Monday, December 8, 2008

My Obsessions with Bones

I just spent an hour watching fanvids of my favourite tv show Bones on youtube. I can now no longer deny that I am, in fact, obsessed with the show. I used to mock and make fun of my sisters about how they could become obsessed with shows or songs or books. I could never watch a movie or show or read a book more than once in the same year. Until now. Nowadays I can watch an episode of Bones right after watching it the first time. I think I am suffering withdrawal symptoms right now because the last episode was Nov. 26 and the next one is Jan. 15. So now my sisters get to tease me endlessly about my obsession. Yes payback is a b*tch.

My Current Favourite Booth&Bones video

Friday, November 7, 2008

Welcome Back America!

I know everyone and their dog have already commented on the historic event that just took place in the US. I gotta speak my mind as well and add to the chorus.

Let me just say that Obama did not win the race simply because he was black. He won because he was the most suitable candidate for the job. He won because of his inspirational leadership skills, because of the policies he proposed and the platform under which he was running.

Coming from a predominantly Black country I grew up seeing a Black person holding the highest position in my country's government. However, even for me and for many persons of Black descent not living in the United States, words cannot express how it felt to watch Obama win the US elections and to listen to his victory speech. And for this, I have to say that I wholeheartedly agree with an article I recently read which said that America has once again returned to its place as the land of opportunity in the eyes of many world citizens. When you think about the fact that just 40 years ago the law in the US supported the practice of treating Blacks as second-class citizens.

Less than 40 years ago, Blacks in the US were being killed simply because they dared to stand up to the inequality that existed at the time. And yet....and yet...just 40 years after...millions of Americans, (Black, white and all the shades in between), voted for a man of Black descent to be their president. Americans voted for a man who, half-white or not, had he been living in America 40 years ago, based on his looks, would have never come close to getting the opportunity to even consider running for president. That fact speaks volumes to me. It proves to many of us around the world that regardless of all the bad that exists there, that the United States is still really the main land of opportunity, where dreams can come true. For all other Western countries' talk of having more racial tolerance and equality, I have yet to see them elect a minority to their highest office in government. And those other countries abolished slavery long before the US did (European countries) or, hell, many of them did not even have slavery (I see you Canada).

Also, while I was just now referring to visible minorities holding positions of government, I was also using it to mean all minorities. I mean, with the exception of South Africa, I have not heard of another big (physically or influentially) country that has elected to their highest position in office, a person who is a member of a minority group that has faced at least centuries of hardship from the majority in that country. *I welcome corrections on that and am genuinely interested to learn as I know that there are other countries who do not really toot their horn much.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Oh Taylor!

One of the things that come from being home unemployed is the free time. Free time of course leads to some TV watching. I mean even when I am searching and applying to jobs online I have gotten into the habit of keeping the TV on for company.

I am currently watching the soap opera The Bold & The Beautiful for the first time in many many years. My family, like many I'm sure in JA, used to watch the soap religiously. The soaps come on at night. It is nice to sit and immerse oneself into the twisted bizarre worlds of soaps where people return from the dead with "plausible" explanations all the time and actors playing the same character are changed frequently (but we're not supposed to act like we notice). Anyways, I cannot believe how the actress who played my favourite character has changed. The character Taylor, played by Hunter Tylo, was my favourite character. I also liked her nemesis, Brooke, played by Katherine Kelly Lang. Both women were pretty but I always thought Taylor was more beautiful. Imagine my horror now to see how Hunter Tylo has ruined her natural beauty by the excessive plastic surgery that she has had done. I can't focus on scenes with her face on the screen because I keep thinking that something is so wrong and so off about her face. I mean her lips alone make me cringe, not to mention the other stuff. Katherine, on the other hand, while she may also have had plastic surgery (I really dunno), still looks pretty and definitely a helluva lot more natural. So sad. I mean Taylor/Hunter was SO pretty.

All that aside, I really am amazed at the power of soaps. It is true that no matter how many years have passed since the last time you saw an episode of a show, you can always just pick right up and start back watching and get right into the series again.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

My Boy Hardy

I can't wait another day to talk about Hardy. I met Hardy in December last year in Toronto. I spotted him in this store at the Scarborough Town Centre. It was one of the more expensive little boutique know the kind that don't usually have many people because it is usually too expensive. Anyways, he was standing there looking so handsome and proud it was impossible not to notice him. I had to have him although I wasn't sure if the price I was to pay would be worth it. In December after I met him, we didn't hang out that much as I was so busy getting ready for France. This was also because I knew he was going to come with me.

And yes, Hardy came to France with me but at first I didn't really keep in contact with him or pay him any mind. I was so busy trying to learn about French culture. These last three months though, I turned to him when I was in need. When I needed someone to help me on my trip to Porto, he helped without question. Same thing on my trips to Madrid, Brussels, Dublin, London, Rome and Venice. He has been there for me, never complaining, even when I treat him oh so wrong.

Hardy, you see, is my little carry-on suitcase. I have taken the poor thing through so many places he probably would not have gone to by himself. He spent the day rolling through Porto in drizzling rain, a day rolling through Madrid in 40 degrees weather and many hours wandering around with me because I could be counted on to get lost even on my way to my hostel/host's place. He has been rolled through dirt so many times...He's fallen quite hard in all the aforementioned cities at least once. I stuffed him to the brim and then some in Madrid. But the little trooper did not even whimper.

About 3 weeks ago, he developed some sort of physical problem. His pull-out handle keeps getting stuck or coming out altogether, no doubt from my mistreatment of him. Quite embarassing for him I'm sure. Especially since sometimes when this happens, I just open him up, for all and sundry to see. Then I usually stick my hand inside him to help his handle back down. Le pauvre!

Hardy is worth what I paid for him and I do not want him to have to be put down before I leave Paris. Therefore, I am willing the little fella to make it back home to Toronto safe and sound. Then we can see about getting him all fixed up. After all, I chose him right. He has a lifetime warranty.

Oh To Be In Paris (Part V)

So much has happened in this last month that I wanted to report. I penned many entries in my head but then when I had to sit and type them out I just couldn't find the time to sit and do it. Anyways, instead of updates first, I decided to give you all what I promised. One more installment of this Oh To be In Paris series. This will likely be the last in the series....this year.

Ok, here goes and if I forget and remember more later, I will just add to this list instead of creating another one.

1) Cheese - I think I mentioned this already but I will again. Up until last week, I had no less than 4 different types of cheese in my fridge. Even this week, my last full week, I have two different kinds: goat cheese and parmesan. French supermarkets beat N. American ones flat out in this regard. When I go to the supermarket here, there are SO many types of cheese and I love cheese so that it great. Plus nice cheese too that would cost loads in N. America. Apparently, Napoleon at one point lamented ''How can one rule a country with 300 different types of cheese'' or something to that effect. There are even more types now since the days of Napoleon. Me likey.

2) Condoms at subway stations. Yes, at my current subway station, there is, no lie, a condom dispenser machine at the exit. Forget all the other emergencies one could have. Apparently, needing a condom is at the top of the emergency list in my area. And it isn't even like I live in a club area or anything.

3) In a similar vein, Paris is the only city where I've been to a club that has a breathalyzer machine at the club. I thought that was ingenious. Pay 1Euro, blow into it and see your blood alcohol level. Many clubs all over the world could do well to install some of those. That may help convince some people who think they are not too drunk to not drive. Every little counts in the fight against drunk driving.

4) In France, there are hardly any commercials during tv shows. Often, there are none. My roommate was telling me that the French president also recently said he will be making there be no commercials on public TV. Unlike in North America where the public channels have the most commercials, in France they are like cable channels in terms of the commercial breaks that they have. Love it.

5) I have mentioned the kissing couples on the Paris metro. What I didn't mention was that Paris is also the city where I have seen the most couples on the metro with one half of the couple, usually the woman, the man did something wrong. The man is usually all apologetic but no matter what he says or tries to do is not able to stop the tears flowing down the woman's face. I can tell the man did something wrong because as he tries to wipe the woman's face she usually pushes his hand away. I guess one of the cities of love is also a city of heartbreak.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Avenue Montaigne

I just came home from going right up to the Eiffel Tower. Yeah for going but boo for not climbing up because the lines were too long. I don't mind though. Because the Eiffel Tower is ubiquitous in the Parisian skyline, going right up and under the monument turned out not to be such a big deal for me anymore. I had already seen the spectacular view from the Sacré Coeur so I did not think the Eiffel Tower would be much different.

