Monthly Archives: November 2010

France: Day 5, Chartres

I’ve been step­ping out of my com­fort zone. Having far too com­fort­able a life at home meant I grew com­pla­cent. I had no wants, which meant I did­n’t find the same plea­sure in the sim­ple things as I used to. Here, I live with­out a cat, with­out a ukulele, with­out a reg­u­lar chance to show­er, with­out locks on the bath­room doors, with­out speak­ing the lan­guage.

I need­ed to be remind­ed of how oth­er peo­ple live, and expe­ri­ence things I nev­er felt com­pelled to do in Ottawa. It has­n’t been easy. I mem­o­rize French phras­es, and hope no one responds out of a pre­dict­ed path. Even then, I fall back on an English-French dic­tio­nary, and Pouvez-vous par­lez plus lent­ment, s’il vous plaît, just in case. It’s some­thing I’ve been forc­ing myself to do, and at the end of the day I’m nev­er dis­ap­point­ed.

Daty croque monsieur

Various styles of croque-mon­sieur, a grilled ham sand­wich with cheese melt­ed on top of but­tered pain de mie, a pack­aged French bread that’s per­fect for toast­ing. Every bak­ery and fam­i­ly has their own ver­sion of this.

In the back is shred­ded guyère (a medi­um-bod­ied cheese), being sliced is mont d’or (very creamy and salty, and stuck to my teeth), and already halved is Camembert (which was super rich with a smell rem­i­nis­cent of a garbage, but cer­tain­ly did­n’t taste like it…still, I had a hard time get­ting over the smell).

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The Partisan

The Partisan, orig­i­nal­ly titled “La Complainte du par­ti­san” in French, has always been one of my favourite Leonard Cohen songs. The lyrics are from the point of view of a sole par­ti­san secret­ly fight­ing an occu­py­ing force in his coun­try, but I had no idea it was specif­i­cal­ly about the French resis­tance to Nazi occu­pa­tion dur­ing WWII, as the only ref­er­ences to this are in the French vers­es.

You hear of sol­diers nowa­days with iPods and their mur­der mix­es; playlists of heavy met­al, used to keep them moti­vat­ed (or, in some cas­es, inhu­man so they can com­mit inhu­mane acts). I’ve long held the belief that if I was ever fight­ing in a war, this would be my song — the only one I’d lis­ten to, and on repeat — because the nar­ra­tor is so cold and sto­ic in his pur­pose.


A group of par­ti­sans join­ing forces with the Canadian army at Boulogne, in September 1944.

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France: Day 3, Chartres

It’s been a great pace so far. No plans, no sched­ule, no goals, no stress. I did­n’t want to cram a bunch of activ­i­ties on this trip; I’d much rather take it easy and enjoy myself, so I can absorb as much of the cul­ture as pos­si­ble.

People would ask me if I was excit­ed to come here, and I could­n’t say that I was, prob­a­bly because there was­n’t any­thing spe­cif­ic I felt com­pelled to see. Sure, I’ll prob­a­bly end up vis­it­ing some of the touristy, must-see sites in Paris, but more impor­tant­ly, I want to live the life, to be a local for a while.

girl buying bread

The defin­i­tive image of France: a young girl dressed smart­ly in cha­peau and tights waves to the bak­er, who comes from around the counter to hold the door for her as she leaves the store. Of uncor­rupt­ed inno­cence, sim­ple rit­u­als, and fresh bread.

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France: Arrival

Getting here was most cer­tain­ly the most gru­el­ing trip I’ve ever tak­en. From door to door, it took me 21 hours to trav­el almost 6000km, car­ry­ing with me near­ly 90 pounds of lug­gage (which isn’t that much of a stretch from my body weight).

I was main­ly focused on mak­ing it safe­ly and with all my stuff, so tak­ing pho­tos was­n’t a pri­or­i­ty. Traveling alone is cer­tain­ly a lot more dif­fi­cult than with a com­pan­ion, because you can’t leave suit­cas­es with some­one and do some­thing quick like walk down a street to find a sign, or go to the bath­room.

talking to a pigeon

Giving a pigeon a stern talk­ing-to. Birds are brave here.

At Gare Montparnasse.

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