I recently returned home from the Paris food and photography retreat I led with Beth from Local Milk. In our elegant Apartments Actually flat, we styled and photographed. We gathered around the table with our guests for shared meals and laughter. We headed out into the streets of Paris to eat and drink and chase the shadow and light sparkling across limestone facades.
It was a joy to meet our guests and discover their creative projects. Natasha, Per, Brit, Michaela, Carrie, Griet, Colleen and Lisa each brought their own unique energy and sense of adventure to the retreat. Sharing my most beloved city with them allowed me to see it with fresh eyes and renewed wonder.
It’s hard to write about why I love Paris without leaning on the usual threadbare clichés. The baguette! The architecture! That light! But these postcard notions of Paris don’t begin to explain the sense of connection I feel walking the city streets. Or the longing I feel once home across the ocean.
To me, Paris is above all a state of mind. A certain way of being I find difficult to summon in my day-to-day.
A Paris mindframe entails a certain nonchalance. A willingness to go with the absurd, existential flow of life. The entire country’s on strike and there are no trains, classes or public services? Why stress when you could spend the day reading and drinking large quantities of rosé instead?
Parisians slouch. And smoke. And run their fingers through their unkempt locks. And those shrugs. There is a shrug to express every stop on the emotional continuum: Curiosity. Amusement. Disdain. The French, and Parisians in particular, are masters of the what-can-you-do? shrug.
Parisians seem to feel more deeply at home in their bodies than we Americans. A subtle sexiness is the unstated goal. Men and women alike appreciate a whisper of cleavage beneath a blouse, a lipstick especially well-suited to its wearer, the suggestion of an intriguing cologne. There is a freedom to openly gaze at and appreciate strangers. In Seattle, the art of avoiding eye contact has been raised to a high art. In Paris, the terrace of every cafe is arranged for maximum people-watching.
The Parisian love of seduction and flirting makes sense in a country that takes pleasure quite seriously. To the American ear, pleasure is a word imbued with indulgent, quasi-sinful overtones. In France, it means three-course lunches instead of scarfing leftovers hunched over your keyboard. It means keeping the work week in check so you’re not too tired to enjoy time with family and friends. It means taking a moment out of your day to delight in the city’s treasure trove of art or sit on a park bench watching the world go by.
Paris’ seductive, irreverent spirit represents an escape from can-do Americanness. In Paris, I feel free to shrug off the mantle of efficiency and aggressive good cheer expected in the States. I slow down and settle into my body. I find myself walking for the pleasure of walking, with no particular destination in mind. I wear heels and lipstick and perfume. I give myself permission to sleep a little later and drink wine at all hours of the day and night.
I feel no need to be practical in Paris.
Which is just the point. Touching down at Charles de Gaulle, I suddenly feel like I’ve arrived home after a long journey. Surfacing from the Métro, I slip into my truest self.
Wandering the city streets opens me up to new ideas and new encounters; my shyness melts away and I’m miraculously able to make flirtatious small talk with strangers at the supermarket. Paris turns my senses up a notch. The coffee seems richer. The sheets more velvety. The lingering perfume in an elevator more beguiling.
The pleasures of Paris are not for everyone, of course. Some people prefer the rural idyll of the English countryside. Or the buzzing pace and neon lights of Tokyo. Or the breathtaking peaks of the Andes. But for some of us, Paris is the drug. A heady mix of new, old, fast, slow, imperfect and sublime.
For us, this city is more than just a charming vacation destination. It is essential to our happiness. Your Paris may be Johannesburg or Beijing or Des Moines. Or your own backyard.
Wherever it lies, find your Paris.
Since my love affair with Paris shows no signs of abating anytime soon, I'm planning another Paris retreat for September 2016. I'm teaming up with my good friend, Rachael Coyle (who just happens to be a super-talented pastry chef and owner of Coyle's Bakeshop), for a week of eating, drinking, wandering and appreciating all the beauty that is Paris. *REGISTRATION IS NOW OPEN! CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS.*