On Being Away, and On Being Home

Posted on Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Paris is my favorite city in the world, and has been since my very first visit, but there are times when I need to get out. Though the architecture is stunning, and history lives around every street corner, and the public outdoor spaces (now, more than ever) are beautifully manicured and well-kept, the city can feel mean and grey and unkind as much as any other. Living here, though on paper sounds like a life full of warm crunchy baguette and sunshine on balconies and everything in between, is just like living anywhere else at the end of the day. And like living anywhere, sometimes it's time to get away.

With this in mind, and propelled by a seemingly ever-present desire to go on holiday, I recently headed to Venice for a quick weekend visit. This choice of location was largely a product of the old classic "go on easyjet's website and type in the applicable dates and then see which location is cheap" game, but it could not have been a more perfect pick. Though I'd been before, it must have been just about ten years ago on a family holiday and so this time around I saw the city from a whole different perspective. The tiny streets weren't too busy this time of year, and we found a charming B&B with a waterfront view where I loved watching the boats pass by. Italy, like France, does a lot of things right, and we enjoyed some of its finest offerings over our short stay - though I still can't decide between prosecco and gelato (and pizza!... and pasta!...).

I'd long wanted to return to Italy, and though our few days there were wonderful, the short trip only whetted my appetite to go back again and again. Italians (which are admittedly difficult to come across in Venice) are friendly and cheery, and the little city with its twisting alleyways and shimmering canals felt like the perfect place to get lost for a few days. Incidentally, as someone with a notoriously poor sense of direction, I was comforted by the fact that the city is an island and thus it is literally impossible to wander out too far.

Coming back from those dreamy few days, and after another week spent gallivanting around Paris and enjoying picnics galore (more on that to come later), I unwillingly got back to work and back to my routine. Despite a wonderful staycation week after Italy, spent eating and drinking and relaxing and enjoying the city, Paris still felt like it was missing something, though it was difficult to identify exactly what. In short, it felt like somewhere I didn't particularly want to be.

As luck would have it, my parents planned a trip to France at just the right moment, affording me the chance to hop on the train the past two weekends and head à la campagne, to escape the city for a bit.

The France outside of Paris is a wholly different world in many ways, which is why it can be so nice to visit and remember that this country has so much more to offer beyond Paris. While Parisians are known to be pushy and rude, most of the people I've encountered beyond the péripherique have been nothing but warm and welcoming. Life beyond Paris moves at a much more pleasant rate - which is really saying something, given that the Parisians themselves are no strangers to enjoying the finer points of living. In fact, the difference between Paris and the rest of France can be so stark at times that Parisians refer to the entire country outside the city by a collective "en province", a.k.a. "not in Paris." Discovering the other side of French life is always a pleasure. There's a certain wonder in exploring other French cities, something exciting about realizing how much more complex French culture is beyond the stereotypical Parisian image. Though these two weekends were not the first times I'd ventured outside of Paris, for reasons unbeknownst to me they stand out in particular as weekends where I really noticed the different rhythms of life, and appreciated the nuances of daily existence. Maybe I've been in Paris for too long...

Rather than being rudely awakened by the trash trucks (it's always trash day in Paris, everywhere, all the time, always... and remember, wine bottles make a lot of noise...) under my window each morning, mornings spent in the countryside meant waking up to the sound of a cuckoo bird. Though on an unfortunate note, my alarm in the city is also a cuckoo bird sound, and so it took a few false starts around 5am to realize that I was supposed to be enjoying nature and not resenting it. In the mornings, I went downstairs to where my parents are already on their second cup of coffee. Dad had gone into the village to get pâtisseries for breakfast -- and yes, I enjoyed my pain au chocolat as much as I did fifteen years ago. My parents, much to my delight, brought over several back issues of The New York Times Magazine, and so I'd sit in the armchair after breakfast and devour its pages while I let my coffee get cold. 

The plans for the days, as ever in our family, revolved around food, either trying a new restaurant in a neighboring village, or going to the outdoor market to get fresh stuff for my mother to cook with - the taste of her cooking being always and forever what I'll miss in the foodie heaven that Paris is. After lunch, we visited antique shops, or drove through the rolling hills for a dégustation (this is wine country, after all). Between lunch and 5 o'clock, time for l'apéro, we'd squeeze in naps at the first opportunities and hope that it was warm enough to drift off on the patio.

These little weekends away with my parents were wonderful, and exactly what I needed. (A bit of peace and quiet in the countryside does wonders for the racing twenty-something year old brain) Through all of this, though, through the lazy mornings and the several-course lunches and the sparkling wine under the evening sun, there are just two little things that are terribly terribly missing. No matter how close to home these little weekends might feel, something will always feel a bit off as long as my sisters aren't there. I'm grateful for the time spent with my parents, and so happy to have the comforts of home a quick train ride away, but the time spent in our almost-home over here leaves much to be desired when I think of what it could be with my sisters. Home is a complicated place when family is spread so far and wide, and missing them is something that won't get any easier no matter how long I stay over here. For the moment, though, I've got to stay positive and feel grateful for the time spent with the family that I could see over the past two weekends. 

After a wonderful holiday, and time spent in the countryside the two weekends following, this weekend is the only weekend out of five that I'm in Paris. I plan to use every moment to reconnect with this place as it comes into its best season, and to enjoy being here before setting off again. Traveling is one of life's greatest pleasures, but it's particularly worthwhile when it serves as a reminder of all the lovely little things that are right at home. 
And luckily for me, there are so many lovely little things in this home. xx

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