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Monday, February 27, 2006

give a girl a break

I'm standing helplessly at the check out, a line of angry French customers staring me down.

Under their glares I fumble through the change in my wallet. The family's weekly groceries are lying in a heap in front me, waiting to be packed into my trolley, but first I have to pay.

I give an apologetic smile to the cold stone faces. I want to pay so they can get on with their lives. I want to pay so I can stop smiling like an idiot.

The total is 50.92. I wasn't left any money for the groceries this morning, so I'm using what I have, knowing they'll reimburse me. But all I have is 50.72.

People stare. I explain myself. I pray someone will offer me change.


I ask the expressionless man, next in line, if he has 20 cents. He opens his wallet and passes me a coin. I smile, say "Merci" at least three times and finally pay the cashier.

After packing up my trolley and a big plastic bag, I waddle the groceries down the street.

A man outside the newsagent says "Bonjour" to me. I answer "Bonjour" with a face as cold as the angry army in line at the grocery store.

Another man says "Hello! Smile! Hey!" And I roll my cart quickly away. Normally I would yell back, but not today.

Back in the apartment, I panic as I'm unloading the groceries, realizing I have no more change to buy the daily baguette. I have zero cents to my name.

I distract myself by making lasagna for tonight's dinner. Monsieur comes in as I have three pots going on the stove, one for the beef, one for the Bechamel sauce, and one for the sheets of pasta.

He apologizes about the grocery money, pays me back, says it smells delicious, and laughs at my passion for cooking. His presence is warm on such a cold day.

It's grey and dreary when I pick the kids up from school. At the park I shuffle my feet around and hide in my scarf.

At dinner the young girl tells me I shouldn't say things like "Hey!" When I'm trying to get mad at them. I should say “Arrête tes bêtises! Assis toi!” She says that I shouldn't say "Okay" so much either. I tell her I'm Anglophone and it's normal for me to use English words. The boy starts laughing and chants: "Anglophone, telephone! Anglophone, telephone!"

She refuses to eat, or even try the lasagna, and asks me to make her something else. I give her bread, cheese, dried saucisson, and see her nibble at the lasagna when I’m not looking.

I can't believe it's only Monday.

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Saturday, February 25, 2006

pierre hermé, you made my day

I miss home.

I miss Vancouver, I miss the Pacific Ocean, I miss the Mexican tiles on my kitchen floor, my dad at the barbecue, and my mom making coffee in the morning. I miss walking the seawall with my brother. I miss running down the grocery stores aisles with a big cart. I miss going over to friends houses and feeling at home. I miss the small things you overlook when they're right in front of you.

But I'm alone in Paris, living my life, and that's something to celebrate.

Friday night I beat my own blues with overpriced drinks at a bar in the Latin Quarter, where I knew a young man would be playing his guitar and singing with a voice even stronger than the bar's cigarette smoke.

I drank vodka, chain smoked, and made friends with a couple from London sitting beside me.

The young woman was sweet, and seemed to think that moving to Paris on your own was the bravest act known to man. I shrugged my shoulders and kept drinking.

Saturday morning the loneliness sunk back into me, so I decided to celebrate again.

I took off to the expensive shops of St-Germain with one destination in mind: Pierre Hermé. Pierre Hermé is the Louis Vuitton of the pastry world. The international press describes him as the "Picasso of Pastries". His desserts are not only beautiful, but they're the best thing that will ever happen to your taste buds.

I joined the permanent line up outside, and was immediately aware that I was in for an experience. Everyone was giddy, whispering in excitement, and dying to get inside to pastry paradise to choose a pretty mouthful.

Once inside, I suggested splitting a 70 euro chocolate cake, that was two feet tall and gorgeous, with the girls behind me. They giggled. I was joking, but would've been happy if they'd taken me seriously.

In the end I bought what I came for: three macaroons. Pierre Hermé macaroons are famous.

Macaroons are very pretty, but they look like they could taste like styrofoam, and I had to hold myself back from getting a lemon tart instead.

