Paris impresses even after suspecting my rose-coloured memories of my second home. Certainly the smoking still bothers me (although there is less smoke now) and the poor customer service (which seems to have significantly improved). But overall, I found Paris to be beautiful again.
The cobblestone streets and wide boulevards lets you walk at a leisurely pace despite the occasional drop of rain. The organized but chaotic metro still brings together a mixture of people uncomfortably close. The endless bakeries, corner bistros, fine Italian restaurants, and inscrutable French delicacies are all still there. And Paris’s landmarks are as ancient and magnificent as always.
I had just forgotten how persistent culture can be.
Whereas once I found the traditions of another way of life stifling, now I appreciate how it can connect people with a sense of their story. Here on the streets of Montparnasse, Hemingway and other writers and thinkers gathered to discuss the state of the world. There at the Louvre we have an ancient Egytpian obelisk as a reminder of an older civilization.
By comparison, the life of the city in Calgary is young like a newborn. New buildings and condos go up. Old buildings come down. Nothing seems permanent or appear to link us to the past or the the distant future.
I imagine the person who built a place like the Notre Dame or St. Sulspice envisioned it lasting a thousand generations. Human hubris? Perhaps, but it’s an aspiration that we should seize upon again.
Take this lovely chocolat chaud I’m feasting on. This cup of hot chocolate puts to shame the watered down powdered drink of the same name in North America. The difference is that on one hand, we have an efficient, cheap product and on the other we have an experience created through artisan tradition developed over generations.
Maybe what I’m saying is that there is an attitude of patience and quality I think we sorrowfully lack. Ours (and the French too, let’s not forget) is a society of consumers. We consume news but don’t do anything about it. We consume food but don’t care where it comes from. We consume products as if we have the right to it.
Living life for the satisfaction of the moment is the motto of the consumer. And if it no longer satisfies, toss it out. This is killing us. Not just environmentally, but spiritually. If there is one thing living in Paris has taught me is to appreciate quality food and quality experiences. These are things that take time. So it is with the living of life. The cultivation of a life takes time to grow and nurture. It takes a connection with our common human heritage. It takes a boldness in going beyond our socialization. It takes a great deal of hard work and care for people beyond those we know. Because you know and I know that the direction we’re headed as a society is not pretty, so business as usual is out of the question.
Paris is beautiful. It is as beautiful as I remember it. And I’d like the beauty of our civilization to flourish. But we’ll never get there if our vision is a small circle of care around just our family.