Friday, December 30, 2011

My Paris 50

In honour of my 50th post, I have composed a list of my favourite 50 things about Paris.

Those of you who read my blog regularly will know that I am fond of describing my love of Paris as “straight-up”, as in you won’t find me underground at the catacombs or traipsing up a hill on the back side of Montmartre to find a just-so authentic, French restaurant. Instead, you will likely find me browsing for shoes in Galeries Lafayette or eating my fourth confiture d’abricot crêpe of the day from the stand overrun with tourists at the bottom of the la Tour Eiffel.

My 50 thing may not be impressive or original but they are what I love about Paris and what makes me happy when I am lucky enough to be in Paris.

1. Musee Rodin
I have loved this musée since my first trip to Paris in 2003. Romantic, intimate and not overwhelming in either its size or number of tourists, it is always on my Paris itinerary.

2. Cats sleeping in restaurant windows, usually on one of the tables
Not an uncommon sight in Paris and one that never fails to charm me.

3. Confiture crêpes that cost 2 euros
I am not going to pretend that I search Paris for the most authentic crêpe. Almost any crêpe stand with confiture d'abricot will do but I have eaten particularly good ones in Les Halles.

4. Hot dogs stuffed in stale baguette buns
This is a very guilty, somewhat dirty, discovery from my last trip in September. My husband and I were at the end of a very long day that concluded on the steps of Trocadéro. Too hungry to walk any further and too tired to track down a brasserie where we wouldn't face a 20 euros dinner of frozen frites and packaged soupe l'oignon, we ordered baguette hot dogs from one of the many food vendors. Sorry to say the baguette hot dog was delicious and I believe (ok I know) I ate at least one more on the trip. It won't be my last...

5. Churches, especially Église Saint-Eustache and Notre Dame
If you ever find yourself lucky enough to be in Paris, even for just a day, these two beautiful churches are worth visiting. Just remember to walk quietly, talk only in a whisper, and leave your Starbucks (I see it every time!) outside.

6. La Tour Eiffel at sunrise
Not sunset. Set your alarm for an hour before sunrise and make your way to la Tour Eiffel. You will almost be alone. No vendors, no tourists, nothing but a few joggers. It looks different in the early morning and it feels different too. Its almost more imposing and you can imagine it in Paris before luxury tour coaches and pre-sale tower tickets.

7. The 360 degree view when standing in the middle of Place de la Concorde
When I miss Paris, this is the view that comes to my mind. My husband and I always make it one of our first stops and it never fails to bring tears to my eyes. It doesn't matter how chaotic it gets or how many Japanese weddings are taking place, when I stand in the middle of Place de la Concorde, it's just Paris and me.

8. Chocolate mousse bar at Chocolat Chapon
Exactly as described and so not like anything I could ever get at home. It also happens to be located on one of my favourite streets in Paris, Rue de Bac.

9. Jardin du Luxembourg

10. Eating every meal outside, sitting close together in chairs facing the sidewalk
I have visited Paris in every season, except summer, and I can count on one hand the meals I have eaten inside. I don't think there is a better way to see Paris then from a table at a well-situated brasserie.

11. Wine in cans
I think this is slowly making its way to North America but when I first visited Paris in 2003, this made me so happy. No struggling with a corkscrew, no wasted half-bottles, just delicious, easy access wine in a can.

12. Louis Vuitton
Since I first stood outside the store on the Champs, too terrified to go in, to present day where my husband has made a "tradition" of adding to my collection each Paris trip, LV is what I consider the ultimate expression of French luxury.

13. Dogs allowed everywhere, not "no dogs allowed"
I never tire of seeing French dogs enjoying the good life in Paris. Whether it's a designer miniature poodle shopping at Chanel or a drooling Labrador running along the banks of la Seine, I love how dog friendly Paris is. And for record, five trips to Paris and only one shoe ruined.

14. Hermes store on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, especially la Sellerie
Fashion fantasies aside, I doubt I will ever be a woman who carries a Hermès Birkin bag. Thankfully they sell scarves! And thankfully my absolute favourite thing about Hermès is the Paris Sellerie where I can trace my fingertips across saddles that cost thousands of euros more than my own horse. The craftsmanship is stunning and if you are a horse lover, la Sellerie is a Paris must-see: "Hearts & Crafts" saddler portrait

15. The shoe department in Galeries Lafayette
One-stop shoe shopping. During a fall trip to Paris, way too over-excited about the possibility of overloading my suitcase with French boots, I actually felt faint upon descending the stairs into their incredible "shoe basement". The selection is overwhelmingly good with every style (glittery Uggs to classic Louboutins) and every price range. One tip that will earn you respect with the sales staff is to know your European size, i.e. take your North American size and add 30. Then learn to say it in French.

16. Carousels

17. The short plane ride to the south of France
On my first trip to Europe, I didn't know how inexpensive and convenient it was to fly from city to city and from country to country. I made the mistake of purchasing an expensive and difficult-to-use Eurail pass. Consequently I cried a lot at train stations and often arrived in the middle of the night at less than desirable locations. Now, I know better... try Air France or EasyJet for well-priced flights around Europe. My favourite is the 45 minute flight from Paris to Nice!

18. Renting apartments from CobbleStay
Before I discovered CobbleStay in 2010, I spent hours and hours before each trip trying to find the perfect accommodation. I second guessed every web site, every online review and worried about being stuck in a windowless hotel room that cost 200 euros a night. Then I Google-searched "Paris accommodation with Eiffel Tower view" and found CobbleStay's apartment 026. My husband and I will never stay in a hotel again. CobbleStay has a select group of Parisian properties, all extremely well-located, and something for every budget. Their online booking is easy, there are no ridiculous hidden fees and you can always speak directly to someone on the phone. I can't wait to stay in 037 in April!

19. The art of serving the customer
I read a lot of blogs, Paris guides, newspaper articles, etc. and I know that the French, particularly in Paris, are often criticized for the way they treat tourists. Fortunately, I have rarely experienced their alleged, famed rudeness (just once when I tried to return a pair of socks on a Saturday!) and most of the time I am charmed and amazed by the level of service. I have had magical experiences in stores like Gerard Darel, Louis Vuitton, and Bruce Field and not only when I was buying something. One thing I adore about shopping in Paris is the formality, sophistication and ritual that makes shopping an event. Sales staff are generally educated and excited about what they are selling - whether it's vegetables, macaroons, bread, handbags, or shoes - and want to share their knowledge.

20. Baguette sandwiches from Paul, especially saucisson de beurre
Paul has been making bread since 1889 and there are locations throughout Paris. My two favourite locations are directly across from Galeries Lafayette (to avoid the line during peak times, you can order sandwiches from the express line outside) and the stand in Jardins Tuileries. Paul is a sentimental favourite of mine, leftover from my backpacking trip in 2003, when my daily food budget was about 20 euros. Their sandwiches are predictably delicious, easy to eat while walking down the street, and cost less than 6 euros.

21. Flower markets and flower stalls
Paris is full of flowers. One of my favourite moments from our September trip was when Chris suprised me with a bunch of rich, purple dahlias from Cler Fleurs, 16 Rue Cler.

22. Full fat, full cream everything and never having to say the words “non-fat”

23. Antique bookstores and book stalls

24. Vintage clothing stores (Dépot-Vênte)
A couple of trips ago, after some success at Didier Ludot, one of the most famous vintage stores in the world, I spent a half-day visiting the dépot-vêntes listed in my Time Out Paris guide book. It was a lesson in fashion history and I couldn't believe what I found in consignment stores. Brands like Chanel, Christian Louboutin, Dior. At home I am lucky to find a GAP t-shirt without a hole in it.

25. Cocktails at The Ritz or Hotel Crillon
This is the perfect way to experience a slice of luxury without going bankrupt. I also think it is one of the most romantic things to do in Paris. At The Ritz my drink came with a long-stemmed white rose. At Hotel Crillon, our two flutes of pink champagne were accompanied by a tower of cocktail snacks that made eating dinner impossible. "Dessert" was a tiny, silver tray of hand-made chocolates.

26. Kissing my husband at Pont Alexandre III

27. Tuk-Tuks Taxis
Available for modest fees at most of the major tourist destinations, Tuk-Tuks are my new favourite way to get around Paris when I can't walk another step. Perhaps a bit dangerous but way more fun than a regular taxi.

28. French pride
I appreciate French pride as I live in a country, Canada, where we rarely raise our voices and lip sync to our own national anthem. It's refreshing to go somewhere where pride is worn on the outside, respected and celebrated without apology. There is a dignity and confidence, not arrogance, that most French people possess. They also have a tremendous love for their country that is endearing and goes far beyond the surface. Talking about the history of France with a native French person is a great privilege and education.

29. Watching the runners in Jardin du Luxembourg
Complete guilty pleasure! If you have ever seen a French runner in full flight, you will know exactly what I mean. It's everything from what passes as exercise clothing (scarves, Converse, baggy swim trunks) to the style of running. To be fair, I live in an obnoxiously fit part of the world where people run for fun and rarely change out of their spandex and sports bras.

30. Food markets, like Rue Cler and Rue Mouffetard
If you are ever in doubt about what to eat in Paris, just find a food market, wait in the longest line at one of the stalls, and order anything from that vendor. I guarantee you won't be hungry or disappointed.

