Or, The Story of the Infamous Butt-Bra Jeans.
One of the things about being an expat is that you leave friends behind in your old homes. No, I don’t mean I left someone sleeping on my couch in my house in Canada, closed the door and they are still there ordering pizza for delivery on my old credit card. I mean back “home”, as in, the “home” I left behind to move here to my new “home”, which in many ways is more of a home that the old home since, well, I actually live here. It makes me wonder about the whole “home” expression, because expats here often ask each other, “Are you going home soon?” or, “Do you get home often?” which makes me feel like I’m just kind of floating through life on a boat with no real home. Like a pirate. Actually, now that I think of it, I kind of like that idea.
Every year I meet up with some friends from “home” somewhere in Europe. This now infamous yearly trip, cleverly called The Girl’s Trip, has occurred several years in a row now. In May of last year, we met in Paris. My friends flew over from different parts of Canada: Sylvie (she of the saddle bar stool fable) and Lisa (she of the beer-cheese horror story, and both these stories shall remain untold until another day.)
I was to meet them in Paris, so in true European style I took the train from my small town in Switzerland to Paris, switching trains to the TGV in Lausanne. TGV stands for “train à grande vitesse”, meaning literally, train that “has big speed.” My train sped off through fields and towns at ridiculously high speed which
allows little possibility for taking photos of the scenery properly, but still I tried, making it clear to the others on the train around me that I was obviously a tourist. When I got tired of that I took a photo of the very sophisticated breakfast meal they served me (I was given a choice between the sweet or the salty breakfast, and this is what I got. Can you guess what I chose?)
Arriving in Paris at the Gare de Lyon, I took a taxi to our hotel. Taking a taxi in Paris is one of my favourite things to do. It should really be in the guidebook for tourists. You zoom through the streets at breakneck speed, the driver mumbling things to the other drivers, sometimes actually slowing down and rolling his window open to yell at them a little or just chat to the guy on the motorcycle next to us if we’re at a red light, both drivers zooming off quickly as soon as the light turns green in a desperate race for first place at the next red light.
If you take a taxi in Paris you will learn that roads don’t actually have lanes and that turning left at an intersection is a life-altering event. You may have the opportunity to listen to a French radio station while you drive, which is quite relaxing if you need to close your eyes to avoid worrying about the numerous motorcycles that whizz by on both sides of the car randomly, sometimes practically colliding with each other when they join up in front of you.
We rented an apartment in Paris, which was owned by an artist. Enough said.
Sylvie always gets there first because she’s Sylvie. I am always second but later than the time I said because I’m Nicole. And Lisa is always last and has had some kind of harrowing travel experience which meant we had absolutely no idea if or when she might show up . Because she’s Lisa.
In Paris it was because right after she landed at Charles de Gaule a person threw themselves under a train which meant the line from the airport into the city was closed. She tried to find a taxi but of course all of them had been taken so then walked for 45 minutes to the next train station, dragging her impractically large suitcase behind her, to finally find a bus. She made it into town about three hours late. Which is roughly when we were expecting her anyway because we’ve grown accustomed to this. We had gone out for some coffee and local exploration and when Lisa showed up at the apartment we were on our way back. She was not in the least bit worried about our absence. We walked around the corner and spotted her sitting there on her huge suitcase, on the narrow cobblestone street in front of the locked gate leading to our apartment, casually drinking a coffee.
Some day I’ll tell you about the time she broke her thumb minutes before boarding her flight to Munich. Or the time she missed the connection in Toronto for her flight to Budapest and ended up on an airline she referred to as Tyrannosaurus air.
In any case, she got there, and we settled into our highly artistic Parisian pied-à-terre.
The next day was dedicated to furthering our education by visiting educational historical cultural heritage sites.
Oh who am I kidding, we went shopping.
In fact, we are becoming quite the experts in shopping, eating and drinking in some of the greatest cities in the world.
After a very French breakfast (the French really do make the best croissants), we hit the streets.
First thing we did was shop. After that, we did a little shopping, followed by some shopping and then of course we shopped.
Sylvie and I tend to have awkward shoe store incidents – something that is foreign to Lisa.
It goes something like this. We walk slowly by a store, and gaze curiously into the “vitrine”, when something catches our eye. Unanimously and without having to speak, we decide by silent accord to enter the store.
