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Au revoir

For most of today it’s felt like a giant object, let’s say the Eiffel Tower for the sake of staying consistent with the blog’s theme, has been pushing down on my chest. It’s been just sitting there, shifting around now and then, its pointy little crown digging into my sternum (did I mention it’s an upside-down Eiffel Tower?) whenever I think that within 24 hours I’m going to be on a train out of here.

The only way to get it off is to close my eyes and focus really, really hard on what’s waiting for me in Canada: a new, exciting job, good friends, lots of unstructured green space, easily locatable public washrooms. But then when I open my eyes, Paris is still there, rushing around me at blinding speed, totally indifferent to whether I’m here or not.

So I’m trying to focus on the meaning of au revoir. It basically means “until we see each other again,” and that’s what I’m telling myself about Paris. It’s not that I’m leaving forever, it’s that I’m leaving until I don’t have to anymore. I can always come back.

And now some pictures of the last little while, for posterity.

Of course, there’s the Eiffel Tower. I actually quite enjoyed being up there despite the wait and the fact that Trish and I were stuck in an elevator with a bunch of 14-year-old British school children. The tallest of the boys, with gravity-defying hair, told the rest of the group that if we were to start plummeting to our deaths, he wouldn’t want to die a virgin. Any girl would do — as long as she was a 6.5 or above, of course. I’m sure the rest of them considered it a very romantic proposition …

The view drove home that Paris is a big, big city despite feeling so easy to get to know. You can just make out Sacre Coeur on the horizon of this photo:

Trish and I also hit the Paris “hot spot” Buddha Bar. Despite a very good drink and an interesting view of what we think were Italian businesswomen getting drunk and hitting on their Italian businessmen colleagues, I don’t think I’ll ever get to a point where I don’t go “Twenty euros? For ONE drink?” Since we were far too classy to use flashes in such a posh environment, here’s a picture of how Trish moved her head and glass in the 20 seconds it took my lens to take in enough light for the picture:

We also went out “dancing” one night. I put that in quotes not because we can’t dance, although that may be true, but because the bar we went to didn’t actually open up a dance floor by 1 a.m. when we had to leave for the subway home. But we got to drink champagne cocktails at the bar and discuss how young men flashing their underwear overtop baggy jeans is a global phenomenon. I also was so used to unisex bathroom by this point that I barged into the men’s bathroom at the bar, nodding at the man at the urinal who nodded back. It wasn’t until I came out and Trish emerged from the woman’s washroom that I realized my mistake. Oh well.

I’ve also been kind of camera-happy as it got closer to the time to leave. Here’s the Seine at sunset:

Here’s the night view from the edge of Bercy Parc, looking over the Simone de Beauvoir bridge to the Bibliotheque Francois Mitterand, which is right new to my apartment:

I met my friend Maria for one last night at Madeline church to have a good-bye lunch, and I’m really glad I did — it’s absolutely stunning:

Oscar Wilde’s grave, which I did not kiss:

The saddest part of today was saying good-bye to my class. Most of these people have been with me for the entire last month, and it’s been really interesting to get to hear about life all over the globe. I’d do it again in a minute.

And, finally, what walking around Paris for two months will do to your shoes:

Okay, writing this has make the Eiffel Tower really dig in again. Best to get to bed so I have time to clean the rest of the apartment tomorrow and make my train to start the journey home.

Au revoir, Paris, et oui, c’est vrai: Après deux mois ensemble, je suis prêt à le dire — je t’aime.


A giant game of catchphrase

This analogy really isn’t going to make sense to anyone but my Edmonton friends. (There’s pictures coming for the rest of you, so you can just skim over this bit.)

I was puzzling to myself today over how people in my class react differently to hitting a language roadblock. Some keep trying in different ways until they get it. Some get absolutely tongue-tied, and stare mutely up at the teacher, silently appealing for help. Others try a word in their native language, hoping someone else will recognize it and lend a hand.

I finally realized it’s like a giant game of catchphrase. We all have the idea of what we want to say in our native language and we have to talk around it with other words and descriptions while everyone stares at us and tries to guess what the heck we’re getting at.

Some people love it, and thrive on trying to approach the problem in different ways. But many others absolutely hate it, and want to throw that little beeping circle to the ground and play Monopoly. I think I’m going to have to learn to have more patience with them, instead of staring at them thinking “why don’t you just SAY something?”

Okay, enough of that. Last weekend I went to see my high school friend Danielle in Aix-en-Provence. I got to meet her charming boyfriend Steeve and her incredibly cute little puppy, Diems.

We drove down to a seaside town called Sausset on Sunday afternoon. They set up a blanket and snuggled up, and I ran up and down the coast for two hours like their overly excitable seven-year-old child.

