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Paris in Springtime (and other disappointments)

May 20, 2014
I Love Paris

I love Paris by Vanjey_Lego

I recently returned from a business trip to one of the world’s favourite cities. I’ve been to Paris a couple of times, and each time I have enjoyed gloriously sunny weather.

Long walks along the Seine, the sunbeams streaming through the flying buttresses of Notre Dame – and sitting at a sidewalk café having a perfect demitasse of coffee as the ‘tres chic’ Parisian world passes by.

And so the notion of a rainy, cold and relatively inhospitable Paris never entered my mind. But that’s what it was. And to my surprise that’s how countless friends and colleagues of mine have experienced it on their previous travels there.

Life itself can be a lot like this; where one’s enjoyment of a particular situation is largely based on history, or the expectations you set ahead of the event, versus simply experiencing it in the moment.

Another fine example of this spoilt-brat disappointment was a fine dinner we had planned and booked months in advance at Alain Ducasse’s “Benoit”. It’s a Michelin-starred establishment with a superb reputation.

We arrived at this wonderful old 1800s building with vaulted ceilings and frescos, and sat upstairs at a quaint little table next to the window. Some complimentary melt-in-your-mouth breads were served before we had our meal, but it was all a helter-skelter as it careened downhill from there.

My one friend ended up ill from his Lobster Bisque, another friend found steel wool (or possibly Iron Man’s pubes) in his Cassoulet (French peasant stew). And when I allowed my spoon to gently land and glide into my dessert of Orange Soufflé, only to hit an impenetrable glug of frozen ice-cream, it all became a tad underwhelming. I know I come from Port Elizabeth – and a soufflé there means something quite different – so when I enquired as to why this wasn’t a soufflé as I understood it to be, the officious and now tweezer-lipped waitress snapped, “It’s typically French!”, (and possibly it was).

At that point you also take a moment to reflect on how you’re going to remember the evening. Instead of getting “woes” (Afrikaans for pissed-off) we decided to enjoy being in Paris with close friends and business partners, sharing some wonderful wine (no credit here to anyone at the restaurant, but rather the Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine estate) and having great conversation. And so it was truly a lovely evening despite the obvious culinary implosion and “l’addition, s’il vous plait” (the bill, please).

Funnily enough, the best meal we had was at a local restaurant that we stumbled into around the corner from our hotel – which was truly superb; yet we arrived with no expectation other than something to do the job of lunch.

My hotel room was another adventure. I arrived midday and looked at my cosy Parisian room, nodded my approval and unpacked. I should have been a little wary at why my curtains were drawn at midday (note to self for next time). Once showered and settled, I threw open my curtains only to look straight into a brightly painted yellow wall about 1 meter from my window. I opened the other set of curtains onto a common hotel balcony with friendly (waving) neighbours peering in.

When I met my partners in reception all commenting on the lovely views they had from their rooms, I showed them mine (as they refused to believe me) and their sympathy came in the form of guffaws and hoots of laughter.

When I travel with my partners, I somehow always draw the ‘short hotel room straw’. A few years ago I was at a conference in Barcelona and as I looked out the window of my room over the beautiful twinkling harbour, a cruise ship pulled in within touching distance of where I stood, and my new view was straight into the porthole of some unsuspecting traveler. Needless to say, my partners enjoyed unspoilt 180-degree views throughout our time in that great city too.

So, on the business-side, our French agency were wonderful hosts. We got to hear some terrific speakers and exchanged interesting ideas and opportunities with our colleagues from around the global network.

We had dinner one evening on a barge down the Seine, and as the icy Spring wind whipped across our boat we sat inside having good food and wine, and glimpsed the Eiffel Tower and other delights through rain-streaked windows.

Again, I saw a lot of what happened over the three days in Paris, and particularly how I experienced it, as metaphoric for so much in life. High expectations are good. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is how it’ll pan out. Therefore, how we experience something is often largely attitudinal – and within our power to change.

I recently read a terrific book given to me by my brother-in-law. There was one particular line that was truly profound: “At any moment, you are but one thought away from being happy or sad”. Naturally life throws us curve balls where our emotions aren’t just thought-led but where something calamitous happens, like the loss or illness of a loved one.

But in the day-to-day ebb and flow of life, a lot of our emotions are simply a matter of thoughts – and far too often we feed the negative ones and ignore the positive alternatives. I’ve decided to try to train my mind to deliberately choose a positive default setting. There is indeed nothing positive that comes from negativity. Positivity unlocks huge potential for creativity, interesting solutions, and fresh (unencumbered) thinking.

So how lucky I was to have all those interesting quirks and challenges on my little trip to Paris, for without them, I would have had little to write about.

Merci et adieu.

 

 

 

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Sarah Gebers permalink
    May 27, 2014 4:06 pm

    C’est la vie and a great example of how it will either be great, or make a great story.

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