Sunday, June 30, 2013

Une Personne

To celebrate my last Sunday night in Paris alone, I am taking myself out for le plat du jour at Le Petit Cler.  This morning I made an 8 pm reservation for "une personne, à l’exteriéur" and I am going to put on a little black dress, paint my lips MAC Lustre and enjoy dinner in my Paris living room.  

It's been a glorious summer day in Paris perfect for crisscrossing the city through some of my favourite arrondissements.  I don't think I will ever find anything that brings me more pleasure than walking through the streets of Paris.  I half-expected at this point that I would be bored of the same streets and the same sights but the familiarity only brings me closer to Paris and more excited about a life here.  I will never tire of catching the Eiffel Tower from different angles, how it disappears from certain vantage points and then suddenly reappears in all of its iron beauty ; I will never tire of walking through Place des Vosges and feeling like I have been transported back to the seventeenth century; and I will never tire of walking beneath the sculpted tree alleys in Palais Royal that compel me to slow my pace and imagine I am wearing a bustled dress and off to meet my amoureux for an afternoon liaison.

Place des Vosges
One of those sudden Eiffel Tower views off Avenue Bosquet

Tree alley in Petit Palais
 Yesterday a mobile petting zoo unloaded at the top of rue Cler. The animals traveled in what looked like a converted brown ice cream truck with chicken mesh covering the multiple windows.  There was a large, sway-backed donkey, several exotic looking chickens, one speedy piglet, a lamb and several goats of different sizes and colours.  The animals were penned in an enclosure about half the size of the average North American's master bedroom with some straw thrown down to make it look life a farm.  The donkey, star of the show, had his own section with a beach umbrella for shade.  You couldn't smell the animals for all of the yummy mummy's wafting Guerlain as they helped their very clean, well mannered children feed the animals stale baguette chunks.   

One of the resident clochards stumbled over shirtless in bright yellow overalls and wraparound sunglasses clutching an open bottle of red in a plastic bag to shout endearments at the donkey.  The children, being petit Parisians, were far more afraid of the donkey than the clochard.  Senior Parisian women stood near the front hunched over in their bedroom slippers and head scarves trying to pat the hopping goats and clucking at them soothingly.  A few dogs strained at their leashes, their bellies pressed flat against the cobblestones, thrilled at the possibility of chasing something not motorized.  It was unlike any petting zoo I have ever seen but not entirely unexpected in the centre of Paris.     

Frenchman du jour...

Jogging down the middle of rue Cler in a baby blue cashmere turtleneck, slim fitting navy blue pants and suede navy blue driving slippers holding a baguette with the end bitten off.  His jaw was moving furiously trying to chew the considerable end piece.  

Strangest thing I ever seen in a Paris market...

A New York Jets football player posing for pictures with the entire fish monger's staff and yelling, "Me and my family LOVE Paris!"  

Best logo on a canvas shopping tote...


Things tourists say...

While passing in front of the organic produce stand on rue Cler, "Where's Trader Joe's?"  

Crossing over from Le Marais to Notre Dame

Saturday, June 29, 2013


What could be better than writing my 100th blog post on a sunny Saturday summer night in Paris?  Nothing.  I am blissful.  My legs are tingling from another long walk across the city and I have  market fresh paella waiting in the fridge with a chilled 5 euros bottle of rosé.  

For my 50th post in December 2011, I wrote a list of my 50 favourite things to do in Paris.  In honour of my 100th post, here is another list of 50 things - past and present - that make me happy in Paris!

Before the sun came out today
  1. Confiture d'abricot
    It was one of my first tastes of Paris in 2003 and I still want to smother its delicious stickiness on everything from tartine to sliced pieces of pear.

  2. A boulangerie on every corner

  3. The smell of the Tuileries Gardens in the summer just after it rainsIt's a mix of fresh clay, wet grass and flowers that soaks into your skin.

