Tuesday, May 29, 2007

DSC_3300 - Rightist[I was going to seed images throughout this post, but it's so far after I went I now can't be bothered so just open the set and browse alongside the narrative.]

I suppose I really ought touch on Paris at least. But first Iain Banks did not leave utterly bereft of new words, there were two as yet unknowns: tumid and troilism (flabby and leaving-the-curtains-open respectively).

Um, so yeah, er, Paris. The usual pre-anything-family fuss, a long linger at Waterloo, much waiting for others, the usual haggle over tickets (isn't it just fantastic the way the ticket collection machines require a booking reference number when the bookings come with many numbers and codes but none labelled as such? Hence the usual negotiated corrections carried out with British élan and Gallic civility). And then we all breezed through the assorted barriers, all of course except for me; yep, due to being the literal black sheep of the family, I get asked if I packed my bag myself today (no, I had my man do it) and have I left it abandoned on the concourse of Waterloo station to cause the closure of half London's travel network and a rather insipid controlled explosion. Oh, and thanks dearest blue-eyed, blond-ish [he'd just been to Greece] brother for swanning off with the rest of the respectably white, and too busy bickering over seats to bother prepping the ricin tipped umbrellas, family.

So there was much slow unpacking, during which I vacillated between helping I just ignoring the display of my obviously M&S own brand pants in public (at least I'd avoided bringing those where the waistband is coming away from the material). Remind me to sat carrying seriously embarrassing things in my luggage, just so I can brazenly yet benignly gaze at the security staff as they finally discover something more unusual than yet another a jumper (she seemed constantly surprised by everything in the bag). Given the care she was taking unpacking the bag and those within it, there were several things I know she missed.

Eventually she separates out my razor, having studied the sundry chargers and adaptors, all without anything to connect them to as that was in my bag, and wipes it lovingly all over with a beforceped cotton-wool pad, which she then sticks under what I presume is a sniffing machine, which beeps and gives a read-out that she takes a while to read. I'm not sure what it classifies ground up stubble and macerated sloughed skin cells bound in a dried Nivea substrate as, but apparently it's nothing she can charge me for. Satisfied or possibly just bored, she asks if she should repack the bag or would I prefer to. I suppress the urge to tell that if she took it out she should it back in, mostly because she'd already started and was putting my linen shirt in the bottom of the bag, so I half pack, half throw, safe in the knowledge it's all going to look like the inside of a washing machine by the time I get to the hotel, including the sock inside the pillow case, despite not packing the latter.

I charge off to rejoin the others, hastily remembering there's still passport control and customs to go through. I approach in full "don't you bloody dare" mode, which I hastily switch to best "my God, aren't you fantastic?" smile, which only serves to generate confusion as I say "Thank you" and then realise everyone else isn't deigning to speak to the staff.

Through to rejoin the others (one wonders why one can't just simply swipe the barcode on the passport and wander through for the attention the checkers pay (either that or build the ticket and passport into the same scheme, an EUstercard as it were); I know they stopped Omega, but that's because he's one of those damned colonials and so had to fill in a chit of a form, which they probably promptly filed under Wicker).

Through, up, in, off. Discussions range from where people used to live to where people used to live. Through the tunnel, across the bit with weird power lines which could use more hills, and suddenly nous étions arrivés. Paris is hotter although the exit from Gare du Nord is probably easier to navigate than the one from Waterloo. And that's about it for differences. Sure, the writing, conversations, slogans and banners are all in a different language, but they're all saying the same things, pushing the same brands, arguing the same concepts; the brandname may be Skip, but that's still a Persil splodge.

And so to the hotel, with me disappearing ahead (I'm wearing my bag as a rucksack, a use for which it was not designed, and unsurprisingly this hurts, hence wanting to get it over with), while people in varying degrees of fitness, tiredness and bloodymindedness trail behind. Of course this simply means that like a toddler who's run ahead, I have to wait at every junction for the others to catch up.

And slowly we arrived at thingy Montholon (confusingly the French name uses 'Square'), to predictions of doom by my mother, because there was a sign for a car park and because we were bound to get internal rooms and not be able to see the disastrous car park (which like the car parks in London squares is buried underneath it). I vaguely hide while the bookings get sorted out, each round of discussion ever more in English, and then it's up to quibble over keys, there being two doubles and two twins between the party of seven. I end up next to the other twin, containing an aunt and a cousin, while the couples are at the far end of the corridor, and we pity the poor souls in the sole middle room.

It turns out my mother's plans to avert catastrophe and potential romance by ensuring we all got a room with a view, hence the twin for a single person (another cousin may have been coming at one point), was thoroughly unnecessary as the building is a shallow wedge between two street grids, and so is essentially a single room wide, with the corridor running against the rear neighbour.

The rooms are variable sizes, which annoys my mother, as she's got a double in the thin end of the wedge while her sister has the depth of the building to play with. I, like my brother and his girlfriend get a double width balcony, thanks to the ensuite, complete warnings on not opening the windows which I only notice after having walked on the roof and felt rather sick my peering over the edge (but then the windows don't quite fit, so either one can bolt one to the frame or lock the panels together, but not both which is what I suspect is intended).

I unpack while the usual comparison and grumbles occurs, then sag slightly in front of French television (ignoring CNN, whatever it is NBC and German MTV) where I discover over the next few days the French versions of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? [good for learning language as the words on screen get read out repeatedly and discussed], Going for Gold [apparently restricted to just people in the services, but the same format called Questions pour Champions or similar. The Renault 4 apparently was intended to compete with and replace the 2CV. Bit pointless without the clueless Eurostudent section, but had a collection of surprisingly touchy good looking uniformed guys], Countdown, Family Fortunes and I'm sure I've forgotten one. But then I didn't spend much time watching television oddly enough, just enough to discover odd soaps, weird very French dramas, the news apparently uses the time it finishes as the title (utile) and that CNN weather is invariably the exact opposite of the local one for the same area. Oh, and the equivalent to TfL broadcasts roadworks, ongoing engineering works and other restrictions. Basically watching French television taught me I can only understand the easy words and probably can't hear most of those, and that German rap is still as bad as it used to be and still being made by the same guy as it was while I was at Exeter.

