Paris Wrap-Up

You know how no matter how great your vacation was; it’s always nice to get back home to your familiar stuff? Well, I totally do NOT feel that way. We spent the first 4 days or so frantically seeing and doing the tourist stuff, but then mellowed out over the last 3 days and just wandered around — shopping, browsing, eating and soaking up the city. Those last few days were the best part for me.

I’m going to try and make this the last Paris post because I know how tiresome it can be when people go on and on about their vacation like they’re the first people ever to have gone anywhere. I know I’ll be yammering about this to everyone I see in real life for a while anyway and if anyone is going to Paris soon and has specific questions, I may have some answers or tips (send me an email).

And, I’ve posted a collection of our trip photos on Facebook for those who are FB friends and want to see them.  There are a few at the end of this post, too, but to me the photos don’t really capture the reality. XUP Jr. is the photographer in the family. I just took a notebook.

What I Loved

People kept asking me if we’d been to a certain museum or taken in a certain gallery and while we did go to a few, the weather was so spectacular we really wanted to spend most of our time outdoors. And really, my definitive statement about Paris is that the entire city is a museum and gallery of art. The architecture literally made me weep. I don’t think I saw a single structure that was simply thrown up for the sake of housing an office or a shop or to cram as many apartments into a space for as cheaply as possible. No. It’s all created to be beautiful first, functional second and then they might worry about the cost.

Grime

I’ve heard a lot of people complain about how dirty Paris is – how beat up and grimy it all looks. And yes, it’s not a shiny, new showroom place that’s for sure. But it’s a lived-in looking place and I think that’s what makes a city alive. Paris is not a city that rolls up the sidewalks once the work day is over. People live in this city. Every shop, restaurant and office is just the ground floor of an apartment building. And these are very expensive apartments. Those with money live in the city. Those without money live outside the city in the suburbs.

So, the city is in full use 24 hours a day – like the home of a big, boisterous family. And they don’t seem to be overly concerned about keeping everything sterile and pristine.

The Metro

Including the Metro. XUP Jr. and I got the Navigo pass for tourists. For 17 euros we had unlimited travel by subway, bus, train, funicular or boat for the entire week. It took us exactly 24 hours to figure out the system and we were soon moving around the city like pros. There are 14 subway lines and 4 rapid train lines that zip around the city. We never had to bother even figuring out the buses. We never had to wait for more than 2 minutes for a train.

Each subway station seems to have a theme. There is one in the original Art Deco; one is a tropical jungle with a greenhouse running up one wall up to the outside; one is Greek with sculptures in recesses along the walls; one is all in copper with portholes, etc.

And everybody rides the Metro. The young, the old, the rich, the poor, business people, crazy people, mothers with strollers large and small, dogs, people with giant blank canvasses on their way to be painted or giant painted canvasses on their way to their new homes;  and, lot of musicians ride the subway — with their instruments. Once an entire band (accordion, trumpet, drum, guitar) got on at a stop, played a few tunes, collected a few coins and got off to catch and play the next train. Usually, it’s just one accordion player though entertaining the riders.

Or sometimes young men with important messages got on the train and delivered  heated speeches about something or other which I didn’t understand. People listened politely but didn’t seem too concerned about whatever they had to say.

Shop Workers

I loved the fact that not once did I go into a shop or restaurant where I had to deal with a gum cracking, insolent teenager. Restaurant service staff are all paid a good salary with full benefits, so service fees are included in the price of your meal – no tipping. These people, as well as shop sales people are professionals. This is their career for the most part. You are always greeting with a “bonjour” or “bon soir” and are expected to return the greeting. They are extremely knowledgeable about their products. I saw one young sales assistant talk a woman out of purchasing a shirt because she told her it did not flatter her figure and went to fetch her a few other options she said would suit her better.

