My summer holiday with Golden Staph

July 26, 2010

Got a big one; just look at the bathers

My former housemate in Montpellier is a washed out, unemployed 47-year-old, who is nearly 2 metres tall and who neighbours call The Ogre. Presumably that means I was his trusty ass.

He’s happy-go-lucky; being an alcoholic, the glass is always half full, as long as the rum bottle is nearly empty. But his humour is infectious and his heart is golden, which is why I fondly refer to him as ‘Golden Staph’.

I hadn’t seen him in a year, so passing through Montpellier last week was a good opportunity to catch up on all that hadn’t happened.

Particularly heartening was the fact the wheelie bin was still in his room. He had hauled it up there 2 years ago as the prototype of his world-beating invention; a wheelie bin with a foot pedal.

This ingenious contraption was just like any other bin, except its lid would be opened via foot pedal.  Unfortunately, while passers-by could now more easily open the bin, the garbage truck no longer could.

Blessed with a sunny weekend, we decided to take a tour on the small fishing boat belonging to a friend of Staph’s that he had been working on.

Arriving at the small jetty, we clambered onboard. Staph disappeared to get some petrol, returning to inform us that there was none to be bought. However, he knew a friend who had a boat in the nearby marina, and more importantly, knew where said friend kept his emergency petrol tank.

In theory we could have converted Staph’s bottle of alcohol into fuel, but with all the messing around, his supply of bootleg alcohol was also now running perilously low.

We chugged up the waterway to the marina. Having first borrowed a friend’s boat, Staph was now about to borrow another friend’s petrol. But, as they say, a friend in need is a friend indeed – and there was no doubting that Staph was always in need.

It was a scary feeling to leave the safety of the marina and head to the open Mediterranean sea, particularly as this meant there was no longer an enforceable speed limit.  I’m familiar with the concept of water being like glass; but as my backbones compressed with every gallant leap through the waves, I felt the water to be more like a jar.

While safety might not have been at the forefront of Captain Staph’s mind, fishing certainly was. Casting 2 rods, he then donned a scuba mask with intention of chasing the fish on to the hooks. The mask one of those oval shaped relics of the 1970s. Not liking the sensation of how it blocked his nose, he placed it in a way that made it as airtight as a pair of reading glasses.

Friends indeed

With an almighty duck dive, he then face-planted the water, surfacing moments later with a question mark hovering over is uncovered eyes, asking not “Where’s the fish?” but “Where’s the mask?”

“It’s sinking,” we told him. “Too bad you lost it, because it would be useful now that you need to dive for it.”

As the level of light got dimmer, so did the plan. We were now hunting squid, we were informed, which required us to charge through the water trailing the distended lines at speed behind us.

He thus accelerated full throttle towards a seagull one nautical mile away, explaining that to find the fish, real fishermen first find the birds.

Pulling up at the buoy that had seemed so seagull-like just moments ago, we noticed both our fishing lines were running taut.

Reeling in the first, we saw that we’d caught 2 small shrimp-like creatures; one of which was attached to the second fishing line, and the other attached to the first. Bravely untangling the two lures, he recast the rod, only to catch on to the shirt collar of Marie, who was sitting barely 2 metres away. Good way to catch birds, but not fish.

This man does not want to be identified.

A flock of flamingos flew over the horizon, marking the fact the sun had now gone down. It was time to head home, and not a moment too soon. Entering the marina, the boat conked out. The end of the petrol. Contemplating how to advance, our eyes were drawn to a strange creature limping through the surface of the water.

It looked like one of Staph’s lures, but was three times larger and covered in a black ink. All the effort to find a squid and we never needed to leave the harbour; but that wouldn’t have been half as fun.

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Shit-a-brick lane

July 19, 2010

Shi ton Street, East London

It was a sign as literal as it was inauspicious: on the street called ‘Shipton’, someone had whited-out the ‘p’.

At first glance it was a humorous adaptation, and only later, with the benefit of hindsight, did we realise the ominous warning concealed.

The 3 of us thought we had nothing to fear as we set off that morning from within the heart of East London’s curry corner, Brick Lane.

