Thursday, March 31, 2011

Spring has sprung in Paris

Greetings, from my happy place. Spring has definitely sprung in Paris.

Now that I've been in Paris for a few weeks, I'm beginning to see it differently. For instance, I don't spend half my time with my head in my map. Rather I spend it gazing at the blooming flowers trees.

 Spring at Notre Dame Cathedral is lovely. 

I'm also not getting lost as often... unless someone talks to me. Then I'm completely lost. 

I don't spend all my time in touristy areas either... except for my local café on my semi-touristy rue to gaze lovingly at my butcher friend, with whom I had my first real French conversation the other day. He doesn't make it easy, this learning French. He speaks less English than I speak French, which means he, unlike others I've met, is not piping in with full blown English the minute he hears my accent.

Hey there 007. 

His name is Christophe. "Chris-toe-fff-her en anglais mais Christophe en francais," he says. I introduce myself. "Janice en anglais mais Shaneece en francais."

"Belle," he says.

I beam with recognition. I know what belle means.

Through some sort of miracle, I am able to ask him how long he has worked here and if he likes it.

He's on his third year of working on that very perch, selling meat and potatoes. "One year good. One year bad," he says. I also ask him how long he works each day. He works "to... (this is the pause where he struggles with his English words)... night." This is followed by him miming the sun going down. I then amaze him with my superb French counting skills. "Sept? Huit? Neuf?" Seven? Eight? Nine?

He beams with recognition. "Huit." We take a deep breath together and smile. Comprehension.

Then there is either silence because I have no more French words left in me, or an interruption because someone comes along to buy something from him. That's when I end our language immersion class by saying the same thing each day.

"A demain." Tomorrow.

He smiles and says in English, "Tomorrow."

Then I go home and spend time listening to my French language podcast and wondering what conversation I can piece together for the next day.

French. It's a process.

But I'm still at it. And so is he. We'll see how it goes. It's amazing that this entire conversation has taken us two weeks. The first week was all smiles and Bonjour. Ca va? The second week was both of us stammering through what would be covered in the first five minutes at a cocktail party if we both spoke the same language.

But there is beauty in this very slow process of learning a language and about each other. We linger in our smiles to let each other know that we're still here, still willing to muddle through a sentence or two each day. We let each sentence sink in. His name is Christophe.

By now his butcher coworkers (shown below) notice when I sit down at the café. I see them look over at me, then they shoot pointed looks at him. She's here! Elle est ici! He waves hello. They wave hello, all with grins for days. I wave back and get out the book that I'm pretending to read.

Hello boys. 

I found my happy place.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The big deal about a little macaron

Every time I meet someone who either lives in Paris or has been to Paris, they mention the macaron from Ladurée. Naturally, I had to find out what the big deal was about this little sweet treat.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A letter to the butcher

Dear Monsieur Boucher,

I wish I could speak French.

I would ask you many questions. For starters, I'd want to know how you stand outside la boucherie all day long. Do you like your job? Where do you go at the end of the day? What else do you like to do?

Each day I walk up to Rue Mouffetard and see you selling your meats. I smile and say Bonjour. You smile and say Bonjour. I go for long walks for hours all over the city. I think a lot. I try to remember my French words. At the end of each day, I walk back down Rue Mouffetard and see you again. You smile and say Bonsoir. I smile and say Bonsoir.

Today I stopped at the end of my day and sat at the café across from your shop. I pretended to read my book but I mostly watched you. I imagined what your life is like when you're not on your perch, roasting up chickens and potatoes. I bet you follow a sports team passionately and that the friends you have are friends you've had a long time. I bet they are good people. You seem like a good person.

I watch you smile at children. You lean down to hear little old ladies. You shake hands with men. You check me out.

I wish you could sit with me at the café. You would talk French. I would talk English. We would not understand each other, but we would grin and offer up sheepish smiles.

It would be nice.
Bonsoir mon mystérieuse ami,

And below is a video of that very moment when I was writing this letter to him in my journal as I sat at the café.

Admittedly, nothing much is happening in these four minutes, but the song was so lovely that I had to make the video for at least as long as the song. Plus, there is something meditative about watching him and the Parisian life around him. The song is Juste Quelqu'un De Bien (Just A Good Guy) by Enzo Enzo. The lyrics speak of bored man and a woman who fantasizes about him. She sees a good guy without a great destiny but she adores him anyway. Or maybe that's just me.

Space Invader has invaded Paris!

I went in search of the Picasso Museum. Not easy to find. I had two maps and still did circles around the few blocks where I thought it might be. There were signs, too, pointing in every which direction. Lies. All lies.

I finally arrived on a street corner at the same time as two American women who were also holding maps and looking just as confused as me. Exasperated, I asked them if they were also looking for the Picasso Museum. They were looking for another museum and were doing a similar circumnavigation around the same few blocks.

