Sunday, December 6, 2009
Stop reading if you the type of person who would never spend a month’s rent on a handbag; stop reading if you are the type of person who associates morality with frugality; stop reading if you are the type of person who buys fakes from dubious street vendors and thinks that no one can tell.
However keep reading if, like me, you know that there is no substitute for the real thing; that there is nothing wrong with eating tuna fish – and not the expensive no-dolphins-harmed-kind but the cheap caught-with-a-net-soaked-in-oil-kind - because you spent all your grocery money on a bag that is worth feeling hungry for; that you understand that love sometimes can be best expressed with a luxury item.
In 2003, while backpacking around Paris, I became obsessed with Louis Vuitton. I watched with envy as Parisians from eight years old to eighty years old casually toted their LVs, using them to transport everything from lipstick to baguettes. LVs rested on cafe tables, rode the Metro and picknicked in Les Jardins Tulieres. LVs were everywhere.
And there I was - a filthy Canadian. Any vague sense of style I had back in Canada was hidden by my massive backpack, which by west coast standards was "designer", being a name brand (Jack Wolfskin for Women) and waterproof compartments. Oo la la! I have never felt more ugly in my life. I stood outside the LV flagship store on the Champs Elysees and vowed to one day carry my own LV.
I returned to Paris in 2007 on my honeymoon. With a more appropriate wardrobe and sans backpack, I dared to cross the threshold of the LV store and swooned at the sea of logos and chic, multilingual staff shuffling customers from display cases and holding the bags up for inspection. In what still feels like one of the most critical decisions of my life, I approached a clerk and asked to see the Speedy model.
For those of you who don't understand LV lingo, the Speedy is their most entry level bag. Think of it as buying a Cadillac without an engine. LV makes it in many sizes, many patterns, and it is probably one of the most commonly produced fakes. LV actually sells scarves that cost more than the smallest Speedy. The Speedy is not leather but "treated fabric" with leather handles and trim and the tell-tale brass padlock engraved with some of the most beautiful words in the English language: "Made in France".
I was sold the minute I held the bag in my unmanicured Canadian hands. I felt like I was buying a tiny bit of Paris and it was no regret that I spent my month's rent on the gorgeous, traditional logo covered handbag. Leaving the store, all honeymoon shiny, my LV nestled in its own bag, in its own box, with its "passport" tucked inside, the telltale brown shopping bag slung over my shoulder, I was on a major LV high. My new husband graciously bought dinners for the rest of our honeymoon.
Before my husband and I returned to Paris in 2009, I had a stern conversation with myself about the financial irresponsibility of purchasing another LV. I also convinced myself, and quite rightly, that I didn't need another LV. On our first day of walking around stunning Paris, I tried hard to ignore all the LV bags out for red wine and spring strolls. I didn't cross the threshold of the LV store and tried to content myself with buying far less superior French items, like jam and lingerie.
It didn't work. I was craving an LV bag. I started to joke with my husband about buying "Louis" un petit frere. I started to visit the LV boutiques in all the major department stores and I stood outside the LV administration offices, near Les Halles, snapping photographs like some sort of deranged designer bag stalker.
On our third-to-last day in Paris, my husband and I were enjoying one of our long, ambling strolls around Paris, trying to savour every detail of its beauty and trying not to focus on the fact that we would be leaving soon. Predictably we ended up on the Champs and my husband steered me towards the LV store. Once inside I tried not make eye contact with any of bags, walking in a determined straight line for the escalators that lead to the store's museum, or what I think of as a kind of personal place of worship. My husband stopped me and spoke the most romantic words he has ever spoken after "will you marry me":
"Pick out your bag."
I am only a tiny bit ashamed to write that I cried a little. Tears of happiness. Tears of gratitude for my incredibly generous husband who understands, and never judges, my love for luxury. Tears of disbelief that I was fortunate enough to marry a man who has never once said, "how much did that cost?"
Then we kissed in the middle of the LV flagship store on the Champs Elysees in Paris. An almost French kiss! And then we picked out a petit frere for Louis.
That night my husband still bought me dinner in Paris...
Friday, October 23, 2009
It was in Julia Child's lush book My Life in France that she observed - and here I am paraphrasing in the cruelest way - that the French are not rude, but they are proud. Proud of their culture, their history, the almost aggressive beauty of their country, their food, etc., and etc. Her observation struck me for two reasons: First, though I have never experienced a travel anecdote worthy moment of French (specifically Parisian) rudeness, I admit that I have often walked the streets of Paris in half-anxious anticipation of such a moment. Second, I live in a city that for much of the year is overrun by tourists frothing at their fanny packs at the promise of spending time in a city that has often been rather depressingly marketed as "Little England". with the added bonus of scenic ocean and mountain views and marine wildlife. It is a city that is no stranger to Conde Nast's "top ten lists" (http://tourismmall.victoria.bc.ca/victoria/) and it is a city that can bring out the worst, as in the rudest of rude manners of locals, myself included.
