As a “recovering perfectionist,” I have to remind myself quite often that the goal is rarely flawless execution, but rather agility, authenticity and serenity in my life. Practice makes progress, indeed.
Bonjour from Paris! I am on day three of my eight-day holiday here, staying with the indomitable Lina, a woman I’d like to be more like when I grow up. I told her in all honesty last night that she’s one of the few people I can happily spend endless amounts of time with and stay delighted by her spirit and company. She’s quite extraordinary.
The adventures abound in the city of lights so far, but I’m following my pre-trip mandate to slow it down and stay in the moment. That’s not hard to do when the culture gravitates towards two-hour leisurely dinners in a bistro, eating quiche, watching passers by, and sipping Perrier. Lina and I can talk about anything: life and love, family and friends, even politics (we’re attending a Sarkozy election rally Sunday and I’m excited to feel the energy of such an event).
Staying present is also made easier for me by the wonders in every moment. That cheese? I’ve never tasted such fromage. Those people? They’re trying to sell me a scarf, draping it around my neck and rubbing my hands over the purple and red silk. That dog? It’s taking a Parisian poop! It’s all different and special. I find myself marveling in the wall graffiti and can labels, smells from the bakeries and the sound of French being spoken and shouted all around me.
Last night, we visited the Foire de Paris, a huge street fair with halls representing different parts of the world. While I was pondering a purchase at one booth in the South American section, the man was speaking to me in French, heard Lina on the phone in Spanish, and then me speaking to her in English. Our exchange became almost comical at that point and as we laughed about it and decided on English. It was very much a “small world” moment and I was reminded how much more we all have in common than we usually allow ourselves to see. There were people of all nationalities and races at the fair and we all just meandered about, bumping elbows and looking for fun, food, and great deals on jewelry (okay, that was me, and I found them!).
Today, we rent a car and drive to Honfleurs on the Normandy coast, just Lina, me, and Nikita the wonderdog. It’s a short road trip to a charming area and we’ve stocked the rental car with junk food and Coke Light. I can’t wait for the scenery and conversation. This is a fabulous country and fantastic company.
Next Wednesday afternoon, I’ll be hopping a flight from Dallas to Paris, the first time I’ve been abroad since May 2006. It feels like a triumph, making this voyage. I’m ready for the adventure!
I worked for about two years as a travel writer, so I’ve had the opportunity to flit all around the place in North America and a few places in Europe. So it was a bit of a surprise to discover that, in fact, travel makes me anxious. I overplan and get expectations and demand too much from myself when I travel, so I end up coming back more tired than I left. And several of my trips during the past four years have included anxiety attacks and tears.
But despite that, I’ve continued to travel in limited doses, listening to that discomfort and letting it tell me what I need to do. A lot of time that is slow down.
As it turns out, hitting the brakes is one of the things that makes it possible to appreciate the very things that make travel so enjoyable. It’s all about all those delicious details that are different than home, from street signs to smells to the sounds of a different language being spoken all around me.
Through all those differences, though, there’s something that always jumps out at me: we’re more alike than we think we are. After I get past the different way a person ties her scarf or slurps his soup, the separation begins to lessen. I see the ways we are alike, the things we share as humans. The very best thing: sharing a laugh with someone from another culture. In that moment, there’s so much connection.
The other thing that happens when I slow down is that I remember to have fun. Be in the moment. Smile. Paris is an absolute delight, and I’m staying with a dear friend I’ve known since my high school days. We’ll have a long weekend to spend in the city, and to rent a car and drive to Bruges, Belgium. There’s not checklist, there’s no museum itinerary to follow, there are no rules.
So that’s the plan for Paris, insomuch as there is a plan. Relax. Stay present. And make much laughter. Throw in some croissants, and I think it sounds perfect.