Canada

tilted perspective

Closing in on December, we managed to pack up our little apartment into two overweight suitcases. The days counted down into the single digits until we arranged our meeting to return the apartment keys and pay for broken wine glasses. The horribly humid, yet cold and drafty apartment was thoroughly bleached to remove all trace of mold growing behind the damp furniture. Not our problem, I thought.. but still we could use our deposit back. Inevitably the toll of bleach and mold took their toll and I felt unnecessarily sick on travel day. C’est la vie.

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Sapin de Noël à Chenonceau

Navigating the expansive Paris train system one last time we made it to the airport and spent our last Euros on overpriced sandwiches, using up our last bit of change for the uncustomary tip. A long dry but uneventful plane ride later we landed in Toronto. Leaving the plane we cracked open the backplates on our phones to switch back our SIM cards to text loved ones, “We’re home”.

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vin à Caves Duhard, Amboise

I keep getting asked if I miss Paris, having barely enough time to process my place in the world these last few weeks. I’ve indulged in many Canadian comforts, such as dirty take-out pizza and timmies. I wouldn’t say Tim’s has good coffee; the coffee tastes like industrial warming plates and the cardboard cups it comes in, but tinged with Canadian kindness, commonality.. and liquid sweetener. The mid-sized walk-up apartment buildings of Paris have been replaced with groomed front lawns and pine trees, the € 3 wine replaced with inferior $20 wine, tradis replaced with Christmas dinner rolls, old-world artworks replaced with pale winter sunsets. I can’t say I miss Paris at this time though its European charm has a special place in my heart, and for me now represents a time of personal reflection and improvement, stopping to think about art and the world, enjoying long walks and fresh food. My world is instead filled with singing familiar choruses and gazing out on frozen farmland, blasting down the 401, passing small towns that you’d miss if you blink at the right time. Connecting with my roots: both my family tree and my roots in the natural world. I don’t want to say there’s no place like home.. because it infers that it’s better not to leave. When you leave and come back you both appreciate all the things you left home, but bring back many new things, parts of other places that you blend in with your own life, becoming a new person. Your personal makeup now an altered recipe with improved ingredients.

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rooftops

Rooftops in the Ward (1924), was painted by A.J. Casson (1898-1992), a Torontonian, member of the ever-loved member of the Group-of-Seven, and the Art Director and Vice-President of my alma mater. This was one of the first paintings I thought of when I got home. The heavy blue blocks of snow covering the rooftops a familiar Canadian sight, but the angular abstraction of the houses I am reminded of when I pass these giant suburban complexes on the highway. This painting always stuck out to me on the coveted top floor of the AGO, nestled in with fuzzy reduced palate sketches of typical Algonquin landscapes. The anonymity of each building lending itself to feeling familiar to anyone who looks upon it, the gridwork of buildings similar to the view from so many houses, especially in the Big Smoke. “His art distills Ontario […] into highly finished, carefully composed designs, with a stillness that sometimes seems ominous” 1.

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toits

Keeping with my cross-cultural mindset, I can’t help but be reminded of a similarly lovely painting on the top floor of Musée d’Orsay, Vue de toits (Effet de neige), (1879) by Gustave Caillebotte. Technically, he was a Realist, but had one foot in Impressionism. His works were often known for their tilted perspective, likely influenced by Japanese prints 2. The painting has a similar skewed orientation as Rooftops, the same anonymous houses to give the impression of a familiar window-view to the audience. The cool colours giving volume and weight to the snow, though clearly we get much more snow here in Canada. /brag

1 http://www.gallery.ca/en/see/collections/artist.php?iartistid=935 2 Distel, Anne, et al. Gustabe Caillebotte: Urban Impressionist. New York: Abbeville Press, 1995.

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prendre la pipe

Remembrance day in Canada is always a solemn affair. It is a day that we have the opportunity to remember our history in all its pride, tradition, pain, misery, honour, and anguish. It is a bittersweet mixture of mourning and pride stirring our hearts in awakening the memory of war and to honour those who have participated and continue to participate. In Canada, Remembrance day is quite solemn. It is with a modest gesture we salute our armed forces and heavy hearts we recall the sacrifices made and struggle we have endured. “The glorious dead” is emblazoned on many a monument but our celebrations are notably quiet, our moment of silence unwaveringly enacted.

