Les Vacances de Mlle PJ

Monday, 7th September 2009, 8:24pm

Amsterdam had been the plan. A friend and I had discussed going there for a long weekend during August; we’d immerse ourselves in arts and culture during the day and debauchery after dark. As usual, I did a lot of research into accommodation (budget hotels, botels on the canal, gay hotels, S&M hotels) and was really looking forward to going. I’d never been to Amsterdam before, but I’d enjoyed a school trip to other areas of The Netherlands during my teens.

Unfortunately my friend changed his mind due to his financial situation, but I still needed to get away from my life for a few days. In the end, I decided that the easiest and cheapest option was to go to Paris again. I sorted out return tickets with Easyjet and contacted my friend Claudette* to let her know that I’d be around. Although I’d stayed with her in the past, I was tempted to book a hotel for the freedom and personal space. However, Claudette insisted that I stay with her, so I accepted her offer. Unfortunately, when I arrived I discovered that Claudette was feeling unwell, so although she was quite welcoming, I felt a bit awkward about being there.

Anyway, I was set on visiting the Eiffel Tower (I’d seen it from a distance in the past), and as per Claudette’s instructions, on the morning of my second day I took the metro to Iena Station. When I exited the station I looked around, expecting to see the tower in view, but instead I discovered a lovely market. It was quite a varied market, with everything from clothes and jewellery to fresh fish, flowers and an African food stall.

One of the sellers gave me directions to the Eiffel Tower, and so within a couple of minutes I    found myself gazing at it across the Seine. I crossed the bridge and joined the massive queues. I went all the way up to the 3rd floor and saw some wonderful views of the city; it was definitely (and literally) the high point of my trip.

I was quite surprised by the number of young men who were all trying to flog the same tacky Eiffel Tower replicas and scarves around the tower and on the way to Trocadero station. They were especially in force at the exit from the tower, where you had to run a gauntlet to escape more than twenty of them.

Later on I wanted to visit Galleries Lafayette (a large department store), but after a quick walk around I ended up at the Food Hall where I picked up some Madeleine cakes and Lindt chocolates. I carried on walking around Boulevard Haussemann and the surrounding areas and found the Academy of Music, which I’d seen on a previous trip to Paris.

After taking a break in Starbucks (I know!) I came across Surcouf, a great computer store. I have never seen such a collection of netbook cases in an assortment of colours and designs – I almost wished that my MSI Wind hadn’t come with its own case so I could justify getting one.

Although I was flagging from all the walking around, I had to try to keep myself amused until at least 5.30pm, when Claudette returned home from work. I wasn’t feeling so great that day, so I definitely regretted not booking a hotel to retreat to.

When I finally got back to Claudette’s place, I found out that she’d seen her GP, who’d given her a sick note, so she’d been home all day. She’d wanted to take me out to a French restaurant on the other side of Paris, but as I was tired and in some pain I asked if we could stay closer to home. She seemed really annoyed about the change in plans, but in the end she made us some pasta, and we stayed in and watched dubbed episodes of Bewitched (Darrin Stephens is called Jean-Pierre, but Samantha and Endora kept their names!). I felt guilty for being a difficult guest.

As she wasn’t going to work the next day I was able to sleep in a bit (though honestly I found it difficult to sleep there — the walls seemed really thin as I could hear the neighbours on both sides). She seemed quite eager to get me out of the apartment, so I ventured over to Bercy Village. I visited some shops there, but enjoyed strolling around the nearby park too.

Then I went to the Maison Europienne de La Photographie, which had some great exhibitions featuring work by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ferdinando Scianna and Gabriele Basilico. Unfortunately, I was kicked out before I could see all the exhibitions due to an electrical issue.

I found a Chinese restaurant where I ate a late lunch before I went to meet Claudette nearby. She took me around Marais, an arty and diverse area with Jewish influences. After leaving Marais we found a touristy area where I got some souvenir t-shirts. As I was a bit tired, I suggested going to the cinema; the only English movie (with French subtitles) was The Ugly Truth. I knew that it’d had bad reviews, but I just wanted a break from all the walking.

After the movie, Claudette took me to a creperie. She was really eager to get me to try some of the pancakes. When we got there she explained that you’d normally start with a savoury pancake, then follow with a sweet one. I tried the savoury pancake, but couldn’t finish it as I didn’t like the taste (I’m a really fussy eater). I was still a bit full from the Chinese meal I’d had earlier, and wasn’t really interested in any of the sweet pancakes, so I finished off with a mug of tea while she had hers.

I tried not to show my annoyance at the way she kept on telling me to try a sweet pancake, insisting over and over that I’d regret not having it. (I didn’t.)