After the Eiffel Tower, I went and walked along the Avenue Montaigne, one of the most fashionable streets in Paris (see pic on the top left). However, unlike at the Eiffel Tower with the throng of tourists, I could immediately feel that I was in Paris while walking along the Avenue. Today the shops on the Avenue were closed and the street was empty with the exception of a handful of people going about their business, the doormen at the luxurious hotels, the people in a few cafés and the occasional tourist. I know that the lack of people on the avenue was because today is Sunday but it still felt much more like Paris, the high end Paris.

The street looked even better than I imagined (or remembered from the movie of the same name). High end designer stores and a few high class hotels lined both sides. From Gucci on one end to Valentino on the other end at the other side of the street, the Avenue Montaigne seemed to have them all. In typical Paris style, these designer labels were housed in classy at-least-19th-century buildings. Most of them had a little black and gold ornate gate surroundiing the exterior of the store. And the displays! Oh so stylish! You know that scene at the beginning of the movie Breakfast At Tiffany's where Audrey Hepburn is standing outside the Tiffany store looking at the display. That was me for most all the stores I saw today, except I was looking more longingly and I wasn't eating ice cream and I was most certainly not dressed as nicely. Hmm, I guess there really is no comparison between Audrey and me. lol. But I digress...

The displays left me longing for nice fashionable items in my wardrobe. I am not someone who is particularly into fashion but I must confess that I was SALIVATING over the clothes, shoes, bags, purses and everything I saw today. I began to imagine me wearing some of the stunning outfits on display, or slipping on a pair of just one of their shoes. Even the stores like Armani with their men's display had me wishing I had the money to buy a suit and then, of course, a guy to dress up. Then I made up my mind to start to work seriously so that one day I will be able to buy just one outfit. This is although I'm not sure that if I had the money I would buy a 5965Euro dress or a 3560Euro handbag. Hell, who am I kidding? I would hope that I would be able to resist the temptation to buy ONLY high end fashion if I had the money but I know myself and yes I would buy some items. Herein liest the reason I never watched much of shows like Sex & the City. I don't like nice things being flaunted and advertised to me all throughout a show, knowing that I will never be able to afford them. That show always leaves me wishing for more and feeling less. Since I woud rather feel normal and happy about my very nice state in life I tried not to watch it.

Ok but back to the Avenue Montaigne, because the street just looked so nice and it was fairly empty and I know that rich celebrities like to do their shopping on days when the stores are closed to everyone else, I kept thinking that I would see a limo or tinted jeep pull up with an A-lister ready to go on a shopping spree. I walked up and down the street 4 times. Seriously though, I walked up and down a few times because I wanted to take in each store and the street in its entirety. Plus, I wanted to take in the stores then take pics and not do both at the same time.

On my last walk along the street, I was standing looking at the Fendi display when a very well-dressed lady approached. I was so intent on looking at the display and daydreaming that I didn't notice her until she was just a few steps from me and the sound of her heels brought me back to reality. She looked to be in her late twenties or very early thirties but what I was thinking was that she could be in an ad campaign for any of the stores on the street. Anyways, she crossed just behind me and I got a whiff of a very nice smelling perfume. Then she went right up to the door to the Fendi store and let herself in by entering a code and using her key. I was too jealous at that point. I am sure that employees of those stores get nice discounts. They must get paid well too as I am almost certain that the lady was wearing only designer stuff.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

It's A Beautiful Day

The weather in Paris is great again and so my mood is happy happy happy. It is so nice and sunny. I think today it is 27 degrees and this weekend it should go up to 31 degrees on Saturday. I'll believe 31 degrees when I feel it but nonetheless the rest of the week looks to be nice and sunny.

I so want to go find a park and lay down. Maybe I will do that tomorrow. I wish there was somewhere near work for me to sun. There is a park about a block away but I wouldn't want to lay down on the benches there. They are not very clean and there are birds everywhere messing up the seats.

Last summer, in Quebec, I worked just outside the city limits on a big government complex and since it was the Ministry of Sustainable Development, the company was very green. The company was shaped like three quads joined together with the center of each quad being outdoors. All around and in the center of the building there were these huge grassy areas with nice long CLEAN concrete or wooden benches and also picnic tables scattered about. Every day at lunch when it was sunny, after eating with my co-workers, I would use the second half of my lunch period to find a nice bench on the grass, in the sunniest spot. Then I would put a piece of newspaper on the bench on which to rest my head, then I would lay down with my mp3 player and soak up the sun. Sometimes, it was so hot, even for me, that I had to cover my face with another newspaper. Twas lovely it was!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Paris, Je t'aime...

I just watched the movie Paris, je t'aime and I loved it. I liked that I recognized most of the places and landmarks even if I didn't know or remember the names of all of them...but the movie also made me very sad because I will be leaving the city soon. Worse is that I feel that I only have a couple more days in the city because after next weekend, I will be visiting other countries all except one weekend from Thu - Sun until the end of September and then will be gone up until the day before it's time ot take my plane back to Canada. I work Mon - Wed and usually get home really late so most of those days I stay home. That means that I only have two more weekends in Paris. Six more days to go out in the day and enjoy the city. Less than a week. And so I am sad.

I have been wanting to add to my Oh To Be In Paris list for a while...well, every day I think of something but as of these past two weeks, I get sad to even think about the list because I know that I won't be in the city/country much longer. I will try to put up one last list before I leave.

I know my blue mood today was heightened by the weather - so sad and dreary. Friday it was overcast and rained the ENTIRE day. That was bad enough but it didn't finish there. Today was basically almost the same thing. And today was to be my finally-maybe-actually-going-right-up-and-under-the-Eiffel-Tower day. Yes, I still haven't done it because I have either been going out or putting it off because of bad weather, mainly going out these past two months. So much so that now it is almost at the now or never stage. Then the movie made me think I should go to the Père Lachaise cemetery although I hate cemeteries. But Oscar Wilde is buried there! And I have to go back to the Louvre one more time!

The weather wasn't the only thing putting me in a somber mood. The closing ceremony of the Olympic Games also made me sad. Every four years when they out the flame and sing or play the depressing song or score that they inevitably always choose to mark the moment, I cannot help the tears that usually start falling if watching the ceremony by myself or with my family. Today it started from when they were showing the medallists from each day on those LCD screens above the stands of the ''Bird's Nest''...Ooo la.

Anyways, four years always seem like such a long time to wait. Four more years to make up for a missed medal opportunity. Four more years to imagine where each person will be during the next games. Four more years to discover the next crop of world class athletes. Four more years before such a large portion of delegates from basically every single country in the world mingle again. Four more years...anything can happen before then...So although I prefer it like this, it is still sad. I think too of the athletes for whom this is their last Olympics or for whom this will be their only Olympics...that's what always gets me...frack I think too much.

When I was younger, like many kids, I used to dream of being in the Games. My cousins, my sisters and I used to ''compete'' among ourselves for all types of sports but one of the later ones I remember us doing was the long jump. Part of the main floor in our house was built on an open floor concept. This meant that there were no walls separating the kitchen from the everyday dining room from the everyday living room. However the living room had a parquet floor while the dining room, adjacent to it, had a tile floor. We used the point where the two types of floors met as our ''jump off'' point. We would run the length of the dining room (sometimes starting as far away as the kitchen just beside) towards the living room and then take off, i.e. jump, just before we reach the parquet. Then we would measure how far each person jumped. Furthest jump = winner - just like normal competition. Of course, you would be disqualified if even a piece of your big toe went over the ''jump off'' point before you jumped. The hours we would spend doing that...until my parents couldn't take the noise any which point they would tell us to stop causing a racket. Then we'd go play basketball, badminton or football. Now you are probably thinking we were between seven and eleven, maybe twelve, years old when these household long jump competitions would happen. Oh no. I remember doing this up until I left for college...when my younger cousin, who is only 2 years younger than I, would visit. LOL.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Trip planning is tiresome

Yesterday I spent most of the day and a great part of the night as well as my first hours up this morning planning trips and calculating how I could pack visiting as many cities on the weekends for as cheaply as possible in my 9 weeks left in Europe. Man, was it time-consuming!

From my endless hours and calculations yesterday and this morning, it looks like my heavy trip period will be in September, where each week I will only be returning to Paris to work Monday through Wednesday. I will not be visiting Nice *tear* but will be going to Dublin, London, Rome, Venice (those are the ones now booked) as well as Barcelona, Cagliari and Milan (to be booked). Then I am torn between doing Amsterdam in one or 2 days or Stockholm for a couple days. I would love to visit the cool places in Amsterdam but I don't think it warrants more than one day yet the train price is kinda high for a one-day trip. At the same time, it would be cool to go to Sweden as it is a Nordic country and as such I imagine it to be different from the other European countries. Amsterdam or Stockholm is an ''either or'' decision because the cost of cheap hotels and even hostels are kinda expensive for both.