31. Boulevard St. Germain

32. How much my husband loves Les Halles
I have to admit that except for its beautiful church, I don't love Les Halles. It's not pretty enough for my idealized version of Paris. However, it's one of my husband's favourite places to relax over a beer and people watch. Les Halles is growing on me each trip if only for the reason Chris loves it so much.

33. "Look up!"
One of my favourite ways to see Paris is to walk a street looking up. Not just because you will glimpse unexpected views of La Tour Eiffel but because you will gain slight entry into beautiful Parisian apartments and the lives lived inside. Over the years, I have watched dinner parties, piano playing, arguments, and even a golden retriever walking itself along a wraparound Juliet balcony.

34. Scarves
Both French men and women wear scarves and they always look perfectly put together. Not as though their scarf is wearing them. I have successfully adopted scarf wearing, at home and in Paris, and last year built my spring wadrobe around 5 black pieces of clothing and 3 Hermès scarves. Very French!

35. People watching

36. Les Bateaux Mouches
Even for me this is unoriginal but I think a Bateaux Mouches tour is one the best, and most relaxing, ways to see Paris.

37. The jambon, fromage et tomate salade in Jardin Tuileries
There are several outdoor cafes in Jardin Tuileries and yes, I know they are tourist traps. In 2009, I made the unfortunate mistake of booking us into a hotel on rue Rivoli, smack in the centre of stores selling Haagen-Dazs and 3 for 10 euros scarves. It was overwhelming and not in a good way. Chris and I spent a lot of time escaping to Jardin Tuileries and eating jambon, fromage et tomates salades. Every trip we go back for at least one salade and they are still just as delicious.

38. The bar at Laduree on Avenue des Champs-Elysees

Maison Georges Larnicol (Meilleur Ouvrier de France), Boulevard St. Germain
If I had to choose just one thing to eat in Paris, it would be a kouignette caramel beurre sale from MGL.

40. Public displays of affection
I love that Paris inspires extravagant displays of affection. Amusing to watch and wonderful to participate in.

41. Feeding ducks at Jardin du Luxembourg
Chris and I are incapable of passing a bakery without stopping to buy something which makes for a lot of leftover stale bits and pieces. Solution? We started going to Jardin du Luxembourg early every morning to drink our cafes aux lait and fatten the ducks with croissants and baguettes. This is now one of our favourite ways to start a day in Paris.

42. Attention to detail
Just across the street from our last apartment in Paris was a "restaurant à emporter", Le Relais Gourmet. Their diverse and sumptuous menu meant we were frequent customers during our stay. No matter how long the line, no matter what time of day, when I reached the front my choice of tarte a l'oignon was given full attention and consideration. Monsieur or Madame would then carefully wrap my tarte as though it was a piece of Limoges porcelain. This same attention and care is standard in Paris even when you are buying something so disposable. Another reminder from Paris to slow down and that beauty is found in details.

43. Lécher les Vitrines
Literally "lick the windows". The French art of window dressing turns shop windows into some of Paris' most dynamic and best museums. Obviously, stores like LV, Louboutin, Printemps, Roberto Cavalli, and etc. all have lavish and ever-changing displays but wander down any side street and you will be equally impressed.

44. Cat sitting on the organ grinder outside of Galeries Lafayette
You have to see it to believe it. If you have seen it, you know why it is on my list.

45. Feeding stray cats croissants on Île de la Cité
Unlike the poor ducks, Chris and I ended up giving our still-warm breakfast to this group of starving chats living in a restaurant doorway on Île de la Cité. I still can't get over how much they loved the croissants. My cat at home won't eat anything that isn't organic, grain-fed, humanely killed and subtly flavoured with cranberries.

46. Beautiful, confident women
I want to be a Parisian woman when I grow up.

47. No bad bakeries
After Rodin, my second favourite musée in Paris.

49. Jambon sandwiches cut right from the pig's leg
The best baguette sandwich I ever ate in Paris was from a small brasserie behind Élysée Palace. Chris and I followed some government workers on their lunch break. It was standing room only at the bar and directly in front of us, sitting on the counter with the absinthe and jugs of red wine, was a freshly butchered pig's leg. We immediately ordered jambon sandwiches.

50. Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Mon Amour Parle Français

Every year around this time I start to get frustrated with Christmas shopping. Despite good intentions and a strict budget, I look at all the bags piling up and all I think is, "Crap!" And Christmas shopping gets harder as I get older. Gone are the days of buying Body Shop gift baskets and boxes of Pot of Gold chocolates. My parents claim they "don't need anything" and my husband, Chris, is quite simply the most difficult man in the world to shop for.

Yesterday I was out Christmas shopping for him and became paralyzed by a $20 pair of Diesel hot pink and black striped socks. Sweating, I carried the socks around the store for over thirty minutes before abandoning them on a rack of discounted boxer shorts, finally deciding the word "Diesel" in yellow across the ankle was too ugly.

In my twenties, I Christmas shopped for my boyfriend off the Gap sale rack. Anything in a neutral, size medium, or a 32 x 30 was perfect. If I was feeling fancy, I went to Banana Republic and hunted for on-sale cashmere sweaters. I never even bothered with a gift receipt. And us women of a certain age will remember how we spent our teenage years happily shopping for red silk boxers and designer impostor versions of Drakhar Noir and Polo cologne. Those were the days!

I honestly wouldn't mind not shopping for Chris if he was a terrible giver of gifts. If I had endured December 25th's of waffle irons, stuffed teddy bears holding stuffed red roses, deep fryers, and value-packs of pantyhose. But I haven't. The first Christmas we were together, when he had every reason to get it wrong, Chris gave me a silver pleated skirt and a delicate pink silk shirt. Both fit perfectly and nearly ten years later, I still wear them. I have been given exquisite leather gloves, always in the right size (I think knowing a woman's glove size is just as romantic as knowing her ring size), lipsticks in colours more flattering than anything I have ever bought myself, and a silver ring from Tiffany. Last year he had our horse professionally photographed by our wedding photographer. The year before that he purchased a commemorative plaque in honour of my grandfather that now has a proud place at one of our city's Navy memorials. Chris is not just generous, he's also incredibly thoughtful.

Which is why I feel like a total loser for agonizing over a pair of semi-designer socks.

Earlier this year, not Christmas or even our anniversary, I received the most unexpected and fantastic gift. It started with Chris saying something like, "Don't forget the légumes."

"Légumes? Where did you learn that word?"

Légumes is French for "vegetables". While it is not a difficult word, it's not exactly common and certainly not in our household where the kitchen is stocked with chocolat, Nespresso, riz, bière, et biscuits.

I was suspicious and a couple of weeks later, Chris revealed during a Saturday morning hair bleach session (mine, not his) that he had been taking private French lessons for several months in anticipation of our September trip to Paris. Later that day at home, he showed me his notes and work books. Pages and pages of notes conjugating French verbs and translations of common French expressions.

I was overcome. While Chris has done many wonderful things, his learning French is near the very top of the list. I know he loves Paris but I have worried that there is a part of him that simply tolerates my obsession, waiting patiently for the trip when I say, "Enough Paris! Next time, we visit Rome. Or Florence. Or anywhere but Paris!"

And there is another part of me, the part that speaks passable French in Paris, that worries he must get annoyed or bored by having me try to translate everything or, in the case of a few too many early afternoon cocktails, becomes suddenly fluent and spends the better part of an hour discussing the finer points of LV wristlets with a very patient sales clerk.

This year though Chris arrived in Paris with an impressive new confidence and ease. It was as if he came to Paris to say, "Yes, this is home.". We both felt the change and we were more relaxed than ever, sinking into the beautiful city rather than being swallowed by it.

Another precious gift that I will never be able to thank him for.

And now it's Christmas again and I still don't have the perfect gift for Chris. I know it doesn't matter in the way things really matter. Every year Chris assures me that he is happy with his stocking full of things he could just as easily buy himself. Just once though I would like to get him something amazing.

I guess this blog is kind of my "something amazing" for Chris. It's not a new language, it's not tickets to the World Juniors, it's not a great watch, it's not the newest Leafs jersey, and it's not even the promise that I won't eat at least half of each and every one of your pain au chocolat on our future trips to Paris. Not any of those things, just my words. Donc....

Joyeux Noël mon amour. Je t’aime plue que Paris et je ne peux attendre l’Avril.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

From Equi-Geek to Paris Chic

Before Paris, my first love was horses. Last month, both Paris and horses came together in one magnificent day.

My Nana had two horses, Topper and Joker, that lived on her Galiano Island property and before I could walk or talk properly, my Dad was taking me to the barn. I grew up under their feet, never afraid, and would sneak out of her house early in the morning just to brush the tangles out of their manes. So it was inevitable that I ended up riding, moving from weekly lessons to leasing various horses until I left home for university. Moving away from home meant the end of my daily trips to the barn. While I missed riding, what I missed most was not being around horses.

I know most girls grow out of their “horse crazy” phase. I never did. Though it took over a decade for me to get back to the barn, I never stopped thinking about horses. I would pull off the highway just to stare at a field of grazing horses and hope one would come to the fence so I could rub its face. I kept all of my gear, including my custom-made monogrammed tack box that was a gift from my Mom the year I turned 16. I moved it from apartment-to-apartment in my twenties, using it as a coffee table or clothing storage. In the very bottom I kept my chaps, polo wraps and saddle pads. Just opening the box, the comforting smell of horse, was enough to make me swoon.

