Saturday, December 23, 2006

French Nationals Final

As promised I've uploaded the Final of the Men's Sabre from the French Senior Nationals. It's just like Maynooth in May I swear...

Julian Pillet (left) Vs. Nicolas Lopez (right), world #3 and #12 respectively. The footage begins with the score at 8-7 to Pillet. Pillet has been around for ages and Lopez is the up-and-coming young pup on the French team (he wore a beret when he was being presented to the crowd - what a character!?)

The rest of the finals were incredibly disappointing and mostly noteworthy because of the absence of many of the national team fencers who had been beaten before the final. In Men's sabre the 4 national team members all made it to the semis making it a very high standard.


Here's a few pictures mainly to show the impressive venue but also how terrible the Men's Foil Final was - don't even get me started on the Women's Foil final.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Voodoo Chile Brief Return

Well I'm home for Christmas. It's on my mind to add a few pictures and the like to my blog over the next few days. As well as this I'll hopefully be updating you all on my last couple of days in Paris for the year.

This should all be very much easier when I remove this ridiculous bandage from my hand tomorrow.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Stupid French Keyboards

Iù, zriting this in the Centre Georges Po,pqdu on q french keyboqrd aithout looking qt the keys.

With only one fully functioning hand and typing on a cra...(where the hell is z)...zy french keyboard I don't really have any time to say any more.

à plus...

Thursday, December 14, 2006

A Day In The Life Of A Private Health Clinic In Paris

I returned to the clinic Mont-Louis the next morning at 10.30am when the appointment had been made for. Bupa Ireland had yet to get back to BUPA international who could not give a definite answer to the hospital (perhaps not surprising given the day that was in it BUPA to withdraw from Ireland). It was 12.30 before I decided enough was enough and I would pay for the operation and then get reimbursed.


I was taken to the top floor of the hospital where I wrote the cheque for €1500 for this minor operation and was directed to the waiting room. My operation was to be at around 2pm.

Shortly before that I was lead to a room to prepare for the operation. The nurse told me to strip absolutely naked. I explained this was an operation on my little finger but she reiterated and I got into the see-through gown and covered myself with the sheets.

Eventually I was brought downstairs to wait for an OR to open up. While I was there a six - eight year old Muslim child was having a circumcision. I remembered him from upstairs resplendent in the equivalent of a holy communion costume and mischievious giving cheek to his mother who couldn't help but laugh. I can't understand this practice to begin with in any religion - why would God give us a foreskin by mistake? But at least the Jewish tradition is perform the operation a set number of weeks after birth - not at an age where the child will likely remember it the rest of his life.

The screams of terror and pain from the poor child are something that I will not forget in a long time. This was the soundtrack to which I approached my own operation, which passed off without a hitch. The doctor spoke good English and was the first person to explain things properly to me in the last two days. A local anesthetic was applied and a curtain was set up in between myself and the doctor as he pottered away.

I had no idea what he was doing. I could only feel the occasional tug on a part of my hand that wasn't numb which suggested a finger was being moved. I decided it was best not to think about it and rode out the rest of the operation to tyring to manipulate my heart rate on the monitors above my head, to no avail.


So, my hand is in a tight wrapping to keep the fingers bent while the tendon heals. The tendon and would are sutured and the stiches should be out in just over two weeks. I still can't feel my little finger or ring finger on my write hand. You wouldn't believe the struggle it has been to finish the Longest Weekend and this entry.


My Love Affair With Sushi Knives is Over

As I cut into a bagguette to prepare a sandwich for my tea before training, I reached a point where the consistancy of the bread changed and felt painfully like my own flesh.

I had in fact sliced into the little finger of my left hand. Having never had such an injury inflicted on myself before, I quickly washed the wound, clenched my fist around some kitchen roll and elevated it before running around in pain and confusion.

My thoughts came like a kelydoscope -
"Where the hell is the nearest hospital? Do I even need to go to hospital? How the hell am I going to pay for this? Is that bone? Oh good God, that is bone, isn't it? I feel sick"

I was speaking on Skype to both Rachel and Marcos at the time. Marcos suggested sticking a plaster on it but Rachel went for the hospitalisation route. I chose the path less travelled (round the corner to a clinic) and it made all the difference.

The doctors spoke no English at all - hoorah! While I was pretty sure I understood what they were saying, I wasn't completely certain of some minor details and when they started talking about tendonne and operation I was slightly spooked. Eventually the bandaged my hand and told me I'd have to come back the following morning for a minor operation to repair the tendon.

All the while that this was happening I was trying to sort out insurance details with my parents over the phone. It was not a pleasent evening at all - even aside from the pain. To make things worse I had told my team-mates at USM that I'd be bringing the drinks that evening, so I was deathly afraid that they think I was actually some cheap Scotsman rather than a self-mutilated Irishman.

Back to training...

The return to training wasn't half as bad as I thought it would be. That day I went out of my way to eat as much fruit and salad as possible to lessen the blow that serious exercise was no doubt going to be.

As it happens I had a great training session and got a lesson from one of the coaches... maybe I should do that every weekend.

The Longest Weekend Part 5: Hidden Bonus Track or Monday

Monday Keith and David were to leave for Madrid and deliver me from the hell i'd been living in for the last couple of days.

As it happened Dave had to stay behind to give his keys to his parents on Tuesday...

That evening I'd agreed to sit for Mick O'Dea in the Irish College, so at least that delayed the onslaught somewhat. I posed for two drawing in my fencing gear. Funny things happen to your body when you stand still for that long. The blood pooled in my feet and my arms ached from supporting the mask. While all this was going on Kerry as me questions around the night she had spent at training and about fencing in general. These artists were determined to capture every interesting detail of me - in return I demanded 10%. They still haven't got back to me on that.

The result of the evenings work were two fantastic large pencil sketches on hand made paper. The first one is a fantastic drawing (pictures to follow shortly) of me looking particulalry serious and menancing, the second is a variation of this from a different angle. What is particularly exciting about the seconf is that Mick is allowing me keep it.

