Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Question of Paris

The more time I spend in Paris and the more we, Chris and I, make it known that we want to have a life in Paris, the more often I hear something along the lines of: "You know living in Paris won't be perfect."

I know. 

And if there was an easy way, a less disruptive way, to answer the question of Paris I would happily take it.  If I could answer the question of Paris, quiet the incessant voices in my head that chant "Paris" during my waking and sleeping hours, then I would.  If Paris, my craving, my puzzle, my love, could be solved or satisfied with twice yearly visits of strolling the boulevards, and eating
Pierre Hermé macarons, then I would take this option and let Paris be just another beautiful part of my very lovely life.

But it's Paris and there is no easy answer.

When I try to solve the puzzle of Paris, it always comes back to love.  Love as an all-consuming entity that makes even the littlest things seem blissful or excruciating.  This is Paris in many ways.

With love, once you are past the everything-is-wonderful period, it is hard to remember the exact moment you fell in love and what brought you to that place.  I thought with Paris if I could just remember the moment, the moment when I gave in and lost myself, then perhaps I could understand both how to live with and to quiet this great love.

I have written before that I fell in love with Paris at the top of the stairs of the George V Metro station, looking out on the Champs Elysées .  There is truth in this.  Seeing my romanticized version of Paris for the first time took my breath away but it's not that simple.  To be so distracted and so consumed by Paris makes me believe that I have loved Paris long before I understood what Paris and what love meant.

I think back to when I met Chris for the first time and how falling in love was the farthest thing from my mind.  All I wanted was an aromatic head massage and a good haircut.  Not love.  However love persisted and before I knew it, I couldn't imagine my life without Chris.

Similarly, I can't imagine a life without Paris.  There is no other option and no other alternative.  Chris and Paris are the loves of my life.

Again to answer those who are quick to point out that my Paris fantasy will not translate into real life.

Merci.  I know.

Merci.  I know it will be difficult.  Yes, I accept there will be bad, ugly days.  Yes.  I know it rains in Paris.  And yes, I know I will sad in Paris, too. 

An ugly, rainy day in Paris. Still happy!
But is it not just like any other relationship with someone you love? You invest your heart and soul, taking incredible leaps of faith, because you can't live your life any other way.  There is no other way but love.  And while it doesn't always make sense or turn out exactly as you wished, at the end you have love and that makes every sacrifice, tear, argument or bad day worthwhile. 

All you really see when you love something, or someone, so hugely and without fear is possibility.  You see an opportunity to live your dream life.  Years ago when I first met Chris, and each and every day since, I was attracted to and excited by our endless possibilities.  I guess in many ways it's the same thing with Paris - I just see the possibilities.  Paris is a chance to live life without fear and without regret.

I appreciate my passion for Paris is hard to understand.  I know there are people out there that must think Chris and I are crazy for living a bit of a limited life in Victoria when we could arguably have so much more: a mortgage, weekends at summer cottages, dinners out, dishwasher, nicer car, etc.  But we couldn't have Paris.  Individually, and as a couple, we have made choices that comfortably give us Paris.

When I started writing this blog, when I was first getting to know Paris, I admit that my love could be perceived as quite superficial.  And while I can't deny that shopping is still one of my favourite Paris activities, for every visit to Hermés or Louis Vuitton there are just as many times where I am happy to stand at a brasserie bar nursing a cafe creme or walking the streets for hours and hours.  For every moment spent "licking the windows" of some chic boutique, there are dozens more when I am literally overcome by the sensory and emotional experience of Paris and have to stop to collect myself.  Paris can so easily bring me to tears of pure joy and gratitude.  

To my family, my parents especially, I want to write that I am sorry you raised a daughter who spends much of her time chasing a dream live 7,915km away.  I know it's difficult but it is because you raised me to believe I could be anything and accomplish whatever I wanted.  Your faith in me has made me braver and more confident than I ever imagined. 

I have written before that with each trip to Paris, I hold my breath the first day waiting for what I believe will be inevitable disappointment.  Maybe it will finally be the trip where the ordinary doesn't seem extraordinary, where I smell more sewage and less freshly, baked bread, where the taste of butter turns stale in my mouth.   It didn't happen on this recent trip.

