‘Tis the Season to Binge Watch

Every December the broadcast networks air their mid-season finales, cable shows wrap up their current seasons, and the television landscape becomes a barren wasteland of holiday specials and endless repeats of Christmas movies. While this programming may help people get into the festive mood, there’s only so many times I can watch a young boy physically maim two bumbling criminals, which is why I use the mid-season hiatus to indulge in everyone’s favourite new holiday tradition. I’m talking of course about binge watching. Have a series you’ve been meaning to check out or catch up on? Grab the remote and curl up on the couch, because with January still weeks away, the holidays are the perfect time to catch up on your television viewing. If you’re still undecided on which show to dive into this holiday season, allow me to offer you the best advice you’ll get all year: Get thee to Netflix and start watching The Mindy Project immediately.

I discovered this amazing show this past summer (another prime binge watching season), and it only took me a couple of days to make my way through two seasons worth of amazing episodes. Created by Mindy Kaling, who also produces, writes, and stars in the show, The Mindy Project follows the exploits of OB/GYN Mindy Lahiri and her many quirky co-workers at Shulman & Associates, a New York based medical practice. Mindy loves romantic comedies and longs for her own Hollywood approved love story, but in case you’re already starting to check out, let me assure you that The Mindy Project is so much more than its basic premise. Not only does the show excel at sending up the various rom-com cliches, but it also manages to touch on dozens of social issues in ways both smart and hilarious, and while the characters certainly are exaggerated, they always feel entirely real.

In fact, it’s the characters that are the best thing about The Mindy Project, with Kaling at the heart of it all as Dr. Lahiri. This is a character who knows exactly what she wants, is not afraid of going for it, and is completely and unapologetically herself at all times. Mindy is outspoken, self-involved, blunt, and selfish, but also kind, friendly, and compassionate. She is a dreamer and a hopeless romantic, and while she’s bold and confidant, she also has her own set of insecurities. Mindy is proactive, melodramatic, and prone to narrating events around her, and she somehow manages to be both completely adorable and unlikeable at the same time. In short, Mindy Lahiri is one of the most fascinating characters on television at the moment, and after discovering the genius that is The Mindy Project, I wish I was Kaling’s best friend, just so I could pick her brain to find out how she can be so smart, hilarious, and brilliant at the same time.

This holiday season, give yourself the gift of The Mindy Project and thank me later, because no matter how stressful the holidays become, this show will keep you laughing through it all. Earlier this year it made me laugh out loud on one of the worst days of my life, and a couple of weeks ago I laughed so hard I nearly choked to death on a glass of water. Think I’m being overdramatic? I’m not. Or maybe it’s just my inner Mindy coming out. Either way, The Mindy Project is a brilliant show, and if you still need convincing, check out this clip. Mindy Kaling made that possible, and it’s just one of the thousands of reasons why I love her.

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Top 10 Lessons Learned From Using the Trains of Paris

It’s the sixth of the month, which means it’s now been three months since I first touched down in Paris. It also means that it’s time for another round of the Top 10 lessons I’ve learned from living in this wonderful city. Today’s list focuses exclusively on the train system of Paris, because while incredibly effective for getting around, it comes with its own unique set of rules and quirks.

1) Public transportation in Paris comes in many forms, including trains, trams, and buses. The trains themselves come in a wide variety of networks, including the Metro that serves Central Paris, and the RER and SNCF commuter trains that serve the greater Île-de-France region. With all of these options, it is often the case that using a car is the least efficient way to get around the city, and in the three months since I’ve arrived, I’ve never once missed having one.

2) It’s never necessary to run for a Metro train, because the next one will almost always be mere minutes behind. Unlike the RER and SNCF trains, the Metro is not scheduled, but at peak hours, trains arrive every two minutes, meaning you’ll never have to wait long on the platform for the next one. This level of frequency means that my threshold for waiting for the next train is now down to just four minutes, after which I start to get annoyed. I already know that going back to the public transit system at home is going to be quite the shock to the system.

