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Friday, January 8, 2016

PS West Jet I don't love you

It is Jan 4 and I am at Edmonton airport checking in for my West Jet flight to Toronto, planning to transfer to Air France to Paris. The Gate Agent jauntily tells me I won't see my bags in Toronto as they are checked all the way through to Paris.

Imagine my surprise four hours later to see one of my suitcases circling the Toronto airport on the designated baggage carousel.  The other bag was nowhere in sight. I grab my bag off the belt and ask how I should make sure it accompanies me to Paris. I was told by Baggage Agent #1 to go to the West Jet counter and drop the located on a belt there so it could meet me Paris. West Jet Line Guarding Agent  pretends to listen to my story and tells me to get in line.

Ticket checking agent gets me to repeat my story and says I have nothing to worry about - my bag is correctly tagged to go to Paris. Yes but since it is not on its way to Paris without our help  (I know this because I am looking at it in Toronto) what should I do? "Put it on the belt" says Ticket Checking Agent.

Belt Checking Agent asks me to tell my story and says "oh no not this belt - you need to go to those West jet counters over there". But of course.

As I am leaving to go "over there" Random Child Agent asks me my story and looks concerned - just as concerned as his friend Random Child Agent #2. They both agree that I should not be at West Jet trying to ship my bag but at Air France. Although they work for West Jet at Toronto airport, they can not tell me in which terminal I might find Air France. I carry on my West Jet adventure anyway.

West jet Line Guarding Agent "over there" asks for my story and tells me to get in line. I know how to do that quite well by now.

Ticket checking agent "over there" asks for my story, acts concerned that I am at West Jet with my bag instead of Air France, reassures me that my bag is correctly tagged so there was no reason for it to have appeared on a baggage carousel in Toronto (but I didn't make it up) and tells me  I can put it on the belt if that's what I think I should do.

Belt agent asks for my story and not very confidently tells me to put my bag on the belt.

If you are imagining that this story does not end well you are correct.  I arrive in Paris. I wait for an hour and a half. The bag that I saw in Toronto I do see again in Paris. The other bag - well it took a trip to Vancouver and Amsterdam and arrived in Paris 4 days later.

The computer age has done very little for checked luggage it seems. Then again with such well trained airport staff perhaps I should be grateful the luggage arrived at all.

Thursday, January 22, 2015


I have been seeing some posts lately about Paris being back to normal.

Sorry to say, but this is not really true.

Rue Mouffetard, normally a lively street  day and night, is empty since the January 7 attacks.
Friends in town this week have not had to wait in line at the Louvre, at the Eiffel Tower, at the Catacombs. In fact there have been no lines. Tourists have cancelled their planned travel to Paris. Parisians have cancelled their planned travel within outside of Paris. The word of the day is caution.

January sales - normally a time when shops are jam-packed with people profiting from deep discounts on all of the things we have admired but could not afford - have been a disaster. No matter how deep the discounts, Parisians are not shopping this year.

Other signs of #thingsarenotnormalinparis :

  • Just up the street a 24/7 armed guard stands at the door of what may be the residence of prominent journalists who may also be Jewish.  
  • At the post office an armed guard checks your bags upon entry and exit.
  • At Place d'Italie shopping centre an armed guard checks your bags upon entry and exit.
  • Yesterday my metro line was shut down for quite some time. I could not make out the garbled announcement, but certainly saw the 25 armed guards in the station among the hundreds of waiting commuters. Something was up.

Don't get me wrong - Paris needs to take seriously the higher level of risk recently introduced. The armed guards are doing their jobs.

But let's not pretend this is normal.
Please see vigipirate. We are currently scarlet - the highest level of alert.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Charlie and the Anti-Muslim Media Factory

This article posted on Facebook yesterday tripped the trigger for me, likely because I disagree with everything it says and it was posted by someone I like. Read the article in the link below.