I probably told Chris about my love of horses around the same time I was telling him stories about my grandfather, Buddy. As much as my riding was a family affair, it was Buddy that took me and my riding on as his full-time job. Nearly every day after school, he would be waiting to pick me up, his car pointed in the direction of the barn. Buddy learned how to groom my horse, pick its hooves and even built me a course of jumps that involved sawing a rusty barrel in half. We had the best time together and practically lived at the barn.

Buddy also became a passionate watcher of the sport. Growing up in the late 1980’s and 1990’s, Canada’s equestrian heroes were Ian Millar and Big Ben. And the place to watch them was Spruce Meadows in Calgary. When I moved away from home, it was Buddy who kept me up-to-date by watching CBC’s coverage of Spruce Meadows. He would phone me and report on Ian and Big Ben as well as his personal favourites, Jay Hayes and Zucarlos. It was always our dream to see a show together at Spruce Meadows and while we made it there one summer, it was a week off in between the summer show season.

I eventually went to my first show at Spruce Meadows in 2006. Chris had given me a trip to the Masters Tournament as a Christmas present. It was that September weekend in 2006 that Canada won the Nation’s Cup (Ian Millar was riding!) and Chris proposed to me at the All Canada Ring, with a ring he bought hours before at the Spruce Meadows Tack Shop. It was the perfect, first Spruce Meadows experience and I knew Buddy would have loved it.

Spruce Meadows made me ache for my horsey past. I watched the beautiful horses and saw the riders strut around in their breeches and boots talking about “warming-up” and “five strides down that line”. Though I was never even close to riding at the Spruce Meadows level, I missed being a rider, missed speaking the language and missed having a horse to love.

Less than three months after visiting Spruce Meadows and ten months before our first trip to Paris, Chris gave me back a part of myself that I was missing the most. I woke up on my thirtieth birthday to a card that gifted me to weekly riding lessons for an entire year. And as you can probably guess, weekly lessons turned into a lease and about a year later, we bought my thirtieth birthday lesson horse, Countess.

I have been riding again for nearly five years. In that same period, Chris and I have returned to Spruce Meadows and Paris four times each. Last month, we decided to combine the two vacations and flew to Spruce Meadows on a Friday night, watched the Masters Tournament for two days, and then flew to Paris late on the final day of the show. Horses and Paris on the same day!

The only problem with this magnificent itinerary was packing for two totally different destinations. How I dress for the barn or for a weekend at Spruce Meadows is totally different as to how I dress in Paris. The only thing horses and Paris have in common is that they are both expensive.

I know there are people out there that believe horses and being an equestrienne are incredibly chic. Fashion helps perpetuate this chic myth by telling innocent fashion wannabes that it is perfectly acceptable to wear Hunters to cocktail parties and breeches to business meetings. But trust me hanging out at the barn and riding horses isn’t chic in a Hermès sellier kind of way. It’s hard work, it’s dirty, and quite often it’s completely disgusting. I wouldn’t go near Countess in my Hermès scarf, much less an e-Bay knockoff version.

This past weekend was a perfect example... Before sitting down to write, I spent my morning at the barn where I brushed out poop dreadlocks from Countess’ tail and then tacked her up to ride in the pouring rain. After a wet ride, I groomed her dry, cleaned my tack, and spent another couple of hours taking heavy, sodden hog fuel from her paddock and replacing it with new material for winter. It was still raining. Countess ate her hay and took a nap while I grunted and sweated around her paddock. When I was finished, I was streaked with hog fuel from head-to-toe and as itchy as if I had lain down in a bed of poison ivy. I fed Countess some apples and gave her a big kiss before leaving.

The barn is one extreme but Spruce Meadows requires a different kind of horse wardrobe – it’s equi-geek.

For me, a person who arguably spends too much time considering what to wear each morning and has been almost late to work because I have spent thirty minutes trying to tie the aforementioned Hermes scarf correctly, Spruce Meadows is a chance to let my hair (mane?) down and relax with other equestrian geeks from around the world. It’s a sort of super-fandom horse haven that encourages the wearing of your riding clothes–no horse required!–and the carrying around of a giant white saddle pad to collect your favourite riders’ autographs on. Every year I look forward to dressing like my former 12-year-old horse-crazy-self and pack a suitcase full of equestrian-themed items: items like a too tight, age inappropriate pink t-shirt with white horse leaping across my chest and a bright red Masters 2008 Tournament baseball hat. And of course, my autographed saddle pad. Here I need to note that over the years Chris has collected the signatures of ALL of my riding heroes, including Ian Millar. It is not uncommon to see him leading a charge of teenage girls across the Spruce Meadows grounds, towards their show jumping target, saddle pads fluttering behind them.

This year, with my Paris wardrobe at the forefront, I had to pack less geek and more chic. No horse-themed graphic tees! As I was packing, I came across my seldom-worn Ralph Lauren big pony “Paris” polo which I had bought in Nice the year before. I love it because it has both Paris and a horse on it but its whiteness makes it completely impractical to wear to the barn and my personal style isn’t polo shirts. I seriously bought it thinking it would be perfect for weekends at Spruce Meadows. Or so I thought...

I wore my Paris polo on Nations Cup Saturday. France, rather unexpectedly with just three riders and just beating Canada by a few faults, won the Nation’s Cup. I was unpatriotically thrilled by their win and felt it was a sign that our trip to Paris would be more fabulous than ever.

Read the Spruce Meadows Media Release -

Leaving the show grounds for the day, Chris and I came across the French team leaving their press conference. In a moment of boldness, I grabbed the saddle pad from Chris and made a bee-line for them. Chris was shocked. I normally hide behind a Spruce Meadows topiary, eavesdropping, while Chris says things to Beezie Madden like, “I am your oldest fan”, as she autographs my saddle pad.

It wasn’t until I was standing in front the French team, trying to congratulate them in my blushing French and explain to them that I was going to Paris the following day (!!!), that I realized two horrible things. One, trying to speak French to a single Parisian is difficult enough but trying to speak French to a group of Parisians who are also international show jumpers - Félicitations le French - is just pointless. Their English was far better than mine. Two, I was standing in front of impeccably dressed French international show jumpers wearing an American brand, now dirty, polo shirt with “Paris” across my chest. I was so far from chic that I am surprised they didn’t alert the French border control about my impending arrival.

Instead they were charming and welcoming in a way that I have come to associate with Parisians. I went on and on about how much I loved Paris in case my chest advertisement wasn't obvious enough. They obligingly signed my saddle pad. In English, they told me they were on the same flight. Sure enough, the next night they boarded the plane with us. When we arrived in Paris, one of the team members stood chatting with Chris about upcoming competitions at Orly’s grotty baggage carousel waiting for his LV duffel to arrive.

I spend more time at the barn with Countess than anywhere else. At the barn, I live in stained clothes covered with muck and get dirtier than you would ever imagine. I shed my scarves, my LV’s and happily trade them for unflattering, tight beige pants that highlight the shadow of my cellulite. At the barn, I don’t care about being chic. I am just happy. Happier than I am anywhere but Paris…

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Paris - Toute Seule?

I can tell you unequivocally that being alone in Paris can suck.

I realized this when I visited Paris for the first time. After a rough start, I had finally fallen in love with Paris and was racing around the city trying to see everything listed in my Lonely Planet guidebook in less than five days. On one of these days I found myself standing in line outside at 79 rue de Varenne, home of Musée Rodin. It was mid-February, windy and pouring freezing rain. Waiting to get in, I stood huddled against the building in my black knee-length, down puffy coat - styled after a Canadian Tire sleeping bag – and felt my shoes fill with ice water. In front of me, a couple, so obviously French, merged into one, the man sheltering his girlfriend’s body with his own, whispering mots d’amour to her the whole time. There wasn’t even enough space between them to slip my Paris Museum Pass. Oblivious to the weather, oblivious to anything but each other, they were the antithesis of being alone. I remember feeling an absolute crushing loneliness and I vowed one day to return to Paris with My Love.

I have been lucky since then to return to Paris four times with Chris and each time we have seen versions of this French couple all over the city. Everywhere from the predictably romantic - la tour Eiffel, the arc at Pont Alexandre III - to the less so –on a bench in an unnamed park surrounded by dirty, one-legged pigeons, an alley just off the Louis Vuitton store at 6 Place Saint-Germain des Près. Though cliché, Paris is incredibly, intoxicatingly, overwhelmingly romantic and there is nothing better than exploring its streets with the one you love.

And yet I am considering Paris on my own.

While in Paris a few weeks ago, Chris and I visited the University of London Institute in Paris (ULIP). We were there at my doing. Last winter, while not writing and wasting precious time dreaming about Paris, I had Google-ed the phrase “Masters Programs in Paris about Paris” and ULIP was one of the first web sites that came up. ULIP offers an MA in Paris Studies – History and Culture. It is a one-year program, taught in English, and at the end of the year you write a dissertation about a chosen aspect of Parisian history or culture. The more I read about it, the more excited I got, and the more I felt like this was the Master program I had been hoping to find.

