art, assessment, Barcelona, Bordeaux, Buenos Aires, challenge, exercise, France, health, heel, Jared, Lisa, Nice, Paris, Sherard, sociability, swimming, thrill, Tokyo, Toulouse, Vélib, weather, Zhizhong
I’ve been in Paris for 2-1/2 weeks now, and in France for almost a month. It’s time for an assessment.
Overall it’s been a good trip, with many fine moments and no big problems. The only real issues have been my heel and the digestive upset of the past few days. They each had some impact, but I’m hoping that they are both behind me. I’ve stayed in pleasant places throughout, and I’m very happy with the Paris apartment. There’s been variety and stimulation, and nothing like the letdown I felt last year after arriving in Paris.
My initial trip through the south of France was pleasant and interesting, especially the stay with Charlie and Markevin near Toulouse. Of course it didn’t afford the level of stimulation and excitement of Rome and Venice, but what could? Nice, Toulouse and Bordeaux, though all among the top ten French cities, seem different in kind from Paris, a bit like Boston relative to New York City. They are fine to visit for a few days but don’t come close to the richness and variety of the capital.
I’ve seen a lot of good art this year, and I plan to see more. I’ve had consistently good food and some truly wonderful meals. I explored quite a bit in Nice and Bordeaux, and with Charlie all around his region, but I haven’t done as much walking as usual in Paris, due to weather and my heel. I hope to get out more later in my stay. I haven’t been swimming at all yet this year, and I need to build that into my routine. I have been using the Vélib bikes a lot more this year, and enjoying — when I don’t get snagged by availability issues — their convenience and efficiency.
One big surprise was the level of sociability in Paris this year. I didn’t have a scheduled house guest until June, so I was prepared to be mostly alone the first part of my Paris stay, except for seeing Zhizhong once or twice. I had offered accommodations the last week of May to two indecisive friends, but they eventually decided not to come, leaving me with no planned house guests in May. But instead of relative solitude I have been pretty continuously sociable, with new and old friends. Jared W is here for a month as a scholar in residence and we hung out quite a bit on my arrival. Then Jared R arrived for a week; the original plan was for him to stay with Jared W but he ended up sleeping on my sofa bed for four nights, and exploring Paris with me for a couple of days. Then there were my new Korean friends from Bordeaux, Craig, Manu, and the dinner party. I’ve enjoyed this social whirl but it came as a surprise after being ready to amuse myself for a couple of weeks. I’ve still managed a fair amount of alone time, however, and I expect to have more in the latter part of June.
In part because of all the visitors I’ve been slow to reconnect with my Parisian friends, except for Zhizhong, who I’ve seen several times. He’s moving apartments, however, and has a big project at work, so will be quite occupied for the next week or so. Since Sherard arrives Tuesday I’ll probably wait until he leaves to try to schedule time with my other French friends, in which case it may be hello-goodbye rather than a richer social engagement. My cousin Lisa — a stalwart companion during my first five visits — is still in Uganda.
Like last year, Paris has been chilly in the last half of May, and this year often rainy. This is presumably just random variation (unless the Gulf Stream is rerouting!) but it undercuts my strategy of spending the first half of May somewhere warmer, then getting to Paris in mid-May. The first part has been working fine — especially last year in Italy — but Paris has in recent years stayed mired in cloudy weather through the end of May. Another year I might stay away all of May and arrive here at the start of June, even though I much prefer the luxury of six weeks in Paris over four, and I don’t want to brave the heat and tourists of July.
Not being in Boston for two months has always been part of the Spring in Paris experience. These long trips disrupt my habits there and test my friendships. There’s a downside to this, but there’s also a bracing aspect, in that both I and my friends feel the effect (or lack thereof!) of my not being there. It makes me appreciate the things I like about Boston even as I’m enjoying the different pleasures of Paris (or wherever). These factors have played out somewhat differently these past two years: One friend has vociferously critiqued my trips here, and pointed out how much fun I’m missing in Boston. Yet I’ve also been able to spend quality time here with so many other friends from Boston that it almost seems like being at home.
One factor of earlier trips is almost completely gone: the thrill and challenge of spending such a long time living in a foreign country, speaking a different language. I’ve become so comfortable in Paris that these trips have themselves become more routine than adventurous. My petits séjours are so pleasant that I’m reluctant to change the pattern, but it would be more exciting to stay next year somewhere less familiar, such as Barcelona, Buenos Aires or Tokyo.
The weak euro has continued to make travel in Europe a lot more affordable in dollar terms than in earlier years. The cost of the trip is happily not an issue for me, but my Yankee soul is gratified when I get value for money.