Week in Paris

I had to fly through Europe on my way home from Africa, so I arranged a stopover in Paris. My friend Virginie kindly invited me to stay at her apartment. I must say, I was a sorry creature by the time I arrived at her place. I had been awake for over 30 hours, after flying from Zambia to Dubai to Paris. The cough I’d developed at the start of my trip was raging full force. My ear was still blocked as a result of my frequent dunks in the Zambezi River while whitewater rafting. And I had just been punched in the arm by the metro doors as I tried to slink onto the train with my giant backpack. Owwwwwww. But none of that mattered because I was reunited with my dear friend in arguably the most beautiful city in the world!

I usually don’t visit the same place multiple times, unless I have family there (like in the Czech Republic). Yet somehow, I keep returning to Paris. The main draw is, of course, Virginie and my other friends. I also can’t overstate the power of the food. But I have a third major reason for stopping in Paris: Touche pas à mon poste, or TPMP for short. It’s the greatest talk show ever, in my humble opinion. I attended two tapings in September 2016, while on my way to Jordan, and I had such a blast. I simply had to go back this year for another round of fun.

There was just one slight problem. I was still coughing like crazy, which I figured would make me persona non grata on the set. I spent my first morning in Paris looking for ways to make that wretched cough disappear. I found a pharmacy near Virginie’s apartment, where I bought some medicine. Unlike good ole Canadian Buckley’s, it didn’t taste horrendous. And far more importantly, my cough seemed to calm down immediately. Also, because I’m a resourceful millennial, I watched a YouTube tutorial entitled How to Stop Coughing in Five Minutes. I was willing to try anything!

That afternoon, I made my way over to the studio in Boulogne-Billancourt for the Monday night taping of TPMP. Again this year, I was consumed with a desperate desire to blend in with the crowd and to avoid making myself noticed as a less-than-perfect French speaker. It all went fine until I arrived at coat check, and the lady asked me how many people were in my group. “Un” I answered. The people behind the counter stared at me. “Quatre?” one of them said. “Non, un!” I responded, completely bewildered. “Oh, une!” someone finally exclaimed after way too long a pause. Oh, right. Une. Ooooops. Lucky for me, the people in charge of the audience had much bigger things to worry about than some dork who has yet to master masculine and feminine. Things like herding us on set, and making sure not too many people wearing the same coloured shirts were clumped together.

When I went to the show in 2016, I had what I considered excellent spots in the audience. I was third row back on both nights, and mostly out of sight of any camera angle. This year, I had what I’m guessing normal people would consider an excellent spot. I was placed right on the edge of the front row, to the left of Cyril. I would be a floating head, visible in the background behind the chroniqueurs (panelists/commentators). On one level, I was super excited (Yay! Valérie Benaïm, my favourite chroniqueur, will be directly in front of me!) But on another level, I was utterly terrified (Oh &*#$! People can actually see me! What if I have a full-on coughing fit?!)

This year, a new show called C’est que de la télé airs right before TPMP. I was right behind the show’s host, Julien Courbet, and I could see myself in the monitor the entire time. I kept busy applying all the breathing techniques I had learned from that YouTube video. I breathed in through my nose for eight counts, and out through my nose for eight counts. I also used psychological methods. My internal monologue went something like this: “You took special French cough medicine. Medicine is magic here. It actually works. You don’t need to cough. You don’t need to cough. Breathe. Breathe. Don’t laugh. Laughing is bad. Laughing makes you cough. DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT LAUGHING!” That last bit was tricky because both CQDLT and TPMP are very funny shows. But for the good of the production, I didn’t let myself do anything more than smile. I take my floating head duties very seriously!

Oh hey, it’s my face!

Haha I’m totally reading the teleprompter. Busted!

The commercial breaks go on forever on French TV. It isn’t just your imagination! When I was living in France in 2004-2005, I would watch Star Academy 4 every Friday night. I remember getting all sorts of things done during the commercials. I had enough time to shower and get ready for bed before plunking myself back down on the couch to continue watching the prime, as they called it (see my note at the end of this blog). In Canada, you barely have enough time to use the washroom and detour to the kitchen to grab a cookie before your show comes on again!

