Sunday, July 10, 2011

Neverending Paris

I have delayed beyond reason writing about our final days in Paris last September. So much so that at the time of writing this post, Chris and I are exactly 9 weeks away from our next trip. I have a lot of excuses for not writing, including that I started a fabulous new job, but I think the most honest reason is that I, and we as a couple, have spent far too much time this year engaged in the activity of missing Paris. Yes, together Chris and I pretty much made missing Paris an extreme sport. I don’t expect a lot of sympathy or understanding in this regard as I know that we are lucky to visit Paris once a year, a place most people don’t go in their lifetime, but it’s not as though we don’t recognize and celebrate our good fortune. However, it’s much easier to be grateful when we are actually there.

Last year our trip to Paris was planned around U2 playing Stade de France on September 18. Aside from a personal invitation from Karl Lagerfeld to attend a Chanel show, I can’t think of a better reason to plan a trip to Paris. However as our trip came to an end, Chris and I found ourselves more focused on our September 19 morning departure and less excited than we should have been about seeing U2.

Chris and I share several pre-departure traditions that started on our Paris honeymoon in 2007. One of my favourites is that we “let ourselves go” and by this I mean that we embrace the role of tourists, shopping at all the tacky souvenir stores along rue Rivoli and Champs Elysées. We rummage through the stores, searching and buying crap Tour Eiffel magnets, key chains and any memento (including thong underwear!) that declares “I Love Paris”, or better yet, “J’Adore Paris”. We pay way too much and we have a wonderful time as days and weeks of precisely planned outfits and being careful not to appear “American” are abandoned! This September I may even wear a fanny pack...

But my favourite pre-departure tradition has to be what I call “Paris in the Morning”. Paris is not an early morning city so if you get up early, though you won’t be able to get a cup of coffee, you will essentially have Paris to yourself. So each and every trip, and this time at the crack of dawn on September 18, Chris and I dress before the sun rises and say good-bye to Paris. We started, predictably I know, at La Tour Eiffel, free from other tourists and souvenir hawkers at 7 a.m., it looks as though I imagined it did in the late 1800’s. We took pictures with no distractions or tour buses in the background. We stole kisses and watched the sun come up from the steps of Trocadéro. And then it is time for cafés crèmes et brioches.

One of our best discoveries this past September, which I already posted about, was the bar at Ladurée ( on Champs Elysées. Open at 7 a.m., tucked back from the famous tea room overflowing with tourists guzzling pastel macaroons, and located close to where we were staying in the 17th, we found ourselves taking our café crème there most days. And so it made sense that we went there our last morning in Paris there.

In between Paris in the Morning and the souvenir shopping, we walked to many of our favourite places for “one last look” and “one last taste”. We stopped in Jardins des Tuileries for Nutella crepes. I bought too many bags of Haribo candies, and ate yet another saucisson baguette from Paul (, and take one last tour of Louis Vuitton on the Champs. I don’t even mind waiting in line on my last day. And as much as Paris is a shared experience for Chris and I, there are parts of the city that we connect with in personal ways so later in the day, pre-U2, we separated for our private good-byes. For me, it means a bit of last minute shopping and visiting places that I first fell in love with in 2003. At le Louvre, near the glass pyramid, I took off my shoes and splashed in the fountain; I sat at a side-street café, drinking Perrier and people watching; and then I walked the long way “home”, to our Paris-Apartment-in-the-Sky, to find Chris relaxing on the balcony, both of us spoke at the same time, “I can’t believe we are going to U2 tonight.” Our energy had been spent on good-byes.

It was always our intention to take le Métro to Stade de France (, recommended as an “easy” and “fast” in every reputable guidebook but I don’t think the guidebooks take into account taking le Métro to a concert with 96,000 people. It was simply terrifying and I still have no idea where SDF actually is in relation to central Paris. During the journey, I had to close my eyes and practice breathing in a way that I imagine calm people do. For not the first time in my life was I grateful for being tall and for being married to someone even taller as at least we could sort of see the windows and each other. The train practically split open when we arrived at the concert, spilling semi-intoxicated and incredibly cheerful U2 fans from across the globe.

Allow me to share some perspective on the SDF U2 experience….

Chris and I live in the province of British Columbia, on Vancouver Island, in Victoria, a city that has an overall population of about 331,000, with about 80,000 people living in its central area. We live in the central area, which means there were more people at U2 in Paris than live in our hometown. We don’t get big events in Victoria; our largest venue holds about 7,000 people so to see a big show like U2, traveling to Paris aside, means taking a ferry or plane to Vancouver, something both Chris and I have done numerous times. Both cities, Victoria and Vancouver, have a somewhat earned reputation as being “no fun”. Vancouver significantly improved its reputation by successfully hosting an incredible 2010 Winter Olympics, which quite frankly, was the most fun I have had in my own province and my own country in 34 years.

