Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Through the Looking Glass

I recently attended a lecture by Adam Gopnik, a New Yorker staff member who writes about Paris. He published the New York Times Bestseller Paris to the Moon a few years ago and his lecture, entitled "Americans in Paris," focused on the love affair Amerians have with the city.

In short, he believes Americans are not in love with the city of Paris, but rather an illusion of Paris. He also believes a sense of illusion is a healthy- and even necessary- part of any romance (including romantic love, hmmm...). Following the lecture, as I walked down the Champs Elysees, I tried to see things as they truly are, without the looking glass of my own illusions.

It occurred to me that when I am in Paris, I always live well. I am in lovely, manicured gardens with blooming flowers and flowing fountains; I am in shops where shopkeepers take great pride in knowing their merchandise and helping you find what you need; I am in restaurants where chefs prepare culinary works of art. In short, life in Paris is always filled with beauty, elegance and peace. Ironically, perhaps, life in Paris is not filled with balanced and I believe that is the basis for the illusion.

Life in the U.S. tends to be all work, punctuated by brief moments of play. One might imagine that in the U.S., the opposite of an efficient, productive life is a lazy life. Yet the opposite of productive seems to be anything that doesn't directly relate to productivity. As a result, anything one does to slow life down a bit is seen as counterproductive. Think about it- if someone wants to take the afternoon off to attend their daughter's school concert, go to a museum or get a massage does anyone applaud them? Not really. In the end, however, these very things could actually help productivity (albeit in a roundabout way) by making the individual happier, more balanced and ready to work.

So, how does one live an efficient, productive life AND find balance WITHOUT feeling like life is a constant tug-of-war? I don't know. It isn't a very good answer, but it is because I believe the answer is different for everyone. For myself, I become balanced by experiencing life in France.

Tomorrow morning, my 2 year old daughter and I will take a train to Paris for a few days "just the girls." I can't wait to take her on our first mother-daughter trip even though she certainly won't remember any of it ten years from now. The memories of playing in the gardens, eating breakfast on the Champs Elysees and having wonderful hot chocolate at my favorite tea house, will all be my memories. Perhaps, if I weave the stories carefully enough, though, I can start to teach her about the beauty of Paris, of the importance of balance and of life through the looking glass.