Sunday, November 21, 2010

Broken Vows

This past September, after two perfect weeks in Paris I vowed on the plane ride home to not let myself slip into a paralytic state of longing for my beloved city. I vowed to return home and attack my life with renewed energy and to not waste my Saturday nights searching for last minute flights and Eiffel Tower view Paris apartments. I vowed to not look at job postings or to join ex-pat online communities. I vowed to be grateful for our yearly trips to Paris.

All of my vows have been broken. I have wasted hours searching for flights (so inexpensive to fly on Christmas Day!) and taken hundreds of virtual apartment tours; I have researched French immigration regulations; I eagerly look forward to my weekly ex-pat e-newsletter; and I have added several immigration lawyers to my contacts. When I close my eyes, all I see is Paris.

My husband, Chris, is equally as lovesick and since returning home we have both struggled to ignore Paris and the pull it has on us. We are failing miserably.

When we got married in 2007, Chris had never been to Paris. His first trip was similar to mine in 2003; he started out disliking Paris, being disappointed by it and ended up madly in love. Like most sensible newly married women, I believed that our rather extravagant Parisian honeymoon would be, if we were lucky, a trip we took every ten years or so. Never in my wildest dreams did I think we would return to Paris as we have on an annual basis. After all, getting married means settling down. And while we had agreed before getting married that there were certain milestones (i.e. having children and living in the suburbs) that we were happy to bypass, I think we both saw ourselves growing old together in our hometown.

Personally, I hoped that marriage would deaden, or at least quiet, the feelings of restlessness that have stirred and frustrated me since I was old enough to know cities like Paris existed. Until recently I believed it wasn't always Paris but when I reflect back honestly, I admit there has never been anything but Paris. I have loved Paris, in some form or another, whether real or imagined, since I was 10 years old. It seems that my heart has always been leading me there.

So while Paris has always been my heart’s desire, until I met Chris marriage was something other people did. I thought I was not the kind of woman that men wanted to marry. I was convinced of this, despite a previous long-term relationship that was on the path to marriage. In my mind’s eye, I was still the too-chubby-all-mouth-all-legs-gawky-oversize-sweater-wearing teenager that never got the guy of her dreams. From the moment Chris became part of my life, I stopped being that awkward teenager. With the first words we spoke to each other, Chris made me feel like the best and most beautiful version of myself and even back then I knew that wherever he was, was where I wanted to be - even if it meant, and it did mean, relocating to my hometown.

So here we are today, living in our hometown, many years from the moment we met, three years into our marriage and three amazing trips to Paris. While our friends seem to live more traditional married lives: buying houses, having babies and cooking Sunday night dinners for their in-laws, we find ourselves seriously considering a different kind of married life. A married life in Paris. Is it possible?

Most days I believe it is possible. But there are also days when I can’t see past the impossibility. It would be too much of a beautiful life for two, small town people; being happily married and being able to live in Paris is greedy and more than anyone deserves. There are also days, too may of them right now, where I know we both think if we don’t try a life together in Paris, we will regret it for the rest of our lives.

Contemplating a move to Paris is sort of like contemplating marriage. There are risks, there are sacrifices, and the statistics are ugly. We all know that over 50 per cent of marriages end in divorce. But to love someone enough to marry them is to know that the risks are worth the rewards and that there are always happy endings. It is putting your faith into something that can’t be put into words but can be felt in the deepest pit of your stomach and stretch your heart in way that makes you ache with happiness and wonder.

Paris, will you marry us?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Nice, Day 2, September 6, 2010

No culture, just shopping.

Though sometimes I wish I was a different kind of person – as in the kind of person who prefers museums over designer boutiques – I am not and neither, thankfully, is my husband. Which is why a Monday in France will always, always be better than a Sunday in France if only for the simple reason that Louis Vuitton and Hermès are open.

Today we shopped. Yes, I know we are vacationing on the French Mediterranean and yes, even as I write this from our balcony at night, the temperature is over 80 degrees, but absolutely nothing will deter us from shopping in France. Even if I was far sweatier than I like to be when trying on clothing so beautiful that I actually became short of breath.

Now, to start a perfect day of shopping Nice, ignore the guidebooks (Rick Steeves especially!) that extol the virtues and the scenery of taking your morning café crème on the Promenade Anglais in the sunshine and head straight to Nice’s fabulous centre commercial, Nicetoile, . While there this morning we discovered the elegance and sophistication of mall coffee.

Though I admit we started to get nervous when we ordered our café crèmes and were gravely informed that there was a “crises” resulting in a terrible café crème faux pas. No. Warm. Milk.

We decided to risk it and were shown to a tiny seating area within the store to await our café crèmes. Correction. To await the presentation of our cafes crèmes. Naturally they arrived on silver trays, complete with chocolats, biscuits and more sincere apologies for the lack of warm milk. I swear I have had Starbucks baristas sneeze into my coffee and make less of a fuss.

Just another reason why France is fabulous.

Pumped full of caffeine, we attacked my favourite French department store, Galeries Lafayette (GL), which much to my delight has a location in Nice. Chris and I split up to individually attack the store’s respective homme and femme departments. Today marked my first foray into what I anticipate being the glorious experience of shopping-in-France-in-September. Cashmere, leather, fur! Luminous hosiery and chained handbags! Velvety lipsticks and sumptuous face creams! Even the scaled down GL in Nice made my heart flutter. I felt dizzy with shopping possibilities. It was too much and I, quite literally, had to escape the store for the un-stimulating atmosphere and safety of Place Masséna. I guess after fifteen months of having to buy the same pair of $69.99 black pants from the GAP, I am not quite ready for French fall fashion.

After a bit of sunshine and more café crèmes, we decided to shop the boutiques on Avenue Verdun and do a bit of a warm-up for Paris. As in shake off the not-too-distant memories of Coach outlets and H&M Boxing Day sales and slip back into the quiet elegance that are my French favourites, LV and Hermès.

After a quick browse through LV – I am honestly saving myself for the splendour of LV in Paris! - it was time for Hermès for which I am willing to make a “Paris exception” in order to try and purchase what I believe will be a much coveted carré from their automne-hiver 2010 collection. Quand Soudain. I have been lusting after it since its release last May and purchasing it is one of my specific shopping missions on this trip. Unfortunately, it is sold out in Nice.

Leaving Hermès with no brown-ribboned-orange-box, we passed by a store window where a wool cream blazer caught my eye. I tried to ignore it; my shopping plan is to save my funds for Paris. But Gerard Darel, 6 Avenue Verdun, would not be ignored! Chris pushed a repugnantly sweaty me through their door and made immediate friends with the saleswoman. A saleswoman who I will forever admire for ignoring my shiny face and my cheap, white t-shirt stuck to my back with perspiration.

“Beautiful! Superb Fit!”, she genuinely gushed in flawless English, when I slunk out of the fitting room to be inspected by her and Chris. “And,” she added in a conspiratorial whisper, “It’s an excellent imitation Chanel.”

