La 'Positive Attitude' des Paresseuses

This week a lot of stuff happened but nothing happened at the same time.In many ways, it felt like a scene I've already lived, already wtinessed, already watched from outside myself and felt alongside of me, burdened by every awful and beautiful emotion known to man in the process. It's all a bit much to digest. And I find I keep thinking about THE END.

For those of you who don't know, I've been writing a book about a man who fails to kills himself. No, he doesn't throw himself out of a window. He'd never be that brave. And while some events/places may ressemble my past, they say to write what you know and this isn't me here at all and it's entirely fictional and hey, I'm much more used to telling the truth than being able to make up whatever ending I'd like to.

As a teenager, the boy takes a pile of pills with some vodka and feels like an idiot the next day when he wakes up and realizes, he can't even get suicide right. He leaves for University the following autumn and after a humbling experience, decides to try love instead. He really loves. But all that love, it gets mixed up in a pile of firsts and fears and he jilts his bride at the altar, gets in his car and just drives until he can't anymore. He eventually finds himself pulling over in the middle of nowhere when his car breaks down, closes his eyes and goes to sleep.

He recalls a dream he had as a child several times before. A house. A strange ceremony of death and spirituality that he still cannot understand in his adulthood. He remembers cloaked men tearing off their faces one by one in a hall of mirrors. He sees claws in the place of hands and the head of an owl where the head of man should be. When he looks in the mirror, he sees that he too is exactly the same.

He awakes the following morning to a tap on the window, a farmer up early to check his cows, asking if he needs a hand with the car. The nice family takes him in, gives him work and the quiet he needs to figure out his life, they make him one of the family. But the man can't help himself. His needs and desires grow larger than he and the man gets caught jerking off to a picture of the farmer's daughter in her room while she's at college. He is asked to leave and isn't particularly troubled about his moral capacities.

He moves to Toronto where he tries to reconstruct his life but makes a bigger mess of things than he means to. Works in a crapy old pub on King St. East and befriends all sorts of people he never imagined himself knowing. There are a lot of drunken nights and a lot of free-flowing drugs and girls and when he is asked for help by two people in the same situation, one on the 'good' side, one on the 'bad' side, he is torn. His hesitation leads him to quit and makes him ponder where his sense has gone to. He hasn't a clue what to do now. His ex-wife wants nothing to do with him. The only girl that he's had even slight feelings for since has already left him for the bus boy at the bar. He knows it's time to move on but to what?

He travels to Paris, rents a small apartment in the 11th and tries to figure out his next move. He meets another woman. She is terrified of love. She is worried that it will swallow her up again, like it did the last time when she let someone in and he cheated and lied and broke her heart in two. Walking around the Bastille Market on a Sunday afternoon – when she stands him up for their date - he notices that she is indeed there and following him, watching his every move but saying nothing. He confronts her and for the first time in a long time, he really feels as though he's getting to know somebody. He wants to love her. She is beautiful and interesting and makes him laugh. They marry in Paris the following Februrary and start a life there and a family soon after. Life couldn't be better and he is finally able to shed his guilt and confusion over his last relationship. They have a son. For the first time, he is happy. He sees the world for everything he had always hoped he would see it for. There is magic again and light until one morning, on the 27th day of his 27th month, his son suffers from a heart complication and dies in his arms.

The couple try to recover from the tragedy but cannot. They are devestated. Each one spending sobering night after night facing the bleakness of it all. One night, they finally have a powerful connection and agree to make it work but by dawn, she has packed her bags and left him. Alone again.

He has nothing left. No reason to live.

The man, who cannot face another moment of so-called living goes for a final walk. An all-day stroll through Paris to see its beauty and filth walk alongside one another and to remember. When the Pont des Arts finally empties, he will hang himself from it. It will be done. Parisians would like the statement. It would be a good death.

He visits one last person before he ready to go. A guard he used to smoke hash with in front of the Mazzarine Library who asks him to come insisde and read while he does his rounds, then he will join him for a cigarette.  While he's in the library, the man discovers a story that is almost identical to his. The similarities are too strange: the women's names are almost the same, the events scarily akin . He flips through the pages and can't help but see something beautiful in the fact that his tale makes for such an interesting one. A tragedy but a great read.  He wonders whether he lives or dies. Even his strange dream is in there.  How bizarre. Was it a strange coincidence or a sign? That depends on the ending...

He flips to the last page and sees the end of his tale. He smiles. It was a good ending. A really good ending.

He leaves the library and stands on the empty pont des arts. Paris is so beautiful before the break of day. After the drunks have fallen over and the shops are closed and the last kebabs and after hours are locked up. The Eiffel Tower is but a shadow in the distance and only the occasional taxi disturbs the perfect silence. The cobblestone roads, in all their quiet glory act as a sounding board as the river licks its banks. The air feels fresher. He understands now. He gets it. He wants to jump into the Seine and celebrate. He wants to live! He can't remember ever feeling this alive.

Just then, an owl perches on the bridge beside him. The owl speaks but of course he cannot understand him, they are not real words. The owl's eyes pierce through him and then the animal bends over and pecks at the man's toes until he falls from the bridge to his death; hanging himself unconscious with his own rope before drowning face down in the filthy Seine.

WHAT? You just told us the end? Yeah, so?  It's such a small part of the story.

So, this week, my neighbour jumped out of the window and survived. The last guy I was in love with had a baby with someone else. My boyfriend's psychotic ex girlfriend called AGAIN, fucking up my work week AGAIN. I confronted her, she acted like a spoiled maniac and said really hurtful things and told me I won, as though it were a competition. Thanks to her, my boyfriend and I have spent the weekend on constant replays of 'the big talk' because that's what happens when someone interferes too much in your life. I'm on stress overload. How much suffering can a person handle before they melt down? When does the good part start? Please God, tell me when the good part starts! 

I have a plane ticket leaving for the 28th of December that I don't know what to do with. I could stay here and ruin my chances of ever becoming legal in this country and let go on the love of my life forever aka, play it out til it's good & done. I could go back to Toronto but I feel like like that ship has sailed. I could go to the countryside but I'm not sure retreating to the middle of nowhere at this point is a very productive move either or I could go somewhere else and just pretend like there is no beginning and no end. Anybody know how to get to Never Never Land by any chance? I've been watching an awful lot of LOST re-runs to get myself in the mood but as usual, I keep having nightmares about monsters and the black smoke.

The point of this story is - there are no happy endings in life. No story's a good one anyway until it's done and the main characters aren't supposed to know what happens before the author tells them. Snooping is dangerous.

Eventually you've got to stop trying to write pages and focus on letting the story write itself. When I can't find anymore words for feelings, it's because there aren't words left to describe how I'm going to miss this if it's gone. Still, with everything going on, I'm trying my best to keep a positive attitude.

