Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Musee des Egouts de Paris

So where did I go, what is this Musee des Egouts you may wonder? Well it is the sewer museum, where you can walk through a working sewer system. It is pretty well set-up, with English brochures and the signage is also in English (as well as French) and it also doesn't really smell that bad at all. In fact for the majority of the visit there was no unpleasant smell at all, though I did avoid the water dripping from the ceiling, there was only one moment just before the exit when I got a whiff of something pretty bad, that could have been the stuff floating in the water though. I won't elaborate any further on that. Anyway if you have some spare time in Paris and feel like a different experience I do recommend it, it's pretty cheap too.

You are walking over flowing sewer water and they explain to you how the sewer system has changed through the ages. From 4 BC when a small tribe lived on the islands in the Seine to modern Paris. For quite a long time all the waste water just flowed straight back into the Seine and it managed to cope with this for a surprising amount of time, considering everyone was taking their drinking water from there as well. Eventually though the ecological balance shifted and the Seine could no longer filter the waste, so the raw sewerage was then spread on fields and used to grow vegetables, which apparently people commented on their stupendous size and taste (not sure what their comments were on the taste though). When there were too many people in Paris for even that to work they began filtering the waste water. Apparently they now filter 100% of their waste water, I'm not sure if that includes storm run-off though, it would be impressive if it did.

I didn't get heaps of photos here, which perhaps you are thankful for, but I got some of the machinery they use to flush out the sewers. There is a big problem with sediment (they said sand, though perhaps it is something else?) collecting in the bottom of the sewers and clogging them up, so they use a variety of boats and balls to create large water pressure at the base of the sewer to force the sediment along. This ball is designed to sit up the top of the sewer, thus creating large pressure underneath where all the sediment is.

My Trip to Ely or rather My Weekend of Gorging

I visited Ely the other weekend, it is about an hours train ride north of Cambridge, I have a friend living there which is why I went, not for the world-famous Ely tourist attractions. It was a really awesome weekend, sometimes it is nice to just hang out with other native english speakers. They all speak unbelievably good english at work, but they still don't get all your jokes (not that I make heaps of jokes), or rather comments which you just expect a smile to, but instead need to explain as to why they are slightly humourous, kind of ruins the moment I find. So everynow and again it is nice to be in a place where you never need to explain, if they don't laugh it's because it wasn't funny, rather than they didn't understand. It is also good to hear the old Australian accent every now and again too.

When travelling into London, which I have only done on the Eurostar so far, I noticed that the train seems to go an awful lot faster through the French section than through the English part. On the way back I decided to time the trip and then compare the portion of time travelled in a country to the portion of distance covered in that country. And the numbers don't really come up in England's favour. These are pretty rough numbers but I think you can get the idea, 72% of the journey is in France, and yet only 62% of the time is spent there. This is only from one trip so when I go back there this weekend I plan to take some more data :). I think the problem is that English rail is all privatised, so the companies don't bother upgrading their infrastructure. So this train which can travel at 300km/hr has to share the same tracks as the suburban trains, which are lucky to get to 60km/hr.

I heard a few stories about the privatised public transport system while I was there. Apparently if the weather is a little bit hot, or windy or there are leaves on the tracks then all the trains are massively delayed. The infrastructure is apparently not capable of handling anything but the most ideal of conditions. Makes me wonder what happens when it snows, do the trains stop completely? It is good to visit England just so that you come back with a renewed appreciation of the French public transport system.

Anyway enough complaining about the english trains, the english made their choice when they voted for Thatcher and now they just have to live with the consequences. So on to the weekend of eating!

The village of Ely is a proper English village, there are about 10,000 people living there, it has a massive cathedral in the centre of town, which being England costs a packet to go inside, and cows and horses grazing on the village green. It also has a Tescos, which is an English supermarket chain, it was like being in Woolworths, though I found the opening hours slightly strange.