Walking in, the warmth hits us (no it’s not a hot flash, it really is warm in these shops). We circle the shoe racks slowly, like vultures carefully eying their prey before zeroing in. Then we dive, catch the victim in our hands, and turn to the innocent looking clerk:
“Do you have this in size 35?” Sylvie asks, her lazer-eyes defiant.
“Do you have this in size 42?” I ask simultaneously, hope floating around my question like a life-raft bobbing in a stormy sea.
The light in the clerk’s eyes extinguishes like a match that flickers off in a sudden wind.
“Non.” He says dismissively, glancing surreptitiously at Sylvie’s ridiculously small and my insanely huge feet, wondering, probably, how we manage to stay standing. “All our sizes go from 36 to 41.”
Lisa perks up hearing that and, with a small but very obvious halo appearing above her head, asks in a voice that drips with honey, “Oh I’m a 37, can I try them on?”
We repeat this act in every shoe store. The only benefit is that Lisa inevitably spends way more money than we do, which we compensate for on other clothing.
For example, the infamous butt-bra pants.
We were in the Marais district. Very fashionable, small boutiques crammed together in little streets that wind around each other like delicate spider webs.
A tiny shop, one shopkeeper chatting with a young man sitting on a stool apparently just there to socialize. We see some nice jeans, piled high on a display table, and start rooting through them.
The shopkeeper urgently comes to us. “You like these?” she says in a heavily accented voice. “Very nice, they have lining in the butt you see”, she takes the pants out of Lisa’s hands and turns them inside out, displaying a very interesting extra lining inside . We stare at the lining, none of us daring to comment. The woman stares at us. “To lift your bottom up” she explains, moving her hands in a circular and upwards motion, which I assume is to demonstrate the possibility of having a higher flying bum.
Lisa decides to try them on (she is the most adventurous one, after all). She bravely steps over to the pile of jeans and asks what sizes they have. The saleswoman, without batting an eye, replies, “Turn around and let me see your butt.” We are frozen in time for a fraction of a second, then Lisa obeys. The woman frowns in a serious contemplation of Lisa’s bum, then digs through the pile to hand her a pair.
Sylvie and I are both feeling skeptical (this is not something we actually have to say to each other, we know it instinctively after years of friendship.) But when Lisa steps out of the changing room, she does look great. We make a beeline for the pile of jeans, but are immediately stopped by the saleslady.
-Turn around, let me see your butt.
Not a moment’s hesitation this time.
Bizarrely, Sylvie and I are given the same size jeans. This is bizarre because our dissimilarities extend higher than just our feet. But the miracle of the butt-bra jeans is that they do not follow any normal clothing size rules. We step out of our changing rooms and we know we have just struck gold. Butt gold.
Here is where the funny twist to the story comes in (I know you thought the funny twist was the sales lady, didn’t you?) Lisa actually decides NOT to buy the butt-bra jeans. See what happens when you buy too many shoes? You start to consider your budget. You remember how much money you spent. Whereas Sylvie and I could buy our jeans guilt-free and even with the additional knowledge that we deserved compensation from the City of Paris for all the shoe-size prejudice.
Lisa left the store without any jeans – even though all four of us (Sylvie and I, the saleslady and the guy sitting there uselessly) swore she would regret it.
And guess what. She does. Sylvie and I wear our jeans regularly but Lisa – no, she must remain in saggy-butt-land by herself.
The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful except for the Last Meal, which we decided to eat at a restaurant next to our apartment. What we had not noticed was that this restaurant was called The Carnivore – the type of place you go to if you want to eat huge pieces of meat. Sylvie felt quite guilty ordering foie gras without her husband, who adores it, (you can see it in her sad eyes in the photo below) and so we overcompensated by having champagne to drown our sorrows and there was an incident with horn-shaped salt and pepper shakers.
I won’t go into detail about the fact that the restaurant owner dared us to eat only one single solitary strawberry for dessert (we lost), or the fact that he went and got his son to introduce to us (he had just visited Canada, so it was obvious that his dad needed to show him the Canadians he had found in his restaurant right here in Paris.)
We finally dragged ourselves out of the restaurant and waddled back to our art studio/apartment and quickly changed into our “lounging clothes” (Lisa’s expression).
Another Girl’s Trip over, with much success. Paris in the Spring, beautiful!
Next trip? Berlin during the Christmas market!