I bought this ridiculous book at the FNAC about things to do to STAY positive. It's really silly and reminds me of a really long Cosmo article. Perfect bathroom reading. It's called La positive attitude des parasseuses and reccommends all the things I'm already doing to deal: magnesium in high doses, less coffee, more sports and ample meditation. I have the warm baths and the comfort food and I'm trying not to drink either (it's not easy when I remember how all-too easy it is to drown your troubles away in a couple of gin and tonics and some basement bar with loud music). The rest of the book basically breaks down the important tenets: Self-confidence (check...fine), Personal Development (c'mon, I actually caved and bought a self help book, I'd say I'm participating here too), Worring about ME (I think I've had my dose of this), Tears are good for you (good thing because I've had an abundancy), Moral or WILL in English (I've still got a bit, not to worry), Orgasm (check) Heaven (this one, i seriously don't get. It suggests I imagine the wonders of Heaven...seriously, France? To give you an idea of the grand sophistication of this book, it refers to Heaven as a magic country where allt he shops are open on Sundays where hairstylists never mess up their haircuts and where silver grows on trees – they MAY simply be referring to Canada but I cannot be certain...) Then they warn you of the two greatest enemies of man:


A good friend this week told me to keep my head up. I think I'm going to keep it up. Already, I'm going to buy some Christmas lights today for my mini tree, do a couple good deeds and throw a clothing swap dinner party. That ought to keep me busy and bubbly for a couple of days.

Maybe it's because of the defenestratror, maybe it's because Ive had so many beatiful messages from good friends lately, maybe it's the simple fact of being in a place where you have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA WHAT TO DO but, I'm writing again. After a big long break of paralysis, I'm writing again and I'm glad. And I am going to boil it all down to the lobotomy that occurred when my neighbour jumped ou the window for me to find her, changing the order of the universe and putting things back into perspective. After all, we can't obsess over the end. It may make things a Hell of a lot more clear but there's a whole lot more to the story than just the end.  And right now, I'm going to concentrate on why I came to Paris in the first place - to write.

I'm going to take a little bit of everybody's advice this week.  I'm going to forgive.  I'm going to ignore.  I'm going to write more and worry less.  I'm going to keep busy and positive.  I am going to try to stop worrying about the END and start succumbing to the fact that just like everyone else, I'll just have to wait and see.  Oh, and I'm going to assume that the end really only is a very small part of the story and that all the tragedy makes a lot more sense after you've skipped ahead and read the last pages.  It'll be a good ending.  It'll be a very good ending.

What's going to happen next?

****Eventually she dies too. But that is only a small part of the story. ****

Defenestration means acquainted with the night.

Within the first few weeks of arriving in Paris, thanks to a scholastic friend and Merriam Webster's word of the day, I learned a new word.

DEFENESTRATION: a throwing of a person or thing out of a window.

Over the weeks that followed, like any good student or keener, I tried to toss the word out there with locals, after all, the first important French lesson I learned in France was that all words ending with 'TION' were the same in either language.

« DEFENESTRATION , ca veut dire jetter quelqu'un ou quelque chose d'un fenetre »

« More than that, it can also mean to throw oneself out a window ».

Really? An entire word dedicated to going out the window? Are there that many people going out the window? Apparently, no one here seemed shocked when I brought up the word. In fact, I was rather shocked at the lack of shock. Everyone here already knew the word. There were defenestrations all the time. We lived in Paris, after all.  From then on, I started hearing the word regularly.  It was in the news almost every other day.

A couple weeks ago, in the 20th neighbhourhood, there was this amazing thing that happened. A ltitle boy, a year and a half old, I believe, fell out of the sixth floor window. Sounds like the beginnings of a mejor tragedy but a miracle ensured making this one of the few pieces of news I actually followed. The baby should have been dead but he wasn't. Three kids were left alone in the apartment.

The night before the accident (this happened on a holiday Monday), the bar beneath the apartment was set to close their awning, like always, like every night, every closing. But it wasn't working. The mechanism was broken, had a glitch – in any event, the owner gave up and would try again Tuesday.

At the same moment, on the very same evening, a man, a doctor, was walking his kid down the same street. The child, not much older than the toddler who DEFENESTRATED himself, looked up, noticed the baby about to jump and got his father's attention by pointing up. The doctor, able to see the child was about to fall was able to prepare himself, put his arms out and be ready to catch the child.

The baby fall six stories, bounced on the awning below, back up into the air and right into the arms of the doctor, father, saviour. Within seconds, the baby fell right to sleep. Shock for sure.

DEFENESTRATION. Alright, alright. Here is my new example for the word, I thought to myself.

Then Friday morning happened.

I was supposed to be at work. A couple days of flu-like symptoms, vomitting, aches, a sick baby all week and very little sleep, I needed a morning off. Michael offered to go watch Zac for the morning so I decided to sleep in. When he got up to shower, like any two people who are going on little to no sleep, we got in an argument over the laundry in the bathroom (I don't always like to fold 'au plus vite' and sometimes I'll make a point of taking a bath, rather than shed my laziness for 5 minutes to fold the laundry that hangs over the tub; Friday was one of those, 'I don't know if I'll ever get it to it...' kind of days). Anyway, I was convinced that my morning of sleeping in was already ruined by our little spat and lay in bed staring at the wall for a couple hours, thinking my angry thoughts and sending bitchy text after bitchy text.

It was always a strange feeling to be at home when you weren't supposed to be there.  You heard day-time noises that you often missed out on. The sound of the postman knocking on door after door trying to find the woman to whom this package or that package is addressed. The sound of kids running down the stairs and off to school. The sound of exhausted mothers trudging back up again after the drop-off.

By noon, I gave up. I wasn't going to fall back asleep. I might as well get up, grab some breakfast on the way to meet Michael & Zac, maybe pick up some kind of thank you for taking my place for the morning. I got up, made my way to the bathroom to get ready, pulled the shower curtain closed and undressed and then I heard a strange noise, a very strange noise.


It's hard to articulate in words but imagine this sound to feel like the person who lives above you must have just dropped a bar bell on the floor. It was loud, it made a physical impact and for the life of me, I couldn't imagine what the Hell it could have been. And then, I heard it. I heard whimpering in the courtyard behind my shower wall. Anyone who's ever been to my apartment, likely remembers that my bathroom houses 3 strange holes to the outdoors. Two windows the size of cookie boxes and an open great across from the toilet, allowing the room to air out and making the tiles feel like a hockey rink in December. We Canadians weren't completely used to that much outdoors in our bathrooms. I heard another little voice. It was strange. I had never heard a sound from any of the other apartments before and this, this was literally as though there was someone right in my bathroom.

But that was impossible. There was nothing out there but tin roofs and pigeons. There was no way to get out there without going out the window. Unless.

I opened the little window above my shower and there she was. One of the only neighbours in my building I saw on a regular basis, always smiled to, quick hello, a held door here and there.  I didn't know her name but I knew her.

