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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Street Stories #2

Sequel to The Back Story: Every face tells a story.

Every day I walk up my street and get a friendly smile and hello from the cute young kebab seller. His smile lights up the street and is no doubt responsible for the brisk business at the take away restaurant.

One day I notice he looks sad and ask why. He tells me that his father who lives in Syria was arrested and will only be released if his son can send a large amount of money. Should he believe that sending money will secure a release?  In the meantime there is no way to know how he is being treated, or if he will become one of the thousands who "disappear". 

To add to the drama, the young man's wife is expecting a baby, but there is no way to visit or have her come to Paris in the midst of the local violence. He can only hope that their friends and family can protect and care for her.

We see this on the news and it does not seem real. For some including people we have met this is very real. Clearly I and most of my Western friends have lived a sheltered life.

My challenge to you is to ask someone their story.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Back Story

We rarely know the back story. Although we are faced with a reality as we interact, we only know what is presented to us, not what else may be happening in that person's life.

For example, I recently read a very negative review about a restaurant in my neighborhood. As it happened I was in the restaurant that same evening the writer was complaining about, and it is true that the service was unusually slow. I spent some time talking to the owner and came away with a different story than what I read in the review.

So what is the back story?

That same day the owner of the restaurant was told some very bad news which no doubt affected his focus at work that evening. The mother of his daughter (she is not his wife or his girlfriend) was diagnosed with lung failure. At the age of 32 she was given 48 hours to live unless by some miracle she received a lung transplant.

Good news: since that diagnosis she received a lung transplant and is now recovering.

I suppose the lesser but still bad news is that many people reading Trip Advisor may never get to experience how great this restaurant is.

I am pretty sure this young man can live with his balance. I do wonder if the review writer would like to reconsider her very definitive comments given a more complete story?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Don't mess with my ZEN

Sometimes people try my patience.

I recently went to Tiffany's with two friends. The salesperson was dismissive. Nothing feels worse than being treated like you are not worthy.The question is how to respond.

  1. Be snooty back so she knows how it feels? This is usually ineffective, and will carry over to the next person with whom I interact. I am left charged with this negative energy.
  2. Be super nice? Strangely fun and sometimes effective. The recipient will choose to receive this offering neutrally or positively, and I will raise my mood for my next interaction. Keep the snowball rolling in the right direction!
  3. Ignore the waves of negativity. They have nothing to do with me. The person may be having a bad day or may be a generally negative person. Either way I do no accept her mood into my day.

It is a choice. Today I chose #3.

By the way after this little exchange we went to the Park Hyatt and were treated like royalty. We were greeted warmly at every meeting point, escorted to the next hand-off, greeted again and just generally made to feel welcome.

I wonder if our salesperson had the same reception wherever she went next?

Choose your response.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Life's little choices

I am walking up the street with my arms full of shopping, laptops, etc. A woman is also walking, pushing her bicycle. She is obviously struggling, and I wonder if she might have Parkinson's or another motor disorder. When I offer her help she asks me if I am Canadian! This is my favorite part of this story.

A young man takes over as I am trying to lift her bicycle up her stairs, still with my hands full.

You were one of the people also on the street. You saw this woman struggling.
Why did you choose not to help?

What would have motivated you to act?

Imagine this is your mother.

 Imagine this is you.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Strangely easy week of travel

When I realized I would work in Madrid, Paris, Brussels and Southampton all in one week, I was prepared for some stress and even chaos. However, things went very smoothly.

Monday was a flight from Paris to Madrid and back. This was my second non-trip to Madrid, (see It Was as if I was Never There )  in that I have been there twice but have seen nothing of Madrid. I have to do this properly some day soon.

Tuesday I spent all day in Paris which is always a pleasure. I met my friends Janice and Christophe for a drink and managed to sneak in dinner at my favorite neighborhood restaurant La Grotte for a late dinner.

Wednesday I took the Thalys train to Brussels with only one strange incident. There was an announcement that the 4:01 train was cancelled, so another 4:01 train would accommodate the passengers. We were told to take a seat anywhere. Only one woman struggled to understand the concept. She believed that her ticket was more special than everyone else's and that she should be allowed to sit in the seat originally assigned to her on the now cancelled train. When no one agreed with her, she felt the need to say in a voice that carried through the train "Typical". I wonder if she feels better having given that response to a situation completely unworthy of her ire? For my part I took a seat and managed to survive the short journey to Brussels without any stress. Simple. There are truly bigger issues on any given day than whether I sit in Seat 15 or 18. Maybe her life is so trouble free that this was the worst thing that could have happened.

Brussels was grey and rainy, and I saw whatever was within a 3 block radius of my hotel including the Stock Exchange. I did pass by the European Parliament building which is pretty cool. Clearly I will have to return to know anything of this city.

