Saturday, December 31, 2011

Bienvenue à Paris!

I made it to Paris! And boy oh boy did I ever received a warm welcome.

First, my friend Melanie greeted me at the airport. She was on her way to Berlin but had a few minutes before her flight so she met me at arrivals and we toasted my arrival with a stealth bottle of champagne.


Second, I had one of those slow-mo moments with Christophe where our heads came together for a big smooch like on Days of Our Lives. I nearly bawled when I saw him but held back. I'm an ugly crier. Red face, scrunched, not exactly kiss material.

Third, my friend Huey (pictured above) helped me figure out the Velib bike situation. The Vélib is the biggest bike sharing system in the world. I remember watching Vélib users with Melanie but we never managed to figure out how to do it. So we let it go. But Huey was determined, so after half a day of sweating through Franglish with locals, he figured it out and shared his findings. Then we tooted around Paris for the day.

I discovered that the Vélib is the best way to get around Paris. I can't believe how much I abused my feet before.  

When you come to Paris, here's the trick to Vélib:

1. You have to pay online for 1 or 7 days of use. That's the first trick, see. There is no card that spits out of the Vélib kiosk vending-machine style. You have to do it online.

2. You'll be given an 8 digit number. And you'll have to create a password. Remember, you do this online.

3. You approach the row of Vélib bikes and choose one. You do this BEFORE you head to the kiosk, otherwise you'll freak out at the kiosk when it asks you to give your bike number. Your bike will be locked up but it will be parked in a numbered spot. Remember the number. Pick a bike that has good tire pressure, not too many dings and a seat that is already adjusted to your level. You can adjust it yourself but you've got enough to think about on your first bike trip.

4. Approach the Vélib kiosk with confidence. And when you get there, search for the English option. You can learn French another day. For the first day, just use the English option. CAUTION: Not all kiosks offer a language option. You'll know that on the front screen. You may instantly start sweating if it's all in French. Try to stay calm. And maybe look for another station. They are everywhere.

5. Follow the instructions on the screen. You'll have to input the number you received online, your password and the number that corresponds with the bike you choose. NOTE: There is no card you'll receive. This confused me before because it appeared that some people had cards with scan codes on them. These are local people who can add Vélib use onto their monthly Metro subscription. These people are cool and confident. You'll be slightly jealous that they have a card and you have a slip of paper.

6. Go get your bike. You'll have to press a button to release the bike. It will slip out of the magnetic lock thingy. This is when you'll want to do a dance of joy but you can't because you're holding a bike.

7. Ride your bike for 25 minutes FREE. Yes, every bike trip starts with 30 minutes free. After that, it's a Euro, then after time, it's another 2 Euros and so on. The trick is to ride the bike for 25 minutes, take 5 minutes to find and park it at another kiosk, walk around that area, then grab another bike and continue on. If you wanted to ride from my place in the 5th to the Eiffel Tower, it would take two or three bike swaps but it would be free. Sweet!
NOTE: You will easily find a kiosk. There are 20,000 bikes sitting at 1,800 bike stations located 300 meters apart. If you stop at a bike station and it's full, you can score an extra 15 minutes at the kiosk to find another bike stand. 
ANOTHER NOTE: You're not being stealthy by riding for 30 minutes then doing a bike swap. The Vélib people want the bikes back so another person can use it for another 30 minutes. That's how they roll here in Paris. It's not all about making big bucks, people.
8. Park your bike at an open slot in the station. If you've insert your bike correctly, there is a a green light that will turn amber then flash green twice. If you haven't inserted your bike correctly, the green light will turn red and you will instantly start to sweat. This happened to me but Huey gave my bike an extra push to park it in the slot correctly. There is no sweeter sight then when the light on the parking spot blinks green twice.

On my first day with the bike, I stopped at a mosque for tea. Parked the bike.

Took another bike to the Bastille area to find a place to eat. Parked the bike.

Took yet another bike to the Marais to... strangely, I didn't eat or drink anything in the Marais. Parked the bike.

Took my final bike to the Pantheon to look at the Eiffel Tower AND the Pantheon at the same time because this town is laid out so well that one can do such things. Parked the bike over in my hood and stopped by the butcher shop for yet another slow-mo smooch with Christophe.

The best part of the Vélib is that you never have to go back to anywhere to retrieve it. Wherever you go, you can find another bike. It's actually better than having your own bike. It costs less (even over time) and you'll never have to retrieve it or worry about it being lost or stolen. Though you do need to have your wits about you when that light turns red. Such a judgmental little light. But once you figure out how to park the bike correctly, you'll find that touring around on the bike is a nice way to see a lot of the city in a short amount of time.

