“Come with me
and you’ll be
in a world
of pure imagination”
– Willy Wonka
Stepping foot into Paris is like getting the golden ticket. Your dreams are about to come true and everywhere you look something has been created to delight your senses. The night air is alive, the lights, the stones, the smells all transport me back to my first experience of the world; Paris at age 16. The world was so mysterious and vast, where anything could happen right around the corner and my imagination was ripe and fresh. To my inexperienced youth, a foreign language with no responsibilities was enough to lock Paris into a pure playground of sensations. The world seems to have gotten smaller as I easily manage my way around and use simple French, yet the awe of stepping into these vaguely familiar streets fills me with joy to explore the city of love from this totally new self. Walking the night air, seeing fashionable people having drinks on the sidewalk, the familiar subway air smell and cigarette smoke, this is the Paris I remember, whose feelings are etched in my memory.
I have traveled to many cities and countries and with each I have developed a relationship. Some were brief and memorable, some fail to make a lasting impression. Japan left deep and profound changes in our ongoing relationship, while others like Paris, while she may not always be on your mind, can with one look, one embrace, cause all time to be forgotten as you fall back into the arms of a trusting and comfortable lover.
As luck would have it, our apartment over looks the ever present Eiffel Tower and I am graced with laughter at the pure perfection of our situation. I am rooming with my best friend from college and unofficial adopted family, Robin and his wife Gabriella. Despite the late hour and the 10 hours of travel, it’s time to eat. My trip has been likened to the movie Eat, Pray Love in the sense that I plan to eat in France, meditate in India and well I may not be searching for external love, but I am going to Bali and I may find love. After stumbling in and out of brasseries trying to find an open establishment we land ourselves a table and a few entrées.
Ah Paris, you never fail to amaze the senses. The food that arrives knocks me flat: A Classic French onion soup (funny how the best one in the city always arrives on your first meal), a pair of toast points with bubbling fresh goat cheese melting on top, and a tower of sliced vegetables with marinara and mozzarella glowing all colors of the rainbow. Even the table baguette has more flavor and snap than most breads I can remember and I finish everything in sight. This begins the journey to eat my weight in bread and cheese; and I think I’ll throw in French pasteries to finish the job.
I awake to the smells of Paris. The din and excitement of morning traffic and stalls setting up for the weekly open air market waft through the windows. Hallways in hotels and apartments have a unique smell to them only to be found in Paris. It’s a slightly musty, yet comforting smell the hugs you in the narrow passageways and stairwells of this well worn city. A memory of the ages and people that have passed into antiquity. Ground floor presents a new barrage of olfactory assault. The fresh seafood and meat vendors have on display their finest cuts and catches. I wander through the market with people bustling to and fro with their purchases and rubbing up to the display cases to make their selections. I pass whole displays of fruit and vegetables, more cheese varieties than I know exist and bakers with that delicious French bread and glowing flaky crust that accompanies every croissant and pain au chocolat. Giant figs and nectarines fill my bag as I navigate the French language for the first time and realize I don’t have all the words I need, but I overcome my hesitancy to look foolish and pointing helps. I find out later it happens to be nectarine season which is why they are bursting with flavor as juices run down my face with each bite. Robin saves me from my fromage incompetence and nabs us quite a few delicious selections to round out the breakfast feast.
Robin is attending sciences po to finish his law degree while Gabriella is studing for the LSAT which leaves me to wander the city aimlessly everyday. I’ve seen the main sights of Paris and wish to remain out of the circle of tourists and blend in as a local just going about my daily business. I will walk in upwards of 10 miles a day crossing ever farther from my home base in the 15th arrondissement to discover much by accident many famous sights, movie locations, and local happenings to attract my attention. As the weather clears from cool and gray to sunny and warm over my 2 weeks I enjoy my strolls and comfortably find that miles disappear beneath my feet without even noticing. An hour walk is just the start of a daily routine which is probably why I’ve lost weight rather than gained any. I have time, so I leisurely wander and my wanderings find me so much beauty and activity I never once feel I am missing out on anything happening in the city. Obviously more is happening than I can ever comprehend, but I find street performers, art walks, local food stands, free concerts, mesmerizing sweet shops, famous buildings, beautiful parks and more stunning architecture than I can gawk at.
