Wednesday, December 29, 2010

WTF Wednesday: Next Stop - Vomit Station

The metro is not the safest, nor the most refined place in Paris, but I wasn't prepared for this week's happenings. (I recently read about the poor girl who was killed by a pick-pocket, pushed on to the tracks. What a tragic story that still gives me the willies.)

I take the train everyday, twice a day. Two different lines, so there's a stop in between... all-told, I chill in the station at least six times a day, which means one thing: More exposure to the crazies that call them home in the winter.

They lay across the benches, and pass out in the stairwells, bref, lounging & smellin' up the joint is where it's at. I'm not completely heartless, but after you've seen hundreds a year the phenomenon becomes less shocking. I don't even get freaked out anymore when they mutter insults at me. (I always have to resist the urge to talk back to the shoe-less man with food stuck in his beard calling me unkempt. Really sir? My hygiene is not up to snuff? I'll run home & jump in the shower for you, but first let me pick that hunk of sandwich from your facial hair.) I was starting to feel pretty proud about mastering the art of ignoring, a true sign of my French integration.

But it was all a ruse. A hoax. A sense of false-security. Life was about to teach me another lesson: just when you think you have things under control, an SDF will inevitably try to yack all over your brand new brown sued boots. (I might be paraphrasing just a smidge.)

I must be some kind of Puke-magnet. In the last 2 days I've seen no less than three vomiters, and all within ten meters of my vomit-sympathetic-person. Perhaps it's my perfume? Perhaps it's my face that's making them retch? Who can say how the minds of the mad function? Whatever the reason, I seem to have a very specific effect on them.

There I was, minding my own effing business when a liter (or possible two) of homeless man lung-butter pours out within ear-shot. Something happened when I heard it. I felt like the world started moving in slow motion. I turned, ever so slowly, already shuddering.

Now, the important part... HEED THESE WORDS READERS...

DO. NOT. LOOK.

I don't care if people start running, screaming and babies burst into tears -- just don't. You're going to want to. It's actually worse than a train wreck because you can't always smell those, but the Ode-de-Wine-and-Baguette-Spew was pungent enough to spark my curiosity.

Lord help me, I looked. (And f%#@ me, it was a doozie.)

Oh man did I regret that shit. Even now, the images come back to me in flashes at the oddest times, usually while eating. I don't think I'll ever be the same.

The odd thing, other than watching someone puke that god damn much, was that my horror was not even close to coming to an end. The same series of events occurred at 2 other stations, with 2 other hobos.

Though each had their own particular style of upchuck, each was equally disgusting.

Ahhh.. public transportation. Gotta love it. I wonder if it's the same in other big cities? Am I the only one?

WTF?

The Paris Proust Files: Inspiring writer, award-winning journalist, Beth Arnold!

Beth's writing needs no introduction. Its quality and excellence speaks for itself really, but I'm going to give her one anyway. What I love most about http://www.BethArnold.com is... nah, I can't choose just one thing.

I love her style. It's professional, but personal and it doesn't take any crap from anyone. Jeeze, even her photo seems to scream "No-Effing-Nonsense".

I love her subjects and stories. They range from fashion to politics, and often include tid bits about my beloved France. They're funny, they're funky, they're close to home, they're far out... it's like a story-burrito. A mish-mash of delicious literary flavors that take me on a trip when I scarf her words as if they were my last meal.

Not to put too fine a point on it, she's one HELL of a writer, and lovely to grab a glass of Chardonnay with to boot. I highly recommend her blogs on Huffington Post, "Letters From Paris", and her own website. Check'em out, bring your appetite for curiosity and adventure :)

Thanks Beth for agreeing to do the interview!

Virtues: What do you like most about yourself or your writing that you think you can say without sounding too conceited? What makes you so flippin' amazing? (You know this is what people mean when they ask 'what are your strengths', don't look so shocked.)

Hopefully, I tell stories that my readers are drawn into, enjoy, and don't want to leave, because they're on the journey with me. Also, we human beings are emotional creatures. I believe I connect to my readers' hearts in some way. I aspire to connect with my readers on many levels no matter what I write.


Faults: What do you like LEAST about yourself or your writing that you think you can say without sounding too pathetic?
I can get carried away, repeat myself. Also, I don't like it when I'm a bit lazy and stay on the surface of something, when I don't dig deeper.

