Thursday, December 29, 2005

There's something about the French - a perfectionism - that makes me feel inadequate. My nails are often chipped and dirty. My hair is messy. I seldom wear makeup. And everyone calls me Madame. I know it is a courtesy but it makes me feel old.

Rob is wiser. He took advantage of the perfectionism. He went to the most famous barber in the city to have his beard trimmed. The dapper little man sculptured his facial hair with a straight razor. It is perfect, every hair cut exactly the same length, close to his face. I am impressed. I would love to have my hair cut very French, very sassy, but I am shy and a little at a loss about where to go for the transformation as the last time I did this I paid too much and was disappointed. (Every time I see a hair salon, I peek in the window and observe.)

But most of time I forget that I am not perfectly coiffured and manicured: I just have to look up a building - say, the National Assembly - or down a long treed avenue and I feel a shiver of pleasure. This is why I'm here.

On the metro, at a cafe, on a park bench, wherever I stop to breathe - I read snippets of Maisel and so far he hasn't said anything new but I like his writing and focus on Paris. I followed one of his suggestions yesterday to the D'Orsay. Get there early, he said. Check out the main floor. Look at this Manet and write some. Go to the top, admire a Van Gogh and Gauguin - no matter that they didn't like each other - and write some more. Obviously Maisel didn't visit Christmas holiday week. When I arrived, the lineup went round the building so I went to a nearby cafe, thinking that once the museum opened, the crowd would disappear. No such luck. When I returned, the line was longer. And even though snow was falling, my feet and hands cold, and I have little patience for queues, I decided to wait.

Forty minutes later, I was inside. I wandered down some steps to a statue of Sappho, figure reclining, eyes downcast - the poet in angst, through a room of Millets - country folk in fields, to the Courbets. I like this painter, one of the first Realists. One painting, "Origin of the World," a woman, minus head, legs spread, continues to intrigue me for many reasons. (It is so unlike all his other work.)

I did dutifully go to the top floor but there were two many people gawking at the Van Goghs and Gauguins, so I ignored these mad men, and found myself in a less crowded room with Renoir. I love his painting of poppies - so light and lovely. But I find his work, for the most part, a little too sweet. But this time, I noticed, in several lesser known works, that the flesh of many of his female figures was unnaturally red... but the jostling and rudeness of the crowd was getting to me so I left to meet Gill.

I have decided to wait till next week when the children are back in school and most of the damn tourists have left (hopefully)
to visit other museums.

The last few days Gill and I have walked so many streets. She is showing me all the little boutiques she thinks I'll like - good research for the store and my next buying trip. And Rob and Brendan take off on their own, exploring different areas. Although all our feet are tired, we are stimulated and happy except we're getting poor quick - this is an outrageously expensive city to visit.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Mistletoe, Wood Stove, and Moi


Mistletoe, Wood Stove, and Moi
Originally uploaded by Barbara Y.

We might have spent Christmas in the south of France beside this wood-burning stove but instead, we took an overnight train to Paris and found ourselves in a warm, spacious, modern Paris apartment thanks to the generosity of Gill's employers.

Paris in style
Paris in style

Christmas day was lovely. Small gifts of chocolate, guide books, jewelery (designed by Gill) and a breakfast of pastries and then a walk through Luxembourg Gardens. I show here a picture of me in the gardens, vain creature that I am, because it is the only one in which I have a big smile and don't like an old bag.
Christmas Day in Luxembourg Gardens

In the evening we went to an old-world French restaurant, founded sometime in the 1600s, where Voltaire, Rosseau, Benjamin Franklin used to dine. The food was amazing. The company the best. It would have been perfect if Mike had been with us.

Boxing Day, we all had had enough of family togetherness and went our separate ways. I caught the metro to Galleries Lafayette hoping there would be an enormous sale. No luck. It was open and mad with shoppers but their winter sale doesn't start till January (after I leave, damn it.) So I left and wandered down streets until I came to the Tuileries Gardens, changed course and headed toward the Louvre. Too many people. I found a little cafe where I read my novel and ate a salad; and continued to walk along the river until I came across a WH Smith bookstore - I kid you not - and there spent a good hour or more. I bought three books.

The most extravagant is called "A Writer's Paris: a guided journey for the creative soul" by Eric Maisel. In the introduction he says: "To travel to Paris for two weeks or six months and to actually write during this time is to change your relationship to your writing." I don't intend to do anything foolish, like devote myself to writing every minute of the day but I do intend to read a bundle, journal, and walk.

