La ballade des gens qui sont nés quelque part

Author: fraise

Posted in Journal at 22:58

In a twist that would likely inspire him to write another song were he still alive, Georges Brassens is considered one of the icons of modern French culture for his poetry and music. One of his pieces in particular applies quite well to the current climate. Any English translation is difficult as the plays on words are numerous; bear with me in my attempt.

The Ballad of People Who Were Born Somewhere

C’est vrai qu’ils sont plaisants, tous ces petits villages
Tous ces bourgs, ces hameaux, ces lieux-dits, ces cités
Avec leurs châteaux-forts, leurs églises, leurs plages
Ils n’ont qu’un seul point faible et c’est d’être habités

    How pleasant they all are, these little villages
    All these towns, hamlets, boroughs and estates
    With their castles, churches, and beaches
    They only have one weakness: people live in them

Et c’est d’être habités par des gens qui regardent
Le reste avec mépris du haut de leurs remparts

    People who look down from atop their walls
    With contempt for others

La race des chauvins, des porteurs de cocardes
Les imbéciles heureux qui sont nés quelque part
Les imbéciles heureux qui sont nés quelque part

    A race of partisans and flag-wearers
    These happy cretins who were born somewhere
    These happy cretins who were born somewhere

Maudits soient ces enfants de leur mère patrie
Empalés une fois pour toutes sur leur clocher
Qui vous montrent leurs tours, leurs musées, leur mairie
Vous font voir du pays natal jusqu’à loucher

    Shame on these children of their homeland
    Finally impaled on their bell tower
    Who show you their skyscrapers, museums, town halls
    Who have you look at their birthplace until you’re cross-eyed

Qu’ils sortent de Paris ou de Rome ou de Sète
Ou du diable Vauvert ou bien de Zanzibar

    Whether they come from Paris or Rome or Sète [NdT: Brassens’ birthplace]
    Or from the middle of nowhere or from Zanzibar

Ou même de Montcuq il s’en flattent mazette
Les imbéciles heureux qui sont nés quelque part
Les imbéciles heureux qui sont nés quelque part

    Or even out of Montcuq they don’t give a damn [NdT: Montcuq sounds like “mon cul” which means “my ass”]
    These happy cretins who were born somewhere
    These happy cretins who were born somewhere

Le sable dans lequel douillettes leurs autruches
Enfouissent la tête on trouve pas plus fin
Quant à l’air qu’ils emploient pour gonfler leurs baudruches
Leurs bulles de savon c’est du souffle divin

    The enveloping sand in which their ostriches
    Put their heads could not be finer
    As for the air they use to fill their windbags
    The bubbles they blow are of divine breath

Et petit à petit les voilà qui se montent
Le cou jusqu’à penser que le crottin fait par

    And bit by bit their noses rise higher
    Until they believe that even the dung

Leurs chevaux même en bois rend jaloux tout le monde
Les imbéciles heureux qui sont nés quelque part
Les imbéciles heureux qui sont nés quelque part

    Of their horses, even wooden, is a thing to be envied
    These happy cretins who were born somewhere
    These happy cretins who were born somewhere

C’est pas un lieu commun celui de leur naissance
Ils plaignent de tout coeur les petits malchanceux
Les petits maladroits qui n’eurent pas la présence
La présence d’esprit de voir le jour chez eux

    Where they were born is no ordinary place
    They feel so badly for the unlucky
    Those incompetent folk who didn’t have the presence
    The presence of mind to see the light at their home

Quand sonne le tocsin sur leur bonheur précaire
Contre les étrangers tous plus ou moins barbares

    When the bell tolls for their precarious happiness
    Against foreigners all more or less uncivilized

Ils sortent de leur trou pour mourir à la guerre
Les imbéciles heureux qui sont nés quelque part
Les imbéciles heureux qui sont nés quelque part

    They come out of their hole to die in wars
    These happy cretins who were born somewhere
    These happy cretins who were born somewhere

Mon Dieu qu’il ferait bon sur la terre des hommes
Si on n’y rencontrait cette race incongrue
Cette race importune et qui partout foisonne
La race des gens du terroir des gens du cru

    My God it would be a fine earth for humankind
    If this odd race were never encountered
    This wearisome race that proliferates everywhere
    The race of local folk, of true patriots

Que la vie serait belle en toutes circonstances
Si vous n’aviez tiré du néant tous ces jobards

    How wonderful life would be all around
    If You had not created these fools from the nothingness

Preuve peut-être bien de votre inexistence
Les imbéciles heureux qui sont nés quelque part
Les imbéciles heureux qui sont nés quelque part

    Perhaps it’s proof of Your inexistence
    These happy cretins who were born somewhere
    These happy cretins who were born somewhere

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Paris – La Défense

Author: fraise

Posted in Paris at 21:33

La Défense

We’re having a gorgeous late summer here in Paris. Hot days and cool nights – along with clear blue skies the sort you rarely see! Today it was easy to spot the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel from where I ate my lunch of arepa platana con queso y papelón from the Venezuelan food truck Aji Dulce that often stops by the business district.

