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  • sarastgeorge7

Je ne regrette rien

Updated: Jun 15, 2023

For last year's words belong to last year's language

And next year's words await another voice.

And to make an end is to make a beginning.' ― T.S. Eliot

Someone once told me I spend so much time looking forward to events that I forget to live in the moment. I wouldn't completely disagree with this. Sometimes I visualise clearly what it could be and often it just seems to happen. Some might call this manifesting. But I spend so long living the dream out in my head, that I am danger of missing it when it happens.

Six months ago....

No stop right there. That's not right.

Over 30 years ago I would imagine what it would be like to live in France. Trips to France and to Paris left me dreaming about ornate balconies, rooftop gardens, a top floor Haussmann apartment, old, wooden, parquet floors.

Then one day the reality became possible...

I realise now it's always been possible, I just didn't think it was, so I didn't make it a priority. When I finally made a choice to do something about it, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.

Two months has gone by in the blink of an eye. But that doesnt mean its over. I will be back. Paris has my heart and it's only a few hours away after all.

I have lots to look forward too now I am back home, but I don't want to forget this experience and some of the things I have learned. I am going to take a moment to reflect. I have read that it is important to do this so that when you find yourself slipping back into old patterns, you can read back your own words and take yourself back to those thoughts and feelings, and reset. Sink or swim? I have been warned that coming back from a sabbatical is much harder than starting one. All your time, energy and preparation goes into dreaming about and planning the break, in minimising the risks and then taking a deep breath as you jump into the murky depths of the unknown. Then you find out that it's not as scary as you thought as you pop back up to the surface and look around. The fear of change is so much greater than the reality. What you realise as time goes by, is that you can't go back and carry on just as it was before. To be honest, if you did, the sabbatical has not done its job. I hope that my team have learned new skills, are trying new things and have grown in confidence. New people have joined the organisation since I have been away, they bring new energy and ideas. The dynamics have already changed before I go back to work. It can't and shouldn't be the same.

Work/Life Balance

There is a french expression Metro, Boulot, Dodo that translates to metro, work, sleep. Like many people, I often fall into the productivity trap. Eight-hour workdays easily become ten and the weekends are eroded as I catch up on tasks leaving me tired, uninspired, and lacking motivation. The Parisians work hard, with long days but they punctuate them with regular breaks. They sit down and take time to eat, to socialise and to go outside.

I was guilty of driving to work just so I could go to a gym at the end of the day. An hour at the gym is not a counter balance to eight hours sitting at a desk. In Paris I reclaimed my pre-covid passion for walking and research shows it’s much healthier to incorporate regular activity into your day as part of your lifestyle than to package it up into one hour. Maybe all the fresh air and exercise contributed to why I felt motivated to write while I was out there

I have just read a fabulous book by Mireille Guiliano called 'Women, Work and the Art of Savoir Faire'. I was struck by a comment she made that employers 'buy your time and rent your mind but don't own it or you'. She was making the point that you give your absolute best to work but that you make sure you carve out time for yourself too.

Just like Foucault's pendulum, it's about balance. So I will be making time to pursue my passions, stay fit and healthy, spend more time outside and with with friends.

Attention to detail From day one I was overwhelmed with the beauty of Paris. Paris is about style, fashion and colour. Every shop window , however big or small is expertly curated. Inside, products are often arranged according to colour, evoking the feeling of being in a sweet shop trying to decide if you want the strawberry, vanilla or blueberry flavour. Greengrocers are on every street. They are abundant shops with a riot of colour, piled high with fresh, plump fruit and vegetables.

I came home to see this in my local supermarket. It was disappointing to say the least.

Clothes in Paris are simple, well made but classic. Botox is a dirty word. Instead people take the time to look after their health, mind and body, opting for less invasive and more natural approaches to looking and feeling good. Pharmacies are everywhere. But they sell more than medicines. They 'prescribe' face creams, perfumes, vitamins. It's big business in France ( and the reason I had to courier some luggage back!) Art and architecture permeate everything. It's part of french life from an earlier age. I loved watching a Dad with his young son as they went round a feminist surrealism exhibition. He was asking his son questions - what do you think?, what does it look like to you, how does it make you feel, and the little boy was sharing his thoughts.

