I wasn’t even in Paris an hour before I hopped on the metro and headed to Ladurée, the bakery where I’ve discovered countless delicious delights. On this visit, I skipped the macarons entirely and went straight for a vanilla Saint-Honoré.
I was not disappointed. Last year, I shared an intimate moment with one of those delicacies in my hostel room, while my friend Natasha looked on. This year, I felt the same level of ecstasy. I sent Natasha the following unflattering photo with the caption “It’s happening again!”
“Get a room!” she joked. There are so many things that constantly draw me back to Paris, but that pastry is near the top of the list.
That night, I joined my friend Michaël for a delightful dinner and gabfest near my hotel. We had met in Laos in 2013 during my trip around the world. Since then, I’ve seen him on almost all my trips to Paris. When I had messaged him a few days earlier to say that I would be visiting the city and to ask him whether he would like to meet up, he wrote back “Sure, what time?” He wasn’t even remotely surprised to find out that I had popped into the city yet again. Dad also joined us at the restaurant. Other than that evening, Dad and I hardly spent any time together on this part of the trip. He took the train outside the city to visit the Reims Cathedral and the Chartres Cathedral, while I stuck around Paris.
I spent the next morning and afternoon wearing my legs out by walking all over the city and thus avoiding using up precious metro tickets. Ah, the gift of time! I meandered over to the Eiffel Tower, then tried to find my way back to the hotel the old-fashioned way, without using Google Maps. No success. I lasted about ten minutes before I had to pull out my phone. My natural navigation skills, which were never that spectacular to begin with, have certainly taken a hit!
Pierre Hermé on the Champs Elysées was another essential stop on my self-imposed walking tour. I indulged in my passion for macarons and purchased a delicious box set.
Now, I’m sure absolutely none of you are asking “Helenka, did you go to a live taping of that French television show that you like?” And of course, the answer to that great unasked question is “You bet I did!” I went to the show on my trips to Paris in 2016, 2017 and 2019. It was time for a fourth round of fun.
I took the metro to the Canal Factory studios in Boulogne Billancourt, where I once again joined the line-up of C’est que de la télé and Touche pas à mon poste enthusiasts. The people in charge of the studio audience sat me right in the front row to the right of Cyril Hanouna (the host of Touche pas à mon poste). I didn’t have a cough this time, which was a huge relief! I was ready to perform my “floating head” duties.
The first show, C’est que de la télé, was hosted by Valérie Bénaïm. I had met her over the weekend near Bordeaux, where she was signing her latest book. I was thrilled to see her again. She sat facing four chroniqueurs (panelists), who were directly in front of me. On her show, the panelists watch media clips, then discuss and debate them. The panelists that day were Damien Canivez, Caroline Ithurbide, Ludivine Retory and Dr. Jimmy Mohammed. I think that they’re all the bee’s knees. I don’t often agree with Damien’s more conservative take on issues, but I admire him for sticking to his guns. I’m forever indebted to Caroline Ithurbide for posting on her social media about Serre Chevalier and thereby introducing me to the fabulous French ski resort. I love Ludivine’s sparkly personality. And Dr. Jimmy Mohammed’s deadpan humour always cracks me up.
For this taping, Valérie added a game that I completely adored. At the end of the half-hour show, she brought in Gilles Verdez, one of the panelists from Touche pas à mon poste (the show taped right afterwards). She challenged him to include the word “hemorrhoid” in one of his comments. And he did it!
The Touche pas à mon poste taping was loads of fun. I was especially pleased that one of my favourite panelists, Géraldine Maillet, was sitting directly in front of me. I spent a good chunk of the taping admiring her running shoes. She’s also a writer, and I’ve read and enjoyed several of her books. I’m also totally fascinated by her way of speaking. Even when she’s saying something that I vehemently disagree with, I can’t help but marvel at her eloquent use of the French language.
I was also pleased that Éric Mendes, the crowd warmer, remembered me from previous years. He is a big reason that I keep coming back to the show. He makes the whole experience tremendously enjoyable. He interacts with the audience members and gets us to sing and dance. I appreciate his boundless positive energy and his ability to keep us engaged for hours at a time.
I’ve noticed many “frequent flyers” at the tapings over the years. These superfans come to at least one show a week, and sometimes more. I really applaud their devotion, because it isn’t always easy being in a studio audience. Each year, I choose to focus on the jolly parts and to forget the more annoying aspects of the tapings, but they all come rushing back as soon as I arrive at the studio. The not-so-jolly aspects include the endless wait to be let on set, the hunger pangs (the shows run right through both the North American and European dinner times), and the lower back pain resulting from sitting for hours in the stands. It’s such a relief to be able to stand and stretch during the commercial breaks.
The show itself was filled with funny moments, absurd discussions and more serious debates. Speaking of absurd, in the video below, you can see me looking genuinely concerned that Cyril might launch a frying pan at Benjamin Castaldi.
Before herding us on the set, the security staff always tell us very clearly not to speak to the host or to any of the panelists unless they speak to us first. Should we break this rule, we would be escorted out. I think the rule makes perfect sense. It’s a show taping, not a meet-and-greet. I can only imagine the chaos in the studio if all the audience members tried to attract the attention of Cyril or their favourite panelists.
This “don’t speak unless spoken to” rule meant that, at all the prior tapings, my only contact with the panelists had been a polite nod in response to their “Bonjour” or “Bonsoir.” As such, I was tickled to death when Valérie spotted me in the audience and waved hello. She recognized me from the Saturday book signing. When the taping was over, she came up to me asked whether I was headed to the Netherlands the following day. I told her that I’d be leaving in two days. I couldn’t believe she remembered that detail! I was as smiley as smiley can be.
I left the studio that night floating on cloud nine. As I was grabbing my coat, I started chatting with another fan of the show who had been sitting near me. He asked me whether I wanted to join him for dinner near the studio, and I happily agreed. It felt so cathartic to debrief the show and share all my thoughts and feelings with another fan. I never get to do that in Canada. Merci Éric pour ta gentillesse!
The next morning, I kept up my other Paris tradition of exploring a new museum each visit. This year’s cultural centre of choice was the Rodin Museum.
That afternoon, I returned to Canal Factory for a pre-taping of C’est que de la télé that would air later that week. The afternoon audience was made up of mostly senior citizens who treated the taping as a social activity. I had a great time talking and laughing with the other audience members while waiting to be led on set. I find that older people are much more willing to engage in conversations with strangers, at least in Paris.
My seating luck held again, and I was placed directly behind Valérie. When the taping was over, she turned to me and said “You’re back!” and then shook my hand. I felt positively anointed.
I wrapped up my time in Paris by meeting my friends Virginie and Hélène at Bagelstein, where we enjoyed coffee (them) and hot chocolate (me) surrounded by the café’s funky decor. It was so awesome to see my lovely pals!
Virginie and I said goodbye to Hélène, who had to return to work. We made our way
under a driving downpour in a delightful Parisian rain shower to our favourite crêpe restaurant, Chez Lucette. It had spent my first evening in France eating crêpes in Lyon, so it was only fitting that I should end the French portion of my trip at a crêperie in Paris.