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Monday, November 28, 2005

peanut butter crepe

For the first time tonight, I felt at home in the family's apartment.

After getting the kids started with their homework, I put a Quiche Lorraine I'd made in the oven, tossed together a salad, and fried potato slices in olive oil. I'm slowly learning simple dishes that involve no herbs and spices, dishes that the kids will eat without yelling "Beurk!" The French version of "Ew!"

Madame and I talked like close girlfriends as I pushed the potatoes around the pan. Even after dinner, we sat over dessert, still talking as the kids left the table so they could make it back to their toys.

This woman has terrified me at times. She is hard headed, independant, blunt and businesslike. She knows glamour and frowns upon anything frumpy or dated. Working under her reign I have sometimes felt small and badly dressed. But she is generous with me, and when we get the chance to speak one on one, the sense of inequality dissapears.

As we spoke the little girl jumped and squirmed on my lap as I wrote out a recipe for the school's cookbook. Each family is to donate a recipe, and since I'm the cook of the house, I got to write out a simple recipe favoured by my mother and I: chicken fried in garlic and steamed in soya sauce. Delicious. I asked Madame to go over it for grammar mistakes before handing it in.

I left the apartment around 7:30 as the mother curled up by the fire reading to her children, and the husband returned from work in a business suit and a smile.

They say you're guilty until proven innocent in France. The French will often dislike you until they've gotten to know you, and you've proved yourself to be good person. I feel I've finally proved myself innocent to the family. And to the woman in the Patisserie who no longer frowns at me.

My past Parisian bitterness is fading and I'm falling for this culture again. I see myself making small changes, dropping North American tendencies and picking up French ones. For one thing I no longer fear sugar, fat, baked goods or butter. These days a meal's not a meal without dessert, and everything I make tends to involve butter, cheese and heavy cream. Bechamel sauce makes everything better. Suddenly everything is so satisfying that there's no need to over eat or feel deprived. Why have seconds when there's dessert waiting?

Tonight I walked back from the grocery store with bag laden with wine, cheese, yoghurt and other delicacies. The sky was dark and Christmas decorations lined the streets. A man selling flowers wished me a "Bon soir," with a sly French grin.

I walked back feeling ready to embrace a culture that has finally accepted me as innocent.

Before I leave I've vowed to try a crepe with peanut butter. I have a gut feeling that the oh-so-French crepe, laced with a very North American peanut butter, will be the best thing I've ever eaten.

Because sometimes, two very different cultures, can make a delicious combination.


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Saturday, November 26, 2005

the sky is falling

In a booth of a bar in the Latin Quarter, grass on the floor, a head chopping device in the corner, chains on the wall, and blues music for our ears, I tell my friend Harold I'm in limbo.

I'm in a transition place, caught in indecision.

What, tell me what, do I want to do in my life?

The snow is falling, for moments before it turns to rain, Christmas decorations lace the streets, and I'm caught somewhere between my past, present and future.

The Christmas spirit brings me back to somewhere warm, familiar, and far from my Parisian existence. But my mom arrives Wednesday, my dad soon after, and just the thought warms this icy apartment.

This morning I cried. I cried and I kept crying until late afternoon.

A small mole above my lip, a precious beauty mark I've had since birth, was bleeding. I picked a small dark scab the other day and watched in horror as it bled. 'Your beauty is bleeding,' I told myself.

After some research, I found it's quite likely I have skin cancer. These symptoms are familiar with that of finding melanoma in a mole. And after several visits to tanning salons, in search of warmth, I know I shouldn't be surprised.

So I cried. I walked to a nearby hospital, the rain pouring over me, my toes curled up in my shoes, freezing over. There they gave me the number of another hospital, where I'll have to call back Monday to make an appointment. My cell phone is busted, and I'll have to find someone to lend me theirs to find out whether or not I'm exaggerating my conditions.

