The French have a word specifically for the endless street walking; the perfect act of absorbing the beauty and energy of the city. La Flanerie which literally means ‘To wander the streets of Paris.’
Traveling for five days, my son and I walked between 8-10 miles a day through hidden passages, Himalayan castles and labyrinthian gardens. The Parisians love beauty and movement and shopping, not in a rigid, painfully coiffed way but simply as a matter of natural course.
There are ribbons of bedroom sized Mom and Pop shops, each personally appointed with quiet elegance; DNA level elegance.
We note almost nothing is mass produced here instead each item carefully selected representing the passion and purpose of the owner. We stumble upon a cheese shop on Rue Navarin abutting the side of an organic grocery storefront. The owner is inclined to run down the street to retrieve the cheese shop sales clerk interrupting his late afternoon cafe au lait habit. We discover the cheeses are English. “Oui-the owner loves English cheese-we are the only English cheese shop in Paris.”
“Oui-the owner loves English cheese-we are the only English cheese shop in Paris” states the clerk definitively.
Further along the street, we dip our balsa tasting wands into olive oil crafted in the Provence, by a female farmer using a 153-year-old method. The merchant renders a detailed explanation of the herbal ‘mottling’ process engaged in making the infused oils. Minutes pour into an hour of aromatic learnings.
“Mom, when we enter a store here they expect us to buy something. They want to help us do it.”
My mind quickly jumps to walking the aisles at Home Depot or Lowe’s lost in the vast, perplexing and lonely stackings of supplies. An example of the values of efficiency and selection.
Traveling as a parent equals being a receptacle for questions and impressions. The streets are home to all kinds of energies.
“Why are so many of the homeless we see here mothers and children?”
As we walk the lively and increasingly familiar streets we see the same faces of women and children begging, one night and again the next, and the third. Pooling our Euro my son sprinkles the change into the cupped hand of a child-maybe 8 years old. The girl smiles brightly, her older brother hops up and down, the younger child briefly waves then inserts her thumb back into the room of her mouth. On the ground, the mother and infant look up and directly at us. Eyes on eyes. Mother to mother.
“Why are they so grateful when we give them money?”
Even when the streets are quickly speeding beneath us there are souvenirs. We find ourselves on the subway to Versailles, 45 minutes out of Paris. We have time to settle into the molded plastic seats reviewing the suburb communities on the outskirts of the city. A man steps into our square of seats and hands us a two-sided yellow index card-one side in French, the other in English. The English read, “Please help me with any money. I am a father to a family and do not have a job. Please help me and thank you.” We look up and the man has moved to another seat dispensing his message from a stack of index cards. He moves through the train cabin with the practiced ease of a conductor sporting an argyle sweater. We hold the card gingerly a token of the moment. At the next stop, the man steps back through our cabin collecting the cards.
“That is the most pleasant begging I have ever experienced.”
He exits the train with the civility of a prince and the deeds of a pauper. Souvenirs of the street.