Thursday, December 31, 2009

Man, I suck at this...

Hi there.

Did I say (somewhere back in the mists of time) that I was going to blog every day? Yes, I did. And no, I haven't. I truly do suck at this - not so much the writing (hopefully?), but the discipline of doing it every day. Or every other day. Or more than a couple of times a month. D'ohhh!

Admittedly I have been on vacation and have been extremely busy with all the eating, drinking, shopping and socializing, but that isn't much of an excuse. So I decided to squeeze one more post in for 2009 and vow to do better in 2010 - yet another project for me to tackle, but I plan to succeed this time. Maybe not every day, but a solid three times a week minimum. Starting tomorrow. Honest.

In the meantime, I was trying to decide on a photo that summed up my experience in Paris thus far, and although I have taken any number of fabulous Paris photos, this is what I came up with. It was part of an art installation in the Tuileries gardens when I first arrived - there were about two dozen of these guys arranged around one of the ponds and for the life of me, I couldn't seem to find a sign with anything about the artist or the exhibit, but it amused me whenever I was there and I continue to crack up every time I look at this photo, so there you go. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Paris survival tips (Part 1)

Okay, it has been five weeks and I am just about to head off to London for a week, followed by Toronto for three weeks, so I won't be back in Paris until the end of December. But as you've been so patient with the whole not-blogging-every-day thing, I will still post while on holiday, assuming I have anything to say, which I generally do.

So I thought that I would say a few words about surviving Paris from the point of view of someone who lives here, as it's somewhat different from being here as a tourist.

Language - the most important word you will ever learn in French. It's not que or merci or bonjour or any of the words you might think - the most important word you will ever learn in French (and I tell you this because in all of my long years of studying the language, it never ever came up) is truc. It's pronounced trook (and you have to kind of gargle the "r" - I am sure there is a technical term for that but I don't know what it is, so I hope the linguists out there will forgive me) and it means "thing". I was always taught that the word for "thing" is chose (pronounced shoze), and that is correct, but for some reason no Parisian uses it, they all say truc instead. You may not think this is important, but they use it ALL THE TIME FOR ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING - a ring, a bag, a pastry, a vase, a button, a skirt, you name it, that's what they call it. I promise you there is no word you will hear here more often in conversation.

Traffic - here's a fairly important tip if you don't want to be reduced to a bloody smear on the pavements of Paris: if you're not sure if the lights are about to change, don't try crossing the street. Why? Because apparently there must not be any penalties in France for killing a pedestrian with your car. Let me tell you, if you are a pedestrian in Paris and the lights change while you are halfway across the road, you'd best get to steppin' (and by that I mean run for your goddamn life) because those mofos will RUN YOUR SLOW ASS DOWN. No joke.

Table Manners - living with a French person is fantastic because you learn things that you would never find out otherwise. For example, my landlady hosted a dinner party and as I was setting the table, she casually mentioned that in France it is considered very bad manners not to keep your hands above the table at all times. Which had me slightly baffled until she explained that if your hands are below the table, they could be groping someone else's husband or wife. And to that, may I just say: Hee! Ahhhh, the French...

Okay, that's it for now - there are many other survival tips for Paris but I think that's enough for you to start off with...

Monday, November 30, 2009

Saturday mornings

Okay, I have been rubbish at the whole blogging-every-day thing. But look how long my posts are! Do you really want to slog through one of these every single day? Hmmm?

But I digress - today I will tell you about my Saturday morning ritual. It's a little something I like to call Miss-K-goes-to-the-local-market-and-stuffs-her-face. Catchy, non?

First of all, let me start by saying that I live in the 1st arrondissement of Paris, which is the equivalent of living in Mayfair in London, or the Upper East Side in Manhattan - in other words, seriously freakin' expensive, but incredibly great to live in. I was lucky enough to find a flatshare I can almost afford, but really, this neighbourhood is not a place in which to find bargains of any kind. I will tell you more about both the apartment and the area in other posts, but for today, back to the matter at hand - the market.

Every district has one, usually on Saturday and Wednesday mornings, and mine is the same. So every Saturday I roll out of bed early (the market closes at 1pm, so if you snooze, you do lose - last week I got there at 12 but still managed to snag the very last roast chicken - whew!) and head off down the rue St Honoré. On the way to the market, I pass the local boulangerie and get lured inside - after all, it's a whole two minute walk to the market, I might faint from hunger if I don't have a lighter-than-air pain au chocolat to shove into my face along the way. (I do end up with flakes of pastry all down my coat and I have to be careful that none of the warm chocolate oozes its way onto my face, but so worth it.) I haven't yet found a justification for ALSO buying a tartelette aux framboise other than the fact that it's so damn pretty (and delicious), so let's just move on...

