I am writing this the day after the latest terrorist attacks in Paris. There were multiple terrorist attacks in Lebanon the previous day which are getting a lot less attention in the west. I don’t think this is callous disregard for people in the Middle East. I think it’s about what Paris stands for.
I’ve been to Paris and it’s wonderful but the trip that helped me appreciate joie de vivre was to Provence in 2012. I went for a Mini Cooper festival. Yeah, it’s a thing. Specifically, Iggy Pop was the festival headliner, and seeing Iggy Pop in concert was on my bucket list. So off I went.
I had taken a heavy-duty meditation class for three months prior to this trip, so I was as chill as I will ever be. I missed my flight from Paris to Marseilles because I was too absorbed in watching planes come and go through the cavernous windows at Charles de Gaulle airport. I got to Marseilles after dark and chose to drive the two-hours to my hotel in the dark instead of spending the night in a hotel. So part of my perception that France is “so laid back” was my own state of mind, and the fact that I was on vacation. If I actually lived in the south of France, had to get up and go to work every day, pay bills … well, I’d be willing to try it to see if it was as stressful as daily life in the U.S.
I turned the corner out of the rental car company into the enormous tunnel under the port of Marseilles and ran smack into a thousand-car traffic jam. Here’s where I first noticed something different. In the U.S., people would have been laying on the horn, screaming the F bomb, and abandoning their vehicles to “go get someone to straighten this out.” I witnessed something like this when I was in a 25-car pileup on the freeway in St. Paul during a blizzard a few years ago.
But not in the south of France. People were honking, but only in a half-hearted, “I’m bored so I’ll toot a tune on my horn” sort of way. We all had our windows rolled down because it was a hot evening and there were diesel fumes and of course most of the people were smoking. My fellow travelers were listening to a comedy show on the radio. It was in French so I didn’t know it was a comedy show until the people around me started laughing and it echoed throughout the tunnel. Some of them looked over at me and I fake-laughed. Not one of the thousands of us got out to “go find someone and get this fixed.” Eventually we started moving and were on our way.
My friend Heidi flew over from London for 24 hours for the festival, but after that I was on my own for however long I was there. A week? 10 days? I can’t even remember. Time seemed to slowed down.
I went for a hike along the Mediterranean:
Yes, there were vineyards, and sections of the trail smelled like pizza because they were planted with rosemary and oregano.
I drove around the mountains in my rental Peugot, which was smaller than my Mini Cooper. I stopped at a farmer’s market and bought some fresh produce, Roquefort cheese, a small bottle of champagne.
I ate at a seaside restaurant. I was there for hours—no one came to whisk my plate away and deposit my bill the moment I’d taken my last bite.
France, in my mind, stands for beauty and enjoyment of all life’s moments and pleasures. Food that tastes like food, drinking (and—gasp!—even smoking) in moderation. Seeing and appreciating beauty, not just rushing blindly through life checking off items on a to-do list. I know France has got plenty of ills, but I believe these are some of the reasons she is targeted—because fundamentalists (of any faith) hate beauty and pleasure. Not to mention topless sun bathers.
Today, I will be French. I will appreciate the sunrise from my front window. No terrorist can take that away from me.