Monday, January 31, 2011

Day 4: Paris the Beautiful

I realized today that I have developed a very serious and potentially artery-clogging addiction to saucisson, especially when it is sandwiched between two, heavily buttered pieces of baguette and tiny, sharp tasting, extra-thin cornichons. Thankfully, I have not kept count of how many of these delicious sandwiches I have eaten, though today, writing this from the terrace at 7 p.m., I have already eaten three and I am pretty sure I have a saucisson canker on the inside of my left cheek.

“Not tonight, darling. I have saucisson sores.”

This morning we took a Taxi Parisien to Notre Dame ( The taxi ride was a compromise as I love riding Le Métro and Chris prefers walking. Chris is right; Paris is a city meant to be walked. However, with my buggered IT band and the San Francisco Marathon less than a month away, the occasional taxi taking is necessary in order to compensate for usual 10 hour long days of walking.

Notre Dame has been one of my favourite spots in Paris since I first visited during that cold, dark February of 2003. Today’s visit was no different as I shuffled on my tip-toes through the church's overwhelming interior, reminding myself to tilt my head upwards to appreciate all the incredible architectural details and the stained glass treasures hidden up high. I have visited Notre Dame, over 7,915 kilometres away from where I live, more times than I ever been to one single church at home.

Chris and I wordlessly shared our tradition of lighting church candles for our much missed loved ones; this has become another important Paris ritual for us and one that adds incredible meaning to our visits.

Notre Dame is a working church, but it is also one of the most visited tourist destinations in the world. With this fame comes a certain amount of overfamiliarity, often bordering on disrespect, from visitors . If you are ever fortunate enough to visit Notre Dame, or for that matter any other church, please do not do any of the following:

Talk Loudly: This should be obvious, n’est pas? There literally are signs everywhere, in every language and with visual aids (Shhh!), asking visitors not to speak. Today I heard two American women yelling to each other about the terrible pizza they shared last night. Maybe they couldn’t hear each other over the chasm between their massive fanny packs!?

Drink Starbucks: I wish I was making this up and I wish I didn’t have to write about this but today I saw a velour track-suit wearing woman walking around the inside of Notre Dame with a Venti Starbucks stuck to her lips as if she was out for a morning power walk in her suburban neighbourhood. I am, probably more than most people, an absolute coffee addict and drink Starbucks like water at home. But you don’t drink coffee in Notre Dame! And really Starbucks in Paris? You can do so much better!

Take Pictures of Priests hearing Confessions: The perimeter of Notre Dame is lined with multilingual confessional booths so that worshippers can confess in their respective languages. Today, I watched as tourists snapped photographs of the priests as if they were characters at Paris Disneyland. They are real, working priests. You would not appreciate it if someone showed up at your office and took your photo. And your job is likely far more mundane and less important than saving souls. Leave the priests in peace and buy a postcard on the way out.

Pose for Pictures like you are a Russian Supermodel circa 1985: In front of the Eiffel Tower, place your hands on your hips, cock your head, flip your hair, pout your lips and thrust your pelvis as the camera captures you but do not strike the same, taste questionable pose in Notre Dame. Take your picture quietly (no flash!) and move on. Better yet, support the cathedral by buying some souvenir postcards and whatnots at their volunteer-run gift shop.

Which leads me to my final “do not”…

Do Not Light a Candle sans Offering: If you can afford to be touring around Paris, you can afford the suggested 2 euros offering to light a candle. Entry to Notre Dame is free and as visitors, respectful visitors, you need to support that privilege.

Enough ranting about Notre Dame. We spent the majority of today wandering streets on the Left Bank, both of us delighted at finding the familiar, finding ourselves on streets, in front of brasseries where we had been before. Chris is frighteningly good at knowing Paris in his head and manages to lead us again and again to our comfortable favourites and wonderful new places.

Chris’ “Paris sense” is highly developed and also especially endearing to me as I know how difficult it has been for him to fall in love and surrender to Paris. Sometimes I think I have bullied him into loving Paris as my refusal to imagine, much less live, a life without Paris is so absolute. I know that living with me and my singular, expensive, impractical obsession cannot be easy at times. I keep catching myself in these perfect, shared Paris moments in which I honestly wonder how my life is real and how Chris and I are back in Paris, our third trip in as many years, with no sign of either of us tiring and already talking about “next year”.

We had late morning café crèmes at Les Deux Magots, 6 place Saint Germain des Pres ( where we were served by what would one would expect of a typical French waiter; petulant and not interested in serving another pair of tourists at one of the most famous cafés in Paris.

