Monday, April 30, 2007

Latest happenings

Just a short update about happenings today and yesterday. Yesterday, I got up quite late and spoke to Lucy on MSN. She asked me if I wanted to meet her on the Champs de Mars as she went back to Brittany today as it's her mum's birthday. It was originally intended that we'd have a sort of revision session, reading our respective books for literature. However, none of this materialised, as although I had a fair and concerted effort to read some of La Symphonie pastorale, Lucy distracted me every thirty seconds with things like "Oh, oh, oh, try and guess what song this is!" (she had brought her iPod). And, "Look, that man has a penny-farthing!" So all in all, all that I read of La Symphonie Pastorale was what I read on the metro on the way there, and the two words "La Grange" about one hundred times. Nicky joined us momentarily, but almost immediately the already-ominous sky became thundery, and we decided to make our retreat to Nicky and Lucy's apartment.

And indeed, the heavens did open, and there were the occasional flashes of lightning followed by rumbles of thunder. So we decided to watch the first two episodes of Heroes which I hadn't seen before, and then I went to church. I was intending to go to the French service, but I didn't leave in time so I decided to skip it and went to the English service instead.

The aforementioned English service was really good and inspiring. The speaker was a medical missionary for Lifeline Malawi, and he talked with such passion about what he did. He only left for Malawi aged 58, which goes to prove it's never too late, which is a feeling that I already sometimes experience at age 19. The bible readings happened to be about the Final Judgement, which seemed to be quite appropriate with the pathetic fallacy of the regular low rumbles of thunder. Is it just me, or do you agree that everyone's mood seems to change when there's a storm? Then I cooked pizzas for students after the service even though it wasn't my turn, and then I consumed my fair share and went home and finished La Symphonie pastorale. The whole book leads up to an ending which comes very swiftly and seems to be over and done with in a couple of pages as if the author got bored and decided to finish the book there and then.

Today was another day characterized by doing very little. I finished my art essay, handed it in and got my mark for my grammar exam - a very respectable 14/20. The comment from the lecturer was, "You take some risks with the level of syntax and vocabulary, which is good (even if it is not very prudent for an exam)", so I was pleased enough with that. And I did some shopping, and that's about it. Tomorrow, I'm planning to tidy my apartment and do some washing. Let's see if that actually materialises.

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Beijing Olympics 2008

These two articles (here and here) raise a lot of concern about the Olympics next year in Beijing. In order to complete the building works in time, labourers are being paid as little as £3.27 a day for 12 hour shifts, often in incredibly dangerous conditions without adequate safety equipment. And then, the Chinese authorities are using the Olympic Games as an excuse to "suppress dissent", and are arresting petty criminals and other undesirables without charge in Beijing in order to clean up the city in time for the Olympics. The Chinese authorities promised as part of their bid to clean up China's human rights records, which they have failed to do.

And what makes it worse is that the IOC says that it is a sporting organisation, not a political one, and so won't do anything about it. But with the quickest glance to the Olympic Charter, especially the section 'Fundamental Principals of Olympism', it is clear that political considerations are an integral part of the Olympic games. For example:

"Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles ... with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned
with the preservation of human dignity."

I'm not sure abusing human rights and forcing people to work below the minimum wage of Beijing in order to make a good impression when the opening ceremony arrives is compatible with the values of 'Olympism'.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

I know, I know

Easter's come and gone, but I still found this slightly amusing.

Just some random pictures...

Here are just a few images for prosperity, in no chronological order.
A cool builidng near where I live.

This is either Île de la Cité taken from Île Saint-Louis, or Île Saint-Louis taken from Île de la Cité.

La Conciergerie, Île de la Cité.

I didn't realise the Notre Dame was so crooked! Also on Île de la Cité.

Opéra de la Bastille

Children on the taboggan slide outside the Hôtel de Ville, next to the big ice skating rink that you can't see. Just to think, there's going to be an artificial beach there soon if I'm to believe correctly.

C'est moi! And look at the lovely, green lawn...
And that'll do for now, because I'm bored of uploading photos and then giving them captions with stupid French accents that I have to copy and paste.

Adding Comments

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Saturday, April 28, 2007

French French Bashing no surprise to me

Does this article surprise me one iota? No, it doesn't. Since I've been living in Paris, the one thing which is abundantly clear is the sense of insecurity that pervades the national identity, particularly here in the capital. On everything from economy to national identity, the French seem ill at ease with themselves.

France has faced long-term consistent unemployment at around 10%, which is much higher among the young and ethnic minorities. France also has a massive welfare system, which has to be sustained by high taxation. Protectionism is restricting business. London continues to outstrip Paris on development, even though in my opinion, Paris is probably a much better city for international business - transport, for one, is second to none here. The government's spending is unsustainable. The law makes it almost impossible for businesses to hire people, because of the taxes they'll have to pay and because it is near impossible to fire someone once they are employed. But people don't want the law to change, as demonstrated by student riots last year.

And then there's the question of national identity. Nearly a quarter of the French population belong to ethnic minorities, although most of these are European and the descendants have long been assimilated into the general population. However, there are massive immigrant populations from the Maghreb, and from French overseas colonies. But with the French unitairianisme, these immigrant groups must become French or face exclusion. This is a country where only last year did the television see its first non-white prime time news presenter on state television. The immigrant groups are often face discrimination, and are forced into ghettos in the banlieues, particularly around Paris. Paris is a city under seige, with riots and car burning in the surrounding banlieues always grabbing headlines.

The people of France want change, and that is why there was such a high turn out to last week's first round to the elections. The problem is, most of the population don't really know who's going to deliver such a change.