Rather Paris felt like home.  And I guess when you are home, you don't need to question it...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Moments of Perfect Happiness - Paris 5 et 6

What I Ate in Paris

Day 5: 1 confiture d'abricot crepe, 3 cafe cremes, 1 croissant, 1 Madeleine, 1 mini chouquette, 1 mini cannelle (both from La Grande Epicerie), croque monsieur, champagne & jus de fruit cocktail, tomato & basil tart, piece of salami, chunk of blue cheese, 1/2 a baguette, 1 biere blanche, 1 Kronenberg

Day 6: 2 cafe creme, 1 brioche, 1 saucisson sandwich, 3 Pierre Herme macarons (addicted!), 1 biere blanche, glass of champagne (at LV!), chunk of blue cheese, chunk of gruyere, top half of baguette.

What I Wore in Paris

Day 5: black wool dress backless dress layered over black tank, layered under 2 cardigans, leather jacket, Chris' black scarf and 1 inch black & white heels.

Day 6: a-line black & blush striped skirt, black cashmere sweater, blush blazer (had a VERY important meeting today!), black & white flowered scarf and 1 inch black & white heels.

What Chris Wore in Paris

Day 5 & 6: My second best pair of black opaque tights under his jeans. Yes, it's been that cold in Paris.

What I Bought in Paris

Day 5: Patent leather, Tiffany blue 2 inch heels. They are amazing, no further description or justification required.

Day 6: See "Perfect Moments of Happiness Below".

Hours Walked: At least 15 over two days and all while wearing 1 inch heels. Oui!

Strange Things Seen on rue de Lille: Last night there was a horse trailer behind Musee d'Orsay with a palomino pony sticking its head out the side window. The pony was wearing a purple fuzzy halter and was having its face pushed back into the trailer by an unhappy looking woman.

Photo Shoots in Grocery Stores: 1. Yesterday, Chris and I watched a stunning girl being photographed with fruit and vegetables at La Grande Epicerie. As if shopping there wasn't glamorous enough...

Another Reason I Wish I was French: The Canadian/American aisle in La Grande Epicerie. Amongst delicacies like coconut M&M's, a 9 euros box of chocolate Duncan Hines instant cake mix.

Moments of Perfect Happiness: At least 100 since arriving here last Friday but 3 worth writing about from today.

Chris and I spent the first part of the day apart after sharing early morning cafe cremes at Place de la Concorde. We do this on every trip but today was different as I had an early afternoon meeting and I needed time to prepare. After several hours of wandering Parisian rues and boulevards, I settled myself at one of my favourite cafes near Pont d'Alma. I don't love the cafe because of service or the 5 euros cafe cremes, I love it because it has heart-stopping, in-your-face view of the Eiffel Tower. And sitting there, with the Eiffel Tower on my lap, I wrote and wrote. I pulled out my tiny pink Moleskin notebook, clicked the lid of my black Sharpie pen and lost myself for over an hour with no self-conciousness and no worries. It was bliss. Whenever I glanced up, I saw the Eiffel Tower solid and seductive, inspiring me from across la Seine. I almost cried tears of happiness but that would have blown my sophisticated French cover. And then I had to dash off...

About 18 months ago, before I got a second chance at my career, I Google-ed "1 year Masters programs in Paris" and was rewarded by finding the University of London Institute in Paris (ULIP). ULIP offers a 1-year Masters program in Paris History & Culture. Chris and I toured the campus last September and today I had the incredible opportunity to meet with the Dean of ULIP, Andrew Hussey. I was so nervous all morning and incredibly worried about kicking my macaron swollen brain out of vacation mode. I then made the mistake of reading about Dean Hussey's accomplishments and publications which only made things worse. However, it turned out that I had nothing to nervous about and the meeting that took place was between two people who love Paris.

Chris and I share our language of Paris. It's not overly complicated or intellectual and is full of implied meanings, scents, sounds, rituals and emotion. I often feel guilty or worried that my love of Paris is based on feelings and not intellect. With the exception of Chris, I rarely meet anyone who shares my passion, my excitement, and my connection with Paris. Today was an exception. I am now more determined than ever to earn my Masters from ULIP...