Apres l'unpacking came the slightly bizarre expedition for water (apparently the last time my parents were in Paris the hotel did not run to l'eau potable so they had to stock up on bottled, hence my mother's insistence on seeking it immediately [without bothering to find if they've discovered mains water in current hotel], but as I this family has a history of water related crises - thirst increases quicker than ice melts - I did not argue beyond a slightly ill-judged "oh must I?"). Having sort directions while bewildering the guy on the desk, we head for the nearest supermarket through hotly narrow streets, discovering on route the only place big enough for us to pause and coalesce happened to be in the middle of a crossroads; nous sommes les touristes.

Into Ed (I thought the French didn't do contraction of names? Although that's based on years of Tricolore, French and English French teachers and sharing accommodation on a sailing course many years ago with a French boy who had the same name as me, though used all its syllables, none of which were pronounced the same; that was a good holiday - I learnt the French words for sleet, hail and snow. And that the French think water when interrupted sounds like 'plosh'. Then again they also seem to have rewritten, or possibly scrapped the grammar rules since I last saw a textbook - tout le monde m'a tutoyé - as well as decided English is much the better language and liberally adopting words), for browsing, discussing, pretending-I'm-not-with-them-ing, sniggering at the idea of tequila-favoured beer (c'est trop sophistiqué pour moi) and then buying the cheapest water they sell (at prices unheard of in England, home of bottled spunk, Dasani [or, you know, Google]).

Out into the street, with me leading the way back to the hotel, only to waylaid from the rear by cries of "Bergere" (it'll be on Flickr later), thence hotelwards once more, reddening slightly from the heat and from realising the guy coming the other is the receptionist at the hotel, who is unlikely to ever cause anyone to want to cut their eyes out with a spoon, down a very narrow pavement hemmed in by Parisian parked cars (to park drive into the neighbouring cars until a space is formed; one suspects the intelligent people leave the handbrake off to save crumpling), while I am demonstrably not at my most unflappable and my family is acting as turbulent wake physically and verbally echoing down the canyon. I pull the side to let him pass, noting worriedly I appear to be as wide as an Escape wing mirror, while he passes with a smile and a still undeciphered wink. It was collusive, but I'm not sure if he was feeling my pain or suggesting just feeling me. Back to the hotel, slightly warmer than necessary.

Then the others change for dinner, with the cousin who didn't come to lug because she was getting ready still getting ready. And so Chatelet [accent at will], with my water divination skills guiding me to the river and onto the bridge while the others are still debating north. It was late evening, although France must be west of the timezone they use, so the low sun was still around, streaming up the Seine, burnishing turrets and domes with slightly too much ease. I knew being civilised, and so leaving my camera behind for the evening, was a bad idea.

Of course where one walks others will follow and so by my simple act of exploration, albeit intentionally brief, like a toddler running to the nearest lamp-post and back, I scuppered the plans for heading north and so the family who can never be seen to agree with each other lurched onto l'Île de la Cité, although soon discovered that banging a right was not simple when the police HQ takes up the width of the island, instead finding ourselves walking along the southern embankment, then inland on the island to find somewhere to eat, or rather realise that trying to eat in the oldest most touristy part of town might not be a great idea, and so having to convince assorted members of the party that somewhere expensive, with small, cramped tables and little apparent space may not be the best place for a party of seven, no matter how "on holiday" we are. Running out of land we retreat to the mainland, and while heading to exotic delights of a C&A at the end of the street (they still exist! I know everyone says that whenever they visit anywhere else in Europe, but England being the centre of the universe as it is (plays hell with the gravity), if a shop goes bust here then it must also vanish from the rest of the known or vaguely-known world), we pass a near empty, most âgé, therefore touristy looking, place. It has an expensive (ok, everything in Paris is expensive on my scale, bar RATP) set menu and piped jazz.

Not only was it not as ghastly as I thought it would be - French Jazz FM may have helped - but it was really rather nice even though I can't remember what I ate (it had raspberries at the end, oh, and rose sorbet, oh yes, it was an unpronounceable in any language, er like feuille only with an 'n' early on and half a dozen more vowels.

Despite taking a card, I'd forgotten the name, Google Maps has found it: La Toque St Germain. Nice people, good food, and mild concussion; to stand up in the loos I have to slot my head between the beams, turning round takes some preplanning and if using the male loo flushing simultaneously causes the light to turn out, due to seat switch interaction (but as I learnt from my brother; I used the women's because the light was on, the door was open and it was bigger, only discovering the gender on exit, although there is no discernible difference other than size). It also comes with the distinction of having a Green Party political office over the road, with the MP's [or equivalent] surgery held in full view, and thus one the slight embarrassment of trying not to catch anyone's eye as they pack up and leave, no constituents having turned up all evening.

Soon after the politicians call it a night, so do we, Metroing back up, while realising none of checked when the last trains ran, and being aware we'd be coming unstuck soon if we were in London (although throughout the Paris trip it never felt as late as it was, partly London time, and partly because Paris must be in the wrong timezone [comparatively] as it gets dark far later, which makes sense if they match much of Europe who largely lie to the east).

The next day we split, the... I need blognames for people don't I? Actually, the language has descriptive names that work for all but the SIL, but I need group names for the them; resisting the temptation to call the respective branches of the family the Montagues and Capulets, perhaps the Throgmortons (because I think we've all made comments about the road in London; something in way of saying it, a bit like plethora) for this cluster, and the Dulcimers for the others (any suggestion of their dullness or perpetual simmering is purely coincidental).

Anyway, the Dulcimers went one way and we another in the morning (having sat for hours planning who was doing what and when, which largely consisted of trying to do things together and then giving up). So the Throgs went down the Eiffel Tower, emerging over the river at the Palais de Chaillot, were my brother somehow knew it was uphill to the river.

We went up the lifts because the SIL had been taken up the stairs as a child and thus scarred and scared for life. Someone could have warned me the thing tips as it goes, although they could have warned everyone else too. Somehow we skipped the first level, which from a puritan in-order and money's-worth perspective annoyed me, but there probably wasn't much to be seen, and it'd have taken too much time.

Much wandering, photographing and losing people later, we head up again (I can't remember where the narrow loos where, but being slim is definitely an advantage if one is to live in an iron radio mast). Cue phone calls, where the dysfunction simmers silently and expensively; in fairness, no one had told me the Throgs were supposed to be rejoining the others at noon and everyone else either opted out or, er, opted out because they think they can score martyrdom points. Bro and co head down, parents and I linger as the visibility slumps.

