Paris

Suitcases: tricky concept

I need a vacation, yeah? And I am going on a vacation. So far so good. Packing? Not so good.

Last night I had a full blown anxiety attack when packing for my Paris/Dubai trip.

The breaking point came when I couldn’t fit my beach towel and the 7 pairs of shoes I absolutely needed. I cried a little bit. But then, I gave myself a talking to, “Vanilla, you are a competent, smart career woman. Problem-solve this! Be proactive. Google. Google will help. Google “How to pack for two different climates”, and everything will work out.” Everything did not work out. Instead, I tried on every single article of clothing from my summer wardrobe – what! At any point in time only 2/3 of my summer wardrobe fits me, and it isn’t always the same two thirds… I am female. My weight and shape changes dramatically from year to year! I haven’t worn that stuff in a year, my body has changed a LOT! Last year, I was muscular and an Amazon. This year I am #skinnybitch except I happen to be PMSing and bloating right now which means that omgomgomgnothingfitsmeIamsogross.

After 2 hours of packing, I was exhausted from the physical effort of changing in and out of outfits, and had my shampoo and flipflops packed. It was midnight.

I ended up resorting to the tried and true method of packing:

Pretty sure I have my toothbrush. I think. I have two pairs of sunglasses, so that counts for something, right?

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Croissants: Swiss vs French

Here I am, at the Geneva airport, waiting to board my flight home to Montreal. My first trip of 2017: done.

A last minute request from head office brought me to Paris for work. I never knew it was possible to love a job/career/company as much as I do mine. Sure, there are aspects of it that drive me nuts, definitely there are some tasks that numb my soul, but what job doesn’t include that? Overall, I believe in what I do, respect my company, am thrilled by the coworkers I am meeting. This is good stuff.

I love work trips because they allow me to see past the perfect veil of tourist traveling. My favorite part is listening to my French coworkers as they sit for their déjeuner at the company cantine – their expressions, their topics of conversation, their customs, the nuances between France French and Québec French. Noticing the tiny differences between our cultures. I’m aware of how they differ from us, from all my interactions with the French immigrant population in Montreal – it’s the topics of memes and endless jokes. But it is jolting to become aware of how they deem that I (we) are different from them, when I am on their land. 

My love affair with France grows stronger with each visit. And with the backdrop of American turmoil shedding gloom over the world (I won’t even attempt to describe the pervasive mépris the French feel for Americans & American politics right now), walking the streets of Paris, seeing everywhere the juxtaposition of past and present, the scars of battles won and lost on buildings that are older than the entire North American continent (as per Western historical chronology) continues to make me feel that weird mix of sorrow and joy – I feel alive. This post from my trip in June resonates again and again.

I took the TGV Friday after work to go visit my friend in Lausanne for a mini weekend getaway. She is Canadian and was my coworker back in my audit days: I worked with her on several of my most intense mandates. I always admired her for her intelligence, beauty, drive and efficiency. 4.5 years ago, she moved to Switzerland to marry her Swiss-Canadian boyfriend; they now have a beautiful toddler, live in a house with a view of Lake Geneva and radiate happiness. While her first years in Switzerland were filled with homesickness, she now loves it. The fresh air, the quality of life, the absence of all the North American noise and consumerism. She says she has time to breathe and look around her.

And boy, oh boy, is there ever a lot to see.

With every visit to Europe, my Dream grows stronger: I will live here one day. I must. My soul demands it.

Sick in Paris, le zut alors

I’m back in Paris this week, for work. Just like that. Apparently, I’ll bring value to a special project that is getting fast-tracked from inception to execution and roll out. So wee, here I am, and I might be back in the spring du coup.

Its my third visit to France within 8 months for work. It blows my mind. I have trouble reconciling that I, Vanilla, have insights and inputs valuable enough to merit that kind of company spend. Part of me knows how hard I’ve worked to get here, part of me knows that I deserve these opportunities, but a huge part of me feels like an imposter and the rug will be pulled out from under me at any moment. The terror of joy.

This current (French) manifestation of my joy-terror feels suspiciously like the worst case of jet-lag of all time. I landed in Paris Sunday morning at 9am – as my hotel room was not ready, I walked aimlessly about town, trying to stay awake. I decided to go to the Louvre, as it has been 15 years since I’d last been: it would be like window-shopping, browsing bougie style. 25 euros later, I made my way to the Mona Lisa, laughed at the dozens of people taking bad selfies of themselves with La Jaconde, and almost fainted from exhaustion. 25 euros for 25 minutes. Win! 2pm, back at the hotel, got my early check-in. 3pm, asleep. Woke up at 5:30am today feeling like a marching band had taken up residence in my brain.

