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.