I just returned (begrudgingly) from an 8 day trip to Southern France. I had been to the area once before, but it was a short trip to Nice where my friend Lynn and I quickly realized that the entire town was closed due to Easter Monday. The following day we spent at a tennis tournament in Monte Carlo and the third day we walked an empty, cold beach front in Cannes before skipping off to Barcelona (ah the life of a study abroad student with a 3 week spring break!)
This time around, I was fortunate enough to have some locals show me around. Tyler’s Aunt and Uncle moved to a small village outside of Nice called Montauroux 10 years ago and they were kind enough to put us up and show us the area. We also spent 3 days in a university town called Aix-En-Provence, which was extremely charming. We took day trips to Cannes, Fayence, Nice, Cap Ferrat, Avignon, and Marseille. We drove around exquisite mountain ranges, toured vineyards with amazing backdrops of said mountain ranges, sat for long hours at cafes, and walked through charming, narrow, cobblestone streets. The food was terrific, each view was more beautiful and breathtaking than the next, and life was generally smooth and easy (besides abnormally small parking garages, manic drivers, and a bit of a language barrier.)
Things were different there, as you expect it to be in a foreign country, and I left with a simple thought: It’s a different life. Sounds simple enough, pretty much a no-brainer, a ‘duh’ moment. But, I really wanted to think about what made it different. Sure, New York City doesn’t have sunny weather year-round, nice beaches, picturesque mountain ranges with Alpes in the distance. It doesn’t have farms and sheep and vineyards and olive trees. But these are obvious differences when you compare a concrete jungle to the Mediterranean. The most noticeable difference was really and truly the pace of life.
In France, life seemed to be enjoyed over a longer period of time. People sat in cafes sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes without thinking about who they were going to meet with next. People ate dinners without tapping their fingers wondering how fast the food would come or when they would get the bill. People worked knowing they would have 2 hours in the middle of the day to be with their friends and family. People opened bottles of wine, buttered croissants, and sliced cheese without thinking about calories.
Perhaps it was only because I happened to be enjoying a period of leisure that I thought everyone around me was too, but I constantly sensed that time was spent in a much more relaxed way. I, admittedly, found myself growing impatient with the pace of life. I found it difficult to embrace the crawling pace at which time moved. I didn’t want to reject it but I often found it hard not to.
Taking this trip made me realize that there is always a choice with how we spend our time. It may seem like it is always out of our hands. That there are obligations that require us to spend our time the way we do: “I have to be at work at 9” “I have to pay my rent” “I have to support my family” “I have to meet this deadline” But we only have to because we’ve required ourselves to think that getting to work at 9 and meeting the deadline are the only ways to fulfill our obligations. There are other ways to spend our days and accomplish our goals and do the things we’ve required of ourselves by the choices we’ve made. Sometimes it takes a new perspective to see that.
As the year draws to a close and we start a new one, I don’t want to reject that relaxed sense of time. I want to find a way to use it so that I am not always thinking about the next step, the next meal, the next person, the next big thing. I don’t want to force my time forward so quickly and frenetically. I want to be able to sit for long periods of time and enjoy the things I’m meant to enjoy.