What are you going to do now, Paris?
Standing in front of Notre Dame Cathedral I had a lot of answers. 12-14th century, Judean Kings, and here are 10 things you can do tonight. Another 21-day tour almost finished, I was the runner finishing the marathon with exhausted ease…until one of my tour members caught me by surprise.
“What are you going to do now?” she asked. I’d focused so much on their evenings that I forgot I had one too.
After 40 consecutive days of guiding (+2 more to go) in 6 countries (x2 each) with 40 doses of insufficient sleep (+2 for jet lag) I was wiped. And let me be honest, while I love my tour members, they can drive me down Crazy Street and back. Every iteration of “the coffee is too small, the taxes are too high, and what time is dinner cuz you must not have told us yet,” combines with all the previous to stab me in the empty place that produced the energy I poured out trying to show the answers to each of those.
I needed to recuperate. A weeklong nap would be useful, but I only had hours. Hours of a perfect Parisian afternoon eager to be an evening, merci and bonsoir. The kind of hours you cross oceans for, if you know what’s good for you. But what to do with so many exquisite options? I had no idea.
Except I did. I’d do what I did last time and should next time. The thing my tired body would have refused if it didn’t need it so badly. I was going to walk, hard and fast, buoyed by accidence and happenstants. Music in my ears, feet sore in their hot shoes, calves squeezing satisfaction from lactic acid, I was going to purify, to expurgate, and to renew myself through motion. That is, I was going to walk like a fucking maniac.
Forward momentum, always, crossing when it happens, weaving through crowds like an assassin, exulting in tired legs still kicking ass block after block after arrondissement. I let Paris remind me:
Irritation is not the answer. It’s the distraction. It’s the clicking clock that distracts the test taker, the speck of dust that dismisses the best car, the insignificant ort of dried food on the fork you could just chip off with a fingernail but instead let ruin the kind of meal you would otherwise worship. The best cities know this answer and will whisper it to you through your eyes (since it’s hard to hear when they shout it in your ears).
Paris whispered it in elegant women sipping cafe in cafes, with flower pots on tables and under windows, and in street musicians playing it right. The reminder was there in the laughter of longtime friends who know they’re not old despite the decades, bounced between the awkward teenagers with their semi-welcome cigarettes in hand, and sat on the shelves of bouquiniste vendors who handle nostalgia for yesteryear while planting their folding chairs squarely in today. Of course it hung from the Eiffel Tower and wriggled across the emotive distortion of Rodin’s sculptures, but I loved it best among the kids pushing boats into the fountain at the heart of the Luxembourg Gardens.
It’s so tempting to focus on the irritations, discomforts, and televised dangers, but with the help of the innumerable moments and glimpses of Paris I was reminded that I love it, all of it, and you too. Travel does it for me, when I do it right, and as I soaked up the ambiance of people napping in the park I beamed back a wish that all of us be so lucky as to have help remembering what’s right in front of us.