At the end of the meal I offered to pay for both of us, to say thanks for her hospitality over the past few days. I took out my purse and discovered that I only had a couple of euros in change, and my credit card. I was baffled as I knew that I hadn’t spent all my money.

Claudette said that I must have spent it all, but I knew that wasn’t true. I paid for the meal with my credit card. Then she asked me if I had enough money to get to the airport…

On the way back to her flat I started thinking about all the things I’d bought that day. I’d started out with €180, and spent about €110 during the day. I couldn’t account for the rest. Then I thought back to the cinema; I hadn’t had enough change to buy a drink, so I’d broken a €20 note at the kiosk and got about  €17 back, plus I had a few more €20 notes in there.

Then I remembered that in the cinema before the movie started, I’d gone to the toilet and left my bags with Claudette. I couldn’t believe it, but I finally concluded that Claudette must have stolen my money.

I didn’t think that a pickpocket might have done it, as they would have just taken the whole purse – they wouldn’t have taken the time to open the purse, remove the notes and put it back. I might not have noticed a note or two going and would have assumed that I’d spent more than I thought, but taking everything was just too obvious.

I decided not to confront her about it, as I didn’t have real proof, but I felt violated and very disappointed in her.  An 11-year friendship down the toilet. The next morning I left for the airport with a heavy heart, but I was looking forward to going home.

Even without that experience, for much of my time during this trip I felt out of place, like I didn’t belong. Whenever I visit another city I feel like I’m almost auditioning it as an alternative home, in case I ever decide to leave London for a while (my short list includes New York and Tokyo).

I encountered some minor racial prejudice in Paris, and while it happens occasionally in London, it occurred quite frequently during my four days in Paris. Several times I noticed shopkeepers watching me like a hawk, and women suddenly clutching their handbags tightly as I walked past them. While I was out with Claudette I noticed that staff in shops and restaurants would acknowledge her and completely ignore me. I don’t remember experiencing  similar prejudice on my previous trips to Paris, but I chalked it up the right-wing establishment and socioeconomic factors.

I’d like to go on another trip again before the end of the year, maybe to Amsterdam, or a creative retreat or on the wolf-tracking holiday to Romania that I keep on thinking about…

Here are a few pics from my travels.

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Duty Free

Tuesday, 25th August 2009, 9:08am

I’m at Luton Airport right now waiting to get on a flight to Paris. I’m in an internet kiosk which charges £1 for 10 minutes. I’ve got 7 mins of credit left.

I’ll be back on Friday and will update you on my trip then. I don’t think I’m going to have much internet access (which is probably a good thing, as I need a break from it and everything else).

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Meme of 3

Thursday, 6th August 2009, 2:50pm

Another meme taken from Roses’ blog.

Three Things:

Three names I go by (besides given name):
P
Penichio
Penola

Three Jobs I have had in my life:
Administrator/Office Manager
Cinema Usher
McDonalds Cook (for 4 days)

Three Places I have lived:
Croydon
South London
Bedford (until I was about 1 year old)

Three Favorite drinks:
Sweet, weak tea
Karibbean Kola
Orange Juice

Three TV Shows that I watch right now:
Judge Judy
Gossip Girl
Californication

Three places I have been:
Japan
Jamaica
Egypt

People that call me regularly:
Mum
Ahmed
Andrea

Three of my favorite foods:
Chocolate
Cheese
Bread

Three Things I am looking forward to:
Going on holiday
Getting my own flat
Finishing the book I’m currently reading

Three Things that are always by your side:
Something to read
Something to write on
A pen