At about 11.30 we decided to call it a day and have a pint to relax for a bit. David joined us and we enjoyed some of the excellent Leffe bear Mick had in his fridge. Just to draw a line under proceeding we went for one down at the Bombardier down the road. After a half-hearted attempt to think of another pub open nearby and with no results, Mick decided that was enough for him and we probably should have done the same.


There was apparently only one pub open in city centre Paris at that time. The highlander. We sat back reminiscing on what seemed like a decade of in-jokes and memories from the weekend until it was finally time to go.

Just for old times sake we had one last steak au poivre at an all night restaurant at 5am. In hindsight that may have been a steak too far...

The Longest Weekend Part 4: Sunday At Le Stade

Sunday awoke a bright but chilly December morning. When we awoke Sunday morning was long but the chill had remained. Furthermore, it was nearly time for the Stade Francais Vs. Sale Sharks Heineken Cup match at Parc de Prince. The other two had bought tickets several weeks earlier and I intended to try and get one at the gate.

We were packed like sardines on the long metro journey back to Porte De St. Cloud as the crowds swelled because of match day. As if by magic, I found a man selling unwanted tickets at face value right next to the gates and gladly parted with a poultry €10 for unreserved seating. I was in a segment on my own for the match, in my thin fleece, but it was a great atmosphere and quite an exciting match.

When given the choice between supporting Le Stade de France or PSG over the coming year, I think I'll side with the prawn-sandwich brigade rather than the anti-semmatic murderous facist hooligan brigade. This decision ways heavily against the chip on my shoulder developed through a hatred of South Dublin rugby playing schools but I feel that this situation is sufficiently detachted so as to reduce much of the inner turmoil which would otherwise exist.


We stopped for a few bites of sushi as an entree to our main meal of steak au poivre in the Old Navy. Two Parisien guitarists and €5 bottled water (after the last place's warm tap water) accompanied our meal. It was all very pleasent.

It was unilaterally decided that we needed to take it easy that night. So myself, Keith, David and Phil went bowling with a few beers just to ween ourselves off rather than going cold turkey. The bowling alley was in a basement off Moufftard and was excellent value compared to the Leisureplex(i?) back home.

This was the first time since Thursday that I'd got to bed before 1, just barely.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Longest Weekend Part 3: Saturday Fencing and Drinking

The next morning David and Keith awoke on a floor in the Irish College to discover they were covered in pink permanent marker. A crude drawing of a penis seemed to be the most popular design with one or two each adorning their foreheads. There was also an address to a Bebo site scrawled down one arm and multiple penis down the other. It wasn't until the next day the Keith spotted the large pink swazkita on his shoulder, however. That being said he didn't realise about his forehead till well after he'd enter a bakery to get a baguette at 8 o'clock that morning.

I had spent the night in my own bed (which was still a sleeping bag on top of a bed, as they had interupted my house shopping on Thursday). My plan for the day was to head for the French National fencing championships which were to be held in a large stadium near Parc de Prince at Porte de St. Cloud (home of Paris St. Germain Football Club and the recent riots after the shooting dead of PSG fan as he was part of a mob attacking a Jewish Tel Aviv fan by a plain clothes police officer).

But I digress. The top 32 in France were fighting it out for bragging rights over one another. I arrived around 2pm with the finals at four so got to see all the semi-finals across the six weapons. By the time of the finals it was amazing how few of the national teams across the weapons had actually reached them. All in all the finals were disappointing, save for the Men's Sabre. The lads who had dragged themselves in just before four and who had found me during a break in the women's epee agreed. When I get a chance I'll try and post the final of the Men's sabre somewhere (Julien Pillet Vs Nicolas Lopez) - it was a very exciting match.


Once the dust had settled, it was agreed that we all needed sushi. Paris is littered with sushi restaraunts of various standards, we found a cheap one and tucked in.

There was business to be taken care of however and we were soon back at my place for an impromptu house warming and some wine. With the six of us in my tiny apartment it was pretty much packed so at around 11 we decided to seek out more space. Keith and David returned to the Long Hop (where the staff there would continue their attempts to kill the two of them). I decided to go with Phil, Liz and Rachel to a Reggae club that Phil had heard of.

Thinking that the club was only at Nation I decided not to bring a coat and wore only a light fleece instead. The club was actually near Mo Nationale, which is much further away in the South of the city. We found it slightly amusing that there was a reggae club on a road called Rue Des Noirs (french racial segregation in full flow), less funny when the road actually Rue Dunois and even less funny when after travelling the length of the road we found nothing resembling a club or even an open pub on it's entire length. On the return voyage the result was exactly the same.

Phil rang his friend from the jazz club to find out where it was. Apparently the small community hall we had passed was the place where the gig was on and it finished at 11 O'clock, not started at eleven o'clock. Either which way it was very much closed when we reached it at twelve. Suspicions that the rasta who gave him the information may well have bin praisin' de almighty Ja wit dem holiest mari-ji-juana spread quickly about the group as we wondered how the hell we'd get back to civilisation, or at least the proto-civilisation that was the Long Hop.

We ventured forth to Place D'Italie where a massive taxi queue left us pondering our next move - until we saw a bus to Gare de Lyon. This was in the general direction that we were going and we thought we could get that towards the Long Hop. Although the bus said Gare Du Lyon on it several stops later we realised we were heading out towards the Banlieue. Rather than go through a midnight stroll in some of the most dangerous areas in France, maybe in Europe, we decided we needed to get off the bus. The minute we had, we saw another bus for Gare Du Lyon heading the opposite direction and hopped onto it without a second thought.

On this extra-pleasent, journey a woman threw-up at our feet and a drunk who smelled of petrol approached us for a light. Declining we got off at Place D'Italie, where we'd started, and began to walk. Highlights of the walk included the Paris zoo where we saw some ostriches and the several times where I felt I might be coming down with hypothermia (see my mention of only wearing a light fleece).

Eventually, we reached the Long Hop only to find it closed. David and Keith were at the lock-in ongoing inside. While the staff of the Long Hop did their level best to end the lives of my two friends, the rest of us went to the Pomme D'Eve to wait for them. It was at this point, as I sat down in a chair in the cave that three nights of excess began to catch up with me and my eyelids became intolerably heavy. When the lads arrived they were in a similar state perhaps induced more by having vodka poured directly into their mouths rather than tiredness but none the less the spirit of the evening had turned distinctly tired and/or emotional.