Elsewhere in the world, Pakistanis were reeling from appalling double suicide attack. But for the sun-keen Brits, the thought of killing themselves that day, albeit by skin cancer, seemed only appealing.

We were a day too early for the famous flower market; but in it’s place was a food stall selling deliciously smelling and disastrously sounding Ethnic and organic foods. I polished off some Polish pork pastries, gulped homemade jus de pomme with aplomb, and drained a diarrhoea-inducing Vietnamese coffee.

London Fields abutted the market, and, after buying some beer and cider at the off-licence, we entered its green expanse to finish our lunch.

In London’s summertime, the city is brought alive. This is because with the parks and fields open, there are substantially more places to sit, chat, and importantly, get merrily pissed.

Pls Mojito man sell me your vaguely alcoholised mint drink

One enterprising young man had mixed up some horrendously cheap rum with warm lemonade and was selling it as home-made mojito. It’s amazing how tasty that can sound when it only costs 2pounds 50.

The group next door meanwhile preferred to buy cocaine from a well shady dude. Or at least he was a ‘well-shaded’ dude, as he was wearing a transparent green sun visor. They snorted the lines loudly off their ghetto blaster. Here’s a tip for discreet drug users: if you’re going to do something illegal off the top of your stereo, maybe turn it off first.

A hula hoop workshop was in full swing. Dozens of people followed the instructions of a lithe raven-haired woman who looked like she’d stepped out of an American diner and into a large loop.

People spun hoops on the hands, gyrated them around their bodies, and circled them around their necks. One guy was so good he even shot the hoop off his neck and into the face of a 10-year-old kid; a true ‘ring of misfire’.

Under a cluster of trees we found a clear patch of ground and sat down to enjoy. Oh what a joyous Saturday this was becoming.

Megan had just finished the halfway point of her vegan burger (in London’s hippy-hearted east, eating vegan foods is considered the height of good taste, if not also the height of no taste), when a wet substance flecked onto her bra strap and started to slide down towards her bosom.

Glancing down to see what had happened, her mildly tanned face turned an English shade of pale as she fully comprehended the situation.

Catching our attention with a loud shriek, we saw that the wetness was actually an enormous, oozing green bird shit, roughly the size of a fist, that was making a beeline for her ample bosom. We rushed for absorbent materials. Biodegradable brown paper napkins, burger buns; we sought anything to soak up the slimy turd that had so suddenly turned up.

But as we did so, Lucy now cried out in surprise. Another bomb had dropped from above, incapacitating the napkin she was reaching for. My satchel, already pooh brown, now took a hit, and I lost interest in helping Megan for fear of suffering a similar fate.

Leaving a trail of half-eaten halhoumi in our wake we fled to safer ground, meaning ground that was devoid of the shady trees that shelter the terrorising pigeon sky rats.

Hours later, recovering in the safety of our enclosed room we turned on the news. More than 100 Pakistanis had died in the terrorist bombings that morning. Just like our pigeon attacks, they had occurred just moments apart to ensure rescuers were also hit, and inflict maximum carnage.

Painted birds are safer

My Girona

July 13, 2010

Spanish towns looking for some economic revival could have worse things happen than for Ryan Air to starting calling you ‘Barcelona’.

Off his tweets

Off his tweets

For example, Spanair could also take you under its wing –  in which case your town might experience a brief moment of lift-off before suffering a devastating and well-publicised crash.

I was heading to a villa in Girona’s bushy outskirts; keen to not only see the 20 friends who were staying there, but also whether the Catalan town was more than just a poor man’s Barcelona.

While not as geographically close to Barcelona as Ryan Air pretends (only more than one hour away), Girona is close to its southern big sister in other ways. For example, the locals still don’t necessarily speak Spanish; and the abundance of cheap alcohol is matched only by the over supply of southern French tourists.

As the plane in Spain fell gently on the lane that passes for Girona’s runway, one thing was clear – and I’m not talking about the aisle, which was already filled with fat English people. They were eagerly removing items like they’d just discovered packet crisps on discount at Tesco’s.

Rather, with an outside temperature of 36 degrees it was clear I wouldn’t be needing the jeans, jumpers and leather shoes that had seemed such essentials when leaving Paris.