« Oh my God! Are you okay? What happened? Did you fall? I'm going to call the pompiers, okay? »

She was looking around for me, half in a daze, almost as though she wasn't really there. When she finally noticed me in the window, I looked around at her body to see the dammage. Her leg bone was coming right out of her leg and staring me in the face. She was bleeding a lot. Jesus Christ. How the Hell did this happen?  Still, I didn't think much about it.  There wasn't time.  She needed help and I was thankful for fight or flight.

I figured she fell out the window, that the terrace broke or the window broke or something along these lines. At this point, defenestration is the furthest thing from my mind. This woman lives only a floor above me with her little kids. She dropped a tea towel once onto my balcony and came down to my place to pick it up. It was pretty cold out, though, I should check again, see if she needs a blanket while we wait for the fire department.  Seeing her leg bone is making me nauseous but I know there's no time for this crap.  I've got to get help and fast.  She's in a lot of pain.

I bang on my neighbour Martine's door and we call the fire department together. My cell phone keeps dying every time I hit dial. They answer, ask a lot of questions and eventually, Martine just tells them to hurry and suggests I don't throw my duvet out the window if I'd like to keep it. It'll just be covered in blood. She's going to be okay, anyway. Martine, like me, remembered her apartment wasn't much higher than ours. She reassured the woman by telling her the fire department was on the way and I ran upstairs to knock on her door to make sure the children or someone else wasn't home or at risk and I ran into the hallway to see if there wasn't a window I could climb through to get to her. Rushing through the hallway, and back up and down the stairs to the courtyard to see if anyone else knew how the Hell I could get on the roof, I crossed a man looking somewhat frantic on his cell phone as well. I noticed the cleaning lady by the mailboxes and told her that a woman had fallen out of the window and needed help. The firemen were on their way but did she know if...

« NON! » the man screamed at the top of his lungs, running faster than I'd ever seen anyone run in my life. People were rushing in and out of the apartment to see what had happened and the man, it was obvious, knew her quite well. He propelled himself out the window and onto the roof and within seconds was by her side, holding her head and crying.

The cleaning lady informed me that she had just seen the woman between the 5th and 6th floors. And then I realized, this wasn't a little fall and it wasn't an accident. Another woman said she had heard that she and her husband had broken up a few times and that she wasn't dealing very well.  They had kids.

In the next half hour a lot of things happened. The firemen showed up with ladders and re-animation equipment, covered her body with blankets and were checking her signs. Did she have feeling in her legs? What happened? Soon after, the police showed up in numbers. There were people in the hallway, people on the roof, people in the apartment. And then I heard it:

« Defenestration, 115 rue St. Maur. Woman. Mid-30s. »

After an hour or so, they were eventually able to put the woman on a plank and pull her out the window. She lay outside my apartment door for quite a while, oxygen mask, panic, vitals. One paramedic told me that he didn't think she would make it, that he wasn't sure she was even conscious. There was a lot of blood and she had fallen from a good height. Another told me that she was conscious and not to worry.  Then another, that if she survived, it would be a miracle.

I was in total shock. I hadn't cried yet. I had been too busy processing everything that had happened. Eventually, I was able to call Michael to tell him why I was late but that I was on my way. If only so I wouldn't have to be alone in here anymore.

On my way to the subway, I noticed that they still hadn't moved the ambulance. It was sitting stationary in front of the apartment and I assumed the worst. What if she hadn't made it? What if this was a suicide? What if I hadn't gotten there fast enough?  How could this be happening? 

The weekend was a bit of a blur. Saturday, I found myself re-playing the event over and over in my head wondering what exactly made her defenestrate. Wondering if she was alive. I kept seeing her vacant eyes staring back at me, her leg bone popping through her pale skin. I kept seeing the sheer terror in her husband's eyes. Panic attacks ensued. I was terrified to be alone in the apartment, every little noise made me jump, burst into tears. I didn't want to be in here but I couldn't move. This wasn't an accident, I kept telling myself. She'd just had enough.  I couldn't take a shower or go outside.  I was paralyzed.  And all because of a woman I barely knew but what if she was right?  If she couldn't handle it, how would I?

We all think about, from time to time, what it would be like to take our own life, most of us just aren't able to talk about it without people thinking we're absolutlely nuts. It's not, for most of us, that we really want to do it - that we want to die - but sometimes it can just feel like the only choice we have left. It's Plan B. The In-Case-Of-Emergency, little blue pill. If push comes to shove. It's there and throwing yourself out the window was as good a way as any to end it, unless of course you live.

The worst of it wasn't even wondering what had happened. The worst of it was living this moment of pure darkness with these strangers. The worst of it was that these kinds of things happened all the time, to families, to mothers and father and other lonely young people who I smile at every day without even noticing that they are so close to the edge. The worst of it, is that even when I feel those pangs of emptiness myself, no one can see it on my face, either. What fools we are to take people for who they pretend to be. Isn't it partly our responsibility to intervene? No. We can't. That path has its own word too – GUILT.  We can't be responsible for everyone.  But why not?  I could have offered her a cup of coffee sometime or offered to help with her kids or carried her groceries up the stairs.  I could have done something.  This woman lives only meters away from me.  If not me, then who?

I kept my phone off all weekend. I didn't feel like talking to the police or recounting Friday's events again to anyone. Friday night I couldn't sleep, I just kept seeing her face over and over again and it was making me tremble. It was making me think of Robert Frost. I tried to forget. Tried to think of other, funnier things, anything really but what had just happened. Every time I tried, the same thing would happen over and over again, my heart would beat faster and I couldn't breathe and I imagined how she could have been me. She could have been anyone.

What if she hates me for calling the fire department? I mean, who expects to jump out of a window to their death and instead of seeing pearly gates, sees only their young Canadian neighbour and her leg bone protruding from her body?  Is this final humiliation going to give her the will to live?  I doubt it.

There are days of such despair among us all. I'll bet you all know more than a few people who think about defenestration all the time. Not because they want to die but because they just give up. Because it's too fucking sad. Too hard. Too much. C'est lourd. I'm not going to lie, sometimes when you look at the bigger picture, looking into your possible futures, it sure looks a lot less like the Disney movie we were projected as kids and a lot more like The Silence of the Lambs. Love isn't easy.  The day-to-day isn't easy. You can't just make a happy family happen. Most of the beauty in our lives comes, not from things that we witness alone but how connected we feel to those around us. And sometimes, it's just plain lonely out there. Heck, I've got enough friends that I should never feel alone and still do.  What about someone who has nobody?  Sometimes we forget just how much other people are suffering alongside of us and this great waste of lifethat  is what happens when, for one reason or another, we just can't be with other people. It's a symptom of depression, isolating yourself from the rest of the world. We all do it occasionally. Death does it to me, every time. Break-ups. Cancer and just plain despair.