Anyways, since I've already done Porto, Madrid and Brussels, it looks like, if all goes well, I will have visited one city in Portugal, one in Belgium, a couple in Spain, a few in Italy, one in England, one in Ireland and then one more in either Sweden or the Netherlands. Not bad, considering I am doing this on a part-time salary, while living in expensive Paris and being limited to traveling Thu - Sun only AND I only decided to start traveling when it got warm aka June.

I really wanted to visit Nice, mainly because of the beach and the reputation of the Côte d'Azur but Barcelona and Cagliari will do...At one point, in the early hours of my planning process yesterday, when I still thought I would visit Nice, I started looking at beach photos....I've mentioned my short attention span before and it wasted no time in kicking in. Thus, I spent a few HOURS looking up beach vacations in Florida, Cuba and Mexico! One ad on the page mentioned Vegas and know it...that was me looking up Vegas trips too. But ye, the price it would cost to visit and stay a couple days in Nice in August (no space in my calendar for September), I think I could do a week's vacation in Mexico, Cuba or Florida for the same price.

Maybe you can tell from my ramblings above but I cannot believe how much time it took to plan and decide on the few trips I have booked so far. I mean I fell asleep last night with my laptop on my bed while still calculating costs and such and first thing I did when I awoke this morning was to continue the search. I just decided to stop and it is already clear past 3pm in the afternoon. Another day wasted!

Oh well, at least I should be going out this evening.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Third World Perspective (Part II)

Today is the French National Holiday, aka Bastille Day, and I've heard fireworks going off all throughout the place this weekend. Last night on the Champs Elysées I saw a few fireworks which looked nice with the backdrop of the Arc de Triomphe. Tonight will be the real deal and I am most definitely going to be there.

For me, Bastille Day symbolizes people wanting change and unity and also freedom - freedom to express themselves and fight for what they want...Something we, who have freedom, should be grateful for as there are so many people all over who have no freedom, have no rights or who have what little rights they had taken away from them. Hell, there are many even in our own developed countries who get taken advantage of just because their rights are perceived to be less than others. I just read the New York Times article talking about Erik Camayd-Freixas' essay in which he shared what he witnessed as an interpreter for the persons arrested in the May 2008 raid of illegal workers in Postville, Iowa.

The fact that Dr. Camayd-Freixas felt compelled to write a 14-page essay to tell the story of the bad way in which the raid was handled tells a lot. That means that the events he witnessed had a deep effect on him. The details he describes in his essay are troubling as he points out the bad treatment of the workers and the unfair options presented to them. It's crazy that these poor workers will not be at least deported immediately back to their countries. No, they will have to do 5 months in jail. Then you have celebrities like Paris Hilton who drive recklesslesy and serve only 3 days of a 45 day jail sentence and, of course, do not have to worry about whether or not their families will have food to eat while they are in jail. Maybe it's just my third world perspective but to paraphrase George Orwell, ''All [ men] are created equal, but some [men] are more equal than others....''

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Back to the Metro Grind

I found a place to move into a couple weeks ago. I officially moved in this past Sunday. This new place is on the other side of the Seine river from where I was before...north...instead of south. Not even close to being as nice as my old place in terms of amenities but I love my room and that is the main thing. Anyways, the fact that I am living north means that I am theoretically much further away from my workplace, which is at one of the southwest ports of Paris. In fact, the new place is two metros rides away from my workplace compared to a bus ride away. However, this apartment, unlike my previous one, is literally 30 seconds walk from the closest metro entrance so I already save 10 minutes walking to the metro. Plus, although the metro is usually quite crowded, so far it only takes me 45 minutes total to get to work, still half my commute time in Toronto and only slightly more than the 30 minutes total it took me before. Also, it takes about the same time to come home whereas with the bus it takes much longer than the 30 minutes to come back. Sometimes the bus used to take me an hour to get home because of traffic on the road, strike or something else.

Speaking of strike, yesterday they had a strike on one of the metro lines because one of the drivers of that line was injured. Last week, another line had another strike for another reason. The day before yesterday it was the trucks' turn to strike. I saw the trucks in motion, or should I say the oppposite, on their strike day. On a road near my workplace, a road leading to a highway entry, there must have been at least 15 big long trucks and trailers and all crawling and slowing down traffic. When they got to the light and the light was green they wouldn't budge for at least a minute after the light changed and the poor motorists behind were only blowing their horns in vain. Then when the trucks finally moved it was at a very slow pace. I could walk faster.

I've seen on TV where when trucks, taxis or whomever decide to strike, they block the highway and roads to the airport by slowing traffic to a crawl. Actually, I think another strike by yet another one of the metro lines will be happening in the next couple days. Now, I can understand when people want to strike for valid reasons but when they strike at the drop of a hat, like they do here, then their concerns start to become trivial to the average commuter.

Back to my topic of taking the that I am back to taking the metro daily I am back into the grind of things. Let me just say that besides having extra smelly people and other extra rare situations on the metro, NOTHING annoys me more than being close to, i.e. beside or in front of, a kissing couple on the subway. Nothing. Unfortunately, in Paris, that is a common thing and it is not like in Toronto where that type of behaviour is usually displayed by the young. Oh no. I've seen 40 year olds and middle age couples, plus the sugar daddy type couples (old man with young woman), as well as the young couples, basically any and every type of couple, all exhibiting, what in my opinion, is completely unecessary or extreme Public Displays of Affection (PDA). I'm of course not talking about the people who do a little peck once or maybe a quick kiss hello or goodbye. I am talking about the ones who get the urge to give a long passionate kiss or hell just get the urge to kiss their partner EVERY TWO MINUTES on their commute.

Maybe the variety of people I've seen on the metros here has to do with the fact that Paris is a tourist destination, some may even say a popular honeymoon place. But geez people would it killya to wait until you get off the damn train? Better yet, wait til you get out of the metro station. I see far too many people making out on the metro platforms here too. Nobody wants to see other people going at each other's throats every 2 seconds. AND WHEN I CAN'T ESCAPE when I am on the metro and it is crowded and I am frigging right in front of a kissing couple, oh how the irritation increases!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Too Many Sweets

For the last few weeks, as I've mentioned a few times, I've been trying to use up my ticket restos because they are piling up. I have taken to using them during the week now for lunches and dinners at restos I would otherwise not have gone to because of their price. I even went and splurged on a bunch of food at McDonald's one day all in the name of using up the value of the ticket. However, now I have to use up the food I have at home and cook more again because I will be moving in a week to an apartment that does not have much of the basics, i.e. it does not have a microwave or a working freezer and the fridge that will be shared for 2 is the same size as my current fridge.

Thus, today for lunch, I decided to use my ticket resto at a pâtisserie, a place that sell croissants, tiramisu and all kinds of pastry, in order to buy pastry I would normally not spend my money on. The thing is that while I find the price of pastry here expensive, like at McDonald's, when one has a 8,20Euro ticket resto then it becomes very difficult to use up all the value of the ticket. This particular patisserie that I went to does not believe in giving back the change from ticket restos so I had to find enough pastry to buy. I wanted to buy the unusual (for me) ones so I ignored the easily identifiable croissants and sandwiches and went for the selection shown in the first photo on this page.

My goal was to eat at least two of them. I decided to start off with the white circular one. After two bites, my appetite for eating it was completely gone. See the pic to know how far I got before I felt like I'd had enough. In my excitement to buy nice-looking pastry from a real french pâtisserie, I did not take into consideration that I really do not like sweets or sweet things in general. Case in point: I brought two little boxes of Belgian chocolate with me from Canada. Each box contained 3 little worm-shapeed pieces of Belgian chocolate. Almost 5 months after I arrived in Paris, I still have one box left to eat. Case number two, about a month ago, my boss gave me a nicely wrapped box of chocolates from a well-known french chocolatier (do I need to explain that one) for helping out on a project. I haven't even tried to open the box yet.

Yet I somehow conveniently forgot that I am not the greatest fan of sweets or maybe I just hoped that I would like it when I decided to choose the sweetest pastry to try. I ended up having to force myself to eat the whole thing. Then I felt sick afterwards. The whole time I was forcing it down, I was thinking that I wish I could switch places and give my sisters these sickenly (at least for me) sweet lovely looking pastries because they LOVE sweet things and I'm sure they would love what I had to force down. So now I have 3 more of these to suffer through and eat before the end of the week or before they spoil.

Ah least they will be in a pretty box!

