Sunday, June 27, 2010

L'Elephant dans la Chambre

In Paris last year my husband and I were talking. We were having one of those conversations that we rarely give ourselves the time for at home. Deeper than the usual day-to-day inquiries, housekeeping and amusing snatches of work gossip, we were talking about our future. My husband said to me that he was ready to own a place in Victoria - our home - and would be disappointed if we weren't taking steps towards this in a couple of years.

Upon returning from our trip we started the home ownership process, got approved for a mortgage and began looking at properties. We then spent several weekends being chauffeured by our patient realtor from condo to condo before coming to the conclusion that we really weren't ready to own our own place. It's one thing to give up my daily Starbucks, my Friday night cocktails or my monthly purchase of French Vogue but it's an extreme level of sacrifice to give up my annual trips to Paris.

Our pre-approved mortgage eventually expired and before we had much time to reflect on this fact, we were anxiously awaiting the arrival of Fedex and our tickets to see U2 play Stade de France in September. Paris was once again dominating our future plans.

To be perfectly honest, lack of home purchasing aside, I have given my husband a number of things to be disappointed about this past year. Between changing careers, various domestic failures, my endless pursuit of my two, very expensive passions - Horses and Paris! - and my newly discovered, much loved but non-paying, part-time job as a blogger, he has had every reason to become frustrated with me. Instead he has provided me with more support than I deserve and I am lucky to be married to someone who places such high value on my happiness.

And so we have lived the last year with Paris on the horizon. And occasionally we have talked about what it would be like move there part-time or maybe even permanently. When we talk about Paris, about our potential life there together, I feel a combination of excitement at the unknown opportunities and adventures and a longing for the comfort I imagine I would feel, in some strange way, to be home.

More than a holiday this September, we are approaching our trip to Paris as a chance to really think about the city from the perspective of possible residents. Obviously, I already have our Paris lives perfectly planned out...

My husband will become a hugely successful, internationally sought-after stylist for Toni & Guy and will eventually travel Europe as one of their top instructors and platform artists. I will obtain my Masters in French literature from Universite de la Sorbonne and then be offered a job there as a professor. In our spare time, we will picnic in jardin du Luxembourg on baguette sandwiches and confiture d'abricot straight from the jar, we will bicker about who will do the grocery shopping, and we will learn to speak perfect French. And I will finally publish my Paris love story as told by a Canadian. This is the Paris life I want.

I have to be careful though not to want Paris too badly and not, as I already do, think about Paris too much. Paris weighs heavy in both my heart and in my imagination. Because of this, I also need to think of our September trip as a way of my reestablishing Paris of what it is mostly meant to be; a city so beautiful, so inspiring and so rich that it is once in a lifetime. I need to consider letting go of Paris and shutting the door on what is likely a far too grandiose Parisian fantasy.

What would Paris think?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Le Droit

Shopping in Paris requires planning and careful consideration. Paris is fashion and shopping in Paris evokes a range of emotions from anticipation to awe to respect. Even now, as I type this, I am mentally thinking about what I will wear in September.

This is completely opposite as to how I approach shopping at home where I have been known to wear a ball cap if it means arriving earlier to the Holt Renfrew Boxing Day sale. A couple of years ago, a girlfriend and I went to Seattle for the sole purpose of shopping. Staying at a downtown five star hotel, mere blocks from the shopping district, we spent two blissful days going from store-to-store in our athletic gear, sweaty and disheveled. We skipped dinner, ate a pound of chocolate fudge and didn't unpack our bags, except to dig out our bathing suits for swimming in the hotel pool which we decided was just as good as taking a shower. We ate donuts in bed while drooling over our new Coach bags and our real, gold-plated Juicy Couture charm bracelets. Our hair was greasy, our skin was pasty and we were so, so happy.

But Paris is serious.

Is it too obvious to wear my Hermès scarf while shopping at Hermès? LV#1 will travel to Paris, looking appropriately worn and not too "nouveau", while LV #2 will stay at home and continue to ripen for another trip. No Coach (too American!) and obviously no white sneakers or anything that I wear to the gym. High-ish heels preferable and lots of classic black and white pieces. I am already anxious thinking about how my flat iron never works in Paris leaving me feeling as though I am the evil hair twin of 197o's Elvis and I am considering cutting my hair a la Audrey Tatou in Amelie.

In Paris last May, I struggled with the shopping. Spring and summer aren't my favourite seasons; too many open-toed shoes and not enough boots; too many cashmere-blend tank tops and not enough cashmere-blend coats; and flimsy fabrics that look as though they will fall apart or crumple unrecognizably after wearing them a few times. But then I stumbled upon a new trend - summer boots!

