Despite a fever and coughing fits which turned out to be pneumonia, I couldn’t resist taking my camera and capturing a few of the sights and sounds of Paris. Here’s my little souvenir I brought back for you:
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.
The city in which you are born is the one you know the least. It’s just home with its familiar cityscape, favorite locales and friends you’ve grown to know. What is common becomes unworthy of our curiosity.
I had a chance to renew my curiosity for my hometown of Calgary. I wanted to tell a story that connected our TEDxCalgary theme of “Breakthrough” speakers with the pioneering spirit rooted in Calgary.
So I took my camera to Fort Calgary and Heritage Park. I imagined standing on the same ground as the early immigrants and settlers would where instead of cars there were carriages. I imagined a place where Chinese was a dirty word. I also drove out to Head Smashed-In Buffalo Jump and tried to envision a prairie filled with a thundering ocean of bison. I even stood atop the Calgary Olympic Park to catch a glimpse of the sunrise over downtown Calgary.
Despite my Chinese ancestry, I realized in my little exploration that my deep affiliation has been with the snow-capped mountains, the cold winters, and mostly yellowish prairie landscape. To think that so many others tried to live here, eventually succeeding so that I might succeed here, feels humbling.
So here is my short history of Calgary:
If you haven’t heard of TED.com, it’s about time you have. It’s like finding an info desk at a vast library where you can be introduced personally to some of the incredible ideas percolating in our global culture.
TED talks are just an introduction though. They aren’t the meat. They don’t feed you. They only show you possibilities of the human imagination and spirit. Only by taking the path ourselves do we fulfill the promise of listening to a TED talk.
TEDx Talks, an independently run version of TED, is coming to Calgary in the form of TEDxCalgary on June 4th. We’re bringing together some thinkers and doers who are playing on the edges of society. All from very different disciplines, but they all share a hope is for a better, stronger civil society.
I have the privilege of directing the video production crew and the stage design for this event as well as setting up a space for an in-depth interview with a few of the speakers. My hope is that these speakers, these ideas will find a home in people seeking to build a better community.
I wish we could have invited the whole city to the event, but even if you can’t make it the actual event at the Glenbow, you can connect with us online. All the videos will be posted for free, and the possibility to connect is unlimited.
It’s fun to feel famous once in awhile. But I learned a few things from the interview:
- First, you learn some things about how you see yourself. And that awareness reveals its strengths and weaknesses.
- Second, the news story is rarely the whole story. The news item makes me feel like an adventurer much more than I actually feel.
Oh and don’t forget to turn the captions on in case you don’t speak Cantonese!