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…I love how in Paris in the briefest moments, you can end up having random conversations with absolute strangers in a way that leaves you with a smile. This happens to me more in Paris than in any other city, and even extends to the seemingly rigid and soul-less guards that protect President Hollande’s residence.
The moment I’m referring to traces back to last Sunday, when my best friend and I, with our tired wobbly legs, were returning from our running group’s 10km affair (another thing I love about Paris: running groups that force you out of your lazy slumber). We decided to make our return along the ultra posh Rue de Faubourg Saint-Honoré, because we were, after all, dressed in our ridiculous running clothes, and sometimes we enjoy breaking convention by making a scene :-).
Along the way down “designer lane,” we approached the president’s residence. Before passing by, we were stopped by one of the guards. I wasn’t surprised, as we certainly stood out, but when we told him of our Canadian and Mexican origin, he immediately seemed to warm up to us (maybe “President Dump” can learn something from this…).
The next thing I knew, we had become best friends with this guard, sharing our hopes and dreams, he in his perfect French, and me with French sentences spoken in Canadian tones. He didn’t seem to mind.
His name is Thierry.
Thierry composes music in his free time.
Thierry hopes to one day write the musical scores for films produced in France.
Thierry is a dreamer.
Now for all you cynics out there, you’re probably wondering how Thierry can protect the president and surrounding citizens, when he’s busy telling my friend and I all about his hopes and dreams. It’s a common concern, but let me assure you that while Thierry’s eyes sparkled as he shared his most profound wishes, those shining eyes never once stopped surveying the scene around him. And his hands never loosened their grip on his intimidating automatic weapon. So take heart, concerned Parisians, Thierry understands his responsibilities. I hope I see his name in the credits of a film one day, because even though he’ll otherwise always be a stranger, for a brief moment, through Thierry we accessed the hope that lives in all people. And it’s something that happens to me often in Paris…
…Wow, that was a long love note. Thierry is clearly an attention whore. Well the rest of my notes are much shorter…
…I love how when it’s cold in Paris, and your nose is running from the cold, and you know you have a long way to walk, and you have every opportunity to be miserable, you’ll encounter some beautiful part of Paris you’ve seen many times, only that then, in that specific moment, in the right light, and with the absence of a crowd…what your eyes observe will silence all your bitchy complaining. There are many beautiful cities, but when it comes to the abundance of beauty, this quality is specific to Paris, where seemingly around every corner, there lies some stunning architecture, or a charming street, or endearing shops, and I could go on and on…
…I love how Paris is an emotional-eater’s paradise, a place where at a moment’s convenience and for just a few euros, you can stuff your face with all manner of viennoiserie, and let yourself be enveloped in amounts of butter that will make you forget about unpleasant things, like elections and the horrifying people they represent, and…as long as you can remember to go for a 10km run so the butter doesn’t find a permanent home on your ass, well…I’ll call it guilt-free emotional support at its finest…
…I love that when you put on your coat at midnight, because you think you’re about to leave a quaint little French party, it’s suddenly 2am, and you’re in the kitchen, having the most laugh-out-loud addictive conversation with people you’ve just met, even though you’re still ridiculously wearing your coat. I love how at last you’ll realize that it’s time to be rid of the coat, because of course you’re not going to leave, as the champagne flows and the laughter flows along with it. I love how at these various parties and gatherings and wine bars and apéros, you can arrive a near stranger and leave with new friends. And I love how it always somehow happens that in Paris, these friends take the form of people from everywhere; France, Spain, Ireland, Singapore, England, Colombia, India, Brazil, the US, and on and on and on. I love that in Paris, I always feel like a citizen of our common home, which is earth, a place where no one should feel unwelcome, and I love that when I’m in Paris, I never, ever do… ❤
Well…yes, no, no, and no (did that cover everything?)
Nothing is forgotten, but the streets of Paris seem full to me, and the only danger I’ve encountered so far is temporarily forgetting that drivers in Paris are always trying to run you down with their cars or scooters or giant looming buses. How had I forgotten this obvious fact after living in Paris twice? Perhaps the streets of Canada had made me a bit complacent, because in Canada the symbol for “walk” means “hello pedestrian, you dear sweet pedestrian, please enjoy this time frame, in which you are the king of the world.” You can skip, dance, or even crawl across the street in Canada, and the driver waiting to make the left turn has to sit there until you’re done.
