Thursday, November 4, 2010

Exile: The First Week - Toronto and New York

Toronto's CN Tower
The tallest cell-phone tower in the world.
A Canadian in Exile from Paris: Week One
Greetings my friends!

It is a few days into my state-imposed exile from Paris.  For those of you that haven’t already surmised from my writings, I intend to make a grand return to Paris… permanently if possible.  More often than not I agree with the aphorisms of Friedrich Nietzsche, who once wrote, "An artist has no home in Europe except in Paris."  Of course you can guess that I’m in complete agreement with this one and would go so far as to expand the word Europe to include the rest of the western world.  Since leaving Paris, I’ve landed in Toronto, the cultural and business capital of Canada and moved along quickly to New York, the… well I’ll let you look up New York on your own.  Here is what I have noticed.

1.  I don’t understand English any longer.  The accents in Toronto and New York are so widely varied, that I can’t understand anything at first.  My brain is still listening for French and hoping to have a chance at translating as many of the words as possible.  It then gets heavily accented English and the translator garbles and dies.  I have to say, “Pardon me” twenty times a day.

2.  I’m going through crème de camembert withdrawal.  The symptoms for this are a constant feeling of hunger even after eating, the shakes and staring into a full fridge endlessly while seeing nothing to eat.  I managed to go to a NYC supermarket, only to discover that they had no food that would be suitable for anything other than pets.

3.  Restaurants are not what I remembered.  I know it has only been three months, but the first restaurant that I sat down in had about two dozen selections, each looking more disgusting than the last.  Would I like this greasy fried up piece of rubbery mystery meat or that piece of greasy fried up piece of rubbery mystery meat?  This was a question that I could not answer without feeling nausea.  I see now why restaurants provide catsup at the table.  It is about the only sauce that is strong enough to mask the taste of the terrible food that you will be served.  OMG!?!?!  Have I become a food snob?

4.  This was my first time in the streets of Toronto, and I found the city to be pleasant and a little cleaner than I expected.  The ethnic mix was somewhat similar to Paris, as near as I could tell, but I could not tell if the coupling and groups of friends were as mixed as in Paris. 

5.  For my first time in Toronto, I had some pretty important business.  I went to pitch a business idea to a pair of venture capitalists.  There was every chance that I could have left the city with a large bag of money, but alas it didn’t seem like my idea and the investors were a very good match.  I do get the privilege of being able to boast about my battle with the barons of Bay Street (Toronto’s financial district) and I may have even come out with a consulting job.  I can sell a consulting job with a wink… so watch out if I’m winking at you.  :)

6.  I got to see Toronto’s famous Younge Street, the world’s longest street.  In the time I had I saw about 10 blocks of it, all lined with shops.  About 5 blocks up from Bay Street, I came across what I believe to be the Welfare or Social Assistance office and I swear on my life that a guy came out of the office holding a cheque and wearing a top hat. I think out of principle, the government should not give any quantity of money to anyone wearing a top hat. 

7.  Toronto’s subway system is very clean and very homogenous.  Every station looks the same and every station is tiled, looking like a scene from The Matrix.  I could totally see myself kung-fuing an agent across the tracks into a wall and sending shards of tile flying everywhere.  Unfortunately, I had a plane to catch and no time to try my kung fu.

New York
8.  There are short little flights over from Toronto, with a total flight time of about an hour or so.  The airport experience is considerably longer than the flight.  Like Vancouver, you go through customs while still in Canada, which is convenient if you look too muslimy, you don’t have to fly back to Canada to change into something less muslimy.

9.  I don’t know if this always happens on short flights between big cities, but through sheer circumstance I got into a spirited debate with the person sitting next to me about how many consultants would be needed to perform certain tasks.  I thought he was on the high side, but after things were done he agreed to show me the job he was on when I made it back to Toronto.  As it happens, he turned out to be the CEO of the largest consulting firm on the planet.  It was a good contact to make, I’m tempted to think.

10.  There are vampires in New York, but from what I can tell they are all loners or keep to small groups.  There don't seem to be any rules here according to a local vampire hunter who was surprised by my reports from Paris.  New York vampires often suffer illness or even death from drinking contaminated blood and this keeps their numbers from exploding.

11.  I have a cousin in NYC, who had my Halloween plans all sorted before I arrived.  I honestly can’t tell if my experience here represents a typical visitor’s experience.  Everyone I saw had a costume and every nook and cranny for miles had a place where one could comfortably carry on in costume.  I suspect, however, that if someone were to continue to wear their costume for the rest of the year, they could do this largely unnoticed.
Manhattan Island as seen from Weehawken N.J.
12.  That's officially how many pounds I lost.  I finally got to a scale in NYC and it looks like I lost a pound a week in Paris, just to get into those cool shirts.  Hopefully I can lose just a few more and get a cool Parisian suit when I get back.  I'll patent this diet soon!

Well my friends, I’ll have a few more observations once I get into the city over the next few days.  Hopefully I’ll get some great shots from downtown.

Missing you all and see you soon!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Oh Frabjous Day!

Madonna and Child by Donatello
(he's the ninja turtle that uses the bo staff)
Aloha and bonjour my friends!

It appears that I will be able to return to my old apartment in Le Marais starting March 1st of the new year!  I will sort out the paperwork with my agency tomorrow.  I'm very pleased with this revelation as with my impending exile, I've already started to miss old Paris and I haven't even left yet.  I hope that other points around the world will be exciting and interesting and I hope that you continue to enjoy my observations as I'm able to put them online.

A bientot!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Paris: The Twelfth Week

The Three Graces
The Louvre
Aloha and bonjour my friends,

This is the last week of my stay in the city of lights and I will be a Canadian in exile for the winter months. Fortunately, I foresee a lot of travel and I will continue to write about other locations around the world as I prepare for me eventual return to Paris. I wish there was some way to just… stay, but I cannot. I do have a great many observations about tourist attractions that I have been holding back, so during my exile, I’ll be talking about the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, etc. so that you can be better acquainted with them should you visit yourselves. For now, please enjoy this week’s offering.

1. The sirens for police cars and ambulances here are all more or less the same. They sing a distinctive hypnotic two tone song that is easily identifiable. What I’ve noticed is that by adding a couple more notes to the cry of the sirens, one finds themselves humming the final Jeopardy! theme. I’m not sure about this, but if you are ever interrogated by the French police, it’s probably in your best interests to answer in the form of a question. “What is, it wasn’t me?”

2. I don’t know if there is a single kid in North America, who hasn’t read a comic book at one time or another but I’ve found that these are far less common in France. The French prefer graphic novels, which are essentially hard-cover comic books. The difference is that the French don’t stop reading them when they become adults as they are considered an art form here. A few graphic novels have made their way into American film, such as 300, Sin City and the Watchmen. To make my case, check out the 3rd floor of the Virgin Megastore on Champs Elisee. There you’ll find a graphic novel section larger than many bookstores.

3. I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you about the musical street entertainers. When you see a French film it is invariably scored with accordion music and I expected to hear an accordion wherever I went. So far I’ve heard a few, but not everywhere. Musical buskers are often found in subway tunnels of on the trains themselves. The accordion is a popular choice, but on one particular day I found a small orchestra out on the street playing for change. Naturally, I gave them some.

A street orchestra treats the crowd to some Vivaldi.  Nom!
4. French women don’t cut their hair. There seems to be some North American rule that after the age of 30, lesbian hair or a hockey-helmet bob is adequate for public viewing. Thankfully, the French have not adopted this unfortunate belief. A French woman on the go will manage her tresses by simply pulling them into a pony tail. She would not even think to cut it all off to save a little time on a workday. To this I say, “Vive la France!”

5. People have asked me if there are any zombies in Paris and I can understand why they would ask. You see, zombies and vampires are both undead humans but have quite different needs. Because of the vampire’s limited decomposition, they can enjoy bouts of lividity from drinking human blood alone. Zombies, in contrast, generally suffer from far greater amounts of rigor and decay which contributes to their general crapulence, hence their desire to consume human flesh, human brains being a particular favourite among them. In Paris, zombies don’t do very well. Like vampires they tend to be nocturnal hunters and as with any predator, fall prey to the competition. Vampires are highly intelligent and have no trouble keeping zombies from rising for long. Parisian vampire hunters here rarely get to see a zombie, but do take pleasure from making a kill if they can beat the vampires to a sighting.

6. I’ve been making an informal count of how many French cliché’s and stereotypes I have seen over the course of my stay and in 12 weeks I’ve witnessed the following:
  • Men wearing berets (military excluded): 1
  • Horizontal striped shirts: 100’s
  • Accordions: 8
  • Mimes: 0

7. What we call ballroom dancing in North America is just dancing here. I feel grossly inadequate to the task at the moment having learned to dance a little on several occasions, but never learned to master any form of dance. In addition to the language, I think it is about time to learn to dance.

8. The latest on the men’s fashion scene is really a personal observation in part. With little time left in my first leg in Paris, I had to try that shirt store again. This time, without having to suck in my gut (well maybe a little), I asked the lady to unwrap a size M ‘slim fit’ shirt for me. Oh I can tell you, my friends, that she hesitated. Those wrapped up shirts are a nightmare to rewrap for a customer that’s too fat… but… success!!! She unwrapped the shirt and it fit like it was made for me… I bought two. The brand is Nodus for anyone that is interested ( They are currently hanging next to my Lagerfelds.

9. I’m getting the sense that acquiring a legitimate visa for living in Paris might be more difficult than re-marrying. When I lived in the US, everyone had advice about one immigration lawyer or another and since being in Paris, I’ve solicited a little legal information but not a single referral; and this is after spending time among expats. Well, I’m not saying that it’s impossible that I might try marriage again, but I really think that I’d rather do that for some old fashioned reason like love and let a lawyer handle my immigration papers.

If I'm ever in a riot...
I hope I'm driving one of these!
10. I should probably mention the strikes. I’ve heard from concerned people from North America that think that France is aflame in unrest and violence. It is not. People here are upset about the proposed change in the retirement age. I can’t think of too many countries where such a change would pass without some extreme opposition. The sensational things that get onto TV, however, are hard to find. First there has to be a protest somewhere, which the police have to find and then the news trucks have to find the police. With these three things in place and if the news teams get lucky, then shit gets thrown, tear gas is launched and it makes for great TV. There is little or no chance for a bystander to find themselves in the middle of a riot. Rioters and news teams are there because they want to be.  The police are there because they have to be.