The Traffic

I even loved the chaotic traffic. Most of the streets are only wide enough for one small car at a time. I know everyone has talked about the drivers in Paris and it’s all true. Traffic lights and signs seem to just be suggestions. If there isn’t actually something in the way, cars will just keep going. Parking or getting out of a parking spot always seems to entail ramming several cars in front and behind you. I don’t think there’s a dent-free vehicle in the city.

And then there are the scooters and motorcycles who seem to have no rules at all to follow. They’ll use the sidewalks, the bike lanes, cut across parks – whatever it takes.

And then there are the velos – bicycles who get their very own bike lane complete with curbs so that while foolhardy scooters might jump them, cars certainly can’t. Racks and rack of velos are available for short term rentals all over the city and most people seem to use them rather than their own bicycles.

And then there are the pedestrians. I love how fast Parisians walk. They’re all in a big rush. They’re impatient. They run up and down escalators. There is nothing more exhilarating than seeing a huge throng of black-suited Parisians barreling down one of those moving sidewalks they have at some Metro stations.

 What’s the Rush?

Where are they all going in such a hurry? Well, I think they want to get the business of getting from one place to another over with as quickly as possible so they’ll have more time to enjoy their leisure. And they love their leisure. They get more vacation days than almost every other country. Everything is closed on Sundays. A lot of things are closed on Mondays. Some things are even closed on Tuesdays. And Fridays? Everyone stops work early because it’s been a long week.

Most people get a 2-hour lunch and then work until six or even seven. From noon until at least two, the bistros and cafes are crammed with office workers and shop workers enjoying a meal, impassioned conversation, a bottle of wine, a dozen or so cigarettes and a coffee.

Restaurants don’t even open for supper until 7:30. And then the sidewalks get really lively with music and drinking and always, everywhere, a blue haze of Le Smoking.

Le Smoking

They haven’t quite got the hang of this smoking-ban-in-public-places yet. The restaurant door is open between the large, sheltered outdoor café part for the smokers and the tiny indoor part for the non-smokers. The staff room, which is usually just off the dining room and also has an open door, is thick with smoking staff. And the ban doesn’t seem to apply to people making deliveries or doing maintenance or any other sort of work indoors.

Eats

They also haven’t gotten the hang of vegetarianism. Probably they have no intention of ever doing so. We did find a couple of vegetarian restaurants. Le Potager du Marias which was recommended by some of the guidebooks as well as online veggie sites  was excellent. The other one, Lemoni, which was also recommended, was horrible. There were also no Parisians in the vegetarian places (just Brits and other tourists), so we gave the rest of the places on our list a miss and ate in the places the locals ate.

I had a lot of warm, goat cheese salads which were fabulous enough that I could actually live on them forever. We also had lots of Japanese food. There are Japanese restaurants everywhere. And we had falafels at L’As du Falafel, which is supposed to have the best falafels in Paris and which always seems to have a long line in front of it. I think it was the best falafel I’ve ever had in my life.

 We also found one place called Indiana Café (I think there are several in the city), which actually has about half a dozen vegetarian items on their menu including a veggie burger.

And, of course, we had a lot of gorgeous bread and wine. In the supermarkets you can get a very good bottle of wine for 2 euros (about 3 bucks). In some restaurants you can get a half carafe of wine with lunch for 2 euros. A glass of juice or pop by comparison is 4 euros. A large bottle of water automatically accompanies every meal.

Espresso

As I’ve mentioned a few times, I’m not a coffee drinker. I’d like to be because I love the smell of it, but whenever I’ve had coffee it actually makes me feel ill. I was told by two different people, who are also not coffee drinkers, that I should try the coffee in Paris because it’s a completely different experience. So, our first night there, our friends took us out for supper and as a matter of course, ordered cafes all around after the meal. When you order a café in Paris, you get an espresso in a very tiny cup with a little tube of sugar and a square of chocolate.

