travel

Mastering Parisian manners

There is a commonly held belief that Parisians are rude. So common, in fact, that the Parisian Chamber of Commerce has published a guide for Parisians on how to handle tourists of different nationalities. I am not making this up. It is called Do You Speak Touriste? In my experience, Parisians aren’t rude so much as incredibly blunt, with an endless capacity at pointing out what should have been obvious. Tact? Not their forte. But seeing as I am often at risk of an aneurism when faced with people’s lack of common sense, I rather appreciate Parisians’ approach. Furthermore, it grants me carte blanche: they can be as blunt as they chose, I will reply in kind. I find it rather freeing, frankly, since diplomacy, tact and restraint are not instinctive concepts for moi.

Exhibit A: success

On Friday, I was told by a Parisian employee at the airport to stop “talking down to him, from my high perch of condescending attitude.” I replied, curtly, that if being asked repeatedly the same question due to his inability to provide an on-topic answer was condescending attitude, he must receive a lot of it – rather than pass a comment on my communication style, could he please finally provide me with the requested information?

And then I danced a jig, bc clearly I’ve fully integrated into the Parisian lifestyle.

Exhibit B: less success

Today, I got to the Paris office before lunch, and was happily reunited with my colleagues (internal audit). I really enjoy them – good thing, too, since I find myself spending a whole lot of time with them! We went for a coffee break on our floor, for a quick chit chat and update on our lives. One of them just got married, another one was going on vacation, and me? Well, I had just been to Toulouse. I was mid-explanation/demonstration of the really cool outdoor salsa festival I’d attended, when the head of Group Tax unexpectedly walked in. He stared at me as I twirled, blinked, and sighed. “Normally, I would find anyone dancing salsa in front of internal auditors, of all ppl, slightly odd. But somehow, I do not find it surprising when it’s Vanilla. I did feel a slight earthquake earlier this morning on my floor, but said to myself – impossible, Vanilla is only arriving tomorrow. I should have known. Vanilla, you do realize that it is not standard behaviour to dance salsa at the office when in Paris? We typically adopt a more restrained demeanor. Unless… of course. This IS your more restrained demeanor.”

Defiantly, I told him of my successful moment with the Parisian airport employee. Group Tax congratulated me on my mastery of Paris manners, and then asked me if I had danced salsa throughout that interaction?

Hmph. Who would have thought that a tax guy would have a sense of humour? #ifwearegonnabedealinginstereotypes #brownsocks

Toulouse: too hot to handle

​​The first leg of my 2nd annual bday workation trip to France is drawing to an end. Toulouse has been great.

I had intended for this to be the sight-seeing leg of my trip, unlike Nîmes next weekend, where my stated purpose in going is to dance as many hours as possible within a 60-hour period. Yet despite myself, I’ve done quite a bit of dancing. I attended a 2 hour kizomba class, followed by a 6 hour dance social on Friday, the day I landed. And then yesterday, this happened:

Because why not have an outdoor salsa/bachata street festival in downtown Toulouse? Despite the heat (36C), the place was packed. I filmed that video at 7:30pm. Look at the vivid colors and sunshine! Incredible. The people were friendly, I danced as much as I could handle (poor little Canadian doesn’t understand how to survive in >25C weather). I thought I didn’t like salsa. Wrong, I love salsa. I thought I hated bachata. Wrong, bachata is fuuuuuun. I didn’t know a single person there, but I danced the day away, until I almost collapsed from exhaustion/dehydration/sun-stroke. Typical side-effects of sight-seeing, obvi.

I’m a fan of this approach: typically when I go on a sight-seeing only trip, I remain an outsider, peeking in. But by going dancing, I met a ton of Toulousains. Dance, talk, dance, listen to their musical southern French accents, dance, flirt. I got to meet ppl, which really gave an extra vibe to this beautiful city. I feel like I experienced Toulouse, instead of just seeing Toulouse. For someone who travels mostly alone, this was a nice discovery. Imma apply it to all my future trips.