Friday, December 23, 2005


We're packing our bags, cleaning, and getting ready for Paris. I thought I wasn't, for the first time, sad about leaving our village but this morning, when I looked over the valley hidden in a soft mist, the ground and trees covered in a thick frost that looked more like snow, I wondered at my heartlessness. It is so magnificent, this fertile wine country, even when frozen.

Still, on Christmas Eve day, we will be in Paris and in a warm apartment. I want to sing. And though it won't be like any Christmas we've ever spent, I'm looking forward to a long stretch in my favourite city (with my valuables worn in a secret pocket, inside my coat.)

I'm throwing on a few more pictures from Christmas past. We're all sad that Mike won't be with us. He's hibernating in the small village of Cobourg, Ontario, near my parents, with Mackenzie, his love.


A little older, a little less impressed by Santa

Michael and Santa
(This year only Mike
took me seriously when
I asked for a photo with
the white-bearded chap.)

Thursday, December 22, 2005


I do love Christmas or aspects of it - the mistletoe and holly, the lights, the music, the loving messages from friends, the food, and oh yes, the clinking of glasses... we shall celebrate with sparkling wine from Chateau Mayragues tonight in Susan and David's warm house. Susan's son, Adam and his two boys have just arrived for Christmas. Ruth is coming over with her viola so she and David, on his cello, can play Christmas carols. How lovely. Tomorrow evening at one minute past midnight, Rob, Bren, Gill, and I are taking the overnight train to Paris - 1st Class - there are times and this is one of them, that decadence is called for.

This year, we are finding it a little difficult to be jolly, to get in the Christmas spirit, because we're too damn cold but still I shouldn't complain: it is beautiful here in the south of France. Yesterday, Rob, Gill, and I went to Toulouse, ate lunch at our favourite quiche place, and then separated to work our way through the crowds to find small gifts for neighbours and each other. I stopped in Place de la Capitole to watch a young man, pretend to be a sculpture, until a child ran up to him and tossed a euro or two into his purse. Then he came to life, played a harmonica and juggled five white balls for a minute or two before returning to his static pose, waiting for the next toss of coins.

The children made me think of Kate who became a mama for the second time on Saturday. She gave birth to a little girl, Mary Christina - a millionaire's family, says Rob. Gill and I danced around the livingroom in celebration.

Rob and I had four Christmas' as parents of an only child before our second son arrived.

Christmas with one child

Christmas with two children

And then another four years, until Gill joined the family. She wasn't impressed that first Christmas with the man with the white beard.

Three Children with Santa

What can I say? I am finding it difficult to write these days. This morning, I felt sad reading Gill's blog, thinking of her aching, wanting warm arms, while I am within reach. I am too self-absorbed - a poor excuse for a mother, I thought for a moment or two - but I know, really I do, that I cannot (could I ever?) know when my child is unhappy and needs to be held. When I told her that her entry made me sad, she apologized. I asked her not to apologize. I would prefer, she writes what she feels.

But my mood these days is not unlike hers. That damn robbery in Paris still haunts me. If only, if only... I think at least twice a day but the crime did lead me to tell Brendan and Rob that I smoke. I couldn't stand the idea of being sneaky and underhanded, like the shit that stole my personal property.

Speaking of shit, I'm been reading some pretty tacky novels lately but the other day, I grabbed a book from the shelf and I have no idea where it came from. It's called "On Beauty: and being just." I thought it looked like a good car read so tucked it in my bag when we went to the castle for lunch with Susan and David. I wasn't immediately impressed but this morning, something in Gill's blog - perhaps "life isn't always kind" - reminded me of a passage in the book and I've searched until I found it:

"Proust, for example, says we make a mistake when we talk disparagingly or discouragingly about 'life' because by using this general term, 'life,' we have already excluded before the fact all beauty and happiness, which take place only in the particular: 'we believed we were taking happiness and beauty into account, whereas in fact we left them out and replaced them by syntheses in which there is not a single atom of either.'

Here's a picture of a particular moment - all the food and wine I could consume, with folks I love, in a fairy tale castle.
Dining in a Castle

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Exotic South of France

A Motley Pair

For some reason, it sounds exotic: "Oh yes, we're spending Christmas in Paris, after spending several weeks in our home in the south." But the reality is far from it. This is an exceptionally cold year and, as my neighbour so bluntly said (in French) "your house is a house of summer." There's no central heating and though we have three electric heaters, we can only run two at a time. We depend on our two wood-burning stoves for warmth. But warmth can only be guaranteed (and only in two rooms) if there is enough wood. Brendan ran out before we arrived and started buying sawdust logs. A few days ago, we bought 75 more and we're going through them too quickly.