This city of stone sprawls ever farther from the steps of sacre couer. Taking in the awe inspiring scope of construction from this lofty point I am filled with a sense of dismay for this endless stone jungle that has replaced all it’s greens for beige. At the same time zooming into any one of these buildings and I am enamored with its individual beauty and uniqueness; every one a work of art. It is much the same view when looking at the earth from space, seeing the damage humanity has caused across the planet and yet everything when viewed up close has its own beauty and place and I am reminded to not fall into judgements, that each moment is a unique moment to be cherished. That everything is perfect, the creation and even the destruction. It is all a unique example of each persons desires rolled into reality and could not be any other way. I take these thoughts into the church and meditate into the high domed ceilings of this grand work of human achievement adorned with loving gilt and decoration until I reach a place of peace and wander back into the jungle with love and appreciation.
I wonder who lives in the penthouses of the special buildings that end in the rounded classic V intersection like two lovers crossings paths. These finely dressed people sipping tea and gazing out the window as their building unwaveringly plays match maker to pedistrians who seem happy to never walk on parallel streets but to arrive in a puff of smoke, enjoy a drink on the ground floor then continue on their way. The beauty of the buildings everywhere is astounding. The massive stones and archways of every façade make wandering the streets such a pleasure. Despite the fact that something is happening everywhere in Paris or some historical location lurks around the corner, walking through the streets is interesting enough just to look at the architecture of common apartment buildings. Whoever dreamed this wonderland up from their imagination and got an entire city to play along, I am thankful for their imagination.
On a day trip to Versailles I get to experience the overwhelming luxury of royalty. After 10 minutes you go quite numb to the grandiosity of it all. The paintings and gold leaf and the history of it all. It’s not quite my taste truthfully, but interesting to witness and maybe have a ballroom party there once. I have to take stock at one point. I am in the museum hall with giant paintings and realize that one painting is the length of my old house. I quickly pace the width and discover that 8 of my 2200 sq foot homes will fit inside this single hall. I think it hits me then at the real size of this palace, which you can’t comprehend while being inside it without reference points. I escape to the gardens which are massively huge as well and quite by happenstance discover my favorite part of Versailles
In the summer palace the queen had a hamlet built to educate the young aristocrats on the workings of daily life for rural France. The amazingly styled buildings here with their gardens and picturesque landscape immediatly identiy with my plans for a community living space. I take my lunch here and just imagine what it would be like to live here and enjoy such beauty every day. I am so excited for my future way of life as I experience examples of it in this moment. My travels are already paying off well I think.
Back in Paris I pop out of a subway station into my own world of imagination. I rarely take a train on the outward journey so I am disoriented to my surroundings when I emerge in a new magical place. I am here to visit Robin’s favorite writing shop with leather bound journals. The smell of paper and the beauty of writing stare at me from every object of a time long past when the letter was an intimate treasure to give and receive. I still find handwriting and letter craft to be incredibly alluring and a moment to pause and contemplate life and the beautiful complexities of communication. Despite my romantic tendencies towards this art form I rarely partake in its pleasures. The digital age has taken the subtle art of waiting for news to arrive and replaced it with instant gratification and the accompanying magic, taken for granted, of communicating with someone halfway around the globe.