Les Deux Magots is next to the Left Bank LV store. Having now visited both Left Bank LV and the Champs LV, I can, without hesitation, write that Champs LV is the Las Vegas of the two stores. Or Champs LV is the Dolly Parton to the Left Bank LV's Audrey Hepburn. Champs LV is all about big, over-the-top, love me right now and buy me senseless; whereas Left Bank LV is classic, understated and refined. And you know its where real Parisians shop. I love LV and j'adore both stores - I lost my LV virginity at the Champs store! - but I admit that not having to stand in line with hundreds of motor coach tourists, staring across the street at a 24/7 McDonalds, is a lot less appealing now having visited the sumptuous interior of the Left Bank LV.
The store was quiet and we spent ages so I could visit all of my favourites and add a few new loves to my mental collection. Despite my best intentions to not covet, much less consider purchasing another LV bag, I am failing miserably. Especially after the price tag reality check at Chanel where their entry level bag could easily finance three, mid-size Speedys. LV seems practically affordable! And I swear LV bags look better in France, in their natural surroundings, free from preservatives and ugly shoes. Tonight I promise to not fall asleep rearranging my finances in contemplation of a new bag - Baking soda as toothpaste? Can I feed our horse on table scraps? Should I sell my eggs? - but rather fall asleep repeating my mantra,

“I do not need another LV bag.”

We continued shopping on the Left Bank. The new Ralph Lauren flagship store at 176 Boulevard Saint Germain has been on my itinerary for months. Ralph’s is the restaurant there and we have been unable to get a reservation before and since our arrival. I don’t know why I feel so obsessed with getting a reservation. It really is an awful lot of trouble and stress to eat an American hot dog in Paris and I blame a recent American Vogue article ("Places to Be - Paris") for my madness. Lack of hot dog aside, the store is a destination in itself and has some of the most incredible equestrian art I have ever seen.

The store is laid out so that it feels as though you are touring through a super posh, tastefully decorated English countryside manor that just happens to be overflowing with five floors of top-end Ralph Lauren clothing and accessories. This is not the Ralph Lauren you find at Bloomingdales or in the seconds bin at Costco. There was not a single single polo shirt in the entire store. Nor a pair of khakis.

After the Left Bank, we walked to Les Halles, one of Chris’ favourite places for brasseries and beer. I don’t feel the same affinity for this area of Paris as Chris does and truthfully find it a bit seedy. I like my Paris as a postcard; unimaginative, fully of sparkly monuments and clichés. In our beery haze we walked directionless and found ourselves in the comparatively refined courtyard of Palais Royal and literally fell into what I was truly believed was an urban Paris shopping myth...

Didier Ludot (, 24 Galerie Montpensier.

Didier Ludot might be the world's most famous vintage store. And since my first trip to Paris in 2003, I have read about it in various guidebooks, fashion magazines and Blogs and even seen it featured on an episode of The Rachel Zoe Project. But I had never been able to find it. Until today.

There are three stores (ready to wear, evening couture, and black dresses) and each store is smaller than an average North American sized master bedroom. Somehow Chris and I both squeezed ourselves into the ready to wear store, with me practically faint from being in the presence of so much fashion history. Chocolate brown vintage Birkin, Dior saddle bag, pink and black Chanel blazer, voluminous, exotic fur coats, etc., etc. I was totally unprepared and it was even worse because we were sharing the tiny space with a plastic surgery victim, her face literally stretched to the ceiling of the store, and her revolting, frothing at the mouth husband. She was trying on the vintage furs, tossing them all over the place like candy floss, while yelling alteration suggestions across the tiny space. Initially they muscled us out and I stood dejected outside the Didier's store front. All those years of wondering and searching only to lose courage and find myself standing back outside. Then I noticed a small, discreetly lettered sign in the window,

Hermès carrés

I suddenly found my French courage, my voice, my style, all motivated by the chance of finding vintage Hermès. As soon as I made the decision to go back in, I knew it was going to be an expensive one. Similar to Chanel, you don't browse at Didier Ludot. Monsieur Ludot was standing in an exasperated posture at the back of his store, watching his fur coats being tossed around.

“Excusez-moi. Avez-vous les Hermès carrés avec les chevaux?”

Monsieur grunted at me and then led me one-two-three, short steps to his office, the size of a North American refrigerator, and thumped a copier paper box onto his desk full of Hermès carrés . Still no talking, he gestured at me to pick through them. It was a thrilling invitation. At Hermès there is an unwritten rule that you don’t really touch le carré until your Visa has been approved but here I was digging through a box that must have contained at least 100 vintage beauties. It only took me about 15 carrés to find a beautiful 90 x 90 pink and brown Philippe Ledoux “Jumping” scarf too perfect to be real, patterned with show jumping horses. Sense and economy had long been forgotten and I stood on my tiptoes to hold up le carré for Chris, who was wedged in the doorway. I read his lips,

“Buy it.”

I will probably never know - and I don't really want to - if I paid too much or too little and I have promised myself that once I get home I will resist the temptation to search for my carré on e-Bay or similar web sites. It was all about the experience and fulfilling one of my most desired fashion fantasies; buying a carré Hermès that had a previous life, a history in Paris, to me is priceless and it has an immeasurable emotional value.

I have been writing this Blog for over two hours, sitting on our couch, with a slim view of the Eiffel Tower, and watching it fade through its range of sunset colours before becoming sparkly against the night sky. I can't get over how much I have been writing on this trip. And I am starting to believe that our impossible dream of living in Paris is going to come from me writing about our endless love affair with this beautiful city...

