Everyday Observances

            There’s a magic you forget, when you live in a touristy town.  I live two blocks from the Eiffel Tower, and a 10 minute walk to the Seine River.  Some people save money for their whole lives awaiting to simply visit this town, and take their obligatory photos.  And in the midst of everyday life: days that are too hot you just want to stay indoors, or days you have too many errands to do, or days you just are feeling down, you forget the majesty that lies outdoors.  I try to remind myself that.  It’s still less than eight months that I have lived here, and I am aware my time is limited. 

            I go to the Champ de Mars daily now, which is my closest dog park.  I notice the tourists, as they dress in their finest and pose for outlandish photos in front of the La Tour Eiffel.  Some try to look sexy with flowing dresses and high slits, cheesy with making peace signs, some jump in the air, or have accessories such as a bicycle held high in their arms.  And I watch their glee, as the moment is captured. 

            But what is interesting I find in the park, is the routine.  The same people who walk in the park at the allotted golden hour before the sun exudes too much heat.  There is the lady with a tan hat who walks laps with a cane getting her steps in, a yoga teacher who takes her studio outside for visiting tourists, a retired couple who work out daily, the staff members that keep the park clean, the homeless person who takes in a nap, and all of the dogs and their owners.  I don’t know any of these people, and have talked to few of them.  But they have become familiar, and in a town of strangers, the familiarity has become something I’ve learned to find most beautiful about this city.  And the irony is that this exists in every city, if you are patient, walk the same paths, and observe closely enough.  You can witness beauty unfolding all around you. 

“To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe. “Marilyn vos Savant

20 Observations of Paris: A 6 Month Review

“Paris, I believe, is a man in his twenties in love with an older woman.”
― John Berger

 
               I am headed to the states for the third time today since living in Paris.  It’s been six months since I have moved here, and everytime I leave I can’t help but reflect on what my experience has been like.
 
What I have learned in France so far….
 
1.People have opinions of your dogs : are they healthy enough, where they should go to the bathroom, how long should they live, should they walk more, who to play with ?
 
2.Women don’t wear shorts, sweats, or yoga pants.  Floral dresses and skirts seem to be preferred.  Until 2013, it was illegal for 200 years for women to wear pants.  It sounds preposterous, but I found this out reading the Bonjour Effect. Women were forbidden to wear pants to keep them from dressing as men and going into the workforce.  
 
3.The double kiss on the cheek is the real deal.
 
4.Life does feel like a scene from the Disney cartoon Beauty and the Beast, where one must greet everyone with a bonjour.  To avoid doing so is rude.  It’s best to comply.
 
5.Many Parisians do not drive or have a need for a driver’s license.
 
6.Most people speak English, particularly the younger generation.  Those fifty and over years old, I have learned to not expect this.  If you don’t speak French, and find yourself in conversation with someone who solely speaks French, you can basically figure it out.  Guestimate it.  
 
7.Paris is full of diversity and interracial relationships, which has been beautiful to witness.
 
8.Apartments are small, anything over 400 sqare feet is killing it with space ! We all seem to partake in tiny home living here I’ve learned to survive in 290 square feet, between me, my English bulldog, and my chug.  I’ve even hosted a guest for a month .  .  
 
9.Parisians are quiet on public transportation.  If they talk on the phone, it’s a whisper, the dogs don’t bark, and even the children are behaved.  This becomes apparent when other Americans get on a metro. 
 
10.Paris seems to be the quintissential American European dream.  There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t hear an American accent (which isn’t my own).  
 
11.If you try to speak French, they may speak back to you in French.  Or they may find it amusing, and want to minimize your embarassing accent, and just respond to you in English.  
 
12.There are over 130 museums in Paris, to appear cultured, one must attend an exhibit at least once a month.  
 
13.The French dress simply, but classy.  One doesn’t find much bright colors, and due to minimal closet space, they make the most of what you have.  A camel winter coat,  military green trench coat, and simple white sneakers go a long way.  
 
14.Parisians love their parks.  Apartments are small, but the parks (in addition to the cafes) seem to be where locals extend their living rooms for picnics, celebrations, or even dates.  
 
15.Everyone drinks tap water.  Je voudrais un carafe d’eau s’il vous plait. 
 
16.There’s no guilt over the pleasures in life, whether this is gluten, calories, wine, or sex.  Joie de vivre is real.  Who needs a gym when you walk everywhere ? 
 
17.Parisians are serious about their food and desserts.  Everyone has an opinion, and generally it’s « not bad. »  Compliments are infrequent for cuisine.  
 
18.You can feel the creativity, history, and dreams as you walk the streets and boulevards of Paris.  All who inspired by it once haunted the same pathways as you, and if you observe and listen closely, you may absorb the Paris effect as well.   
 
