street cred

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.

Time for a little humble-bragging

My plane leaves in 7 hours… Other than my opera ticket, and the train tickets to get from each of the 4 towns I’ll be visiting, I’ve got nothing planned. And that feels GREAT. I don’t have any travel-books or tour guides. I am planning on winging it.

There is so much freedom in travelling alone, especially when I can speak the language of the country I am visiting. I like waking up in the morning, and seeing where my feet take me. Sure, I have googled Strasbourg and Reims a few times, so I have a vague idea of some of the things I’d like to do (a few cathedrals, 1-2 champagne cellars) but otherwise, nope, I don’t want to plan anything else. I want to talk to the waiters at the cafés, and hear their opinions (95% of which I will disregard); sit on a plaza, people watching, and strike up a conversation with a random person; get lost as I walk about town, discovering fabulous and not-so-fabulous views around every corner and stop and ask for directions.

I haven’t packed a single article of work-out gear. 10 days without stepping inside a gym. I have my walking shoes, and I intend on walking 4-6 hours a day. That is good enough for me. No stress about making it to boxing on time. No regimented schedules, other than the 3 day conference – but even that: it is all outside of my control, I just need to wake up in the morning, and my day will be planned fo me. All I need to do is show up. 10 days of eating whatever I want. 10 days of good food. I packed my stretchy pants.

The weather forecast for the portion of this trip that is personal is rainy and cold. Of course. So I’ve packed sweaters, jackets, an umbrella…

But get this.

10 days. I managed to pack everything into 2 carry-on bags, one of which is my work laptop bag. No checked luggage for this girl!

Yeah.

I know. It’s impressive. I was going to humble-brag, but really, I think that feat deserves a full-on brag. Vanilla the Great. I packed 3 pairs of shoes… as well as all of the items mentioned above. Imma have the freedom to galivant between the 4 towns without being weighed down by unwieldly suitcases. AND I will look good doing it.

That is why I am awesome. I can act and look like a princess, and I can cut corners and be practical too.

#humblebragfail

#boastingcomesnaturally

#baskintheawesomenessofmypackingskills

#IamSOexcitedforthistrip

 

Somehow I never pictured Jesus as a micromanager 

As per my promise to Coach to maintain my fitness levels despite my frequent travels, I have visited in the past 3 months a boxing gym in Beirut, San Diego, and most recently, Denver. My motivation was high this trip, as I will be fighting in a tournament in a week’s time. Never mind my usual concerns with American cuisine (crazy portions, salt, and so many nasty chemicals and preservatives), I was eager to train to keep my cardio, power and eyes sharp. With 7 days between my return to Montreal and my fight, there is no time to get back into shape. I needed to be in better shape than when I left.

I spent an hour googling Denver boxing and MMA gyms before settling on one that seemed combat oriented (I’ve no interest in the fitness cardio-boxing stuff). Monday, I  was warmly greeted by 3 coaches. They worked me hard, or perhaps that was just my body adapting badly to the elevation in Denver. They pointed out weaknesses in my boxing that are similar to what Coach harps on about. For example, to convey that I don’t move my head enough, one of the Denver coaches told me, “don’t be taking the time to admire your work. Don’t be a fool. If your opponent is any good, they’ll make sure you don’t have any time to do so.

I was slightly taken aback when the coaches gathered up the students at the end of class, formed a circle and led a worship prayer. I’m not at all opposed to end my training with a coach beseeching our Heavenly Father to watch over the health of all the boxers at the gym. I’m just used to stretching my muscles instead.

I trained at the gym all week.

On my last day there, as I was working the pads with one of the coaches, he told me that I’m too loud when I exhale: it is a tell, which warns my opponent of an incoming punch. He suggested that I learn to exhale by my nose instead. I was pretty sceptical, especially when he told me that all the good élite & pro boxers breathe by their nose. I’m by no means a true boxing aficionado, but I’ve spent a fair bit of time watching my teammates and all the pros at my gym, and we all exhale through our mouths. I guess the pros at my gym have a ways to learn?

So I tried breathing out my nose while doing pads. Like a lot of people, when I train intensely, my nose is runny. And boy, was it runny that day. My first exhalation produced a 3 foot long and 2 foot wide stream of snot.