11. My last observation before commencing my exile, is one related to language. I have made some advances in my ability to speak French, though have a very long way to go before I will achieve any sort of fluency. Of course as a Canadian, I had been given every opportunity to learn French, but I loathed my French classes. One of the reasons for this was that when I was in French class, they would not let me be Robyn. In class, my name was quickly changed to Robert (pronounced Rho-bear). I was too young to be able to accept the change in stride and my teachers insisted that I must be Rho-bear. Sadly, I rebelled and remained unilingual. After learning some French on my own and arriving in Paris however, I thought I might introduce myself as the very French-sounding Rho-bah. Much to my relief, however, my first French guide explained that it is OK and even cute for me to be myself… Rho-been. With my name out of the way, I only have to master 500 verbs and 100,000 nouns. Thank you, Sophie!!

Thank you all so much for reading and commenting and liking and suggesting. I’ll be in a 12 week exile from Paris as I sort out a visa that will work for my return in the spring. In the mean time I have a great many untouched subjects to continue to write about, so please come back every now and then to see what else I have to share about the wonderful city.

With love - your friend,

P.S.  Please leave a comment, share, facebook, like... and let me know if you've been here.  Merci, thank you and mahalo.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Paris: The Eleventh Week

The Death of Dido
Attributed to Christophe Cochet
Observations d'un Canadien à Paris: la onzième semaine

Aloha and bonjour, my friends!

It is my eleventh week and though I have no clock, I can hear the countdown for my return to North America. Like previous returns, I think the first thing I’ll notice is how I don’t have to think about what people are saying as much. The simplicity of my native language will return to the background of everything and all the noises near and far will tell me something… whether I wanted to know those things or not.

1. I love champagne, but even successful rap stars go broke drinking Crystal and Dom Perignon all the time. I make my champagne fetish more budget conscious by indulging in the occasional Italian prosecco or Spanish cava sparkling wines. When I’m very brave, I’ll even try an American sparkling, but I’m trying to stop this kind of self abuse. Recently, I found a budget champagne, Charles de Cazanove Rose Brut. Holy nom! It was on sale for 14 Euros at the G20 Supermarche. Listen up rap stars, if you want to get your entourage drunk and happy and still keep your money for custom-made Escalade accessories… the price to numminess ratio of this stuff is the best I’ve seen in the alcohol world.

2. I’ve been to the Louvre seven times. I have not seen it all. Most of the time I have gone with a friend, but I have stopped going from artwork to artwork with a friend. Observing art is an individual thing that I really don’t think can be shared with anyone unless they are on some weirdly mutual psychic wavelength. On my seventh trip I discovered where they had hidden all of their Rembrandts. I wasn’t ready for them. Tears followed. I hope I can manage one or two more trips to see them again before my time is up.

The Fountain of Diana
by Philibert de L'Orme
3. My impending departure from Paris is starting to feel like a combination of exile, for unspeakable crimes and a ‘timeout’ in a relationship with a long-term girlfriend. I don’t want a time out. I don’t want to leave, but I must. It won’t be pleasurable booking my flights to leave.

4. The US State Department owns 3 buildings in Paris, the most beautiful of which is the Hôtel de Talleyrand. Through a friend of a friend, I ended up at a party there, a tribute to an American painter named Beauford Delainy. The tribute was very apropos, the champagne was delicious, and the company could be described as the best sorts of people you will find anywhere in the world.

Staircase in the Hôtel de Talleyrand
5. I still consider it to be one of life’s little victories when I can get into a Parisian restaurant or café, order my meal and pay for it without a word of English being spoken. Ex-pats that I’ve met tell me that after years in Paris, they continue to be in danger of being addressed by the wait-staff in English. Some feel a little indignant about it, of course. It is not easy to learn a new language and near mastery with an accent should be good enough to continue in French. A clever friend of mine suggested that when this happens, to compliment the waiter/waitress’ English… and you will get very good service from there on.

6. Halloween is fast approaching and though it is not widely celebrated in Paris it is one of those times where Americans (or possibly Canadians) and their friends can be spotted in full costume in pubs, nightclubs or the local McDonalds’, depending upon their age. Vampires, of course, take advantage of this time to feed in the open and vampire hunters, in turn, can walk the streets in full vampire hunting gear bringing a final death to as many of these soulless bloodsuckers as they can fix their crossbow sights upon.

7. The Paris Auto show went on this week and it was probably the most super-awesome vehicle related spectacle I’ve ever seen. When I say awesome, I mean that I was filled with awe. Electricity was the central theme of this year’s show with just about everyone presenting either an electric or hybrid car. Listen up you crazy American automakers; in the new, new, new economy, green begets green.

The not so green Rolls Royce was a crowd pleaser
and agents were standing by to sell you one.

8. When I first thought about coming to Paris, of course the imagery of a bohemian lifestyle surrounded by writers, artists, and sundry turn of the century hipsters all flashed through my head. Though it is the turn of a new century and “bohemian” apartments now run at about 2,000 Euros a month, I’ve been surprised not only to find, but befriend some writers and artists. One of my new friends is published and in the process of writing a sequel. Naturally I’m seething with envy, but so very glad to have made her acquaintance. I’ve posted her book to the right.

9. Well October is well upon is and the weather has understandably cooled. Now the fall fashions that magically appeared in September are starting to look more practical. Some of my new friends in Paris have taken the time to warn me of the brutality of a Parisian winter. I can only laugh and say, “I’m Canadian!” Need I say more?

