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

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Open, Shut, and Somewhere In Between

We’ve just come back from another lovely evening with our dear friends Sally & Michael, whom we are going to miss so much and from whom we hope to receive many, many invitations to visit, and who we hope will spend some time with us at our lakeside idyll – once it’s built; until then, we’ll have to make do with camping out and swimming in the lake for bathing.

And the drive home, short though it was, got me to thinking about what happens when we open our lives to new people, to new experiences.  So much of my own life since October 31, 2009 has been filled with new people and new experiences, with even more to come in the next few weeks.  I like new things, I like new people, I remain hopeful for this and so much more but still…

But still… I have been disappointed too much in the past 18 months to be going forward without my eyes wide, wide open.  I was disappointed with what happened to me with the job that brought me to this little village.  I will absolutely take some responsibility for it – I was a poor communicator with certain members of the organization, I was not prepared for being a manager who was managed by volunteers.  My eyes were not opened wide in this instance until it was too late.

Then I started looking for work in other cultural organizations, in theatre and outside, and while I had several good interviews, I came up second or third choice.  My eyes were wide open heading into every one of those interviews – it’s a tough job market especially in the cultural sector and I knew not everyone was going to work out beyond that hour or so I got to spend with some pretty interesting people.  Of course I was disappointed every time to not get the offer, but I was also very aware of how I stacked up, personally & professionally, as I sparred for the job, so I was rarely surprised.

And then there was our decision to go into an entirely different field of work and boy oh boy oh boy.  Are we ever having our eyes opened wide for us, whether we like it or not!  Although we do.  We need to be prepared for the work, the people, the demands that will be put on our bodies, our minds, our spirits, even ourselves and our marriage.  And knowing that there is stuff that will piss us off, that we will find awful to do, that will be sad and deplorable and messy, but that there will also be stuff that will be enriching and warm and so welcomed by the people for whom we are responsible makes us value the eye opening that’s happening.

What really intrigues me is the reaction of friends and family – who are variously questioned our sanity, our commitment, our goals, our real purpose in making this change.

The real purpose:  We need to work.  We need to be together more than we have been since October 31, 2009, and this seemed like a great way to accomplish that.  And we like a challenge…which it appears we’re getting in spades!

The goal: To work long enough to add serious sales & marketing credentials to our c.v.; to add to our cottage building savings account; to increase Jeff’s SI contributions.

The commitment: Serious, but not in a life’s cause sort of way. We intend to do our very best, and maybe even a little more, and we hope very, very much to never have a middle-of-the-night poop call.

Our sanity:  It’s always been questionable.  Consider all the weird things we’ve done in the past and  you cannot think we are sane in anything other than the medical sense of the word.  But our craziness for each other will sustain us. As does the circle of friends we have developed and nurtured and been nurtured by over the past decades, or in some case, past months.

The open in our life is what we think and say and do.  I’m told, even warned, that I am too open at times, that I tell too much of my story.  It’s my story, so I’ll keep telling it, but I do try to keep a bit of control on whom I will inflect it.  And as for doing, I am just as transparent in my work as in everything else in my life.  I’m not keen on secrets, never have been.  Secrets hurt us all one way or another.  Tell me the truth and even if it makes me cry at the time, I will be a better person for it, and so will you.

The shut in our lives comes Wednesday when the moving truck shows up and we have to leave this house we love.  We were so lucky to find it, so happy to live in it, and are so sad to leave it.  The grey cat, who survived three weeks in a hotel suite, has otherwise lived her entire life in this house.  If I could be sure she would understand what it means to be leaving here forever on Wednesday, I would tell her.  I can only hope that when the door shuts behind us one last time, the three of us don’t weep too much.

The somewhere in between is how I feel.  Neither here nor there, but somewhere in between, waiting for a chapter I want to read, not slogging through the one I have to read to get to the good stuff.  Still, we’re luckier than many, and that too is sustaining.  Jeff has his music (I’m going to make him practise every day, even if it’s only for 15 minutes, because it makes him feel better) and I have my writing (bless Andrew Lamb for helping me see where the short stories can go next!) and we have each other, and the grey cat, for love and comfort.

That, and a nice selection of wine.

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.