A les­son learned about liv­ing well

The Hamilton Spectator - - STYLE - MARY CAROL GAR­RITY Tri­bune News Ser­vice

Some­times you have to go on va­ca­tion to re­mem­ber the things you al­ready know.

Es­pe­cially if it’s an area of your life where you are a par­tic­u­larly slow learner. For me, a hard-to-mas­ter les­son is to slow down, savour each minute and make the ev­ery­day ex­tra­or­di­nary. I just got a much-needed re­fresher course in France.

Dan and I es­caped for a week to Paris and the French coun­try­side, where I had a chance to watch peo­ple who do this well. I got to prac­tise, one deca­dent meal, one de­li­cious drink, one beau­ti­ful gar­den at a time.

I know lots of peo­ple get how to do this well, this whole­hearted in-the-moment cel­e­bra­tory liv­ing thing. Many of my friends could teach a mas­ter’s level course in it. But for some rea­son, I am best able to see this life-lived-well con­cept when I am in France. Per­haps it’s be­cause I am on va­ca­tion, un­plugged from work, with noth­ing on my agenda by eat, drink and be merry.

Dan and I are both huge ad­mir­ers of French cul­ture. But Dan makes ex­pe­ri­enc­ing it a pri­or­ity. He’s learn­ing French (though he still gets quizzi­cal, what-the-heck-are-you-say­ing looks from wait­ers when he tries to or­der). He ex­plores new parts of the coun­try ev­ery time he vis­its. And he stays put long enough to re­ally ex­pe­ri­ence a place, to feel its heart­beat. So he is one of my best teach­ers on how to savour the moment.

My take-aways from this trip are pro­foundly sim­ple. Yet, if I ac­tu­ally ap­ply them, they will be life-chang­ing for me:

See the world through new eyes

When I am in a new place, es­pe­cially a place as mag­i­cal as Paris, I am agog with won­der. Ev­ery­thing is new and ex­cit­ing. It’s not that they are that much dif­fer­ent than the things I see at home — beau­ti­ful gar­dens, charm­ing streets, de­li­ciously set ta­bles — I am just see­ing them through new eyes.

On our last night in Paris, we had din­ner with Tish Jett, who I con­sider an hon­orary sis­ter. Tish is an Amer­i­can fash­ion jour­nal­ist who moved to France, fell in love and launched a very suc­cess­ful ca­reer, in­clud­ing writ­ing a pop­u­lar blog and a soon-to-be pub­lished sec­ond book.

We met Tish and her hus­band, Alexan­dre, at a lovely restau­rant called Mon­sieur Bleu, in the Tokyo Palace, on the Right Bank, with a view of the Seine River and the Eif­fel Tower in the dis­tance. As evening fell, the Eif­fel Tower would shim­mer with danc­ing lights. I felt like a lit­tle girl, tak­ing in the full won­der of it. I want to keep that sense of won­der, now that I am back home.

One of the places that Dan goes to re­set is the Lux­em­burg Gar­den. He vis­its early on a week­day morn­ing or on a Sun­day af­ter­noon, when the park is full of Parisians go­ing about their daily lives. Nan­nies with their young charges. Peo­ple out for a run or play­ing bocce. Fam­i­lies pic­nick­ing. Young cou­ples, lost in each other. Artists set­ting up their easels. Florists selling their fra­grant blooms. Mu­si­cians fill­ing the air with song.

“The en­ergy is good to me,” he says. “I usu­ally sit back, smoke a cigar and con­tem­plate.”

This is some­thing I want to learn from him. To sit in qui­etly, watch, imag­ine and con­tem­plate.

Eat won­der­ful food, and make it an ex­pe­ri­ence

I love the mu­se­ums in France. The shop­ping. The his­tor­i­cal sites. The vi­brancy of ev­ery street and park.

But my favourite, by far, are the restau­rants. The food is the best thing this side of heaven. Each bite is a taste ex­plo­sion. And, there is no rush­ing al­lowed. You are al­most re­quired to sit still and en­joy ev­ery course at a leisurely pace.

Cer­tainly, it’s easy to eat well in France, a coun­try renowned for its cui­sine. They serve del­i­ca­cies there that are un­par­al­leled, like es­car­got. In one restau­rant, I had es­car­got in a light, flaky pas­try that melted in my mouth. The happy sounds I made as I en­joyed this del­i­cacy made ev­ery­one else in our group so jeal­ous that I was forced to share.

But my favourite? The bread. Fresh, preser­va­tive-free, slathered with real but­ter. It was the prom­ise of fresh crois­sants that got me out of bed ev­ery morn­ing.

My take-away, in ad­di­tion to a few ex­tra pounds, is this: cel­e­brate each meal. In France, I am re­minded with each bite of cui­sine that is made from the best in­gre­di­ents, served art­fully and made with great care, that I am miss­ing out when I rush through a sub­par meal.

In my daily life, I too of­ten set­tle for food that is just OK, not fab­u­lous, be­cause it’s ex­pe­di­ent. I don’t want to take time to scout for new lo­cal restau­rants. I don’t want to sched­ule in a long, leisurely meal. I don’t fill my own ta­ble with fresh lo­cal foods. It’s time to course-cor­rect and make each meal an ex­pe­ri­ence.

Linger over drinks

One of my ac­tion plans is to spend more time with friends lin­ger­ing over de­li­cious li­ba­tions. Each day of our va­ca­tion started with a smooth cup of café swirled with fresh cream. We took time to en­joy each sip, in­stead of toss­ing it back and rush­ing out the door. Din­ner be­gan with an aper­i­tif to whet the pal­ette, like Cham­pagne. Wine with din­ner, of course. Then, to cap a per­fect meal, a di­ges­tive like cognac.

Each bev­er­age set the mood, en­hanced the food and gave you a rea­son to linger longer, talk and laugh. When I en­ter­tain now, I want to make the drinks as im­por­tant as the food.

Here’s an idea I’m re­ally ex­cited to try. One evening, we treated our­selves to cock­tails at the fa­mous Hem­ing­way Bar at the Ritz. The bar is named in hon­our of Ernest Hem­ing­way, who lifted many a glass there, and is on the list of the best bars in the world.

Each café we vis­ited had its sig­na­ture touch, whether it was a unique way the food was pre­pared, the art of the ta­ble set­ting or the way the drinks were em­bel­lished. One bar cut lemon peels into the shape of the Eif­fel Tower. My eyes danced over it all.

At the Hem­ing­way Bar, it was fresh flow­ers in the drinks. I swooned. Some­how, the bar­tender af­fixed a fresh flower to a tooth­pick so the stem of the flower rested on the side of your glass. I can’t wait to try this trick!

I’ve got a tall or­der, to make the life­style changes I got to prac­tise in France. I will win some, lose some.

But if I ever need an­other re­fresher course, I know where to go!

PHO­TOS BY MARY CAROL GAR­RITY, TNS

A trip to France, and other places where the pace of life is slower, is a good re­minder to savour ev­ery minute.

The Lux­em­bourg Gar­den in Paris is beau­ti­ful.

Each café had its sig­na­ture touch, whether it was a unique way the food was pre­pared, the art of the ta­ble set­ting or the way the drinks were em­bel­lished.

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