Rest day: Random Paris observations

Paris observations
When spring comes to Paris the humblest mortal alive must feel that he dwells in paradise.
— Henry Miller

With respect to running, after about a week in Paris, my body started to scream "oncle!" At the end of the spring season when my body was already beaten up, putting in running mileage plus 3-5 solid hours of walking each day was proving to be too much. Toss in a helping of serious jet lag and it added up to accumulated fatigue. My gastroc started to light up, plus my hamstrings felt like they were housing bowling balls. I just felt sizzled. Crevée, as the French say.

Soon fall marathon training will begin. Keeping my eyes on the future, I need to back off on the running now and heal so I can put in the hard work later. It is a bit of a bummer because I love running on vacation, especially in Paris where there are so many beautiful routes and vistas. But at the same time, it's also nice thing because it gives me a hall pass to slack off for a bit. Since I take very good care of myself in terms of exercise and nutrition, many signs have indicated that it's time to spend time in the City of Light nurturing my soul.

Perfect segue for a "rest day" post – a post that really has nothing to do with running.

How and when I fell in love with Paris

Paris observations

I've been coming to Paris regularly for *gulp* almost 35 years now. I first came at age 17 as a senior in high school with my French class way back in 1983. We sold raffle tickets to raise money for the trip. When I came up $200 short and resigned myself to not going, my Aunt Regina – an inveterate traveler – kindly made up the difference. I don't think she will ever understand how deeply that gift influenced and shaped the course of my life.

I grew up in a small Pennsylvania coal-mining town and had never even been to New York City. For me, touching down in France, particularly Paris, was akin to landing on another planet. Maybe even Paradise, as Henry Miller said. One day, I was playing Breakout and sipping cherry cola in the "Take 5" arcade on Main Street in Shenandoah, PA, surrounded by grey slag heaps and abandoned strip mines. The next day, I was literally eating flaky croissants, walking through the endlessly manicured Tuileries and at the urging of my French teacher, working up the courage to ask a handsome Parisian business man on the Boulevard Saint-Michel "Òu est la banque la plus proche?" 

My mind was blown.

The trip shaped my perspective of what is possible if you step outside your comfort zone. It made me appreciate the cultivation of beauty and pleasure. And I realized that I liked that sensation of newness and the slight discomfort that came with pushing one's boundaries – one reason why I also love running. 

 Sun's out, fun's out. Paris is lined with beautifully manicured parks and paths and the Parisians take full advantage of them, especially when the weather is nice. 

Sun's out, fun's out. Paris is lined with beautifully manicured parks and paths and the Parisians take full advantage of them, especially when the weather is nice. 

Random thoughts from this trip to Paris

Change is the only constant. My life has been in flux. Paris has been in flux. Everything is in flux. C'est la vie! But Paris still manages to blow my mind every time I come here. Below are some random observations from this trip:

  Les fleurs.  Beauty is not a luxury in France; it's a necessity

Les fleurs. Beauty is not a luxury in France; it's a necessity

  • Paris was built for pleasure. It stimulates all five senses: taste (gastronomy); touch (les bisous - kisses, physical affection and sexy time!); smell (les parfums, les fleurs, les jardins); sound (music, the church bells ringing), and of course, the visual (architecture, art, food as art, fashion, gardens, etc). It has problems like any large city, but the aesthetic foundation permeates every aspect of life.
  • New dangers, heavy. Though terrorism remains a serious threat, the French have not stopped enjoying their lives. Everyday life, however, is different. Now, when you enter a big store, a department store, and even small museums and other venues, a security guard checks your bag and waves a metal detector around you. You notice a more imposing police presence with heavily armed gendarmes and special forces patrolling the streets, especially touristed areas. The day after the Manchester attack, I saw snipers on the rooftops near a major attraction. 
  • New dangers, light. I miss seeing people reading books on the Métro. It used to be that when you visited Paris, the inevitable stepping in merde (shit) was just part of your initiation. After instilling a hefty fine for dog owners who did not pick up after their pooches, the problem is drastically reduced. Now, the biggest danger is being trampled by someone whose nose is stuck to their cell phone.
  • Most Parisian streets and Métro stops are named after dead, rich white guys. While in the 13th arrondissement the other day, I happened across the first street I had ever noticed in Paris named for an actual female individual: Rue Maurgerite Duras, in honor of the French writer. It was a secondary side street. Main boulevards ubiquitously celebrate individual males: Boulevard Haussman, Rue La Fayette, Avenue Emile Zola, etc. The few minor streets devoted to females that I can recall off the top of my head are named for the female sex in general and not for a specific woman: Rue Madame (Mrs. Street), Rue des Dames (Ladies Street), etc. Ditto, the Métro stations, most of which are named after men: Franklin D. Roosevelt, George V, Victor Hugo, etc. But again, the few Métro stations honoring females honored the sex in general – mostly groups women who had devoted their lives to the Catholic church: eg, Abbesses, Filles du Calvaire. (How paternalistic is that?) Never mind famous French female saints, like Jeanne D'Arc (Joan of Arc). So being burned at the stake for your cause does not merit a street name? Le sigh. Only one Métro station of some 300 is solely named for a woman: Louise Michel (a French teacher and anachist). True, many male-named streets are absolutely well-deserved, but at the same time, I can think of countless famous women who also deserve the same honor.
  • Food is life. Life is food. It's almost cliché to underscore how integral good food is to French life. But actions speak loudest. Regardless of where you live in Paris or how rich or poor you are, just about every block or two houses, at minimum, several restaurants and cafes, a supermarket (I can think of 5 chains off the top of my head), a produce vendor, a few bakeries, a wine shop, and a candy shop. Contrast this to most American cities. I live in an urban area that is fast becoming gentrified, and I either need to drive to the supermarket, or walk 15 minutes to Whole Foods, Chinatown or the Reading Terminal Market, with grocery bags and granny cart in tow. Compared to the food desserts in most American cities, I consider myself lucky. Think about your own neighborhood. Which amenities are within walking distance?
 Pyramids of Middle Eastern pastries on display at Le Rose de Tunis

Pyramids of Middle Eastern pastries on display at Le Rose de Tunis

What did you do or think about on your rest day?