Thursday, 30 September 2010

Vallée de la Chevreuse


On Sunday, I took the plunge and, following garage number 2's advice, took my car out for a long drive. Driving for more than half an hour meant going out of my comfort zone, away from the routes I know well enough to predict which lane to be in and even, for the first time, on to the motorway. Actually, it wasn't the first time. I drove on the motorway once before when the lane I was driving in suddenly turned into a slip road, but was able to get off it at the next exit before panic set in. But this was the first time I had intentionally driven on the motorway, so I armed myself with my trusty TomTom and a trusted friend and on the whole, it went pretty well. We did get a bit lost once and the TomTom did try to send us in the wrong direction at one point (one thing I've learned about these things is that when the voice and the picture contradict each other, you should always trust the picture), but my passenger's comment at the end was, "It wasn't as bad as I expected," so I count that as a success.

We visited the town of Chevreuse, not far from Versailles. The Vallée de la Chevreuse was gorgeous, with the streaks of sunlight streaming through the autumn leaves, and Chevreuse itself is very pretty. We walked past the lavoirs (old wash houses) and climbed the hill to the château, where there was a Breton fête going on to raise money for charity, then had lunch in an old-fashioned crêperie before getting back in the car to brave the journey home. I definitely still find driving stressful, but at least on days like this, the stress is balanced out by a relaxing afternoon somewhere beautiful!

Monday, 27 September 2010

The Boy Does Nothing

Looking at my visitor statistics for this blog, I have just learned the disconcerting fact that the vast majority of the people who stumble across my blog by way of Google had entered the search terms "looking for a marriage of convenience." I can't imagine that my blog comes very high on the list of results, but 30 persistent souls then clicked on the link to this post.

Judging by the fact that none of them has pursued their search any further by attempting to contact me, I can only assume that none of them were big fans of doing the housework. Ah well ...

Friday, 24 September 2010

Two Conversations

Mechanic at the garage of a French car manufacturer where the showroom is shiny, the mechanics are smooth and the famous daughter of the house is named Nicole:

“You car is very sick madam. We will need to replace the four very expensive parts. With the revisions recommended by the manufacturer (who happens to actually be our company) it will cost you 1500 euros to make it roadworthy. There is also a 100 euro charge for us telling you this.”

Mechanic at the independent garage around the corner from my house:

“There is nothing wrong with your car. All you need to do is drive it more. No, there is nothing to pay for the consultation. Here are your keys and have a nice day.”

Watch this space for some road-tripping stories!

In the meantime, I’m off to check the small print of my breakdown insurance …

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

On Being Accidentally Funny

Just as I hit "publish" on my previous post, it occurred to me that, under the circumstances, the title is even more apt than I had intended :-)

Confessions of a Walking Disaster

It was one of those days. In fact, it was two of those days. On Tuesday morning, I got up early because I had to drop my car off at the garage before going to work. The other weekend when I took my dear little Clio out for a drive, she was struggling to accelerate even when going downhill, so I had decided it was time for a visit to the car doctor.

When I got in the car, the key wouldn't turn in the ignition. The manual told me that it must be a problem with the battery, so I opened the bonnet, poked around with the battery, realised it was highly unlikely that I was going to solve the problem, closed the boot, tried the ignition again and then gave up and did what every self-respecting adult does in a mechanical emergency and called my dad. He didn't answer the phone, so I walked to the garage to cancel the appointment, was very relieved when they didn't laugh in my face and told me to call the breakdown assistance number from my insurance company and walked up the road just in time for work.

My day at work involved two malfunctioning computers, editing photocopies in which I discovered mistakes after I had walked about a million miles to the only functioning photocopier in the building and produced forty pages of the wrong thing and cleaning up some sick which an unfortunate child decided to deposit on the floor.

The day did get better after that, I must admit, and ended with a very agreeable evening in front of the TV watching Desperate Housewives and collecting advice from my Facebook friends on how to jump start a car. It would appear that I'm some kind of techie groupie because I got thirteen replies in the space of a few hours, mostly from people with engineering degrees but one from an archaeologist. To the archaeologist, I'm impressed with your all-round general knowledge and life skills!