I think this is the first Remembrance day that I haven’t been in my native country to participate in. Canada and France have a long history from the new world’s perspective and our alliance in the world wars led me to believe that Remembrance or Armistice day would be similarly marked in both countries. This is not so.

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Paris outraged, Paris broken, Paris martyred, but Paris liberated

I’ve found in France that war memorials are marked with pomp and circumstance, the bloom of flags and pressed formal uniforms accentuated with the shiny and full sound of brilliant marches. It’s more than national pride, it’s a celebration. People are happy! For the French armistice day means something quite different than to us Canucks. It’s the day that the invading forces are banished from their land. The bombing of their hometowns ceases and their life, land and culture once again preserved. Back home we are reminded of the losses suffered. The folks who crossed the sea to foreign lands but never came back. It’s memory is earmarked with the chilling boom of guns and silent contemplation, abstaining from over-glorification.

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l’arc

We attended the Armistice day celebrations around Arc de Triomphe, where there would be marches, parades, speeches, silence, trumpets, flowers and wreaths. Strangely enough the pomp is reserved for the President and a few distinguished brass who get to sit in the few ringside seats available. The rest of the rabble are blockaded from participating, corralled into pens a block away who hold up their iPads to try and catch a glimpse. There is no silence, there is no formation or bowed heads, there is no confetti or salutes. Most of the people who showed up spent their time laughing and sitting on eachother’s shoulders snapping blurry pictures and smoking cigarettes. The combination of the regal pomp and the distracted pseudo-celebration was a disappointment indeed.

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bleuet de France

One interesting thing I discovered was the the bleuet de france – cornflowers worn on lapels instead of the poppy. The tradition is the same in that cornflowers grew easily in the land destroyed by shelling. It also hearkens to the term “bleuets” who were the young conscripts who donned the blue uniform which replaced the red pants worn by older soldiers, so the term refers to these men, their youth and their naivete. The practice of wearing cornflowers on lapels comes from 1916 in which war wounded were given the task of manufacturing these badges to provide revenue to wounded veterans, and later became a symbol of rehabilitation. It also serves as an alternative to the Poppy, which many fear is becoming too commercial and losing its integrity.

«Les voici les p’tits « Bleuets »           These here, these little “Bleuets”
Les Bleuets couleur des cieux            These Bleuets the color of the sky,
Ils vont jolis, gais et coquets,            Are beautiful, gay, stylish,
Car ils n’ont pas froid aux yeux.            Because they are not afraid.
En avant partez joyeux ;                Merrily, go forward
Partez, amis, au revoir !              Go on, my friends, so long!
Salut à vous, les petits « bleus »,            Good luck for you, little “blues”
Petits « bleuets », vous notre espoir ! »           Little “bleuets,” you are our hope!

–Alphonse Bourgoin, from Bleuets de France, 1916

normandie

When you have to catch an early train, it’s only natural that bar next door gets rented for some crazy hootenanny and the dj pumps music all night. What’s worse is the French love for disco and trying to sleep while they’re belting out showtunes or somesuch. That being said, waking up early enough to catch our train was aided by my excitement, a feeling reserved for trips, birthdays, Christmas and the the last day of school. I have become quite blasé about the latter three so I hope travelling never gets old. The ride to Caen is about two hours. Having not seen my S.O. basically at all during the week, the train ride went by all too fast, talking and joking the whole way, laughing so hard I had tears welling up and all my strength employed to avoid orangina shooting out my nose.

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We are the Dead. Short days ago we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow

Arriving at the station, we managed to figure out how to buy bus tickets to Courseulles-sur-mer despite the language barrier and not being able to find the station door. We had some time to kill after so we walked around downtown Caen, ending up at a église st-jean, complete with crazy modern stained glass and courtyard with late-blooming poppies. Back on the bus, which was more like a coach, we had a nice lolling sojourn through the northern countryside. It’s not uncommon to pass a world war cemetery in almost every town, neatly kept with straight rows of brilliant white crosses. The town themselves are pretty small and the houses almost exclusively stone with terracotta or slate roofing. The towns maintain a quiet old-world charm and of course, there is the perpetual church steeple poking out at rapid intervals.