Perhaps then rudeness is best measured in relative terms. If you live in a place that boasts a two-lane bridge and a Dairy Queen as its star tourist attractions, then as a resident of such a town, you can ill afford to be unwelcoming to any poor tourist that stops on the bridge to take a photograph. But if, like me, you live in a "top ten" destination, where during certain months of the year negotiating your favourite local street to get your lunchtime sandwich becomes a nationality obstacle course and your emotions get the better of you, then you can perhaps understand the French tendency towards exasperation.
Monday, October 12, 2009
Sunday, September 27, 2009
You may have already concluded that my Parisian amour doesn't stray towards the eclectic or the intellectually haute. I like my Paris straight up with its Eiffel Tower light show, crepes on every corner, my Louis Vuitton bags and never passing a chocolat shop without stopping. My love is uncomplicated. I have no desire to tour the catacombes, participate in the weekly rollerblade around the city or search long and hard for a dark restaurant that doesn't serve cervelle until 22:00. C'est pas moi.
However I don't embrace the distinctly Americanized aspects of Paris either. No McDonalds, no Starbucks, no Nike, no asking for non-fat products or raising my voice to make myself understood. C'est pas moi.
But I did find myself at Disneyland Paris this past May.
Please understand my husband, at nearly forty years old, has never been to Disneyland. As we had a full fourteen days in Paris, we figured we had one to spare at The Magic Kingdom. Please also understand that Paris, at first blush, can be a bit overwhelming to some - my husband is one of the "some" and we thought Disneyland would be a good place to ease into our trip.
The first embarrassment came early in the day when surrounded by chic Parisian commuters at the Metro Station I had to ask for "deux carnets pour Disneyland". I swear it is the only train ticket you cannot purchase at the automated machine thus earning me a major eye roll and shoulder shrug from the attendant. Still I was hopeful.
Like all public transportation in Europe, the train was uneventful and efficient and in less than 45 minutes we were in a land far, far away from anything resembling the Paris of my dreams. Rather imagine any suburban strip mall containing oversized stores and restaurants that no one ever seems to shop at or eat at and then plonk down a smaller, exact version of Disneyland (Anaheim) to its left and le voila.
It is eerily similar to its California predecessor - starting with Main Street USA, the piped in music, the placement of Frontierland to Adventureland, etc., etc. It took us less than the train ride to realize we were not anywhere we wanted to be. The magic of Disney does not translate into French.
I felt uncomfortable for the French people working there dressed in cheap, unbreathable uniforms, Disney logos stifling their usual slouchy chicness. It was like when you see a dog dressed in one of those doggy designer outfits to make them look like a biker or a princess or a dog that likes to wear Cosby sweaters. You know the dog is dying of embarrassment. But you can't look away because it so wonderfully, unnaturally freakish. Trust me, that is what it is like to see French people wearing in Disney uniforms.
My husband and I stuck it out for most of the day. We had come all that way, spent all those Euros to get in and we knew we would never be going back. We embraced the Disney, bought silly ears and wandered the park taking pictures and eating Disney themed food.
Later that night, back in our natural, glorious habitat of downtown Paris, we grinned like lunatics at the blinged out Eiffel Tower while eating crepes bought on the steps of Trocadero.
Paris. Straight up.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
So now its September and I have wasted a summer of ideas. Paris hasn't been far from my thoughts though. On July 12 I fulfilled a on-my-must-do-list and had an Eiffel Tower tattooed on my right side. If I wasn't so worried about the ramifications of posting photos of oneself online, I would post a photo to show it off. Trust me, its perfect. And yes, I know true Parisians would probably faint from how unchic it is but I love it more than enough to justify its permanence. Chic or not.
And then of course there was the media explosion over the movie Julie & Julia.
Earlier this summer,following a soul enriching 2 week vacation/love-in spent entirely in downtown Paris with my husband, I bought him Julia Child's book My Life in France. Finally a book written by an American about France that isn't condescending or full of smug Americans traipsing all over Paris looking for non-fat dairy products. Julia Child LOVED France. Pure and simple. The book made me ache for Paris.
And no I still haven't seen the movie. I did just - barely - finish Julie Powell's bestselling book Julie & Julia and I must write that I believe a lot was lost on me. First, obviously the book is set in New York not Paris; second, I abhor cooking -even French cooking. It is really the one thing that can't be made better for simply being French.
A quick digression to list just a few things that are better because they are French: public transportation, hats, apricots, smoking, accordions, Vogue magazine, small tables and even smaller dogs.
Anyway as our vacation become more distant, my Paris Blues descended.
Then a few weeks ago a dear and very talented writer friend visited me from London. Over cocktails in a neighbourhood that can only be described as nouveau hippy chic, he "invited" me to Paris for his magazine's Paris issue celebration and launch. At the very famous English bookstore Shakespeare & Co. - this bookstore can be found in any Paris travel guide from stoic Rick Steeves to the backpacker bible Lonely Planet.