The long breaks during TPMP give the crowd warmer Éric the chance to organize dance offs and other fun things with the audience. We’re even given water, which is amazing, since the studio gets very hot. The breaks are also another great opportunity for watching everything that goes on behind the scenes. The host, Cyril Hanouna, alternates between joking with the chroniqueurs and yelling “Ça va mes chéris!” to the audience. Isabelle Morini-Bosc does funny dance moves to whatever music is playing. Gilles Verdez mostly stares into space. Valérie Bénaïm constantly flips her hair around, but it always seems to magically fall back into place (How is this possible?! Inquiring minds want to know!) At one point, Maxime Guény turned around and smiled at us, then said something to me that I couldn’t hear over the music. I smiled back and nodded, so it was almost like we had a real conversation.

You can see quite a bit of me in the clip below. I’m sitting next to Mokhtar, the gentle giant security guard who is often featured on the show. He smells fantastic, in case you were wondering, although I’m guessing you probably weren’t.

Even though it was extremely uncomfortable at times, I managed to hold in that wretched cough for the entire show. I was so grateful! All my suppressed coughs ending up coming out with a vengeance in the metro on my way back to Virginie’s place.

The next evening, I went back to Boulogne for another taping of the show. I was placed to the left of Cyril again, in the second row this time. My cough was a bit better, which was a relief. I could finally let myself laugh! I was also completely ecstatic that one of the guests on C’est que de la télé that day was Francesca Antoniotti, a Star Academy 4 contestant. My inner 17-year-old was jumping for joy.

Francesca has worked as a sports journalist for the past few years. I’m not in this shot, but I guarantee you that I was wearing a mile-wide smile at that moment.

Cyril Hanouna is involved in a number of worthy endeavors, both in public and in private. One of his favourite charities is Les Anges de la rue, an association that helps people who are homeless. Representatives of the association were sitting near me in the audience, along with a person they had been helping. Cyril acknowledged them during the show and came to speak with them during the breaks. One of the show’s fans, on her own initiative, had organized a fundraising drive for the association on Twitter in June. She was also at the taping that night. TPMP has a massive following on social media, and has generated a real community online. That community is full of kind and generous people who love the show, who love Cyril, and who are willing to support all his causes.

The show was Matthieu Delormeau’s first TPMP of the year as a chroniqueur. If you pause the video at 2:50, you can see me looking highly amused at Matthieu being his usual outrageous self.

For the second time, I managed to make it through a whole taping without letting out a single cough. I think it was mostly a question of mind over matter. And magic French medicine!

I spent the next day wandering around Paris, with no specific itinerary in mind. My first stop was the Eiffel Tower, where I amused myself with one of my favourite tourist attraction pastimes, “Watching People Take Selfies”. I also noticed that the area around the tower was the only place in Paris where pedestrians actually obeyed the traffic signals. When the man was red, nobody moved an inch, even though there weren’t any cars going by. We’re so obedient!

One of the TPMP chroniqueur, Caroline Ithurbide, has a really neat lifestyle blog. She raved about a restaurant called Mister Garden, so I stopped there for lunch. I was in dire need of healthy food to balance out all the sugary treats I had been (happily) consuming for the past few days. At Mister Garden you choose a salad base at the entrance, then go up to the bar and add four ingredients of your choice (including a meat if you want to). You end up with a giant beast of salad that leaves you feeling delightfully satiated.

I basically spent the afternoon walking as far my legs could carry me. I went up and down the Champs Élysées, across the Pont Alexandre III, and over to Les Invalides.

Arc de Triomphe
Pont Alexandre III

That night, Virginie and I met up with her sisters Irène and Hélène, Irène’s boyfriend and Virginie’s friend at the Dernier Bar avant La Fin du Monde. The bar has several levels, and each level has a different theme, like a dungeon, a bunker or a space station. On the top level, you can choose from a bunch of board games. We ended up picking one where the rules were too complicated, so we just used the cards to play Taboo. So much fun!

Bar food in Paris!