But they knew where the Picasso Museum was and they pointed right to it: WIN.

I walked up to a locked door with a sign that said:

Dear Visitors,

We must inform you that the Musée National Picasso is closed for renovation and will reopen in Spring 2012.
Picasso Museum: FAIL. 

So that was that.

No matter. I went in search for one of my other favorite artists, Space Invader.

Space Invader is a French artist who pastes up little Space Invaders, made from square tiles. He chooses locations according to aesthetic, strategy or concept. And they are usually up high. According to Wikipedia, "In Montpellier, the locations of mosaics were chosen so that, when placed on a map, they form an image of a giant space invader character."

How rad is that?

And the beauty of Space Invader's art is that it's not closed renovation until 2012. As for it being easy to find? Well, there is a lot of wandering around involved, but when you gaze up and see one, it's like a little friend waving hello.

The Space Invaders I've found thus far:

Picasso schmicasso. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Last American Man

I hit a wall.

After a week of being a hard core tourist in Paris, I hit a wall. I woke this morning and knew that the last thing I wanted to do today was see anything in Paris. My legs were tired. My back ached. And I just got plain old tired of muddling my way through French, of my Type-A map study tendencies and my marathon walks around the city. 

See, I don't slow down. I don't stop. I collapse.

Balance isn't my forté. 

So after a lovely picnic in the sunny and verdant Jardin du Luxembourg, I returned to my quaint Parisian flat to curl up and read the book I picked up yesterday at Shakespeare and Co.

Sitting outside Shakespeare and Co. 

I stopped reading long enough for a photo so that one day they'd frame the photo and hang it in the store like they did for this guy:

And I hope they stick my books in the store like they did for him, too.

In the book, she talks of Eustace Conway, a man who hiked all over America, a man who escaped the comforts of suburbia to live in the mountains, a man who lived off the land for 20 years... and still does. 

And I'm complaining about walking all over Paris for six days?!

Gilbert speaks of the the Last American Man as the last frontiersman. The guy who got on his horse, went out west, wrestled with bears and skinned deer. The modern age has all but eliminated this heroic icon of our youth. Our heroes are the AAA guy who tows our car off the freeway and the computer guy behind the Genius bar at the Apple store. But then Eustace Conway comes along and shows her that there is at least one of those frontiersmen left in this world.

When I first purchased the book, I wondered why I was compelled to read it. I'm in Paris. I should be looking for My First French Man, not reading about The Last American Man. But as I read, it dawned on me why I was compelled by this book.

My dad is the Last Canadian Man. 

I stopped in to see my dad when I was in Canada a few weeks ago. My sister came along, and a good thing she did. She's about the only person who can find him. He lives off the grid in the backwoods of freezing cold Canada. But he does it and he loves it. When I saw him, I saw a man that was truly happy, which is more than I can say for a lot of men out there who have a lot more than my dad. Materialistically speaking.

Living off the grid isn't an easy life. One must give up comfort and find interest instead in fishing, hunting, mending, building and a lot of other verbs necessary to live off the land successfully. 

Dad fishes like a man obsessed, he can build anything from anything and he spends evenings sketching out his next projects. A mold of his hands should be taken for the Smithsonian. His pinky finger is bigger than the thumbs of mere mortal men. And the skin is calloused and thick from years of pioneering.

He, like Eustace Conway, was Reusing, Reducing and Recycling long before it was cool. And he went further to include Reconsidering and Refusing. He just doesn't want a lot of things.

I never asked him why he lives the way he does. I suppose I would have if he seemed miserable about it, but he seems so gleeful that the answer is written in every line on his well-weathered face.

I don't see him often. He lives in a place that makes him hard to find and I live in a lot of places, which makes me hard to catch. When I saw him this last time, I studied his face. Partially to look at how I will look years from now. Not out of vanity but out of curiosity.

We can look at our parents faces for clues on how it's all going down.

I noticed the aboriginal lines of his grandmother shining through: high cheekbones, dark hair, and the definitive crows feet that appeared, hopefully not from stress, but from squinting in the sun. And I also hope, from laughing a lot.

Don't get me wrong. He's not perfect. Not by a long shot.

But as far as being a mountain man like Eustace Conway, he too, is pretty darn competent. And whose to say that the way they live is wrong? They might have it right and the rest of us, in our air-conditioned SUV unsustainable cappuccino land, may have it wrong. We're the ones running around like mad stress cases trying to make a living.

They are just living.

And they seem quite happy about it. 

So after reading about how Eustace Conway was hiking 30 miles a day, starving and cold on the Appalachian Trail, I guess I can buck up tomorrow and do another round with the cobblestone streets of Paris... The Last Canadian Girl in Paris?

