Paris: A Lesson in Living

A light rain falls as we walk toward San Sulpice and dinner. We hope an untried restaurant will be as good as the others we’ve sampled in that section of Paris, newly discovered to us on this trip. To our right, the Luxembourg Gardens are growing dark. Through the black iron bars of its fence, we see a man jogging and a young couple holding hands. Earlier, the park’s crisscrossing paths were busy with Parisians walking between shops, restaurants and work places on boulevards St. Michele and Montparnasse. Nonchalant to the daily rush, picnickers, readers and sunbathers lazed on its benches. By this time of evening, they have moved on. Even the bright flowers are fading from sight in the darkening overhang of tree branches thick with leaves. Green and gray dominate all colors in the spring evening.

The city’s sidewalks and the cafes lining them carry the social scene now. Under awnings quickly rolled down against the drizzle and inside the glass of yellow-lit solariums, people sit around small round tables crowded with wine carafes, glasses and petite coffee cups. They animate their conversations with hand and facial gestures, the listener just as active in expression as the talker. Small dogs rest their heads beneath tables, as welcome as their people to the warmth of socialization. Voices are loud with argument and laughter, their levels competing at times with the rush of traffic, still heavy on the boulevards.

It is an electric hour, though when you love Paris as much as I do, it is difficult to measure more wattage in one hour than another. It’s just that now the buzz of the workday and the evening rush has been replaced with a more casual atmosphere. Like us, people around us have the air of pleasure-seekers: The giggling teenagers on the walk in front of us, The middle-age man and woman exchanging pecks on the cheek as they huddle arm and arm under an umbrella. Parisians work hard, but they seem to revive from a second wind this time of day.

Pleasure requires work, too, but savoring life is energizing. It offsets fatigue and weariness. Even the flowers of the Luxembourg, their brilliant colors now unseen, give off a richer perfume in the warm evening drizzle. Denied a visual medium of expression, they take advantage of scent to assert their life, making the most of available conditions. To me, that is the message of the French culture: Thrive in any light; thrive even in its absence; make the most of any hour; fill it with life’s full wattage. And so the Parisians and their flowers enliven the evening, embracing the night as they do the day.

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