Chris and I met after my meeting and started a long stroll around Paris, winding our way down rue Cler, across la Seine, stopping for beer on avenue George V and finally ending up at LV on avenue Montaigne. I had never been in this store prior to today and it is so different from LV on the Champs. We didn't have to wait in line to get in and once inside the atmosphere was relaxed, with no pushing. A couple of days ago on the Champs, outside the LV store, I watched in part horror, part fascination as a woman loaded up her massive empty suitcase with freshly bought bags.

I had no idea we were buying not browsing until Chris nudged me towards the counter and suggested we look at some bags. My incredibly generous lovely husband.

This was LV shopping refined. Unlike shopping on the Champs, I felt as though I had all the time in the world to look at and try on bags. There was no one behind me, nipping at my heels, yelling into their cell phone or bringing up a shopping list on their i-Pad. When I asked about a bag that I didn't see on the floor, the lovely and patient saleswoman disappeared into the back and brought it out. I twirled in front of the full-length mirror, Chris and I chatted in French and English, and eventually I chose a classic, black leather handbag and a brightly coloured bag scarf.

We were invited to look around the fabulous store and while waiting for our purchases to be wrapped, we were offered champagne. Normally, this is something we would refuse as to not cause too much trouble but it was all too perfect and I have decided that life is too short to turn down champagne at LV on avenue Montaigne in Paris.

So Chris and I were shown to a lounge area placed at the back of the store, nestled in the middle of the women's clothing. A brown and gold tray was brought out with 2 flutes of champagne and we were invited to relax. Moments later our purchases arrived and we were invited to stay longer. I reclined on the chair, shaking in disbelief and happiness, holding Chris' hand, and taking every last moment in. On my lap lay an open copy of the Marc Jacobs LV book. We toasted each other and drank our champagne. Surreal bliss.

I am still shaking. And I still have a lifetime to discover more moments of perfect happiness in Paris.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Paris 2, 3, et 4

Paris Food Diary

Day 2:
4 cafe cremes, 2 croissants, 3 Pierre Herme macarons, Paul saucisson sandwich, 1 biere blanche, jus d'orange, leftover paella, chunk of gruyere, baguette hot dog.

Day 3: 3 cafe cremes, 1 croissant and tartine, 1 biere blanche, 2 Pierre Herme macarons, 1 Maison Larnicol macaron, organic cheese and mushroom crepe from Champs stand (lesson learned, crepes shouldn't be organic), horrid panini sandwich (threw majority in garbage) dried salami bites, wedge of brie, chocolate Easter eggs (more like Easter egg truffles, divine).

Day 4: 3 cafe cremes, package of alligator Haribo candies (Chris bought them for me from the vending machine at Versailles RER station), onion soup, warm goat cheese salad, carmelized French toast with vanilla ice cream (dessert), biere blanche, vin rose, chunk of gruyere, 2 Pierre Herme macarons.

What I Wore in Paris

Day 2: pink tulle ballerina skirt, black cashmere sweater (again - it's cold!), leather jacket, black scarf (borrowed from Chris).
Day 3: started day in cute, striped a-line skirt and black cashmere sweater (seriously, it's really cold here for April) with a light grey cardigan layered over it and had to change into jeans halfway through morning, leather jacket and Chris' black scarf.

Day 4: black v-neck jersey dress with long sleeve shirt layered underneath, black and white striped cardigan, leather jacket and Chris' black scarf.

What I Bought in Paris

Day 2:
Red platform high heels from Eden (on sale!) with a faux snakeskin finish. Seriously they are much better and much classier than I am describing them. Pictures to follow.

Day 3: Chris bought me 2 long sleeved shirts from H & M because I was cold and stupidly packed a bunch of cute sleevless shirts and spring blazers, black fleece Thinsulate gloves (may be the most depressingly unfashionable item that I have ever bought in Paris but at least they will have a second life at the barn when I get back to Victoria).

Day 4: Nothing!

Americans Who Thought I Was French: 1

French Girls Who Made Me Feel Ugly: 1. There was a girl, she couldn't have been more than 15 years old, in the WC at Publicis on the Champs. She was more confident, more self-possessed, more put together than I will ever be. A 15 year old girl wearing large diamond studs, skinny black jeans, red patent Repetto flats with matching Chanel red lips and nails, carrying a classic black Chanel quilted bag. No big deal, just your normal French 15 year old girl. I wanted the floor to swallow me up.

