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Last week I nearly forgot that I live in Paris, which is something I vowed I’d never do in my six months living here (and I’ve only been here five weeks!). It was one of those cold rainy days that wasn’t typical of May, or so the locals assured me. I was annoyed because I hadn’t been able to write anything decent all day long, pissed off because the cheap replacement umbrella was no match for my original ladybug-printed umbrella I’d accidentally left in a bar (yes, it’s gone, and some French man who likes cute umbrellas is probably using it right now!), and cursing all the stores that were closed on Sunday, when all I needed to do was buy some chicken.
I could’ve been walking down any damn street in any damn city as I had these annoying thoughts, and I may as well have been, because second-by-second I was losing my sense of Paris.
A few days later I was annoyed again, this time because of something I “might” (might!) categorize as “matters of the heart,” so when my pal invited me to a friend of a friend’s backyard party an hour outside of Paris, I couldn’t have been more thrilled for a little escape.
As we peeled our way out of the city, past gorgeous weathered buildings and scenic river views, I realized it was the first time I’d ever left Paris, which instantly made me compare it to the day I arrived. I recalled how I’d looked upon cathédral Notre Dame for the very first time, and how its stunning grandeur may have literally made my heart skip two beats (quickly followed by my heart resuming its regular beats, because obviously I’m alive today and writing this post!). I also thought about the first time I’d sat on a café terrace, and how even with no distractions like a cell phone, I was totally happy just to watch the world go by. It seemed like a far off time, the way photo albums remind you of ages and trips you can never go back to.
“But I’m still here!” I cried (to myself, inside my head). So why was I becoming a spectator of my life in Paris?
There wasn’t much time to over-analyze it, as I suddenly became aware of lovely green fields and crops on either side of the road. It was the least amount of people (zero) and most amount of nature (everywhere) I’d seen since moving to Paris. And it was nice.
A few minutes later we turned into a nice neighbourhood, with charming-looking houses set far apart, which spared it from appearing like a crammed North American suburb.
Oh, and in the neighbour’s sprawling yard or acres of field or whatever you want to call it…I saw a horse.
You’re not in Paris anymore, Dorothy.
I was immediately welcomed into a wonderful family’s home with the classic French kiss on either cheek, and from that moment on I was no longer a stranger from a foreign land who had squeezed my way into a party, I was one of them!
Okay, so maybe I technically WAS a stranger from a foreign land, when one of the main hosts kept asking me to say “Bonn-juwer” in my Canadian accent as he introduced me to people (so he could laugh at how I sound in French), but that was a small price to pay for being around twenty or so amazing locals of all ages (and two dogs!).
On that night, I witnessed army buddies who hadn’t seen each other for eighteen years reunite…and then proceed to insult each other in French (great practice for my language skills!), I enjoyed some smackin’-good ribs that were made by a professional chef from France who’s been living in LA for a while, and I even got to listen to a live band they had playing in the yard (a band that performed amazing cover songs of all the classic hits—my favourite was their rendition of “On Broadway”).
But best of all, and I mean truly, simply the best, was when a fifty-year-old French man sat next to me.
Typically, introductions of fifty-year-old men in my life are strongly associated with a “creep factor,” but wait, there’s more! (And it’s not creepy!)
First, he said he was going to speak to me only in French to help me improve my listening skills. Awesome.
Second, he asked me how long I’ve been in Paris (I did the math and quickly answered).
Third, he asked me what I think of Paris.
It must’ve been the fact that I had to answer in French which meant I had to talk more slowly, because the more I heard myself say each word, the more I really listened to all the amazing things I’d seen and experienced.
But that’s not all!
He told me he’d been living in Paris for his whole life.
Now I clasped my hands nervously, waiting for him to tell me how ugly he thought the Eiffel Tower was, or how there were way too many tourists, or how it wasn’t like the good old days.
The first thing he said was: “Apres tout ce temps, j’adore La Tour Eiffel.”