Whatever was going on in David's head he decided that we should leave, minus Keith, and having no more energy to resist I gave in a followed him out of the bar. We paused briefly to have a photo taken with the South African flag outside and then headed back to David's for a respite before tomorrows fun. Keith eventually followed after an hour or two later with the assistance of Phil. This didn't stop him from trying the door code on the wrong door for a good while but that is a story for another day...

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Longest Weekend Part 2: Friday Night

Friday began with the stiffness of a night lying on the floor, it also began around 1pm.

The search for food began immediately and lead us to our first steak au poivre of the week. David knew a little place just off the Champs Elysee which did €14 steak au poivre with unlimited chips (yes, that's right, unlimited). By the time we had walked there from the Assemblie Nationale we were all starving.

After asking for a non-smoking table we were directed upstairs where we stood waiting for about ten minutes. Eventually we asked the young thin waiter with greasy slicked back black hair, dressed all in black with far too tight trousers for a seat. He gestured vaguely towards some seats directly in front of us besides the stairs. Spying the large comfortable booths behind him by the wall we asked could we sit in there instead - we were informed that that area was closed.

With no other choice we sat in the small table and began looking at the menu. A fruitless venture since we were all going to get the cheap steak and chips but none the less it turned out to be a lengthy one as our friend in black systematically ignored us. At one stage David nodded and waved at him to get his attention and he nodded and waved back, then just turned around and continued with what he was doing - which may as well have been cloud-watching for all the work he was doing.

Eventually a waitress who had been frantically running around are section picking up the slack left by the moron in black. Came to take our order - "Three steaks and chips please."

Hours seemed to pass before the steaks and chips were delivered on a large platter. We were also given tepid tap water to drink when we ask for a jug of water so struggled through the feast with little or no rehydration. When we had a fill we settled down for the wait for the bill...


That evening our plan was to return to the Long Hop. I headed to the Irish College to gather a possy while David and Keith checked there bank balances at a local internet café. With David, Liz, Phil, Rachel and Suze in tow I headed for the Long Hop to meet up with the lads - who weren't there.

They arrived after a brief trip to VD's where a friend of David's had provided an early jump-start to the nights festivities. The night began to pick up momentum as the bars profit for that night was being cancelled out by the free drinks and shots which Dave was receiving.

It was getting late by human standards but as we left the Long Hop spirits were high and we were all miraculously still standing considering that enough alcohol to kill a rhino had probably been consumed. The Villen Dingue (VD's) was the next port of call. The weirdest and possibly seediest little cave club in Paris was probably what this pub was but not without its charm as David once again new a barman.

The night was whiled away with witty stories and occasional polite jokes until it was time to leave. Back to the Irish College for some tea and crumpets. As my senses returned to me I realised what a terrible mistake I had made bringing these drunken fools into a place where people like to sleep at 3am in the morning. I tried for a while to convince them to leave but pinning me down to draw genitals on my face was the last straw and I decided to leave them to their own devices.

A brief interlude...

There is some construction work going on outside my window. At 7am, they started using a jackhammer. Wanting to regain my strength after the long weekend, I wanted a bit of a sleep-in and tried to ignore it up until 11am when I could bear it no longer and had to get up. At 11.20am they stopped and have not done any further work on the site since.

The Longest Weekend Part 1: Thursday Night After Training

...Some friends visit and I undo any training I've done over the last 6 months.

Although I was aware of their impending arrival, nothing could prepare me for the exhausting terror that lay before us.

After training on Thursday evening, I received a text from David and Keith prompting me to meet them on the quays by Notre Dame. At about 10.30pm I reached the agreed spot on the Seine to find them enoying smuggled contraband. Yes, that's right... Red Bull (it's illegal in France and rightly so). There may have been some Aldi or equivalently cheap vodka in their Volvic bottle but I neglected to ask them. Either way they seemed pleased with themselves.

Our first port of call was to the Long Hop, a bar where David used to work. His friends there (friends I would later compare to being friends with your heroine dealer) were so pleased to see him they decided to try and kill the three of us with alcohol.

As the evening wore on and the Long Hop was preparing to close we began to plan our next move. David lead us to a night club with a student night somewhere near the 7th via another bar with some friends of his, the Vileune Dingue (or VD's -lovely). Unfortunately, the lovely bouncers on the door informed us we couldn't get in. This all lead to our first taxi journey of the evening and undoubtedly the most ridiculous.

I knew that my friends from the Irish College were heading to a big student night in a place called Mix by Montparnasse, so I suggested we try and head that direction. Eventually, we got a taxi and we tried to explain where we were going. He seemed to make up his mind after a while and started off. He dropped us a very small bar. Our suspicions should have been raised when the bar only had a small porthole window in it, through which the bouncer looked out. We walked in the door, myself in the rear. The taxi driver had brought us to a brothel, we made a sharp u-turn, we walked out of the door.

After several minutes of hysterical laughter, we paused to wonder what to do next. In the end we did what comes naturally to people at that hour of the night - we went to get a kebab.

As myself and Keith tucked into our Kebabs it became apparent to us that David had disappeared. As I reached for my French Mobile to call him it also becamse apparent that my French mobile had disappeared and as Keith reached for his, that his mobile was out of credit. I tried calling him several times on my Irish phone but couldn't get a connection. I sent him several texts in the hope that he couldn't answer because he had no credit and told him to meet us at the Irish College, which was nearby and which we all knew how to find.

When we got to the Irish College we managed to get in and to regroup for a while in the Kitchen - it was now pouring rain. Eventually, I heard someone calling my name from outside the window. David had found his way to the Irish College - he didn't seem best pleased. Apparently public urination is frowned upon in France, along with most of the western world. When a plane clothes policeman approached Dave and told him as much, David's natural reaction was to suggest that he should go away in no uncertain terms. David spent the next hour in a room in the police station.

With the three of us united once again we set off for David's where I spent the night sleeping on the floor. In the morning David explained there was some cushion which could be arranged into a mattress in the wardrobe...