Girona was hot. How hot was it? “So hot I’m going to get my psoriasis out,” said an Australian waiting outside with his friends. He unbuttoned his short-sleeved striped shirt and ripped it open at his chest. Seeing someone so eager to reveal an unsightly skin condition, I concluded that it must be hot.

We sauntered in to the baggage hall. ‘Wanted,’ said the poster on the wall, above six profile photos of ETA terrorists that looked to have been downloaded from their Facebook pages.

With no inbound passport control, the authorities obviously didn’t give weight to the possibility the Basque freedom fighters had been camping out in Paris at the weekend. Either that, or they were in their office waiting for the terrorists to update their status on Facebook.

Exiting the airport, I realised that Girona was cheap. A return shuttle bus ticket to town cost the same as an orange juice in Paris, and also lasted considerably longer.

My friend was due to pick me up in town, but he’d sent an early morning texto which suggested not only that I take a cab, but also that he had not yet slept and was probably in no state to drive.

I replied to ask if he needed anything from town. After discovering a party goods store next to the taxi rank, I was now only carrying things he couldn’t possibly need. These included an inflated blow-up parrot, cowboy hat and a hobo-dress up costume.

For its part, the hobo costume was destined to be a future birthday present for a friend. Essentially, the kit contained a hat and cigar. While the hat was a neat touch, I thought it would be more authentic if it didn’t contain a cigar, and instead the hat-clad reveller should be forced to ask others if they could spare a smoke.

Incidentally, one thing I did actually need to come with was a 40-year-old bass player from a Spanish hard rock band, namely because he was driving the taxi.

Arriving at the magnificent villa, I discovered it to be a 1550s building that had been suitably Australia-fied with swimming pool and barbeque.

My friend greeted me. His eyes were the colour of cooked prawns, while the scars on his legs bore witness to an early morning impromptu mountain climb.

Looking at him in his sorry state I realised another point in common between Girona and Barcelona. Both rhyme with hangover.

Girona...So hungover

I don’t know your name, but I’ll pretend…

June 23, 2010

Foreign names are a constant source of humiliation for French and foreigners alike. So much I learnt 2 years ago during language school in Montpellier, but I’ve recently had reason to remember the lesson.

The first occasion was October last year. An Australian friend of Megan was here studying art. I met some Australian artists one day at the bar and decided to get her down to do some networking.

After scrolling through the A-B-C of my phone, I realised I had no idea of the girl’s name. Oh well. Networking fail. A day later she emailed me, and I suddenly remembered her name was Denika. If only I’d gone to ‘D’ in my phone.

On Sunday, Jay and I were walking to the Chinese supermarket to buy coconuts and basil when I ran into some Swedish people. I knew them through acquaintance and possibly Facebook too – though with 700+ Facebook friends, not everyone gets a Christmas card, if you get my drift…

They were 3, and we were 2. While custom dictates that I should introduce them by name to my friend, the problems were two-fold:
– I only knew 2 of their names
– I hadn’t briefed Jay to introduce himself
I thus opted for the very quick nonsense escape excuse, saying, “Hi –have to buy coconuts and basil – bye.”

Later, once I’d recalled the missing name, I replayed new endings to the scenario in my head.

….“This is Anna,” I said confidently to Jay, and she nodded. “This is also Anna,” I said, gesturing to the second, gaining a smile of success. And then, hesitating too long, I said “and this is ‘I don’t know’.”
The third woman smiled. Jay extended his hand and said “Jay.”
She extended hers and said, “I know.”
Jay: “But how?”
Her: “No, my name is ‘Ai-no’.”
Me: “It would be easier if you changed it to ‘Ai-don’t-no’.”

Of course, all this goes back to Montpellier, where I shared class with some people who’s names deemed them to be permanently forgotten, if their looks hadn’t already done the job.

Montpellier, January 2008
School is back, and the class is suitably diverse. Chinese architects, Syrian mums, Venezuelan 20 year-olds, and all of us students. The broad collection of foreign names has again proved a problem for French teachers not used to teaching in multicultural societies.

The teacher’s introductions started thus, with a Turkish 19-year-old girl: “What’s your name – Gulse? Strange name. We don’t have that in French. Do you have a French name? Good, yes Julia. Fine.