This is the front of Ely cathedral, with I think fittingly, an apple fair going on in the foreground.

The days in Ely must be kind of strange if this is their definition of 24 hours.

There is also a river, the Great Ouse, which is actually pronouced Ooze, which runs beside the town. It is just lovely, peaceful english countryside around here.
What is not apparent in this photo, but you can see at other spots along the river, is that the ground beside the river has sunk so it is now lower than the river. All this area used to be marshes which they have drained, leaving the peat behind, but the peat shrinks and so now there are these massive embankments about 2m above the fields containing the river. This means that the farmers have to use pumps to keep the river flowing and to stop the land returning to its natural, marshy state.

We went for a walk along this river into town where we had an awesome Devonshire tea and I saw some of the fattest geese I have ever seen. I don't think these birds could fly away even if they wanted to. This one in the photo is so fat that it's body is almost dragging on the ground. After laughing at the immense geese for a while I then proceeded to stuff myself with clotted cream and rasberry jam. If there is one thing the english have down pat, it's clogging your arteries.
Once we could move again it was off to Cambridge for a punt along the river Cam. That was pretty fun, I'd never punted before and it takes a little while to get the hang of it. You feel really unsteady standing on the back of the punt and after hearing the story of a different friend who had managed to stay on the boat for all of 20 seconds before falling into the water, I was a little wary. I got the hang of it in the end, though I'm not going to win any races, but at least I didn't fall into the water. It was a bit like dodgem-punts out there, the river was packed with people, I shudder to think how busy it is in summer, and punts were smashing into each other all over the place.

Waiting for the traffic to clear, actually these low bridges certainly made the punting interesting. You have to make sure you get your pole horizontal before you have gone under the bridge, otherwise you can be left holding the pole, with no boat to stand on.

Here is one shot of me as I have just started to punt and managed to steer us straight under a tree where I then got the pole stuck in the branches, I worked it out in the end.

By this stage we had worked up an appetite, plus the rugby world cup final was about to begin, so we headed off to a nearby pub where I managed to get my hit of fish and chips. Then it was time for the rugby, it was a great place to watch South Africa beat England. You should have seen the pub clear out after the match though, the medals hadn't even all been handed out yet and there was only us and a couple of girls left in what had previously been a completely packed pub.

The next morning it was one last english tradition of a cooked breakfast, complete with black pudding and grilled bacon, before it was back on the Eurostar and back to Paris. All in all a very pleasant weekend.

Saturday, 27 October 2007

It's winter, or brrrrr!

Today I think Paris has moved into winter, just 2 months early. The top temperature today was 11 degrees, and daylight savings ended today, which means the sun now sets at 5:30pm. It's cold out there! (and dark as well). I'm going to have to buy a torch so I can find my way to the train station after work (I walk down a pitch black little forest path to get to the station, it can be a little creepy). We didn't really get a summer this year, but I think winter is going to make up for it, by showing everyone what a REAL season is like, I'm a little scared.

Friday, 19 October 2007

Strike Day 2

And so the strike carries on. The metros in Paris are all running semi-normally, but the main suburban trains, which are the only way I can get to work, are completely suspended again today. So no work today either, it is a bit annoying though, I do have stuff I want to get done, and I can't do it from home. On the plus side though there is no danger of me being trapped out at work with no way of getting back into Paris, and thus missing my train to England. I'm actually really glad I decided to catch the Eurostar rather than going for a cheap airfare. I have no idea how you would get into the airport with these strikes going on, I guess it would just have to be a really expensive taxi ride.

My station was closed so I decided to walk down to the next station along to make sure that the trains were definitely not running. The traffic was absolute chaos, I've never seen it so bad, it was bumper-to-bumper traffic the whole way along the 15 minute walk. Cars kept queueing over intersections which would result in massive amounts of horn-blowing as soon as the lights changed. There were police and ambulance sirens going off all over the place. I was getting nervous and I was walking on the footpath, though that may have something to do with the bicycles, scooters and motorbikes which were also riding along the footpath. I think there are going to be some killings at work today, what with the state some people were in already. I really hope this strike ends soon!