One of the nice things about Paris is being able to buy amazing flowers at a ridiculously good price - I bought a dozen huge white roses at the market for 5 euros and they lasted nearly two weeks. But moving on to food, which is of course the most important thing: the market has several fruit and vegetable vendors (my favourite is the lady who chooses avocados for me at the perfect degree of ripeness for whatever day I need them - she's uncanny), a cheese counter, a rather spectacular fish counter, a vendor of Italian specialties (in a French market? Odd.), a table where they sell dried fruit, nuts, seeds and so forth, a charcuterie vendor, several other vendors and then we get to my favourite - the counter where they sell hot roast chicken (either whole or legs), fresh sausages - Toulouse, volaille, you name it, and the most delicious potatoes (see photo, above).

I like this seller for two reasons - one is that their roast chicken is so succulent and flavoursome that I am hard put to not just start eating it on the aforementioned two minute walk home (okay, pain au chocolat is one thing, but I think strolling down my street gnawing on a chicken leg might be just too trashy, even for me), it's reasonably priced, and they actually describe the bird not as grand (large), but as gros (fat). Hee! The second reason I like this vendor is because it's a couple who are just about the happiest damn people I've ever seen. They must have been up since dawn and they're working like demons, but they're constantly smiling and joking. They're from Noirmoutier, which is where my landlady (who is also very cheerful) comes from too, so it makes me wonder if Noirmoutier is a region of jolly people and fat, happy chickens? Sounds like a pretty damn fine place to me...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Miss K goes to Hookerville

So yesterday I said that all the Parisiennes are frighteningly chic? Well, today I really saw proof of that. Allow me to explain...

A couple of weeks ago, I went to my friend's house for dinner - she lives not far from the Boulevard St Denis, and when I was walking there, I took a wrong turn and ended up on the rue St Denis instead. I got about 100 yards or so down the street before I noticed that there were an awful lot of...erm...ladies of the "professional" variety, if you know what I mean, and I think you do. So I made the remarkably astute observation that I had ended up on the wrong street and managed to casually mosey off in the right direction without any perverts propositioning me. (Although now that I think of it, why didn't any of the perverts proposition me? I'm a little offended.)

Anyway, moving right along. Pretty much every day when I am not in the office, I go for what I like to call an urban hike. Paris is a relatively small city, so it's very walkable - every day I get out my map and plan a route to visit streets I haven't seen before. But I refuse to carry my map around like some tourist, and I have a short attention span, which means that, inevitably, I will see some interesting-looking street and go wandering off in that direction. All I can say is: thank god my iPhone has GPS and can always tell me where the hell I am - best gadget EVER. And no, Apple is not paying me to say that, it really does rock. (Dear Nice People At Apple: I really do love your products and if you ever feel like sending me some free stuff, that would be awesome. Thanks and big kisses, Miss K)

See, short attention span - I actually meant to say that somehow I ended up back on the rue St Denis again today. But today it was broad daylight and I was actually able to see that there are a lot of funky little stores on that street, so I thought I would take a look. And as I wandered up the street, I could see that the "ladies" were still there (Really? The middle of the day? Is there a roaring trade in that sort of thing at 2pm? Who knew?) and I had a much better look at them this time. And may I just say, for the record, that I have never seen such chic hookers in all my life. Seriously! Not all of them, obviously, but for the most part, they were better-dressed than I was (which truly is a horribly depressing thought and makes me hate my current minimalist wardrobe); there was one lady who was totally rocking a full-length grey fur coat and over-the-knee grey suede boots that I absolutely coveted. Is it wrong that I want the same boots as a Parisienne prostitute? Is it wrong that I don't care if it's wrong?

So, my To Do list for tomorrow:
  • go to bank
  • do some Christmas shopping
  • ask a French hooker where she bought her boots
  • do ironing
  • put away laundry
What? Your list doesn't look like that?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Carla vs Kate

So I've been in Paris for just over three weeks now, and I have to confess that the main thing I miss about London (apart from my friends) is the high street - France might have haute couture, but the UK has great shopping. Not that I am dissing the style in Paris - everyone is frighteningly chic, and they do a lot with a little - jeans, a sweater and a scarf tied just-so, and they look like a million euros. But the shops? Well, maybe I just don't know where to go yet, but I have been walking miles every day, and I've stuck my beak into just about every store I have come across, so it's not as though I haven't been looking. And everything is very simple, very discreet, very neutral - lots of black, grey, beige, navy, white. Very.....nice. But where's the fun?