“‘Fei?’ Chinese? How do I pronounce that? No, not possible. That name cannot be pronounced in French. I’m going to call you Phillipe. It rather sounds the same, n’est-ce pas?”

Then to the next person, a 25-year-old Architect from Cheng-du, China, called Qi. “How do I pronounce that? ‘Qui’? Sounds like the French word for ‘who’. That’s about right. Yep, no, this name is not possible either.”
So she gets the class involved. “Allo. Can anyone think of a name we can call her?”
“How about Clementine?” I suggested.
“Yes, that’s a very sweet name. I like Clementine. Ok, from now on you will be called Clementine.”
I didn’t then know that Clementine means ‘mandarin’ in French.

We met our second teacher the next day. She made everyone create a name tag to sit on their desks. But confusion reigned supreme. Half the class was not sure whether to now use their new adopted names or their traditional ones – as per the class roll. “You have adopted names? Oh, that is so sweet! But I don’t have any trouble pronouncing your original names,” says the teacher. “C’est comme vous voulez.”

The newly-baptised found themselves divided into two camps – those who quite like their new names, such as Xiao Jia/Maggie, and those that clearly detest them, such as Satea/Sandrine.

“Clementine? Oh that’s a sweet name. Do you know what clementine means?” asked the teacher, reaching in to her handbag and pulling out a mandarin.

The close call

June 16, 2010
The first generation iPhone.

The lesser known d-i-y-Phone

Someone recently posted this question on the Ask website:

What does it mean when you dream that the phone is ringing and you wake up and find no evidence…that anyone actually called?

The question was resolved by a user called Emily, who said:
That’s a “wake up call”, adding “it happens to people once in their life time.

The source she gave for this answer was “experience”.

Unfortunately for my friends, it happens rather regularly; and all because I can’t be trusted with a telephone.

Just the other morning, in my slumbered hurry to turn back my alarm another hour – it was only 8.30, after all – the phone dropped out of my hand and miraculously called Clarisse.

Normally when I pick up the phone to her, I start off with a slurping lick-lipping sound and then, in my best Anthony Hopkins voice, say “Hello, Clarisse…”

In this instance, she heard nothing, however. Thinking something was therefore wrong, she rang back. Anyway, it was all a terribly boring mixup that involved a lot of both of us asking “no, you called me…”.

In any case, the phantom phone call she was privy to was certainly at the boring end of my scale. Right at the other end of that scale, is my boss from the Police magazine in Melbourne. One morning, she came to work with an smile a hippopotamus would be proud of. At lunch time she cracked.

“Ok, I just have to tell you!” she told me. “I can’t keep it a secret any longer!” It should be noted that the “it” she was talking about, was far from a secret, having been told to everyone at the office already except for me.

She proceeded to recount how on waking up Sunday morning she saw there had been a  missed call from me. How unusual, a missed call on Sunday morning.

At 1.15am. Diligent I may be, but this was probably not a call about official business. Half her luck, I’d apparently left her a voice mail. A 17-minute long voicemail, that she listened to in its entirety, twice, just to make she had properly noted “all the good bits”.

The mail started off with some ambient noise. The phone had been in my pocket and I’d sat on it. The first voice was a girl’s voice, giving directions to her house. She thought she’s already hit jack-pot here, assuming I was on my way home with some girl and had accidentally rung her. I was there too, ranting about some “documents” or some such.

But then she heard a third voice – a rather tetchy Indian-accented voice that quite clearly said: “Please Sir, You cannot do that in the taxi, Sir!”

If that sounded bad enough, my response was even more incriminating.

“It’s alright, I work with Victoria Police,” my voice was heard saying.

From what I can piece together from the fragmented memory of that night, we were actually heading out – not home. We were actually a few guys, and a girl friend, who had had wanted to swing past her house to collect her handbag.

As for my ‘illegal’ activity, I’d suggest it was either someone mundane as sitting without a seatbelt, or drinking a beer. And even if my boss’ suspicions were true, is it illegal to make out with someone in the backseat of a moving taxi? Even for those who work with the police?