3) On certain Metro lines, the doors have to be manually opened, whether by pushing a button or pulling a handle. They also have the unusual characteristic of opening before the train comes to a complete stop. If you have an extraordinary sense of balance, feel free to attempt to exit the train while it is still moving, but fair warning; if your balance is even the least bit less than perfect, you could find yourself arriving on the platform face first. Not that I know this from experience or anything…

4) It is easy to know which lines serve the tourist hot spots of Paris, because these are the lines that make their announcements in multiple different languages. If you happen to find yourself on one of these trains, be prepared to get to know your neighbour really well, because they are often packed to the brim.

5) One of the more quirky aspects of the Metro is that they always announce an upcoming stop twice; once as you’re approaching the station and once when you’ve arrived. The quirky part of this is that the first announcement is always framed as a question, while the second one will come out as a statement. It’s almost as if the announcer is having a conversation with himself that is partially off mic.

Announcer: Bastille?

Off mic: Wait a minute, I’m lost. Is this Bastille? (sees the signs on the platform) Phew, I’m in the right place.

Announcer: Bastille.

I often find myself filling in the blanks between the two announcements with increasingly silly dialogue, which on more than one occasion has led me to laugh out loud at the most inopportune times.

6) Moving from quirky to crazy is the sheer range of theatrics you will see from the buskers and beggars on Paris trains. Over the past several months I’ve witnessed everything from simple appeals for change, to musicians playing everything from guitars to accordions. However, the weirdest one by far was when a young man rolled a mini sound system onto the train, cranked up the song “Blurred Lines”, and began what can only be described as a hybrid breakdance circus act exhibition. After doing a particularly dangerous set of backflips down the aisle of the train, he finished off his performance with a pole dance routine that was just plain bizarre. I did, however, give him a Euro for his effort.

7) When traveling on the Metro, it is important to know the end destination of the direction you wish to travel, because while most stations will point you in the right direction with signs that list all of the stations that direction will serve, once you’re in the connecting tunnels between lines, you’re often only given the end destination for navigation. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way on more than one occasion and always when I was running late.

8) A single ticket for the Metro will take you to any other Metro station, regardless of how many zones you pass through, but the RER and SNCF trains are priced station to station. Therefore, if you have to travel to a location outside of Central Paris on the RER or SNCF, always check first to see if there’s a Metro stop nearby. It may mean you have to walk an extra ten minutes to reach your destination, but the savings on your ticket could be pretty significant.

9) There are several main train stations where multiple lines of the Metro, RER, and SNCF converge, and as you can imagine, these stations are sheer madness at peak hours, especially given that their layouts aren’t particularly conducive to effective traffic patterns. Some of these stations, such as Saint Lazare, have placed colour coded footsteps on the floor to guide you to your destination. If you find yourself at one of these stations during peak hours, keep your head down and follow those footsteps. It’s the only way you’ll get anywhere.

10) Finally, some Metro trains are comprised of a series of connected cars, while others are one long train, in which you can walk end to end. If you find yourself on one of these trains, I suggest finding a spot at either the front or the end, because if it’s not too crowded, you can see right down the middle of the train, which allows you to watch how the Metro lines twist and curve their way through the underground of Paris. I find this visual fascinating, but it could just be that I’m easily amused.

That’s it for this month! Enjoy the holiday season and see you in 2015 for more lessons learned from living in Paris.

 

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The World Needs More Selfie

Back in September, I wrote about how much I love watching a new television season unfold, because I find it fascinating to see which shows are instant hits and which shows are yanked off the schedule after only a couple of episodes have aired. This season has been surprising on many levels, primarily because it took well over a month for the first cancellation to be made official. However, since Manhattan Love Story’s demise, the cancellations have come fast and furious, and while some were predictable (A to Z) and others were surprising (The Millers), there will always be those that fall into the gone too soon category (Red Band Society). This process happens every year, and while it’s never fun when a show you like is cancelled (obligatory Firefly shoutout), it’s made even worse when the show in question was truly promising. This year’s most promising new show was ABC’s ridiculously titled Selfie, which after several weeks of steadily dwindling ratings, was officially cancelled last month.

