Thursday, October 30, 2008

It was nineteen years ago today...

...that Sgt Pepper taught the band to play.

And what a year that was.

19-fucking-89 hey?

Watching my mother's body fail and die, learning to cross stitch and meeting my life partner - and all within the space of just a few weeks.
How did I do it?

Add to that, the sudden accumulation of a large Lebanese family, seeing the Ramones live twice in one week and a return to geriatric nursing, and you will be able to appreciate what a big year that was for Simone.

Just a few ups and downs.
Often at the same time too, which was nice. (TWSS)

I don't believe I've ever been called upon to change gears mentally and emotionally as often and as violently as I was in 1989.

Oh that reminds me. I think I also learnt to drive that year.

I vividly remember visiting Mum in the hospital on a Sunday morning just days before she fell unconscious for the last time and telling her with the utmost certainty that I'd seen him the night before.

She smiled, patted my hand and told me, "You know what you're doing."

It's a wonderful feeling to know that an esteemed parent can have such faith in your judgement, even at that age.
It's an even better one to have it proven right day after day, week after week, year after year.

Knowing full well that she only had days left to her, and having a fair idea of the gut wrenching, irrevocable grief that we were all about to experience as a result, I'm pretty sure I asked her,

"But now?!"

She answered me in a way that quietly confirmed to me the wisdom of the Universe's timing and the good sense of trusting in that.
She really was switched on.

I still miss Mum in a way I cannot understand.
I contort my mind sometimes and try to assess how much I've missed out on all these years, but it's like trying to look at the back of your own head in the mirror - you get a glimpse of a glimpse but no more.
But you always look again, don't you?

Anyway, not too long after that, our family lost it's axis.
So much change.

But I don't look back at it all now without choosing to focus on the wonderful things that happened that year as well.
Otherwise, what's the point?

Apart from Jeff, I was provided with a new family.

One I even liked! And still like!

How often does that happen?

Another of those 1989 moments that are frozen in time for me was when I met Jeff's mother, Yvonne for the first time, maybe only 6-8 weeks after losing my own mum.

As I stepped inside the house, all I could see was her silhouette.

We met half way between the front and back doors, and for some reason, we were alone there.

Applying logic, I guess Jeff had ducked into the bathroom with incredibly poor timing, which is his want, even today.

So here I was, perhaps trespassing in a hostile Lebanese house, staring down the barrel of either my potential mother-in-law or my worst nightmare.

Disaster or success?
Really, I don't even know what it all hinged on.

The silhouette was dead still and with no facial expression cues to work with, I just had to rely on my intuition, hope and expectation.

Surely the kind of woman who would bring up this person to be so friendly and relaxed must be cut from the same cloth.

We both paused for what seemed like eternity and then simultaneously threw our arms open and shrieked,


It's been that way ever since.

Never had a cross word from that woman.
Actually, I've never heard a cross word form her full stop.

I have seen her play practical jokes on people and take the piss though.
Hey, I've even heard her call her husband a hairy grey donkey's arse.
Sure it loses a little something in translation, but it will ever be one of my faves.

She's a lot like Jeffrey. In looks as well as in nature.

When Jeff and I met - not straight away, as our first date was more or less a double date with both our brothers.
No, no, that came out all wrong (TWSS). I'll explain that presently, don't panic.

What I meant to say was that when Jeff and I eventually enjoyed time alone without our brothers hanging around, I peppered him with a few questions, carefully designed to expose any major foible.
What a crafty 20 year old.
Maybe all that Trixie Belden paid off.

Firstly, I asked him about his mother.
My theory being that men who have a poor opinion of their mothers, will extend that to their partner by and by.
His response was,

"You'll have to meet her, she's unreal!"

And she is too.

Then I asked if he could cook, while pretending that I could not.
He told me about some incredible chicken dish he'd made recently and that it was OK if I didn't know how to cook- he could do all that.

Then I sussed out addictions.



But yes, to clarify...our first date...

We were accompanied by both our brothers.
That's probably tradition on some planets, but we must have looked somewhat odd that night.

They hit it off in such grandiose fashion that the real reason for the outing kinda got washed away.
At one stage, I vaguely remember jogging along behind them, waving and saying,

"Hellooooooooooo, remember me?"

All these years later it still stuns me at how much these three adore each other.

That very night, after Adrian solved the riddle inscribed onto the rim of their latest single (they were in a band, no I'm not going to discus that now), they made him an honourary member.

Anyway, that was nineteen years ago today.

Nineteen fucking eighty nine.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Aggressive Beret Wearing 101. Part 6. FIN

Reading back over my diary entries for that week, I find it funny to see how I tried to adjust to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune as they were offered to me.

It's good to know that I tried.
I did.
I really did.

I'm pleased to see that I didn't become narky straight away.

Fairly typically, I gave it a go and then when it all became too much, I made the decision to flatten my ears, sharpen my focus and participate in day to day Parisian tourism with a level of disdain that left them all well in the shade and in no way my equal.
I out Frenched the French.

Seriously, I hated this place by the end of the first day, but I was fair minded enough not to grumble until the second or to state it unequivocally until after breakfast on the third.

That's pretty good of me. Don't you think so?
Considering the amount of coffee I was drinking, I think it was nothing short of a heroic act of charity.
Good on me.

Even as we were standing at Charles De Gaulle airport (about as big and exciting as Melbourne airport - I was shocked) with the boarding pass in my hand, I was experimenting with my brain - trying to focus on what I had enjoyed about Paris rather that what I hadn't.
An attitude of gratitude and all that.

