Sunday, December 25, 2011

The simple pleasures

I had really enjoyed my time in France.

It was completely unsurprising that Paris is the most popular tourist location in the world. It's combination of tourist sites with the unique French culture was alluring to both the greenest of tourists happily taking photos at everything, all the way through to the most world weary of travelers who consider themselves above being called tourists (even though they are still tourists....).

For me, I had definitely enjoyed both aspects. Standing on top of the Eiffel Tower, wandering down the Champs de Elysee, seeing Napoleon's tomb, all of these had always been high on my tourist list of things to do.  On the other hand, the cultural aspects were difficult to ignore as well, be it eating and drinking in a bistro with my old friend Phil, attacking a pastry whilst sitting on the grass of Parc du Sceaux with my friend Maya, or merely feeling the surge of humanity in the Paris metro.

All of this aside, what I liked the most about France and traveling generally was encapsulated one evening with my good friends Maya and Adam.  It was the culmination of many years of growth for my traveling.

As a child, I remember watching Justine Shapiro on what was then "Lonely Planet" (now called "Globe Trekker") when she made the comment that (and I paraphrase) "the best part of traveling isn't the things you see, but it is the people you meet".

Now, I immediately thought this was a steaming load of bollocks (I'm certain I would have said "bollocks" as a child).  I respected Ms Shapiro even then, but this was surely a complete falsity. In my juvenile mind, the key purpose of travel was to see things. It was to get off of some ricketty form of transport and stand awe struck in front of a monument/wonder/attraction.  Meeting people was something that you could do back at home, so why would you waste your time doing it when you were abroad trying to cram in as many sites as possible into a busy schedule?

As time went by, my views slowly changed.  Traveling more made me want to interact more with local cultures.  I no longer wanted to only see the sites, but I wanted to understand the places where the sites were situated as well.  It was strange that as I matured, I actually became less serious when I traveled.  I was more laid back and far more open in dealing with those around me.  After all, it's not possible to meet people traveling if you're scowling or have knitted brow.

When traveling became increasingly serious for me as a past time, I found myself becoming even more open in my interactions with others.  I was more approachable and I started to approach others as well, just to say hello, just to see what they were doing.  It was a recipe for success.  I started making friends.  Not only  "friends" that you will never see again, but actual friends whom I continue to see and interact with to this day.  On this most recent of trips, I even arranged my schedule so that I caught up with many of those friends whom I had met over the years.  I saw old friends in New York, Ottawa, London, Oslo, Paris.  Many of these were people I had met on the road.  They were able to take me around and show me a side of their home towns that I would never have seen had I not been with them.

So when I finally found myself with Maya and Adam at their home one evening, it seemed like the final chapter in the metamorphosis from the child into the adult when it came to traveling.  I was in a foreign country and yet it was a simple dinner with friends that would be the highlight of the trip.  Instead of choosing to gallivant around the city with its bright lights, my preference was to spend my evening with my close friends having a simple French dinner.

Not that the dinner itself was anything to be dismissed.  We had a lovely duck confit with rosemary roasted potatoes.  The amazing thing being that in France, this is just a simple meal that is often eaten at home.  We were all in a good mood, their baby was soundly asleep and Adam was still beaming from the news of his recent promotion.  To celebrate, he decided to bring out a nice bottle of Nicolas Feuillatte champagne that he had recently brought.  It added another nice touch to this standard Parisian meal.

To finish it all off, we tucked into the desserts we had bought at the patisserie down the street.

It is an appealing life they have in France.  It is comfortable, it is refined and it is relaxing.  It's understandable why so many people are drawn to it.  This was a great night as it was one of the few opportunities I had to spend with my friends now living so far away, and yet it would have been just a normal evening dinner between acquaintances repeated countless times across the city.

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