Thursday, 18 October 2007

The Picasso Museum

I had a bit of a museum experience the other day, visiting three museums in one day, they were all free, but the best one was definitely the Picasso museum. There was quite a lot of stuff there, and the house where it is housed was interesting too. They had modified the original rooms to give it more of a Picasso feel, with windows in strange places and little rooms off by themselves. Picasso's stuff is certainly strange and I'm not sure I like it all that much. What was good, or at least very powerful, was another exhibit they had on at the same time. It was a collection of photos from places like Rwanda and Bosnia, they were good photos, well shot, though the subject matter was pretty painful. I found the juxtaposition a bit strange between the photos of mutilated people and dead bodies in the same room as Picasso's stuff, which I find a bit whimsical. I think the photos detracted from the picasso stuff, as after seeing them you weren't really in the mood for picasso's fantasy view of things.

I did like Picasso's sculptures though, particularly his women's heads. After a while of seeing his strange abstract stuff it was also nice to see paintings he had done which show that yes he was actually a really talented painter, he just decided to go in a different direction from the standard methods of painting.

The first sculpture is one of Picasso's women's heads and the second is his Pregnant Woman, which I liked, I suppose this is what pregnant women looked like to Picasso.

I also visited the Musee Cognacq-Jay, around the corner from the Picasso museum. This was a strange museum, it was just a whole stack of stuff put together in an old hotel. Apparently the collector, Ernest Cognacq, appreciated little of his collection, but collected merely for the status of it. He also apparently told everyone that he had never visited the Louvre. I don't have any photos from this musee, it was all just stuff which was alright, but not great, not deserving of a photo.

The final museum I visited that day was the Musee Carnavalet, which is actually the museum of Paris' history, so it has art and artefacts from the Roman times, right through to the present. The best bit of this museum was definitely the Roman stuff which was off in what seemed to be an old stable. The only photo I took from this museum was this random peacock room though. It was obviously some famous Parisian's which they have recreated in this museum, I don't know who's though.

No Strike Action

Sorry guys, there will be no photos of the researcher's strike as the public transport strike has turned out to be pretty complete, so there were no trams for me to get out there. Instead I will bring you photos of my baked goodness I had for my morning snack. It is called a religieuse and they were actually available at lunch yesterday from my subsidised cafeteria. That shows you the standards of my lunches :), I actually went for one of the other desserts which was kind of like a vanilla slice, but with slices of pastry in the middle and a lot sweeter.

As you can see it is filled with chocolate cream in the middle of the pastry. The French really love chocolate and a lot of their pastries have chocolate in the middle.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

La Rochelle

Last weekend I went on a sailing regatta with some people from work. It was 5 races over 3 days, with one race being 44 miles around an island just off the coast, at night. The sailing race was held in La Rochelle which is a town on the west coast of France, on the Atlantic ocean. La Rochelle is famous because in 1628 it was put under siege by Cardinal Richelieu and 23 000 people starved to death. The siege was because La Rochelle was at the time a Calvinist city in Catholic France and the Cardinal didn't like this. He also had a wooden dam built across the harbour so that the English couldn't sail in at night and supply the town with food. The harbour is pretty big so it must have been a big dam back then. Now there is a tower, the Richelieu tower, which marks the spot in the harbour where the dam was. The old town of La Rochelle is quite pretty, with two massive towers on either side of the entrance, not that I had time to explore as there was too much sailing to be done.

This picture is of La Rochelle harbour taken from the boat.

This picture is our boat, it was a good sized boat, very comfortable.