But you know what I found to think about as I stood impatiently at the boarding gate, the keenest person in history to get on a long haul flight?

I thought back to all those devastating moments throughout my life when people have pronounced my name the French way.
Simone - rhymes with scone. *shudder*

It has always offended and sickened me.
You may as well call me a pretentious twat and be done with it.

There were a few years there too, when my mother tried to enforce this rather nasty pronunciation of the name.

You may imagine my surprise and horror to arrive at school the day after parent and teacher night, only to have a teacher apologise to me in front of the class for not pronouncing my name correctly...
Even at the tender age of 12, I was able to put a stop to it with such vehemence that it was rarely heard of again.
Not even Mum dared.

Serial offenders will be prosecuted.
And certainly have been.

Zero tolerance.

After issuing instant and savage corrections, I have occasionally felt the need to sweeten the repudiation by saying something semi good natured like,

"If ever we should happen to meet in France, you may call me Simone."

But not often.
By and large I felt it wiser to leave them swinging in the breeze.

So, as I stood at that boarding gate, desperately trying to stack up a few positives against the tower of Parisian negatives, I smiled pompously to myself and thought,

"Ha! I've been in Paris for 5 full days and no-one's called me Simone!"

Joke's on them!

When I realised that, I felt happy for the first time since leaving Dusseldorf - like I'd gotten away with something even.
Of course, just moments later, as I handed over my boarding pass, the evil witch smiled sweetly at me and said, "Ahh... Simone, oui!"

P.S. Pffffffffffffffft to the French, their mother's smell of elder berries.



Saturday, October 18, 2008

Aggressive Beret Wearing 101 . Part 5.

Well, one way or another, I made it to those damned toilets.

Of course there were but 3 or 4 cubicles to service the busiest tourist attraction in the country, but I have to say that I was not surprised.

As I stood in the queue, I began thinking about all the different types of toilets and taps that I'd seen so far on this journey.

All sorts.

I also thought that of all the incredible things we'd seen and done, the world's toilets would be what I remembered in detail.

...and I was dead right.

There were maybe 4 women in front of me and the door to the ladies was propped open so that the cleaner could bang the dirty mop into your feet even as you stood patiently in line.

There was clearly no ventilation in this facility whatsoever, and once again, I'm fairly certain that she had undiluted urine in the bucket rather than Domestos.
At no stage did I get even the faintest whiff of anything resembling disinfectant.
Disgusting, oui oui?

I also noticed that the tiles chosen for this bathroom were the meanest, nastiest little tiles the 1970's could muster.
You know the ones - they're about 2cm square with half a centimetre of filthy grout between each.

And what colour do you think you'd choose for such tiles if you were planning the decor of the busiest bathroom in France?


Festy, festy little dive.

This is what my head was full of as I stood there.
So, you'll understand why
my mentally occupied sign read engaged as I stood staring intently into the next door washroom, craning my neck to see what kind of strange basin the man was using.

It seemed very low and I was confused as to what it was all about.

So interested was I, that I was all but in there with him, when he turned around and zipped up.

Zipped up!

Who chocks the door to the men's toilet open in such a public place?

The fucking French, that's who.

Happily pissing in front of women and children on the first floor of the fucking Eiffel Tower with a nutty Australian bird trying to cop a good look.
I'd like to read his blog.

He didn't even wash his hands by the way. Think about that next time you eat a baguette.

When I eventually returned to our very dirty table, I said to Jeff, "Well that's it, they've broken my spirit."

Jeff, nonplussed, returned volley by drawing my attention to the old Italian lady sitting next to us who looked exactly like Paulie Walnuts from the Sopranos.

This was our cue to get up and face to next 359 steps to the second level and a more distant view of the same things.

Took plenty of pics.
I had the Sopranos theme stuck in my head for the next 2 days, which is better than the Plastic Bertrand song that saw me through the first 2.

Then there is another level...the very top which may only be accessed by another lift.

A lift you cannot buy a ticket for at the same time you buy your ticket to get to the first and second level.
A lift whose special ticket box is intermittently closed without explanation.
A lift you must queue up for an hour to get onto, leaving many people stranded without a ticket because the information about tickets is at the front of the line.
Did Joseph Heller design this place?

We figured this out before we made it to the lift and Jeff did a rather heroic commando roll to get under the barricade to the ticket box which was now open.
The old Asian couple in front of us didn't and got sent back.

The Nazis were French?
Disorganised and bossy is a woeful combination, it really is.

January 20th - Paris

Same breakfast.
Why don't they use plates here? Yuk, cutting and buttering baguettes on the paper table cloth

We went for a walk to St. Gervais church this morning so that Jeff could pay his respects to his God of comedy, Ricky Gervais, creator of The Office.
Blundered in to a Mass there and blundered back out at no leisurely speed.
It was interesting to note that Mass still sounds like absolute bollocks even when you can't understand a word.

Took the train to Mont Martre and hoofed it up the hill to Sacre Coeur, which is a nice church with plenty of gargoyles and an adequate view.
Nothing much green to look at in Paris though.
As a result, I have discovered that I much prefer natural views or at least semi natural views.

We walked through the Mont Martre markets where we were beset upon by artists of all description who wanted to draw our portraits.
Actually, they insisted.
They were so aggressive that Jeff got pretty cranky with them.

We had a look in one of the cemeteries not far from there, which was awesome.

Their graves look just like my perfect house.

