Adventuring with my dog was one of the highlights of my summer. No, I didn’t use copy-paste in any of these images. He just knows his angles.
The last few days of our Parisian holiday were open-ended and left to leisure, mood and whim. My friend had an interest in checking out the high-end boutiques that line the Champs-Elysées—especially Chanel where she hoped to pick up whatever was the cheapest item available—but gave up on this pursuit when she realized the sales staff could see us for the hokey Canadians we were, swiftly ignoring us while catering to the young, very wealthy, Asian clientele who actually had money to drop. H&M was welcoming though.
In the evening I took a slow stroll through the quiet backstreets of the 7th arrondissement, passing antique shops, used bookstores and other peddlers of Parisian history. I wondered about the original owners of the items (as well as their authenticity) when my eye caught several prints of Gustave Doré’s work that appeared to have been taken from a book. At a cost of 25 Euros each, the price wasn’t the issue so much as narrowing down which piece I wanted to decorate my home. But then my eye caught something else not as prominently displayed — the source itself, ‘La Bible’ illustrated by Gustave Doré. I quickly nabbed it. Regardless of price, THIS was to be my most prized souvenir from the trip. Books are a treasure. Weighing in at roughly 5lb, the 472-page hardcover book contains 241 of Doré’s wood-engraved illustrations. What a find! As this occurred after visiting his grave at Pere Lachaise, I couldn’t help but feel it was kismet.
Parisian drivers are insane. Another of the most memorable moments of my trip was when my friend and I, along with an older man, almost got hit by a car going through a red light. As it occurred, the older man jumped in front of the navy blue older model BMW and banged on the hood all while screaming obscenities at the driver. As they, in turn, made apologetic hand gestures towards us, the older man walked around to his window and started banging on it with even more fury. It was quite the show and not very common in friendly Canada.
As someone who walks the majority of the time, and am almost hit by a distracted driver at least once a week with no exaggeration, I didn’t blame him. His vocal defence of his life in this age of distraction is what I aspire to.
Exiting Pigalle metro station during daylight hours is a strange thing. Emerging onto a central boulevard, the first observation one might make are of the families strolling about with their children. The tree-lined green space of the boulevard provides a small, welcome respite for social gathering amongst the dense construction of the surrounding neighbourhood. As a woman, you might also notice the disproportionate number of men loitering and staring from each and every public bench. It can be a bit uncomfortable as you try and gather your bearings. But as the storefronts come into focus, you see that the contrast is far from wholesome. Businesses with names like “Sexodrome”, “Pussy’s” and the highly creative “Porno Shop” line the streets, with the Moulin Rouge and its iconic windmill being the primary attraction. For this is Pigalle, Paris’ famed sex district. My friend I decided to pay a visit while en-route to Sacre-Coeur Church.
We decided that “Sexodrome” seemed to be the most female-friendly (i.e. “not creepy”) establishment on the street. With five levels of merchandise, the store contained anything and everything one could possible desire for sexual intimacy (including a granny blow-up doll that advertised “no teeth” and a cock-and-balls kitchen apron that made me laugh so hard some of the more serious shoppers glared in my direction). My friend became interested in a rhinestone covered g-string that she referred to as a “tiara for my [redacted to keep this blog semi-classy]” but left empty-handed when we were told the only one available was displayed on a mannequin. There’s always floss and a bedazzler, I suppose. Traveling with a friend can give great inspiration for their future birthday gift.
The last day of our trip we visited the Palais Garnier, the very opulent Opera House in Paris that was inspiration for the musical ‘Phantom of the Opera’. Upon entering, one is greeted by a dark, violet-lit room with a subterranean feel mimicking the storied waterways that are said to exist beneath its structure. The higher levels you reach after climbing the Grand Staircase, such as the Grand Foyer, are as elaborate as Versailles; no matter how much gold I see, it always makes my jaw drop at how excessive it is. Literal floor to ceiling. It’s blinding. On this visit, there were even gold tires adorning the top of the Grand Staircase in celebration of the Paris E-Prix race that was days away.
It’s on my bucket list to attend a show here, in this baroque masterpiece. Unfortunately I was not able to see anything on this trip, although entering the balcony overlooking Place de l’Opera and watching Paris play out before me made me feel part of a greater performance of life.
My favourite day in Paris was marked by an unexpected encounter while exploring a site for the dead.
But prior to that, I took the metro to an art exhibit that proved to be absolutely magical.
