France Archives

January 7, 2007

Kissing, or How I Learned To Stop Angsting Unless It Was Going To Look Pretty When I Did It...

Kissing, or the lack thereof, defines entire countries for me.

I remember being 17 and walking through the street of Paris. I was at my angsty best, pining after a boy, and felt that everything I was doing there (walking across bridges, looking at beautiful buildings, seeing churches or statues or paintings) was coloured by the fact that That Boy, That Boy That Was Always On My Mind, wasn't there. I remember sitting on a bridge at night, holding a rose I'd gotten from some place, and slowly taking off every petal and dropping it into the river.

Light in the DarknessThe next time I went to Paris, I had freshly turned 29 and the memory of being that overly-lonely 17 year old brought me some form of bemusement. Ah, young angst, I thought, while pretending not to notice the young couple doing everything except actually getting naked whilst the lights were coming on at the Eiffel Tower. There's an age I think we all go through where that lack of someone to kiss is so... disheartening. The feeling that we're the only one that isn't being kissed *right now*, except maybe our parents, and parents don't do that *anyway*, right? 17 and in Paris probably should have been just as much fun as 29 and in Paris was, but I was so distracted.

Maybe if I'd had someone to kiss at 17, I would have been just as distracted. It's hard to notice the beautiful lights across the city when you're... well, otherwise distracted.

At 27, I went to China, and dealt with students that were the same age I was then. I didn't so much notice the lack of kissing in the school - it had been so long since I'd been in a high school, and most of my classes were of kids around 12, so it just didn't occur to me. Sometimes I'd tease my older students about having boyfriends, or get the younger boys to behave by telling them that they should stop showing off to impress their girlfriends, and quickly everyone would fall in line. It wasn't until my first trip to Shanghai that I finally noticed that those public displays of affection that were so common in my high school were totally absent.

I was sitting on the bus from Rudong, travelling with a friend of mine, when I saw a couple of teenagers on the street kissing. "Pssst..." I hissed at Paul. "Look over there." When he saw them, his eyes went as wide as mine, and we spent most of that weekend pointing out Public Displays of Affection in awe. How brave they were! How... affectionate! How... normal, at least to us. Then we went back to our respective very small towns and noticed how little affection we saw displayed in classes.

Soon after that I found out that students could be expelled and sent home in disgrace if they had boyfriends or girlfriends. I don't doubt there were relationships going on, but there was so much pressure to never be caught.

Two RosesI'm almost done my packing for Australia and I'm very aware of the fact that there won't be anyone to notice these things with. There will be no one just as lost as I am to whisper "Do you see them?" to, and smile and share secret memories of being that lost in each other that the lights seem unimportant, no one to discuss whether the socialably acceptable forms of affection in public are the same as they are back in Canada. {In thinking about this now, public displays of affection are much less in the UK than they are in Canada... maybe it's because we cuddle more to deal with the cold?}

There won't be anyone to kiss.

I suspect that this time that won't be quite such an end-of-the-world type of feeling. But I won't promise not to sigh occasionally in wistfulness....

{Sunday Scribblings}
{More pictures from Paris}
{More pictures from Rome}

October 6, 2005

We'll Always have Paris

I guess this is my last post about Paris, which means I get to start talking about a few of the day trips I've taken since, and Cardiff (of course).

I'm fairly certain the fact that I had a marvelous time has completely come through in these posts. I really did enjoy it, and I'd love to go back for longer. All joking aside, I'm toying with the idea of spending at least six months there at some point in the future. I have the ability to get my very own European Union passport, if I'm willing to. It's just a question of how much of my Canadian citizenship I'm willing to give up. I dream about taking some courses at the Sorbonne, finally actually becoming useful in French. I have an idea for a book that I think would do moderately well (the "cunning plan" that I'm not going into, simply because I think it sounds a bit insane -- yes, more insane than being an International Pastry Fugitive). I also want to see more, do more... spend more time in this country that, in my mind at least, is synonymous with culture. I have a running list in my head of things I missed out on, and the more I spend pondering it, the longer that list gets. I want to go back.