You know what I'm talking about: 'Things are never going to get better. It's time to be a realist. People aren't good and life is fucking hard.  This is as good as it gets'

I am sad today. Sad for a lot of different reasons. Sometimes it's easier to have a concrete reason for your tristesse. Today I was planning to buy a Christmas tree. To listen to Frank Sinatra and hang my stockings while I drink coffee with Baileys and fry eggs and bacon. But I am not. Today I am thinking about a practical stranger who jumped out of the sixth floor window hoping to die and how my being there at the right time had to mean something. It was a sign of something. It has to be because I can't think of anything else. Maybe we're more connected than we think. This woman lives only meters away from me, every day and had I not been here Friday morning, I would have never known what had happened to her. I'd have never known she wanted to die, that she was ready to go. That it was over. It's too much to process.  All I can see is her face at what she'd hoped would be the end.

Just to cope with it, I've got to focus on the fact that it's snowing outside and I'm overwhelmed. I can't find more words than that because there's nothing more to it. It's too much.

Her husband stopped by last night to update me. Only her legs are broken. She is alive and it's a miracle she landed on the roof and not on the concrete. It was a miracle someone happened to be home to hear it and find her. It was a miracle she had survived the ordeal with only broken legs. He was greatful that I was there and thanked me for calling the fire department right away. He looked sadder than anyone I had ever seen in my life. It was too much. I told him I could help him with the kids for a few weeks if he needed some time to be at the hospital and wasn't surprised when he didn't elaborate on what exactly had happened.

Later, I heard him in the stairwell, coming home with their kids telling them that mommy was still in the hospital because she broken her legs falling out the window.

Too much.

I got it. DEFENESTRATION was a very important word. Important because nobody, NOBODY could handle hearing the whole story, in all its gruesome details and black reality.  It was just another way of saying 'too much.'

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain -- and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.
I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.
I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,
But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
O luminary clock against the sky
Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.
-Robert Frost


An Eye. Foreign Eye.

It’s finally here.  Months of figuring out and anticipating this trip back home for my best friend’s wedding, it’s finally happening tomorrow morning.  As usual, my last day in Paris is a tough one but I keep a positive attitude because if the past has taught me anything, it’s that if your last day in Paris isn’t hard, you don’t nearly appreciate the jaunt back home as much.  Suffering is important.  That’s one important lesson I’ve learned on the other side of the fence.

This one sucks.  I’ve got three kids under four years old.  It starts alright.  Mini croissants and pains au chocolates keeps them happy while I drink an Allongé  at Café Noir and even though the elevator’s out of service and I’ve got to walk these three rascals up and down six flights of stairs, they’re good sports and they fall for it when I tell them to pretend it’s a mountain and whoever makes it to the top gets to help me make lunch.  Kids are awesome for foolery.  Things take a turn for the worse when a shortened nap makes them all miserable.  I’m taking them to a toddler music class at ; get them dressed, lug the double stroller down the stairs and off we go to the Montessori school just off Grand Boulevards.

On the way an old man carrying books pushes me onto the sidewalk and tells me in French that I could make an effort.  I want to let the stroller go and punch him in the face but instead, I stand up for myself and say “EXCUSE ME?!  Old Man, does it really look like I’m NOT making an effort?!”  I’m fairly certain that he’s thinking these children are mine, that I’m over breeding, that I’m bad for Paris.  If only he knew.

Arriving at the school, I am met with another challenge.  Turns out the teacher of the class is blind.  I had been to three classes prior and had never remarked her eyesight before.  Taking a quick look into the classroom past the sea of babies, I noticed a big black dog rolling around on the carpet.  My asthma.  I can’t go.  I’m going to have to turn right back around and walk these kids home.  Shit.  Summer, the teacher comes out to explain the dog is actually a seeing eye dog, hers, and is always at the school and free to run around in all the classrooms.  Things are becoming abundantly clear and now I know what sent me to the hospital the last time – this dog.  Normally, I would make a stink about having pets indoors.  “Don’t people GET IT?!” but instead, she finds the one room where the dog wasn’t and we head in for class.  The kids are horrible.  Screaming, doing summersaults instead of listening, screaming.  At one point, Zac climbs up on the window ledge and while I’m watching the 18 month old and we’re busy playing cymbals, the four year old, Myrna, opens the child-proof lock for Zac so he can propel himself out the 3rd story window if he likes.  I’m furious and we’re asked to leave the class.

On the way home, I’m threatening everything I can think of, “You’d better be good or I’ll tell your mother.”  “If you don’t behave, you’re going straight to bed.” “No snacks ever again.”  Nothing’s working.  We get to the park for pick-up and then I’ll be left with only Zac.  I’m absolutely exhausted and winded already.  The other mother arrives and asks where Myrna’s polar fleece is.  She’s left it at the school but the mother asks me to go up to Zac’s apartment to check.  ‘Sure, yeah, no problem.  I’ll climb back up the fucking six  hundred stairs AGAIN to have a gander, why not?  I’m getting excited again.  One hour left until total freedom, a nice dinner with my man and some final touches in the packing department and I’m OUT OF HERE!  No screaming kids for 2 weeks!  No dishes!  No laundry!  No nothing!

Michael and I head home together and I’m bragging about my cloud nine and we’re rushing home so I’ve got time to get my eyebrows waxed before dinner.  I’m a moron but I like to arrive back home looking good.  I want everything to be perfect.  This is my greatest fault.

Eyebrow wax goes well and while Michael’s at home making us a beautiful smoked salmon salad, I remember that I still have to print my e-Ticket.  I run over to the Internet café, sit down and print it out.  The first one doesn’t work, it prints only on half a page.  I ask the guy why and he says I should just try to print it again.  I do, the second one works fine.  The guy charges me for the first printouts and I’m furious and start arguing with him.  His friends are all looking at me like I’m a crazy, greedy American when I refuse to pay for something that’s his fault.  After all, that’s not how things work over here.  You get screwed in France, it’s your problem.  The customer is NOT always right, in fact, it’s a pretty safe assumption that the customer’s a fucking idiot.  Finally, he tells me the total price to try and trick me and I can’t be bothered to argue anymore.  Don’t sweat the small stuff, right?  I’m pretty well good to go.  Just a little more packing and I’m off.  I skip home for dinner and….

I’m standing at the door to my courtyard.  I can’t reach my keys.  They’re deep in my pocket so I put my e-ticket in my mouth and grab them.  In doing so, something happens.  God happens, the way he likes to anytime I’ve mentioned my happiness out loud.  A gust of wind blows my ticket up and the corner of the page I didn’t want to pay for stabs me in the right eye.  It’s very painful and I can’t see.  The tears start and I’m furious.

I get upstairs and ask Michael if my cornea is scratched.  Michael has a look and tells me it’s probably alright.  If I had really hurt myself, I’d be complaining a lot more, he figures.  Either that or I’m the bravest girl in Paris.  There is a lot of water coming out of my eyes but my dinner’s so good I try to focus on other things.  We have a nice night and the pain calms down a bit for a while even though it’s still quite irritated.  We head to bed after a game of Go and I set my alarm for 5h30.  With the RATP on strike, I was told I needed to leave the house no later than 6h30 to be sure to catch my flight at .  We have access to a car but with the manifestations blocking off the auto route, the metro, despite it’s 1 for every 4 trains`status, is a better bet.