When Selfie’s trailer was first posted online back in May, the backlash against the show was swift and brutal, and ABC immediately took it offline. In the months that ensued, the show’s title was soundly mocked, it landed on several “Worst of” lists, and when premiere week finally rolled around in September, it seemed like Selfie was the show that everyone was determined to hate. I must admit that I didn’t have much interest in checking it out, and my disinterest was entirely because of its title. However, the headlines and hate that Selfie managed to generate sight unseen piqued my curiosity, and one night in early November I decided to watch the first episode. Was it bad? No. It was decidedly average, but there was a spark of potential that led me to continue watching the next episode. A couple of hours later, I had devoured the remaining available episodes, and I was eagerly awaiting the next one. I decided that Selfie had the makings of a low rated but eventually critically adored sitcom with a cult following, and I congratulated myself on being among the first to discover this new television gem. Selfie was cancelled the very next day.

Since then, I’ve thought a lot about why the show didn’t take off. Creator Emily Kapnek has a solid resume that includes Parks and Recreation and Suburgatory, leads Karen Gillan and John Cho are both equal parts awesome and adorable, and their chemistry was off the charts. Sure the characters were exaggerated and over the top, but what sitcom character isn’t? Off the top of my head I can think of at least a dozen shows currently on broadcast television that are far worse than Selfie, and I refuse to believe that its name alone is the only reason for its demise. So what gives?

In thinking on it further, I came to realize that the reason I liked Selfie so much was that it genuinely had some interesting things to say about today’s social media obsessed digital age. Watching Gillan’s social media obsessed Eliza Dooley and Cho’s uptight and offline Henry Higgs try and connect created some truly hilarious and poignant moments, and while Eliza’s narcissism and cluelessness were often played for laughs, they also quite often hit some of today’s most pertinent issues right on the nose. Which makes me wonder; was Selfie really cancelled because its name was such a turn off? Or did its pointed critique of today’s social culture hit a bit too close to home?

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Not Your Typical French Food

*Photo by Chloe Martin

*Photo by Chloe Martin

Every other morning I lace up my runners, head out to the Bois de Vincennes, a massive city park just around the corner from my apartment, and begin my morning run. In September, when I first arrived in Paris, these runs were fun, because the weather was beautiful and the park would look like the photo on the left. However, now that December is almost upon us, my morning runs have become decidedly less fun, because when it’s still dark at 8AM when the alarm goes off, and the air inside my apartment is very much on the brisk side, all I want to do is snuggle back under the warm covers and sleep for a couple more hours. However, several not insignificant running races loom on the horizon, and so with images of crossing those finish lines dancing in my head, I usually manage to drag myself out of bed in order to do my usual loops around Lac Daumesnil.

This task is made easier because I love the Bois de Vincennes. It’s beautiful, full of trails, and you never know what you’re going to see. If it’s a weekend and the weather is nice, the park will be packed with people, including running groups, yoga classes, cyclists, and whole families out for a weekend stroll. Swans, ducks, and peacocks roam free while children and dogs gleefully chase them, and the park’s maintenance staff traverse the grounds on horseback. Today, I even saw a group of young adults all dressed to the nines in costumes that would not look out of place on the set of Game of Thrones, warranting more than a few double takes from passersby and my fellow runners. All of this makes for some pretty entertaining people watching, and when you’re only halfway through a 15 km run, you’ll take any distraction you can get. There is, however, one thing that I always see in the Bois de Vincennes, and when you’re huffing and puffing your way past, it’s the last thing you want to see. I’m talking of course, about the people who come to the park to sit on one of its benches and stuff their faces with junk food.

You see, I’ve discovered a curious thing about the French. They are very proud of their culinary reputation and the quality of their food, and French cuisine is often considered to be some of the best in the world. There are literally hundreds of places in Paris to find exquisite gourmet food of every variety, and this city is brimming with restaurants, specialty shops, and outdoor markets that would satisfy even the most discerning of foodies. And yet, despite this predilection for the finer things in life, it would appear that Parisians love their junk food. Quick, Belgium’s answer to McDonald’s, has locations everywhere in Paris and they are always packed, while McDonald’s itself is also wildly popular. France is the most profitable country outside of the United States for McDonald’s, with sales reaching 4.46 billion Euros in 2013. Not exactly the first thing that comes to mind when you think of French cuisine.