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Le Shopping in Paris

Chris and I had decided that today would be our first serious, all-out shopping day in Paris. I barely slept the night before in anticipation of visiting my favourite Paris stores.

We started our day with croissants, pain aux chocolats, viennoiseries and café crèmes at Laduree ( on the Champs Elysees. This is a total find for us and a place we had previously avoided, put off by its tourist packed over-flowing tea salon and long line-ups. However, Laduree is one of the only places we have found in Paris that opens at 7 a.m. and early this morning we found one of its best secrets.

Upon entering from the Champs Elysees, go left past the tempting, patisserie counter, and push your way through a set of heavy double doors that open into Laduree’s bar which is not unlike what you would expect to find in one of Lewis Carroll's fantastical tales. The bar is all lavender, lit with lavender, and all of the furnishings and walls are layered with a thick, brushed silver spider-web like detail. Pockets of stain glass windows shoot splashes of colour through the lavender. Chris and I were virtually alone in the bar, with just two French businesswomen, leisurely tapping their Blackberries and drinking full cream chocolat chaud. Truly, I want every day of my life to start here.

Our marathon day of shopping was supposed to start at LV on the Champs Elysees but we had to bypass it as there was a line of tour buses depositing Japanese tourists to wait outside. We walked to rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore which becomes rue Saint-Honore. Like common, vulgar tourists we took a museum tour of Hermès and I was brave enough to actually, with the appropriate amount of reverence, trail my croissant stained fingertips across one of the Hermès' saddles. As Chris had bought me Quand Soudain in Cannes, for once in my life I really was just looking with no intention to buy, enjoying the spectacle, especially at the carré counter, in which the scene reminded me of the trading floor depicted in the original Wall Street movie.

On the opposite corner from Hermès is Longchamps (, another one of my favourite French staples and one that sincerely fits my budget, with no tuna fish from a can dinner substitutions required. Though Longchamps has recently launched some Kate Moss “designed” bags, I forgive them and happily ignore them in favour of all of their horse logo accessories. I left the store with one of their traditional totes in bronze; a black, patent leather, equestrian cuff; and a small scarf patterned with the Eiffel Tower in black and tan. It was then time for Les Grands Magasins.

Readers of my Blog will know that j'adore Galeries Lafayette. It’s a Paris institution that manages to be both incredibly French, and therefore a little bit fashion fantasy, but also manages to be accessible to honorary Parisians, comme moi. How can you not love a department store that has a Veuve Clicquot bar tucked behind couture gowns and lingerie? How can you not love a department store that sells Bonne Maman confiture and LV bags under the same roof? My heart was racing with all of the shopping possibilities; I was doing Euro to Canadian dollar exchanges in my head faster than I can say “Chanel”.

In less than an hour, I left GL with another imitation Chanel jacket (this one in pink wool with black ribbon and beading detail by K Derhy) and a pair of incredibly high-heeled, thigh high (yes, high to my thigh) black leather boots that I hope will somehow translate back to my real life in Victoria. I keep having mini panic attacks about the thought of wearing them at home, surrounded by all of the Croc-footed locals, and worried about someone yelling out,

“Why is that old lady dressed up as Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman?! It’s not Halloween.”

I will have to be extremely confident when I wear them. Naturally when I showed them to Chris, he was extremely appreciative and supportive in that rare way my husband has of loving it when I spend money on quality, impractical items. He has also already told me that he will be "disappointed"should I "wimp out" and return them before our trip's end, something I have done before. I then treated myself to a guilty pleasure in the form of a grey, sequined Eiffel Tower t-shirt (shameless!) I found in GL’s souvenir department. While I would not be caught dead wearing it on the streets of Paris, I know it will become a weekend favourite at home, turning me into even more of the Paris lovesick caricature that I already am.

GL’s neighbour is the other grand magasin, Pringtemps, who is unfortunately embracing America – New York – and is selling a full range of in-house “I Love NY” products. I don't like it; Paris doesn't need New York. Just as I am not sure about the recently opened, massive Coach boutique on Pringtemps’ main floor. For shopping research, I took a tour of the boutique; which contains mostly entry level Coach bags, many at the same price point as LV starter bags, i.e. a small Speedy. I wonder if Parisians have ever heard of the Coach Outlets in Palm Springs?

I wasn't expecting it but Chris had planned to end our day of shopping at Chanel on rue Cambon. Over the years, I have I read several cautionary warnings in various travel guides about how this is one store that definitely doesn’t appreciate window-shoppers. Chanel is serious, another level of luxury. But even at the risk of embarrassing myself, I had to go; I love fashion; this is my fourth trip to to Paris and I had never been to Chanel, except for the make-up counter at GL. Plus as much I love LV, this past year I developed a bit of Chanel obsession after watching a fabulous documentary on Fashion Television, Signe Chanel. This 2005 documentary by Loic Prigent chronicles the making of one of the collections. I then read several Chanel biographies and watched another documentary, Lagerfeld Confidential. The result was I became Chanel obsessed and spent far too much time researching their entry-level bags, basically an oxymoron as entry-level isn't part of the Chanel vocabulary.