Behold the pics I managed to take before my body decided to hibernate:

 

Today I had fever, chills, a brain that was 100% wool and 0% grey matter, weird pasty tongue and dry mouth, and my kidneys hurt. I also lost my appetite. Do you know what sucks more than just losing your appetite? Losing your appetite in Paris. I see all those macarons, baguette, profiteroles, I am aware that my time here is limited and that I cannot find the equivalent in Montreal so I should eat up… and I just can’t do it.

The universe has a petty sense of humor. Hmph.

Zut alors.

Finding joy one croissant and conversation at a time

I was talking to an acquaintance (that same professional acquaintance that reads my blog and deems I am cerebral) about work. His is a thrilling chaotic philanthropic crusade, constantly networking, organizing BIG fundraisers, and making a tangible monetary difference in the lives of many sick children and adults. He never stops. His stories trigger so many feels: the real kind, sweet and sorrowful that squeeze your heart so that you can’t take a deep breath. My stories are about… accounting. Big projects that at the end of the day… nobody gives a shit about because accounting doesn’t generate cash, ops does (nobody gives a shit about accounting until cash is involved – the need for financing, applying for a refunding tax credit for R&D, fraud… then suddenly accounting becomes a hot topic). I pour myself into my work, waging mental sparring wars with people that outrank me, pushing/prodding/pleading coworkers across the organization to work together cross-functionally to improve efficiency and processes.

“Is it worth dying for” my acquaintance asked me the day before I got on the plane to go to Paris. Oye. Nope. He clearly feels his work is worth dying for, which is why he is able to devote time, effort and seemingly endless energy to push through road blocks and make change. “So why are you doing it?” Million dollar question. That question was never far from my mind as I spent these last 10 days working my ass off, getting into many arguments with my French coworkers, frequently enraged and frustrated, with an unmanageable to-do list.

Why, tho?

Part of it is the thrill of tight (impossible?) deadlines on projects that allow me to showcase my intelligence (#modest). Tell me I have to prove something, and you don’t think it can be done? Ha! Imma show you – and the “you” can be anyone from a junior accountant to the CFO of the company, doesn’t matter, I will prove them wrong. I love being thrown at a scenario where I know little, yet am required to make an educated decision that I must defend – a game of logic, probabilities and information processing. Professional judgment – my two favorite words.

Part of it is my team, my cuties. They are so young, at the start of their careers. They are like blank canvases, that I can work away at to reveal their underlying masterpieces. I can’t explain how proud and delighted it makes me to watch them apply my coaching and feedback, morphing from sweet babies straight out of uni into self-sufficient, responsible, reliable team players. Coaching them on how to problem solve certain scenarios, how to better respond/communicate, to view themselves as trusted advisors for the business. To see instances where they believe that they are trusted advisors for the business – its only a matter of time before they fully believe it. Watching their journey, and knowing that I am positively influencing it to the best of my abilities, is possibly the best part of each day.

Part of it, at least on this trip, was the realization that I could be fully myself, integrated in my contradictions, and yet people still enjoy me. Or they don’t, but that’s ok, because they respect me, both because I deserve it, and expect it as my due. I might be 32, but the concept of being liked for myself is one I still have trouble grasping. Yet I went to Madrid, struggled with anxiety and vulnerability, and still found myself with new friends and great memories. In Paris, I met a plethora of coworkers I’d never properly interacted with, and culture shock notwithstanding… it was good. Really good.

Part of it was walking the streets of Paris, breathing in the bougie air, surrounded by beauty, eating 1-5 croissants a day. My father was born in Paris, his brothers before him; my grandparents were part of a great influx of Russians in France post-Russian revolution & WWII. They lived there for several years. I walked by the apartment where they lived, the cathedral where my grandfather served as deacon and my father and uncles were baptised. France influenced my family’s history, both in Paris and in Quebec – it is impossible to dissociate my province’s history from that of its’ former colonizer. This was my 5th time in Paris. Every time, I feel a part of my identity awaken from a perma-siesta. I need to be there. I have a Big Dream, for the first time since all this depression shit, 6+ years ago: I want to move to Paris, in the nearish future (next 2-3 years).

There you have it. That is why I do what I do. It makes me feel alive, which is a new sensation after spending 1/5th of my life struggling with depression. When I feel alive, I feel joy. Non-stop, vibrating through me, even as I feel all kinds of other emotions. Joy-rage. Joy-frustration. Joy-exhaustion. Joy-stress. I might not have found (yet) something worth dying for, but for the first time in 32 years, I’ve built myself a life worth living for.

Imma enjoy this, for now.


I highly recommend this comic strip (“How to be perfectly unhappy”) by the Oatmeal. That is exactly it.