I return from my reverie to notice the magical state of affairs I find myself in. Every few shops is an artisan chocolatier and patisserie with their colorful gleaming displays and delicate creations which beckon my taste buds and curiosity. Since making friends with a local raw chocolatier in salt lake city I have had a healthy interest in artisan chocolate making from bean to bar. I wouldn’t be opposed to adding this to my list of hobbies if I find myself near the equator in my travels. Thus every shop has a new story for me to explore and subtle flavors to try. Had I the coin, I could happily spend days sampling every delicacy within sight. I even found a chocolate museum on my wanderings which contained some of the original recipies for chocolate, always consumed as a liquid for the high priests, and some historical ads for chocolate bars from France. While I have not broken down and tried every colorful pastry to catch my eye, when I try to grasp and explain my childlike joy at just viewing these treasures of culinary artwork, no one seems to appreciate them with me.
I hear the world over that spend enough time in one location and you go numb to the scenery and local flavor that was once a great joy. I am certainly a victim of this as well, at home I did not thoroughly explore every aspect that a visitor would find interesting, but I never once got bored with knowing and appreciating where the best food and delicacies where located. Perhaps since shops are located on every corner no one is concerned since the standard of quality is high across the board. Being from a smaller city, the selection wasnt so varied and the differences in taste were great. For now I am happy that everything I find is delicious and I could spend years here and not eat it all.
I must be exuding a comfortable sense of belonging because I get asked for directions about 3 times a day, by Parisians. It might also be the beard. I usually understand what they are after and the map on my phone shows them the nearest station. It’s also fun when Americans ask me directions in broken French, and I answer in French, then calmly ask them, “Do you speak English?”. Sometimes I leave out words to keep the wonderment in their faces alive and pretend to be somewhat of an oddity if not a local. Many travelers comment that their English gets worse as we drop words when speaking to non English speakers to get the meaning across because less is more when people are not fluent. It’s kind of fun, but I usually just slow my speaking down and everyone benefits. I really felt I had my basics down when an American started ordering her bread in English and the man behind the counter had that “I don’t know what you are saying look”. I happened to know a simple translation and offered it to the situation and felt pretty happy with myself as everyone got something they enjoyed. Communication offers so much enrichment to our lives and it’s not always the words, communicating the meaning to another and being understood is what’s important.
Of course there is no avoiding museums in Paris and many are worth seeing many times over. The musee d’orsay is a fine example of a permanent collection that covers many ages in history and one I find great value in seeing. Not all pieces moved me, but many went far beyond and I had to stare transfixed at the magnificent works. I struggle with art at times. If a works beauty doesn’t grab me upon laying eyes on it, it probably isn’t for me. That said, I have found that statues on their own for some reason escape my glances, but put that same statue in context, such as a church or in a garden and I will appreciate looking at it. Not every style or piece is my cup of tea, but I can appreciate the effort and vision that went into it.
That being said, some new works of contemporary modern just boggle my mind. I am often moved by a deep feeling of frustration, bafflement and then anger at some pieces being displayed by museums, decided upon by minds steeped in the art world and works presumably worth a lot of money. I think you perhaps know these works. They look like Sunday art projects thrown together by just about anyone who can devote a modicum of effort and the vaguest idea of a purpose. I saw 30 pieces of work, each a self portrait of the artist, made of a bit of plywood and pieces of computer parts and wires arranged haphazardly together. Of course I had to read the sign to know they were self portraits. To me they were a few hours and a spare parts bin thrown together that anyone could have made. A whole room was devoted to this prominent artist and my mouth just hangs open. Next to this was a whole room dedicated to a checkered floor, 2 half inflated crayon blowup toys and a metal frame square suspended from the ceiling. I couldn’t stand to read what this was supposed to mean because my brain cells hurt too much and I needed to escape from this world where people find this pleasurable to look at. This is a museum and the effort put into this looks like it took 10 minutes and the beauty or an interesting factor isn’t self evident, it needs to be explained to you and that I just can’t take.
This however leads me to the subtle work on myself I have been undergoing. To release the ego and it’s judgements. These works affected me, and thus to find the place affronted within me and become at peace with it is to encounter works like this again and remain at peace and go on about my day. I got seriously worked up about this at some level. Feeling like a bunch of kids got together behind closed doors and said let’s see what we can get away with calling art and displaying it to the public as some giant joke. On the other hand applying this ego clearing to the works I declare I like is also to be released. All judgements must be dropped and what will remain is what is and I will see reality as it really is. Catching the mind as it makes instant judgements about anything you encounter is the first step. Once this process is understood and stopped I can encounter anything and without judgement be in relation to it as it truly is without declaring it good or bad.
