Sunday, August 31, 2014

This and That in Paris

I love Paris in an entirely unoriginal way.

When people try to tell me about the latest Paris restaurant, museum exhibit or, God forbid, kale-inspired-gluten-free cafe, I can feel my eyes start to glaze over.  Just give me a few hours at Le Petit Cler, a saucisson baguette and a 2 euros hunk of stinky blue cheese from Monoprix.  Let me waste an entire afternoon lounging in Luxembourg Gardens and start every morning with a Bonne Maman madeleine. 

Chris and I have been leisurely reacquainting ourselves with our Paris.  My face hurts from smiling so hard.  We have walked our favourite routes, stopped at our favourite cafes and lingered in front of our favourite shop windows.  We were welcomed with squeezed hands and cheek kisses with our now well-known shopkeepers and servers and we feel that we are back home.

This is the stunning view from our apartment. 
Once again, I am struck by the smallness of Paris.  Over omelets at Le Petit Cler, I watched the same patrons squeeze into the same tables as I did last summer and at Christmas.  Their orders are as familiar to me as my own café crème.  Their conversations always start with a moan about the Paris weather.  I watched the same little old Parisian ladies teeter gingerly up the street pulling their shopping carts wearing chunky, block-heeled shoes and well-worn trench coats.  I listened to the same vendors exclaim about their produce and proudly squeeze or slice a cantaloupe or tomato for potential customers.

This morning, Sunday morning in Paris, we left our beautiful apartment on rue Alasseur and walked towards rue Cler.  Even for a Sunday the streets were church quiet.  Instinctively, we found ourselves stepping lightly and whispering.  Paris on a Sunday morning deserves such reverence. 

These are the snapshots of Paris that I love.  You just turn a corner, look in another direction or slow down and this charming, tiny Paris appears before you.

You know you are French when...
You take your dog on les vacances.  Arriving at the Orly on Wednesday night, it seemed like every French person, in addition to an enormous cart of luggage, had a dog either in a crate or perched on top of their luggage.  It was like being in the midst of a very chic pound.  Yesterday while walking on Avenue Kleber, a conduit between the Arc de Triumph and the Eiffel Tower, there was a family of five with their Paris maps, Longchamp totes and an ancient, hairy Golden Retriever on a leather leash.  

Things tourists say...
A couple sat behind  us at Le Petit Cler yesterday buried in brioche crumbs and travel guides, one of which was Rick Steves' Paris 2014.  Rick loves rue Cler.  As the waiter settled their bill, they earnestly asked him, "Have you met Mr. Rick Steves?"  "Yes," he replied and walked away.

The more things change, the more they stay the same...
Coming up the steps at the Bastille métro, we were greeted - again! - by le lapin Robert and his clochard.  Robert was surrounded by wilting bok choy and limp carrots.  His eyes were bright, his whiskers twitching and his coat looked shiny.  Chris placed some euros in the clochard's cup and was invited to pet Robert.  Sadly, he declined.  

French children and dogs...
Not having either children or dogs, I can't claim to be an expert but as a general observation both seem to be far better behaved in Paris.  Children and dogs navigate the streets with a savoir faire that is beyond their years and intelligence respectively.  There appears to be little need for parental negotiations or choke chains.  


Wednesday, August 27, 2014


In the months leading up to this Paris trip, and even as the months slipped into weeks and days, my excitement about coming back to Paris felt subdued.  I half-hardheartedly installed a Paris countdown App on my phone and replied "Paris! Yay!" to every you-must-be-thrilled-to-be-going-back comment. 

Since I started treatment for my anxiety in April, I have felt better than I have in years.  And it's had a huge, positive affect on all areas of my life from my relationships to my appetite.  I have been happy, less restless and able to enjoy my life as it happens in the moment.  I finally feel like I am living my life again rather than just being a cynical observer.  The summer I just spent in Victoria was easy,  happy and filled with everything I love.  For the first time in ages I didn't feel frantic to escape.

Summer in Victoria
 So perhaps in the past I have sometimes mistaken desperation for excitement? 

Arriving in Paris last night, I felt the same sense of calm wash over me as I always do.  Though this time, instead of my heart racing to stand still it just felt full.  This new sense of peace is one of the things I have been most looking forward to sharing with Paris.  I can't wait to appreciate Paris from this new, relatively sane, place.

Last night I left Chris to unpack and went to buy groceries.  My connection to Paris was immediate and I felt the familiar sense of boldness return.  Weaving in and out of tourists and locals, I walked along the back of Champ de Mars park to the late night grocery store and tried to ignore the glowing Eiffel Tower.  I want our reunion to be a shared one with Chris.

10pm and the cafes were full.  I could smell the slightly sweet smell of warm alcohol and hear knives scraping the last bloody bites of steak frites.  Tourists slouched over crumpled maps trying to chart their way back to their hotels while Parisians huddled on top of each other sharing their days' intimacies over wine.  One couple dined with their hulking Bull Mastiff splayed at their feet.  An older woman at a nearby table wrapped her long strand of pearls around her hand while sharing a plate of oysters with her husband.  (lover?)

This is the Paris I know.

At the grocery store I breezed through the familiar aisles filling my basket with Haribo, saucisson, cheese and bread.  Buying a wedge of brie for 2 euros never gets old and my full basket, including beer and three kinds of cheese, totaled 25 euros.  The cashier called me "Madame" and carried on a conversation with me in French as though I belonged and wasn't wearing smelly clothes that I just slept in on a 9 hour flight.

I love slipping back into speaking French. I think French is my most powerful and chic accessory.  Speaking French even makes me feel more beautiful and confident than wearing an expertly tied Chanel scarf.

Parisians of the Day 
Flying from London to Paris in business class, the seats are assigned so that there is never a middle occupant.  So if you are traveling as a couple you have an entire seat between you.  A French couple, probably in their early sixties, sat across the aisle from Chris and me.  They were loaded down with MOMA bags and looked, in that impossibly French way, crumpled and chic.  The man was wearing sunshine yellow chinos, electric blue socks and tiny tortoise-shell glasses over a prominent nose.  Only French men can successfully pull off this look.  He chose the empty middle seat to be closer to his wife and their bodies stayed touching the entire flight.  When Paris finally came into view, she threw her arms enthusiastically around his neck and covered his cheek with noisy kisses.  He glanced over at us, smiling the entire time.   

Monday, May 19, 2014

Paris On My Mind

I am back.

Celebrating Bastille Day in Paris last July
It's hard to believe that this weekend marks the one-year anniversary that I left for Paris and took the first, small step towards our dream of a life there.  It's hard to believe that this time last year I crossed the threshold of "my perfect Paris apartment" for the first time and felt more at home than I ever have.

I am trying not to dwell too much on this anniversary, over emphasize its importance or berate myself for the many things, including writing my blog, that I haven't accomplished this past year.  I am trying not to feel sad.   

The last nine months have been challenging.  Most days I wouldn't recognize the confident, scarf-necked woman with the perfectly faded Longchamp tote who boarded the plane to Paris last May.  That woman gave herself to Paris; that woman let her body and her mind be calmed, consumed and inspired by all things Paris.

My perfectly faded Longchamp tote resting at Les Berges
When I started writing this blog, I wanted to remain anonymous.  It was a place for me to play with my idea of Paris and many of my early posts now seem like they were written by a character in exaggerated or affected tones.  In contrast the posts I wrote last summer, fueled by morning café crèmes at Le Petit Cler and the rich smell of slow roasting chickens, are truthful and vivid.  I achieved my goal of embracing Paris, of staying positive and remaining in the moment.  I took intense pleasure in noticing the smallest details whether it was the precise geometric shape of a punnet of luscious red strawberries at my local market or the wet, almost joyful, sound of the fountains exploding at Trocadéro.  I took everything in with an open heart. 

I loved everything about Paris and my experience there last summer.  Any fleeting moments of stress or negativity were made insignificant by the wild, red poppies growing along the banks of the Seine, 1 euro still warm baguettes spread with sharp blue cheese and midnight walks to the Eiffel Tower to buy apricot jam crêpes from Oh! Regalade.  Paris exceeded all my expectations and validated what I have somehow always known... there is no place for me but Paris.

 Where last summer I succeeded, this last year has been a struggle.  

I want to share some truths about this last year.  And so I take a deep breath, delete any last traces of anonymity or affectedness and hope with my words I can find courage and calm.

I have been fighting anxiety since last September.  I think anxiety has always been a part of my personality but in recent months it started to overwhelm my life.  When my Dad passed away at Christmas, I spiraled and became locked in a battle between my body and my mind.  I was constantly dizzy and hyper aware to every sensation in my body.  I was convinced I was going to die.  I crawled into my bed every night at 7:30.  I stopped doing everything I love: riding my horse, running, reading books and of course writing.  Even talking about my writing, or my lack thereof, was enough to arouse sensations of disgust, despair and disappointment.  

About two months ago, with Chris at my side, I finally went to my doctor and admitted I needed more help than my weekly stress-reducing massages and daily high dose St. John's Wort vitamins could provide.  She prescribed an anti-anxiety/depression medication and sessions with a psychologist specializing in cognitive behavioral therapy.  I felt so defeated swallowing my first pill.  I felt weak for not being able to overcome my anxiety with a sunny smile, exercise and a super-sized kale salad.

Weeks later, I know that I can't overcome my anxiety without help any more than I could wake up tomorrow as Coco Chanel.  I am lucky to have support in so many forms and I am incredibly grateful for my family and friends, especially Chris, for not giving up on me.  Most days are better and I promise to keep moving forward. 

Writing this blog today is another, small step in getting back to myself and getting back to Paris.

Paris is on my mind.