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“here is the church, here is the steeple”

We slowly made our way into Courseulles-sur-mer, getting off at ‘Place de 6 juin’ the date, of course, of D-Day. The square is the very centre of town, where the pier, boardwalk, each access, carrousel and town monument meet. There is a croix de lorraine just across the quay to commemorate the return of Charles de Gaulle to France 14 June, 1944. We arrived at high tide, the brisk and salty sea air greeting us with pleasant acquaintance.

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At the centre of the square is a Canadian Sherman tank, pulled from the frigid waters of ‘Juno’ beach some 25 years after it sank during the commencement of operation Overlord. It was of course cleaned and restored, now adorned with the insignia of the troops that fought and died here including the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, Regina Rifle Regiment, Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, and North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment. The tank itself is now enveloped in a pillow of flowers, often red and white organized into the Canadian flag. Also placed nearby is a German Kwk 39 anti-tank gun with obvious signs of battle damage, also restored.

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For it’s early in the morning and I’m far, far away.

Making our way to the Juno beach centre, we waited for the swing bridge to let some sailboats in and we checked out the catch of the day, at the plethora of stalls erected right beside the fishing boats docked in the river. Arriving at the centre you can hear the waves crashing along the shore, the gentle breeze rustling the long grasses. The landscape has long since returned to tranquility, though the centre acts as a reminder to us the events of the war.

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Juno Beach Centre

The tour begins with footage of the landing and an audio representation of that the soldiers would have heard preparing to land on the beach, the sound of the sea spraying over the boat, heavy artillery exploding and rumbling nearby.. the tour encourages you to also learn about Canada’s fragile military and economy predating the war to further appreciate the difficulty lying ahead.

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The centre of the tour had a trove of information about the different ships, tanks, aircraft, formations, payload, propaganda, home front and war effort from a Canadian perspective. It was absolutely fascinating to discover the attack and defence strategies, and certain difficulties unique to north america such as trans-atlantic transportation of supplies and how to diminish u-boat damage. Also, that Canada went from having basically no air force to the 4th largest during wartimes. We also attended an emotional video giving an in depth detailing of the Juno beach events.

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The final room was a relievingly lighthearted Canada factoids room for those not acquainted with our culture. There was a great amount of hockey gear and curling rocks, let me tell you. It was my great pleasure to encounter other Canadians accessing the tour. You can easily pick them out because if they want to get by you while you’re looking at something they linger first trying to wait for you to finish what you’re doing, then slip by you giving ample berth while saying “sorry”. There were also a lot of toques.

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the shepherd will tend his sheep, the valley will bloom again

We also attended a tour of two recently excavated German bunkers. The first was built early in the occupation so it was not built as a defensive post but to aid in the organization of potential invasion of England to the north. The structure was built using French labourers and whatever materials they had on hand, some parts brick, some concrete, even railway ties for beams. It is speculated that the French tried to sabotage the building by placing the cinder blocks on their sides so the walls would have hollow pockets. The walls also had wood interlaced for hanging up maps and fixtures.We also visited a bunker built much later in the war, at a time when German occupation of France was shakier and they were preparing heavy defensive fortifications.

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escape hatch

This bunker by contrast is solid cement, with two heavy metal doors that double as a gas proof chamber, a gun slit facing the only entrance and 365 degree parascope. Our guide told us that it was expected of soldiers to do 36 hour shifts in the bunker so there were also fold down beds and a small stove for comfort. The bunker walls are 3 metres solid concrete and the only emergency exit was a small tunnel filled in with sand, so if you were trapped at least you could start digging your way out. Apparently in allied training it was instilled that if you see a grate or opening into a building that you should throw in a grenade to clear the room before entering. Once the Germans caught on to this practice their bunkers, as this one did, had false grates installed that lobbed the grenade back out at the intruder. It was also equipped with a gun nest, each pointed on angles across to beach to create crossfire.

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In 1944 the bunker was right on the water and locals can remember as children jumping off the parascope into the sea, but nowadays the beach has shifted greatly and there is now a barrier of sand in front of the bunkers so you have to use your imagination a bit to picture how the beach looked way back then. We finished our tour on the shore where we got to see the buoy indicating the shoreline at low tide, which is much farther out. Upon deployment, the entire beach was riddled with anti tank and anti personnel mines some 5 ft apart, blockades, razor wire creating what was dubbed a “devil’s garden”.