The meeting at ULIP was incredible. We took a campus tour (Yes, there are la Tour Eiffel views from some of the classrooms!) led by a former Ottawa native who only had great and encouraging things to say about being a Canadian in Paris. In so many ways, it was the kind of first-hand information that we had been waiting to hear. Yes, living in Paris is possible! No, you don’t have to speak flawless French! And yes, Paris is a wonderful city to live!

Now, the only difficult thing about pursuing my Masters at ULIP (the cost of the program aside) is that I would make the initial move to Paris alone. While this prospective move is several years away, the idea of living alone in Paris scares me to death. Me. Alone in Paris. For nearly an entire year.

Chris and I started our relationship with distance. In the beginning distance ruled and we were constantly trying to find ways to overcome it. When I went to Paris the first time, I spent a significant amount of my trip squished into a phone booth, making expensive, tearful calls to Chris, trying inadequately to describe not just what I felt for him but also what I felt for Paris. I am terrified of making those calls again. I am terrified that I will spend a year in Pars living what I know to be true and hate to admit: Paris, the experience of being in Paris, means nothing. Nothing without Chris.

However, I have always believed, long before I went to Paris, that I would one day live there. Now had I been more ambitious to pursue an opportunity like ULIP in my twenties, I would have left Victoria without a backward glance or a return ticket. But that was all before I met and fell in love with Chris. Most of what I have accomplished and most of what I am proud of, is because of Chris’ selflessness and unwavering support. It is hard for me to imagine pursuing, much less achieving, my Masters degree 7,915km away from Chris.

From a practical perspective, there are many reasons that it makes sense for me to go alone. First, a year, as Chris says and many people will now inevitably tell me, is not really that long. Second, Chris will visit me a lot, even if I will be living in 150 square foot student apartment and sleeping on a single bed. Most importantly though, me going to Paris alone, in the relatively risk-free life of a student, will give me time to research a permanent Paris while still keeping hold of our comfortable life in Victoria. At the end my studies, I will know whether we could have a life in Paris.

I guess what is comes down to is that my reason for wanting to stay is the same reason I should be brave enough to go. Chris. After so many years together, whatever I have dreamed, including Paris, he has not only supported but embraced. With Chris my dreams become realities and I know deep down that I will be able to conquer Paris toute seule.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Ma Rentrée

Early September in France is known as “la rentrée”. It’s the time when every one returns to the business of work and school after summer holidays. For me personally, la rentrée are the weeks immediately following another blissful September spent in Paris, aka ma rentrée.

Ma rentrée began with some misplaced luggage, a $60 cab ride from the airport, $240 worth of dry cleaning, and two days of serious jet lag. My first Saturday home saw me head to Starbucks at 6 a.m. “dressed” in black sweatpants and chocolate brown Uggs, my short unwashed hair rammed under a hot pink togue. On Sunday, I got dressed Paris-style for an early morning grocery shop only to be confronted by a head of rainbow dreadlocks and a sea of plastic footwear (Hunters, Crocs and Tevas!). I felt stunned and garish. I sent Chris a text from the car, “It’s too soon…”

Several weeks later and ma rentrée is somewhat less traumatic. Fall is a beautiful time of year in Victoria and there are so many things I love about it, including the chance to wear all my new fall clothes bought in Paris! Fall is also Chris’ and mine anniversary, it’s Thanksgiving dinner, and it’s riding Countess around Elk Lake under a brilliant canopy of oranges and reds. Fall makes me feel excited for new possibilities including a life with more Paris.

Last September when we were in Paris, I kept a daily diary of almost everything we did and almost everywhere we went. I wrote this year as well but it was significantly different as Chris and I spent a lot less time “doing” and a lot more time just being in Paris. There was a change in both of us and I felt it in everything from the speed at which we walked to our complete lack of itinerary. It was not something we discussed beforehand but the change was profound and it affected how we ultimately felt about Paris. At the end of the trip, we both felt like it was the start of what our lives could be like in Paris.

However, getting to Paris this year was emotionally draining. It wasn’t until Chris and I were on the plane that I could start to relax and think objectively about this past year and what it took to get us one step closer to our dream…

Sunday, September 11, 2011, British Airways flight to Paris (via London)

There is no better feeling than being on a plane bound for Paris.

I feel guilty though because I wasted the better part of this past year waiting for Paris. In a lot of ways, I feel like I accomplished nothing. I have gone from being a woman who obsessively records her exercise minutes and writes a detailed list of her five year goals to being a woman who just wants to hit the snooze button and dream about Paris.

I have no one to blame but myself. The absolute worst thing about this past year is I didn’t write. I wrote my Blog, though not frequently, but I didn’t even come close to fulfilling the promise I made on my 34th birthday. I was going to have a book drafted by the time I turned 35. My 35th birthday is less than three months away and all I have is an outline that even I don’t find interesting. My Blog is over 50,000 words and there are those kind readers (and not just family!) that say it “would make a good book”. Well if the publishers of Julie and Julia at Little, Brown and Company ever happen upon it, please feel free to contact me.

But Paris isn’t nothing…

The most difficult part of this past year has been feeling me, and Chris, withdraw into our separate ways of missing Paris. At different times this has made us distant, cranky and downright miserable depending on our respective moods. I think partially because we both feel somewhat ridiculous admitting just how much we miss Paris. We know that missing Paris is not a real problem and I think we both fight against being perceived as the-couple-who-travels-to-Paris-every-year-but-it-still-isn’t-enough. Poor us!

We both know that as strange as it may seem to other people, and to even our families, that Paris has become such a presence, such a power and such a personality in our life together that we are coming to the point where Paris can’t be ignored. We have to consider the impact that not being there full-time, or at the very least actively working towards our goal of full-time Paris, is having on our life in Victoria. It’s scary because embracing Paris from this place deep in our hearts will likely result in substantial change.

I am often frustrated because I feel paralyzed by the weight of Paris. Sometimes I feel as though I am being held hostage by a dream that will never come true. Decisions, financial and otherwise, are measured against whether or not it helps us achieve Paris. It is a struggle to find a middle ground between living a full life in Victoria and planning for our eventual life, including our yearly pilgrimages, to Paris. There have been so many times in this past year when I have felt like giving in and embracing the life we could have in Victoria. We could buy a two bedroom, two bathroom, new construction condo in the suburbs and fill it with designer furniture. I could learn how to cook and we could throw dinner parties for other couples. Their children would be welcome in our house (Aunty Erin!) and we would talk about camping and Costco. I bet we would be happy for about six months.

We are nearly there now. The plane is starting its descent which always prompts me to ask Chris, “Is the plane ok?” Soon we will negotiate Heathrow, undress for security and eat our traditional Heathrow lunch of Pret a Manger tuna sandwiches. In less than five hours we will be in Paris. I am ready for the wait to be over. I am ready to be overcome by Paris.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Neverending Paris

I have delayed beyond reason writing about our final days in Paris last September. So much so that at the time of writing this post, Chris and I are exactly 9 weeks away from our next trip. I have a lot of excuses for not writing, including that I started a fabulous new job, but I think the most honest reason is that I, and we as a couple, have spent far too much time this year engaged in the activity of missing Paris. Yes, together Chris and I pretty much made missing Paris an extreme sport. I don’t expect a lot of sympathy or understanding in this regard as I know that we are lucky to visit Paris once a year, a place most people don’t go in their lifetime, but it’s not as though we don’t recognize and celebrate our good fortune. However, it’s much easier to be grateful when we are actually there.

Last year our trip to Paris was planned around U2 playing Stade de France on September 18. Aside from a personal invitation from Karl Lagerfeld to attend a Chanel show, I can’t think of a better reason to plan a trip to Paris. However as our trip came to an end, Chris and I found ourselves more focused on our September 19 morning departure and less excited than we should have been about seeing U2.

Chris and I share several pre-departure traditions that started on our Paris honeymoon in 2007. One of my favourites is that we “let ourselves go” and by this I mean that we embrace the role of tourists, shopping at all the tacky souvenir stores along rue Rivoli and Champs Elysées. We rummage through the stores, searching and buying crap Tour Eiffel magnets, key chains and any memento (including thong underwear!) that declares “I Love Paris”, or better yet, “J’Adore Paris”. We pay way too much and we have a wonderful time as days and weeks of precisely planned outfits and being careful not to appear “American” are abandoned! This September I may even wear a fanny pack...

But my favourite pre-departure tradition has to be what I call “Paris in the Morning”. Paris is not an early morning city so if you get up early, though you won’t be able to get a cup of coffee, you will essentially have Paris to yourself. So each and every trip, and this time at the crack of dawn on September 18, Chris and I dress before the sun rises and say good-bye to Paris. We started, predictably I know, at La Tour Eiffel, free from other tourists and souvenir hawkers at 7 a.m., it looks as though I imagined it did in the late 1800’s. We took pictures with no distractions or tour buses in the background. We stole kisses and watched the sun come up from the steps of Trocadéro. And then it is time for cafés crèmes et brioches.

One of our best discoveries this past September, which I already posted about, was the bar at Ladurée ( on Champs Elysées. Open at 7 a.m., tucked back from the famous tea room overflowing with tourists guzzling pastel macaroons, and located close to where we were staying in the 17th, we found ourselves taking our café crème there most days. And so it made sense that we went there our last morning in Paris there.

