2010 continued: Now, the lows

We should have gone to Crete. That’s how we’re going to remember Christmas 2010.


Ok, let me go back a bit. Or a lot. Unfortunately, I can’t simply write up a breezy little bulleted list with pretty photos to convey our low points. Perhaps that’s because in the last few months they’ve seemed to us more like long low stretches that fill up the space between th0se sparkly discrete points that are our vacations and visits with friends.

In other words, day-to-day life in Paris lately has been a real slog.

The expression I used in one of my rare 2010 posts sums it up: Metro, Boulot, Dodo. Far too many evenings spent flaked out in front of the TV or some torrent, trying to forget work and the growing pile of paperasserie on the desk. Really, is this so different from being a wage slave anywhere else in the western world?

Obviously, we needed to change, to find our Systeme D (for Débrouillard: resourceful) which everyone  insists is the Secret for Surviving in France.

It seemed like such a good idea at the time

Anyways, amongst the usual stuff–look for new work, eat better, exercise more, find new work,  yadda, yadda, yadda…. one of my brilliant ideas was to go skiing over the holidays in Austria. I still had 5 flex days I needed to use up by the end of the year, since our planned off-season holiday in Crete for November had fallen though. We both love to ski, we craved fresh air & open space,  and we were looking for something different after two years in a row of Christmas in HerrKaa’s quiet hometown in Germany.

Have you ever tried to book a Christmas holiday with less than a month lead time? And to go to a country that eschews credit cards? Let’s just say the travel arrangements did not bring on the Christmas cheer.

Then we got caught up in the snow-chaoas that hit Europe just before Xmas. Our 2 hour flight out of Paris was delayed 3 hours, which in turn sent off a chain reaction of missed connections so that instead of celebrating Christmas at the 4-star hotel with 5-course supper I’d reserved at the resort, we were in a dark, deserted motel in an industrial suburb of Salzburg, beside a highway and across the street from a gas station. And we were extremely lucky compared to those poor sods camping in freezing tents outside of Heathrow.

Stranded bags in Vienna airport

But the next day we made it to the resort easily enough, found our rental condo and got our rental skis, huffing & puffing a bit at the unaccustomed elevation (the village is at 1800 m). Alas, we had barely started to relax when after lunch on Day 2, I over-ambitiously suggested skiing off piste in the powder. Within seconds Snap! went the anterior cruciate ligament in my left knee and with it all hopes for a relaxing week of shushing in the snow and Austrian après-ski.

So the rest of the week was a whir of pre-op, op, and post-op activities in the company of brusquely efficient Teutonic nurses.

How I spent my Christmas Vacation

HerrKaa did manage a few hours of skiing each day but spent the rest of  the time being my nursemaid. And on top of it all, he developed a tooth infection around the same time I had surgery so by the end of the week we were both in pretty rough shape,  swollen and feverish and haggard.

Homeward bound

And then, after a week of No New Snow, the Sunday we headed back to the airport there was a blizzard – the kind where the police shut the roads because of all the vacationers who drive in summer tires without chains to a ski resort at 1800 m, and who were now strewn along the snowy banks of the highway like metallic beached whales.

Snow tires are for wussies

Thus our 20 min taxi trip stretched to over an hour and was late connecting with the airporter bus, already 3/4 full of passengers worried about missing their flight. The minute we boarded, the anxious driver gunned it. Suddenly I was thrown sideways with all my weight on my bad leg and then backwards onto an elderly German couple.

But soon knee panic was overtaken by sheer panic: I don’t know what these poor drivers are threatened with if they’re late, but the snow had created a traffic jam on the Autobahn so  the driver first switched to a twisty moutainside secondary road. He kept asking passengers for updates on the Autobahn, which was just visible on the other side of the valley. The little tyke sitting in front of me quickly became bus-sick.

Then back on the Autobahn, we hit another traffic jam whereupon he simply drove this massive coach full-speed along the shoulder, prompting righteous Austrian drivers to deliberately drive into the shoulder ahead of him as a as a blatant reprimand. As the coach would approach,the hatchback he was about to pass would edge closer to the shoulder line….Ugh ugh ugh. HerrKaa reminded me to use my good leg to brace in case of impact.

Why did I suggest skiing over Xmas? And why in far-off Austria when there are so many resorts in France? Hell, what was wrong with a nice cold Christmas at home in Paris?

Fortunately, once in Salzburg Airport things picked up – for me at least. HerrKaa told Lufthansa about my gimped state which ensured wheeled transport through all 3 airports that day – a real lifesaver for traversing Frankfurt.  Before we took off from Salzburg I pestered him to phone the surgeon, who reassured me that the fall I had would not cause a rupture and that I just needed to ice & elevate. That erased all my panic, leaving me to enter a peaceful, near-catatonic state for the rest of the trip while HerrKaa was finally allowed to fully wallow in his own misery of fever, aching teeth, and puffy face.