My Paris Blues are now clinical. This coming Friday while he toasts his magazine with French alcohol deliciousness, I will likely be curled up on my couch eating confiture d'abricot straight from the jar.
Monday, July 20, 2009
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
But I was still struggling. It was around this time that the idea of Paris, well the whole of Western Europe actually, came to me as a way of escaping my sad, single life in Vancouver. Instead of being known as Woman-who-is-Hungover-on-a-Monday, I would be reinvented as the Woman-who-went-Travelling-and-Became-Fabulous-and-Fulfilled. And the idea of going alone, though terrifying, was also incredibly appealing. I couldn’t commit to the idea of living abroad – even in Paris – so I decided on a 10-week, 100 Canadian dollars per day, solo backpacking trip across Western Europe. I took a leave of absence from my job, locked up my apartment, shipped the tabby to my Mom’s, skimmed some Lonely Planet books and boarded a plane in February of 2003. Paris was to be a highlight on my loosely planned itinerary.
I started my trip in London and stayed with a roommate from university. It was a comforting start, filled with evenings that were similar to the ones I had been having in Vancouver with lots of alcohol and nostalgic, boozy conversations. Some mornings I would wake on the couch of his flat and see him dancing manically to some obscure band and I would have to remind myself that we were in London, not Nanaimo. My London days were filled with requisite museum going and monument gaping. During once such excursion I happened upon Waterloo Station and I was struck by the fact that there were trains there that could take me to Paris in less time that it took me to drive to Whistler from my apartment in Vancouver.
That night I went online to book the next leg of my trip on the wonderfully priced European airline EasyJet. The romance of European train travel was not lost on me but it was, for the most part, lost to the realities of my budget. As anxious and excited as I was to get to Paris, I also wanted to delay the anticipation and ecstasy as long as I could possibly endure so I booked a flight from London to Dublin, with five days to explore in Dublin, before another flight would take me from Dublin to Paris.
As this isn’t a Blog about Dublin, I won’t excessively detail my five days there. Obviously, it being February, Dublin was rainy and cold. And my trip started off badly when I crashed the car that I had impulsively rented at the airport en route to the seaside town of Malahide. I returned the car with minor dents and scratches and gave up on seeing any of Ireland’s picturesque countryside. More than anything, Dublin was an entry into some of the realities of backpacking alone; I coped with my first hostel and my first shared shower, met my first Americans traveling as Canadians, and battled with my first pangs of loneliness and boredom. To be fair to Dublin, I was all about getting to Paris and realizing the fantasies that had been closeted in my imagination for nearly fifteen years.
On my sixth morning in Dublin I woke up and made my way to the airport. Paris was only a short flight away…
Monday, June 8, 2009
I (again!) spent too much time this weekend reading yet another book about an American who leaves their small Texan town, their safe job, their wide open spaces, etc. to pursue a more exciting life in the City of Lights. I have probably read about seven of these books this past year – typically penned by journalists, nannies or college drop-outs – and each time I have hoped in vain to feel a connection to the writer and each time I have been disappointed with their now predictable conclusion that indeed the United States is not only the best, but the only county to live. This past weekend’s reading provided me with a faint connection when the writer described how they developed a love of apricots while living in Paris. I as well became enamoured with apricots after several trips to Paris, particularly the jam, and I often search my hometown’s grocery and specialty food stores for new, French imported apricot products.
A bit of a delicious digression that still doesn’t answer my question about Canadians in Paris.
I first became aware of Paris as a pre-teen when I enrolled in a French Immersion language program that used, among other things, a book about the hapless adventures of “Claude” and “Jean” as they raced throughout the streets of Paris, often near the Eiffel Tower, to solve petty crimes while wearing black berets and striped shirts. In my 12 year-old mind’s eye, Paris was a small city of interlocking cobblestone streets that all led to the Eiffel Tower.
And then one morning I woke up, 25 years old, never having been to Paris, and recently single. I was utterly alone and suddenly Paris became the answer to all my problems. Moreover I was terrified that I would grow old – like into my thirties– and would never have made it to the city of my dreams. I know this reads as though I am going to recount a similar story to those Americans I scorned paragraphs earlier but it really isn’t.
You see I have never lived in Paris. I have never quit my job, quit my life or quit my wide open clean, Canadian spaces to chase a new existence down the cobblestoned streets of Paris. Rather at 32 years old, I have just returned from my third trip to Paris in six years – this time with my husband.
The fact that I have been to Paris three times in the last six years is amazing. My friends and my family remind me of this when I regularly moan about missing Paris and already wanting to return.
Paris is one of the great loves of my life; it is often the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning and it is often the last thing I think about before I drift off to sleep at night. Last night as I fell asleep recalling moments of my most recent trip, I decided that maybe if I wrote about Paris, it wouldn’t seem so distant...