Attack of the Holiday Manicures

Hello all!

What will all the holiday parties recently I've been doing a lot of at-home manicures. They're all on the simpler side since I've had a bit of a time shortage, but I figured I'd share anyway.

First up is my first foray into the "accent nail" idea. I wanted a deep red manicure, but also wanted some glitter to catch attention. I used OPI's "Malaga Wine", then did my ring fingers in "Midnight Kiss" by China Glaze with a coat of OPI's "Bring on the Bling". I was really happy with the result!

My most recent manicure is for a Christmas party tomorrow night. I'll be wearing an inky-black velvet dress with a gold zipper down the front and wanted my nails to play up the gold theme. I also picked up a great gold rose ring and wanted to tie it all together. I'd seen this manicure a few weeks ago, but unfortunately I can't find it anywhere to link to. I started with two coats of "Midnight Kiss", then did two or three coats of Sephora by OPI's "Traffic-Stopper Copper" on just the tips. The photos aren't great quality but the combination of gold and copper turned out really well!

Arch Nemesis

I have a new Arch Nemesis.

I'm not really a "gym" person. For a long time I have professed a violent hatred toward the gym, which (largely) still exists. The gym, as many of you will know, is mainly stocked with two types of people. The first are the 'roided out guys: they spend every evening of the week pumping iron, grunting, and alternating between checking out themselves and checking out other 'roid monsters to make sure they're not being out-lifted. The other type of gym-goer are the super-fit women in tiny spandex: their favourite pastimes include tugging at their too-short shorts and trying to distract the 'roid monsters from their own reflections. Now despite having taken a few classes in gyms I still haven't mastered the subtle art of knowing what the hell to do with myself while there, and thanks to the super judgemental audience I never have the guts to try and figure it out. When you throw in outrageous fees and inconvenient commutes, going to the gym just never makes it onto my priority list.

However, I recently have found it necessary to overcome this distaste for the gym. Every year around this time, I - like most other people - manage to start packing on the holiday weight. While most other years I approach this phenomenon with a kind of depressed resignation, this year I've been trying to make a preemptive strike. For the first time I'm living in a building with a gym, and the fees are already part of my rent so it's basically free to use. While I still barely know what I'm doing, I've managed to work out a cardio routine that I can make it through without embarrassing myself. For the last few weeks this has been going pretty well, and I've succeeded in ignoring everyone else in the gym.

Until today, when I met my Arch Nemesis.

Things started well enough: I came in, set up at reclining cycle or whatever you call that thing, and zoned out to my music while trying to make it through the first half hour of my routine. I vaguely noticed an impractically dressed woman on a treadmill, but for the most part was trying not to sing aloud to The White Panda and Justin Bieber. It was when I went to use a treadmill myself that things started their rapid descent into Nemesis Town. One of the four treadmills is a little older and a little broken. The handles have broken where the heart rate monitor is, so every time you adjust speed or incline you receive a shock: not my favourite. To my delight, there were two available treadmills, though I noticed a towel and a sweatshirt on the not-broken one next to impractically dressed woman (henceforth "gym floozy"). Unsure, I concluded the good treadmill's occupant must have gone to the restroom, so after hesitating for a minute I resigned myself to the shitty treadmill and a half hour of shock treatment.

While running, however, I noticed that no one came to claim their towel. I also couldn't help but notice some more details about gym floozy. I've already mentioned that I'm no gym proficient, but even the greenest novice could see that this woman didn't have a clue what she was doing. Interval training is one thing, but gym floozie was alternating between about thirty seconds of all-out sprinting and five minutes of quick-stepping (nope, it didn't even qualify as speed walking). She would get going so fast, wouldn't be able to sustain her speed, and then would have to hop onto the side rail to slow the treadmill down before continuing. It was probably the most pointless exercise I've ever been witness to.

Now I realize I've done a terrible job of painting a full picture of what gym floozy looks like. For her sprint/walks gym floozy decided to go for one of the smallest outfits of all time. She was sporting itty-bitty high school-style hot pants that I'm pretty sure she stole from Michael Cera in Juno, paired with a spagetti strap tank top that didn't even come close to covering up her (generous) bust. So imagine, if you will, gym floozy at an all-out sprint. Just imagine it.

I wouldn't have been her biggest fan under those circumstances, but could have forgiven the impractical athletic wear and improper equipment use if that was all there was to it. It was the fact that - as I eventually discovered - she had draped her sport jacket and towel on a second treadmill instead of over the rail of her own that really cemented her status as Arch Nemesis. I mean really? Did she REALLY need to take up TWO treadmills for her performance of amateur-hour?! I would have preferred to have my half-hour run without the 20 or so electric shocks.

By the time I made it over the the elliptical for the final half hour of my session I was in a pretty unhappy mood. Still, the sight in front of me was ridiculous under any circumstance. On one of the cycles was what I can only conclude to be a lost hippy. She was middle-aged and had come to exercise in glorified pyjamas that were probably made of hemp. She also seemed to have forgotten a bra of any kind. None of these things were what really caught my attention though. What caught my attention was that she was cycling in wooly socks, with her Birkenstock sandals just to the side of her cycle.

It was at this point that I gave up on life and left.

As for you Arch Nemesis, thanks for the half-hour of shock treatment: see you at the gym, bitch.


New York, New York

Apparently my trip to Europe (and the traveling I did while there) has started something of a trend in my life! For the last month I've been living in Toronto, and last week in a spur-of-the-moment decision my cousin and I decided to accompany my aunt and uncle on a trip to New York City. I have never been to New York, and the last and only time I visited the states was when I was seventeen and briefly stayed in Las Vegas. You can imagine then that I was out of my mind excited to be visiting Manhattan during the Christmas holiday season.

We flew out on Saturday afternoon from a smaller airport on Toronto's waterfront (this was a huge improvement over flying from Pearson), though I laughed when I was selected for "randomized additonnal screening". It essentially consisted of them waving some wand around my hands and telling me I could go. We arrived in Newark (New Jersey) after a short flight, and then it was into a cab and off to Manhattan. My uncle attended grad school at Harvard, so we stayed at the Harvard Club near Fifth Avenue and 44th Street. The Harvard Club is absolutely stunning! All the walls are Harvard scarlet, as well as the soft carpets. It's filled with dark-wood columns and mouldings, as well as old Harvard memorabilia. In addition, everything was decorated for Christmas with boughs of cedar and pine, christmas lights, gold bows, and holly. In one of the dining halls was a huge Christmas tree which must have been at least 25 feet tall and fully decorated. For our first night there we decided to go for dinner at a Greek place, but unfortunately the first choice was too busy. Instead we stumbled across another restaurant called Molyvos that wound up being excellent. They served a particular flaming cheese dish that we all loved. Afterward we drove through the city, including Time Square, Bryant Park (where they hold New York Fashion Week), and we visited Grand Central Station.

The next morning I woke up to I Can't Help Myself (better known as Sugar Pie Honey Bunch) on the radio, sun streaming through the windows, and the overwhelming feeling that it was going to be a great day. I wasn't disappointed. We breakfasted at the Harvard Club, then went on to Fifth Avenue where we visited the Rockefeller Center (including the skating rink and tree) and did some shopping in Saks. After that we headed over to MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) to see the large De Kooning exhibit there. I must say, De Kooning is not my favourite. I found his works grotesque, and thought they displayed an alarming degree of misogyny. Some of the work practically radiated evil, which was totally weird. After grabbing lunch my aunt and uncle went to go see the Diego Rivera exhibit while my cousin and I went in search of Van Gogh's Starry Night, one of my favourite paintings. Find it we did, as well as a second Van Gogh that I am now equally in love with. It's called The Olive Trees, and it has me completely enraptured. We also saw some Picasso (not my favourite), and some Henri Rousseau, whose paintings I find slightly hypnotic (and love). After MoMA we were all pretty tired, so we went back to The Harvard Club for a rest before dinner. The Sex and the City Movie (the first one) was on TV, which seemed appropriate given it was my first visit to New York.

