Archive for July, 2011

On Backpacking (or “Wallowing In My Own Filth”)

July 30, 2011
Oasis in the Bolivian Altiplano desert?

The following post was originally published on June 1, 2007, during a six-week backpacking trip through South America. With les vacances approaching, most of Paris fleeing the city, and travel on everybody’s brain, I thought it was a good time dig it up from the archives.

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I don’t know about you, but there’s something about travelling that makes the unthinkable in everyday life become perfectly palatable when you’re on the road. Take, for example, hygiene.

This very thought occurred to me as I sat on the chicken bus to Uyuni, Bolivia this morning, munching on a stale piece of bread that I had stuffed in my pocket after breakfast, a scattering of breadcrumbs embedded in the fringed “100% Alpaca” (read: very possibly acrylic) sweater that I had picked up from a tourist shop a few towns back.  I was dressed in the same socks and long underwear that I had been wearing for the last two days.  Still hungry, I rummaged around in my backpack and triumphantly unearthed half a granola bar with a few pieces of lint stuck to the sugary outside coating.  Unfazed, I picked them off handily and proceeded to devour the bar with the enthusiasm of a dog who has unexpectedly come across filet mignon table scraps.

The thought occurred to me again as I sat squatting by the side of the road later that afternoon, behind a poor excuse for a bush, during a much-needed pee break.

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Going Once, Going Twice… Soldes!

July 24, 2011


un trois quart
a three-quarter (in this case, a three-quarter length coat)
la période de soldessales period
faire les magasins – to go shopping or tour the stores; literally translated: “to do the stores”
les soldes the sales
les soldes d’été – the summer sales
les soldes d’hiver – the winter sales
une foire d’empoigne – free-for-all
une bonne affaire – good deal
faire des folies dans les magasins – to go on a shopping spree
les riches – the rich, the wealthy
(la) première démarque – first markdown
(la) deuxième démarque – second markdown
(la) troisème démarque – third markdown
(la) dernière démarque
soldé(e)
– on sale
faire les soldes – to shop the sales
j’ai fait un peu les soldes – I shopped the sales a little
se faire plaisir – to treat oneself; (nous faire plaisir – to treat ourselves)
la crise
 – literally “the crisis”; French shorthand for the current economic crisis 

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Last Saturday, the sales started,” my friend Julien wrote me last January. “I bought two suits, four shirts and ties, a coat (un trois quart) and a pair of shoes to be even more elegant than I was.”

J’ai besoin d’un nouveau paire de baskets et quelques trucs pour l’été,” my friend Anne mentioned to me last month, while we were waiting in line for an event at the Palais Brongniart. “Mais j’attends les soldes.” (“I need a new pair of sneakers and some things for the summer, but I’m waiting for the sales.”)

Santa’s not the only one who’s making his list and checking it twice. Parisians do it too and not just at Christmas. That’s because twice a year, every January and June, it’s the période de soldes in France and all over Paris, savvy shoppers in search of a bargain get out their wish lists, put on their comfiest shoes and brave the crowds to faire les magasins.

Unlike in North America, sales in France are strictly legislated. (For a culture known for its love of flaunting the rules, I am discovering, the French sure have a lot of them.)  Stores in France are not allowed to hold sales anytime they want. Instead, they are limited to two annual designated “sales periods” that are known as les soldes: five weeks beginning the last Wednesday in June for the soldes d’été, and five weeks beginning the second Wednesday in January for the soldes d’hiver.* If you’re Canadian, it’s the equivalent of five solid weeks of Boxing Day sales. If you’re American, it’s like five weeks of Black Friday.

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Et si on faisait le trajet ensemble ?

July 15, 2011

Concorde métro station


le trajet
– commute
ensemble – together
Et si on faisait le trajet ensemble ? – What if we made the commute together?