Every day on my lunch break, I take a walk from our offices to the other end of La Défense, the Grande Arche. From the Arche you have a view of all the skyscrapers. Every day they look a bit different depending on the weather, their glass and steel transforming under the light.

La Défense

La Grande Arche is currently being renovated, with its own custom scaffolding for the works. In the background you can see my very first Parisian offices in the sail-shaped T1 skyscraper.

La Défense

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Pear-akeets

Author: fraise

Posted in Journal, Photography at 20:42

Parakeet friend

The neighboring flock of parakeets do love a good pear tree. I went to visit them with a proper camera, my Nikon D40, which I’ve had for ten years. I used my Imado f2.8 135mm telephoto lens, which is 30+ years old, thus originally made for film cameras. With the D40 it’s fully manual, which is a bit tricky when photographing birds at twilight, but the reward is gorgeous color. There’s an album for my pics of the colorful birds now.

This character was delighted to have her picture taken.

"Heehee, you're taking my picture!"

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Of parakeets

Author: fraise

Posted in Journal, La France, Nice at 21:31

Many apologies for the silence. As a few readers know, I keep meaning to update, and then life happens. The most recent was of course 14 July in Nice. It was heartbreaking; affected me very deeply. I’m only just now starting to feel normal. I’d had TGV tickets to take care of my apartment there that same weekend, for which I was grateful. Being able to walk the Promenade and talk with other people in the city was a balm.

After returning to my Paris suburb, I started taking more evening walks. During one of them, a parakeet greeted me. My first reaction, due to the parakeet being so friendly, and it being the holidays, was that the poor thing must have been abandoned. A few friends mentioned, however, that parakeets in cities are somewhat common. So I decided to look more carefully on my next walk. It turned out I didn’t need to look very far, because Madam Parakeet found me on her own and introduced me to her partner.

Earlier this week their flock fweeped (parakeet for “chirped”) up a storm in a tree, and one did a lovely swoop over my head. This evening they were a bit more secretive, but I did get a beautiful shot of one flying from her perch.

Parakeet in flight

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Settling in

Author: fraise

Posted in Journal, Paris at 17:12

Mystery bulbs have flowered!

My broken wrist is finally nearing normal these six months later, and the cats are very happily installed in our new home and garden. Work has been very busy, but this week I realized how much I miss writing. I don’t do much of it any more, apart from necessarily-short email missives, which are honestly a bit painful when you love the written word. Their brevity is important, fewer words mean fewer opportunities for misunderstandings, but that too calls up an absence.

Misunderstandings are part of what make us human. To misunderstand, or one could say, to understand differently, to interpret, is human. Of course it’s important to have shared understanding, yet it is also in the empty spaces of differing comprehensions that we learn about ourselves; learn about each other. To span these spaces we build conversational bridges, or urge ourselves to look up a definition, a reference. Or the opportunity goes by unnoticed, in the cases of incomprehensions so profound that one is convinced of one’s correctness.

My garden is growing happily in the dappled Parisian sun and regular spring rains. Shown above are surprise bulbs – as I moved in at mid-autumn, I had little idea what was hidden beneath the dirt. These bulbs started sprouting in January, so I originally thought they might be daffodils or hyacinths. Instead they look to be bluebells. I have also planted some English lavender and seeded quite a bit of annual and perennial flowers. All of them are sprouting, we’ll see how it looks in another month or two.

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All is well

Author: fraise

Posted in Journal, La France, Paris at 20:21

Flags at half mast, La Defense

Life has been very brisk these past few months. Work, then a broken wrist, a change of home, and of course, the tragic attacks in Paris just over a week ago.