Chief characteristic: Define yourself or your writing in 1 word that I can repeat to other people when I talk about you behind your back, ie: He/She is so _______.
passionate


Men: Is there anything about Parisian men that doesn't make you roll your eyes? What do they do that makes you think, "Oh yah. That one's def from Paname!"?
France is a society that believes their manners are culturally important and, in fact, chic, but (generalization) most French men are not "gentlemen" in the way we think of that term. In the South, we call that good home training. And my point of view is that we need good manners to make our lives a little nicer and to actually work more smoothly. But how wonderful is it that French men have actually been trained to be a little more sensitive in terms of the art of life. It's not being a "pussy" to go to museums or to talk about the arts-- and for that to be an important part of living a real life.


Women: What about the Parisian women? Quite the bag of 'tude eh? Or are we the ones who require re-wiring?
In my humble opinion, French women are more restricted, for example, than American women. They're more conservative--which doesn't give them the mobility that we feel in life. Our American openness is a great gift that we often take for granted.

As for the whole French woman, fashion-beauty-thin thing...These are generalizations, of course, but not all French women are thin, chic, or gorgeous. Some French women have beautiful, impeccable style. Some have zip. What many women I see on the street must think of as "fashion" is a raggedy Wicked Witch of the West look to me. French women do like to buy products and take care of their skin, but the cosmetics industry worldwide is pulling the wool over our eyes and raking in billions of dollars by selling marketing concepts to women to freshen us up and young us up. "How to be like a French woman...You'll be like a French woman if you.....This is also what's happening with the idea that all French women are "thin" and "aging better." These are myths perpetuated with products, books, etc. to "sell" us something, which doesn't happen to have anything to do with reality. And these marketing concepts make women feel bad about themselves and feel like they must buy these products to "fix" themselves.

Of course, we want to look our best--but loving ourselves is so much more important than the corporate BS being sold. Why don't we ever learn that we're being manipulated for money?


Heros: If you could be any Frenchie who would you be, and why? (Good luck choosing. Between the painters alone you're totally screwed trying to pick one...*evil laugh*)
I'll say Eleanor d'Aquitaine. She was a woman who held real power when very few did. She was progressive, led an amazing life, and stood up for herself--stood her own ground. She may not have done everything perfectly, but she kicked some real ass. She did not go gently unto the night--but burned across the sky and lit some dazzling stars.


Emotions: What about Paris brings out the 16yr old drama-queen in you: happy, sad, mad, excited, love, hate; what brings out these emo-spaz-attacks? What do you love/hate most about Paris?
One of my loves is taking a walk in the center of Paris--by the Seine, the grand monuments, the tiny rues with charming shops. It is absolutely breath-taking no matter how many times I've been down the same path. Beauty envelops me. It seeps into my cells and permeates my air. I never fail to realize how lucky I am!


Places: In what Parisian hood would you love to live in? We all have our favorites! Why is it yours, what makes it all that?
A couple of my hates: This is again a generalization, but the total incomprehension of customer service drives me nuts. I don't mean in a cafe. It's annoying when a waiter is slow or snarky, but so what. I'm talking about when one really needs help with a problem--like with France Telecom or other big entities--and the help person is not at all interested in explaining something to you or providing a solution. He wants to tell you that whatever you need is impossible. Why? Well, because he can't think outside the box. It isn't allowed, and he must go by every antiquated and obscure rule. The French don't understand that customer service means you're supposed to help the customer--not compete with her.

And then there's the basic inconvenience of French websites. The French don't know how to construct websites that actually work. B.A.D.


Wishes: What typical French characteristic do you wish you possessed? (If you say ability to to eat mounds of Camembert and stay thin, I may smack you.)
I lived in the 2nd Arrondissement by the Place des Victoire for five years, and every day I stepped outside my door, I felt like I was in a fairy tale. I live in the 20th Arrondissement now, and I've grown to love and appreciate its greenness, its young creator energy, the wonderful food that surrounds me, and being in a real neighborhood. But I have to say that the center of Paris is my spiritual home. Probably the 2nd (or 1st) Arrondissement would still be my favorite spot. Beauty, history, convenience. Ah...

The ability to make a gorgeous display--whether in the window of a boulangerie, a tiny boutique, a florist, or a green grocer.


Motto: What's your motto when in France? How do you minimize the hardships of life abroad?
Remember how much I have to feel grateful for. There is such an abundance! (And thank God for Skype and trips to the U.S. when I bring back a suitcase full of what I can't or don't want to buy here.)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Coming up -- Paris Proust Files Interview with Beth Arnold!

