Impasse Sarkozy

April 22, 2012
“Sarkozy Impasse, Former President of the French Republic, 2007 – 2012”
This clever mock street sign/political commentary blended in so well with the mise-en-scene
on a Saint-Germain street that we almost walked right by it without even noticing.


une impasse
– dead-end, cul-de-sac; also, a deadlock
le premier tour
 – the first round
la Présidentielle – short for “l’élection présidentielle”, the presidential election
les infos
– the news
un sondage – poll
le/la candidat(e) 
le deuxième tour – the second round
les élections – elections

le Front National – the name of the far-right political party in France
un étranger (une étrangère) – a foreigner
un pays
region (can also mean “country”); in France, people will refer to the region where they were born, grew up, or where their family comes from as their “pays”
un bulletin de vote – ballot
une soirée d’élection – election party
le mode de scrutin – electoral system 

******

Today is the premier tour* of la Présidentielle and all over France, people are heading to the ballot boxes to decide who will be the two main candidates battling it out for the presidency in the second (and final) round of voting on May 6th. For weeks now, les infos have been full of nothing but election talk and sondages, all trying to predict which candidat will come out on top. Political debates rage hotly over tables in cafés and brasseries around the city, and the streets are papered with paraphernalia, the unnerving eyes of far-right leader Marine Le Pen staring eerily out from campaign posters (when they haven’t been gouged out or defaced by those who take exception to her extreme anti-immigration stance, that is).  Not all the political posters come from “official” sources. Some politically-minded citizens have found creative ways to share their views, like this clever mock “street sign” I spotted in the Saint-Germain neighbourhood while walking one day with my friend Jean-Laurent.

For an expat, it’s a really interesting time to be in the city, watching all the various goings-on. At the moment, it looks as if current president Nicolas Sarkozy and left-wing candidate François Hollande are the favourites to move on to the deuxième tour of les élections, although some would say that it’s too early to discount Le Pen and the Front National, who have made somewhat worrying gains in popularity in the wake of the economic crisis. As an étrangère on French soil, I can only hope that this isn’t actually the case.

Paris itself feels strangely quiet and deserted this weekend. A large portion of my circle of friends has left the city, hopping on trains and heading back to their pays to do their civic duty and cast their bulletin de vote.**  Others are taking advantage of the occasion to throw a soirée d’élection, getting together with friends over a bottle of wine to watch the results come in.

What will be the final decision?  All of France waits with bated breath to find out.

* The Frenchmode de scrutin”, or electoral system, involves two rounds of voting to determine who will be president. In the first round, people choose from among several candidates. The two forerunners then move on to a second round of voting, where the people then vote on which of the two will be elected to presidential office.

** It’s not uncommon for people from other regions in France to move to Paris without officially changing their residence, as this involves a certain amount of paperwork and administrative red tape. As a result, when election time rolls around, they have to return to their “area of residence” in order to vote.

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Paris sous la pluie

August 8, 2011

la pluierain
le temps – weather
Paris sous la pluieParis in the rain
jour après jour day after day
maudite damned; la maudite pluie – damned rain
un orage – a storm; a thunderstorm
un parapluie – umbrella
la météo – the weather report
trempé(e) – soaked; soaking wet
C’est pas normal ! – It’s not normally like this, it isn’t usually like this; This isn’t normal
Qu’est-ce qu’on peut faire ? C’est comme ça. – What can you do? It’s just how it is.
il pleut des cordes – it’s raining cats and dogs (literally “it’s raining ropes”)

******

I snapped this photo back in December, but I might as well have taken it yesterday, given the temps we’ve been having lately. Springtime here was unseasonably warm and gloriously sunny, but ever since we officially hit “summer”, jour après jour, it feels like there’s been nothing but la maudite pluie. After a month of almost daily orages, even when la météo predicts that it’ll be nice out, I don’t dare leave the house without my parapluie, for fear I’ll end up completely trempée.

C’est pas normal !” my French friends keep saying, clucking their tongues in disapproval and shaking their heads reproachfully at the sky. “The weather in July is usually so much better than this.”

Oh well, qu’est-ce qu’on peut faire ? C’est comme ça.  Even sous la pluie, Paris is still beautiful, and although picnics might be off the table for now (pun intended), there are always the city’s many museums, art galleries and ornate covered passages available for frittering away a rainy afternoon.

And every cloud has a silver lining: When il pleut des cordes and I’m stuck indoors, it’s an effective cosmic kick in the pants to finally start sorting through the literally hundreds and hundreds of photos that I’ve taken since I got here…  hence the photo from December, which I now get to share with you!

Paris souvenir vendors are well-prepared for the inclement weather.


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.

******

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 

******

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?

******

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

******

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!

