Sunday, July 13, 2008

Ma Vie Parisienne

I knew upon arrival into Paris that this trip would be different than my week spent here in October 2006. I felt heavier this time and with a certain knowing of Paris. The first week was spent shaking a stupor not only due to jet lag but weeks of angst, raging insomnia, and a chaotic heart. I knew Paris would do something and that all that turmoil had to give at some point. But it was just such a heavy feeling to enter Paris with.

In my first week, I openly cursed Paris, felt incredibly awkward and self-conscious about being different here, and often found myself lost and hungry at the wrong hour to find food. I accumulated numerous blisters, two of which I briefly convinced myself would require amputation of my feet. I also saw beautiful sights and enjoyed lovely gardens like Tuileries and my favorite, Luxembourg. I returned to the Louvre and walked along the Seine. I enjoyed fresh baguette, great coffee, macarons, and the always gratifying experience of wandering the streets of Paris (well, only gratifying when I wasn't causing seemingly irreparable damage to my feet).

Please do not despair, dear reader. I have not lost my love of Paris. I have only had to earn its love for me. It is true that we take our "baggage" with us everywhere and anywhere, Paris being no exception. That initial week was one of emerging awareness, struggles rising and giving way. The "what does this all mean" questioning forming blisters on my brain that easily rivaled those on my aching feet.

But patience has always been a virtue (and a detriment in its own right, too) that has always been a bit too plentiful for me. As Chicamericaine and I sat out on her terrace looking toward Père Lachaise on Thursday evening, we briefly touch upon the grand and yet ever-simple observation of how difficult life is for anyone and everyone and I said half-jokingly that I was fortunate to possess too much patience to be suicidal; that and a passion for life which, in its optimism, always allays whatever struggles try to overcome me.

So, I entered Paris, feeling battered and bruised on the inside somewhat. After cursing Paris last Monday, everything started to shift. I stopped hearing that incessant string of questioning in my brain. I stopped feeling as awkward and conspicuous here, and with each moment, an increasing lightness is overtaking me. It came upon me and not just in grand, historic buildings and awe-inspiring museums. It came upon me in some of the most simple ways: a Frenchwoman stopping near Musée Rodin and asking me for directions in French, thanking me sincerely when I managed to actually guide her in my broken French. It came upon me when a homeless man held the door at Saint-Sulpice for me and then teared up when I gave him some change upon leaving. It came upon me when a baby with her grandmother sat nearby at the Luxembourg Gardens and would stop crying when I would look at her and smile. It came when I knew how to get home without consulting my map once. It came when this bird perched right next to me for quite some time on Pont Royal.

Wherever we are and however we are, that lightness comes about when we give into moments with absolute wonder of the possibility, simply being present. So much of what I took back with me from my last trip was the physical beauty of Paris.... the majestic architecture, the way the sky looks draped in Paris light, museums housing countless works of art that are so moving to the soul. And while that beauty is still here, still Paris, still so appreciated and loved by me, I feel so enchanted by the little details of moments and not just the pleasant moments, but also the real moments.

Sitting at the café downstairs, enjoying steak Bearnaise this week, I see something move out of the corner of my eye and a man sitting with his girlfriend at the next table shrieks and points, uttering something indistinguishable. I didn't need to hear or understand the word, I knew it was a rat. He smiled nervously and said that he was scared of them. Then, he proceeded to finish his meal calmly. It didn't put me off my meal, either. I laughed out loud as I climbed the stairs back up to my apartment. Ah, the real Paris!

And as I climbed the spiral staircase up to my apartment the other day, I came upon that third step above the final landing and I suddenly knew ahead of stepping on it that it was a tricky step, with an awkward slope to it. That step made me wobble for days but in no time at all I knew that step and I was ready for it.

I have come to realize that in cafés and restaurants, the servers will seldom check in with you or ask you how you are doing. Rather, the customer needs to be more aggressive here in getting the server's attention, in asking for l'addition (the check), and that the customer often needs to initiate the greeting in small shops. Assertiveness and honesty is appreciated. Servers and proprietors warm up to you over time, and so you develop a relationship with them here.

A Parisian server at one of the pubs on the street tells me that in French culture, friendliness is not immediate, even for service employees. Rather, that degree of friendliness develops over time. But when people know each other or even see the same customers repeatedly over time, that friendliness grows. As it should. And yet, in my growing assertiveness here, I continue to smile freely and easily. In passing proprietors along my street over just ten days' time, I am already greeted with friendlier smiles each day.

All these seemingly little experiences/idiosyncrasies/observations make for the most wonderful sensation of being here and I finally feel that I am experiencing what I wanted most out of this trip: living fully in the moment. And so I don't curse Paris tonight. I don't feel compelled to plan out my remaining days here. I'll get to those other sights and such, just as I'll get to making decisions about the future when the time comes and not a moment sooner. All I can feel right now is an incredible contentedness as I lay on my sofabed and listen to the humming of people on the street below and the occasional roar of the métro passing underground below them....

