Sunday, January 22, 2017

My Life So Far

I turned 40 last month.  Quietly, perfectly and exactly how I dreamed of turning 40... in Paris.


I remember being 25 and visiting Paris for the first time.  I remember falling in love with the city and vowing to return, just once more, to celebrate my 40th birthday.  Chris and I were in the early, careful stages of our relationship and I couldn't have imagined where our lives would lead - separately or together.  I certainly never imagined our passionate pursuit of Paris or that Paris would bring us to London.

I started my 40th birthday with my favourite meal - an omelette nature and a giant  café crème at Le Petit Cler.  Chris and I spent the rest of the day wandering aimlessly through our beloved Paris streets, stopping for mulled wines and macarons.  I bought a sophisticated, age appropriate rose parfum at Annick Goutal and Chris didn't complain when I stopped at every Monoprix.


I wanted to be the kind of woman who celebrates her 40th birthday with a stream of cleverly hashtagged selfies and culturally relevant words of wisdom.  I wanted to be the kind of woman who crazily commemorates this milestone birthday with a hot air balloon ride, a naked yoga class or dinner at a Michelin starred-restaurant.  I really did.  But it's so not me.  It would have felt as forced and contrived as spending a day standing in line at the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa.  So not me.

Instead I did exactly as I wanted.  I spent my birthday with the love of my life in the city of our dreams.  No rushing, no fuss, just us two and overwhelming feelings of gratitude and love.

I admit that turning 40 has made me feel more reflective. 

Many of you may know that late last year, I participated in a video where I spoke very personally about my anxiety.  It was a freeing experience and one that has since influenced my outlook and attitude.  I made a conscious decision to open up about my anxiety, both in my personal and professional lives.  Subconsciously, I think this was my way of kick-starting my 40th year and embracing all of my emotional bits and pieces.

Because even at 40, I still feel like I am figuring things out... 

I worry about saying the wrong thing in a way that doesn't feel that distant from my teenage self.  I won't leave the house without make-up, but I hate doing my face.  Especially eyeliner.  I can't put eyeliner on without making a mess and I am 40.  I am still searching for the one dress that 'will change my life', even though there are at least a dozen of them hanging in my closet.  I still get crushes on short men.  I wish I could sleep past 6am.  I am uncomfortable around children, especially babies.  I think I would rather hold a scented ferret than a friend's baby. Sorry! I love Wolford tights, Repetto ballet flats, Marks & Spencer ready-meals, Nespresso, silk scarves, costume jewellery, novels and pocket-sized notebooks.  I miss horseback riding so much.  And part of the reason I walk through Hyde Park every morning is so I can see other people riding.  I am sarcastic.  I don't particularly like being hugged.  Each time Chris leaves London, I can't look at the planes circling over the city because it makes me too sad.  I love junk food and I often eat like I am still in my 20's with the metabolism of a 13 year old boy.  I read before bed every single night, even if it's super late or I have had one too many glasses of wine.  I love smiling at strangers.  I can't drink Champagne.  I get sweaty every time I have to speak in public, whether it's 3 people or 100 people. I hate running but I still consider myself a runner.  I still wear the same running shorts I wore when I ran the Vancouver Marathon in 2006.  I say sorry too much.  I spend too much time questioning how I have come to be at this place in my life, rather than just enjoying my life.



I had few expectations when I left Canada just over 18 months ago.  I expected to tolerate London as a means to get us to Paris.  I knew London would be good for my career.  I hoped I would make a few friends and learn to appreciate a bitter ale.  But never thought I would feel at home in London.  I never imagined buying candles and furry pillows for my bijou flat.  I never imagined having friends that would toast me with Champagne and filthy cards for my 40th birthday.  I never imagined my heart would do a happy dance every time my plane touches down at Heathrow.

London feels like home. To both of us.  

My experience in London has been extraordinary.  More than once I have wondered whether I worked really hard or just been really lucky.  When I think back on my 30's, I remember the opportunities and the setbacks.  Both professional and personal.  I didn't always immediately learn from them, but I did take them seriously.  And I think I am now just starting to appreciate their impact and influence.