Which brings me back to my increasingly cold morning runs. It just so happens that the last main intersection before you reach the park features both a Quick and a McDonald’s, and from my experience, people love to get their food to go in order to enjoy it while taking in the beauty that is the Bois de Vincennes. I’ve lost track of how many people I have run by who are sitting on park benches and munching down on Big Macs or Long Bacons. I thought the cold weather would eventually deter people from this practice, but just last week, on a particularly windy and wet day, I ran by a man who was hunched sideways over a bench, wolfing down a Big Mac while the wind and rain battered and soaked his jacket. At that particular moment, I felt sad for both of us. So while the French may profess to have higher standards when it comes to their food, I now know that they enjoy a McDonald’s cheeseburger just as much as the rest of us, and while I certainly won’t begrudge them for this, I do wish they would stop doing it in front of me when I’m trying to work off last night’s baguette.

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We Will Remember Them

It is hard to be so far away from my country in times of grief, and after the tragic events of the past several weeks, Canada has much to grieve. The Remembrance Day ceremonies at the National War Memorial in Ottawa promise to be a somber and emotional affair this year, and although I am an ocean away, I will stand in silence and mourn with my fellow Canadians for what has been lost. This year marks 100 years since the world entered into the Great War, and while the arms of that conflict have long since been laid to ground, we all now know that the list of those we remember every November 11th is not finished. It will grow longer with each passing year, and so today, with a poppy over my heart, I will stand in silence to honour those who have fallen, and those who have yet to join them.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

“For The Fallen” – Laurence Binyon

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Another 10 Lessons from Living in Paris

It’s hard to believe, but today marks two months since I moved to Paris. It’s been a wonderful two months, filled with lots of ups and downs, and as always, there’s been a lot of lessons learned. To mark this occasion, I have compiled another 10 lessons from my time in this city, and at the rate things are going, I’m pretty sure I’ll have enough material to make this a monthly column. So without further ado, here are the top 10 things I have learned from my second month in Paris.

1) I live in a studio apartment that measures 13 metres squared. To me, this seems tiny, but I’ve quickly learned that in Paris, this amount of space is considered a palace. French law dictates that apartments can be no smaller than 9 metres squared, and apparently anything above that amount is considered a luxury. Every single one of my friends from Paris who have come over to visit have marvelled at how much space I have, so for the rest of my time here, I will thoroughly enjoy my palace.

2) Crossing the road, even in a crosswalk, can be quite the undertaking. If you are waiting at a crosswalk to cross the street, cars will rarely stop, but if you are already in the crosswalk, they will stop, if somewhat reluctantly. If you are crossing at an intersection that has pedestrian signals, cars will often fail to stop, even if you have the little green man working in your favour, so sometimes you just have to go for it and hope for the best. Once you are in the crosswalks of these major intersections, cars will drive right up to the edge of the pedestrian area before stopping, which can be unnerving if you don’t know what to expect, but after two months, I barely even notice anymore.

3) When you’re out shopping, the cashiers will always ask for exact change. ALWAYS. Even if your total comes to a relatively easy to process 7,50 €, be prepared to dig out a 50 cent coin, because they will ask.

4) In France, Bordeaux wine is considered just average. I’m new to the whole drinking wine scene, so maybe this is common knowledge, but I always thought that Bordeaux wine was one of the more upscale types of wines you could buy. I recently treated myself to a bottle of Bordeaux, and while it was incredibly delicious, my Parisian friends were not impressed. I’m beginning to think that the French would not deign to even cook with the wine that I usually drink.

5) The cafe culture of eating outside is serious business in Paris. I had always assumed that once the summer was over and the cold weather was upon us, Parisians would head indoors to enjoy their coffees and wine. I was wrong. The weather has gotten markedly colder over the past couple of weeks, but every time I head out for a walk in my neighbourhood, the outdoor tables of the local cafes are packed with customers, all bundled up and sipping their drinks. Even the rain is not a deterrent, as most cafes have huge awnings that keep the water at bay.

