Chapter 22 : Crêpes, baguettes and the TMG quartet

Paris. Synonymous with all that is aloof, stylish and delicious. The only city where a restaurant’s set menu is a savoury crêpe followed by a sweet crêpe, where going out without make-up is more common than being caked in the stuff and where the locals cannot be prized away from their trusty baguettes, even while jogging.* And lucky lucky me just spent a weekend there – safe to say it was amazing!

The next best thing to securing a kick-ass year abroad location (no hard feelings, Regg, but you coulda been a bit more happening..) is having friends with a kick-ass year abroad location. I congratulate past me on having the foresight to befriend Ellie and Bec, who are now sharing a flat right in the centre of Paris for the latter half of their year abroad. Result.

Naturally, Han and I invited ourselves over to grab a slice of the elusive Parisian dream.

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I’ve been to Paris twice before, but I think that this was the first time I really got it. Hanging round with locals is a major boon,** and my eyes and ears were free to take in everything around me as long as I could keep up with Ellie’s marching pace, which for the average human would count as moderate to intense exercise, depending on fitness levels. The secret, I conclude, is to make like the French and never ever try too hard. Naturellement, we moseyed up to the Eiffel Tower and along the Champs Élysées, but these weren’t the things that made the trip for me (unless you count the frappé latte I picked up en route). Far more memorable were the moules frites in a gorgeous café tucked away in a lazy flea-market, complete with eccentric motherly waitress and live french music. Another highlight was sourcing out the best baguette in Paris (we watched the judging process – it’s rigorous!) and using it as the base of a fondu and wine night. Mmmm.

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Me with not one but two prize winning baguettes. There’s a pretty awesome cake in the box as well.

Just to make sure the tourist edge wasn’t lost, we went to the Sacre Coeur, the Amélie café and a Picasso museum as well. Cultural.

I have to admit I was aghast at my French. Having gone from basic fluency at A-level (bit of an exaggeration but I was definitely WAY more confident), my language skills seem to have slowly diminished at Cambridge as Italian barged its way to the front of my mind. Typical Italian. Whenever I opened my mouth to speak French, Italian would come out, so I asked ‘quanto?’ instead of ‘combien?’ to a nonplussed salesman, replied ‘si’ instead of ‘oui’ to everything and got unnecessarily excited whenever I saw an ice cream parlour. Then, in some kind of cruel irony, as soon as arrived in Milan I was throwing about ‘mercis’ like it was my job. Even as I floundered over the basics of the language, though, I still felt like I was absorbing something of the Parisian vibe.

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Fitting in like a local along the Seine.

From a language student’s perspective, I ought to have left feeling rather dejected with my efforts – my degree will say ‘French and Italian’, which is essentially a lie: I got Ellie to do most of the talking for me this weekend. However, the only sadness I had room for was disappointment that I wasn’t staying for longer. Ellie and Bec might be glad to have their living room back, but I’m already pining for croissants fresh from the boulangerie! Five weekends to go until I’m home for good, let’s see if the next one – Pompeii! – lives up.

*This is not stereotyping. This is something I saw.

**When did we stop saying boon? I demand its immediate reinstatement in the common tongue!

Chapter 21 : In which I see how many brackets I can squeeze into one blog post

Spring has definitely sprung in Calabria. I would say that Summer has in fact sprung (we’re mostly in the twenties now), but I have been overruled on this by my students, who all disagree with me, and the majority of the Italian population, who are still wearing coats, or at the very least a gilet.

Speaking of my students, I can’t say that I have much to do with them these days. The combination of it nearing the end of term and April being bank holiday central means that I’ve had more cancelled lessons than successful ones. Most of the time this is a relief, but I do start to miss some of my younger classes (the ones that at the very least tolerate school and English lessons).

So yesterday it transpired that I arrived at school three hours early (which is the difference between getting up at 6.30am and 9.30am – ouch) as one of the teachers had gone on a trip with her other classes – poetically translated by one student as ‘she’s flown away’ – and forgot to tell me. The prospect of returning to bed was an inviting one, but the half hour walk home was not, so I decided to have a wander round the town instead. Interestingly, lots of my students seemed to have had the same idea, as I saw many of them out and about during first lesson hour, steadfastly avoiding my gaze. I thrive on the power.

Italy is brilliant for getting lost in the moment. I think the sea helps. There’s nothing like a blustery coastal walk with salty air filling the nostrils to blow away the winter cobwebs. My favourite moment to get lost in however obviously involves food, thus I took advantage of being out and about pre-10am to snaffle one of the best chocolate croissants in the world (Italians like their breakfast early and croissants sell out well before 11, thus creating the eternal battle between laziness and greed.) As I munch away standing at the bar (I’ll never quite get used to that) I eavesdrop on a woman telling her friends an exciting story. (I use eavesdrop loosely here as I couldn’t actually follow what she was saying, so I listened to the sound of her voice rapidly gaining ground against that of crumbling pastry). The waitress serving the group sets down two glasses of water that immediately tumble and spill all over the storyteller. Neither she nor the waitress notice, such is the hustle and bustle. Perhaps one day I will write a blog post so enthralling that someone could tip a bucket of water on your head and you would barely notice with the eagerness to get to the next line – what has that crazy Isobel been up to this time!? (If this is you, why not leave an encouraging comment?)

Actually I have rather neglected my blog of late, not for lack of fun trips, but through the fear that it is difficult to convey the fun in an ‘I did this and then I did that’ style format. And sometimes, guys, however hard I try, there’s just no clear thematic thread! I’m a victim. But, recently, the lack of writing has actually been more to do with an increase in reading – I am on my fifth book of April! I finally got round to reading Little Women, which was so brilliant that I immediately had to read Good Wives. I think I’d enjoy being Jo, marrying an eccentric German and opening a school for boys – not that I’d have any authority, but that wouldn’t matter if I owned the place. Then to counteract the wholesomeness of Christian children’s books I moved on to Gone Girl, which I enjoyed enormously but has had a decidedly negative effect on my sleeping pattern. God, I’m a wuss. So it was back to the hearty sort of literature with The Secret Garden – the only book I’ve ever read that made me want to put it down and rush outside in the fresh air every time I picked it up. I’ve ambitiously proceeded to Middlemarch, which should keep me busy for a while, and if the weather holds I’ll be back to reading on the beach!

Over the next few weeks there are school holidays that I actually have advanced notice of (the dream), which I am using to visit my MML pals in gay Paree (excited!) and hopefully also to see Naples again with a possible tour of Pompeii and Capri (scouting the area out for future family trips). If I succeed in finding an angle, perhaps I’ll tell you about them, if not, you might just get more of this. Thanks for reading!