A man called yesterday and told me in French that he would arrive "vendredi entre onze heures et midi." I understood enough to know that he's coming Friday between eleven and twelve, but I did not understand whether he is coming to clean the chimneys or deliver wood. I hope he is the wood man but the other would be fine too. We do need the chimneys cleaned. Our former tenants were slack and didn't have them cleaned before they moved and now, if we have a house fire, our insurance won't cover it.

In some ways, I feel as if I'm still working. I have spent countless hours on the internet, to a number of people, at the store, and also to several of our vendors. Though sorting out a few problems has taken much thought and energy, I think my job, in the future, will be less frustrating. I have also spend some time dealing with our home and business. Now I want to relax and enjoy.

And there have been moments of pleasure. Brendan and I spent a morning in Toulouse before meeting Rob at train station. We visited Albi together and enjoyed elegant food in an elegant cafe. (I was surprised and impressed to find that Bren ordered a dish and had no idea what he ordered.)

And we have been to market in Gaillac where Rob and I both bought a pair of slippers from a man off a trailor for 15 euros. Now, isn't that too sweet?

And one of our finest moments was driving through the countryside - it is as lovely in winter as it is summer and though I still prefer summer, there is something magical about the near frozen landscape - it's almost like looking at a black and white photograph - and it was such fun leading Rob to Chateau de Maraques where the owner photographed us amid his barrels and poured us a taste of sparkling wine and several reds. We bought 3 of each, nine bottles total, for all our celebrations over the next few weeks; and if there is any left we will carry a few bottles back to Vancouver.

Dream Location

When I see photographs of myself and Rob (or most people) I am shocked at my size. I don't feel little. (Note my fancy
beret that I bought in a hat shop in Albi.)

So time passes... on Saturday, my dear Gill arrives; and we're all looking forward to her presence and her cooking. Now, if only Michael could fly across and meet us in Paris, our family would feel complete.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Oh, it has been too difficult to write. I have been consumed with anger. Mostly towards myself. Who in their right mind would carry a wallet full of money and credit cards in Paris?

And then I am struck with a cold that does not allow me to think clearly, that keeps me awake at night. I cough and rasp. I am a fountain. I am Rudolph.

And then I hear from the store. They are playing with changing my idea for the finale of the Advent Calendar. I am struck with anger at their stupidity. I can't sleep. I think all is ridiculous. Especially me. Why am I doing a job where I am not sufficiently rewarded or appreciated? I am about to quit, to walk away.

I am Atlas (or so I imagine.)

I have just read "Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles" by Jeanette Winterson and the one paragraph that grips me reads as follows:

"The ancients believed in Fate because they recognized how hard it is for anyone to change anything. The pull of past and future is so strong that the present is crushed by it. We lie helpless in the force of patterns inherited and patterns re-enacted by our own behaviour. The burden is intolerable."

And then amid all the heaviness are Gill, Brendan, and Rob. And though I can't quite escape my weight, these three, in their individual ways, help me to see my worth more clearly, to laugh at myself, to become lighter.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

What can I say? I am in Paris, my beloved Paris and I am angry. I had four hours sleep after more than 35 awake and still my mind and body won't let me slip away and dream.

I stepped from the Roissybus, in front of the magnicent Opera building and within five minutes my wallet was gone - all my credit cards, debit cards, and cash. And to add to my anger, I was carrying more cash than I usually do. But I didn't know immediately that the young woman who bumped against me, or rather my knapsack on my back had, in an instance, unzipped my bag and taken my fat little wallet.

I'm glad I didn't know in the beginning because I wandered the street and found Cafe de la Paix where I was to meet Gill. I looked in the door and there she was - how confident, beautiful she looks, I thought, as she talked to the bartender. I went in and watched her for a minute. Gigi, I said. Gigi. Gigi. She continued talking to the Irish man (ah yes, they have infiltrated Paris)
and finally she heard me, saw me, and leaped up and gave me a big hug. She had a drink. I had a glass of wine. And we talked and laughed and then I reached in my bag to pay for the drinks and no wallet. I panicked, searched all my bags but it was really and truly gone. And every since I have been talking to myself, asking why, why, why, why did you take so much cash (300 euros), why did you carry all your visas... and so on and so on. But the good news was that I didn't put the bank draft I brought for our French bank account in my wallet which I usually do.

I did call Brendan and Rob and the store who had my numbers and all is cancelled (though the thief, I think, had already spent 3000. And I have to try to get a driver's license today for the car I am supposed to rent Monday. And Visa wants a police report so I will do that today too, after I try to access funds from our French account.

There is nothing I can do beyond these things and after I do them, I want to forget and enjoy this wonderful city with my daughter.