I wouldn't go that far.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

In search of Amélie

Since I'm in Paris, I figured I'd search out the sites of one of my favorite movies.

I love Amélie for many reasons, but mostly because we eat raspberries the same way.

To start my search for Amélie film sites, I zipped up to the Métro Lamarck-Caulaincourt, "the beautiful Metro station with the double staircase, where the blind man experiences a moment of transcendence as Amélie describes the mouthwatering sights of the bustling market on rue Lamarck." (Details and quotes were found here.)

Someone was filming here again. This time with fake snow.

Here is the scene from Amélie:

Amélie sticks her hand in the seed bin and befriends the kind grocery boy at the green grocer, Au Marche de la Butte

"But, of course, the location you really want to see is the lovely art deco café, Café les Deux, where Amélie works, which is, surprisingly, real."

I found this shot to be a rather pedestrian and it was too busy to go inside to have the Crème Brulée (that they named after Amélie), so I took another more fun shot on the side of the café. The lovely lady in the reflection is Jenny, whom I met at the airport. She's been game for doing touristy things avec moi while she was in town this week.

Here is my favorite scene from inside the café.

Who hasn't been there?

Now I'm left to my own devices so who knows what trouble I'll create for myself. My own version of Amélie? Peut-être.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The young Americans in Paris

I was going for two self-portraits in one but this cutie got in the photo to make it three. 

The Musée d'Orsey, has the best collection of art I have ever seen in my life. It's beyond words so I'll just leave it at that. Think of your favorite ten paintings. Nine of them are at the Musée d'Orsey. It's mind boggling.

Afterward, I marched my tired feet to a café.

It was my own fault.

I shouldn't have gone to a café near a touristy spot. Mais... I was tired. I needed a time out after all that art. My feet and back were sore and the only thing that would ail my aching self was a café au lait.

I sat at the most perfect table and ordered from the most perfect french waiter. That's when I realized I was surrounded by young english-speaking travelers. Not exactly the perfect Parisien experience I'd hoped for.

These youngin's spoke of being hung over, of boyfriend drama back home, of school. One chick grabbed for the bread at the table and explained exasperatedly, "I haven't eaten all day." Drama queen.

I can't blame them for simply being young. I can blame them for being loud.
"You're still young. That's your fault. There's so much you have to know."
--Cat Stevens, Father and Son
They quieted down when they reviewed the menu. I saw stress on their faces. They were probably not aware that the restaurant was this expensive. They were probably looking for the cheapest dishes, wondering how they will stretch their budget. Perhaps tomorrow they can cut back. But today, here they are, reviewing the menu and mentally counting the Euros in their pockets. No turning back now.

Been there. It's an unpleasant moment. My heart melts for travelers who are trying to travel as much as they can with the little they have.

Then there is me. Eavesdropping and staring.

I have my journal and my thoughts to keep me company. It's surprisingly pleasant. I'm finding I'm quite good at being left to amuse myself. If I were one of them, I would have been looking over at the girl writing alone at the next table and wishing it were me.

And it is me! How fantastique!

And I'm not stressed about the menu either. I have just a café au lait. I packed a sandwich and will eat it in the park by the Eiffel Tower later. No social pressure to eat at a pricey restaurant. No siree. Just me, myself and I sipping our legal addictive stimulant at the bar.

The waiter came up to me and spoke in english.

"How did you know I spoke english?" I asked coyly, knowing full well that my super anglo accent gave me away.

"You speak french?" he asked. 

"Oui. Un petit peu."  

"Vous êtes très belle," he smiles and winks.

I smile back. "Je comprendre. Merci." 

With renewed vigor and a spring in my step, I left the youngin's to their menu and silently wished them well in their travels.

We're all just trying to figure it out.

Then I traipsed off to find the Eiffel Tower. I sheepishly admit that I hadn't bothered to make it to the famous tower yet. I've been gallivanting in other 'hoods.

There will always that moment when you see it for the first time. There is the Eiffel Tower. Right there. And you're seeing it with your very own eyes. There. It. Is. And you think to yourself of all the effort it took to get here, to this moment when you're really here. You're really in Paris. You really did it.

I really did it.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Shooting from the hip

My dogs are barking.

I did a lot of walking through the streets of Paris today. My main passions of the day have been having hot chocolate at the famed Angelina, capturing street life and shooting graffiti art by the likes of Jef Aerosol, THTF and Nemo. I'd love to find me some Banksy but he's allusive and those closest to him aren't talking. Plus, he's based in the U.K.

Problematic... but not for long.

I shot my street scenes from my hip as I walked around the Marais district of Paris. These shots seem to capture something interesting that I wouldn't have thought of shooting, whether it's romance, cigarette butts or little old French ladies. And I when I looked later, the whole collection was a complete surprise.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Wild about Oscar Wilde

A cemetery is an odd place to start.