Link to article that made me lose my cool

I am all for sharing all sides of a story but what a load of bs is to be found here.
  • First how can the author compare Charlie Hebdo cartoons to a Twitter hashtag titled killallmuslims? Charlie Hebdo created cartoons. Provocative, insensitive and yes offensive to some but they were caricatures, not calls to war.  Caricatures of world leaders are done every day without retaliatory attacks, hostage takings or killings.
  • Continuing on, the author refers to a discussion on whether or not to serve pork in a school within a town of 3,500 people and 180 students.  Why does a decision to serve pork in this school intrude on the rights of students who do not eat pork? And is this any different from serving meat or dairy products in schools even if some students have strong moral objections to consuming products from livestock? Seems like everyone has the choice to eat something different that day.
  • The author's comparison to the 2011 Norwegian lone-wolf attack attacks is a weak one. Although the Norwegian killer was apparently politically motivated, a single person does not create the same global ongoing threat as a radical religious and political organisation pledged to destroy basic rights and freedoms and the people who hold these ideals.
  • The author places blame for the Paris attacks directly on the failure of the intelligence and security forces to monitor and stop these extremists. I beg to differ. The blame must remain on the individuals and extremist organisations who have taken "credit" for the killings.
  • And here is the author's finale; "If we close our eyes, we can think that the Paris attacks exposed a contradiction between Islam and freedom of expression – and between Muslims and Europeans." Close our eyes - I do not think so. Never mind that the author started out by discussing a perceived injustice to European Muslims and now seems to be making a distinction between Europeans and Muslims. We can actually agree that indeed there is a basic contradiction in that many of us respect and value the rights and freedoms provided by the country in which we live. The extremists responsible for the Paris attacks not only contest those rights and freedoms, but strive to take them away from the rest of us by threatening and killing innocents. I agree - this is a contradiction, although perhaps not in the sense the author believes.
  • I do understand that it is offensive to Muslims to caricature the prophet. However if we are to avoid publishing all that is offensive to all groups I think the list of forbidden images will be long. Let's start with forbidding the publishing of women's bare faces, women in the work place, inter-racial marriages, black presidents, handicapped children in regular schools, female world leaders, pork producers, pets in the home, race horses, dairy cattle confined to barns... the list could be almost endless if we are to avoid offending anyone's moral, religious or political sensibilities.
  • In Paris last week employees of Charlie Hebdo were killed for making cartoons. Other innocents were killed for some other reason - being of Jewish faith apparently. This is what we are standing up against. We are not simply having an intellectual debate about the quality or desirability of the magazine, its contents or its contributors. People were killed in a country where freedom of speech is not only permitted, but encouraged. We do not have to like what is published. We do not have to buy what is published. We do not even have to read what is published. But it is our responsibility to allow it to be published.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

When you start on your journey to Ithaca

When you start on your journey to Ithaca,
then pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
Do not fear the Lestrygonians
and the Cyclopes and the angry Poseidon.
You will never meet such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your body and your spirit.
You will never meet the Lestrygonians,
the Cyclopes and the fierce Poseidon,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not raise them up before you.
-K. P. Kavafis (C. P. Cavafy), translation by Rae Dalven

My Parisienne friend and I were the recipients of this poem yesterday. The sender is a fellow ex-pat who no doubt was thinking of the pilgrimage Miss Paris took last year, and the trials and joys of that journey both physically and spiritually. 

In a perhaps unrelated event Miss Paris also recently took a leap of faith, deciding to trust the universe just a little and to assume that most things will work out reasonably well, even if she is not constantly supporting all world events with her active worrying. By the way the first time she tried it she was rewarded grandly; she did not give the possible negative outcome the energy required to manifest. She did not allow the beast to accompany her. And the result was positive.

The poem is so powerful that I immediately sent it to another friend, who just yesterday discovered within an apparently squandered day a possible new approach to his creative pursuits. Once again choosing to trust the journey brought the best possible result.

I have shared the first verse which also reminds me of my favourite Cormac McCarthy line:

"A creature cannot learn that which his heart has no shape to hold." 

It is possible that our deepest fear is not of others, but that beast we carry with us on our journey. 