Paris, ville de l’amour & l’irritation extrême 

I just wanted to take pictures, y’all. Really.

I am in Paris for a 10-day work trip. (Check out what happened the last time I was left unsupervised in Paris.) Not complaining at all, but it remains I am not here to visit, I am here to put in 12+ hour days. When I leave my hotel in the morning, it is dark out. When I leave the office, it is darker. I gave myself an objective to try walk 30-60 mins every day, and find something worth taking as a picture. I’ve never really explored Paris at night, this trip would be my opportunity to see the usual landmarks in a different “light”.

Monday night, I met up with a former colleague of mine from my auditing days who has recently moved to Paris. I hadn’t seen him in two years. A delightful evening, bien arrosée, because we accountants = alcoholics and French wine is bae. By the time we said goodbye, it was 11pm. The resto was located in a safe part of town, approx 35 mins from my hotel – perfect opportunity to squeeze in my daily walk and pic quest. My walk brought me to the Louvre, which I needed to cross to get to the Seine bank, where I would need to walk for 15 mins, before crossing over the river.

As I stood on the street corner waiting for the light to change, a man approached me asking me if I was lost, because I looked confused. I answered him (in French) that I was debating if the open gate on our side of the Louvre would allow me to cross the entire courtyard, or whether the gate would be closed on the other end (on the river-side); I did not feel like walking about for nothing. He reassured me that the Louvre gates remained open all night, and that in fact he was walking in that direction himself, to reach the south bank. Perfect.

I really wanted to be in my bubble and enjoy the peaceful Parisian night – it is rare to find a moment where the city is quiet, almost sleeping. Chatty stranger watched me take pics of the Louvre, despite my hints that I did not want to delay him from joining his friends. This is the only pic I managed to squeeze in before Sir Annoyancealot ruined my mood.

Having crossed through the Louvre courtyard, I noticed the normally busy Seine bank was deserted. Great. I said goodbye to Sir Annoyancealot, who insisted on giving me a goodnight hug.

I did not want this hug. It was an impertinence, which he knew – he is French: they have the best manners in the world when they chose. That he was asking/insisting on a hug meant he was up to no good. I was faced with a dilemma: tell him to fuck-off and risk an escalation, or appease him. Boxing experience notwithstanding, I’ve been trained to handle a situation smoothly, just in case. Especially on a deserted street. Guy didn’t seem dangerous, more of a low-key creep trying his luck, looking to boost his male ego. Choosing safety over bravado, I let him hug me, but with arms flexed so that he couldn’t pull me close, and he would feel my strength. He attempted la bise, which he technically achieved, despite me successfully keeping him at arm’s distance.

You’d think he would be satisfied with that, no? No.

Sir Annoyancealot offered to walk with me a little more, even though I told him I wanted to be alone to enjoy the view. He continued talking to me, oblivious (or perhaps enjoying) that my conversation had gone from politely chatty to monosyllabic. I lied about where I was headed, and he insisted on re-saying goodbye, this time holding me firmly by either arm (payback for me having stiff-armed him: he had noticed my strength, and now it was my turn to notice his) with another bise. When his first kiss on the cheek landed on the corner of my mouth, I shoved him away such that he had to take 1-2 steps backwards.

He smiled at me, “Non, mais t’es tellement mignonne, j’ai envie de te croquer, tu sais.” Dropping all semblance of manners, I gave him my boxer look, “Tiens, mec, t’es vraiment mieux de ne pas t’essayer avec moi.” (“But you are so adorable, I just wanna eat you!” followed by “That’s nice, buddy, you better not try to.”) I walked away, and he didn’t follow me.


When I told that story to my colleagues yesterday, one dude shook his head and remarked that no French woman would have let herself be in such a scenario. That comment enraged me. It reminded me of the comment my Arab friend made, after I got lewdly propositioned in Beirut. It implies it is my fault, or perhaps that the women of my nationality aren’t as savvy as the locals. Wrong. I’ve been micro-aggressed in Canada too. This is what it means to be a woman; these are the kind of trade-offs I have to make every damn day, all the time: evaluating if I am willing to put up with possible unpleasant encounters in order to not deprive myself of a beautiful solitary nighttime walk. Evaluating if politeness will be a gateway to a dangerous situation. Evaluating the risk of escalation vs the need for appeasement. Evaluating just how far to react, if the guy is an actual dangerous person or just a creep. Having to be grateful that I have 8 years of fighting experience, because otherwise that would have been a much scarier experience.

I just wanted to take pictures, y’all. Really.