In two days, I kinda feel like a local. Bienvenue à Paris! 

Monday, December 26, 2011

HUGE NEWS!

It's my birthday. And for my birthday, I'm packing my bags and moving to Paris to live with Christophe.

Yep, I hooked up with Christophe the butcher.

Last March, on my first day in Paris, which was also the first day of my nomadic adventure, I sat at café and start taking videos of life in Paris. You may recall this video.



That's him. That's my boyfriend.

But at the time, I was just a tourist sitting at a café taking photos and videos like tourists tend to do. But when I came home to view the video, I noticed this handsome Daniel Craig-esque guy checking me out.

So I started checking him out. Day after day, I'd walk by him on my way up to the café on Rue Mouffetard. He'd say Bonjour and I'd say Bonjour. After a few days of this I told my friend Jennifer that I was in a relationship with the butcher.

"That was fast," she said.

Well I haven't talked to him yet. I've only said Bonjour. What if he talks back to me in French?!"

"Good point," she said. "You wouldn't want the guy you like to talk back to you."

"Exactly."

But when I told my sister, she said, "You know French. Use your Grade Four French. You know how to say, Hello my name is Janice. What is your name?"

So the next day, I went up to him and said just that. He looked at me and said, in French, "Hello, my name is Christophe. Like on your necklace."

Now if you've been the faithful blog follower that I trust you are, I'd been wearing my St. Christopher's medal around my neck ever since the December prior when my car died and I went through the harrowing experience of being stranded on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles. Luckily, I wasn't smooshed to smithereens, but I also wasn't taking any chances. St. Christopher is the patron saint of travelers and I wanted him protecting me during my nomadic jaunt.

After Christophe told me his name, I asked him if he speaks English.

"Non."

Shit.

But each day I would walk up to him and say something in French that I had pieced together and rehearsed with help from Google Translate. I would see him in the morning and practice my future tense. "Today I am going to Notre Dame. After, I am going to walk around the Marais." He would nod and smile and tell me to have a nice day. At the end of the day, I would walk up to him and practice my past tense. "Today I went to Notre Dame. After, I walked around the Marais." And each day he would nod and say, "A demain?" See you tomorrow? And I would say, "A demain." See you tomorrow.

Then I'd walk home and watch my video of him like I was a crazy stalker lady.

He probably went home thinking I was slow. Cute, but slow.

After about three weeks of talking to him like a three year old, I decided that French was too hard, he was too hard to get to know and I needed to find English people before I permanently turned into a mute. I found a Meetup group for expats. My friend Nancy once said of Meetup groups in Paris, "If you’re an expat vegetarian tightrope walker, there’s a group for you."

Now I'm not one to go out on a limb and meet people. I'm introverted and crowds exhaust me. But sometimes you have to be the grown up of your life and tell your inner child who is kicking and screaming, "Get your shoes on. We're going. This is not optional."

So that's what I did. I put on my shoes and started walking up the street to the Meetup group.

But who should be sitting in a bar up the street? Why it was Christophe, wasn't it. And didn't he see me just as I was walking by. Why yes he did. And didn't he jump up like his bar stool was suddenly made of thumb tacks and rush outside to ask me if I would be interested to have a drink? Why yes he did.

But he did it in very few words. He pointed at the bar and said, "Biere?"

Lucky for him, I'm Canadian and know the French word for beer. And lucky for me, when I saddled up to the bar with Christophe, all the bartenders were Canadian and were bilingual.

Oh God in Heaven, thank you for this moment.

Teaming up with the bartenders, we managed to piece together a Franglish conversation of sorts. And when no one was looking, I asked Christophe if I could take a photo of him and I. You know, the kind where you are cheek to cheek and one of you has your arms outstretched to get the photo. And that's when he turned and kissed me! Cue sexy smooching scene.

I never did make it to the Meetup group.

Instead I walked around Paris with Christophe, with stops here and there for late night coffees and smooches. When he dropped me off at my building, I pointed up to show him the windows of the apartment where I was staying. 

But I left him on the street, cheeky monkey.

The next day, I walked by the butcher shop and he said something in French that sounded like this, "Bla bla bla bla more french bla bla bla sdfasdf asdf?" But I heard that question mark at the end of the sentence, so even though I had no clue what he said, I knew he asked a question. I responded in French with, "My window tonight at 8:30?" He nodded. That night when I looked out my window at 8:30, he was standing there ready for our date. And he was standing there every night at 8:30 for the next two weeks, which were also the last two weeks of my vacation.

Cue sexy love affair in Paris.