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Fight To Stay Awake After Lunch

Is it just I the only one who finds that around the one hour mark after eating lunch at a restaurant sleep-itis takes over my body so suddenly that it's like someone slapped me into that state? Of course, I am talking about this happening on weekdays when I have to go back to work after eating said lunch. I find that, since being in Paris, this ALWAYS happen when I eat at a restaurant for lunch. I don't know if it's because the restaurant I usually eat at gives a huge 3-course meal. That may have something to do with it. All I know is that every day I have eaten out for the last two weeks, an hour after getting back from lunch, like clockwork, I would get sleepy at around 3pm and would get barely any work done until 4pm. During this one hour torture, I would struggle and nod off and go to the bathroom every 15 minutes (seemed like eternity) to steal a 2 minute shut-eye in one of the bathroom stalls.

The last time I had this problem of falling asleep after lunch was last summer when I had my most interesting job yet, doing what I would like to be doing when I start working 'for real' - programming. The work that I was doing was great and extremely interesting and allowed me lots of independence on how to implement the program I was developing. However, sitting in a cubicle all day with minimal interaction used to bring on the snooze. Now, I am here in Paris, working at a job that is just a filler job to earn some money while I am here but it actually looks good on my resume as it is related to my field and it can be very interesting as well. Again, I find the sleepiness taking hold so now I am worried about when I start to work for real. How on earth will I survive just sitting and coding all day, not interacting much with other people in a real office? I know I can code all day, but not without taking breaks or chatting every now and again (I think this goes back to my ADD post earlier).

You know what else the sleepy state reminds me of? Those times in church where as soon as the pastor starts preaching you get hit with the sleepy slap and spend the entire pastor's sermon fighting sleep, knowing you look funnier trying to control your bobbing head and jerking awake every few minutes than if you had just stopped trying and bent your head like you were praying and gone to sleep. That reminds me of my father who has no shame when it comes to sleeping in church. He still does it now but the worst was when we were in Jamaica.

When we were in Jamaica, my aunt and mother were correct in describing my father's weekly sleeping position in church by saying he was like Jesus on the cross. This is because he would have both his arms stretched along the pew. One hand would be behind my mother but the other one was sometimes behind other people. He had no qualms about putting his hands behind other people. He usually asked them if it was ok and being in church they never said no. His feet would be crossed and stretched out in the pew so that no one could pass without having to either do an awkward climb over his feet or hit him to wake him up. Then there were the times he would start snoring. When I was thirteen and this was a regular occurrence, I used to think I was going to die from embarassment!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Free MP3?

My sister just told me about this site where if I qualify I might get a new mp3 player. Man, I would so qualify for this and I heard it is for the Microsoft Zune, which I would much prefer over the extremely overpriced iPod. I remember I actually was considering getting one over the Christmas break although it wasn't yet available in Canada. However, I bought a laptop and had spent a bunch of money preparing for my trip to France so I didn't have the extra money. However, now that the opportunity has arisen, I find myself once again looking at the specs...Hmm....C'mon C'mon C'

Friday, June 6, 2008

ADD much?

I often wonder if I have Attention Deficit Disorder when I am searching the web. I can spend hours on it switching between topics faster than the time it takes a few songs to play. This means that at the end of my surf time my brain feels overloaded with all the things I just read or researched. Take today for instance, I came online to answer emails related to looking for an apartment. I put up posts on some of the appartment/roommate hunting sites for Paris yesterday and already got quite a few responses and I was planning to go through what seemed like 10 emails with offers.

Anyways, after replying to one email, I went looking on a bunch of apartment-hunting websites for Paris, which always makes me wish apartments were as cheap as they are in Toronto (which really isn't very cheap but just cheaper than Europe). Then I started thinking how summer in Toronto is great with many events and I remembered that I was interested in selling T-shirts for Caribana so I started looking up T-shirt sites. Then I thought about giving some of the money earned to charity so I spent some time looking up caribbean charities (very difficult to find one that was in many countries), then I looked up charities in general. This took me back to looking up volunteer programs in South America, then back again to reading up on volunteering in the Caribbean.

Now thinking about Jamaica, I went to a site to catch up on Jamaican news and was reading an expats comments about living in JA and finding employment in JA. This reminded me that I need to look for a job for when I get back to Toronto soon so I took a detour to the job sites in Toronto and the U.S, checking out what was available. By this time, a few hours had passed and I thought to go back to my email to continue responding to people offering their apartments but I saw I received an email from Grinnell (the college I attended in the States) and one item they highlighted was this one. It reminded me a little of the isolation one can feel at Grinnell, great school that it was, and were it not for friends in similar situations, it could be unbearable at times. Then I realized that I have only eaten once today, a huge meal at a Portuguese restaurant. I am going out later so I should eat and I recently resolved to eat out more often, even if by myself, because my ticket restos are piling up. There are only so many restos one can visit in one weekend. I have around 25 left and I will be getting another batch at the end of the month. So I am now on an internet quest looking for cool restos in my area where I can get a nice healthy-size meal before coming back home tonight and preparing to go out.

At the end of these marathon web-surfing sessions. I feel like coming up with an expression for my surfing similar to the ''jack of all trades, master of none'' because at the end I always feel like I accomplished nothing. Hell, I KNOW I accomplished nothing.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Twenty-five years and counting

Last Thursday I went to Porto, Portugal (also called Oporto) to celebrate my quarter-century of living on this earth. I went to Portugal as a couchsurfer. It was the first time I tried Couchsurfing and it was a great experience. For those of you who don't know about couchsurfing, let me sum it up for you.

The idea of couchsurfing was born from people who wanted to travel the world cheaply but also wanted to get to know people from the cities they were visiting so that they would get a better feel of the cities, instead of just what they would find out from doing the touristy activities. The concept is simple. Many people have a spare couch in their apartment, dorm room or house that they could offer for one or a few nights to someone to sleep on. On the couchsurfing site, there are hosts who offer their couches for free to visitors (called couchsurfers) to their city. The couchsurfers get free accommodation and the chance to find out about a city and/or country from a local resident. In return the hosts meet interesting people and learn about other cultures/countries without having to leave their city. Of course, the site works because most members are both hosts and couchsurfers. Usually couchsurfers are hosts when they are in their own cities or living in another city for an extended period. Thus, everyone on the site is called a couchsurfer.

I had heard about couchsurfing when it first started in the States and I thought it was a great idea in theory. I kinda forgot about it until I came to Europe and knew I was going to be travelling around. That's when I remembered the site so I signed up and decided to try it out. I found cheap plane tickets to Porto, Portugal one day while looking for cheap flights. I had never heard of the city before but a quick google search brought interesting results so I decided to try going there. I went to the couchsurfing site and couchsurfed for a host from 25 - 30 years old. I sent a couple emails off and, surprisingly, quickly got a positive response. Thus, I bought my plane ticket.

As you can imagine, there is a great deal of trust involved in couchsurfing on both sides, especially when the couchsurfer is a woman, as in my case. As a couchsurfer you are taking a risk by going to stay in a stranger's home, having never met the person before. In addition, the host can easily decide at any point to not host you. If you did not make any other plans you would be stuck in a strange city with no place to stay. As a host, you also take a great risk inviting a stranger to your home. Hosts often leave couchsurfers in their home and some, like mine, even give their couchsurfers an extra key - a great risk. Hence, it is no surprise that when I told my parents about my plans they were vehemently against me going. In fact, a couple days before I went, they were both on the phone chiding me and telling me to cancel my ticket but I was determined to go. I'm glad I did! I had a great time! Also, in my short time in Porto I met many couchsurfers (male and female) who had couchsurfed or hosted and had never had any major problems.

Before I even got to Porto, I knew my host was great because he told me he would call me and come meet me at the metro after he finished work. I arrived in the morning but walked around and then went back to the metro station in the evening. When my host called, he wished me Happy BDay, sweet of him to remember, and then took me to a great restaurant where I had arroz con bacalhao (rice and saltfish/codfish), another rice, bean and seafood dish, crab/saltfish cakes and some other great food. On our walk to the resto he took me along a route that the locals take, with a lovely view of the Duoro river, and he explained the background to everything.

The food at the resto was excellent and cheap! Another benefit of going out with locals is that they know the cheap but good places. With regards to food, Portuguese people love their seafood. That was fine by me as I love seafood. In my entire time since I left Canada I ate no fish or seafood (except that time I mentioned when I had shrimp appetizers). However, while in Portugal, I had seafood at least once per day and it was all good.

