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Sunday, April 30, 2006

come out and play

The French have taught me the importance of getting out.

If there's anything I've noticed about this culture, it's that they're busy, always busy. They are also master planners. They will plan dinner, drinks with friends, trips to museums, road trips to the Ocean, days at the park, picnics, protests, movie dates, coffee, weekends and weekdays.

Les Francais are known for having a high quality of life, and this is because they demand it.

And so I refrain from laziness. I make a few phone calls. I accept invitations. I drop in to see friends. I surround myself with things that make me happy, people that make me happy, and find a new light shining over my life.

If I let myself contemplate the idea of doing something, I generally won't do it.

And so I get out, I give in, and life seeps into me deeper than today's heavy rain.

“Contemplation often makes life miserable. We should act more, think less, and stop watching ourselves live.”
Chamfort (French playwright, 1741-1794)

smooth step
le philosophe
hand in hand
line of fire
bonfire by the Seine
lights in the water

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

changing with the seasons

I arrived in Paris cursing under my breath.

The airport was flooded with people. I was elbowed every two minutes by unapologetic travelers, pushing through the crowds with their luggage.

I was yelled at by a cleaning lady for using the sink in my toilet stall, because there was a line outside, and I could have used the sink in the main washroom. I blinked tired eyes and shrugged.

I was pulled over by young security men, as innocent looking as I am, while everyone else from my plane was ushered through. They grinned and asked me questions that had nothing to do with airport security.

On the bus to the train station I was sandwiched so tightly between several men that I considered buying a pregnancy test afterwards.

All of this, after 15 hours of flying, was a little hard on my nerves.

It wasn’t until Sunday that I made amends with Paris.

I walked the Seine, alive with people, and tore off layers as I walked in the sun. I visited friends in Montmartre, where a sudden rainstorm made the tourists run for cover like herds of sheep. I met friends for dinner in the Marais, in a restaurant where everything was bright pink.

At the end of the night I walked through the Latin Quarter, where a Greek restaurant owner pulled me into his restaurant and made me dance with him in front of all of his customers.

Now that winter’s heavy clouds have lifted, the city is sexy again. Suddenly I can appreciate it for what it is. I find myself constantly locked in stares with young men on motorbikes, and hold myself back from climbing aboard.

Life is blooming all around me, faster than the cherry blossoms, and the change in the air is slowly changing everything.

back street
music takes us over
street woman
the nuns take on paris
seine between the trees
the shape of your body

“It's spring fever.... You don't quite know what it is you DO want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!”
-Mark Twain

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Saturday, April 22, 2006

across the universe

My heart was much heavier than my suitcase.

“Isn’t that pretty!” Smiled the flight attendant-possibly on Prozac-while checking in my bag. “Oh and you’re going to France, you lucky duck!”

I didn’t feel that way. I didn’t feel ready to say goodbye to my family this time around. It was so quick. I barely saw my brothers. I never got to make rack of lamb for my parents. I didn’t walk by the ocean enough. I didn’t tell my friends I loved them enough. I’m always so eager to leave, and yet this time I didn’t feel ready.

I put my affair with Paris on hold for a quick fling with Vancouver, and it was good, it was really good. But it’s hard to have a quick fling when you have such a history together.

I left Paris with my head planted so firmly on my shoulders, but during my stay it seemed to float a few feet above my body. I had so much I wanted to stay, but was so nostalgic and overwhelmed that I often stood a few feet away, trying to take it all in.

Early in the morning I packed away my last possessions and zipped up my suitcase. I hastily applied make-up, my stomach turning and my head a mess. Saying bye to my dad, I turned away before he could see me cry. I waved to him as he backed out of the driveway, wanting one last connection before we left each other’s lives again.

Driving to the airport my brother asked me how I felt. Even I was shocked by the heavy sobs that came out in response.

At the airport my mother held onto me. We both clutched a coffee in one hand, each other in the other. I’ve never seen either of us cry at the airport, but there we were, tears forming in the corner of our eyes, grasping for one last moment.

It won’t be that long before I’m home again, and then off to university. But somehow the idea of three months without so many loving arms hit me hard. The idea of going back to a job where I’m always on edge, and a city where I’m always on guard, hit me with another blow.