Yo peeps, I still have one last Xmas gift for you all -- the Paris Proust Files interview with Beth Arnold!!
Can't wait to post this little bute that I've been hiding in the bottom of my stocking all month!

Thanks Beth, look for it today or tomorrow :)
xx S

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas from Paris

Despite my absolute obsession with Christmas, being merry this time of year has been a challenge. So many things conspired against my joy and good cheer during the holidays. Being far from loved ones has put a big fat wet towel over my desire to wear a ridiculous reindeer-antler headband. Clearly, it was serious.

That's not all I didn't do. This year I didn't write cards. I didn't make cookies with my best friend and sing songs with family. I didn't make a giant dinner with them, eat too much, and watch "White Christmas" while everyone chatted over coffee. I didn't stare at my cousins, and note how their faces have changed/grown. I didn't go to the mountains and stare out at the white peaks, hot chocolate in-hand. These are just a few of my traditions that define the holidays. Love. Friends. Family. Memories.



But I'm not sad today, despite all I'm missing out on. Of course, I ache to see the people I usually spend this time with. I want to pull out my ridiculous "ugly" sweaters and be the one who makes all the inappropriate jokes.

I know they're four thousand miles away, thinking the same thing I am, wishing we were all together. But it comes down to one thing: I knew what I signed up for.



Life as an expat is a ying/yang experience. You wear berets. Ying. You eat crème brûlée. Ying. You walk past the Eiffel Tower and watch it sparkle. Ying, ying, ying. You miss your family like crazy. Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaang.

It's a fast-moving roller-coaster of highs and lows that leaves me wishing that I could just pick up my family, plop them down here and say "OK, now you all GO BE HAPPY, and I'll see you for dinner." It's so simple in my mind.



I'm making a tart au citron out of all these effing lemons. I sucked in the city streets and went for holiday drinks with expat friends here. I skyped with my family, it was the next best thing to being there! I made cookies here with my French fam, and we had our own inside jokes around the fire. Our glasses were filled to the brim with Champagne and wine to die for. We ate Fois Gras, Chapon with roasted vegetables and Chestnut purée, stinky cheeses, and of course... my chocolate chip cookies! We even had snow, by god, SNOW in PARIS! It's been pretty magical.

Let's not forget the other benefit of having family far away at Christmas... PACKAGES!!!! I love getting my favorite goodies in the mail. Thanks everyone for being so thoughtful and meticulous in sending me my favorite gum, oatmeal, brands of relish and loads of other precious goods that are so hard to locate here.

New traditions are creeping in to my "perfect Christmas" picture. I feel so blessed to have two families that are so wonderful when some people don't even have one. I have to say, the hubs & the hugs really got me through the yang of this year's lack-of-family.

Whatever you're doing, wherever you are... don't forget, it's Christmas, and no matter how many things are plotting against your happiness, there are a thousand little things that are in your corner. Add them up. Make an army out of them.

And have a very, Merry Christmas!!


ps - a little something to brighten your day...

Friday, December 24, 2010

Guestage Girl's Guide to Paris: Scrooge's Guide to Christmas in Paris part II

Cross posting here from Girl's Guide to Paris!


You’ve been waiting for it. Here’s the second half of Scrooge’s Christmas goodies! In case you missed the first half, check it out here.

(9) Hit the museums
Though they’re not holiday exhibitions, I highly recommend grabbing tickets in advance at FNAC for the Louis Vuitton show at the Carnavalet or the Basquiat show at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.

(10) Go see a ballet
If your budget permits, head out to some of the great spectacles happening around the holidays, like the Lac des cygnes (Swan Lake) ballet at the Opéra Garnier. The second half of the performance is amazing. Reserve seats in advance, as tickets at this beautiful opera house go fast.

(11) Go to a show
I love the Théatre Edouard VII—so beautiful and a lovely place to spend the evening having apéros at the café before heading off to a show. Peter and the Wolf is a great Christmas classic, but, FYI, it’s in French. Get tickets here.

(12) Check out Sleeping Beauty’s Christmas château
Chateau Vaux le Vicomte is transforming itself into the Sleeping Beauty château for Christmas. More info here.

(13) Pick up some homesickness snacks
Feeling homesick? Maybe a box of mac and cheese will help ease the pain? Here are a few stores that can help quench your cravings.
The Real McCoy
194, rue de Grenelle, in the 7th. 01 45 56 98 82.