The sailing was really awesome, and the racing especially so. I've never raced before, but I'm pretty keen to perhaps do a course and get into some beginner's races back in Australia. We were in a pretty big boat, 36 foot, sleeping 8, and there were 8 people on board, me and 7 frenchies. It was a bit of a strange weekend, but certainly an insight into French culture. One of the nights was a sort of party, where the organising committee provides a whole stack of oysters and we bring along food and wine and spend the night drinking, shucking oysters, and singing. Yes that's right, there was a night of singing.

I knew that each team would have to perform a song at this party, which I thought was a bit different, but ok, they are French after all. So each team performs their song, and then the rest of the night people would keep breaking out into song and then everyone would join in. I think one of most surreal moments here is going to be singing My Bonnie (in english), with 10 other French people, to a room full of about 60 other frenchies. They also got the words wrong to the song, it's "My bonnie LIES over the ocean" and they had "My bonnie IS over the ocean" and the other line is meant to be "Last night as I LAY on my pillow" but they were singing "Last night as I LAID on my pillow", all in all it was pretty funny.

The sunset on the night of the oysters.

The main difference I found between the French and the Aussies (apart from the obvious one where everyone is singing) is that there were really different generations there, and yet they all knew the same songs. Sure people sing in Australia but I don't think we have these folk songs that everyone knows the words to, apart from Waltzing Matilda of course. So I think that if you had different generations together they really wouldn't know each other's songs like the French seem to. Sometimes you felt a bit out of place, I was the only non-french person there and a lot of their songs had death to the english lines in them, so it felt very strange to be singing along with those. The French really got into those lines too, they loved bagging out the english.

It was a strange weekend because of course they all spoke in French to each other all the time, so I really had no idea what was going on. There would be discussions over breakfast and they would come to some decision, but no-one would tell me that a plan had even been made or that they were off somewhere, or when the days races where on. So people would be all ready to go and I'd be like "are we going somewhere?" or "are we sailing now?". Because of my lack of French I also wasn't allowed to help out with the sailing, I can kind of understand that. The one thing I always remember about sailing is that it involves a lot of shouting and everything needed to be done a minute ago, and it's worse during races, so I suppose they didn't want the translation time-lag. So the first 2 days I just tried to stay out of everyone's way, but I did enjoy being on the boat.

It took a bit of getting used to this boat, as it was a monohull and I've only ever been on catamerans. When I have sailed before we have always kept the catarmaran flat in the water, but these monohulls are designed to REALLY tip over, I'm talking what felt like a 45 degree angle, where we are all sitting on the one side with our legs out to balance it. So the first day on the boat all I can see is that the boat looks like it is about to capsize and everyone is yelling in French, so I get a bit worried, thinking that everyone else was shouting as they also thought the boat was about to capsize. It turns out that these boats are really hard to capsize and that no-one was worried about that at all, it was just general sailing shouting. So once I found that out I certainly relaxed a bit more and could enjoy the boating.

There was a fuel station at the habour, which makes sense, but I had never seen one before. It's exactly like a petrol station just for your boat, you pull in, fill up and leave.

For the last 2 days one of the other people had left so I got to do the mainsail, even during a race, which was awesome fun. In fact the last race we did (where I had the mainsail) was perhaps the best race out of all of them. It was in really thick fog, with maybe 100m visibility, so boats would keep appearing out of the mist. Because of the low visibility they had to make the start line really short. The way sailing races work is that the start line is only set about 10 minutes before the race begins, and it is set so that it is perpendicular to the wind. But the wind then changes direction slightly so that when the race actually begins there is sometimes one side of the line which is much better than the other. This means that all the boats, in our case 7, want to be in the same spot at the same time. So the boats are all constantly tacking and circling behind the start line, trying to time their run so that they cross the start line just as the gun goes. If you cross too early you have to go back around the buoy before you can start. So there is a lot of shouting and barging between the boats, and as the start line was quite small there was a lot more movement than in the earlier races. That was certainly exciting, I'm just glad I didn't have to do the route planning but just pull the rope whenever they changed direction. We actually came third in that race too.