We hoped it was the cemetery that has Oscar Wilde's grave and Jim Morrison's so we could pay our respects to both and have a good solid belly laugh at the Emo kids trying to out art school each other.

Instead we got to see the grave of the deGas family (LMAO) and where they had disintered Dumas from.
Pretty cool.

On the way back, Jeff was questing for the BBQ chicken he had sniffed out earlier and went a little nuts when we couldn't find it.
Poor thing.

We did stumble upon Moulin Rouge though, and may I just say, whoop-di -doo.

Returned to our hotel armed with enough chocolate croissants as are necessary for the task of packing for a long haul flight after 6 weeks of gift shopping.

Soooo looking forward to Hong Kong and the familiarity of Asian culture again. I've really missed that.

Oh, and I did utter a syllable of French after all.
But only because an old lady walking her dog stopped and offered to help us find something on the map.
The word I used was was escalates, which I correctly figured meant stairs.
Damn her and her unsolicited kindness which made me break my vow.

Bloody people.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Aggressive Beret Wearing 101 . Part 4.

Simply not capable of walking a step further, we found the train and returned to St Michel that way.
The Metro is so dirty that you almost want to lay toilet paper on the seat first.
I prefer to stand.

Not just here, but also in London, buskers are prone to hopping on the trains and playing to a captive audience.
The bastards
Jeff termed it public masturbation and I cannot disagree.

We walked through the very lovely Latin Quarter - felt much more like home to us due to the greater cultural mix there.
Plenty of African stores, Arabic stuff and heavy Mediterranean influence too.

The French seem to really like small theatres. Looks like a lots of independent movies playing and people gather on the streets after wards to smoke heavily and discuss.

We were picking our way through the lanes when Jeff jacked on the brakes and drew in his breath sharply by saying,


OMG I remember lamb.

It was a Greek restaurant with a window full of lamb chunks and seafood on skewers.
Fresh raw vegetables!
Not potato, not cabbage, not bread!

The owner quickly spotted 2 Aussies with their faces pressed against the glass, came out to smash a few plates on the cobbles and also to harrass us into the shop.
No problem there.
At this stage in the proceedings, we were prepared to pay whatever it took to bag us some poor delicious bastards.
And we did.
Well, actually I'm not sure what it cost, I don't think either of us bothered to look.

Anyway, suffice it to say that lamb made us both homesick.
As much as we both adore Europe, there's nothing like Sydney for variety.
If you feel like immersing yourself in Asian culture, Indian, Arabic, Italian, German, whatever for a time, you can.
And from where we are, I can drive from Vietnam to Lebanon in 20 minutes.
Hell, Sri Lanka and Sudan are now just up the road too.
It's wonderful.
Let's face it, the more that wicked First Fleet is diluted, there better it is for everybody.

No monoculture here mate.

So, after a harrowing day, tomorrow we're off to Versailles and the Eiffel Tower and it's hundreds of damn steps.
Better be a good gift shop up there.

January 19th - Paris.

Got up early, coffee and baguette breakfast as usual.
Decided to try shoe shopping as they have a much better selection of boots here then in Sydney.
OK, so 3 staff members and 1 customer should mean pretty good service.

Nuh- uh.

It meant turning their backs deliberately to ignore us.

But that's OK, once I figured this out for certain, I helped myself to perhaps 6 pairs of boots and after considering searching for my own sizes, thought better of it and helpfully returned each pair to the wrong location.
And before you decide to think ill of me for that, consider that they would still not have noticed yet.
The French are not service oriented.

Ahh yes, Paris.
Nothing's changes over night I see.

It was nice of me to give it the benefit of the doubt though, wasn't it?

We took the train out to Chateaux Versailles with only one hitch due to poor Parisian labelling.
Found truly excellent chocolate croissants at the station there.
I cannot tell you exactly what was so good about them, but they are magical.
Almost as good as the deadly bacteria filled vanilla slices or festy flavourless pies you might find at any Sydney train station, but not quite.

See, I'm still glass half full over here.
Let's see if I can make it through a whole day?

Versailles has been one of the top 5 places on my list of must see destinations this life time.
I've read so many Jean Plaidy books that I feel I know the place.

When we arrived, we were instantly glad we'd bought Paris passes. They saved us over an hour of queueing even in the dead of winter.
We walked straight in.

Glass half full.

OK, here's a question.

If you need to hire out audio sets, would you first have people queue to buy an audio set and then again to pick it up?
Of course, with this option, you must make sure there are no visual clues for the tourists at all so that you may waste as much of their time as possible.

What utter nonsense.

The French cover up the fact that cannot organise anything by making everything seem as complicated as possible.
The Germans are onto them though.

Each and every time I heard a voice questioning such stupidity, it was pronouncing v's as w's.


Well, after busting a gut to get to this place my whole life, I have to say that I found it underwhelming.
Which is ironic because it's known for it's grandeur and extravagance.

For one thing, the Hall of Mirrors really needs to have it's mirrors cleaned.
Really grotty.

Also, they had the throne etc set up, but whatever pieces of furniture they didn't have, they had made up out of cardboard to give you an idea what it might have looked like...


Obviously the word reproduction has no French translation.

Please try to imagine what an 18th century throne looks like beside cardboard urns and tables.

Uh-oh glass half empty.....

OK, so many things from this place were seized during the revolution and either sold or melted down, but that was a few years ago now.

I'd rate the Versailles gift shop at 2/10.
Just one more example of how the French can't be bothered with tourists.
They got the taking the money part sorted, but anything else is beneath their dignity.

