Monday, September 26, 2011

Fight Club

I like to dress in white... and I like to hit people.
The first rule of fencing club is:  you must dress
entirely in white and hit a lot of people.

Bonjour and welcome back!

Oh my friends I have had many developments in my life in Paris.  First, there is Fight Club.  Recently I joined the club Les Chevaliers des Blancs Manteaux.  This translates roughly into the Knights with White Coats.  How do they fight?  Well they first dress all in white (my specialty) and then they pick up swords and hit each other with them.  The purists call it ‘fencing’ or ‘escrime’ to use the French term.

Of course I’ve had the usual rash of other discoveries, restaurants, behaviours and other things that really could use mention.

Here are some of my observations so far:

Travel:  Paris is home to a number of train stations, periodically housing trains that take you a long way from the city.  I recently took a train from Paris down to Aix-en-Provence to visit a dear friend who is producing her own cooking show.  For the first time I will debut sub-observations to tell you about it.

  • The TGV trains, operated by CNCF, travel around 200km/h (125mp/h) and about 70km/h faster than the posted speed limit.  To beat a train from a Paris to another part of the country by car (sports car), one would have to do a brilliant piece of driving and risk nasty fines from the police.

TGV trains in Gare de Lyon.  Beware, to the right of this picture is a whole
other section of the station dedicated to confusing a newcomer and sending
passengers to further parts of the country.  Ask for directions!
  • Gare de Lyon is a confusing place and if you must take a train there, start at the information booth.  Once armed with information, upstairs you'll find a restaurant called Le Train Blue.  Go there!  It's a spectacle for the eyes.
Le Train Blue at Gare de Lyon.  Simply breathtaking.
  • A 1st class train ticket runs anywhere from 30-50% more than the 2nd class ticket (in stark contrast to the airlines) and is worth the money.  You get more room, better seats and it seems a less annoying class of fellow passenger in the neighbouring seats.
  • A lesson in relativity; Aix-en-Provence is the ‘big city’ to my friends, but coming from Paris it had a decidedly provincial village sort of a feel.  The streets were wider with far less people.   The town features has many very old buildings with moderate amounts of ornamentation as compared to Parisian architecture and is famous for its many fountains (one of its most famous, pictured below).
A famous fountain in the heart of Aix-en-Provence.

An example of the provincial architecture.

Sport:  I’ve become a bit of a fat bastard while visiting Canada and my Paris diet hasn’t been taking off the pounds as it did.  This may be because I’m taking the Metro more often when I could be walking.  In any case, to combat my growing waistline and just for the sake of being in combat, I’ve taken up fencing.  Here’s what I know so far about the sport:
  • Novice fencers begin by learning footwork.  It seems perhaps at first to be obvious, but I can assure you that it is not.  There are 6 possible steps; forward, back, lunge, recover (from lunge) crossover forward, crossover back.  A typical combination of steps might be forward, lunge, recover, and back.
  • Novice fencers, fight each other from the first day.  They (we) don’t know how to fence, but the object is to practice footwork.  Despite my lack of technique, I have to confess that is it VERY fun to bend my sword into an opponent… even an opponent who also has no technique.
  • Getting hit hard can really hurt, despite the fencing gear.

"Untitled", by Henry Miller.  Now featured in my
Paris studio.  Viewings by appointment.  
Art:  A good friend invited me to a gallery opening in the Bastille (Dorothy’s Gallery, which featured artists who became famous for something other than painting.  Examples included Grace Slick, Jimmy Hendrix, and Henry Miller.  The latter, was irresistible to me and I purchased a lithograph of Miller’s entitled “Untitled” from that very gallery.  It hangs on my wall now and I am quite happy with it.
  • Inspired by the artwork, the various artists I see in the city and a book by Myamoto Musashi, I’ve decided that it is time to try my own hand at painting.  I’ve thought about doing this for years, but when I heard from Musashi that painting may also help my fencing… well then I was completely sold on the idea.
  • Like so many things, my Art Classes start in October.  I’ve signed up for a year and will sketch, draw, paint and have live models thrust in front of me to immortalize with my current lack of artistic ability.  Hopefully, I will be able to rise to the challenge and create brush strokes that are somewhat related to the subjects before me.
  • Oh, if you ever get a chance to read Henry Miller, of course his most famous book is Tropic of Cancer.  I would call it a 'must read' for any ex-pat living in Paris.  If you are American, it may be difficult for you to get past the language... oh how he uses words that are not allowed on the public television stations, but I'd say that he's perhaps one of the most well read authors I've ever come across.  Writing that is simultaneously low-brow and high-brow is very difficult to do.