Here in Paris.


Anonymous said...

Take it easy! It takes time to adjust. I believe you're going to have a great time! :-)

Randal Graves said...

To the American mind so used to the empty and required 'friendliness' of waiters, waitresses and floor clowns at Best Buy, something like this sounds more real, even if an initial shock to the system. We all want relationships to be that way, to build over time, and that's what you're doing with the city. C'est chouette and keep up with the vignettes. :)

chicamericaine said...

Beautiful writing, B. This is what it means to make Paris one's own.



twin palms road said...

I love your blog, and I could yearn to write like you. I'll be in Paris at the end of the month and I hope to savour each moment as you do.

Hope the rest of your stay is wonderful.

Je ne regrette rien said... of my fave spots in the Luxembourg Gardens is sat right there gazing at Zeus salivating over the young lovers. Another is the area that has the espalier garden, opposite side. very lovely. If you're over that way again, there is a great old-time café called Polidor. Very traditional, and completely fine. Fun to go in and watch the locals.

I think the French also view service differently. My experience is that many of the waiters are unobtrusively watching vs. the pushier American style to make it known in order to earn a larger tip. The French are allowed to loiter uninterrupted, unhurried.

Yes, you are settling in.

Kim/Thomas said...

finally!!! I can comment...i have been dying...everytime i want to comment, something comes up and i can't do it!!!
but first, why are you not going to the blogger picnics in paris... i want you to contact sam de bretagne...she goes by totally frenched out...she is also new to paris and learning the ropes...she speaks excellent french though and i think you two would get along famously!!!!!!!
now for the macarons...i want one:) please describe the flavors in detail!!!

sooo glad you are living your dream:) i miss you!

Richard said...

Thank you for writing. I find it heart-warming and nourishing.

Possibly this has more to do with the my current state - which I might describe as sleeping. A state of rest and quietness without need or desire or longing, nor emptiness or anticipation or anxiety.

I love the picture of the bird. It is so beautifully focussed.

La Framéricaine said...


Congratulations on settling in and hitting your stride. It's funny because I find it hard to think of you leaving Paris. I'm glad that you are having such a wonderful time. In my opinion, you are doing Paris the best way--a stable base, a neighborhood in which to frequent local merchants and become recognized, contacts from Blogdom with whom to share your experiences.

Bonne continuation!

Anonymous said...

Bonsoir B,

Cela faisait longtemps que je n'avais pas visité votre blog... et je découvre aujourd'hui que vous êtes en France.

Bienvenue parmi nous et j'espère, très sincérement, que vous vous plairez à Paris et passerez de bons moments à découvrir la ville, et notre façon de vivre.

Je n'ai, de mon côté, pas réactivé mon précédent blog, faute de temps suffisant à y consacrer, mais qui sait... peut-être un jour prochain?

Toutes mes amitiés..

Didier (Transall)

Betty C. said...

Hi B,

I've been floating in and out of the blogosphere since arriving in the USA on July 5th. A lot is going on that isn't related to a screen...all good.

Your mixed feelings about Paris are fascinating to read and so well-written. I think summer is a difficult time to appreciate Paris -- might that have something to do with it? Your previous visit was off-season. To me this makes all the difference.

But I've spent some amazing summer times in Paris; it just takes more effort to get off the beaten tracks.

Anonymous said...

How beautiful your trip sounds. I wish I could be there as well!

Cavalock said...

Good stuff. hope u got some comfortable shoes now. ^;^

twin palms road said...

We haven't heard from you for over 2 weeks. Hope all is well with you and that your silence is because you are having such a good time that you are too busy to blog.

Lothian said...

You are home.

Anonymous said...

Hi B, i'm back! where are you?

Randal Graves said...

I'm sure you're simply preparing for the fantasy football draft, right?

Anonymous said...

Ya know, in real life, if a friend when MIA for this long in a foreign land, the U.S. State Department would get a call from President Harrison Ford and the proper authorities would start searching for activity on your Visa card...

Posters, anyone?

twin palms road said...

I'm worried about you b - a mini mot would do just to let your fans know that you are ok but just incommunicado

a quasi French woman said...

Are you OK? Isn't it a pain having legions of unseen but real friends and well-wishers?

Ancilla said...

b, no new news?

hmph.. every single experiences will enrich you :)

Laura Ingalls Gunn said...

I love Paris!

I am celebrating my 100th post. Please stop by and enter my giveaway.


La Framéricaine said...

b, where you be?

Lynn said...

B, hope you're doing well.

Please post soon, you're dearly missed....

Ancilla said...

B, where are you?
Happy new year :)

La Framéricaine said...

What happened in France to put you off your blog, ma chère?

Where on earth are you now?