19.Many Parisians long to explore other parts of the world too, and dream of living in other places.  It’s universal to desire what we don’t have.  They have a curious interest towards the American Western dream, cowboys, land, and the unknown.
 

20. There’s a mystery to the city, in trying to define it.  How does one do that ?  A flaneur is someone who walks around not doing anything in particular but watching people and society, according to the Cambridge Dictionary.  And I feel one can spend a lifetime doing this in Paris, trying to absorb the wisdom and creativity that are embedded in the historical streets of the 20 arrondistments. 

 
And so I will continue to explore more of the complexities of Paris.  I am an outsider looking in, roaming the streets, wondering if I will ever be an insider…

Comfort in Comedy

Comedy is the blues for people who can’t sing.-Chris Rock

            Am I an outsider looking in, or an insider looking out?  I couldn’t help but reflect on that as I watched comedian Chris Rock yesterday.  I was lucky enough to see Chris Rock in a sold out venue of only 360 people at the Apollo Theater in Paris.  He entered the stage wearing all white, the lights were dimmed.  When he tried to speak into his microphone, the power on the stage went out.  As the staff worked quickly to fix this, he offered to the audience, “I’m a little off, but you’ll have a good show.  We know how good I am in crisis.”  Laughter eased the discomfort with that one line.  He promptly alluded to something we were all thinking.  Would the infamous Will Smith slap heard internationally two months prior be addressed?  And it was with an insinuative remark.  

We were in the 12th row, and it was surreal.  The title of his show was called Ego Death, and I couldn’t help but be curious as to the meaning of this title.  As I watched his show, I viewed it through the lens of my old psychology profession.  This is how he chose to deal with this experience.   His craft of storytelling and boldly sharing his opinions in a palpable funny way, was his cathartic journey.  This is how he is intentionally dealing with that media driven experience.  Instead of being a victim, he is using it as fuel for his work.  In his set, he shared that people get attention through either being infamous, excellent, or a victim.  He reminded the audience we have a choice.  And there was power to that statement.  Although he didn’t state it, we knew Chris was opting to not be a victim in this narrative.

 To be an American, listening to an American telling jokes in France was like an out of body experience.  I haven’t lived in America for almost nine years, most of that time having spent lived in the United Kingdom.  But those years were spent working with Americans as a therapist.  The USAF to be exact.  Therefore, I have yet to pick up any type of accent or new language.  I still sounded ‘murican.  I could relate to the jokes because I still identify as an American, my family and friends reside there, and I visit annually.  But how American was I?  Was I American in my ideals, values, or daily living?

            As the show continued, I listened to Chris Rock rant about political hot topics, celebrity gossip, the state of homelessness, racism, the pandemic and the overused political correctness that have taken over the country.  I laughed at the jokes, as so many were based on reality.  But as I laughed, I couldn’t help but think how sad the state of the country was, and wondered if I want to return as a citizen in the future? Did Chris Rock even want to return?  He asked the audience if abortion was legal in France, and joked that maybe he could get one while he was here. 

            And Chris also talked of things that are universal, not just not the crisis of all things American.  But the creative process.  Chris shared at the beginning of the show how art sucks these days.  This includes all types of art: movies, television, music, books, tangible art.  He stated all art sucks because there are layers of people who oversee the creative process of what actually gets distributed to the public.  Art is out of the artists’ control today and is censored.  He exclaimed that all mainstream art seems to be out of one’s control, except that of the art of a standup comedian.  A standup comedian is in charge of their own acts and the words that come out of their mouths, not the publishing world, or the television executives, or the publicists.  As I heard that comment, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of awe and jealousy with that statement made.  I’m in the process of my book proposal being pitched, and I am keenly aware that much is out of my control.  Yet comedians take their art straight to their audience.  And they can get away with it. 

            Just as the olden days of a royal court, the only ones who could get away with telling the truth and not be punished were the court jesters.  Buttons are pushed, and often things slightly teeter on the edge of controversial.  But then laughter breaks up the discomfort.   Viewpoints are shared with audiences in a way they can swallow it. Shock, laughter and wit can go a long way.   Their intelligence is hidden with smiles.  

            As I watched Chris Rock, I reflected on the show’s title: Ego Death.  Ego Death disarms the audience, it humbles him, and allows us as a group to take in what he says with more ease.  Although he speaks of his lavish lifestyle and the privileges that fame and money bring, he is grounded by being a human being, with the woes of parenting, dating during midlife, and the joys of co-parenting with an ex.  It’s a reframe.  We are curious as an audience to see this man as a victim of another celebrity’s slap, but we see how he’s fueled to redirect the narrative.  