6) In Paris, a scarf is a must have accessory. For all Parisians, both men and women, your outfit is not complete without a scarf, even if it is just decorative and doesn’t actually keep you warm.

7) In France, the ground floor of a building and the first floor of a building are not the same thing. It took me a ridiculously long time to figure this out, and even now, it still trips me up from time to time.

8) The front doors to Parisian apartment buildings are almost always opened by entering a code into a keypad. To exit a Parisian apartment building, chances are you will have to push a button to do so. This is fine when you know where the button is, but when it’s dark and you’re leaving a new building and you’re running late and racing for the train, not knowing where this button is can pose quite the challenge.

9) Street markets can pop up everywhere and they will literally sell anything. In the past two months, I’ve encountered street markets that were selling artwork, food, household appliances, antiques, and all manner of odds and ends, and some give you the distinct impression that they are not so much street markets as they are garage sales. There’s one market that pops up every now and then on my street, and several of its tables proudly display all manner of lacy underwear as if they were representing Victoria’s Secret. I have yet to purchase from those particular tables, but it’s fun to watch the reactions of others as they walk by.

10) Parisians don’t really celebrate Halloween. This past Friday night, as we headed to a Halloween party on the Metro, my friend and I garnered plenty of strange looks for our costumes, even though they were pretty tame by North American standards. However, there is one event that is extremely popular in Paris on Halloween: visiting the underground catacombs. While I do want to visit the catacombs at some point during my time here, there is no way you will get me anywhere near them on Halloween.

Another month and another 10 lessons to remind me of my time in this beautiful city. I know there will be many more, so check back next month to discover what else Paris has taught me.

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Salsa Dancing, Saying Yes, and a New Life Philosophy

Before I set off on this crazy Parisian adventure, I made the decision to be open to new experiences, and when offered the chance to try something new, I would always say yes. It would be my own personal version of the film Yes Man, but without the manic Jim Carrey shenanigans that could potentially result in my visa being revoked. So far, saying yes had been going well, but my commitment to this new philosophy was tested last week when a friend of mine invited me to go salsa dancing with her and her boyfriend. I’m not much of a dancer, having barely survived a disastrous attempt at swing dancing many, many years ago, but since salsa dancing posed no threat to my visa, the answer had to be yes. That was how I found myself on a packed dance floor last Wednesday night, wondering what on earth I had gotten myself into.

My friend had assured me that there would be a lesson for beginners prior to the evening’s dancing, and while there was indeed a lesson, the problem was that it was conducted entirely in French. Thankfully, the instructor spoke slowly and articulately as he demonstrated the various different salsa moves, but I still only understood about 30% of what he was saying. A victory for my burgeoning French skills, but a huge disadvantage to my non-existent salsa skills. For about 10 minutes, we all danced by ourselves in lines as the instructor went through the steps, and I was on the verge of figuring them out when he suddenly had the class pair off and move into several large circles. It was time to stop dancing by myself and give it a go with a partner; a partner who was going to lead and who expected me to follow. This was when the lesson became almost comical.

I cannot describe to you the utter paradox of trying to memorize and teach your feet dance moves in another language, while at the same time having to abandon what you’ve halfway learned and simply follow your partner’s lead. Every 30 seconds or so, we would change partners, and I quickly came to realize that the best ones were the guys who knew what they were doing, because they could simply push me where I needed to go. However, these guys were few and far between, and when you throw together two complete novices who barely have a grasp of the rudimentary moves and don’t share a language, well, let’s just say it wasn’t pretty. After awhile, a look of bewildered frustration was permanently fixed on my face, and as I bumbled my way through partner after partner, I began to seriously question my new “say yes” life plan. I was about to throw in the towel on salsa dancing altogether, when my next partner took pity on me and gave me a quick tutorial of the most basic salsa steps. In English. I could have hugged him, because with just those few steps in place, something clicked, and as I made my way through the next couple of partners, my steps became more confidant, enthusiastic, and more importantly, more or less correct. I even started to believe that I could tackle the more complicated moves, but I was quickly proved mistaken while dancing with my last partner of the lesson. I forgot to follow his lead and went the wrong way, and he responded by throwing a little hissy fit that was so thoroughly French in nature it actually made me laugh out loud. Needless to say, that did not improve his opinion of me.