Chris and I toured - no other description for it - rue Cambon, speaking in hushed voices usually reserved for churches and trying not to make eye-contact with any of the salespeople who were so chic that we looked practically destitute wearing our $200 designer jeans. I grazed my fingertips across at 2900 euros traditional tweed and braided blazer that was so beautiful I wanted to buy it on the spot, wrap myself up in it and then spend the rest of my life sitting on the terrace of our Paris-Apartment-in-the-Sky, drinking pink champagne and painting my lips Chanel red. The reality is that I felt uncomfortably out-of-place and outclassed. I am not ready for Chanel.

Are you wondering about museums and other traditional forms of French culture? The weather has been stunning and the lines have been too long. Though we plan to visit our favourite museum, Musee Rodin, later this week. And to be perfectly honest, Chris and I prefer the kind of French culture you can savour, digest, drink..or buy.

Paris: Day 2 & Day 3

As Chris and I are definitely enjoying the closest thing ever to our perfect Paris trip, I feel it is only fair that I should describe the mess that preceded our entry to our Paris-Apartment-in-the-Sky...

Way back when I booked our flights from Nice to Paris, I booked them early-ish in the day. We have learned over the years that one thing we hate most about travelling is waiting leave a place you love; it’s far better to get up early in the morning and be done with the leaving. So after an early morning flight from Nice, we arrived in Paris and took a taxi to Jardins des Tuileries where we enjoyed one of our favourite Parisian lunches: warm goat cheese salads served with fresh baguettes and Kronenbourgs. We had several hours until our check-in time at 3 p.m.

Now here is another thing I have learned after several trips to Paris. No matter how beautifully you imagine your perfect Parisian moment, sometimes it will go horribly wrong.

After lunch, Google map in hand (finally a map!), and with each of us dragging our 50lb plus rolling suitcases, we started the 1.5 km walk up the Champs Elysees, towards Avenue Kleber and eventually to our apartment. As I had imagined the sun was shining and the views of Paris were stunning. It was a short-lived moment.

Crossing Place de la Concorde was terrifying. Dragging the suitcases up along the uneven cobblestones was an exercise in strength and pain. And when we reached the foot of the Champs Elysees, we both lost our tempers. What was supposed to be an idyllic walk turned out to be an angry race, with me more or less chasing Chris up the Champs Elysees while trying to dodge tourists unmoved by our fierce expressions and too-heavy luggage. By the time we reached the Arc de Triomphe, we were gasping for breath and glaring at each other. And we still had an hour before check-in.

This is one of those moments when you realize travelling can be absolute hell and you have to make a decision. You have to decide whether to get over the situation - and quite frankly, get over yourself - and let the moment dissipate and be what it is; just one, tiny utterly shit moment in a trip that will be full of once in a lifetime, life changing moments. Anyone who has travelled beyond the world of all –inclusive resorts and hyper-scheduled motor coach tours will tell you that these shit moments are common and happen more often than you like.

Travelling is being with your partner 24/7, it's about the unfamiliar, and adapting to situations that can throw you off. At home, you know your habits, you know what time your partner wakes up, comes home and the position they favour for couch surfing on the weekends. While travelling, everything is changed and tested. It can either make you miserable or it can make you fall in love with your partner in a different, more significant way. When I see Paris through Chris' eyes, I love Paris more and when I see Chris in Paris, I fall more in love with him. Maybe that explains why travel and romance are often linked together.

You have to rise about the moment, let it go, and remind yourself that you are in a place that many people will never be. As familiar as I become with Paris, it still can surprise me, infuriate me and humble me all at the same time. At the end of the day though, Paris is the city of my dreams and even with all unrealistic ideals, it still surpasses my expectations.

Chris and I eventually caught our breath, calmed down and took a moment to remember and appreciate where we were. Which means I must now return to writing about our perfect Paris.

On Saturday night, we came across what looked to be a very hip restaurant at the top of Trocadero, 17 place de Trocadero, Le Café de l’Homme (located next to Musee de L'Homme) (, complete with a marble hall entrance, security and valet parking. It was intimidating even from a distance. Tonight though, Monday, full of confidence and neighbourhood entitlement, we strutted down the marble hallway and exchanged bons mots with the maitre d’, first I tried pleasantries in French and then after his Gallic show of incredulity,

“Mon dieu, you have no reservation!” (sweeping arm gestures)

But for once in my life, I was not intimidated at all by his Frenchness, rather I shrugged a semi-indifferent, half-passable Gallic shrug and said, in English,

“Well, we were just in the neighbourhood and thought we would come for dinner.”

At which he genuinely laughed and with more sweeping arm gestures, swept Chris and I through the heavy, red velvet draped dining room and to a table pour deux on the patio. Patio isn’t the right word; there was no beer, no chicken wings being thrown about. Rather, it was like sitting on the edge of a small, sunken cliff, overhanging the steps of Trocadero with sweeping, heart stopping views of the Eiffel Tower. I ate one of the best dinners of my life, a simply prepared steak, frites, in the company of my two loves.