I went to a pharmacy and asked for some antiseptic. I told a young woman that "I scratched my mole and need to put something on it," while another older woman turned to me and warned me that it could be skin cancer. "You need to be aware of any changes in the colour or shape of your mole, if it bleeds it can be a sign." The tears that had been gathering in my throat since I stepped out of my apartment came up in the form of a monsoon. The older woman walked away. The younger woman rang me through, gave me awkward smiles, and looked absolutely baffled by my tears. "It's's something else..." I told her, not wanting her to worry.

The pain goes away in the dimly lit bar, a whiskey and coke in my hand. My friend and I talk about music, life, death, love and poetry, while he tells me not to worry. I don't. Instead I breathe deeply, speak honestly, take big sips of my drink, and drown my sorrows, so to speak.

Later we walk through the Marais, the gay district, and then separate. My friend tells me I have to come down to the suburbs where he's staying to visit him.

I'm numb on the metro home. Still thinking about what I want out of life. Thinking about my mole that will be sliced off by a surgeon if cancerous, while two young men nibble at a baguette in front of me.

What, what do I want? I'm still in limbo.

I'm still dancing through my mind. At least I love to dance.

blinded by the light
department store salutes christmas

"You must understand the whole of life, not just one little part of it. That is why you must read, that is why you must look at the skies, that is why you must sing and dance, and write poems, and suffer, and understand, for all that is life."

-J. Krishnamurti, Indian Philosopher

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

look up

As I walked towards school to pick up the kids, my eyes were on the sky. It was the blue that dreams are made of, with an airplane cutting through it, a long line of white smoke left behind as a reminder.

Back in the apartment it's lunch time. I have a quiche in the oven, a salad on its way, a table to set, and two kids screaming. The girl comes running towards me with a poster in her hand. She's crying. The boy comes tumbling after, his face as furious as his fists and he tries to hit her on the head. "It's mine!" He yells. "No it's mine!" She retorts. "It's mine," he says again, "you took it off my bed! You're lying!" They won't stop yelling. I cry for them to stop, trying to get her to let go of the poster. She rips it in two. He's enraged. His fists start swinging. I'm screaming too now. He's chasing her. I grab him and take him in my arms, "Don't hit her. I know she stole it. Just don't hit her. I'll tape it up, I promise. Calm down. I'll fix it. We'll sort this out. Just calm down." I did this several times before he finally pouted off to his room. The sister then turned on her angelic face and showed me Christmas ornaments. She can go from evil to cute in a matter of seconds.

Walking back to school the girl started to cry. She forgot her skipping rope at home. More tears, more screaming. I look up at the sky. Still a dreamy blue. I leave her at school with a kiss on the cheek and a promise to take it with me for the park after school.

While they're at school I unwind. I make tea, write emails, breathe. I go buy pains au chocolat for the kids. I prepare a cauliflower gratin that I can throw in the oven before dinner. I talk to the Portugese cleaning lady about cooking and christmas. Then I take off to pick them up at school laden with cookies, the boy's ball, the girl's skipping rope, and a small rolling suitcase of a boy who slept over the night before.

As much as I'd like to tell you I was walking down the street in heels, a long black jacket, and a Hermes scarf tied around my neck, I was actually walking down the street in sneakers, a short white jacket, a wooly scarf, and a flashing Buzz Lightyear suitcase rolling behind me.

A man walks past me and clears the flem out of his throat. He's not subtle.

So I look back at the sky. Still blue. More trains of smoke from airplanes that have come and gone. Romantic rooftops painted gold by the mid-afternoon sun.

Back at the park the girl runs away when I try and zip up her jacket. Then she hits another girl with her skipping rope, refuses to apologize, and runs away again.

Suddenly I'm chasing her, "Where are you going? I just want to talk. All you have to do is apologize." It lasts forever. She gives me dirty looks. Eventually I catch up to her and get her to smile. We both laugh. She starts talking to me about a time she did the best drawing in class. I get her to walk back to where we were, to get cookies. Still, she refuses to apologize.