By dinner time we were all still tired though, so we decided to go to Kellari Taverna, which is right next to the Club. Kellari serves Greek food, which (once again) was totally incredible. One of New York's major highlights is that there is so much amazing food all around. After dinner it was off to bed in preparation for another busy day.

The next morning we went to the Upper East Side to a cafe called Sant Ambroeus that officially serves the best hot chocolate anywhere. It is a Milanese-style place, and beautifully decorated. After hot chocolate and a croissant, my cousin, aunt and I wandered along Madison Avenue, exploring BCBG, J Crew, and Elie Tahari before heading for lunch at a French restaurant called Le Charlot on Madison Avenue and 69th Street. After lunch we walked through Central Park, then went up to Bergdorf Goodman's to enjoy the windows and have a look at the glamorous merchandise.

One thing I'll add was I noticed something of a Manhattan uniform. Almost every woman carried a Louis Vuitton purse of some sort and wore a plaid Burberry scarf, often with a fur coat. Men all wore suits, and also wore Burberry plaid scarves. At times the sheer concentration of wealth was overwhelming.

After Bergdorf Goodman's we walked over to The Four Seasons and had tea at The Bar, a famous Manhattan watering hole and meeting place for the glamorous and successful. Once tea was concluded it was back to the Harvard Club to shower and change, and then off to Soho to a restaurant called Beauty & Essex. Beauty and Essex was amazing! One enters the restaurant through the back door of a pawn shop, and the restaurant itself is a huge two-level high-ceilinged affair. The wall I was facing was covered in collections of framed lockets. The food was European, and I had a fantastic cale, walnut, apple and goats' cheese salad that reminded me of Europe. Afterward my cousin and I shared a bottomless butterscotch pudding type-thing which was unbelievably good. The music was loud, pumping Rihanna, David Guetta, Usher and other popular club beats, and the crowd was young and fashionable.

Our final engagement for the evening was Ivanka Trump's jewelry store launch in Soho. Dinner had run long so we got there only five minutes before the event's scheduled end, but we went in and had a look. Mostly the crowd seemed to be her older friends and investors, but I stood about a foot away from her for at least five minutes before we decided we were bored and wanted to leave. We did one more tour of the city (my aunt needed photos) before going back to the Harvard Club.

The next morning it was up and off to the airport, though we made a quick stop near the Flat Iron Building at another Milanese coffee place called Eataly for hot chocolate and coffee. Things at the airport were quiet (thank god) but I had a rather unpleasant surprise once we got to security.

You see, Newark's airport has one of those hotly-contested security scanners that has many people upset right now. In case you're not familiar with the issue, the USA has been introducing high-intensity scanners that essentially allow security to see what you look like under your clothes. Not having encountered these on the way into New York I didn't anticipate having to face them on the way out. Furthermore, they had the usual metal detector right there, but for some reason were marching everyone through the privacy-violating contraption. I didn't like it one bit, but I didn't exactly have a choice. On the bright side, Once I was on the other side I had a look at the actual visual the guards see, and it's not what I expected. Contrary to the images floating around the internet, it's a very simple person icon, with a yellow flash anywhere you're wearing metal. Nevertheless, I don't like those machines. If you'd like to read up on the issue you can look at this article, or just type "airport security scanner" into google.

Anyway, overall the trip to New York was exciting and so much fun. I can't believe how much amazing food and how many incredible sights and decorations I got to see! Christmas really is the best time to visit I think, but I hope I'll go back again.

Auf wiedersehen , Hamburg!

Well, it's taken me over a month to write this up, but I figured it was finally time to cover the last weekend of my German stay. Mostly because this past weekend I was in New York and really need to get some more updates going.... more on that later.

My last European update left off after my return to Hamburg from Ireland. I had only the Thursday and Friday left at work before leaving on Monday for Canada.

Because so many of my coworkers from Online were vacationing that week my days at work were pretty quiet. On Thursday I went out for lunch with my boss (who is also an old friend of my uncle's). Because of some details relating to selling the apartment I had been staying in he kindly offered to be my host for my final weekend in Hamburg. On Friday I had one final lunch with the Advertising boys, which was fun and a little nostalgic. I found it pretty funny how much their English had deteriorated in the eight weeks since we had been working together. The rest of the afternoon passed quietly enough, but when the end of the day came around I noticed the whole floor of the agency was all gathered up around the meeting table. I wandered out and everyone was looking at me, and then they presented me with a little gift and a card everyone had signed. On the card was a picture of the How I Met Your Mother cast, though they had photoshopped my face over Robin Scherbatsky's, and below had put "How I Met Your Mudda", a word-play on my first German words "deine mudda". I, of course, got totally overwhelmed and started tearing up, then made a probably incoherent speech about my time there.

That, however, was not the end of the night. Our agency is split up into two buildings, one of which is Advertising, Design, Online, (generally the more Creative side of things) then the other  building that mainly houses PR, Accounts, Management and other such administrative type things. That Friday night we were having a big company party to encourage everyone to get to know one another (A Team themed party, I might add). Like most German parties, everyone got pretty drunk at the open bar and had a prodigiously good time singing and dancing to hits of the '90s. I wound up swing dancing with a member of senior management who was delightedly telling me about his recent marriage (I think... it was really tough to hear). It was a brilliantly fun send off. Though in a particularly obnoxious turn of fate, I happened to meet a charming, attractive, tall, successful, single gentleman who was actually interested in me. Go figure. Neither of us was pleased that I was leaving the damn continent in three days. Thanks Europe. Nothing but married men for three and a half months and then Prince Charming days before I leave.

Anyway, the next day was my boss' father's birthday, so I joined his family in journeying to the countryside outside of Hamburg for the party. I was a little nervous that it would be awkward since I'm essentially a complete stranger and can't even speak German, but the family was so welcoming. For my benefit they all spoke English, and my boss' parents were probably the sweetest people in the world. The area they lived in was also exceptionally beautiful, and it was nice to get a sense of what there was outside of Hamburg. I had a great chat with the birthday-man, who happened to be pretty hilarious. He asked if I was planning to be in Design permanently, and when I said I had lots of different plans for my future he replied "Good, you're too smart to waste your whole life on that." Haha classic old man honesty.

I should add that my boss happens to live in one of Hamburg's nicest communities. His residence is right near the lake, on a tree-lined street with gorgeous white Victorian townhouses and wrought-iron gates. It was a pleasure to stay there and get to walk around the area.

Once we had returned from the countryside birthday party I headed downtown to try and get my final shopping out of the way. I needed another bag (too much shopping during my trip) and also had to find a souvenir for my father, which I eventually was successful at getting. While wandering around I did see the craziest thing though. Right in the middle of the shopping district was a giant and rather frightening looking man hauling around a giant wooden cross and shouting German at passersby. I would have taken a picture if I wasn't genuinely concerned for my safety. Shortly thereafter I decided I needed some caffeine and headed over to Starbucks, where the freak-parade continued. As I was standing at the bar waiting for my order, the man ahead of me picked up his: a venti white mocha. For those of you who are coffee-illiterate, a venti white mocha is a 20 ounce drink made up of two shots of espresso combined with white hot chocolate and then topped with whipped cream and white chocolate sauce (thanks, job at a coffee shop!). It is probably one of the highest fat and calorie drinks you can order, not to mention it is bordering on sickly sweet. I then observed the gentleman take his sugar-fest diabetes-inducing drink to the condiments stand, where he casually poured half of a giant tumbler of sugar into the drink. I mean it, he poured almost half of that sugar in there. I could barely contain my laughter, though the thought of all that sugar made my teeth hurt for all the cavities I'm sure he has. Now you're probably imagining a morbidly obese man right now, but in fact this guy was pretty young and really skinny. All I can say is I'd hate to be him when that metabolism slows down. As though that hadn't been enough hilarity for one night, on my way back to the metro I passed yet another comedic sight. I was using a crosswalk when two gentlemen pulled up to a red light in a flashy convertible with the top down. Despite it being well after dark, I'm quite sure one or both of them were wearing sunglasses. The best part? They were blaring Bollywood music like it was the coolest shit this side of Ibiza. Once again I had to suppress laughter as the President and Vice President of the Douche Squad rolled on by.