The night race was pretty exciting too, though I was "encouraged" to spend the night portion down below in the cabin. I guess I would have got in the way a bit, especially in the dark, trying to change sides of the boat everytime they tacked. But I could hear all the commotion going on up above. The end was particularly exciting, it started at 5pm and we didn't finish until about 1:30am. The race finished back in the harbour, basically where we keep the boats during the night, but by the time we finished the tide had gone out. The boats have a big draught, 2.2m of water they need, and by that stage there was only about 1.7m, so the boat kept getting stuck in the mud and they were constantly tacking to avoid sandbanks. I'm pretty keen to get good enough so that I can have another go at a night race, so long as I don't have to do the navigation :).

This boat is one we had just passed during the day portion of the night race and also a shot of two boats we were leading with their spinaker's up.

French Strikes

Tomorrow I've been told not to come into work, and no it's not because I've been fired. Tomorrow is a major French public transport strike, and when I say major, I mean system-wide. The only line running normally will be the express metro line without a driver, thank god for robots right? The website of the transport company is posting updates on the traffic situation and apparently the line I catch to get to work (which is about 30kms from where I live and a 30minute train ride) is almost completely stopped. Which means there are probably going to be only 2 trains running during the entire day. So no work for me tomorrow, but it's not like it's a holiday though because I can't go anywhere, being completely reliant on public transport to get anywhere. Still it's nice to have an unexpected day off work every now and then.

Tomorrow there is also a researchers strike to protest against proposed funding cuts. I'm not sure why they hold it on the same day as the public transport workers, as I don't think the researchers are going to be getting that much media attention, what with the whole of Paris completely incapacitated around them. My thinking though is that researchers figure that they will have to take the day off anyway, so this way if they hold the strike now, they don't have to take another day off work later. Kind of defeats the purpose of the strike though. I'm thinking of going along to the meeting, if I can get there that is, maybe take a few photos. Hopefully it will be a proper French rally with burning cars, but I think it's more likely to be a whole stack of nerds in lab coats. If I get some good photos I'll post them though.

People really just seem to accept that strikes occur, they don't get angry, they just plan their day around that fact. I am planning on going to England this Friday to visit a friend, I already have my Eurostar tickets and everything. The thing is though that these transport strikes can go on for longer than the one day, meaning there may be difficulties in getting to the station on Friday as well. So today I got an email from the train company I got my ticket through telling me that there could be problems due to the strike, but that I can use the ticket on other days or get a full refund. So hopefully that doesn't happen and I am able to get to the station, but we'll see what happens.

Saturday, 6 October 2007


Coming back to the rural attitude of the French, it means that people still do their shopping at open air markets which are only open on Saturday mornings. I can see why though because the food there is so much better than what you get at the supermarkets, where the fruit and veg is of even lower quality than Woolies, which is difficult I know :). I'm going to have to take some photos for you because it is pretty cool, it has a very 1900's feel to it, with whole fish spread out on ice, big buckets of oysters and big slabs of meat. So far I haven't been game enough to buy the meat or fish, just because half the stuff I would have no idea how to cook. The fresh fruit and veg is really good though, and I've been pretty proud of myself being able to order stuff in French. I usually ask for the stuff in French and then the shop-keeper will answer me in English, I persist with the French though, damn it, they will listen to my crappy accent!

The French are really big on only eating food that is grown a short distance away, which means the food you see in the stalls is very dependent on the seasons. At the moment we are in fig season, so I've been going a bit crazy with the figs. I'm interested to see what they eat in winter though, whether it's just all potatoes and cabbage. Anyway next time I go I'll make sure I take some photos for you.

The Rugby World Cup and the Eiffel Tower (Again!)

