Wednesday, December 15, 2010

No matter where you go, there you are

I'll post more pictures and stuff about Paris later on, but first let me share a few thoughts on our recent trip.

You know the old phrase, "no matter where you go, there you are"? That was us on this trip. We went pretty far (5000+ miles from home) and yet we were still very much the same people. We were tired and we were sad before we left. We were tired and sad in Paris.

When we planned the trip a year in advance, we were happy energetic people. We had two dogs. After Lola passed away, we talked about canceling the trip. I said, "We can be sad here, or we can be sad in Paris. Either way we're going to be sad. We can't get our money back so let's go be sad in Paris. Hey, it'll still be Paris!" Turns out I was quite right. And I hadn't factored in how much grief takes out of your body. We were incredibly tired. Me being me, I refused to slow down and pushed us both to see and do as much as possible. Sunday evening when we came home to change shoes, laid down to have a little half hour rest at 6 pm and stayed in bed until 9 am the next morning. Yep, we needed sleep.

I have found the hardest moments of grieving over Lola the moments when I am calm and quiet and my mind is able to really pause and feel the loss. So I run around in a frenzy and try to keep my mind busy, busy, busy. Kicker is, grief is very patient and just waits for me. So we go on a plane for 12 hours and I cried three times. Look at me... Headed to Paris... Crying! What a pathetic sight.

So that sets you up for our arrival in Paris. But as I said, it would still be Paris. Right?

I had this dreamy scenario in my head:
We would arrive in Paris to a cold but clean city covered in white twinkling lights. As we slept on our first night there, a light snow would begin to fall. I would hear this in my sleep and get out of bed at 5 am, head out with my camera and capture the virgin snow covering every monument in a twilight of light before anyone started walking through or making tracks in the ever deepening white. All over town neighborhood "March Nöels" would pop up and we'd fill a piece of luggage with exotic handcrafted old world Europe ornaments and decor. The snow would stop and the city would come out to play in front of a background of hundreds of Christmas pines that have been brought in to make Paris more festive...

Now let's talk about reality.

It snowed three days before we got there. DEEP SNOW. When we landed there was still a ground cover of white out by the airport, as we drove further and further into the city, the snow turned darker gray, more icy and diminished. As we began to recognize landmarks and get our bearings, I could see the street clearing crews out with their wheelbarrow full of salt and their shovels scrapping the last frozen remnants into the gutter. Paris was clear and dry except for just a few patches of ice here and there on lesser traveled sidewalks. (Oh, and it has 2 inches of snow predicted for Thursday. Cruel, cruel weather pattern.)

When we travel, you'll never catch us in the busiest places at the peak of tourist season. We've been to Paris in June (just before the tourists), in April (it was still cold), in January (great sales) and we thought this would be just like those other trips. But it wasn't. The city was PACKED. We finally gave up on the idea of shopping altogether. Can you imagine?

Paris is the equivalent of New York City. Christmas is a VERY popular time to go into the big city and see the sights and do your shopping. You could not walk through the department stores. Every subway train was packed.

The city does indeed bring in thousands of Christmas trees and place them all over the streets. But ten trees in a group every 15 blocks with one string of lights on each tree... uh, I am from America where it's not done until its OVER DONE. It was... uh quaint, but not what I had pictured in my mind.

And this is where two topics need to be addressed. First, my expectations. THEY COULD NEVER HAVE BEEN MET. I needed to check that the very first day. It's not as if I have ever had unrealistic expectations of a Christmas fantasy before... oh wait, that's my entire life. So the good news is, I was able to see that for what it was and adjust accordingly.

The second issue is cultural divide. It took a few days for me to wrap my head around the difference between my American culture and the French culture as it treats Christmas. In France it seemed there are two options on how you observe Christmas. It is either a holy holiday with the nativity on display, or you throw out all religious connotations and add strobing lights and tinsel and make it all about the FLASH. No in between. In the US we smudge those lines closer and closer to the point where you have light up nativities, and Santa ringing the church bells.

We are also a lot more about the consuming of Christmas. I found the Christmas ornament section at Galleries Lafayette (a huge department store) and came back and told Lyle that if I took out all my Christmas ornaments, I'd personally have more ornaments in my house than this store had for sale. And I wouldn't have any repeats. If I lived in a small Parisian apartment, where would I store all that?

The Christmas Market. I had read so much about these. I had a very clear mental picture of what these would present. We went out on our first day to the largest Christmas market of them all, the one along the Champs-Elysees. Now let me clear this up for anyone else going, they were more like a carnival or a swap meet. I know that sounds mean. I'm sorry. There were unique vendors selling all sorts of amazing meats and cheeses (which I could not bring home through customs, so they were off my list), but the rest of the stalls were Alpaca knit hats from Peru, toys from China, amber jewelry (at every single market), Russian nesting dolls (from China), food stalls offering hot wine, churros, snails (okay, that was different), Belgian waffles and of course there were the carnival rides. I'm spoiled. I have been to Peru (and just gave away my Alpaca gloves), I've been to China and I live in LA where I can get just about EVERYTHING including much of the meat and cheese I am not allowed to personally import. I was disappointed in the Christmas market.

In an ever more frantic search, I dragged Lyle to the markets at Champs-Elysées, Trocadero, Saint-Sulpice, Saint Germain-des-Pres, Place des Abbesses (never go to this subway station! It's a spiral staircase to get out and about 3 stories climb!) and Gare de l'Est. I skipped La Defense, Place de la Nation, Montparnasse and Disneyland Paris. That gives me a 60% coverage rate. I even dragged Lyle to the Maison de l'Alsace which promised traditional Alsatian goodies, only to find out that tradition dictates the goodies be mass produced.

Now I sound like a complainer. But I promise I am not. I am just dispelling my expectations and adjusting to the reality of the situation. I would even recommend going if are considering it. (But don't go with my original expectations. Go with my new adjusted reality.)
The crowds of people viewing the windows at Galleries Lafayette.

The retail windows were amazing. Many of them animated with special raised viewing platforms for small children to stand on so they can better see. The food we ate was incredible. I've already mentioned we were tired, so we didn't try any new restaurants, we repeated ones we know and appreciated. Isn't that something to say? "We just went back to restaurants we already knew in Paris." I just impressed myself!

The city was decked out in glittering lights and it was an experience I will never forget. There were so many things we loved and I will post more photos. But I like my house at Christmas. I like my over the top decorating style. I told Lyle I think we should stay home in December and enjoy being at home. I've also heard that Strasbourg has a really amazing Christmas market and if it's not exactly what I'm envisioning, it's not too far to hop over into Germany... the land of the nutcracker...


Anonymous said...

Just looking at the number of people in that crowd, knowing they would be pushing up against me and having to go with the flow of people traffic gave me a panic attack. I definitely would not have enough xanax for Christmas in Paris :)

My Blog said...

Expectations... I used to have those. Not anymore. Try Cologne/Koln, they have amazing Christmas markets too.
And the Dom, spectacularly overdone for the holidays.

jason said...

Hmmm....well, I've never been to Paris. But Paris is like a symbol to me, a symbol of what I don't quite know.
I wonder if it'd live up to my expectations? I doubt anything could, but then again, I think it would just the same. Somehow that makes sense.