I Have Been Stalking Paris

rue Cler cobblestones

It’s been going on for weeks now.  It started with a movie – I don’t even remember which one now, but something from Warner Brothers, made in the 40s I’m sure, set in Paris – and I began to do a little internet research, borrowed some books from the library, started listening to podcasts in French (because, you know, my French is so good!).  And then I began to pull out some cookbooks, some of my parents’ cookbooks from their adventures to France.

La Fromagier

This lead me to a little more research on line.  I learned about rue Cler, one of the great open air marche’s in the city, with wonderful fromageries like the one pictured above, and patisseries, like the one below.

La Patisserie

And I began to read about cooking schools and language schools, about walking tours of the city and using the bikes available to rent everywhere (the Velib system).  I learned about the easy-to-use Metro, the buses that are almost as good and offer wonderful sights along the route.  I came down on the side of Musee d’Orsay over Le Louvre (line-ups can be such a bore on holiday, don’t you think?).  I worried about the pickpockets and the gold ring scams.  In my head, my suitcase has been packed and unpacked a dozen times, at least twice for every season, as I debated the bliss of Paris in April with the fresh fruits and flowers v. the relative calm and contentment of a quieter, cooler, rainier Paris in November.  I visited every website I could find with apartments for rent because, as expensive as some of those might be, I will never be able to afford Le Bristol Hotel, to which I have given my heart.  I became a lurker on Trip Advisor and even posted once or twice, offering up my opinion.  Not because I know Paris, but because… well, because I think I should know Paris.

Once, a long time ago, when I was young and foolish and thought that Paris would always be there, I decided to merely travel through it, on my way to see my pilot husband, sailing somewhere in the Med.  So my only experience with Paris was 5 hours in Le Gare du Nord, waiting for a train to take me south to Rome.  That’s it.  That’s my experience with Paris.  And for the past several weeks I have felt bereft, empty, lonely for a city I haven’t really ever seen.

There just is something about Paris that has generated in me such feelings of… longing, of belonging, of being drawn to the romance, the pride, the beauty, the smells and tastes of history and art and culture and, yes, the food & wine that so defines the city.

When my parents went to France, they planned in great detail their dining adventures.  My mother was in the business after all, so she wanted to see and taste and feel what made food so different in France.  As I stalk the city, I read the reviews of restaurants, find out what people like and don’t like, how they find themselves surprised by the formality of even the smallest cafes, how they finally learn to embrace the pleasure of savouring a meal and not rushing through it.  And in my reading I think I might have found the cafe for me…

Leo le Lion

Leo le Lion is a little bistrot in the 7th arr which has no stars, no one famous amongst its clientele, it’s just… part of the neighbourhood, the warp and weave of a village within a city, welcoming residents and visitors alike with good food and excellent service.  This is where I will have my first dinner in Paris.

When our lives turtled a couple of years ago, any plans or ideas I might have had for travelling overseas were halted.  There is no short-term plan for me to be in Paris… or anywhere else that I cannot reach in a half tank of gas or less… but still, I dream.

I walk the Champs de Mar, the paths along the Seine, the rue Commerce.  I visit les passages, the undercover ‘streets’ of Paris where sweet little boutiques can be found.  I sit in Notre Dame for Sunday morning mass, listening to the Gregorian service and bathe in the sound and glory.  I drink champagne at every meal and indulge in a croissant for every breakfast.  I sit in Rodin’s garden and let my mind wander with The Thinker.  I visit Giverny and wish again with all my heart that I could paint but as long as I can gaze upon Monet’s work, will let that joy suffice.  I wake up early to take photos of a rising sun lighting the golden domes and stay up late to stroll the cobblestones in the rain.

Paris, I am stalking you… I am loving you… I am missing you…. and someday, we will be together.

Paris in the rain

Mashed Potatoes and Cranberries….

I am bi-country.

I feel some days as if I’m living in both at the same time, especially when I’m writing.  The short stories are set in small town Ontario so in my head, I’m there.  I talk Canadian, I write Canadian, I eat Canadian when I’m working.  But when it comes time to close up the computer, I’m back here.  

And this week, thinking about Thanksgiving.  My second Thanksgiving of 2012. We’ll be spending the afternoon & evening with my in-laws, of course.  Family is why we’re here.  Family can make you crazy, family can make you happy, family can both at the same time, and I fully expect that that’s what’s going to happen tomorrow, a little happy crazy to go with the turkey. Which, when you think about it, isn’t such a very bad thing.  I believe we all need to be stretched a little in our lives – we need to have our comfortable positions challenged just a little so we can look at things from someone else’s point of view.  I have family members – on both sides of the border – who hold strong religious beliefs and I have others – again, on both sides of the border – who do not.  I am a ‘not’ but having the discussions, reasoned and unheated discussions, about faith can be interesting.  Do not bring up Leviticus, however, or you will get a lecture on mixed fibres and eating bacon.