But, that aside, there were some silly things that happened that didn't make it into the big narrative. Like walking up to Chartres to see a group of men all dressed like knights preparing a mighty battle against a foe made of balloons. I sadly missed most of the actual battle, since it took place while I was staring in awe at the Cathedral, but I got two shots of the group of them. The orange weaponry just makes it for me.

I put up the last of the photos that I think are either good or interesting up on my flickr site. The last few by themselves here here (as the tag says, they are silly), and if you want to see the whole thing, check out my France set. I took a lot more than are on the site - over 300 photos, almost 100 of which were of the oustide of Chartres. If you feel a need to see them, do let me know, I'll be happy to email you a few. You can also read the whole thing in reverse order, since I nicely labeled them all as France.

The plane ride back to Glasgow was short - I think it takes less time to fly to Paris than it does to fly from Edmonton to Vancouver. I think next time I go, I might take the train, or the ferry, because flying makes everything seem a bit less anti-climatic.

As I said, it was a short flight. Of course, it was raining when I got back.

I love Scotland, because at least the weather can be fairly predictable.

October 4, 2005

Cunning Plan

I had a cunning plan while I was in Paris.

I actually had two cunning plans, but one of them is so amazingly cunning and will actually make me money and stuff, and thus, I don't want to put it up on the internet incase it is stolen by some other, even more cunning person. Because me? All about the cunning plans.

Anyway, here is the cunning plan I can write about:

See, while I was in Paris, I fell madly in love with these crepes you can get everywhere. They're filled with a lot of different things: brown sugar, nutella, peanut butter, bananas, whatever. I loved the nutella-banana ones. (See picture in blog post below this one.) They're great, they're wonderful, and they would make so much money on the streets of Edmonton.

So, here's the cunning plan:

I rush off to France again, and get a job working at one of these crepe places. (How much French would I have to learn, anyway? Crepe, Banane, nutella. There we go!) And I learn the secret techniques for making perfect yummy crepes filled with nutella. Then, in the middle of the night, I steal the recipe, rush off to the airport, and wing my way back to Canada, on the run from the French police for stealing crepe recipes. (Can you see that being a serious offense in France?) Then, on the run from the police as an International Pastry Fugitive, I'll go to Klondike Days (It's a fair held every year in Edmonton) and sell my yummy French Crepes (with nutella!) for lots of money! Which I will need to quickly flee Edmonton when the French Police catch up with me.

See, cunning plan!

In something that may be related news, I think I've come down with something. I have a fever.

Yummy Nutella

Yummy Nutella
Originally uploaded by Troubled.
The Cunning Plan Photo

October 1, 2005

Paris Below

After the Bateau Mouche, I went out for dinner at a place that had really great service but terribly awful food. Luckily the wine and the coffee were good. Just... terrible food. No taste to it, very bland, all organic. Gah. Add some *spice* for crying out loud.

Afterwards I had the sudden recollection that I was going to be leaving Paris the next morning, and had several postcards to send, but no stamps.

Paris has a 24-hour Post Office, and if I had done things right, I would be able to get there, buy some stamps, get back on the metro and head back to the hotel to get just enough sleep to not miss the plane. Or so was the theory.

Instead, I got lost, and somehow ended up in Paris Below.

I stumbled into an area of Paris where the lights were even dimmer than usual. The whole city seems to have less light in the streets than anywhere else I've been except China. Which isn't a complaint - light polution is annoying - but it was very disturbing to go from the dimly lit streets to this even more dimly lit area, with only pedistrains in it. The sounds from the main street (which it turned out I was only two blocks away from) completely died, and there was no noise at all except for a trickling fountain and the sound of low-voiced French.

The main area seemed to be a square of some sort with this fountain in it. I don't know how to describe it in any way that gives the scene the sense it had. I actually had the thought Why am I in one of those scary circuses they show in cartoons all the time? I so felt like I didn't belong, and that I was unwelcome. Groups and couples were sitting or standing or walking around with a definite sense of this being a regular thing, but it was eerie in the way their voices echoed off the walls, the way there was no sound of traffic. I felt a million miles away from the crowded streets I was on just a few minutes before.