My gracious host had a very big and very nice apartment right in the centre of the city so I didn't need the 3-day metro pass I had bought as a precaution just in case what he said about being in centre wasn't exactly correct. After being in Paris, the city of 8 metres square rooms, anything would look big but his apartment was truly big for just one person. Plus, it had a big balcony! And it was nice. And it was very well decorated. I think this was because he is an architect. Also, it was clean! A guy having a clean apartment was something to be celebrated in my books. Porto is a seaside city. I think because of this many of the houses that were by the beach remind me of Jamaica. They were nice and bright and didn't have carpets inside! The streets in the beach area also seemed more like Jamaica, wide but flanked by palm trees at times and sand and dirt, not just concrete like in Toronto or even Paris. In the houses and apartments it was nice seeing concrete floors again and not thinking I was gonna freeze to death.

Besides the sea area, there was the mainly older historic area to Porto. It including where I was staying. I found out that the city centre was declared a World Heritage Site. Every street there was cobbled and most of them extremely narrow. Oh and the hills. Let me not forget the hills. It reminded me of Montreal but much much worse with the great number of hills everywhere.

Good exercise though. After the first day walking around, my legs were sore. After the second day, they hurt a little and my last day there, I had no pain. Hmm, but I digress. I was talking about my first night in the city...

After the resto, my host took me to a bar where the young people and students hang out, so that I could meet and hang out with some of his friends and get introduced to the night life. They bought me a little cupcake (only type of cake selling at the bar), with a little candle and their famous little bottle of sweet wine called Moscatel de Favaios. Then they all sang Happy Birthday to me in Portuguese.

The wine at the bar was only 0.80 cents Euros a bottle and a cup of beer 1.00 Euro but, being cool Europeans, no one over drank. It was nice just sitting, drinking and talking. It had been raining when I got there earlier in the day and was still kinda chilly so everyone was apologizing for the unusually bad weather. Afterwards, at around midnight they invited me to a concert. I knew that my host had work the next day, plus I had not slept the night before, thanks to procrastinating as usual and doing last-minute packing. Thus, I told them I would pass. My host and I walked home with him telling me more about the city. From that night alone, I learned many Portuguese words. My birthday night ended with me being very happy and thanking God that I enjoyed myself.

The rest of my visit included doing sightseeing by day then hanging with my host and his friends at night on Friday, going home very late. Thankfully Friday and Saturday, while still too cool to go swimming at the beach, were sunny. Saturday was full of activities, guided tour from my host, going out, meeting people, café stop by the sea and two birthday parties (one with only Portuguese and the other with a mix of Portuguese and international). At both parties and in general, I was welcomed like an old friend. Everyone in Porto is very friendly. Maybe it's because I had my own personal and local tour guide. I heard lots of portuguese but most people knew english so we could converse. Anyways, we didn't get home until 4:30am and then talked for an hour before going to sleep for 2 hrs as I had to get to the airport the next day. He even woke up with me and walked me to the train station although I told him he did not have to. Needless to say, I think my host was awesome. He had a very active social life and was exactly what I wanted in a host - someone who could show me the city as they live it. I think if people came to visit me in Paris, or even worse, in Toronto, I would not have even half as many fun activities for them (besides sightseeing).

Other noteworthy things I remember from Porto besides the expected (beach visit, eating by the riviera, winery visit, walking the cobbled streets, etc) were visiting a cool concept mall with independent trendy art, furniture and fashion stores where they serve loads of champagne all over the mall and apparently do this every weekend, laughing at jokes made by drunk Portuguese speaking in half-portuguese half-english and when some got pretty drunk a smattering of french (bday party), drinking tea in a cool tea place, having a 3-language conversation with some guy who approached me. He spoke Portuguese and I was speaking to him in my very poor spanish. He was actually selling sunglasses. I bargained with him and got a nice pair for what I think were a good price but I'm the worst haggler so I don't really know. Anyways, from this exchange we ended up speaking for like half hour. With him speaking portuguese to me and I in spanish to him, we were fine and went on like this for a good 15 minutes. Then I learned he had a Senegali background so we switched to french. I LOVE EUROPE!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Oh To Be In Paris (Part IV)

Ok. As I said in my previous post, I have many things to add to this list. I'll see how much I feel like adding now. I apologize in advance if the list is very random.
  • Employees in Paris get so many benefits. Once you work for a French company and have to take transportation to work, you are re-imbursed 50% of your transportation costs. In addition, the French make sure that their employees are well-fed. If a company is big and has a cafeteria, employees should be able to get very hearty complete meals for less than 5Euros. Now, here is what I love, if the company doesn't have a cafeteria, they give their employees what's called les tickets restaurants (or tickets restos for short) for every day the employee is present at work. A ticket resto is essentially a ticket that has a certain value (usually between 7Euros and 9Euros). Half the price of the tickets are deducted from employees' paycheques and the other half is paid for by the company (or the government, I'm not sure which). The tickets restos are accepted by virtually every restaurant, traiteur, café or food place in Paris. I heard that they may also be accepted at the supermarket but I haven't tested that yet.
  • I love the employee benefits because, for one thing, I would be buying the metro pass even if I wasn't working. So although I have to pay half the cost of the tickets restos, where I would probably otherwise not eat out everyday, because I get half my metro pass paid for, it cancels out and it's like I'm getting the meal tickets for free! A lot of the places even give back change if you spend less and I also heard that some places allow you to use more than one at a time. Considering too, at lunch time, during the week, a lot of restaurants have fixed menus where you can get a 3-course meal for under 10Euros, it is excellent. I usually only eat out at lunch once or so per week because I love to use them on weekends when I go to more expensive places. You can be sure that I am never the only one paying by ticket resto.
  • Paris has a system of free bikes (aka bicycles) called vélibs. The word vélib is a play on the words vélo libre meaning free bike in french. Anyways, there are around 20 bikes at each 24/7 self-serve vélib service point and the service points are all located within 200 metres of each other all around the city. You can pick up and drop off the bikes at any service point. The first 30 minutes each time you use a bike is free so that means you just have to switch bikes every 30 minutes if you are riding around for long periods to not pay a dime. In any case, a day pass is only 1Euro and a 7day pass is only 7Euros. If you hold the latest metro pass, it is even easier for you to use the vélibs. I just got said metro pass this month so I hope to be using it soon. Actually, I am going to try using it tomorrow though I doubt any will be free. See below.
  • Since I am on the subject of transportation, Paris is notorious for their transit strikes. Apparently, they have at least 3 per year. I had been lucky that in my almost 4 months here there has been no strike. Of course though, it was bound to happen sooner or later. Thus, tomorrow evening at 8pm until Friday evening, apparently the Parisian version of the TTC (called the RATP) will be on strike. This is the first time they are striking since a law was put into place to make it mandatory for the RATP union to announce strikes 48hours before they begin so that commuters can make alternate arrangements. Shame that it will begin tomorrow evening because I think my workplace is having some celebration, this time at a bar, tomorrow evening.
  • As I mentioned in a previous post, everyone here drinks wine, made easier by the fact that it is in many cases cheaper than water. Well, apparently, a work celebration would be nothing without champagne. At my workplace, there has been almost one celebration or get-together per week (whether it is to celebrate a successful software launch or version release or whether it is for an employee farewell or something else). At every single one, there has been copious amounts of champagne and wine which people drink like water. The first time, with my boss encouraging me to try all the various champagne she had bought for the occasion, I had 3 or 4 glasses of champagne. A lot of the other workers had much more. I, however, had intended to go back to work for an hour afterwards. When I went back to my desk, I could not for the life of me concentrate because I was a tad tipsy. I had to give up and go home. Now, I am much better at this :).
  • I had also previously mentioned the fact that a lot of Parisians ride bikes (aka bicycles), motorcycles or use scooter bikes. However, I should have described more in detail HOW they do fashionably. Women often wear their work attire complete with heels on their bikes and motorcycles and of course the men wear their suits. Another sight that I often see is that the women, wearing their work or dressy clothes and heels and having both hands holding onto the bike or motorcycle will have a cigarette hanging from their lips. I feel like saying CAPTION THIS when I see them. I also see quite a few business people, male and women, rolling by on their manual scooters, like the foldable ones that kids usually have.
  • Oh, I just thought of this one...There are lots of high-end European stores in Paris. I went into the Louis Vuitton store just to, you know, say that I stepped in the store. Average price of a very small wallet - 400Euros. Shoes, bags and luggage were 1000s of Euros. I swear the salespeople were serving tea to the buyers...the real buyers, not the plebs like me.
  • I also recently went to a French restaurant, located on the same street as the Louis Vuitton, on the the Champs-Elysées. It is a very nice restaurant and being on the Champs-Elysées it had a very nice décor. A new friend of mine's ex-boyfriend works there with a bunch of friends that she knew through him. Anyways, we went there together. It was her first time there as well. Since all the waitstaff knew her, we were treated like royalty. They gave us two servings of dinner, 1 bottle of rosé wine, kept re-filling our champagne glasses, nice appetizers (huge shrimp), and wanted to give us double dessert servings. Plus, every time any of them passed, they would pour out more wine for us, joke with us or ask if we are ok. I KNOW that many people in the restaurant were wondering what made us so special. We ended up staying at the restaurant for almost 6 hours, til midnight. The guys, workers, wanted us to stay later but sadly we both had work the next day. Seeing how they interacted made me once again wish I could be a waitress just for the experience.
That's all I can write for now. More to come in a later post.

