It's the little touches that matter(ed)

Today I received a nice customer service letter from Scotiabank:

CCI10292009_00000

Nice, right? Checking to see if I’d like to get a lower rate, or if I’m thinking about moving. That’s a pretty good customer experience. Especially since I’m not one of their customers anymore.

It’s true, my mortgage was with Scotia, but I moved it to another bank. Eight months ago. So, that’s a big old marketing database/process fail.

On further inspection, I have a hard time believing I am, in fact, a “valued customer” when a) they don’t know I left them eight months ago and b) they called me “Valued Customer” instead of my name. Mail merge, guys. Try it on.

Every nineteen minutes

Have you heard of Drummer? As in, the band made up of five drummers from Ohio? Most famous of which is the Black Keys‘ drummer?

No?

Well, you should. Legally, as a former drummer, I’m required by international statute to like them, but I think they’d stand up to an objective examination by others. I keep hearing Pavement references, which is odd, ’cause I never liked Pavement, but I do like this. Check them out. Buy their new album Feel Good Together.

(myspace | pitchfork)

The cool thing is, there's literally a field below his house

As I have so many times before I made my Dad a CD yesterday. Or, rather, I compiled a playlist; I neglected to get a CD writer in my lastest computer — I simply never burn anything anymore — so my brother had to burn the CD. Thanks Andrew!

Here’s the playlist:

  1. Holly Golightly . “A Length of Pipe”
  2. Angels Of Light & Akron Family . “I Pity The Poor Immigrant”
  3. Dan Auerbach . “Heartbroken, In Disrepair”
  4. Elliott Brood . “Jackson”
  5. Damien Jurado . “Everything Trying”
  6. William Elliott Whitmore . “Johnny Law”
  7. Avett Brothers . “The Ballad Of Love And Hate”
  8. Detroit Cobras . “The Real Thing”
  9. Regina Spektor . “Field Below”
  10. Rural Alberta Advantage . “Rush Apart”
  11. Great Lake Swimmers . “Still”
  12. Bishop Allen . “True Or False”
  13. Alela Diane . “White As Diamonds”
  14. Metric . “Gimme Sympathy (acoustic)”
  15. Wye Oak . “For Prayer”
  16. Neko Case . “Middle Cyclone”

He will, as usual, love the Damien Jurado and William Elliot Whitmore songs. He’ll probably like the Dan Auerbach, Neko Case and Angels of Light & Akron Family. Not sure how he’ll feel about the Wye Oak or Bishop Allen, but I can’t just lob him softballs all the time, even if he is a senior now.

Where women glow and men plunder

Right now my brother Tim and his wife are on a plane, flying halfway around the world to begin a new adventure. As he announced on his blog last month he’s moving to Australia.

On the downside this means I probably won’t see them for a couple of years, and also that we no longer have a home base in the UK. On the other hand, I can now look forward not only to reading about said adventure on his blog, but also to visiting them in Oz. Nellie and I have already decided to visit in 2011 (already too many commitments in 2010). Clearly the good outweighs the bad in this situation.

As someone who occasionally feels an urge to sell everything move to a new city, I’m both envious and proud of them. Congratulations guys, and godspeed.

The band everybody (especially Canadians) should be listening to

Since the demise of The Rheostatics, the door has been open for the title of most quintessentially Canadian band. I was tempted to say The Constantines but they don’t have the same quirk to their lyrics that made the Rheos part of Canadian culture, and which once made The Tragically Hip interesting. So here’s my vote for the new flagbearer.

I’ve been listening to The Rural Alberta Advantage for a while now, and the more I listen to their finally-released-this-year full-length Hometowns, and the more I really absorb the lyrics, the more they sound like Canada. They sing about perfectly Canadian things, like leaving their homes to drive to Ontario for their careers, or getting out of towns like Lethbridge, or the Frank Slide. And, most importantly, their music is awesome. Super, super awesome and catchy as balls.

Check out their site or their MySpace. If you’re in Toronto they’re playing Lee’s Palace on Nov 20; check out their site for other tour dates.