The next day (my last in Europe) I was determined not to spend packing. So, in the morning I got my stuff together, then went to my favourite place - the Alsterarkaden - to meet up with a friend from work. We got coffee and hung out there for a bit, then moved on to get lunch. We finished the day by walking around the lakes, something I hadn't actually done before. Unfortunately the day was fairly overcast, but I was still pretty pleased with how it went. When I got back to my host's place a friend of his was visiting and so we all chatted for a while. The friend (whose name I absolutely cannot remember) was very interesting and for quite some time had been a European fashion mogul. I was therefore all the more delighted when he complimented me on the design of my shirt and the colour of my fur scarf (which has turned out to be one of my best European purchases). Anyway, we all decided to go out for dinner at a place called Brücke. Brücke is a small little restaurant/bar that was once a choice Hollywood hang out. It was started by a rather famous restauranteur and has a great reputation. We started with champagne (which I have developed quite a taste for), and then I had a fried fish on a bed of lentils, with perhaps the best sauce I've ever had. It was fantastic! The three of us debated spending a night out on the town, but concluded that since my flight was so early it was probably best that we get to bed early.

The next day it was off to the airport at something like 5:30am. My first flight was from Hamburg to Frankfurt, and of course it was delayed by at least an hour thanks to one of the runways getting shut down. This stressed me out a little since I had a connection to make and really didn't want to push my timeline. Anyway, eventually I got on the flight and arrived in Frankfurt without too much trouble. If you'll recall Frankfurt is one of the largest airports in the world, and dragging myself through it was not what I would call "fun". Anyway, after jumping through hoops with security I arrived at the correct gate, and finally it was on to the giant air bus headed for Vancouver International. Unfortunately, unlike my flight from Vancouver to Hamburg I was not seated by any handsome gentlemen this time around - just some stringy looking quiet guy. I was, however, one seat over from a window and right next to the aisle, which definitely improved my flying experience. Though I had hoped to get some sleep, instead I wound up watching a ton of movies. I started with the new Pirates of the Caribbean (sucked), then watched Bad Teacher (better than I expected), Thor (which I've already seen), Something Borrowed (sucked), The Green Lantern (sucked), Voyage of the Dawntreader (sucked), and probably at least one other film I can't even remember. I believe once I'd run out of movies I moved on to 30 Rock, and then an episode of Modern Family. It was a long flight. One of the coolest parts was flying over Greenland. I had been too far from a window on the way to Europe to see anything, but on the way back I was able to glimpse the endless hills of snow in the arctic. It was incredible! I've never seen anything like it, and I wish I could've gotten a picture or even just looked at it longer.

After ten and a half hours in the air we finally landed in Vancouver, and then I had to deal with at least an hour or two of customs, duties, and security. The fact that I had been out of the country for so long also made things more confusing, though I haven't been hunted down yet by the IRS so I'm guessing I didn't fuck anything up too badly.

There are a lot of things I've taken away from my time in Europe, and I expect I'll discover many more as time goes by. First, it's given me a better understanding of my own culture, country, and what it means to be a Canadian: an identity I only had a vague sense of before. Second, it taught me a lot about culture in general. During my first month in Germany I resented that the culture wasn't as open as my own: I was constantly frustrated that it was so difficult to connect with people, and I concluded that it was a closed-minded way of operating. Ironically, I was the one who was being closed-minded. While I will still tell you that the Northern German culture is more reserved, I won't say that that's a bad thing. It's simply different. While their friendship is a little more work to come by, once you have it you can depend upon it. I hope that in the future I'll be able to experience more cultures and continue learning these lessons.

Another thing I gained from my time overseas was an increased faith in my abilities and a greater independence. While I've always been a fairly independent person, I now feel like I can do just about anything: nothing could ever be as much of a challenge as working and living on the other side of the world in a culture I'm not familiar with, in a country whose language I don't speak, and on a continent where I know no one. These days I am more likely to look at a situation and see opportunities to be grasped rather than challenges I cannot overcome. I am also not afraid to be alone. I know I can take care of myself, and that I don't need to rely upon anyone else to do the things I'm interested in. My travels taught me to be alone in a way that I don't think I could've learned otherwise.

I'll always look upon my time in Europe as a significant period of growth, learning, and change in my personal history. I am so overjoyed that I got to go, and I can't wait to have more adventures just like it.


Let's shut our eyes and pretend none of it ever happened

I owe you a post. Enough said.

So much has been going on in the last couple of months, and there's so much I've been meaning to get up here. It's been almost a month since I left Germany and came back to Canada, and it's been exactly a week since moving to Toronto and starting my new job. In four months I've changed time zones at least five or so times and I've been on at least a dozen flights between four countries and two continents. For someone who has spent the majority of their life in a quiet corner of the province this has been a lot of activity. I have a piece in the works about my last few weeks in Germany, but I'm afraid this isn't it. Work has been so busy that I just don't have the time to dedicate to writing coherently these days.

Speaking of work, I suppose you may be interested in a brief rundown of what I'm up to. Basically I'm working with a graphic design company and an interior design company for some developers who are building townhomes etcetera. The body of my company is located out West, so I've been sent here to be a liaison between East, West, and everyone else involved (architects, landscapers, realtors, lawyers, printers and more). I had expected to be working very much on the creative aspects of things (this is, after all, where the bulk of my experience lies), but instead I've found my role has been much more on-the-ground assistance. I ensure everyone has the files they need, attend meetings, make presentations, source materials (such as printers or audio/visual groups), and spend what must be the majority of my time on the phone getting everyone up to speed on our project progress.

The last few days have been particularly busy as we are all scrambling to get things together for a big event we have next week. I spent my morning rushing between meetings with an audio/visual consultant and our printers, then put in another nine hours at the office making all the necessary edits and adjustments to our materials. Luckily the very intense conclusion to my degree has prepared me well for barrages of deadlines and I've been able to keep going without completely losing my mind: "keep calm and carry on" and all that.

I am thoroughly delighted to say that all of the feedback I've received regarding my work has been wonderful. It's immeasurably reassuring to know that even though you feel completely inadequate and unprepared that others perceive you as put-together and competent. While things are very hectic at the moment it doesn't at all detract from the learning experience. The work here is very different (though still related) to what I did in Germany, and seems to be yet another step in discovering all about this industry. Every day is a new challenge but no matter what I'll finish up with so much more knowledge, confidence and skills than when I started. Not to mention an amazing reference for my resume.

But before I get too smug and you get too annoyed, let's get to what's really been on my mind. For reasons I have yet to uncover I've been in the strangest mood lately. I think part of it is that things are progressing at such a rate that everything seems more than a little surreal. I haven't had sufficient time to process exactly all that has happened, and when I try to I get a little dumbstruck.