After the lessons were over, the lights were dimmed, the music was cranked, and the dance floor was immediately packed. My usual dance strategy of hiding in the corner beckoned, but I firmly pushed the idea out of my head as I headed out onto the dance floor with a very patient friend, and before long I was twirling along with the music, laughing, and generally having an awesome time. I wasn’t doing the steps correctly, not even close, but that wasn’t the point. It was just fun to get out onto the dance floor and try. Two hours and half a dozen dances later, I had made some new friends, marginally increased my skill level, and had even managed to hold my own in a very basic conversation in French with one of the club’s bouncers. All in all it was a great night, and it’s a testament to what can happen when you say yes. I’ll remember that the next time I’m tempted to say no just because the adventure lies beyond my comfort zone.

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An Endless Stream of Endless Films

Earlier today, Marvel Studios gathered together a group of journalists and fans at the El Capitan Theatre in California to announce the films and release dates that will comprise Phase Three of their Cinematic Universe. Between now and 2019, 11 Marvel movies will be hitting the big screen, including a showdown between Captain America and Iron Man (Captain America: Civil War), Marvel’s first female superhero film (Captain Marvel), and a two part conclusion to the Avengers trilogy. I’m sure this announcement will galvanize the Internet and give fans plenty of fodder for discussion, dissection, and debate in the coming days, but I found myself reacting to the news in a wholly unexpected way: indifference. The weird thing is, I love Marvel movies, so it took me by surprise that today’s news would leave me feeling so underwhelmed.

Back in 2008, Marvel launched its cinematic juggernaut with the release of Iron Man, and while it seems hard to believe now, the film was a huge gamble at the time. Iron Man was a second tier Marvel character and the alter ego of Tony Stark, a narcissistic, egotistical, borderline alcoholic played by a pre-career Renaissance Robert Downey Jr. Marvel’s entire game plan could have easily gone down in flames right then and there, but instead, Downey infused Tony Stark with an irresistible combination of charm and charisma, audiences fell in love with the character, and the rest is history. Six years, 10 films, and over $7 billion at the worldwide box office later, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is stronger than ever, and the recent critical and financial success of the previously almost unknown property Guardians of the Galaxy proved that the Marvel brand is not slowing down anytime soon. What’s even more telling is that every other studio wants in on the action.

The rule in Hollywood seems to be that once they find something that works, everyone jumps on the bandwagon instead of finding something else new or original. What Marvel has accomplished with their cinematic universe is incredible, but the novelty of the concept is starting to wear thin now that everyone else is in on the game. Earlier this month, Warner Brothers announced a slate of 10 films to be released between now and 2020 that will feature the DC characters and take place in a shared universe, while earlier this year Sony announced their intentions to create a shared universe of films starring characters from the Spider-Man comics. Beyond comic book properties, Disney has announced a schedule of one Star Wars film per year, all of which exist in the same galaxy far, far, away, Universal Pictures kicked off their shared universe featuring classic monsters with Dracula Untold earlier this month, and somehow, someone at Sony thinks that a multi-picture universe of films based on Robin Hood is a good idea. This isn’t even taking into account the X-Men universe that has been in motion since 2000, and its almost inevitable crossover with the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot. Just taking into account the films based on comic books, these shared universes will produce 28 films that will be released over the next six years. That is a special type of Hollywood lunacy.

So why am I feeling underwhelmed? If anything, 28 films in six years is an overwhelming number, but that’s exactly the point. It’s simply too many to care about. More importantly, it’s too much of the same thing. Marvel has become the expert in producing crowd pleasing, action packed, blockbuster films, and despite the fact that their last two films were both excellent, they also reinforced just how predictable this formula has become. Superhero faces some sort of threat, exposition dialogue to tie in the other films, a couple of great action sequences, a main character apparently dies but inevitably doesn’t, and finally, drop a bunch of hints about what’s still to come.