Vive les vacances!


2010: First, the high points

Ok, so it’s a new year and it seems that the thing to do if you’re a blogger is do some sort of recap. This is especially useful for dilettante bloggers like myself who didn’t really post anything in 2010 and have fallen desperately behind with emails.

I started this post comparing the highs & the lows–essentially weighing the good vs. the bad as we decide how much longer to stay in Paris–but it quickly became epic in length, reflecting my conflicting thoughts about life as an expat. Since I’m already feeling blogger guilt for not posting my 2010 recap in, well, 2010, here is a slimmed-down list of highlights only.

For those wanting a schadenfreude fix,  have no fear, the lowlights are coming. In fact we are still living one of them as I type….more to come soon.

Our 2010 highlights:

  • Escaping the grey, cold, 170-year-old-single-pane-windows draftiness of Paris in January for a long weekend in Seville. Sunny skies, Moorish palaces, and oranges literally everywhere. How could anyone not be happy? As an extra bonus, we got to stay a 5th day – thank you, striking French air-traffic controllers.
  • Watching Team Canada beat Team USA to win the Olympic Mens Hockey Gold at the Great Canadian Pub in Paris, where even there the crowd was half American which made the end of the 3rd period insufferable but then….. Na na NAH NAH. Na na NAH NAH. Hey hey hey, gooooodbyyyye.
  • Landing a real job, with real French benefits and most critically, a real pay cheque and getting to shuck the ‘trailing spouse’ stigma. The whole process was easier than I was led to expect: in the preceding months, anytime I would brightly explain to whoever I met that I’m looking for full-time work, the reaction amongst expats & natives alike could be best described as funereal sympathy. And a proper salary was a welcome change after 6 months working for the wonderful, but decidedly non-profit, American Library in Paris.
  • Paula’s visit in April, nicely timed to coincide while I was between jobs. It was like being able to vacation in Paris like a normal non-Parisian. Paula was joined a few days later by husband Todd, an ash-cloud refugee en route from Frankfurt. Paula loved everything, and even ardent Francophobe Todd hated France much, much less after we introduced him to the Loire Valley countryside and French rose.
    Paula (and Todd) in Paris
  • Hiking in Scotland with Andrea & Julian in May. The Scottish Highlands makes the BC Coast look like Atlantic City. Now I understand the meaning of “desolate beauty”. Scenery, microbrews, hiking and haggis exceeded all expectations. So did our B&B in For William: http://www.huntingtowerlodge.com/.
    Scotland May 2010
  • Our first visit back to Vancouver for one week of perfect weather in July. 7 days; 20 visits with friends;  9 restaurants + 1 Krua Thai takeout feast; 2 massage therapy appointments; 1 long-overdue haircut;  1 afternoon cleaning out Banana Republic Robson’s sale racks; multiple visits to Artigiano’s & Granville Island Market; 1 jet-lagged afternoon moving van full of remaining stuff from Shaugnessy to North Shore; and one glorious afternoon mountain bike ride followed by unfathomable amount of BBQ’d meats and glasses of Paula’s lethal punch now known as “Hyannis Mist”. It was great, we loved seeing everyone but….never again.
  • Finding an excellent Yoga studio 5 minutes from our apartment with even better instruction than my favourite studios in Vancouver (and I’ve done a fair bit of Yoga over the past 15 years). Whodathunkit? http://www.rasa-yogarivegauche.com/en/index.php.
  • Now having several tried, tested & willing cat-sitters to call upon, even at the 11th hour, and most of them free!
  • Exploring “old east” Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg with Michele and Aaron in early October. It’s like Vancouver’s West End meets Main Street, but with better architecture, a lot more galleries, a lot less traffic and a scary number of fixie-riding hipsters. No pics here because we were either too busy marveling at the pre-WWII buildings, or eating delicious meals at seemingly pre-WWII prices.
  • HerrKaa completing 3 bike races this year, and then capping off his season by participating in a 200+ km “fun” ride from Levallois (just west of Paris) to Honfleur (on the Normandy coast).
  • Finding out my best friend is going to have a baby! For those of you with siblings, this might seem an odd highlight for me (obviously it’s a biggie for Kathryn). But since I’m an only child and HerrKaa is effectively an only (he & his only sibling are not close, to put things mildly), my chances of ever being an Auntie seemed dim to non-existent until Kathryn obligingly stepped up to the parenting plate. I’m looking forward to having a mini-person in my life to dote on!
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