it the next day. I ran, late as usual, to the building... thankfully only an 80 meter sprint. I met my potential future room mate, saw the house and said 'I'll take it'. In less than 5 minutes, I went from homeless to home-ful.

It's a blue building, on the quai, with a blue door and a room that looks out on the Saone River and, on the other side, into Bellecoeur, through a huge, bright window. The small, but sufficient, kitchen (a bit dark), looks out on Rue Saint-Georges. There is a stone cork-screw staircase, but also a 1970s-era lift.

The bells of L'Eglise Saint-Georges sound the hour. And, as you walk along Saint-Georges towards Saint-Jean, through the narrow cobblestoned streets past medieval buildings, you hit a string of (rather amazing) Irish pubs where there is Guiness (for those who like it) or cheap French wine (for people like me, who don't). Even at 3am, when the bars are closed, the smokey doors of Citron are open for more drinks, and sleazy dancing - where vodka costs 3Euro, but most people are so inebriated, they don't notice.

You can, during the day, on the same cobbled streets, find independent galleries and workshops. There is a stained-glass window studio, and an art restoration studio aswell. Across the river, you can find the nicest of shops, most expensive cafes... the life I can't afford, but I can look! However, Vieux Lyon is my favourite by far. The buildings, some I'd guess 500 years old, stacked together, accented with Gen-Y graffiti and the smell of guiness wafting down the narrow, crooked streets - this is it....

Vieux Lyon is the heart of the city.

...and it is all mine!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Limbo. Or 'Fighting Homelessness'

Well, as I was typing the title to this post, I got a phone call... perhaps things are not as dire as they seemed before.

I'm currently stuck in a limbo. I have had the most amazing time in Lyon. I've met some amazing and kind people, had fantastic experiences, fallen in love with the city and the improvements in my language skills have been astounding. However, I've still failed to complete two big things on my to-do list;
  • find an apartment
  • find a job

Now, I have written before about my temporary sublet... well, today it is over. I have spent my last night in Decines and I am packing to leave.

I have had the incredible luck and chance of meeting some amazing people who have offered up their couches for a few nights each. I'm not so homeless! Life is good! My faith in humanity has been restored! Even my lovely roommates here have offered up a few extra nights on the couch.

However, right now, I got a call about a room in the 7th Arrondisment of Lyon. Well, not really a room but an alcove. I hope it will be ok. It's cheap and hopefully, I will be able to forsake the joys of a door for 2 and a half months. I'll have to think about it. But... all is not lost!

It seems I am on the verge of something. However, I hope that this feeling of hope and positive pre-sentiment extends to my financial situation. I've spent far too much money here in Lyon. I hope I find some sort of work soon. My appartment hunt has enveloped all the time that I can stand looking at my computer screen. Although it has extended my French vocabulary of real-estate terms... I hope it will end soon.

Lyonaise Love.

a. x