On occasion my mind pulls out of nowhere a little gem from back home that makes me at once nostalgic and very giggly. For no apparent reason I started to think about the FLNJ yesterday (that’s ‘Front de Libération des Nains de Jardin‘: ‘Front for the Liberation of Garden Gnomes‘) – and I am not punking anyone: it’s real.
France takes freedom very seriously – it’s in our country’s motto and it was stamped on our coins until we joined the Euro. The ‘Front de Libération des Nains de Jardin‘ is basically about kidnapping garden gnomes that are perceived as enslaved and open to ridicule as ornaments of private gardens. They are taken out to forests or parks and ‘released’ back to a more natural habitat, free to frolic and do their gnome thing.
I wasn’t familiar with the FLNJ until I saw one of their posters in Montmartre in 1999. And my vague understanding is that there are branches throughout France that have periods of activity and then lay low for a while (it’s a bit like Fight Club so it’s hard to find information – I suspect the first rule of FLNJ is, well, you know).
And let’s be clear: the liberators aren’t just thieves after some adrenaline kick – although I can’t imagine jumping a fence and plucking a gnome from a bed of lettuce is much of a kick – they always leave an FLNJ manifesto in the letter box. And even go as far as revealing the location where the gnomes will be released so their owners can retrieve (and re-enslave) them.
I love how useless and nonsensical it is. And I secretly suspect my sister of moonlighting with the FLNJ because when I pointed to the poster in Montmartre, she immediately knew what it was and explained the FLNJ’s philosophy. The stronger she denies it, the stronger my suspicion will be. My sister is after all a born righter of wrongs.
(Image from here).
Speaking of métro and Paris, this is one of my favourite songs ever. It is so cheekily French: yes there is accordéon, but its French essence therein does not lie. It’s in the juxtaposition of the lazy lower-class Parisian accent, the slightly melancholic tune and lyrics mixed with animated dialogue from a group of friends having a drink at a bistro. Shame there isn’t a proper video for this song (although the one I’m imagining in my head, with grainy métro footage of the blue and white tiles, and twinkling city lights is probably prettier).
We don’t hang things on the wall at our house: we frame them and place the frames on furniture instead. This little fragment is probably my favourite framed thing – because of what it is, and because of the story behind it.
It is a piece of an old old Paris métro map – so old that it shows the station Arsenal (which closed in September 1939).
And I came by it because I ripped it off the wall during one of my many commutes (it was peeking from under layers of miscellaneous posters and if there is one thing I can’t resist, it is an old map. Or an old document. But especially an old map).
I can’t remember at which station the deed was done, but I can offer some advice if you also see something you like on the wall of a Parisian métro station but are plagued by hesitation (or manners).
- Own it: don’t look around to see if other people are looking at you. Rip the damn thing off. You want it no?
- Do it during rush hour, casually as you are walking by (or more accurately being pushed forward by the grumpy mob behind you). You are less likely to be noticed or have anyone comment on what you are doing.
- Someone will probably comment on what you are doing: an old lady who’s bored, a smart ass who finds what you are doing puzzling/hilarious/both. There is no wrong way to respond: not saying anything is good, or if the smart ass is old saying that you enjoy things that are decrepit is good too.
- Avoid ripping things off the wall in front of the para-military police that patrol the métro with machine guns. But I’m sure you’re smart enough not to do that.
- Frame it: it’ll look really neat. And you will chuckle when you look at it thinking back to how you’re a vandal at heart. Sort of.
I get even more excited when I see maps of a different kind, that organise information in a way you’ve most likely never seen before. These are maps of Paris and Melbourne, and they must have been as fastidious to draw up as they are amazing to look at.
Simply put, the maps are about photography: the blue points represent pictures taken by locals, the red points pictures taken by tourists, and the yellow points are the wild card (their takers couldn’t be put in either categories).
Eric Fischer, I applaud you.
Look at more cities in his Flickr set (he’s prolific!). You will also find out what 4 and 30 correspond to.
I want a wall of these. Bad. Maybe of cities Christian and I have been to and lived. I can see it. Brilliant.
(Via Far Out Brussel Sprout).