I stood there in the mirror trying not to make eye contact with myself, squirming and looking for faults with the blazer. There were no faults to be found. From its rich cream colour, to its perfectly frayed edges, to its silk lining and its custom fitting epaulettes, the blazer was perfect. So perfect that its buttons were chocolate brown with raised, gold d-ring horse bits on them. So perfect that it is one of those items that I have always fantasized about having in my wardrobe. You know the kind of item that when you put it on, you feel as though your life could change just by wearing it.

I didn’t buy it.

To save you from the hours of torture I went through after leaving Gerard Darel sans perfect- cream-blazer-that-could-change-my-life, I report that I am now writing this from our balcony, from which I have the perfect peripheral view of a chic, ribboned black and white Gerard Darel bag with contains the tissue-wrapped blazer of my dreams. Chris, in his infinite generosity and superb taste, took me back to the store later and purchased it for me as a gift.

Just another reason why my husband is fabulous.

We ended our day by riding the carousel on Promenade Anglais. It was romantically empty and just the two of us rode the antique horses with their real horse-hair tails, revelling in our perfect day in Nice.

I Run to be... Paris (in San Francisco)

I ran my second marathon last weekend in San Francisco – the Nike Women’s Marathon to be exact. A marathon that brings together, by chance of a lottery draw, over 20,000 women to run through the streets of San Francisco for the reward of being presented at the finish line, by a tuxedo-clad fireman, a Tiffany necklace, complete with blue box and white ribbon. This year the finisher’s necklace was engraved with Nike’s new running slogan, I Run to Be…”

Earlier during the weekend I had shopped at the massive NikeTown, a store full of sweatshop produced athletic wear, teeming with women all searching for the perfect race weekend souvenirs. Caught up in the madness, I purchased far too many items made of sweat wicking Nike FitDry, to be filed away in my wardrobe under “clothing-I-would-not-be-caught-dead-wearing-in-Paris”. One of the hottest selling items, and one that I purchased myself, was a custom Nike FitDry t-shirt with the “I Run to Be…” phrase completed by the wearer.

Naturally I thought of Paris. Naturally I am always thinking of Paris. So naturally my Nike t-shirt reads, “I Run to Be… PARIS.”

Readers of my Blog may remember my February post last year, I. AM. PARIS.; a post I wrote after months of searching, with the help of my career counselor, to try and find a way to live my life fully and with gratitude. In February I wrote,

“Paris is romantic. Paris is organized chaos. Paris is attention to detail. Paris is a lifestyle that I aspire to. Paris is fashionable. Paris is edgy. Paris is kind but not too kind. Paris is challenging. Paris is delicious. Paris is smart. Paris is happiness. Paris is where I feel strong. Paris makes me want to get out of bed in the morning. Paris is history. Paris is wonderful memories and dreams about the future.”

This past year has been a year of learning. The marathon I ran on Sunday was the culmination of this year of learning.

I confess that I don’t love running the way real runners love running. For the past seven or so years I have been running out of necessity and convenience; running is an easy and inexpensive way to keep fit and doesn’t cut into my Paris (LV!) savings. In fact last year while working with my career counselor, she said, “Only run if you want to.” I didn’t want to. And for several months I didn’t run at all and spent my Saturday mornings happily watching Bachelor reruns. I did not miss running, not one bit. True I became a bit squidgier. So much so that when I glimpsed at my naked butt in the mirror on my 33rd birthday, I actually cried out in horror. But I still had no desire to run.

And then my husband told me about this “Tiffany marathon” and I entered the lottery on a whim thinking that no one ever wins a lottery on their first try. Wrong. I received my entry confirmation on April 21, 2010 and begrudgingly began my training.

Marathon training involves a lot of time to be alone with your thoughts.

Paris. Chris. How good Starbucks coffee tastes after a run. Legs hurt. Try not to throw up. Hate this song. Love this song. Is the horse too fat. Sleep. Panic about lack of direction. Mentally organize closet. LV bags front and centre.

Fortunate. As I began to build mileage spending my Saturday mornings on longer and longer runs, I started to think about how fortunate I am and how fortunate Chris and I are.

Gratitude. Over the past couple of years, I have watched some of my family and my closest friends go through extremely difficult times reminding me again and again that our lives can change in an instant, not necessarily for the better, and what we thought we had time to do, would get around to doing “one day”, suddenly disappears complicated by challenges far beyond our control.

It made me want to run more. It made me want to run harder. And I did. Despite an injury that kept me from training for five weeks, despite a pre-marathon trip to Paris that involved no running at all and excessive amounts of rich food and alcohol, despite fumbling to balance my training with my horse, and with being a somewhat not-so-horrible wife (sorry Chris!), I completed my marathon on Sunday, October 17, 2010, in 4 hours and 45 minutes.

Do something. I think I understand way more than most runners that running can be miserable. I have gone on more runs thinking, “I hate running”, rather than “I love running”. But running, broken down in its simplest form, at its core, is the act of going forward and no one can afford to take “going forward” as an inherent right.

I don’t care if its running, walking to work, dreaming of a trip to Africa, raising your family on organic foods, saving to own a Mercedes, opening your own restaurant, whatever. For me it’s Paris. But…

Do something because you can and because one day you won’t be able to. Do something because for every 1 second that you think it’s hard or scary or that you will get around to it later, there are probably at least 100 people who can tell you that is not the way life works

There are no excuses. I Run to Be… Grateful. I Run to Be… Paris.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

September 4 & 5, 2010 - Nice

Our arrival in Nice was disastrous.

Despite my months of obsessive planning nothing could prepare us for the absolute hell of the AVIS car rental counter. A 90 minute wait to get our vehicle turned both Chris and I into ugly, shouting, f-bomb dropping tourists. Though in my case, I more or less put my head on the counter and sobbed quietly in English while the AVIS employee tried to find the vehicle I had reserved six months ago.

I do not recommend starting your vacation this way. More importantly I do not recommend driving a rental car in a foreign country, in the dark and when you are soaked through with sweat and tears and haven’t eaten in over eight hours. Just get a taxi.

I was clever though. I had printed off the Google map directions from home and I handed them confidently to Chris as we pulled out of the rental parking lot. The problem was, even before I had flicked the signal indicator that the right turn Google had mapped did not exist. Neither did any of the other right or left turns, merges, slight rights, etc. The Google map showed a 7 km drive from the airport to the hotel but we drove around in circles for over an hour before reaching our hotel.

At one point, I seriously considered abandoning both the car and Chris in the middle of Nice. It finally made me understand those hysterical couples on “The Amazing Race” who have complete meltdowns at what seems like the simplest task. Exhausted, hungry, sweaty, disorientated and seemingly trapped in a futile exercise. As in driving a French rental car 7 km from airport to hotel.

Further complications awaited us at the hotel. Though I had read the small print on the web site - “no valet” - I assumed that parking would not involve another set of directions, an elevator ride and a short walk. I was wrong. And as we pulled away from the hotel with our final set of directions, I glanced in the rear view mirror and noticed a sky full of fireworks erupting over Baie des Anges. It shook me out of my bad mood and made me realize that we had made it to Nice, to France and that we were now officially on holiday in France!

We woke up this morning (Sunday) to a glorious day. Nice is experiencing record hot temperatures for the first week of September. I should also confess that the airport can be clearly seen from the balcony of our hotel room and why we couldn't find it last night will likely remain a mystery for the rest of my life.