London shops are an explosion of colours and sequins and patterns and so forth - and so are London girls, but they know how to work that look and they do it brilliantly. I don't know - maybe I shouldn't be comparing Paris elegance to London trendiness, it's like comparing Carla Bruni-Sarkozy to Kate Moss. Both the height of style, but completely different.

But maybe that's a good thing. I'm not sure the French reeeeeeeeeeeally get it right when they try for eccentricity...(see below) I like the jacket, but the matching cat hat? With ears? Aieee...

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Really - oops. As mentioned, I am new at this blogging thing and I have now been informed by those in the know that if I'm going to have a blog I should update it every day. In fact, some bloggers apparently update theirs several times a day. Yikes - I'm not sure I have even one interesting thought per week, far less every day, far less several times each day.

Nonetheless, gentle readers (and I am astonished that I actually have any readers but according to my hit counter, over a hundred people have already visited my blog this first week - I know that's nothing compared to the gajillions that a lot of other blogs get, but I am completely delighted that anyone is taking an interest, so thanks!), I am going to commit to trying to somewhat entertain you on a daily basis. Deal?

So, in that vein, here is today's bit of randomness:

When I first arrived here, I had to pick up quite a few essentials for my room and while I was at it, I decided to pick up one non-essential. An orchid. Anyone who knows me is going to be laughing like a drunken hyena at that piece of news, because it is well known that I am a plant killer extraordinaire. The angel of floral death, people - I walk into a plant store and they all flop over and play dead in an effort not to be chosen:

African violet - Don't look at me, lady, I'm already wilting, wiiiiiilting - pick the cactus, he wants to go with you...

Cactus - Shut up, maybe she'll take the orchid - fool doesn't know enough to fall over when The Killer comes in. Now just be quiet, she's heading in that direction.... Yes!!!

Or so I imagine it goes. Anyway, the point is, nothing green lives once I get hold of it - I actually have killed off African violets, ivy, and various cacti (all of which I was assured are unkillable. Yeah, whatever.) among many more fragile plants; I don't have a green thumb when it comes to plants, I have a black thumb. So I don't know what possessed me to suddenly buy an orchid, but I did, and rather lovely it is. And I use the present tense because the damn thing is still alive after three whole weeks - I can't imagine how or why, but it actually seems to be thriving. (But if any of you would like to start running bets on exactly when I will manage to murder the poor thing, please do feel free, I won't be offended.)

None of which is actually relevant but anyway. My point is this: when I purchased the orchid, there was a little sign posted into the soil, which I assumed would be instructions for caring for this innocent flower going to its doom. But no. The sign was a warning not to eat the orchid. Let me just repeat that so that there are no doubts on what it said: not to eat the orchid. And the reason I can be so crystal-clear on this instruction is that it was printed in FOUR languages with a diagram. My mind is officially boggled - is there some orchid-eating addiction that I am unaware of? Some underground movement that gets their kicks from consuming non-edible flowers? And a warning in four languages?? I have actually purchased bladed appliances and pharmaceuticals with less warnings involved; hell, I think there are places in the US where you can buy guns with less warnings involved. So if someone can explain this to me, please do. I know the French eat some...erm...unusual things, but orchids? I'm completely mystified.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Brunch - expat style

I mentioned last time that I went to a party on Saturday night - it was a delightful occasion at which I met many lovely people. It was also an occasion at which I drank a disgraceful amount of champagne and staggered home at 4am (for those of you keeping score at home, yes, that is indeed twice in two weeks that such a thing has happened), but that was okay, because one of the lovely people I had met invited me for brunch on the Sunday. Ahhh, brunch - I had visions of a hangover-friendly, Canadian-style brunch dancing through my inebriated head - juice, caffeinated beverages, eggs, sausages, bacon, toast, things like that. Is that what I got? Not so much...

We were meant to meet there at 12:30, so I rolled out of bed at about 11:30 (looking and feeling like something the cat had vomited up) and got myself together, which was relatively easy since I was still wearing my make-up from the night before - yes, I am just pure class. Got on the Metro and got a seat. Okay, not so bad, I might get there without throwing up or my head exploding. And then.... the mariachi band got on and started playing. No, I am not kidding and that is not some sort of euphemism - two guys playing sax and trumpet along with a very loud boombox. There are often musicians on the Paris Metro and I probably could have dealt with a nice gentle bit of accordion music, but a freakin' brass section??? (And the weirdest music selection ever - "When The Saints Come Marching In", followed by "Hava Nagila" - wtf?) It was only a few stops but it was the looooongest trip of my life.

