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Monday, May 29, 2006

suck my blood

“Paris is like a vampire,” he says, leaning towards me and yelling over the music.

He’s been living here for years now, and although he wants to leave, he says he can’t. Because this city, it sinks it’s teeth into you. You can hate your day-to-day life in Paris, but it will find a way to grab you when you’re not looking.

It will be cloudy and miserable for days, and then suddenly the sun will break through the clouds, light up an old church, and you know, you just know, that this is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

And so I live for the moments. I follow Hemingway’s footsteps and hop from one café to the next, meet up with friends, drink too much, and let the city take me where it will.

Some days I wear my Parisian frown quite well, and my heart is so heavy that I have to sit down, but it never lasts forever.

This weekend was live music in a smoky bar, lunch at les philosophes, blues music on the Seine, Hemingway on the metro, Indian food in a small alley way, wine, Russian caviar, bookstores, homemade dinner, one-on-one conversation and my feet skipping their way all around the city.

I live for the faces here too. The faces of those I know and of those I don’t know. For the woman dressed all in orange, seated across from me on the metro. For my favorite Blues singer on the bridge, wearing his fedora and sunglasses. For the old women with serious faces, and the young men with mischief in their eyes.

There are days when all I want to do is to go home, but quite frankly, I've been bitten. When I leave, I better leave running, because this vampire has a taste for me, and it will be hard to get away.

lunch at les philosophes
place des vosges
monsieur bouge
the blues man
Gill and Jennifer

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

guess who's coming to dinner?

My heart is racing. It’s 11 p.m. and I’m going out for dinner, a whiskey and coke playing the trombone in my empty stomach.

I'm dressed all in black and racing to catch my metro. I have a dinner date with a new friend - the music publicist - along with Busta Rhymes and his traveling crew.

I get off at Concorde and run across the street, away from the Jardin des Tuleries. The lamp posts are glowing and people are taking photographs of themselves all around me.

I approach a handsome young guard donned in a hat and arms, and ask him for directions. His serious face lightens up, and he leaves his spot and rigid stance to take me around the corner and point me in the right direction. I thank him in sloppy French-handsome men make me lose my vocabulary-and he grins.

Soon I’m walking down the stairs towards a large table inside of Buddha Bar. Indian dance music blasts through the room, the entire restaurant glows under candlelight, and a large Buddha looms over the dining room.

I seat myself at the table and am introduced to a variety of people. I meet Busta. He’s three times my size. His wrist reflects off of every wall because of the amount of diamonds on his watch. His head has been shaved, his warrior dreadlocks gone, but his knowing smile and Busta Rhymes t-shirt let you know who he is.

The table is covered in evian bottles and soon the food starts to arrive. There’s egg rolls, spring rolls, chicken fried rice, mashed potatoes, sushi and noodles. Plates take over the table, and some food makes it’s way around while some doesn’t.

Everyone is in their own world and drinking something different. I go for a Jack Daniels and Coke. An older woman in heavy eye make-up sits across from me, shaking her head to the music. Busta’s boys nod their heads. I start to like the woman beside me. She says she speaks French with a Bronx accent, and orders sushi that doesn’t chew back.

My friend is busy on his Blackberry, but lets me know he’s there and keeps me feeling comfortable as I don't know anyone.

After pinching as much sushi as I can from the large platters, I’m full, and only have hunger left for my whiskey.

But then the waiter brings…the main course. Out come plates of filet mignon, chicken, sea bass, rice, more sushi, and a lot of expensive meat. Not everything gets finished. The final bill, for two large tables, comes up to 1700 euros. I blink.

This is all too much for an au pair who makes 80 euros a week. Thank god someone else is paying.

While the crew retires at the hotel, we make a quick trip to a VIP club filled with skinny models the size of one of my thighs, loud music and flashing lights. We leave before I get a seizure and start trying to force-feed the models.

It feels good to go home at the end of the night, going into the old part of my building, up to my tiny apartment, down the hallway with the crumbling walls, and into my humble room.

Another night in the city of lights, and I fall asleep calm, my mind tamed and my body tired by trying to keep up with the city's pace.

Buddha Bar

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Monday, May 22, 2006

wine, whiskey, wondering and wandering

When he arrived I was leaning against a tree, gazing deeply at nothing in particular.

