Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Parent-Pleasing Paris

When my parents came over for our French wedding, they stayed for a few days and I had to put a bit of thought into how to entertain them. My mum comes over fairly often and has seen most of the major sights, and while it was my dad's first visit in a long time, I wasn't sure that queueing with the  tourists to go up the Eiffel Tower or visit Notre Dame in the middle of a heatwave was the best way to convince him to come back for more.

Both my parents like walking, but on hot, crowded pavements, not so much, so we started out with a stroll along the Promenade Plantée, and they were impressed by how well kept the gardens were, even if the flowers this summer are not quite as impressive as I remember last year's being. (Maybe la canicule got to them as well as to my little window boxes.) When we arrived at Bastille, we admired the July Column and tried hard to remember enough French history to figure out which revolution was which. (The column celebrates the July 1830 revolution, Les Trois Glorieuses, which led to the fall of Charles X, who became king after the restoration of the monarchy. He was replaced by Louis-Philippe I, Duke of Orléans.) After that, we strolled around the Port de l'Arsenal and found a nice park bench on which to rest our weary legs.

We walked a little further into town for lunch at Place Ste Catherine, a secluded square near St Paul metro which is a great place if you want to sit on a terrace away from the traffic and the crowds, then made our way back to Bastille to embark upon my great inspiration for the day: a trip up the canal with Canauxrama boat tours.

Unlike the Bateaux Mouches and other companies who operate mainly on the Seine, the Canauxrama tour is small and personal. While there aren't a huge number of sights and monuments on the canals, the guide gave explanations of the history of different areas and told interesting anecdotes in French and excellent English (with that great accent that only French people who have learned English really, really well seem to acquire - it doesn't sound typically French, just very dignified and a little bit exotic!). The tour starts by going through the canal tunnel under the Place de la Bastille, where you can look up to the crypt of the July Column, where apparently lie the remains of some nuns who were accidentally killed in the revolution. The tunnels have street signs, so you can tell where you are relative to the city above.

In the tunnel

Going through a lock

Bassin de la Villette

The trip that we took takes you up to the Bassin de la Villette, going through several locks on the way. I'd seen the locks operating plenty of times, but it was fun to be actually on the boat. If you take the tour that goes up the canal rather than down, be prepared to be sprayed in the face with canal water as the lock fills up! It takes 2.5 hours to travel the whole length, and the balance of commentary and sitting back relaxing and enjoying the view was just perfect for a hot summer's day. It's a fun way for visitors to discover "real" Paris and I enjoyed showing my parents the parts of the town where I actually live my life, as well as learning some interesting snippets of history along the way.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Les Aventuriers de la vie

Je vous souhaite de souhaiter.
Je vous souhaite de désirer.
Le bonheur, c’est déjà vouloir.
Comme en droit pénal, l’intention vaut l’action.
Le seul fait de rêver est déjà très important.
Je vous souhaite des rêves à n’en plus finir et l’envie furieuse d’en réaliser quelques uns.
Je vous souhaite d’aimer ce qu’il faut aimer et d’oublier ce qu’il faut oublier.
Je vous souhaite des passions.
Je vous souhaite des silences.
Je vous souhaite des chants d’oiseaux au réveil et des rires d’enfants.
Je vous souhaite de résister à l’enlisement, à l’indifférence, aux vertus négatives de notre époque.
Je vous souhaite surtout d’être vous.
– Jaques Brel

With all the planning for our Scottish wedding in August, the day of our French ceremony crept up on us and almost took us by surprise. Our paperwork roller coaster ended up with an official date in the diary at the mairie, but document to confirm it until I went and asked 3 days before (which probably also contributed to the everything seeming a bit unreal). Most of my stress on the day of the wedding was related to making sure the various close family members made it off the Eurostar and over to the mairie on time, which was made a bit more difficult by the fact that my little brother arrived with a crutch and his arm in a sling, accompanied by his pregnant wife, but looking after everyone else helped to stop me getting too stressed about the actual wedding, which was probably a good thing.
When we finally did make it to the town hall, everything was locked up and there was nobody around. (It was lunch time in France, after all.) Eventually they opened the doors and we made our way up to the salle des mariages, a very plain and official looking room with a big desk and a microphone at the front, some rows of chairs, and a picture of François Hollande on the wall. As our main wedding celebration will be in Scotland, we hadn't asked for any extras in our French ceremony, so it began with us being asked to identify ourselves (I had to confirm the pronunciation of my name before we started), followed by the extracts from the Code Civil, our agreement to take each other as husband and wife, signing the register and the reading of the acte of our marriage.
The ceremony was conducted by a representative of the mayor and she explained to us that it was only her second wedding ceremony since being elected, so she got a little bit emotional, which was actually really nice as it made what was otherwise quite a bureaucratic procedure seem that bit more personal. To finish, she read the text above, which I think is so beautiful, I sort of wish we'd chosen it for our other wedding too! It's called "Les Souhaits aux aventuriers de la vie" and was originally a speech made by Jacques Brel when he was asked to give his wishes for the new year during an interview. So in the end, what could have seemed like just another administrative step to take turned into a really nice celebration of this big step in the adventure of life. And, with our new livret de famille on the living room shelf, I'm not only officially married, I feel a little bit more French as well!