I drank it and was instantly addicted. I had an espresso every day. I brought back a big bag of espresso beans and am now committed to finding myself an espresso maker and some tiny cups. So, now when people visit I won’t have to offer them lame old tea anymore.

 Yay! Paris made a grown-up out of me.

Some Photos

 (Click to embiggen and/or scroll over for a description)

Gourmet Pets

I had a discussion one day, a while ago, with some fellow cat people, about what they feed their pets, how much it cost to feed their pets and how it relates to what the people feed themselves.

As you know, I’m fairly particular about what I eat. I like to buy organic. I don’t eat junk food (usually). I like my food to be as natural and as additive-free as possible. So, for me it seemed obvious that I would feed my pet the same way.

Bazel gets Wellness brand cat food (A different flavour each day of the week – he only likes the poultry or fish ones). He gets one 5.5 ounce can per day at $1.99 per can. Then, on the vet’s recommendation, Bazel also gets a scant ¼ cup of the Hill’s Prescription Diet dry – the one that keeps his teeth clean. One bag of that stuff is about $30ish, but it lasts for months and keeps his teeth tartar-free. Teeth cleaning for cats can cost thousands since they have to knock them out to do it, so I reckon I’m saving money in the long run.

 On Sundays, Bazel gets a special treat. I get him the small cans of Snappy Tom  tuna or tuna with salmon dinners. He gets one of those in the morning and one in the evening. Each can is $1.69. They’re yummy because they look like actual chunks of fish, not all pasty like the usual cat food. (Zoom’s cat, Duncan, gets his special treat on Tuesdays)

I also always try to have some cat grass in a pot growing somewhere he can gnaw on it.  Sometimes he eat a whole bunch of it and throws up. Apparently cats enjoy throwing up cat grass. They eat it specifically so they can barf it back out. Cats are mental.

A lot of people think I spend too much money on cat food. But that cheap stuff in the grocery store just doesn’t even look like, smell like or contain ingredients that resemble real food. And yet, I know plenty of pets live long and happy lives on it. I don’t know if Bazel is any better of with his all-natural food or not, but it doesn’t make me gag when I open it first thing in the morning and that’s the important thing.

I usually buy Bazel’s food at Global Pet Foods on Bank Street. What a great place. They don’t sell animals, of course, but they have pretty much everything else pet-related you could ever possibly want or need. Lots of natural pet foods and healthy pet treats; toys, crates, leashes and other gear.  It’s also a very social place. The owner’s and/or employees’ dogs are usually there. Customer’s dogs wander in gamboling with each other. Cat people are in the cat section exchanging tips and ideas on cat toys and cat entertainment and cat food. 

Occasionally a gerbil person can be found in the gerbil section. They’re usually alone looking at blocks of wood shavings or little gerbil mirrors.

So, anyway, I’m wondering what you feed your pets? Back when I was a kid our pets foraged for food on the farm. They’d get table scraps and when (and only when) foraging and scraps were scarce they’d be supplemented with store bought pet food.

Now vets are horrified by the idea of pets getting people food. They’re horrified by the idea of pets being outdoors and eating mice or birds or plants or random bones they’ve dug up.

Of course back in the day, pets didn’t live to be 36 years old either.

I once worked with a woman called Marissa (yes, that’s her real name) who was one of those certifiable vegans who give normal vegans a bad name. She only fed her cat potatoes and beans because cat food was made from “the putrid flesh of murdered animals“.

I once had a cat named Dwight who was obsessed with spaghetti. Whenever he smelled it cooking, he’d try to dive into the pot. I had to lock him out of the room if I wanted to eat my spaghetti without being killed for my meal.

Bazel is only obsessed with normal cat things like fish and cheese. He will also happily kill me for either.

Now that I think about it, I always seem to have very aggressive cats.

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Disclaimer:  I am earning no revenue nor am I receiving any gifts for mentioning any of these pet food brands or pet food shops….though I would happily accept gifts and/or revenue should they be offered.