It’s that last point that is most responsible for my indifference towards today’s announcement. While the concept of building a cinematic universe should in theory provide storytellers with an unlimited amount of creative freedom, in practice it is quite limiting. Every piece must fit in perfectly with the larger picture as a whole, and it deprives movies of that most basic of plot points: an ending. Marvel’s problem in this area began with Captain America: The First Avenger, an otherwise solid film whose ending was nothing more than a glorified trailer for The Avengers, and this problem has only grown more troublesome as the movies have progressed. Not one of them, however good the rest of the film may be, has a good ending, because the very nature of a shared universe dictates that they can’t have an ending. Instead, these films simply set up the next entry and allude to events that are years down the line, and at a certain point it becomes exhausting waiting for a resolution, any resolution, for these characters we’ve grown to love. You may enjoy the films while you’re watching them, but as time goes on, you start to leave the theatre with an increasing level of cynicism that this is all just one big experiment in delayed gratification.

So bottom line, am I excited about Marvel’s announcement today? Yes. The future line up injects some much needed diversity into Marvel’s pantheon of white men, and if the rumours regarding Benedict Cumberbatch joining Marvel as Doctor Strange prove to be true, it will be fun watching the Internet collectively lose its mind over the prospect of Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange and Tom Hiddleston’s Loki sharing screen time. And yes, the trailer for Age of Ultron has me wishing it was May already, and I am curious to see how Paul Rudd fares as a superhero, but the prospect of 11 more films that only serve to tease more future films mostly has me weary. Marvel claims to have their films mapped out until 2028, and while I may be on board for the time being, it’s only a matter of time before I check out. 14 years is just too long to wait for a proper ending.

 

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Connecting with a Rat

I don’t know if this happens to other people, but I often find myself drawn to certain movies, books, and/or songs at different points in my life. For a variety of reasons, these artworks strike a chord with me at particular moments in time, and they become my cultural touchstones for however long the connection lasts. At the moment, my cultural touchstone and go to movie is Pixar’s Ratatouille, and while I may not be an aspiring chef like the lead character, or a rat for that matter, I know exactly why I’m drawn to this film at this particular point in my life.

My connection with Ratatouille started last month when I treated myself to a day at the Disney parks in Paris. I had only just moved to France and I hadn’t met anyone yet, so when it came time to decide how to spend my birthday alone in a foreign country, Disney was the clear answer. I knew that a brand new attraction based on Ratatouille had opened earlier this year, but because I hadn’t seen the film since it was released in 2007, my recollections of the plot details were a bit fuzzy, and therefore, the night before my birthday, I sat down to watch Ratatouille so that I would be ready to experience the new ride the next day. It only took a couple of minutes for me to be reminded of why Pixar is renowned for their storytelling, because I was instantly swept up in the story of Remy, a rat who wants to be a chef in Paris, and Alfredo Linguini, the garbage boy at the famous Parisian restaurant, Gusteau’s, who happens to be extraordinarily bad at cooking. Remy has the talent, Linguini is a human, and together, they take the culinary world by storm.

As it turned out, my decision to re-watch Ratatouille before going on the ride was a good one, because although people will be amazed at the ride itself without having seen the film, the ride succeeds in putting you right in the middle of the movie, and by knowing the characters and their stories, the ride is simply that much better. A combination 3D movie and dark ride experience, Ratatouille, or as it’s known in French, Ratatouille: L’Adventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy, is an incredible leap forward in theme park attraction innovation, and in particular, the trackless technology used to move the ride vehicles through the attraction is incredible. I ended up going on the ride several times in a row, garnering some rather pointed looks by the ride attendants in the process, but I didn’t care. I loved every minute of it, and Ratatouille is now easily one of my favourite Disney attractions, not to mention one of the best theme park attractions in general that I’ve experienced in a long time.