Last night, I left work “early” at 8:30pm so as to give myself plenty of time to walk the 1hr walk from l’Arc de Triomphe to my hotel near Notre-Dame. It wasn’t peaceful, bc 9pm is prime social time for Parisians, and les Champs-Elysées are always crowded, but it was nighttime and I did get my pics.

Behold, Paris at night.

The best part of travelling is coming home

Regardless of the purpose of the trip or the duration of the flight, roughly one hour before landing, I begin to feel a bubble of happiness and excitement at the prospect of coming home that is greater than the excitement at the start of a trip, before the plane takes off. No matter whether I had a wonderful trip, like when I went to Beirut, or this time in France. I like my city, my country, my things, my peeps and my gym.

[Off topic, because I have ADD and writing the word “gym” made me think of this.

You guys. 10 days of French cuisine, and no exercise. I am plump. So satisfied and content, but without any doubt, I am definitely plump. I’m not too worried: losing weight will be easy when transitioning back to Mtl food – nothing will tempt me, so portion control will be easy. In North America, we don’t do bread. Not like the French do. I refuse to eat our bread ever again. Also? I won’t be drinking 3-6 glasses of wine per day, every day. I think my plumpness will settle itself pretty quickly. In the meantime, I feel like a camel, having stored up on the sensation of enjoying food long enough to last till my next trip. (You might suggest that I take up cooking, but let’s be realistic. That will NEVER happen.)]

I walked through places of beauty. Saw sites of incredible historical relevance. Museums with exhibits I can only dream of, coming from Montreal, displaying a breadth and depth of works of art that our museums cannot achieve. Watched what Parisiens consider to be a run-of-the-mill operatic performance, with singers that our Montreal Opera Symphonique de Montréal couldn’t afford to invite here to perform. It was incredible.

But I still was homesick.

What did I do on my first afternoon home? Hang out at one of the free neighbourhood pools, soaking up the sun, watching my friend’s pre-schooler flop about with her wee friends in the kiddie pool. And I was just as happy, if not happier, as when I was walking about France with the ghosts of kings past.

#notsobougieafterall

#itsthesimplethings


Still, let me share some pics from this trip (all of them taken with a simple iphone 6, using the filters available and editing options within).

View of Paris’s north shore, from the roof-top terrasse of the Musée d’Orsay. That green space = Jardins de Tuileries, and behind it on the hilltop is the Basilique de Sacré-Coeur

La Cathédrale de Notre-Dame is located on a wee island in the Seine called Ile de la Cité. When the weather is beautiful, Parisiens go down to the water and picnic on the ledge. What a view. City living at its best.

Reims. Located in Champagne country-side. Went for a tour of the Taittinger champagne house, and their caves where they store their champagne. Built on 4th century Roman caves and the foundations of a famous 13th century Abbey, that was destroyed during the French Revolution.

Strasbourg. Fairy tale scenery.

More Strasbourg fairy tale scenery. All of these pics are taken in their downtown core. Because #urbanplanningwin

No filter, because none needed. This area of Strasbourg is a Unesco World Heritage site, called la Petite France. Funny story, it was initially built in the 15th century to house soldiers returning from wars with syphilis. Most beautiful quarantine possible.

Not a vintage pic. I took it while on a boat tour. Strasbourg = a living anachronism.

This is where my work convention was hosted: a medieval French village in the countryside – the Domaine de Rebetz. NBD.

 

Bougiest of birthday presents to myself

In a few days I will be turning 30 for the 3rd time. Clearly, a milestone anniversary, that deserves to be celebrated in style.

As luck would have it, my work is flying me to France for a 3 day conference in the countryside, 1 hour away from Paris, next week. Since the plane was already covered, I extended my trip by an extra 5 days. I’ll be in France for my bday. #fancy

  • 2.5 days in Strasbourg
  • 1.5 day in Reims (champagne country!)
  • 1.5 day in Paris

While in Paris, I’m treating myself to a good seat at the opera, to see Verdi’s Aida, because nothing says birthday bash than listening to a warbly love triangle that ends with the hero & heroine being buried alive. #mykindofdatingstory #keepingitreal #ratchetbeforeratchetwasinstyle  My goal in life is to see a ballet and an opera in all the major companies in the world. So far, I’ve only done that in NYC. Soon Paris will be checked off too, and I’ll have no choice but to explore other cultural hubs like London, Milan or St-Petersburg… #mydreamrequiresAeroplan

So yeah. I’m going to celebrate another year of not having my shit together by going all-out bougie. Hopefully this time I won’t break my nose. But it’s worth the risk. Champagne, ridiculously yummy food, sexy accents, quaint scenery… And opera. Best of all? I’ll be alone.

I think I might be getting old.

#hbdtome

#idyemyhair

#atruecatladyatheart