Monday, December 04, 2006

So little time...

After a month in Paris; while my family, Rachel and friends were no doubt glad of the extra storage space my absence left for them on this tiny island of ours, a surprising compulsion of being glad to see each other seemed to sweep uniformly over us all.

Aside from a lot of catching-up and some errands to run there was only one small piece of business to attend to - the Irish Open. In order to amuse my self and mess with others' heads, I hadn't told anyone I was going to be there - I hadn't even entered myself. I chuckled quietly to my self while people asked if I was going to enter and I said "No". I am truly hilarious.

The competition itself passed without too much fuss. I was pleased with how i was fencing and found myself in a different rhythm to my previous hectic state on the piste. In the end, I reached the final only to be beaten by David Downey, who was the better fencer on the day. Giving up the nice piece of mantle-piece clutter that is the Irish Open Trophy stung slightly but then again I have only been training in France for three weeks and I'm already feeling a change for the better.

I feel I'm facing into the packed half of the season in good form and confident that I can reach my goals for the season.


I'm sitting finishing off this post in Dublin airport while I wait for my plane back to Paris. There probably won't be any more updates over the next week, not until Saturday at least when I am getting my Internet connection installed in the new apartment.

If I missed you on this visit, I'm very sorry but I'll be back over Christmas and hopefully we'll get a chance to meet up.

Until then...

Where Were We?

I move into my new apartment with a brief detour via Ireland.

Thursday morning the new sofa-bed was to be delivered to my apartment. My landlady had suggested sleeping on the floor for the night and waiting for the bed to be delivered sometime between 7am and 2pm. In the end, I chose the comfort of my bed in the Irish Centre over the floor and sleeping bag and I felt quite vindicated in my choice.

That Wednesday evening, Kerry had come to watch fencing training. A good night for it too, as it was a busy night's training with a lot of fencers, drills and even champagne afterwards.

When I got back to my now-empty room in the Irish Centre, Phil was just on his way out to a jam at a jazz club so I tagged along for a bit of listen. It was a really cool spot – absolute stereotypical Parisian basement jazz club (if you can't imagine that then you have no culture). I even got an opportunity to practice my Japanese on Phil's two Japanese friends; it was just like that scene from Austin Powers. A good night was had by all, as far as I was concerned.


I slumbered peacefully until, at 6am, it was time to head across to the apartment to wait for the bed. Once I reached the apartment, I decided to doze for a bit while waiting for the Swede from Ikea to arrive. There was no chance I would have been able to sleep on that parquet floor for a whole night[[?]], but just after about an hour of struggling to find sleep, just when my head was filling of dreams of home (like some Erin hotcup ad), just then the buzzer rang.

My disappointment was compounded further when there was nothing Swedish or even remotely female about the French Ikea delivery man, but not wanting to hurt his feelings I hid my resentment towards him well.

I hate whiney observational comedians who complain about flat-pack furniture. Within an hour I had constructed a sofa-bed, a foot locker and a standard lamp. This was the most manly I had felt in weeks. With my natural instincts to use tools appeased, I spent the rest of the day strutting between the Irish Centre and the apartment, moving the rest of my belongings over.


I decided to leave training a bit early that evening to have time to pack for my return to Ireland for the weekend.

This return required an early start on Friday to get to Charles de Gaulle by 8am for my flight at 10am. Charles de Gaulle terminal one is currently undergoing a massive renovation to restore the look of the insane structure, which looks as if several motorways are trying to strangle one central hideous tower of concrete –so good luck with that.

My plane was ten minutes delayed coming into Paris, so it was twenty minutes late for departure and in turn we lost our place in the queue and spent an hour on the tarmac. Eventually, however, we reached Dublin.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


I must leave the Centre Culturel Irlandais this Friday and I can't but help the feeling that living on my own is going to be a lot less comfortable in many ways.

I just started to really get to know people here and get into the swing of things when now I have to leave. I've made some good friends here already and that's a massive asset to have here in this country with it's crazy language and people and I'm sure I'll call back regularly.

Yesterday, I collected my keys for the apartment from my land-lady. I met her at the apartment and with all the furniture removed and cleaning materials strewn all over the place for the first time I was slightly less excited by the novelty of having my own place. It really reminded me of Brian Keenan's "Sugar Cube" cell in an Evil Cradling - there wasn't even curtains up at the time and the walls are absolutely plain white. I'm quite convinced I'll go mad there. I suppose it's only natural when I've become confortable where I am to dread changing my surroundings again. Hopefully when I settle into a rythmn there and make it a bit more personal a space then everything will be fine.


In terms of training, I feel I'm fencing a bit better this week. The long break over the weekend did me good and I feel fully recovered and ready to get right back into it. Again, last night I fenced a series of matches until I could fence no longer. I feel a bit sharper but I need to start fencing more cleverly and being more conscious of correcting the mistakes I'm making. Hopefully, that'll come with a bit more coaching as well as expanding my repetoir of tactics.


You Never Miss It...

My ability to "left-click" is torn away from me.

I've been having some computer problems over the last couple of days. Namely that my touchpad has been the latest aspect of my out-of-warranty Dell to have given up on me. For some reason the computer was convinced that I constantly had the left button held down. As a result, I could do nothing on the computer without going through the right-click menu or using tab to select different boxes on the screen. Basically, it made using the computer an absolute pain in the ass.

I tried everything and eventually I've had to disable the touchpad altogether and use the numpad a mouse (it's some sort of accessibility feature). It's still painfully slow and frustrating but then maybe it suits me that way...

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The French Way of Life

A member of the club very kindly gave me a ticket to a wine festival.

It was a ticket for two so myself and Phil, from the Irish College, went on our way to get pissed, under the vague pretence of sampling French culture. The festival was of independent wine-makers and was at the exhibition halls at Porte de Versailles. It is apparently quite a well known event that attracts huge crowds each year. This year was no exception except that two Paddies had crept in unnoticed beneath the radar of the French Cultural Police.

Details of the exhibition can be found at under Paris 2006. There were roughly 972 stands. Each of the 12 or so French wine regions were represented.

