Sunday, April 20, 2008

Paris is Ain't

OK. That's a cheap shot. There are many reasons why most of the world's capitals aren't Paris. After all, there's nothing quite like the City of Lights. After 10 days there, staying with friends, it's a bit tough to be Stateside again, politics aside. Sure, the Parisians have their issues like the rest of us -- immigration, unions, a major dislike of Americans (I can't really blame them these days) -- but from a purely aesthetic, quality-of-life point of view, they are an advanced culture that isn't predicated on the comings and goings of trailer trash posing as talent -- since that could mean any number of our elite celebrities, you choose -- which I consider pretty evolved. And they cook. Fresh food -- small amounts of it -- and eschew restaurants cheek-by-jowl in the main street. Instead, their streets are lined with the world's most delectable choices of patisseries, boulangeries, epiceries, and cafes, with a few clothing stores thrown in. Nary a bank or drug store in sight, other than the pharmacy -- an upscale, old-fashioned chemist store with its familiar green cross of a logo, with a resident pharmacist, that stocks both homeopathic and mainstream choices, in between the Estee Lauder and Biolage beauty treatments. If our culture is any barometer of where we're headed as a society, then I choose one that embraces Candide over Couric anyday. Sitting around one evening with our friends and their parents, the discussion moved between Sarkey, as they know their rocking premiere, and the vintage of wine we were drinking, with mother-in-law weighing in on her favorites to rival any oenophile and discussing, down to the minutiae, the range of fresh cheeses and olives available at the local open-air produce market. Their kids are polyglots and flow easily from French to English, with a little German, Italian, and Portuguese thrown in, and they are not addicted to the Internet, even though they use it frequently. In fact, traveling around Paris by metro, few people were using a technological excuse to escape reality. No one was anchored to the cellphone or blackberry, texting Mom as though their life and self-esteem depended on it. Few people were plugged into their iPods. Instead, they did that old-fashioned thing. They just sat, and stared out the window. It was so annoyingly old-fashioned, I didn't know what to do with myself. And the lack of lawyers in Europe is something else that I can't help noticing. Sure, it means the odd Van Gogh disappears occasionally, but the freedom within the museums and galleries is well worth it. We roamed, examined, and pointed and not a single guard ran over to monitor the fact that we had walked in a straight line, as opposed to counterclockwise, or were pointing when we should have been head-nodding. Recently, my (older) kids decided to lean back on one of the center benches at the Met, only to be yelled at by a guard for them to sit up. Why?! Whatever. The overall atmosphere is grownup compared to our Lord of the Flies. Adults dealing with other adults, without the assumption that hell will break loose and lawsuits will follow with every misstep.