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Paris is behind me now July 2, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in change, explore, journey, learn, life, urban, world.
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along the Seine 1

Holidays are hard. Well, maybe not the holiday itself, but the post-holiday adjustment. I’m not talking about jet lag or laundry, but a kind of ennui that seems to last for weeks.

rue MontorgueilWe lived in Paris for 10 days. The five of us rented an apartment, bought groceries, walked everywhere, visited museums, took a couple of train trips, attended concerts and lunched at a café on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. I believe that the tight itinerary expertly researched by Lavenderbay (check out her daily Paris blog starting here) helped us to truly experience the best of the city. It was wonderful and exhilarating. At times it was overwhelming and exhausting, but it wasn’t hard.

The hard part was coming back. The hard part was getting used to no longer having fresh croissants for breakfast, or stepping out of the door to browse any number of interesting boutiques or market stalls, or being able to take one of a multitude of metro lines to another exciting destination. We live in downtown Toronto, the biggest city in Canada, but it doesn’t feel at all like Paris. It feels, well… disappointing, sleepy, provincial.

Chinatown - 5.24 pmI know that sounds harsh. But think about it: there are lots of cars and pedestrians at rush hour, but at most other times, all except the malls are nearly deserted. There is a city market, and a few other neighbourhood markets if you know where to look, but they are the exception and not the rule. It feels like most of the population is indoors — in their cars, at home in front of the television, shopping in a grocery store or mall… The part of Toronto that most seems like Paris is Chinatown. Does that seem as strange to you as it does to me?

Obviously, Toronto (and Canada in general) just doesn’t have the wealth of history, architecture, and upheaval. Canada isn’t centralized like France, where Paris is not only the capital but the cultural centre, the showcase and heart of the country. And Canada is too big and too under-populated — even in the city-centres — to support such an efficient transportation system.

metroWe might imagine improvements, though. For example, I could like to see what would happen if a large population centre actually decided to excel in public transportation, and invested in it, so that everyone who lived in that geographic area could travel quickly, on time and relatively cheaply. Imagine what our cities would look like if they were designed for people, not cars!

taxiAh, well. Canada is where I live and Canadian is who I am. So, what would bring a tourist here if they come from a city such as Paris? We pondered this question for a while, and decided that it was the space, the open vistas, the wild country, the untamed wilderness. Toronto is not a cosmopolitan city, it is merely a place where people live and work. There are some nice museums and art galleries, some decent culture and beaches. And we do have history here, it’s just different, it’s just spread out and diluted by this huge country.

This is the land called “big lonely” by the hobos who used to travel by boxcar during the Depression. This is the country that spans a continent, bordering on three oceans. This is an open country, not confined by history or geography, celebrated for its peaceful and liberal attitudes. Yesterday was Canada Day. I’m glad I’m home.

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1. livingisdetail - July 3, 2008

Ah, the ‘big lonely’ reminds me of Australia eyegillian. I once had a Taiwanese housemate who could never dispel the feeling that the streets of Melbourne were too empty; that there was something wrong and haunting about the quiet. I remember being surprised when she told me because I had always taken the space for granted.

2. eyegillian - July 3, 2008

Thanks for sharing that story, livingisdetail — your housemate’s reaction makes sense, comparing the crowdedness of Taiwan to the broad expansiveness of Australia. We sometimes joke here about people coming to Toronto who want to stop in to visit relatives in Vancouver… we fail to realize how incomprehensible it would seem for one country to span so much distance, especially when so many of the world’s countries are smaller than one of our provinces. Now I can see how coming to Canada might be disorienting to someone who is used to living in small spaces.

3. lavenderbay - July 4, 2008

Paris was indeed lovely, but for me the hardest part about coming back was not the readaptation but the jet lag. I miss the amazing food — but not enough to bother getting down to the Saint Lawrence Market to imitate the specialty-shop experience.

I wonder what it would be like to spend 10 days in Peru and Ecuador? There might be a time warp, but no jet lag.

4. eyegillian - July 4, 2008

That’s a good point, lavenderbay: I haven’t been standing in line at the pastry shop lately, either. (Just as well, considering that I’m still carrying the croissants on my hips.) I guess it’s the nature of a vacation trip — when you’re trying to do everything possible within a limited time — that gives the experience such intensity, and makes being home again seem so… ordinary.