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I’m in love with this little film, posted in the Francophilia Gazette yesterday, which simultaneously depicts a commute happening in Paris with one happening in New York. The fact that Tolbiac, the first métro station that appears in the Paris “half”, is right in my neighbourhood makes it seem even more special.


Whether you’re waking up on this side of the ocean to a café crème and a fresh croissant, or on the other side of the Atlantic to a cup of Timmy’s and a toasted bagel with cream cheese, it’s somehow comforting to know that morning commutes remain universal.

Et si on faisait le trajet ensemble ?  I’ll be thinking of all of you back home when I make mine on Monday morning!

Happy Fête Nationale!

July 14, 2011


la fête nationale – the national celebration, France’s “Independence Day”; known in the English-speaking world as “Bastille Day”
le 14 juillet
 – the 14th of July (the French national holiday)
les soldes – the sales
je pars en week-end – I’m going away for the weekend

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Happy 14 juillet everybody!  I’m currently working on a new post about the summer soldes that I’ll be publishing soon, but for those of you who are new to The Vanishing Point and interested in learning more about this French national holiday, be sure to check out last year’s posts, Le Bal des pompiers and La Fête nationale.

I’ll be catching the fireworks display tonight at the Eiffel Tower, one of my favourite summer events in this beautiful city, then je pars en week-end to the seaside town of Deauville. I can’t wait to hit the beach!

Hope you all have a great weekend!

Frisbee on the Champ de Mars and a Little Canadian Cheer To Go

July 7, 2011


le feu
traffic light
une fontainefountain
un quai – quay
le métro – subway
La Défense – the ultra-modern business district just outside of Paris
comme la guerre – like going to war, like going to battle
passe Navigo – the Paris transit pass
se retrouver – to meet up; literally “to find each other (again)”; unlike English, in French, the verb “to meet” (se rencontrer) is used only in the context of a first meeting/introduction, while verbs used in relation to “meeting up” are se retrouver, se rejoindre (literally, “to join each other”) or se voir (to see each other)
une crêperie – a restaurant that specializes in crêpes
un couloir – corridor, hallway
le changement – change, transfer; in this context, refers to changing trains, or transferring between the different subway lines
les gars – (familiar) the guys
haut – (adj) high
cinq – five
mot à mot – word for word, literal
Tope là ! – High five!
le boulevard périphérique – the large highway that encircles Paris proper, dividing the city from its surrounding suburbs
Wi-Fi – Wi-Fi; although this word is spelled exactly the same way in French, don’t make the mistake of pronouncing it the same way over here, or people will stare at you blankly; in French, it’s pronounced “Wee-Fee”!
la pelouse –grass, lawn
un repos – rest, break
le spectacle exagéré – the overblown spectacle
Comme elle était belle ! – How beautiful it was!; It was so beautiful!

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Last Monday I went out for drinks at The Great Canadian Pub and said goodbye to Dylan, one of my very first friends in Paris.  After an eventful year abroad, topped off by a two-month whirlwind tour of Europe, he was back in Paris for one night only before heading home to Vancouver.

On my way to the pub, I hurried across the busy intersection at Saint-Michel against the light with the rest of the locals, while hesitant tourists waiting for le feu to change looked on in confusion. I barely glanced up as I zipped past the gorgeous fontaine Saint-Michel, surrounded by its usual gaggle of ardent admirers, ooh-ing, aah-ing and taking pictures for posterity. I sprinted along the quai des Grands Augustins, dodging wide-eyed sightseers along the way, and beelined straight for the pub, where I slid breathlessly into the open chair at the table where my friends were waiting.

The evening passed in a pleasant haze of buffalo chicken wings and Canadian draft beer (both rare finds in Paris), and as I sat around joking with the circle of people who, over the past year, had become my good friends, I remembered my first experience at The Great Canadian Pub, and how very different—and scary—the city had seemed to me back then.

That night, I went home and dug up the entry I had started to write about that evening, so long ago. I had always intended to finish it and post the story, but I never seemed to find the right time.

This seems like the perfect occasion.



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