I have been a lot of things in my 40 years.  I have been a daughter, friend, best friend, girlfriend and wife.  I have been a horse lover, cat rescuer, rider and runner.  I have been impatient, inflexible, furious, and terrified.  I have been heart broken, professionally confused, and almost a writer.  I have been deliriously happy and moved to tears.  I have been, and probably always will be, a bit anxious.

I think the best things I can take into my 40's are an open mind and gratitude.

I was in Italy last week.  As I left the airport in Rome, I started paging through my passport looking at its collection of stamps.  I felt a kind of geeky, and likely age inappropriate, shiver of pleasure.  I felt a huge smile spread across my face.

My life exactly as I imagined it... 

 




Sunday, August 14, 2016

Truths

Expats don't post their real lives on Instagram.  If they did, no one would follow them and certainly no one would ever dream of moving abroad.  I don't think anyone wants to see my Instagram feed with pictures of me making Nespresso from the end of my bed, trying to remove Marks & Spencer butter chicken stains from my pink Primark robe, or re-watching an episode of Gilmore Girls on Netflix. 

My life has changed much so since I moved to London, especially in the last three months, that it's difficult to conceive much less describe.  I have learned that in order to thrive as an expat, you have to say, act and believe in YES.  I have said 'yes' to eating Monster Munch and Scotch eggs.  I have accepted invitations to dinner parties where all of the guests have been friends for over 20 years and think that Canada is overrun with grizzly bearsI have been uncomfortable, felt ridiculous and tripped on the gap between the tube and the platform.  All because I believe that Chris and I are destined to live this life.

Playing tourist with one of my favourite expats at the hotel where Kate Middleton spent the night before her wedding. 
Chris left yesterday after spending 11 days in London.  We hadn't seen in each other in 17 weeks.  It's too soon for me to think rationally about his leaving or to worry about when we will next see each other.  Another thing I have learned as an expat is you can't dwell on everything you left behind or you could never move forward.  I can't spend every minute wishing I was curled up on the couch with Chris and Sophie Bitchface.  I can't think about selling Countess.  I can't miss my spacious office and the luxury of being able to close my door.  I can't focus on the fact that I miss birthdays, anniversaries, engagements and being able to call my loved ones in the same time zone.  I have to keep going and embrace my London life.






I appreciate what my London life looks like from a distance.  I get glimpses of its brilliance when I tour people through zones 1 and 2 or take them on picturesque walks through Hyde Park and South Kensington.  I am grateful for my London life.  But as all expats know, there are many misconceptions and mysteries...

  • I don't spend all of my free time drinking warm beer in dark pubs with low ceilings.
  • I don't eat fish n' chips every night.  I wish I could but I would get sick.
  • I have never bumped into Kate Middleton buying red velvet cupcakes at Hummingbird Bakery in South Kensington.  
  • I don't buy my groceries at the Harrods Food Hall, just the occasional French macaron. 
  • I haven't visited a castle, played polo or ridden a horse wearing a Barbour waxed jacket.   
  • Despite living in London, I still have to clean my bathroom and do my laundry.  
  • London women aren't all like Bridget Jones and they don't all want to be best friends or invite me to their tiny flats for hilarious and cozy dinner parties.  
  • Commuting is not more fun, or more sexy, just because I get to ride the tube.  It's especially not sexy when someone rams their sticky armpit in my face after a rare 30 degree day.  
  • It's impossibly frustrating to try and find a ripe avocado.  Or white chocolate that tastes like white chocolate.
  • All English men don't look or sound like Hugh Grant, Colin Firth or Ralph Fiennes.  However, most of them have really good taste in socks.  
  • Mascara is expensive.  But sandwiches are cheap.  
  • No matter how I pronounce 'about', everyone I meet thinks I am an American.  