Also, I think the move to this new city is making me consider a few things I haven't given thought (deliberately or otherwise). For starters, it seems to be some kind of law of nature that whenever your professional career takes off your love life takes a proportionate dive for the worse. More and more lately I've been overwhelmed by frustration when it comes to my poor luck. The majority of you will already be familiar with my inability to find even ONE single man during my time overseas. I had hoped to leave this problem where it belonged - in Europe - but alas, it followed me home. No sooner did I arrive in Toronto and attend my first business pre-holiday party (yeah, they have those here and they are just as glamorous as you are imagining) than I found an amazingly cute guy, who *gloriously* seemed to reciprocate my interest. Well, we chatted, we laughed, and then two or so hours later I discovered - through someone else, of course - that he was married. Ladies and gentlemen: my life. It's just so beyond ridiculous. While the guy himself is clearly a scumbag and I have comfortably and easily banished from my mind, the overall trend of being unable to find anyone single is really grating on my nerves. It's gotten to the point where it's really difficult to look at any prospect with even the smallest degree of positivity since with my luck it just won't work out. Depressing. There are soooo many men in Toronto but all of a sudden I have this unshakable defeatist attitude that's getting me down like nothing else. To boot, I've managed to meet someone too-good-to-be-true. While there is a teensy-tiny ray of hope, I can't bring myself to look at it with any real enthusiasm: to hope is to open oneself to disappointment, and right now that's all I've been getting so why should this time be any different?

This odd combination of such surreal momentum in my professional life yet such tiresome frustration in my personal life keeps calling to mind this particular phrase: "let's shut our eyes and pretend none of it ever happened." Some weeks ago this popped into my head and like a catchy song I haven't been able to forget it. It may be that it's a line from a movie, a lyric from a song, or maybe I even came up with it myself. Whatever its genesis, it's been stuck in my head and seems to encapsulate much of my current situation. There's more though: to really tie things together in a so-weird-it's-ridiculous kind of way, I stumbled across something I might rather not have in my email today.

Perhaps a year ago I made a new email account since my old address was from elementary school days and bore an appropriately embarrassing name. When I did, I suppose I imported all the emails from my "Saved" folder of the old account. Today, as it happened, I thought I had accidentally drag-and-drop copied an entire other folder into the saved folder, and so I opened it up - my first time doing so since activating my new email - and checked the contents.

What I found inside produced a similar effect as a punch to the gut might. Inside were the last emails I ever received from my two close friends who were killed in a car accident just over five years ago. I don't think I've looked at those in over four years; I'd forgotten I even had them. One email was from the day before the accident, discussing our plans to all go together to the lake the next day - I had replied saying that was the only day I couldn't attend due to an orthodontics appointment. It's chilling to contemplate where I might (or might not) be today had I been in the car with them. "Pretend none of it ever happened" indeed.

Five years later and I still have no idea what to do with that knowledge.

Surreal, surreal, surreal. Life is surreal.


A word on navigation

Alright, so just a quick word:

For the most part I've eliminated the pages feature. They were a rather inconvenient part of the site that was tiresome to update and I'll bet took ages to load. However you still should be able to find the material you want through the search bar to the top right, or simply by selecting tags which I've been pretty good at staying on top of. I've left up the Art and Favourite Things pages because my updating system for them is a little different than the rest of the topics I address.

Hopefully this won't be to disruptive to your browsing.

As always,
Arbiter Elegantiae


Listening To: Daydreaming Part 2

Way back in April I posted a Daydreaming playlist which received a really wonderful response from listeners. The original Daydreaming was just a small compilation from a much larger (142 tracks) playlist I have on my iTunes. Because you all loved the first installment so much I decided to work on a second, which is meant to pick up where the last playlist left off. Unfortunately three of the integral tracks aren't on Grooveshark and cannot be uploaded so it's not exactly how I wanted it. Regardless, it continues the in the same dreamy and mellow vein as the last playlist did. I started with some quiet pieces that highlighted guitar accompaniment, and then transitioned into songs backed by piano. While Daydreaming 1 was dominated by male vocalists I decided to use Daydreaming 2 to explore some of my favourite songstresses. Fear not: you'll still find some excellent Bon Iver, The National, and Beach House, but you'll also get a taste of Bat for Lashes, Florence and the Machine, Cat Power, Dido, and Neko Case.

I don't always get to give my playlists the individual attention they deserve, but for Daydreaming I go the extra mile. I challenge you not to fall in love.

Daydreaming 2 by Bronwyn on Grooveshark

Marvelous Manicure: Christmas 2011

Hello all!

Now that Remembrance Day (or as I like to call it, Novembrance Day) is behind us, it is officially acceptable to start listening to Christmas carols and decorating for the holidays. One of my favourite parts of the holidays is getting to do themed manicures! Last year I took my inspiration from Starbucks' holiday to-go cups, but this year I wanted to do more of a Christmas tree ornament type of thing. I started with Midnight Kiss by China Glaze, which is a molten gold. I followed by doing a very light coating of OPI's Bring On the Bling on just the tips of the nail in a gradient style. Bring On the Bling is a great glitter from the Burlesque collection, and has gold, green, and red micro-glitter: perfect for the holidays. Finally, I accented two nails on each hand with holly berries and leaves, which I created used some nail pens.

While I'm on the holiday theme, I may as well attach last-year's Christmas manicure, which I'll probably repeat this year - I loved it! For it I used OPI's Malaga Wine, a dusting of loose red glitter, a white nail pen, and a touch of sliver glitter for the snowflake centres. (Sorry for the blurriness!) Enjoy!

Irish Times

Alright, so due to the sheer volume of material I want to cover I've decided it will be much simpler if I break things up a little bit.  So, this post will be dedicated to my visit to Ireland and the week that preceded it.

As it happened I had one last weekend between France and Ireland during which I got to enjoy Hamburg without dealing with packing and other such craziness.  I took advantage of the sun and the free time to say my final goodbyes to my favourite part of Hamburg: the Alsterarkaden.  Once I had gotten myself some caffeine I set up camp on the steps of the canal, fished out my notebook and started sketching the far side.  When I had first arrived in Germany my work had gifted me with a small company notebook which evolved into something of a travel diary for me.  At first I put in directions, maps, and itineraries, but later I included passing observations, notes to include in my blog, and sketches of particularly interesting subjects.  It is now one of my favourite souvenirs from my trip.

The day was fairly pleasant and uneventful, though I became very irritated with some passing tourists.  You see, down in the canals is a great collection of birds.  Mostly pigeons and seagulls but also swans, all of whom are drawn to the bread hand-outs by locals.  These tourists, however, weren't passing out food.  Instead, they were approaching the human-desensitized wildlife and kicking at them until the focus of their cruelty flew away.  I quietly hoped that they would fall into the canal in the process, and resolved that if they did I wouldn't lift a finger to help them.

The other moment of note was while I was sketching away.  I was listening to Patrick Watson's "Mr. Tom" on my iPod, and there was a street performer about 25 metres away.  He was entertaining the crowd with torch throwing and balancing, and he added to the show by screaming theatrically/maniacally.  Just at that moment, church bells began to toll.  It was such a surreal moment.  It seemed like the kind of audio-mix you see in film sometimes, where the protagonist stares into the distance broodingly while the world whirls past in slow motion.  But, as always happens, the moment passed, and real life restarted.  Below is the Patrick Watson track, which (I think) was really what set the tone for the experience.

The week passed quickly, and next thing I knew it was Friday.  Most of my coworkers from Online were vacationing during my last week, so it was something of a last goodbye for me.  For lunch we all went out for sushi (I'm sorry to say it had nothing on sushi in Vancouver), followed by the best cupcake I've had.  Ever.  Which brings me to a piece of advice: if you ever find yourself in Hamburg, the best bakery of all time is Liebes Bisschen, and the best salad I've ever had the honour to consume can be found at Esszimmer.  You can never go wrong with a mound of fresh greens, great dressing, and baked goat cheese.  Sigh.