I finally figured out the direction I needed to walk in to at least be in the area of the post office, but all of the streets were still part of this. I passed no cars, only people, and from some of them felt that sense of malice that I think only comes when you're in the wrong place, and you know it, and they know it. I tried not to act like it bothered me, but I find it unlikely that I suceeded, which just made me stand out more.

I walked down a street with a canal on one side of it, large trees on either side of the canal. I could hear something that sounded like a drive-in theater, or maybe a movie playing against a building. I could hear the dialog clearly, but couldn't see or get any idea where the noise was coming from.

After twenty minutes of walking, I stumbled back onto a busy street, lights bright enough to hurt my eyes after the semi-darkness. I found my way, slowly, to the post office, bought my stamps, and took a cab back to the hotel.

I could have walked, but who knows if I would have chosen to make it back.

September 29, 2005

Water Tour

The last truly touristy thing I did in Paris was take in one of the Bateau Mouche tours. The basic run down is that a really big boat (with a lot of people on it) sails up and down the river in Paris, and tells you a bit about the the history on either side. My guide book describes taking one as the "only way to get away from the obnoxious noise" of them.

I didn't find the noise obnoxious, just remarkably pointless.

The annoucements (when you could hear them) were in three languages (French, English, and Spanish), and usually by the time you could understand what was being said, you were past the thing you wanted to look at. The one I took was quite uncomfortable to sit still on, as well.

But, ignore that, it was fun. I took it last time I was in Paris, and it was interesting to take it this time. For example, there were a lot more people this time. (Of course, last time, it was early Spring, and this is the heart of tourist season. I've been told that any Parisian who can afford it heads out of Paris for the summer to get away from the heat and the hordes of tourists. I can completely believe this - the heat is oppresive. I won't go into the tourists.)

It was quite relaxing, since I had spent most of the time I was in Paris walking everywhere, and this gave me the sense that the interesting stuff was coming to me. I tried to take some pictures (not many - I just finally gave up because the boats do move quite quickly, but a few photos managed to look nice), but mostly I just tried to enjoy the views.

There was a lot of waving at people on the bridges (which was fun), waving at people in other boats, and generally being silly. I made a valiant attempt to speak French to a pair of little girls that were running around playing tag on the deck, but one of them assured me quite seriously that she only spoke French, so she couldn't understand what I was saying. *grin*

Would I recommend it to someone else? If they had time, and wanted to relax a bit while looking at the city. I'll admit, the tour made me think "Damn it, I missed that!" a lot, and afterwards had to remind myself that, for only being in the city for a couple of days, I made a very good run at seeing the things I wanted to see. And, as I keep saying, it's not going anywhere. I could hop on a train and be in Paris tomorrow if I really wanted to.

The whole thing was tinged with a bit of sorrow, though, since I figured that my adventures were done.

I'm so cute when I'm wrong.

September 26, 2005

Our Lady of Chartres

I will get a few things that went wrong out of the way first:

1) It was raining, and when it wasn't raining, it was very cloudy.
2) I missed my first train.
3) There were no tours running that day becuase someone was married in the Cathedral earlier in the morning.
4) The famous labrynth was covered in chairs, likely for the same reason.

There, the boring stuff is out of the way.

Chatres was mind-blowing in ways that Notre Dame just... wasn't. Part of it is, of course, I've been to Notre Dame before. I may not have remembered all of it, but I did have that constant feeling of recognizition there. In Chatres, I had none of that.

My understanding is Chatres was the fastest built of the Chathedrals, and you can actually see the way the artistic style developed as it was built. Where the front part of the cathedral shows the painfully solid and unlifelike figures in straight up and down poses, the sides show the changes up to lifelike and realistic figures in obvious reaction to the world around them. It's an amazing change, and one that is almost unbelievable.

The two main towers also show the obvious differences, as each is done in a different style.

Chartres was... well, like the rest of my trip, it was wonderful. I didn't see much of Chatres (the town, that is), but it had a feeling like a very friendly village. The Cathedral is an easy walk from the train station, and the train trip itself is wonderful and relaxing. I really enjoyed the chance to look at the French countryside (so disturbingly like the Canadian countryside), and take the quiet opportunity to write a few postcards.