The hall was enormous, stretching out in every direction along corridors and corridors of stands. At the door we were each given a wine glass for sampling. The layout was absolutely bewildering, with no order to it whatsoever. They weren't ordered by region or price or by reputation, just spread out randomly across this huge hall. In order to get what we wanted as quickly as possible we bought a catalogue and quickly headed out to our first destination - champagne.

As if to celebrate our newly found pig-in-shit status we stared by sampling one or two champagnes. You must imagine that it was quite evident to these wily vintners that these two student-types, although one of them spoke quite good French (not me), that it was perhaps unlikely that they were going to walk away with a few crates a piece. This seriously cut in to the samples we were given at some stands - most notably perhaps the €70 a bottle Armangnac where we given, after a considerable length of time left standing there, a dribble in the bottom of the Brandy glass. Colour, bouquet, taste, acidity all were carefully mulled over at each stand until we felt we had made it seem like we were considering buying but wanted to shop around just a bit more.

We sampled wines from every region of France - Alsace-Lorrain, Beaujolais, Champagne, Loire Valley, the South-West, Rhone Valley, Loire Valley, Bourgogne - or at least the ones we felt deserved our patronage. Eventually, with a much fuller sense of at least the great range of tastes in wine we decided to call it a day. Chuffed with ourselves, we wandered perhaps slightly less steadily into the sunset to get a Kebab to wash away the sense of pretension which risked consuming us in that place.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Peaks and Troughs...

...On balance it's been a pretty good week.

I'm starting to feel a lot more at home in the club and getting to know people there a little better. Early in the week I got a lesson from Benoit and hopefully I'll be able to get one once a week at least. I think I've started to enter a bit of a transitionary stage in my fencing as I concentrate on adjusting some aspects to my game and tyring to get rid of lazy habits. I've had a slight dip in form against my team-mates as a result but I'm willing to work through that.

The most exciting news of the week though, is that I've finally secured an apartment. It's in the 11th arrondisement in between Bastille and Nation near Metro Charonne, just off ligne 1 (which will make sense to anyone who knows Paris). Bathroom, kitchen and decent living space for a reasonable price. I'm signing the rental agreement on Saturday evening. Maybe once the novelty of living alone wears off, I'll become ridiculously depressed but for the minute I'm very excited.

At the same time, things are going great in the Irish College and I'll be quite sad to leave, just as I'm getting to know everyone a bit better and really getting into the swing of things here. We went out last night to a local bar and spent the evening solving the worlds problems until the early hours of the morning. If only alcohol wasn't involved we could have written it down and presented it to the UN.


Mick O'Dea one of the artists in residence has asked whether he could paint my portrait in my fencing gear for his exhibition here in the Centre Culturel Irlandais and Kerry Hardie, the poet and author, is interested in learning more about fencing through me with the possible aim of using this information in a novel she intends to write. So even if I have abandoned my big fish in a small pond status, the Irish here in Paris still seem determined to my ego swollen. What could I say really? I couldn't be more flattered.


After a fairly intense first couple of weeks, i have a weekend off in Paris and intend to use it to the full. Saturday is going to be a day of sight-seeing aswell
as lease-signing and I've also picked up free tickets to an independent wine producers fair.

I'll let you know how it all pans out.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

My First Strike

Tuesday night on the way to training I saw my first French strike.

I was trundling along in the Metro Ligne 1 minding my own business, as is advisable on the Metro. As we came closer to my usual stop of Point de Vincennes the Metro began to stop for longer then usual and announcements were being made which I didn't quite understand - something about "manifestastion" and "Place de la Nation". Luckily enough, at Gare de Lyon, three stops before my own, I ran into Naseem from the club. He told me we had to get out at Nation and walk the rest of the way because of the strike.

The strike was aparantly by homeless youths who got somewhat aggitated and set fire to some things. We wandered down the boulevard which was packed with firemen and riot police. The demonstration was very much winding down while I was passing but the police presence, in full riot gear was huge. After about ten minutes walk we reach Avenue De Arnould Netter where the club is located. A line of riot police blocked our path - who very politely told us to sod off. So we had to take a detour through a laneway and up to the club from the other direction adding another ten minutes to our journey and taking us by some smouldering rubble and crates.

Anyway, it was all very authentic...

And worth the journey because I had a good nights fencing at the club. A long series of 15 point matches and a lesson from Benoit, one of the maitres. All in all a packed evening.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Dutch Train Stations...

A mysterious "blockage" in Rotterdam leads me on a mystical hourney around the train stations of Holland.

Upon arriving at Amsterdam Central Station this morning, I hear a garbled annoucement which mentions passengers travelling to Paris. Hoping to travel to Paris that day I stopped at a ticket booth to ask for some clarification of the situation. Sadly, I had chosen to speak with an idiot who informed me that I could still reach Paris directly from this station.

So I went to wait by the monitors for my train to be announced, bought myself a sandwich and generally relaxed trying to pass the time as best I could. All the while over trying to ignore the announcements over the intercom which were telling me that "because of a blockage at Rotterdam. Passengers wishing to travel to Bruxelles and Paris must depart from Utrecht". Eventually I cracked and went to an information stand.

Thoroughly dissinterested the teller at the stand garbled a couple of station names at me and told me to go up and get the train on platform 2 to Den Boesch, then change to Rotterdam, where I would be able to get a train to Paris. On the platform, none of the names displayed were Den Bosch, but eventually I asked a uniformed man where to go and he told me to take the next train to Utrecht. Myself and several lost Belgians borded the train and off we went for the first leg of our journey.

When we reached Utrecht we were told to stay on the train to Den Boesch. At which stage we would have to change trains to Rosenthal. After several hours I reached Rosenthall. There was no train directly to Paris from here. In fact the closest thing was Brussels. Having no time to ask I boarded the train to Brussels, which was packed and I stood for the slow journey to Brussels South Station.

At Brussels I hopped on the TGV and I was back at Gare to Nord in just over an hour in my first class carriage (I'd gone for First Class since I figured it was such a long journey). A four hour journey in first class, had turned into a 6 and half hour journey across the train station of the Benelux nations and the delay also meant that my arrival back in Paris matched rush-hour on the RER exactly. What fun!