Marley, Barkley, Rover, King, Prince, Duke, Fido, Rex, Bowser and ME!

Okay, here’s something I’ve been kinda wondering about for a long, long time and I’m hoping this vast network of bloggers, blog-readers and friends, family and acquaintances of bloggers and blog-readers can answer for me.

It’s kind of ridiculous. And I probably shouldn’t even be wasting your time with this. So you can leave now if you want.

Okay, if you’re still here, then here it goes…

As you know, I walk a lot. On my travels, especially my early morning travels, I almost always encounter dogs.  Small dogs, medium-sized dogs and big dogs.

Whenever I encounter a big dog something weird happens — well not “whenever” as in always, but most of the time… almost always. The dog will suddenly see me, freeze in his tracks and stare at me like I’m the most absolutely bizarre and completely unfathomable thing he’s ever seen in his entire life.

The faces of these dogs — every one of them – says “total bewilderment” loud and clear.  I can see their big doggie brains working furiously, trying to figure something really important out.

Sometimes the dog will cock his head to the right, very, very  slowly. Then he’ll cock his head to the left, very, very slowly.  His eyes are wide and puzzled. His expression is utter befuddlement. It’s unmistakable.

It’s most strange.

If the owner isn’t paying attention, he’ll try to get the dog to move by tugging on the leash or  urging the dog on; but the dog won’t move; won’t take his bewildered eyes off me.

If the owner is paying attention, he gets just as befuddled as his dog, except because of his dog, not because of me. I think.

 Sometimes the owner will just laugh. Sometimes he’ll say something like, “What the hell are you doing Fido?”

Sometimes I ask the owner or even the dog what the dog is doing. The owner just shrugs. The dog just keeps staring and looking bewildered. Neither of them have any idea about anything.

Sometimes, if the owner looks chatty, I’ll tell him that big dogs do this to me all the time so he won’t think there’s something wrong with his dog. One dog owner thought his dog looked hypnotized. More than one dog owner has said he’s never seen his dog do that before. And then they look at me quizzically. 

None of the dogs have ever made any attempt to approach me. Even when I speak to the dogs, they just stand there and stare.

And they keep staring until I’m out of sight. (Okay, I’m assuming they stop then, but who knows? I turn around every once in a while to see if they’re still staring and they always are. Eventually I can’t see them anymore, so I figure if they can’t see me anymore they stop staring.)

Anyhow, what do you reckon is going on here? What should I do? How do I answer the burning questions behind these poor mutts’ eyes?

I should point out (and perhaps those who know me can back me up) that I do not look or dress in any particularly outlandish manner. I never wear sparklers on my head or strobe lights on my clothing. I don’t walk around juggling cats or dragging silent vacuum cleaners behind me (Because that would be puzzling to a dog, wouldn’t it?) And, as far as I know, no part of me emits high-frequency whistling noises.

Thank you.

 PS: I do not have this effect on any other living creature.

Creatures Great & Small

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We live just outside the city – a 10 minute drive – in an old residential area with lots of big, big trees and large areas of designated green space/brush. So, there’s a fair bit of wildlife that has made its home alongside the human residents of this neighbourhood. Actually, it’s probably more accurate to say that the wildlife is struggling to exist in the tiny bits of green space that haven’t yet been taken over by the human residents.

Anyway, when I go running, I go very early in the morning, just as it’s starting to get light. First, because I still have some energy then and can get the whole exercise business over with and get on with my day. But also because the air is fresher, there are no cars and only a few people around that early (dog walkers and other runners).

So, most mornings I also get the pleasure of communing a little bit with the local wildlife before they go back into hiding for the day.