I chose a Caramel a la Fleur de Sel macaroon, a Chocolat au Lait Praliné croustillant macaroon, and a Café macaroon. In other-Enlgish-words, I bought a caramel, chocolate, and coffee macaroon.

After toting about my Pierre Hermé bag through the Bon Marché and several boutiques, I took it to the movies with me.

Seated in the dark theater I dug into my plastic bag, trying not to disturb the people beside me. The movie had started, but my attention was focused on my macaroons.

I blindly grabbed one and took a bite. I expected it to crumble all over my shirt, but it was chewy and moist, and exploding with flavor. I had grabbed the chocolate one. It tasted like a gourmet Snickers, sent from God, and meant to be served on a silver platter. It was small, but so rich and satisfying that I considered saving the rest for later. But my curiosity got the best of me and I went in for the other two. The caramel and the coffee ones were just as good. All three reeked of extravagance and left me with a dirty smile on my face.

My sugar high was spoiled when I got a phone call.

I ran out of the theater, expecting to hear a friend's voice, but instead it was my boss.

It turns out I had put the young girl's 150 euro cashmere sweater in the wash. It was destroyed. She was unhappy. I was sorry. She was still unhappy. I offered to pay. She said no, just be very careful next time, still very unhappy.

The whole situation stirred me. I sat on the steps outside the theater and wept. I wept because I was lonely, living in a culture that buys children cashmere sweaters, and because as much as I tried, I could never get everything right.

I left without finishing the movie.

I consoled myself in going to a bookstore, buying a small book, and then buying myself some gourmet groceries. I want to be happy. I want to celebrate my life. But it's not always easy.

If only everything were as sweet as Pierre Hermé.

choose your weapon
pierre herme

Pierre Hermé
72 Rue Bonaparte

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

open until midnight

The sound of my heart beating is almost deafening.

I feel alive these days. Snow falls lightly from the sky, and gusts of winds sneak into my jacket and run over my exposed skin, but I'm kept warm by something moving inside of me.

I want a lot out of life. I want the best of it. And yet sometimes my body and mind are so heavy, so cluttered, that I find it hard to crawl out of bed and face the day.

Sometimes I'm afraid that if I don't keep myself inspired, I'll crawl under the covers and never come out.

That's why I moved to Paris. To keep things interesting. To keep pushing myself. To stir things up a little. To put myself in a situation where I had to get up every morning and face a challenge. I need this.

The whole thing has been good for me. There have been times I've wanted to die, and yet there have been times I've felt more alive than ever.

Things are getting easier, and my relationship with the family I work for is blooming. I have found a rhythm to my job, and take satisfaction in knowing I do it well. Every day I grow more comfortable in my surroundings, saying "Bonjour," to more familiar faces every time I walk down the street. And best of all, my relationship with myself is as strong as ever.

Since I was young I loved being alone with my thoughts. As a teenager I drove my friends crazy when I would go silent for long periods of time, staring off at something distant. "Oh, you're in one of those moods again," they would say, obviously annoyed. But I was listening to my thoughts, trying to figure things out, and the outside world wasn't something I felt like belonging to.

I used to have a lot of issues with myself. There was always too much spinning around my mind at the same time. I never felt I could fit the standards set around me, and had a lot of trouble just liking myself.

Living in a strange city alone, with my own apartment, has given me a lot of solitude. And as much as I love people, and feed off their energy, I need a lot of time to myself.

Since I've been here my thoughts have become more coherent, my dreams more tangible and my goals more realistic.

These days I look in the mirror and recognize myself.

And when my inside world seeks inspiration, I have Paris. Tonight, on such an occasion, I took off to Palais to Tokyo, open until midnight, for some late night art and enlightenment.

asian girls in art
i'm standing in a work of art
the free man
i want this wall
lost world
i'm moving in

une scène artistique francaise émergente
Palais de Tokyo, 13 avenue de President Wilson
Metro Iena or Alma-Marceau

Tuesday to Sunday from noon til midnight

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Sunday, February 19, 2006

life is a feast, you just have to be hungry

This weekend was good enough to eat.