Fast forward to Paris in 2016, and I found myself as a very comfortable pedestrian. That is until…4:30pm today, when I was nearly flattened like a human pancake on Rue de Rivoli.
This gentle “flattening” reminder is one that I will never forget, and one that I’ll interpret as follows: don’t trust anything with wheels in Paris (except for those attractive cops who roller-blade in the streets and smile—but only in summer, I think).
The other main aspect of returning to Paris revolves around the upcoming half marathon (only 12 days away!), and I, the non-runner type, who is registered to make it to the finish line.
In the last seven days I’ve run four times in Paris, with fitness levels ranging from “I’m going to vomit into that garbage can” to “Hey, that actually wasn’t bad!”
It started with 4km on day two in Paris, went up to 9km on Sunday, and was a cool 7km this afternoon. Through it all, I’m starting to slowly convert the naysayers who laughed when I said that I would do this (well not all of them…you bastards). Most importantly, I’ve started to build my biggest motivation, courtesy of the greatest competition of all…which is myself. As I outlined in my previous post, I am a hyper-competitive person, and that’s all the motivation I need. And so, as long as I can push myself to the finish line, I’ll be pretty ridiculously happy, but you won’t be able to see my face, since most of it will be buried inside the 6,000-calorie brunch I shall enjoy soon after I finish.
And the best part of all about the race? My teammates and I are raising money for a damn good cause (the Red Cross). I talked all about that in my previous post, but here’s the link to donate if you’ve somehow forgotten, because forgetting is the only reason you wouldn’t have donated yet, right? RIGHT??? (http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserPage.action?userUrl=FootstepsinParis&isTeam=true)
Aside from all the running I’ve been doing this past week (look at what a cocky running snob I’ve become!), I’ve been reconnecting with the people I call my “Paris family,” and every single moment has filled me with happiness. I know that sounds incredibly cheesy, but even when I’m on my own, remembering a dinner I had, or a recent conversation, or a sunny stroll with a friend, I’m filled with an immense sense of gratitude (oh god, this is so cheesy). Maybe it means that Paris is magical, or maybe it means that amazing people gravitate towards other amazing people, and we are all just so fucking amazing (and humble too). Or maybe…maybe it just means that home is where the heart is. If that’s the case, then Paris sure feels like a special kind of home right now.
Now that I’ve filled this post with so much cheese, I will tell you that this past week in Paris, I had blue cheese, and I actually loved it! This is significant, because before that moment, I had never even liked blue cheese!!! I can’t remember the name of the cheese at this particular moment, but it was orange with flecks of blue, and it was absolutely delightful (Paris, eh? The new experiences never end…)
The last time I wrote about Paris, the tone was necessarily grim, and though we all remember November 13th, “joie de vivre” stays strong. This resilience is one of the many reasons why Paris is so inspiring, so thank you for that, great city!
Speaking of Paris…six or seven months ago, I was told of the existence of a Paris half marathon in March. I was also told that we should and could and would run it. My response was laughter, followed by “yeah sure,” and an eye-roll that Whatsapp couldn’t see. It was one of those crazy schemes you talk about but hopefully forget, because who actually wants to run 21 kilometres?!
Before 2015 ended, I was reminded of this promise. Had it actually been a promise? Is laughing and rolling your eyes while sarcastically saying “sure” considered legally binding? Apparently so, because the Paris half marathon is 34 days away, and yes I have officially registered.
In the grand scope of the world, a half marathon is only a “half” marathon, and the people who run a “full” one are the people who are actually crazy (42 kilometres?! You’re a PERSON, not a Honda Civic. Take a seat).
In the smaller scope of myself however…I am not a runner by nature. I mean…I guess most humans aren’t, unless they’re being chased, but I don’t actively seek out opportunities to run, at least not for longer than twenty-five minutes. I also don’t use a Nike running app to share on social media, so everyone can know how I’m way more active than they are, and in turn feel guilty about their twelfth Oreo cookie.