However, this morning, I hit the jackpot. I don’t know what was going on last night in the critter world, but it was like a freakin’ no-petting zoo out there. A Disney movie’s worth of chirpy, prancey, skulkly, scrabbly, creatures. In 45 short minutes here’s what I encountered (along with the usual assortment of birds, dogs, cats, ducks, geese, squirrels and chipmunks):

  • 5 rabbits
  • 2 raccoons (Together)
  • A wild turkey (On someone’s roof)
  • A deer (Looked like a fully grown doe. The second deer I’ve seen this week)
  • A fox (At least I think it was a fox. It scurried by very quickly and was in among the shrubbery. It might have been a coyote or maybe a small puma, but I don’t think there are too many of those in Ottawa)
  • And, a big fat waddling gorgeous[1] LePew . (Fortunately I could smell him just before I saw him so was able to give him a very wide berth without having to make any sudden movements that might have scared him).

 I really need to get a pair of those camera sunglasses I’d been fantasizing about inventing for years until I found out they already exist. It’s just impractical to carry an actual camera while running.  And I see the most amazing things. 


[1] I’ve seen a lot of skunks in my life, but nothing like this beautiful creature. It was huge and dark, glossy black with two thick dazzlingly white stripes down its back and an enormous, proud, feathery tail. Seriously, this is the first time I’ve ever gawped in admiration at the beauty of a skunk. (While veering carefully away from it)lepew

Elements of Westfest Reviews

This post is in partnership with Zoom, who has, or will post some of the many photos she took that may or may not illustrate some or all of this review.

The Food:  Brunch at the Newport, home of the world famous Elvis Sighting Society. Interesting bit of trivia – Elvis has never actually been sighted at the Newport; but Elvis’ mother has been there and so has Bill Clinton’s mother. The place was packed..  The food was edible. The spoons were sticky. Our server, Yuri, was congenial.

The Music:  The cheek-pinchingly adorable, Andrea Simms-Karp did a luscious 30-minute set under sunny skies and then all hell broke loose, so we didn’t hear anyone else.  But, if you don’t already have Andrea’s CD, Sleeper, you really should get it. It’s available from her website

The Weather: An awesome sound and light show. And so totally unexpected. There we were basking under a blue, cloudless sky one minute and then suddenly it was dark. And then it rained like a mo-fu.  Thunder exploded, lightening cracked and the wind whipped  loose stuff all over the place.  Zoom and a bunch of other people screamed once at a particularly deafening thunderclap. I didn’t because I’m cool in the face of adversity or maybe because my reflexes aren’t so good.

The Dogs: There were a lot of dogs. There was an 180-lb great Dane named, Duke and a teeny little Yorkie pup whose name I didn’t catch because Mortie (Andrea’s bull-dog pup) was slobbering all over him/her. Mortie is really insanely cute. And, he very handily comes with a lot of extra skin which is fun to push up and down his body. 

The Rain Shelters:  Almost no one had umbrellas or raincoats, so they all had to make mad dashes for the nearest shelter. We sampled 3. The first was a big tent with lots of stuff to look at and buy, but since we were squished way to the back, we were forced to become overly-familiar with scented soaps. Then it sort of stopped raining so we moved on. Then it started again, so we ducked into a commercial building which turned out to be the Westboro condo sales office. We were there long enough to almost buy a condo.  Then it stopped raining a bit and we left.  Then it started again and we ended up under an awning populated by two randy old men.  They said, “Welcome to the looooove tent. Stay as long as you want. Stay all night. We have a bench.” They said some other stuff too, and we smiled and said stuff back and then we ran out into the rain to find a coffee shop.

The Companion:  Zoom was an excellent Westfest companion. She is full of amusing and astonishing anecdotes, a good source of Ottawa lore and an extremely knowledgeable groundhogist.  On parting she very excitedly told me she was attending a Pork Lunch the next day. “What?” I said, confused.  “What, what.” she answered equally confused. “What are you attending tomorrow?” I said, thinking she couldn’t possibly be that excited at the prospect of a pork lunch.  “A Book Launch,” she said. “Oooooohhhhhh,” said I.

Next time I’ll bring my ear horn.