Walking up to the Cathedral that I'd read about a few times was amazing. I wish I could put into words what it was like to have to look up... and up... and up... to see this beautiful building. I spent the first 40 minutes or so I was there just walking around the outside, and I think I would have counted the cost of the trip a small one even if I wasn't able to see the inside.

But that would have been a shame.

As usual, I have no pictures of the inside, as it is a working Cathedral. It wasn't the same awe inspiring sense that Notre Dame gave me. It was quite different. The point of the building seemed to be making one feel small in the presence of God. When you first walk into it, you get this sense of overwhelming distance between yourself and the holiest of holies.

The rest of it, with its huge stained glass windows and the way the walls and ceilings just overwhelm you has the same effect. The point is to feel small and insignifigant, and it succeeds admirably at this.

I was able to get some small hint of the labrynth, even covered with chairs as it was. I believe (but could be wrong) that it is the only labrynth to survive in a church from that time period. It's carved into the floor, and one is supposed to walk it while contemplating the nature of God, I would assume. I was actually looking forward to doing thing. Although I'm not a religious person (I don't believe in God), I am a thoughtful person, and the idea of contemplating God and religion and faith in that setting was something I wanted.

But, life goes on, and I will be there another day. Of this I am certain.

The train back was quiet, and I slept the whole way to Paris. I had a few more things I wanted to do, at least on this trip, and I could already feel the minutes ticking away before I would have to leave.

{The rest of the pictures are here on my flickr account.}

September 15, 2005


I missed out on two things that I wanted to do in Paris: The catacombs and the Pirate Boat dancing place. The Catacombs I missed because I cut things way too close, and didn't manage to find the place before it closed. I regret it on some level, but on others... c'est la vie, as they say. It's not like Paris it that far from here. One could do it in a daytrip if one wanted to.

(One would likely be very tired and stressed, though, so this one is not going to do that.)

I did, however, manage to make it out to Montparnasse Cemetery.

I will admit, I'd never heard of it before my guidebook. I've been out to Pere Lachaise, and recall being awed by the various graves. I wasn't into Jim Morrison, but the people I travelled with took at least a roll of film worth of pictures of his grave. I remember watching an episode of Highlander: the Series where the cemetery was featured, and feeling that sudden rush of remembrance.

But, Montparnasse seemed to be less of a tourist attraction, which made it more interesting to visit. There is a map of the graveyard available, and it is a place that a lot of people visit. I spent about an hour out there, just walking through one small section and taking a bunch of photos. The only famous grave I visited was that of Jean-Paul Satre and his lover, Simone. It was, as seems typical of graves of famous and tragic figures, covered in notes, flowers, and (strangely) metro tickets. Lots and lots of metro tickets.

I enjoy cemeteries, and I considered it time well spent, but by the time I was done there, I was exhausted. It had been a busy day of walking and touring and looking at things and falling in love with this city all over again. Instead of going out dancing, I limped my way back up to the area around Notre Dame, found a lovely restaurant to indulge myself in excellent French Food, and headed back to my hotel. (Well, after a bit more browsing through the shops along the way. *grin*)

I fell asleep, and slept like the dead.

September 14, 2005


One of the things I most loved about being in Paris was how every time you looked around, there was some cultural or artistic thing to be fascinated by. As I've mentioned before, History is my Kink, and France is just... full of so much of it.

I wonder how long you have to live in Paris before you become blase.

Anyway. I was walking down the street from the Cluny Museum, determined to get myself to the Catacombs before they closed. I'd cut things very close, and I was walking, so I wasn't sure if I would make it. The fact that I kept being distracted didn't help matters.

Imagine if you will walking along a normal busy city street, and looking up to see something that looks like the Pantheon. It was just up the street from where I was, and it was so tempting to ditch the catacombs and just go there and enjoy the view. But I'd wanted to go to the Catacombs last time I'd been to Paris, but hadn't been able to. So, I forced myself to look away and continue on. (But oh, I remembered seeing the same thing last time I was in Paris, and making the same decision to walk past it. I have no photos, and can't currently recall what it was.)