Today, not quite yet in vacation mode, we found ourselves marching around Nice, as if under military order, blankly touring Nice’s sights: Cours Saleya, Colline du Chateau, Place Massena, Opera and even breakfast at the famous Hotel Negresco ( on Promenade des Anglais. By mid-afternoon, Chris had enough and I spent the afternoon strolling through Nice’s old town alone.

Despite not really wanting to be on my own, especially on our first day of vacation, I feel comforted by how familiar France feels. How I feel so instantly at ease and how I want nothing more than to spend more time in this beautiful country.

I return to the hotel with ham and cheese baguettesand we drink beer on our deck before heading out for our obligatory first-night-dinner-in-a-tourist-trap-restaurant. The food is not even bad (seafood and steak on silver platters) and it has ample ambience being right in the heart of Cours Saleya but dinner feels forced and not our style. Yes we know we are tourists but we also feel we aren’t tourists and we want experiences closer to our hearts.

From when we started planning this trip, we meant it to be more than a holiday. We wanted to integrate ourselves more into France and try to feel what it might be to live here one day. For me, I want to try and understand what makes me love France so much and to try and understand what makes sometimes living at home feel impossible and frustrating. I have written more than once that I hope France somehow disappoints me this trip because it will make my life at home much easier and much less complicated.

It’s time for bed; best to sleep on these things and look forward to another day in France tomorrow.


The saying goes that home is where your heart is but what if, like me, you feel as though your heart belongs to two places?

My husband and I have just returned “home” from Paris, as in we have just returned “home” from “home”. Over the past week I have run through a range of emotions: everything from being elated at seeing the familiar and to sleeping in my own bed, to overwhelming gratitude for the experiences I had in France, and to an aching emptiness at the thought of not seeing my beloved Paris for another year.

It was an incredible fifteen days. And though I didn’t use a computer to write while in France, I blogged every day in long hand. Over the next couple of weeks I will transfer my words from the page to the screen starting with the week we spent in the South of France and finishing with our eight days in Paris. More than in my usual postings, my writing will feature my husband, Chris, and he will also be writing a guest Blog in the next couple of weeks.

One of the most important things I learned from our trip is that while I may have two homes, the only home worth giving my heart to is the one where Chris lives. Chris and Paris will always be the two great loves of my life.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Dear Paris...

Dear Paris:

I can't believe it has been nearly fifteen months since we have last seen each other. Though some may argue that you are a love to be had only once in a lifetime I know better. And I will be with you in a few short weeks.

The anticipation is agonizing. I wake up with your name on my lips, my heart racing and my mind full of all the firsts that we will experience again together. I will never grow tired of admiring your beauty be it your art, your food or your style. I think of your sweet smell; the scent of your heated cobblestones mingling with your parfumeries and your boulangeries and I cannot wait to feel the weight of my limbs caress your endless and enchanting boulevards.

Paris, I have missed you so much.

I admit this past year I have fallen more in love with you. I have given myself up to the idea of existing in this perpetual state of longing that intensifies at the slightest provocation; a CNN shot of the Eiffel Tower on New Year's Eve or finding a crumpled metro ticket in the pocket of my LV. I talk about you endlessly.

Paris, I hope you don't think I am foolish for loving you so much. I sometimes think it was my destiny to feel this way about you. At age 11, I was given two gifts from my grandmere: a small, silver Eiffel Tower pin and a French copy of Le Magicien d'Oz. It was the first time I remember hearing your name and I understood right away that you were something special, something to aspire to, and that you would be the city of my dreams.

Don't worry I have lived a happy life this year waiting to return to you. Sacrifices have been made to allow me this luxury but they were all made for the most important thing: Love.

Paris, you are love.

Toujours mon amour,

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Faire Une Pause

I took a break from writing in July.

It was partially because I was busy watching le Tour de France and partially because I needed to give myself a mental holiday from thinking - obsessing! - about Paris. Some days I know my obsession gets in the way from living my life here and I become too consumed with worrying about how any inconsequential action will somehow affect the potential of my future life in Paris. As if buying a $12.99 pound bag of Fair Trade coffee instead of buying the $4.99 pound bag of drug store brand coffee will have serious implications as to whether my husband and I live out our Paris dreams in our right bank flat above a patisserie.

More or less for the past ten months I have lived according to these self-imposed ideals and restrictions for the ultimate reward of Paris. And now Paris is less than forty days away. This time next month I will be writing about Paris, from Paris; this time next month my first bite of crepe from the stand just outside of les jardins tuileries (predictable but delicious) will erase the memory of all those winter can-of-soup-with-Stoned-Wheat-Thins lunches; this time next month, standing amongst the fall collection of bags at Longchamps, 404 rue St. Honore, I will congratulate myself for not succumbing to the charms of three seasons worth of clearance bags at everywhere from Aldo to Holt Renfrew; and a simple stroll along the banks of la Seine with my husband will make everything in my world perfect again.

I cannot wait for Paris.

But before Paris, there is business to be taken care of. It is no secret that one of my dreams is to be able to support my Paris habit by writing about Paris. During my pause, I started the process of trying to promote my Blog to the wider world. You can now join my Facebook group, All Things Paris - The Fabulous Adventures of CountessLV, by searching "All Things Paris" under "Groups" on Facebook.

All Things Paris was also recently invited to become a member of, an invite only, beta web site for fashion lovers. It is completely legitimate and if fashion is your language, these online users are your community. I have quickly learned that my French fashion collection is nothing compared to some of these international fashionistas. Conchi Pellin writes her Blog, My Jewls and More - from Alicante, Spain. Her personal French collection includes vintage Chanel shoes and a Dior "pouchy".

The countdown is on, my pause is over and I will stop at nothing for Paris.

PS - If you want to join, I was given five memberships for joining so send me an e-mail to

Sunday, June 27, 2010

L'Elephant dans la Chambre

In Paris last year my husband and I were talking. We were having one of those conversations that we rarely give ourselves the time for at home. Deeper than the usual day-to-day inquiries, housekeeping and amusing snatches of work gossip, we were talking about our future. My husband said to me that he was ready to own a place in Victoria - our home - and would be disappointed if we weren't taking steps towards this in a couple of years.

Upon returning from our trip we started the home ownership process, got approved for a mortgage and began looking at properties. We then spent several weekends being chauffeured by our patient realtor from condo to condo before coming to the conclusion that we really weren't ready to own our own place. It's one thing to give up my daily Starbucks, my Friday night cocktails or my monthly purchase of French Vogue but it's an extreme level of sacrifice to give up my annual trips to Paris.

Our pre-approved mortgage eventually expired and before we had much time to reflect on this fact, we were anxiously awaiting the arrival of Fedex and our tickets to see U2 play Stade de France in September. Paris was once again dominating our future plans.

To be perfectly honest, lack of home purchasing aside, I have given my husband a number of things to be disappointed about this past year. Between changing careers, various domestic failures, my endless pursuit of my two, very expensive passions - Horses and Paris! - and my newly discovered, much loved but non-paying, part-time job as a blogger, he has had every reason to become frustrated with me. Instead he has provided me with more support than I deserve and I am lucky to be married to someone who places such high value on my happiness.