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Meme me

Sunday, 2nd August 2009, 1:50pm

Nicked from Journeying

1. First thing you wash in the shower? Chest
2. What color is your favorite hoodie? Green
3. Would you kiss the last person you kissed again? No, shouldn’t have gone there in the first place.
4. Do you plan outfits? Not especially, but I usually have some jeans or black trousers which will go with any clean top I find.
5. How are you feeling RIGHT now? Tired from a long day.
6. Whats the closest thing to you that’s red? A book called Oriental Belly Dance by Kemal Özdemir
7. Tell me about the last dream you remember having? Something about taking over the management of a donut shop.
8. Did you meet anybody new today? Yes, a couple of young cousins (second cousins if you want to get technical).
9. What are you craving right now? Mum’s cake (just had some).
10. Do you floss? Almost never, though I know I should.
11. What comes to mind when I say cabbage? Yuck. The smell alone puts me off.
12. Are you emotional? I’m like a Cadbury’s Cream Egg – all gooey inside that hard shell.
13. Have you ever counted to 1,000?I don’t think I would have the patience.
14. Do you bite into your ice cream or just lick it? Lick
15. Do you like your hair? It’s not too bad, but I should be more creative with it.
16. Do you like yourself? Mostly.
17. Would you go out to eat with George W. Bush? I’d consider it, I like to watch the comedy channel.
18.What are you listening to right now? I Created Disco by Calvin Harris
19. Are your parents strict? My mum was pretty strict with me, though I get the impression that she was tougher in some ways on my older brother.
20. Would you go sky diving? Probably not.
21. Do you like cottage cheese? I’ve never had any, but I don’t think I’d like it.
23. Do you rent movies often? Yeah, I have a LoveFilm membership at the moment.
24. Is there anything sparkly in the room you’re in? Nothing whatsoever.
25. How many countries have you visited? Eleven
26. Have you made a prank phone call? No, I live vicariously through Bart Simpson.
27. Ever been on a train? I use multiple trains to get to work, and many other places.
28. Brown or white eggs? No preference.
29. Do you have a cellphone? I bought a Samsung Blade S5600v via Ebay a couple weeks ago, and I really like it.
30. Do you use chap stick? I usually use Vaseline or a coloured lip gloss.
32. Can you use chop sticks? I’m not an expert, but when I visited Japan I learnt pretty quickly.
33. Who are you going to be with tonight? My extended family (my mum had her birthday party this evening).
34. Are you too forgiving? Sometimes. I give 2nd chances, but I don’t forget betrayals.
35. Ever been in love? Once.
36. What is your best friend(s) doing tomorrow? I don’t have a best friend.
37. Ever have cream puffs? Profiteroles? Never, but I wouldn’t mind trying one.
38. Last time you cried? Several weeks ago, I think I was overwhelmed by various issues.
39. What was the last question you were asked? I was asked loads today, I can barely remember any but the one that stands out was ‘So, what do you do?’
40. Favorite time of the year? Winter.
41. Do you have any tattoos? Nope.
42. Are you sarcastic? ‘Course not.
43. Have you ever seen The Butterfly Effect? Yeah, it blew my mind a little.
44. Ever walked into a wall? Never.
45. Favorite color? Purple.
46. Have you ever slapped someone? Only during playacting.
47. Is your hair curly? The regrowth is.
48. What was the last CD you bought? I Created Disco by Calvin Harris – bought in Tesco on Friday night.
49. Do looks matter? Only in the sense that we should make the most of what we’ve got.
50. Could you ever forgive a cheater? It would be very difficult. It would depend on the circumstances.
51. Is your phone bill sky high? It’s normally about £10 a month.
52. Do you like your life right now? It could be a lot worse, but it could also be better.
53. Do you sleep with the TV on? No.
54. Can you handle the truth? I prefer it.
55. Do you have good vision? No, I’m quite short-sighted.
56. Do you hate or dislike more than 3 people? No, but I don’t like the behavior or attitudes of certain people.
57. How often do you talk on the phone? A couple times a day.
58. The last person you held hands with? A guy I dated a couple of years ago.
59. What are you wearing? Nightie and nightgown.
60.What is your favorite animal? Wolf.
61. Where was your default picture taken at? I don’t use my own pic as an online avatar.
62. Can you hula hoop? Haven’t tried in at least a decade.
63. Do you have a job? Yes.
64. What was the most recent thing you bought? Just bought a mahogany sideboard for my mum’s birthday.
65. Have you ever crawled through a window? My own window, just for fun.
66. When was the last time you’ve been to church? The funeral of the mother of my mum’s friend, several months ago.
67. What’s your least favorite meal? I enjoy most of my mum’s soups, but I’m not a fan of her red pea soup. My dad loves it though, so sometimes he gets his way.
68. Did you ever steal anything by mistake? Apparently I left a restaurant without paying by accident. I was a regular there and the next time I went there the guy told me what happened. I couldn’t believe it. I’m still wondering if I left the money on the table and someone else passed and nicked it before he came back. I offered to pay them back, but they said that it had been sorted.
69. Have you ever won anything? I’ve won an electric guitar and a couple of premium WordPress themes online.

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Dirty Dancing

Sunday, 2nd August 2009, 12:22am

<a href="http://video.msn.com/?mkt=en-US&#038;from=sp&#038;vid=304364f2-e037-48b6-9ffe-8f67ad6539b1" target="_new" title="Channing Tatum and Charlyne Yi Cinemash "Dirty Dancing"">Video: Channing Tatum and Charlyne Yi Cinemash &#8220;Dirty Dancing&#8221;</a>

Loving this parody of a scene from Dirty Dancing featuring Channing Tatum and Charlyne Yi. Yi is clearly no actress, but Tatum’s cheesy interpretation of Johnny Castle is totally adorable. Who hasn’t ‘balanced on sh*t’ at one time or another?

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Thanks for staying! Come again soon.