I had been tempted to take off while I was waiting, to roam and explore on my own, to go get tipsy in a bar and watch the crowds go by. But I had a date, and it’s not my style to leave a man waiting.

He was on time, well coiffed, dressed in jeans and bright contrasting shirts, very French, with a small shoulder bag that only a Parisian male could pull off.

On the terrace of a small café I sipped white wine while he sipped an espresso. He found it funny that I could start drinking at four in the afternoon, but I’d spent the day up in Montmartre where everyone had been wine tasting and it only seemed natural.

When I first asked him what he did he told me he was a stripper. I didn’t believe him, but he insisted, and it wasn’t until two hours later when he told me he was actually an engineer. It’s funny, but I had liked him better as a stripper.

So there I was with a young engineer, jumping from one café to the next, always splitting the bill, sharing small talk and trying to escape the rain.

There were moments I felt myself falling for him, moments when he said the right things at the right time. He was curious and confident, well traveled and well educated. His facial hair was perfectly styled and his cologne was strong and seductive.

But he drank fruit juice while I drank wine, Kir while I drank whiskey, and he wanted to look into my eyes more than I wanted to look into his.

I won’t deny there were romantic moments. He smiled when we got caught in the rain. He felt for my hand during the movie, and his fingers fit mine just right, crawling up my palm to remind me he was there. I liked his warmth, his smell, and his presence next to mine.

But he kept trying to kiss me and I wanted to watch the movie. His stubble scratched my face.

We left each other in the metro with a kiss on the lips and a smile.

He’s not the one. But he was the one to remind me that I can still let myself go. That I’m comfortable enough with myself right now to be in a relationship.

There’s romance in the air. Not with one man in particular, but in the face of every waiter, every stranger in the metro, every breeze in the air and sudden rainstorm. It comes frequently and suddenly, sweeping me off my feet when I least expect it.

Love or no love, man or no man, I’m going with the rhythm of things and letting myself be taken.

dans le rue

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Friday, May 19, 2006

sleep walker

“They call this the tunnel of death,” smiled the taxi driver at one in the morning.

We were driving through the famous tunnel where Princess Diana was killed. “She should have taken a taxi, but that the asshole she was with insisted they take the chauffeur who’d been drinking,” he added proudly.

I translated for the young man beside me, my friend’s cousin, a music publicist in Paris for the night. His company covered the entire evening’s expenses. I sat blissfully throughout a three-course meal, going from drink to drink, knowing that none of my nanny funds would be going towards the bill.

The taxi carried us down into the darkness of the tunnel, and then came back up for air, gliding along the Seine towards my humble abode. When the lights on the Eiffel tower started to flicker, the face of my travelling companion lit up as well.

I’ve been living a double life. In the day I play nanny, running after two little children, playing soccer in the park, making macaroni, settling disputes and cleaning chocolate off of every surface. At night I strap on my heels and live my own life.

From smoky bars, to trendy restaurants, to bohemian apartments, to crowded dance floors, I’m there. My life has suddenly taken on a pulse.

The other night I found myself nestled comfortably on a sofa in one of my neighbor’s apartments. We’ve been sharing a toilet seat for 8 months, but haven't gotten to know each other until now.

His apartment is small, but bigger than mine. He has black and white photos pinned all over his wall, a hat and scarf collection dangling from hooks and nails, rugby trophies and an old music collection. It turns out he’s a professional comedian, an actor, and something from another time.

It was hard not to look away from his dark eyes, deep pools that seemed to avoid mine. He was charming, his manner gentle and sincere. Over a couple of drinks I learnt that he’s also an insomniac, has two older sisters, comes from the French countryside and helps host reggae concerts in the summer.

No one is a stranger anymore. Last night I found myself moving my limbs to funk on the dance floor with a group of girls I barely knew. I was comfortable. A young girl in flip-flops from Michigan called me the “blonde exotic fruit”. I left in a taxi when a posessive young man wouldn't leave me alone, and headed back through the tunnel of death towards the safety of home.

I’ve been getting to bed later but sleeping a lot more soundly. I think I the cure for insomnia is not to fight it but to take advantage of it instead.