There was one, shameful thing that cast a shadow of ugliness of Café de l’Homme’s chic ambience. Improper attire. To my fellow travellers, particularly North Americans and particularly those North Americans to the South, even if you read about a restaurant on TripAdvisor or in one of those dreadful Top Ten travel guides, it does not mean the restaurant has been "North Americanized". As in it is not apropos to question the pricing, nor is it ok to wear camouflage shorts and flip-flops and ask every waiter to take your photo. It's fine dining, not Disneyland Paris.

Prior to Cafe de l'Homme, we had a Sunday to pass in Paris. As I wrote about Nice, Sunday’s are difficult in France, a county that places greater importance on both relaxation and family. With virtually nothing open, Parisians fill the streets and parks en famille. For Chris and I, lovers of shopping and not of children, Sunday’s can be tedious as both of us can only spend so much time lying in the grass or looking at flowers. What resulted was a day with a lot of aimless wandering before splitting up; Chris back to relax at our apartment and me to the Champs Elysees – a guilty Paris pleasure of mine and one of the only streets open of shopping on Sunday. I bought two classic button-up shirts from Bruce Field ( - Banana Republic-ish, less expensive, better tailoring and minus all the Made in China - and another imitation Chanel piece in the form of a multi-strand, flower, chiffon and pearl necklace.

Chris and I met up for dinner and ended up eating our obligatory terrible Parisian meal. It usually happens once a trip and is always a result of walking for too long on an empty stomach and settling for a restaurant named after the corner on which it sits. In this case, it was Brasserie Mont. Another bad sign is that you will not see any French people eating, only drinking and then heading for somewhere better. What arrived on our plates was pre-packaged crap, barely warm and with no taste. Also interesting, and the only time I have ever seen it on a men, was burger de cheval (horse burger!). I do appreciate that horse meat is common in France and though I don’t expect everyone to treat their horse as we do, a 1200 pound baby that enjoys a steady diet of organic carrots and Starbucks oat bas, even if I was a gourmet and not a 33 year old horse mad woman, I would not try burger de cheval in corner restaurant named after its street.

Believe it or not, even after the terrible dinner, we were still in the mood for more Paris. A spontaneous trip to the top of the Arc de Triomphe at sunset was the perfect end to our evening. Paris at sunset, with all of its the corners stretching out, every monument recognizable, the genius planning of the Boulevards and the backdrop of a pale, purple sky. It brought us to tears and rendered us speechless.

Day 1 - Paris

We woke up this morning to sunny, hot weather and another stunning view of the Eiffel Tower, looking almost lavender against the pre-dawn sky. I spent a couple of hours browsing pointlessly through guidebooks and getting momentarily excited about “the secret entrance to the Louvre” before remembering that this is not the Paris Chris and I came to see.

I have spent several months trying to cultivate the perfect French wardrobe, so I think it is somewhat important to describe what I wore for our first day in Paris, destination Left Bank: black and white button up gingham shirt with white tank top layered underneath, black, super skinny Fidelity jeans and black, white and pink Pumas (a fashion oversight as the only sneakers Parisians seem to wear are Converse). I accessorized the outfit with my black and orange Longchamps tote bought in Paris last May (authentic touch!), clear lip gloss and my Tiffany charm bracelet with, naturally, an Eiffel Tower charm (another oversight as no self-respecting Parisian woman would wear an Eiffel Tower charm, even if it was purchased in Paris on rue de la Paix.

Despite my careful wardrobe planning, within ten minutes of walking and shopping on Boulevard St. Germain, I still managed to feel like an ugly Canadian; sweaty, dishevelled and trying way too hard.

French women glide, they don’t walk. They are swept along by their hair-product free long tresses and the smoothness of their Nanette Lepore ballet flat shod feet. Their giant, passed-down-through-the-family LV or Chanel bags thump gently at their sides as they stuff them with baguettes and designer, pastel macaroons.

Fashion faux-pas aside, Chris and I visited many of our favourite Paris spots today, including Jardin du Luxembourg and Trocadero. At JL we ate lunch outside and watched a small dog erupt from a purse and literally explode with excitement over his found toy – a dirty, plastic wine cup. For a moment, I couldn't help wondering what this Parisian dog would do should he ever find himself on a leash-free beach in British Columbia.

Trocadero is an easy five minute walk from our Paris-Apartment-in-the- Sky and we started and finished our first day in Paris there, honouring our tradition of buying confiture crepes and eating them on the steps while gazing at the Eiffel Tower.

I am sure many will disagree but I find Trocadero to be one of those magical places in Paris that no matter how chaotic it gets with the tour buses belching out hundreds of tourists, the vendors clacking and trying to sell their plastic Eiffel Tower souvenir crap, or the constant clicking and flashing of cameras going off, in my mind it is absolute stillness and quiet. I can easily find the calm, navigate my way through the chaos, and be transported to just see the beauty that is before me.

After enjoying the personal serenity of Trocadero, we walked across la Seine to the mind-blowing Left Bank shopping destination that is Le Bon Marché. Immediately I was overwhelmed – emotionally demolished to be honest – by all of the beautiful things starting with LBM's LV boutique that is one of the first things you see upon entering the store. I quickly scanned the accessories department, stopping briefly at Longchamps to mentally spend some euros, and believed I was handling the supreme fashion overload just fine until I rode the escalator to the second floor.

