A Canadian Canary Visits Paris: The Unforgettable Wedding Celebrations of My Special French Friends!

Carole and Gildas await the Mayor of the City Hall in the 9th arrondissement of Paris (where they live) with joyful anticipation. He officiated their marriage, as is customary in a secular ceremony.

Carole and Gildas await the Mayor of the City Hall in the 9th arrondissement of Paris (where they live) with joyful anticipation. This dignitary officiated their marriage in a marriage in a  formal civil ceremony.

Saturday January 10, 2015 was a day that I will always remember.  I awoke to milder temperatures and weak Parisian sunshine and straight away prepared for a long-awaited event: the wedding ceremonies of my lovely French friends, Carole and Gildas!  I had looked forward to this special occasion for months, and this exceptional couple had worked very hard to ensure that it would be a day that family and friends would cherish forever. Their

Gildas, the groom (far right beside Carole) is attended by his good friends: what a coordinated effort in couture (fashion)! I loved it.

Gildas, the groom (far right beside Carole) is attended by his good friends: what a coördinated effort in couture (fashion)! I loved it.

natural inclination to  intricately plan and organize was clearly evident before and during the extensive festivities.  That was no surprise to me, as I have seen them in action before on a smaller scale so I knew that they would pull off their Big Day with finesse and panache. However, I was completely amazed by the originality and creativity that prevailed in all aspects of the wedding ceremonies and celebrations, not only from the bride and groom, but from their longtime friends as well!

I really enjoyed the formal civil ceremony at the City Hall in the area where Carole and Gildas live.  The mayor wisely counselled them in front of the assembly about the responsibilities associated with marriage.  However, a light-hearted, joyful atmosphere  also prevailed in this stately setting.

Carole's quiet joy was captured in this candid photo right after the papers were signed in the Civil Ceremony!

Carole’s quiet joy was captured in this candid photo right after the papers were signed in the Civil Ceremony! The mayor is in formal attire as well (background).

Maid of Honour Sophie and teh groom's attendants exchange pleasantries  just after the Civil Ceremony.

Maid of Honour Sophie and the groom’s attendants exchange pleasantries just after the Civil Ceremony. Gildas just cannot stop smiling!

The happy couple posed before the doors closed to give them privacy for a couple of minutes!

The happy couple posed before the elevator doors closed to give them privacy for a couple of minutes!

 I benefited from this Formal Shot for their official photographer, as I was standing nearby.

I benefited from this formal shot, organized by their official photographer, as I was standing nearby.

Who could not gasp at Carole’s demure beauty and perfect  poise, and then  juxtapose the response with awes directed at her partner Gildas’s flamboyant expressions of joie-de-vivre. Yin and yang – a perfect match. And they’ve known that for a long time.  The couple has been an item for over nine years so they are well acquainted with each other!

The newlyweds left the City Hall in a Tuk Tuk, which tool them to a private family lunch before the next ceremony.

The newlyweds left the City Hall in an auto-rickshaw called a tuk tuk. It took them to a private family lunch before the next ceremony.

I did not take many photos at this session, as I reacquainted with a young lady named Eloise,  a friend of Carole’s who used to live  near me in Dominica.  We chatted away and caught up on our lives in the past couple of years as the extended family posed for pictures.  Then the relatives headed off to a private lunch, to energize for the more intimate, festive celebration which would follow a few hours later.  Eloise and I took the Métro to our respective stops, agreeing that we would meet up again at the next event.

Back at my guest apartment at Montmartre, I ate a quick lunch, showered again and dressed up for the next grand ceremony.  Fortunately, I was less than  a 15 minute (uphill) walk away from the ‘Espace Montmartre’ at the base of the famous Sacre Coeur Basilica, where the secular ceremony would take place.  It’s a good thing that I like to walk up mountains.  I easily climbed a few hundred steps, but did not break a sweat in the 12 degree Celsius temperatures.  Perhaps I was a little pink and it was the perfect occasion for having a subtle glow on my cheeks!

I, perhaps like the bride and groom, was a little nervous about the role that I would play in this ceremony: my five-minute speech about Carole and Gildas when they lived in Dominica was to be a big surprise!  Magali, the mother of the

Carole was escorted down the aisle at the Salon de Montmartre at the beginning of the secular wedding ceremony.

Carole was escorted down the aisle by her father at the Espace Montmartre at the beginning of the secular wedding ceremony.

groom had already reviewed it, so I knew that my sentiments could be understood in French.  I was the second-last person to speak during this chronological and geographical programme (Carole was last  – she was talking about the future), but I was able to enjoy the other presentations by family members, witnesses and friends, who briefly spoke about  earlier times and places where the adventurous couple had previously lived.

