Saturday, June 27, 2009

A chip off the old block

Travelling with my father is fun for the same reason that it's terrifying: it gives a pretty crystal-clear picture of who I'm going to be in forty years. We're doing most of the stuff you're supposed to do (the Louvre, Notre Dame, Concorde, the Arc, that silly tower) but that's all just an excuse to get to the next cafe. And even the cafes are just an excuse to speak the secret shorthand of inside jokes and well-worn stories that families tell themselves over and over while I stare headlong into my future.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

deep like a rose/tall like a rose*

I should be in Canada today, celebrating Father's Day the only way my family knows how to celebrate anything - by eating lots and lots of meat. (Seriously. It's definitely more meat than you can imagine.)

Before you ask, no that handsome young man in the photo isn't one of my brothers - he's my dad, and he's great. Look at him bravely smiling in the airport as though his daughter isn't about to move across the ocean.

My dad is generous and brilliant and funny and in a culture that doesn't make much time for family he dotes on his kids and speaks about his wife with absolute reverence. And he's coming to see me for my birthday on Tuesday so we can paint Paris red.

Happy Father's Day, dad.

*As for the title, it comes from this e.e. cummings poem that I read for the first time last night, and then also for the nineteenth time last night.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I know I already put this on Facebook, but I would also tattoo it on my heart if I could.

It's not me. I stole this picture from The Kitchn. But I'm going to carry around a picture of this in my wallet so that when people ask what I'm doing in Paris I can say "oh you know, pretty much this."

And a handsome reward to anyone who makes me a dress that doubles as a picnic blanket, AND has lobsters on the front. For real. It's almost my birthday, y'all.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A couple of weeks ago I had my first eclair that wasn't a) from Tim Horton's, b) frozen in a box from Costco. So in other words, I had my first eclair. And it changed my life. They come in chocolate or coffee flavour, and it says a lot about the fairy tale quality of living in Paris that making that decision is sometimes the hardest thing about my day. (Fortunately you can't really make a wrong decision.)

No more.

This morning I discovered the divorcée. It's a chocolate eclair stuck to a coffee eclair. There's extra icing. There's a cheeky name. THERE ARE TWO ECLAIRS IN ONE.

I was a little intimidated at first. It seemed like a pretty big dessert. And then the solution came to me: don't eat the divorcée for dessert. Just eat it for lunch.

Dear Paris: I love you.

Friday morning in the empire of the dead

Friday was a perfect Paris morning. Sunny and warm with a bit of a breeze. So Dan and I decided to spend a few hours underground looking at bones. This is quite possibly the first time anyone has ever warned me, "careful, you're brushing up against some dead people," and meant it.

Hands down the creepiest thing I've ever done on a sunny Friday morning.

Toward the end of the 18th century, the government decided to evacuate the Cemetery of the Innocent, which had been used for nearly a thousand years and was causing infection and disease for those living in the area. So the graves were exhumed and the bones carried - only at night - to the quarries of Tombe Issoire while priests led the procession singing the burial service. You couldn't make up a spookier image.

Now for €4 you can walk through the catacombs and take vacation snapshots of people's bones.

The piles of bones are surreal; they look like stacks of firewood, with rows of skulls evenly spaced throughout. There's a stone altar down there, for celebrating what I can only assume is the world's eeriest mass. (Although what better place to eat flesh and drink blood than in an ossuary?)

And as if the heaps of skulls aren't memento mori enough, there are quotations posted everywhere: "think in the morning you might not live until evening, and in the evening that you might not live until morning." Dan continued to demonstrate his knack for the obvious-yet-apt when he read one of the inscriptions and declared, "that's morbid."

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Things I did this afternoon

1. Ordered a new computer online.
2. Came home, made one last attempt at turning on my old computer. Find that it has somehow magically repaired itself.
3. Cursed.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


My computer died this morning. I turned it on to look up directions for the government office I had to go to, and it turned itself on and has been lifeless ever since. I've sort of seen this coming: it went on the fritz a bit this winter, and has been making funny noises and smells for the last few weeks. (Bad smells coming from your laptop seem like a pretty obvious sign something is wrong.)