The last thing is that inconsequential acts suddenly have huge meanings.  For example, I recently found myself moving unconsciously through the underground tunnels at King's Cross Station during rush hour.  I arrived on the Northern Line platform without a stumble, glance at my map, or a second thought. It felt simultaneously like a huge act of betrayal and a moment of belonging.  These conflicting emotions are constant.  I recently bought a side table, no bigger than what would fit in a children's playhouse, and the purchase seemed so permanent.  Same as when I finally hung pictures on my walls.  Last week, I felt a guilty thrill at hearing Chris describe our London flat as 'home'.

This is my London life.

Moments of perfect happiness...
Having Chris with me in London.

  
My 'Hyde Park Village'...
One of the best parts about my new job is that I start every morning with a 30 minute walk through Hyde Park.  Along with fellow commuters, there is a whole community that exists.  There is a group of velvet hard-hatted posh girls cantering their dark Warmblood horses on Rotten Row.  They are all dressed in identical tweed hunting jackets, ties and shiny black boots.  It's like a grown up Pony Club for Sloane Rangers.  There are the morning lido swimmers, in their Speedos and wet suits, bravely stepping into the lake with the geese and the swans.  And always a small black dog with a pink leash waiting for her owner on the dock, pacing back and forth in time with her owner's lengths.  There are the proper London commuters, the same ones who always rush to top deck, front row, of the red buses though would never admit it, that stop to admire and Instagram photos of the ducklings and cygnets that line the edge of Serpentine Lake hoping for a fallen bacon butty crumb.  I swear the birds are posher in Hyde Park.  There is a smartly dressed homeless man who wears a striped scarf, knotted French style around his neck, and is often found relaxing on a pink yoga mat beneath a willow tree.  He carries a smart looking brown duffel bag and his shoes are always immaculate.  The incredible views of the Shard and the London Eye.  It changes based on the weather, so every 5 minutes, but it never fails to make me stop and fall a bit more in love with London.

Rotten Row
One last truth...
I have been writing, just not blogging.  I am always writing, always looking and always stopping to write things down in one of the dozens of notebooks I have collected during my travels.  I always carry a notebook, especially now that I am spending more time commuting and traveling.  Notebooks are one of my comfort items and remind me of happy places, like alleys in Saint Germain, transatlantic flights with no Internet connection, rue Cler or the stationery department of BHV.  



Sunday, April 24, 2016

Future

I suffer from anxiety and the future can be scary place.

The future represents a series of unfounded fears and worst-case scenarios.  My anxiety turns every tension headache into an aneurysm, every delayed plane into a catastrophic crash, and when Chris doesn't his answer his cell phone I am convinced I will never see him again.  My anxiety can twist my stomach, tense my muscles, cause my ears to ring, and make me forget the simplest information.  At times, I am both terrified and overwhelmed by my anxiety's physical and emotional symptoms.  

I struggle to stay in the present and challenge my assumptions with what I know is the truth.

For the last 10 months, London has been my truth.  London, not Paris.


Chris and I took a huge risk when I moved to London last year.  We had no affection, no longing, no romantic ideals - especially Chris - about London.  London was a gateway to Paris and we would tolerate London until we could find our way to Paris.

We didn't expect to fall for London.


Chris came to London last September for the first time since our honeymoon in 2007.  I was apprehensive given his previous disappointment and how we spent the majority of our honeymoon eating hamburgers in our swanky hotel's lounge.  But Chris came ready to embrace London and support me and a different version of our dream.  I watched Chris relax in London, become a regular at "my local", negotiate rush hour on the Tube, and find his own space among 8 million Londoners.    

I didn't pursue a recent opportunity that could have lead us to Paris.  It was a difficult decision and one that suggests we are loosening our grip on Paris.  Or perhaps it means that we want to protect our romanticized version of Paris? Our Paris will always be for long, beautiful walks, kisses at the Eiffel Tower, and sitting for hours at Le Petit Cler.


London is an exhilarating city where almost anything seems possible.  I came with no expectations.  All I wanted was a chance to prove that Chris and I wanted our dream, in whatever shape, enough to risk our comfortable life together in Victoria.  In the last 10 months, I have met incredible people, received unbelievable support, and had experiences that will forever change my life.  London has changed both Chris and me.