Here is what I had to say about my special French friends, translated back into English:

“Newlyweds Carole and Gildas, Their Families and Friends:

It is a big pleasure to be here in Paris for this special occasion. I am particularly honoured to attend the marriage of this charming couple that I met in Dominica. You see, they were my French teachers, and at the same time, I got to know them, and very quickly they became my friends!

Well, they lived near me and I drove them home after our classes.  In this way, I became familiar with them personally, as well as professionally.

When I met them at Alliance Française de la Dominique, I was learning (and continue to try to learn) French at an advanced level (so please excuse any errors in this presentation!). In the preparatory classes for exams, Carole was patient, gentle and friendly. She encouraged me and as well gave me supplementary courses for revising what I had forgotten or needed to practise some more.  She also organized several cultural events at Alliance Française.  Thanks to her, Dominicans enjoyed learning more about France.

As an individual, I discovered that Carole has an incredible capacity for empathy, that she demonstrated when I was experiencing some difficult situations. I have already told her that the world has need of more people with a gift of compassion like hers.  She is an example for all of us to follow, and I am so happy to know her.  Gildas, I know you are very lucky to have this beautiful lady as your life partner.

Perhaps it is surprising to learn that Gildas, like his wife Carole, is a marvellous French teacher. At our Friday afternoon conversation classes, my classmates and I enjoyed the lessons that he prepared for us, which included discussions about daily life in France, and occasionally Canada (the former mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, for example).  Also, he gave us information for communicating better if visiting France, and techniques for French cooking. As well, he taught us word games to improve our French vocabulary.

This nice young man certainly is competent in the kitchen and I appreciated all of his  French culinary creations.  I could also see that Gildas is a man who is very disciplined and intelligent, who loves to share his knowledge with others and in return,  he receives different points of view with interest. I have also observed that he is very devoted to and respectful of his wife. In my opinion, Carole is very lucky to share her life with this exceptional young man.

I  admire this extraordinary couple because of their numerous interests: in activities, other people and different cultures. They accomplished a lot during their short time in Dominica.  They participated in many activities, including a difficult hike that crosses all of Dominica.  This big walk in the forest and the mountains is very difficult for most people, but they succeeded without any problem. Carole learned to dive too. They attended many cultural events and formed friendships with people who came from various countries to live in Dominica. They additionally travelled to Central America and other Caribbean islands in that short space of time.

Carole and Gildas are now ready to throw themselves into a new adventure, as they are leaving to go ‘across the pond’ (New York City) to live and work in my part of the world. I am certain that they will make the most of this experience. I only hope that they will not acquire an American accent when they speak English, but I am saying that because I am Canadian!

I am here today to honour my special French friends and I would like to wish them all the best in their life together. I thank them from the bottom of my heart for everything that they have done for me – as my charming hosts during my first visit to Paris and for everything they have shared with me about your marvellous country.

Above all, Carole and Gildas, I wish that you will always have “une vie en rose!””

Then I sang a couple of modified verses of this classic French song, La Vie En Rose. I changed words so that it was more personal for them, not me.  Maybe somebody recorded it.  But if you would like to hear the original, sung by Edith Piaf, you can  listen right here.

Carole and Gildas formally exchange their wedding vows.

Carole and Gildas formally exchanged their wedding vows.  They wrote these meaningful words themselves.

The newlyweds had written their own vows, and it was a thrill to hear them recite them to each other in the presence of family and friends.  Then they recessed down the aisle and we threw paper airplanes at them for good luck!  The reception, with the Eiffel Tower in the background was most congenial and there, Eloise and I continued with our earlier discussions. I even learned some new French vocabulary during our conversation!

The view over Paris from the wedding reception room added to the ambiance of this wonderful occasion.

The breathtaking view over Paris from the wedding reception room in Montmartre added to the ambiance of this memorable occasion.

Gildas and Carole pose for an 'extended family' shot on the steps on the Sacre Coeur Basilica in Montmartre. It was right across the road from the Salon for the wedding reception.

Gildas and Carole pose for an ‘extended family’ shot on the steps on the Sacre Coeur Basilica in Montmartre. It was right across the road from the Salon for the wedding reception.

Eloise is a friend of Carole's who used to live in Dominica.  We became better acquainted during the reception.