And so we have lived the last year with Paris on the horizon. And occasionally we have talked about what it would be like move there part-time or maybe even permanently. When we talk about Paris, about our potential life there together, I feel a combination of excitement at the unknown opportunities and adventures and a longing for the comfort I imagine I would feel, in some strange way, to be home.

More than a holiday this September, we are approaching our trip to Paris as a chance to really think about the city from the perspective of possible residents. Obviously, I already have our Paris lives perfectly planned out...

My husband will become a hugely successful, internationally sought-after stylist for Toni & Guy and will eventually travel Europe as one of their top instructors and platform artists. I will obtain my Masters in French literature from Universite de la Sorbonne and then be offered a job there as a professor. In our spare time, we will picnic in jardin du Luxembourg on baguette sandwiches and confiture d'abricot straight from the jar, we will bicker about who will do the grocery shopping, and we will learn to speak perfect French. And I will finally publish my Paris love story as told by a Canadian. This is the Paris life I want.

I have to be careful though not to want Paris too badly and not, as I already do, think about Paris too much. Paris weighs heavy in both my heart and in my imagination. Because of this, I also need to think of our September trip as a way of my reestablishing Paris of what it is mostly meant to be; a city so beautiful, so inspiring and so rich that it is once in a lifetime. I need to consider letting go of Paris and shutting the door on what is likely a far too grandiose Parisian fantasy.

What would Paris think?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Le Droit

Shopping in Paris requires planning and careful consideration. Paris is fashion and shopping in Paris evokes a range of emotions from anticipation to awe to respect. Even now, as I type this, I am mentally thinking about what I will wear in September.

This is completely opposite as to how I approach shopping at home where I have been known to wear a ball cap if it means arriving earlier to the Holt Renfrew Boxing Day sale. A couple of years ago, a girlfriend and I went to Seattle for the sole purpose of shopping. Staying at a downtown five star hotel, mere blocks from the shopping district, we spent two blissful days going from store-to-store in our athletic gear, sweaty and disheveled. We skipped dinner, ate a pound of chocolate fudge and didn't unpack our bags, except to dig out our bathing suits for swimming in the hotel pool which we decided was just as good as taking a shower. We ate donuts in bed while drooling over our new Coach bags and our real, gold-plated Juicy Couture charm bracelets. Our hair was greasy, our skin was pasty and we were so, so happy.

But Paris is serious.

Is it too obvious to wear my Hermès scarf while shopping at Hermès? LV#1 will travel to Paris, looking appropriately worn and not too "nouveau", while LV #2 will stay at home and continue to ripen for another trip. No Coach (too American!) and obviously no white sneakers or anything that I wear to the gym. High-ish heels preferable and lots of classic black and white pieces. I am already anxious thinking about how my flat iron never works in Paris leaving me feeling as though I am the evil hair twin of 197o's Elvis and I am considering cutting my hair a la Audrey Tatou in Amelie.

In Paris last May, I struggled with the shopping. Spring and summer aren't my favourite seasons; too many open-toed shoes and not enough boots; too many cashmere-blend tank tops and not enough cashmere-blend coats; and flimsy fabrics that look as though they will fall apart or crumple unrecognizably after wearing them a few times. But then I stumbled upon a new trend - summer boots!

Summer boots! All the women in Paris were wearing them with short skirts and bare legs. They looked sexy and inspiring and I started lusting after my own pair. The pair, when I finally found them, were in the shoe department of Galeries Lafayette. They were heather coloured, a warm grey-purple, with leather soles and wooden heels. The boots cost 300 euros. I purchased them after drinking too many Kronenbourgs at a cafe near l'Opera and immediately had major buyer's regret.

Back in our hotel, I worried to my husband that I didn't think I had made the right decision. The colour wasn't exactly West Coast friendly where it rains six months of the year - including the summer - and I wasn't sure I could afford to have a pair of 300 euros indoor boots. And they really didn't fit. My husband was confused.

"What do you mean? You tried them on, right?"

"Yes, but... "

Of course I had tried them on. Truthfully though it had been more like a wrestling match between me and the boots with me Kronenbourg-confident that I would win despite the fact that it took a pair of nude hose, a shoe horn, the combined pulling and tugging of both me and the saleswoman, and finally me stomping my feet to get the boots in place. Fabulous!

At the hotel, I reenacted the embarrassing ordeal for my husband and it was clear that the boots had to be returned. As in I had to return 300 euros boots in Paris. Return 300 euros boots in my broken, nervous French, wearing the same black and white, now sweaty, pleated skirt I had worn the day before to purchase them.

The following morning I arrived at Galeries Lafayette just as le grand magasin was opening. I tried to bypass the shoe department by going straight to the international customer service desk where I was politely, but firmly told the boots had to be returned to their original department. I rode the elevator red-faced and shaking.

"Je, je... je suis desolé . Je voudrais rapporter mes bottes."

"Madame. C'est pas grave. Vous avez le droit à changer votre avis."

You have the right to change your mind. Le droit. The right.

Elegant! Chic! And so very, very French. One thing is for certain, summer boots may come and may go but I will never change my mind about Paris. Paris pour toujours.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

"I need to be in Paris."

In a previous blog posting I wrote that one of my biggest disappointments was the realization that I was never going to live the life of Carrie Bradshaw, either professionally or personally. I spent most of my twenties watching and re-watching episodes of SATC learning about everything from summering in the Hamptons to oral sex. And like most fans I was devastated when the show finally went off the air.

But there was a time (Several episodes!!) when I hated Carrie Bradshaw...

Season 6, the final season, episodes 19 & 20, An American Girl in Paris (part une & deux)

Fans of SATC either loved or hated the character of Aleksandr Petrovsy, as played by Mikhail Baryshnikov. Whatever your opinion may be, in episode 18 of season 6. he uttered some of the most romantic and most promising words:

"I need to be in Paris."

I found Carrie's hesitation to go to Paris incomprehensible and maddening. Here was a man, a wealthy and talented man, offering an opportunity to live not just in Paris, but in a suite at Plaza Athenee in Paris, all expenses paid, where you biggest worry would be which patisserie to purchase your warm croissant from each morning. You can call me a disgrace to my sex but I was thrilled when Carrie packed her bags and abandoned her NYC life to be kept in Paris. And then I eagerly anticipated the final two episodes.

Except that Paris-Carrie was a weak, whining shadow of New-York-Carrie. As SATC climaxed against the backdrop of Paris, the urge to crawl through my television and shake her senseless was overwhelming. I have since watched these two episodes again and again (most recently yesterday) and this urge has not lessened. If anything it gets worse with every trip I take to Paris.

Is this what Americans really think of Paris and Parisians? That Paris is impenetrable and lined with dog shit? That all Parisians are snobbish and unwelcoming? That Paris is a grey, cold city that mocks outsiders and forces them to wander the city's streets smoking and shivering?

"No one in Paris seems to understand me."

Carrie trembled those words during a phone call home to New York clearly missing the whole point of Paris.