 


Here are some pics of Toulouse. No filter, on any of them. The colors are so bright, the sky is so blue. What a lovely, sunshiney, beautiful city. And so hot! I had to go shopping twice for summer clothes – 1 pair of shorts (the only pair I own) was not enough!

 

I’m a creature of habit

This time last year, I was getting ready for a hybrid work-pleasure trip to France for my 3rd 30th bday. Today, I’m sitting at my desk, watching my inbox fill-up with reminders of my impending trip to France that begins tomorrow.

  • 4 days in Toulouse (pleasure – sight-seeing à la touriste)
  • 4 days in Paris (work)
  • 2.5 days in Nîmes (pleasure – a mini dance festival)

I’m really digging work’s habit of sending me to France around my bday. This is a habit I am embracing wholeheartedly – may it continue for as long as I turn 30.

Like last year, I intend on cramming all of my clothes into 2 carry-on bags, to facilitate flopping about cities. Like every trip ever, my plane is leaving in 24 hours and I haven’t started packing. I haven’t even done laundry. I’ve no idea what to bring, the weather, anything. Will I rush home after work, and get cracking? Nah. Dance class, y’all. No way I am skipping my weekly 4-5 hour dose of kizomba. #priorities Will I have an exhausted meltdown tonight, as I try finish packing at 1 or 2am? You know it. #thepoweroftradition

Still…

I’m hyper. What else is new?

My Moonstruck

Few movies influenced me as much as Moonstruck growing up.

I must have been 12years old when I first watched it with my parents. My mother had to explain so much. The different kinds of love, the different reasons for marriage, the different ways adults get stuck and stop fully living, the messiness that comes from passion, forgiveness and the struggle to be honest, and the power of art (opera). Set in Little Italy in NYC, I could relate to a lot of the idiosyncrasies that come from being a 2nd generation immigrant. I thought Cher was beautiful, both before and after her makeover in the movie – possibly my first female role model that wasn’t a Disney princess. It is also the first time I truly appreciated comedy. It’s a funny movie.

Some of the key scenes from that movie happen at the Metropolitan Opera. I longed to see the famous Chagall painting that hangs therein, and to feel for myself the power of music in that concert hall. Which I did, in 2011. A broke student, I splurged on $250 tickets to go see Rigotello with one of my girlfriends. In 2014, I returned to the Met, this time alone, to fulfill a bucket list item of seeing Polina Semionova dance the lead in Manon. Both times, I hoped to run into Cher and Nicolas Cage, because obvi they must go to all the performances there, always, right?

This past weekend, I treated myself to a weekend getaway to NYC to visit my cousin & her fiancé. Her sister joined us. They’d been wanting to try out the ABT, and waited till I was available to join them, as I’m the balletomane of the family. I was SO excited to share my passion for ballet with them, specifically at this dream location of my childhood.

I cried as Giselle fell in love with her player-prince, was betrayed, went crazy from the shock of her beloved’s unfaithfulness, and died from the heartache. That was followed by intermission: I sipped a glass of bubbly out on the Met balcony with my cousins under the beautiful NYC night sky. I thought my heart would burst from the beauty of the night.

It occurred to me that I’ve undergone a similar character arc to Cher’s in Moonstruck. I was stuck in a place of depression, trying to live a safe life. I rejected vulnerability for the longest time. I tried to build a life that would avoid hurt and grief. Then the Universe threw Beaut at me, like it threw Nicolas Cage at Cher, and suddenly I was alive.

Ronny: Come upstairs. I don’t care why you come. No, that’s not what I mean. Loretta, I love you. Not like they told you love is. And I didn’t know this either. But love don’t make things nice. It ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us. We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people… and die. I mean, the storybooks are bullshit! Now, I want you to come upstairs with me and get in my bed!

Beaut might no longer be in the picture, but he left me with dance. And through dance, my life is changing beyond recognition. The people I’m meeting; the lessons I’m learning; the trips I am taking; performing. Life is messy, thrilling and exhilarating, both on and off the dancefloor. That’s not the same happy ending that Cher’s character experiences in Moonstruck – but I’ll live happily ever after just the same. And what better moment to acknowledge how far I’ve come than at the Met, where Cher learned to feel as deeply as I have?

