Spring in Paris (again)! This year, May and June instead of April and May. I’ll be living in the Montorgueil district of the 2eme arrondisement, just a few blocks from the apartment I stayed in last April. Here’s the rental listing, including photos: http://www.parisattitude.com/apartment.asp?numProduit=5913 The exposed beams were always part of the charm but I was surprised to learn last week that the address dates from the 13th century! This information appeared in an 1875 article about the street, rue Saint-Sauveur, that also mentioned that my building was then famous for “games of love and chance!” [Initially I read this item to mean that the building dated from the 13th century, but since the oldest house in Paris dates from 1407 that’s impossible. It’s several hundred years old, at least, but not 700 years old!]
Déjà vu? Why am I doing the same thing again? The short answer is because I had a great time last year, so why not? I did consider switching to another city, but Paris still had the edge, for reasons outlined in my last post. I realize that trying to repeat a good experience is hazardous, risking “been there done that” syndrome. But I can’t resist finding out if Paris will be as much fun a second time.
April vs. June. I shifted the schedule a month later because April last year had been rather chilly, and I wanted to make it possible for friends who are on an academic calendar to visit in June. Just my luck, this April has been perfectly gorgeous in Paris, while it has been chilly and rainy (until the last few days) in Boston. June may be too hot and/or too touristy; we’ll just have to see.
Solitude and Sociability. I have a fairly high tolerance for solitude, but two months would be too long to be alone, even for me. Fortunately, several of the friends I made last spring are still in Paris; friends from home will be staying with me for a total of two weeks; and other friends are already there or plan to visit. So once again I’m expecting a fairly sociable time. I do anticipate, however, that some friends from last year will be at a different point in their lives this year, so I can’t assume that we’ll pick up where we left off.
Conspicuous Consumption. To be honest, there is also a show-offy aspect to these trips. I live in a rented, shared apartment. I drive my cars — and wear my clothes — well into their teens. I clip 50-cents-off coupons. It would be reasonable to suppose that I scrape a bit to make ends meet. Spending fairly large on a trip like this is one way of reminding people that I have the resources — money, time, adventurousness — to do fun stuff. Maybe some day one of you will think of me as a potential companion when you plan a cool adventure! More prosaically, I feel a tiny obligation, as someone who has so much freedom, to do things that give vicarious pleasure to my friends. So really, gentle reader, this is all about you!
Variations on the Theme. I do need to find some new projects to occupy my time. Last year I just about finished my deck of 50 CityWalk cards, and one can take only so many pictures of the Eiffel Tower. While my favorite spots will bear revisiting and in-depth exploration the thrill of first discovery cannot be recaptured. So this year I have a book of interesting places that are within an hour by RER from Paris proper. I also intend to explore Parisian night life a bit more this trip. And perhaps I’ll join a French conversation group and/or a cooking class. Blogging every day gave last year’s sojourn a good rhythm, and goaded me to get out and do interesting things. But it was also sometimes exhausting, and may have led to over-communicating. I’ll play it by ear this year, with the idea of blogging when I have something interesting to write about, not always every day.
Departure. One feature of a longer journey is leaving Cambridge, including home, friends, work, volunteering and habitual pleasures. There’s a poignancy to leaving all this behind, even though I expect to return and resume my “normal” life soon enough. Yet alloyed with that tinge of sadness is a hint of exhilaration at “shedding my skin.” While I don’t expect anything truly fabulous to happen in Paris — I’m the same person wherever I go — living somewhere else for such a long time affords just a whiff of freedom and possibility.
Enlivening. The best single reason for the journey, both years, is the way in which it enlivens my consciousness. Being in an unfamiliar place, with a different (though intelligible) culture and language, enhances one’s awareness. This energizes photography, for example, as well as blogging and of course flâneur-ing. To reprise Thomas Mann’s aphorism: the second time you take a journey it seems to take less time than the first, and the habitual journey takes no time at all. Life in Cambridge for me is something of an habitual journey — pleasant enough but so familiar as to take practically no existential time. My sojourns — until they themselves become habitual! — have the power to awaken my sensibility in a way I find it hard to do at home. And, as an additional treat, when I do return home I am likely to experience my life there with renewed appreciation.