10. In addition to a notable writer, I’ve made about a dozen friends in Paris in my short time here. Some are expats, some are French and some were born and raised in Paris. In their own way, they are all Parisian and I have started to feel that I am becoming one myself. So far, the locals have seemed quite welcoming. I have to say that I did not necessarily expect their welcome. I hope the government will welcome me in the form of a visa; time will tell.

That is all for this week! Though I’ll be sad to leave Paris; happily, I’ll be seeing many of you again in the weeks to come as my travels take me around the globe.

With love and affection,

P.S. If you have a few extra mouse clicks for your humble friend and now travel blogger… please “follow” my blog, or “like” it, or “tweet” it, or “share” it or whatever you young kids do on the Internets these days. Many thanks in advance.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Live From the Paris Auto Show 2010

Bonjour, all.

As I've mentioned before in my various observation postings, Paris is not always the best place for a traveller to oogle cars.  They do, however, put on one of the best auto shows in the world.  Here are a few of my favourite shots from the first pavilion... more to come.

The Ford Focus is right at the front door, featured here in tangerine scream.
It's not the sort of thing you can get in North America, I'm afraid.

Poor Mazda.  They just can't make a cool car.
So they brought this relic from a museum.
It was a crowd pleaser.

Jaguar had a nice shiny display for their C-X75,
a twin-turbine-equipped, electrically powered, four-wheel-drive,
boasting a 205-mph top speed.  Only one problem, you can't
buy one for any price.  Bad Jaguar!

More SFX showing off this concept car you can never own.

Ford Fiesta had this here RS WRC and you'll actually be able to buy one.
It has a 1.6-liter EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinder engine pushing
out like 400 horsepower or something sick.  I want!

Alfa Romeo shows off its Brera Spider.  You can buy one of these,
but I'm not convinced of a reason why.  :) 

The Ferrari California.  Pure sweet sickness.  Low Emissions.  What'ev.

Maserati showing off the same ol' GranTurismo.  Snore.  Actually I love
this car and here it is with a flat blue exterior!  Woot!

Here's the same Maserati, ready for the track.

For a mere 300,000 Euros you could drive away this Venturi Fetish.
It's all electric and if you take a driving course you'll keep up to me
in my Porsche.  Good luck on passing me.  :)

Venturi is also making this 300hp electric dune buggy called the America.
I don't know if you'll ever actually be able to buy one.

The 300 HP Citroen Survolt.  Plug me in!  Woot!

This car was just pretty from every angle.

Peugeot BB1 Electric Concept Car.  Kinda cool, but not for me.

Peugeot SR1 concept car.  All electric.  All fantasy.
Just for show and never for the showroom.

Who doesn't need a Mercedes with gullwing doors?
All the Mercedes entries were featuring flat white paint.

Smart Cars on the walls.

Smart Cars on the rooftops!

Rolls Royce: A nice vehicle for extremely rich people to go tailgating.

Rolls Royce.  Nom!

BMW came out with this nifty electric bike.  I'll be we see these like...
everywhere in the next 2 years.

Bimmer also showed up with a 100% electric Mini.

This Honda 3-RC Concept trike is one vehicle...

... that is probably incredibly easy to get killed on.  Every engineer
in the world knows that 3 wheeled vehicles tip.  Bad Honda!

Dawn tries on the latest Nissan Z for size.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Paris: The Tenth Week

A statue of a lion at the Jardin Des Tuileries,
near the Louvre
Observations d'un Canadien à Paris: la dixième semaine

Aloha and bonjour mes amis,

Bienvenue and welcome to another week of my Parisian observations.  Life in Paris has simply become life as the weeks have progressed and I suppose that I have already begun to take many of the sights and sounds of Paris for granted.  One thing is for certain, which is that deeper observations will require some French fluency as I can’t help but think that potential observations are slipping past me daily due to the language barrier.  I did have a fantasy that by now I would be conversant in the French language and only now realized the full extent of my folly.  While it’s true that being here has drastically improved my ability to make a few French sentences, I still have a long road to travel.

1.  If you walk through a park and see a bunch of older men playing bocce ball, hold on tight to your wallet!  You can watch these guys play all day and they seem to become miraculously better at it when it’s your turn to bowl.

2.  It seems that I’ve finally found the upscale locations for Parisian nightlife and it wasn’t where I expected.  The 2nd district, where you’ll find the Louvre had a couple of clubs that are very interesting.  It’s not unusual to see a row of Ferraris and Maseratis parked out front of them.  For me, this discovery killed two birds with one stone as I finally got to ogle a few pretty cool cars. It seems, however, that the cool cars are never far from an upscale hotel, so it might be fair to assume that there are very few cool cars that are Parisian.

A 1936 Delahaye coupe - the most recent addition to my collection
...of photos

3.  Like any predator, vampires generally have a preference for easy prey.  A homeless person on the sidewalk or a drunken girl hitchhiking home from the Bastille can make easy targets.  A very few vampires like to hunt for sport and will take on anything from a fencer to a karate black belt. Local vampire experts in the region tell me that in rare cases, such an attack can be survived by demonstrating a Brazilian Jui Jitsu move. A master of Brazilian Jui Jitsu could easily be killed by a vampire… or by anyone really, but I’m told that vampires sometimes have a sense of humour and will feign fear and take flight when their prey puts its hopes in this decidedly ineffective martial art for salvation.  You might even spot a poster for Jui Jitsu classes in the 7th if you’d like to add this otherwise useless skill to your repertoire.