Lovely Eloise is a friend of Carole’s who used to live in Dominica. We became better acquainted during the reception.

The dinner was divine – several courses – which was too much food for me. But what really grabbed my attention was the way their wedding attendants had created and produced high quality audio-visual presentations about the lives of their dear friends.  They were very humorous and certainly gave me more insight into what makes these two special people who they are today!  Carole and Gildas were also very surprised by the collective gift they received: a cookbook with a

Carole and Gildas admire the gift from all of us:  a  published collection of our favourite recipes!

Carole and Gildas admire the gift from all of us: a published collection of our favourite recipes!

meaningful recipe and related memories of  sharing a particular dish from each guest.  I included Tourtiere, a French Canadian meat pie that I had prepared for them the previous Christmas. They were advised that they have one year to prepare every recipe in the cookbook.  Of course, Gildas accepted the challenge!

What a wedding cake!

What a wedding cake!

A traditional French wedding cake, consisting of several tiers of macaroons was really a sight to behold.  I smiled when the bride and groom exchanged bites, and quietly wished them much sweetness in their lives.

Carole and Gildas sample their wedding cake.

Carole and Gildas sample their wedding cake.

By 10 p.m., tables were pulled to the side  of the room and the dancing began.  I noticed that Carole had changed from her white satin shoes into ruby slippers.  The place was hopping – people of every age took to the floor.  There were plenty of oldie-goldie tunes – in English too, so I sang along for the fun of it.

As I am not a night owl, I departed before midnight but did rejoin the group at noon the next day for a sensational wedding brunch at Ton Ton Jaurès in the 19th arrondissement.  It was one of my most

I am so glad that I have a pic of me with my special French friends in their wedding outfits!

I am so glad that I have a pic with my special French friends in their wedding outfits! Photo taken by Eloise.

delicious meals in Paris.  Perhaps the REAL Canadian maple syrup for the pancakes had something to do with it.  I  became better acquainted with some of the couple’s friends and all of a sudden, it was over.  Time for everyone to move off  and return to their homes.  Gildas and Carole were leaving that evening for their honeymoon in Sri Lanka. You can read about their exotic adventures here.( Even if you don’t speak French, you can admire their incredible photos!)

I bade my special French friends au revoir and agreed that we would meet again sometime, perhaps sooner than we think!

Bonne chance, Carole et Gildas!  À bientôt, mes amis! (Good luck, Carole and Gildas!  See you soon, my friends!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Canadian Canary Visits Paris: Food, Fabulous French Food!

Bread is a ubiquitous  staple  of countless variations in France!

Bread  (le pain – pronounced ‘pan’) is a ubiquitous staple of countless variations in France!

I expect that everyone knows that France is famous for its gastronomie, among other things. My culinary

Here is a little visual to make your mouth water!

Here is a little visual sample to make your mouth water!

experiences in Paris took me almost completely off of my established tropical régime  (diet)  of bountiful fruits and vegetables in Dominica.  But that was part of the plan and I was well prepared to sample some different flavours and textures, without any regret!

Because of my environmental health challenges, I tend to avoid common processed  and/or refined foods (bread, milk, sugar) that can give me allergy-related problems. However, it was impossible NOT to eat ‘French’ bread: the scent, the texture, the taste and its appearance at EVERY meal broke me down at least once a day.   YOLO (you only live once!), as some of my friends would remind me.

This rich pumpkin soup sustained me for the better part of a day!

This rich pumpkin soup sustained me for the better part of a day!

As I am not much of a meat eater, I fared well with hearty soups:  a pumpkin variety and popular zucchini were rich, energizing and filling as a midday meal.

I'd never had zucchini soup until Paris.  I did benefit from its popularity while I was there!

I’d never had zucchini soup until Paris. I did benefit from its popularity while I was there!

For protein, I did ingest abundant eggs in omelettes and galettes (a savoury crêpe),

French omellettes suited me very well; with home fired potatoes and salad, I was satiaited for many hours!

French omelettes suited me very well; with home fired potatoes and salad, I was satiated for many hours!

occasionally chicken or fish dishes  and mild goat cheese (chevre). I did break down one Sunday afternoon between outings to have a big  traditional dinner:  delicately seasoned pork charcutiere, mashed potatoes and green salad. It reminded me of one of my late  mother’s special concoctions, so of course, it was divine!

