I come home from trips with mixed emotions. One of the most wonderful sensations in the world is that of taking a shower at home after a long day of flying and driving. The hot water washes away the grime accumulated along the way and makes me feel refreshed and grateful. It’s satisfying to settle back into my routine, reunited with my beautiful little boys (who had a fantastic time with their grandparents), and begin to sort through the memories and mental images of the past week. The hard part, though, is having broken out of my little bubble of a life and being reminded of that broad, rich, and fascinating world that’s out there, just waiting, tantalizingly, for me to explore. It’s hard not knowing when my next trip will be.
Paris is a very interesting city, totally different from the Italian cities that I know much better. A few things jumped out at me. First, it’s so full of life. Every single quartier is full of people, shops, and sights. Though Jason and I walked for hours every day, from one side of central Paris to the other, we never stumbled across sections of the city that seemed empty or had noticeable vacant storefronts or few people. It was busy everywhere we went, at any hour of the day or night. It could also be due in part to the mix of residential and commercial spaces. I saw very few neighbourhoods dedicated to residences alone; rather, most people live in apartments above stores, which means that the streets are always full of light, shoppers, and noise.
Second, there is art everywhere I looked, and it’s not all mired in the past. There are the beautiful historic sculptures, monuments, and buildings for which Paris is so famous, but alongside them are present-day equivalents. The grounds of Versailles, for example, are full of modern strange tree sculptures that look a bit incongruous beside the perfectly manicured trees, yet why not celebrate today’s art alongside the art of centuries gone by? There are also huge Stonehenge-like marble carvings of human anatomy.
My friend Geraldine took us to see a street art exhibit that’s getting a lot of attention. In an apartment building slated for demolition at the end of October, a team of street artists from around the world has worked for a year to fill the building with their art. We arrived an hour before the doors opened, but already the lineup stretched around all four sides of the block. It was a six-hour wait to get in, so we ended up leaving; but what impressed me was how many young people were there, eager to wait for the sake of art. Clearly they enjoy and appreciate original art in a way that I don’t think North American young people do.
Thirdly – and I know this topic gets rehashed all the time over here – the French people look so good all the time! The women dress more or less the same, with high leather boots, black leggings, leather jackets, and big scarves. The colours are dark and subdued, and give an overall impression of being extremely well put-together while making it look effortless. How do they do it? I kept wondering as I sat on the metro and tried not to stare too obviously. I felt self-conscious about my pink running shoes, even though I’d consciously chosen to leave my leather boots at home and opt for more comfortable shoes. No one leaves the house in LuluLemon or equivalent workout gear. Some might think it’s uptight and silly, but I actually like the thought of dressing up in public. A little bit of effort put into one’s wardrobe can make a big difference and make a person look and feel really fabulous.
While a city like Paris is not a good index by which to measure all of France, I am certainly intrigued and want to see more of the country. I like its progressive, modern vibe, and the way in which tradition does not always have the last say. Paris seems to define itself more by its present-day culture than by its history, and I like that.