Summer in Paris and Daddy Strikes Again!

The weather in Paris has been so nice lately. Although it rained a bit this past weekend, that doesn't negate the many days of good weather...I will be going to even warmer shores in two weeks for a 4-day break in Portugal and I can't wait. I just need to get a swimsuit and I'll be set. Then hopefully, it will be London the week after. I could have gone to Amsterdam or Stockholm this coming weekend but I decided yet again to wait. Hopefully I'll get to go soon.

I have so many things to add to my Oh To Be In Paris list, I don't even know where to begin. I'll create another post after this with some of the things I want to note. Of course, I am sure I will forget a bunch because everyday I think of at least one thing and keep meaning to add to the list but alas! I have the worst memory in the world. Thus, by the time I get home I forget.

Actually, I barely have time when I get home. I was asked to work full-time hours per week for 4 weeks. The only thing is that both my boss and I forgot (at the time of writing up extra hours contract) that there was a holiday basically every week which meant I had to do full-time hours in a 4-day work week since I do not get paid for holidays. Crazy! By the time I get home in the evenings, it is almost 9pm which only gives me a few hours to make dinner and relax a bit before having to go to sleep. Thankfully, this is my last week of working crazy hours.

Hmm, what else? Oh, before I forget, I can't stop smiling to myself everytime I think of a conversation between my father and my sister that I was privy to this past weekend (overheard while talking to my father on the phone):

My sister:
Daddy, do you want me to make French toast for you too?
Daddy: Yes...but look here, don't bother to dip the bread in the egg batter and don't add no sugar to make it sweet.

Oh Daddy! LOL.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Third World Perspective (Part I)

After seeing how much I wrote for this post, I think I have a lot to say on issues as they relate to less developed countries so I will give my thoughts on these topics the same titles so that they can be easily found later on...

Last weekend, I watched the movie Maria, Full of Grace on TV. I have been wanting to watch it since it first came out but had been forgetting to borrow it from Rogers. Anyways, I happened to see it on TV, 15-20minutes after it started. Usually I never start watching a movie on TV, that I really want to watch, after it has already begun. I'm weird that way and I get a lot of flack from my sisters about my preference. When they want me to join them in watching a movie half hour after it started, much to their chagrin, I always tell them that the movie will repeat one day.When we we were young, before the easy access to streaming videos, if I missed a movie in the theatre I would say that one day it would come out on TV (it always does even if it is years later - I never saw Pretty Woman until I was in college!). However, this time I made an exception because Maria, Full of Grace was on French TV and therefore in French and everyone who reads my blog knows about my obsession in French.

I like watching movies that leave me thinking about the issues raised in them long after I've watched them. Maria, Full of Grace did that to me. A little over a week after watching it, I still think about it everyday. The movie tells the story of a 17-year old Colombian girl who gets pregnant and then decides to become a drug mule in order to earn some money. I am also from a Third World country: a country, like Colombia, where the illegal drug trade is booming. I have also lived in the inner-city of said Third World country. For me, the movie highlighted what it is like to live in a country where you feel like you have no real hope to improve your situation. It shows how far people will go to change those odds and get a better life for themselves even when they know the harsh consequences they may face for choosing some of the more illegal options.

It got me thinking again about something I've asked myself before...if I were (still) in a similar situation (maybe not pregnant but just generally hopeless), would I be willing to risk it all to have the chance at a better life?

Many people growing up in a Third World country recognize that the only way they can really truly achieve all that they desire or 'Be all they can be' as a famous ad says, is to emigrate. The sad truth is that their, our, countries cannot give us the type of life that we desire - whether that be a life free from fear of violent crime, a life where there are many well-paying job opportunities or a life where our children will have a real chance to attend university and have a better life than our own. However, while some of them who feel this way resign themselves to staying where they are, there are others who are willing to do their best to get out of their countries into one of the many lands of opportunity. (For those in the Caribbean, Latin and South America the main land of opportunity is the USA). There are the lucky ones who have relatives abroad who sponsor them. I'm not going to talk about those lucky few and of course, what I say will not apply to those who are well-off enough to easily qualify to emigrate to the USA or Canada.

I'm talking about the ordinary Third World citizen who would like to leave their country in search of a better life...Some of us work our asses off in high school and try to get excellent grades, and a very good SAT score to get into a school that will offer us a full scholarship or almost full scholarship and we seek out long-lost relatives and old family friends living in the US to co-sign loans for us. This is done all in the hope that when we have graduated from a US college we will have a good chance to get a job with an American company and then will much likely get a green card. Then there are those who are good at sports and practise as much as possible so that they can be one of the elite athletes. They do this in order to get a sports scholarship to university and/or become a member of their country's national team, which inevitably leads to them being able to afford living outside of their home country for the majority of the year. Finally, there are the ones who are (talented) singers, musicians or other artist. They aim to be the best in their field so that they will earn lots of money and be able to travel regularly and afford a home ouside their home country.

Maria, Full of Grace made me ask, what about all the remaining ones? What about the ones who are desperate to leave their country but don't have family abroad or good grades and are not gifted athletically or artistically? What can they do? What choice do they have?
The answer of course is that there aren't many legal options available. In fact, as of this writing, I am hard-pressed to think up other legal means to emigrate to the US or Canada. This, my friends, is why every legal immigrant either knows of or actually knows at least one illegal immigrant. These illegal immigrants are in the set of remaining ones who want to get out but don't really have any other means. After asking myself the question, the next thing I think is that Americans, Canadians and other born-and-raised citizens of developed countries will never really understand, for example, what brings a man, who cannot swim, to leave his family and board a boat, that can hold 20 people, with 39 other men or what leads a pregnant woman to swallow 60 packets of cocaine to take a plane - both in direction: America. Desperation is a very powerful impetus.

I get annoyed when I hear Americans or Canadians say that they are tired of their countries taking in too many immigrants and refugees. They love to complain that illegal immigrants and even just immigrants from less developed countries in general raise crime levels and bring down the wage levels. I also abhor when they say that they hate having their country help other countries when they have lots of problems in their own countries to which to attend. I want to tell them that they do not realize that they are lucky that they were born in a developed country. I want to ask them, what did they do to deserve to be born in America or Canada? What did all the rest of us do to deserve to be born in a Third World, war-torn or poverty stricken country? They did nothing to be born where they were and neither did everyone else. The fact that they were one of the lucky few does not mean that they shouldn't share their wealth or their country. They could just have easily have been born in a Third World or poverty-stricken country to a poor family.

With regards to the point about too many immgrants, the majority of immigrants, both legal and illegal are just trying to make a better life for themselves and have no intention to live a life of crime. The vast majority of illegal immigrants want nothing more than to become legal and be able to lawfully contribute to their new country by working legally and paying taxes. To all who say that illegal immigrants are bringing down the wages, well have you ever thought that if your country helped to make their country a good place to live, they wouldn't be coming here at all? So as for the second point, yes I know that there are problems in the US, Canada and other developed countries. For instance, the situation of Native Americans in both countries is appalling and disgraceful and NEEDS to be properly addressed and there are far too many people living below the poverty level in countries that have enough to tide over their entire populations and then some. What Americans and Canadians who make negative comments about helping other countries need to realize is that it's not like people in other countries are telling them to abandon their countrymen in favour of helping war-torn or poverty-stricken countries. No that would be very selfish. However, I believe that the US and Canada have enough money and resources to work on their internal problems AND help other countries. So all I ask is for them to stop complaining about helping.

One more thing....If Canadians or Americans ask me why can't these less developed countries help themselves. My response would be that that is a question I often ask myself. In fact, in an earlier post, I mentioned that question as one of the contributing factors to the overall feeling of hopelessness one gets from living in a war-torn, poverty-stricken or Third World country. I really wish that all these countries could get leaders who STAY committed to improving their country's situation for the ENTIRE duration of their term or terms in office and at the same time rally the people up enough for them to be be willing to walk with their leader on his or her route to country reform. Until that time though, it is the many excellent organisations that exist within each of these countries that are trying to effect a change and they need help from countries like America and Canada.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

On Beauty and Grooming in Paris

I cannot find my tweezers that I planned to use to keep the nicely shaped eyebrows that I had when I first arrived in Paris. My mother always tells me that one of these days I am going to lose my shadow. She may just be right but all I know is that today I'm going to go pay the equivalent of almost $20CDN to get my eyebrows done whereas in Toronto I got it done for $5 and change. I should have known the tweezer plan was never going to work out especially since I have never plucked my eyebrows by myself in my life.