I start a new, permanent job with a London university in May.  My new job is the next step in bringing Chris here and establishing our life in London.  This weekend I signed another year's lease on my flat and finally hung pictures on the walls.  I have a London doctor and I am almost brave enough to see a London dentist.

Two weeks ago, I flew from Victoria to London.  Those first 10 hours of separation from Chris are always the worst and I am grateful for British Airways' endlessly sympathetic flight attendants.  As I left the plane, one of them winked at me and said, 'Welcome home."

I still don't know what the future holds. But I know Chris and I are moving in the right direction...






     

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Mots d'Amour

I received a text in Victoria as the world was finding out about the Charlie Hebdo shooting in January.  One of my best friends was texting me from a high speed train en route to Paris.  It was her first trip there and she wanted directions and advice.

Minutes later I sat in front of my television watching the horrific news unfold.  I was shocked and saddened but more than anything I wished to be in Paris.  I wanted to be with my city.

I lay in bed on Friday night in London listening to BBC radio report on the chaotic and senseless killings in Paris.  I drifted in and out of sleep as the death toll rose and the extent of the tragedy became clear.  I woke to dozens of messages from friends and family wanting to make sure I was safe in London.

Again I was shocked and saddened and my heart broke for Paris.  And again, more than anything, I wished to be in Paris.  Now living so close, I checked the Eurostar schedule hoping to find a last minute deal so I could walk the streets of my city instead of staring zombie-like at the same, devastating news coverage.  I wanted to hold my city close.   
 
I have been teased that I only see Paris through sparkly and pink-coloured glasses.  My Paris is one where the Seine always glitters in the moonlight and the croissants are always warm and buttery.  My Paris is long, romantic walks in the Luxembourg Gardens with stolen kisses behind palm trees and sunlit glimpses of the Eiffel Tower.  I have been told on several occasions that my Paris isn't real. 


When I visited Paris in April, a few months after the Charlie Hebdo shooting, I found the city somewhat changed.  Subtle changes that revealed a slightly darker version of Paris where it was harder to make eye contact with strangers and a light tension could be felt on the streets.  A city I have always found so welcoming and warm suddenly felt closed and careful.  I smiled through the bag searches and skirted the areas that seemed overrun with armed police officers.  I reclaimed my home at Le Petit Cler and spent happy hours writing and drinking sharp shots of espresso.

My blog is not about politics and I am going to leave those difficult conversations and commentary to the professionals.  My blog is about Paris and my blog is about love.

Terrible things can happen anywhere.  I only have to look at my family and my close friends to see that appalling, life-changing things happen with barely a whisper, much less a shower of bullets.  We have a choice as to how we react to things.  With my family and my close friends, I have been awed and inspired by their determination as they faced challenges and fear.  Every single one of them has kept going.

Does love conquer fear?

Through my sparkly and pink-coloured glasses, I believe that love conquers fear.  I believe that Paris will always be the City of Light and the City of Love.  Paris will always be my city.  My thoughts, my prayers, my love and my heart are with Paris and to all those affected by this terrible tragedy.  


 For always and forever,  I'd rather be in Paris.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Contradictions

I was born in Canada.  I live in London.  And my stubborn heart still belongs to Paris.

What does it mean?

I can't describe the restlessness I have felt since I was old enough to understand that Victoria is an island and somewhat remote from the rest of the world.  I wanted to escape Victoria long before Paris or London and long before I understood how my escape would change my life, and Chris's life, forever.

The incomparable view of the Gulf Islands flying from Victoria to Vancouver.
Almost any ex-pat will describe similar feelings of restlessness and a certain sense of disconnection to their own country.  I met an Australian colleague that lives in France but spends a lot of her time working in London.  She travels back to Australia yearly.  She spoke about not wanting to live in Australia but not feeling entirely at home in France despite her French husband and children.  She explained that it's one of the difficulties of being an ex-pat - that sense of not knowing, or not feeling, that you belong in any country.

