, France

Before Paris wakes up

Croissants, café au lait and Les Chansons d’amour

By Kenny Mah

I refuse to give up hope. There must be more to life, I tell myself, than this relentless consumption of stuff, this never-ending desire to do more and to achieve. Life ought to be more. Life ought to need less.

Are we too connected, is that the problem? I find that when we are always tweeting or chatting with someone online, that we rarely have a moment of peace and solitude to simply cut out the noise and reflect. We don’t allow ourselves the opportunity to go deeper into ourselves. We cannot afford the time, we say. It’s what we often say, sure enough. No time.

Oh, and we consume so much.

We read the latest gossip, we trawl for chaos and calamities; we are awestruck by the auto-mobile accident on the other side of the road, wondering what the car number plate is (it could be the next day’s winning lottery number).

There is always something better. There is always some faster vehicle or gadget we must have. We get lost in the world outside. But not within ourselves; we cannot afford the time or the downtime. Or so we tell ourselves.

We sleep dreaming of when we would wake up and continue doing. (The moment I realised that I had dreamed of being stuck in a work meeting more than twice in a week was truly frightening.)

Morning in Paris

It seems so important that we are constantly doing something: eating or talking or presenting or convincing someone of something. It always seems to be someone else we are trying to impress.

Why do we live for other people?

Why do we not admit to ourselves what our own dreams and passions are, and chase these down as relentlessly as we consume stuff others tell us we ought to consume? Why do we not pursue what our hearts truly desire?

I have no idea, really.

“Most of us are lucky to see Paris once in a lifetime. Please, make the most of it by doing as little as possible.”
Anthony Bourdain

There is a rut we get into, and few of us get out of. I need to get out. On the DVD shelves at home, titles like Les Chansons d’amour, Before Sunset, The Dreamers and Paris, je t’aime jostle for space. Call it an inspiration but I knew where I had to go.

I refuse to give up hope. There must be an explanation, I tell myself, that I can come up with for eating yet another croissant.

It’s hard to resolve the conundrum of slim Parisians walking briskly in the chilly winter air to the nearest Métro stop and the sheer number of boulangeries available at every corner one turns with their freshly-baked offerings. How could one resist with that heady, heavenly aroma?

Someone has to be eating up all that bread, surely?

Morning in Paris

It’s about half past six in the morning in the City of Light and half of Paris is already up. I look out of the French windows (I guess I know why they are thus named now) of my rented apartment in the 15th arrondissement and say a quick prayer of thanks that I have nowhere to go. I am not in a rush, at least for the next seven days.

Later, there will be my usual life to return – my work meetings, my mortgage, my incessant need for a good internet connection everywhere – but for now, I have this borrowed life instead. I am someone with no plans and no phone. I am not connected.

I will leave the apartment much later, when the nine-to-fives are safely ensconced at their offices, leaving the metro and the sidewalks free. I will stumble upon a café with the appropriate je ne sais quois for brunch and I will have cup after cup of good coffee. I will linger over a book my friend gave me for my birthday, laughing at the very American observations of Parisian life, as though I had experienced them myself.

Well, I am experiencing this now.

(Anthony Bourdain once said, “Most of us are lucky to see Paris once in a lifetime. Please, make the most of it by doing as little as possible.” He’s probably right.)

I am disconnected from everything that used to hound me – be this, do that, get more – and I have never felt better. So this is what it’s like to live as you dream, even for a week. And why only a week? Why not bring this spirit of taking life as it comes home with me? Stuff will happen, and so let it. C’est la vie!

In the meantime, I wouldn’t mind another café au lait. And while I’m troubling the waitress, why not one more little croissant…

Morning in Paris