I never would’ve expected a Paris native to tell me he loved the Eiffel Tower after all these years, but that was only the beginning. He went on to say that in fifty years his love for Paris has never waned, and that he loves it just as much as he always did, or maybe more. He believes the city has so much life and spirit, and at night he’ll go driving around on his motorcycle, choosing all manner of winding roads, because he never tires of how beautiful the city looks at night. He added that while he’s driving he sees the Eiffel Tower from so many different vantages, and each time it’s like he’s admiring it in a new way. By now his eyes were glowing, and mine were practically welling up with tears, at this chance I was getting to hear about his earnest love.
But he wasn’t done.
He went on to add that in his real estate work when he’s showing houses, he’ll open a set of doors, look out a window, and still after all these years, he’ll see Paris in a way he never saw it before.
And the Chantilly cream on top of this whole speech? (I’m trying to be French here…) He said that even when it rains it’s okay, because the rain lets you see the city of lights reflecting off the puddles, a gift you just don’t get when it’s dry.
Who is this guy? Santa Claus?!
I’m not sure, but I truly believe it was fate that I wound up at that party, and fate that he ended up sitting next to me.
When I returned to the city and back to the bustling Latin Quarter, I remembered that I lived in Paris, and this time I know I won’t forget. A pretty good test of this happened today, when I walked further and further down Rue de Monge, in search of any store that was open because I needed to buy mushrooms.
I was out of luck, but instead of huffing and puffing about a walk now wasted, I smiled because it’s Paris, and who doesn’t love a good walk? Nearby I noticed a boulangerie that was open, and decided to make some revisions to my original dinner plan. I didn’t expect much in the way of fresh bread at six p.m., so when the lady handed me the baguette and it was toasty warm, I wanted to giggle with glee; yes, giggle!
Then it started raining.
And I didn’t have an umbrella.
It was way too early for the light to reflect off the puddles, but I actually didn’t mind the rain. Note: this doesn’t mean I danced around in the rain like in a scene from a cheesy movie, it simply means I didn’t care if my hair got ruined ’cause it was already greasy.
Since my chat with the inspiring French Santa Claus, my love for the Eiffel Tower and experiencing it from different vantages is now even stronger than ever.
This is from earlier in the week, when I looked out the window of someone’s apartment in a neighbourhood I’d never been to, and suddenly saw the tower in all its evening glory. Magnificent. One day soon I’ll actually visit it close-up, but for now I’m enjoying this flirty dance we share.
Paris, je t’aime,
Scenario: moving to Paris to write.
Is there a default definition and image in your head when you read that?
There certainly was for me, and it involved: sitting on café terraces, wearing scarves (you know this is true, look how many scarves I brought to Paris!), gradually running out of money because there’s something bohemian and romantic about that (this book captures that perfectly: Time Was Soft There), and dressing casually all the time.
If I was a writer in New York City however, then perhaps my writer self would be closer to Carrie Bradshaw. But in Paris? Definitely the first description.
But that’s stupid!
I’ve realized the above stupidity after almost a month in Paris (my four-week anniversary is on Friday—time flies!).
Initially I tried to maintain the first “writer description” but found it difficult, because I felt like some of my behaviour was conflicting with “bohemi-topia.”
Like that time I was taken to a shoe store that specializes specifically in wedge shoes (yes!), and I simply could not help myself (I would’ve posted a picture of my feet in the shoes, but I’d prefer not to cater to the foot-fetish readers—and I know you’re out there, don’t think you can hide with your comment-free lurker blog visits! ). There was also the time I tried on ten-thousand-dollar earrings at Chanel in Place Vendome, because obviously I’m going to need earrings for my next book’s launch party in Paris! (Yes, I did post a picture of these, which means I’m probably now catering to readers with an earlobe fetish—and I know you’re out there too). And finally, when my new friend and resident Paris expert took me out to Plaza Athenée for fancy cocktails in the form of popsicles, I embraced that too, which meant finding myself next to a couple who snobbily brought their dog to this swanky hotel bar, only for their snobbery to be validated by a neatly-dressed waiter who arrived with a steel bowl of water (to satiate the canine’s thirst).
