Paris is distracting. That was my first impression of La Ville-Lumière. It is not only distracting because of its inherent beauty, warmth and passion but also because of its intense love of, or complete devotion to living. Living is something we are all familiar with, and some are better at it than others. France is famous for several things: food, wine and cheese come to mind first and maybe the beach, mountains and Paris are coming up behind those. Of course there is the ever-lovely Euro-Disney (which operates a dedicated shuttle bus to its door from both airports) but I digress. Lets revisit those first three: food, wine and cheese because they go along with my central thesis here, which is that, the French are devoted to living.
When I talk about living, I don’t mean in the everyday sense so to speak. Living involves a few things that we all have to do. Eat, drink, sleep. These are the essential items to live and the French (apart from sleeping) seem to be quite good at the first two. Of course this could be said about several other countries, cultures and people groups, but I dare you to find a country where eating large amounts of butter, drinking copious amounts of wine, liquor and coffee as well as the almost complete absence of a Starbucks is seen as a national right.
Wine is becoming more and more accepted around the world. Still in America there is some sort of aversion to wine for the normal, fly-over states type of guys. In France, like in Australia and Italy I found, men of any background, income level and mindset drink wine. Its not a big deal, its available everywhere and is generally good. Wine is to France what the Bud Light is to America – everywhere and accessible – un-politicized and a natural drink for all those who care to have one. Its aversion in America isn’t because there is a lack of wine, but because there is a complete mindset centered around it. It feels foreign to so many people that it is seen as being expensive, or at least, un-tasty. I assure you, wine is anything but un-tasty. I don’t know if that mindset will change much in America, apart from the coasts, it is normally seen as only a drink at meals, and I dare say that many people will serve you a beer before a wine anytime. Wine in France (as in Australia and Italy) is a cultural norm. That is plain and simple. To me, I feel that you can attribute wine to my central idea that France has a love of living. Wine doesn’t only make you jolly throughout the day, but also just makes you feel nice. It gives you that mid-day uplift, much like a coffee, and it is there to enhance your meal. I enjoy with great pleasure the ability to have a glass or two with my lunch, even when I’m working as to enhance not only my meal itself but also my day. It loosens up the brain and provides me with the ability to continue throughout the afternoon (I can’t say the same though if the meal includes the aforementioned copious amounts of butter).
Cheese is a different story all together. People from around the world are completely and utterly devoted to cheese from (normally…) their home country. Don’t even think of asking someone from Wisconsin about cheese from France, its not really done. The French understanding of cheese can be attributed to, well, wine and a large array of other things such as a complete understand that things that smell or are runny are also called cheese and are delicious. The two most known types of French cheese are Brie and Camembert. They are available in most towns around the country, and I assure you that there for every brand of American cheese that is available in your local IGA, there is an equal amount of Brie and Camembert available in a French grocery. Its wonderful and it complements the idea that in order to live well, a variety of different tastes and a variety of different consistencies is necessary. Cheese in France is…I caution to use the world religion. Maybe a better word is a national right –a right to good cheese and the right for it to be available everywhere. Americans, we put cheese on anything and everything. But I dare you to find a cheese in your house right now that is a creamy and as wonderful as a Brie, or as pungent and perfect as a Camembert. Maybe you have these in your fridge…and to that I say great! If not, you should at your earliest convenience go to your local store and find one or the other. If they don’t have it, ask someone. If you ask enough, maybe they will soon carry some. If you live close enough to a Trader Joes or a Whole Foods, well, your cheese choices have greatly improved. Try a good chevre (or goats cheese) or maybe a really delightful mobay.
Food is the final component and well, apart from wine and cheese the understanding of food can bet summed up in the world enjoyment. Enjoying food is not the same as eating or the same as just ingesting things at random because you think your hungry. To be truly hungry and then to have a meal that you will remember for days, that is enjoyment. Enjoyment of food also includes not rushing through a meal – not eating in your car but actually sitting down at a table. This is of course not always that practical, even in France. But still, the understanding that having a lunch that not only tastes good but makes you feel good can really do something to your day. It makes life nice and enjoyable. For example, when I was in Paris we went to a little local brassiere for a late lunch after the mid day rush. After viewing the menu (which by the way is hardly ever written on a piece of paper they hand out to you but more likely on a wall or on a chalk board) I decided on the poulet grille (or grilled chicken). I don’t know why, but for some reason since it came with mased potatoes and a salad sounded nice. I can see you picturing what a grilled chicken would look like, as did I. But much to my amazement and utter happiness, when the said chicken came out, it was in fact a ¼ of an entire chicken, roasted, braised with carrots, peas and a simple butter sauce on top. This in fact was poulet grille, but in a way that you wouldn’t expect ever in a normal American restaurant. I devoured it and washed it down with a simple vin blanc. Perfection was achieved for me that afternoon when I promptly afterwards ordered a café and our leisurely lunch continued well into the warm afternoon. True, that day it made me feel sleepy, but honestly, nothing more relaxing was achieved that day or the next. Simply eating was the most astounding activity of the day. I realize now that I am oversimplifying the French, and that I am not really being very realistic, but to be sure, if you go to France you will undoubtedly see people at lunch, at dinner taking their time, having wine and a coffee afterwards and completely enjoying not only the activity of eating but also the activity of living – for living is not only an activity that we participate in, but also an activity that we can improve upon, simply by enjoying the simple act of taking in our daily sustenance.
Of course I can’t leave out of the equation of distraction the ubiquitous French women. Surly there is few as lovely as they. Their understanding of living is unparallel and their ability to hold your attention with a mere gaze in your general direction is deadly. Women there (again I am generalizing) are able to somehow project a complete aura of style and power with the simplest clothes. I realized walking down the streets in Paris that people (not only women) take an interest in the way they look. They might not be dressed in the latest fashions, or, have a lot of money, to be sure it is a varied society, but people there took notice of their appearance when they walk out their door. It is a wonderfulsensation to observe and to experience in that, it is nice to be around people that care.
I am completely encapsulated with the women. They are able to emanate the French passion, culture and love through a single breath – by simply ordering a coffee or smoking a cigarette with so much attitude, sexuality and suggestiveness that I am unable to continue on with my normal, everyday thought process. I am overwhelmed with vice and conviction and it is one of the most amazing, and yet, overpowering physical and emotional feelings that I have experienced. Needless to say, I was greatly affected by several women, and will continue to be for what seems like my complete existence.
Simply put, to visit Paris – to visit France is to understand that you will initiate a series of events that will, with luck, change the way in which you live your life. You will begin to understand the art of living and the art of eating and enjoying. It is called the city of lights for a simple reason and that is because it is blinding in its brilliance. It entices, and pounces on your ability to understand yourself as where you came from, and forces you to look at yourself in a new light, so to speak, where undoubtedly you will be overcome with vice, conviction and a complete emotional exasperation of complete and pure living.