Being misunderstood in Paris is part of its allure. It is through being misunderstood that forces you to embrace new ways of communicating not just with Parisians, but also with the culture. And then it is finally finding the familiar in the misunderstanding, finding the familiar in the strange, challenging place that is Paris, that makes you fall in love with your Paris-self. In Paris you discover extraordinarily beautiful places in your heart and and in your mind that you didn't even know you had.

Predictably at the end of the final episode, Big shows up in Paris to rescue Carrie and return her to New York.

"Take me home."

Frankly, I can't imagine saying those words in Paris. Paris has become home in a way, a sort of house of dreams way. I typically spend my last few hours in Paris giving my husband the-don't-make-me-get-on-the-plane-eyes.

Paris is so much more than a series of monuments and historical moments represented in films and literature. Parisians are so much more than beret wearing, frowning, American hating caricatures. Paris is potential, unrealized and realized. Paris is where you go to be your best self.

And no one ever needs rescuing from Paris.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

An Argument for Luxury

I was the lumpy kid at school who got punched in the stomach for their Betty Crocker Fruit Roll-Ups. At the time, the mid-1980's, Betty Crocker's Fruit Roll-Ups were the pinnacle of schoolyard luxury and I had the genuine article not the faux, generic ones, pathetically named something like Frutti Blankets. My Mom, I remember, went to a lot of trouble to stretch our grocery budget in order to ensure I had the "right" ones.

Looking back I wonder if this is where my taste for luxury came from?

I know in my twenties, single and living in Vancouver, I would often - and happily - sacrifice nutrition to purchase anything from Diesel jeans to a Calvin Klein bra. Sitting cross-legged on my futon, dining on a can of tuna and a Beefeater gin cocktail, I would stare dreamily into my closet and imagine the possibilities of a life clothed in designer denim and shod in Italian shoes.

And then I went to Paris for the first time. Paris with a backpack and a budget of 100 Canadian dollars a day. The most luxurious item I purchased on my first trip was a pastel, polka-dotted Princesse Tam-Tam thong on sale at Galeries Lafayette. After a week spent watching Parisians casually strolling the streets in their been-in-their-family-for-three-generations Chanel jackets or letting their vintage Birkins rest on damp cobblestones while they consumed a mid-afternoon cafe creme, I developed an insatiable desire for their effortless luxury.

I believe people who disapprove of my appetite, people who believe that they are of higher moral standards because they buy their jeans at Costco, are people who have never been teased for not wearing the right thing. These are people that never were not invited to a party because their shoes were not Nike's or not asked on a date because their dress came from Zellers and not from Benetton.

A couple of weeks ago, while organizing the top shelf of my closet that is devoted to my "A-list" bags, I came across the dark brown box that my first LV came in. The box is still in pristine condition and when I opened it I found the subtly monogrammed tissue paper and the leather string that was used to wrap my precious parcel. Instantly I was transported back to my Parisian honeymoon and all of the romanticism and the joy of my first trip to Paris with my husband.

More than vacant, monogrammed vessels of shallowness, my luxury items are my memories. They remind me of specific, important moments in my life; moments of happiness, moments of independence, moments of frivolity, and moments of love.

To an outsider, Parisians seem to have a way of wearing their luxury that seems less vulgar and less obvious than North Americans. Perhaps it's because it is so abundant and so ingrained in their culture. I think it's because they already have what we all want. A chicness, a Frenchess, a lifestyle that comes from ancient parfumeries, vintage vins, silk scarves, full cream and afternoon naps.

I want it.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


I have a confession to make -- my husband and I are going to Paris in fifteen weeks!

This time last year my husband and I were in Paris. We had booked the trip impulsively over Valentine's Day weekend when Air Canada had a blowout international seat sale. What could be better than Paris in the spring?!

Our trip started out a bit rough. I had been grinding it out at my unhappy job and a few days before we left I had been responsible for overseeing the season's gala event. A week of no sleep, endless arguments about seating plans and placement of silent auction items had culminated with a seventeen hour day that included a parade of crepey arms poking out from ghastly beaded and chiffon gowns, the occasional drunken tantrum, and a rip in my favourite silver cocktail dress from crawling beneath a table to retrieve some richer-than-rich woman's diamond clip-on earring. My husband, in anticipation of being away from his clients for two weeks, hadn't taken a day off in over a month. We collapsed on the plane in a mutually agreed upon (slightly Ativan induced) silence and groggily emerged from Charles de Gaulle airport what seemed like a thousand years later.

Paris fills me with the thrill of unknown possibilities. Despite our driver not being at the airport as planned, despite arriving at the hotel to find the lobby full of fanny-pack wearing Americans, and despite the first baguette sandwich we ate tasting like a piece of regurgitated cardboard, I was ecstatic to be back in Paris. The smell of the city had already aroused my senses and I couldn't wait to luxuriate in two, full weeks devoted to Paris.

But it wasn't to be. The first few days we fumbled, gasped and grumbled our way around the city, bickering with each other, and failing to find our piece of Paris. On our third day in an effort to change our black mood, we took the RER to Disneyland Paris. Embarrassingly, it was this day trip with its overbearing, anesthetized Americaness that made Paris come to life again and our next twelve days were bliss. Both of us had tears in our eyes as we stood in line to board the plane home back to Victoria.

Every time I return from Paris, I adopt the fatalistic attitude that I will never return to Paris again. This time it was made worse by the fact that shortly after our return , I quit my unhappy job to be happy, knowing that this decision came with certain sacrifices that likely included our semi-annual trips to Paris. I tried to comfort myself with the logic that I had already been to Paris more times than I ever dreamed possible and that Paris would be there waiting whenever I could return.

My husband had other ideas. A mere few weeks into my happy new job, he emerged excitedly from the computer room ,

"You are not going to believe this! U2 is playing in Paris on September 18. We are so going."

And so we were. Six weeks later I drove to our local DHL courier office to pick-up two concert tickets: U2 - 360 TOUR SAMEDI 18 SEPTEMBRE 2010 A 19H30 STADEFRANCE

For the past nine months, I have been planning a trip I thought I wouldn't take again for at least five years. Like any other goal, Paris exists as a focal point in my mind's eye keeping me from excesses and reminding me again and again what is most important. In fifteen weeks, I will hold my husband's hand as we sit in les jardins luxembourg licking crepes crumbs from our sticky lips. In fifteen weeks, I will enter the boot department of les galeries lafayette - a department that is almost as large as your neighbourhood Costco - and buy pairs of gorgeous boots that will come with my favourite phrase, "I bought them in Paris." In fifteen weeks, I will drink a cafe creme in le jardin at Musee Rodin and surrender to its romance and the butterflies in my stomach.

When I booked our plane tickets, I felt a tremendous sense of relief. I had been holding my breath, waiting for the exact moment when I knew for certain I would return to Paris. Now I know. Paris in Septembre - I can breathe again.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


I have been told two things throughout my life. One of the the things I often "heard" via a teacher's spidery writing in the comments section of my quarterly school report cards was, "Erin does not work up to her full potential." The second thing, usually after I had penned a poem, or a middle of the night term paper jacked up on caffeine and nacho cheese Doritos, or an e-mail from a sleazy western European (Paris included!) Internet cafe, or even the occasional eulogy is, "You should be a writer."