Since my visit to Disneyland Paris, I’ve re-watched Ratatouille a number of times, and I’ve come to realize that there’s a certain level of familiarity to it that goes beyond how much I love the ride. One main character is a newcomer to Paris who has been separated from his family and can’t stop marvelling at the beauty of the city he now calls home, while the other main character lives in a tiny Parisian apartment, needs a job, and is spectacularly bad at cooking. Let’s just say that I can relate to them both. I have a feeling that so long as I’m in Paris, I’ll keep coming back to Ratatouille and the adventures of Remy and Linguini, because even though I don’t aspire to be a chef, there’s something comforting in watching characters take big risks to do what they love. And who knows? Maybe Ratatouille will eventually inspire me to learn how to cook. Just don’t tell my Mom I said that. I don’t want to get her hopes up.

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Top 10 Lessons from Living in Paris

Today marks my one month anniversary of moving to Paris, and while it has been a month of ups and downs, it has also involved a rather steep learning curve about what it means to live in this beautiful city. I could write a book about my adventures so far, but since I’m saving that until after my year here is up, here are my top 10 lessons that I’ve learnt from my first month in the city of lights.

1) The stereotype of rude Parisians couldn’t be farther from the reality I have experienced so far. Nearly every time I’ve tried to communicate with my halting, bumbling, and broken French, the people I’ve encountered have either switched to English, slowed down their speech, and/or dumbed down their French for my benefit. Usually with a smile of appreciation for my attempt at their language. Two weeks ago, as I attempted to communicate with the woman at the cash register at a local grocery store, the elderly woman behind me in line immediately jumped in to help translate for me, after which she gave me a hug of encouragement, and assured me that I would eventually get the hang of the language. I now consider her my adopted French grandma.

2) The Paris Metro system is an amazingly convenient way to get pretty much anywhere you need to go in this city, and it is quite possibly one of the easiest public transit systems I’ve encountered to navigate.

3) That being said, its convenience and ease of use means that everyone and their dog (literally) uses the Metro, and therefore getting a seat is nigh impossible. Rush hours are the worst, because while it doesn’t quite reach Japan levels of volume, it does get far too packed considering that France is a country that doesn’t believe in using deodorant.

4) Parisians have a very laissez-faire attitude when it comes to picking up after their dogs, meaning they literally leave the poop where it lands. If you’re walking around town, particularly in residential neighbourhoods, you really have to watch where you step.

5) Everything in this city is a work of art. Seriously. Sometimes I find myself staring up in awe at random buildings that in all likelihood are probably just the local sewage plant, but to my eyes, look like the Sistine Chapel. It’s what happens when you grow up in a city where buildings that are 50 years old are considered ancient.

6) The rental bike system in Paris is an amazing way to get around if you’re tired of jostling for position on the crowded Metro, and with stations every couple of blocks, it’s incredibly easy to just rent a bike and be on your way. It’s also really fun; that is, once you get over your fear of dying because you’re trying to navigate Parisian traffic on a bike.

7) Paris runners mean business. I’ve never considered myself to be a fast runner, but since I started running on a regular basis last year, I’ve always been comfortably average. In every race I’ve entered, I’ve always finished smack dab in the middle of the pack, and while out on training runs, I’ve always passed about an equal number of runners as those who have passed me. Not so here. I’ve lost count of how many runners have blazed past me like they were Usain Bolt, and I can count on one hand the number of runners I’ve managed to limp by. I’ve also run two races since I’ve been here, and I’ve noticed that while these runs are for fun, there’s a distinct level of competition in the air that I haven’t felt in the past. Both times, I finished decidedly at the back of the pack.

8) Sure the Eiffel Tower is a tourist trap, and yes some Parisians may deride it as tacky, but gosh darn it, it sure is pretty all lit up at night.

9) There is nothing better than fresh pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant) from any of the half dozen bakeries that are all a less than 5 minute walk from my apartment. While this is in of itself an amazing thing, in terms of sheer caloric intake, this is also a very, very bad thing. This also applies to the ridiculously cheap (but great tasting) wine on sale at every grocery store.

10) Parisian apartment doors will automatically lock behind you, and European pipes are much more fragile than North American pipes. You have been warned.

So there you have it. One month, so many lessons, and I’m sure there are many more to come. All I can say is here’s to the next 11 months. I already know it’s going to be quite the ride.

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