Thursday, July 17, 2014

Paris, Like the First Time

No big deal...
Seeing Paris through a first-timer’s eyes is a precious experience. Just when I think that the Eiffel Tower is boring, that Notre Dame is dull, or that the Opera is just kind of blah, a tourist comes around with an audible, “Wow” as we take in the view from in front of the Sacre Coeur and I am revived.

This is the coolest part about being a tour guide. Having just wrapped up a few weeks of intense guiding with a few Paris newbees of all ages, I feel like Paris and I have hit the reset button for a moment. Don’t get me wrong, I am chomping at the bit to get out of the city for some vacation, but I feel like I’ve readjusted my appreciation of the city, tightening it up just ever so.

Tour guiding is one of those professions like journalist or barista that just anyone can do – and I have done them all – with the right training. You don’t need a degree in tourism and hospitality to share a city with visitors. You need a bit of passion and a sprinkling of knowledge and voila, you can do it. Of course it’s not in everyone’s comfort zone to get in front of a group and spout stories from the 1600s in Paris, but I made it work for me. It’s easy, however, to get jaded.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Love Can Build a Bridge...or Destroy One

Oh dear...
I’m not one to jump on the bandwagon. A few weeks ago I wrote an article for CNN Travel about the “No Love Locks” campaign in Paris, to spare the bridges and public spaces from the padlocks of “love” that have taken over the city. I thought it was an interesting topic but I wasn’t really sure it’d go anywhere.

While I agree with the cause and trying to preserve the historic monuments that help make Paris, well, Paris, I didn’t think the locks were the biggest issue.* Plus, who wants to be the person to speak out against so-called “love locks” anyway? That’s a pretty tough badge to wear.

Then one of the panels on the Pont des Arts, the pedestrian bridge by the Louvre, broke away from the fence and fell.

And then another did.

And then another.

See where this is going?

Friday, June 20, 2014

Needed: YOU for Sorbonne Study Questionnaire

The sun is setting on my PhD...but a bit further to go!
One more year to go! I’m finishing up my thesis at the Sorbonne Nouvelle, but before I do, I need YOU

I’ve been trudging away interviewing bloggers, journalists, TripAdvisor users, and other writers about how they produce travel content. But now I need to know what readers actually think about it all.

So here is the challenge – maximize my responses to an online questionnaire followed by at least 15 interviews with those who have filled it out. So if you aren’t in Paris or don’t want to chat with me, no worries:

If you ARE in Paris or would like a Skype date, I’d love to meet up with you after you’ve filled out the survey, and the coffee’s on me.

There are no wrong answers, and there is no wrong person to take the questionnaire (it only takes a few minutes). Even if you aren’t planning a trip to Paris, your input is still extremely valuable, so take a stab at it and I look forward to reading your responses. When (if?) I become Docteur Bryan, I’ll have you all to thank!

But for the time being, I’ll thank you in advance and please share the survey with those around you who may be interested.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Cost of French Nationality

Do I become a shareholder in this? 
Today I paid 200 euros for my visa renewal. Granted, I got a new visa, but it’s never easy forking over that kind of money.

At the same time, I bought a fiscal stamp for my nationality application to become…dun dun dun…French. It cost 55 euros. At first I thought, “Weird that it’s cheaper to apply for nationality than for a temporary residency,” but then I remembered that I had spent quite a bit on this precious file that will, hopefully, lead to a French passport.

For those who might want to become French, or who have put in the time (5 years, or 3 with a 2-year French degree), it’s a costly process, but when you think about the potential payoff (an EU passport!) it’s really not that expensive at all. If I get refused, I might sing a different song.

Here’s the rough breakdown of my costs for naturalization:


Most of the documents were already sitting in my file box. After nearly 6 years, I had saved every tax document, pay slip, electricity bill, and contract to make sure that this process would run smoothly. But a few documents needed to be freshly procured.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Old Haunts: Return to the City by the Bay

The Painted Ladies...
We were walking to the Ferry Building. It was déjà-vu. The food stalls were out. The chocolate store was there. The bay breeze was blowing. But something was different. Someone was different.

Just over a year and a half ago I visited California for the first time. Little did I know a family wedding would drag me back to San Francisco for round 2. 

I usually don’t visit the same places often, at least not so quickly. I haven’t been to England since 2009, and before that not since 2006. Italy in 2013 was the first time since 2011. Denmark, Sweden, Spain, and the Czech Republic haven’t had repeats yet. Germany has had me three times, but with mostly different cities and different beers each time.

There’s a lot to see in this world, and who wants to spend too much time visiting the same places?

Going back to San Francisco, everything was still fresh. After a trek along the pier, back in the Mission, everything was just as I left it. 

I remembered sitting at Pancho Villa chowing down on Mexican food with an assortment of salsa, inevitably picking one that was too spicy for me. Arizmendi Bakery was still there with its line and case of self-serve pastries. Bi-Rite still had the honey and lavender ice cream I remember tasting back in January 2013.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Liberté, Egalité, Homosexualité: On Progress

Some very spirited eclaires...
A year ago, I was walking to the Marais district with some friends, about to have a celebratory drink. The streets were ablaze with excitement, especially around the local mayor’s office, which was about to see a whole lot of action soon. Drag queens waved rainbow flags on scooters and the party poured into the streets from local bars, with a largely male clientele.

It was an early gay pride when on May 18, 2013, France legalized same-sex marriage. Who would have thought that a country with a reputation for sticking to tradition would take a leap? At the same time, with a very different idea of masculinity and what it means to be in a committed relationship in France, it’s not entirely surprising…but I digress.

A few drinks and a nightlong celebration were only the beginning. Just over a month later in June, the US Supreme Court struck down that bit of the Defense of Marriage Act which prevented same-sex marriages from being recognized on a federal level. For many, this means nothing, but imagine the implications for lesbians and gays abroad. It was a big year. Very big.

Since that historic spring, the Figaro reported that 7000 same-sex couples have tied the knot in France, a mere 4% of total marriages, but be it 7 or 7 million, it’s an amazing headline to read no matter what.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Music of the Paris Metro

Singer-songwriter Sian Pottock at her RATP audition.
Sitting in the basement of the RATP building, Paris’s urban transportation headquarters, I was tapping my foot along with the young girl who was crooning along with her guitar. Next on stage was a Cuban salsa band, followed by a blues singer with an American accent that gave him away immediately. As the jury looked on, it felt like an episode of The Voice, and not an audition to play in one of Paris’s largest theaters…

You get on the metro. And then it happens. You’re on your way to work, probably with your earphones in, and that man you know oh so well boards the train.

Mesdames et messieurs…” he begins, and then the music starts. It’s an accordion, maybe violin, or  God forbid a trumpet, but the scene is always the same. They play some music for a stop or two and then ask for money.

“But I didn’t ask you to play that music,” you think to yourself, narrowly avoiding eye contact as the musicians pass by with their paper cup or hat.

As you recover from the blaring trumpet, returning to your Beyoncé or Céline Dion (no judgement), you don’t even entertain the idea of paying him.