Thanksgiving
20, rue St.-Paul, in the 4th. 01 42 77 68 29.
Epicerie Anglaise
5, cité du Wauxhall, in the 10th. 01 42 00 36 20.
(14) Get some homegrown grub
Don’t feel like cooking? These places can do it for you.
Breakfast in America
17, rue des Ecoles, in the 5th. 01 43 54 50 28.
4, rue Malher, in the 4th. 01 42 72 40 21.
Classic greasy-spoon American café.
Joe Allen
30, rue Pierre Lescot, in the 1st. 01 42 36 70 13.
NYC feel for dinner.
Merce and the Muse
1, rue Charles-François Dupuis, in the 3rd. 06 42 39 04 31.
Coffee shop dream, a-ma-zing munchies.

(15) Ferris wheel rides
I’m deathly afraid of heights, so this one is not for me, but I hear the views are enchanting from the top. The Ferris wheel is located at the place de la Concorde; the cost is 5 euros for kids under 10, and 10 euros for the rest of us geezers. Read more here. Enjoy, brave souls!
So tell me readers, what would you do? What’s your perfect Christmas in Paris? Send your thoughts in the comment box below.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Now a message from buddy the elf.

PSYCH... OMG, you thought I was going to go all Will F. on your ass didn't you? "Buddy the Elf, What's your favorite color?!"... seriously though, that movie is the complete and total shit and I would probably watch it daily if I didn't fear the judgmental looks from my hubs.

December has been bat-shit-crazier than the cat-shit-crazy last few months... So, I've got some extra posts to put up! 3 to be exact. So I'll be putting up one each day, and then I'll probably go into over-work-myself-into-a-coma mode, yet again.
Hoping you all have a really wonderful holiday, filled with love and joy and and snow and children laughing and big fake santa clauses and alcohol and fat honkin' gifts and double rainbows and unicorn nuzzles, wherever you are.
XX S

Guestage: Girls Guide to Paris - Scrooge's Guide to Christmas in Paris Part I

The Champs Elysées, in Paris, aglow with holiday lights
© Nicolas Laverroux

Cross-posting from Girl's Guide To Paris...
I’m one of those holiday nuts. December 26 begins a countdown to my very FAVORITE time of year! I break out the decorations and CDs way too early. I shop year-round for gifts. Though I’m ashamed to admit it, I actually own a pair of tacky reindeer horns. Bref, I go off the holiday deep end. I have so many wonderful memories with my family that it’s a time of year I really cherish.

After five years in Paris, I consider myself very lucky to have gotten to see my family every year. Every year except THIS year, that is.

The Job-Gods have conspired, and I’m pretty sure that it’s just not gonna happen. (Insert ridiculously long string of swearwords here.)

No giant Christmas trees. No caroling off-key. No yards decorated with power-draining life-size Santas. No baking until my thighs look like two enormous tubes of cookie dough. Worst of all—no family. It was bound to happen. Le sigh.

Needless to say, my inner Scrooge has come out and bitten me on the ass.
To combat this Christmas crisis, I’m going to pull out even more stops than usual. I’m going to fight fire with twinkle lights.

In case you’re in the same boat, or if you’re lucky enough to vacation here for the holidays, here are a few things to fill your days with the cheer and charm of Paris at Christmas.

The Eiffel Tower, in Paris
© Nicolas Laverroux
1) Lécher les vitrines! (window-shopping, or -licking, as they say here)
The window displays at Galeries Lafayette, Printemps
and Fauchon are not to be missed. Even the most stone-hearted grinch will ooh and aah at the sight of these beautiful works of holiday art.

2) Marché de Noël des Champs Élysées
The Champs is so gorge this time of year you may have an involuntary bowel movement. Lights are in every tree down the lane, and you can smell vin chaud, or mulled wine, cooking a mile away. A must-see for sure! There are loads of stands where you can buy gifts, but I’ve never been tempted to. Unfortunately the website is 1995 GeoCities tricked out, but all the info is there!

3) Ice-skating at the Hôtel de Ville
This one is a classic I’ve never done. Though I’m sure I’ll fall flat on my face a half dozen times, the Christmas spirit will cure my black eyes and bloody nose! It’s free if you have your own skates; you can also rent them for 5 euros. More info here.

4) Notre Dame Christmas events
Those of us who live in the city rarely stop by this old pile of bricks, but if you can brave the crowds, the holiday display is lovely. There’s also a holiday concert on Monday, December 20.
Paris has many ways to help you enjoy the holidays
© Hervé BRY

5) Gift shopping
Though some of my friends think it’s too close to the “halles” experience, I like to grab a buddy and get my shopping done on the rue de Rivoli.
If you’re on a budget, hit the Marché aux Puces for original gifts like brooches, watches or gloves. Or you could get the classic gifts: berets and scarves. They make wonderful presents for the winter season and are very “in” whether you’re in Paris or Wisconsin.

