I am back in Paris after a busy week in Los Angeles. I hope everyone has been well and safe during this uneasy time. My apologies for the longer-than-expected absence.
My short visit to the City of Angles (my term, not a typo) was an interesting mix of the fatiguingly familiar, the slightly surprising, and the wonderfully refreshing. The preoccupation with celebrity and all things material remained the same. It wasn’t a shock that this part of the city’s DNA remained unchanged. It did, however, make me weary. Same old song, a few different players.
I was a little saddened by the decline and decay. Many of the residents seemed to carry some intangible burden, mostly likely trying to recover from the economic ramifications of the pandemic. Service ranged from the friendly and helpful to the downright irritated and almost hostile. Retail and restaurants, even in the hallowed Rodeo Drive area of Beverly Hills, had been decimated by the pandemic. Public spaces seemed neglected. More than a few construction sites for apartments and office buildings had been abandoned.
My observations were not unfounded. Working people and business owners I spoke with made the same comments. All are proud Americans. Some are also savvy entrepreneurs. Their survival requires them to keep a sharp eye on consumer attitudes and economic trends. Several mentioned the ‘short fuses’ that seemed to be more frequent among customers and neighbors in Southern California. More than one mentioned relocating abroad. The changes they were witnessing on a daily basis were not positive, and these same changes were occurring too quickly for comfort.
There were, however, wonderful reminders of our uniquely American spirit and generosity. The stranger in the hotel elevator striking up an unprompted conversation with me about the Lakers. The concierge inquiring about life in Paris, and sharing his hopes of one day visiting soon. The woman at a restaurant sharing her dog’s entire medical history with me as he sniffed my pants leg. There remained an openness, friendliness, and optimism that made me smile and gave me hope.
These encounters also reminded me of how accustomed to Paris I’d become. I was a little taken aback at the instant familiarity. (Parisians tend to be polite but reserved. As I may have said before, the city may be the original birthplace of ‘social distancing’, long before the pandemic.) That said, America’s habit of ‘welcoming everyone with open arms’ remained on full display. I had to remind myself that while this was a little awkward for me now on a personal level, it has made our country great on a national level.
Amusingly, I greeted my fellow Americans with a ‘Bonjour’ and departed with a ‘Merci’ for the first few days. Predictably, I found European travelers more considerate of others than my countrymen. Objectively, I know that I am now a man of two cultures, but hardly the first to feel that odd sensation.
It was, as I had predicted, a mixed bag…with a definitive conclusion: Paris is now my home.