Archive for the 'Paris' Category

How Beyoncé saved me from French assimilation disaster

September 13, 2010

faire la bise – how the French greet each other; involves a sort of “air kiss” on both cheeks (depending on the region in France, this can involve two, three or even four kisses)
à la européenne – in the European fashion
une salle de bain – the room in the house with the bathtub in it, not to be confused with “les toilettes” (“la toilette” in French Canada), which is a separate room with a toilet in it.  I’m not sure why the French use the plural form for the toilet, even when there is only one.  Maybe an extra one miraculously appears in times of great need?
On fait la bise… – One exchanges kisses…
dans la merde – up the creek without a paddle
à la canadienne – in the Canadian fashion

******

Have you ever done the awkward sidewalk dance?  You know the one – you’re motoring down the sidewalk, minding your own business, when suddenly you realize that you are nearly face-to-face with someone headed in the opposite direction.  You obligingly step to the right to let them pass, which would normally work, except that they have the exact same idea and step to their left at the same time, which means that you are still face-to-face.  You both then move simultaneously in the opposite direction, with the same result.  You, struck with a flash of brilliance, decide you’ll take the initiative and dart quickly to the other side before the other person can move – and they do the same, causing a near-miss (or sometimes not-so-near-missed) full-body collision.  It’s all very awkward, especially considering you barely know the person you are dancing with.  Finally, somebody half-laughs, throws up their hands in surrender and stays put, while the other person walks around them.

Well, welcome to my first few weeks in Paris.

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31 Days Later

August 19, 2010


Store Window, Montmartre, Paris

les vacances – vacation
une fermeture – closure
la Mairie de Paris – Paris City Hall
un embouteillage –  traffic jam
le supermarché
– supermarket, grocery store
une fermeture exceptionnelle – unexpected or extended closure; an “exceptional” closure, outside of the regular operating schedule
l’Hôtel de Ville
– City Hall
la plage – beach
les quais de la Seine – the quays of the Seine

******

Do you remember the creepy opening scenes of the film 28 Days Later?  They caused a stir among critics and sent a chill down the spines of audience members everywhere because they depicted, in very realistic fashion, the always-bustling London landmarks, Westminster Bridge, Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Street, utterly devoid of human life.  The simple, surreal absence of people in such famously and characteristically overcrowded spots was eerier than anything Jerry Bruckheimer could have pulled out of his bag of over-the-top tricks.

Well, those famous scenes are kind of what Paris feels like in August.  Public spaces that are normally bursting to overflowing with people now appear vast and empty.  While passing through the central métro station Châtelet the other day, I could have sworn I heard the opening theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly playing as a piece of tumbleweed drifted by.

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La Fête nationale

July 22, 2010
“My “14 juillet” souvenirs


la fête nationale – national celebration
le 14 juillet – the 14th of July
le bal des pompiers – fireman’s ball
un pompier – fireman
un defilé – parade
le parfum
– flavour
une gueule de bois
– hangover (familiar)
un bonnet – bonnet, cap, head covering
une bavette – flank (steak)
papoter – to chatter
le feu d’artifice
– fireworks


******

A mere four hours after getting home from the July 13 pre-fête nationale Bal des pompiers, just as I was finally drifting off to sleep, my phone rang. It was my friend Floriane, with the wake-up call I had requested. She had received a V.I.P. invitation to watch the big defilé along the Champs-Elysées at a very special reception being held in one of the offices above the grand boulevard, and she had invited me to be her guest. “Coucou Darlene, tu viens de te reveiller ? ” (“Hi Darlene, did you just wake up?”) she asked me sweetly, obviously bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, having had the good sense to skip the bal the night before. “Euh… non…” I fibbed. “J’arrive…” (“I’m coming.”)

I dragged myself, slowly, painfully, out of bed, cursing military parades and their early start times. Why? Why start a parade at 9:00 a.m.? What was wrong with a 1:00 p.m. parade? Or even better, a 4:00 p.m. parade?

Thirty minutes and two large cups of caffeine later, I left to meet Floriane. Having consulted Google Maps the night before, I knew that the address was a fifteen-minute walk or a mere five-minute Métro ride away. I had also checked the RATP (the Paris métro) site the night before and knew that my nearest subway station wasn’t closed, so I was all good. Or so I thought.

