On love, aimlessness, and people-watching in Paris

The sun is setting on my final day here in Paris. I take a vicious delight in checking my stats near compulsively. Calories burned and consumed. (I’m positive I’m coming out red here.) Elevation gained. Steps and miles walked. But one thing my trusty Fitbit can’t monitor is the sheer number of times I’ve fallen into and out of love with this city and the people in it.

There’s the barista who struggles to understand me through my southern drawl but who laughs gamely enough- I’ve imagined at least a dozen times the entirety of our future together. Don’t get me started on all of the beautiful doe-eyes I’ve held with my own on the subway and on the street.

My tour guide (with whom I have imagined particularly charming scenes of his discomfort at meeting my family for Christmas dinner) sent me an article on Thomas Jefferson’s time here in France back in 1788. I found what I liked best about this article is the value of aimlessness he discovered here. Jefferson indulged in a three-month-long journey through Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Aix-en-Provence before returning to his home in Paris on the Champs-Élysées. Upon returning, he struggled to justify just what it was that he did while decadently exploring France and its people. I can relate. He was perhaps the first American to be captivated by the frank disinterest the French have in our never ceasing striving.

 

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achieving a particularly distressing number of steps in a day at Versailles [credit: Robert Albritton]

But truly, that is what Paris has done to me in these few short days. In America, when you enter a café you can expect to find every table full of wrinkle-browed caffeine addicts hunched over laptops. Sitting in a café without something to do is nearly tantamount to shouting, “I’m a sociopath!” to every passerby.

In Paris, on the other hand, I’m delighted (and, alright, a little unnerved) by the sheer number of people simply enjoying a cup of wine with the newspaper or even espressos and a chic cigarette with a friend. That’s not to say that people don’t occasionally meet just for a chat and a coffee in America. But, well… the to-go cup reigns supreme back home.

The joie de vivre soaks into you the more you let it. I found myself today, for perhaps the first time in my life, wandering with no real idea of where my feet were taking me. I have lived for so long with the words, “move with a purpose” essentially tattooed across the backs of my eyelids that this careless meandering was as foreign to me as the pursed-lipped French being euh’d on every doorstep.

 

 

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Notre Dame is an excellent place to indulge in the beauty of the moment, even in the rain.

 

A word to the wise- this feeling did not find me while I walked around the 1st arrondissement. Nor in Versailles. No, I only felt invited to indulge in the moment in the less popular 14th arrondissement where my hostel is. Here, where people shamelessly strut about gnawing on two feet of baguette, seemingly oblivious to the carbs waiting and willing to destroy their lives. Here, where an older gentleman sipped wine at two in the afternoon and people-watched in a way that was at once the most intense and most relaxed way I have ever seen in my life. His eyes never left the lazy street in front of him and a blush never came to his politely disinterested face. The basket of rich brown bread in front of him was to be enjoyed entirely at his leisure as were the people moving about in front of him.

Insanity.

Tomorrow, I will wake up far before the dawn and fly to Rome to continue, as I told a briefly amorous Scotsman recently, to do Europe as only Americans unspoiled and unspooked by distance can do. However, as the rush hour kicks up, I think I’ll shut the computer, order my very own verre du vin rouge, and begin my very own unstudied perusal of the world around me. The carbs of my baguette will surely wait until my return before wreaking their havoc. Even they would not dare to intrude on the peace of this evening, my last night in France.

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My thanks to the inconquerable Bobby Albritton for the pictures of me at Versaille and in the café in Paris. For more of his work, check him out on Twitter and Instagram @bobbyalbritton

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