Maybe the reason I find it so hard to sleep is because I want to live my dreams instead. Waiting for them to come, as I lie in bed with my eyes closed and my head spinning, has never worked out well for me.

So I'm going to try to keep moving, because life is too short. I'll sleep when I'm dead.


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Sunday, May 14, 2006

you take me by the heart

This weekend I walked the streets in a skirt and a smile, completely smitten with the city.

I feel as if I’ve been locked up all winter and I’ve finally decided to get outside. Suddenly everything is inviting and the city is my playground. Men have started stopping me in the streets again, strangers seem to smile more, and the terraces are full.

Friday night I found myself feasting in a small restaurant in the Jewish quarter. Under golden lighting a charming dark featured waiter brought us good wine, shots of cherry vodka and a feast of food. An older couple beside us gazed at one another and held hands, while a band in the corner of the room began to play ethnic music.

The night carried us to another bar with other friends, and to a club off the Champs Elysée where French DJs attempted rapping and screamed “SEX, DRUGS, ROCK AND ROLL!” Over a smoke filled room of trendy Parisians.

Saturday I was drawn back out into the night, belting out blues with a friend as we walked the Seine. We stopped to polish off a bottle of wine on a bridge looking at the Eiffel tower, then continued to walk arm and arm, singing into the night.

Sunday, another beautiful day, I found myself in the apartment of a young and beautiful Cordon Bleu chef, sipping cocktails and learning to make a three course meal. In her beautiful apartment we made magic. Three tarts: lemon, pear and raspberry, vegetable soup as a starter, and beef tournedos with béarnaise sauce as a main course. The company was as good as the food, and I was beside myself to be learning the tricks of the trade from a professional.

Paris will never seem the same to me. It’s no longer a dreamy city of romantic tourist attractions, but a real place with real people where I live my life. I know that the metros smell like urine, that the waiters are rude, that the weather is often horrible and that everything is overpriced, but it only makes my love grow fonder.

I don’t need to flirt with the idea of a life in Paris, because we’re in a serious relationship. Every day we get a little bit closer, and it develops into something bigger than me.

The best part? After all this time together, it still knows how to make my heart beat.

walking in the sky
surround me in green
les monsieurs
madame takes her walk
three shadows
make yourself comfortable
pretty girls on the seine
Ari's an artist!
who's that sexy bitch?
Ari at Chez Marianne
rushing towards me
caught in the light

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a bouquet of words

We used to sit in cafes, and she’d dip her croissant into her café crème while I’d dip mine into my hot chocolate.

She always said that she felt more at home in France than in North America. That even her name, Yvonne, was at home in this country.

She never made me feel as if I were holding her back from anything. No, I was her companion, and I would be by her side through any dream and determination.

We both have trouble sleeping at night. We have troubled minds and are restless souls. It’s as if letting the night slide past without us waking to breathe in it just weren’t right.

I think we both sometimes struggle trying to find our place in life. I used to sit in my bathrobe, bawling into her lap, because it all felt like too much for me.

Thank god we love the good things as much as we do. That we can rejoice in music, food, words, travel, wine and good company, so that it all becomes worth it.

She makes it all worth it. She’s taught me all that I need to know. I walked into life with every door closed, and she taught me to just walk up and open them.

From across the ocean, I want to thank you for being my mother without a bouquet of roses or a Hallmark card.

Instead, I’ll drink in your name, I’ll live my life and I’ll not be afraid to speak up, I’ll dance in the streets and write in my journal, I’ll stop for cafes and think of myself as an artist.

It’s been a beautiful weekend in Paris, and I’m thinking of you.


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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

just knowing you're around

The train rocked heavily back and forth, but it did anything but rock me to sleep.

With six beds in one compartment, my top bunk had me hitting my head on the lights throughout the night, as I tossed and turned under my paper-thin sheets and itchy blanket.

After a rushed meal in the train station with a typically rude waiter, we shoved ourselves onto the night train down to the South of France. When we first entered our sleeping compartment I couldn't stop laughing. It was something out of a war film, with three small bunks on each wall, cruel lighting and too many people for such a small space. It was a long six hours.

When we arrived in Toulouse at 4:45 in the morning, the sky still dark, I was jumping for joy and gasping for air.