Partially due to all the wonderful things I did eat.

Saturday afternoon I met fellow Expats Charlie and Ari for lunch in Chinatown.

We started the adventure in Tang Frères, an Asian supermarket, and admired the sauces, ginseng and soy products, spices, adorable desserts and strange fruits. Soon just looking at food was too much for our hungry bellies, and we took off down avenue d’Ivry in search of a good dim sum restaurant.

We ended up in a large restaurant packed with Chinese families out for lunch. We read the menu with difficulty, as all our favorites had been translated into awkward French, and gave our orders to a flustered waiter.

I had ginger chicken, which I doused in chili sauce, and an iced lemon tea. I also made the mistake of biting into a bright green pepper from a large jar on our table, much to the amusement of the Parisians beside us, as tears rolled out of my eyes and I took on the heavy breathing of a woman in labor.

When the fire on my tongue went out I dipped into Charlie’s prawn dumplings and sweet pork cake. The flavors weren’t anything to brag about, but I liked the strange textures playing on my tongue.

For dessert I ordered a large piece of steamed vanilla cake, which arrived smoking in a beautiful bamboo box. It was light, fluffy, warm, and perfectly sweet.

After our Chinese lunch, another Asian supermarket, a French supermarket, tea and conversation at Charlie’s, I took the fast metro home with an invitation to a Mexican dinner party at Ari’s that evening. I happily accepted and told her I’d bring guacamole and vodka.

Later that evening, after a long, squishy metro ride, I arrived at Ari’s host family’s place, armed with two grocery bags.

I became quickly acquainted with all the other American exchange students as I threw together a guacamole in the tiny bohemian kitchen. Charlie mixed us all up cocktails as we all moved around the kitchen, whipping together the meal and getting to know each other. Other than Charlie, it was all girls, and all were curious about the au pair lifestyle and what I was doing in Paris.

It was a good atmosphere, with Ari throwing spices in a pan, everyone digging happily into the guacamole, and the drinks and conversation flowing over good music in the small artsy space.

After fajitas, a giant crumbling cookie and a fruit salad, everyone was laughing, singing, and drinking together. When it was coming near the time of the last metro, half the group set off home, while half of us set out to find some night life.

Walking to the metro, high on life, and drunk on vodka, I couldn’t help but yell obscenities at the young French men yelling at us from the other side of the street. As a foreigner I probably shouldn’t scream dirty pick up lines in English, in a fake French accent, while in Paris…but I never know what’s appropriate.

After dancing the twist in the metro, we were soon at Place de la Bastille with the rest of the nightlife crowd, pushing our way down La Rue de Lappe, a small street of bars and clubs.

We ended up in a small Indian bar, with great ambiance, a pumping mix of music and a round of drinks. Shaking my arms to an Indian dance beat, a cigarette and vodka in hand, I was happy to be out in Paris.

When the bar starting closing, we grabbed our jackets, took back off down the cobble stone street, and took the night bus to the Marais.

That’s where I left them. At three in the morning, there’s not much left of me, so I walked for a good 25 minutes, and unable to find the right night bus, I grabbed a taxi to take me home.

After a day of mixed cultures, I leaned my head against the window, and watched the Eiffel tower and the Seine go by as we made our way down Avenue de Versailles.

The taxi driver sprayed himself with Cologne, turned up the French radio, and dropped me so sweetly in front of my apartment that I said: “Keep the change,” before stumbling out onto the sidewalk.

chinatown Mcdonalds
chinatown lunch
all American girls, and the Canadian
lounging after dinner
Ari rolls

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Friday, February 17, 2006

what's cooking, good looking?

What's a single girl in Paris, with an appetite for gourmet food, and a poorly filled mini fridge to do on a Friday night?

Take an evening cooking course, of course.

This evening I took off for my second cooking course through Atelier des Chefs, where you can make a three-course meal, and enjoy it afterwards, for less than you’d pay to eat in a restaurant.

I chose a different location than last time-there are three in total-and managed to arrive on time after getting lost down small roads with changing street names.

