a look back: my paris christmas story

here is an excerpt from my personal travel journal... nice to look back at this time of year. it helps you look forward.

Christmas Travel Journal 2004

As I begin to pull together all of the zany anecdotes of Thanksgiving and Christmas travel, I am mostly thinking how inconsequential these thoughts are in comparison to the devastation and loss of life in Southeast Asia due to a massive earthquake and Tsunami.

I feel like I have been packing and unpacking since mid-November. I have not flown as much as some, but even so, six legs in six weeks during this busy travel season has afforded me one thought – never will I do it again quite like this... until next year, ha!! Last year, my first year in West Palm Beach, I was up in Philadelphia for Thanksgiving and my family came down to Florida to my grandparents for Christmas, which made for extremely low key and easy travel for me, but how I missed a yankee Christmas. This year I flew to PA for Thanksgiving as well as Christmas, and in between went on vacation to Paris, via Philadelphia. Mass employee shortage (US Airways employes called out sick on Christmas Eve), major technology problems, airport fires and extremely disgruntled airline workers, contributed to many interesting situations and a chance offer the love of the season. I really enjoy a little life through the traveler’s eye for a couple of months and treasure the inspiration and memories I get take with me.

Thanksgiving dinner was wonderful and my mother made a simple but tasty meal and we all enjoyed the day with our annual walk après dinner! I flew back to PBI the day after Thanksgiving with zero problems. I was able to spend the week leading up to Thanksgiving in PA and it was a nice time to enjoy family and friends. I worked a day from NYC and although I spent most of my time inside our quiet East Side office working away, I was just a short walk from the Plaza and Rockefeller Center and took a peek at the preparations for the Macy’s Day parade during my lunch. I walked to and from Penn Station briskly in an effort to offset the many holiday treats!  Manhattan is so alive at night - the 20 minute walk each way also gave me the sheer pleasure of being a New Yorker for just a few minutes. It’s fun to in doses, and then go home to the lovely, and in my mind nearly perfect, suburbs of Philadelphia. NYC was unseasonably warm and I needed just a light jacket. I love the city in late fall and being a weekday, I was not assaulted with too many holiday shoppers and got a nice taste of the city and a rush of good memories from winter trips into the city during my college years. It’s wonderful to see something over and over and experience the change and the sameness. It was a more urban visit up north than usual, as my family spent a good deal of time going into the Rittenhouse Square area of Philadelphia. My sister’s new job is currently situated in this bustling section of the city and we took several trips into town to enjoy the white twinkle lights and pre-holiday charm. I am amazed by the small details of things, and this time of year, there is so much wonderment and hope everywhere. I love it. I connect deeply with that hope. My heart is warmed as I was able to spend time reconnecting with old friends. After almost two years in Florida, my life has begun to finally segment and it is still hard for me living there.  I treasure these times to be able to reconnect. As I flew back to PBI on the shopper holiday of black Friday, I found this to be a generally smart choice rather than cram in the weekend and deal with the craziness of Sunday night post-Thanksgiving air travel. I enjoyed a nice weekend back in West Palm and was ready and re-charged for the work day on Monday.

The work week came and went, and I spent the following weekend doing wash to pack for the departure the following Sunday for Philadelphia. Smart packing necessary, rather than my usual midnight packing system the day before the flight, for I am going to Paris for vacation! Or shall I say, for holiday... I am beside myself with glee & excitement. I'm going by myself to Paris! At Christmas-time!

What can I say about the city of light that hasn’t already been laid out in charming discourse?! The city truly got under my skin and I fell in love. More than anything else, in addition to being unabashedly a city of contradiction, rich in culture and national pride, Paris is enchanting. Completely and wholly enchanting – even when it isn’t. Like so much of what we are as humans, Paris is imperfectly perfect and I love that about this city. It seems so real to me, yet so deep and far away. There is something about the richness of the feeling of being there, that you can almost begin to gain just a glimmer of perspective on the Parisian notion of being Parisian. However, I am not justifying occasional rude behavior and aged prissy yet very anti-puritanical, but that’s just exactly my point! This is obviously the imperfect side of the perfect, each so intertwined with the other, that existence in solitude would tear apart all that is enchanting about the city. Perhaps the negative here is that they do embrace their flaws vigorously and without shame. Nonetheless, related to the cultural issues, there can be cultural barriers anywhere and certainly even communication mishaps in one’s native tongue! But there is something different about Paris, which is the cause of its somewhat unfriendly repute by foreign visitors, or shall I say Anglo-Saxon, or more specifically, American tourists. I can see both sides of the argument. Americans, stereotypical Americans, bordering nothing but other, somewhat similar states, go abroad to Paris without a shred of French and in an expected manner behave as those they have only traveled across a bordering state line. But, in defense of the American, why certain Parisians have the audacity to be difficult for the sake of being difficult is silly. This audacity I mention is not mustered up. It is engrained in French mind as a state of being. Of course, this too is a stereotype... not all Parisians are this way. And Americans ought to try and make an effort. Even though I speak French, it's not nearly perfect, and so I found that simply my effort bridged the cultural gap. During my time there most locals thought I was European.  I just soaked myself into their day to day life, observed how the locals did things, and made my best effort with the language. Most interactions I had were quite friendly and even charming.

