Sunday, July 16, 2006

The British like to think of themselves as a nation of animal lovers, it appeals to their sense of identity. Having lived in the UK for most of my life, I'm not so sure that it's true. It seems that stories such as this one are all too commonplace in the news.
The French on the other hand, they make no such claims, stick something with four legs, fur and a cute face in front of them and they're as likely to eat is as they are to cuddle it.
Having said that, if they do take an animal as a pet, you can be sure it will be treated with a care and attention so often found lacking in the way UK pets get treated. Yesterday I visited Cimetière des Chiens on the banks of the river Seine in the Asnières district of Paris. This is the worlds first recorded Pet Cemetery (opened in 1899 ) and counts some rather famous residents amongst it's internees, including, I was surprised to learn, Rin Tin Tin , Star of the silver screen. Of course when one hears the words Pet Cemetary one tends to think of a shoebox containing deceased hamster, hastily buried at the bottom of the garden, with maybe a little makeshift cross fashioned out of lollipop sticks. This place couldn't be further from that image, it is to all intents and purposes a typical cemetery with the sole exception that it contains animals and not humans. The gravestones are laid out in traditional style, some simple and dignified, some overbearing and kitsch to a degree that would have caused Liberace to blush with embarrassment. Standing proudly at the entrance to the cemetery is a monument to a Saint Bernard who went by the name of Barry. Barry was a mountain rescue dog, his monument tells us, he saved 40 people and died in 1841 saving the 41st. It isn't just domesticated animals who are buried here either, there is at least one wolf, one bear, various monkeys and the occasional horse. One last thing to note about Cimetière des Chiens is that a well as it's inhabitants who have passed on, there is a thriving colony of cats who have made it their home. they spend the day sunning themselves around and on the marble headstones, probably to the great consternation of the the doggy spirits buried there.

Check out more photos at my flckr account

Friday, July 07, 2006

Where to begin?

OK, First post in Liquorice Bomb, here goes.

Well, this is an account of my day last Saturday, which may seem late to some, but considering I have been meaning to start a blog for years, it's pretty good by my standards.
The day started off with a meeting in the American Church in Paris, that lasted about an hour and a half.After the meeting was finished I decided that the weather was too good to take the Metro, opting instead to take a stroll down the banks of the Seine, towards Place de la Concorde.
As previously mentioned, the weather was beautiful, the sun was splitting the trees as we say in Norn Iron.I crossed over the bridge near the American Church to the other side of the river and the first thing I noticed was this couple in full wedding dress, having their picture taken at the corner of the bridge against the backdrop of the Seine and the Eiffel Tower.
They both looked immaculate in that annoying way that French people seem to manage, and despite the heat, they gave off a distinct air of cool.
As well as the official photographer there were about a dozen tourists taking pictures of them as well, and the couple seemed happy to pose for anyone who wanted to take a snap (Yeah, I know, I really need to get a digital camera, so that I don't have to describe these scenes).
Then I noticed something odd.There were no other guests in the vicinity, no official wedding cars or the like, nothing, nobody.
I guess the couple were models posing for some wedding magazine or advertisement.

Continuing on I walked down to Place De la Concorde and the Paris branch of W.H.Smith (an absolutely essential stop off for any English speaking expat).
I had a good browse and managed to find a copy of Christopher Hitchens Letters to a young Contrarian, a book recommended by someone over on SluggerO'Toole (My first plug, please take note Mick).
Satisfied with my purchase, I hopped on a metro at Tuilieres and scooted on over to Place de Republique for a browse around the import video games shops, and afterwards a beer in one of the local cafés.
It all felt very French, sitting in the café smoking a cigarette and leafing through a book of political essays, truth be told, it felt a bit too French and I put the book away because I had this overwhelming sense of looking like a bit of a twat.

This being Paris, and a Saturday, there were of course the political demonstrations, there's always political demonstrations in Paris.Today it was the turn of the Sans Papiers (no papers) a name given to those refugees who live in the country (sometimes for decades) but haven't been given official papers, which makes their life pretty difficult, given that the police have a right to stop you any time and demand to see your identity documents.

After my sojourne I walked back up to the Place de Republique,where there was some sort of African carnival taking place, lots of floats and truck, with drum and African music of various styles, with some very tasty semi clad dancers.

Looking at my watch, I realised I had an hour before the England game started.That gave me just enough time to get across to the other side of Paris, grab a few beers and head to a friends house to watch on his big telly.
Surprisingly (at least to me) England is seen as something quite cool by a lot of younger people in Paris,and my friends were all supporting them in the match (not only that, I walked into his appartement to see a huge England flag on the wall above the television).Well, we watched the match, and you all know how it went, mucho disappointment all around.
However, we picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves down, girded up our loins and prepared ourselves for the France/ Brazil game.
We had some dinner then headed out to the little pub where we were going to watch it.
By the time we arrived it was already too packed to get inside, but this wasn't a problem, since they had a huge screen and the wall practically opened up so that you could see everything from the street.In fact, it turned out to be an advantage, given that it was so bloody hot.
Well, you know how that match turned out as well, but I don't think you can understand just how mental everything got, unless you were there.
Much singing and dancing in the street, as you would expect, except for those amongst our party who were supporting Brazil of course.

It was getting late so I said my goodbyes and headed for the metro, thinking that the festivities were over, I couldn't have been more wrong.
My stop was at the end of the line, so the Metro was empty and it was easy to get a seat, but all changed at the next stop.
As we pulled into the station I could hear the crowd singing Allez les Bleus, Allez le Bleus! over and over again.
They poured into the train and within seconds it was jampacked, I was so grateful to have gotten a seat earlier.
The crowd was mostly young people, late teens, early twenties, and despite the chaos, it was all very friendly.The singing and screaming never stopped, you could feel the whole train swaying from side to side as we travelled along.
It was obvious that every station we pulled into could hear us coming, they just stood on the platform and laughed as we arrived, knowing that there was no way they were getting on the train.
And so it continued until I finally got home, but even then the singing and fireworks lasted well into the night.
And this was just the quarter final, it was worse for the semi-final, though I stayed home to watch that one.But on Sunday I'm off again to Paris, for the big one.
watch this space for an account of how that turns out.