After hanging my coat, a young man in a well-pressed shirt showed me to the toilets where I could wash my hands before the class began.

The setting was warm and comfortable, with a small store of cooking utensils, and a sitting area with cookbooks for sale.

The spotless stainless steal kitchen sat like a masterpiece, surrounded by glass, and off to the side was a dining area with a long, wooden, nicely set table for us to enjoy our meal afterwards.

Inside the kitchen we split into groups at separate counters, and began chopping our ingredients. A shy young woman with glasses chopped beside me, while a smug Parisian couple passed witty remarks in front of me.

Our menu for the evening was mashed potatoes with green onion (what we would call champ in Ireland), a fillet of bass cooked with beetroot and clams, and apples coated in caramel and almond flakes for dessert.

Philippe, our chef, directed the class with ease, and managed to swoon most of the mainly female students. Unfortunately, I still have my heart set on my last instructor, who I spotted leaving when I came in. Needless to say I did a double take, felt my cheeks light on fire, and went to the bathroom.

We let the onions “sweat” in the pan, cooking them in oil and salt, which allows the onions to cook without burning. “And we’re expected to go out after cooking and eating all these onions?” Asked the woman of the smug Parisian couple. When the potatoes were thoroughly cooked we whisked them, added milk, a heavy helping of butter and the onions. Philippe told us that in gourmet cooking, mashed potatoes are often 60% potatoes, and 40% butter.

For the filet of bass, we cooked the clams in water and white wine, removed them from their tiny shells, and then cooked the fish in the clam juice, along with the clams themselves. Upon adding finely diced beetroot, our fish simmered in a sea of purple.

The best part was dessert. To make caramel you need one ingredient: sugar. So we threw a handful of sugar into a large pan, let it sit until it began to smoke and melt, then stirred, and watched in awe as the white powder turned to golden liquid. We then added the almond flakes, which stuck like nougat, and eventually slices of sweet Pink Lady apples. We kept the apples cooking at a hot temperature, with the lid on top, so the caramel wouldn’t harden, but coat the apples in a warm caramel sauce.

When we sat down at the table, the majority of us ordered wine, and were happy and hungry at the sight of our meals. I sat beside a woman whose son had bought her the course. “He comes here all the time, it’s too bad he wasn’t here, he would love to have a girl like you in his class!” She told me, sighing more than once over the fact that her son couldn’t meet me. “You like cooking?” She asked. “He loves cooking!”

The meal went down well, with most students laughing away. One woman was there with three girlfriends and was celebrating her birthday. “You’re not so young anymore!” Laughed one of her friends, a small Asian woman who cracked jokes throughout the whole class, and constantly dipped her finger in for a taste.

It was a lovely evening. I left well fed, and walked around the city until I saw a bus to take me home. And until a tall dark handsome Parisian asks to take me for dinner, this is a good way of getting my gourmet food fix.

* * *
For more information check out

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

the art of living in Paris

Paris and I are together again.

This afternoon I took off along the Seine to the Musée D’Orsay.

The air has changed since I left. The air that nipped at my fingers is now warm. Rather than snow and heavy rain, the city shines under a light drizzle.

Something about the grey sky today, and the smells in the air, brought me back to Northern Ireland, and then to Vancouver, and the days I would walk side by side with the Pacific Ocean.

As I walked along the Seine-the next best thing to the ocean-I thought back on how intimidating Paris once felt. These days street names are familiar, French expressions fall off my tongue, and posh Parisians no longer make me feel like a fat foreigner. Paris is home now, it's comfortable, and I'm more confident.

I took my time while in the Musée D’Orsay. I was most taken with the Impressionism paintings, especially Degas’ portraits of Parisian life and sultry women.

I love paintings of women. I’ve seen many portraits of curvaceous women lying elegantly on beds. I applaud every artist who insisted a woman take her clothes off so he could capture her, lying there, motionless, naked, caught in the turn of his paintbrush.