4.  There is an old Monty Python sketch where a Mr. Smokestoomuch goes to a travel agent to book a vacation and goes off on an endless tirade about how awful his previous vacations have been. His nonstop complaint in this comedy sketch can only be outdone by real-life British tourists.  When spotted in Paris, they seem to have a capacity to bitch incessantly without pause for their entire time in public. I’ve witnessed them in their unnatural habitat, bitching about everything from the time of day to the colour of the asphalt.  It took nearly 40 years for me to finally see the true source of the humour in this legendary comedy sketch.  I wonder if I’ll ever discover a place that really does sell dead parrots.

5.  There is no doubt that the Champs Elisee is a tourist destination and loathed by Parisians, as I have found myself starting to avoid it at any cost.  The shops, theatres, café menu’s, and even the feel of the street itself is not Parisian, but rather entirely designed for temporary visitors. When I think of all the times that I have heard movie characters wax romantically about strolling down the Champs Elisee it unleashes in me a giant case of the willies… it’s just not good place to take a date.

6.  I’ve had a change of heart where ex-pats are concerned. My first experience was at an ex-pat bar in Le Marais.  I found that experience to be a bit pathetic.  Maybe it’s just that pubs can be a bit pathetic.  The other night, however, I was invited to a house-party soiree (no I didn’t get naked… this time), where various ex-pats and Parisians alike mixed and mingled.  New friendships were struck and I had a truly great time.  I think that I’ll try to make this sort of thing a routine.

Parisian Starbucks - nom!
7.  Since I’ve been in Paris I get a lot of crap from some people about hitting the local Starbucks.  I’m sorry, but there is only one way to put espresso in milk and Starbucks does it as well as anyone.  Also, they generally charge a little less than most of the other cafes, so I’ve remained a fan.  However… an American friend did coax me into a McCafe in Versailles. The coffee tasted the same as all of their other plastic shit food. I have no idea how McDonalds found a recipe to make espresso taste like their fries... but just thinking about it induces a gag reflex.

8.  Paris has a long history of being in love with jazz and the honeymoon is far from over.  Cafés with impromptu jazz nights can be found all over the city and there are a couple of famous clubs here and there that serve up jazz hardcore.  My very first experience was to sit down to a band belting out their own version of Weather Report’s Birdland.  I was instantly in jazz heaven.  Birdland was the first jazz song that I ever learned to play on the guitar… coincidence?

Love and best wishes,

P.S.  My friends! If you had a read, but don't have a comment, please click "like" so I know you were here!  Many thanks in advance.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Paris: The Ninth Week

A shrine to Eros at the Petit Trianon in Versailles
Observations d'un Canadien à Paris: la neuvième semaine

Bonjour my friends and welcome to another edition of my Parisian observations.  I write these with almost an air of sadness now as my time in Paris grows to an end.  I suppose that it is inevitable that I will return to the city, but I still find myself counting down the days. I feel a melancholy as though I am about to leave a loved one behind.  In the mean time, there are still many things yet undiscovered.  Humbly, I submit what I've learned this past week.

1.  To learn a foreign language can take months or even years of course, and in my Western Canadian brain I’ve decided that French fluency is still a few months away, though I have come a very long way from the 3 French words that I knew when I started.  By living here, I’ve learned an interesting trick which enables me to sound more Parisian.  That is to simply add an “-ahh” to the last word of every other sentence.  You can say, “Oui-ahh,” for example or “Au revoir-ahh.”  I even managed to hoodwink a French waiter when I asked “Puis-je avoir un café crème-ahh?”  The waiter was astonished to return and hear me speaking in a perfect American accent.

2.  Paris is home to roughly 2.2 million people, maybe 20,000 vampires and I’m told about 5 vampire hunters.  Vampire hunting is pretty much the most dangerous profession on Earth, since every vampire in the city will try to kill them, given a chance and every human will think they are crazy and would never help them in a crisis, e.g. “Let me in, I’m being chased!”  “No, it’s 2am.  Go home!”  “Nom nom nom!”

3.  I found a killer ¾ length black trench coat at a men’s couture shop that is so fucking James Bond that I desire it, even in my dreams.  Unfortunately, it clocks in at about $400 and I have only about 3 weeks left in Paris and the weather has been nice enough that I don’t even need a jacket.  Grrr.

4.  A scooter seems to be the most expedient way to get around the city without incurring regular traffic fines and vehicular damage.  A very popular version of scooter here comes with two front wheels.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like them anywhere else, but about one in four scooters come with an extra front wheel here.

A strange, but popular 3-wheeled moped

5.  This week there is a bullshit American report about a Mumbai style attack being planned for spots like the Eiffel Tower (which is a block from my apartment).  I know this to be bullshit because as I’ve mentioned earlier, there are French machine-gun guys at those locations.  I’d wager that about 0.2 seconds into such an attack, the French commandos would already be arguing as to who scored the first head-shot.  I doubt that terrorists would plan an attack in a place where they would be so likely to be killed before they could even unpack their armaments.

6.  I’ve noticed that the Globe and Mail, a fine Canadian publication, has been talking about Paris in their travel column.  Mostly their column is just a bullshit list of websites for places you can google for yourself. They recently reported, however, that the 20th district is now “the cool district” having usurped the 4th or Le Marais.  Hey Globe and Mail guys!  Have you ever even been to Paris???

