We just returned from a week in Paris, visiting our daughter Avalon who has been attending Sciences Po for fall semester. It was incredible. She is incredible. I am so proud of the young woman she’s become, and so impressed with her fearlessness in navigating a city that is not easy to navigate. We are home now, spanning two time zones, feeling out of time and pensive. I have lots of thoughts about Paris. I am sure this does not surprise you. I have lots of thoughts about everything.
If you don’t like stairs, you may not like Paris. Somehow, without meaning to do this, I managed to climb the stairs to Montmartre, again. There was a point in the ascent from the Metro when I considered living on the stairs for the rest of my life. I have asthma, so hundreds of stairs are incredibly challenging for me. I did it. I climbed all of the stairs in Metro station after Metro station, at the Louvre, in Montmartre, in our small apartment three circular flights up from ground floor. I did not complain…much. Between the stairs and the walking for hours and hours and hours every day, well, it was not easy. It’s a tough city for anyone with mobility issues. I am glad I got new orthotics and brought the right shoes. I’m also thankful for portable nebulizers and patient family members.
It’s no secret why Parisians are slender…stairs.
However, if you budget for Ubers or Taxis, you can skip the Metro and the walking everywhere. Though you will miss so much. Whether you don’t mind stairs, or you avoid them altogether, if you like fresh baked culinary delights and inexpensive delicious wines and overpriced incredible meals in cozy cafes and being surrounded by stunning architecture and fascinating history, you may like Paris. You may even fall in love with Paris, which I did, again, despite the challenges I faced physically.
Paris is a magical city, but it’s also a stinky, dirty, smoky, pickpocket friendly, stair riddled city. It’s an endless array of contradictions. Wonderful, weird, frustrating, fabulous contradictions await you on every block. Cool street art and crappy graffiti abound. There is a homeless problem in Paris, and it is sad. There’s no sugar coating it. There are also rats, they scamper around the bushes and along the edges of the Seine. There are painfully persistent people trying to sell you trinkets at every tourist attraction. There are flim-flammers and ne’er do wells, hoping to scam unsuspecting tourists. You must keep your wits about you, as they say. Don’t be too loud, don’t act or look like a tourist. This is hard to do when you are the only woman in Paris with hot pink hair. Yet, I managed.
There are many dogs in Paris, but the Parisians do not want you to pat their dogs. Non. NON.
I was none too happy with that.
The Parisians do not pick up le poo de chien. You have to be aware of this as you traipse about the city. I feel that the least they could do is let you pet their dogs if they are going to leave poo everywhere. However, I am sure they do not much care about my feelings concerning dogs and dog poo.
When in Paris, it is best to try to speak some French. I ordered everything in French, and entered and exited every shop or attraction with a greeting in French. The French appreciate your effort. If you walk in and start talking English, this is not going to win you any prizes. Even when annoying French people with dogs, I did so in French.
“OH! Petit chien! Le petit chien mignon!” I said. One must remember that French dogs also speak French. The dogs seemed as nonplussed as their owners. At least I annoyed them in French.
“Hohn, hohn. Hohn.” I say, whilst twirling my imaginary pencil thin moustache.
There are also butts. Lots and lots of naked butts. Statues with naked butts. Paintings with naked butts. Pottery and objets d’art with naked butts. I find this tres amusant, therefore I must pretend to pinch these butts whenever possible. I do this discreetly, as the French may not find my obsession with naked butts as amusant as I do. Who can resist a naked butt? I mean, really. I pinch your butt. Le pinch, pinch.
Tangentially, I’m still mulling over the idea of failure. It is being funneled through a juxtaposition of cultures and attitudes, after a week abroad. My views on failure and success are filtered through a uniquely American lens. We don’t savor here. We don’t stop to exhale. We race from thing to thing, eyes on some elusive destination, ever focused on making the grade, winning the prize, having it all. Europeans take four weeks off every year for vacation. They linger in cafes and savor meals. The preponderance of patisseries, wine vendors, bakers of crusty baguettes and vendors of fresh fruits, cheeses, and vegetables speaks to a different attitude about food and drink. I found it weird that so many people smoked in Paris, considering the focus on fresh, organic, simple food, and there you have it, more contradiction.
I am home now, making plans for new directions and still thinking, thinking, thinking about failure and how to sit with it, embrace it, savor it. I am thinking about how to see failure differently, and in doing so see myself differently. Life is not a race. Life is not a monologue. Life is not a competition. Change is the only constant. Life is an evolution. There is no there to reach, there is only here, this moment, now. Painful, joyful, dirty, delicious, stinky, and sometimes poo covered now. Life, like Paris, is full of contradiction. It is all of the things.
I don’t have to race towards some perfect moment, because this moment is perfect, even if it’s filled with imperfection and contradiction. And yes, there are stairs, always stairs, always a climb to the next moment. Still, it’s okay to sit on the stairs and exhale sometimes. Maybe sip a glass or two of inexpensive, delicious wine, enjoy a warm from the oven crusty baguette with salty French butter, and be fully invested in now.
Merci beaucoup, Paris. Merci.