5 significant moments

A meme on James Gardner’s blog (which is a great source if you’re interested in reading about innovation) caught my attention last week: a list of the five people who’ve had the most influence on his career. I’d like to follow suit, but I make it a point not to talk about work in this forum, so I decided to alter it slightly. I’ve related it to my life, not my work, and rather than pick out the big, obvious ones (like, say, the day I really nailed potty training) I’ve picked out five small, seemingly innocuous moments in my life where I realized — sometimes immediately, sometimes much later — that my life had changed for the better.

1983: Linda Babineau, my third grade teacher

All due respect to my previous three primary & elementary school teachers, Mrs. Babineau is the one who first made me realize something: I was smart. Up to that point I didn’t really feel very smart at home, with two smart parents and two smart brothers who were 5 and 6 years older, and in the second grade schools are just focused on teaching you how to write a cursive Q rather than helping anyone determine an identity. But Mrs. Babineau did. I think I’d done something wrong/bad one day, and she called me up to her desk. I don’t remember most of the conversation, but I distinctly remember her telling me I was smart, and that if I used my brain I could be prime minister one day. Maybe it’s something she said to every kid, but at the time it gave me a shot of confidence, something I hadn’t really felt before. I also felt she was more impressed when I knew things she hadn’t taught, or that the other kids didn’t know, and I figured that was what had me on the express path to Parliament Hill. Since that time I’ve always tried to find insight rather than just memorize or learn by rote. I feel that’s helped me.

1992: Jen Dinaut, my best friend in high school

It was the fall of my last year of high school and I was trying to figure out [cliche]what to do with my life[/cliche]. Not going to university wasn’t really presented to me as an option growing up, but I was beginning to question whether I really wanted to. I was listening to a lot of grunge and feeling predictably nihilistic…not wanting to stay on the farm, but also not understanding why I should leave. My friend Jen — academic superachiever, principal’s daughter, musical confederate and all-around cool girl — had spent time at places like Shad Valley with other nerds smart kids and therefore knew what the world outside of our little bubble was like. One night at my house, when I was probably being excessively mopey, she looked me in the eye and told me why I had to go to university: there were people like us at universities. Smart people. People unlike all the kids at our high school who made us feel like outsiders for being smart and for listening to different music. That’s why I had to go. Maybe I was just listening intently because I was a little bit in love with her, but I knew she was right. For the first time I became excited about going away to school, and might not have been if she hadn’t just laid it out for me.

1993: Jeff White, a guy on my residence floor

Speaking of university, my first few months were a little tough. I’d never lived away from home, and residence is a bizarre place for an introvert. I still had attachments at home that I wasn’t smart enough to sever, residence wasn’t always the best place to be for a non-drinker (I swore to myself I wouldn’t drink in my first year; I’d seen way too many people from my town wash out of school after one or two years ’cause all they did was drink) on the weekend, and I wasn’t really making many friends there so I often asked my parents to come pick me up for the weekend. One Friday, while I was waiting for my mother to arrive, I was walking down the hall and a guy named Jeff White called me into his room to hang out. He and some other guys were playing NHL94 on his Sega, and I joined them. It was the first time I’d played a Sega, and the first time I’d hung out with guys who liked hockey and video games and listened to cool music. Okay, it was “500 Miles” by The Proclaimers, but still. I felt like I might belong there after all. An hour later I was eating at McDonald’s with my mother. She asked me, in light of the fact that I was coming home nearly every weekend, whether university was really right for me. Had she asked me that the week before, or had Jeff not invited me to come play Sega with those other guys, I might have said no. Maybe I would’ve gone home. Maybe I would’ve switched schools. But she didn’t, and he did, and so I said that yes, it was the right place for me. From that point on I made a ton of friends in residence, some of whom I still count as friends today (though I haven’t seen Jeff since my second year) and one who had a particular impact.