Though I haven’t yet used an app to athletically shame others (key word being “yet“), my routine has required a brisk and harsh change since signing up. I’m one of those people who loves theories like “interval training,” where you can actually get a good workout by sprinting hard for two minutes and walking for five, then multiplying that by four, and being finished your entire workout in twenty-eight minutes. I’m also one of those people who owns the T25 workout DVDs, where you can actually get an amazing workout with only 25 minutes of effort! (which by the way is insanely hard, and I always have to stop and take water breaks when I’m doing it). Oh, and in case you were wondering, yes, pictured here is my tantalizing T25 workout DVD collection. I mean really, how can anyone say “no” to the shirtless man with the sixteen-pack abs, who’s telling you to “GET IT DONE”?
What was I saying? Oh yeah…running for over two hours? Or however long it takes me to struggle to the finish line?
It’s mad I tell ya, mad! The only time I was thrilled with lengthy exercise was during a day of hiking in Switzerland, and only because it contained the most beautiful views I’d ever seen in my life.
But wait…there is a flip side.
The flip side to choosing a challenge beyond one’s skill level is…being a competitive person, and accomplishing it out of spite. Once my competitive nature takes hold, any challenge is suddenly realistic. After that, my Aries nature takes hold, and I picture my astrological symbol of the ram crushing the competition with metaphorical horns. That’s all it takes, baby.
And so…I am excited. Very, very excited.
As an added plus, the training thus far has not been as horrible as I’d imagined, and with each incremental workout, I’m enjoying running more and more (oh god, I’m about to become one of THOSE people…). Even so, I’ve been training on a treadmill, and I seriously need to get outside. This of course means that two weeks from now…rain or shine, I’ll be pounding the Paris pavement, and seeing how closely I can follow the recommended training schedule (which I started five weeks late, no biggie). All I know is that I seriously need to catch up, because the last seven days have included the stomach flu, a hacking cough, a clogged nose, nasal drip, and absolutely zero running.
But that’s okay! Because today is the first day of the rest of my training life, and I’m clearly super excited about it:
If my own competitive nature isn’t enough to help me finish the race, my friends and I are running on behalf of the British Red Cross. I really respect the Red Cross charity and all that it does with swiftness and transparency, so much so that I sent out donations in people’s names instead of Christmas presents this year. Everybody was really thrilled about that, because any reaction aside from being thrilled would’ve made them seem like assholes (entrapment!). Little did I know that a few months later I’d be making my own appeal to others, but here we are, which brings us now to the five ascending pressure stages of fundraising:
After this post, I will have completed the first three items on the list, and despite the expected paltry success rate of 0.5 percent, our team of three has actually gotten some donations! For that, I thank you, but we are only 18% of the way there. Furthermore, while I may limit my level of hustle when I’m trying to sell my books, there is no upper limit to how shameless I’ll be when I’m hustling for a worthy cause.
That’s right guys, I’m comin’ at you with items #4 and #5, so you might as well make it less awkward by donating in advance! Here’s the link: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/FootstepsinParis
See you in Paris,
PS: I offer my sincere thanks to anyone who’s able to donate. We’ve all got our own priorities, and charities are a personal thing, so I greatly appreciate any amount you’re able to give!
PPS: I’ll be back in Paris from mid-Feb to mid-April, to train/try new hangouts/finish a script, so expect regular updates on this blog and on instagram! (“Paris is always a good idea“—> quote from my coffee mug, est. 2013)
It’s been less than a week since the attacks in Paris, and before I ruminate and pontificate on the city of lights and the world at large, it’s an incredibly sad thing. So many people lost, so many friends and families who must be suffering immensely right now…it certainly makes me reflect.
And so, I will henceforth say “Voldemort” when referencing the terrorist group responsible for so much evil (an appropriate substitution, given Voldemort’s “piece of shit” status in Harry Potter).
The Northeastern US is gearing up for a massive blizzard, so to any snow-ridden readers out there who happened upon this blog, I send you good thoughts and snow-shovel prowess (I grew up in Canada, hence my shovelling skills rule). If you’re living in New York City and don’t have a driveway, your shovelling concerns have likely been replaced with the innate need to “cuddle.” This is no joke, as all the buzz on Craigslist right now relates to offers citing the following: cuddling, drinking hot cider, and possibly making out if you’re hot; let’s make this a snow day to remember. No, I’m not kidding, see here.
I’m too far from “blizzard central” to contend with any similar offers, nor would I, not because I’m afraid of the weird Craigslist dude who would answer the ad and show up at my door, but mostly because I’M the weird one, and my “Kathy Bates in Misery” like tendencies dare not be tested. Watch your back.