Paris has this cultural sense of itself that no place else I've been ever has. The McDonald's there are artistic, with white statues everywhere and a sense of... sophistication that's lacking in our MickeyD's back home. It's not that I think the food is so much better, or that the entire chain is better in France than anywhere else. It's still McDonald's, and you don't go there for high class food. But, it's... just different. (I didn't go to a McDonald's on this trip, but I do remember it from last time quite vividly.)

There's such a stereotype about Paris, about snooty French waiters and constantly being looked down on for being "not French". And Don's told me about his brother-in-law, who is French Canadian with an Acadian accent having people in France just refuse to speak French with him. It's not as though I avoided that attitude - some of the cafes that I went in to were insanely rude, at least by my standards. But I think it's in what you choose to do. When I went into smaller places that weren't so busy, they were unfailingly polite and friendly. They seemed eager and welcoming. Those are the places I remember most fondly being in, and would like to take friends back to. (Mmmm... escargot with friends....)

I don't know. The only way I can describe the experience of being in Paris, of having these artistic wonders everywhere I looked, of having rude service in busy cafes and wonderful service in tiny little restaurants... it's just so French.

September 9, 2005

National Medieval Museum (Musee National du Moyen Age)

From what I recall, Cluny was an important Abbey during the Middle Ages. There are still many signs of this: the high walls that still surround the courtyard; the well, complete with gargoyle; and the sun dial that still marks the hours. It's been converted into a museum, hosting many of the displaced art from various churches, abbeys, and cathedrals.

(Dear god, that makes it sound like I'm about to write an essay.)

I went to Cluny the last time I was in Paris, but I had mostly forgetten anything about it. Walking inside, though, I remembered the well. I'm sure I have pictures of it at home. But I still couldn't remember anything else. I couldn't remember having actually seen the famous "La Dame a la Licorne" tapestries at all.

(Famous, she says. Everyone I've talked to about going there doesn't know what I'm talking about. I may need a new class of friends. *grin*)

The museum was... Well, I hate to say this, but I was really disappointed. Again, it seemed that nothing had context, and I find that very frustrating when dealing with historical sites. It's not that I can't appreciate the artwork being shown, but I had no idea what I was looking at more often than not.

There were some real highlights, though. Some of the original stained glass from Sainte Chapelle is kept there, and it's amazing to see them up close. There was also one wall I distinctly remember, showing a collection of various church reliefs depicting the Annunciation which were fascinating. I wish I could have gotten a picture of that, because they were beautiful and although very similiar had unique features to each one. I love that sort of stuff.

The ultimate highlight is, of course, the Tapestries.

They're a series of six, each showing a lady, a unicorn, some animals, and something related to a specific sense. The final tapestry, and the largest, called "To My Only Desire", shows the lady putting away her expensive posessions in a locked box, while the unicorn looks on.

They're... beautiful. And I can't imagine how they were made. There's some theories on why they were made, but although they're likely true, it's hard to know for sure.

The rest of the museum passed by in a blur. I don't think I was the only one overwhelmed and not sure what to make of everything, as although the earlier rooms were packed with people, later rooms were empty, and no one seemed to linger over the exhibits. I decided when I'd glance in a crowded room to just focus on one or two items, enjoy them, and move on. I saw some beautiful bejewled book covers, and several crosses. I wish I'd taken more pictures, but my camera batteries died part way through.

I wish I'd had a bit more time. The gardens are beautiful, or so I've been told, and I would have liked to enjoy a walk through them. But I had several other things I wanted to do that day, and so I hurried away.

August 25, 2005

Our Lady of Paris

I woke up early and headed down to Notre Dame on a rainy Friday morning. I will admit that at first, staring out at the rain made me feel frustrated. The day before it had been so sunny that the heat had hit me like a wall when I stepped off the plane. Instead, I just shrugged my shoulders and let it go. Hey, it's rain in Paris! That's romantic, right?

I'm glad I chose to go out as early as I did, and in the weather that I did. The square in front of Notre Dame was virtually deserted when I got there, but within a few hours was so packed it felt impossile to move.

Going inside....

I've said before that I'm in awe of religious places. Being in Notre Dame before, I wasn't sure if I'd be so moved. But until I got inside, I wasn't aware of how much of the place I had forgotten. I remembered the outside (and the fact that the restoration work was going on the front part of the building, so we didn't get to see as much of it as before), but all I recalled of the inside was that I was offended that people were video-taping the service.

