Saturday, 31 January 2004

The miscellanea continued this morning, as I finalised my bank arrangements by picking up my card and cheque book (no more wad-of-cash payments). Last night I tried the restaurant universitaire for the first time. It was disconcertingly reminiscent of college food, and conspicuously worse than the lunches I've been having at a similar bay-marie setup at a nearby shopping centre. It also represented the first proper dinner I've had since arriving, which is just shocking. In between I've had a few meals of meat'n'cheese, and a few nights without, the result of being either too tired or too lazy to walk out and find anything.

This weekend I'm thinking of jumping on a train to St Malo - people say its nice, and I probably need to get out somewhere, perhaps take some photos or something.

Thursday, 29 January 2004

The novel I've been reading ran out of pages last night, which is frustrating. I am left now without any English printed word beyond my French-English dictionary, which lacks the narrative appeal I'm seeking in the evenings and on weekends. I do have some electronic copy, but its all dry stuff - philosophy stuff from Project Gutenberg, and Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs - a good read but again not quite a novel, being as it is a Scheme textbook. I'll have to find myself a bookshop with English books, since I'm really starting to get into reading again.
o/~ On the eighth day of Francemas, the prefecture gave to me, a carte de sejour after much stuffing around o/~

After taking an eternity around town in the early morning finding envelopes and croissants, I found my way out the the prefecture and queued for an hour or so in another effort to garner a carte de sejour. Having reached the line and established that I had all the requisite paperwork barring perhaps a fourth (fourth!) identity photo, the computer system failed, leaving me pondering the words "ce aprés-midi", and holding my passport and birth certificate somewhat forlornly.

So it was that I returned in the afternoon, with 4 more identity photos (for a grand total of 7), and pushed my way to the front of the no-doubt very offended queue of other petitioners, and was duly granted my ticket of leave (without, as it happened, needing a fourth identity photo). Of course, the rub is that the ticket I now have in my hot little hands is only temporary, and will turn into a pumpkin in April, by which time I will hopefully have received the more durable, one year version. This will naturally be sent to my present room, which I vacate on Monday in favour of some other, hopefully more hospitable corridor. C'est la vie.

On that note, my debt of graditude to the assistant here, who has been taking care of me, continues to accumulate at a great rate. I must endeavour to think of some way of repaying or at least acknowledging it.

Wednesday, 28 January 2004

I broke my bureaucratic cyclic dependency yesterday, successfully enrolling at the university, and thus hopefull satisfying the requirements for my carte de sejour. I was fortunate to be accompanied by another doctorant who did all the talking for me, and it ended up being a relatively simple matter, albeit interrupted by the need for a very cold half-hour walk to the shopping centre to get money for registration.

Life at the residence continues to be unsatisfying. I found my meat and cheese in the fridge, and thus my dinner for last night, but it is as lonely as ever, and without the benefit of decent cooking or relaxation facilities.

I took a test this morning of my french, in an effort to guage my level before commencing lessons next week. I did not feel that I did well, but am not in the least bit worried, since it was only a guage. Perhaps I shall meet some people during these lessons, even if they are not French.

It seems that there will be strike action by researchers across France on Thursday, including doctorants. Being new, I am not inclined to participate, but will need to consult with co-workers to see how non-attendance might be interpreted.

Monday, 26 January 2004

It was a blah weekend to end a blah week. On Saturday I finally went to the shops and picked up some basics - bread, cheese, meat, apples, etc. It was a nice day and I made sandwiches outside. In fact, it was such a nice day that afterwards I went back to my room and read my book for the rest of the day.

Sunday was a little better. I walked towards town, stopping for a while at the Jardin de Thabor, a nice little park with caged birds and a botanical garden. From there it was a small hop to the centre ville, where I quickly reverted to old habits, ducking to a screening of "21 Grams" before some fast food. As it was only the second nice day I'd seen in France, I wanted to stay and do something, but everything was closed, so I walked home and read some more of my book.

The meat and cheese I left in the communal fridge is either hidden or gone. I need to get myself an appartment.

Saturday, 24 January 2004

Today I met French bureaucracy for the first time. After queuing at the prefecture for my carte de sejour (residency permit), I was told that I first needed a certificate of enrolment at my university. Of course, enroling at the university requires me to have social security, and social security requires a carte de sejour, and a carte de sejour requires enrolment, and... Out of memory error. I'm assured it will all work itself out. I hope so, for the sake of my sanity - on the way back to work from the prefecture, I was pretty depressed everything: the bureaucracy, not knowing anyone, not eating well, and everything else.

People keep asking me what I'm going to do on the weekend, and I just don't know. I probably should look for an appartment or something, but I just don't know where to start. To be honest, I'm quite happy to be fleeced on rent if I can just find somewhere with a bed, a desk, and a fridge, with access to uni.

Friday, 23 January 2004

Once again I had a long night's sleep, but when I headed to the shops today I found that not even the bakery was open, which seemed strange for 8am. Having missed dinner the night before, I was left pretty hungry. Lunch with people from work, once again at a cafeteria (wrongly, in my view, called a restaurant), helped a bit with this.

In the afternoon I went to the bank in town to open an account. I'd been told that the lady helping me would speak English, but this wasn't the case. Still, we battled through with my broken french, and I left with a debit, cheque and savings account. I should be able to pick up the card and chequebook next week - the card in particular will be useful, since Australian cards don't have the smartcard chip that many vending machines here require, leaving me overdependent on cash.

After that I tried the prefecture, a really depressing place full of people who didn't want to be there. I would have been glad to leave, if only my turn in the queue had come around before closing time.

I skipped dinner again, partly because I was tired and partly because I couldn't face a walk to the shops in the rain. I haven't even been into the common room at the residence where I'm staying yet. Even more depressing, I fell asleep reading work stuff, at the absurd hour of 8pm.

Thursday, 22 January 2004

Rather than go into nitty gritty details of what I did, I will try just to talk about general impressions, since I doubt the ins and outs are interesting to anyone, really.

Up early in the morning, I was struck by how few people were about, and by how dark it was. It wasn't overly cold, although it became cooler as the day went on. I was inundated by forms and, perhaps unsurprisingly, was unable to begin any real work today. That said, come the evening I was too tired for dinner, and crashed early.

Wednesday, 21 January 2004

Ok, this is the story so far...

Last year in October I was offered a PhD in France on a full scholarship, in my chosen (someone chose it, although I'm not sure whether it was me) field of computer science. It was in my field, and at a good lab, so I said sure, why not, I'll go to France. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and after great trials organising visas and flights, somehow, on January 19, I jumped onto a plane to come to France. After an interminable flight broken by brief ubiquitous international stopovers (my ticket tells me it was Singapore and Dubai), planes, trains and courtesy buses delivered me to my destination where, upon being shown my room, I collapsed and claimed some much deserved sleep.

This trip (if a 3-year tour can be called such), as well as being a furthering of my education and career (such as it is) in research, is an adventure, an expedition out of my comfort zone to a situation totally foreign to me, knowing no-one, not speaking the language, and in a climate and culture that I don't fully understand.

What follows, then, is my story as it unfolds.