See you in September

September 30, 2010
September can be like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get.

rentrer – to come back, to go back, to return home
la rentrée“the re-entry”; refers to the period in September when everybody is coming back from vacation and returning to work or school
les vacances – vacation; also refers to the month-long holiday break that many French people take in the summer
l’energie (féminin) energy
le farniente – an Italian word that has been adopted by the French, the art of lazing about and doing nothing
un projet project, endeavour, undertaking
un défi a challenge
une boulangerie – a bakery
une boîte (familiar) – firm/company, office
rouler – to run (as in function)
Allez, c’est parti ! – All right, and we’re off/here we go!
une chambre de bonne – a “maid’s room”; many old residential buildings in Paris have what used to be servants’ quarters converted into low-cost one-room rental units (often for students)
une plaque – an electric stovetop burner; a hot plate
faire du lèche-vitrine – window-shopping (literally “window-licking”)
Je faisais du lèche-vitrine… – I was window shopping…
une nouvelle robe pour la rentrée – a new dress for la rentrée

******

“The year does not begin in January. Every French person knows that. Only awkward English-speakers think it starts in January. The year really begins on the first Monday of September.”
Stephen Clarke, A Year in the Merde


There’s something about the arrival of September that always makes me want run out and buy myself a brand-new box of pencil crayons. This impulse doesn’t actually make any sense, as it’s been years since I’ve taken an art class, and I can’t remember the last time I picked up a sketchbook. Yet for some reason, without fail, every September I am struck with the overwhelming urge to run to the local art supply store and buy myself a pretty new set of coloured pencils, preferably in a shiny tin case like the one I used to carry back in grade school.  Something about the sight of them, pristine, freshly sharpened, and lined up neatly in a row like an obedient regiment of soldiers, has become inexplicably linked in my mind with the idea of fresh starts and possibility…  a perfect metaphor for my feelings about September.

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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 européen – 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 canadien – 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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I heard that Venice was sinking

August 28, 2010


…so I came to check out the situation.  Nope, still here!


On the Ponte degli Scalzi overlooking the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy

As long as I’m in Italy, though, I figure I’ll do some exploring.  I’m staying with my friend Pierina at her family’s beach house in Lignano Sabbiodoro (a seaside resort town about 45 minutes outside of Venice), and we plan to do a little travelling as well.

I’ll be back to Paris and more regular blogging next week.  In the meantime, I thought I’d share one of my favourite posts from the HiP Paris Blog. It’s a tongue-in-cheek description of the difference between French food standards and North American ones. It’s so hilariously spot-on, I wish I’d written it myself.

Cult of Quality: Meeting the French Standard

Happy end of summer everybody!


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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Taking time to stop and… listen to the accordion?

August 16, 2010

From the archives. This entry was originally written for the internet blog I was commissioned to write at Astral Media, and posted on March 19, 2010. In the spirit of les vacances and all the travelling happening over here during the month of August, I thought it might make a timely addition to this one as well.

On a side note, while travelling through Spain earlier this month, I had a minor meltdown when it turned out that the train we wanted to take from Barcelona to Sevilla was sold out, unless we wanted to travel business class for 250 euro.  I was hot, sweaty, tired, achy, hungry, cranky, toting a giant backpack, and operating on about three hours of sleep, having woken up super-early to pack and make it to the station for 8:00 a.m.  Not exactly the ideal conditions for coping with unexpected bad news. Let’s just say that tantrums were had. In that moment, I could probably have stood to re-read my own writing.  However, after a much-needed nap and a bit of time to regroup, we decided to take advantage of our extra day in the city and see the Sagrada Família, Antoni Gaudí’s famous unfinished church.  And you know what?  It ended up being my favourite Barcelona sight.

The surreal exterior of Gaudí’s unfinished masterpiece, the Sagrada Família, was stupefying enough, but it was the interior, with its complex shapes and sophisticated interplay of colour, light and shadow that really took my breath away. I can’t believe I almost skipped it.


Much of Gaudí’s design work was based on shapes and forms found in nature, and the interior of the Sagrada Família was designed to resemble a great forest, with massive columns rising up like giant tree trunks to the ceiling, a canopy of leaves that the sunlight filtered through.

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And now, a brief message from our sponsor…

July 28, 2010
Window display at Ladurée, Place Madeleine.


Currently on hiatus travelling through Spain and Morocco.  Expect more blogging when I return to Paris (and regular internet) in late August!


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 »


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