In between Paris in the Morning and the souvenir shopping, we walked to many of our favourite places for “one last look” and “one last taste”. We stopped in Jardins des Tuileries for Nutella crepes. I bought too many bags of Haribo candies, and ate yet another saucisson baguette from Paul (, and take one last tour of Louis Vuitton on the Champs. I don’t even mind waiting in line on my last day. And as much as Paris is a shared experience for Chris and I, there are parts of the city that we connect with in personal ways so later in the day, pre-U2, we separated for our private good-byes. For me, it means a bit of last minute shopping and visiting places that I first fell in love with in 2003. At le Louvre, near the glass pyramid, I took off my shoes and splashed in the fountain; I sat at a side-street café, drinking Perrier and people watching; and then I walked the long way “home”, to our Paris-Apartment-in-the-Sky, to find Chris relaxing on the balcony, both of us spoke at the same time, “I can’t believe we are going to U2 tonight.” Our energy had been spent on good-byes.

It was always our intention to take le Métro to Stade de France (, recommended as an “easy” and “fast” in every reputable guidebook but I don’t think the guidebooks take into account taking le Métro to a concert with 96,000 people. It was simply terrifying and I still have no idea where SDF actually is in relation to central Paris. During the journey, I had to close my eyes and practice breathing in a way that I imagine calm people do. For not the first time in my life was I grateful for being tall and for being married to someone even taller as at least we could sort of see the windows and each other. The train practically split open when we arrived at the concert, spilling semi-intoxicated and incredibly cheerful U2 fans from across the globe.

Allow me to share some perspective on the SDF U2 experience….

Chris and I live in the province of British Columbia, on Vancouver Island, in Victoria, a city that has an overall population of about 331,000, with about 80,000 people living in its central area. We live in the central area, which means there were more people at U2 in Paris than live in our hometown. We don’t get big events in Victoria; our largest venue holds about 7,000 people so to see a big show like U2, traveling to Paris aside, means taking a ferry or plane to Vancouver, something both Chris and I have done numerous times. Both cities, Victoria and Vancouver, have a somewhat earned reputation as being “no fun”. Vancouver significantly improved its reputation by successfully hosting an incredible 2010 Winter Olympics, which quite frankly, was the most fun I have had in my own province and my own country in 34 years.

That being said, Olympics aside, going to a concert in Vancouver can sometimes be as exciting as a dance party at a nursing home and as restrictive as a pair of Spanx. Dancing, much less standing during your favourite song, is likely to earn you a dirty look from your neighbour and a stern warning from the rent-a-cop minding your section. Drinking is permitted but only two, $9 drinks per person at a time. Showing emotion or appreciation for the band is ok but it’s better to remain stoic and stone-faced even during songs that you know the band wrote just for you. Trust me, I know am not the only woman in the world who screams uncontrollably, high-pitched of course, and clutches herself in unflattering ways the moment I get a glimpse of Bono’s leather pants.

So U2 at SDF… Bonjour la belle culture shock!

It was a buzz just walking from the Métro station to the entrance of SDF. Once released from the train, there was an overwhelming sense of space and a pleasant, addictive anticipatory vibe from the crowd. We quickly figured out that SDF, like venues at home, has separate entrances based on your ticket so getting in, even with a thorough security check, was quick. Unlike venues at home, once inside SDF you are allowed to wander through the various sections regardless of your seat location. Perfect if you are tourists and because we were also there early, we saw some fantastic views of the stage from various vantage points. And in what has become one of my favourite memories of this trip, Chris and I ate our dinner (baguette sandwiches and Haribo candies) sitting on the steps leading to our section while sound and set technicians prepared the stage in the background. Not once were we asked to move or sneered at by fellow concert goers.

Our seats (thank you, Chris!!) were amazing and about sixteen rows back to the right of the stage. This was our second time seeing the show as we had seen it the year before in Vancouver. The night was clear and sky filled with stars around the same time U2 came out. It’s the truth. Everyone was on their feet. Everyone was dancing and singing along. There was not a rent-a-cop in sight. Chris’ back started to bother him by the end of the first song so he left to stretch and stand a few rows back at the top of our section. I expected there to be an immediate complaint and for him to be escorted back to our seats but about five songs later he still hadn’t returned. I left to join him and we enjoyed the show, standing hip-to-hip, with me dancing along to most of the songs. Every so often I looked up at the other 95,998 captivated fans and realized that seeing U2 in Paris is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

See a part of the show, "Magnificent", on YouTube at:

I don’t think either of us slept well that night. I lay in bed feeling the now familiar heaviness in my stomach at the thought of leaving Paris again. Even though Chris and I had already planned to return in 2011, I never believe it until I have purchased the plane tickets and then I don’t believe it until the plane touches down at Charles de Gaulle. I hate saying good-bye, even temporarily, to Paris. I try as hard as I can to hurry the process up, refusing to make eye contact with Paris and just wanting it to be over.

We arrived at CDG just after 6 a.m. for our 8 a.m. flight to London. In theory this left us lots of time to make our flight but we didn’t take into account the Frenchness of leaving at 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Pure chaos. Chaos that even the impressive customer service of British Airways couldn’t overcome. We waited with a clump of Texans in a line that stretched back to another terminal and did not move. Sleep deprived and surrounded by fanny packs, I snapped and pushed my way to the front of the line. I heard people call me a bitch and I didn’t care. Poor, mortified Chris who doesn’t have a rude bone in his body, even when it comes to fanny pack wearing Texans! Somehow we made it on the plane and left Paris behind for another year.

The flight home was an Ativan induced blur and I was grateful to drift in and out and not spend the hours thinking about what I would be missing for the next year. We landed, made it through customs quickly, and before I knew it the taxi was pulling up to our front door, depositing us and our luggage in an untidy heap. Was Paris just a dream? It certainly felt that way over the next several hours as I carefully unrolled protective dirty laundry from jars of confiture d’abricot before falling asleep fully dressed on top of the duvet.

I woke up around 3 a.m., made a terrible cup of coffee and re-started unpacking, finding everything from Métro tickets (I carry one for luck in each of my purses) to stale Haribo bears amongst my vintage Hermès scarf and my chocolate brown LV box (Always, always get your LV wrapped in a box. Save the environment when you are buying an imitation Coach purse at Cotsco). Tucked into the front pocket of my luggage was my journal; over the course of two weeks I had written about 50 pages, mostly in the evenings from the deck of our Paris-Apartment-in-the-Sky. In addition to my writing, the journal served as a catchall for business cards, catalogues, receipts and one very important letter written on Filofax note paper.

Chris wrote me a letter during our last days in Paris. It is both a love letter and a promise; a promise that he will never forget how vital Paris is to our relationship and a promise that we will always come back, more frequently at first and then one day we won’t return at all.

I have written before on this Blog that Paris is our language; sometimes it is the best way and the most important way that Chris and I communicate. It’s not just about romantic walks through the gardens at Musée Rodin or extravagant gifts from LV. It’s not just about a 16 day vacation from our “real lives”. We have been ugly with each other in Paris and we have had moments of anger and frustration. But in Paris we have found a place of our own and we can see our future together, full of challenges and potential, that simply wouldn’t be possible without the other person. It’s harder to take each other for granted in Paris. Paris has brought us together in unexpected ways, at times tested our patience, and opened our eyes to endless beauty and possibilities. We can hardly wait to go back.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

We Dream of Paris

At first Paris was my dream. When Chris and I got married in 2007 I assumed that I would outgrow Paris, much like my passion for gin and tonic dinners and Hello Kitty underpants. I believed that our Parisian honeymoon would be a “once in a lifetime experience”.

Now here I am, married just over three years, and Chris and I are planning our fourth trip to Paris this coming September. And we are talking about Paris long term. What would our lives look like there? Would we try and move permanently? Or just extend our yearly stay for several months? Not in my wildest dreams did I ever think these would be the conversations I would be having during my first years of marriage.

Living in a two bedroom rented apartment, with no dining room table to discourage entertaining, Chris and I are not really following the conventional path of marriage. Our friends are having babies and locking down mortgages. They spend their weekends buying eco-friendly toilets at Home Depot and stocking up on Pampers at Costco. My e-mail inbox is full of pictures of their babies doing what I think are rather unremarkable things: sleeping, smiling, or modeling a pink fleece hoody while being pushed in a 4 x 4 stroller. I have learned to speak in one-word, baby-friendly adjectives, “adorable”, “pretty”, “sweet”.

I never wanted children. For my entire life I have known this as surely as I know that my eyes are blue. However, since turning 30 four years ago, I have been kind of holding my breath, almost expecting to wake up one morning with an unexplained longing to have a baby. It hasn’t happened and with each friend that tries to pass me their newborn, baby or toddler, I feel more and more confident that it won’t.

It's not easy. To be a 34 year married woman who doesn’t want children is kind of like being a freak. It brings back memories of being the only girl in fourth grade with short hair or the only girl in ninth grade who wanted to kiss horses more than boys. On the subject of not wanting children, both friends and strangers have made comments. Everything from calling me “selfish” to wondering who will look after Chris and me when we are older. Before our wedding, a woman giving me a pedicure (as in I was paying her!) questioned the point of getting married if we were not having children.

I am not ignorant to the importance of family. Despite some of my blogs, I know that a designer French handbag or scarf is not a replacement for a person who loves you. Mais oui, I am worried that I will be alone, 85 years old, and talking to my 55 year old LV still swaddled in its original dust bag.