Hence all the tourists getting the shits and taking the piss by the wearing of berets.
I went with lolly pink today.

Marie Antoinette's bedroom was beautiful (and reproduced!) and it really was interesting to actually see the door through which she made her escape as the mob rushed through the throne room with pitchforks.

However, downstairs, not 20 metres away, is a public toilet, which would have to be one of the nastiest I've ever encountered.
Unless the French believe that mopping the floor with urine is in fact a reasonable disinfectant, I see no excuse for this place.

After seeing crazy King Ludwig's replica palace in Bavaria, the original seemed just a washed out shell.
Imitation certainly is the sincerest form of flattery.

I was a little upset by now and so we skipped Petite Trianon entirely. The gardens are it's strong point anyway, and they are all boarded up through winter.

So, we crossed Versailles off my list and skipped out of there like kids knicking off from an school excursion and headed to the Tower.

On the train to the Eiffel, Jeff befriended a group of American students from somewhere near Kansas.
He grilled them about the NFL and I have to say they were the nicest people we'd met all trip.

The Eiffel Tower was easily the best thing about Paris.
There is no angle or distance that makes it look bad.
Every bolt, every hunk of metal is beautiful.

From underneath it reminded me of a lacey petticoat.
It is decidedly feminine, which is funny when you think that it's all just industrial metal.

When you get underneath it, there are 4 queues.
One per leg.

Being tribal by nature, I headed for the South tower.
Jeff headed for the shortest queue, which by chance, was where I was off to anyway.

Apart from a 45 mniute wait just to get close enough to the small sign at the front to be able to read it... WTF, too late by then...Paris, Paris, Paris - get it together already.

Well, apart form that, there was ice water dripping on out heads in copious amounts. We later discovered that this was from an ice statue they had on the first floor.
Stuff the tourists underneath!

So, we persevered with the line, mainly because we really had no choice, and made it to the desk to learn that there is only 1 lift, which is what the long queue was about on the other side...
Naturally the Paris Pass doesn't cover it's most famous attraction, so we shelled out to walk up 400 stairs.

After taking in the view form the first floor, we had a cup of tea and went to the loo.

After three and a half days of being slammed into, nudged, tripped, brushed and smacked into by Parisians, I had finally had enough.
On the first floor of the Eiffel Tower, it happened - I stopped moving for people.
Simple as that.

So, as I crossed the floor to get to the ladies, a staff memeber was heading into my path with 2 bags of rubbish.
He belligerently decided on the shortest route with the least inconvenience to himself, which meant his speeding up and stepping fair into my path rather than waiting that mutually polite beat and negotiating smoothly.

He'd obviously noticed that I'm small and figured that he was more important and that I would move to let him through.

Not a single good manner between them, these people.

I'm trying to imagine barging a customer out of the way at work whilst holding 2 bags of rubbish... nope, no can do.

Imagine his surprise when I moved not a muscle. Unless you count the ones which dropped my shoulder and anchored my feet to the floor.

Simone played chicken and Simone won.
I even made him swear. :O)

I couldn't wipe the grin off my face for hours.

LOL that was one of the best parts of the trip.
I just wish I'd started sooner, although I don't like becoming what I hate.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Aggressive Beret Wearing 101 . Part 3.

January 18th - Paris.

Well, following on from my late night realisation that something was rotten in the city of Paris, we headed, quite literally around the corner to the Pantheon.

Now this I liked.
Kinda like a small St. Paul's in London - good looking domed cathedral, but since the revolution, they discarded the religion and it became more like a monument for French intellectuals and a burial place for their greater minds instead.

Nice. So we paid out respects to Voltaire, Dumas, both the Curie's, Zola (my fave), Victor Hugo, Braille and Moulin.

Oh yay!
A great Paris experience!

Then we walked back down to Notre Dame
, just in time to hear it going bong bong.
So I phoned Adrian who was still in Vienna before his flight home
and shared the experience with him. I interrupted his schnitzel, but that's OK.

By now it was raining and there was such a queue to get up the stairs to the top of the Notre Dame tower that we decided to give it a miss.

After a cafe baguette so crunchy that my gums began to bleed, we both put our umbrellas up and headed for the Louvre.

We hadn't gone too far when Jeff turned to me and said,

"Errrk, we have red and blue umbrellas, we look like Roosters supporters."

OMFG x10
We did too.
Should we split and walk on opposite sides of the rue?

Oh dear, I'd purchased them at separate times, and so was unaware of my gaff.

Fucking Roosters. I hate 'em.

As we walked, I was muttering to myself about the fucking Roosters when it finally dawned on me what it was about this city that was getting under my skin so badly.

How I had not noticed it before I cannot imagine.
Perhaps my brain had blocked it out in order to protect me.

Suddenly, everywhere I looked, there were red white and blue flags, lights, ribbons, streamers, T-shirts.
And I'm talking on everything.
It was horrible.

No wonder I was antsy.
No wonder I felt uptight and provoked.
I was surely in Hell. I had been so focused on dodging dog merde I just hadn't noticed the pitchforks and horns.

Suddenly it all made perfect sense.
The way my Souths sticker had made it all through Hong Kong, UK and Europe unscathed, but didn't last 10 minutes alone in CDG airport....
The staring, the hostility, the inclination to be pretentious and boastful...

The Universe had tricked us into holidaying in
the fucking Chook Pen for 97Eu per night.