Fortunately one of the most practical going away presents I got before I left Kingston was a tiny little external hard drive that's compact and shiny and I kind of love it. And last week I finally got around to backing up all my pictures and music, so there's no Weeping Tile or "pictures of me and Meg at the Toucan" crisis. I've still got all my draft copies of my terrible first year essays.

What I don't have is easy access to emails about such inconsequential things as upcoming job interviews, silly government hoops I have to jump through or Google Maps. I thought I'd solved all my problems with the brilliant idea of googling "internet cafe +montmartre." Oh. Right.

This morning, to find out where I was going, I actually had to look something up in a book. Indexes (indices?) are Google Unplugged.

On the other hand, things that don't suck:
  1. When I finally did find the government office I needed (without Google, even) I was the only person in line, so I got in and out and I'm proud to report I am now in France legally. I've been putting this off for ages because I hate doing official stuff in France, and everytime I've tried, I get sent to a different building across town. Today I finally found the right one and had all the right papers, and even managed to show up during the 2 hour window when it's open. (Seriously. 2 hours a day.)
  2. A friend from Queen's is in town for a few days, and he told me last night that Paris feels like a cooler Montreal. Which killed me with it's obviousness/aptness. Also he speaks English and has good Pat stories, so it's an even better slice of Kingston than the book of second wave mid '80s Bronwen Wallace essays I've been carrying around.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

In my French class, we worked through a unit on vocabulary about shopping, make-up, and how to look seductive. (The curriculum could not possibly be any more French.) But when we came to a discussion question that asked us to tell a story about being judged by appearances, the conversation finally got a lot less banal. My class is very international, with students from Algeria, Eritrea, Mexico, Japan, Korea and a smattering of European countries, and every single person of colour in the class told a story about being openly insulted or harassed, not feeling safe on the subway or walking around at night in Paris. We talked about how France isn't exactly known for it's love of cultural pluralism. (Not that things are much better at, say, Queen's University.)

One of the frustrating things about language classes is how unimportant everything we learn seems to be - "Pierre is taller than Luc," "I would like to go to the movies with you." Simple, straightforward sentences about dull and meaningless topics so we can practice conjugating basic verbs. This felt a lot more relevant, and it was a nice antidote to all of the gender/sex/racial assumptions that our textbook makes. Finally - Paulo Friere breaks into L'Institut de Langue Francaise.

And then the woman who sits beside me finished a story about being harassed for wearing the hijab by pointing to the Korean and Japanese women across the room and saying, "but all Asians look the same to me. I can never tell your faces apart."

Baby steps, I guess.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The only travel tip you need

It seems that strangers (friends I haven't met yet?) have been finding my blog with the search string "cheese course +how to eat." It goes without saying that this fills me with immense sense of pride.

I call them friends I haven't met yet because people who google cheese courses in their spare time are absolutely my kind of people. On the other hand. "how to eat"? Really?

So. A cheese course primer.

After dinner, before dessert, your host will bring out a plate full of cheese. Maybe just one big wheel of gooey raw milk Camembert, but probably a few different kinds. Your French companions will take really silly miniscule "French women don't get fat" portions.

Then it's your turn.

Start eating and don't stop until there's no cheese left on the plate. You're full? Suck it up. You can't get this cheese in Canada. It's against the law there, for real. Once there's no cheese left on the plate, check to make sure that there aren't any little pieces, gooey crumbs stuck to the plate. Possibly lick your fingers.

Your gluttony will tell everyone that you're North American, confirming French suspicions that all Americans are fat. It doesn't matter - you're wearing running shoes. They already know. They already think you're a slob. Step into this role and revel in it.

I got a lot of advice before I left for France. "Be careful, the French can be snobby," "take your striped shirt," "get a French boyfriend, it's the easiest way to learn a language." By far the best advice, and what I'm passing onto you now came from Kingston's favourite Shirley Temple-sipping DJ:

"Eat everything you see."