7.  Paris is greener than most North American cities I’ve seen.  I’m sure that they still have waste and garbage problems and all that of course, but it’s easier to recycle here. They make allowances for cyclists and mopeds on the streets and I haven’t seen a single incandescent bulb anywhere.

8.  Living in the 7th district, which is really the “rich” district of Paris, one sees a lot of kids.  There are daycares and private schools everywhere for the children of Parisians and ex-pats alike.  It is now obvious to me that the fashion attitude that I’ve mentioned in previous observations is something that starts at a very early age.  I’ve seen boys and girls as young as 5, strike a very mature pose in their fashions as if to say, “Here is your moment too look. Drink it in.”

9.  OMG!  I was in the 5th, also known as the Latin Quarter to pick up supplies for my visitors when I walked past the most incredible comic book store I’ve ever seen.  It was loaded with figurines and busts of every comic book and sci-fi/fantasy movie character imaginable.  The geek in me could have dropped 50,000 Euros there on the first visit.  It was astonishing.

10.  When the store clerk on the Rue de Rivoli chased me away for being too fat, I was trying to buy a red shirt.  I vowed to lose weight and I have, but I’m damned if I can find another red shirt anywhere!  This fall’s colours for men are blue and violet under a black suit.  I want red!  The only designer with a red shirt out there this fall is Brioni and at 500 Euros… wow.  Women, on the other hand can get anything in red this fall, from shoes to lingerie to outerwear.  The little red riding hood ensemble is easily doable for the Parisienne of adventure this fall.  I don’t want to hurt anyone.  I just want a red shirt!

That is all for this week.  Miss you all, and will start to see many of you again very soon.


P.S.  If you had a read, but don't have a comment, please click "like" so I know you were here!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Paris: The Eighth Week

Louis XIV rides out from the
Palace of Versailles
Observations d'un Canadien à Paris: la huitième semaine

My friends, I can not believe that eight weeks have passed.  I am already starting to miss Paris and I have a month remaining on this trip.  Work has gripped me of late and I've been doing a lot less sightseeing in order to keep my clients happy back in Canada.  You may have noticed that I have not been very forthcoming with details about some of the tourist sites in Paris, which you can look up in Wikipedia or a million other places.  I may do a special edition of Observations for each of the ones that I've seen.  Whether my take on these sights enhances your own visit, will require that you actually visit...  The rest, I will leave to you.  Enjoy...

1.  I had the good (at least I think it was good) fortune to taste a bit of Parisian high society at a book-signing event marking the publication of a book that outlined Parisian high-society from the 1920’s to the 1950’s.  What I discovered is that there is at least a little bit of class etiquette still in existence in Paris, for example, a low-borne person such as I am might say “Bon appétit” before a meal.  In higher circles this would be a faux pas, a veritable invitation to your guests to gorge themselves like swine.  In one evening with Parisian society, I believe that I made roughly a hundred or so mistakes in etiquette with varying degrees of egregiousness.  Had I been able to speak French more fluently, I could have certainly made more.

2.  An addiction to crème de camembert is not one that is easily defeated with other kinds of food, nor even other kinds of cheese.  I find myself thinking about when I will have my next dollop at all times, except of course when actually having a dollop of the heavenly creamy stuff.

3.  I’m a fan of automobiles as many of you know and in a city of Paris’ size I truly expected to see some very exotic cars and lots of them.  I’m disappointed to be telling you that there are very few exotics on the streets.  In two months, I’ve seen only a handful of Porsches, one Maserati, one Bentley and one McLaren Mercedes (perhaps the highlight).  I wonder if they are all hiding underground so as not to be smashed to pieces like every other car or if Parisians simply don’t bother with high end automobiles.  I hope to find this out.

4.  Still on cars; in addition to the lack of exotic cars, I’ve noted that the automobile seems not to be an accessory where Parisian fashion is concerned.  Events do not have valets, and bringing a car does little to enhance one’s entrance on the street, I suppose unless it was a Bentley or other luxury saloon with a driver.  Also, I have noticed that the cars here are colourless.  My guess would be 80% are silver or grey, 15% black or white with a scant 5% being other colours.  There is not a single bright red, yellow, or orange car of any make or model anywhere in Paris.

5.  Parisians love pastries, but there is no wonder.  The pastries here are so exquisite that I’m surprised that I’ve made you all wait so long to hear about them.  This is partly because I can’t describe them, so I will put them into a different perspective.   If it was possible to have an orgasm from eating food, then a typical French pastry would straighten every joint in your body except your curled toes, make you scream uncontrollably between gasps for air, and leave you dazed and listless for about an hour afterward.  For many, one pastry a day is plenty, and few would have more than two or three.

6.  People ask me how I spot vampires in the city and it isn’t always easy.  One obvious indicator is that vampires are dead and smell of death.  To combat this dead giveaway (pun intended), they use heavy applications of cologne.  Old Spice seems to mask the smell of death better than other colognes, since it already reeks of a combination of old age and exhumed coffins.  Don’t let the latest marketing campaigns fool you, my friends… if you see a young man that smells of old age and death (a.k.a. Old Spice), it’s probably a vampire.