Once my head had stopped swimming, I turned to Jeff and explained what was going on.
It was like trying to relate a nightmare to someone.

Jeff being Jeff, helped by exaggerating the situation by also drawing my attention to the sea of Roosters in shop windows.

Le coq!

Fuck it!
They were everywhere too.
It's some sort of hideous national symbol, that fucking thing.

It's like kryptonite to me.

This was a moment of my life I really wouldn't do again for a million dollars.
Never ever ever.

That and the time at a game when the Roosters supporter who wears the rubber glove on it's head touched my hand as we both threw something in the bin.
I considered prosthesis.

OK, so the Louvre is awesome.
But why does my lower back always start to hurt in art galleries?

I love portraits.
Jeff likes huge battle scenes.
Either way, we're both happy poking around in the 15th and 16th century stuff (TWSS).

Now if you run the most famous art gallery in the world, and you leave it open until 9pm, please explain to me why you would close the cafe at 2-3pm.

And why you would have only enough seating for 20 people.
That's quintessential Paris.
They make no effort to accommodate you.
I felt about as welcome as a stray dog the whole time.

So whatever.

We saw the Mona Lisa.
It seems to be guarded by 4 rows of Italian tourists at all times.
That's OK too, because the Venus de Milo is guarded by Asian tourists.

At this point, we were in the Italian Jesus painting section and simultaneously decided that we could no longer tolerate religious imagery, no matter how pretty, historically important or famous.
This is where I heard Jeff say,

"Oh fuck me dead, not this guy again."

I didn't have to turn around to now to whom he was referring.

So, after 5 hours, we thought we'd walk from the Louvre, through le Jardin (OMG grass!), past Concorde, up the Champs d'Elysee and then climb the Arc de Triumph...

Looked like about a 15 minute walk on the map. Easy.

Stopped in a lovely little kiosk (I won't bother comparing the content of an Australian kiosk with that of a European kiosk) and fuelled up on huge hot teas and the legal limit of chocolate croissants.

Being maybe 4 o'clock when we left the Louvre, the "sun" AKA that lighter grey colour that Europe goes during winter days, began turning to that lovely velvetty deeper night grey.
We both love grey weather, so it was pleasant.

But after a day in the Louvre and a huge walk in the morning, it was a long, long way to the Arc.

I'd finished 2 or 3 croissants and 1and a half teas by the time we even made it to Concorde.

By then we figured that we'd come this far, so...

We hit the Champs d'Elysee just in time for them to turn on all the silvery fairy lights.
They were very pretty.
The novelty wore off well before the 2 kms were up though.

I cannot remember being more tired than I was during that hike.
When I look at that map of Paris now and see the distance we covered that day, I still can't laugh yet.
Oh well, you see more on foot, hey?

So, arriving at the Arc and being confronted by hundreds of stairs was less funny still.

But we did and it does afford a comprehensive view up there.

We got to see the Eiffel Tower light up at 6 o'clock, which was nice because it glitters for 10 minutes like a sparkler.

But the view of Paris...I dunno, it's just same no matter which way you look at it.
Blonde brick, curly lamps and vespers.

I did maybe 2 laps of the top of the Arc before I figured out which was the Champs d'Elysee that we'd just trekked down.
OMFG that speck in the distance was Concorde... idiots.

And then they sucker punched me (TWSS)

I was looking at the Champs and Jeff had joined me, when I noticed something grizzly (TWSS).

Firstly, it's so wide and the Arc stands in the middle of it, so you feel as though it's pointing at you.
Each side of the avenue is flanked by the fairy lights as I said - as it grew darker, I can tell you that they were not white or silver and all, but blue.

The effect of that traffic in the lanes between them is of course white headlights coming toward you and next to that, red tail lights going away from you....

One gigantic blue white and red stripe....pointing straight at me...

Suffice it to say I had a very Hitchcock moment up there.
I went dizzy, swayed, felt ill and utterly incensed.
I'm attributing up to 30% of that to low blood sugar, but the rest was their fault.

I felt as though I'd woken up holding a gigantic Roosters banner, and that this fucking dirty little city had staged an elaborate practical joke.

Honestly, I swear I saw stars circling my head just like in the cartoons.

Aggressive Beret Wearing 101 . Part 2.

My usual take on bad experiences that come in quick succession (TWSS), I picked up watching The World According to Garp, a movie a recently named a fish after.

My all time favourite movie scene is when Garp is inspecting a house prior to purchase when a light aircraft flies into it and wrecks it.

He instantly announces, "I'll take it!", later explaining that by his reckoning that the house is "pre-disastered."

Pre-disastered. An excellent concept.

Well, with this in mind, I figured that Paris had thrown all it's garbage at us nice and early and that we were therefore all set for an exquisitely easy and blissful few days.


So we moved hotels and had breakfast at the new place. We are now relieved and happy.

We walked across the Seine and found Saint Chappelle, which although tiny, is spectacular.
Even has a tiled Rabbitoh on the floor and a red and green door. (see pics)

Pity that almost half of it is taken up by the gift shop.
Jeez it's gotta be bad for me to say that, hey?

Then we trudged a good distance to the Hard Rock Cafe to pick up our Paris passes. We had lunch there which was a God awful rip off.
Found an Aussie staff member who was a Souths fan. How do I do it?

He was telling me that as of January 1st, France went smoke free in restaurants etc. hahahahahahahahhaha
That explains why so many really angry looking French people are loitering around outside every cafe.
It's really quite intimidating.
They don't look happy. Or friendly.