Here’s some pictures:

Despite the fact that it was a little chilly and cloudy, there were quite a few families hanging out together. Although Danielle tells me that in the summer it’s impossible to find a square inch to lay out your blanket unless you arrive at dawn, so I guess a few people here and there qualifies as deserted.

Danielle examines the sea:

It was Diems‘ first trip to the ocean. Here she is gingerly heading towards it as the tide rolls in …

And, inevitably, skittering backwards when it washed up on her paws:

Also apparently flummoxed by the ocean were a pair of divers who kept diving off these rocks, only to be smashed back up against them two seconds later by huge waves. To my mind, perhaps going in off the calmer rocky beach would have made sense, but maybe not …

Trish should be here any minute, so expect to finally see some pictures of the Eiffel Tower soon!

My kind of tour

First off, I have to apologize for being such a negligent blogger. Who knew that between finally having friends here, having my parents visit, and jet-setting off to Italy and Aix-en-Provence, I wouldn’t have time to sit at my computer.

My first French rhume (cold) has put an end to that, though, and I’m taking an enforced night at home to sip tea and do a wee update. Tales of my travels outside of Paris will be along in the next few days, but I have to record for posterity the best tour of the city ever.

It was, in fact, a tour through one of the most renowned chocolate and macaroon makers in the city. It was a blissful hour of wandering through the workshop, watching pastry makers and chocolate makers work, and getting to ask questions — and sample everything at every stage!

Macaroons here are very different from the super-sweet chocolate confections we think of at home. I actually tried one when I first arrived, and found it dry and tasteless, and added it to the short list of “icky Paris foods.”

Trying them on this tour completely changed my mind. Macaroons here are a very light egg-white confection, kind of like pavlova, with with a lot more buttery and creamy goodness, and therefore more heft.

They’re all flavoured with almonds, I think, and then have flavours such as chocolate, pistachio, strawberry, and even lavender and rose tossed in. They’re then sealed together with some kind of delicious creamy filling, also flavoured to compliment the shell.

We got to try these almond ones about 34 seconds after this picture was taken. My mission is now to try the wide variety of flavours in the short few days I have left. Challenging, yes, but I’ve never shied away from hard tasks.

Then, there was the chocolate.

I think all of you know how important chocolate is to my daily life. But I’ve never really discussed it on such a level as with this wonderful man.

He explained all the ins and outs of chocolate fillings, and mixing different grades of cocoa to get a perfect shell chocolate, for example. It’s a really finicky business, including very precise fluctuations in temperature that when not followed to the letter leave those white stains you see on cheap supermarket chocolate.

I won’t bore you with all of the details, but suffice it to say, this store’s chocolates last for only three weeks in storage. Most commercial chocolates apparently make it to three months, but these are made with so much fresh butter and cream that they don’t last anywhere near as long.

As we all said on the tour after tasting this nougat, flavoured with freshly-squeezed lemon and coated in a thin layer of chocolate to preserve the freshness, there’s no way they’re making it to three weeks, anyway.

Things I love

I’m kind of super-duper happy right now, so this is rather a long list. I’m also having computer problems, so these photos have been growing in number for a while. I’m just going to throw them all down right now and hope my battery lasts however long that takes to happen.

First off, things I loved on the weekend:

I went in search of a used clothes store that my mom and I found online. I eventually located it, and it was lame, but I ended up wandering along this busy little street that was jam-packed with people. And at the end, there was this gorgeous arc! I love random Paris arcs.

I also love Paris street food. In this specific case, I’m talkin about an egg and cheese crepe for dinner.

Funny story with this. I was walkin down the street, happily munching away, and a girl said “bon appetit!” as I passed. I kind of nodded, and gave a tight-lipped, mouth-full smile. And she totally snapped at me that if someone says that to you, you have to respond thank you. So, apparently, talking with your mouth full is preferable to not verbally responding to an entreaty to enjoy your dinner.

Next, I stopped by a parc along the way to a little street festival, and watched the kids and families playing. “Le foot” was obviously a big hit.

As was the big modern waterfall-sculpture:

I had to cross the “pont Simone de Beauvoir” to get to the festival. This is a long, kind of split-level bridge with undulating, alternating levels. I read somewhere that it was supposed to have long, feminine lines. Having read de Beauvoir’s memoir when I first got here (well, the first volume of it), I feel like that was a tribute and description she wouldn’t necessarily have enjoyed.

There’s not much to say about the truck other than that by peering into the window, I managed to ascertain that it actually does appear to belong to a gardening company or something of the like. Or, I suppose, just someone who really, really likes grass and plants. As I took this picture, a woman walked by and said “well, it’s certainly original, isn’t it?”

Final weekend note. My dad pointed this out, and now it always makes me laugh. In lots of restaurants and cafes, there’s only a single bathroom, with the sink kind of out in the hall. Oh, and a urinal around the corner. So you’ll be blissfully washing your hands, and a man will just walk up and do his business, reflected in a mirror, or just around the corner. Case in point:

Okay, we’re on to what I love about today. It mainly involves Paris at night.