Finally I was at Bastille and started walking toward the brunch venue, when suddenly I spied a McDonald's (those of you who know me will be aware of my firm conviction that the only help for a hangover is a Big Mac and fat Coke), and even though I was already on my way to eat, I decided that it was a medical emergency and I had to have it. Good thing, too, because when I arrived at the brunch venue, it was not a cafe. Or a restaurant. It was a wine and oyster bar. Yes, wine and oysters. Take a moment to imagine yourself nauseated beyond belief, with an absolutely crushing hangover, and finding yourself surrounded by the smells of wine and oysters.

And then imagine yourself meeting what seemed like the entire expat community of Paris in such circumstances - wow, do I know how to make an awesome first impression or what? I could have lit the whole room with the glow from my bloodshot eyes, I could barely string a coherent sentence together, I was thisclose to vomiting the whole time, and I'm quite sure I was still reeking alcohol from every pore. Niiiice. But they were a very jolly group and I actually really enjoyed my afternoon. I will tell you a bit more about them at a later date if I ever see them again (which, see above, doesn't seem all that likely!) as they were an interesting bunch.

I rounded off the day by trudging home so that I could stop along the way for some KFC. What? You thought I was kidding about how classy I am?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Here we go...

So here I am in Paris - it's been two weeks since I arrived, so I thought it was time I finally got this blog started. Blogging is a new thing for me and I am not sure how it will suit my, erm, somewhat verbose style as I have been advised that I should keep posts short and to the point. Uh huh. Well, if that's your taste, I am sure there are many other blogs that will oblige you; on the other hand, if you are interested in my ramblings, stick around...

The past two weeks have been a bit of a blur (No, not due to excessive alcohol consumption. Okay, mostly not due to that. Jeez.) as I've been running around Paris getting myself settled - it's kind of amazing to be starting over yet again in another country after so long in London, and it's the really stupid things you don't think about which end up being a hassle you didn't expect. For example, hangers. There were none in my new wardrobe so I had to go buy some, all the while cursing the 800 or so excellent hangers that I had to leave in London. Grr. Or having to buy all of your toiletries at once - that's a significant chunk of cash, people. Especially when you have to buy a rather expensive face cream - and for those of you who think maybe I didn't "need" that, you obviously didn't see the stressed-out zombie I had become during my last few days of frenzied packing in London; I've seen thousand-year-old Inca mummies excavated from the ice of the Andes that are fresher-faced than I was.

Anyway, it's all coming together. I am living in a fabulous flat in the heart of Paris (literally a two minute walk from the Jardin des Tuileries, I timed it on my phone's stopwatch function), sharing with a very nice landlady/flatmate - I did think at one point when I arrived that she was in some kind of ménage à trois situation (which would have been rather exciting and totally in keeping with my vision of scandalous Parisian life) so I was slightly disappointed to learn that one of the chaps was just staying in the spare room for a few days. Hmph. So, quite frankly, if there's going to be any scandalous behaviour, it looks like I will have to be the one to provide it - I will let you know how that goes...

Sadly, nothing too scandalous yet, although I have been remarkably social for someone who hardly knows anyone - during my first week, my landlady took me to a party. Which happened to be a book launch. On a boat. On the Seine. As one does. So, free champagne and glamorous intellectuals in a setting that wouldn't be out of place in a movie. Not a bad way to kick things off for my new life, I must say. Of course, then we ended up in some nightclub and I crawled home at 4am, so really not too different from London in that regard... ahem. I've also been to a lovely dinner at a friend's house, and to a great housewarming party that led to an invitation to brunch the next day, where I met a group of friendly expats, which will hopefully lead to more socializing...

Work is also going well - I have adapted to part-time employment remarkably well. Of course, that probably has something to do with the fact that last Friday it was a beautiful warm day here and I spent the morning in the Jardin du Luxembourg with my blackberry and a big cup of gelato, which was then followed by an afternoon in a cafe with my blackberry and a big glass of wine. That's a fairly standard day for me and I am so smug about it I kinda hate myself for it. I do have to go into the office a couple of mornings a week, but overall, not a bad way to work, not bad at all. I am sure I will faint with horror when I get paid at the end of this month and see how teeny-tiny my first paycheque is, but perhaps I'll wait until January before I start filling out applications to work at McDonald's. Won't be so smug then, noooooope.

Okay, so that's it for the moment. Short and to the point? Not so much, but hopefully it has given you a small taste of life in Paris, and there will be more to come...