I saw pictures online of La Nuit Étoilée while researching my holiday and thought it might be hype to increase upfront sales when numerous publications warned to get tickets in advance. I did book MONTHS in advance, just in case (also because I’m “type-a”), and was relieved that I did because the exhibit was indeed sold out on the day I attended. I understood why when I entered; the animated exhibit is a completely immersive, multi-sensory show where the viewer becomes part of the artwork. Set in three parts—showcasing contemporary art, Japonaiserie and the iconic work of Vincent Van Gogh—this is something that must be seen to be believed.
Afterwards, my friend and I took a short walk to an unlikely tourist destination in Paris: Pere Lachaise cemetery, final resting place of artists, philosophers and rock stars of the ages. It’s such a landmark that people sell maps at the entrance. Being my frugal self, I pre-printed a map from the internet … that proved worthless. My friend and I quickly got lost while searching for the grave I wanted to pay respect to, that of my favourite artist Gustave Doré. As we walked amongst row after row of eerily creepy—often open—nineteenth-century crypts, I took a moment to rest against a tree and try to figure out exactly where we were amongst its 110 acres.
“Maybe a spirit guide will appear,” my friend commented.
And no word of a lie, within two minutes of her stating that a Frenchman approached us asking if we needed help finding anything.
He introduced himself as Glen and informed us he was a lawyer that lived and worked in Versailles. He debated traveling to Normandy that day for a dip in the English Channel but decided against it because of a questionable weather forecast, instead opting to visit one of his favourite places in Paris - this very cemetery. He then inquired about what grave we were looking for. When I told him “Gustave Doré” he was impressed; it was apparently a rarity that anyone requested to visit that site. As we made our way over, I noted that someone had once placed a small rock over a now weathered paper note left for the artist. Glen and my friend chatted while I also gave silent thanks to a man that has provided immense inspiration and wonder to my life.
After Gustave, my friend wanted to visit Pere Lachaise’s most famous (or infamous) gravesite - that of sixties icon and lead singer of The Doors, Jim Morrison. This grave is quite controversial within the cemetery and there have been numerous calls to remove it over the decades since he passed in 1971. Today, one can’t even walk up to it. A steel fence surrounds it and several of the perimeter headstones in order to protect against further vandalism. Even in death, rock stars require crowd control.
Glen seemed keen to continue the tour and ended up showing us around for over an hour. As someone who appreciates the macabre, I specifically asked to be taken to the creepiest parts of the cemetery. He happily obliged. These included some truly beautiful and haunting headstones and crypts depicting ghosts, spirits and the afterlife. There was even a crypt with a stained-glass window detailing the folklore behind the will-o’-the-wisp, once believed to be a phantom light but since explained via science.
At the end of our day, Glen asked if we wanted to go for a drink but my friend was feeling a bit tired and we declined. Prior to parting, I exchanged my business card with him in the hopes of keeping a well-informed contact in the city but I’ve never heard back.
Was Glen a spirit? Was he an actual lawyer seeking reflection in the calm of the necropolis? Or was he just a dude trying to hit on two foreign chicks? All I know is that a cemetery is a great place to meet someone. Dead or alive.
La Grande Epicerie is a high-end, fine grocer in Paris’ 7th arrondissement that many describe as a “Disneyland for foodies”. It was high on my list to see as there really isn’t anything quite like it where I live. Anything one could possibly want from any culinary region of the world is available within its aisles from black truffles direct from Italy to Ethiopian passion berries (I bought both). There was even an American section that had overpriced Reese peanut butter cups and Hershey syrup, which offered great perspective on the food habits of North America compared to Europe. I never imagined I would take such delight in cooking after years of eating based just on convenience but now that my tastebuds have been awakened, I treat it less as a chore and more of an art form. The kitchen is now my canvas. La Grande Epicerie was the perfect place to evolve my palette further. My wallet and I came prepared.
At first I thought I would pace myself and wander before filling my handcart but after being met with the chocolate section, located right near the front entrance of course, that stance quickly went by the wayside. I must have spent at least twenty minutes studying all of the different types and their premium packaging. This wasn’t 7-11. Most of the bars on display here have won international awards for their taste and production, including the varieties I bought:
• Bonnat Chocolatier Madagascar 100% Criollo: made with the rarest cocoa bean in the world, this bar was the silkiest I’ve ever eaten. Absolutely exceptional.
• Dolfin Chocolate bars in lemon ginger, bitter orange and masala chai. Very flavourful.
• Mademoiselle de’Margaux boxes in earl grey, raspberry and pear.