1997: C. Brock Johnson, my best friend in university

There are a number of important moments I could attribute to Brock. He lived on my floor in my first year, and was in business school just like me, and had the same dark sense of humour, so we became friends. He probably kept my ass off academic probation in the first two years, when I was too overwhelmed or too lazy to keep my grades up. He coached me on co-op interviews. He even (and this is funny, in retrospect) told me I had to start eating more when I’d hit my all-time low weight — 146 pounds — just before Christmas because I was in the ‘underweight’ portion of the BMI index. How times change. Anyway, the big moment with Brock that stands out is this: I’d gone home one winter weekend with my girlfriend and got back Sunday afternoon. Just then I realized that I was supposed to drop off an application for a job (we were all looking for gainful employment by this point) by 10PM that night, at a building across campus. I was talking to Brock on the phone and told him that I was tired from the long drive back to the city, and that even though this job sounded interesting I couldn’t be bothered.

Anyone else might have just laughed and left it there, especially someone like Brock who already had a job lined up in finance at a major international company. But he didn’t. He told me to quit whining, get the application done and drop it off. He told me it was times like this that separate the lazy people from the ones who actually want to get somewhere. I think he knew this might be my best chance at getting a job straight out of school. So I wrote up the application and I walked across campus in a shit-ass snowstorm and I dropped it off. And then I got an interview. And then I got the job. That job has put me on a path to the job I have today, with the very same company. I moved to Toronto along with Brock and we shared an apartment for our first year. The occasions he had to help he before and after that day are too numerous to list, but none had a more profound impact on my life’s path. To this day I hear Brock’s voice in my head when I’m fighting the urge to half-ass something.

2007: Tim Dickinson, my brother

This one’s not quite as direct, really, but in the end it’s all down to my brother being smart enough to ask his girlfriend to marry him. Of course, that in itself wasn’t enough to make my list, but it set off a chain of events that led to our families and close friends gathering in the south of France to see them married. The six days in that place was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, so that’s remarkable in itself, but there was one moment in particular that stood out. During the post-ceremony dinner one of the bride’s sisters told me I should make a speech to the bride to reciprocate for one that had just been given to my brother…or something. I wasn’t following. I was probably in a quiet panic about having to make a speech. Speeches aren’t something introverts like to do, especially at events like that. The potential for evening-ruining fuckuppery was high. I had about five minutes to make up a theme in my head and to drink enough wine to find the perfect balance between courage and slurred speech, and just dove in. I thought it went okay. I remember my voice faltering at one point…not from emotion, definitely from nerves. But I got to the end, and got my glass from the table to the toast to my mouth, and then sat down.

And then people clapped. I didn’t expect that. People seemed to like it, most importantly the bride and groom. Some people actually congratulated me. Not because it was a great speech. It wasn’t. But I don’t think anyone expected it, including me. Even people who’d just met me didn’t really expect a decent speech out of me, and why would they? My introversion is pretty much display all the time. One of the bride’s brothers-in-law called me “the dark horse” for the rest of the weekend. I’d done plenty of public speaking before, presentations, speeches to C-level executives, etc.but this gave me a shot of confidence like the one I felt in the third grade when Mrs. Babineau had me running for public office. It was hard to describe. A lot happened the rest of the night. An hour or so later I was, for some reason, playing the drums for the first time in twelve years, and I can’t imagine I would’ve done so — especially with so many other people watching me — if I hadn’t made that speech. There was, apparently, also an interpretive dance, but I suspect that had more to do with the Armagnac than bolstered courage.

It seemed a throwaway, if incredibly fun, moment in my life, but since then I’ve felt different. I’ve been different. When I got back from France work really took off for me, though that had as much to do with my incredible boss as anything else. My travel bug grew, probably because I was much less nervous about traveling after that. In fact, even in the days following my brother’s wedding I felt different…like I was moving with purpose, like I was finally a brother and not just a little brother. I think I can’t explain it very well because I think I’m still in the change, rather than looking back at it like the moments from much earlier in my life.

Again, as I think back on it, it seems like such a small, insignificant moment. But then, this whole list is about moments like that, that seem small at the time, but which helped steer and shape my life. A week removed from turkey and stuffing, it’s still easy to be incredibly thankful for those little moments, not to mention all the big ones, that shape the future. I know how lucky I am to be this happy. This post is just my small way of saying thank you to five of the people who helped me get here.