As it was still the yuletide season, I appreciated sweet Clementine oranges from Spain and Corsica, which brought back childhood memories of discovering this tasty foreign fruit in my stocking on Christmas morn.  Bins at every grocer and market were spilling over with this Vitamin C rich fruit and I purchased them frequently at very reasonable prices.  I also gorged on apples; while not likely organic, I peeled off the skin and ate them with the chevre and oat cakes for a light supper snack.  Speaking of which, I was able to find organic oatmeal and local honey, which I cooked  into a hot, sweet porridge to start my day when I stayed in a lovely AirBNB apartment in Montmartre.  (Details to follow in a subsequent post).

The cheery staff at the Solar Hotel served me an organic cafe au lait every day!

The cheery staff at the Solar Hotel served me an organic café au lait every day!

But for the first week of my stay, I was situated at the Solar Hotel, where a 100% organic breakfast was offered

The bright dininig room at the Solar Hotel was set fronm breakfast: the organic apple juice was already on the tables!

The bright dining room at the Solar Hotel was set for breakfast: the organic apple juice was already on the tables!

every day as part of its ecological philosophy.  There, I was able to enjoy French foods that had not been treated with pesticides:  cider-like apple juice and compote; jams; yoghurt; croissants and breads; hearty granola;milk; tea;coffee; hot chocolate; sugar; and honey. While there may have been other organic offerings around the city which escaped my notice or knowledge, I did happen upon a pizzeria in Montmartre( Pizza Pink Flamingo), which offered this Italian delight with an organic crust, and other chemical-free toppings, when available.  It was located only a few steep steps from the famous Sacre Coeur cathedral, and did very well from the tourist business! While it was winter, fresh vegetables were scarce, but I was able to eat mesclun (green salad mix) every day. If by chance they were grown in greenhouses, then I would hope that they were organic!

Okay, I admit that I did not suppress my sweet tooth: that would have been a distasteful thing to do in Paris! I didn’t overdo it but I did succumb to the sugary flavours in a few  delectable desserts: the carrot cake at the Joe Allen  Restaurant and Bar was hearty, nutty, spicy, creamy, and rich: a meal in itself!

The Carrot Cake at the Joe Allen Restaurant almost disappeared from my plate before I remembered to take a photo of it!

The Carrot Cake at the Joe Allen Restaurant almost disappeared from my plate before I remembered to take a photo of it! I tried it at my second visit to this popular American eatery.

Isn't this incredible?  This is a traditional French wedding cake - made from macaroons, which was served and Carole and Gildas's wedding!  More on that event later.

Isn’t this incredible? This is a traditional French wedding cake – made from macaroons, which was served and Carole and Gildas’s wedding! More on that event later.

Macaroons, for which France is famous were too sweet for me, that is, after I had eaten two!  Little patisseries (pastries) with coffee perked me up with a café au lait on the side for a mid-morning break. Generally, I avoided bakeries as there were always  other temptations everywhere I turned.  Chocolat chaud, thick and creamy with a biscuit and a bitter chocolate square on the side proved to be the perfect mid-afternoon energizer.

Hot chocolate was the perfect  afternoon pick-me-up during my fun-filled days in Paris.

Hot chocolate was the perfect afternoon pick-me-up during my fun-filled days in Paris.

After a delcious chicken ceasar salad at the Joe Allen Cafe, I refreshed myself with a few glasses of water from that carafe.

After a delicious chicken caesar salad at the Joe Allen Restaurant and Bar, I refreshed myself with a few glasses of water from that carafe.

I also drank lots of tap water, as it did not taste as if it were heavily chlorinated.  I also caught on to the French habit of  asking for a carafe de l’eau (carafe or glass of water) with every meal or even just a coffee.  That way, I stayed hydrated, despite the winter cold.

And as for those extra calories, well, I might now understand why most French people stay slim!  It may be the wine (I only had a few sips of alcohol at the wedding), but it must also be the hundreds of steps or stairs that one encounters everywhere(Métro (subway) access, buildings with no elevators, hilly Montmartre, parks on different levels, basement toilets in restaurants etc.) or the quick movements necessary to cross wide boulevards before the light changes or the collective inclination to walk fast (and keep warm)! I even picked up my pace and was glad of my prior physical conditioning in Dominica.  Therefore, I have NO guilt  about(and nothing to show for)  any of the fabulous foods that I relished in Paris!!!

In Paris, a cafe and a plate of patisseries is sure to provide a mid-morning boost!

In Paris, a café and a plate of patisseries are sure to provide a mid-morning boost!

This Crepe Breton is actually a galette, made from buckwheat flour. It contains spinach, fresh cream, and the soft egg on top. Delicious!

