As we wander through our jetlagged first few days in Paris, we have been talking about why we are always so deliriously happy in this city. Here are our many different theories.
1. We are on vacation. Well, that used to be the case, back in the day when people took vacations where no one can reach you and you forget as much as you can about worklife for a week. Now, I can’t really say I’m on vacation. I’m away from my regular work pattern, but I’m still logging in and working. Otherwise, we couldn’t spend two weeks here. It’s not an absence of “work” that makes me feel happy, though I’d love to be able to take one of those old style vacations again.
2. It’s the wine. Yes, it certainly doesn’t hurt, but if anything, if I were drinking a glass of wine at lunch and dinner back at home, I’d feel lousy in the morning and grumpy all day between drinks. I just don’t drink as much back home, nor does it ever taste as good, or as “organic” as wine tastes in France along with a good meal.
3. It’s the quality of the food ingredients. I’ve long suspected that better food tampers less with the human body, and all the latest out Michael Pollan and his pals seems to support a public consensus on this point. If you choose correctly, you can still get good restaurant meals in France. There are no omnipresent SYSCO food service trucks pulling up to every restaurant to unload pre-made condiments, doughs, and powdered quick-made entrées.
4. It’s the walking. Only European cities make it easy for tourists to walk almost everywhere, while enjoying feasts for the eyes. Paris is no exception and we often walk five or more miles per day, tethered to one of two 50 pound weights we call children. The exercise is great and certainly lightens the load of the heavy servings of guilt and remorse we consume at the end of every meal.
5. It’s the natural beauty. Now, we may be getting somewhere. My wife remarked that she always feels close to nature while in Paris. “Close to nature” in a city of two million people? Yes. It’s the manicured parks and green space. The shady trees. The fountains. The bikes now everywhere. The river we have to cross on most journeys.
6. Finally, we think it might be largely the urban planning. I don’t think you can discount the long term effect of the Haussmann reconstruction of this city that made it into a fairly uniform, but beautiful composite that also reflects a golden light that is unique to Paris, at least among large cities. The French, despite obvious temptations, have mostly avoided ’60-style architecture and the pull of skyscraper within the Paris city limits after wake-up call that was the Tour Montparnasse. There are no mini-malls, now no above ground parking lots and a standardization of commercial signage. If this is what French socialism means, then give us more of it.
We come from San Francisco so we know what natural beauty is, but we’re always dismayed by urban San Francisco: the omnipresent work-live lofts which now dominate every neighborhood with an architectural style that no one would ever want to represent their city. The shoddy development of South of Market. The paucity of real world-class architecture outside of our newest museums. Even the dominance of Victorian houses, which we know are charming to some, but which we find sickly sweet after a few too many blocks. San Francisco, for us, is the GG bridge, the Marin Headlands. Fort Cronckite. The Presidio. The Ferry Building facing away from the city. The tree-lined streets of Pacific Heights — You can hate Pacific Heights if you want to, but there are peaceful alleys there where the mind can rest.
Whenever I’m here, I feel pounds lighter, years younger, and IQ points smarter. Name one other vacation spot that can do all that.