It wasn’t until I was walking back down Avenue de Versailles that I realized this was home too. Paris is another universe, but right now it's my universe. It’s home to my independence, to experience, to culture, and to a beauty that's beyond me.

May the love affair continue, I’m back.

leaving Canada

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

a moveable feast

I've been feasting and celebrating since the moment I arrived.

Everyday is a feast of familiar flavours and a taste of the past.

I love Vancouver. I love my bohemian home, the vastness of the Pacific ocean, the dramatic mountains, the endless greenery, and the relaxed attitude of everyone living on the West Coast.

Paris is romantic and sexy, but Vancouver is fresh and familiar. My eyes dart back and forth over the landscape, trying to hold on to the image, while my arms wrap themselves around friends and family, trying to hold on to the feeling.

On Friday night I gathered friends at my house for a big barbeque. I made various salads and set my dad up to make turkey burgers, veggie burgers, hot Italian sausage and grilled vegetables on the barbeque outside. Wine and vodka were poured freely and everyone seemed to have a permanent smile on their face. It was an excuse to see all my friends in one go, to eat, dance, and celebrate. The ambiance was so warm they could've all been family. Everyone was enamored with my mother and father, who I asked to be present at my party. On various occasions I stepped out onto the balcony to find friends deep in conversation with my mother while sneaking out for a smoke.

The next feast was Easter Sunday, where I spent the day preparing food with my gorgeous friend who loves cooking as much as I do. We planned the feast for months over email, and then drunkenly prepared a new menu a couple of nights before. It was perfect. With the turkey in the oven we prepared big pots of roasted vegetables, a green bean salad, roasted tomatoes, bruschetta, couscous, a tossed salad with feta and a large tiramasu covered in easter eggs for dessert.

I've been busy. I've been running around with my mother, tasting Vancouver's club scene, and trying to see all my friends as much as possible. My mother and I even managed to sneak in a trip to Whistler, a ski town a couple of hours away, where we unwinded in my aunt's cabin and took in some fresh mountain air.

My head is everywhere. I don't know when I last stopped to think. All I know is that I need to drink, dance, feast and love as much as possible while I'm here. And so I'm letting go, shaking my limbs on the dance floor, and clinking glasses with old friends.

I'll miss everyone. I'll miss the hip hop music, the boys in baggy pants, the health fanatic joggers and the rows and rows of coffee shops. I'll miss stopping in to see my friend at work, in a hippy coffee shop, where I end up hugging her for twenty minutes while people try to squeeze past us.

Another feast awaits me in Paris, with a completely different flavour, but I'm glad I've been given the chance to taste Vancouver again.

me and my women
crazy ladies
i'll love you forever
ikea trip
easter feast
easter tiramasu!
personal easter eggs
squamish sun
whistler cabin
maman and me
view  point

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

a postcard from paradise

I'm back in the arms of my first love.

My heart skipped a beat when the airplane started to lower itself into Vancouver. We hovered above a sheet of clouds with the odd mountain peak poking through. Sudden gaps revealed rows of long, dramatic tree lined mountains. A pink sun set the clouds aglow.

It was the most beautiful landing I've ever experienced.

Before I knew it we were descending into the city lights and the wheels were grating along the runway.

One of my greatest pleasures is, and always will be, the moment when the airplane touches the ground. My whole body shivers. I've arrived.

When we got into the airport, two young men from Quebec approached me. "So, is you're boyfriend picking you up?" "No," I told them, "the love of my life is. My mother."

And soon she was there, in the flesh, glowing in an orange sweater. I yelped and jumped into her arms.

"I see where she gets her good looks from!" Remarked one of the young men in his heavy accent. I pulled her away to get my bag and have her to myself.

Driving home through our quiet city, every sidewalk, every storefront, hit me with a memory. It's been over a year, and yet it feels like I never left. The only thing difference is that my heart is beating a little faster and my head's in a much better place.

I'm home. It's shocking. Everything is big and clean, and the grass is blindingly green. Waiters apologize when your food is five minutes late, and the coffee is divine no matter where you go.

