a unique perspective on this crazy world

Posts tagged ‘grand palais’

beware of Japanese girls armed with credit cards!

I am still alive!  And hoping to add some new thoughts over the next week and in the year ahead.  I thought 2012 might be a little easier… but apparently not 🙂  And November through February always the scary part of my work year where extracurricular fun like writing gets punted in favour of client needs.

But it’s Christmas Eve so I get a couple of days off.  First, we will journey back to Paris as the tale was never completed.  The great thing with Paris is that everything is a bit larger than life so the memories stay in one’s imagination.

Where Paris really excels is in all matters related to art – that word applied in a very broad way.  And, in Paris, food is art.  I caught the end of some BBC or CNN program while I was in Germany and learned that apparently cheesecake is all the rage in Paris.  Unfortunately details were sketchy because the program was essentially over – but I was intrigued by the shop in the television images…

So did quite a bit of googling to see if I could figure out where I was supposed to go once I got to Paris… I wasn’t sure if I had it right but once I arrived I knew I had hit pay dirt.  And it was well worth the effort.  The bakery is called She’s Cake and is run by a charming woman named Sephora.  I had the fleur d’oranger – amande.  It was delicious and it felt like you had stumbled upon a special neighbourhood secret.


I also discovered I had come during the annual Paris Photo exhibition (mid November).  It required some waiting in line in the cold – but was worth the wait.  It is a show for galleries and collectors that is also open to the public so it is a little overwhelming but a great way to get an overview of world photography in a couple of hours and discover some new talent and be inspired.

Next door there was a fascinating exhibit called Bohemes at the Grand Palais.  The concept of Bohemia, gypsies and their role in art and European history.  Romantic, tragic, dramatic…

Normally the airport is not part of the story.  But the French have a flair for the dramatic… and a crazy love for bureaucracy.  And my Scottish genes make me cheap…

There is a wonderful VAT (value added tax) recovery scheme all over Europe called “tax-free”.  It’s not really true but you do get a decent amount of tax back so it’s hard to pass up.  When I got to Charles de Gaulle, I thought I was really clever popping into the first VAT-recovery station I found with my stack of forms, all completed and signed, my passport ready for a quick stamping procedure and on to my gate.

But NO…  every gate has its own VAT-recovery station apparently.  Seriously, France, do you think this might be why your economy is in the toilet?

At that moment I didn’t realize I had been condemned to hell by some random French customs officials.  I found the station that matched to my gate… but I also found a gigantic snaking line of beautiful young Asian girls clutching tax-free forms and giggling.  There was no choice but to succumb.

I was in line for a long time so was determined to figure out what the hell was going down.  I have never been in such a ridiculous line so my curiosity was peaked.  With enough time and careful peeking at passports, I discovered they were Japanese.  Apparently the Japanese still travel in packs.  I don’t know the connection between all the girls – other than a devotion to expensive shopping 🙂 – but they obviously had a handler and were all going through customs as the equivalent of a gigantic tax-free-form-stamping boa constrictor… better to stay on the sidelines than get eaten by it 🙂

And there was a small reward… when I finally got to the end of the line the customs officials were very happy to see me – mostly because I represented the end of the line – so they just grinned and stamped all my forms as quickly as they could 🙂

Travel is always full of new experiences and adventures.  An open mind, a sense of curiosity – and lots of patience – will make any travel experience an entertaining memory 🙂

turning european…

In the 80s, turning Japanese seemed a popular theme.  But somewhere the last decade or two, I turned European.

I don’t always get it right.  The cheek kissing is always fraught with awkwardness and I am constantly confused as to how many cheeks to kiss – and if I should be leaving lipstick marks or just air kissing.

But – as the bartender on my last night in Paris noted – and confirmed by his behaviour – one of the big attributes of Europeans is hospitality.  And I would also add – charm.  A big part of hospitality.  Without European hospitality, I would never have married a European man.  But that is a whole other story…

In a world where I increasingly worry about the loss of manners and civility, the Europeans are there trying to prove charm is still alive and well.  That sometimes you need to take time to perform a task properly, not just efficiently.  I have seen it across three countries in the very recent past.  The French are likely the most charming, performing tasks with both reserve and aplomb, but I have been impressed by all the Europeans I have encountered on my trip.

My final cultural adventures were two-fold.

First, I stood in the bitter cold waiting to buy a ticket to the Helmut Newton exhibition.  But I was at the Grand Palais so that provided some wonderful photographic opportunities and Helmut Newton is worth freezing off your fingers.  What is more gratifying was to see how packed it is!  I wasn’t quite sure what the four year olds were making of the shots of women wearing saddles but this is how they grow up to be European with a sophisticated world view and an ability to discuss art as readily as sport.

The second cultural adventure was more unique.  I wanted to mail a birthday present purchased in Paris before I left France.  How often do you walk past the Louvre to find the post office?  Seulement en Paris!  A beautiful, fascinating city that I would encourage everyone to visit.  No matter where you stay or what you do, Paris is certain to weave its magic.

One of my favourite Paris adventures was done on a budget.  To even out our restaurant spending, we decided to go to Monoprix and buy bread, cheese, some of those transcendent cold cuts, a mini bottle of champagne and some red wine.  It was a beautiful summer evening so we would indulge in all our treats on the breakfast terrace of our small hotel near the Eiffel Tower (we had a picnic on the lawn there one night as well).  We couldn’t find our corkscrew.  Things looked complicated.  But we were in Paris – so not only was a corkscrew produced, they opened our wine for us!  And then we had that “only in Paris” moment.   It was hot so the windows were open in the building opposite us.  And someone was practicing her cello.  So our dinner was accompanied by live classical music.

Leaving Paris is hard.   Having a memorable experience in Paris is a piece of cake.  Just ask my mom.  She told me she didn’t need to go to Paris.  It wasn’t on her bucket list.  Just by accident she turned 65 on the plane.  So this trip I suggested we should return for 75 as an anniversary celebration.  She said she’d make sure she had good walking shoes.  I’m a little worried that once she has the macarons at Pierre Hermé, I may not be able to convince her to leave…

Speaking of great walking shoes, I need to extend a shout out to Browns.  Just before I embarked on this adventure, I bought a pair of black patent driving moccasins.  Possibly one of the world’s most perfect travel shoes!  The Browns version are insanely comfortable.  I have  been wearing them every day as I trundle over the cobblestones.  By the time I get home, I will have already gotten my money’s worth 🙂  I would highly recommend a pair of Brown’s loafers.  Even though my friends all seem to think that I spend all my time in showstopping 4 inch heels, the real truth is that a large majority of my life is spent wearing Browns loafers – because they combine such a great mix of style, comfort and value.  And they are now on-line… check them out 🙂


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