Thence to the big red thing, or rather trying to get in the river side of it, seeing a big impenetrable glass wall, beyond the living wall, turning back and trying the landward side, discovering what I thought was an MQ shot along the way (though the buildings turned out to be not quite right). Into the gardens, wandering forlornly, then discovering the others at the cafe under the museum. Expensive sorbets ensue on very orange, very plastic chairs, while the groundsmen hit circuitry into functioning. Mass queue for the loos, having first tried the lifts (look, it's all new and modern and without much in the way of indicators till you get there). A woman looks worried at being discovered coming out of the gents, but as it's only for a single gent, it's not something I object to (there being three individual loos, one for each sex [male, female and disabled], with a large mixed queue clustered nearby), especially not as I tend to take the first available in all such situations. Somehow my father manages to open the door when it's locked, which is both annoying and mildly alarming, and reflects his inability to notice queues and pre-existing systems.

Then out to wander along the river (golly, a functioning quay, run by the 'stables' of Paris [look, there was a sandy horse market in Brussels and I got confused, ok?]), past various examples of "oh that's where that is". And the not at all state run Air France offices, which seem to be a wing of the Foreign Office, logically enough. On past the dafty ornate Pont Alexandre Ill (I know, but my mother keeps calling it the "fifth" so, comparatively "ill" is not bad).

From Air France we went to Concorde, pont and place thereof, despising the smog grey latter. A couple of traditional shots of Champs Elysee convinces me that the Elysian Fields is certainly a place for the dead; if they're not dead when they get there the driving or the fumes will soon cull them. Oddly after crossing it once I have no great desire to go near it again.

Past the oversyllabled mêlée outside the Hôtel de Crillon (I'm not sure if the cars or guests had the more ridiculous names), up the Rue Royale, which is a bit different to the one in Brussels, past the Madeleine (which is unlike any English Magdalen I've seen, and I don't just mean the non-maudlin pronunciation), ditching les 'rents along the way then heading up to the big magazines and L'Opera, as is rather trackable on Flickr.

From there back to the hotel, via an Monop (it's what the receipt says, the ink for 'rix' apparently eating too much into their profit margins) to buy, er, dentifrice and associated implement, where I ended up getting four because it was 20 centimes more expensive than buying one, and I know it's becoming something of a tradition for me to forget things from my wash bag, such as deodorant in Brussels (but Omega uses the same as I do, except his is roll-on not stick, and claims to be Rexona not Sure) and both toothbrush and toothpaste in Greece (it's that whole using-on-the-day-of-packing thing which confuses me), allowing me to discover that the box bears the local language information and the tube the international one, in English except for the panlingual ingredients and addresses, which is why I'm a bit embarrassed about the whole thing, hence hoping that by putting it into a single sentence that I will somehow make it less noticeable. And then my slight introduction to Montmartre, through wandering the backstreets trying to find the steps I could see from the hotel and so looking up one road to find Sacre Coeur at the end, looking rather bigger than it did from the Eiffel Tower.

Back to the hotel past a mossy cobbled lane (it's a city, how?) and pleated roads, to dress for dinner. Much fun ensued as people prepared; I ended up on mother pacifying duty while the others disappeared off to the restaurant to make sure they held the table. Cue ructions over abandonment, miscellaneous wailing and other general fun, which was made even better by discovering that everyone who had rushed off to the restaurant was actually sitting in the hotel lobby, so had managed to infuriate my mother while not doing what they said they would. Cunning. Then of course came the mass movement of the clan across the city, which goes somewhat slower when those who had 'left' first are wearing high heels and refusing to be chivvied. Decorousness rather assumes a complete lack of any form of activity, including walking.

Out at Chatelet, over bridge, island, bridge, left for the cathedral view and eventually the restaurant (the Golden Bottle; yes, I am using English because I've forgotten how many vowels the French 'bottle' needs). My mother goes in to explain that a Scottish woman with a different name booked the table, while I loiter gathering the trailing family. I think being asked 'inside or out?' probably suggests that losing the table through lateness would have been unlikely.

And so follows my mother's sixtieth birthday meal, cunningly not held on her birthday. My cousin (I blognamed her yet? Er... Diet Coke, ok?) declares that she feels this calls for champagne, and promptly orders some. My mother asks if she intends to pay for it, which while a little crudely done is drawn on experience of Coke's tendency to blithely announce what everyone is doing which just happens to fit with what she wants to do. I understand it as a tactic to cope with being surrounded with indecision, but it does tend to dripfeed resentment into most people around her. It turns out that Miss Diet had intended it in lieu of a birthday present, but neglected to mention it. The minor farrago occupies the early part of the meal, as I'm next to my mother, facing my aunt (who has not only taken umbrage but is holding it hostage), and so a little bit stuck for neutral ground, but fortunately I can just pretend I'm distracted by that churchy thing over the river. It doesn't help the Throgs aren't a quaffing family, so my brother and I are still drinking ours over the starters, while everyone else is debating red or white. It is purely coincidental that Coke orders the wine and somehow contrives it that we have the house white and a red, to be largely drunk her and her mother, which somehow is twice the price of the not wholly cheap white. I think that's just the type of thing that needs to be written off under 'foibles'.

I'm struggling to remember what I had; I know the starter was about a pint of greened cream, which started as delightful and slowly became less so, like raita without the curry. I would cheat and look up the menu, but the website still has the winter one (I remember trying to translate 'mouse of lamb' beforehand. Shanks, BTW). I can't remember what I had as the main, but my mother had steamed resentment and my aunt had char-grilled chagrin. And the so the meal went on, my aunt perpetually asking "do you think I might" while fiddling with her wine glass, "Brandy would be rather fun, don't you think? Mightn't we? I don't want one, only if someone else were, only if they insist, no, I won't have one" and so on. I'm not sure whether to be more upset by the attempted manipulation or the inept manner in which it was done. Admittedly her daughter's presumptiveness makes more sense when cast as foil to her mother's technique.

A flit through the desserts and yet more dithering over more wine (it's odd that those who have already drunk the most are pressing most ardently for more) which is settled as a table upwind prepares to evade a U-boat by making smoke (hmm, I thought it had been banned indoors in France?). Walking back along the quay, going dead slow because high heels and cobbles don't mix, making weak conversation, avoiding awkward questions. And so rather unexcitingly to bed (ok, via the Metro and the hotel, but you'd guessed that much, right?).