After my art indulgence I took off to delicabar in the Bon Marché for the art of espresso coffee. I chose this location specifically, because every coffee is served with a small gourmet chocolate, beautifully made and delicately placed on a separate saucer.

After my caffeine and chocolate kick I explored the Epicerie downstairs, admiring expensive foreign spices, beautiful cheeses, and selections of food from all over the world.

I left without buying anything, and picked up a few items at the local Monoprix, where a worker I’d never spoken to asked me where I’d been. “I haven’t seen you in a while,” he said with a grin. “I was in Ireland…” I answered. “You always come in a the same time to get your groceries, and I hadn’t seen you in a while.” He said, still smiling. I laughed and left him to pick out some produce, happy that someone noticed I was gone.

After making myself dinner I took the metro downtown. I walked the streets until I found a cinema playing a movie I wanted to see, and settled for a light romantic comedy at the Rex. There’s nothing more delicious than going to a movie theatre alone and seeing whatever trash appeals to me.

The movie had many intimate scenes that pulled on my heartstrings. Skin on skin, mouth on mouth, love sick memories came flooding back to me.

There was a moment when all I wanted was another pair of arms to sink into.

But at the end of the film, the two lovers separated. They realized they both had to live their own lives, and couldn’t do so with the other.

I took a deep breath and remembered how happy I was to be on my own.

I walked back to the metro, gliding down the sidewalk, and took myself home. Alone. Knowing I’m living the life I know I want to lead, as best as I know how.

gold in the sky
women and the world
flower child
buns of steel
street art
city apartment

"Nowhere is one more alone than in Paris ... and yet surrounded by crowds. Nowhere is one more likely to incur greater ridicule. And no visit is more essential. "
-Marguerite Duras

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

where the grass is green and the girls are pretty

I like the French, but I love the Irish.

Flying into Belfast from Paris was like flying into another world.

The minute I got on the plane everything changed. Everyone was speaking English in a heavy Belfast accent, pulling around a string of kids, smiling more and snacking liberally.

But driving through the country roads from the airport, the steering wheel on the opposite side of the car, I felt like I’d never left.

The fields were green and damp, the sky was grey and heavy, and my relatives were as warm and familiar as I left them.

I found comfort in staying with family, in crawling into a warm bed at night, in having hearty meals made for me and having the luxury of a bath.

I spent most of my time with the Haslem family out in the countryside of Moira. This is the family that opened their arms the most to us when we lived here; staying with them I felt myself fall into their arms all over again.

My cousin Suzi also took me into her new home for a couple of nights, made me up a bed, let me drink as much of her vodka as I wanted, cooked for me, and took me out on the town.

One day we took a black taxi tour around Belfast, where Martin, a chatty Irish man with a horrible sense of humor, took us through the segregated neighborhoods and showed us the political murals.

We gasped at the height of a brick wall with barbed wire-something straight out of a prison-that separates the Protestant and Catholic communities.

The areas we drove through were grim and depressing. Garbage lined most sidewalks, and several young mothers pushed strollers down the street wearing badly done make-up, tracksuits and severe ponytails.

It’s hard to see religion still segregating people after so many years. Protestants mark their streets with a British flag, Catholics mark theirs with an Irish flag, and the wall holds its ground. I didn’t get out of the taxi to take pictures of a mural. I didn’t feel safe. I didn’t want anyone to take offense and lash out at me. There would be too many people eager to fight for their pride in this part of town.

Our taxi driver said that in order for Northern Ireland to achieve peace, that all flags and parades had to be banned. The sad thing is that parents would still raise their children with the beliefs they were brought up with, and peace still feels a long way away.

The troubled side of Northern Ireland is dark and dreary. The only thing I’ll thank god for is that a lot of them still know how to laugh, and definitely know how to drink.

My days were well spent. I caught up with some old friends, ate good food, had long conversations, and drank away the dampness.

I spent a lot of time with my six-foot-tall, gorgeous cousin, who always makes life interesting. Needless to say we drank, danced, shopped, and made fun of each other as much as possible.