Side note: I just googled images of snot, to insert into this blog post. Having done that, I feel a little queasy and will NOT share any of those pics here. You’re all welcome.

Ok, so I lied. Still less gross than what actually happened to me at the gym.

Denver coach encouraged me to keep trying. During the next combo, I exhaled once again through my nose. Another stream of snot sprayed forth. And another. It was DISTRACTING me. What if my snot landed in his eye, or worse, in mine?! After 3-4 tries, I stopped doing pads, wiped my nose on my sleeve (#classy) and told coach I couldn’t do it, I really wasn’t comfortable with switching my breathing so close to a fight (#diplomaticandtactful). To which he replied,

What do you mean you can’t? Of course you can! Do you believe in the Lord Jesus? Yes? Well then He will help you breathe through your nose.

And that is how I learned that Jesus is a micromanager.

http://www.kcbob.com/2013/02/is-god-micromanager.html (a blog post that opines on whether God is a micromanager)

P.S. If at any point in my fight next week I get the impression that I am losing, I will not hesitate to snot-spray my way to a victory in round 3. My poor opponent will not have the defensive skills to combat Snotzilla.

 

As Featured on News Cult: How to Throw Shade

As it is my mission to become less vanilla and more urban/clatchet (classy ratchet), this post, written by the masterful Only Bad Chi, is very relevant.

#brilliant

only bad chi

Throwing shade seems to be the thing right now, right? Like, it’s trending or whatever. So I thought I’d give some tips on how to do it. Because I’m nothing if not relevant.

My understanding is that throwing shade is basically insulting someone, but in a really passive aggressive way. Which is our craft. See, you were already doing it and you didn’t even know! So the key is to make the person you’re throwing shade on (at?) not know you’re doing it, until it’s too late. #bobandweave #stealthasasnake

Like, if you’re trapped in a conversation with someone you hate/has done you wrong, like any given coworker/receptionist/police officer/customer service phone rep in the history of coworkers/receptionists/police officers/customer service phone reps, say something such as:

♦”I can totally see you being in a Sears catalogue. I think there’s something to be said for being basic.”

♦”Nice haircut! How on earth were you able to get an…

View original post 328 more words

On race and racism – Vanilla’s perspective

Perhaps because #OscarsSoWhite;

Perhaps because it is Black History Month;

Perhaps because Beyoncé turned black, and Kendrick Lamar owned the Grammys;

Perhaps because of the relentless stream of hatred spewing from our neighbor below’s Republican presidential candidates directed at anyone who isn’t a middle-class WASP;

My social media has been awash in all kind’s of posts related to racism, and specifically racism against blacks, or as Americans call them, African-Americans.


Perhaps because when Jimmy Kimmel shared this skit, I sent it to my friends, and most of my white friends sheepishly admitted they didn’t have any black friends;

Perhaps because one of my friends once told me that it wasn’t her fault she was unaware of racial issues in Montréal since she didn’t hang out with black people, the way I do – she didn’t belong to a boxing gym;

Perhaps because at the accounting firm I worked at for 5 years, which employed close to 2,000 people, I only ever saw 3 black people;

Perhaps because in my graduate accounting program at a university renown for its ethnic diversity, out of a class of 160 students, 4 were black;

Perhaps because in my first year of mechanical engineering at one of Canada’s best universities, in a class of 125 students, 2 were black;

Many of my white friends have told me that racism isn’t an issue here in Canada (*), or at least, “it isn’t as bad as the States”.


Perhaps because my friends assumed my parents would have a problem when my first serious boyfriend was half black;

Perhaps because my ex-boyfriend grew up living in Alberta, where he and his brothers were the only black kids in high-school. One day after school, on his walk home, my ex was ambushed by the “cool” kids in his grade, who held him down, and sucker-punched him in the nose and broke it, because they didn’t like his “punk-ass black attitude”;

Perhaps because my ex’s mother (white, anglo-saxon Canadian) confided in me her doubts about successfully raising mixed children in a white environment;

Perhaps because I remember the day when my ex and his roomie walked into the appartment, and his roomie, a Canadian Persian, was shaking with pent up outrage, while my ex looked blank. Walking in downtown Montréal, my ex’s roomie had been blatantly smoking a joint, while my ex walked beside him with his bike. My ex wore long dreadlocks; his roomie was clean shaven. The cops pulled up beside them, and searched my ex for pot, even after the roomie, outraged by the obvious racial profiling, yelled at them that he had all the pot on him. The cops ignored the roomie, and told my ex not to have so much attitude.