(Another interesting article here)

Of heat and homelessness

Welcome to my first blog! I hope you're excited: I know I am! This is a little run down of the week that was, from my return to Paris after my Easter séjourn in the UK. So, make sure you're comfy, as I begin.

It was on Monday that my holiday in England came to an end to start my holiday of sorts here in Paris. As I left London on the Eurostar, the weather on that side of the channel was decidedly greyer and cooler than previous days. But arriving at Gare du Nord, although it was seven in the evening, it was ridiculously hot. And things haven't changed from then.

Tuesday was just as hot and sunny, so before going to my only lecture of the week, I went on an hour walk. Well, two walks, since I found it impossible to tackle the Nation mega-roundabout and find the road I wanted. So, instead, I caught the métro to Châtelet and continued from there until Tuileries. Walking by the Seine in the summer air: it can't be beaten. Since our lecturer wasn't there, which was no change as we have had him for a total of four hours approximately out of the timetabled ten, the lecture was taught instead by a PhD student, whose name I can't remember, and never will again. She was really good actually, although she became frustrated by the very little general information we seemed to know. In the evening, I went to church, which had a new format; we got into two small groups and talked about a topic. My group was 'decisions'. I have to say I really enjoyed that evening. Although we did get onto slightly bizarre side tracks, like having one's head cut off.

Wednesday, I wrote some of my art essay in the morning, and for lunch I went for a picnic with Nicky on the Champs de Mars, just by the Eiffel Tower. Nicky has the fortune, or misfortune, of living right besides the Eiffel Tower. I then went swimming, but I was quite disappointed, as the swimming pool was covered (I thought it was outdoors), I had to pay the full fee (a whopping 2€60, extortionate!), and it was crowded. But that's what you get for going on a Wednesday, as all the schools are closed. I could have swum in one of the designated lanes, but since when I swim I look like I'm drowning (well, that's what my report for swimming said at school), and the swimmers already in the lanes looked incredibly serious, I decided it was best not to disturb them. Some people were taking themselves far too seriously, but that's the French for you... and I know as an Englishman how easy it is to upset the French.

Thursday, I wrote more of my art essay, and then I had ice cream with Lucy and Katy Dey. Katy Dey has quit uni but is still working in Paris. We went for ice cream on Ile St-Louis, which has a ridiculous number of ice cream shops in a really small area. Although that is what the island is known for. And there were people queuing for miles (slight exaggeration, but 50 yards sounds less dramatic) because it was so hot. But we found a small ice cream shop with no one queuing, and the ice cream was really nice. There's always a possibility that there's a reason people weren't queuing for that one but for others. But that's how tourists work. They only go for ones where there are already really long queues to be on the safe side and then moan about how long the queues are. I had a very nice raspberry ice cream (at least I think it was raspberry). I'm sure that counts as one of my five fruit and veg a day. We sat by the Seine eating ice cream while Lucy explained why she hates Paris so much. We then walked through Ile de la Cite, past Notre Dame, crossed over the river and past Hotel de Ville, and decided that because it was so hot we'd have another ice cream. This one wasn't fruit orientated, in fact it was chocolate fudge brownie ice cream. A bastion of calorific temptation, but it was worth the possible later heart disease. There Lucy and I parted from Katy and went to uni to collect our results for Literature. I then went back to Lucy's apartment (she lives with Nicky) where I had dinner, although I did help pay for it as we purchased it on the way. Chicken nuggets and boiled potatoes. Loving my healthy life style.

Friday morning I wrote my shortest ever essay, 150 words! That's ridiculous. It was a film review on the 1966 Bataille d'Alger. The "essay" only took about an hour to write. I haven't even watched the film. Although that's possibly a good thing, since Thursday I got the mark back for my literature essay (see above), a text commentary on an extract from La Nausée by Sartre. I hadn't read the vast majority of the book, and I got 16/20 - a very respectable mark even if I do say so myself.

After spending the entire afternoon in a comatose state owing to the heat, I spent the evening handing out sandwiches to homeless people. Our group of three, I believe, was the only group who didn't get rid of all their food. But as it was my first time, I can only get better. There were several examples of people who were probably homeless but we weren't absolutely sure. Offering food to a non-homeless person isn't a great idea, since they may get the wrong idea. So we mainly went for ones with sleeping bags, just to be on the safe side. Paris has a phenomenally large problem with homelessness and unemployment, it's really sad. Paris is such a city of two extremes. Near my church, in the incredibly wealthy 8th arrondissement, there are shops selling hand bags and the like for hundreds of euros. And then there's the lavish Hotel de Crillon, where a starter can cost 35€ or more. And then there are the hundreds of people who are homeless. And I'm not exaggerating. By St Lazare, homeless people put their tents above the grillings in the road to catch the warm air rising from the métro. On the way to making sandwiches, a homeless person sat opposite me on the train. Although he was slightly abrasive, he wasn't doing anything criminal. But the middle-aged woman next to me tutted as he sat opposite, and when she left, people refused to sit in the vacant seat. Handing out sandwiches to homeless people, as Ekkardt from my church pointed out, is a total reversal of normality. Normally, you try to avoid homeless people - I know I do, especially the ones who smell, and when I say smell...imagine a person who has defecated in their trousers and done nothing about it...that's what I mean smell - but today we were actively trying to find them.

And today, I've done absolutely nothing. Well, that's a lie. I had a shower, and got my clean linen as we have a linen exchange, and I started this blog. And had a cup of tea.

Hope you enjoyed reading that rather long monologue on the life that is mine. A la prochaine, mes amis !