And all of the above was so much fun!
Despite my joy, I regarded the events as a shameful secret. I tried to hide my shopping bags when I attended an open mic later that night, and I didn’t dare speak of the exorbitantly-priced cocktails to my writer pals.
So who was I then? A material girl only posing as a writer?
Well no…because I also write in Paris. I have an outline for book three pinned up as a long row of Post-It notes on my closet, and I’ve been writing this blog twice a week, which is already inspiring the fiction (may the names be changed and the events somewhat altered, haha!). I also started putting down pages for the book’s first draft. Best of all, I read some brand new material for an audience at Spoken Word in Paris on Monday night, and I can’t even describe how exhilarating it was to share my work (not to mention watching so many other talented writers read their stuff).
So then…is it bohemian wordsmith or Carrie Bradshaw? Which is it dammit?!
Neither, or both…or who the hell cares?
The great thing about Paris is that so many other dreamers are here to make their own stuff happen, that no one gives a crap how you get your stuff done, or what you do for fun in-between, because there really are no labels beyond the thing you do; and for me, I write. Whatever else, no one cares. And I love that. It’s also highly possible that no one cared about these things back home, but since I spent so many years, hours, and days with the default professional label of “corporate rat” (which ultimately described how I dressed and what coffee I drank), I accidentally packed some stereotypes into my luggage on the way to Paris.
So now for the truth: I like basement bars and seeing writers perform their work, and I also like shoes. That’s perfectly fine, there’s a place for me in Paris, and there’s really no need to categorize it any further.
There’s also no need to assign any labels to people, since labels only belong on clothes I can’t afford (but will still try on…because it’s fun).
Or so it would seem.
In reality (if one can call this dream-like state a reality), time has taken on a very different pace here, life’s been turned topsy-turvy, and “routine” is now entirely out the window (for the first time ever in my life!)
For one thing, I feel like I’ve been here for months. Work e-mails, “office brain,” commuting, and daily trips to Starbucks seem a distant memory, in this comparatively mythical place, where time is no matter (“c’est pas grave”), where you meet people randomly, where hang-outs transpire without making plans two weeks (or even two days) in advance, and where you often end the night a lot later than you thought you would (which is why I’m so often writing until three a.m.!)
It’s a shock to an existence that used to operate on the “Death of a Salesman” clock of sameness, so shocking that every morning when I wake up, I lie in bed for twenty minutes to let myself just “think.” This thinking is an essential part of clearing out my brain, which makes room for another random day of encounters. It’s the sort of thinking that now requires sleeping with a notebook and a pen (I hope that’s not too R-rated for you!).
The notebook in bed is only a part of it; Paris is quickly bringing my “writer self” into focus, whereas before my “corporate self” was large and in charge. In fact, I can now break the news that my “corporate self” has been murdered by the city of lights, via the following combination of death blows: meeting multiple authors with very different backgrounds, being in a city that’s a huge source of inspiration, writing whenever I feel like it, and being invited to my first spoken-word “open mic” tomorrow night. I wasn’t planning on reading any of my work for the crowd on my first night out, but today I felt inspired to write about a highly-antagonizing character in the story of my life.
Annoying e-mail responses can bring that out in a writer (beware the pen of doom!).
So maybe I’ll read my writing for others or maybe I won’t; all I know is that it’s Paris, so there’s really no need to decide just yet.
In summary, it’s all very magical, isn’t it? Ahh Paris. This transformative city that has already swept me away, definitely worthy of at least another “ahh.”
But who would I be without putting things in perspective?
A dishonest writer-jerk, that’s who.
So here’s a little retrospect on Paris things I didn’t expect:
-So many people smoke over here. I’m definitely cool with people doing what they want, but I’ve inhaled more second-hand smoke in the last two weeks than I have in the last ten years, and that’s kind of a bummer.
-In some grocery stores in Paris, there are two different chip aisles in two unrelated areas of the store. Due to this layout anomaly, I didn’t find Doritos until day ten. A curse on Paris for that!