Entertainers

On his blog today, Dilbert creator Scott Adams wonders why people get so bent out of shape about the likes of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh.

During the peak ratings years of The Jerry Springer Show — an alleged reality show — a fight would break out among the guests during almost every episode. It seemed obvious to me that these fights were orchestrated by the producers. What are the odds that a fight would break out during every episode and yet no one would ever get hurt or arrested?

The surprising thing is that everyone I talked to about the show during its glory years believed the fighting was genuine and spontaneous. I found that level of gullibility to be mind boggling.

All of this gets me to Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. Both of them have been in the news a lot for their outspoken and controversial views. And once again, people don’t seem to understand that their jobs are entertainment, nothing more.

Talk show hosts have no legal or ethical obligation to do anything but entertain. And judging by their successes, Limbaugh and Beck are brilliant at their jobs. I find it mind boggling that anyone believes a TV talk host is expressing his own true views.

I agree in principle with Adams: I highly doubt that these guys actually believe the shit they say, they’re doing it for ratings. The reason I get so frustrated with them is because they’re perceived as news men. Beck is actually employed by a (sort of) news organization: Fox News.

When stupid people watched Jerry Springer they might have thought the fighting was real, but it was limited to a one-hour show that was clearly nothing but cheap entertainment. When Limbaugh or Beck spray their views into the entertainmentsphere (as Adams puts it) with the intention of generating outrage and pandering to the lowest common denominator, some people might see through it and register it as showmanship. But many, especially because of the context in which entertainers like this operate (news radio, cable news) will treat it as fact.

Because my perception of Beck and Limbaugh is that they’re faking it, I don’t think they’re bad people. They probably think they’re no more dishonest than any other actor playing a part for money. I’m also long past the point of expecting much from the general TV or radio audience.

“No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.” –H.L. Mencken

My real contempt is for the media companies who try to dress this tripe up as news, and still have the nerve to tout themselves as pillars of journalism. “24 hour cable news” is an oxymoron. They’re never-ending entertainment and “entertainment news” shows (check out Alisa Miller’s excellent talk at TED last year about the American-centricness and entertainment focus of American news) which register on the seriousness scale somewhere between eTalk Now and USA Today.

If you watch the Daily Show (I’d include a clip here but the cross-border copyright issues with Comedy Central vs. the Comedy Network are beyond retarded) then you’ve probably noticed that in recent months Jon Stewart has unleashed a lot of venom at the news networks. He attacks Fox for their ridiculous slant and CNN for their glaring incompetence. He took Jim Cramer to task for being to finance what Ann Coulter is to political commentary, and doesn’t spare the whip for MSNBC when they actually do something noticeable. Crossfire — which seems oddly quaint now — irked him enough that he effectively embarrassed CNN into killing it. Here’s hoping he can manage a few more shows while he’s at it.

Interesting that an entertainer fronting an admittedly, proudly fake news show would be the one to most effectively skewer the bumblings and lies of the so-called “real” news shows.

Seasonal beer and '60s nostalgia, just like the pilgrims

It’s been three weeks since I blogged about anything but the France trip. Ahem. Sorry about that.

Not that I could have managed much original thought in the past week anyway. We’ve been scrambling since we got back, trying to catch up, and Nellie’s been sick at the end of the last week. So this weekend couldn’t have come at a better time. It’s been a relaxing one, this Thanksgiving holiday, filled with nothing but massive amounts of turkey and Mad Men.

Yes, Mad Men. For years we’ve been hearing how good it is, so we loaded the first season onto my laptop and took it with us to France. We’d watch an episode here or there while waiting for something or before going to bed, and eventually knocked off the entire season. We watched the entire second season this weekend, and now have to catch up on season three. It goes without saying that I want both the suits and the in-office bars of business men in the 60s.

As for turkey, we had ours last night: a small organic local one from Cumbrae’s. It was a little shocking to have one with actual taste, as opposed to the store-bought ones I’m used to which just taste like…uh, like steroids, I guess. Nellie made all the usual Thanksgiving suspects too, and we made a point of sampling some Canadian wine while doing so: a bottle of Henry of Pelham Sibling Rivalry white during the prep, a bottle of Moulin Rouge from Grand Pre with the turkey and Muir Murray’s Solstice Vidal ice wine with the pumpkin pie. Oh, and a Great Lakes pumpkin ale thrown in there somewhere as well.