This Crepe Bretonne is actually a galette, made from buckwheat flour. It contains spinach, fresh cream, and the soft egg on top. Delicious! Mild apple cider (2 %) complemented the meal perfectly.

Groom-to-be, 'Chef' Gildas prepared a tasty omellette for Carole and me. It fortified me for the three hour mystery tour that followed our 'dejeuner'.  More on that adventure in a post-to-come.

Groom-to-be, ‘Chef’ Gildas prepared a tasty omelette for Carole and me. It fortified me for the three-hour mystery tour that followed our ‘dejeuner’ (lunch). More on that adventure in a post-to-come.

This was the first of an unknown quantity of  cafes au lait that I enjoyed during my visit to Paris!

This was the first of an unknown quantity of cafes au lait that I enjoyed during my visit to Paris!

A Canadian Canary Visits Paris: the Palace of Versailles, an Extraordinary 17th Century Creation!*

Gwendominica is completely mesmerized in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palais Versailles, a 17th century marvel southwest of Paris.

Gwendominica is completely mesmerized by the Hall of Mirrors at the Palais Versailles, a 17th century Chateau southwest of Paris.

When bride-to-be Carole and I stepped onto  an RER train in central Paris bound for  Versailles on a foggy morning in late December (my second day there), we had

Louis XIV, a.k.a 'The Sun King' was an extraordinary man, to say the least. He was a long-lived powerful monarch who apparently had a number of reasons for identifying with this brilliant planet.

Louis XIV, a.k.a ‘The Sun King’ was an extraordinary man, to say the least. He was a long-lived, powerful, and highly creative monarch who apparently had a number of reasons for identifying with this brilliant star and using it as his emblem.

no idea that thousands  of residents and visitors would be of like mind! This was to be my only excursion to a suburb of Paris, and I was curious to experience  a historic site that many people had highly recommended that I see while in the City of Light.

But when we first arrived at the Palace of Versailles, we collectively gasped at the  very long line of people patiently waiting their turn to enter ‘the State Apartments’ section of the grand complex.  While I held a place in the queue, Carole went off to another line to buy our entrance tickets.  We were both thankful that I was wearing my brightly coloured Rasta tam and canary yellow Canadian ski jacket, as it did prove to be highly helpful when she returned to the growing, moving line of darkly attired bodies and easily spotted me in the massive crowd.

I wasn't the only one enthralled with the Hall of Mirrors...

I wasn’t the only one enthralled with the Hall of Mirrors…

A smal section of the queue who waited patiently to enter the Palais Versailles. Thank goodness it wasn't raining!

The seemingly endless winding queue generally waited patiently to enter the Palais Versailles. Thank goodness it wasn’t raining!

While I waited for her, I gazed around me in complete astonishment. Yes, I had previously learned bits and pieces about Louis XIV, the ‘Sun King’ (as my former professor at Alliance Française de la Dominique, Carole had introduced me to this memorable monarch!). But I had really no idea of his power, influence, personality or creativity until I ‘set foot’ on the grounds of his palace.  Of course, the massive structure was not his doing alone.  Obviously, the highly skilled and talented artists, artisans, sculptors, builders and landscapers of that  era could design and construct beyond the capabilities of most people, I daresay, even in the 21st century!

After a three-hour wait, we finally approached the entrance way.

But after all that time spent shivering, a bathroom was my first priority, once inside.  I trembled with the chill and was thankful that the sun started to shine (appropriately!) as I could not shake the feeling of cold that penetrated my very being.  Thankfully, my lovely friend had gone off in search of food a little earlier, and brought back the most delicious sandwich I have ever tasted in my life!  It was a warmed soft (tortilla) wrap, containing three types of mild, barely melted cheeses ( I recall Emmenthal as one of them), which were covered in a mildly piquant sauce. That quick meal succeeded in reducing the shivers and hunger pangs for a few hours!

The Chapel was my introduction to the splendor of the rest of the Palace.  I only wish I could have heard the notes emenating from those organ pipes!

The Chapel was my introduction to the splendor of the rest of the Palace. I only wish I could have heard the notes emanating from those organ pipes!

Now that I was comfortable, I concentrated on the massive ‘rooms’ and ‘ornaments’ which were everywhere to be seen: in all directions, as well as above me.  I quickly observed that many of the hundreds of people around me had their mouths open.  I don’t think they were being intentionally rude:  tilting one’s face upwards towards the decorated ceilings and then absorbing the stunning artistry of the paintings overhead

In every room, there was a good reason to look up! This scene was located in the Mercury drawing room or 'bed-chamber'.

