To be happy in life, one component is having goals that excite you, goals that make you giddy for the future and what feelings those experiences or possessions might bring.
Usually, regardless if your dream list is filled with possessions or experiences, I guarantee that somewhere penciled in is a travel itinerary. Countries and Cities that you’ve seen photos of on Facebook, read in books, or watched- speechless – as they acted as backdrop to your favourite films. Singles, couples, parents, and retirees, all wanting to check off from their bucket lists the places they’ve dreamed of all their lives.
But unfortunately, many never make it to their desired destination, this is mainly due to the pesky little bother that seems to get in the way of most things we want in life… other people. Not to say that this is good or bad, but with most things in life sometimes loftier, personal goals get sacrificed along the path of necessity and practicality.
And I say this because of something interesting I noticed during my birthday this year, the story goes as follows (as always, please allow me some exposition):
On the afternoon of July 24th, 2012, the day before my 33rd birthday I was sitting at “home” in Basel, Switzerland when I realized that the next day would be like any other. I would go for a swim and a run by the Rhine River, visit my favourite café to do some work, and perhaps take a leisurely walk in the evening to meet some new people. Certainly an above average day according to most, but come on, this was my 33rd which has always been a lucky/special number for me so I’d be damned if the next day would be business as usual.
At 3pm I headed to the train station with one destination in mind, and though it took me a few hours to fake deliberate my options, by 6pm I had my tickets in hand and my accommodations booked.
Tomorrow I would be doing 33 in style… La Belle Paris.
Pardon my French, but I fuckin’ LOVE Paris. Admittedly, I don’t consider myself overly cultured but I do appreciate beauty, at times to my demise and Paris has this in spades. There is just something about Paris that takes hold of me while I’m there. Oddly enough, it’s not a city I would ever choose to live in, but when I visit I’m a happy happy man.
I have been to Paris twice before, firstly on a 30 hour backpacking whirlwind with a good friend and a few years later with a girlfriend on a weekend getaway while living in London, England. Both trips were a lot of fun in their own right, especially the hotel my girlfriend and I found with the sound -proofed rooms. Oh-La-La! However, this past trip to Paris was the biggest surprise of them all, as it turned out to be my most enjoyable trip as well as #2 on the all-time best birthday list.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some kick-ass birthdays shared with amazing friends and family, but in your 20s most birthdays are celebrated in the midst of an alcohol induced fog that lets up days later and you’re just left wondering who was actually in attendance.
But this year, there was just something impactful, magical, and lasting, about July 25th, 2012.
I let the day guide me as it pleased, first to an Organic foods restaurant for lunch where the waitress totally changed my itinerary; she convinced me with her Moroccan cuteness that since I’d already been twice to the Louvre, I should skip it entirely and head straight to Pere Lachaise Cemetery.
My only reason to visit the land of the dead was to pay my respects to Oscar Wilde, my favourite playwright, author, and dead persecuted gay poet. To him, I can attribute one of the most meaningful quotes in my life, “Be Yourself. Everybody else is already taken.” The simplicity and subtlety of the text juxtaposed with the profound and far reaching wisdom always leaves me in reverence. The quote itself is nearly comical but to hold the implication up against your own life can be a very sobering shot of consciousness.
In the cemetery I was lucky to meet up with two Canadian girls and we became a scavenger team following Indiana Cecchin’s tombstone treasure map around the cemetery grounds. Notably, we found Edith Plaif, Proust, Voltaire, Jim Morrison, and – due to my insisting and a 25min search through what can only be described at the Jewish Ghetto – Modigliani.
After that I walked through the Louvre courtyard and through the gardens/park that lead to it, all the way up the Champs élysées where I ducked into a Starbucks to check some birthday messages. Within my happy messages inbox was an email from a friend I hadn’t spoken to for a few years due to a falling out… it was unexpected surprise and it made me happy.
So now with some more good vibes and a macadamian nut cookie coursing through my veins, though my legs said, “No more” my heart begged to not have to wait any longer. The heart wants what it wants.
When I exited the Trocodero metro stop, the sky was the colour of blue I’ve only see in other people’s photos, and as I rounded the corner, a little giddier than a man should be… there she was, naked, confident, and beautiful. The Eiffel Tower.
Before descending to the fountains, I just stood there in awe, loving my life and everyone around me. I was in such an amazing mood, I spent a good 5-10 minutes just offering to take photos for couples who were struggling to do the job themselves. It made me feel even better.
But here comes the absolute best part of the day… THE FOUNTAINS! Holy hot blazes of hell this was incredible.
People were gathered all around and INSIDE the fountain, playing in the water in their bathing suits, underwear and rolled up pants. You could just tell they were smiling in gratitude for the chance to experience such a wonderful day. Some people might have a problem with the French, but I found it so kind of all of these people to join me on my birthday.
And yes, I am aware that ‘these waters’ as mentioned in the video above is not an acceptable
turn of phrase when describing a fountain. haha
I cannot remember ever being around such a large group of people that seemed so happy at the same time. I mean truly happy. Not like when someone’s favourite team wins something, or when you buy a really nice dress or suit, not vapid things like that, but just honestly and purely filled with joy. As cheesy as it sounds, the entire experience really made my heart sing. I continued to lie on the grass using my shoe as a pillow just silently giving thanks for such a wonderful day, and I didn’t stop smiling until the train back to Basel (I still had two days left in Paris after my birthday).
Now, with all that being said, I was surprised when a few people sounded sad for me when they heard I went to Paris “alone”, which is typically the pessimist term given to doing anything independently.
I think too many people are really afraid to spend time in solitude, hearing their own voice. It eats them alive. With the connectivity of the web today we are in overload of empty validation from meaningless sources: Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Smartphones, IM, and Instagram accounts. We come to value the voices of others over our own, that any type of connection is a good connection, and that we don’t feel complete without someone constantly acknowledging that we exist.
This becomes normal, and the thought of taking a vacation “alone” becomes almost anxiety inducing for most people. The common rhetoric are things like, “Its better to share those memories with someone.” and my favourite, “I’d get really bored on my own.”
Sharing memories is a wonderful thing, but typically, this is impossible. We all view the world differently, want different things and have vastly different priorities in what an ideal vacation means. For example, I love art and the outdoors. While in a big European city, I want to visit museums, outdoor parks, cool exhibits, and learn all I can about the culture. To some people this is nightmarish as they might want to shop, lay on the beach (should there be one), and lightly pass by a view attractions before going clubbing at night till 6am. If I were to vacation with someone like that, many compromises would be made and each person’s trip would be sacrificed in the process. To find a perfect travel companion is like winning the lottery.
Coincidentally, here is a photo I recently found on PostSecret.com, sorry that it’s an iphone photo.
My only point here, is that I think everyone should take a vacation on their own. Learn to make decisions without a town meeting and instead trust your own motives and convictions to lead a meaningful journey with only your own voice to guide you.
Sometimes you may not like the conversations that arise in your mind, nor the questions you suddenly realize have gone unanswered too long, but to gain a sense of freedom and self-reliance is a feeling I certainly endorse.
And though my 3-day trip was certainly one that continues to put a smile on my face, I think I will save my next trip to Paris for someone that equally makes my heart sing.
Here’s to hoping she likes museums too.