Peru, Ecuador…? Count me in!

5. nathaliewithanh - July 6, 2008

I hear Toronto is a GREAT town, very cosmopolitan and friendly. I live in Dallas, Texas, ok! Can you even imagine how it feels to come back to Dallas after a week in Paris? No you can’t. You couldn’t possibly. It’s HARD.
On another note, we visit Paris, ransack their boulangeries, walk the Quais de la Seine and all is oh so parfait! Living there is different though. Finding a place to rent is hellish – you have to prove continued income, provide a least a year’s rent as a deposit and a gazillion references. You also have to buy industrial size office scissors to cut through the red tape.
Still, I think I’d be happy with a little tent in the Jardins du Luxembourg eating des pains au chocolat all day long forever. eh.
Great blog!

6. paula - July 7, 2008

Interestingly a huge proportion of French people (who aren’t Parisian) find their capital uncouth and rude! I must say I love it and fall for the romance, history and culture every time- and if you can ever get to Seville, grab the chance, it’s amazing- and blows me away, as do so many of our European cities in very different ways. But I am not a city person and can’t sustain city life for too long – so the empty huge vastness of Canada is something I’d love to experience one day – especially along your western seaboard which I gather is the place

7. eyegillian - July 12, 2008

Thanks for your visit, nathaliewithanh — and yes, Toronto is a great place, the biggest city in Canada right now, with wonderful neighbourhoods and a fabulous multicultural vibe. I’m trying to remember if I’ve ever been to Dallas, but I can imagine that it would feel a bit more … suburban? … than Paris!

But, I have to agree, once you start thinking in real terms… although I loved being in Paris as a visitor, and imagining living there, I’m sure there are drawbacks. The greyness and lack of open street views (with all the buildings the same height) would get to me, I think, and of course the high cost of living and stifling procedural paperwork would be frustrating. I did get a taste of that with all the seemingly endless details and forms to rent the apartment for 10 days!

So many people have mentioned how rude French people and/or Parisiens are, Paula, but I didn’t find that the case at all (although I’m sure there are rude people there as everywhere… in fact, I met a rude person here in Canada on Tuesday!)

And yes, I imagine Canada’s vastness must be an amazing experience for a European, and each region has its own characteristics. You ask about the west coast (also known as the “wet” coast) — btw is some of your last sentence missing? — is lush and rainforest-like, with mountains and beautiful coastline and lots of wildlife and wild places. I’m more familiar with the east coast (Atlantic provinces) and central Canada, which has the highest population density, but I have a fascination with the Arctic (which you’ll notice if you’ve browsed my posts) and I’d love to take a cruise through some of the northern islands.

Oh, and thanks for your recommendation for Seville — I’ll put that on my list for my next European adventure!

8. Jane - July 14, 2008

It’s funny reading what a Canadian thinks of Europe. My husband and I travelled over the Rockies from Calgary and drove down to Vancouver a couple of years ago. Space… loads of space. No traffic. Lovely people. Lots of “wild” wildlife. Clean air. Massive trees. Big rivers. Silence. These were the things that we really noticed. Vancouver was a gorgeous place… I would definately go back. Very clean, cosmopolitan, safe-feeling. I wish we had managed to go over to Vancouver Island and see whales swimming by (maybe next time). However, I do miss the “history” of England when I’m away. The little Saxon church in the village, the castle down the road… and the lush green fields making a patchwork blanket across the land. I love travelling, but like you I love to be home. Jane in the UK

9. eyegillian - July 14, 2008

That’s an interesting question, Jane. I’ve often wondered whether we here in Canada know more about Europe than Europeans know about Canada. Our culture, history texts etc focuses on “the old country” and most of the older generations here are immigrants (although several generations’ removed, perhaps) from European countries, so we grow up with a sort of super-sensitivity, a mix of respect and resentment toward the colonial powers.

Having said that, I really don’t mind having to visit Europe to experience some of that wonderful history, Saxon churches, Irish round towers, Roman ruins… And I love hearing people’s impressions of Canada, especially when they have nice things to say. Thanks for stopping by!


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