The next day I went up to Sacre Coeur with my parents, who'd both been there before, and managed to cause annoyance in one and panic in the other by not taking the main path to the very top. But then my father was already in his soothsayer mood, foreseeing doom in everything, having been perturbed by the British Bulldog line of hawkers at the base of the steps (which were curiously absent from Amelie). Admittedly I was a little perturbed too, as my best London-Lite-thruster-in-Oxford-Street-despatching stare had no effect and three hands latched on as soon as I was in range; if I'd known I would have taken a run up and entered the fray shoulder first - as it was I came near simultaneously grabbing an opponent's larynx and groin and flinging him aside (as I once saw a friend's mother do after she'd chased someone round a field with a snooker cue; she helps run the local Brownies) or possibly using the crude but wonderfully effective stamping sideways onto a shin.

So my father was travelling with his usual tourist élan (hot and different = panic, even if we're only in John Lewis's) and my mother was, well, being herself. And I thought they knew where I'd gone, and that we were all going to the top of the hill anyway, and I am an unpleasant amount more than a decade away from needing worrying about. So I appear at the side of the top, photographing merry away, walking towards my father, who starts semaphoring and bellowing merrily away trying to attract my attention (along with that of everyone else in the Ile de France), which is typical for him, being incapable of realising that the person looking at him while walking straight towards him might actually know he's there (and yes, he's done the foghorn act in the middle of John Lewis's as well, despite being exactly where we'd left him).

He then goes to hunt for my mother, who he thinks is hunting for me, while I stand against the balustrade scanning the clotting crowds, swiftly spotting her. She comes up, and we wait for him to come back an announce he's lost her despite the wife shaped woman beside me (I'm not being daft am I? If you've agreed you're going to the big church on the hill that sort of gives you a common goal and somewhere to meet, and the big white thing is a bit hard to miss, so the likelihood of getting lost between the bottom of the steps and the church at the top is fairly low, right?), and then I discover neither of them want to go inside, so I go into the church on my own, edging past excited nuns with cameras and the Americans kneeling to cross themselves the moment they get through the door (I'm sure I've applied the heel of my palm between those shoulder blades at the bottom of the escalator at TCR). Anyway, so dodging the DFSs (no, that acronym has nothing to do with genuine Linda-Barker-hide furniture; it could equally be MDY, although that uses a different D - one is "don't", the other "damn"), I sidled into the church, where regrettably no photography is allowed, as demonstrated by the scuttlings each time a flash went off.

It's a church, a noticeably French, Catholic one at that, albeit with a slight tendency towards Art Nouveau. Strangely I can only remember the vaguely Mondrian windows round the apse, which I really wanted to take a picture of as the lowest panes were opened for ventilation, castrating words and adding yet another layer of light, yet couldn't as I found myself being ushered round between prayers and discovering that a camera chosen to fit my hands and be reassuringly solid is not the most inconspicuous device, especially as I can't go into Settings and turn off the shutter sound (I'll be kind and won't mention which friend asked that of an SLR).

Back out past the beggars who made me laugh earlier. Two women had walked rapidly up the steps, the nearer one hooking a blue scarf over her head as she approaches. One takes the exit, the other the entrance, both squatting down on the step and set about removing their jewellery and concealing it in the folds of their dresses, including the near one's toe-ring. She of the blue scarf does a little shimmy to make herself look more dishevelled, and then starts the Diana eyes and the hoarse, mournful begging. As I'd walked past the one manning the entrance I'd struggled with not sniggering as I noticed that not only were her strappy sandals protruding beneath her skirt, but her toenails had been very recently varnished in vermilion, which contrasted rather well with the artful streaks of dust she'd rubbed across her hands and feet. It was only later I realised she of the blue scarf was only a babe in swaddling clothes away from being a living replica of the typical Catholic Madonna; I wonder if her husband paints on stigmata before his shift at Notre Dame.

We head round the corner to have lunch in a cafe my mother was very excited about; they'd been there before and found it very French. I persuaded them to eat indoors, beyond the realm of the plastic furniture of a steep slope, where the Frenchness was confirmed by signs misspelt in three languages and the Irish women at the next table oft saying "Murzy" (I don't know why, but I never really thought about what French with an Irish accent would sound like; a bit like a very happy Cornish cow fixated with the Liverpool waterfront by the way). A mix of omelettes and salads later - the omelettes bore heavy traces of those cooked nearby and the table was so small that overlap and overspill were inevitable - having watched a succession of tourists be asked if they're Canadian (presumably the least insulting misidentification for all English speakers; caused chaos when the couple approached were German Swiss though) and then asked to sit for an unpriced portrait, we retreat, having set up an effective queueing system for the loos (and opened the door for the elderly Canadian woman who failed to overcome the automatic closer), to buy postcards from one of the many shops selling exactly the same selection for a variety of prices (isn't it meant to be the other way round?). I was dismayed to discover that throughout Paris only identical postcards can be bought, and all bar the retro posters and Champs Elysees sign have Paris helpfully emblazoned on the front lest anyone should see the big metal tower with a Citroen logo on the side and think it Blackpool. Of course when I got home I discovered I could have bought copies of the poster derived postcards in two of the local card shops and probably in John Lewis's as well, although they were cheaper in Paris so it's not quite the same as my grandmother importing a jar of exotic Bonne Madame only to be told that they have it in Waitrose.

After the sandpapered elbows of lunch (stone walls, cramped table, beneath a condensation damaged painting) and the touristy pap of upper Montmartre (so you're all going to draw me at once? But you can't all get my best side [possibly because I've yet to find it]), we head north, then west-ish, passing the glorious monument in white to the martyrs of the Société de l'Eau, or possibly just a water tower, a street that's all steps and looks like it either needs trams or squealing cars with sagging suspension. And so down, and up, and down, and along a bit, through the back, side and other streets of Montmartre, and quite liking it before heading out to the harsh boulevards and avenues and the bridge over the valley of the shadow of death, nearby joining those beneath by trying to cross the road half a mile away from the nearest crossing (well, I timed it right, but the slower on the uptake people charging out like wildebeest into the Zambezi behind me came close; it being Paris none of the drivers thought to dig their accelerator pedals out of the carpet). And so down to the dead and Canadians complaining (hmm, whining North Americans; do you think they were actually south-of-the-border Canadians trying to avoid war-rants?), that all the really famous people are buried somewhere else.