In every room (salon), there was a good reason to look up!Each ceiling depicted a scene related to a different mythological god or goddess, angels or demons!

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Elaborate busts, ornate doors, marble table tops…if I hadn’t seen this with my own eyes, I would have sworn the setting must have appeared in a dream!

compelled visitors to “drop their jaws” in amazement and awe!  I am not well versed in mythology, but anyone who is would truly delight in the depictions of the gods that Louis XIV preferred. It was truly incredible that this long-lived and long-reigned king had turned his father’s hunting lodge into such an opulent abode.  It certainly defies the extent of my imagination and I know I am not alone, as evidenced by the thousands who viewed the site along with me that day.DSCF3771

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The King’s Chamber must have been the epitome of comfort (and privacy!) for Louis XIV!

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Imagine the coördinated efforts it would have taken to light the candles on the chandeliers in those days!

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The Queen had her own ‘salon’ too. But do you think there was only one beloved? I am not going to tell!

Carole did make every effort to explain so many pertinent details to me.  But I was so taken with the grandeur of the place that I could only nod, then gawk and gape some more! I simply marvelled at this structure and its elaborate contents.  But I did also  naïvely wonder how or if a building of such proportions with its elaborate artistic displays could ever be built in today’s world. The ‘Sun King’ certainly was a creative visionary, and he couldn’t have been worried about the cost of his mansion, even in the 17th century!  There is definitely more to that story, so if you’re curious, I am sure you will search for the facts!

After more than an hour, I felt satiated by this artistic feast and was now in need of some fresh air. Carole suggested that we spend a little time in “the Gardens,” and I eagerly agreed.  We found a little food hut that offered hot chocolate, so we sat down (finally) for about 20 minutes and sipped the sweetness, while giving our weary legs a much-needed rest from  the many hours we had spent standing up!

Carole poses with the stately Palais Versailles behind her.

Carole poses in  ‘the Gardens’ with the stately Palais Versailles behind her.

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The trees along the pathways in the Garden of Versailles were perfectly symmetrical and evoked a feeling of serenity in me. The canal is on the far right.

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Gwendominica stands by the Dragon fountain.  The Sun King certainly loved mythology!

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The Apollo fountain is situated between the Palace and the Canal.. Louis XIV apparently identified with this sun-god! The Grand Canal is in the background.

After that little break, we both felt refreshed and decided to take a walk by the Fountains around the grounds, even though it was the middle of winter!  We were not deterred, and as we walked around, I was mesmerized once again by the natural and created beauty: stone sculptures, fountains, the mile-long ‘ Grand Canal’ and perfectly pruned rows of trees. As I breathed in the fresh cool air, I became entranced with the stillness and the silence. It was late in the day,we were almost the only people there. Occasionally, a bird chirped or a runner passed beside us.  Sometimes we spoke and other times we retreated to  our private thoughts.  My mind drifted to an earlier time:  I could almost visualize Louis XIV and his court strolling around the grounds in any season to improve health and well-being. Our leisurely saunter took us along the small body of water to its opposite side.  At this point, it was quickly becoming dark. When I glanced at my watch, I saw that we had been on the move for over an hour!  There were no artificial lights, so we  turned around and hastened our steps back to the Palace where we exited the gate and walked a short distance  to take the train back to the city.

It had been a very long day and we were both pleasantly exhausted.  As I look back on that magical experience, I realize how lucky I was to have  had a good look  and a new appreciation for the artistry of a fascinating time and place in France’s history!

*This piece is dedicated with gratitude to my dear friend and former French professor, newlywed Carole! XO

 

A Canadian Canary Visits Paris: A New Year Adventure in the City of Light

Gwendominica (in canary yellow!) shivers at the top of Arc de Triomphe, having arrived in Paris only a few hours earlier.  Photo taken by Carole.

Gwendominica (in canary yellow!) shivers at the top of Arc de Triomphe, having arrived in Paris only a few hours earlier. Guess what’s in the background? Photo taken by Carole.

My first-ever trip to Paris, France from  Roseau,Dominica had been anticipated for several months.  From the moment French friends Carole and Gildas extended an invitation to their wedding ceremonies to take place on January 10, 2015, I focused on preparations for this big trip overseas. I never dreamed that I would see them just under a year after they left Dominica. And it would be my first winter foray in 18 years! Fortunately, my Canadian visit during the summer of 2014 enabled me to buy winter clothes at bargain prices! However, it wasn’t a simple matter of packing my bags and boarding a plane.  With my environmental health challenges, I ensured that my immune system would be in good shape for this exciting

Gwendominica enjoys her first cafe au lait on the Champs d'Elysses. After a very long flight, very little sleep and a confused internal; clock, it certainly tasted sweet!