Well my friends, that is all I have to report for this time.  Thank you again for reading.  Please take the time to comment, like, +1, follow or put a mouseclick anywhere toward my online well-being.

Au revoir!
Sir Robyn

Friday, September 23, 2011


The ol' car, covered in bug guts from three
provinces, gets ready for yet another boat ride.
This time to Vancouver Island.
Welcome back my friends!

As many of you may know, I've had been out of the country for a while and back in my native Canada.  I didn't blog while I was there, but like any good ex-pat, every now and then I’m compelled to return to my home country to visit relatives, tell stories, and share my experiences. I've finally gotten around to writing something and here we go.

You might wonder how I feel about Canada.  Do I get homesick?  What do I miss?  You might be surprised to hear that I’ve become somewhat of a stranger in my own country.  I now look at things through the eyes of a bewildered visitor.  I wonder what changed in me to create this effect.  Has Canada changed or is it just me… or both? 

Here are some of my observations as an insider who lives on the outside:

Geography: I’m Western Canadian, originally from Saskatchewan (one of the larger provinces).  Canada is made up of 10 provinces, and 3 territories.  6 of the provinces are huge… as in bigger than Texas huge.  My former hometown of Saskatoon is very far from Vancouver and very very far from Toronto.  If these are the only Canadian cities you know… then you will have to consult google maps to find it.

Saskatoon City Hall
People: Saskatonians (those from Saskatoon) are generally a friendly lot.  They suffer -40C temperatures for several months of the year and this requires a great degree of solidarity.  Settled originally by a combination of German, Ukrainian and British immigrants, the city now boasts a far more international population, being somewhat of a ‘starter city’ for Canadian immigrants from around the world.  I feel very sorry for someone from the Middle East or Africa suffering their first day of -40C weather.

Saskatonians enjoy a day at the race track.  Featured here
is Saskatoon's Marquis Downs track... where I have yet to
bet on the right horse.
Business:  When I was growing up in Saskatchewan, it was one of the poorest provinces in Canada and this is certainly no longer the case.  Boasting rich reserves of oil, potash, diamonds and uranium, the province is going through somewhat of a renaissance.  Saskatoon is growing, and becoming the most unlikely of business hubs.

The Porsche dealer in Saskatoon, says he'll sell all these cars and
many times more this year.  Saskatoon business is booming!
Travel:  Canadians like to drive long distances.  The distance from Saskatoon to Vancouver, for example is 1,678 km. Travelling this distance at the posted speed limits would take 19 hours and 39 minutes plus rest stops.  Driving by Porsche, it takes about 10 hours.  :)

Vampires:  Blood sucking in Canada is said to be the exclusive domain of the federal and provincial governments.  Vampires that can somehow survive the cold are lucky to find any blood left in their victims.

Language:  The Western Provinces of (from east to west) Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia are predominantly English speaking.  For various reasons, the French language is actually shunned in some areas, though it is inescapable as it appears on all packaging of any product sold in Canada.  I was recently introduced by a Quebecois friend to new friends here in Paris who described me as HALF Canadian… because I only spoke English.

Mountains:  There is nothing as majestic as the Rocky Mountains.  I’m sorry they don’t have a more majestic name.  For the price of a few gallons of gas, they can be enjoyed at will.  They are a spectacle in any season of the year… and almost too grand to behold.

Enjoying a Starbucks at the commissary area
at the Tsawassen ferry terminal.
Water:  It seems that in life, I am moving to smaller and smaller islands.  I’ve lived on Vancouver Island, Oahu and now the tiny Isle Saint Louis.  Travelling to Vancouver Island and the neighbouring islands is most frequently done by boat.  For a reasonable fee (to some), one can drive their car right onto the boat, and ferry across to the neighbour island while watching the coast drift by.  As a resident I hated the bother of a ferry commute, but as a visitor I love the chance to get out on the water.

A view from one of the many BC Ferries.  This one leaving from Tsawassen
(south of Vancouver) to Duke Point (in Nanaimo). 
Hippies:  My last impression upon leaving Canada was the observation of a species I call the West Coast Hippie.  If you thought you needed a time machine to see a hippie, then you are mistaken.  Tribes of hippies still live in British Columbia and tend to prefer the islands.  They can be spotted by layered clothes of poor quality and often a knitted fabric.  The males wear full and uncombed beards and the females tend to smell of cannabis and eucalyptus oil.  Like their counterparts of 50 years ago, they can be heard quoting Karl Marx, making various references to ‘weed’, and never ever ever will they mention anything job or work related.