Secretly, I have always wanted to be a writer. And secretly I have always worried that I am not living up to my potential. Last year when I quit my-perfect-on-paper job, I felt more of my unreached potential get even farther away. Around the same time I started writing my blog.

I intended to write my blog anonymously as a way of exercising my writing muscles. I wanted to write candidly, be funny, sexy and even a bit scandalous. I didn't want to worry about writing the wrong thing or offending people. And then I got the idea to write about my Paris. Not Paris from a worldly or an intellectual view but Paris from the perspective of someone who loves it like their first love: unabashedly, wholeheartedly, every-moment-an-utter-thrill, vulnerable, can-do-no- wrong love.

Because writing about Paris makes me so happy, I started to admit I was writing my blog. Naturally, my husband was my first fan and he has been relentless in getting his clients to read it, displaying it in his shop and funding the copying of printed copies to give as handouts. Recently he designed me a blog business card which I give to everyone I know and leave in book stores, cafes and pretty much everywhere.

But I still feel that I am not living up to my potential. I watch my friends juggle marriages, careers, children and mortgages. I watch my husband throw himself into his work and marvel at his drive and his success. I watch myself with no clear idea where I am going. I look after my horse, take my vitamins, go running, plan trips to Paris, read about Paris, and dream in French.

At what age does this become ridiculous? At what age do I become a frivolous, never-been woman clinging to a Parisian dream that will never happen? I am a woman in my thirties who doesn't want children, doesn't want a mortgage (unless it's on a Parisian flat) and wants to spend my free time writing about Paris.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

"H" is for Husband and for Hermes

Chez Hallett we have fallen in love with Hermès.

Naturally it began in Paris with a visit to the store at 24 rue du Fauborg Saint-Honore. I was desperate to visit their sellier and I was not disappointed to observe a group of wealthy Germans ordering a custom jumping saddle. As my husband and I glided through the store, I understood the true meaning of refined extravagance. For 90 euros I purchased a pair of black polo wraps with the Hermès "H" velcroed across the front. To this day, they lie pristinely in their orange and brown box as my horse has never been clean enough to wear them.

Now back where I live (Victoria, British Columbia) it is difficult to acquire a good fake Coach bag much less anything genuine from Hermès. The nearest store is in Vancouver and though beautiful, the store is small and is intended for serious shoppers, not browsers or groupies. It took me ages to get up the nerve to enter and then I only did so under the false sense of entitlement that came from having "shopped" at the Paris store. One of these entrees took place during Vancouver's Winter Olympics when I noticed their store window with the sign "7,915km Paris". See my blog and photo:

Around the same time, my husband and I were lent the book " Bringing Home the Birkin - My Life in Pursuit of the World's Most Coveted Handbag". Written by Michael Tonello, the book is delicious chick-glit (i.e. a book written for women by a gay man) and is the story of how Michael made a living, and a fortune, buying and selling Hermes Birkin bags. I devoured it in less than a week and then gave it to my husband to read.

Yesterday my husband and I were in Vancouver to celebrate my Dad's birthday. We had about an hour before dinner and Chris wanted to visit the Hermès store. OK. About a block from the store, he tells me he is going to ask one of the salespeople if he could have the "7915km Paris" sign. I want to be hopeful and optimistic but in my head I am thinking, "You can't do that - it's
Hermès ."

As soon as we enter the store I feel horribly conspicuous. There is nowhere to go so I stand awkwardly in the middle trying not to look at anything or get anything dirty. My sense of Paris, of anything remotely fashionable, vanishes and I look miserably at my feet wishing to God I wasn't wearing my Pumas and my jeans with the frayed hems. 90 euros polo wraps aside, I know that I am way on the outside of the world of Hermès .

Chris, however, is chatting softly to a lovely saleswoman and I overhear him closing the deal on the "7915km Paris" sign. Of all things, she has it in her apartment and would only be too happy to give it to Chris. They exchange cards, arrange a date and I finally get up the courage to introduce myself to this chic Hermes Goddess who kindly gives me a copy of their magazine and some perfume samples. I am so in love, so in the moment that when she mentions her upcoming - and first! - trip to Paris, I boldly lift up my shirt and reveal my Eiffel Tower tattoo.

Just for a second imagine the horror if I did this at 24 rue du Fauborg Saint-Honore! So declasse! The saleswomen would faint; the Birkins would leap to their deaths from their mahogany shelves; and the scarves would tie themselves into impossible, un-Hermès approved knots. So not Paris.

As we continue to chat with our Hermès Goddess, a scarf catches my eye. It is classic black and white silk, covered with horseshoes and beautiful French military horse scenes. It is the perfect blend of equestrian chic and classic Hermès . Chris and I leave the store and we agree to meet after I have done my tortuous and obligatory paw through H&M to convince myself yet again that I am now officially too old to shop at that store no matter how badly I want to buy at $39.99 Sonia Rykiel shrunken cardigan.

Empty-handed I meet Chris at our designated spot. He is carrying the distinctive orange and chocolate bag with a gift-ribboned scarf box inside. I have a serious "Holy Hermès " moment and start shaking on the inside. A beautiful dream. When I finally calm down and the take the scarf from its box, it is more beautiful to the touch. I have silk dresses that weigh less than this scarf. Draped around my neck, it feels like fine jewelry and its Frenchess caresses me in a way that takes me immediately to Paris.

There are no words to thank my husband. Last year a friend and very wise woman said to me that I was lucky because "he listens". I have thought about her words a lot but they hit me in my heart at certain moments like yesterday. Material items aside, I love my husband so much because everything he does for me is done with so much intent and consideration. His belief in me - even in this Blog - is absolute. I have his support to do anything, be anything and he is simply the kindest and most generous person I have ever known. Being his wife is great privilege.

"H" is also for heart. My husband is my heart.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Je Ne Suis Pas Chic

This past May a pair of loud, brilliant-white-sneaker-footed, fanny-pack-wearing-Americans stopped me on rue Rivoli, near the Louvre, and asked in their best Texas high school French, for directions to "Roo Saint Hah-Nore-Ray".

Flattered beyond belief, I stopped dead in the tracks of my black, ballet slippers, casually tore the end off of a still warm croissant, poking Frenchly out of the top of my Longchamp shopping tote, and said, politely, "I am not French".

Oh, but I want to be!

This glorious moment of mistaken identity was a personal trip highlight and my reward for the near obsessive and deliberate thought I put into when packing for a trip to Paris. Comfort not crucial; nothing too garish or too sporty; jeans are only worn sparingly; LV can come but only LV #1 as he has been used enough to look as though my he could have been lovingly handed-down from my Left Bank living grandmere; and lots and lots of black and white - just not white sneakers. Even now, with my next trip to Paris not until September, my wardrobe is divided by "what can be worn in Paris" and by "what cannot be worn in Paris".

Yet despite my attention to detail, my compulsive buying of little, black dresses that don't wrinkle, I know I am not truly Parisian chic. I have ugly, bad taste demons that aren't easy to tame...