Gwendominica enjoys her first café au lait in a cozy café on the Champs d’Elysees. Despite a very long flight, very little sleep and a very confused internal clock, it certainly tasted sweet! Photo taken by Carole.

 

 

adventure. As a conscientious ‘canary’ (that is, a person living with significant environmental health challenges), I consulted by phone with my longtime Canadian naturopathic physician, Dr. Shawna Clark, N.D. , whose clinic is located in Orillia, Ontario. She advised me about helpful nutritional supplements and homeopathic remedies which would provide support throughout this new  and unfamiliar journey.  Although she knew that I was somewhat apprehensive about what could happen, her positive encouragement enabled me to put my fears at rest and expect only the best!

I have been fascinated with ‘French’ for most of my life. I guess that makes me a ‘Francophile‘ who grew up in a Francophone country – Canada! However,  I was born to Anglophone parents in La Belle Province, which means,  in essence, that I  really am Québécoise! I actually spent some time there in June 2014, and if you’re interested in that French adventure, then you can read about it here.

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This little beach near Princess Julianna Airport in St. Maarten is a popular spot to see, hear and feel big jets landing – and taking off! I kept well away but the distraction help to pass the time while I was in-transit to Paris.

As I boarded the WINAIR flight at Charles-Douglas Airport in Dominica, I looked inland towards Morne Diablotin, which was shrouded in clouds.

As I boarded the WINAIR flight at Douglas-Charles Airport in Dominica, I looked inland towards Morne Diablotin, which was shrouded in clouds.

Over the Christmas season in Dominica, I rested as much as possible, and continued with my walking, so that I would be in good shape for the Big Trip. My French friends, Carole and Gildas (the bride and groom) had asked me well in advance

My French friends, Gildas and Carole took time from their busy schedules to take my on a day-long mystery tour of Paris a week before their wedding!

My French friends, Gildas and Carole took time from their busy schedules to take me on a day-long mystery tour of Paris a week before their wedding! More on that in a subsequent post.

for a list of things I would like to see and do.  After I submitted it for their recommendations, they surprised me by informing me that during my first few days,Carole would escort me and then they would both take me on a mystery tour later  that week. They had also provided me with detailed instructions so that I could more easily find my way  from the airport to the Solar Hotel (an ecological hotel), where I would be spending several days. I had my agenda at the ready and I was determined to check everything off of my list.  You’ll find out later whether I succeeded or not!

Finally, Sunday December 28th arrived.  I left before daybreak to travel across the island to board my flight on WINAIR from Douglas-Charles Airport at Melville Hal,l Dominica to St. Maarten. From there, I spent a few leisurely hours before boarding my Air France flight to Charles De Gaulle

There's my Air France plane.  I am ready to board and fly away 'across the pond' to France, a land of my dreams!

There’s my Air France plane. I am ready to board and fly away ‘across the pond’ to France, a land of my dreams!

Airport (CDG) near Paris.  While there were some slight delays, I was well occupied by watching planes land not far from a crowded beach, just a short walk from the airport. I also studied the guide-book that my Dutch friends Gijs and Georgie had loaned to me.  And I also carried a mini-tablet, which proved to be an invaluable tool for communication with friends and family, ordering tickets for a jazz concert,  getting detailed travel directions for locations around the city, and reading  frequent updates on the terrorist attacks during this unforgettable trip.

Although I only slept a little on the overnight flight, I was almost beside myself when the plane crossed over the southwestern coast of France en route to CDG. As we neared Paris, and started our descent, the bright lights of the city kept my attention, as I marvelled at the unrelenting darkness. It was well after 8 a.m. local time!  I had forgotten about the very short days this far north just after the winter solstice!  I certainly did gain a full appreciation for the lovely City of Light, as the displays of illumination at night were breathtaking.

The RER train station (Denfert Rochereau)where I first surfaced in the City of Light!

The RER train station (Denfert Rochereau)where I first surfaced in the City of Light!