This was my ride back to Vancouver.  I sat right next to the pilot.
Thank you for reading my friends, more Paris observations are on the way.

Your humble friend and observer,
Sir Robyn

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Little Things

Champagne senses bubbling, I look upward to
the 3rd floor of the Eiffel Tower. 
Bonjour friends and Paris lovers,

It’s been a long time since my last blog and for good reason. I have travelled many thousands of miles in the past few weeks and have only just settled back in my Parisian home with tons of work to do!

 Like anyone with deadlines to meet, my return to Paris featured visits from friends from around the world. With guests in town, of course it was incumbent upon me to take them to the local tourist attractions… only to discover that there was more and more to learn about then than I had known before my repeat visit. The new discoveries and observations were well worth the price of admission; I can assure you my friends. Now, have a look at the latest observations and start planning YOUR trip to Paris so I can show you around.

Food: I’ve never been a huge fan of pastries since the calorie/pleasure ratio has never been high enough for me to indulge very often. You will have to trust me on this point; there is a difference between French and North American pastries. The North American variety that I’m so accustomed to assault your taste buds with a salty/sweet (Americans use salted butter in baking) explosion that is overwhelming to the taste buds at every corner, leaving little room left for what is described as the main flavour you expected to enjoy. In French pastries, the flavour comes first.

Drink: At the top of the Eiffel Tower, there is a champagne bar. I did not know this until I noticed it on the website. It’s on the top level of the third floor. I’ve walked right past it. It’s only a bar with no seating; they serve champagne in a plastic conical flute, some of which glow in the dark at night. I cannot think of a cooler place to drink champagne.

My champagne sense was correct! 

Language: I’ve had a few visitors since I've been back, all of whom were convinced that I have learned to speak French fluently. I’m coming to understand that perhaps the French one needs to order food and champagne is enough to appease the desires of my friends in particular. This does not displease me.

Travel: Last month, I discovered that for a little over 200 Euros (per person), one could get to Prague (or many other nearby cities) for 4 days including hotel. I mention Prague because that is where I went. I’ll post another blog entry about that once I’m settled.

More Language: I had my first French conversation the other day. A flustered woman asked me where the nearest bathroom could be found, while I was doing my laundry. She asked in French and rather than hearing it all as a blur… I understood every word. I even replied in French as best as I could, augmenting with a little Frenglish at the end to clear up a misunderstanding.

Even More Language: I’ve noticed that I can hear accents in my French speaking friends. I was surprised to take note that a good friend of mine and French citizen had an accent that didn’t seem to quite be… what I would expect. She confirmed my observation and explained that French was her second language after learning Spanish as a child.

Vampires: Like the rest of Paris, vampires take the month of August away from the city. Many go to Prague.

The minipalais restaraunt at the Grand Palais.
Simply divine.
Architecture: You won’t find a more beautiful convention center in the world than the Grand Palais, at the end of the Champs Elysee. Walking past it the other day, I noticed people on the balcony on the leftmost wing of the building. Assuming it to be a private party, I decided to try my hand at crashing it… walked up the stairs and discovered that they have opened a bar and restaurant there called Minipalais. I had rose Veuve Cliquot on the balcony overlooking the Petit Palais and surrounded by 12 meter-high pillars and relief sculpture. Absolutely breathtaking.

People: August 22 seems to be the magical date that the end of the vacation season here and Parisian start to return just as the throngs of tourists seem to thin.

More Food: I had the unusual luck and good fortune to pick up a little bag of macarons at the publicdrugstore on Champs Elysee. Unlike a regular macaron with a kind of gooey middle theirs were creamy in the middle and kind of squirted their juices into your mouth upon biting into them. My first, labelled rose petal released its flavour which quickly infused into my whole body… and possibly my very soul. I might describe it more accurately as an orgasm for the tongue.

Oh Climaxol!  Where were you when I was
just a girl?
Sex: Climaxol. A drug promising better orgasms for women has been splattered in poster form all over Charles de Gaulle airport. I’m quite certain that I can compete with this drug.

Sports: I’ve decided to take up fencing and begin lessons on the 12th of September, just ahead of my next birthday. I went to a fencing outfitter, expecting to fork over about a thousand Euros for a full set of fencing gear and much to my astonishment, they would only sell me a glove. 15 Euros! Apparently they have a strong belief that I’ll be back for more gear as my lessons progress and are in no rush to take all of my money now.

That’s all for now folks! Please keep looking in. There are many more observations to come.

Bisous et a bientot!