I'm not terribly sure why we went to the Cimetière de Montmartre, other than I think my parents wanted to get away from the twin irritants of family and professional tourist botherers. Having failed to buy a guide because the office was shut, presumably having inserted 'sauf' above the times on the door, and not quite paying enough attention to the information boards, (which lists people alphabetically so M. Boursin and his children, Duvin et Dupain, might be number 23 but you then have to find that on the map, as well as know who you want to look for, rather than 'anyone we might have heard of somewhere vaguely near the entrance please'), we wander a bit aimless, fragmenting to think our own thoughts as we wander unintentionally through the Jewish section (in my case mostly consisting of "I can't quite get that angle", "focus, damn you" and "can someone move the sun please, oh and shunt that tree three foot to the right, no, the other right"). Not being a great cemetery wanderer (I'll do occasionally churchyards, but usually for the view of something else, walking in a series of grid references to avoid stepping on anyone, and then I meet a path made of broken headstones and get all confused) I've no idea if the following is de rigeur in English equivalents, but the French, being inventive people, seem to have decided en masse that rather than endlessly laying wreaths or renewing bunches of flowers, or taking the English approach and growing a Gardenia in Granny (or cheating by tipping a jar of dust over a cliff with a close eye on the wind), yet keep the graves, tombs and memorials from looking forgotten, that they will use plaster flowers and stone wreaths. Of course these chip and weather, then clog up with dead leaves before spawing streaks of algae, which only heightens the sense of abandonment, but it's the thought that counts, despite that thought being "how can I avoid replacing the flowers every week?". Of course the addition of these great rings of stone simply makes the entire place look like a Medusaed game of quoits.

Eventually we tire, and I sprint off to find an exit while the others check the map. It's quite nice finding somewhere empty enough to run, although I suspect it's not behaviour to be encouraged in a graveyard. I can only see solid wall or solid climber on that wall all the way round the edge, high above the tombs, so we head back through the valleys, dales, hills, ridges, avenues, roads, streets and alleys of death, through the main entrance, to discover that the office was open originally and that according to the map there are gates in all parts of the wall. Oh well. Out to Place de Clichy, which is a cliche of Parisian places being entirely full of bad tempered driving spewing horn blares, swear words and clouds of exhaust in equal measure.

Metro into the city, where I scupper one plan by asking what's at the Bastille and thus ensuring we don't get off till there. There's a canal basin, which we now know because it goes under the station. The station is curved round the outside of the roundabout, where we discover that that Bastille is like the Arc de Triomphe, and so at the centre of a huge traffic snared roundabout, only this one doesn't actually have anything in the middle, apart from a pillar. Turns out the Bastille no longer exists, although my parents claim to have seen a disappointing chunk of stone while on a tour bus, but they don't know which road it's down. So instead we head down the quay towards the Seine, pausing to comment on boats, eat apples and garishly coloured cakes named from breakfast, and comment on groping, toking couples (kudos to the pair who rolled sideways along several metres of bank shedding shoes, wallet, keys, belt and sunglasses along the way, all while holding Gauloises in the axis of rotation so as to avoid stubbing them out; L'amour à la française, let's do it again, again, again, again).

Down to the lock onto the Seine, which is currently occupied by a tourist filled boat clucking with delight about the novelty of locks. Not only are there signs forbidding people from using the paths under the bridge which flank the lock, but the lockgates have signals on supposedly controlling who can cross. Which would be fine were they not showing red despite the sluices at the far end of the lock being open to draw the water out, because we're not supposed to cross the gates which can't move without draining the entire basin. While I'm dithering over ignoring them (look, I grew up within sight of a canal and anyway I can play the tourist "No speekie foreignee" card [not that I've pretended to be German to escape chuggers in London], despite the lights being colour-coded pictograms) and distracting myself with photography while waiting for my father to catch up, a couple cross from the other side and then open the debarred gate to go under the bridge, which probably suggests how much attention the locals pay. Wilfully ignoring the red lights, we cross (hang on, we wilfully ignore red lights on crossings too, as indeed do the Parisians, so why worry because it's boats crossing?), with me straddling junction of the gates to try and get a good shot (didn't work too well with a slow moving boat and impatient parents). As we push back the gate under the bridge to walk down beside the lock, an alarm sounds, making me wonder why only one side triggers it, before I realise it accompanied the pedestrian lights turning green, now that all the pedestrians in sight have crossed.

Past the tents under a flyover we come out onto the Seine, following the quay round towards the centre. I quite liked the bit round Port Henri IV [Part 1]; functioning, lightly inhabited, comparatively quiet, and breezy. In fact we liked walking beside the river so much we followed the quay on, heading west. It got less pleasant as the path veered next to the road, skirting a mini-Glastonbury of tents, and the paving turned to that designed to keep trolleys within supermarket car parks, but it was still pleasant, with the wind off the river sweeping the exhaust fumes in the other direction, although the prolonged breaks in the shade got wearing. And so we carried on, aware that we were pinned between river and road, but confident the obviously used path must go connect with steps up to on of the bridges, reassuring ourselves with the presence of strangers, our band coalescing as we wondered which bridge the exit was on.

And then came the no entry sign facing away from the traffic. It either applied to people coming down that slip road, or to us. But there was nothing to say it was aimed at pedestrians. Apart from being six foot back from the sheer drop into the Seine, as the quay aborts, only to resume the other side of the bridge. We could walk on the ledge behind the crash barrier, and perhaps get round, but the paving looked like it was meant to suggest that was a really bad idea.

Oh. So what now? It's plain to see it's over. And I hate when things are over (er, what song?). Turn back and walk until we find some steps? But wasn't the last set back where the Seine was one? Oh. Loitering near the crash barrier, we decide to wait until there's a gap in the trafic. A gap in the traffic which is being augmented by numerous sliproads and so is beyond the impact of any single set of traffic lights. A gap in the traffic during early rush hour. For the looks of things we've as much chance of encountering a gap as we have of the traffic going solid and so allowing us to cross. A couple of potentials pass by, but they're not big enough and it's all moving too quickly. We consider another gap only to have a battalion of motorbikes blaze into it. There's one approaching but it looks a bit small. We could risk it, but it'd be very close. At which point I realise they're coming slower than they were. Has the traffic backed up ahead? I turn to check to see the rest of the mislead tourists scampering across under a flapping a pink cardigan like a worn version of The Railway Children (oddly they weren't yelling "Pots! Pots!" but neither were the cars in reverse). But of course, they're downstream of us, we can't get across in front of the oncoming cars. Charming.