But on Day 2 of my adventures in Paris, I went to Père-Lachaise Cemetery to find the amazing and wonderful author extraordinaire, Oscar Wilde.

Why do I love Oscar Wilde? First, he was a great writer. Second, he loved saying sensational things. Humble wasn't his game. Why be humble when you can be great? Par example...

"I have nothing to declare except my genius."
Awesome. And...

"I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train."

I couldn't agree more. Plus...

"I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their good characters, and my enemies for their intellects."

...which means Oscar and I would have been friends, acquaintances and enemies.

And of course... 

"I can resist everything except temptation."

...which is especially true when faced with the many cheeses, desserts and breads of Paris.

He is also said to have something on his deathbed like, "My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or other of us has to go." But sadly, Wikiquote corrected this and reports:
The following clarification was printed in the Guardian's Corrections and clarifications column, Thursday October 18 2007. Oscar Wilde did not say, on his deathbed, "Either those curtains go or I do." He is reported to have said something along the lines of "this wallpaper will be the death of me - one of us will have to go", but not on his deathbed.
Regardless, he's awesome and I had to find him in the colossus Père-Lachaise Cemetery.


Still walking...

Looking and walking....

This chick got too tired of walking and had to sit down...

This guy had a map so I asked him how to find Oscar...

He led me to the wrong famous person...

So I asked this chick where to find Oscar. She drew me a map.

On the way, I found this guy who asked me to put a flower on Oscar's grave for him.

I thought I was nearly there when I saw a bunch of flowers at a grave, but it was only Jim Morrison.

So I kept walking.

And walking.

And walking.

Until at last I found the one, the only, Oscar Wilde.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who loves Wilde.

I'm also not the only one who likes to quote Wilde.
I love that someone had to declare their own genius by correcting this quote:


Now how the heck do I get out of here? I'm starting to get the willies.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Destination 3: Bienvenue a Paris!

That's right. I'm in Paris.

Well I made it down to that one suitcase... and one book bag.
Yesterday, I was dropped off at Pearson International Airport in Toronto with all I own.

I then took said suitcase and hauled it on a plane bound for Paris, France. Upon arrival, I met a nice girl from Toronto and we figured out the metro system together. Slightly harrowing navigating stairs and escalators with a suitcase. That was when I realized something very important:

One suitcase is still too much if it's too heavy. 

When I reached my apartment, I tossed said suitcase down with a thud and went off like a cat to scout out my immediate surroundings.

 Navigating the streets of Paris. 
Yes, that's a baguette in my bag.
As luck would have it, I'm near this old street in Paris. I know. Shocker. And on said street, they have cheese shops and bakeries, fish mongers, chocolate shops, wine shops and all that good stuff. They should have called the street "Vices Ave" because it's a food addicts dream, but they called it "Rue Mouffetard." Fine, call it what you'd like. I won't argue.

I bought some tasty vittles for the apartment and walked my way toward Notre Dame Cathedral. Not because of any great need to get there, but that's where I ended up once I collected my bag full of goodies. 

At the entrance are these dudes who seem to say, "Hey there good lookin' come on in." So I did.
Mass was starting as I walked into the cathedral so I sat down to partake. My feet needed the rest anyway. As I sat there, I remembered the times when I had imagined going to Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris to go to mass, like it was some monumental thing. But here I was, wandering in without a plan and boom! There it is.

Sometimes dreams come at us sideways.

Catholic masses are all the same around the world. Even the cadence at which the priests speak is the same. You may not realize it until you go to other churches in different languages, but it's easy to follow along. They all say the same thing in the same way. And since I rarely listen even in the English masses, I felt quite at home.

At one point I felt myself falling into a deep meditation. But when I came to, it was just jetlag and I had nodded off. 

I guess they all can't be spiritual experiences. 

After getting all holy, I zipped through St. Germain, the Latin Quarter to find me a crepe. I had a crepe filled with egg, mushroom and cheese. 

I almost fell over, it was so good.

I mean, it was... there are no words for how good it was.

 Street art in Paris makes the whole city feel like a gallery.
This one is by Jef Aerosol.

Street art mixes nicely with everyday life in Paris.

I watched the guy in the photo above pile up his oranges in little pyramids. I couldn't tell if he was content or bored. Some things get lost in translation. I feel like the lady in the painting behind him is serenading him as he makes his little pyramids. 

First day in Paris. Pas mal. My friend Jeff said, "Pretty soon you'll be a Peugeot-drivin', bagguette-eatin', wine-sippin', Louve-lovin', Truffaut-movie watchin', Canadian/American ex-patriot."

That's worth aiming for.

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