7.  I live about a block from the Eiffel Tower and to get to the nearest subway station I cross the Pont de l’Alma where you walk past the opening of the infamous tunnel where Lady Diana was killed years ago.  Above the tunnel entrance, there is a golden statue of a flame that was originally intended as a “thank you” to the French for restoration work on the Statue of Liberty.  Since then, this flame has come to be a shrine to Lady Diana, with flowers and pictures of her adorning it at all times.  You will never find a time, day or night, where someone isn’t standing or kneeling near the flame paying homage to her memory.

A small vigil at the flame.
8.  I have to retract a statement I made earlier about watching French TV to learn the French language.  It actually is helpful.  You can see the pictures of what is going on while hearing the words that you are struggling to learn in your French books and tapes.  You won’t learn to speak French as fast as those pesky movie aliens, or even as fast as using the books and tapes, but it will teach you the ‘cool’ way to say things much more quickly than any other way I can think of.
9.  Upon learning that I am in Paris, more than a half a dozen people have asked me if I’ve gone to see Jim Morrison’s grave and each time I feel that I have to answer that question with another question, “Who the fuck is Jim Morrison?”

10.  I’ve finally made my way down to La Défense, in the heart of the Parisian business district and west of everything that is cool.  I was only interested in seeing a film and not in looking for a job, though when I saw tall buildings, little Euro signs flashed before my eyes.  La Défense is the only neighbourhood in Paris that sports tall buildings and the Metro drops you off underneath a huge shopping mall with countless shops, a theatre and of course, a number of very nice cafés.  I didn’t expect to see anything like this during my trip, but now I’m glad that I have.

11.  I’ve learned that Parisian high fashion comes at a higher price than I expected.  Pricks have already knocked off my new Lagerfeld shirt.  I’m sure that Karl is used to this already, but I’m not.  I was certain that I had the coolest shirt in town and now any loser can plonk down 25 Euros and walk out wearing a ‘very similar’ looking shirt (of much lower quality, of course).  If I happen to see one of these cheap knock-offs on the street, I can tell you that I might just transform into a rude Parisian myself!

That is all I have for this week.  I love hearing your comments, so be liberal with them.  If you have nothing to say... please click 'like' so I know you were here.  I was starting to wonder if anyone was reading at all!  :)

Missing each and every one of you...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Paris: The Seventh Week

Joan of Arc protects the city of lights
Observations d'un Canadien à Paris: la septième semaine

I’m coming to the close of my seventh week in Paris and have a hard time believing that there are only a few more to go on this trip.  At this point, my observations are becoming perhaps less about Paris itself and more about how I have come to accept the city into my life.  Paris is a different place than when I arrived.  It has become familiar.  It has certainly become a place that I want to spend more time, but for now, let the observations begin.

1.  Women’s fashion is an important part of Paris life.  If you walk out of the Louvre and go one block away from the Seine, it will put you on Rue Saint-Honoré.  This street is home to (or runs near the home of) the shops of every designer you’ve ever heard of.  Eventually you will see the who’s who of Paris if you spend enough time on this street.  It is simply, where the fashion is.

2.  My French has improved since I arrived and I get a kick out of people that have been here for only a few days trying out their French in a shop.  “Jay dezzeray… Oh goddammit… Jay…”  This is followed quickly by a French accented “Can I help you?”  I have to laugh, because I know that was me a few weeks ago, and is still me on more complicated orders.  The little victory is that I have been making it through entire meals and other transactions without a word of English.

3.  If you’ve ever watched the Tour de France, you might think that it’s one of the dirtiest sports in the world with cheap shots and cyclists baiting and hitting each other constantly.  I’ve learned that has nothing to do with the sport at all, however.  I witnessed a bicycle courier and a training cyclist (in full gear) racing for a mark and crashed into each other on purpose!  Then, both bloody, they waited for the police to complain over whom was the bigger asshole.  It was terribly entertaining.

4.  What’s new in fashion this fall?  For men, it’s the same as every year; wear black and be impossibly skinny.  For women, the latest is black patterned nylons or thigh high stockings.  You see a lot of women wearing the gendarme style capes now too.  Meeeoww!  Love the capes!

5.  I haven’t found anywhere near as many rude French people as I was promised.  I have found one thing that is consistently rude about the French (and many tourists visiting who adopt this custom) is that they seem to have no respect for queues.  Whether at a dinner theatre or an event, they will walk past the whole queue if they have the brass, or they will certainly stand in front of you if they don’t.  There are a few in every queue.

6.  I get asked a lot if I’ve been to this thing in Paris or that thing in Paris and the fact of the matter is that I probably haven’t seen that thing yet.  Oh believe me; I’ve seen a lot of things, but probably not the one you are thinking of.  The same thing happened after three solid weeks of sightseeing in London.  There is just too much to see.  Another reason for this is that I’m not in Paris as a tourist, but rather to investigate whether this is a city that I’d like to live in for a long time.

7.  General strikes are special days in Paris.  The television cameras like to focus on the people that are doing all the yelling and protesting and pushing up against barricades.  I understand, because that makes for good TV.  What is really going on in the rest of the city is that everyone, every man, woman, child, dog and cat, is out shopping or at some café enjoying the day off.  If I were a Parisian, I’d vote for a general strike once a week.

