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,

Monday, September 6, 2010

Paris: The Fifth Week

A large cell phone tower situated only
one block from my new home
I was very much nose to the grindstone this week, my friends, though I did manage a few new observations and will filter in a few that got left behind in past posts... those that could maybe could use a mention.

1.  Parisian women exude a certain confidence that I have not seen anywhere else in the world.  It would not be terribly unusual to see a 70 year old woman sans brassiere strut by in the latest fashions, sporting an air that says she owns the sidewalk and possibly much of this part of town.  She might actually be that rich, but I’ve seen this same look in young women as well.

2.  I thought that wearing horizontal stripes was something of Parisian mythology, but I’m finding that it is altogether true.  While they are not the most common fashion choice, you can find someone wearing horizontal stripes nearly anywhere in the city, from the stereotypical blue and white t-shirt to a complete ensemble.  I believe that this pattern is not popular in North America because it tends to make one look, how shall I say, heavier.

3.  It was interesting to discover that there is a bus route that travels directly from my current apartment down the Rue de Rivoli to what will be my new apartment near the Eiffel Tower; Route 69!

4.  I don’t know if I’ll make my home in Paris, but I do know that if I do the home fashions in this city will enable me to make my home look like something from the distant future… a distant future that is fashionably cool.

5.  It’s a rather inexpensive although somewhat complicated trip to get to Versailles on the Metro, where of course you can see the Palace of Versailles.  I had seen the palace previously in pictures and films, but like so many things here, a camera is incapable of doing it justice.  It is massive.  On the train-ride there, I joked about how I might make an offer if it were to come on the market.  Having seen it, however, even my imagination was not grand enough to think of a way that a person might make full use of the place.  If every friend I had were to visit on the exact same day, the palace would still feel quite empty.

The ridiculously ornate hall of mirrors in the Palace of Versailles

6.  It’s a good idea to have a full length mirror in the foyer of your building or in the hallway of your apartment for vampire checks.  My building is equipped with one.  For those of you not familiar with vampires, they do not cast a reflection in the mirror.  If a vampire happens to follow me in the building, I can identify it from the reflection (or lack thereof) and perform an appropriate vampire safety procedure.

7.  I’m beginning to notice a difference between the people in the different districts as I travel about Paris.  I’ll have more to say about this, but Le Marais (4th) is certainly quieter at night than the neighbouring Bastille (11th) district and a lot louder than the Invalides (7th) district where I will be moving to tomorrow.  It is as though one might choose a district to match one’s character or lifestyle rather than one’s income level.

8.  Through a combination of long Parisian walks and smaller (albeit richer) Parisian food portions, my fat reserves are under siege.  If I can keep it up, I might just be allowed into the men’s clothing stores before the end of next month!

9.  Paris exhibits something that America or Canada may might boast about, but do not altogether possess and that is colour-blind racial harmony.  In a New York café versus a Parisian café, for example, given the same number of black, white, oriental, and middle-eastern people. You would see that I mean immediately. In the New York café, there would be a table full of black people here, and a table full of white people there, and so on. In the Paris café, everyone would appear to be quite randomly distributed to the point where a homogenous table of only one race would be the exception.  It's not easy to believe at first, but it is true.

With princely adoration, your friend,