She took me to the airport this afternoon, and I flew back to Paris beside a large Northern Irish family heading to Euro Disney. I took in their heavy accents and warm faces, knowing it could be a while before I hear another Irish lilt.

As soon as I landed it was back to fending for myself, lifting my suitcase down endless stairs, and finding my way home through the train and the metro. Back at my apartment I went grocery shopping, lugged a bag of produce home in the rain, and made myself dinner.

It was great to be taken care of for a week, but it feels good to pick up my independent stride where I left it, the Eiffel tower glowing in the distance, and my affair with Paris ready to begin again.

leaving Paris
arriving in Belfast
Haslem house
new puppy
blue sky above a church
karen and ian
suzi and i
rocking out at W5
building at W5
i made a palace
my other hand's on her breast
gill and gill
oldest bar in Belfast
city hall in Belfast
i heart belfast
my great auntie isabelle
some dumb blonde

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

days when the rain came

I'm going back to the green fields.

Tomorrow afternoon an airplane will lift off from Charles de Gaulle airport, sail through the sky, and drop me at Belfast International.

With two weeks off and the family I work for in the Alps, I'm going back to Northern Ireland.

Three years ago I spent a year living in Northern Ireland. I walked to school in a uniform every day, drank myself silly every weekend, and starting saying things like "What about ya?" Or "What's the craic?"

I shared a small damp apartment with my mother, who left her life at home to taste a new one, just for a year, in the country she left as a little girl.

We kept warm by snuggling into her bed and reading poetry.

We kept busy by going to lectures, taking train rides, and hunting down live music. We spent all day in the rain, on the lawn of an old castle, and saw Van Morrison sing live in concert.

We didn't have a car, we didn't have much money, and we didn't have the same values as the religious community that surrounded us, but we got by.

We got by because we had family. We had my mothers cousin, his beautiful family, and my great auntie Isabelle. Their generosity kept us alive. They lent us furniture, bed sheets, invited us for dinner, drove us places, and showed us the beauty of this small damp country.

My second cousin, Suzi, felt like a close friend from the moment she picked us up from the airport, and never treated me like the 16-year-old I was.

Sixteen or not, I went clubbing and bar hopping in Northern Ireland more than I ever have in my life. I would saunter into liquor stores, buy a bottle of vodka, and walk out with a proud Canadian smile. I would wear skirts to bars, order double vodka redbulls, and grin as my 18-year-old friend was made to go home to get his ID.

I like Northern Ireland. I like the people. I like the accents. I love my family there. I don't like the bland food or the fight over religion, but it's all worth putting up with the second you enter a bar, or sit down with family for a Sunday roast.

So I'm going back. Back to my roots. Back to a part of my life. Back to the accents, the bars, and to the people who took me in when I was sure I didn't belong.

northern ireland 3 years ago

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Sunday, February 05, 2006

hot chocolate with a mistress

Some people have met their husbands through the internet.

These days, it's where I seem to be meeting my friends.

Sunday afternoon I met up with another blogger for a much anticipated chocolat chaud.

I liked her instantly, under the pseudonym of "maitresse", it was obvious from her blog that this New Yorker, living in Paris, had a fine head on her shoulders.

When she posted about her favourite hot chocolate, I suggested we go on a hunt for the best.

And so there I was, at four in the afternoon, sitting against the back wall of a smoky little cafe just off Place des Vosges, the oldest square in Paris, with a menu in my hand.

She arrived on time, petite and beautiful in a black pea coat, and spotted me immediately.

"You look just like in your pictures!" She laughed.

It was comfortable from the moment she sat down, and her cell phone shattered in two pieces across the floor, leaving her searching under my legs trying to find the rest of it.

The conversation was as good as the chocolat chaud, which was as thick as pudding with small flavoured chunks. Mine was a l'orange, and hers was a la vanille. It was definitely a good start for our hunt for the best.

Long after I'd scraped the bottom of my mug for the last remains of chocolate, we were still talking, when two of her friends spotted us through the window and came in for a drink.

Soon we were four young woman expats, starting on aperitifs as our English bounced off the old French walls around us.