Putting the ‘ugly best friend’ line into professional context

May 24, 2010

Working in a communications agency, maintaining a good client relationship is very important.

With a new HR woman starting at work a few months ago – I decided to demonstrate to her how good my interpersonal skills were.

The perfect opportunity arose on Friday. It was the first proper hot day of the year, and instead of buying lunch and sitting on the canal, as I often do, I instead brought out my office desk chair and set it up outside the front door of the office, joining some friends who had done likewise.

Once I’d eaten, I rolled my sleeves up to my shoulders, and unbuttoned my shirt to my waist, and sunk down into my chair, much like I do inside the office.

The HR woman came out for a cigarette. I’m always intrigued by people who work in HR and careers counselling – do they decide at an early age that it’s the right job from them?

If so, by what criteria do they decide this? If they more like sorta just became an HR person, then why should anyone listen to their advice about career development?

In any case, this young woman is very friendly, outgoing, and far from the timid little mouse we had before. She’s also sporty, and probably has the physical strength that’s required to keep our agency’s revolving door turning continuously in the fashion it always has.

I engaged in conversation. The obvious line was to ask her where she was living. “Was she looking for a place in central Paris?” I asked, as I am in need of two new roommates by September.

She responded that she was looking, though didn’t acknowledge my generous offer, which I took to be a rebuke.

She continued, “but if you’re looking, I have several friends who are also wanting rooms in shared apartments.”

It’s never to early to vet potential roomies. “Are they good-looking?” I asked, a standard, and important, follow-up question.

“Oh shit yeah!” she said. “My friends are really good-looking.”

“So that would make you their ugly best friend?” I inquired, explaining that every good-looking girl always has an ugly best friend.

To her credit she laughed it off, leaving me to ponder alone why – given my stellar relationship skills –  my 2 room-mates are abandoning me.

Angus and Julia Stone concert Paris: live music autists

May 9, 2010

The difference between being artistic and autistic is only one letter. For further proof, look no further than Australia’s most prolific new-folk practitioners, Angus and Julia Stone.

On Friday and Saturday night, this brother/sister duo played two gigs at the rustic Café de la Danse. The concert was sold out, indeed it seemed many more tickets had been sold than seats were to be had. In the absence of rafters, audience members were instead packed on top of each other.

I sat on Marie, who sat on a beer that had been left on a stair. The woman in front of me sat with her back pressed against my leg, and bum on the pointy end of my pointed-toe shoe.

The support act, Ben, set the mood for the evening. “It was great to be in Paris, and not in London,” he enthused – for while his songs were depressing, he had a positive, wide-eyed charm that won him many admirers.

He started playing the guitar with it laid flat on his knees, moving up and down the strings like a percussionist more than a guitarist, and tapping his fingers all over the instrument to great effect. When he sung, it was in a whining coo that started to grate a little after three songs, but he didn’t play many more.

At interval, more people where hustled into the room. There were now so many people fighting for bum space that venue resembled the inside of a Chinese shipping container bound for Naples.

Angus and Julia took to the stage; he had an enormous nest of hair covered by a hat and complemented with a just as bushy beard. She wore red shoes.

“I love your shoes!” yelled someone from the balcony.

“I don’t like your shoe,” the women sitting on my foot quietly added.

By the third song, the audience turned their attention to Angus. “Say something Angus!”

But he didn’t, or couldn’t. It seemed he was simply too shy. He was clearly talented –his songs were the most well-received– but his social interaction hovered around the autistic level, and had all the stage presence of a piece of carpet, which on this stage, was none.

Nevertheless, what he lacked in outgoingness, his sister had by the bucket-load. She often spent many of his solo songs on the sides of the stage doing the peculiar hand twirl dance I’ve only ever seen Australian hippies do at free music festivals.

By the fifth song my legs were really sore. I had spent five months travelling Africa in local buses, and with my legs now pressed into my chest cavity, I was starting to have vivid flashbacks of all the captive busride conversations endured with American Peace Corps volunteers. I stood up to stretch them out, regretting wearing the jeans that are so tight they make sitting down almost impossible (apparently I can sleep standing up in them though).

