Yesterday was all about walking the lovely streets of Paris and catching up with friends and enjoying the beautiful weather. Check out some of the pics below.
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You forget how many little peculiarities go into making a culture what it is. They way someone orders in a restaurant, the way they get someone’s attention, stand in a queue, express mild exasperation or amusement, etc. Walking around Paris yesterday I was noticing once again all the little habits that make the French French, but also that which makes the Parisian Parisian. I realized how easy it is to stand out in a culture where the most subtle of actions are performed slightly differently. There was a time living here when I had really mastered them, and not a single person would ever suspect that I was foreign. It was all a great game to me, trying to see how long I could fool people into believing that I was from here. But after so many years away, it is obvious to anyone now that I am once again a foreigner, and it makes people behave slightly differently in your presence, despite themselves. This is just human nature. I think it would be fun to come back and spend a couple of months here to brush up on my language skills and relearn some of the cultural tics. And to stuff my face with croissants and pastry, which, let’s be honest, no one in the world can do as well as the French.
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The main reason I organized my trip this year the way I did was so that I could be in Paris for the 50th birthday party of a good friend, Dominique. We met in 1991 when I was living here, and have been friends every since. Last night, with a group of about 50, we celebrated and ate and danced and shared a bunch of stories and laughs and love for Dominique. It was especially interesting to me to see his friends and his family come together in the way they did. His family is a large, Morrocan Jewish one that spans several continents, yet they remain incredibly close knit. They also run the gamut from totally secular to highly religious, and it was fascinating to see them all come out for Domi’s birthday and mix with his (largely gay) friends and ex-boyfriends. I would guess the crowd was about half friends and half family, and I was really touched by how much love was in that room. And Dominique’s partner Anthony seamlessly planned the affair and navigated the huge variety of guests with surprising grace. I was also impressed by how all of the family and friends took turns dancing with Domi, including his parents who are well into their 80s. It was quite a trip down memory lane for me, as Domi and I share many friends from that time who were there as well, most notably Arnaud, Sonia and Bruno (but also others I had not seen in many years).
Sometimes I forget how much I love Paris. I really haven’t spent enough time here in the past few years. It didn’t hurt that the weather is way better than it was in Serbia, and that I am with my friend Fabian who is from here and also loves it so much. We arrived and got settled in the super cute apartment of our friend Rafael (who is out of town and graciously offered us his place), then took a little walk around before meeting friends for drinks and dinner.
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Travel can be glamourous or exasperating. More and more, with all the cutbacks and nickel-and-diming of various carriers, most of the fun has been completely sucked out of what can and should be an exciting adventure, getting from one place to another. And airports are part of the equation. They should be places that exalt the process of a voyage, but often they too destroy all the life and fun of it with their ugly furniture, dark hallways, cramped lounges and musty corners. CDG in Paris is different, and even as they have added a multitude of terminals over the years, it has always kept its airy, open, futuristic feel. It makes one not only want to travel and dream of distant voyages, it also manages another equally important function: It calms and reassures one before a long trip. The collection of beautiful, soaring spaces and lounges is for me a welcome antidote to most airports which are crowded angry spaces that are overflowing with people in badly designed departure areas. While the airport is quite spread out, it is very easy to get from one terminal to another and one never feels rushed or pushed. As I sit here in my departure lounge, waiting to board a long flight back to NYC, I am at peace. (Except for the screaming child-monster 10 feet away from me whose mother seems to be completely deaf.)
At times, we are able to see very familiar things with fresh eyes and everything is filled with that newness and sense of wonder. The last couple of days in Paris have been like that, helped along by the absolutely stunning weather, which has seemed to put everyone is a wonderful mood (except waiters, that is). I have had a great time catching up with old friends (Sonia, Marc, Karin and Alyssa) and wandering around Paris by myself and with Josh. It is a good thing however that I am going home tomorrow, or I might well find myself in a diabetic coma brought on by one too many pan au chocolat aux amandes.
Paris is literally and figuratively a breathe of fresh air after 3 weeks in Spain. It is a lot cooler here, and so different from Spain but obviously so familiar to me at the same time. I am seeing old friends and walking through the streets in the beautiful weather, stopping at this or that bakery to sample something wonderful and bad for me. I kinda wish I had more time here, but this trip was not about Paris, so it will have to wait for another time. The nostalgic effects of Paris are heightened by the fact that I am actually staying alone in my old apartment since my friend Dominique is out of town and graciously left it for me to use. One of the really funny things as I look around this place that I lived for a couple of years, is how much has been changed. There is a new floor and paint job, the staircase I built is gone in favor of a crappy ladder, the arrangement of furniture is different. The apartment has an odd shape and that of course is still here and feels just like it did. And there is one thing that I built that is still here, and it surprises me. There is a small mezzanine that the ladder goes up to, and at the top is a small square of the mezzanine that I extended about 20 years ago. To my amazement, it still holds and is still walked on. I really had no idea what I was doing when I built it, but it has lasted all these years.
The French expression most used as the equivalent for the English “goodbye” is “au revoir”, which literally means “until we see each other again”. I prefer the optimistic tone this has over the “God be with you” which is at the origin of our word goodbye (and at the heart of the Spanish “Adios” as well. Though not so much the Mexican preferred “Hasta luego“). And after my quite lovely trip here, I suspect that I will be back in Paris with a slightly greater frequency than that of the past few years.
I love the way looking down Paris streets is often like looking at slices of things. Ever since Haussmann made Paris safe for modern traffic, there have been these criss-crossing shortcuts between points. Click on the pic to see the whole Paris album thus far…