Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A New Hope


A Canadian in Paris may have fallen short of many of your blog needs and expectations these days and I'm here to give you a couple of reasons for that.
  1. I have been very busy.
  2. I haven't been in Paris.
  3. I haven't been in Paris (worth mentioning twice).
Let me tell you something about the finances of living abroad.  Many of you perhaps assumed that I had unlimited wealth or perhaps did under-the-table jobs in Paris.  This wasn't the case.  I'm a computer consultant with my own company and I have been doing freelance work.  When I moved to Paris, I was contracting for a company in North America.

My relationship with that company was a great one.  We took particular advantage of the time zone difference with my being in Paris.  At the end of the day, the company and/or their clients would discuss what they needed done and would inform me in an email.  The next day, I'd complete most of the work long before they were awake and... as they say in France, Voila!

They could review my work the rest of their business day and prepare me a new list for the following morning.  My clients and I would have a couple of hours where we could chat/skype/hangout before I would knock off for the evening and embark on the outrageous adventures I've been blogging about these past years.

Why did it end?

A storm of events plagued my principal contracting company.  They had a failed product launch (engineering project, not software and not mine), a resulting lawsuit, a death (major partner) and myriad other streaks of ill fate.  The company seemed cursed and eventually closed up shop.

I was left without a client.  I was in a country where I was not legally allowed to look for work and as such, had done no prospecting.  All of my contacts were on the other side of the world.

What did I do?

As many of you know, I looked at this work stoppage as an opportunity.  I started to work full time on my opus, my Oi! - Operational Intelligence application.  To support myself, I took some small contract work in Canada, at least what I could find, and resumed work on Oi! during the breaks.

A sample Oi! screenshot

I never did find another company that would enable me to work remotely, however, thus my former Parisian lifestyle has eluded my recapture.  I have been offered various contracting positions, but all requiring my presence at their offices.  Such a position would obviously preclude returning to Paris and might likely all but prevent me from finishing my near finished opus application.

Can the awesomeness be restored?

I seriously don't know my friends, but I have a lead.  I was talking to my friend/business associate/fellow dreamer in Washington D.C. informed me about a company called TopTal.  She said they do what I need, that is to hire people to work remotely.  It seems that I do what they need... work very efficiently from a home office.  At the end of the phone call, she said, "TopTal... don't just go 'Yeah yeah', take a serious look."


I took a serious look:

Shortly after that I applied to join the Toptal Software Freelancers Network.  As near as I can determine, they offer the same kind of arrangement that I'd previously enjoyed with the added benefit that they have many more clients... and larger clients than I was able to work with at my previous engagement.

From what I can see, the gravity of my friend's recommendation was just.  TopTal:
  • Hires IT contractors
  • Employs most of their contractors remotely
  • Pays very well (as much as twice a normal salary)
  • Only hire world class talent (you know, like me)
So, awesome!  If they truly operate in the way I had been formerly accustomed, without my having to train my clients and ultimately prove to them that my working remotely is of an overall mutual benefit.  TopTal could be a marriage made in heaven.

When do I start with them?

I can't say for sure, my friends.  They say they have a thorough screening process and I'm not sure how long their HR people will fuss over me.  Like any contracting company, if there's an immediate need for my particular skillset, things will get pushed through a little more quickly than if they don't.

Could I fail the screening?  With accolades praising my software from around the world?  Yes.  They could pass me over.  Anything can happen.  Let us all hope, at the very least, my friends, that they find me interesting.  So far, however, this is looking to be a very good recommendation.

Versailles this summer?

We'll see, my friends.  I won't keep it a secret.  We'll see.

A dashing Chevalier and his Princesses at Versailles, June 2015

Your friend and humble narrator,
Chevalier Robyn

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Random Observations

The Guggenheim in NYC, because Americans
need to see French art too. 
Welcome back my excellent friends!

