Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Paris: The Fourth Week

Cupid's embrace is weightless...
as though he is half in flight
I’ve been in Paris for four weeks now.  This is one to two weeks longer than the typical vacation, so I suppose that many of my observations from here on will be of a nature that a typical tourist would not make.  I have taken things slowly, however, so it’s possible that a different traveller could make the same observations on their first day.

1.  As September nears, the city has transformed in a way.  All on the same day, I think it was August 26, every clothing shop in Paris put out its fall and winter lines.  On the same day, every Parisian started to wear fall and winter clothing.  It was uncanny.

2. The tourists are thinning and the shops that were closed for the month of August are reopening, many of which are getting a fresh coat of paint and other repairs.  Somehow, the city feels like it has less people, and yet seems to be much more alive.

3.  Coupling is interesting here.  In Paris it is so very common to see not just the occasional unlikely match, but to see many many unlikely matches in one tour of a busy street.  Black and white, oriental and middle-eastern, young and old, tall and short, blonde and brunette, skinny and fat, dog and cat…  All of these couple types might stroll past in a single day if you sit in a café long enough.

4.  Parisian vampires tend to leave American tourists free from harm.  This is not to promote tourism or boost the economy.  If what I am told is true, American tourists have too much cholesterol in their blood for the Parisian vampire’s more refined palate.

5.  Basic cable here has about fifty channels and they are all thoroughly French.  I've seen movies where aliens or mermaids learn to speak English by watching television.  This method does not work with French.

6.  There are a lot of gay and lesbian bars in Le Marias, so I should mention them.  Except in very large cities, a slim, well dressed person with product in their hair is often suspected of being gay.  Since all the men here are slim, well dressed people with product in their hair, you really can only tell if they kiss another man.   The lesbians, for the most part, are a lot easier to spot.  Coupling with gays and lesbians seems to follow the previous observation, with lots of mixing and matching.

7.  There is no litter in the streets.  Perhaps people don’t litter here or perhaps there are magical litter gnomes that take care of things, but every day that I’ve been here, I’ve found that the streets are entirely free of litter.

8.  I have finally discovered some places with champagne by the glass.  I knew they had to exist, but I suppose I wasn’t very good at spotting them.  A new place is opening in 3 days in the Bastille district that will have many kinds of champagne by the glass.  I plan to become a regular patron.

9.  Nine Euros.  That is roughly the cost for almost everything in Paris.  To visit Notre Dame, the Opera House, or the Arc de Triomphe; nine Euros.  A cheese plate; nine Euros.  A glass of champagne; nine Euros.

A miniature Arc de Triomphe inside the Arc de Triomphe
I'm told there is an even smaller Arc inside this!

10.  I find that taxi cabs here are a comparative bargain in Paris, versus say London or Honolulu.  About 10-15 Euros will cover a large distance across the city and save you the discomfort of public transportation.

11.  I sometimes think about this kid in the movie American Beauty who finds such beauty in a plastic bag blowing in the wind.  His head would have exploded here.  I find the beauty of this place to be simply overwhelming some days… to the point of bringing me to tears.

12.  All kisses in France are French kisses.  This is also true for onion soup, fries, ticklers and poodles.

To all those I miss and love,

Sunday, August 29, 2010

World Cities

The Eiffel Tower by night
Some have asked my why I am in Paris right now and there is no simple answer.  In a person's life they generally choose a place to live based on economic factors, family issues, legal obligations and a host of other things that make the choice not based on desirability, but rather based on various levels of necessity.  That's to say, most people's home city is an arranged marriage as oppsed to a marriage for love.

 In 2010 the London based consultant firm Knight Frank LLP together with the Citibank published a survey of world cities. The Wealth Report 2010, which includes the World City Survey, assesses four parameters — economic activity, political power, knowledge and influence and quality of life. The list aimed to rank the world´s most influential cities.  I intend to choose one of these cities and make it my home (after some investigation and perhaps a lot of paperwork, of course).

