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!