And I am especially not ignorant to what children mean to their parents. There is a picture from our wedding, where my parents and I are standing at the top of the aisle and the look of love and pride on their faces is so naked it breaks my heart. All I see in that photo is love and I know that they have both more or less had that look on their faces since I was born.

But I still really don’t want children. I want Paris. As does Chris. So we find ourselves at this place in our marriage trying to decide Paris at what cost. What sacrifices are we willing to make to have our dream?

Sometimes I think it is a decision not unlike having children; it’s financially risky, anxiety inducing, it’s sleepless nights, it’s a leap of faith, and it’s making it up as you go. It is about believing in each other and it’s for the ultimate reward of a love so pure and overwhelming you can’t understand how you ever lived your life without it.

This is our dream of Paris.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Day 5: Paris is Love

Chris and I always plan an “away day” in Paris so that we are both able to experience the city in our respective ways and spend time at places that may be not appeal to the other person. For me, one of the things I like most about this day is the chance to wander Paris’ streets alone, as I did on my first trip in 2003, and remind myself of what I originally felt for Paris: rapture, wonder and endless possibility.

I started with more sweaty shopping, cramming myself into fitting rooms not sized for an amazonian Canadian, arms full of clothing one size larger than I normally wear convinced that my diet of saucission baguettes, Pierre Hermé macaroons ( and café crèmes had added at least a few pounds. It is no exaggeration to write that a vegetable, unless pickled or soaked in olive oil, has not passed my lips in twelve glorious days.

My first stop was to to stock up on inexpensive winter tights at a Paris discount department store and then I succumbed to some cheap, shiny black jeans at H&M for 20 euros which I know I will hate in less than six months. I also spent considerable time searching for Dépot Ventes(second-hand stores) in various neighbourhoods, getting my Métro fix in the process. I find it impossible to think of what a comparable second-hand store would be at home where I avoid mostly avoid them for fear of bed bugs or for fear of getting "faked". It is worth mentioning that France has some of the strictest laws in the world when it comes to production and selling of fake goods. For example, it is extremely rare to see bags, sunglasses, and other like designer fakes being sold on the streets or in stores.

At a Dépot Vente just a couple of boulevards from our apartment, an insanely laid back sales associate read a book while I spent over thirty minutes groping their 1,000 euros second-hand Chanel blazers. I also browsed their shoe rack, flipping pairs over like hot pancakes, looking for coveted red Louboutin soles.

I arrived back to our Paris-Apartment-in-the-Sky early to find Chris already there. I was only slightly disappointed in myself to not have enjoyed Paris “toute seule” more but the truth is after endless months with Chris and I passing each on the way to work, appointments, the barn, etc., I love all of our uninterrupted time together. And there is nothing better than having this time in Paris! We left the apartment, hand-in-hand, Paris as it should be, window-shopping our way back towards Les Grands Magasins.

I have written several postings, and could write many, many more, describing Chris' generosity. It comes from a quiet and thoughtful place. What I mean by this, and as I was told by one of his favourite clients, is that "he listens".

Whether it is remembering my glove size or the fact that I can't walk the streets of Paris without a stash of Haribo ( candies stuffed in my LV, Chris pays attention and goes out of his way to look after me. On our trips to Paris, he takes particular care, indulging each of my whims and fantasies: from riding every single, vintage carousel, to a bicycle tour in Nice, to letting me have the seat with the Eiffel Tower views at Café L’Homme, to never rolling his eyes when I want "one more look" at the same LV store that I have been in a dozen times, and mostly for understanding and encouraging my insatiable love for Paris. And this trip has been no exception.

At Pringtemps (, we picked out silver jewellery from Agatha ( for friends and then headed up to the store’s LV boutique so I could have my thirteenth look. But first the inevitable LV line-up which actually frustrated us both enough to abandon LV temporarily and retreat to looking at far less superior bags. I would be lying if I didn't tell you that I was feeling anxious as this was likely my last chance at LV for this trip. I had been doing mental mathematics, agonizing for days and repeating my "I-don't-need-another-LV" mantra at every opportunity. But another look wouldn't hurt and as we did our final walk through Pringtemps, I was happy to see that the LV line was no more. With sweaty palms, I entered the now seemingly cavernous store and nervously approached the wall of bags. I had fallen in love with LV Delightful PM (

Chris ignored my nervousness and assertively approached the wall of bags, asking the sales associate to provide us with Delightful PM. I carefully picked up the bag, dragging my sweaty finger tips across the monogrammed canvas, trying to pretend that Delightful wasn't one of the most beautiful things I had ever held. And then it was over before it began. Chris, after a quick check to make sure that Delightful was "the one" was paying for the bag and I was, yet again, standing in LV, trembling, tears running down my face as my lovely husband made yet another one of my dreams come true. And the night wasn't over.

With the same assertiveness, Chris took my hand as we exited the doors of Pringtemps, cutting through charming Parisian back streets to rue Cambon and the back entrance to Bar Hemingway at the Ritz Paris ( Tucked up into a corner table, knees bumping against each other and my boxed Delightful, I lived out another Parisian fantasy. The ambience was exactly as I imagined it would be and my velvety tasting cocktail came with a perfectly bloomed short stemmed white rose. Chris indulged me further by agreeing to exit the Ritz by the front doors, onto Place Vendôme, so I could have a proper snoop around the perimeter of the famous hotel.

I know my Paris may seem unoriginal and full of pointless items like jars of confiture and monogrammed handbags. I know my Paris doesn't necessarily include haute culture or museums full of masterpieces I don't care to see. Rather, my Paris is the place that makes me believe anything is possible. My Paris is overwhelming in feeling and experience. My Paris is love.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Day 4: Paris the Beautiful

I realized today that I have developed a very serious and potentially artery-clogging addiction to saucisson, especially when it is sandwiched between two, heavily buttered pieces of baguette and tiny, sharp tasting, extra-thin cornichons. Thankfully, I have not kept count of how many of these delicious sandwiches I have eaten, though today, writing this from the terrace at 7 p.m., I have already eaten three and I am pretty sure I have a saucisson canker on the inside of my left cheek.

“Not tonight, darling. I have saucisson sores.”

This morning we took a Taxi Parisien to Notre Dame ( The taxi ride was a compromise as I love riding Le Métro and Chris prefers walking. Chris is right; Paris is a city meant to be walked. However, with my buggered IT band and the San Francisco Marathon less than a month away, the occasional taxi taking is necessary in order to compensate for usual 10 hour long days of walking.

Notre Dame has been one of my favourite spots in Paris since I first visited during that cold, dark February of 2003. Today’s visit was no different as I shuffled on my tip-toes through the church's overwhelming interior, reminding myself to tilt my head upwards to appreciate all the incredible architectural details and the stained glass treasures hidden up high. I have visited Notre Dame, over 7,915 kilometres away from where I live, more times than I ever been to one single church at home.

Chris and I wordlessly shared our tradition of lighting church candles for our much missed loved ones; this has become another important Paris ritual for us and one that adds incredible meaning to our visits.

Notre Dame is a working church, but it is also one of the most visited tourist destinations in the world. With this fame comes a certain amount of overfamiliarity, often bordering on disrespect, from visitors . If you are ever fortunate enough to visit Notre Dame, or for that matter any other church, please do not do any of the following:

Talk Loudly: This should be obvious, n’est pas? There literally are signs everywhere, in every language and with visual aids (Shhh!), asking visitors not to speak. Today I heard two American women yelling to each other about the terrible pizza they shared last night. Maybe they couldn’t hear each other over the chasm between their massive fanny packs!?

Drink Starbucks: I wish I was making this up and I wish I didn’t have to write about this but today I saw a velour track-suit wearing woman walking around the inside of Notre Dame with a Venti Starbucks stuck to her lips as if she was out for a morning power walk in her suburban neighbourhood. I am, probably more than most people, an absolute coffee addict and drink Starbucks like water at home. But you don’t drink coffee in Notre Dame! And really Starbucks in Paris? You can do so much better!

Take Pictures of Priests hearing Confessions: The perimeter of Notre Dame is lined with multilingual confessional booths so that worshippers can confess in their respective languages. Today, I watched as tourists snapped photographs of the priests as if they were characters at Paris Disneyland. They are real, working priests. You would not appreciate it if someone showed up at your office and took your photo. And your job is likely far more mundane and less important than saving souls. Leave the priests in peace and buy a postcard on the way out.

Pose for Pictures like you are a Russian Supermodel circa 1985: In front of the Eiffel Tower, place your hands on your hips, cock your head, flip your hair, pout your lips and thrust your pelvis as the camera captures you but do not strike the same, taste questionable pose in Notre Dame. Take your picture quietly (no flash!) and move on. Better yet, support the cathedral by buying some souvenir postcards and whatnots at their volunteer-run gift shop.

Which leads me to my final “do not”…

Do Not Light a Candle sans Offering: If you can afford to be touring around Paris, you can afford the suggested 2 euros offering to light a candle. Entry to Notre Dame is free and as visitors, respectful visitors, you need to support that privilege.

Enough ranting about Notre Dame. We spent the majority of today wandering streets on the Left Bank, both of us delighted at finding the familiar, finding ourselves on streets, in front of brasseries where we had been before. Chris is frighteningly good at knowing Paris in his head and manages to lead us again and again to our comfortable favourites and wonderful new places.