So, on top of all the other things I have to be thankful for: premium Canadian booze. Cheers!

France: day 11, 12, 13 & 14

DAY 11

So much for sleeping in. The alarm went off at 6:45, and a room-service breakfast later we were picking up RER train tickets at Musee D’Orsay. About half an hour later we’d reached the Chateau de Versailles.

The teeming throng leading up to the palace should have been a warning. It was…well, a bit much. Spectacular, to be sure, but almost too big and too ornate and most certainly too crowded. At points I was wading through crowds of Japanese tourists to get anywhere.

The Hall of Mirrors was of particular interest to us, given the historical importance, but this was among the only shots we could get before being overrun by tour groups. We continued on in the loop around the inside of the building, but despite a few quiet moments to admire the palace’s art, it just didn’t live up to the expectations we had.

After fleeing the building we explored the gardens, or at least part of them.

They were truly enormous, and despite walking for over and hour we covered only a corner of the grounds. Had we known before we started that you could rent Segways to get around the ground, despite what it cost, we might’ve gone that route. Funnily enough, though, after we walked five minutes from the Chateau itself into the gardens, we were completely alone. I guess people only care to take picture of each other standing in front of Marie Antoinette’s dresser.

I can understand why people say Versailles is a must-see, but I can see now why Parisiens try to dissuade visitors from going there. The friend we met at Les Blotteries suggested we try Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte instead, as it’s like a more condensed version with smaller crowds. Anyway, back to the RER train we went, and had some charcuterie for lunch. By the way, at this point I was drinking coffee at the end of every meal. In the previous week I’d drunk as much coffee as I’d consumed in the entire previous 34 years.

We got back to the hotel for some much needed relaxation and recuperation (I’d hurt my shin somehow, and Nellie was nursing various blisters), and got a surprise. Presumably to make up for the earlier mishaps our hotel’s front desk had sent up a bottle of champagne and two glasses. We hastily throw the whole thing down our necks and proceed to the Louvre. Drunk art woo!!

Two years ago when we visited the Louvre we only had an hour or so, so we sped through to the vital locations: the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo. This time we had no such time constraints and took a more leisurely pace. Sneaking in through the Lion’s Gate entrance was a great idea, and we soon landed in the great halls of Spanish and Italian painters, far less crowded than the narrow spaces of the Musee D’Orsay.

As usual, there were great heaping crowds of gawkers at the Mona Lisa. I all but hurried past it to reach The Raft of the Medusa in the next room. We saw the rest of the paintings in that wing, and then went upstairs to see the Dutch, Flemish, German and French works.

By the time we finished our feet were killing us, and the pain in my shin (felt almost like shin splints) had become almost unbearable, so we limped home and relaxed for a few hours. We didn’t want to go far for dinner, so the bistrot around the corner seemed ideal. It was a great meal too: I had smoked salmon and dorado with a bottle of white. Nellie had a duo of chevre and a steak. My molten chocolate dessert was very good, as was Nellie’s trio of creme brulee. It was all in a nice relaxed atmosphere too, as evidenced by the local couple who arrived just before 10:00 with their Jack Russell in tow, who sat under the table while they ate. Coffee or not, neither of us could stay awake for long and we dragged our tired bones home and into bed.

DAY 12

We now decided to enter the relaxation portion of the trip. We slept in, at least as much as possible given the noisy street outside. We ordered another room-service breakfast, lay about reading and kept off our feet for a while. By late morning we thought we’d take a quick, casual stroll over toward the shopping area on Rue St-Peres, stopping in at the Paris installation of M0851, then walked a little further. Suddenly we realized how close we were to the Jardins du Luxembourg and decided to just go there.

