Sunday, 23 June 2013

Paris: C'est La Vie

C'est la vie. 
That's life. 
And that, my friends, is the motto of the Parisians.

Have you ever experienced the pure bliss of observing the way Parisians talk, walk, laugh, eat and live? 
On the metro and walks along the Seine, by spending time with locals and trying to understand them, and from the tables of quaint boulangeries in St. Germain, I have watched many a Parisian come and go.

When a Parisian drinks wine, he doesn't pour it down his throat. He indulges all his senses to smell it, scrutinise it, delight in it. 
One evening during a loud dinner at a popular restaurant, I caught a glimpse of two locals opening a bottle of red. As if on cue they stopped talking and watched in a respectful reverie as the ruby contents spilled into their glasses. When they took their first sip it was as if the noise surrounding them had quietened to a whisper, allowing them three seconds of savouring silence. Peace in the midst of pandemonium.

Bread is consumed with gusto, the crunchy baguettes broken by hand and plastered with butter. On the way to mouths, crumbling pieces are often taken on a detour through the air as a point is being emphasised. The French speak as much with their facial expressions as with their hands, their conversations lined with movement and emotion.

Bread, cheese, chocolates, cakes and cooked meals are troublingly tasty, yet the French look amazing - a fact confirmed by a study from the Daily Mail
This might explain how four of my Dutch colleagues got stuck in an elevator in a Paris hotel by exceeding the weight limit. After ringing alarms, blinking lights and high-pitched yells from the flustered receptionist, a few (possibly awkward) moments were spent inside the confined space to calculate, perhaps a trifle too late, the allowed average weight per person. It came to a mere 70 kilograms.

Delicious Dishes

The French like slow mornings, and streets and offices are graveyards before 9 am. An hour is set aside each day for lunch laced with tranquil talking, and coffee breaks at the bustling coffee stations are essential to a workday. 
"Work hard, play hard" is the French's motto and it is made categorically clear that you will not find anyone in the office during the month of August when all will be enjoying a four-week summer holiday.

Parisians love Paris. Parisians love France. 
They enjoy the city as much as any of the wide-eyed tourists and will list a million things for you to do and see in their beautiful city.
One of the first sentences I was taught by a colleague was: "C'est beau la France." Beautiful France. 
The sentence bounced back-and forth between our mouths like a tennis ball at the Roland Garros until I could pounced "beau" in a satisfactory manner. 
"C'est beau la France. C'est beau la Paris."

When I attempted sliding the corners of my perfectly pronounced "beau" like a puzzle piece into my new home in the Netherlands, I was stopped short.
"What are you doing?" my colleague demanded with an appalled look. "C'est beau la Paris!" he declared.
"Have you ever been to Maastricht?" I asked hotly, defending my new hometown with vigor.
He smiled and shook his head, as if the thought alone was preposterous. "Look," he waved his hands, "you don't have to date a hundred people to find true love. When you find it, you know it. C'est beau la Paris."
And that was that, clear and simple.

In Paris, things are straightforward, transparent, simple. You say it as it is and you take things as they come. 
When an ache started scratching at my throat, I mentioned (not complained, mentioned) to a colleague that I might be catching a cold. He looked at me with a clear expression and replied with a shrug: "That's life."
No benevolent words wrapped cautiously in tissue-papered empathy. Just clear, exposed fact. It was refreshingly austere.
The next day, my cold was gone.
C'est la vie. 
That's s life. And life is good in beautiful Paris.

C'est la vie on the Seine

La Beau Paris

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