But back to Friday.  Anyway, that evening we had another company party.  My employers recently bought a smaller company, and so we had a mixer so all the new employees could get to know one another.  It was a lot of fun, though I got my ass handed to me at foosball.  Apparently that's pretty much all they do during their spare time.

I don't even remember what time I got home at, but luckily my flight wasn't until late afternoon the next day.  I made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare, though I was irritated to discover that the "low-cost" airline charged to check any baggage whatsoever.  Thanks for the heads-up guys!  During the flight I wound up flipping through the airline's magazine, which was strange because I never do that.  However, I wound up stumbling upon a little article about something called City of a Thousand Welcomes.  It is something of a tourism project which aims to build on Ireland's reputation for hospitality.  Basically you sign up online and it will pair you with a host; someone who is passionate about Dublin.  You meet up at a prearranged time and go for tea or a pint, and they personally welcome you to the city and provide you with helpful pointers on how to best enjoy yourself.  Tired of traveling alone all the time, I signed up for the next day.

And it was a good thing I did!  Because I had signed up on such short notice I wound up being hosted by the company's founder.  We met up close to Saint Stephen's Green and Grafton Street and then relocated to Bewley's, a beautiful coffee shop right on Grafton Street.  If I remember correctly, the place was built in the late 19th century.  One of its most striking features is the stained glass windows, created by a famous Irish artist.  Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to get photos of them.  Anyway, in the end I was really pleased I had signed up.  I had a pleasant time with my host, who was happy to provide a wealth of personalized advice on what to do while I was in Dublin.

I spent most of the rest of the day doing a little exploring and shopping around the Grafton Street area.  I also got to stroll through St. Stephen's Green, a famous local park. That night I had planned on making a visit to the world-renowned Temple Bar Pub.  And venture out I did.  Unfortunately the weather had other plans for my night.  It had started raining heavily in the early afternoon, and by the time I left my hotel this had turned into a full-out gale.

Now I'd like to throw in a word about navigating in Europe.  Unlike in North America, where street names can be located on posts on every street corner - where they are readable and helpful - in Europe (I noticed this in both France and Ireland) street names can most of the time be found on small plaques placed on the second level of buildings on intersections.  Not every corner though, oh no.  So, you may find yourself at an intersection and the only way of figuring out where you are is by scanning the surrounding buildings, which may or may not have plaques on them.  Now imagine trying to do this at night, when the rain is blowing so strongly that you've lost count of the number of times your stupid umbrella has flipped inside out. Furthermore, crosswalk signals in Europe operate with different timing. Specifically one is allowed about twenty seconds to get across the road, but once this window is passed you will likely have to wait a good ten minutes or so until the next crossing. Apparently Europeans just ignore this and cross the road whenever they damn well feel like it and waiting around is the unmistakable mark of a tourist. I, however, have a strong respect for the damage vehicles can do to the human body and am more often happier to wait the two extra minutes rather than take a risk in areas where I'm totally unfamiliar with the traffic patterns.  To sum up, navigating was endlessly frustrating.

I wandered around the streets just long enough to get thoroughly wind-blown, bedraggled and angry.  To boot, Irish men - unlike German men - have no issue with voicing their admiration of passing women: a "pleasantry" which was rather unappreciated in my windswept and disoriented state.  Plus they were all like 50.  I got completely lost and wound up just giving up on finding the damn place.  Once back at my hotel I headed down to the bar where I nursed a whiskey sour while glaring at the rugby game playing on the TVs.

Weather-wise, the next day was more of the same.  The day started rainy and got progressively worse.  Despite the foul conditions I wandered over to Trinity College Dublin where I saw the Book of Kells (a medieval-era illuminated copy of the New Testament) and the "Long Room".  The exhibit showing in the Long Room was on the court of Louis XIV and consisted largely of books.  The Long Room was another of my favourite places from my European tour.  The photo (like most photos) doesn't quite do it justice.  The atmosphere is much more murky as the windows are all covered over to protect the books. The sense of space inside is so special though - it's the type of place I'd love to have a few hours to camp out within and just take in the surroundings.  The book of Kells exhibit was also really interesting, and included several video displays which demonstrated the medieval technique of book-making.  I was particularly interested in the ways in which the personalities of the various scribes and artists manifested in their different styles of ornamentation and writing.

Unfortunately shortly after I left Trinity College and was making my way down Grafton Street the weather took a serious turn for the worse. Once my boots had become thoroughly soaked I decided to go back to my hotel and wait to hear from my one contact in the country, a gentleman I had been introduced to during my visit to Düsseldorf.

Unexpectedly I wound up having a thoroughly lovely afternoon. Having become slightly chilled from all the rain, I headed for the shower and set up my laptop to play some of my favourite jazz. It was a big shower and I wasn't pressed for time, so I wound up laying on my back and singing along (the shower is the only circumstance in which I will sing) to Billie Holiday, Julie London, and Ella Fitzgerald.  While I had had several frustrations leading up until that moment, I couldn't help but feel completely contented and at ease.  I was in Ireland, a place I've dreamt of visiting for the last six years.  While Dublin wasn't my first choice - I've always been more interested in Ireland's smaller, pastoral, southern communities - it was Ireland nonetheless and I was euphoric.

After taking a good long shower I reluctantly got out and began the grooming process, starting with drying my newly-auburn hair.  Thanks to a spark of intuition (and some common sense) I delayed on getting dressed or putting on makeup, suspecting that thanks to the now-flooding conditions (thanks, Irish weather!) my acquaintance would be cancelling our dinner date.  Well, I was right, and though I was disappointed I decided to take advantage of being stuck inside and do something decadent. So, I ordered room service and snuggled in my jammies (yes, I still call them that).  I was thoroughly impressed by the hotel's clam chowder, and their cheesecake was also good though nothing to brag about.  I was less impressed by my entertainment of choice: Pan Am. Eugh, that'll be on the chop-block soon enough I'm sure. I was hoping for something like Mad Men and instead I got something along the lines of The Playboy Club, which I couldn't even finish one episode of.

I can't even begin to express how excited I was the next day when I woke up to sunshine! Feeling elated by the beautiful weather I got dressed as fast as I could and started out for all the landmarks I had wanted to see but hadn't yet. I started with Christ Church Cathedral, which has turned out to be one of my favourite parts of my whole trip.  Built up on the foundations of an older church, it is a sprawling structure with gorgeous stonework and a wonderful atmosphere. I finally got to experience sun streaming through stained-glass windows, and I took a lot of time just taking it all in.  It also has a great crypt which you are able to explore.  Christ Church was a popular filming site for the television series The Tudors, and in the crypts were several of the costumes that appeared in the series. Another surprise I found in the crypt was an exhibit of a mummified cat and rat.  The pair had become trapped in the cathedral's organ in the 1850s, and when they were finally discovered they were in a mummified state. It sounds terribly morbid but it was actually very interesting.

Attached to Christ Church Cathedral is a museum which explores the viking presence in Ireland over the centuries. While vikings aren't my favourite history subject it was an interesting exhibit (though more aimed at families I think) and I even got to learn how to write my name in "futhark", ancient viking runes.  After that I wandered over to Liffey river and the north shore.  I made it over to the Ha'Penny Bridge, as well as the 1785 Four Courts. I wandered along the (beautiful) river side and made my way up to a main traffic artery, O'Connell Street, and then up to the famous Henry Street where I managed to find some gifts for my family.  By that time it was well into the afternoon, so I made a brief stop at my hotel before returning to the sights on the south side of the river.  I got around to seeing 1752's Merrion Square, as well as (the exteriors of) the National Gallery (1864), Leinster House (1745), and the National Museum (1890).  Running out of time, I then hurried over to Saint Patrick's Cathedral, first built in the 1190s, but renovated and restored over the years.

