As I write this, it’s two weeks and a day since we left Paris. As we near the time change in Colorado, it’s now as ‘prematurely’ dark here as it was in Paris when we were there. Back here in our sleepy neighborhood in a bedroom community adjoining Denver, it’s a lot quieter than the daily street scene at 125 Rue de l’Universite where kids were wheeling their way to school, people biking and speed-walking to their jobs, and taxicabs with red or green lights making their way down the narrow street. The frequent trips to Rue Cler or Nelly Julien have been replaced by occasional trips to Panera Bread or LaMars Donuts. Now, the day ahead is about tasks. Yard work, volunteer activities, lunch with friends, straightening up the living room. Retiree stuff. But not so long ago, the day ahead was about whether we wanted to have an ‘easy day’ or go to The Louvre and the Latin Quarter, or travel out to Chartres or Versailles. But back here in Colorado, we have the majestic Rockies, and the new snow capping the tallest peaks as we see from many parts of the city. That tells us that a new season happened while we were gone. And that’s good.
God willing, we’ll travel many more miles in years to come, but after this ‘deep dive’ into the life and culture of just one place, I don’t think we could ever go back to the kind of experience that had us in one place one day and trucking off to the next place on the next day.
I think that with this trip, we learned that having a ‘staycation‘ in a place that holds a certain fascination can, if you’re ready to sit back and just relax into it, offer a chance to experience just a bit of what it’s like to actually live there. We’re not going to claim that after just a month, we’ve somehow transformed into Parisians to the core. Instead, what I think we got was the chance to rub shoulders with a good and proud people and live our lives for a time in the place they call home. France isn’t all that different than Denver in many superficial ways, but it’s different enough to know you’re out of your comfort zone of daily life in Aurora, Colorado, and that there are new cues, new ways of doing things, and new experiences, all of which need to be learned. And if you can manage to say ‘bonjour’, ‘bon soir’, ‘merci’, ‘pardon’, ‘merci boucoup’, you’re that much more welcomed into this new place. If you smile at strangers and look them in the eye, you’re that much less a foreigner, and maybe that much more of a ‘local’. As our gawky tourist veneer fades and an easy familiarity with our surroundings starts to set in, you can really see your new home away from home with fresh eyes. Yup, with this trip, I think we learned a new way to travel that will set the pattern for all the trips that follow.
I’m glad to have taken out time to write this blog. It was really a good personal exercise for me — along with whatever sights and sounds we recorded on our cameras — to capture what just happened to us. And if you’ve been reading any of these accounts of life in Paris, maybe it will inspire you to make a similar journey, either to beautiful France, or to some other place that has held a fascination for you.
Life outside of a travel tour offers all kinds of freedom to move at your own pace. You don’t have to be out ‘seeing great things’ every day. You can just do nothing whenever you want to. And to be sure, doing nothing can have its own rewards. Even just sitting outside at a sidewalk cafe, or walking through the Tuileries watching people and birds can hold its own fascination and sets of possibilities that you can easily miss when you’re madly packing your suitcase for yet another bus trip to yet another action-packed destination.
Life outside the tour experience requires more intentionality and planning. Rick Steves (or whoever) decides all those things for the tour-goer, and to be sure, the planned tour will yield few ‘dud’ experiences. But we found that a combination of our own preparations and knowing just what we wanted to see and do would yield a similar and even better result, and one that could happen on a much less frantic timetable. A tour group won’t stop for a day or two and wait while you recover from sore feet or a sore throat.
And so many thanks to our gracious host Corinne Debuquoy, who welcomed us into her wonderful apartment with wine, fresh croissants and many flowers. I can’t imagine this wonderful trip without the warm refuge your place here in the 7th Arrondissement offered to us! It was never just some place to return to. Not at all. For us, it really became HOME. (And thank you, Airbnb, for bringing us together. Now we’re Facebook friends, and who knows, maybe we will even meet again!)
So friends, if you’ve ever thought of visiting France, and were put off by the language or some silly myths about ‘the unfriendly French’, let me be the first to tell you to dump those notions into the nearest wastebasket and find time in your life to visit this wonderful city and country. We were Italy lovers and we still are, but our experience with France has made us want to return, maybe to visit one or more of its many regions to experience life out in the country.
If you’re tired of the style of travel that requires the effort of packing-unpacking-packing-unpacking, sleeping in different beds, spending hours and hours in trains or buses, staying in groups to ‘learn’ things you’re maybe not interested in, then this deep dive experience could be for you. Paris is a city that’s easy enough to get around in, and there are other places like that. And there are other vacations that offer other experiences. For example, before I stop with traveling, I hope to have a vacation that has me in just one place, one house, with a carload of good food and wine, a favorite book or two or three, and something like the sea to be the sole fascination. A place like Sea Ranch on the northern California Coast could offer such an experience.
So leaving Paris two weeks and one day ago was hard for us to do. Like some great movie or play that you saw and just can’t stop talking or thinking about, we find ourselves thinking back and talking about what happened to us during our month in Paris. In so many ways, we really miss it, which makes me think we may have fallen a bit in love with it all.
So we’re home in normal, ordinary, familiar Aurora. But you know what? It has its own pleasures, starting with this enormous Maine Coon cat laying on the table next to me and reaching out his paw to my shoulder and leaning his head on the crook near my elbow asking me to pet and love on him. Luigi and Roxy remind us why we love it here.
Thanks to the many friends who stayed in touch with us during our travels. ENORMOUS thanks to our dear friend Dana, an amazing person in so many ways, one of which has been to look after and care for our furry dudes so much that they love and trust her in their little lives. (And Dana, we still can’t believe the welcome home greeting you prepared for us when we walked in the door. What a sight for tired eyes!) Yeah, Dana is one more reason we look forward to being home again.
And along with Dana, to all our other friends who we’ve missed and wished we could have brought with us: We can’t wait to reconnect! Let’s get together!!
This has been a great trip for Mary Ann and me, a chance to pluck ourselves out of our individual lives of mundane activity and to spend time together, focused on each other as we have shared this memorable time. We’ve been a part of each other’s lives for twenty-six years, twenty-four of them as a married pair; and somehow, travel, even with its challenges, offers us a chance to renew and rejuvenate. And I think that has done this for us.
“Hey honey, what about Venice next?”