Actually, they all look the same. Parisians I mean. Can I say that?
It's outstanding.
Less than a day here and I can tell them at a glance.
Dark, small, pointy and cranky.
They stare at you for inexcusably long periods of time, stand way too close and they walk right into you - even when it's not crowded.

Who walks into an 8 stone woman?
So far, there have been at least half a dozen encounters that I genuinely believe were deliberate.
I don't think I like it here.
Jeff always walks behind me, so I don't think he's noticed any of this yet.

hmmmmmmmm I'm getting all riled up just remembering this stuff...

Trudged back, got lost - everything looks the same here.
It's surreal.
If you turn your head for a second, you're done for. It's impossible to tell which direction you came from (TWSS).

Well, we both turned our yeah. Octagonal blocks don't help any.

And it rained, so by the time we made it back to Notre Dame, we were kinda scruffy.

Notre Dame is nice - but after visiting the cathedral at Cologne just a few days ago and seeing St Matthias in Budapest, meh.

I don't see what all the fuss is about.

In fact, if they ever re-name Paris, my suggestion will be..."what's all the fuss about?"
Everything is smaller, dirtier and less interesting than I've been lead to believe. I feel I've been had (TWSS)

It seems to me that lots of things about Paris are over rated. I don't really know what I was expecting, but so far it's just not hitting me.
Which is good because the aggressive pedestrians still are.
Crossing the road here cannot be any worse that in downtown Calcutta.
The vespers are just ridiculous.
We've seen things on these roads here that defy many of the most basic principles of physics.
And lets' not forget that we've only been here 24 hours...

On a positive note, we did see the Notre Dame cats though- all fat black ones enjoying their dinner.
Why would you look at Jesus when you could be looking at cats?
Contiki have no idea. They should let me re-do their itineraries.

Have yet to see a single blade of grass here. Plenty of dogs though. You do the pavement math.

Now, I like berets.
I wear them even in Sydney, to the football even.

However, I believe I have enough good taste to choose alternate head wear whilst in Paris.
That was until this morning anyway.

After having so many rude experiences, I got a little testy myself (TWSS) and marched into a souvenir shop and purchased 2 green berets, 1 pink, 1 blue and 1 brown - the better the be able to annoy the locals.
Tourists seem to be the
ir Achilles Heel.

I'm wearing my berets aggressively from now on.
Without intermission and without apology.

Fuck it, they're all playing prison rules, why shouldn't I?

And I'm not going to utter a syllable of French either.

Not to alarm you, but I believe we are now in a state of war.

Anyway, I'll sleep it off and hopefully Paris and I can reconcile tomorrow. We're off to the Pantheon, the Louvre, Concorde, Champs d'Elysee and the Arc de Triumph.

I'm counting on the Louvre to save my opinion of this narky little city.

Did I mention that there's something insidiously annoying about this place?

Something ain't right. It just isn't.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Aggressive Beret Wearing 101 . Part 1.

Well I'm thinking it's now time to perform an exorcism on my Parisian experiences.
I'm going to need sage, salt, pine oil, half a dozen black candles, a mirror and artemisia.
And lots of it.

Bit and pieces have leaked out here and there, but the water in the toilet bowl has finally stopped spinning and the final flush is at hand.

I'm even going to do the unthinkable and delve into my travel diary for those few days - something I have not yet had the courage to attempt.

Uh oh, this doesn't look good at all...

January 17th...Paris

Well, once again we are staying in a hotel across the road from a noisy construction site.
Considering the hotel is only a quarter full, you would think they would have placed us in a room elsewhere. Odd.
Actually, I'm not sure this is a room - not enough space for us to even pass each other. We had to throw the bags over the bed as they would not fit between the bed and the walls.
The corridor was just wide enough for my 8 stone frame and was exactly 2mm wider than my suitcase.
Both Jeff's arms rubbed against the walls and we think he may have had a re-birthing experience, we're not sure.
Who do you contact to find out? Should I phone the Australian Embassy?

...hmmm, honey, just wait until you get the full picture...

So, the noise just across the 8 foot wide lane and my cold made sure that we were awake at 6 am.
Tried to ignore it and doze and almost made it, but then the hotel sent workmen up to dismantle to heating at 7am
and to use our door as a stopper for the sheet of metal they were drilling.
Why was I lead to believe that Paris would sound like piano accordions?

Additionally, they were all chain smoking and as the room was as large as an average sized wardrobe, I was having head spins from the nicotine clouds coming under the door.

It just got more and more ridiculous until we just gave in, got up, packed, dressed and left to find alternate accommodation.
Just around the corner, we found Hotel Suez - for 3 EU more per night the room is triple the size and we have a bidet.

What a fabulous thing.

So, we booked 4 nights and then marched back to the shit hole hotel and had to cancel the booking.
No surprises that the frosty cow tried to tell me that we would be charged for all 5 nights despite only staying 1.

While Jeff was upstairs collecting the bags, I looked her fair in the face and told her that whatever she charged would be worth it to get out of this dump.
You may imagine her surprise.
She gave me a hard time but backed off remarkably quickly when a group walked in to inquire about rooms just as I was half way through explaining what I thought of her and her hotel.

The non-verbal mutual agreement seemed to be that if I now shut up in front of the new people, she would not charge me for 4 nights accommodation...
I conservatively estimate that this took 5 years off her life.
I also consider this as my good deed for the day.

Watching her bite back her rage and slam pens around felt fantastic - something like what I imagine the Brits and Prussians felt
like when they won the battle of Waterloo.

Never mind, fresh start.... although, this is my third fresh start here in under 24 hours though...what's going on?

They already wrecked my bag, and worse still, my Souths sticker at the airport, then the taxi we caught from the station to this prick of a joint ripped us off by driving us around many blocks instead of simply telling us that it was just around the corner...
Lovely people the Parisians so far... ain't seen nothin' yet...

Monday, October 6, 2008

Monkey on my back -Take 2

I posted this blog a couple of weeks ago, but have since discovered footage of the very monkey in question, so am re-posting it with the clip.

Isn't he beautiful?

Special thanks to Woody Guthrie for writing the perfect song for my monkey some 50 years ago.


I'm currently taking Ginkgo. And lots of it.

A common use for Ginkgo is as a memory tonic - I'm taking it for other reasons, so the memory thing is more like a side effect for me.

Oh the things that I'm remembering and the connections I am making!

Jesus wept, it's too much.

But one thing I remembered today while busily preparing a nasty tasting herb mix for someone was a moment of time from last December while we were in dear old Wien.

HellBoy had been outrageously sick - to the point where we had to phone a doctor on Xmas day to do a home visit to our hotel.
The doctor was somewhat of an alarmist and suggested that he needed a spinal tap to rule out viral meningitis.
In return, Jeff suggested that he should GGF.

We were refunded for all those un-Godly expenses just this week, which is probably what has put this period of time into my head.

So, after cancelling the Polish leg of the tour due to whatever it was that wasn't viral meningitis, we holed up in Vienna for 4 extra days - hardly any punishment, I can assure you.

On the third day, he rose again, and we took him only as far as the Museum of Torture, and then, because it was down hill from there, into a 5 story Austrian Aquarium of sorts.

One section of this place is a tropical enclosure (indoors) - anything tropical is a big deal over there.
There was a wooden walkway surrounded by tropical trees and bushes, strange birds flying free, turtles, fish, frogs, lizards and so forth.

But also there were monkeys.
Lots of little fuzzy monkeys.

Having been away from home for 2 weeks by this stage, I was seriously cat deprived and in need of some lovin'.
I was shamelessly gazing at these little critters and imagining how similar they might feel to a kitty cat.
How heavy, how warm, how cuddly.
I think my eyes welled up with tears and rolled back in my head a little bit.
But that's OK, the monkey who was looking back intently at me was down with that.

HellBoy was still in the octopus section down the hall and YogaBoy and I were leaning over the wooden railing, watching 2 monkeys groom each other.
Yoga Boy was comparing them to Indian monkeys that lived outside his ashram in Rishikesh.

As he did so, I felt a little kerrrrplop on my back.

I knew instantly what it was -it felt just like my cat Cec used to feel when she would jump onto my shoulders uninvited.

But Cec never picked through my hair looking for fleas...while I was awake anyway.
God knows what goes on when I'm asleep. TWSS
I rarely have fleas - maybe that's why.

As it was winter in Vienna, and owing to the fact that they exasperatingly had no coat room facilities, I was wearing my bulky, hooded, fur lined jacket- thus shielding my delightful parasitic friend from my brother.

I straightened up a little, looked YogaBoy appealingly in the eyes and said,

"Adrian, if I asked you to, would you help me get a monkey off my back?"

He looked at me intently, a flicker of concern passing across his otherwise happy brow.

"Yes, of course."

His response didn't surprise me at all.
Adrian's good like that. Whatever he has, even if it's only honesty, he'll give it to you.

So, I turned 45 degrees to my right, thus revealing my adorable yet preoccupied passenger who was still assisting me by picking through my hair lovingly.

He stayed still for the exclamations, but disembarked once the laughter began in earnest.

Even though I'd so completely enjoyed the encounter and the warm tactile moment we'd shared, my arms ached to hold him and cuddle him like I do Alice or Poppy when I change the linen each week.

I think back to that and genuinely believe that he felt my longing for a cat-like cuddle and extended to me what he thought was a viable option.

A split second after he'd left, HellBoy arrived, and quickly became devastated to discover that he'd missed the whole thing.
And that's a pity, because Jeff's a big fan of the monkey in general.

Never mind.

Anyway, hooray for Viennese monkeys and hooray for Ginkgo.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sim loses it in Vienna.

Sometimes I snort when I laugh.

But I find that funny, and then I laugh even more, so that cancels it out.

Occasionally I have a day where I laugh at everything, usually this happens after something has struck me as funny in the morning.
No-one can predict it and no-one can avoid it.

But I must say that it is often animal related.
That's why we keep cats.

Anyway, I had a day like that in Vienna.

It began with the discovery of the shit shelf in the hotel toilet and eventually culminated with a very cold little dog walking through the courtyard of the Hofberg Palace.

Let's just say it was so cold here that two layers of thermals, wool stockings, various jumpers and a thick winter jacket felt as though they afforded me all the protection of a Lowe's singlet.

As I laughed, my tears were so cold that I had to lean forward so that they'd fall on the pavement.
They snap froze as they hit the 200 year old stones.

This poor little doggie was moving his fuzzy little feets as fast as he possibly could, in order to escape the cold. They were just a blur.
I think what really got me was the sound of the horses hooves clopping in the background which seemed as though they were coming from the dog.

HellBoy was kind enough to film my dignity reducing debacle so that I could share it with you all.
Not that anyone who reads this would be surprised.