New Best Use for Rick Steeves Guide to Paris: For some reason our apartment fridge is quite noisy and Chris discovered a good way of deafening the noise - stick a left behind copy of Rick Steeve's Paris under the bottom. Ha!

Total Hours Walked in 3 Days: About 25, no blisters.
I have to wonder if Chris and I really do anything in Paris that is interesting to read about. Walk, eat, shop and repeat. Sometimes I observe the packs of frantic tourists and I wonder if we are missing out on what we are supposed to be doing in Paris. Other times I look at these same packs and I feel sorry for them. I want to stop them, tell them to relax and enjoy Paris at a slower pace.

I can't lie though, it's still very hard for me to relax. Especially the first few days. My personality wants to plan, wants to walk fast, and sometimes it kind of wants to stand in a musuem line to look at paintings I know I am supposed to appreciate but really don't.

Anyway, it's nearly the end of day 4 and I can finally start to feel myself properly relax. Le sigh.

Chris and I have had a wonderful 3 days, enjoying our first Easter in Paris despite the less than spring weather. One of the things we wanted to do most on Easter Sunday was visit Notre Dame. Apparently so did everyone else in Paris and despite getting there by 9:30 am, the line was already spilling out over the square. Notre Dame suddenly didn't feel that special or sacred and we quickly headed in a different direction.

What I didn't know about Notre Dame on Sundays was that there is a marche d'oiseaux (bird market!). My friends know that I have a strange affection and fascination with birds and I enjoyed seeing all the different varieties and their very proud, very French owners. I have already told Chris that we are going back next Sunday for further observation. You can buy a yellow canary for 20 euros.

So what to do on Easter Sunday night in Paris? Obviously the Louis Vuitton Marc Jacobs exhibit at Les Arts Decoratifs. FINALLY, an exhibit I can truly get excited about! As a devoted LV lover, it was so interesting to learn about the history and progression of the brand. I now want a vintage trunk more than ever. The Marc Jacobs part of the exhibit was pure eye candy and spectacle. A wall of over 50 bags displays some of his most iconic designs. The best part was the two young British girls standing before the wall saying, "I want #3. And #9." I already can't wait to see it again in September.

Not sure what possessed me but I suggested to Chris that we try to find Easter dinner in Les Halles. I had some sort of exotic or fun takeaway in mind but the actual result was a nasty panini sandwich that we both threw in the garbage. Oh well at least it was an inexpensive mistake. We came back to our apartment and ate a lot of macarons. Much better.

However Les Halles on Easter Sunday night had an unexpected suprise. Saint Eustache. Chris and I always make a trip to this beautiful church on every trip and Easter Sunday was an exceptional experience.
Typically Saint Eustache is empty when we walk through it but on Easter Sunday night it was of tourists and Parisians. We walked in to the end of an organ concert that was so powerful, so loud and so thrilling that I felt all the airs on my body stand up. Chilling. The organist was given a standing ovation. Farther down in the church a priest was giving an Easter mass. At one point, he moved to a smaller organ and started playing and singing. Again, more chills. There was so much warmth and feeling in the church. Chris and I were also able to light candles for our missed loved ones, a tradition we really wanted to honour on Easter.

Easter Monday is another stat in Paris so we decided to try and do something completely out of our comfort zone - Versailles! We have stubbornly avoided Versailles for 4 previous trips and the only reason we went today is because le chateau is closed on Mondays, meaning only the garden is open so far less tourists make the journey.
We were wrong about Versailles. Well the garden anyway. It was overwhelming in size and beauty and is one of the those things that has to be seen in order to fully appreciate it. I knew it would be large but had no idea how large it would be. There is a statue, an orangerie, an orchard, a maze, a pond, a lake, etc. everwhere you look and it just goes on forever and forever. After exploring the grounds on foot, we decided to rent an electric golf cart and drive around the grounds. For 30 euros, you can explore the grounds in the comfort of a golf court, pulling over wherever you like and seriously having a very good time. If you get lost, go off the wrong track, the golf cart disables itself, tells you off in a very polite British accent and demands that you reverse to the proper track. Amazing. The same polite voice provides commentary complete with classical music.