An hour later we boarded a train to Gaillac and made our way into the country. The fields were dark, and the small train darted past small towns. The sky turned blue and the birds began chirping as we got off the train.

We sang our way into town, all the shutters still closed and the roads empty.

But, as miracles would have it, the patisserie in the centre of town was opening its doors when we arrived. My traveling companions ordered fresh croissants, and I ordered a big sweet apricot pastry. We licked our fingers on a small bench surrounded by trees, already enamored with the change in scenery, the quiet and the clean air.

We rejoiced again when the Brasserie opened, and served us giant café crèmes for half the price in Paris, served by a polite, smiling waitress nonetheless.

Fuelled by caffeine we marched to the grocery store, where we filled a cart with enough food and alcohol to sustain us for the weekend, and then took a taxi to an even smaller town, Castelnau de Montmiral, where we would spend our weekend in my summer home.

It’s always breathtaking driving into Castelnau. It’s a small medieval hilltop town surrounded by high stone walls. The roads are tiny and crumbling, the houses tall and ancient. There’s something magical about it, and every visitor we've ever taken here has fallen in love.

In my house we opened shutters, tore off the plastic that covered the beds, filled the fridge and made ourselves at home.

That night the house filled with people, as friend after friend arrived, each bringing a bottle of liquor or a case of beer. It was the kind of night that mark my summers in the South of France, full of reggae music, good people, lots of drinking, more smoking, and a good vibe all around.

When I put on a CD of soul music, the whole room seemed to sing along, smiling at one another between sips of drinks and drags of cigarettes, faces lit by candle light.

It was a short stay but we made the most of it. We wandered the small streets, walked to the lake, ate long European meals, had fresh baguette smothered in jam every morning, clinked glasses of champagne and appreciated every moment. I laughed more than I have in a long time.

It was hard getting back on the train to Paris. For six hours we sat in a compartment with six other people, knowing we would be going back to a city where all of our stress and responsibilities lie. But c’est la vie.

Once in Paris I took another train back to my neighborhood, walked home in the rain, and slept more deeply than I have in months. I awoke refreshed, walked up to the patisserie, bought myself a chocolate pastry, and had an indulgent morning before beginning a day of work.

There’s nothing like going down South to soothe the soul before going back to the busy streets of Paris.

Sometimes I just need to remind myself that somewhere like the South of France exists, then I can go back to reality.

cozy couchettes...
bonne nuit charlie
house in the south
saturday soiree
looking down on the street
i've got the blues
truth on a bathroom door

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Friday, May 05, 2006

goin to the country

Tonight I will board a night train, crawl into a couchette, fall asleep, and awake in the South of France.

I've been given a long weekend am taking advantage by going down South with a couple of friends. The weekend calls for rain, but we will drink and dance each drop away.

I'm already dreaming of turning the handle on the old brown door of my family's summer home, of pulling open the shutters, of smelling the familiar scent of wood burning, and of feeling back at home.

Bon soir Paris, I'll be back soon.

night light

“I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move.”
Robert Louis Stevenson

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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

take off your sunglasses

Did you see the light tonight?

It was gorgeous, golden. It was a soft mango, orange and red, ready to be eaten. It forced me to slow down my step, to sit on a bench, and to stop for the first time in days.

The sky was full of possibility. The city sat before me, and I hungered for it, but I didn’t know where to go. The only place that seemed right was the bench I was sitting on.

Suddenly I wanted everything. My flaws stood clearly before me and asked to be changed. My goals ran in front of me and asked to be followed.

But all I could do was sit still.

When will I know all the answers? Probably never. I'm still having trouble with the questions. When will my skin fit me like it should? Probably when it’s too late, wrinkling at every end.

I walked the streets in a red dress, romantic, happy, but wanting something more.

The men turned their heads, and yet it wasn’t them I wanted.

I stared at my reflection in a store window, but the girl in the glass didn’t have the answers either.

What is it I want? Peace of mind. Peace with my body. Courage. Completion. Some kind of satisfaction.

I’m walking towards all of it, it’s just going to take a while for me to get there.

There aren't any short cuts on this road, and I'm still so damn young and naive.

two faced
long legs
a love for rooftops
it still stands