26 July, 2011

In my Element!

Recently my wonderful Aunt suggested I not make any big decisions while I am out of my element.  I could not agree with her more.  However I have the feeling that we have different ideas about where my element is.  
Right now, this very minute, I am sitting on my terrace – the sound of local kids running on the streets, a dog barking in the distance just past the overwhelming sound of urgent cars.  An emergency vehicle goes by as usual and it sounds like maybe the dog barks at its bumper.  I hear the air being let out of the tires of a bus stopping to pick up commuters.  The sky is overcast, as it has been the last 3 weeks and the air a perfect combination of warm and cold as if there may not be any air at all.  Only a hint of a breeze comes my way. 
I am in my element, right here, right now. 

I have just returned from St. Germain en Laye, a suburban town about 45 minutes outside of the city.  My best friend here in Paris, Alison, has the pleasure of being employed here in France which means that she and every other employed Parisian will be taking the month of August off.  No, you did not read wrong - this is the absolute, beautiful, truth.  The end of the French year is July.  Most folks don’t even make it through July to be honest.  But by late July every family has found their au pair for the following year (of course that means Septembre through Mai), their children have finished up their brief summer activities, bags have been packed, white window shutters securely latched up tight or (more than likely) flats rented out.  

The abundance of available apartments in Paris during July and August is immense.  While the intelligent Parisians leave the city behind they rent out their flats to the unassuming tourists who will come to the city and find that is has closed down for the month.  No matter to the landlord, they have their overpriced rent in pocket and have taken it with them, along with their family, to a beach in the south of France or to Spain or Greece.  Anywhere that is not here. 
So here I am in my Paris element, honestly, so at peace with this life I have built for myself that I can neither laugh nor cry.  Just sit back, smile and soak in how very much at home I am here. 
Another friend recently said something to me that I will now set straight.  She said, “ah, but you are on vacation.”  I was completely taken aback without letting on.  I don’t feel as if I am on vacation.  I live here.  Going to the country for the weekend, that is my vacation.  Heading off to Spain for a couple of weeks, that is my vacation.  Here I have a home, rent, bills, friends, eek- even responsibilities.  Of course if the definition of vacation is living somewhere you love with all of you heart, searching endlessly for jobs, tutoring when I get lucky to find the jobs, doing computer work for a translation company and of course writing a novel…then yes, I am certainly on vacation.  But I instead find that is not the case, as I have mentioned.  I live here in Paris.  This is my home right now.  I commiserate with my other ex-pat friends on finding work and learning how to live off of very little (did you know that a baguette can last you nearly 4 days before going off?)  I involuntarily learned how to shrug and wave my arms annoyed like any good Parisian when a lackadaisical tourist stops in my way. 
I am at home.
The beauty of the lifestyle in Paris is that there is never a shortage of things to do.  The French know how to live life and not let life live them.  Work is something to be done in order to pay for life. 
Workweeks are 35 hours long and holidays seems to come about quicker than you can say “merde”.  The children may be the luckiest of us all as they only attend school Lundi, Mardi, Juedi, Vendredi (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday).  Wednesdays are a day off which is a delight to the nannies for it helps the salary out a bit with the extra hours.  Then every 8 weeks there is a 2 week holiday scheduled that the parents also seem to get the time off for.  
I wonder what we are doing wrong in America?  We may be a “free” country but the grand majority of American’s are under a dictatorship – forced under a regime that dictates mealtimes, bathroom breaks, telephone calls, even doctors appointments – the workplace.  I can’t help but think we have it all wrong in the US.  Where is the “life” in our lives?
Upon my return to the states, assuming I remain there for an extended period of time, I am beginning a group that will bring a little bit of Paris to whatever town I live in.  It won’t change the social agenda or the desperation of the workweek but perhaps, just perhaps, it will help others learn to enjoy the little, magnificent, nuances in life that make it worth living.  Not every day has to be the same as the last.
Until that inevitable day when I move from my ex-pat life to a life back in the states I will keep living here in my element every minute of every day.  I will soak it all up for those that aren’t able to run, bike, fly, or even crawl towards their dream.
Still, no matter circumstances or experience I will say what my Dad always told me, “Plan it and the money will follow,” and the ever appreciated “where there is a will there is a way”.

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