Some of you may know that the Rugby World Cup is on at the moment in France, and in that group of people some of you may know that Australia was playing England today for a spot in the semi-finals. I was pretty keen to watch this game and I had heard there were some screens set up near the Eiffel Tower. So I headed off there this afternoon and found "Rugby Town", a haven of English-speaking drunkenness in the middle of all this French sobriety. Even the commentators were in the English so I could actually know why the penalties were being awarded for once. Too bad Australia lost, but they made too many errors and I don't like George Gregan anyway, it's good that he is retiring. Now I just have to hope that New Zealand beats the French, otherwise I may be forced to cheer for England, which would be a tragedy.

One thing I noticed whilst watching this game is the difference in quality between the French broadcast and the English broadcasts (either here or in Australia). I don't know who is organising the French one, but they really like arse and groin shots, so a lot of the time you have no idea what is going on. Say there is a scrum you don't know where the ball is, because the camera is trained on a guy's bottom, rather than pulling back a bit and giving you the overall shot. Strange.

Rugby Town is set up over the river from the Eiffel Tower in the Jardins du Trocadero and it is from here that I think you get one of the best views of the Eiffel Tower. It isn't even mentioned in the metro-maps or the tourists guides that when visiting the Eiffel Tower you should walk from here, so I'm letting everyone know, when you go see the Eiffel tower get off at the metro stop Trocadero.

There is a big square here, which was built for the 1937 World Fair and the youth of Paris has taken it over. Rather than the underage drinking you could find in Australia these kids are actually doing constructive things. There were groups of kids having dance-offs, seriously they were having dancing competitions. Also groups busking with acrobatics and finally there were these crazy kids on roller-blades jumping over things. They weren't wearing any protection or anything, and were doing this on the marble-style stuff paving which is all over Paris. I suppose you don't get the asphalt-rash you get from concrete when you fall over, but I reckon it is still pretty hard when you fall over.
They were pretty good too, nearly every kid I saw managed to clear the pole.

The Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Elysees

I suppose no trip to Paris is complete without a trip to the Arc de Triomphe and a walk down the Champs-Elysees, with the obligatory stop at the window of the Cartier store. The Arc is situated 2km from the Place de Concorde at the very top of the Champs-Elysees in the middle of the largest roundabout in the world. It really is a bit of a meeting point for Paris, with 12 massive roads radiating out from here. It was commissioned in 1806 by Napoleon to commemorate his victories, but then he started losing (way to jinx yourself Napoleon, with a 50m high arch proclaiming what a great fighter you are) and it wasn't finished until 1836. There have been a few armies to march along in front of here, the Germans in 1870 and 1940 and then the allies in 1919 and 1944. At the top of the Arc there is a viewing platform, where you get a pretty good view of Paris, and my favourite building, the Tour Montparnasse.

The first photo is of the Grande Arche in the skyscraper district of La Defense, just oustide of Paris. I think this was a good idea to put all the big company buidlings in one section and keep Paris-proper with the lower buildings and the older style facades. I'm going to have to go out here just to see this Grande Arche, apparently it is a hollow cube, with 110m sides, so it's pretty impressive. The next photo is of the Eiffel Tower and my favourite building.

This third photo is the Champs-Elysees, and I know it is meant to be a really famous Parisian street and the name comes from the Elysian fields, which is heaven in Greek legends. But really I can't think of anything that is further from my mind as to what you would want heaven to be like. An 8-lane dual carriage-way swarming with tourists and homeless people. Still it was kind of cool to look at all the ultra-expensive shops.

The very first shop at the very top of the Champs-Elysees is the Cartier jewellery store. That store is really dedicated to those people who have so much money they have run out of things to spend it on. Possibly also those rich people who like to show off to other rich people by spending greater and greater amounts of money on things that are just the absolute epitome of useless. There was one ring there for 49,000 euros which was basically a massive (and I mean MASSIVE!) blue diamond (?). I think it was a diamond, it looked a bit like crystal so I'm guessing diamond. I mean something like that you don't just wear to the local grocery store. Anytime you wore it you'd have to have 2 security guards following you. I think you just buy it to show how rich you are, that you can drop 49,000 euros on, quite frankly, a fairly ugly ring.