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Le Bal des pompiers

July 22, 2010

Photo courtesy Mélina.

la fête nationale – national celebration
le 14 juillet – the 14th of July
le bal des pompiers – fireman’s ball
un pompier –  fireman
une caserne (de sapeurs-pompiers) – fire station
un don – donation
une voyageuse – female traveler
“C’est gentil, merci.” – “That’s kind of you, thank you.”


******


Marshall:
Wow, you’re creating a holiday.
Barney: Why not? Everybody gets one – mothers, fathers, Bastilles…
“How I Met Your Mother”


Most people I know back home have heard of “Bastille Day”, although my guess is that many would be hard-pressed to define exactly when and what it was.  In fact, July 14 is la fête nationale de France – their version of Canada Day, if you will.  Somewhat oddly, it’s known internationally in English-speaking countries as Bastille Day, even though in France, it is either referred to as le 14 juillet (much like Americans refer to Independence Day as “the 4th of July”) or simply, la fête nationale.  It commemorates the 1790 Fête de la Fédération, a huge feast that was held on July 14, 1790 to celebrate the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille in 1789, considered to be a major turning point in the French Revolution.

Now, talk of a national holiday generally tends to conjure up images of the kind of pomp and circumstance befitting a dignified patriotic celebration.  And while it’s true that le 14 juillet is observed over here with much fanfare, parades, concerts and fireworks—the stuff you’d typically see in other countries during similar sorts of celebrations—the French also have another somewhat lesser-known tradition linked to la fête nationale that is quite unlike any of the customs associated with our own national holidays in North America.  In typical French fashion, it flirts with the hedonistic; a backyard barbecue, it’s definitely not.  I’m referring of course to le bal des pompiers, which really deserves to be touted in travel brochures as a genuine tourist attraction right along with the Eiffel Tower, at least for us voyageuses out there.

Every July 13, the night before the official patriotic celebrations begin, France’s finest open up casernes all over the country and throw les bals des pompiers for the general populace.  The parties usually run both July 13 and 14 from 9 p.m. until 4 a.m. and entry is traditionally free, although dons of any amount are gratefully accepted at the door, with all proceeds going towards improving the conditions of workers.  Oh yes, my lady friends back home, you heard me right – on July 13 and 14 all over France there are parties hosted, staffed and filled with firemen.  Dancing.  All with cute French accents.  Don’t you wish you were here?

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Sunset by Ferris Wheel

July 9, 2010
Girl, uninterrupted

la grande roue – the big (Ferris) wheel
la plus belle ville du monde – the most beautiful city in the world
se tenir la main – to hold hands

******

“Et on se prend la main, comme des enfants…”
(“And we hold hands, like children…”)
– From the song “Comme des enfants”, Cœur de pirate


On the last day of June, my friend Dylan and I took in a beautiful summer sunset in Paris from the top of la grande roue in the Jardin des Tuileries. There couldn’t have been a more perfect evening for it. The light spilled out across the city like liquid gold, tinting everything it touched with a little bit of magic. And even though I’d been here two months and had already seen the city from a myriad of angles, I found myself catching my breath all over again and marveling in disbelief at how very lucky I was to be living here.  It seems like every day I discover another reason why Paris really is la plus belle ville du monde. Continue reading »

Eating on the Cheap

July 7, 2010

un sou – a French penny
mes découvertes – my discoveries
un Coca – a Coca Cola
un kir – an apéritif made of cassis liqueur and white wine
une carafe d’eau– a pitcher of water
au comptoir – at the counter
quartier – neighbourhood
le prix – price
un marché alimentaire – food market
“Framboises ! 4€, les deux barquettes !” – “Raspberries! Two boxes for 4 euro!”
les crêpes à emporter – crêpes to go
à emporter – to go
sur place – on the premises; “to stay”
un sandwich grec
– a Greek sandwich
une formule – a set menu
le 3ème – refers to the “3rd arrondissement”; Paris is divided into 20 different arrondissements
un resto– short for “restaurant” (familiar)
la vie quotidienne – daily life
un plat – a main dish; somewhat bizarrely, in English, we refer to plats using the French word entrée, whereas in French, an entrée is actually what we call an appetizer, that is, the entrée or “entrance” to the meal
un très petit prix – a very small price
un chômeur/une chômeuse– an unemployed person