At , I`m jolted awake in agony.  I can’t open or close my eye and I can’t see a bloody thing.  I also can’t open my left eye because it hurts my right eye.  Something’s wrong.  Something is REALLY wrong.  I can’t stay calm so I just start screaming.  Michael calls SOS Medic to come to the house to take a look at my eye because I’ve only got an hour before I’ve got to head out to the airport and I refuse to go back to the hospital again.  They’ll keep me there forever!  In the end, we decide against the doctor because without my security sociable number (oh yes, did I mention that after the appointments at the CPAM they seem to have LOST my dossier COMPLETELY?!)  Michael has to pack for me because I’m blind.  I’m also screaming at him because I’m not dealing well with the pain and tears are dripping down my cheeks.  Nothing has ever hurt so much.  I get a cold compress, pack it on and head out for the airport, Michael carrying all my heavy bags and me holding his arm because I can’t open my eyes.

We arrive at the airport in good time.  There is a nurse on the lower level and even after I wait in the check-in line for 2 hours, it should be enough time to see the nurse and the pharmacist and even time for a coffee.  And, if a woman has EVER needed a coffee, it’s me. 

I wait in the Swiss Air line-up, a little confused as to why about every other customer is being pushed aside and told to wait.  When finally, after 2 hours of tears and begging the counter guy for help, I am also told to move aside.  They are behind schedule today and all the morons who just showed up for their 9h30 flight at 9h20 are being let ahead of us.  Then, those people at the back of the line are also being let ahead of us.  They are so fucking stupid I want to cry.  I tell the man who’s directing the line up that I have come early on purpose so I can see the nurse.  That there is a problem with my cornea and I’m in a lot of pain.  I would have thought the endless swearing out loud would have been a good enough tip off but oh no.  Oh no.  He tells me I’ll just have to wait like everybody else.  Don’t sweat the small stuff, Julie, just be patient.

It’s 10h15 when I’m finally through the line.  There’s no time now to see the nurse so I head directly to the pharmacy and all of the sudden, the pain lessens and I feel okay.  Maybe this cold compress is working?  Maybe I just had a leaf in there or something.  Maybe I won’t be blind after all.  The woman at the pharmacy gives me some antiseptic eye drops and offers me some eye patches.  I’m already feeling stupid and they’re 12 euros.  I opt out.  Besides, I’m feeling alright and I have just enough time to get a coffee to go before heading to security.  Thank you, God.

I get my along from a stuck up teenager working at the airport café who likes to show off her English and answers me `would you like some cream and sugar with that, Monsieur.` despite me being a WOMAN (Ok, Ok so the towel pressed up against my eyeball and my swollen face and my inability to take a shower this morning may have put my sex into question for just a moment) but to answer me in English just because she hears a slight accent put me in a bad mood again.  I take my coffee begrudgingly and head up to departures.

On the stairwell, I am pushed aside by a middle-aged woman who wants to take a picture of her family before they head to Hong Kong on holidays.  The push makes me hit my eye lid with the towel and the pain starts anew.  I’m not happy but just try to keep going without screaming at anyone.  I’m in no position to argue and I’m guessing that yelling might hurt my eye even more.  Then the woman turns around and flails her arm, sending my coffee sky-rocketing into the air and all over me.  It’s scalding hot.  She gives me a dirty look `What was that?! and keeps going.  No apology.  I’m going to lose it.  And before I know it, I’m talking to myself again. `Are you fucking kidding me?  You bitch!  You’re not even sorry!  People are unbelievable!` Just then, it occurs to me how ridiculous I must seem to on-lookers.  Check out that crazy GUY talking to himself and holding a hand towel against the side of his swollen face.  I shut up and head upstairs.

I’m selected for an inspection when crossing through security.  I’m angry because if I end up missing this flight, I’ll also miss my connection in Zurich.  I’ve got exactly two hours to make it to my connecting flight and the flight from Paris to Zurich is an hour long.  No time for mistakes or delays.  I’m supposing it’s the wonky eye making me look suspect.  It’s a quick check though and when they realize the only thing in my knapsack is a copy of Crime and Punishment and some eye drops, they allow me to put my boots back on and head to my gate.  I get there and to my dismay, the flight is delayed.  At first by just a few minutes, then twenty, thirty, one hour.  I’m a goner.

The man sitting behind me keeps yanking on my chair.  Each time, my eyelid pushes up a little harder against my cornea scratch and I’m in agony.  It’s that sensitive.  I start to feel a familiar pain in my lower abdomen and get anxious and run to the washroom.  You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.  Life is funny, aunt it?

We arrive in Zurich an hour late.  We’ve already missed my connection time and when I ask the stewardess what I should do in this case, she suggests I sit down and stop worrying so much.  Nice.  I take the milk chocolate bars they handed out for being late and mowed down trying to up my `happy hormones and decrease the worrying bitch ones that are making this day so much worse than it needs to be.  I’ve got sleeping pills in my knapsack too and as soon as I get on the next plane, I’m taking one and the rest should be no problem.  Just then, I learn that the next flight to Toronto isn’t until tomorrow and I am recommended to run to the next gate.  From A to E.  They’ve held the flight for me and I’ve got ten minutes to get there.  E47 is all I’ve got on my mind.  And I start a runnin`.

Running, as any of you who know me will already know is not easy for an asthmatic.  I’m having an attack but don’t have time to access my ventolin.  On top of it, I can hardly see a bloody thing.  I have to take a metro and four rolling walkways to get to security and when I get there, I’m panting and begging people to let me ahead.  A couple do but when I finally reach the security gate, I’m met with three people who look at me with suspicion. 

`Please, please…I have to make this flight.`
`Just wait, Maam.`

I’m re-directed to a room behind a curtain.  Yes, friends, I am going to be strip searched.  No matter how much I plead, they tell me to wait.  By now, I’ve missed the connection for sure.  I’m screwed and I start to cry.  Crying makes my eye hurt.  It’s a vicious cycle.  I realize I must look like a lunatic and finally concede to waiting.

They take off my clothes and inspect me like a terrorist.  I have no drugs on me.  No weapons.  Nada.  They finally let me go.  A sweet old man arrives to accompany me to the gate and tells me I don’t have to run.  They’re holding the plane for me because they understand I’m having vision problems and feel a little guilty for this whole rigmarole.  I am escorted arm in arm by the man onto the plane and directed towards an empty row of seats where I’ll finally be able to sleep soundly.

No.  No I won’t.  I have also been placed directly behind a row of a negligent mother and her two screaming two year olds who hurl through the entire ten hour flight and take turns throwing things at my face while their mother isn’t looking.  I stop one from being run over by the drinks cart and another from trying to enter the pilot’s cabin.  So far, this holiday is looking very much like my day to day.  Badly behaved children and constant, agonising pain.  I’m miserable so I ask the stewardess for 5 coffees and 5 baileys.  They help but only a little. 