Thursday I flew to Southampton. I have been there a few times for client meetings, but found a bit of time to check it out this trip. I am embarrassed to say I was not aware the Titanic sailed from Southampton, or that most cruise ships list Southampton as their port of call. It was the site of a huge muster of Americans during WW2 in preparation for D Day, bombed to pieces during that same war, but still surviving, if not architecturally pleasing to the eye. Oh and the Restaurant Coriander was worth the trip in itself.

Upon arriving in Paris Friday evening I was dismayed to see hundreds of people waiting for taxis. I decided to brave the Orly Bus instead, making my 20 minute ride a 60 minute bus plus RER trip. I even missed the chance to celebrate my friend's birthday. On the other hand I took the time to visit Serge for wine and cheese and practice my French flirting, so the evening was not a total loss. My friends and I are using our ability to flirt in French as a measure of our ability to speak French. It is a challenge, and I need a lot of practice!

For me it was a pleasure to have such a busy week of travel transpire without any major delays or undue stress. Business travel made easy. Thank you Travel Angels!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Traveling even if you are home

I love to travel obviously. So much so that when I am in Paris for a week I treat it like a week of travel. Take last week for instance.

Saturday: Went to my favorite neighborhood restaurant  La Grotte with friiends. We actually started at my place with champagne and made it to the restaurant by 9. Philipe and Erwan always take great care of us and serve delicious food at very reasonable prices. It pretty much feels like home.

For some reason at what should have been the end of the evening  it was terribly important to stop by another neighborhood favorite Le Tourn'Bride  for a nightcap, resulting in two of my friends missing the last metro home. Serge always has a nice selection of food and wine and makes everyone feel at home.

Sunday: I visited The Louvre for the first time in my two years here  and stoppped for a cafe (for some reason we always plan a cafe but have a glass of wine instead). Then strolled along the streets of The Marais with Alison checking out everything that was about to go on sale for the twice annual sale season. She bought a lovely coat. Of course we stopped at the very nice  Le Preau for a glass and a nibble.

Monday I joined my colleagues at  Cafe du Commerce in the 15th for a very high quality meal in an unpretentious atmosphere with good service. I recommend that you always reserve to avoid getting stuck in the back room of the ground floor. We had a lovely view of the open courtyard.

Tuesday I met some friends at L'Area Bar in the 4th for drinks and great conversation. Although it is a very nice bar and restaurant, we tend to stand outside so the guys can smoke big fat cigars and we can all gossip..

Wednesday I met my friend Nona for dinner at Le 404 . We amused ourselves trying to guess what the name was derived from. Car enthusiasts are best equipped to answer this question.

It is a beautifully decorated space with nice lighting. We enjoyed great food and a nice bottle of Algerian wine, served by our Algerian waiter.

Thursday I stopped for a glass with Janice at Le Tourn'Bride (yes I go there often) and discovered we had a lot to talk about. By 10PM I realized dinner would need to be something relatively quick. Luckily there is a very good takeaway, Zamane so I brought home brochettes de poulet, hummous, pita, tabouleh. Enough for 2 and only 10 Euros.

Friday Janice and I went to Wine by One  with a meetup group Bubbles 'n Nibbles. Really great concept with 100 wines available. You buy a card (like a Starbucks card) and put as much credit on it as you want. Then you walk around the vending machines full of real bottles of well known wines and select either 6cl (a taste) 12 cl (a larger taste) or 24cl (a nice glass or 4 oz.) of wine. Prices range from 1 Euro for a taste to some crazy price. The selection includes many countries, and of course you can choose champagne, white or red. I think I also saw 2 roses. I highly recommend this place. Friendly staff, nice people, good wine - how would you rather spend your evening? Oh I guess there was food too but we somehow missed it in the midst of the lively conversation.

Maybe my next career should be restaurant critic?

All this to say:
If you sit still long enough in Paris you will find a glass of wine and lovely meal to enjoy, You also will find someone to enjoy it with!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Meeting through meetup

There are hundreds of meet up groups in Paris. Think of something you like to do, say bungee jumping backwards from a 100 year old tree and there is already a group doing it. Okay maybe there wasn't but by now someone has read this and started that group.
I have found the meetup groups to be a real pleasure. Everyone at these groups is friendly and wants to meet people. Already a great start, right?. 
Sometimes I am contacted by a member of one of the groups to go for a coffee or other activity. Sometimes I accept. It could be that the person is from Canada, or we have a  common interest. Maybe they just like my profile. Anyway it feels right to accept the invitation.
My advice: just like internet dating always meet in a safe and friendly place. Tell someone (not your mother though she will only worry) where you are going and who you plan to meet. If anything feels uncomfortable, just cancel or leave. And of course never give money to anyone you don't know.
I have one new piece of advice: talk to the person on the phone before you meet them. Names can be deceiving, and there are times it is important to know if you are meeting a man or a woman. It could help to know why that person finds you interesting.
In the spirit of privacy, and because it is a fun story to keep under wraps I decline to say more.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

2012 Resolve

I am not a New Years Resolution kind of girl. But I think I have one for 2012 and hopefully for the rest of my life. When I make a decision I am checking myself to ask, "Is this a choice I can be proud of? ".