I look up at the sky. It's a darker blue and the clouds have been lit up in a soft pink glow. Even the trains of smoke from the airplanes are pink. An orange tree on the hill glows. The yellow leaves that remain on the barren trees are suddenly gold. The air gets colder, and we walk back in the dark, street lamps lighting the way.

After homework, dinner, baths and several stories I head back to my apartment wrapped up in my scarf, an issue of French Elle tucked under my arm.

The blue sky is gone, but I'm still looking up.

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Saturday, November 19, 2005

searching for warmth

I forgot what it felt like to have the air bite my skin. "Bite harder," I dare it. A gust of wind hits my body and it does.

I used to like the fact that my shower always ended in freezing water. It felt somewhat cleansing. But these days I pray for it to stay warm, and curse the water when it stops showering me in warmth. I can't imagine what it'd be like to live in extreme poverty, taking cold showers in the winter, if any shower at all.

When I walked into the family's apartment yesterday about ten people stared back at me. They were there shooting a publicity ad for AWOL, snapping shots of a christmas tree and gifts in the living room, a large beautiful iMac on the kitchen table where they observed the results. I had to work around them, cooking up sausage and mashed potatoes for the family's dinner. I tried to work quickly, and managed to melt the salt holder on the stove. They were all warm to me, some flirtacious, until one man turned to me and said "How much longer are you going to be? It's hard to work with the smell of cooking." I stared back at him. I didn't want to be there either. "I just have to wait until the sausages cook." I couldn't make the family sick off half cooked meat because he couldn't handle the smell of sausage.

Afterwards I decided to find warmth in a small restaurant I'd spied months before. My table was right beside the door, with cold air seeping underneath, but I found warmth in conversation with my waiter. Half way through my salmon salad I was the only person left in the restaurant, so I got to choose some old blues music to play, and we talked about life in Paris. "Where do people go here at night?" I asked. "They sit at home, in front of their TV's. It's cold out and everyone is miserable." He's planning on moving to Australia or San Fransisco where he has family. Paris just doesn't do it for him anymore.

I told him I'd be back and took off walking. I went into beautiful clothing stores, discovered new restaurants I'd like to eventually eat in, and went into a bead store, so that I could begin making my own jewelry.

Back at the apartment, I had to dodge the publicity folks once more as I ran in to grab my paycheck so I could go grocery shopping. "Sorry, have to grab this, thank you."

Late in the evening I got a call from my Columbian friends inviting me to a rumba party. Dancing until six in the morning. I paced for about an hour trying to decide. My head ached and I kept sneezing from an oncoming cold. It was hard to refuse, but I did. As warm and festive as this party would be, it was a night to find warmth in my own company.

And I did. I cocooned myself in my bed, and indulged in several episodes of Sex in the City on TV, barely noticing they were dubbed in French. At one point a character said "She just got back from Paris, humour and irony aren't in style there." I laughed and nodded my head.

I slept over 11 hours for the first time in years.

And now it's back into the cold city, searching for a warmth I know exists.

an angel looks over the city
rooftops for romantics
a different view of notre dame
sunset over seine
go play in the traffic
the sun paints in gold

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Thursday, November 17, 2005

take a little piece of my heart

I want to scream and drink like Janis Joplin.

I'm more and more convinced that I'm not Paris material. Atleast not 16th arrondissement material. I'm too loud, too scruffy, too lost and smile too much. I don't like routine and my French grammar is embarrassing. I never wear warm enough clothes and half the things I say are inappropriate. I cry in public. I play my music too loud and always have a hangover on Sunday.

The French have mastered routine. The women have mastered class. Tradition is followed religiously, as well as some secret bible, filled with things the French do and don't do. Unfortunately, I don't own a copy.

I love Paris for its old women who inch along the streets in heels and Louis Vuitton hand bags. I love it for its beautiful pastries that sit behind glass covered counters like old friends. I love it for all the men that wear colourful scarves and perfectly tailored suits.

I love the kids that make me pull my hair out, raise my voice, and ask "Why? Why? Why?" Everytime they start climbing all over me while refusing to listen.