Unfortunately, none of my expert friends was available in the immediate vicinity with a car and a set of jump leads, so this morning I decided to follow the garage's advice and phone the insurance company. This turned out to be much less stressful than I thought, although I did question my understanding of the French language for a minute when the woman on the other end of the phoneline asked me if I knew how to read text messages. Um, yes. The breakdown guy turned up right on time, got in the car, and turned the key in the ignition. The engine started immediately. He clearly thought I was a bit nuts but he was sweet and he said he liked my accent so I forgave him for clearly not believing that twenty minutes before, as well as every other time I had tried, the ignition had been completely blocked.

I drove the car to the garage, where they kindly agreed to look at it that day and offered to undertake some "revisions" of dubious necessity that were going to cost rather a lot of money. Having lost all faith in my ability to make technical judgements, I agreed to most of them and left.

I spent most of the afternoon on tenterhooks and didn't really feel any better when I got a phone call from the garage telling me that the total cost of the repairs to my car would be in the region of 1500 euros. Somewhat gobsmacked by this, I didn't really follow what the mechanic said next and had to phone them back two minutes later to check that they weren't going ahead with the costly revisions that I had agreed to that morning on a car that might be fit only for the scrap heap.

I collected the car from the garage at the end of the afternoon along with three pages detailing what needs to be done and why it's going to cost me 1500 euros. I had to take it home and translate it to find out that the major problem is with the throttle body and its attendant parts.

This is a dilemma, oh readers. Acquiring the car (from a friend) has so far cost me approximately 500 euros, which I could probably get back if I sold it as scrap. Buying a car of the same age and mileage would cost me at least 3000 euros (second hand cars are expensive here), so if I pay for the repairs and everything is OK, I'm still on to a good thing, especially as one of these 3000 euro cars could end up having all the problems that my current one has and cost just as much to repair. At the same time, it seems like an awful lot of money to spend on a car that in the UK would only be worth about 1800 pounds and which might just develop another problem as soon as I get this one fixed.

So, advice in the comments box please, readers. And if you haven't got any advice, just write and tell me that I am not a total walking disaster. If enough people say it, I might start to believe it even if it isn't true!

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Musée du Quai Branly

Last Sunday was free museum day and my friends and I decided that it was a good opportunity to visit the Musée du Quai Branly, which is just along the Left Bank going up the river from the Eiffel Tower. We got a little bit distracted on the way by the fact that, despite the interdiction signs all around it, the Trocadero fountains were full of people paddling and even swimming and we took the opportunity to dip our feet in before continuing over the river to the museum.

The building is easily recognisable because its walls have plants growing out of them all the way up. You go in the entrance and walk along a winding path through the garden to the door of the building itself. In fact, winding is a good way to describe most of the building. The exhibits are on the first floor and you go up a meandering walkway on which words from many different languages are projected to make the shapes of a flowing river on the floor. The actual surface of the exhibition area is not all that big but they fit a lot of stuff in without making it feel crowded through innovative use of the space.

The objects themselves come from all the continents of the world apart from Antarctica and Europe and are the kind of thing you would expect to see in a museum of ethnography or anthropology - artefacts like tribal masks, totem poles and articles of clothing. They are presented, however, very much as works of art, with the explanations kept to a minimum. I really liked this, because I hate going to museums where you spend all your time reading the information and none of it actually looking at the exhibits.

My favourite section was definitely Oceania because the artwork was sort of primitive looking but very expressive at the same time. I wished I had lump of clay or some wood to carve so that I could make something similar myself. There is a special exhibition on at the moment about the River Congo but we didn't go to that, partly because the queue was enormous and partly because we felt we'd already seen enough. That's the great thing about free Sunday - you haven't paid a fortune to get in so you can look at exactly what you want and leave without feeling guilty!

If you don't laugh ...

I was talking to a French friend today about the town where I went to university and the fact that, because the nights are so short in the north of Scotland, we used to always get woken up by noisy birds in the small hours of the morning. What I wanted to say was, "A Aberdeen il y a beaucoup de mouettes qui crient très fort à trois heures du matin." ("In Aberdeen there are lots of seagulls who scream really loudly at 3 o'clock in the morning.")

What I actually said was, "A Aberdeen, il y a beaucoup de muettes qui crient très fort à trois heures du matin." English translation: "In Aberdeen, there are lots of dumb girls* who scream really loudly at 3 o'clock in the morning."

The puzzled expression on my friend's face was confirmation enough that, once again, I had been caught out by these darn French vowel sounds. Sometimes I'm so ridiculous I even crack myself up.

*Dumb in the sense of being unable to speak. If it had been the other meaning, it would actually have been true.