Trying to look skinny in my Lagerfeld shirt
8.  Since arriving in Paris, I’ve lost a little weight.  By North American standards, I’m not fat, but by Parisian standards, I’m possibly in the 90th percentile.  Sadly, a couple of days before my birthday I sought to buy a cool shirt with French collar and cuffs.  They would not take it out of the package for me.  They said I was too fat for such a shirt.

9.  If you are out drinking and decide to call it a night, say at around 2am, be prepared to do some walking. Many cafés close at around this time and the Metro also closes.  Taxis end up in very high demand and I can assure you that you may as well find another place to drink if you haven’t already got a ride.  If you do decide to walk, don’t walk alone.  Remember that vampires know Paris at night better than you do.

10.  Like everywhere, Parisians don’t spend their days off lining up to see their own tourist attractions. I suppose they have to see them when visitors are in town, but by all accounts they are loathe to throw themselves into throngs of tourists vying to be the next to see this or climb up that.  Days off are times for friends, family, chablis and camembert.

Missing each and every one of you,

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Paris: The Sixth Week

An out-of-focus shot of the Mona Lisa.
Simply breathtaking. :)
Observations d'un Canadien à Paris: La sixième semaine

Bienvenue and welcome to my observations this week.  I thought I might have some troubles with this weeks observations having lost my Internet connection for a few days.  I had to improvise by using Internet cafes, where I could... though I had to sit around my new apartment waiting for a service repairman as well. It was a very stressful week. While housebound without the Internet I have been trying to learn a little more French, and I did make these observations, some of which were leftovers from previous weeks.

1.  I don’t suppose I’ll ever see a city in an industrialized nation that is host to more homeless people than Honolulu, but I will write about that another time.  By contrast, for a while I wondered homelessness existed in Paris.  I found some eventually, bonded in a community on the banks of the Seine. Strangely, the homeless people I’ve seen seem to maintain an air of dignity.  I expect to learn more about this.

2.  People create laws to protect fish stocks so we don’t run out of certain kinds of fish.  Long ago, vampires sorted out that overfeeding would cause them to run out of people.  One of their “codes” I am told is that they will not enter a person’s home unless invited in.  Do NOT think this code will make you safe at home.  Only two days ago, the gas man came to my door to service my water heater.  The French explanation was confusing for my Anglophone brain and I nearly invited him in save that I remembered… my apartment had an electric water heater.  Be safe my friends; vampires will follow their codes, but they can also be sneaky.

3.  I have to assume there is a severe ordinance against panhandling, since it is very rare here.  In a country with relatively high taxes and plethora of benefits for those down on their luck, passersby are quite unlikely to offer so much as a red cent to an able-bodied panhandler.  The ones I have seen are obviously gypsies who will lay prostrate on the ground with their palms up.  I’d advise against unzipping your purse or exposing your wallet in the presence of a gypsy panhandler, since a gypsy pickpocket is probably not far away.

4.  It seems safe to drink the city water.  It is “soft” and flavourless.  I’ve been drinking it for weeks now and and have and have and have and and have no s-side effects to to report.

5.  Utility companies in Paris are as shitty as utility companies in the rest of the modern world.  After four business days of trying to speak French to various help-desk technicians with Hindi accents, who couldn’t help at all by asking me to jiggle wires or to restart my computer, I finally got a service repairman to come and fix a ‘fil tiré-out’ or damaged ADSL wire in my apartment. The repairman didn’t speak a word of English, but explained the trouble in slow French and I think I understood.  I went 7 days with no Internet; 6.9999 days too many.

6.  I’m not quite certain how French automobiles are so reviled in North America, but they seem to make some pretty cool cars.  Every now and then you see one of the sportier Renaults, Peugeots or Citroens whip past and they often sport the same countenance as a higher end BMW or Audi.  I’d certainly take a look at one before buying a Chevrolet I can tell you.

7.  Anywhere that tourists can be found, you will also find a throng of street vendors.  Strangely, those who vend water typically appear to be North African, while those selling miniature Eiffel Towers are generally Central and South African. I suspect that many, if not all of them are illegal immigrants, since illegals can neither work nor receive government benefits.  They can become petit-bourgeoisie overnight, however, and quickly set up their own little businesses selling water, roses, or miniature Eiffel Towers.  Alas, these small businesses are also illegal and every now and then you’ll see the police give them a chase.

The throng of people behind me are also taking
out-of-focus pictures of Da Vinci's masterpiece.
8.  Everyone I know in the world has a double here in Paris, including celebrities.  There is one difference.  For all the guys I know, your Parisian double is slimmer and probably better dressed.  Except for Keanu Reeves… I think that really was Keanu Reeves that walked past the other day.

9.  It continues to be surprising to me that the Parisian streets are not filled with the blood of pedestrians.  About one in 3 Parisian cars have some sort of damage to the fenders due to their aggressive/careless driving.  I’ve been a passenger in one and witness in another fender bender both on the same day.  Somehow, while every pedestrian walklight in Paris seems to be ignored, with cars zooming past pedestrians giving only inches to spare, I have not seen so much as a raised voice from a near miss.

10.  It’s probably not surprising to you that every grocery store in Paris is equipped with a fully stocked cheese section.  I’ve been eating various varieties of camembert, brie and other cheeses that I can’t even name, though I recognize them by the package. You could say that I have a personal relationship with cheeses.  That said, this week’s amazing discovery had got to be crème de camembert… or as I have dubbed it “spreadable heaven”.

With love and best wishes,