I jumped onto a friend yesterday, wrapped my legs around her, and told her I was speechless. Five minutes later I couldn't stop talking, ecstatic to be making dirty jokes and laughing with my friends again.

I am beside myself. I have my mother, my loving father, my brothers, the ocean and my friends.

It's what I need. A taste of the familiar and somewhere to call home.

hotel at Charles de Gaulle
above the clouds
my room
kitchen at home
my mother's writing house
my family likes olive oil

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Sunday, April 09, 2006

all my bags are packed

Dear Paris,

We're going on a break.

I'm putting our love affair on hold and running off to Vancouver.

It's not you, it's me. I have needs. I need my family, good coffee in giant mugs, quality sushi on every street, bran muffins, the Pacific Ocean, a hot bath, good hip hop music, and friends who are a bad influence on my liver.

And so for 10 days I'll be switching wine for vodka, espressos for Americanos, brie for orange cheddar, Edith Piaf for Dela Soul, baguette for whole wheat, jam for peanut butter, croissants for doughnuts, cigarette smoke for air, and French for some good Canadian slang.

Instead of "Bonjour mes amis! Ca va?" I'll be able to reform to "What's up bitches?"

I think it's for the best. Me and you are great together, but your waiters are snobby, your men are stalkers, and your coffee cups are too small.

But fear not mon amour, I'll be back. I still want to get to know you better. I still have many pastries to try, different yoghurt flavours to taste, wine to drink, and fashionable men to seduce.

I'm not done with you yet mon cheri.

Forever yours,


my street

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Saturday, April 08, 2006

le noctilien

He asks if he can kiss me, and I tell him no, but it doesn't seem to register. He asks again.

I’m on the night bus home, and I know I’ve had this exact conversation with too many French men before. Apparently there is no way to say "Non," in French.

Suddenly I’m regretting not having taken a taxi. I'm regretting not spending the night at my friend’s house. I’m regretting grabbing the wrong bus, which is going to take me hours to get home on.

My two week vacation began with a beautiful spring sunshine, wine and dinner in my apartment with a friend, a train ride across Paris to his place, and eventually, the dreaded night bus back home.

Because I always try and take the night bus and end up flagging down a taxi instead, I insisted on taking it last night. Not only that, but I had to get to the other side of Paris, and a taxi would cost more than I had in my wallet.

When I switched buses at Gare de Lyon I was immediately approached by two young men. I tried to ignore them at first, but this had no affect on them. So instead I spoke to them, looked them in the eyes, and showed that I wasn’t afraid of them. Eventually I was laughing with them, but I was also trying to make sure they got off at a stop before me.

After refusing many drink offers for them, I pushed the button for them to get off at the Oberkampf bar area.

I happily made my way to the back of the bus, expecting to arrive home soon. Soon ended up being a lot longer than I thought.

I had taken the wrong N12 bus. If I had taken the right N12 bus, I would’ve made it home in half the time, but this bus was going in the other direction, and I would do a full tour of Paris before I could crawl into my bed.

Soon the bus emptied. I lay down in the back, tired and helpless, unable to do anything but wait. The bus driver pitied me, but had to follow his route.

I was lucky enough to befriend two young men with a big bag of tortilla chips, willing to share, and asked them to pass some over between my naps.

The story should end here. I should make it home and into my comfortable bed, tired and happy.

But the first two to harass me got back on the bus when we circled back through Oberkampf.

It was funny until they stayed on until my stop, and got off with me.

They weren’t threatening, dangerous or aggressive towards me, but they followed me home. Eventually I stopped laughing, had my phone out to call the Police, and was screaming “Goodnight!” to their confused faces.

I didn’t want them to see my door code and kept insisting they keep walking before I went in.

One started a monologue on how they didn’t want to harm me in any way, and kept giving me a prolonged goodnight, wanting us to part on good terms.

But I just wanted to go to bed.

My voice became so angry and loud that even I was startled.

Eventually I made it into my building at five in the morning, with them heading down the street, my angry tone of voice still ringing in my ears.

I think I’ll stick to taxis from now on.

when night falls

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

dancing with my shadow

Suddenly we have shadows again.

My shadow is much larger than hers. She skips ahead of me with her stuffed bunny in hand, and I totter behind in my heels, her bright pink dance bag hanging from my arm.