I could look you in the eyes and tell you I love this city. I can't count the amount of times I've looked around in complete awe. Things I wake up to every day still shock and amaze me. It doesn't matter that I'm not a real Parisian. I'm not ready to pretend to be someone I'm not.

It has yet to completely win over my heart, but there are private moments, seconds, where it takes a little piece. It's a piece of my life, so I might as well give it a little piece of my heart now baby.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

you take me up a beat

It's strange, I walk through this city dazed, one day after another, and then someone I know arrives and everything around me changes.

My oldest brother, Brendan, has spent the last four days with me, hearing my every breath and bad joke as we shared my miniscule apartment and pull out bed. "I knew it was going to be small," he said, "but not this small!"

It's been months since I've seen him but it could have been days. He looks great though, and is changing on more levels than one. He's inspired, taking a month off to sort out his life in the South of France, and there's a new energy radiating out of his skin.

He still knows all my pressure points. He knows how to dig his fingers into my arm in such a way that I scream and squirm, and how to make comments that will turn my dazed eyes into an icy glare. But he always apologizes after. And there's no way I can stay mad at him. It's impossible to stay mad at someone who loves you for who you are, and has since the day you were born. It's also impossible to stay mad at someone who insists on taking you out for dinners, drinks; even a concert.

We walked around a lot, the autumn air having turned to ice, our jackets zipped up and our arms trembling. But it's beautiful out. The leaves lie in large bunches on the sidewalks. People are holding hands. Everyone is wrapped up in large extravagant scarves and long black jackets. It's the Paris you see in black and white films. It's the Paris I'm falling in love with.

My brother wasn't interested in seeing Paris through the eyes of a tourist. Nor was he interested in seeing everything that is classical or romantic. He's a modern man, with an incredible eye for design and a taste for the finer things.

We visited all the great design stores Paris has to offer. I got to go to places I've never been before, discovering a young hip scene in Paris I'd like to dive deeper into. We ate up in Kong, in the top floor of a building, with it's designer chairs, trendy crowd and tasty cocktails. We visited Buddha Bar and it's dream-like set up. We went to Palais de Tokyo, a modern art museum open til midnight, where I discovered a perfect new place to go for great food, cool design books, and modern art exhibits. We went to go see Bloc Party, a young British rock group, with a charming black lead singer whos voice is practically addictive.

The four days awakened a part in me I'd forgotten about. I remembered my love for well designed clothing, graphic art and graffiti, live music, good food, and being in a hip scene with an invigorating young energy. Paris is beautiful for everything that was, but it's nice to escape to everything that is.

I said goodbye to my brother with groggy eyes this morning. I'll be seeing him around Christmas when I head down South to join my family.

I know that the second he walked out that door, my life reverted back to me being an anonymous au pair. But I've been spoiled and listened to these past days. I've seen more of the city. I've been cultured. And I've been shown how to turn up the volume in a city that's not only for romantics.

walking with my brother
Buddha Bar
John Galliano
Comme des Garcons
Palais de Tokyo
sweet temptations
wet street at night

A bientot Brendan.

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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

awake and dreaming

Riots take place in the suburbs and life goes on in the 16th arrondissement.

When I heard my phone ring this morning I was still dreaming. It was Monsieur calling to say I had to be there at 9 a.m. rather than 9:30 a.m. to take the kids to tennis.

I was there in half an hour, somehow having managed to shower, but my eyes were half shut and free of their usual paint job.

The day went smoothly, and after napping in a lounge chair while they played tennis in the rain, I managed to wake up a little.

We ran the usual Wednesday routine: tennis, metro home, lunch, play time, then back on the metro to the little boy's activity.

Later in the evening I managed to climb on the metro, ready for the long, squishy ride to Montmartre, a birthday gift in my purse for the little Turkish girl who makes me smile.

These metros are always packed. I was practically hugging the woman infront of me as I tried to read the words scribbled all over her shirt. When I moved to the back I tried to read the book of the woman beside me. Other teenage girls looked me up and down with their eyes. Girls love to dissect other girls.