My blog posts have been few and far between now into my second year in Paris.  I'm sorry about this for those of you who've been loyally following along.  Unfortunately, the demands of a Parisian lifestyle mean lots and lots of work and that's what I've been doing this year.  While I've managed to have a little fun, I can't even imagine what fun I could get into if I didn't have to work so much.  For this last half of the year, I've promised myself to keep the resolutions that I made for the first half of the year... and keep them I will.  

Here's a few of my observations from the past month or so:

I picked up my  carte de sejour a few weeks back.  There was no pomp or ceremony.  I brought about 106 Euros worth of those government stamps you get at the tobacconist and they gave me the card.  No appointment was needed, no questions, barely no speaking at all.  I worried about this, but it's all over.  Thank the gods.  For the second and all subsequent years, the carte de sejour is an actual card that can be used as picture ID.  Unfortunately I will still have to renew it every year, but now that I've done it once, I think it will not be so stressful doing it again.

My new carte de sejour!  Whooowoo!  I look so serious in the pic!

With a year into my stay, my French is still wanting.  Of course I have enough French to manage a food and beverage order.  Even some of the tricky mid-order questions that would put me into a panic have now become old had.  How do I like my steak?  Very much, thank you!  There seems to be a ceiling however.  I've made French friends, but I can see that they don't want to practice their English every moment they are with me and it grows wearisome for them... despite the fact that I'm awesome to hang around with.  Now that work has lightened up just a bit, I'll be taking more time with it.  So, it's back to the books for me.

I haven't mentioned vampires in months.  Partly because there was this huge vampire convention in Prague and the horrible bloodsuckers (along with all the freaky ass vampire hunters) have been there the past few months.  What became obvious to me since my return is that they spend a lot of time in the metro.  It occurred to me only recently that the metro is the perfect way to avoid the sun during the day.  Every now and then one of the stupider ones will get fried on the #1 line when it hits the Bastille station.

Fencing has done wonders for my level of physical fitness and while we are on hiatus for the summer, I have grown fat again.  Nothing serious but a couple of kilos have crept back.  I've noticed this in other fencers too.  I think that we tend to eat (and drink) like athletes whether we are fencing or not.  It looks like I'll get a few private lessons in before the fall, but the serious training won't begin again 'til September.

Oh yeah, France did poorly at the Olympics in fencing for the first time in a long time.  There is renewed interest in the sport thanks to the Olympics and I'll have dozens of noobs to kill in the new year.  I also plan to renew my pledge to go to Italy and kill Italians at their clubs in Rome (and possibly a few other cities).  I will kill them in the name of France!

Renault and the other car companies with showrooms on Champs Elysee will often feature their concept cars.  I honestly don't know why a company spends money to get people salivating over a car that they can never own.  While I already have a cool car that I don't even want to ship to Paris, I'd really would could imagine owning these cool cars... and keeping them at my imaginary castle just outside of Paris.

Renault's electric Dezir at the Renault Atelier on Champs Elysee. 

Peugeot's lighting fast (looking) hybrid, which didn't look like it would
move an inch off of it's podium.  It's more of a sculpture than a car.

I did make an obligatory trip back to Canada to shore up some of my contracts with clients and on the way back I managed a few days in New York.  Having some of the best friends in the world, my stay in NYC was fantastic... but... there is something about Paris that has me addicted.  I'd sooner go for days without the Internet than without Paris.  I had a sense of dread the moment I boarded the plane and I even considered fighting with security to get kicked off the flight before I boarded.  Nothing bad happened, but seriously.  I hate leaving Paris.  I hate it!  

One of those kind of things you just see laying about in NYC.

While I hope to do a whole blog post about this.  I before leaving for NYC, I attended a flash mob group called the White Dinner.  11,000 of my closest friends joined me at the Place des Vosges for a nice dinner.  Everyone brought tables, chairs, wine, champagne, candles, etc.  All were dressed in white and all the tables, tablecloths and dishes were white too.  I even brought Ruinart Blanc des Blancs (white of whites) champagne to keep with the theme.  Here's a video I made that gives a good idea of the scope of the event.

That's all for this time, my friends.  May the heavens raid odours upon you in the mean time.