After sitting in the sun in front of the pool for a little while, we also realized we were close to a lunch place recommended by a colleague at work: Cuisine de Bar. A few minutes later we were eating tartines (like an open-faced sandwich) in a tiny little spot. Cool little find that I simply would not have known about but for that recommendation, and highly recommended if you’re looking for a good, fast, inexpensive lunch in Paris.

We walked (sloooowly) back to the hotel and chilled for a bit, then went out to do a little more shopping and had a few drinks on the patio at the hotel’s bar. No sense running all over Paris; we’d seen most of the sights, and we were determined to squeeze in a little R&R. And anyway, I’m on the limp.

For dinner we ended up returning to the Cafe des Lettres, where we ate Monday night, because we’d liked it so much. Same great food, same lovely patio, same attractive servers. Just as good the second time!

DAY 13

Our various tweaks and injuries didn’t stop us from taking one last swing around the city and exploring a new neighbourhood. We took the metro down to Montparnasse, gawked at the tower and then strolled through the cemetery.Serge Gainsbourg’s grave was covered in shlock.

We tried to visit the catacombs, but they were closed because of vandalism. Boo. In light of this defeat we opted to console ourselves with food and, more importantly, beer. We walked up the street to a place recommended on BeerAdvocate called Academie de la Biere. I had an Erdinger, Nellie had a Westmalle Brune and then we shared a bottle of French beer called La Goudale.

We kept walking up, passing again through the Jardin du Luxembourg and into the Latin Quarter. We tried to make a reservation at Fish for a return visit, but they were all booked up for the night. We ran some last-minute errands, had a dessert and coffee, did an Air Canada web check-in, started packing and relaxed in the room for a while. There was nothing left to do but eat dinner, finish packing, fill out the room service menu and set the alarm. Dinner was a quick, quiet affair at a little spot around the corner. Nothing fancy, nothing remarkable, just a decent meal in a neighbourhood spot.

DAY 14

We woke up far too early for our liking and got our stuff into a cab. And what a cab! There’s something unsettling about riding in a minibus on the peripherique highway around Paris listening to Boney M, especially when you’re doing 150 and weaving through traffic like a lunatic. On the plus side, it’s nice to be the world record holder for the fastest trip ever recorded from Saint-Germain to Charles de Gaulle airport. Turns out all the speed was for naught as our flight was delayed by over an hour, but we eventually got on our flight and started the long flight west.

On the flight home moments and memories from the previous two weeks flashed through my now-numb brain. The beauty of the Loire Valley. The wonderful hosts we’d met at tiny inns and B&Bs around the country. The cathedrals book-ending our drive, at Chartres and Reims. The remnants of war in Normandy, Vimy and the Somme valley. The perfect weekend in Champagne, especially as it was spent with my brother. Even lunch at the brasserie in Chartres on our first day, which seemed a distant memory, which I remembered in the same fond way I remember the first day of university or starting a new job: the beginning of a new adventure.

I think it will be some time before I can see it all clearly, and recognize what an amazing trip it was. Upon returning to Toronto we dove straight back into work and attempted to get our lives back in game shape, going through the mechanics of recovering from a two-week vacation. As such, it doesn’t feel yet as if we had an adventure…just that we were away. But later, once all the chaotic brush strokes of this trip have been laid out on a single canvas in my mind, I’ll have a work of art to return to, to admire, for the rest of my life.

And that’s why we go.

France: day 9 & 10

DAY 9

We left Manoir de Montflambert right after breakfast, taking a bottle of their champagne with us. We saw a fox not long after leaving the manoir, before we got back on the highway, pretty much our only wildlife spotting of the trip. No wild boars, boo. Carmen took us down a bunch of back roads, then the Autoroute, then more back roads. Finally we returned the car to CDG about 15 minutes late, for which we got charged an extra day.

We piled into a cab and headed downtown, using limited French to have a conversation with cab driver until we reached our hotel. Our room wasn’t ready so we explored the neighbourhood — Saint Germain — a bit. We picked a nearby cafe for lunch, sitting and watching Paris go by as we drank wine and coffee.

I was excited to be staying in the 6th. I won’t even get into all the headaches we had with the hotel, though if you’re really interested, it’s on record over at TripAdvisor. Instead, I’ll just talk about what a fantastically convenient location it was, close to everything, surrounded by nice restaurants and pretty shops like this one across street.