Every Thursday we run past the same restaurants, down the same sidewalks, to get to her ballet class on time. “Chase me!” She always yells, and I do, without hesitation, no matter how tired my body is.

As our shadows make their way down the street, I’m aware of how much time has passed. We’ve been doing this for months. The first time I took her to dance was in sunshine. And then their were the long months of winter, when my body was heavy, and the rain beat down on us as we ran down the street, water seeping into my shoes and crawling up my jeans.

It was a lot harder then. Everything was. The kids were cruel, the weather was cold, and I had yet to find my stride on the sidewalks of Paris.

It’s a little easier now. I can handle the outbursts, the arguments, and the occasional rudeness thrown my way. I can make them laugh. I can make meals that everyone will enjoy, even if it means making three main dishes for one dinner. I can sit up half way through my meal and cook something else for a fussy eater without cursing under my breath. I can carry two knapsacks, a purse, and a bag of cookies up seven flights of stairs without breaking a sweat when the elevator is broken (again).

It was almost a year ago when I first met the family. When I walked up those same seven flights, with raw nerves and high hopes, to pause before I knocked on their door. They served me champagne and the kids jumped on their beds. I was more optimistic and much less experienced.

Time is passing. I hope the next au pair that comes along is strong, preferably stronger than I am. I hope she has patience with the boy when he throws a fit. I hope she rubs his back and makes him laugh in the end. I hope she can handle the young girl's mood swings without taking them personally.

I can’t believe that come September, I won’t be chasing after little kids in Paris anymore, but chasing my own shadow as I race to campus from my apartment in downtown Toronto.

I'll miss chasing shadows smaller than mine in the same way that I'll miss the Eiffel tower. It's all apart of my life here, and with time passing so quickly, I'm already looking back on it.

jardin des fontaines
take your shadow for a walk
les copines

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Sunday, April 02, 2006

c'est plus fort que moi

I step into Place de la Republique and into a mass of people and music.

Teenagers are sprawled out everywhere. One young man sits up on a street light and gives the middle finger to those underneath him. Dozens are perched high up on the statue that sits in the centre of the square, swaying to the music with cigarettes in hand.

Smoke hovers over the crowds as a singer screams in French. They cheer. It’s Sunday afternoon, the sun is shining, and this apparently, is the place to be.

A selection of artists have been chosen to perform in a large concert against racism and immigrants being thrown out of France, and there's no way any of these kids are going to pass off a free concert and an excuse to yell about Sarkozy.

I fight through the crowds, pass the t-shirt stands and find my friends bobbing their heads amongst an array of dreadlocks and rebellious hairstyles.

Eventually I let go and move to the music. Artists take the stage, one after another, in the name of equality. Some sing about what it’s like to arrive as an immigrant in Paris and to be chased by the police. Some scream poetry. Some rap. Some mix their mother tongue with French. One group mixes traditional Arabic music with hip hop, and blow me away. They all speak out about coming to Paris for a better life and finding discrimination instead.

Since I’ve come here I’ve seen racism as much as I’ve seen the Eiffel tower. People slip racist comments regarding blacks and Arabs as if they were talking about the weather.

All of it disappears in the music. The sun beats down on the crowd, bottles and joints are passed around, and bodies move to the beat.

This weekend my surroundings have been illuminated by the spring sunshine.

Everything around me has been shining so brightly that I can't seem to worry about anything.

I’ve been going out as if it were a sin to stay in, the warm air calling my name ever so sweetly.

Saturday night involved beautiful strangers, good conversation, wine, a budding friendship, a flustered waiter and a salad packed with pungent cheese.

Sunday was music in the open air. Blue skies. A friend waiting for me outside Hotel de Ville. The busy streets of the Marais. Cocktails and more good conversation.

I'm stunned by the beauty of my surroundings. Tonight, when a small Asian man sang down in the metro, I dropped coins into his case with tears in my eyes.

It’s stronger than I am. The people, the weather, the sights, the sounds, the feeling inside of me.

I’ve stepped outside of myself and into Paris.

concert SOS racisme
day dreaming
hotel de ville
down the hall
la seine le soir
bateaux mouches