Tights-of-the-month for November

A while back I discovered My Little Paris, a resolutely feminine & charmingly illustrated* website that shamelessly promotes exactly the sort of fun, frivolous items that the rest of the world imagines fills up the life of a typical parisienne 24/7.

One of those frivolities was  La Gambettes Box (the Gams Box), where for a modest sum each month I receive two pairs of tights—one practical, one whimsical—according to the season.

This month it was a pair of opaque, fleece-lined black tights and some pseudo-knee highs that are a bit, er, Lolita, but hey, the point of this was to inject some novelty into the wardrobe (without veering into mutton-dressed-as-lamb territory, I hope).

Another cool thing is it’s slightly cheaper to have it sent to my office, which in addition to being vastly more convenient, there’s also nothing like receiving a decidedly non-work parcel to perk up your workday.

* and so charming are these illustrations that the artist, Kanako, has published her own book of them, called Les Parisiens. Last August the City of Paris exhibited on several on posters (like the one below) around the city . See an interview in English and more of those posters.

Kanako’s take on Paris café culture.

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Today marks 5 years in France

5 years ago today we arrived in Paris. It was the night of the US election. The city was going through a spell of Obama-mania.

Mannequin wearing "I <heart> Obama" t-shirt

I was ThRilLed to be here, HerrKaa, merely lukewarm.

In years 1 and 2 I never wrote an anniversary post, because we were feeling pretty Meh about the challenges of Parisian daily life.

In years 3 and 4, I didn’t post for a different reason: my brain was simply too exhausted from all the learning for my new job (the technology, the work culture, and so many French expressions)  to have energy to email friends, never mind blog. And HerrKaa was preoccupied with training for the Étape du Tour bike race.

5 years after his election, Parisians, along with the rest of Europe, have very different feelings towards Obama.

recent headlines about US spying in Europe, particularly France - Nov 2013

And we have very different feelings about being in France.

Obvious revelation #1: Don’t sweat the small stuff

My initial euphoria has been tempered by a lot of hard knocks to the ego, but nowadays I can relish what we came here for: the food and wine and travel and beauty and incredible art literally, like, everywhere you freakin’ look, and no longer panic over Paperwork Problems. It helped learning from coworkers that the bureaucracy is a real struggle for the French too.

Also, now that I realize how rare it is for expats like me to land a full-time job in their industry at a French company (not a US multinational), I no longer feel so much like the total incompetent that I felt like for the first 2.5 years.

Obvious revelation #2: Learning the local lingo really does help

Meanwhile HerrKaa, initially reluctant to learn French, now is able to do things like comparison shop for new insurance policies, go to all-French bike races in the countryside, and enjoy watching M6’s non-stop apartment search/home staging shows, tout en français.  

Not only does that make HerrKaa feel way more comfortable here, it took a huge weight off me. Now someone else can understand what comes in the mail, or pick up the cat from the vet and discuss when to do the next contrôle du sang (blood test)! Because we do know of couples, who even have kids in the French school system, where only one spouse can communicate in French. When that spouse also has a full-time job, that becomes a serious burden.

(It also makes me wonder….would those Frenchophobes, the ones who only frequent English language libraries, churches, book stores, and live in anglo-heavy neighbourhoods be the same people who complain back home about immigrants who never assimilate? I’m not saying that it’s right, but if an immigrant community already exists it is so much easier to just stay there. Not too long ago I interviewed an American, who has lived here for 14 years and is married to a French woman, but literally couldn’t even handle bonjour.)

Obvious revelation #3: Travel is soooo much easier here

The other major improvement is we eventually found our travel groove, mastering the art of multi-modal travel, usually a combo of train, rental-car and bike. But since I do want to post this today instead of two weeks from now, I’ll talk about that in an upcoming post about visiting Slovenia and the South of France this past summer.

What about you? What milestones have you reached in the past 5 years?

An afternoon at the Red Tea Box, Toronto

I am watching Meilleur Patissier de France (Best pastry chef of France) on M6, my favourite TV station/guilty pleasure.

Today’s challenge was to make a “Voyageur” almond cake, so named because it can keep for 3 days at room temperature. The tricky bit for the 12 contestants was the fondant icing. Ah, yet another ‘false friend’: fondant is just regular glazed icing to me, while what anglos call fondant icing is pâte à sucre (sugar paste) here, and such cake decoration is almost non-existent in Paris*.

On the other hand, we saw some stunning examples when in Toronto a few weeks ago, at the Red Tea Box.

One of our favourite neighbourhoods in Toronto is the stretch of Queen St W. by Trinity Bellwood park. Our friend Fauna kindly sacrified her Friday afternoon off to battle traffic and fetch us from Pearson (when is Canada’s largest city going to have a subway line to the airport, like a normal metropolis?),  then brought us here for some mid-afternoon sustenance.

I had been here 10 years before, again with Fauna (my source of all things cool in TO), and had never forgotten the experience. It was my first time tasting white Chinese tea, and I went gaga for the savory-sweet, Asian-influenced nibblies served in bento boxes. Since then I’ve made many trips to Toronto and tried repeatedly to visit, often dragging Torontophobic, tea-loving HerrKaa to prove the city has its merits even if there are no mountains, but this place would always be closed, ultimately reinforcing entrenched stereotypes.

The server was very friendly and we enjoyed being able to banter with her unhindered by linguistic mental gymnastics. She did tend to mysteriously disappear for long stretches, but this suited us fine as we needed time to choose from the extensive tea menu and to dither between soup of the day, a tea bento, or a gooey dessert.

In the end, HerrKaa opted for a chocolate hazlenut toffeecake, while Fauna and I split a tea bento that featured along with the savouries a chocolate lavender mousse. Because I am greedy was famished I also had a cauliflower, pear and wasabe soup to start. All this was accompanied by a huge pot, practically a vat, of steeped black tea. Such a thrill compared to the minuscule pots of tepid water you get when you are order tea at a typical café in France!

The Red Tea Box (phone for opening hours as they can be irregular)

696 Queen St W, Toronto

416-203-8882

* In Paris, you can order pretty cakes decorated with rolled fondant/pâte à sucre at the American (and I think Canadian)-run Sugarplum Cake Shop, near Contrescarpe. David Lebovitz has a good write-up here.