Indulging my sweet tooth was just the start though; the spice aisle is where my imagination really went wild! I bought several unique flavours of salt, including a pungent viking salt from Norway and a French espelette pepper salt that I now sprinkle on nearly everything, as well as spice blends from around the world, vanilla beans from Madagascar and Saint Lucia, black rice, smoked rice and even a pink rice coloured with beet juice that can traditionally be found at Indian wedding celebrations.
Besides all the ingredients I was set to haul home in a very, very packed suitcase, I also picked up a takeaway lunch from La Grande Epicerie’s in-house boulangerie. A simple sandwich with three visible components—roasted cajun chicken breast, guacamole and a fresh French baguette—I was so enraptured as I ate it that I completely zoned out of a conversation with my friend to focus on the flavour notes and mouth feel. It was easily one of the best meals I’ve ever had in my life. I’ve since tried to replicate it at home but haven’t been successful (giving me reason to return again one day).
When I returned to Canada, the first meal I made with purchases from La Grande Epicerie was a lemon rosemary garlic chicken with a side of herbed vegetables and black rice, served with an après dîner drink of absinthe. It was great to bring a bit of France home to share with my loved ones.
My friend and I also visited the Palace of Versailles. This was my third visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site and while it forever remains preserved in time, it is always fascinating to experience it again (especially the gardens, which is one of my favourite places in the world).
Continuing my culinary adventures, I also purchased more spices here as well as tea made on the grounds that is the same recipe Marie Antoinette favoured during her reign (black tea with apple and fragrant rose petals).
Day three was momentus for a few reasons, most notably for the arrival of one of my best friends who would be joining me in the City of Light. It would be her first time in Europe, but not the first time we’ve travelled together - she was my partner-in-crime during previous excursions to San Francisco, Chicago and Dubai. Despite enjoying all of those places, I set the expectations high for Paris and promised, né GUARANTEED, that this city would would surpass those experiences and positively change her life. After all, Paris IS life. When we met up though, I realized I had my work cut out for me.
“This is not Toronto. The people—the men—here are very rude.”
Granted, the metro system was a clusterfuck because of the fire at Notre-Dame the evening prior. And granted, my friend had just flown in from Canada with little sleep and was now lugging a heavy suitcase through cobblestone streets and crowded sidewalks. But negatively comparing the greatest city in the world to a place I don’t even consider one of the greatest cities in Canada (fight me) was so beyond comprehension that I felt I greatly misjudged Paris’ power as universal tonic.
We slowly made our way to the next place I was checking into, an apartment in Paris’ famed 7th arrondissement. I booked this location for two reasons: it was in close proximity to nearly everything, Les Invalides was literally around the corner and the Eiffel Tower was a 10 minute walk away, and, more importantly, it would be safe. The latter is something I research thoroughly before traveling because the world is not the same for men and women and I often travel alone. An easy target. I’ve been followed. I’ve been harassed. I wanted to limit any possibility of this for us both and just live, as should be our right.
There was another, more superficial, factoid though that I knew my fashion-loving friend might be impressed with.
“Karl Lagerfeld lived in this area.”
“Really?!!” Her eyes widened. My friend’s number one goal of this trip was to visit the Chanel boutique.
Over the next ten days, the magic of the city would eventually do what I promised it would.
Prior to obtaining the keys to the apartment, we sat down for lunch at a traditional Parisian café. I ordered a green smoothie and a cheeseburger—yes, please judge, but do realize that a honey and goat cheese burger I ate in France a few years ago was one of the best I’ve ever had. My order this time came to 35 Euros and was, admittedly, pretty mediocre. At the time I paid no heed and just enjoyed the moment as my friend and I played a guessing game on whether the well-dressed characters walking by were secretly spies but I later nearly had a heart attack when I realized the currency conversion would make the meal over fifty dollars (Canadian). It would be my only splurge on dining at a restaurant. For the remainder of the ten days, I would cook my own fresh meals (wine included) at a much, much reduced cost.
I would, however, indulge without limit or guilt at Paris’ many amazing bakeries.
After lunch, we checked in and my friend hit the couch and immediately fell asleep. Her adventure would begin the next day. I spent some time marvelling at the apartment before heading out for another walk. The fifth floor unit was bigger than I imagined it would be with a small kitchen, bathroom with laundry, bedroom and living area (with couch that pulled out to a bed). It had great light and air flow and I couldn’t help but imagine what my life would be like living there and actually becoming a Parisian. My father would always tell me that life would be the same as it is here; that life is what you make of it and I would get as bored in Paris as I do in Saskatchewan. It’s not about location, it’s about motivation. Yada yada. I get this. It’s still nice to dream though. It’s also good to set goals in life. If I can’t live in Paris, then I want to spend as much time as possible there.