Soon after a bigger gap comes and we cross, walking purposefully while glaring with malevolent intent at the approaching drivers. My father's having his usual "argh we're all going to die" thoughts despite the fact we're now on the pavement at the base of the sliproad. Up it, past the artfully placed street furniture blocking the pavement while giving a van a "don't you bloody dare" look. And then past the crowd of survivors all quivering slightly and looking confused, with one of the more sensible woman having the grace to look slightly shamefaced for jettisoning us earlier.

Then because we're on the right bridge, the Pont Louis Phillipe, onto the Île Saint Louis for intensely flavoured, intensely sticky and intensely staining sorbet. And having just checked Google Maps, if we'd continued on, there was a pedestrian bridge connecting with the next wide part of the quay, although the section in between did not look like it had been designed to be passable (helpfully Google's photos of the place were taken in August when they shut the entire road down and use it as a beach, which makes telling the pedestrian areas somewhat harder; then it also had mooring rings on the walls beyond the road, so they probably have to shut it during peak flows in winter). So that was my adventure with the Voie Georges Pompidou. Still haven't figured out what a Voie is though.

We ate the sorbet in the shade while watching Parisian parking. Hints - do not lock your bike to the roadward side of railings - make sure your bumpers work - douse your car in WD40 - remember a car parked on a handbrake will have give in the suspension, should you need a few more inches. I'd never seen parking where bodies of both cars are farther apart than their wheelbases are before. I'd also never seen someone park in a gap that leaves just about/not quite enough room to squeeze past one end of the car while the other end remains embedded in the next car. I wonder if the people who park in the middle of the long rows leave their handbrake off and steering centred, safe in the knowledge that it doesn't have enough space to roll anywhere but provides a bit more leeway to anybody pushing in.

After the passing entertainment and observing the curiously high number of cars left with their bonnets open (tombe en panne while gone to buy pain), we head down the High Street, my mother browsing, me photographing and my father panicking as he tries to keep track of both of us (and failing). We pop into the stationery shop where my French Asterix came from (my brother got Tintin), which no longer sold what my mother went there to buy, which made for a fun conversation and that awkward pause while the customers realise mid-conversation that there's nothing else in the spartan shop they want but try to think of a pleasant way out. Distracting ourselves outside, we notice the sluices or whatever they're called, basically the wide pipes below each shopfront that allow them to dump obscene amounts of water across the pavement and into the nearest drain, while simultaneously trying not to think that the Gouda'd spire on what one hopes is St Louis's was an interesting experiment that didn't work.

Then having walked the length of the island, we walk through the petrol pumps in the middle of the pavement and walk back down the side of the island, straight towards Notre Dame. Flitting over bridges we skirt the northern edge of the Île de la Cité, discovering the nonconformist Bear Lane, God's Hotel and the impossibility of walking fast through a flower-market. Then back to the hotel, to dress one more for dinner, and then out again. We ate in the corner of the Place des Vosges, where I had foie gras, steak au poivre and crème brûlée. Spot who was eating prie fixé and had clocked the most expensive items on the menu. It wasn't one of the better meals; it was good or reasonable, but just nothing like the others we'd had. Foie gras I'm now happy avoid as cruel, having discovered it's like Sainsbury's Duck a l'Orange pate, minus the a l'orange, but then the latter is mostly pork fat. I don't know why melt-in-the-mouth meat is so prized. I've had veal once and been similarly disappointed; I think I just don't like that processed ice cream texture. The steak was good old chunk, with possibly emphasis on the old, although that could be the result of ending up without a steak knife and blending the normal one. The pepper sauce was also bitter, which given it's a standard across the Francophone world doesn't say much for that restaurant (if you want really nice steak au poivre, try the marina restaurant in St Vaast la Hougue, should you be passing; it may be thoughtlessly modern in compared to the rest of the twee fishing village, but it had the best food and was the cheapest of anywhere in town). And because it's France, well cooked came out singed but bleeding. And the only crack from crème brûlée came from the bits of vanilla pod.

While walking back my mother somehow managed to ensnare herself with two Canadian women who had just flown in with the keys to a friend's flat but nothing to open the either the big or little courtyard doors (which seemed to be bolted anyway). Cue much experimentation, aiding and abetting, while I shuttle run between the straggled clusts of our group relaying messages, and ultimately retreat, as they decide to seek out a hotel instead, and we continue on our merry way, with occasional calls of "car" (wow, it's just like Scout hikes).

The next morning my cousin conjures up a really irritating musical candle at breakfast, which shrills out Happy Birthday as it was my mother's 60th (despite shifting the birthday meal to a more accessible date). There's nothing like pain and embarrassment, mixed with ineptitude (apparently one has to unscrew the other base to shut the damn thing up) for breakfast to make the day go so much better. Back upstairs to pack, then shilly-shally around, waiting for instructions or a plan of some sort to emerge, being despatched on a water run instead. As other people are going off two by two I get agreement to the plan that I just wander southwards and reappear 4. I go off to get the Folies Bergere while the sun's on it, only to be ring and have my presence demanded before I've got there, so I lie slightly, bat out a few shots, realise that it's at a completely different angle to the one I thought and so there's no great hurry, then head back to a foyer full of Throgs and Duls. Much waiting and indecision, as a result of which everyone leaves to do what they were doing before, only later, except I've scavenged two Metro tickets from my aunt and cousin.

I went down to Pompidou, via the world's biggest submarine come Tube station. The Pompidou is odd. The bright white spars are irritating in the sun, despite being streaked with grey. The services on display only seem to be a muddle, probably not helped by the apparently inconsistent colour-coding. As a building it's very odd, largely turning its back on the street, although it's only once you enter the labyrinthine queue for the library that realise this. The main entrance is visible from the street by looking through the building. If you go round to the north, past the pavements blocked by cycle racks, phone boxes and benches, there are steps to let you down into the dip of the sloping place behind the centre. If you want to get round to the south, you have to walk out to the edge of the slope and back in again. To the west of the square, at the top of the slope are a range of stalls sitting under the shade of the trees, which therefore means there's no shade to be had by anyone else. The line of escalators implies they rise from an entrance by the steps, but there is only an emergency exit there. Along the bottom of the building are a series doors, some with taped off queueing areas, but nothing to say what each of them is for and where the main entrance is. By looking through the glass I discover the people checking ID and bags are the gatekeepers of the place, and I notice it's only those with ID who show it. After the most perfunctory of bag searches, I'm in and suddenly it has signs. Lots of them, see-through clustered over each other, some lit, some not. I play round with my camera, pop into the loos where I discover they can't afford lighting; seriously, blue lighting may have been very in when the place was designed, but it's so incredibly dim that it fades to black and white as the cubicle door shuts and everything loses its texture. One could probably set up an arrt installation upstairs showing a live feed from a camera left facing the loo doors, as people approach, open one, seeing the lighting is on the blink, open the next, then the next as it dawns on them that all the cubicles are that dark.

Leaving those phototaxiing in peace, I head up the internal escalator to reach the base of the external ones. Turns out you need a ticket to ride. So I resort umpteen shots of the LED and perspex signs before sulking out. Grabbing a well researched chicken baguette over the road (having checked the prices elsewhere) and done my normal cueing up of the correct phrases, only to mangle the first syllable as I point, eventually getting out a solitary "merci" as I take the baguette. I seek out some shade, which takes me to a small square beyond the main one. As I eat a not exactly unhealthy looking teenage girl approaches me having been sent by her mother and the rest of clan who are sitting drinking Evian on a bench nearby. She adjusts her shawl (any relation of yesterday's Wannabe Mary? The same gypsy chic and genes), and speaks, in bizarrely comprehensible French: I'm hungry and have no money, will you give me your food?

Resisting the urge to reply "moi aussi", hence having just bought lunch with the few euroes I had left, I give her my best "yeah right" look, and then when she continues to stand staring I continue to stare straight back, while taking a third bite of the sandwich. She tries looking demure while strategically repositioning her bosom, which leads me to try and remember the French for "do you have a brother?" before continuing to return the glare. She then lapses into "pour moi, pauvre moi" with beseeching hand gestures learnt from an opera singer and a spaniel's eyes which know the answer is still going to be no, or non in this case. She took the hint and left, returning to her family who all tutted at me except the younger sister who was too busy texting.

I ate on watching the mother and aunt eyeing up opportunities and giving the girls instructions in seduction techniques before sending them out again. As I finish and leave there's a series of comments I mostly don't understand, but the mother's is apparently complimenting me on finishing it all and only throwing the wrapper in a bin. Fortunately my ear for French is so bad I can't tell if she used a sarcastic tone.

Walking back to the main road my ear for French is tested again by being asked a rapid question, of which I understood "excusez-moi" and the last word. I decide to lie and reply a helpful "er non", which causes the guy to half switch to English and ask "vous etes speak how un autre pays?", which leads me to reply "Er, je suis, I'm English, er, I..." as I trail off unsure if I've just said I don't speak anything languages because I'm English, which leads him to ask "Where is the Flunch?", at which point I realise that, hang on, why would a French guy ask in French if I could speak French using and mispronouncing the English word for it? This is making more sense now, although there's no way I'd ever think of saying "Flunch" like that. Realising what he wants I cry with a sweep of the arm "over there" remembering too late to use "la bas". After thank-yous and goodbyes in about three languages, we part with them heading away from where I pointed, although that was to get past the insurmountable wall and drop, and I ponder the likelihood of an English tourist knowing where the nearest branch of an improbably named chain of sandwich shops is; I'd noticed earlier purely because it's an obviously French invention derived from a dreaded anglicisme.

But this is why I don't like languages, because I collapse when faced with them, unable to convey or comprehend the simplest things, because I can't bit quick and effective, because can't I be natural, because I can't be me. It's just so frustrating to be rendered dull and boring because one spends the entire time translating around words, rather than translating them, so everything has to be simplified and every nuance crushed. And that's assuming I'm not rendered dumb by the sounds I don't know to listen for or the realisation I don't know what most of the words are (just thinking back to the Flunch incident, I'm sure I must have been taught this, but what's "opposite the corner of"? En face de... la quorneur de).

So after that ill-fated attack of being the approachable sort (always so ill judged as my directions invariably miss things like "oh, but there's a railway in the way" or overlook that setting the current place to be the starting point might be good, except for the American who asked me to take a picture of his group by Sacre Coeur and then handed me a Nikon D80, which could have led to a modern twist on the comedy staple of accidentally swapped suitcases, had I not considerately handed mine to my mother. Obviously only he in his group understood cameras, judging by the quizzical looks coming through the view finder as I focussed then framed) I wander away, past a French copy of the the flat part of Centre Point, and the Guild of Grocers' who use that most French of mottoes "All for one and one for all".

Down to Town Hotel, or Cruella's residence, or whatever else one feels like calling the town hall where the festooned flags snag on the neogothic. But the forecourt is closed off so they can install giant watering cans, and the crowds are bringing the remaining space to the halt, so I head down the Avenue Victoria, which is much nicer than the one in Brussels, although possibly allows less playing with light, and manage to induce an isitabird crowd by taking a picture of a chainlink fence against a blue board, causing two very well dressed French women of a certain age to investigate to work out what I had seen, which in turn made a crowd of walking-tour tourists to pause to work out what the women were doing. I ran away.

Then over the river towards the Conciergerie, Palais de Justice (which also seems to be the police HQ; arrest, trial, sentence all in one building), where cunning manipulation cast aspersions. Across the square towards Notre Dame, this time leaving Korean tourists to fathom out what I was doing (reflection in scooter wingmirror; thumbs up aimed my way when he twigged). Then the cathedral and the backstreets, including the Rue des Ursins, which was built at the mediaeval level and so is swamped by the embankment. Unfortunately I managed to leave the exposure compensation set to minus two for much of this; it's great from showing the accumulated gunk on the sensor I really ought to clean (when I figure out how), but less great for illustrating many shades of grey.

I considered going inside but the queue was overrun by small children who from the sound of them were full of boiling water, so instead I went to sit in the shade on the quay opposite writing postcards, joining the glances of the French girls next to me at the teenager drinking beer and reading a paper with a dog tied to his thigh. Luckily there were no sticks to hand, otherwise I suspect one of us may have been tempted, purely for investigative purposes to ascertain his prioritisation as the dog tries to play fetch. While sitting, cursing some of the river traffic for the fogbanks of fumes they leave, and admiring others for the shape of their bow or for gallantly not disappearing into the bouche of a Bateaux Mouches.

Then it was time to leave, and wander back through the streets, getting ever more ensnared by the muddled crowds, the flails and shrills of policemen, and scatterings of their idling colleagues, intensified having spent the entire afternoon practising. I sat getting concerned as I realise there are barriers out where ever the crowds do not already make it near impassable. I get to the Metro station, but the police have closed it. Er, this is not good, and French police, despite the soft uniforms (or possibly because they look more like army fatigues) don't quite look like the sort of people one can ask idiot questions of in bad French. Maybe it's the nonchalantly scything glares, maybe it's the guns, or maybe it was just my inability to work out the correct grammar for "what's going on?", but it didn't happen, instead finding myself trapped the wrong side of the Rue de Rivoli, with surly armed Frenchmen pushing the metal barriers back on top of everyone. I can see them letting people across further west, so I squeeze through, though of course the wave of closures moves faster than I can.

So instead I stand and wait, hoping it finishes soon, hoping they let people move, hoping they reopen the Metro stations along the route, which they've apparently closed to stop people using them to avoid the road closures above. Lots of sirens, lots of bikes, lots of dark French cars in clusters, and an ugly great Chevrolet bomb past (I supposed the name is corrupted French so it sort of counts) and that appears to be it. No one seems to know who or what it was and the savage looking police are shrugging to each other as they light up and wander off. Paris becomes fleetingly pedestrianised as the people reclaimed the streets before the first traffic hares through. I head for the nearest Metro station, discovering it runs to the sophistication of a free loo of the English shape which actually flushes (cue memories of a school trip to St Valery [at the end of the Somme] and a mutual refusal to enter the one public toilet in the town because it was a floor mounted cashpoint and so literally a hole in the..., artfully decorated in something the same colour as the unpainted wooden door).

Back to the hotel, with people appearing and disappearing, and the slightly surreal sight of my brother and co deciding it was time for lollipops (obviously been a long day), and the inevitable appearance last by my mother, who'd gone to buy one more thing. We sit round taking up the entire lobby while discoveries and purchases are discussed and then head for the station and the train, where I find to my joy that I'm sitting across a table from a tall man with a large newspaper, longer legs and despite being disdainfully English more than a hint of l'ordure francais (er, that's not odour, is it? Oops. Having just checked, it was the unrelenting relent that comes with too much in the heat). Helpfully he soon abandons his crossword, and frowning at me taking shots out of the window, to fall asleep, with every variance course providing him another excuse to slip further down the seat, forcing his legs ever further past the halfway point. I try avoiding him, getting cramp from studiously staying in the cramped space, taking full advantage of my brother's brief absence to purloin his legroom. My brother comes back. I contort back into the remaining space. Somewhere in tediously flat Northern France another lurch gives the man opposite one sag too far and decide to not avoid him any longer. Every judder I shift forwards, every quiver I batter away. Approaching the tunnel he wakes, presumably from the pain of having his knees squeezed back against the sole table leg (I know it was cruel, but he was still beyond halfway), and after coaxing the SIL out her sodokusphere, disappears in the direction of the buffet-car, never to be seen again. I waste about 3 seconds on guilt and get back to staring out of the window at the blackness of concrete. Sorry, but. There are rules to legs on trains; either mutual diagonal or stick to your own space, not an ever encroaching ankle-lock preceding wide knees (so the biggest space to put my legs is in the loop of his and he was nowhere near cute enough for that).

A trundle back to Waterloo, a trundle off the train as the escalators were all out, a trundle down ramps and up others (oh, the joys of a bag without wheels when everyone has them), then a trundle to another trundling train, then leaving people and luggage at the station a run to get a car. Then letters, mould, sleep. Oh, and posting postcards, the run up to the motorcade having scuppered timbre-ing plans. And if you didn't get one that's because I don't have your address.

And that was Paris.


Well I'm not clear how much of it you enjoyed, but I enjoyed quite a lot of that.

But of course you don't dislike languages, not really.
PS: I'm surprised you don't remember "qu'est-ce qui se passe?" (say "kesky spass") from a million French lessons at school though.
At the risk of being "just a tad prolific" once again, can I just add that my Rexona is a pump-spray and is thus much better than any aerosol, roll-on or stick. And it can't be Sure in another bottle because Sure don't make a pump-spray. For shame.
1a: How can I say it was good in parts without making it sounds like the curate's egg?

1b: It's just they dislike me.

2: I remembered something similar, but worried I was somehow combining it with Spanish (which I don't even know). The answer would have be unintelligible however I'd asked. And there's something about the guns that makes me want to avoid asking "pouvez-vous repetez en anglais, s'il vous plait?"

3: What about weird mushrooms? It used not to be a mushroom, but they decide that an awkward shape was ideal for their product and blow what any of their customers think.

Nivea do a pump-spray one; I tried it at someone else's (I'd forgotten my own) and the top kept twisting as I squeezed, and so preventing half the room from sweating.
I daresay the mushrooms have a reason - probably market research said it would be good. Yes, they do have that here, too, also under the Rexona brand. With a Sure "tick".

WV: nbenf - oh really?
Hi, I stumbled upon your blog somehow and decided to read it, since I live in Paris and am always amused by how tourists find it. It sounds as if you were generally a very good son to your mother -- can't quite understand why she was resentful all during her birthday dinner? Over your cousin's champagne suggestion?

Anyway, I wanted to explain to you that "Monop" is a spinoff of "Monoprix" and (as was snottily explained to a friend of mine) IS NOT THE SAME THING. A Monop' (apostrophe required; check and see if it's on your receipt) only sells food, with a little bit of "depannage" for the emergengy run for toothpaste, etc. A real Monoprix sells clothes, beauty and school supplies ... you name it.

Oh, and you should come back now that St Pancras is in operation. It's so much nicer than Waterloo. (And the trip's quicker, too.)


P.S. The anti-smoking law took effect in France on January 1st (really January 2nd), 2008. It's heaven not inhaling a lungful of seconhand smoke while enjoying a delicious dish.
Thank you for surviving the entire post. How traditionally touristy/woefully misguided was I?

My mother is my mother; any post trying to explain would be longer than the one above and liable to be all one rather incoherent sentence.

I think the Monop' was presumably just a Monop' then, being essentially a Tesco Metro with ruder staff, if such a thing is possible.

And St Pancras is a great station (assuming the police don't stop you for taking photographs of it despite every third person there carrying a camera), but unfortunately the train I'd get on to get to Eurostar comes in to Waterloo, which then means the joy of lugging baggage across London, so it now takes me longer to get to Paris.

Hurrah on the smoking ban, although it was only a problem in one restaurant.

And this probably should be said somewhere on your blog, but you've got some great shots; I'll investigate further at some point that isn't quarter past midnight.
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