Chris’ “Paris sense” is highly developed and also especially endearing to me as I know how difficult it has been for him to fall in love and surrender to Paris. Sometimes I think I have bullied him into loving Paris as my refusal to imagine, much less live, a life without Paris is so absolute. I know that living with me and my singular, expensive, impractical obsession cannot be easy at times. I keep catching myself in these perfect, shared Paris moments in which I honestly wonder how my life is real and how Chris and I are back in Paris, our third trip in as many years, with no sign of either of us tiring and already talking about “next year”.

We had late morning café crèmes at Les Deux Magots, 6 place Saint Germain des Pres ( where we were served by what would one would expect of a typical French waiter; petulant and not interested in serving another pair of tourists at one of the most famous cafés in Paris.

Les Deux Magots is next to the Left Bank LV store. Having now visited both Left Bank LV and the Champs LV, I can, without hesitation, write that Champs LV is the Las Vegas of the two stores. Or Champs LV is the Dolly Parton to the Left Bank LV's Audrey Hepburn. Champs LV is all about big, over-the-top, love me right now and buy me senseless; whereas Left Bank LV is classic, understated and refined. And you know its where real Parisians shop. I love LV and j'adore both stores - I lost my LV virginity at the Champs store! - but I admit that not having to stand in line with hundreds of motor coach tourists, staring across the street at a 24/7 McDonalds, is a lot less appealing now having visited the sumptuous interior of the Left Bank LV.
The store was quiet and we spent ages so I could visit all of my favourites and add a few new loves to my mental collection. Despite my best intentions to not covet, much less consider purchasing another LV bag, I am failing miserably. Especially after the price tag reality check at Chanel where their entry level bag could easily finance three, mid-size Speedys. LV seems practically affordable! And I swear LV bags look better in France, in their natural surroundings, free from preservatives and ugly shoes. Tonight I promise to not fall asleep rearranging my finances in contemplation of a new bag - Baking soda as toothpaste? Can I feed our horse on table scraps? Should I sell my eggs? - but rather fall asleep repeating my mantra,

“I do not need another LV bag.”

We continued shopping on the Left Bank. The new Ralph Lauren flagship store at 176 Boulevard Saint Germain has been on my itinerary for months. Ralph’s is the restaurant there and we have been unable to get a reservation before and since our arrival. I don’t know why I feel so obsessed with getting a reservation. It really is an awful lot of trouble and stress to eat an American hot dog in Paris and I blame a recent American Vogue article ("Places to Be - Paris") for my madness. Lack of hot dog aside, the store is a destination in itself and has some of the most incredible equestrian art I have ever seen.

The store is laid out so that it feels as though you are touring through a super posh, tastefully decorated English countryside manor that just happens to be overflowing with five floors of top-end Ralph Lauren clothing and accessories. This is not the Ralph Lauren you find at Bloomingdales or in the seconds bin at Costco. There was not a single single polo shirt in the entire store. Nor a pair of khakis.

After the Left Bank, we walked to Les Halles, one of Chris’ favourite places for brasseries and beer. I don’t feel the same affinity for this area of Paris as Chris does and truthfully find it a bit seedy. I like my Paris as a postcard; unimaginative, fully of sparkly monuments and clichés. In our beery haze we walked directionless and found ourselves in the comparatively refined courtyard of Palais Royal and literally fell into what I was truly believed was an urban Paris shopping myth...

Didier Ludot (, 24 Galerie Montpensier.

Didier Ludot might be the world's most famous vintage store. And since my first trip to Paris in 2003, I have read about it in various guidebooks, fashion magazines and Blogs and even seen it featured on an episode of The Rachel Zoe Project. But I had never been able to find it. Until today.

There are three stores (ready to wear, evening couture, and black dresses) and each store is smaller than an average North American sized master bedroom. Somehow Chris and I both squeezed ourselves into the ready to wear store, with me practically faint from being in the presence of so much fashion history. Chocolate brown vintage Birkin, Dior saddle bag, pink and black Chanel blazer, voluminous, exotic fur coats, etc., etc. I was totally unprepared and it was even worse because we were sharing the tiny space with a plastic surgery victim, her face literally stretched to the ceiling of the store, and her revolting, frothing at the mouth husband. She was trying on the vintage furs, tossing them all over the place like candy floss, while yelling alteration suggestions across the tiny space. Initially they muscled us out and I stood dejected outside the Didier's store front. All those years of wondering and searching only to lose courage and find myself standing back outside. Then I noticed a small, discreetly lettered sign in the window,

Hermès carrés

I suddenly found my French courage, my voice, my style, all motivated by the chance of finding vintage Hermès. As soon as I made the decision to go back in, I knew it was going to be an expensive one. Similar to Chanel, you don't browse at Didier Ludot. Monsieur Ludot was standing in an exasperated posture at the back of his store, watching his fur coats being tossed around.

“Excusez-moi. Avez-vous les Hermès carrés avec les chevaux?”

Monsieur grunted at me and then led me one-two-three, short steps to his office, the size of a North American refrigerator, and thumped a copier paper box onto his desk full of Hermès carrés . Still no talking, he gestured at me to pick through them. It was a thrilling invitation. At Hermès there is an unwritten rule that you don’t really touch le carré until your Visa has been approved but here I was digging through a box that must have contained at least 100 vintage beauties. It only took me about 15 carrés to find a beautiful 90 x 90 pink and brown Philippe Ledoux “Jumping” scarf too perfect to be real, patterned with show jumping horses. Sense and economy had long been forgotten and I stood on my tiptoes to hold up le carré for Chris, who was wedged in the doorway. I read his lips,

“Buy it.”

I will probably never know - and I don't really want to - if I paid too much or too little and I have promised myself that once I get home I will resist the temptation to search for my carré on e-Bay or similar web sites. It was all about the experience and fulfilling one of my most desired fashion fantasies; buying a carré Hermès that had a previous life, a history in Paris, to me is priceless and it has an immeasurable emotional value.

I have been writing this Blog for over two hours, sitting on our couch, with a slim view of the Eiffel Tower, and watching it fade through its range of sunset colours before becoming sparkly against the night sky. I can't get over how much I have been writing on this trip. And I am starting to believe that our impossible dream of living in Paris is going to come from me writing about our endless love affair with this beautiful city...

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Le Shopping in Paris

Chris and I had decided that today would be our first serious, all-out shopping day in Paris. I barely slept the night before in anticipation of visiting my favourite Paris stores.

We started our day with croissants, pain aux chocolats, viennoiseries and café crèmes at Laduree ( on the Champs Elysees. This is a total find for us and a place we had previously avoided, put off by its tourist packed over-flowing tea salon and long line-ups. However, Laduree is one of the only places we have found in Paris that opens at 7 a.m. and early this morning we found one of its best secrets.

Upon entering from the Champs Elysees, go left past the tempting, patisserie counter, and push your way through a set of heavy double doors that open into Laduree’s bar which is not unlike what you would expect to find in one of Lewis Carroll's fantastical tales. The bar is all lavender, lit with lavender, and all of the furnishings and walls are layered with a thick, brushed silver spider-web like detail. Pockets of stain glass windows shoot splashes of colour through the lavender. Chris and I were virtually alone in the bar, with just two French businesswomen, leisurely tapping their Blackberries and drinking full cream chocolat chaud. Truly, I want every day of my life to start here.

Our marathon day of shopping was supposed to start at LV on the Champs Elysees but we had to bypass it as there was a line of tour buses depositing Japanese tourists to wait outside. We walked to rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore which becomes rue Saint-Honore. Like common, vulgar tourists we took a museum tour of Hermès and I was brave enough to actually, with the appropriate amount of reverence, trail my croissant stained fingertips across one of the Hermès' saddles. As Chris had bought me Quand Soudain in Cannes, for once in my life I really was just looking with no intention to buy, enjoying the spectacle, especially at the carré counter, in which the scene reminded me of the trading floor depicted in the original Wall Street movie.

On the opposite corner from Hermès is Longchamps (, another one of my favourite French staples and one that sincerely fits my budget, with no tuna fish from a can dinner substitutions required. Though Longchamps has recently launched some Kate Moss “designed” bags, I forgive them and happily ignore them in favour of all of their horse logo accessories. I left the store with one of their traditional totes in bronze; a black, patent leather, equestrian cuff; and a small scarf patterned with the Eiffel Tower in black and tan. It was then time for Les Grands Magasins.

Readers of my Blog will know that j'adore Galeries Lafayette. It’s a Paris institution that manages to be both incredibly French, and therefore a little bit fashion fantasy, but also manages to be accessible to honorary Parisians, comme moi. How can you not love a department store that has a Veuve Clicquot bar tucked behind couture gowns and lingerie? How can you not love a department store that sells Bonne Maman confiture and LV bags under the same roof? My heart was racing with all of the shopping possibilities; I was doing Euro to Canadian dollar exchanges in my head faster than I can say “Chanel”.

In less than an hour, I left GL with another imitation Chanel jacket (this one in pink wool with black ribbon and beading detail by K Derhy) and a pair of incredibly high-heeled, thigh high (yes, high to my thigh) black leather boots that I hope will somehow translate back to my real life in Victoria. I keep having mini panic attacks about the thought of wearing them at home, surrounded by all of the Croc-footed locals, and worried about someone yelling out,

“Why is that old lady dressed up as Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman?! It’s not Halloween.”