Perhaps because one time a (black) bouncer was rude to me. My ex started to speak up, and the bouncer looked at him with scorn, “what, you think you black? with your white girl, and your nice jeans? Shut the fuck up.”

One friend told me she didn’t understand why black people had to make everything about race. Sometimes, it could just be a case of bad manners, you know?


Perhaps because of 3 of my ex’s cousins moved to Montréal from Jamaica, in their early teens, and were taken in by their white cousin – a lovely man, who’d grown up in Barbados, and understood the culture shock of moving to Canada. Quebec’s education system forced them into a french high-school with remedial french lessons, and held them back academically due to their difficulties learning the language. Bored, they started acting out, fell in with a bad crowd made up of other disenfranchised non-white (mainly black) teenagers, and got into serious trouble. Their guardian pleaded with the principal and guidance counsellors to allow the boys to join the regular academic stream and the school athletic teams, so that the boys would be exposed to a wider variety of youth, with less behavioural problems and more ambition. The school replied that due to their poor french skills and bad attitude, it would be inappropriate to reward the boys with those privileges.

Perhaps because one of the boys got recruited by a gang in Montréal, and eventually got shot and killed. Perhaps because the cops shrugged and never bothered investigating. “What do you expect? He should have known better.”

Perhaps because at the boy’s funeral, I showed up in a charcoal suit. I was outraged when close to 50 young black kids showed up wearing hoodies printed with the boy’s face. How dare they show such lack of respect in their attire? I sat next to one of those kids, who cried so hard his body was shaking. He didn’t own a hankerchief, so he’d brought a facecloth, which he soaked through and through. When I tentatively gave him a hug, and patted his back soothingly, he hung on for dear life. I wondered how many of these kids would make it to 18.

Perhaps because a few month’s later, the eldest boy got arrested and sent to juvie, for shoplifting $10 worth of cheese from the local grocery store. The youngest boy started running away from home. Perhaps because I never found out what happened to them.

My friends tell me White Privilege is “not a thing” here in Québec.


I don’t have any answers. I don’t understand why racism is so easy, and why specifically racism against blacks is such a polarizing issue, even here in Canada. I do however know that to deny the problem because it is subtle; to relativise it into meaninglessness; to blame the victims for being oversensitive is not the solution. To listen, even when the arguments are awkwardly phrased; to acknowledge the hurt and rage coming from the people with the courage to speak up; to keep an open mind as to the causes and the solutions; to be kind – THAT is part of the solution.

I leave you with this article: The Cost

#BlackLivesMatter

 

(*) One of my readers pointed out that Blacks make up only 2% of Canada’s population, and the stats I gave about my workplace and schooling are consistent with that %. True. However, in Montréal, Blacks make up 9.1% of the city’s population. In which case… my point that blacks are significantly under-represented in Professional settings/university degrees still stands. (stats taken fron the 2011 Canadian census).

“I’m so glad you are part of my family”

It was Cap‘s surprise birthday party last week. The young spring chicken turned 40. It was a great party, mixing in equal parts his boxing life with his non-boxing life. Cap walked around, mildly under the influence; he hugged each person, looked deep into their eyes, and told them, “I’m so happy you are part of my family.” Sometimes he’d even tell them twice!

As 2015 wraps up, what better way to close out the year than by giving thanks for this gym that has given me so much happiness, sexy summer legs, and yes, an extended family.