            Perhaps we also re-write the current narrative of America.  It does not only have to be the bold, outrageous, wild, divided, selfish nation that the media has painted.  I feel I’m only watching it from afar, like a reality television show that I cringe to admit I’m a fan of.  As a nation, we seem to be getting attention through either being infamous, excellent, or a victim.  All aspects are there.  We have a choice in how to frame the nation.  And what if our ego death as a country is approaching?  This may be the key for our story to be reframed in a way that is palpable to the world and ourselves.  Laughter may be key to get through and beyond this moment.

An Old Pastime

When I ask a lot of French people what they like to do here for fun, there is a response that arises again and again.  Walk. Marcher. Flaneur.  People like to walk, not as a means of transportation to get to point A from B, as a way to hit 10,000 steps, or to engage in exercise.  They walk simply for the pleasure of walking.

         This reminds me of the Jane Austen days, when people would take turns about the grand estates or gardens.  Outside of going to the fancy ball, the local market, or working on skills to impress others (instruments, singing, reading) there was nothing to do.   And so they walked.  

         We live in a world of distractions.  Non-stop entertainment on endless devices.  The French engage in these activities too, along with the rest of the world.  But the Parisians also like to walk.   This brings joy to me.  As over the years, I have found I take pleasure in walking.

         In my Midwestern hometown, the only people seen walking are children or those who have gotten a DUI (driving under the influence).   Nobody would be caught dead walking.  Most of the time one will drive from one shopping plaza to another for the sheer convenience of it.  But here that wouldn’t be an option.

         I was speaking with my friend the other day, and noted the French do not count their calories.  It is not listed on menus, or boards where one orders food.  Nobody seems to be calculating how many carbs were eaten or fat consumed.  But perhaps they do not have to.  They walk it off.  This is part of life.  

         Walking does not cost any money.  All it requires is good walking shoes.  One may wear out their shoes more easily, but view it as an investment.  There’s no need for a gym membership or gas money.  Let your feet take you there. 

“After a day’s walk, everything has twice its usual value.”

-G.M. Trevelyan.

Happiness is a Human Right

I was at a my first raclette party the other day filled with expats, who mention they may not return to the United States due to several things: healthcare, guns, and education.  “Healthcare is a human right, it should not be for profit.”  I cannot disagree with this statement, and it ruminates in my head as I live here, and ponder my future.  

Later that evening, I got off at the metro stop Varenne by the Rodin Museum (my favorite sculptor).  The Eiffel Tower was in the background shining, as I walked towards my apartment.  I was leaving a dinner with a new group of friends, I had just gone on a date that surprisingly went well the day prior, and had plans the next day to meet up with creatives to lead an Artist Way workshop.  I thought “this is my life!”  I’m shocked by this fact repeatedly.  Paris is my current hometown.  I live in a city people dream for years to visit, and I was doing it.  I was living in a town filled with delights in pleasure. But I couldn’t help but feel a pang of guilt.

Did I deserve to be happy?  I wasn’t working.  I thought of the judgements others may have towards my happiness that I was lazy, a freeloader, or a drifter. I even thought of so many people who are suffering, who may believe I wasn’t worthy of this emotion.  

I was setting limits on the bounty of my happiness.  

Why do I feel guilty for feeling happy?  It’s as if I feel happiness should be earned.  I felt guilty that I was not working in a job.  I had this false belief that I could only receive happiness if I clocked in 40 hours and received a paycheck.  

I was setting rules to how I could enjoy myself.  

But as I walked home, I battled that thought.  Happiness does not have to be earned.  It is a human right, just like health care is a human right.  We all deserve and have access to happiness.  It’s not a limited resource, or tied to profit.  I have the right to be happy.  And I will continue to remind myself this, as I live in the city of my dreams.  

“You stumble, you soar. And if you’re lucky, you make it to Paris for a while.” — Amy Howard

Positif ou Négatif

The other day in French class we were learning various adjectives for emotions or character traits: triste, agreable, serieux, desagreable.  We had to quantify if these words were positive or negative.  We got to a word “orgueilleux,” which according to google means “proud.”  A classmate noted, “c’est positif.”  The teacher disagreed, and the student looked at the class, shrugged his shoulders and said “depends.”  The teacher then shared that it means more than proud, it means “arrogant.”  This is pride discussed in the way Jane Austen would back in the day.  So the class agreed, “c’est negatif.”  

It’s interesting as a psychologist, to sit in a classroom and label emotions as “bad or good.”  This is what we are trying to get away from in society, as all emotions should be welcome.  There’s a time and place for sadness, anger, joy, and seriousness.  But I understand, we are doing this exercise, solely as a learning experiment.  The images shown to describe the emotions were the universal language of emojis. 

 

When you are in a beginners language class, generally there is no room for debate or philosophical discussion.  It’s basically a time for memorization, particularly if the words are positif or negatif, or feminin ou masculin.