After paying the bills, I mentioned I was going to take a trip down to the museum of photography before it closed. Maitresse-Lauren-perked up and said she would join me.

We strolled casually through the museum, taken by the quality of the photos in an exhibit called "Pariscolor", with blown up photos of random sights around Paris, objects in bright contrasting colours. We moved onto the work of Bernard Faucon, and were both a little frightened by the man who thought that dummies and photography were inseperable.

There was also an exhibit by Raymond Depardon of famous political personalities. His exhibit was a room of black and white photos, with personalities ranging from Che Guavera to Georges Pompidou. I think we were the only people in the room laughing. Somehow, through the expressions and commentaries, we seemed to find humour in every picture posted on the wall. It was good to have someone by my side who could see the humour in such serious affairs, not judging me as I pointed out the bulge in a politican's pants.

When we split ways I took a long route to my metro. I took a few new streets, some charming back alleys, and a different bridge.

Paris hasn't changed, but something in me has, and these days everything seems new again. The Seine seems to glow brighter, and the buildings seem more romantic, from the ivy that drips over most balconies, to the fairytale rooftops. The market smells hit me harder, and the small cafes draw me in stronger than before.

As I crossed the bridge a white bird flew over my head, and I looked up at the same time as a man in a beret, our eyes locked in the sky. Something tells me this man's a dreamer as well.

A weight that sat with me through my first months here has lifted.

Suddenly I speak the language, I know how to do my job, and I'm meeting people I can share a good conversation with.

I'm no longer as bitter as a Brasserie espresso. I've moved on, and suddenly everything's sweeter than hot chocolate.

the seine at night
under a street light

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Friday, February 03, 2006

we can always talk about the weather

It's cold in Paris.

So cold, that all my conversations begin with me talking about how cold it is.

Waiting outside the school for the kids, I speak to Marilyn, a French au pair, our breath coming out in clouds. "C'est trop froid," we agree. Soon other au pairs and nannies show up and bisous are exchanged all around. We stand in a small circle, and I listen and laugh as they debate and joke about how heavily religion is drilled into these children. Their private Catholic school has them so engrossed with god, that even at home, all their drawings have "dieu" scribbled somewhere on them.

Later I'm at the little girl's ballet lessons, talking with a girl in the bathroom about the need for scarves these days. She tells me, as if admitting a dirty secret, that she wears two when she's at home alone.

The next morning I'm waiting for Monsieur to come out of the parking lot in the building beside ours so we can go to tennis. An old woman in a French cleaning dress asks me if I'm waiting for my husband. "No, no, their father, but not my husband," I laugh. She smiles and tells me it's warmer today, but still too cold. "Soon it will be summer," I tell her, "and we'll all be complaining it's too hot." Suddenly a woman in a bathrobe opens her window from above, and looks down to see a group of us staring at her, her morning face startled by her early audience.

In the evening I'm huddled against a heater in the family's apartment, and the Portugese cleaning woman, Alzira, tells me I need to find a man to keep me warm. Later the conversation becomes more serious, when she tells me about her 82-year-old mother with stomach cancer. Three years ago, when visiting Portugal, a doctor told her that her mother wouldn't last much longer. Alzira flew back to Paris for work the next day, crying the whole way, knowing her mother could die any day.

When her niece was married, her mother was in the hospital and couldn't go to the wedding. After the reception, the bride and her groom swept through the hospital, and caught the attention of every patient. The bride let her long white dress trail down the hospital hallway as she walked to her grandmother's room. The proud grandmother cried in her hospital bed, and they placed one of the bridesmaid's bouquets on her night table.

This week I seem to fall into conversation with everyone that crosses my path.

I love people. I'm fascinated by people. I want to know what they ate for dinner, how they met the love of their life, what town they were born in, and whether or not they're happy.

When I first came here I would go weeks without a real conversation, but these days no one feels like a stranger.

You can choose to shut out the world around you, or you can let it in, one person at a time.

All you have to do is bring up the weather.

just walk away