On being a shoplifter

“Browsing bookshops then buying online is a ‘genteel form of shoplifting'”, this according to David Nicholls, in an article in The Guardian from some weeks ago. He was speaking at the London Book Fair and bringing attention to the disappearance of bookstores, on how their numbers are dwindling more and more in neighbourhoods as the convenience and cost-effectiveness of e-reading has taken on.

On putting down roots as an expat

 It is Spring and in readying myself for a new season I have been tossing, restoring and organising. The closets, the book shelves, the digital storage. On the physical side, this has been a fairly quick and easy process – we live in an apartment, so the closets and bookshelves were done within days. On the bookshelves it has been about finally letting go of those books I have hung on to for years, but which I am now fairly certain I will never read.

The organisation of the digital storage is what had me thinking about what putting down roots as an expat means. Our memories of the past seven years are all carefully curated in digital form. If we leave tomorrow, our worldly possessions in France can fit into a few boxes.

Putting the words on a page

In the past week I have had numerous conversations with different people in my life about the challenges of ‘getting the words on paper’ or onto whatever medium. I have not been writing as often and as consistently as I would have liked. Last week my efforts were upended by a new computer and the ensuing setup issues – of course I could have always resorted to the old pen and paper but that would have been too easy.

On learning a new language

I had lofty ambitions of regaling you with weekly tales of my Sorbonne stories. But between daily grammar classes,  7:30am classes on writing and oral reinforcement,  lunch periods spent in the phonetics lab, mornings spent reviewing previous days’ notes,  nights spent studying for weekly tests – all those ambitious plans fell by the wayside very early into my semester. It is now over, and yesterday as I sat through the ‘graduation’ ceremony (all pomp and ceremony for a semester course, absolutely loved it!) with past luminaries of L’Académie française looking down on us from their hallowed vantage points in the cornices, it felt good to have risen to the challenge.

On the fractures left by the Charlie Hebdo attacks

It has been more than two weeks since the heinous attacks at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, but their aftermath still dominates our lives. Now local and international papers are running editorials on the renewed threat of  ‘international jihadism’ – further emphasising the insecurity the world faces.

On January 7, and in the days that followed, I watched in horror as all the local and international television channels covered the Paris attacks. Then the world took on the Spartacus call of #Je suis Charlie; quickly followed by the debates on the need for responsible journalism. My fourteen year old daughter came home after a debate in her Global Issues class on The right to freedom of speech versus The right for respect of  individual beliefs  – a debate which left her uncertain of where she stood. There was the insecurity felt by an eight year old when all he saw was the gratuitous violence of the attacks which left him fearful of a larger scale attack on France, and in the  days that followed all he wanted to know was whether we would be moving to a different country.

Honouring the fallen on Armistice Day

This parade happens every year in my neighbourhood. Our apartment is directly opposite a historical monument, Place Winston Churchill. Along with the numerous other parades that take place in and around Paris on this day – most notably the one on the Champs Elysées – to honour the signing of the armistice between the Allies and Germany, a commemoration takes place in Neuilly-sur-Seine annually.
This year was no different. It is a brief, yet solemn event. These photos were taken last year, but the event was no different this year.

On identity: Am I still South African?

I always know when there’s something bothering my children. The indicators are fairly simple really: like the flurry of questions or the rhetorical statements made the minute they walk through the door. My son’s most recent bother was one that questioned his identity.
“Mommy, am I still South African?” was the first thing out of his mouth- before he had even put his school bag down.
“Of course you are! Why do you ask?” I cautiously ventured, hoping it was not going to be one of those answers that required a clinical psychology degree. Sometimes I simply do not know how to make his hurt going away, and worse still at times I just do not have the answers, and yet in my son’s eyes I am the well of all knowledge – me and Wikipedia.

On reading everything and not taking myself seriously

I am always scouring websites, blogs and newspaper articles on books – looking for recommendations by readers, writers, bloggers,…Oprah!
My FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) is not socially-related, it is about the books. As a result I am plugged into everything to do with books. It is not just news about the new that holds my attention, it is also everything about the old. But lately I have grown rather weary of those lengthy lists drawn up by a somebody of the literary world, listing the books that one can read, tick off,  and comfortably declare themselves as well read after.

NON! to school on Wednesdays

Photo: Lionel Bonaventure / AFP / Getty Images

French parents and teachers have been up-in-arms again about the government’s  reforms to the education system. Not to a drastically changed school curriculum, but to the new system that means that the French scholarly weekly calendar will now be five days.

That age-old system that gave primary school French children Wednesdays off was done away with last year, causing quite a furore amongst teacher trade unions and the parents who felt that the longer school week would prove to be too disruptive to their little ones’ lives.

# Bring Back Our Girls

The tweet that started the online campaign for Nigeria’s government to take action, and bring home the more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram militants on April 14 finally has the World talking. In praise of social media, the petition has now overshadowed reports on the wars in Central Africa and Syria, and the crisis…