  4. Paris in the winter
    I visited Paris the first time in February and I have so many great memories of exploring the city in near emptiness.  I remember being at the top of the Eiffel Tower with less than a dozen people and drinking red wine from the inside of my down coat. 

  5. Knowing that after this summer, Chris and I will be one step closer to our dream of living in Paris

  6. The convenience and affordability of shopping at small, independently owned businessesI love the products, the quality and the care.  I love talking to the owners who are so knowledgeable and so passionate.  I love that there are three cheese shops within three blocks and all are thriving. 

  7. Sugar in my coffee
  8. The elderly husband and wife team who sell homemade ice cream from a tiny stand on the Right Bank side of the "love locks" bridge

  9. Chocolate with my coffee

  10. After so many trips, after walking the same routes dozens of times and seeing the same things that Paris' beauty can still move me to tears at least once a day
  11. Going to see movies, version originale, toute seule
  12. Monoprix has an apéritif aisle
    In this aisle you find peanuts, pretzels, miniature crackers and olives all to accompany your pre-dinner drink.

  13. Bridges
    Each bridge is different and each has its own history.  I like watching how tourists attach their own meanings, usually romantic, to the bridges and how Parisians storm over them as though every city is filled with bridges with views of Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur or the Eiffel Tower. 

  14. Outside living
    Smaller living spaces mean that people live and socialize on the streets and I love the noise and the energy.

  15. A different market every day of the week
  16. Walking along the banks of the Seine

  17. Eating falafel in the Marais on Sunday afternoons
  18. Magazine kiosks on every corner

  19. The moment Chris really fell in love with Paris He said it happened a few trips ago when we arrived at Place de la Concorde to admire the views.  I turned to him and said, "It never gets old, does it."  It wasn't a question and he realized that there was no other place in the world except Paris.

  20. Dogs galloping across the lawns at Champ de Mars
  21. Children dressed better than me

  22. Finally accepting, even I can't explain it, that Paris is home and there will be no substitute or no settling until we achieve our dream of living here

  23. Le Petit Cler

  24. A litre of Badoit costs less than a dollar

  25. That you can always find a quiet street in Paris
  26. I can buy Haribo everywhere, even from the vending machines at my métro station

  27. Walking everywhere
  28. Paris in the summerI was nervous about being here at the height of tourist season but the city is alive and there are so many wonderful, free things to do and see. Les Berges!  There was even a pop-up petting zoo at the end of rue  Cler today complete with a giant donkey and one, squealing piglet.  And Parisians are out just as much as tourists especially when the weather is nice.

  29. Being able to buy small amounts of delicious food so nothing gets wasted

  30. Saying "Bonjour" to the rue Cler Regulars every morning

  31. Chris and I drinking champagne at LV Avenue Montaigne

  32. The adrenalin rush of zooming through the streets of Paris in a Tuk-Tuk

  33. The radio station I listen to in Paris plays Wham's "Last Christmas" in June

  34. The book market at Parc George Brassens
    I love how peaceful it is and that it feels serious.  It smells like Paris park mixed with that lovely musty book smell and almost everyone talks in whispers. 

  35. Stray cats that let me cuddle them and scratch underneath their chins
  36. Produce that looks and smells like it came from the earth and not off the back of a diesel truck
    They don't look waxy or smell faintly of plastic.  I bought some apricots today and their scent was so strong it made my stomach growl.  Almost as seductive as perfume.

  37. Demi-baguettes

  38. Not feeling afraid

  39. Living two blocks from the Eiffel Tower and treating Champ de Mars park like my backyard

  40. French translations of English moviesThe best one so far has been "Hangover 3" translated into "Very Bad Trip 3"

  41. Spending time with people that love Paris as irrationally as I do

  42. Les Soldes
  43. Chris speaking French
  44. Living my dream

  45. Chocolate éclairs
  46. Writing every day and feeling excited and inspired every day

  47. Beauty is everywhere and learning to appreciate the smallest moments and the smallest details
  48. Eating slowly in a restaurant by myself
  49. Kissing Chris in front of the Eiffel Tower
  50. Chris arrives on Wednesday in ParisI wanted to save what I am happiest about for  last!  Both of us have been trying not to count the days until he arrives but it is so soon and I can't wait to be together in OUR city.