Rank.  City - Best category (My thoughts so far)
  1. New York - Economic activity (Spent just under 3 months there... it's a candidate for sure.)
  2. London - Economic activity (I've spend a total of about 6 weeks there.  I love the city.  There are endless numbers of things to do.)
  3. Paris - Quality of life (One month going on three.  J'aime Paris!)
  4. Tokyo - Economic activity  (Want to vist badly.)
  5. Los Angeles - Knowledge and influence (Was there one week and hated it.)
  6. Brussels - Political power (I must see it.)
  7. Singapore - Economic activity (I must see it.)
  8. Berlin - Quality of life (I've been in Berlin a total of about 3 months.  I love it and it is a very inexpensive place to live.)
  9. Beijing - Political power (I must see it.)
  10. Toronto - Quality of life (One hour.  I should really spend time here if I want to call myself Canadian.)
  11. Chicago - Knowledge and influence (I might have a look... Bueller... Bueller... )
  12. Washington, D.C. - Political power (No interest at all.  I don't own a handgun so I will probably pass.)
  13. Seoul - Economic activity (I must see it.)
  14. Hong Kong - Knowledge and influence (I may take a look this winter.)
  15. Frankfurt - Quality of life (I've visited Frankfurt a couple of times, but don't have a good feel for the city.)
  16. Sydney - Knowledge and influence (I must see it.)
  17. San Francisco - Quality of life (I've been there a total of about 3 months.  I could live here, I think.)
  18. Bangkok - Political power (I must see it.)
  19. Shanghai - Economic activity (I must see it.)
  20. Zürich - Quality of life (I must see it.)
Your friend,

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Paris: The Third Week

My sexy home office in La Marais
The following are observations made mostly during my third week in the City of Lights.

1. If you use the Internet, you will find that about 1 in 5 large internet sites are so strictly regionalized that the French version is the only version that can be used in France. This is very inconvenient if you want to buy an English version of some software, for example. Fuck you Electronic Arts!

2. Paris lives, breathes and eats fashion and style. I truly believe that before the average Parisian goes out of their stylish home in the morning, they say, "What will I add to this stylish city today?" Then they dress appropriately.

3. There are no fat men here. Women can be found delightfully wearing a few curves, but that is all. You could sit in a cafe all day and never see someone who is obese. The reason that I notice the men in particular, is because at my current weight of 76 kg, I might be one of the fattest men in the whole city. I will have to lose at least 6 kg just to be inconspicuous... and to be permitted access into a men's clothing store.

4. If you periodically return to the same place to shop for food, beverages, or what you will, you will find that the proprietors will be much happier to let you practice your French on return trips, and will even assist you in speaking in a more Parisian sort of way. My American friends warned me that 'rude' French people will refuse to speak English to you when they can. The opposite seems to be true, however. When asking a question in my imperfect French, they will often answer in English. To me, this feels rude, though for them, I am sure that it is more a matter of expediting the interaction.

5. So far, one of my favourite cafés is in a very unlikely location. It is called the L'Atelier Renault at the Renault dealership on the Champs-Élysées. They are doubly happy to see you, firstly because of your patronage to the café and secondly because you are probably thinking about the Renault brand.

6. By night, Paris is crawling with vampires.

7. If you bother to step down into a Metro station you will find that they trains work more or less the same as any other subway system in the world, with similarly styled maps. The Metro is a little unwieldy for travel with luggage, but for any other use it is very easy and the ticket dispensers can be operated in English.

8. Champagne can be ordered in an indignant fashion by a non-Parisian simply by shouting "Une coupe?" at a waiter before sitting; then quickly looking away without waiting for the answer. My first attempt to do this was considered more hilarious than indignant, however, and I am now friends with the waiter.

9. Lingerie is a very serious matter in Paris. In the Galerie Lafayette, an elegantly monstrous shopping mall in the center of the city, a whole floor is dedicated to lingerie. On the Parisian streets, a different lingerie shop can be found on every, if not every other block. If it were somehow known that you were wearing underwear that didn't match, I believe that it would make your Parisian company very uncomfortable.

10. Return trips to the Louvre do not make it any less unbelievable. While strolling past three Da Vinci paintings in a row, the center one caught my eye. I hadn't even noticed them on a previous visit. There was no crowd around them, no sign that said, "OMFG!! Da Vinci!!!" They were just there... and then there was nothing but me and Leonardo for an exquisitely long moment. I have two more wings of the museum that I have not even entered yet.

Leonardo da Vinci's "St. John"
goes woefully unnoticed.

