A lesson learned about living well

A trip to France is a good reminder to savor every minute. (Mary Carol Garrity/TNS)
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A trip to France is a good reminder to savor every minute. (Mary Carol Garrity/TNS)

Sometimes you have to go on vacation to remember the things you already know. Especially if it’s an area of your life where you are a particularly slow learner. For me, a hard-to-master lesson is to slow down, savor each minute and make the everyday extraordinary. I just got a much-needed refresher course in France.

Dan and I escaped for a week to Paris and the French countryside, where I had a chance to watch people who do this well. I got to practice, one decadent meal, one delicious drink, one beautiful garden at a time.

I know lots of people get how to do this well, this wholehearted in-the-moment celebratory living thing. Many of my friends could teach a master’s level course in it. But for some reason, I am best able to see this life-lived-well concept when I am in France. Perhaps it’s because I am on vacation, unplugged from work, with nothing on my agenda by eat, drink and be merry.

My takeaways from this trip are profoundly simple. Yet, if I actually apply them, they will be life-changing for me:

SEE THE WORLD THROUGH NEW EYES

When I am in a new place, especially a place as magical as Paris, I am agog with wonder. Everything is new and exciting. It’s not that they are that much different than the things I see at home — beautiful gardens, charming streets, deliciously set tables — I am just seeing them through new eyes.

On our last night in Paris, we had dinner with Tish Jett, who I consider an honorary sister. Tish is an American fashion journalist who moved to France, fell in love and launched a very successful career, including writing a popular blog and a soon-to-be published second book.

We met Tish and her husband, Alexandre, at a lovely restaurant called Monsieur Bleu, which is in the Tokyo Palace, on the Right Bank, with a view of the Seine River and the Eiffel Tower in the distance. As evening fell, the Eiffel Tower would shimmer with dancing lights.

One of the places that Dan goes to reset is the Luxemburg Garden. He visits early on a weekday morning or on a Sunday afternoon, when the park is full of Parisians going about their daily lives. Nannies with their young charges. People out for a run or playing bocce. Families picnicking. Young couples, lost in each other. Artists setting up their easels. Florists selling their fragrant blooms. Musicians filling the air with song. “The energy is good to me,” he says. “I usually sit back, smoke a cigar and contemplate.” This is something I want to learn from him. To sit in quietly, watch, imagine, and contemplate.

EAT WONDERFUL FOOD, AND MAKE IT AN EXPERIENCE

I love the museums in France. The shopping. The historical sites. The vibrancy of every street and park. But my favorite, by far, are the restaurants. The food is the best thing this side of heaven. Each bite is a taste explosion. And, there is no rushing allowed. You are almost required to sit still and enjoy every course at a leisurely pace. I’m used to grabbing a quick bite in the break room, so this languid, luxurious approach to eating always blows my mind.

Certainly, it’s easy to eat well in France, a country renowned for its cuisine. They serve delicacies there that are unparalleled, like escargot. In one restaurant, I had escargot in a light, flaky pastry that melted in my mouth. The happy sounds I made as I enjoyed this delicacy made everyone else in our group so jealous that I was forced to share.

But my favorite? The bread. Fresh, preservative-free, slathered with real butter. I think I took a loaf home in each thigh! It was the promise of fresh croissants that got me out of bed every morning.

My takeaway, in addition to a few extra pounds, is this: Celebrate each meal. In France, I am reminded with each bite of cuisine that is made from the best ingredients, served artfully and made with great care, that I am missing out when I rush through a sub-par meal.

LINGER OVER DRINKS

One of my action plans is to spend more time with friends lingering over delicious libations. Each day of our vacation started with a smooth cup of cafe swirled with fresh cream. We took time to enjoy each sip, instead of tossing it back and rushing out the door. Dinner began with an aperitif to whet the palette, like Champagne. Wine with dinner, of course. Then, to cap a perfect meal, a digestive like cognac. Each beverage set the mood, enhanced the food and, above all else, gave you a reason to linger longer, talk and laugh. When I entertain now, I want to make the drinks as important as the food.

Here’s an idea I’m really excited to try. One evening, we treated ourselves to cocktails at the famous Hemingway Bar at the Ritz in Paris. The bar is named in honor of Ernest Hemingway, who lifted many a glass there, and is on the list of the best bars in the world.

Each cafe we visited had its signature touch, whether it was a unique way the food was prepared, the art of the table setting or the way the drinks were embellished. One bar cut lemon peels into the shape of the Eiffel Tower. My eyes danced over it all.

At the Hemingway Bar, it was fresh flowers in the drinks. I swooned. Somehow, the bartender affixed a fresh flower to a toothpick so the stem of the flower rested on the side of your glass. I can’t wait to try this trick!

I’ve got a tall order, to make the lifestyle changes I got to practice in France. I will win some, lose some. But if I ever need another refresher course, I know where to go!

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This column was adapted from Mary Carol Garrity’s blog at www.nellhills.com