As I wander the streets where people never seem to sleep,  I am struck by the high level of social interaction.  The French still smoke—ugh. They did not get that anti-tobacco memo.  But they always seem to be engaged in conversation—they are intent on walking and talking, sitting and talking, smoking and talking, drinking and talking.  The operative word is “talking.”  At a time when people text instead of picking up the phone to talk to a live person, this high level of engaged conversation seems abnormal. 

For me it is refreshing.  You can’t laugh in a text  (notwithstanding smiley faces); you can’t touch a hand in a text; and you certainly can’t tell what impact (negative or positive) that your last comment had a person by reading a text.  Paris is alive because people have not abandoned the art of conversation.  I miss it as I walk to the latest  Star Bucks (which they also have in France) here, and find people plugged into ipods, computers, ipads, telephone, and no one seems available to whom you can simply say hello. 

And so, a week in Paris was like getting a massage.  I felt relaxed, rejuvenated, didn’t worry about what to eat or not eat because I was walking so much it didn’t matter.  But mostly, I felt connected.  To everyone, notwithstanding that all I can say in French is “Bon jour,”  “Merci,” and “Au Revoir.”  But those few phrases were worth their weight in gold (or French chocolate, which is like gold). 

I will go back; that I promise.  I now understand the allure that so many (like Bricktop, Josephine Baker, Richard Wright, and James Baldwin and many others) before me must have felt when they visited.  That is not to say that Paris or France is perfect—far from it. But there is nothing so touching or romantic as seeing elderly couples navigate each other down crowded sidewalks, being squished into tables at cafes that are far too small, all the while holding hands and gazing into each other’s eyes with a smile. It reminds us that what distinguishes us as humans is that primal need for sociality.  That image of human caring and endearment is worth seeing again and again…..this American will return to Paris.

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