6) Events at the American Church in Paris and the American Cathedral in Paris
Every year the American Church in Paris has loads of holiday events, including Christmas Eve services, but the candlelight Christmas concerts are by far my favorite. The music is beautiful and completely worth the trip. Plus, Christmas caroling at the end is a blast!
The American Cathedral in Paris has a beautiful midnight mass ceremony. Though the details haven’t yet been published, I hear from the cathedral’s office that there is caroling, and it’s a lovely way to celebrate religiously. The festivities begin around 10:30 p.m. Check the website for more details.

7) Take a tour
A couple of my top picks for Paris tours are Context Travel and David Lebovitz. A tour is the best and easiest way to see Paris the way YOU like it whether you be a chocoholic, a cheese addict, a wino or simply a lover of the beautiful Parisian views.
What would you add to the list? Share your suggestions in the comment box below.

Scrooge’s Guide to Christmas in Paris: Part II is coming soon, with even more tips and tricks to enjoy your holiday!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

WTF Wednesday: Paralyzed in Paris.

Photo credit: Antoine Walter | http://www.flickr.com/photos/anw-fr/
There is really only one explanation for today's happenings: Paris suffers from an acute precipitation denial syndrome.

When it snows here, it's as if the transportation gods huddle up and decide that life in our fair city must come to a screeching halt. Highways close. Buses stay parked, toasty-warm in their stations. Trains conspicuously stop running despite their subterranean status -- why should being under ground stop them from joining the transportation party-poopers?

And the would-be passengers? What are we doing? Hmm... well we're FREEZING OUR ASSES OFF on the sidewalk waiting for phantom buses, we're cramming ourselves against other, equally miserable train voyagers, battling for an extra inch of breathing room. That's what we're doing.



Paris... you're not a new-born puppy sitting perplexed in a pile of white, frozen confetti. Get over it. Snow exists, and you're gonna have to do something about it some day!!!


In short. GET. THE. NET.


Now that I've gotten that out of my system, I will say that I had a total blast sliding all over the sidewalks on my way home from work. Salt, schmalt, I want to slip & slide home every night -- boots be damned, it was fun!!


Happy WTF Wed.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Guestage Girl's Guide to Paris: Christmas Shopping in Paris!!

©Tarek DJ http://www.flickr.com/photos/djtarek/
Read the rest on Girl's Guide to Paris!

You’re in Paris for Christmas! Now . . . where to shop? Forget Les Halles: too crowded. Oubliez Champs Elysées: too touristy. Here are 10 places to get your credit card warmed up. Happy shopping!



1. Rue de Rivoli

Though some of my friends think it’s too close to the Halles experience, I like to grab a buddy and get my shopping done on rue de Rivoli. There are tons of great shops and plenty of cafés in the neighborhood for when you need to take a breather.



2. Boutiques in Montmartre & the 17th

If you want the real Parisian experience, you’ll have to hunt for shops in the quaint Montmartre or Marais neighborhoods. Montmartre is all done up this time of year, and you can pick up your touristy classics while you take in the famous monument. Get your miniature Eiffel Towers, postcards and T-shirts galore, then head over to the 17th Arrondissement for some boutique shopping at boutiques like Anne et Marionon rue des Dames.



Anne et Marion

58, rue des Dames, in the 17th.


3. Department Stores

You can always go to Printemps or Galeries Lafayette, but I find them overwhelming. If you’re brave enough, hit these two stores for all the goods, from fashion to flatware!

Galeries Lafayette

38, rue de la Chaussée d’Antin, in the 9th.

Printemps

102, rue de Provence, in the 9th.

4. For the ladies
In a pinch, I head to Kookaï, Naf Naf or Les Petites—they haven’t let me down yet! For more basic/classic items, I’m a fan of Mango. Zara sometimes has cute accessories and scarves, but I wouldn’t recommend their sweaters, which tend to shrink, or their shoes, which are of poor quality for the price.

5. For the guys

Celio and Uniqlo are options that won’t break the bank. I like Gap better, but find it’s a bit cheaper in the States for the same quality.

Read the other ten tips here - we've got something for everyone!!

...Did I miss your fave spot? Tell our readers about it!! What's your fave spot to shop?
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