Inspiration: I love almost everything about New York. The pulsating energy. The passion. The drive. The clashing and coming together of so many different types of people. The ubiquitous yellow cabs. The effective but rat-infested subway system. The sleeplessness. The vibrance. The grit. The sacrifices people make to live here. The garbage filled streets. The surprises around every corner. But it exhausts me too. In ways that no other place in which I've ever lived has. And New York has been known to crush spirits not designed or willing to survive in an unyielding and panicky rush. Which brings me to Paris.
To start with, I relax here. As I unhook my shoulders from my ears, I realize that my most relaxed state in New York is still considered a state of vigilance anywhere else. My wide open quickly moving eyes, cultivated over the course of 11 years in New York to know what's happening all around me at all times, seem a bit intense, bugged out and wary looking in Paris. I've had to adjust them. My fast, efficient and nimble gait, designed to navigate extremely crowded Manhattan streets as quickly as possible, seems overwrought and even rude in Paris. I've slowed down.
Maybe I am more relaxed because I am on vacation . . . but I am not so sure. I am on a "working vacation" as I am still expected to deal with my projects at home. I check my blackberry just as much as when I am away from work in New York. I am still on the phone with my office. But when one is doing the Blackberry routine while drinking tea in a lovely cafe in Montparnasse after strolling down its winding streets, work doesn't seem so bad after all. My "at home" resentment towards the way my career mercilessly eats up the rest of my life turns into "in Paris" appreciation for how it affords me this lovely trip. Both are true, mind you. But perspectives shift more readily toward the positive when ones' eyes and taste buds are feasting on delectable lamb chops and good red wine while people watching well-heeled Parisians on a quaint and quiet street in St. Germain.
I am sure the citizens of Paris are used to (and annoyed by) the idealistic love that the rest of the world has for their culture. Surely Parisians suffer stress like the rest of us. It can't be all love in the City of Love. But they seem to reduce that stress by soothing the senses (the Italians do this well too). A slower pace of existence, delectable food, art galleries galore, every kind of perfect, never seen in the U.S. hair and skin care potion in every basic pharmacy, perfumed stores and much much quieter streets, among other things. Okay . . . we have some of these things in New York too (except quiet streets). So what's the difference in how the two cities approach life?
Not sure. But if forced to guess, I would say it's about a different approach to time and money. Time is a New York obsession. Never enough of it. Want more. How to get more? Lose sleep, gain more. Collapse from sleeplessness, lose more. Walk fast. Walk faster. Run, goddammit! Why are these people walking so slowly? Clearly not from here. MOVE. No? Then STOP walking in phalanx formation across the entire damn sidewalk holding hands and let me pass. Note to self. Time permitting, write the Mayor. "Dear Mayor Bloomberg: Create special Tourist Sidewalks and I will vote for you for a fourth, fifth and sixth term." Okay. At the subway. Finally. Oh God. . . nine freaking minutes before the next subway comes? I might as well walk. At least I'll get exercise since I didn't have enough time to run this morning. Because I overslept. And missed the 8:00 am meeting. Because I tried to extract a 25th hour out of a 24 hour day the night before. They say the human body requires rest. Apparently it does. Deal with it. Shit.
That's me every weekday. Yes. I admit it. In case you are worried, I am calmer on weekends. And I dare say almost every New Yorker thinks this way at some point. Unless she finds herself in Paris, where somehow, 24 hours seems longer and less . . . frenetic. Convenience, efficiency and timesavers are not exalted here. But lanquidity, gentility, and a more relaxed enjoyment of the moment are.
Time is Money. A quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin. A Philly guy for sure, but he must have been living in New York when he said that. Because New York, for all of its other virtues, is so often associated with money and business (but think about it . . . New York was not founded by warriors or nurtured by artists, poets and romantics like many of the great cities of Europe. It exists as the result of a real estate contract). People come to New York from every single other place on earth . . . not so much to appreciate good food, art and scintillating coversations about real estate, high rents, career paths and the brutality of the dating scene, but because they want to sieze or make opportunities to earn money. And there is no such thing as too much money in New York. Every dollar counts. As a heavily accented cabbie told me as he started driving off before I could close the car door, "You waste my [expletive] time saying goodbye to your friends. You are costing me money, lady. You are costing me. Get in." And then he hurtled his rattling cab down Second Avenue, cursing and ripping past slower drivers as he drove, his left hand gesticulating violently outside of his window. Why? Because every fare counts. You learn quickly that saying goodbye to a friend after dinner could cost you that hard-won cab. Best to tell her goodbye while at the dinner table rather than on the street hailing a cab.
My bosses hold a similar view (hence my "working" vacation). Just because one is taking time off from a highly pressurized work environment to enjoy a bit of relaxation doesn't mean that one is free from work. It means you are free to think of more ways to earn more money for the company. And to network. And to call in for meetings. Indeed, the person who takes the least amount of vacation time wins. The prize: More money. More money so that we can purchase more things, which require even more money to keep.
In New York, it's all about being "crazy busy". In the hallways and elevators in my office, conversations go like this: Him: "Hey". Her: "Hey". Him: "Busy?" "Her: "Crazy busy." Him: "Me too. Been crazy busy all year." Her: "Well, been crazy busy since I was born." Because if you aren't crazy busy, then you aren't identifying, seizing and making opportunities to advance, succeed and make money. If you aren't aren't identifying, seizing and making opportunities to advance, succeed and make money, then you aren't living at maximum capacity. And if you aren't living at maximum capacity, then why on earth are you in New York walking languidly down the sidewalk?
I have been to Paris a number of times but I've never lived here. As such, I cannot opine with concreteness on Parisians' views about time and money; however, my sense is that while time and money matter greatly, it doesn't define life. What seems to defines life in Paris is a devotion to discovering all the ways in which it can be enjoyed. In New York, living is more about achieving and accomplishing as many things as possible within one lifetime.
By the way, it's not as if I don't thrive in New York. I do. I was born to live in that city. New York thrills me even when it's beating me down. But even I, a wholehearted devotee of NYC, become unhinged occasionally while trying to live in time to its beat. If New York incites me, riles me up, agitates me, motivates me, opens my eyes, exposes me and sometimes crushes me, then Paris makes every attempt to calm, soothe, ease and soften my stressed nerves. She may not always succeed, but in her gorgeous evening light, she sure does try. And I love her for it.