Anyways, grooming and styling is expensive anywhere but in Paris it is mega-expensive. Last week I went to the salon to get a wash, blow dry, simple styling and trim done and it cost me 48Euros! That is almost $75CDN just to wash and dry my hair. I usually pay $40CDN for that service. Granted though I went to one of the most expensive salons here but the reviews were hard to pass up on PLUS, and this was the deciding factor for me, they are just a little over 2 blocks away from my apartment so it was very convenient. The salon that I went to is called Ethnicia. I found out about them from googling for black hair salons in Paris and reading forum comments. Also, my cousin who has been living here recommended them as well. And, when I compared prices, it seemed that this place was only 10Euros more than the other closest black hair salon.
The other deciding factor for me was the rave reviews the salon got for its welcome. On the contrary to the other reviews for other salons, this particular salon apparently stood out because of the way in which its clients were treated. Aparently at most of the other salons, you barely even get a cursory glance when you walk in. Also, apparently at the other places you are made to feel as though they are doing you a great service by serving you aka doing their job. I know this type of greeting well as it is common practice in Jamaica. I've been told that this is a problem as a whole with Parisian stores as well but I have yet to experience it and didn't want my first experience to be at a salon. There are lots of words pertaining to a salon that I don't know in french and so I wanted to go somewhere where they would be patient with my broken french. Ethnicia seemed like it could fit the bill.

When I first read up on Ethnicia it was on a black hair forum website for France. However, when I went to the site, the pics showed black, white and Asian women. The one pic of the black person had her wearing an Afro so I was a bit confused. The home page stated that it was not only a salon but a place for all your beauty needs or éspace de beauté so I thought maybe they meant salon for non-Black hair and beauty needs for everyone. But when I went back to my forum sites most of the people who were hailing the salon were black or mixed and from reading more comments plus going back to Ethnicia's page and reading the About section, I realized that the concept of the salon was very good. It was founded by a young African (that gave me much more confidence) and it strived to be a multi-ethnic salon. Thus, I booked an appointment.

On entering the salon I was greeted by a United Colours of Benetton-type trio of pretty ladies (just like on the salon website one was black, one was white and one was asian). They were all dressed in black but it was the welcome that I liked. I was greeted very warmly and even offered tea, coffee or water! The decor was too nice. They took me to a set of lockers to put my coat and handbag and gave me a key as well to lock it. Then I was brought to a private room and again offered something to drink. On my way to the locker and private room a few more employees passed by and they all greeted me nicely. All this time, I was thinking 'I could get used to this!' When it came time to do my hair, it was a white lady who came to do it. I was surprised but she was quite good considering. She was also giving me lots of advice and was very patient with my french. At the end of it all, my hair looked nice. I've definitely had it done much better but it was still a nice result. When I factored in the excellent welcome and overall experience I would still give them a good mark for overall service.

This brings me to the eyebrow threading that I'm getting done today. The place that I'll be going to is again the most expensive of the three available ones in Paris. This time though, I tried calling the other ones to set up an appointment (at 7 or 8 Euros they're almost half as epensive) but everytime I get a busy signal so I gave up trying to save money and called the expensive one. Maybe, in a later post, I'll let you know how my rendez-vous at the Institut Darya goes. Of course, though my going there today means that I wil take a longer time to go back.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Case of the Missing Pants and My Continued Disgust with the Merde in Paris

The Case of the Missing Pants

Yesterday I woke up and found that I was not wearing any pants; All I had on was my T-shirt and my undies and this was after going to sleep in my most comfy pair of sweatpants.

Upon further reflection, I vaguely remembered taking them off at some point during the night because I was hot, my skin was dry and the pants were irritating me. I didn't see them beside my bed, on the table by my bed or on the night table. I figured that I must have taken them off under the covers and so logically they should be under my blanket. I had no time to search for them as I had to get ready for work anyways so I decided to hold off on searching for the pants until I got home.

I came home and upon seeing my bed I remembered that I had to find the pants. I searched under the covers, behind the pillows and in the little corner space beside the bed but could not for the life of me find the pants. Now my bed is what the french call a clic-clac, i.e. a sofa-bed, so it isn't very big and my apartment is just a studio so I could and in fact did a search of the entire apartment minus the closet and the cupboards (I can't imagine why I would put the pants in those places in the middle of the night) but still could not find the pants. So now I no longer have my most comfortable pair of housepants. I have to settle for my two other pairs of pants that are thinner and not as comfy. AND I am wondering where on earth I could have put them in the middle of the night while I was sleeping.

...And Oh How I Hate The Merde

Since I'm already complaining, I might as well emphasize again how much I ABHOR the merde (translated it is one of the more colourful 4-letter words in english) on the streets of Paris. It's everywhere! I know I look like such a tourist because I have no qualms about hop-skipping over and around the poo in order not to step in any. I think what pisses me off the most is that it's not just the easy-to-spot-fresh-poo that one has to deal with while navigating the streets. It's that there is a whole lot more flattened dried poo on the streets, created by merde that people have stepped in and then proceeded to wipe off by sliding their shoes along the sidewalk so that they've created a veritable trail of flattened dog poo. As there is merde everywhere these trails of merde are also everywhere in greater abundance. I think that when it's a matter of choosing to either walk in the fresh lumpy dog poo or on the flat dried up trails or hop-skipping like me then the french choose to just walk on the dried up trails. I cannot do this at all and so I will continue with my hop-skipping.

The other thing is that because of these dirty streets, I don't feel comfortable having my shoes in the apartment because God knows what I have stepped in, especially at night. When I'm walking home at night, I can't stop cursing to myself because although I do the hop-skipping, because I'm damn near half blind and I wear contacts I don't see everything properly and I just know that I step in a lot of the trails at night. I dream of having a huge locked storage box just outside my door in which I could keep the shoes I wear outside. And I would have house slippers for guests. That way no nasty particles would enter the apartment. Someone directed me to read A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke. Apparently, he either considered or actually followed through with wearing plastic over his shoes when he went out so that he could ensure that the soles of his shoes were clean. I would so do that, were I more courageous!

So now when I see people on the streets with their pooches I have to look away from them because I cannot help but glare at them. Mostly I glare inside, i.e., try not to show it outwardly, but still it might show on my face if I look at them directly, especially when I see them with their dogs taking a dump and I know they have no intention to pick up anything!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

French TV and talking

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been trying to watch a lot of French TV in order to improve my comprehension. This does not necessarily mean french series, as many of the shows I watch are US shows dubbed in french. Anyways, I even have a french-tv-watching schedule that I try to follow in the evenings. I forget what I watch on Mondays but on Tuesdays I don't miss Pékin Express (french version of Amazing Race), Wednesdays is House, Thursdays is Nouvelle Star (french version of American Idol) and on Fridays if I'm home I watch Bones, my obsession, whose second season has just started up back here. When I used to come home earlier, every day I would watch Gilmore Girls episodes, most of which I missed when they first showed so it was fun catching up, and Las Vegas.

The good thing about watching TV series on the french channels are that they usually show at least two episodes in a row so I get at least two hours of listening to french spoken at a normal and, for the most part, very fast pace. What's more is that I don't limit myself to only watching the shows I mentioned. I watch quite a few other ones, both French and American, when I catch them showing and I watch at least one french movie per week on the tele as well as at least one other dubbed in french, usually on a Sunday afternoon...

My favourite french show (reality or scripted) is Pékin Express. This is no surprise as I used to love Amazing Race. I know no one who reads this blog has any idea what's happening in Pékin Express but I wanna make a quick comment. It's down to the last 4 teams now and I am stressing for the teams as I am watching it. I really want either Gérard and Cédric or Jean-Pierre and Joël to be the eventual winners but in this show anything can happen. Also, it's done a bit differently from how I remember Amazing Race. For one thing, the french one apparently has always had a team made up of two people who never met each other before the race began (in this case Jean-Pierre et Joël). In addition, teams who win each stage don't actually win prizes, they just get an amulet worth a few thousand Euros. However, if a team that has won a stage ends up being eliminated they have to give their amulet to another team. Thus, in the last stage of the race, the two remaining teams usually have all the amulets that have been won in the race shared between them.