In the midst of the shock waves still rippling through Paris following the terrorist attacks I am comforted by this poem, and by my belief that whatever we focus on grows more powerful. A conscious effort of peace and trust in the greater humanity may be our only real protection. 

For a special treat listen to Sean Connery read Ithaca in the link below

Friday, January 9, 2015


It has been two days since the senseless murders at the Charlie Hebdo office.

It has been one day since the murder of a Paris police officer.

Today two hostage situations are underway, at least one of which is directly related to the charlie hebdo incident.

As I walk the streets of Paris today I share with Parisiens  a mix of anger, sadness, and fear.  

I also feel a sense of pride for those who continue to fight the fight for freedom.
Like the bookstore up the street from me with their display of satirical cartoons. 

Well done.


It should never be about whether we agree with what is said. We must however support the right to say it. So yes #jesuischarlie

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Paris Pastry Japanese-style

When I first arrived in Paris I had high expectations for the pastry. Everything is beautiful, and displayed like works of art. But I have to say, it became easy to say no thanks. Yes I know it is rated the finest in the world, but I just am not a fan generally of pretty food that is not high on the delicious flavour scale.. 

So when I heard about this Japanese patisserie, Ciel, I wondered - could it be any good?

Well in order to find out I had to walk past some pretty impressive works of art in their own right.

This photo is not only taken in poor light - it is also missing Janice who apparently lit it up with her presence in a previous photo shoot.

Yup also missing light but you will have to come and see it for yourself - it is fantastic.

I finally arrived at the patisserie called Ciel, at 3 rue Monge in the 5th.  Classy blue door.

But yuck - I hate rose flavoured anything. 

So I chose one chocolate and one vanilla.

And check out the little boxes they sent the cakes home in!

And when you open it up it is not a rose but still flower-like don't you agree?

Guess which was my favourite. A little spongy vanilla cake with chantilly. Perfect really. I meant to share it with Serge, but when I looked down it was all gone. I will save the chocolate one for him. Or maybe buy him another one tomorrow?

This patisserie is now on my list. Really delicious, and some very creative flavours.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Opera Garnier - built for royalty

On my first trip to Paris my breath was taken away by the Opera Garnier. I begged my new boss to drive around the city and return for a second look. Four and a half years later I finally made it inside.

The original opera house of Paris was a bit of a problem. It was set in an old part of the city with narrow winding streets, and was the site of an attempted assassination of Napoleon and Eugenie. Although neither was injured, Napoleon thought he should be able to go to the opera more safely, so he commissioned the Opera Garnier along with a proper boulevard without trees to improve the safety of the approach.

And this opera is all about making a grand entrance. The architect, Charles Garnier designed the whole building to make the women look good ascending the grand staircases. Never mind the actual auditorium - the main part of the building is also a theatre with balconies and boxes for seeing and being seen.

Of course you all know who haunted this opera house. His box was right beside the Emperor's salon, and also very close to a back staircase which must have been convenient for all of those mysterious entrances and exits.

But did you know that the famous scene with the chandelier is based on a true story? Indeed one evening a big counter weight crashed down and crushed a patron.  All fixed now though.

The auditorium ceiling was recently repainted by Chagall. There was not enough light to see it properly so I'm just including a painting of the original here.
Of course the opera was about much more than watching the opera. In fact anyone who was anyone showed up sometime between the second and third act. Otherwise people would think they were not well occupied. The boxes were all about visiting people - with a little light regard for what was on stage.

And the balls, receptions and other grand affairs are still all the rage. Although the opening of the Opera Garnier had a few oversights. By this time France was a republic, and the President was not supposed to grant favours.  Even high society had to pay. Even Charles Garnier, the architect, and it was kind of in his honor. But the setting was unbeatable. Modeled after the Versailles Hall of Mirrors, people claimed the was "too much gold". My opinion? Once you have passed a certain limit (which we certainly have here!) - what can it matter?

My advice - go see this national treasure and just roll around in the obvious excess. The money is already spent, and with sold out performances ranging from €45 to €195 on average  (no box seats at this price!) it seems quite likely to be around for quite some time.