(Incidentally, that quote from Moonstruck is a very apt description of the story line of Giselle, the ballet we went to see. I love it when the Universe echoes the same message over and over, in different manners. #subtlenotsubtle)


It was a wonderful weekend with my cousins.

We walked through Central Park and the High Line. Little oasis of greens in the bustling city.

We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us. We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die.

This weekend was perfect.

Reblog: Falling Half in Love with Strangers

I stumbled upon the post below: it’s a masterpiece. It describes so very perfectly what happened to me in Dubai. I’d say my experience was a bit further along the line of “falling in love non-platonically” than Quinn’s here, but that doesn’t matter. I was invested. I experienced, for the first time in my life, an immediate and perfect connection with someone, and the days and hours that followed served only to prove my gut instinct right.

It’s been surprisingly hard letting go of that connection, especially in this era of social media. I struggled to understand what I was going through in the weeks following Dubai. Such a sharp blend of happiness and sadness. I realized, finally, that it was grief: grief for a chapter of happiness that had a pre-defined expiry date. Melodramatic? Maybe, maybe not: it is what I felt, and when I read Quinn’s experience below, I am comforted in knowing that others too have experienced similar moments. Now that I’ve worked through all that, I’m free to feel gratitude for those 4 days of perfect connection. Seeing him pop up on my Fbk newsfeed serves as a reminder of what I should continue striving for in my interactions on this side of the pond: a heart singing with joy.

I am on the lookout for a particular word.

I want a word for the feeling I get when I connect with a total stranger for a few minutes or hours, and then never see them again. It’s an ability to suddenly feel profound, intense affection for someone I don’t know. It’s not physical attraction, necessarily. It can happen with men or women. It is a non-discriminatory feeling that happens without warning, without rhyme or reason. I want a word that explains how I can feel instantly and powerfully attached to somebody and then, in a perverse way, almost hope never to see them again.

Is there a word for that?

There are a handful of people I’ve met over the years who I still think about from time to time, because even if I only spent a few hours with them, in those hours I was invested. I wanted to know everything about them. I fell a little bit platonically in love with them and their stranger-ness. I felt something that I don’t have a word for, and I hate that. I felt a nameless, wordless bond.

Read the full post here: Falling Half in Love with Strangers

 

My facial expressions are not correlated to my happiness levels

Finally! The official photographer from the Dubai festival uploaded his pics onto Fbk yesterday! It turns out that I look like a prissy know-it-all when I dance. Yippee. This pic however, I enjoy. You can see traces of the prissiness, but really that’s just my look of intense concentration/mild panic, mixed with enjoyment and satisfaction.

photo cred: Farantini, the amazing photographer of all kizomba events @http://www.farantini.com/

When I first danced with that guy on Day 1 of the festival – hands down, one of my favorite leads ever! He can make me DO things!! – he surprised me by pulling that move. I didn’t expect it, the sudden falling forward, so maybe definitely I screeched. Loudly – I don’t have an indoor voice even when I try. Classic dance styling option: startle your partner into almost dropping you. Imma trademark that, stat.

Notice how my mouth is closed this time? That’s what 4 days of non-stop dancing will produce: no more hearing-loss for my dance partners.


Cue many minutes of total non-productivity, as I perused through all those pics, bringing back small moments I’d already forgotten.

It’s the “bringing back” part that I struggle with. When I first got back to Montreal, I didn’t want to let go of the intense happiness I’d felt in Dubai. I made the mistake of assuming everything I associated with this trip – including the friendships and all emotions – must be in the past, distinct from my present. And that is true, kinda.

This Dubai trip proved to me that I have the capacity to feel happiness, and the capacity to dream. I created deep bonds with friends, both new and old; these friendships changed me, as all love and shared experiences must. Therefore, who I am today, post-trip, is different than who I was pre-trip, because of the people that I met in Dubai. My anxiety lied to me last week: it is false to assume that all these lovely people are continuing to live their lives, without me, and I without them. We all bear the marks of each others’ influence, stemming from those moments of intersection. That eternal connectivity is just as true as the physical truth that we all apart now, sprinkled across the world.