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Just before deployment there was heavy bombardment to reduce the German numbers by an estimated 60% though in effect only reached 5-15 % depending on the area. Despite the odds, the fortifications on the beach were overcome and the troops moved inland to liberate Courseulles-sur-mer. The Canadian troops lost 356 men, 574 wounded and 47 taken prisoner, though the losses were lower than estimated from the devastation of its predecessor mission operation Jubilee in Dieppe. Despite the difficulties and objective failures Juno beach alongside Utah is considered to be the most strategically successful of the D-Day landings. Walking the sands where such a critical and painful battle was fought is truly a moving experience. The land is now so beautiful and the town so gentle and quiet it is hard to imagine what it was like, which is why I personally believe it’s important to keep listening to the stories and remember the sacrifices made.

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We made our way around town to to our rented room. We decided to try out airbnb for the first time. We got a private room with key in an old converted garage with facilities shared with the homeowner. Our host was very nice and accommodating. I did my best to speak French and we understood most of what the other was trying to say. Airbnb is of course much less expensive than a hotel which suits us just fine. That being said any money we saved on the room we probably promptly spent at the most hit-or-miss restaurant I believe I’ve ever been to.

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We decided since we were “on vacation” that weekend we would live a little, by which I mean order a drink with dinner. Big spenders! We both got the house cocktail which turned out to be cheap champagne spiked with curacao and a generous profit-margin of juice topped with a stale candy and sugar rim. It has got to be one of the worst drinks I’ve ever had. Next came the complimentary bread. It’s basically expected to get free bread with your meal here, and being France the bread is always fresh and delicious. So when I tell you that the bread was so stale that no pigeon would eat if you can see why we started to become suspicious of this place. Next came the complimentary appetisers brought out to us by the chef. Maybe the chef should spend more time cooking and less time schmoozing because the only thing the app was good for was a raised eyebrow and hearty laugh. I think they were supposed to be maki.. I think. Being by the sea didn’t help this dish any. I think it contained rice that was made three years ago that they found behind the radiator. Or it might have been tiny pebbles, I’m not sure. If you go to pick up your app and it crumbles into a pile of dust you know something is wrong.

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However, next came the oysters. Thankfully all they had to do was open them for me to enjoy a wonderfully delicious treat fresh from the sea. SO had some kindof yummy bouillabaisse. It was stewier than most but he seemed to like it. Our main was some kind of tiny braised fish on a bed of lentils, which were quite yummy. The fish was decent. For dessert? Bread pudding. Now I’ll give them a break because it’s not a french dish. That being said, they’re only a stone’s throw from England and also bread pudding is easy, who can’t make that? They took a slice of old bread, presumably the same stuff they served before dinner and instead of soaking it in cream to make it soppy and delicious they kindof.. toasted it? Then drizzled cream on top? I’m not quite sure what was happening there but the tiny after dinner mints were good. Here’s a tip to enjoying a shitty restaurant : a) don’t read the bill too closely cause you’ll just get mad b) make fun of everything relentlessly.

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croix de lorraine

Anyway, late in the day the tide was going out and the inlets had become rapids. We strolled along the now widened beach to tiptoe thru the seaweed and find cool shells. We wandered home and settled in for a good night’s sleep, lulled by the patter of rain that amazingly decided to be nice and hold off until we were tucked in.

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Our host was still asleep when we left early, trying to get a leg up on our journey back to Paris. The bus took us on the reversed journey, this time the cities quieter and more cars at the church parking lots. Arriving at Caen we stopped first for pain au raisin before heading up to the Chateau de Caen. The Chateau is an 11th century fortification buit by William the Conqueror. It saw several engagements during the Hundred Year’s war, and the keep pulled down during the French revolution. It was also used as a barracks during WWII and was heavily bombed at that time. It is one of the largest castles in western Europe.

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Caen

It now houses two museums and a church, and you can see the ruins of other structures such as the keep, William’s residence, ramparts and curtain walls, and the two fortified doors. There is still ongoing work to excavate the bottom of the walls and more ruins are still being uncovered. The walls are incredibly high and you can peer thru the bow slits into what would have been a moat, though these days just grass. The stone stairs heading up the ramparts and towers are so worn from literally a century of use they are very curved.

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super neat.

