Sunday, January 8, 2012

Lucky in Love, Lucky in Paris

I am an eye-roller and a dramatic sigher. I am the person who glares at your child for screaming its head off in the grocery store because you won't let them have a box of Coco Puffs. I am irritated by throat clearing, sneezing and knuckle cracking. I hate waiting. I hate inefficiency. And small talk makes me anxious. On a bad day, it is fair to describe me as "intolerant".

I went to Paris (sans Chris) shortly after I met him. I was a high-strung, A-type, guidebook-toting, see-it-all-in-three-days kind of traveler. I was determined to "get Paris done" and raced around the city from le Louvre to La Tour Eiffel swallowing the sights much in the same way you do a McDonald's cheeseburger on a hungover Sunday afternoon. It was a whirlwind and while I fell in love with this Paris, it's definitely not the Paris I love so much now.

When Chris and I went to Paris for the first time several years later, I was determined to give him the same kind of bang-bang Paris experience. I had an updated guidebook, restaurant reservations and a mental checklist that made sleeping nearly impossibly. It didn't help that we were only two days married, wedding to-do lists barely completed, and that Chris had never been to Europe. It was a recipe for disaster and, not surprisingly, Chris didn't enjoy his first few days in Paris.
Chris is patient and kind. And he knows how to relax in a way that I envy. He understands the importance of slowing down. If Chris is dozing on the couch, I want to do running jumping jacks. If he wants to sleep past 6 in the morning, I am awake, getting dressed to be somewhere that doesn't open until 10.
On our second trip to Paris, I vowed to try and relax and to not make any grand plans. We had 14 beautiful, spring days so it should have been easy. Wrong. I crashed us through our first few days until we came to an impasse in Jardins Tuileries. At the time, it seemed the only solution was to escape Paris for Disneyland Paris. We are lucky we recovered from that mistake.
Waking up in Paris is like Christmas morning every day. It's about longing, wishes, dreams coming true and an underlying worry that I will never be that excited or happy again. No matter how many days in Paris I have, they will never be enough. I carry this anxiety with me on every trip and it makes for a lot of sleepless, Parisian nights. I worry that if I sleep in Paris, I will miss a perfect moment that will never come again.

Our third trip to Paris was a dramatic improvement. We had two, full weeks and I was comfortable that I had already dragged Chris around to all the must-sees in Paris. We also rented an apartment. So instead of waking up in the morning and pacing around our boxed hotel room like a caged animal, making Chris understandably cranky, I could move my impatience to the living room and enjoy it with a guidebook and a cup of Nespresso.
When we are in Paris, I hate looking at my watch. I want time to stop, or at the very least, to go backwards for a few hours here and there. Of course I am the only one who has the power to slow down. It's not Paris' fault.
When we went to Paris for the fourth time last September, I noticed immediately that Chris had found his Paris pace. He walked slower, slept later, stopped to sit on benches for no reason, and lingered over bières blanches at sidewalk cafés. Despite my frantic pace, I felt like he had left me behind in a critical way. Chris had discovered what I couldn't - the secret to savouring Paris. And I was still stuck, stealing furtive glances at my guidebook and lying awake before dawn planning every minute of the day.
Chris had out-Frenched me. And that's when I knew I had to surrender, follow his example and learn to love a different kind of Paris. Less the Paris of guidebooks and impossible-to-live-up-to expectations and more the Paris that happens by accident.

It is easy to become overwhelmed in Paris. There are endless choices and often none of them seem right. It is easy to feel like you are always missing something. And everyone, whether they have been there or not, has an opinion or a preconceived ideal about Paris. You can make yourself crazy trying to plan the "perfect" Paris itinerary.

Paris, as I have almost come to appreciate, is best when left unplanned. Of course there are the unmissables but depending on your interests, time, and budget these unmissables can be interpreted in many ways. I have learned over many visits that just because an art gallery is in Paris, yes even le Louvre, it still doesn't mean much if you aren't a person who enjoys art galleries. I argue that you may even enjoy it less because it's noisy and full of fanny pack wearing tourists.
When you find yourself in Paris, think carefully about the things that mean the most to you and seek them out in their Paris form. Learn from my mistakes and embrace the things you love and not the things you think you should love about Paris. Leave some time to experience an unplanned Paris.

Paris and love require patience. Given my personality, it is amazing that I have been so lucky in love and so lucky in Paris.