Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Les Clés

Just a quick entry to give you all a preview of our apartment. Yes, tonight we actually got the keys to our new apartment. Everything looks great except for some plumbing work that needs to be done on the W.C. and the heaters not working in the guestroom and office. The heaters have been off for the past week, so we are hoping that things will warm up a bit tonight.

Let the cleaning and hauling begin! As I think I have mentioned before, our new apartment is a five minute walk from where we are staying, so I will be hauling our suitcases and various acquired stuff over in many little ant-like trips, after I have thoroughly finished cleaning. I managed to finish the bedrooms, living room and storage room tonight. Funny how fast cleaning is when nothing is in a room.  

Here are the before pictures, hopefully the after pictures will be coming soon!

What do you think of the previous tenants' colour choices? 

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Don’t worry this is not a post begging for money to get Keith out of jail. Neither Keith nor myself were arrested by the gendarme (national police). In fact we actually have our temporary permits of residence which happen to be on 8” x 6” sheets of thick paper with our horrible photos on them; we will not be issued our actual cards until we pass the medical and really who knows when that might be.  Our residency status is still in the midst of bureaucratic paper shuffling, but our “Bail” (pronounced bye) is almost complete.

 “Bail” is in fact the word for lease and on Thursday we went in to sign the lease for our apartment. Just to remind those who have lost track, because I know I have, this is a quick summary of the process:

1)      Get bank accounts, bank cards and cheques (10 days)
2)      Search for an apartment on line.
3)      Contact agents who show apartments.
4)      Meet with agents to see apartments.
(Steps 2,3 and 4 took approximately a week and a half)
5)      Finally found an apartment we liked. (We first viewed it on my     birthday. Coincidence I think not!)
6)      Begin a dossier with the agent to present to the owner. Giving information such as what Keith’s income is, type of contract, etc...
7)      Get all of Keith’s boss’s information as our guarantor to complete our dossier.
8)      The owner views our dossier and okays it.
9)      Keith’s boss copies (by hand) and signs a document indicating that she would be our guarantor. She had to have it notarized.
10)   Get insurance for the apartment which required information like how many rooms where in the apartment and how many locks are on the door????
11)   Go to the property management company to sign our bail.

Now for those of you who are picturing us breezing into the property management company and simply signing a lease think again. The representative of the property management company went over the lease with us and explained everything which was very nice of her. I think she had been warned before that we were from abroad and our French was somewhat limited. Half of the document was important information about the square footage and what was included in our lease and what wasn’t in terms of utilities, but the other half of the fifty or so pages was basically an insurance policy in the event of earth quakes or forest fires. After the document was explained to us, we had to initial every single page, front and back, of all four copies the representative provided for us. Keith’s boss will also have to initial every page of three of these copies and the owner will do the same. Luckily, we don’t have to have this step complete before we get the keys, so documents-wise we have been cleared to move in. This is the elevator we had to take to get to the property management company. Although the picture may not fully capture its size, it’s basically a telephone booth with a steel cable attached to the top. There would maybe be room for three, but only if you were really friendly and skinny.

We had never imaged that the process of getting an apartment take so long or be so involved. I keep double checking with Keith as to whether there are steps we have forgotten or that we still have to do. It will be a huge relief to have all of this behind us and to be able to start to really live our lives here. I feel like this process has been all consuming. We took two more trips to Ikea this week and I spent almost all day Tuesday and Wednesday shopping around for kitchen stuff and comparing prices at different stores. I would like this stage to be over, but the list of things we need to get seems endless. As much as I enjoy decorating, the budget is limited and spending so much money at once always puts me in a bad mood, even if we really do need everything we are getting. So far I have been very zen about the spending, but I know that eventually one purchase is going to tip me over the edge. I just have to keep breathing, it will be worth it.

Speaking of living a normal life again and breathing, I have spent this week looking for a yoga practice that I would like to join. The only Ashtanga practice is in the centre ville and I am not willing to take the bus or walk all that way just for a yoga class. Yes I know, I was spoiled in Kingston, everything in my life was practically within a 10 minute walking radius, but considering I already have church and shopping within that radius here, I thought why not try to add my yoga class as well. I knew right away the first studio I tried was not for me. As soon as I walked in the heavy smell of incense hit me and she did not have proper yoga mats, both bad signs. Finding a proper yoga mat has been a problem I have been working on for the past three weeks. None of the sports stores here carry them and all the yoga teachers I have emailed have basically said I will have to order one on line. Errr.