It’s a huge area which was great fun to explore. The art gallery at the top houses a nice collection from many eras in French history, which matches beautifully with the lineage of the castle. Afterwards, we strolled around town, the majority of stores being closed but lounging in parks and cafés is not a bad way to spend your afternoon. We finished off the day at a nice restaurant in an old area of town on rue du vaugueux ie) beggars row.

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It’s a small and narrow pedestrian street with old shifting houses, once known for squalor and crime. It also once housed a bar owned by Edith Piaf’s grandparents, and the woman who murdered Marat. It now houses a number of nice restaurants while maintaining the enclosed medieval structures. We had some nice wine, confit du canard, terrine de poissons, croustillants de chèvre chaud and ile flottante which is a whipped meringue cake soaked in thin caramel sauce. I really need to learn to make this back home! Before having to catch our train back we made sure to watch the sun set behind the glimmering houses from the parapet.

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les animaux de compagne

The trouble with having the flu on vacation is feeling guilty for staying home and ignoring any potential sight-seeing. After a few days of watching Firefly with French subs you think.. ‘hey I think I’m feeling better, I better go out and see that thing that is this weekend only!‘ A good idea if you’re actually feeling better, but the more I push the more the stupid flu pushes back. That being said, even though I feel like shit today I did see some cool things last week.

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We took a trip out to the west end of town, quite near the Eiffel Tower, to the house of Honoré de Balzac, French playwright and author. We were able to both tour his house and also view an exhibit of a selection of Daumier’s lithographs. Daumier is best known from his social and political satire in caricatures, paintings, print and sculptures. The collection displayed at Maison Balzac was a series of lithographs, printed in La Charivari, depicting the antics of Parisians bathing and swimming by the banks of the river. “Daumier, could not help but to caricature these innocent occupations and point out the comedy of some situations ridiculing those Parisians of all ages and from all walks, frolicking in the Seine” 1.

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« Le pècheur à la ligne est l’homme indépendent, perseverent et résigné, l’adversité ne le décourage pas, il combat tous les embarras qui l’entortillent; philosophe, il subit les orages et ne murmure jamais. »

« The fisherman is an independent man, perseverant and resigned, adversity does not discourage him, he fights against all difficulties; philosophical, he suffered storms and tempest in silence. »

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« Oui Madame, c’est comme j’ai l’honneur de vous le dire, je l’ai porté onze mois, qu’on croyait que j’étais hydropique; Dirait-on que ça n’a que six ans, il tient de son père, Tambour major de la 6ème Légion, chantant la Marseillaise par cœur et buvant la goutte le matin comme un petit pompier. Oh! n’amour, baisez vot’mère tout de suite. »

« Yes, my dear, it is just the way I have the honour of telling you. I was pregnant with him for eleven months and people thought I was dropsical. Would you believe that this is already six years ago? He takes after his father, drum-major of the 6th legion. sings the Marseillaise (national anthem) by heart and has a drink in the morning like a real fire-fighter. Oh, my little darling, come here and give your mother a kiss! »

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« Excusez, regard’ donc la grosse Fifine qu’on aurait juré que c’était Vénus…
ah ben en v’là un déchet! »

« Hey, now look at that huge Fifine! You’d swear she was a Venus –
what a disappointment! »

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Afterwards we took a stroll down to Bois de Boulogne and sat by pond a while to rest. The weather in Paris is pretty temperate considering the talk of snow-storms back home that keep popping up on my facebook feed. The warm sunlight and gentle breeze made for a nice afternoon of napping in the grass or practicing how to whistle really loud. We watched row boats make their way along the pond, with men rowing women around with pond scrub clinging to the oars. We found some vélos and biked around the park passing a carnival. I love carnivals, but somehow when you have the flu, the smell of hot sugar and diesel doesn’t do much good. However, what does do good is fresh bread.. especially when it’s covered in melted cheese and floating on top of onion soup. That’s the best. Also, flan. I really need to learn how to make that.

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We also attended an IHP shindig on the 24th floor of a Paris U building. Not only were there stellar panoramic views of the whole city at sunset, but free champagne, nibbles, and of course, pleasant conversation.

