The day started taking the metro to the north of Paris, to a sleepy area nestled behind Sacre Coeur. I met a friend for lunch, the food being a textbook example of what makes the little things in Paris so wonderful. It was just penne pasta with some rotisserie chicken in a cream sauce, but every part of it was just so. damn. good. I’m sure there’s a lengthy explanation out there to account for this, probably involving local, organic, and fresh ingredients, but I’m just going to enjoy it at face value.
After the lunch we talked for another hour or so, the kind of lazy drawn out conversation that is not only allowed but commonplace in a French restaurant. It’s not always wonderful though, make no mistake – it’s cute when you’re the one doing it, but maddening as hell when you’re one of the people waiting for a table. The restaurant was half-full at our 3pm dining time [the dining schedules of a student and an unemployed drifter are oddly synchronized], so it was a guilt-free loiter. I ordered a cafe gourmand, easily my favorite French staple – it’s an espresso and a small mystery dessert mini-buffet. You don’t know what you’re going to get, but you know it will be small, adorable, and delicious. Today’s jackpot was a tiny creme brulee, chocolate mousse, and some kind of yogurty-puddingy-thing with raspberry sauce on top.
After we parted ways, I started to walk back to the metro station, and I noticed a lovely little park across the street. Since I, you know, don’t really have anywhere to be for a month,I figured I would go over and just sit for a while. I had my iPod, after all, and some emails to answer, so why not just sit and people-watch? The respect that the public has for the parks, and the city’s pride in maintaining them, is nothing short of amazing. They are immaculate. The flowers are perfectly maintained, the tiny fences around the grass are always respected, and there is almost never a scrap piece of litter to be seen. Even the homeless guys sleeping on the bench will get up and walk over to the trash bin when they are done with their sandwich wrapper.
It was a typical scene for a park in the mid-day in Paris. Mothers with babies [if I was in the 16th, it would be nannies with babies] feeding and bouncing, senior citizens sitting and watching, a handful of boisterous kids kicking a cheap football around. Directly across from the bench I was perched on were two benches facing me. On the right, a young mother and her baby. On the left, an elderly couple. Their juxtaposition was intriguing.
On one hand, it was sad; you could see one life just beginning, and two more closer to ending. You couldn’t help but think about how at one point the elderly folks were that baby, with everything in front of them [hell, it could have been in the same park on the same bench, that’s the beauty of Paris’ continuity], and now they sit and reflect with almost everything behind them. Although the couple didn’t talk to each other much – if at all, really – they had clearly reached the point where they didn’t really need to talk. It is entirely possible that they’ve been married 60 years and haven’t a damn thing to say, but they wanted to be there together, soaking it in.
On the other hand, it was a beautiful reminder of what we’re supposed to be doing here. When I say “here”, I mean earth. Life. As we know it, anyway. Although their respective stations in life couldn’t be much more different, the mother, the baby, and the couple were in the same moment, enjoying the simple beauty of life that was in front of them. That’s really all we remember in the end, isn’t it? The times we spent with people enjoying something beautiful?
Despite the occasional literary excursion that would imply the opposite, I’m a realist. I understand there’s an unavoidable set of unbending truths we need to address – we need to procure food and shelter. We need to stay healthy. Addressing these things requires money, and getting money requires work. Well, unless you publish a sex tape. To varying extents, that work takes time. We have a choice, though, how much time to give work. There’s a point at which our work provides the aforementioned basics. Beyond that, we work for the things we enjoy, both material and experienced.
Therein lies the great balancing act we spend our working lives trying to master. How much time do we put aside for simply enjoying life for what it is? Not to advance a career, or shop for something that will impress our friends, or slave away at a job you can’t quit because you need the money to pay the credit card bills for the shit that didn’t really make you happy anyway – but to just sit down and smell the roses? I understand you have to punch a clock to buy the gas to put in your car to drive to where the roses are… but maybe, just maybe, we should all take a little more time to just stop. Stop and take it all in. Give yourself enough time to let the beauty of the little things all around you make themselves known. It is always, always, time well spent.