-Chip bags are so much smaller here, so it’s a mixture of shame and annoyance when I finish a whole bag in one sitting.
-There are way more male hecklers here than in Toronto, by a long-shot. This quickly became apparent whenever I combed my hair, applied my mascara and put on my skinny jeans before going out. All I had to do after that was go outside, and the complimentary-heckling would begin (“Bonjour belle fille!”). I strongly suspect it had nothing to do with my actual appearance, and everything to do with having lady parts, because I’m pretty sure they’ll heckle pretty much anyone who doesn’t have a “ding-dong” (except for maybe eunuchs—oh, by the way, I learned the term “eunuch” long before reading “Game of Thrones,” just so we’re clear). Despite the hecklers’ lack of discriminating taste, my ego finds this agreeable.
-It’s been raining for the last couple days, and I’ve noticed people looking at my ladybug-printed umbrella in an odd way. In defiance I use it even more (i.e. during light drizzles), because even though Paris has transformed me, I’ll be damned if it influences my adorable umbrella choices.
-When I buy a baguette I don’t want it to go stale, so I end up eating more bread in one day than any human should ever eat. Is there a way to buy half-baguettes? I’ll need to inquire with my heavily-Canadian-anglophone-accented-French (so I’ve been told) the next time I’m in a boulangerie.
Looking back at the post title now, I feel assured that it was timely and appropriate to do a retrospect (like how could I NOT talk about the Doritos thing?!)
I’ll get back to specific topics next time, and future installments will include:
-My experience at the Shakespeare and Company book store
-My range of experiences at the Canadian-owned Abbey Book Shop, which without even trying is drawing its share of thinkers and writers (I have a very strong feeling that my book about my time in Paris will have a lot to do with this place)
-Paris by night
-Open mic night for writers in Paris
-Progress on book 3 in the “Year of the Chick” series (that one’s fiction)
And a padlock with your names written on it to prove it.
And to throw the key in the river for luck, otherwise you’re screwed.
Okay, okay, I’m not that bitter, I promise. This is Paris, the city of love, and I love it! I don’t know what it is, but somehow seeing couples make-out in Paris isn’t annoying the way it is in Toronto (I always found couples to be repulsive in Toronto, even when they were friends of mine—sorry, friends). But here? It’s so romantic and cinematic! Hands on butts, hands in butt pockets, hands here, there, and everywhere when it comes to couples in the park… it’s all good!
This positive view of love is exactly the attitude I carried on my visit to the Pont Des Arts.
It’s certainly not the only bridge or structure covered in padlocks as a symbol of love (there’s the tower in Seoul, or the iron-made tree in Moscow, or the Ponte Milvio in Rome), but it’s Paris, and somehow that means there’s a higher expectation of a payoff. It’s certainly not a payoff that’s available for a single person (since a “proclamation of love” location is not the best place to “pick up”), but that’s okay, I was there to observe the magic, and reflect on couples past who had pledged their love on the spot.
As I approached the bridge it started to glimmer from the locks, and just like that my heart felt warmer on this chilly Paris day. When I made my way onto the bridge, I could see that it was buzzing with couples. Before me the twosomes crouched, awkward as ever near their freshly fastened locks, which they’d only just purchased from the Indian vendor for a cool five Euros a pop. Oh how they smiled when the photo was taken, but oh how the smiles disappeared as they rushed to check their camera display, wanting to make sure the lock was clearly shown in the photo. If the photo didn’t turn out right, it was back into position for “take two,” bitches.
I reminded myself this was Paris, and any place that could express people’s love was the grandest of places, wasn’t it? And surely the photo would help them share the moment with their grand-kids some day, but of course!
So I joined the awkward crouching, and started to examine the locks for inspiration.
Any last hints of cynicism quickly faded, as I imagined the enamoured hand that had messily scrawled out two names with a black marker. The simplicity of that gesture was like carving out initials in a tree, and I couldn’t help but smile in this moment.