So yes we will go back to Versailles. At least to the gardens.

The other highlight of today was going back to Korner Cafe, a restaurant on the corner of Avenue Kleber and rue Cimarosa, near where our first Cobblestay apartment was. It looks like nothing but it is full of French people eating real food so you know it is good. And it was. We both had onion soup, goat cheese salads (the goat cheese was breaded - a new way to love cheese), and split a piece of French toast coated with caramel sauce for dessert. Mon dieu. Food-gasm.

It's time for my nightly macaron consumption. A demain.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Nothing Better Than Being in Paris - We're Home

*Apologies for spelling/grammatical errors. Edits, including links, to be made when back in Canada.
There is nothing better than being in Paris.
Paris Food Diary - Day 1: 2 cafe cremes (full cream and with sugar), 1 croissant, rose Laduree macaron, saucisson et beurre baguette sandwich, 1 bottle of badoit, biere blanche, paella, and half an Easter homard (another thing to love about France... lobster is traditional Easter food!).
Paris Walking Diary - Day 1: 8 hours, no blisters.
What I Wore in Paris - Day 1: Rich & Skinny jeggings, black flats, black cashmere v-neck, light grey pin-striped blazer, black and white floral printed Printemp scarf from 2009, black Longchamp tote, bright pink Swatch.
What I Bought in Paris - Day 1: 2 Hermès scarves, 1 was a gift from Chris!

Every day in Paris must start with cafe cremes and croissants at a neighbourhood Tabac or Brasserie. This morning, a few short steps from our apartment we shared the counter with a Monsieur who opted for biere instead cafe. It was 8 am. Our oh-so-French morning scene was briefly interupted by some Tilley hat wearing tourists who were told, not kindly, that the Tabac was sold out of pain aux chocolats. Hmmm. I suspect this may not have been the case but that is the price one pays for wearing a Tilley hat to a Parisian Tabac.
There is no place in Paris where it is appropriate to wear a Tilley hat.
Full of cream and butter, Chris and I crossed la Seine, rive gauche a rive droit, to Place de la Concorde, the view of "my Paris". The view of my dreams, standing in the centre, spinning slowly in a circle and taking Paris in. It is the view I imagine in my mind when I am missing Paris the most.
We continued along rue Royale to research Paris Easter sweets at Laduree and Fauchon and bought our first box of macarons.
Predictably, we arrived at Les Grands Magasins in time for opening. Actually early so we had time to browse the food hall at Galeries Lafayette. One of my favourite smells in Paris, after butter and bread, is cheese. French cheese is just as intoxicating and seductive as French perfume.
Neither of us bought anything at GL. I hate to admit it but with the exception of the "shoe basement" at GL, I don't love shopping there the way I used to. It's great to get an overview of designers, colours and trends but the experience of shopping there feels a bit souless, not very French. Also love the accessories floor and shoes at Printemps.
For lunch we returned to one our favourite Paris spots, Aux Delices de Manon, 400 rue St. Honore. It's not fancy but with the rare exception, Chris and I are not big restaurant people. We prefer boulangeries, picnic style if we can, and always seem to find the perfect spot to eat. There are so many outstanding views, parks, bridges and squares in Paris that the simplest, most inexpensive meal is taken to another level when eaten outside with your chosen view spread out before you. As I have written before, if we decide to splurge on food or drink, it's usually a cocktail at 5 star hotel or a decadent dessert from LeNotre.
Our day ended back on the Left Bank at the stunning Hermès store on rue Sevres. French service at its absolute best with nothing but time, courtesy and care. I managed to purchase the scarves entirely in French and even convey my enthusiasm for les chevaux. The only time I lost my cool was when the saleswoman offered to let me try them on before buying them. Me. Fresh off the plane from Canada and post lunch of saucisson baguette. Not fair to the scarves so instead I turned bright-red and insisted that I was happy with the colours classiques.
On our way home, post Monoprix stock-up, we stopped at a boulangerie where Chris splurged on traditional Easter homards in white wine sauce and a bucket of paella. One of the best meals I have ever eaten in France, complete with an education about French food, Easter dinner, and the origin of our dinner ingredients. I can hardly wait to go back there.
Later, a bit restless and not tired, I walked "around the block", crossing la Seine into Jardins Tulieres, walking up to Place de la Concorde and crossing back over at Pont des Arts. The sun was setting and the buildings were a beautiful shade of pink. The Eiffel Tower was hazy in the distance and the doves were cooing in the trees in the park. And for not what will be the first time on this trip, I was overcome by Paris' beauty and my love for the city.
Sometimes, I wish I didn't love Paris so much. Honestly. Sometimes I wish Paris was nothing more than a once-in-a-lifetime holiday, like a honeymoon or a 40th birthday. Sometimes I wish I jcould be satisfied with crossing off the top ten in a badly written guidebook. But it's not that way and I am so far gone, so inexplicably attached and captivated, that I know until Chris and I realize our dream of living here in some way or another, that we will spend the rest of our lives chasing this dream. It doesn't make sense and I understand it is hard to appreciate but for us there is nothing better than being in Paris.
Every trip to Paris I worry that we will be disappointed and I wait for a particular moment to know that everything is ok. It's the moment when Chris looks at me, his eyes shining, squeezes my hand and without words says, "We're home." Sometimes I wait days for this moment but this trip, it came early, in the back of our airport van stuck in traffic, heading for rue de Lille. This is the moment the means everything.
We're home.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Good Morning, Paris