I'm off to write a complaint!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Swings and Roundabouts...

...more like snakes and bloody ladders.

In case you were all worried, I eventually met up with the organisers last night and had a very pleasent meal.

The pleasent atmosphere continued on to the next day at the tournament. I narrowly dropped one match in my seeding poule in the tournament and was quite pleased with how I was fencing. I was seeded 4th going into the DE and I had a buy through the round of 32. In the last 16 I was to face a random German...

This is when the pleasent feeling suddenly disipatted as I spectacularly self-destructed on the piste. My loss was nothing to do with my opponent, he might not as well have been there. I, having decided that I was surely in the next round already, seemed not to be there at all either (in fact it might has well have been an empty piste). A disappointing 9th place in a tournament I could have made at least semis.

Anyway it's only really a loss if you don't learn something from it...

Note to self: Sort head out.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Other Amsterdam

No, not the one with the drugs and the red light district. The one which is a random anonymous hotel on the edge of town. The one which is about as exciting as the Sandyford Industrial Estate.

I'm waiting for a phone-call from the organisers of the competition to see where dinner is this evening. Having no map, no idea of where the trams are and no idea of the restaurant, I'm not confident. The alternative is dinner alone in the Holiday Inn, so I may well be ringing people during my meal just to seem like less of a sad bastard.

To make things worse I've had no food to speak of, except a hotdog, since I left Paris at 8am. At this stage, I really want to stuff in to food in the hotel restaurant but I'm holding out on the off chance that the organisers (who I probably couldn't recognise if I do find the restaurant) follow-up and call me to let me know where food is. What a dilemma...

My stomach is eating itself...

Friday, November 17, 2006

Champagne And Blisters...

...It's tough training in Paris.

In the wake of the competition in Damigny last weekend and the podium placement of our fencers, Eve Pouteil-Noble, in the women's competition, there was again a few bottles of champagne after training. This came on the back of a draining and dehydrating three-hour session so I made the best of the champagne I drank. I've promised to bring along some Whiskey to one of these Wednesday night gatherings.

It was a good nights training as well. I fenced a lot of matches again and already I'm starting to feel like a regular, thanks to the hospitality of my new team-mates. I've picked up some lazy habits in Ireland and it's going to take a conscious effort over the next while to correct these so I can really start to challenge my clubmates and eventually opponents at international level. That is why I'm here afterall.


Thursday, I set up my bank account with HSBC with in 30 minutes and if I recommend another customer I get some free gifts. So, if anyone wants to set up a French bank-account in the next couple of days, give me a shout.


Early on Saturday morning, I'm catching a train to Amsterdam for the Amsterdam Coup de Nord. It's a four-hour train journey but a hell of a lot cheaper than than by plane. I don't know how the hell I'll amuse myself for four hours on the train. Maybe they'll hvae internet connection on the train and I can post an endless stream of consciousness for the trip.

People are all very excited that I'm going to Amsterdam for the weekend. I try to explain to them my itinery -

8am Gare du Nord - Train to Amsterdam
12pm - Arrive Amsterdam Central. - Taxi to hotel
1pm Check-in Holiday Inn Amsterdam
2pm Go to weapons check at venue and get some lunch
7pm - Eat alone
9pm - Sleep

8am check-in at competition
4pm Competition over
7pm Eat alone
8pm Maybe a few drinks if anyone I know is around

10am check-out
12pm Train from Central Station Amsterdam
4pm Return to Paris

So, I'm in Amsterdam but it might as well be any other Holiday Inn, Train Station and Sports Venue in the world. I'm just being a bit of a moaney bitch this morning really. "Look at me, I have to travel the world - Oh, woe is me!" The Coup de Nord circuit is generally great fun and I'm really looking forward to the weekend.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Owen Cookbook Part 2

In what is sure to become a staple in everyone's diet, I reveal secrets of my steak with pasta...

Fillet Steak (only €3 here)
Too much Pasta
Pasta Sauce
Balsamic Vinegar (Secret ingredient)
Orange Juice

Marinade the steak in balsamic vinegar. Start cooking the pasta (with salt but never oil) and once that is well under way prepare a frying pan with a little olive oil to flash-fry the steaks to a perfect medium rare. Just as the steaks a sizzling in the pan accidentally engage the child-lock on the hob grinding all cooking to a halt. Attempt desperately to disengage the child-lock but to no avail.

Take the pan of pasta and the steak up to the next floor to finish cooking them. Drain the pasta and add the sauce without rincing the pasta (this apparently mean the pasta absorbs more sauce). Serve the steak on a bed of pasta for four. Bon appetit!

Those of you who have read the previous installment of Owen's Cookbook, may be interested to know that my second attempt at an omelette went a lot better. The reduction in the oil and butter content made for a much more omelette-like result. The only downside was that as a result of my fear of salmonella, the carbon content of the omelette was enough to give me a case of the squits. Almost there...

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Stepping Up Training And Changing Banks

My plan for this week at training is to appear very enthusiastic and serious at training with the eventual goal of next week asking one of the coaches for lessons. To this end, tonight I fenced at least 10 15-point matches - I'm absolutely exhausted and my feet are badly blistered. Only two more days of this and then my plan will be complete. I'll let you know how that works out for me.

I've been trying to set up a bank account here. On the advice of a letting agent I went to BRED (yeah, I didn't trust the name when I heard it first either). Very kindly, she agreed to help talk with the teller and explain my situation. In the end, I had call a special international department since I'm a foreigner. After a brief phone interview, they agreed to end me the forms. They implied that the forms would be easy to fill in and that I could have the bank account within the week.

This morning, a bulging envelope arrived with about thirty pages in it. In order to open an account with this bank I had to post them (since everything had to go through there foreign office rather than just any branch) :

  • Two forms of ID
  • Two differnt proof of address
  • Three last pay slips
  • My last income tax statement
  • My last three bank statements
  • A letter of recommendation from my bank in Ireland
  • A cheque so that fees could be immediately

And this was before I got to the 30 pages of forms that I had no idea what they were saying or even what their names meant:

  • Fiche de reseignement confidentiels
  • Document de demande d'ouverture de compte
  • Carton de specimens de signatories
  • Document d'option fiscale
  • 1er feuillet du document denommé 'conditions particuliéres' inclus dans convention de compte

This was my first smack in mouth of French bureaucracy and I did not like it one bit. To collect all this would probably have taken me the best part of a month.