Summer boots! All the women in Paris were wearing them with short skirts and bare legs. They looked sexy and inspiring and I started lusting after my own pair. The pair, when I finally found them, were in the shoe department of Galeries Lafayette. They were heather coloured, a warm grey-purple, with leather soles and wooden heels. The boots cost 300 euros. I purchased them after drinking too many Kronenbourgs at a cafe near l'Opera and immediately had major buyer's regret.

Back in our hotel, I worried to my husband that I didn't think I had made the right decision. The colour wasn't exactly West Coast friendly where it rains six months of the year - including the summer - and I wasn't sure I could afford to have a pair of 300 euros indoor boots. And they really didn't fit. My husband was confused.

"What do you mean? You tried them on, right?"

"Yes, but... "

Of course I had tried them on. Truthfully though it had been more like a wrestling match between me and the boots with me Kronenbourg-confident that I would win despite the fact that it took a pair of nude hose, a shoe horn, the combined pulling and tugging of both me and the saleswoman, and finally me stomping my feet to get the boots in place. Fabulous!

At the hotel, I reenacted the embarrassing ordeal for my husband and it was clear that the boots had to be returned. As in I had to return 300 euros boots in Paris. Return 300 euros boots in my broken, nervous French, wearing the same black and white, now sweaty, pleated skirt I had worn the day before to purchase them.

The following morning I arrived at Galeries Lafayette just as le grand magasin was opening. I tried to bypass the shoe department by going straight to the international customer service desk where I was politely, but firmly told the boots had to be returned to their original department. I rode the elevator red-faced and shaking.

"Je, je... je suis desolé . Je voudrais rapporter mes bottes."

"Madame. C'est pas grave. Vous avez le droit à changer votre avis."

You have the right to change your mind. Le droit. The right.

Elegant! Chic! And so very, very French. One thing is for certain, summer boots may come and may go but I will never change my mind about Paris. Paris pour toujours.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

"I need to be in Paris."

In a previous blog posting I wrote that one of my biggest disappointments was the realization that I was never going to live the life of Carrie Bradshaw, either professionally or personally. I spent most of my twenties watching and re-watching episodes of SATC learning about everything from summering in the Hamptons to oral sex. And like most fans I was devastated when the show finally went off the air.

But there was a time (Several episodes!!) when I hated Carrie Bradshaw...

Season 6, the final season, episodes 19 & 20, An American Girl in Paris (part une & deux)

Fans of SATC either loved or hated the character of Aleksandr Petrovsy, as played by Mikhail Baryshnikov. Whatever your opinion may be, in episode 18 of season 6. he uttered some of the most romantic and most promising words:

"I need to be in Paris."

I found Carrie's hesitation to go to Paris incomprehensible and maddening. Here was a man, a wealthy and talented man, offering an opportunity to live not just in Paris, but in a suite at Plaza Athenee in Paris, all expenses paid, where you biggest worry would be which patisserie to purchase your warm croissant from each morning. You can call me a disgrace to my sex but I was thrilled when Carrie packed her bags and abandoned her NYC life to be kept in Paris. And then I eagerly anticipated the final two episodes.

Except that Paris-Carrie was a weak, whining shadow of New-York-Carrie. As SATC climaxed against the backdrop of Paris, the urge to crawl through my television and shake her senseless was overwhelming. I have since watched these two episodes again and again (most recently yesterday) and this urge has not lessened. If anything it gets worse with every trip I take to Paris.

Is this what Americans really think of Paris and Parisians? That Paris is impenetrable and lined with dog shit? That all Parisians are snobbish and unwelcoming? That Paris is a grey, cold city that mocks outsiders and forces them to wander the city's streets smoking and shivering?

"No one in Paris seems to understand me."

Carrie trembled those words during a phone call home to New York clearly missing the whole point of Paris.

Being misunderstood in Paris is part of its allure. It is through being misunderstood that forces you to embrace new ways of communicating not just with Parisians, but also with the culture. And then it is finally finding the familiar in the misunderstanding, finding the familiar in the strange, challenging place that is Paris, that makes you fall in love with your Paris-self. In Paris you discover extraordinarily beautiful places in your heart and and in your mind that you didn't even know you had.

Predictably at the end of the final episode, Big shows up in Paris to rescue Carrie and return her to New York.

"Take me home."

Frankly, I can't imagine saying those words in Paris. Paris has become home in a way, a sort of house of dreams way. I typically spend my last few hours in Paris giving my husband the-don't-make-me-get-on-the-plane-eyes.

Paris is so much more than a series of monuments and historical moments represented in films and literature. Parisians are so much more than beret wearing, frowning, American hating caricatures. Paris is potential, unrealized and realized. Paris is where you go to be your best self.

And no one ever needs rescuing from Paris.