******

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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Keep Off The Grass

June 20, 2011

la France (proper noun, feminine) – France; in the French language, countries are typically preceded by their defining article (i.e. “le Canada”, “la Bolivie”)
la pelouse
(noun, feminine) – the grass; the lawn

le terroir – (noun, masculine) land; soil; terrain
le(s) produit(s) du terroir
– (noun, masculine) regional product(s)*
le brie – (noun, masculine) Brie cheese
la Brie – (proper noun, feminine) the region of Brie, in France; note that this is distinguished from the cheese by the change in gender, that is, the cheese is masculine and the region is feminine
le chèvre – (noun, masculine) goat’s cheese
la chèvre – (noun, feminine) a goat; note that this is distinguished from the cheese by the change in gender, that is, the cheese is masculine and the animal is feminine
un(e) gourmand(e) – (noun, masculine/feminine) a foodie; someone who is fond of good food

les flics(noun, masculine; slang) the cops
interdite – (adj) prohibited, forbidden
une abeille – (noun, feminine) a bee
un repos – (noun, masculine) rest; time off
la Mairie de Paris – Paris City Hall
le gazon
– (noun, masculine) grass; turf; lawn
hivernal – (adj) winter
autorisée – (adj) authorized
déjeuner sur l’herbe – to have a picnic lunch on the grass (literally “to lunch on the grass”)

******

Mangez sur l’herbe
Dépêchez-vous
Un jour ou l’autre
l’herbe mangera sur vous
-Jacques Prévert

(“Hurry up, picnic on the grass; one of these days, the grass will picnic on you.”)


La France
is famous around the world for its many luxury exports and high-end products. Most of us at some point or another have probably already encountered its produits du terroir without even realizing it: champagne from France’s Champagne region, for example; or Dijon mustard, named after the city of Dijon; or perhaps a glass of Bordeaux wine from – you guessed it – Bordeaux.  There are, of course, its many cheeses: Camembert, from Normandy, Brie from the region of Brie, and (a personal favourite) countless varieties of chèvre, just to name a few. For the gourmands out there, there’s caviar and foie gras, and to satisfy the fashionistas, a long tradition of haute couture, world-renowned fashion houses like Chanel, Hermès and Louis Vuitton… and the ever-ubiquitous sac Longchamps, the go-to “It” bag that seems to accompany every American tourist home.

Yes, France has no end of premium luxury products of which it can boast. But as I discovered shortly after moving here, it also has one precious commodity that you’ll never read about in the tourist brochures or find listed with the AOC, a commodity so sacrosanct that it is protected fiercely everywhere in Paris by local edict, by chain-link fences and other physical barriers designed to ensure its security, by intimidating signage that prohibits the public from tampering with it, and, if that isn’t enough to discourage the common riffraff from interfering with this national treasure, by les flics, who are quick to put a stop to any shenanigans on the part of heretic tourists who may have wandered into its sacred midst.

I am, of course, talking about the grass, or as the French call it, la pelouse.

“Keep Off The Grass”

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Paris Dreaming

June 3, 2011

“California Dreamin’… on such a winter’s day.”
– The Mamas & The Papas 


Before I actually moved to Paris, I satisfied my urge to live in la Ville Lumière by designing my own little Paris-inspired apartment in downtown Toronto.

No antique market, ironic hipster boutique or junky garage sale within a 200 km radius was safe from my relentless scavenging and roving eagle eye. Much care, imagination and elbow grease went into creating some of the best pieces. I’m particularly proud of the “antique” kitchen chalkboard which I MacGyvered out of a gaudy gold-framed oil painting (surely the remains of some enterprising effort from an amateur artist in the 80s).  One 2×4 piece of pressboard, a pint of blackboard paint, some sandpaper, whitewash, and lots of spit and polish later, and I had the perfect centerpiece for my “kitchen café”.

It’s funny—today, most of my “Paris apartment” is sitting in storage…  but I’m in Paris!

Here are the pics.  Happy Friday everybody!

My Paris refuge in Toronto’s Queen West neighbourhood

Café crème, anyone?

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Passage de la folie

May 24, 2011


un passage
(noun, masculine):
a passage or alleyway;
a visit or stay;
a stop en route to somewhere/the act of “passing through”
(i.e. “Était-ce après le passage du facteur?” = “Was it after the postman had come/been?”);
“on the way” (to somewhere)
(i.e. “Je peux te prendre au passage = “I can pick you up on the way.”)

une/la folie (noun, feminine) – madness ; an act of folly ; a passion (i.e. “avoir la folie des antiquités” = “to be crazy about antiques”); an extravagance

C’est de la folie !This is madness!; That’s crazy!; In more slang terms: That’s crazy talk! This is insane!

C’est de la folie ?Is this madness?/Is this crazy?

un arrondissement Paris is divided into 20 numbered districts, known as arrondissements

une chambre de bonne – literally, a “maid’s room”; many old residential buildings in Paris have what used to be servants’ quarters that have now been converted into low-cost one-room rental units (often for students)

la gym suédoise – “The Swedish Gym”

******

“What is life but a series of inspired follies?”
– George Bernard Shaw


A couple of weeks ago, while meandering through the 11th arrondissement with my friend Khaled, I turned a corner and came across this sign.  It made me smile instantly, not only because it was clever joke on the part of the graffiti artist, but also because it made an apropos title for the past year.


C’est de la folie?” (“Am I crazy? Is this madness?”) I wondered last year, as I contemplated quitting my job, giving up my comfortable life and moving to a foreign-speaking country across the Atlantic Ocean.

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