Paris: the feast has moved with me!

Back in SoCal, I’m reflecting on our leisurely month in Paris. Some food for thought follows that I’m exploring like a toolkit full of mantras as I prepare to get busy again:

The Canal Saint Martin is popular with friends, couples, families, dog-walkers, drum circles!

Food in Paris – Yes, first up in my reflections on our adventure: food, food, food (wine, wine, wine)! In almost five weeks there we ate out daily, reveling in what I’ve taken to calling the Parisians’ very social approach to eating. One chooses a beautiful spot–at a bistro, with picnic fare by the Seine or the Canal Saint Martin, or in one of the lovely parks everywhere–and begins a long, relaxed approach to a meal.

I was impressed by this handsome pair who sipped and talked while we had our midday meal

I think the mistake many Americans make in feeling ignored by servers in Paris is failing to understand that in sitting down, patrons are in fact settling in for as long as they want to be there. Very different from a move-’em-in, move-’em-out approach. No one waves a bill at you for you to pay up once the last crumb has left your plate. There’s time to relax, unwind, converse. Just catch your server’s eye and ask for the bill when you’re ready. “L’addition, s’il vous plait?”

Can you tell how fresh and beautifully chilled these oysters are?

Great, fresh, consciously prepared food is central to daily life in Paris. And as occasions, with family, friends, colleagues, even brand new acquaintances! (Have I mentioned our first night there, meeting Alex, a Scotsman who teaches history in nearby Culver City, CA, and Siân Melangell Dafydd, a lovely young nationally-recognized Welsh novelist and Paris resident? A flood of wonderful memories washes over me…)

Our first nicoise back in our own kitchen

Food here – We’re succeeding in lingering over our meals back at home (including petite glasses of wine with lunch when convenient, I confess), and lingering over shopping for food as enjoyable domestic ritual. We rediscovered the Sunday morning Encino Farmers Market that I had somehow been too busy to visit lately. And there’s the Wednesday afternoon Northridge Farmers Market, too. We also discovered beautiful baguettes at the grocery store nearby, deliciously approximating the neighborhood boulangerie baguette and ending our practice of driving farther for pricier bread. And when relaxing together and with family and friends over food, wine, and conversation, we’re managing an approach in which everything else can wait. It will all still be there.

Le Cepage, a wonderful neighborhood restaurant with a monthly Friday jazz night

Pace in Paris – At the beginning of our month of walking and taking the Metro and trains everywhere, I noted an urgency to our gait, an unconscious gotta get there tempo that was in fact purposeless, since we literally had nowhere to be. So we “worked on it.” Ha! But it’s true. And Kevin’s broken toe “helped” about two weeks in, but we’d chilled way out by then. I felt the downshift deep within my being.

We were living in a working neighborhood, not a tourist zone, and people have places to go and things to do there. Still, lunch in the bistros is two real courses, plus dessert at times, with wine and water, then coffee. It takes time, and it’s wonderful, a regular, human-scaled answer to modern life’s endlessly ticking clock and all those phone calls to make, voicemails to listen to, emails to write, etc. The Parisian lunch truly interrupts it all.

A pretty spot next to the Gare de l’Est

Then mid- to late afternoon comes, when no food is served, but the cafes and bistros get busy again at what seems like coffee-break time, with more relaxed conversation and contemplation. So many handy street-side eateries must be key.

And evening is a gab-fest, fun to observe and relish while sipping, nibbling and relaxing. Even busy waiters are often ready to chat, interested in knowing about visitors. I especially enjoyed their various verbal and non-verbal expressions of approval when they felt we–meaning Kevin–had ordered well. There’s a congenial formality to it all that’s beautifully Parisian.

Hemingway wrote about this venerable bookstore. I was there a lot getting my next book!

Pace here – I just took a deep breath while reflecting on this, because I so want a lasting impact on the coming year in this respect. I reflected during our month of leisure on keeping a new sense of balance here at home. I’m thrilled to be back and diving into my many passionate pursuits, and I want to stay very present to family, friends, food, to reading for pleasure, to art and culture, to the meandering stroll that we finally perfected. It’ll be an enjoyable experiment during this next busy season.

Venus De Milo in her ageless attire

Dress in Paris – One of the fun ways we tried blending in was in our choice of clothing, as we were gradually influenced by the styles of the working Parisians around us. Over lunch, our new friend Siân explained the local practice of dressing once for the day, both for work and for the evening out. In her experience, the Parisian dresses to look her or his best routinely, ready for everything from work to the art opening, dinner invitation or concert after. The approach is chic, elegant, and classic, with great cuts and fabrics, subdued colors, the scarf as essential self-expression, and stylish footware, purses and messenger bags on women and men. (Siân wore a vintage dress and wedge heels when we went shopping on rented bikes. Lovely!)

Dress here – First, back to Paris, I took way too much stuff. I know better, but I made the mistake of thinking the length of our stay meant I would need or want more. Instead, I “lived in” my favorite things and shopped for bargains, inspired by the fashions around me. I wore probably 5% of what I shlepped across the ocean, across Paris, and back.

Outside Monet’s home in his beautiful, still pastoral village

Once home, I had a big yard sale with a huge percentage of my clothes in it! Then I carted off what was left and gave it away. I’m finally ready, after my Parisian immersion experience, to follow my mother’s decades-long advice, wearing a few well-made, mixable pieces that I love per season. I’m not saying I’ve got it down, but I’m inspired in that direction as another enjoyable pursuit aligned with a balanced, aesthetically satisfying daily life.

And there’s so much more: shopping, reading for pleasure, going to museums, seeing great art, hearing music in bistros, clubs, parks, and deep in the Metro, visiting lush green villages that were home to Van Gogh and Monet and yet haven’t been developed Disneyland style. And I have reflecting to do on the Arts in Paris, including the art of conversation and the impact of bringing home all those “moveable feast” experiences.

For now, I’m deliciously conscious of a new consciousness! Thanks to beautiful Paris, to the unknown, to our two grand adventures this summer: going away, and coming home. To new friends, great conversations, time to dream, envision and reflect, time to people-watch! To new visual images, tastes, stories, memories.

Meanwhile, what’s next? We’ll see, on the journey. And we’ll always have Paris. Haha! And voila! A truly memorable feast.