Still, if the seating situation was uncomfortable, it was nothing compared to what happened during the encore. The other musicians had left the stage, and Angus and Julia were standing at the front, playing a song that went something along the lines of “Goodbye, goodbye…goody bye bye.”

Perhaps overwhelmed by the emotion of it all, or another more subtle trigger, a girl in the front row suddenly feinted, falling unconscious into a huddle of people who then dragged her through the audience to the door at the right of the stage.

All the while the two musicians had to continue playing – sharing a few disconcerted looks at each other, but not otherwise acknowledging the fact someone was now lying in recovery position only 3 metres away. It rather broke the spell of the song, but, with all this action happening off stage, it was the perfect excuse for Angus to quietly say thank you and disappear.

There’s nothing like Westin toilets

May 3, 2010

Unrelated image of a fish I found floating in the Marais near my house.

Parisian bars are typically hole-in-the-wall joints with hole-in-the-floor toilets. At an educated guess, there’s more Turkish toilets in Paris than in Turkey.

I’m not sure the reason for this Gallic persuasion for squatting on your bot, but it might be to do with practicality; and I’m only referring to the practicality of cleaning the toilet.

After my esteemed career as a high school janitor, I know how unpleasant it can be to clean a complete toilet – by complete I mean one with a seat and cistern. Much more fun than to splash some bleach and aim a hose; 2 seconds later it’s clean.

Some toilets on the street are cleaner than those in bars. Paris gained international fame a few years ago for installing self-cleaning toilets on the footpaths of busy streets, (and sure, this city has had claims to fame before, but one can’t rest on one’s laurels).

Perhaps inspired, some bars have taken on board the concept of the self-cleaning toilet. At the so-called Horseshoe bar in the Marais, Le Petit Fer au Cheval, toilet-goers are advised to be nimble.

The bathroom might resemble something like the interior of Dr Who’s Tardis, in so much as the amount of steel and chrome used, but the toilet itself is anything but futuristic. A stainless steel squatter (oh how they like to think these things are stainless, but they are not!) that when you flush, the water rushes up and over like the incoming tide at Mont St Michel. Better unlock that door in advance or you’ll find yourself ankle deep and rising.

I digress.

Last night, my manager invited me to take a drink at the Westin hotel. It’s a bit of posh bar, and certainly not one I’ve ever been seen in, or would ever be able to affordably drink in.

I entered through the door on rue Rivoli to find the bar’s famous boudoir. A boudoir is apparently a women’s room – and should not to be confused with a boudinnoir, a sausage made of pig blood and flour.

When I say that the Westin’s boudoir is ‘famous,’ I mean in the sense that the bar makes a point of advertising this feature; after all, with its location opposite the swish Tuilleries gardens they were hardly going to be advertising cheap happy hour drinks prices.

My destination was the courtyard terrace. Upon arriving, I scanned quickly to look for the table where she and another colleague were allegedly sitting. Neither were answering their mobiles; neither was apparently there.

To bide my time, I tried to find the bathrooms. This place was so posh it made me want to say bathrooms, not toilets. Not finding anything remotely resembling a toilet door, I at last stumbled into what looked like from the outside a janitor’s closet. It was marked with a disabled users sign. Jackpot! For disabled people, disabled toilets must be a key benefit that can be enjoyed at the expense of the more able-bodied – what, with the large mirrors, privacy, and room to manouvre.

The Westin took this idea even further – here was a long corridor lined with toilets in individual cubicles. I imagined a wheelchaired person rolling up and down the length of the tiles pushing on each cubicle door till he found the toilet that most tickled his fancy.

Perhaps each cubicle had a different literary theme – the interior décor of each designed to reflect a different literary masterpiece; from Nabokov’s Lolita – which would have a peephole into the girl’s toilets; to an Alice in Wonderland interior, that might have nothing but a rabbit hole.

Flummoxed by choice, I did what any man does in this situation and chose the first toilet that had its seat up. Approaching a public toilet with its lid closed always fills me with a sense of trepidation; you never know what you’re going to find.

I had a pee, wiped the floor, then tried again but this time aiming more carefully. With my mind and bladder now free of pressure, I was almost whistling when I exited the stall – and found myself face-to-face with a rather handsome woman.