Simple and effective.
Call it maturity, a word I become more fond of if I use it with wine, or call it one small step toward wisdom. Decision making has become much easier for me using this as my guide.
How do you make hard decisions?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Travel vs. Tourism

Common themes for my blog so far:
Travel vs Tourism: What is the difference?
If you sit still long enough...
What have I learned?

Here then is another take on travel vs. tourism.
My friend Gina recently visited Paris. She was asked by friends to bring back miniature Eiffel Towers. And she tried. I watched her on more than one occasion pick up the cheap little trinkets, but she simply could not follow through and take them to the cash. In one store she picked  them up and put them back on the shelf once, twice, three times. No way could she take the next step. The only thing that would have made this more entertaining was if she put one foot in and one foot out, did the hokey poky and turned herself about. It was fascinating and strangely satisfying to watch her attempt something that seemed very straightforward before arriving in Paris, but became impossible after being here. Clearly these trinkets have nothing to do with her experience of Paris.
She did find something particularly personal and meaningful for her daughter, that no one else would have thought of in a place that does connect to the heart and history of Paris. I have no doubt it was received in the same maner it was selected.
I think this is all because she is a traveler at heart. This is definitely not the act of a tourist.

Monday, January 2, 2012

NYE Berlin

I have heard New Years Eve in Berlin is beyond description. I think it may be true, and yet I feel compelled to try.
I started with a day full of exploring Museum Island, which is a large number of palaces added to an original castle-grounds. Since the 1400's castles and palaces have been built there. It appears that every royal family member required their own palace. They are now all museums with very long lines due to the tour bus trade. Just walking around them makes you feel a sense of history.

A close neighbour, the Berlin Dom does not pale in comparison.

But it was to be a party night.
By 7PM we were primped and ready to catch our train to a private party in the Prenzlauer Berg area of Berlin. It is known as one of the nicer neighborhoods, and we were excited to spend the evening with people who actually live in Berlin. One local Berliner told us that those who want to spend a lot and get very little live in this area. (That was not our experience by the way; we visited one of the most beautiful apartments I have seen anywhere.)

We mapped our journey in advance.We got on the right S train. Got off at the wrong station to change to the U2 train. Corrected, but ran into another learning opportunity. You know the caution "Mind the gap"? Well just as I was boarding the U2 a woman who looked a lot like me and even has the same name ignored the caution. Instead she looked over her shoulder to make sure her friend was also going to make it onto the train in time. It is surprising that a woman's foot and entire leg can slip so easily into the gap between the train and the wall. There is a safety stop, called a woman's hip, which prevents her from descending entirely into the gap (Thank you Mother Nature!).
People in Berlin are nice. Two men immediately rushed to lift her out of the gap (yes I am still pretending I did not know this woman), and make sure she was okay. In fact her pride was severely bruised as was her hip. It really hurts (I still feel her pain).

So much for the intro. We arrived at the cute little bar to meet our friends and were immediately offered a drink. Yes please. Since everyone on that train thinks I er I mean that woman was already soused. We noticed everyone was smoking, even though the official smoking room was two rooms back (and empty). I prepared for a night of low oxygen, and Gina thanked her lucky stars that she would not have to brave the freakin' cold all night. We soon headed off to our new friends'  lovely, large and beautifully welcoming apartment for the evening. Our hosts were gracious and made us feel very much at home.


Imagine a July 4 celebration with the most amazing fireworks show you have ever seen. Multiply by 10. Now have that fireworks display coming from every possible direction, not just four directions but 44. Now make the show an hour long. Get the idea?
I was right. There is no way to describe it.
I did not take pictures. Would not have begun to capture the moment. Kind of like taking your Brownie camera to The Grand Canyon. Or your crayons.

We joined another party at the neighbor's after the show, and finally decided we should try to get a cab back to the hotel. At 2:30 AM. On New Years Eve. Oh yeah that was going to happen. Almost managed to hitch a ride with another couple, but eventually caved and caught the train.


About a million drunk people all out of fireworks and tired, bored and cranky. Broken bottles everywhere. Used up fireworks strewn all over the streets. Not enough police.  But we clambered on to a train, changed at the right station and made it home in no time.

My lesson?
If you sit still long enough in Berlin something will amaze you.
If you sit still too long you may become part of the show.