Gary Lee Kraut told stories about some of the people he has guided around the city and the country over the years and how it's not about just "seeing" things, but what connection the person has to what they are seeing and experiencing that counts. He calls it "Travel Therapy."
Gary is a writer, editor and historian who produces an ezine called FranceRevisited.com. From it he sends out a newsletter and in addition, gives private tours all over France. He spoke at Après Midi yesterday about how his guided tours are much more than just "Let me show you the Eiffel Tower" to first-timers, but about how he seeks to change the relationship the visitor has with his new surroundings and often when successful, even the relationship changes between the people with whom they are traveling.
He made me think about my own experiences, first as a traveler/tourist and then later as a jaded resident. In 1979, on a two-month trip by car across Europe and by ferry onward to Israel with my not-yet-husband, we fell so in love with Paris that on the second day of being in the city we started to look at apartments-for-rent ads in the (then) Herald Tribune. If we could have stayed and gone no further, we would have, but our belongings had been shipped in advance to Haifa and we had committed to traveling to seven countries before landing in Israel...so we carried on. Years later, when we'd travel to Europe, I'd never agree to going to Italy (or anywhere else for that matter) if it meant not stopping in Paris. I was addicted and called it "La Maladie."
Then, in 1994 we finally made the move to Paris for a one year trial and as you can see, I never left. Not long after arriving, I vowed never to become jaded -- to never not appreciate the beauty of the city and all it has to offer. Unfortunately, that's a tall order. No, one never really tires of Paris, but the shine does wear off after a while and the things at which you once marveled can become ordinary and mundane when you've seen or experienced them often enough...or too often.
(Click on the photo to see the Sparkling Tower)
There are many times I'd like to be a tourist again, to see the city from a fresh perspective. That happens on occasion when first-timers come for a visit and I get swept up in their awe of the city. Otherwise, like too many other Parisians, I pay more attention to my iPhone than the beautiful cityscape as the bus rolls down the street. And I forget to take photos while the tourists are snapping away. How many photos do I really need of Notre Dame? It never changes!
When someone asked what was one thing we loved most about Paris, old friend and regular attendee of Après Midi, Jack Lampert, confessed that the excitement of seeing the Eiffel Tower sparkle on the hour never gets old -- that he could stare at for hours on end, if it were to sparkle that long. Others couldn't come up with just one thing -- there are too many things to love. My list is virtually endless, and a whole lot longer than those things I do not love about Paris. In fact, it's relatively short. Here it is:
I do not love:
* The weather. You don't come to Paris for the weather. I affectionately call it "Gray Paree" for the obvious reason. It's no wonder that 32% of the French are on anti-depressants. I'll bet Paris has the biggest share.
* Doggy poop on the sidewalks. This morning I saw a big gooey pile that had been stepped in and dragged down the side. Disgusting. While it's improved over the years, it's still not good enough. I never see anyone actually picking up the poop, even though they are supposed to.
* Customer service. It's improving, though, but it's still not quite like the American idea of "the customer is king." The French consider money dirty and any handling of it is below their stature. That means that being a sales person does not make one proud and therefore you are always dealing with someone whose self-image is low. These people need to power over their customers in order to feel better about themselves and thus we have to deal with belittling by a person who we thought should be serving us with a smile. I'll say it again, though: it's improving, and learning how to let them have their power by being the heroes in any situation works like a charm. Someone should teach a course on how to do this!
* The smell of piss on the streets. I watch women teach their sons how to piss on the street instead of seeking a toilet (of which there are many public toilets), and the guys just keep right on doing it the rest of their lives. The smell of human piss is worse than stepping in doggy poop. Some corners are worse than others and some streets are just a haven for such activity. I think they quite enjoy marking their territory -- it's so primal.
That's about it and that's not bad, is it? What's your list like?
P.S. A GOOD CAUSE AND A SPECIAL NOTE TO OUR FRIENDS IN NEW YORK: Have a read of Erica Simone's latest photo essay in the Huffington Post titled "Photo Essay—Cambodia’s Forgotten Souls: A Journey of Hope and Empowerment" and then please join her on Monday, October 17th from 6 to 9 p.m., where Beauty for Freedom, Bravo TV Star Dorinda Medley, Supermodel Diandra Forrest and art consultant Daria Borisova, will be hosting a collaborative art exhibit of works by the girls of AFESIP with renown artists such as Tim Okamura, Bar Ben-Vakil, Ryan Keeley, Zephy, BY Flore, and others including Erica Simone at the JIMMY, on the rooftop of the James Hotel, 15 Thompson Street, 10013 New York, to fundraise for AFESIP, Beauty for Freedom and Shanty Town Spirit. 100% of the proceeds from ticket sales and artwork will be donated to the organizations. RSVP: firstname.lastname@example.org and tickets are available at: beautyforfreedom.org. To support their Beauty for Freedom Arts Therapy initiatives in SE Asia, please visit the site and donate or email them at email@example.com
P.P.S. I'm on my way to Nice for the FREE North American Expat Financial Forum this coming Monday night. If you haven't already registered, do so now! See the Expat Financial Forum page for more information.
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