Balenciaga, next to Vanessa Bruno, who is next to Chanel, who is next to Yves St. Laurent, who is next to Comme des Garcons and so on. I looked but didn't want to touch and my head continued to spin. It’s a fashion lovers overdose, especially when this fashion lover lives in city where Crocs, Birkenstocks, and "100% Hemp" are the labels of choice.

Chris and I reconvened in the LBM's grocery department; too good to be true, but you can also buy at least fifty different kinds of French confiture, delicious cheeses, chocolates and even Haribo candies. I loaded up on some treats and then we decided to head home for dinner at the brasserie across the rue from our apartment.

In Paris it seems that when you don’t try too hard and relax that you come closest to perfection; a glass of rose wine, 1 litre of Badoit, soupe a l'oignon gratinee, tomato and mozzarella salad drizzled with olive oil, and 6 Haribo candies from their Polka Mix for dessert.

Nice to Paris

As Chris and I were planning our trip to Paris this year, we were often advised,

“You need to see other parts of France. The country. Get off the beaten track, explore village life.”

Though we appreciate this advice is well meaning, we are not country people. At home, we rarely venture outside of our ten block radius that includes home, work, shopping and more coffee shops than necessary. Our car is mostly used for visiting our horse and the horse is as country – and as dirty! – as we both get. If it was possible, I would keep the horse in our second bedroom and happily exercise her between latte stops at Starbucks.

But anyway after two trips of not “seeing France” and “just Paris”, we decided to add the South of France to this year’s itinerary. It would, we reasoned, ease us into the delightful cultural chaos that is Paris and give us both some much needed time in the sun. Not country, but not Paris either. Rather a sort of stylish sun retreat that has the benefit of absolutely no rustic charm and a well-stocked Galeries Lafayette within walking distance from our beachfront hotel.

I was also familiar with Nice as I had made an unplanned trip in 2003 while backpacking solo across western European. I became sick with the flu in Barcelona and found it hard to get well in a country where you don’t speak the language and where your travel budget limits you to hostels. Hostels where room service means that an illegally working 21 year old Australian may clean your bunkmate’s vomit off the floor before noon. So I detoured to Nice because I spoke the language and it was an included destination on my prepaid Eurorail pass. I arrived in early March and I recovered in a charming bed and breakfast (chambre privé, sale de bain à partager) near Plaza Massena that cost the same as my revolting hostel had in Barcelona. I spent my days dozing on the almost warm beach in my Amsterdam bought bikini.

So now over seven years later, I am writing on a 60 minute Air France flight from Nice to Paris, watching Nice's beaches fade from the window of the plane and feeling rather low about leaving. I am honestly surprised how much we both loved Nice and how it fit with our ideal of seeing the French countryside. Seriously, I have to keep reminding myself I am on a plane to Paris. Paris.

In less than 60 minutes, fifteen months of planning, obsessing and longing will be over.

Despite wishing otherwise, I have rarely thought of anything else but Paris for the last 426 days. And I have reached a decision. I can’t help loving Paris. Even if not loving it, or loving it less, would make my life simpler and less conflicted. I would not wish my affliction on anyone; feeling happy at home and struggling with what home means is a constant challenge. Even more challenging and wearing is the balance of living and appreciating the beautiful practicalities of my day-to-day life while I obsess and yearn for a life in France that may not even exist. Loving Paris is an integral part of me.

And at last Paris! I am writing from the terrace of our rented 17th Arrondissement apartment against the backdrop of a clear, dark purple sky which is illuminated by the top two-thirds of the Eiffel Tower. I feel like I have been waiting my entire life for this moment and for this view. From where I first met Paris in 2003 – the dirty suburban parking lot, the tearful I-hate-it-here call-home- to-Mom – to this stunning 2010 Paris of my dreams.

Paris from this height is peaceful; it’s a Paris that I am unfamiliar with. Instead of the smell of exhaust rising from the cobblestones, I can smell our neighbour’s dinner simmering. Instead of cars honking and ambulances wailing, I can hear the sound of wooden shutters being closed for the night and muffled Parisian voices as they travel upwards to our terrace. For the next ten days, we are living here, in our Paris-Apartment-in-the-Sky, in the residential 17th Arrondissement, on an Avenue that runs between Arc de Triomphe and Trocadero.

The sky is becoming darker and the Eiffel Tower is lit up in an incredible burnt orange colour. Being the pathetic Parisian sap, I am keeping vigil outside on the terrace waiting for the Eiffel Tower to perform its 9pm sparkle show. Chris, shaving, has already given me instructions to yell at him when the sparkling starts.

I blink and the Eiffel Tower lights up; it’s a show for millions but for tonight, for the next 10 nights, it will feel like its brilliance and how it captures my romanticized Paris is the answer to all my questions of the past 426 days. It will feel like a personal declaration of love. I yell for Chris, he joins me, and we watch in lovestruck silence.

Paris, I am falling for you all over again.

Nice, Monaco & Monte Carlo (Italy par accident!)