Thanks to those specific instructions from my French friends, I easily made my way from the CDG Airport by RER train to the Denfert Rochereau station, a mere five minutes walk to my hotel.  However, after I stepped out of the warm train and then dragged my 50 lb. bag and other paraphernalia up a steep flight of stairs, I walked out into the cold air and gasped. My hands turned to ice quickly as I  searched  for my gloves without success. I had Carole’s map in hand, but I felt so disoriented in the dim light that I did not know in which direction I should proceed.  As I dragged my heavy  load across a busy street, I noticed a taxi stand. Although I knew I was close, I approached a driver  for directions and he graciously pointed the way.  He could see that I was uncertain, so he kindly offered to take me without charge to the Solar Hotel, which as it turned out, was just around the corner.  No sooner had I stepped out and thanked him, than Carole ran up to me and embraced me warmly.  I said (in English) “I have to pinch myself.  I can’t believe I am really here!”

I, like millions of others, enjoyed admiring the Tour Eiffel from various viewpoints - this one from the top of the Arc De Triomphe.

I, like millions of others, enjoyed admiring the Tour Eiffel from various viewpoints – this one from the top of the Arc De Triomphe.

I did not feel tired due to my immense excitement, so I dropped my bags, quickly showered and located my gloves while Carole patiently waited for my in the

Some sections of the Paris Metro have been around since 1900!  I like the older signs: this one was located 5 minutes from the Solar Hotel in the 14th arrondissement. (Denfert Rochereau)

Some sections of the Paris Metro have been around since 1900! I like the older signs: this one was located 5 minutes from the Solar Hotel in the 14th arrondissement. (Denfert Rochereau stop)

foyer.  We had a light lunch (I savoured a big bowl of French Onion Soup!) and then we headed off by Métro (underground) to the Arc De Triomphe and the Champs d’Elysées.

Sacre Coeur Cathedral is a prominent landmark as Paris's highest point. I had many adventures in that area, including an unforgettable wedding ceremony!

Sacre Coeur Cathedral is a prominent landmark as Paris’s highest point. I had many adventures in that area, including an unforgettable wedding ceremony!

The vibrant Champs d'Elysees ia a sight to see at any time of year!

The vibrant and lively Avenue Champs d’Elysees from atop the Arc De Triomphe is a sight to see at any time of year!

I was still chilled, so the first order of the afternoon was a café au lait!  As we strolled along the broad boulevard, surrounded by thousands of darkly attired Europeans and tourists, I realized that my brightly coloured Canadian ski jacket was not in vogue in this fashion capital of the world.  However, I did stand out in the crowds, which proved to be helpful during the next few days. Carole  could easily spot me in long queues when she went elsewhere to buy our tickets or find food to sustain us during lengthy waits to enter tourist sites!

When we commenced our climb up the winding stairway inside the 50 metre high Triumphal Arch (I was too close to take a proper photo of it), I was indeed thankful that I liked to walk up hills in Dominica.  What I didn’t expect was a little shortness of breath due to the cold air – a dramatic climate change for me!  While I admired Napoleon’s handiwork, I was more than mesmerized by the 360 degree views of Paris. Carole continued as my professor by pointing out numerous sites and explaining their significance.  My head was not just spinning from the height!  I took in what I could, knowing that I would follow up in my guidebooks and online references.  Meantime, we circumnavigated the structure, and I swooned when I looked through a sheet of glass down to the Memorial to the Unknown  French Soldier during WW I (1914-1918)beneath the arch, far below! After our descent, I spent a few moments there, thinking of my late paternal grandfather who as a young man, served in the British Army  and spent time in the trenches in northern France.  While he did survive, I wanted to pay tribute to him on French soil as that was one of the important priorities on my list of things to do here.

I hadn’t yet been here a full day, and I had taken in some important points of interest with my wonderful guide and teacher, Carole.  We decided that we should continue our explorations the next day, so we boarded the Métro with plans set for a few hours hence.  When I arrived back at the Solar Hotel, another

The eternal flame beneath the Arc De Triomphe pays tribute to the unknown French Soldier who died during WWI.

The eternal flame beneath the Arc De Triomphe pays tribute to the unknown French Soldier who died during WWI.

Season's Greetings were plentiful in the City of Light.  Despite recent tragedies, let us remina hopeful that peace and love will prevail this New Year.

Season’s Greetings were plentiful in the City of Light. Despite recent tragedies, let us remain hopeful that peace and love will prevail worldwide this New Year.

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I, like the merchants on Rue Daguerre in the 14th arrondissement wish you happy celebrations and all the best in 2015! I took this photo on Monday January 5th, two days before the terrorist attacks.

warm shower and a cup of organic herbal tea enabled me to lie down for a restful night in anticipation of the many adventures that lay ahead!