The following morning, I sauntered over to Montmartre to take in some excellent views of the city. The district is probably my favourite place in Paris. I love making my way through the narrow streets, admiring the architecture, and walking up and down the staircases. If you go early enough in the morning, there aren’t too many people around, at least not in September. The only really crowded place is around the Sacré Coeur.

I took this exact photo at almost the same time last year. The view never gets old!

I have a serious passion for all things in the French baked goods category, so naturally my next stop was one of the best boutiques in Paris. Pierre Hermé near Église Saint-Sulpice sells delicious macarons with offbeat flavours, like rose petal and jasmine tea. The bakery had a blind test, which I jumped at the chance to try. The saleslady gave me a blindfold and fed me three different macarons. I attempted to guess the flavours with the help of images on an iPad. The people who guessed correctly were entered in a draw for the chance to win a Pierre Hermé gift certificate and fancy brunch. I don’t think I got any of the flavours right, but it didn’t matter. I was just thrilled to have an excuse to eat macarons!

Fountain at Saint Sulpice

Late September is a wonderful time of year to wander around the Jardin du Luxembourg. The flowers are still in bloom, and the leaves are just starting to change, which creates a fabulous explosion of colour.

I got asked for directions twice that day, which I found quite touching. I don’t know how on earth I could have been mistaken for a chic and elegant local. The first person was a sweet older lady who asked me how to get to a bookstore. I felt bad that I couldn’t help her. The second person was a guy about my age. He had just moved to Paris from Bordeaux, and he wanted to know how to get to one of the train stations. I couldn’t help him either, but he stopped to chat with me anyway. We had a fairly typical conversation, by French standards. He spent a few minutes listing all his complaints about Paris (too noisy! too crowded! people are rude!), then asked me whether I wanted to join him for coffee. I politely declined. For one thing, I’m happily spoken for. For another thing, I had very serious and important plans for the afternoon. I was going to walk down the streets of the 7th arrondissement and stare in shop windows at clothes I will never be able to afford, then find something yummy to eat at La Grande Épicerie. These things simply could not be delayed!

I joined Virginie and her group of friends for dinner at an awesome Lebanese restaurant near Fontaine Saint-Michel. Afterward, Virginie took me and one of her friends to The Great Canadian Pub in the 6th arrondissement. Unfortunately for me (the non-drinker), they were out of Canada Dry. However, they did have excellent cheesecake! They also serve poutine with proper cheese curds and gravy. Cheese curds used to be impossible to find in France, but apparently certain places make them now. How exciting! The pub is perfect for Canadians looking for a taste of home, and for French people feeling nostalgic about that time they were in Montreal.

Awesome, eh?
Notre Dame looking luminous

I spent my last full day in Paris following in the footsteps of my favourite French bloggers. Caroline Ithurbide had blogged about her experience at Arkose, a block climbing gym. It sounded like the perfect place for me. I desperately need to build my upper body strength, and I hate doing planks and push-ups with the fire of a thousand suns. I’m a big fan of workouts where muscle-building is merely a by-product of an otherwise fun activity. For block climbing, I didn’t need any special equipment apart from shoes, which they provided as part of my entry fee. I liked the freedom of not having to deal with ropes and a harness. And the floor is super springy, so it didn’t hurt (too much!) whenever I had to jump down.

Levels of difficulty explained

Please enjoy this short video of me looking way too pleased with myself for getting to the top of the easiest section of the wall. Also, you will notice that I apparently missed the lesson in pre-school on how to do up velcro shoes properly.

The best part of Arkose was the restaurant. After you wear yourself out climbing, you can sit at a table and order a scrumptious three-course meal. This concept absolutely blew my mind. If a similar venue in Canada does happen to serve food, it’s usually a tragic assortment of heart-attack friendly fare, like bad pizza and soggy fries. At Arkose, we could order fresh food cooked in-house by proper chefs. Rose, I think I found your climber/foodie paradise!

That afternoon, Virginie and I met up with her friend Fantine. We visited the Musée Eugène Delacroix, a lovely little spot recommended by Valérie Benaïm in her blog. The 19th century artist’s house and workshop were converted into the museum in 1971. It was really neat to explore the museum and appreciate Eugène Delacroix’s art in the place where he created many of his works. I particularly liked the garden, which felt like a peaceful oasis in the centre of Paris. Plus, we arrived at the museum exactly on time for a tour given by one of the museum employees, so we were able to ask questions and learn even more than we would have otherwise.