We were woken at 4 a.m. by the most intense thunder and lightening storm I have ever seen. Rain pounded off the pavement and bounced back into the sky while we sat watching it in the dark waiting for dawn and for the storm to break. With the sunrise, the sky cleared and the sea glistened navy and turquoise. Our plan today was to drive to Monaco and Monte Carlo. As a gift, Chris gallantly agreed to leave his white linen drawstring pants at the hotel so I could strut my almost identical ones on streets of Monaco and practice saying,

“Oui. You like my tan? I got it while sunning myself on the French Riviera.”

Lest you be disappointed, it was another day of driving adventures sans map. Not that I could have even glanced at the map. The road to Monte Carlo makes Whistler’s Sea-to-Sky Highway look like an amateur Go Kart Track. I white knuckled and sweated my way through turn after turn expecting at any time to be overtaken by a giant truck and plunge the car sideways off a vertical cliff while all the while maintaining speeds that are in excess of the maximum speed limit in British Columbia.

The important thing is we did arrived safely in Monte Carlo and we were soon sunning ourselves at Café de Paris. Monte Carlo is nothing like Las Vegas or even Cannes. It is pristine, not at all garish and surprisingly tranquil. Monte Carlo appears to be bathed in blinding white that is made up of a combination of cleanliness and wealth. Not even badly dressed tourists can make it look tacky or overdone. I could have sat at Café de Paris drinking 12 euros cafes cremes for days and just enjoyed the scene; countless older European women tottering around the square on their crepey bare brown legs, hot swollen feet stuffed into the latest Louboutins, giant sunglasses tucked securely in the sides of their chic, sun streaked chocolate bobs and well worn Birkins weighing down their gold braceleted arms. De trop in the best way possible!

Chris and I strolled around the city before deciding that we should return to the car for the drive to Monaco.

The. Drive. To. Monaco. Now had either of us had bothered to consult a map or tuck a guidebook into my Longchamps bag we would have known that we had already spent a very happy and beautiful part of our morning in Monaco drinking post cafe creme Kronenbourgs and eating baguette sandwiches. As this was not the case, we blindly got back into the car and drove for several hours, convincing ourselves with each town that we passed through that we were “almost there”.

“Almost there” turned into Italy. Genoa, Italy to be precise. Honestly there was no turning back, no u-turn lane, no pull-off, no nothing, just four, fast lanes of highway heading straight to the Italian border. And neither of us had our passports. We panicked despite knowing that both Italy and France are part of the EU and so crossing the border is no big deal. However, as any Canadian who has had the misfortune of being escorted to the little room at the US border - "Our friendly neighbour to the South!" - for the mere infraction of an extra pair of shoes will tell you that border crossings are terrifying . Approaching the border, I sweated my way through the backs of my white linens. I swear the car was shaking.

“Bonjourno – Welcome to Italy! 2 euros.”

That was it, we were in Italy. And ten minutes later we were back in France. And then somehow we made it back to Nice in time for dinner.

Over the last couple of days we have discovered that while much of Nice is what you see on those brightly coloured vintage posters advertising "soleil" or "Perrier", the city is also made up of charming, mainly pedestrian streets that run labyrinth-like behind the main boardwalk. Every time you think you have been somewhere, you end up somewhere new and many of the streets open onto small squares with churches, streets performers and restaurants all spilling into each other. When you look up you can see apartments, with laundry strung from the windows, among the white fairy lights that seem to typically cross the buildings anchoring the square.

Tonight we walked and walked, getting lost and found, eating lavender gelato before dinner and finally settling into a restaurant I chose simply because of the name, “L’Ecurie”, and the sign – a horse head surrounded by a horse shoe (4, rue de Marche). It was a divine meal, eaten outside on the uneven cobblestones, passers by so close that their clothing nearly caught the flame of our candle and attentive, kind waiters. After dinner more walking and more falling in love with Nice.

With every trip to France, I keep waiting for it to disappoint me. At home this past year, I have spent too many hours dreaming of being back here, longing for France (especially Paris) and imagining myself as I am when I am here. I should expect disappointment but so far France continues to exceed my dreams and my expectations.

“Beautiful” doesn't do tonight justice. However, simply expressed France is about beauty and I keep returning for its unique beauty that overflows my heart and makes the ordinary extraordinary.

Tonight after the sun had set, Chris and I stood on the edge of one of Nice’s squares, staring at a giant, lit Christmas tree type star hung in the centre, with residents spilling out from their balconies, drinking wine and laughing.

“Never say never,” he said.

Never. I will never stop believing in France and in the possibility of a living our lives together here. The dream is too important.

Monday, January 3, 2011


Chris and I had both heard a lot about Cannes prior to our trip. And most of what we heard was negative...

“Cannes is the Las Vegas of France” or “Cannes is dirty” or even “I hated Cannes”. Fine. But we still wanted to see it for ourselves.

I will even admit that part of my curiosity was fed by a steady diet of watching Entertainment Tonight as a child and seeing movie stars strut across the red carpet at the Cannes International Film Festival. Be careful what you wish for as one of the first, and admittedly depressing, things we saw while driving through the streets was a building-sized mural of Jessica Rabbit. Ew. So while Cannes turned out to be a bit of a disappointment I can't convincingly write that I hated it.