Underneath the centre of the Arc de Triomphe is the tomb of the unknown soldier. It's a symbol to honour those who died in the First World War. One unidentified soldier's remains were brought back and buried here in 1921. The flame of remembrance was lit in 1923, with the idea being that it would never go out. Unfortunately the French back then didn't plan for drunk soccer fans. In 1998 a Mexican soccer fan peed on the flame, extinguishing it, after France beat Brazil in the World Cup. He was charged with public drunkenness and offending the dead and has to live with the shame of being named in every tourist publication since then.

Jardin du Luxembourg

I went for a walk around the Jardin du Luxembourg, its one of the most popular parks in Paris and it really is quite pretty. It really is a jogger's heaven too, there were hundreds of them. You feel a bit sorry for runners in these big cities, because they are forced to just do laps around these small little parks rather than run in the street. At least the parks are pretty, but you probably don't really notice after you've already run around it 10 times that morning. Apparently there is some massive number of bees here, I think maybe there are hives somewhere, so I left it until later in the season before visiting. I'm pretty allergic to bees and don't yet have my social security card so I could end up with no medical help, better to just avoid the danger. It is a pretty park, and if it is a nice day I recommend a visit.

The picture to the left is some statue, there were quite a few in this park, and the Pantheon in the background. You can see here how big the Pantheon is and it really does dominate this section of Paris. You can see on the trees that the leaves are already starting to change colour and fall.

Paris is much further north than Canberra is south, so you notice the change of the seasons much more here. The sun is accelerating away from us at the moment and so the days are getting shorter by between 3-4 minutes everyday. The sun is now rising at about 8am and setting by before 7:30pm. When I first arrived it would rise at about 6am and not set until about 10pm.

Another building which dominates this section of town is the Tour Montparnasse, here it is again, along with the Grand Bassin. You can hire little sailing boats here, this park is very much a park for the children. As well as the boats there is also a Punch and Judy theatre and a massive playground which has been separated for the big kids and the little kids. The other picture is the Palais du Luxembourg which was built in the 1620's for a consort of King Henri IV who was missing the Pitti Palace in Florence where she grew up. The French Senate now works here, nice parliament house, they have been here isnce 1958.

There is also an exhibition hall, the Musee du Luxembourg, in a converted Orangerie of the palace. There can be quite pretigous (read expensive) exhibits on here, but when I went there was a free exhibit where all the art was made of food or plant material, very high-brow :). It was pretty cool, I think the French really get into the harvest festival mood of autumn, they seem to still be quite a rural people, or at least they give that impression.

They had little demonstrations and free fruit for people which was pretty nice, a pear and some art, a good day all round. This was a guy who was demonstrating how to carve stuff out of vegetables and the next shot is the things he had already made. It was a bit of a waste of food, turning it into entertainment for people, but it looked pretty good.

We then had the vegetable people, I liked these, especially the newspaper one of them was reading, a nice touch.

I really liked this mushroom piece, it was a whole bench of them, some of them were being painted red whilst these are getting their white spots added. There was just such an attention to detail.

The Pantheon

Last weekend I had a bit of a wander around the Latin Quater, it's where the Sorbonne is, still haven't visited that though. Apparently it is called the Latin Quater because all communications between lecturers and students used to be in Latin, at least until the Revolution, those poor students! The Pantheon is alright, it's got a pretty cool crypt underneath with all these famous people in tombs there, my pick was Marie Curie, I think she was one of the only women in there. It's pretty funny that some people have been removed from the crypt as they were deemed not famous enough. I wonder where their bodies go, do they keep them in storage in case their fortunes change?