Beginners with no athletic background, Olympic hopefuls and pro-boxers train at my gym. The first time I prepared for a sparring session years ago, one of the pro-boxers walked up to me, and pointed to the helmet I was holding, “First time sparring? Nervous? Yeah, it’d be a pity if you broke your nose.” Nonplussed, I suggested he was not being helpful. He apologized, and continued innocently, “Does it make you nervous knowing that all the people in the gym will be looking at you, when you do your first sparring?” I stamped my foot at him. He laughed, tied my gloves for me, and then watched my pathetic attempts at sparring. I was mortified: here was a pro-boxer – a contender for a title belt – watching me swat my opponent like a kitten pawing a spool of wool. Yet he watched, and shouted tips from the sidelines. I’ve lost count of how often I’ve seen the pros and elite amateur boxers watch, encourage and guide boxers with less experience than them. After winning my first fight at a gala at the gym, the 2-time women’s world champion congratulated me and enveloped me in a big hug. It is always the pros/elite fighters who cheer the loudest at my gym’s amateur boxing galas.

During this year’s Christmas holidays, there was open training at the gym – no classes, anyone could drop in, and work the bag by themselves. Both times I went, there were a dozen or so boxers, ranging from newcomers with gloves that still had the new-leather smell, to a few elite ones. The sound system was acting capricious so we worked in silence, to the sound of the bell, the gloves hitting the bags, the heavy breathing… and the head coach singing the same snippets of White Christmas, over and over again, in his French Canadian-Italian off-key tenor voice.


I consider all of my teammates to be friends, some of them close ones. Yes, I train 6-10 hours a week with them. But that doesn’t explain the statistical anomaly of me liking 100% of my teammates. I work 8-12 hours a day with my co-workers, and while I might like (most of) them, few ever reach the status of friends – people I’d confide in, and see socially outside of work. So why the immediate connection to my teammates?

Everyone who walks into the gym is looking for an escape from the outside world. Yes, the same can be true of a yoga studio. But here, people are looking for a reprieve from the tangle of thoughts, emotions, and frustrations that is a necessary by-product of being alive through the action of hitting an inanimate punching bag over and over again. It’s a safe haven that allows a person to work through whatever they need to work through, surrounded by people doing the exact same thing. The particulars of each individual’s tangled mess is irrelevant; everyone has preoccupations, and the gym is our way to work through our shit. People who walk through the door are looking for the freedom of a few hours when socially acceptable constraints are no longer required. The punching bags become the recipient for every harsh word that was bitten back through the day, every slight that was received, every injustice, every worry. For a few hours, the world stops pushing, and we can push back as hard as we want, without any consequences. Bliss.

Boxing is an unforgiving sport. By stepping into the ring, every boxer tacitly accepts to show their true self to their opponent, coach and whoever is watching. You can’t mask cowardice or fake bravery when getting punched in the head. Every hesitation, fear, bluster and cockiness is blatantly obvious to anyone who watches. There IS no socially constructed mask to hide behind. To step into the ring, every boxer, no matter their level of experience and proficiency, has to be willing to be vulnerable, and to be seen. As such, I’ve noticed that most people at the gym don’t cling so tightly to their social personas – there is no point, when we’ve all seen their true colors in the ring. As a result, everyone is more authentic at the gym than they otherwise might be. Vulnerability + authenticity = key ingredients for friendship.

Also, it doesn’t hurt that my gym is full of good dancers who are witty, funny, party-animals. Eye-candy is NEVER a bad thing when chosing one’s friends. #priorities


Every possible nationality and demographic is present at my gym. 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generation immigrants of every background train here. Atheists will swap tips with practicing Muslims trying to survive Ramadan while training. Liberal arts students discuss career possibilities with a PhD in neuroscience or an engineering fellow. Lawyers talk to handymen and graphic designers. The political spectrum is just as diversified, as are the income brackets: the necessarily-frugal to the big-spending jet-setters. It is more likely than not that someone will have a musical accent. The amount of Franglais conversations is endless: one person speaking all in Québecois, the other responding all in English, and a Frenchie from France sprouting expressions no one has heard of before, du coup!

In a world climate that loves to label everyone and promote segregation, differences and hatred, I hold my gym to be a role model for what multiculturalism, integration and tolerance looks like in practice. On days when our planet is going to shit, when Paris gets bombed, Trump poisons peoples minds, and it is so easy to despair, I step into my gym and feel peace. I look around, and I feel hope.

Not bad for a gym that focuses on a combat sport, yeah?

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I love my gym, and my people. My family. My New Year’s wish to all my readers is that you may find a similar safe haven in 2016 that brings you the same joy that my gangsta gym brings me.


Here are all the other posts that involve the gym, or its central characters: