Sunday, November 15, 2015

Mots d'Amour

I received a text in Victoria as the world was finding out about the Charlie Hebdo shooting in January.  One of my best friends was texting me from a high speed train en route to Paris.  It was her first trip there and she wanted directions and advice.

Minutes later I sat in front of my television watching the horrific news unfold.  I was shocked and saddened but more than anything I wished to be in Paris.  I wanted to be with my city.

I lay in bed on Friday night in London listening to BBC radio report on the chaotic and senseless killings in Paris.  I drifted in and out of sleep as the death toll rose and the extent of the tragedy became clear.  I woke to dozens of messages from friends and family wanting to make sure I was safe in London.

Again I was shocked and saddened and my heart broke for Paris.  And again, more than anything, I wished to be in Paris.  Now living so close, I checked the Eurostar schedule hoping to find a last minute deal so I could walk the streets of my city instead of staring zombie-like at the same, devastating news coverage.  I wanted to hold my city close.   
I have been teased that I only see Paris through sparkly and pink-coloured glasses.  My Paris is one where the Seine always glitters in the moonlight and the croissants are always warm and buttery.  My Paris is long, romantic walks in the Luxembourg Gardens with stolen kisses behind palm trees and sunlit glimpses of the Eiffel Tower.  I have been told on several occasions that my Paris isn't real. 

When I visited Paris in April, a few months after the Charlie Hebdo shooting, I found the city somewhat changed.  Subtle changes that revealed a slightly darker version of Paris where it was harder to make eye contact with strangers and a light tension could be felt on the streets.  A city I have always found so welcoming and warm suddenly felt closed and careful.  I smiled through the bag searches and skirted the areas that seemed overrun with armed police officers.  I reclaimed my home at Le Petit Cler and spent happy hours writing and drinking sharp shots of espresso.

My blog is not about politics and I am going to leave those difficult conversations and commentary to the professionals.  My blog is about Paris and my blog is about love.

Terrible things can happen anywhere.  I only have to look at my family and my close friends to see that appalling, life-changing things happen with barely a whisper, much less a shower of bullets.  We have a choice as to how we react to things.  With my family and my close friends, I have been awed and inspired by their determination as they faced challenges and fear.  Every single one of them has kept going.

Does love conquer fear?

Through my sparkly and pink-coloured glasses, I believe that love conquers fear.  I believe that Paris will always be the City of Light and the City of Love.  Paris will always be my city.  My thoughts, my prayers, my love and my heart are with Paris and to all those affected by this terrible tragedy.  

 For always and forever,  I'd rather be in Paris.

Sunday, November 1, 2015


I was born in Canada.  I live in London.  And my stubborn heart still belongs to Paris.

What does it mean?

I can't describe the restlessness I have felt since I was old enough to understand that Victoria is an island and somewhat remote from the rest of the world.  I wanted to escape Victoria long before Paris or London and long before I understood how my escape would change my life, and Chris's life, forever.

The incomparable view of the Gulf Islands flying from Victoria to Vancouver.
Almost any ex-pat will describe similar feelings of restlessness and a certain sense of disconnection to their own country.  I met an Australian colleague that lives in France but spends a lot of her time working in London.  She travels back to Australia yearly.  She spoke about not wanting to live in Australia but not feeling entirely at home in France despite her French husband and children.  She explained that it's one of the difficulties of being an ex-pat - that sense of not knowing, or not feeling, that you belong in any country.

I am starting to get a sense of these feelings.

It's funny how desperate I have become for any slight connection to Canada.  Last week I saw a man in Bloomsbury wearing a Toronto Blue Jays ball cap and jersey and I had to stop myself from tackling him with a bear hug.  My pre-London self would have thought his style tacky and tasteless.

In the past five months, I have showed my colleagues photographs of marauding urban raccoons, tried to explain the precise location of the Gulf Islands and, countless times, dispelled the myth that Canada is covered in ice and snow.  I am quick to correct anyone who mistakenly identifies my accent as American and often I start conversations with, "I am from Canada".

I feel more connected to Canada living abroad.

Londoners are proud.  If you meet a Londoner who loves London, they LOVE London.  And every time I meet one, I am charmed and excited by how much pleasure they find in London.  I forget every small thing that can make London difficult at times; from costly rent to having an unwashed armpit thrust in my face on the Tube. 

Most days it's impossible not to love London.

I spent Canadian Thanksgiving working at some events in Paris.  It was a busy weekend and my first, tiny taste of being a professional in Paris.  Saturday started with an early morning and ended with a late night.  At 11:30pm, I found myself stomping along the moonlit Seine without so much as a glance at the glittery bridges or twinkling Eiffel Tower.  My stomach was growling with hunger, my feet hurt and I was becoming angrier by the moment.

Paris who?

I stopped, slapped myself - very hard! - mentally, and reminded myself that I was in Paris.  Paris.  I slowed my pace, took a few deep breaths and took a petit pause on Pont Alexandre, to swoon over the stunning view of Madame Eiffel. 

On Sunday I had a blissful, free day to wander Paris with no agenda.  I went to Jardin du Luxembourg and stood surrounded by a riot of autumn colours, leaves crunching underfoot, smartly dressed Parisians with their faces turned to the sun, and glimpses of Saint Sulpice and the Eiffel Tower.  My throat tightened and I felt tears prick my eyes.  After so many trips and trying to find different paths to Paris, I was standing in my favourite city in the world on a sunny October day.  Everything seemed possible in that moment. 

Paris still has my heart.

There are moments when I am overwhelmed by not knowing where Chris and I will ultimately live.  Moments where I wonder where home is or even what home means. 

In these moments of doubt, I remind myself that living and working in London is a privilege; I remind myself that I am lucky to love, and to know, three amazing countries and cities; and I remind myself that while it's difficult being apart from Chris, we are chasing our dream and no matter where we settle, it will be together and we will have answered the hard questions that arose during our first visit to Paris and London in 2007.  

Paris sunrise
Things ex-pats in London say (overheard on my nightly commute up Haverstock Hill)...
"I haven't been to Notting Hill yet but I had my groceries delivered from their Whole Foods."

Moments of London misery...
During a rare rush hour Tube journey, a man squeezed himself onto the train carrying a steaming bag of take-out.  It smelled like a rotting baby diaper had exploded and everyone was shifting into invisible areas of space to escape the smell.  Despite being told that it's "common to eat on the street", this same rule doesn't seem to apply to the Tube.  It's not uncommon to see people consume entire meals, not just handheld food like burgers or kebabs, on the Tube but food that requires cutlery and tricky balancing acts.

Things you will never see North Americans do (especially on the West Coast)...
While enjoying a glass of wine at Cafe Central on rue Cler, the Parisians sitting next to me devoured a basket of white bread while simultaneously smoking cigarettes.

Moments of perfect happiness...
I have had a crush on Rosa Bonheur since it opened on the Seine in 2013.  In Paris a few weeks ago, I had dinner there with the incredible daughter of one of my best social media friends, Cassie.  I met Cassie online over 5 years ago but we have never met in person (hurry up. December!) and her daughter is doing a semester abroad in Paris.  Dining outside on Rosa Bonheur's  gently bobbing barge we shared wine, pizza and a salad drenched in olive oil and runny, creamy cheese - "to be healthy" - while talking and laughing.  At 8pm, right on cue, the Eiffel Tower exploded into its light show and all the uber hip and chic Rosa Bonheur patrons squeaked with pleasure.  Bliss.