I am starting to get a sense of these feelings.

It's funny how desperate I have become for any slight connection to Canada.  Last week I saw a man in Bloomsbury wearing a Toronto Blue Jays ball cap and jersey and I had to stop myself from tackling him with a bear hug.  My pre-London self would have thought his style tacky and tasteless.

In the past five months, I have showed my colleagues photographs of marauding urban raccoons, tried to explain the precise location of the Gulf Islands and, countless times, dispelled the myth that Canada is covered in ice and snow.  I am quick to correct anyone who mistakenly identifies my accent as American and often I start conversations with, "I am from Canada".

I feel more connected to Canada living abroad.

Londoners are proud.  If you meet a Londoner who loves London, they LOVE London.  And every time I meet one, I am charmed and excited by how much pleasure they find in London.  I forget every small thing that can make London difficult at times; from costly rent to having an unwashed armpit thrust in my face on the Tube. 

Most days it's impossible not to love London.


I spent Canadian Thanksgiving working at some events in Paris.  It was a busy weekend and my first, tiny taste of being a professional in Paris.  Saturday started with an early morning and ended with a late night.  At 11:30pm, I found myself stomping along the moonlit Seine without so much as a glance at the glittery bridges or twinkling Eiffel Tower.  My stomach was growling with hunger, my feet hurt and I was becoming angrier by the moment.

Paris who?


I stopped, slapped myself - very hard! - mentally, and reminded myself that I was in Paris.  Paris.  I slowed my pace, took a few deep breaths and took a petit pause on Pont Alexandre, to swoon over the stunning view of Madame Eiffel. 

On Sunday I had a blissful, free day to wander Paris with no agenda.  I went to Jardin du Luxembourg and stood surrounded by a riot of autumn colours, leaves crunching underfoot, smartly dressed Parisians with their faces turned to the sun, and glimpses of Saint Sulpice and the Eiffel Tower.  My throat tightened and I felt tears prick my eyes.  After so many trips and trying to find different paths to Paris, I was standing in my favourite city in the world on a sunny October day.  Everything seemed possible in that moment. 

Paris still has my heart.


There are moments when I am overwhelmed by not knowing where Chris and I will ultimately live.  Moments where I wonder where home is or even what home means. 

In these moments of doubt, I remind myself that living and working in London is a privilege; I remind myself that I am lucky to love, and to know, three amazing countries and cities; and I remind myself that while it's difficult being apart from Chris, we are chasing our dream and no matter where we settle, it will be together and we will have answered the hard questions that arose during our first visit to Paris and London in 2007.  

Paris sunrise
Things ex-pats in London say (overheard on my nightly commute up Haverstock Hill)...
"I haven't been to Notting Hill yet but I had my groceries delivered from their Whole Foods."

Moments of London misery...
During a rare rush hour Tube journey, a man squeezed himself onto the train carrying a steaming bag of take-out.  It smelled like a rotting baby diaper had exploded and everyone was shifting into invisible areas of space to escape the smell.  Despite being told that it's "common to eat on the street", this same rule doesn't seem to apply to the Tube.  It's not uncommon to see people consume entire meals, not just handheld food like burgers or kebabs, on the Tube but food that requires cutlery and tricky balancing acts.

Things you will never see North Americans do (especially on the West Coast)...
While enjoying a glass of wine at Cafe Central on rue Cler, the Parisians sitting next to me devoured a basket of white bread while simultaneously smoking cigarettes.

Moments of perfect happiness...
I have had a crush on Rosa Bonheur since it opened on the Seine in 2013.  In Paris a few weeks ago, I had dinner there with the incredible daughter of one of my best social media friends, Cassie.  I met Cassie online over 5 years ago but we have never met in person (hurry up. December!) and her daughter is doing a semester abroad in Paris.  Dining outside on Rosa Bonheur's  gently bobbing barge we shared wine, pizza and a salad drenched in olive oil and runny, creamy cheese - "to be healthy" - while talking and laughing.  At 8pm, right on cue, the Eiffel Tower exploded into its light show and all the uber hip and chic Rosa Bonheur patrons squeaked with pleasure.  Bliss.              
 
