travelling

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.

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A little dancing with my Eurotrip?

I’m writing this on the metro, late for a 8am meeting with some peeps from head office. Normally, I’d rant and rage against the horror of a 8am meeting, on a Monday of all days, but not this time, because I’m in Paris, in the midst of a 10-day work trip. Turns out I am ALMOST a morning person in Paris. Waking up early doesn’t seem so terrible when I can just roll outta bed and find me some GOOD coffee and warm delightful pastries (yes, plural, calories don’t count in Paris, obvi) within 3 mins walking, any direction. #thehardlifeofanaccountant #everythingisbetterinParis I’ll spare y’all the hashtags about being blessed/grateful/happy/chubby. Because the point of the post is not to brag about how awesome my job is. The point is to brag about my weekend, and my newest breakthrough in vulnerability and self-discovery.


Last Monday, 2 days before the start of my trip, I was at my kuduro class, shaking my booté to Teacher’s latest ridiculous choreography (see below). He casually mentioned he and his dance partner would be in Madrid for a huge kizomba dance congress over the weekend. I casually mentioned I’d be in Paris. To anyone who knows Teacher, this next part won’t come as a surprise: he told me that I would spend my weekend with them, in Madrid.

Kuduro • Afrohouse • Dr Kizomba || drkizomba.com

A post shared by 🅳🆁 🅺🅸🆉🅾🅼🅱🅰 (@drkizomba) on

 

Teacher is one of those larger-than-life personalities, a vortex of energy whose dreams usually turn into a semblance of reality. His personality is zany, he is definitely crazy, yet he pulls everyone along with him willy-nilly, and life becomes much more unpredictably hilarious when he does. Which explains, of course, why I found myself buying a plane ticket to Madrid for a weekend getaway, leaving Friday after work, and returning to Paris Sunday evening.

Y’all. Can we take a second to realize how crazy that is? Let us list all of the reasons why that was a terrible idea:

  • I’m an accountant, with slight OCD tendencies. This was clearly going to be a chaotic weekend;
  • I’m vanilla. ’nuff said;
  • I started kizomba in beginning September, and I haven’t been to class since Halloween because of work. TWO months of kizomba. Two months. I’ve only ever gone to two cozy socials (remember what happened at the last one? Hmph) in Mtl, where I know half the people present. This congress would attract 800-1000 people;
  • I don’t speak spanish or portuguese (the language of kizomba);
  • The only 2 ppl I would know there would be Teacher and his partner, and obviously they’d be busy since this congress is a work event for them: teaching, networking, and non-stop socializing to increase their brand. I don’t do well with crowds of strangers – remember how close I came to wrecking my enjoyment of Dynamo’s wedding? There would be no safety net at this event;
  • Did I mention I am vanilla? These dance congresses mean lots of horny people, and parties that go till the wee hours of the morning (the official schedule of the event shows that the night parties start at 11pm and finish at 6am). Horny people make me nervous, and I like sleeping.

I went. I found the Friday night dance social hard: zero familiar faces, Teacher always busy, so many people, and an unfortunate ratio of women to men. I had to ask guys to dance. Unlike Mtl, where my physical appearance outweighs my inexperience… in Madrid, the dudes don’t care about my appearance, because ALL the women there are sexy AF and GOOD dancers. I got turned down. Frequently. One drunk guy got so frustrated with my inadequate hip-shaking, he walked off mid-song. No, I didn’t take that personally but yes, that did take me aback just a little bit. I noticed all the signs of the pervasive horniness around me. I could feel my vanilla protective walls go up. I felt like a fish out of water. My brain started to whisper, “you don’t belong here, this was a mistake”.

But here is the thing. I met some great people that night: former students of Teacher that have become kizomba instructors in their own right, with their own dance schools, and who view Teacher as a mad mentor/inspiration/friend. They took me under their wing, encouraged me to go to the workshops on Saturday and to get out of my bubble. One of them laughed at me for my reserve and dislike of small talk,

Vanilla, you are here to meet people. That is how you increase your chances of having fun at the night-time socials. Yes, you go to the workshops to learn from the best instructors in the world, but you also go to meet fellow dancers. Making new friends is a good thing, you know. You are stopping yourself from having a good time. Yes, you are. Everyone is here to meet new people and dance. Join the party. Ask people their name, where they are from. It really isn’t that hard.

As for my dislike of the perma-horniness around me?

Vanilla, you take what you want out of these congresses. Don’t feel like hooking up? Don’t hook up. That simple. No one expects it from you; they might be delighted if you’re down for it, but it is not a mandatory aspect of these congresses. People are here first and foremost to dance. So go dance.

When I confided my paranoid brain’s suspicion that I didn’t belong, he stared at me in absolute confusion. It took him a few seconds to process what I had just said, and then he was outraged,

You are an idiot, yeah? An idiot. How many people have recognized you from those kuduro videos Teacher has posted on Fbk? That’s right. You’ve been dancing for two months, yet Teacher felt you should come to one of the biggest congresses of the year, because you’d have a good time. You belong here, as long as you let yourself enjoy it.

So I did. And funny story, my experience at the Saturday night social was dramatically different from Friday’s. I danced non stop. I scanned the crowd, and saw familiar faces. I relaxed, stopped worrying about my dancing skills. I danced with beginners and some of the top instructors, and managed to hold my own (or rather, they are such skilled dancers, they gave me the impression I was holding my own). I had FUN. I stayed till the end, going to bed at 7:30am.

Sunday, I managed to drag myself outta bed, and walked about Madrid soaking up the city. Caught my plane back to Paris and was in bed by 10pm.

I’m so happy, and proud of myself, I don’t mind if I have 8am meetings every day for the rest of the week.


Behold, we so cute. Teacher, his dance partner and myself, on the same Mtl-Paris flight. The start of an excellent trip.

It was a revelation watching Teacher in his element, and seeing him alongside other kizomba greats. Its one thing to enjoy him as a teacher in Mtl, its another to witness his place amongst the best. I like his crew of students-turned teachers; his affection and pride in them does him credit, as does their affection for him – a little kizomba family. I find them inspiring, following their passion and finding ways to monetize it successfully. These are people who don’t let their fears hold them back. #badassdancers #newfriends

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.