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There were a lot of things going on this weekend, and I tried to go see a piece of them all. Of course I’m glad I went but it was probably a bad idea. Nuit Blanche was happening this weekend all over Paris. I have gone to the Toronto version a few times and it has ranged from somewhat interesting to horrible and useless, though I had some hope for Paris since you know.. everything in Toronto is pretty horrible and useless. The only thing I went out to see what the piece at Hotel de Ville (City Hall) which was a grid of glowing balloons contained in a mesh sheet being controlled like a kite by two guys. The piece is lighthearted and fun, lending itself well to the crowds of kids drinking vodka out of gatorade bottles and eating overpriced churros. Parisians already don’t seem to have a problem having fun in public spaces so the balloons, I thought, were a bit of silly overkill. Seems you can’t go two blocks without seeing a couple of young Parisians lollygagging around the canal sharing a bottle of wine.. or three.

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Instead of checking out any other Nuit Blanche things I went to attend an Idle No More : France Solidarity vigil at Notre Dame. I was surprised to hear there was INM support in France but there is a small group who put the vigil together to raise awareness and show support for the thousands of missing and murdered women, not only in Canada but worldwide. It was great to smudge and to hear the drum again and sing along. Plus a lot of people stopped by to check out what was going on and learn a little bit.

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We also went to check out Animal Expo which showcases different companion animal breeds and check out some cool vendors. TBH it wasn’t really all that enlightening, although we did get to see some cool European breeds we hadn’t encountered before, like Czechoslovakian Wolf Hound, Cane Corso, and Scottish Fold. However we spent most of our time with the Newfs, the Beagles and the Bassets because they’re the best.

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The Cat’s Prayer :

o my master , do not take me for a slave, because I have in me the taste of freedom
do not try to guess my secret , for I have in me the taste of mystery .
do not compel me to caress as I have in me the taste of modesty.
do not humiliate me, because I have in me the taste of pride.
do not forsake me, because I have within me the taste of fidelity
know how to love me and I will love you as I have in me the taste of friendship

1 http://parismusees.paris.fr/fr/exposition/plages-paris-selon-daumier

signification manquant

The Buttes Chaumont park, which I have mentioned previously has a man-made waterfall and mountainous feature, and yesterday we decided to brave the newly cold temperatures to climb to the top for a picnic. The top is a popular spot for two things : lingering around while chatting and/or snuggling, or strenuous exercise. Being a steep climb many people use it to run to the top, do situps or pushup on the benches then run away. We chose to instead sit on said benches drinking beer and eating bread, cheese, olives and other yummy picnic items while watching the sun set over the tops of the apartment buildings. From the Temple de la Sibylle, which is an italian-inspired open-air temple at the very tip-top, you can see sprawling views of the arrondisement, including Montmartre in the distance.

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I also made a solo trek to the musée du quai Branly, which exhibits indigenous art of non-European cultures. The museum itself is very dark inside, with rounded brown walls and fake rock formations and windows tinted with fake jungle print. I guess you should feel like you’re transported to an-“other” place, specifically non-modern European. The interior architecture has been called “the revival of the myth of the noble savage,” a primitivist myth which is at the ideological base of colonization” 1.The museum is strangely set up, grouping ethnicities into areas with no semblance of order, timeline or significance. There are meandering dark passageways showing a mish-mash of artifacts without context or cultural significance, which is a true shame. “It is clear that the aesthetic approach won out over the more ethnographic approach, and the fact that only 3,500 of 300,000 objects in the collection are displayed underlines this point” 2. I went to the museum because I heard that they have a collection of native-Canadian artifacts, and I was curious to see the representation of North America in a French setting. The museum website mentioned that they had a few buckskin clothing items and painted bison hides, however I found that they also had a very beautiful collection of northern Alaskan masks, totem poles, and wampum belts. I’ve also mentioned Wampum belts here before, and never have I seen such a collection, even anywhere in Canada. Wampum belts are created to tell a story and it’s too bad they are hidden under glass without the living messages they convey being shared.