I’m finally firmly at home in my new city. A bigger apartment with a garden, in a quiet area – it’s immensely refreshing. The cats are noticeably happier than in the studio, and love looking out our French doors into the garden. While moving with a broken wrist wasn’t easy, I have been grateful for the medical leave it entailed, since it’s also allowed me to take the time to find my bearings more thoroughly.

Physical therapy for the wrist started a couple of weeks ago; I’m finally able to start lifting small things and type for more than ten minutes without exhausting pain. It happened while roller skating, as part of tryouts for a roller derby team here. After two hours of exercises and skating, my thighs started telling me, “welp, it’s Friday evening and I’m tired!” I tried one last jump, but as I turned to make it, sure enough, my pivot leg’s thigh gave out. I fell, and did what you’re not supposed to do – put out my right hand. I felt my wrist break beneath my wrist guard. Both forearm bones were broken crosswise and had fractures along their length as well, but thankfully none of the smaller wrist bones were injured. The surgeon put in three temporary pins, and six weeks later they were pulled out and reeducation could begin.

Paris has been very quiet since Friday the 13th. We are still living, and hoping that tolerance and joie de vivre will prove stronger than fear. I’ve most enjoyed seeing how very many people are truly applying it to their lives, too. It’s an amazing experience; one that I hope continues in peace.

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Parisian holiday, part one

Author: fraise

Posted in Paris, Photography, Travel at 22:25

Tricyrtis formosana - toad lily

Like a typical salaried Frenchperson, every year I have about 7 weeks of vacation days to spend. Fridays here and there, a couple of weeks at Christmas, two or three weeks in July or August. This year, rather than return to my place in Nice for holidays, I stayed in Paris. I’ve lived in France for nearly 20 years now, and there were still quite a few things I hadn’t done; places I hadn’t seen. When you visit from the opposite side of the planet, you have to make clear choices, knowing there are places you’ll miss. I had seen all the main Parisian museums, climbed the stairs of the Arc de Triomphe, looked over Paris from Montmartre, read the headstones in famous cemeteries, been inside cathedrals, studied skeletons in the catacombs, shopped the Champs-Elysées, walked Versailles… and yet there was still more to see and do!

The nicest part about living here is that you can do things at a more relaxed pace. No dashing around the métro corridors – instead you can flâner dans les rues, wander the streets as you like. The city takes on a different character: no longer are places like Châtelet and Notre-Dame just names and sights imbued with the experiences of others. They become part of a living whole and inextricably tied to specific, personal memories and experiences.

One of my first trips was to the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, where I played with sine waves and fractals, then visited the wonderful geodesic dome called La Géode.

La Géode, panorama

On Monday I strolled La Coulée Verte, a garden atop le viaduc des arts near the Gare de Lyon. It also extends past the viaduct for several kilometers. For a shorter, pleasant round trip, walk the gardens one way, then come back via the lovely shops along le viaduc.

La Coulée Verte  Beautiful views from above the streets on La Coulée Verte

Then on Tuesday I explored the wonderful Jardin des plantes, where I’d hoped to also see the greenhouses, but the museum and grandes serres (greenhouses) are closed on Tuesdays. As it turned out, I was more than happy to look at the wide variety of plants. The gardens are large and diverse.

Solanum jasminoides - Morelle faux jasmin  Ipomoea lobata

Bee on lily

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Un jardin parisien

Author: fraise

Posted in Journal, La France at 23:28

New shovel

“Why is there a shovel on her tile balcony?” you may well be asking. Indeed, a shovel is one of the last things I thought I would be buying in Paris. More precisely, I did not even think about buying a shovel until today, when I went to my favorite furniture store for a fan. They had no fans, but they were having a blowout sale to empty the store for upcoming renovations. Among sale items were some fine heavy-duty steel rakes, hoes, and a single, lonely shovel.

I picked up said fine shovel, which shall no longer be lonely, because in just over a month, I’ll be moving into a new home in the Parisian suburbs! A 55sq.m (nearly 600sq.ft) one-bedroom apartment with a 25sq.m (270sq.ft) garden. Not a terrace nor a patio, though a small part of it is covered and could be considered one, but a genuine garden made of earth. It’s a long-term rental I found through what used to be called 1% logement, but is now ordained Participation des employeurs à l’effort de construction (PEEC). This is a tax paid by employers that funds rent-controlled housing as well as zero-interest loans for purchasing homes/apartments. It takes a bit of time to find a good rental, especially in Paris where housing is in high demand, and you have to go through a government-overseen commission for your application to be finalized.

