Also known as May 1. Monday was a national holiday here. Honoring the worker. Tradition dictates that you give your pals little bouquets of muguets (aka lilies-of-the-valley) for good luck. For happiness, actually. Not necessarily lotto-winning luck. Because in French, a tiny bouquet of lilies given in that spirit is called a porte-bonheur. A bringer of happiness. Part of me wants to go ten rounds on the etymological-linguistic conflict set up by the words "luck" and "happiness" but I simply haven't the expertise to make it stick, nor the heart to put you through all that. Let's just say that wherever you snip the lily, the idea on May 1 is not to go to work, and to do something nice for your friends. Full stop.
I bought for myself a small bouquet of lilies yesterday from a perfectly adorable little girl, who I would guess was about eight. I admired her very much. You could have never, and I do mean not-ever, coerced me, as a third-grader, into standing on the sidewalk by myself selling bouquets flowers. Not even for a minute while my mother went to get a cup of coffee or feed the meter.
So it was out of respect, really, that I bought them.
Monday, May 1, also brought to a close a near two-week cycle of out-of-town visitors. Since nearly mid-April I have had a steady stream of loved ones in my midst, walking porte-bonheurs who have brought with them smiles and news and -- important for me -- an irrefutable reminder that I really am in Paris, France. Because left to my own devices, I fail to appreciate whatever effort -- and most definitely whatever risk -- I took in getting myself here.
Also, each visitor kindly offered to bring along any hard-to-find-in-Paris items for which I might be longing. I know there are some people who move abroad and find themselves pining for the tastes of home -- Oreo's, Ruffles Chips, Kraft Mac & Cheese. Whatever. My home does not now, nor has it ever, particularly tasted of any of those things. (And you'd have to be an ungrateful punk to complain about the food here.) Plus there are already a number of outfits here that service the expatriate American with a yen for nitrates and corn syrup. If I were to suffer some sort of psychotic episode and find myself desperately in need of Jet-Puf™ marshmallows or El Paso Mild Salsa, I most certainly would know where to go.
The things I would most want would be hard to wrap -- a piece of grilled salmon fresh off my dad's Weber kettle; a slice of pumpkin pie from the Urth Café (it has a ginger-snap crust, and whoever invented that deserves a medal); a scrap of warm corn tortilla dipped in mole sauce. But back in the realm of the possible, I made some pretty legitimate requests, and am richer for my visitors' generosity. I am now possessed of two pounds of Peet's Coffee, my favorite Almay hypoallergenic make-ups, and my favorite Bumble & Bumble styling product. Contentment-wise, that's all pretty hard to beat. (Though every once in a while I find myself walking into my kitchen hoping that a jar of Laura Scudder's Crunchy All Natural Peanut Butter has found its way to me.)
During these weeks, I have been showing off Paris with such absurd pride that you would think that I had discovered it myself. Or that I had been the first person ever to think of hauling off and moving here. I exaggerate only a little. Making guests feel rewarded for the journey they have made to get here is effortless. It's about as hard as walking out the front door onto the street and heading left or right. It really takes care of itself. For the short-term visitor, Paris is just a big machine that dispenses treats.
In the deft and really wonderful introduction he wrote for his "Americans in Paris" anthology, Adam Gopnik points out that the happiness Americans find for themselves here tends to take one of two directions: that of the bourgeois, and that of the bohemian. Which is to say that at one end, we have folks who come to be educated (in the finer things, the proper nouns -- Art, Culture, Food, Wine), and those who come ready to be debauched -- to discover things (to do with one's body, or the bodies of others), that would not have otherwise occured to them, not in a million years. He points out as well that the experiences of the visitors are not mutually exclusive. The wild cards often end up a wiser, if not sadder, for the journey, and the straight-A students often end up learning how to have a good time.
Which of these missions better describes me I don't know. But in the matter of escorting visitors about town and sharing with them what little I know, I do my best to encourage them, period. I am in the business of saying "oui," whether they are Finally Going to the Louvre, Dammit, or wondering if it's okay for them to [have/eat/buy] [a nap/that pastry/the pretty purse].
I admit it. I want them to enjoy themselves. Once you start saying yes to yourself -- yes, you may quit your job/sell your car/move to Paris -- it's hard to stop. So to a certain extent, yes, I am an enabler. It's work, but somebody's got to do it.