If I can feel that grateful and connected to the people I spent 4-8 days with, perhaps, maybe, I should refocus my gratitude on those that I share my daily life with? There are so many opportunities for happiness in my Montreal life, that I frequently don’t notice, distracted by the noise that is adulting. Like my Baba taught me: “give us this day our daily bread”. That means my happiness is not stuck in the past, nor is it tied to the outcome of goals set in the future. Happiness is felt in the now, if I will but let myself be open to it. It can be found in my #dreamteam that smiles when they see me, and care and worry about me as much as I try mentor them. In the zany disorganization of Teacher’s dance classes. In the grey weather that is starting to show green tinges of summer. In a good workout with Coach and my gym crew. In my favorite ice cream parlor opening on Sunday for the spring-summer season. In a Friday-night supper with my friend & her fam that I haven’t seen in a few months. In the satisfaction of knowing that I did a good day’s work, boring accountant-style.

Dubai taught me I can be happier than I ever thought possible.

Montreal will teach me to enjoy every day that I build a life of happiness for myself.

Them happiness goals tho!

#beherenow

A valuable lesson

Back in Feb, I was having coffee with Dynamo, and I brought him up to speed concerning my trainwreck dating life.

I’d recently experienced a few moments with Beaut that had led me to believe that perhaps, maybe, with caution, we could sustain a friendship. Dynamo listened to me in silence, and then gravely spoke:

So this is what you are gonna do. You are going to unfriend him from social media, block him, and never talk to him again. He lied to you. He has lied to others. He has repeatedly shown that he will hurt you as a side-effect to him getting something he wants. He can have all the good quantities you describe, all that is true. You have forgiven him, bc you should not hold hatred in your heart. But he is not a good friend. And so he deserves nothing from you. No time, no energy, no space in your life. That isn’t being a drama queen, that is choosing to control the levels of drama and happiness in your life. To chose happiness you MUST not choose drama.

I mourned the end of a chapter in my life that, while tumultuous, had triggered so much personal growth and discovery for me. I was a better person because of Beaut – how sad that I couldn’t benefit from all the advantages he’d generated with him as a part of my life. But Dynamo is wise, and has built a life for himself that I respect and admire. If he tells me something, it’s worth considering.

I followed Dynamo’s orders and blocked Beaut. My stress levels improved almost immediately, and have continued to steadily improve ever since. I’m free.

Dynamo wasn’t done. He had lots to say about my recent string of dates, including Hickster, Eurodude, Older Guy.

I think it is time you question what you want in your life. If you want happiness, why are you accepting guys that won’t bring you happiness in your life? Happiness is a choice, and is contingent on the alignment of the values you hold dear and your own behaviour. The Vanilla I met in 2009 would not have accepted these guys in her life, bc they do not align with her values.

Have your values changed? Because your quest for happiness has not, so make sure your behaviour is reflective of that. I don’t think it is.

Ouch. From my best friend. Hearing that suuuuuuuuuucked. He was right. I’d been settling for dead-end, fun, convenient dating scenarios, with no long-term potential, and usually a whole lot of drama, that inevitably distracted me from my goals of well-being and joy.

A few weeks later, cue my almost burnout and a need for an immediate vacation, and off I went to Paris/Dubai.

I have often stated that the Universe is a bit of a dick, with a fucked-up sense of humour. Well, not this time: the timing of this life lesson was just perfect. If I step back and look at the theme of this trip, it is that of Love and Friendship: both new (FroMan, Energizer and Sunshiney), old (BlondEyes) and dear (BossMan and IronSweetie). There was no drama. There was no insecurity. There was overwhelming happiness and connection and joy. Why? Because of the ppl in my life, willing and capable of sharing themselves beautifully with me, and I with them.

This trip spoiled me. I don’t wanna settle for any less happiness with my friends and dating life than what I experienced in Dubai. Frankly, I don’t think I can settle again: anything less will be too little, when compared to the joy I felt during those 8 days.

Dynamo, as always, was right.


Recap of this trip – Dubai: