Thursday, December 29, 2016

Parisian Pooches

The doctors office was tucked way back in the bowels of a building that has been around since before Christopher Columbus discovered the "New World." Two doors with complicated intercom systems later, I found myself sitting in a tiny waiting room that had a piano taking up a quarter of the space. The opposite wall was dominated by a huge old painting with a clutter of "objects d'art" covering the sideboard beneath it. There were books everywhere, a low love seat and two bistro chairs. The one other person there explained that she wasn't a patient, she was waiting on her friend and I was next.

The door to the doctors office opened delivering two men and two dachshunds - one a scruffy long-haired ginger and the other a sleek chestnut brown! Even as I admired how cute they were (the dogs, not the men) I had a moment of panic. Had I mixed up the French words for Doctor and Veterinarian? Had I booked myself in for an appointment with an animal doctor? And if so, would he write me the prescription I needed for my migraine medication anyway?

But no need to panic - this was a doctor's office and the doggies belonged to him. I had my consultation, with the adorable scruffy ginger mutt sitting on my knee. (I seem to have an affinity for shaggy haired doggies - being shaggy haired myself). The prescription was written and doggie kisses received and I left the office thinking, "That would never happen in the US!"

They do love their dogs in California. In fact, I think it borders on the ridiculous. For example, I have a friend there who buys shoes for her dog to wear. She says its because the dog's paws get sore when it goes hiking with them. I worry about the coyotes... they are barefoot and outside all day and all night long!

I have another good friend who has a stroller for her dogs in case they get tired walking! Maybe they're wearing the wrong shoes. People dress their dogs in California, some claiming that their pooch gets cold! Cold? In California? For goodness sakes - I only wore clothes there because I was being considerate of others!

But the French are crazy about their dogs in a different way, and in a way I can understand. They allow their dogs to go pretty much everywhere with them, the doc being a great example. (The doggy poop on streets issue seems to have been addressed from what I've seen too, thankfully.)

My French teacher allows her adorable Chico to sit in on our lessons, which isn't really fair since Chico already knows more French than me!

Sometimes Chico's girlfriend Luna joins us.

The doggies agree with me - learning French is very tiring!

When Chico lies like this my French teacher tuts and says with great sympathy, "Ah Chico,
cette leçon est très difficile!" - this lesson is very difficult - I always agree!

I was really surprised to see dogs inside restaurants, even fancy ones - by fancy I mean "10th wedding anniversary" fancy. We aren't just talking "service" dogs here. It seems to me that concept is unknown to the French. All dogs are service dogs here.

This little guy walked up and down a bit during his people's meal but behaved himself really well! He is the first I've seen wearing a coat. What is sad is that his coat is newer and more trendy than the one my husband insists on wearing!

I shudder to think what it would be like to bring My Mums dog Rhubarb into a restaurant! But she too is a cutie-pie and I have to include a picture of her.

And of course one is never enough! She likes to lie on a golden pillow -mais bien sûr! Actually Rhubarb doesn't know any french...but she does know how to spell, "Walk!"

She really is a sweet little thing!

Byddi Lee

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Christmas Spirit - Post a "Helpie"

I've noticed more awareness on social media this year of how hard Christmas can be for people. I understand that, having found Christmas difficult for a variety of reasons as last years post can show. Regardless of what is missing in your life, this time of year throws the haves and have-not into stark contrast, whether it is missing a family, parent, a spouse, or loved ones in general.

The world has had a tumultuous year, 2016 gave us Brexit and Trump, and stole away so many beloved famous people ( David Bowie, Terry Wogan, Prince and the list goes on) but on a personal level, I had a good year, a year that ends with me living in Paris and loving it. This year for the first time in 8 years, I will go back home to Ireland and spend Christmas with My Mum, My Sister, Bro-In-Law and nephews, not to mention my extended family and friends. I'm actually excited about Christmas, thrilled to see the lights here in Paris, shop at the quaint Christmas markets, and hear live music on the streets. Carols still make me cry - I don't know why - they just do...nostalgia, I guess.

Christmas pulls at my heart now in a different way. I no longer mourn for myself. Even though I miss My Dad, I can accept that this is the circle of life, especially when I'm now planning the Christmas-present shopping-trip with my nephews instead of My Dad (though I'd say there's less chance of that expedition ending in Red Neds with a Guinness and a Buckfast chaser - Cheers Dad!)

I still can't help thinking about those people who hurt at Christmas, so I put this little reminder together.

While it's worth being mindful of the pictures we post on social media at Christmas, (or any time of the year) I think it's a shame to curb our joyful moments - the kids with their presents, the food on the table, the friends around the hearth, what's left of the ham after the dog has stolen it, etc. These are beautiful moments and worth sharing (well, maybe not the stolen ham...) But perhaps we can do better, do something that may actually help the less fortunate without us needing to run a marathon, or climb a mountain or pour a bucket of water over our heads.

How about this year, while we are posting our happy moments online, we take a moment to find a link to the donation page of a charity of our choice and post that too. How much you donate is of course your own business. But posting the link will remind you and those who see it to make a small (to you) donation that may make all the difference to someone else.

We may not be able to individually cure cancer, help the dying, save refugees from drowning, stop war, feed the world, shelter the homeless, comfort the lonely, but small actions add up to larger ones and we can all play a part. So while you are posting that selfie on Christmas Day, think also of posting a "helpie!"

Feel free to use one of the links below (these are my favorite charities):-

And for dollar donations:-

Wishing you a happy, fulfilling and peaceful Christmas.

Byddi Lee

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Christmas Displays in Paris

Even the Christmas decorations are extremely artful in Paris.


The Galeries Lafaytette Paris has combined art, Christmas decor and environmental education in their display, which celebrates a polar winter to raise awareness of climate-change.


All the decorations are made from paper. I wondered if it was to highlight the importance of recycling. Unfortunately, the website falls short in its explanation of why the artist (yep, a real artist was commission to create the display, not just someone from PR sticking up tinsel in-between interviews for hiring seasonal staff!)

Evidently in the future the poor polar bears will have to learn how to row boats since ice bergs won't be available but at least the New Paper Titanic will be safe - silver linings, right?

And I wasn't sure why they had cable cars in an ice cave but like me and most art, I probably missed the point!

With this push for environmental awareness, what's ironic, but hardly surprising, is the complete fail to discourage people from buying goods they neither need, want or maybe cannot afford. Consumerism is a huge a threat to our planet, but hey! It's Christmas!

These kids were certainly enchanted.

The most universal symbol of Christmas here in Paris is without a doubt le sapin, the Christmas tree. Galeries Lafayette has a giant paper one beneath their stunning stain-glass dome.

Everywhere you look, there are trees...

...depicted in some shape or form.

Hung on the wall...

In red...

In white...

In macaroons!


Or other edibles (I think!)

Fashioned from pallets...


Or just sticks...


Or just a triangle of fir branches will get the message across...


Multi-story ones made with lights...

And accompanied by giant moose - to see the scale of these moose, here's one with humans inside Les Halles - three stories underground in the world's largest train station! Is it any wonder we were lost inside it for the first month?

 Even Mc Donalds has a pretty nice tree display.

Le BHV Marais went with a ski theme. I'm not sure what their connection with Val d'Isere is, but I can't fault their taste in ski resorts!

They have Santa Claus doing yoga on a ski lift.

But I don't feel that the Santa's are as well depicted as the Christmas trees - really, would you trust your kids with this guy?

And this Santa is just plain lewd!

Not sure what the weasel was supposed to represent! Is it a comment on the fashion industry in general?

 And perhaps with all that Christmas window-shopping you'd like to have your lunch here?

 Byddi Lee

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Dear Professeur de Français, Je Suis Desolate!

Nope - I haven't started to blog in French... This, my friends, is a confession, a clearing of the air, a karma scrub, so to speak, in the hopes that whatever is blocking my attempts to learn French will be cleansed from my soul, and I can venture forth in Paris in a bilingual state!

The pictures do not relate to the text - they're just there to look pretty.

False names will be used to protect the not-so innocent...

Dear Professeur de français,

You were my French Teacher in 3rd year. You might not remember me since I was not exactly a star pupil in French class, but you may remember an incident that happened while you taught me.

I wasn't really into languages at the tender age of 12 or 13. Perhaps France seemed too far away. It wasn't your fault. You were, and most likely still are, a really nice man and a fun teacher - and I have the evidence to prove it.

You see, while I was supposed to be spending my time studying irregular verbs, (I only found out recently there are regular verbs!) and figuring out my tenses (why, oh why, can't everything just have the same tense?) I was too busy working out the nuts and bolts on the chair behind your desk. Yes,  I mean that quite literally!

In 3rd year, the pupils stayed in their classroom and the teachers rotated. It may have been a rainy day, but this one day, we were allowed to stay in the room over break-time too.

We had you next.

A bunch of us (no names!) decided it would be funny to booby-trap your chair. We removed all the nuts and bolts holding the chair together and used sellotape to take care of that crucial job instead.

The bell rang.

For once, I sat in the front row. That alone should have been a warning to you! In you came, armed with your briefcase, an armful of copybooks and your big smile. You greeted the class, then sat down.

The sellotape held. The prank wasn't going to work and in that split second (we later admitted to each other) we were glad. You could get hurt and we'd be in big trouble.

Then bang!

The chair collapsed and you disappeared behind the desk.

We were horrified! We thought: What had we done?  Was he dead? Would we get detention or expelled? We held our breaths. Then suddenly two hands appeared and landed palm down on the desk. In one elegant movement, you pulled yourself to your feet in a parody of a French mime artist, not a hair (nor a tooth, thank God) out of place. Your smile intact, you calmly asked for another chair.

I have to tell you Professeur de Français, in that moment your status as a legend was born. Your gracious acceptance of our prank made us feel worse on the guilt stage than any punishment could have (which incidentally you never did dole out.)

Finally, able to breathe again, we were so thankful that we hadn't (to our knowledge) hurt you or gotten into a bucketful of trouble that we never did anything like that again to you or any other teacher. (I'm not saying I refrained from mischief...just a specific type of mischief.)

Years later, as a student teacher myself, the memory of what I'd done as a pupil haunted me, but it served to keep me on my toes - though I did fall victim to a couple of pranks myself. And when I did, Professeur de Français, I reminded myself of your hands coming up from behind the desk that day, and your accompanying grin. I had big shoes to fill as a teacher.

Now I pay what feels like a small fortune for French lessons, the payment all the more painful when I think that I had five years of free lessons, twice a week, at school.

But you'll be glad to know, Professeur de Français, that I actually really like my lessons and look forward to doing mes devoirs. I get on well with the the lovely French lady who is tasked as my teacher. I promise to be good to her.

But what if she ever finds out about the way I treated my old Professeur de français? I'll just have to cross that bridge when I come to it!

Actually, come to think of it I hope my mother doesn't read this either!

Yours in lifelong learning,

Byddi Lee

Thursday, December 1, 2016

A Grave Subject - The Catacombs of Paris

From the moment I heard there were catacombs in Paris, I was dying to visit them. So I headed down there with a friend who was visiting us for the week.


 Please note - this is not a selfie! I think one of these guys used to be Harry Potter.

The Left Bank of Paris is built above huge limestone deposits. Having once been a warm, shallow sea there were amazing fossils in the rock, such as this giant sea snail.


These limestone deposits provided the creamy-colored stone that build the city and resulted in a huge maze of underground quarries.

In the late seventeen hundreds two things happened:

1) Areas of the quarries began to cave in where water had continued to erode the roofs of the subterranean chambers upwards so that they eventually became too thin to support the weight of the buildings above. It must have been terrifying for people to witness whole houses being swallowed up by the ground.

This initiated the inspection Générale des Carrières (Inspection of Mines)  to survey these tunnels.

The picture below shows the date an inspection took place and the initials of the engineer who surveyed it. (Or at least that's what I gleaned from the audio tape which was well worth the extra 5 Euros.) It amazes me that in 1781 they had the tools to carve out these caverns, and then survey and fortify them.

I was a bit concerned when I saw this crack in the wall, but the audio guide informed me that it was an intentional structure used as an air vent.

The ceiling had this black line painted on it to provide a guide, so early visitors wouldn't get lost.  In 1793, a man went missing in the catacombs and his body wasn't found for 11 years! I'm not sure if they painted the line before or after that, but either way, I was dead certain I wouldn't be counting on it.

Once thing was for sure, we'd picked an excellent time to visit the catacombs - Wednesday evening around 5ish. We had the place to ourselves and it was as quiet as the grave!

2) The second thing happening around this time was the lack of room in the city center cemeteries. No bones about it, the bodies had to be moved. The Catacombs provided the ideal final resting place for the dead of Paris.

As the audio tape talked me through this my ear pricked up at the mention of Les Innocents, one of the first areas to be cleared. I know that spot. I live really near there and walk past it every day. Because of this, I felt connected to the story of the Catacombs. Was this the beginnings of me taking root in Paris? And what a place to begin that process. Yes, roots need to be buried, but this was kind of deep!

Above the door to the ossuary hung this sign.


Heart warming, isn't it? 

Another sign on the wall nearby:

I certainly wouldn't be caught dead eating in there! 

I decided to take the camera thing very literally no selfie sticks, no flashes and no expensive cameras on tripods - my phone camera was fine. 

The symbol in the bottom left corner was really unnecessary in my case - I wasn't about to go stroking any skulls.

I'm guessing you had to take off your back-pack in case you accidentally knocked over any of the piles of bones - I'd be mortified if I did that!

Bones line the walls for as far as the eyes can see, neatly stacked rows of femurs with skulls interspersed to form morbid patterns.

There were all kinds of structures made from the bones.

It was actually hard to come to terms with the magnitude of this underground tomb, hard to imagine that all these bodies were once people who lived hundreds of years ago, hard not to make terrible 'dead' jokes...

But there is nothing humerus about this place!

This well did not appeal to me at all, even though I was dying of thirst!

 I was dying to know if this guy was Irish!

Okay, now that I've gotten that out of my system, I will say that I did behave myself while I was actually there and said a prayer for the repose of the souls that once lived in these bones. The catacombs were actually consecrated prior to the housing of the bones. Each cemetery and church has a cross that says where the bone are from and what date they were moved on.

This was another area that I know and have walked along a few times.

This skull did tug at my heartstrings. He looks rather sad and I wondered what sights the eyes housed in those sockets had seen and what stories that mouth could tell.

Perhaps if I been here and alive at the same time as him, we might have been friends, and maybe he'd even have laughed at my deadly jokes.

Byddi Lee