Just to see if this was the norm I rang HSBC. All they need is the ID's, Proof of Address and a bank statement from home. I'm setting up an account with them Thursday afternoon. What a waste of time...


Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Long Road To, And Back From, Damigny

This was my first taste of French competition, how would it compare to that which I have experienced before?

As I may have mentioned before all the club members at US metro have been very welcoming to me. I already feel like part of the team and although my French is at times abysmal, my ability to laugh, smile or nod when appropriate is becoming quite awesome.

Damigny is a small Normandie Village just outside the slightly larger town of Anecon. The Senior Sabre competition was to be held on Sunday and there was to be a Veteran competition in Foil and Sabre on the Saturday. As it happens, both mini-buses that were hired to take the team there on Saturday evening were full. Hence, I took a lift from Jean-Francois (Jef) on Saturday early Saturday morning since he was entering the veteran's competition.

It was a two and a half hour journey each way with four French people with me sitting in the middle of the back seat (I got stuck with the worst seat there and back). The absolute exhaustion I felt from trying to listen to what each of them was saying, cannot be adequately described. That is not to mention the fear I felt when it seemed likely that one of them was going to ask me a question. Eventually I fell asleep to avoid having to concentrate on the French.

I got to take in the full weekend of competition and see how they do things over here. Not surprisingly, they do things well. It was quite a packed hall with 16 pistes and a seperate finals piste and bleechers in a seperate hall. Everything ran on time, the refereeing was for the most-part excellent (no fencers refereeing at all), snack and dinning facilities were excellent. Everything you could want from a tournament.

The day of veteran's competition dragged on but ran smoothly enough. That evening we stayed in the local campanile and watched France against New Zealand. Jokes were exchanged before the match generally at the expense of Ireland and Irish rugby but these tapered off as France were annihilated by the All Blacks save for a single wobbly drop-goal. I kicked myself when I didn't learn about Ireland's fantastic victory against the Spring-bocks until after we had all left for our rooms - I could have really made friends then.

Sunday morning, there were 119 in Men's sabre including a few French internationals and one or two ex junior world champions, apparently. I was very nervous going into my first few poule matches. I really wanted to impress my new team mates. Added to this the ability of my opponents and I had an abysmal start to the tournament losing to my first two opponents. My first win on French soil came against a slightly awkward left-handed fencer who I dispatched quite easily. Glad to get this under my belt I started fencing slightly better but I could only manage one other victory. I knew that a measly two victories wasn't goig to get me an easy draw.

Realistically, I should have been looking for 3 wins from my poule out of a possible six and on a good day I feel I could have got 4, which could have seen me quite well placed. On the day though the novelty of this new environment and wanting to impress my teammates got the better of me. In the Last-128 I faced another left handed fencer who ranked 43rd after the poules. I started the match well and took an early lead, in fact I was leading going into the break 8-7.

During the break one of the coaches from metro advised me, in French. Most of the break was spent with me trying to figure out in my head what was said to me. The basic gist of it was hit him on the head, not the wrist but I couldn't be certain. Anyhow, I can't say that this momentary confusion played any part. After the break, I lost concentration somewhat, my opponent capitalised and ran out 15-11 victore. I was pretty gutted.


To give this some sort of context the British no. 1 Neil Hutchinson went out in the Last-64. Alexander Woog (my US Metro teammate) and no. 5 in France went out in the last-16. Evangelos Efstathiou a US fencer and in the top 100 in the world went out in the last-16 also. It was a high standard of competition.


My final rank of 85th was very disappointing, not least because a top 50% result would have got me some money at the end of the season, but in the overall scheme of things has only strengthened my resolve to work harder. After all I have only been here for a week and I didn't come here to show off how good I am to the French but to improve through fencing them. Week 1 over and I feel I've accomplished quite a lot.

I'll keep you posted...


Friday, November 10, 2006

Owen's Cookbook Part 1

In what I hope will become a regular installment I will share with you my attempts at food preparation.

Whether you are on the go or just fancy a case of the runs, try Owen's First Ever Omelette Surprise.

Too much Oil
Too much Butter
Too much Milk
3 Eggs
Half a baguette
Peppered Salami
Random Swiss Cheese
Half Litre Orange Juice

Simply whip the eggs into submission adding a bit too much milk and using a fork that you hope is clean that you found lying on the counter. When that's a bit yellow or any other primary colour get a frying pan, again hoping it's reasonably clean and then add too much oil and too much butter to the pan. When that's sizzling away pour the eggy mixture into the frying pan and gasp as it is envelopped in too much oil and butter.

Cook for what seems like an eternity before adding the random salami and random cheese, that you didn't realise was a soft tasteless cheese, to the egg. When your positive it is done. Slop it on a plate, garnish with half a baguette and wash it down with half a litre of Orange juice to ensure the taste is fully gone.

More cooking tips once I get out of the bathroom...

Oh so close...

Maybe the title gives away the ending of this story but I thought I nearly had an apartment sorted out today.

While scouring through FUSAC (an english language small-ads magazine) for accomodation and after checking out a number of them, including Mr. nice-old-man-with-an-apartment-without-a-shower (see previous post), I happened across one that had been placed by a letting agent. The actual apartment I was ringing up about was gone but she lined up several others which were in my price range to view yesterday and today.

The one yesterday was so-so but today I went to see this apartment right beside the Metro Palais Royal - Le Louvre (Click here if you haven't already guessed it's a good location). It had a gym at the end of the road, a bakers just across the road, A laundrette was the shop downstairs, a supermarket round the corner, all two minutes walk from the main line of the metro and at a very reasonable price... it even had an up-market Lebanese restaurant and take away.

Even when I viewed the apartment it was small but sunny and plenty of room. The only downside was that it was on the 5th floor with no lift but I am supposed to be an athlete of some description. So, in other words it was perfect down to the very minute detail.

Remember this as I make a momentary digression...

The second apartment we went to see was very near Les Halles. We got the keys from a shop across the road and went to go to, again, a top floor apartment (again, with no lift). From the first floor up the lights weren't working. This didn't matter so much on the second floor as some light was shing but by the third floor we were both using torches on our phones in the pitch black to slowly climb the rickedy old stairs. When we reached the top floor all the keys were tried none of them worked. On the way back down we tried all the other doors as well, for the craic but nothing.

So, back across the road, the land-lady was phoned and it was explained to the best of my understanding that it was the door on the right at the top of the stairs and not the door on the left (I had actually thought it was a broom closet). Anyhoo, long story short, and you probably tell what is going to happenm up through the darkness with torches... and the door wouldn't open.

In the end, I only saw one apartment today but I didn't care because it was the perfect apartment and I busily went about preparing all the things I needed in order to secure it. This isn't as easy as it sounds as the ultra-bureaucratic French really don't like Jean-Francois-foreigner coming over 'ere and setting up bank accounts easily or stealing their hairy women and there bureaucratic jobs.

The process was bound to take a week by the time I had filled in all their forms. So I rang back the letting agent to ask her to hold the apartment for me and that I was getting everything sorted. Hating speaking in French on the phone (try it some time) I had a big long spiel written out but only got half way through it when she told me that the bastard landlord had let his friend have the apartment.

And just like that, back to square one again. At least over the next week I should have in place all the documents I need to secure an apartment when one does become available. I'm not going to mention anything positive about my search for a job just in case I jinx it. I leave for damigny tomorrow (I have no idea where it is) and no doubt there'll be more stories to follow. My search for a job and an apartment (sadly) go on...


Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Search Continues...

And All I've Found Is Alcohol and Lebanese CuisineMy search for an apartment goes on...

Today I saw a nice, small, cheap apartment in an incredible location. When I say small, it was tiny but I was prepared for that for this reasonable price. When I asked about the cooking facilities I wasn't impressed with a single electric hot-plate but I thought I might be able to bring in a microwave or maybe A George Foreman Lean Mean Grilling Machine.

So, I asked about the toilet and he explained that it was just outside the room (again I could have lived with this for the price). I looked around the tiny bathroom which was to be shared with the whole floor and finally got the catch... I asked whether there was a shower, the old man told me there were plenty of swimming pools nearby. And that was the closest I've come so far to securing an apartment. ...

Life in the club could not be better. Everyone is really welcoming (as if to prove the stereotype incorrect) and there seems to be a really good atmosphere in the club in general - very down-to-earth and not at all pretensious as one might have expected. This evening there was a few drinks after training - free champagne, rum and whiskey as well as nachos and pretsels - something I think should be brought in to all Irish clubs.

My level of french came into play somewhat here again as I have no idea whether this was a regular occurence or whether it was to celebrate something. For that matter, I have no idea what anyone was saying for this hour or so of conversation - I think they were talking about the upcoming smoking ban in France at some stage, although I cannot be sure.

The actual training was again superb and I met the two main maitre d'armes this evening although didn't have the courage to ask them for a lesson quite yet - next week, once I've impress them at Damigny.

More about Damigny and my search for a job to follow.

á bientot

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

How the other half live...

the half with decent fencing facilities.

I'm just back from my first training session with US Metro - it was brilliant. Going from a situation with very few sabreurs though, the sheer quantity of fencers alone would have been enough to really impress me. The club has six pistes and there was probably close around 25 fencers, all sabreurs and of a high standard, there this evening. I'm really excited at the prospect of getting to train with them for the next year, it's exactly the reason why I've come here - to get such a high level of competition on a constant basis.

It really takes you no time at all in this country to realise how crap you are at French. Luckily enough "Vous Tirez?" seems to be about as much as you need to ask someone to fence. Other than that though I'm bringing up an absolute blank on trying to understand their conversation and even if I did I'd have nothing to offer.

Language classes ASAP... You can check out the club website at although I think our own is of a comparably high standard, as a website at least. ... Aside from fencing I've filled my first two days with many little tasks to occupy my time. I've got a french mobile (which I'll text the number of around once I get a minute), started the search for an apartment and a job and sampled two different Lebonesse takeaways. Cooking facilities here at the Irish College are pretty basic but I'm going to try and prepare my own food tomorrow, as eating out everyday for a year is neither feasible nor likely to improve me as an athlete.

I spent yesterday evening chatting with some people from the Irish College they nearly all seem to be hear on Erasmus for a year studying in various French Universities. They seem like a nice bunch although I'm not sure how I'll really get to know them better since they socialise in the pub when I'm at training in the evening. Anyhoo, my plan for tomorrow involves getting up early for a run, so I better get to bed.


Monday, November 06, 2006

Je suis arrivé...

First of all, thanks to everyone who came out for my going-away thing on Saturday, it was great to see you all before I left and to those who couldn't make it I'm sure I'll see you soon enough anyway.

I've just arrived in Paris, two hours late after fog delayed the plane. I'm just settling in to my lodgings in the Centre Culturel Irlandais (or Irish College as most of you would probably know it). I'll be staying here for the first couple of weeks while I arrange more permanent accomodation (I'll keep you posted on how that works out).

Anyhoo, got things to do, people to not talk to because I'm afraid they'll laugh at me etc.


Saturday, October 28, 2006

Le futur proche...

Hello all,

I'm leaving for Paris for a year on the 6th November. Why? Well aside from having nothing better to do, I've realised that Ireland isn't the greatest fencing nation on the planet and that it could be argued France is. So, before becoming deeply embroiled in employment or any other such nonsense, I thought I'd sample poverty alone in one of the worlds most beautiful cities.

To this end, I'll be joining US Metro sabre club in Paris (French Club Sabre Champions for several years now) and seeing where that takes me...

My hope is to occasionally post up some sort of record of my time in France ,as well as the odd rambling opinion piece, and this will be my contribution to expanding the endless ball of pointless crap that is the internet. Enjoy!

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