We started our Cannes tour by walking along the famous Croisette, peering through the lattice framed balcony of the Ritz Carlton at the beautiful people drinking café au lait and eating their morning croissant. La Croissette is also home to all of the usual French designer boutiques, including Hermès. As I was disappointed yesterday at Hermès in Nice, I wanted to visit the Cannes store in hopes of finding my scarf, Quand Soudain. The store was empty except for four, impeccably groomed sales associates. Rather than tiptoe around awkwardly, I decided to risk opening my big Canadian mouth and ask for the scarf.

“Oui, Madame. We have eet."

Chris and I were escorted across the store to a glass scarf case where I was politely asked what colour scarf I would like. Before I can answer Monsieur Hermès (later I find out the correct term is "Scarf Ambassador") slide on white gloves and gently flicked the various Quand Soudain's across the top of the glass case. Mesmerizing. I could the movement of the design, the quality of the silk and the perfect way the light reflects off the rich colours. I felt unworthy of this carefully choreographed scarf ballet. While I obviously adore French luxury, particularly French luxury that I own, I live in constant fear of being found out, like a terrible fake handbag, and sent back to Le GAP where I clearly belong.

I selected a soft charcoal and Hermès orange version of Quand Soudain. (to see the various Quand Soudain colours, visit the artist's, Dimitri Rybaltchenko, web site:

As I turned towards the cash register, two more white gloved Scarf Ambassadors appeared from behind the wall of Birkin bags and started tenderly refolding the rejected scarves. At the cash register…

“I want to buy this for you.”

“But you bought me the jacket yesterday…”

“But I wanted to buy you this from ages ago. I saw you looking at in online at home. It’s horses. It’s Hermes. It’s perfect.”

The scarf is perfect and I graciously retreated from the cash register. And then…

“Madame, excusez moi. Do you have theese cards? Cartes à Nouer?”

I shook my head non as he showed me the slim, playing card sized orange and brown box that contains the secrets to knotting Hermès scarfs. I racked my brain to try and remember where I had seen the box before?

“Bon. I give theem to you.”

E-Bay! That’s where I had seen the cards; always, always on E-Bay. Well Monsiuer Scarf Amabassador, I promise there is no chance in hell mine will EVER end up on there.


Chris loves a men’s French shirt store called Nodus. Located throughout Paris (and also in Cannes!) Nodus is about the size of nicely proportioned master bedroom and displays beautiful white walls of shirts in colours and patterns not available at home. Today, Chris purchased two fabulous shirts and we met Véronique who was, even for a French person, exceedingly delighted to find out we were Canadian. Even still, we anticipated the usual confusion about Canadian geography – Toronto? Montreal? – but Véronique knew Vancouver.

“I lived in Kitislano. Oui. The love of my life was a Canadian. I moved there and managed a creperie on Robson Street in the 1970’s.”

We exchanged business cards and bisous before leaving the store. It was one of those perfect moments where the world, even without the aid of technology and purely by chance, suddenly feels a lot smaller and friendlier.

"I was a translator for JFK."

For lunch Chris and I found a side-street-off-a-side-street, across from a flower market that I had wanted to visit but was closed, and perched precariously on tippy stainless steel stools. The sun was out, we were well walked and well shopped and looked forward to some food heavy with carbs and coated in olive oil And then along came Mr. Dallas Texas.

I first saw him from a distance, tanned, all in white, with his diamonds flashing. He was carrying one of those typical mesh shopping bags stuffed with vegetables and baguettes. He approached our table with a huge smile and complimented me on how I looked like a famous Swedish model.

Mr. Dallas Texas spoke perfect French and English. Chris complimented him on his glasses; they were Cartier, gold and the sides were encrusted with diamonds. Mr. Dallas Texas spoke to us about love, about finally finding his love and living in Cannes. He told us, almost more of a warning, about how important love is. I was charmed and I could tell Chris was as well. Chris asked what he did before coming to live in Cannes.

“I was a translator for JFK."

I couldn't’t help but to be impressed. Done with his CV, Mr. Dallas Texas returned to talking about love.

“Love each other. It’s beautiful.”

When he left, he kissed both of us, loudly and fondly, French style, on each one of our cheeks.

Perhaps you can now understand why we were starting to think Cannes was a bit of its own kind of wonderful. Chris and I walked the long way back to our car, stopping near a carousel to watch old men play boules on la Croisette. Cannes punctuated by my Cartes à Nouer, Véronique and Mr. Dallas Texas was starting to feel a lot less ugly and disappointing.

Back in Nice we enjoyed an outdoor dinner picnic of salami and pickle baguettes, people watching at Plaza Massena, beers resting between our knees.

Now as I write this from our hotel balcony, overlooking the French Mediterranean and thinking back on our day, I am thinking about love. While Cannes may not have been our French heart’s desire, Chris and I know that love takes many forms and characters and that we are lucky to be, in this perfect moment, in the country we love almost as much as our own.