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You can scroll the shelf using ← and → keys
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.
Unfriendly, dismissive, and rude.
The above descriptors are sometimes associated with Parisians, but believing they’re accurate would be as silly as believing that every meal in Paris is served with frogs’ legs and escargot. From a North American perspective, it’s as silly as believing all Canadians bathe in maple syrup (why the hell would we bathe in it when we can eat it?!).
The truth is there are assholes everywhere, it’s a lovely feature of the human race (but luckily it’s not the dominant one.) I was eager to tap into the friendliness of Parisians which I knew was their dominant trait (gotta have faith!), but like with any place, it’s not this automatic thing where you loiter around cafés and parks until someone decides to talk to you. You have to put yourself out there, you have to walk into a room where everybody’s having a conversation without you, and you have to figure out how to fit your way in.
The quickest way to do that (without being creepy) is to join an organized group where you’re guaranteed a “starter” conversation. Nothing is guaranteed beyond the starter conversation (you weirdo), but if you’ve honed your social skills to a generally acceptable level, you can find yourself having pleasant conversations with Parisians, as you try to figure out what wine-producing region in France shares a name with a vehicle (Cadillac, who knew?!).
That’s exactly what happened to me, when I showed up for my very first English and French pub quiz night in Paris.
It started out in that nervous way, like when you don’t know where to sit in the high school cafeteria. No one really paid any attention to me as I walked through the bar, and the boisterous conversations were already in flight. I heard French, I heard American English (sorry but our Canadian English accent is different, and Americans should know, you make fun of us for it all the time!), I heard UK English, and I definitely heard glasses clinking with declarations of “Santé!”
I made it past most of the tables in the bar because the seats were already filled. Eventually I found a seat at a table in the back, across from a man and woman having a lightning-fast discussion in French. I didn’t even have a drink to make it seem like I was busy while they talked. This would’ve been the time to take out my phone, and that’s exactly what I would’ve done in Toronto, in any stretch lasting longer than ten seconds if my friends were MIA at the bar.
But this is Paris, dummy! You came here to meet people!
So I smiled.
Yes, I smiled at two people having a busy conversation without me. Though they weren’t looking directly at me, eventually my smile (powered with the very same ammo that fuels a “Care Bear stare”) broke through.
The woman turned to face me and said “Bonjour.”
And the rest, my friends…is history.
Can you imagine if that’s all it took and suddenly I had twenty friends?
Anyway I replied and introduced myself, and then, with another local joining our table (along with an American woman), we started to explain our occupations.
I was asked if I’m here to work.
I said no.
I was asked if I’m a student.
I said no again.
They were curious now, and this was right around the moment when I pictured telling these locals I was here to write a book, the most biggest cliché of moving to Paris. For half a second, the old stereotypes of Parisians and how they would rudely dismiss me took over. But then I remembered that it’s not like I bathe in maple syrup just because I’m Canadian, so I told them.
And no one laughed.
They must be good actors, eh? (I do say “eh.” Sue me.)
In reality, they had a lot of questions about my “Year of the Chick’” fiction series, and about this travel-blogging thing which will warp into another book. Most of the questions surrounded the sequel to Last-Minute Love I plan to write, where (SPOILER ALERT) the character quits her job and moves to Paris at the end of book two. The French man to my right seemed to be the most inquisitive, especially about what experiences I would have that would inspire the events in the book (insert a French man’s raised eyebrow here). The best part about all of this, is how the Parisians encouraged me to answer in French, just as I encouraged them to answer in English, so they could improve as well. Thinking back to my first day in Paris when I chickened out from talking to a waiter in French, I can happily say that in any store and café I visit now, I speak in French. In fact, the sentences of French I spoke on that quiz night, were more French than I’d spoken since 1999.
To re-iterate, yes, this was a quiz night. It lasted a couple of hours and we definitely became competitive with the other six teams, but the quiz was only a cover for why we were really there. It was language development outside of a classroom, and judging by the wine and conversation we shared once the quiz was over, it was also a chance to make new acquaintances and exchange a few phone numbers.
After reading this, one could easily say it is not a true reflection of Parisians, since the locals at the quiz night were getting something out of it too by improving their English. One could certainly say that, but in response I’d say that yesterday I met a woman who lives around the corner from me. She’s a friendly Parisian who’s finishing her studies, and she also has an adorable kitten (bonus!). I’ll probably see her next week to go for a pint (or “boire un verre” as the French would say).
Oh, and to “keep it real,” tonight I was at a different bar for a meetup of internationals which locals often attend. Here I met a French man who we’ll call “Francois.” As he asked me about my rom-com series writing endeavours, he only wanted to know how many dates I’ve had in Paris so far, why I’m not trying to meet as many men as possible for the book, why on earth I go jogging in the Jardin du Luxembourg because I can’t meet men while I’m jogging, and do I know how to pole-dance, because I look like I’d be good at it.