On one of our first days together, we visited the Louvre. It would be my first time walking its galleries. My first impression was that it is truly massive; one could spend an entire week perusing it and not see everything. We visited in the early evening, which made the line-ups slightly less intimidating but still present. Most of the wait had to do with security measures. Once in, we immediately went to the Denon Wing to see the most famous painting in history - the Mona Lisa. The artwork, which, as everyone says, is much smaller than you imagine, is located in its own massive room with barren walls, the only focus of which is her mysterious smile. At one point I got within maybe twenty feet but I gave up on getting closer. A more interesting observation, to me at least, was standing in the back of the room and watching people clamour to take pictures and selfies to prove that they were there.
The ceiling work in the Louvre, but especially the Denon Wing, was unbelievable. I wished I could lie on my back on the floor and spend some time staring up at it but instead I left with neck strain. Parts of it felt so heavy that I thought it might crumble onto the patrons below. But it was hundreds of years old and would probably be there for hundreds more. The artistry and craftsmanship impressed me as much as anything hanging on the walls.
My absolute favourite part of the Louvre was the opulent Napoléon III Apartments. Entering this area, in the decorative arts-focused Richelieu Wing, was like stepping back in time. I imagined the ghosts of Parisians, who once sat in the exact chairs laid before me, drinking from gold-plated goblets and conversing about life during the Third Revolution. I’d honestly never even heard of this part of the Louvre before … and considering there were few tourists walking about, I don’t think I’m the only one. It was the perfect cap to the evening before heading back to our apartment and enjoying some bordeaux of our own.
*Abbi and Ilana may be more accurate.
The main reason I yearned to return to France was to appreciate—and learn from—their culinary prowess. In my opinion, the country has the best cuisine in the world, meticulously presented and flavoured to perfection. Now that I have been learning how to properly cook, I wanted to test my evolved palette further and explore flavour pairings I might not be exposed to on the Canadian prairies. I also wanted to see the difference terroir made; how the land, nourished by a different sun, soil, rainfall and hand, influenced the taste of common ingredients compared to my end of the world. On several occasions prior to the trip, I asked my friend and travel companion to not judge me on how excited I was to try the local garlic (spoiler alert: I was really excited!).
But cooking was to follow in the days to come. Upon arrival on April 14, I needed to make my way to a houseboat I rented.
After a bumpy flight landing in which I genuinely thought I’d be exiting the craft via an inflatable slide, I made my way to central Paris via the RER train exiting at the station near my favourite site in Paris, Notre-Dame Cathedral. Notre-Dame is the most visited attraction in Paris, moreso even than the Eiffel Tower. It is a place of living history, site of both Joan of Arc’s beautification and Napoleon’s crowning as emperor amongst other prestigious events. It was also the start of holy week in Paris, a time in which the church would be extra busy. The lines outside of it certainly indicated increased activity. After marvelling at it’s familiar exterior, I took the first selfie of my trip standing in front of it. A full visit was planned later in the week:
The Paris Marathon was happening as I made my way towards the houseboat parked near the Louvre on the River Seine. Notre-Dame to this location was roughly a thirty-minute walk (lugging a suitcase) through some of the most scenic parts of Paris. I was surprisingly energetic; after most long-distance trips, I crash in my hotel room for the remainder of the day catching up on sleep. It always feels wasteful, even though the body desperately needs it. But not this time. Paris brings me to life. I almost don’t want to sleep at all when I visit, for fear of missing out on some of the splendour. There is no comparable place in the world.
Arriving at the boat, the Bateau Johanna de Paris, my host warmly greeted me and invited me for coffee. With brief introductions, we realized we had a lot in common; she was a British national of Indian descent married to an Englishman, while I was an English/French Canadian mutt coupled with a man from Kerala. Despite the shrinking nature of the world, it is certainly not common and conversation flowed to the challenges of this particular type of interracial courtship. “You will never understand the societal influence,” she seemed to warn, although I already understood. “It takes a strong individual to counter it.” I felt my rebellious instigator of a partner would have appreciated this. His bold nature, and desire for experience and exploration in contrast to firm (and seemingly unnegotiable) cultural boundaries, seemed to mirror hers.