That being said, Olympics aside, going to a concert in Vancouver can sometimes be as exciting as a dance party at a nursing home and as restrictive as a pair of Spanx. Dancing, much less standing during your favourite song, is likely to earn you a dirty look from your neighbour and a stern warning from the rent-a-cop minding your section. Drinking is permitted but only two, $9 drinks per person at a time. Showing emotion or appreciation for the band is ok but it’s better to remain stoic and stone-faced even during songs that you know the band wrote just for you. Trust me, I know am not the only woman in the world who screams uncontrollably, high-pitched of course, and clutches herself in unflattering ways the moment I get a glimpse of Bono’s leather pants.

So U2 at SDF… Bonjour la belle culture shock!

It was a buzz just walking from the Métro station to the entrance of SDF. Once released from the train, there was an overwhelming sense of space and a pleasant, addictive anticipatory vibe from the crowd. We quickly figured out that SDF, like venues at home, has separate entrances based on your ticket so getting in, even with a thorough security check, was quick. Unlike venues at home, once inside SDF you are allowed to wander through the various sections regardless of your seat location. Perfect if you are tourists and because we were also there early, we saw some fantastic views of the stage from various vantage points. And in what has become one of my favourite memories of this trip, Chris and I ate our dinner (baguette sandwiches and Haribo candies) sitting on the steps leading to our section while sound and set technicians prepared the stage in the background. Not once were we asked to move or sneered at by fellow concert goers.

Our seats (thank you, Chris!!) were amazing and about sixteen rows back to the right of the stage. This was our second time seeing the show as we had seen it the year before in Vancouver. The night was clear and sky filled with stars around the same time U2 came out. It’s the truth. Everyone was on their feet. Everyone was dancing and singing along. There was not a rent-a-cop in sight. Chris’ back started to bother him by the end of the first song so he left to stretch and stand a few rows back at the top of our section. I expected there to be an immediate complaint and for him to be escorted back to our seats but about five songs later he still hadn’t returned. I left to join him and we enjoyed the show, standing hip-to-hip, with me dancing along to most of the songs. Every so often I looked up at the other 95,998 captivated fans and realized that seeing U2 in Paris is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

See a part of the show, "Magnificent", on YouTube at:

I don’t think either of us slept well that night. I lay in bed feeling the now familiar heaviness in my stomach at the thought of leaving Paris again. Even though Chris and I had already planned to return in 2011, I never believe it until I have purchased the plane tickets and then I don’t believe it until the plane touches down at Charles de Gaulle. I hate saying good-bye, even temporarily, to Paris. I try as hard as I can to hurry the process up, refusing to make eye contact with Paris and just wanting it to be over.

We arrived at CDG just after 6 a.m. for our 8 a.m. flight to London. In theory this left us lots of time to make our flight but we didn’t take into account the Frenchness of leaving at 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Pure chaos. Chaos that even the impressive customer service of British Airways couldn’t overcome. We waited with a clump of Texans in a line that stretched back to another terminal and did not move. Sleep deprived and surrounded by fanny packs, I snapped and pushed my way to the front of the line. I heard people call me a bitch and I didn’t care. Poor, mortified Chris who doesn’t have a rude bone in his body, even when it comes to fanny pack wearing Texans! Somehow we made it on the plane and left Paris behind for another year.

The flight home was an Ativan induced blur and I was grateful to drift in and out and not spend the hours thinking about what I would be missing for the next year. We landed, made it through customs quickly, and before I knew it the taxi was pulling up to our front door, depositing us and our luggage in an untidy heap. Was Paris just a dream? It certainly felt that way over the next several hours as I carefully unrolled protective dirty laundry from jars of confiture d’abricot before falling asleep fully dressed on top of the duvet.

I woke up around 3 a.m., made a terrible cup of coffee and re-started unpacking, finding everything from Métro tickets (I carry one for luck in each of my purses) to stale Haribo bears amongst my vintage Hermès scarf and my chocolate brown LV box (Always, always get your LV wrapped in a box. Save the environment when you are buying an imitation Coach purse at Cotsco). Tucked into the front pocket of my luggage was my journal; over the course of two weeks I had written about 50 pages, mostly in the evenings from the deck of our Paris-Apartment-in-the-Sky. In addition to my writing, the journal served as a catchall for business cards, catalogues, receipts and one very important letter written on Filofax note paper.

Chris wrote me a letter during our last days in Paris. It is both a love letter and a promise; a promise that he will never forget how vital Paris is to our relationship and a promise that we will always come back, more frequently at first and then one day we won’t return at all.

I have written before on this Blog that Paris is our language; sometimes it is the best way and the most important way that Chris and I communicate. It’s not just about romantic walks through the gardens at Musée Rodin or extravagant gifts from LV. It’s not just about a 16 day vacation from our “real lives”. We have been ugly with each other in Paris and we have had moments of anger and frustration. But in Paris we have found a place of our own and we can see our future together, full of challenges and potential, that simply wouldn’t be possible without the other person. It’s harder to take each other for granted in Paris. Paris has brought us together in unexpected ways, at times tested our patience, and opened our eyes to endless beauty and possibilities. We can hardly wait to go back.