I noticed that in the busy exhibitions, the french visitors read every word, chatted about what they were looking at and took the time to appreciate.. Other visitors slid through the exhibition halls, taking selfies and barely noticing the work as they ticked off another 'must see.'. Shop assistants devote all their time to a customer before moving on to the next, even if they don't buy anything. It can feel frustrating if you are waiting but when the spotlight shines on you that quickly fades away. The streets are cleaned every day (more about that in a moment), the bins are emptied every few days, recycling is part of the DNA. Flower shops on every corner ensure that the apartments around Paris are always full of colour and fragrance. Everything feels as though time and attention has been given to it. And you can tell. I hope I can hold onto that and use it to inform my approach going forwards.

Manners matter We all know that manners are important but the French have another level of politeness that I wish we had in the UK. It's amazing how many of us charge through the day with our heads down, often forgetting those little pleasantries that can make all the difference. I learned very quickly that you say Bonjour at every encounter. When you enter a restaurant, bakery, café, clothing store, pharmacy, art gallery, you catch someone's eye and say the words straightway. Its customary and considered polite and respectful. If you don’t say it they will think you are rude and be rude back to you. It's true- I have inadvertently tested this one out

And it goes without saying that you always say s'il vous plait and and you never leave somewhere without saying merci or au revoir. Those little words can make a difference to your whole experience.

Taking a bit more time to notice others and build more consideration into our day is something all of us could do more of. After all, much of life is about how you make other people feel, right?

Green Paris

The Paris Mayor. Anne Hidalgo, wants to transform Paris into Europe’s greenest city by 2030. She is doing an impressive job. Paris has more than 421 green spaces, making it Europe’s most wooded capital city. Since the last time I was in Paris, organic and eco principles have taken centre stage. Organic products are huge in France and almost 50% of consumers in the Paris area alone shop bio. There are e-bikes and scooters on almost every corner, endless bike lanes. Kilo shops are are popping up- vintage clothes are sold by the kilo, at a price relative to the weight and category of colour. It was a while before I worked out where the water running in the gutter was coming from . I had simply assumed a burst pipe. In Paris, there are two different sets of underground water pipes, both are attached to the ceilings of the sewers. One supplies untreated water for flushing the streets using water from the Ourcq Canal and the Seine. The water comes out through curbside holes, bouches de lavages, to clean the streets and gutters then flows into the underground sewers where it is treated the out back into into the Seine. The potable water operates as a parallel but separate system. The system dates back to Napoleon Bonaparte, the Emperor Napoleon III, Baron Haussmann, and a visionary engineer called Eugène Belgrand. All of this combined with a steady 27 degrees for the latter part of May made me think about how much more I could be doing to reduce my environmental impact.

No such thing as failure I acknowledged early on that I wasn't going to get the level of immersion or time I needed to start speaking fluently, Rather than get frustrated, I accepted this and reset my ambitions. Not an easy task for me, I can hear the language so much better now. My vocab has always been quite good but I get stuck on the grammar because I can't produce a perfect sentence, so I freeze. There is no thing as failure in my book. Failure is a necessary part of success and it takes time and practice to develop a skill. In my final weeks a stranger struck up a conversation with me while I was watching an outdoor tango class. He spoke French and I replied as best I could until I got tangled up in the grammar. So I replied in English. He seemed surprised that I could understand so much and gave me some great advice that took the pressure off. We chatted about culture, politics and the protests about changes to the retirement age. Mostly in French.

This little video sums up the vibe of the outdoor classes. So full of fun and energy. Please excuse the dodgy sound at the end.

A sabbatical is good for health and well-being. It gives time for reflection and the chance to pursue new interests and skills. A successful sabbatical requires you to narrow your focus, to know your abilities and limitations, embrace the intangible, and to see failure as simply part of growth and success. For now my grammar is not good, but I have stopped judging myself and have found the confidence to start speaking. Suddenly people started replying in French rather than english. I can't wait to build on this next time I visit.

Flânning around As a fully fledged flâneuse I now make a point to look up and notice people and my surroundings. So many people don't do this, opting instead to race through life without listening properly, caught up in their own thoughts and distractions. A selfie in front of a priceless artwork embodies this for me. I hope that having learned the ways of the Flâneuse this will no longer be the case.

And a discovery

In the Musée Carnavalet a saw a book from 1793 that looked like one I have at home. It turns out the one I have at home was printed in 1792 and is possibly quite rare. It is a copy of the first written constitution which transferred the sovereignty of the king to the nation. This constitution came into force in September 1791 but was suspended following the insurrection caused by the outbreak of war and the king's refusal to defend the revolutionary government. I shall be writing to the museum in Paris to see if they would like my little book, rather than see it turn to dust in the UK. I rather like that I have this piece of Paris history and have been able to connect with it in person.