This was another experience I wager I'll have for the rest of my life. I arrived just as the sun was setting, and as it so happened the young boys' choir was practicing. My camera died almost immediately after my arrival, but on the bright side this allowed me to enjoy the music without distraction. I quietly seated myself in the nave, basking in the glow coming from the high stained-glass windows. The choir's singing was nothing short of celestial. While I find traditional choir music moving under any circumstances and am also clearly in awe of medieval religious sites, the combination of the Gothic cathedral and the music that was specifically intended for that setting was nearly overwhelming. Though I am staunchly atheist I would absolutely attend church if every experience was like that. Amusingly enough, because it was a practice the priest would often interrupt the boys would loud criticisms and comments on what needed to be adjusted. While I would have loved hearing the music all the way through I must admit that it was rather funny listening to the very particular priest.  Unfortunately I couldn't stay long as the cathedral was closing, but I will always cherish the memory.

After leaving the Cathedral I wanted to complete one last thing on my to-do list: get fish and chips. The Irish Republic is certainly not England, and isn't even Britain, but I decided it was close enough and I desperately wanted to try fish and chips - a favourite of mine - in its native land. When I had met up with my City of a Thousand Welcomes host I had mentioned this, and he kindly recommended the best place to find some. Luckily this wasn't far off, so I picked some up en route to my hotel and was thoroughly satisfied.

My friend and I had rescheduled our dinner meeting for the next night, so once back at my hotel I got myself organized and waited for word.  Unfortunately due to a prior commitment we had to push back our meeting time, and I had a vague feeling that things might not come to happen at all. Sure enough the hours passed and with them went my certainty that we would be meeting up at all. Finally, at shortly before 11 he messaged me to let me know that his engagement had run long and he wouldn't be able to make it. I bitterly (and perhaps a little unfairly) thought to myself that that had to be a first: imagine getting stood up two nights in a row by the same person! To add salt to the wound, had I not expected to be seeing this person (I'll remind you: the only person I knew in the entire country) I likely would have chosen to visit a different part of the country more in alignment with my interests. I don't regret going to Dublin and I did enjoy much of what I saw there, but I didn't relish the "adjustments" to my social calendar.

The next day was once again sunny and clear, but for me it was off to the airport and back to Hamburg. Both the ride to the airport (via bus shuttle) and the flight were unremarkable (thank goodness), and I made it back "home" with no trouble at all; with only two days left at my workplace and less than a week to spend in Europe...


I take it all back

If you've just come from the Tumblr account, ignore this.

BUT for those of you who haven't, here's an update about the site.  After a brief and unsatisfying affair with Tumblr I am crawling back to Blogspot.  While I'm still going to be making changes to the layout and appearance I have learned that Blogspot is simply easier to work with when it comes to labeling posts, sorting material, posting photos, etcetera.

My apologies for the confusion,

Arbiter Elegantiae

P.S. Happy November!


It's not you, it's me

My dearest readers,

Arbiter Elegantiae has moved!  As you are already aware the last year has brought many changes to my life.  Consequently I'm going to be making some changes to the layout and appearance of the site to improve navigation and also to align it more closely with my current tastes.  You will still be able to find all of my old posts on the new site.

I'll be continuing this evolution over the coming weeks and months (Rome, after all, wasn't built in a day), but they will all be for the better.

You can find all my new content (and old content) here:


Listening To: Rory Charles

Yesterday after spending a good four hours at the hair salon (I'll get to that later) I was wandering about downtown Hamburg when I passed a large crowd around a street performer.  I paused to listen, and as it turned out I really liked what I heard.  The performer is a guy named Rory Charles, who is from Manchester, England.  His sound is a little like Bon Iver and a lot like Fleet Foxes.  It's folksy with liberal use of falsetto.  They were selling CDs so I bought one, and have listened to it a good ten times since yesterday.  It's nice chill music, perfect for the cold autumn weather we've been having here in Germany.  I definitely recommend you check out his website and support his music.  Enjoy!



"Dankesch- Thank y-.... Merci."

Bonjour, mes cheries!

I am once again back in Hamburg after an exceptionally busy long weekend in France.  Before I cover my French adventures, however, I'll begin with Friday:

Friday:  Friday was a really, really good day.  I was already out-of-my-mind excited to be going to France, so the day got off to a great start.  Then for lunch the whole Online department got together and went to a local restaurant.  It was this great place inside a building that used to be a warehouse or butcher's shop or something.  The inside was all exposed brick, and there was a great chandelier made out of painted antique axes.  The tables were particularly interesting: they were wooden, but the wood had been painted in myriad colours, then given a very shiny varnish so that the tables almost seemed to be tiled.  I was facing the windows, so when the conversation switched to German I got to enjoy the view of the tall maples and the typically-European apartment buildings opposite.  We were having inconsistent weather, so I could watch as the rain transitioned to dappled sunlight and then back again.

After lunch - which was an excellent mushroom penne - we migrated a door or two over to a local coffee place.  This one definitely used to be the butcher's shop.  It was huge and open inside, with a high sloped ceiling.  The storage area was separated by some shelving which divided the space but did so elegantly and without eliminating the sense of space and openness.  There was a long bar along the left side, and to the right and centre were scattered long wooden benches and clustered seats.  The tables were decorated with white orchids and glass vases filled with coffee beans.  The treats looked amazing, but since we'd just had lunch I stuck with a drink, which was sooooo gooooood!  Once again I sat facing the windows, basking in the periodic bursts of sunlight while enjoying the banter of my coworkers.  I'm really enjoying the Online department; they're a great group, and the dynamic is one that is really fun to be around.  They're friendly and inclusive and very easy to joke around with, which I certainly appreciate - it lends an ease to life that is sorely needed when so much else takes such effort.  Friday was the first time since arriving in Europe that I actually felt like I might not want to leave; like I had something here that I might want to build on, that I may actually have found a niche into which I might fit.  It was a really, really nice feeling.

The afternoon passed quickly enough, and then it was off to the airport.  Things went without a hitch until I arrived at my gate, at which point they announced that my flight would be delayed by 45 minutes.  This begun something of a stress-fest for me as I was supposed to be connecting with another flight before arriving in Lyon.  Thankfully several other passengers were in a similar situation so the airline announced that our connecting flight would wait for our arrival.  Despite the setback the flights went by quickly and before I knew it I was collecting my luggage and meeting my host, a distant relative.  By the time we arrived at his residence it was quite late, so we said goodnight and all went to get some much-needed rest.

Saturday:  The next morning my cousin arrived from Lille, and so the family took me out and about to see the sights of Lyon.  We started by visiting la Maison des Canuts, a small museum in the silk weaving district dedicated to silk's history in Lyon.  Afterwards we walked through a typical French market, and then went out for lunch together at a typical French restaurant.  The appetizer and entrée were alright, but what really impressed me was dessert.  It was a fondant au chocolat (yes, the same dessert I had in Paris) which was ridiculously good.

After lunch we visited the famous Basilique de Fourvière, constructed in honour of the Virgin Mary after Lyon was spared from a plague epidemic.  It sits high on a hill overlooking Lyon and its two rivers, the Rhone and the Soane.  It is easily the most elaborate building I've seen thus far in Europe: every inch of it was covered in mosaic and cold detailing, which suits my taste just fine.  It was absolutely huge, and awe-inspiring both inside and out.

The exterior:

The interior:

After the Basilique de Fourvière we went to another church, the Church of Saint John the Baptist.  This church was much older, constructed back in the 14th century or something close.  It was also where Henri IV married Marie de Medici, which I found totally fascinating.  It was much more austere and had a whole different aura to it.  It was such an amazing feeling to touch a pillar and know that hundreds of years ago nobles stood in the same place witnessing the marriage of a king.  Well, at least for me it was.

The exterior:

The interior:

One of the most interesting features of the church was its numerous headless statues.  During the French Revolution the strong anti-clerical movement had prompted revolutionaries to behead the various statues of saints and bishops.