Thanks “Francois,” but I’ve only been here for a week, I don’t pole-dance, and I’m going to go home and write now.
Yeah…all kinds of people in all kind of places, but cheers to the friendly Parisians!
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.
***If you enjoyed what you read, please share the blog with a friend!***
I’ve arrived safe and sound in Paris! (that picture is a garden that’s in my neighbourhood)
After practically crying on the plane!
In the twenty-hours leading up the trip, the thought of flying made me nervous. Once I was finally on the plane and experienced three hours of turbulence (minus a couple of ten-minute breaks of calm), I remembered why. It couldn’t have been that bad if none of the overhead bins burst open with luggage falling onto our heads (thank goodness!), but when the lady in the back screamed, and when the stomach-lurches similar to a rollercoaster drop happened multiple times in a row, I needed a hand to hold.
But I didn’t have one.
The plane was packed, and yet…the seat right next to me was empty (just so you know I’m not making that up to be dramatic. If you’re a regular reader you’ll know that, and if you’re new you should know that I only tell the truth, like that time I blogged about having diarrhea at an Indian wedding and ruining my fancy clothes…at least I was only eight—go ahead and look it up, it’s in the archives from 2009). I took the empty seat as a sign of cruel symbolism, a reminder that when I arrived in Paris, I would be completely alone. I did have an option one seat over, an elderly woman whose hand I could’ve gripped for support, and yet…I would’ve rather kept digging my nails into my palms than ever make contact with her.
Because she was crazy.
It wasn’t the hollowed-out circles under her eyes, like two grand canyons sinking into unknown depths, it wasn’t even the fact that she was wearing disturbingly short shorts. It was, in truth, the horrifying way she scanned weekly flyers for all the latest sales…but they were flyers from the month of March!
Maybe she has a time machine I don’t know about? Maybe she seduced the Christopher Lloyd character from Back to the Future with her provocative short-shorts to gain special access to the time-bending apparatus? That’s the only explanation I can think of, because why else would a person nod to herself while carefully noting shampoo sales at the drug store, ground beef sales at the grocery store, and lumber sales at the home improvement store…for prices that expired in March?!
On the plus side, in the four hours without any turbulence I finished reading a book. So at least I was somewhat productive even though I didn’t get to sleep. But we’ll get to that later.
And then I arrived in Paris!
My friend who has lived in Paris reminded me not to get too hyped up when I arrived at the airport. No Eiffel Tower view, no berets and baguettes being handed out as you exit, just a place that looks like any other place; grass and road. Even still I looked out the window like a giddy golden retriever for the entire drive. Once the signs for “Central Paris” started getting more frequent, I felt a little flutter in my heart. A light flutter, mind you, but strong enough to remain unfazed when the man in the Toyota Corolla next to us picked his nose aggressively. There was a high fence separating whatever buildings were beyond the highway, but I noticed the tops of the buildings getting more and more classic…and artistic…and inspiring. Then, with an agressive turn into the “bus only” lane, the driver illegally zipped past all the traffic.
And that’s when I saw the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris.
The next thing I knew I was approaching the Latin Quarter, but how? It all happened so fast, one second a highway and a nose-picker, and the next second…one of the grandest sights in Paris.
It’s a cheese-bag moment, but I totally had tears in my eyes.
Before I could add a cathartic sob to my emotional reaction, the driver suddenly came to a stop and said “Voila” (he spoke no English, by way). The driver wasn’t totally wrong, as I do live pretty close to the cathedral, but even a novice like me would know this wasn’t my street. I showed him the address again: “Mais c’est ici.” He shook his head and made these excited hand gestures, about how his van was so big and the street was too small: “Par la pied.”
He was telling me to walk it.
Normally I’d have no problem with a stroll around the corner, but remember the luggage from my previous post? And don’t forget to add a laptop bag to the mix. He stared at me blankly, and suddenly my very first “Paris moment” was upon me. And so, at nine a.m., as brasserie employees hosed down the cobblestoned streets and delivery trucks dropped off the fresh morning goods, I stumbled along with my carry-on suitcase fighting the cobblestone, my laptop bag hung around my shoulder, and a backpack cradled in my arms like a giant thirty-five-pound baby. I dropped it all off at the door to my building (except for the laptop), ran back with the fear of approaching thieves, and wheeled over my giant suitcase for round number two. The taxi driver watched it all. I still ended up giving him a tip, because let’s face it, when it’s day one of a city/country/continent you’ve never been in, you are basically scared of everything.
You know…I thought this post would include my entire first day, but I write these things on the fly to keep it organic, and the post right here organically grew to full-length, before I even got past nine a.m. on the first day!
I guess that means I’ll have a lot to say during my six-month stay in Paris. So I’ll see you on Wednesday for more, sound good?
À bientôt (keep scrolling for pictures below!),
PS: Here are a couple of photos of what I’ve seen so far. I’ll be posting much more on my Facebook author page this week.
View of La Seine from the Left Bank
Palais Garnier Opera House