We walked over to the Latin Quarter and had drinks at some sort of overpriced bar in a pedestrian mall (with a waitress who, ahem, defied gravity) and explored the ‘hood a bit before heading back toward our hotel. For dinner we settled on a place around the corner from our hotel, Cafe des Lettres. We loved this place. The inside looks like a library, all bookcases and dark wood and leather-bound chairs, but we saw outdoors on their huge garden patio. The menus were written inside the first pages of journals they brought to us, and patrons were welcome to write (or draw) whatever they wanted in the remaining pages. After we ordered we flipped through others’ thoughts and left some of our own. The food was excellent, the servers were very friendly (and let me continue ordering in French, only switching to English when stumbled once) and terribly attractive, and the weather was as perfect as it had been for the whole trip. We enjoyed our evening in the warm Parisian air and strolled back to the hotel, pleased as punch.

Speaking of attractive Parisians, I felt kind of bad for Nellie. While there were stunning Parisian women everywhere one looked, she saw very few attractive French men. Something about them all being too short. Anyway, it was a terrible imbalance. Tragic. But she held up like a trooper.

DAY 10

The next morning we decided to visit the Musee D’Orsay, an obvious choice as it was a block from our hotel.

The vast lineup to enter the building tipped us off that crowds would be bad, so we thought we’d be smart and head directly to the third floor where all the top-flight paintings were. Turns out this was everybody’s plan, which made it hard to enjoy the art. There would be no room to stand in front of a painting and admire it because of the steady stream of tourist yobs taking each others’ picture in front of it. With flash, of course. It led to a speed walk around the top floor, and only slightly more casual walks on the remaining floors.

Surprisingly, my favourite thing in the whole musee might have been the view that greets you when you enter the main hall. D’Orsay was a train station, and it’s retained the feeling of a grand hall, rather than the palatial feel of the Louvre. We wrapped up there and grabbed some lunch at a pub on Saint-Germain that has a decent beer selection. Unfortunately the rest of it was a touristy mess, but you can’t win ’em all. Clearly the previous night had spoiled us.

In the late afternoon we decided to go for a walk toward the Eiffel tower. The last time we visited Paris was during the World Cup of Rugby (hosted by France), and there was a giant rugby ball suspended from the tower, which made our resident photographer very unhappy. This time she was determined to get an unspoiled shot. She did, but probably not from the angle she was expecting.

The reason I wanted to walk down that far was to cross the river and visit the Place du Trocadero. We sat on the grass and watched the fountains, snapping picture after picture of the tower from our perfect vantage. No aggressive trinket vendors, no loud scammers, no bumbling crowds…just peace and quiet and a clear sight line. Sure, there were lots of people hanging out on the grass, but it’s an ocean of calm compared to the chaos across the river, underneath the tower.

During our walk back to the hotel I step into a hole in the sidewalk and jam my shin, which ends up sucking pretty badly later. Also, I paid 12 Euros for one hour of internet access, and I felt like I lost a tiny bit of my soul, so our luck was starting to turn. But dinner at Fish Wine Bar won the day. It was a fairly Anglo place (a Kiwi bartender greeted us, a lady from New York chatted with us at the bar, etc.), enough so that the older gentleman seated next to us said something rather rude en Francais about the annoying foreigners not bothering to learn the language. He thought I couldn’t understand him, but the stink-eye I gave him made him realize that wasn’t the case. Anyway, we weren’t letting that spoil our night…our food was excellent, and the wine predictably wonderful. Another great find. We wondered when our luck would run out.

By this point we were both pretty much in love with Paris. The only thing that bothered me about it was the smoking. Living in Toronto’s spoiled us; as smokey as I find it sometimes, it’s nothing compared to Paris, where we were always sitting next to someone on a cafe who lit up. Still, it was immeasurably better this time ’round in Paris, now that there’s no smoking indoors.

We sauntered back to the hotel, brimming with wine, infatuated with our new vacation home. Paris, je t’aime.