But then I saw this:
There was really no stopping the thoughts that immediately followed:
-Where did Kevin and Dona get this lock engraved? There’s no way the Indian man with his locks laid out on a towel for five Euros each had an engraving machine in his jacket. Why was the image of the Eiffel Tower necessary? I mean they already said they were in Paris through the text, so now they’re just being redundant. And they came here on Valentine’s Day? Really Kevin and Dona? REALLY?
My on-the-spot analysis brought me to a not-so-great conclusion: Kevin and Dona had planned to come to this bridge to do this very thing, or worse, maybe it was something they’d prepared before they even came to Paris! (The font on that lock seems very American). It’s the sort of pre-meditated “love” that reminds me of processed, factory-sliced, lunch meat. It’s bologna love, y’all.
I somehow convinced myself to keep on looking, in the hopes of seeing something good to restore my faith in love.
And that’s when I saw the following:
If I were to give you my uncensored thoughts from that moment, they’d be bursting with colourful expletives. Instead I will give you a less vulgar summary:
-There is NO way the Indian man selling locks on the bridge had these heart-shaped monstrosities in his inventory. Another point deducted for pre-meditation
-Why’d they have to draw a heart on their padlock when their padlock is shaped like a HEART? Seriously, what’s up with couples and redundancy?
-Using my understanding of surface area and my best estimate, the heart-shaped monstrosity is covering up approximately fifteen of the humbly-sized golden locks. That’s fifteen couples whose symbolic love will never see the light of day thanks to Julien and Alexandra.
Conclusion: Julien and Alexandra are total dicks!!!
I was definitely done with the crouching by now, so I stood and leaned against the bridge, all padlocks gone from my view. Instead I watched the sun streak down on the Seine. I stood like that for a while, as boats passed by and laughter rung out from behind me. I started to wonder if the romance of Paris was only an illusion, one that couldn’t really hold up if you looked too closely, and found yourself staring at an expertly-engraved lock of “love.” Or maybe real love was all around like I’d seen in the streets, those hand-on-butt moments that are way more organic than a bridge screaming out “this is romance!”
I started to feel okay with this conclusion, and though slightly disillusioned by the experience, ten minutes later I finally turned back around.
And that’s when I saw this:
Paris, the city of love? Yeah, I still believe it.
Another late bedtime in Paris, another blog post to write, and a million things to say, even though it’s only day six! I’m so relieved I made a decision to eventually turn this blog into a book, because I’d never be able to tell you all the things I want to tell you about Paris in just two blog posts a week!
Last time I wrote, I only made it as far as nine a.m. on my first day (proving how much I can’t stop talking about Paris!), so let me continue from there…
…After my taxi driver lazily watched me struggle to get my luggage to my building, I was quickly greeted by the landlord. He’s the son of the couple who owns the building, and as helpful and professional as a landlord could be. I could tell the apartment had been cleaned before I arrived, but I didn’t know the cleanliness was a sign of strict requirements. Like that time the landlord showed me the bathroom, looked me square in the eyes, and said in his rich French accent: “Please do not put any condoms in the toilet.” For accuracy’s sake, I need you to insert three seconds of awkward silence into your reading, starting now! After stating this all-important rule which I assumed was common knowledge amongst the human race, he went on to draw my attention to the sticker on the toilet lid. It’s like one of those red and white “non-smoking” signs, the only difference being that the cigarette is actually a cartoon version of a slightly-crumpled condom with little red dots inside, to represent…well…yeah.
Once the rules were clearly out in the open, the landlord left me to sleep, but AS IF I was going to sleep at nine a.m. on my very first day in Paris and my very first day in Europe? (Airport stopovers in 1996 and 2006 don’t count as visiting Europe)
I needed to explore!