Our well-rounded discussion also fell upon the ongoing Yellow Vest Movement protests that have taken place since the fall of 2018. With the goal of pressuring government to implement economic reform measures to improve the standard of living for all, the mass demonstrations have (so far) resulted in the death of twelve citizens and historical sites, like the Arc du Triomphe, being vandalized. Not fully comprehending the situation, I didn’t really have an opinion other than historical sites should remain off-limits for preservations sake. My host didn’t agree. “The only way to get their message across is through disruption. The past is the past; these people need help today.”
I love bold people.
The French spirit for revolution lives on.
On Saturday night, I can normally be found on my couch, in my velvet pyjama bottoms and faded Gudetama t-shirt, using my partner’s chest as a makeshift pillow as we watch nature documentaries on Netflix. The cocoon of our living room offering the solace craved by two introverts after a hectic week. A recent switch in our predictability though—at my unknowing behest—brought this splendour state to a sudden halt as I was confronted with memories that I’ve tried to keep at bay.
It was a simple change. Watching a new program listed in my recommendations list that was written, directed and starring one of my favourite comedians, Ricky Gervais. I assumed it was a comedy, and, at times, it is but ‘After Life’ is moreso an unflinching, uncomfortable, honest portrayal of grief and how it leaves those left behind to grapple uncharted emotions after losing a loved one. As we watched it on this particular Saturday night, I tried my hardest to hide the tears streaming down my face. To somehow cloak how relatable what I saw on screen was to my own reality. My partner knows … but I’ve always felt that until loss this deep happens to one personally, you don’t really understand. His parents are alive and healthy. It’s been five years since my father and best friend passed away in a matter of months after an unexpected terminal cancer diagnosis. And it’s been five years since my mother was hurled into a state of loneliness and depression that I, as an only child, have made my main duty in life to offset. It’s been a lot to shoulder and I feel the weight of it every day.
A scene in episode three really hit a nerve. In it, the main character reflects upon memories of the wife he lost while at one of their favourite places, the beach. The contrast between the love and laughter of the past with the sorrow and sadness of the present was incredibly well-acted. It made me ponder how I would feel, how I might viscerally react, during an upcoming trip to a place my father and I shared so many beautiful memories including our last adventure together just two months before he passed.
For in one week, I would be flying to Paris. It is a place forever intertwined with my own life story. A city that has provided inspiration, enchantment and hope (in addition to maternal family lineage).
I had no idea what this chapter would bring.
But I knew his ghost would be present.
It’s no secret that I love dogs. I feel they are angels on earth and have provided some of the best companionship I have ever known in life (growing up as an only child, that meant a lot). Below is a list of the most heavenly of these creatures I follow on social media:
This is HANDS-DOWN my favourite Instagram account to follow of any genre. Beaux is an absolute delight that makes me smile and laugh daily. His positive reinforcement—that every day can be the best day ever—are as good as any Buddhist mantra. Beaux was born with a cranial deformity due to lack of room in his mother’s womb amongst a litter of seven puppies. Because of this condition, his breeder gave him away to someone that didn’t have his best interests in mind, leaving him chained up in a backyard for years with little food and virtually no veterinary care. He was eventually rescued and made his way into the home of a family that spoils him more than I spoil my Monty (and trust me, that’s a lot). Today, he’s quickly becoming a social media sensation whom I’m sure will have his own line of ties some day.
Midge is a senior dog that was recently adopted from a rescue in the Los Angeles area. Midge is also one of the cutest animals I’ve ever seen. Seriously, look at this face!
Maggie has had a tough start to life. She suffered from horrendous abuse that included being shot at, which resulted in blindness, and having her ear cut off. Despite facing these cruel hardships, she has regained her trust for humans and is now adopted by a loving family that provides all the love, cuddles and Milkbones her heart desires (and deserves). I love seeing happy endings like this.
I first saw Mugsy on a news report about animal cruelty. She was adopted from a rescue organization in Iran that cared for her after having corrosive acid thrown at her face. Mugsy now lives the good life in Vancouver where she is receiving further surgical procedures to treat her injuries. She may look different but her loving spirit proves that beauty is only skin-deep.
Jack is a special-needs pet that was paralyzed after being attacked by another dog. He has no feeling in his back legs or bowels and uses a custom wheelchair to scoot around and do zoomies. He was adopted last year from a shelter and his new family aims to dispel the myth that a disabled pet is more of a challenge.
I first encountered Pirate’s story via a Dodo video (that, like most of them, made me cry). Pirate spent over seven years at an Oahu, Hawaii, shelter without being adopted. Finally, the right family came along and welcomed her into their home where they have committed to providing an indulgent, spoiled existence for her remaining twilight years. Well deserved and well worth a follow to see how unconditional love doesn’t diminish with age.