“This is the men’s toilets, right?”  I asked.

As happens so often, my brain knew that something wasn’t quite right, yet chose to not entertain the most plausible reason. It was the type of question that I probably should have been asked while still outside the bathroom.

“No, I think it’s the women’s,” she replied.

‘Where to go from here,’ my ever helpful brain asked.

“Well, it’s always good to check what life’s like for the other sex,” I found my mouth saying.

Maybe the woman didn’t understand me, or maybe she did, because she then said, “Are you Russian?”

Only in the sense of ‘rushin’ to get out of here. I was neither a woman nor disabled, which gave me good little reason to be here.

Once outside, in the unisex corridor, I walked back to the terrace. With friends still not in sight, I briskly left.

Riding home, I reflected on my night at the Westin bar. I had essentially travelled 30 minutes to get there, walked in, peed in the women’s toilet, then left. But I had a backup plan – another girlfriend was at La Perle bar near my house. It has singular, squishy, unpretentious doorless Turkish toilets, but as such, there is far less room to create awkard moments of discomfort.

The boring hair scare

April 19, 2010

The poll was called, the votes were counted and the results are final. I officially have “boring hair”.

Two days after lopping off two summers’ worth of foppish mop, my beloved colleagues presented the petition to me.

‘Sam’s hair has taken a turn for the BORING,’ it said in large letters up the top, with ‘boring’ written in caps just to emphasise the point.

Well happy fucking birthday to me.

At work, the top 3 list of things I am known for are colourful socks (compensating dull personality), long lunch breaks (compensating short breakfast) and big hair, which compensates for nothing.

My work ethic, professionalism, and ability to sit still without fidgeting were surely items 4,5 and 6 on the list.

The petition, signed by such hair luminaries as Tina Turner, Winnie the Pooh, Phil Spector (obviously phoned in from his jail cell) and God Himself, landed on my desk at 10.30.

At 11.00, the boss called me over. I took the petition with me. “Is it about the petition?” I asked her when I had taken a seat next to her desk. “I notice your name is not on it.”

She forced a smile.

“Actually, I received a complaint about you from a client.”

“Oh,” I responded. “Well if it’s about the new hair cut, he should just have signed the petition like everybody else.”

These hair gurus have lost faith in my fringe

These hair gurus have lost faith in my fringe.

La vie en rose – or how not to reject rose sellers in Paris

April 7, 2010

Would a Parisian dining experience be as sweet without a visit by the ubiquitous rose seller?

Yes, probably, but just like good service, it’s rarely going to happen, so you might as well get used to them. (They are but a minor annoyance though, unlike the busking musicians who demand your full attention for half-strummed versions of half-baked ballads.)

Rose sellers are usually South-East Asian Muslims, working a job that allows them to pay visits to the mosque without paying tax. (Check out Miniya Chatterji’s comprehensive dissection of the South-East Asian Muslim community in Paris.)

As captured in this slideshow, they buy they their roses from large depots out near Orly airport or from Parisian boutiques on the sly. Buckets of bouquets in hand they hit the town, entering all the chicest bars and restaurants with street frontage. It’s basically like going out on a first date, every night of the week; and then getting rejected, every night of the week.

Indeed, the vendors are nothing if not accustomed to being knocked back. The most common technique is a quick “Non merci,” inserted in the sentence you’re saying like a second clause.

Otherwise a simple grimace and headshake will usually suffice.

Restaurant or bar patrons are ill-advised, however, to use the technique I employed on Saturday.

At a dingy bar in Montmartre with my embarrassing English friend, I thought I’d up the ante. Last week she got caught in a bar toilet acting like she was masturbating. No reason, I thought, not to continue her mental association between bar life and humiliation.

Thus when the rose seller approached us, I hit him with a ready-made line that a friend had suggested.

When he waved the rose in our direction I retorted, “No thanks, I’ve already slept with her.”

I’m not sure what response I’d anticipated, but it wasn’t the one he gave me, which was to say, “I’m just very poor,” delivered with a tone of rejection and a face of dejection.

It seems like my English friend will continue to associate bar life not just with embarrassment, but wankers too.


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