On the bright side I almost skipped the modern art museum Pompidou and I would have missed out. Almost everything here really had substance and a special exhibit took my attention with its focus on interaction with the viewer through sound, touch, and movement. Some of the films even came to life as actors moved about the exhibit bringing the experience into the moment. This exhibit and the permanent collection had pieces I even loved that took real thought and while expressed in a modern way were very effective at their message and beautiful in their own right and without explination. I am thankful for this learning experience to see into myself and what subtle tricks the mind can still get up to. As I move through my journey I will try to remain judgement free as new experiences show up to shine on my inner world.
I was graced with a few other learning experiences in my time here. In my effort to live life as a local I forgot the benefits of living like a traveler. I read once to treat everyday in your home city as if you were on vacation there. Laugh at the traffic, explore around the corner, and open your eyes to the majesty of the moment. No matter where you go I find that the newness wears off when you start to treat that place as routine. It is all a mindset and you can chose a more alive one anytime you want. I do think that it takes a certain kind of innocence and a child-like playful attitude to achieve successfully. I found myself one day counting beans and talking myself out of spending the extra money on enjoying some fine French macaroons. My goal is to live directly, in the moment and here I fell into the trap of just living out my days. Be a traveler and eat out everyday, have two ice creams, try everything, because who knows if tomorrow is coming. Also listen to your body when it comes to eating obviously and don’t overdo it. I am trying to live each day fully, with great feeling and vitality, and I found myself attempting to be extra thrifty and skipping opportunities to try new delicious foods because of what? Trying to get through my time in France affordably? As if that was my main intention and I had fallen back into the dull routine of daily life whose focus is money. It’s a question that will continue to follow me I think. What is the goal of a persons way of living? What do you get out of each day? Is that exactly what you want or just a means of delaying some greater dream? My dream at the moment is to eat delicious foods and visit my friends around Europe. I have the funds set aside for this within reason, but the intention and direction is important. I had lost the intention to old habits of denying myself in the moment for some lower desire to hoard and secure myself from future experiences or hardships. To free myself to express my intention in the moment and live a life of authenticity is the practice of this first portion of travel. To eat and fill myself with freedom and joy, then to go to India and meditate until balance comes between the two. Never forget the direction you are pointed, and if you are lost, be still until you know your direction, for aimless effort is bound to be in the wrong direction.
In discerning my direction and selecting a plan I’ve learned something. Given that I can go anywhere and do anything, (this is true for all people) figuring out what to do and how to go about it can seem complicated. Often it boils down to a simple decision, this way or that, north or south, Germany or Belgium. How does one decide? And when trying to plan around finding trains and places to stay, free opportunities, planning around friends schedules, seeing cool things, and your brain starts melting with all the planning between just two choices. I go for a walk. If another person might be involved in planning I shoot them a message to see how my ideas work for them. By the time I get back one person responds or one choice feels easier and that becomes the course. That settling in feeling aligns the universe to your decision and thus a course of action unfolds while all others fade. When I try to force a direction rather than let one unfold, madness ensues, like swimming against the current. I trust that I am always being guided to experiences and situations that allign with my way of being. This has not failed me yet. But letting go of the need to plan and choose, when planning does save you money on tickets, is tough. The particulars do sort themselves out easily and I’ve met great experiences when I finally relax, and just put out the word on where I want to go and see what comes back to me. Whether on Facebook or just stating my intention to myself and the world. Declare what it is you want and let the rest come to you! There are always little signs about going with the flow and when you are flowing all things can come to you. In the end, no matter where you go, there you are.
And it’s always perfect.
Eating well and off to Germany~
-The Wandering Monk