Reflections - First Month / by Hannah Harley

After what has been an insanely busy and amazing first month, it's time for a little reflection. I'm already a 1/4th of the way through this amazing journey -- WHAT.

So in the past month... What have I learned? No, that list would be too long. What's the REALLY important knowledge I've gained from a month in Paris?


  -- slow down (and stare) --

Sitting in a cafe for hours and hours is remarkably common in this city. These people have perfected the art of staring. Staring at a paintings, staring from their cozy seat in the cafe, staring at the other travelers on the metro. This isn't a society of people who are glued to their phones; they much prefer to take in the world around them. They watch; they observe.

I've found that in the United States I am so frequently juggling a busy schedule, rushing from one thing to another. I don't give myself the time to enjoy it. It's only in those moments before I fall asleep in total exhaustion that I got to think about how happy I am or how beautiful life is. From a rickety chair on the corner cafe, I get to watch the cars splash the puddles and recall in precise detail how overwhelmingly happy I am and how stunning life is. It feels like I'm given extra time here, when in all actuality, I'm just making time to do nothing. What a glorious concept.


(Above: Along the Seine)

-- don't feel guilty about recovery days --

Overall, I'm a pretty upbeat, positive person. But when you're in a different culture, everything can be a little more challenging. Some days, you're just not interested in figuring out how the washing machines work or what the difference between cafe and cafe espresso and cafe au lait is or how to turn on the shower. Some days, it's challenging, and it's uncomfortable. It's not necessarily that you miss the ease or the routine of life in the States, but you just want to curl up until it gets easier. So I've had "recovery days" in Paris. Days when I'm exhausted and the thought of trying to find an open marché seems quite daunting. And I'm learning that it's completely okay to have those kinds of days -- even in a city as beautiful as Paris. It's okay that you don't want to go to a museum today; you went to five museums this week. You can relax today. This has always been a difficult concept for me. Relax when you've earned it.

I don't need to do 67 things everyday. I'm not visiting Paris; I'm living here.


 -- love solitude --

Most of you are probably aware that I LOVE my me time. In Paris, it becomes increasingly easy to indulge in me time. Eating alone? That's completely acceptable. Go for it. Walking the cobblestone streets alone? Go for it; it's awesome. Picnic alone? Go for it.

Paris is an amazing city for people who are alone. (Not such a good city for those who are lonely -- PDA is completely okay and practiced regularly. Last weekend, I saw a couple on the floor of the metro showing the train a serious display of affection. Normally, it's mostly making out and giggling very close to your space on public transportation.)

I get to delight in a society where being alone is a wonderful and encouraged experience.


(Above: Pont Neuf)

-- get lost to find something --

"So I did what lost souls have been doing for centuries -- I fled to Paris."

The history surrounding this city is absolutely marvelous. I walk today on the same streets as Camus, Degas, Stein. I delight in the metro stations that Hemingway travelled through, the same museums in which Delacroix studied, the same squares that Monet walked through, the same bridges that Mary Cassatt and Marie Curie walked across. Here, Henri Cartier-Bresson stood to photograph this same site. There, Atget strolled through to find his empty, early morning street scene.

Ahhhhh, to think that each of them lived here, battled their critics here, bought their groceries here, got lost here... It feels like a personal history lesson every day.

In my day dreams of the past, I expect that all these greats got lost on occasion in the maze of the ancient streets, and I expect that they found a little piece of life each time. When I get lost in Paris, it feels like a lucky chance -- that I've stumbled upon a gift. Typically, I'll find a magnificent hidden park or old church or unknown museum. Paris is a city of gems, and typically, the best ones are the ones you find whenever you're not looking for them.


(These images are from a delightful evening with a very dear friend. The water was sparkling and beautiful. We both were silent for a few minutes to just think. It was incredibly powerful and moving to watch the twinkling ripples in the water.)