I manage to sleep for only an hour of the world’s most boring flight.  Despite having a private screen in front of me and an infinite supply of HBO and English sitcoms (something I would normally LOVE!) I can’t look at the screen because it hurts my eye.  Landing hurts even more.  The light is too much to bear and the pressure in my head makes my eye feel like it might actually pop out.

Finally, we’ve landed and I am told by the steward that my bags have probably not made it to Toronto because of the short connection time in Zurich.  Mother fucker.  I need to get to a hospital as soon as possible.  I don’t want to wait for nothing so I head to the information desk as soon as I get off the plane.  They tell me they don’t have a record of my bags so I wait with the rest of the Zurich passengers for a half hour.  They all get theirs and me, nada.  So I head back to the desk to file a missing bags report.  They tell me I’ll likely get them sometime Saturday.  I’m wondering where this newfound bad luck is coming from and I’m eager to get out.  Wait, though.  I’m going to take a last gander just in case.  And there they are.  Both bags.  Nothing broken or ripped.  It’s a miracle and I grab them and head out the sliding doors.  As soon as I see my mother, I lose it, tears everywhere.  I let myself close my eyes and led her lead the way up some more escalators and towards the car, hospital-bound.  With the rush hour traffic, we arrive about an hour and a bit later.  I am rushed in and then told to wait in the waiting room.  Another two hours of pain later, the doctor finally comes to see me.

It’s not a scratch, it’s a cut and a big one at that.  He gives me some aesthetic and puts some goo on my eye and a nice prescription for Oxycodone, then sends me home.  I take a couple of pills and I’m feeling pretty great (apart from the nausea and vomiting), despite my pirate patch.

I’m just today coming out of a three day high and able to keep my eye open.  It’s not nearly as red anymore and last night, for the first time since last Wednesday, I had a good night’s sleep.  And I’ve been told that I can make $15 a pill if I don’t finish the bottle.  That’s some more good news, no?

I don’t know what I did exactly to merit this kind of start to my holiday but it must have been something really bad.

Sucks to my Asthmar. October 2010

I should be sleeping. 

It’s been days now of one hour here, another there, with a lot of breathless wake ups.  They’re quite different than waking up from nausea or worry or just because you have to pee.  Waking up without breath is true, vivid, Hell.  You’re sweaty, you can’t talk, you’re afraid of disturbing the people around you so you try to tiptoe to the washroom to spit up all the gunk in your lungs without a sound.  You try tea, doesn’t work.  Try sitting up, distracting yourself, doesn’t work.  Try puff after puff of a rescue medicine that just makes you gittery and anxious until your heart is beating so fast and you’re almost unable to stand when you use your last bits of energy left to shout or whisper, more like it–  “I have to go to the hospital,” and only you knows just exactly what that means – days of being convinced that you have no idea what you’re doing, being taught and re-taught about an illness you’ve had all your life.  Begging them for days to please send you home after they’ve doped you up with the goods so you can get a calm, peaceful night’s sleep once and for all.

The woman next to me turned out the lights early.  I’m fairly used to the hospital rhythm, though.  She’s the wise one, I’m the young fool watching reruns of Grey’s Anatomy because somehow shows about hospitals – watching fiction about people who have got it way worse than you in an atmosphere you absolutely detest – it’s just enough to make you comfortable in your sweaty, static hospital sheets.  She knows better because in a half hour or so, one of the nurses is going to burst in anyway and wake us both up for one of us for the regular temperature, heart rate, oxygen level tests that make it all but unbearable to spend a night locked up in a place that’s supposed to provide relief.  Sure, of course I’m happy they’re taking my vitals, that they’re keeping an eye out for me and making sure I’m not getting worse but it’s hard to drift off knowing that everyone’s waiting for them to bottom out.  It’s hard to sit up straight with the lights on to take an aesosol for 30 minutes every couple of hours so that you make it through the vitals checks.  Then, it’s hard to watch the lines go up and down and the numbers plummet when you know exactly what it means.  It’s hard to have another doctor say, “You could have died.  We’d like to keep you here for a while.”  It’s hard to get last night out of my head so I can’t close my eyes.  I can’t.  Anyway, they’re all wet tonight.

I know, I know, it’s not that big of a deal.  It’s a stupid illness that affects almost everybody.  I don’t know many people who don’t know someone: a brother, a sister, an aunt, a best-friend with asthma.  I hate watching people shrug and roll their eyes at me like it’s the easiest thing in the world to deal with, like they’ve got a clue what it’s like to lie down in their beds and feel like their breathing through a skinny straw.  The fact is, they don’t and there are very different varieties of this illness that make it difficult for people to understand the severity of your symtoms. 

Most people also don’t know what it’s like to be ashamed of themselves for being the one who wrecks a party by leaving in an ambulance just because someone brought their dog or the looks you gets if you want to have a couple cigarettes with cocktails (like everyone else around you) and look upon you with scorn when you then needs a hit of ventolin to get through the night.  They don’t understand how much it hurts to avoid people you care about when they’re sick with respiratory illnesses in fear of catching something or how traumatic it is to fall in love with  a man who dreams of owning a dog or a horse.  Nobody gets how depressing it is to know that for the rest of their lives, they’ll need to work extra hard to afford the medication they need to get through the workdays or just how grueling it can be to try to go for a leisurely jog through a park despite being a relatively fit young person.  Most women don’t shop for purses that must fit their ventolin, atrovent and aerochamber.  Most people don’t know this stuff because it’s not their job to know this stuff.  Still, today I encountered a respirologist who didn’t seem to get it one bit.

Every time I am hospitalized, it’s the same story.  They send some resident to my bedside to lecture me about the way I’m controlling my asthma.  That I’m not taking good enough care of myself if I’ve ended up in a hospital so many times.  That I don’t take it seriously.  They teach me AGAIN how to breathe better, show me a peak-flow metre as though it’s the first time I’ve encountered such an object while I secretly imagine my childhood collection of them on my dresser.  Eventually they start asking the details, trying to pick apart my life to find the one and only reason why I’m still in this state, making me feel guilty for every choice I ever take. 
“What floor do you live on?  Do you have cockroaches?  Have you noticed any mould in the building?  Why didn’t you come to the hospital sooner?  Why didn’t you increase your medication?  Why don’t you have steroids at home?”