    PS - Please accept my apologies for the horrible formatting!  The bullet list option wasn't that user friendly. 

Friday, June 28, 2013


I came to Paris the first time in 2003 and all I have ever wanted since then was to Frenchify myself - un petit peu plus Parisienne!  I have learned a lot since that first trip and hope live more Frenchly when I return to Victoria next month. 

Summer night in Paris
Slow down

Slowing down is difficult.  North Americans multi-task everything at rapid speed and much of our lives are a competition to see who has the least amount of personal time and is the most stressed.  Work-life balance is meaningless to most and everything is scheduled: girls' nights, boys' weekends, date nights and play dates.  We eat entire meals in our car while illegally texting.  Coffee is always "to go".  

It's different here.  Even on week days, it's rare to see a Parisian walking through the streets with a coffee.  They sit, even if just for 10 minutes.  Greetings between friends are warm and genuine.  I can't tell you how many times I have been standing at the checkout counter at Monoprix only to be interrupted by another employer coming over to bisous the cashier.  Dinner is an experience, not a race.  Always wine with dinner and always finish with coffee.  No rushing to get your cheque while still chewing your last bites.

I have learned to be still in Paris.  I have learned that an extra five minutes doing something enjoyable isn't going to ruin my day or make me less productive.  I am going to try to not start every conversation when I get home with, "I am so busy."


You can't be happy in Paris without being patient.  If you fight its rituals and idiosyncrasies, you end up being mad, miserable and sweaty.  Parisians have mysterious reasons for doing things in specific ways.  Last month I went to pick up a custom made saddle pad at a large sports store.  I stood in three different lines, spoke with four different clerks, showed two different copies of my receipt and finally left with my perfect saddle pad.  Last night I stood behind a woman during boulangerie rush hour who spent an inordinate amount of time picking out the perfect macaron decorated cake and petits fours.  She even turned to me to ask if I thought one of the macarons looked crooked on the cake.  The line was out the door and customers leaned against the window to wait - deux minutes! - for fresh baguettes.  The two women working made time to come out from behind the counter and give each waiting child a pre-dinner choquette.

At home I roll my eyes and sigh loudly if I have to wait an extra two minutes for my Starbucks coffee.  I swear and slam my foot against the floor of my car when I miss a green stop light.  For what?  I am only making myself crazy and nobody else cares.  Paris has taught me to stop fighting the little things and live in the moment.     


Every day I see dozens of classic, chic, perfectly groomed Parisian women spiking down the streets in their Louboutin's.  Their hair is just out-of-bed-fabulous and their clothes fit like a second skin.  But there are just as many others sporting MC Hammer style pants with black studded biker boots or super short-shorts with ripped tights and beaten-up high heels.  The majority of them smoke and their preferred handbag is a stained canvas tote.  They have roots and chipped nail polish.  And they look beautiful.

They look beautiful because they are confident. 

I do make more of an effort in Paris but I also worry less about looking perfect.  At home I obsess about every outfit detail, every wrinkle, every hem and every heel height.  Here I match polka dots with stripes, wear my Converse with a blazer and still feel beautiful. 

Carousel horse named "Paris".  "Paris" is written on the green band on its neck.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Gift

I received a gift this morning at Le Petit Cler.  And it wasn't the extra dark chocolate that came with my café crème.  The gift was meeting Bob and Leanne, a Colorado couple married for 30 years and spending a few days in Paris before heading to Sancerre.  After a bit of a rough start to my week, I believe I was meant to cross paths with this lovely, intelligent couple.

Our conversation started with discussing Rick Steves.  Rick is very fond of rue Cler and has written extensively about it online and in his books. It's true that there are many tourists wandering the street but having lived nearby for the last six weeks, I still feel rue Cler is "real" Paris and not something artificial like the mall under the Louvre pyramid.  We got to talking about travel styles and I confessed that I was writing a book for people who want to experience Paris on a deeper, less frenetic and less formulaic level.  Their response was warm and enthusiastic.