Good Morning Paris!

It's our first morning, 5:30 to be exact, and we are both awake and drinking coffee. I should probably be more concerned about facing my first day in Paris sans proper sleep but I am so excited to see the sun come up and to see Paris properly for the first time in months. If you arrive in the evening, as we always do, you just get tantalizing glimpses of the city as you drive in: the top of the Eiffel Tower or a sliver of the Seine.

It's also the first time I have blogged live from Paris, something I have resisted in the past for the simple reason that I didn't want to be tied to my computer, or connected to my real life, while on holidays. On previous trips, it always drove me crazy that Chris wanted to find an Internet cafe and I would skulk around outside chomping on a baguette and looking pissed. But Paris is part of our real life now, it's part of who we are, and I want to share our Paris.

The long trip to get here was uneventful and not stressful. Armed with travel pillows and Ativan, we boarded our overnight British Airways flight to London and both slept for over 6 hours of the 8 hour flight. No problems connecting at Heathrow with enough time for sandwiches, Cadbury Easter chocolates and this month's issue of Tatler. Magazine shopping at Heathrow's W.H. Smith is really one of life's little pleasures! We arrived in Paris a short time later, grabbed our luggage and were met by a car we hired to take us to our Cobblestay apartment.

Paris tip: hire a car to pick you up from the airport. It is the same price as a taxi and your jet-lagged self will love you for it. Plus, Parisian taxi drivers don't love North Americans with their oversized luggage and trying to get one to take you and your luggage to your destination can be a frustrating experience. When I am back in Victoria, I will post the link for the car service company.

As we have come to expect from Cobblestay, everything was perfect with our apartment when we arrived. This is the third property we have rented from Cobblestay since 2010 and for this trip, what is the first, and shorter, of two trips to Paris this year, location was the key factor in our selection. The property is centrally located, right next to Musee d'Orsay, but not so much as to drive you crazy with tourists and all the ugly things about Paris. In 2009, I made the mistake of reserving us a highly-rated hotel on rue Rivoli and while the location was convenient, there was no authenticity, no charm and as soon as you left the hotel apartment, you got hit by a stampede of fanny packs.

Here's another thing I love about Paris. By the time we were in our apartment, it was nearing 9pm and dark outside yet I had no concerns, even more telling Chris had no concerns, about me heading out on my own and walking a few short blocks to the neighbourhood Monoprix to get some essentials: bread, cheese, Badoit, coffee, milk, butter, saucisson. On the way, I passed several brasseries, a florist, a book store, two art gallery parties and was greeted several times with "Bon Soir, Madame". Less than one hour into the city and I was already charmed and feeling like my best self. Despite the fact I went grocery shopping in Paris wearing my plane pajamas slightly French-ed with an old Printemps scarf and Longchamp shopper.

The sun should almost be coming up and it is nearly time to get dressed for Paris...