Sure, let’s address these, bitch.  I live on the first floor of an apartment, the cheapest, most affordable one I can find in Paris.  I don’t have cockroaches but it’s Paris and the place is old so sometimes I’ve got mice and I’m not allergic to insects but I am allergic to rodents.  Sure, I’ve noticed mould in the building.  Have you got a better place for me to stay?  A better job?  A better visa?  Pass it along, I’m in!  Why didn’t I get here sooner – well, that’s my favourite question of all.  I have been waiting 8 months for health insurance in this country…8 months of taking days off work so I can get this magic number.  8 months of waiting in 2 hour+ lineups to be told that I need another piece of paper they forgot to tell me about on my 6th and 7th visits,  yet another piece of paper that’s going to cost me yet another 30 euros.  I should tell my government that our birth certificates are insufficient.  Yeah, I’ll get right on that if you can afford to buy me a ticket back to Canada on the less than minimum wage job I’m able to get in this frickin’ country despite my University degrees, fluent French and genuine effort to immerse myself in the culture.  Why didn’t I increase my medication?  Because the stuff is like gold to me – gold given to me for free by a very generous doctor in my hometown once my respirologist retired and my pediatrician passed away and I had no one else who quite understood the predicament I was in.  Because I’ve only got one week of the stuff left as it is and I’m trying to make it go as far as possible because I don’t have 400 euros a month to pay for the stuff and NEVER EVER will.  I haven’t got steroids at home because to get them, you need to pay 30 euros to see a doctor and even then, they won’t likely trust you because they don’t know your history and they don’t just hand out meds like candy anywhere, even if you know as much about your illness as any doctor by now.  They don’t know how many nights you stayed up having treatments as a little girl, making midnight tea parties for she and her stuffed animals with a plastic mask strapped to her face to get her through it.  They don’t know what it felt like to be a teenage girl on so much medication that it made her face bloat out like a chipmunk and her skinny jeans fat ones.  They don’t know how much it sucked to have to sit out an inning or a period because there’s not enough oxygen to stand straight and you’re already seeing stars.  In short, they don’t know a God Damned thing about me and I’m sick of being brought to tears by complete strangers who don’t think before they open their fat overly-textbook-educated mouths.

This time, I cut the bitch off in mid-sentence because she told me I ought to forsee attacks and manage the symptoms before they become issues.  Really????  So, for example, how am I to know that someone who’s just seen a cute Labrador in the street bent over to pet him and got hairs all over their coat and jeans.  How am I supposed to know that that same person sat on the same chair as me just before me on the metro or has stopped by my place to help with my homework?  How am I supposed to know the kids I babysit for spent the weekend horseback riding and haven’t washed their knapsacks yet?  How am I supposed to know that if I avoid every possible risk at a wedding of two great friends– arrange to sleep in a van of a friend with no pets, away from the hostel where the rest of the gang are staying which operates occasionally as an equestrian centre, away from other possible problems like rooms in a big castle on a property big enough to have horses and dogs and therefore likely to have had clients who touched them and spread the dander onto the furniture?  Should I not go to the wedding at all?  Then, I ask you, how can you stop people from resenting you for flaking out one to seven times a week on the day-to-day reality that might end up being harmful to your health? 
And finally, you tell me, Lady, how am I supposed to know that the kid I look after every day is going to sneeze in my mouth while I’m changing his diaper and that I’ll catch his bronchial cough on a Tuesday morning, despite washing my hands like surgeon and anti-bacterializing everything?  I can’t.  I’m not God.  I’m not even close.  Christ, I can’t even control my lung capacity, let alone the everyday risks that are everywhere and everything.

I don’t take my illness seriously enough?  Really?  Do you know how many years I spent depressed, wanting to die because I knew that my life was going to end like this, slowly losing breath until there was none left?  How much courage it took to play sports knowing that I was playing with fire every time I tried?  Do you know what it was like to listen to both my grandparents suffocate to death in just the same way I’ll likely go?  Do you know how many hours I’ve thought about not having children out of sheer fear of passing this onto them?  Or how I look at donor cards and think to myself, ‘really, could you really give this shitty, broken to another person?’ Do you know what it’s like to lie on a stretcher and have people watch you, stare at you, wondering what’s wrong with you and if you’re going to make it?  To have your skin pierced and stabbed and your bone marrow tested, needles broken off in your forearm?  To have to try out new medicines in desperate hope without knowing the side effects?  To spend a year throwing up because you were on such high doses of meds that you couldn’t swallow properly?  Do you know what it was like to take up smoking because it actually made the every day pollutants easier to digest than trying to live in a bubble that doesn’t exist?  Do you know what it’s like to desperately at least want the CHOICE to breathe this way or not?  No, you don’t.  Would you give anything for a body that worked?  No, you wouldn’t, because no one has ever threatened to put a hole in your throat so you don’t die.

I’ve been laying here for hours already, crying into my pillow listening to an old man down the hall choke to death.  He can only exhale and even that is depleting him quickly.  He’s coughing up everything, mucous, blood, tar.  Even though I’m not there, I can tell you that his throat tastes like metal.  His back is so tense from the motions of the coughing, he’s in agony.  Every cough makes his eyeballs want to jump out of his skull and he’s seeing stars.  He’s seeing stars because his body can’t take this kind of trauma any longer.  He wants to die.  I know this because everytime I have an attack like this, I want to die.  I want it to stop – the struggle, the pain, the spinning head, the pulsing temples, the black and white hallucinations from an overworked cranium, the pain in my chest, the quickened heart rate from too much ventolin that’s not working and the dry mouth from too many preventatives that haven’t prevented a damn thing.  I want to die.  I just don’t want to go like this, and definitely not in a place like this.  I don’t want this struggle and pain to be the last thing I feel.  Just the thought of it and my face is wet with fear.  I’ve been scared of this my whole life and every time I lose my breath, I wonder if this is the one.  Is this how I go?  Are these ceiling panels the last thing I’ll ever see?  Do I die alone?  Or worse, in a room with a stranger?  Does everyone else know how I feel about them?  Is this diabetic meal of steamed fish and buttered macaroni the last thing I’ll ever taste?  If I close my eyes tonight, am I going to wake up?
Believe me, I take this very, very seriously. 

Of course I do.  This is my life.  Even when I do everything just right, I end up right back here, in yet another blue tie-back v-neck gown, arms filled with needles and bruises, greasy hair, IVed-up tape marks all over my chest from all the heart monitors and yet another lecture from another person who thinks they’ve got me all figured out.  And I’m scared enough.  I don’t need some healthy bitch to make me cry.  I can do that all by myself without any help.  I didn’t come here to feel worse about myself.  I came here to breathe a little easier.

Wish me luck.  I’m going to close my eyes now and try to think happy thoughts.

Lights on.  Seat upright.  Time for more tests.  Meanwhile, there’s a senile old man taking a leak in front of the nurses station.  Nothing like a little elderly nudity and endless machine beeps all around at midnight to get me into an REM kinda mood.

Maybe I’ll sleep tomorrow;  if they discharge me that is.


8 months later and I'm finally (almost) a real nanny. September 2010

This won't be long.

I've been here TRYING to become legal (just for the year, not as a citizen) for over eight months now.  After months of paperwork, medical visits, long metro rides, meetings, running all over town with a baby and a broken stroller, expensive photocopies and letters and at least one daily encounter with a complete imbecile, it seems as though I may have once and for all obtained all necessary documents for la gouvernement française to grant temporary Health Insurance and an 'okay' to be in France.

And I'm Canadian.