******


My first couple of trips to Paris, I was more or less on vacation.  I had a steady job waiting for me back home, and a guaranteed income to go along with it, so I felt at liberty to stop and eat when and where I wanted, pay outrageous tourist prices for tomato and cheese sandwiches at the Louvre, and blithely rack up my credit card trying out all the adorable little restaurants that André Michelin’s heart might have desired.  I knew at the end of the day that I’d be able to pay it all off, if not with this paycheque, then with the next one, so what the hell – why not live a little and treat myself?

Now that I’m actually living in Paris, this sort of behaviour is not so practical unless I’m prepared to start singing a French version of Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? in the métro.  Employment in the foreseeable future is still an uncertainty and I don’t know how long it’s going to take me to find a job, so I need to stretch my savings out and make them last as long as possible.  This means that nightly dinners out at that delightful little bistro on rue Montorgueil are off the table, at least for now.  I’m back to counting my pennies – or should I say, my sous – the way I did back in university.  Luckily, having been a starving filmmaker for several years, I have lots of experience in finding ways to make my dollar euro go farther.

In the spirit of sharing, I thought I’d let you in on some of mes découvertes on how to eat cheaply here.  I’ll warn you in advance, this is not your Zagat’s guide to eating in Paris.  But hey, if you’re looking to save a euro or two, keep reading. Continue reading »

The Quick Experience

June 20, 2010


hôtel de ville
– city hall
un centre d’animation – community centre
la vraie gastronomie française – real French gastronomy
A votre santé ! – Cheers!  (Literally, “To your health!”)
haute cuisine
– literally, “high cooking”; elaborate or skillfully prepared food (especially that of France); artful or elaborate cuisine
manger sur le pouce – to have a quick bite to eat
une crêpe salée – a savoury crepe, sometimes sold wrapped in wax paper “to go” at little stands and shops around Paris
à emporter – to go

********

“Alors je m’étais lancé, je l’avais invitée
Dans le meilleur Quick de la région
A boire en grand seigneur un milk shake à la banane
Dans des grands verres en carton”*

– From the song Carpe Diem by Aldebert



One of the cool things about living in Paris is that, since it is one of the most touristed cities in the world, at any given time there’s almost always bound to be a friend passing through on vacation to keep me from getting too homesick.  This week my friend and former chiropractor Sarah was in town, so I did my best to show her a good time.  Wednesday, we spent the morning window shopping in the Marais and then I took her to Montmartre and Sacre Cœur, which, much to my amazement and despite her many visits to Paris, Sarah had never seen before.

Sarah and I on the steps of Sacre Cœur


Now, I realize that hanging out with your chiropractor is not really something that everyone does, but sometimes life brings you friends in unexpected places and you just have to roll with it.  It no longer seems strange to me, but it can occasionally be a bit weird to explain to people at first.  Sometimes I get tired of the usual awkward: “Uhhhh, she was my chiropractor…  and we really got along, so…” and am tempted to mix things up with a bit of humour.  On the steps of Sacre Cœur, when two friendly tourists struck up a conversation and asked us how we knew each other, it took all my willpower not to listen to the mischievous imp on my shoulder and answer cheekily, “I was once half-naked on her table. There was oil involved.”  For some reason, I felt that response might be misconstrued. Continue reading »

The Champs-Élysées Goes Green and a Picnic at the Place des Vosges

June 15, 2010


la Ville Lumière – “The City of Light”; a common nickname for Paris, in reference to the ideas of the city’s philosophers during the Age of Enlightenment (and, some say, to its early adoption of street lighting)
un quartier – neighbourhood
se retrouver – to meet up (with each other)
Quel truc de ouf ! – “What a crazy stunt!” *
faire un pique-nique to have a picnic
Et si on se faisait un pique-nique? Why don’t we have ourselves a little picnic?

******


“This afternoon I will go to les Champs Élysées. They have transformed it to a big garden for the week end.”