I am addicted to American mega-brands, like Coach, Victoria's Secret and Banana Republic. It's shameful and though I wish I could spend my days cosseted in quilted Chanel, lounging on a bed of LVs, while waiting for Hermes to release their latest scarf design, c'est pas possible. Sometimes I just need the rush that comes from buying a handbag that doesn't jeopardize my financial future. And sometimes I just want to order ten cute pairs of panties for $30, even if they are patterned with bumble bees and have unexplainable sayings like "Hope More" across the bum. And sometimes I just want to wear a pair of khakis that I got on sale for $39.99 with a white, slim fitting t-shirt and look as though I just crawled out of a subdivision in middle America.

I can't eat dinner past 17:30. And I am a morning person - a truly, early morning person. So many of my Parisian mornings have started with a frustrating and fruitless search for a cafe creme before 8:00. So many of my Parisian evenings have ended with my husband and I sitting completely alone in a restaurant, cutlery clattering loudly, our conversation stilted as our French waiter tries desperately not to show his exasperation at our eating dinner at such an unfashionable hour.

I love my short hair. French women have this way of wearing their hair long that doesn't look unkempt or like they just escaped from an Amish village. It's long but not long; it's tousled but not messy; it's shiny but not chemical wax shiny. Even Audrey Tautou's hair was only short while she filmed Amelie.

I love fast food. For two weeks or three weeks - I bet even six months - I can ignore all of the American fast food chair horrors that seem to be everywhere in Paris. You can actually grab yourself a latte at Starbucks just before entering the Louvre, under the carousel, near the billeterie. And most mystifying to me are the Subway restaurants that practically sit on top the the true, French brasseries where a pain au jambon is half the price of a foot long coldcut combo. I haven't been tempted in Paris but at home I bleed Starbucks. At home I sometimes get an insatiable craving for a Quarter Pounder with Cheese and drive to McDonald's wearing no bra and with my hair unwashed. At home Subway sandwiches taste good.

My unabashed, over-the-top, passionate love of the Eiffel Tower. It's so not French and it's so not chic to love the Eiffel Tower so much. Worse, I love it even more when it does the sparkly light show at night. Last year after one of our aforementioned embarrassingly early dinners, I waited in our hotel room until it was dark and then walked to a vantage point near the entrance to les jardins Tulieres where I perched on a stone wall and watched the Eiffel Tower come to life. I was mesmerized and it had never felt so good to love something so bad.

I am clearly not Parisian chic. But I clearly love Paris and love conquers all. And love can slay demons, even ones with bad taste. My moment will come.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The One Person I Wish I Could Meet In Paris

Long before I knew of a place called Paris, I knew of a person called Buddy.

Buddy was my grandfather. We had a kind of the-first-moment-our-eyes-ever-locked-bond and I had given him the name "Buddy" almost as soon as I could talk. From that moment on until I left home at 17, I spent the majority of my free time trailing after him, with my hand never far from holding his hand.

Buddy and I did everything together from the typical grandfather/granddaughter stuff like Sunday night dinners and teaching me how to drive. Now I also realize that we did a whole lot of things which were extraordinary. If I wanted a ride home from a party at 11 p.m., with a group of giggling girlfriends, our lip gloss smeared and our palms sweaty, I called Buddy; If I needed help grooming my pony, Buddy was there with a curry comb and a hoof pick; If I wanted to wear an acid wash, denim dress instead of the puffy, pink crinoline stuffed one, Buddy was there to defend my choice and sneak me off to the mall to purchase my acid wash prize.

Buddy was there for everything.

When I moved away to Vancouver in my early twenties, Buddy was the person I missed the most. Talking on the phone wasn't the same and on my visits home, I began to notice for the first time the true difference in our ages. Up until then, the sixty-0dd years that separated us had been meaningless but now the difference was impossible to ignore.

On one of my trips home, Buddy being long past capable of driving, him and I were snuggled together in the back of the car, heading towards the ferry terminal. The familiar dread I felt at leaving him was overwhelming and we were leaning, head-to-head, our hands clasped lightly, whispering nonsense to each other. I can't remember exactly what I said but I must have expressed some doubt, some concern about leaving him. In back of the car, Buddy whispered five words that I will remember forever, "Sweetheart, this is your time."

These simple words set me free not just at that moment but for the rest of my life. I had always believed in Buddy and his absolute love for me but it was then that I understood the depth of Buddy's love. His love wasn't claustrophobic or wanting, rather it was a combination of everything Buddy had ever done for me - from every word of encouragement he had spoken to every secret he had kept - and his unconditional belief in my abilities that made him want to see me achieve whatever dreams I had.

Buddy passed away several years before I went to Paris for the first time. Though it seems strange to me now, Buddy and I never spoke about Paris. At the time, Paris was still a place of make-believe and fantasy. When I finally made it there in 2003, I stood on the second level of the Eiffel Tower, with all the other over-excited tourists and our freshly purchased international calling cards, and dialed our loved ones around the world. I wanted to call Buddy so badly and say, "You will never guess where I am."

There have been so many times since the second floor of the Eiffel Tower, where I wish I could phone Buddy, or better yet have him with me; our wedding; graduating from university; buying my first horse; or even just to get his opinion as to what I should eat for lunch. Last May in Paris, I sat with my husband at Aux Delices de Manons on rue Saint Honore, gorging ourselves on patisseries and thought how much Buddy would have loved the desserts, loudly called them "duff" and asked for more.

With anything you love, there is never enough time. The jam gets eaten, the nude coloured leather handle on your LV turns gray and the departure date on your return ticket eventually comes. With the people you love, time is even more fleeting.

I think of Buddy every day. Especially when those days are in Paris.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

All Signs Point to Paris

In 2003, just after returning from my first trip to Paris the city I was then living in, Vancouver, was awarded the 2010 Winter Olympics. I was "pro-Olympic" from the start and though I moved to Victoria (Vancouver Island, a brief 24 nautical miles away) shortly after Vancouver won the bid, I eagerly anticipated the arrival of the Olympics.

In between 2003 and 2010, I gobbled up all the delicious Olympic appetizers; VANOC press releases delivered directly to my e-mail inbox, first in line to purchase the adorable Quatchi mascot, learned names of obscure Canadian winter athletes, lost a day of my life trying to register for the Olympic ticket lottery, and did serious research on the going rate for vital organs to try and purchase my husband tickets to the men's gold medal hockey game.

In between 2003 and 2010, I also traveled to Paris twice more and last May returned to Victoria feeling seriously conflicted about the definition of "home". Before I met my husband I had never met someone who loved Canada as much as him. And while I have slowly become more forthcoming about my citizenship, I confess, especially while traveling, that I tend to use it as a means of identifying myself as "not American" rather than "being Canadian".

So with the arrival of the Olympics in Vancouver and my Christmas gift of hockey tickets to watch Canada play the United States - I believe my husband still has both kidneys ! - I was determined not to think of Paris while enjoying my Vancouver Olympic experience. I resolved to embrace my Canadian citizenship and all of what I consider to be its associated cultural idiosyncrasies, like wearing jeans to restaurants with linen napkins. In fact I even dressed the part, head-to-toe red with just enough official Canadian Olympic wear to suggest I could have been a rejected athlete. I proudly strutted around Vancouver, surrounded by like-dressed individuals, and felt more Canadian than ever before.