After our church visits we wandered along the streets of old Lyon, where I got a first hand look at the Italian influences and even got to walk through one of the "traboules".  These were long covered passages that wound between buildings.  In the old days they were used to protect valuable silk from water damage during winter rains, but during the Second World War they could be used to escape the Gestapo.

After everyone had done enough wandering we headed back to the apartment, where I took a much-needed nap.  That evening my cousin, his friend and I all went out to a local pub, though we kept it a fairly quiet and early evening as my cousin was getting sick and I was far too tired to begin stirring up trouble.

Sunday:  In the morning I (very reluctantly) got up, though life was made much better by a French breakfast: baguette with butter and blackberry jam, paired with an exceptionally large mug of tea.  Then it was off to the train station to begin my trip to Paris.  Luckily after having taken the train to Munich I had a better idea of what to expect and managed to find my seat fairly easily.  I stayed awake most of the way enjoying the absolutely stunning French landscape.  It was a rainy and misty morning, so most of the fields were shrouded by cloud and fog.  The countryside was quite like that of southern Germany, though the character of the towns was markedly different.  The brick of the houses seemed slightly older, and was a yellow-brown colour rather than the customary German white.  The red tile of the roofs was also slightly darker, and at times parts of the roof had completely fallen in.  Spotting the landscape were creamy coloured milk cows and the odd horse, plodding along the lanes that were always bordered by hedges.  One image I'll never forget was a bridge we passed.  It looked to be a construction of the Romans (not unlikely given southern France was once their stomping grounds) that passed through a quiet valley.  It was so old and unused that moss and trees had grown along its top, and the mist seemed to hover around its arches very prettily.  I wish we had these kinds of things back home.

Eventually I drifted off to sleep, and next thing I knew we were arriving in Paris.  I must say the outskirt of the city isn't the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.  I got off the train and then had to navigate the metro to get to my hotel, which wasn't too difficult but was scary.  The Paris metro is nothing short of filthy and there were all sorts of disreputable characters hanging about.  Despite that it was the middle of the day I did my best to get out of there as quickly as possible.  Once I surfaced I got a little bit turned around on the streets, but was eventually able to locate my hotel and breathe a sigh of relief.

I stayed just long enough to check in and drop off my things before turning around and heading right back out.  The first thing I encountered was the huge Eglise de la Madeleine, which looks remarkably like the Parthenon.

My goal, however, lay elsewhere, so I plowed on and was quickly at the Place de la Concorde and the Jardins des Tuileries.  The gardens were absolutely beautiful, and the autumn foliage added to the expereince.  I wish pictures could better convey the real scale of the place, but both the Louvre and the gardens are absolutely huge.

Place de la Concorde:

Approaching the Louvre itself was just... there are no words.  It has been a dream of mine for a long time to see the French palaces.  I wish I had had more time to really absorb the scenery and the history, but unfortunately I was on a timeline and the lineup to get in was several hundred long.

Once inside I decided to get a portable audio tour and started my wandering.  In hindsight I definitely should have planned better, but there was so little time there wasn't much I could do.  Despite access to maps the Louvre is - as I said - gigantic and it is exceptionally easy to get lost.  So, I wound up wandering all the way through the Egyptian section, which I have little interest in (and at which point my camera battery died - FUCK!).  I finally got out and managed to see the Venus de Milo, Winged Victory (Nike), some of the Greek statue collection, the French crown jewels, and my far-and-away favourite, the Italian painters collection.  In this section I got to see Caravaggio, Da Vinci (yes, the Mona Lisa, as well as Madonna on the Rocks and several others), Raphael, Michelangelo, and many, many, many others.  Some of my stand-out favourites were the massive Raft of the Medusa by Gericault and the equally large-scale Liberty Leading the People by Delacroix, both of which could have easily covered the side of a small house.  All too soon it seemed the museum was closing, and that was before I had had a chance to see a personal favourite, David's Coronation of Napoleon.  Alas, I suppose I'll just have to come back one day.

After the Louvre closed I walked back along the Jardin de Tuileries, where I sat for quite some time to people watch.  At one point some sleazy French guy gave me the eye and then made a kiss-face, which was perhaps the most hilarious thing that happened all weekend.  How typical!  After that I wandered up the Champs Elysées towards l'Arc de Triomphe.  Needless to say there were plenty of fabulous stores, but as it turned out I restrained myself enough that I only bought one (reasonably priced) thing: a navy blue cashmere sweater with camel-coloured suede elbow patches - more on this later.  Finally I headed back to my hotel where I had the wonderful Thanksgiving dinner I posted about earlier.

Monday:  Getting up on Monday was quite possibly even harder than getting up on Sunday.  I don't know what kind of sheets they had on the bed (probably Egyptian cotton), but it was delightfully comfortable and the last sleep-in I had was more than a week previous.  But I figured I have my whole life to sleep and only a few hours left in Paris, so up I got and headed out.  Unfortunately what I didn't know was that Parisian stores don't open until 10:30 on weekdays.  Uh, excuse me what?!  Yep.  10:30 ladies and gentlemen.  So I mostly wound up wandering around the Champs Elysées waiting for things to open and feeling irritated by French laziness (or so I saw it).  Eventually things did open though, and I accomplished one last thing I had really wanted to do: I bought macaroons at Ladurée Royale.  They are reputed to have some of the best Parisian macaroons, but honestly 80% of why I went was their packaging, which is totally beautiful.  I got a package of six, including chocolate, vanilla, caramel, raspberry, orange blossom, and one other flavour I no longer recall.

I got a lavendar coloured box like the one pictured above, which came in a beautiful green bag.  I have every intention of keeping both for the rest of forever.

After my stop at Ladurée I had just enough time to go back to the hotel, collect my suitcase and check out.  Unfortunately this process was made significantly longer by the two women ahead of me who decided that they were going to dispute every detail of their hotel invoice.  Really ladies?  You think a four star hotel is trying to scam you?  Of course in the end they realised that all the charges were justified, and succeeded only in wasting vast amounts of my time while simultaneously frustrating me to death.  At long last I was finally able to get directions to the airport shuttle (an hour long journey) and be on my way.

Getting to the station was fairly simple (the hotel provided me with a small map and directions) and the journey itself was fine: I spent most of it reading Perfume: the Story of a Murderer, which was my chosen entertainment for my French trip.  I had decided it was a good choice because it's by a German author (Patrick Süskind) but set in Paris and other parts of France.  Also it's a really good book.  Anyway, unfortunately once I got to the airport things started to devolve fairly quickly.  At this point I was already feeling extraordinarily travel-worn and a little fed up with the French in general (10:30 - I mean really??).  The thing is, I somehow managed to forget that I don't do well with extended public travel.  Not in Europe, not in North America.  I just get sick of people being in my space, and this was aggravated by the sheer volume of obnoxious fat tourists (no pun intended).  Suddenly stupidity seems to be omnipresent, and while usually I can manage enough patience to handle this graciously, when I get travel-overdose I turn into the Queen of the Death Glare.  While in the Louvre I was constantly irritated by slow-moving people, whether they were old, young, or just obese.  Then there were the frequent Public Displays of Affection (PDA) which were enough to make me feel violent.  At one point I recall thinking that if I saw one more Euro-trash guy groping his girlfriend I was going to lose it.  I mean honestly, what exactly in the goddamn Louvre Museum is making you horny right now?!  Do you absolutely have to feel up your lady-friend's ass while in a huge public area?  Would you want to less were I to drive a stake through your palm?  Thought so.