         

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Our London Town

I wasn't sure what to expect when Chris arrived in London a few weeks ago.  It was his first visit since 2007 where the most we saw of London was the food hall at Harrods and an evening performance of The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty's Theatre.  Both of us left London feeling disappointed and flattened by the city.

Honestly, I was expecting Chris to hate London.  I was expecting his transition to London, and our transition to being a couple in London, to be tension-filled and difficult.  I was expecting non-stop, impossible comparisons to Paris.  I wasn't expecting normal.  I wasn't expecting Chris to find "his local' in Belsize Park, walks across Hampstead Heath, or cozy nights tucked up in our bijou flat eating Gail's Bakery sandwiches and watching BBC 3. I wasn't expecting us to be so happy and comfortable in London. 


That Chris fell in love with London is a relief and the part of me that has been holding my breath since June can finally relax and breathe.  This move to London has been one of the biggest challenges we have taken on as a couple and while we are grateful for this incredible opportunity, I know we have both had moments of doubt and fear.  

London isn't easy and it doesn't have the same softness as Paris.  8.6 million people live in London and it can be maddening, exhausting, and dirty.  The stress of dealing with banks and landlords, the relentless streams of miserable commuters that clump together at every major intersection, and the endless dance to sidestep piles of vomit on my morning commute through Camden Town can make me question my decision to leave the fresh air and wide open spaces of Canada. 


 But it's London...

Chris responded to London's energy even before I finished my carefully rehearsed "why-London-is-great" speech in the taxi from Heathrow.  At his suggestion, instead of unpacking, we went for pints at The George and he told me he already felt "at home".  The staff now know his favourite pint and I was greeted warmly yesterday when I stopped in for a glass of wine and a packet of crisps.  I saw London come alive for Chris and I saw him energized by its endless opportunities. 


Since June I have tried, with varying degrees of success, to settle in London.  Some days I have felt more like an observer or like I am taking a vacation from my real life in Victoria.  Other days, I have felt so at home that I can't imagine living anywhere else.  But always, I was waiting for Chris and waiting to see London through his eyes.  I wanted to share my London with him, share everything I have felt about London, and make it our London.  Chris made London real for me, and even though I miss him terribly, I am excited about our next phase and confident we will build a life in London. 

In London!
Don't worry we went to Paris!  We ate, drank, and wandered our favourite streets.  I introduced Chris to choux at Odette and watched in admiration as he ate steak tartare two nights in a row.  Paris was perfect, right down to our croque madames at Le Petit Cler and our kiss - more than one! - at the Eiffel Tower.  Paris will always be our best selves and always have our hearts. 

In Paris!
Things Londoners say (overheard at Wahaca on Charlotte Street)...
"I don't think she's quite socially developed.  Too much time at private school.  Still, I guess she's a good egg.'

Things Londoners, actually priests, say at the pub...
"I better not switch to beer.  I have been on wine all day."

Hampstead Heath dog owner problems...
Struck up a conversation at the dog pond with a distinguished looking gentleman wearing red linen pants and throwing soggy tennis balls for his grinning, bouncing chocolate Labrador.  He confessed that his dog was "greedy" and he must always carry 10 GBP in case his dog eats a family picnic.  He learned the lesson a few years ago when, empty pocketed, his dog crashed a children's birthday party and ate the entire cake.   

Lost in translation...
"Love seat" doesn't translate and my confused colleagues thought I was talking about some sort of sex chair instead of my flat's two-seat sofa.  Add the word "panty" and they will all be in hysterics and blushes for ages!

Things tourists say in Paris...
"This restaurant looks ok.  They serve real food here."

A moment I fell in love with my husband again...
Chris became the accidental doorman at Marks & Spencer Oxford Street and I watched as he patiently held the door for tourists and little old London ladies dressed in plaid head scarves and brown brogues.  One of them reached up and gave his arm a squeeze and I could see smiling down at her.  I bet she called him "lovey".