I got through the door and was overcome with awe.

I just don't know how to describe it, frankly. There's the stained glass, and the high roof ceilings that make you feel small in the face of God. There's this beauty that surrounds you and makes you see what men can be capable of, if they try. It's just something I wish I could describe in words, but I can't find them.

I didn't take pictures inside the church, so I can't even direct you to them. I did take several photos outside of the church, though, which are here.

Stepping back outside, I had to sit down and take it all in again. The square, like I said, was filled with people, but I barely saw them.

August 22, 2005

Twilight in Paris

Did anyone else watch Jem when they were a kid? I watched that show obsessively, and had all of the little tapes you could possible get. Which is relevant here because I had one of their songs in my head for most of my weekend.

Twilight in Paris, City of Lights, it's everything I hoped it would be. Twilight in Paris, the Eiffel Tower, but your face is the only thing I see...

(This became very frustrating very quickly.)

The hotel (which was amazingly nice, although breakfast was way overpriced) was just a few blocks away from the Eiffel Tower. I understand that the rooms on the higher floors can even see it, but my room was on the first floor (which means second floor), and the window opened into an internal courtyard. Once I got into Paris and found the place, I walked up the street and then along the river until I could see it.

I remember big green trees in the park around it, and sitting on a bench and just staring in awe at this huge tower of light. I remember huge crowds of people, like standing in the middle of a concert, but it was dark and late on a weekday night. The swirls of French just ran over me, some of them meaningful, but most of them just syllables. I remember seeing the carousel, and wanting to ride it just because I could.

But I also remember being very tired after a very long day (why do I keep making myself travel immediately upon getting off work?), and deciding that food and sleep would probably be better. As I kept telling myself, the tower wasn't going anywhere, and I was close enough to it that I could see it at any time.

The lines were huge, longer than for anything I can remember, and I think I made the right choice. At the risk of sounding terribly blase, I've been to the top of the tower before. Besides, walking through the park, away from the tower, was just as interesting in its own way.

It's like walking through a completely different world. There was barely a spare spot of grass. Lots of couples and families out, staring at the tower and talking and laughing. (At least one couple was talking the term 'young lovers' quite seriously.) It felt like a giant party, and I knew no one would spare me a glance or a thought if I just grabbed my own patch of grass to stare at the tower myself. I was a little taken aback, though, since I wasn't sure what the point was. Hot summer night (and boy, did the heat ever hit me like a wall when I got off the plane), and everyone's idea of fun is staring at a tower?

Thus, I wasn't looking at it when the lightshow began.

I'm glad I went, I'm glad I saw it at night. I know I did that last time, but I don't remember those parts of it, and this was nice and unhurried. I enjoyed what I wanted to, kinda regretted not riding the carousel, and went back to my hotel. (Had an awful salad on the way, but almost everything was closed and I'd forgotten that thon means tuna. Silly girl.)

I'm still all a bit jumbled up, and trying to put all my thoughts in order. Oh well, pictures make a thousand, right?

August 21, 2005

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig

I've been home from Paris for about two hours, and I will admit to being hardly functional. I don't fly well, so I took gravol before the trip (that's an anti-nausea pill, which I'm defining here because they don't have it in the UK), and it knocked me for a loop. I've been struggling to keep awake all morning.

I have these recollections I want to record here for now, of images that aren't the typical tourist things. I remember seeing the tall African women in their brightly coloured clothes, walking calmly through the busy hectic streets. I remember the taste of crepes filled with nutelle and bananas. I remember the feeling of the wind through my hair while I was on the boat going up and down the Seine. I remember the sounds of the bells, and the young lovers ignoring everything but each other in the park. I remember the sweet fumbling English of a couple of young girls on the boat who were trying to talk to me, and of the nice man at the hotel. I remember, and it's very nice to remember.

I will write more later, once I've recovered a bit more. I will admit to having run out of time without realizing it, and I was hurridly writing postcards while waiting to clear immigration in France. I got as many as I could done, but not as many as I wanted to. I am sorry if I missed this time, but I know I will be back.

About France

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Anna Overseas in the France category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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