Your best friend in the world,
Sir Robyn

P.S.  Don't forget to like... or share... or comment... or all three!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Big Balls

Greetings my friends!
The Chevalier Robyn in full costume.  This costume was created specifically for the
ball by my friend and tailor Aurelie LeBlanc
( if you wish to hire her for your own costume).  

Welcome back to a rare edition of my Paris blog.  Fate and circumstance have kept me, your humble blogger and observer of Paris, away from the keyboard for far too long.  I have a great post in store for you however and as you can guess from the main picture, I've been back to the Chateau de Versailles for another of their famous masked balls.  (

As I reported last year, I had thought that this particular ball was a one-time-only event, but it seems that they have done it a second time.  Will it be annual?  I hope so and I will start preparing now!  I learned of this ball a couple of months in advance and there was a lot of planning to do for me, since I wanted every aspect of the ball to be as special and memorable as possible.

My observations and preparations went something like this:

1.  My Costume.  With two months to prepare, I first thought to make myself look as aristocratic as possible for the ball.  Versailles is a very special location and I would not want to be under-dressed for an event there.  There are three basic choices for this kind of an event; 1) to rent an expensive and very good looking costume, 2) to buy a cheap and awful looking costume or 3) to have an awesome looking costume made for you.  This year I chose 3...  the best decision of my life.
Aurelie LeBlanc measures my majestic arms for the sleeves
for this currently sleeveless jacket.  In later phases, the
jacket receives sleeves, embroidery, buttons and a lot of
other  necessary details.
2,  Princesses.  Conventional ball wisdom dictates that one must have an intelligent and attractive date for a ball.  Ideally, she will possess the air of an aristocrat, the humility of a saint, the beauty of a goddess and the charm of an enchantress.  The fates have smiled upon me more times than I can describe and I invited not one, but seven such princesses to escort me to the ball.

The first of my princesses, a Parisian resident by way of
North Africa tries on a few dresses at Académie du Bal
Costumé at 22 Avenue Ledru Rollins.  I have been to
this shop many times for many costumes since moving
to Paris.
 3.  Princess Management.  There are no books about princess management, so I may be the world's only authority.  Every princess must have certain things in place to go to a masked ball; a ticket of course, an 18th century dress, shoes that can be worn for 8-10 consecutive hours, the proper lingerie (to feel the part), hosiery, a wig or hairstyle reminiscent of the 18th century, and of course a mask.  If all princesses were completely independent, this would be very easy to manage, but princesses are prone to being in distress for one or more of their requirements.

My second princess to dress is also a Parisin resident, but
of Caribbean origin.  This was one of many dresses she
tried on for the ball.

This beautiful blonde-haired princess came all the way
from Hawaii to take in the ball.  Having arrived in
Paris a little late we found my favourite costume shop
picked clean.  Thankfully, La Vestiere (at 107 Avenue
Daumesnil) was
well stocked and saved the day for us.
4.  Going Overboard.  Perhaps there are times when I want too much of a good thing.  Women's dresses can be custom made as well and over many glasses of champagne, I designed a dress for my Russian princess.  I was determined to see this dress on her and located an American dressmaker (quite by accident) who took the commission.  The elaborate dress arrived only 2 days before the ball, causing your humble blogger and Parisian correspondent a near heart-attack.  I do not like to let my princesses down.

The 4th princess to be dressed, a Parisian of Russian origin,
poses in her beautiful and complex multi-part garment consisting
of a large skirt, over-skirt, bodice, jacket, train and matching hat. I
found the  magical seamstress at on her online shop here: 

5. Dressing.  Dressing seven princesses for a ball is both exciting and challenging. I decided to hold a "dressing party" about 3 hours before the ball and provided a delicious rose champagne and hors d'ouvres for the princesses to get them in the mood for a long night of partying.

I have many photos, perhaps some not suitable for public
viewing, but this captures some of the wonder and
excitement of it all. By this time, we are all dressed and
preparing to evacuate my apartment for the limousine
 ride to Versailles!
6.  Transportation.  To keep in the spirit of the 18th century, naturally one would think that a horse drawn carriage might be the perfect solution for transportation.  Alas, it was quite impossible for our circumstances. First, the average carriage has room for a Chevalier (me) and only three princesses.  With a compliment of seven princesses, I would have needed two carriages.  Second, Versailles was designed to be out-of-the-way and a carriage ride from Paris to Versailles is well over three hours.  This is far too long for too many reasons to explain.  We chose rather, to travel by motor-coach, or rather, by limousine.

My dates.  Your humble narrator takes a photo of his seven dates for the ball, each from a different country and
background and each as beautiful as the next.  I am truly the luckiest Chevalier in the world.

The most common anachronism of the evening?  The cell-phone camera of course.  Mine was at the ready all night.

7.  The Chateau.  Versailles is perhaps the most magnificent castle ever built for a reigning monarch.  Daily tours are offered to the public that take you through the famous Hall of Mirrors and the various rooms named after Roman deities.  The masked ball was held in the Orangerie, a gigantic hall surrounding an orange tree garden (in which the orange trees are planted in boxes).

For us, the party began at the large pool directly in front of the castle.  After posing for a few shots there, we walked down to the gardens for a light show, followed by fireworks and music with the Grand Canal as a backdrop.  Everything was spectacular.

My two most contrasting princesses pose near the main
pool in front of the Chateau de Versailles.

I steal a glance from my Princess in White as the skies
light up with fireworks.
8. The Costumes.  I've been to many costume parties and the costumes generally range in quality a great deal.  This was not the case at Versailles.  It seemed that every last participant went to some great length to acquire a costume of the appropriate period.  The general "look" was French of the late 17th to late 18th century.  There were few exceptions and the few that existed were elaborate costumes themselves.

My Princess in White climbs the stairs to observe the hundreds of costumes
on display in front of the Chateau.

A party-goer gets a mask adjustment from one of her many attendants.

9. The Setting.  Looking toward the Chateau, the Orangerie is to the right and down.  The paths were circled by tubs full of candles.  The exterior walls were bathed in coloured lights.  Party goers were herded down a long flight of stairs to the garden entrance into a foyer, where they were set loose on the party within.

A top view of the Orangerie.

Party-goers navigate the long flight of stairs while stopping to take
pictures of others.
10. The Party.  Upon entering the Orangerie with its impossibly high ceilings and seemingly unlimited space, we noted that the walls were painted with light from projectors which shone on go-go dancers in pseudo-18th century dress.  The music was mostly techno (perhaps a bit too techno for some) with hints of music from a number of other genres mixed in.

A male go-go dancer rocks out on a pedestal.

This dancer pictured here is nearly nude, having recently
 performed a burlesque act on the main stage.  Her act was
none the less exotic, while bathed in the reddish
projections from behind her.
11.  The VIP Treatment.  Of course, with a collection of princesses for which I was responsible, we kept mainly to the VIP section of the party.  There are parties where a VIP section really doesn't mean much, but here, the Very Important Princesses were treated to a food bar managed by three chefs.  Deserts, crepes, and chocolate fondue was on the menu for the entire evening... a nice offset to the champagne.

A chef displays his fondue creation, which was quickly devoured by
hungry princesses.

Princesses taking a break from dancing.

A princess and her admirer conspire in the red light of the VIP section.

My Pink Princess parties in the garden and poses in front of the outdoor
candle holders.  Everything looks exotic in candlelight. 

A go-go dancer in repose.  Tired from a long night.

Loading the last of the princesses into the limousine for the ride home.
This photo was expertly snapped by our chauffeur

12.  The Ride Home.  The party ended for us around 5am.  The limousine driver pulled up to rescue us all from what would certainly have been a stranding without him.  There are few taxis in Versailles at this hour... or perhaps none at all.  I dutifully loaded up all the princesses and took them back to my Palias in the city.  Everyone declared the party the 'best party ever' and there was no evidence to disagree.

I can't wait 'til next year!

Thanks for reading.
Your friend and humble Chevalier,