We shared some personal information and it turns out that Chris and I have quite a bit in common with them, including having no children.  And I know it's going to sound like I have been alone in Paris too long but their connection was heartwarming.  They seemed to have a marriage founded on humour, hard work and genuine affection.  I have met a lot wonderful people in Paris but there was something about Bob and Leanne that touched me and their perspectives on things like travel, marriage, passions and careers (just to name a few!) will stay with me for a long time. 

As I was regretfully preparing to leave, Leanne asked me to guess how old Bob was.  I guessed early 60's and I was wrong by nearly 30 years.  One of the reasons for their trip is to celebrate his 90th birthday.  Bon Anniversaire, Bob!  

1 euros can buy happiness...

Timed my bakery stop to perfection this morning and traded in a 1 euros coin for a still warm, flaky, buttery croissant that had me sticking my tongue into the corners of the bag to get every, last crumb.  It was melt in your mouth orgasmic and I can still taste the butter in the back of my throat.

And 80 euros can buy an entire summer wardrobe at the Monoprix soldes...

I don't like summer clothes.  I miss boots, tights, wool and putting a blazer on top of everything.  I hate spending money on flimsy, open-toed shoes and dresses with no sleeves. But I can't wear black wool all summer so today I spent an hour in Monoprix picking through the 50% off racks.  I also spent a very French amount of time in the fitting room with no regard to the line waiting outside.  It was sweaty and the lighting was unflattering but I left the store with 2 dresses and 3 shirts for about 80 euros, approximately $105 Canadian dollars!  

That grey sloppy thing is actually a very cute polka dot sweatshirt with a fabulous zipper detail on the back.  It will be perfect for when I am back in Victoria and not getting dressed on the weekends.
Are Paris Carnies different...

There are amusement park rides being set up along the rue Rivoli side of the Tuileries Gardens, including La Grande Roue!  Even from a distance it looks terrifying but I am determined, with un petit peu de Ativan, that Chris and I will take a spin next week. 

La Grande Roue!


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Les Soldes

Remember when I used to write about shopping?  It wasn't too many trips ago when my main priority in Paris was shopping.  I still love saving and splurging on a couple of beautiful, "made in France" items but long gone are the days when I would load up my suitcase with finds from Zara, Naf-Naf and Pimkie.  Seems no matter how much posting trot I do or how many 10km runs I complete, I can't fit into those brands!  But today was the start of the summer sales in Paris and not even awkward European sizes were going to keep me out of the stores.

I arrived at Galeries Lafayette just before the store opened at 8.  There were already busloads of tourists in line wearing white plastic visors and thick soled rubber shoes.  It sounded like a full coop of clucking chickens and a roar erupted when the doors opened.  The main floor was chaos as shoppers ran to get into lines at their favourite boutiques.  I saw people playing tug-of-war with tote bags at Longchamp while another woman casually stacked leather bags on her left arm like candy coloured rubber bracelets.  As I moved up through the various floors to shop for clothing, it became much less busy.  It was the same in Printemps and Le Bon Marché; not too chaotic once I escaped the handbags and accessories.

I tried on dozens of dresses, blazers in all fabrics and shapes and drooled over shoes.  Nothing screamed "Paris"; I want classic, well-cut items with just a bit of an edge so they work in my real life but also don't look like I bought them in a suburban mall.  I can't be running around the office in a flowing teal mini dress and a silver leather blazer so I just ended buying a pair of 3-inch navy blue patent leather heels.  Chris and his impeccable taste arrive next week so I expect we will make the rounds again. 