This is the apparently controversial Centre Pompidou, which houses the modern art museum. Some found it hideous when it was first built, but I was totally captivated when I turned a corner and stumbled upon it tonight. I must go some day soon, I’m running out of time!!

I also turned a corner annd found a mannequin store. That’s right, it’s a store that sells mannequins for store displays. And I peered inside and couldn’t stop laughing. I would like to work at this store, and to spend my time arranging the mannequins for no reason other than to sell themselves.

Finally, after all that wandering, I went to my French discussion group. The normal organizers are on vacation, and it was just me and two younger people, one British and the other Parisien. We went to a bar next to Shakespeare & Co and had a really great discussion, all about job interviews, and employment laws, and where in Europe it’s best to work.

Have I mentioned I don’t want to leave?

I’ll leave you with a song I learned about in French class today. It’s by a rock/reggae group from here in France and just happens to be chock full of subjonctif. But it’s also incredibly positive, and I downloaded it from iTunes so I can listen to it whenever I feel cranky.

On vous souhaite tout le bonheur du monde
Et que quelqu’un vous tende la main
Que votre chemin évite les bombes
Qu’il mène vers de calmes jardins.

On vous souhaite tout le bonheur du monde
Pour aujourd’hui comme pour demain
Que votre soleil éclaircisse l’ombre
Qu’il brille d’amour au quotidien.

Puisque l’avenir vous appartient
Puisqu’on n’contrôle pas votre destin
Que votre envol est pour demain
Comme tout c’qu’on a à vous offrir
Ne saurait toujours vous suffir
Dans cette liberté à venir
Puisque on sera pas toujours là
Comme on le fut aux premiers pas.

On vous souhaite tout le bonheur du monde
Et que quelqu’un vous tende la main
Que votre chemin évite les bombes
Qu’il mène vers de calmes jardins.

Toute une vie s’offre devant vous
Tant de rêves a vivre jusqu’au bout
Surement plein de joie au rendez-vous
Libre de faire vos propres choix
De choisir qu’elle sera votre voie
Et où celle-ci vous emmenera
J’espère juste que vous prendrez le temps
De profiter de chaque instant.

On vous souhaite tout le bonheur du monde
Et que quelqu’un vous tende la main
Que votre chemin évite les bombes
Qu’il mène vers de calmes jardins.

Ché pas quel monde on vous laissera
On fait d’notre mieux, seulement parfois,
J’ose espérer que c’la suffira
Pas à sauver votre insoucience
Mais à apaiser notre conscience
Aurais-je le droit de vous faire confiance…

On vous souhaite tout le bonheur du monde
Et que quelqu’un vous tende la main
Que votre chemin évite les bombes
Qu’il mène vers de calmes jardins.

La vie des Parisiens

This weekend, I got out and mingled with people who, gasp, actually live in Paris.

It hadn’t occurred to me before I left that I would spend all my time with other foreigners in class, and so wouldn’t get to meet anyone from France (other than my fantastic teacher). So while I now know a lot more about Italy, Spain, Venezuela, Brazil, Slovakia and Cuba that I might have otherwise, the main discussions I’ve had with actual French people have been along the lines of “Je vais prendre une demi-baguette, s’il vous plait.”

Friday night, I went to this “meet in Paris” group that I found on the Internet. Trying really, really hard to be late, as I’ve noticed most people are here, I managed to arrive at 19h45, as opposed to 19h30. I arrived at the same time as another young woman, who was also looking uncomfortable and closely scrutinizing the people sitting at each table we passed.

When we got to the end of the bar, Marie and I introduced ourselves and sat down together. No one else from the group ever showed up, but we had a really interesting couple of hours together.

I’m ashamed to admit we talked in English, because her English was absolutely perfect. Better than mine, in fact, she kept asking really nuanced questions that completely stumped me. She teaches English at a high school in one of the wealthier suburbs of Paris, and was quick to inform me that not all Paris suburbs are poor and rocked by violence.

Anyway, we spent a lot of time talking about differences between North American and French cultures. For example, she confirmed that my dad’s theory I should just sit down with some French people at a cafe and say I’d like to speak with them for practice was unsound. She was fascinated by the fact that in New York, the person on the subway next to you may spill a ton of secrets to you, and then happily get off at the next stop without ever seeing you again. A French person, she said, is unfailingly polite, but it takes a long, long time for them to open up in any real way. Once they have, though, it’s something that won’t be easily thrown away.

At the end of the night, she started for the little air kisses, and then stopped and laughed. She said that she finds a hug a really big invasion of space, and she knows that people who are used to hugging feel the same about always kissing hello and goodbye. I told her I’m getting used to it.