I will have to be extremely confident when I wear them. Naturally when I showed them to Chris, he was extremely appreciative and supportive in that rare way my husband has of loving it when I spend money on quality, impractical items. He has also already told me that he will be "disappointed"should I "wimp out" and return them before our trip's end, something I have done before. I then treated myself to a guilty pleasure in the form of a grey, sequined Eiffel Tower t-shirt (shameless!) I found in GL’s souvenir department. While I would not be caught dead wearing it on the streets of Paris, I know it will become a weekend favourite at home, turning me into even more of the Paris lovesick caricature that I already am.

GL’s neighbour is the other grand magasin, Pringtemps, who is unfortunately embracing America – New York – and is selling a full range of in-house “I Love NY” products. I don't like it; Paris doesn't need New York. Just as I am not sure about the recently opened, massive Coach boutique on Pringtemps’ main floor. For shopping research, I took a tour of the boutique; which contains mostly entry level Coach bags, many at the same price point as LV starter bags, i.e. a small Speedy. I wonder if Parisians have ever heard of the Coach Outlets in Palm Springs?

I wasn't expecting it but Chris had planned to end our day of shopping at Chanel on rue Cambon. Over the years, I have I read several cautionary warnings in various travel guides about how this is one store that definitely doesn’t appreciate window-shoppers. Chanel is serious, another level of luxury. But even at the risk of embarrassing myself, I had to go; I love fashion; this is my fourth trip to to Paris and I had never been to Chanel, except for the make-up counter at GL. Plus as much I love LV, this past year I developed a bit of Chanel obsession after watching a fabulous documentary on Fashion Television, Signe Chanel. This 2005 documentary by Loic Prigent chronicles the making of one of the collections. I then read several Chanel biographies and watched another documentary, Lagerfeld Confidential. The result was I became Chanel obsessed and spent far too much time researching their entry-level bags, basically an oxymoron as entry-level isn't part of the Chanel vocabulary.

Chris and I toured - no other description for it - rue Cambon, speaking in hushed voices usually reserved for churches and trying not to make eye-contact with any of the salespeople who were so chic that we looked practically destitute wearing our $200 designer jeans. I grazed my fingertips across at 2900 euros traditional tweed and braided blazer that was so beautiful I wanted to buy it on the spot, wrap myself up in it and then spend the rest of my life sitting on the terrace of our Paris-Apartment-in-the-Sky, drinking pink champagne and painting my lips Chanel red. The reality is that I felt uncomfortably out-of-place and outclassed. I am not ready for Chanel.

Are you wondering about museums and other traditional forms of French culture? The weather has been stunning and the lines have been too long. Though we plan to visit our favourite museum, Musee Rodin, later this week. And to be perfectly honest, Chris and I prefer the kind of French culture you can savour, digest, drink..or buy.

Paris: Day 2 & Day 3

As Chris and I are definitely enjoying the closest thing ever to our perfect Paris trip, I feel it is only fair that I should describe the mess that preceded our entry to our Paris-Apartment-in-the-Sky...

Way back when I booked our flights from Nice to Paris, I booked them early-ish in the day. We have learned over the years that one thing we hate most about travelling is waiting leave a place you love; it’s far better to get up early in the morning and be done with the leaving. So after an early morning flight from Nice, we arrived in Paris and took a taxi to Jardins des Tuileries where we enjoyed one of our favourite Parisian lunches: warm goat cheese salads served with fresh baguettes and Kronenbourgs. We had several hours until our check-in time at 3 p.m.

Now here is another thing I have learned after several trips to Paris. No matter how beautifully you imagine your perfect Parisian moment, sometimes it will go horribly wrong.

After lunch, Google map in hand (finally a map!), and with each of us dragging our 50lb plus rolling suitcases, we started the 1.5 km walk up the Champs Elysees, towards Avenue Kleber and eventually to our apartment. As I had imagined the sun was shining and the views of Paris were stunning. It was a short-lived moment.

Crossing Place de la Concorde was terrifying. Dragging the suitcases up along the uneven cobblestones was an exercise in strength and pain. And when we reached the foot of the Champs Elysees, we both lost our tempers. What was supposed to be an idyllic walk turned out to be an angry race, with me more or less chasing Chris up the Champs Elysees while trying to dodge tourists unmoved by our fierce expressions and too-heavy luggage. By the time we reached the Arc de Triomphe, we were gasping for breath and glaring at each other. And we still had an hour before check-in.

This is one of those moments when you realize travelling can be absolute hell and you have to make a decision. You have to decide whether to get over the situation - and quite frankly, get over yourself - and let the moment dissipate and be what it is; just one, tiny utterly shit moment in a trip that will be full of once in a lifetime, life changing moments. Anyone who has travelled beyond the world of all –inclusive resorts and hyper-scheduled motor coach tours will tell you that these shit moments are common and happen more often than you like.

Travelling is being with your partner 24/7, it's about the unfamiliar, and adapting to situations that can throw you off. At home, you know your habits, you know what time your partner wakes up, comes home and the position they favour for couch surfing on the weekends. While travelling, everything is changed and tested. It can either make you miserable or it can make you fall in love with your partner in a different, more significant way. When I see Paris through Chris' eyes, I love Paris more and when I see Chris in Paris, I fall more in love with him. Maybe that explains why travel and romance are often linked together.

You have to rise about the moment, let it go, and remind yourself that you are in a place that many people will never be. As familiar as I become with Paris, it still can surprise me, infuriate me and humble me all at the same time. At the end of the day though, Paris is the city of my dreams and even with all unrealistic ideals, it still surpasses my expectations.

Chris and I eventually caught our breath, calmed down and took a moment to remember and appreciate where we were. Which means I must now return to writing about our perfect Paris.

On Saturday night, we came across what looked to be a very hip restaurant at the top of Trocadero, 17 place de Trocadero, Le Café de l’Homme (located next to Musee de L'Homme) (, complete with a marble hall entrance, security and valet parking. It was intimidating even from a distance. Tonight though, Monday, full of confidence and neighbourhood entitlement, we strutted down the marble hallway and exchanged bons mots with the maitre d’, first I tried pleasantries in French and then after his Gallic show of incredulity,

“Mon dieu, you have no reservation!” (sweeping arm gestures)

But for once in my life, I was not intimidated at all by his Frenchness, rather I shrugged a semi-indifferent, half-passable Gallic shrug and said, in English,

“Well, we were just in the neighbourhood and thought we would come for dinner.”

At which he genuinely laughed and with more sweeping arm gestures, swept Chris and I through the heavy, red velvet draped dining room and to a table pour deux on the patio. Patio isn’t the right word; there was no beer, no chicken wings being thrown about. Rather, it was like sitting on the edge of a small, sunken cliff, overhanging the steps of Trocadero with sweeping, heart stopping views of the Eiffel Tower. I ate one of the best dinners of my life, a simply prepared steak, frites, in the company of my two loves.

There was one, shameful thing that cast a shadow of ugliness of Café de l’Homme’s chic ambience. Improper attire. To my fellow travellers, particularly North Americans and particularly those North Americans to the South, even if you read about a restaurant on TripAdvisor or in one of those dreadful Top Ten travel guides, it does not mean the restaurant has been "North Americanized". As in it is not apropos to question the pricing, nor is it ok to wear camouflage shorts and flip-flops and ask every waiter to take your photo. It's fine dining, not Disneyland Paris.

Prior to Cafe de l'Homme, we had a Sunday to pass in Paris. As I wrote about Nice, Sunday’s are difficult in France, a county that places greater importance on both relaxation and family. With virtually nothing open, Parisians fill the streets and parks en famille. For Chris and I, lovers of shopping and not of children, Sunday’s can be tedious as both of us can only spend so much time lying in the grass or looking at flowers. What resulted was a day with a lot of aimless wandering before splitting up; Chris back to relax at our apartment and me to the Champs Elysees – a guilty Paris pleasure of mine and one of the only streets open of shopping on Sunday. I bought two classic button-up shirts from Bruce Field ( - Banana Republic-ish, less expensive, better tailoring and minus all the Made in China - and another imitation Chanel piece in the form of a multi-strand, flower, chiffon and pearl necklace.

Chris and I met up for dinner and ended up eating our obligatory terrible Parisian meal. It usually happens once a trip and is always a result of walking for too long on an empty stomach and settling for a restaurant named after the corner on which it sits. In this case, it was Brasserie Mont. Another bad sign is that you will not see any French people eating, only drinking and then heading for somewhere better. What arrived on our plates was pre-packaged crap, barely warm and with no taste. Also interesting, and the only time I have ever seen it on a men, was burger de cheval (horse burger!). I do appreciate that horse meat is common in France and though I don’t expect everyone to treat their horse as we do, a 1200 pound baby that enjoys a steady diet of organic carrots and Starbucks oat bas, even if I was a gourmet and not a 33 year old horse mad woman, I would not try burger de cheval in corner restaurant named after its street.

Believe it or not, even after the terrible dinner, we were still in the mood for more Paris. A spontaneous trip to the top of the Arc de Triomphe at sunset was the perfect end to our evening. Paris at sunset, with all of its the corners stretching out, every monument recognizable, the genius planning of the Boulevards and the backdrop of a pale, purple sky. It brought us to tears and rendered us speechless.