I received excellent service everywhere with offers to speak English and indulgent smiles to my request to practice my French.  There was always a vendeuse near the fitting rooms, willing to grab sizes, hunt for the perfect shoes and give their expert opinion.  I almost bought a dress at Comptoir des Cotonniers until the vendeuse informed me it was "trop grande" and gathered the extra fabric at my hips.  One of the things I love most about Paris is that daily activities are quite formal and ritualized.  It was interesting to observe that these standards survive even during the chaos of les soldes.

Two beautiful places with two personalities...

The Eiffel Tower and the surrounding Champ de Mars park have two distinct personalities.  There is the area around the base and Trocadéro choked with tourists, everyone's face hidden behind a camera lens, terrible posing and the non-stop metal rattling of vendors hawking Eiffel Tower key chains.  Then beyond the base, stretching towards École Militaire, is where Paris lives.  This is where families bring their children to play, dogs run off leash, older people doze with their legs wide on park benches and teenagers lie in passionate embraces on their claimed four foot patch of grass.  Instead of key chains, vendors cross back and forth selling wine and beer.  There are hidden playgrounds and you can smell roasted chickens being unpacked from picnic baskets.  Dogs bark excitedly and children squeal as they kick soccer balls.   

Les Soldes' customers behaving badly...

I lined up to browse the Chanel sale.  It had to be done.  The woman in front of  me, wearing a fuzzy leopard print coat and carrying a LV bag even dirtier than mine, tapped the huge security guy on the shoulder and asked for water.  I couldn't believe what I was hearing!  Even more shocking was that he smiled and dashed off to get her a miniature bottle of Evian.  

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


I walked nearly 20 kilometres today stopping only once to eat a buttery crêpe sucre from a kiosk in Le Jardin des Plantes.  I wanted to absorb Paris, tire my body out and hopefully slow my brain down.  During the last couple of days, my thoughts have started to stray from Paris and get tangled up in pointless worries.  

My morning seat at Les Berges overlooking the Seine.  That's my beaten up Longchamp tote with my notebook.  Don't you love how the loungers are made for two?  Hurry up, Chris!
I am not a relaxed person and I am always looking forward, with both trepidation and excitement, to the next opportunity or challenge.  I worry equally about successes or failures.  So I knew in coming here alone that staying in the moment - so many beautiful moments! - would be my biggest struggle.   At first it wasn't; I breezed through the first five weeks like a professional flâneur, barely looking at my watch, exploring every little side street and literally stopping to smell Paris' vibrant, plush roses.  I was taking Paris in slowly and carefully and in many way I felt like I was seeing the city for the first time.

Roses at Les Jardins des Plantes
But something snapped on Sunday.  I read a Tweet from one of my favourite travel web sites that listed things you "MUST" do in Paris this summer, including the Louvre and taking a day trip out of the city.  I started to panic about what I haven't done, the sites I haven't seen, the meals at restaurants I haven't had, and even wasted an hour on the SNCF web site searching for day trips I don't want to take.  I know it's part of the reason I ended up at Tour Montparnasse yesterday.  

I remembered on my beautiful, pointless walk that I came to Paris to be in Paris.  The main reason I keep coming back is not because of monuments or museums, but because of how Paris makes me feel.  I want everyone to experience Paris as a feeling rather than a thing.   This afternoon, I listened to an organist rehearse at a tiny church behind Notre Dame.  I heard the music way before I found my way inside and sat in the back pew, eyes closed, so grateful to be in the place I love.  Slow down, relax and breathe.     

As Chris wrote to me in an e-mail last night, "Paris is ours and we may as well enjoy it."  Exactly.  

My Paris obsessions...

Last September it was rose flavoured Pierre Hermè macarons.  This summer it's chocolate éclairs and I cannot walk past a bakery without buying one.  Much better for my health, I am also obsessed with Les Berges Paris and walk all or part of the 2.3 km promenade each day.  And markets - I haven't found a market that doesn't thrill me.

Things French guys say...

After I was unable to provide directions, he said to me with a sleazy smile, "Are you a dancer?"  Clearly he has never seen my hideous feet or my uncoordinated dance moves.     

More beauty from Les Jardins des Plantes