What I can do though on this wintry Monday night, is offer up a section from one of the chapters in “Vicarious Paris,” my candid guide through the city of lights. When I initially thought about sharing this passage, I wondered: is it a dick move to reflect on warm summer nights in Paris, when millions of people are trapped inside because of a blizzard? But then I remembered: hey, it’s not exactly warm in Toronto either; we’re in these dog days of winter together. Besides, if the demand for illegal narcotics has taught me anything, it’s that escapism is important to the human condition. So enjoy some escapism now, without the long-term effects of heroin or crack.
(For context, the passage below is taken from Chapter Twelve in “Vicarious Paris,” the chapter where the reader vicariously joins me on a night of bar-hopping in my “tied for first place” favourite neighbourhood in Paris, Canal Saint-Martin. And the bar this passage relates to? Well it’s ONLY one of my favourite “chill out” hangouts in Paris, no big deal; enjoy!]
This next bar is going to win some kind of award, for being unassuming yet leaving a lasting impression. This is Chez Prune (36 Rue Beaurepaire, M5 Jacques Bonsergent), a simple café by day, and a packed, lively bar with an amazing soundtrack by night. This café is right along the canal, and at night it draws you in with the buzzing crowd. Tara and I walked in at nearly eleven, and given that it was Saturday, there was no chance of getting a table. You know what though? That’s okay, because interesting things tend to happen when you’re sitting at the bar.
I’ll start with a fun fact: the proprietor of the bar looks like Colin Farrell, if Colin Farrell had a full-on beard and a newsboy cap. Did my mention of a newsboy cap deflate your image of a manly Colin Farrell doppelganger? Fear not, for your faith will soon be restored.
We assumed “Colin” was the proprietor, due to the way the fresh-faced servers looked to him for guidance (on billing quandaries and the like). Colin doesn’t smile. He smirks. As in…he will take your drink order, smirk when he hears your non-French accent, and smirk when he gives you your drink. This is not bad service, this is a game; he is challenging you to tear down his walls, and bitch, challenge accepted.
We will get back to Colin in a minute, but first let me say that on a pricing note, most types of wine at Café Prune are four euros a glass; not generic red or white, but different varieties. This is cool. On a musical note, the soundtrack at Café Prune on a Saturday night is amazing (we went twice on Saturday nights, but the other nights might be great as well). We are assuming it was Colin’s iPhone connected to the speaker that night, and in that case, we salute you, Colin. Colin played Blind Melon. And Foo Fighters. And Smashing Pumpkins. It’s like he’d gone to school with us or something, and I was now more sure than ever that I wanted to make him my friend.
Tara and I each had three glasses of wine at Café Prune. I’m not sure how this was physically possible, given all the wine at the canal, the dangerous sips of “house punch,” the drink at La Patache…how is it possible that we felt totally fine? I am thinking there’s something special in the Parisian air, something that regulates your bloodstream and makes it all okay. That is definitely the rationalization I’m going with; that and the carbs from eating an entire pizza. Don’t judge me, it was thin-crust.
Whenever Tara and I sit at the bar during one of our outings, our scintillating conversation (in our arrogant opinion) on everything from films to funny things we saw that day, is sure to lead to bartender eavesdropping, i.e. the gateway to conversation. Not so with Colin. On our first night there Colin was “in the zone,” working fast and furious at the bar (and smirking at us, the two of only three English-speakers at the bar). You know what made his “in the zone” feat more commendable? The eleven shots of Jack Daniels he consumed while we were there. Actually now that I’m thinking back on it…it must’ve been some other brown liquid in the upside-down bottle called “Jack Daniels,” like maybe an energizing corn syrup, because how in the hell can someone manage such exact, choreographed movements at the bar after eleven shots of Jack Daniels? Yes, I will now confirm it was an energizing corn syrup mix in that old Jack Daniels bottle. Look at this guy…caring about the environment by reusing old glass bottles; well done, Colin.
The incidence of energy shots makes me even more certain that Colin was the proprietor, as the other three servers were only allowed two shots of corn syrup each.