I'd hate to think what other immigrants have to go through in this town on a regular basis and I'm starting to understand the French interest in 'manifs' and greves.  It's because the whole system is a frickin' waste of time and money. least now, if I end up in the hospital again, it's not the end of the world and after five years of nothing, I might be ablet to finally see a dentist too.

Oh, did I mention that next week it's time to renew my visa?  And so it begins anew.

Vive la France!


In Paris, you can have your cake; you just can’t afford to actually eat it.

When you move to Paris, you don’t assume that you’re going to miss a lot of things back home and never in a million years could I have possibly forseen just how much I would be willing to pay for pre-packaged gravy.  I certainly didn't think I'm be having dreams of Kraft Dinner or that I could crave Maple Syrup in my coffee and it never occurred to me to pack a few cases of black beans and spicy salsa, that's for sure.

Saturday morning, I woke up relatively early.  Kettle on.  A bigger than normal dose of Carte Noir plus an extra couple scoops of the Kraft brand French coffee I love so much.  My machine broke so I’ve gone back to a no-fail classic: plastic filter,  hand-pouring boiling water over the grinds myself into an old-fashioned bowl.  A bit ghetto but man, does it ever make a good  cuppa Joe. 

While enjoying the rare quiet of rue St. Maur, I got to list-making.  What am I going to need for this Thanksgiving dinner?  Twenty people have already RSVPed ‘yes’ and I’m still waiting on answers from ten more.  I’ve got a gas range and a microwave oven.  I’m going to need a lot of ready-mades if I’m going to be able to feed all these people with my minimal kitchen equipment.  No worries.  Turns out there’s an American grocery store in Paris called THANKSGIVING and they sell all kinds of stuff: stuffing, cranberry sauce, turkeys, gravy, cheesecake pans. 

When Michael woke up, we rented a vélib, otherwise known as Paris’ practically free bike rental system.  I should have guessed that things weren’t going to go smoothly this morning when the first two stations we checked out were out of service.  Eventually we found one and off we went, weaving in and out of traffic down Richard Lenoir towards the Bastille and then up Rivoli to St. Paul.  I still can’t believe after all these years in Paris that this store exists.  Driving past the window of the Thanksgiving store, I’m flooded with flashbacks of Canadian visitors I’ve begged to bring me my ‘special requests’ from home: used English novels, glass bottles of Maple Syrup and endless cans of black beans.  All of which have hampered the travel plans of my friends – heavy, space consuming, dangerously sticky.  They’ll be thrilled to know that I’ll have no more requests, that Paris can finally fill my every request and has everything I could ever need or want.

My first roundabout in the store I’m like a kid in a candy store.  They’ve got everything from Pop Tarts to Philadelphia cream cheese!  I’m ooing and awing over Old Tyme Ginger Beer and A&W Root Beer and gummy bears when I see the cans of cranberry sauce and know it’s time to get serious.  I’ve got more lists to make.

Ocean Spray.  Perfect.  Sachets of powdered gravy mix, PERFECT!  How much?  6 euros each.  WHAT?!  To give you an idea, cans of cranberry sauce go for - $1.19 – making the markup on this stupid low-quality grocery (with the exchange) +85%.  Sure, there’s the cost of importing or the hassle of asking one of your American buddies down south to bring a few extra cases of the stuff for his next pilgrimage to Paris but walking around the store I’m starting to wonder if I’m in the wrong business.  Maybe I should just be importing crappy groceries - I could open a store that sells only Belmont Milds and cheddar cheese and make a killing.  That's when I see it.  Betty Crocker Devil’s Food Cake mix.  Done and done.  7 euros!  That's a bit much, no?  Well, whatever, it’s a one shot deal and at least I get a whole cake out of it, not just a tart side dish or powder.  I grab a chocolate icing to later on top knowing that in the past, I’ve never been able to properly ice a birthday cake without at least 2 cans of the stuff.  At 7 euros a can, that would bring this homemade cake to a whopping 21 euros and that’s not including the oil and eggs I'll have to buy on the way home.  I can’t get over how expensive this store is.

They have French’s mustard, so I grab a container because it’s only 3,50 euros.  Pick up a can of Black Beans and set them right back down because 4,50 is just too much, besides, I’ve recently found some dried beans at the Oriental markets up by St. Ouen so I’m all stocked up.  I hum and haw over the cereals and syrups but realize that a small bag of groceries at this store is going to cost me a month’s rent so I’d be better off sticking to filet mignons, ducks and fresh chèvres than splurging on shitty American products I’ve grown up with and gotten used to.  Just because they remind me of home doesn’t make them worth any cost, though I’ve gotta say, the price inflation has made even Dr. Pepper look like a bright and shiny object that I need.  But I don’t.  I don’t need it.  I’ve got Orangina and Gini soda.  I've got better stuff, it's just not the same.

So back to Thanksgiving.  I revert to English when addressing the owner of the Thanksgiving store and I’m a bit shocked to hear he’s got a thick French accent.  I tell him that with Thanksgiving coming up in a couple weeks, I was interested in ordering a turkey and all the fixings to feed the twenty to thirty of my closest French friends I’m expecting on October the 10th.  He calls his wife out from the back who seems to be American and reveals that they aren’t really equipped for Canadian thanksgiving, it being so far in advance of American Thanksgiving.  That being said, it will consist of a special order, may or may not be able to get fresh yams, might not have all the stuffing and cranberries I’ll need.  The turkey, well, I’m looking at 12,50/kilo minimum.  5 kilos/10 people.  I’m looking at 187,50 euros JUST for the turkey.  If you factor in enough cranberry sauce, the stuffing and the gravy, you can add at least another 100 euros, taking this traditional family meal of your average staples to a staggering 350 plus euros!  Unbelievable.

Needless to say, I’m a little discouraged and unconvinced that I’m going to be able to pull this off.  I wish things could be easier.  I wish I could drive on down to Loblaws and fill my mother’s large fridge with fresh veggies and butters and cakes and pies, pick out a couple nice Butterballs or even be fortunate enough to find one big bird to feed the whole table.  Instead, I’m going to have to send an uncomfortable email to everyone cancelling the day because it’s WAY out of my price range, because I couldn’t possibly fit everything in my university dorm fridge, because I don’t have enough chairs for 5 people in my teeny tiny place  and because there’s no way I can cook three separate birds in my mini toaster oven.  What on Earth was I thinking?!
So once again, Canadian Thanksgiving is going to roll on by without too many loud voices in my house, without tablecloths loaded with candles and maple leaves, without stretched-out sweat pants, without leftover sandwiches on hot buttered rolls with cranberry sauce.  Without gravy.
But that’s okay.  I’m still going to organize something for the day.  A game for all of us to play together, a bar for us to gather in so we can all have a place to sit and be together.  In the meantime, I’ll take the cake mix and the icing.  It’s overpriced but 21 euros,(as opposed to 350) is a small price to pay for a bit of home this holiday season.  And besides, I’m going to need something to wash down my one-millionth frickin’ ham on the 10th of October.