*Cemented my inner stubborn and indignant on particular issues (familiarity, health care, Southern Hemisphere seasons to name a few)
*Made me pine for the map of France when watching the weather forecast
*Introduced me to Conan O’Brien, David Letterman, and other Christian favourites that I can now share with him (also introduced me to Oprah – whose existence I was not aware of before then – and just to clear things up, not a Christian favourite)
*Made me feel like I discover treasure every time I hear French spoken, or rediscover an expression I have not used in a while
*Made me realise direct translations from French, as well as gestures, are not always understood
*Made me develop a love for all these kitschy stereotypical things – like that pop-up accordéon postcard and anything in the shape of the Eiffel tower
About that last point: I am actually very restrained and never buy the kitschy things I lust after. It may have something to do with the slight inner shame I feel about it…
To put it to good use we just need to:
*Make up our minds once and for all whether we want children.
*Agree on names – which have to work equally well in both French and English AND have the same spelling in both languages (because I don’t want my children to have a multiple split personality thing going depending on which language they introduce themselves in), not end in -ie for girls (Christian’s foot down) or be Charles or Félix for boys (Christian’s foot again, based on mental connections with British royal family which he’s not fond of, and tv show ‘The Odd Couple’).
*Agree on number of middle names – 2 (my foot down, because in France we have at least that number).
*Agree on where we want them: Europe (yes, yes!) or Australia (far, far – from family and cousins – but current foreseeable country of residence).
You know what? That cute Paris map also comes printed on a bag. I think I’ll take that instead for the moment. And keep on bugging my sister to have a second baby :)
Here is some advice from me to you: don’t try to pull off an impromptu wedding in less than 6 weeks. I’ve been there and it’s a tad stressful.
Also not ideal: introducing your future husband to your father for the first time and breaking the news of your impending wedding during dinner (my father is even twitchier than me and does not like surprises).
Add birth certificates with apostilles, finding accredited translators to certify in French I can be married to an Australian national, medical visits, and blood tests. Reception (small), invitations (did them ourselves). Head spinning yet?
When all that’s ticked off your list you need to find rings and something to wear (lest you want to get married in your bathing suit as my friend Charlotte joked).
Christian asked me if I wanted an engagement ring, and I said no: I found the idea of dropping money on something I would wear for just 6 weeks before the event kind of pointless. So I said: ‘Let’s get some nicer and special wedding rings instead’. At that point, time = 10 days away from W Day.
We visited dozens of Paris jewellers and couldn’t find anything we would be happy wearing forever (in my mind I’m not going to die – no seriously you know what I mean).
We really offended one Place de l’ Opéra who scolded us for not having done this two months prior. When I said two months prior we did not know we were getting married, he looked like he was going to slap me.
Finally we found what we were looking for: nicer, special, and they came in Christian’s and my mini finger sizes. Except, we had to go Place Vendôme to get them – to a plush and quiet, intimidating, security-guarded jeweller.
On the day we had to go in I was really nervous. Silly right? So I obsessed about what to wear and even put a pretty headband on. Except, it had been raining that day and I made the mistake of waiting to cross the street too close to the road. And that’s when a bus took a sharp turn and splashed me with muddy water head to toe. I was drenched (and muddy). Christian was doing a very good job containing himself (he looked kind of concerned actually) while I squealed: ‘Now they’re not going to open the door for me are they, I look like a soaked muddy hobo!’ (I didn’t).
So I ended up going to and sitting in a Place Vendôme jewellery store with bits of mud still attached to my hair and wet muddy jeans, while trying on my wedding ring. The people working there never looked at me funny for a minute (or refused to open the door for that matter). That’s professionalism for you.
And I didn’t get married in a bathing suit either. We pulled it all off. Just. Phew.
(Image is from here).
In 3 years of Paris-living, I had my fair share of jolly métro accordion players who stood right next to me and blasted a grating version of an Édith Piaf favourite right in my ear.
Why did I never bump into Noah and the Whale instead? Why!!
By the way, I’m all excited because in my first year of Paris-living, my apartment* was right near the Père Lachaise cemetery, where some of this amazing video (well, episode 2) was filmed. Let me count the ways I am nostalgic and happy right now.
*Apartment is probably a much too generous word to describe my dwelling. A subterranean teeny studio is probably more accurate (yep, I lived below ground in a 20th arrondissement basement. Infested with spiders. But that’s a story for another day).
Go here to see more (and who doesn’t want to see moustache and hat wearing French men climbing ladders to deliver groceries, or giving piggy back rides to their buddies so they don’t wet their shoes?).
PPS: In 1999, the Seine rose again to dangerous levels. There were massive impressive storms for days, just after Christmas. I know because I was soaked during one of them ;)