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Why show artifacts with no care for their purpose, significance and historical context? Is the point to just display items that are “different” from a European perspective? In which case what is being said : is it participation or objectification? “The roots of these collections also show that the museum is closely tied to France’s colonial past. […] The strengths of its collections lie in the former colonies and because most of these objects are in fact colonial heirlooms and booty obtained through such means as pillage, seizures, military conquest, and ethnographic expedition” 3. Colonial nations have a long history of bringing home foreign treasures, often to the objection of its original owners, and the musée de quay Branly has created a great deal of controversy over the ownership of it’s collection. There were a number of artifacts that were eventually returned to their parent country after their foreign exhibition caused a stir. Similarly, in 2013, Hopi and Apache artifacts were being auctioned in Paris and the tribes had tried unsuccessfully to block their sale. “The auctioneers argue that blocking such sales would have implications for the trade in indigenous art, and could potentially force French museums to hand back collections they had bought” 4. The artifacts were then bought by the Annenberg Foundation who returned the artifacts to their respectful tribes, saying “our hope is that this act sets an example for others that items of significant cultural and religious value can only be properly cared for by those vested with the proper knowledge and responsibility” 6.

There were a great number of artifacts that I passed by without care, not because I don’t think it is worth looking at but because I don’t understand. Especially artifacts from cultures which I am unfamiliar I cannot invent cultural significance, I can only interpret the items from my own perspective, and frankly my perspective is insufficient because it lacks the pertinent information. There were plenty of objects which seemed in some particular way interesting to me but without any guidance they just become ‘neat, different-y looking things’. A great number of these are visual depictions ie) masks or tapestries that use visual cues to tell a story, but without the author’s voice the story is mediated by my interpretation. “Many have argued that the displays emphasize the universal beauty of the objects and in doing so elicit positive reactions from visitors, just like at the Louvre.  Many anthropologists, on the other hand, view the lack of contextualization as deeply problematic. […] Emmanuelle Saada is careful to point out that the museum is not trying to frame art (and peoples) in hierarchical terms, but still frames them in differential terms, assuming a sort of essentialized difference as if there were two clashing civilizations” 5. Part of coming from a country which prides itself on it’s multiculturality is embracing not a labelled static categorization of the “other”, but fluid cultures allowed to breathe and more importantly, to share. To look a culture, its history and its values without listening to its voice, we force it to fit into our own version of the world, and to amputate function from form destroys any chance of cross-cultural understanding. “In some ways, it’s part of living in a multi-cultural world; that’s why you don’t have to be Inuit to paddle a kayak, or First Nations to wear moccasins” 7. But it is dangerous to participate in cultural emblems without understanding or giving respect to their function and purpose. Is it destructive to exhibit a culture other than your own? At what point does appropriation become misappropriation, does exemplify become objectify, does share become dictate? I don’t necessarily want to suggest that these artifacts not be displayed at all. But I find uninformed exhibition troubling and potentially dangerous. If a particular culture is exhibited in a foreign place and their icons and aesthetics displayed without context or accompanied by the vision of the peoples who created it, does it not follow that the entire culture becomes reduced to meaningless iconography?

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For example, the First Nations peoples in Canada have been so isolated from non-FNs, and their culture so boiled down or forgotten from memory that what Canadians understand to be FN are token signifiers or racist caricatures. We know what a headdress looks like, and know it’s some kind of Native thing, but when it’s just presented behind glass in some museum without any first person cultural input the object gets divorced from its cultural heritage.. and even though we admire its we end up buying cheap replicas manufactured offshore (read: H&M) because all we know is we think it looks cool and we don’t understand the significance of the object. “It’s not that non-native people shouldn’t be inspired by native art, […] The main thing there is to treat those designs with respect … and respect is acknowledging the original artist and acknowledging the original use of that work” 8.

I think it comes down to cooperative sharing, as opposed to cultural theft. If there existed a forum for each culture to describe the significance of the artifacts, why they were made, who made them, how they were used, and how they fit into the cultural in both a historical and modern sense, museum-goers would come away from the experience with a greater and truer understanding of different cultures. I think everyone is naturally curious about thing to which they are not familiar, but collecting artifacts and fitting them to a different context steals an opportunity for different peoples to understand each other, and steals the chance to respect each other on a genuine level.

1, 2, 3, 6 http://www.humanityinaction.org/knowledgebase/200-the-opening-of-the-musee-du-quai-branly-valuing-displaying-the-other-in-post-colonial-france

4, 5 http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-25331975

7, 8 http://uphere.ca/post/87528245278/inappropriation

les tâches ménagères

You know those days when you don’t feel like putting on pants or leaving the house? Yep. I’m going to blame it on my new loungewear. Normally I have to get dressed in the morning because it’s so damn cold in my flat. But not anymore! Anyway, I elected to have a quiet day at home and got some housework done. After all, I’m more living in a new city than I am visiting a new city so it was time to catch up on things.