Talking about comprehension...for the last 3 days I've spent most of my working days in training. It's done in french. Most of the time I feel like a fool when it's time to do the exercises and explain to the trainer why I'm dooing what I'm doing. Often my mind goes blank and I can't remember the simplest words. I mess up my tenses, say the wrong words, the worst pronounciations, you name it and I've done it. Of course, as soon as I'm done with training for the day I can remember what I wanted to say in perfect french. Worse is when I know what I want to say beforehand but once it comes time to talk my mind freezes. Today I was so considering resorting to english because I just could not seem to properly explain myself. Frustrating.

Hmm, back to French TV. They have a lot of game shows and reality shows here, similar to America. I'm more interested in the shows where people can win MONEY or gain a substantial prize. From french versions of One versus One Hundred, Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, Amazing Race and Don't Forget the Lyrics to their own like Des Chiffres et Des Lettres (literally means digits and letters), they have it all. Every morning I turn on my TV, there is a show where they give away thousands of Euros for answering simple questions.

Why am I going on about this, you wonder? Because France is much smaller than Canada and I'm pretty sure they're less rich as well but cheap-ass Canada barely has any game or reality show, like the French, that gives away lots of money or big prizes to people. I don't really care about Canada's Next Top Model or Canadian Idol. Those things require talent or beauty. lol. I'm talking about the shows where the ordinary Jane or Joe can seriously think about entering and getting a real chance at winning. Are Canadian companies really that cheap that they can't sponsor Canadian versions of these shows or sponsor a Canadian-developed game show? Or is it that Canadian networks just don't think there is any benefit for them in creating a Canadian show like that? I would REALLY like to know. Maybe I should go do a google search to find out...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Oh To Be In Paris (Part III)

Last time I wrote up on Paris, I forgot to mention these things:
  • A lot of people in Paris have bikes, aka motorcycles, compared to Canada. Of course, this makes a lot of sense because in Canada it would be very dangerous to ride a bike with the frequent snowing that occurs in the winter, which lasts quite a while. Whereas, in France, or at least in Paris, it barely snows. Today, I saw a very nice Peugeot bike. I didn't even know that Peugeot made bikes but I most definitely liked the one I saw today.
  • When I was in Quebec, one of my friends had housemates who were all from France. These housemates of hers used to gripe about the price of wine in Canada. They swore that they could buy wine for $3CDN. I didn't really believe that they actually sold wine so cheap in France especially considering that one Euro is 150% of the value of a Canadian dollar.
    Until I got here. Lo and behold, it is indeed possible to buy a bottle of wine for 1.50Euros which is actually less than $3!!! In fact, alcoholic drinks are generally very cheap. I bought a huge bottle of Sangria for 1.50Euros at the supermarket the other day. Also, when you go to restaurants or pubs, the price of a glass of wine is oh so much cheaper than a glass of water or non-alcoholic drink. My parents were not lying when they warned me that the French don't drink water (thus implying that they're more likely to drink wine than water).
  • On my bus ride to and from work, there is a point, when the bus goes over some bridge-whose-name-is-unknown-to-me, where I have an excellent view of the Eiffel Tower and the mini-Statue of Liberty. I get the view of the tower in the daylight on my way to work and a lit up view of it in the night on my way from work. Magnifico!
    The first time I was passing over the bridge and my eyes wondered downward until I saw the mini-Statue of Liberty, I was a bit surprised. While I knew that the French were the ones that gave the Statue of Liberty as a present to the US, I didn't know that they had a miniature version of it in the Seine River.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Oh To Be In Paris (Part II)

I have decided to add to the list I made earlier on the note-worthy things about Paris and the French.
  • The French REALLY do love their baguettes. Many of them go to the bakery every morning before they go to work to get their morning baguette fix. Others go in the evenings so that they don't have to wait in the long lines at the bakery in the morning. At the very least they buy their baguette fresh from the bakery on weekend mornings. You know you're in France when you find that all Chinese restaurants sell a sandwich made with the baguette bread and porc/chicken instead of just the staple rice dishes. In fact, many of the small take-out Chinese places, called a traiteur in French, often have more sandwiches and salads on the menu than other dishes.
  • There is dog poo everywhere in Paris. Like a British classmate of mine noted, the worst thing is that so many people have a small dog that they walk everyday but no one picks up the poo. This is despite the fact that there is a law in place for people to clean up after their pets.
  • I find the traffic signs here much more confusing than the ones in Québec and that is saying a lot. I swear the location of the traffic lights make it seem like they are trying to hide them from public view. Also, the central meeting point of intersections here are much bigger than the normal 4-way maximum smaller ones in North America. In addition, the centre of the intersections here is usually shaped like a circle so that the road area that serves as the meeting point of all the cars approaching from the intersection is a huge circle. I've seen 4- or 5-way intersections where 3 or 4 of the cars approaching from the intersection from different directions all press forward in what seems to be a race of first-to-reach-the-centre-gets-right-of-way but none of them ever really slow down. I don't think I will be driving in France anytime soon.
  • On the subways here, musicians are allowed to get on the train and sing, play or do both. Often, they have a contraption in which they've plugged a mike or their instrument to boost the sound of their music. This contraption is usually firmly secured to one of those small wheeled carts that I see a lot of people pulling around when they go grocery shopping. I know there must be some proper name for the contraptions that increase the sound but I dont know it. Anyways, so far, I've really enjoyed all the musicians that happened to get on the train car in which I was sitting. Today I found myself tapping my feet to the lively singing in italian being done by two men who got on the train. They had background music that they were blasting from their contraption, no mike, but cheerful faces AND they were clapping.
  • This past weekend, thanks to my cousin knowing people in the film industry, I found out about and went to the 2008 European Independent Film Festival. It was in its third year and I guess that in order to increase attendance and visibility the event was free . I love watching foreign films so it was the perfect event to attend. I liked meeting the people, actors, directors and film-makers trying to make a name for themselves. My only regret is that I didn't take better advantage of the situation and watch more films.
    Oh, during the closing ceremony, they had an independent artist perform. She played the guitar and the instrument that looks like a very small guitar and she sang. It was her singing that I loved. She only introduced herself as Melissa so I have to go find her name in the program. Melissa had a great voice. Her singing and me appreciating it made me remember that there are a lot of excellent artists out there who may not be as well known as Christina Aguilera or Amy Lee but they are just as talented. Also, I should make the effort to discover and start listening to some of the excellent indie artists out there.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Life's Little Moments

Hmm, this past week I learnt that my family's kitchen was basically destroyed by a fire. Luckily it didn't spread to the rest of the house. The damage is a bit less, thanks to my pig-headed father refusing to leave the kitchen until he put out the fire, although it was almost completely in flames and they had called the fire truck. He's very lucky he didn't get burnt. We have insurance so I trust it will get fixed soon and all will be OK.

In other news, don't you love those little moments you observe in life which leave you with a smile playing on your lips? Like the time I was on the subway in Toronto...It was a late summer morning so it was nice and sunny. The train was above ground and passing by a slighly wooded area when I SAW A DEER. It was one of those deer that looked like Bambi - brown with white spots. It looked fairly young and must have been because it was standing right by the train tracks. I don't think an older deer would have stood so close by as the train passed. When the train passed by, the deer looked up and seemed to look right at me before turning and bounding away. I felt awed - it was the first time I saw a real live deer. I turned around excitedly to look at the other passengers and see if they had also seen it. However, no one else seemed to have noticed. They were all doing something, whether sleeping or reading the paper or talking. I remember wishing they had gotten the opportunity I had. That would have livened up their morning. In that one second when the deer looked at me, I felt a huge connection to nature. That really made my day. I arrived at school in an excellent mood. Even now when I remember I feel a smile tugging at my lips.

Then there was the time, I was walking to church, angry at my family because, like always, we were late for church but that time we were really late and no one seemed to care. I had left them all at the house. I left in a huff because they were in no rush to leave...
On my way to church, I approached an old man with a little girl no older than four who I assumed was his granddaughter. They were walking towards me and holding hands. Because I think that young children are God's cutest creation I slowed down so that I could get a better look at the girl. In so doing I was able to better observe them...Although the old man was shuffling along slowly, the little girl, because of her size, was taking quick, bouncing steps and chatting excitedly. She would look up at him every few seconds. As they came closer I realized that they were talking in Ukrainian or Russian. To be honest, I'm not sure which language it was but it was most definitely an Eastern European language. I could also tell that the little was questioning the old man every now and then because she would chatter for a few seconds, then say something and look up at him. He would then lovingly look at her and respond with a smile. I felt touched to witness the interaction between someone who was just starting life and someone who was nearing the end. I know it is a very cliché thing to say, but it truly was beautiful to see and I felt my anger quickly dissolve.