I squinted groggily at the message on my cell phone, the words on the tiny LCD screen slowly swimming into focus.  Roused just seconds before from a near catatonic sleep by a lo-fi version of the Beatles’ Revolution (theme song and ring tone for Orange, my service provider), I wasn’t yet operating at a fully-cognitive level.  The wheels in my brain screeched loudly in protest as they sluggishly kicked into gear.  I blinked again, still processing, then sat up straight in bed.

Did I want to see Paris’ most famous avenue and busiest autoroute transformed into a giant garden?  You bet your fancy Hermès scarf I did.

I shook the last traces of sleep off and quickly texted my friend Sebastien back.  “When and where do you want to meet?

The famous Avenue des Champs-Élysées, sometimes referred to by Parisians as “la plus belle avenue du
monde” (“the most beautiful avenue in the world”), is often choked with traffic. Photo courtesy Julian So.

Continue reading »

Two bedrooms, one bath… and a post-modern glass dog?

June 10, 2010

For the last few weeks, my main focus here has been my search for an apartment in Paris, specifically a colocation with one or more roommates, since my Canadian dollars don’t go very far over here, and gainful employment is still somewhere on the horizon.  This has proved somewhat more difficult than expected, as it turns out renting an apartment in Paris is infinitely more complicated than renting one in Toronto (something which I will get into in more detail later).

I’ve been searching on a few sites and in addition to the usual “Send me a deposit in advance by Western Union as urgency is of the utmost importance” scams, I have also encountered some quirks to apartment-hunting on this side of the ocean. Notably, most people don’t bother to post pictures, something which surprises me in this day and digital age.  Also, when I contact people to ask questions or request pictures of an apartment, they don’t always send me answers, but rather, propose meeting for coffee first to see if we get along. I had a very pleasant dinner at a Japanese restaurant with a prospective roommate who revealed halfway through the meal that neither of the bedrooms in the apartment had a fourth wall, but were instead separated from the living room by a curtain.  Dealbreaker. Continue reading »

The Leap

May 6, 2010


To give a little context to my motivation for taking this trip and my decision to move to Paris, I thought I would start by reposting an entry that I wrote for an intranet blog I was keeping at the company where I previously worked. The following was originally posted on March 25, 2010, 17 days before my flight to Paris.

Petite parisienne, Paris, 2007. © All rights reserved.


******

Lily: You’re like that goat with the washcloth. You want it so bad, and every time the world tries to take it away from you, you keep grabbing it. But, you know what? It’s just a washcloth. Why do you even want it?

Ted:
Because I have to be an architect! That’s the plan.

Lily:
Screw the plan! […] Look, you can’t design your life like a building. It doesn’t work that way. You just have to live it… and it’ll design itself.

Ted: So what, I should just do nothing?

Lily: No. Listen to what the world is telling you to do… and take the leap.

– How I Met Your Mother, Season 4 Finale, “The Leap”

I have a confession to make. I think I’m an addict.

It started out as most addictions do. A toe dipped cautiously in the water. A little dabble here, some experimentation there. Now I can’t imagine ever going back to my previous existence.

A little over two years ago, I was talking to a friend one day, when I said the same thing I’d been saying for years: “I really wish I’d kept up with my French after high school. It would be so great to speak more than one language.” It was not the first time I’d had this sort of conversation.

This is how conversations like this usually went with me:

Me: I really wish I… [insert random impossibility of choice here]
Friend: Yeah, me too. I just don’t have the [time/money/knowledge/energy/motivation] to do it.
Me: I know. It’s too bad. Oh well.
Conversation moves on and the topic is promptly forgotten until the next time it gets randomly dredged up (see above script for details on how this goes).

But for some reason, on this particular day, the script went a little differently.

Me: I really wish I’d kept up with my French after high school. It would be so great to speak more than one language.
Friend: So why don’t you pick it up again? The Alliance Française offers classes in Toronto.

I was a little taken aback. This was not how this dialogue was supposed to go. Where were my comforting token words of commiseration, followed by mutually-agreed-upon permission to dismiss the subject altogether? Do something about it? What a strange proposition. Why not indeed?

Actually, I could think of a lot of reasons why not. Continue reading »

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