With my apartment in the heart of the Latin Quarter, I started my journey on Boulevard Saint-Germain, knowing that famous cafés shrouded in literary ghosts were just minutes away. Before too long my eyes focused in on Paris’s two most famous cafés, “Les Deux Magots” and “Café de Flore.” Known for past customers like Hemingway and Jean-Paul Sartre, it was everything my nerdy self came to Paris to embrace. The people taking photos outside of a packed and noisy terrace though? Well that part I wasn’t too keen on. I will definitely visit both of those cafés on some other Paris day—when I haven’t been awake for twenty hours straight—but on this particular morning I turned on the nearest street and found myself at “Le Bonaparte.”
This was my first time ever speaking with a waiter in Paris.
And I was nervous.
Mostly I was nervous because his slicked-back hair, crisp white shirt and format black vest represented everything I’ve ever read about, when it comes to ultra-professional Parisian waiters who barely have the time of day for you. So nervous I was, that I didn’t even try to speak French (d’oh! Chickened out on my first attempt). Instead I meekly asked for a café creme in English, and he swiftly disappeared inside. This gave me a chance to enjoy the view, which is actually underrated, when compared to “Les Deux Magots.” The latter gives you a solid view for some people-watching right along the boulevard, whereas the former offers up a lovely view of a church, along with some nice greenery. The view and the sips of café creme were very relaxing, but the temporary shot of caffeine was no relief for the way my eyelids burned when I blinked. I was exhausted. And I still had to some grocery shopping!
Before I could begin with my grocery list, my stomach reminded my tired brain I was starving, so I stopped in at “Maison Pradier” to order a pain au chocolat. This wasn’t one of those romantic Parisian moments where I take slow bites and savour each flaky bit as the breeze softly blows in my hair. This was more like hardly eating on the plane, which meant I scarfed down the pain au chocolat in twenty seconds, as I power-walked down the street. I promise I’ll be more Parisian next time.
Onto the groceries!
One of the great things about Paris is the charming little shops for all your different needs (i.e. fromagerie, boulangerie, etc), but one of the realities of moving to Paris with empty cupboards and an empty fridge is that first you need to stock up on the basics! With that in mind my tired ass dragged its way to the nearest “Monoprix,” and what followed was “Ooh, I need that,” and then “Ooh, I need that too,” and “Ooh, I definitely need that.” It wasn’t extravagant items I was picking up one by one, but ordinary things like water, orange juice, bananas…in other words things that end up weighing a lot of tonnage! (or “poundage,” if I mean to be accurate, but tonnage sounds more dramatic)
Oh, and remember my burning eyelids? I was on twenty-one hours without any sleep by now, so did I actually realize that my basket was getting heavier and heavier? No. My impaired reflexes had no idea what was going on…until I hit the streets with a twenty-minute walk ahead of me. The twenty-minute walk went like this: walk fifty feet, stop, put down four bags, rub my hands which are in pain, rotate my wrists which are getting really sore, and repeat. For twenty minutes.
I don’t even know what I must’ve looked like to Parisians, to tourists, to the homeless. Ridiculous.
After a much-needed pit-stop home but zero motivation to unpack, I decided to go on a little stroll. Because it’s not like I was tired or anything. This walk turned into a three-hour adventure which involved getting lost about seven times within a ten-minute distance of my place; those confusing Latin Quarter streets!
By the time I made it back to my place, it was six p.m. and I’d been awake for twenty-seven hours. I wanted to see and do so much more, but unfortunately sleep overtook me.
For the next fourteen hours.
Today is/was my sixth day in Paris, and my schedule has taken the form of: wake up semi-late in the morning (or early if I’m doing a touristy thing), explore all day and have awesome encounters with pit-stops in-between (hooray for living in Central Paris!), and end up writing blog posts until two or three a.m.
Like I’m doing right now.
I guess I was always that nighttime writer gal, ever since those days of doing re-writes of “Last-Minute Love” at three a.m. with a can of Red Bull (madness!).
At the exact moment of typing this, I can tell you that so amazing things have happened in the last few days; I wish I could spill the beans on all of it right away! But that would take a lot of blog posts, and the next one isn’t ’til Sunday.
PS: if you want to see more pictures from my stay in Paris, you can check them out at my Facebook Author Page.
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