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Apart from laundry and house cleaning I spent some time hemming my new slacks. Turns out in Paris I’m too tall for regular pants, but not tall enough for “tall” pants. C’est la vie. Though hemming things by hand requires more time than with a machine, but it both relaxing and rewarding work.

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I also managed to spend some quality time on my drawing/painting inspired by the two-row wampum. For a quick summary, the two-row wampum is an agreement made between the Haudenosaunee1 and Dutch representatives in the early 1600s. It is considered to be the groundwork for many treaties to follow. It, like all other wampum belts, gives visual depiction that correspond to a verbal tale that is passed down through generations. The two-row wampum is the declaration of peace between the Haudenosaunee and dutch settlers in what is now New York state. The following is an excerpt explaining the meaning of the two rows :

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“We will not be like father and son, but like sisters and brothers. These two rows will symbolize vessels, traveling down the same river together. One will be for the canoe of the Onkwehonwe2 and their laws, their customs. The other will be for the sailing ship of the European people and their laws and customs. We will each travel the river together, side by side, but each in our own boat. Neither of us will make compulsory laws nor interfere in the internal affairs of the other. Neither of us will try to steer the others vessel.” 3

The two-row wampum has a very important meaning and I cherish it dearly. I strive to understand First Nations peoples, their culture, heritage, plight, and enduring spirit. I strive to be their friend and ally, and through my personal interactions I’m gaining some insight into the lives of people I consider to be nothing other than equals. So I’ve been working on this piece to honour this developing relationship. I recently came back from a visit to a remote reservation in Northern Ontario and spent a lot of one-on-one time with the residents. So to be quickly thrown into a different country I was worried about how my perspective would change, however the separation from home only makes me think about it all the more, and makes me miss my friends back home. As far as I can tell Native Canadians/Americans are still referred to as Indians here, and often in a past-tense kindof way. Through my own interaction with First Nations people of Canada I can tell you they are not just an echo of the past. Native culture is vibrant and ever evolving, absorbing new ideas and values while honouring traditions and teachings. So for example, when I see a headdress in a flea market in Paris, it makes me sad to think that this proud and sacred object found its way overseas to be hawked as an objet d’art in some musty corridor.

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When I needed a break from work I spent some time trying to peel labels off my empty wine bottles so I can stick them in my wine journal when I get home, while trying to remember and jot down some likeable qualities so I know whether or not to buy that wine again. Though, I could just give everything an A+. I havn’t found a wine yet I didn’t like and I am having some doubts that I will. Oh well, I must press on and do my due diligence with wine tasting. That journal isn’t going to complete itself!

IMG_6433malso, is it at all possible to remove a label without destroying it? dreadful business, really..

I also spent some time with Duolingo, trying to do some language homework. It’s not exactly easy not being able to speak the language for the country in which you are residing. I really am doing my best and everyone I’ve come across has been so kind to me, but I do find it embarrassing when the conversation reaches an impasse when I just reach the limit of my knowledge and have to backtrack or look helpless enough to warrant an dumbed-down or translated explanation. So for now, I’ll have to retreat back to my flat at night to scribble type conjugations by the light of the moon laptop screen.
Also, remember those cute shoes I bought yesterday? Well after a couple of afternoon strolls today I managed to break the heel on the left shoe. So now one shoe has sole and one just metal staples, so instead of a nice “clip clop” sound, I go “TIK clop TIK clop”. This won’t do. Tomorrow I need to find a cobbler to fix me up. Sigh!

IMG_6433rFlâner : to stroll, or “to walk the city in order to experience it” 4

“The terms of flânerie date to the 16th or 17th century, denoting strolling, idling, often with the connotation of wasting time. […]  The flâneur concept is not limited to someone committing the physical act of a peripatetic stroll in the Baudelairian sense, but can also include a complete philosophical way of living and thinking”. 5

1 Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy
2 Indigenous people of North America
3 http://books.google.fr/books?id=OT_7AgAAQBAJ&lpg=PP1&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
4 http://www.cntraveler.com/stories/2010-03-01/ten-things-not-to-do-in-paris
5 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fl%C3%A2neur