When I eventually made it to the restaurant my young friend was behind the counter with her father, and the mother was playing cards with her son at a table. We kissed cheeks all around, and I sat down at the table, where a hot shot of Turkish tea was brought to me momentarily.

The mother's face is worn but beautiful. She wears a necklace of the eyes around her neck, the eyes that turn away bad luck and bad looks from others. She looks right through me, tells me she really likes me, that I'm always welcome, and that I'm beautiful. She hopes that someday I'll find a man I deserve: handsome, honest, kind and loving.

The girl told me not to buy her anything, so my gift is small. A token of my appreciation. A small framed photograph of the two of us at the Sacre Coeur. The family all agrees it's a beautiful photograph. "It's so you don't forget me," I tell them, but they tell me that won't happen. They tell me to visit after I leave. That I can stay in their home for as long as I like.

I love these people. I love the warmth of their culture and their attitude towards me. They feed me, speak to me, and always tell me to come back soon. When I left the father gave me a firm handshake, and told me it was a pleasure having me. "The pleasure was mine," I told him.

I stared smiling at the ceiling waiting for my metro home. A young man passed me and we locked eyes. Michelangelo himself must have carved this man's face. Swave and stunning he took a seat further on. When I climbed onto the metro he walked past the other metro cars and into mine. I'm guessing he was Italian by the way he sat, his legs open and his head up high. More eye flirting. I looked away. Another man stood in a leather jacket and bright red shoes, moving around nervously.

When he got off our eyes connected until he was out of sight. For a moment I remembered the power of eye contact, practically foreplay for me.

Before making it up the stairs and into the night, I held open the door for a chic, gorgeous woman with a pink shawl draped around her neck. She ran up so I wouldn't have to hold it too long, and laughed at the struggles these doors can cause. "It's worse when it's this windy," I agreed. She told me I was very pretty, that she could tell I wasn't French, and that as soon as I told her I was from Canada she knew it was the West coast. "I know these things," she said, "I travel a lot." She was full of life, and kinder to me than any Parisian woman I've met.

Soon these moments will play on my mind like parts of dreams that stay with you all day.

Soon I'll wake up, and I'll realize I wasn't dreaming.

"C'est à cause que tout doit finir que tout est si beau."
-Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz

(It's because everything must end that everything is so beautiful.)

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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

sometimes i think

Sometimes I think that everything I don't say is what needs to be said. I don't know why being honest is so much harder than speaking in cliches.

Sometimes I think that every time I don't approach a stranger out of fear or rejection, I'm turning away from what could have been a real connection. That I'm denying myself of an interactive life.

Sometimes I think that all I need to become successful in life is to drop all my insecurities, and atleast pretend I know what I'm doing.

Sometimes I think that it takes me admitting I don't understand before I can really understand anything.

Sometimes I think that all the things I'm told not to enjoy, all the sins and temptations, are meant to be ravished, if only once, and to be loved but not abused.

Sometimes I think that all the things I blame on my character are excuses holding me back from becoming something bigger than I am.

Sometimes I think that everything that's really important is being hidden behind a mass of distractions.

Sometimes I think I'm too distracted.

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Monday, November 07, 2005

i sold my soul; they asked for a refund

I walked today.

My thoughts were calm and coherent. My usual racing thoughts were nowhere to be seen. I felt serene. Instead of cursing the tourists I approached them, offering to take their photographs or to give them directions.

When I first came here I heard every car horn, every siren, every conversation that took place around me. I felt overly stimulated; all I wanted to do was get on a plane and leave. I felt like a prisoner in the city I dreamed of. I felt dissapointed in the fact that Paris was nothing like the rest of France. I spent all day with kids that treated me like a servant, and I felt the city had nothing to offer me.

But things have changed, Paris has a lot to offer me, and it's growing on me faster than a grape vine.

You could explain my change in mood with a cliche, "Without darkness there would be no light," as if me feeling horrible has allowed me to feel great now. But it's not only that. I made changes. I started making an effort to connect with the kids, I took up yoga, I started reading more, walking more, and I started taking the time to look inside when everything outside was too much for me.