My second encounter was a lunch today at the home of one of the girls in my class, Maria. She’s from Slovakia, but her fiance is French, and after living apart for years they’re finally making a home here. She lives with him, his two young female cousins, who are students here. An aunt also joined us for lunch.

Now THIS was mainly in French. Really speedy, colloquial, talk-over-each-other French. But it was pretty cool. One of the cousins had lived in Montreal, and she thought it was amazing. How people there will take a verb like enjoy, and frenchify it, making “enjoyais.” So they’ll say “As tu enjoyais ton weekend?” and not even realize that there’s a bit of franglais in there.

It was also an amazing lunch. It took about three hours, and had course after course after course. Including really fantastic cheese. And wine!

They’re really a very worldly family, and they had a lot to say about how other countries were less gastronomically advanced than France — which I totally agree with! For example, everything in Ireland is deep fried, and it’s impossible to get good fresh produce. And they just don’t get how we don’t have little grocery stores everywhere, but rather huge big-box store. Apparently one of the cousin’s friends, while visiting Canada, took a picture of a bulk box of Cheerios, she just couldn’t wrap her head around how big it was.

I feel like I’m finally fully settling in here, with only a month left to enjoy!


I suppose it’s not much of a surprise that I love language. I love the sounds of words, and how they fit together. When I find a fun word here, I keep repeating it under my breath, smiling idiotically and prompting my classmates to think of me as the kind-of-crazy Canadian. Or so I assume.

For example, when someone sneezes, the English response is “God Bless you.” I read somewhere that that comes from the fact people once believed your brain was leaking out of your nose, so a benediction was in order.

Here, after one sneeze, you say “a tes souhaits,” or “to your dreams.” After the second, it’s “a tes amours,” or “to your loves.” Isn’t that nicer?

When you miss someone or something, it’s expressed by saying that they’re missing you. So, if you miss your brother, it’s “il me manque.” It takes a while to wrap your head around, but I like to think of it as whatever you’re missing is actually incomplete without you.

Love at first sight translates to “un coupe de foudre,” from being hit by lightning. Incidentally, I cannot for the life of me pronounce foudre. I tend to overemphasize the e at the end, or so I’m told. When I try, it results in a discussion with my French teacher in which she says “foudre,” and I repeat “foudre,” and she says, “no, foudre,” and I say “foudre.” To me, it all seems like exactly the same word. At least it’s probably a phrase I’ll never need to know to cover Canadian federal politics.

I took the metro a few stops with a Parisien girl who came to my French discussion group earlier this week. She was telling me about how her “copain” (read: live-in or serious boyfriend, or so I thought) was American but wanted to fully integrate into Paris life and forget his roots. And then she told me her “copain” was willing to move to New York with her. I asked her how that worked and she said “Oh, right. One is my friend, one my boyfriend. We use the same word for both concepts, so how were you to know?” She then ran off at her stop before I could ask how in the world anyone whose native language was French could have known.

These little examples of just how beautiful (and confusing) French can be pop up several times a day; I’ll try to note them down here so I can keep them in mind for when I come home. It never hurts to know how to say “love a first sight,” even if slightly mispronounced …

Explaining Alberta

I’ve often been asked by people here where in Canada I’m from. I usually say something along the lines of “Mani-uh-well, I’ve lived in Toront-uh-I was in Edmon-uh-now-Calgary-Alberta. It’s near the mountains.”

Surprisingly, I often get the response, “Well, of course it’s near the mountains. It’s Canada!” Apparently we’re one big mountain range.

(Speaking of geographic confusion, a new Cuban man in my French group came over today after class was over and wanted to shake hands to show there were “no hard feelings” despite the fact that I was American. I threw my hands up into the air and shrieked “CANADIAN!” I think he was still confused, especially by the severity of my reaction. I’m used to getting mistaken for an American and I don’t usually react that badly, but somehow when a trade embargo and a whole lot of political history is involved, I get a wee bit hysterical.)

Anyway, I’ve taken to bringing a newspaper to class to read in case I’m finished an assignment and bored. Today, I flipped open the centre spread in Le Monde, and saw a two-page photograph of the oilsands as part of a feature about climate change.

I decided to share this with the class. “Look!” I exclaimed. “It’s my home province!” Everyone who hasn’t been bombarded by these images for the past two years was understandably aghast. I finally managed to make it clear that I don’t actually live in the oilsands, but it’s really hard to get the argument, “Yes, it’s an environmental catastrophe, but it’s also one of the driving economic forces in the entire country,” across clearly in French.

It’s always interesting to see issues with a fresh perspective. And make people realize that Canada is full of both mountains AND difficult-to-extract petrol reserves.

Oh, and I passed my exam! I’m moving up a level starting next week. Hopefully that will mean less newspaper time in class …