There are family members who are ardent capitalists and some who are more likely to be ‘Green’ or ‘Progressive’ in their political and economic views.  There are family members who disdain books (which makes me cry) and others who celebrate sports as if there was no other past-time (which could also make me cry).  Families are challenging and rewarding at the same time… happy crazy things.  And in my particular case, there are family members who know EVERYTHING there is to know about the one country, and other family members who know NOTHING about the other country, which can make for some interesting conversation in and of itself!

But for all that, I am grateful to have family on both sides of the border.  Even when they disagree with you, they’re there for you. They’ll pick you, dust you off, and there give you a good sound chewing out if they think you deserve it.  And I’m also grateful for that, for the honesty I hope family will always provide.

And with the thankfulness for family, I want to say that I am thankful for friends, those of long-standing, those who are new, and for at least three who are both, in a funny sort of way.  I am also thankful for those whom I have never met but who read this blog & follow me on Twitter, and generally lighten and enlighten my day.   I am thankful for our “children” – Julie Danbolt Ajer (who is no longer with us, but whom we remember almost every day with much love), Bryan Worosz (who just got his first full-time teaching job!!) and Durita a Brugv (my darling girl whom I miss so much).  I am thankful – a word I did not believe I would ever use in this regard – for having and losing two jobs in theatre that I each thought would last for a long time; I learned a lot from bitter experience and while my heart may still hurt over both, my mind is sharper now, I think, because of them.  

I am thankful for the blessing and reward of books and reading, for having received an excellent education (despite wishing I had more!), for the right to debate political beliefs and the courage to not do so when it might hurt others feelings.  I am thankful for great scotch, good coffee, Twizzlers, homemade popovers with strawberry jam, Mozart, Diana Krall, Adele, almost all Warner Bros movies from the 30s and 40s, Harper Lee (I think really, most especially for her), and Norman Jewison. And although I rarely get to drink it, I am also very thankful for Veuve Cliquot champagne.  

I am thankful for the heart full of memories of beloved family gone and dear friends not in our current lives, and I am deeply grateful for the family who still warm my heart – on both sides of the border.

Tomorrow, I gorge on mashed potatoes and cranberries – the best part of Thanksgiving dinner to me.  I love the buttery shmooshiness of good mashed potatoes that just sort of slip around in your mouth and then slide down your throat, and I love the semi-sweet bite and tang of fresh cranberries that have been cooked with a soupcon of sugar, a dash of Cointreau and a few shavings of orange rind.  Completely opposite to each other and yet finding peace and equality on the dinner plate, kinda symbolic of my bi-country life.

If 22nd November is your Thanksgiving, too, enjoy your day. Be safe, have fun, and bet on the Jets.

Gobble, gobble to you all.

 

Service a la Quebec

This is one of a few entries I wrote, and was unable to post, for the past couple of weeks.  Please accept my apologies for bringing you so much delight all at one time!!

 

There is real customer service in the world, people!

You will find it in Quebec.

Other people, when they travel to la belle province will tell you about the beauty of the scenery, the incredible food & wine, the thrill and wonder of history in a 400+ year old place.  So you’ve heard it all before and we can move on.  To the service!

Everywhere we went – large chain grocery stores (where one can buy the most amazing things, from fruits & cheeses one never sees in Ontario, to incredible fresh, prepared foods that make one want to cry, one is so happy….), Mont Blanc ski lift lines (well, that would be Jeff alone), liquor stores, delicious restaurants, tiny epiceries in the neighbourhood where we were staying – we were treated like we were special, like our custom was actually important to the people whose business we were patronizing.

My spoken French is poor, although my ability to read it good and to understand it when spoken to me fine; Jeff does not speak French at all.  It did not matter in the least – we made the effort to say “bon jour” when we walked into an establishment, because that is how every single person who walks in is greeted!” (Can you imagine anything crazier than saying hello to someone who’s come into your shop??)  And from bon jour, we generally, although not always, segued into English.   But it didn’t matter – we were still important customers to them! Every moment of their time we needed, we got.  We weren’t made to feel as if we were imposing.  We weren’t made to feel rushed.  We weren’t made to feel stupid for being in that establishment.  And not once did I feel like a middle-aged invisible woman – how amazing is that?

(My middle-aged woman friends will tell you what that experience is like. I should blog about that some time….)

And it’s not that we spent a lot of money anywhere because this was a holiday for fools who aren’t working (much) but when we did drag out a couple of twenty dollar bills, they were appreciated.

I would like to add, at this point, that part of the reason we didn’t spend a lot of money is because nothing was really expensive, not even in the tourist-oriented businesses and activities.  Aside from dinner our first night in the city, and that was an intended splurge which we enjoyed thoroughly (and paid for just a little the next morning), the single most expensive purchase we made was 90 minutes of time in a caleche ride.  And even if I had to save up quarters for a year to do it again, I would.  Our driver was delightful, Quebec City is so fantastic, and the air of romance could not be denied.

Merci, Quebec.  Je t’adore!  And we will be back.