11. Finding inspiration to write has not been easy here at all. I am quite more inspired to leave my desk to go and see more of the city. I think that with time, however, the inspiration to write will come as the Parisian stories start filling my head. I think I will have to bring Candy here for my next book.

With a mixture of astonishment and love,

Monday, August 16, 2010

Paris: The Second Week

A shot of the Notre Dame Cathedral
from the rarely viewed back side.
Here's what I've learned, early in my second week in the City of Lights.

1.  French wines are really very good.  It seems to me that they probably don't export the good stuff, but prefer to drink it at home. You can buy the good stuff in any wine store or supermarket.

2.  There are a lot of machineguns here.  At the airport, there was some guy just walking around the baggage area with a machine gun looking very carefully for an opportunity to use it.  I saw a lot of these kinds of these sorts of guys at the airport.  At the Louvre, more guys with machine guns poured into the rear courtyard before opening. I didn't see them during the rest of the day, though.  Also, I saw a whole collection of guys with machineguns outside the Air Iran offices a few days ago.  No idea why.

3.  Anything that is slightly touristy will come with the possibility that someone speaks a little English.  Don't go crazy (Americans especially), once you get off the beaten path, your chance of being able to use English goes down exponentially.

4.  Parisian food is really good.  This is not an inflated claim.  Even the little dives and holes-in-the-wall serve better food than I would expect from a fine restaurant in North America.

5.  It was a very sick man indeed, who invented the French 'azerty' keyboard.

The demented French AZERTY keyboard.

6.  I'm not sure why, but I can understand every word of French spoken by an American or British tourist and yet understand very little of anything said by a Parisian native.  I'm getting very suspicious about Rosetta Stone and these French books.

7.  French supermarkets are just large convenience stores by North American standards.  The selections are OK, but the quantities are very small.  It is common to see packets of meat with only 2 slices of meat in them... 2 slices!  Like that will go far.

8.  I have not seen a single mime.  Either this was a myth, or they have all suffocated while trapped in their impenetrable mime boxes.

9.  The mannequins on display in men's' fashion stores are considerably slimmer than their North American counterparts.  I would like to shop in these stores, but fear that I am much too fat to try anything on.

10.  You don't have to go far to find a fresh baguette.  Unlike the North American custom of bread baked fresh before sunrise, fresh baguettes are baked here all day long.  It's not unusual to see someone with a backpack or large purse with two or three baguettes sticking out of them and for good reason.  When you get a fresh baguette home, it makes everything in life better.

11.  French restaurants, even the small cafe's would be alarmed if you tried to bus your own table as is often expected in American (and sadly now, some Canadian) food stops.  The French provide something that you can't really get anymore in North America... service.

12.  I wish to discover where they find the women for French billboards... and spend the rest of my life there.
A billboard on the Rue de Rivoli
Thanks for reading.  More to come soon!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Paris: The First Week

Aphrodite of Milos
a.k.a. Venus de Milo
I’ve been in Paris for about a week now, which I imagine is a typical length of time for a Canadian tourist and here is what I’ve noticed so far:

1. If a woman is wearing comfortable shoes, she is probably an American tourist. Parisian women seem to make a point of wearing very nice, if not uncomfortable looking shoes at all times.

2. The Louvre is closed on Tuesdays.

3. Using high-school French in Paris is a little like having a white belt in karate. If you accidentally sound like a Francophone in your first sentence, you will be beaten before you utter another word. The responses are just too fast. It is best to speak French like an amateur to announce your white belt status.

4. So far, I have found the idea of French ‘rudeness’ to be a myth. Everyone has been perfectly happy to converse with me using my terrible French or to assist our communications with a little of their terrible English.

5. The brassiere, though invented in France, is optional equipment here.

6. To my surprise, the shops are all closed on Sundays.

7. Saturday night is *the* night to party in Paris. Everything is closed on Sunday, making it the perfect hangover day.

8. For some reason, I’ve had no desire to try the metro. There is too much to see above ground.

9. There are these interesting grey bicycles that you can rent (if you have an EC card) and deposit in another grey bicycle location somewhere else in the city. It’s a very cool idea, though I never feel safe on a bicycle in any city.

10. Parisian dogs poop on the sidewalk and no one seems to care.

11. When in Paris, Richard Branson is not to be trusted.

More to come next week!