It's pretty expensive though and you can only go up to the top of the dome with a guide, which is only once an hour. Unfortunately I missed the tour so couldn't get to the top, I think the entry price is worth it if you do get to go upstairs. It's free if you are under 18, but you have to enter with an adult. This poor girl in front of me nearly got caught out with that. She had obviously gone for the free option, but then they wouldn't let her in because she was by herself. Don't worry I let her go in with me, should have made her pay for half my ticket though :).

For all the nerds out there this is where Foucault built his pendulum to demonstrate the motion of the Earth, they have set up a replica there which is kind of cool. Foucault built it in 1851 for the Paris Exhibition, and it was the first proof of the rotation of the earth.

While searching for Foucault's pendulum on the internet, to make sure I wrote the right stuff, I found this website: which is good for a laugh. It is some crazy Christian fundamentalist explaining how the "science" community (their quotation marks) is wrong in their thinking about the Earth's tilt and various other astronomical facts. This person really believes that it is the sun which rotates around the earth and they base their evidence on the bible (of course) and the science of the ancient Egyptians. Crazy christians need to learn that scientists don't wake up each morning going "Now which part of the bible shall I disprove today". We don't really care about them we just report what we see, except maybe the evolutionary biologists, but I think they get it a bit tougher from the fundamentalists than us physicists do.

According to this website the pendulum Foucault built actually has a rigged top which is what causes it to rotate, too bad we had a Foucault's pendulum in my old physics department which also rotated, I guess that was rigged too, you can't trust those scientists, just ask Joe Hockey. They never gave any explanations which fit observations as to how they are correct in their thinking, just a few quotes from the bible, that's evidence enough for crazy christians. Really it is quite scary that we have to live in the same world with these people who have such a screwed up view of reality.

The inside of the Pantheon is a bit sterile, they went for a very neoclassicism feel, but quite pretty, if a little cold, it is kind of peaceful though. It has a pretty long history, having started out as a church, but changing to secular and back to a church a few times before now, where it is a secular tomb for famous French people. Louis 15th commissioned it around 1750 to Saint Genevieve in thanks for his recovery from an illness. It wasn't finished until 1789, but that was around the time of the revolution when religion had fallen a little out of favour. Two years later it had been converted into a secular mausoleum for the great men of France of that time. It reverted to its religous duties twice more after the revolutions, but was finally converted into a secular tomb again after the death of Victor Hugo, and now the famous people of France are buried here in the crypt. Victor Hugo really was a national hero, 2 million people attended his funeral, that's a lot of people!

This is the a shot of the interior of the church as well as a shot of the dome from behind, it really is huge

It is so big I had trouble getting everything in the shot, finally there is a shot of some random church next door, Eglise St Etienne du Mont (I think). A bit of an excess of churches in this area if you ask me.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Alliance Francaise .... Bliss!

I have started my new French course with the Alliance Francaise in Paris, and they really do some good courses. I went to their classes in Australia before I came over and they are really good at teaching French. They are really expensive though, at 50 euros/week, but I think they will be worth it, if I manage to learn as much French as I did when in Australia.

I already learnt some new weird French grammer and I've only been to one class. Imagine if you say "I look at the picture", in French you can also say "I the look", (if people already know you are talking about the picture), I have to find out if they also say "I look at it" I guess they must? I suppose I can just ask people at work, the benefits of learning French in France :).

The Alliance Francaise is so much better than this cheap-o course I did organised by an association designed to help foreign researchers. It was meant to be a week long intensive course, but I only went to the first day. I don't think the teacher actually had any qualifications, but was just someone who could speak French and could afford to spend a week "teaching" foreigners. So there was no real structure to the course, it may have been alright if you were already pretty fluent in French, but I'm still at the stage where I need the verb conjugation forms for things, so need real structure to my classes. Apparently there are 7 verb forms that you have to learn and these are just so you can communicate in everyday life, as there are a lot more than 7 conjugation forms. I think because of this massive range of verb conjugations the French are very impressive in their knowledge of grammer, unlike us english speakers who are just like "I don't know why I say it like that, it just sounds right."