What next?

I am back to work this week, but only for two weeks. Just before my sabbatical I secured a new job. I hadn't planned this. It was a one of those opportunities that doesn't come along very often that you have to grab while you can. I will be living in a city during the week and keeping my beach view property for the weekends and some remote working. I will be sad to leave but I'm energised and excited about what comes next. I have also started looking ahead to my next adventure(s), however big or small. In no particular order I hope to

  • Throw myself into and make a success of my new job

  • Buy a canal barge to live on when I am working away from home

  • Arrange regular trips to Paris

  • Pass my exams and complete my LAPL flying licence.

Ambitious? Yes! It will take time to make happen but my sights are set and I have said it out loud now so I have to do it. After 971,397 steps (I'm trying not to be disappointed I didn't make it to a million) and with over 1200 weeks to go, it's time to start a new chapter. 'I don’t regret anything I’ve ever done in life, any choice that I’ve made. But I’m consumed with regret for the things I didn’t do, the choices I didn’t make, the things I didn’t say. We spend so much time being afraid of failure, afraid of rejection. But regret is the thing we should fear most. Failure is an answer. Rejection is an answer. Regret is an eternal question you will never have the answer to. ‘What if . . .’ ‘If only . . .’ ‘I wonder what would have . . .’ You will never, never know, and it will haunt you for the rest of your days.' - Trevor Noah

Before I go. ...This last little bit is for me. It's a record of some of the places I have visited over the last eight weeks. I took a book with me called Art Hidden in Paris and I found most of it dotted around the city. There are still some sights I would like to see. No regrets. I'll catch them next time.

  • Victor Hugos house✔️

  • Les Deux Magots✔️

  • Place Contrescarpe✔️✔️✔️✔️✔️

  • La Mouffe✔️✔️✔️✔️✔️

  • Arenes De Lutece✔️✔️✔️✔️

  • Delacroix house and garden✔️

  • Saint Sulpice and Delacroix✔️✔️✔️

  • Cafe flore✔️

  • Place des Vosges ✔️✔️✔️✔️✔️✔️✔️✔️✔️✔️✔️✔️✔️

  • Petit Palais✔️✔️✔️✔️

  • The grand mosque✔️✔️

  • Arab institute ✔️

  • Pantheon. ✔️✔️✔️

  • Phillipe Starck Exhibition✔️

  • Sarah Bernhardt exhibition -Petit Palais booked ✔️

  • Fondation louis Vuitton- Warhol/ Basquiat exhibition ✔️

  • Top secret exhibition - cinema museum - park Bercy ✔️

  • Arc de Triomphe ✔️

  • Champs Eylsée✔️✔️✔️

  • Walk through the Tuileries✔️✔️✔️✔️

  • Montparnasse Cemetery ✔️

  • Versaille - ✔️

  • Musee D’orsay. Manet/Degas✔️

  • Musee Carnavalet & cafe ✔️✔️✔️✔️✔️

  • The Garnier Opera building tour ✔️

  • Serge Gainsbourg at the Pompidou✔️

  • Pere Lachaise ✔️

  • Picasso Museum and Paul Smith exhibition ✔️

  • Shakespeare and co ✔️✔️

  • Musée Luxembourg Leon Monet✔️

  • Montmatre- the man in the wall ✔️

  • Shops✔️✔️✔️✔️✔️✔️✔️🤣🤣

  • Dior museum ✔️

  • Merci - icinic concept store ✔️✔️✔️

  • Jardin De Luxembourg✔️✔️✔️✔️✔️✔️✔️✔️✔️

  • Jardns Des Plantes✔️✔️✔️

  • Musee Jaqcemart Andree ✔️

  • Library. Les Beaux Art gallery ✔️

  • Galerie Vivienne ✔️

  • La Monnaie and exhibition ✔️

  • Shoah street exhibition ✔️✔️

  • Musée Montmatre and Renoirs atelier and gardens✔️

  • Cinématique exhibition and Musée Melieres✔️

  • The Conciergerie, and food exhibition ✔️✔️

  • St Chapelle✔️

  • The Archives - Secret letters of Marie Antoinette✔️

  • La Mouffe and Place Contrescarpe ✔️✔️✔️✔️

  • Notre Dame ✔️✔️✔️✔️✔️✔️

  • Berthillon Ice Creams on the Isle✔️

  • Read Zola's Rougon Macquart series ✔️✔️✔️✔️ - 4 books out of 22 finished so far

  • Go off the beaten track and explore/flâner ✔️ x eight weeks

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