Posts Tagged ‘Paris’

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 »

A Month of Sundays

June 7, 2010
In France, the first of May goes by a few names: the Fête du Travail (Labour Day), the Fête du Muguet (Lily of the Valley Day) and even the Fête du premier mai (First of May/May Day).  On this day, it is traditional to offer friends and family a sprig of lily of the valley, symbol of spring and good luck, especially if the sprig has 13 bellflowers.  As an extra bonus, on May 1st florists are allowed to sell their bouquets of muguet tax-free.


un jour férié – statutory holiday; bank holiday

faire le pont – literally “to make a bridge” (bridge a gap); an idiomatic expression used to describe the common French practice of taking a vacation day in between a statutory holiday and the weekend, thereby creating an extra-long weekend

les ponts de mai – “the May bridges” (essentially, the May long weekends)


Like most Canadians, by the time winter is drawing to a close, I have had it up to here with short days and long nights, face-numbing winds that make it difficult to breathe, cumbersome winter layers and sub-zero temperatures.  Nothing lifts my spirits quite like the early signs of spring and summer.  Those first few days when the temperature creeps above ten degrees, I love watching as my fellow citizens emerge from their various hiding places like so many human moles, blinking, into the sun, pasty faces turned up eagerly towards the sky, even pastier legs liberated (in our eagerness to believe that the worst is over, sometimes prematurely) from their winter-long incarceration in tights. There are always those few enthusiastic crazies who go so far as to bust out the shorts and flip flops, covered in goose bumps and shivering determinedly in defiance of what the thermometer actually reads.  It’s April dammit, and if you build it, spring will come. The advent of spring means that our precious two months of summer aren’t far off.  And nothing marks the beginning of summer in Canada like the revered “May 2-4”, otherwise known as Queen Victoria Day.

As long as I can remember, the sacred May 24 long weekend (dubbed “May two-four” in honour of the many flats of “two-fours” [24 beers] that are sure to be consumed on decks, patios and cottages across the country) has kicked off the beginning of one of the best seasons of the year. Best, of course, because the weather gets warmer, the sun comes out, all my favourite fruits are in season, and the days are long, languid and lazy. But also best because May 24 marks the beginning of long weekend season – a long weekend a month for several months to come, with the exception of June.  It’s an abundance of plenty!

Or so I used to think.

In Canada, we get really excited about the fact that we have that long weekend in May.  We’re so excited, in fact, that we’re more than happy to celebrate the birthday of a dead monarch who ruled a country that isn’t actually ours – and doesn’t even celebrate her birthday themselves – because doing so means that we get that magical day off.

However, I have recently discovered that, at least as far as public holidays go, May in France kind of, well, kicks May in Canada’s ass. 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?

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

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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