 The class at the first studio I tried was an hour long, but consisted of only four positions and a lot of breathing! I know for some of you this is the way you like your yoga, but for me coming from the Ashtanga practice, where you are constantly moving, this was way too slow. The second studio I went to actually started with sun salutation and moved on at a bit of a better pace, although still very gentle in comparison to what I am used to. The teachers at both were extremely helpful and both classes were quite social, which is good for improving my French. I have decided that I will purchase a mat and continue Ashtanga at home and enrol with the second studio starting in January. Hopefully by then the chaos of moving and furnishing our apartment will be over and I will be able to stick to more of a schedule.

Below I have included some of my on-the-go shots from the last week. The kitchen stores here are quite daunting. They are literally packed with stuff from walls of knives to special storage units for camembert.

A fine example of Marseille parking. How do you get into a pedestrian walkway when there are metal barriers on every side?

 There are merry-go-round at all major parks here. This one in the vieux port is especially impressive because it has two levels! No I haven't ridden one yet, but just wait.

My goal is to continue to capture more of these on the go shots of the city and try to forget about Ikea and moving for at least 10 minutes every day.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Un Mois

As of Monday, we have been in France for a month. In some ways time has seemed to fly by, yet in other ways it feels like we have been here for quite some time.

We have now been initiated into the Marseillais culture. On Friday we had dinner with Pierre and his girlfriend Selha. You may remember Pierre from our earlier LeBonCoin pursuits, he was the one who basically gave us everything that would fit in his trunk and then delivered it.  Well, he also invited us over for dinner and introduced us to Marseille’s drink - Pastis. Pastis is an alcohol that is served by mixing one part Pastis to five parts water. When the two are mixed together the amber alcohol diffuses and turns the mixture a milky white! Pretty cool party trick huh? The drink itself tastes like black liquorish. I myself am not a liquorish fan, but actually enjoyed the pastis because there is little after taste and the liquorish flavour is not overwhelming. I guess, if I was a rough and tumble Marseille sailor, I would take my pastis one to one with water and perhaps it would be a bit more overwhelming, but I am enjoying as it is at the moment. The dinner was splendid with a shrimp and avocado topped salad to start, a local fish (I forget the name) and julienned carrots, zucchini, fennel and pepper for a main, a cheese plate, of course, and a fruit salad with homemade litchi rum for desert. They were oh so generous and we will definitely have to return the favour once we have settled into our new place. The discussion was great and pretty much 98% in French! Things are coming along.

In fact Friday was a very good French day for me. Not only did I have dinner in French, but I connected with a newly made acquaintance for coffee.  I met Raphelle on the bus, on the way to Ikea , because she was reading a teach yourself English book.   She is studying English so that she can work in London in January. We spoke about half French and half English, and I helped her with her CV. It was a nice combination of the languages and nice to talk to someone who understands what level you are at. In addition to that, I encountered one of my classmates from the French class on the metro and had a half decent conversation with him about why as a Canadian I don’t already know French. I figure I just have to keep throwing myself out there and muddling my way through the language.

We have also thrown ourselves into getting to know the city. I didn’t realize how much I missed being in a bigger city until we got here. I especially miss the people watching. In Kingston, I never really just stood around and waited for a bus or had to wait in line. Everything and everyone was just around and accessible, which definitely has its perks. Also as a high school teacher, anonymity was not an option. In Marseille, waiting for the bus is a type of entertainment in itself sometimes. Some of the most unusual things we have seen include a woman carrying a ferret around Ikea, a man finishing off the last of a boxed wine bag while chatting on the street about parking, and an elderly gentleman chewing down on a cinnamon stick. (Is this a new way to quite smoking?) In addition to these I have developed a pet peeve, which Keith and I have termed “soother sightings.” Now, I know we are not parents and I don’t want to criticize those who use soothers, but when a child is a certain age, I think it is time to give the thing up. We have seen numerous times children at the supermarket having long conversations with their parents through soothers.  Why would parents put up with this? Get the kid to take the thing out of their mouth and talk properly. Most of these children are well past the age of three and obviously want to be interacting. The current top “soother sighting” was a child who was at least as tall as my hip, walking with his mother in designer jeans, and a leather jacket.  If I am totally out of line about my soother parameters on acceptability, I know that many of you will correct me, but this one was absolutely ridiculous!