Back to our scintillating conversation; Colin may not have piped in, but this random dude sitting next to Tara did. I glanced around this packed bar of people in their twenties and thirties (and forties), and realized why this fifty-something man in the blazer and jeans may have felt out of place. He spoke French pretty well, but switched to English once he and Tara had developed a rapport. Tara is very friendly; Tara will ask you where you’re from and what you like about Paris. She’ll also smile with consistent enthusiasm, whether it’s the first picture of your ten-year-old daughter you’re showing her, or the tenth. As this man did. I’m the one, if you recall, whose boredom/disdain spills out of her eyes with involuntary eye-expressions. It’s a good thing Tara was next to the man instead of me.
As the night went on, as the patrons got rowdier, and as Colin finished his corn syrup mix, something amazing happened. On the speakers, via Colin’s playlist…came the song that shaped an entire generation. I’m of course referring to “Barbie Girl” by Aqua. If you are a child/teen of the nineties, this song is an important fixture from your youth. Our delight in what we were hearing wasn’t the amazing thing. It was the other two bartenders singing along to the song, and Colin joining in (sort of). He wasn’t exactly singing along to the words, but he quasi-shook his hips, twice. After that, it’s like he suddenly remembered he wasn’t in the privacy of his bedroom, bringing him back to his usual smirk. He may have thought no one noticed, but oh, we noticed. We were seeing the cracks in Colin.
When Tara and I finally decided to bring our epic “fourteen-hour hang out” to a close, Colin stood across from us staring as we scrounged up our money. This was a new development, versus the up-until-now barrage of smirks; Colin also stares.
We left the bar feeling energized; we may not have lassoed the smirking Moby Dick just yet, but good things come to those who wait, and Chez Prune is definitely worthy of a repeat visit.
Since we’ve already discussed the nature of this bar as it relates to your inevitable visit (you should go!), I will briefly lay out the conclusion of our quest to break down Colin. We returned two Saturdays later, and the atmosphere was just as lively. The music for the night was “tunes from the eighties,” which cemented our conclusion of good Saturday soundtracks at Chez Prune. When we walked into the bar, there was a flicker of recognition within Colin; I might even call it one eighth of a smile to go along with his usual smirk. On this particular night, Colin wasn’t dipping into the “corn syrup” shots, and I wondered how this might affect our plan to break him down. The plan, by the way, was simple; Tara would be leaving Paris soon, and with so many things still left on our agenda, we only had time for one drink at Chez Prune. Cue operation: leave him hanging.
As planned, we asked for the bill after just one drink, and Colin, for the first time, spoke (outside of the usual things bartenders say). He said, in French: “You’re leaving already?”
Holy crap, Colin needs us.
We explained that our jam-packed night needed to keep on moving, so with a quick good night, we wandered outside to take in the canal’s mellow ambience. Five seconds later something crazy happened: Colin followed us outside. He didn’t say anything; he just stared. My god the staring! Faced with a suffocating silence, I, with my liquid courage, told him I really liked his bar, and wished we weren’t leaving Paris so soon (I’d be leaving two weeks after Tara). Colin’s eyes went wide (he has involuntary eye-expressions too?!), and he said: “C’est dommage.” Then…then…he pouted.
I made Colin pout!
Tara and I laughed our way home, and maybe also skipped our way home; it was such a victorious blur. You’re probably wondering where the rest of the story is; like what about the part when Colin and I have a torrid love affair? The thing is, Colin was wearing a wedding ring, and the other thing is, it was never even really about that. The only thing that mattered was my need to weaken a person with my magnetizing charm, and force him/her to become my friend.
If it wasn’t clear in previous chapters, you can now see there are times when I will talk about a place for two paragraphs, and other times when I’ll go on about a place for three pages. That’s a key thing about Paris, the way that various experiences will stick in your mind and inspire you in different ways; nothing about this city can be confined to a table or chart.
Next we’re going to hop and skip through all my favourite parks, and talk about the ways to make the most of them…
[I’m not actually going to continue with the jaunt through the parks in this post—though it’s an interesting chapter with fun facts, like finding out which fountain Natalie Portman waded around in—but if you’d like to read about the parks, and 80,000 words of everything else (photos included), you can buy “Vicarious Paris” at Amazon, Kobo, Google Play and Barnes and Noble!]
PS: I’ve finally updated my blog’s “About Me” page, which details other projects and what’s up next (and a photo of me in Paris, which I should’ve had all along; d’oh!—>and keeping in line with my photo tradition, I look creepy as per usual, ala Kathy Bates in Misery; you’re welcome.)