I'm taking apart the things that break me down and looking at them closely.

I'm looking realistically at my insecurites, and doing my best to throw them in the Seine and watch the current take them away.

And I'm trying, still trying, to figure out what I want out of life.

I'm getting closer. My thoughts are making more sense. I'm not there yet, but I'm fully present in where I am right now. I'm aware of the people, the buildings and the energy that surrounds me. I'm aware of my body, my mind, and where my feet are planted. I'm breathing.

For now that's enough.


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Sunday, November 06, 2005

a moment in time

Someday I'll find myself settled, remembering the year I lived in Paris.

Someday I'll look back on the days where everything was in the air and I walked blindly down streets with no destination.

I'll remember the Seine on Sunday.

I'll remember the moment when two small children stopped being rude to me and started clinging to me with smiles on their faces.

I'll remember the weekends when my friend and I climbed on and off metros in search of a good bar, where I always managed to slip, fall, scream or laugh too loudly by Parisian standards.

I'll remember staring at people in cafes and restaurants, but feeling too alone or too broke to sit down myself.

I'll remember my small apartment, where I blasted my music and danced around the limited space, just to remind myself I was alive at the end of each day.

I'll remember a 12-year-old Turkish girl who wanted to be my best friend the moment she first saw me, leaning on a railing amongst crowds of tourists at the Sacre Coeur.

I'll remember the women of the 16th arrondissement, and wondering if I could ever be so prim and proper, as I gaze in admiration in my t-shirt and jeans.

I'll remember the moment when it stopped being a dream and started being my reality.

I'll remember the moment when I finally accepted that reality.

It's all happening now. I don't know where I'm going after this. All I know is soon I'll be looking back, and I don't want to take anything for granted. I'm going to inhale this air as deeply as I can, even if some days it makes me choke. I want to leave knowing I was really here.

lafayette rooftop

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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

the perfect fit

Another friend has come and gone.

He arrived like the last, with a backpack the size of one of the Greek islands strapped onto his body. He has also been travelling around Europe, and has spent the last six months jumping from hostel to hostel. I saw him five months ago in the South of France, and was happy to see him again in Paris.

With a week off for Toussaint-a French holiday-and the family gone on vacation, he came at a good time. We had the apartment to ourselves and four days to talk, drink, eat, walk and wander.

It was luxurious having the family's apartment, even if the first night we somehow managed to get red wine on the ceiling and grease stains on the curtains (both were successfully removed).

When we weren't busy destroying the apartment, we were making magic in the kitchen. My friend is as passionate about food as I am. We talked about food for hours, and planned feasts every night according to what we craved during the day. As we walked up metro stairs it was common for one of us to turn to the other and say "I can't wait for dinner..." We would admire what people ordered in restaurants, gaze longingly into bakeries, and cook up amazing tasting food, always accompanied by a baguette and Brie.

And because eating makes you thirsty, we weren't shy in the drinking department either. The first night we polished off two bottles of wine and a case of beer. I don't drink beer, but my friend enjoys both at the same time.

I love to find another lush.

The time passed quickly and it was good to remember I was young again. It was good to hear myself laugh so hard.

He has a similar sense of humour, and laughed at my side as I faked orgasms climbing stair after stair up to the Sacre Coeur in Montmartre. Bad jokes lasted days, but in the best of ways.

I liked having a young man at my side, and even though I'm all for feminism, I never complained when he bought my coffee or carried my groceries. He even went through various shoe stores with me, holding my things while I inspected shoe after shoe, and eventually helped me pick out the sexiest heels. To top it off he carried them afterwards.

A week off and a familiar face put me in a good place. I'm revitalized, even with a hangover, and happy to be living in Paris. I've seen a little more of the city lately, and it seems that the more I see, and the longer I stay, the better it fits.

creperie de Josselin
a feast is formed
it's not that funny.
where do I look?