It is nice that we now have the ability to settle into the enjoying our commuting on public transit with all of its observations and not worry about where we are going or when our stop actually is. The ability to hop on a bus and arrive at Ikea for example has been a treat. We have now acquired a set of dishes (on sale!!), utensils, glasses and a half decent knife. The one I have been using at the residence made me want to stab it into the table and leave it there, but I have found my Zen again with a beautiful paring knife that slides through tomatoes, as if they were butter.  My Ikea addiction continues as I try to figure out what sort of bedding we need and dream about fun lamps, rugs and frames that I am not allowed to indulge in until after we move into our apartment.

It feels like we have accomplished a lot in getting to know the city and a bit of the language, but considering that we have now been here a month the lack of our own place looms over us as a sign that really we still have not fully settled in. In addition to this, there are some pangs of homesickness that have started to grow. Some of these things are very silly like not being able to find a store that sells yoga mats, or rationing my English reading material because I don’t want to spend 20 Euros on a new book. (I can’t get a library card until we can prove we have lived at one address for three months. Errrr.) Other things have hit home with more impact and made me sigh.  Having left behind our Kingston lives a month ago, I am realizing how much I miss my students and their entertaining stories. Hopefully in the not too distant future I will have other teenagers telling me equally funny things. Teenagers let loose about their adventures with a stream of consciousness style that I miss. As we plan for Christmas with Elise and Aid visiting us, I am also realizing that this will be my first Christmas away from parents and all of those loved ones in Edmonton. This makes my heart ache and I wish now that we had not been so rushed in those last days of packing so that we could have squeezed in the advent calendar. I don’t really remember a Christmas without the advent calendar, although I do remember that at one time it was new. For those of you who have not seen it, my mom made me a replica of the advent calendar my brother and I had when growing up. It is a felt stitched Christmas tree on which you hang an ornament every day leading up to Christmas. My brother and I would fight over who got to hang what ornament, and we had a special order and place for many of the colourful toys, animals, and Christmas objects that were represented. Alas things are going to be quite a bit different this Yuletide, but I guess after seven years of marriage perhaps we should start making some of our own traditions. Keith’s big plan is to get a palm tree in place of a traditional Christmas tree. Will this be something we continue when we return to Canada?

I apologize for the lack of pictures with this entry. I have actually taken some floral photos lately, but I need to start developing more of a street photography mentality so that I can get some photos of people and the bizarre things they do.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

“La force est avec toi”

Having a bit more time on my hands than usual, and, as always, trying to improve my French, I have indulged in watching television. The thing that has surprised me the most about French TV is the amount of American programming that has just been dubbed over in French. I guess my Canadian bias of forced Can-con has been ingrained into my expectations. I thought that there would be a plethora of French dramas and sit-coms, but in reality most of the French shows are talk shows or political commentaries that go way too fast for me to follow. In conversations with people from the lab, Keith has discovered that Quebecois programs are actually considered quite good and are really popular. I guess it is easier for many stations just to purchase dubbed over or Quebec content than actually create their own. With this in mind the majority of my viewing has been American content. I have gravitated towards shows that are high action with little need for huge discussions, or simpler kids’ shows. This has resulted in me watching some things that I would probably never watch in English like “Hannah Montana.” Yes, I know GROAN, but I can understand most of it. As well I have a couple times caught a show called “Medicopter” which is actually a German show about a rescue helicopter crew and how every episode they save the day. It is trés cheesy, and looks like it was made in the 1980s, but reminds me of watching “Danger Bay” as a kid. Does anyone else remember this show? This was one of the many CBC shows that structured my childhood.

My biggest indulgence at the moment is watching “Dawson’s Creek.”  I was fan of this clever show in high school and the early years of undergrad, but didn`t realize that it kept running until 2003. I am currently watching the later episodes in French and trying to figure out what happened in the gap of episodes I have missed. I do not understand everything, but I usually get the basics of the plot and find that some days I can even understand the specific motivations of Joey, Dawson and Pacey. I feel like this is a bit of guilty pleasure and something I would never watch in Canada, but really it is all in the name of learning so it must be alright. Yes?

Thursday night we were able to catch one of the “X-men” movies which fits all of my above criteria for understandable and enjoyable watching. Plus both Keith and I have seen it before, which makes things much easier to understand. After the movie was over we happened to flip channels to the end of “Star Wars.” Funnily enough there is very little need to understand the language of a movie when you have seen it a bazillion times. Keith in fact was able to fill in all of the dialogue himself in English. Luke as always destroyed the death star and “the force” reigned supreme. The educational tidbit I received from this quality viewing is that “force” is a feminine noun! So when I have a heated discussion in French about “Star Wars” in the future, I know I will be using the correct articles and prepositions. And let’s face it with Keith and a bunch a scientists around we all know that a “Star Wars” discussion is going to happen eventually.