The bread in Paris is delectable. How bread can inspire so much feeling within me is strange, even to me, but I am amazed (and delighted) at the sublime joy that comes from eating in Paris. And the bread is Just the beginning. Dining is less about feeding the body, but more about experience...

I flew PHL to CDG about a week and a half before Christmas. I had prepared myself (and the contents of my suitcase) for cold December weather. But I also knew the trade-off was busy Parisian families Christmas tree shopping, the Champs-Elysees lit for Christmas from Place de la Concorde up to the Arc de Triomphe. I was on a Paris high that the weather could not deflate! I traipsed around Paris for 7 days in cold and often rainy and windy December weather. It was wholly worth it. An Irish friend working in Paris commented that I have stamina that she hasn’t observed before, and honestly, I don’t know if I have either! The city so engulfed me that I was alive even in bitter weather conditions!

The thing about being there, being away in a different culture, with a non-native language and an overall different way of existing, is that suddenly it all becomes quite lucid. Without meaning to do so, without the noise of everyday life, existence is clear and simplified. You wouldn’t think that right off, given the brainpower that is required to muster words for the smallest of tasks, but somehow, away from the phone, you get back to something so lost in our current time. I walked and thought and it was tiring for my body since the weather was so cold, rainy and windy, but it really was a time of renewal given my separation with my, well, with my life. It’s been almost two years since I moved to Florida. Two years. I have begun to carve out a life there, an unexpected life, so different than anything I would have thought. I never really pictured what my life might be like, but if I ever had a picture of what it wouldn’t be, this is probably it. Flying to Paris from Philadelphia felt so right. There isn’t any way to describe it. I felt all lit up inside while I was there, and this renewed sense of spirit for living is with me now, even though some difficult times. My resolutions were made clear to me, and they began in those days, not January 1! I had the chance to spend Sunday in PHL with my family before I flew to Paris on Monday night. We went to a Christmas concert at our church on Sunday afternoon and had a little family party afterwards to celebrate my father’s birthday. Nice times. It was nice to leave for Paris from there, especially during the Christmas season. So much about being in PA has changed that even if I moved back there tomorrow, it would be so different. No matter what though, I am never displaced there. I’m always at home, in all of my haunts, because it is me. It’s who I am and I feel so recognizable there even though so little is the same about what life used to be like there for me. It’s true that everything changes when you leave some place. As much as I hate to admit it, I am barreling through my fears and my apprehensions about life. I have tackled a lot, but still, not the big one. I think going to Paris, being there, and feeling at home there, helped me feel again. It helped me feel again in a deep way. Moving away from PA to West Palm Beach required me to toughen up my courage and strength. Ever an optimist, yet increasingly wary. I need to be better about being open. I didn’t feel haunted there. I think as a result I had the chance to realize in absence what needed to change.

I felt at home and alive when I was in Paris. While it’s true we can so often feel like this on any vacation, this place is truly different. I felt all of the soiled contradiction and we embraced each other. The city can be a little melancholy, deep and old, yet somehow agelessly content. I feel like that sometimes.

I did so much sightseeing while in Paris. Despite the winter weather, I managed to see a good deal of the city. Next time I will have more time to canvas deeper my likes, but I didn’t rush myself, and did what I could do. I enjoyed the Musee d’Orsay, Place Dauphine, the walk along Quai d’Orleans … the trip is full of these moments, that when threaded together make up something grand and special – something very similar to our daily lives. I really enjoyed Paris and I can’t wait to go back again, maybe in warmer weather … I don’t think I would want to live there, at least not alone. If I had a young family I would consider living abroad … I think that sense of family would be needed in a new culture.

Christmas with the family was nice. Despite being where I need to be right now, I miss Pennsylvania so much. I spoke with a friend last night who moved to Florida about a year ago – to the west coast. He can understand the feeling of coming back to Florida after being away from it … again you must re-acquaint yourself with the oddness of this state, the lack of roots and tradition. I spent a lot of time outdoors this past weekend once I got back into town. There is this little stretch from the intracoastal up to my apartment building that gets really windy. I stand there on the sidewalk sometimes and just let the wind rush all around me. It's the first weekend since early November that I’ve had to myself, no traveling, no plans... I felt the downshift. It was not a bad feeling, just a good time to enjoy some nice weather.  It is very strange for it to be warm in December!  I am not used to seasons not changing.  Whenever I feel sad about being here, or absolutely stuck in the thought that I made my life different forever by moving, I spend a lot outdoors in nature... it spurs my hope in the story.  it was particularly windy this weekend, and oddly cool - victory!  I stood in that little outdoor breezeway for a long time. I realized I did change my life forever, and that I’m fine with that because it is who I am - it's the path of faith and I have to trust. And there's a great deal of peace in that "place". I thought about the past two months and how quickly they went. I’ve accumulated so many memories! I adore the exhilaration of travel, thankful to see new and different places and take part in life with people from different cultures, even if for a short time. I have new resolve for the year ahead.