We walked all over Paris and continued to have late night coffees and wines and beers and food and smooches. We went to the Louvre and to the Eiffel Tower. And many streets in between. We walked and (sort of) talked the whole time.

And then I left, because being a nomad means not staying in one place for too long. For all I knew, this was a lovely experience in Paris and could be just a nice fling. Plus, my European tour couldn't start and end in Paris.

Or could it?

After a few months of touring around Edinburgh, Glasgow, Yorkshire Dales, London, Rome, Venice, Florence and the Amalfi Coast, Christophe asked me to return to Paris, "To see."

When I started my nomadic journey, I thought I'd end up in Rome. I'd meet some lovely Roman man, woo his mamma by being the best version of a Canadian Penelope Cruz I could be, and spend my days clasping my hands in glee and exclaiming, "Mamma mia!" to our handsome brood of Roman babies, whose mere existence would constantly amaze me. 

But in life we must accept who is asking and accept who is not.

No one was asking me to stay in Rome, but I had a handsome, kind man asking me to return to Paris.

So I did.

And so commenced a summer in Paris with Christophe. Each night before bed, he would say, "A demain?" See you tomorrow? I would reply with, "A demain." Yes, see you tomorrow.

I returned to North America to clean out my apartment in Santa Monica, get my French visa in Toronto and be with my family in Norfolk County for Christmas. (FACT: Norfolk County is the baked goods capital of Canada... which means I've got good training for the bakeries of Paris.)

So tomorrow, when Christophe calls me and asks, "A demain?" I'll be able to say, "Oui. A demain." 

Yes, I'll see you tomorrow. 


Friday, December 16, 2011

Inside the Actor's Studio Questions



You know you've imagined it.

You were flipping around the rot box and came upon James Lipton's Inside the Actor's Studio. You didn't even care if you liked the actor being interviewed because every actor has something good to say when James asks the same questions he asks everyone at the end of the show.

Even days after catching an episode, you wonder to yourself, "What is my favorite swear word" and "What would God say to me at the pearly gates?"

Well here's your chance to be like a famous actor! Answer Lipton's questions in the Comment section below.

Ridiculous FUN good times! Just for the hell of it.

If you're feeling shy, email me your answers. It will be like giving me a birthday present. Did I mention my birthday is December 27th? Did I mention I like gifts of the answer-actors-studio-questions variety?

If I get a big enough collection, I'll repost for all to enjoy... and adhere to any requests for anonymity. I've answered mine below to get this party started. Swear words are welcome.

Without further adieu:

1. What is your favorite word?
Energy

2. What is your least favorite word?

Tired

3. What turns you on?
Authenticity

4. What turns you off?

Bragging about being busy and tired

5. What sound do you love?
Laughter

6. What sound do you hate?
Complaining

7. What is your favorite curse word?
Fuck you and the horse you rode in on

8. What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?
Wizard

9. What profession would you not like to do?
Professional baseball player

10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
See? I told you it would all work out

Inspired? Leave your answers in the Comments section below. Time to par-tay.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

A year in review

It was this week one year ago since I kaiboshed my job as a copywriter in an advertising agency.

It was a good day.

Except for the bawling and yelling.

Bygones.

Since then, I've managed to leave my life in California, travel throughout Europe and blog about it to you, dear reader. If you've skipped a few days throughout the year, no worries. Here are some highlights:
  1. Channeled higher beings in Hawaii. 
  2. Broke up with AT&T. Hateful company.
  3. Hooked up with the butcher in Paris.
  4. Fell in deep love with the Citizen M hotel in Glasgow.
  5. Had my nipples scrubbed by an old Korean lady.
  6. Crashed the Royal Wedding.
  7. Fooled around at the Vatican. Yet still managed to eke out a blessing from the Pope.
  8. Danced in the fountains of Rome. Drunk. At midnight.
  9. Blew a monumental wad in Florence.
  10. Sighed on the Bridge of Sighs in Venice.
  11. Sailed away from my old mafia king fling in Sorrento.
  12. Went to war with les souris in Paris.
  13. Found Wanda Sykes in a cemetery in Paris. She's alive. She was on vacation. And only one reader guessed who it was. Go Erik!
  14. Let's not forget the tea party with Kathy Bates. 
  15. Went on a digital diet in Poland. And almost got hit by lightning.
  16. Unraveled my Santa Monica apartment.
  17. Made love to my favorite gelato. He was delicious.
Not bad.

But just wait until 2012. I've got big plans brewing. I'm hanging out in Canada with my family until after Christmas. But on my birthday, December 27th, I'm packing my bags again. Here's a clue:

I'm holding my passport but that's not my passport photo.

That's a visa.
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