After several such struts, my reds starting to wrinkle, my husband safely tucked away at another hockey game, I stopped in front of the Vancouver Hermes store to admire their windows and hopefully steal a glance at a Birkin. Instead of a Birkin it was their sign - 7915km Paris" - that made my heart race. Seven-thousand-nine-hundred-fifteen-kilometres-to-Paris, plainer than plain, articulated to the number, the distance I would have to travel to arrive at the city, My City, that I want to claim as home.

I met my husband later that night after his third hockey game. Wearing his Team Canada jersey, Olympic tickets on a lanyard around his neck and his Team Canada tattoo seemingly glaring out from beneath his denim-clad calf, he was the epitomized blend of happiness and Canadianess. I confessed my sign spotting to him and the longing I felt; I told him it was "a sign". As usual, he took my French cravings in his stride, even returning from a later Olympic trip with a much coveted Team France polo shirt, not objecting to my lack of patriotism.

Like the majority of my fellow Canadians, I spent the rest of the Olympics on my couch. I cried often, tears of pride as our Canadian athletes persevered, won medals and showcased our beautiful country and province to the rest of the world. Last Sunday at a local sports bar, as Canada won its men's gold hockey medal, I watched in awe as my husband wept tears of joy, his Team Canada face paint running onto his hockey jersey, and had to agree with a woman at our table who described his reaction as "beautiful".

But it's my own reaction I question. After the wonder of the Olympics with its heart thumping patriotism and the national pride that engulfed my country, I worry that I still don't love my country enough to want to live in it forever.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

J'aime la Confiture

"Are you going to lick it?"

"What? I don't lick knives!"

"Yes. Yes you do."

"But it's French. French apricot jam and..." And then the knife disappeared under my tongue as I attempted to savour every last bit of sticky, sweet, thick apricot deliciousness.

My husband had just caught me in one of those indecent, best kept private moments in which I was standing at the kitchen sink wearing nothing but yesterday's underwear clutching a jar of abricot jam - Fauchon for those in the know - and a butter knife.

Back in 2003, ever since the Jules Ferry Hosteling International employee handed me my it's-included-breakfast of plain yogurt, white pain, and a tinfoil, plastic packet of confiture d'abricot, I have been passionately in love. Confiture des fraises! Confiture des framboises! Confitures des baies sauvages! Confitures des baies muires! Confiture des cerises!

Along with LV bags, I have a far less expensive obsession with French confiture. Last May, I dragged my husband into every patisserie we passed to purchase yet another jar; this in addition to my standard French favourites of Angela's, Le Notre, Hediard and Fauchon. As back-up, I also purchased several jars of Bonne Maman which at the price point of 1 euro must be the French equivalent of Smuckers. All of these jars then had to be carefully packed amongst two weeks of dirty clothing, swaddled in sweaty socks and tucked into shoes for extra protection. Thankfully there was only one casualty - a jar of Bonne Maman.

I often eat confiture straight from the jar. This is another guilty pleasure, along with my daily knife licking, that I try to save for days when I miss Paris so much that only the taste of confiture straight from the jar will soothe my French-deprived soul. It's the North American anti-depressant equivalent of eating Ben & Jerry's Half-Baked straight from the carton, however in my case I am slumped on my couch, wearing my tackiest-of-tack "J'adore Paris" sweatshirt with a gingham-lidded jar never farther than a spoon length's away from my mouth.

Depressingly last week I finished another jar from our May trip. It was abricot from Fauchon and I categorically declare it my new favourite. When I had licked the last drop from under my fingernails (If only that weren't true!) I lovingly washed out the jar and placed it on top of the stove, next to my Eiffel Tower cheese grater.

Now as I type this, the jar is sitting next to me as a sort of confiture inspiration. Not remarkable in design, though not as plain as the Bonne Maman jar, the Fauchon logo is black-and-white bold on the lid. An abricot features on the front label but the best is the back label, below the ingredients: "26 Place de la Madeleine - 75008 Paris".

I remember 26 Place de la Madeleine - 75008 Paris; I remember the buttery croissant I ate there; I remember where I sat; I remember the overwhelming task of choosing what delicacies to buy and wrap in my dirty laundry to bring back to Victoria; I remember the taste of Paris.

Confiture - so much more romantic than jam.

Monday, February 8, 2010


Last May my husband and I escaped to Paris for two glorious spring weeks. For me the trip came at the end of a particularly challenging year at a job that was supposed to change my life. You know the type of job - the one that makes you a huge success, the one where you work sixteen hours a day but still manage to cook gourmet meals and train for marathons while keeping your legs waxed. Instead, the job resulted in a lot of tears, sleepless nights and skin the colour of wet cement. Paris was my light at the end of the tunnel.
And yes, the darkness lifted immediately upon our arrival. Shaking off the jet lag, I changed into my best walking-around-Paris-and-not-being-mistaken-for-an-American outfit (black ballet flats, pleated white skirt, black wraparound shirt and giant sunglasses) and headed straight for jardins Tulieres and a warm, abricot crepe. Lightness restored! For the next two weeks, my husband and I more or less ambled around Paris eating, drinking and shopping and feeling more at home with each passing day. Each afternoon, while drinking Kronenburgs at a different sidewalk brasserie, we played what soon became our favourite game: look-up-and-imagine-we-live-in-the-apartment-above. Sometimes we saw maids cleaning, sometimes we saw nothing but the backs of chairs and art made blurry by curtains, and once we saw a gentleman standing with his ancient golden retriever watching us, watching him.
Returning home, I was flattened again by my job and with no Paris on the horizon, my husband suggested I see a career counselor. Because this isn't a Blog about careers, I won't go into too many details about this process but, in brief, I learned the following:
  • I am not Murphy Brown (disappointing);
  • I am not Carrie Bradshaw (very disappointing);
  • I do not have to be stressed to be successful;
  • I have a lot to be grateful for; and

Obviously I adore the last bullet - I.AM.PARIS. Mais oui! This revelation - if I may go so far to revel- came at the very end of my sessions, nearly seven months after starting to work with my much loved career counselor. It came after personality testing, tears of frustration at letting go of Murphy Brown, relaxation exercises, journal writing exercises, and etc. At our last session, we were again talking about things I love and naturally we talked about Paris.

"What do you love about Paris?"

Paris is romantic. Paris is organized chaos. Paris is attention to detail. Paris is a lifestyle that I aspire to. Paris is fashionable. Paris is edgy. Paris is kind but not too kind. Paris is challenging. Paris is delicious. Paris is smart. Paris is happiness. Paris is where I feel strong. Paris makes me want to get out of bed in the morning. Paris is history. Paris is wonderful memories and dreams about the future.

"Well, there you go - you are Paris. Write that down."

I wrote it down. I wrote it in huge letters. I repeated it out loud driving home. I phoned my husband from the car - now illegal - and told him. I wrote it on a French postcard and carry it tucked in my daytimer to remind myself of happiness and light. So simple, so beautiful.