BTW If I could name this dog, he would be called Gunther.
But I suspect it's real name would more likely be either, Mitzi or Fritz, which seems a pity.

Anyway, I've lost it in worse places than the Viennese Imperial Palace before and I regret nothing.


Hands up who's surprised that we're now going to both Hong Kong and Vienna?

My hand would be up but I'm typing.

LOL @ me.

Oh dear.

The tone of our trip took quite a turn once YogaBoy arrived for Xmas.

Completely shameless, he is fully capable of impersonating The Masturbating Bear from the Conan O'Brien Show in the streets of Vienna.
And he does it well too.

Compare these.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh those Russians.

For one reason or another, I just had to fossick through our holiday footage.

Mid fossick, I happened upon a clip Jeff had titled "Ruski with 20 kilo camera."

A title like that is always going to interest me more than something like "Historical monument", "Beautiful scenery" or "800 year old painting."

I know I shouldn't be proud of that but I don't know what to do about it.

Please enjoy and bear in mind that our video camera fits in the palm of my hand.

Ohhhhhhhh, those Russians...

Cool hat though.

For anyone who's interested, it's Vienna - prolly out the front of the Kunt Historisch Museum.
But that's a blog for another day, innit.

PS Such a pity Jeff stopped filming when he did because two frames later, James Bond parasailed down and took this guy out.


Not 24 hours after dismissing dear Hong Kong, it's baaaaaaaaaaaack.
My niece is excited about Disneyland and my sister-in-law is excited about shopping.

And maybe it's overthrown Vienna.


In other news, Jeff is delighted that we're going to Predjama castle in Slovenia because Jackie Chan once did a back flip out of it in some dreadful movie.

That's OK, I want to go back to London to gawk at Elizabeth's undies again.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Head full of gravel.

Rolling over last night, I became aware that I was still actively planning our next Euro trip while sleeping.
I suspected as much, but now have concrete evidence, hence the gravel in my head.

Around about 3am, I was pitting the elegant virtue of Vienna against Leipzig and Trieste.
The battle wasn't all that pretty either.

Never mind.

Anyway, I thought that spitting it out might prevent Potsdam taking on Venice tonight, thus sparing my muddle from confusing the Earth's energy any further.

Three weeks of course has become five, and various magnificent cities have been auditioned, only to be cast aside due to reasons I can no longer pretend to guess at.
No Dubrovnik, no Oslo, no Northern Lights or fjords, no Split, no Heidelberg, no Amsterdam (boo), no Cologne.

OK, poor darling Hong Kong bought the farm this trip because it can be stinking hot October and I have to dodge hot weather.
Plus we're out of time.

We can easily duck across to Hong Kong for a week next year.
Also because I discovered that I can take sleeping pills and bomb myself for several hours during long haul flights, thus making the Asian stopover less necessary.
HellBoy informs me that after about three Temaze, I can sleep with my head on my knees.


Paris disqualified itself by being self important, smelly and full of pretentious fuckwits on cheesey romantic weekends.
In fact, Paris can bite me on the fuzz.

Just yesterday, both London (my fault) and Venice (Jeff's fault) made it back into the mix.

By 9:36 this morning, I had to place an urgent phone call, almost waking HellBoy up, to tell him to start mentally preparing for Vienna yet again.

"OK. Good."

Any other response would have surprised me from him.

Should I call him tomorrow and tell him I'd like to collect space shells on Mars, he'd give me the green light without missing a beat.
He knows how much I like shells.

Well, in case I haven't told you, we decided that we'd bring our next Euro jaunt forward a year or so to coincide with Dad's trip.
Jeff's brother, wife and daughter have also decided to join us.

But not for the whole thing.
They are keen to go to Paris and EuroDisney and to Italy.
We are not.

Mickey Mouse + Paris = SIMONE HELL.

Plus, Italian culture is too dominated by Christianity to hold my attention.
Poor Jesus is almost as over exposed in Italy as Mozart is in Austria.
At least Mozart was real though.
And he has chocolates named after him rather than wars.

We all but sprinted through the Italian Renaissance section in the Louvre earlier this year.
I remember hearing HellBoy say,

"Oh fuck me, not this guy again,"
while looking at some crucifixion pic or other.

Anyway, Italy...I gotta tell ya, it's enough with the Jesus already.
Talk about monomania.
I'm trying to imagine my reaction to the Vatican City, better known as JesusDisney.
Quite probably the only place that would let Paris off the hook for being the cuntiest city.

We are having a total of three nights alone(!) after spending time with Tone and Line in Berlin and then are going to re-trace the Tischler and Planinc family footsteps with Dad and Viv through sleepy Slovenia.
After that we meet up with Greg, Giulia and Yasmin in Venice.

At this stage, the itinerary is:

Berlin/Potsdam(4 nights with Tone)
Leipzig (1 night)
Dresden (2 nights)

Slovenia (meet Dad)
Celje (1 night) = birth town
Vitanje (2 nights) = home town
Ljubljana (2 nights)
Bled (2 nights)

Italy (meet Greg and Gules and Yazzie)
Venice (2 nights)

Vienna (3 nights)
Salzburg (3 nights)

Munich (5 nights) incl trips to Rothenberg and Inglostadt

London (4 nights) - return visit to Lizzie's underpants.

I think I feel better with that stored somewhere.
It'll be interesting to see how much it changes before I make final bookings.

So, this time next year, we'll be in Celje.

Of course, my only real concern is that Souths will take this opportunity to make the finals and force a very ugly decision on me.
Those bastards.