Our last stop of the day was the Canadian Cultural Centre, which was hosting a free exhibition for Canada 150. The exhibition was about a cotton factory in Hamilton, Ontario, which employs mostly new Canadians. One gallery featured pictures of their hands at work. In another room, we could sit and listen to recordings of them telling their stories and describing their hopes and dreams. It was very moving.

Piece by Piece exhibition at the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris

That evening, Virginie and I joined up with another friend. We went to see a play, Love me Tinder, at La Grande Comédie. I have had mixed experiences with French theatre. The language barrier can be a major issue, and I find plays much harder to follow than TV shows or movies. Usually, the plot (if there is one!) escapes me and the jokes fly right over my head. But I’ve been working very hard lately. For a 100% anglophone Canadian, I watch a staggering amount of media from France. This play also happened to be a modern and straightforward story about three women trying to find love through online dating. As such, I understood about 95% of the cultural references. Yay!

Line-up at La Grande Comédie

It was my last night in Paris, and thus also my final opportunity to enjoy French food. When the play was over, we went to a nearby crêperie. I ate very slowly, so slowly that Virginie asked me whether I was still hungry. “Yes,” I answered. “But I’m savouring! This crêpe has everything I love in it! Goat cheese! Nuts! Honey! I’m so happy!” The waitress happened to be standing nearby. She said how pleased she was to hear my ecstatic review, which made me feel all warm inside. What a perfect way to end my trip. Je t’aime Paris!

Crêpe with goat cheese, walnuts and honey. Soooooo yummyyyyyyy.

Language musings

When I came to France as a high school student, I obviously knew that I would be learning French. What I didn’t anticipate was that I would also be re-learning English. The French, like the Québecois, use many anglicisms (although not the same ones). But they don’t use the English words properly at all. For instance, on my first day of school, the gym teacher told me that I needed to bring un jogging. “A what?” I asked her. “Un jogging!” she said, and pointed at my legs. I remember thinking “yes, I know, my legs jog…but…but…jogging is not a noun! How the heck am I supposed to ‘bring’ one?” Well, it turns out, un jogging is what they call track pants. Go figure!

Here are a few more examples:

a parking lot = un parking

a show on prime time = un prime

blow-dried hair = un brushing

a sweater = un sweat (pronounced sweet)

a playground slide = un toboggan

I find that last one perplexing, since toboggan is a Canadian word of Algonquian origin. I googled it, but I couldn’t find any information on why the meaning shifted in Europe. In Quebec they use glissoire or glissade for slides.

And finally, here is my favourite:

a walkie-talkie = un talkie-walkie. Kills me every time.

It has occurred to me that this butchery of English may be payback for the Anglo-Saxon habit of borrowing words from French and mangling them beyond all recognition. In that case, bien joué 😛

7 thoughts on “Week in Paris

  1. i thought i left another comment but i can’t see it. but the gist was that paris is awesome, the twitter pictures are awesome, and you are awesome. 😀 and i should have gotten you to get a jar of that mustard i regretted not buying when we were there haha.

  2. jillian Dafoe

    Helenka I love Paris as much as you and I’m envious of your knowledge of places to eat! I just think there is so much beauty there – everywhere! … Très coincidentally – your photo of the crèpe with goat cheese, honey & nuts looks (almost) exactly like the one I had last night at a French Creperie here in Adelaide – mine had Camembert as well. They call them galettes when they have a savoury filling. Anyway they speak French and seem to employ lots of French waiters (people on working visas me thinks) as well – so Joseph gets to use hisl. Un petit indulgence because other than friends, French is the thing I miss most about living in Ottawa! xx

    1. Hi Jill! That’s so cool that they have a proper creperie in Adelaide. It sounds yummy! I really, really want to go back to France, even more so after (finally) finishing this blog. And one of the things I love the most about living in Ottawa is hearing French every day. I imagine I’d miss it too if I lived anywhere else.

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