Worse than the European gropers, however, were the children.  It's no secret that I strongly dislike children, but in extended public experiences like this weekend it morphs into something more like undiluted loathing.  While at the Louvre my irritation was sparked by screaming toddlers whose idiotic parents thought it would be a good idea to bring them along.  For starters, the Louvre is a biiiig undertaking even for adults.  Its collection is so vast that it would take days or weeks to fully appreciate it, and its also just physically big: it takes a long time and a fair amount of energy to trek around it, up and down stairs and through halls and whatnot.  Even as someone who has studied both art and history I found it very tiring.  So, as a brainless toddler with no appreciation whatsoever of what's in front of me I imagine the Louvre would be something comparable to Purgatory.  To add, the food was only located centrally and could not be brought into the galleries, so the children were not just tired and bored but also hungry.  I couldn't decide who to detest more: the children for making the noise, or the parents for their total lack of understanding or consideration.  Either they're too feeble-minded to figure out it's a bad idea, or they don't give a damn, neither of which endear them to me.  Plus, children are just so annoying.  I remember walking through the Egyptian halls, admiring huge carved idols that had been worshiped literally thousands of years ago, when up comes some snot-nosed little brat who slaps his filthy palm down on the aforementioned statue.  His mother, trailing behind, casually calls out "touche pas!", to which the kid responds by doing the same goddamn thing to the next item within reach, which in turn received the exact same response from the mother.  Was it wrong of me to want to exterminate both of them?  Don't know, don't much care.

A comedian once compared children to drunk adults.  They're mentally short-handed little assholes who will weep or shriek with joy from one moment to the next with little to no provocation, both done in the most noisy way possible.  Whatever happened to the days when children were seen and not heard?  Or better yet, not seen and not heard; when they were shut away from the public until they were old enough to behave with some shred of decorum?  Society shouldn't be a right, it should be earned.

You may be thinking that this is an awful vitriolic rant to have flowed forth from just a few hours spent in the company of crying kids.  But oh no, the Louvre was not the end of my encounters with the Satan spawn.  As I left off earlier, I had arrived at the airport and was waiting to check in when things really took a nose-dive.  Directly ahead of me was a family consisting of two parents, an aunt or nanny (henceforth nanny), and an assortment of three or four rug rats, one of whom was being carried by the nanny and was perhaps 18 months old.  The infant was, of course, shrieking as loudly as it could, while the slightly obese nanny did absolutely nothing to shut the thing up.  I quietly prayed to myself that wherever they were going was as far from me as possible.  But because this was apparently The Day From Hell, once we cleared security I of course discovered that not only were they at the same part of the Terminal as me, but they were going to be on the same plane.  Cue death wish.  There also happened to be two other crying infants in the vicinity, so I swiftly left to go find something to occupy my time.

I wound up in the duty-free section looking for some chocolate to ease up my all-consuming hatred for humanity.  As I was purchasing it, however, I noticed the woman placing it in a special bag, which she then appeared to airlock, which I thought was strange because I was just going to eat it anyway.  On closer inspection I saw that it said clearly "Do not open until you have reached your final destination".  What the fuck, France?!  I had already surrendered my baggage AND made it through security, I was buying the stuff from the airport vendor, but for some reason the French figured that it should be sealed up until I returned to Hamburg, which completely defeated the fucking point and just gave me another thing to carry.

Livid, I went in search of the most sugary coffee I could find.  I even took the trouble to order in French as I really needed them to get the order right.  I ordered a Cafe Mocha, which on their own menu clearly described espresso, steamed milk and chocolate syrup.  What I received instead was the shittiest coffee of all time.  It tasted like dirt, and after three sips I gave up and threw it away.

The "fun" didn't end there.  When boarding time was finally approaching it became crowded, and of course the little demon child from earlier began crying again.  And kept crying.  And crying.  The useless nanny brought The Thing right up next to me, at which point I was so repulsed I had to step back two metres so as not to curse or explode in some violent manner.  At long last the plane started boarding (second half of the plane first), though when I got on I noticed that certain passengers had ignored the order in which people were invited to load and had just piled on whenever they saw fit.  A little enough offense, true, but in my current state of mind this just infuriated me more.  Tired, murderous, and overdosed on train tickets, plane tickets, metro and bus tickets, I managed to settle in the wrong seat twice, which was embarrassing and so very frustrating.

When the plane began takeoff I soon discovered that demon child was only two or three rows behind me because - you guessed it - it started crying again.  This continued for the entirety of the hour-and-a-half long flight.  When we finally got off the plane (the expression "like a bat out of hell" comes to mind) the escape was only temporary as everyone wound up at the baggage carrousel anyway.  I hardly should have to say that Satan's minion cried the entire time we waited.  It's a miracle I didn't commit a massacre.

Finally I escaped to a cab, and then to my apartment which was blissfully empty.

Reflecting back on the trip there are (of course) things I would have done differently.  I would have planned my tour of the Louvre ahead of time, and I probably would have planned to stay longer in Paris.  Actually, I probably would have planned the trip for shortly after my arrival in Europe.  I think part of the trouble with this weekend is that I'm simply tired of the foreign.  Different countries and cultures are wonderful and very educational, but being away from your own home and culture for so long is exhausting, and after a while you begin to fatigue of all the extra effort needed for everyday life.  It's easy to start to resent differences that you once celebrated, simply because they make life a little more challenging.  I don't have the same boundless energy that comes with excitement over new travels, rather I feel burnt out and ready to return home.  I find myself in a strange kind of state - I am still very much foreign and there is so much I don't know (notably language), but at the same time I've been here much longer than most tourists and seem to have absorbed a great deal of European snobbery: I often feel contemptuous of tourists despite essentially being one.  Strange indeed.

A final factor which contributed to the exhaustion of the weekend was the language.  My French skills are infinitely superior to my German skills, but for the last three months I have tried to speak German whenever I've possibly been capable.  So it's kind of my default language at the moment, though I obviously speak English 95% of the time.  French has been a far-distant third.  This weekend was disorienting because all of a sudden the order was rearranged.  I found myself starting to thank the French servers with a "Dankeschön", which was followed by a stuttered "Thank you" and finally a "Merci" (hence the post title).  In a twist which I might at another time call "amusing", today when I returned to work I found myself inclined to respond in French rather than German.  This language dyslexia is annoying and just concludes with me spending most of my time stuttering incoherently.

Anyway, there's much more to say but it's very late and I have to work tomorrow, so I'm afraid I'll have to conclude here.  More to come soon, I promise.


Happy Thanksgiving from Paris!

Bonjour, mes amours!

I will, of course, have a long update coming along in the next day or two chronicling my adventures in France, but I thought I'd take a moment to wish everyone a wonderful Canadian Thanksgiving!

Without giving too much away, I'll say that I celebrated with a visit to the Louvre, a walk along the Champs Elysées (and perhaps a teensy bit of shopping), and a fantastic meal at my hotel here in Paris.  My Thanksgiving dinner was:

• Appetizer: cold prawn and crab salad with tomato, avocado, cucumber and carrot with a slightly vinegar-y dressing.  Taken, of course, with some incredible baguette and butter.  Totally fabulous, trés Francais.
• Entrée: seared halibut with a pesto sauce and mushroom risotto, with a side of mixed greens and creamy dressing.  Very, very good.
• Dessert: fondant au chocolate with strawberries and a vanilla créme sauce, paired with Earl Grey tea.  No one does fondant like the French.

It wasn't exactly mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, but it was absolutely delicious and a perfect end to my day.  They even played La Vie en Rose during the meal, which I loved but figured that the poor servers were probably tired to death of hearing.  I would have taken pictures but unfortunately my camera died today part-way through the Greek sculptures hall - more on that later.  Anyway, though I wish I could be sharing the wonders of France with my amazing family for now all I can do is send them my love.  I hope you're all having equally lovely holidays, or, if it's not a holiday where you are then I hope you're enjoying a pleasant weekend.