I first applied in May, rejected three other apartments due to size and location considerations, then this one was offered at the end of June. I jumped at it before even knowing it had a garden. When I visited, it was something of a dream come true. Just one next-door neighbor, a retired woman who also has cats. The garden has a high fence and bushes that climb above it, and gives onto a low-traffic, dead-end street that only serves two apartment buildings. I plan to make sure the cats can’t get so adventurous they go into the street, but it’s reassuring to know that if ever they do, it’s not very dangerous.

The apartment is laid out like a rectangle, if you’ll allow for an old-school ASCII floor plan. Slashes are regular doors and brackets with tildes designate sliding French doors. There are three that give onto the garden, one from every main room:

 ---------------------------------------
|            garden                     |
|                                       |
|[ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ]-[ ~ ~ ]-[ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ]|
|                 |       |             |
|   living        |kitchen|   bedroom   |
|    room         |       |             |
|                 |       |             |
|                 |       |  / ---------|
|          |         /____   / _________|
|          | entry  |  WC |    bathroom |
 ------------  /  ----------------------

The commission that approved my application was held this Monday, so the news is recent! I feel a mix of emotions: relief at being able to live in a larger space, happiness at having a garden I’ll be able to work in (the owner lets renters take care of it), and excitement that the cats and I will be in a quiet, clean space near the Seine.

Because yes, on top of having a nice layout in a quiet area, I’m a hop, skip and a jump from the riverbank. I can hardly believe my luck. The only downsides – because every place has a downside, you just need to know what you’re willing to compromise on – are that the building isn’t terribly attractive, being a 2000s example of “concrete squares painted various shades of white” architecture and it’s a ten-minute walk to the nearest train station. But with the Seine so close by, I’ll also be able to ride my bike.

As for my Nice apartment, it still hasn’t sold. French people aren’t big fans of renovated spaces from more than about a decade ago, and my place isn’t in an area where non-French buyers look. It’s turned out to be a blessing in disguise, however. I’ve always been good at handling my budget, so have managed to keep my head above the water all this time (though occasionally just barely). I’m putting it up for a student rental now, and will fix it up as finances allow. Next summer it will likely be ready for holiday rentals, and I’ll probably put it up for another student rental afterwards. It’s perfect for a young couple, and near university facultés as well as the express bus to Sophia Antipolis for its technical colleges.

I was in Nice this last weekend to clean out more of it. Friends (who are also long-time readers! *waves*) kindly accompanied me to the beach so I could get in a bit of swimming. I hadn’t been in the Mediterranean for a year, so that was lovely.

Nice sunset panorama

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Sunny summer day

Author: fraise

Posted in Journal, La France, Paris, Photography at 17:32

Palais de Tokyo panorama

Last week I learned about Vincennes en Anciennes and their Traversée de Paris estivale, where vintage cars drive through the city, stopping at a few landmarks. Unfortunately they don’t have a set schedule, other than leaving from Vincennes at a certain time in the morning. I arrived too late at Charles de Gaulle – Étoile, which I found out by checking their Facebook page.

It was a beautiful day here, though, so I made the most of it. The walk from Étoile to Eiffel is short and pleasant, filled with architectural beauties and always a surprise or two.

Arc de Triomphe, top

The Arc de Triomphe was cleaned starting last year; you can see a lot more of the detail on it now.

Boat on the Seine

Houseboats from around Europe dock in Paris. This one was from Antwerp, Belgium.

Eiffel from Passerelle Debilly

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Bonne fête nationale !

Author: fraise

Posted in Journal, La France, Paris at 21:15

A short stint here

C’est le 14 juillet et il fait beau ! The photo above was actually taken a couple of weeks ago, when I had the opportunity to work in that very same EDF skyscraper.

As summer holidays approach, I’ll have more time to share my discoveries of Paris. A few days ago I saw the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit currently at the Grand Palais. I made a day out of it, walking to Concorde and the east edge of the Tuileries, then back up the Champs Elysées for window shopping and ice cream. At the Arc de Triomphe, tourists asked to take their photo with me, assuming I was a Frenchwoman. Which, technically, is correct, but nonetheless brings a smile to my originally-Oregonian face.

Now when I look at the Arc, a new memory is recalled. A colleague kindly drove me (and another colleague) around it. I do believe I’ve come full circle from driving McKenzie Pass to now having experienced the largest cobblestone roundabout in Europe. It was pretty wild… we’ll see if I ever achieve actually driving it myself someday.

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